“So, why are we going to … Little Whinging? How is there even a town named Little Whinging? Is it next to Greater Whinging? Part of Blubbering County? Bisected by the Distraught River, perhaps? Ridiculous.”
John just sighed. “We’re going because Lestrade asked us. He said this was right up your alley—a classic locked room mystery, clearly a murder, but with absolutely no clues or evidence left behind.”
“We’ll see about that,” Sherlock said with a sniff. “I’m sure they missed everything of importance.”
“Which is why they need you,” John said.
“I suppose,” Sherlock said, slumping in his seat as he stared out of the train window. “As if there will be anything left untrampled when we get there. These small town forces have even less patience and experience than Anderson.”
“They knew enough to know they were out of their depth,” John said, trying to be soothing. “Try not to worry so much?”
“Worry? Worry? I’m not worrying, John, just stating the likelihood that the first flat-footed officer through the door of this so-called evidence-free crime scene obliterated all the clues himself.”
John just unfolded his paper. “All the more reason for them to ask for you—because you know what else is lacking in these small town forces?”
“Sufficiently big egos,” he said as he lifted the newspaper. “So it’s lucky for them you were able to come.”
Sherlock turned on his heel, taking in the spotless living room. Or, spotless aside from the dead body sprawled on the couch.
He looked around the room, taking in the family photos on the wall, the faint smell of bleach in the air—not enough to be trying to cover up a crime, just a miasma of constantly-used cleaning products.
“Who is he?” he asked Detective Evans as his attention turned to the dead man.
“Vernon Dursley. Married, one child. Neither the wife or the son are accounted for. We’re looking for them now,” the detective told him as he took in the florid complexion, the extra weight … the man would have been a prime candidate for a stroke, but that wouldn’t explain the look of horror on the man’s face.
“You said neither the wife nor son,” Sherlock said, looking at the numerous photos of a large man in his 30s. “Does he live with them?”
“Yeah. His room’s upstairs. According to the neighbours, he spends most of his free time out drinking with friends. Was a bit of a bully when he was younger.” The other man trailed Sherlock as he went up the stairs, taking in the lack of dust along the railings, chattering as he looked into the bedrooms.
He paused at the smallest room, struck by the contradictions. It could almost be considered a second guest room, except the bed was little more than a mattress and the furnishings rough and broken. There were piles of boxes standing in the corners, but no sign that anyone ever spent any time in the room, as if they were uncomfortable … he took another look at the door jamb. “Whose room is this?”
Evans glanced at his notes. “No-one’s. I mean, look at the dust…”
“Yes,” snapped Sherlock. “No-one now, but someone did. See the holes in the door? There were multiple locks and, see? Bars at the window, as if someone was kept against his … her? …no, his will. Who was it? Would he have had reason to kill Dursley?”
Something moved by the bed and he bent down to look, just as a feather wafted out from underneath. “Is this … an owl feather? That doesn’t make sense. What do you think, John?” he asked as his friend came to peer into the room.
John looked at the feather in his hand and then turned to look at the room with more attention than usual. He wandered over to the window, which seemed to have … were those claw marks? This was fascinating.
John was over by the desk, fingering what looked to be a quill, of all things, when the detective came back in. “According to the neighbour, the Dursleys’ nephew used to live with them—a troubled boy, by all accounts, who went to St Brutus’s—a school long since shut down for its cruel practices. He never came back, but we’ll search to see if we can’t find something on him.” The man looked at the room with solemn eyes. “If they forced him to live like this, I can’t say I’d be altogether surprised if he had chosen to come back for revenge … though why now?”
“Do you know the boy’s name?” asked John.
The voice came from the hallway and, Sherlock might be mistaken, but he could have sworn he saw John flinch.
“Oh yeah?” asked Detective Evans, staring at the red-headed man. “And who might you be?”
To Sherlock’s surprise, the answer came from behind him as John said, “Ron? Ron Weasley?”
John didn’t know what to think. He stood in the middle of what must have been Harry Bloody Potter’s childhood room and didn’t know what to think.
Like most of their class, he had known that Harry grew up in a muggle home, raised by his aunt and uncle who were horrid in ways that he never expounded on. John, like most of them, had just assumed that they couldn’t really be that bad … He had never imagined bars on the windows.
He stood holding the snowy owl feather in his hand. What had the owl’s name been? Hedwig? He wondered what had happened to her. He wondered what Harry was up to these days, hoping his old friend was still alive. Or, well, maybe not quite a friend, but…
He spun around at Harry’s name, staring at the familiar face at the door. Older, yes, but unmistakable, even if the ginger hair had faded.
“Ron? Ron Weasley?”
The words were barely out of his mouth when he was cursing himself. He should have kept quiet, not drawn attention to himself. He wasn’t part of the wizarding world anymore. Maybe he wouldn’t remember. It had been twenty years, after all…
“That can’t be John Watson?”
Damn it, thought John as he nodded and stepped forward. “Hey, Ron. It’s been a while.”
“I’d say so! Merlin, John … I can’t believe it’s you, mate. And you … you’re doing all right?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” John said automatically, trying not to think about their audience. Their very muggle audience, that probably shouldn’t know this man was Harry Potter’s best friend. “You? Hermione and … everyone?”
Ron caught the warning in his eye and just nodded. “Hermione and I got married, did you know? And would you believe my sister married my best friend? They’ve got three kids now to our two, all in school together, causing trouble like we used to.”
“I almost feel sorry for … the school. I haven’t been back since, well…”
He couldn’t quite meet Ron’s gaze, which had cooled slightly. “Yeah, I understand…” He looked around and blinked, as if realizing where they were. “So—what are you doing here? Are you a policeman these days?”
“Me? No,” said John, waving over an extremely interested Sherlock. “But I work with them often enough. This is my colleague, Sherlock Holmes. He’s a consulting detective and helps out the police when they need him. When they found this apparent murder with no clues, no physical evidence, they called him. I just came along for the ride. Sherlock, this is Ron Weasley. We were friends in school.”
“It’s a pleasure,” Sherlock said, eyes cataloguing every detail of Ron’s clothes and demeanour. “John never talks about his school days. And what do you do, Mr Weasley?”
“Something of a police liaison myself, you could say, but from a special division. So—what do we have?” Ron was looking around the room almost nervously and John wondered if he had been here before.
“Mr Vernon Dursley,” said Sherlock. “Dead from no obvious cause in a locked room with no signs of a break-in. There are footprints in the carpet that imply there had been other people in the room, though the prints just … stop, without approaching any of the exits. There is no sign of his wife or his son, but the door to the room next to this looks like it was forced open.”
“Yes, but oddly, nothing is broken—which is odd, since the deadbolt was engaged, yet the wood frame didn’t splinter when the door opened. And then there’s the this room, which raises a number of questions, even though it has not been used or even entered recently.”
John saw Ron’s jaw tighten. “Why? What did you find?”
“This room looks not only unused, but ignored—as if the owners of the house preferred to pretend it didn’t exist, even though space next door is at a premium. Not only that, the room has bars at the window that appear to have been replaced after being torn out from the outside—pulled straight out from the first floor, not down to the ground, which is curious. I’m told they had a nephew who lived here as a child, one with violent tendencies. Evans seems to feel he might be responsible.”
John looked over, eyebrow raised. “But you don’t, Sherlock?”
His friend shook his head, face thoughtful. “This room clearly hasn’t been used in years—decades, even. The rest of the house is spotless, but you can’t enter that room without kicking up dust. Why would the nephew return now to take his revenge? Why would he kill his uncle but not the aunt and cousin? Where are the aunt and cousin?”
“Maybe … something about them being family? Blood relations?” John suggested.
“Possibly,” Sherlock said, cocking his head to one side. “There could be some kind of inheritance, I suppose, but I doubt it. I think the nephew … what was his name?”
“Right, Potter. I suspect he’s involved but only peripherally. I want to find him, find out what he’s doing these days because I believe that whoever committed this murder did so not because of hatred toward his uncle, but to try to influence Potter—wherever he is. The aunt and cousin might have run—or been taken.”
“But,” Ron said, “Why would they do that? If … if Potter hasn’t been in that room, if they were mistreating him by locking him in …why would anyone think he cares enough to do something to help his aunt? Especially now, twenty years later?”
“I don’t know,” Sherlock said, clapping his hands. “Yet. But I’m going to find out. Come along, John!”
John watched Sherlock stride away, DI Evans behind him, and turned back to Ron. “I’ll try to head him off, but, once he’s on a trail, he’s relentless. If … if he can’t find Harry through normal channels, Ron, he’s going to get suspicious.”
“He’s going to get suspicious, all right.” Ron looked worried. “You don’t have an owl, I suppose?”
“No, not since … I’m a muggle now, Ron. I don’t suppose wizards have mobiles these days?”
“Not all of us, but I do—my in-laws need to reach us somehow, and as an Auror Muggle Liason, people need to call. The hard part is keeping my dad from stealing it for experiements.”
That sounded all too familiar, thought John as he pulled out one of his cards. “Right, here’s how you can reach me. I’ve got to go.”
“Look, John…” Breath catching, he stopped at the door and looked back. “I’d really like to catch up …”
He could hear Sherlock calling him. “Later, Ron. Say … say hello for me.” And, leaving Ron gaping, he hurried out of the room.
Sherlock tried to focus on the mystery—one of the more intriguing closed-door murders he’d seen. It was fascinating and altogether new … so why did he keep thinking about John?
Meeting an old school-mate of his was intriguing, yes. John barely referred to his army days, but he never mentioned his childhood, never talked about school or childhood friends. Nor did he ever hear from them, which was an odd discrepancy for such a cordial man. John was one of the friendliest people Sherlock knew. He might be very private about personal details, but he was … chummy. He enjoyed interacting with people and seemed happy to share a drink and anecdotes with just about anyone.
He knew that John chose not to talk about his time in the army. He kept in touch with some of his buddies and went for drinks from time to time, but he didn’t actually talk about the war. From a psychological standpoint, Sherlock could understand that—thinking about them would be painful, talking about them even worse. He himself didn’t exactly chatter about his experiences with cocaine.
No, he understood the need for privacy and the choice not to discuss painful events. But now he thought about it, it was odd, wasn’t it? That John never spoke of his childhood? Never discussed friends from school?
And then there had been the reaction when he and Weasley had seen each other. Legitimate happiness at the reunion, leavened by … relief? As if neither had expected to see the other alive again, but that was patently absurd. John might have joined a dangerous profession, but that wouldn’t explain why he was so relieved at Ron’s survival—not to mention that of the other people mentioned.
“You can ask, Sherlock,” John’s voice came and Sherlock blinked, only now realizing he’d been staring.
“An old school-mate?”
John nodded. “We shared a dorm for six years, but I haven’t seen him since we were 18.”
“You liked him.” Sherlock said, remembering the expression on John’s face.
“Sure. He was fun—nowhere near the troublemaker his brothers were, not that he didn’t do his share. But Fred and George … the twins’ practical jokes were legendary. I bet students still talk about them … he’d have loved that.”
His voice faded away, and Sherlock’s brow creased. “Would have?”
“Fred died, my final year. I’d … almost forgotten.”
There was something John wasn’t telling him, Sherlock thought, watching the way his hand kept fisting. “An accident?”
“A fight,” said John, and this time his tone was firm, as if he refused to say any more. “Anyway, we went separate ways after school, and I haven’t seen Ron since.”
“Odd that he would be at this crime scene,” Sherlock said, testing something … he wasn’t even sure what detail he’d seen that made him sure that John knew more than he was telling.
“Probably odder that we were,” said John. “We don’t get called out of London all that often.”
“How did he get there, if he wasn’t on our train this morning?”
John’s laugh came just a fraction of a second late. “It’s not that long a drive, Sherlock.”
John didn’t know how he was going to distract Sherlock from finding Harry, but their first stop seemed like a nice, time-consuming dead-end. “St Brutus’s Secure Centre for Incurably Criminal Boys? Really?”
“That’s where Potter was sent for school,” Sherlock said. “They might have records of where he went afterwards.”
“But … DI Evans said they had closed,” John said, protesting.
“That doesn’t mean the records aren’t there,” said Sherlock, squinting up at the ten-foot wall surrounding the complex. “We just need to break in.”
John looked up, too. “Not exactly easy. Isn’t there a doorbell, or something?”
Sherlock was pulling at the gates now. “Pointless if there’s no-one to answer the door. Ah!” He pulled at the iron enough to make just a big enough gap for John to duck beneath the chain, and then followed, dusting off his gloves. “Child’s play.”
John wasn’t comforted. “Wasn’t that suspiciously easy for a school that needed a wall that high?”
“You said it yourself, John. They’re not in business anymore.” Sherlock strode across the brown remains of a lawn and said, “So, where do you suppose the admissions records are kept?”
“Yes, here he is,” Sherlock said, hours later. “Harry James Potter. It’s quite a thick file, too.”
“Really?” asked John. How was that possible?
“You sound surprised. Judging by his living conditions at home, it hardly seems a stretch to believe he would be a troubled teenager.” Sherlock leaned back in his chair, thinking.
“Well, no,” said John, but he was mentally comparing his memory of his friend with the boy shown in these files. Harry had never talked much (at all) about his childhood, but it was true—with a background like that, you really would expect him to grow up troubled beyond normal teenage-angst. And that wasn’t even calculating Voldemort into the equation.
He flipped through the file, skimming past notations about detentions and beatings, “extra discipline,” whatever that was, and felt ill. Who would do this to a child?
Then he shook himself. But they hadn’t. No matter what these records said, Harry had not been here. He had been at Hogwarts with John. He might not remember every minute of his Hogwarts career, but John was quite sure he remembered sharing a dorm with the Boy Who Lived. He might not have seen him in twenty years, but Harry Potter had gone to Hogwarts, not this … travesty of a school.
So then where had these records come from? He opened his mouth to ask Sherlock, but stopped himself. If he were to tell him these were faked, he would have to tell him how he knew … wouldn’t he?
He studied the papers, trying to see clues beyond the false trail someone had laid (and, why?) He turned to the very back of the file and then flipped back to the front. “Do you know, it’s the same handwriting for this entire file? And it looks like the same ink, too … does that seem possible to you?”
Sherlock had sat up and pulled the file from John. “No, it doesn’t. That’s … odd. And, look at this. See how the ink flow varies? It almost looks like it was written by a dip pen or a quill, rather than a ballpoint. Even fountain pens write more smoothly than this. The penmanship is odd, too…” His voice trailed off as he tilted the page, squinting at the surface of the dried ink, then he dropped it and pulled the next file from the box. “Ah, look! Completely different handwriting, very obviously a ballpoint pen … and a typewriter!”
“So … what does that mean?” John asked. “Someone made up a fake file on Harry Potter?”
“It looks that way. The question is why? And why such a bad fake?”
It really was, thought John. Why, indeed?
“So, if these records were faked, then Dursley lied,” said Sherlock as they crawled back through the gate. “His nephew was never sent to St Brutus’s, so … where did he go?”
“Some other school?” suggested John.
“Yes, but where? And why would he lie? Who created that faked file? Did he send him to school at all? Maybe they kept him locked in that room during term?”
John couldn’t prevent a shudder. “That’s a horrible thought. But then what happened to him when he turned seven… I mean, eighteen? Did they just kick him out?”
Sherlock was punching at his phone. “Nothing comes up on Google. Let’s go back to Privet Drive and see if they have anything like adoption or guardian paperwork that might tell us more.”
John nodded, even though Privet Drive was about the last place he wanted to go. Ron had said Harry was married with three kids, now, so he wasn’t worried about his old friend’s current state of mind, but if it were him, he wouldn’t have wanted his past excavated like this—certainly not over Vernon Dursley.
He vaguely remembered a few references to his adopted family when they were in school, but Harry had always made a point to reassure John that he knew not all muggles were like that—although John’s family had never exactly belonged on a postcard, either. His mother had died before he’d gotten his Hogwarts letter, and his being a wizard had just put more obstructions between him and his remaining family. Even when he’d had to stay home in seventh year, denied Hogwarts because of his “mudblood” past, relations had been awkward. The only thing that worked out that year was that, since he was forced to attend a muggle high school, he had had valid credentials to show when he joined the army.
No, he’d been away from the wizarding world for almost two decades now, and the last thing he wanted to be forced to do now was to not only investigate a magical murder, but one connected to his old dorm-mate and hero of the entire wizarding community? God, no.
Sherlock was intrigued. Not only did he have a locked-room mystery with an undetermined cause of death, two missing suspects-and-or-victims, but now there was this delicious twist of false school records for the victim’s possibly-troubled nephew. The evidence of abuse (or at least neglect) in the boy’s old room was plain, but if the boy hadn’t lived there in years, why would they keep the room for him? And if they had neglected/abused him, why would they think the boy might come back?
And who had planted the false records at the school? How long ago?
No, he needed more data.
He looked at John slumped in his seat and tried to remember when they had last stopped for him to eat. It was always so inconvenient, but since Sherlock usually used the time to think about their cases, he couldn’t begrudge John his sustenance … not too much, anyway.
John had seemed off ever since the crime scene. Something to do with the old school friend? Because that had been odd. And then his mood had soured even more after St Brutus’s. “Why don’t you want to go back to Privet Drive?” Sherlock asked. “Does it have something to do with that schoolmate of yours?”
He didn’t miss the slight jump at the question. “Oh, you mean Ron? No, not really … or at least, I didn’t expect to see him, but it’s fine. What do you think about those records of Potter’s? They were faked, but all the punishments were for hot-headed behaviour. If they were planted by Dursley’s killer, wouldn’t they have made Potter seem more, I don’t know, calculating and cold? To come back after all this time for revenge?”
That was actually a good question, Sherlock thought, but then, John was often best at reading emotions.
“It depends on how long ago they were planted,” he said. “If they date back to Potter’s actual school days, they could have been a blind to prevent investigation as to where he actually was. If they’re more recent and tied to the murder … you’re right. Then they don’t fit.”
“Unless we’re supposed to believe he’s been a bomb waiting to go off all this time?”
“But why now? If Potter has had no interaction with his family for twenty years, what would drive him to kill his uncle now?”
“You really think that’s likely?” asked John, a layer of tension in his voice.
“I don’t know,” said Sherlock. “It all depends on what Potter’s doing now. He may have left and never looked back and be totally uninvolved. Or he may be a target. I can’t know for sure until we’ve tracked him down.”
“Right,” said John. “So what’s our next step?’’
Later that night, back in London, John told Sherlock he was going out. He didn’t tell him specifically that he was going to meet up with Ron, though he wouldn’t put it past Sherlock to deduce that. John just hoped to avoid the questions and wanted to keep Sherlock from tagging along, because, well, that wouldn’t go well at all. There were too many things they needed to talk about that a muggle couldn’t hear.
Ron had invited him to the Leaky Cauldron, but while it was tempting, John didn’t want to come that close to his past. He had suggested a random muggle pub, instead—not one of his regulars, in the hopes that it would take Sherlock longer to track him down if his flatmate got bored. (He really hoped Sherlock didn’t get bored tonight.)
When he arrived, he wasn’t surprised to find that Ron hadn’t come alone.
Standing next to him as John approached the table was the saviour of the wizarding world himself.
“John, good to see you.”
John nodded, mouth suddenly dry. “Harry. You, too. It’s … you look good.”
The other man’s face broke into a grin. “Better than the last time you saw me, I hope.”
A picture of a filthy, worn, battered Harry, triumphant in the early morning sunlight presented itself. “Well, yeah.”
There was some slightly awkward manoeuvring then as they got drinks and found a table sufficiently out of the way. John noticed that all of them opted to sit where they could see the door and wondered what that said about them, that all of them were so used to basic defence and situational awareness. “Seriously,” John said after a while. “You look great. You both do. Ron said you’re married? Five kids between you?”
“All at Hogwarts right now, thankfully,” Harry said, “Or I’d look more tired—but what’s your excuse, John? You look exhausted. You have kids keeping you up?”
“I don’t really sleep all that well,” John said. “And I have a Sherlock.”
“What’s a Sherlock?”
“That’s your colleague, right?” asked Ron. “The detective.”
John nodded. “And my flatmate, which is how we met. I couldn’t afford a place in London after Afghanistan, and then I started helping him on cases… It gives me something to do on light weeks.”
“Afghanistan? What were you doing there?”
“Army doctor,” John said. “Turns out life at Hogwarts prepares one really well for army life—after the hexes and jinxes and ghosts, an army barrack is almost peaceful. And I got used to fighting.”
“Wait,” said Harry, brow furrowed. “Army doctor? But … you’re not a muggle.”
“Yes, I am,” John said, ignoring the tightness in his stomach that had been plaguing him all evening. He had known this was going to come up and had been dreading it ever since Privet Drive.
“No, you were muggle-born, but you went to Hogwarts, John. You were one of the best fighters in the DA. You saved George’s life at the Battle. You are not a muggle, even if you’re living like one,” Ron told him.
John shook his head and swallowed another mouthful of beer to buy time. “No. I was a wizard,” he said, trying to keep his voice level, trying not to feel insulted that they hadn’t remembered, that he had meant so little. “Now I’m just an ordinary muggle with some rather unusual old schoolbooks and a childhood I can’t talk about.”
“I don’t understand,” Harry said. “What are you talking about?”
“What am I …? You really don’t know?” John was dumbfounded.
“No. John, what happened?” Ron asked. “I remember seeing you there. I remember your blocking that curse aimed at George—thanks for that, by the way. But we couldn’t find you afterwards. I heard you broke your leg, but everyone said you were fine otherwise. Dean told us a few weeks later that you’d returned to muggle life, but we never knew why. We just figured that after the year of being ostracized, you decided it wasn’t worth coming back.”
“What? No. I would have come back in a minute—why else would I have come to fight? I was fighting for you, Harry, but also for the good of the wizarding world. My world. And now you’re saying…” John shook his head, staring at the table, trying to forget the devastating loss he’d felt. “There was a lot going on that day, I suppose, and you were … well, you were busy. That day and after.”
“And the day after that, and the day after that. Believe me, it hasn’t stopped yet. But, John, what happened?”
Unable to bear it anymore, John simply said, “I lost my magic.”
“I was cursed, somehow. Madame Pomfrey never did figure it out. All I know for sure is that a spell hit me right at the end of the battle that … that took away my magic. All of a sudden, I couldn’t do it anymore. My wand just felt like an ordinary stick of wood, and nothing … worked. And since she couldn’t figure out what caused it, she couldn’t reverse it, and so … I went back home to Dad and Harry. My sister Harry, that is.”
He paused to sip his beer, trying to ignore the horrified look on his friends’ faces. “It turned out that not getting back to Hogwarts for seventh year worked in my favour. Since I went to the local high school for the last two years, I had a diploma muggles would actually recognize. And then, I spent too much time around you, Harry, because I found I really needed to help people. So I went to uni to become a doctor and then joined the army. I did that for, oh, fifteen years, being deployed around the world. I came back to London, oh, six months ago and met Sherlock. I suppose I was just always meant to be a muggle.”
He looked up then, not quite meeting their eyes, almost afraid at what he might see. Harry and Ron might be more enlightened than a lot of the wizarding community, but there’s still a difference between dealing with a wizard who had been born a muggle, and an actual muggle. He didn’t quite know what he would do if he saw the familiar disdain on their faces now they knew he hadn’t just been slumming all these years.
But, no, they both look devastated at his story. “How did we not know that? Why didn’t anyone tell us?”
“Well, you were kind of busy saving the world…”
“But a curse that could take a wizard’s magic away?” Ron’s voice was harsh, horrified. “You can’t keep that a secret! That’s … sick.”
John still couldn’t quite meet their eyes. “Well, other than Madame Pomfrey, no-one seemed all that fussed at the time. The feeling I got was basically, oh, it’s not so bad since he was raised a muggle anyway. It’s a shame, but not a tragedy, not after everything else that had happened.”
“Not a … how could they say that? How could anyone even do that? How could someone even think of a curse like that?” Ron looked nauseated at the thought.
“I don’t know,” John told him, glancing around to see if anyone was paying attention as Ron got more distraught. “It’s twenty years ago, though, so…”
“You were compensated, though, weren’t you? When the claims finally cleared the courts?”
“Compen…?” John shook his head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Except for a couple letters from Dean in those first few years, I haven’t heard anything from the wizarding world until, well, today.”
Ron looked almost speechless now, so it was Harry who explained how the half-blood and muggle-born wizards and witches had been paid settlements after all the dust had cleared and the Ministry had been brought back to its senses. All witches and wizards who had been persecuted had received compensation for their loss of homes and livelihoods in the preceding year—with an extra premium if they had fought at the Battle of Hogwarts. “You should definitely have been included in that group, John.”
John could feel the wry smile on his face. “I’m not saying some extra galleons wouldn’t have come in handy, but … I never heard about any of this. But then, I stopped subscribing to the Prophet ages ago.”
“We’ll check,” said Ron, leaning forward. “You should have gotten a pay-out, even if it wasn’t claimed.”
“It doesn’t matter, Ron…”
“Of course it does! You fought for us, and it left you crippled! You deserve it…”
John really didn’t want to talk about this anymore. “It was a long time ago, Ron, a couple lifetimes. I don’t need the Ministry’s money. I’ve got my pension from the army and my own income. I don’t depend on the government for my living expenses … not unless you count Mycroft.” He waved his hand at their questioning looks. “Never mind. The point is, I’ve moved on, okay? Right now, I’m just glad to see you both … though knowing you hadn’t deliberately cut me out is … good.”
“We wouldn’t,” said Harry quietly, lifting his glass in a silent toast. “We treat our friends better than that.”
“Amen,” said Ron, raising his. Feeling sentimental, John leaned in with his and tried not to admit how relieved he felt at the comradely clink of glasses.
After a few moments, Harry said, “So … tell me about Uncle Vernon. And how you ended up there.”
John nodded, marshalling his thoughts. “Ron told you about Sherlock?”
“A private detective, he said?”
“Consulting detective,” corrected John automatically. “The police consult him when they have puzzles they can’t figure out—and this one? A murder with no clear cause of death, inside a locked room? It’s like meat and bread and jam tea to Sherlock. He’s brilliant. If anyone can figure this out, it’s him—though he also won’t give up until he does.” He looked over at Harry, and said, “I had no idea that was your uncle, though. Not until we were there. And I saw … your room.”
He stopped, voice choked, but Harry just nodded calmly. “Bars still on the window? They put them back in after Fred, George, and Ron pulled them out with their flying car second year.”
“The one you crashed into the Whomping Willow?”
“That’s the one. The Dursleys weren’t quite so strict after that—at least they didn’t lock me in the next summer. They were never … comfortable … with a wizard in the family, though.”
John thought about what he’d seen in that room. “No, I don’t think they were.” He was just opening his mouth to ask about St Brutus’s when he groaned. “Oh, God, he followed me. Just … try not to be offended by anything he says. I don’t want to have to explain to his brother if he suddenly has a cloven tongue, or something.”
It was all he had time for before Sherlock was at the table, doing that false, friendly smile he did so well. John narrowed his eyes, ready to be furious. Couldn’t he get one evening to himself without Sherlock butting in? Wasn’t this awkward enough without his flatmate’s deducing everyone? And, Christ … the thought of Sherlock deducing Harry Potter … his brain would explode. How were they supposed to explain why he was having drinks with one of the suspects—and hadn’t told Sherlock? Maybe it would be best to keep Harry’s name out of it?
“Sherlock, what are you…”
“Hello, John. I thought I’d take a break from the case and join you,” Sherlock said, completely ignoring the glare his friend was giving you. “Ron Weasley, isn’t it? Good to see you again. And you are?”
John saw it happening just about half a second too late.
“The name’s Potter. Harry Potter. Nice to meet you.”
And for the first time in years, John found himself wishing for fire whiskey. Lots of it.
“The name’s Potter. Harry Potter. Nice to meet you.”
Sherlock blinked, thrown for just a fraction of a second, but a glance at John (almost hiding his face in his hands) and at the stunned redhead confirmed it. “Indeed? I’m pleased to meet you. I didn’t know you knew John.”
Potter nodded easily. “We all went to school together. When Ron called to tell me that he’d bumped into him at my uncle’s house, well…”
“You were curious,” said Sherlock smoothly. “Of course. Anyone would be.”
“Sherlock, just stop it,” John said, looking pointedly at one of the chairs. “You’re not fooling anyone. If it’s not obvious, Harry, this is my flatmate, the world’s only consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes. He’s helping investigate your uncle’s murder. Sherlock, this is Harry Potter, who I can vouch was not a budding psychopath at St Brutus’s because he was at school with me from the time we were eleven.”
Sherlock looked at John. “And yet you didn’t mention that while we dug through the admission files earlier. You could have saved us some work, John.”
John looked unabashed. “Could I? Because it seems to me that if I had told you, we wouldn’t have found that there were false records declaring Harry went to St Brutus’s.”
“Wait, what?” asked Potter. “That place is real? I thought my uncle just made it up.”
“What did he tell you?”
“He didn’t want people knowing that I was … going to school in Scotland, and so he lied.” Potter took a sip from his glass, Sherlock watching the slight tremor in his hand. “My parents were killed when I was a year old, and my aunt and uncle were … reluctant … to take me in, especially because my aunt never liked my mother. I think she was jealous, a bit, and she certainly didn’t approve of my dad. So, they pretty much raised me under protest. When I got the letter from school, though … it was where Mum and Dad went, and they’d left the school fees for me, but the Dursleys hated me going there. Hated that I was getting … advantages … Dudley didn’t. So they lied about where I went. I just never knew St Brutus’s was a real place—it sounded like something Uncle Vernon would have made up—not that he was exactly famous for his sense of humour.”
Sherlock felt a tingle of interest. Everything Potter had just said was true—he could tell the other man was not lying—but he was hiding something. “It was definitely real,” he said, “Though it has since gone out of business. You do have a file, though, which makes you out to be quite a trouble-maker.”
“Story of my life,” Potter said with a sigh. “People always think the worst of me.”
“Or the best,” put in Ron. “It’s always one extreme or the other with you.”
“So, the St Brutus’s file is definitely false?”
All three of them nodded. “I told you,” John said, “We went to school together in Scotland. We shared a dorm and, believe me, after six years of hearing Harry’s nigh… er … snores, there is no doubt in my mind that he was really there.”
Sherlock’s eyes narrowed. “Boarding school in Scotland, John? How would your family have found the money?”
Judging by the insult in all three pair of eyes, he’d struck a nerve, he thought, even as John said, “You’ve heard of scholarships, Sherlock? Good to know what you really think of me.”
“Don’t be silly, John. You’ve always had hidden depths.”
Amazingly, it looked as if Ron was trying not to laugh. “He’s got you there, mate.”
“Not helping, Ron,” snapped John. “And do you really want to talk about who got into more trouble in school? I’m not the one who drove there second year.”
“That wasn’t our fault. We couldn’t get on the train platform….”
“Ron,” said Potter quietly, but his friend immediately stopped talking. Loyal, then, and obedient, thought Sherlock. “That’s not important right now. What is is that Uncle Vernon is dead and I apparently have a school file for a school I never went to. Where are Aunt Petunia and Dudley?” he asked suddenly.
“I don’t know,” Sherlock said. “Of course, it’s inappropriate for me to discuss the case with you.”
He saw John raise an eyebrow, but it was Ron who protested, “Inappropriate? It seems to me I’m working on this case, too.”
Sherlock nodded, but refrained from saying anything as he watched Potter’s face. “But you’re not a suspect, Ron.” Sherlock gave another nod toward Potter. “Nothing personal, of course.”
“Of course,” said Potter. “You don’t know me.” He reached into his pocket to pull out an ID that declared him a member of Her Majesty’s law enforcement. “I can’t tell you exactly what I was working on the night Uncle Vernon was killed, but I can tell you where I was doing it—here in London, working late. Do you have a time of death?”
“The coroner says between 6:00 and 9:00,” said John. “He hadn’t narrowed it down yet, last I heard. Or the cause of death.”
Potter nodded. “Right. I left the office about 8:00 and went straight home. I did not detour to Privet Drive on my way. I haven’t set foot in that house since the day I turned 17, and I have no desire to. My uncle made his opinions about seeing me quite clear. Believe me, Sherlock, if I had been going to kill him, it would have been when he locked me in that room, or when he was making me do all the chores around the house and barely fed me—or when he tried to tell me that my parents were drunks who died in a car crash instead of the truth that they were murdered trying to save my life. But I didn’t. I shook the dust from that house on my seventeenth birthday and haven’t given it a thought since. I certainly have no reason to change that now. I’m happily married, have three children, a good job, even better friends … there is no reason for me to go back there.”
“Maybe not,” Sherlock said, watching the man’s face carefully. “But someone appears to think that you do. Because if you’re not the killer, someone either wants us to think you are, or is trying to send you a message.”
“Your aunt and cousin are missing, Mr Potter,” Sherlock said. “I believe they were kidnapped but there are no traces in the house. With the exception of that one door that is open with its bolt extended, there is nothing out of place, nothing to show that two people taken from that house. Yet I believe they were—and I believe that, somehow, you are the key to the puzzle.”
He was almost surprised when, instead of looking surprised or horrified at the news, Harry just groaned, looking almost resigned. “Of course I am. Story of my bloody life. It always comes back to me somehow, doesn’t it?”
John didn’t say much in the cab back to Baker Street. Mostly because he didn’t know what to say.
He wasn’t surprised that Sherlock had followed him—it was Sherlock, after all—but he wished he hadn’t, if only because John would have liked more time to talk to Harry and Ron.
The fact that they hadn’t known about his … disability … was such a relief. His loss of magic had been devastating, but having all his old friends drop him had hurt worse. He could understand how they had drifted apart since the track his life had taken was so vastly different than any in the wizarding world, but to be cut off so abruptly by his friends when he had been injured (could you call it that?) fighting with them, for them … and, was it really an injury? What was the right word for losing a part of yourself? Vivisection?
He had never known how to define the loss of his magic, even to himself. It had been like losing a limb, or one of his senses, and yet he’d been left in one piece with his brain and faculties intact. Just … it had been like suddenly being tone deaf—he still knew and remembered magic, but just couldn’t feel it anymore, couldn’t appreciate it.
Ron’s word … ‘crippled’ … had hit him harder than he’d expected.
It had been hard, harder than he’d expected, to adapt to a life without magic again. He had almost been grateful for the year of fear while Harry had been on the run. He had put his wand away, terrified he would accidentally, automatically cast a spell out of simple instinct, bringing the vengeful Ministry of Magic or the Death Eaters to his house. He still wasn’t sure how he had survived that year.
The brief chance to use magic again for the Battle of Hogwarts had been … wonderful. For the first time since Dumbledore’s funeral he had felt free and strong. He had felt alive. Like many another natural soldier before him, John Watson had discovered his true self in the battle.
And then it had all been taken away. Even as the tide turned and the Death Eaters were swarmed under by a vengeful crowd fighting for Harry, he had been struck … he didn’t even know by what. A curse? Some kind of block to prevent him using his magic? He had lived the last twenty years without knowing the answer to that, but it was a moot point. Whether his magic was gone or just beyond his reach, the effect was the same. He was broken and nobody had been able to fix him.
So for the second year in a row, he had returned to the local Muggle high school, only this time he threw himself into his studies. Instead of trying to keep as low a profile as possible, suffering under a virtual death sentence if he were discovered, now, he had a future—even if it was something completely different than what he had planned. His thoughts of being an Auror were obviously out of the question, but he had seen enough abuse of power, enough injury and death to know that it was important—vital—to stand up and fight for what was right.
And so he formed a new future for himself. He resolutely put the lack of owls behind him, assuming that his old friends no longer cared. They hadn’t seen him in a year, after all, other than in the smoke-filled chaos of that final battle. They had forgotten him, and well, fine. It wasn’t like he could do anything to contribute to the Voldemort-free world they were building. So, instead, he went and found his own fight.
It was a relief, though, to learn that he hadn’t been deliberately ignored or snubbed. The look of horror on Ron and Harry’s faces when he told of the curse had been real, he thought. They had not known. They hadn’t abandoned him, not really. Not deliberately.
He could feel Sherlock staring at him, but really, what was he supposed to tell him? Did he really think Harry was a suspect now he’d met him? Sherlock couldn’t find out about the wizarding world, but how was John supposed to convince him that Harry Potter, of all people, would not kill someone in cold blood? Or at least, not the Harry Potter he had grown up with—and it was hard to imagine he had changed that much, war or no war.
The cab pulled up at 221B and, for a change, John was out and across the pavement first, leaving Sherlock to pay.
He had his coat off before Sherlock made it up the stairs and stood, hesitating, in the kitchen doorway, debating the wisdom of a cup of tea, knowing an inquisition was coming.
Sherlock pulled off his own coat and scarf and then went to stand at their joint desk, looking down at the file they’d pulled from St Brutus’s earlier that day. “You didn’t tell me you knew him.”
“I wasn’t sure it was relevant. I haven’t seen him since I left school. Ron, either.”
Sherlock glanced at him, looking sideways as if not wanting to appear confrontational. “But you were good friends in school.”
John nodded. “Yes, but … I don’t actually hear from any of my old school mates. It’s like a different world, another lifetime, Sherlock. I recognized Ron, yes, but I hadn’t seen him since we were 18.”
“But you got together with the prime suspect for drinks?”
“I didn’t meet a suspect for drinks, Sherlock. I met an old friend, who brought the suspect along. I didn’t know Harry was going to be there.”
Sherlock turned, now, to face him directly. “Why haven’t you seen them in so long? You were obviously close, and you were comfortable together—not awkward like estranged friends would be.”
“I told you,” John said, really not wanting to talk about this. “Different worlds. I went into the army, they stayed here, we drifted apart, okay? If Ron hadn’t shown up at Privet Drive this morning, I wouldn’t have seen them at all—and I wouldn’t have known how to contact Harry, either. Ron basically did us a favour by bringing Harry tonight, and he wouldn’t have done that if Harry weren’t innocent.”
“You’re sure of that?”
John nodded. “Yes.”
“Even though you haven’t seen him in twenty years? Having seen the room he was kept in as a boy?”
John’s voice was even firmer this time as he said, “Yes. There’s no way. I would suspect Mrs Hudson, or Mycroft, before I could believe Harry would kill someone in cold blood—not even his Uncle Vernon.
“You’re that convinced? He could have changed.”
“No. Not possible.” He met Sherlock’s level gaze calmly, remembering when he’d faced the same look, waiting to hear that he’d had good reasons to shoot a cabbie, that he wasn’t actually a psychopath himself. But how to convince him? “Hermione—she’s Ron’s wife now—used to say that Harry had a ‘saving people thing.’ If you were in trouble, he’d be there to help, instantly, even if he didn’t like you, because it was the right thing to do.”
He decided he really did need tea and reached for the kettle. “One thing that defined Harry in school was that he believed in second chances, even for Vol…” Damn it, he thought. “The point is that he would have given his uncle a break even then, but now, twenty years later? I can’t imagine it. Just … not possible.”
Sherlock had moved over to the kitchen door now. “You’re very loyal, considering they haven’t kept in touch.”
“I didn’t keep in touch with them, either, Sherlock. Don’t go reading things into it. How many of your old classmates do you keep in touch with?”
He was rewarded by a small smile. “None of them willingly, but then, I wouldn’t have considered any of them friends. But you like to socialize.”
“It’s nice to,” John said carefully, “But it’s kind of pointless when you have nothing at all in common anymore. Stories about schoolboy pranks can only take a conversation so far. Friends drift apart, it’s not a big deal.”
“Except it was,” Sherlock told him, eyes calm and wise. “You were tense when we met Ron this morning, as if you almost expected to be snubbed, and you were hesitant about meeting him for drinks tonight. There was a … falling out?”
Cursing his luck in observant flatmates, John shook his head. “Nothing deliberate. I told you—different worlds. I … I admit, I had been a little hurt when they didn’t contact me after … when school ended, but it turns out they didn’t know … er … how to reach me, and then I was in the army and…”
“You’re lying to me.”
“No,” John said, shaking his head. “I’m not. I’m really not.” And damn, but it was hard work skirting the line between truth and falsehood when there were so many things he couldn’t say.
“Then you’re not telling me everything.”
“No, I’m not,” John agreed, “But I’m not lying.”
“Something happened,” Sherlock said, piecing who knew what clues together inside his head. “At the end of school. Something big. You mentioned Ron’s brother being killed in a fight. You were involved?” He didn’t even wait for John to respond, “Of course you were, but they don’t blame you for his death, so … you were on the same side?”
John swallowed. “I really don’t want to talk about this, Sherlock.”
“You were, then. And when you ‘drifted apart,’ you thought it was a deliberate snub because … you hadn’t saved his brother?”
“But why wouldn’t you have contacted them? You’re not exactly shy about approaching people, and certainly you have no hesitations about confronting me when you’re unhappy with my actions. So, what then? Except, you didn’t reach out to your army buddies after you were shot, either. So—you were hurt? In the same fight that killed Ron’s brother?”
John reached out for his full mug and threw it, hot, watery, not-quite-tea spilling across the floor as the mug crashed and shattered against the wall. “I said I don’t want to talk about it! Just leave it alone, Sherlock!”
He headed up the stairs to his room to a stunned silence, trying not to acknowledge the limp that dragged at his steps as Sherlock stared after him.
Sherlock stood, stunned, as John left the room. He had never seen John react like that. The man had lost his temper occasionally, and had been known to have a yell when things were bad, but to throw his RAMC mug—full of boiling-hot tea—across the room?
He must have hit a nerve … he just had no idea how.
He considered what he knew. John’s firm, confident defence of Potter. His shying away from any discussion about school. The fact of Ron’s brother having died in a fight. The limp that had reappeared just now, as John walked away.
His repeated assertion that they lived in different worlds now. What did that mean? His friends were wealthy while he was not? Potter and Ron were both dressed well enough, but there wasn’t anything special about their clothes. There had been that odd mannerism, though—when they sat down, they had both moved their hands as if to pull something aside, like a dressing gown or a woman with her skirts. Odd, but, still. There had been nothing about either of them that said “wealth.” Not their accents, either.
Perhaps John had just meant the army? Except Potter and Ron had both been quite obviously aware of their surroundings, as if accustomed to or expecting an attack. They both had government-issued badges declaring them law-enforcement officers, but not from any department he had heard of. Maybe it was the fact that the others had married and had children …except that wouldn’t have happened immediately after school.
And why would none of them mention the name of the school?
There was something missing here, and it was a more delicious mystery than the one surrounding Dursley’s murder (though the missing aunt and cousin were a concern). And no, having spent some time with Potter, Sherlock didn’t think he was the murderer, but judging by the subtle deference from Ron—and John!—he suspected that Potter was somehow the target, though whether someone was trying to coerce him or pay him back for some past offence, he was unsure.
But … what was the tie between them and John? Sherlock might not interact with his old classmates (the debacle with Sebastian had been bad enough), but it was unlike John to completely cut old friends from his life. Unless he’d been hurt. Had they hurt him, Sherlock wondered? The other way around? Why all the secrecy? Was this some covert spy school like out of the movies John liked watching?
So many mysteries, and John was right at the centre of it.
The next morning, John took advantage of Sherlock’s brooding-on-the-couch time to run out to the shops for milk and tea and bread—since tea and toast were still pretty much the only things he could successfully cook.
He felt badly about his RAMC mug, though. He’d had that for years now, and regretted having broken it just because he was angry with Sherlock. Really, though, why couldn’t Sherlock just leave things alone once in a while? Hadn’t John asked him nicely, several times, to just … stop? It might be childish to blame Sherlock for the broken mug, but if he had just left the conversation alone …
He was going to miss that mug, he thought. It was one of the few reminders of the days when people actually listened to him, when he could give orders and people would do what he said, rather than the other way around.
Which, of course, was when the black sedan pulled up alongside him.
He sighed, peering into the window to see Mycroft’s assistant smirking at him from the backseat. “Get in, Dr Watson.”
He thought about protesting, but … really, what was the point? Mycroft would probably just have his people hunt him down with a tranquilizer gun if he ignored them—though there were days when a tranq dart sounded much more restful than actually dealing with Sherlock. It might actually be nice.
“If my milk sours, I hope you’re going to replace it for me. We go through enough of the stuff as it is,” was all he said as they rode along, John wondering where they were going today. A warehouse again? A café? A park? None of the above, apparently as the car brought him to a familiar parking garage. Unusually, Anthea got out of the car with him and led him to the lift, down the hall, and then followed him into Mycroft’s office.
“Hello, John,” Mycroft greeted him, waving him to a seat.
“Mycroft. To what do I owe the pleasure today?”
“Ah, always so direct to the point,” Mycroft said, smile fading. “I wanted to know why you were seen with these two men last night.” He slid across a photo of Harry and Ron.
John didn’t touch it, but just looked across the desk. “You do know this level of surveillance is a little creepy, don’t you?
“Just answer the question, John.”
“It was to do with a case,” he answered. “A murder in Little Whinging—closed room, mysterious cause of death. Sherlock was called in yesterday.”
“I heard about Vernon Dursley,” Mycroft said. “But … do you know who these gentlemen are?”
John nodded. “Harry Potter and Ron Weasley.”
“Indeed. And you were with them why?”
“It was to do with the case,” John said calmly. “Ron was at the Dursley house yesterday morning. The victim was Harry’s uncle.”
From the corner of his eye, he saw the tiniest flinch of a reaction from Anthea. “Is Mr Potter a suspect?”
John tilted his head. “Superficially, he looks like one, but I don’t think so. I believe Sherlock suspects him to be more of a target … and is there a reason you’re not asking him about this?”
“As if he would answer,” Mycroft said with a sniff. “And he was not the one having drinks with them.”
“He did, actually,” John said, “But I’ll ask again—why? Is there something I should know about these two? Are they dangerous?”
“They are on…” Mycroft seemed to pause to find just the right phrasing, “A variety of watch lists, but I don’t believe they are considered dangerous. Or, at least, not to law-abiding citizens. In that way, they are much like yourself, John.”
“I don’t know if I should be flattered or insulted by that,” John said. “But if you already know who they are, why…?”
“Because I need to know what my brother and his colleague were doing with these two—especially since you didn’t just meet them to ask questions about a murder inquiry. That wouldn’t have involved drinks, and that does concern me. Neither gentleman makes a habit of small talk. So why were they talking to you?”
“Again with the insulting,” murmured John. “If it helps, I didn’t know Harry was going to be there. Ron called me last night—I had given him my card at the crime scene in case he had information or questions for Sherlock—and when he asked me to meet, I agreed. I didn’t know Harry would be there.”
“Harry,” Mycroft said, voice stretching out the name thoughtfully. “A possible murder suspect and you call him by his first name?”
As much fun as this was, suddenly John had had enough. “I’ve known him for years, Mycroft. It’s not like I’m going to call them Potter and Weasley at this late date.”
He had both their attentions now and the air had gone still. “How do you know them, John?”
He gave a shrug. “It’s been a long time. I haven’t seen them in about twenty years, but when Ron invited me for a drink, well … that’s what old friends do, isn’t it?”
“Old friends? And how did you make their acquaintance? Did you live near one of them, perhaps? Meet them on holiday?”
John hid a smile. “Nothing like that—we knew each other at school.”
“That’s not possible.” Mycroft’s voice was flat.
“But still true,” John said.
Mycroft looked across at Anthea, who was looking at her Blackberry (of course). She shook her head. “No, sir.”
“Again, John, I say that’s not possible. You can’t have gone to the same school—it’s rather elite.”
“That’s rather snobbish coming from a graduate of, what Eton?” John said, amused. “Though I suppose in its way, Hogwarts is even more exclusive. You can check the admissions list—or get someone to check for you. I started Hogwarts the same year as Harry and Ron—we shared a dorm, even, along with Neville, Seamus and Dean.”
“No,” Anthea said, shocked enough to enter the conversation as she looked down at her Blackberry and back at John. “The sensors…”
John was only marginally surprised to learn there were some kind of wizard/Muggle sensors in Mycroft’s office. He stood up, tired of this. “Sorry I don’t have a class ring to show you, but things were a little irregular my last year—which is why my official records say I graduated from the same high school as my sister. Which I did.”
Now both of them looked dumbfounded. “But … you’re not a wizard,” Anthea said, insistent. “This says you’re not.”
“No,” said John. “I’m not.”
And unable to bear this conversation any longer, he walked out the door, leaving Mycroft and Anthea speechless in his wake.
When he arrived home an hour later, after fighting the crowds on the Tube, it was to find Mycroft and Anthea standing in the living room of 221B. “I just can’t get a break, can I?” John said with a groan as he opened the door. “Haven’t you heard of privacy? Not to mention knocking?”
“We weren’t done with our conversation, John.”
“And you forgot your shopping,” Anthea said, handing him a bag. “I think you’ll find the milk is still fresh.”
“Unbelievable,” John said. “Why does nobody understand that I don’t want to talk about this?”
“Wanting and needing are two different things, John,” Mycroft told him with an unusual amount of sympathy. “And we really do need to discuss this. How is it possible that you went to Hogwarts but don’t register as a wizard?”
John drew in a deep breath, trying for patience. He really didn’t want this conversation. He walked over to his chair and picked up the newspaper before sitting down. “Because I’m not a wizard anymore, Mycroft. I haven’t been since I was eighteen. I haven’t had anything to do with the wizarding world since then, either, so it’s really none of your business. I imagine Harry and Ron are on all kinds of government watch lists, so you probably had to ask, but … I knew them at school, but haven’t seen them in twenty years. Can we drop this now?”
“As I understand it, one is born either with or without magic—it’s not something that can be turned on or off. How is it possible that you were a wizard but don’t register as one anymore?”
John clenched his fists, paper crinkling as he tried hard not to lose his temper again. “Because I was cursed, Mycroft, all right? At the Battle of Hogwarts. One minute I was a wizard, the next I wasn’t. I don’t know how or why, and we couldn’t figure out how to fix it, so I came back to the Muggle world and have lived here ever since. All right? Happy now? Good, because if I haven’t made myself clear, this isn’t something I want to talk about.”
“I’ve never heard of such a curse,” Anthea said.
“And you’re an expert, are you?” he asked, exasperated, from behind his paper.
A light voice came from the door. “No, but I am.” John looked over, surprised and yet, with the way his day was going not surprised at all. “Hello, John. I’m sorry to interrupt. Your landlady told me to come up. I didn’t realize you had guests.” The new arrival looked over at Anthea and said, voice cool, “Hello, Ariadne.”
“Hermione,” Anthea said. “Dr Watson was just telling us that he used to be a wizard?”
“Yes, and a very dear friend that I haven’t seen in far too long.” Hermione said, sparing John a warm glance as he just leaned his head against his hand. Why did these things always happen to him?
“He claims to have been cursed.”
“Yes, that’s part of why I’m here.” She looked over at Mycroft. “How do you do. Hermione Weasley.”
“Mycroft Holmes. Charmed,” he said, and then gave the smallest wince at the choice of words, giving John the closest thing to a smile he’d had all day. “I’m sure you two have catching up to do. We can continue this at a later date.”
“No, Mycroft, we won’t. There’s nothing more to say,” John said, but Mycroft just gave his annoying, polite smile and moved toward the door. “I hope he has to fill out about a dozen contact forms for having had to shake your hand,” he said to Hermione.
“I’d offer to hex him for you, but it would be unprofessional,” Hermione said, pulling him up out of the chair to give him a hug now that it was just the two of them. “John, it’s really so good to see you. You have no idea how much we’ve all missed you,” she said.
He returned the hug for a moment, half awkward, half comforted, and then stepped back. “Probably not any more than I’ve missed you—all of you. I couldn’t believe it when I saw Ron yesterday. He finally grew into those long bones of his. And you—you look wonderful, Hermione.”
She smiled. “You look exhausted.”
“That’s what everybody keeps saying, but I’m used to it. According to my flatmate, sleep is over-rated. Can I get you some tea?”
“I didn’t mean to inconvenience you…”
“Oh, no. You are a welcome visitor on whom I am happy to practice the one bit of culinary expertise I have. I can’t cook anything more complicated than a fried egg, but I do make a good cuppa.” He headed toward the kitchen and sighed as his shoes made sticking noises as he crossed the floor. He’d forgotten about the tea he’d thrown across the room last night—and of course Sherlock hadn’t thought to mop it up. He crouched down to pick up his RAMC mug, staring forlornly at the pieces for a moment before turning toward the bin.
There was a whisper behind him and then the pieces in his hand reformed with a twirl, leaving him staring, breathless, at a whole, unbroken mug. John looked up at Hermione with an admiring smile spreading across his face. “Amazing,” he said when he had found his breath.
“It was just…”
“No,” he said, holding up a hand. “You don’t understand. I know that was a first-year spell. But it was also the first bit of magic I’ve seen in twenty years. I’d forgotten how … extraordinary it was. I feel like I’m eleven again.”
The look she gave him was soft and warm. “I remember.”
“Do you?” he asked, looking up at her. “Because I remember that it had become … normal, so that I barely noticed anymore. Nothing compared to that first day, when McGonagall came to the house to delivery my letter … unless it was the first spell I cast myself. It really was magic.”
“I do remember, John. It was like discovering you could fly—so many possibilities.” He heard the same awe in her voice and wondered how often she felt like that, using magic every day. They shared the moment, then, just basking in the wonder that magic was real (as any Muggle-born witches or wizards really should), and then she grew serious. “So, what happened, John?”
And there was that lump again, that block of ice that made it impossible to even think about talking about this. “Ron told you, didn’t he?” he asked, hoping he wouldn’t have to go over it again. As nice as seeing his old friends was, he hated being reminded of what he’d lost.
Hermione was nodding. “He did. He was … I can’t remember the last time I saw him so upset—at the thought of what had happened to you, that no-one cared. That no-one told us.”
John paused, handle on the faucet as he filled the kettle. “You were busy just then, as I recall. Restructuring the wizarding world, taking over the Ministry … it’s not like I was hurt…”
“Not hurt? John…” She stepped forward, putting her hand on his wrist. “You lost your magic. That’s like … losing an arm, or your sight. It was part of you and then it was gone. How could that not be important?”
“Because I was born a Muggle, Hermione,” John said, fighting not to shrug her hand off. “Nobody seemed to think it was that big a deal, since I could just go back to where I came from. I’d just spent an entire year acting like a Muggle as it was. Madame Pomfrey tried, but … nobody else had the time to care, not with … everything else.”
“We cared,” she told him, fingers digging into his wrist. “We would have cared a lot”
He gave a nod as he pulled away to place the kettle, switching it on and turning toward the cupboard to get the tea. “I thought maybe it was some kind of Ministry thing, with the way they’d been claiming Muggle-borns had ‘stolen’ magic all year. I figured that they’d just worked out some secret way to steal it back and I just hadn’t heard because I wasn’t getting the Prophet. That, even though our lot were horrified, they already knew about it—and couldn’t fix it.”
“No,” she said, voice sharp and deep with intent. “I asked around. Nobody’s ever heard of anything like this. Even if it hadn’t been you, John, this should have been something that was investigated right at the beginning.”
“Maybe. Either that or it was deliberately ignored and buried so deep because you can’t risk anybody ever hearing about it. So you don’t end up with a madman running around, turning the wizards he disagreed with into Muggles,” John said, thinking of the strategic uses and misuses such a spell could have. One, crazed wizard could decimate the entire wizarding community before being brought down, worse than any suicide bombers he had come across in the middle east.
He could tell Hermione hadn’t thought of that, the way her jaw had gone slack. But then, brilliant though she was, she had never been a soldier. Not officially, anyway. “Merlin,” she said, “All the more reason to find a cure.”
John froze. “A cure?”
“If it’s possible, yes,” she said matter-of-factly, and then paused, peering at his face. “Isn’t that what you’d want, John?”
“I … I’d never given it any thought. I thought it wasn’t possible, so I just … put it out of my head.”
She made a face. “How very pragmatic of you.”
“It’s not like I had many choices, Hermione. It was either that or despair and turn to drink like my dad. I tried to be practical. I finished out the my final year at my sister’s Muggle high school, went to Uni, and joined the army. And tried not to forget I’d ever been any different.”
Her eyes were gentle. “You were in the army?”
“Army doctor, yeah. Apparently I absorbed Harry’s saving-people thing, and I’m pretty level-headed in a fight. I was there for fifteen years until I was sent home, oh, six months ago?”
“Shot,” he said shortly, trying to keep his voice level. “Left with just enough nerve damage I couldn’t go back to being a surgeon. These days I help Sherlock solve crimes.”
He handed her one of the mugs of tea and tried to ignore the sympathy in her face. He hated having to tell people, hated showing weakness, as if he couldn’t take care of himself. Hated the pitying looks. He hadn’t realized until just now that part of the reason he’d hated the post-army questions so much were because they reminded him of the earlier loss—the one he couldn’t even refer to, couldn’t bear to think about. Not just losing a job, but an entire life.
“So, this curse,” she asked, following him back to the sitting room with her tea. “What can you tell me?”
“Almost nothing,” he said. “I didn’t hear the incantation, don’t even know who cast it—or if they’re dead or still alive. I just felt it hit my leg, like ice, and then … nothing. My wand could have been an ordinary stick for all the difference it made.” He tipped his head, thinking. “I was disoriented for a few moments, but that could have been the shock—I was unhurt, other than my leg. Still awake and aware. Just … terrified, being defenceless in the middle of that battle.”
He sipped his tea, carefully not looking at her face. “I know Madame Pomfrey tried to find a counter-curse. She said she couldn’t determine how it worked—if it had neutralized my magic, removed it, or just blocked it somehow. She had hoped that maybe it had drained it, so that it would be temporary, but that appears not to have been the case. We did try another wand, in case the curse damaged my physical wand and not me, but it worked fine for her, while I couldn’t get anyone’s to work…”
“Merlin, John, I’m so sorry.”
“It was a long time ago, Hermione,” he told her. “I don’t honestly think about it that much anymore. Until yesterday, anyway.”
They sat quietly for a moment, sipping their tea, then she asked, “Do you still have your wand?”
He nodded. “I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it. Sentiment. It’s upstairs.” He caught her sharp look. “Why? Do you want to see it?”
“If it’s not too much trouble?”
“I’ll get it—though I should warn you, I have no idea how much time we have before Sherlock comes back.”
“Best not to dawdle then, Watson,” she said, laughing.
He heaved himself from his chair and went upstairs, rummaging at the very back of his wardrobe for the long, narrow box that held what had once been his prized possession. He held it in his hand, feeling the way the crisp cardboard had softened over the years, yearning to open it, to reach inside and perform wonders. If he closed his eyes, he could almost imagine he was eleven again, with all the world at his fingertips. He could remember how magic had felt, the awe and wonder that had never entirely gone away. Or, not until all of it had disappeared, leaving him hollow, so that the only purpose he had been able to find for himself was as an army doctor—not exactly cannon-fodder, but a dangerous, useful purpose that at least left more valuable doctors out of harm’s way.
He paused a moment, fingers resting lightly on the lid of the box.
Then he sighed and carried the box, unopened, down the stairs.
Sherlock punched at the keyboard in frustration. It should not be this difficult to find one man. He knew where Potter had grown up. He had his birth date from his (falsified?) records at St Brutus’s. So why could he not find any other evidence of the man’s existence? He had even spoken to him last night. He knew John. It wasn’t like he was a figment of Sherlock’s imagination. (Frankly, he doubted his imagination would be that good.)
So, why was this so difficult?
And why was John so reluctant to talk about his schooling?
His eyes drifted from the computer screen as he considered what he knew.
Then he remembered the teasing conversation from the night before and wondered. Were the St Brutus’s records falsified?
What if Harry Potter had in fact attended said institution … along with one John Watson?
John found Hermione with her wand ready when he returned to the sitting room. “Expecting a fight?” he asked, eyebrows raised.
“No, just … looking around,” she said. “I can’t believe you have a human skull over the fireplace.”
“That’s Sherlock’s. In fact, most of this is Sherlock’s. I was in the army for most of my adult life—I travel light. And unlike some people, I didn’t have a bag with an expandable charm on the inside to carry tents and entire libraries.” He ignored her slight blush and looked around the room. “I like it, though. It’s got more character than most of the places I’ve lived since Hogwarts. And our landlady is the sweetest … hold on. Did you clean the floor?”
She shrugged. “It was sticky.”
“Christ, I don’t think it’s been that clean … ever. Mrs Hudson will be thrilled,” John said, unable to tear his eyes away, wondering what he would say to Sherlock later.
“Your wand, John?” she said.
“Right,” he said, fighting the odd reluctance to hand it over, but held out the box anyway.
“You haven’t even looked at it, have you?”
Embarrassed, he shook his head. “I try not to, really.”
He was still holding out the box, but she wasn’t moving, just watching him with calm, sympathetic eyes. Obviously she wasn’t going to take it until he took it out and handed it to her personally. Fine. He pulled it back toward him and lifted the lid, trying not to let his breath catch at the glossy purpleheart wood. When had he last looked at his wand? Christ, he’d forgotten how gorgeous it was.
His fingers hovered over it for a moment before reaching in and lifting the twelve-inch wand that had defined so much of his life for those six, magical years. For a moment, he could almost swear he felt it tingle, but chalked that up to sentiment.
He looked over at Hermione, surprised to see her holding her own wand. “What are you doing?” he asked, mouth dry even after a lifetime since he’d last had a wand pointed at him.
“Just a diagnostic,” she told him. “You do definitely read as Muggle, you know, but … when you touched your wand, there was … something, like a spark. Nothing big, but…” She tilted her head, thinking. “May I try your wand?”
He tried not to feel hopeful as she took it. Curse-breaking wasn’t her field, he told himself, and it’s been twenty years. Nothing was going to change. He’d be happy if he could help prevent this happening to another wizard, though, one who might not have his background, who would find it harder to cope.
Hermione was running her wand along his, though he couldn’t imagine what she was testing for. Of course, he had no idea what kind of spell-casting wizards were doing these days. He wondered if it had changed? The Muggle world certainly had. When he’d finished school in the 90s, computers weren’t new, but they didn’t have the personal impact on daily life that they have now. There had been no mobile phones (practical ones, anyway), barely an internet … but now? “So, have you invented a wizarding internet, yet?”
She glanced up at him, distracted. “Not yet, but I hear pressure is growing. The more Muggle-borns we get clamouring for the kind of technology they’re used to at home, the more curiosity there is—among the open-minded, anyway. Just getting a mobile to work in a magic atmosphere is hard, which is why so few of us have them … I don’t see the fuss, myself. Who would pick computers over magic?”
“Why pick?” John asked. “There are advantages to both. Maybe it’s time you lot joined the twenty-first century with the rest of us. I would think you of all people would appreciate the ease of research.”
“What do you mean?”
“The world’s knowledge at your fingertips? Digital books? With search functions? Not to mention emails … an owl can only fly so fast.” He examined the slightly perplexed look on her face. “Don’t visit your parents much these days?”
“They died a few years ago, in a fire,” she said, holding up her hand. “Don’t even say it—that’s not a topic I want to talk about. But anyway, they were never much interested in computers. I know they’re popular, but….”
John just stood for a moment, sympathy on his tongue, but—he knew better than anyone right now about unwelcome topics. So, instead, he let a huge grin spreading across his face. “Come with me,” he said, grabbing the wrist holding his wand and pulling her toward the desk. He opened his laptop and waited impatiently for it to wake up. “I’ll be the first one to tell you I’m not an expert—if only to get it in before Sherlock says anything—but computers these days are all connected to other computers and to what’s called the internet, which can almost do anything you could possibly want, information wise. You can video-chat with other people, research a wealth of information, watch movies, read books, play games … Here.”
He pulled up Google and, thinking, typed in ‘Sherlock Holmes.’ “If I do an internet search on my flatmate, this is what comes up. This link here,” he clicked on it, “Goes to his own website.”
“The Science of Deduction?” she read off the screen.
“Yes, it explains how he solves mysteries by observing details and deducing what’s important—except it’s so densely written it might as well be written in Crimean for all the good it does most people.” He clicked back and then selected the next link. “This one, though, brings you to my blog, where I tell about Sherlock’s cases as stories, more or less—making it a little more approachable, though Sherlock claims it’s romantic nonsense because I skip all the useful bits and concentrate on the sensational too much. Which I’m not saying isn’t somewhat true, but we get a lot of business from this.”
“A … blog, you called it?”
“Short for web-log, I think,” John said, “Kind of like a journal, but it’s there for anyone to read, all the time. Now, what’s next on the list … ah, we have the ‘Sherlock is a Berk Club’—I should join that one—and here are some hits from various newspapers that reported on his work. But, see? There are dozens, hundreds of links here. Now, what if I search for Harry?” He started a new search and then raised his eyebrows. “Interesting—his fame hasn’t exactly made it to the Muggle world, but there are still ripples. Look—‘Where in England is Harry Potter?’ It’s a list of sightings, though it doesn’t say why … it must assume that anyone searching for him would know who he was.”
He thought for a moment, then added Dursley’s name to Harry’s in the search field.
“Only five links … I’m almost surprised there are that many,” he said, frowning. “Most of these look like government legal websites that declare the Dursleys his guardians, but… “ He frowned, looking at the next one. “Death to Dursleys?”
He opened the link and paused, feeling a bit sick. This site tied Harry to the Dursleys, all right, but not how he’d expected. It was like the worst of the Muggle-hunting he’d seen twenty years ago, except with very specific targets. And very frightening goals, not least because they seemed to feel they were doing the wizarding world’s hero a favour.
“Well, I think that you’ve got at least some witches and wizards who know how to use a computer,” he said, just as he heard the door downstairs open. “Or they know somebody who does.”
Sherlock started up the stairs, taking them one at a time for a change, wondering if John was home, if he was still as angry as he had been last night.
He could hear John’s voice upstairs, and caught a whiff of an unfamiliar perfume. Too early for a date, he thought, concentrating on the noise coming from the flat, feet shuffling on the floor, quiet voices. He pushed open the door to find John in front of his laptop, a woman about his age leaning over his shoulder.
“Sherlock,” John said in greeting. “Didn’t you say you hadn’t come up with anything on Harry when you googled him yesterday?”
“Nothing of note, why?”
“Look at this,” John said, turning the computer so Sherlock could see the screen.
“Death to Dursleys?” he read aloud. “Show Harry how much you care by ridding the world of his loathsome relatives, but a simple AK won’t do. The targets might be pathetic, but that doesn’t mean the hunt has to be! Sign up below…” He paused, looking at John. “Why would anyone other than Harry care about his loathsome relatives?”
“Harry’s rather well-liked,” the woman said. “I’m Hermione Weasley, by the way. You met my husband yesterday. I was so happy to hear he’d found John, I had to come over and say hello. He was just showing me his, er…”
“Blog,” John supplied.
“Blog, and then did a search for Harry and the Dursleys and … this came up.”
“That was not there yesterday,” Sherlock said, “Or not as something that came up when I looked. What search criteria did you use?”
“Just their names,” said John. “There were only about five hits, but the others were boring legal sites talking about his guardianship. Not like this.”
Sherlock scrolled through the page and then clicked the Forum tab at the top, only to receive a “Page Not Found” error. He shook his head in frustration. Why bother having the link if it went nowhere? But then none of the other pages would open for him, either.
“That’s strange,” John said, watching. “Those pages were there a minute ago.” He slid the computer back to him and clicked on the Forward button.
“I just did that, John,” Sherlock said, rolling his eyes, even as he reminded himself that sometimes one needed to try things for oneself. And then he blinked as the page loaded. “Why would that work for you and not me?”
John’s eyebrows were almost at his hairline. “I don’t know, maybe my laptop has finally remembered who it belongs to?”
“Funny,” Sherlock said, bending toward the screen even as John and Hermione exchanged a look. “What?”
“Nothing,” she said, “I just don’t know much about computers.”
He turned to give her a closer look. Standard professional dress, good quality, hair in a French Twist, minimal but tasteful jewellery. Her fingers, though, showed no signs of computer use, or even a smartphone. Instead, they had traces of ink. “You do all your work longhand, don’t you?” he asked.
She blinked and then said, “As opposed to a typewriter or a computer? Yes, I do. We don’t use computers in my office.”
“Security reasons, wasn’t it?” John put in. “Because you handle such sensitive legal cases and this is the only way you can be sure you won’t be hacked? Ron was telling me last night.”
Sherlock just nodded as she agreed with this, but he couldn’t help but wonder why John was lying? Putting the question aside for now, he turned back to the computer screen. “The hunting rules are quite … odd. What on earth is an AK? If they are referring to the rifle, why not just say so? Did they mean that class of gun, or all firearms? And what is a crucio?” He reached over to click to the next page, but got a Not Found error again.
That made no sense, he thought, straightening up and glaring at the computer. John was staring at it, too. “That is … Hermione? You try.” He pointed the cursor and said, “Just tap there.” And there they were, in the forum. “What happens if you refresh the screen, Sherlock?”
Sherlock reached past to tap the F5 key, and … page not found. “This isn’t funny, John,” he said turning to glare at his flatmate, but John was staring at the screen with something like … hope? … on his face as he reached forward and hit the same key, only to see the screen fill with posts and threads.
“I suppose it just doesn’t like you today, Sherlock,” he said as Hermione looked back and forth from the computer to John.
“Looks like you’ve got the magic touch, John,” she said after a minute. “You’re probably busy, and I don’t want to keep you…”
“Do you want a print-out of these pages, ‘Mione? Since I can’t forward them to you?” John asked. “If he asks nicely, I might even print a set for Sherlock, too since he can’t read them on my laptop.”
She hesitated, then nodded. “If it’s not too much trouble?”
“It’s not like you can do it yourself, since you don’t like using any technology newer than the 19th century,” John teased even as he started clicking through the site and hitting Print.
Sherlock watched them banter even as he considered pulling up the website on his phone, since John’s laptop was being so unusually recalcitrant. Deciding against it, he instead sat in his chair and watched the two old friends together as John stood and began collating pages. Just like with Ron and Harry last night, John was obviously comfortable with Hermione, as if they had seen each other last month rather than twenty years ago. How was that even possible? Granted, he hadn’t been here when she arrived, but there was none of the awkwardness one would expect, as if there had been no interruption to their friendship at all.
Finally, John collected his two piles of paper and dropped one into Sherlock’s lap. “I’ll just see Hermione to the door,” he said, “But this should keep you busy.”
Sherlock watched as the two walked to the door and didn’t touch his packet at all.
At the bottom of the stairs, she hissed, “Do you think that was wise?”
“I can’t pretend the website doesn’t exist, Hermione. He saw it! We’ll just have to hope he chalks up any … unusual terminology he finds to the fact that the people behind the site are clearly insane.”
She nodded, looking unhappy. “I could obliviate…”
“No,” John said, voice sharp and somehow horrified at the idea of tampering with Sherlock’s memory. “Absolutely not.”
“Okay,” she said, still solemn, “One more thing—can I have your memory of the battle, when you were cursed? You might have heard or seen more than you realize.”
He clenched his jaw, wanting to do nothing of the kind, but he could see the point and nodded. “If it works for Muggles.”
“It does. Just concentrate on the memory, I’ll do the rest.” Moments later, she was pulling a wisp of white from his head and putting it into a glass vial from her pocket. “Thank you.”
“I hope it helps keep this from happening to other wizards, at least.”
“You’re almost as disgustingly self-sacrificing as Harry.” Then Hermione brightened. “But, John … that computer web page thing … it didn’t show itself at all for your friend.”
“No, just me—and you.”
She pulled his wand out of her pocket where it had nestled next to her own. “Which brings me to my next point. I don’t think you’re a Muggle, John. Not quite.”
“What?” he automatically wrapped his fingers around the handle of his wand, this time almost feeling something like a small electric shock. He looked down at his hand in surprise.
“I think you’re more like a squib. There’s not a lot of magic, there, John, but there is some … and it’s stronger when you’re in contact with your wand.” She put her hand on his and leaned up to give him a kiss on the cheek. “I’m going to look into this for you, but in the meantime—maybe it would be better to keep your wand close? Just in case?”
And with a smile, she was gone.
Stunned, he didn’t move for a long moment and then shook himself. With a glance up the stairs he said, “Bye, Hermione,” and then opened and closed the street door before sitting down on the second step from the bottom. A squib? He actually had some magic? Maybe not enough to do anything with, but … some? That was more than he had hoped—or ever expected.
That website, though … John almost wanted to kiss it. An evil, twisted, sick, 21st-century, wizarding website, of all things, had been the one thing to give Muggle-born John Watson the first real feeling of hope he’d had in two decades.
Frustrated at not being able to hear the conversation as John walked Hermione out, Sherlock turned to the print-outs John had dropped in his lap.
They were disturbing, he thought, on so many levels.
There were the threats, of course, and the treating people as valid game for hunting, which was despicable even by the usual measure of depravity. It was like the people behind the website didn’t even think of the Dursleys (Petunia and Dudley. Awful names) as even human.
Then there was the degree of hero worship for Harry Potter. Because, however appalling the means, the whole point of this site (so far as he could tell) was to make the Dursleys pay for their treatment of Harry … twenty years ago! But why, he mused, flipping through the pages, noting the terrible typing and extremely odd vocabulary. It had been years since he found more than the occasional word he could not define, but the jargon used here was complex and intriguing. What on earth was a Muggle? By the text, it appeared to be an outsider from this particular group, but the usage seemed to imply something broader.
But what made these Death-to-Dursleys people want to impress Harry? Sherlock had only spent an hour or so with the man and, while he seemed nice enough and had an air of natural leadership, he couldn’t see any reason a person would admire him to such a great degree. Of course, he didn’t know what Harry’s professional career was like, or his reputation … except you would think that if he had a big enough following to warrant this sick tribute website, there would be something else on him on the internet, and Sherlock could find nothing.
And then, Harry had been hiding something. There was something about his past—their past—John’s past—that they weren’t telling him. And as much as he appreciated a mystery, he needed to know how it affected this … Dursley hunt.
He turned to the next page and froze.
He grabbed his phone and, wishing he had gotten Harry’s number last night, rang Ron. “Sherlock Holmes, here. I have a lead on Petunia and Dudley Dursley. Let me give you the website….”
“The site is called ‘Death to Dursleys,’ and is apparently devoted to exacting revenge on them for your friend’s childhood, though I’m not sure why anyone … never mind. The point, though, is that they have the other two Dursleys and are planning some kind of hunt with them as the targets … tonight.” He listened to the other man making appalled noises and then interrupted, “It’s all on the website, except it’s practically written in code, the jargon is so thick, but maybe it will make more sense to you and Harry. It’s www…”
“I, er, don’t have a computer,” Ron said.
“At all? Not even at work?” Sherlock couldn’t believe it. He knew of people who didn’t like computers (which was inexplicable enough), but not to have one? In the 21st century? How was that possible?
“No … I might be able to find one if I need to, but …”
Sherlock really couldn’t believe this. “Come here, then. John’s got it up on his laptop, even if for some reason it’s being … difficult. This is something you need to see. John did print it out and gave copies to your wife, but…”
“Oh, hold on,” Ron said, voice faint as if his head were turned away, “Hermione? You just saw John--do you know anything about this web thing Sherlock’s talking about?”
Sherlock’s mind stuttered to a halt. She had barely left. He had just heard the door close, not even five minutes ago. Unless they literally lived next door, there simply wasn’t time… “John?” he called, and within seconds John was there, looking oddly unsteady on his feet, as if he’d just gotten bad news. (Good news? Had Hermione kissed him? Hard to tell. Surprising, whatever it was.) “John, where do Ron and Hermione live?”
John blinked. “I don’t know. It hasn’t come up. Why.”
Sherlock lifted his phone. “Because I’m on with Ron and he’s talking to Hermione—but she just left here. So, either they live next door, she can travel at light-speed, or one of them is an imposter.”
The hesitation suddenly wasn’t just in John’s feet anymore as his face paled slightly. “That’s weird. Maybe Ron was on his way over here and just bumped into her?” he suggested, but there was something forced in his voice as he pulled out his phone. “Meanwhile, I’ll let Harry know … Hey, Harry? Sherlock and I found something—How fast can you get to Baker Street? Or are you and Ron on your way over now? Because Hermione just left and she bumped into him while he was on the phone with Sherlock. I figure that must mean he’s just around the corner, and wanted to be sure you weren’t left out.”
Sherlock narrowed his eyes, thinking hard. Something wasn’t right here… then his head came up as he heard a loud crack outside. Lightning? But no, the sky was blue and a lightning strike that close would have been followed by thunder. He saw John hurry over to the window, phone still in hand. “Yep, there’s Harry. I’ll just go meet him…”
He paused at the door. “Sherlock?”
“What’s going on, John? There’s something you’re not telling me about you and those three old friends of yours—friends you never mentioned before yesterday but are now tight as thieves with.”
“You almost sound jealous, Sherlock,” John said with a smile. “It’s just for this case, and then I’m sure things will go back to normal. I’ll just go let Harry and Ron in, shall I? I mean, this must be life and death if you were reduced to actually calling rather than texting?” He turned and headed back down the stairs. Sherlock listened to the bustle below and then Harry came up the stairs, alone.
“Ron got distracted by Hermione but should tear himself away any second,” he explained. “John said he’d wait to let him in but that I should come right up. Something about a threatening website?”
Sherlock nodded. “Yes, but let’s wait for Ron so I don’t have to go through it twice. You two work together, then?”
“Most days,” said Harry with a shrug. “We’ve more or less been inseparable since school—and of course it helps that our wives are such good friends, not to mention that Ginny is Ron’s sister. The kids are all best friends as well—it’s all a little chaotic.”
“John mentioned you had children,” Sherlock said, resigned to small talk and wishing Ron would hurry up—you’d think he hadn’t seen his wife in weeks, they were taking so long. “They’re all at school now? The same one you went to with John?”
Harry nodded. “I almost don’t know what to do with myself, the house is so quiet.” He looked around the sitting room, eyes resting on the skull, the piles of books, the smiley face on the wall, and then coming to rest on John’s laptop as a shadow crossed his face.
“Not what you expected?”
“Just thinking how little I know about John’s life these days,” Harry said. “Regretting the last twenty years.”
“Because he didn’t contact you?”
“Because we didn’t try to contact him, more like. He left after…”
“The fight? The one Ron’s brother was killed in?”
Harry looked surprised. “He told you about that? Yeah. I saw him that day and then … he might as well have disappeared. I had no idea … we thought he didn’t want anything to do with us anymore. We should have tried harder to make sure. When I found out he’d joined the army, that he’d almost been killed? I should never have let him…”
“…Never have let me what, Harry?” John stood in the doorway, arms folded on his chest, Ron just visible behind him. “You’re not responsible for the choices I made.”
“No, but I should have … it doesn’t matter how busy I was, I should have found you, apologized.”
John looked surprised. “Apologized for what? Saving all of us? All anybody knew was that my leg was hurt—it’s not like you didn’t have enough things, more important things, to deal with in the aftermath. I always knew that.”
“Did you, though?” Ron asked, giving John a gentle nudge so they could both enter the flat. “Because in your shoes, I would have felt abandoned.”
“Maybe sometimes,” John said with a small shrug, “Late at night, I suppose, but mostly not. And I was busy, too, catching up on coursework. I didn’t dwell on it. Just … life goes on, yeah?”
Despite his words, though, Sherlock could see the edge of deep-seated hurt. “How very British of you, John. Very stiff-upper-lip.”
“I wouldn’t complain, if I were you, Sherlock. If I hadn’t made the choices then that I did, you and I would never have met.”
“Ah, so it’s their fault,” Sherlock said. “I had wondered who to blame. Pointing the finger at the Taliban is so vague and unsatisfying.”
“You…” John stopped, and Sherlock barely acknowledged the offended looks on the others’ faces, and then John gave a sharp bark of laughter—the first sign of real mirth he’d shown since bumping into Ron at the crime scene yesterday. “It’s true. If things had gone differently, I never would have ended up getting shot in Afghanistan and sent back to London … but it still seems like reaching to pin that on something that happened twenty years ago. You might as well blame my sister for being so annoying it drove me out of the house in the first place.”
“I’ll add her to the list,” Sherlock said, glancing at the gobsmacked Harry and Ron. “I gather you didn’t tell your friends about your bullet wound.”
“Bloody hell,” John said. “No, I hadn’t. Yes, I got shot while I was in Afghanistan. Yes, it’s the reason I left the army. No, it’s not a big deal because as you can see, I’m alive and perfectly fine.”
“Sherlock, you’re not helping,” John said, pinning him with a glare.
Harry, though, stepped forward and asked, “Fine as in actually fine, or fine like you were after the … fight … twenty years ago?”
“I’m fine,” John snapped, “And we’re getting off topic, here. This is not about me. This is about that website, and the Dursleys, and how we’re going to save them.”
“Saving the Dursleys,” said Harry. “Wonderful. It’s like a childhood dream come true.”
Note: Why, yes, I DID invent a website that only works for wizards. Magic may be wonderful and fun and engrossing and literally its own world, but all those Muggle-born students who grew up with computers ... at least one of them must have been a programmer, huh? And came up with a way to combine Muggle technology with wizarding credentials so that a site would only show if the viewer had magic? Even just the tiniest bit in his fingertips?
John walked across the room to his computer, and sat down in front of it while Sherlock lifted his print-outs and started pointing out the posts that worried him.
“Tonight is the full moon,” he said, “Which seems to be important. It mentions something about ‘where things that should not be forgot are forbidden,’ whatever that means. And the ‘monstrous Muggles meeting monstrous ends’.” He looked at Harry. “The language is obscure, at best, using entirely made-up words, or misusing real ones. I’m hoping that some of this will make sense to you, since you are the target—or at least, impressing you seems to be the point.”
“Impressing me,” Harry said, reaching for the papers with hands that seemed to shake, not from fear, but from rage. “Because killing Aunt Petunia and Dudley would be doing me a favour and I’d be grateful. Merlin, where do people get these ideas? And why now?”
“We are coming up on the twentieth anniversary, mate,” Ron said, “But that’s next month.”
“Right, so why…” he skimmed over the page again. “Forgot are forbidden under the full moon… Oh. The full moon. And monstrous ends.” His face had lost all colour now and he looked at Ron with something like desperation. “They can’t, can they?”
Ron’s face was even whiter, if possible, with his freckles standing out just like when he’d faced the spider boggart in Lupin’s class third year. Wait, Lupin, thought John, remembering. “You don’t mean…?” But he could read the answer on the others’ faces and swallowed hard. He didn’t know what would happen to a Muggle bit by a werewolf, but no matter what, the Dursleys were in for a rough night.
“What?” Sherlock asked, voice sharp. John looked at the peevish expression on his face and wondered how it felt for Sherlock not to be the first on the uptake for a change.
“But where?” Harry was asking. “How can I save them if I don’t know where?”
John read the page on the website again, and then realized. “Harry—it refers to your greatest act that saved us all.”
“But that can’t be right. Aunt Petunia and Dudley can’t be being held in the Great Hall. School is in session!” Harry sounded desperate now.
“No, not the Great Hall. It says, ‘where things that should not be forgot are forbidden’,” John said, “Forbidden, Harry. The Forbidden Forest, where you faced him.”
Harry moved back, almost stumbling into John’s chair as he shook his head. “They wouldn’t…”
“Wouldn’t what?” asked Sherlock, face intent and impatient.
John took pity on him, and said, “Our last year, that fight … Well, Harry, made a stand in the forest just outside school grounds. We weren’t officially allowed in, of course, so it was called the Forbidden Forest. An ideal place for a … hunt … to honour Harry’s victory.”
Sherlock nodded, accepting that information. “And the full moon? Monsters?”
John looked over at Ron, since Harry was still looking numb. “Er, a metaphor? Because of their terrible treatment? And the full moon would give the best light for the hunt?”
Sherlock snorted. “Pull the other one. There’s something you’re not telling me. All of you.” And the look he shot at John was unforgiving.
“You’re right,” said Harry, “But now is not the time to explain. We need to save Aunt Petunia and Dudley, remember, and it’s only an hour until nightfall. Come on, Ron!”
Within seconds the two of them were out the door and moments later, only because he was listening for it, John heard the crack of apparition from somewhere down the block. He sighed, thinking wistfully about how handy that would be in his current line of work. In the army too, really, though it would have been hard to keep that ability hidden. So many spells would have been helpful, too, for an army doctor trying to save lives in difficult conditions. He felt the weight of his wand at his back, where he usually tucked his gun, and suddenly felt wistful yet again for all the things that he’d lost that May day twenty years ago.
“John,” Sherlock’s voice cut through the misery. “What are you not telling me? What are you lying about?”
John didn’t turn. “I’m not lying, Sherlock. There are just some things I can’t tell you.”
“But you can tell them?”
“I don’t need to tell them, they were there. And it’s not a choice, Sherlock. It’s not that I don’t want to tell you. I can’t tell you. Like, legally, bindingly can’t. I won’t lie to you, and I’m trying to find a loophole, but please stop asking me for something I can’t give you.”
There was silence for a long moment, then Sherlock said. “I went back to St. Brutus’s.”
That made John turn around. “Really? Why?”
“Because I wondered if maybe Harry’s files hadn’t been faked after all ... and that you knew him because you were there, too.”
“Christ, Sherlock … don’t think much of me, huh?”
“Quite the contrary, John. I think very highly of you—and I’ve always known you had hidden layers. Finding out you have this childhood secret you can’t tell me just makes it more interesting.” Sherlock stared down at his hands, empty since Harry had taken the print-outs when he left. “I do hope at some point you’ll be able to tell me why your friends have no working knowledge of computers at all. And about this heroic act of Harry’s.”
“I hope so, too, Sherlock.”
“Maybe I’ll just ask Mycroft.”
John gave a laugh. “If you can get the answers from Mycroft, all power to you, Sherlock. It would certainly make things easier. I bet the legal restrictions extend even to him, though—even if he is the British Government.”
He picked up his mug and headed toward the kitchen as Sherlock pulled out his phone and made an irritated noise.
“What is it now?” asked John.
Sherlock’s voice was frustrated as he said, “That website doesn’t work on my phone, either.”
And, unable to help himself, John grinned the entire time he was making tea.
It didn’t make sense, thought Sherlock as he punched at his phone. He’d seen John load the site, and Hermione. He’d even seen Ron tentatively touch the laptop as if afraid it would bite—but the page had loaded for him.
So why would it not open for Sherlock on either his phone or John’s laptop?
It made no sense.
And why wouldn’t any of them name their school? Just to try it, he did a search for “forbidden forest school” but nothing useful came up. How was that possible? It couldn’t be the forest’s real name, of course, but not one mention on any website anywhere from one of the alumni of this mysterious school?
When John came back with two mugs of tea, he said, “Harry took my printouts and that site doesn’t work on my phone, either.”
“Really?” John said, but not altogether convincingly as he handed Sherlock a mug. “I’ll print you more, then—unless you want to come look over my shoulder?”
Sherlock grumbled but came over to the table. “This isn’t logical,” he said, “That the website should work for some people but not others.”
“No,” John said, clicking where Sherlock pointed. “I don’t know how they could write that into the code … but then, you’re fond of telling me I don’t know anything about computers.”
“True, but I do have a working knowledge of basic programming and there’s nothing I know of that would do that—biometric scanners to lock out a computer completely? Yes. Passwords for specific sites? Child’s play. But for a specific site to work only for certain people without a particular log-in? Especially when two of them are completely computer illiterate—and how is that possible, anyway? We’re a full decade into the 21st century, and they’re walking around with fountain pens and I could swear your friend Hermione had parchment in her bag. Parchment, John. Click there.”
He reached across the keyboard to point, almost spilling John’s tea. He grabbed at the mug and then froze. “You broke this. Last night, you broke this mug. You threw it against the wall and it shattered. This mug.” Disregarding the heat, he was turning it in his fingers, looking for signs of mends, new glue, but there was nothing.
“It’s just a mug, Sherlock,” John said.
“But…” he squinted. “The print is faded, as if it’s been used a lot. And there’s a scratch across the logo from when you put it too close to my scalpel in the sink. John, this is your mug.”
John’s posture was stiff now, as if he were bracing for something. “I just told you it was mine.”
“I can’t say any more than that, Sherlock,” and it was almost pointed the way he accented the word ‘can’t,’ as if pointing out a clue without giving anything away to hidden watchers. But that was crazy. There were no hidden watchers in this flat—he swept for bugs weekly and it had been clean just this morning … unless John suspected his friends? But, no, there had been no sign of that kind of mistrust.
He stared at the inexplicable website for a moment, this time realizing how many mystical references there were—except they weren’t used in a mystical way. “No coercion spells” was right there in the rules for the hunt, as if such a thing was actually possible. And it talked about non-magical bait, but that didn’t make sense at all. And anyway, why would they need bait? They had already captured the Dursleys…
They had, hadn’t they?
And they had killed the one with no blood ties to Harry.
“Go back to the first page,” he snapped at John, reading quickly. “Call them back. Get Harry. It’s a trap.”
“Right there. The line about things forgot and forbidden—it’s not talking about the past. It’s talking about what they’re doing now. Read between the lines. It’s some kind of ritual with the Dursleys—Harry’s blood relations—as some kind of bait or mystical link for … I don’t even know. But there’s no time. You’ve got to catch them before they get to Scotland.”
He wasn’t expecting to see John’s face drain of all colour. “But … it’s too late.”
“How can it be too late? They left barely half an hour ago.”
John just nodded, eyes wide.
John stared at the website in horror. How had he missed that? How had all of them missed that?
He pulled out his phone and tried calling Ron, but it went straight to voicemail. He called Harry’s, but the same thing happened with his. And Hermione’s.
He sent texts to them all, but he just knew they weren’t getting through. Hermione had told him they needed special magic adapters to allow mobiles to work in a magic environment, and he had the feeling that those adapters, whatever they were, had been deactivated. Any wizards tech-savvy enough to make a website that only worked for a wizard weren’t going to be foolish enough to leave mobile phones lying about.
“But, John, how can they possibly be in Scotland?” Sherlock was asking as John tried to think of a way to get a warning to his friends. Somehow, he didn’t think Hogwarts had a phone line, and it wasn’t like 221B was on the floo network—even if he could get that to work. Could he even get into the Ministry of Magic these days?
He was pacing now, trying to resist the urge to tear at his hair. “I can’t reach them,” he said. “Any of them. They’re walking into a trap and there’s nothing I can do. It’s like Voldemort all over again.” He froze. He couldn’t believe he had said that name, one that still had the power to put a chill into his heart. But this situation felt too much like That Night, as if the forces of good and evil were arrayed against each other and it all came down to Harry … again.
Except this time, Harry had no idea.
Sherlock was still asking questions, but John wasn’t listening. Without magic, how could he contact anybody? This was impossible! He felt the flood of burning rage at his helplessness, and then a more specific burning, right at the small of his back. He slapped at it with his hand and realized … his wand. It was throwing sparks as his temper flared—something which at any other time would have filled him with joy, but right now? Sparks weren’t going to do him any good. Not unless it counted as enough magic for the Ministry to send a warning owl for performing it in front of a Muggle, in which case he could send a letter back with the owl. But that was ridiculous.
It was only when he saw Sherlock staring that he realized he was clenching his wand in his hand, as if ready to do battle. “Oh…”
“John, what is that?”
“This? It’s just a stick, Sherlock.”
“A stick that gave off sparks a few seconds ago.”
“A kind of a fancy fire-lighter?” John offered, not really thinking.
“Made of wood? Hardly practical.” Sherlock’s voice was dismissive. “I thought we agreed you wouldn’t lie to me, John.”
“I … you’re right, I’m sorry. Just … don’t ask.”
“Don’t ask you, you mean. But I could ask Mycroft? He knows this secret of yours?”
“He knows some of it,” John said, “But I didn’t know about it until this morning. I think that Anthea is … of course!” He grabbed his phone and dialled Mycroft.
“Mycroft? We figured out what’s going on, but Harry and Ron just headed for a trap and their phones aren’t working, and I can’t reach them. Is Anthea there?”
“What do you mean, John?” Mycroft’s voice came smoothly down the line.
“There’s a website,” John said, “Called ‘Death to Dursleys’ which reads like rules for a hunt in honour of Harry Potter, as revenge for his upbringing. But it’s a ploy. The Dursleys aren’t the targets—they’re the bait. Bait for Harry, and he and Ron are already gone and I can’t reach them, but I have … limited means.”
“And how do you expect me to help you, John? I am not a wizard myself, and my means of communication are … slim as well.”
“Can you ask Anthea?”
“Because Hermione recognized her, and called her Ariadne. I think she went to the same school.”
“John, don’t be absurd. My assistant is not a witch. She’s just incredibly good at her … what?”
If the situation hadn’t been so dire, John would have been amused at the shock in Mycroft’s voice. He wasn’t entirely surprised when the next voice he heard was Anthea’s. “John, what are you doing? Why would you tell him that?”
“Because Harry and Ron are in trouble. They’re walking into a trap in the Forbidden Forest and I have no way to reach them. But you do.”
What makes you think that?
John almost wanted to throw the phone across the room. The more times he had to explain this, the more time they lost! “Go to this website,” he told her, giving her the URL. “At first we thought that it was just a very specific, sick kind of Muggle hunt, but it’s not. It’s bait for Harry. They’re in trouble right now.”
“But John, this is a website. Wizards don’t use the internet.”
“They do now,” he said harshly. “Ask Mycroft to open one of the other pages, or to refresh the screen.”
He waited, listening while the other two went through the same motions he had done with Hermione and Sherlock earlier. All the while, he resolutely ignored the way Sherlock was staring at him. After giving them time to play, he said, “Sherlock’s the one who read between the lines to figure out this was a trap.”
“He’s piecing it together, I’d say. Right now, he looks like he’s been hit over the head with a board. What’s the law say about a Muggle deducing the existence instead of actually being told?”
“Vague. We’ve had to obliviate Muggles who have witnessed magic, obviously, but there are allowances made for families—every Muggle family who has a wizard born into it learns about the wizarding world when that child is eleven. And then there are certain key professionals like Mr Holmes who need to know…”
“So, if Sherlock deduces this for himself, he could get a pass? As long as I don’t tell him outright and end up in jail? Especially as his knowledge and actions are helping save Harry and Ron—assuming we get there in time?”
“Yes, I think that could be arranged.”
“Good. Give me ten minutes,” John said, and hung up the phone and turned to his flatmate.
Sherlock couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt so frustrated. He was deliberately being kept from most of the information he needed to solve this case, and—worse—it was John keeping it from him.
John ended his call then and turned to face Sherlock. “I can’t answer direct questions or tell you anything straight out, but that doesn’t mean you can’t deduce this. You’re already halfway there,” John said and deliberately laid that stick of his on the desk.
Sherlock looked at it. Twelve inches, made of purpleheart wood, glossy and smooth with one end clearly carved into a handle. He picked it up, turning it in his hands, looking for a switch or an obvious purpose.
“So, I shouldn’t ask why you have a stick of wood that gives off sparks like some kind of fairy wand?” He froze, thinking hard, putting all the odd discrepancies and behaviours of the last day together, thinking again to the verbiage on that website, its talk of spells as if they were real things. “Your friends … when Harry swore before, he used the name of Merlin, didn’t he?”
John gave a slow nod.
“And this stick … it really is a wand.”
“The website, then that didn’t work for me but worked for them … because … you do … magic?” Sherlock practically whispered the word. It wasn’t a question. It didn’t make sense, at all, but what other explanation was there? By any scientific criteria, the notion that magic was real was as ridiculous as a room of monkeys typing the works of Shakespeare, but when all logical means have been excluded, the impossible is the only explanation.
John gave another slow nod. “It sensed it somehow, even though…”
“I haven’t been able to do magic since I left school. I was … cursed.”
“In the fight,” Sherlock said, knowing that was the crucial event. “The big one where Ron’s brother was killed and Harry somehow saved you … but it was more than just a fight, wasn’t it?”
“That’s a question, Sherlock,” his friend said with a wistful smile, “But yeah. More like the culminating battle of a war that had been going on for years. Harry won it for all of us by defeating the worst dark wizard of … well, the century, at least. Not sure if he was the worst ever, but he terrorized the wizarding community for decades. He murdered Harry’s parents, incidentally, which is how Harry ended up with his Aunt and Uncle.”
“And Harry defeated him,” Sherlock repeated, even though he hated repeating things. “When he was eighteen.”
“Seventeen, yes, at the Battle of Hogwarts … which is the name of our school, by the way. I know you’ve wanted to know. Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I spent six years sharing a dorm with Harry, Ron, and three other boys.”
“But you graduated from a normal high school … or were those records falsified?”
John was holding his wand now, turning it in his hand absently. “No, they were real. Because of the war, I wasn’t able to go to Hogwarts my last year—it was taken over by dark wizards at that point, and wouldn’t allow Muggle-borns like me anymore. So that year, I went to Harry’s—my sister Harry’s—school and tried not to draw any attention to myself. I just prayed I wouldn’t be brought in for questioning. The Spanish Inquisition was just a rehearsal for what the Ministry of Magic was doing to people not born into pureblood families that year. Then … after … when I wasn’t a wizard anymore, I went back for the final year of high school and worked as hard as I could to get a place at Uni … the rest you know.”
“And your old friends just dropped you.” Sherlock said, voice flat. He had thought better of these old friends of John’s.
John looked uncomfortable. “I thought they had, but I was wrong. They thought I’d deliberately left, made the decision to return to the Muggle world. They didn’t know about the curse, not until we bumped into each other yesterday. And anyway, things were so crazy—Voldemort was dead, Hogwarts was practically destroyed, the Ministry of Magic had to have a complete overturn—and all this on top of a year’s worth of persecutions and lies. One Muggle-born wizard choosing to leave wasn’t really all that hard to believe.”
“No.” Sherlock shook his head. “They were your friends. They should have known you wouldn’t do that. John Watson doesn’t run from a fight. Or abandon his friends.”
John looked up then, a gleam of gratitude in his eyes, but before he could say anything, there was a huge burst of green flame in the fireplace. Sherlock stared in shock as first Mycroft, then Anthea and Hermione stepped out onto the sooty carpet. “Sorry about the mess,” Hermione said. “It was the fastest way.” She looked at Sherlock and then at his brother. “I suggest you both sit down for a moment, catch your breath. Flooing is a shock at first.”
Mycroft looked more out of his depth than Sherlock had seen him since the summer Mycroft was thirteen. “That was…” he started, then faltered, as if unable to find the words.
“Exciting?” offered Sherlock. “Exhilarating?”
“Terrifying,” Mycroft managed, finally. “Dizzying. But … quite extraordinary. What was that again?”
“Floo powder, sir,” said Anthea and then looked at the others. “He insisted on coming. I had 221B temporarily added to the network. I hope we left you enough time, Dr Watson?”
John nodded, glancing at Sherlock. “His deductive skills are just as good as ever. We’re running out of time, though, so Sherlock—tell us what you’ve figured out about this plot.”
The brain-storming session that followed was one of the more unique ones John had experienced. It didn’t last long, but the five of them tackled the hidden messages on the website and compared it to what they knew about full moon rituals. Added to that, a knowledge of the ordinary dangers of the Forbidden Forest … how were they supposed to find Harry and Ron?
“I tried contacting them,” said Hermione, clutching at her hands. “But I didn’t get a response. I have no idea if my Patronus got through”
“They can’t be blocked by wards, can they?” asked John.
“What’s a Patronus?” Sherlock wanted to know.
Hermione held out her wand. “Expecto Patronum!” and then there was a silvery, glowing otter standing in the middle of the flat, looking at her expectantly.
“It will deliver a message for you? To anyone, even if you don’t know where they are yourself?” Sherlock asked. Hermione nodded. “What if they’re unconscious when the message is delivered? Can they send back replies?”
“No…” Hermione looked intrigued. “But then, I don’t think I’ve ever asked.” She looked at her otter. “Go find Ron. Tell him it’s a trap, ask him for a reply and then come back to deliver it.” With a flick of its tail, the glowing animal disappeared through the wall, leaving Hermione with an odd look on her face.
“What is it?”
“Usually once the Patronus has left, the effort of casting ends—that spell is essentially done, released. But this … there’s almost … a tie, like part of my brain is still concentrating—like mentally keeping track of the time a cake’s in the oven. It’s just very … curious.”
“While we wait on Mrs Weasley’s … Patronus … what is the plan of action? Is there anything I can do?”
Anthea and Hermione exchanged looks. “I’ve alerted some friends who are going to meet us at Hogwarts,” Anthea said. “I’m just waiting for permission from the headmaster to Floo there directly.”
Just then, Hermione’s silver otter came bounding back into the room. “They said they know and not to do anything. They’ve got it under control,” it said before fading away.
“Blast them!” Hermione swung around on her heel, pacing now. “The idiots are going to get themselves killed!”
“It’s not like they haven’t done this sort of thing before,” John offered, “And they’ve been Aurors for years now…”
“But they can both still be blindsided by guilt—and dragging Harry into the Forbidden Forest? That’s just cruel.”
“Why?” asked Sherlock.
“Because he died there,” Hermione said. “During the Battle of Hogwarts. It’s a long story, but he needed to sacrifice himself to Voldemort to make it possible to defeat him. Harry ultimately survived, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have nightmares about it—or that he had any desire to set foot there ever again. And to do it for the Dursleys?”
She looked like she wanted to scream, and was only forestalled by the appearance of a silver hawk flying through the wall. “The floo to Hogwarts is open,” it said, giving a curious look around the room before it disappeared back into the night.
“Right then,” said Hermione. She looked at John and the Holmeses, obviously considering the rights and wrongs of the situation. “I suppose you’re going to insist on coming to help?”
“I am,” said John. “I might not be a wizard anymore, but I am good in a fight. I’ve been in the Forbidden Forest before, too.”
“I’m sure you have,” Anthea said with a smirk. “Mr Holmes, though…”
Mycroft was on his feet again. “I am still your boss, am I not?”
“Yes, sir, but…”
“Is there any reason why I cannot come along? Anti-Muggle spells that would throw me from the, er, fireplace or do me harm?”
“No, sir. There are rules in place for visiting parents, but…”
“Then I am coming,” Mycroft said.
“But, sir,” she said, “You’re not exactly a fighter. Wouldn’t you be more use here, liasing with the Ministry of Magic? Making sure they know what’s happening?”
He narrowed his eyes, watching her. “Only if you came with me instead of going to Hogwarts yourself.”
“Of course, sir,” she said after a moment.
Sherlock, meanwhile, had moved to block the fireplace. “Yes, yes. That is where Mycroft will be most useful, to be sure. I, on the other hand, will be accompanying John and Hermione to the school. It will be quite educational, after all, and isn’t that what schools are for?”
For a moment, they all looked like they wanted to protest, but John knew by long experience that Sherlock would have his way. “I just need my gun,” he said, before dashing up to his room.
“And don’t forget your wand,” Hermione called after him, as if he hadn’t been keeping it comfortingly close all afternoon. He pulled open his desk drawer to get his gun and, as an afterthought, grabbed his small medkit before running back down the stairs to grab his coat. Mycroft and Anthea were already gone, but Sherlock still stood in front of the fireplace, as if afraid he’d be left behind if he moved.
“Sherlock, we’re going to Scotland in the middle of the night in April. Get your coat. I promise we won’t leave while you’re putting it on,” John told him, and tried not to grin at the slightly abashed look on Sherlock’s face as he stepped away. “Anything we need to know, Hermione? It’s been a long time since I did this.”
“You should be fine, John,” she said, “I’ll take Sherlock with me. Just remember, we’re going to the headmaster’s office.”
“Who is the headmaster these days?”
“Headmaster Emery,” she said, “He’d been teaching in the States, but was tempted back across the ocean by the thought of running Hogwarts. He replaced McGonagall seven years ago.”
John nodded and then patted his pockets nervously one last time as he glanced over at Sherlock, who was practically quivering with anticipation. “Right, then. I’ll go first, shall I?” In case something goes wrong, he didn’t say, trying not to think about the things that could go wrong with a Muggle trying to do magic. Because you’re not quite a Muggle, he told himself. And you’re doing this for Harry and Ron. One more glance at Hermione’s composed face and he took the offered floo powder and dashed it into the flames. “Hogwarts Headmaster’s office,” he said, and plunged into the flames.
John staggered a bit as he stumbled out of the fireplace, but he was steadied by a firm hand on his shoulder. “Well, hello, there. I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Headmaster Emery.”
“Doctor John Watson,” he said, coughing. “And I haven’t been here in quite some time.”
The fireplace flared behind him and he turned to see Hermione and Sherlock, wanting to catch the expression on Sherlock’s face at this mode of travel. “That … that was amazing,” said Sherlock as he caught his breath, finding his footing with no stagger at all. It figured.
John glanced up at the portraits, noting the new ones since his last visit—Dumbledore, Snape, and McGonagall. He gave them a sheepish kind of nod as they watched. “That can’t be John Watson,” said McGonagall. “I never thought to see you again, Mr Watson. Where have you been all this time?”
“Army doctor, ma’am,” he said. “Now working with Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective.” He gestured to his flatmate, who was scanning the room with fascinated interest.
“A Muggle?” sniffed Snape’s portrait.
“Don’t underestimate him because he’s a Muggle,” John said, “He’s the reason we know Harry’s in trouble—and he would have gotten his NEWT in potions by the time he was 13, I’d bet,”
“Ah, Harry in trouble. Just like old times, isn’t it,” said Dumbledore. “You always were loyal Mr Watson. I was sorry to hear you left after the Battle all those years ago.”
“I didn’t have much choice, sir,” said John, embarrassed about having this conversation with a series of portraits, with this audience—all while with Harry and Ron were in danger.
The painted images looked almost insulted. “No choice? Why not?” but just then the fire flared green again and George Weasley came through, immediately followed by Ginny. “What’s this I hear about my idiot husband and my idiot brother getting themselves in trouble?” she asked as soon as she had gained her footing.
Relieved to be done with his own inquisition—for now, at least—John watched as Ginny confronted her sister-in-law and tried not to grin at the bemused look on Sherlock’s face. He moved to his side as unobtrusively as possibly so Sherlock could ask, “The portraits talk?”
John nodded. “All wizarding portraits do—they capture the personality as it was at the time of the sitting. The photos move, too. I always loved that.”
Sherlock nodded, eyes skimming the room, at least momentarily distracted from the need for action by the wonders before him. John understood. He felt exactly the same way. They stood quietly together for a moment, and then Ginny, glancing up from her intent conversation with Hermione, suddenly squealed, “John?”—pausing only an instant before hurtling herself at him with a huge hug as if she were 16 again.
He staggered under the onslaught and felt Sherlock’s hand bracing his shoulder as he hugged her back. “Hey, Gin. It’s been a long time.”
“Long time? Long time? It’s been twenty years, you idiot! How could you do that to us?”
John looked at Hermione, hoping for some help, but she just nodded at him, as if it had been his responsibility to explain his disability to everyone.
“That’s enough, Ginny,” came a deeper voice. “We’re here to save those other two idiots, remember? And I think John needs to breathe.”
“Thanks, George,” John said, just before he had his hand gripped in a tight handshake.
“No, thank you, John.”
“That’s … not necessary, George. Really. And I’m going to need that hand at some point tonight.” John pried it away. “I’m just sorry I couldn’t save Fred, too. Now, this is my friend Sherlock Holmes who helped figure out exactly what Harry and Ron walked into tonight. Be gentle to him—he’s a genius, can be annoying as hell, but he only just found about the wizarding world about half an hour ago, so he’s still adjusting—just don’t underestimate him.”
“Sherlock Holmes,” said Headmaster Emery. “Why does that name sound familiar? Oh, of course! The blog! No wonder you looked so familiar, Dr Watson.”
“I gather they use the internet in the States?” Sherlock asked wryly.
“Indeed, and let me tell you, it was hard going to find a setup that would work here in Hogwarts. But yes, I love reading your cases. It’s fascinating what you do, and without any magic, too!”
John was almost laughing to himself—he finally gets back to Hogwarts and they’re talking about computers, but Sherlock had already said, “So you have a functioning computer? Excellent. You all need to see this website.”
Like on countless crime scenes, John just stood back and let Sherlock take the lead, though he was impressed at his patience. It couldn’t be easy for the man, stepping into an entirely new world with rules that he didn’t know, but, well, Sherlock was never short on self-confidence or ego. If anyone could handle this with aplomb—with four lives depending on him—Sherlock could.
“How are you doing?” Hermione asked, sidling over.
“Fine,” he said automatically.
“Yeah, I’ve heard that before, John,” she said. “How are you really?”
“All things considered, I really am fine,” he told her. “All of this seems a bit surreal, and seeing Sherlock Holmes here at Hogwarts, using a computer? My brain might just explode later on, but right now, I’m more worried about Harry and Ron. They said they knew it was a trap, but who knows what that actually means, with those two?”
“Because you’ve never been reckless,” she told him, voice warmly amused.
“I’m an army doctor who managed to get himself shot in a warzone,” he told her. “Do you know how rare that is? The RAMC has a really excellent safety record that I just blew to hell for them. I think the last real injury they’ve had in years was from a helicopter accident. And now I work with Sherlock Holmes who practically got himself killed the night we met … of course I’m reckless. I thought you knew that?”
George had edged his way over. “What’s this about being shot in a warzone?”
John stifled a sigh. Didn’t they all have better things to do than talk about the pathetic history of his last twenty years? Now, while Harry and Ron were in danger? “I was an army doctor up until a few months ago. I was invalided out after getting shot, all right? But that’s not important right now…”
“Shot, Mr Watson? With what?”
Damn it, now the portraits were asking questions, too. “A bullet, sir,” John grated out. “But it’s really not the…”
“How were you in the army, Mr Watson? There’s no such thing as a wizarding army.”
John shook his head. “No, sir, but that wasn’t an issue anymore and I needed to do something.”
“Not an issue…?”
“It’s really not important right now, sir…”
“I disagree,” Dumbledore said, painted eyes looking piercing yet sympathetic at the same time. “What did you mean before, you had no choice?”
John sighed. Was this really the time for this conversation? Why was nobody worrying about Harry and Ron? “I was cursed, sir, and have been a Muggle for the last twenty years.”
“Squib,” corrected Hermione, “At least if you’re holding your wand.”
He hadn’t realized how quiet the group around the computer had gotten until just now, when a chorus of outraged voices chimed in with outraged exclamations and questions.
It would have been flattering if the situation hadn’t been so dire.
Or if it had happened twenty years ago.
Really, though, this wasn’t his primary concern right now. He was here to help his friends. And so he took a deep breath and barked out in his loudest, most commanding Army Captain voice, “That’s enough!” The silence that descended on the room was almost crystalline in its sudden, sharp clarity. He could feel his face warm a bit—shouting in the headmaster’s office was still unthinkable, even after twenty years—but this was ridiculous. And embarrassing. His reappearance in the wizarding world couldn’t possibly be this interesting, could it?
Still, now that he had everyone’s attention, he refused to back down. “Yes, I was cursed at the Battle of Hogwarts and have not been able to do any magic since then. No, Madame Pomfrey was unable to find a cure. Yes, I have therefore been a Muggle for the last two decades. I went back to school, became a doctor and joined the army, but was invalided out after being shot. I now work with Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective, who is helping figure out what’s going on with Harry and Ron, which is the whole reason we’re here. So, can we please focus on the issue at hand and address my oh-so-colourful background later, once everyone is safe?”
Nobody said anything for a long moment, still frozen as if he had managed to cast a freezing charm on the entire room. “Now, unless Sherlock has any more pertinent details from the website—because, yes, we can all discuss the wonder of a website that only works for wizards later as well—what exactly is the plan for getting Harry and Ron … and the two Dursleys … safely out of the Forbidden Forest? Do we know where to look? How far in do we need to go? How much of a threat are the werewolves, assuming there are werewolves? Has anyone heard from Harry or Ron since this started? Or tried to contact them? Do we have any hard data on exactly what kind of enemies we’re facing out there?”
But then, the others in the room started thawing their way back to life and the conversation became a much more tactic-heavy discussion as they weighed their options for the assault, or rescue, or mission, or whatever you wanted to call it.
Either way, it was better, because the focus was back where it belonged—off of John Watson. Right up until they descended out of the tower and proceeded across the grounds and John was just settling into his pre-battle frame of mind when he heard Neville’s voice from the direction of the greenhouses. “That can’t be John Watson?”
He sighed. It really was going to be a long night.
Sherlock was enchanted—and not by any magical means. The fact that there was an entire world with magic—illogical though it was—was delightfully intriguing. So many things to learn, to explore! But even more, the notion of John’s place in this world was quite simply fascinating. As was the respect and affection that everyone in the group showed his flatmate.
It was disconcerting, in its way. Sherlock was used to being the one at the centre of attention. He liked it that way, to be honest. Not that there weren’t times when he wasn’t happy to stay in the shadows, watching a story unfolding, staying unobtrusively out of the way of the action so that he was free to act. Hiding in plain sight, he liked to congratulate himself, was one of his skills—and when he applied it, he was proud of the number of people who would walk past him without even seeing him.
But there was something satisfying about being the focus of a group as he expounded on a theory or deduction—especially if John were there, since he was always so appreciative.
Here, though? As he listened to John’s old friends debating spells and wards as if they were real, measurable things, he, Sherlock Holmes, might as well not even be in the room. When he caught the eye of one of the witches or wizards (or portraits!), there was curiosity there, but more for the fact that he, a non-magic user was in the room and deigning to speak as if he were an intelligent person. Some of the portraits, in fact, were glaring at him in a way that not even Donovan could match, as if his presence were somehow malodorous.
If the others weren’t quite sure what to make of him, though, none of them could keep their attention from John for long. He could almost be the prodigal son returned, except that he’d apparently returned crippled without his magic—as if that were the measure of a man or his worth? As if John Watson needed to be able to cast spells to make an prove his worth?
Part of him was glad for his friend, because he had seen the stress in John’s face these last 36 hours, as he struggled with self-doubt again, as if thinking himself not worthy of interacting with these former friends without his old skills. Their warm welcome, therefore, was gratifying for John’s sake.
Sherlock was hard put, though, not to be jealous.
Not that their obvious affection for John affected him, of course. John was a flatmate—a friend, even—and was naturally free to socialize with whomever he chose. Sherlock was not foolish enough (watching these people watching John) to expect that this would be the last he would see of any of them. They would be coming round the flat, inviting John out for drinks, and no doubt John would shortly have too little time to spend helping Sherlock solving mysteries for … what was the word? Oh yes … Muggles. (Ridiculous word.)
And yet, as he watched John growing more uncomfortable, he wondered. One of the things he had noticed in the months he’d known John was that while John would immediately step up when the situation required and could give orders like the army captain he was, he seemed to prefer a supportive rather than a leading role. (It was one of the reasons he and Sherlock got on so well, if Sherlock were being honest with himself.) As pleased as John seemed to be at seeing his friends again, he was obviously uncomfortable at the attention—and Sherlock was sure there was no faster way to chase John away than to try to make him the most important person in the room (even when he should be).
Once the conversation had been redirected by John’s demonstration of his sterling leadership qualities (and command voice), it focused more on specific plans and spells—things that Sherlock was less than helpful with, and so he stood back to watch.
He had to admit, he was so used to seeing his own acquaintances casually dismiss John as seemingly unimportant, it was quite pleasant seeing him included in a group that appreciated his skills. Or his former skills. Sherlock didn’t miss the way John’s face momentarily froze when the tall ginger slapped him lightly on his (bad) shoulder while declaring that John’s reducto-curse would take care of any obstacles … before remembering that John could not perform it anymore.
He saw how John shrugged it off, but he saw the strain, too. He was beginning to understand why John had chosen to turn his back on this world and his friends rather than try to adapt and make do as something … less. Someone to be pitied. Had it been Sherlock, he would have turned his back on his old life so hard and so fast, they would have been bowled over by the wind of his departure—and they would have had no doubt that he’d left of his own free will.
The glares from the portraits were starting to annoy him now. Even Donovan or Anderson—even Mycroft—didn’t have stares that were quite so toxic.
Which was one of the reasons he protested when he was told he needed to stay here while the others went to tackle the psychopaths out in the forest.
Even John agreed … even though he was being allowed to go.
“It’s too dangerous, Sherlock,” he told him, “Even by our usual standards because in this case, you have no idea what kind of threat you could be facing out there.” He looked back over his shoulder. “Hey, Hermione? Any chance you could do whatever it is you do that would make our mobiles work here? So we could stay in touch?”
She looked up, strain starting to show on her face now. Sherlock had been impressed she’d held it together so long, almost as if she were used to this sort of thing. He wondered how dangerous it was being what amounted to a police officer for a world of magic-users, if it was normal for her husband to be in peril … and how often she herself was, because the self-assured, professional he had seen earlier had been replaced by a woman ready for battle. And even if her nerves were quivering, she didn’t look scared or nervous as if this was new.
Fascinating. The magic world was much more interesting than his own.
And now they wanted him to stay behind? Not that he couldn’t see John’s point about it being dangerous, about not knowing what was out there. If things like werewolves and curses were actually real, it would be prudent to remain safely within the castle walls where he would not be a risk to himself or others.
Except, Sherlock Holmes had never lived his life that way. He never let the possibility of personal danger get in the way of knowledge. ‘Prudent’ and he were barely on speaking terms.
He looked over to see John giving him an understanding look. “It’s miserable being the one left behind, I know, but trust me on this one, Sherlock. I don’t want to have to explain to Mycroft how you were turned into a werewolf or hexed so that your skin turned permanently blue. Maybe we can get a tour of Hogwarts later on, some demonstrations of less … lethal … magic?”
“But you’re going, John,” Sherlock said, protesting.
There was a bitter twist to John’s lips. “Yes, but I’m on Muggle-watching duty. My job will be to try to calm down the Dursleys since I’m a Muggle, too, and apparently have a soothing bedside manner. I won’t be fighting, either—or at least, they don’t expect me to, but I do at least know when to duck.”
Sherlock met his friend’s eyes and nodded, acknowledging the gleam as he said the wizards didn’t expect him to fight … because nobody was keeping John Watson from a fight. “Bullets work on evil wizards, don’t they?”
John grinned his own wolfish grin. “I don’t know that it’s been tried, though that reminds me. I’ve got another charm to ask Hermione for. In the meantime, feel free to quiz the portraits while we’re gone. These are all the former headmasters of Hogwarts, so they have a wealth of knowledge and very little familiarity with Muggles. It should be informative for you—all these new things to learn. And hopefully Hermione will get our phones to work, too, so just … don’t go wandering. There really are so many ways you could get into trouble, you’ve no idea.”
“Not to mention that the castle wards won’t let a Muggle out of the office without explicit permission from the headmaster,” Emery said with great sympathy. “I for one would be delighted to give you a tour later, Mr Holmes, but right now, we have more urgent matters to attend. The moon is due to rise in about fifteen minutes.”
And then Hermione was handing him back his phone and they were all bustling toward the door, and Sherlock was left alone with this fascinating room filled with inexplicable, tempting devices—and dozens of portraits, all staring at him as if expecting him to have a nervous breakdown right there.
“This is appalling,” one of the painted images burst out. “A Muggle left unattended in the headmaster’s office. It’s an outrage! Not to mention disgusting.”
“Your prejudices are showing, Nigellus,” said the long-bearded fellow just above the door. “Muggles have come a long way since your time. They’re really quite advanced—even more since my day, I believe.”
“Well, he’s cleaner, at least,” grumbled one of the other portraits—200 years old, at least, Sherlock estimated. “And not having hysterics, so that’s something. They’ve obviously learned something in the last two centuries.”
Sherlock let them talk as he circled the room, resisting the temptation to touch things—who knew what kind of magical booby-traps might be set against student pranks? He absorbed everything they said, though, and it wasn’t flattering to his forebears in the least. Apparently wizards looked down on non-magic users as less than human. He wondered how that translated to their opinions on John Watson? Though the (living) wizards he’d met all seemed eager to take up their friendship where it had been left off.
Still, you’d think that Muggles were still grubbing around in the dirt and living in hovels, the way these portraits were talking about them—and about him in particular.
And so, drawing on every scrap of superiority and culture ever instilled in him by his parents or Mycroft, he pulled his coat off with a flourish and then went over to the comfy chairs by the fireplace to sit, stretching out his legs as elegantly as possible.
“Right,” he said, “Well, I have no trouble understanding why you lot would prefer to keep separate from we non-magic users. Two entirely different methodologies clearly can’t co-exist comfortably, and it can lead to confusion, I suppose, if one tried to utilize technologies from both at the same time—do you use magic to light your room or a light-bulb? How can you train for an emergency if your instinct can’t decide which direction to leap? And, obviously, of course magic would have provided many comforts in a pre-Industrial Revolution era, but now? What’s the point? Why is your magic better than my science?”
And as the burst of outrage exploded around the room, he just leaned back, hiding his smile behind his steepled fingers. He might not be able to leave the room, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to entertain himself.
John stepped out into the crisp night air and tried not to think about the morass of emotions swirling beneath his ribcage.
He’d been accused by many people of being an adrenalin junkie, but this? This was the kind of fix he never thought he would get to experience again.
He was back at Hogwarts. Hogwarts. And it didn’t matter that it was a cold, wet, April night. It didn’t matter that his old friends kept looking at him with pity and regret and guilt all mixed in with an obvious conviction that they were letting him walk to his magicless death by letting him out the door without a (functioning) wand. It didn’t even matter that he’d left Sherlock to wreak logical havoc with the portraits of the old, staid headmasters of the past.
Right now, all that mattered was that he was back at the school he had loved, surrounded by old friends and comrades, and heading into combat at their side once more.
Well, he supposed the fact that Harry and Ron were in danger mattered, too.
It had surprised him, the casual reaction of his friends to this knowledge. They had all agreed that backup would be wise and that dawdling wouldn’t be the best choice, and yet … this was the most laid-back rescue mission he thought he’d ever seen. He knew that Ron and Harry had spent the last twenty years taking down dark wizards and he had no doubt about their ability or skill level, but still … these wizards had murdered Vernon Dudley solely for the purpose of pulling Harry here. That couldn’t be good. Shouldn’t they all be a bit more anxious?
“You’re worrying,” came Ginny’s voice from his shoulder. “You shouldn’t, though. We’ll take care of you.”
He spared her a quick glance. “I’m not worried about being taken care of, Gin. I’m thinking about Harry and Ron.”
She waved her hand. “Oh, this is a normal day for them. They tackle this kind of thing all the time. You’ve just gotten out of practice.”
John thought about all the late nights and chases with Sherlock and tried not to laugh, especially since he sobered all too quickly. “Don’t you think they don’t know exactly what Harry and Ron face all the time? This isn’t a casually laid trap, it’s meticulously thought out. They’d know their weaknesses—even the best fighters can get tricked into a trap.”
Her forehead crinkled a bit. “You think?”
“I’m just saying that maybe approaching this as a hooray-it’s-like-old-times, the gang’s back together picnic is a mistake. Every mission can bring disaster, even the ones that are supposed to be safe. Even when you’re careful. How do you suppose I ended up getting shot? I promise you, the RAMC is not that careless with its surgeons.”
“Doctor. Healer,” he said. “Working on combat wounds, taking care of the soldiers… You didn’t think I was going to settle down to something boring, did you?”
“John Watson? Not hardly,” she said with a grin, but then she looked around at the looming trees. “I’m not exactly used to this kind of thing anymore.”
“I admit, the threat of werewolves is unusual,” John told her, “But otherwise, this is practically a normal day for me—though I’m usually surrounded by buildings, not trees. I admit that the lack of complaints and sniping from Scotland Yard is a pleasant change.”
“So, you’re something of an Auror yourself, these days?”
John was just wondering how to answer that when the group came to an abrupt halt. “There’s something up ahead,” George whispered. “Remember, we’re here to rescue Harry and Ron … and the Muggles. Wands out. And, John? You’d best stay behind, but when we find the Muggles, you can help calm them down.”
John just nodded. This wasn’t the time to make a fuss over the implied attitude towards Muggles … and him. He was gratified, though, to see the glare Hermione sent in George’s direction.
Walking carefully now, they crept forward to find Harry and Ron standing at bay, surrounded by glowing wards. They were faced by at least four (five?) masked wizards and yes—several werewolves, prowling around the tree where two battered-looking Muggles hung, suspended from a plethora of ropes as they blinked in exhausted terror.
And—what the hell was that?
They all stopped to stare at the unfamiliar monster chained to a tree on the opposite side of the clearing.
“Hermione? Do you know what that is?”
She just shook her head. “I’ve never seen it before.”
John grinned to himself—he could practically see her yearning for the library. That wouldn’t do them any good, though. It would take too long. Then he remembered … he pulled out his phone and snapped a photo, then emailed it to Sherlock. He was sitting in the middle of the headmaster’s office, after all. Hundreds of years of experience right there. Someone was bound to recognize the beast, right?
His phone chimed again with yet another text. Sherlock glanced at the screen, expecting to see another query from DI Evans about the case.
“What is that annoying noise?” one of the portraits asked.
“My phone,” said Sherlock. “It’s from John.”
—Ask around if anyone recognizes this? How dangerous?
The attached photo was … remarkable. Definitely not an animal Sherlock had ever seen before, not that zoology was particularly his specialty. If the scale was accurate, though, it was enormous … and looking extremely irritable.
He rose from his chair and walked over to Dumbledore’s portrait, holding up his phone. “Does this creature look familiar to you? Any of you?”
He couldn’t hide his smirk at the expressions on the surrounding painted faces—shock and bewilderment, some admiration, but all impressed in some way by the technology.
Unfortunately, none of them had ever seen a monster like it (or they were so busy making a fuss over the technology that they couldn’t think properly), so after a few moments, he texted back to John. “—No luck, but who knows how much memory a layer of paint can store?”
“What did you just do?” the irritable man from the corner asked.
“Told him that none of you recognized it and they were on their own,” said Sherlock. “Not a very helpful lot, are you?”
“What do you mean you told them? I didn’t hear you say anything,” protested one of the witches.
“No, I sent a text message,” Sherlock told her. “Using this little keyboard. On my phone. It’s instantaneous communication and what phones are for. I suppose you’re going to tell me magic has something better?”
Really, the sudden silence was rather gratifying.
When his phone vibrated in his hand, John hid the light from the screen as he read. “No luck,” he said. “None of the headmasters know what it is, either.”
“None of the … what is that, John?”
“It’s a mobile, George. Haven’t you ever seen Ron’s? I sent a message to Sherlock, he asked the portraits, nobody knew what it was. It’s no help, but we’re not worse off than we were before. Now what?”
After some whispered consultations, John started moving around the clearing, silent in the woods, light hair hidden by the knitted cap he had brought from 221B. They wanted him to watch out for his fellow Muggles? Fine. He could feel his wand nestled familiarly at the small of his back, but it was his gun he held in his hand. A few sparks were not going to help here.
He could hear the others taunting Harry now, telling him it was his turn to die, and that there was no coming back this time.
It was all John could do not to grin at the bored look on his friend’s face.
Right up until they started to describe how they planned on bringing Harry down by using the blood-magic that had kept him safe for sixteen years. That by corrupting his aunt and cousin’s blood tonight, under a full moon and with a very special ritual made just for him, they would for once and for all have vengeance for the Dark Lord.
So far as John knew, any magical blood connection between Harry and the Dursleys had been broken the day he turned seventeen, but that was an esoteric branch of magic he hadn’t studied even when he had been a wizard. Twenty years later, he had no idea how feasible this plan was—but he had to admit it sounded possible. Magic left traces, and something as powerful as the wards Dumbledore had set in place the day Harry’s parents were killed? Broken twenty years ago or not, willing or not, the possibility that there were traces left to be reanimated seemed all too likely—especially considering the complexity of this trap.
The werewolves were watching Harry now, obviously hoping for some sign of fear as he learned of the plan, and so John edged his way closer to the Dursleys, wishing he had some way to mask his scent, hoping he could go unnoticed. He pulled out his knife and moved toward Dudley, considering the ropes suspending him from the tree. How could he cut him down without anyone noticing? No matter what he did, the man would fall noisily to the ground, and there was simply no way that Harry could distract them that much.
He heard a whisper of a spell then, and almost felt something glide past his ear, just as his friends attacked.
In front of him, by someone’s thoughtful magic, the Dursleys were lowering gently to the ground, ropes vanished. They looked just as terrified but moved to cling to each other as John stepped toward them, resheathing his knife. Somehow the sight of him with his gun and his army sniper’s jacket reassured them, but he held a finger to his mouth to encourage them to be quiet as he turned to the fight.
It appeared that the captive bait had been forgotten. Spells were flying at a fast and furious pace as the wizards wielded their wands fiercely and the werewolves plunged through the action, looking for openings.
As he started to shoo the Dursleys back behind their tree, back toward the castle, he saw one werewolf stealthily sneaking up behind Harry and, without pausing, he aimed his gun and fired, dropping the wolf to the ground.
Of course, this immediately drew the attention of the others, and he quickly ducked as a flash of red light took away a branch overhead. He cursed as he crouched in front of the two terrified people and took aim at the werewolf speeding toward him, and, reminding himself there was a person in there, hit the animal square in the shoulder. “Get behind the tree!” he yelled at Dudley and Petunia as he watched for another clear shot, but the two Muggles were frozen, staring mostly at Harry as he duelled with three wizards at once.
It was an impressive sight, John had to admit. When had Harry gotten so very good at this? Not that John was surprised, exactly—he’d certainly been the best student at Defense through their entire school career (not to mention that small detail of having defeated Voldemort). He’d gone on to be a successful Auror for twenty years, and unlike their old Professor Moody, he was still in one piece. Obviously both Harry and Ron knew what they were doing, but still … this was impressive, like something out of a film, except these opponents weren’t thoughtfully coming after Harry one at a time.
He wondered if they’d forgotten their plan, though, because nobody seemed to be paying attention to the Dursleys anymore. He glanced back at the fight and his friends clearly had the edge now. He fired one more bullet at the leg of a wizard conveniently in front of him, and then turned to the people cowering behind him. “Right. Let’s get you two out of here while they’re busy.” He pointed toward the castle. “I’m John Watson, by the way. Let’s go.”
For about three minutes he thought it would work.
Then he heard a roar behind him as the kidnappers realized their victims/bait/payback were getting away. He turned quickly, placing himself between the oncoming wizards and the Dursleys. He only had one bullet left, which he shot at the unknown beast as it charged toward them, hitting it right between the eyes. There was a screech from one of the witches as it fell and then, Harry forgotten, she was running at John. He looked around, fear spiking now. He had nothing left to defend himself and he knew from experience that battles like these were played for keeps.
A burning at his back reminded him that he had his wand and, useless though it would be, he pulled it. If he was about to die here, on Hogwarts ground, it felt right to have his wand in his hand. He spared a thought for Sherlock, back at the headmaster’s office, and wished he could send him a text, but there was no time. He just hoped he wouldn’t be obliviated after all this was over.
Then the lead witch was on him with a shriek, pointing her wand at his useless one and screaming “Crucio!”
So powerful was her blast, it flung him back against the tree.
And then all there was, was pain.
“So, did I hear correctly before? Mr Watson was hit by a curse during the battle?”
“Dr Watson,” Sherlock corrected as he gave a small shrug. “I don’t know the details—I only learned any of this about half an hour before we arrived. As I understand it, though, he was cursed and it somehow removed his magic.”
More murmurings around the room, more agitated now. “What? Is that not possible?”
“It’s not supposed to be. A witch or wizard is born with their magic and it is a constant in their life. Some poor children have no magic, or not enough to do anything with, but except for losing some strength as one ages—magic is no different than your muscles in that way—it’s simply not possible.”
“Then how do you explain what happened to John?”
More rumblings. “We can’t,” one of them finally said, giving an exaggerated shiver. “A curse that removes one’s magic? It’s unthinkable.”
“It’s nauseating. Who would even consider such a thing?”
“Even in my day,” said one of the older paintings, “That was not a torture or threat I ever heard. Lopping off an arm or a leg is one thing, but removing one’s magic? It’s sacrilege, worse than Dementors.”
Sherlock lifted his eyebrows. “And yet someone did just that to my best friend, and nobody seems to have cared.”
The tall, grey witch to the left spoke in her broad Scottish burr. “Of course we cared, Mr Holmes. Mr Watson was one of our finest. I was extremely disappointed when he left us. I feel terrible now, knowing what happened to the poor boy.”
Sherlock found he didn’t like anyone referring to John Watson as a poor anything. “From the sounds of it, nobody bothered to inquire—at all. He limped home on a bad leg and took up a non-magic life out of sheer necessity because none of his so-called friends and comrades had the decency to check on him.”
The parallels to John’s return from Afghanistan were appalling. This earlier loss, betrayal, explained much of John’s lack of hope when they first met—and he was gratified to finally have an explanation of what happened to cause that psychosomatic limp. Afghanistan was the second time John had had an entire life and corps of friends torn from him with one well-fired shot.
And into the slightly guilty silence came a small, hesitant voice.
“I know of that curse.”
“I know of that curse,” said the witch in one of the oldest, dustiest paintings.
“You do, Hildegard? Why haven’t you said anything?
The plump witch ducked her head. “It’s not something I like to remember, tied as it is to our darkest hour.”
Sherlock narrowed his eyes at her. “Darkest hour?”
“Do you think dark wizards have only arisen in your own lifetime, sir? I assure you, we had them as well, and they didn’t namby-pamby about with merely inflicting pain or causing instant death. No, they liked their victims to suffer.”
Dumbledore’s brow was creased now, and his face looked unusually solemn as he asked, “How have we never heard of this?”
“Because, Dumbledore, we weren’t fools. You think there are only three forbidden curses? Oh, no, there were four—but we managed to stamp all knowledge of the other one from existence—or thought we had. Bad as the other three are, that curse was even worse. Too dangerous, too evil to risk being passed on.” She shuddered hard enough almost to shake her frame. “It turned a witch or wizard into a Muggle, effectively banishing them from civilized society, leaving them crippled and useless … a horrible spell.”
“Was there a cure?” one of the other portraits asked, for which Sherlock was almost grateful. If there were a way to cure John’s … malady … that would be good, wouldn’t it? Good for John, at least? Restoring the life, the skills he had lost all those years ago? Because it would be selfish of him not to want that for his friend, wouldn’t it? Even though it would probably mean John would leave?
But the faded witch was shaking her head. “We never found one, Snape. We just resigned ourselves to taking care of the … the afflicted … and burying all knowledge of the curse.”
“Except you didn’t, did you?” the long-haired, black-clad wizard in the portrait asked from his place at Dumbledore’s right hand. “It seems that someone found out and Mr Watson paid the price … not that anybody seems to have cared—not even him. Reckless Gryffindor that he was, he probably thought he could just ignore it, that it would fix itself, the idiot. Never gave a thought that it might be used against the rest of us, that he should maybe tell someone…”
Sherlock found himself on his feet. “It’s Dr Watson, and in fact, he did tell someone, but his information was overlooked or forgotten in the aftermath of the battle. That, or someone deliberately hid the intelligence, I don’t know. Do not blame John, though, for being the victim of an attack, nor for his subsequent attempt at creating a new life for himself—one in which, I might remind you, he again risked himself to save lives in battle.”
The man in the painting sneered. “You’re eager to leap to his defence, but what do you know of magic … or its loss? You’re just a Muggle.”
Sherlock tilted his head, examining the painted image in front of him. “You grew up as a Muggle, though, didn’t you? You believe yourself to be unusually enlightened as regards the non-magical population, but in fact your unhappy childhood colours your judgement more than these others who lived in ignorance of Muggles. You think yourself so superior, sneering down from your frame at me, at John, at everyone you see in this office, no doubt. It’s all in your face, in your posture. You suffered, I can see that, but you are not the only one.
“It seems to me,” Sherlock continued, pacing the floor, “That you understand John’s sacrifice all too well. You gave up a great deal to do what was right, but you let it embitter you. And so you are looking at John—a man who has lost just as much, yet has kept his honour, his charity, and his sense of humour intact—and thinking less of him for it. As if his resilience somehow lessens his suffering.”
There was a shocked silence as all the portraits who could, stared between him and Snape. Sherlock fully expected a biting reply—he could tell that in many ways the man was like him. Attacked, he would strike back, without mercy.
Which is why he was so surprised when the man shrugged his black-clad shoulders and said, “I’ve never been good at forgiveness. Charity of spirit is not exactly … I suppose if Mr … Doctor Watson has recovered from his … injury … enough to still want to do good for the rest of mankind, I can’t think less of him for that.” He looked pensive for a moment, but then his face tightened and he added, mouth twisting, “But don’t think for a minute that his own sacrifices compare to mine.”
Sherlock waved a hand. “Oh, no. I’m quite sure being crippled in battle and losing an entire world, all your friends, everything you’ve trained for not once but twice doesn’t compare.”
Dumbledore’s portrait spoke now, quickly. “In my experience, sacrifice isn’t measured by the loss, but by the way with which it is dealt, and I can assure you that Severus exceeded expectations. This is not a contest—and if it were, I can also say without fear of denial that all of us here have our own stories to tell. Personally, though, I would rather continue to explore this curse that Hildegard has remembered, to see if we can’t find a cure.”
Hildegard’s image shook her head. “No, I’m sorry. To explore the possibility of a cure, you would need to know how the curse works, and that is not something that I can tell you. Those few of us who knew were bound by a wizard’s vow, and it’s not possible for me to tell you anything other than that eight hundred years ago, such a thing existed.”
Sherlock glared at her. “So you would consign my friend to a life without magic with no means of appeal?”
She looked down at him sympathetically. (How had he ended up being pitied by a layer of paint?) “It seems that he already has, sir, and that he has made the best of it in a truly heroic fashion. I regret that there’s nothing else I can do, but as I said, the best wizards of the age were unable to find a cure.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes—and what did a person from eight centuries ago know about scientific method? Who knew what new discoveries had been found since then? For that matter, they had no way of knowing that the curse that had affected John was in fact the same one—what if it had a similar effect but an entirely different foundation?
He was surprised to hear the long-haired man next to Dumbledore scoffing, too. “Oh, please, as if we hadn’t learned anything since then? Did no one even examine Dr Watson when this happened?”
“I believe he said Poppy did,” said the Scottish witch, “But I think Hildegard is right—is this really something we can afford to investigate? As fond as I am of Dr Watson and sympathetic to his plight—this is a genie we cannot afford to let out of its lamp.”
There were murmurs of agreement around the room. It was a valid point, Sherlock had to admit. As much as he abhorred the hiding of knowledge—any knowledge—how many lives had been lost over the centuries due to untrammelled curiosity? Would the world be better off had the nuclear bomb never been invented? Chemical warfare? Gas chambers? The guillotine? What if trying to cure John opened such a series of catastrophes on the members of the magical world, like a swath of epidemic cutting down entire families and consigning them to live … well, a normal, magic-free life. (Oh, the horror.) Really, would that be so terrible? John had managed, after all.
And … this was John.
Although, of course, John was so self-sacrificing, he probably would opt for the decision best for the greater good.
Sherlock pulled out his phone. “Maybe we should ask John how he feels?”
All John could feel was pain.
He vaguely knew he was being supported by the tree—just before all his nerve endings had ignited in this godawful, skin-crisping pain, he had felt himself slam up against the trunk, his head colliding with the bark hard enough to see stars … except, right now, he couldn’t see anything. He couldn’t see or hear or think. All he could do was scream with the pain flooding his system so that every cell exploded in an inferno of pain worse than anything he had ever felt in his life.
For a small eternity, he hung there, impaled on a lance of flame and pain and agony.
Then, suddenly, it stopped.
He dropped to the ground, panting and trembling as his body shuddered with the relief, every inch of skin feeling impossibly tender. He looked down at his hands, even as his feet scrabbled for purchase, trying to force himself up off the ground. He had to protect the Dursleys. He had to face this threat on his own two feet.
He couldn’t give up.
He was almost surprised to see that his hands weren’t burnt claws. The way the flaming agony had engulfed them, he had almost expected the flesh to be burned away, but no. Except for some blood from his own fingernails digging into his palms, he was untouched. Or at least, not visibly injured. Just like last time.
He could hear the yelling now, as his friends fought back, sounding outraged now. The witch who had attacked him was battling with Harry now, who looked more like an avenging god than any human had the right to look.
John pulled in a shaky breath, trying to force his legs to stop quivering, trying to clear the smell of burning from his nose.
Burning? What … he looked down then and realized that, while his skin wasn’t scorched (no matter what his nerves were insisting must be true), his mobile had somehow exploded or shorted out or whatever modern technology did. Its screen was cracked and there was a wisp of smoke coming from it. He stared at it in wonder, unable to flog his brain into figuring out what had happened. It was hot to the touch, too, he thought, which made sense for a smoking, melted plastic thing, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to drop it.
He felt a hand tugging at his arm. “John? Come on, John.”
No, he thought. He wasn’t going to retreat just because he was the poor, helpless Muggle. He had been a soldier, damn it, and even if he was out of ammunition for fighting back, he wasn’t going to retreat from the field. What if someone was hurt? What if they needed him?
Still, he supposed stepping around to the other side of the tree might not be a bad idea. There was no shame in taking cover during a fight, was there? He glanced over at Hermione’s concerned face and then back at the Dursleys, staring at him in horror. “M’okay,” he said, turning back to the fight. Harry and Ron were back to back, now, and there were only two opponents left standing, clearly on their last legs.
From old habit, his eyes skimmed over the downed bodies, looking for injuries, calculating triage needs and resources in his head. It looked like they were all unconscious or bound, so they weren’t a ris… no, wait. Movement! One of the masked figures was shakily lifting his wand, aiming it at a distracted Harry as he focused on his own opponent.
John looked around frantically, but nobody else saw the threat. He opened his mouth to yell, but instead of the warning he’d intended, he shouted “Protego!” out of sheer instinct … and felt the wand in his hand burn.
Sherlock looked down at his phone. He supposed John was probably busy at the moment. Ah well, the question of his magical injury had waited twenty years … twenty more minutes wouldn’t make much of a difference. No doubt he would text when he could.
He wondered if it would make a difference. Judging by the clothing in the portraits and the paraphernalia around the office, how much had things really evolved in the magical world? Would their research methodology actually allow for a better outcome if they were to explore the topic? He wondered how long it would take him to learn enough about witchcraft, or whatever these people called their magic, to be able to help—because surely that would make a difference?
He was prowling the room again, unable to sit still. Yes, he understood that John was busy out there in the absurdly-named Forbidden Forest, but surely he had the time to send a text? Philosophical conversations about magic versus science had lost their appeal now. All he could think about was John’s loss. Because wasn’t that what friends did? Concerned themselves for each other’s well-being?
Although, would a return to this absurd, magical world be a good thing for John? He certainly seemed happy enough with things as they were. True, he had seemed uncertain since yesterday’s crime scene at Little Whinging, but that could be explained by having bumped into his old friends, having the old loss resurface. It didn’t mean he would want that to change permanently … did it?
Sherlock turned around, levelling a glare at the portrait of Dumbledore that the others all seemed to yield to. “John can take care of himself.”
“That’s not what I meant, young man. You’re torn between wanting to help Dr Watson recover his magic and dreading what the result of that would be. You’re afraid he would abandon you to return to the wizarding world—even though loyalty has always been one of the hallmarks of Dr Watson’s character.”
“What difference would it make?” he asked, as if the answer held no value to him. “It’s not like he would have to move out.”
Would he, he wondered silently.
“It’s true that, as a rule, the Muggle and wizarding world are kept separate for a reason. It’s hard for them to co-exist—if a wizard absently casts a spell while sitting in a Muggle pub, or walking down the street … well, the Statute of Secrecy exists for a reason. As a rule, Muggle brains refuse to accept the reality of magic. And with more and more Muggle devices to record things, well, keeping an entire world secret is more difficult than ever. Then, of course, sadly, many witches and wizards think … poorly … of Muggles and consider socializing with them to be beneath them. Incorrectly, of course, but still—separation has always been the safest and easiest defence.” The image tilted its painted head. “That being said, of course, there are wizards from Muggle families who naturally keep in touch with their loved ones. Wizards living in London, surrounded by Muggles. There are friendships and even mixed marriages—ones that face more difficult challenges than differences of colour or religion—but which can work.”
Sherlock shrugged. The whole topic was dull. So dull. Not something he’d be interested at all. He glanced back at his mobile, considering the benefit to sending another text. He glanced back up, finding a wall-full of eyes watching him. “I certainly hope you don’t think John and I are in any kind of romantic relationship. We are friends and colleagues, nothing more. I just dread the thought of having to find another flatmate if he were able to return to …this.” He waved his hand to encompass the room.
Before Dumbledore could reply, a silvery stag burst through the wall and spoke in Harry’s voice. “We’re on our way back—heading for the hospital wing. John says to tell you he’s fine.”
Sherlock stared. The hospital wing? That implied injuries, and … John saying he’s ‘fine’?
He glared up at Dumbledore’s portrait. “How do I get there?”
John was still a little unsteady on his legs as he tied off the last bandage, glad he’d thought to grab a medkit before leaving Baker Street. Wizard medicine might have numerous advantages over Muggle, but basic first aid was much the same—treat the life-threatening injuries first, stop the bleeding, get proper treatment as soon as possible.
He refused to think about anything at all as he did a quick triage around the clearing, checking for injuries, doing what he could for the wounds. There was no question that gunshots was messier than most wizarding wounds, though he couldn’t bring himself to feel any remorse for having shot three people tonight—especially when two of them were werewolves. He had tried not to kill them, but found he wasn’t all that fussed, really, considering they had been doing their best to kill or maim his friends.
He ignored the curious, wondering looks he was getting, and instead just concentrated on his professional duties—performing field medicine in the aftermath of a battle felt just like old times, even if he was shakier than he preferred.
He really was not thinking about why he was so shaky. He wasn’t thinking about the crucio, wasn’t thinking about the inexplicable way his mobile had melted.
He very definitely wasn’t thinking about the way that shield spell had actually worked.
No, he wasn’t thinking at all about casting a spell that gave Harry the time to turn and take out that last, semi-conscious wizard.
Instead, he was focusing on his patients—luckily all from the opposing side. His friends had only minor scrapes. The Dursleys were close to shock, suffering some dehydration and effects from being abducted, but were mostly well. The cuts from his fingernails and the burn on his own hand were the worst injuries on their side, and that would heal.
He wasn’t thinking about the possible after-effects of the cruciatus curse, either. It might have felt endless, but he knew it hadn’t lasted more than a minute, if that. It was just … he felt … tender, the way your stomach did the day after a stomach bug—even once you were past the retching, you felt fragile with the remembered pain. For those endless moments, he had felt as if every nerve, every synapse, every cell in his body had been alight with fire and pain, and even though it was gone now, his skin felt tender, as if healing from a bad sunburn.
And, all right, so maybe he couldn’t stop thinking about it…
He had cast a spell. An actual, working, functional, effective spell.
And it had hurt.
Not like the crucio. God, nowhere near that level of pain, but like he had taken that sunburned skin for a dip in the ocean so that the salt-water stung everywhere, or had poked at it while it was still raw. He couldn’t explain it. The part of him that was thinking about it even though he was officially not thinking about it speculated that maybe his magic hadn’t been gone so much as blocked. And maybe the cruciatus curse had somehow removed that block, like water gushing through a dam and flooding all the old, dried stream beds—a lightning rod of magic energy that he had somehow—painfully—channelled, but in doing so had burned open the internal paths for magic to flow.
Clearly the force had been enormous—his phone had melted, after all. How had that even happened? He wondered if the electric shock of it shorting out had somehow contributed, but thought it was unlikely—the amount of charge in a phone’s battery was negligible. Wasn’t it? Sherlock would know.
He pushed himself away from his last patient. (A petrified werewolf—he didn’t want to see the creature bleed to death, but hadn’t wanted to risk a bite, either.) His left leg wobbled beneath him, but he ignored it. He had performed magic, damn it. He wasn’t going to let a psychosomatic limp cause him trouble.
Christ, he had performed magic.
He leaned his hand against a handy tree and took a deep breath, as George and Headmaster Emery levitated the stretchers of wounded and started to leave the clearing. Neville and Ginny were trying to soothe the Dursleys while Harry tried not to watch and, for the moment, John just let himself be overwhelmed by the events of the night.
He blinked and looked over at Harry, Ron and Hermione flanking him just like old times. “Harry,” was all he said.
“You’re still full of surprises, aren’t you?”
John could feel his eyes widen as he said, “It looks that way, doesn’t it?”
“Are you all right?” Hermione asked, face full of concern.
He nodded, wishing he thought he could step away from the tree without falling on his face. “I don’t know what happened,” he told her, feeling a little like the lost little boy he heard himself sounding like. “Do you suppose chocolate works for the cruciatus like it does for Dementors?”
Ron had stepped around now and gripped his arm, lending him support. “I say we find out—you deserve it.”
“I can walk,” John snapped.
“Oh, really? Because it doesn’t look like it to me, mate.”
“I’m agree. You look terrible.” Harry was on his other side now. “You’re just as good in a fight as ever, though.”
Hermione had picked up his medkit and was gingerly holding his gun. “I suppose you want this back?”
“Of course I do,” John said. “You never know when a gun might come in handy. I just should have had you make me some more bullets while we were transfiguring the others before.”
She glanced back as the stretcher holding the one corpse floated out of view. “I suppose that old wives’ tale is true, then?”
The four of them were slowly working their way out of the clearing now, with John hating the way his bad leg was threatening to fold at every step. “You don’t think my marksmanship was enough? That it came down to the silver bullets?”
“Like you said before, John, it couldn’t hurt.”
“Silver bullets?” asked Ron.
“It’s an old Muggle legend—that you can only kill a werewolf with a silver bullet. We figured, what could it hurt? So I transfigured his bullets before we came out.”
John nodded. “I didn’t mean to kill him, though. I don’t suppose there’s anyway to know who he is … was?”
“He should revert back to human when the moon goes down,” Ron said, “But until then, no. Wizards don’t carry ID—and it’s not like he’s got pockets right now.”
John laughed, and then stumbled over a branch. “Okay, hold on a minute. This is ridiculous. I can walk, just … could someone transfigure me a cane, or something? Just until I convince my leg it’s in one piece again?”
Harry started to reach for his wand, but Hermione put her hand out to stop him. “Why don’t you do it, John?”
He blinked at her, frozen, trying to think how to explain … yes, that shield spell had somehow worked, but what if it had been a fluke? He’d rather just believe that maybe his curse had been broken for a while longer. He would deal with it not being true, but he’d rather cling to the illusion while he could.
Sherlock had been ready to batter his way out of the headmaster’s office when the fire had flared green again and an elderly witch’s head had appeared in the flames. “Mr Holmes? Headmaster Emery asks that you be patient and says he’ll be with you shortly.”
“Is John all right?”
“Yes, John Watson,” Sherlock snapped.
“I haven’t seen John Watson in twenty years,” she said slowly, “Are you saying he was involved in this tonight?”
“It was a rescue mission—I doubt even magic could have kept him away. He went off with Hermione and the others hours ago. Harry’s … stag … announced he was fine, but John would say that if he were dying.”
“But … Mr Watson can’t do magic.” She looked horrified at the thought.
“No,” Sherlock said. “You knew that? You’re the only person who seems to have been aware of his … disability. That makes you the person who tried to cure him?”
She looked back over her shoulder. “Yes, but this really isn’t the time for this conversation. Mr Watson is not here, and regardless, I cannot discuss this without his permission. I do, however, have injuries to attend to.”
And with a popping noise, her head was gone and the flames reverted to their familiar orange. Such a strange, uncomfortable method of communication, he thought. Phones were so much simpler. He pulled his out again and tried John, but again, there was no answer. Nobody seemed overly worried about him—was that because he was actually unharmed, or because they were writing off the Muggle?
He tried Ron’s phone, then. The redhead had better answer, thought Sherlock fiercely.
John was still trying to find the right words when Ron’s phone rang. He looked at the caller ID and then shook his head. “Hello, Sherlock. No, he’s fine, but his phone kind of … melted. Yeah, sure.” He handed the phone to John. “He sounds worried.”
“Of course he is,” John muttered as he took the phone. “I’m fine, Sherlock.”
“Why haven’t you returned with the others, John?”
“We’re working on it, Sherlock. My leg’s acting up and I don’t have any cabbies to chase just now, so I’m moving slower than usual.”
“But you’re unhurt?”
“A couple cuts and a burn on my hand from when my phone melted,” John said, carefully not adding that he felt like he’d been burned from the inside out. “Otherwise fine.”
“If you could get your magic back, would it be worth risking knowledge of the curse getting out?”
“Jesus, you don’t go for the easy questions do you? What have you been talking about while I was gone?”
“Just answer the question, John”
John’s head was already shaking. “No. No, I wouldn’t.” He looked at his friends, doing their best to look like they weren’t listening. “I already told Hermione I thought that curse was too dangerous, and wondered if knowledge of it had been buried somehow. But no, I would never risk the entire wizarding world just to get my magic back. Look, I’ll see you soon, okay? The longer I stand here, the longer it’ll take me to limp back.”
“Can’t your friends just fly you back, or something?”
John laughed. “It doesn’t work that way. Go ask Snape how potions differ from chemistry. We’ll be back soon.”
He handed the phone to Ron. “I don’t know what they’ve been talking about in there, but he wanted to know if I thought investigating a cure to my curse could lead to the destruction of the entire world. Which reminds me—you should really destroy that memory I gave you.”
Hermione protested. “But we need to figure out who cursed you in the first place.”
“Do we? It’s not like they’ve gone on a rampage since—whoever it was probably died in the battle, so what does it matter now?”
“It’s a moot point now, is that what you’re saying?” Hermione asked. “Because your magic is back?”
“Is it?” John said, weary now. “I don’t even know if I want to know.”
“That sounds altogether too cowardly for the John Watson I know,” she said.
Harry was watching him, face thoughtful. “What’s the problem?”
John’s forehead creased. “It’s … when I cast that spell … it, well, it hurt. I think the cruciatus may have … blasted … something and it all feels a little … raw. I’m just hesitant to try anything else. Maybe it needs time to heal? Maybe it was a fluke connected to the nerve stimulation of the crucio somehow? And now it’s over, the magic won’t work anymore? I just … I’m not sure I want to know right this minute…”
“Nonsense,” Hermione said briskly. “Now’s the perfect time. Prove to yourself that your magic works, right now, while you’re not under pressure, not in a battle—that way you’ll know it’ll be there when you wake up tomorrow.”
“You might be pragmatic, John, but you always used to fret about things—if you don’t prove this to yourself right now, you’re going to convince yourself that you actually can’t and you’re going to wake up in the morning with a whole new block that has nothing to do with a curse. Why else are you limping right now?”
He looked down at his leg, part of him knowing she was right. There was no reason for him to be limping right now, after all, and he was well aware of the tricks his brain could play on him. He had a sudden fear that he had thrown away the last twenty years because he had convinced himself he couldn’t do magic—what if the curse had never been real in the first place? But no, then he wouldn’t have read as a Muggle on Mycroft’s scanner—or Hermione’s. He opened his mouth to ask her to check again, to bolster his self-confidence, but closed it again. That’s backward thinking, he told himself. Prove it first, Watson, or are you too much a coward?
He reached for his wand, trying not to think about all the times he had tried a spell only to see it fail. The familiar purpleheart fairly glowed in the moonlight as his hand gripped the smooth, familiar handle. He looked around for a stick to transfigure, when a sudden popping noise made him spin around, shouting, “Protego!”
And, like magic … because it truly, really, definitely was … a shield filled the air around them as John searched frantically for the threat.
It was only when he heard Ron snickering that he realized he’d been tricked. “What?” Harry asked, face innocent. “You would have waffled all night trying to work yourself up to it—I just gave you something to react to. Which you did. Quite well, in fact.” He prodded at the shield. “It’s always been one of your best spells, John.”
John was speechless. “You … you…”
“Yes, John, but it was for your own good,” Hermione told him with a smile. She was pointing her wand at him again, and nodding. “You’ll be interested to learn that you don’t register as a Muggle anymore.”
“Or a squib?”
“Not even close.” Her face broke into a grin. “Welcome back.”
John didn’t know what was on his face, but if he looked half as happy as his friends did … He held out his wand and, feeling a grin spreading on his own face, cast his spell.
Sherlock was getting impatient now. Very. He thought he’d been extremely understanding of having to sit here and wait like a child while John and the others were facing danger. He had behaved toward the irritating headmaster portraits. He hadn’t yelled at the woman in the fire who had failed to help John all those years ago. (Perhaps because part of him was actually grateful because, had he regained his magic, he would never have ended at 221B Baker Street.) He hadn’t even snapped at Ron Weasley for having a functioning mobile when John’s was, if he was to be believed, melted. Melted. As if that were possible.
But that had been at least ten minutes ago now and Sherlock had had enough. Enough waiting. Enough patience. Enough of this sitting about waiting for other people. He hated waiting for other people.
He was standing in front of the fireplace, debating the wisdom of trying that floo-thing to leave. How hard could it be? You threw a handful of that messy powder into the flames and then stepped in to state your destination. He could go home and wait in comfort while John faffed about here with the people who had abandoned him to his fate without so much as a second thought. It wasn’t like he was accomplishing anything. And he had solved the case—the rest of it had been taken very firmly out of his hands. So why wait?
Which was when another silver form came flying through the wall—a dog this time, some kind of large, wolf-like breed like a Siberian Husky that looked alertly around the room.
It bounded right up to Sherlock and stood, tail wagging and ears pricked and alert as its mouth opened and John’s jubilant voice sounded through the room.
Note: I could almost end the story here, but good a place as this would be to stop, I can’t quite leave it like this. So we’ve got one more chapter coming to sum things up. Because you KNOW I have a hard time leaving things untold, narrative ends untied!
Sherlock stared at the apparition in front of him as it spun in a quick, joyful circle and then pelted out of the room. “That was John’s voice,” he said, feeling numb.
“Indeed,” said Dumbledore behind him. “And it was his Patronus, as well. It seems as if our concerns about unleashing that curse on an unsuspecting public isn’t necessary after all.”
Sherlock turned to look at him. “What do you mean?”
“Dr Watson could not have sent a Patronus if he could not cast the spell, Mr Holmes. It seems that he may have found a way to get his magic back.”
He was just absorbing that when the office door opened and a friendly-looking man about John’s age leaned in. “Mr Holmes? I’m Neville Longbottom. I’m supposed to bring you to see John in the hospital wing.”
Sherlock was already striding toward the door. “Is he hurt?”
“Oh, no,” said Neville. “I mean, a burn on his hand, and Madame Pomfrey is insisting on a full diagnostic for some reason, but no. He looks great. Or, well, exhausted, I suppose, but beaming. Not sure why he’s carrying a cane, to be honest, but when I asked, he just grinned like a loon and held on tighter. He didn’t want to give up the melted Muggle thing he had, either. Not exactly sure why, but I feel like I’m coming into the middle of this whole thing—I missed the first couple acts and am just now trying to catch up.”
“Well,” Sherlock said as they went down the hallway (more living paintings and—were those stairs moving?), “It appears that the curse John has been living with for the last twenty years has been lifted.”
“Curse? What curse?”
Sherlock looked down at the shorter man. The man seemed friendly and had an open face, but this was yet another person who had essentially abandoned John Watson. “You didn’t know?” he asked, already sure of the answer.
“Just that he went back to the Muggle world because he was so disgusted with the way he’d been treated that last year—though to be honest, he was better off out of Hogwarts. It was a nightmare that year, professors torturing the kids they didn’t like … awful.”
Sherlock’s eyebrows rose. “Torture? That’s hyperbole, surely.”
“Unfortunately, no. The Carrows regularly used the cruciatus curse … er, do you know what that is? John said you were a Muggle.”
He thought this was perhaps not the right time to protest that ridiculous word. “I am, and no, I do not know—though by its Latin root, I imagine it’s a curse that causes pain?”
“Excruciating pain,” Neville said, a shadow in his eyes. “People have been driven mad by it.”
“Someone you know.”
A nod. “My parents, back in the first war. It’s why I was raised by my Gran. Anyway, coming from a Muggle family, even if John had been able to come seventh year, it … it wouldn’t have been good for him. So, when he left after the Battle, we just figured he wanted nothing else to do with us. He never even claimed his payout for fighting in the Battle—and you’re saying he was cursed?”
Sherlock nodded, remembering the Headmasters’ concerns. Perhaps discretion was the wiser decision, here. He didn’t know how much this man could be trusted—no matter how friendly he seemed—and anyway, John might prefer not to have his secrets told. “Yes, and he’s lived as a Muggle ever since—which is how we met.”
“Cor,” said Neville. “I can’t even imagine that—how did he resist the temptation? Even if he put his wand away somewhere… Anyway, here we are.” He pushed open a door to show a rather ordinary looking hospital ward—a room with beds and privacy screens, nothing out of the ordinary. Or, mostly. There were no beeps or blips from medical machinery, no IV stands. Several patients were under full restraints, and at least one looked as if he’d been turned into a statue.
He was waved down the ward by a beaming Hermione. “Sherlock! Isn’t it wonderful?”
Debatable, he thought, as he walked toward the crowd clustered around the farthest bed. John did, in fact, look happy as he sat on the bed, hovered over by the elderly witch who had appeared in the fireplace earlier. “I can’t explain it,” he was saying. “Maybe the cruciatus broke through the block, or mixed with the mobile signal somehow. I just know it felt like every nerve in my body was being purged with fire. I didn’t expect that shield spell to work, I just saw that wizard about to curse Harry and … Sherlock! Are you okay?”
“I’m not the one in a hospital bed, John.”
He hadn’t thought John’s smile could get any broader. “Well, no, but I’m not hurt, either—it’s just that Madame Pomfrey is insisting on running diagnostics. I thought you’d either be bored in the headmaster’s office, or that the portraits would be trying to jinx you silent by now.”
“Really, you give me so little credit, John. We had some extremely enlightening conversations.” He gave a small smile. “I believe the Headmaster might need to move his computer to make the screen available—apparently they are quite curious about the idea of films now. Their expressions when I showed them the picture on my phone were quite entertaining.”
“I almost feel badly about having had to shoot that … thing, whatever it was,” John said. “It was probably a Crumplehorned Snorkack or something equally rare. I wonder if Luna would know?”
Sherlock didn’t know why the others all started to laugh, but tried not to let it bother him. It was hardly the first time he’d been excluded from a group—at least he knew they weren’t laughing at him. He just had the feeling that this was the beginning of the end for the remarkable friendship he’d experienced with John. He should be grateful, really, for having had it at all, for having been able to enjoy the rare sense of companionship and affection. He would be fine without it, of course. It wasn’t like he wasn’t used to being on his own, after all. It would just take some … adjustment.
He blinked, realizing that the others were all looking at him. Had he missed something? Had they asked him something? Rather than ask them to repeat it, he just forged ahead. “So, you’re cured, then?”
A flicker of something passed through John’s eyes and for a moment Sherlock worried he’d missed something important. “Looks that way,” John said.
Sherlock forced a smile. Well, partially forced, because he supposed he was pleased for John’s sake that he had his magic back. He was just unused to taking other people’s feelings into consideration. “That’s good,” he managed. “Congratulations.”
“Thanks,” John said, though something of his earlier enthusiasm had dimmed.
They were saved further awkward conversation by the nurse (or whatever) bustling back, pulling out a wand. She started scanning it over John’s body as she said, “Just checking for any nerve damage from the cruciatus curse, Mr Watson.”
“Doctor,” Sherlock corrected automatically.
They were all staring at him again, he thought with a mental sigh. “What? He earned the title. He deserves it.”
“Er, wizards don’t have doctors, Sherlock,” John said. “The official title is Healer, and I can’t claim that one.”
Oh. Sherlock’s earlier enthusiasm for the unknown, still-to-be-explored wizarding world was fading fast. There was too much he didn’t know, too many ways he would never fit in. John would be welcomed back into the fold and that would be that. Sherlock would go back to solving (boring, mundane) crimes and likely never see John again.
The entire scenario was hateful.
He didn’t know what was on his face, but the others were looking at him with some concern now. The only one to speak, though, was Madame Pomfrey, asking what on earth had happened to John’s shoulder?
“I was shot,” John said. “There was some nerve damage—nothing too serious.”
No, thought Sherlock, just serious enough to take away your career as a surgeon along with the one in the army. Nothing worth mentioning, just one more life, one more career, one more notch on your belt before moving on. Like detective’s assistant. He wondered if it would even make John’s CV, or if a handful of months as his colleague and friend wasn’t worth the ink it took to print it. Quill ink, no doubt, which he supposed would at least save John from his abysmal typing skills, not that his handwriting was much better.
He watched as the healer practically forced a nerve-regeneration potion down John’s throat. She explained that it would take care of any residual damage from the curse tonight, but would more importantly help mend the destruction caused by his Afghani bullet wound. “It won’t take away the scar, just restore the nerves,” she was saying, “I could try to remove the scar tissue, but after this length of time…”
“No,” John said, “A man’s scars are his own, and I earned that one. It wouldn’t feel right not having it—not to mention raising uncomfortable questions at my next physical. Scars just don’t disappear, you know. If you can restore the feeling, though … that would be brilliant.”
Sherlock watched him swallow down the potion and nodded to himself. Yes, there it went—the last bar holding John down, the last limitation keeping him from what he loved. Now he had his magic back, could have his medical career back…
Now John had no reason to stay at all.
He gave a nod and turned away as John grimaced—apparently nerve regeneration was painful. He wondered how long he had before John decided to move out. Would Mycroft release his trust fund, now he’d lost his flatmate through no fault of his own? He didn’t think Mrs Hudson would kick him out, but it was unfair to expect her to accept less rent just because John had rejoined his old world…
“Sherlock?” He turned to find Harry, concern on his face. “Are you all right?”
“What? Me? I’m fine,” Sherlock said. “I wasn’t the one fighting for my life tonight. That worked out for you, I see?”
“Thanks to you, I hear. There were more of them than I expected.”
Sherlock shrugged it off. Of course he’d been right, though he wasn’t particularly in the mood for small talk—an abomination at the best of times.
Harry allowed it though. “What made you suspect?”
“The language of the site—it was meant to sound as if it idolized you, but it didn’t quite ring true. And when I saw the author of the site called himself Neode … neo-D-E. New Death Eater. It all became obvious it was meant to be a trap. From what I hear, though, I don’t know why they wanted to kidnap your aunt and cousin. Your relationship with them doesn’t sound … ideal.”
“You could say that,” Harry said with a snort. “I haven’t seen or talked to them in twenty-one years, but whoever set this up knew that I would still come to rescue them. They planned a blood ritual that would … I don’t even know. Something with werewolves and corrupting my blood through the link to theirs. We didn’t exactly let it get that far—thanks to John and his silver bullets.”
Silver…? A distant memory stirred and Sherlock felt his lips quirk upwards. “Typical of John—giving enough credence to superstition to use it as a safety measure. He’ll risk his own life in a heartbeat but gets irrationally upset when other people do.”
“That’s true,” said Harry, studying him for a moment. “You’re making the same mistake we made, you know.”
“Indeed? And what mistake is that?”
“Thinking he’s about to walk away,” Harry said, glancing back at John’s bed. “We thought he had done that twenty years ago, but it turned out that he hadn’t walked—he’d been left behind. And none of us reached out to pull him back, to let him know he was wanted. We thought we were letting him make his own decisions, not realizing that, to him, it felt as if all his options had been taken away.”
Sherlock thawed a bit, if only because Harry was trying to look out for John. At least his friend wouldn’t be alone anymore. “You’re mistaken,” he said after a moment. “Unlike the last time, John has just had all his options returned to him. He could do anything he wants now.”
He was surprised at the sympathy in Harry’s eyes. “And what makes you sure he wouldn’t want to continue what he’s doing now? With you?”
Sherlock barely managed to refrain from rolling his eyes. Working with him had never been anybody’s choice.
They stood a moment longer, shifting their weight as the infirmary bustled around them. Then Harry said, “John Watson has always been loyal to a fault—usually my fault, back in our Hogwarts days. He won’t turn his back on a friend, but he’s stupidly modest enough that, if he thinks he’s in the way, he’ll pull back. He, Ron, and I were all best friends at the beginning, our first year here, but once Hermione joined, too … he backed off, as if he were making room. As if he thought there wasn’t enough room for him. He didn’t stop being our friend, but he thought he was in our way, that we didn’t want him, and so he retreated. But every time we ever needed his help, he was right there—including in the Battle of Hogwarts. He saved Charlie’s life that night and I don’t think he’s ever forgiven himself for not saving Fred, too. But that’s John.”
He looked down the row of beds, face solemn, and then continued, “Then, after … he obviously felt, I don’t know, excluded? In the way? A burden? I really have no idea, but he left—and he did it in such a way that none of us even realized. You have no idea how much I wish I’d followed that up, followed him to make sure he was all right, but I thought I was respecting his choice—not realizing that he felt he had none.”
“Yes, yes,” said Sherlock, “You feel terrible, but John’s forgiven you and all is well. Why are you telling me this?”
“I told you,” Harry said, “You’re making the same mistake. I was watching you just now, Sherlock, as you decided that he would probably choose to come back to the wizarding world and leave you behind … but you’re wrong. He’s a fiercely loyal friend, remember? The only thing that would make him choose to leave would be thinking that you wanted him to.”
Him? That was absurd, thought Sherlock. Why would he want John to leave? Harry was clearly mistaken. This wasn’t Sherlock choosing not to have John at Baker Street, this was Sherlock being generous and giving him the freedom to do what he wants. And he hoped John appreciated it, too, because this kind of selflessness was completely against Sherlock’s nature, and it was obviously not going to happen again. If John wanted out, this was his chance, and Sherlock was not going to stand in his way.
All he said was, “I’m not going to interfere with his choice, Harry.”
Harry gave him a small smile. “Which is good, just … make sure he knows that staying your flatmate is also an option. Right now, he’s thinking you don’t want anything to do with him because he’s a wizard again. Certainly your reaction just now when he told you we invited him to the 20th anniversary service next month didn’t help. If you’re not careful, he’s going to do that appallingly noble thing of his and back quietly away so as to make things easier for you. If you don’t want him to do that, you need to make sure he knows you don’t want it.”
That made no sense, did it? Why would John choose anything against his own best interests if he had any choice in the matter?
The grin on Harry’s face made no sense as the other man slapped him on the shoulder and said, “Just, talk to him before either of you makes any irreversible decisions, huh? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to talk to my aunt and cousin.”
“Has it really been twenty years since you spoke to them?” asked Sherlock, eyeing the two people huddled in beds at the end of the row, watching everything with wide, terrified eyes.
“Twenty-one, technically—the day before my 17th birthday.”
Sherlock nodded, watching as their eyes kept following Harry. “If it helps, whatever you did tonight impressed them. They’re wondering why you helped them, but they’re watching you with a grudging respect—which means you have the upper hand. One of these days you’ll need to tell me exactly what happened twenty years ago that causes all these people to admire you so.”
“Because it’s otherwise inexplicable?” Harry asked, amused.
Sherlock just smirked at him. “Go on and talk to your Muggle relatives.” He took another glance at the unimpressive pair and sniffed. He supposed that—if that was what wizards pictured when they thought of Muggles—he almost couldn’t blame them for thinking so little of them.
It was two in the morning before they reached home, and when they did, John was beyond exhausted. The adrenalin of earlier in the evening had completely abandoned him by now, and he didn’t think even magic could keep him awake for much longer.
Magic. Now there was something he hadn’t expected to ever think about again, much less be able to perform. It was still a mystery to him, how this had happened, but he wasn’t in the mood to question it. When the gods dropped a miracle in your lap, you didn’t ask why. He looked over at Sherlock, moving a bit like a man who couldn’t quite believe what had just happened. “You all right?”
Sherlock just stared at him. “We went over this. I’m not the one who nearly died tonight, John.”
“Well, no,” John said calmly, “But that doesn’t mean tonight wasn’t something of a shock. A whole new world you didn’t know about, finding out that I’ve actually successfully kept a secret from you … it’s all a bit of a surprise.”
Sherlock gave a tiny smile, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “Yes, that’s true. You’re usually appalling at secrets.”
“Ta, Sherlock.” John sat down in his chair, too tired to move toward the stairs. He didn’t have the energy to go make tea, either, it was just too long a walk to the kitchen … and then he realized he could use his wand, and couldn’t stop the smile.
“You’re thinking about doing magic, aren’t you?”
John almost felt embarrassed as he nodded. “It just doesn’t seem real, after twenty years. Part of me still doesn’t believe the curse is gone.”
Sherlock nodded, face stiff. “May I see?”
“I don’t remember much,” John warned. “I’m going to have to get my old textbooks out of storage.”
“Well, if you don’t want to…”
“I didn’t say that,” John said. “I just … I’ve forgotten a lot.”
“I’m sure you’ll do fine,” said Sherlock, and there was something about his voice that caught John’s attention.
“You mean it?” John tried not to wince at the eagerness in his voice. He wasn’t eleven anymore. He should be past wanting to show off … and yet, to be able to cast a working spell again. How could he not be excited? And he really did want a cup of tea. But no, he was twenty years rusty, and culinary spells had never been his specialty. Instead, he aimed his wand at the now-cold fireplace and said, “Incendio,” and watched with a sense of wonder as the flames burst cheerfully into life.
No, that wasn’t going to get old any time soon.
Sherlock barely reacted, though, just stared into the flames, face inscrutable.
“I was thinking before that wizarding travel could come in handy for getting to crime scenes,” John said into the awkward silence that followed. “Think of the cab fare we could save.”
Sherlock didn’t say anything, and John stifled a sigh, thinking seriously about the comfort of that cup of tea. “I’m going to need a new mobile,” he said after a minute. “The new one will probably have even more features I don’t know how to use.”
There was still no reaction from Sherlock and John sighed to himself. He should have seen it coming, he supposed, though he had hoped Sherlock would be interested, curious about the wizarding world. He supposed it was all too illogical for his friend, or that Sherlock simply didn’t like being the least-informed person in the room. He probably should have seen it coming, but … who would have thought this would ever be an issue?
After a few more minutes of silence, he pushed himself to his feet. “It’s been a long night. I’ll see you…”
“You don’t need to leave,” Sherlock said, voice abrupt.
John paused, still holding onto the cane he’d transfigured earlier. “I’m just going to bed, Sherlock.”
His flatmate inclined his head. “Yes, but I mean … you don’t have to leave. Just because you’re a wizard again. Not unless you really want to.”
John sank back down into his chair. “Are you sure? Because you don’t seem too … happy … about any of this.”
“Magic is illogical,” Sherlock told him, “And you probably have numerous reasons for wanting to return to your old world, your old friends—they certainly seem eager to have you back—but, I just … you don’t have to go.”
John knew he was staring but couldn’t help himself. “What are you talking about?”
“You’re a wizard again, John,” Sherlock snapped out. “Why would you possibly want to stay here with your Muggle flatmate if you don’t have to? Though don’t even get me started on that absurd word. It’s completely ridiculous and obviously insulting, even if the etymology is unclear. It classifies the majority of the population as something less, something laughable. It’s incredibly insulting.”
John could feel a his cheeks lifting as his mood lightened. “How long have you been holding that in?”
“All night,” Sherlock said with a huff of relief. “It’s an utterly ridiculous word, John.”
“I know, but trust me, it’s not as insulting as some of the others,” John told him. “Considering the way the war went, with the purebloods willing to kill any magic-user who wasn’t from a wizarding family … I don’t mind hearing the absurd ‘Muggle’ anymore.”
“Of course you don’t,” said Sherlock, “You no longer are one.”
John laughed a bit. “I haven’t had a complete personality transfer in the last two hours since my magic came back, Sherlock. Not only did I grow up as one, but I spent the last 20 years as a Muggle. Frankly, I’m more proud of that than not. It’s not every wizard who gets a good perspective of both worlds. Most give up most of their ties to the Muggle world when they start at Hogwarts—they might keep in touch with their families, and all, but the interactions are limited.”
He paused a moment, thinking about how his relationship with his sister had never entirely recovered from his heading to Hogwarts that first year. In many ways, the two worlds really weren’t meant to combine. “Which reminds me,” he said, “Harry mentioned our maybe becoming consultants for the Aurors—wizarding police, that is—for when they have crimes that overlap into the Muggle world. Since you know now, there are things you can see that we’d have to keep from ordinary people. The crimes certainly wouldn’t be boring.”
“You shouldn’t make promises you can’t keep, John,” Sherlock said, teasing. “I’m sure magical killers are just as unimaginative as normal people.”
John thought back to some of the things he’d seen at Hogwarts. “I don’t know. A culture that is willing to feed its children jelly beans that come in every flavour—including bogies, vomit, and grass—can come up with some pretty wild ideas. When I get out my old spell books, we can both go over them, so you have an idea what’s possible. It’s just a pity you can’t debate chemistry and potions with Snape—I’d love to witness that conversation.” He couldn’t help but grin at the thought. “On the other hand, you’ll be able to wow them with your technological prowess, since I’m probably the only wizard my age who has any idea what a smart phone is—which should tell you how bad it is, not that they care.”
“I gathered that from my conversation earlier,” Sherlock said, something in his shoulders relaxing. “Apparently we Muggles are one bare step above Neanderthal brutes.”
“Well, if you’re talking about Anderson…” quipped John.
“Not quite—though his reaction to a room full of talking portraits would have been entertaining.”
John let out a burst of laughter. “God, yes. I can just see it. Even better than Mycroft’s reaction to flooing.”
He was relieved to see Sherlock’s eyes were alight now, that everything about his friend was lighter. “I suppose you’re going to insist on telling him about your … change in status?”
“Apparently he’s got sensors in his office, so I don’t have much choice.”
“So you’ll only have one chance to hex him then, won’t you?” Sherlock asked, leaning forward.
“No, Sherlock, I’m not hexing your brother,” John said firmly. “But I suppose I could be convinced to light the fire or levitate in the tea set next time he visits, and if you happened to be in the room to catch his reaction… Though, really, that would need to be today, since he’s going to need an update.”
And with that, to John’s relief the odd tension was gone and they were able to talk about the events of the night. “In the long run,” John said, after describing what had happened in the forest, “I think I scared the Dursleys more than anything else—a perfectly normal Muggle, so far as they knew, and then I was casting spells … for them, the idea of being able to perform magic was more terrifying than anything else they’d faced. They were practically catatonic by the time they got them to the hospital wing.”
“Idiots,” muttered Sherlock. “I don’t see why Harry was so eager to save them.”
“That’s what Harry does,” said John with a shrug. “They did seem pretty impressed when he was duelling three wizards at once—they haven’t seen him since he was 17, you know. I don’t think they had any idea the kind of man he’s grown into.”
“Hmm.” Sherlock tilted his head back in his chair. “That’s the problem with the families that raised us—they suffer from eternal misconceptions.”
“True,” said John, thinking about his turbulent relationship with his sister. “I’m probably going to have to tell Harry—my Harry—at some point, huh?”
“Or maybe save the news for some special occasion,” Sherlock said, “One that would have the best effect?”
And, smiling, John leaned back in his chair and breathed a sigh of relief. Magic or not, Sherlock would never change.
“There is one problem, though,” Sherlock finally said.
“How are we going to explain Vernon Dursley’s murder to DI Evans?”