Sherlock finds the skull when he's five. It's a normal day, and he's bored – he escaped the tutor an hour ago and got tired of hiding and wanted to do something instead. So, he's digging around in a grove of trees that used to be a forest before Daddy decided that he wanted to keep horses, because sometimes he could find some interesting things there, like tree branches which were bent just so, or old, rusted things that could've been anything and sometimes, rarely, bones. Usually old animal bones, picked clean by other animals and bugs and the weather – but this time, he's discovering something better.
First he thinks it's a rock, a big white rock, oddly smooth. But the shape is wrong, and when he pulls at it, it comes off easier and lighter than he expects – he falls over, and the skull falls beside him, grinning at him with dirt in its eye sockets, a root coming out of its mouth.
An older child might've gotten startled, maybe even terrified, but Sherlock is five and absolutely fascinated by disgusting things – and this is not just disgusting, this is fascinating. So, he turns, takes the skull, and eagerly turns it this way and that, just to make sure that it's really a skull, a human skull just like the ones he’d seen in the books Mycroft used to teach him biology and human anatomy when the tutor thought Sherlock was too young. It is a skull and it's old, dirty, and perfect.
Sherlock spends the afternoon meticulously cleaning it, first in the brook that still runs through the little forest, then at home. That is, of course, after an extended operation of smuggling and spying – just to see that the tutor had left and no one would try and make him sit still and read boring things. He gets the skull to his room, and then manages to smuggle some other things there – a pail of water, a rag, his own toothbrush.
The eye sockets are easy to clear, so is the mouth though it takes a lot of rinsing – and when he gets the root off, the jaw comes loose from the skull. He doesn't mind that, though, and brushes both the jaw and the bottom of the skull's mouth clean, setting the jaw piece aside. Cleaning inside the skull is a bit more difficult, some of the dirt is so tightly packed that it might've just as well have been stone, but he manages it. There are also more shapes inside a human skull than Sherlock had expected – he had thought it was just a smooth bowl, but it wasn't, not at all. There were grooves and niches and they're impossibly hard to get to with a toothbrush, when he can only get at it through the foramen magnum – he checked the name in the anatomy book.
He is just contemplating other means of getting at it – using a hose, maybe – when Mycroft walks in.
Sherlock wails and screams and kicks and eventually bites, but the skull is still taken from him when the police come. There is an investigation, which Sherlock would've really liked to see in any other situation – but they were taking his skull from him, so, no, he doesn't like it at all. So, he keeps screaming until Mummy tells him to behave, and then he resolutely says nothing, not even when the inspector tries to get him to tell the man where he had found the skull.
"Sherlock, honestly, stop being so childish. This isn't the time to sulk," Mummy sighs.
"It's my skull," Sherlock mutters, folding his arms and looking away and ignoring the way the inspector and Mummy shared exasperated glances.
"Well, it is perfectly plain to me where he found it," Mycroft says and points at the window, at the grove of trees. "Sherlock digs around that place all the time, and it is the only place within walking distance that could conceal something like that, all the grounds around it are either private gardens or farm lands."
"Well then, that's where we will have to look," Inspector Gregson says, straightening up. "We'll just see where the ground has been turned over and –"
"And you'll find two dozen different spots," Sherlock mutters and the scowls at the inspector who pauses and turns to look at him. "You can look around all day, you won't find the exact spot I found the skull from," Sherlock adds a little vindictively.
"Sherlock," Mummy sighs again. "This is serious."
"It's serious that they're going to steal my skull," Sherlock answers sullenly. "Why doesn't anyone think that that's serious? It's theft, a crime – they ought to be locked up for stealing my skull."
The inspector considers that for a moment and then crouches before him – Sherlock really hates when adults do that, get to his eyelevel, like he can't look upwards at them. Just because he's little, it doesn't mean adults need to patronise him.
"Young man," the inspector starts to say, making Sherlock scowl harder – he hates that too, he's obviously not a man, he's a child, a kid, and the police man is lying when he says that he is. "This is a really serious matter. This skull belonged to someone, it was someone's head. We need to figure out whose it is and why it’s here – we need to see if the rest of the remains are there. The rest of the body."
Sherlock considers that for a moment. "If I show you where I found it, and you find the rest of the skeleton, can I keep the skull?" he asked sharply.
Inspector Gregson hesitates, and the scowl returns to the boy's face. The man before him sighs, seeming to realise his mistake, but then he seems to get another idea – Sherlock can recognise when people get ideas, normal people anyway, their eyes widen and eyebrows rise and if it's a good idea, they smile.
"Tell you what, if we find more bones, you can be there when we unearth them," the man offers. He falters a bit when Sherlock keeps on scowling, and then quickly adds, "And you can be there, when the coroner examines them – that is, if Mrs. Holmes agrees?" he adds a bit sheepishly, glancing at Mummy.
"Oh, so as long as we get him to part with the bloody skull, I don't mind," Mummy sighs, and Sherlock folds his arms a bit tighter, letting out a huff.
"I want to keep the skull," he says, but a glance around the room, from Mummy to Mycroft to the police makes him doubt that he'll be allowed. He frowns and looks down for a moment, hating them all and feeling very bitter. But he's not stupid – if sulking hasn't done the trick so far, it probably won't help from here on either. It's one of those things, like Daddy's work and Mummy's medicine, things that just couldn't be changed and shouldn't be tampered with, no matter how he wanted to.
"Fine," he says, before the Inspector can try any other stupid persuasion method. "But I want to be there the whole time – and if there's an investigation, I want to be there for that too."
"Sherlock, honestly," Mummy starts, but the inspector smiles.
"You've got yourself a deal, young man," Gregson says, holding out his hand. Despite himself, Sherlock takes it and shakes it – not many people want to shake his hand, after all, though they should.
"Good," he says, and jumps down from his chair, filled with determination. "I'll show where I found the skull now. Try to keep up."
They do find more bones, and for one whole day there’s an entire team of people, digging around for the bits and pieces. Sherlock gets to dig too, but only after he pulls on his rubber boots and some gloves, and of course the moment he actually discovers something, Mycroft is there to pull him away so that the adults can take whatever he found away.
It's fascinating, though, a little. They spread a plastic sheet over the ground, and as they dig, the skeleton is compiled on it. They get a lot of the bones wrong – the leg bones are switched around, as are the ribs, but they put the pelvis and lot of the back bones into their right places, and of course, the skull is where it's supposed to be. It is cleanest of the lot, too, the skull, and Sherlock can't help but feel proud of it.
"It's male," the forensic specialist looking over the bones says, examining the pelvis. "I'd say in his twenties, but I can't be absolutely sure until they're cleaned up."
A male, Sherlock thinks with satisfaction. His skull was a male skull. Of course it would be; females were insufferable, both humans and animals – and cats, especially cats. His arm still stung from where the cat that lived in the barn had scratched him after he’d tried to take a look at her new kittens. Stupid cat.
Mummy is alright, though, when she wasn't being all imperious and not letting him keep the things he found himself.
As time goes by, the skeleton forms, until, after half an hour searching for three missing fingers and a couple of bones that belonged to one of the feet, they’d found all that they could find. Along with the bones they had found other things too, though – no clothing, all of those were gone, but they had found buttons, buckles, the remains of a zipper, a set of rusted keys and what might've been a wallet, or a small leather bound book.
"Alright, let's wrap up here and continue this at the station," Gregson says, and then turns to Sherlock – who glares at the man, daring him to even think of going back on his promise. The man doesn't, but he decides that Mycroft must come along too, because Mycroft is already as old as twelve, and because Sherlock needs to be watched over.
Just when Sherlock had started thinking that the man was better than most adults.
They are taken to the police station in a police car, which isn't as exciting as Sherlock had hoped – it doesn't look that much different from normal cars, and there isn't even any sort of bars between the back and front. But the station is an interesting place, though a lot less busy than Sherlock had expected – but they get to go past the front hall and into the building, all the way to the morgue, where the coroner starts examining the bones.
That, Sherlock has to admit, is fascinating. The man makes all sorts of notes, speaking into a tape and taking samples of the dirt and what little remains of the flesh – or sinews, as pretty much all of the flesh is long gone. Then the coroner decides to clean the bones so that he can see if he can find any marks in them that might suggest the cause of death. The bones are put into hydrogen peroxide and soaked in it for a long while – even the skull comes out of it much cleaner than Sherlock managed to make it, even on the inside.
They find nothing, though, and all the coroner can find out is that it was a man in his early twenties, dead for five to six years with no visible cause of death. The only interesting point is the right arm and the lack of any dental work – the right arm is, according to the man, somehow not as old as the rest of the skeleton, and yet it did belong to the same body.
Sherlock doesn't get to find out any more, though. When the examination is over, the coroner has taken a radiograph of the skull's teeth, and all the samples bagged and tagged, he and Mycroft are led out of the morgue and then to the hall, where Gregson meets them, and then tells them that he's going to take them back home.
Sherlock is not at all satisfied – the examination hadn't taken that long and he’d had to leave the skull behind – but Mycroft seems more than ready to go. "Will we be informed of how the investigation goes, inspector?" he asks, though, something Sherlock himself would've asked if he hadn't been so annoyed.
"I'll see what I can do about that," Gregson promises with a smile, but it's not a yes, and Sherlock, folding his arms and sulking, doesn't expect much at all.
Despite Mycroft's and Mummy's orders to just forget it, Sherlock doesn't, and for three weeks he sulks about the skull and the fact that he hadn't been allowed to keep it. Gregson doesn't call back, which doesn't surprise him at all, and if the investigation goes anywhere, no one lets them know. There's little Sherlock can do about that, and all he can do is prowl around the area where he had found the skull, in the vain hope of finding something equally interesting, as unlikely as that was.
The time goes by slow, dragging even, between tutoring sessions and bits of boredom. Mummy decides that Sherlock needs a new hobby, and he gets a new tutor – this one for violin of all things – and he has to spend entirely too much time indoors, trying to wrangle a decent note out of the wooden torture device, while Mycroft plays away on the piano, perfect as always.
"Ah, no need to fret, my boy. You have good hands – your fingers will grow long and perfect for the bow. I have no doubt that we will make quite the violinist out of you yet," the teacher says, much to Sherlock's disgust.
"I'm going to be a pirate," Sherlock says somewhat belligerently, much to the teacher's horror and Mycroft's badly smothered amusement. It gives him the opportunity to escape, and it seems that the teacher decides that they're done for the day because no one comes after him, screeching his name.
It seems like everything is going to return to it's original, boring track, and Sherlock is just starting to wonder if he really should try and become pirate because pirates get lots of skulls in their guards and no one would ever try to get a skull away from a pirate, not unless they wanted a sword in their guts. With all the tutoring and violin playing and all, it is starting to look more tempting by the moment, when something magical happens.
And Sherlock finds the skull sitting on his writing desk, just beneath the window. For a long while he just stares, startled – because he’d been sure that the police wouldn't give it back, that they would do something stupid with it, like put it in a box, or maybe bury it, or something equally dull. But there it is, ginning up at him from the top of the sheets where Sherlock had been practicing his writing just that morning, gleaming in the sunlight.
And it is the same skull – Sherlock is absolutely sure of that, he'd gotten to know the little indents and cracks of the skull very well when he had been brushing it with his tooth brush – his old one, Mummy had gotten him a new one. It is the same skull, and it is clean, still smelling a bit like the hydrogen peroxide, but not that much – the smell seems to be evaporating, and Sherlock is glad because bones should smell like bones, not like chemicals.
At first, he's not entirely sure what to do with the skull – because it's just there, and he hadn't been planning about what he'd do with it if he got it back, because he hadn't expected to get it back. If it had still been dirty, he would've liked to clean it a bit more, but it's perfectly clean now, so for a long while he just sits there. Then he starts examining the skull anew, taking in everything he’d missed when he had been interrupted, and what had been revealed when the dirt had came off.
The jaw, he finds, has been attached to the skull with a sort of pin – the idea that someone's bored holes into his skull makes Sherlock angry, but he's a bit glad too, because the skull looks better with the jaw attached. He decides to take care so that the jaw won't fall off or come loose, because that wouldn't look good at all.
In the end he hides the skull in a box where he keeps his Lego bricks – which he hides with the rest of the toys he no longer plays with. It's a poor place to put a human skull, and he would've much rather kept it on his desk, where he could see it – and the skull could see him. But he doesn't dare, because who knows, maybe the skull would be taken away from him again and this time he would never see it again.
He doesn't think about how the skull got back to him, not until sometime later. But then he's five; he doesn't really care.
The skull comes out only when Sherlock is absolutely certain no one will be able to see it. He doesn't play with it, not exactly; you can't play with a skull. Instead it keeps him company, watching him when he plays or writes or does whatever he has to do at that time – and it is his partner when Sherlock performs experiments with ants. It's also the perfect partner in crime, when Sherlock takes something of Mycroft's and wants to share with someone about it, or when he decides to keep bees and starts by capturing one of them in a small glass bottle which fits neatly inside the skull.
The spectre doesn't appear until almost week after, during one late night when Sherlock went over his math homework, knowing it would be inspected the following morning. Sherlock dismisses the apparition at first as a shadow – Mycroft had told him there are no such things as ghosts or monsters or anything like that, and Sherlock trusts his big brother because Mycroft knows everything. It's just a trick of the light, the curtain moving just so. But then it happens again in the next evening, and there is a shadow thrown at the wall by Sherlock's desk lamp, like that of a man who is sitting exactly where the skull's small shadow should've been.
The third evening, Sherlock arranges things intentionally so that the skull will throw a shadow, and there it is again, the shadow of a man, where the skull's shadow should've been. And there is nothing else throwing it – Sherlock tests the lamp and everything and is absolutely sure, there is nothing there. It's curious and exciting and interesting – except, the shadow doesn't do anything, just sits there, in the skull's shadow's place.
Sherlock really wishes at that point that he could've told someone about the skull so that he could tell them about the shadow – but at the same time, he's glad that he hasn't because this is interesting, and it's wonderful to have something so interesting all to himself, when usually it's Mycroft who gets the interesting things.
The shadow doesn't do anything, though, not that night and not in the many following – not, until another week has gone by, and then Sherlock catches the shadow moving. It's a small movement, a mere shift, but for a moment he can tell more than just the general shape of a man – he can see a separate arm, moving, shifting from one position to another as if the shadow had gotten tired and shifted to a more comfortable position.
The following day, the shadow moves more, while Sherlock watches – it stretches its legs out, reaches its arms up, and shakes his head. For a moment, Sherlock is sure he can see the shadow yawning.
After that, Sherlock starts keeping a journal. He writes down everything he knows, titling it under "Skull", starting with the day he had found it and the location, to how Gregson had taken it away, to how it had reappeared, and how then the shadow had appeared and started moving. And after that, he writes in more notes, about how the shadow moves, how it eventually leaves the skull and he finds it by the bookshelf, thrown by nothing, and looking almost like it was examining the book spines.
He's just realised that the shadow was being thrown by something – something invisible, but tangible enough that it had a shadow – when something new and extra ordinary happens. Sherlock leaves the journal open for the night – though the skull goes to the box and beneath his bed – and when he wakes up, there it is.
The word Harry's is written in oddly stretched handwriting, just before the word Skull on the journal's title.
The shadow then becomes Harry's shadow and the skull becomes Harry's skull. And Sherlock goes from fascinated to absolutely thrilled, as he realises that not only is the shadow there, thrown by somebody, but that somebody could affect the real world, in other ways than just by throwing a shadow.
He spends the day in a haze of joy, even enjoying his violin lesson, though being more eager than ever to escape it. Mycroft seems suspicious but thankfully leaves Sherlock be, and that night Sherlock makes plans. When he goes to bed, the journal is written full of questions, who was he, where had he come from, who had killed him, all directed at the owner of the skull, and the boy can barely fall asleep for the excitement of seeing the possible answers.
Only one of the questions was answered by the morning, the question about who had killed the skull's owner. No one said the long handwriting, and that was all, but although Sherlock is disappointed, he is also too delighted about having any answer that he doesn't really mind.
The next day, another question is answered. How had he ended up in the forest: It seemed a nice place at the time. Then the next day. At what time: At the time of my death. And the day after that, did you kill yourself: no, I just died.
As the questions are answered, all of them with short and usually somewhat annoying answers, Sherlock keeps on keeping an eye on the shadow. It seems to grow darker and then, without him noticing it, he realises that it's there all the time. Not just when the skull is out, but also when it isn't – and even when there are other people in the room. Mycroft doesn't see it, neither does Sherlock's tutor, or the cleaning lady, or Mummy, all of them glancing at what Sherlock was staring at, and only ending up confused.
Why am I the only one who can see you? Sherlock asked when he realised that. Because, Harry writes back, and if that isn't the most irritating answer anyone could give to a serious question, Sherlock doesn't know. But since it was given by a spectre invisible to people other than him, he keeps calm and doesn't get angry about it.
It's almost a month after Sherlock got his skull back, when he sees more than a shadow. It's almost like the outline of a soap bubble, but not gleaming or glimmering, and quite a bit bigger – like the outline of a person, without anything inside. The shadow, he sees immediately, is thrown by the outlined figure.
Why can I see more of you? Sherlock asks, not really alarmed but curious – the shadow has, at that point, been around for long enough that he's not alarmed at all by anything it does, not even when it moves his books around and adds notes to his journal. I'm getting stronger, Harry answers, and Sherlock is at first glad about it. But then he remembers all the ghost stories Mycroft had told him not to believe in, the books Mummy had taken out of the library when Sherlock had gotten interested about them, and he got a bit worried.
How are you getting stronger?
The shadow seems to understand his worries, because his answer is the longest one yet. Light, warmth, air. I get more energy from the floorboards and walls than I'd ever get from you. Though Harry doesn't explain what that means, exactly, Sherlock believes him and stops worrying so much – and besides, he doesn't feel any different, so Harry is probably not draining his life force to become stronger or anything like that.
The invisible but somehow visible outline starts to fill out, with shadows that tell Sherlock which way Harry is facing, even if it doesn't make it any clearer what Harry looks like, or even what he is wearing. But Sherlock doesn't mind, because watching Harry become more and more visible each day is so interesting, and the further it goes on, the longer Sherlock's notes get.
He can almost see Harry's eyes, when Mycroft confronts him about his imaginary friend. Sherlock knows that Mycroft hasn't read his journal about Harry, because despite everything he and his brother respect each other's privacy, and besides, whenever Sherlock's not there, the journal goes into the box with the skull, and if Mycroft had opened the box, it would be a whole different thing he'd be confronted about.
"You are five, I know, and five is the age of imagination. However, delusion is a whole different thing," Mycroft starts, sitting in Sherlock's bed with one leg crossed over the other and looking like he owns it – somehow, Mycroft looks like he owns everything, all the time. "Now, I have discussed it with mother, and we've decided that it is perhaps time for you to join the other local children in primary school."
"What? But I thought I was going to be home schooled, like you are!" Sherlock objects in horror because he's read about schools and they sound even more boring than being tutored does.
"That was the initial plan, but that was before you started imagining friends for yourself," Mycroft answers plainly. "It is obvious that you need the company of others of your age. Besides, I did try conventional education at your age as well – it is only due to the fact that no local school could hope to keep up with me, and because Mummy did not want to send me away, that I am being home schooled."
"They won't be able to keep up with me either," Sherlock says, disgusted and angry and a bit horrified because, seriously, a school? "And I'll die of boredom!"
"Well, in the time they try, the situation might change, and that is all we want," Mycroft says, and doesn't seem to listen to any of Sherlock's objections.
Neither does Mummy, and when Sherlock sneaks a phone call to Daddy who is in Japan, he doesn't listen to him either. It seems to be one of those things, again, that he can't change no matter how much he wants to, which is utterly unfair, because Mycroft's obviously behind it all, and why can Mycroft decide things for Sherlock anyway?
School isn't that bad, Harry writes that night. I went to school.
That doesn't make Sherlock feel that much better, but he stops his angry grumbling for a moment to think things through. The very notion of being forced to a school where he has to be on the same level as everyone is… well, it's absolutely horrible, that’s what it is, but Mycroft was right about one thing. There would be other kids of Sherlock's age there. Most kids his age were idiots, though, judging by the books written about them, but one never knew, and Sherlock hadn't gotten much of a chance to observe his own age class so far.
"Maybe I'll give it a try, then," he mutters. "But I'm not happy about this, not at all."
Then he watches in fascination as Harry takes the pen from the desk – it almost looks like it is floating, or held by mass of greyish water that somehow isn't wet. The spectre only scrawls down a happy face into the corner of the journal, but it's the first time Sherlock's seen Harry move things, rather than just find things mysteriously moved when he had been asleep or away.
In attempting to try and persuade Harry to move things more so that he can observe, he forgets to be angry about the school entirely.
School doesn't forget about him, though, and even if it doesn't start immediately, it does start. By that time, Sherlock can see Harry a bit clearer – though so far it's like seeing a person in the background of a really old picture; you can tell the general shape of their face, their hair, clothing, but nothing specific. He can see when Harry is smiling, though, and Harry smiles pretty often around him – though of course, Sherlock can't see him when he's not around him, but that's beside the point. He likes thinking that Harry smiles because of him.
But then school starts. The first couple of days, Mummy takes him there in her car, with Sherlock wearing neat clothing and carrying a backpack and hating the entire world. The school house is nothing like home – it looks like a cardboard box painted white with windows, and the front yard is all asphalt. And the kids there stare at him, when mummy leads him in by the hand, and they don't look all that friendly.
The introduction day becomes dull after ten minutes, almost unbearable after half an hour, and while the teacher coos her explanations about what a wonderful place a school was and how they would make many friends, Sherlock takes out a notebook and writes down equations – Harry's mass plus Harry's visibility divided by an object's mass and weight equals the level of tangibility Harry has… (hm + hv) ÷ (om + ov) = ht
"Mr. Holmes, are you listening?" the teacher asks, after Sherlock has started to calculate the speed in which Harry is becoming tangible – the time passed since the first appearance of shadow, divided by the weight of the objects he can move combined with the length of time he can move them…
"No," Sherlock answers belligerently, because he doesn't want to be listening to her explain about how they'd be taught how to read and write because he already knew.
The teachers looks startled, and then she sighs and settles her hands to her hips, looking exasperated. "Now, this is something that won't be permitted in school," she says to the class as whole, making an example out of Sherlock. "This is not a nursery or a playground. School is serious and you all need to act like proper young men and women here." Then she walks forward, to Sherlock's desk, and takes his notebook. "You are meant to be doing only school work in a class room, not drawing pretty pictures unless told other –" and there she stops, as he actually looks at what Sherlock had been writing.
Sherlock folds his arms and looks back at her, as she gives him a startled look. Then she seems to compose herself, and returns to her original line of thought. "School time is for school work only," she says to the class, while handing Sherlock his notebook back. "You can do your own things during recess, or if the teacher tells you that you can, not whenever you like, alright? Now pay attention, Mr. Holmes, you need to know this later on."
"I doubt it," Sherlock mutters, but not very loudly. When he returns to writing down equations, the teacher doesn't call him on it again – though some of the other students throw curious glances at him, most of which he ignores.
He would've happily ignored the entire school with its entire staff, but eventually the first class comes to an end, and then there is an opening ceremony – which makes no sense whatsoever, why did they have a class first and then a ceremony? But it still happens, and they have to sit still for almost an entire hour, listening to the principal telling them what a wonderful year it was going to be, and Sherlock can't even write in the mean while.
Then there is lunch – which is awful – and after that a recess. And it's recess which cements Sherlock's hate for the place.
"What do we have here? Ickle little firsties," one of the upper year boys say, as they crowd around the first years who, for some odd reason, had huddled around the place where Sherlock would've very much rather sat in peace. "How do you like your first day, firsties?"
"Oh, look at this one, right little ball you are, aren't you?" another says to a particularly weighty classmate of Sherlock's, whose face goes pale and red all at once, while the upper year students laugh.
Sherlock's read about things like bullying and such, though he hadn't actually believed the stories until then – because it had seemed insipid and useless and without any sort of logical purpose, but as he watches the upper year boys jeer at his classmates, he comes to the conclusion that it very much exists, and it exists in his new school. Which somehow makes it more stupid than before – both the bullying and the school.
He doesn't realise he's said that out loud, until his classmates all turn to stare at him, as does the upper year boys. "Well, what have here?" the first of them says, looking almost delighted. "A little defender of justice! What's your name, lord justice, mighty defender of ickle firsties?"
Sherlock tells them his name. The moment they burst into laughter, he realises that it was a mistake.
"Aww, Sherly, what a lovely name! We'll be seeing you around, Sherly," the elder boys jeer as the bell rings and they have to go to their classes. "Count on that."
"Bye now Sherly, lord of justice!"
As he and the other first years are left in peace to wait for their teacher who had promised to fetch them from the hall for a tour around the school, the other kids look at Sherlock with mingled admiration and pity. "You're going to pay for that, you know that, right?" a girl who had so far struck Sherlock as pretty smart asks him knowingly.
"Hm," Sherlock answers and folds his arms. Bullying was stupid and useless, but if those idiots wanted to try, let them. He'd just bully them right back, if it came to that.
Harry wasn't there the first couple of days when Sherlock was in school – making him add new calculations to the list of old ones, this time about the distance Harry could go from the skull. But the fourth day Harry was there, a little fainter than before but definitely present and constantly hovering in the corner of Sherlock's eyes as he moved about the school, or sat in a classroom.
The fourth day is, of course, the day when the upper year boys – Jake Clover, George Smith and Alex Dowell – corner Sherlock in a secluded section of the school yard, where Sherlock had gone to get away from the noisy squeaking of his class mates. "Well, well, well," Jake says as he pushed forward, grinning widely at the sight of Sherlock alone. "If it isn't Sherly, lord of justice. What are you doing here all by yourself, Sherly? Don't the other firsties want to play with you?"
"Poor little Sherly, all alone," Alex jeers.
Sherlock takes a moment to process that – because as insults go, these are pitiful, he and Mycroft call each other worse things without even thinking about it and when Mummy got really angry, well, that was something to hear. "What do you want?" he asks instead of dignifying the poor insults with answers.
"Well, it so happens that we have a little proposition for you, Sherly," Jake says, while George and Alex sit on each side of Sherlock – no doubt trying to intimidate him with sheer size.
"See, Sherly, we couldn't help but notice your Mum, and her car," George says.
"She wears all sort of fancy stuff, and the car's real nice too," Alex continued.
"And we figured that, hey, you must be those rich Holmeses, the ones with the big mansion and lands and stable full of horses," Jake nodded. "So, figuring that you're a rich kid and seeing how we're all so very poor –"
"Oh, so very poor," George nodded, grinning.
"- that you might be willing to… hire us. Yeah, that's right. School is a scary place, and there are all sort of mean people there – people we can protect you from. For a little fee, of course," Jake continued, he too grinning. "So what do you say, Sherly?"
Sherlock says nothing; he just blinks and wonders if they are actually serious.
"And of course, if you don't, well," Alex says, putting his hand around Sherlock's shoulders and squeezing tightly. "Well, we just might point out that it's only logical for us to show you what you'll be in for, without proper protection. Have you ever been beat up, Sherly? I hear it's really nasty business."
That, Sherlock decides as a cold feeling comes to his belly, is something different. He can call these idiots stupid all he wants – but when it comes down to that sort of thing, well. Sherlock knows he's pretty small – and George is taller than some of the tallest students in the school. Jake and Alex aren't too far behind them – they're all pretty big. And Sherlock definitely isn't. Nor does he know anything about fighting – it had always seemed so insipid, fighting, that he had paid no attention to it what so ever. Now, though, he feels the hole in his studies, and he it feels cold.
"And what, exactly, do you think you boys are doing?" a hard voice suddenly speaks from left of them, and in unison all four of them turn around to see a man on the other side of the fence that separated the school grounds from the street beyond. He's black haired, green eyes, bespectacled, pale – and the look on his face could cut diamonds. "Well?" he demands to know.
"Oh, nothing, mister. We were just telling Sherly – I mean, Sherlock here, some things about the school rules," Jake says, smiling widely.
"Oh really?" the bespectacled man asks.
"Yes, he's a bit on the slower side, so we thought we'd help him with some details," Alex agrees.
"I rather doubt that," the man says, taking out a small book from his pocket, and a pen. "Okay, let's have some names, I think I need to talk with the principal a bit about you three," he says, leafing through the book to get to an empty page – and with a start, Sherlock recognises the book. And the pen too.
"Oh, no, mister, that isn't really necessary," Jake says, while Alex and George quickly stand up, backing away from Sherlock.
"Oh, I think it is. So, names?" the man asks, looking up just as the three boys turn tail and run, making their way around the corner and to the school's front yard at a record speed, leaving Sherlock alone, and staring at the black haired, bespectacled man on the other side of the fence.
"Um," the boy says, not sure what he wants to say, what he's supposed to say. "Thanks?"
"You're welcome," Harry answers, while the book and pen evaporate from his hands, never having been real. With a shake of his head, he steps through the fence, flowing through it like it wasn't even there. "Try and be more careful next time, Sherlock. I can't actually do anything about that sort of thing just yet."
"Yet?" Sherlock asks, perking up eagerly. "So you can, eventually?"
"I am growing stronger," Harry answers, crouching down before him and putting himself at Sherlock's eyelevel – and somehow it doesn't look patronising at all, when he does it. "Ask your mother for some self defence lessons, alright? Some martial arts would do you some good."
"Alright," the boy agrees, because it's Harry, and Harry never says anything stupid – even if he can be annoying a lot of the time. Sherlock narrows his eyes. "How long have you been able to do this?" he asks suspiciously, motioning at the very physical, very real looking form Harry suddenly has – there is no transparency at all, and he’d shown himself not only to Sherlock, but to three other people too!
"A while. But it uses up energy, so I save it for emergencies," Harry shrugs. "I won't be able to do this again for some weeks, though. So for a while you'll be on your own. Alright?"
Sherlock frowns. "Will you be able to write me back?" he asks worriedly.
"Not for few days," Harry says and smiles. "Get started on those lessons and no wandering alone into places where you can be ambushed so easily. Stay in the view of the teachers, okay?" he stands up, while in the yard the bell starts ringing, calling the students back in. "I'll be back. Eventually."
"Okay," Sherlock says, trying not to sound too sullen. "Thanks," he adds.
"You're welcome, Sherlock," Harry smiles, and fades away.
Sherlock gets his lessons – all he has to do is mention the fact that he wants them, and Mycroft arranges them, without even asking Mummy, though of course she agrees. Jujutsu is the style Mycroft chooses for him and Sherlock is absolutely certain that Mycroft knows why he wants the lessons – Jujutsu is all about using your opponent's strength against them, after all – but thankfully Mycroft says nothing. He just arranges everything and hires a private trainer who will be living at the mansion for the next half a year – and maybe longer – and giving Sherlock daily lessons.
Harry, like he had promised, writes nothing and moves nothing for several days, and for a while Sherlock can't even see him. When he comes back, he's a faint shadow, no outlines, like he had been in the beginning – though this time, he's getting more solid faster. While he does, Sherlock abides by his orders, and stays in the view of the teachers at school, and memorises his jujutsu lessons, practicing until he has the tosses and guards all memorised, and his body can do them without too much trouble.
When Harry finally starts writing back, he writes more than he ever did before – and Sherlock is sure it's because they've finally met each other face to face. I used to be bullied too, Harry writes. My cousin wasn't the nicest of kids, and I was even smaller than you are, at your age. I didn't have the benefit of jujutsu lessons, or a ghost to watch over me, though, so I ran instead. I got pretty good at running.
Sherlock decides to get good at running too, though at Harry's order he keeps that to a limit - You're a bit too young to become an athlete, Sherlock. You need to either tone it down, or eat more, lots more. But he still decides that one day he won't be able to just run away from bullies, but he can also run them down if it comes to that. The more he sees of Jake, George and Alex, the less he likes them.
Harry tells him other things too, like how he too had gone to school, though he was a bit different from Sherlock on that score, seeing that Harry had gone to a magical school. Sherlock wonders about that for a long while, but in the end it only makes sense – Harry is a spectre after all, and normal people don't leave spectres behind. Besides, there is the skull too - the skull, which mysteriously appeared to Sherlock's desk when it had been taken away and probably buried.
Burned, actually, the rest of my bones were cremated, I apparated my skull out of the oven before they turned it on.
"I don't think there is magic, though. Magic is just science we don't understand yet," Sherlock says, quoting Mycroft who had been the first to tell him that there is no such thing as magic.
Well, maybe. But before people manage to pin a scientific explanation to it, I'll just keep on calling it magic, Harry writes back. He answers a lot more to Sherlock's questions now, not to all of them, but most of them. He won't tell Sherlock more about magic, won't teach him about it, saying that one had to be born to it and Sherlock hadn't been, but he tells Sherlock about other things. Like how and why he had died.
It's a bit complex. I travelled back in time to do something, or well, undo it. Laws of magic demanded that I had to die before I was born, so I did, which doesn't really mean anything, not until Sherlock realises that Harry had been born the same year as Sherlock, and yet he had also died that year. It's wonderfully complicated, and much more interesting than anything they offer to him at school, and Sherlock enjoys trying to figure it out.
He eventually figured that there were two Harry's – one from the future, and one of the present, who was Sherlock's age and who was living out there somewhere, being magical and having no idea that there was another version of him in the world. A dead version of him, but a version nonetheless.
It wasn't really that bad. It was a nice, solemn death, out of sight, Harry muses to the journal. And history was changed, so that's nice. I didn't expect to linger like this, but it makes sense – part of me is alive out there, so I can't go to the afterlife just yet. So I'll just linger until that part of me dies too.
"How long will that be?" Sherlock asks, because he doesn't really like the idea that any moment now the other Harry might die and his Harry might just vanish.
If all goes according to my plans, you will be an old man by then, Harry writes back, soothing him.
Well. That’s alright then. Except for one thing. "The other Harry, is he anything like you? Should I try to find him?" Sherlock asks worriedly.
I doubt he's like me. He's going to get a different upbringing, with his parents alive and all. And you better not – if those people find out about me, they'll take the skull away and I won't be able to come back to you, Harry answers, making Sherlock quickly glance at the skull, just to make sure that it's there. I prefer to stay here, I think.
"Me too," the boy says, and reaches out to smooth one hand over the top of the skull, smiling. Then he frowns, considering it – considering Jake and George and Alex who always jeer about him having no friends. "Are we friends, Harry?" he asks quietly, trying not to make the question sound as important as it really is.
I'd like to think so, Harry answers. Don't you?
He absolutely did.