John dreams of the lake.
And then a floorboard creaks and he is up and reaching for his wand before he is even truly awake, his brain still running on high alert. Some parts of Auror training, you never lose. The room is dark and quiet, which can mean all is well, or it can mean that someone bigger than you has disabled all your wards.
“John,” Sherlock murmurs from the dark at the foot of the bed.
John blinks his vision clear. The shadows shift into the shape of Sherlock’s face, those strange, pale eyes gleaming out at him. You could always tell a Holmes by his eyes, they used to say.
“John,” Sherlock says again. “What did the Dementors make you see?”
It’s not the kind of question a polite wizard is ever meant to ask another wizard anymore, outside of the Wizengamot; every child who has passed through Hogwarts since the Second Wizarding War knows this. Sometimes John isn’t quite sure how much unspoken etiquette of the Wizarding World truly passed Sherlock by and how much he just chooses to ignore.
In the old days, of course, when the Dark Army was at its peak, Dementor attacks had been nine for a Knut. With Voldemort and the Death Eaters on one side, and Umbridge’s corrupt regime on the other, it had been a good day if you could walk from one street corner to the next without a quick Expecto Patronum. John and his team had all been very young and they had all been trying very hard to fight the Dark Arts as they’d been trained to before Scrimgeour died and the Ministry fell.
But these days, it’s so unusual to see just one Dementor in a populated area, let alone half a dozen of them, that when John and Sherlock had stumbled upon them a pack last night – just wrapping up a simple hexing case and already arguing about whether to go to Angelo’s or the Leaky Cauldron to celebrate – John had faltered for a moment.
He had felt the chill and his breath had caught, and he had been slow reaching for his wand – but only for a moment. By the time an official from the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures had arrived to finish the clean up and take a statement, John was fine.
He is fine.
“Come here, would you?” he says at last. “I’d rather talk to your face than to a sinister shadow.”
The mattress shifts and creaks. Sherlock crawls across the covers towards him, pressing his face into the pillow. His hair falls into his eyes – hair that is always a shade too long, as he doesn’t really trust magic or Muggle technology or anything other than the great Sherlock Holmes that close to his face– and eventually John pushes it away himself so he can meet Sherlock’s gaze.
“Nothing,” he says softly, at last. “I didn’t see anything. They trained us not to be affected by Dementors, you know that.”
Sherlock stares up at him, moonlight picking out the edges of his cheek and jaw line. Then he closes his eyes and turns his head, in a perfect mimicry of sleepy naturalism, until hair and pillow cover his face completely.
“I didn’t see anything either,” he says.
Sometimes Sherlock Holmes is a very bad liar. Sometimes John is a very good one.
In the morning, John packs a bar of regulation chocolate, turns down the offer of a Dementor Incident sick day and heads into St Mungo’s. It’s been a long and busy week while the head of the hospital, Chief Healer Etheldred, is away on his holidays and John has a lot of paper work to catch up on. He’s halfway through the pile when Molly Hooper sidles up to his desk.
“John? Er, Healer Watson?” she says, and then very softly curses as something falls onto the floor.
Wincing, John looks up from his file in time to hear glass shatter.
“Sorry, sorry,” she stammers as she gathers up a broken jar of dried Phoenix feathers and mutters a quick reparo. Molly is still new and nervous. Somewhere beneath it lies the makings of a damn good Healer, John knows, but whenever she speaks to him she drops something.
Everyone knows the stories of the Aurors from the War. Even now, years since John hung up his Auror uniform and took on a job at St. Mungo’s instead, he can see the moment in people’s eyes when they read his name badge and all those stories rise up in their minds. John Watson, the bloke who kept on patching up his team in the middle of a Death Eater battle; John Watson, the Auror who almost lost an arm to the Dementor’s touch.
“It’s all right, Molly,” he says. “What did you need?”
She snaps herself back to attention. “I’ve a little girl in Artefact Accidents who crashed her brother’s broom. Couldn’t fly it at all. Her parents think she might be a...” She pauses, lowering her voice.”A Squib. And I know you’re good with, with –Squibs – so I thought perhaps you could have a chat with them?”
‘Good with Squibs’.
If Sherlock were here right now, John thinks.
Everyone knows the stories of the Holmes family, too. One of the oldest and purest in the country, rumours they had a hand in the founding of Hogwarts, and then whilst the elder son is waltzing through his N.E.W.Ts it comes out that the younger son is a squib. Mycroft is a genius, a powerful wizard, a burgeoning politician, and then the Second Wizarding War breaks out and little Sherlock Holmes is never heard from again.
Molly is still looking at him expectantly. John can already picture this frightened little girl who crashed her brother’s broom and may have changed her life forever.
“Squibs are just people, Molly. You know that, right?”
“Yes, of course.”
Not many people know that, John has learnt. Not many people do.
It’s almost the end of John’s shift when a purple paper aeroplane falls into his in-tray. ‘Come to the Ministry at once,’ it reads. ‘Lestrade says we could be in danger; I say it could be exciting. SH.’ The week he’s had, John reckons he’s earned the right to duck out a few minutes early.
It would be quicker to Floo to Lestrade’s department, but these days he’s used to walking. He wears Muggle boots because they’re better made, and he nibbles on another regulation chocolate bar as he ducks from seething London high streets to tiny, winding, Wizarding shortcuts and back again. It’s easy to forget the Dementor attack and last night’s strange dream when he’s walking in bright autumn sunlight with the solid, Muggle ground beneath his feet. John’s whistling by the time he catches a phone box down to the Ministry, to the Auror Liaison department.
Lestrade’s office is standing room only, filled with faces John doesn’t recognise and the buzz of uneasy chatter. He has to scan the crowd before he spots Donovan, and Anderson, and Lestrade himself stood in front of his desk with his arms grimly crossed over his chest. Something big must be happening.
“Exciting, isn’t it?” Sherlock murmurs into John’s ear, making him jump.
“About as exciting as a kick in the teeth.”
“Right then,” Lestrade exclaims, clapping his hands together and stepping forwards from his desk. A hush falls. Somehow the press of the crowd around John shifts and lessens, people melting back until he and Sherlock are standing in the centre of the room with Lestrade.
“Any news on the Dementors?” John asks.
“Any news on how an undocumented pack of Dementors came to form in the middle of a densely populated area and attempt to suck out mine and my colleague’s brains, he means,” Sherlock says.
He looks exhausted, John can see now there’s room to look at him properly. Neither of them really slept last night, and with that John has to wonder how bad he must look. Bad enough, from the expression on Lestrade’s face.
“No news, as such. Not directly,” Lestrade says slowly. “Look, are you sure you’re up to this? Ministry employees always get a couple of days off after a Dementor attack, and technically – technically, I said-” He shoots Sherlock a glare, Sherlock’s mouth snapping shut on the protest he was about to make, “Ministry employees is sort of what you are, right now. You’re both free to sit this one out.”
“I’ve had plenty of experience with Dementors,” John reminds him.
A couple of the younger recruits shift nervously at his words, obviously reminding themselves of all the overblown tales of John Watson’s courage in the face of the Kiss.
“Yeah, you have,” one of them says quietly from the back, “but what does a Squib know about it?”
“They can’t even see Dementors, I heard,” someone else whispers, even quieter.
John flinches. Sherlock doesn’t react.
“None of that, thank you,” Lestrade says. He steps forward, shooting a look at them both that clearly reads well, don’t blame me if you wind up with a case of the screaming heebie-jeebies. Around them the lights dim, as he raises his wand and draws a rough map of London in the air. The lines shine in a bright gold, shifting and spidering outwards and growing in detail until a beautifully intricate map of the city hangs in the air before them.
With one last jab of his wand, a shower of red sparks flies up into the air to land on the map seemingly at random.
“Last night, twenty-one people died across London,” Lestrade says. “Magic and Muggle alike, absolutely nothing in common except-”
“The time of death?” Sherlock interrupts.
Lestrade rolls his eyes. “Yeah, and-”
“I imagine it was the same time that John and I were fighting off a dozen Dementors.” Sherlock steps up closer to the map as he talks, gazing at John through the cobwebs of light. The gold and the red shines in his eyes like a fire. “Otherwise you would have imposed your boring little days off on us and attempted to stagger blindly through it all by yourself, correct?”
Ignoring Lestrade’s irritable reply, Sherlock tugs his gloves off and reaches up to brush a finger through – through the site of their Dementor attack, John realises, recognising the shape of the street. The golden line curls smoke-like around his finger, the ends joining seamlessly back together once he’s passed through, as if he had never touched it at all.
“But this,” Sherlock murmurs, “this is much more interesting, isn’t it? This is a riddle, and they want me to solve it.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Oh, come on. Twenty-one people? Multiples of seven? That’s the deepest kind of magic - if you believe in such nonsense,” he adds, tone making it clear he for one does not. “Our killer might as well have painted ‘I am a serious, dark wizard’ on the walls in blood or something equally Voldermortian.”
Even now, there’s a quick, collective shudder at the name, which Sherlock ignores.
“But that’s where you’re wrong,” Donovan says. She folds her arms, staring hard at Sherlock until he looks away from the map. “It wasn’t a dark wizard. Far as we can tell, it wasn’t a wizard at all. We checked all the sites with that new charm Granger’s been working on, the one that seeks out magic traces, and there was nothing. Not even from the Wizarding victims.”
“Then the spell is wrong and someone has found a way to circumvent it.”
“Have you met Granger?”
“Don’t need to. It’s like you’re all walking around with one eye closed, the whole lot of you. Creating spells to track a person’s magic when you could simply track the person, and suddenly the magic disappears and you all go blind.”
Sherlock steps away from the map, tugging his gloves back on in sharp little movements. Donovan is glaring at him. Almost everyone in the room, John works out from a quick scan, is glaring at him.
“I’m amazed you all even manage to dress yourselves in the morning,” Sherlock says in something like awe. “We’ll need to see the bodies, we’ll need to see the crime scenes, we’ll need to see all your dull and probably – no, make that certainly incorrect reports.”
“You have a lead then?” Lestrade snaps.
Sherlock smiles. It starts life sarcastically, but as he scans the room the sharper edges melt away beneath the promise of the thrill of the chase. By the time his gaze meets John’s, he’s simply smiling.
“We’re looking for a dark wizard,” he says. “With or without the magic.”
The thing about Squibs is that anywhere they go is a struggle. They can’t belong in either world, not really. If it’s picked up early enough, the kid can be packed off to Muggle relatives and grow up with hardly any connection to the Wizarding World at all; if it’s picked up too late, then the kid gets to grow up on the edge of a whole world they can never quite reach. John isn’t really sure which way is worst.
“My parents’ way was the worst,” Sherlock had said, the one and so far only time the subject had been broached.
Later that same day, as if he had been listening in for keywords in 221B Baker Street conversations, Mycroft had confided in John that Sherlock had made it so far as to be enrolled in Hogwarts and kitted out with a wand before anyone had picked up on what was wrong.
“He got a wand?” John had said. “But how? He can’t even work the entrance to Diagon Alley. How’d he make it that far?”
And Mycroft had looked at John as if it were so utterly obvious, and, “Why, how else? By tricking everyone,” he had said.
Outside of the Ministry and onto the streets, Sherlock is still far too pale, even by his own pallid standards.
“Catch,” John says as they walk, tossing him the last of the regulation chocolate from his pocket. Sherlock glares – John knows he would prefer to pretend the Dementors have no affect on him whatsoever – but he catches the bar regardless.
“Eat it,” John says. “I know you didn’t touch any this morning, so eat it.”
“You can’t actually make me.”
“Well, no,” John concedes. “But I could always have a word with Mycroft.”
With a look of abject disgust, Sherlock stuffs the chocolate into his mouth whole. It makes for an odd sight, Sherlock tall and impeccably dressed and yet with a face like a hamster. John doesn’t even try to pretend not to laugh; he just lets it out.
“So, a dark wizard?” he asks, once Sherlock can speak again.
“Yes. Very. There’s nothing darker than a wizard who wants the world to know he’s dark. Sooner or later the world will ask him to prove it.”
They round the corner onto Baker Street, where the sky is growing dark and the street lights are turning on like a welcome home parade for them alone. Sherlock is smirking.
“He’s putting on a show,” he says with relish.
“Who else could it be for? Anderson?”
“Well, if anyone was going to catch the eye of a dark wizard with something to prove,” John mutters, “it’s you.”
Sherlock beams at that, seemingly taking it as a compliment, and he turns to John with door key in hand and he says-
- a white rowboat drifting by, so light on the water it’s almost flying across the lake. The lake. John, the lake. John –
He blinks. He looks over his shoulder, to where Sherlock is standing by their front door. John had walked right past it, somehow, and now Sherlock is looking at him the same way he looks at a crime scene; very interested, very curious, and prepared to get the answers very right.
“John?” Sherlock says again.
“Sorry,” John says. “Sorry, it’s been a long day.”
He follows Sherlock up the steps and inside, and he doesn’t look over his shoulder. He doesn’t want to know what’s at the end of the street.
That night, John is woken very suddenly by the sound of gunfire. This isn’t in itself particularly alarming, as no witch or wizard worth their salt ever started a fight with Muggle weaponry – a fact for which John has always been very grateful, as Auroring was hard enough without throwing fast chunks of flying metal into the equation. That leaves as an explanation either very foolish Muggle burglars or Sherlock up to something.
John knows which one he’d put his money on.
He pulls on his dressing gown, checks the time – gone four in the morning, brilliant – and tries to remember what he had been dreaming. It itches somewhere at the back of his brain, half-forgotten. Then he goes downstairs to see what precisely Sherlock is up to.
He’s standing in the middle of the living room with a paintbrush in one hand and a Muggle handgun in the other, staring up at the wall. His back is to the door and the windows before him are wide open, silvery moonlight and sulphurous lamplight mixing together like a dream. John has spent far too much of his life wondering if he’s dreaming.
“Ah, you’re awake,” Sherlock says, without moving. “Good. You can help me with this.”
“It’s amazing how I’m coincidentally awake right after you fired a gun in our flat, isn’t it? Coincidentally,” John mutters, but he pads into the room and squints up at Sherlock’s wall. “Is that a map of London up there?”
Sighing, he switches the lights on.
If there’s one thing Muggles got right, it’s electricity. Like most Wizarding homes in central London, 221 Baker Street was originally occupied by Muggles, with light switches and TV aerials and central heating systems. Alfbald Hudson had had the bright idea of converting his properties into half-and-halfs; part magical, part mundane, for Muggleborns or halfbloods.
Or, in retrospect, for people with rather unsettling fetishes. Once Sherlock had caught Alfie in the act of torturing his seventh Muggle girl, it had been – as Mrs Hudson liked it put it, over a cup of tea and a biscuit – “a little bad for business.” But Sherlock had been fifteen, and then the Second Wizarding War had begun, and the House of Holmes had offered her a terrific price for 221B with only a few minor alterations.
When John had first moved in, there had been no windows at all, for starters.
“Of course it’s a map of London,” Sherlock is saying, in the here and now. He’s lost the alien quality in the electric light and there is, John can see now, a smudge of black paint on the end of his nose.
“You painted it on?”
“The quill tore the wallpaper. And then,” Sherlock admits sourly, as if the universe has failed him somehow, “I couldn’t find a contrasting shade of paint for the victims. I experimented with condiments, but it proved too messy.”
Now it’s been brought to his attention, John can smell the lingering aroma of tomato sauce and mayonnaise in the air.
The map, on the other hand, is surprisingly beautiful for something slapped on the wall with old paint and a cheap paintbrush. It looks even more accurate than Lestrade’s, which is not at all surprising given that Sherlock has the whole of the city memorised (underground and overground, streets and rooftops, magic and Muggle alike), and the black lines stand out starkly against the wallpaper.
“If you ever get sick of the detective work, there could be a place for you in avant-garde interior design,” John says.
Sherlock sniffs, as though not quite sure whether to be pleased or offended. Then he lifts his hand towards the wall and he fires the gun.
Up close, it is incredibly loud.
Oh, John thinks. Oh right, the gun.
His ears are ringing. Sherlock’s lips are moving. The sound comes rushing back.
“-needn’t worry,” Sherlock is saying. “I’ve been practicing in my room whilst you’re at work. I’m a very good shot.”
“Please,” John says weakly. “Please, tell me you didn’t break too many laws getting hold of that thing.”
Sherlock pauses, considering. “Only a few minor ones. But look how neat it is. Far more practical than the mayonnaise.”
Life was simpler with Voldemort, John thinks. He tugs his wand out of his dressing gown pocket and steps up to the map to assess the damage. The holes are very neat, he’ll give Sherlock that, but there are only a few of them.
“You can’t shoot the wall twenty-one times. It’s at least twenty times too many. You’ll wake the neighbours.” Before Sherlock can protest, John rolls up his sleeves and raises his wand. “Where does the next one go?”
There’s only a sigh in response, loud and put upon, but John waits with his wand in the air. He listens to the rustling, then the sound of quick footsteps, and then Sherlock is behind him, taking hold of John’s wrist.
“12 Liddell Gardens,” he says lowly, guiding John’s hand across the map. “Which – is – here. Right here. Don’t move, just do magic. Chop chop.”
Rolling his eyes, John taps his wand to the spot of wall. A small, silvery marker blossoms at the tip and then trails outwards as he draws his wand away, leaving the words 12 Liddell Gardens shimmering in the air next to the victim’s marker. Sherlock tuts, but allows it.
They work like that, Sherlock using John’s hand as the paintbrush – or the gun – until the 21st marker is in place and the sun is rising. John’s arm feels alien, flopping uselessly to his side when Sherlock releases his grip on it. The map shines in black and silver and is, to John at least, massaging the life back into his wrist, still incomprehensible.
Sherlock presses his palms together, and tilts his head back, and stares.
“Right,” John says. He can still feel the ghost of Sherlock’s fingers around his wrist; his skin seems colder now, without them. “Well. I was never much good at dot-to-dot. Is it a word?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, John, letters are the most recognisable shapes. I would have spotted it immediately if there were any,” Sherlock murmurs, unmoving, his eyes on the map.
He’s turned alien again in the washed out light of dawn, like a photograph that has forgotten how to move. He doesn’t react when John touches his shoulder or when, later, John waves a hand in front of his face.
John takes one last look at the network of black lines and silver labels, and then he goes back to bed.
One moment it’s still half dark and then the next the room is filled with sunlight and John is staring up into Sherlock’s wide open face. He doesn’t remember going to sleep after the early morning cartography and nor does he remember waking up.
“You were muttering about boats,” Sherlock says, his eyes fever bright. “Are your dreams always so dull?”
“Not really, no.”
John sits up, pushing at Sherlock’s shoulders until he deigns to shift back and up onto his knees.
“Ah yes, the war. It was very stressful. But never mind that, I’ve solved it.”
“What, already?” John says around a yawn. He nudges Sherlock to the side, and Sherlock obligingly flops down onto the mattress, giving John a view of the clock.
“It’s unfinished, John,” Sherlock says, locking his hands together behind his head to bask in the glow of the morning and his intellect alike. There’s a dreamy look in his eyes. “That’s the beauty of it. There’s a message, oh yes, but we’ve only got half of the owl, as it were. We have to wait for more deaths before we can know what it says and we can’t know what it says until those extra deaths.”
“Extra deaths,” John repeats flatly.
“Oh, don’t worry, I expect there’ll only be seven this time. Perhaps fourteen if we’re-” He pauses, his gaze sharpening as it flickers to John’s face. “-unlucky.”
“Nice try.” John groans and pinches the bridge of his nose. “That was almost sincere, even.”
There’s a pause, John rubbing at his face and wishing for more sleep, then the bed shifts as Sherlock rolls onto his side. His knees poke against John’s calves and his head butts against John’s hip almost incidentally.
“My job is to stop criminals, not to save lives,” comes Sherlock’s voice, muffled between John and mattress. His breath gusts warmly against John’s thigh. “I can’t stop people dying before I have answers. That’s your job.”
John, with a sigh, drops his hand onto Sherlock’s shoulder and gives it an awkward pat. He could say: I can’t stop people dying without answers either. He could say: Magic doesn’t work like that. It’s just a tool, it’s not a god. I swear you’re not missing out on much.
In the end, he says, “Not quite.”