“This isn’t the way I planned on spending Christmas, Sherlock.”
“But your plans were dull.”
John thought wistfully of his invitation to floo over to Harry’s to spend the afternoon with his friends. “Not dull, not with that many children running around.”
“Right. Loud and dull,” Sherlock corrected himself. “This is better—it’s our one chance to get Magnussen alone, to get to his vaults. Once we have, he’ll no longer be a threat to anyone.”
“He’s a wizard, Sherlock, and he didn’t seem very intimidated by you the last time.”
Sherlock waved his hand. “It’s not about intimidation, John, it’s about knowledge. It’s power, don’t forget.”
John gave a laugh. “I’m friends with you, aren’t I? How could I forget?”
His friend flashed him a bright smile and then they climbed aboard the waiting helicopter and were on their way to Appledor.
John could tell that this confrontation was not going the way Sherlock intended—just like the last time he and Magnussen were in a room together. (Two times? He was still unsure whether Magnussen had been in the room when Sherlock was obliviated.)
Not only was Magnussen anything but cowed, he barely looked interested in the conversation. He didn’t even have the decency to be apologetic about having put John in a bonfire, despite his assurances that “I would never have let you burn, Dr Watson. I’m not a murderer.”
As if that made it all right! Until this exact minute, John hadn’t realized how much he had appreciated Moriarty’s forthright insanity—the man had been crazy and you never knew from one minute to the next what he was going to do, but he had never pretended that what he was doing was reasonable. As if John was being silly, complaining about almost burning alive. (Because, whether they had planned on pulling him out of the fire or not, there still had been the potential for all kinds of serious injuries from the smoke and heat. What kind of person did that?)
“I don’t understand.”
“You should get that on a t-shirt,” the man said as he led John and Sherlock into the house. John considered it a sign of how serious the situation was that Sherlock didn’t even crack a smile at that.
What followed didn’t help John’s comprehension at all, but he had to admit that Magnussen had some impressive occlumency skills. The man did indeed have thousands of secrets, but he kept them all in his head, in a vault even stronger than Sherlock’s mind palace. He might be a truly reprehensible excuse for a human being so that just being in the same building as him made John’s skin crawl, but he had to admit, the man’s mind-magic abilities were impressive.
When the conversation switched over into Sherlock and John’s arrest for high treason, though, things became much more serious.
“I still don’t understand,” John said, trying to figure out how Sherlock could have allowed this to happen.
“And there’s the back of the t-shirt,” said Magnussen with a sense of glee, and it was all John could do not to hex the man right there. He focused on controlling his temper, even as Sherlock stood there, looking stunned like a deer in headlights. In the distance, John could hear helicopters, getting closer. Unlike his army days, though, they weren’t arriving for emergency aid—they were coming because Magnussen finally had Sherlock Holmes right where he wanted him … and there was nothing John could do about it.
“May I flick your face?”
“Your face. May I flick it?” The man leaned forward and began to ping his finger against John’s cheekbone as he gloated. “I could do this all day.”
John could feel his blood pressure pounding as he fought to control his temper. “Sherlock?”
“Just … do it, John.” He had never heard Sherlock sound quite so hopeless. Or was it helpless? This was the problem with Sherlock generally being so sure of himself, so much smarter than everyone else … when he was outmanoeuvred it left him completely blindsided.
This really was not the way John had intended to spend Christmas.
And, marvellous, now the helicopters had arrived. As their floodlights filled the night, Magnussen stepped back, shouting how he was just a harmless businessman. Harmless! As if his actions didn’t ruin people’s lives. Just look at the havoc he’d wreaked over John and Sherlock’s lives. He had kidnapped John and put him in a live bonfire. He had caused Sherlock’s fine-tuned brain to be erased. Not to mention whatever hold he had over Mary. And Magnussen had been aiming for Harry, too?
No. This had to stop.
The helicopters were getting closer, and he could see the moving shadows of a special ops team coming closer. (What on earth had Sherlock done to warrant that kind of attention?) This meant that anything he could do to stop this monster had to be done now. Magnussen had to be stopped. Had to be. He had to act NOW. All he needed was a little cover, a little distraction…
Before he could act, John felt something ice cold rush past his face, barely felt in the wind from the helicopter. But his opportunity was already gone.
In front of him, Magnussen blinked, stepping backward as if pushed off balance. He was silent as the helicopter came to land in front of them and the agents rushed onto the terrace. John raised his hands, cursing at the lost opportunity. The man was going to ruin Sherlock and Mycroft and John, just because he could, and John couldn’t stop him. He looked at Sherlock, apology already on his lips, but then he felt a hand on his shoulder.
An invisible hand.
Then a voice shouted quietly in his ear, just loud enough to be heard over the helicopter. “Don’t worry.”
John looked over to Sherlock, who was watching him with a curious look on his face. John wasn’t sure what he had seen (because, really, who could ever know what Sherlock saw and observed), but he could see the slack numbness leave his friend’s face as they were surrounded.
“What do you mean, they can’t charge us with anything?”
“Just what I said, John,” Sherlock told him. “Magnussen had set us up, of course. He knew there was no physical evidence of his blackmail to be found, and that when the authorities showed up, we would appear to be the only ones doing anything wrong. It would have appealed to his rather … unusual … sense of humour.”
“But, I don’t understand,” John said, and then glared. “And don’t tell me I need that on a t-shirt.”
“Oh, no, John. In that, Magnussen sorely underestimated you. Your comprehension may be slower than mine—almost everybody’s is—but you get there in the end.” Sherlock sat back in the metal chair and stretched out his legs. It wasn’t the worst interrogation cell he’d been in, after all, and this time the company was excellent. “Magnussen forgot to take your unique past into account—which, considering his information network, is a rather shocking lapse.”
“He knew I’m a wizard,” John said, “But that shouldn’t have made a difference. Appledor was warded. I felt them when we were brought in. And they took my … weapon. They wouldn’t have known to do that if they hadn’t known I was capable—for all the good it ended up doing me.”
“Exactly. He took steps specifically against you … but neglected to look for the … unexpected.”
Sherlock didn’t dare speak more clearly in case there were listening devices, but he could see the comprehension on John’s face. In retrospect, he wondered at Magnussen’s lack of foresight. For such a brilliant man—and Sherlock could acknowledge that the man was brilliant—he had left quite a spectacular hole in his personal security. It wasn’t like he was unaware of the wizarding world, after all. Even Sherlock knew of Harry’s legendary loyalty—and his invisibility cloak.
Sherlock admitted that learning Magnussen’s library of blackmail documents was entirely contained in his head had been a setback. But … how had the man not realized that that left any of his victims an opening for justice? Rather than having multiple copies stored at his solicitor’s office ready to post if “something happened to him,” Magnussen had relied entirely on his own ability to intimidate.
Well, that had worked, too. Nobody—not even Mycroft—had realized that Magnussen’s vault was a mind palace, so none of his victims had ever known that their freedom was just a bullet away. Not until he confessed it … gloated about it … to Sherlock and John because he expected them to be whisked away to prison.
He had thought he was safe. Thought he had enough leverage in hand that Sherlock wouldn’t be able to use it against him. He had counted on the knowledge to weigh on Sherlock for years as he rotted in gaol, cursed by the knowledge that he had condemned John as well as himself.
What Magnussen hadn’t counted on was the very real, very immediate justice of the wizarding world.
Sherlock could only imagine that this had something to do with the man’s sheltered upbringing. He may have learned about spells and curses, but he’d lived a protected life. He had never learned that people can be held accountable for their acts—or at least not that he was just as susceptible to justice as any of his blackmailing victims. He might have been careful not to allow anyone to gain leverage on him, but his sense of superiority had left him with a huge blind spot.
Monster though he had been, Magnussen had not been smart enough to realize that some of his victims had faced—and defeated—far worse monsters than he. Literally, in Harry’s case.
Magnussen had claimed, “I’m just a businessman. I’m not hurting anybody,” but it wasn’t true. He might not have had physical blood on his hands, but he had ruined countless lives … all while maintaining an ivory-tower’s distance from the mayhem. To his own mind, he probably hadn’t thought of himself as a monster at all.
His problem was that Sherlock had faced down James Moriarty, and knew the danger an uncontrolled evil genius could pose.
And worse for Magnussen, he had come after Harry Potter and, well, that just showed his naiveté on a whole, different scale. Sherlock would have been happy to shoot the man, but Harry? Harry had faced down a true monster—one worse than Moriarty could have dreamed of. Good and forgiving and generous and all-around decent though Harry was, he could be absolutely ruthless when he had to be.
It was Magnussen’s bad luck that he had neglected to take that into account.
Between Harry’s willingness to do whatever was necessary to protect his friends (and the general public), and Magnussen’s frankly badly-timed choice to confess and gloat over his keeping his blackmail materials in his own head … well, he’d deserved what had happened.
“…worse even than Lockhart, they said. What did you do, Harry?”
Harry was rubbing the back of his head, looking almost like a teenager as Hermione scolded him. “I was angry, all right? And what else was I supposed to do? He kept all his blackmail material in his head. The only way to keep his victims safe was to … deny him access.”
“Ruthless, but fair in its way,” Ron said, agreeing.
“You all keep referring to Lockhart?” Sherlock finally asked. “I gather he suffered from an ill-cast memory charm?”
“You could say that,” Harry said with a laugh.
“It was in our second year,” Ron explained. “I’d broken my wand when the whomping… well, that’s another story. The point, though, is that my wand had broken and Lockhart went around the twist and tried to use it to obliviate Harry and me, but … it backfired.”
“Rather spectacularly,” Harry said. “And since he’d been trying to erase both of us at once, and the backfire wasn’t anything like controlled …”
Sherlock couldn’t help but shudder. “How bad…?”
Harry sobered. “He’s still at St Mungos, happily signing autographs and chattering about his fans to anyone who’ll listen.”
“He never recovered?” Sherlock was stunned. He’d thought magic could cure anything.
“The damage was too severe,” Harry told him. “Not that he didn’t deserve it, the git. He’s got the mental capacity of about a five year old, I think.”
“Which is practically a step up from where he had been,” Ron said with a grumble. “The twit.”
“Ron! He was our teacher!”
Ron’s face twisted with disbelief. “The only thing he ever taught me was that his favourite colour was periwinkle or lavender or something ridiculous. He was a terrible teacher.”
“He wasn’t that bad.”
“You’re just saying that because you had a crush on him.”
“I did not!”
“You did,” Harry put in. “I remember you’d circled all his classes with little hearts on your timetable. Ron’s right.”
John was nodding. “It was painfully obvious, Hermione. If you hadn’t had such a crush on him, you would have been complaining about how useless his classes were even louder than we were. Did you learn anything useful from the man? Outside the practical lesson of the dangers of memory charms?”
“Well,” Hermione said, thoughtful, “He did have quite a flair. He was the best dressed wizard I’d ever seen…”
The others hooted her down at that, while Sherlock laughed at the lot of them. It was just as well he’d never had any school friends, he thought. There was nobody on earth he could imagine teasing him about his childhood embarrassments—not in such a good-natured fashion, at least.
“So, in other words, I was lucky, then,” he ventured once the hilarity had died down.
“At least Mary knew what she was doing,” John said, sobering quickly. “And she wasn’t trying to erase huge chunks of your memory, just a couple hours, which is generally considered pretty safe.”
“Not the way Harry did it.”
“I was aiming for a wider range,” Harry said. “I didn’t have a lot of time, but I did exactly what I meant to do to Magnussen—and he deserved it, too. So did Lockhart, for that matter. It’s just retribution for the suffering they both caused out of their hubris and pride. They made people suffer for no good reason, and I can’t abide that.”
“Harry always did have an overly developed sense of justice,” Hermione said with a fond smile.
“It’s why we love him.”
Later, back at 221B, John collapsed into his chair with a huff. “Worst Christmas ever, I think.”
Sherlock looked at him from over his steepled fingers. “Oh, I don’t know. Magnussen is safely taken care of and no longer a threat to anyone—including me, you, Mary, Harry … and even Mycroft.”
“True. We’re not being charged with high treason, either, which I confess I was worried about there for a while.”
“That would never have happened,” Sherlock told him.
John looked over at the decanter on the sideboard and waved his wand, sending a glass to Sherlock as he took his. “You say that now, but…”
“I had a plan, John,” Sherlock said, sipping at his drink.
“Yes, a plan that involved getting to Magnussen’s physical files … which didn’t exist. You’d think that, with all the people he’s blackmailed over the years, someone else would have spotted that.”
“Possibly, but I’m surprised none of your lot ever tried wiping his memory, either.” Sherlock paused. “Harry won’t get in trouble, will he?”
“I wouldn’t think so,” John said, shaking his head. “He was justified as an auror, and even if it was … extreme …. Well, it’s just like Lockhart. Magnussen’s hoist on his own petard, and while there might be an enquiry … well, it’s Harry.”
“And Harry gets away with things.”
“He always has,” John said, a smile pulling at his lips. “Luckily for all of us.”
Sherlock felt oddly disappointed in that. “Right.”
“Because your plan was dreadful, you know that, right?”
John was watching him with that amused look Sherlock hated. “You’re not going to admit it, are you? That your plan was horrible.”
“It wasn’t that bad, John.”
“It almost got us arrested for high treason, Sherlock. We were surrounded by special ops and your brother was in a helicopter. I think it’s reasonable to say your plan was less than ideal.”
“Fine, then,” Sherlock said, internally cringing at the petulance in his own voice. “My plan wasn’t as flexible as it might have been. Thank God for Harry the savior. There, happy now?”
It wasn’t helping that John looked even more amused now. “Oh, thrilled to bits,” he said.
They sat quietly for a few moments, and then John offered, “You do realize that Harry, Ron, and Hermione are good friends, but you’re still my best, right?”
A flash of what could almost be pity appeared on John’s face as he said, “Of course you are.”
Sherlock looked down at the glass in his hand, wondering what kind of whiskey this was to cause such a feeling of warmth in his chest. “You wouldn’t have rather gone to theirs for Christmas, then?”
“Well, I might have liked a proper Christmas dinner rather than a stale doughnut over interrogation,” John said, “But, no. I’d say this day is ending just like it should.”
John must have refilled the decanter with fire whiskey, Sherlock thought, because this sensation of warmth was getting stronger by the moment. He tipped his glass in John’s direction in acknowledgment and took another sip. Really, this day might not have gone as planned, but he didn’t think he’d change a thing.
There was a puff of displaced air then, as the front door opened.
“Hello, brother dear. Have you recovered from your arrest? You do know that Mummy’s waiting dinner for you.”
Sherlock felt his eyes widen in horror at the thought. “This late? It will take hours to drive there.”
Mycroft looked disgustingly smug as he replied, “I thought we’d use an alternate transportation method.”
“Oh? Did you bring your helicopter?”
“No, but I thought perhaps John might be willing to take us there by his …unique … means, if he’s willing. A proper Christmas dinner is the least we can do after ruining his holiday.”
“And you manage to avoid that pesky holiday traffic,” Sherlock said with a sneer. “I wasn’t the one who arrested John.”
“No, but you caused him to be there, Sherlock. Really, is that any way to treat your friend? Not to mention disappointing Mummy … you know she’ll not forget this.”
Oh, well, Sherlock thought with a sigh. Nothing was perfect. Though as he looked over at John to see his face light up at the prospect of dinner, he thought … maybe it was.
After all, Mycroft’s reaction to apparition was bound to be entertaining.