John opened his eyes and squinted at the sunlight pouring into his room. He must have forgotten to close the blinds when he came in last night. Christ, he thought, holding his hand over his eyes, what time had he gotten in? He couldn’t remember drinking, but this headache … it was like the worst hangover he’d ever had in his life, and it had somehow taken root in every muscle of his body.
Rolling over to look at the time, he blinked at the two unfamiliar items on his bedside table. A small potion bottle, and … his wand.
With a surge, he remembered everything that had happened the night before. Mycroft flooing to Baker Street. Hogwarts. Sherlock debating with the portraits in the headmaster’s office. The Forbidden Forest … Oh yes, he definitely remembered what had happened in the Forbidden Forest last night.
He also remembered Madam Pomfrey’s instructions to take the pain potion when he woke up this morning. She had been reluctant to let him leave, but had finally agreed if he promised to bring the prescribed potions and to contact her if there were any further problems.
Reaching up gingerly with his left hand, careful not to jar his bad shoulder from long months of practice, he picked up the bottle … and realized his shoulder didn’t hurt at all. And that he could feel his fingers.
Merlin, his shoulder!
He sat straight up in bed, and then fell back on the pillows with a groan. Not smart, he told himself. Take the pain potion first she’d said. He carefully thumbed it open and downed the potion before shutting his eyes and waiting for it to take effect.
And then he blessed magic with every atom in his body because he’d forgotten how fast it was. Poof, just like that, the lingering pain from the cruciatus curse was gone. He smiled up at the ceiling and then reached out with his left arm and slowly raised the arm all the way over his head. Just like that. Easily, as if it were nothing.
As if he had always been able to do that. As if he hadn’t had a career-ending injury in Afghanistan just a matter of months ago, one that had left him with ongoing pain issues and nerve damage.
He practically bounded out of bed and stood, twisting his arm, his shoulder, in every possible direction. There was some stiffness—to be expected, considering how little he’d been able to move some of these muscles for the last six months—but there was no actual obstruction. Madame Pomfrey had performed a miracle and given him the full use of his arm back. Oh, there was a bit of pulling around the scar tissue, but the nerve endings were healed … which meant the arm was fully functional again. He could be a surgeon again.
His breath caught. Christ, he could be a surgeon again!
Except … how was he supposed to explain any of this to the NHS? A certain amount of nerve regeneration and healing was always possible, but this? He laughed, and tried to ignore the mix of hysteria and bitterness in the sound. Having his arm back in full, working order was enough of an unexpected blessing. It wasn’t like he was going to go back to the army at this point. He had a full life here with Sherlock, and anyway, John had never made a habit of looking backward. Life was all about the forward motion … even if you got stalled once in a while.
Right now, though, he had no complaints. The sun was shining, his headache was gone, his shoulder felt better than it had since that patrol in Afghanistan and .. Merlin, how had he forgotten? He had his magic back.
He stared now at his wand and reached for it, remembering the rush the night before as the magic had coursed through him. The agonizing combination of electric shock and the cruciatus curse that had made him feel burned clean, hollow … worse than anything he’d ever felt. But that had been followed by the flood of magic filling in those empty places. Or, well, he supposed that was hyperbole, because really he hadn’t felt that part at all. He’d been too busy trying to find his feet again, needing to somehow defend himself and his friends armed with nothing more than a muggle gun loaded with silver bullets. (Because, really, they had been going up against werewolves, and what did it hurt?)
He did, very clearly, remember the disbelief when his shield charm had actually … shielded. His magic had worked, for the first time in twenty years.
Gingerly picking up his wand, he reminded himself what Hermione had said the night before about his very much not registering as a muggle anymore. The wand felt alive in his hand. This could work. It had worked last night when he’d lit the fire for Sherlock.
Oh, Merlin. Sherlock. Everything had moved so fast last night, he hadn’t had time to think … Sherlock Holmes now knew about magic.
He could just imagine all the experiments his flatmate was going to want to perform now.
Not that there was time for that. When John stumbled down the stairs to the sitting room, he found Mycroft and Sherlock staring as usual … except, this time, they were both looking at him—Mycroft with some concern, Sherlock with anticipation.
Remembering their conversation the night before, John sighed. He had promised to show off his magic before Mycroft learned of it from someone else—though, with Mycroft and his intelligence services, John had doubts about that being possible.
Still, with Sherlock looking almost like it was Christmas, how could he resist? He was pretty sure he remembered the spell, too.
Gripping his wand—which he didn’t even remember carrying down with him—he asked, “Would you like some tea?” Then, concentrating hard, he flicked his wand and mentally said the incantation … and nothing happened. The look of disappointment on Sherlock’s face mirrored his own, he was sure. But then there was a rumble from the kitchen, a box came flying out of the room, hitting the back of John’s head and scattering PG Tips teabags around his chair.
There was a long silence and then, “Obviously, I’m out of practice,” John said, tone as dry as he could make it. “I suppose I should be grateful it wasn’t the boiling kettle. Would you like some hot water with that?”
Mycroft was actually speechless, but Sherlock had already regained his composure. “Most people offer milk or sugar, John.”
John was considering the teabags scattered about the rug. “I suppose the water is rather understood when offering tea,” he murmured just before waving his wand and gathering all the sachets back into their box which he took lightly in his hand as he stood. “I’ll just do this the old-fashioned way then, shall I?”
He headed for the kitchen as Mycroft finally found his voice. “John. You’re…”
“A wizard again,” John finished. “Yes, apparently. There was an … incident … last night involving a cruciatus curse and, somehow, an electric shock from my mobile that … jumpstarted things. I don’t understand it at all, but … it happened.”
“I thought you said that was not possible?”
John turned back to the doorway. “Apparently it’s not. Knowledge of the curse itself has apparently been deliberately lost for centuries and there’s no known cure … although, centuries ago, there was no such thing as a mobile phone, either. I don’t know how the electric charge in the phone was enough to make a difference, but … it melted in my hand so I’m inclined to think it contributed somehow. Either way, though, it’s unprecedented—and unlikely to be repeated.”
“Not surprising,” Sherlock said from his chair, “John has always been a statistical anomaly.”
“Ta, Sherlock,” John said, turning back to pour boiling water over the teabags before heading back to his seat.
Mycroft was watching him with an intensity John hadn’t seen since their warehouse meeting. “It’s gratifying to have proof that you are, in fact, one in a million—as if living with Sherlock wasn’t already proof enough.”
John was just opening his mouth to respond when there was a knocking at the window. He looked up to see a rather elegant tawny owl watching him. Uh-oh. He opened the window with a gesture from his wand and the bird flew in, dropping a letter in his lap before immediately flying away. “That can’t be good,” he said out loud.
He glanced up to see identical looks of shock on both faces, and longed for his camera because obviously that was never going to happen again. He wondered if anyone had invented a photography spell that could be enacted with a blink, or if you could extract an image from a memory. Wouldn’t that be handy? Even more convenient than using a phone, because you wouldn’t need your hands, just your eyes that you had with you anyway…
He blinked. “Oh. Sorry. Wizarding mail.” He picked up the stiff parchment envelope and grimaced at the Ministry of Magic seal. “Damn.”
“Problem?” Mycroft’s eyebrows were almost at his hairline.
“Apparently I’ve been performing magic in a muggle household and that’s illegal per the Statute of Secrecy,” John said, skimming the letter. “There are aurors on their way.”
Now Sherlock looked concerned … and just a little bit anticipatory. “Are they going to arrest you?”
“No,” John said, reaching for his phone and dialling, “But we’d best make sure nobody gets obliviated. Call Anthea, Mycroft, I mean it. Right awa… Oh, hi. Harry? We’ve got a problem. Apparently there’s been magic performed here in my muggle home and the aurors are on their way to ‘take care of’ the problem—and I don’t think that’s particularly fair to Sherlock and Mycroft especially after last night. Anything you can do about that? Yeah? Great. Hurry, would you?”
He had barely rung off when a series of popping noises came from the hallway.
John moves to stand in front of the door, hands carefully lifted to show his wand as three aurors burst into the room, wands in hand. “Look,” he told them, “Everything’s under control here.”
“Sir? You’re in violation of the Statute of Secrecy. Please step aside.”
John could hear Sherlock starting to rise out of his chair, but he waved a hand at him, attention focused on the man standing in front of him. “No, you don’t have all the facts, and I’m not going to let you make a mistake. This is my place of residence and these two gentlemen both have legal knowledge of the wizarding world.”
The tall auror shook his head. “That’s not possible. This flat does not have a magical signature and is not registered as belonging to a wizard. As you know, a license is necessary in the middle of muggle London for identification purposes.”
“Nevertheless,” John started, “There are extenuating circumstances you need to know about before you do anything permanent. And you could please stop pointing your wands at my flatmate and his brother.”
“Your flatmate, sir? That doesn’t excuse ... and it doesn’t change the fact that this is a muggle flat.”
John didn’t flinch. “I think you’ll find that it actually changes quite a lot.”
“Sir, we are going to need to see some ID,” the first auror was saying when he was cut off by another crack. John glanced back to see Anthea standing defensively in front of Mycroft.
The wizard in front of him, though, was staring at Anthea. “Ariadne? What are you…?”
“Put your wand down, Reaver. The man you are about to obliviate is the muggle government’s main contact with the wizarding government—not to mention my boss. Do you want to start an Incident?”
“But, I…” The wizard looked flummoxed for a moment, but then looked between John and Sherlock, eyes settling on the detective. “What about the other one?”
“That is Mr Holmes’s brother and also resident of this flat, along with John Watson—the wizard standing in front of you.”
Now one of the other aurors spoke. “I’ve never heard of a John Watson.”
“There’s a good reason for that,” came Harry’s voice from the door. “Stand down, Reaver.”
The tall auror turned, looking flummoxed. “Mr Potter? But…”
“I said, stop pointing your wand at one of the heroes of the Battle of Hogwarts and stand down.” Harry’s voice crackled—literally—with power as he spoke, and John was relieved to see the wand arms of the three aurors drop. Harry looked over at John and gave him a smile. “Hey, John.”
“Hey, Harry. Thanks for coming.”
“It’s no trouble—though I wouldn’t have minded a little more sleep. It was a late night.”
The aurors all nodded, obviously having heard of the events the night before. John could tell by the way they looked at him and Sherlock that they were feeling smug about being “in the know” in front of ignorant muggles.
“But, Mr Potter, er, sir,” the lead auror said, stammering, “This really isn’t something you need involve yourself with, it’s far below your security level. We have it under control. It’s just that this flat is not registered…”
Harry just nodded. “As I said, there’s a good reason for that. John has been living as a muggle since Hogwarts. There hasn’t been any need for him to have a license …” He paused and cocked his head to the side, as if thinking. “Oh, I suppose that he technically should have gotten the license, but … have you had any record of magic being performed here before this week?”
The female auror pulled out a scroll from her robes and scanned it. “No, sir. There has been no magical activity at this location prior to the last 48 hours.”
“Which is why,” Harry said firmly, “He’s not in technical violation of anything.”
The tall auror in the front narrowed his eyes. “But … he performed magic today, sir.”
Harry just snorted. “He’s a wizard, Reaver. And he’s performed, what, one or two spells? In the privacy of his own home after living here … how long, John?”
“About six months,” John said.
“I think we can forgive that, don’t you, Reaver? Especially since the violation is a result of my oversight.” Harry pulled a scroll out of his robes and handed it to John. “I apologize for not getting this to you sooner, John. It’s the application for a wizarding residence license. Like I said, it was a late night.”
It was all John could do not to beam at his old friend. “It was good to see Hogwarts again.”
The other two aurors were staring at John now. “You were there last night? When Mr Potter took down the Neode group?”
Harry laughed. “More like John, here, pulling Ron’s and my bacon from the fire, after Sherlock Holmes—hi, Sherlock—identified the danger in the first place. It’s only been a few hours since the two of them saved my life last night.” His voice sharpened as he accented the words, making the three aurors flinch.
The look Reaver gave John now was entirely different—almost respectful. “You helped Mr Potter last night? Both of you?” He looked back at Sherlock with disbelief.
“All four of us, actually,” John said. “Which is why I’m telling you for the last time—stop pointing your wands at my flatmate.”
Finally … finally! … the wand arms dropped and the aurors began to look a little less wand-happy. John spared a glance at his flatmate, wondering how he was reacting to the possibility of having his memory tampered with. To his surprise, Sherlock looked utterly confident and calm, as if the possibility of John failing had not even occurred to him. John couldn’t help but feel flattered.
“Right,” he said, “Perhaps we could start with introductions? In my experience, law enforcement usually announces itself before committing permanent damage on innocent bystanders.”
The auror to Reaver’s right looked offended. “I assure you, sir, standard obliviating spells are perfectly safe.”
“Tell that to Lockhart,” John said with a snort. “Did he ever recover?”
Harry grinned at him and shook his head. “Never did, but he’ll be happy to sign a few pictures for you if you stop by, for old time’s sake.”
“You knew Lockhart?” the other auror asked.
“Of course he did,” Harry told her. “John was in my class at Hogwarts. Like he said, some introductions are in order. John, these polite, well-trained, and entirely reasonable aurors are Reaver, Flobberweight, and Durning.” He turned to the aurors and said slowly, as if speaking to idiots, “And this is Doctor John Watson, former Gryffindor, dorm-mate to me, Ron, and Neville—not to mention Dean and Seamus. He fought at the Battle of Hogwarts, saved the life of Charlie Weasley as well as many others. Afterward, he joined the British army and has been off serving his country in a warzone in Afghanistan. He’s been back in London for six months, yes, living as a muggle, but I can assure you, he has every right to carry and wield a wand whenever he sees fit.”
John was trying not to feel embarrassed at the almost awestruck looks he was getting from the younger auror as Harry continued. “And then we have his flatmate, Sherlock Holmes, the one and only Consulting Detective who helps solve crimes and was instrumental in saving not just my life but Ron’s as well last night. He wasn’t able to help with the fight, but I’m told he and Snape’s portrait had a rousing discussion and even Nigellus Phineas admitted that he supposed not all muggles were bad.”
John couldn’t stop the grin as the jaws dropped all around him—even Anthea looked amused, but Harry was continuing, “Last but not least, allow me to introduce Mycroft Holmes, the primary contact between our government and the muggle one. He’s often described as personifying the British government and I can assure you, the mere threat of obliviating either him or his brother comes with punishments you really do not want to contemplate. Now,” Harry concluded, crossing his arms over his chest, “Is there something you want to say about the way you burst in here with wands raised over what should have been a simple first warning for … what was it, John?”
“A levitation charm,” John said.
“Right. For a wizard using a levitation charm in his own home in front of his flatmate and the British Government?”
The aurors all looked terrified, now, and John couldn’t help the surge of satisfaction at seeing it. It took a long moment as John could practically feel Sherlock smirking before Reaver said, “We … that is … I apologize. You are right. We should have assessed the situation before making any assumptions.”
“And before threatening my flatmate with your wands.”
“Well, isn’t this just lovely, having this taken care of,” Mycroft said as he calmly rose to his feet. “Thank you for your assistance, Mr Potter. Do pass on my regards to your friends. It was a pleasure to meet them. Sherlock, John, thank you for an unusually … interesting … morning. I look forward to hearing the details.”
Anthea said nothing, but glared at the offending aurors before giving John a small wink, taking her mobile from her pocket and following Mycroft down the stairs.
John turned back to look at Sherlock who had sat back down in his chair as he studied the remaining people in his sitting room.
The youngest auror spoke up hesitantly. “Did you really argue with Professor Snape?”
Sherlock lifted an eyebrow. “Not so much of an argument as a discussion of the comparable merits of chemistry versus potions. The object was not to win so much as to share information.”
Harry just looked amused. “Snape wasn’t exactly known for being a disinterested sharer of knowledge—not with his students at least.”
“Especially you,” John said with a chuckle. “I don’t think he ever resisted a chance to take points from you for … anything.”
“I don’t think he even tried to resist,” Harry agreed with a grin. “Hopefully he was a little more forthcoming with his peers, though. He really was a master at potions, even if perhaps not the best teacher.”
“No,” agreed John, “But then, I can’t imagine Sherlock teaching chemistry to beginners, either.”
The aurors were looking curious now, as Harry, John, and Sherlock bantered back and forth. Finally the woman—Flobberweight, John thought—ventured a question. “Did you say you help the muggle police? Doing what?”
“He solves puzzles when they can’t figure them out,” John put in quickly. “He’s extremely good.”
“Puzzles, you mean… like that mad bomber I remember hearing about a while ago? The one who was turning people into bombs?”
John tried not to flinch at the memory as he waited for Sherlock’s diatribe to begin, but he was surprised when Sherlock said calmly, “Something like that, yes. I am a consulting detective. I observe details that others miss and draw conclusions from those observations. For example, I can tell that you have a new cat at home, by the fur at the hem of your robe and the snag from the claws.”
“Oh, please,” said Reaver. “How can you turn a person into a bomb? Without magic, it’s impossible.”
“I remember that case,” Harry said, voice thoughtful. “It wasn’t a matter of transfiguration. The bomber made vests out of explosives and made innocent people wear them. Hostages, wasn’t that right, Sherlock? Were you involved in that one?”
“Yes.” Sherlock’s answer could not have been sharper had his tongue been transfigured into a razor.
John saw Harry looking his way and just shrugged a bit, very much not wanting to get into a discussion about this. “The bomber got away in the end,” was all he said, but Harry nodded, accepting that. Nobody liked to think about their failures, after all, the criminals who got away, the patients that died on the table.
Sherlock flounced back in his chair, pulling his dressing gown around him as he looked at their guests with a slightly disgruntled expression. John just shook his head. “You’re frustrated because you can’t deduce wizards properly, aren’t you?”
“What? Of course I can,” Sherlock said automatically.
Flobberweight’s brow creased. “You mean he can’t use his … er … gift on us because we’re magic?”
Which immediately brought up Sherlock’s patented “I Can’t Believe I’m Surrounded By Idiots” expression. “No,” he told her in exasperation, “I just don’t have enough data. I can tell an airline pilot by his left thumb, but I don’t know enough of the wizarding world to know whether Reaver’s robes are falling like that because his wife left him and he’s too lazy to do something about his appearance or because the extra wand he carries pulls it that way.”
“Both, actually,” Auror Durning said, drawing a dirty look from Reaver. “How’d you do that without magic?”
“I told you,” Sherlock said with assumed patience, “I observe. Had you lot done the same, you would have stopped short of accusing John of illegal magic in his own home. And, really, is a team of four really standard response for a simple case of minor magic use in front of a non-magic wielder? Wouldn’t a simple warning and a fine of some kind be more commensurate for a first offense? It’s not like he was blasting curses, or whatever you call them, in the middle of Trafalgar Square.”
Harry turned to look at Reaver. “That’s really an excellent question. I know the Auror department is well-staffed these days, but this reaction does seem a bit out of line.”
Reaver’s jaw tightened. “I’m sorry, sir. I was overzealous.”
Harry just watched the man for a long moment and then gave a nod. “Right. Well, as you can see, things are under control here. You three are dismissed, but I expect a full report on my desk when I get back—along with a list of the things that you did right and the things you did wrong.”
There were grumbles of “Merlin, it’s like being back at Hogwarts,” but they all left without any real complaint, even Reaver, who cast one last look over his shoulder before disappearing down the stairs.
There were a series of cracks from the downstairs hallway, and after the third one sounded, Harry nodded to himself. He turned back to Sherlock and John and cast a shield around the room.
“So, that bomber … Moriarty, right? What can you tell me?”
John could feel his forehead creasing as he stared at Harry. “You know about Moriarty?”
Harry nodded. “He’s been circling around the wizarding world for a while. We’re reasonably sure he doesn’t know about us, but he knows there’s something.”
Sherlock barely even looked surprised. “That’s almost … impressive.”
“Impressive?” John turned on him. “That’s all you can say?”
“I didn’t say I admired him, just that … I didn’t even know about all of … this … so for him to have deduced the existence of a magical world when I hadn’t….”
John shook his head. “So, you’re upset that he noticed something you missed? That’s just great. Well, leave me out of the next meeting, yeah?”
Harry had been watching the exchange, but stepped forward now, hands raised, trying to calm things down. “Wait. Have you actually met him?”
“You could say that,” John told him, “Considering that entire bomb thing was set up as a game he was playing with Sherlock.”
Now it was Harry’s turn to look surprised. “Really? Maybe I should have followed the case more closely—we might have found you sooner, John.”
John gave a half-hearted smile at that, even as he caught a whiff of chlorine in his memory and felt, for a moment, the weight of the bomb vest on his shoulders. “I wasn’t feeling particularly nostalgic during that case, though.”
“Not for his school days, at any rate,” Sherlock said. “More like his time in the army.”
John turned his head to glare at him, but felt it neutralized by the unexpected look of concern on his friend’s face.
“What am I missing here?” asked Harry, looking between the two of them.
“There were four hostages reported in the papers, yes?” Sherlock offered, not taking his eyes from John. “They didn’t report the fifth.”
John could almost feel Harry’s attention snap to him, horrified. He just nodded. “Yes, I was the bloody fifth pip, can we not talk about it, please? It wasn’t exactly my finest hour.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Sherlock said, voice soft, “I seem to remember your offering to sacrifice yourself for me. Nobody’s ever done that before.”
Harry had blinked at the word ‘sacrifice.’ “In my experience, John, people tend not to let that go.”
John tried again for a smile, “Most of the time, the sacrifice isn’t around to deal with the aftermath.”
Now it was Sherlock’s turn to look back and forth between them, picking up Merlin only knew what signals. He said nothing more about the Pool, though, but just turned to Harry. “If Moriarty is a reaching his fingers out for wizarding pies as well as non-magic ones … that means you’re looking for him.”
“We are, but … quietly. Like I said, we don’t think he really knows about us, and we’d rather like to keep it that way…” His voice trailed off.
“The thought of James Moriarty with access to unscrupulous magicians or wizards or whatever….”
“Exactly,” said Harry, even as John reeled at the thought. Moriarty on his own had been frightening enough, but with his own hired band of mini-Death Eaters? Horrifying.
It was later and John had finally (!) gotten his tea. Harry had left, promising to expedite the paperwork to register 221B as the home of a wizard, and now it was just him and Sherlock.
“So … that was interesting,” John ventured.
“At least the wands are a change from guns, yeah? Not boring?”
There was no reaction from Sherlock and John just sighed. It was going to be one of those mornings. Fine, then. He would read the paper and then try to figure out what he could possibly say on his blog. “Oh, by the way, everyone, I’m a wizard” somehow didn’t seem quite the thing. But first, he would just sit here with his tea. Toast would be good, too. He might just get some toast.
“It’s what I think it is, isn’t it?” Sherlock spoke suddenly. “That spell? I mean, the Latin root is badly mangled—how is it possible the Latin is so bad? I mean really, John. But, still … the spell they were suggesting…”
“Obliviate, you mean?” John asked, just to be certain. “Yes, it’s what you think. It eliminates memories and unfortunately is done regularly to mugg…” He stopped himself just in time, remembering how Sherlock hated that word. “I mean, to non-magic users as a means of keeping the wizarding world a secret.”
A pause, then, “There seemed some difference in opinion as to its safety.”
“In theory, it is safe,” John told him. “A simple memory modification of a recent event … it’s still in the short-term memory, hasn’t been integrated yet, or touched anything important … It is used therapeutically sometimes, as well, for witnesses to traumatic events. But … well, I don’t know if there have been studies in the last twenty years or not, but I’ve always doubted the wisdom of repeated use, or if the wizard tries to remove too much at once.”
“Who was Lockhart?”
John grimaced. “A truly terrible teacher we had second year—didn’t teach us a thing, just told made-up stories about how he’d beaten this troll or that werewolf, with test questions about his favourite colour… I don’t remember learning a thing that entire year except for what not to do if I ever suddenly became famous. Anyway, turned out that he’d never done any of the exploits he was famous for. Instead, he’d interview the real hero to get an accurate, first-hand account and then…”
“Erase their own memory and take all the credit,” Sherlock finished for him. “So, what happened? Did someone catch him at it? One of the victims was too badly damaged?”
“Not exactly,” and now John couldn’t quite help the grin on his face. “He tried to obliviate Harry and Ron when they discovered the Chamber of Secrets, except he was using Ron’s wand … it had broken at the beginning of the year and, really, hadn’t that been a nightmare for all of us for months. You never knew what that wand was going to do. There was this time … Never mind. Anyway, Lockhart’s spell—and all due credit for it being powerful—backfired really spectacularly. Brought the roof of the tunnel down and, well…”
“Removed all of his memories, instead of Ron’s.” Sherlock was quiet a moment. “How bad was it?”
“Pretty bad—he couldn’t remember anything, was like a child again. Last I heard he was still at St Mungo’s hospital. Of course, it’s not like the spell was anything like controlled when it hit him, but … I remember other people expressing concerns about repeated memory charms. And …”
He stopped, not wanting to continue, but Sherlock lifted that damn eyebrow at him and he couldn’t help himself. “I didn’t want to risk that brain of yours, all right? Even if Reaver had only known to remove the memory of my levitating the tea bags, which really would probably have been perfectly safe, I just … didn’t think it was a good idea.”
Sherlock just looked at him for a moment, then nodded. “I can’t say I like the idea of anyone messing with my memories, either. They are too … entwined with my work, my observations.”
“Exactly,” John said before heaving himself to his feet. “Toast?”
Two days later, Sherlock returned to 221 Baker Street, Lestrade and Donovan trailing behind. They tended to be so difficult when he brought work home, he thought. Wasn’t he helping? Wasn’t it all to aid the investigation? He hadn’t even taken “real” evidence this time, just the mundane manila file that he was quite sure could easily have been duplicated from office paperwork. But, fine. He would hand it over and that would be …
…There were voices in the flat. He paused at the bottom of the stairs, listening. They weren’t angry or threatening … and there was John’s voice, light and joking. And … Hermione? Ah. John had guests. That was good, wasn’t it?
He raised his voice just a bit as he turned to the detective behind him. “I suppose you’ll want to come up to the flat, Lestrade? Though if you’re hoping for another drugs bust, I’m afraid you’re out of luck.”
The man immediately began to protest that of course he was coming up, but Sherlock wasn’t listening to him. Instead, he had his ears tuned to the noises above. He assumed John’s friends could transfigure their clothing to something sufficiently … non-magical (he refused to use that ridiculous word) in the time it would take him to lead the others up the stairs.
On cue, Donovan raised her own voice in a strident complaint at being kept from her boring paperwork. Well, Sherlock thought with a sigh, at least John would know what to expect. With a casual tip of the head, not quite a shrug, he turned and bounded up the stairs, the two officers trudging along behind.
He gave the flat a sharp look when he arrived at the door. As expected, Harry, Ron, and Hermione were visiting. John and Hermione at the desk with her poking gingerly at laptop keys while her friends all laughed at her determination—but in a friendly way, he thought. No malice to it.
He caught the tiny nod John sent his way and returned it with one of his own as he strode across the room to pick up the contended bit of paperwork. “Here you go,” he said to Lestrade, barely at the landing by the door.
“What? Just like that?”
“Did you want trumpets and confetti?”
The grey-haired man blinked. “Well, no, but usually you put up more of a fuss.”
Sherlock lifted his eyebrows. “I did ask if you wanted to wait downstairs, Lestrade.”
“Sherlock,” came John’s voice from behind him. “You can invite him in, you know. Or … them,” he corrected himself as Sherlock stepped away from the door. “Sorry, Donovan. Didn’t know you were there.”
Sherlock could barely contain his smirk. Of course John had known she was there, but the woman’s rudeness had not won her any points with John, either.
Lestrade, though, was acting the gentleman he (usually) was, and apologizing. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you had guests, John. We’ll just take our file and go.”
“No worries, Greg,” John told him. “These are just some old school mates of mine. Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger. And these are Detective Inspector Greg Lestrade and Sgt Sally Donovan from Scotland Yard.”
Lestrade was looking curiously at Harry. “I think we’ve met, haven’t we?”
Harry gave a small nod. “There was a case a couple years ago.”
“You’re police, then?” asked Sally, unconvinced as she looked at Harry’s casual clothing.
“Did you want to see our ID?” asked Ron, sharing a disbelieving look with Hermione, as if to ask, “Can you believe this woman?”
Sherlock was relieved that he was not the only one to feel that way.
“No, that’s not necessary,” Sally started, but John cut her off.
“Good to know that you don’t expect my guests to provide identification, Donovan. Or should I maybe get bracelets like they have at clubs, to show they’re allowed into the flat? For the record, though, all three of my friends here work for the government in various capacities—not that it’s any of your business. We reconnected last week on that case in Little Whinging, which Ron was working on when Sherlock was called in. Any other questions?”
Sherlock met John’s eye, catching the glimpse of a wink. “You have your file, Lestrade. Was there anything else? I can tell you that the killer was very definitely left-handed, judging by the angle of the cuts, and their location is intimate—suggests the killer knew them.”
“Or wanted to,” suggested Lestrade.
“No,” Sherlock said, shaking his head. “Very definitely did know them. There’s a firm method behind the cuts that bespeaks familiarity. Had this been a stalker, and admirer from afar, if you will, the wounds would have been more … delicate. I suggest you check out his siblings.”
Sherlock blinked and looked around, gratified to see Ron and the others looking on in admiration of his logic. (This was particularly flattering since, so far as he had been able to tell, the wizarding world was not really a fan of logic. Or semantics.) Before he could say anything, though, or acknowledge the compliment, a familiar voice spoke.
He had only a fraction of a moment to acknowledge the hurt of that casual, oft-used insult, because, before he could do or say anything, Harry was on his feet, glaring at Donovan as if she had just insulted him, his wife, and all his children. “What did you call him?” he asked in a deadly serious voice.
Now it was her turn to blink, uncertain. “I just … it’s …”
“You called him a freak,” Harry said, voice level but eyes tight with a well-controlled anger. Ah, thought Sherlock. It was personal, Harry’s reaction to this word. Sherlock had heard it so many times in his lifetime, he almost didn’t notice anymore, but Harry … Harry had a history with it. A history, but no daily experience with it, not for years, nothing to help vaccinate the pain of it.
Sally, for whatever credit was due, was standing her ground. “I did, yes, because what he does is positively freakish. I don’t mean anything by it…”
“Oh, yes you do.” Harry told her, eyes almost smouldering—something Sherlock hadn’t been aware eyes could do. He’d always thought it was poetic license, or whatever that was called, but not in Harry’s case. He could almost feel the heat in Harry’s glare. “Nobody uses that word without meaning to be offensive. The fact that you clearly use it so often you seem inured to it, just makes it that much worse.”
Harry glanced over at his friends, who were watching him with extra care. “I know this from experience. My parents were killed when I was a baby, and I grew up with my aunt and uncle. They never cared about me, and just casually labelled anything different as freakish—especially if it was connected to me. Until I started school, I almost thought my name was ‘Freak.’ Believe me, Sgt Donovan, I recognize casual, unsubstantiated, hateful insults with years of experience.”
“Mr Potter, I…”
Harry cut her excuses off with a glance as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a notepad and pencil, jotting down something without even looking as he asked, “How long has your subordinate acted so unprofessionally, Detective Inspector?”
Lestrade shifted, uncomfortable, but Sherlock was unsurprised to see him face the question head on. “Ever since Sherlock first showed her up on a case. I’ve tried to reel her in, but … sadly, I’ve been unable to. It’s a distinct failure of my leadership abilities, I’m aware.”
Harry looked at him, glancing past him at Sherlock, then giving a nod. “So it’s just Sgt Donovan I should report then?”
Sally made a noise of protest, looking indignant. To his own surprise, Sherlock was the one who spoke up in her defence. “Perhaps we might give her a chance to improve before making it an official complaint?”
Now Sally found her voice. “Official … I don’t even know that this guy’s for real!”
“Donovan!” Lestrade’s voice was sharp. Obviously she had forgotten that he recognized Harry, Sherlock thought. She did have a tendency to ignore details, after all. At any rate, Harry’s hand was already reaching into his pocket, pulling out his ID, even as Ron and Hermione pulled out their own. “That good enough for you?”
Sally almost paled as she looked at them. “Er … yes,” she stammered, and Sherlock couldn’t help but wonder what supposed governmental department Harry and the others were attached to—an impressive one, obviously.
Harry was still standing with his pad and pencil, patiently watching Sally. “Well?”
Sherlock watched Harry suppress a sigh. “An apology might be in order, don’t you think, Sgt Donovan?”
“Oh, of course. I’m sorry, sir, that…”
“Not to me,” Harry corrected, a snap to his voice. “I’m not the one you insulted—directly, at least.”
Sally swallowed and looked over to Sherlock, much like a dog expecting a beating. “I’m … sorry … for my unprofessional language. I’ll try to do better in the future.”
Harry pursed his lips as he looked between them, taking in who knew what from Sherlock’s body language, then he gave a short nod and put the pad back in his pocket. “See that you do, Sergeant. This is unofficial, today, but if I hear you’ve been unprofessional on duty again, I’ll make it official, are we clear?”
“Yes, sir,” she said, looking eagerly at the doorway and practically bolting for it when Harry gave the nod.
Lestrade was left with the needed folder in one hand while he rubbed the back of his neck with the other. “Sorry about that. I should have done that months ago.” He looked over at Sherlock. “We okay?”
“Of course,” Sherlock said.
“Right. I’ll just go make sure Donovan’s not terrorizing any small children, then. Good to see you, John. Nice meeting you all,” and then he was gone.
Sherlock wasn’t surprised that everyone left was watching Harry. “You all right, mate?” offered Ron after a moment.
Harry looked almost dazed. “I don’t know how that happened. I hope I didn’t cause you trouble with her in the future, Sherlock.”
“It’s fine,” said Sherlock, waving his hand. “A little discipline will probably do her a world of good.”
“Well, we freaks need to stick together.”
There was a surge of protest from their friends, but Sherlock and Harry met each other’s eyes and knew—this was something ‘normal’ people couldn’t understand. Even when those normal people were wizards and therefore about as far from normal as one could reasonably be. Or did it count as normal if you grew up in a world where magic was commonplace, in which case it would be the non-magic users who were freaks?
A part of him marvelled at how easily he had accepted the existence of magic, and he wondered if most ‘normal’ people took longer. Well, they probably did. Not only was Sherlock exceptional where intelligence was concerned (no point in false modesty), but he’d actually been immersed in it, by visiting Hogwarts last night. It was simply impossible to have spent time arguing with portraits from centuries past without having “Magic” slotted into his brain as something real. Much more effective than a simple demonstration of levitation or a summoning spell. Total immersion.
He shook himself, pulling his attention back to the room to find the four of them all staring at him. “Sorry. What?”
“Harry wanted to know if you were serious about helping the wizarding world with its mysteries,” John said, obviously repeating. “If nothing else, it means you’d get certification that you’re a muggle who is legally allowed to know about us.”
“Which should avoid more problems with that prat, Reaver,” put in Ron. “I knew he could be obnoxious, but accosting a wizard in his own home and threatening to obliviate his flatmate on such flimsy excuse? Really appalling.”
“More importantly,” put in Hermione, “He’s not as good at his job as he thinks he is.”
“Especially where muggles are concerned.”
“Well, no,” she agreed. “He’s always bought into the pureblood propaganda and lets that influence his investigations more often than he should.”
John laughed. “So he’ll be delighted to have Sherlock coming to his crime scenes, then. Because they hit it off so well.”
Even Sherlock couldn’t resist the smile at that. The man’s personality was possibly even worse than Donovan’s—the difference being that he would apparently have no compunction about hexing Sherlock because of his non-magic status.
Harry was grinning now, though. “True. Maybe we should try to keep them apart for a while.”
“I don’t want to sound difficult,” Hermione ventured after a moment as her friends all groaned, “But … and, Sherlock, please don’t take this the wrong way, but … how much help will you be for solving wizarding crimes? I mean, I know how brilliant you are, observing and putting puzzles together, but don’t you need a foundation of basic knowledge to do that? You know how … I don’t know … chemistry works and can therefore smell sulphur and make deductions as to what happened, but would you be able to do that without knowing the charms and hexes you’re likely to come across?”
Sherlock was already nodding. Rather than be offended, he was almost relieved that someone else had had the wisdom to see the potential difficulties. Not that he saw them as difficulties. No, to him, they were challenges. It was like he’d been gifted an entirely new branch of science to discover. Granted, it was an illogical branch, but … there had to be some rules, hadn’t there?
“That’s easy,” John said. “I’ll just have to pull out my old schoolbooks from storage. Knowing Sherlock, he can probably manage the entire 7-year curriculum in a couple weeks.”
(Note: Wow—so happy everyone is so excited about this sequel! I know this chapter didn’t move the story along quite as much as it could have, but I so wanted a scene with Harry’s reaction to someone else being called “Freak,” I didn’t really care that it didn’t actually move the plot much. Don’t worry, though. Next chapter is when the REAL story begins. Brace yourself.)
It wasn’t quite that easy, but Sherlock did start studying. He often asked John to demonstrate certain spells, and they got into regular debates about what was Possible or How Magic Worked.
By the end of the first week, John was ready to call in a wizarding tutor for him, someone who could answer the advanced theory questions without wanting to tear out his hair. Though, on the other hand, it wasn’t like he didn’t need the review himself. It had been a while since he’d used magic, after all, and at least he had more patience for theory these days than when he’d been fifteen.
Actually, as the months went on, John found he was having a blast. (Luckily for the walls, though, not quite literally.)
Sherlock seemed to be enjoying himself, too. He complained—often—about the illogic of magic. John was certain that being unable to quantify and validate things ate at Sherlock’s scientific mind, but when he was willing to just let that go and explore possibilities, Sherlock was every bit as enchanted by magic as John had been as an 11-year old.
Although, until he started going over basic spell-craft with Sherlock, John hadn’t realized how fatal so many first year spells could be. Wingardium Leviosa, for example … well, he remembered the incident with the troll quite well. Petrificus Totalus could be extraordinarily useful for an abduction. Even a tickling charm … it was possible to literally laugh oneself to death, after all.
Actually, John was starting to be surprised that any of his classmates had survived Hogwarts at all. Forget about the moving staircases and the rest—the curriculum alone made the place a death-trap.
The interesting thing was that he hadn’t once given that a thought when he started assisting Sherlock to solve crimes. John had so firmly separated himself from the Wizarding world, it had never occurred to him that charms and hexes and potions could be so deadly in the wrong hands. Now that he and Sherlock were looking into Wizarding crimes, though, even on an irregular basis, he was quickly having to rethink that.
And, well, he had to admit the spreadsheet Sherlock was creating filled with basic spells, their possible criminal uses and means of detection was genius.
He wasn’t the only one who thought so, either. The first time Harry came by, he had stood in front of the chart for some time, hands behind his back as he read. “I never would have thought to use the Accio charm to disembowel someone,” was all he said.
“He hasn’t even started on the curses, yet,” John had told him, half laughing and half terrified. “If he’s come up with so many deadly uses for elementary charms, I shudder to think what he’ll do with some of the more advanced curriculum.”
Unfortunately, they hadn’t made it that far before Moriarty had reared his head again. Robbing the Tower of London? Really? It almost seemed that Moriarty had magic after all, except he knew he didn’t. But still, it didn’t keep John from detouring to Harry at the ministry immediately after leaving the courthouse after Moriarty was released.
“Absolutely,” Harry told him with conviction. “I told you months ago—he’s been circling around as if he knows we exist, but hasn’t actually made contact. We’ve been keeping an eye on him—this trial, especially. He’s a very gifted, very evil muggle, John, but he’s not a wizard.”
“I know,” John said, accepting a cup of tea. “It’s just that…
“Hell, yeah, I’m worried. He just managed to get exonerated for a crime he was photographed doing, for Merlin’s sake, and he’s coming after Sherlock.”
“Sherlock is a challenge for him,” Harry said, sipping his own tea. “You have to admit, your flatmate is certainly unique.”
“Oh, yes, that he is. I was lucky to find him.”
“After the war?” Harry asked. “I mean your war. Your second war?”
John just nodded at him. “Yeah, the one in Afghanistan. It left me feeling almost as broken as after the Battle of Hogwarts. Did I ever tell you how I met Sherlock?”
At his friend’s shake of the head, John launched into the story—Mike in the park, the Pink Lady, Mycroft’s kidnapping, the chase across the rooftops … even the cabby. “In 24 hours, I’d been cured of my limp, the tremor in my hand, and given a purpose again. I might not be able to perform surgery anymore, but…”
“You could now, though, couldn’t you? Since Madam Pomfrey restored the nerves?”
John shrugged. “Physically, yes, probably, but explaining that level of spontaneous nerve regeneration to the NHS is … problematic. And that’s okay, really. I’m out of practice.
“Yes, but … if we could fix your records?”
“It’s not like I’d really have time to practice medicine properly with Sherlock around.”
“Whoa, Harry, big word.”
“Side effect of almost three decades of friendship with Hermione,” Harry said with a shrug. “But you’re still avoiding the point.”
“No, I’m not. I’m just being realistic—something I’ve become very good at.” John looked over at the other man. “Why are you asking? I mean, you’re moving past polite conversation and into pointed questioning. You must have a reason.”
Harry nodded. “It’s … awkward.”
John could feel his eyebrows rising, but all he said was, “Okay.”
“Sherlock came to me and … this is weird, you know? I’m not in the habit of breaking confidences, but…”
John was starting to worry now. “What did he tell you?”
Harry drew in a breath and then expelled it. “Okay, look. Here’s what you need to know. There’s going to come a time—sooner rather than later, he thinks—when you’re going to have to resist interfering. At all. And that includes magic.
John was frozen in his chair, as if he’d just downed dry ice instead of hot tea. “Because of Moriarty.”
“He suspects,” Harry said, nodding. “The plus on our side is that Moriarty doesn’t know about the wizarding world, which gives us an edge.”
“Then why can’t I…?”
“Because that would tip your hand,” Harry told him. “The man is evil but he’s not stupid. He suspects that something like the wizarding world exists—which is extraordinary in its own right, you know. Not even Sherlock ever deduced our existence. If any magic is used against Moriarty now … it would just confirm his suspicions and make him work that much harder to uncover us, and I can’t let that happen.”
“So you’re just going to let Sherlock … what?”
“Sherlock has a plan, John—one I can’t tell you about because it depends on your reactions being entirely real. Just … when it comes to it, keep your wand in your pocket, all right?”
“You’re not making me feel better, Harry.”
“I know, but as someone who knows what it means to sacrifice himself for another—you have to let him do this. If you try to talk him out of it, it will just make something that’s impossibly hard even harder. You just have to have faith that it will work out.”
John was staring at him numbly now. “Sacrifice?”
“Just remember, John.”
Oh, John remembered the conversation, all right. He’d resisted the temptation to pull out his wand to hex the Chief Superintendent for gloating over Sherlock’s unfair arrest. He hadn’t jinxed off the handcuffs or used an Alohomora spell to break into Kitty Reilly’s flat. He hadn’t even hexed Mycroft as the man admitted having sold out his brother to a criminal mastermind.
John even managed to resist apparating back to Barts when he realized Mrs Hudson had decidedly not been in a terrible accident.
But now? Watching Sherlock on the roof? Listening to him telling John that this phone call was his note, that it had all been a trick?
John had never wanted to reach for his wand so badly.
And as Sherlock flung his phone aside and stretched out his arms, John almost did … except an invisible hand laid itself on his shoulder and Harry’s voice spoke into his ear, “Don’t. We’ve got it.”
So, he didn’t. He stood, numb, on the pavement and watched Sherlock fall to his death without doing a thing other than shouting his name.
Petrificus Totalus was indeed very helpful, thought Sherlock as he lay in the morgue, feigning death. So, too, had been the charm on the pavement that had cushioned his fall. Things would have gone rather differently had he not had access to the wizarding world. He might have even needed to ask Mycroft for help.
Had he been able, he would have shuddered at the thought.
No, going to Harry had been the right choice. The man knew about evil masterminds and grand gestures, after all. Sacrifices.
Which was how Sherlock was here, trapped by a modified Petrificus Totalus which masked all life signs but didn’t leave him completely stiff—rigor mortis only went so far, after all. The advantage was that it was completely convincing with no need for drugs or makeup.
Hermione had helped with that, actually. Sherlock hadn’t been entirely surprised that Harry had confided his plans to his oldest and dearest friends. It wasn’t like they couldn’t keep secrets, after all. The three of them had gone after a psychopath on their own when they were only 17. When he had finally gotten that story out of John, Sherlock had been astounded, but he found that was helpful now. They understood the stakes.
More importantly, they also knew John. Harry had promised that they wouldn’t tell John the plan, but that they would keep him from interfering.
Even more importantly, that they would keep him safe.
Sherlock didn’t know why he was therefore surprised when John was ushered into the mortuary later on.
“Merlin,” his friend breathed as Sherlock’s drawer was pulled out. Had it been physically possible, Sherlock’s heart would have beat faster at hearing the stress in his voice. Just the sound of it was agony, and he found he was grateful to be unable to see John’s face.
“John.” That was Hermione’s voice, edged with warning.
“Right,” John said, audibly swallowing as his footsteps moved closer. “I’m supposed to be here to identify your body, but … Jesus, Sherlock. I know you’re … but, Christ, this is all very, very real. I don’t know why you jumped because, really, what could have made you jump? But I’ll never believe you were a fake. I know what’s real, and this isn’t going to fool me. Seeing you like this … it just makes it more obvious. You’re a great man, and somehow, you did this to protect people, I’m sure of it. I just wish you’d trusted me with it. I’m not as bad an actor as you think. Thought.”
“Are you all right, John?” Ah, Molly was there, too, no doubt standing by nervously with her clipboard. That explained why John was doing this rather disjointed rambling instead of simply yelling at him. Mustn’t alert the muggles.
“Not really, no,” John said, and then he gave a hollow laugh. “Jesus, how am I going to explain this to Mycroft?”
Sherlock thought he heard a glimmer of humour in Hermione’s voice as she said, “You’ll want to talk to him about the funeral arrangements.”
“Yes. Make sure cremation isn’t top of his list,” agreed John, voice breaking slightly.
“Oh, did Sherlock not want cremation?” Molly asked.
“I think he worried about being burned alive,” John said, “Though at least that’s quicker than being buried alive … really, I’ll need to talk to his brother right away, won’t I? Hopefully he’ll give me some input, here. I wonder if he’s had any warning—with, er, the CCTV cameras.”
Hermione’s voice was gentle as she said, “I’m sure someone will have told him about the jump, but he’ll need you to tell him about the … circumstances.”
John gave a harsh laugh, so unlike his usual warm chuckle. “Like I’m the one to do that … Sherlock obviously didn’t confide in me.”
“You knew him better than anyone.”
“Maybe … though in some ways I think he underestimated me—but even so, he was still the best friend I’ve ever had.”
“Don’t worry, John,” Hermione said, “We’ll look after him.”
Even as Molly was asking who Hermione worked for, even through the spell holding his body totally immobile, Sherlock could feel John’s hand on his shoulder. “Au revoir, Sherlock.”
“I’m sorry, but Mr Holmes…”
“No, I need to see him.” John tried to infuse as much urgency and sincerity into his voice as possible, wishing it were Anthea manning the desk today. “The sooner the better.”
“You don’t understand, he’s had a personal emergency …”
“Yes, I know. I was there. It’s why I need to see him.”
“I’m sorry, Dr Watson, but you’re not on his list…”
Driven to the edge of his patience, John drew his wand and Confunded the poor woman, feeling only a momentary guilt before pushing the door open.
Mycroft’s office was dark, all the drapes pulled over the windows. The chair behind the desk was empty and, when John turned his head, he saw the man himself sitting in one of the chairs by the fire, a glass of whiskey in his hand.
“I told her not to let anyone in,” Mycroft said, voice level.
“I insisted,” John told him, giving the man a closer look. Mycroft had told him the very first time they met how much he worried about Sherlock, and while he superficially looked as composed as ever, John could see his distress in the crooked line of his tie, in the way his hair was ruffled, as if from having nervous fingers run through it.
By Holmesian standards, this was practically a nervous breakdown.
John nodded to himself and cast a Muffliato as well as a solid shield to interfere with any electronic surveillance equipment. He couldn’t be sure that was enough—this being Mycroft’s office, after all—but it was a start. He would just need to be discreet and hope Mycroft was as mentally alert as usual. “Mycroft…”
“You needn’t tell me, John. I already know about Sherlock.”
“Some of it, but you need to know about the arrangements he made,” John corrected him gently.
Mycroft turned slightly glazed eyes his way. “I beg your pardon?”
“Sherlock met with some old friends of mine the other day, to talk about … arrangements … in case he were to die suddenly.”
It was amazing, he thought, how quickly Mycroft’s gaze could sharpen. “Old friends?”
“From school, yes,” John said. “I don’t know what you might have in mind for Sherlock’s funeral, but thought you should know that he’d made arrangements with them in advance that might have some bearing on your decisions in this difficult time.”
“He … planned this?”
John nodded, even as he sank down into a chair. He wondered if he looked as bereft as the man opposite him. “I’m afraid so, but I don’t know the details.”
“He didn’t tell you, either?”
“No. He probably thought it was better for us if it came as a complete surprise, no time to second guess or over-think our actions. Something about keeping our reactions pure.”
Now Mycroft was nodding, and John was relieved to see some starch returning to the man’s spine, along with a lingering hurt that Sherlock hadn’t seen fit to include him in his plans. “Where is Sherlock’s body now?”
“Still at Barts … but my friends could take charge of it immediately, if you give them the go ahead. They’re professionals, after all.”
“Did you see him?”
John nodded again, mouth dry. “I did, and I recommend you wait until they’ve done their magic to make him look less … dead before you see him. It’s not a pleasant sight.”
Mycroft was watching him carefully now with something like concern. “You saw him jump?”
Every time he blinked or stopped consciously thinking about other things. John would never stop seeing it, he thought.
“Yes. And ID’d his body in the mortuary.”
“Did he tell you why?”
“He told me he was a fake,” John said, slightly accenting the word, “And that his reputation was all a magic trick. But I believe Moriarty was involved.”
And now Mycroft was a sharp and alert as ever. “Was he, indeed?”
That night, the night Sherlock jumped, John sat in his chair, head in his hand, trying not to think about how quiet the flat was.
He couldn’t face … well, anyone, really. He still didn’t know the whole story, but the one thing on which he was quite clear was that Sherlock was dead. But not really dead. Just dead to the world and to everyone who knew him. Like John. And the worst part was he didn’t know why.
Oh, John knew it had something to do with Moriarty. He knew Sherlock had known the danger in advance, since he had obviously contacted Harry for help.
Harry. But not John.
He rubbed at his forehead, trying to think. Trying to be fair.
Moriarty, of course, would have been watching John. According to Harry, he didn’t know about the wizarding world, but he would definitely have been watching Sherlock’s flatmate, his “pet” for suspicious behaviour. Had John done anything as strange as pulling out a wand while standing in front of Barts … chances are it would have drawn the wrong kind of attention.
In fact, knowing Moriarty’s penchant for snipers, it probably would have definitely done so.
But still, why hadn’t Sherlock said something? Here at 221B where … oh. Right. Where he had found a spy camera just before he’d been arrested … though that was odd in itself, wasn’t it? John regularly cast anti-surveillance spells to protect against just that thing. Maybe that in itself had made Moriarty suspicious?
And, anyway, hadn’t there been plenty of opportunities for Sherlock to have pulled John aside to tell him this was coming? While they were running, handcuffed, down the road together, perhaps? It’s not like John hadn’t known Moriarty was behind all of this. Even with John’s momentary confusion at Kitty Reilly’s, it had been obvious that all this had been an elaborate trap/ploy/game of Moriarty’s. John had known that just as well as Sherlock did.
And yet, Sherlock hadn’t come to John for help. He’d gone to Harry.
Well, everyone went to Harry.
It was hard, just at this moment, not to feel slightly resentful about that. He remembered back to first year when Harry and Ron had shifted their friendship to allow room for Hermione, and how he, John, had felt the need to back off to make room. Because that’s what he did—he backed off to let other people expand. Sure, he held his own ground when it was necessary—John was anything but a pushover—but he wasn’t one to push himself forward, either. Not unless it was important.
That was the problem here, actually. John would have protected Sherlock to the best of his ability, but he hadn’t been given the chance. Instead, his best friend—like everyone else—had turned to the wizarding world’s hero and once again, John was left in the dust.
He tried to tell himself that there was a reason for this. That this had been Sherlock’s way of ensuring John’s safety by using him as a blind to focus Moriarty’s attention while Harry and his invisibility cloak did the rest. John was just left with the mess, as usual. He had gone to Mycroft with information as if he had actually known what was going on, but otherwise? Now he was left here, alone and bereft yet again.
It was illogical that, somehow, knowing Sherlock was actually alive made this all harder, not easier.
The fact that John didn’t have a target for his gun or his wand didn’t help, either. He was sure he would feel better if he could just attack something. It was just unfortunate that there were presumably watchers outside, preventing him from doing anything useful that would throw off whatever Sherlock’s plan was.
Not that John knew the plan, since Sherlock hadn’t bothered to tell him.
And, damn, if that knowledge didn’t make him feel eleven years old again, watching Harry and Ron becoming friends with Hermione. Not that they’d deliberately excluded him. John remembered quite clearly the emotions behind his decision to back away from the trio, giving them room to bond without the guilt. That was his life, after all. Sooner or later, John Watson was always left on his own.
“What do you mean you’re not going to tell him?”
Sherlock looked over at Harry, shrugging as he slipped into a jumper that might have come out of John’s wardrobe. “Because he needs to be convincing.”
“Well, yes, but that was before. But, now… Sherlock, he knows you’re alive. You can’t just ignore him.”
“Why not? It’s not like I’m doing it because I want to. He’ll be fine.”
Harry just crossed his arms and shook his head. “Do you remember what I said to you in the Hogwart’s infirmary the night you found out about John’s magic?”
“The night he saved your life? Of course I do.”
Harry lifted his eyebrows. “Really? Because I don’t think you do. I told you that you need to make sure John knew he had a choice—that if he thought he was no longer needed or that he was in the way, he would walk away. He does it to keep from being pushed away, I think.”
Sherlock sighed. “Spare me your psychiatric babble. John will be fine.”
“Maybe. Depending on your definition of ‘fine.’ I mean, he’ll be isolated and alone and be forced to start his life over yet again after being losing another friend, but … you’re right. Why worry? John’s a survivor.”
“He hasn’t lost me as a friend,” Sherlock all but hissed at him. “I’m doing this because I’m his friend.”
“That’s true,” Harry acknowledged. “But does he know that?”
“He certainly should.”
“Should isn’t the same thing as does,” Harry said, watching as Sherlock pulled a cap on over his hair. “Sure you don’t want me to disguise you with a glamor charm?”
“You’ve done enough,” Sherlock said. Then, realizing that sounded less than gracious, added, “I am truly grateful for your help.”
“Worth it to get rid of a monster like Moriarty,” Harry said. “So … what should I tell John?”
“Tell him nothing. Keep him safe.” His gaze sharpened on the wizard as the other man gave a huff of a laugh. “What?”
“And here I thought you knew John. If you did, you’d know that keeping him isolated in the dark is the last thing that will keep him safe.” Harry sobered quickly. “I did promise, and I won’t tell him your plan if you don’t want me to, but I’m telling you, Sherlock. You’re making a mistake by cutting him out.”
“Nonsense. I’m keeping him safe.”
“Like I said, do you know John at all? The last thing John wants is to be safe, Sherlock. What John needs is to be needed, and without that, he’s just going to isolate himself. I’m saying this from experience … But, fine. It’s your mistake to make. I’ll keep an eye on him, but I can’t guarantee he’ll be sitting waiting for you when you come back. Call me if you need me.”
Sherlock nodded, suddenly feeling unsure. It wasn’t like he wanted to do this, after all. He had been driven to this by Moriarty. If he thought they would be safe, there was nothing he would like better than to go back to Baker Street with John and Mrs Hudson. But they wouldn’t be. They wouldn’t be safe until he had made sure Moriarty’s network was gone, and to be able to do that, he needed John here—a blind to distract surveillance while Sherlock attended to the necessary chores.
John would understand. He had to.
Sherlock would remember this conversation when he returned two and a half years later.
He came back to the expected smugness of his brother and the excited squeals of Mrs Hudson. Lestrade even gave him a bone-breaking hug which had actually surprised Sherlock.
But, when he asked after John … nobody seemed to know where he was.
“He moved out a few months after you … well, after the funeral,” Mrs Hudson told him. “I haven’t spoken to him in almost two years, now. He called once to say he was settled, and I’ve gotten an email or two from him, but … it hit him hard, poor dear.”
Sherlock was confused, and he hated being confused. Why had John reacted like this? It wasn’t like he hadn’t known Sherlock was alive. Had the man thought he wasn’t coming back? Because if so, that made him an idiot. Besides which, he was supposed to be here to draw attention away from Sherlock’s mission. Hadn’t that been made clear?
He wondered now at Mycroft’s comment earlier, that John had moved on with his life. Sherlock had assumed that meant he’d gotten a new job, or maybe a new boring girlfriend to help fill in his days while Sherlock was elsewhere. He hadn’t thought … his phone was in his hand by then, and as soon as his brother answered, Sherlock snapped, “Where is he?”
“Where is who, Sherlock?” came Mycroft’s hateful, smug voice.
“You know perfectly well, Mycroft. Where is he?”
“I honestly can’t say. For a time I had hoped that he’d gone with you, but that was obviously too much to hope for.”
Sherlock felt his nose crinkling into a sneer. “You constantly underestimate him, Mycroft.”
“Not him, Sherlock,” his brother replied. “You. I had hoped you would have been smart enough to bring the man with you on your little … crusade … but obviously that level of intelligent strategic thinking was beyond you.”
“Beyond … You’re talking nonsense, as usual. My ‘strategic thinking’ brought down Moriarty’s web.” Sherlock couldn’t keep the sting from his voice.
“Eventually, yes, but had you had reliable backup, you would no doubt have accomplished your task much sooner—and Dr Watson was indeed very reliable, before you turned him away.”
Sherlock wanted to crush the phone in his fingers. Why did nobody understand this? “I never turned him away, Mycroft. I did what I had to do to keep him safe.”
There was a small laugh from the other end of the connection and Sherlock fought hard to resist the urge to hang up on his hateful brother. “As I said—your lack of intelligent strategic thinking. Dr Watson was the veteran of two separate wars and had a … wide … and very … unique skill set that would have been enormously useful to you, but instead of including him, you chose to freeze him out for his own ‘safety’ which you and I both know has never been the doctor’s primary concern. And now you wonder why he hasn’t been sitting in his chair all this time waiting for you? Really, Sherlock. Even with your childish social skills, I expected better.”
Sherlock was beginning to expect the phone to crumble in his hand, he was clenching his fist so tightly. “Just … tell me where he is, Mycroft.”
“Would that I could, brother mine, but I’m afraid he’s been off-grid for two years now. Something you would have known had you ever bothered to respond to my messages.”
“Two years…” Sherlock was stunned. It was one thing for John to have moved two years ago, but to have fallen off Mycroft’s grid for that long? Annoying though he was, Sherlock had to admit that Mycroft was quite competent, and his surveillance was thorough … thoroughly annoying, in fact. For John to have escaped it for such a length of time…? “He could be dead,” he said on a short, spiky breath.
“Not as of last month,” Mycroft said. “I haven’t had contact with him, but he has made a point of sending me a note every quarter confirming his well-being. Thoughtful of him, really, considering the lengths to which he’s gone to avoid me in every other way.”
“Note?” Sherlock all be leapt on the clue. “What kind of note? Text message? Email?”
“Handwritten,” Mycroft told him. “Delivered by owl. Ring any bells?”
Oh, it did. An entire carillon was chiming away in his head as Sherlock received his first real lead to John Watson’s current location.
Stuffing the phone into his pocket, he grabbed his coat and hurried out the door.
“What makes you think I would tell you?”
Sherlock forced himself to stay relaxed in his chair as he watched Harry fiddle with a quill. “Because you must surely be as concerned about him as I.”
“So concerned you abandoned him for almost three years,” Harry said.
“Must we go into this again? I didn’t abandon him. He’s not a stray kitten, for heaven’s sake. He’s John Watson and quite a capable human being. I left to hunt down Moriarty’s criminal network in order to keep John safe. Now that I’m done, I’m back and wish to inform him of the fact. Is that so difficult to understand?”
Harry just met his gaze levelly. “No doubt he’ll be relieved to know that no-one new is after his skin. I’ll be sure to pass that message on.”
Now Sherlock did sit up, uncoiling from his slouch to lean forward. “If you tell me his location, I’ll be happy to save you the effort.”
“It’s no trouble,” Harry said, unintimidated. “Unlike some, I try to keep in regular contact with my friends.”
“You abandoned him for twenty years,” Sherlock said with an edge to his voice.
“No, we lost contact through a series of misunderstandings,” Harry corrected him. “I never deliberately tossed him aside.”
“Neither did I,” Sherlock said, stung. “I explained this to you quite clearly two years ago.”
“Yes, you did,” Harry interrupted. “But you didn’t explain it to him. I seem to remember telling you that you were making a mistake—advice you chose to ignore.”
Sherlock lifted an eyebrow. “So, what, you’re punishing me for that?”
“Oh, no,” Harry said. “I’m not that petty. But if John has chosen to leave Baker Street without a forwarding address—I can only think that he chooses to remain apart. I’ll be happy to tell him that you’re back and that you’re eager to see him. If you would like to write a letter, I promise to see that he gets it. I’m certainly willing to help … but I won’t tell you where he is, and I won’t take you to see him. That’s his decision, not mine—and definitely not yours.”
“No matter how generous your motives, you’re the one who left, Sherlock. That means you don’t get to waltz right back into whatever life he’s built for himself out of the wreckage.”
“I did it to keep him safe.”
Why did nobody seem to understand this?
“I know,” Harry said, “And believe me, I know the importance of keeping the people you care about breathing … but keeping them whole is almost as important.”
“All you need is some of this potion twice a day for the next three days, and then you should be fine,” John told his patient, inscribing his prescription with a wave of his wand. Interesting, he mused yet again, that his handwriting should be so much clearer with a wand than with a pen, though at least he wasn’t limited to quills anymore. With a medical practice that catered to both muggles and wizards, he had needed to make allowances. No ballpoints because they freaked out the witches; no quills because they freaked out the muggles. But a nice fountain pen? It was the perfect compromise, and John found that the act of cleaning and filling the pen to be oddly soothing … with fewer stains on his fingers than when he had used a quill in school.
He saw Mrs Phillips to the door and waited to hear if Mary had any more patients for him. His was one of the few combined medical practices he knew of—certainly the only one run by the same doctor. Or healer, if you were a wizard. It had been an interesting education, after Sherlock … left. There were still many things about wizarding medicine he didn’t know, but he was quick to send his patients on to specialists when necessary, and in the meantime, he was reading as much as he could, studying illnesses and potions … there was really more overlap than one would expect between the two branches of medicine, and since he had a solid muggle medical degree under his belt, well, at least he could identify the illnesses, even if he didn’t always know how to cure them.
The plus side was that his medical practice was there at all. Before his moving to Godric’s Hollow, there had not been a healer there of any kind, not for years. The fact that his office was right there, around the corner from the church and reassuringly out of sight of the cemetery, made for a lot of forgiveness where formal medical training came in. His nurse was uniquely qualified, too. Mary was a muggleborn, and since she’d grown up in a non-magical household, she knew about both worlds. Their surgery with its two consultation rooms with John’s office nestled in between was perfect. One room was set up for muggles, one for wizards. That, plus the extra coding on the files, made sure John made no mistakes about who knew what about which (witch) world.
All in all, it had been satisfactory these last two years. Oh, his life might not be as exciting as one fighting crime with the world’s only Consulting Detective, but it was uniquely challenging and stretched his medical knowledge to the limit.
Still, he always felt as if he were waiting for something … even if he didn’t like to allow himself to think what that was.
It explained his lack of surprise, though, when he stepped into his office and found Hermione Granger waiting for him.
“Hermione? What are you doing here?”
“John! It’s been too long—aren’t I allowed to visit?”
“Visit? Certainly, but most of the time, you’ve got ulterior motives. Please, sit.” He waved her to a chair and couldn’t help beaming at her as she sat down.
“As if I need ulterior motives to visit a friend?”
“All I said is that you usually do. I didn’t say it was all the time. But it is good to see you.”
“You, too.” She studied him for a moment, analysing him with a look that was all too familiar—not only did he use the same look on his patients, but he’d seen it on Sherlock’s face all the time.
“Okay, out with it,” he said, Captain’s voice at mid-staff.
“With what?” she started innocently, but then grinned. “You’re right … but it’s not so much an ulterior motive as … I’ve got news.”
He just looked at her. “Sherlock’s back,” he said, voice flat.
“Yes.” She pulled out a newspaper from her bag, laying it on his desk. “I’m surprised you didn’t see it.”
“I try to avoid the papers these days, and nobody here would know to connect me to him,” he said, lifting it to look at the large headline, studying the photo. “He looks well.”
“That’s what Harry said,” she told him with a nod.
“He’s seen him?”
“Mm hmm. Apparently Sherlock was quite insistent he tell him where you were.”
“Well, he can be,” John said absently as he glanced at the article. “But he doesn’t know Harry like we do.”
“Exactly.” She was reaching into her bag again. “Harry refused to give away your location, but he did offer to get a message to you, saying the choice after that was up to you.”
“So you’re his owl now?”
She smiled. “Something like that … though I’d prefer tea to owl treats, if you have any.”
John stared at the letter on his desk and then glanced at the clock. “Assuming Mary doesn’t have any more patients for me, I can do better than that—unless you need to get home?”
She rose to her feet. “Ron’s away on assignment for another day or two. I’m yours for as long as you need me.”
“Well, come on, then.”
Later, after Hermione left, John looked at the envelope, almost suspicious at this point, feeling superstitious about opening it. He’d moved beyond Baker Street now, and didn’t want to get sucked back in. He had a life here. His own cottage, his patients … it was quiet, yes, but also quietly satisfying. He didn’t know how he would feel about trying to turn back the clock. In his experience, the only viable direction was forward. The occasional look backward might be healthy, but trying to retrace your steps never worked.
Finally, with a sigh, he reached for a letter opener, but before he could slit open the envelope, his doorbell rang.
Letter in hand, he walked to the door. He didn’t get many visitors, so usually this meant emergency—though in that case, the absence of frantic knocking was reassuring. He opened the door, a polite greeting on his lips, but it and everything else froze as he stared at the man on his stoop.
“Sherlock.” The name was all he could manage.
“Good evening, John,” Sherlock said, eyes intent and presumably judging his calcium intake from the growth patterns in his hair.
“That’s all you have to say?” John asked, feeling betrayed, suddenly. Had Hermione given him away?
But Sherlock’s eyes were on the letter in his hand. “You haven’t opened it.”
John looked down blankly. “I thought I’d wait until I was alone, yeah. But that’s no reason … wait.” He started running his fingers over the stiff parchment envelope, feeling for lumps. “Did you place a tracker in this? You did, didn’t you. You couldn’t wait for me to come to you, could you? You just had to … you know what? Never mind. It’s good to see that you’re not dead, Sherlock. Have a lovely night.”
And then, quickly, he shut the door in Sherlock’s surprised face.
“John?” he heard from the other side of the door, an unusual plaintive tone to the deep baritone.
Leaning back against the door, John shook his head. No. He was not letting the man win that easily. Sherlock had left him alone without explanation for two and a half years, he could wait another night.
John pulled out his wand and warded the door. Then, thoughtfully, raised the wards surrounding his cottage. He didn’t expect any sort of malicious attack tonight, but he was going to keep that lanky git out of his home until he was ready to let him in.
John had no qualms about locking Sherlock out of his cottage. The man had forced John out of his life with no regard for anything John might have wanted or been able to offer, so it wasn’t like John was feeling any particular generosity of spirit.
He almost wished he could feel more surprised at Sherlock’s sudden arrival, but really, could he have expected anything else? Of course the man thought he could waltz right in and be welcomed with open arms. Listening to the muffled knocking as Sherlock tried to convince him to lower his wards, he grinned suddenly. Sherlock wasn’t the only one who could exclude people.
He reached for his phone and called Harry.
“You got the letter, then?”
“I did … but I didn’t have a chance to read it before he showed up on my doorstep.”
“I think he put a tracker in the envelope. And, well, I suppose he gets credit for finding one that wasn’t whammied by the use of magic to deliver it here.”
“Maybe so, but I’m going to be having words with him,” Harry told him, voice hard. “I told him the decision on meeting was yours. I’m so sorry, John.”
John was peering out the window, ignoring the slight distortion the wards made, as if the glass had rippled. Sherlock was leaning on the door jamb now, knocking half-heartedly with his other hand. His mouth was moving as he obviously tried to argue his way in, but John couldn’t hear any of it. He wondered if his neighbours could.
“Well, I didn’t let him in. In fact, I shut the door in his face and then warded the house.”
“Really?” John chuckled at the uplift to Harry’s voice. “Good for you.”
“He’s out there now, banging on the door.”
“And there’s supposed to be a storm tonight.”
“Even better,” John said. “So … he really thought he could just walk in here?”
“I did tell him, you know,” Harry told him. “Back when he jumped and again yesterday.”
“Tell him what?”
“That John Watson moves forward, he doesn’t look back—and that you are disgustingly self-effacing about keeping out of the way when you feel unwanted.”
John really wasn’t sure how to respond to that.
“He might be an idiot with no real sense of boundaries or how to behave, but … he hasn’t exactly been on holiday these last two years, you know?”
“I know … but like you said, I move forward. My life’s here now.”
“Then you should tell him that … if you ever decide to let him in.”
But even John knew that he would be talking to Sherlock sooner rather than later. He could be impossibly stubborn when he needed to be, but while John could turn his back on his friends for their sakes, he had always had a hard time resisting them later if they really needed him.
John liked to think he would have held firm on the if-not-when thing if Harry hadn’t been right about the storm that night. When John was woken by gale-force winds around 2:00 a.m., he went looking to see if Sherlock had had sense enough to take cover.
The answer turned out to be both yes and no. Sherlock hadn’t had the sense to go to a hotel or anywhere warm, but he had taken advantage of the covered porch to at least get out of the rain. He was sitting on one of the wicker chairs, coat wrapped tightly and legs drawn up—looking incredibly stubborn and cold.
John resisted for about another minute, but then the doctor in him jolted his conscience, reminding him that it’s easier to prevent pneumonia than to treat it, and so he lowered the wards and opened the door.
“Come inside where it’s warm.”
Sherlock’s head lifted and he blinked warily at John. “Am I welcome?”
“What kind of doctor would I be if I let you catch your death in front of my house?”
Sherlock was getting to his feet, stiff and slow. “In your present mood, I’m not sure I could depend on your medical care.”
John stood back, holding open the door. “Don’t be silly. I would never turn you away if you were sick. I’d cure you first and then turn you out.”
A fleeting smile crossed Sherlock’s face as he gave a patently fake cough. John could feel a smile playing at his own lips for a moment, too, until Sherlock began coughing in earnest. “Right. Take off your coat. Are you wet or just cold?”
“Mostly just cold,” Sherlock said with a shiver.
John nodded and then pointed his wand to cast a warming spell on his erstwhile flatmate. He refrained from smirking at the expression of delighted surprise and tossed Sherlock a knitted afghan from Mrs Hudson, before heading to the kitchen. He picked up the kettle and filled it with water before reaching down two mugs and the teabags. Then, thoughtfully, he got out the brandy, too, adding two shots to the waiting mugs. Impatient, he tapped the kettle with his wand, forcing it to a boil. Pouring, he looked at Sherlock, who seemed to be watching with some amazement. “You hadn’t forgotten I was a wizard?” he asked.
“No, just … you don’t usually use it so casually.”
“I didn’t,” John corrected him. “But I do now.”
Sherlock didn’t say anything else for a bit. He just sat huddled inside his afghan, holding the mug in his long fingers. With a considering look, John pulled out a tin of biscuits one of his patients had left him and laid it on the table as he leaned back against the counter, sipping at his own tea.
“So, you’re alive,” he said after a while.
Sherlock nodded. “As are you—though I was surprised you’d left London.”
“There was nothing keeping me there anymore.”
“I suppose I just never imagined you anywhere else.” Sherlock sipped at his tea and John considered how surreal this was. “Isn’t this a bit …dull … for you?”
John thought back to his day. Yes, a couple of his patients had had fairly mundane colds, but there had also been a toddler who’d managed to grow fairy wings and a witch who had almost lost a hand to a biting mailbox. He had once fondly thought that the only medicine that would keep his interest was either combat-casualties or A&E, but it turned out that a blend of muggle and wizarding magic made his days just fly by. (He’d even checked once to make sure the hands on the clock hadn’t been charmed to move faster.) He might not be saving lives from guns and kidnappings, but he was performing a variety of medicine he never would have dreamed of when he’d been in Hogwarts.
So, it was really all he could do not to laugh at Sherlock’s question. “Well, the hours are more regular, and I get something resembling a full night’s sleep most nights, but, no, I’m never bored.”
He thought Sherlock looked disappointed at that. “I see.”
“You didn’t really expect me to just sit in 221B like a toy waiting for its owner to come back and play with it, did you?”
“Well, no, John, that would have been absurd. I just … in my head, while I was gone, I often pictured you going about your day. I would think about where you were likely to be and it was … a comfort.”
“You thought about me?”
Sherlock’s eyes flared up at him. “Of course I did. I threw myself off a building to save your life, John. It can’t come as a surprise that I would think of you from time to time.”
The sharp snap to his voice immediately made John’s hackles rise. “Considering you kept me completely in the dark as to what you were doing or why you jumped, I didn’t exactly know that , did I?”
“Don’t be stupid, John. Of course you knew.”
And there was the sweet, gentle Sherlock he’d been so fond of, John thought. “How exactly was I supposed to know this, Sherlock? You didn’t tell me anything. You certainly didn’t pass on any messages after your jump. The last I saw, you were playing dead in the mortuary … very convincingly, I might add. If Hermione hadn’t been there to reassure me that you weren’t actually dead, I…”
Sherlock looked honestly surprised. “What are you talking about? You knew it was all a trick.”
“No, I didn’t, Sherlock. Not until Harry showed up in his invisibility cloak and told me not to pull my wand to save you. But even then … I still didn’t know why you jumped or what you were doing. I certainly didn’t know that you were about to disappear to Merlin knows where for over two years. Two years, Sherlock! Without a word!”
“But you knew I wasn’t dead, John.”
It was all John could do not to throw his tea across the kitchen. “I knew that you weren’t actually dead two and a half years ago—but that didn’t mean you mightn’t have been dead now. Without any evidence to the contrary, for all I knew you’d been shot or stabbed or run over by a car or even dead of starvation because I wasn’t there to tell you to eat at any time in the last two years. How would I know? You didn’t care enough to send a message!”
The look of shock on Sherlock’s face was almost gratifying. “But … They didn’t tell you?”
“Harry? Mycroft? Hermione? Any of them?”
“No, Sherlock. In fact, I was the one who had to tell Mycroft you weren’t actually dead … which is a laugh, you know, since I’m apparently the only one who was kept in the dark.”
“No,” Sherlock said. “Mycroft didn’t know, either. I couldn’t be sure there were no leaks in his office—Moriarty had ears everywhere. The only ones I could be sure he wouldn’t be able to bug or track were your wizarding friends, and Harry was … understanding … about the need for a sacrifice.”
“He would be.”
“Which is why he helped. I had thought they would keep you informed though … after.”
“They know how to keep secrets, Sherlock.”
“But you’re their friend.”
“Yes … and they looked out for me. They swore they weren’t going to let me disappear this time. Harry found me this cottage and Hermione helped set me up with my practice … but they never talked about you, Sherlock. I did ask, at the beginning, but … I finally stopped because I was afraid they were keeping quiet because they didn’t want to break the news that you were really dead. I figured when they had something to say, they would do so. I just … never expected it to go on this long.”
He had to admit he was gratified at the appalled look on Sherlock’s face. Apparently his flatmate had expected this to play out differently.
And just then, John didn’t care. He was experiencing such a range of conflicting emotions, he wasn’t even sure what he felt. Was anger paramount? Hurt? Relieved? So many emotions, so little time.
He didn’t know what showed on his face, but after a moment, Sherlock said, “I’m sorry, John. I never meant for you to suffer.”
John just lifted his eyebrows as he turned his face away. “You have an odd way of showing it, then.” He looked up at the clock. “I have an early day tomorrow. You’re welcome to stay. I have a guest room where you can sleep undisturbed—you look like you need it.”
Sherlock just nodded. “I admit I am tired.”
“Right. Come on.” John heaved himself to his feet and started out of the room, gesturing back with his wand just long enough to send the tea mugs to the kitchen sink. He led the way to the guest room and cast a spell on the sheets to air and warm them. “Bathroom’s down the hall. I … I don’t know how early you’ll be up in the morning, but…”
“I’ll be here when you get back,” Sherlock told him. “Though I’d be curious to see your medical practice.”
John couldn’t help a slight smile at that thought. “I’m proud of it, it’s true, but … maybe not tomorrow, yeah?”
“Right, then. Good night.”
The next morning, John wasn’t surprised to find Sherlock awake when he came down for breakfast. Not quite ready to talk, John just nodded to him as he moved about the kitchen, preparing toast and eggs. When Sherlock asked, though, he told him about the challenge of having a “mixed” medical practice. He talked about living in a town that had both muggles and wizards and how interesting that was—because, yes, London was both as well, but that felt completely different. The dynamic here in Godric’s Hollow was more organic, somehow, more peaceful as the two groups lived together but separately, half of them entirely unaware of their village’s split personality.
“I would have thought you’d find that dull,” Sherlock said eventually.
John shrugged. “I did, too. I never thought I’d live anywhere but London—for the adrenalin rush, if nothing else—but this has been … interesting. It’s a unique town—it’s got a high percentage of wizards, but they coexist peacefully with the muggles. It’s just that it’s a bit of a challenge when you bump into someone—figuring out which side of the line they belong to, not saying the wrong thing by mistake. It keeps it from being boring, even if it’s not exactly high on adrenalin rushes.”
“Mmm.” Sherlock gave a small nod, looking thoughtful. “I suppose that added complexity would help make it less …”
“Exactly.” Sherlock grinned at him. “You seem content.”
John was surprised. It was not a word he’d ever expected to be applied to himself. But then, he hadn’t expected to use it to describe Sherlock, either. “It’s a good place,” he said. “And I really did need to get out of London for a while.”
Sherlock was watching him intently now, eyes wary, but before he could say anything, the fire flared up. “John? You around?”
John spun to the fireplace, expecting a patient for a moment before realizing that they wouldn’t call him by his first name. Instead, he saw Ron’s head, red hair blending with the blue flames. “Ron?”
“Oi. Glad I caught you.”
“I thought you were away for a couple of days?”
“Well, I would have been, but … is Sherlock with you?”
John glanced over his shoulder. “Yeah. Why?”
“Can we come through?”
John stepped back with a nod. “I have to leave for work soon, but sure. Come on,” he said, even as he wondered who Ron meant by “we?” And then realized he should have known when Harry and Ron stepped through, followed quickly by Hermione, who glared at Sherlock. “What did we tell you about waiting?” She turned to John and gave him a hug. “I’m sorry. He was supposed to at least give you a chance to read the letter.”
He nodded as he patted her back somewhat awkwardly. “It’s Sherlock. He never waits. It’s fine.”
“Really?” she asked, looking up. “Actually fine? Or the John Watson version of fine that means ‘not really, but I don’t want to make a fuss’?”
“Yes,” was all John said, as Ron gave a laugh.
“Leave him alone, ‘Mione. John’s fine. Sherlock’s the one you wanted to yell at, remember?”
“I’m not yelling at John,” she said, protesting, even as she turned back to Sherlock. “I am, however, yelling at you. Was Harry not clear, Sherlock?”
He shrugged. “You were all clear. I just disagreed.”
“You just…” her hand was clenching her wand now as she glared at the detective—the one who was about to be cursed in any of a million possible creative ways, knowing the breadth of the spell knowledge Hermione kept in her head.
Harry was the one who stepped forward, blocking Hermione’s wand hand. “You can hex him later, Hermione. We do actually have another reason we’re here.”
Ron nodded. “There’s … what do muggles call it? Chatter? There’s chatter about a terrorist strike coming, something big, but we can’t figure it out. The only thing we know for sure is that it’s a pureblood-rights organization that wants to strike back at muggles, somehow. I know we’ve passed information on to the muggle government, but … there are things they’re going to miss because they don’t know about us and, well … we could use your help.”
John spent the rest of the morning walking on legs that didn’t feel as if they were there. He felt as if he’d been hit with a variation of the jelly legs curse—one that left them solid but feeling like jelly.
Sherlock was not only still alive, but he was at John’s house.
And there were terrorists targeting the government, while he was here diagnosing colds and minor cases of dragon pox.
It was lucky the cases weren’t more challenging, though. John’s mind wasn’t exactly at its best. He was only lucky that he’d accidentally pulled out his stethoscope for one of his wizarding patients. It was a lot easier to explain away a curious muggle artefact to a wizard than to try to explain why he was holding a wand to one of his non-magical patients.
He was grateful for a relatively slow morning of patients, but by lunch, he couldn’t take it anymore. He told Mary to cancel the afternoon’s appointments and headed home, only stopping to pick up some Chinese on his way home.
He found himself slowing down, though, the closer he got to his cottage. Part of him was eager with the anticipation of helping, of being involved with a case again. At the same time, though, he was torn. He was well aware that letting Sherlock (not to mention Harry and Ron) drag him into solving cases again was going to be a problem. It had been different before, when he’d just temped as a part-time doctor around Sherlock’s schedule, but now? Not only did he have a full-time job, it was his own practice. Not something he could walk away from, even if he wanted to.
He came to a stop in the middle of the pavement, staring at his own front door. Was this something he would want to give up? Even to work in London again, to be with Sherlock?
He stood there, plastic bag handles cutting into his hands, lost in thought for a moment until he was jostled by a young man as he walked by. John turned to stare at the man’s back. “Excuse you,” he said, even as he felt a spark of warning going off in the back of his head. That kind of behaviour might be normal in London, but here? The people of Godric’s Hollow were almost all friendly and polite—he remembered what an adjustment it had been, after London.
In fact, he thought, he hadn’t seen anybody act like that here in Godric’s Hollow ever. And now? The day after Sherlock returned? He came to full alert, giving his wrist a twist to drop his wand to his hand, watching the way the young man looked back over his shoulder.
And then he felt a needle enter his neck, and he was falling, wand clattering to the ground even as he cursed himself for the lazy habits he’d gotten into. If he could be ambushed this neatly, he’d obviously been rusticating too long. Rusticating, he thought. Sherlock had barely been back twelve hours and he was already picking up his speech patterns. This really wasn’t good.
His last thought as he blacked out was that, if he’d had any doubts, it was definitely real. Sherlock was back.
“What do you mean he’s not here?”
Sherlock tried to keep his voice calm, but the woman behind the counter still bristled. “Don’t take that tone with me. Doctor Watson will be back in the office tomorrow. If you have an emergency, I can …”
“He was here this morning.”
The blonde woman nodded her head. “I understand that, but it doesn’t change my answer. Dr Watson is not here. He had an old friend drop by yesterday, and since our schedule was fairly slow today, he decided to cancel the rest of the appointments. He left at lunch, I assume to go meet her.”
Sherlock stared. “It’s only a ten minute walk to his cottage.”
She lifted an eyebrow at him, as if questioning how he knew that.
“Even if he had stopped to pick up food …” Sherlock didn’t bother to finish the sentence but just swung around on his heel and headed for the door. Where was John?
Eyes tracking the pavement, he walked back to John’s cottage, looking for signs of struggle or illness—anything. It wasn’t until he arrived in front of the house, though, that he spotted anything, and as he did, he felt his blood run cold. (An expression which had never made sense to him because, of course, it was a physiological impossibility. It turned out, however, that colourful, metaphorical language did indeed have its place.)
He heard a motorbike pulling up as he was reaching under the hedge to lift out what, yes, was indeed John’s wand. His wand, which even Sherlock knew was not something a wizard would ever casually discard. Even in those long years when John couldn’t do magic at all, he had kept his wand safe and cherished. To find it now, abandoned on the pavement like an old twig … there was definitely a reason there was a chill running up his spine.
“Stop right there,” came a voice behind him. He blinked, recognizing it, and then turned to the woman who had pulled up on the bike.
Mary Morstan was standing next to her bike, her own wand pointed right at him. “What have you done with Dr Watson?”
Sherlock was honestly surprised. “Me? Why do you think I would do anything to John?”
“You came in asking questions, but I’ve never seen you before. And you’re holding his wand. I’ll need you to drop it.”
Sherlock glanced down at the maple in his hand. “When it’s the only clue to his disappearance? I think not. Besides, it’s not like I can use it for anything worse than poking you in the eye with it.”
He was gratified by her look of surprise. “You’re not a wizard?”
“No, Sherlock Holmes, pure muggle.” He couldn’t resist the sneer at the word. “The fact that John’s wand is here on the pavement is telling, don’t you think? It couldn’t have fallen from his wrist sheath accidentally, which means that he had to have had it in his hand. But why would he do that right outside his home? He lived too long without magic to need it to open the gate unless his hands were full—which would mean he wouldn’t be able to hold the wand, either. But if he were attacked…”
He turned around, eyes on the pavement, looking for traces … ah! “A packet of soy sauce.”
He frowned at her sceptical tone. “Yes.”
“That’s just garbage on the street. It doesn’t mean anything.”
“Yes, it does. The pavement is still dry underneath it despite the drizzle, so it hasn’t been here long. John also loves Chinese food and would have brought some back for lunch. He never can resist making sure I eat, and no doubt would have picked up my favourite things—except the bag spilled when he was taken.”
The woman’s face looked numb now. “Taken?”
“Yes, obviously. He would have drawn his wand defensively but was somehow taken by surprise. It had to have happened quietly, or I would have heard it.”
“You … how would you have heard? Who are you?”
He tried to restrain the sigh. Couldn’t she see there were more important things to be worrying about? “I told you. I’m Sherlock Holmes. An old friend of John’s, remember?”
She looked bewildered. “But that was a woman yesterday…”
“That would have been Hermione, delivering my note,” he told her. “I’m the one who spent the night.”
“You … spent the night?” She was blushing now, which he would have found amusing had the situation not been so dire.
“Again, obvious, but hardly the relevant detail. The important question is where is John now?” He looked at her, noting the pale face. “Which brings me to my original question—what are you doing here, Ms Morstan?”
“I’m … I’m looking for Dr Watson.”
“Your boss, who gave you the afternoon off? Do you make a habit of showing up at his residence?”
“No, but…” She dug into her pocket and pulled out a slip of parchment. “I got this.”
Why was it so bloody hot in here, John wondered. And why was his bed so uncomfortable all of a sudden? He shifted, trying to find a more comfortable position, but the effort was just too much, and so he just lay there, panting a bit while he tried to figure out why he was so uncomfortable, though that was an effort in itself because he couldn’t seem to pummel his brain into functioning at all. Everything was a hazy blur, so much so that he wasn’t even entirely sure whether his eyes were open or closed, because everything was just … fog. Fog? Maybe smoke. For some reason, he was thinking about smoke. Not charcoal, like from a grill. Not tobacco smoke, either, but wood smoke, like … ah, right. Guy Fawkes Day. Except, why would he be able to smell bonfire smoke here?
Mental haze or not, he shifted again, trying to sit up because obviously there was something wrong.
And then realized he couldn’t move. At all.
He blinked his eyes, trying to pull them into focus. What was wrong with him? A dim memory wisped by, of an obnoxious young man, and a sharp prick at his neck … oh. The pieces fell sluggishly into place, helped by the magnetic pull of old familiarity. Sherlock was back, so naturally John had been kidnapped.
This meant that he needed to struggle, of course, to try to free himself, but he was doubly trapped. Not only could he barely force his muscles to obey any instructions at all (what had been in that syringe?), but there was simply no room. He remembered hiding in a hedge when he was a boy, running from Harry on one of her rampages, and this felt just the same—cramped and tight, with lots of sticks poking at him from every direction.
He coughed then, and blinked, trying again to force his eyes and head into recognizing anything at all, but all he could see was dark sky above him, with drifting grey clouds obscuring the stars.
Except … he tried to squint upward, as he coughed again, pulling dry air into his already parched throat. Were they clouds? And why did he keep thinking of campfires?
Then he realized … no, those were not clouds floating above his head. And no, it wasn’t a hedge he was stuck in.
This was a bonfire.
And he had the best seat in the house.
“What do you mean you don’t know?” Sherlock all but spat the words into the phone.
“Exactly what I said, Sherlock. What did you think it meant when I told you Dr Watson had gone off-grid? I have no surveillance on him at all. How did you misplace him?”
“Then what good are you?” Sherlock disconnected with a jab of his finger, regretting the ability to slam down a phone. Convenient as mobiles were, they were singularly unsatisfying for ending an irritating conversation.
It had been too long. John had been missing for hours before Sherlock even knew. Abducted from right outside his own cottage while Sherlock was wasting time … wasting time. All that time casually thrown aside and ignored, when he could have been helping his friend.
How was this possible? He’d only been back for 24 hours, and John had been kidnapped?
Sherlock looked across the room at Mary. She was leaning into John’s fireplace (a sight that still startled Sherlock), calling Harry. They had agreed that she would contact John’s wizarding friends while Sherlock worked the muggle side, but … what good was that? Unless the wizards had some kind of magical tracking charm, there was nothing to go on. Nothing but the note Mary had found.
He picked up the parchment again, regretting the lack of fingerprint data. Even if he could find usable fingerprints on this scrap, it wasn’t like wizards had a criminal database … or not for anything as scientific as fingerprints or DNA. He tilted the paper, examining the pen strokes, the way they dug into the surface of the parchment.
But … wait.
Wizards used quills. They hadn’t even advanced to fountain pens, but clung stubbornly to messy, inefficient writing implements made from goose feathers. Sherlock remembered being both intrigued and appalled by this when John had told him. Ignoring the advent of plastic disposable ballpoint pens he could understand. Clinging to tradition … well, it was clear the wizarding world was slow to advance. But metal pens had been available for … he didn’t even know how long. Centuries? The even more-convenient fountain pens had been around in their current incarnation since the mid-1800s. It was an innovation one would think even wizards would have taken advantage of. All those students at Hogwarts juggling open bottles of ink and quills was just asking for trouble … and what adult wanted to go through life with ink-stained fingers from simply writing a note?
No, the use of actual feather quills had been one of the anachronisms that Sherlock had least been able to understand. He had, however, taken advantage of an opportunity to explore a new course of study. One of the things that had become immediately evident had been that quills made from feathers are fragile. Oh, fairly sturdy, yes, or they would be useless as reservoirs for ink, but still … they were feathers. They needed constant sharpening, hence the long-standing practice of carrying pen-knives. They also were easily crushed if one held them in too tight a grip, or if one pressed too hard against the parchment.
Quills needed to glide lightly across the surface of the paper to be effective.
This scrap of parchment, though, showed clear signs of wear. Holding it so the light reflected across the surface, there were obvious scratches where a pen nib had dug into the surface. Furthermore, there was no progression of ink flow from heavy to light like one would expect as a quill was repeatedly filled with ink.
He was just reaching for his magnifying glass when the distinctive Pop of apparition sounded in the room.
“Sherlock? What happened to John?”
Sherlock just nodded, eyes intent on the scrap in his hands. “This was not written by a quill.”
He looked up and met Harry’s eyes. “This threatening note that Mary says was left on her desk. It was not written with a quill. Someone used a fountain pen.”
He tried to throttle down his frustration as Harry just blinked at him for a moment, and then he saw comprehension dawn. “So, it was a muggle?”
“Or they wanted us to believe so. I noticed that John has several fountain pens on his desk here—I assume he started using them as a compromise writing implement for his mixed medical practice?”
He looked over at Mary, who was nodding. “Yes. He said it hit the right balance between the two worlds—new but not outlandish for the wizards, quaintly old-fashioned for the muggles, but not shocking for them either. But how did…?”
“There are impressions on the paper from the weight of the nib pressing down,” Sherlock explained. “When using a quill, one must let the pen do the work of letting the ink flow. If you grip it too tightly or press down too hard, it interferes with the ink distribution. People from the magical world simply do not press hard with a pen when they write. This note, however, shows distinct signs that the author was applying pressure to the pen … therefore he could not have come from the wizarding world.”
“He?” asked Harry.
Sherlock nodded. “Obvious from the way the letters are shaped. The point, though, is that we are meant to think the note came from a wizard, when in fact the odds are good it comes from a non-magical person. The question now is whether the deception is meant to lead us to the right place to help John, or if it’s a trap.”
It was getting hotter now, thought John, as he tried to cough away the smoke wreathing his nose. He didn’t know what kind of paralytic he’d been injected with, but it made moving almost impossible. Not only was there no room to move, but he couldn’t manage to control his muscles enough to do anything constructive—not even something as simple as drawing a deep breath.
He could hear chanting around him. He wasn’t here alone, then. There were people gathered to watch … if only he could somehow draw their attention! But no, he couldn’t move. He couldn’t even get his mouth open properly to yell.
And meanwhile, it was getting hotter. How Wendolyn the Weird had enjoyed being burned alive, he would never understand.
“Trap or not, we need to find him,” Mary said.
“I agree,” said Sherlock, “And the sooner the better, don’t you think, Harry?”
The voices were getting louder now—shouting rather than talking. And sounding angrier. He strained to move, but couldn’t lift his head more than a couple inches without hitting it on a sturdy branch dangerously close to his eye.
With a huge effort, he finally managed to get his mouth open and summon a breath at the same time. “Help!” he called, getting desperate now.
For a moment he thought it had worked, when he heard the voices respond with a chorus of screams. And then he realized they weren’t horrified screams at all. Those had been screams of delight, like children at a fair, or teenagers at a rock concert.
They were delighted.
And then John remembered the date.
He was in so much trouble.
Harry was staring out the window, seeming lost, suddenly.
He turned, looking a bit bewildered, and then shook himself. “Sorry. Right. What?”
Sherlock paused, watching the man. “What is it?”
“Nothing to do with John,” Harry said. “I just … it’s just that I realized that we’re in Godric’s Hollow. It’s the first time I’ve been here since … it’s the …”
Sherlock really didn’t have time for this, but even he couldn’t miss Harry’s sudden, unexpected vulnerability. “It’s the what?”
“It’s the first time I’ve been here on this date since my parents were murdered,” Harry said. “On Halloween, just like it is tonight. It was the last time we were a family. I was just realizing that you can almost see the house from here.”
Sentiment, thought Sherlock, though he tried to think of something tactful to say. Something other than what does that matter now, John’s been kidnapped? Before he could think of anything, though, Harry had straightened to attention, looking more intently through the glass. “What is it?”
“There’s … I think there’s a fire out there.”
“A fire? But it’s a week too early for Bonfire Night,” said Sherlock, crossing to peer out the window as well. Harry was right. In the distance, there was an orange glow.
That should have been unimportant, but something about it made his thumbs twitch. Turning, he strode to the door and opened it, listening intently. Off in the distance, he could hear screams—excited screams, happy ones, even—but ones which made his blood chill.
He realized Harry was beside him and Mary crowded behind, all of them staring. Then Sherlock’s eyes widened. The note … “John!” he said with a gasp.
“What?” Harry turned to him.
“John! That’s where he is. It’s nothing to do with me at all.” Sherlock could barely breathe with the shock and sudden terror that gripped him. It all made such horrible, horrifying sense. How could the others not see it? He struggled to find the breath to explain. “It’s a witch hunt. A real one. They’ve taken him because he’s a wizard.”
“Merlin,” Harry breathed, but only for a second, and then he was gripping Sherlock’s arm and, with a twisting, nauseating wrench, they were gone.
And yes, of course, on the show, the fire was there for Guy Fawkes Night, but we’re talking witches and wizards here—I couldn’t resist moving it up a week and putting this on Halloween instead.
John was chanting freezing charms under his breath now, telling himself that it worked for Wendolyn back in the days of witch hunts, so it could work for him, but he didn’t think it was making a difference. Maybe if he’d had his wand, or been able to bloody think it would be working better. It’s not like wandless magic was possible outside childish outbursts of accidental magic.
Still, it seemed like that could be possible. If you could do it instinctively at five, well … who said instincts didn’t work when you were 40? Didn’t mothers lift cars off their trapped children? What did he have to lose? And so, unable to do anything else, he forced himself to concentrate on freezing charms. They were supposed to make the flames tickle rather than burn, right? Surely he could do that. And, if all the wood piled around him burned away to ash, think how easy it would be to just get up and walk away.
If only he had more air …
The screams were suddenly loud in his ear as Sherlock stumbled, staggering as he and Harry landed (appeared? manifested?) next to a derelict house.
Or where a house should be, he thought, looking at what appeared to be an empty lot. Except, judging by the look Harry gave it, it wasn’t. Sherlock suppressed a sigh at the illogic of the wizarding world, hiding things in plain sight, like the Leaky Cauldron’s entrance to Diagon Alley.
At any rate, why was Harry looking there? John had been kidnapped by muggles and therefore couldn’t be held behind a magical barrier.
No, this was a witch hunt, which meant … he spun on his heel, looking for the source of the smoke, and then grabbed Harry’s arm. “Over there.”
Harry looked, taking in the crowd of some thirty people. He nodded even as Sherlock moved forward. “Wait,” he told him.
“What?” Sherlock couldn’t believe his ears. John was being roasted alive and Harry expected him to just stand there?
“There are too many people to get him out safely, not until we have reinforcements.”
“But…” Sherlock shifted his weight to move toward the fire, and found his feet pinned to the ground. He glared at Harry, but found the wizard looking past him, at Mary.
“I’m sorry, Sherlock, but you’ll just get yourself killed if you go in there right now. There are too many of them. Have you never faced a mob before?”
Just then, he heard John’s voice, faint over the crackle of the fire. “Help!”
“Oh my god,” said Sherlock, barely able to breathe.
He felt a hand on his shoulder, and then Harry’s voice in his ear telling him not to worry as Harry stretched out his wand and cast a spell with a series of nonsensical syllables. “Freezing charm,” he explained, except the flames continued their ravaging dance. Sherlock started to ask but Harry was already explaining. “It doesn’t stop the flames, it just protects one from the heat. Wendolyn the Weird used it during the witch trials centuries ago—she enjoyed the sensation so much, she let herself be burned as a witch many times. It’s one of the few things I learned in History of Magic.”
“But…” Sherlock was unused to finding himself speechless. His mind was racing. Heat wasn’t the only danger from a fire. Smoke inhalation was actually more deadly. And what if the mob discovered its victim was unharmed? There were any number of torturous ways Sherlock could think of for a mob to kill a man. John was in danger, and Sherlock couldn’t even move his feet!
Harry somehow knew his frustration and nodded, eyes intent on the scene in front of them, watching for any change in behaviour from the fanatics dancing around the bonfire. “I’ve sent for back-up. They’ll be here any minute. We’re not going to let anything happen to him, Sherlock.”
“The smoke, though…”
Mary was at his other shoulder now. “Good point,” she said, pointing her own wand and sending something like a breath of air shooting toward the fire. For a moment, Sherlock caught his own breath, knowing what a burst of oxygen could do to a fire already so large, but nothing happened. Or at least, nothing he could see.
He couldn’t hear John anymore, either. The delighted screams of the crowd around the fire were too loud. Delighted screams, he thought, feeling once again disgusted by the mass of humanity. How can you take pleasure at burning an innocent man alive? He had called this a witch hunt, but … Sherlock tried to put his worry for John aside, to force his brain to think. (“It’s the new sexy,” chanted The Woman in his brain but he shoved her away with a curse for distracting him.)
“If they’re muggles, why would they try to make you think John had been taken by wizards?” Sherlock asked Mary, who was peering through the trees, intent on the scene.
“The note was written on parchment in a bad imitation of a wizard’s note. But why? If they are rabidly anti-magic enough to burn a man alive, why would they even bother? Why would their note not have been off of a computer? Or a text to your phone?” He stared toward the fire, trying not to think about his best friend engulfed in flames. “Why would they even care what we thought?”
He was scanning past the crowd now, trying to see through the dark and smoke. Was that … a camera?
He grabbed Harry’s arm just as the other man started to move forward. “It’s a trap,” Sherlock hissed at him. “I don’t know which of us it’s for, but this is all being recorded.”
Harry was looking at it now, eyes burning with anger. “Who would do that?”
“That’s the question, isn’t it,” Sherlock replied, eyes once again at the bonfire. He wished he had evidence that John was still alive and well in there, as impossible as that seemed.
“This is all very good, boys,” Mary’s voice cut in, “But how are we going to get John out of there?”
“I’m open to ideas.”
Which was when John started yelling again, and Sherlock lost his head.
John was coughing now, not quite able to catch his breath through the thick smoke. Except … the air suddenly didn’t feel quite so hot. Maybe his wandless freezing charm was working?
And then the air, somehow, miraculously, freshened so that he could breathe.
He thought about using his newfound oxygen to yell for help again, but something held him back. What if the freezing charm suddenly worked because there was someone out there casting it for him? Along with a breathing spell? If the cavalry was already here and working on a plan, he shouldn’t distract them.
One mustn’t underestimate the element of surprise. It sounded like quite a crowd of revellers out there, and his rescue team was probably greatly outnumbered. It would probably help if John were acting like the fire-lighters would expect, wouldn’t it? His sudden silence would be suspicious.
And, really, all he could do was keep their attention on him, to let Sherlock or Harry or whoever was out there time to work.
And so he took a deep breath of the blessedly fresh air and gave another yell.
Sherlock couldn’t help it. Knowing it was a trap, knowing better, he still couldn’t stop himself from yelling John’s name.
Which, of course, made far too many eager faces turn their way.
How could he be so stupid? He heard Harry cursing on his right and could feel the heat of Mary’s glare on his left, even beyond the heat of the bonfire in front of them.
So, fine. He couldn’t force himself to be wholly rational when John was quite literally in a bonfire not twenty feet away. No matter what some people might think, he was human, after all.
This was still a trap, though, and he wasn’t going to bring Harry and John’s office nurse down with him, though, and so he lunged forward, as if just arrived. “John!”
He could hear Harry casting some kind of a spell behind him, but he couldn’t hear what it was. He didn’t care. Now that he was moving, now that he could hear John … he couldn’t help himself. He threw himself forward, completely disregarding the threat of burns to himself. Freezing charm or not, it was an atavistic, instinctual need to get John as far away from those flames as possible. Now. If not sooner.
John coughed, feeling air brush across his face. He panicked as he realized he couldn’t see anything. He fought to open his eyes, a little frantic as he realized that he couldn’t remember closing them. He felt like he’d been buried under a wall of water—hot, smoky water—because everything felt oddly distant. He could hear, but everything was muffled. He could see, but everything was blurry. And still, he couldn’t move.
With a huge effort, he forced his eyes open, relieved to see open sky rather than burning branches.
Even better, a familiar silhouette leaned over him, calling his name. With his foggy vision, John couldn’t be sure, but he didn’t think he’d seen Sherlock look so concerned since The Pool.
Somehow relieved by this, he let his eyelids close again.
Sherlock saw John force himself awake through sheer willpower and, disregarding the riotous crowd around him, leaned down. “John?”
His friend blinked up at him for a moment, dazed, and then focused on his face. It was just for a moment before he passed out again, but it was enough to reassure Sherlock. John was out of the fire and not irretrievably damaged … assuming this crowd didn’t turn into a mob now that their prize was no longer roasting.
He watched John fall under again, and told himself that it was all right. He had just been roasting in a bonfire. Unconsciousness was a perfectly reasonable response.
No, the concern right now was the crowd. Sherlock was marginally surprised that they hadn’t interfered as he’d pulled John from the flames. They had been so eager, so vocal about the witch-burning just moments ago. Why would they take his extraction with such equanimity?
He looked back over the crowd to where he’d left Harry, unsurprised the wizard was out of sight. (Sherlock could admit that he outright coveted the man’s invisibility cloak. It would have been so helpful during his three-year crusade.)
No, Harry was … somewhere. And Mary, he noted with approval was standing on John’s other side, guarding both him and Sherlock’s back with her wand. It was just … Sherlock didn’t know what to do next.
The crowd was still surprisingly placid, not that he was exactly complaining at the lack of rampaging. He pulled out his gun from his pocket and held it, the firearm all too comfortable in his hand after the last two and a half years. He wasn’t as good a shot as John, even after all this time, and his ammunition was limited, but still—he would defend John to the best of his ability.
The tension grew as thick as the smoke in the air as they all stared each other down, and then, from the back of the crowd, a voice. “All right. What’s all this? A bit early for Bonfire Night, isn’t it?”
Then, pushing his way through the crowd, came Harry—except, instead of wizard’s robes, he was wearing a police uniform.
He exuded calm authority as he strode forward, and the revelers parted before him. Even Sherlock could feel the mood shifting even further away from a mob mentality. There was almost a sense of shame as they all shuffled their feet and edged away from the fire.
Harry, meanwhile, had pointed to a man in front, holding a torch. “You! Are you responsible for this fire?”
“You have a permit?”
“I … yes, of course, but …”
“I’ll need to see that, then,” Harry said, voice firm. Sherlock was impressed at his arrogance. He had mastered the officious police officer act as if he’d been taking lessons from that blustering idiot of a Chief Superintendent who had tried to arrest John all those years ago.
As the other man patted at his pockets for his permit (and, really, how does one get a license for a bonfire to be used in a witch hunt?), Harry let his gaze sweep over the suddenly quiet crowd, coming back to rest on Sherlock, Mary, and John as the fire crackled and roared with loud pops as branches popped. “Is there a problem over there? That man looks hurt.”
“No, no,” said the leader quickly, “Just overcome with excitement, I think. We think the heat got to him.”
“Mmm,” said Harry, looking down at the permit. “I’m sorry, but this isn’t in order.”
“No,” and now Harry’s wand was in his hand. “No license is going to give you permission to try roasting a man alive.”
Sherlock tensed, readying himself for the fight he was sure was about to come, but none of the crowd was moving. In fact … he couldn’t move, either. He could glimpse a robed figure outside the crowd, though, and realized. Aurors. Of course. The popping noise he had thought was the fire. They had contained the belligerent crowd, freezing all the muggles in place.
Magic certainly had its uses.
He tried to check on John, but couldn’t move his head. All he could do was stare Harry’s way and watch as he conjured restraints for the bonfire man. That done, Harry looked over at Sherlock. “How’s John?”
Sherlock gave a mental sigh at Harry’s lack of observation, but supposed he could make allowances—he’d been concentrating on other things. At any rate, it was only an instant before he said, abashed, “Oh, sorry,” and waved his wand.
Released, Sherlock immediately looked down at John. “Alive,” he reported even as Mary pushed her way over.
“He’s unconscious, Harry,” she said, running some kind of diagnostic spell with her wand. “Breathing is strong, but he’s coughing. Cut on his head. Doesn’t look like he’s burned. Nothing too serious, I don’t think.”
“Thank Merlin,” breathed a voice behind him, and Sherlock turned, gun half raised, to see Ron, his hair almost a match for the riotous flames behind him. “What happened to him?”
“What happened,” Sherlock said, acerbic, “Is that somebody tried to burn him alive.”
“Stupid muggles,” said Ron. “I’ll kill them. I thought witch hunts died out in the twentieth century.”
“More like the 18th,” came Hermione’s voice, slightly breathless as she flung herself down to check on John. “Which you’d know if you ever stayed awake in History of Magic.”
“As if that were possible, being taught by a ghost.”
“A ghost?” Sherlock asked, unable to stop himself, even as he watched the two women working on John.
“Yeah, unfortunately. One of the most boring ghosts ever. The only kind of eternal sleep Binns was interested in was the kind he could inflict on his students. I remember when Harry’s nightmares were the worst, Binns’ class was about the only sleep he got. Lucky for us, Hermione kept good notes.”
His voice was casual, friendly, but Sherlock was relieved to see that his posture was alert and ready.
Nobody was getting near John without going through him—either of them.
It was slightly easier to open his eyes this time. He opened his mouth to speak, but found himself coughing instead, tongue peeling off the roof of his mouth with a noise like crinkling plastic wrap. A straw was pressed to his lips and he pulled up a sip of water that was immediately absorbed into the dry tissue of his mouth. He was only allowed a couple swallows before the cup was pulled away. He blinked, trying to clear his eyes and focus on the figures bent around him.
He remembered, then, about the fire and he startled, hand slapping down against a woolen blanket as he tried to push himself up.
“No, John, it’s okay. You’re safe.”
It was all coming back now and he couldn’t help a groan as the room finally came into focus and he realized just who was standing around his bed. Because it was a bed, which was reassuring. Not a pallet of burning sticks, but an actual mattress with cool cotton sheets and a real pillow beneath his head. That was a relief, considering his last awakening—and the fact that he’d fully expected to die in that bonfire. But still …
“Are you all right?”
He stifled a second groan at his own sheer incompetence at being not only abducted (again), but almost burned alive so that he had needed rescuing. That that rescue had included not only Sherlock, but Ron, Hermione, and … Mary? His face was burning from an entirely different kind of heat now.
He coughed again, throat still desiccated from the smoke, leaving John feeling like a rack of ribs waiting to be grilled. “I’m fine,” he managed to say.
“Yes, John,” Hermione told him, amused. “That’s what you always say. But … are you?”
He couldn’t help the small smile. “I’m alive, aren’t I?”
Her returning smile was warm. “That you are. Don’t scare us like that again.”
She leaned in to kiss his cheek and John could feel it flaming again. “Not in front of Ron, ‘Mione. He’ll kill me.”
“Not after going to all that effort to save you, mate,” Ron told him. “Sickbed kisses, I’m willing to let slide. And … Merlin … after the scare you gave us, I’d almost kiss you myself.”
“Oh, God, not that.”
His friends were all grinning at him, eyes shining with relief. Except for … “Where…”
“I’m right here, John,” Mary said, leaning in. “You gave us quite a fright.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Oh, she was instrumental in your rescue,” Harry told him. “Apparently your nurse has some battle skills none of us knew about.”
“Really?” John looked over at Mary’s familiar face, trying to assimilate the new information. “You … you wouldn’t know Ariadne, would you?”
She smiled at him, like a teacher proud of a good student. “In fact, I do. She was good enough to recommend you when I was looking for a nursing job.”
“Nurse-slash-bodyguard?” he asked.
She smiled. “I’m just glad you’re all right.”
He nodded. This was all very nice, but it wasn’t answering his most urgent question. “Where’s Sherlock?”
They all turned to look. Sherlock was leaning in the corner, adding depth and height to the shadows. Now that John saw him, saw the intensity with which he was watching John, he wondered how he could have missed him. “You all right, Sherlock?”
“I’m not the one who was nearly burned alive, John.”
“No. And I can definitely say that Wendolyn the Weird was beyond twisted.” His wizarding friends all laughed until John added, “Though freezing charms would have worked better if I’d had my wand … did anybody find that, by the way?”
“Sherlock did,” said Harry. “He’s the one who figured out you were in trouble.”
John nodded. Of course he did. That’s what Sherlock did—he used his massive intellect to save people’s lives, no matter what it did to their heart. “Do we know why?”
“As best we can tell, it was because you’re a wizard. Apparently there are still good reasons for keeping the muggle and wizarding worlds as separate as possible.”
John felt as if all the air had rushed from his lungs. “My practice.”
Sherlock’s voice came from the corner, wry and bitter. “Apparently it didn’t matter that you were there to save lives. The fact that you had … diverse … references made you questionable.”
John couldn’t believe it. His patients had done this? He couldn’t keep the betrayal from his voice as he asked.
“Not necessarily. It would almost have to be someone who knew about your double practice, but that doesn’t mean it had to be someone you had treated.” Harry’s voice was gentle. “You’ve done a lot of good here, John.”
John nodded his head, hair scrunching against the pillow with a whiff of wood-smoke.
“Right, well … er … we’ll let you get some rest. We’ll talk to you tomorrow, John.”
And then it was just him and Sherlock.
Sherlock watched John, trying to gauge his state of mind.
John just looked at him. “An actual witch burning, eh?”
“Against all probability.”
John gave a short laugh. “If either of us, I would have expected it for you. Scotland Yard has thought you’ve used witchcraft for years now.”
Sherlock’s lips pulled up into a smile. “Indeed.”
He stepped toward his friend, eyeing the visible wear and tear, the small cuts, the fatigue greying his skin even more than the traces of ash. “How are you?”
“A little … smoked,” John said, shrugging it off.
“Right.” Sherlock didn’t know how to express his relief that John was here, mostly well, with barely a burn to his skin after his ordeal.
There was a tight, tense silence with the only sound the crisp noise the sheets made as John shifted beneath them. Then, John said, “My patients” and Sherlock’s heart wrenched to hear him.
“To be fair, I doubt it was your actual patients. More likely a disgruntled neighbour or a muggle with a grudge.” Sherlock came closer and sat in a handy chair. “The detail I find interesting is that the note left for Miss Morstan was written on parchment with a fountain pen … as if they wanted us to believe you’d been taken by wizards, not muggles.”
“I don’t know,” Sherlock answered, not letting him finish the question. “I wish I did.”
John nodded, looking slightly haunted. “What about that national security issue?”
“Ron had it under control,” Sherlock said, waving his hand. “Something about a dragon smuggled into the minister of magic’s office with a disillusioning charm. Unimportant in the long run.”
John gave a weary little laugh. “So, it’s been a boring first day back for you, then?”
It was all Sherlock could do not to stare at him in disbelief. “Saving you from an abduction may be all too familiar, John, but I’d hardly say it was routine.”
“No,” John said, “Not with a bonfire added in. Forget about being burned, I’m amazed I wasn’t poked to death. I don’t want to come that close to any more sticks for a long time.”
“Except this one, I trust.” Sherlock reached into his pocket and pulled out John’s wand, smiling at the look of relief on his friend’s face.
“Oh, Merlin … you found it!”
“Under the hedge where you were taken. Apparently my discovering it made your nurse quite suspicious that I’d had something to do with your disappearance.”
John snorted. “Being suspicious is what makes her a good nurse … and a spy, apparently. Do I owe Mycroft for that? Or Harry?”
“I don’t know,” said Sherlock, “But either way, you’d think she would have recognized me when she saw me.”
“That’s you all over, Sherlock,” John said even as his eyes began to close. “Always got to be the centre of attention.”
“Well, John, if she were sent to look after you, I would have warranted at least a mention in your dossier, don’t you think?”
“Mmm,” was all John said as he fell asleep. Sherlock tried not to feel offended. John had had a rough night and sleep was probably good for him, or some such nonsense.
As he rose to leave the room, though, he couldn’t help but wonder … who had sent Mary? Had she really not recognized Sherlock? Or just been surprised at his being alive? More importantly, had that fortuitous note really just found its way to her desk? Or was she somehow involved? And who had been behind the bonfire?
He pulled out his phone, about to send a text to Mycroft, but paused in the doorway, looking back at his sleeping friend. No, maybe he would just stand here for a few moments and try not to think about how close he had come to losing John, mere hours after he’d found him again.
The rest of the mystery could keep. For now.
When he eventually left the room, he found Harry sitting on John’s couch, staring into the fireplace, holding a glass of fire whiskey.
“You’ve been here all night?”
Harry nodded. “Just in case.”
Sherlock returned the nod and sat down in the nearby chair, stretching out his long legs. Neither man said a word for a time, and then Harry spoke. “Is it just me, or was that too easy?”
Easy? Sherlock remembered the tearing fear that had gripped him when he’d realized that John was inside a bonfire. There had been absolutely nothing easy about that. It had almost been worse than the pool. Or it had been. He wasn’t sure how one computed emotional trauma levels on such very different but equally wrenching events. He found a moment to be relieved that at least John hadn’t looked like he was in mortal danger when Sherlock had jumped off of Barts.
But … easy? He thought again about the size of the crowd and, yes, the relative ease of pulling John from the fire. How nobody had truly tried to stop them. How nobody had attacked them afterward, even with the size of the crowd. How easily it could have shifted into being a mob, but hadn’t.
“What are you thinking?”
“I’m not sure … but I don’t think it’s over.”
“You said it was the anniversary of your parents’ death…?”
If anything, Harry’s expression grew even more bleak. “Yes. Did … did John ever tell you? About me?”
Sherlock eyed the other man. “He told me the basics, but didn’t go into great detail.”
“But you know about how Voldemort killed my parents.”
“And failed to kill you … several times. Yes.”
Harry took another sip of his drink. “Let’s just say the coincidence of being in a life-and-death situation in Godric’s Hollow on Halloween night hasn’t escaped me … though I can’t think why anyone would go after John.”
“I used to wonder the same thing,” Sherlock told him. “Maybe it’s just that John attracts danger?”
Harry snorted. “Like a magnet?”
“Something like,” Sherlock agreed with a smile. “But John is uniquely valuable, and impossibly adept at being a good friend. What do you think the odds are that he would be put in danger not only on the anniversary of your parents’ death, but also the day I return from taking down Moriarty’s crime ring?”
“Vanishingly small,” Harry said with a grimace.
“Exactly.” Sherlock thought a moment. “But…”
“What if that was the point? Threatening John to get to both of us?”
“Do you think that’s possible? There aren’t many people who know enough about both the muggle and wizarding worlds to know about John’s links to both.”
“No,” Sherlock said. “Not many at all.”
John creaked his way into the kitchen the next morning, hair still wet from the shower, and considered that he was just possibly getting too old for this kidnapping nonsense. He felt better than he’d feared, though, and immeasurably better now that he’d cleaned away all traces of smoke from his hair and skin.
“Good morning, John.”
He blinked in surprise at the sight of Harry Potter standing at his stove, cooking eggs, while Sherlock poured tea. “Morning,” he replied, stopped at the door.
“Well, come in,” Sherlock told him, putting the teacup at John’s place at the table. “Your tea will get cold.”
“You made me tea?” He couldn’t keep the surprise from his voice.
“I made tea,” Sherlock corrected him. “But pouring you a cup from the pot isn’t exactly a hardship.”
“Don’t listen to him,” Harry said with a laugh, spatula poised over the pan. “He timed it perfectly to your shower.”
“As if you didn’t wait to start the eggs,” Sherlock shot back.
“Good timing is key when you want everyone to eat together,” Harry said, placidly dishing up plates of food. “How are you feeling, John?”
“Better,” he said, feeling bemused as he sat down and picked up the tea. He ventured a small sip, somehow both surprised and reassured to find it prepared exactly as he liked it. “Have you been here all night?”
Harry nodded, sliding a dish in front of him and then sitting down with his own breakfast. “It seemed the prudent thing to do.”
“Not very Gryffindor of you,” John said, taking a bite of crispy bacon.
“I’ve learned a few things since then,” Harry told him. “And I needed to think.”
“We both did,” added Sherlock as he slid into the chair across from John with his own cup of tea. “There are coincidences that we’re concerned about.”
“Halloween is the day my parents were killed—here in Godric’s Hollow,” said Harry. “And it was the day Sherlock came back.”
“And, you are the one person that connects both of us.”
John leaned back in his chair. “Brilliant. That’s really just wonderful. Ihat means it could be just about anyone who knows either of you.”
“Someone who knows about both the wizarding and non-magical worlds,” corrected Sherlock, “Which does narrow it down.”
“Which implies they were more likely after me,” said Harry. “Since most of your enemies don’t know about the wizarding world.”
“Unless they’ve been watching John and have figured it out.”
“It’s not that easy to deduce the wizarding world, remember?” Harry pointed out. “You couldn’t do it.”
“Or,” John interjected smoothly, staving off whatever kind of escalation this was leading to, “They weren’t after either of you at all, but were after me. I do connect both worlds, I know both of you, and let’s not forget that I do have my own enemies, you know.”
“Oh, please,” scoffed Sherlock. “Then why yesterday and not last week?”
“I don’t know, Sherlock. You’re the genius. You tell me. Or maybe it was Mary. Didn’t you say she was some kind of witch spy?”
“That’s actually an interesting point.” Harry reached for the scrap of parchment Mary had left last night and examined it.
“Can I see that?” John held out a hand, wondering what kind of clue directs ones friends to a witch-burning bonfire. He squinted at the note. “You know, this handwriting … it almost looks familiar.”
“Really?” asked Sherlock. “Do you know from where?”
“I … wait a minute.” John shook his head and got up to walk to the fireplace, trying not to show how much his entire body ached. He threw down the floo powder and leaned in. “Have you got a minute?”
He pulled out of the fireplace and pushed himself to his feet, swallowing down a groan. He gave a nod to Sherlock and Harry as they hovered in the doorway. Moments later, the fire flared green and out stepped Mary. She looked relieved to see him, but there was a hint of nervousness, too. “John! How are you this morning? We were so worried.”
“A little sore, but fine. Thank you for coming.”
She waved aside his thanks and followed as he turned back toward the kitchen. There was a small bustle, then, as Sherlock poured more tea and Mary waved off the offer of breakfast. John re-warmed his breakfast and ate, waiting for everyone to settle. He was concentrating so hard, he almost jumped when Mary placed a potion vial in front of him. “For the aches. I thought you might need it, so I brought some pain-reliever with me. Don’t go being a stubborn army doctor and refusing.”
He grinned at her. “You know me so well,” was all he said, but in truth, he was grateful for the potion, and downed it with relief.
“So, if it wasn’t the potion, why did you need to see me, John?”
“I wanted to ask you about this.” He slid the parchment across the table and she nodded.
“The note from last night. What about it?”
John watched her, trying to pick out cues that she was lying or hiding something. But then, she’d apparently hidden that she was a spy, so he probably had no chance. So he went with his specialty—straight-forward candour. “I recognize the handwriting, but can’t quite place it. But I know you can.”
Her face paled slightly. “I can?”
“Yes. You got flowers for your birthday. The card was signed with this handwriting. Your friend … Cam, was it?”
“Yes,” she said, swallowing.
Harry was leaning forward, forehead creased. “You were involved last night?”
“What? No!” Mary said, looking stricken. “I had nothing to do with that! He was just … He was … I really can’t talk about it.”
“You can’t? Or you won’t?”
“Can’t,” she said, looking over at Harry. “And don’t try to legilimize me, either, Mr Potter. You’re powerful, but so is he, and I’m not saying a word to bring his wrath down on any of us.”
“He’s already attacked your boss,” Sherlock told her. “What makes you think he hasn’t begun?”
She shook her head, looking at John. “If he’d wanted to hurt John, he would never have sent a clue where to find him. It was a warning.”
“For me, Mr Holmes. Not to step out of line.”
John leaned forward. “In other words, Cam is blackmailing you? Then let us help!”
“Help?” she asked. “John, my being here almost got you killed, and that was without you knowing anything! Believe me, you do not want to get any closer.”
“And yet,” Sherlock’s voice was silky smooth. “Here we are.”
Sherlock eased quietly through the quiet office. Behind him, he could still hear John’s soothing voice as he revived Janine. It hadn’t been that long a ride in the lift—how had so much gone wrong so quickly? In the time it took him and John to ride up from the lobby, Magnussen’s body guard and assistant had been knocked unconscious and the man himself apparently taken.
It had taken some work to discover the identity of Mary’s mysterious “Cam,” but through a lucky coincidence, Sherlock had been hired by Lady Smallwood to reclaim some indiscreet letters from her husband’s youth. She had identified the blackmailer as the newspaper magnate Charles Augustus Magnussen, and, well, it hadn’t taken a genius intellect to spell out the man’s initials. And if he was blackmailing two people … odds were good the man was blackmailing more.
A glimmer of light ahead teased at him, and Sherlock pushed the door open carefully, trying not to show his surprise at the slight form holding Magnussen on his knees. For some reason, he’d expected the intruder to be more … imposing. But then, John had proved many times that size did not affect competence—other than reaching the top shelf in the kitchen.
His train of thought stuttered to a halt, though, when the figure turned around and he saw the familiar face of Mary Morstan, John’s capable assistant and good friend.
There was a part of Sherlock that wasn’t entirely sure why he was surprised. After all, Mary had been the one to point them toward Charles Augustus Magnussen in the first place. He had known then that she hated the man—perhaps even feared him. And since the bonfire, he had known about Mary’s “spy skills,” as John liked to refer to them.
Yet, with all of that … there was something about seeing her here, now, pointing a gun at Magnussen’s head that shook Sherlock to the core.
She spun, glaring at him fiercely before giving a quick look at the door.
“Is John with you?”
Her voice was intent and hot enough to burn, hot enough to dry Sherlock’s mouth from the heat. All he could manage to do was nod, even as he watched the capable, familiar way she held her gun.
His mouth had stopped working, but his brain was flying at supersonic speeds. His entry had just caused Mary a serious problem. If she killed Magnussen now, with them in the building, John—her boss and good friend—would immediately become a suspect. Knowing how Mary had helped John pull himself out of the depression after Sherlock’s … absence … he doubted she would be able to bring herself to cause him more trouble. And yet, since Sherlock was standing here, looking directly at her, he had inadvertently backed her into a corner. If she chose now to simply retreat, Magnussen would instantly sound the alarm—and he was not the type of man to be grateful to Sherlock for saving his life.
No, Sherlock had definitely caused Mary a problem—and he could see in her eyes, that she knew it, too.
He wanted to beg her to consider the effect on John her actions here might have, but worried that she would take that as him pleading for his own life rather than thinking about John. (Because hadn’t he made it clear three years ago that he would willingly sacrifice himself to keep John safe?) He didn’t need to say anything, though, he could see in her eyes that she knew all the implications as well as he did, and meanwhile Magnussen was still kneeling on the floor, waiting.
Sherlock was just opening his mouth to say something … he wasn’t sure what … when Mary’s arm came up and then … he was falling, the sound of mangled Latin echoing in his ears.
Sherlock was just opening his mouth to say something … he wasn’t sure what … when Mary’s arm came up and then … he was falling, the sound of bad Latin echoing in his ears.
“I understand that we won’t know the damage until he wakes up, but … Merlin, Harry! This is a nightmare! I mean, with his brain? It’s not like he’s an ordinary muggle!”
John was beside himself, and even though he was trying his best to keep his voice down, he obviously wasn’t doing well enough because the only answer he got came from the bed behind him—a slurred baritone complaining that that was a ridiculous word.
“Sherlock!” John was at his side in an instant. “Are you all right? How do you feel? What do you remember?”
The words almost tangled in the air, they fell from his lips so quickly. John felt Harry’s hand coming to rest on his shoulder. “Good to see you awake, Sherlock.”
Sherlock nodded and groaned, his hand moving to his head. There was an uncharacteristic look of confusion on his face. “What happened?”
John forced himself not to look at Harry. “What’s the last thing you remember, Sherlock?”
“The look on your face as Janine made that dreadful suggestion that we should double-date with you and Mary.”
John tried not to react, but not well enough. Not for Sherlock. “Why?” the other man asked, “What else was there?”
“We … that is, you…” John paused, trying to marshal his thoughts.
“You were attacked, Sherlock,” Harry said, sparing John. “You were obliviated. We just don’t know by who.”
Sherlock’s eyes were wide with shock as he snapped, “How long?”
“How long? How much was taken?”
John was almost stunned at the near-panic he saw in Sherlock’s face. But then, he wasn’t really shocked at all. Sherlock would willingly lose a limb, he thought, before he would willingly give up a single brain cell’s worth of memory … unless he deleted it himself, of course. But that was the point, wasn’t it? It wasn’t his choice. It was a violation of Sherlock’s intellect. What might seem trivial to another person, would be anything but trivial to a man whose brain was as complicated and blindingly fast like Sherlock’s.
Harry was looking at John. “It sounds like several hours … John?”
“Er, yes,” John said, trying to make light of it. It was more of a gap than he’d hoped, but at least Sherlock hadn’t been burned into another Gilderoy Lockhart. “I met Janine—Magnussen’s assistant—at your flat this afternoon.”
“Yes, yes,” Sherlock said, “I do remember. The look on your face when we told you we were dating was priceless. Then what?”
“You told me you had some shopping to do,” John told him, feeling his heart break just a little as he watched Sherlock pummelling his brain, trying to remember. “I’m not sure where you went, but it was a jewellery store of some kind. You…”
“Bought a ring for Janine,” Sherlock finished for him. “I remember planning to do that. We met at Magnussen’s office?”
“We did. You talked your way up to his office by holding the ring in front of the security camera.”
“That worked, then? Of course it worked.”
“It did.” John flashed him a quick smile and tried not to grin at the slightly appalled look on Harry’s face. “But when we got off the lift, we found Janine on the floor.”
“Did she faint?” Sherlock asked, almost delighted. “I didn’t think people did that anymore.”
“That’s what you said then, too,” John told him, almost amused. “But she hadn’t fainted. She’d been hit over the head, as was the security guard in the next room.”
He could see the strain on Sherlock’s face as he tried to remember this, but continued gamely, “I suggested calling 999, but you told me that it wasn’t the best idea while we were in the middle of a break-in ourselves.”
“You’re really not very good at it, John.”
John swallowed. “So you’ve said. But you deduced that Magnussen was in the building because his chair seat was still warm. You told me to look after Janine and … went off on your own. I … I found you a few minutes later.”
“About ten.” John looked down at his hands, hating himself for having left Sherlock vulnerable to a madman too free with his memory charms. “I’m sorry. I should have been there.”
“Don’t be silly, John,” Sherlock snapped. “It would have made it worse.”
“Would it? I don’t see how, Sherlock. I’m good with a shield charm, you know.”
“Assuming you were carrying your wand and not a gun. Magnussen doesn’t exactly fill his staff with wizards.”
“No, he doesn’t,” Harry said, thoughtful. “Really, what are the odds that you would have been attacked by a witch or wizard in a muggle office building?”
“That’s the question, isn’t it?”
Harry nodded. “That, and…”
“That name is familiar, but I can’t quite place it … I’ve got some digging to do.”
“Or just ask Hermione.”
Harry grinned at him. “It’s never failed.”
Sherlock fought to keep his hands flat against the sheets of his bed. (Well, not his bed, exactly. Where were they, anyway? He hated not knowing things!) He wanted to claw at his forehead and ease this odd … itch … inside his brain. He could almost feel the brain cells scabbing over, trying to span the gap where his memories had been erased. Erased! How was that even possible?
This sensation was entirely unlike when he deleted data himself. He did that fairly regularly, but that felt … right. Satisfying in the same way cleaning out a closet or cupboard was, freeing up space, making things more efficient. It was a process. But this? This felt like a violation. Someone else had torn into his mind and removed hours of his life solely because they decided he shouldn’t remember them. They decided. They did. Not him. Them.
He couldn’t even remember if it had been a man or a woman. A team of them? A single individual?
Closing his eyes, he went to his mind palace, strolling the hallway, checking doors and locks. Looking for the security breach that had brought him to this.
He found it eventually. A black scuff on the floor, marring the marble, wrinkling the carpet, as if something had been dragged out. Had the knowledge been so weighty, then? Or was it that he had fought to keep it?
“…might have killed you.” Sherlock opened his eyes to look at John, who had apparently been speaking all this time. “We can reconstruct what happened, and if anyone can deduce what was there, it will be you, Sherlock. But it’s still better than being dead, isn’t it?”
Sherlock stared at him, trying not to fall backward in the hole in what had been his sacrosanct, reliable memory palace but now was a plundered estate, soiled by footprints not his own.
Was it better? Was it really?
“How’s Sherlock doing?”
John sighed as he handed over the patient file to Mary. “I’d say depressed if I thought he wouldn’t be completely offended at something so emotional.”
“I still can’t believe he was attacked … there’s part of me that feels responsible. I’m the one who set him on Cam’s trail.”
“No,” John said. “It was Magnussen himself who did that by apparently putting me into a bonfire. You just provided a clue as to who was behind it. You can’t blame yourself.”
“If you say so,” Mary said as she shifted the files on her desk. “You’ve got Mrs Faraday in room 1. And, just so you’re warned, Mr Wander is due in this afternoon … again.”
John groaned. “That man’s hypochondria will be the death of me.”
“What do you mean, Sherlock’s missing?”
Mrs Hudson’s voice was shrill over the phone. “Just that, John. He’s gone.”
“He does that, Mrs Hudson. He’s always done that.”
“I know, but this is different. He was muttering about his mind palace, and something about repairs and going to the source.”
“Oh no … thanks, Mrs Hudson!”
He ended the call and quickly dialled another.
“I think we have a problem.”
What felt like eons later, John burst into 221B, furious and desperate as the tectonic plates that supported his life shifted beneath him.
“Why is it always my fault?” he shouted, as much at the universe as at Mary and Sherlock.
Because of course Sherlock had deduced who had cursed him. Of course he had figured out what he had forgotten. And of course it would turn out to be Mary, the only confidant John had had during the years Sherlock was gone.
Because, yes, he’d known the man wasn’t dead, and he’d known that Harry, Ron, and Hermione had known the secret. And yes, his friends had been supportive and helpful and all that, blah blah, but ultimately he hadn’t been able to truly confide in them because they weren’t confiding in him. It didn’t matter that it was Sherlock’s secret they were keeping, and that John understood about the operational necessity of keeping vital information as need-to-know. Their secret-keeping hadn’t meant John didn’t trust them, but it had created a barrier to his being able to confide in them.
Which was where his helpful, friendly, understanding nurse-come-good friend had come in. John had needed someone on his side, and being lucky enough to find a nurse who knew about both the wizarding and muggle worlds, and about Sherlock?
Really, he should have seen this coming.
For that matter, he should have suspected that Mary was involved in this fiasco with Magnussen, since she had been the one to direct them toward the man in the first place. But … how? Really, how could John have possibly expected that his mild-mannered nurse was cold-blooded enough to go after her blackmailer herself?
He stood panting in the middle of 221B, still trying to wrap his head around this. He’d known about Mary’s … what you could euphemistically call “skills” … since the bonfire. And he had known about her connection to Magnussen—or, rather, that the man was blackmailing her. But … this? John would never have guessed.
Not that he knew exactly what the blackmail entailed. If it was just that Mary was a witch, wouldn’t she have simply obliviated the man? It’s not like he knew about the wizarding world, after all. Because if that had been the case, she would have just asked Harry for help. You know, instead of showing up at the man’s office after hours and stunning his staff before obliviating Sherlock.
John couldn’t decide whether he was angrier at Mary for attacking Sherlock, at Sherlock for not telling him once he’d figured it out, or himself for being such a blind, trusting fool that he’d never seen any of it coming.
He couldn’t even look at her, the sense of betrayal was so strong. He kicked at the chair, needing to make noise, to draw attention to the pain. One of his best friends had attacked Sherlock. Not just a fight. Not something that Sherlock’s general lack of social skills might have caused. John was used to that. No. This had been an attack by a skilled witch against a helpless muggle. Against Sherlock, and how was John supposed to deal with that?
And so he stood here, letting the others watch his heart shatter all over again.
The sensation wasn’t new, but he’d never had an audience before.
The actual compassion he saw on Sherlock’s face wasn’t helping, either.
John was about to say something, when Harry apparated onto the landing. “I came as fast as I could … what’s wrong?”
John rounded on him. “You want to know what’s wrong? We found out who obliviated Sherlock, is what’s wrong.”
Harry looked at the three of them blankly for a moment, before settling on Mary. “You?” he asked, taking a step forward.
“Apparently I’m supposed to feel grateful,” John told him, feeling just slightly better now that someone sane was in the room—someone who seemed to be taking this as seriously as he was. “Because she just obliviated him instead of killing him.”
“It is better than his being dead, John,” Harry said, stepping quietly into the room.
“Better does not mean it’s good!”
“No.” Harry shook his head, “No, it doesn’t.”
John was almost numb now—at that stage of anger where his neurons were so super-heated by rage that they couldn’t feel anything less. He just stood there as Harry looked over at Sherlock. “You figured it out?”
“It took longer than it should have, but yes,” Sherlock said. “I should have remembered that not only was Mary being blackmailed by him, but that she was enraged by the attack on John … and that she has the skills to do something about it. It’s frankly embarrassing it didn’t occur to me earlier.”
“Well, obliviation can have that affect,” Harry said, glaring at Mary.
She still stood, calm by the fire. A part of John admired her poise—being smart enough to let the others fight it out, learning their objections first, before offering her own defence. His own brain was still reeling from what he’d heard at Leicester Gardens. Mary had gone to take care of Magnussen (in the most permanent form of “taking care of”) as a means of protecting John … and, more importantly, her friendship with John. She hadn’t wanted him to know she was capable of assassination, had been afraid of how he would take it.
Considering the way the blood was thundering in his veins, she had been right about that, John thought. Although this all would have been different if she had simply told him.
If she hadn’t attacked Sherlock.
Because ultimately, that was the betrayal he couldn’t bear. Mary might not owe anything to Sherlock, but she knew what he meant to John. Her cold-blooded calculation to obliviate him rather than killing him might have been the merciful choice, but it didn’t make the violation any less horrific. John was grateful Sherlock was alive, but … not only did the betrayal hurt, he ached for his friend.
He let he others battle out the moral logistics while he tried to catch his breath—because that was the one bright spot, here. He might need to find a new nurse in the morning, but … at least everyone was still breathing. With everything John had seen over the years, the importance of people still breathing could not be underestimated.
Then he realized what Harry was saying.
“Magnussen is a wizard.”
Sherlock hadn’t thought anything could draw his attention away from John just now, but Harry’s news managed it.
“He’s a what?”
“A wizard,” Harry said, voice grim. “I was as surprised as you were. He has a fondness for newspapers, though, so imagine my surprise when I was introduced to the owner of the Daily Prophet this afternoon…”
“No…” John’s voice was as pale and breathless as he was.
Sherlock, though, was already busy feeding this new data into the grist-mill in his mind. “I thought wizards were registered?”
“Yes and no,” Harry said. “And obviously more of a ‘no’ in this case. Magnussen fell through the cracks here because, one, his family is from Denmark, but, two, he was home-schooled. There’s no record anywhere of him attending a school prior to university—and so no record of whether he could do magic. Add to that his family’s enormous wealth which would let them hide just about any fact they wanted to…”
“Not to mention the fact that, being in the newspaper business, they would know how to value—and protect—personal privacy.” Sherlock could almost admire that. A man rich enough, powerful enough, to be the driving force between the press not only in the non-magical world, but in the wizarding world as well?
“Did you know?” John asked Mary.
She just shook her head. “No … but it explains a lot.”
Sherlock stepped forward. “Definitely. I’ve told you, John. He’s the Napoleon of blackmail. He collects secrets—and the people who own them—with a frightening efficiency. I had thought he only dealt with the non-magical world, but… Mary? Without going into uncomfortable detail, was he blackmailing you for an issue to do with your being a witch?”
She looked thoughtful as she answered. “That’s an interesting question. I thought not—and had considered myself lucky that he hadn’t noticed about the magic so that he would have had even more leverage, but … now that I know this? Some of the secrets he knows about me … it would explain a lot if he knew about magic.”
“Not to mention,” Harry put in, “That a wizard with legilimens skills would have no trouble learning a muggle’s deepest secrets. It’s possible he prefers to live and work primarily in the mu … er … non-magical world … sorry, Sherlock … because it gives him access to more power than he would find in the wizarding world, where people can protect themselves.”
“That would explain the fountain pen, wouldn’t it?” asked John. “He uses them for the same reason I do—it’s the only writing instrument that you can use in both worlds without awkward questions.”
“I don’t understand, though,” said Mary. “Why would he kidnap John? He already has, um, all the leverage on me that he needs.”
Sherlock cast his mind back to that night with the bonfire. The crowd had seemed so excited about the witch hunt but which had become remarkably docile. Nobody had been hurt—not even John—and there had been … “The cameras,” he said aloud.
The others looked at him with that quizzical expression he saw all too often. “The cameras,” he repeated. “That night at the bonfire. It was being filmed. He wasn’t getting more leverage on you, Mary, he was looking for leverage for me or Harry—or both of us.”
“But why would he do that? Like you said, he can legilimens anyone.”
“Maybe not,” Harry said thoughtfully. “I’ve never been as good as Snape was, but I mastered occlumency years ago, and with his mind palace, Sherlock’s thoughts might as well be locked behind a drawbridge. Maybe physical evidence was all he could get on us—whichever of us he was after.”
“But why would he come after either of you?” John asked, sounding bewildered.
“Because that’s what he does, John,” Sherlock told him. “He puts his fingers in every pie he can, and even if he doesn’t use the knowledge, he takes pleasure in holding it over … everyone. Like Napoleon, remember? He won’t be happy until he has something on every influential person in the country.”
“I agree,” said Harry, even as Mary nodded her own agreement. “So … what do we do about it?”
One chapter to go!
“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.