Albus Dumbledore smiled as he walked down the bustling sidewalk, looking around at the delights of Victorian London. He paused along the way to peer into storefronts and exchange nods with the denizens of the city as they passed by. A handful of young boys raced past him, nearly knocking his scowling companion off his feet, but Dumbledore just laughed and shook his head. It was a beautiful day, he thought to himself, a nearly perfect day to be enjoying a new Wish.
So entranced was Dumbledore by his surroundings that he almost stepped off the kerb into the path of a speeding mail carriage. Severus Snape caught the older wizard by the back of his frock coat and hauled him to safety with inches to spare, glaring at Dumbledore as he did so.
"Albus, kindly watch what you're doing!" Snape snarled. "I would hate to have to repeat this Wish simply because you were careless enough to get yourself run down in the street before it even started!"
Dumbledore ignored his ranting. "This is wonderful, Severus," he said delightedly, stopping again to peer into a tobacco shop window. "Reminds me of when I was a boy, visiting London with my parents."
"It reminds me of Diagon Alley." Snape grimaced as he stepped away from the kerb to avoid having his trousers splashed with mud as another carriage rattled past. "Only dirtier."
Dumbledore laughed. "This is your Wish, Severus."
"As if your pirate ship was any cleaner."
"No, it was considerably dirtier than this, although not as bad as the jungle hut in my last Wish," Dumbledore said cheerfully, then sighed. "Ah, I miss that ship!"
"I don't." Snape peered both ways along the busy London road before steering his companion across to the safety of the other side. "It reeked and was horribly cramped, not to mention infested with a crew even more imbecilic than the usual blight of First Years. Its only good point was that it didn't leak, unlike the roof of that hut."
Snape paused and looked back at Dumbledore, a reluctant smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. "However, as fantasies go, it was not too appalling."
Dumbledore chuckled and reached out to lay his hand over Snape's heart. "You did appear to enjoy it, Severus." The wicked look he gave Snape let him see what the memory of that particular Wish did to Dumbledore's libido.
"Careful, Albus," Snape murmured, briefly resting his hand over Dumbledore's. Then, with a gentleness that would have shocked most of the Hogwarts population, he shifted Dumbledore's hand so that they were linking arms instead. "Open displays of sexual intimacy were not acceptable among Muggles during this time, and relationships such as ours were, of necessity, kept private."
"Ah, yes." Dumbledore sighed. "What was that phrase they used in reference to it - 'the love that dares not speak its name'?" He shook his head regretfully. "An utter waste of such a precious emotion."
Dumbledore gave Snape a look that, he hoped, conveyed how much he regretted the twenty years wasted between them as well, even if he'd done all in his power over the past two years to make up for that. Snape's cheeks flushed and he cleared his throat hastily.
"Yes. Well. Do you remember what you're supposed to say, Albus?"
Dumbledore laughed again. "You have made me repeat my lines three times since we left the hotel. Yes, I remember who I am supposed to be and what I am supposed to say."
He cast an appraising look at Snape. "If I didn't know better, I would say you were nervous about meeting this Muggle. What was his name? Holmes? Or is that the other one?"
"Sherlock Holmes," Snape murmured, his eyes on the numbers on the buildings as they walked along. "Doctor Watson is his friend and biographer. And I'm not nervous. I just…I want this Wish to go well, that's all."
"Of course," Dumbledore murmured, studying his companion shrewdly. Snape was unusually unsettled, and he wondered just what it was about this Wish that had the Potions master so rattled. "I had no idea you had a taste for Muggle fiction."
Snape flushed. "I don't," he snapped. When Dumbledore continued giving him that knowing look, he added with a nonchalance that didn't convince the headmaster for a minute, "It is merely that a friend gave me a book containing several of these stories, and I found them not entirely distasteful. For a Muggle and a fictional one at that, Sherlock Holmes is remarkably clever."
Snape paused before a doorway and looked up. "221B. This is the place, Albus."
Snape hesitated, and Dumbledore had the distinct impression that the other man was fighting an urge to flee. It made Dumbledore even more curious to know what was making Severus so agitated. Was he afraid he'd be disappointed? That his Wish version of this Holmes character wouldn't live up to his expectations? Or was it something else? Dumbledore resolved to read one of the stories when they returned home, to see if it would help him in his constant quest to unravel the threads to his companion's personality.
Snape rang the bell and a pleasant-faced, matronly woman answered the door. Upon hearing their names, she beckoned them to enter. She ushered them up a narrow flight of stairs, paused before a door at the top as she waited for them to join her, then opened it.
"Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson, Headmaster Dumbledore and Professor Snape to see you," she announced.
Dumbledore could practically feel his companion quivering with anticipation as they entered the room, and as he followed Snape he saw the Potions master take a quick look around. A slight, pleased smile touched the corners of Snape's mouth, and Dumbledore looked around as well, curious as to what had so delighted his lover.
It was a comfortable enough sitting room, large and airy, with two long windows overlooking the street. The furnishings looked as if they had been selected for comfort rather than appearance, and had a well-lived-in look to them. To one side was a table crowded with a strange apparatus, not too dissimilar to those in Snape's private workroom. Books and file ledgers appeared to fill every space on the numerous shelves, and the mantle over the fireplace was crammed with a number of oddities including, Dumbledore was surprised to see, a Persian slipper pinned by a knife.
A tall, slender man stood at one of the windows, his back to them as he looked down at the street. He turned at their introduction and Dumbledore received a quick impression of sharp, piercing eyes and a hawklike nose set in a thin face as the man said, "Thank you, Mrs. Hudson. Headmaster, Professor, do come in. I trust that Claridges' is up to its usual standards, although I see that they are still short on their front desk staff."
Dumbledore's mouth dropped open in surprise; it had, indeed, taken them considerable time to check into the hotel that morning due to some confusion at the front desk. He glanced sideways at Snape and was even more surprised to see that little smile again, not to mention that the Potions master's eyes were fixed on the detective.
Snape murmured, just loud enough for Dumbledore to hear, "In my telegram, I told Mr. Holmes that we were taking the early train from Inverness, which he would know arrives at Victoria Station at 11:45, and that we would call upon him after leaving our luggage at our hotel. Since it is now 2:15 and knowing the urgency of the matter, Mr. Holmes has surmised that there was some difficulty at the hotel. I assume that there was an article in the papers recently about Claridges having difficulty with their staff, which is how he deduced that we were staying there."
Impressed, Dumbledore looked over at their host only to see that he had turned his attention back to the road. Before he had a chance to be surprised or insulted by the man's disregard, another man rose from a chair by the fire to greet them. He was cheerful looking, shorter and stockier than his companion, and wore an expression of genial goodwill. Dumbledore readily smiled back at him.
"Please, come in," the man said, extending a hand in greeting and shaking Dumbledore's hand heartily. "Dr. John Watson, delighted to meet you. And this is Sherlock Holmes," he said, gesturing towards the man by the window.
"Albus Dumbledore," Dumbledore returned. "Headmaster of Hogwarts School for - Boys." He gestured towards Snape and said, "This is our…um…Science master, Severus Snape. I believe he has communicated our concern to Mr. Holmes?"
Watson glanced over at the figure at the window, then back at Dumbledore. "Indeed, he has." He gestured towards a small table with a tea service set upon it. "Won't you have a seat? May I offer you some tea?"
"That would be delightful." Dumbledore took the offered chair. He noticed that Snape was still taking in the room with the air of a child eyeing treats in a sweet shop window and cleared his throat to catch his companion's attention. "Severus."
"What?" Snape said irritably. He looked around at Dumbledore, then waved his hand dismissively. "No tea," he said shortly and then, at Dumbledore's pointed look, added a grudging, "Thank you."
Watson didn't seem the least bit put out by Snape's bad manners and even cast an amused look in the direction of the man standing at the window. He poured a cup of tea and set it before Dumbledore, saying, "I take it there's no more news about the missing boy, then?"
"Not a word," Dumbledore replied, slipping easily into his role of the distressed headmaster in pursuit of a missing student. He ignored Snape, now prowling around the room examining every detail as if viewing a museum exhibition. "It's as if he had disappeared into thin air."
"How old is the lad?"
"Is it possible that he simply returned home?" Watson asked, pouring a cup of tea for himself. "Children do get homesick."
Dumbledore sighed and shook his head, then took a sip of his tea. "Hogwarts has been Master Carter's home since he was a young boy. He has no family, I'm afraid. None that will recognise him or take him in, in any event." Leaning forward, he said confidentially, "You see, his mother married against the wishes of her family and was disowned. His father was a handsome young rascal but very wild. Sadly, Lady Libby died when Jasper was very young."
"And the father?" Watson prompted.
"I'm afraid he came to a rather bad end," Snape said shortly, joining the conversation for the first time. He walked over to the table, stopping behind Dumbledore's chair. "He fell foul of the law and died in prison several years ago."
Snape picked up Dumbledore's tea cup, took a sip and made a face, then stirred in more sugar before carrying it with him as he took a seat on the other side of the table. A position obviously chosen so that he could watch the silent man at the window. Dumbledore watched him in amusement and then realised that the doctor was giving him a curious look. Watson quickly turned his attention back to the teapot, pouring another cup for Dumbledore.
"Isn't it a bit…unusual for the son of a common criminal to end up a student at a prestigious school like Hogwarts?" Watson asked curiously. He set down the teapot and picked up his journal. "You don't mind if I take notes, do you?"
"Of course not - " Dumbledore began, only to be interrupted by a voice from the window.
"There was nothing 'common' about John Carter, Watson."
The three men at the table looked over at Holmes, surprised at his sudden contribution to the discussion, and he turned abruptly to look at them.
"Am I correct in surmising that the missing Jasper Carter is, in fact, the son of the infamous Black Jack Carter?" Holmes added, his voice sounding as if he were indifferent to the whole matter.
"Yes - " Snape began, but Holmes interrupted him.
"Watson, I believe you were out of the country at the time, but 'Black Jack' was credited with a string of daring thefts here in London. The victims were all beautiful young women whose priceless jewels were stolen right off their person by a handsome young thief. He left a Jack of Spades on their prostrate bodies as a calling card."
"He dared to harm innocent young women?" Watson said indignantly.
"If you consider stealing a kiss to constitute harm," Holmes said drily. He left the window and crossed to the fireplace, extracted a lucifer from the box on the mantle, and lit a cigarette. "By all accounts, the young ladies 'swooned with bliss' rather than outrage. Their actions allowed the thief to take their jewels and escape without them uttering a single cry for help." There was a note of contempt in his voice as he tossed the match into the fireplace.
Dumbledore chuckled. "He was an outrageous young rascal."
Holmes raised an eyebrow. "Do I detect a note of sympathy, Headmaster? Surely his crimes were too serious to be dismissed as mere mischief."
"The headmaster has somewhat of a soft spot for engaging miscreants and is overly tolerant of their pranks," Snape said, setting down his teacup. "He is known for offering second chances where others would not."
"Surely that is to your benefit, Mr. Snape." Holmes sprawled carelessly in one of the overstuffed armchairs and drew on his cigarette. "Particularly as you yourself have benefited from his…generosity of spirit. Without it you would be, at best, an impoverished tutor, scraping together a living by teaching the spoiled offspring of a genteel but unremarkable family. At worst…"
"Holmes!" Watson said sharply.
Dumbledore frowned but Snape didn't seem in the least perturbed by the barb. The headmaster began to wonder just how much detail Snape had put into his Wish, and whether that had included translating his own past to fit, or if this was mere coincidence.
"Indeed?" Snape said calmly. "And how do you surmise that?"
Holmes considered the puff of smoke he had just blown out as he said idly, as if quoting, "Severus Snape, the only son and heir to an obscure but noble family. Received a double First in Greats at Cambridge, specialising in the natural sciences - I believe chemistry was your passion, wasn't it? Predictions were made of a brilliant career full of prestige and honour."
He turned his head and fixed his sharp eyes on Snape. "Instead, within two years you had taken the post as Science master at a boys' school in Scotland where you have remained for the past twenty years. Even though the school is among the finest in the country, being a schoolmaster is hardly within the lofty goals you must have once had."
"And you are implying…?" Snape asked, raising an eyebrow.
Holmes gave a bark of laughter and sat up abruptly. "I imply nothing. I merely state the facts. There were certain rumours, whispers of something just edging on a scandal." He waved an expressive hand. "Oh, nothing that ever appeared in court, but enough to cause raised eyebrows whenever your name is mentioned. Professor Dumbledore's generosity, his acceptance, has allowed you entree into academic circles that would have shunned you otherwise."
"If you are implying that Severus has something to do with the disappearance of this boy," Dumbledore said sharply, rising to his feet in indignation, "then I assure you that you are greatly mistaken. I have the utmost faith and confidence in Severus, and I trust him completely. Hogwarts has benefited greatly from his teaching skills and knowledge, and I am privileged to have his friendship as well."
A smile touched Holmes' lips although it quickly disappeared as he slouched back in his chair. "Oh, I have no doubt that your confidence in Professor Snape is quite justified. I am certain that whatever youthful indiscretions he may have committed have been sincerely repented and repaid."
Holmes fixed his eyes on Snape again and the Potions master suppressed a shiver, feeling as if those eyes had stripped away all the cloth covering his arm, exposing the Dark Mark for all to see.
Snape had a sudden urge to terminate the Wish, to flee to his dungeons and nurse his self-loathing in private rather than see disgust in the eyes of the man he had admired since his youth. However, his recollection of Albus' trust, as well as his love, soothed his lingering sense of unworthiness. If Albus - who knew him better than anyone alive - could love him, then Snape had no reason to hide from a fictional character. He raised his chin in determination instead, meeting the detective's eyes squarely.
To his surprise, another smile touched Holmes' lips. "Good man." He rose abruptly and strode to the window again. "Were you aware that you were followed here?"
Snape exchanged a look with Dumbledore as the headmaster took his seat again. "No, we were not. Are you certain?"
"A nondescript young man has been lounging in the doorway directly across the way since your arrival, and he has been keeping an eye on this place. I recognised in an instant that it is your presence in my rooms that has fixed his attention." Holmes made a disgusted sound. "Really, one wonders at the increasing ineptitude of the criminal population of London."
"What do you suppose he wants?" Snape asked, intrigued. Dumbledore thought that he looked like he was barely resisting the urge to go to the window and check out the mysterious man himself. He couldn't help wondering who in Snape's cast of characters for this Wish would have had them followed.
"That is part of the mystery, is it not?" Holmes turned away from the window and looked at Dumbledore. "How did Master Carter come to be a student at your school? The fees are not inconsiderable, and one supposes the young man to be a penniless orphan."
Dumbledore blinked in confusion for a moment, then, as Snape cleared his throat, hastily recalled his script. "It is due to his maternal grandmother, Lady Winifred Evans. She has paid all his expenses and arranged for his keep over the holidays. In addition, the boy is the beneficiary under a small trust."
"Then the young man is not completely without means," Watson said eagerly. "Is it possible that he has come to London to draw upon these funds? Boys of that age often set off on what they think of as a lark, without a thought to the consequences or the worry they might cause."
Dumbledore shook his head. "His trustees would not release funds without a good reason and, in any event, they say that he has made no attempt to contact them. Quite frankly, I fear for the boy. London is not the place for a youth on his own."
"You said in your note that he started receiving letters over the past month, and that he received one the day prior to his disappearance," Holmes said.
Snape nodded and extracted a worn leather notecase from his pocket. Opening it, he withdrew an envelope and held it out to Holmes. "We found this in the dustbin in his rooms, although there was no sign of the contents. I assume that he took the letter with him."
"Presumably it contained information regarding the location where he was to meet the sender of the letter," Holmes murmured, his eyes rapidly scanning the envelope. "The boy must have been unfamiliar with the directions and therefore had the foresight to take the letter with him."
"Which would suggest that the person who sent the letter is unfamiliar to him," Snape said.
When Holmes gave him a sharp - and surprised - look, Snape continued smugly, "If they were known to each other, no doubt the sender would have suggested a meeting place with which both were familiar."
"An excellent supposition, Professor," Holmes said, although a bit grudgingly.
"Based on a study of the postal mark," Snape said, "we have narrowed the location of the person who posted it to within a few streets of Kensington Gardens - "
"Upon my oath, Watson!" Holmes said, flinging the envelope down on the table in a sudden burst of fury. "It is beyond the pale when a pair of schoolteachers seek to tell me my profession! I shall retire to the country and take up beekeeping!" He stamped over to the fireplace.
"Holmes!" Watson remonstrated.
Dumbledore looked quickly over at Snape and saw that his eyes had widened in surprise and that his mouth was nearly hanging open. He couldn't help being amused; the detective's outburst reminded the headmaster of Snape's own reaction when his potion-making skills were contested.
Snape recovered quickly and continued as if there had been no interruption. "However, at that point we ran into a dead end - "
"Hah!" Holmes said triumphantly, spinning back around and returning to the table.
" - as there is only one hotel in the vicinity, and they have no recollection of seeing the boy. We could hardly go house to house searching for him."
"Nor would that afford you any results," Holmes said, picking up the envelope again. "An examination of this envelope reveals that the paper is of a serviceable but not high quality stock, the sort of paper typically provided in the better class of rooming houses."
"So we're looking for a genteel rooming house in the vicinity of Kensington Gardens?" Dumbledore asked, intrigued by watching the mystery unfolding in front of him. He was beginning to understand Snape's fascination, and he could see that Snape was riveted as he watched the detective intently. "How do we go about making inquiries in the area?"
"I have resources that will make such an inquiry easier," Holmes said dismissively, "although you won't find the boy there."
He tapped the envelope with one long finger. "There is a trace of wax on the front which indicates that this letter was placed with at least one other, a letter that had only recently been sealed and whose wax was still warm. The fact that this letter was placed underneath the other tells me that the sender did not wish anyone else in the house to see the address - clearly that of a public school - so the sender would not have brought the boy back to his or her rooms."
"His or her?" Watson inquired, raising an eyebrow in surprise.
"Kidnapping is not solely a man's crime," Holmes pointed out. "The fairer sex has been known to indulge in such a pastime, particularly where a child is concerned."
He paced back and forth for a moment, then paused and looked back at Snape. "You say that there is no contact between the boy and his immediate family."
"None," Snape replied. "I don't believe Master Carter has ever seen any of his family, particularly not since his father's arrest seven years ago. Lord Evans cut Lady Libby off completely when she ran away to marry John Carter. Although Lady Evans pays for his maintenance, it is with the strict understanding that the boy does not seek contact with his maternal relations. He has an aunt but they have never met. As for paternal relatives, John Carter was an only child, and his parents died shortly before he undertook his life of crime."
Holmes nodded. "Then our suspect is most likely a man, since there is nothing to suggest a female relative with a motive to secure the child."
There was silence for a few minutes, and each man appeared to be wrapped in his own thoughts as Holmes began pacing again. Then Watson said slowly, "I'd like to know how the police managed to catch this 'Black Jack', if he was such an adept thief."
"The oldest story in the book, Watson," Holmes replied, shrugging. "Black Jack had an accomplice by the name of Samuel Brown who stood watch while Carter committed his daring thefts. Apparently he felt he had been slighted when it came to dividing up the spoils. An evening's overindulgence in drink, more than a few incautious boasts in public, and a listener with an eye to the reward offered for information on the robberies - well, you can imagine the rest."
"Honour among thieves, eh, Holmes?" Watson said, shaking his head.
"Exactly, Watson," Holmes said, with a sneer for the perfidy of the criminal nature. "Scotland Yard took Brown into custody and he confessed everything in the hope of a lighter sentence. Jack Carter was tried and convicted, although they never recovered more than a fraction of the stolen jewels. He refused to tell the authorities where he'd hidden them."
He stroked his chin with his long, thin fingers. "I suppose he thought he would serve out his sentence and retrieve them, and that they would be worth the penalty he paid for refusing to co-operate."
"I take it his plans went amiss," Watson said, making notes in his journal.
"Hm?" Holmes' thoughts were clearly elsewhere as he leant on the mantle with his elbow, staring at the wall above the fireplace. "Oh. Yes; unfortunately for him, there was an outbreak of cholera in the prison three years after he arrived and he died."
"What about his partner?" Watson asked.
"Tried and convicted as well, although he received a lighter sentence than his companion." Holmes tapped a finger against his chin. "I believe that Brown has had a hand in this matter, either directly or through a friend or family member. He - or someone acting for him - has approached the boy, using the association between himself and the boy's father as a lure."
Snape nodded. "It would be easy enough to do so. A letter containing some anecdotes about his father, an offer to tell the boy more stories or perhaps give him something entrusted to this friend by his father. The boy is lonely and has very few friends because of his background. He would eagerly grasp such an opportunity to know more about his father."
"I don't understand why they would want the boy," Dumbledore said. "He was but a child when his father was arrested. Surely he knows nothing of the matter."
"Clearly his father's partner thinks otherwise," Holmes said, his brow wrinkled in thought. "Perhaps he thinks that the boy has information about the location of the missing jewels. Was anything else missing from the boy's room? A book, a journal, anything?"
"Just a change of clothes and a small valise," Snape said. "However, Master Carter had few personal possessions. I am his Housemaster and had occasion to inspect his rooms, and I saw little of a personal nature." He paused. "He did have something: a locket his father gave him with his mother's picture inside. I remember hearing some of the other boys teasing him about it, as he carried it in his pocket at all times."
"Capital!" Holmes said. He sprang up from the table, crossed to one of the desks, and then began writing rapidly. "I shall begin making my inquiries. Come back tomorrow morning; I'll have more for you by then. Good-day."
Dumbledore was startled by this abrupt dismissal, but it was clear that neither Snape nor Watson were. Snape nodded and rose from his chair, then turned toward the detective.
"What about the man following us? Should we attempt to lose him, or should we let him follow us back to the hotel?"
Holmes looked up, an impatient look on his face. "By no means should you lose him. I intend to follow him and see if I can discern who his employer is."
"I would like to go with you," Snape said. As Holmes opened his mouth to refuse, Snape said quickly, "It is possible that I might know his employer as I am familiar with all of Jasper's relatives, and it may well be one of them. I also followed the criminal case and should be able to recognise Brown."
Holmes frowned and Dumbledore added, "As Severus is Jasper's Head of House, I would feel more at ease knowing that he is actively participating in the search for the boy."
"Very well," Holmes said, somewhat shortly. "Watson, you and Professor Dumbledore will go back to his hotel - we could use a photograph of the boy, if you have one at hand. Professor Snape and I will give our man enough time to follow you, then we will follow him. It is my belief that once he has ascertained that you have returned to your hotel, he will report to his employer. Watson, once you have the photograph, send these telegrams," he said, handing Watson the notes he'd written, "then return here and wait for me."
"All right, Holmes," Watson said, grabbing his hat and coat.
Dumbledore patted Snape's arm. "I'll meet you back at the hotel, Severus." Snape nodded, but the headmaster could see that his attention was fixed on the detective, so he just smiled and followed Watson out the door. He would find out what Snape was up to later - after all, he knew several ways to make the other man talk.
Four hours later, Dumbledore collapsed on his back on the bed in their suite, trying to regain his breath. "Not that I'm complaining, dear boy, but what was that about?"
Snape lay sprawled on the tangled sheets, looking delightfully debauched and more than a little smug. "It hasn't been that long, Albus."
Dumbledore turned his head to give his lover a mock-severe look. "I knew I should have flogged you when I had the opportunity."
Snape smirked at him. "There is always your next Wish, Albus."
"No doubt you'd enjoy it too much," Dumbledore said with a sigh. "Speaking of wishes, you seem highly pleased with yours so far."
That was an understatement, Dumbledore thought. Snape had almost burst into their hotel room after his solo jaunt with Holmes and had hardly waited to secure the door to their suite behind him before pouncing. He'd steered Dumbledore towards the bedroom, kissing him as he stripped them both and then tumbled them onto the bed. His response to Dumbledore's lovemaking had been passionately abandoned, even though he'd had to muffle his cries in the pillows in deference to their surroundings.
Now Dumbledore regarded Snape with a mixture of amusement and delight. It was rare that he saw his lover so clearly happy about something and, even though he was a bit perplexed as to the cause, it pleased him.
Snape carefully rolled onto his side, wincing a little as abused body parts protested. He arched an eyebrow. "Jealous, Albus?"
"Certainly not!" Dumbledore replied with indignation.
"Good, because I believe I have proven both the depth and the steadfastness of my regard for you." Snape shifted a little closer to his lover and closed his eyes.
And remarks like that, thought Dumbledore, reminded him just how much he loved the irascible Potions master. He set about proving how very much that regard was returned.
It wasn't until he was drifting off to sleep sometime later that he realised his lover had neatly avoided answering his question.
After being gone for the better part of four hours in pursuit of information, Holmes swept back into their parlour, trailing fresh air and barely restrained excitement in his wake. He shed his coat carelessly on the settee, refusing dinner as he rubbed his hands together with undisguised glee.
"This is an excellent case, Watson! It grows more complex with every fact I uncover, and yet I fancy that all will be resolved by this time tomorrow."
"Then you have a lead on the boy's whereabouts?" Watson abandoned the remnants of his own meal to join Holmes by the fire.
"Not a one." Holmes filled his pipe and lit it. "Although I have no doubt that my inquiries will yield satisfactory results by the morning." He tossed the match into the fireplace.
"And our spy? Did you and Professor Snape learn anything of interest?"
"As a matter of fact, we did. You will be interested to learn that we traced the individual back to Grosvenor Square. Snape - a decent enough fellow if a bit pedantic - recognized the place immediately. It is just as well that I decided to take him with me; that saved me the trouble of ascertaining the information on my own."
Watson smiled. "Dumbledore was quite fulsome in his praise of his colleague and his abilities. It was at Professor Snape's insistence that they laid this case before you. But why Grosvenor Square?"
"To the home of Lady Winifred Evans, to be precise."
"Ah!" Watson said, comprehension lighting up his face. "Lady Winifred - Jasper's grandmother. Do you think she has something to do with the boy's disappearance? After all, you said that kidnapping can be a woman's crime, and she is unknown to the boy. Perhaps it was his mother's history, not his father's, that was used to tempt him."
"Really, Watson, what reason would she have to kidnap her own grandson? She is his legal guardian and may take him away from school at any time."
"Unless - " A sudden idea occurred to Watson. "What if the boy stands in the way of another member of her family inheriting? Holmes, you don't suppose she would harm the lad, do you?"
"Watson, this is not one of your over-romanticised stories." Holmes' voice combined amusement and irritation. "No doubt she is merely ascertaining that our clients are pursuing the disappearance of her grandson to the fullest."
"Oh," Watson said, feeling slightly chagrined. "Then you still think it is the father's former partner who is responsible?"
"Highly unlikely, I should think," Holmes said, settling into his favourite chair, "as Samuel Brown was murdered two years ago while still incarcerated."
"Murdered!" Watson exclaimed. "But why? And by whom?"
"When we know that, my dear fellow, we will know where the boy is. As for why - surely that is obvious?"
"The missing jewels," Watson said.
"Mm," Holmes agreed. "Mr. Brown must have figured out that the boy had the clue to the whereabouts of the missing jewels - probably concealed in that locket. Not wanting to share his information with Scotland Yard, he must have confided in a fellow inmate. However, his confidant was undoubtedly disinclined to trust to Brown's inability to keep a secret, and that led to his death. The authorities were never able to prove that it was anything other than an accident, although suspicion fell onto several inmates at one point. No charges were ever pressed."
"If Brown was murdered two years ago, but the boy has just recently begun receiving these letters," Watson said slowly, "then our suspect must have only recently been released from prison. He would hardly have dared to correspond from inside gaol, since he would know that inmates' letters are read."
"Excellent, Watson!" Holmes said, smiling at him delightedly.
Watson grinned in return. "Just employing your methods, Holmes. So if we can discover who was at Her Majesty's pleasure alongside Brown and has only recently been released, then we should be able to track down our kidnapper."
Holmes set aside his pipe and produced a folded slip of paper from his pocket, holding it up between his long fingers. "There were three men who fit that description released over the past two months. I have instituted inquiries into their present whereabouts and I anticipate a reply by morning."
He handed the paper to Watson. "So, how shall we occupy our time until then? Ah, I have it!"
Watson eyed the emergence of the violin from its case with trepidation, but Holmes seemed to be in one of his rare, mellow moods this evening. Instead of scraping melancholic or frenetic chords on the instrument, he played Watson's favourite airs, one after the other. Watson rested his head against the back of the settee and closed his eyes so that he could let the music wash over him.
When the last strains of the Lieder had faded away, Watson opened his eyes and looked across the room at his companion. "Thank you," he said quietly, "although I am curious as to what brought that on."
Holmes shrugged. "You insisted that I take this case. I am not completely without the ability to express my gratitude."
Watson crossed to Holmes, set aside the violin and bow, and then kissed Holmes gently. "I can think of other ways in which you may thank me."
He took his companion's hand and led him into Holmes' bedroom, taking care to secure the door behind them.
Sometime later, as Holmes lay staring at the ceiling, he murmured, "There is something peculiar about that pair, nevertheless."
Watson roused himself from a pleasant, sated torpor. "Who? Professor Snape and Headmaster Dumbledore? They seemed…unusually close."
"Oh, that. They are obviously intimate companions."
Watson nodded. "I had suspected as much. The way Professor Snape appropriated the headmaster's teacup - a reserved chap like that, not the sort of thing you'd expect him to do."
"No, indeed. That sort of behaviour is generally observed in couples within a long-standing relationship, such as husbands and wives. The fact that the professor did so without thinking about it, and that Dumbledore made no protest tells me it is a common occurrence, a habit."
Watson frowned in deep thought. "Are you saying that they are accustomed to publicly displayed intimacy?"
"I rather doubt that Professor Snape would be inclined toward public intimacies, but they are certainly unaccustomed to dissembling about their relationship before others. The expression in the headmaster's eyes when resting upon his companion displayed considerable fondness. More than that of a teacher for a favoured former pupil."
Watson's eyes widened and he turned his head to look at Holmes. "Snape was a student at Hogwarts before attending Cambridge? Holmes, are you implying that Headmaster Dumbledore seduced him as a boy? Is that the scandal you were referring to?"
"No, indeed. The scandal I referred to was criminal in nature. Not that pederasty isn't criminal in the eyes of the law, but I am referring to a different type of crime."
Holmes hesitated, as if aware that his next statement would provoke a severe reaction from his companion. "It was inferred by one of my informants that young Snape was employed by Moriarty's organisation to produce poisons and mind-altering narcotics for their use."
"Holmes!" Watson exclaimed, sitting bolt upright in the bed, distraught at the thought of both the perversion of the young man's talents and the fact that Holmes had spent several hours alone with him.
"To his credit, the young man appears to have quickly realised the error of his ways and turned to his former headmaster for assistance," Holmes said. "It is likely that Dumbledore offered him sanctuary in return for information that was then relayed to the police. Moriarty's organization in the north had been severely crippled, even before his death. Clearly, this Dumbledore is a man of great influence."
"Yes, but Holmes! To use that influence to seduce a vulnerable young man, one who had already been preyed upon by unscrupulous fiends!" Watson protested, now swayed into viewing Snape as a victim rather than a criminal.
"I suspect that the seduction came from the other side," Holmes said contemplatively, "and that Dumbledore resisted for a considerable period of time, to his own current regret."
He turned his head to look at Watson, and the expression in his eyes was unusually soft. "Much as I regret my own inaction on the feelings between us, John."
Watson couldn't help smiling at that, although he was still concerned about a possible misuse of influence in the case of Snape. "My dear, I refuse to reproach you on that matter. My own feelings were conflicted, as you well remember." He leaned down to kiss his lover's lips. "This has been all the sweeter for the wait."
After a short but interesting interlude, Watson murmured, "But how can you tell that it was thus between them?"
"There is a certain indulgence in Dumbledore's manner towards his companion, one that tells me that he believes Snape to have suffered greatly and that he blames himself." A brief smile touched his lips. "I suspect that the professor is allowed more lenience than others among the staff."
Watson chuckled as he lay back down on the bed. "His poor, poor students."
"No doubt they find him a hard taskmaster," Holmes agreed, "and not one to suffer fools gladly."
Watson chuckled. "Like another I could mention."
Holmes smiled, his rare, sweet smile, the one that melted Watson's heart. "My poor John," he murmured as he lightly traced Watson's lips with one finger. "You are indeed a saint to remain so steadfastly by my side."
"No saint," Watson replied, smiling at him in return. "Just the man who loves you more than life itself." Then he kissed Holmes to prove just what he meant.
Dumbledore gave his lover a severe look across the breakfast table in their suite the next morning. "I know what you did last night, Severus."
Snape set down the note they'd received from Holmes, requesting that they meet him at Kensington Gardens in two hours, and turned his attention to his breakfast. "I haven't the slightest idea what you're talking about."
"You know very well what I mean. I was inquiring about your Wish, and you changed the subject." Dumbledore glanced across the table at Snape, letting him see that he was amused rather than angry. "Very effectively, I might add."
Snape frowned. "I hope you know that I would not say - or do - what I did merely to change the subject."
"Oh, I know you wouldn't," Dumbledore said, smiling. "Not just to change the subject." Snape scowled at him, embarrassed at being caught, and Dumbledore chuckled. "My dear, if you don't wish to discuss the matter with me, simply say so. I have no desire to force a confidence from you." He sighed. "Merlin knows, I have forced you to do far too many unpleasant things in the past."
Snape glared at him. "Albus, I forbid you to feel guilty for that. It was my own choice, freely made - "
"You did not choose to teach Harry Occlumency," Dumbledore reminded him. "Nor did you choose to - "
"Very well!" Snape said impatiently, pushing away from the table. "Castigate yourself, if it makes you feel better! Just don't expect me to agree." He stalked over to the window and stood staring down at the street.
Once again, Dumbledore was struck by the similarity between his lover's actions and the mannerisms he'd observed in the fictional detective. Studying Snape through speculative eyes, he wondered how much of it was coincidence, and how much was deliberate.
"I'm a little worried about this mystery of yours. This detective - you are certain he'll be able to find the boy?" Dumbledore asked, letting it seem as if he had changed the subject.
Snape turned to look at him, amused. "Albus, it was my Wish to see Sherlock Holmes in action. He is the greatest fictional detective ever. Of course he'll find the boy."
"Most likely," Snape said, shrugging, then sighed at the look on Dumbledore's face. "Albus, he's an imaginary boy in an imaginary world! Even if something dreadful were to happen to him, once the Wish ends he would cease to exist in any case."
He paused and frowned. "At least, I assume he would, but you know more about this Wishing Candle than I do."
Dumbledore chuckled. "Why, Severus! Are you telling me that you haven't looked up everything that has ever been written on the subject?"
Snape's cheeks reddened slightly and he snapped, "There isn't anything, and you know it."
"Ah, so you did attempt to do so?" Dumbledore said archly, and then he smiled fondly at Snape. "Books always were your refuge. I often wondered why you weren't sorted into Ravenclaw - "
"There is no need to be insulting, Albus."
" - so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that one of your wishes would involve a fictional character."
Snape sighed and leaned forward so that his forehead rested against the window. He was quiet for a few minutes then said, so softly that Dumbledore could barely hear him, "He was my constant companion for nearly three years."
Dumbledore looked puzzled. "Who was?"
"Sherlock Holmes." Snape absently traced the seam between the panes of glass with the tip of his finger. He sighed and turned to look back at Dumbledore. "You remember during my Sixth year, when Lily Evans and I were teamed for our final potions project?"
Dumbledore nodded. He'd suggested the pairing to Professor Digitalia himself, hoping that Lily would be able to breach some of Severus' walls. Like so many things, it hadn't worked quite the way he had hoped. They had, indeed, worked well together and received top marks, and Severus had appeared to relax a bit. However, the pairing had infuriated both James and Sirius, and the latter had retaliated in the worst possible way. Following the Shrieking Shack incident, Snape had withdrawn even more, setting himself on the path towards Voldemort, a path that Dumbledore had sealed with his rejection of the young man's advances.
"She said the way I hunted down information for our assignment reminded her of Sherlock Holmes, and when I told her that I hadn't the slightest idea what she was babbling on about, she lent me her copy of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. I'd never seen a Muggle book before, nor read a mystery, and I was certain that it would be inferior in every way." A slight smile touched Snape's lips. "Lily nearly laughed herself to death when I showed up for our next research meeting, not having slept for over a day, and demanded more."
Dumbledore smiled; he had seen Snape in the grip of an obsession and could easily picture the younger man, wild-eyed and dishevelled, too caught up in his latest discovery for mundane things like food or sleep.
"The following week, when I was in the infirmary," Snape's eyes flicked briefly over to Dumbledore's and then away, both of them intensely aware of why Snape had been there, "Lily marched in with this enormous book and set it down on the bed. It was all the Sherlock Holmes stories - 56 short stories and 4 novels. A get-well present, she said." Snape's eyes closed and he swallowed hard. "The first present I'd ever received."
Dumbledore felt his eyes misting with sudden tears. "Severus…"
"I read it, cover to cover, so many times that I believe I could still recite them from memory. I shrunk it and carried it everywhere with me. I didn't dare leave it - a Muggle book - in my rooms at school or home. After I left Hogwarts, when I was working for…Him…. Sometimes I'd come home and crawl under the covers of my bed and just read. It was the only thing that kept me sane."
Dumbledore frowned slightly; he had been in Severus' rooms many times, both before and after they'd become lovers, and he didn't recall seeing a book like that on any of the shelves in his personal library.
"Do you still carry it with you?" he asked, curious.
Snape's face shuttered. "No," he said shortly. "Lucius found it. He destroyed it and then taught me a lesson about being 'soft' on Muggles, as he phrased it." He gave a mirthless laugh. "Ironic, is it not, to think that the last straw affecting my decision to leave the Dark Lord was something Muggle?"
Dumbledore drew in a sharp breath. When Hagrid had brought Snape to his office twenty years earlier, he'd never asked how Snape had received his injuries. He'd been too guilt-ridden at his own contribution to the young man's downfall to ask, and Snape had been too proud to confide in him back then.
The moment we get back, I shall Owl Miss Granger and ask her to find the best compilation of stories about this fellow, Dumbledore thought with fierce determination. No - a copy of *every* Holmes story in print.
Out loud, he said, "I prefer to think of it as fortunate for our side." He got up and crossed to stand behind Snape, wrapping his arms around his lover's waist and nuzzling the back of his neck. "Not to mention fortunate for me."
He smiled as he heard Snape's amused snort. "Albus, you cannot possibly want more after last night."
"Why ever not?" he asked, affecting an innocent air. "We have some time before meeting your detective. Besides, we should muss up the second bed, otherwise the maids may grow suspicious."
"Well, as I have no desire to be incarcerated in Reading gaol or to end this Wish too soon, perhaps you are right," Snape said, and allowed Dumbledore to take his hand and lead him into the second bedroom.
They met Holmes and Watson at Kensington Gardens and followed them to a well-kept house on one of the side streets. Holmes adjured them to let him do most of the talking, knocked, and when a maid answered, asked for the owner of the establishment. The maid showed them into a parlour, and as Snape watched Holmes examine the room, he wondered what the detective discerned from their surroundings.
Snape looked around the room himself, taking in the neat appearance of the comfortable furniture, the pictures on the mantle, and an abandoned toy on the hearth, and wished that he knew more about Muggles. The room seemed too well appointed for a rooming house, although he supposed the clientele of this establishment were more genteel than those of the vermin-infested flat he'd lived in after leaving Hogwarts. Or perhaps this was the family parlour, he thought. There was a desk in the corner, and a moment's perusal informed him that it was stocked with envelopes and wax similar to that on the envelope he'd found.
After a few minutes, a young woman entered the parlour. She was neatly dressed in dark clothing and her manner hinted at gentle competence, reminding Snape of the character Violet Hunter in one of the Holmes' stories. She looked a little weary at the moment, but summoned an affable smile upon seeing them.
"I'm Mrs. Phelps," she said, her voice pleasant but hinting at a background that was not quite as cultured as her surroundings. Snape narrowed his eyes in thought - clearly she had "married up", as they say. "You wished to see me? I'm afraid I don't have any rooms available at present."
"Quite all right," Holmes said genially. "We are not looking for rooms, but rather for information. My name is Sherlock Holmes; this is my associate, Dr. Watson, and my clients, Professors Dumbledore and Snape."
At the mention of Holmes' name, Mrs. Phelps looked pale and swayed. Watson immediately sprang to her side and helped her into a chair.
"Are you all right?" Watson asked, concerned. "Let me call the maid for a glass of water and sal volatile."
Mrs. Phelps shook her head, fixing her eyes on Holmes. "What has my Tommy done now?"
"You are referring to your brother, Tom Whitlow, recently released from prison?" Holmes asked and she nodded. "Why do you think that he may be in trouble?"
She wet her lips and looked briefly at each of them in turn before turning back to Holmes. "He stayed with me for a few weeks - just till he could get back on his feet, you understand. While he was here, he boasted that something good was coming his way. He wouldn't say what, just that it would be enough to take care of both of us for the rest of our lives. 'You won't have to fetch and carry for anyone ever again, Eliza,' he said. I scoffed and said I'd be happy just to see him settled properly."
"Did he give you any idea of what this 'good thing' might be?" Holmes asked. "Think carefully - the life of a young boy might be at stake."
She looked even more faint at that but shook her head. "He wouldn't say anything else - probably didn't want me involved if it went bad." She smiled faintly. "Tommy was always a bit protective of me."
"I assume that he was upset to learn about your late husband's unfortunate demise, particularly as he left you with so many debts and a young child."
Mrs. Phelps looked at him wonderingly. "Yes, he was quite angry about that, but how did you know?"
Holmes waved his hand airily. "The location of your establishment and the fact that you take in boarders tells me that you have come upon hard times and must supplement your income. The furnishings of this room, however, are of the finest and only three years old, so the hardship is recent. Your impeccable appearance and the neat aspect of your house tells me that your difficulties are not due to any vices of yours, so one must assume the change is due to some other misfortune. Your black dress and the mourning bands on the photographs on your mantle tell me that your husband is recently deceased."
"Why, yes," Mrs. Phelps said. "But how did you know about my child?"
Snape picked up a small doll lying on the hearthrug. "I assume this was the clue Mr. Holmes needed."
Holmes gave Snape a approving half-smile. "Indeed it was, Professor. We'll make a detective of you yet."
"Mrs. Phelps, do you have any idea where your brother might be now?" Watson asked. "It is vital that we find him before an innocent boy comes to harm."
Mrs. Phelps bit her lip. "As I said, he didn't confide in me. He left two days ago and said he'd return in a week."
Holmes frowned. "And he gave no indication of where he might be found should you need him?"
"Well…he did mention a friend's shop, said I could leave a message there if I needed to." She got up, crossed to the desk, and pulled a calling card out of one of the cubbies. "This is the place," she said, handing the card to Holmes.
"Excellent!" Holmes noted the address before handing the card back to her. "Come, Watson! Professors! There's no time to lose."
As Holmes strode towards the door, Mrs. Phelps caught Watson's arm. "Doctor - my brother?"
Watson covered her hand with his and said, gently, "We'll do what we can to ensure his safety, but you must accept that he's involved in a very bad business." Her eyes filled with tears but she nodded, and he squeezed her hand. "You are a very brave woman."
Holmes was waiting for them on the sidewalk when Watson and the professors left the house. He scowled at his friend. "Watson, you realise that your assurances were for nothing, do you not? Whitlow is undoubtedly responsible for Brown's death. Should he survive our encounter, he is for the gallows."
"I know, Holmes, but what would you have me do? The poor woman was in tears." Holmes snorted at that and Watson gave him a small grin. "Admit it; you were jealous."
"Jealous! Why in God's name should I be jealous because some misguided creature had the audacity to nearly faint in your arms and then weep all over your sleeve?"
Holmes strode down the street, ignoring the amused look on Watson's face. "Come, gentlemen! The game is afoot!"
As they followed in the detective's wake, Dumbledore murmured to Snape, "What was all that about? Do you suppose they're…?"
Snape shrugged. "It would not surprise me. I've had my suspicions about the nature of their relationship, based upon what I've read. And, after all, this is my fantasy, Albus."
"Maybe I should have been jealous, then," Dumbledore teased, reminding Snape of their talk the previous evening.
Snape gave him a disbelieving look. "Are you insane? I admire the man, yes, but we'd drive each other to murder within a day. Our little outing yesterday proved that. The man sulked when I surmised that the house our spy led us to was the Evans' town house."
Dumbledore chuckled. "Yes, I had noticed that you two are very similar. I expect you both need the leavening agents that Watson and I provide."
"Among other things," Snape said with a smouldering side-glance that conveyed his desire that this mystery would be quickly concluded so that they could get back to "other things". Dumbledore grabbed his arm and they hurried after the detective.
The shop was easy enough to find and turned out to be a jewellers just off one of the more fashionable thoroughfares. It was also locked up tight even though it was late afternoon. Holmes led the way around to the back of the building and, after peering into several the windows for a few moments, rejoined his companions.
"The jeweller appears to live in the house next door to the shop. I've been into this shop once before in regard to a case involving the fencing of stolen jewels, and I recognize the man, Reginald Purvey. He's sitting at the kitchen table, and it appears he has the jewels with him. I wouldn't be surprised if he is preparing to reset the jewels into less recognizable pieces. There's no sign of either Whitlow or the boy; very likely they are keeping Jasper upstairs."
"What should we do now?" Dumbledore asked. "Call for Scotland Yard?"
"There's no time for that," Holmes said impatiently. "Now that they have the goods, they have no further use for the boy. They will probably dispose of him once it becomes dark - Whitlow may even now be preparing to do so. Watson, did you bring your revolver?"
"Of course, Holmes."
"Good. What about you two gentlemen? I should warn you that it might be very dangerous. We are dealing with a man who has killed and will have little compunction about killing again."
"I believe we'll be able to handle ourselves in an altercation," Snape said.
"As a matter of fact," Dumbledore added, prompted by an imp of mischief, "Severus is an expert duellist and skilled at fisticuffs." He ignored the appalled and embarrassed look Snape gave him at his bending of the truth.
"Indeed? Then we shall burst in and take Purvey by surprise. Watson and I will apprehend him while the two of you take the upstairs and look for the boy. Be careful," he warned them as they nodded agreement. "We have no idea where Whitlow is at the moment."
The four men crept forward and took their places along the wall as Holmes tested the door. It was unlocked and he flung it open, then rushed inside with the other three men on his heels. Dumbledore paused a moment and saw Holmes throw himself at the surprised man as he started to sweep the glittering contents of the table into a bag. Purvey grabbed up a solid piece of wood and swung it at the detective who stepped agilely to one side and delivered a solid jab to the other man's chin. Then Dumbledore realized that Snape had charged up the narrow stairs and quickly followed him.
Snape was hurrying down the small hallway, ignoring the open doors he passed. At the end of the hall, he flung open the closed door and stepped inside, his eyes quickly scanning the room. Dumbledore followed him into the room in time to see Snape launch himself at a man bending over a small figure on the bed. The man crashed to the floor and Snape went with him.
Dumbledore hurried to the bed and was relieved to see that the boy was alive although the skin around his neck displayed red, finger-shaped marks. Jasper's eyes were shadowed, he looked as if he hadn't eaten for days, and his actions were oddly sluggish, but he was alive and that was all that mattered.
"Headmaster!" he croaked in a painful whisper. "So glad…see you!"
"Jasper, thank God you're all right." Dumbledore looked around for something to cut the ropes binding the boy's hands and feet.
"Snape - saved me."
"Professor Snape," Dumbledore corrected automatically, and glanced over to see that the Potions master appeared to have gotten the upper hand in the struggle. Whitlow lay panting on the floor, his nose bleeding freely, glaring up at Snape who was breathing heavily but otherwise looked composed as usual. Dumbledore turned his attention back to the boy, applying himself to untying the knots, and was startled when Jasper's eyes widened in horror.
"Professor! Look out!"
Dumbledore hastily looked around. Whitlow launched himself from the floor, a wicked looking knife in his hand. Snape raised his left arm to deflect the blow and gasped as the knife sliced through his sleeve and into his arm, but he responded with another sharp jab that knocked Whitlow to the floor, stunned into immobility.
"Oh, well done, Sir!" Jasper said, a tone of reverence in his hoarse voice.
Dumbledore leapt from the bed and caught his lover, easing him to the floor. "Severus! Oh, Merlin, you're hurt!"
Snape grimaced as he clutched his bleeding arm. "It's nothing, Albus. A mere scratch."
"I'll be the judge of that," Dumbledore said, stripping off Snape's frock coat and shirt, laying bare the injured arm. He breathed a sigh of relief as he saw that the knife wound, while more than a scratch, was only a shallow wound. "You're right; it is only a superficial cut."
Dumbledore then turned to glare at their prisoner. "It is as well for you. If you had killed Severus, you would not have left this room alive." Hearing Snape's soft chuckle, he turned back to give his lover a puzzled look. "Whatever are you laughing about?"
"Remind me to find a copy of the story 'The Three Garridebs' for you to read when we return," Snape replied.
Dumbledore gave him a look between amusement and irritation as he pulled out his pocket-handkerchief to bind the wound. "I might have known that you'd think about a book at a time like this. I shall have to have a severe talk with the Sorting Hat when we return - I am more certain than ever that you were mis-Sorted."
Both men looked up as Watson entered the room saying, "Did you find the boy - good Heavens! What happened?"
"Our Mr. Whitlow has very sharp claws," Snape replied, rising from the floor with Dumbledore's assistance. He slipped his shirt back on, wincing as he eased the torn sleeve over the makeshift bandage. "Yes, we found Master Carter - in the nick of time, as Mr. Holmes surmised."
Watson looked over at the boy sitting propped against the headboard of the bed and his eyes widened as he caught sight of the red marks on the boy's throat. "I'd say so, indeed."
He crossed to the bed, smiling reassuringly at the boy. "It's all right; I'm a doctor. Do you mind if I take a look at you?"
Jasper shook his head, and Watson tilted the boy's neck slightly and gently probed the area. "Soft tissue damage only, thank the Lord. How do you feel, young man?" he asked the boy. "A bit hoarse, I imagine, as well as hungry and thirsty."
Jasper nodded and Watson turned back to the two professors. "I don't see any obvious injuries, but it would be best if he was thoroughly examined. I no longer have a surgery, but I can treat him back at Baker Street or, if you would you prefer, we can take him to St. Bart's."
Dumbledore saw the appeal in the boy's eyes and correctly interpreted it as fear of going to a big hospital among strangers. "Baker Street will be fine if you don't think there's anything seriously wrong with him."
"No doubt Mr. Carter will be too weak to walk." Snape wrapped his coat around the boy and lifted him into his arms, despite Dumbledore's protest.
Watson produced his revolver again, directing their surly prisoner to precede him as they headed downstairs to join Holmes.
"Well done, Watson!" Holmes said as they joined him in the kitchen. Dumbledore saw that Holmes also bore signs of damage from his scuffle with his prisoner in the form of a cut over one eye.
"Actually, it was Professor Snape who subdued our villain," Watson said.
"Ah, Professor! A skilled pugilist, indeed," Holmes said, then turned to their prisoner. "Mr. Whitlow, please join your comrade. Snape, if I may prevail upon you to go out to the street and summon a constable?"
Snape nodded and, after carefully setting Jasper down on a chair next to Dumbledore, he left the room. Whitlow, at the prompting of Watson's revolver, sat down next to his confederate at the table.
"Now, Whitlow, if you would be so kind as to clear up a few details for me, I would be much obliged."
Whitlow glowered. "And why should I say anything to you, Mr. Nosey Parker? Seems to me you should be the one doing the explaining, busting into a private home and all."
"My name is Sherlock Holmes, and the reason for my visit to your charming abode was to locate this young man who unaccountably went missing."
Jasper's eyes widened. "Is he really Sherlock Holmes?" he whispered to Dumbledore.
"He is, indeed," Dumbledore replied. "Professor Snape asked him to help solve the mystery of your disappearance."
"Snape - Professor Snape - knows Sherlock Holmes?" Jasper asked, looking impressed.
"You would be surprised to learn who - and what - your professor knows," Dumbledore murmured back, then turned his attention back to the questioning taking place.
Whitlow scowled. "Can I help it if some snivelling brat comes poking around where he's got no business? How am I to know how he got in here?"
Drily, Watson said, "And he managed to bind himself, hand and foot, and then nearly choke himself to death?"
Whitlow flushed but lifted his chin defiantly. "Still don't see any reason to tell you anything."
Holmes leaned forward. "Come, Whitlow. You've been caught red-handed with the stolen jewels. Should I choose to investigate Samuel Brown's convenient accident, your life might very well be forfeit. Don't add to your disgrace by dragging your sister down with you."
Whitlow's eyes widened and he stood up, glaring belligerently at Holmes. "Here, now! Don't you be dragging Eliza into this! She had no notion of what I was doing, none at all!"
"The police will likely find that hard to believe, especially since you spent the past two weeks in her house and sent the letters to Jasper from that same house," Holmes pointed out, his voice hardening as he added, "If you want to save her, I advise you to sit down and cooperate."
Looking pale and a good deal less cocksure, Whitlow sat down and moistened his lips. "What do you want to know?" he asked, a defeated tone in his voice.
Holmes smiled triumphantly, then cocked his head as he heard a noise from the front of the house. "That will be Professor Snape with the police now. I will present what I know about the case and ask for your verification. I may also ask you a few questions and I want you to answer them truthfully and completely. Do this, and I will see that your sister is kept safe from your folly."
Whitlow nodded. A moment later, Snape came into the room, followed by two uniformed policemen and another man in ordinary dress.
"Well done, Snape!" Holmes said. "Inspector Lestrade, what a fortunate circumstance that you were in the area."
The inspector gave Holmes a quizzical look. "It was, at that. We were just wrapping up our investigation into a smash-and-grab in the next street over when this fellow," he said, indicating Snape, "comes up and asks us to follow him. Since he mentioned your name, I thought I ought to come along and see what you had for us today."
"What would you say to the recovery of the missing jewels from the 'Black Jack' robberies?" Holmes asked as he tipped over the bag he'd taken from the jeweller. A glittering collection of necklaces, bracelets, brooches, and tiaras spilled onto the table, making each of them catch their breath in wondrous surprise.
"My word!" said the inspector, picking up one of the necklaces. "The Trelawney diamonds - I'd know them anywhere. But where - how?"
"The story began, I believe - and you will correct me, Whitlow, if I get any of the details wrong - in a prison cell several years back. Mr. Whitlow was imprisoned for a bit of petty theft and found his new cellmate to be a rather tedious young man who liked to boast about his past exploits. A Mr. Samuel Brown - ah, Lestrade, I see I've got your attention now. Yes, the former partner of Black Jack Carter. Mr. Brown liked to relieve the tedium of prison life by retelling the stories of his partner's thefts and, one would imagine, making his part in the exploits greater than they were. Then, about two years ago, seeing that his cellmate's interest was no longer as keen, he began to drop hints that he knew the whereabouts of the missing jewels. Am I right, Whitlow?"
Whitlow nodded, scowling as he said, "Man could talk the hind-leg off a donkey, he could."
"Whitlow here knew that the jewels had never been recovered, that Carter had taken the secret of their location to his grave. What he didn't know was that Carter had a son, and that he had given his son a special keepsake before he went to prison. A locket containing his wife's picture - and the location of the jewels. Brown knew or guessed this and one night, in a moment of carelessness, he told his cellmate. A few days later, Brown suffered an accident, one that left him permanently unable to reveal any more secrets. There were suspicions that it was more than an accident but nothing was ever proven. Two years later, Whitlow was released from prison."
Whitlow's scowl deepened but he said no more. Holmes turned to look at the boy.
"At this point, Jasper Carter came into the picture. A bright young man, estranged from both sides of his family by circumstances for which he was not responsible. Who can blame him for being intrigued by the sudden arrival of a letter from a mysterious individual who claimed to be a friend of his father's? Armed with all of Brown's stories, Whitlow was well equipped to entice young Jasper with tales of his father's exploits. Until finally Jasper received a letter telling him that this friend had something of his father's, something that had been entrusted to him to give to Jasper alone. His mysterious correspondent couldn't come to the school for some reason - "
"He said that he was being watched," Jasper said in his hoarse voice. "That he was a spy for Her Majesty and my father had been a spy as well. The robberies had been a cover, he said."
Holmes' lips twitched slightly at that. "Exactly the sort of story that would appeal to a high-spirited young lad," he said drily. "Jasper managed to slip away from school and travel to London, met Whitlow at a prearranged spot, and shortly afterwards found himself a prisoner here in the upstairs bedroom, where my colleagues just discovered him."
"He held a horrid cloth over my nose," Jasper said helpfully. "Next thing I knew, I was here."
"Fortune was with Whitlow for the locket did, indeed, contain the secret to the hiding place of the jewels."
"Which was?" Lestrade asked eagerly.
"His wife's crypt."
Lestrade shook his head. "That one will never fly, Holmes. The police went all over the place right after Carter's arrest, even got a judge's order to open the casket. They didn't find a thing."
"Because they weren't looking in the right place." Holmes picked up a nondescript looking gold locket from the pile of jewels and opened it. Inside was a picture of a beautiful young woman on one side and an oddly shaped flower on the other. Holmes pointed to the flower. "There was a cache at the base of the crypt, hidden behind a flower that looked like this. Brown told Whitlow that all he had to do was find the flower and it would lead him to the treasure."
"My word!" Lestrade said, admiringly. "That Black Jack was quite clever, wasn't he? For a thief, of course."
"Whitlow located the hidden stash and brought them back here. No doubt he and Purvey intended to reduce these pieces to their individual stones, reset them, and then sell them to an unsuspecting public. The larger, more recognizable stones would have been fenced through an associate on the Continent."
"And they'd have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for you, Mr. Holmes," Lestrade said. "As well as murdering the poor lad, I don't doubt."
"They very nearly accomplished that," Watson added. "Snape found Whitlow choking the boy and saved his life."
"Hardly that," Snape said, his cheeks colouring slightly at the accolades. "I was fortunate enough to arrive in time."
"And got wounded for your pains, I see," Lestrade added, gesturing at the makeshift bandage visible on Snape's arms. "Better let Dr. Watson have a look at that."
"I will," Watson promised. "This boy needs tending as well, if you no longer require our presence."
"Seems it's all pretty straightforward," Lestrade said. "And I can always come 'round and have Mr. Holmes fill in the details later."
"A moment, Watson, and then we may depart," Holmes said. "Lestrade, Whitlow has a sister, a Mrs. Phelps who lives near Kensington Gardens. My investigations prove that she knew nothing about this matter, and is completely innocent of any wrongdoing that her brother may have committed. In fact, when she learned that a young boy's life was at stake, she readily provided us with a vital clue to her brother's current whereabouts, a clue that allowed us to arrive in time to save young Jasper's life. Should there be a reward for the recovery of these jewels, I suggest that it be given to her."
"Are you certain, Mr. Holmes?" Lestrade asked. "The reward for the return of so many priceless pieces will no doubt amount to several thousand pounds."
Holmes waved his hand dismissively. "For me, the successful conclusion of this case is its own reward."
"An utter prevarication on your part, Holmes," Watson said some time later as the four of them occupied the parlour in Baker Street again. He had walked into the room in time to see Dumbledore paying Holmes for his services and couldn't resist teasing his friend.
Holmes scowled. "Expenses were incurred, Watson - telegrams, cab fares, and so forth."
"It was well worth the fee," Dumbledore said. "A very stimulating experience, with a successful ending as well. How is Jasper faring, Doctor?"
"Other than the bruising about his throat, he is in remarkably good condition. Hungry and thirsty, of course. And it appears he might have been drugged during his stay to keep him docile. I'd like to keep him here overnight so that I can keep an eye on him, make sure he's not suffering any ill-effects from the drugs, if that is all right with you."
"Certainly," Dumbledore agreed. "I can't imagine better hands for him to be in."
"Actually, at the moment he is in Mrs. Hudson's hands. He reminds her of her youngest, she said, always in one scrape after another. She's had him bathed and he's tucked in the bed in her spare room, eating a bowl of soup under her watchful eye. Which means that it's your turn, Professor," Watson said, setting his case down by Snape's chair and taking his wounded arm in hand.
"I assure you, Doctor, there is no need for this," Snape said from between clenched teeth as Watson cleaned the wound.
"Hush, Severus, and let the good doctor do his work," Dumbledore admonished.
Snape glared at him; both of them were well aware that Snape's injuries would disappear when they returned to their own world.
"Albus," Snape growled, then winced as the alcohol stung the cut. "Bloody hell!"
Holmes gave a bark of laughter and Watson turned to glare at him, gesturing at the sluggishly bleeding cut on the detective's forehead. "You're next, Holmes."
Holmes blinked. "The merest scratch, Watson, I assure you!"
"As if that's ever made a difference to me," Watson said, giving him a speaking look.
Holmes glared back, annoyed, but said nothing further. Instead, he focused his attention on Dumbledore. "Will you be returning home in the morning?" he asked.
"If the boy is recovered enough to travel," Dumbledore said, nodding. "We have been away from the school long enough."
"No doubt they have been hard pressed, having two of their professors away at the same time," Holmes said, his keen eyes on Dumbledore's face.
Dumbledore smiled. "My deputy is an excellent administrator, so I have no fears on that account. And as for Severus - no doubt the students have regarded his absence in the light of a holiday."
Holmes smiled slightly. "I thought that the professor would be a hard taskmaster."
"At least they learn from me," Snape said sharply, "unlike that idiot you currently have teaching Defence -"
"Severus," Dumbledore said hastily before Snape could add more, "I'm sure that Mr. Holmes has no interest in our school politics."
"On the contrary," Holmes said, lying back in his chair with an air of nonchalance. "I am immensely interested in a school that apparently has no qualms about one of the teachers and the headmaster being involved in a deviant relationship."
"Holmes!" Watson exclaimed. "That is a highly inappropriate - "
"I have my reasons, Watson," Holmes said, holding up a hand to interrupt him.
Dumbledore saw Snape open his mouth to utter the formula that would take them back to their own world, but he caught Snape's eye and shook his head to forestall him.
"On a professional level, Mr. Holmes?" Dumbledore asked. "Are you planning on reporting us to Scotland Yard? Or is this merely a personal interest, seeing as how you and Dr. Watson are similarly involved?"
Watson drew in a sharp breath, inadvertently pulling too tight on the bandage he was wrapping over Snape's wound, and Snape winced.
A hint of a smile touched Holmes' lips. "Oh, I would consider it a matter of personal interest. It would be hypocritical of me otherwise, would it not?"
"I have seen worse hypocrisies than that," Dumbledore said calmly.
"I am merely curious as to the…relaxed nature of your interactions," Holmes said, gesturing airily. "One would think that two professional educators would have the most to fear, should word reach the wrong ears."
"We are fortunate in our associates," Dumbledore said. "And before you ask - no, neither of us condones interactions of this kind with children. Neither young Jasper, nor his schoolmates, are in any danger."
"Then Holmes is right," Watson said slowly. "You did not become…intimate…until after Professor Snape returned as a teacher?"
Dumbledore looked over at Snape who was sitting as if frozen in his chair. "Not even then. I'm afraid I was a bit blind at the time. I foolishly thought that I was too old to hold the interest of one so young and gifted. It took a nearly fatal incident to open my eyes."
Snape flushed slightly. "Albus…"
"At that point I realised that differences in age or experience were unimportant. What was important was what we felt for each other. Even if our colleagues had not been accepting of our relationship, even if we had been reviled or forced into exile, it would be worth it."
Watson smiled and said softly, "You'd count the world well lost for love, then?" His eyes met Holmes' across the room.
Dumbledore smiled warmly at Snape. "Indeed, I would."
"All the same, Albus," Snape said, rising from his chair, "a little discretion is a wise thing. And we should be getting back to our hotel so that these gentlemen can have their dinner."
"Of course." Dumbledore assisted Snape into his coat, ignoring his lover snarling that he could do it himself despite his injury.
Watson covered his mouth to hide his amusement at how efficiently Dumbledore managed his grumpy companion, but Dumbledore caught it and gave him a smile. "I see that you are accustomed to such behaviour from Mr. Holmes as well. If you will take the advice of a much older man, it is more than worth the trouble. Hold onto him."
Watson nodded. "I intend to."
With a final nod, Dumbledore followed Snape out the door, closing it quietly behind them.
Once their clients were gone, Watson turned to Holmes. "Now, Holmes," he began.
Holmes sighed. "I know. My turn to be doctored."
"Your turn, yes," Watson said, taking Holmes into his arms. "But not to be doctored."
"Ah, I see," Holmes said, smirking. "You intend to take the professor's advice literally."
"I do indeed," Watson said and kissed him. "Any objections?"
There were none, not that he had seriously expected any.
Out on the sidewalk, Snape looked up at the windows of 221B Baker Street one more time, then turned to see that Dumbledore was smiling at him with that infernal twinkle in his eyes.
"Well, my dear? Did you enjoy your Wish? Was it everything you desired?"
Snape considered for a moment. "Yes, it was," he said. "Although I didn't quite expect to hear you giving relationship advice to Dr. Watson."
"Ah, well, you know I just can't help interfering in other people's lives."
"Yes, I know," Snape said dryly. "Well, Albus, is there anything you would like to do before we return? Since we are back here in the days of your youth."
"As a matter of fact, there is," Dumbledore said, beaming at him. "There was this little tea room that served the most delightful cream cakes…"
Snape rolled his eyes but allowed Dumbledore to link their arms and lead him down the sidewalk, all the while talking about the various confectionary delights on offer. Knowing that Dumbledore couldn't see his face, he smiled, an unusually fond and indulgent smile. The world well lost for love, indeed.