Author's Note: This is actually a crossover story, set over a century before the events recounted in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, and shortly before Arthur Conan Doyle's "A Study in Scarlet"
After my return from Afghanistan, I had been living in a private hotel in the Strand, recuperating from a Jezail bullet and a nasty bout of enteric fever. My recovery was slow, retarded no doubt by my own feeling that my health was ruined and that I should never again be of use to anyone. Nevertheless, after some months I had regained a noticeable share of vitality and was beginning to turn my attention to the problem of what to do next, when I was startled to receive a summons to a meeting with a high-ranking government official. I had never met the gentleman before, he being a fixture in much loftier circles than my own, and was startled to find him aware of my own humble existence. Of course, I appeared promptly at the time and place described in his letter, and was shown to his office with equal promptness by his confidential servant. The servant walked me to the door, his short legs well suited to my own tottery pace, then gently opened the door and spoke in a wheezy voice. "Dr. Watson here to see you, sir."
A distinguished man with a long beard turned to face us and spoke. "Thank you, Bondy. Please, Doctor, come in and have a seat. It is not too early for a drink, is it?"
"Please. Thank you, Minister Diggory. May I say, sir, what an honor this is – I hardly expected to be summoned by a man of your eminence --" I am afraid I stammered, rather. I limped into the room and seated myself on the comfortable chair he indicated. He moved to the gasogene and prepared our drinks, then handed me a heavy crystal tumbler.
"Here you are then. Dr. Watson, I've asked you to meet me here today because we need your help on a most important matter."
"Me, sir?" I sipped at the drink to cover my confusion.
"Yes, you. I believe you are somewhat at loose ends since returning from Afghanistan?"
"Yes, sir, I am. I have my small pension, but I feel the need for some work of my own. But what can you possibly need me for, that someone else couldn't do better? You know, sir, that I am a …." I lowered my voice from habit, the shame of my childhood years making the words difficult to speak, "…A Squib."
"Exactly!" boomed my host. "We need you to perform an important service for the wizarding world. Your age, your position, your experience – and yes, even your, forgive me, your lack of magical talent uniquely qualify you for this job. Moreover, it is a task+ that you may find quite pleasant."
"Really? Of course I would be happy to aid in any way, pleasant or not."
"Doctor Watson, have you heard of a young man called… Sherlock Holmes? No, no, I see that you haven't. Very few have, as yet, though it is our belief that he will be extremely famous in years to come. He is attempting to set himself up as the world's first consulting detective."
"Mr. Holmes believes that the process of deductive logic, aided by chemistry and keen observation, can be used to solve many of the mysteries and crimes that baffle our police. By all accounts, he is something of a genius in his chosen field. Such a pity that he is a Muggle. When I think of what a wizard with his gifts could do in the field of potions… or for that matter in our own Ministry of Magical Law Enforcement." He drifted off, caught in reverie until my diffident cough recalled him. "Yes, well. Here is the problem: this Mister Holmes has deduced our existence – I mean, the existence of the wizarding world."
I shifted uncomfortably in his chair, as much in response to the words as to relieve my aching leg. "But sir, you don't need me for that. Surely, a Memory Charm…?"
"Yes, of course. And we have used Memory Charms. Several times. The problem, you see, is that while we can remove the memory of his deductions, we cannot remove the underlying contradictory circumstances that spur his mind on to the subject in the first place. And so, you see, he simply deduces our existence all over again. I believe we're up to the, oh let me see" he paused, his lips moving in silent count "To the fifth or sixth instance by now."
"I see. And where do I come in?"
"You are of an age with this Mr. Holmes, and you are both more or less starting out in life. Moreover, we have heard that your circumstances have made it expedient for you to looking for a companion with whom to share living expenses. He is in a similar position. We have an acquaintance of Mr. Holmes in our employ – do you know young Harold Stamford?"
"I knew a dresser of that name at Bart's."
"That's the man. It was Stamford who first drew our attention to Holmes – they became acquainted in the hospital's chemical laboratory, I believe. We will arrange an introduction to Homes through him. What we would like you to do, Dr. Watson, is to arrange to share living quarters with Mr. Holmes. While living in such close proximity, we would like you to draw his mind away from the wizarding world. It will be a difficult assignment; you will need to be infinitely subtle, while appearing to be no such thing. Furthermore, we would like you to report to us about periodically, to help us better understand his thoughts and habits. We will of course contribute substantially toward your share of your joint lodging expenses.
The words appalled me, and I sputtered, "Become friendly with him and then spy on him? I won't do such a thing and I certainly wouldn't take your pay for it. Good day, sir!" I began to struggle to my feet.
The Minister laid a placating hand on my arm. "No, no, we wouldn't dream of asking you to compromise your honor. I apologise if I spoke misleadingly. We want you to draw his attention away from us, but with a man like Holmes, that can only be a stop-gap solution. We're asking you to report, not his words or daily activities, but what sort of man he is. We want to know whether we can trust him." He leaned back in his chair, clearly steeling himself for a weighty disclosure. "We anticipate that at some future point – perhaps in the quite near future – it will become necessary for us to come forward, to trust him with the secret of our existence. We have never done such a thing, except in the cases of the Muggle Prime Minister or of the families of Muggle-born wizards, who have their own good reasons to keep our secrets. But the alternative is to keep using Memory Charms at increasingly frequent periods, as mental exercise sharpens his deductive skills. As you know, too many Memory Charms can cause permanent damage to a subject's brain. We would prefer not to damage such a brain as Holmes's, if we can avoid it.
I settled back and let out my breath. "I see. You wish me to report my opinion on his trustworthiness only?"
"Exactly. And on your opinion will rest the security of the wizarding world. Of course, until the determination is made, he must not know that you are assessing him. It would be better if you were to appear to be rather less than you are, if you follow me." He stared at me, trying to gauge my understanding.
I replied, "You wish me to appear the picture of the phlegmatic, unthinking Englishman, then?"
He nodded. "Exactly. It will only be for a short time, however. If he is trustworthy, you may in time reveal yourself to him, as will we all. If not … well, we will do what we must, attempting to cause a minimum of damage. We hope it will not be necessary, but we must protect our secrets."
I sat up straighter, feeling liberated rather than crushed by the burden of trust placed on me. "I will do it, sir!"
He held a hand out to shake mine. "Thank you, Dr. Watson. The Ministry of Magic owes you a great debt, and you will not find us ungrateful. Bondy will show you out, and young Stamford will be in touch to arrange further details."
I levered myself to my feet and saluted him before departing, my Army habits still strong in me. Though the weakness left by my bout of fever was still upon me, I was strengthened by the prospect of being once more of use to my country, and I looked forward to the day upon which I would meet the redoubtable Sherlock Holmes.