It was madness, utter madness. They could hear screaming. They could hear tears.
"We're missing a case for this?"
Surprisingly, it wasn't Sherlock who said this. It was John.
"It was a three," Sherlock answered, "At most." The screaming grew louder the closer they came.
"Are you ready for your friend's birthday party?" Remus asked Harry with an attempt at joviality as he trailed after the three of them. It might have been more convincing if he weren't holding a gaudily wrapped parcel in front of himself like a shield.
This turned out to be a wise precaution. A human guided missile swooped over them, cackling with laughter. It was soon followed by a very small girl who was screaming furiously at the top of her young lungs. Harry looked down at her warily from the safety of John's arms.
The screaming girl finally noticed them and the screaming stopped abruptly. She stared at them with wide eyes, then spun about and ran back the way she came. She started screaming again, with words this time.
"Mummy, mummy, he's here, he's here!"
Before they could follow, a shadow swooped over their heads. John automatically ducked into a defensive position, bodily shielding Harry. Remus reacted similarly, one hand warding off any possible attacks with the gift, the other holding up a wand. No attacks came; just two identical boys riding on a single broom that looked far too big for them.
"Fred and George Weasley you get off your brother's broom this instant!" screamed an irate Mrs. Weasley, before turning a kindly smile on them. "Do come in; we're so glad you came. Ron will be so happy to see you."
"Thank you for inviting us," Sherlock said in his most charming voice. John, Remus, and even Harry turned to give him identical looks of confusion and, in the case of John and Remus, suspicion. Mrs. Weasley beamed.
"The birthday boy is just inside. FRED AND GEORGE, WHAT DID I TELL YOU, GET DOWN BEFORE YOU BREAK YOUR NECKS!" Brandishing her wand, Mrs. Weasley charged past them. The four of them stood in the doorway, not quite stepping inside.
Inside turned out to be inside of one of the strangest houses any of them had ever seen. It didn't look like it should be able to stand. They could see no less than seven young children running around only some of which were familiar. Neville seemed to be hiding under the table. Susan was doing something with the little red headed girl and an unknown blond. Three small red heads were chasing each other. A slightly taller red head was shouting at them.
"Stop running, stop, I say, Mum put me in charge and I say stop! Ginny, put down those scissors and leave Luna's hair alone!" No one was listening to him.
None of the men seemed to want to be first through the door. Nervously, John reminded himself that he had invaded Afghanistan. He can face a five-year-old's birthday party inside a magical house. Telling himself this, he shifted Harry up in his arms to check on him. Harry didn't look too scared, yet. He was watching the unfolding scene with wide, intent eyes.
"Well, Harry, this is it," John told him, "Brace yourself. If it gets too bad, we'll take you out. You just have to say the word. All we want is for you to try playing with the other kids for a bit. Ready?"
Harry didn't look ready at all. He looked over at Sherlock and then back towards Remus. Remus attempted to give him a smile. The smile looked a bit too toothy to be quite friendly. Then Harry got a determined look on his face.
"I'm ready," he said firmly, swinging his feet slightly as though to propel them forward. They went inside.
It was like they had pressed the pause button. The screaming stopped. The running stopped. It was so silent, they could clearly here the snip of a pair of scissors that sent a handful of long blond hair gently wafting towards the floor. All eyes were turned to look at them. All eyes were turned to look at Harry.
"Hello," Sherlock said, smiling nicely towards all of them. The eyes shifted from Harry to Sherlock. "My name is Sherlock Holmes. This is Sherrinford, but you know him as Harry Potter. I know you all want to see Sherry because grownups told you a story about him. Well, I know another story about Harry Potter. Do you want to hear it?"
The children stared at him. It was beginning to feel like something out of a horror movie. Any moment, the kids' eyes were going to start glowing. Sherlock didn't look concerned. He walked to the table that was laden with gifts and pulled away a chair. He sat in it. John, Remus, Harry, and the kids all stared at him.
"Well," said Sherlock, "Don't you all want to sit in a circle and hear my story about Harry Potter?" He gave John and Remus a pointed look.
"Oh, right," said John at last. He pulled out a second chair, pulled it close, and sat down. They both stared at Remus, who was staring at them, until Remus finally got the hint. He dropped the gift on the table and grabbed a third chair. The rest of the kids stared.
"I'm going to sit by Harry Potter!" One of the red heads announced. There was a small stampede towards the places next to John and Harry, during which a pair of scissors very nearly accidently stabbed one of the kids if Remus hadn't reflexively snatched them away. There was pushing and shoving and shouting and tears.
"Mum said no shouting! Mum said no fighting!" the slightly taller red head shouted into the chaos. With a sigh, John put Harry into Sherlock's lap. Then he stood up to the full height of Captain John Watson and bellowed into the chaos.
Everyone froze, which was quite a feat as some were balanced quite precariously in their attempts to shove, pull, and push their way into the favored position.
"Now that's what I call magic," Lupin whispered to Harry and Sherlock in the sudden silence. Sherlock muttered 'glutinic energy'. Harry giggled. The kids were looking at John now with uncertain expressions. John knew he had to act fast before they decided not to listen anymore.
"Everyone line up!" Captain John ordered. The older boys all hopped to it, grinning. Some of the younger children looked confused, but when John started saying 'good job' to the ones standing the straightest and stillest, still in the persona of an army inspector, he soon had almost all of them trying to stand tall in a somewhat wavy attempt at a straight line. Even Neville climbed out from under the table. Harry seemed content to stay in Sherlock's lap, though he wasn't trying to hide.
"Much better," said John. "Now, where's the birthday boy?"
"Me, I'm Ron, Mr. Harry's dad. I'm five today!" One of the red headed boys who they vaguely remembered from their first meeting waved his hand.
"Alright, Ron, I think you should get to sit here, next to Mr. Sherlock and Harry." Ron jumped up and down. The other kids started to look rebellious. Before they could break formation and start fighting again, John barked, "Attention!" He looked sternly at the tiny red-headed girl who was twisting out of formation to look at Ron and Harry. Instead of bursting into tears, as one might expect when a grown man glares sternly at a three-year-old, she giggled.
"Amazing," Remus whispered to Sherlock, "You'd think they'd be terrified of a strange man shouting at them."
"No one finds John scary," Sherlock answered back, his voice low and deep, "That's why he's so dangerous."
John, meanwhile, was inspecting his ranks. He stopped at the older boy who had been trying to control the madness.
"Are you in charge here, private?" John demanded. The boy held his head up proudly.
"I am. Mum left me in charge. But no one will listen!"
"I see," John answered, shaking his head sadly. "Well, that won't do. What's your name, private?"
"Percy…sir," the boy answered
"Alright, troupes, listen up! Percy here is going to clap his hands, and I want each of you to hop like a bunny. Then when he claps his hands again, you will all freeze. Percy is going to choose the best listeners to find a seat in the circle. If you don't listen to Percy, you won't have a place to sit! Ready? Percy, clap your hands!"
Percy clapped his hands. The kids stared at them. Percy looked a bit defeated. Then Neville started hopping.
"Hop, Ginny, he clapped, so you got to hop," Ron told his baby sister. Ginny, Susan, and the blond girl all started hopping. The rest of the boys started leaping, trying to out-do each other. Percy clapped his hands again. Even he looked surprised when most of the children froze, trying to hold still in awkward positions.
"Very good," John said, before turning to Percy, "So who listened best? Who gets to sit down first?"
"Oh…um…" the kids all tried to look pleadingly at him without moving.
"Ginny, I think," he said at last, and the little girl ran up to hug her brother happily before choosing to sit next to Ron on the floor. There was a collective sigh of relief that she hadn't chosen the other prime spot next to Sherlock and Harry. With John's encouragement, Percy clapped his hands again. This time everyone started to hop right away. Percy chose Neville next, who did sit next to Sherlock and Harry. One by one, each child was allowed to sit. Finally, when the last two had sat down in a disappointing position across from Sherlock and Harry, John pulled up a chair for Percy so he could sit with the other adults.
"Now," Sherlock announced, "Sherry and I have a story for you. It's about Harry Potter."
"I know all about Harry Potter," said Ron loudly, "He…"
Percy clapped his hands, loudly. The children all jumped. Some of them made hopping motions without getting up. Percy clapped his hands again.
"Very good," said John.
"Now," said Sherlock, "You all have to be very quiet and listen with your ears, or you won't be able to hear the story."
They were silent. Several of the children cupped their ears to show how good they were at listening.
"Once upon a time," said Sherlock, "There lived a boy named Harry Potter. He was very famous. Everyone loved Harry Potter. They all stared at him. They stared at him and stared, and that was scary. It's not fun when everyone stares at you. So Harry Potter hid his face.
For a long time, Harry lived with his aunt and his uncle. But his aunt and uncle were wicked monsters. So Harry left to live with me and John. And still everywhere he went, people stared at him and stared at him. He didn't like it.
So Harry's new dads decide to call him Sherrinford. Sherrinford isn't famous like Harry Potter. No one stares at Sherrinford. Then little Sherry is happy. So from that day on, Harry Potter became Sherrinford Holmes. And we all lived happily ever after. The end."
The kids considered this story.
"But Mr. Sherlock," said one of the red head boys, "Why doesn't Harry Potter want to be Harry Potter? If I were Harry Potter, I'd want everyone to know."
"Why did Harry Potter live with monsters?" Ginny asked.
"I'll be your friend, Sherry," Ron promised Harry, "I won't stare or anything."
Before Sherlock could answer, or Harry for that matter, and before Percy could decide to clap his hands again as the kids all started talking again and scooting closer to Sherlock's chair, the door swung open.
"I've got the pintata," said the man in the doorway, holding up something that certainly started its life as a piñata donkey, but probably wasn't quite so sparkly or taped to begin with. The man noticed Sherlock, John, and Remus. "Oh, hello, I'm Ron's dad. Is that Harry Potter?"
"His name is Sherry," a myriad of young voices all proclaimed in surprising harmony. Mr. Weasley blinked at them.
"Oh," he said, then, "Are you really Muggles? I've been hoping to meet you! I collect plugs, you know. I…Lupin, is that you?"
"Yes," answered Remus.
"I thought you said your name was Remus," said Sherlock, "Or was it Mary?"
"It's Remus Lupin." John sighed at Sherlock's continued confusion when it came to names. No wonder Harry had gotten stuck with the horrible name 'Sherry'.
"Isn't it…er…a problem night?" asked Mr. Weasley. Sherlock perked up, eager for any new information on the mystery that was their nanny. He still hadn't quite figured out why Remus said he was starting his monthly vacation time that month.
"Tomorrow, actually," Remus answered, looking nervous and a bit pale.
"Pintata!" screamed Ron, "Pintata, pintata, pintata!"
Finally realizing he was about to be mobbed by young children if he didn't start paying attention to them, Mr. Weasley led the way to the yard.
"Go on, Sherry," Sherlock instructed, setting Harry on the ground, "Are you ready to go with Neville and Susan and Ron to play with the piñata?"
"Come on, Sherry, I'll show you how you hit it!" Ron said, grabbing Harry's hand and pulling. For one moment, Harry resisted. Sherlock, John, and Remus all watched closely, ready for tears and shouts.
Then Harry stopped resisting.
"Hello, Sherry," they heard Neville say as he joined them, "I don't like staring either."
"I won't stare, Sherry, I just want to play," said Ron, "Do you want to play?"
"Yes," said Harry, quite clearly. The three men at the doorway let out a collective breath. They had all been wary of taking Harry to the birthday party, knowing how wild the other kids would be. They had talked it over with Dr. Sundberg. Harry couldn't be shielded from other kids forever, had been Dr. Sundberg's reply. He thought Harry was ready, but that they should be ready to intervene if it got to be too much. Perhaps it was going to turn out alright.
Then they heard Harry's voice again, loud and full of horror. "Why are they hitting the pintata?!"
All in all, they still called Ron's birthday party a success.
That evening, after Harry proudly put the stars on his chart and told Sophie all about the birthday party, and then had gone to bed with Sophie guarding him from her night stand, Remus took his leave.
"It must have something to do with the full moon," Sherlock mumbled to himself, staring hard at the man as he started nervously for the door, "What would make a person ill every full moon?"
"Seriously?" John asked, not in disbelief at this sudden suggestion that Remus might be an actual werewolf so much as in disbelief that Sherlock didn't instantly make the connection. "You need to stop deleting things."
"What?" Sherlock asked, still staring intently at a very uncomfortable Remus. Then Sherlock's phone chirped. Sherlock left off staring intently so that he could dive for his phone.
"Yes! Come along, John!"
"What? Sherlock, what are you talking about?"
"The case! The case, John, the case!"
"What, you mean the case that was a three? The case you said we weren't taking?"
"A nine, John, definitely a nine! It wasn't paint, you see, right, it was lipstick! We must get to the studio!"
"Now? And what about Harry? We can't just leave him alone, Sherlock, the nanny's already left."
"But…" Sherlock looked around in confusion to see that Remus had indeed taken the opportunity to slip out the door to wherever he went for full moons. And then the door opened again, and a woman stepped in. She was tall, with short blond hair, and she looked entirely calm and unperturbed to be walking into a stranger's house and finding said stranger stomping his feet while standing on top of the settee.
"Er…hello?" said John, wondering vaguely if she might be an assassin sent to shoot them and whether John shouldn't be taking action to prevent this. She didn't look like a client.
"I was told to say I'm the replacement Mary," she answered, holding her arms out in a non-threatening position…which strangely enough made her seem more dangerous because she knew to do that in the first place. "I'm told I will be watching a kid while your usual nanny is…indisposed."
"Of course you are," John answered with a sigh while Sherlock silently looked her up and down. "What's your name then?"
"Of course it is."
One confirmation from Mycroft later and Mary situated herself into Remus's vacant room in 221C. John still didn't want to go look at the studio.
"It's late, and how do you think Harry will feel if he wakes up tomorrow all alone except for Mrs. Hudson and a stranger?"
"But, a nine…" Sherlock tried to say.
"Look in your remember book, Sherlock, and then tell me you still need to go and you can go."
With a frustrated sigh, Sherlock nonetheless went over and collected a notebook. It was Harry who had named it the 'remember book' after Sherlock told him it was to help him remember. Inside were various pictures and drawings. They were pictures of them all being a family, to remind Sherlock when he needed reminding what being a family meant, whenever he needed reminding. When he was about to do something life threatening. When he was about to rush out and leave Harry behind.
Sherlock stared into the book. He turned his head towards Harry's room where Harry was sleeping soundly. Then with a frustrated growl, Sherlock slammed the book shut.
"It will be better in daylight anyway," he growled, "First think in the morning."
Sherlock stayed up a bit, researching he said. Later, John noticed there were new pictures in the book taken at the birthday party. John went to bed but lay awake for a long while. It had been a long day, and the sudden appearance of Mary had thrown him a bit. She didn't seem quite safe. Also, she was much prettier than any of the other Marys had been. There was definitely danger there.
John lived for danger. In the end, he slept.