He looked unwell. For the few weeks he had been at Hogwarts Sherlock had always looked bright eyed and eager. I'd never seen him sleep; but neither had I noticed any effects from his lack of it.
But now his eyes looked more angrily deranged than bright, his stance rather more desperate. His hair was unwashed and extremely messy, and I was fairly sure he hadn't changed his clothes in a while.
I didn't want to speak.
"What are you doing here?" His voice somewhat scared me. It was hoarse and croaky, as if he hadn't spoken in weeks. His tone was aggressive.
"I'll leave you to explain, John," Mycroft said cheerily, and left the room.
"Explain what?" Sherlock glared at me with such ferocity that I almost took a step backwards. I held my ground.
"I'm- I'm not sure," I admitted, cursing my voice for failing.
Explain what happened. Come on, talk!
"I found a body in the Forest," I began, clenching my jaw. "Of another student. It looked like an animal had done it." As I continued the thoughts in my head began to gradually order themselves. "Your brother seemed to think it is time for you to return to Hogwarts."
"And you agree with him?" I observed that there seemed to be a battle going on in Sherlock's mind, as if he didn't understand something. He leant on the doorway as if to steady himself. No wonder, he looks really ill.
"Well, yeah," I frowned and paused. "You were working it out, weren't you?"
"You don't think I killed him?" Sherlock looked utterly shocked.
I opened my mouth to reply, then closed it. Well you don't, do you?
"No," I answered. A sudden chill went through me. What if you're wrong? What if he did?
"No, I don't," I repeated, more firmly.
There was a moment of silence, and I wanted nothing more than to know what was going through Sherlock's head. His expression was impossible to read.
"I thought…" His throaty voice cracked and he coughed, leaning more heavily against the doorframe. "I thought you of all people."
I knew what he meant. Because I had been one of Jacob's best friends.
"No," I said again. I decided not to mention my moments of doubt after the event.
He seemed to shake himself out of his apparent surprise. "Well then. I presume you are not here to try and arrest me then?" One of his half smiles materialised, but seemed to cause him a little pain.
What kind of life has he had over the past few weeks?
A sudden urge to move forward and hug him struck me, seeing that smile. "No," was the only thing I managed to say, yet again. "You look ill," I added.
"Ah," he said grimly. "I've been bored."
I didn't really want to know what that meant. I decided to go straight for it.
"So do you know who did it?"
"Of course," he looked mildly offended. "That book was of great help, thank you." He gestured towards the Potions book I was still clutching in my hand. I didn't reply, waiting for him to continue, my heart racing again.
"This might be a little difficult for you," Sherlock said awkwardly, as if he'd never had to deal with other's emotions before.
"Go on," I croaked, as the worst thoughts span through my head.
"Professor Rachel Heartley, your Care of Magical Creatures teacher, killed Jacob and no doubt the unfortunate student you found in the Forest." His voice was now perfectly steady, as if saying the words out loud gave him mental strength.
I couldn't handle all these developments.
I had barely any time to breathe before he continued. "My brother has been keeping an eye on this case for some time but very much needed my help. He will be glad to wrap this one up, I'm sure."
"But…" I struggled for words. "She was…"
"Nice?" Sherlock frowned irritably. "Yes, that's what Jacob told me. Said she would never do anything bad to anyone."
Instantly my mind went back to those lovely rainy afternoons spent in Professor Heartley's little cottage on the grounds. Her excellent baking. Her wonderful ambitions to be a pilot, her lovely unique dress sense.
It all seemed rather unreal now.
"How?" I croaked, hoping he would understand my question.
Sherlock looked at me and again, I couldn't read his expression. Just those piercing eyes, looking a little brighter than when I'd first seen them today.
"The first clue was Professor Vonich's potions store cupboard," he began. "I noticed that aconite, otherwise known as wolfsbane, was missing. Your Potions master seemed to have quite a stock of everything else, so it would be highly unlikely he had simply ran out. And aconite is extremely poisonous to humans if it enters the bloodstream, so not many students would need it in their potions classes." He didn't pause for breath. "Of course, I had already found your book in the dungeons, and read through it thoroughly. Your notes-" I swallowed, a little embarrassed- "suggested very much that your Headmaster was not going to last much longer. When he departed, his position would be left open for the Board of Governors to choose a new one."
"So-" I started, but Sherlock gave a little frown, indicating for me not to interrupt. I closed my jaw.
"From what I had learnt about the Hogwarts teachers so far, there was no extremely obvious candidate. The would-be Headmaster or Headmistress would have to impress the Board of Governors enough for them to decide.
"So I started doing a little more research. It is quite startling how much students gossip in the corridors and what can be learnt from this. It seemed that Professor Vonich was emerging as the favourite to take over Ctheiz. All cases need a solid starting point so I looked up backgrounds. It was easy. The records in the library, all the competitions and tournaments and leagues from around fifteen years ago, all seemed to suggest that when Heartley and Vonich had been at school, they were the top two students. However, comments also seemed to suggest that they hated each other and were determined to outdo each other in everything. So I had my suspicions- however, I still had no evidence that either Professor had used or stolen the aconite, nor what they were actually planning."
"She killed Jacob to become Headmaster?" I asked blankly, no longer being able to keep my comments silent. Sherlock frowned again. "And how did you even guess she wanted to?"
He sighed through his nose. "Because I have seen this type of case before."
"What happened?" I asked warily.
"That case was a little simpler than this one. A slightly deranged Dark Arts Professor plotting to murder the existing Headmaster and take his place." He waved a hand absently. "The motive principal was the same. There is always at least one person prepared to do anything to get power."
"But Professor Heartley?" I said blankly, still not quite believing it. "She really didn't seem like the kind of person-"
"That was the beauty of it. No one would ever look twice at her when considering possible killers." He waved a hand again. "She hated Vonich, and I mean really hated him. She would never be able to live with the shame of him becoming Headmaster in her own school, and her being stuck with her post of Care of Magical Creatures. No, she would have to impress the Board far beyond him. I was certain that she would have a good knowledge of aconite, considering the curriculum contains werewolves. But what was she planning to do?
"To get more answers I decided I would have to start asking questions. I had kept everything quiet until then, because I didn't want trouble stirring before my investigation began in earnest. The first person I decided to go to was your friend, Jacob Jones. I knew he had an interest in magical plants and, indeed, magical creatures, so he seemed like a good place to start. However, I had no desire for anyone else to overhear our conversation so after I asked him politely if I could have a word, we walked onto the grounds, near the Forest."
He finally paused.
I glanced around the room, processing what Sherlock had said so far. The bookshelves that lined the walls looked dusty, the large armchairs in the corner unused.
"As soon as I expressed my light suspicions about Professor Heartley, he became rather uncooperative." Sherlock clenched his jaw. "He said that she was a 'lovely person', 'would never hurt anyone' and 'wouldn't want power'." He paused again. "Out of sight of the Castle, we were attacked by a Thestral."
"A what?" I looked blankly at him.
"A Thestral, John." Sherlock looked rather irritated that he would have to explain something else to me. "They look like a cross between a giant bat and a horse. They live in the Forest."
"Instantly I could tell that there was something not quite right. Thestrals are usually very docile creatures if treated right. They never normally attack humans. This particular one seemed very out of control. It seemed to have difficulty flying in the direction it wanted to, as if something was holding it back. It's eyes were terrified and movements erratic. It was not difficult for Jacob and I to dodge its attacking dives.
"Soon enough the reasoning behind this became obvious. Professor Heartley emerged from the trees and killed Jacob with a well-placed Killing Curse. The short conversation which followed made her intentions very clear."
Hearing a repeat of how Jacob had died, whatever the reason, made my eyes itch. I willed myself desperately not to cry. Not now.
"Her original plan had been quite simple," Sherlock's eyes were gleaming. "It had been to put a Thestral under the Imperius Curse, then encourage it to attack a student in full view of the rest of the school. She, aiming to impress the Board enough to elect her, would rush in and heroically rescue the student being attacked." He smiled slightly. "However, as she had told me, a little angrily, this plan had to change because of a certain piece of information she received, just before the start of the school year."
"Which was?" I tilted my head slightly.
"Sherlock Holmes was coming to Hogwarts." His smile grew a little wider. "The events I have told you about, the plot to overthrow our previous Headmaster at Durmstrang- I had solved that." There was a definite note of pride in his voice. "There are minor details which complicated things and so I was expelled. Professor Ctheiz seemed willing to take me in, however. Few teachers knew about the plot I had uncovered in Durmstrang, and Heartley was one of them. She decided I was too dangerous to have around while she was planning something," he added, quite gleefully. "To get rid of me, she would frame me; make it look like I'd killed a student. This wasn't difficult, considering the complications at Durmstrang that had been the cause of my expulsion.
"With Jacob dead, she pointed her wand at me and threatened to kill me unless I did what she said. Willing to cooperate if it meant I had time to solve the case, I freely did what I was told and walked back to the Castle, in full view of the classroom windows, so someone would see me coming back from the Forest without Jacob. I then Disapparated as soon as I had exited the grounds."
"So…So everyone thought you killed him. Where does the aconite come in?" I frowned.
"She had to make it look like I'd killed him, but not with a Killing Curse, they wouldn't think I'd know how. She had already prepared the aconite in her cottage, waiting for the perfect moment to frame me, so she simply fetched it and fed it into his system."
"You came here because no one would look for you here," I said aloud, more for my own benefit.
"Of course, I couldn't be seen, everyone thought I was a murderer." Sherlock narrowed his eyes. "So I had to bide my time here. I had no evidence, at least, none other than my own experiences."
"But you still don't have any evidence." I pointed out, a little dismayed.
He paused for a few moments. I noticed he was no longer leaning on the doorframe as heavily, more of a casual thoughtful stance. He enjoys it. Solving stuff like this.
"Yes I do," he announced, somewhat triumphantly. "You say the body you found was killed by an animal? Did it have wounds?"
I nodded, not wanting to think back to the steady drip of blood onto the Forest floor.
"Heartley still wanted to go ahead with her original plan, with me out the way," Sherlock continued, sounding excited. "But thought it would be more impressive if a few students died before she rescued any. So she dipped the Thestral's claws in liquid aconite. That way, only a tiny scratch would be needed, because she knew she wasn't very good at the Imperius Curse."
"So… If they check the wounds on the body." I gaped.
"As I said, she wasn't good at the Imperius Curse. Thestrals do not react very placidly to their claws being dipped in poison." He frowned. "She was very obviously not in control of the creatures. And Mycroft will vouch for me being in the house, not at Hogwarts. I could not have killed this student, and the aconite will provide the further evidence."
A sort of relieved silence existed in the few feet that separated us.
"You really didn't think I did it?" He frowned, as if he still couldn't believe it.
I shook my head, not really wanting to discuss it. "I didn't think you'd be that obvious," I tried to grin. There was a pause while Sherlock seemed to study me a little doubtfully. "Are we going to go back, then? I suppose we have to tell everyone. They'll try and kill you before you talk, you know," I pointed out.
"No doubt Mycroft has already sent an owl explaining everything," Sherlock replied with a slight smile. "While they may not trust the word of a suspected murderer, Ctheiz certainly trusts my brother."
"Who actually is he?" I sighed, as I realised my heart felt a lot lighter and the chains that had been twisting my stomach over the past few weeks had loosened considerably. Professor Heartley. As soon as I thought her name, I felt uncomfortable again. Maybe you thought she was your friend. Sort of.
"Mycroft?" Sherlock scowled. "He likes to pretend he is a student occasionally. He runs the Ministry in his spare time."
Sherlock ignored my stunned reply and strode over to a small dusty window on the left wall. I noticed he had a slight limp. He opened the window with a little difficulty, the hinges cracking alarmingly as it swung outwards. A large tawny owl promptly landed gracefully on the windowsill, and Sherlock quickly untied the reply from its leg.
"What does it say?" I scrambled over the piles of more books to reach where Sherlock was stood. He was frowning as his eyes raced across the parchment.
"They want us back. Now." He looked up at me.
"Who? Who's the reply from?" I leaned over.
"Vonich." Before I could say anything, Sherlock grabbed my arm and everything disappeared again into a whirl of confusion and pain.
I groaned as I hit the stone floor. Scrambling to my knees, I gritted my teeth and tried to make sense of my surroundings. We were back in Hogwarts, in one of the corridors, and the torches were lit and burning merrily on the walls.
"You can do it now too?" I groaned again as I swayed on my feet, gripping onto the nearest painting to hold myself, much to the dislike of the occupant.
"Do what?" Sherlock was stood next to me, not looking at me and instead gazing almost lovingly around the walls.
"We can't Apparate inside Hogwarts," I muttered, but pleased to find I wasn't feeling as sick as last time.
"Mycroft has the spare room linked up, he uses it quite frequently," Sherlock explained, then frowned. "Vonich's coming."
I stopped and listened carefully. No sooner than he had spoken I could hear hurried footsteps.
Professor Vonich stormed angrily around the corner to face us, robes flapping behind him and making him look like a giant bat. "Why did you not tell us sooner?" he positively screamed down the corridor.
"I think he means you," I nudged Sherlock with my elbow, fear gripping my chest again at the sight of the frankly terrifying Russian Potions Master striding towards us with his wand out.
"She could have been arrested weeks ago!" The head of Slytherin House looked rather deranged. "Weeks ago! What gave you the right to hold that inf-"
"Professor, have you arrested her yet?" Sherlock asked calmly, not looking at all fazed.
Vonich stopped, looking offended that Sherlock had interrupted his yelling. "They're checking the body right now," he snapped. "She has no idea."
Mycroft suddenly Apparated next to us, looking cheery. "No need to check, Professor." Vonich looked livid. "I'm sure you would be quicker than any of us to rejoice at the thought of your old enemy being in Azkaban." He looked at Sherlock. "The Aurors are on their way right now."
Without another word Sherlock grinned and set off down the corridor.
"Where are you going?" I yelled as I ran to catch up with him, after an apologetic glance at Mycroft.
"I don't want to miss this," he yelled back over his shoulder as he ran.
Minutes later we were hiding behind the fence of the unicorn paddock in the grounds. I presumed all the students had been ordered into the Great Hall because the grounds as well as the corridors were deserted.
"What exactly are we doing?" I hissed as we crouched down. Heartley's cottage was just visible over the little tussocks of grass, smoke from her cooking fire wafting gently from the chimney.
"Don't you want to see your friend's killer arrested?" he whispered back.
I frowned. "For a guy pretending you don't have any feelings, you're pretty good at reading other people's."
He didn't reply, and instead fixed his gaze on the door of her cottage. I did the same, although I wasn't quite sure what we were waiting for.
There was a sudden sharp crack, like a whip, and around two dozen robed figures appeared, surrounding the house. Everything happened so quickly I barely had any time to see what was going on- spells were cast, jets of bright blue light went straight through the walls of the cottage and screams from inside. Then the front door opened.
I could hardly believe I was really seeing this. My Care of Magical Creatures Teacher, who became what I thought had been my friend in the weeks after Jacob's death; bound by her ankles and wrists by magical sapphire chain, being dragged out of her house by Aurors, arrested for the murder of one of my best friends.
As they dragged her out, she was screaming and doing her best to make it difficult for the Aurors to keep hold of her. Two were standing behind her, however, wands out and clearly holding her upright in the air, as her feet were bound together. I squinted.
She didn't look like the teacher I'd known. Her face was screwed up in anger and all kinds of emotions I couldn't begin to guess at. I'd never seen her furious before but I supposed this was what it looked it. It doesn't suit her.
As the Aurors began to walk up towards the Castle with her suspended between them in the air, her screaming gradually became actual words. They drifted down to where Sherlock and I were crouched, but I wasn't sure that I wanted to hear them.
"The wolfsbane isn't mine! I swear, I have nothing to do with this whole thing!" They became fainter. "It's that boy, Holmes, he did it, I saw him-"
Her screaming faded away.
I got to my feet as she and the Aurors disappeared over the tussocks. "Where are they taking her?"
"To the Ministry, my brother will take care of things from there. As I said, he'll be quite pleased to wrap this one up himself," Sherlock replied, casting a sidelong glance at me. "Shall we?" He began to stride back up to the Castle.
As always, I jogged to catch up with him then fell into step beside him. There was silence between us for a few moments, the only sound being the rather strong wind.
"You're handling this rather well," Sherlock said awkwardly.
I wasn't sure how to reply. "Thanks," I said, but not in return to his compliment. "For… Well, thanks."
Sherlock for once seemed to be paying attention to my words. He didn't answer, just gave one of his side smiles.
"I suppose we'd better go and, you know, tell everyone you're not a murderer," I suggested lightly.
"You trusted me," he said suddenly, looking awkward again.
"Well, yeah," I said, surprised.
"No one has ever done that before."
"Well I suppose someone has to put up with you," I grinned. We walked back up to the Castle together.
ONE MONTH LATER
"I forgot to ask, what's up with you and Lestrade?" I took another bite out of my toast.
"Mm?" Sherlock looked up from the Prophet in his hands.
For once I was sat at the Slytherin table eating breakfast, and Sherlock was sitting opposite me. Usually I would drag him over to the Gryffindor table to sit with me and Amelia, and he didn't care at all where he sat. However, a few of the teachers had noticed and had scolded Sherlock for not being proud of his own House. To prove a point, Sherlock insisted that we switch tables every other day.
"You Stunned him in the Gryffindor common room a while ago. I haven't talked to him since," I explained.
"Oh, that," he waved a hand dismissively. "I put his father in Azkaban."
Sherlock, however, had returned to reading his newspaper.
The days after Heartley's arrest were difficult. Professor Ctheiz had made a reappearance, and had apparently explained to the whole school that Sherlock was innocent, and the general outline of the whole affair. It was quite clear that not many believed him, and were sceptical that one student could have worked out a murder plot. Sherlock was submitted to quite harsh comments in the corridors and lessons, although, as I expected, he never showed any signs of irritation or even that he cared in the slightest. I got fewer glares and stares than when it had first emerged that Sherlock was the killer, although I still got the odd suspicious glances from other House tables at dinner. I didn't mind though.
"Have you got a date for the Ball yet?" I asked, glancing around at the vibrant Christmas decorations in the Hall. The usual huge fir trees were accompanied by flocks of glowing golden owls and ribbons entwined with sprigs of holly and poinsettia flowers spiralled and danced high above our heads. This year, the teachers decided that the school needed a turnaround from recent dark events and so had organised a Winter Ball for the students to go to, on Christmas Eve. I presumed Sherlock was staying for Christmas, as he never seemed very keen on going back home.
"Not really my area." He didn't look up from his newspaper.
I tried not to laugh into my orange juice. "Well you have to go with someone. Why don't you ask Amelia?"
"I thought you were going with her?" he glanced up.
"What, you were actually thinking about it?" I replied, stunned.
"Obviously not," he snapped. "Merely curious."
I narrowed my eyes. "Well no, I'm not going with her."
"Who's your date then?" he spat the word.
"I don't have one either," I answered, a little sheepishly. "Anything interesting in there?" I nodded towards the paper.
He shook his head. "She's still in the courts, if that's what you're asking."
Rachel Heartley, no longer a Professor of Hogwarts, had been taken straight to the Ministry. Her trial was attempted to be kept secret, and this prevented any news coming out of whether she had actually admitted to the whole thing yet. It was taking much longer than I hoped it would.
The student's body had been identified as a Ravenclaw third year called Rex Thistledorf. I hadn't known him.
"John! Quiddich practice, you're going to be late!" Amelia yelled over the heads of the Slytherins on the table.
Sherlock was looking at me. He sometimes gave me these looks, as if he couldn't believe that I was still his friend. It passed as quickly as it had come.
"Here's the deal," I said quickly, trying not to laugh as I said it. "If neither of us have dates before tomorrow night, we have to go with each other. Deal?"
He was absorbed in the Prophet again. But as I left the table to join the rest of the Gryffindor Quiddich team heading out of the Hall, I was sure I saw him smile.
First off I'd like to apologise for the lengthy absences inbetween updating this! I wanted to make sure I got the plot right so it took me quite a while to write each bit. Hope you like the last chapter.
A big big big thank you to anyone who's reading this. I really love getting feedback on it and I think I would have given up on this a long time ago if people hadn't said they liked it. I seriously cannot thank you guys enough.
I'm definitely going to do more of Sherlock/HP, but more of little ideas rather than big plot things. I love it.
Anyway thank you again!