Sherlock Holmes doesn't believe in magic.
He most assuredly does not.
He does, however, believe in John.
John, who can soothe ruffled feathers with a fleeting touch, with words murmured in a language Sherlock obviously doesn't speak.
(Not that he actually wants to speak it. It's enough that John knows how, and a good thing, incidentally, since Sherlock has an extraordinary talent for ruffling feathers.)
It's John who moves through the world with an eye to those who live in it, whose presence makes others light up just a little, even during the darkest moments. Sherlock knows he can't do any of these things and before knowing John, never would have tried.
Still, it's rather remarkable to watch, especially considering what else John can do.
He makes him feel like—
Well, John makes him feel.
This, in and of itself, would be fine.
(Wasn't fine at first; was a damn nuisance, to be honest. Thought I'd been rid of that bit of myself long ago.)
It might even be more than fine, actually, if only Sherlock could figure out how to do the sort of magic John does.
(Sparingly, of course. Otherwise, who will kick Anderson's arse now and again?)
He'd do anything to figure out how to use just the right words and the tilt of his head to make John's heart pound the way Sherlock's does whenever John looks at him.
It seems only fair, really.
It isn't as if Sherlock hasn't already tried conventional methods to show him.
Just yesterday, he'd even brought home milk. Three litres. John seems to like milk, and Sherlock wants to give John the things he likes. It's not exactly his fault that the kitchen houses not only the fridge, but a whole array of experiments in progress, each of which requires his undivided attention.
Also, he hadn't realised that milk ('Sherlock, why did you get so much—? SHERLOCK!') could go off so blasted quickly in summertime.
It hadn't been his first attempt, either. Last week, he'd taken the advice of an agony aunt (only read the tabloids for the crime blotter) suggesting that couples enjoy listening to music together.
By a stunning coincidence, Sherlock can even make music.
He'd taken careful note of which violin sonatas (The Firebird Suite in particular could have been written for John) John particularly enjoys (based on careful observation of when he doesn't leave the room when Sherlock begins to play). He'd chosen only thosepieces over and over again, and even followed John up to his room that very night to serenade him.
In retrospect, it had been after a particularly brutal shift at the surgery, and the Firebird Suite might be considered rather… rousing to some people. But he had hoped a bit of music would lull John to sleep.
The next day, partly as an apology and partly as a sign of his regard for John as a scientist (he must know this is the best possible compliment… he must), he'd left a petri dish filled with Staphylococcus Aureus on John's bedside table after noticing him taking copious notes from an article in one of his medical journals on that very bacteria.
He still can't understand why this had made John so unhappy.
Well, apart from the fact that John had gone and spilled the culture, contaminating that cut he still had on the palm of his hand from when Sherlock had been demonstrating something truly extraordinary about his new Kukri knife. John still has that little frown line between his eyes whenever he rubs the site of the penicillin shot. Must have been painful, then.
Sherlock had tried to make it up to him, binning a very important experiment he'd been fiddling with out of that old text he'd found on the top shelf of the tallest bookcase. (Wasting ten days of observation. Though to be honest, not much had been happening there). John might not have noticed Sherlock's efforts, though, since he'd already stamped out of the flat and refused to enter the kitchen for three days after.
Not even to make tea.
There's nothing for it.
He strokes the cover of the old book and nods to himself.
If John can't be wooed using the considerable means already at Sherlock's disposal, he's just going to have to think outside the box.
Way outside the box.
The park is fairly swarming with humanity today.
All around him people are being dragged along after small, yappy dogs, flying by on skates without regard for pedestrians who might be absorbed in thought, and couples walking blissfully arm and arm without the slightest bit of consideration for those whose hearts are currently breaking.
He hasn't long to wait, though. The odd little man who always looks just a bit too cheerful and clean (despite his truly atrocious wardrobe) to be genuinely homeless has finally appeared. Out of nowhere, if such a thing were possible.
It drives Sherlock to distraction, not being able to figure out how he does it, but he's seen it too many times to dismiss. The little man, Gilbert, (dressed in plaid shorts, a pink trench coat, and flip-flops on that memorable occasion) appearing from around a muddy corner without a trace of mud on his shoes, or out of a rainstorm without a drop of water on his coat.
It's positively maddening.
"I knew you'd take me up on it one day," says the man without preamble. "Even a fancy consultin' detective like yourself is bound to need some magicalconsultation of your own, someday, right?" He leans in too close and Sherlock scowls. "I've heard the others calling you a wizard, mate." He taps the book on Sherlock's lap. "Might want to be careful about that."
Sherlock recoils at the smell of onion and something suspiciously like tripe on the man's breath and grits his teeth.
"Just direct me to someone who can decipher these," he snarls. "They don't work."
"'Course they work. You're just not doin' 'em right. Had the same problem me'self in school. Cauldrons kept explodin' left and right." He leans back and looks Sherlock up and down. "You musta' been home-schooled, come to think of it," he mutters. Never heard tell of you 'round Hogwarts."
Sherlock snorts. Home schooled? Hardly. Cauldrons? Hogwarts? Right.
"I know just the ones to help you," older man is saying.
"Just tell me how to find them."
"I'll do you one better, mate. I'll give you their calling card."
He hands Sherlock a narrow piece of parchment. Snape and Granger Consulting in formal script across the page. Number 13, Neal's Yard Tangential in smaller letters underneath.
"I don't recognize this address," says Sherlock, squinting at the card. "In fact, I'm certain no such address actually exists."
"'Course it does," says Gilbert, shaking his head. "It'll be there when you show up." He's looking at Sherlock quizzically, as if Sherlock has sustained a blow to the head and is mildly addled. "They're the best in the business. They'll be sure to help you sort out your troubles."
Sherlock scrutinises the card in his hand (thick parchment, don't recognise the source, black ink, copperplate script but the print doesn't look mass-produced. Odd) and stands to leave. Probably a dead end, but worth a trip.
By the time Sherlock turns around to dismiss the other man, he's already gone.
The storefront at the address on the parchment is mocking him. That is to say, the address that doesn't exist, though, by all rights, it should.
It's the right place. He's sure of it. He's walked past it no fewer than four times, and there's been no mistake apart from the folly of taking the advice of a man who hasn't the sense to get properly wet in the rain.
He'd give it up as a bad job, but his instincts are tingling.
The space between The Meeting Rooms and the pizza shop looks empty, but his eyes keep sliding over the orange brick as if it's been shrouded by something. It's as if there's something pushing his gaze away from what's there, or not there. There's no logic to explain it, but he refuses to deny the evidence of his own senses.
And if all that weren't enough, each time he tries to reach out to touch the wall, to slide his hands over the masonry separating the two storefronts, he feels an unearthly pull to go home and check that he's turned the oven off. Except Sherlock never touches the oven, so why on earth would he need to check that it's off? John had been home when he left; he'd know if the oven needed tending.
Sherlock looks again at the parchment in his hand with the engraved script and address that houses something very odd. Very odd, indeed. No idiotic urge to turn off the stove is going to interfere with deducing what it is.
"He's still out there."
The clatter of bottles and an indifferent grunt is the only reply.
"I've never seen a Muggle so persistently resist a Distraction Charm. Have you, Severus?"
"I've learned never to underestimate the capacity of Muggles to bang their heads against even invisible walls."
Hermione snorts but doesn't turn away from the window. She shakes her head at the sound of books being shelved at speed behind her.
There's something about that man.
The one outside.
The one inside is insufferable. But she knew that already. He's too engrossed in his own task to notice her, so she enjoys a moment to eye him, to drink him in. Every black-clad, sharp-eyed, brilliant inch of him.
"If he breaches the boundary—"
"He won't," says Severus, his back to her and to the clear glass that is plainly showing a tall, wiry man with a wild mop of hair pacing back and forth in front of their storefront as if he knows they're hidden there behind a standard issue Muggle Repelling Charm.
"What if he does, Severus? Look at him."
The tall man has stopped pacing and is standing, arms crossed (a familiar piece of parchment in his hand—bloody hell, who gave him that?) directly across from Hermione. Six feet of pavement and a sheet of plate glass separate them; that, and a charm that should, by all rights, have sent him racing home twenty minutes ago.
"Just because I can't see you doesn't mean I don't know you're there," he's shouting. "The rest of them might be idiots, but I'mcertainly not. I know when something isn't there when it should be just as well as I do when something's there that shouldn't."
The sounds of books and bottles being rearranged (unnecessarily, really) finally stops, and Hermione looks up as Severus approaches. They turn to look out the window just in time to see the man flip a small rectangular piece of paper forcefully towards the invisible boundary, and his satisfied smirk when it disappears from his view.
"If you ever tire of hiding," says the man, "you'll know where to find me." He nods in the general direction of the business card that Hermione has run to scoop up from the front stoop. "Doubtful you can help me, anyway," he mutters, looking up.
Right at her.
He's not looking at her, Hermione thinks. He can't see her. Of course he can't.
Sherlock Holmes, if the name on the card is his.
Hermione watches him turn to walk away without a backward glance, and wonders about the level of desperation required to generate enough magical energy to breach that boundary.
It doesn't have to remain a mystery. They are free to go to him now if they choose.
"Don't even think about it, Granger," Severus says, turning back to his books.
"You don't get to decide what I think, Severus. And last time I looked, I was free to come and go as I please. Besides, it's not as if we have anything else to do." She examines the card in her hand. "You're welcome to rearrange the bookshelves again, but I'm going to find out what he wanted."
"Absolutely not," he says, bristling. "We can offer no magical aid to a Muggle, Granger. What, exactly, are you planning to say to him? 'Oh, right, we were invisible to you, but because you managed to breach the charm hiding us, we're not precisely breaking the law by revealing ourselves to you now.'"
Well, yes, actually. She had considered saying something rather a lot like that.
"Since he obviously has sufficient latent magic to breach the charm, we wouldn't be violating the Statute of Secrecy. And I'mbored, Severus. I want to know what he wanted. We might not be able to provide him with a magical solution, but wouldn't it be interesting to find out more about him?"
Severus's eyes narrow. "No, Granger, it wouldn't." He turns back to the books, moving Fantastic Flora and Fauna two shelves down, presumably so that Tantalising Tantalus would cease gnawing at its spine.
"What sort of consultants are we if we refuse a job just because it's outside our usual scope of practice, hmm?" She smiles as he squares his shoulders and leaves the books to turn towards her.
"We are not refusing this because it's outside our usual scope of practice, Granger. We are refusing to respond to this—" He snatches the card from Hermione's hand. "—Sherlock Holmes because he is a Muggle, and it would be a waste of our time."
"Time more productively spent rearranging books, then?"
He raises an eyebrow. "Obviously."
"If I help you finish, will you come with me to see what this Holmes fellow wants?" She puts up a hand to quell his protests. "Nothing illegal, I promise. We've spent days setting up, Severus, and I'm dying to get out."
His eyes soften just enough to make her smile.
"Excellent. Now, where should we shelve the Spellman's Syllabary?"
The trip back to 221B is anticlimactic.
Dull, dull, dull.
Filled with street after street of buildings standing precisely where they're meant to be and kilometres of brick that his eyes refuse to slide away from.
The flat is empty, rendering it completely unappealing, despite the three experiments awaiting his scrutiny (two in the kitchen and one in the bathroom. I hope John doesn't need the tub tonight.) Without John around, he rattles around in their shared space, as hollow inside as the flat downstairs with its cavernous rooms bereft of life.
The sun is just beginning to set, when he hears John's tread on the stairs. He schools his expression to the pleasant but marginally vacuous one he uses on bank tellers and cabbies.
"Hello, John," he says as his flatmate enters.
John looks vaguely surprised, as if greetings aren't a regular part of human interaction. Or, at least, their interaction.
Well, to be fair, Sherlock is often absorbed in his work and sometimes doesn't notice when John comes in. Or out. So perhaps he doesn't always greet him.
Must work on that.
In the meantime, John's heading towards the bathroom, and Sherlock can't move fast enough to stop him before—
Ah. He noticed the brains, then.
"They'll be cleared out by morning," Sherlock calls out. "I need twelve more hours with them in the saline solution before I can return them to the mortuary."
John mutters something Sherlock can't quite hear but that he thinks has to do with the relative definition of need. He's about to answer, but John has his jacket on again and is looking sort of hopeful, as if he's about to ask Sherlock something important.
(He'd like to know what is important to John. He wants to fill John's important needs.)
There's a sharp knock at the door.
Sherlock's face falls, but John turns and reaches for the door.
"Expecting someone?" John pulls it open.
In the cluttered hallway stands a sharp-featured man dressed in a three piece suit, his slick, dark hair just a bit long for the current fashion.
(Ill at ease. He doesn't want to be here. Why is he here, then?)
Next to him is a younger woman in a sweeping skirt and fitted blouse, hair pulled back from her face, corkscrew curls bursting out from the messy bun at the back of her head.
(Doesn't usually pull her hair back. Trying to look older. More mature. It's not working as well as she'd like.)
He looks between the two again.
(She's eyeing the man as if he's a volatile solution about to explode. Affectionately, though, as if she'd like to take his arm to settle him down.)
"You didn't tell me you had clients coming to the house, Sherlock," says John, and Sherlock has just started to say that he hasn't got any clients, actually, when John continues. "Just as well. I'm going out."
But John's shoulders are slumped and Sherlock doesn't understand. It was just brains in the tub. He's done far worse. But John has already gone, and the strangers are still standing in the hallway.
The woman points to herself. "Hermione Granger." And to her companion. "Severus Snape."
"Aren't you going to invite us in?" interrupts the man with a scowl to rival Mycroft's on a bad day. "You did seem rather determined to speak with us.
The early evening sun streams through tall windows, bathing the room in fading light.
The flat is a jumble of mismatched furniture with piles of papers and books strewn on every available surface. A large hearth dominates the room but it's the human skull on the mantlepiece that draws Hermione's eye. She shudders.
The place looks not unlike Ron and Harry's flat (apart from the books) before Mrs Weasley got to them and forced a cleanup. If the exhumation of the boys' flat is any indication of what horrors lie beneath piles of bachelor rubble (especially considering the skull isn't even buried…), she'd rather not know what's hiding beneath the debris here, either.
The man standing in the centre of the room looks a bit lost, Hermione thinks. He's still looking past them to where the other man had brushed by, galloping down the stairs and into the London night.
She recognises the look on his face, or at least the feeling behind it.
"Come in. Do come in," the tall man is saying at last, swirling about the room, moving piles of papers from furniture, clearing a path and a space to sit.
"How can we help you, Mr Holmes?" Hermione asks as she sits alongside Severus on the edge of the sofa, narrowly avoiding the plate of bread crusts jammed into the space between the cushions.
"I would add," says Severus, "the question of 'why us?' to my colleague's overly gracious and entirely premature offer of help."
Holmes pauses and looks them up and down.
"I appreciate your reluctance to engage a client who might not challenge your skills," says Holmes. Severus raises his eyebrows. Interesting.
"And how would you know about avoiding less than challenging work, Mr Holmes?" Severus asks, eyes roaming over the disarray.
Light eyes meet dark. The moment stretches, long and silent, until Holmes finally speaks.
"As the world's only consulting detective," he says, "I know a fair bit about being bored by people's mundane problems and their utter inability to solve even the simplest dilemmas. You would not believe the idiotic requests I get on my website. 'Mr Holmes, I've lost my cat… Mr Holmes, I think my boyfriend is cheating on me… Mr Holmes, I've lost my father's heirloom watch…'"
"Yes, well, that sounds rather familiar, actually," says Hermione. She glances at Severus whose forehead is furrowing the way it does when he's perched between irritated and unsure.
"You're seeking out a very specific sort of consultation, then," Severus says. "Man like you wouldn't need run-of-the-mill help."
"Precisely," Holmes says, looking pleased. "Rarely need help, actually. Specific consults, now and again. I have a network spread about London for most of my specialised informational needs. It's how I got your names, in fact. One of my contacts mentions you with some regularity. Apparently thought I might benefit from your help one day."
"What, precisely, did your contact tell you about us, Mr Holmes? What sort of services did he say we provide?" asks Hermione.
"He just said that your work is… magical," Holmes says with a snort. "Kept insisting that there'd come a time when your skills would come in handy on a case." Holmes perches on the armchair opposite the sofa. "Turns out that I don't need help with a case. More important than a case, actually, though if you'd have told me a couple of years ago I'd ever say such a thing existed, I'd have laughed in your face."
"Yes, well, the phenomenon of one being wedded to one's work is not unfamiliar to me—to us, Mr Holmes," says Hermione, avoiding Severus' gaze.
"Wedded, yes. I've said for years that I'm married to my work. Exactly," Holmes agrees, and Hermione blushes at the unexpected intensity of his scrutiny as his eyes move between her and Severus and back again.
"But I find that I no longer want to be. Married to my work, that is." His glance strays to the still-open door, and Hermione's heart lurches. "I'm a scientist. I've never had cause to reach for something so intangible."
Holmes looks between them again.
"You do understand my meaning, Mr Snape, don't you?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Severus snaps. But he's shifting in his seat and Holmes is smirking.
"I think you do," says Holmes.
"You know nothing about me." Severus' voice is very controlled, but Hermione's heart is racing.
"Don't I?" Holmes folds his arms across his chest and begins to speak, hardly pausing for breath. "Your fingers are stained and your nails are short. No rings. You work with your hands, chemicals, probably. Maybe you're a researcher for a pharmaceutical company, but your hair is too long for a corporate environment, so you're probably an academic." He pauses. Tilts his head to one side. "No. You were an academic, but now you run your own business. Consulting. That part was easy. I have your business card."
Severus looks as if he might interrupt, but Holmes talks right over anything he might have started to say.
"You have the close-mouthed look of a man who knows far more than he's either willing or permitted to say. You're used to being all buttoned up, and you're not yet comfortable with, shall we say, civilian life." Holmes raises his eyebrows as if to emphasise his point.
"Your colleague here watches you like a hawk. Probably you're a bit volatile and she's one to try to keep the peace. She's comfortable in that role with you, so she's obviously known you a long time." He looks between them again. "Significant age difference and yet you're working together. Partners, not employer-employee. How did you meet?" He furrows his brow. "Oooh! He was your professor, wasn't he?" Holmes grins. "Marvellous!" He turns to Severus again. "Never looked twice at her until she left school. Man like you is too principled for that sort of nonsense, but she noticed you, didn't she?"
"Approached you at some point and proposed a working relationship."
Hermione nods, astonished. "How did you—"
"Not finished yet," says Holmes waving her question away. "You admire her. You don't protest when she interrupts or takes the lead. You obviously respect her enough to collaborate with her despite her youth and probable inexperience. Anything else? Anything else?" Holmes mutters, then his face lights up. "Oh! Oh, oh, oh…! It's mutual!"
"Fascinating parlour trick, Holmes," interrupts Severus, his voice tight.
"Would you like me to tell you about your colleague next?" Holmes asks, smirking.
She'd love to know what Holmes can see (terrified, too, but since when did she shy away from something terrifying?), but he's quite right that she is the one to defuse a tense situation, and this certainly qualifies. Severus looks about to explode, and on second thought, maybe having Holmes spill out her darkest secrets onto the coffee table isn't such a great idea even though part of her thinks it would be a tremendous relief.
"How about a spot of tea?" suggests Hermione.
"I'll get it," says Severus, leaping up and heading towards the kitchen.
"Make yourself at home," says Holmes, but he hasn't moved, so Hermione supposes he doesn't mind strangers rummaging around his kitchen.
There's a bit of noise, dishes being moved here and there in search of usable mugs, she supposes. And then, the sort of silence Hermione has learned to be wary of right before—
Hermione looks apologetically at Holmes and bolts to the kitchen.
The kitchen table and most of the available counter space is strewn with beakers and bowls filled with what looks nauseatingly like Neville Longbottom's cauldron in their first year.
On a day when Hermione had followed instructions and let him brew on his own.
One bowl is emitting poufs of orange smoke and Hermione peers inside to see what sort of combination of magical ingredients a Muggle could hope to activate without magic. (Or, presumably, a match, though she wouldn't rule that out without further investigation).
Holmes has followed them in, from the look of it, more concerned with checking his experiments in progress than in the horrified expression on Severus' face.
"Difficulty finding the tea?" he mutters, dipping a spoon into one bowl, and judiciously sniffing another. "John does move it around quite a bit. He'd rather I not use it, experimentally. I told him I've been availing myself of more esoteric ingredients these days, but I don't think he believes me."
"What, precisely, do you think you're doing here, Mr Holmes?" snaps Severus. Holmes straightens up and looks alert. Hermione is surprised that Severus's classroom voice works at all on the other man. Though on second thought, perhaps it's not that so much as relief that they've finally got to the point.
Holmes is reaching behind him, drawing out an enormous book as if in answer.
"Been going through the recipes in this old thing. There's one I would especially like to use, but I thought I'd try some of the simpler looking ones first." He pokes at a bowl of what look like rhinoceros horn shavings mouldering in a puddle of what looks nauseatingly like blood. "Haven't had much luck, honestly."
"Where did you obtain a Grimoire, Mr Holmes?" Severus' voice is sharp. For good reason, thinks Hermione. From what she can see, it's a volume that would have been at home in the Restricted Section at Hogwarts.
"Found it. Top shelf, right over there," Holmes says, waving his hand toward the front room, distracted. "What's the difference? It's obviously ancient. Author fancied himself a wizard." He snorts. "I've been experimenting." He narrows his eyes. "Do keep up."
He and Severus lock gazes for a moment and Hermione half expects Holmes to burst into flames. Just then, Holmes breaks away to huff at the collection of mouldering potions on the table and Hermione breathes again and steps just a bit closer to Severus.
"None of them work. They make a bloody mess, though. Flatmate, you know, John, hasn't appreciated that." His eyes stray back to the door again and Hermione frowns at the droop in his shoulders.
"You've been experimenting with the formulae in this book, then?" asks Hermione carefully.
His jaw clenches.
"Of course he's had no success," mutters Severus.
"What do you mean, 'of course?' I'm a perfectly competent scientist, Snape. More than competent, in fact. Far better than those morons at the Met."
"Yes, yes. I'm sure. And if these formulae were intended for Mu—for scientists to execute, I've no doubt you'd be in fine shape, Mr Holmes. But they're not."
"I just need one of them to work," Holmes insists.
He's opening the Grimoire and Severus is leaning forward despite himself.
"Is that why you asked your contact for help? Because you realised these recipes require something a bit… extra?"
"Now you're asking the right questions," Holmes says, perking up.
This time Hermione does grab on to Severus's arm. His wand arm.
"I know it's ridiculous, but it's the only thing I can think to do. The only thing I haven't tried."
He points to the potion at the top of the page.
"I have all the ingredients. I've used all the correct instruments. Well, I used an aluminium milk pan instead of a cauldron, but that hardly matters. The composition of the pot doesn't seem to have anything to do with the reaction."
Severus is pinching the bridge of his nose.
"First of all," Severus growls, "an aluminium milk pan does not, I repeat, not, substitute for a properly sized iron cauldron and a well-calibrated flame." He stops short and grits his teeth. "What am I saying?" he mutters.
"You've been trying to brew a love potion," interrupts Hermione. "Why?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Holmes opens his arms wide, nearly knocking over a beaker filled with a viscous looking liquid. "The object of my affections hasn't responded to my efforts to woo him." He pauses, pursing his lips for a moment as if debating his next words. "I'm desperate."
"You're desperate and so you decided to brew a potion that would compel your one true love to cleave to you and you alone," Severus growls, pausing to examine a glass bowl filled with swirling smoke, "but apparently only after first breaking out in purple pustules."
"Purple pustules?" Holmes mutters. "Must've missed that bit." He frowns. "I've tried a variety of formulae—potions, you say? How quaint." He looks at the potion in question which looks mostly like a heap of misty mud. "I wouldn't like John in purple pustules, so that one's obviously out." He waves his hand dismissively at the smoking bowl. "But none of them work. I've tried them all."
"Severus," says Hermione, examining the contents of the aluminium-pan-that-isn't-a-cauldron. "Take a look at this one."
Severus grunts, but dips his head closer to smell the brew, and tips the pan just a bit to examine the consistency. He lifts his eyes to hers and she raises her eyebrows.
"This, Mr Holmes, is meant to be a revealing potion, not a love potion," says Severus slowly, as if to a very young child. "It does not compel love, nor does it bind two people together. It merely uncovers a truth that already exists."
"Yes, I can read," Holmes says. "I thought I could use it to prove to John how I feel about him." He looks from the pan to the witch and wizard. "Did it work? It doesn't look like the illustration, so I thought—"
"It requires an incantation to complete it, Mr Holmes, and then it will, I believe, be potent enough."
Hermione gasps, but the sound is hidden by a voice from behind them.
"Potent enough for what?"
The three of them, witch, wizard and Muggle, turn to the man standing at the doorway to the kitchen.
"What are you working on?"
John's back. John's home. Oh, god. I've got potions and wizards and all manner of insanity cluttering up the kitchen. John will not approve. Not good. Not even a bit good.
"Hello, John. You're back early."
"Just went to get us some curry," says John, lifting the takeaway bag and putting it on the floor by the door. He's looking into the kitchen, and Sherlock can barely breathe, afraid his body is too insubstantial to hide the pan containing his salvation.
"Do it," he whispers to Snape, relieved when the other man only nods and mutters something under his breath, siphons some of the fiery-looking liquid into a probably-clean-enough mug, and hands it to Sherlock.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Hermione whispers. "You have no idea the implications."
"There's no other way," Sherlock says.
The potion is heavy and burns going down, but Sherlock takes a giant swig and swallows it in one gulp.
"Enough?" he mutters in Snape's general direction.
"Plenty," the older man replies.
He hands the mug with the remainder of the potion to Hermione and raises his eyebrows. He'd smirk at her blush, but he's distracted.
The potion is working its way through his veins.
He feels cold.
He feels hot.
He is gripped with fear.
He swells with bravery.
"Yes, Sherlock." John looks confused.
Not for long, John.
"John," Sherlock says, stepping away from the table, stepping closer to where John is standing in the front room. "There's something important I need to tell you."
"What is it? Sherlock, what's wrong?"
He is worried, of course he is. He's a man accustomed to dire pronouncements. A man who has endured too much loss, survived battlefields, both at home and abroad.
I hope you won't think this is wrong.
"I. Well. I mean to say." Sherlock clears his throat and wills the potion to do its magic.
John tilts his head and waits. Sherlock's heart begins to pound.
Sherlock opens his mouth and then he closes it. Words are just not going to be sufficient. How could he not see it? Music and bacteria samples and milk. None of it could possibly encompass the depth and breadth of his feelings for John.
"John." It's all he can say before he takes one more step forward, out of the kitchen, and presses his lips to John's.
John's lips are warm, and so are his arms when they wrap around Sherlock's waist. He's kissing John, and John is kissing him back.
Oh, god. He's kissing me back. JohnJohnJohn.
"I didn't know how to tell you," Sherlock whispers when they've paused for breath. "I tried to show you, but it didn't work. I don't think I did it right."
"You tried to—Sherlock." John laughs. "Sherlock. How exactly is leaving bacterial samples next to my bed a sign of your devotion?"
"I thought you might want to experiment," he murmurs against John's neck. "With me, maybe. Next to me."
John moans and pulls him closer, painting sweet words into his skin with his lips and his breath. It doesn't matter what the words are, only that they're John's and they are for him.
He has entirely forgotten about the witch and the wizard standing over a dozen ruined potions in the kitchen.
"Sneaky, Severus," says Hermione, turning away from the two men wrapped around one another in the front room.
"I have no idea what you mean."
"'It just needs an incantation and it will be potent enough'," she mimics. "What were you playing at?"
"Obvious," he says, gesturing to the other room. "He didn't need a potion. He needed liquid courage, and I supplied it for him." He stepped around the table closer to Hermione. "Some men are simply inept when it comes to expressing their intentions to those they… fancy. They need something to help them overcome the hurdle of their own fear."
Hermione nods. "I know some women who have the same problem."
Severus looks startled, then contemplative.
"Placebos are powerful medicine, you know."
"I know," she replies, smiling at the sounds coming from the other room. "It appears to have done the trick, all right."
"Yes," he says, his eyes never leaving hers.
"Good thing there is some left over," she murmurs, taking a small sip of the bootleg Firewhisky.
"Whatever for?" His voice is rough and Hermione shivers.
"To give me courage."
They'll argue later about who moved first, and whether placebos work when you know what they are, but for a suspended moment, all that matters is the brush of Severus' lips against hers. Tentative. A question.
Oh, Severus, yes. Yesyesyesyes.
Fortunately, John had been hungry when he ordered the takeaway.
The four of them sit in the front room, containers of aromatic food spread out on the coffee table. Sherlock is trying to lever his lean boy alongside John's in his armchair. It's a tight fit, but John doesn't seem to mind that he's ended up with half of Sherlock on his lap.
"So, you're not clients, then?" John asks with his mouth full of curry.
"Hardly," says Snape, eyeing a piece of Naan.
"Well, whoever you are, thank you. One more day of potions brewing and I was going to lose my mind."
"Potions brewing?" Snape's voice is tight.
"Well, that's what it is, isn't it?"
Snape and Granger look at one another. They've claimed the couch, piles of paper and plates occupying one half, and the two of them more than snug on the other.
Sherlock smirks. I knew it.
"What do you know about potions, Dr Watson?" asks Snape.
"Not much," he answers. "Just what my Gran told me when I was small." He smiles, remembering. "I knew I'd never get to go to that magical school, but she had, and she'd tell us stories."
"Magical school?" Sherlock is looking at John with new eyes. Can John do actual magic? Can John brew potions to compel love or reveal truths? In a flash, he understands what Granger had been trying to tell him before he drank the brew. About implications and complications.
Oh, lord. What have I done?
But the man and the woman–witch and wizard—across from him must have some deductive skills of their own, because the woman leans forward, understanding that Sherlock is distressed.
"Mr Holmes," she says. "That wasn't a potion you swallowed."
Not a potion? Not a potion. Then…
"You've done nothing magically coercive, Mr Holmes," adds Snape. "And what you revealed, you revealed of your own volition. I gave you a placebo. Alcohol, though a potent sort."
"Alcohol," Sherlock echoes. "Placebo." The blood pounding in his head is finally slowing, leaving him a bit of space to think.
"Sherlock?" asks John. "What, exactly, were you trying to do with all those potions in the kitchen?"
He must have wondered, Sherlock thinks. John had long ago stopped asking for details, and Sherlock had forgotten that for someone with a regular mind, John is uncommonly bright.
"Well, I found a Grimoire filled with love potions on our bookshelf
and I thought—"
"You thought you could whip up a love potion and do what with it?"
"It doesn't matter, John. None of them worked. And I was desperate."
"So, what? Your desperation means you thought you could magically compel me to love you?"
The look on John's face causes him to reconsider the relative advantage of transparency versus obfuscation. John is furious. Of course he is. Wasn't Sherlock panicked just a moment ago when he thought that John might have used magic on him?
"I. Well, no," he says at last. "The potion I thought I ingested was meant to show you how I feel. Not to make you feel anything for me. Isn't that right Professor Snape?"
"Not anybody's professor anymore, praise Merlin," the older man mutters. "Yes, Mr Holmes. You are correct. The potion you believed you drank would not have coerced any unwanted emotion either from you or from your… flatmate. Even had it been properly magical."
"Let me get this straight," John says. "You experimented with all sorts of love potions. None of them worked."
"Apparently, one has to be a witch or a wizard," Sherlock says sourly.
Unthinkable that there should be experiments beyond his reach. Honestly.
"Yes, well, that's the trick, isn't it?" says John. "For magic to work, you need to be magical."
"You're magical," Sherlock says without thinking.
"I'm not. My grandmother was, as was her side of the family. But my mother was—What do you call it when someone non-magical is born from a magical person?"
"A squib, Dr Watson," says Snape.
"That's it. My mother was a squib and she grew up with regular people. She'd visit her magical family a few times a year, but I gather it was just painful for all of them. But my grandmother used to visit us. We knew she was magical. It was a big secret, but we were family so we could know."
"The Statute of Secrecy prevents witches and wizards from performing magic in the presence of Muggles—non-magical folk," says Granger. "But family members are excepted. I'm sort of the opposite to your mother, Dr Watson," she says. "My parents are non-magical and I was born a witch."
"Fascinating," says Sherlock. "I don't suppose there's anyway to confer magic onto a non-magical human?"
John snorts. "Of course you'd want access to magic. Christ, I can't imagine what you'd be like if you were properly magical."
"What do you mean properly magical. I've not got any sort of magic at all."
"Yes you do," says John. "It's not the same as the kind they have," he says, gesturing to Snape and Granger. "But it is. Magic."
They both stop for a moment, caught in the power of the realisation that has burst fully formed between them.
"No, that's not me," says Sherlock. "That's you. You're the one who's magic. That's why I had to use the Grimoire."
"But it wasn't the Grimoire that made me want you," says John, blushing.
For once in his life, Sherlock is speechless.
"Which reminds me," says Snape, stepping into the silence. "The Grimoire?"
"Oh, that's mine," says John, reluctantly pulling his gaze away from Sherlock. "Was my Gran's and she gave it to me."
"I don't imagine you ever thought anyone would try to use the recipes."
"Erm. No," says John, eyeing Sherlock. "Though in retrospect, I should have known better."
Honestly. A book of magical potions left within my reach in my own flat. What did he think I would do when I found it?
"I did more than passably well for someone lacking a necessary element," Sherlock mutters.
"As it happens," Snape says, "you did, Mr Holmes. I've seen worse efforts in the cauldrons of fourth-years I know."
"Will there be any repercussions for the two of you?" John asks. "Gran said that the Ministry for Magic used to arrest first and ask questions later."
"They still do," says Snape. "But, fortunately for us, we did not violate the statute." He looks at Sherlock. "Your contact did."
"And since you were able to get your business card through the concealment charm, we are technically permitted to reveal ourselves to you. And since you have magical family," she says to John, "the statute doesn't apply to you."
Sherlock looks at the witch and the wizard. He looks at John, whose ancestors were magical.
He isn't magical, himself (no matter what John says… John's biased. Blissfully, wonderfully, thankfully biased when it comes to Sherlock).
No matter. Sherlock does have the best ideas.
"So, Severus – may I call you Severus?" Sherlock puts on his very best smile. "What would you say to some future collaboration?"
Written for the Sherlockmas "Spring into Sherlock" fest on LiveJournal.
Endless thanks to pyjamapants, annietalbot, dickgloucester, sc010f, bluestocking79 and subvers for cheerleading, alpha reading and beta reading. Your eagle eyes and encouragement make everything I write so much better.