The following account details a bizarre and wholly unexpected series of events known as A Study in Magic. To those readers who scoff at this title, I pray you read with mind open and unbiased. I too was once the skeptic, one who chuckled softly at the childish concept of magic.
Such views have long since been revised.
It began one brisk Tuesday morning, when the world's only private consulting detective and I were interrupted from breakfast by a sharp, single knock upon the door.
Sherlock Holmes, in his infinitely casual manner, continued to scan the morning paper, no doubt engrossed in the multitude of sordid crimes London had to offer. "Do get the door, Watson, and let our guests in."
Crossing to the entryway, I opened the door to reveal a pair of characters, each possessing a most extraordinary appearance. One of them, a gentleman greatly advanced in years, peered at me over half-moon spectacles. He carried a covered picnic basket, and was dressed queerly in purple robes. Behind him stood a severe-looking middle-aged woman, dressed similarly in black.
"Mr. Holmes?" asked the gentleman.
Sherlock folded his paper and rose, walking to us. "Here," he said, beckoning our visitors inside and shutting the door. "I am Mr. Sherlock Holmes, and this is my compatriot, Dr. Watson, and we are both, I'm sure, at your service. Please, seat yourselves."
The woman seemed pleased at Holmes' hospitality. An old soul, I wagered, the type who still put stock in such things (much like myself, it must be said). The gentleman, however, seemed somewhat more casual in his outlook. He arranged himself at the breakfast table, in my recently vacated seat, no less. Looking over the remains of our breakfast, he peeked into the teapot before pouring a cup of earl grey.
I can't say I approved his deplorable manners, and glancing at the mystery woman, determined I was not alone in annoyance. If her countenance was any indication, she thought his manners rather lacking as well. Discomfiture assuaged, I turned my attention to my old friend.
Holmes had quietly observed our guest's breech of conduct from the mantle, though he held little (if any) importance to such social conventions. Deftly lighting a pipe, he crossed the room, sitting across from our visitor. "Might I inquire," he asked, "My guest's names?"
The old man swallowed a sip of tea, setting his cup down with a nod of appreciation. "Albus Dumbledore. And please, just Albus will suffice. My companion," he gestured to the lady with waggling fingers, "Is Professor Minerva McGonagall."
The woman tilted her head briefly towards me, and I returned the curt gesture. She was Scottish then, but Dumbledore? That was a name I hadn't heard before (or since), and one that seemed more joke than name.
"A very unusual surname," said Holmes, "I must admit, Albus, it's one even I am not familiar with. But etymology interests me considerably less than the purpose of your visit."
Holmes leaned forward, eyes slightly closing, bringing his latest curiosity into sharp focus. "I observe from your appearance none of the signs of long travel, and yet, you both are clearly not natives to England. Tell me, how have you arrived in London?"
Minerva answered immediately, as if on cue. "We just got off our flight, Mr. Holmes. Came straight to Baker Street, in fact. We were very anxious to speak with you."
Holmes blew out a small ring of smoke, watching it rise to the ceiling. Albus also eyed the ring's progress before rummaging in his robes. With a small noise of satisfaction, he drew forth a pipe. To my shock, it was already lit, and he began puffing upon it without preamble.
Holmes sat up stiffly. "Now that is a beautiful pipe. Meerschaum, isn't it?" he asked, extending a hand. "May I?"
Albus handed over the pipe, which Holmes examined closely before returning with a frown. He then turned to address Minerva.
"As for your claim," said Holmes, "You may wish to note, madam, for future conversations, that I am not quite so easily deceived."
Minerva opened her mouth, rebuttal ready, but Holmes held up his hand, forestalling any argument. "Please, my dear woman, do not try to convince me otherwise. As I've just said, your robes, outlandish though they may be, do not tell the story of a long flight. Your clothes are unwrinkled and without a single crease. I think we can agree that not even the most callous airline would force it's passengers to remain standing."
Minerva stared at Sherlock for a moment before Albus chuckled, drawing the room's attention. "A keen observation," he said, "I must say, I'm rather relieved. Your reputation seems to be well founded."
Holmes waved aside the man's commendation. "Perhaps now you'll tell me the purpose of your visit? I strongly suspect it pertains to the picnic basket you've yet to release."
Shifting slightly, I was able to see that, indeed, the old man still held the basket's handle in a casual grip.
Albus lifted the container and handed it towards Minerva. "Right again, Mr. Holmes. If you would, Minerva?"
Minerva gently, almost reverently, took the offered basket and raised the lid. To my astonishment, within lay a baby. A doctor's instincts took hold as I noted the sleeping babe's forehead; it bore a peculiar scar, consisting of three lines connected at acute angles. The cut's regularity showed the wound be, without a doubt, the result of deliberate intent.
Albus favored the boy with a fond look. "It's my distinct pleasure, gentlemen, to introduce Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived."
Holmes nodded vaguely in the child's direction, never taking his sight off of the man before him. "Charmed," he replied, "I'm sure. But why is he here?"
"I had rather hoped you could keep him safe, for a short time, at least."
Albus tapped his chin thoughtfully. "Oh, no more than…let's say eighteen years? Although," he was quick to add, "It could be considerably less than that, depending on the circumstances."
I gave a small, choked cough. Holmes continued to coolly stare at Albus.
Albus nodded, seeming to expect this answer. "Unfortunately, you don't have much choice in this matter." Holmes raised an eyebrow, and Albus chuckled. "Oh, it's not a threat, Mr. Holmes. It's a simple matter of confidence. I'm quite sure you'll accept."
Holmes seemed to fight off the urge to scoff, instead settling for raising a single, sweeping eyebrow. "And why, pray tell, would I accept this...generous offer?"
"Because you're like me. You're a lover of knowledge, anyone can see that, and Harry would give you access to worlds of knowledge that you are currently in complete ignorance of."
Holmes continued to languidly smoke, a perfect picture of a man unconcerned and unruffled. "A good try, but your notions are slightly misinformed. I have a great love of knowledge, as you say, but only when that knowledge pertains, in some way, to criminology."
"There are criminals of a nature you're not aware of, Mr. Holmes."
"And what nature is that?"
Albus' eyes twinkled mischievously. "Magic."
The roomed filled with an awkward silence until, unable to contain myself, I burst forth with an indignant exclamation. "Really, now! Be serious, man!"
Holmes' stared at Albus, attempting to bore straight into the old man's head through force of gaze alone. "I must admit, your trick with the pipe has me puzzled."
I was lost now, and glanced confusedly between the two men. Minerva watched my companion with a sudden interest. "The devil do you mean, Holmes?" I weakly asked. "The pipe?"
"Yes Watson, the pipe. Our new friend took from his robes a lit pipe, a feat which grows into more than a mere trick when we consider two simple observations. One: I could not detect the slightest hint of tobacco smoke before he presented it, indicating the pipe was not previously lit and waiting to be revealed. And two: Earlier, when I was graciously allowed to examine said pipe, I found the bowl quite hot. Evidently, it had been lit for some time."
Minerva was looking decidedly nervous, though I could not for the life of me imagine why.
"These two observations," said Holmes, "Lead my conclusion to, seemingly, a paradox." My friend gave a sharp laugh, and carefully considered a widely grinning Albus Dumbledore. "An impressive trick. If you could explain its execution, I would be most grateful."
Albus shrugged. "I told you. It's magic, plain and simple."
Holmes' eyes flashed with irritation. "Let me be frank, Albus. I tire of these-"
My irate friend was silenced more effectively than if I'd knocked him over the head. For, with no movement whatsoever, and only the smallest of sounds to mark his passing, Albus Dumbledore had quite suddenly and quite completely disappeared.
I let out a cry, stepped backwards, and toppled over a footstool. Holmes' reaction was less dramatic, though no less out of character. He dropped his pipe, heedless of the scattering ashes, and seemed to coil like a spring. Face ghost-white, he reached out and waved a hand through the space Albus had so recently occupied.
From the far side of the room, cutting through the silence, came the unmistakable voice of our vanished guest. "Magic is no idle trick, my boy. It is a world hidden beneath your very nose, and one you can be a part of, if only you raise the boy."
Holmes had yet to rise from his seat. Indeed, he had not even turned toward the voice. He stared straight ahead, breath shallow, while a wild grin stretched his face. His eyes held a look I'd witnessed many times; the singular spark that arose only when confronted by problems of the most baffling and exciting perplexity.
Rising slowly, Holmes turned around, facing the direction from which the voice had emanated. For perhaps ten full seconds, he stood absolutely still, eyes scanning the apartment relentlessly. Then, with long, confident strides, he crossed the far side of the room, stopping next to the window. Standing alone, he extended a hand to the empty air, as if for a handshake.
"Well played," he said. "I accept the responsibility, on one condition."
As suddenly as he left, Albus returned, his hand clasped in Holmes'.
I looked on in bewilderment, uncomprehending. Beside me, Minerva let out a soft exclamation.
"But how?" she asked. "How did he know, Albus?"
Looking up from my spot on the floor, I saw her staring at my friend with undisguised astonishment. The irony was not lost on me, despite my state. Even in the midst of unprecedented happenings, Sherlock still managed to make the strongest of first impressions.
Holmes turned toward to Minerva, composure in such a state that one doubted it had ever left. "Elementary, my dear woman. As I'm sure Albus has already guessed, a man may turn invisible, but he still leaves footprints in the carpet."
I looked to the floor, endeavoring to spot the signs he spoke of. I could see no clues in the carpet, and if Minerva's puzzled look was any indication, neither did she. My eyes met hers briefly, and I beheld a glimmer of confusion, no doubt reflected within my own. With that small comfort, I found myself drawn back to the scene unfolding before me.
"Condition?" asked Albus.
"A pittance, I assure you," Holmes replied, "But one I insist on."
"Then by all means, insist."
Holmes spared the babe's picnic basket a glance. "I need assurance, absolute assurance that I can the raise the boy as I see fit.
Albus nodded. "Of course. I'll leave such matters in your more than capable hands." The headmaster adjusted his spectacles, peering over them at Holmes. "A few caveats will apply, naturally, but I'm curious why you're so insistent. Making plans already, Mr. Holmes?"
"No more than you have, I'm sure. But if you're that curious, then yes, I'll admit to having some plans for the boy."
I watched this exchange in silence, as did Minerva, though she looked uneasy at Holmes proclamation.
Dumbledore smiled broadly before succumbing to soft laughter. His mirth subsided shortly, and he wiped at the corners of his eyes. "As one schemer to other, I feel obliged to warn you: Don't plan to far ahead. Magic tends to change things, plans especially."
Through the remaining morning Albus and Holmes sat near the fireplace, talking of history, England, and magic. Very often the conversation would twist alarmingly off course, hurtling down seemingly unrelated tangents, though neither seemed to mind. If there was structure to their conversation, I could not see it, save for an underlying (if horribly disjointed) arc. Through the hail of Holmes' questions, Albus wove a startling tale. He spoke of a Dark Lord holding England sway, until at the very height of power, he fell to the most unlikely foe; a newly born boy bearing the name of Potter.
That day, as the mundane and magical worlds collided in a Baker Street sitting room, Harry Holmes-Potter slept peacefully.
Such was the tumultuous start to A Study in Magic. A case which lasted many years, and consisted of strange characters and stranger circumstances. But above all, it was chiefly defined by two individuals: A cold man who learned to love, and a boy who learned to truly see.
- Excerpt from a A Study in Magic, by John Watson, MD