Harry's time with Sherlock had taught him to respect the importance of certain things, even if the reason for doing so wasn't always so readily apparent. This did not make waiting any easier, but every time he meant to complain, he would look at Sherlock's expression and remind himself of how important it was to be patient.
Studying Sherlock had become a bit of hobby of his—it had to. Sherlock wasn't the most communicative person in the world nor was he particularly easy to read. You had to be able to pick up the very subtle hints the boy gave in order to hold a pleasant conversation with him, and Harry knew he was as good as anyone could ever hope to be at doing just that. He knew when Sherlock was annoyed; he knew when Sherlock was thrilled; he knew when Sherlock was bored.
As far as Harry could tell, Sherlock wasn't worried. What seemed out of place was that he didn't seem be in a happy or thriller mood either, which were the only moods Harry had ever seen him in. This mood was unusual, Harry thought. It was like he was hoping, but not quite expecting for something.
"I know you don't have time to explain," said Harry, in a hoarse whisper. "But you can't expect me not to ask what's going through your mind right now."
It seemed like he did expect that, because it took Sherlock a few moments until he made a vague gesture with his right arm to acknowledge that he had heard Harry's plead. He did not respond however.
"We can still turn back. We can get a teacher or—"
"Getting a teacher would just make things worse," said Sherlock, putting his fingertips together and not meeting the eyes of either of the two. "That's what's bothering me. Voldemort's group has more options than I do. I can't come up with a plan to counter every single one of them."
"Group?" asked Harry.
Sherlock nodded impassively and began to tap his fingers against each other.
"It's not just Voldemort's servant, there's one more—but I don't even have evidence—and teachers…"
He trailed off without uncertainty, shaking his head like he truly believed he had said enough for them to understand what he meant. Harry's blank stare didn't tip him off,, but Hermione's slight nudge did the trick.
"If I'm right—"
"Don't even bother." Hermione cut him off. "We don't really have anything to go on but your guesses, so just say it already!"
"That's sort of the issue we are dealing with," said Sherlock, with a hint of impatience in his voice. "If I'm—I mean, Voldemort is going to come back to life, murder Harry, and that will amazingly enough be the smallest of our problems. Oh and—"Sherlock glanced at an imaginary watch"—this should happen within the next twenty to thirty minutes."
There was a pause, but Hermione refused to allow it to go on for much longer than a second or two.
"You better have a good reason for not wanting to talk to a teacher." She crossed her arms as though she were angry, but she looked like she could barely keep herself composed. "If that's really what you think then—"
"Then we don't have a choice. Hermione, do you know what teachers are? Don't answer that. They are a bunch of rules, that's what they are."
She raised an eyebrow, but didn't respond. They both knew (to a degree) that it wasn't time to argue.
"Harry, I'll let you make our choice."
Had Harry not been sitting, he would have fallen back at that moment.
"Me? I don't even know what's going on! I can't make a decision here, I don't know anything! You and Hermione are much better than me at this kind of thing."
"Yeah, we are," confirmed Sherlock, without any hint of arrogance in his tone. He leaned closer to Harry. "But you are better at defeating Voldemort, which is slightly more important at the moment. I'll defer to your winning record."
Harry decided against questioning this point.
"What are our options?"
"If you want, we can tell all teachers about what we know—well, what I know—and focus on protecting you from Voldemort."
"Or," began Hermione, shooting Sherlock an apprehensive look, "we can stop Voldemort from being a threat to start with."
Harry looked down and then turned to face his friends with an obviously fake smile.
"You don't even have to ask—but the fact you are asking me means that there's a good chance that we might die, isn't there?"
Hermione looked away, but Sherlock intensified his stare and Harry had to struggle not to look away. Slowly, Sherlock got up and tossed a charred manuscript between Harry and Hermione. He turned his back to the two and fixated his stare on the staircases near the end of the corridor.
"What do you want to frighten me for?" asked Sherlock, seemingly referring to their surprised expressions even though he wasn't looking at them. "I suppose you imagine that I have turned to sentimentalism and wrote all about my affections for you two should something happen to me."
"To be honest, not really. I would be surprised if that were the case," said Hermione.
"Not more surprised than I would, but do treat that manuscript as affectively as you would if they were my dying message to you—that just might turn out to be the case though, as I'm not overly optimistic about my chances."
"So if they aren't related to 'Foolish sentimentalism'," Harry couldn't resist adding a slightly mocking tone to the quoted word, "then they are related to the case?"
"You have the grand gift of common sense Harry. They are my instructions and I expect you to follow them."
"I make the decision and you make the rules?"
"That is correct, yes. Does that bother you?"
"No," said Harry honestly. "Just—promise me you'll be careful."
Sherlock responded with a sarcastic smirk, and then took off toward the staircase. Once he was sure that the boy was long gone, Harry looked at the ground,and muttered, "We are gonna see him again, right?"
Hermione didn't respond and Harry didn't press her for an answer. The two unwrapped the thick, yellowish manuscript Sherlock had given them. They were both surprised by its contents but neither of them questioned its validity.
Harry considered everything he had read for a second, but placed a special emphasis on Sherlock's final instructions.
The handwriting was so firm and calm that for a moment-and only for that single moment-defeating Voldemort sounded both logical and easy. Even after reading the rest of Sherlock's conclusions, he didn't understand why he had to face Voldemort himself as opposed to simply calling Dumbledore. But he didn't question it, far from it. As much as he hated to admit, there was a small part of him that thought it had to be him, nobody else would do. And he knew that there was an even larger part of him that didn't quite care about why he had to be the one to face him. Regardless of the circumstances that might force him to act, it's not like he could just let Voldemort do what he wanted. He wanted to stop him.
"Harry, this is—"
"Insane? I know." Harry noticed his breath had become heavy, and so continued to talk before Hermione had a chance to point this out. "Please, don't try to stop me Hermione. I need your help. I'm…nothing special. I'm just a boy good at Quiddich."
It was like settling an old issue. There was nothing being settled there, but simply acknowledging that fact to someone made him feel so much lighter.
Hermione's lips trembled slightly, but she did not say anything. Instead, she forced herself to smile.
"I think this is the part where I need to convince you that you are wrong…but you don't seem like you need any convincing."
"I guess not," said Harry, somewhat embarrassed. "It's not really a matter of being special or not. I just have to stop him."
"But Harry," said Hermione, unable to hide the concern in her voice, "how are you going to do that?"
"With your help," said Harry. Then, with some urgency in his voice, "Please."
Hermione's lip trembled once more, but she nodded.
Fifteen minutes had passed since the young detective had left the group, but Sherlock was only aware of time in a vague, uninterested manner. Nobody would waste time searching the castle's roof. The footing was unstable and there were no escape routes or secret passages there. If you were trying to escape the school, it would be the last place you would go to.
Standing on top of that diagonal rooftop gave Sherlock the uncomfortable feeling that reality itself was unbalanced. It was a cloudy, nebulous night with not a star in sight. The moon only vaguely offered a glimmer of light to the dark rooftop, flashing behind the astronomy tower and casting over the shadow of what looked like a gravestone. It was an overwhelming, creeping darkness.
Yet Sherlock had no intention of summoning any sort of light—for he didn't need to.
For a very long time, a very vague silhouette stood at the other end of the rooftop, leaning against the astronomy tower, tapping his wand against the cold stone. There was no mistaking the sound; Sherlock himself had done the exact same thing in that exact same spot when trying to escape boredom. It was one of his favorite, most comfortable solitary spots in the castle. The sound grew louder and louder and the stops between each between grew shorter and shorter.
"I'm sorry if I kept you waiting," cried Sherlock, with no concern for subtlety. "You have been waiting for me, haven't you?"
"Mr. Holmes!" exclaimed the silhouette. It was a familiar voice and it was very jovial. "I'm glad you decided to join me—I was beginning to be terrible worried you had no idea where I was."
"I would never be so rude as to ignore your kind invitation." Sherlock's voice sounded just as pleasant as the silhouette's. "It's no use to run, by the way. Dumbledore and the other teachers have the castle surrounded. You have no chance of escaping at all."
"So it seems," acknowledged the other. There was a certain graceful concession in his tone and just the slightest hint of an Irish accent, though Sherlock couldn't quite narrow it down to one region. "I'm not a gambling man, but I'd wager you didn't stop my partner, did you?"
"There was no need to do so when I could simply send his nemesis to meet him."
"You did? That's wonderful! I was hoping you would—not expecting, you see…but I was hoping that you would. I was hoping, so very much."
Sherlock let out a bit of a quiet laugh. Whether he was amused or simply being condescending, even he did not know. If he was being honest with himself, Sherlock had neither ever really understood or cared for the difference between the two to start with.
"There is one thing I don't quite understand—why bring me here? You spilled parts of those potions around the staircase. It doesn't take somebody like me to figure out where you are."
This time, it was the man who laughed.
"We both know that's not quite true. Wizards are so used to using magic to solve their problems that they don't "— the man tapped the left side of his head jokingly—"even consider using their brains. They don't have an ounce of logic, you know. That's why Muggle-borns are so important. Their brains are like a blind man's ears—trained to excel, because there's no other choice. Don't you think so?"
"Spare me the lecture. Fine, let's say that nobody but me would follow you here." Sherlock threw his hands up in the air to concede the hypothetical scenario, not caring the slightest that he had to stop aiming his wand at the man to do so. "That still doesn't explain why you would bring the only person that can catch you right to where you were hiding. You can't possibly expect that killing me would be easy."
"Of course I don't." The man seemed almost surprised. "But Mr. Holmes, before we go on, I really do think I need to introduce myself. It would be rude to keep talking without letting you know who I really am."
"Oh, please, don't bother." This time it was Sherlock who sounded surprised. "I recognize your voice, James."
"You remember me? I'm honored."
"Trust me, I've done more than remembering you. I've researched you. You are a fifth year student belonging to Ravenclaw, but despite your excellent academic record you aren't a Prefect. You are an extremely talented Quiddich player, but opted not to join the House team. You avoid the spotlight at all costs because you prefer to manipulate than to act." There was a faint bit of thrill chasing behind each of Sherlock's words. He spoke in a low, soft tone that attempted at anger, but crept into something resembling admiration. "Today being an exception, of course."
"I did my homework too, Sherlock. There is just so much about you that can only be described as fun!" the man stomped the rooftop to emphasize that last word. It seemed particularly dangerous due to the diagonal nature of their footing. "You see thrill where others see fear… you see excitement where others see disaster…there are so many things wrong with you that I can't help but admire you."
"That's a lovely, if unsettling sentiment," said Sherlock. "But much as I hate to change the subject, Harry is likely fighting Voldemort as we speak so we must hurry. What are you planning to do? Kill me?"
"That would be rather pointless, wouldn't it?" said James. "All that would accomplish is creating more evidence against me, which is not something I'm looking forward to doing. But I do think we need to settle this, so I propose we have a duel."
Sherlock glanced at his wand, and then raised an eyebrow. It's unlikely that James saw this subtle movement in the near complete darkness they were in, but he didn't need to—he understood Sherlock's objection perfectly, even if he didn't voice it, and Sherlock knew that James wouldn't make an unfair proposition like that, meaning what he actually meant was—
"I take it we aren't going to be using our wands for that duel, are we?"
"And the fact you reasoned that out shows that it will be a tough fight for me." James did a quick jump without taking his hands off from his vest's pockets. "Using violence against you would be the same as signing my death warrant. Let's face it, there's no way you can defeat a fifth year student in a duel—but you are Sherlock Holmes. I have no doubt you can raise hell before I can send you to it, which would bring all the teachers who are currently surrounding the school here in a matter of minutes and my wand would be all the evidence they would need to send me to Azkaban. But at the same time…"
"At the same time," said Sherlock, "if I can't prove your connection to Voldemort then you can just claim a bunch of excuses and avoid Azkaban, which would lead to you escaping with the stone and probably killing me a few days later."
"You sound unsatisfied." James stopped abruptly, like one who realizes a second too late he has forgotten something. "Don't tell me you are still in denial about what you saw in the mirror. Don't tell me you are still in denial that this is what you have always longed for!"
There was no point in questioning how he knew this. There was a possibility that James didn't even know that Sherlock had seen the mirror, but simply knew what he would have seen if he had done so, and there was little point in calling such a bluff.
"If I looked at it, I would probably see the same thing you did. You have always wanted this, haven't you? You are clever, Sherlock and you know it. But are you clever enough? If put to the test, could you really come through? Then again, it's not even about that"—James shook his shoulders lightly as though he were laughing without his mouth—"it's about that feeling, isn't it? You want a challenge. You want to walk that tightrope, don't you?"
Sherlock didn't—couldn't, say anything back. It was an impossible feeling, but the complete darkness of that night made him feel like that cursed mirror was standing right behind him, so close that he could almost feel its surface. The moon was beginning to come out from its hiding, but it was no longer welcomed. It gave off the feeling of a creature coming out of its grave.
"It's nothing to be ashamed of, I'm the same as you. All I want is some fun. Is that too much to ask for? Then again," James sighed deeply, "there's no point in talking about what we already know. I'll let you have the opening move. What is your accusation?"
"Voldemort," said Sherlock. It sounded like a full sentence rather than a single word. "This case comes down to Voldemort and that cursed stone. Voldemort started off using his servant, Quirrel, to attempt to steal the stone, but soon gained another ally. That ally is, of course, James—no, you don't like to be called that, isn't that right?"
Sherlock cleared his throat dramatically, as though he were speaking to a large audience.
"That student's name is Jim Moriarty!"
Moriarty clapped his hands together and laughed. The laugh wasn't quite fake—but it wasn't quite genuine either. It was the kind of polite laughter somebody uses for the sake of modesty rather than accepting a compliment.
"You praise me too much. You deserve half the credit, really. If you hadn't figured it out then I could only have played Voldemort for so long." Moriarty nodded multiple times and didn't stop nodding even after he continued talking. "It's true, it's all true. I actually threatened him with letters before showing up in person to ensure my safety. You know! The mind games…" Moriarty trailed off, stretching out that last syllable and failing to repress an amused laugh. "Ah, I'm getting ahead of myself now. Mind explaining what I just admitted?"
"Gladly. My next move will be to explain how and why you are helping Voldemort, so let's go back to the very beginning of this case. You figured out that the school has been hiding the Philosopher's Stone, which is fairly impressive if I do say so myself, but that's nothing compared to what you did with that knowledge. Once you realized Quirrel was the one attempting to steal it, you confronted him about it, but not directly. Maybe you sent him a letter or three so that he and Voldemort wouldn't be able to just get rid of you. You threatened to reveal Voldemort's secret while making sure he couldn't find out who you were. It didn't matter if you didn't have evidence. All you needed was to create pressure, to create some sort of fear deep inside Voldemort's heart. Even the most dangerous dark wizard of all time can't do so much as scratch you if he doesn't know who you are. It was a dangerous game, but his weakened state must have made it quite easy for you to hide from him.
"Then, after you had established yourself as a credible threat to Voldemort…this is where I have to engage on a little bit of guesswork in regards to the timeline, but it matters little and I'm probably correct in any case. I was aware of Quirrel's attempts at stealing the stone as well and threw myself at the three-headed dog to make sure that Dumbledore had to improve the security around the door. Voldemort probably wasn't too fond of that. Somebody was threatening to expose him to Dumbledore and it was getting harder and harder to steal the stone. Voldemort's only chance at regaining mortality seemed more and more like a dream. That's when you must have withdrawn your threats and said something about only sounding threatening because you were afraid of the letters being intercepted. Maybe you said you wanted to make sure he really was Voldemort. You swore your eternal loyalty to him and maybe he wasn't sure if he could trust you, but it sure beat having you tell Dumbledore about him.
"But then you started being useful. You came up with that little Red-Headed League scheme to get Percy Weasley, one of the Prefects in charge of keeping a lookout at the forbidden corridor, away from his job without needing to resort to violence (which would have shortened your stay in the school).You faked Dumbledore's handwriting and sent Percy letters about methods you speculated were enough to stop the gigantic dog and had him test them out. Quirrel would then follow your and Voldemort's instructions and play Percy to get him to tell him the information you needed. Voldemort probably didn't notice, but you probably took advantage of that moment to obtain information from him and Quirrel on what else was protecting the stone. A well placed 'Would you like me to get anything else besides a flute, my Lord?" should have done the trick, especially considering the damned man was under considerable amounts of stress.
"The Red-Headed League was your fatal mistake, by the way. I suspected Quirrel for a long time, but only out of instinct—you gave me evidence, you gave me reason to believe myself. Percy wouldn't tell me who the person in charge of the league was, but it must naturally be somebody who is red-headed as well. There are no red-headed teachers Hogwarts, which would seemingly make that assumption impossible. However, one improbable possibility remained."
Sherlock smiled and raised his index finger toward his own skull.
"And, as I'm sure you know, once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. Thus, this possibility had to be correct. Quirrel is thought to be bald, but he always wears a turban. There could theoretically be anything under it, meaning he could have easily deceived Percy. It should have been easy enough for him to take off his turban and show some magically implanted red hair—no, I'm going too far. It's Percy; he becomes an idiot the moment authority comes into play. He probably just took Quirrel's word for it and assumed he was red-haired before going bald. The moment you had used the Red-Headed League scheme, I knew who the teacher aligning himself with Voldemort was. Earlier evidence also suggested that the culprit had to be a teacher, but let's not get into that again, it's old ground by now.
"I don't think your Red-Headed League scheme was wrong, however. It was daring and reckless, sure, but you didn't have much choice, did you?"
"No," responded Moriarty, with a certain bit of softness in his voice. "I did not. You forced my hand with your little showdown against the three-headed dog, my dear Sherlock. But please, continue. Your narrative is most interesting to me—seeing things from your point of view is so fun."
"Gladly. You'll recall that I was attacked by the dog, but this was supposed to be kept secret. I think even Harry took note of this fact. The natural conclusion was that a teacher(who by this time I already knew to be Quirrel) had leaked this fact—but why? The question haunted me for a while, but it all made sense once Hagrid said that many different students had come to ask him about the dog. It was a natural response from the students, and that's what the mastermind behind the scenes was counting on. It was a smokescreen. He understood perfectly well that Quirrel's connection to Voldemort could become public knowledge any day and he wanted to make sure that if he went to investigate about the gigantic dog, he would have been camouflaged by a hundred or so of other curious students. The mastermind may have been worried that somebody like me would expose Voldemort's scheme and his connection to it.
"This also raised a second, important point. The faked Dumbledore letters sent to Percy indicated that Voldermort's team had an idea of how to get past the dog, which means that they talked to Hagrid about it—but Hagrid only mentioned students coming to talk to him. That's when I realized that Quirrel wasn't the only person working for Voldemort. He had a student working for him who—little did Voldemort know—was planning on betraying him from the very start. I'm sure you didn't expect me to figure out it was you instead of some other student, but some fact checking made it very easy. All I had to do was ask Hagrid who actually bothered to pay attention to what he said—he was a bit wounded by the thought of other people being uninterested in the dog past some vague curiosity, but answered very quickly. I didn't have the time to do this next step, but I'll tell you what I had planned just for the sake of completeness. I wasn't entirely sure it was you until just now, which is why I didn't present all of this to Dumbledore, but I planned on monitoring students who were in constant contact with Quirrel in order to eventually narrow my suspect list down to one or two students. Not many people like him, so it wouldn't take too long.
"This plan worked for a while, but as I said it was a reckless plan from the very start—you had to work quick to get the results you wanted before it all fell apart and yet you have taken months. You and Voldemort must have rushed things tonight because somebody caught on to the Red-Headed League scheme, but that's not going to be enough. Harry Potter should be having a showdown with Voldemort at this very moment, the same Voldemort that couldn't beat him when he was a baby. If anything, this Voldemort is even weaker than the one who failed to assassinate Harry ten years ago. Now, I'll tell you what's going to happen. Harry will defeat this weakened Voldemort and Dumbledore will keep the stone safe.
"Ah, but I haven't proved your connection to the case yet, have I? This is where your motive comes in—you are right. We are the same. We both want that feeling of putting our lives on the line and coming out on top. That's why you helped Voldemort with this entire plan, because you planned on betraying him from the very beginning. You never planned on giving him the stone, did you? You wanted to use it for yourself."
Moriarty stopped for a moment to consider everything Sherlock had said. He looked at the moon as though it helped him concentrate, and then, with the kind of tone one uses to give partial credit, shook his head and said, "Well…you are mostly right, save for two things. I suppose you deserve full marks for someone so young, maybe we can have a better showdown when you are older. But again, you are wrong about two vital things. The first one is motive, I never intended to use the stone, you see. My original intention was to break it so that I would have the knowledge that I prevented Voldemort from coming back to life. I just wanted to defeat him, you see, for both the sake of my reasonably sized ego and my potential reputation among certain types of wizards."
"Your insanity is of no concern to me, but what's the second thing you are referring to?"
"Ah, you said something about me and Voldemort trying and failing to steal the stone tonight, didn't you?" Moriarty took a small, spherical object from his pocket. "I stole it two months ago."