A/N: So… it's been a long, long, loooooooong time since I've used this website and the whole place looks completely different! I feel old now, like I should hand over to the younger generation… but first, this.
It was my dear friend Scooby2408's birthday back in August and I decided, in my wisdom, to write her a Sherlock/Harry Potter crossover for her birthday even though I had never written or even read one before. It was only meant to be a simple little five chapter bit of fun, but what emerged (3 months late, I'm so sorry :( ) was a 140,000 word epic. Although still only five chapters. Needless to say, I'll be splitting the other chapters into parts, but as the first one is only a quarter of the length of the others, I think we're good. I'll try and put a new part up every day, so it would be great if you could all come read it 3 But even better if you would pop over to Scooby2408's profile too; if you enjoy BBC stuff it is definitely the place to be :)
Also, this story is set in the years 1963-1975. Because of reasons.
It had been more than five years since John had last seen Sherlock Holmes when he suddenly arrived that night. He had thought of him, of course; but Sherlock hadn't been lying when, on the last day of school, he had said he didn't do keeping in touch. John had tried at first, sent owls that invariably got either a one-sentence reply or no reply at all, and eventually his old friend had slipped out of his thoughts almost entirely. On that night, John was working the night shift in the accident and emergency at St Mungos.
He had just dealt with a man whose had come in because all his fingers were melted together into some kind of single tentacle, his muggle wife amazed and disgusted in turn. He could always tell the muggle parents and spouses, who, even when they had married into and lived in the wizarding world, could never quite disguise their awe at the chaos that was the lobby, where all manner of magical ailments made themselves known, usually through loud noises or puffs of coloured smoke. This was the fifth one tonight that had been a random curse on a mixed marriage; and probably the twentieth this month. Things were, undeniably, getting worse. It was no wonder people were scared. Still, he had no doubt that there were good people on the case, and he would do his part here, doing what he could for the victims of this invisible but all-encompassing war. He sorted out the tentacle relatively easily and, bidding them goodnight, looked around; pleased to see the place was quiet and nearly empty. He only had an hour left on shift. He wondered if Molly was on a night shift too; it was always comforting to think of her working two floors below. Maybe she would want to get some coffee on the way home. Then he remembered the coat and scarf, and, frowning, decided he couldn't deal with that yet.
He was thinking all this when Sherlock himself toppled out of one of the fireplaces. It had been years, but even from a distance, John could recognise his old friend's profile. Sherlock nearly fell over the grate, then managed two steps and collapsed. John ran over, reaching him along with a few others.
"Sherlock! What on earth happened?!"
The man was in a dreadful state. He was thinner than John remembered, much thinner- he didn't look like he had been eating. He removed Sherlock's scarf to help him breathe, seeing over the top of his shirt evidence of heavy bruising, old, nearly healed. The man was deathly pale, his eyes, which had always been so piercing, looked vague and confused.
"Sherlock." John said again, more calmly, with more authority- speaking as a doctor. "It's me, John. John, from Hogwarts."
"I know who you are." Sherlock said, every word weighted heavily. "Go away."
"Good to see you too." John couldn't help but smile at his rudeness. Irritating as it was, it was good to see the same old Sherlock. He began checking him over for injuries, finding cuts and bruises of different ages, clearly his friend had been busy to say the least. He couldn't, however, find anything to explain Sherlock's current state, yet his friend was almost at death's door. Some nasty curse had been levelled here. Sherlock was swatting at him. John brushed him off easily, but then realised Sherlock was doing his best to push him away; he just didn't have the strength. "Sherlock, I'm trying to help you!"
"I don't want you involved, John." Sherlock said, breathless, weak, but as usual refusing to let it stop him from doing anything. "Please."
That plea rattled John more than anything else. It meant danger. It meant something serious was going on. He still remembered that last day at Hogwarts: "There's an ill wind coming, like we've never seen before, John. It'll be cold and bitter and people will…" Sherlock had never finished that sentence, but somehow, John knew, all his natural intuition pointing at it- this, tonight, was the end of the sentence. His neck was breaking out in goosebumps. He shook his head, both to get rid of them and to refuse Sherlock's request.
"How did you even get here?" He asked, changing subject. "You can barely walk. Are you here alone?"
"I'm always alone."
John was a little taken aback at that. Kneeling by his friend's side, it felt like the intervening years and hurts had never happened, at least to him. What Sherlock said simply wasn't true, or hadn't been. Back then, none of them had been alone.
England in the summer was boring. This much John had decided before now, but it was particularly bad this time. Previous summers in his homeland had been spent in the family barracks, which had a few interesting places to look into and, if all else failed, there were at least the other army children to play football or cricket with. Besides, that had meant his father was there too. His father was not here this time, and there weren't any other children. This was the peril of transferring into a normal school so late in the term; you didn't know anyone well enough before the long holidays.
Of course, John was used to changing schools at a moment's notice midway through a term, as his parents jobs took them from place to place. Occasionally he fantasised about what it would be like if his mother was one of the wives that waited at home rather than a translator and general secretary for the army, but he had never seriously wanted to settle. His father had been a logistics man and he and John's mother had met, fallen in love and married on the same tour of duty. John had grown up moving from country to country, with the odd school term here and there on English soil. It was fine, though. He preferred it that way. Summer in Hong Kong at least was a little more interesting than here. At least then there was always the game of finding a new way to sneak away from base and finding somewhere new and exciting to explore. Here, there was nothing. Just houses and roads and the odd tree. And it was super-safe. He used to be left to his own devices all day, now his mother nagged him to be home by sunset, home by lunchtime. It was annoying, but he did it. He thought it might be something to do with his father's death that she wanted to keep her son close. She had retired from the army now and they had moved back to Chelsea. John supposed it was the stable life from now on.
So. Now it was summer, in England. His mother had gone to the supermarket that morning, so John had lied and said he had plans, dreading the idea of trailing round after her as she agonised over every item. She had smiled and said he was right, it was too nice a day to be indoors. John had agreed; the sun was at least shining and the large man across the road was mowing his front lawn without his shirt on, a sight no-one needed to see but proved it was warm. In spite of this, John had gone out wearing a light jacket. Even after two months, he hadn't adjusted to the cooler climate.
At first he had just wandered aimlessly, amusing himself for a little while kicking a cheese and onion crisp packet along, wishing he had a proper ball. After a few minutes of this ill treatment, however, the packet ripped in two and his game was over. There was only one thing left to do.
He had been told, of course, not to play by the big house on the hill. Just outside of the main hub of the town was a road that sloped up to a big manor house, surrounded by trees and some imposing cast iron gates. Some rich family lived there and had guard dogs patrolling at all times; or so people said. Some people said there were children, but they didn't go to the local primary school and there was a lot of curiosity about them. John didn't really care. After seeing rich oil oligarchs, these guys had nothing. High gates and guard dogs were nothing; John had seen one with twelve young daughters who all had to dress all in black and cover every inch of their skin and came outside once a day to walk in a line round the grounds, while the man's next door neighbour on the left partied hard with call girls and booze and the one on the right lived an understated life with his family, gave generously, but always insisted on total silence when he was watching American baseball. Rich people didn't really interest John, the novelty had worn off. What did interest him about the house on the hill were the trees. They were thick fir trees that cut off the view of the house, with very few footholds lower down, but, John reckoned, the bark on the bottom would be rough enough to climb- at least now, before he got too tall. Some of the trees, he reasoned, must be outside the fence. Today he would go there and climb one, all the way to the top.
The house was further away than it looked, and the hill a lot steeper. Somehow the climb seemed much harder, the day much hotter. He was sweating before he was even half way up. He wanted to stop and rest, or better yet, turn around and go downhill, but he set his teeth, fixing his eyes on one of the iron pines. He was right, there were some outside the fence; and the one he had his eye on was the tallest and the widest. He would need to be three times his actual height at least to reach the lowest branches, he thought. But he would get to the top. He would. So instead of sitting down or turning back, he took off his jacket and struggled on, even though his legs burnt with the effort.
It seemed to take twice as long as it should have done for John to reach the tree. By the time he got there and pressed his hand to the rough bark, his fingers were trembling and his palm was sweating as much as the rest of him. The climb up the hill had been much harder than it should have been almost as if, John thought, the house somehow didn't want him here.
It was a good thing, John told himself sternly, that he was eleven and didn't believe in curses or ghosts or anything like that anymore. Still, if he had believed in that stuff, this would have been a good place to do it; up close the house was the kind of building that should have had thunder effects and organ music surrounding it twenty-four seven. Yet that wasn't right either. The place somehow had the atmosphere of a gothic mansion, with crumbling masonry and windswept towers and gruesome gargoyles, but as far as John could see in reality it was just a normal modern mansion, all marble and concrete. Still, he could see the Dracula castle when he shut his eyes, negatives cast onto his eyelids.
If he was honest, John was starting to get a little unnerved by the atmosphere of this place, so eerie and still. The impulse to give up and run away home was stronger than ever, almost like an actual voice in his head, but John Watson was not a boy that was easily frightened. If he was nervous, that just meant climbing the tree was even more necessary. His father hadn't been a coward, and neither was he. He gave himself a mental shake and forced his hand to stop trembling. He quickly wiped his palms on his jeans, threw his jacket on the floor and reached as high as he could above his head, beginning to scramble up.
As soon as he began, he felt better. His breathing settled into a rhythm with his hands and feet, and he entered into a state of concentration which he fancied might be the same as a monk-warrior on the eve of battle. Certainly the tree would be a good place to hide in wait and ambush approaching enemies. No-one would expect him to be up there, tucked away in the branches. He climbed rhythmically, taking his time, testing footholds before putting his weight onto them. When he reached the branches, it was like entering another world. The sound of the traffic was muted and disappeared, and he heard neither bird nor insect. It was the silence that can only fall just before or just after a battle; even the animals sensed there was something wrong with this place. All he heard was the slight rustling of leaves, cut off from the outside world, here in the thick pine needles and the sickly smell of sap. Even on the branches the climb was tough going, each bough thinner and more flexible than the last, his arms and face getting constantly scratched. Still, John climbed steadily until the branches were so fragile that the next one up snapped off his hand. He tried a few more until eventually, forced to concede that he was as close to the top as he was going to get, he shinned along the branch until he could see out of the conifer again, planning to check on how high he was. Instead, he poked his head out to find another head looking back at him.
John was shocked to find someone else in this silent world, but just about managed to keep his grip on the tree. The other boy grinned back at him. Calming down, John looked properly. The boy looked to be about his age, with pale vampiric skin that for a moment reminded him of his impression of the house. His hair was black, unruly and curly, sticking up all over the place thanks to the climb. He was also up a fir tree, but his was on the other side of the house fence. He must be one of the children that lived there. John suddenly wondered if the boy would tell on him for trespassing. But this tree was outside, so he wasn't doing anything wrong, and he sat there stoically.
"You're not supposed to be able to climb that." The boy said. He didn't seem angry, though, if anything he seemed pleased. He was looking at John with such smug expectation that John somehow felt the need to defend himself.
"I like climbing trees. And it's not like it's on your land."
The boy's smirk grew wider. "It is." He said. "Our land goes right down to the road; or at least that's where my brother's repelling charms finish. People say he's gifted." He paused, pulling off a pine needle and examining it between his fingers. "He's not, though, he's just good at making people think he is. He'll be so annoyed when he realises you got through." The idea seemed to cheer him considerably.
"Got through what?" John was baffled, and a little worried that this odd boy was going to tell on him after all.
"The charms." John must have looked blank, because the boy suddenly scowled. "The magic." He said.
"I don't believe in magic. It's kid's stuff." John said gruffly, all the while making the uncomfortable realisation that the boy was in a tree rooted in lower ground, that to be level with John he was on the very highest branches, branches that should have been far too thin to support a child. Should have been, yet they were holding him up fine.
The boy was grinning again. "You will." He said, matter-of-factly. "Is it your dad? Or your mom?"
"That's dead. It's your dad, isn't it?"
John looked at him suspiciously. Word had gotten round at the school of course, in the few short weeks he had been there before the end of term, but this boy didn't go to his school. He'd never seen him before. So how did he know?
"Why?" He asked, cautious. The boy merely laughed.
"They are so wrong about you."
"Your dad is dead, but you still don't cause trouble. They'll send Sprout for sure. But they're wrong. Look at you, you have Gryffindor written all over you."
John had no idea what he was talking about, and said so. The boy merely shrugged.
"Give it another week." He began to climb down the tree. "You just think about it. Things must have happened to you, things that you can't explain, haven't they?"
"No." John answered. The boy pouted, then rolled his eyes as if John was an idiot. John, resentful, said "What's your name?"
"John Watson." John said, a bit reluctantly. He wasn't entirely sure giving his name to such a weirdo was a good idea.
"I'll see you at school then, John." Sherlock said, and jumped down from the tree. It was far too high a jump, one that should have hurt him, but he landed as lightly as if he had simply hopped down a front step. He obviously knew John was watching in amazement because he turned back and grinned, clearly showing off. John wanted to call down and ask how he had done it, but at that moment he heard an angry voice from the house yelling "Sherlock Holmes, I know you're doing that on purpose! How many times must I-"at which point Sherlock ran across the grounds and disappeared into some bushes and John decided he should make himself scarce too.
This time he didn't resist the little voices on the edge of his mind telling him to run, to run away quickly and go home fast. As he ran, everything Sherlock had said rattled round in his head. How had he known about his father? None of it made sense. He wondered if Gryffindor had anything to do with the griffins in old legends. And what about magic? Sherlock had seemed too old to believe in that kind of thing. But maybe he did know something; otherwise how had the tree held him up? How had he done that jump? But magic wasn't real. There had to be some trick to it.
Yet, somehow, he didn't sense that there was a trick to it. John's intuition had always been very strong. He always seemed to know when someone was about to enter a room before his ears could consciously pick up any sound, or somehow always knew exactly where to be at a given time. It was like today, he had been looking at those trees for weeks but it was only today that he knew it was the right time to climb them. On the night his father died, he had woken up at 3:14 in the morning, knowing something was wrong. Afterwards, when he managed to steal a look at the death certificate, he saw time of death had been called at 3:14 AM. In the days following, he had convinced himself it was his imagination or a dream, but now he wondered otherwise. Was this something, as Sherlock had put it, that he couldn't explain? Everything inside him believed Sherlock was telling the truth.
He was being ridiculous. Stopping at the corner of his road to catch his breath, John decided to push all thoughts of the encounter out of his head. He was being ridiculous, and unless they ended up at the same local secondary school, he wouldn't see Sherlock Holmes again.
A week passed without anything notable occurring. John couldn't help but feel a little disappointed, and more than once he considered heading back to the house on the hill and looking for Sherlock. For one thing, he had left his jacket up there, and for another, as much as the other boy had bewildered him, he had fascinated him too. Sherlock had talked nonsense of course, but at least it was the interesting kind of nonsense. John felt he was a bit old for playing pretend, but sometimes when he was bored or couldn't sleep he'd make up stories for himself. He wondered if this Sherlock was the same way.
Then, precisely one week after he had met Sherlock, an unusual letter arrived. It came through the letter box in the morning with the other post, but it didn't have any stamps on it, and was written on heavy parchment, sealed with wax and a ribbon. It was addressed in old fashioned writing to Mr John Watson. His mother, baffled by it, brought it up to his room, handing him some scissors to cut the ribbon. John somehow knew, as soon as he saw it, that this is what the strange boy had been talking about. He cut the ribbon and unfolded the letter.
At the top was a school crest and a banner with something on it in Latin, beneath which was a hand written letter.
Dear Mr Watson,
I am pleased to inform you that due to your special talents you have been considered for a place at HOGWARTS SCHOOL. I would like to come over and explain the offer in person, so if you and your parents/guardian could make it convenient to be in at seven o'clock on the evening of 24th August, we can progress your application.
With kind regards,
Professor P. Sprout
Head of Hufflepuff House
He handed the letter over to his mother to read and played with the wax seal, peeing it off the ribbon and twirling it in his fingers. He was glad he hadn't broken it. It was the same school crest, featuring a quartered design of a lion, a snake, a badger and some kind of bird. He wondered if this could be the griffin he had been looking for. He could just about make out the writing on the banner: "DRAGO DORMIENS NUNQUAM TITLLANDUS". He wondered what it meant, though it sounded grand. Perhaps he would go to the library later and try to translate it.
"Hogwarts?" His mother was saying. "I've never heard of it. We certainly didn't apply there for you. I wonder if the school passed your name on. I have no idea where it is, though. It must be one of those fancy private places in London. Still, I would have thought the school would have told me if they were recommending you; though you were hardly there long enough to make an impression…" She trailed off, looking, as she often did when she was at a loss, at the picture of his father that John had on his chest of drawers. "I… I suppose it could have been one of your dad's friends…"
John saw the sadness in her eyes again and couldn't bear it. He slipped out of the room, leaving her to cry. He felt terrible about it, wanting with all his heart to comfort her, but he knew that if he stayed she would try to cover it up and hide it. She needed to get it out. Besides which, he resented her a little. She hadn't been the only one who had loved his dad. Didn't she know John missed him too? But he was gone, so there was no point dwelling on it. She kept trying to talk to him about his dad, but then she'd get upset and John would leave. He wished, sulkily, that she would realise that he didn't want to talk about it at all.
He went down to the kitchen and turned the crackly wireless up as high as it would go, so he couldn't hear her crying. A song was half way through. John recognised it from all the other times he had used the radio to drown out unsavoury thoughts in the last two months. It was Elvis Presley, he thought, the song called 'Devil in Disguise'.
I thought I was in Heaven, but I was sure surprised, Heaven help me, I didn't see, the devil in your eyes.
John heard this and thought of Sherlock Holmes and the letter for Hogwarts and hoped the song wasn't an omen.
The three days before Professor Sprout's arrival dragged horrendously. His mother still hadn't begun to look for work again, and while John was off school the two of them rattled around the house together. His mother frequently asked him if he knew anything about it, and he always said no; which wasn't a lie because he didn't understand what was happening himself. Anyway, everything Sherlock had told him had been odd, disjointed and still didn't make sense. Still, he had been right about the week. And Professor Sprout, he was sure Sherlock had said something about that too. During those three days, John headed up in the direction of the house on the hill more than once, only to give in when the sweating and the urge to get away presented itself. He knew he could resist it if he wanted- he had before- but somehow, he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to know.
His mother seemed to have decided by Thursday afternoon that it was all a big prank, especially when an exhaustive search of the yellow pages showed no signs of any school called Hogwarts. John, however, wasn't so sure and would spend many of the empty hours looking at the wax seal, left with the ribbon and the letter next to the photograph of his dad. He was sure his mother would arrange for them to be out on the evening of 24th August, but after they had eaten dinner and she had washed up, she made John do the drying up and disappeared upstairs. When she came back down, she was in a fresh blouse and skirt and had redone her hair and make up. John smiled at her, grateful she was giving this a chance. It was ten to seven. They waited anxiously.
The clock ticked past seven. John must have been looking worried, because his mother said "Don't worry, John, it's only two minutes."
They sat there a moment longer, both of them looking out the living room window towards the street, hoping to see someone approaching the door. A sharp crack in the back garden snapped their attention away, John immediately jumping up and running into the kitchen to look.
"John, don't go in the garden!" His mother said, urgently. "It sounds as if a power line has broken."
"It's not a power line." John replied, not sure how to explain that a woman was standing outside in their scruffy little yard, stooped over examining one of the twisted bushes left behind by the previous owner. She hadn't noticed John watching, so he looked at her critically. She was a small and round woman, with dull brown hair that was flying everywhere. She was dressed almost like his mother, in a semi-formal kind of blouse and skirt; but the effect was somewhat ruined by the patches of mud on her knees and the wellington boots she was wearing beneath them; as well as the fact she was wearing a large floppy-brimmed straw hat. It was like, John thought, she had dressed herself based off pictures of what people wore. Somehow he knew he was right. He was beginning to listen to his instinct more, since the meeting with the weird boy up at the fancy house and the first letter. As he watched, the woman slyly cut off a small piece of the bush and ferreted it away under her hat. John couldn't help but smile, the situation seemed so ludicrous. His mother, however, seemed bewildered.
"That's common theft." She muttered. "And how did she get into the garden? She doesn't look like she could get over the fence. I bet that's what that noise was, she must have damaged it…" She was looking towards the living room, towards the picture of his father again. John resisted the urge to go and turn it around.
"Let's go and say hello." He said, reaching out to the back door.
"Stop." His mother commanded. "Don't be silly, John. Professors are old men with beards. That can't be him, she's probably just a bit gone in the head. I'll call the police."
Just then however, the woman in the garden stepped briskly up the garden and knocked the door, so John opened it before his mother could stop him. The woman smiled broadly, and came in.
"Good evening." She said, taking off her ridiculous hat without revealing the cutting hidden inside it. "You must be John, and you must be Mrs Watson. Thank you so much for being in, it does make things easier. I'm Pomona Sprout. I'm a professor at Hogwarts."
"You'd better come in." His mother said, with a pursed lips look that John knew meant trouble. His mother trusted her instincts too; with her first impressions meant everything. Still, Professor Sprout didn't seem to notice, chattering away happily as she removed her muddy boots and breezed into the living room, looking at the various potted plants dotted around before she sat. John felt slightly uncomfortable. The plants were all in various stages of decay. The first week they had been here, his mother had filled the place with plants and flowers, perhaps to prove all was beautiful and well and right in the world. Except of course it wasn't, and the plants had been gradually forgotten.
"Well, I'm sure we can perk this one up a little." Professor Sprout said cheerfully, keeping her back to John and doing something he couldn't see. When she stepped away, the plant did indeed look a lot healthier. He wondered if she had put something in the soil; but in his racing heart, all he could hear was Sherlock Holmes and his talk of magic. "That's better." Professor Sprout sat down, accepted a cup of tea and proceeded to fill it with sugar.
"Lovely." She said, smacking her lips. "Much better than the stuff we get up at the school, but oh, the hot chocolate there is divine."
"I'd like to hear a little more about the school." John's mother said. "Hogwarts. I've never even heard of it. We certainly didn't apply."
"It's not the kind of school you apply to." Professor Sprout said, delicately. She laid her cup carefully down on the saucer. "Hogwarts is a boarding school, Mrs Watson, for young witches and wizards."
John leant forward in his seat, hooked by what she was saying, but his mother's eyes narrowed.
"I'm sorry, perhaps I'm not explaining very well." The round woman seemed a little nervous now. "I was only made head of house last year, so it's my first time making one of these visits…"
"I'm afraid this is a very poor time to be playing a prank." Mrs Watson answered, ice in every word.
"It's no prank. I can assure you, Hogwarts is the finest wizarding school in the country, and with Professor Dumbledore as headmaster it's really been going from strength to strength. John would be well looked after, and taught to use and control his natural abilities."
"And what abilities are those supposed to be?" Clearly, she didn't believe a word of it.
"Well, magic, of course! It appears from time to time in muggle-born children. Your son is quite gifted." She smiled kindly at John, her nose and the corners of her eyes crinkling. "I'm sure you know what I mean, don't you, John?"
John realised with no small sense of alarm that now, for the first time, he was expected to contribute to the conversation.
"Um…" He began, intelligently. "I suppose so. I mean, sometimes I just… I can sense things. Before they happen, sometimes, or, or, just if someone is coming, or…" He trailed off, realising how pathetic he sounded, but Professor Sprout seemed pleased.
"Quite right, quite right." She said, cheery as ever. "I don't mind telling you, John, you were something of a border line case. Most young people, their magic comes out as something more obvious and physical. Young Sherlock Holmes up the road, for example, now, there's a prodigy for you. Oh, the Ministry has had endless problems with him! He says he can't control it but I'll eat my hat if that's the case. But yours, John, your talent is a lot more subtle, and more special. Some of the Ministers, they wanted to leave you where you were, but when they consulted Dumbledore he said you obviously had great potential. Maybe you'll even be a seer one day!" She beamed as if this should be something he should be incredibly proud of. John smiled shakily back, although in reality he had no idea what most of what she had said meant.
"I'm sorry," John's mother interrupted in the kind of voice that showed she wasn't sorry at all. "But all this magic stuff is nonsense, and I'll thank you not to fill my son's head with it! John, go upstairs while I talk to this 'professor' alone."
John hesitated, looking desperately at Professor Sprout. She didn't seem particularly put out, and asked, gently "Perhaps you would let me demonstrate, Mrs Watson?"
"No thank you, you needn't waste your time with cheap conjuring tricks."
"No tricks, I promise. Why don't you suggest something, John?"
John, suddenly put on the spot, racked his brains. He didn't think it would endear his mother to the world opening up before him if he requested something too potentially destructive, and that was all his pressured brain was coming up with. Finally, he hit on something.
"That cutting you took from our bush. Can you… make it grow or something? Like you did to the plant over there?" He indicated the house plant.
"Oh, you noticed." She seemed pleased. "Herbology is my speciality, you see, that's what I teach. Of course, I normally do it with soil and patience, not with magic. That's much more in the transfiguration vein, and I'm not familiar with this plant. But, I suppose I can try…" While she had been speaking, she had sheepishly removed the small offcut from the inside of her hat and laid it carefully on the floor. From the waistband of her skirt she pulled out a length of polished wood that appeared to be a wand and pointed it at the little twig, saying "Crescere!". The twig immediately twitched, and began to stretch and split. Under the careful direction of Professor Sprout's wand, it shaped itself into a neat little round bush, that appeared to be growing out of the floor.
"Lovely." Professor Sprout seemed satisfied with her work. "I may take it with me, if you don't mind. It would look lovely on the corner of the vegetable garden."
John and his mother were looking at the bush in silent amazement.
"Ah, you need time to take it all in." Professor Sprout noted, looking between them. "I'll go and take a little wander in your garden, then, until you're ready." She went.
John and his mother sat in silence for a while. For John, it was the sudden realisation that this was all real. Those things in the back of his mind that he had always half-suspected and always dismissed, they were true. He was going to go to this Hogwarts and learn to do magic!
"…Well." His mother said eventually, shakily. "I suppose we had better listen to what she has to say."
John went over to her and hugged her, suddenly thankful he had such an understanding and unshakable mother.
John didn't remain grateful for long. After a tactful amount of time, Professor Sprout returned and gave John his proper offer letter. This one, as well as offering him a place, contained a kit list of books and supplies and gave the details of how to catch the school train. The titles all sounded exotic and exciting, as did the rest of the school as Professor Sprout told them more about Hogwarts and the Wizarding World. She explained about the secrecy laws and the wizard government, about 'muggles' and changing money and the kinds of jobs that were around. Finally, John's mother shook her head.
"I'll have to think about it."
"Mom! I want to go!" John said, desperately. The idea of staying on in this dull suburb seemed even worse now.
"We need to talk about it, John." She was looking at Professor Sprout still. "I don't like the idea of boarding schools, never have. And John did well on his eleven plus. He has a place at St Edmond's. It's a grammar school."
Professor Sprout looked confused, clearly not familiar with the intricacies of the muggle school system. "Hogwarts is a world leader in the education of young wizards." She said, in her most reassuring voice. "All our students find their way into work. And he'll be well looked after; we have a house system so we can support everyone properly. I'm the head of Hufflepuff house. Of course, he'll have to be sorted properly once he starts at school, but he seems to have all the attributes of my house." She looked at John with some pride, as if this was a great honour. "And there will be other muggle-born children there. It's more common than you'd think. Actually, we have another girl starting in very similar circumstances; her father was also in your army and…" She trailed off, awkwardly. "Anyway, I have no doubt he'll be able to make friends." But John's mother was shaking her head again.
"It's the secrecy that bothers me." She said. "You say he can get a job, but he wouldn't be studying maths or science or English. He could only get a job in your world."
"Well, I suppose that's true, but..."
"And anyway, why keep it secret? Don't you realise how helpful magic could be to us?" John could hear the note of her throat tightening. His mother was upset. Professor Sprout must have heard it too, because she said nothing, allowing her to haltingly continue. "I mean… I mean, could magic have saved my husband?"
"Perhaps." Professor Sprout admitted, gently. "But it can't do everything. We keep ourselves hidden away because there would be so much suspicion of us and our kind, so much potential for abuse- one way or the other. It just seemed better."
"Then… can it… could you help my husband now?" She had her eyes fixed on the photograph on the mantelpiece, unable to look at either of them. John wondered if she was ashamed.
"I'm sorry." Professor Sprout said again. "I'm afraid death is the end for us, too."
Mrs Watson nodded and looked at the floor, pulling herself together.
"I appreciate how hard this must be for you." Professor Sprout said, obviously at a loss for what to say. "But we needed to give you adequate time to prepare. There is a local wizarding family nearby- I mentioned the Holmes? The elder brother Mycroft just left us this summer. He's… well, I won't deny he's a bit of a snob, but he's a good boy really. Very talented, and most devoted as head boy. His younger brother is starting at Hogwarts this September, so I've arranged for them to accompany you to Diagon Alley on Saturday, so John can get everything he needs in good time for-"
"If you appreciate how hard it is," Mrs Watson said "Perhaps you realise how hard it would be for John and I to be apart right now. He just lost his father. I'm not sure this is the right time for him to be leaving home."
"I quite understand." Professor Sprout said, sadly, ignoring the glare John was firing at his mother. John interrupted.
"I want to come, Professor! I need to get out of here!"
"John, we must respect your mother's wishes- both of us." Professor Sprout said, stern for the first time. "But, Mrs Watson, I will ask the two of you to think this over and talk it out. John's place will be held until the beginning of the term, so if you change your mind, all he needs to do is come and catch the train as normal." She smiled, shaking them both by the hand. "I hope to see you in September, John. All the best."
With that, she strode out into the garden, turned on the spot and disappeared.
"It's not right." His mother said, shaking her head. "You must see it John. It's not natural."
John said nothing, marching up to his room in silence.
Over the next few days, the atmosphere in the Watson household was a tense one. Sometimes they tried to talk it out, but most of the time it ended up with his mother angry and John sulking. She said he hadn't grieved properly for his father, and shouldn't be going away at the moment. He couldn't get her to understand that he didn't need to grieve; that his dad was gone, yes, and John would miss him, yes, but those things would both be true for the rest of his life, so he wasn't going to sit around moping and crying. Anyway, his dad was a soldier, you had to be prepared for this kind of thing. Even if your dad was just part of the Far East Command and there wasn't supposed to be any risk.
By Friday, his mother still didn't want him to go and John still hoped to change her mind. He knew her real motivation wasn't just that she was worried about him going or that he wouldn't be able to get a normal job afterwards, it was that she didn't want to be alone. John was angry at her selfishness, and tried to ignore the little guilty whispers at the back of his mind that said he should stay with her right now. About three in the afternoon, they had a blazing row about it and John ended up storming out. He fought his way back up to Sherlock's house, hoping to speak with him, but the boy was nowhere in sight so John amused himself by climbing as many of the trees outside the fence as he could before it got dark. He told his mom he didn't want any dinner and went up to his room. He expected her to come up and make amends, but she didn't. Later, he heard her crying uncontrollably in her room, and buried his head under his pillow so he wouldn't have to hear it.
The next morning at breakfast his natural kindness had resurfaced and was reproaching him, in spite of the still tender wound that she was going to deny him such an amazing experience. Trying not to think about it, he chatted as normally as he could. His mother smiled gratefully and suggested they see if they could get any tickets for the match that afternoon. John privately thought even watching Chelsea play at home wouldn't make up for missing out on a lifetime of magic, painfully aware he could have been going to buy a wand today, but seeing how red her eyes were, he replied that he'd enjoy that. His mother smiled again and collected his bowl to wash up. John stood to leave the table at the exact moment the doorbell rang.
"It must be the postman." His mother said. "I hope it's not for the old owners again. Open the door and check, would you, Johnny?"
Johnny. John tried not to wince, he hated that pet name. Obviously, she was trying to pretend everything was fine between them just like he was. He opened the door and, to his shock, found Sherlock there.
"You didn't come to the house." Sherlock informed him, not smiling. "So we've had to come to get you." He was wearing a Chelsea shirt, which surprised John; but then he supposed it was a match day and the Holmes were rich. They probably had a season ticket. John felt a slight stab of jealousy.
"My mom didn't want to go." He said, as his mom came out to join him.
"Who's this?" She asked, nodding at Sherlock.
"Chris." Said Sherlock. "I'm John's friend from school, Mrs Watson. My dad can't come to the football anymore so we have a spare ticket. My big brother is taking us, he's very reliable. Can John come please?"
John blinked and tried not to look too surprised. Sherlock had spat this all out in a rapid fire breathless kind of lisp, completely different to his normal voice. Still, it worked. His mother, pleased that John had made a friend at school and that he would have something to take his mind off Hogwarts, agreed with relief and after another minute or two the boys had been waved off and had rounded the corner.
"I'm glad wizards like football too." John commented, after they had laughed over their victory. In the back of his mind, the two pressing problems of how to convince his mother to let him go to the school once he had his stuff and how to pay for his stuff in the first place presented themselves over and over, so he hoped for a good conversation to take his mind off it. "Do you have your own league?"
"No." Sherlock answered. "We don't like football. This is your shirt."
"I got it from your room before I came down." Sherlock grinned, looking very pleased with himself as he pulled it off, revealing a plain black t-shirt underneath. He held John's shirt up and looked at the back of it with interest. "What is a Tambling and why are there eleven of it?"
"Come along, keep up."
They were walking down a street in central London that wasn't that familiar to John, though he thought he may have been down it once before. They had met Sherlock's brother at the train station, who proved to be a bulky eighteen year old, with eyes just as glittering as his younger brother's. He had shaken John's hand, introducing himself as Mycroft, and asking him to get their train tickets as, he explained, they didn't usually travel this way. John had felt suddenly ashamed somehow, as if he needed to apologise for this distinctly non-magical method of transportation, not helped when he was passed an entire pound note to pay with and got suspicious looks from all the staff; and that only after he had prised it away from an ever-curious Sherlock, who then proceeded to sulk the entire journey into town. John had begun to wonder if this was all a mistake, even more so when Mycroft seemed to be marching purposefully right into the back of beyond and Sherlock seemed to feel that the more he was told to keep up, the more it was his duty to lag behind. Not that John minded. The street they were walking along made him feel oddly unwelcome. Like the Holmes' house, he felt it was designed to try and keep him out; more muggle-repelling charms, he supposed. He wasn't sure why he was carrying on, but he gritted his teeth and stayed in line with Sherlock, who he suspected sensed his discomfort and was enjoying it.
"Ah, here we are." Mycroft said, stopping in front of an unnoticeable building. John glanced at it, but found his eyes drawn to the more interesting shops on either side, sliding over his destination to the goodies on display in the windows next to it. He realised both the Holmes brothers were watching him and wondered if this was some sort of test to check he was really a wizard. He forced his eyes to stay focused ahead, resisting the urge to hold them in place with his fingers. In front of him was a disreputable looking pub, with a filthy sign above it proclaiming it to be 'The Leaky Cauldron'.
"I do so hate coming through this way." Mycroft tutted. "Just stay close, boys, and don't touch anything. You'd probably catch some sort of disease."
John, realising he couldn't even see through the windows because of the grime, was inclined to agree, but Sherlock took the lead, purposefully brushing against the doorframe in an exaggerated fashion. Mycroft merely rolled his eyes and waved John through ahead of him. He rushed them through so quickly that John barely had time to get an impression of a dim and dingy room full of cloaked, oddly dressed people, and what he thought was potentially a satyr before they were outside again, in a tiny yard; the whole place reeking with the stench of the dustbins. So far, John decided, the wizard world was rather disappointing. Sherlock sat down on one of the bins, still in a bad mood, while Mycroft ferreted about in the pocket of his coat. He pulled out a stick- another wand, John assumed- about eleven or twelve inches long, thicker than the Professor's had been, and made of a darker wood.
"Ah, admiring it, are you?" Mycroft looked approving. "This is my wand. It was made specially in Germany by Gregorovitch, before he moved here. Most people at school will have Ollivader's, which are fine of course, but between you and I, I think Gregorovitch surpasses him. All the Holmes' wands have been made by Gregorovitch. Except," here he smiled sweetly at Sherlock. "We'll be getting Sherlock's from Ollivander's with yours. Mother didn't want to risk him getting hold of one with Veela hair for a core. Sherlock is quite temperamental enough, you see."
Sherlock scowled. John tried not to look confused. Mycroft was obviously waiting for him to ask questions and, for some reason, John felt equally determined not to satisfy that urge. Mycroft had been friendly and helpful enough, explaining things where he felt it necessary, but John somehow knew every question he had to ask dropped him lower in the older boy's estimations.
"Very well." Mycroft said, after a brief pause. "Well, John, pay attention. Next time you may have to do this alone. Begin at the rubbish bin. Sherlock, move."
Sherlock didn't, but Mycroft pretended he had and continued.
"You begin with the brick over the centre of the lid, here." He gestured with the wand at a brick behind Sherlock's back. "You count three bricks up and two across, and then simply tap it with your wand."
He drew his hand back to do just that, but before he could John blurted out "Can I do it?"
Mycroft looked surprised, but then smiled. "Well, you certainly are fearless. I can't think why they sent Professor Sprout to talk to you. You're obviously going to be in Gryffindor."
"That's exactly what I said." Sherlock agreed, and for the first time, the brothers smiled briefly at each other. John wondered if bonding over their own cleverness was the only time they got on; and thought that, if it was, this was going to be a very long day.
"For future reference, John." Mycroft said, handing his wand over. "It's very bad etiquette to borrow someone else's wand. Still, it's no matter, just this once. Just give it a nice sharp tap. Gently though, don't damage it."
John quickly recounted the bricks to make sure he was aiming in the right place and then, raising his arm, did his best attempt at a gentle-yet-sharp tap. He was just thinking how embarrassing it would be if nothing at all happened when finally something did and the brick he had tapped on sank back into the wall, pulling the rest of them back with it until they were folded neatly away and an archway had opened up before them.
"Splendid." Mycroft said briskly, reclaiming his wand and subtly wiping it on a handkerchief. "On we go, then." He strode off and John followed, trying not to be too offended.
The moment he entered Diagon Alley, he forgot his woes in favour of being amazed at his surroundings. This was a far cry from the grocery shops and record shops and shoe shops of suburban England; every store had something else new and fascinating in it; and in the street were crowds of people in strange clothes, in long robes and pointed hats. John struggled to keep up with Mycroft and Sherlock who, having seen it all before, were just wading through the crowd in a pre-ordained direction. John was determined not to even blink, so he could take in as much as possible of the brooms, books, potions and animals on display in the shop windows. He remembered his letter had said he could bring an owl, a toad or a cat. He thought a toad might be quite cool, he had spent a lot of time when he was younger catching them in ponds and swamps. Then he remembered that he didn't have so much as a half-penny on him. The realities of life pulled him away from the fantastic surroundings and back down to earth with a bump. He pushed forward to catch up with his companions.
"Um, excuse me, Mycroft…"
"It's just I… I don't have any money."
"We assumed as much when Sherlock had to sneak you out of the house." He waved John away. "Your mother can just pay us back later."
"But… she might not. I mean, she doesn't want me to go to Hogwarts-"
Once again, he held up a hand to stem the flow. "Is your mother a good woman, John?"
"Well, y-yes, but…"
"Then I'm sure she'll come round." He said airly, though John wasn't at all sure. "After all, she can't condemn someone with talents like yours to a muggle life forever."
"What's wrong with a muggle life?" John frowned.
"Oh, nothing, of course; but I wouldn't choose it." Before John could reply, Mycroft moved on. "Now then, we'll do robes first, then the books and things, and then wands. It's the only way we'll get Sherlock to stand still." He looked a little concerned.
"I'm sure he's not that bad…" John ventured, thinking how he would need all the friends he could get at Hogwarts.
"My dear boy, why do you think my parents aren't here?" Mycroft asked, grabbing his escaping younger brother by the shirt collar and dragging him towards Madame Malkin's.
By the time Mycroft announced they would go to Ollivander's now, John was almost too tired to be excited. Sherlock, it seemed, was extremely easily bored, particularly by clothes shopping, and had decided the time would be best spent by working out as much as he could about Madame Malkin in such an insulting way that the poor woman was almost in tears and would have thrown them out had Mycroft not wielded his natural charms and smoothed the whole thing over, paying almost twice as much for the uniforms than he should have done. John fervently hoped that it wouldn't be added onto what he had to repay. He also hoped that Sherlock wouldn't get bored too often. Thankfully, the younger Holmes seemed more interested in the books and potions ingredients, although John noticed he was buying plenty of things that weren't on their list and hardly anything that was, Mycroft checking through the purchases and adding the necessary items. They also purchased a trunk for John, and had managed to cram most of the shopping into it, Mycroft arranging with a swarthy-faced man to pull it on a cart to await them at the Leaky Cauldron. Free of their burden, they continued up Diagon Alley.
"Is it just the wands now?" John asked.
"That's right." Mycroft answered. "You'll still need school badges and ties and so on, but you'll get those after you've been officially sorted into your houses. Although I suppose we could just get them now, as I have no doubt you'll be in Gryffindor." His lip curled slightly as if the word was distasteful. "And of course, the Holmes' are always in Slytherin, so I daresay Sherlock will be in silver and green in September."
"No I won't." Sherlock put in.
"Yes you will, Sherlock, you can't fight it." The tiredness in Mycroft's voice made John believe, correctly, that this was an old argument. "It's in your blood."
"No it isn't."
"Sherlock, you are cunning, rebellious and self-motivated. The hat will put you in Slytherin."
"No it won't."
"And just how are you going to stop it?"
"I'll tell it not to."
Mycroft snorted and John decided to jump into the pause.
"What is all this about houses? I mean, Professor Sprout said that was how you were sorted into classes and dormitories and things, but what about… I mean, a hat?"
"Yes, the sorting hat. When you arrive at Hogwarts-"
"Don't ruin it, Mycroft." Sherlock interrupted. "Just leave it as a lovely surprise." He grinned a sharp toothed grin at John that made his stomach turn over nervously. Somehow he didn't think it would be a nice surprise at all.
Ollivander's was not at all what he had expected a wand shop to be like. He had expected something mystical, something amazing and full of enchantments, displays with wands doing impossible things. Instead, it looked more like a shoe shop, if shoe shops were all dusty and ill-kept, the dull light barely illuminating the stacks of boxes on the walls. Mycroft made John go first, leaving Sherlock sulking, but all three of them knowing he wouldn't wander off without his wand. Ollivander turned out to be a tiny, wizened old man, with huge eyes like car headlights. John kept thinking of Gollum from the Hobbit, and his yellow eyes that glowed deep under the mountain. He could imagine Ollivander there, hoarding his precious wands.
Except, unlike Gollum, Ollivander was very eager to get rid of all his precious wands. He made John try more than seventeen. Some John had barely curled his fingers around before they were snatched away again. He began to feel foolish, not helped by Mycroft's encouraging words after every failed try, that it was "Always very difficult for the muggle born" and "he must keep trying, he would get there eventually". John began to wonder if that was even true. Professor Sprout had said he was a border line case. The wands were meant to help amplify and control their magic, letting it out properly rather than in uncontrolled bursts. But none of them were responding to him. Maybe he wasn't a wizard after all. At least his mother would be happy.
"Alright, try this." Said Mr Ollivander, pulling down the eighteenth box. "It's an unusual combination, a little experimental on my part. Oak, ten-and-a-quarter inches, unyielding but with a unicorn hair in the core- well, go on, give it a wave."
John picked it up reluctantly, not wanting to make a fool of himself, but the moment he did, he found relief coursing through him. That old sixth sense of his was relaxing, a warm feeling spreading up his arm. Suddenly, he had total confidence that this was the right one and he flicked it lightly, knowing that this, at last, was his wand. A stream of yellow sparks came out in a neat flow, coiling down pleasantly onto the counter and settling into a pool.
"Very nice." Ollivander said. "You're a natural, boy."
John beamed with pride, he couldn't help it.
"You'll do well with that wand." Ollivander said, approvingly. "I wasn't sure where its specialism would lie, but it looks like it's going to be charms."
"Charms." John repeated.
"Just take care of it." Ollivander said, packing it back into the box and glaring at John with his lamp-like eyes, as if he expected to hear that John had broken six wands already. "Alright, next."
Sherlock stepped forward to the counter, Ollivander checking the tape measure. While John had been busy testing wands, the tape measure had been measuring Sherlock. On its own. It had been rather distracting. Still, Ollivander looked at it, grunted, and then disappeared into the back.
"Just don't get impatient, Sherlock." Mycroft was warning his brother. "You saw what it was like for John. When you're buying a premade wand, it will take a few tries to find the right one."
"I know." Sherlock snapped back. John was relieved to see that he actually looked a tiny bit nervous. Maybe he was human after all.
Ollivander returned with one of his dusty boxes. "Alright, Mr Holmes, try this. Eleven inches, made of willow, very springy, thestral tail hair for the core. Give it a try."
Sherlock waved it. Immediately, the counter set on fire. Ollivander and Mycroft stepped forward with their own wands, hastily extinguishing the blaze.
Ollivander peered hard through the smoke at Sherlock, who was doing his best to look innocent. "Yes, that will do." He said, eventually. "Though I think with a wand you'll be a danger to us all."
Sherlock looked rather proud of himself. John decided that if he made it to Hogwarts, he would avoid sitting next to Sherlock at all costs.
The closer John got to home, the more worried he felt. Mycroft and Sherlock had promised to take his trunk and his shopping round the back and sneak it into his room, but still, John worried what was going to happen when his mother found out what he had done. She would feel betrayed. He shifted a bit uncomfortably. His mother needed him right now. Maybe he shouldn't be thinking about leaving her.
But then, when he thought about staying, it seemed so much worse. He hesitated in the front garden, wondering what to do. Suddenly, the front door flew open and his mother flew out, made up, in her heels, ready to go out.
"John!" She said, hugging him. She seemed panicked, not her usual calm self at all. "Oh John, I'm so sorry."
"I just thought… I wanted what was best for you… and I thought, sending you away would be… But you can't miss this chance, John! I don't know what time wizard shops shut. Maybe if we go straight away, and, and explain to the Holmes' why we didn't come this morning, perhaps-"
"Um…" John shifted uncomfortably. "That boy this morning, mom. That was Sherlock Holmes. They thought you might change your mind, so they took me to get it all. It's all upstairs. We just need to pay them back. Sorry."
His mother looked at him in shock, but then smiled. John was surprised to see it, and wondered why. Then he realised that, even though his mother had smiled since his father had died, this was the first time it went as far as her eyes. She was smiling for real, although still with a touch of sadness. She pulled him close.
"You're growing up." She said. "I think it's alright for me to tell you… your parents can be wrong. It's alright to ignore what I tell you sometimes."
John nodded, staying close to her. He wasn't sure what to say.
"If you had missed out on going to Hogwarts… Oh, John." She said, regretfully. "But I do have a condition. I want you to keep up your normal studies. You can do your O-levels by correspondence course if it comes to it, like the army children. I just… I want you to be able to come back if you want to."
John wanted to protest, but decided against it. He couldn't risk his mom changing her mind again.
"Your father would have wanted you to go." His mother said. "Experience everything, John."
That had been one of his dad's favourite phrases. Hearing the words from his mother's lips was strange, unnatural. For some reason, it made John realise for real that his old life was over. In a week or so, he would leave this house and his mother, and his old life- his father- would be well and truly gone.
He had resolved not to cry. His father had been a real man, and real men didn't cry. John had never cried over his father's death. But that realisation- realising it was all over- opened a flood gate inside him that made his eyes fill up. His mother didn't say anything, but hugged him tighter and lead him inside. John just hoped the Holmes weren't still upstairs.
A few hours later, John lay in bed, feeling oddly lightened but still unable to sleep. He rolled over to look at the picture of his dad, the first time he had really looked at it. Even in the muted black and white of the photo and the darkness of the room, he could see his father's eyes were resolute, hopeful; his father one of the few people able to be serious and subdued without ever being miserable. He looked genuinely happy. John's mother had been right. His dad would have wanted him to go to Hogwarts, and learn magic, and make friends, and try to stop Sherlock from breaking anything. His dad would have been delighted. John felt the excitement build in his chest too. This was going to be, he knew, absolutely amazing.
"Experience everything, John." He whispered to himself, then rolled over and went to sleep.