The night before the first quidditch game, John was shaken unexpectedly awake to see his best friend's curls shining in the moonlight above his head. Sherlock was leaning over him, one hand on the bed and the other on his shoulder, shaking him determinedly. "John," he whispered, "John, wake up. I need you."
John groaned and rolled over.
"John, it's about the potions ring, come on."
John tried to pull his pillow over his head, but his friend's long fingers wrapped around the other end of it and refused to let go. Did it have to be now? Couldn't they have done this a month ago when they'd found out about the drug ring? Couldn't they do this tomorrow? It wasn't like they'd made any progress on the case!
"Stop pretending to be asleep, John, this is important! Get up!"
Then again, John realized, there was really no telling what Sherlock had been making progress on. Sherlock had been tight-lipped about the investigation for the last month, popping erratically in then and back out of John's life without telling John what he was actually doing when he was on his own. He'd assigned John the somewhat tangential task of 'keeping Mycroft out of things.' It hadn't even turned out to be a particularly difficult task, because Mycroft had reached the same conclusion Sherlock had about needing to catch the whole ring at once and had left them to it.
"C'mon, John, you're never this hard to rouse. I know you're awake. Stop pretending."
John grunted, pulling at the pillow again. Why now? Why right before his first game? Sherlock had predicted that John would be an alternate on the team before it had even been announced. He'd hardly have forgotten about it since then. Unless he'd deleted it, the selfish idiot.
"John, I'll drag you up if I have to, come on."
What if something happened? What if someone got sick? What if John had to play tomorrow? Surely, even if the team captain had an inkling about the drug problem, as John and Sherlock suspected he did, even if Lestrade had added alternates in response to it, even if, like Sherlock, Mycroft, and John himself, he was simply waiting for proof so that he could move to stop it, surely the older boy would not be happy to have one of his team members tiring himself out before the big game with Slytherin. John groaned again.
Sherlock was tugging at his arm, now, still whispering for him to come into the common room. Sherlock wasn't going to give up. Sherlock stored up stubbornness like a cactus stored moisture, and John had been so focused on quidditch that he'd let more than just the investigation slide. They hadn't fought about breakfast tables or pranking Anderson or doing homework in weeks. Sherlock was in top fighting form, and he wasn't just going to go away. John got up, letting Sherlock drag him into the common room, his friend almost pulling him over before he could get his feet under himself.
"Finally!" Sherlock exclaimed once they'd made it into the Common Room itself. "I mean, really John, how long does it take to get up? You're always the first one at breakfast, and you're not even a heavy sleeper. And anyway, it's not like I've been keeping you up lately, I was trying to be good, because-"
John caught Sherlock by the elbow, shutting his friend up as the taller boy turned around to look at him. "Sherlock, I don't have time for this, I've got to get back to bed if I want any sleep before the match. Where are we going?"
Sherlock's face split into a grin. "Burgling, John. We're going burgling."
John wasn't sure if he was less awake than he felt, or if that actually didn't make sense, "We're - what?"
Sherlock held out a pair of socks and John realized that he'd left his slippers in his room again, though this time it was less that he'd forgotten them than it was that he hadn't had the time to grab them. "We're going to steal the illegal potions that the Slytherin team were planning to drink before the game tomorrow."
John took the socks, noting that this time they were his own, which made him wonder when exactly Sherlock had acquired them. "Sherlock, that's crazy - we can't. What if we get caught? They'll think we were trying to sabotage the game, not make it fairer."
Sherlock rolled his eyes, leaning against the arm of one of the couches and staring at the socks in John's hand as if waiting to see whether or not John was going to wear them. "When have we ever gotten caught? Honestly, John."
John sighed, bending down to pull a sock onto his left foot. "We got caught that time in Dumbledore's office, for one."
Sherlock made a clicking noise with his tongue. "Doesn't count. First week of school. Even I have a learning curve."
John pulled on the other sock. "Ok, so then the time we got caught trying to sneak into the stadium to watch the Slytherin team practice."
Sherlock rolled his eyes again. "Mycroft doesn't count either. He's not a teacher."
John sighed, faintly exasperated, "Well, if Mycroft doesn't count, then I guess we can't count any of the times we've gotten caught. It still doesn't mean it's not a risk."
Sherlock grinned, turning around to grab something off the couch behind him, something he'd apparently left there before he'd come to get John. "It's not the slightest bit risky. Not with this." He turned back to John, holding out the spare blanket John's mum had sent with him in case the castle was drafty. It looked different now, though, shot through with silver and gleaming faintly in the light from the fireplace.
John gasped, "You've finished it! The invisibility blanket!"
Sherlock's smile grew even wider, turning almost evil. "Yup. Tested it out and everything - I nicked Mycroft's coffee with it before I got here. He likes a cup after dinner, you know. But I wanted to think through all the evidence about who has the potions one more time, and I wanted to do it quickly, so-"
John laughed "So you stole Mycroft's coffee? Jeepers, Sherlock, you're never going to fall asleep if you've been drinking that stuff this late."
Sherlock waved a hand at him, "Irrelevant. Sleep is boring. And we need to be quick if we're going to find all the hiding places and get everything before the early risers get up. And since stupid Mycroft never goes to bed until around 3 in the morning, we're already running out of time."
Sherlock stepped close to John - perhaps a bit too close for comfort - and whipped the blanket over both of their heads with a dramatic flourish. It was a large blanket, but not large enough, dangling inches above the floor and leaving their ankles uncovered, even when Sherlock bent over to John's height. They both bent farther over, and the blanket sunk to meet the ground. Perfect.
"You're sure no one can see us now?" John asked, looking through what had turned out to be quite transparent fabric from the inside, now that they were underneath it.
"Positive," Sherlock said, "And I've got the coffee grounds to prove it. Now come on."
Usually, their post-curfew escapades involved circuitous routes and delicate timing, Sherlock shoving John into empty classrooms or broom closets just before professors rounded the corners in front of them. Tonight, they were bold as brass, silent but swift, rushing along to the dungeons in as straight a path as could ever be managed at Hogwarts and venturing into secret shortcuts they usually didn't dare try. They passed Mrs. Norris and Filch without being seen. It was a heady feeling, just walking past the grumpy old man without fear. Almost like being invincible, instead of merely invisible.
John could feel Sherlock slowing down as they approached what looked like a nondescript section of corridor. He stopped when Sherlock did, responding as much to his friend's shift in momentum as to the spindly hand the other boy laid against his chest to stop him. Sherlock glanced down the hallway in both directions to make sure the coast was clear, then whispered "Ophiuchus" into the wall, which opened into a doorway at the sound, soft as it was.
John felt himself being dragged through the door and into the Slytherin common room before he could get a good look at it, Sherlock apparently too focused on the task at hand to think that John might be nervous about going into Slytherin territory. He'd been worried about the trek across the castle until just now, but as he entered the common room itself, he couldn't help being worried about it having ended.
Sherlock whipped the blanket off of them, leaving John feeling suddenly very cold and exposed. He'd felt like Sherlock was too close to him on the way across the castle, but now he couldn't help but be glad that Sherlock was still beside him. He'd never been in the Slytherin common room before, and he could see why. It didn't look much like Sherlock's sort of place. Too formal, in some ways, and too cold. Sherlock, of course, could be both formal and cold on occasion, but - no, this didn't feel right.
There was a large window that served as one wall and part of the roof, too dark to see through now, and it was making some sort of soft sound that John couldn't quite identify. It made him nervous. The leather couches looked stiff, formal, and imposing, and he couldn't imagine his friend sprawling casually across them like he did the ratty carpet in the Shrieking Shack. The greenish lamps made the air look cold, clammy, and a little creepy. John shuddered.
Sherlock laughed, "It's better during the day. The window looks into the lake and there's loads of interesting stuff in there, when you can see it. We're not terribly far down, so you get a bit of sunlight through the water. Moonlight too, when it's not a new moon. Makes the noises less scary. Though at the moment, the noises are good - the team's used to the lake noises, so they're likely to sleep pretty heavily."
John wasn't sure quite how much faith he wanted to put in the idea that the lake noises would keep the Slytherins from waking up. But either way, they'd made it this far, and there was no stopping now. "Where are we going first?"
Sherlock started shoving the blanket into one of his bathrobe pockets. Even with the expansion charm he'd put on the pockets a couple of months ago, it didn't quite fit, but he managed to jam enough of it into the pocket for it to stay put. "Boys' rooms. We've got more of them. Mycroft won't be soundly enough asleep for a bit, though, so we'd better start with the fourth year boys and work our way toward the seventh."
Turning on the spot, Sherlock took off toward a wide glass tunnel, which ran from the join between wall and window and stretched along the outside of the castle, gripped at the bottom by a thick shelf of stone that extended from the castle wall itself to wrap around the bottom. A green carpet ran down the center of the tunnel floor, but the outside edges were clear glass, revealing the stone underneath. John was glad they'd left the edges clear, because it made him feel safer to know it wasn't just lake under the glass.
The tunnel was lit by more of the green lamps, floating in the center of the rounded ceiling. He tried to convince himself that the green light was less creepy in here than it had been in the common room, because there was nothing in the tunnel to cast shadows. This, too, was probably less terrifying in the daylight. As it was, the blackness outside the tunnel walls was claustrophobic and made him feel like the whole tunnel might collapse in on him.
A little way down the tunnel, a side passage opened on their left, going straight through the castle walls and into the castle itself. At the end of the tunnel, a silver lantern dropped from the ceiling to illuminate a stone staircase that spiraled upward and around the corner to the right.
"Mine," Sherlock said softly. John nodded. Part of him felt like he should be curious about his best friend's dorm - after all, Sherlock had spent hours in John's room and John hadn't even seen Sherlock's - but he couldn't quite manage any real interest in it. Whatever the room was like, it wasn't where Sherlock belonged. If it was, John would have been there before.
They passed it by, and John wasn't sure he minded. The task at hand was more important, anyway. The game was getting closer and closer, and now that his bed was all the way in the opposite corner of the castle and not worth thinking too hard about, he was starting to feel angry at the idea of the Slytherin team cheating. It was silly, because he knew that if Lestrade hadn't chosen a team clean enough to make Sherlock wonder if he knew more than he let on, Gryffindor would be cheating, too. But he couldn't seem to help taking it personally.
They took the fourth staircase, which turned out to be shorter than John had expected. Sherlock held a hand up at the top of the stairs to stop John for a moment and pressed his ear to the dorm room door, listened for a moment, and pulled his wand out of his pocket, whispering "Lumos" to light the tip.
John copied the spell. They'd learned it just last week in Defense Against the Dark Arts, but he hadn't practiced it much yet, so he was nervous for a moment. It worked perfectly, producing a soft golden light, and he grinned at Sherlock. His best friend grinned back for a moment and then pushed the door very carefully open. Watching him, John half expected the large, ornate wooden door to creak. He was almost disappointed that it didn't.
Sherlock walked slowly and cautiously into the room, placing his feet gently on the hard-wood floor and rolling his weight tenderly from foot to foot, trying to keep as quiet as possible. John followed him, equally silent, stopping inside the doorway and glancing around the room to take stock of it.
There were six boys sleeping in this room, their four-poster beds lined up in a neat row against the stone wall on the left. The dark green silk hangings were pulled closed around a few of them, hiding their occupants from view. It didn't make John feel any more secure not to be able to see that they were sleeping, but the few visible boys drooling on their pillows didn't seem much less dangerous than the closed beds, either. All of the boys who lived here were three years older than John was, and much larger.
The other side of the room held a large window, set into a wood-paneled wall and trimmed with wood around the edges in a way that reminded John of a ship's cabin from a movie. It was covered by more green curtains, heavier than the silk hangings around the beds and embroidered around the edges with a parade of silver snakes that glinted in the light from John's wand.
Sherlock had already crept across the room to check the first of the beds, pushing the light-weight silk curtain out of the way to peer in at the boy inside. He dropped the silk after a moment, letting it float gently back to where it had been before and stepped around to check the next bed. John watched him, trying to breathe as quietly as possible while he waited for Sherlock to find the Slytherin player. He wouldn't be much use searching the wrong trunk and nightstand.
John grew more nervous every moment until Sherlock finally found the team's Seeker, asleep in the next-to-last bed, with his curtains closed safely around him. His friend waved his wand and for a moment he was reminded, absurdly, of the sparklers he'd played with as a child on Guy Fawkes day, drawing patterns in the night air and competing with Harry for his father's attention. But his father wasn't here, and attention was the last thing they wanted right now.
He hurried over to help Sherlock rifle through the boy's belongings. He felt awkward at first, moving tentatively and trying not to be too invasive. Sherlock was really digging in beside him, and it made him feel calmer, somehow, like maybe this wasn't so scary after all. He'd never been grateful for Sherlock's inability to recognize acceptable social behavior. He was grateful for it now. His best friend seemed to have no compunction against going through someone else's things, which might have been frightening in a different context, but wasn't in this one.
They found the potion in what looked like a small ink bottle. Sherlock dipped a pinky into the bottle itself to test the liquid, then grinned and punched John in the shoulder, holding it up. A moment later, he was on his feet again, ready to bolt out the door. But - didn't they have to put everything back the way it had been before?
John grabbed Sherlock's arm, shaking his head firmly. He pointed at the trunk, which was still open on the floor, half of the things that had been inside it strewn on the floor beside it instead. Sherlock raised an eyebrow, waving the potion bottle. John shook his head firmly, starting to put things back into the trunk and hoping he'd gotten them at least close to where they were before. Sherlock might think that everyone who wasn't him was an idiot, but there was a difference between not being able to find the potion and waking up to a half-empty trunk. There was no reason to make it obvious that the team had been burgled, at least not more than they had to.
Whether Sherlock really understood or not, he tucked the bottle into his empty robe pocket and knelt down to help. He rolled his eyes at John for a moment, but then rearranged the top layer of clean shirts and textbooks to more accurately match the way they'd been before. John grinned, taking his turn for an eyeroll while Sherlock closed the top of the trunk quietly.
The next room held one of Slytherin's beaters and their star keeper, a boy John had heard a lot about in quidditch practice, and who he had imagined as both larger and less pimply. John and Sherlock each took a trunk, and they found the bottles in no time. John felt a bit nervous about trying to put everything from the trunk back where it belonged without Sherlock's help, but there was nothing to be done about it. They had to move quickly, and at least they seemed to be managing that.
There were no sixth year boys on the Slytherin team this year, which meant that the scariest thing came next - getting the potion from the team captain, who shared a room with Mycroft. Sherlock stopped at the top of the stairs to the 7th year dorm, taking a deep breath. John hadn't seen Sherlock this nervous since before their first flying lesson. It wasn't particularly reassuring.
"We have to be fast," Sherlock whispered, "My doesn't sleep much. I'm not sure how long we can stay in there before he wakes up."
John nodded seriously, trying not to let Sherlock's nerves get to him. Sherlock nodded back, then started up the stairs at his usual speed, as if he weren't scared at all. John wasn't surprised. Bravery might have been a Gryffindor trait, but they certainly didn't have a monopoly on bravado. Sherlock could bluff his way through things almost as well as John could, when he wanted to.
Once they were inside, John found that he couldn't quite resist sneaking a peek at Mycroft. The head boy's bed was immediately identifiable at the far end of the room, sitting next to a neatly organized desk. The desk was a bit like John's but much bigger and nicer, and John wondered if Sherlock might have been thinking of Mycroft's desk when he charmed John's trunk at the beginning of the year.
The green silk curtains on the bed were tied back out of the way with ribbon, as if he never closed them at all. John imagined that the older boy didn't much like not being able to see what was happening on the other side of the curtains. One of Sherlock's favorite insults to throw at his brother was that he was a "paranoid bastard."
In his sleep, Mycroft didn't look paranoid. He looked peaceful, head turned sideways on the pillow and one pajama-clad arm curving over the top of his head until the knuckles of his left hand brushed the wooden headboard above him. His usually neat fringe was flopping messily across his forehead, and he was clearly dreaming about something, because the fingers of his right hand twitched periodically across the comforter toward the handle of the umbrella that leaned against the side of the bed.
John almost laughed. Mycroft might still be in his usual pin-stripes, but he looked much less intimidating than he ever had before. He was usually a larger-than-life figure, mysterious and powerful, sweeping along the hallways like he ruled the place. Now, he looked surprisingly - seventeen.
Sherlock dragged John away from Mycroft's bed as if he was afraid that the mere sound of breathing in his older brother's vicinity would wake him and blow the entire operation. He was right. They weren't here to spy on Mycroft. They were here to steal illegal potions from the Slytherin quidditch captain. Just another perfectly reasonable adventure John wouldn't be able to tell his mum about in his next letter home.
Luckily, the captain of the team was neither cautious nor neat. Half of his belongings hadn't even made it into his trunk, and the other boys in the room had clearly gotten used to shoving things out of the walkways and closer to his bed. Anything that wasn't put back correctly would be put down to one of his roommates moving it to get past the bed.
The boy himself was massive, one foot hanging off the end of the bed. Sherlock could probably have told you anything you wanted to know about the boy just from looking at his little piece of the room, but even John could tell that the boy was a bully used to getting what he wanted, and that he wasn't overly concerned that he might be getting in his roommates' way. John didn't want to be any of the roommates when the captain found his potion missing. Mycroft would be safe, because John couldn't imagine that even the biggest kid in school would go after Mycroft, but the rest of them - well, John was glad not to be in their shoes.
They found the potion in the trunk itself, sitting almost openly near the top of a pile of wrinkled uniform shirts. Then they were creeping out of the room as quickly as they could, casting one last glance at Mycroft over their shoulders. John felt a burst of triumph wash over him when they finally made it out, the door clicking shut between them and the elder Holmes brother. He grinned at Sherlock as they climbed the stairs back to the tunnel, only to find that his friend was beaming back at him just as brightly.
When they reached the common room, Sherlock didn't even slow down, barreling straight through to the girls' tunnel on the other side. They'd made it through four of the team's seven members, which made John feel a bit better about the fact that he was starting to feel tired. He'd slept for a while before Sherlock had woken him up, but it clearly wasn't enough. He scrambled to keep up with his best friend, wishing he'd had some of Sherlock's stolen coffee.
The youngest of the girls on the Slytherin team was a 5th year, but they never reached her room. The moment they stepped out of the main tunnel and into the side tunnel toward the stairs, the stairs up to the dorm room door pulled upward, moving away from the floor and compressing upward out of their reach so that they couldn't get to the door. The stairs made a loud grinding noise as they moved, and Sherlock cursed under his breath.
"We have to go. Now," Sherlock announced, as if John couldn't figure that out. They both started running at the same time, Sherlock scrambling to pull the invisibility blanket out of his pocket as he ran and John pushing just to try to keep up. Sherlock almost tripped over the end of the blanket as it slid out of the pocket and onto the floor, but caught himself in time. Behind them, they could hear the sound of people stirring, woken by the sound of the stairs, and John glanced briefly behind him. He couldn't see anything, but he could hear footsteps.
Just inside the common room itself, Sherlock grabbed John by the arm and pulled him closer, throwing the blanket over both of them just in time - they could hear voices in the girls' tunnel, now, and the voices were getting closer. They moved as quickly as they could toward the exit into the castle, both checking the hem of the blanket constantly. They couldn't afford to be seen, not even as disembodied feet.
The girls burst into the room behind them just as they were reaching the doorway itself. Sherlock almost dove out the door, still hauling John along by the arm. The blanket rode up, revealing their feet, but Sherlock didn't seem to care, straightening up and running faster until they reached the corner where this corridor met the nest. He let go of John's arm, but John didn't stop, whipping around the corner and almost running farther until he realized that Sherlock wasn't following him.
Instead, Sherlock was standing on the very corner with his back pressed up against the wall, not quite peering around the edge of it. He had one finger held up in John's direction, telling him to keep quiet, and John realized that Sherlock was listening to make sure none of the girls had followed them out of the common room. He crept back to join Sherlock, flattening himself against the wall next to his friend and listening too.
Faint voices grew louder as the door to the Slytherin common room opened. A girl's voice said clearly, "No, there's no one out there," and then the door thudded shut again.
The next thing John knew, he and Sherlock were both giggling madly, grabbing each other to stay upright and leaning heavily against the wall. "We can't laugh outside a room we've just burgled!" John gasped between bursts of laughter, "We'll wake someone up! Burglars don't giggle!"
Sherlock's laughter turned to a dry wheezing in John's ear as he, too, tried to stifle the sound. He waved his hand again, but this time John wasn't totally sure the gesture meant anything. It looked more like an attempt to shake the laughter out before one of the patrolling teachers heard them. The sight only made John laugh harder, burying his face in Sherlock's shoulder to muffle the noise.
They laughed themselves out, letting go first of each other and then of the wall. Once they had quieted, they took five long, deep breaths together, calming down and refocusing on the moment at hand. John felt more energy draining out of him with every breath, until he was almost too exhausted to stand.
"Let's go," Sherlock said quietly, eyes locked on John's. "You need your sleep. And then once you're back in your room, I'll find somewhere to wait out the morning."
John wrinkled his forehead, not sure he was following what Sherlock was talking about anymore, "Wait out the morning? Why?"
Sherlock spoke more slowly than usual, and John felt suddenly proud of his friend for noticing how exhausted he was and actually trying to do something about it. "One of the 5th years gets up early every day to study," Sherlock explained, "so I expect that she might not go back to sleep, and I can't risk going back to my room. Not if she's in the common room instead of her room, which - given the fact that her roommates were woken as suddenly as she was - seems fairly likely."
John followed enough of Sherlock's words for another of his usual waves of exasperation to roll over him. He rolled his eyes at Sherlock, head spinning a little as he did so. He decided not to try that again. "Well, fine. But you're not just going to find somewhere, Sherlock, that's depressing. Just - sleep on the couch in my common room or something. If you even sleep."
Sherlock looked confused for a minute, as if he wasn't sure what John was talking about. "Yes," he said tentatively, "That sounds practical."
John realized suddenly that Sherlock had no idea why it would be sad to be alone in the castle with nowhere to go. Well, whether Sherlock knew to feel sad or not, John would feel sad for him if he ended up wandering aimlessly around the castle for the rest of the night.
"Yeah," John said, more firmly this time, "and if anyone doesn't like it, I'll tell them you've earned it. And if they don't like that - if they don't like that - well, they can go through me." He didn't know much of anything when he was this tired, but he knew that much.
Sherlock nodded, and John was glad not to have to fight him, for once. They huddled together and Sherlock threw the invisibility blanket over them for their walk back to Gryffindor Tower together. When John started struggling with the stairs, Sherlock slipped an arm around his waist and helped him along. John was beginning to wonder if Sherlock might have actually missed him this past month. He wasn't usually this nice. He'd have to think about it, once he was awake enough to think again.
By the time they made it into the common room and reached the stairs to John's room, he was too exhausted to bother with them. "I'll just - let's both stay down here. Then if someone asks. . . then. . . we were both down here."
John knew that didn't make any sense, but Sherlock's mouth quirked into a smile anyway, "Yeah. If they ask, we were."
Sherlock dumped John onto a couch near the fire and then took the couch beside his, grabbing a book off a nearby table before sitting down, as if he didn't intend to sleep at all. John sat up and scrambled to grab one of the throw pillows from below his feet. Once he'd found one, he threw it at Sherlock's head.
"Go to sleep, you dork. 'S late."
He didn't know if Sherlock went to sleep or not, because when his head hit the pillow at the end of the couch, he was gone, sleeping as deeply as if Sherlock had never woken him up at all. His last conscious thought was that as frustrating as Sherlock could be, it was actually sort of nice to have him nearby.