"No," Sherlock Holmes said forcefully, tugging at his dark curls with twitching fingers. He was sitting (the wrong way, as per usual) on a fancy wingback chair in his study, his feet tapping an unsteady rhythm on the cushioned seat. Perched as he was on the top of the chair, John Watson almost expected him to overbalance, especially with all that manic energy flowing through him and making him practically vibrate inside his own skin…but, much like a cat, Sherlock's balance suffered no ill effect from his sour mood. If anything, it seemed to increase his agility, allowing him to assume more and more precarious positions the more his irritability grew.
John let out a weary sort of groan and dropped his head into his hands. "I'm not having a repeat of last year," he moaned, tugging at his own hair in kind. It was shaping up to be that sort of day, the kind that made him less interested in kissing his best friend and more interested in throttling him.
Every bit the fussy child, Sherlock stood up in his chair and wrapped his dressing gown tightly around him, stomping his foot against the cushion. "Do you think I relish the idea of yet another Christmas break spent with Mycroft and his pretentious friends?"
"Of course not," John sighed, standing as well and looking up at Sherlock placatingly. "Which is why I think a simple little case might be exactly the sort of thing you need. I know it's not terribly exciting, looking for a girl's lost rabbit, but she'll want Bluebell found before we head back to school, and I thought-"
"You thought! Well, there's your first mistake!" Sherlock leapt down and paced for a moment, then whirled to face John, his face contorted with a mix of annoyance and regret. "No, I don't mean that. But honestly, John! 'Oh, Holmes, I can't find Bluebell anywhere! Please, please, please, can't you help?'" He pulled a face that expressed exactly how he felt about that schoolgirl's plea before dropping back down into his seat and groaning loudly. Then, with a sudden air of excitement, he leapt up and grasped John's shoulders. "Let's play Exploding Snap."
"Not a chance!" John cried, stepping back and shaking his head vehemently.
Sherlock scowled. "Why not?"
"Because," John shouted, outraged, "you've done something to the deck! Last time we played I nearly lost my fingers!"
"You healed," Sherlock snapped, spinning his hand carelessly and dropping back into his chair once more, his legs flung over one of the arms and his head hanging down towards the ground. "A Muggle game, then. Cluedo?"
"God, no. We're never playing that again."
Sherlock frowned at him, his face turning pink from the blood rushing to his head. "I liked Cluedo," he groused. His mouth straightened into something nearing a smile. "I won last time."
"Because you cheated!" John bellowed, losing his temper entirely. "It's a Muggle game! It's literally impossible for the victim to have been murdered by a troll."
"Improbable!" Sherlock replied hotly, sliding off the chair and climbing to his feet, his curls a wreck and his shirt askew. "Not impossible, John, improbable! Once one examines the facts-"
"Hoo, hoo," called Mrs. Hudson from the doorway, holding a tea tray and beaming at John. "Hope I'm not interrupting anything." Mrs. Hudson, the poor misguided woman, still held strong hopes that John and Sherlock would "sort things out". In fact, she had discreetly mentioned as much no less than eight times since John had arrived at the Holmes manor the night before.
"Mrs. Hudson! Do you mind-" Sherlock began, spinning to give her a proper telling off, but instead he stopped and looked at her querulously. "Who's here?"
"Oh, isn't it good, when he gets going?" Mrs. Hudson cooed, flashing a wink at John and making him redden. "Go on, Sherlock dear, tell us how you knew."
Sherlock made an incredulous face and waved impatiently at the tea tray. "Three cups; not exactly a difficult deduction, was it? Now who is it? A client?" He peeked around her to the open doorway, neatening his dressing gown. "Someone with a case, I hope, and not a stupid one like the horrendous excuse for work John brought me."
Setting the tea tray down on an end table, Mrs. Hudson tutted. "Now, now, be nice, Sherlock." She straightened and smoothed her hands down the front of her blouse with a contented sigh. "Oh, it's so wonderful having you, John. You really must visit more often."
Yanking at his hair again, Sherlock groaned, "Mrs. Hudson, for the third time, who is here?"
"Oh, yes! Hmm." She considered for a moment. "I believe he said his name was Harry."
John and Sherlock exchanged looks. "Not the famous Harry?" John asked, disbelieving.
"Which one, dear? The prince? Or Potter?" Mrs. Hudson shook her head and waved her hands at them dismissively. "In either case, no, not him. Oh, goodness. I've forgotten it, now. Shall I just send him up, then?"
Because Sherlock looked positively murderous, John cleared his throat and stepped forward. "That would be lovely, Mrs. Hudson. Thank you."
"Such a sweetheart," Mrs. Hudson sighed, looking meaningfully at Sherlock. "Wouldn't it just be splendid if John was around more often?" She sighed again, quite theatrically this time, and swayed out of the room as cheerfully as she'd come in.
"That woman," Sherlock began, but John held up a finger.
"You might make yourself presentable," he said, giving Sherlock a once-over with his eyebrow raised.
Sherlock looked down at himself. "What's wrong with this?" He rolled his eyes at the look John gave him, and snapped, "Fine."
When their guest finally entered the room, the pair looked as calm and collected as befitted a pair of teenage detectives, Sherlock trussed up in a suit jacket and John looking smart in a nice new jumper he'd bought with his summer savings. Unfortunately, Sherlock entirely ruined the effect by groaning, "Merlin's sake, not another lost rabbit, I hope."
Henry Knight, who John recognized as having been a Hufflepuff from the year above (and one of Molly's friends; he'd long suspected Henry fancied her, just a little), blinked at them. "Have I missed something?"
After a brief interlude involving some frankly rude observations about Henry's love life and a short but heated reiteration of John's insistence that they take a case- any case- rather than lounging about in pyjamas and playing- or in Sherlock's case, cheating at- card games, they settled an understandably flummoxed young Knight down in the room's coziest chair, John fetched him a cup of tea, and Henry began his story.
Henry Knight's great-great-grandfather, also named Henry, purchased the Knight Bus enterprise -called Midnight Carriages, back then, the name it had held since being commissioned by the MoM in 1865- during the Muggle Second World War. At the time it was a floundering business, but Henry the eldest was a shrewd businessman and, at a time when air travel was a fearful undertaking and Muggles the world over were on high alert for peculiar behavior, he saw an opportunity to expand the small, barely known business into a Wizarding institution. In 1978, he sold the business for a bafflingly large sum of money. Since then, the Knights had lived quite comfortably in the popular Wizarding village of Ottery St. Catchpole.
Before the start of the Second Wizarding War, Henry's grandfather Michael went to school with Bill and Charlie Weasley, individuals he cited throughout his lifetime as heroes. After graduation, and a brief posting at the MoM as a record-keeper, Michael joined the war effort, and when the war was over he returned home with a new bride and a knee which never quite healed properly, where he joined the restoration efforts surrounding the Weasley's Burrow, returning the old ruins to their former glory and transforming the house into both museum and memorial. Michael loved the Burrow so much he bought it outright and performed much of the maintenance and upkeep himself. After his death, the Burrow passed on to Henry's father, James, who hired a somewhat curmudgeonly groundskeeper named Mr. Frankland. Mr. Frankland was the sole caretaker of the house now, still in residence in the attic bedroom, well-known in the community despite his homebody tendencies, and Henry thought of him almost as family.
"There is a point to this story, I assume," Sherlock said at this juncture, having already lost his jacket and undone his cuffs. He was sitting forward with his elbows on his knees, his hands dragging down his face.
Henry shifted awkwardly. "Well, yes-"
"Then please, for the love of all the Wizards who ever were and ever will be, get on with it."
"I…yes, all right," Henry stammered. Continuing, but now with more nervous glances and unsure pauses, Henry told the story of his own birth and his mother's subsequent death during childbirth. Then, with obvious discomfort, he began the story that would prove to be his entire purpose for coming to Holmes manor at all: the story of his father's murder.
Henry was quite young at the time, but he seemed to remember the event with stunning clarity. His father had helped him dress and comb his hair, and then together they'd gone out onto the meadows surrounding the Burrow, digging through the tall grass for things lost during the various attacks and vandalisms that had befallen the Burrow near the end of the war, after it had been abandoned by the Weasleys. James, Henry stated sadly, had as much love for the Burrow as his father had before him, and he was dedicated to the task of complete restoration. "It was a very foggy morning," Henry said, his eyes growing distant and slightly glassy. "In fact, it was hardly morning at all, still dark enough that the crickets were singing, and…and with the fog…I could hardly see more than a few feet around me."
"Unreliable eyewitness testimony," Sherlock sighed under his breath. "Fantastic."
Not hearing him, Henry went on: "Father set me down in the grass, and I remember fussing over how wet it was, and asking again and again if we couldn't come back later, once the sun had come out and the grass had dried. But Father wouldn't listen, he kept walking onwards, leaving me behind…" He stopped again and looked at John and Sherlock as though he'd forgotten they were there. "I…I saw something," he said warily, like he'd come to this part of the story many times before and expected a poor reaction.
Sherlock straightened. "Yes?"
"Something…unusual." Henry's eyes went dim again, his gaze settling on a spot on the rug. "A pair of eyes, glowing red through the fog. I called out- my father turned to me-" Here he stopped again, looking up and blinking away tears. "The thing came through the fog, and it- it didn't see me, you understand. I ducked down into the grass. But my father…" He didn't finish, but he didn't need to, not really. John didn't need to be a genius to know what had happened next, and Sherlock…well, he was a genius, wasn't he?
"Describe it. The thing that killed your father," Sherlock requested, his tone as imperious as ever. John contemplated giving his arm a good whack, but settled on a concerned frown instead.
Henry shook his head slowly, his pale eyes going wide, but to John's surprise he did as Sherlock bade, however quietly. "Enormous. I've never seen its equal. It was…horrible, Holmes. Beyond description."
Sherlock let out a breath and stood, pacing the space in front of the fireplace. "Yes, fine, but try to describe it, won't you? Did it move on four feet or two?"
"Four," Henry said at once.
"Good," Sherlock said, nodding. He looked at John briefly and then flashed a phony smile at Henry. "You're doing well. Now, did the beast have scales? Fur? Feathers, perhaps?"
"Fur." Henry licked his lips and nodded. "Dark, matted fur."
With a little smile, Sherlock hummed. "And red eyes, you said. Allow me to guess: sharp, pointed teeth? Ferocious claws? Did the beast snarl and drool?"
"Don't make fun of me, Holmes," Henry huffed, standing up. His face had gone a delicate shade of pink. "I know what I saw, and I'm telling you the absolute truth."
"Yes, I imagine you are," Sherlock said, dropping back into his chair and crossing his legs. "What you saw, Henry, was a werewolf under the effect of a full moon and without his usual dosage of wolfsbane potion."
Henry shook his head. "No, no, I've done a great deal of research, and the thing I saw…that was no werewolf, I'm telling you." He paused and looked at John pleadingly. "There's a legend in Ottery St. Catchpole, of a hellhound who guards the Burrow. They say it feeds on purebloods. My father…my father was a good man, and no one in my family ever allied with You-Know-Who, but…but is it possible-?"
"Of course it isn't," Sherlock sniffed. "And even if it were, you're essentially asking me to investigate a case that's been cold as long as I've been alive. Why? Why now?"
Sitting back down, Henry looked at them both solemnly. "It was easier when I was at school. To forget, I mean. But now that I've gone back home…I can't look at that house, or those meadows, without remembering-" He winced a little, and shook his head. "I don't sleep. My appetite has disappeared. Holmes, please. No one else could convince me that I didn't see what I know I saw. But if you look into it…no matter what you find, I think I'll be able to put it past me. Please. You must help me."
Sherlock tapped his fingers on the armrest, inwardly debating. Then he looked up into Henry's eyes, and shook his head. "No. Now, if you just head back down to the foyer, Mrs. Hudson will see you out-"
"Sherlock!" John cried, at the same instant that Henry gasped, "No, please, you must-"
"I will not," Sherlock said simply, crossing his arms. "I apologize, Henry, but you haven't got a case. A werewolf killed your father and left town shortly thereafter, if he was wise. If you'd like my professional advice, I'll give it to you: move." He reached over to the tea tray and shook a bell, bellowing, "Mrs. Hudson! Mrs. Hudson!"
Once Henry was gone- having cast long, pitiful looks at the pair of them the whole way to the door- John stared at Sherlock for fully a minute and a half, his foot shaking and his arms crossed. If Sherlock realized he was being glared at with such force, however, he gave no notice; he was seemingly lost in thought, his eyes darting and unfocused. Then he slapped his thighs and smiled at John charmingly. "Well," he said, "don't just sit there. Pack your things!"
"Pack my…" John's eyes narrowed in confusion. "But…where are we going?"
Sherlock rolled his eyes and hopped up from the chair, rubbing his hands together excitedly. "Ottery St. Catchpole."
"You told Henry we weren't going," John said slowly, aware that he was stating the obvious.
"Of course we're going," Sherlock said brightly, dashing to his desk and rummaging through one of the drawers. "An unsolved murder, a werewolf, and a creepy old groundskeeper? I wouldn't miss that for the world!" He pulled a pair of ancient-looking spectacles out and examined them with a little frown. "They'll do," he said to himself, tucking them into his pocket. Then, to John, "Well, what are you waiting for? You are going, I assume. That rubbish they print in the Prophet doesn't write itself."
Despite himself, John grinned. "All right, but one question. Why'd you tell Henry we wouldn't take the case?"
It was Sherlock's turn to smile, though his was a touch more secretive than John's. "Didn't want him trying to tag along on our investigation, did we?"