John makes his way to the Great Hall trying not to feel too downhearted. The beginning of fifth year has so far not been great: seeing Sherlock has churned up feelings that he doesn't want to examine too closely and which hadn't put him in the best of moods. Then his meeting with the head of Gryffindor had just been...well, shitty.
"I understand your desire to be back with your friends John, but you must understand that you attacked a fellow student in the midst of one of your nightmares. Now, whilst your Healers tell me you're improving they cannot guarantee that you won't relapse."
Arguing, John had realised, would have been pointless. The housemistress had been sympathetic but stern. It was an important year for everyone of his age at Hogwarts: they needed no distractions, least of all from one of their friends waking them up every night, screaming at things that weren't really there. John supposes he should just consider this as another case of 'taking one for the team' rather than a slide backwards.
Entering the Hall, Mike and Sarah wave to him from the Gryffindor table, indicating they've saved him a seat for the beginning of term assembly and house placement business. John finds himself grinning at the collected group of first years, all in slightly too big robes. Some are trying to affect nonchalance, others are simply too excited to hide it. A pang of nostalgia takes John back to his first day, nervous despite his parent's reassurances he'd hidden it under a layer of bravado and had been thrilled to be placed in Gryffindor.
As usual the pantomime with the Sorting Hat had to take place before any other business.††It was a fairly long process, especially because the Hat seemed to get hammier with each passing year. John wonders if it's started reading books on acting method or something. At one point it sounded like it was going to launch into the whole 'To be or not to be' spiel. Eventually all the younglings have been sorted and are sitting at their brand new house tables.
The headmaster then takes the opportunity to welcome everyone to Hogwarts and starts his yearly pre-term lecture. The general gist of it never changes: don't piss off your teachers, try not to do anything terrible to yourself with your wand. The headmaster doesn't bring up what the staff and Ministry of Magic have universally decided to call 'Last year's unpleasantness'. He certainly doesn't mention Moriarty. No one mentions him by name.
John forces his thoughts away from 'Last year's unpleasantness' (God, even he's doing it now) and finds his attention drawn back to the headmaster's speech, which is winding up. As usual, it ends with the appointment of the Head Boy and Head Girl as well as the newly chosen fifth year Prefects.
Only Greg Lestrade looks surprised when he's named head boy, a look of shocked pleasure passing over his handsome face as he stands to shake hands with the headmaster. Tori Gregson, a seventh year Ravenclaw is picked as head girl and she grins wide and actually hugs the head master, which makes him rather flustered.
John's still grinning with pleased pride over Greg's head boy appointment as they've been fairly tight since the incident, even spending a few days at each other's houses during the summer break and his mate looks pretty damn chuffed. Greg deserves the accolade. He's not really listening as the head master makes his next round of announcements and is a bit surprised when he comes back to earth and finds pretty much everyone in sight staring at him.
Mike elbows him in the ribs, none too gently.
"John, he's just said your name, idiot." Mike hisses through the side of his mouth.
"You're being made Prefect, dickhead!"
"Would you care to join us, Mr Watson?" calls the headmaster, not unkindly.
John feels distinctly uneasy as he walks up to the dais, despite the genuine applause rippling across the room. He shakes hands with the headmaster and then sits down on one of the chairs provided, which is fortunately next to Greg.
"Greg, what the shit just happened?"John asks, sotto voce.
Greg chuckles. "You, my friend, were just given the dubious honour of becoming a Prefect. Which means lots of thankless extracurricular work, a myriad of new responsibilities and a licence for most of the younger kids to fear and hate you."
"Brilliant...anything good about it?"
"Well, you also get a shiny badge!" Greg quips ,then pats John on the shoulder. "Don't look so aghast, mate, it's actually pretty fun and looks good when you're applying for jobs and stuff, y'know, once you've left school."
"Right." John's not convinced, but before he can say anything else to Greg the headmaster is announcing that Sally Donovan has also been made a Gryffindor prefect, so John can lose himself again in applauding a friend rather than focus on the bubble of worry forming in his mind.
Sally's much savvier than John, actually recognising her own name for a start and leaping up to take her turn to shake the headmaster's hand. She grins as she sits down next to John.
"Well done, Sally!" Greg stage whispers.
"Yeah, you really deserve it." John says. Because Sally does deserve it, she's the only reason the Gryffindor Quidditch team has kept its head above water since John††was unable to play and she's always been a hard worker. There are no doubts in John's mind that she'll make a great Prefect.
"So do you, John." Sally says, poking him in the arm.††There's something oddly comforting about Sally's complete aversion to coddling. While other people tend to make allowances or become overly solicitous to John, Sally is the same as ever. He wishes other people would take a leaf out of her book.
He realises this line of thought is rather uncharitable, particularly towards Sarah, who has stood by him throughout his illness and ongoing rehabilitation. But it feels like every time she looks at him with earnest sympathy he's just reminded of how he isn't the person he once was. And he's starting to resent it. He looks towards her now and she's smiling but can see the worry in her eyes, echoing that which has started in his mind.
"Can he actually handle this?" is the question in her expression. John wishes that she'd stop seeing him as an invalid, but there really is nothing he can do about that except show that he isn't one.
"John. They wouldn't have picked you if they thought you couldn't handle it." Greg seems to have picked upon John's nervousness. John thinks about it: can he ferry first years around, tell people what to do and patrol corridors after hours? Of course he can. He survived a Demontor attack and torture. First years can'tbe much worse than that.
John grins "Yeah, I know."
The rest of the Prefects are announced, Molly Hooper making one of the Ravenclaw pair. Sebastain Wilkes is one of the Slytherin ones, and John can't help wondering who his parents bribed to make that happen.
Glancing over to the Slytherin table from which the††majority of the lacklustre applause for Wilkes is emanating††John catches another glimpse of Sherlock, whose dark head is already bent over a book, completely oblivious to what's happening. Of course Sherlock chooses that moment to look up and spots John looking at him.
For a moment they are caught in each other's gaze and it's different to how it had been in the corridor earlier. Sherlock's mouth curls up ever so slightly at the edges, like he's pleased for John's new role. Or perhaps he's mocking John for his apparent sense of duty. John can't work it out and hates how mixed up he feels, how much he can't get passed Sherlock Holmes even though that's what this year was meant to be about: moving on.
Resolutely John looks away.
John has been made Prefect and Sherlock can't help the little burst of joy that ignites in his chest as John takes his place next to Gregory Lestrade on the stage. He also can't help the decidedly bitter roil of something green eyed and nasty in his stomach as the pair of them start whispering.
The phrase 'you made your bed now lie in it' is one that Sherlock has thought about having tattooed to the inside of his eyelids so he doesn't forget himself. It was his decision to create a gulf between himself and John and for perfectly good reasons. He needs to just...leave it.
He forces his attention back to his book and reads about ptomaine poisoning until the odd, prickling awareness of someone's gaze distracts him. John is watching him from across the room and as their eyes lock Sherlock knows this year, these next few years, are going to be damned difficult. He doesn't want to be hostile towards John, though, he never wants to be that, he'd rather just be distant. So he offers John a small smile, trying to convey that he's pleased for the other boy.
John looks...confused. Sherlock suspects that he doubts the genuineness of the smile, which is unsurprising.
It had been a half formed thought in Sherlock's mind for months, a deduction he hadn't wanted to take its conclusion because he's afraid of the result. But when he'd seen John in the corridor earlier that day he'd known, without a doubt:
John hasn't read the letter. John probably doesn't even know there was a letter. John does not understand why Sherlock no longer speaks to him.
He's not even sure it's wise to be thinking about this in the middle of an assembly because he worries he might not be able to stop his emotional response to it. For once, Sherlock is at a loss as to what to do. Should he try and speak to John, explain himself? Or is better to let the distance between them remain, better for John to hate him than understand?
A rather involuntary noise bursts from Sherlock's unwilling mouth. In his peripheral vision Sherlock sees the person next to him throw him an odd glance and shift down the bench slightly, away from Sherlock.
The thought of John hating him... hurts. The look John had given him earlier had been cold, certainly rather detached. But not hateful, not in the same way most of Sherlock's housemates are, not cruel like the looks Sebastian and his friends give him whilst they hiss something vicious under their breath.
Perhaps the best Sherlock can hope for is John's indifference. Oddly, that thought hurts more, a sharp stab which steals his breath. Hate, at least, is a strong emotion. Sherlock can at least mean something to John if John hates him. If John feels nothing...
There's really only one thing for it: he's going to have to speak to John. He's going to have to try and explain himself whilst stressing that the distance between them is necessary. Sherlock nearly groans again: in the nine months since they spoke he has gotten, if anything, worse at emotional scenes without John's gentle guidance to help him through the nuances of human nature. He's going to have to handle this delicately.
Only many century's worth of upper class emotional repression at his back stop Sherlock from smashing his head onto the table in front of him with sheer frustration and anxiety.
In their new roles as Prefects John and Sally had so far shown the new Gryffindors to the Tower they will call home (by way of charming the Fat Lady, who has a rather embarrassing soft spot for John), explained to the frightened gang of Muggle Born children that there is nothing to fear from the castle ghosts and dumped the freshers into their dorms.
It's fairly safe to say the pair of them are exhausted by the time they return to the Common Room after the older Gryffindor Prefects have explained their duties on the rota (things like corridor patrol after hours, supervising visits to Hogsmede, mild disciplinary responsibilities) and have shown them the neat things, like the private Prefect's bathroom.
Sarah grins at John as he walks in and pats the empty seat next to her.
"Hello."John says as Sarah snuggles into his side. Some of her soft hair tickles irritatingly at his neck but he's too comfortable on the sofa to move.
"Hello, Mr Prefect. How was your afternoon?"
"Mmm. Tiring" John admits and then almost instantly regrets it as Sarah turns worried eyes on him.
"Are you OK, are you in pain?" she asks and John has to hold back the urge to bark that he's perfectly fine.
"No pain, just tired, Sarah. Ask Sally she's knackered too." John says, hoping his tone is pleasant.
In actual fact he feels a bit resentful towards Sarah. The whole afternoon he'd begun to feel normal again, like someone who could be trusted with something and not a pathetic convalescent. The younger kids didn't even know about John's troubles. It had been most gratifying to have people look up to him and treat him like a capable human being. And now he's back to having his every feeling of slight discomfort being analysed like he's going to slip into a catatonic state if he gets a bit out of breath.
'No', he thinks, 'you aren't being fair. You should be grateful to Sarah, she's stuck with you rather than abandoning you like. Unlike some. She's just naturally worried about you.'
Sarah nods, smiling. "I'm glad Sally made Prefect, nice to know there's someone looking out for you."
John knows she doesn't mean anything by it but that comment...grates. The idea that John needs a protector doesn't sit well with him; he doesn't like the idea that he is viewed that way, least of all by his own girlfriend.
And he's just thinking about how he's going to articulate that thought in a way that won't offend Sarah when Julia Stoner hurtles passed the window, screaming until she hits the unforgiving ground below.
It's established almost immediately that Julia Stoner, a Gryffindor student who had just entered her sixth year at Hogwarts had (jumped/fallen/been pushed) out of one of the highest rooms in Gryffindor tower. People had seen her standing on the ledge and before anyone in authority could have been notified she'd fallen (jumped/fallen/been pushed)
The room in question had been designated John Watson's ever since he'd accidentally punched Anil in the face. John hadn't had much time in his room, he'd been able to settle Ethel on her perch and pull a few things out of his trunk before he'd been dragged off to his Prefect pep talk. He'd been ruled out as having anything to do with it almost instantly, seeing as multiple witnesses placed him in the Common Room at the time of the fall.
Sherlock had ruled him out even before that. John had nothing to do with this.
Another assembly had been called almost as soon as Julia's wan and broken body had been covered with a respectful, shielding shroud and taken to the Infirmary where nothing could be done for her. Older students seemed to feel an odd sense of de ja vu, remembering Carl Powers. Remembering how foul play had been involved. By the time the assembly is over the student body is unanimous: there's another murderer loose in Hogwarts.
Sherlock can't be sure but he has a sneaking suspicion that for once the general speculations of his peers are entirely on the money. He also knows that he needs to see John's room.
If Sherlock's skills at espionage and disguises had been impressive last year, he's honed them down to an art form in the last few months. He reasons that if he's up against Moriarty he has to have all the available proficiency to try and best him.
Getting into Gryffindor Tower is actually painfully easy, all it takes is a uniform in Gryffindor colours, a little bit of flirting with the Fat Lady (with a smile which brings his dimples out) and a careful attachment to a gaggle††of Gryffindor students in the††walk across the Common Room so he doesn't stick out. He's up the steps before he knows it, faster than Elixir after a mouse.
He finds John's room easily and pushes the door open, triumphantly. No one is guarding the area, there aren't any wards up. Clearly, the staff and the Ministry Aurors think that the room wasn't important to the nature of Julia's death. Clearly, Sherlock is surrounded by idiots. It's early evening, John will spend the time before bed in the Common Room with his friends (Sherlock had seen him in his peripheral vision, comforting Sarah, but had decidedly not looked at him). Still, he should try and complete his task as quickly as possible so as to not risk discovery.
He steps into the room and almost reels with the wave of nostalgia which washes over him. John's scent hangs in the air, a pleasant mix of washing powder, mild soap and John's skin. Ethel, John's owl opens her eyes sleepily and then closes them again, clearly undisturbed by Sherlock's presence. John's clean Quidditch kit is slung over a chair, his broom leans against the desk. A poster pledging John's allegiance to Pride of Portree Quidditch team (John's father being a native of the Scottish Highlands) is pinned to the wall by John's four poster bed.
Sherlock shuts his eyes and tells himself that when he opens them again he will be able to focus on the room objectively. He counts slowly down from five in his head. Five... four... three... two...
"I was wondering when you'd turn up."
Sherlock's eyes snap open and he spins on his heel. John is leaning against the doorframe, his arms crossed over his chest. He cocks a questioning eyebrow at Sherlock, like he's waiting for an explanation.
It's fair enough really; technically John's been waiting for an explanation for nine months. If only Sherlock knew what he was meant to say.