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The Witch's Heart

By Magicbunni

Adventure / Mystery

Chapter 1



In the winter of his 17th year, Sherlock Holmes had already been in Cambridge for eight months. He should have been in upper sixths – year 13. What Sherlock never bothered telling anyone was that he'd turned 17 in July – meaning he had actually arrived at the University of Cambridge at 16, year 12, or lower sixths, if you asked his parents. Sherlock had thought the fact these other students walked these stately, old grounds with him meant they could do the math. Cambridge was proving him a dreamer.

His young age was yet another reason why, since he'd come here, he'd tried not to stand out. A few short months, and everything had changed. Lately, Sherlock had come to expect, and dread, there would be some publicity around him. It was augmented by the University of Cambridge official website and newspaper, which had had a large role to play in his rise to uncomfortable prominence, but he'd also been on local morning news twice. Hellish. His growing renown spanned campus and Cambridge now, and reached its skeleton fingers like the Ghost of Christmas Past, toward London itself, matched only by his notoriety in small circles occupied by angry staff, members of various Faculty boards, and Deans of Colleges, ergo his ongoing dramas with Regent House. Dull.

He'd promised father there would be no more surprises.

In that regard, today had been… unpleasant. Sherlock stared at his mobile phone blankly, which was simply how he stared at things, really. But the gears inside his head spun faster and hotter. He also slowed on the winter walk from West Road Concert Hall to King's College. He had to scan the News and Announcements section for the Faculty of Music twice for meaning to penetrate his strong dismay. He didn't know why he bothered, though. He'd already seen the local papers.

On the heels of his recordings of Violin Sonata in G minor, Op. 1 No. 10 'Didone abbandonata': Allegro comodo, among other distinguished works, illustrious Cambridge luminary Sherlock Holmes will lead the University of Cambridge Philharmonic Orchestra, playing selections from Paganini, Pachelbel, Dvorak, and Vivaldi during Midwinter Fest….

Now what would Sir Lockton make of this?

If only he could know. Then he wouldn't have to feel so….

Nothing made it real like seeing the announcement in his own Faculty's news. Good news, in a newspaper, could be bad news for him… unknowable news. His father wanted less from him… not more. It was a difficult thing to explain, but that didn't prevent it being true. So Sherlock read this and agonized. He turned the puzzles in his head. His inscrutable father. This news. His tenure here was supposed to be about intermingling, getting on with the flock, learning the proper means of quiet Holmes family power.

He was rapidly learning slippery slopes made one seasick.

Prior, his only real involvement with UCPO was a short stint with Baby – the University of Cambridge Philharmonia – during midsummer in order to get on the good books of the Dean of Arts. How had he gotten roped into this? Well, by smoking in the King's College Chapel to get out of the rain, something Sherlock thought eminently logical. Buildings were made for human shelter. Failing in that, he became unimpressed with their existence. Aside from which, any place that featured rampant dragons as a decorative feature should be disposed to smoke. Beyond sleeping through a few maths, breaking out a solitary car window, getting into the odd inconsequential disagreement, and calling a professor a crazy ponce, he'd been a cherub for eight months. To some extent. But did anyone ever ask if he had good reasons for the things he did?

For instance, at the moment, as he stood in the slowly falling snow, his feet freezing in shoes not meant for such hardship, he strongly considered pitching his violin into the Cam. It was well past the curfew – not for Cambridge, of course, but for him. But he'd been working on a daintily tonal piece of Sibelius. And thinking. No chance any Master or Dean would follow that rationale. Thinking? Seven hours of practice after a full day of school, and he'd be shouted at for seven more if he was caught coming in late. Not something to fear, but something to be mindful of.

He looked at the Cam. His breath puffed up around him as he noted, "Chuck violin in the river…. That is definitely something I should do." He trotted off the path through fresh snow and would have wagged his tail if he'd had one.

However, as he reached the banks of the river, he'd again thought of the sheer age of the instrument. But that paled beside the unspoken fact his father had gotten this violin for him – a passable instrument by luthier Gennaro Gagliano, the second son, for Lockton Holmes' equally passable second son. Still, he gripped the violin case. Snow melted in his hair as Sherlock stared into the Cam.

He cocked his head a little. It was too early in the winter for the Cam to be frozen. Given that it froze infrequently to begin with that flash of white wasn't likely to be a hunk of ice.

What is that?

Sherlock jogged closer the water, in spite of the fact his shoes would have no kind of traction, and he'd be in for a dunking if he slipped.

White… again. Down by Clare Bridge. He sped up. So did his thoughts.

White.

Narrow. Floating.

Moving sluggishly in the current.

If he didn't hurry, it would pass from sight without his ever discovering if he was right about what it was. And… by now, he had a terrible suspicion what that would be. His steps squelched in the frosty clods near the river's edge, but there was no need to run anymore. He stood, instead, with his violin swinging at his side, strapped across the heaving billows of a chest that gusted steam, the visible contrails of his mental activity.

Oh hell.

Sherlock left the violin on the bank and edged into blisteringly cold water. Much as it hurt, tore his breaths into ragged gasps, and made him shrink, he went in until he could reach an arm and snag the coat that came close to floating by like an unseen swan.

White bomber jacket. Faux fur ruff.

Dark gold hair, and Caucasian – hard to tell the age.

Face down. Unresisting.

"Oh my God, you're dead." Sherlock breathed mist down at the back of the freezing curls on that bobbing head. "What the hell happened to you tonight? How did you get this way?"

It was hard, in the dark and obscuring water, to tell the gender. God the bite of the river hurt. He pulled the body back to shore and up onto the bank where he could turn it for a better look. The skin was like… seal blubber; looked plastic; was blue.

Good Lord. Sherlock crabbed up the embankment on his bottom, flicking snow in every direction. His mind couldn't clear out the image, which seemed to sink into everything from his comfortable morning bed sheets, to his unsatisfying late-evening sheet music. Maybe that was because he'd never seen a drown-victim before. Horrible. Sherlock clawed up out of the snow and told himself to calm down. He clapped his hands over his face to cool it.

His heart began to slow.

Holmes looked into the clouded sclera of the dead boy and said, "I… can't be caught here."

But then didn't move a muscle. Finally, the cold drove him to decide, and Sherlock stepped slowly toward the boy. "Who are you?" He crouched beside the body, bit the middle finger of his black leather glove, and touched the fur collar of the dead boy's coat.

Scratch faux.

Rabbit fur collar.

He glanced down at the young man's gloved hands and saw they turned at the cuff to show more rabbit fur. His head tipped.

Who wears white gloves?

If it hadn't been for the falling snow and dropping temperature, now that it was heading for 2 AM, Sherlock felt he couldn't have brought himself to do what he did next, which was to stick his hands in the dead boy's coat pockets. Cambridge photo ID. He was from Trinity College, just a bridge past Clare. Involuntarily, Sherlock glanced in that direction, suddenly spooked by the idea someone might come whistling along the Backs to race down and drown him too. But he shook himself, because that was stupid. Instead of leaving, he made himself turn the ID over in his hands.

Daniel Farrar.

"Hello, Daniel. You're officially having a worse night than mine."

Sherlock next found the key card to get into Trinity, and the keys to the boy's room. Other than that, there were some saturated tissues, wet quid, sodden gum, and a soggy folded paper with phone numbers. The wind was getting bitter. Sherlock shook his hands to get feeling back in them and put the paper with the numbers on it into the boy's pockets with the rest of the rubbish, but kept the pass card and the room keys in his hands.

Drowned. Why are you drowned?

Maybe he was in shock? That must have been it. He felt horribly steady looking over the dead boy. It was as if he were a video camera scanning the scene. He took note of the white snow boots curiously – stylish, but large. "Because he doesn't like cold and he was to be out for a while… that's why he's all zipped up and wearing rabbit fur."

Sherlock, in contrast, was in a waterproofed gray Burberry coat – open to the elements – a tailored suit, designer shoes, and driving gloves. His head was uncovered, a corona of wet brown waves and water-tightened curls… but this guy. No…. He should have had a hat on: a white hat to go with the gloves; fur lined. Daniel Farrar was too perfect and meticulously detailed. Even his bootlaces were pale camel colour. He was far too well coordinated to go without one.

Hair is in waves.

Flattened with upswept curls beside ears.

Daniel Farrar's hair… unless he missed his guess… still had telltale signs of there having been a hat involved at some point not long before this calamity.

Missing hat.

"Where'd that go?" Sherlock said, and noticed that his teeth had begun to chatter. He shuddered. That was his body trying to generate heat. Holmes breathed into his gloved hands, looked up along the Backs – the long lawn behind the Colleges – and shivered. Odds of finding a white hat in a snow storm before hypothermia sets in: nil. It was setting in now. And what the hell was he doing anyway? He wasn't the bloody Cambridgeshire Constabulary! He was a half-arsed student concert violinist, if he didn't get himself thrown out of uni. Sherlock crouched down and returned the remaining items into the boy's pockets.

"Sorry, mate. You aren't my affair." He said, quite certain, by now, that the numbness he felt in every inch of his flesh had somehow gouged its icicle fingers into his brain. He'd seen movies and telly. Why wasn't he running away? Why wasn't he horrified? But he just stood and watched the snow come down to cover Daniel. Apart from the initial panic he'd felt, his median response was… curiosity. It lit him up against the cold. What happened?

That decided it. Sherlock bent down and took back the room keys, which he pocketed. Then he picked up the violin case and started up the banks of the Cam river toward King's College and his, thank God, toasty en-suite.

Hot water sluiced down his spine, over the high, tight mounds of his bottom, and swept all the way down to his cold feet. When he raised his head, it slicked his face and repeated the process across the front of his body.

Holy God. Dead boy outside.

What to do?

Right now, no one knew he'd broken curfew.

When he stepped out of the shower, it was directly into the towels he'd been heating. His skin seemed to burn, violently, where it had been exposed to the river water, which was just about the level of his navel, really. He dried off and set the electric kettle in his room to boiling. But instead of getting into his robe, he toweled off his hair and began to select a suit. This promised that his night wasn't over.

He dressed hurriedly, finishing up before the kettle had gone off. Then he burrowed into the back of his walk-in clothes closet to find the thick, long Burberry coat that Emeline had sent him. It had a hood, and that would help against the damp hair.

By the time the boiling kettle clicked itself off, Sherlock was out through the door again. He'd opted for dress boots this time. And thick socks. Bloody Cam river! It had been bad enough to track through the snow to the path again. Even with the path relatively clear, that would leave prints. But he'd also had to take off his mucky shoes. That had been a cold run.

Now the snow was beginning to cover all signs of traffic.

He puffed mist on his run down along the Backs to Trinity College. A glance told him that Daniel was still there, stiffening on the riverbank. He opened a door which wasn't barred and hurried inside.

The Chapel at Trinity dated back to the reign of Queen Mary. However, it had been a work in progress until Queen Elizabeth had finished it off in 1567. Inside, it was a medley of Tudor, Queen Anne, and King George design. More importantly, he knew where there was a working telephone accessible to anyone with very little effort, in fact. He had only to pick one lock – which he had gotten very much faster at, lately, then he was standing in a cordial enough darkened office trying to figure who to call about this matter?

The Vice-Chancellor seemed a good bet. Or the Master of Trinity College.

Only his fingers chose 999.

"Emergency. Which service?"

Sherlock nodded. "Police."

The woman on the line read a number and transferred him. Sherlock fiddled with the cord on the phone and wondered if this emergency authority had the Enhanced Information Service for Emergency Calls. She seemed to. She hadn't asked his location or phone number to pass along. He stayed on the line, his eyes on a beautiful King Edward mantle clock.

Suddenly there was a new woman, her voice, sharper. "Police. What's your emergency?"

"There's a dead boy on the lawn I just fished from the Cam river." He replied.

"A dead boy?" She repeated, an action for which Sherlock didn't see any need.

"Listen closely," he told her in a quiet tone. "There is a dead boy on the banks of the Cam, University of Cambridge – the Backs. He's between Clare and King's College."

She asked. "Do you know what happened?"

"He drowned." Sherlock's lips compressed. Well, wasn't that a stupid assumption? He might have drowned. He might have had a fatal heart attack.

"Did you witness this?"

"No," Sherlock glanced at the clock. "I had nothing to do with it. I found him. I'm asking you to send someone out here to take a look at him, find out why he's dead."

"And what's your name?"

"I don't have to tell you that."

"Okay, just stay on the phone with me until police arrive."

Sherlock hung up and sucked air in the darkness. He turned down the phone's ringer with buttons, until it sounded no louder than the purr of a cat when the police dialled back. Dead bodies were hard on the nerves, for sure. Coming out of the Chapel, he walked slowly through Trinity. He felt it was quite possible that he was experiencing some kind of stress reaction. He purposefully didn't push himself to travel any faster.

It took him a while before he was able to find Daniel Farrar's room, and it was sadly ironic that he could sit in the darkened window and look down on the wintery river below. Through the snowfall, he could see Daniel stretched on the river bank. Sherlock removed his coat and boots and curled up on the bed with Daniel's laptop – the real reason he'd come here.

Sherlock had already been all over the room thrice. Gloves on, of course. He had this theory, and had had it since he'd first been aware of people, or of himself, he wasn't sure of the difference. He believed everything a person does expresses everything a person is – at least inside the strictures of the society that confined them – a hypothesis he considered the logical extension of I think, therefore, I am. That 'thinking' set the parameters for human being and doing seemed a natural conclusion to him. To other people, it was a collection of farfetched and bizarre irrelevancies coming from the mind of a lazy and pointless child. That being the exact expression he'd heard from the last person he'd used his techniques to decode – the Vice Chancellor. A sure sign, at that moment, Sherlock had both been right in his deduction… and that he should always, always work alone.

Of course, it occurred to him, suddenly, when you worked with the dead, you always had a silent partner whose lips were sealed. Unlike the living, they wanted to help. Daniel certainly wasn't going to tell his secrets to the police. The problem was, even if he tried, Sherlock bet the Constabulary wouldn't 'hear' him. They wouldn't understand anything. That was his experience.

Daniel was a careful, slightly compulsive person. It was there in the layout of his room.

Coasters on every surface.

Coasters must be approximately one thumb-length from the edge of the surface.

Coasters must match and must be square.

Surfaces must be clean and orderly.

Vacuum left out in room – frequent use.

Owns three kinds of shammies. Three.

Paucity of circular objects – teacup by bedside, square.

Sherlock's theory said that Daniel's password would likely be an extension of the same thinking that had shaped his bedroom. It would likely be alphanumerical, no zeros, no open letters, and it would be a set within square brackets. Daniel was also fashion-conscious. Brand name labels dominated his room, just as they did Sherlock's, though, in Sherlock's case, that was more a function of habit and his Parisian mother's – Emeline's – not-infrequent care packages. She was a fashion doyenne, that woman. But for Daniel, it was even more targeted. Every scrap seemed to get him a little further up the ladder. His clothes closet was layered from least notable to most notable brand. Sherlock's closet was sorted according to 'what I like best this month'. And colour.

He glanced over the books on the shelves. The books on Daniel's desk likely represented his last classes. Ever. It turned out. He had coursework due in them. The notepad beside his Linguistics tome had a half-written quote on its face: …be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat you as something of a dirty joke. That's their natural and first weapon.

True.

Lined up on the top of the desk, however, were tags from the Trinity College Giving Tree that Sherlock had seen in the lobby. Daniel had selected seven of them. On them were the first names and wishes of seven children.

Proud. Humble origins.

Studying the classics.

Several vacations to Egypt to see ruins.

Learning to read two Semitic languages.

Wanted to be a translator, interpreter.

Smart and guarded.

Obsessedwith famous figures.

Kind. Animal lover.

Caring. Generous to others.

Driven.

Okay. Okay. Sherlock touched the keys one last time. He typed [Iwillmkit]. Suddenly, he was in. He heaved a relieved sigh and muttered, "Thank you, Daniel." He packed up the laptop in its slim case and left with it; technically, a theft. Well… unless you were about to risk your life to find out what had become of Daniel, then it was more like a bonus.

The cold outside was no less cold, but Sherlock felt hot. He felt almost as if he had blood of magma coursing around a hard, spinning inner core. He couldn't sleep in this state. Instead of the kettle, he fired up the fancy coffee-maker his brother had sent him. It made lattes, caffè breves, all sorts of fancy. But the only breve Sherlock was interested in was a double whole note. He made the coffee black, and tipped in about… two sugars? Two seemed just right.

He logged in as Daniel again and settled in his favourite chair, a bit of an unctuous leather affair by some designer or other in Sweden. All that mattered was it was good for thinking in for long periods. He stayed as put, reading… until he fell asleep.

He might have gone through classes, except for the sudden and violent dream. He jerked awake and fumbled to catch the laptop. Because he'd stood up. His chest worked like a billows. Was it possible to have a trauma that afflicted your dreams and left your conscious mind to business as usual?

In the dream he'd pulled Daniel from the water again, but it had taken incredible strength as if there were hands holding him underneath the surface. Sherlock had refused to near their icy grip. But that hadn't bothered him. It had been getting the body ashore and hearing a telltale hiss, like sand moving over sand, rapidly, building force. Before his eyes, Daniel had disintegrated. His body had blown outward – salt on the snow.

Awake, he didn't know why he found this frightening. Asleep, he simply hadn't expected it.

Sherlock heaved a heavy, settling gust of breath. His coffee-maker turned on with a beep and began brewing. He'd jumped. Everything was normal. And didn't he wish he'd had the laptop's insights by the time he'd found the body? He closed it up and put the laptop away in his bedside safe.

After he was presentable, Sherlock's first act was not to suffer the slings and arrows of breakfast in King's College Dining Hall – a room that looked like a giant antique wedding cake would, if it could eat you – rather it was to head to Trinity and pass through Daniel's floor. He walked the watery slanting sunlight on his way, seemingly, to the next span of halls. It was innocent enough. The door to Farrar's room was open, police milled inside, with one standing out in the hall.

Roughly 20 students stood in knots, some of them crying, others comforting.

"What's on here?" he asked a woebegone young woman.

She scowled at him and turned away. Ah. She must know him then. Sherlock moved on a little through the sobbing host.

He tried the next student on. "What's happened?"

"Suicide," the red-cheeked young man said wanly. The taller boy scrubbed his morning stubble and looked straight through Sherlock Holmes as if he were a wraith. The people gathered here were Daniel's personal friends. The ones closest the police were his closest friends. Out here, stood the rest. But they were all direct friends and sure to be deeply impacted by the death. The boy before Holmes droned, "No one saw it coming."

Not even Daniel. Sherlock told himself as he walked on. No sign of depression in anything that Farrar had been writing, not even in his Journal, as late as the evening of his death. And why endure the discomfort of icy water? Dying that way was a gamble… unless he'd factored hypothermia. But there was a lot of prolonged hell to endure before that finally made him feel hot enough to take off his coat and die. Daniel Farrar, if he'd wanted to go, wouldn't have left any doors open. And he wouldn't have taken off his favourite coat. In fact, he'd have been dressed to the nines, and left a note behind him, being a considerate person when it came to friends and family.

But he'd died in jeans that were further down the pile, as his closet went.

It wasn't suicide.

The salt flitted through Sherlock's mind again. Creepy image. He dismissed it with a shake of his head. He had to get over to West Road Concert Hall as quickly as possible. As fascinating as Daniel's unexpected demise – not a suicide, possibly an accident – was, there was the scrappy reality of Sherlock Holmes' obligations to deal with.



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