Dean heard the door slot rattle, but ignored it in favor of looking over the glass dagger Bobby gave him when he arrived in England. “We ain’t in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. The monsters we get here ain’t nothing like what you saw in the States. If I say jump, you don’t ask how high, you just hop till I say stop. Got that? Good. Here.”
Dean pushed the blade into its sheath and stretched. When he settled back, Sammy stood in the door. “You have mail,” he said in a bewildered tone, “and it’s...fancy.” He held up a thick, yellowish envelope. “Has a seal, even, and says ‘to Mister D. Winchester’ like you’re important or something.”
Dean gave a derisive snort. He might be the oldest Winchester and a Hunter to boot, but at eleven and a half he knew he could hardly be called important. “It’s probably a scam, dude. Inheritance vultures or something.” And wasn’t that just the greatest joke of the century? Laugh it up, chuckleheads. “Just toss it already.”
“Can I open it?” Sammy’s fingers hovered expectantly, but he waited until he got an apathetic shrug before snapping the wax.
Dean’s attention returned to the array of weaponry before him, the strange incident already forgotten. He hummed a snatch of Zeppelin’s Communication Breakdown as he reached for a certain shotgun he always saved for last. Getting that one to London had been, as Bobby put it, 'a real pain in the ass.' Dean could hardly leave it behind, however, and despite his kvetching, the older Hunter had understood why. Dean's chest gave a twinge, but he pushed the unwelcome feeling away.
“Hey, jerk.” Sam’s voice rose a full octave mid-phrase, which drew Dean back to the present with a jolt. He looked up to find his brother staring at the papers -was that parchment? - in his hand. “Listen to this. ‘Dear Mister Winchester,’” Sam took a breath, “'We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment. Term begins-'”
“Give it here.” Dean lurched forward and snatched the letter from Sam’s grasp, scanning the handwritten cursive with rising panic. “Bobby!” So what if his voice seemed a little shrill? This was a frigging emergency. “Bobby! ”
Bobby stuck his head out the door of his study, a scowl on his face. Whatever he’d been about to say, he swallowed it when Dean slammed the papers against his chest with all the power of his small body. “Read it.”
“I’m guessing this ain’t no letter from Dear Abby,” Bobby commented as he glanced down. The Hunter read the letter twice before pouring himself a drink from the side table with one hand, then read it again as he downed the amber liquid. The third time he was slower, scanning each page with his brows drawn together.
Dean watched him, practically vibrating with nerves and curiosity, until he couldn’t take the silence anymore. “Is it real?” he demanded. “Does some psycho coven think I’m a frigging witch?"
“I think you’d be a wizard,” Sammy interjected, head tilted to the side as he squinted at Dean. “Because you’re-” he cut off when Dean scowled. “What?”
“How about I’m neither because this is clearly a colossal joke, Sammy?” Dean snapped. He reached for the letter, but Bobby pulled it out of his reach. “Bobby, come on. Help me out here.”
“I’m just going to check on a few things,” Bobby said after another too-long silence. He tucked the letter into his pocket, ignoring Dean's indignant squawk. “You sit tight, check the hex bags, and don’t let a damn soul in until I get back.” With that their guardian left Dean alone with his wide-eyed little brother, a table of weapons that suddenly felt useless, and a cold shiver up his spine.
When Bobby returned, he sat on the couch with his head between his hands and didn’t say a word. After a moment of hesitation, Dean brought him a tumbler and the bottle of Jamieson from the side table. The Hunter didn’t twitch.
Sam watched in silence, but Dean could see the questions brewing. He bit back the urge to tell his brother to go away; Sammy was only seven and really didn’t know any better. Dean just wasn’t prepared to deal with it all. Not now, not while Bobby smelled like Dad on a bad night and looked like he’d been hit by a truck. Not when Dean had burned three more letters while Bobby was out.
“Not now,” he hissed finally, grabbing Sam’s wrist and yanking him down the hall.
“No. ” Sam gave him a wounded look and Dean released him with a sigh. “It won’t do any good tonight,” Dean explained as he led the way toward the kitchen.
“Why not? You’re worried-”
“I’m not worried,” Dean snarled, already beyond tired of the conversation. “Whatever he learned, it’s fine. I’m fine, Sammy!”
“If you say so.”
Dean could have cured a ham with the salt in that simple statement, but he opted to ignore it in favor of snatching a pot from its hook above the stove. Whatever else happened, Sammy needed to eat, and Dean always found calm in the simple task of chopping vegetables and measuring ingredients.
He hummed a snatch of a song without realizing it as he adjusted the burner and dumped the mess of onions and celery into a frying pan. The next thing he knew Sam had dug a spoon out of the drawer. “Is this the real life, or is this just fantasyyyy,” Sam crooned into the utensil. “Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality-" They made it through that monster of a song together, off-key and laughing at each other when they flubbed the lyrics, and moved on to We Are the Champions without pause. By the time Dean dropped two plates of spaghetti on the table and replaced Sam’s spoon with a fork, he had nearly forgotten ‘Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.’
Footsteps in the hall pulled him back, however. Bobby entered the kitchen looking a little better than he had, though still more tired than anyone had any business being. Dean took one look at him and pointed to the covered plate on the back burner. Bobby retrieved it and sat across from them.
“I couldn’t find much,” he said without preamble, “but from what I could find...you are in one hell of a mess, Dean.”
“Sir?” Dean wet his lips and focused on his breathing. Never show’em you’re scared, boy.
“This Hogwarts ...damn ridiculous name.” Bobby pushed the spaghetti around on his plate without actually eating anything. “They keep their secrets locked up tighter’n King Midas’ vault, but I talked to a friend down at the shop and she said it’s real enough. They take kids and train’em. From what she’s sussed out, it’s a seven year program, thereabouts, like high school for magic users.”
“Seven years?” Sam asked, pulling his knees up beneath him so he could lean over the table to peer at Bobby. “That doesn’t seem very long. I thought witchcraft took decades.” Like that was what mattered right then. Dean barely overcame the urge to smack his brother upside the head.
“Witchcraft don’t come one-size-fits all, kid. This one’s less like the Morrighan and more like pumpkin juice, wands, and broomstick sports. No less dangerous for the trappings, though.”
“That’s just peachy.” Dean stabbed at a chunk of sausage on his plate so hard his fork screeched across the porcelain. “What do we do to stop’em? I’m no witch. Or wizard,” he added, shooting Sam a withering glare.
“We don’t, far as I can tell.” Bobby finally took a bite, which meant Dean could only gape at him while the older man chewed and swallowed. “I told you things are different here. The lore is clear that witches have their own societies, but this...this ain’t just a new can of worms, it’s a whole galaxy of problems. They have their own frigging ministry and laws about magic using. They’re human, so salt’s just a mineral for them. Hex bags might tickle’em, or maybe have no effect. And me and Sally couldn’t find a thing in the lore about protection sigils that worked, neither.”
“So...You’re gonna give up on me because of a bunch of freaks with a frigging Halloween fixation.” Dean said. “They take me to this stupid school whether I want to or not, and just like that, I really am everything Dad’s ever hated?” He set his jaw to keep it from trembling, but he couldn’t hide the quaver in his voice.
“Dean.” Bobby set his fork down. “We’re not giving up on you, son. We’ll find-”
Bobby’s gruff voice was unbearably kind, given he could offer no factual reassurance. Dean shoved his chair back and barreled out of the room without a backward glance. He climbed the stairs two at a time, dashed through the library, and scrambled the ladder into the attic. Once there he let the trap door slam shut behind him without care for the noise.
Darkness enveloped him; too late, Dean realized he had forgotten to bring a flashlight.
He scrambled forward anyway, feeling with his feet and hands until he found the pile of pillows and blankets he and Sammy had gathered a few weeks prior. He crawled into it and curled up, pulling a musty comforter over his head. The last time a blanket had protected him from monsters, Mary had been the ‘monster’ and the attack had been tickles. Just for tonight, however, he could pretend the thing shielded him.
Thought and time drifted in the warm cocoon, warping beyond recognition. He could hear muffled voices downstairs and the occasional creaking floorboard. Then it went quiet, save for the regular chiming of the old grandfather clock.
Some freak coven thinks I’m a witch. Or a wizard or whatever.
Bobby can’t stop them, whatever he says.
I’m not a monster.
“I’m not a frigging monster!” Dean punched the floor through the blankets, then sat upright with a frustrated grunt when pain burst up his arm. He curled around his aching knuckles with a curse, but the hurt produced an odd sort of clarity. His mind still streamed in a mad dash from thing to thing, but now it felt a little more coherent. There was a thought there, something important; he just had to let it form. Sometime between the twelve chimes of midnight and the single chime that marked half after, the solution finally came to Dean in all its beautiful simplicity.
“Dad, you wouldn’t believe the job I’m about to take,” he whispered as he crawled back to the ladder. “I’ll make you real proud. I swear.”