Phil wasn’t the head of the Auror Department of the American Ministry of Magic. Sometimes he wasn’t sure that Harry Potter understood that little fact. The head of the Department was a man named Brighton. He was a good boss, a good leader, a fine Auror, and a decent statesman. He and Phil had a companionable working relationship, but they weren’t exactly friends.
It wasn’t like Phil was too far down on the ladder either, though. There was that. The O’Shaughnessy family had a long history in both the Wizarding World and the Atlantic colonies – and in New England especially. Phil was respected for his last name alone and that was a privilege that he was well aware of and tried his hardest not to abuse. He didn’t necessarily have to work to keep that privilege, but he didn’t want to lose it either. He’d seen how far some of the old families had fallen back in Britain – the Blacks were decimated, the Malfoys disgraced. Granted, that was due to being on the wrong side of a war, of believing in hatred and blood-superiority and putting all your chips in with a megalomaniac obsessed with immortality, but still, the lesson was there – if you used your privilege to oppress others or attempt to raise yourself even higher than before, you would get what was coming to you, either in this life or the next.
Which was why Phil shied away from the important titles, why he was reluctant to throw his weight around too much, or to use his name as an excuse to break the rules... he wasn’t sure Harry understood that. When Phil tried to explain it once, Harry had nodded and said that Albus Dumbledore had been the same, had been afraid of the lure of power and refused the job of Minister – and that was interesting to know, but it wasn’t quite what Phil meant. Phil wasn’t lured by power. He wasn’t fearful of what he might do should he get power. It was more that Phil believed that just because you could do something, didn’t mean that you should. Just because Phil could be the head of the Department, didn’t mean that that was what was best for the Department. Just because Phil could run for higher office, like Minister, didn’t mean that would be what was best for the Wizarding colonies, the Ministry, or himself. Just because Phil could break the rules and get away with it, didn’t mean that he should.
Phil understood, though, that Harry was shaped by the war. Harry was an Auror, because he’d never given himself a chance to consider anything else, because Harry had chosen a career at a point in his life when he desperately needed to be an Auror. Harry broke the rules as he saw fit, because he grew up in a time and place in which following the rules would get him killed; in which the rule-makers were, if not in league with, than at least complacent towards the evil that threatened to destroy everything Harry held dear.
So now, even when Harry and his compatriots were the ones making the rules and were the ones enforcing the rules – Harry still didn’t necessarily follow the rules. If Harry were a little less moral, a little less good, he would be terrifying. Maybe he still was. But Phil had to concede that every time he had seen Harry break a rule, it ended up being for the best – it ended up being, maybe not wise, but a necessary gamble.
Harry had been shaped by the war - all he had known in his formative years was trouble. Phil couldn’t help but wonder, now that the war was over and there was no trouble to be had, if Harry didn’t know what else to do but to start inviting it.
And this was the thought that Phil had when he received a letter that simply said:
I need you to find the Winchesters.
When Harry finally heard back from Phil, it was nearly a month after he had sent the letter. He’d already started to wonder if what he was going through was some form of denial. It was. He knew as soon as Phil started the conversation with-
“I thought I’d better call with the news, it’s not the sort of thing you put in a letter.”
Harry took a deep breath.
“I found Sam yesterday,” Phil said.
“So, it’s Dean then,” Harry concluded. Maybe he just didn’t want to hear the word.
“Seems that way,” Phil answered, and Harry was glad that he avoided saying it outright as well.
Harry tried to think of what question to ask next. How? When? Why didn’t Sam tell him? Was Sam alright? Is there something he could do? Is this something he should tell his kids?
“What did Sam say?” Harry asked instead.
“Not much,” Phil sighed. “He’s... he’s not well, Harry.”
“What’s wrong?” Harry asked, already reaching for his quill. “I have a Healer we can trust. I can have him there within the hour-”
In the com-mirror, Phil shook his head, cutting Harry off.
Harry closed his eyes as he realized what it was – that miracles were never really miracles. That no one, especially not the Winchesters, was ever that lucky.
“It’s his mind, isn’t it,” Harry said, without inflection.
“He recognized me,” Phil said. “I told him you were looking for him. He said he left the mirror at the cabin with the phones.”
“I know,” Harry said. “I checked there before I contacted you.”
“I asked him where his brother was,” Phil continued after a nod of acknowledgement. “He just... told me like it was nothing, but then... well, then it was like he couldn’t leave fast enough. He just kept repeating that he had to keep moving. I tried to get more out of him, but that’s all he would say. The only difference was when I asked him what he’s been doing for the past few months – I wasn’t that surprised when the answer was ‘driving.’”
“Where is he?” Harry asked.
Phil gave him a flat look. “Driving.”
Harry glared right back.
“I let him drive off,” Phil sighed. “I tried to get him to stay, but he was... I didn’t want to upset him. I’ve been tracking the car though. He seems to be heading south.”
“Let me know where-... if-... when he stops for the night,” Harry said, coming to a decision. “I’ll... I’ll take the healer to visit him anyway. You never know.”
“Except when you do.” Phil sighed. “Harry... maybe, maybe you should just walk away. They aren’t- the Winchesters aren’t your responsibility. For Merlin’s sake, they’re... the Winchesters.”
“They’re my friends,” Harry said.
“I know we owe them a debt,” Phil argued. “And I know they’ve helped out a lot this past year with the Leviathan business... but, Harry, that family is cursed-“
Harry laughed, he couldn’t help it. “You know, I wish that were true. Curses I can fix.”
“You know what I-“
“I appreciate the help, Phil,” Harry interrupted. “Let me know when Sam stops driving, and then send me the coordinates.”
“Yes, Sir,” Phil answered, a little tersely.
“Have a good day,” Harry said, snapping the mirror closed.
He gave himself only a minute to try to collect his thoughts, before he made his way across the hall to what had been Ron’s office. When he knocked on the door jam, he still wasn’t entirely sure what he was going to say.
“Good evening, Sir,” Maria greeted. “Are you leaving for home?” Her accent, as always, made it abundantly clear that her voice was meant for a much more elaborate and beautiful language than English.
“Soon,” Harry answered with a smile. “Can you chat for a moment?”
“Of course,” Maria said with a smile. Harry shut the door behind him, then put up a muffling charm, just in case Maria hadn’t bothered to replace Ron’s charm work with her own.
“Ah,” Maria said. “It’s that kind of a chat, is it?”
Harry pocketed his wand again and gave Maria a tight smile.
“How much do you know about my contacts in America – the ones who helped during the Leviathan problem?”
“The Winchesters?” Maria said. “I know everything about them, Sir. Has something happened? Are you going to be traveling abroad again? If you’ll be taking Till, then he’ll either have to be back by tomorrow, or I’ll need to assign someone else to the team traveling to Skye-”
As Harry tried to comprehend what he had just heard, Maria laughed into the silence. She gave Harry an indulgent look.
“Sir,” Maria continued. “You are Mr. Weasley’s best friend, do you think he would retire without being confident that you were left in the best hands possible. I assure you, my training was thorough and my briefing was comprehensive.”
“Oh,” Harry replied – eloquently, if he did say so himself.
“If it makes you feel better, I did not know who they were before my promotion,” Maria offered.
“Ron... just... told you?” Harry asked.
“Yes,” Maria said. “For many reasons, least of which is that I am now in charge of team assignments, and I need to know whether the only trained Healer we have is going to be stuck in a mysterious five-hour meeting from which no paperwork will ever emerge.”
“Right,” Harry all but choked out. “Er... how long is the team expected to be in Skye?”
Harry nodded. “I’m waiting on a location, and when I get it, I’ll be leaving right away – however, it’s not... not an emergency that requires Till, though I may bring him in to consult after my initial investigation.”
“Understood,” Maria said. “I’ll send him a notice about a meeting to discuss the emergency Healer kits the day after he returns.”
Harry nodded, and turned to leave, already planning to call Ron as soon as he left the room –
“Harry?” Maria called.
“I hope you’re not angry with him. It is only that he cares for you,” Maria said.
Harry sighed and shook his head.
“I’m not angry,” Harry admitted. “I would have had to tell you anyway.”
“I should have expected it really,” Harry laughed. “When he and Hermione went on their honeymoon, they left an instruction booklet with a friend of ours called ‘The Care and Feeding of Harry’ – the introduction was written by my wife, well, girlfriend at the time, but it was Quidditch season and-”
Harry trailed off as Maria smiled sheepishly and opened her top desk drawer, pulling out a familiar dog-eared booklet. She held it up so that Harry could see the red ink on the cover that said, ‘Revised Auror-Edition 2013.’
“I’m a grown man!” Harry exclaimed.
Maria laughed gently, “Oh, Harry, there are worse things than being loved.”
Harry got the call the next morning. Sam had stopped for the night in North Carolina. Harry was expecting a motel name, but instead he got coordinates for a picnic area off the highway. Harry found himself watching the sun rise for a second time that day, while he sat on a rotting picnic bench next to the Impala. Sam was asleep in the backseat. His brow was furrowed even in sleep, as though whatever he dreamt worried him.
It wasn’t long before Sam stirred. Harry had been lost in thought when he heard one of the car doors open. He turned and watched as Sam pulled himself out of the car, stretched his back with a yawn then looked around in what appeared to be displeased confusion. He looked stretched thin.
He didn’t even seem to notice Harry – just looked right through him for a moment. Sam turned away, and then paused and turned back, staring at Harry.
“Morning,” Harry greeted.
Sam blinked at him for a moment, and then said, “Morning.”
There was a pause. Harry hadn’t really thought ahead to what he expected Sam to say when he saw him, but he was starting to think this wasn’t going to plan at all.
Then Sam nodded. “Phil told you where I was. I saw him a couple hours ago.”
“That was nearly two days ago, Sam,” Harry said, as something inside him twisted.
Sam blinked at this and turned to look at the car a little in concern.
“I’m sorry to hear about Dean,” Harry continued, softly.
Sam nodded, clenched his jaw, but remained silent.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Harry asked. He tried very hard not to sound accusatory. He didn’t want Sam to think he was angry – but he was a little angry. Maybe anger was just an easier emotion to deal with than grief.
“I ditched the phones,” Sam replied, which wasn’t an answer at all. The enchanted mirror wasn’t a phone. It wasn’t like Sam had to fear someone using it to track him. And if Sam was afraid of people or monsters tracking him, it didn’t explain why he was driving the Impala all over the country.
There was a pause while Harry tried to decide how to handle this conversation. Sam was...oddly muted, that much was obvious. Whether it was from grief or something else, Harry didn’t know.
“How are you, Sam?” Harry asked. It felt like a stupid question – the man’s brother was dead – but perhaps it was the question that Harry should have led with from the beginning.
“I fixed the car,” Sam answered, gesturing towards it.
Harry nodded and looked at the car. It looked good, like it has recently been washed and buffed.
“Shiny,” Harry stated. “What else have you been doing?”
“Driving,” Sam said, still looking at the car. “Fixed the car. Drove.”
“Have you been hunting at all?” Harry asked, his anger was dissipating, the grief was still there – but the anger was being replaced with something else, something that twisted up his insides, made his heart beat faster.
Sam still wasn’t looking at him, but he shook his head. “I fixed the car.”
Harry tried for a smile. He tried to keep his voice light. “You did a good job.”
Sam shifted on his feet.
“How about Cas?” Harry asked.
“He’s dead,” Sam answered. “I have to-”
“Are you sure?” Harry interrupted, ignoring the lead weight that was sinking in his stomach. “You’ve thought that before and-”
“I have to go,” Sam said, instead of answering. He closed the backdoor that still hung open and shifted away from the car.
“Wait,” Harry said.
“I have to keep moving,” Sam announced, barely glancing at Harry. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about-... I just-... I was driving.”
“Wait,” Harry repeated, standing. “Are you going to have breakfast somewhere? I could come along – just for breakfast.”
Sam looked off towards the highway, but then he gave a nod. Harry quickly launched himself towards the passenger door and scrambled into the Impala.
He took a deep breath, trying to figure out a plan. Harry tried to think back to the spring. He tried to remember if Dean had told him what Cas had done to seemingly cure Sam of his mental illness. Dean had been vague though – just like always. He always gave the bare-minimum of information, and usually in such a way that you didn’t even notice that he wasn’t telling you enough. Harry had found out how bad Sam was when Sam was dying, rather than in any of the conversations that they had in the months and weeks before then. They coordinated on the leviathan threat; Dean told him about Bobby’s death... but not once since that night in the cabin did Dean mention that Sam’s mental health was deteriorating. Granted, Harry had spoken to Sam during that time as well and he had seemed fine. Then, after, when Dean had gotten in touch and explained how Cas was still alive, that he’d returned and cured Sam – maybe it was Harry’s own fault for not wanting to question it, for not wanting to hear anything to break the happy thought that Sam was okay and would remain that way forever.
Now though, Harry wished he knew what Cas had done. Had there been an expiration date on it? Was it something that could be duplicated with magic? Or was this simpler than that? Harry had to consider the idea that there may be nothing wrong with Sam – nothing except for the fact that his brother and friend were dead.
They had already pulled out of the picnic area and were back on the highway by the time Harry decided the silence had stretched on too long.
Sam didn’t respond, he blinked, and then a second later jumped, as though something had surprised him. Harry glanced around, but didn’t see anything threatening.
“Jesus,” Sam cursed. “I forgot you were there.”
“Sorry,” Harry found himself saying. “Were you thinking about something?”
Sam shook his head.
“Focusing on the road?” Harry tried again.
Sam’s brow furrowed, “I have to keep moving.”
Sam didn’t say anything for another long minute. And then he muttered, “I don’t know.”
“Okay,” Harry said. “That’s okay.”
They came up on a small town then. Harry caught sight of a sign advertising the local amenities.
“Are we going to the waffle house?” He asked.
“The waffle house? There was a sign-“
“Yeah, just back there- next exit – well, this one now-“
“Or, uh, you could take the next one- unless you don’t want-“
Sam pulled over onto the shoulder, bringing the car to a complete stop. Harry looked over at him, concerned, which ratcheted up to full-on worry when Harry realized that Sam had a white knuckled grip on the wheel.
“Slow down!” Sam commanded.
Harry hadn’t thought he was fast.
“I have to drive,” Sam said.
Harry nodded. “Right, but... I thought we were going for breakfast.”
“Okay,” Sam said.
“We just passed a waffle house,” Harry continued.
“No,” Sam said. “Farmer’s market. Organic.”
“Oh,” Harry replied, and then he put it together. “Oh! Sam, you don’t have to worry about the food anymore – that’s been taken care of. With Dick Roman gone, we were able to clean up the food industry really quickly. It’s safe to-” Sam didn’t look convinced. “-Or we could go to a farmer’s market?” Harry offered.
Sam stared out the front window.
After a moment, he turned to Harry and asked, “Are they really gone?”
“The leviathans? Yes,” Harry said. “There were task forces, they-”
“It doesn’t feel like they’re gone,” Sam added.
“They are; I promise.”
Sam frowned. Harry listened to the next few breathes they both took. The silence wasn’t comfortable.
“Waffles?” Sam asked.
“That’d be great,” Harry smiled.
Sam put the car back into the gear, stepped on the gas, and started pulling back out onto the highway – right in front of a giant transport truck. “Fuck!” Harry reached over and grabbed the wheel yanking it hard enough to keep the car on the shoulder. The lorry blasted its horn and rushed by, the noise was so great it almost drowned out Harry’s thumping heart.
The lorry was already past them when Sam seemed to realize what had just happened and slammed on the brakes.
“Jesus,” Sam muttered, rubbing a hand over his face and across his considerable stubble.
“Did you even check your mirrors?!” Harry asked, perhaps a little hysterically.
“I didn’t see it,” Sam said, and then pulled onto the highway – successfully this time.
Harry gave himself a moment to calm down – and a moment to realize how much things really weren’t sitting right in his stomach. Sam’s reflexes were obviously shot, his cognition slow – he was exhausted.
“Sam, have you been stopping at motels at all?” Harry asked.
“No, I’ve been driving,” Sam answered.
“I’m not sure you should be,” Harry muttered.
Harry barely gave Till time to sit down, after emerging from the pensieve, before he asked, “Well, what do you think?”
Harry watched impatiently as Till pursed his lips and settled into the chair. Till had arrived back from Scotland only two hours before. There was a small cut high on his cheekbone by his right eye – the skin around it was red, irritated by the sea water. Harry was supposed to be debriefing him. Harry was probably supposed to be asking about the cut.
“His reaction times are slow, but this could be a number of factors,” Till said slowly. “But overall, I think he is well. Much better.”
“What are you talking about?” Harry asked, incredulous. “There’s something wrong with him.”
“Sir, forgive me,” Till said, his voice soft and earnest. “The last time I saw Sam, he was suffering from delusions – he was distressed. Now, he is calm. I see no evidence of delusions. Yes, he is... subdued, but this is not uncommon. Yes, he needs more sleep, but he is sleeping a little. Many who have trauma... the mind numbs, it is... a natural response, for protection from pain.”
“I don’t think that’s it though,” Harry persisted. “I know the last time you saw him he seemed worse than now, but if you had seen him since then... if you had seen him, you would know that he was doing WELL, he was cured – they cured him – and now he’s....this.”
“Another common protection from pain,” Till continued, as though Harry hadn’t spoken, “is to deny that the bad thing has happened.”
“I don’t think he’s doing that,” Harry said, “He was very blunt-”
Till gave Harry a careful look. “I’m not speaking of Sam, Harry – Dean Winchester was your friend-”
“No!” Harry cut him off with a pointed finger. “This isn’t about me and if you dare suggest that again, I’ll...”
Till held up his hands in surrender, even though Harry didn’t even know how to end his sentence. Harry ran a hand through his hair in frustration; blinking against the emotion he could feel swelling in his chest. He should have waited to talk to Till – waited until Till didn’t smell like sea weed and dried blood, until they had both gotten more sleep.
“I’m not a healer of the mind, Harry,” Till said into the quiet of the room. It sounded like a confession, like a failing. “Even if you are correct, what can I do? I can fix his leg when he cuts it, I can fix his skull when he cracks it, but I cannot... I do not have the knowledge. Do you understand? I wish I did.”
“I know,” Harry sighed. “I’m sorry. I... I wish I did too. I wish Dean had told me what Cas did to help Sam before – I wish I had been there to see it. I wish you could see how much Sam’s changed, so you could see that I’m right, that it’s not just... denial. And I know even if I knew all those things, you’re still not a mind-healer, but you’re the best I have, Till – in fact, you’re all I have. Goddamn it, but none of my friends ever went into medicine.”
Till smiled, soft and gentle, just like always, and Harry felt his anger ebb away.
“We have a pensieve,” Till stated with a shrug.
“Yes?” Harry nodded, a little confused.
“Do you not still know where Sam is?” Till asked.
“I made him get a motel room in east Texas,” Harry said. “I told him not to drive anywhere until I came back.”
Till nodded, as though that settled it. Harry raised an eyebrow.
“There is one person who knows these things,” Till said. “Sam can show us all these things. We have a pensieve.”
Harry stared at Till, realizing the scope of what he was saying.
“If I’m the best you have, then I will do my best,” Till continued. “I just want you to understand that my best might not be good enough... and you must accept that fact.”
“I... ye-yes, you’re brilliant,” Harry stuttered. “How soon can you leave?”
“You’re the boss,” Till answered with a smile. “But I’d like to bathe first. I smell like selkie.”
“Of course,” Harry said. “Two hours?”
Till nodded in acceptance and stood up to leave. Harry was already making plans – how long they might take, how he should phrase things when he asked Sam for his memories – with the nature of Sam’s mind, it would have to be a very careful work. Till was a good healer, Harry just wished he had studied legilimency. Even someone with a rudimentary knowledge of the mind would probably do wonders with interpreting whatever they found in Sam’s head-
“Wait,” Harry said, catching Till as he put his hand on the door knob.
“If I... brought someone with us – someone who has studied legilimency...” Harry started, fumbling his words as he realized just what he was contemplating.
“It would help very much,” Till answered the unfinished question, confused. “But I thought you did not know a mind-healer?
“I don’t,” Harry said. “I really don’t. I’m going to need more than two hours.”
“Okay,” Till said.
“I’ll call you,” Harry said. “And if you thought you were sworn to secrecy before...”
“You have my word,” Till said sincerely.
Harry nodded and watched Till leave. He waited until the door had closed behind him before he reached for the memorandum paper and his quill, choosing his words carefully.
When he was done, he folded the memo very specifically, and then tucked it, fluttering, into his pocket.
He waited until he had another reason to leave the office, a meeting reviewing incident reports from the Quidditch World Cup with the Department of Magical Games and Sports.
He stepped into the elevator and made sure to stand in the back. Between floors, while everyone else in the elevator was facing forward and politely staring at the ascending numbers, Harry added his paper crane to the swam of memos hovering near the ceiling.
He didn’t glance back as he got off the elevator. The memo still had two floors to go.