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Harry Potter and the God That Wasn't

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13 June, Friday, 2003

Mission Objective: European recognition and elevation of listed creatures (centaurs, ghosts, goblins, house elves, merpeople, werewolves) to status of personhood

Auror : Zabini, Blaise (Assistant of the Assistant of the Minister of Magic)

Squished, under the name was:

I’m not an Auror, why do I need to fill these out?

Recommended Course of Action: Change “creature” status of aforementioned species to “being” status. Continuation of “creature” status perpetuates degradation of. Problem: centaurs, goblins, elves, merpeople all unwilling. Send ambassadors to populations to convince, but peacefully.

Underneath, squished again but in a clear hand:

Just send Potter, he’ll either charm them or they’ll like him through Stockholm Syndrome. Win-win.

Harry wrote, in the margin, Fuck you too, Zabini.

Full Report:

Centaurs reject wizard human-related contact and practices. Negotiation (Aurors Abbott (Hannah), Bones (Susan), and Smith (Zacharias)) unsuccessful. Aurors report threats of physical and sexual violence towards selves and future negotiators (see Prisoner #102’s file, Umbridge, Dolores, for example of centaur sexual assault against humans). Recommend: Cease attempts of treaty with centaurs until leverage is gained, otherwise risk of violence against humans and could cause violence within centaur society.

Goblins reject rights given in negotiations as “unsatisfactory.” Demand (1) full possession of all goblin-made objects in possession of wizards, including wizarding money, (2) reparations for past goblin wars, and (3) for Harry James Potter to face trials and tribulations for breaking into Gringotts and releasing a dragon. Rejection of amendments; (1) would result in full economic collapse of wizarding world. (2) impossible if (1) is fulfilled. Even without fulfilment of (1), (2) would be impossible to fulfill. (3) Out-right refusal to hand over saviour of the wizarding world.

In the margin, next to the response to number three, is:

You seriously rode out of Gringotts on a DRAGON, Potter? I thought that was an embellishment.

Continued in the document:

Elves reject freedom and are terrified of it. Problem: they need something to do. Allow elves to take jobs, useful ones; healing, enchantments, reconstruction, restaurant-owning. Provide avenues other than serving.

Merpeople accepting of alliance, but wish to remain neutral and distant. Recommend: Accept. Further negotiation at later date. Negotiate: review positives of relationship with wizards (how it will benefit them), and suggest small increments to begin, that will allow wizards and merpeople to exchange beneficial knowledge. Important: Do not push merpeople into hostility. Respect boundaries.

Additional Notes:

Werewolves are being killed. Deaths appear caused by muggle means (e.g. silver bullets, decapitation by swords/axes). Suggest negotiations with Prime Minister. Suspected: Her Majesty’s Forces. If so, cannot harm killers. If not, suggest independent actors. Negotiate to our forces.

Ultimate goal is for all of Europe to recognize these species of “creature” status as “beings” instead. That said, only a few magical communities are like-minded. France, Spain, Italy, most of the former Yugoslavia are unwilling to negotiate –

“Harry!” Hermione hissed to accompany the sudden elbow to Harry’s side.

Ow, Hermione,” said Harry, discretely rubbing his side. Hermione rolled her eyes, not buying it for a bit. Pity. Harry was hoping for some form of sympathy; it was the only way he might survive through this meeting. He couldn’t remember what it was on, only that he couldn’t listen to it without wanting to sleep. (Honestly, these meetings were worse than Bins’ classes ever were.) Zabini’s report were much more interesting (and important, besides) in any case.

Not that Harry could do anything about the problems in the report.

Hermione sighed, and turned her focus away from Harry.

Harry continued reading the last sentence of the report.

-- unwilling to negotiate adding the aforementioned species to status of “being,” and therefore adding them influence in the politics of wizards (see Foreign Policy Country Files).

Hermione has those files. Harry wouldn’t get to see them.

Their relationship with other magical communities was strained at best. Magical Britain hadn’t really been the most popular kid at the playground in the past few decades. Its inward focus for the First War caused enough damage, and the reparations that were attempted before Voldemort rose the second time were annihilated through Fudge’s subpar attempts of keeping power.

Scrimgeour had been a mild improvement, but he had been concerned mostly on the affairs of his own government and people. Exports had diminished to almost nothing; when Voldemort had taken over, other countries had barred British wizards from crossing into their borders. It wouldn’t have worked for very long if Harry hadn’t killed Voldemort because most of the foreign governments hadn’t realized the reach Voldemort had already accomplished. Most governments refused to believe—or at least were just unwilling to hand over any of their citizens—most of the cases British wizards have brought against their citizens, and in many cases, demanded back prisoners. Naturally, Britain’s Ministry of Magic had refused to do. In France’s case, they refused to surrender British wizards who had fled Britain before organized searches began after the Final Battle. France had surrendered refugees, but not all. The senior Malfoys, for example, were happily living in the south of France.

(Harry was torn on the issue of the Malfoys, and opted to generally not be involved in that discussion, as he felt he owed Narcissa Malfoy a debt for not informing Voldemort that he was alive in the forest. Others who knew of this, such as Hermione and Zabini agreed that they all would have been royally fucked without Narcissa Malfoy. That did not, however, excuse either Lucius or Narcissa Malfoy for the torture, death, and suffering they caused while serving Voldemort. For this reason, they were the last on the list of former Death Eaters to recover for prosecution, though this was an unpopular decision.

Harry was personally assured that neither Lucius nor Narcissa wished to get involved in anything for the rest of their lifetimes. This was evidenced by how quiet they had been since the end of the war; and besides, Harry had pointed out many times to people, Draco Malfoy remained in Britain, and could be used as leverage if needed. This part was much more welcomed by people than the first bit.)

Crimes committed on in Magical Britain’s land were for the Ministry of Magic to prosecute. Hermione, the lovely researcher she was, found previous incidences when British wizarding citizens committed a crime on foreign soil and how the British magical government hadn’t challenged their right to persecute. The governments conceded, but they were facing the consequences of their audacity now.

Or, as Dean and Seamus put it during their weekly pub meeting, they were buggered.

“Nah,” Harry had teased, “I’m not worried. After all, we’ve got Hermione.”

“To Hermione!” called out Dean.

“To Hermione!” called out the others.

Harry glanced at his friend. Hermione sat tall and attentively, taking notes with pen and paper with her right hand, the entirety of her attention on the words of the presenter. Next to her was Blaise Zabini, who was rarely anywhere else. Curiously, the Minister of Magic himself was not present, though Harry supposed Kingsley couldn’t attend all of the meetings. Actually, maybe he saved the boring meetings for Harry and Hermione to suffer through.

Hell, if Harry was Minister, he’d send Hermione to go to these meetings in his stead too.

Not that Harry was helpful at these kinds of meetings. It was actually a pointless exercise, honestly. Kingsley probably just wanted some payback for the shit Harry put him through. Harry could get behind that.

The clock ticked slowly to the meeting’s end, but when it did, Hermione caught his sleeve and asked, “My place, tonight?” Harry nodded and Hermione was gone, off to whatever else she needed to attend to in order to keep their government running.

This left Harry alone to find something to do for the rest of the day. And while there had been plenty for Harry to do in the years following Voldemort’s death, they had come to the point in which Harry’s skills were less than helpful in a world where diplomacy was the weapon of choice.

On his route to the Auror training centre, Harry picked up a Daily Prophet after the headline HARPIES TO WORLD CUP, with the sub-heading, WEASLEY AMAZES WITH SEEKER SKILLS.

Ginevra Weasley, the youngest child of the Techno-Magical Department Head Arthur Weasley, proved herself to be just as exceptional as her father and her many brothers (including world-renowned curse breaker Billius Weasley, successful entrepreneurs Frederick and George Weasley, and Ronald Weasley) by her truly astounding Quidditch skills. She plays as a Seeker on the Holyhead Harpies, and due to her quick catch of the snitch, the Harpies will be competing in the Quidditch World Cup this year.

“I know my catch won us the game, but it’s really due to my teammates that we’re going to the World Cup,” Weasley said modestly. “After all, it’s not just me on the team. We have a really strong team this year. Our Keeper lets nothing through, our Chasers are aggressive about scoring goals, and we can always trust our Beaters to watch our backs.”

Other teams expected to be at this year’s World Cup...

Good for her, Harry thought. Uninterested in the rest (he knew what the Prophet would be reporting), he tossed the paper in the trash. In the hallway, people waved and greeted him as he passed, but no one stopped him until he got to the Centre.

“Harry,” said Neville, surprised but welcoming. “I wasn’t expecting you today.”

Harry nodded at this. “Anyone need any practice or instruction?”

Neville looked around the large room, where groups of wizards and witches were practicing their spells on dummies and each other. “I suppose McDonald could use a bit more help on her speedy wand work,” he said eventually.

When Harry was done with Natalie McDonald, it was possible for her to whip out her wand from her wand harness and be spell-ready in half the time required for Aurors. But from the corner of his eye, Harry could see Neville frowning at him. Deciding to bite the bullet before Neville chose to take drastic actions like going to talk to Hermione, Harry meandered over to him. “What’s up, Neville?”

“Nothing really. Just was thinking that there ought to be something else for you to do, you know,” Neville said genuinely, without a hint of criticism towards Harry’s person. “I know you were a good Auror, but since they won’t reinstate you, it seems a waste to keep you training the newbies...”

“It was a good decision on their part. How can you keep order with someone who guarantees pretty much the opposite? I appreciate the sentiment, though. It was nice going out every morning with a goal for the day.” Harry laughed. “Who’d thought I’d miss the days of chasing down Death Eaters?”

“I miss the days you were an Auror,” said Neville wistfully. Suddenly, “BUTTERMERE! ADJUST YOUR WRIST FOR BETTER AIM!” They both watched the woman in question re-attempt her spell, and gave a clap and a congratulatory yell when she managed to strike her partner. “That day Kingsley got a cage filled with toads formerly known as Death Eaters was probably the funniest,” Neville continued. And oh, that had been a glorious day. Harry had tracked down several wizards who had enthusiastically assisted in interrogations and executions after Voldemort took over the Ministry, and secured them for trial.

The fact that he had secured them for trial by means of transfiguration, which may not be the most standard method of capturing fugitives, meant very little for Harry. Transfiguration as Harry used it was not illegal and only slightly immoral, in that it is forcing a human being into ceasing their humanity, in a way that makes them much more vulnerable than normal. (There were horror cases, as well as stories in which this end result was intentional, where wizards were turned into mice or birds, and were summarily eaten by natural predators.) Generally, most people avoided transfiguring other people for that reason. It was too easy to go horrifically wrong.

What Kingsley hadn’t waited for Harry to explain before yelling at Harry about protocol was that Harry had captured the fugitives before transfiguring, therefore their unsightly death through the food chain was fairly impossible. And Harry had only done it because the child hostages the fugitives had had were hiding in a crevice in the abandoned house Harry couldn’t get to. One of the children was badly hurt and needed medical attention; Harry couldn’t force them out without hurting them further, but they wouldn’t come out while the fugitives were in the room. Therefore, Harry had to make them “disappear.” After that, the children came out under their own power, bringing the injured child with them, and Harry was able to take them all to the hospital.

This didn’t explain why Harry chose not to change them back before he handed them over to the Ministry, but effectively distracted everyone enough to not question it. (The reason? Harry tended towards vindication whenever children were involved.)

“They still occasionally send me out to tackle poltergeists,” said Harry.

“Not quite the same, though, is it? Those aren’t very hard to handle. I mean, muggles can handle them alright,” countered Neville.

 “Well, that’s all they let me do,” Harry said in a carefully even tone. Neville hadn’t meant it as an attack, though it felt like one. Harry wanted to be useful, more than anything, and it was killing him to be idle.

“Have you ever thought of going back to Hogwarts to teach Defense?” asked Neville after a pause. “You were always good at teaching,” he added, waving a hand in McDonald’s direction.

Harry had given teaching serious consideration, to the point he almost brought it up to McGonagall a couple of years ago, when his workload began to wane. It wasn’t even that he didn’t want to because he had liked teaching other students in Dumbledore’s Army. But the thought of the monotony, of grading papers, of teaching the same material over and over again, of being back in Hogwarts for long periods of time—

He just never brought it up with McGonagall, is all.

“I don’t think that’s quite what I’m looking for,” said Harry.

Neville sighed. That clearly wasn’t the answer he was looking for either.

...

Harry called it an early day, and went off to Diagon Alley.

However, because Harry decided to walk to Diagon Alley, he had the fortune of popping out of the phone booth while some poor bloke was trying to get the phone to work. At least that’s what Harry presumed he was doing when Harry suddenly appeared in the phone booth with him and he startled so bad he went backwards out of the booth to fall onto his arse.

“Sorry ‘bout that, mate,” said Harry, holding out a hand to the fellow. “You all right?”

Whether or not he was all right was going to remain a mystery, as he was busy gaping at Harry. “What – but – where did you come from, I was the only one in the booth, you just appeared out of nowhere, that’s not supposed to happen, I was by myself one minute and then there you were, there are laws about physics that are supposed to stop this –”

“You do realize that the laws of physics don’t have any enforcement, right?” Harry asked, in a wondering tone that still effectively stopped the man from rambling. “So I can break the laws without any actual repercussions.”

“But they’re laws for a reason. You aren’t supposed to break them!”

Taking pity on the man’s franticness and increasing flush (he made Harry think of Hermione, if she hadn’t met him, honestly, so there was quite a bit of fondness in there too), Harry said, “Listen, mate, there’s an explanation for all of this.”

“Is... there?” he asked hopefully.

“Of course,” Harry smiled beatifically. “It’s magic.”

Silence. Harry wanted to cackle. It felt very appropriate and stereotypical.

“Magic,” repeated the man.

“I’m a wizard,” Harry added helpfully.

The man stared at him and blinked. Then he bit his lip and glanced to the side.

“I can prove it,” stated Harry, though he didn’t move, because if the man wanted to bolt from the crazy man, Harry wasn’t going to stop him.

“Can you?” he asked incredulously. He either felt weak with his arse on the ground or he felt comfortable enough to pick himself up, but in any case, he stood up. He wasn’t very tall, but taller than Harry (most people were, so that didn’t say much), ginger, and clearly with a propensity towards a red-face. He was wearing some type of uniform, which Harry believed had to do with aeroplanes, but as Harry had never had to ride one before, he couldn’t be sure.

“Sure, watch,” and Harry got back in the phone booth and waved for the man to get closer. When the man was close enough, he grabbed his arm and pushed in his code. The man yelled at the drop, but their ride stopped quickly enough for it to be mistaken for a yelp.

“Welcome,” Harry declared grandiosely, with open arms and everything, “To the Ministry of Magic.”

The man stared. And stared. His mouth moved as his eyes tracked the paper aeroplanes flying from place to place on their own, fires lighting by the walls producing people, owls going to and fro, and anything else that was too normalized to Harry to pick out.

“They’re flying,” the man finally murmured.

Harry hummed in agreement. “You like flying?”

“Yes. Yes! It’s always been my dream, it’s why I became a pilot. Well, I mean, I wanted to be an aeroplane but then my older brother told me I could never actually be an aeroplane, so I decided that the next best thing would be to pilot them. So I became a pilot. Oh, I said that already. Um, but this is incredible, they’re turning and all they are bits of paper!”

“Wanna go flying?” asked Harry, because that was really the gist of all of that and Harry loved flying, too.

“Yes,” he answered quickly.

“Brilliant. Take my hand, this is called Apparating, it’s not going to feel good but it’s fast.” The man, having lost all of his reservations at this point, grasped his hand. “What’s your name by the way?”

“Captain Martin Crieff.”

“Nice to meet you, Captain. I’m Harry Potter.”

...

Harry did indeed take Martin flying, and they only stopped when Martin remembered that he had been in a phone booth for a reason and had somewhere to be. They hugged when they parted, and Harry said, “By the way, I wouldn’t tell anyone about this. They’ll only think you’re crazy.”

“Oh. Oh, yes,” agreed Martin. “I suppose I can’t, can I?”

“Sorry, but that’s the only reason I can do something like this.”

“You lot are secretive, then?”

Harry shrugged. “Something like that.”

“Well... thanks for this. I can’t imagine a life without flying, and this was... really, truly, brilliant.” He grimaced but seemed so genuine that Harry was glad that the random bloke in the phone booth was someone who appreciated this as much as Martin.

Harry dropped him off where he needed to be, and at that point, he finally did head over to Diagon Alley.

...

At Diagon Alley, at this point repaired from its damage from the Second War, looked as shiny and new as it did when Harry came here in the shadow of a giant. Though it was different, under the veneer; the first obvious difference was that more people wore muggle clothes than not. There were still quills and parchment, but pens and paper had their place now. Unlike the Ministry, where there were hoardes of the young, many of whom Harry had known in Hogwarts, there were more of older generations in Diagon Alley. And despite the years, a feeling of loss was still present, because of those who were present here made very clear that there were those who were not.

Harry found his way to Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, where the sign proclaiming “WHY ARE YOU WORRYING ABOUT YOU-KNOW-WHO? YOU SHOULD BE WORRYING ABOUT U-NO-POO— THE CONSTIPATION SENSATION THAT'S GRIPPING THE NATION!" was still in place. Harry appreciated it still, but Harry knew many people thought it was an unnecessary reminder. They shut up though, when Ginny had snapped at one of them who had said as much while at the shop, “Good. We shouldn’t forget, or it’ll happen all over again.”

“Harry!” he heard as he entered the store. There was George with a grin that split from ear to missing ear. “Got bored at the Ministry again?”

“Thought you two would be lost without my pretty face, actually,” replied Harry as he went to the back and got his employee badge. (Not that Fred and George paid him. Well, technically, they did, but it somehow found itself back into their till, and then it found itself into his coat pocket, which then found itself in-between their kitchen plates in their flat upstairs, which then found itself bunched in Harry’s socks...)

“It’s way too easy to break the rules,” Harry said apropos to nothing when he came back into the store proper.

“What did you do this time, mate?” asked Fred, having finished helping a customer.

“A muggle was in the phone booth to the Ministry when I popped up into it,” admitted Harry without a trace of regret. “So I showed him the Ministry and took him flying.”

Fred blinked and gave out a startled laugh. “Who needs a Statute of Secrecy when you’re Harry Freaking Potter, right?”

“Oh, it doesn’t matter,” said Harry. “Who’d believe a lone muggle, anyway? And I strengthened the muggle-repelling charms on the phone booth. Why those were neglected, I have no idea.”

“I think I understand why they kicked you out of the Auror Department, Harry,” laughed George.

“Oh, I don’t know, my dear twin. Maybe the Aurors –”

“—in all of their strict adherence to the rules, you mean—”

“—would have welcomed our dear Harry—”

“—who breaks rules like Snape tormented ickle Gryffindors—”

“—with open arms.”

“I merely differ in my philosophy,” Harry replied.

“Ah, yes, the classic, ‘Rules? What rules?’ approach.”

“Go set yourself on fire,” Harry retorted with amusement.

“Go to the back and organize our new shipments, if you’re going to bum around our store.”

...

When Fred and George kicked him out, Harry made his way to Hermione’s flat. When he knocked, Zabini answered the door.

“Hey,” Harry greeted as he walked around Zabini. “You and Hermione got a late night, tonight, then?”

“No, I was just about to leave,” Zabini drawled. “I wouldn’t want to interfere in your Girls’ Nights.”

“Oh, but we wouldn’t want you to feel left out. Us girls should stick together,” Harry smiled wide. “I think I have the best nail polish for you, too.”

“It really says something, Potter, when I can’t tell if you’re serious about that.” Harry opened his mouth, but Zabini beat him to it. “If you make a ‘I’m not Sirius, my godfather is dead’ joke, I will take your nail polish and make you drink it. Really, Potter, that joke is tasteless and got old before you said it the first time.”

Smirking, Harry lied, “Actually, I was going to say that I am serious. Nail polish is fun and relaxing. Why do you think Hermione doesn’t have any grey hairs yet? Our Girls’ Night. Join us.” Harry crowded into Zabini’s space, looked him dead in the eye, and repeated, “Join us.”

Zabini, the lovely man that he was, held his ground. “Now I know you’re shitting me.”

Harry smiled prettily. Zabini rolled his eyes.

“Back off, Potter,” he said shoving Harry away, going to the sitting room. “Did you see my report, while you weren’t paying attention in the meeting today?”

“Yes, I did. I particularly appreciated your commentary. I also appreciated how you managed to make it just slightly more interesting than that meeting to guarantee that I would read it but still suffer,” Harry answered as he shrugged his jacket off onto Hermione’s couch. There were two empty cups with teabags left in them, but no Hermione to be seen. Bathroom, most like. “Don’t leave on my account,” he commented as Zabini gathered his papers and jacket.

“I give you utmost assurance, Potter, that I do not, nor ever will, adjust my plans on your account,” he sniped and left.

Predictably, Harry heard the toilet flush and Hermione came back to the living room. She didn’t seem surprised by Zabini’s sudden departure. She probably told him to leave when Harry showed up. “Oh, hello, Harry.” That explained why Zabini didn’t want to stay for Girls’ Night. Shame. Harry would have to convince him to stay next time.

If you kidnapped someone, just to paint their nails and watch movies, would you still be arrested later?

Eyeing Hermione as she cleaned up the two mugs, Harry decided no, not if he got Hermione on board.

“I don’t think being at the Ministry is working out for you, Harry,” declared Hermione without further pleasantries.

“I think we should kidnap Zabini and paint his nails,” replied Harry.

“I don’t think we should kidnap Blaise and paint his nails because then I’d have to find a new assistant,” said Hermione without missing a beat. “Do you realize how long it takes to break one in? And don’t distract me, it’s childish and it won’t work, Harry.”

Harry sighed and leaned in his spot on the couch.

“It’s not that you lack the ability to appropriately complete your objectives in the Ministry,” Hermione continued as she got out some ice cream and made Harry set up the movie. She got two spoons for a pint for them to share. “You simply lack any inclination to adhere by the rules. And with the tenuous position we have with other governments, that is an unnecessary risk. And I rather think,” she said with a mischievous quirk of the lips that called to Harry all of the love and respect he felt for this woman, “that you would be better served doing something else.”

Harry constrained his intrigue with a mouthful of ice scream. After swallowing, he asked, “What did you have in mind?”

“I think you should travel,” Hermione said, pulling a piece of paper out of nowhere. “I made you a list of your goals.”

Harry took the paper and found a list of only ten items.

Harry Potter’s Goals

1. Take a break, Harry.

2. Go to foreign magical and muggle communities and learn what you can.

3. Take a break, Harry. Really.

Then, in a handwriting which Harry recognized as Zabini’s:

We’re writing Potter a list? I’ll contribute.

4. Get laid.

5. Drink and have fun.

6. Don’t do anything work related.

7. Don’t get into trouble.

8. Don’t let trouble find you.

9. DO NOT LET TROUBLE FIND YOU.

10. Do NOT make YOUR trouble MY trouble, Potter.

“Did you realize that Zabini edited this, Hermione?” asked Harry. Hermione frowned and grabbed the paper from him. Judging by her increased frown, Harry guessed that no, she wasn’t aware of that at all.

“Just for that, Zabini will be your contact while you’re gone,” Hermione decided. Harry winced in sympathy.

“I didn’t agree to this,” complained Harry. Hermione ate ice cream, pointedly pretending to pay attention to the movie.

“Harry, what else are you going to do? You hang around the Ministry but you don’t have an official job title, you couch surf and have no residence of your own, and more importantly, you’re bored out of your mind. It’s clear to everyone that you need something to do, and that it’s not here. Neville come up to me today and told me you spent hours correcting McDonald’s wand work. Hours, Harry! There’s so much more you could be doing! You’re so skilled, and so knowledgeable, but your skills aren’t meant for bureaucracy at all.”

“I also ignore the rules,” added Harry. He took some ice cream. Ooh, mango.

Hermione nodded. “And that’s not very good when it comes to diplomacy and bureaucracy. Fred and George told me you spent hours in their store again, after you showed a muggle the Ministry of Magic. Harry, what were you thinking? Are you trying to blow our secret?”

“One muggle can’t do anything. He won’t be able to find the phone booth again, and if he tells anyone, people will just think he’s crazy. And besides, why do we need to be a secret, Hermione? It’s bad enough that we’re cut off from the muggle world, but we spend so much time and effort on keeping our secrets!” Harry sat up from his slouched position on the couch. “You’ve seen our records! You saw how many people we’ve had to Memory Charm! You saw how badly they fucked it up!”

“I know, Harry! But these things take time. You can’t just change everything all at once, that’s not how politics work!” Hermione sighed. “And this is why I think you should go travel.”

“Because I’m a failure?” Harry asked bitingly.

“You are not a failure, Harry,” Hermione stated firmly. “It’s just that—this may be a weird question. But Harry, what do you want to do?”

That effectively stopped the winds in Harry’s sails. “I—yeah, that is a weird question. I want to help, obviously.” Didn’t she know that?

“Harry, there is a big difference between helping because you want to, and helping because you think you should,” Hermione said slowly, gaze fixed on Harry. “Can you see the difference?”

“Of course I can,” Harry answered flawlessly.

Hermione gave him a flat stare. “Okay, then. What’s the difference, Harry?”

Harry shifted uncomfortably. “Helping because you want to is helping because... you want to?” Hermione raised her eyebrows incredulously. “Okay, fine, I don’t know, but who cares? I’m Harry Potter, people expect me to—”

“That’s just the thing, Harry. That’s the difference. You’re doing what you think other people want you to do instead of doing something that makes you happy. Politics is not your forté, and that’s okay. You’re not supposed to be the best at everything,” were the words that Harry knew Hermione had had difficulty in coming to terms with. Harry looked down abashed. “You find something you love and you work towards that. You work on skills to help you with that. You don’t love politics, so you’re not motivated to work towards getting better at it, so you don’t, and here we are. But, Harry,” she said in a sad tone. “You’re used to doing what people want you to do. Granted, you do spend a lot of time breaking the rules as you see fit, but never in such a way where you openly state you’re going to disobey, nor do you use your disobedience to make a statement. You just break the rules when it suits you and continue to pretend to follow them otherwise. You don’t know what you want to do because you’ve never been able to think about it before. Honestly, Harry, did you ever really want to be an Auror, or did you just state that because people wanted you to fight Dark Wizards all of the time?”

Harry swallowed, and didn’t answer. Now he was glad Zabini wasn’t here for this.

“That’s why I think you should leave. Go out, go experience the world, find out what you love. So then you can do that.” She reached over and grabbed his hand. Harry stared at their linked hands, thinking he might cry and trying not to. “Harry, you deserve to be happy.”

“Okay,” Harry said. “Okay. When do I leave?”

...

Over the years, Harry had gotten more adept at eating Hagrid’s treacle fudge. Or maybe his jaw had gotten stronger through all of his attempts at eating it. Harry pondered this while Hagrid prepared some tea and Fang drooled happily on his lap.

“It’s great that yer doing this, Harry,” Hagrid enthused. “Yeh need a break. I’ve been sayin’ since the end og the War that yeh need a break, need to get away from Britain.”

“Is that what you told me? I thought you said I needed to get off Hermione’s couch,” Harry teased. His teeth scraped a bit of the treacle fudge, a minute amount manageable enough for Harry.

“Aye, I did. Yeh can’t bum around with yer friends forever, after all,” said Hagrid kindly as he sat down heavily on the chair, causing it to groan warningly. Harry wondered at the existence of chairs that talked as you sat on them and the sorts of things those chairs would say. “Eventually, you got to keep goin’gin life, and Harry, no one thinks you need ta be like the War never happened, but nothings going ta get better when yer here but not doing nothing.”

Harry maintained Hagrid’s steady gaze, and then sighed. “Yeah, I know. Hermione and I talked about it.”

Hagrid nodded. “Good head on her shoulders, that girl. Gonna be a sure thing for the next Minister of Magic.”

“No spell our Hermione can’t do,” Harry remembered fondly.

“Got any plans on where ter go?”

“Not really, I was just going to go and see what happens.”

“Always a nice way ter go about it,” Hagrid said. “Quite an adventure, too. Meet lots o’ colourful people and do lots of neat things.”

They spoke of odds and ends and nothing in particular until the end of Harry’s visit, at which point Hagrid brought Harry to the Forbidden Forest to visit the threstrals, many of whom had become very fond of Harry over the years.

“Yer wanna ask one of them to fly you?” wondered Hagrid, as they fed the threstrals apples.

A threstral nuzzled Harry’s face. “I think I’ll be good. But I’ll keep it in mind.”

And that was that.

...

Harry visited Headmistress McGonagall, who was just as impressive now as she was when Harry was a first year. Her office as Headmistress was similar to that of her office as the Head of Gryffindor House and the Transfiguration professor, but with a change of location. It lacked the mystique of Dumbledore’s; instead, there were plenty of books, ordinary-looking objects that gave faint pulses of magic, but the most startlingly difference between McGonagall’s office and Dumbledore’s was the presence of personal items. Even the portraits, which had been covered up for his visit, were not nearly as strange as the personal items—which truly emphasized how isolated Dumbledore had been in life, really. They surprised Harry the first time he visited, as McGonagall hadn’t had them in her office as his Transfiguration professor. Upon noticing his surprise, McGonagall had smiled faintly and explained, “It seemed prudent to take care in remembering the past, more than ever.” Harry had realized, after that, that many of the photos were of people that had been lost in the war.

There were House photos of his classmates, and Harry could pick out the ones that had died. There were photos of his parents’ generation, of those Moody had pointed out to Harry while at Grimmauld Place—and speaking Moody, there he was...

“We have lost so many,” had said McGonagall. She had looked so very tired. “And I couldn’t help but feel, after the First War, that we hadn’t learned anything. We continued on as if Voldemort hadn’t happened. As if we hadn’t created him.” She was silent. It occurred to Harry in an incoherent realization that he could barely parse out later, that McGonagall was speaking to him as an equal. McGonagall viewed Harry, not as a former student or as a pseudo-charge, but as someone who had proved his worth and deserved her respect. Considering her obvious refusal to give respect to those who wanted it so badly, Harry had felt a glow of warmth in his chest. “I went to school with Voldemort. Just for a year. Barely noticed him, of course, as I was already a seventh year, and he was only a first year student, but I remember—he was just a boy, Harry. Just like you and so many were, he was only a child.” Harry had a sudden, fearful inkling that McGonagall had learned about Voldemort’s childhood, and knew enough of Harry’s, to draw a comparison.

He had been right.

“Albus left his Pensieve behind, along with the memories of Tom Riddle that he had. I... there have been times where I have disagreed with Albus on his decisions, but I have oft made a point of supporting his decisions, thinking they were for the best.” She had released a sigh, staring at the small people in the small photos. “Albus made so many mistakes with Riddle, so many that if he hadn’t, we could have avoided Voldemort entirely, and have a truly exemplary wizard in our ranks.

“Though perhaps the root of Voldemort was systemic, I mustn’t put too much responsibility on Albus. Though watching those memories—Harry—are you alright?”

Fairly certain that Harry had done nothing to warrant this sudden concern, Harry had met McGonagall’s concerned stare with raise eyebrows. “Er—yes?”

The corners of McGonagall’s lips had twitched upwards. “I meant, Harry, so much of your troubles in life were due to Albus’ machinations. He may have meant well, but it’s hardly difficult to see that his decisions had a distantly negative effect on your life.”

“Okay,” Harry had said, because he really didn’t want to talk about this, but if he denied it, McGonagall would push or worse, get Hermione in it, and Hermione would bring Zabini and then there’d be a fucking intervention, but whereas faux calm acceptance would— “Was there a question in there?”

McGonagall had peered at him, and Harry felt like her student again, had felt like he had broken the rules again and might have resented her just a bit for making him feel that way with this subject. “No, Mr. Potter. I merely wanted to let you know you could, and always will be able to, talk to me about anything if you need. I am perfectly willing to cover up them” –she had indicated the covered up portraits of previous Headmasters, so that they could not interject in their meeting— “any time. I actually quite like being able to think and act without constant commentary, and I’ve taken to covering them all up more often, actually.”

The dark burgundy curtains that covered the portraits were an addition that was made ostensibly for both McGonagall’s and Harry’s sakes. It was recommended, though not in so many words, to Harry that speaking to Dumbledore’s portrait had a negative effect on Harry by Luna. When he had met her for drinks one night immediately coming from a discussion with Dumbledore’s portrait, Luna had said, in her absent way, “You’re still quite angry at him, aren’t you? I suppose I was quite angry with my mother too, after she died. Though you have more reason to be angry with Dumbledore than I had with my mother.” Harry had startled, as they had just been discussing a trip to Norway to investigate a possible Dementor grouping, but he stewed quietly on the words during the night.

When they left, both quite drunk, Harry had declared, “I’m not going to talk to Dumbledore. No talking to dead men for me! Not anymore!” To which Luna had added, “It is good to obey the laws of nature...” and they had promptly caught the Knight Bus back to Luna’s and spent the rest of the night watching terrible horror films.

The next time he came to visit McGonagall, the curtains had been in place, magicked to stop the people in the paintings from speaking or hearing them. McGonagall had said that she found herself much freer to act as she thought best without the input of hundreds of previous Headmasters, many of whom she called “inept dullards who spend far too much time muttering about what it was like in their day.” While that made sense, Harry thought that McGonagall’s pleasure at lacking the constant chatter from the previous Headmasters was more of a surprise to her than anyone, and Harry strongly suspected that Luna had revealed his drunken decision to others.

However, Harry found visiting Hogwarts much more pleasurable without the daunting prospect of speaking to Dumbledore. He visited more often and was clearly more comfortable while he was, to the point where his lack of stress about visiting was noticeable to others. Harry could see that some of his former professors, such as Sprout, Flitwick, and most of all, McGonagall, wanted to comment, but thankfully refrained from doing so. Harry could only feel grateful at whatever stopped them; the idea of discussing Dumbledore, and what that would lead to, gave Harry an uncomfortable and slick squirm in his chest that moved up to his throat and lodged itself there. It took a while to get to the point where he felt like he could breathe again, let alone speak, whenever he thought about the confrontation. Though he supposed that if he was actually confronted about it, he could deflect easily enough, as he did with McGonagall, but there was only so long he could do that before someone pushed.

Now, though, Harry was about to leave for an indeterminate amount of time (though Hermione told him he ought to come back periodically for catching up and tea), he thought about going up to speak to Dumbledore’s portrait. As he was leaving McGonagall’s office, he eyed the gargoyle and considered going back to speak to Dumbledore. He thought of the ring he wore as a necklace, the wand he kept hidden in a secret jacket inside pocket, and his invisibility cloak that he had folded in the secret pocket’s opposite. They felt heavy for a reason he couldn’t name on his person, and their weight was wrapped in a bitterness directed towards the man who was determined that they would find Harry as their Master.

Harry turned on his heel and walked away.

...

The plan was to say good-bye to all of his friends and leave to France, the start of his vacation. From there, he would travel in a random direction—he’d like to hop on a train and go, really—and keep going until he gets somewhere. Once a week, he would send a letter to Zabini to update him on his progress, and would occasionally return for tea with Hermione.

In hindsight, Harry wasn’t surprised that nothing went according to plan.

It began with a list. It often did, with Hermione. Hermione was a strong advocate of list-making, keeping a log and schedule with the same diligence she managed her Hogwarts study planner. This list caught Harry’s attention as it was in her bathroom. Finding books and notes in Hermione’s bathroom was not the strangest event, but this particular list was unusual in its vagueness, showing none of Hermione’s usual attention to detail.

It went as follows:

Café Rosé at 7:51.

A curious thing, and while Harry put on Hermione’s fluffy, pink, guest bathrobe, he pondered as to its meaning. Perhaps Hermione had a date? But she wouldn’t need to write down her date; also, who would plan to meet at 7:51?

Harry memorized it, and the next morning, he was at Café Rosé in London at 7:50. He waited there, disguised, to see if Hermione would show up. He watched for anything magical at all to happen.

At 7:52, nothing had happened. Disappointed, Harry went back to his coffee. Because he looked away, he missed the next sequence of events until the gun shot rang out.

Magnus Lockwood, an influential member of the Wizengamot, walked out of the café at 7:51:54. As he was just about to walk out of view from inside the café down the sidewalk, a car speeded down the street and shot him once in the head. He died instantly.

Harry did not recognize him, otherwise he might have been watching him more closely. As it was, Harry only looked back up after Lockwood had fallen onto the sidewalk. Because it was a gunshot, he wouldn’t have thought it was related.

But because Hermione had had a note with the time and place, he stood up and went to the body. And Harry, the former Head Auror even if for a few years, figured it out.

When he returned to Hermione’s later that evening, he said to Hermione, “Heard what happened to Lockwood?” It made more sense, at this point in the day, for Hermione to have done what she’d done. Lockwood was one of the primary opponents of Hermione’s proposed amendments to wizarding laws. Harry recalled that Hermione had mentioned him—a thorn in her side, she’d said. A man who had supported Voldemort’s take-over of the Ministry but hadn’t gotten any attention drawn to him, so had slipped through persecution. He was currently attempting to counter Hermione’s proposed Bill to reform funding of the Techno-Magical Department so as to assimilate better in muggle society with a Bill that requires the preservation of wizarding tradition so as to “not lose more than necessary due to the war.” To the purebloods who had lost many of their number during the war, this was an appealing bill, while Hermione’s seemed threatening to their values. In the past, he also opposed Hermione’s proposed bills to grant more rights to muggleborns, muggles, and to species that were not considered “beings.”

“Yes, I did,” Hermione answered casually. “I heard you called it in.”

“Yeah. I happened to be there.” He gazed steadily at Hermione. “I found a note in your bathroom with the name of it, and thought to check it out. Tragic, what happened, though.” Hermione lifted her head up, and met his gaze, and for a long while, neither spoke.

“Tragic,” Hermione echoed. “Especially considering those teenaged muggle girls that went missing by his house.”

Harry nodded in acceptance.

They watched the movie, in warm and trusting silence.

...

Harry knew that Hermione knew that he knew. Harry didn’t know if he ought to expect Hermione to do it again, or even how to feel about what she had done. Harry couldn’t approve of what Hermione was doing (though that was made more difficult when Hermione’s bill passed shortly thereafter, and a proud Arthur Weasley stopped by Hermione’s office to discuss his budget plans for his department). He could neither condemn her when Harry himself readily and easily resorted to murder when he had deemed it necessary during the Second War, and while he had never killed someone during his stint as an Auror, he had been willing to, several times, had it come down to it.

(Killing a criminal, while not recommended, was not forbidden if it was to protect one’s own life or the lives of others. Using an Unforgivable to do it was, which Harry always found odd. There were many ways to kill someone unpleasantly with common hexes.)

He was not surprised Hermione was capable of arranging the death of an enemy, either. He recalled, vividly, the moment he realized what had happened to Umbridge when the centaurs took her away, and that Hermione must have known. He had only been surprised that none of the professors punished her for it.

(“They thought I hadn’t known,” Hermione had said, when Harry had mentioned this. “They explained to me what had happened and why I should never have done that, but I was in the hospital wing recovering from the spell to my chest, so they decided that was all that was needed.”)

Harry also recalled, with satisfaction, really, the word SNEAK that had been written in boils on Marietta Edgecomb’s face when she ratted Dumbledore’s Army out to Umbridge.

No, Hermione’s viciousness was neither a surprise nor unprecedented.

If Harry had questioned Hermione on her decision to eliminate her political opponents in such a permanent manner, he might have avoided what was next to come. As it was, Harry’s unwavering trust in Hermione led him to believe she would do better to not leave any clues if she did it again. And that, if she did do it again, she would do it with the good of the wizarding world in mind.

And Harry was right, in both regards; Hermione neither left behind any clues nor did she do her crime without reason. No, the fault for the following events was Harry’s own shoddy luck.

Harry happened to meander down to the Department of Mysteries because he’d heard that Luna was back for a bit. That meant that he was one of the few outsiders (the others including Hermione, Kingsley, Zabini, and Neville) who saw the current project of the Unspeakables, which had Harry battle-ready before he even registered what he was seeing.

“What is this?!” Harry hissed, as he steamrolled forward, towards the Unspeakables. Luna, frowning and wand out, followed him. “OY! Edwards! TELL ME WHAT’S GOING ON!”

Edwards dropped the needle and syringe he was holding and it shattered on the ground, blood spilling on the white floor. “Mr. Potter, you’re not supposed to be here. You’re also not supposed to call me by name.”

Closer to the person strapped to the table, Harry could sense the wrongness from the person beside him. Before he could puzzle it out, he saw the demon trap on the floor and the table.

“No one cares if I’m here, and I’ll call you ‘idiot’ for bringing a demon into the Ministry. Whose orders are you following?”

William Edwards was older than Harry by quite a bit, having survived both the First and Second Wars, and having served as an Unspeakable for most of that time. Although he never supported Voldemort, he never opposed him either and quietly accepted the jobs given to him regardless of who was giving them. He was not imprisoned for two reasons: 1) though Edwards lacked what most people called empathy or a conscience, he also never deliberately sought to harm anyone, and 2) he was driven primarily by his scientific curiosity, and there were many reasons Hermione needed someone like him.

That said, he didn’t dislike Harry; he merely was disappointed he couldn’t get Harry strapped to his table.

That said, Harry didn’t dislike Edwards; he merely was physically repulsed by him.

Edwards hesitated in giving his answer and Luna stepped in, calm and ethereal, “It appears you’re attempting to draw blood from the demon on the table. Did you check to see if there’s a human trapped inside?”

That, at least, got a steady confirmation. “Yes. Only the demon inhabits the body. We’ve trapped it in there until it’s exorcised.” He pointed to a mark scarred onto the demon’s arm. A sealing mark.

“What is the purpose of this experiment?” asked Luna, all business. Luna as “all business” was odd, particularly as the people Harry normally associated that phrase with—Hermione and McGonagall—fit the description in a very different manner than Luna. The vague, dream-like, surprised quality in Luna’s demeanor shifted to the point where all of her intensity focused on her goal to a terrifying degree not even Hermione nor McGonagall could truly match.

“The blood of a human possessed by a demon shows several magical qualities upon ingestion. We have several, fully-informed, consenting wizard volunteers testing its full effects,” intoned Edwards. He vanished the blood and glass on the floor.

“What effects have you seen thus far?”

“Telekinesis, increased supernatural senses, and ability to affect those being demonically possessed.”

“Could you be a bit more vague about how they affect wizards, please?”

Edwards frowned, and Harry suspected at this point he wasn’t even aware that he shouldn’t be answering Harry’s questions (even the sarcastic ones), but merely trying to explain his discoveries. “They can cause them pain, mostly, but we suspect they might be able to exorcise them more quickly than a normal exorcism would, or through a wizard’s less savory methods.”

“Where are these volunteers?” asked Luna, and Edwards whisked them away to introduce them to the volunteers.

They were just that—volunteers. Fully-informed, consenting volunteers, just as Edwards had promised.

(One thing to say about Edwards, which may be why Hermione liked him fractionally more than Harry—he followed the rules well.)

After conversing with the volunteers, Luna and Harry parted without a word while Harry went to the Minister’s office. There, he found the Minister poking at a mobile phone given to him by Hermione.

“Can’t figure out your mobile, then?” asked Harry. Kingsley gave him a withering glare before it melted into sheer exasperation. The plasticity of Kingsley’s face always entertained Harry. Grinning, Harry strode in and sat himself in one of Kingsley’s guest chairs.

“Justin said I’d have to recharge it,” said Kingsley, “But I’ve had it on constantly for a month, but it still says it has a full battery. I’m a little uncertain as to why.”

“What’s Justin’s theory?” Harry asked, peering at the phone.

“He thinks it’s the ambient magic here in the Ministry keeps it charged,” stated Kingsley, straightening and placing his mobile out of sight. “Since I’m here so often. Is this a social visit or did you want to speak to me about something specifically?” he inquired.

“I have a point this time, I’m afraid,” admitted Harry. “I was just in the Department of Mysteries.”

Kingsley gazed levelly at Harry. “Harry, you know you’re not supposed to be down in the Department of Mysteries.”

“Kingsley, you know you’re not supposed to have a demon strapped to a table in the Department of Mysteries,” Harry mocked.

Between the two of them, Harry always won their staring competitions. This time was no different. Kingsley looked away first and sighed.

“Global numbers of demons are increasing,” affirmed Kingsley. “It’s beginning to alarm a great portion of not only the magical communities, but also the muggle officials who are aware of the problem. Muggles who are not aware of the problem are only that much more vulnerable to demonic attacks. The imprisoned demon is a security risk, but we’ve discovered that ingesting demon blood increases the magical capabilities of wizards. Our volunteers are testing these effects, to see if they would be helping fighting against these very demons.”

“This is a bad idea and I don’t condone it.”

Kingsley sighed. “I know.”

“You realize you need to write me down as a supervisor to guarantee safety, now, right?”

“I was hoping you wouldn’t find out about this project, honestly,” admitted Kingsley, as he wrote the official note. “The least amount of attention to this project and the faster it’s done, the better. Don’t let anyone know that you’re on this project, and for the love of all that is good, Harry, don’t attack Edwards.” Kingsley pushed the paper forward to Harry and leaned back.

Harry swiped the note from the desk, grinned at it, and said, “I make no promises if he attempts to convince me to let him have his wicked way with me on the dissection table.”

Kingsley shuddered. “Put like that, I can understand. But Harry—don’t.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Don’t worry, I’ll just linger in the background to make sure the demon doesn’t escape and kill anyone. Won’t hear a peep about it.”

...

Kingsley didn’t hear a single peep from down in the Department of Mysteries.

He heard screams, rather.

And then explosions. Harry’s doing, of course, though that was an unimportant tidbit for Kingsley and the rest of the Ministry at the moment. Particularly for the Unspeakables in the Department of Mysteries being ripped limb from limb at the demonic power wielded by their own test subjects.

It all began with an article a couple of hours ago that morning:

DEMON KEPT INSIDE DEPARTMENT OF MYSTERIES!

Whenever there is a question about what actually is contained in the Department of Mysteries, the individual in question is also answered with a resounding “shush” by all parties of the Ministry. We are left, then, with the question of what is it that is in the Department of Mysteries that the Ministry wants to keep secret so badly?

Due to the information from an anonymous source, we now have our answer: demons.

Currently, under the very floor of our government, a monster from Hell is being contained and its blood used on human subjects to see its effects. The nature of these experiments are unclear as are their purpose. Although the information given from the source was limited by necessity, the source itself was reliable. The Ministry, rather than eliminating the demon, is containing one despite the risk it presents to all individuals present at the Ministry.

As a reminder, this summer, a total of thirty students who are about to enter their last year at Hogwarts are interning at the Ministry in various positions. They are considered the best and the brightest of their year, and have promising futures and careers ahead of them.

The Ministry of Magic, which fell so far out of the trust of the people before the Second War and was overtaken by the Dark Lord during it, is still only beginning to regain the trust of the people. However, when the Ministry allows dangerous risks like allowing demons to live within the Ministry walls that threaten the lives of all who work or visit there, is the Ministry really deserving of that trust?

Needless to say, it was a shit storm. It was also a shit storm that Harry wasn’t privy to, because while all Ministry personnel arrived at their jobs on time to see the Daily Prophet’s news article and react in an appropriate and timely manner, Harry was sleeping soundly on Hermione’s couch. He didn’t arrive at the Ministry until two hours later.

Unfortunately, as Harry understood it later, Harry had missed a lot in those two hours for during that time, the top crust of the Ministry had realized:

1) Yes, there was a demon in the Department of Mysteries.

2) Yes, there were also people who were ingesting demon blood which enhanced their magical abilities in strange ways.

3) Aside from Unspeakables, there were only a few people who were in the know about this project, those being: Kingsley, Hermione, Neville, Zabini, and Harry.

3a) It might have been hinted in the article that it might have been an Unspeakable who found a way around their magical oath, which was difficult but not impossible, and that increased the number of suspects who leaked the information.

3b) Except not really, because it occurred to someone that Harry had also been involved in a murder a couple of months back, and out of all of the people involved, Harry was the only one who was uncontrollable, disliked the rules, and had no real official authority down in the Department of Mysteries.

An arrest warrant was sent out for Harry.The Auror Department began a search run by the few Aurors not trying to contain the situation downstairs.

Hermione went to her office, locked the door and Apparated home to wake Harry up.

“Bloody hell, Hermione, what is it?” murmured Harry, throwing an arm over his face.

“Harry, oh, Harry, I’m so sorry—I didn’t mean for this to happen!” Hermione exclaimed, frazzled and overwhelmed.

“What? What happened?” Harry sat up, his wand in hand.

“I told the Prophet about the demon in the Department of Mysteries,” Hermione said, “and the Ministry thinks you’re the leak.”

Harry blinked. “Of course they do. Why do they think that?”

“Because you were at the murder scene of Lockwood and overseeing the demon project in the Department of Mysteries and you don’t have any official standing any more! Oh, Harry, I didn’t mean for this to happen!”

“There’s not many of us for it to have been, Hermione,” responded Harry calmly, adrenaline waking him up, but practice making him move in sure, calculated movements.

“I thought they would think an Unspeakable had gotten around the Oath! Or a participant in the project!”

“Evidently not,” Harry snapped, cold.

Silence. Harry got up to put on his clothes.

“We’ve all done so much for the Ministry, I scarcely thought that any of us would be suspected. We’re all well-liked, too, within and outside of the Ministry. The fact that the blame fell instantly on you is... not what I expected.”

Harry waved his wand around the room, tucking away supplies into his larger-than-it-appeared bag. “I’m their favorite scrape goat Hermione. I know you’re the Ministry now, but it’s only been a few years since the Daily Prophet was calling me mad.” He helped himself to Hermione’s kitchen, packing food that wouldn’t spoil. Hermione trailed after him.

“What are you doing?”

Harry turned to look at her. “I’m packing. Going to need it on the road.”

Hermione frowned. “No, Harry, you can’t.”

“Can and will. Think of it as an early departure to my vacation.” Harry smiled wide, the one meant to assure people that Harry was just as much the risk-taker as they were told and there was nothing they could say or do that would stop his next act of stupidity.

Hermione’s frown took a determined curve, but Harry reached forward to place his hands on her shoulders. “Hermione, they need you. You’ve done so much for the Ministry in the few years you’ve been here. House elves are getting paid. Wizards are using phones. Muggle studies is mandatory, students are using pencils and pens, people are learning to use technology and how to integrate it in our lives, Azkaban no longer has dementors, every one is guaranteed a trial and legal representation. You’ve done so much! They need you. They already think I’ve done it, and there’s no one else it could be. You let me take the credit. It’ll be fine.” Hermione still looked ready to pick a fight. Harry continued. “Hermione, if you go down for this, you’ll never get back up. You won’t become the Minister of Magic, your laws will lose support and credibility, and all of your work will be for nothing. You not only should let me do this, you can’t not let me do this.” The lines on Hermione’s face became resigned, but Harry’s grin became wide and sharp. “Besides, they won’t know what to do with me. Boy savior, a criminal? ‘What do we do with him?’”

Hermione’s lip quirked in a way that Harry took as a victory, but by this point, at the Ministry, Aurors had been sent down into the Department of Mysteries to destroy the demon project due to official and public demand.

Demon blood had had a strange effect on the wizards and witches participating in the experiment. There weren’t many of them, and at this point in the study, they had been constrained to a few converted rooms in the Department of Mysteries. They had been told that it was because they had found something to monitor and it was nothing to worry about, but actually, it was something to worry greatly over. The participants had all been diligent about receiving their dosage—far too diligent to be normal in a study. When denied a dosage, the participants had displayed symptoms similar to that of drug addicts. For now, the participants had been in the converted rooms for about 24 hours, receiving the normal dosage while Edwards and the other researchers decided what to do.

(When Hermione read the report, she had thought this experiment had gone too far, and sought to end it before anything went wrong and it would be impossible to save the participants.)

Some of the participants, terrified by being cornered by the Aurors alongside the irrationality their addiction was wrecking upon them, attacked the Aurors and Unspeakables attempting to restrain them with their demonically-enhanced magic. Kingsley and many others heard the screams from below their feet.

People were scrambling, attempting to counterattack, and somehow, the demon got loose.

Blaise Zabini, who was helpfully telling people to piss off when they approached Hermione’s office, ran into her office himself, locked the door, and called Hermione’s mobile.

As soon as Hermione picked up, Zabini reported, “The participants are slaughtering people and the demon’s loose. Tell Potter to get over here and stop them.”

“On my way!” he heard Harry say along with a distant pop.

A not-so-distant crack sounded next to him, and he put his mobile away to speak to Hermione. “We’ve lost some Aurors and Unspeakables, but the precise number is difficult to determine. Some Aurors who escaped shut the door to the Department of Mysteries, so they shouldn’t be able to get out, but there were still some Aurors and Unspeakables trapped in there—”

An explosion rippled through the ground beneath them.

“Well, Potter got in.”

Down below, Harry hoped Hermione and Zabini would have the sense to not interfere. It was usually a toss-up, whether or not Hermione would do the sensible thing, nowadays. Being in a position of power had Hermione used to the idea that she had to be consistently responsible (or at least the appearance of it), and realized that sometimes it was best to leave Harry to his exploits. Other times, she thirsted for the days where she could curse with the best of them, make people physically fall to their knees, and know that Harry’s back was covered.

As Harry snuck around the wall and struck one of the other demon blood crazy participant with a blasting spell and then a freezing spell to the floor, Harry decided that if ever there were a time for Hermione to join him, a fight with a demon and people crazy off its blood would be it.

He saw from his peripheral vision a couple of the participants attempting to crawl away from the fight, but the direction they were headed would only lead them further down into the Department. It would, however, decrease their chances of being knocked out by a scared Auror or Unspeakable, so Harry moved to a new spot to draw attention to himself and let the two participants who hadn’t gone crazy get away from the danger.

Or at least, that was his intent. Before he could do anything, the demon rushed the two participants and snapped one of their necks. The man shrieked away from the demon and the body, and noise from the displacement of air from Harry’s Apparating in front of the man resounded throughout the room. Grabbing the demon, he shot off a bat-boogey hex to distract it while he yelled at the wizard to run, which he did, thankfully.

Harry had to move again after that, because his success so far in this fight was due to the fact that he had disillusioned himself and both the addicts and the demon were having difficulty locating him. Harry’s disillusionment charms had always been excellent, to the point of invisibility. Hermione, without invisibility, would have not done nearly as well.

Yeah, Hermione’s rage at being locked out of the Department of Mysteries would be worth it. Even if it meant he was alone in here with the addicts and the demon. It was almost like fifth year, all over again.

A hand hit his arm and there was a loud yell from one of the participants, “Found him!” before he was flung backwards into the wall. He was going to be one big bruise if he survived this.

He Apparated to the opposite side of the room, shot off a spell, Apparated again, shot off a spell, then again, and again. If he kept moving places, they wouldn’t be able to get a grip on him with their powers.

Harry was only incapacitating the participants. When they were unconscious, they were unable to do anything, so they could be handled by the Ministry later. Despite their powers, they were only human, so it was fairly easy to knock them out.

That demon, though. That was going to be tough.

The body it was inhabiting was a beautiful man. A real life example of tall, dark, and handsome. But its eyes were endlessly black, and it shouted out the horrors it would visit upon the wizards that had imprisoned it.

Harry had not taken on any demons during his stint as an Auror, because demons so rarely could enter Britain. The royal family, having their own special forces to handle supernatural threats, had built iron bars and salt lines into the foundations of the entrances and exits of their country. (These protections were also built into important government buildings. Evidently, it was extremely difficult for a supernatural creature to enter Buckingham Palace, or any of the other homes of the royal family.) Since the end of the Second War, there had only been four demonic possessions in six years.

A wizard’s preferred method of eliminating a demon involved killing it with a magical fire, which also killed the host. (Normal fire didn’t work.)

Harry was prepared to do that, as he didn’t expect to kill a host that was reportedly not inside its body anymore, if not for something the demon was saying inbetween the screamed curses.

“I hope you lot realize that it hasn’t just been me you’ve imprisoned here!” it screamed, its power tearing into a wall in its search for Harry. Unluckily for it, the sound covered Harry’s constant Apparating and discrete spells to protect the participants lying unconscious all over. At this point, Harry and the demon were the last ones standing. There were some bodies of the Aurors and Unspeakables, but they were dead or unconscious, and those that could had run off, if not out of the Department, then elsewhere to hide. They’d be fine. “Edwards lied when he said I was alone in here! All this time, this pathetic human has been in here screaming at you for freedom! And all this time, imprisoned without food or water, his body’s going to be shit if I leave! He’d be better off with me in him, thanks to you!”

Speaking of which, if Harry was going to do this murderous, treacherous, fugitive thing, he was going to do it right. He’ll kill Edwards before he departs as a fugitive, then.

It would also ensure people blamed him rather than Hermione for everything, too.

Yeah. That’s why.

“WHERE ARE YOU? COME OUT, WIZARD!” screamed the demon.

“Here I am,” sang Harry, appearing behind it. Harry threw magically-constructed salt in its face and it screeched. Harry considered his options. He could burn it, but now that he knew the host was still in there, he hesitated to do that. He could exorcise it, but he had to stop the demon from attacking him, so he needed to trap it. Trapping demons was difficult, because normal spells for restraining people, like the Body-Bind Curse, didn’t work. (Even weak demons had enough power to throw off restriction spells. They also made their host physically strong enough to break off any rope or chains used to restrain them. This is why most wizards hit demons with as strong as they had, and left to get reinforcements or burnt the demon themselves.)

Burning was such a painful way to die.

And the hosts of demons were usually left awake.

There had to be some other way to stop the host’s pain.

And Harry had an idea. It was a terrible, moronic idea, but that had never stopped Harry before.

 

Harry made himself visible, and the demon lunged for him. Staring straight into its black, furious eyes, Harry yelled, “AVADA KEDAVRA!”

Green light rushed towards black eyes—

—and all was still.

Harry waited, tense, but when nothing happened, he stood cautiously, keeping an eye on the still forms on the ground.

Some of the participants he had knocked out were stirring, but that was alright. He bound them easily enough, and then went to the Department of Mysteries. He secured all of the participants on the ground, and then opened the door to the Department.

Instantly, he was bypassed by medical personnel to tend to the wounded in the Department and then he was surrounded by Aurors demanding his arrest. “Sorry, lovelies, hate to do this, but I got to cut this short. I came back just for one thing.” Ah, and there was Edwards. Harry knew he hadn’t seen him among the bodies. Harry Apparated behind him, grabbed his upper arms, and Apparated away before anyone could stop him.

Alone in an alley of London with Harry Potter was clearly not where William Edwards wanted to be, but he also didn’t appear surprised. He looked grim and grey-faced as he turned to Harry and asked resignedly, “What did the demon tell you?”

“Did you know there was still a human soul inside the body?”

Harry’s tone and posture brooked for no way out of this. Edwards sighed, took of his glasses, pocketed them, and closed his eyes. “It was the twentieth demon we’d brought in, and there had been a human soul contained in all of them. I needed to run that experiment, Potter. I needed to. You have no idea how much we’ve learned in this project. Even if you kill me now, even though people have died, we’ve learned so much.” He kept his eyes closed for the entire fervent speech.

Harry’ scratched the back of his neck uncomfortably. “And here I thought you followed the rules,” Harry muttered to himself. “Good-bye, Edwards. It really has not been a pleasure.”

Harry lifted his wand, and killed Edwards with a simple reducto to the throat. It was so over-powered that he died instantly.

One less problem to worry about.

“Toodles,” said Harry to the corpse, and vanished.

Chapter Text

Excerpt from The Development of Magical Usage in the Middle East, by D. Toma:

... Although limited in the varieties of appropriate wood for wandmaking, Middle Eastern wizards have, throughout history, found other means to channel their magic, including stones, gemstones, and, perhaps most intriguing of all, organic material. Although European wizards typically use material such as heartstrings, feathers, or hairs in their wands, Middle Eastern wizards have often used bones in place of wood, and blood as a core. Although blood of a magical creature was most effective, occasionally a wizard would use blood of a human, from whom the blood was taken in a magically significant way. This includes rather tame examples—such as blood willingly given from the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter—or more sinister and Dark instances—such as the combined blood of sixty-six slaughtered innocents.

            It has been quite common for many wizards, including among indigenous Americans and Asians, to fill a hollowed out rock or gemstone with blood. Typically, the blood was obtained harmlessly, and if a tool for the family, the blood is that of the family members throughout generations. There are existing amulets that have had blood added to them by each generation of the same family since the time of Ancient Greece. Blood magic, as has been well-researched, can hurt as well as protect. The Blood Magic Act passed in the British Ministry of Magic in 1954, which prohibits the use of blood magic for family protection amulets, as well as any rituals which would require a blood sacrifice or runes written in blood (whether your own or another’s), was passed shortly after an amulet turned on a family due to the new contributions of blood to the amulet by the family’s youngest son, who was being sexually abused by his mother. His fear, anger, and desire for vengeance resulted in the death of most of the family, leaving only two survivors.

            However, such a law has never been passed in the Middle East, due to several contributing factors, including but not limiting to: the intertwined muggle and magical histories leading to a lack of a central magical government, cultural factors leading to magical spells to be hidden from outsiders and passed down only through family, and the lack of other materials (e.g. foliage) leading to limited sources for alternatives. Although now it is possible to import materials for wandmaking to the Middle Eastern communities, the lack of magical central governments in many of these regions make trade difficult if not impossible. In addition, like many wizarding communities, Middle Eastern wizards prefer tradition and are resistant to change. Many wizards in these regions use blood magic for their daily spells and the time and difficulty it would take to adjust to an entirely new method of using magic does not seem to be a worthy pursuit when their current method works well for their needs.

            Blood magic also affords to the magical community there an easily accessible protection from the political unrest the muggle populations have been facing. Although blood magic has granted much-needed protection for their magical population, it also means that their spells are hard to break. There have been many cases of visiting foreign wizards contacting their home government to report that they were unable to break the spell (and in some cases, curse) that has been cast on them by a native wizard. To further compound the problem, blood spell work is a largely unknown field of study as most of the spells are passed down in families, and are forbidden to be shared with those outside the family...

...

It was to no one’s greater surprise than Harry’s that his stint as an exile went relatively smoothly at the beginning. Granted, there was that one time in Florence where he discovered a number of wizards and witches attempting to bring Michelangelo’s David to life, and that time in Germany where there was a cult in a warehouse attempting to create an army of super-powered squirrels, but for Harry, this was practically a vacation.

Even if he was an exile and a fugitive.

Hell. He was even having fun.

It hadn’t been all happy fun times, though. Harry got used to disguising his appearances with glamours or make-up, and masking his magic with amulets and sigils so as to go undetected.

Despite this, Harry was Harry, and his luck was a pendulum as always between miraculously good and maliciously bad. One such time was in Vienna around Valentine’s Day of 2014, when Harry was taking a romantic stroll by himself around downtown.

There was nothing really in particular that Harry was looking for, but he noticed the peculiar as he saw it, and one man would soon prove himself to be the definition of peculiar. He was disguised as an old man (really quite well-done, in fact, Harry wouldn’t have noticed if he hadn’t gotten used to non-magic means of disguise and was able to pick out that the firm buttocks of the man in question was definitely not that of an old man). Now, just someone dressed as someone older wasn’t enough to catch Harry’s attention, but this individual was being followed by two non-descript characters who had firearms concealed under their jackets. Harry was rather used to seeing happy couples on this day, and the body language of all of the persons involved were a stark contrast to all of the warm, gooey affection radiating from the people around them.

In fact, it seemed the two blokes who were following the not-actually-old man were trying to manoeuvre him into a secluded alleyway.

This was really none of Harry’s business. They were now directly across the street from Harry, weaving around the couples who were treating themselves to sweets at the cafés, holding close out of affection and to keep warm in this cold February day.

Harry knew, out of the sliver of self-preservation that he had, that involving himself in too many unusual occurrences was just asking to be noticed. He really ought to just go into one of the bakeries himself and forget this whole thing.

Harry could practically hear Hermione say, “Oh, what idiotic thing are you thinking of doing now?”

He really shouldn’t do it.

Every single time, from those trying to animate David to the squirrels to everything back at Hogwarts, Harry knew he shouldn’t do it.

They were beginning to walk further away than Harry could keep an eye on, if he wanted to have time to disguise himself and follow them. He was already in disguise, but a good way to remain under the radar was to have multiple disguises at once, in order to have no suspicious ties anywhere.

He was going to do it anyway. This was the last time, he swore to himself.

He always did it anyway. He always swore to himself that it was the last time. Disappointment and bitterness festered because he couldn’t not even though it was stupid and ill-advised and really, where did saving people lead him? But as soon as he thought it he thought of everyone who survived the Second War, who lived, because of him, and in no way did Harry’s happiness or safety could ever match up to the lives he had saved.

In Hermione’s wise advice, “If you’re going to do it anyway, at least do it right,” Harry ducked to a shadow, casted a glamour to change his appearance to that of a sandy blond, curly-haired man on the short side. He never let the three men leave his sight, so as soon as he had casted the spells, he was out walking parallel to the group on the other side of the street.

In his job as an Auror, Harry became pretty decent at following people with or without magic. He had always been light on his feet, even as a kid. Sneaking away was one of the ways he had escaped Dudley and his gang while they were playing Harry Hunting. Being an Auror just honed the skill even more.

He was rather surprised, then, to follow the three to an alleyway, preparing to save the not-actually-old man, only to wake up hours later tied to a chair.

Huh, I underestimated them, thought Harry. Ought not to do that in the future.

Next to him, was the not-actually-old man without his make-up, also tied to a chair. Though his make-up had been hastily wiped away, his wig ripped off, and his clothes removed and replaced with simple pants and t-shirt (which was not nearly sufficient for the temperature of the room), Harry could determine that he was a sharp cheek-boned Caucasian man in his mid-thirties, with dark, curly hair. He was glaring in a direction in front of them, to—oh. Yes, Harry and this man were tied to some chairs, they clearly had captors, who happened to be standing in front of them. Harry wondered how hard they hit his head. There was a throbbing to his left temple, but he didn’t seem to be bleeding, and nothing appeared to be broken. His glamour clearly remained intact through being unconscious, for if it hadn’t, he was certain he wouldn’t be merely tied to a chair. With some effort towards concentration, he could still feel the tingle coating his skin indicating it remained in tact. (When he looked down at his hands immediately after, he realized that he could have saved himself the trouble because his hands were still noticeably altered, but too late.)

One of their captors started speaking. There were three of them in front of them, with who knew how many more beyond the closed door of the room. The two standing a little further away had guns aimed at him and the other captive, one each. It would be difficult to escape through muggle means. However, Harry was not a muggle, and if Harry was right about his physical health, then he would be able to prove that very soon.

“Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” their captor said, with an Austrian accent, “and... associate.”

“This man is no associate of mine,” said Sherlock Holmes with a cold sneer and a sharp English accent. He never turned to look at Harry. “I would never associate with such a bumbling fool.” If Harry had to be captured with anyone, he supposed someone who knew how to channel their Inner Snape was appropriate, if not the person who was most guaranteed to survive. Unless if they could channel Snape’s cleverness as well. While Harry never liked the man, and still didn’t, he had been awfully clever to survive as long as he had.

Looking around, Harry noticed they were in a rather non-descript room, with black-out curtains. From the size of the room and the architecture, they were clearly still in Vienna, just relocated from outside the buildings to inside. In fact, in the cracks between the curtains, Harry could see some familiar landmarks. Harry wasn’t quite certain what this Holmes fellow was involved in, but it clearly wasn’t someone who intended to ever let him leave Vienna. Still, they needed him alive for something, information, most likely, considering they thought Harry was an associate and had brought him with alive. Harry’s thoughts transitioned smoothly to the inevitable conclusion that his captors intended to torture him in order to make Sherlock Holmes spill his secrets.

By denying he knew him, Holmes perhaps hoped to exclude Harry from interrogation. A nice thought, but it would probably just get him killed faster. Unhelpful, either way.

Apparating out would be easy.

It would bring up some questions with this lot, though. They didn’t seem to be the sort to just forget and move on. Also, Harry could never leave someone to die.

Oh, people were talking.

“What is it you want to know?” asked his fellow captive. “And don’t waste our time by being thick, I have several projects waiting for me that I need to return to.”

Their captor in the centre sneered. “Cute. You’ve done so well to have come this far Mr. Holmes. But it stops now,” said their captor, taking out a gun dramatically, and Harry rolled his eyes. Someone’s watched too many movies. This was probably the poor fellow’s first big catch. Harry almost felt bad for him for catching Harry in the mix. “You’ll die here, yes, but I’ll make it quick, if you tell me who was your source of information. As well as how you survived St. Bart’s.”

A lot of grief and pain could be avoided if he Apparated out of here now. If Harry had to guess, this Sherlock Holmes fellow was intelligent, to the point where if Harry dangled a mystery in front of him (e.g. Apparating behind the captors, knocking them out, then Apparating the two of them out of there), he’d pursue it.

He’d blow the secret of the wizarding world to this one bloke, but that would endanger Holmes’ safety more if he attempted to investigate than Harry’s as he had a magical disguise. Holmes, even if someone searched his memories, would not be a link back to Harry.

If Harry allowed this captive situation to continue, one or both of them would be hurt. Or killed, if they were shot suddenly, before Harry could protect them.

Like his decision to initially follow the strange group, this decision was equally easy.

In one breath, he went from being tied to a chair to being behind their captor, next to the drawers that had a random assortment of items spread upon it, including a candlestick. He grabbed the candlestick, slugged one captor and then another, before throwing it as hard as he could at the third before he could be shot.

He turned around to check up on the other captive, who was gaping at him. Harry asked, “Are you okay?” before the man let out his deluge of words.

“You transferred your entire body mass across a room, and made a distinctive noise that could only have been the displacement of air in both locations. That implies that you simultaneously, for a lack of a better word, teleported. Your body mass shoved the pre-existing molecules out of the way. That is not possible, but clearly it is, since you have just done it, and I have not been injected with any hallucinogens recently and my mental state is reliable, so I can conclude that I am not hallucinating and you really did just teleport. Therefore, you possess some sort of ability to take yourself—and other mass such as your clothing—from one location to another due to—how? What sort of mechanism do you possess that allows you to do that?”

“Uh. Wow.” Harry revised his previous conclusion. Holmes was really smart. “Um... with power, I guess.” With a flick of the wrist, the man is untied. “Listen, mate, it’s probably best if you don’t mention this to anyone. I’m not really well-liked, and—”

“There are others like you,” said Holmes, standing up and flexing his hands, never once looking away from Harry. The intensity of his gaze could have competed with Dumbledore and Snape, though it was colder than the former’s and less malicious than the latter’s. It was an intriguing combination that let Harry breathe easy, as he knew how to handle individuals of that mould. The man, seemingly incapable of stopping himself, continued, “Yes. The others are organized. You’ve been on the run from them for two months, judging by the state of your dress, although there are inconsistencies of the wear of your clothes and their cleanliness. Another example of that power you just demonstrated? You’re an experienced fighter, and have a preternatural calm about you even in times of stress, though whether that is due to your experience or an innate personality trait is debatable. You’re shorter than your body type would suggest usually, as well as thinner, so you were malnourished as a child. Abusive and neglectful parents? No, relatives. An aunt and an uncle? Raised with a child your own age, so a cousin who participated. Despite that, you’re not bitter or vengeful, an unusual reaction to an abusive childhood. Is that part of your skills?”

Bemused, Harry blinked at him. He was right. “Yeah. You done?” How much of a threat was Sherlock Holmes? These observations seem to be made automatically, and Holmes didn’t seem to know when to not share. Is that the limit to it? Did this man, who clearly didn’t understand societal constructions, or perhaps merely didn’t care, also possess similar control of his other impulses?

Would he be violent in pursuing his curiosity? Unbidden and unwanted, but unable to prevent himself of considering the possibilities, William Edwards came to mind.

Holmes peered closer. “You’re not mad now. How are you not mad? But you are—scared.” He sounded surprised. “What are you scared of? Of me? You’re clearly more than capable of removing me, so that’s not it—oh, but are you willing to remove me? Perhaps not. You saved my life, but now that I am aware of your existence and peculiarities, I am a threat.” He straightened up. Even covered haphazardly in make-up, his hair squished oddly due to the presence and removal of the wig, and in ratty and plain clothes given to him by his captors, he cut an impressive figure. “I assure you, that while I am most certainly curious and wish to pursue this new mystery, I appreciate the help you’ve given me and will not investigate this that will put either myself or you in danger.”

“Or others,” added Harry, since it seemed appropriate.

“Or others,” echoed Sherlock Holmes, and with the barest trace of Legilimency, Harry could tell he wasn’t lying.

Silence. There was no more sound than usual coming from the rest of the building, nor the sound of anyone coming to the room. The three men on the floor remained quietly on the floor. Harry ventured to ask, “Are you done?”

Holmes’ eyes gleamed. “There is something off about the ring you have around your neck.” Surprised, Harry looked down. The Resurrection Stone was visible around his neck, but the rest of his glamour had gone interrupted. Maybe its magic had interrupted his own? He would have to investigate. “It is not something a man with you fashion style would wear, especially as a pendant, unless it held sentimental value, but the haphazard state of its chain suggests that you dislike the item. The form of your right hand indicates the consistent use of a—” He stopped. “This is ridiculous. A long, thin, object, held like a sword, but much thinner than even a rapier’s hilt, and given what you’ve done so far, that means you must be a—sorcerer?”

“I just call myself a wizard, but yeah, sorcerer works too. Seriously, you done? I wanted to get to the Freud museum,” said Harry.

“Quite. I do believe we are about to get unwanted guests, so if you wanted to get on with it,” Holmes agreed at once amiable and condescending. He gave such a look of expectation that Harry Apparated across the room behind Holmes instead of walking to him just to see him jump.

Without waiting for a response (because Sherlock Holmes was clearly about draw another breath), he grabbed the man’s arm and Apparated them to another part of Vienna. “Hope this works for you, and this was fun and all, but I need to vamoose.” As an afterthought, Harry added, “Be careful when you investigate, we erase people’s memories when they’ve discovered us. Also, do not mention me; think of it as returning the favour,” and with another pop, Harry was at the amusement park in Vienna.

(He had lied. He had already gone to the Freud museum.)

Harry bought himself a snack, and considered the consequences of what just happened. Because Holmes? He was definitely going to investigate. He would investigate, get in too far, and end up being memory charmed. Technically, Harry should have memory charmed him in order to protect himself. Even if Harry couldn’t be identified in the memories, an odd, unidentifiable wizard would still attract attention.

A thought of horror struck Harry.

Holmes had noticed the Resurrection Stone.

Not many people knew that Harry had it, so not all was lost. It was hidden under his shirts or coats when he was back at home, so only a few people knew he had it under his possession.

But if someone recognized it while seeing the memories... and if they had any ounce of intelligence... someone would consider the possibility that the wizard was Harry.

Fuck it. Time to move on.

Holmes had the option to pursue it. He had the option to not pursue it. He knew that if he pursued it, there would be consequences if he was caught. He could make his own decision.

That’s better than violating his mind.

(And maybe, he was actually smart enough to investigate without being caught. Based on his performance, Harry had high hopes.)

...

And so things went for Harry, until they didn’t.

The catastrophe that occurred happened in Afghanistan, though Harry wasn’t aware that he was even in Afghanistan until much later. This was primarily to do with Harry’s newfound love of going on hikes in mountains (or going up a building, flying up in the sky, any high point really), spinning in a circle while pointing outwards, and Apparating to where ever he’s pointing.

Although, sometimes he just took a train. He got pretty good at faking papers and other identities.

He was making his way slowly through towns; when he came upon a wizarding community, he’d join them and for the most part, this would end well. There was one or two occasions where he was treated with too much suspicion to do much in that community, in which case he’d just join the muggle one. As he moved further south, he found that there were more small pockets of wizards rather than a completely insular society. Even further south, wizards rarely interacted with wizards outside of their families, and it was these that were the most difficult to befriend. They refused to share their secrets (which were all of their spells) to outsiders; but many of them still at least spoke to Harry and treated him hospitably. If Harry left on good terms with his hosts, he considered his visit more than successful.

Years entrenched in the politics of the British wizarding world taught Harry that positive connections were always useful eventually. 

When he Apparated not far from the small town of Gulmira, disguised as a native, he made a beeline to where he can feel the strongest magical presence in the town. There he met the town’s doctor, an educated fellow who returned home after his schooling. Their house was well-kept, but modest, and Harry soon learned that it was the wife—not the doctor—who was a witch. The only one in the town, aside from her three children, all of who were still too young to be trained. Peculiar, Harry thought, given how family-orientated both the muggle and wizarding societies in these regions were, but Harry thought little of it.

When he walked into town, Harry created a small, paper bird to send to the witch. When opened, it revealed a small explanation of who he was and a request to meet, if she was willing. In the note, he explained that he would visit her husband under the guise of another doctor, and if she wanted to speak to him, she could easily do so afterwards.

He received no word in return before his visit to the doctor, and during she was present only for her introduction—her name was Hana—before she disappeared.

Guessing from her lack of eye contact and quick disappearance, Harry supposed she didn’t want to speak to him. Granted, Harry had had to learn how to speak to witches in this society in a manner that would not overtly disobey any of its patriarchal rules. It was a difficult thing to do, and if the witches agreed, the meeting required a lot of secrecy, but usually a note magicked to them would at least get a conversation.

Well, it wasn’t really any of Harry’s business. He spoke to the doctor, who asked to be called Yinsen, about medical procedures. Although Harry did have some Healer training (he was good, but had never attempted an official license), his travels had required some muggle medical knowledge as well—which he learned quite a good deal of through his trips, even if he often cheated with magic. He could pass, though, as a muggle doctor as he travelled, which was a fantastic cover no matter where he went.

It was not until Harry spied a familiar-looking book upon their shelves that he realized why the wife had refused to speak to him. Begging Yinsen’s pardon, he removed the text from the shelf and flipped through it.

Ah, Harry had time to think before everything went to hell, that was stupid of me.

He felt the spike of magic further down the house, tastes a blood-tinged magic in the air, and then a spike of coldness rushed through him and left him weak. He fell to his knees.

Harry stared at the cover of the book, so familiar and so different, as Yinsen rushed to his side. He distantly registered Yinsen’s gasp and saw his feet move backwards away from Harry, but there was a ringing silence in Harry’s ears.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard the tome read, in faded Farsi letters.

The witch had seen the ring around Harry’s neck, recognized the stone for what it was—a deathly hallow—and assumed the worst of him. Though, hell, he couldn’t blame her. It was rather pragmatic of her, really, he thought, as Yinsen tried to kick him out of his home.

Oh, Harry thought, as he stood up slowly (oh, god, he was so weak, so very weak without his magic), my glamour fell off. My magic is gone. I didn’t even know that was possible.

Yinsen began to yell. Harry figured he would be surprised, too, if his Middle Eastern guest suddenly fell and became white.

“I’m leaving,” Harry croaked, in his Farsi, which he had learned through his subpar Legilimency but retained through his own memory and not through magical means, thank god. “But I require to speak to your wife—”

Ideally, Harry would speak to Hana, assure her he wasn’t a threat for long enough to destroy her amulet or shrine or whatever she was using to curse him. If he was ambitious (which he wasn’t), he might be able to convince her to lift the curse herself.

Harry would never get the chance to speak to Hana, because at that moment, they heard gunshots and screams.

It drew Hana from the back, wielding a crudely-made bone wand and a pale orb. Bingo. There were more gunshots, and now Harry could hear yelled orders to Find that doctor, we need the doctor, and Harry wasn’t a genius by any stretch but he could add two and two. So could Yinsen and his wife, apparently, judging by their pale faces and panicked eyes.

“Get out of here, get out the back,” said Harry, grabbing their arms. Their children showed up, crying and terrified, and their parents pulled them close. “Go, go fast, I will hold them off. We need to destroy that,” he said, pointing to the orb, before grabbing it and smashing it on the ground.

“It is a blood curse,” Hana said fearfully. “The curse is made and it will not break until your death.”

“Awesome,” Harry muttered in English. “Fantastic.” He grabbed Yinsen’s and Hana’s arm, and with them came their children and pulled them out and away from the house and the town. The gunshots and screams were louder outside. He continued quickly in Farsi to Hana, “I understand, a ring made by Death, it’s scary, but really? Did you have to choose the unchangeable solution? You couldn’t have used a changeable solution first and then you decided if I was threat or not?”

He pushed them forward, and told them to go. “I’ll stop them, run from here very fast.” It probably wouldn’t help, either way, but it was something. He avoided any good-byes and arguments by running back into town. He watched Yinsen, Hana, and their children run, before rushing off to some dry, scratchy, but still dense bushes to take out his invisibility cloak from a hidden pocket in his clothes, wrapped the Resurrection Stone and the Elder Wand inside of it so they were invisible, and hid them by the base of one of the bushes. He hoped that would be enough to keep them safe until he could get his magic back and they would return to him on their own.

Harry had discovered, rather accidentally, that the Hallows would return to him if he left them behind. And oh, he had tried. Soon after the Second War, he attempted to burn them all. The strongest fire he could burn left them untouched and unmarked. Similar attempts of destruction, aided by Hermione, garnered similar results. Hell, even leaving them behind at home resulted in Harry reaching into his pocket for some gum only to pull out the Elder Wand which he remembered leaving in Hermione’s nightstand.

So when he got his magic back, the Hallows would return to him. In the meantime, he needed to hide them so they would not be found and abused by another. He hoped this would be enough. Harry couldn’t do more, not when he could still hear gunshots, his body was shaking from the shock it experienced from the blood curse, he felt so very weak and tired, and the scratches from the bushes, as tiny as they were, felt they were draining his energy with every cut.

Harry sat in the bushes, drained, as he heard a new round of gunshots. He closed his eyes.

He couldn’t stop now. He could not stop now.

Harry got up, fought his way out of the bushes, and headed towards the gunshots.

In Harry’s astonishingly dumb brand of stupidity, he ran straight into the centre of town from where the gunshots were ringing, held up his arms, and yelled, “Stop! I’m a doctor, I’ll go with you, just stop!”

On the positive side, it worked. The gunshots stopped.

But the guns were now pointed at him.

Harry thought maybe he should feel afraid, but there was a calm acceptance in his chest. He was shaking still, but he thought it was due to the trauma of losing his magic than fear. He thought that showing fear might help him more in this situation than not. Hopefully.

All Harry had was hope right now. This was not a distressing realization. Hope had carried him far before, and it would again.

“Who are you?” said a man in accented English, who may or may not be the leader. His gun was pointed vaguely in Harry’s direction, but lower than the others (which were aimed at his chest and head), as he approached Harry.

“Harry Potter,” said Harry. “I’m a doctor with—with Doctors Without Borders.”

Now he got even closer until the tip of his gun was poking Harry’s stomach. Harry wondered if he liked his apparent fear. “What is a doctor doing out here?”

The man was visually frightening in a stereotypical masculine way. He was tall, broad, dark-skinned, bald, and had a tattoo on his head. His demeaner reminded Harry of Death Eaters like Walden Macnair, who was so comfortable with using the threat of physical violence against others that he never worried about getting others to do what he wanted.

Even with the imminent threat of being filled with bullets, Harry could not stop a snarky response. In his defence, snarkiness was his default when dealing with people like Macnair. “Doctoring.” As soon as he said it, he regretted it. While it might direct their attention to him, they may just kill him. They may become angry enough to kill everyone in the town. (If they weren’t planning to anyway.)

Anger filled the eyes of the man in front of him, and Harry prepared himself for death. For his comment, Harry was smacked against the side of his head with the gun.

He blacked out.

When he woke up, he felt that not being killed could be considered a success. He might have been tied up with a bag over his head, and being taken away to who knows where, but he was still alive despite himself. They were on the move. Harry told himself that at least they had left the town though. Harry told himself that maybe some people were able to get away. Maybe Yinsen and Hana and their children got away.

This did not, however, improve Harry’s situation.

Harry was now the prisoner of terrorists.

While he was without magic.

Right then.

He’d have to handle this.

Chapter Text

Harry had to play doctor to the terrorists.

Easy enough.

It was terrible conditions, but Harry made the most of it. He was imprisoned in a cave filled with scrap metal, and in his spare time, he rearranged the scrap to be aesthetically pleasing.

The cave was dark, dank, and pretty much exactly what one would imagined while being imprisoned in the cave. Harry soon learned that the only exit was the doorway that was constantly guarded, and that the entire place only had two cameras; one that was set up above the doorway and the other that was set up on the other side of the cave. Together, they covered a large portion of the cave, but they left many places out-of-sight for which to hide in. Soon after he had been imprisoned, Harry hid himself between two large piles of non-functioning (yes, he’d checked) missiles and did nothing but wait.

After fifteen minutes, one of the terrorists came to check on him. Harry was beaten for his attempt.

A few days later, he did it again. Twenty minutes later, someone came back, struck him across the face, and then left muttering curses as soon as Harry crawled back into view of the cameras.

He didn’t do it regularly, but he hid often enough that no one was alarmed when he disappeared off-camera for a bit. Harry would worry what they thought he was doing, but they didn’t seem to consider him a threat.

Harry loved it. There was nothing quite like being underestimated. Most of his good fortune during his vacation hinged on being underestimated, like in Vienna.

(Not that he had a plan, as he didn’t even know how he’d get out the door, let alone off the base, but he’s sure that having a fifteen minute window to go unobserved would help whatever plan he managed to come up with.)

It wasn’t nearly as bad as one would think, though. Aside from having to patch up the terrorists, Harry didn’t really interact with anyone at all. Being left alone was a luxury Harry knew wouldn’t last, but appreciated all the same. When not rearranging the cave or tending to terrorists, Harry explored how each of the items functioned in the cave, or sat still and did nothing.

Although Harry was not quite aware of it, he disturbed the terrorists. He never complained about the conditions or the way he was treated, and he did the work they gave him with a (admittedly bland and automatic, but still there nonetheless) smile. When he was doing nothing, he was too still, too quiet. It was characteristic of Occlumency practice, but Harry was no longer able to draw up his Occlumency shields. Harry hazarded that if there was something to be done about the blood curse with the methods available to them, attempting to do so by examining the organization of his mind was the best way to start.

The meditation was actually an attempt to access his magic, and eventually, he had been able to feel his magic, locked up in his mind as one would keep a valuable in a safe. Harry could not erect his Occlumency shields, but he hadn’t lost the organization and skill for knowing his own mind. Harry could feel his magic there, but he couldn’t reach it under the binds of the blood curse.

It frustrated Harry. He could feel his escape under the bindings, but he didn’t know how to actually get it free. At first this didn’t deter him, but after several weeks, Harry began to think that he would die in this cave. Whenever the thought occurred, usually clenching his fists too tight so his ragged nails would dig into his palms when he failed again to do anything other than just feel that his magic was there, he tried to banish it. It got harder and harder to do, and Harry worried what would happen when he couldn’t get rid of that thought.

Fortunately, before Harry got to that point, there was a rather dramatic change in routine.

The change in routine came in the form of what had to be a corpse that the terrorists dumped in front of Harry, demanding that he fix him.

Harry stared at the holes in the man’s chest, bleeding sluggishly, and could barely believe that the man was even still alive. Harry worried, in a split second, that he would have to tell the terrorists that the man was dead or could not be saved. And then the terrorists would kill Harry.

Harry bent down. Put his fingers against the man’s neck to feel for a pulse.

There was a pulse.

Okay.

Let’s get started, thought Harry.

...

An undetermined amount of time later, Harry had saved the man’s life—Tony Stark was his name, apparently a technology business big shot in America, if the terrorists were to believed while the talked to each other while pointing guns at Harry’s back. Harry had never heard of him. Nevertheless, he was going to live.

Stark was a bit surprised when he woke up. Whether that was because he was alive or if his surroundings were a bit different than he was used to, Harry didn’t care to guess.

“What’s going on?” he asked, eyes wide.

Harry felt bad for him, he really did, but Harry had always been shit at comforting people. It hadn’t gotten better with practice. “It’s a car battery. You had a hole in your chest and shrapnel in your chest. I had to fill in the hole and stop the shrapnel from moving to reach your heart. Ergo, I put a giant magnet in your chest. Don’t know who’d else think of something like that, and honestly, I don’t think anyone else ethically would, but the terrorists are rather terrifying with their guns, and I rather like living myself. Sorry ‘bout it all, though.”

Stark swallowed and blinked and didn’t respond. Fair enough. He was probably in quite a lot of pain; Harry hadn’t been given any anaesthesia for working on him. “Just keep him alive,” said the leader of the terrorists.

“Would have been better if you’d died,” murmured Harry, more to himself than to Stark, but Stark clearly heard anyway and look visibly alarmed. Oops. Well, doesn’t make it untrue. Stark wasn’t going to enjoy his stay as the terrorist’s prisoner.

Harry might have speaking more to himself than to Stark, but he didn’t want to think too hard about that.

And although Harry wasn’t wrong, he severely underestimated Stark’s fortitude and intelligence. Harry could hardly know that Stark was not only a business big shot, but he was also his company’s Chief Engineer, and that was a title well-deserved, unlike his position as CEO.

After Stark’s initial refusal and consequential water boarding session, he began to work on the rockets for the terrorists. Or so he said. Harry peered over his shoulder while he was working and saw that Stark was attempting to get only a thin wire in the middle of the rocket.

“What are you doing?” Harry asked.

Stark opened his mouth, shut it, then glanced towards the camera, which hung unforgettably above the door.

“There aren’t any bugs,” assured Harry. “I checked.” One of the new duties of the newly formed Techno-Magical Department was to figure out how technology worked and figure out a way to make it compatible or to even improve it with magic. (Arthur Weasley had been given the title of Head of the Department, but the Department was made mostly of muggleborns for obvious reasons. Mr. Weasley helped primarily with paper work and experimentation. It was a fun department to hang out in.) During his first week here, he faked unfamiliarity with a tool in the cave while exploring and killed the camera. It wasn’t enough of a window to escape, but the terrorists had had to come to the cave and fix the camera. Although Harry was beaten until he was on his knees, he saw the workings of the camera and recognized no equipment for audio recording.

Stark raised his eyebrows at his claim, gave the camera a considering look, and Harry genuinely thought that Stark would refuse to explain anything. Trade secrets, assholism, something of the like. So Harry was rather taken aback when he launched into a long, complicated explanation of everything he was doing.

Stark worked like a man possessed, sparing very little time for sleep or eating. Once Harry expressed an interest in what he was doing, Stark unleashed his torrent of words and it never stopped. Not that Harry minded, mind you; he learned a great deal about technology he thought most muggleborns wouldn’t know and talking about technology seemed to soothe Stark a bit.

It took Harry by surprise that his question eventually led to actual conversation, though it really shouldn’t have. Personal topics at home were unnecessary because everyone knew all about his life already, and while travelling, they didn’t come up as much, or it was easy to just lie and move on since he would never see those people again.

When they worked, little discussion about their lives occurred, because when they worked, their conversation was solely on the technology.

Being stuck in a cave with one other person for an indeterminate amount of time, while both are specifically not talking about how leaving is synonymous with dying, conversation about inane and inconsequential topics arise. Eventually, when they laid on blankets when they were too exhausted to keep working, but too stressed to sleep, Stark asked the wrong questions.

“How old are you anyway?” asked Stark in one such instance.

“I’m twenty-three,” responded Harry.

“And you’re a member of Doctors-Without-Borders?”

“Yeah.”

“Huh. So did you graduate early, then?”

“What?”

In most instances of making a mistake in a false narrative, the person being lied to would attempt to fix the problem themselves. One couldn’t rely on that, but it would cover most mistakes.

Lying to Tony Stark was much more difficult though.

“Graduate from med school, you’re a doctor, you have to be a doctor for Doctors Without Borders.” Harry could feel Stark peering at him through the dark. “You are a doctor, right? You dug around in my chest and managed to keep me alive, so you must have some medical knowledge.”

“I’m a registered nurse,” lied Harry. “I told them I was a doctor in order to not be killed.”

“Yeah? Gotta say, not sure if I’ve ever met a nurse as inventive as you. I don’t think anyone else would have thought of saving my life by putting a magnet in my chest. Well, there was that one nurse in Dallas who got pretty creative with that rope, but you still got one up on her.”

“Just one up? I think my ingenuity beats whatever your nurse did with rope,” teased Harry.

“You definitely have more talent with technology,” conceded Stark. It’s not a talent, Harry thought. My dedication to learning anything that’s necessary has been a hard-earned and cultivated skill.

“Thanks.” There is a pause. “When did you start learning about technology?”

He scoffed. “Always.” Pause. “Wait, you seriously don’t know? Geez, don’t mean to be rude, but have you been pulling a Patrick and living under a rock for your entire life?”

Who the fuck is Patrick? “Close enough. My school was made of stone, and I didn’t really get much news there.”

“Yeah, but Stark Enterprises began to export to the Great Mother Nations back since after World War II. You had to encounter our products at some point.”

Harry waves an arm around, gesturing absently to the old Stark Enterprises weapons that were filling the room. “I doubt any child in Britain would have encountered technology like this.”

“We make other things too,” Stark protested, but it seemed half-hearted. If Harry had to guess, he thought that seeing his own weapons in the hands of terrorists had made him question manufacturing weapons in the first place. “Where did you go to school?”

“This little boarding school in Scotland,” Harry hedged. “Really tiny. You won’t have heard of it.”

“But what was it called? I’m actually pretty familiar with any sort of prestigious schools, but I can’t think of any that are made of stone and are in Scotland.”

“I don’t really want to talk about it,” Harry said.

Whenever he said that back at home, people stopped. They all knew that if Harry said he didn’t want to talk about something, then it was a touchy subject not to be pursued. Harry had fought a war for them, and they knew that some issues would be sensitive without being told.

Stark, however, lacked people skills, and his reaction to being told that someone didn’t want to talk about something was akin to asking a kid to not pick at a scab. He wouldn’t go for the scab right after you told him not to, but he’d pick at it later when no one’s watching. Coupled with the fact that Stark was frightfully intelligent, this led to omissions Harry hadn’t even been aware he was making.

“Your boarding school was small, right? Private?” Stark asked later, as they continued their attempt to replace the car battery in Stark’s chest with a small but powerful electro-magnet. At Harry’s absent-minded confirmation as he searched through their materials, he continued, “So your parents are wealthy?”

“Yes, but I didn’t grow up with my parents. I grew up with my aunt and uncle,” replied Harry. He thought that they could make the electro-magnet safer if they could use a material other than palladium as the core, but so far, he hadn’t found any good replacements...

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Stark said, and Harry had to pause to replay the conversation in his head to understand what he was apologizing about.

“No worries. They died when I was a baby.”

“What happened?”

Harry frowned, both at the conversation and at trying to make a decision for the core of the electro-magnet. Palladium should be safe short-term, but it would still poison the body. Stark wasn’t a young man, and death by slow poison was an awful thing to do to a man in his forties. Well, to anyone, Harry supposed.

There had been too long of a pause after Stark’s question, but Stark had little accurate understanding of people, and he was also enough of an asshole to not care about social niceties even when he did understand them. He still waited quietly for an answer to his question.

“Car crash,” the old lie slipped easily from Harry’s lips. “That’s how I got this scar,” which was stupid to add, really, he hadn’t needed to add that, and but it was habit to explain the scar that way since it was a unusual point of interest for people. Harry had also not yet picked up on Stark’s scab-picking tendencies.

“Huh,” said Stark. “That doesn’t work. Well, a lot of what you’ve said doesn’t work, but that really doesn’t work.”

Drawn from his contemplation of what was actual useful to their escape rather than conversation, Harry turned to face Stark. “I beg your pardon?”

“There is no way a car crash that could kill two grown adults would leave you only with a perfectly-shaped, lighting bolt scar,” said Stark. “Well, it’s possible, but the possibility is infinitesimal.”

“That actually describes my luck quite well, actually.”

“I’m not buying it.”

Harry peered at Stark, then smirked. “Tell me, Stark, if you’re so eager to learn about my family, why don’t you share first? What happened in the great Stark clan?”

This took Stark aback, and Harry felt triumph creep up his chest and was fully prepared to turn back to work, when Stark answered. “I was always a disappointment to my father.”

Harry stared at Stark in surprise. Stark seemed surprised himself. Once the words left his mouth and hung in the air, he seemed emboldened, and continued. “My mother was always distant. I had the best of everything, but nothing I did was ever enough for them. I made AIs when I was a teenager, and still they—they died in a car crash when I was in my twenties. That’s how I know your parents didn’t. I know what a car crash can do to you, kiddo.”

Harry didn’t want to know this. He didn’t want Stark to tell him this. Stark shouldn’t have risen to his bluff because now Harry’s going to be expected to reciprocate and speak of the Devil—

“So, what about you? What really happened?” Stark asked, peering at him, and the man looked victorious but mostly like he really wanted to know and he wasn’t used to being denied or not knowing but this wasn’t like what Stark was used to, Harry couldn’t answer this question because he couldn’t even breathe, he was trapped in a corner that was a cupboard that was a room in flames that was a chamber that was a gravestone against his back and body on a ground that was—

“Hey! Harry! HARRY! I’m sorry, you don’t have to answer, uh, fuck, how do you deal with this? Uh, just take deep breaths, okay?” Stark was right there, sitting on the floor next to him, because Harry couldn’t breathe and he couldn’t think but he knew that he shouldn’t be on the floor and they needed to work so they could get out of there—

And Stark was grabbing his face so he had to look at Stark’s face and telling him to breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, and Harry was trying he really was, but Stark’s hands made him feel even more cornered than before. He struggled away, flailing his arms, until Stark gave him space.

“Okay, no touching. That’s fine, I’ll stay right here. But you need to breathe regularly, okay, you’re hyperventilating. Come on, with me,” and Stark breathed in deeply, breathed out, breathed in.

In. Out. In. Out.

In.

Out.

In.

Out.

Harry couldn’t say how long they continued like that for, but by the end, tears were streaming down Harry’s face, he was shaking, he was collapsed awkwardly on the floor, and Stark looked stricken at the unexpected consequences his action had.

Good.

“Don’t ever do that again,” Harry commanded in a ruined voice. He got up. Stark stayed on the floor. “There aren’t any good substitutes for the palladium, so we’ll have to use that. But when we’re out, you have to find a better material or else it’ll slowly poison you.”

Stark opened his mouth, to say something, thought better of it, and nodded.

Good.

That was good. Harry released a shaky breath, and continued working.

...

The transition from Stark to Tony was so organic that Harry could not pinpoint when it happened, but there was something about being trapped in a cave with someone while facing the constant threat of torture and death that really brought people together.

Tony hadn’t brought upon another panic attack. He talked about his own childhood and his problems with his father, but he never asked Harry about his own childhood. That did not mean that Tony wasn’t learning about Harry’s childhood in his own way.

Harry figured it out when he noticed that when Tony talked about his childhood and family, he do so whenever he was still able to see Harry. At first Harry thought he was making sure Harry wouldn’t have another attack, and while Harry gave him the benefit of the doubt to still believe that, Harry strongly suspected that Tony wanted to gauge his reactions to see what could set him off.

It didn’t really matter, what Tony was doing. Tony, wittingly or not, had made Harry vulnerable once. Harry would not let it happen again. Tony could share all he wanted, but Harry would not budge.

Tony’s attempts made Harry feel defensive and petty, and deciding that Tony was a man for whom subtlety was long gone, Harry would up and leave Tony’s range of vision.

Tony didn’t press, though. That was good.

It also allowed them to progress on their work.

An arc reactor replaced the car battery in Tony’s chest, and it took the better part of three months to crudely fit a suit of metal armour to be powered by the arc reactor while protecting Tony from bullets.

The plan was this: Tony would get into the suit, power it up, and clear the way for both of them to escape. Harry would take a gun from one of the fallen terrorists and use it to cover their backs. Then they would get out, contact the American military, and go home.

Harry couldn’t go home. Harry’s pictures weren’t on the muggle news, for whatever reason. Perhaps the Ministry wanted to keep it quiet? Having their Savior turn on them was too shameful, maybe? Or maybe Hermione made them? Maybe they decided that what Harry’s done for them was enough for just being left alone?

Harry really was not naïve enough to believe that last one.

Harry really was not naïve enough to believe they’d both get out alive so he wasn’t too bothered by any of it anyway.

Their escape began when they were synchronizing the suit of armour to the arc reactor. They hid in outside the range of the cameras, but both of them disappearing only gave them a ten minute window before the terrorists attempted to beat down their barricades. The barricades, made of crude, broken bits of metal that they couldn’t use for the suit fell apart at the onslaught, but Tony had charged enough by that time to let out a shot. Harry dove for the dropped gun, and went out blazing.

As expected, he got shot. The pain was sharp and consuming, a near-hit to his heart.

He fell.

Reality waved around him, gunshots distant, his vision becoming blacker. His heart thudded painfully in his chest, and blood seeped down his ribs, to the dust.

Grey filled his vision, and he cried out in pain when he was moved. Moved by—Tony, it was Tony, looking stricken and grieved like he honestly thought this ordeal would have ended with both of them alive, unharmed, and happy.

“Sorry, Tony,” Harry coughed. He thought it might be blood dribbling down his chin, but he couldn’t lift his arms to check and asking Tony seemed inconsiderate.

“We’re going to get out,” Tony swore foolishly. “I’m going to get you outta here, you’re going to be fine.”

“Do your lies comfort you?” Harry mused through his pain. “This,” he coughed, “was always the plan. Just go.” Tony stared down at him, betrayed and shocked, and Harry felt it ought to have been he who was older and protective, not Tony.

“I’m not leaving you here,” said Tony, but it didn’t matter because Harry could feel his heart struggle and slow and stop.

Harry closed his eyes, awaiting death.

Tony gripped him tighter, gave a sob, yelled his name.

But Harry wasn’t dead. He could feel his limbs, see red through his shut eyes, and feel Tony pull his body up for a tight, desperate hug, sending fresh jolts of pain through his body. Tony’s head was at his shoulder and Harry opened his eyes.

No. He wasn’t wrong. He could see.

But his heart wasn’t beating.

He could feel the lack of the beat in his heart, feel the lack of blood pumping through his veins.

Tony pulled back, and freaking out that Tony would notice the rather disconcerting disparity between Harry’s body being technically dead but Harry still looking around, Harry closed his eyes and played dead the best he could. Given that his body was actually dead, that was pretty well.

Heavy steps pounded near his head, and then farther away, yells and shouts becoming clearer the longer Harry lied there. It felt like being revived from a phoenix’s tears all over again, but the hole in his chest was definitely still there. He could still feel the pain, but it was becoming dull.

After an undetermined amount of time later, an explosion rocked the surroundings, and waves after waves of heat rolled into the cave. Harry didn’t seem to need to breathe, but it still made him cough and his eyes water.

It would be too much to think that Tony killed all of the terrorists and that Harry would be safe lying here on the ground.

He made himself get up.

He regretted it immediately.

Pain wreaked through his body, making him gasp, which made the bullet wound in his chest send a new jolts of pain through his body.

On top of that, his heart still wasn’t beating.

Technically, he was still dead.

No matter. He was moving, wasn’t he? Might as well get somewhere safe before he was discovered and imprisoned again.

Shakingly and slowly, he managed to exit the cave unnoticed in the chaos, and slip away into the rocky passages by the camp. Every once in a while, he’d check to make sure he wasn’t leaving a blood trail, but his only wound was to his chest, and that had stopped bleeding once his heart had stopped.

How lucky for me, Harry thought, too tired to even make it sarcastic in his own head.

Certain he wasn’t far enough away yet, but not able to go further, he collapsed in a shadowed crevice of rocks. There, he peeled off his dirty and bloody shirt, and examined his wound.

Based on the wound and Harry’s experience with injuries, he was able to determine that it was indeed a bullet wound. Without even really thinking it through, Harry lifted up his hand and felt the wound with a finger. As expected, it hurt. He dropped his hand and let his head fall back against the stone.

What in the world was he going to do now?

...

If Harry had to guess, only a couple of hours had passed while he recuperated enough determination to attempt to fix himself. He investigated his bullet wound (carefully, because it still hurt), when he realized that there was no exit wound, and therefore a bullet was still inside of him. The notion that he might be able to do something helpful was enough for him to push past the pain and attempt to dig it out.

With his index finger, he pushed into the wound, and began feeling around for the bullet. Disconcertingly, he felt dried blood, jagged bone pieces from his ribs (and ow, he just cut his finger on one of them—was it bad to bleed into your own wound? Would he even bleed since his heart wasn’t beating?), and pushed forward, gritting his teeth, until he found metal.

And right next to it was—huh. Was that his heart or his lung? Harry took in a deep breath, and he felt his lung expand from inside his chest on the opposite side of the firm, smooth thing he was feeling so—yeah, that was his heart he was feeling.

Gross. And cool. Harry was torn between the two. He was leaning towards cool, personally, since he was able to feel his heart while it was inside of him and he was distinctly not actually dead. (Though that soon led to ‘what the bloody hell,’ as he was clearly supposed to be dead. Then he firmly had to not think about it, otherwise he wouldn’t accomplish anything.)

Belatedly, he realized there was a problem in his methods.

Harry couldn’t pull a bullet out with one finger.

What Harry would give for some tweezers...

Two fingers it was.

It took time, and effort, and a lot of pain, but eventually, Harry used his index and middle fingers to pull the bullet out of his chest. Accomplished, tired, and pained, Harry stared at the bullet and slipped it in his pocket.

Looking to the sky, now dark and starry, Harry thought, Now what? He couldn’t stay here, couldn’t seek help from anywhere nearby without being rather noticeable (being dead and unable to glamour over his sheer whiteness), and couldn’t heal himself.

Could he?

For the first time since he was shot, Harry took stock of himself beyond wondering why he was conscious if his body was dead.

Hana had said, “It is a blood curse. The curse is made and it will not break until your death.”

Harry had died. Was the curse broken?

Time to find out.

He closed his eyes, and concentrated. Magic was power and intent. Power was nothing without the ability to guide it, which is why wizards used wands as a channel. Wandless magic, though possible, took much more concentration...

There was a cinder.

It was there.

Harry blew the cinder into a spark, into a flame, into an inferno, and his magic rushed through his blood, his bones, his heart which stuttered to a glorious start. Blood pulsed down his chest, but Harry lifted his tingling arms to the wound, concentrated on the cells healing and replacing the wounded and the missing, until the wound was nothing more than a painful echo in his chest.

Feeling as if he’d drunk ten cups of coffee straight, he stood up. He stretched. A comforting weight was in his pocket, and with a delighted touch, he found the deathly hallows in the tattered remains of his coat, the wand and the stone wrapped securely in the cloak.

Satisfied and feeling as if he could take on the world, he Apparated.

...

After checking up on Tony, who had the American military in sight and was about to be picked up, Harry decided it would be easier to let Tony continue to think he was dead, rather than trying to explain his mysterious resurrection. This was in part due to that Harry could not explain his resurrection himself.

While Harry never liked going to the Hospital Wing at Hogwarts, and avoided St. Mungo’s like the plague he would have to have to consider going, there was one Healer he would visit, if only because there was no fuss, no wait, and he could trust this Healer would keep quiet.

Draco Malfoy had moved to a modest flat in a decent neighbourhood nearby St. Mungo’s for practical reasons, and all Harry had to do was Apparate to his building and let himself up to Malfoy’s flat. The Malfoy Manor had been repossessed by the government to begin the Malfoy’s reparations of the Second War. Without either of the senior Malfoys to defend it, the Manor had been a lost cause.

He knocked on the door, to be greeted by the sight of Malfoy looking like he’d just rolled out of bed. What time was it? Oh, it was still dark. Harry honestly hadn’t noticed. He felt too pumped by the return of his magic and his sudden and unexpected freedom.

Potter?” Malfoy exclaimed, pulling Harry in, and looking about outside quickly before shutting and locking the door. “No one’s heard from you in almost a year!”

“Don’t worry, I won’t stay long,” said Harry, as he pulled his wonderfully luxurious—and transfigured with magic—coat off. “Just need a quick check-up.”

Malfoy stared. Harry wondered distantly what Malfoy was thinking. Was he surprised Harry appeared randomly on his doorstep after so long just for a check-up? Was it just the fact that Harry wanted a check-up that was tripping him up? Or maybe he was just wishing he was back in bed. Anything was possible. “You need a check-up?” Judging by that tone of voice, Harry hazarded it was a mix of all three.

“Yeah,” admitted Harry. “See, the thing is, I think I died. But I’m okay! I got better!” Malfoy’s mouth gaped open a little, before he shut it and rubbed his forehead.

“You think you died, so you decide to come for a check-up? I don’t really think check-ups cover actually dying,” Malfoy said incredulously.  “How’d you... die?” He went over to the kitchen. “Coffee?”

“Yes, please, I haven’t had a decent cup in months,” said Harry and he collapsed onto Malfoy’s couch. “I was shot in the chest.” For all of his faults, Malfoy’s taste in high-quality items was worthwhile as he sunk deeper into Malfoy’s lovely couch. Closing his eyes, his body becoming more accustomed to his magic again, he felt the hooks of sleep pull at him.

The clinking of dishes and utensils didn’t pause, but Malfoy asked, “Why didn’t you cast a shield spell or transfigure the gun or bullets?”

“I was cursed with blood magic, I didn’t have any magic to use.”

Now there was a pause. Damn. Harry had been hoping Malfoy would drop something. But even Malfoy’s response was tame. “Only you, Potter.” Fuck, Malfoy even sounded fond. Harry’s distance must have been getting to him. Malfoy was forgetting how much they got on each other’s nerves.

Malfoy and he were not friends. Harry used Malfoy for whenever he needed a Healer, which was too often. No one knew about this, which prevented any sort of positive benefit Malfoy might have had by associating with the Saviour of the Wizarding World. (Though now, no one knowing this tidbit had protected Malfoy from falling with Harry.)

Malfoy had spent the past seven years slowly building up his trustworthiness and reputation as a Healer. Malfoy filled an interesting position as while he had been tried for war crimes, he also had faced leniency due to his actions near the end of the war. It was hard to forget that when Harry stood against Voldemort alive, it was Malfoy who had split from the ranks of the Death Eaters to arm Harry with a wand. It had been, for Harry, a turning point.

They still weren’t friends.

“What, no hissing my name? I’m disappointed, Malfoy. I didn’t think my absence would turn you into such a softie,” Harry said with a grin. It had the desired effect of making Malfoy roll his eyes and became distinctly less concerned about Harry’s well-fare as he brought over two cups of coffee.

“Shirt off, Potter,” Malfoy commanded in a reassuringly sharp and definitely not-comforting tone. Harry felt so relieved. Now that the giddiness of escape had worn off, his thoughts were beginning to curdle into panic, and Malfoy acting the same as always calmed him.

Harry removed his shirt, and settled back for Malfoy to run diagnostic spells on Harry’s vitals. He closed his eyes, waiting for the spell to hit him, but nothing came. He peeked an eye open and asked, “What?”

“You have a tattoo, Potter.”

That got Harry’s eyes open fully. “What? Where?” He asked, looking at his chest, before seeing it immediately. The location where he had been shot right above his heart, about three centimetres large, was the symbol of the deathly hallows in black.

“That’s where I was shot,” explained Harry, as it seemed relevant but still explained nothing. What the hell? “I don’t remember it being there after I healed myself.” Not that he’d been paying attention.

Malfoy cleared his throat. “Well, then.” Lifting his wand, he cast the diagnostic spell. Harry felt a slightly ticklish tingle across his skin, and glowing blue numbers floated up and stilled for Malfoy’s examination. He closed his eyes again, wanting to sleep but couldn’t. “Well, your vitals are normal... heart rate’s a bit slower than your usual, but your blood pressure and temperature are fine. Your magical readings—let me check again.” That was not a good sign. Harry didn’t move. Another tingle, unpleasant this time, pulsed over him. “No, this isn’t wrong. Hang on, I want to try something.” Harry expected another unpleasant tingle, but instead, a sickly jolt from his heart shook him from his relaxed position on the couch. He sat up so fast that Malfoy took a step back.

“What the hell was that! I don’t—I don’t even—I don’t even know how to describe that,” said Harry, rubbing his chest where—well, fuck—the tattoo was. “What did you do?”

“Just the normal diagnostic charm,” Malfoy muttered to himself. The floating, glowing numbers above Harry were shaking. “That tattoo is not merely a tattoo.”

“Oh, thank god. For just a second, I thought getting tattoos suddenly after being shot to death and surviving was normal,” snapped Harry. “Did we learn anything else?”

“No, you seem dandy by my spells. Perfectly healthy, aside from that whole was actually dead thing,” answered Malfoy levelly. So he was still glad to see Harry. Ugh. Oh well. It made Harry feel less guilty for snapping at him. “The magic by your tattoo though... I’ve never seen that sort of reaction before. It’s almost like it was... sensitive.”

“Oh,” Harry said blinking. “That actually makes sense. I mean, that was where my wound was, and where I healed myself magically. Wouldn’t it make sense for it to be sensitive?”

“I suppose, in a ‘it’s Potter’ kind of a way. Patients who are recovering from ailments by the use of magical spells or potions can face adverse effects if struck by another spell,” Malfoy mused. “Tell me what happened in regards to your wound exactly.”

Harry told him. Malfoy got out his file on Harry’s medical history, and took notes.

“So, facts: your magic was bound by a blood curse. You got shot and ‘died.’ The curse broke, you used magic to heal yourself,” Malfoy summarized. “So, if we determine how you didn’t die when you ‘died,’ we’ll probably figure out why you have a tattoo and why it’s locally sensitive.” He wrote some more notes in Harry’s file. Harry had read the file four times, each time being when he broke into Malfoy’s flat to check to make sure it was just a medical file, and not Malfoy’s plot to kill him.

Sometimes getting over their shared history was difficult.

“I’ll think about this, see what I can come up with in my medical texts in terms of more tests, and whatnot,” declared Malfoy. “I am going back to bed. Potter, you look like you need my couch, so feel free. Pillows and blankets are in the closet in the hall, next to the bathroom. Speaking of, take a shower, you positively reek.”

“Excuse me for being kidnapped for months,” retorted Harry, as Malfoy flounced off to his bedroom.

If Malfoy laughed from his bedroom at the shower turning on less than a minute later, well, the shower drowned it out.

...

Harry slept in past when Malfoy had to get up and leave for work, as evident by Harry being alone in Malfoy’s flat when he woke up.

He took another shower and shamelessly used as much of Malfoy’s fancy soaps as he wanted. In Afghanistan, he had been given a hose to clean off with, so it hadn’t been filthy, but there were no words to how good it was to have a hot shower.

Harry spent the day lounging about in Malfoy’s pyjamas because he had burned his own as soon as he had gotten up, showered, ate, and relaxed for a while. Malfoy probably would mind, but Harry didn’t mind that Malfoy would mind, so he did it anyway. He spent the rest of the day watching the telly (because Malfoy loved the telly, and had a really nice one, which Harry mostly mocked him for but couldn’t appreciate more at the moment). It made Harry feel more human than he had in months.

As the day ticked by and inaction began to make Harry’s skin itch, Harry pondered the feasibility of visiting old friends while he was in Britain. He wanted to see Hermione, certainly, and Teddy, if possible, but would it be feasible to do so? He’d have to wait until Malfoy returned to ask about the state of things in regards to both Hermione’s situation and Andromeda’s stance on Harry’s fugitive status.

He and Hermione had established that Harry could Apparate into her hall closet and any time if he needed to discretely arrive in her flat. However, if Hermione had guests over or if something had changed during the past year, that action would be unwise.

Mostly Harry didn’t want to get up. He felt like his anxiety was more due to the fact that he’d worked every single day for the past year, the last few months it being for his life. In that case, he felt it was acceptable to ignore it and continue to watch the telly.

That is how Malfoy found him when he returned in the evening, although Harry was a considerate enough house guest to cook food for the person that was letting him crash there. Malfoy appeared surprised, and flushed pink. “I, um. I bought take-out.”

Well, there went that attempt. “Well,” Harry said, looking at the ham and eggs he had prepared. “Which one do you want to fridge?”

“We’ll eat yours, this’ll keep for later,” Malfoy shrugged, putting away little boxes from a Thai restaurant. They filled their plates and settled in to watch one of Malfoy’s shows.

“I didn’t have any luck finding other tests,” said Malfoy. “I think that it has something to do with the dubious honour of your title as the Master of Death. And there isn’t a lot of information on that.”

“Isn’t there? Why isn’t there?” asked Harry out loud.

“There hasn’t been any record of anyone collecting all three of the hallows before,” Malfoy explained. “If anyone’s done it before, we don’t know about it. I’m sorry to say this, Potter, but I don’t know what’s happening to you.” Malfoy was fixedly staring at the telly.

Harry wished he could have been surprised, but he wasn’t. The tales he heard about the hallows were all about the Elder Wand, and its bloody history of inheritance. Never the stone or the cloak appeared in these tales, as the stone had been Slytherin’s ring (and who knows if Salazar Slytherin knew what it was) and the cloak had been passed down through Peverell’s descendents.

“That’s alright. At least whatever it is kept me alive. That’s better than what usually happens,” Harry gave a smile. “Usually whenever something strange happens, it’s trying to kill me, one way or another.”

“I ought to be able to do something more,” murmured Malfoy.

Harry let the statement go. “What’s going on with Hermione? And Andromeda?”

“Granger’s fine. Still trying to run the wizarding world and make it change for the better. Investigation into the events led to pretty much you being the lead suspect.” At this, Malfoy cast a side-eye at Harry. “Though they clearly missed something. Granger’s pretty clever, after all.”

Huh. Malfoy figured it out. Malfoy was meeting Harry’s eyes now, and Harry thought that the likelihood Malfoy would say something was practically nil. Still, better to check. “So Hermione’s fine, then?”

“Yes,” Malfoy said. “Perfectly fine.”

“Good. I’m going to go visit her tonight then. What about Andromeda?”

“Teddy’s been missing his godfather. He’s still been doing well in school, though. Andromeda has told him that you would be coming back.”

“Optimistic of her.”

“She was right.”

“I almost didn’t.”

“You came back even though you just survived being shot and your heart stopping. I would think that Andromeda’s faith was not unfounded.”

Well, Harry had to give him that.

...

Crookshanks meowed at him loudly in the closet.

“Oh, hello,” Harry greeted, reaching out to pet the large, orange cat. At some point, Hermione had put some towels in her closet. Crookshanks must have decided that these towels in Hermione’s small closet was a lovely place to have a lie-in. He petted Crookshanks for a little longer, until he could hear Crookshanks purring from where he stood, and then he cautiously opened the closet door.

He heard nothing from around the flat. “Hermione?” He called out.

“Harry?” he heard back, with quick footsteps to accompany them. Hermione turned into her hallway, and stopped entirely when she saw him. Before Harry could do more than smile brightly, Harry found himself with an armful of Hermione.

“Oh, Harry,” Hermione breathed into his shoulder.

“Hey, Hermione,” Harry said softly.

“It’s been too long. We heard about traces of you for a while, but then you disappeared off the map, and I was so worried, I thought you might have died—”

“Er, actually, I kinda did.”

Hermione paused. She pulled back. Her left hand lifted and she placed two fingers softly against his neck. “You don’t seem dead, Harry. Unless there was an incident with a phoenix? It wasn’t Fawkes, was it, you know no one’s seen him since Dumbledore died? Or was it something else?”

“I got shot, actually. My heart stopped and everything. I’m fine, though. See?” Harry pulled down his collar so Hermione could see the pseudo-tattoo.

“I’m going to get us something to drink,” Hermione stated with a sigh. “Something strong, tonight, I think.”

“Oh, do you have anything for a cocktail? I’d love something nice and fruity.”

“I work for the government, Harry, of course I have good liqueurs and mixers.”

...

It took a while—and several fruity, delicious drinks that Harry had missed so much—but Harry explained what had happened to the amount of detail that satisfied Hermione.

“But it was different from when you died during the Second War, wasn’t it? You didn’t go to the King’s Cross of the next life. You just...”

“—stayed here. Yeah.”

“I wish I could say there was a documented case like this before, but, Harry, there isn’t.”

“I know. Malfoy told me.”

“Might Luna know anything?” ventured Hermione. “She has insights into the oddest of things.”

Harry frowned. “Is Luna around?”

“No, she’s travelling. But I’ll phone her, ask her if she knows anything. Though, she may have broken her phone again...” Hermione twirled her hair, considering the possibilities. Her eyes unfocused and she lost herself in thought.

Harry sipped his drink, waiting for her to come back.

In Hermione’s flat, on this dark night, Harry could still hear the London traffic and miscellaneous city noises. Hermione’s dark purple curtains were drawn tightly shut, shutting out the outside world. Her lamp, normally a bright light to read by, had an orange and yellow silk sheet pulled around the lampshade to cast a yellow shade upon everything in the living room and give it warmth. As always, the walls of her flat weren’t visible, due to being entirely blocked by bookshelves.

Hermione’s main requirement for a flat was to have enough space to put bookshelves everywhere. Hermione found being surrounded by knowledge soothing. At this point, Harry had to agree.

Crookshanks snored lightly on the armchair adjacent to where Harry sat on the couch, and Harry reached over to pet him. His purring jump-started and Harry couldn’t bring himself to stop. He made himself as comfortable as he could leaning over the edge of the couch to reach Crookshanks, and continued.

“What else happened during your trip?”

Harry startled, which startled Crookshanks, who upon realizing Harry overreacted, glared at Harry. Harry gave the cat an apologetic smile.

Harry described the places he’d seen and the people he’d met. He was just describing the incident in Vienna when Hermione interrupted, “Sherlock Holmes? The detective? He’s alive?”

“Yeah, that was the name,” Harry confirmed. “You know of him?”

“He was all over the muggle papers some months ago. He was a ‘fake’ genuis who set up crimes in order to solve them and get credit for his brilliance,” Hermione giggled. “Although you’d have to be brilliant to set up something like that.”

“Oh, this man was the real deal, I assure you,” Harry confirmed. “Brilliant all the way through.” He launched into the story of what happened in Vienna, as well as his reasoning for his actions. At the end, Hermione didn’t seem angry at Harry’s revealing the wizarding world again. She seemed thoughtful.

“He’s supposed to be London based,” Hermione murmured to herself. “Also supposed to be dead, but weirder things have happened,” she said with a side-eye to Harry.

“Definitely not dead.”

“I wonder if it would be worthwhile contacting him,” Hermione ventured.

“Go for it. He was cool. Very logical. Still dangerous, but I think he would be reasonable,” and Harry would pay good money to see Holmes and Hermione debate. Maybe he’d ask Zabini to record it... speaking of. “How’s Zabini?”

“He’s claimed your robe,” was the immediate response.

“My fluffy pink one?” Harry asked aghast. “But it’s my robe!”

“Fight it out with him,” Hermione shrugged, pushing buttons on her phone. “Here, I’ll call him right now. Blaise? Yes, now, it’s an emergency. You can come straight here, yes, aim for the living room between the telly and the coffee table.” She hung up and Zabini popped into existence in front of them. Harry gave a jolly wave, and Zabini blinked.

“This is not an emergency,” said Zabini without an expression. “Unless you mean that Potter’s mere presence constitutes as an emergency because they always occur around him, of course.”

“Of course it is,” Hermione replied. “Harry wants to fight you for the right to call the pink robe his.”

“Oh, does he?” Zabini peered at him. “Honestly, Potter, I would have thought you would be happy to see me in it.”

“Would I? Why is that?”

“Because it goes fabulously with my nails,” replied Zabini, presenting a hand with a flourish, revealing that his fingernails were painted a deep, true blue.

“Oh, Zabini, I’ve missed you,” Harry cried, jumping up and over the coffee table to throw his arms and legs around Zabini. Arms hooked under Harry’s thighs (and Zabini totally scored an accidental grope, ha), and Zabini managed to balance them before they fell over into a heap on top of the telly. Harry’s arm wound around Zabini’s shoulders, he pulled himself to Zabini’s ear and whispered, “That colour does not go with the pink of the robe at all, but I give you points for trying. And it’s a good colour on you, so I’ll let it slide.” He pressed an affectionate kiss to Zabini’s ear to show his approval.

Zabini sighed. “Yes, Potter, I am much prettier than you. I will accept this as you conceding the robe for my use. Of course, I am gracious enough to let you use it whenever you are visiting.” He shifted. “I’m putting you down now.” Harry slid out of his arms and unwound himself.

“Here, Blaise,” Harry heard Hermione say as she threw a hair tie at Zabini. Zabini caught it, and used it to tie his long, dark, curly hair into a loose ponytail. “Are we all done greeting each other now?”

“I would like to be told what Potter’s been up to this past year. I imagine it was eventful?”

“It was, indeed.”

“Zabini, we need to track down Sherlock Holmes,” declared Hermione.

Zabini’s eyebrows raised. “The detective? Didn’t he die?”

“I died and I’m fine,” Harry pointed out. Zabini’s eyebrows raised even more. “It’s a long story.”

“Make it short.”

“Er... got cursed with blood magic, got magic blocked, got kidnapped by terrorists, shared a cave with Tony Stark for three months, got shot, my heart stopped, I pulled the bullet out of my chest, got my magic back, and came back here.”

After a moment, Zabini nodded. “Now the reason for all of the alcohol becomes clear.”

“Would you like a faketail?” Harry asked. Zabini never drank alcohol, and both he and Hermione knew well how to make a non-alcoholic beverage to let Zabini join in on their drinking. 

A glare of pure disdain was thrown his way. “Mocktail, Potter. And yes, if you’re offering.”

Harry jumped up and weaved his way to the kitchen. With relish (how the simple things like making Zabini a mocktail seemed so much better after being trapped in a cave for months and thinking you were going to die there), he created a super-sweet, fruity green drink for Zabini, tiny fruit and all. From the kitchen, he could hear Hermione softly filling Zabini in.

With the noxious but non-alcoholic drink in hand, Harry returned to them, feeling a warm contentment in his chest that had nothing to do with alcohol.

Chapter Text

Dark hoodie drawn up to cover his head, Harry stood outside of Andromeda Tonks’ house in Bristol a few days later. After recuperating at Hermione’s, Harry planned to depart from Britain as soon as he got to see Teddy. He didn’t quite know where’d he go, exactly, but it’s not like Harry planned any of his foray into outlawry before. He figured he could make it up as he went on.

Harry raised his fist and knocked four times.

As usual for late mornings on Saturdays, Andromeda had remained in her pyjamas, which consisted only of a satin burgundy slip. Her auburn hair was braided fetchingly, though Harry thought the grey was more prominent than it had been a year ago. When she recognized Harry, she stepped out of the way to let him through.

“Should you really be here?” Andromeda asked as soon as she shut the door.

“I’m leaving straight after. I just wanted to see Teddy. May I?” he asked, gesturing to his coat and hoodie.

“Yes, of course. Teddy’s in the living room, we were having a tea party.”

That is how Harry found himself kneeling on a pillow that he knew had been hand-embroidered and rather expensive, sipping fine tea in equally fine crockery. Teddy made for a refined seven-year-old, as he insisted that because it was his tea party, it was his duty to pour the tea.

“You have to pour it like this,” declared Teddy.

“Do you?” inquired Harry. “According to whom?”

“This is how the princess poured it on the telly,” Teddy informed Harry, who nodded with understanding. That explains the tiara, thought Harry. Though it goes lovely with his turquoise hair. The silver tiara was most likely an actual tiara that Andromeda retrieved from Grimmauld Place after the Second War. When the war ended, Harry had received the house but allowed Andromeda and Malfoy, as the surviving Black relatives to take what they wished. (Only after Hermione and Harry had stripped it of all useful and powerful items, of course.) Harry thought it was fitting that such an old and surely valuable tiara was now part of a child’s tea party. Especially a child that the Black family would have so disapproved of.

Andromeda, like Harry, had confessed to getting a thrill by letting her young grandson use such heirlooms like this. Harry could only approve. Actually, “Could I have a tiara? Are there others?”

There were, in fact, so Harry soon proudly wore a gold tiara as well. “But you can’t wear a tiara,” complained Teddy. “You’re not a princess!”

“No, I’m not a princess,” Harry agreed. “But this tiara looks lovely on me, don’t you think?” At Teddy’s nod, Harry continued, “And I like it, so I think I’ll keep wearing it. In any case, a princess should be gracious and let others wear tiaras, even if they’re not princesses.”

Teddy considered this and then nodded again. “You may wear the tiara.” Harry beamed.

When they finished the tea party (after various rounds of tea and biscuits, especially biscuits), Teddy demanded that Harry take him flying. Andromeda provided the broomstick as well as a child’s safety strap. Children’s safety straps were always awkward to fit, as passengers needed to ride behind the rider of the broom, so they could steer unimpeded. While Harry could fit the strap himself, it took some manoeuvring that he preferred having a second person help with.

Especially when Teddy complained. Before, he used to be unquestioning of the purpose of the strap, but now he asked questions non-stop. Harry thought it was wonderful and happily answered them and helped Teddy think of more and better questions to ask. Andromeda approved, as she had raised Tonks in a similar way and wanted to raise Teddy similarly.

“Why am I being strapped to you?” demanded Teddy.

“Because flying can be very dangerous,” responded evenly as Andromeda double-checked the straps. “And neither of us want you to get hurt.”

“But it’s silly,” he said, wriggling against the straps.

“Stop that, Teddy,” admonished Andromeda. “It’s called a compromise. You want to fly, and we want you to be safe. Therefore, you can fly, but we get to take measures to make sure you’re safe.”

“When do I get old enough to ride a broom by myself?” Apparently, this question was starting to occur a lot. Andromeda had replied that he could after Harry taught him how to fly safely and decided that he was good enough to do so alone. Harry had not yet started those lessons, and Andromeda had requested that he refrain from doing so until Teddy was at Hogwarts. Harry agreed to not teach practical skills, but would teach him basic safety that he could teach while they were flying, as advice.

Harry wondered what Andromeda would do now that Harry was a fugitive.

Teddy yelled with delight as Harry and he ascended, calling out, “Grandma, look! Look at me! We’re going up so high!” Andromeda, back on the ground, waved.

It was unlikely they would be spotted where they were. Andromeda was the only witch who lived in her neighbourhood, she rarely got visitors that weren’t Harry or Malfoy and she liked it that way. She occasionally got a visitor of one of Harry’s friends or one of Tonks’, but Andromeda made a point to be removed from the going-on’s of her government, so people who visited only visited for purely social reasons. “I’m tired of all of the politics. I’ve lost so much to them, and I never liked politics to begin with. I’ve only ever wanted to live out my own life,” Andromeda had confessed to Harry one evening after Harry had tucked Teddy in and read him a story. “You know, I checked into my graduating class from Hogwarts last week, and do you know how many of us are still alive? Forty-three. Including me. There were about 200 in my year, and it’s been reduced by almost three-quarters. Two wars did that. And I checked, after the First War, how many students there were at Hogwarts. Did you know that when you were at school, the average number of students per year was only 150? Before the first year it had grown to almost 200, but then the war diminished it. I checked, and now it’s only 100.” Put like that, Harry had understood. “This kind of thing is too heavy and depressing for a child. I don’t want him to go through childhood knowing everything that is wrong with the world. I want him to have some time looking through his rose-coloured glasses.” Harry, who had never had that, had been too choked up to speak.

Teddy and he flew for most of the afternoon, coming down only when their stomachs demanded it. Andromeda had fixed them all up some nice sandwiches, and afterwards, Teddy and Harry built fantastic buildings out of Legos.

“This one is a dinosaur,” stated Teddy with all of the certainty of a seven-year-old boy.

“It’s actually a dragon,” corrected Harry.

Confused, Teddy asked, “What’s the difference?”

“Dragons have magic ingrained into their very being, like you. Dinosaurs did not. Also, dinosaurs are extinct.”

With a look of wonder and excitement, Teddy declared, “I’m like a dragon! I wanna be a dragon!”

“Do you? Well, to be a dragon, you have to fly!” cried Harry, picking Teddy up to throw him into the air. Teddy shrieked and giggled and eventually demanded that he breathe fire too, since dragons were supposed to breathe fire.

“I’m afraid we can’t do fire. Fire destroys houses. And you like your house, don’t you?” Teddy nodded grudgingly. Harry continued, “We could do bubbles though. Wouldn’t a bubble-breathing dragon be awesome?”

Teddy agreed enthusiastically, and Harry found himself not only providing the bubbles, but also helping to make wings and horns so Teddy could also look like a real dragon. Once the costume was made, Teddy refused to take it off. He played as a dragon, ate dinner as a dragon, and wanted to sleep as a dragon.

“Dragons don’t get to have nice, warm blankets though. You don’t want to get cold tonight, do you?” asked Harry.

“Real dragons don’t get cold,” Teddy insisted stubbornly.

“No, but wouldn’t a dragon want to be comfortable? If they had nice, soft, blankets to cover themselves in while they slept, wouldn’t they use them?”

Teddy seriously considered that. Unsure, his hair changed from turquoise to magenta. “I suppose... like a nest?”

Harry nodded. “Exactly like a nest.” So a nest they made, which turned into Harry tickling Teddy, which turned into a bedtime story, but led to Teddy falling asleep in the middle of the story. Harry made sure the covers were covering him, and left the room.

“It was good of you to visit. I assume I shouldn’t mention this to anyone?” said Andromeda. Ooh, she made coffee. Andromeda always made the best coffee. Grateful, Harry gave her a smile while he poured himself a mug.

“You should also make sure Teddy doesn’t tell anyone, yeah.”

Andromeda shrugged. “Oh, that’ll be easy. I’ll tell him you’re a secret agent. He’ll think you’re a real James Bond and when he does tell someone, I’ll tell them that’s what I had to tell him when his deadbeat godfather had to go on the run.”

“Careful, your Slytherin is showing,” Harry teased as he added a little bit of cream and sugar to his coffee and went to sit down.

“Wisdom is a Ravenclaw trait, not a Slytherin one,” replied Andromeda. “What do you plan on doing now?”

The coffee swirled in his mug as he spun his finger over it slowly. “Not sure. I also don’t know when I’m going to be able to visit next. I only came back under extenuating circumstances.”

There was a pause. “Do I want to know about these extenuating circumstances?”

“It’s probably better if you don’t.”

There was silence. Harry stared down at his coffee, not drinking it. It had been hectic, this past year, and he had rarely had the time to sit down and enjoy the silence. Even when he had, something was always prominent on his mind that prevented him from fully taking in the recent events, or the location was not one in which he could relax. But here, now, in Andromeda’s dining room with the pale blue walls, beautiful art pieces framed which ranged from Ted Tonks’ stylized art portraits of Andromeda and Tonks, from Tonks’ old art pieces from when she was a child, and Teddy’s recent pieces. Here and there Harry could see the tell that showed that Andromeda was from an old family with a bloody history, but the children’s toys littering the ground, old marks from drawings on the walls were still visible, and this house was really one of the few places Harry felt perfectly comfortable and welcomed at.

“It’s all right, Harry,” Andromeda said. Harry started. She was no longer across the table, but standing next to him. Once she had his attention, she put her hand on his shoulder. Her beautifully lined face stared at him with compassion and certainty. “I know it doesn’t seem like it right now, but you’re still here. You’re strong. You’re brave. You’re intelligent. You can pull through this.”

It was one of the most reassuring things anyone had ever said to Harry. Feeling like he was about to cry, he found himself in a hug. He held on tightly and for quite a while. Andromeda, the wonderful human being she was, held him back just as tightly. And she didn’t ask anything at all.

...

It was time to go, but Harry still had no idea where he was going.

Hermione, Zabini, and Malfoy were all at Hermione’s flat to see him off. Malfoy’s presence was unexpected but not unwelcome. Thinking on it, Harry supposed that it wasn’t so unexpected; Hermione knew he went to Malfoy for medical check-ups (she had become concerned a couple years ago when Harry refused to go St. Mungo’s and Harry had had to explain), and also knew that he had seen Malfoy when he returned to England. She probably had wanted to speak to Malfoy about Harry’s not-actual-death experience.

Zabini and Malfoy were on friendly terms, though whether that was due to being classmates or something that happened after Hogwarts, Harry didn’t know. Harry was inclined to think that it happened primarily after Hogwarts. Even if they had been friends before, war changes people. Especially their relationships.

“I’ve had some false documents made for you. Also, if you keep these, you can alter the photograph and the information so it’ll pass identification checks. This way, you could take muggle transportation without much problem,” Hermione rattled off, as she handed Harry various papers. The identification on the papers depicted some man named Alexander Smith, whose features were just as bland as his name.

“We rarely check muggle transportation—which is really quite a weakness, Zabini, we ought to change that, make a note to bring it up in a meeting soon. But after Harry leaves, of course.”

“Speaking of Harry leaving,” said Zabini, voice smooth. Oh-ho, he had something on his mind. “Why doesn’t he go to America? And deal with that problem we’ve been stressing over?”

Hermione’s brows raised and her mouth opened to a silent ‘oh,’ before she cried, “Oh, that’s brilliant! Why didn’t I think of it before?”

“It’s much too obvious,” Zabini added. “Sometimes you miss the obvious.”

Beaming, Hermione told him, “But that’s why I have you. Excellent. Harry, go to the United States.”

“Yeah? What’s going on there?”

“Oh, is this about that demon problem?” asked Malfoy.

“Demon problem?” queried Harry. “What demon problem?”

“There’s been an increase in demons around the world,” Malfoy explained. "It’s only barely noticeable most places. Just like a few more possessions than normal.”

Hermione continued, “But the States has had almost a 100 percent increase in demon possessions since the beginning of the year.” It was only April. That’s not a good sign. “There are wizarding communities in New York City and San Francisco, and some scattered across the country, but they’re not enough. And there’s been quite a few reported deaths, already, but it’s too early to tell if they’re being targeted or not. None of them are fighters, anyway.”

“None?” Harry recalled wondering why there was never any representation from American wizards at the political meetings and galas he’d been forced to go to. He had never asked, being too concerned with those who had been there. It seemed silly to worry over something that wasn’t a problem. “Why ever not?”

“You know when all of the colonists left to go... colonize the Americas, right?”

“Yeah...”

“How many of them do you think were wizards?”

There had to have been a few, Harry thought. But it occurred to Harry that that would make little sense. The wizarding world already had smaller populations than the muggle world, and spreading out further would just be silly. The wizarding world had been inoculated to the problems of the muggle world, and therefore they shared none of the reasons to leave. If that were coupled with the fact that wizards born to magical families stood to inherit wealth and property from their families, and that those who were muggleborn were trying to assimilate with an entirely new culture that was already set against them, it would stand to reason that very few wizards would have emigrated. “Oh.”

“Right,” nodded Malfoy. “There were wizards among their indigenous population, but most of them probably were killed by the colonists. Along with any knowledge they might have had with dealing with their native magical creatures. Wizards who live in the Americas are still part of their country of origin. There are small communities in the major cities, of course, that people live in, but they report back to their respective embassy in either New York City or San Francisco. I think—Granger, even if they become an American citizen, they still have to obey the laws of their magical community, right? There is no central government in the States for wizards?”

“Right. If you break a wizarding law, you answer to your own government.”

“What if there’s a problem between two wizards of different nationalities?” asked Harry.

“Then you have just caused an international incident,” replied Zabini. “Also, don’t. But when you do, make sure they don’t know who you are or where you’re from. Blame France, or somewhere.”

“Hey,” Malfoy protested.

Harry ignored him. “And you think I should take an aeroplane to get there?”

“Well, no,” Hermione admitted. “It would be very complicated to use an aeroplane. We’d need to give you funds, identification, a cover story, all of which that would need to hold up under scrutiny.”

“I’ve never been on an aeroplane,” Harry mused.

Hermione stared at him. “Do you want to take an aeroplane to America, Harry?”

Harry had never been on an aeroplane in his 23—wait, no, did a birthday of his pass while he was travelling? It did, so he was 24—years of life, he faced dying or even imprisonment frequently and really, Harry liked new things.

“Yeah,” Harry told them. “I’d like to take an aeroplane.”

...

The aeroplane ride—aside from the hilarious coincidence of Harry’s pilot being Martin Crieff, the same man that Harry had found in the entrance of the Ministry and to whom Harry had then revealed the existence of the magical world—was uneventful and long. Harry arrived in America tired, stiff, and annoyed from constantly fending off Martin’s co-workers interested questions on how they knew one another. Harry supposed that Martin was not the sort to casually know business executives, but really, was Martin really so socially awkward so as not to be able to maintain basic social interaction as that co-pilot indicated?

Regardless, Harry left the airport in New York City as Thomas Smith, an old, greying, but well-kept man in a nice suit. Everyone called him Tom, and he worked for a drilling company. Harry’s certain he never told Hermione what Uncle Vernon’s company sold.

Which was a little alarming, in all honesty, because Harry got the distant feeling that the fact that his aeroplane ride was with Martin Crieff meant that Hermione was annoyed with him in some way. Aside from becoming a fugitive and running across the continents, getting trapped in a cave and being incommunicado for a few months, and not-dying, Harry wasn’t certain what it could be.

And besides, it wasn’t as if being with Martin was any sort of punishment. He liked Martin. Martin liked flying. It was a bit awkward with his co-workers, but Harry had plenty of experience smoothing ruffled feathers at this point. It had been fine.

As Harry walked out of the airport into the grand vastness that was New York City, Harry realized with a smack to his forehead that Hermione had got him a flight with Martin Crieff so he’d have to deal with the fact he revealed the magical world to a muggle.

If that was it, and logically, it had to be, then Hermione’s plan kind of backfired...

Either way, Harry was here now, and Martin Crieff was not a concern.

Time to hunt for demons.

...

The demon screamed and hissed and jerked, but in the end, like the others, black smoke erupted from the host’s mouth and the host fell over. Harry ran over to the woman quickly, hoping she could be saved. Sometimes demons sustained irreparable damage to their host, bad enough that they died as soon as, or just too quickly after, the demon left for Harry to save them.

The woman who had been the demon’s unwilling host had two stab wounds in her chest. Harry could fix that. They seemed clean; someone hadn’t hesitated to defend themselves. Given that the demon had still been alive, whoever attacked the demon was probably dead.

Harry was getting more and more used to that.

Despite the number of exorcisms he’d done in the past couple of months, Harry still didn’t know exactly what demons were. From what Hermione had said, demons were corrupted human souls from Hell. The only evidence for this was testimony of demons themselves. The term “corrupted” was debatable and undefined, just like the existence of Hell. Certainly, demons came from and went to somewhere unpleasant, but most wizards didn’t believe it was actually Hell. At least not the Hell described in the Bible.

Harry wasn’t sure. After all, the muggles who wrote the Bible could have learned from a demon of the existence of the place demons are from and are sent to when exorcised, and they may have chosen to call that place Hell. So, in that sense, there was a Hell. It was as good a word as any for the home of demons, in any case.

That relied on the assumption that demons did come from somewhere. If they didn’t, then they were corrupted on Earth, but there was no evidence for that. Given the power that would be necessary to “corrupt” a human soul into a demon (because they were rather different), it seemed unlikely it would be on Earth. So there had to be a Hell.

Of course, if demons weren’t corrupted human souls like many had said when interrogated, then what were they? They could be creatures that exist on Earth and possess people, but then why hadn’t anyone found how they were created or where they lived? It made more sense that they were from somewhere, especially how many unconnected demon cases around the globe throughout time had records of demons saying similar things about what they were and where they were from.

If demons were corrupted human souls, and they were from a place Harry will call Hell for lack of a better term, then something was happening now that had demons escaping left and right from Hell onto Earth. And they were concentrated in America.

Curious. What could be the cause of something like that?

That is how Harry found himself in a public library in a random town in Massachusetts, looking up demon folklore in various dusty tomes and several versions of the Bible (both Old and New). It was dull work, and told him very little that he didn’t already know from Hermione, but Harry was still so focused that he didn’t notice someone else’s presence behind him until there was a very loud, “Excuse me,” in the tone of someone who was getting tired of trying to get his attention.

Harry turned in his seat and looked up. And up. A man who was rather tall for just a man stood behind him with an expression of polite exasperation. He had floppy hair, wore a plaid, flannel shirt, and a concealed gun under his jacket.

Huh. Normally that was a bad thing, but this was the States, so guns didn’t necessarily mean anything out of the ordinary... and the man didn’t look like he was ready to shoot Harry. Give Harry a few more minutes and he could change that, but right now, the man just seemed annoyed, which may just be due to how difficult it was to get Harry’s attention.

“Sorry for interrupting,” said the man, “but I was wondering if you were done with any of those books?” He gestured towards the tomes of local folklore that Harry was hogging.

Harry pulled up a chair next to him. “No, but I can share. Go on.”

Somewhat cautiously, the man sat down next to him and looked at the tomes. Picking one up by random, or so it appeared, he began to flip through the books, clearly scanning for something.

Curious and feeling helpful, Harry asked, “What are you looking for? I might be able to point you to the right book.”

“Uh, I’m actually doing a paper on demonology. Specifically, how people used to protect themselves from demons,” the man lied. He was not doing a paper else he would have brought notes. Also, the man was definitely Uni-aged, and there wasn’t a University for miles.

“No, you’re not,” Harry said. “Got a demon problem, then? You’ll want this book,” Harry pointed to a tattered red book, that had lost its colour around the edges, “but it gets the anti-possession tattoo wrong. It should look like this.” Harry drew out an anti-possession symbol. “It also advises you to say Christo to find out if demons are nearby, but the problem with that is that demons know you know if you do that, so it’s actually a bit of a gamble since you also lose the element of surprise.”

The man’s mouth opened in a slight ‘O’ in surprise. Then, tentatively, he responded, “I hadn’t thought about that. I didn’t even know there were anti-possession tattoos.” He reached toward the paper Harry had drawn on, then stopped. “Do you mind if I have that?”

“Of course not,” Harry said while he handed it to him. “So, there’s a demon around here?”

“Yeah—I mean, you didn’t know? You gotta be a hunter, right?”

What the bloody hell was a hunter? A demon hunter? Is that what they call it in the States? “I just got into town, I’m not hunting anything. Just doing research.”

“What are you researching if you’re not hunting anything?”

“Possible reasons why there are so many more demon possessions now than before, and why they’re concentrated in the States,” replied Harry truthfully. Hunters must be the American version of Her Majesty’s Special Forces, with the rather key difference of their lack of government sponsor.

The man looked genuinely interested. “I’ve been wondering about that. Any luck?”

“No. They must be gathering for a reason, or something’s letting them escape from Hell easier than normal, but I haven’t found anything substantial. Until I find something that gives me direction, I can’t really do anything about it.”

The man nodded. “Just gotta keep exorcising the ones we can. How did you know I was lying about the essay?”

“Oh, easy. There’s no Universities in the area, and you’re clearly of that age group. Also, no notebook. So you’re a hunter, then? That’s what you call it in the States?”

“Uh, yeah. I’m Sam Winchester.” He held out a hand for Harry to shake, and Harry took it. “Do you call them something else in England?”

“Harry Potter. And yes. We call them Her Majesty’s Special Forces.”

That took quite a bit of explanation.

...

Sam Winchester was a college boy, who had stopped studying due to some tragedy (not that he had said as much, but Harry read between the lines) to join his brother in his search to find their father. His father was a hunter, and both of his sons inherited the “job” after him.

Quite a job to pass on to your children, Harry thought.

Critically assessing Sam, Harry thought that Sam was actually well-adjusted considering his circumstances. He animatedly engaged Harry in conversation about supernatural creatures, warming quickly to Harry’s presence. Still had quite a bit of hope in him.

“So they’re human souls?” asked Sam with wonderment and horror. Interesting combination, but it worked on his face. “How does that even happen?”

“That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” said Harry, staring at the books in front of him in frustration. “Probably caused by what happens to them when they go to Hell.”

“There’s a Hell?”

“Or something like it,” Harry nodded. “I’m just using that term to refer to where demons come from, since they certainly come from somewhere.”

“I’ve never thought of that. How do demons get out? Oops, sorry,” Sam waved apologetically to the librarian who was beginning to glare at the two of them. “Oh, geez, what time is it? I’ve got to go, I need to meet up with my brother.” He stood up, then looked back at Harry. “Would you like to come? You’d be a great help.”

Hunting a demon was hunting a demon. “Sure, why not?”

He left he library with Sam, several hours after arriving. Sam made a beeline for a motel, firing questions all of the while. “Is there a Heaven? Are there... angels?”

“Not that I know of,” Harry admitted. “I’ve never found any record of it.”

“Where do you get your information, anyway?” How lovely it was that this question was asked with pure eagerness and curiosity, rather than suspicion and scepticism.

“A lot of old tomes. My parents left me a lot of books, and I have friends who are very well-read.”

“Your parents?” Sam sounded so very eager, and Harry couldn’t place why. “So... they were hunters, too?”

Harry considered this. “Yes, but they stuck to Britain. I go abroad more. I also have a lot of friends in this work, too.”

“And you’re... do you like it?”

That was a good question. Did he? Harry had never found anything else that suited him quite like wandering around and poking things with sticks. “Yeah, I do,” Harry answered truthfully. “I find it to be a great lot of fun.”

“Fun? But doesn’t it just wear down on you after a while? Seeing all of the monsters and the deaths?” There was a used condom in the gutter. The streetlights hummed electrically. It felt like an inappropriate place to have such a serious conversation.

“It makes me feel alive, actually. I get so bored doing anything else.” Working in an office was pure torture, worse than the Cruciatus, honestly. Harry had no idea how people made themselves do that day in, day out, for years. “And I’ve tried. I find this work rewarding because while I don’t save everyone, there’s a lot more that would be dead without me.” Unsure if he should continue, but deciding it might help, Harry added, “Besides, I have a different view on death than most people. I think it to be a release.”

Sam had stopped walking by this point. “So you don’t care if people die?”

“Not at all. I care. I care a lot. I’d rather they live. I think being alive is fantastic and I want other people to do so. But people die; it’s just something that happens. I can’t save everyone, and neither can you. Do as much as you can; and let go the things you can’t.” Hermione would be so ecstatic to hear him say all of this. If only he could really put it to practice...

Sam mulled over his words quietly as they continued walking. Harry thought he had given sound advice. Given from what Harry had determined earlier, Sam had been in college before being dragged into hunting by his brother.

“I’ve never wanted to do this job,” burst out of Sam like an alien erupting from a hapless human’s stomach. “Ever since I found out when I was a kid that that was what my dad was doing, I’ve been looking for a way out. And just when I got one, and I was almost done with college, Dean came back to get help to look for Dad, and while I was gone, my girlfriend died.” Oh, Sam had been needing to chat with someone for quite a while. That was fine. Harry could be a good listener. He listened to Hermione’s problems, after all. Hermione insisted on talking about feelings. And Hermione had to deal with Harry’s problems.

“It just seem to me that no matter what we do,” Sam continued forth as the momentum of his bravery carried him, “the people we love end up dead. My mom died when I was a baby, now my girlfriend’s dead, we still have my dad but now he’s missing and honestly? He has never been that much of a dad. We might as well of lost him when my mom died.”

Well, people die. Best not to say that though. Best go with logic. “Would the people you love be safer if you didn’t do this job?”

“Of course they would,” Sam answered immediately.

“You sure about that?”

Uncertain now, but steady. “Yes.”

“I rather don’t think they are. The thing about all of the creatures that go bump in the night is that they’re out there no matter what you do. If you ignore them, they have free reign. If you hunt them, then you make it a little safer for others, including your loved ones. You just need to be smart about it. Don’t go about giving your real name, make sure you aren’t followed, and you can prevent being targeted for retribution.”

Sam stopped walking again. At this rate, they’d never make it anywhere, but Sam looked like he was having an epiphany. “What did you say?”

“About what? Bump in the night, ignoring them gives them free reign, hunting them makes things safer, make sure you don’t get targeted—”

“That. We were targeted! My mom and my girlfriend—they were both targeted!”

“Were they? Mind explaining a bit more?”

Sam ran his hands through his hair and rushed into an explanation. “My mom died when I was a baby, in a house fire. But it wasn’t a normal house fire, there was something there and it stuck her to the ceiling and cut her open. My girlfriend died the same way. It was—it was targeting us! Otherwise, what are the chances that both my mom and my girlfriend would die the same way?”

“Pretty low, I’d think.”

“Exactly! So why are we being targeted?”

“Who’s we?” Harry asked, sitting down on a nearby bench. Sam followed.

“My family, of course. Me, Dean, my dad, and my mom.”

“Well, actually,” Harry began. “It’s your mom and your girlfriend who’s been killed. Your girlfriend wasn’t family. She just had a connection to you. So, we must conclude that you’re being targeted.”

“Me?” Sam asked, unintentionally loud. More quietly out of distress, “Why me?” Harry felt guilty for springing that on him like that. Whenever he and Hermione talked about feelings and their problems, logic was the preferred method.

“That is the question you ought to be working on if you want your loved ones safe, isn’t it?”

Sam didn’t have anything to say to that other than pointing out they should continue to the motel to meet up with his brother.

If this conversation with Sam were any indication, meeting his brother would be eventful.

...

Understatement.

“Dean!” Sam called out when opening a motel door. “I found out some things that could help us against demons!” Huh. Sam took Harry’s approach to talking about the supernatural in public. Loudly and without care, because (as Harry saw it) no one would believe them anyway. And if they do, good for them, they learned something. That may or may not be Sam’s reasoning too.

Harry paused in the threshold of their motel room. The room was decorated with dangling glass art pieces and a nauseating green décor. It seemed well-maintained and clean as a room, just with poor taste.

The décor was also at odds with the taped up newspapers articles and weapons spread across the paisley teal bed comforters.

“Yeah? What’s—hey, who’s this dude?” A tall man, not as tall as Sam but tall nonetheless. Like Sam, he wore plaid flannel (seriously?) and a concealed firearm. Looks like they both won the genetic lottery, thought Harry as he sized him up.

“This is Harry, I met him at the library, researching demons!” Sam declared with enthusiasm. “He has a lot of info that would be useful to us.”

“You met a guy at a library and you decided to bring him in on our hunt?”

“I wanted you to meet him!”

Dean eyed Harry suspiciously. He pivoted his body ever so slightly to face his brother openly while keeping an eye on Harry. “You met a guy at a library and brought him to the homey motel room to meet the family, huh?” A taunting quirk of his eyebrow. “You got something to tell me, Sammy?”

“Yes, he does. We’re in love,” Harry interrupted, abruptly annoyed. The two brothers turned to him, in a manner that suggested to Harry they were not used to interruptions during their arguments. If they travelled together, just the two of them, Harry understood why. What he didn’t understand was how they hadn’t killed each other yet. “We sparkled in our own flamboyance and plan to have lots of magical gay babies.”

Dean and Sam gaped at him. Sam’s face began to tinge pink. Harry at least had their attention now. “Are you done insulting your younger brother’s masculinity and sexual orientation? Could we talk about demons now? Because I thought that was actually the issue at hand. And, you know, saving lives, but if you’d rather have a pissing contest, Sam and I could go hunt it on our own.”

Dean looked murderous. Good. Harry had said something right. Dean’s fists tightened and Harry braced himself to be punched.

However, Dean did a peculiar thing, that only Harry’s training as an Auror helped him spot. His eyes flicked to Sam and his expression changed from angry to fearful for a split second, before settling back on Harry, calmer than before.

“Alright, Shortie,” Well, that was petty of you, Dean, and not very clever either, “what do you got on demons that has Sam all a-flutter with hearts in his eyes?”

Having never seen the two brothers interact before, Harry could not pinpoint the exact cause of Sam’s surprise that quickly curdled into enthusiasm. Given that he himself was a new factor, he would have to think that his interruption curtailed the fight and brought them to the point of discussion much more quickly than usual.

Harry began to suspect that these boys had issues.

Well, they could join the club. They could make a sign that read “Psychologist’s Wet Dream” and sew it onto their jackets. Or maybe they need a pin or something. Actually, that might be fun. Hermione and Zabini would get a kick out of that.

“And how do you know all of this?” Dean accused.

“Dean, I already told you—” Sam began but Dean cut in.

“I wanna hear it from his mouth. You really that much of a bookworm?”

“It saves lives. I’d be a bookworm to save lives,” explained Harry, exasperated at this point. He was beginning to think they’d never actually go hunt demons. “Also, demons can talk, you know.”

“And whaddya do to get them to talk?”

“Are you implying something?”

“Demons don’t just spill all their secrets. And torture ain’t something that smells right to me.”

Dean had a fair point there. Harry warmed up to him slightly. Not liking torture was a likeable quality in other people. “You may not be aware of this, but it is possible to get information from somebody without hurting them even in the slightest. It’s called cleverness, attention to detail, and a good deal of patience.”

Dean grit his teeth. Oh, no, he was not happy with that answer but it was a satisfactory one all the same. Maybe Harry could get them to re-focus now.

“So. Demon?”

...

A lightning storm began before they finished hunting the demon and it was more interesting than the hunt itself. The demon was not particularly clever or powerful, and between the three of them, it never stood a chance.

The conversation that took place afterwards was eventful enough to make up for it, to Harry’s dismay. He hadn’t done this much talking in years, it felt like.

“The flying fuck do you mean that Sam’s being targeted?” Dean’s response to upsetting news was to get angry. Harry wondered what argument he just came from with Sam to huff and puff it all the way to Harry.

Harry huffed into his coffee. He had left the Winchesters at their motel with the desire to relax over a nice cup of coffee, but Dean Fucking Winchester apparently found out more about his conversation with Sam and decided he needed to follow Harry out to the small diner. It wasn’t particularly a clean nor nice diner, but they could still make drinkable coffee, which is all Harry asked for. For a diner, it felt pretty impersonal. The waitress was bored and tired, chewing gum while she had taken Harry’s order for coffee. Dean’s arrival and threatening stance made her eyes flicker to the closest escape route, but she otherwise seemed uninterested in the proceedings. Which was exactly why Harry picked this diner. Everyone would mind their own business.

Now Dean loomed over him (intentionally, Harry was sure; mock the fact that Harry could never even begin to match either of the Winchesters’ height), with a glare and crossed arms. The crossed arms were a good sign, aggressive body language though it was; it meant that Dean was not going for his gun.

His gun was still there, Harry noted. Best avoid it coming out.

“It’s all that makes sense,” explained Harry with a calm that was guaranteed to make others bloodthirsty. The gun might come out. Harry could deal. Messing with Dean was fun. “First his mother, then his girlfriend. What do they have in common? Sam. What other explanation is there?”

Dean’s mouth took a suspicious curve. “I really don’t think I like how much you know.”

“I don’t know much at all. I’m quite ignorant. But I know two and two make four, and you mother and his girlfriend make that Sam’s being targeted.” As casually as Harry could make a calculated move, Harry moved his line of vision from Dean’s eyes to his cup of coffee, and adopted a relaxed posture at the table. Harry waited to be grabbed, shot, something, but fortunately, as he hoped, Dean collapsed in the chair across from him, the tension and aggression bled out of him.

“If Sammy’s being targeted,” Dean said, not quite defeated. Good. “What can we do?” As a jib, he added, “Since you’re the expert, Shortie.”

“Is Shortie really the best you can do?”

“Midget.”

“That’s offensive. Try again.”

“Horizontally impaired.”

Harry laughed. “I think you mean vertically impaired.”

“No, I’m comfortable with horizontally impaired.” Dean leaned back and crossed his arms, with a smirk. The light above their heads cast Dean’s face in shadows that gave him a sinister appearance for a split second. Harry wondered if that was an intentional intimidation strategy on Dean’s part. If so, Dean may be smarter than he presented himself.

“That a challenge, Winchester?” Harry grinned as lasciviously as he could. “Go a few rounds with me and you’ll eat your words.”

“I would, but I don’t think you could handle me. Besides,” Dean replied with a smile that was a dirty challenge and a flirt, “I’d have you eating more than just your words.”

Harry buried his face in his hands and groaned. “Oh, I should have seen that one coming.”

“Anything else you can see coming?”

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Winchester.” Harry coolly sipped his cooling coffee. As fun as this flirt was, Harry wanted to be able to leave soon after he finished his coffee. “And I thought we were going to talk about your brother?”

Dean’s face sobered. “Yeah, we were. If you had anything useful to recommend. You think that thing’s going to come after us?”

“Oh, most assuredly. Nothing’s come from killing your mother or Sam’s girlfriend yet, has it? There’s got to be a goal. A motive,” said Harry. The lights of the diner above him reflected in what was left of his coffee. Local night owls occupied a couple of tables here and there, but aside from that, this was a terrible place to have this conversation. Too easily overheard. Harry had learned that lesson well.

Wait.

Was there anyone at the diner who would be interested in their conversation? Because if Dean and Sam were being followed, that would shine an entirely new light into what the end game was.

Giving Dean misinformation was out. Dean wouldn’t like it, it would take too long, and Harry figured there were faster ways to find out right now if Dean and Sam were being tailed. Who was in the diner? Aside from Dean and Harry themselves, there was the bored-looking waitress, a young man and woman who appeared to be reluctant to finish their date, an old man who was wearing a hearing aid and reading a book, and two burly, bearded men who were eating French fries and not talking.

Demons could possess anyone, but tended to prefer ones who somewhat matched what they had left of their self-image. Demons had no compunctions with lying, and tended to be good at passing as normal. Demons were hard to spot if they were trying to hide.

Unless if you said “Christo.” Then they would involuntarily show their black eyes.

Harry fumbled out of his seat. “Hang on a sec, my phone just vibrated, I need to check it,” and as he got up, he tripped over his chair and fell flat on his face. “Fuck!” Harry yelled. As he got up, he felt his face and discretely checked if he had everyone’s attention. He did. Dean was standing up partially out of his seat, looking both concerned and amused. “Jesus Christo!”

It was meant to be as subtle as possible. Harry would mutter to himself some more about how dumb that was and ow, that hurt, and it would seem natural and Harry would see if anyone was a demon without the demon knowing he did it intentionally.

That was the plan.

In hindsight, it might have been a bit reckless.

Everyone’s eyes turned black.

Dean swore softly and Harry heard him take his gun out. Harry picked himself up. The waitress grinned viciously, showing too much teeth. The couple picked up their butter knives and seemed just as threatening as if they’d been butcher knives. The man with the hearing aid laughed, and the two bearded men cracked their knuckles. All of their eyes as bottomless as the Hell they came from. The lights in the diner flickered, and Harry moved to stand besides Dean.

Whatever it was that was after Sam, it was not fucking around.

Fortunately, neither was Harry.

Chapter Text

“Calm yourself, Winchester,” said the demonically-possessed waitress as she chewed her bubblegum noisily and gave a vicious grin. “In fact, you may just walk out of here.” She waved her arm in a grand gesture towards the main door, by which the two burly men were standing guard. They moved slightly away from the door at this signal. “We are not after you.”

Dean moved closer to Harry. No hesitation, not a glance in Harry’s direction, he just moved to stand solidly with Harry. It was rather heart-warming and unexpected. “Yeah? What reason you got to go after the thin, British guy?” His mouth and his eyes took a falsely sympathetic twist. “Did he steal your tea and crumpets?” he asked, voice dripping with condescension.

Harry raised his hands disarmingly. “I swear, I didn’t know those were yours. I’d give them back if I could, but I doubt you’d want them now.”

“Oh, they think they are funny,” said the demon waitress. “Fine. We will kill you both.”

The six demons in the diner came closer. Harry caught Dean’s eye, and went to handle the waitress and the young couple. Dean took out his gun to shoot the burly men and the old man. As the first shot rang out, Harry winced. Unfortunately, he didn’t think they would be able to end this without some of the hosts dying, not out-numbered as they were.

He might be able to save some of them though, and that’s better than none.

Harry grabbed the salt shaker from the table and threw it at the waitress. The couple snarled and ran forward, and Harry reached into his jacket and pulled out his ready and rearing salt glitter.

He threw the bright pink salt into their eyes and while they hissed, Harry threw salt into a circle around them. They wouldn’t get out, provided they didn’t get any help. Speaking of which, Harry ducked as knives from the kitchen were thrown at him and Harry dodged behind the bar to avoid them.

“Thanks for all of the knives!” Harry called out as he picked up one that had landed close to him, splashed some holy water on it from his flask, and threw it back.

From the screaming, he guess it his its mark. No time to waste, then, Harry thought and he cleared the bar to where the waitress was, only to be grabbed by the ankles and pulled down. Harry pulled another packet of salt glitter from his jacket and unleashed a cloud of blue salt against the demon.

As the demon screamed, Harry scrambled to pin her down. With his flask open and the demon pinned, he held the flask threateningly over the demon. “Who sent you?”

The demon spat in his face. He splashed her with some of the holy water.

She howled and her head was thrown back and black smoke erupted from her mouth. Unable to stop it, Harry watched with a dissatisfied frown.

He could still hear Dean fighting off the other demons. With a quick peek, he saw that Dean was winning and the couple Harry had left in the salt circle were still there.

Quickly and quietly, Harry healed the waitress of her stab wound. Pleased that he managed the small victory of her survival, Harry began to recite the exorcism ritual while Dean kept the three demons remaining busy.

“This really ain’t the best plan!” yelled out Dean as he sent out another shot into the old man. Really, Harry thought even as Latin fell out of his mouth, was that really necessary? As Harry finished the exorcism chant, the hosts jerked and threw their heads back and black smoke erupted.

Harry had catapulted himself over the counter to the hosts of the demons Dean had been fighting to patch up their wounds as best he could. He went to the old man first, expecting to find a bullet wound, but was surprised to find only a bruise from impact.

“What?”

“Rock-salt bullets,” Dean said suddenly, watching Harry with a peculiar expression on his face. “Good against demons.”

“Ah,” responded Harry, and he refocused on patching up the hosts. Dean did not interrupt him again, and when Harry finished, he was vaguely surprised that Dean was still there. He was further away, leaning over the unconscious couple.

“Why’s this salt pink?” Dean inquired.

Harry stared at him for a moment, briefly shaken out of his comfortable healing headspace. “Uh, it’s salt glitter.”

Dean turned to face him completely. “Salt glitter?”

“Yes, you take salt, you take dye, and you bake it. Instant humiliation for demons. Also, it’s pretty.”

“You made pink fucking salt to use against demons because it’s pretty?”

“And it’s humiliating to be defeated by pink salt glitter.”

Dean scoffed. “I don’t think it’s humiliating just for the demons, buddy.”

“Haven’t had any demon laugh at me yet after being hit by my glitter. Harry smirked. After a beat, he gestured to the unconscious people. “They’ll be fine,” he said. “We should call an ambulance and, you know. Leave.”

“Yeah,” Dean said, pulling out his cell. “Got it.”

Phone call made, they walked around the fallen people, some of whom were beginning to stir. They got to Dean’s car and Harry got into the shotgun seat. It was a gleaming, glittering sort of car, despite the model being a few decades out-of-date; it was easy to see what material object Dean Winchester valued most. 

He got into the shotgun seat as Dean started the engine (which was loud, Jesus), and Dean asked, “Where I’m taking you?”

Good question. Harry hadn’t actually gotten a room yet in this town. He said as much. “Does your motel still have a vacancy?”

“If it doesn’t, you can crash on our floor,” offered Dean, probably attempting friendly and welcoming and his tone accomplished awkwardness and a sense that such an offer had never before come out of his mouth. Harry took it for the intent he believed was meant.

“Thanks.”

Dean’s eye glanced at him. It wouldn’t be long before he asked— “So, how did you know to check for demons in the diner?”

“It’s one thing if Sam is being targeted,” answered Harry honestly. “It’s another if he’s actively being followed. That means a score of different things; the attacker has an investment in the target, is keeping an eye out for something, or for an opening, or vulnerability. So I had to check—what?” Dean was giving him the side eye again.

“Dude, were you in law enforcement or something?”

“Oh. Yes, I was.”

“What happened?”

“Well, once I decided to check for demons, I needed to try to say ‘christo’ as subtly as possible—”

“No, not with that. Law enforcement.”

“How do you mean?”

“Why don’t you work with law enforcement anymore?”

“Who says I don’t? Fairly presumptuous of you, really. Calling me unemployed.”

Dean did not falter in his driving, despite the sudden accusation. “What? No, man, I mean, you’re here, aren’t you? Hunting demons, that sort of thing. Why are you here if you could be living a normal life?”

Oh, the irony.

Harry couldn’t help it. He laughed.

“Sorry, sorry. It’s just. I tried the normal life, it wasn’t for me.”

“How’d you mean?”

“I had an office job for the first few years of my life after school. Hated it. Got fired. After that, I realized that I was more for a hands-on approach to work. And I had been raised knowing about the supernatural, so I figured that was something I could do that would be useful.”

“So you’re saying you like this.” Dean waved his right hand in a vague gesture. “Hunting.”

“I really do.” After he was fired from his job as Head Auror, Harry had found the tedium crippling. Even Hermione had begun to find him intolerable, restlessness crawling under his skin as if he were a lion restrained by chains. If Kingsley hadn’t loaned him out to Her Majesty’s Special Forces, Harry wasn’t sure what he would have done. “It’s fun. It’s rewarding. I save lives. I really am quite terrible at most other things. So, hunting it is.”

“Oh.” Dean’s lips took a harder line. “So what about Sam and being followed?”

“Well, I tried to check for demons as naturally as possible, and... well, you know, the entire place was filled with demons.”

“But they weren’t there for Sam or me,” Dean added. “They were there for you.”

“I have been exorcising a lot of demons, recently. I don’t think I was as well-known in Britain. We try to minimize individual recognition there.”

Dean grunted. Harry couldn’t tell if it was agreement or disagreement.

Dean pulled in smoothly to their motel parking lot. The lack of lights at reception did not bode well for Harry.

“It looks like Reception’s closed,” Harry stated. “Looks like I’ll need to take you up on that floor.” Harry could, of course, Apparate to a different town and book a room there. But then he’d have to give the Winchesters a good excuse to leave, and since the offer of their floor was already out, it seemed that an excuse would not be forthcoming.

“Looks like,” Dean agreed. They began to wonder over to Dean’s and Sam’s room. When they got to the door, Harry paused to wait for Dean to let them in, and Dean stopped, too.

“Look,” Dean said. He cleared his throat. Then he gave Harry and hearty clap to the shoulder which made him jerk. “Thanks for your help.”

Harry had spent years awkwardly dealing with people’s misguided gratitude. He spent the years after school learning to say, “You’re welcome,” as genuinely as possible and without making it any sort of big deal, which never worked when people offered him gifts. Zabini had repeatedly told Harry, “Just accept the gifts, Potter.”

Harry had protested, “But what if—”

“Or tell them to donate to the Ministry, or to Hogwarts, or charity, anything, people don’t like their saviour to leave without having done something in return for them.”

“Zabini, the number of times I’ve had someone offering sex to me!” Harry had yelled. “What do I do then?”

Zabini hardly seemed phased. “That happens a lot with celebrities. Just politely turn them down. Tell them you’re taken.”

“Oh,” Harry had responded, perking up in Zabini’s guest chair in his office. “That’s a great idea! Thanks.” And for a while afterwards, everyone thought that Harry and Zabini were in a relationship. That was until Zabini published a note in the Daily Prophet confirming that they were engaged.

The sheer amount of engagement gifts they had received, bloody hell. Which hadn’t been nearly as interesting as the creativity involved in the homophobic hate mail, but apparently other people thought it was odd when Harry said he liked the hate mail more than the gifts because the hate mail contained terrible curses which are useful to know about and practice with.

Technically speaking, Harry and Zabini never broke off their “engagement.” Their announcement, petty revenge though it started as, took off for same-sex marriage rights for the British wizarding community, with Zabini and Harry as the unintentional poster boys.

They couldn’t break it off with that sort of momentum, not to mention the insult it would be if they had revealed how their engagement began. So they kept it quiet and told people that they planned for a long engagement because they were going to get same-sex marriage legalized in Wizarding Britain. Neither Harry nor Zabini thought they’d ever actually marry anyway, and if Harry were to legally bind himself to anyone, it’d be either Hermione or Zabini. Or Luna.

Harry wondered if Zabini was getting condolences because his fiancé turned fugitive.

Still, after that whole debacle, Zabini had set Harry up with an official “gift” address, where all people could send their gifts to him. Some of them, he kept. Most, he donated. It worked out very well. Since then, Harry received less gratitude in person that he had to deal with humbly and professionally.

In other words, it had been a while.

Which is why Harry blurted out, “What ever for?”

“Uh,” Dean eloquently responded. He drew his hand back and shifted his weight. “For having my back in the diner? For giving us intel on the whole Sam thing?”

“Actually, you could have left me in the diner with the demons, so I really ought to be thanking you. Also, for Sam, I don’t need thanks for that.” Okay, Harry was still terrible at not downplaying his own contribution.

“Dude, I wasn’t about to leave you to those demons.” Dean genuinely sounded offended. Harry recalled that Dean hadn’t hesitated to stand with Harry when the demons offered to let him go.

“Well. Thanks. I know a lot of people who would have left me there.”

Rather than responding, Dean opened the door to the motel room. Inside, with a small lamp light, Sam typed away on a laptop. Hearing the door open, he looked over at them, and visibly started when he spotted Harry. Though clearly an unexpected guest, Sam greeted him with a genuine smile. “Harry! What are you doing here?” As quick as it came, the smile was replaced with a frown. “Wait, did something happen?”

“Nothing happened, Sammy. Little demon attack, nothing the two of us couldn’t handle.” Dean strode in, all confidence. It felt like a show. “Harry’s just borrowing our floor since he didn’t think to book a room before you two went all nerd this afternoon.”

“Oh.”

Not the most ringing endorsement, but perhaps the lack of enthusiasm would go in Harry’s favour. Harry could get out of this. “Listen, if this doesn’t work, I’m sure I could find somewhere that’s still open.”

Dean snorted. “In this town? Yeah, right.”

“I don’t want you two to be uncomfortable because of me,” Harry tried again.

“What, you think we’re all girls now?”

“I know women who would crush your hypermasculinity beneath their dainty, pink high-heels,” snapped Harry. Sam snorted, whether from amusement or surprise, Harry couldn’t tell. “I meant that I understand paranoia and not being able to sleep with someone you don’t trust around.”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Sam. “We’re all hunters. We’ve all got to help each other out at some point. We’re not just going to turn you out on the street.”

Great.

It didn’t seem that sleep would be anywhere in Harry’s near future, especially given how Sam began to almost glow with excitement.

“Since you’re here, Harry,” Sam asked, as casually someone could when they failed be to casual at all, “Can I ask you some questions?”

“Sure,” Harry said since sleep was out of the question. “What about?”

“When you told me about the hunters in Britain, you said that they work for the government and have supernatural liaisons,” said Sam, and Dean lifted his head from where he had strewn himself across his bed. “How did that get started?”

“Which part, the hunters working for the government or—”

“The supernatural liaisons.” Really, very excited. “Though, actually, how’d the government part start, too?”

“One thing at a time,” responded Harry, sitting down in the seat across from Sam. The chairs were both cheap, foldable metal chairs that had a cushion attached that seemed to have lost all of its stuffing. “The government is probably easiest to start with, though I don’t know all of the details.” Harry rubbed his forehead. “Well, there was never any big, revelatory, ‘ooh, monsters exist,’ because people knew they existed for centuries before we started calling demons and monsters the products of an unhealthy mind.” That transition was probably the cleverest act the demons had ever decided to do. It was in only the past few centuries that the wizarding community saw an increase in demons attempting to remain hidden. It was debatable if that was what the demons were actually doing, Harry thought that the rewards reaped from such a change meant that the changes in behaviour could be nothing but intentional. “So the royalty of England always had a section of soldiers to handle the supernatural, in addition to superstitious townsfolk and clergy. I mean, most of the time, the people they were killing weren’t in any way supernatural. There were definitely some people who knew what they were doing, but most didn’t.”

Harry paused. The relationship between what used to be Her Majesty’s Special Forces and the royal family had always been complicated. “There’s always just been a team, a group of people who know about the supernatural who go after it. In that way, it is similar to you hunters in America. The difference is that this group has almost always maintained relations with the ruling government. There were periods of time where the group vanished from existence, but those can be explained from problems that they had dealing with the person in charge. Like Cromwell (1). Cromwell was pretty bad.” Even with Binn’s terrible teaching skills, Harry could remember that lecture. “Government backing has its benefits, but when there were the witch hunts or using them to hunt down people to go into the Tower who were only political prisoners, not supernatural ones, this group usually cut off ties for a while.”

“So, wait, what were they called before now?”

“What? They’ve always been Her Majesty’s Special Forces. It sounds better telling that to strangers that you’re a random group of demon hunters.”

“So, are you a part of this group?” asked Sam. He leaned forward, chest touching the table in between them, laptop forgotten.

“Sort of,” said Harry. “I spend a lot of time travelling and helping wherever I go. I get called in to help sometimes if someone needs help. Or I just go and help if I’m bored.”

“That’s—that’s sounds like a network. A support network of hunters.” Dear Lord, Sam sounded like he was in awe. Were the hunters in the States really so disorganized and scattered?

“You don’t have anything like that here?” Harry frowned. “No one to call for information or back-up?”

Dean shrugged. “We’ve got some contacts and friends we could call if we needed it, but it ain’t anything organized.”

That was a terribly ineffective battle strategy. That means that demons already have the American hunters divided. All that was left was to conquer. American hunters were in a dangerously vulnerable position what with the increase of demonic activity and whatever was to come.

Note to self, Harry thought. Do something about that.

“There is the Roadhouse,” Dean commented. “Though I haven’t heard from them in years, I’ve heard Ellen’s still up and running. It’s... sort of a rest point for hunters. It’s a place to get news.”

“That’s something,” Harry muttered. “Still not as good as something organized...” Suddenly, Harry grinned at the two brothers. “Excellent. I know what I’m doing after this.” Harry didn’t know what the ultimate goal of the demons were, and they were being tight-lipped on the whole thing, which meant it was going to be bad. When demons didn’t talk, it meant that they were afraid of something that ranked higher than Harry, which was not good, to say the least.

If pursuing the matter didn’t work, then it was best to build defences.

Sam leaned back from the table, eyebrows raised. “You’re going to try to make a hunter network?”

“In the States, yeah. Maybe I should call someone from the Special Forces and see what they recommend to start it up...” Harry wondered aloud to himself. Greg would be a good person to call for that.

“You’re going to stop travelling? But, I was thinking...”

“What?” demanded Dean sharply.

“I was thinking he could join us for a while,” said Sam to his brother. “I mean, he might be able to help, and if he has nowhere in particular to go, why not?”

“That’d be fine,” Harry interrupted before either one could start an argument. “I would actually like to stick with you two for a while. I’d like to help with whomever’s targeting Sam.”

“Thanks, but we’ll be fine,” Dean said, in the tone that brooked no argument.

“But Dean, he could help,” Sam argued.

“We don’t need his help.” And once again, they spoke as if Harry weren’t there...

“If I had had his help in Stanford, maybe Jess wouldn’t have died,” snapped Sam.

Dean became quiet and gritted his teeth. Harry watched the scene before him avidly.

Dean glanced at Harry. His frown deepened. “Sam, can I talk to you outside?”

Sam glanced at Harry also, but got up to walk outside with his brother. Harry wasn’t offended. They weren’t used to third party.

Harry did nothing but wait until Dean and Sam re-entered the room. Already, he had reasons to like both of the brothers, compounded on the fact that they were in clear need of aide. That was more than enough for Harry to help them. Hell, only the latter was required for Harry. The fact that he liked the two blokes, infested with issues as they were, was a nice bonus. Already, he felt invested.

It was good to care about people. Always.

Dean and Sam returned some time later. Based on the tense lines with which they held themselves, they had quite an argument over him.

“You can stay,” Dean said shortly to Harry, speaking as if he was a stray dog. Harry felt a prickle of indignation, but said nothing. Dean shrugged off his jacket and boots, and flopped down on one of the beds.

Sam, with a sympathetic smile, told Harry, “Sorry about him. He just gets... difficult, sometimes. We’re glad to have you with us, really.”

“Don’t worry about it,” responded Harry. “Actually, I think I’m ready to turn in, too. Spare a pillow?”

“Yeah, of course. Here,” Sam gave him a pillow and extracted one blanket from his bed for Harry’s use. Kind of him. Harry set them up on the floor, but told Sam that he would be back inside in a minute, he only needed to make a phone call.

When he was comfortably outside, Harry dialled Greg. He fortunately had a phone again, because Hermione hooked him up while he was last in Britain.

“Lestrade speaking.”

“Hello, Greg,” greeted Harry. “It’s been a while.”

Harry? ‘A while’ is putting it mildly! Where’ve you been? Last I heard you went criminal.”

“Still a criminal. Been keeping busy, quite happily. Speaking of keeping busy, how is the Special Forces in Britain set up?”

Greg laughed, over the phone. “Oh, I don’t think I want to know.” Pause. “Do I?”

“It’s actually pretty tame,” Harry explained. “I want to help set up a hunter network in the States.”

“Tame, sure, crazily ambitious, even more so,” Greg responded easily. He didn’t seem surprised. Greg was used to Harry’s particular brand of crazy. He also had said that he had experience with crazier and Harry was a breath of fresh air. Harry couldn’t doubt the man, but really? “You really think you can apply a British style of network to the States? From the work I’ve done there, the hunters there have a pretty different attitude. And a barrel full of mental problems since, you know, most of them get drawn into the business through bloody deaths of loved ones.”

“No shit,” Harry concurred. “I have our poster boys in the room next to me, as a matter of fact.”

“Bloody wonderful,” cursed Greg. “The lot of them all need psychological help, you know this, right? American hunters really can be dangerous. And there’s no one to keep tabs on them.”

Harry hummed in agreement. “When you send me the break down of our system, send also a list of American psychologists who may be suitable candidates for a Hunter Mental Health program.”

“You’re worse than Granger, I swear. At least she pretends she has a normal reaction to danger.”

“I’m glad you’re not so delusion so as to think her reactions are genuine,” murmured Harry. “How is Hermione? I’ve not got news since I left.”

“It’s been a circus,” Greg responded. “Hell, you know it’s been a circus when we’ve heard so much of it. The British wizards are in an uproar. But it’s mixed, there are people claiming you’ve been framed, or that you deserve some leniency, or that you should be put on trial and tried like everyone else.”

“I hope people are noting which are which, I’d like to keep an eye on those who think I deserve leniency. I don’t trust them.” No one deserve leniency for crimes based on past actions. It may affect what sort of consequence would be best for them, what sort of help they would need, but it did not mitigate the seriousness of the crime.

“I’m sure someone is,” came through the phone. “Though, you gotta tell me, Harry. Did you really do it?”

Harry did not expect, even if Hermione, Malfoy, and Zabini did not mention it being an issue, that everyone accepted Harry as the culprit unquestioningly. Certainly, many people would, with the facts presented—it would be stupid not to, really—but Harry’s friends? Who stood by him even during Rita Skeeter’s smear campaign?

Would they really believe that it was Harry who murdered Magnus Lockwood and leaked information to the Daily Prophet about the demon blood experiments?

For all of the fact that Harry didn’t do it, even he would have said he had in face of the evidence. And he did murder William Edwards after the fiasco in the Department of Mysteries, so for a friend to think he might be capable of a political murder and leaking classified information—

Harry would believe it.

It occurred to Harry that maybe contacting Greg was a bad idea.

“Would you believe me even if I told you?”

“Why would I ask, if my mind was already decided?”

If Harry denied, then the next question would be, Then who did it?

The answer to that question would be another question.

For whom would Harry Potter abandon everything?

There was only one thing to do, really.

“I thought I was doing the right thing,” was Harry’s answer. “Actually, no. I still believed I did the right thing.”

“Bloody hell, Harry... seriously? I didn’t actually think...”

How bittersweet, Harry thought. The trust Greg had in him to make him doubt that he committed the crimes was also strong enough to take him at his word. It filled him with both affection and sorrow.

Calling Greg was a mistake. Even if no one found out, Greg might not send him the information he needed, and all Harry would have accomplished was ruin his friend’s faith in him.

Harry hung up.

Immediately, his phone rang. He ignored it, leaning against the rough wall of the motel. In a few minutes, his phone dinged with voicemail.

“For fuck’s sake, Harry, I’m not going to throw you under the bridge. I can’t even, you didn’t tell me anything your government doesn’t know. They know you’re on the run, they suspect that you’re in North America because we all are getting rumours from there right now, but the Ministry announced that it had exiled you itself, as a compromise for the punishment of your crimes and your services towards the government.” Seriously? “They wanted to save face, honestly, rather than let it be known that they lost you, but it means that you aren’t going to have your Aurors up your arse, right?” That would explain why it had been so quiet while he had been travelling... Harry knew there had been no way he was that good at hiding. “I’ll send you what you want as soon as I can get it together. Don’t suppose you have email? It’d be faster than an owl.”

News from home had been difficult to procure while travelling, and it was a mental relief to just ignore it. If he focused on hiding and his travels, he didn’t run into trouble, anyway.

But why hadn’t he heard about this?

Why hadn’t Hermione told him? This was—this was kind of important.

He called Greg back.

“That was quick.”

“What do you mean, they said they sent me to exile?”

“You didn’t know?” Greg sounded genuinely surprised. “After you broke free or whatever—”

“Broke free of what?” Harry demanded.

“Of the Ministry,” Greg said slowly, as one did when the information received was not aligning with the information already gathered. “After you fought the demon and they caught you.”

Harry felt elated. “They never caught me,” Harry said. “I’ve been on the run this entire time. Thanks, Greg. I’ll get an email to you soon.”

Harry hung up.

The Ministry was lying. It was lying to make itself out to be in control and to salvage its image, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Ministry was lying to everyone to cover up what was happening on the inside.

If something was happening on the inside that Harry needed to know, Hermione would have told him.

Chapter Text

To: seeker@gmail.com

From: footballfan@hotmail.com

Seeker? why seeker?

I’ve attached some files about the Special Forces structure. A friend wrote it up for me. Hope it helps.

Cheers, mate.

Attached were two files: StructureandOrganization and AmericanHunters.

StructureandOrganization was an article that had been an essay written by a Special Forces member that was signed only as J. W. It read:

            British hunters, better known as Her Majesty’s Special Forces, are considered members of the British government. They are called just that in all official documentation from when it started during the Hundred Years War. Before that all evidence of existence of hunters in Britain are only in legends.

J. W. really wasn’t that great of a writer. Harry wondered how Lestrade got him to write this document rather than someone with a little bit more... panache.

This is because while the Special Forces were important in British wars, the need for the Special Forces to be official and documented was only pressing enough to pressure them during the Hundred Years War.

Harry hoped that was intentional.

Before becoming officially part of the government, British hunters funded themselves through private means, either through the family of a hunter, or through a wealthy family that they had saved. During the witch hunts, hunters were even able to hunt openly and be paid for their services. There were occasions when the Church would hire hunters as well. The hunters thought it was mandatory that they maintain independence from the British government, even after signing on to work for them.

            So the governments of what is now the United Kingdom has only given the hunters a stipend for a couple of centuries. That was before Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) took over the Commonwealth of England, and hunters disappeared off the government radar until his reign ended. There are several known cases in which a hunter had involvement, and several cases of thievery and raids that are suspected to have been hunters. After Cromwell’s death, the hunters returned to help the governments, and assisted in rebuilding after the Great Fires of London (1666). This rebuilding included salt lines buried under the ground, and iron included in all of the framework. This has been a note to have mandatory in all modern buildings, especially those hubs of transport.

That, Harry was aware of. Britain was one of the most fortified and protected lands against demons and ghosts. Britain was also one of the few places demons could not fly to on a plane because when a demonically-possessed person fly over a salt or iron line, even many kilometres up, they hit up against the barrier so fast that it expels them from the host. It was an apparently hilarious phenomenon to see.

            In the modern era, British hunters are much more a part of the government than they used to be, but they still manage to maintain independence. They are given a living wage from the government, but manage resources in such a way that they could pull away if necessary.

            The breakdown of Her Majesty’s Special Forces is a military one. At the very top is the General, who has risen the ranks, and from those of equal status, been voted to the top by all the rest. Discussion and debate about who should become General can take months because the General must have the backing of all individuals.

No, this was not the sort of business in which you want to have festering resentment or warring factions.

After the General is the Regional Leaders. Hunter and Researcher teams are divided into regions, so all persons can live and settle in one place and minimize travel. Under the Regional Leader is both the Head Researcher and the Hunter Leader. Each hunting team, made of three hunters, has a research team on call. The hunting team has an experienced hunter as leader, and the research team has an experienced researcher as leader.

            When a hunter retires, they may seek other avenues of employment (which they could do at any time), or continue in a different capacity in the Special Forces. Researching is one of these, as hunters must be experienced with a wide variety of creatures. Often Head Researchers used to be hunters. Other capacities include less intensive work such as the dreaded but necessary project work or office work, but that’s usually reserved for survivors of supernatural attacks who want to help in some way. Survivors or loved ones of victims are informed of the cause of death and offered an opportunity to help if they are deemed fit for the information.

            Hunters must pass rigorous physical and psychological tests before becoming a hunter, and must redo these tests every year. Tests on knowledge and memorization include the standard exorcism chant and various vigils. Anti-possession tattoo is mandatory for all members of Her Majesty’s Special Forces. Researchers must undergo mental evaluation every year as well, but do not require the physical portion of the test. Before accepting a higher rank, all personnel must undergo a mental evaluation and have their anti-possession tattoo checked.

            Currently, Her Majesty’s Special Forces are undertaking a project to create an online database of the supernatural, for easier and generally access. A lot of volunteers have been taken into the project. Surprisingly, a great help has been the natural-born witches who have done a great deal to add to our resources.

Useful. Exactly what he needed. Details would have to be ironed out, but Harry was sure he could email Greg if he needed to, or Hermione... speaking of which, he should tell Hermione about his email.

“You got something?” asked Sam, from over his shoulder. Harry hummed and tilted the screen to show Sam the document. Sam bent over and placed a hand on the back of Harry’s chair to peer at the screen. Harry waited patiently for him to scroll through it.

Light came into the cheap motel room, seeping through the spaces the curtains just did not manage to cover, despite being stretched out as far as they could be on either side. This functional inadequacy was the injury to the insult of the curtains’ bright green paisley pattern. Harry idly thought of it as a security risk, as any passerby would be able to see inside.

Dean was spread out on his stomach, limbs akimbo and fully dressed. He lay upon the bed comforter, which was a disturbingly good match for the curtains, as it was a bright mix of disorienting blue and green that might have once been intended to resemble waves. Harry admired the coordination for so undesirable a colour scheme. Even the carpet matched in lime green, hard and scratchy as it was. Also, Harry did not feel that lime green was ever appropriate as a carpet colour. Or for any sort of flooring, really. That’s not to say that Harry looked down upon people who felt the burning itch to have lime green under their feet, but Harry found it displeasing on his eyeballs. He preferred warmer, earthier colours for his decoration. Not that he had his own place. Maybe that’s how he could decorate Grimmauld Place, now that it was finally clear of the stuffed heads and the literal skeletons in the closets.

(That was quite the job, what with the reinforced Permanent Sticking Charms, the sheer number of mounted house elves heads, and then the discovered mounted heads of humans in an afore unknown room in the basement floor.

Some of them had been identified from centuries old cold cases and some that were not so old.

Apparently, the Blacks had been active in politics.)

“Wow,” Sam breathed out on Harry’s shoulder, bringing Harry back to the glowing screen in front of him. “This is... incredible. Do you think we could apply this to hunters in the US?”

Harry murmured, “You know American hunters better than me. Would this sort of thing be possible?”

Sam pursed his lips thoughtfully. It gave him a miffed appearance. “The hunters I know aren’t the most reasonable. Or the most sane. I mean, Dad is...” He cleared his throat. “Dad refuses to work with hunters that aren’t me and Dean. And he’s really quite... paranoid. A lot of hunters are. If you went up to them with this sort of system and model, I think they’d be more likely to shoot you in the face. Never mind that our government doesn’t even know about us.” He ran his fingers through his hair. In contrast to Harry’s unruly locks, Sam’s bed-mussed hair fell perfectly into place immediately. Harry rubbed his scalp and felt his hair afterwards, noting that there was absolutely no difference to it whatsoever. It remained meticulously chaotic.

“It doesn’t have to be exactly like this. This is only the model.”

There was another file. AmericanHunters.

That one could wait. It was nearing six in the morning and they needed to go. They had just finished a hunt for a shapeshifter, and while they had avoided detection by authorities, they wanted to leave quick and keep it that way.

(Furthermore, Harry had no idea what that document would say about American hunters. It may not be something he would want Sam to see. British hunters had a sort of... condescending attitude towards American hunters. The British had a sort of condescending attitude towards Americans in general, but this may be a specific condescending attitude towards American hunters that may not be well-received.)

Dean was not yet awake. Sam had woken first, and Harry soon after to the click clacking of his laptop.

This was their fourth morning travelling together. The morning after the first night, Sam had greeted him with a pleasant smile and a “How did you sleep? The floor probably wasn’t very comfortable,” and Harry hadn’t told Sam that compared to a cave floor for three months, a motel floor is luxurious.

Harry had been just stunned that he actually had fallen asleep. He must have been exhausted and hadn’t noticed that his body was demanding rest. Not uncommon, given that Harry had long ignored the needs and desires of his body, at first by force, then necessity, and then by genuine accident.

The night before, Sam and Dean had crashed onto the same bed and Harry had taken the other bed.

Sam stood up and crossed the room in four strides to pull the curtains back. Light streamed onto Dean’s face, which scrunched. Eyes blinked open, and Dean’s head lifted up without any more wait.

“What time is it?” he muttered.

“Ten to six. We gotta go, man.”

“Shit. Why didn’t you wake me up earlier, dude?” Sitting up proper, he looked at Harry. “And... other dude. Hell, two people awake before me and neither of you guys made enough noise to wake me up?”

“Is this amount of aggression in the morning usual?” Harry asked, directed at Sam. Dean had been fickle in his behavior towards Harry thus far, alternating between distant enough that it was possible to pass it off as polite and aggressive. Harry enjoyed prodding him to aggression because that was easier to work with as it made a person predictable and Harry was more used to it, and Dean had began leaning towards aggression.

“No, usually he’s very chill after we successfully hunt. I think he just forgot you were here.” How delightfully honest. Harry decided that he certainly liked Sam.

“That ain’t fair, now I got two nerds ganging up on me,” Dean muttered, swinging his legs off the side of the bed. “You guys found anything new for us?”

Sam awkwardly picked at his hands. “Uh, no. No, not exactly.”

“No?” Dean demanded, “What, were you two just geeking out over nothing in the wee hours of the morning?”

“Harry got an email back from his friend from England,” Sam said with excitement. “We have a model to go on an everything—with some effort and research, we might be able to create a hunter network!”

“Yeah...” Dean replied with a yawn. “Good. Awesome. Don’t suppose you guys looked up our next hunt while you were checking up on the Queen’s email?”

“I’ve met the Queen,” Harry replied absently. “That’s not an insult. Although her email is much more exciting than mine.”

“You’ve met the Queen of England?” exclaimed Sam.

“Yeah, it wasn’t that interesting. Political thing.” It had been dull as fuck, but the Queen had been fairly impressive. Harry hadn’t paid that much attention, but Hermione had been equal parts fascinated and frustrated with her. It had been part of Hermione’s effort to establish positive relations between magical Britain and other parties, and Harry had had to come as the saviour of the wizarding world. The fact that Harry was better at handling a wand than other people meant that his appearance was politically significant. Wouldn’t expected that out of Britain, but there it was.

The Winchesters exchanged incredulous looks. Sam leaned forward, already gearing for his next question.

“Sammy,” Dean interrupted emphatically. “Did you guys find a hunt?” Sam’s clicked shut, his jaw visibly tensing as he glanced at Dean.

That sort of silent interaction happened a lot. Harry did not know enough about the two of them to know exactly what was exchanged, but Harry had a hunch that Dean, being older, had had great part in Sam’s childhood. Dean certainly tried to (and succeeded) in pre-emptively controlling Sam’s behaviour. In response, Sam seemed perfectly willing to take actions that Dean would disapprove of—but only when Dean was not present. Such as bringing Harry back to their motel the first time and discussing their hunt with him. And besides, that expression Sam just gave Dean was a clear look of frustration.

Of course, one of the interesting benefits of travelling and even being friends with the persons of interest was that Harry could ask Sam about his history with Dean. And Sam, who loved to talk, especially about his feelings, would tell him.

It was rather novel how easy it was. Even among Harry’s own friends, there was so much history to be avoided like land mines on both sides. 

“I found a report of a man whose body was found with its heart missing,” answered Sam, levelly. Harry wondered how that sort of interaction would have ended without his presence. While their civility was so fake Harry wanted to do the can-can on the table while wearing a cocktail dress so the Winchesters could have a comparison for their level of subtlety, it might have been only for Harry’s benefit. Or not. Harry couldn’t determine just yet. “It’s in San Francisco, which isn’t too far away.”

“Excellent, let’s get going,” Dean said, as he got up and stretched.

...

Travelling with the Winchesters was awkward. Not even Harry’s persistence in ignoring social expectations could prevent it, especially not for long periods of time.

“Not too far away” turned out to be three hours.

Harry pretended to sleep for part of it. He wouldn’t dare sleep, not really, but he had the entirety of the back seat to lay down upon, and this way, he didn’t have to speak to both Dean and Sam.

Rather, they would speak to each other. And that was much, much, more interesting.

It began, of course, with quite a lot of quiet. To be certain Harry was sleeping? To overcome the sheer heaviness of whatever weighed upon the shoulders of these men? Waiting for a sign from God to go ahead?

Surprisingly, Dean broke the silence this time. The silence being the thudding, visceral sound of hard, classic rock, but Harry couldn’t say he disapproved. “You sure you’re doing alright, Sammy?”

“About what?” Sam seemed distracted, but that could easily have been feigned. Harry couldn’t tell by his voice alone.

“You know.”

“... Yeah. I feel... better.”

“You seem better,” answered Dean, voice careful and with what Harry thought was a calculated amount of surprise and curiosity.

“Yeah, I guess I just—now that we have some idea of a bigger picture to work towards, that can make this less cloak and shadow and more like a normal day job, it just—makes me more hopeful.”

“Seems a bit too good to be true.” As attuned as Harry was to their voices, eyes closed and all, Harry surmised that Dean spoke with genuine wistfulness. Especially considering Dean’s surprise that Harry enjoyed hunting.

“I mean it. I mean, this is what you do, this is what you’re good at, but Dean, have you ever thought what it could mean if you could work this job like any other? Higher risk than most, but it sounds like they have a good system in the UK, so it’s only as risky as any other high-risk job, and not destined to lead us to an early grave.”

Harry breathed in slow and deep, unchanging. The smell of clean leather surrounded him, bright light beaming through the windows. The Impala purred, as one would imagine a nundu would after annihilating an entire town, jostling Harry’s limp frame only slightly as Dean tore the path to the city of San Francisco. In this way, in this car, Harry could forget himself as well as Dean and Sam did.

Clearly, they forgot he was there.

“It’s too good to be true,” spat Dean, the understanding and calm gone. Nearly the same sentence as before, but with such a different emotion behind it. Interesting, Harry found, this change. It happened often, that Dean would go from the ideal brother to Sam, knowing just what to say and how, to this wilfully thick creature. The reverse happened in that diner, just a few days ago—beneath the bullshit, Dean revealed a concerned, caring, and good brother. “There’s no way hunters are going go for it.”

“There are some,” Sam protested.

 “Name one.”

“Pastor Jim. Ellen. Jo. Bobby.”

“Our dad wouldn’t.”

“Our dad isn’t here,” Sam bit out.

“And when he is, you think he’s going to be happy we got some English asshole with some jumpstart plan to fuck up everything?!”

The car went over something roughly, and disturbed Harry. He made a bit a snort, embarrassingly enough. It was enough of a reminder of his existence for Sam that he sharply called Dean’s name, in an effort to make him lower his voice.

Instead, neither spoke. The rest of the ride to San Francisco was spent in silence.

...

The drove over the Golden Gate Bridge just as the morning fog was beginning to thin out, allowing sun to streak through and illuminate the air around them. It was a tragedy that Harry had not made San Francisco a priority to visit before. It was marvellous and they were not even in the city proper.

Harry had “woken up” just twenty minutes ago, preparing for their job. They drove to the morgue. Though really, they drove to the gas station near the morgue so they could all change, which brought up the dilemma of what role they should each play.

“FBI agents can travel in three,” Dean said, pulling out the carefully folded suits from some plastic.

Harry hummed in thought. “But they’re generally not English, are they?” Dean grunted. “Alternate proposition: we think it’s a werewolf, right?” Receiving confirmation, Harry continued, “I’ll be an animal control specialist. I’ll say we think that an organized criminal organization is training dogs to viciously attack their enemies, and that you need someone on the case with experience with trained, attack animals.”

Dean stared. Harry stared back. Dean broke the silence first. “Uh, that’s... that’s pretty good.”

“Thank you,” Harry said.

“You got experience going under cover?”

“Of course, in my line of work.” Technically speaking, Harry hadn’t been in disguise during his time with the Winchesters. When he had reached America, he had decided to forego physically changing his appearance to casting a subtle Notice-Me-Not charm. Subtle for Harry was still a bit strong, and people left him with only a vague recollection of what he was wearing, but nothing else.

After meeting the Winchesters, he had had to remove that protection without replacing it. Magic tended to reveal itself through muggle technology, such as cameras and video recorders. Harry wasn’t quite certain why, or if he would show, but he couldn’t risk revealing himself to be supernatural in such a way while in the company of hunters.

He also had all of his magical items, save his wand, securely locked in his miniaturized truck in his bag. His wand he kept in his zipper-able pocket in his jacket. He could forego the protection of a disguise and even a Notice-Me-Not charm, but he would not abandon his wand.

“I’ll need...” Harry began, but trailed off. He had a suit, but it was less for business and more for impressing at expensive locales and parties. (The most miserable jobs always included the elite. Always.) And he didn’t need his suit today. He pulled out some tough jeans, some well-worn boots, a button-up white dress shirt, and his nice-ish black jacket.

With a twitch of his wand in his pocket, he had a badge and identification. Now to explain it away. “It works because I have the documents for it already. Animal control specialists get a pass but don’t inspire as much nervousness—or attention—as government agents.”

“Also, no matter what I try, I do a fairly terrible American accent,” Harry commented. He actually did a fairly terrible everything accent. Though he could fake a French accent for about two words, thanks to Fleur’s dedicated coaching. “And while there are foreign-born agents in your government, my apparent lack of American-ness does inspire suspicion.”

“What line of work?” Sam asked.

“He was law enforcement,” explained Dean.

“I’m still law enforcement,” corrected Harry. “Sort of.”

Sam tilted his head and raised his eyebrows. “’Sort of law enforcement.’”

“I got fired, but they kept me on unofficially,” Harry explained.

“That’s not...” Sam searched for words. Harry looked up expectantly. “Legal.” Ooh, disappointing finish.

“I’m sure they’re getting quite a bit of heat for it now, considering I broke quite a few laws when I left.” Harry pulled on his jacket and pulled at it until it fell just the way he liked it. Sam and Dean hadn’t spoken. Bemused, Harry continued, “Oh, by the way, did I mention? I’m a fugitive.” Harry had assumed, given the illicit nature American hunters conducted their business, that a “Wanted” status wouldn’t be surprising or abnormal. The Winchesters were about to impersonate FBI agents, as well.

Sam frowned, but Dean shrugged. “Ain’t we all?”

Sam’s brows furrowed, to add to his frown. “What did you do?”

“What else?” Harry threw out as he got dressed. “Got involved in some hunts that ended in a way that attracted some unwanted attention. Had to run for it.”

Sam chewed on his bottom lip. “That’s a bit vague.”

“Get off it, Sammy,” Dean interrupted. Sam flushed and his jaw spasmed as he turned towards Dean. “We got hunts that didn’t go well and that we don’t wanna go into detail about. You think they’re gonna look for you here?” Sam had not relaxed yet. He stared still at Dean.

“Haven’t heard a word about it since I went abroad,” said Harry casually. “I’ll tell you about it later, Sam.” Sam jerkily looked back at Harry, breathed out heavily through his nose, and nodded. Then he added, with a poor excuse of a smile, “I’d like that.”

“No chick flick moments, guys!” Dean said with a hearty clap, now in his FBI suit.

“Wait,” Harry said with urgency and shock. Both Dean and Sam shot around in a fight-ready stance. “I thought we were going to go find supernatural murderers.”

Dean stared blankly. His head rotated slowly to Sam, who caught his gaze, and shrugged. Dean told Harry, “That... is what we’re going to do, yeah.”

Feigning as much innocent befuddlement into his voice as he could, Harry asked with a puppy-dog head tilt, “Then how are we going to avoid chick flick moments.”

The trick, here, is to let the confusion settle but to jump in before either could formulate a response. This relied on both Dean and Sam on being too imbalanced by Harry’s interjection into what Harry assumed was a common catchphrase of Dean’s to response instantly.

It worked.

With the deliberate timing that would suit, well, a magician, Harry added guilelessly, “’Chicks,’ as they’re called here, often kick supernatural buttocks, do they not?”

If words were visible, and Harry imagined that they were for a brief second, then these words would have floated leisurely from Harry’s mouth, danced in the air around Sam’s and Dean’s heads, then caressed their hair before finally sinking into their brains.

“What?” Dean spoke first.

“Dean, first off: don’t call women ‘chicks,’ I’m English and I know this. Second, emotional expressions are not limited to women. I happily have and express my emotions. Third, I repeatedly say that I know women who could kick your ass. Do you really want me to call one to prove it to stop this incessant sexism?”

The hard lines of Sam’s face vanished into something much more humoured. It was now Dean’s turn to flush. Harry, without quite intending to, straightened his back.

“Are we going or what?” grounded out Dean, flush now accompanied with a glare and tight jaw.

“By all means.”

...

When the coroner said that she thought the wounds on the body were from a wolf, Harry reassured her. “It very well may be a canine. I’m Remus Lupin,” he flashed his identity card, “I’m an animal control specialist. We think this may be the work of an attack dog.”

“An attack dog?” she said, pulling off her gloves. “Why would an attack dog be set on this man?”

“No idea,” shrugged Harry. He jerked a thumb back to Sam and Dean, “That’s their job. I’m just here to contain the animal once we find it. Who knows, might actually be an attack wolf.”

Sam jumped in. “We’re not at liberty to give details, of course, but we can say that we think the animal belonged to an organized crime ring. If the attack was intentional, that is.”

“Could be an escaped attack dog,” Harry added cheerfully. “Or someone has a particularly vicious pet. Or personal vendetta and the patience for a long-term plan of revenge. Personal attack dogs can be projects that go quite awry and are rather troublesome for us. Anyone who owns a dog can be a suspect.”

“Oh,” said the coroner, now gloves free, re-doing the ponytail her cornrows had been in. Seemed to be focusing a lot of attention on Sam, though Harry couldn’t really blame her. “Is that why you two are on this? Organized crime? Has this been happening elsewhere?”

“Yes, exactly,” said Sam with a wide and fake smile.

“Wow,” the coroner said. “You mind telling my boss that, so I can put down ‘wolf attack’ without getting fired?”

...

When Harry had first learned that Dean and Sam had suspected the culprit behind the heart-missing murder to be a werewolf, Harry had been perplexed. He knew of a variety of werewolves in Europe, from the faoladh of Ireland to the werewolves of England and continental Europe, but had no yet heard of heart-eating as a tell-tale sign.

Harry supposed, with such different incarnations or species around the world, slight differences to the formula as far off as America were reasonable.

He had racked his brain trying to recall hearing any details about American werewolves.

Giving up, he had decided to test the text function in his phone.

He had sent to Hermione: Quick, tell me everything I ought to know about American werewolves.

Not five minutes later, he was barraged by the following texts. In order of oldest to most recent:

Lycanthropy, all around the world, is passed on through a bite. This goes for the werewolves seen most commonly in the Americas. It is only in the Americas that you see—

--werewolves who specifically must survive on a diet of human hearts. The “American” werewolves can also be found in some parts of South America and Europe, due to how easy it is for humans to move. More have been coming to England to--

--live here because of the fact that the Ministry will now employ werewolves. The Ministry of Magic for Ireland has also opened its doors to werewolves. Ireland has the highest concentration of werewolves.

The wolfsbane potion helps them control their minds, but they still have a need for hearts. The American werewolves we have here subsist on animal hearts. They change each night during the full moon but for—

--five nights each month, so the waning/waxing moon is strong enough to change them. They look mostly human in appearance when they change so the identity of the werewolf—

--is simple to determine. They grow fangs, have elongated pupils, claws, and growl.

They can be hurt by silver. Silver bullets are safest.

About a minute later:

There is some kind of leader. We have no more information than that.

All of this, to Harry, meant only, He can save this one.

And then, Mustn’t let the Winchesters kill them first.

This decision, so concrete and certain in his mind so as to be facts, provided a moral conundrum. Harry might have to interfere to prevent the Winchesters from killing the werewolf, and if pushed, Harry would have to decide to save the werewolf or to protect his cover in order to continue keeping an eye on Sam and his demon stalkers.

Deciding between lives was the worst sort of dilemmas, Harry thought.

Harry’s modus operandi when it came to making decisions was to go so off of the beaten track as to render himself unpredictable and present to himself new options that may allow him to save all parties at risk.

It sometimes worked.

It sometimes did not.

Harry wouldn’t know until he tried.

And try he would.

Walking out into the foggy San Francisco day with Sam and Dean, certainty settles in his veins just as clearly as Harry can taste the humidity in the air. The chill and the gloom, though they inspired depression and the hurried gait of those trying to get indoors faster, brought a faint reminder of home. There was less fog and more rain in Britain, but if Harry closed his eyes, he could pretend that this was only the precursor to rain.

Snap. Snap. “Hey, Harry, you in there? Why’d you stop?”

Harry opened his eyes to the colourful city around him. Sam waved one of his gigantic hands in front of his face, throwing in a few more snaps. Lines of concern were creased onto Sam’s face, but when Harry looked upon him, Sam also tilted his head. “You okay?”

With a smile as sharp as he felt, Harry said, “Of course.”

If anything, the creases in Sam’s face only grew deeper.

With a bit more effort, Harry dulled the edges to his smile. “Just thinking about home. I’m fine, really.” Just like that, Sam seemed to lose an inch of his height, but the shrink in his presence was even greater still. The creases reformed around a genuine smile that almost broke Harry’s heart.

“So the dead guy had a secretary who was at the bar,” Dean threw in, a welcome distraction. “She also discovered the body, so my guess, she’d be a good person to start with.”

“Great!” said Sam. “You got an address?”

“Right here,” Dean replied with too big a smile. Sam frowned.

“Dean, you can’t honestly be happy about this.”

“Why not?” Dean crowed, giddiness lighting up his entire visage. Harry wondered if his estimate of Dean’s age to be too high. He had thought Dean to be thirty, but he appeared much younger with the glee alit in his very person. “What about ‘a human by day, a freak animal killing machine by moonlight’ is not cool to you? I mean, werewolves are badass. We haven’t seen one since we were kids.”

Sam sighed. “You’re such a geek.”

“Nothing wrong with being a geek,” Harry interjected with a disapproving glance at Sam. Surprisingly, Sam took a sudden and sincere contrite expression.

“See, Harry agrees with me. And you know what?” Dean asked, as he triumphantly held up a silver bullet and answered his own question. “We even know how to kill it.”

...

They had found the building without difficulty, aside from the traffic that congested the roads of San Francisco. During the time they spent driving, the hours passed into midday and sunlight began to stream through the fog. If Harry had been anywhere but the inside of a car, it would have seemed like a dream.

They also had had difficulty finding parking. Dean eventually had located a spot that seemed much too small for the Impala, but Dean parked as if he’d been doing it all of his life.

Maybe he had.

Nonetheless, they had entered the building after buzzing the woman of interest. She was several flights up, which gave Harry some time to relax his Occlumency shields down. European werewolves constantly emitted faint magic that could be felt by a trained wizard. There was no reason for American werewolves to be any different.

They found the door, and knocked. The door opened, revealing a bearded white man wearing a “Mission Church” t-shirt.

The man eyed them suspiciously. “Who are you?”

“Landis. And Detective Dante,” Dean said with a pat to Sam’s shoulder. Sam gave a tight smile. The woman greeted them with, “I don’t understand. I already gave my statement.”

“I guess I’ll leave you to it. Let me know if you need anything,” said Glen, moving past the Winchesters and brushing Harry to his door. At the touch, Harry jolted. He felt a feral magic, that manifested itself as a musky and chilling scent in his nose.

Huh, that was easy, Harry thought as he turned to fully face the werewolf, who disappeared into his apartment. Now how to ditch the Winchesters...

Which seemed to be easier done than even said, as both Sam and Dean were already in the other apartment, both standing a bit close to the woman and seeming a bit in lust.

The Winchesters could be distracted by pretty women.

Good to know.

“You coming, Harry?” Dean asked, standing in the doorway after being invited inside by... oh, what was her name?

“I just thought of something, actually. Got a hunch. I’ll catch up later,” Harry called out, already turning to run down the stairs. Dean yelled out, but Harry was clearing steps three at a time. He stopped cleanly at the foot of the stairs and listened. He heard Dean’s vulgar mutterings and a door slam. This would take some explanation later, and Harry fancied that Dean wouldn’t buy anything he had to sell. Rightly so, Harry certainly wouldn’t tell him the truth. Something true, why not, but not the truth.

Sam would be a much more willing buyer. In fact, Harry had to rely on that. Better to risk losing Dean’s and Sam’s camaraderie than not try to save the poor sod who happened to be a werewolf.

On tippy-toes, Harry crept back up the stairs and knocked on Glen’s door quietly. As soon as the door cracked open enough for Harry to see inside, he Apparated across the threshold. He cast a silent Silencio on Glen, who turned around with mouth flopping open and closed without a sound. With two waves of his wand, the door clicked closed, and they had privacy.

“Hello, Glen. Allow me to introduce myself: I am Harry Potter, and I am a wizard,” Harry declared. Glen pressed his back against the door, right hand frantically trying to open the door. “I just teleported into your flat, and silenced you with a wave of my wand” –he held up the offending object— “in order to convince you of three things. The first must be the very fact that I’m a wizard. To demonstrate further,” Harry waved his wand towards the dingy looking table in front of the couch. It turned into a pig that pranced around the room, and with another wave, it returned to its table existence. “Do you believe me?” Harry queried. Glen, silent and mouth a gaping hole, nodded. “Good.

“The second thing is that you, sir, are a werewolf. Now, the issues that arise from this are thus; there is little solid proof I can give you of your werewolf-y state without waiting until tonight for you to transform. We do not have that much time. The only thing I can do right now is to prove your new-found allergy to silver.” Slipping a silver sickle out of his pocket, Harry reached over and pressed it against Glen’s skin. Glen startled back into the door from which he had leaned away from just a scant few centimetres when the pig was running around the room. On his forearm was a half-moon burn from the sickle. Glen stared at it, eyes wide.

“The problem with the silver,” Harry continued, “is that a particularly willfull individual could pass it off as a natural allergic reaction. I give you my assurance that there is no allergic reaction to silver like that in any creature aside from werewolves.” Glen swallowed hard. Harry eyed him. “Do you believe me?”

Glen’s mouth went tight. For the sake of efficiency and safety, Harry considered using Legilimency, but Harry couldn’t find the situation dire enough to justify it. He thought, however, that Glen had calmed enough to remove the silencing charm. “I am going to remove the silencing charm I have on you.” With a wave, it was so. As expected, Glen screamed.

“I removed the silencing charm on you,” Harry explained calmly, when Glen was finished. He intentionally did not move. He had not moved his location since Apparating inside. “But did not remove the one I put on your apartment. What are your questions?”

“Witch!” Glen yelled, “You’re a witch, of the Devil—”

“Witches typically refer to the females, actually. Wizards refer to males and—well, also witches. It’s a frustrating limitation to language, that we have no gender-neutral term, so the male term must become the gender-neutral. We keep trying to find alternatives, but no one can agree on anything.”

Glen gaped. Harry sighed.

“I may be a wizard, but you’re a werewolf, and I’m trying to help you. The men who accompanied me are hunters. Hunters, as you might be able to guess, hunt creatures like us. If you remain here, they’ll find you and kill you. If you let me help you, I can get you to people who can help you control yourself after transforming, and be safe from hunters.” As an afterthought, Harry added, “I’ve not had the pleasure of meeting the Devil. While I’m sure he’s an interesting bloke, there is no connection between him and us that we have found.”

Harry perceived a mite bit of trembling through Glen’s frame. He wondered what Glen was coming to fear. Harry asked again, “Do you believe me?”

Glen swallowed, again, took a deep breath, and nodded.

Harry relaxed. He could be lying, but best to pretend. “Excellent! I really thought that would take longer. Why don’t you pack you things, and then we can get going to somewhere safer?”

Glen packed as single men do, without any pomp and circumstance and was ready in no time. He had, in the midst of his packing, slipped a gun into his pocket. When Glen turned to face him as he was finished packing, Harry twirled his wand around in his pocket and the gun vanished. Glen’s eyebrows shot up and he pressed his hand to his pocket, then stared at Harry.

“That was just a precaution,” he grumbled. “I wasn’t planning on using it.”

“Good to know. Still didn’t fancy being shot today,” said Harry.

“So this werewolf thing... is it actually caused by a bite, like in the books?” Glen asked as he packed.

“It is.”

“So... when my ex-girlfriend nearly killed me a few years back and gave me some nasty bite wounds, that’s where I probably got it from?”

“Sorry to hear that,” Harry said genuinely. “Glad you’re alive. Do you remember any other occasion while you’ve lived in this city where you’ve been bitten?”

“No.”

“Than that was probably it. Did you get a good look at your ex, during the attack?”

“No. I mean, we had a shitty relationship, and she was actually pretty abusive, but I came home one day, didn’t think she was there, since all of the lights and stuff were off and it was quiet, but she just jumped out at me from behind. She ran off by the time the police got there—my neighbors called—and I tried to press charges afterwards, but—they didn’t stick.”

“’Didn’t stick’?” Harry queried, leaning against the counter of the kitchen.

“I dropped the charges,” Glen confessed glumly.

“Got a lot of shit for being an abused man?” which wasn’t really a question as Harry already knew the answer.

“Yeah.”

Harry felt it to be appropriate to reciprocate this information, but couldn’t bring himself to actually mention any details about his childhood. He managed, “Don’t wanna go into details, but I had a somewhat similar situation at one point.”

Glen nodded. “I understand, man. It’s hard to talk about. I’ve been going to therapy for years for this shit.”

Harry hummed in a non-committal way that ought to be mistaken as agreement. When Glen finished, he said, “I really would like that gun back. To protect myself.”

“I doubt it would be seen as very friendly if you took it with you. Wouldn’t advise it. And, if you shot someone due to being a bit of a trigger-happy American, I couldn’t do anything to protect you. Also, guns are illegal in Britain.”

“Britain?”

“Where you’re going,” added Harry.

“Why?”

“Because not only will they employ you, but they’ll also not kill you, which is more than I can say for here.” Harry paused. “Don’t insinuate that they work with the Devil at any point. Won’t be welcome.” Harry paused again. “Actually, just don’t reference the Bible at all.”

“Oh.” Glen fiddled with the zipper on his bag, but closed it. He looked around, lingering from place to place. “Okay. I’m ready.”

Harry smiled pleasantly, and reached out his hand for a handshake.

Glen released a shuddering breath, and grabbed it.

...

San Francisco, with its open and diverse population, had one of the largest magical hubs in all of North America.

That said, Harry expected something a little bit... different.

The shining, glass-encased building was not it.

“I think I expected something a little less... modern,” Harry pondered aloud, as he herded Glen through. “Oh well,” he conceded as they went through the doors.

“Isn’t this one of the big business buildings?” asked Glen, who appeared so out-of-place in this building where everyone was dressed in clothes expensive enough that even Draco Malfoy would be impressed, but Glen craned his head this way and that, looking around. “I never thought I’d get through here,” Glen added, when Harry got them through security.

Speaking of security, Harry had not called ahead, and wasn’t actually certain how to get past. He didn’t know how this would work, or where to go, even. American wizards were secretive but more assimilated. It was likely only a small portion of this building that doubled as magical operations.

Harry might need to stop them and make a call. Getting Glen to safety, away from the Winchesters, had made him steamroll through quite a few steps.

He opted to flash his wand at security and hope that would be enough to at least get him directed in the right way. Or blocked from access, at which point, Harry would have to make a call.

It wasn’t necessary. The guards nodded him through.

Huh, Harry thought, as they walked by the two large white men. One of them said, “Twelfth floor, Alexis Wallace.”

Huh, Harry thought again. Despite the streaming sunlight into the building, the ceiling that was two stories up, and the grand but tasteful décor, Harry became too aware of the enclosed walls, the constant pass of strangers with an unknown amount of knowledge, into magical territory with an uncertain reception.

As Glen and he entered the elevator, and began to rise to the twelfth floor, Harry’s hopes began to sink.

Fucking dumb, he thought. Really fucking dumb.

He hadn’t even thought to put on a disguise. It wouldn’t have worked well, not while talking with Glen, and the American wizards would have recognised the magic on him at some point, but he could have used a mite of make-up on his scar, for fuck’s sake. Or put in his coloured contacts. Simple, untrackable by magic, tricks he could have done to hide his identity.

But like a twit, he rushed in, like he would have in at home.

He was slipping.

The elevator dinged, the it opened to the twelfth floor.

Time to twist this to his advantage. Harry breathed in as if to fortify the steel in his chest.

The twelfth appeared to be mostly offices, and the one to the left and on the corner of the building belonged to this Alexis Wallace.

Glen picked at the worn edge of his shirt, and tugged at his hair. “You should have told me you people are this fancy. I would have dressed nicer, but I thought that with how you’re dressed...”

“Hey,” Harry murmured in protest. When Glen stopped fidgeting, he cleared his throat and raised a fist to knock on the door.

Before he could, a voice called out, “Come in.”

Glen jumped, but Harry expected nothing less. Showing off was something wizards liked to do. Calling out for people to enter before they knocked was a classic. And, given Harry’s experience with Dumbledore pulling that very trick, a bit clichéd.

Though Harry had done it all of the time when he had an office at the Ministry. It was about the most amount of fun he could get while sitting in an office.

That was approved of, anyway.

Probably best not to think of the unapproved acts Harry might have done while bored in his office right now.

Glen reached for the door and opened it, revealing a spacious room that had two full window walls. Oh, the view was gorgeous of course, and Harry heard Glen sigh, but he looked around the room to locate this Alexis Wallace. The room was decorated in dark reds, greys, and blacks, in ways that emphasized edges with metallic emphasis. If the goal was to enhance the impression of power this woman wielded, Harry reckoned she had accomplished this impression well.

The woman in question had her back facing the right wall, which was not made of glass. Upon entering the office, Harry noted with approval that both of the non-glass walls were lined with well-maintained bookshelves, which were lined with similarly maintained, but obviously well-loved, books.

Alexis Wallace was a voluptuous black woman, who, while not giving an impression of great height, gave an impression of great power. Her hair had been straightened and pulled back into a severe bun, not unlike McGonagall, and she had her fingers threaded together in a posture of patience and intimidation. “I was told to expect visitors. To whom do I owe this honor...?” she asked, not to Harry, but to Glen.

Glen cleared his throat. “Um, yes, hello, ma’am, thank you for taking the time to see me, you must be very busy, love what you’ve done to the place, by the way.”

Her lips curled up. Harry had no idea if the expression had any hint of genuine pleasure or amusement in it. “Thank you. And you are?”

“Glen Owens, I’m—um...” he shot a glance at Harry. “Maybe he can explain?” He offered.

“Of course!” Harry smiled brightly as he clapped his hands. Wallace’s face did an interesting twitch, but did not make a move otherwise. “This is Glen Owens, as you know, and he is a werewolf, as you may not know. He may or may not be responsible for several deaths in the past few years, though he clearly does not remember it. I came here with him to ask that he be sent by floo to the British Ministry.”

Wallace, face tense when Harry began, but it relaxed into severe, but calm lines as he finished. “I see. And you didn’t call ahead because...?”

“I wasn’t in good company,” Harry replied, jester’s grin on his face.

“I see,” said Wallace. Harry thought she probably did. She picked up her phone. “Castillo, I need the floo prepared for a single man to the British Ministry. Tell them I’m sending them a werewolf who could use their help. Yes. That’s right. He’s ready right now. Thank you.” She hung up. “A man will be up in a minute to take you to where you can transfer. I, of course, apologize that a transfer is necessary, but we do not have the resources here to give you sufficient aid.”

“Really?” Glen asked. “Why not?”

“We are too few,” Wallace replied. “Come in.”

A Hispanic man who was in most probability Castillo, walked in. “I thought you said one?”

“Yes, only one. Him,” she pointed. “Mr. Glen Owens. Castillo will show you to the fire place.”

Harry shifted, but before he could speak, Wallace interrupted. “I know how to do my job, Mr. Potter. You asked me to help this man, and I will. I assure you we are trained professionals and we know how to assist a man using the floo for the first time.”

Harry wanted to go with Glen. However, Wallace knew who he was and if she had a shred of intelligence, which she obviously had in droves, she wouldn’t let him leave the room until she had done a thorough risk assessment. Harry would be barred from accompanying Glen, and forcing the issue would likely decrease the kindness and helpfulness they showed Glen.

With a deliberate pause, Harry smiled at Glen and told him, “I’ll call to check in with you in a bit, alright?”

Glen nodded. Before he walked out with Castillo, he said, “You know, at first I thought you were a crazy psychopath who was going to kill me, but you turned out pretty cool.”

Harry blinked. Before he could respond, Glen was gone.

Wallace laughed. It made Harry’s jaw tighten. “That’s not a compliment I’ve heard often. But, the question is Mr. Potter, was he actually wrong the first time?”

Chapter Text

Amongst Harry’s acquaintances back home was the consensus that Harry was not politically savvy. This was a broad generalization that Harry very much enjoyed. It meant that, in some capacity, the people who knew him thought he was harmless.

It was a nice thought.

The fact of the matter was that Harry was adequate at politics. Like the paperwork he had had to fill out when he was Head of the Auror Department, he was capable of politicking when it was necessary. He was more than capable, in fact. He had not yet failed a goal of his during negotiations.

A surprisingly long record for Zabini, but it took him five instances to notice a pattern. Harry was sent only due to desperation, the first time. He had no interest in politics, he remembered. He had been busy with his own Auror training, in conjunction with the endless advice everyone sought from him. He believed that running the world was a task best left to others (i.e. Hermione and Zabini).

When Harry was nineteen, Hermione approached him with, “Harry, we’re meeting with the German Ministry of Magic, and I need you to go.”

The German Ministry, like muggle Germany, still remembered vividly the cost of human life that had occurred on its land and in its name in the forties. There were musings in history books that Grindelwald had been in league, or even controlled, Hitler during World War II. There was no hard evidence of the sort, and Grindelwald had actually been centralized in Britain rather than his country of origin of Hungary. And when he had been asked after his imprisonment in Nurmengard, Gellert Grindelwald had answered, “I know very well what you think of me, and I know very well for myself what I am capable of. With this in mind, I say that I have never and would never work with a man such as Hitler who committed those unthinkable acts.”

With the war hurting them still and desperate to re-forge bridges burnt by the previous Ministers, the German Ministry of Magic seemed to be the most likely to be sympathetic. And through a serious of extenuating circumstances that led to Hermione being unable to attend herself, Harry was sent instead.

Harry had returned with a better result than Hermione had hoped for, and as they clinked their margaritas in victory, Hermione had queried, “How did you do it?”

Harry had said with a quirk of the lips, “They weren’t prepared for me.”

Hermione had laughed, “I don’t think anyone could be.”

Harry still wasn’t sure if she’d been joking. Hermione’s statement had proven true over and over again, and Harry would not disprove it now.

Wallace stared at him unflinchingly. The silence settled as a warm, heavy blanket on the two of them, too comfortable to disturb it. Harry counted it, and at the fifteen-minute mark, the phone rang. Wallace answered it.

“Yes? Excellent. Have the British reception phone my office.” Pause. “I have something to discuss with Mr. Owens. Thank you.” She hung up. After a minute this time, the phone rang again. She picked the phone off of the receiver, and pressed the speaker button.

“Hello? This is Matthew Weatherhead, Co-Head of the International Immigration and Refugee Department of the British Ministry of Magic. I was told to call this number?”

“Yes, thank you. This is Alexis Wallace, Head of the San Francisco Division of the American Magical Union, and Coordinator of Magical Affairs for the West Region of the Americas. You recently received a new arrival, an American werewolf of the name of Glen Owens. I require to speak to him.”

“Of course, ma’am.”

There was some shuffling, and the muffled voice of a couple of men, until the shuffling came closer and Glen’s voice said, “Hello?”

“Hey, Glen,” Harry said. “How’s Britain?”

“Cold. And wet,” Glen responded. “But alright, they got me here really quick. They were processing my forms and asking a lot of questions.” A moment of audible hesitance. “Do you... do you really think I’ve killed people?”

“I can’t answer that,” Harry replied simply. Really, what was he thinking, asking a question like that over a monitored phone? (Glen probably had murdered people while a wolf, and didn’t recollect it. Not good, definitely not good, but the nature of werewolves was understood enough by the Ministry to take appropriate actions. Counselling was involved, so was finding some sort of closure to the cases, and making sure that each werewolf was provided with the resources to ensure that it would never happen again. Or if they had killed on purpose—tried and imprisoned.)

They sped you through because of me, Harry thought. “You’ll probably be there for hours still while they confirm your identity.”

“So the magical version of Customs,” Glen said. He seemed humoured by the idea. At least he was in a good mood. Though it was less just Customs and also an investigation, but Harry was certain that a bloke like Glen, who had genuinely been unaware of his furry condition, would be fine. He had been there for the construction of the system, after all.

“Do you have my number?” Harry asked. He had given it to him before they had left his flat, it had only been a couple of hours ago, but he needed to make a point.

“Yeah, of course.”

“Call me if you encounter any problems,” Harry stated firmly, while staring unblinkingly at Wallace. It was a tactic he’d learned from Luna, who was the true master at unsettling others.

“Will do, dude. Thanks for everything.”

“Anytime,” Harry said. He sat back, and Wallace placed the phone on its cradle.

“Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about you.”

Harry leaned back, stretched out his legs in front of him. Aggressive still, but less immediately so. “Certainly, Ms. Wallace. Is it ‘Ms.,’ or do have a different preferred title?” Aggression and posturing was never an excuse for rudeness, after all. Aggression with no consideration generally backfired, anyway.

“I prefer ‘Doctor,’ personally,” Wallace answered.

Harry gave a low whistle. “Nice!”

Wallace was unmoved. Harry was genuinely impressed for a second time. “Mr. Potter, I know who you are and what you’ve done. In this situation, I need to ask you some standard questions.”

“Fire away,” said Harry, opening up his hands in a dramatic show of vulnerability. (He was not vulnerable in the least.)

He also sincerely doubted these questions were as standard as she said. Nothing was ever standard when it came to Harry James Potter.

“When was your arrival date in the United States?”

“Several months ago. It was November... It had been Thursday.” Harry racked his memory. Wallace quirked an eyebrow expectantly. “The 18th! That’s right. A week before Thanksgiving in the States. That was a fun week, I’d never been to a Thanksgiving dinner before.” Harry had checked into a cheap room in Connecticut that seemed to be a large house that had rooms rented out regularly rather than any sort of motel chain over Thanksgiving, and had been invited by the owners of the place to their Thanksgiving dinner. It had been sweet, though Harry had never knew he could eat that much food in one sitting.

Wallace typed something into her computer. “Where did you arrive on the 18th and which locations have you visited?”

“John F. Kenney International Airport, New York, New York. I wondered around New York City for a bit, before going up north to Vermont, and double back down through upstate New York, to Pennsylvania, east to Connecticut, then I jumped on a bus to Florida. After that, I just started heading west, and I’ve been to a lot of places, do you really need all of them?”

Wallace hadn’t stopped typing. “If you could, I’d appreciate that.”

“Er, hang on, I have a better idea,” Harry opened and reached into his pocket, the one on his trousers that had a zipper. “Here we go.” He pulled out his wallet (which was made out of colourful duct tape, a project he had done with Teddy), and pulled out quite a lot of receipts. “Here, this will be easier.” He handed them to Wallace, who took them.

As a fugitive, it was wiser to destroy any proof of his existence and evidence of his movements. As a former law enforcer, it was good to have evidence of his locations as alibis. His desire for alibis won out.

That, and Harry wasn’t in the habit of throwing anything out, having had so few possessions growing up. Also, he liked the clutter. It made places feel lived in his experience.

Harry sat quietly while Wallace click-clacked on her computer, checking the location of each receipt.

“Have you committed any crimes while here, Mr. Potter?”

There was no reason to lie to Wallace. Harry remained certain that if he was brought into custody, he could escape. The risk here was the threat of publicity, so compliance and honesty might buy him some time. “Magical or muggle?”

“Magical.”

“No.”

“Muggle?”

“Fake IDs, fake papers. Breaking and entering. Grave desecration.”

“And why have you committed these crimes against the muggle government?”

“I’ve been hunting,” Harry confessed.

This broke Wallace’s perfect, stony veneer. “Really? Why?”

“I found out you lot were having some demon problems, and there isn’t really many others more qualified to investigate that than me.”

Wallace’s mouth did something strange, then. It twisted in such a way that Harry wasn’t sure if she was hiding a smiling or attempting to purse her lips. “I suppose not.” She looked away and typed more. “Are you currently hunting?”

“I came here with a couple of American hunters looking for a werewolf. I found him first, and rushed him here to keep him away from my companions.”

“What are their names?”

Harry titled his head. “I don’t think I want to tell you that.”

“It will aide you later, if we know who is already aware of your existence here.”

“Oh, I doubt that. I doubt there is really anything you could do to hold me here, or to help me in a way that I couldn’t for myself.”

“You’d be surprised how much organizational backing has helped people before,” Wallace answered dryly.

“You’d be surprised how much organisational backing has fucked people over before,” Harry responded just as dryly, and maybe with a tinge of bitterness.

“You stated that you wanted to bring Mr. Owens here for safety away from your companions. If you believe they’re dangerous, then it would be better if you brought their identities to our attention. I am not suggesting you hand them over to us.”

Harry smiled too bright. “And what would you do if I told you their identities? Watch from afar? Attempt to give them back-up? Even if you went in the noblest of intentions, I can assure you, they do not want your help.”

“And I suppose they want yours?”

“Right now, they do. And I’m not going to let you change that.”

Wallace leaned back in her chair. It matched Harry’s posture, but was the most relaxed he had seen her. Harry, who liked to use relaxed postures to mislead others as to the level of his aggression, clenched his jaw a little tighter, held his head a little higher, and knew that that he could easily jump out of the window if necessary.

“Crimes committed against the muggle government are not in my jurisdiction,” Wallace announced, turning back to him. “Hunters, while I would like them to be in my jurisdiction, are not in anyone’s. The best I can do is offer relocation or protection for supernatural beings and creatures.” She opened a drawer and took out some forms. “There have been no reported crimes that can be linked to you, and even if there is a warrant for your arrest in Britain, we have no obligation to honor that warrant. And so long as you do not commit any crimes—which I am positive you will not—” she gave him hard glare, “—your business is no concern of ours.”

And you don’t possibly have the resources to hold me, Harry thought idly. He slapped his hands on his knees and stood up. “Well, then. I won’t waste any more of your time.” Harry winked. “Thanks for the help.” He began to whistle and walk away, when Wallace asked him to wait.

He turned, lips still scrunched in whistling-preparedness, quirking an eyebrow in question.

“Take my card. If you do consider creating an incident, or encounter something that we should be informed of, do not hesitate to call me. If it is an emergency, call my cell. I always answer it.”

Harry hummed and accepted the card. “Thank you,” he said genuinely. 

Resuming his whistling, he walked out the door.

...

He walked in a direction that would definitely have been an obtuse angle to he would have headed to locate the Winchesters, and zigzagged around until he was safely able to duck in a shadow, take his animagus form, and fly off.

Some people noticed the raven fly out right by them from the alleyway, but in the bustle of the city filled with pigeons and crows, it was nothing to remark on.

Harry flew on higher over the city, until he was up there with the tallest of the buildings. He swerved around, enjoyed the view, and continued his flight closer to the bay. By this point in the afternoon, the sun had burnt off the fog, and the sunlight warmed Harry’s black feathers.

He gleefully flew down the length of the Golden Gate Bridge (how was that for sightseeing?), and proceeded to double back around to the Castro District. There, he landed in a discrete alcove, and returned to human form.

Walking down the street to the long stretch of buildings that proudly bore rainbow flags, Harry took out his phone and pressed his second speed dial.

“This is Zabini.” The call was answered promptly, as always. Harry wondered what time it was in England. From the east coast, it was six hours, and the west coast was even further back, about nine? Or had the time changed in the States already, so ten? Nine or ten, close enough.

“Hello, my dearest fiancé,” Harry purred. “I have a simple question for you and you will give me a simple answer.”

“I make no promises.” Harry heard the rustle of sheets. Zabini had, in fact, been in bed. Whoops.

“What sex toy do you want me to buy for you from the Castro as a souvenir?”

Silence. But no dial tone, that was a good sign.

“Is there something special about American novelty toys that I should be aware of?”

“Souvenir, Zabini. I’m supposed to get you something that you would never get for yourself.”

“I believe that’s for birthday gifts.”

“We can say it’s for your birthday. It’s only in several months.”

“Three,” came the amused response.

“I will do everything within my power to not create a catastrophe on your birthday,” Harry swore. “Have you decided what you want yet?”

“I would like to be surprised,” Zabini answered firmly. “Anything that I suggest, I know that you would only be able to find something far more interesting.”

“A star-spangled dildo it is,” Harry said, while walking into a store that seemed quite promising. The hairy bloke at the counter chuckled.

A pause. “They don’t have those, do they?”

“I’ll check.” To the fellow at the counter, “Do you have any American flag dildos?”

The man joyfully pulled a package from the wall and put it on the counter. “We have this Captain America vibrator, which is pretty much the same thing.”

“It looks very American,” Harry agreed. “I’ll take it.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Zabini said.

Harry gave the man some cash. “This for your boyfriend? Is he British, too?”

“Fiancé, actually. And yes,” Harry said happily, accepting the discrete, black, paper bag.

“You on vacation? Why isn’t he enjoying the view with you?”

“Because I actually work for a living,” Zabini said over the phone.

“Because he gets plenty of views at home,” Harry replied with a cheesy wink. The man laughed, so it was worth it. “And this is actually a business trip. Gotta bring something home for the soon-to-be-mister.”

“Actually, if you want to cause the most amount of paperwork possible, and I know you do because that’s what you always do, we should hyphenate our names. Potter-Zabini. Zabini-Potter. Preference?”

“Give him some good ole’ American love for me,” said the cashier with eyebrow waggling.

“I can’t believe you actually just bought me a Captain America vibrator. Do you even know who that is?”

“American World War II hero. Wasn’t he a propaganda gimmick?”

Zabini sighed. “There is no evidence of a Super Soldier Serum that can accomplish what the Americans claimed, and all attempts have been abject failures. There is video evidence of a Captain America, as well as personal stories, but there is no proof that he was anything but a man who was elevated to the pedestal of a hero so much so as to call him artificially superhuman.”

“We know what that’s like,” Harry muttered, wondering down the street. He ought to go back to the Winchesters at some point, but he needed more time than this to be believably following a hunch. Ooh, he needed to make up a good hunch, too.

“Indeed we do.”

“And what do you think?”

“The security systems guarding the program is way too good to be covering up pure propaganda,” Zabini stated. “To the point where it’s likelier that there’s nothing to hide.”

“Hm. Well, we can soon see if the vibrator made in his honour matches up with the propaganda.”

Zabini laughed.

Harry decided that he needed a post office. He could carry the vibrator around with him, but really, it would be better served if sent straight to England. “Also,” Harry explained to Zabini, after informing him of his new destination. “It might make my current companions feel a bit awkward.”

“Just a bit,” Zabini agreed dryly.

“Also, Zabini, next time you have one of your meetings in the Ministry, make sure you put finding a gender-neutral term for wizards and witches on the table, because we really need to make one word for that.”

Zabini hummed in contemplation. “Both the terms ‘witch’ and ‘wizard’ have been used as gender-neutral terms.”

“That is true for the—the muggles who appropriate magic from the environment. Witches. Hunters call them witches.” Even the British hunters did, sometimes, which drove their Ministry liaisons crazy, who called them the much more accurate term, ‘occultists,’ which was short for ‘occultist practitioners.’ Practitioners of Harry’s ilk differed drastically from the occultists. They had their own innate magic, rather than needing external tools to manipulate the magic around them. (Wands were a mere provision to direct their internal magic.)

“I know the Ministry uses ‘wizard’ as a gender-neutral term, but uses ‘wizards and witches’ if being formal,” Harry added. According to a random stranger, there ought to be a post office down this street...

“It’s such a pain to write over and over again,” Zabini muttered. “I wish we had one word that we could write.”

“Magicians?” suggested Harry.

“Too prestidigitator.”

“A what?”

“Too children’s parties.”

“Oh. Mage?”

“A bit World of Warcraft, but archaic and noble. A possibility.”

“World of Warcraft?”

“Muggle computer game. Dangerously addictive, so I’ve heard.”

“Huh. What about warlock? Or is that associated with men?”

“Associated with men,” Zabini confirmed. “Also, the root of the word means ‘scoundrel,’ ‘monster,’ and ‘Devil.’ It had the meaning of a man in league with the Devil, so not a word that would shed a positive light on us in any case.”

“Too true. But now I’m out of ideas.”

“Mage is still a possibility. I’ll propose it at the next meeting.”

“That won’t work,” Harry demurred. “You can’t just make a word be in usage. You have to make it in usage, and then no one has any choice.”

“The sad truth of language.”

And there was the post office. “But allows for our linguistic evolution. I’ve gotten to the post office, I have to go.”

“Then I get to sleep, excellent. Be sure to call Hermione soon.”

“I can’t wait,” Harry said honestly. After he had initially fled from England, it had been too risky to contact anyone back home while he was travelling, which was fine, as Harry viewed it as a well-deserved vacation. Over time, he had longed to call his friends an speak to them. After he returned to England for Malfoy’s medical assistance, Hermione had decided that the chaos caused in Harry’s wake had died down enough that they could risk phone calls. “Good night.”

“Good night,” and he hung up.

Mouth relaxing into a small smile, he merrily walked into the post office to send Zabini his new Captain America vibrator.

...

All in all, Harry thought, today is going swimmingly. Better be prepared when I go visit the Winchesters again.

However, as he began to determinedly return to the unmistakable waft of ritual magic passed over him not unlike the stink of road kill formerly known as a skunk.

(What did ritual magic smell like? Depended on the ritual and more importantly, the location. Most ritual magicks veered towards unkind to the bodily assurance of oneself or others, but that had no effect on the smell whatsoever. Unless blood was a heavy ingredient, and even then it just added a certain zest to the fragrance. No, ritual magic was only manipulated magic in the currents around the occultist, so the smell was generally an unusually concentrated scent of whatever magic was in the area anyway. And like most smells, it was unpleasant when too strong.)

Harry made a ninety-degree turn and walked towards the scent. San Francisco was not a particularly powerful magical location, and Harry hadn’t noticed that the city smelled like the fresh, clear air while flying in the sky, and he would bet that it didn’t smell like that for everyone. Most likely, the magic was attractive, and was whatever was appealing to him.

With another deep inhalation, Harry determined also smelled a strange sort of delicious spiciness; unfamiliar but so enticing as to make a person brave to try something new. 

How oddly appropriate.

It wasn’t too long before Harry found the building from which the concentration of magic was taking place, and even shorter was it for Harry to climb the fire escape and find the window. The window was closed with the blinds drawn, predictably.

How lucky it was that opening a peephole in the blinds took only a flick of a finger. As tiny as possible, so the occupants would not be alerted to his presence, but Harry needn’t bothered. The occupants—for there were two—were much too busy with their ritual, and the dead man on the floor.

Harry was by no means a medical expert, but he was pretty sure that a body was dead if there was that much blood on the floor. Not just on the floor, even—Harry could just see symbols written carefully on the walls, too. Harry knew of many occultist rituals, good and bad, but this one was new, and definitely not a good one. The two occultists, both definitely of the masculine sex, and fair of skin, wore rather nice suits.

Nice suits, and nice anything, really, generally meant you expected to impress. The only person one could expect to impress in an apartment with a dead man smeared on the floor and the walls in symbolic markings was typically whomever was supposed to arrive through the dead man and symbolic markings. In other words, it was a summoning for someone who was not very nice. Harry was not inclined to meet them.

Which meant that there was absolutely nothing to prevent Harry was unlocking the window to open it just enough to aim his wand at the ritual. Harry could aim anywhere in the room to get his desired effect, but if he could play it safe, there was no reason not to.

A guaranteed way to interrupt a ritual is disturb the magical energy directly. The precision needed in rituals form external constraints, which can be disturbed occasionally, but for a wizard like Harry, direct interference was easier.

Harry fired off a stupefy.

What should have happened was not unlike a game of Jenga; the wrong move would make the entire structure collapse and create an ultimately harmless mess. What actually happened was not unlike a game of Jenga, if played with a motion-sensing bomb in the centre.

At least, that is what Harry figured must have happened, once he woke up from his unexpected nap in a hospital.

He blinked at the blank, off-white ceiling more inclined to exacerbate illnesses than aide their cessation, and tilted his head slightly to the right in order to examine his surroundings. Doing so made him acutely aware of the gauze covering a fair portion of his body, and now that he had noticed it, he couldn’t not feel its unpleasant itchiness.

He was not, fortunately, hooked up to any machines, which made it easier than it could have been to pull himself up to a sitting position, and get off of the bed. He grimaced rather unattractively, and checked his clipboard at the foot of his bed. Lupin, Remus was written on the form, and Harry weighed his options. He could leave now, to get back to the Winchesters as soon as possible so as not to arise any more suspicions than he already had, but that would mark this identity with a stain that, while not impossible to cover up, would add to whatever hijinks Harry would get up to next.

This decision hinged on whether or not Harry believed the Winchester boys would be able to remain out of trouble without him—and that was a curious notion, that Harry might be able to stop people from getting into trouble. Actually, that was a terrifying notion that indicated that Harry should really get to the Winchesters as soon as possible.

He grabbed his clipboard and made to leave, but realized that he was in a hospital gown. He frowned down at it, vexed, and glanced around on the odd hope that his belongings would be nearby. They weren’t, and neither was anything else. He was alone in this room, and the open door led to the bathroom, so the closed door must lead outside. There were no windows. Didn’t hospital rooms generally have windows?

Oh, that was bad, Harry thought. It looked like a hospital room intended to hold a known or suspected criminal. Harry just left the office of Magical Control, and he didn’t intend to ruin the fragile generosity of Alexis Wallace so quickly.

With a sudden realization, he relaxed. There was a simple solution to his wand problem.

The Elder Wand would come to him.

Unfortunately, he had no pockets, and for some reason, the wand had never just appeared in his hand directly. He had spent quite some time when working in an office at the Ministry, attempting to will the wand, the ring, or the cloak into his hand. It had never worked thus far, but they would always follow him. However, he would only find them when he reached into his pocket or his bag. (The number of times Harry had said, “What the fuck is this in my pocket?” before pulling out one of the Hallows, for Christ’s sake.)

Harry had neither a pocket nor a bag. Eyeing the rumpled, bleached-white sheets on the bed, he had another idea. Sticking his hand under the sheet, he reached forward, and then brought out in a delighted smile. Triumphantly, he pulled out the Elder Wand. With some careful wand movements, he was dressed in the attire he was wearing when he passed out.

Pleased that he no longer would appear as the hospital-and-suspect escapee he was, he Apparated to the Haight, where he was confident that anyone who did see him would be too high to think anything of it.

(He was right.)

It was quite a walk to where he left the Winchester boys, and on the way, he found out that he had been out of commission for almost twelve hours. That was some blast, Harry thought. Maybe I ought to leave that as a last resort in the future.

Replaying the events in his mind, Harry reconsidered. It was such an easy, sure-fire way to stop the ritual, not something to eliminate from the repertoire completely. A possibility in emergencies, isolated areas, and when he was a safe distance away.

Although Harry was far from where he needed to be, he also first needed to discover the extent of the damage. Harry had survived, so it couldn’t be too bad, right? If it had been too great, he would have merely incinerated and been dead, right—

Oh.

The tattoo he still could not explain twitched, though Harry was confident he only imagined it. Becoming far too aware of it, it was a psychological thing, Harry just couldn’t think of the name.

It most likely hadn’t twitched, not really.

Perhaps he had been in a locked room in the hospital, not because he was on location, but because he was on location in a space that would have been guaranteed death for anyone else.

Shit.

“Shit,” Harry said aloud for good record, and ran. No, wait, that looked suspicious. He stopped.

He walked briskly, and headed to the location of the ritual and subsequent blast.

...

The building smoked, but it appeared that only the flat and its neighbour suffered any damage. Harry was, as always, relieved to be wrong.

The flat had been sectioned off already, with study boards covering up a large portion of the space. There were a couple of police vehicles parked by the building, along with some journalists, who snapped pictures and tried to the get the police officers to talk to them.

It gave Harry a dreadful idea. Singularly awful.

He took out his cell phone, a business card, and dialled the number there.

“Wallace speaking.”

“Heya, Doc,” greeted Harry. “How are you?”

“As appreciated as the call is, I do not require you check-in every day,” was the answer from Alexis Wallace.

“Oh, but Dr. Wallace, I just wanted to chat! Besides, the weirdest thing happened on my way from your office.”

A sigh. “What is it, Mr. Potter?”

“Hey, it’s okay, I understand. You’re busy, we’re both busy people. I can tell you about that summoning ritual that was going on in your very city some other time,” Harry offered generously.

Harry couldn’t hear it, but he could visualize Wallace glaring at him.

 “Elaborate, please.”

“Well, I was walking down, oh, what was it?” He checked the street sign and rattled off the street and building number to Wallace. “At that spot, I smelled some very intense ritual magic, and decided to investigate.”

“Of course you did,” Wallace muttered. Harry decided he wasn’t meant to hear that, and ignored it. Also, true.

He described the scene he found in as much detail as he could, which was quite a bit. Then he added, “I decided to interrupt the ritual by throwing a spell at it.”

“Which is why there are news reports of an explosion.”

“Pretty much,” admitted Harry. “In my defence, I was trying to stop whatever was going to come through from coming through.”

“Good job,” Wallace stated. “Next time do it with fewer explosions. What happened next?”

“I woke up in a hospital a few hours ago, got out, and returned to the scene of the crime.”

“How did you get out of the hospital?”

“With my manly wiles.” He winked at nobody, realized this, felt embarrassed, then remembered that no one cared about that sort of thing in a big city. Whatever embarrassment he had was much less important that getting his point across, besides.

“Please answer the question seriously.”

“No,” Harry answered seriously. Harry might not be a prestidigitator, but a good magician never revealed his tricks. Or a good criminal never confessed to the crime, it was practically the same thing.

He could hear some typing over the phone. “I’ll have to run my own investigation. I’ll get back to you shortly.”

“Excellent. Call me whenever.”

“I’ll hold you to that.”

They hung up, and the criminal left the scene of the crime.

Time to find his wayward FBI agents.

...

The budding sense of self-satisfaction of a job well-done ought to have clued Harry in that there was a fact he had missed, but as he climbed the stairs of Glen’s apartment building, it didn’t occur to him that something had gone awry.

What he was thinking about was that he had been gone for almost a full twenty-four hours, and aside from this apartment building and the woman they wanted to question, Harry had no idea where their search might have led them. Eventually, they would have made their way to Glen, so this building was still his best bet, but they may not be there now. If they weren’t, Harry would have to come up with another plan.

He knocked first on Glen’s door on the off chance their search had led them there already.

Only a gaping silence answered.

He moved on to the woman’s door.

He knocked, and only silence answered. Harry, who quite liked silences, frowned a bit. He fancied he could hear a difference in the types of silences, and while silence from Glen’s door was a silence of absence, this silence seemed much more... abrupt. Or, in other words, it was the silence of creatures that had existed that stopped all action when they heard the knock. By doing so, Harry could hear the cessation of their actions and knew that there was, in fact, something on the other side.

Harry slammed against the door with the intention of figuratively flying through it, as he didn’t want to give what was on the other side time to prepare. However, the door was not locked, so while Harry might have flown through the door, he also crash-landed.

“Ow,” Harry muttered, getting up to his feet quickly.

Harry?” he heard. It was Sam’s voice, and it was definitely Sam’s long gait that was coming towards him.

“Hi, Sam,” said Harry. “What’d I miss?”

“Where have you been?” exclaimed Sam. “You just ran away yesterday.”

“Yeah, Harry,” and there was Dean, a suspicious tilt to his eyes. “You just ran away yesterday. Where did you go?”

“Believe you me,” Harry sighed. “Whatever you think I did is likely more nefarious and less exciting than what I actually did.”

There was a pregnant pause.

“It occurred to me that we might have been approaching the case the wrong way, and a new method was necessary. Got a bit excited, I did. But my methods took me to people who were attempting a summoning ritual.”

That’s why you ran away like that?” Dean asked incredulously, at the same time Sam asked, “Was that the explosion that was in the paper?”

Dean raised his eyebrows. “Explosion?”

“The very same,” Harry confirmed.

 “Why did you tell us?” Dean demanded. “If you’re going to be working with us, you can’t just run off like that.”

“Why ever not?”

“It makes some of us with twitchy fingers suspicious,” Dean glared and folded his arms on his chest. Dean held his gun in his hand, though it was pointing down, even as he held his arms crossed. He wasn’t aiming it at Harry, and he stood at a slightly odd angle in the throughway, as if he needed to keep an eye on something.

“Didn’t think about that. Will in the future. Sorry, mate. How about a hug?” Harry smiled brightly, and quickly stepped over to Dean, whose face expressed confusion and then alarm rapidly. Whatever thought caused Dean to make that particular expression would remain unexplained, as Harry caught sight of what was in the living room.

It appeared that his wayward FBI agents had tied a woman to a chair while he was gone.

He stopped. Stared. The woman began to squirm, eyeing him uncertainly. Was he a ray of hope or another prison bar? he thought to himself. He swallowed. “What are you boys doing?”

“She’s the werewolf,” Dean answered tightly.

“Yeah,” Sam added unnecessarily from behind him. He was still in the kitchen.

“Is she?” asked Harry. He stepped over to her and—yes. Yes, she was. He had been so preoccupied with Glen that he hadn’t noticed that there were two werewolves, not one, and now she was paying the price.

Harry’s throat felt dry. “What have you done?”

“What?” asked Dean.

“What have you done?” Harry repeated more forcefully. He stood up to Dean as he would to any one of the wizards in his Department as an Auror. “Since I’ve been gone, what’s happened? Fill me in. Otherwise,” Harry added more calmly, “I can’t help.”

Focus on the goal, Potter. Save the woman. Get her to Wallace. If you can get her to Wallace, she’ll be fine. What would be the best way to stop the Winchesters, if they even needed to be stopped? Could they be convinced? Reasoned with? Could he sidetrack them? Distract them? Could he tell him part of the truth and gain powerful allies?

So many forks in the road, and no indication which would lead to the success of his endeavour.

“I stayed here last night while Dean tracked down Madison’s ex-boyfriend, who we thought might be the werewolf,” said Sam. Harry eyed him cautiously. He seemed a bit... more haunted than usual, which he seemed mostly when he spoke of his late girlfriend. “I was—asleep, but Dean saw her. As a werewolf, attacking her ex-boyfriend.”

“Please don’t believe them, they must be nuts,” Madison blurted. “Help me, please get me out of here,” she begged. “They’re going to kill me.”

“No one’s going to kill you,” Harry said immediately in response. “I won’t allow it.”

“Excuse you,” Dean said. “If she lives, she’s just going to kill other people every month. You want that sort of blood on your hands?”

“She won’t kill people every month,” Harry replied through gritted teeth. “Because hunters in Britain have found a potion that lets werewolves keep their minds when they transform. Would you have this girl’s blood on your hands, knowing there’s an option like that?”

“Really?” Sam breathed. Terribly excited, he was. He was gazing at Madison with such an expression that vividly reminded him of Fleur when she looked at Bill still—oh. Got it.

“Really. Let me call my associates back home and see what I can work out,” Harry assured. “Also, uh, we can untie her...”

“The moon’s going to come up soon. She’s going to wolf out,” Dean pointed out.

“Which we can handle,” responded Harry evenly. Easily, with magic. Probably, without. “We have some time. I need...” Harry ran his fingers through his hands. “Silver. I’ll be right back.” He turned to run out the door. He pivoted at the doorway and waggled a finger at the Winchesters. “Really, I’ll be right back. Don’t do anything, especially don’t kill her.” He stared both of the Winchesters in the eye. He backed away through the doorway, maintaining eye contact.

He slammed the door and ran.

...

The car was miraculously still parked in the same location. It had a parking ticket on it, but Harry figured that that sort of thing didn’t bother the Winchesters. It wouldn’t have necessarily have mattered if Harry had the real location of the car are not, but this would avoid some sticky questions.

He opened the trunk with a flick of the wrist, and reached for his brown messenger bag, on which the top flap had a cartoony image of a pair of glasses and moustache. Pulling it open and unzipping it, Harry stuck his entire arm in it, reminiscent of Mary Poppins. He had a larger travel bag, though it was mostly for show, and contained non-essential clothing. Harry kept all of his vital possessions in his messenger bag. He could barely remember the clothes he had stuffed into the travel bag for believability.

Eyeing around, he saw that thankfully there was no one who would see his arm stuffed too far down a bag while he was crouching over the trunk as he was. With a mutter, he simply summoned the jar he was looking for. His fingers closed over smooth, slightly warm glass, and the bag become minutely heavier with its immediate presence.

The jar was made of glass and simple in appearance. The gold-coloured lid was plain and unadorned, aside from a white sticker with some words written on with a careful hand.

USES: WEREWOLVES,

FABULOUSNESS, AND

FABULOUS WEREWOLVES

PROBABLY TOXIC

The glass of the jar was warm, unexpectedly so, more similar to touching a stone warmed from the sun all day rather than glass that had been sitting in a bag for months. Aside from the unusual temperature, it was the spitting image of an ordinary jar of paint. A well-informed individual (or one who with experience with painting) would have also noted that it seemed heavier than it ought.

The beauty of this trick, Harry thought, was that there was nothing else to it. An expensive muggle invention, the liquid inside the jar was only a water-based solvent that contained a fair portion of the periodic table element of Ag, more commonly known as silver. Expensive but useful, the only suspicious aspect was the warming spell Harry had placed on the glass to keep the mixture liquid.

About to take only the jar and run back to Madison’s, Harry considered the bag, through the strap across his shoulder, slammed the trunk down, and Apparated back to the building.

“Marvellous,” Harry gasped out as he burst into the room. “You didn’t do anything. Fantastic.” He set the jar on the living room table and opened it. He quickly yanked a large paintbrush from his bag and placed his bag on the floor by the couch.

“What are you doing?” asked Sam, the first of the three who broke out enough of his confusion to speak. He, Dean, and Madison (still chained up to the chair) had been watching him silently.

“I,” Harry declared, “am going to paint this—well, paint—onto the floor around Madison and onto Madison. Madison,” Harry began empathetically. Her face tight, eyes red but no visible tear tracks. Harry swallowed her next words. She may not even believe them still. “Shit,” he said, instead, I’m going to put a liquid on you that contains silver, it will burn, but constrain your transformation and we and others will be safe. “I’m so sorry. I realize you’re scared, and you don’t believe us, and... actually, there’s nothing I can say that will make you believe me and make this any better. The best I can do is to protect you and everyone right now, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Sam, over here, please.”

Sam unhesitantly went to Harry, who caught Dean’s frown peripherally, but steadily gazed at Sam. “Arm, please.” Sam extended his right arm. Either faith in Harry, or desperation to save Madison, Harry didn’t know. It warmed him all the same.

Harry painted a line down Sam’s arm. It glinted only a little in the light. “This liquid has silver in it. It’ll burn you a bit, but I’ve heard it described as a persistent sunburn that’s being mildly irritated. Sam, does it hurt you at all?”

“No.”

“This is the best proof I can offer you right now. This will burn you, when it doesn’t burn Sam. I am going to paint a sealing mark on your arms,” he lightly gestured to her limbs, “to contain your transformation for tonight. Okay? That’s all I’m going to do.”

Madison swallowed and blinked rapidly. “Okay. Fine. If that’s all.”

Harry nodded, dipped his brush in the jar, and drew the first part of the sealing mark. Madison jerked at the first touch. “Okay?” Harry inquired, stopping.

“Yes, it just—I wasn’t really expecting it to hurt. And it stings too, like a chemical burn.”

“Oh, that’s awful. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spilled chemicals on my arms. Stings like hell. But leaves you feeling very clean,” Harry commented.

“Will this cause infection?” Madison asked.

Good question. Harry hadn’t heard of that ever happening with this method, but this was a desperate, only-done-if-you-have-no-other-choices sort of thing. “I don’t know, this is a rather... desperate method to use. Should be fine. It’s only water and silver. It’s not enough on your to give you something like silver poisoning. If that even exists, I’ve never heard of it before.”

“Why this?” Madison asked. “Why not... some solid object, like silver bracelets or hell, shackles?”

“Well, this is better because silver that concentrated would burn your skin right off of your flesh. This is malleable and diluted.” Harry finished the mark, and started the next one. “I’ve thought about getting a mixed metal bracelet with sealing marks, but this is much more innocuous to carry with me. And the malleability is unbelievably useful. It means I can paint a circle around you to limit your movement.”

Madison pursed her lips and didn’t respond.

As the symbols dried, he painted a circle on the floor around her. Then he drew another one.

Magic would have been better, because werewolves could be knocked out with a stunning spell (if one overpowered them properly like Harry did), but Harry couldn’t do that with Dean and Sam present. (Another use of the silver mixture; silver was a fantastic conductor of magic, which is why it often featured in magical weapons and rituals.)

“And now we wait,” declared Harry. Madison’s features were set and solid, but the pinched tightness around the edges indicated that she was in pain.

It was around twenty-two hundred hours that Madison became more wolf than woman. The silver bands around her delayed it a bit, and the werewolf growled and snarled at them, though she did not move from its spot in the centre of the circle. She thrashed at the floor (“Goodbye whatever deposit she had on this place,” Dean commented), perhaps attempting to break through it. Thankfully, a werewolf, though strong, was still nothing compared to a retrofit building.

Harry and the Winchesters passed the night silently standing guard.

...

“Good thing your shitty naming choices didn’t fuck everything up for us,” commented Dean, while he and Harry leaned against the Impala. A little ways behind them, Sam and Madison were kissing good-bye for, oh, the past five minutes and counting.

“Hm?” The flight Harry booked for Madison would take much longer than taking her to Wallace, but he did not feel it was quite safe to inform the Winchesters of the magical practitioners (that name was way too long, but Harry would keep trying) of his ilk yet. As far as the Winchesters knew, Madison was going to go join the British hunters to help with her furry little problem.

It wasn’t even untrue. Harry merely omitted the presence of wizards.

“’Remus Lupin,’” Dean quoted. “Seriously, I don’t think there’s any other name you could have chosen that would have screamed ‘Werewolves,’”—Dean made his voice cartoonishly high— “’We’re Looking For Werewolves’ more.”

“Says the man whose fake FBI badge says ‘Han Solo,’” Harry countered. “And don’t lie to me, I saw it, I can’t believe know one’s ever called you out on that.”

Dean shrugged. “People don’t really care about the name on it. If they ask for a badge and you show it to them, that’s pretty much enough.” Dean smirked. “Lemme tell you, I have badges that say shit like ‘Boob Inspector’ and no one’s ever commented on it once.”

Harry snorted. Not hearing a ‘just joking’ he faced Dean. “Really?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Well, bugger me. But my point still stands. You do that and complain about my choice of aliases?”

“It was connected with what we were looking for, that’s pretty dumb.”

“But it was clever! Much cleverer and less obvious than yours.”

Dean appeared to want to continue his foolish disagreement, but Madison and Sam joined them. “Ready,” said Madison, gripping her handbag while Sam carried her larger one. “Sam will walk with me until security, and then I’m on my own until jolly old England.” Despite everything that had happened, she was smiling. “Out of all of the places to have to go, England is pretty nice.”

“It’s either England or Ireland, at this point,” Harry told her. “My connections are mainly in Britain, though Ireland has opened its arms to werewolves for centuries.”

“Go on, you two,” said Dean. “It’s getting late.”

“Have a good flight,” Harry told Madison. He reached out to shake her hand, and Madison rolled her eyes and pulled him into a hug.

“Thanks for everything,” she said. “I’ll be in touch.”

“You better be. Now get going, before you miss your flight.”

Sam and Madison walked away holding hands. Dean asked, “How long is the flight from here to England?”

“Forever,” Harry answered. “Oh, about... eleven hours from here, I think, direct? It’s longer when you have to catch a connection flight, which Madison will have to do. About sixteen hours from when her flight takes off to when she’ll land in Heathrow, I believe.”

“Jesus Christ,” Dean muttered, blanching and folding his arms on his chest. He slouched a bit.

“Not a fan of flying?” Harry guessed. Dean nodded. “You’d hate sky-diving then. Which is really too bad, it’s unbelievably freeing.”

Dean stared at him wide-eyed, then shook his head muttering words like ‘crazy.’ Harry watched Dean move to the trunk, open it, pull out a can, and toss it to Harry. Looking at the can he caught easily on reflex, he saw that it was beer.

“I don’t know what you drink in England,” Dean declared loudly. “But someone’s got you introduce you to real American drink.”

Popping the can open and taking a whiff, Harry grimaced. “Oh, goodie.”

Dean laughed, patted Harry on the shoulder, and they settled down on the hood of the Impala to wait until Sam returned.

Chapter Text

The dulcet voice of David Byrne singing “Psycho Killer” startled Harry up from his nap. Light from the car windows streamed into the car, but had avoided Harry’s face. Dean and Sam were in their respective seats up front, listening to their own music. To Sam’s disappointment and Dean’s delight, Harry and Dean shared similar music interests.

While Harry fumbled for his mobile, Dean began singing along with David Byrne. He even got the French right, surprisingly enough, though his accent was terrible.

“Hello?” Harry said with a yawn.

“Harry!” came Fleur’s still-heavily accented English, though it was vastly improved from when Harry first met her. “How could you leave for so long without contacting me? Why didn’t you stop in France while you were traveling, you know you could have visited Bill and me at any time and we would hide you!”

Harry had stopped in France, but it had only been a brief visit, as putting as much distance between himself and Britain seemed prudent at the time. Best not mention that. But onto more pressing matters: “How did you get this number?”

“Oh, Neville gave it to me,” Fleur hand-waved. It still didn’t explain anything.

A particularly rough bump jostled Harry, and he pivoted on his buttocks to a more normal sitting position. Sam thoughtfully turned down the music, which was nice, because this conversation was not making sense. “How did Neville get my phone number?”

“Oh, from Hermione, I think,” Fleur mused. “I’m not sure.”

“Okay,” Harry said slowly. “Why does Neville have my number?”

Fleur sniffed indignantly at him. Quite indignant she was, that Harry could hear it over the phone. “What, is only Hermione a good enough friend to have your number while you’re on your trip? The rest of us can’t give you a call from time to time to have a chat?”

Harry rubbed his temple with his free hand. Sam, looking at him in the rearview mirror, raised a questioning eyebrow. Harry shook his head. “Fleur, I am not on vacation, I am a fugitive. I am on the run from the law. I can’t call up all of my friends from home because we could all get in trouble.”

“Oh, please, don’t give me that shit,” cursed Fleur. Since improving her English, she had adopted English swear words in place of French swears. “They sound better on the tongue,” Fleur had explained. “Much more aggressive than merde or zut.”

Convincing Fleur that calling him was both implausible and unwise was clearly a lost cause. Harry relaxed back across the rear seat of the Impala and set his mobile across his face so he could rest his arm. The miniature motorcycle keychain that was, in fact, Sirius’ motorcycle shrunken-for-convenience, laid across his face. “Fine, fine, have it your way. How have you been?”

“Well,” said Fleur delightfully. There was an odd clicking noise, but Harry was distracted by what Fleur said next. “Bill and I are pregnant.”

“Oh my god!” Harry exclaimed. “Congratulations! How far along are you?”

“Five months. Which is why you should have called.”

“Geez, five months. I really have missed a lot, haven’t I? How are the girls taking it?”

“As well as expected,” Fleur mused. “Victoire doesn’t know why we need another one when we have one too many, and Dominique thinks she’ll be too old and grown-up to play with a baby.”

“Dominique is only two years old.” Harry remembered clearly the day of Dominique’s birth. It was only shortly before the fiasco with the demon and Harry’s departure from England.

Harry had visited France frequently before he had been forced to leave Britain and travel incognito. Aside from Bill and Fleur, some British wizards lived in France, either because they had escaped Britain during the war, decided to move after it, or were suspected or known Death Eaters or supporters of Voldemort. Harry regularly had tracked down and checked in with all of them. He couldn’t have arrested any of them as France refused to extradite any of them, but that didn’t mean that they couldn’t keep track of them to make sure that they were, at least, leaving Britain alone.

Every time Harry checked in on the Malfoys, Narcissa would take him shopping. Bewildering to everyone, Harry tried to explain it as gratitude from Narcissa for telling her that her son was still alive in Hogwarts during the final battle. Narcissa had proved an invaluable source of information; she had given him lessons on how to survive politics and formal settings. Their shopping excursions always resulted in Narcissa Malfoy-approved formal wear for every occasion.

Sometimes, he would even stay for dinner, which was sometimes not even that awkward. See, Harry enjoyed Narcissa’s company, but Lucius was a man who gave little girls possessed diaries that could have killed them and unleashed the teenaged version of a mass murderer. Harry thought it an exercise in false civility (an necessary tool for adulthood, let alone politics).

Harry could not forget. Witches and wizards never truly forget anything because memory was too important for magic. Memory led to knowledge led to power, but had a drawback of clinging past its relevance. Why else would wizards persist in teaching the Flame-Freezing charm first to students? (Few wizards and witches actually burned during the witch-hunts because they had learned quickly after those first few.)

Forgetting and forgiveness were not linked, however much people liked to tote the opposite opinion.

Aside from wanted criminals, Harry had spent a significant time at Bill’s and Fleur’s. Harry had helped during Fleur’s pregnancies and with her children, though Fleur had a supportive and extended family nearby who assisted as well.

“Which is definitely grown-up compared to a baby,” Fleur added with a giggle.

Harry smiled. “How’s Bill?”

“Currently in Normandie. He’s improving the wards along the coastline,” Fleur answered. More quietly, “There’s been more and more demons entering the country. We’ve already added protections to our own homes.”

“Your children aren’t with you right now, right?” Harry asked worriedly. This was not a matter to distress children over.

“They are with my grandparents,” Fleur confirmed. Voice concerned, she continued, “I’ve gotten an anti-demon possession tattoo. I could use magical protections but they are not so good for me while pregnant.”

“Bill might want to get one, too. You can—” forget to spell yourself, Harry would have said, but Dean and Sam were right there. “Be extra safe. Where’s your tattoo? If it’s too easily accessible—” Harry propped himself up on his elbows and swung his legs over so he was in an ordinary sitting position.

Je te donne ma plus grande assurance qu’il est pas accessible,” Fleur murmured, voice as smooth as velvet.

Je peux entendre ton héritage,” Harry teased. He would have said ‘veela’ instead of ‘heritage,’ but it felt like too great a risk with the Winchesters. Not only did he not know for certain that they didn’t know French—though he was pretty certain they didn’t, but he couldn’t rule out the possibility that Sam did—they might also remember sounds well enough to repeat what Harry said, even if they didn’t know what it meant. And if they were able to take that to a translator... it was best if Harry played it safe.

Fortunately, Fleur understood what he meant. She also got at this point that Harry had company. “Are you with someone now?”

“Yeah, I’m traveling,” which was a confirmation but misled other listeners. Ideally.

“Ah, j’ai compris. We should talk more when you are alone.”

“We should. I’ll call you,” Harry promised.

“Make sure you do. Lots of love, Harry.”

“Right back at you. And Bill and the girls.”

Fleur hung up.

“The fuck was that?” Dean asked.

“Friend in France,” Harry explained. “She was upset that I hadn’t called her. Apparently being a wanted fugitive is not an excuse.”

Dean snorted. “Jesus. She’s pregnant?”

“Yeah, third child. I helped her take care of the first two. And during her pregnancies.”

“Must be a good friend,” Dean commented. Harry smiled and agreed that she was.

Sam was staring intently at his phone, not texting, not participating, until Harry said, “Alright, Sam?”

Sam startled and flipped his phone shut. “Yeah, I’m good. Really,” he said to Dean’s concerned glance. Silence ensued.

“Are we in Colorado already?” Harry asked. Majestic, snow-capped mountains stood proudly in the distance. Harry could answer his own question. “And how long was I asleep for?”

“We’ll be at Elkin’s address in about half an hour,” Sam answered immediately. “You’ve been asleep for nearly six hours, man. You know you can sleep at night, right?”

“I like having one spot that I sleep in, it’s easier for me than sleeping in a different bed every night. Besides, then you guys have someone on watch while you sleep.”

“I would like to add that I still find that creepy,” Dean interjected.

Harry scowled at him. “What do you think I do, watch you sleep? I research, I investigate, I call people from home. Sleeping people are really not that interesting.”

“Whatever you say, dude. But I know that deep inside, you’re captivated by my stunning good looks and irresistible charisma.”

“I’ve seen better.”

Sam muttered, “Seriously guys?” as they drove up a windy and pot-hole covered road to Daniel Elkins’ cabin. Past a curve, they saw a down-trodden cabin come into view.

“Well, unless there are a lot of hermits living in cabins in these woods, this is the place,” Dean announced. He parked the car in front of the building, and they went to the door.

The curtains were closed, and no light was coming from inside. Harry tried to peer between the cracks while Sam knocked. Receiving no response, he tried again. When that failed for a second time, he took out his lock pick. Door opened, Sam rested his hand on the handle.

“I think we’re good to go inside,” Harry stated. Sam nodded and opened the door slowly. Then he entered. Dean followed, but Harry stopped at the threshold. “There’s salt here.” Quite a lot, actually, and now dispersed over the entryway from the opening of the door.

“There’s a salt ring over here, too,” Sam announced. He picked at some of the books that were strewn messily on the table. “I don’t think this place has been cleaned in... well, ever.” He noted with some disgust, trying to wipe the dust off the books with anything but his own self.

Harry stood still at the doorway.

Dean picked up a journal and flipped through it. “This looks a lot like Dad’s,” he said after a moment. “But it dates back to the sixties.”

While he spoke, Harry had turned around, looking out.

“So he was a player?” Sam queried, opening a door to another room. “Shit, look at this.”

Dean quickly went over to see, and Harry finally entered the building, scanning slowly. As naturally as possible, he turned just enough to see out the door as well.

Nothing. Nothing but dark evergreen trees dappled with snow and the clear, refreshing scent of pine and earth.

Harry walked to the door.

The fairy tales of wizards gave contrasting lessons. On one hand, it never bodes well to listen to disembodied voices, but it is never wise to ignore a source of information of a creature that may be more knowledgeable than you. That said, Harry felt uncomfortable ignoring the whisper of “Behind you” in his ear when he was at the door of the cabin.

Harry believed it bad form to listen to the voices only one could hear.

Harry believed it unnecessarily reckless to not display caution when a warning was given for free.

(Harry had made no deal, struck no bargain, and whether he acted on the warning or not did not place him in a position where he would be magically obligated to return the favour. It was fine. For now.)

And still, he saw nothing outside.

“Harry?” asked Sam, more worried that Harry thought was necessary. But perhaps it was a trick of a paranoid mind.

Take the middle-ground. Reassure a little more, but not enough to indicate that he thought that Sam thought something was wrong.

“I thought I heard something. I’m not sure now... but uh, be extra careful, okay, mates?” The statement deflected Sam’s worry for him onto a more immediate problem, and successfully got another pair of eyes to scan the outside.

“I don’t see anything either, but there a lot of things that can hide in the dark,” he said, gesturing to the shadows between the trees. The woods were too dense to see through very far, even in daylight. “Dean! You find anything that says the attackers at still here?”

“Not unless they’re hiding on the roof.” Pause. “Shit, could they be hiding on the roof?”

“Let’s find out,” Harry murmured, and shimmied up a wooden pole on the porch to get to the awning.

“So he’s part-monkey,” he heard Dean say on the ground.

“You’ve solved all of my mysteries,” called Harry. The roof was slippery, treacherous, and not tall enough to be as effective a vantage point as Harry would like. In fact, Harry would make a fantastic target for a gun where he was.

Harry reminded himself that he would probably survive being shot by a gun; all it would do is inform him with certainty that something was out there.

Or, he might be able to see their car parked a stone’s throw away past a ton of trees and underbrush. A man stood by a decrepit and rusted pick-up truck, the sort no one wanted following them on the road.

This man, white and tall and dark-haired, could be described as many things. ‘Scruffy’ crossed Harry’s mind, but to Harry, scruffy implied a certain approachability and softness around the edges. Implied an aesthetic decision, forgetfulness, or inaccessibility.

A better word—brutal.

Not immediate, savage brutality. Nothing so obvious. A bleeding, persistent brutality, that soaked a mind and soul until compassion and mercy were drowned in it.

The hair on Harry’s neck prickled up.

“Over there,” Harry called, not as loud as he could have been, but Dean and Sam were listening. For all of their hunter training, they crashed through the foliage with all of the grace of drunk rhinos. Until they stopped abruptly and Harry heard dual calls of, “Dad?”

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

Harry jumped down from the roof into the room below. He took his sweet time scanning the room; the Winchesters seemed like a family to need time to talk it out. Or punch it out. Either way, Harry wanted to not be anywhere near it. Though, admittedly, there was little reason for delay. The interior of the cabin had been thoroughly ransacked, though Harry noted the empty gun case that sat strewn across the center of the room. Removing a pen from his pocket, he turned the case over.

That allowed him to determine exactly this: he had absolutely no idea what type of gun had been within the case.

... Though it looked like the case had been opened with a key. Could have been Elkins, though it could have been the attackers if they had decided to search the place for the key. Reason for ransacking? Seemed like a lot of trouble. Lock picking wasn’t that difficult either, and anyone capable of murder wasn’t going to have compunctions about breaking locks.

Had it been Elkins? What enemies of a hunter could he have been facing that would have feared much from a gun? Most creatures of magical origin did not risk harm from guns.

Harry corrected himself. Hunters did have the most fascinating tendency to make bullets out of all sort of materials. If the proper material was used, many a “monster” would fall.

“And I am left with absolutely nothing,” Harry murmured as he stood, taking one last scope of the room. Nothing else to work with, no weapon, no marks, no hairs, no blood—

—no blood?

Why was there no blood?

Could the victim went willing with the assailants? As if, with this mess. This was the sort of mess when Harry would ordinarily find only pieces of the victims, but there was nothing, not a single drop. Could the victim have bludgeoned or subdued without bloodletting? Always possible. Not likely, not with the clear signs of forced entry. Elkins hadn’t been caught off guard. He had been prepared to fight.

So what would not let a single drop of blood fall? Or rather, Who would find even a drop of blood on the floor wasteful?

...

Vampires were considered an uncomfortable topic of discussion among wizards and witches. The reason being, of course, that they had indiscriminately killed vampires whenever a vampire was found. And the killing wasn’t even all that difficult—just burn them. Wizards and witches were quite fond of death by burning, though it is uncertain if everyone appreciated the irony as much as Harry did.

Even hunters discovered the foolproof way of eliminating vampires through decapitation. A bit messier and hunters had to be closer to the vampire to do it, but it worked. Between hunters and wizards, as well as muggles not in the know who superstitiously decapitated and burned those who died under suspicious deaths, vampires died off very quickly in centuries long past.

So quickly, in fact, that the vampires who still lived approached wizards with a plea; spare them, and they would integrate into their society and no longer live off humans. They would contribute and no longer kill.

(What a difficult choice to make, having to beg for mercy to either wizards or hunters. Neither would have been promising at all at that time.)

In a twist of expectations, magical society accepted them. Hermione maintained that the acceptance was due to some inherent goodness in people; Harry believed that the magical community had been so surprised, they didn’t know how else to react. Vampires were a deadly myth, full of shadows and mystery and fangs. Who would have thought they would have begged for their lives, or be willing to alter their diet—their signifying behavior—for what should be their prey? Harry thought it must have blown some closed minds wide open.

Over the past century or so, vampires had integrated well into magical society—in Britain. The same could not be said for, for example, the United States, which contained the disorganized hunters and barely any magical authority whatsoever.

“Goddammit,” Harry muttered. Vampires weren’t even straightforward like werewolves, who lost control when they transformed. Vampires were like any other carnivore, their prey just happened to be humans.

However, they could choose to subsist on other creatures, as the vampires that integrated into magical society had. For not choosing to do so, do they deserve death?

Murderers are murderers, thought Harry with steely determination. He would give the vampires a chance, for theirs to choose. And then, Harry would choose as well.

And all would be well, as it always was, in the end.

...

Three tall, imposing, be-plaided figures approached the cabin. Harry had dallied long enough. Time to meet Daddy Winchester.

Harry exited the cabin to meet them front on. Daddy Winchester was about the same height as his oldest son, but his presence made both of his sons shrink down. The effect led to extra height to the eldest Winchester and uneasiness to Harry.

“Nice to meet you, mate,” Harry said with a smile and an outstretched hand. Daddy Winchester glared at the hand as if Harry had held out a child’s heart in his palm. Harry retracted the proffered limb.

Dean was looking down, confidence and independence drained. Harry didn’t like it. Sam was not less affected, but at least the tension and anger did not give the same broken impression that Dean did. Harry smiled again, this time a touch too wide, to hide his thoughts. “I’m Harry,” Harry stated.

“John,” Daddy Winchester said.

“So I think it’s vampires,” Harry said in response.

“How would you know?”

“No blood drops anywhere. Most everything else leaves more of a mess.”

“Not bad.”

“Thanks.”

“Vampires were what Elkins hunted the best,” John announced. During the exchange, neither John nor Harry moved more than necessary. They both stood, fully facing each other. “I thought Elkins and others had wiped them out.”

“We have them in Britain, too, though most of them don’t drink human blood anymore.”

“Seriously?” Dean asked incredulously. “First werewolves, now vampires? Your bunch is sure adopting all sorts of things that go bump in the night.”

“Better than killing everything that’s different than you,” Harry murmured quietly. To his shame, he broke eye contact with John first, eyes sliding over to Dean’s. A relief, but Harry was furious with himself that he backed down first.

And he could feel John’s authority fixing upon the group the instant he did. He began to feel claustrophobic.

“They’re monsters,” John said.

“How would you know?” demanded Sam, anger and frustration breaking through all at once in a flood. “Harry was right about werewolves.”

“They kill people,” John said lowly. “Werewolves, vampires, demons—they’re all the same.”

“Humans kill people too. We met a werewolf who had no idea what she were doing until we told her what was happening—she wasn’t a murderer, and Harry knows people who can help her control the wolf, so who’s the say we have to kill every monster we meet?” Before John could answer, and what an answer it would have been, jaw gritted painfully and eyes glaring murder at his own son, but Sam continued vehemently, “I thought we were supposed to be saving people. Wouldn’t that be truer if we don’t have to kill every non-human creature we meet?”

“Don’t ask questions,” said Aunt Petunia, herding Harry into his cupboard and slamming the door shut. The lock slid into place and Harry was alone in the dark for hours, long enough for the sun to set and rise, and long enough for Harry to become so desperate to pee that he curled up into a fetal position due to the pain. It was better than soiling his cupboard though, because he would be left int he cupboard for who knows when and when Aunt Petunia found out—

Aunt Petunia slapped him on the face. Except it wasn’t his aunt’s horsey face, but Sam’s frantically concerned gaze, Dean just over his shoulder. Sam had his hands on Harry’s cheeks, and Harry tried to pull back but lost his balance and brought Sam down with him which was even worse and suffocating and Harry flailed and Sam scrambled away and he could hear Dean say, “Hey, easy, easy,” but then—

—John Winchester grabbed his arms and Harry looked up to his face and could only see Uncle Vernon.

Harry wrenched himself away from John and Apparated away.

He crashed-landed in a familiar closet. Clean linens softened his landing, which was fortunate as he might not have had any ability to break his fall otherwise.

He curled up and tried to breathe. He either had no air or too much and he was too light-headed but he knew he had just fucked up—

—something cold and wet touched his arm and he jerked back, only to be greeted by an offended “Mrreow,” and a soft, furry head push itself onto his lap.

Harry breathed out shakily. It was Crookshanks. Crookshanks who was purring on his lap and looking up at him with both love and a demand for attention.

Harry lifted his hand to Crookshanks’ head and oh how he shook, but he managed to scratch the cat behind the ear. The purring grew louder at the contact.

Slowly, Harry’s hand felt steadier. He didn’t know how much time it took, and Crookshanks gave no indication that he would ever be done.

John Winchester had not said, “Don’t ask questions,” but “Don’t question me, boy.” Too close. Far too close. Harry had not been at Number 4 Privet Drive, and Aunt Petunia had not slapped him. Sam must have, to bring him out of his panic attack, not knowing he had added to it. Dean hadn’t touched him. John grabbing him had been going over the line in the sand.

“Oh, you wonderful, selfish cat,” sighed Harry. “You are magnificent.” Crookshanks purred on, because like all cats, he already knew this.
 

Chapter Text

Crookshanks had settled in for the night, so Harry had made himself comfortable and drifted off. Hermione’s shriek of “Harry!” woke him abruptly after he had just managed to fall asleep. (Or so it felt like.)

More importantly, it also startled Crookshanks awake, who made his displeasure known through the stinging cuts that now decorated Harry’s thighs.

“It can’t actually be morning,” Harry croaked, then tried to swallow and re-moisten his throat. All he accomplished was make his throat rather sore.

“How long have you been in my linen closet?” asked Hermione.

“Since sometime last night. Not sure exactly.”

Hermione sighed. “I need to get to work, but get up, I’ll make you breakfast before I go.” Harry wasn’t hungry, but he knew at this point in his life that human bodies—including Harry’s—needed food after a certain amount of time. Harry had had breakfast with Sam and Dean, but not lunch, and it was definitely past dinnertime in Colorado by now, so he needed a meal or he would regret it later.

He trudged over to Hermione’s kitchen and sat down. Crookshanks was waiting to be fed, so Harry occupied himself with that. Then he sat down at her table and stared at it vacantly.

Suddenly, a bowl appeared before him, and cereal fell into it, milk following shortly thereafter. Apparently, by “make breakfast,” Hermione had actually meant, “I will pour you some cereal and milk into a bowl myself.”

Hermione pressed a spoon into his hands, and said, “Eat, you look like you’re about to pass out.”

Harry did as he was told.

Between the time that Hermione left and returned, Harry moved through his day with distracted attention, and time itself seemed distorted. Though that was only Harry, distracted and recovering, so he attempted to force himself to focus. To bring the events into light to he could circumvent its reoccurrence.

Hermione’s bed was soft and smelled comfortingly like her (who smelled of fair trade organic tea tree oil, which Harry knew because he both liked the smell and he had been sent out to buy Hermione’s preferred brand many times in the past), so Harry occupied that space for most of the day. At some point when a particularly stubborn beam of sunlight streamed right where he wanted his face to be, Harry rose and painted all of his nails aquamarine.

While he waited for his toenails to dry, Harry started up Hermione’s computer and checked his email. It was not a method of contact he was particularly adept yet at keeping up with, which was probably due to a lack of emails due to the whole fugitive thing, but as Harry had painted his toenails and thought of John Winchester, he had a thought that wouldn’t stop in its niggling.

He accessed Greg’s first email, which contained two documents, one of which Harry had never gotten around to looking at, titled ‘American Hunters.’

There are no words, Harry thought, to describe the sheer amount of my stupidity.

In the document there had been a rather tidy list of hunters to avoid.

And one of the names was fucking John Winchester:

Motivation: Seeks demon that killed his wife (“Yellow-Eyed Demon,” identity unknown). Particularly vicious against demons, will kill human hosts indiscriminately to kill demons.

Not limited to demons, will hunt and kill any non-human entity. Survivors noted that they were unable to reason with Winchester and that occasionally his son accompanies him.

Probably Dean, since Sam had been in school until recently.

Daddy Winchester sounds as pleasant as he was in person, Harry thought, frowning over the line that John Winchester killed human hosts indiscriminately. This was the man who had raised his children in the hunting job, exposing them to all sorts of endangerment and neglect, if any a milligram of Sam’s implications and stories were to be believed. After meeting the man, Harry would hard-pressed to find any doubt.

Speaking of Sam, Harry hoped that their vampire hunt was going well. Or had gone well.

Though Harry wouldn’t be upset if something happened to Daddy Winchester...

It both seemed as if no time had passed at all and that it had taken forever when Hermione Apparated into her own apartment.

“Sorry I had to leave you here by yourself,” Hermione said immediately. “But I couldn’t call off without someone inquiring.”

“The pains of politicking,” Harry said, going for dryly but barely accomplishing even speaking at all.

Hermione sat down on the armchair adjacent to the couch Harry had laid himself upon. “So what happened?”

“I fucked up,” Harry muttered into a pillow. Not even the pot of coffee he had drunk earlier had been able to energize him.

“How did you fuck up?” asked Hermione with the patience of one who had accompanied Harry on his teenaged escapades against a madman who wanted them all dead.

“I had a panic attack in front of the American hunters I’ve been trying to help.” Harry had never said what they were aloud before; it left just as bitter a taste on his tongue as he thought it would.

Oh dear Circe, what would happen to Sam and Dean now? Sam was too emotional and unstable to get through this without emotional support, and Dean may just very well refuse to trust for such a long time. Dean might turn to his father, which Harry suspected would be disastrous.

Harry had definitely lost the ‘in’ he had with the Winchesters, as well. And they were being pursued—though for what reason, he didn’t know. And now that he had blown his cover and revealed himself as not just human, Harry could no longer keep tabs on them. This weighed more heavily on him than anything else had for years. He had, irrevocably and potentially fatally, fucked up.

“You had a panic attack?!”

“Yeah,” Harry adjusted to look up at Hermione. “It’s not a big deal, I’ve had them before.”

“You’ve had panic attacks before and you’ve never told me! Harry, why not?!”

“Because I was dealing with it—”

“Clearly not very well—”

“Sometimes I don’t want help with things, Hermione—”

“Why else do we have friends for, if not to help them?”

“I don’t know,” Harry snapped. “I would have thought helping would have included telling me that the Ministry was making it sound like they had captured me and decided to exile me themselves.”

Hermione quieted. “Oh, shit.”

Harry buried his face in a pillow again.

“I’m sorry, Harry,” Hermione said. “I assumed you already knew.”

Harry shook his head. Turning slightly from the pillow, he said, “It was difficult to keep up what was happening in Britain when I was traveling. The Daily Prophet never said anything about it, which was worrying, but that was only when I was able to get a hold of one or hear from someone else, and there’s only so many things I could do without drawing attention. You know, you’ve made our government information so much more secure than it’s ever been? I’m impressed.” And slightly annoyed. It had been such an inconvenience. “I didn’t get any news at all when I was in Afghanistan, and when I came back, it wasn’t my top priority. And then, you know, America.”

Hermione nodded and rubbed her temple. “Right after you left, I worked so hard to get it so we’d send as few as people as possible... without making it seem that we were giving you leniency because we’re friends, so I had to convince other people to suggest we pretend we exiled you. By the time you came back and we could talk, it was all done and finished, and I thought that the news that Harry Potter had been exiled would reach you... though I suppose that no one wanted to advertise that we lost our Chosen One.”

How stressful it must have been, dealing with the guilt of Harry taking the fall for Hermione, and trying to minimize the publicity of Harry’s departure for Harry’s own sake. Still, “I need you to tell me these things in the future. Things that affect my security. I mean, I noticed that there weren’t that many Aurors following me, but I could have—” what? Lowered his guard, knowing that the Ministry couldn’t declare a manhunt? “Just keep me informed, Hermione,” Harry said exhaustedly.

“I will,” Hermione solemnly promises. Quiet settles, and Harry feels so very tired and his eyes begin to shut of their own volition.

Eventually, the lights turned off, and a blanket is draped upon him, and he slept.

...

“So, panic attacks,” Hermione stated over coffee the next morning. It is too early to be up, but Harry fell asleep too early for bed. This also gave them time to speak before Hermione had to leave for work.

“I’ve had two,” Harry said to his coffee. In the mornings, coffee was his only friend. “One in Afghanistan, and one two days ago.”

“What were the triggers?” Hermione asked in her Ministry official voice.

Harry couldn’t say it, but if he didn’t that would only further prove how much power it had over him, and he was not so weak. He swallowed twice to lessen the dryness in his throat. He looked up at Hermione who stared back at him calmly. He couldn’t tell if it was better or worse than if she had been openly compassionate. He went back to his coffee and stared at the reflection of the pathetic man who would not get over the spectres of his childhood. Anxious, with bags under his eyes—Harry stared until the face he saw resembled the calmness Hermione presented in a small fraction. When he had it, he stated without emotion, “Reminders of the Dursleys.”

Hermione’s eyebrows raised; Harry could guess that she had been expecting remembrances of The Second War, not ridiculous mentions of Harry’s horrid relatives.

“Have you considered,” Hermione said slowly, steadily, without judgment, “talking to someone about this?”

That got Harry to look up from his coffee. “What else do you call this?”

Hermione cleared her throat. “I mean, a professional.”

Harry knew what she was referring to, but decided to be a dick about it anyway. “You mean like... feelings hookers?”

“Harry,” Hermione said, voice laden with disappointment.

Harry sighed and shrunk back. “I hadn’t considered it.”

“I think it would benefit you to begin considering it.”

Harry did not want to see a therapist. It wasn’t a problem, and Harry could teach himself not to be so weak as to have a fucking panic attack whenever someone said the wrong thing. However, Hermione suggested nothing more than to think—actually, just to begin to think about it, which could take Harry quite a while. “Okay.”

Hermione didn’t relax, and Harry could read in her silence that she knew he would conveniently never think on the subject again. She was not pleased.

Harry, who could offer nothing more, took a drink of his coffee.

...

Wishing to avoid further discussion on the topic, and also to return to the pressing matter of the continued rise in the numbers of demonic activity, Harry planned to leave as soon as possible. He rested at Hermione’s for two days, and chose to leave Friday evening, to take advantage of the dark skies over populated Britain and avoid a weekend of dancing around a delicate subject. The time also gave Harry opportunity to visit a few people, such as Zabini (who had received his souvenir in the mail; Harry checked), Teddy and Andromeda, and Malfoy (who had insisted on check-ups whenever Harry was around, to monitor his weirdness).

When Friday evening came, Hermione returned to her flat with a familiar face in tow.

“So you’re a wizard, Harry,” said Madison, smiling knowingly.

“Déjà vu,” Harry commented, then stood up to accept Madison’s embrace.

Madison, as it turned out, had taken like a fish to water her surroundings in Britain. Her secretarial work provided much needed organization and research for British hunters, and in these past few months, had drawn the attention of Hermione, who had unhesitantly approached her for her aide.

Naturally, the two got on like oil and fire.

“I’m currently helping to create an Internet archive of magical society’s books and scrolls, to make it more easily searchable and accessible,” Madison chattered happily. Harry had let her know he didn’t intend to linger long, so she had chosen to accompany him and Hermione to Harry’s departure location. “It’s one thing to scan all of the pages onto a computer—and really time-consuming and worthless, unless you have the ability to search through items scanned. It’s better to type it all up as its own document, even though it takes more time.”

“I believe you,” Harry said.

“How’s Sam doing?” Madison asked, apropos to nothing.

Harry frowned. “Aren’t you in touch with him?”

“Of course, he calls me every other night,” Madison answered. “I just wanted a third person perspective.”

Harry had been aware of Sam’s frequent calls to Madison, having been Sam’s confidant for any issue regarding emotions. “Have you discussed the whole ‘recent dead girlfriend’ thing, yet?” Harry asked. As a confidant, Harry operated under the assumption that all discussed were to be taken to the grave—unless, of course, the individuals involved were rational, thinking begins perfectly capable of talking out their problems to a position result.

Sam just needed a nudge and he’d release the river of angst and anxiety and become a happy puddle in no time.

Madison frowned. “He told me about her.”

“Well, dig up the topic again. He’s angsting about moving on.”

“Oh, Sam,” Madison breathed sadly.

“Also, my departure from the Winchester’s company might have been a bit... dramatic. Ask a bit about that, but be subtle. If you would, don’t let them know you’ve seen me.”

Madison nodded. “Anything I should know about this ‘dramatic departure’?”

“Eh,” Harry shrugged. They had stopped at a dark, long stretch of road. The closest patch of civilization glowed in the distance, a beacon for those still making their way through the dark, and a threat of being observed for those who longed to keep their secrets.

But it would have to do.

“I’m not sure how much they figured out,” Harry admitted, pulling out his mobile and detaching the little motorcycle keychain from it. “So just go in cautious and open-minded.”

Harry heard Madison mutter her acquiescence while her arms became full of Hermione. “Take care of yourself,” Hermione murmured in his ear.

“I’ll try, Hermione,” Harry said honestly.

They parted, and Madison gave him a shorter embrace to bid him farewell.

There wasn’t much else to it. Harry hated long goodbyes, and it was late enough as it was. Harry de-shrunk Sirius’s motorcycle, hopped on, and let it take him away.

...

The flight over the ocean was long and dark and cold, and it couldn’t have been more enjoyable. The new moon provided endless and merciful darkness. The waves beneath and the skies above might as well have been one. The motorcycle emitted no noise to cover the rustle of the waves swirling below, nor the storms he passed through. The lone headlight of the motorcycle was the only light that the darkness met, and shone for the motorcyclist as constant encouragement forward. A reminder to not lose himself in the comforting darkness.

He followed his beacon for hours upon hours, ‘till the cold settled through his flesh and into his bones and in his soul.

Land greeted a wizard who was soaked to the bone with water and cold, but suffered none the worse for it.

Harry landed on a lonely road, and sat on his bike to watch the sunrise.

...

Harry, having not eaten on his trip, had plenty of food to start him off while he recommenced his search to figure out what the fuck was going on with all of the demons in the world.

This mission wasn’t precisely easy, as the demons Harry found to question kept pretty tight lips, but it wasn’t long before Harry found a demon who wasn’t particularly invested in the whole ordeal.

Harry had been drawn to Bum Fuck Nowhere, Nebraska, due to rumours of a murder that had brimstone on the scene. Though really, Harry thought, eyeing an actual spittoon. Demons seemed to be the least of their problems.

No, really. Harry located the demon who had taken possession of a young, attractive woman—they almost always do. Possess relatively attractive people according to mainstream standards, that is, though not necessarily female. Harry was not the only one curious as to how much demons remembered of their lives of humans, but questioning before had led to the conclusion that they didn’t remember anything consciously. Only a vague sense of how they self-identified remained, and even that grasp was tenuous at best. Most demons had no conscious limitations on sexual orientation (they used it as a weapon or for pleasure indiscriminately), and whatever name they called themselves as a demon only rarely seemed to reflect their name in life. But only rarely. Most demons went by the name of their current host, or their favourite host, or any name that had stuck.

One topic demons loved to savour was what had happened to them in ‘Hell.’ “Torture,” one demon had said, black eyes and malicious grin on the face on a middle-aged homemaker. “Wounds and slices inflicted upon your soul, just to be chopped up into tiny pieces and put back together, just to start all over again, endlessly.”

Endlessly? So who held the knives?

“The ones who choose to inflict pain in place of suffer it,” provided a demon who wore a man with a business suit and a waistcoat. Harry was vaguely impressed at how well the outfit was pulled off, and wondered if the clothes had been decided by the host or the demon. They suited the demon well, though perhaps they suited the host better. The demon had saunter up to Harry at a lounge bar and offered to bargain for the information he had been seeking.

Harry hummed. “Do you realize what I am? We can’t make demon deals.”

Not for lack of trying. The enticement and excitement of demon deals were dulled a bit when most wizards and witches died when attempting to make one or the demon was unable to fulfill their end of the bargain.

“Who said anything about souls? I don’t want your soul,” had murmured the demon, who took out a delightfully antique pocket watch and checked it. “I want free drinks. I will answer one question for every drink you buy me.”

Harry had tilted his head, expression unchanging. “I have a lot of questions.”

The demon smiled using the man’s face. “I have a lot of answers.”

“I require truthful answers.”

The man’s face didn’t so much as twitch. “I wouldn’t dream to giving you anything else.”

That time, Harry had chuckled. “Now I know you’re a liar.” Though a liar who wants something from Harry, and was willing to give to start it off. Whatever he wanted from Harry had to be good.

The smile dropped off the host’s face. “I wouldn’t lie, not about this, not to you. You see, wizard, we want the same thing.” He paused, probably aiming for a dramatic ambiance, but Harry had been unmoved to this point and continued to be so.

“And what do I want?” Harry inquired mildly.

The demon had opened the mouth of its host and laughed. “You want to stop the hordes of demons that are threatening to swallow up all of you precious little humans.”

Harry blinked and stared long enough for the smile to slip off the demon’s stolen face. “I didn’t realize,” he stated as he watched the demon’s anxiety increase before his very eyes, “that demons made a habit of thinking the best in people.”

“Not my fault is you lot have a habit of wearing your thoughts on your face,” the demon retorted; too little, too late.

“Ah, like you demons are any better? Oh, look, a demon,” Harry jeered. “What was that you say? You want death and destruction, with my soul as icing for the cake? What a surprise, no other demon has wanted that, ever, except for oh, that’s right, all of them.”

The demon huffed. “Your soul would be nice,” it admitted. “But I certainly don’t want death and destruction. I’m trying to run a business.”

“You want to stop the hordes of demons from interfering with your business?”

“Those incognizant buffoons wouldn’t know a business plan if it splashed holy water in their faces.”

“I thought you buggers were one big happy family.”

The demon laughed. “Calling demons one big happy family is like calling the Congress a united front. No, those ignorant, untrained, and stupid proletariats are blind when it comes to their Dear Leader.”

Was it calling the average demon a communist? Harry thought. Oh, he totally is.

“So what sort of opiate is this Dear Leader handing out to the masses?” This sounded familiar. The name was on the tip of his tongue, tickling the corners of his mind.

“A little Hell here, a little Hell there... a little Hell everywhere, with no thoughts for a businessman such as myself.”

Satan, Harry realized. That’s what I was thinking of!

“I would prefer for the Dear Leader to not even become an issue. For that, I want to get rid of his Joseph Goebbels.” Must be a convincing propagandist, to be compared to Hitler’s mouthpiece. “He’s a powerful demon, with yellow eyes.”

A yellow-eyed demon... Harry thought of Sam and Dean. There weren’t that many of those, were there?

“He goes by the name of Azazel,” the demon finished with a flourish.

Gotcha.

“Sounds dreadful,” Harry commiserated. He straightened and lightly slapped the table with his hand. “Be right back, I need the loo.”

Harry allowed himself a moment of feeling please with himself after he had safely Apparated from the lounge. He had all the information he needed without any deal, and he had left that crossroads demon with his tab.

...

Checking up on the Winchesters provided no further leads to the Yellow-Eyed Demon they sought so passionately, and Harry had no evidence it was even the same demon. He did not interact with either of them.

With his stake in the sand of knowing for whom he searched, Harry revised his methods. Instead of interrogating demons for information, he began to give them messages.

“Tell Azazel that I wish to speak to him,” Harry said.

“Tell Azazel that I wish to help bring Hell on Earth,” Harry said.

“Tell Azazel that I am becoming impatient,” Harry said.

Perhaps he had been overly hopeful to think that he could fool Satan’s Joseph Goebbels. In any case, demons were spending a good deal of effort and time on Harry, which was time and effort not spent on either their goal or defenseless people.

His travels led him, as they always did, to a motel in the middle of nowhere. He made himself as comfortable as he could on the bed, which was clean but heavily bleached.

After a night’s work, Harry collapses on top of the bed a little before dawn. In the little town he inhabits, the hour is still and dark and silent.

That is why he heard the noise in the drawer.

He opened his eyes.

It sounded like a voice. Quiet. Coming from... the drawer of the nightstand?

Wand in hand, Harry slid open the drawer.

Snakes. Quite a few of them, slithering over the complimentary motel Bible. Poisonous ones, too.

With a short, hissed conversation, Harry successfully convinced the snakes to relocate outside.

Finally, he slept.

...

Harry was aware that snakes do not randomly appear in motel drawers. They were placed there intentionally. Magically, too, as Harry distinctly recalled the silence he heard only moments before.

Someone was sending him a message.

But who?

The snakes knew nothing. Conjures, of course. A soul placed instantaneously into a functional body.

In Transfiguration, the question was asked, over and over and over again: from and to where did the souls go? Did they, when conjuring the creatures, create life and then destroy it? To answer that question, thought Harry, you had to know where souls exist before birth and after death.

Or perhaps, some postulated, there were no souls. Merely a collection of nerve endings and chemical responses, which would easily explain why they could magic creatures in and out of existence. Although ‘some’ meant more of an insignificant minority—Dementors were strong evidence to the contrary. Harry certainly believed in souls.

Harry himself fancied that the souls did pass in and out of existence with conjures. Why wouldn’t they? There were plenty of organisms that existed for only moments in the scheme of things. Most insects only lasted months. Mayflies in particular lived for only about a day. Drone ants for only weeks. With magic, they had power enough to alter and break reality. Why not the power to create life?

(Destruction of life was barely noteworthy. No magic necessary.)

It was a wonder that more wizards and witches didn’t have God complexes.

Successful conjurations, especially of more complicated organisms and objects, were a mark of not only power, but of a sharp mind. Not necessarily a dangerous mind, but a mind that knew a thing so well that it could recall the necessary information to recreate the thing through magically-powered intent.

When learning Transfigurations, the first classes were only on practicing their recall. Then on learning as much as they could of the biology of common organic conjures. This included primarily birds of some kind, small reptiles, and insects. Larger conjures required more sheer power. This also explained why wizards had preferences as to what they transfigured, such as Circe’s staple of turning men into pigs.

And for the matter at hand—

Snakes were not unduly complicated or difficult, but their appearance in his motel room, in Harry’s presence, was. Harry did not notice any magic. He only heard the hissing.

Curious. Exciting. Frightening? Harry tossed that notion around a bit. Yes, he answered, investigating the motel drawer.

Frightening, indeed, Harry thought, for a wizard to encounter entirely foreign magic. For the magic that he could smell was unlike anything Harry knew. If snakes had not appeared where there were no snakes before, or if Harry had not known where to look, Harry would not have even recognized it as magic.

Many approaches to magic existed. Some approaches were more poetic than the scientific approach British wizards preferred. When traveling, Harry experienced only a fraction of magic that exists in the world; magic done only with words, with spices, with gems, with symbols, in languages long dead to the world... but through it all, never had the magic felt so utterly alien to Harry as it did now.

So he opened up his newspaper, prepared to cross-examine it for anything odd—only to see on the front cover that a woman from the local retirement community had turned herself in for stealing her patients’ life-saving medicine to sell on the black market. Which wasn’t that unusual, in and of itself, but her reason for doing so was that the pills themselves had attempted to shove themselves down her throat. For some reason, the article doubted this was why her drug results returned as so positive she would have overdosed if she had taken any more.

Harry thought, Aha.

He lingered during the day, and the next night, drove away from the town to a biker bar. His motorcycle fit in well there, but that was not the reason Harry took the time to come to this bar. Actually, his reason was twofold; one, it was away from a populated area, and two, this was the only biker bar Harry had ever heard of that served cocktails, and by Merlin’s saggy balls, he was trying that shit.

He ordered something that was noxiously pink and the most delicious drink he’s ever had, and when it was finished, another was placed before him.

Harry looked up, confused, since he defintiely hadn’t ordered a steady stream of drinks, when the über tattooed and manly bartender jerked his thumb to the side before Harry could inquire. The line from the thumb led to a man with a fox-like grin and mischievious, bright eyes, who winked at Harry. If not for the shadows of wings, Harry would have totally gone for it.

There was, unfortunately, that negative space in which there had to be wings, as there were shadows, but Harry could only see the shadows, and not the wings themselves. Which was slightly off-putting though not a deal-breaker. Harry smiled flirtatiously, picked up his new pink drink, and sashayed over to the man-shaped creature.

“Good taste,” the man congratulated, perhaps partially referring to himself, but gesturing to the drink in Harry’s hand. “That’s a house special. The bartender calls it the Heartbreaker.”

“Is that so? Does he make his own drinks then?”

“Of course. Thought I genuinely hope,” the man said, “that the drink doesn’t match the drinker.”

Harry smiled indulgently. “And what’s yours called?”

The man laughed gleefully. “This is the drink that the bartender made in my name! He calls it the Devil’s Damnation.”

“I wouldn’t fancy meeting the Devil tonight though, would I? And I don’t think I have.” Harry leaned closer, as if to kiss the man’s cheek. “No, I know the Devil is still locked away and isn’t about to walk the Earth just yet. You are something else. Tell me, what are you, and what do you want with me?”

Nothing Harry said made that smile on the man’s face falter. “Some would call me the Devil, because the name of Loki became synonymous and analogous to that of the Devil. So you’re right—the Devil to which you refer is not here tonight. But I am. Some might say that’s just as bad.”

Harry shrugged. “Well, that would depend what you want. Do you just want to have a flirt? Because I’d be up for that. If you want something more nefarious, we’d have to discuss it.”

The man laughed. “Oh, I like you. I think you might be just what I’m looking for.”

Harry cocked his head. “For a flirt, or something more nefarious.”

“Just a flirt,” the man confirmed. “Though I’m up for more if you are.”

“I am,” Harry confirmed, “though I’d like to know what you are beforehand.”

“I already told you. I am Loki Odinson.”

Which was just as easily Loki Silvertongue, Loki Liesmith, Loki Laufeyson. Being as close to Scandanavia as the British Isles were, Harry was rather familiar with the myths, and was fairly certain of at least one thing.

“I am sure you are not,” Harry stated. And there—the surprise that lacked confusion. Finally, a tell on this creature. “Never in any record or myth did Loki ever have wings.”

Oh, he had him.

The tense moment was lost when another man laughed and a smooth and silky voice said, “He has you there, Gabriel.”

Gabriel, Harry thought and tried to place it. The first that came to mind was the angel Gabriel in the Bible, but it was also the name of a saint. They could, however, be one in the same, the Bible had been inconsistent in that regard. Harry could not out-rule one or the other, both, or something else entirely.

But a lead was a lead. Best to go with the most obvious and dangerous option.

Setting on a pleased expression, Harry wondered, “An angel just propositioned me? My, it’s my lucky day.”

Gabriel, who had seemed mildly miffed at the newcomer, seemed placated by this statement. The newcomer took a seat, uninvited. This man had raven-black hair and green eyes, startlingly similar to Harry, but he was as long and regal as Harry was short and fey. Still, they could have been related.

“I am Loki Odinson, though what my friend said is not false; he often goes by Loki and causes chaos and justice in my name. In a way, he too, is Loki. As for your question, we are tricksters. But tricksters, while uncommon, are still natural to this world. A better question, I think, is what are you?”

Harry had an inkling of what was meant, but he wanted to be certain. Calling upon his best confused and skeptical expression, he asked, “I’m a wizard, what else?”

“None before has ever been like you,” said Loki. “If I were to strike you down right now, would you die?”

“Yes,” Harry said immediately, technically truthful. “I’d appreciate if you didn’t do that, by the way.”

“I do not plan to,” said Loki, which meant, clearly, that these plans could change. Harry approved of his flexibility. “Are you sure you would die?” Loki’s eyes positively gleamed. “I’ve heard whispers that you took a mortal wound in which, you were on all accounts, dead, only to rise again, heal yourself, and walk away unscathed and unbothered by your death.”

“And where,” Harry asked, “did you hear these whispers?”

Gabriel laughed. “You thought that no one saw? That the mortal who mourned you killed every one there? No. There were survivors, and at least one saw you walk off.”

Well, damn. New strategy. “That is because while I may be a wizard, I am also the Master of Death.”

There was a noticeable pause, one that Harry didn’t expect. “I don’t know what that is,” Gabriel said, surprised.

Harry might have deflated, just a little. “Seriously?”

“Sorry, kiddo,” Gabriel said.

Loki shrugged.

Harry sighed. “If an angel and a Norse god have never heard of it, who has?”

“Death might be a good bet,” Gabriel suggested, actually rather helpfully, if you discounted the fact that Harry was absolutely positive that summoning Death would be a Bad Idea for Harry. Even worse than his usual bad ideas.

“My father may know something, but you would not want his attention on you,” said Loki. From what Harry remembered from mythology, this was an understatement.

Speaking of, “What parts of the myths are true?”

Gabriel and Loki glanced at each other. “About three quarters, you think?” Gabriel asked.

“Little more than, I would say, if you count the myths that are actually about you in my name.”

Now, that was interesting. “Which myths are about Gabriel?”

“The horse,” Loki said immediately.

“Oh, come on, let it go,” Gabriel drawled.

“No. You engaged in coitus while masquerading as me with a horse, and then gave birth to an eight-legged monstrosity, and everybody knows.”

Harry had to laugh. He had to. He couldn’t not, with a sentence like that.

“The story of the child Jörmungandr is not true, along with children by Sigyn, but I do have a daughter by the name of Hel, and a son by the name of Fenrir who is of the form of a wolf. The child Sleipnir exists, but by Gabriel, not I. The Æsir do not require golden apples for our continued longevity, but we do grow such apples. There are other, more minor, misconceptions in your human myths, but those are the ones that have been brought to my attention in the past.”

Which did not account for most of the myths, but it was more than Harry expected to get. Cool.

“Huh,” Harry said, and thought it rude to ask further if the torture or various misfortunes that occurred in the mythology had actually happened.

“So, is that all you two wanted to know? That I’m the Master of Death?” Harry inquired.

Gabriel shrugged. “Well, yeah, but if you don’t even know what that means—and we can tell you don’t, kid—then you’re stumbling around in the dark as much as any of us.”

“So you wanted to know what kind of threat I am,” Harry surmised.

“Indeed,” Loki said. At some point, he had acquired a drink of his own, but Harry could not recall when. Loki was princely with his glass of red, red wine.

Harry considered this. “One of you two was responsible for that woman’s stolen pills trying to shoving their way down her throat? And for her near overdose?”

Gabriel smiled “That was me.”

“Right. Well, okay. I’d judge more, but... I can’t say that I’ve been any better.” He thought of William Edwards. Death had been a mercy to that man, Harry still believed. Better Death, than what Edwards had done to so many people.

Better death than what Edwards could have done later, if Harry had let him live.

Gabriel smirked salaciously. “Glad you think so. I’d hate to have to see if you really don’t die so soon after we’ve met. And I’m still hoping we could enjoy some drinks together and have a nice ‘flirt.’”

Harry winced, slightly. “Flirting is fine, but I’ll have to rescind that offer on more, after hearing about the horse.” Loki burst into sudden laughter, where he had been sitting in complete silence. Gabriel scowled, but it did not disturb the jovial mood. “I will definitely drink with you, though,” Harry finished.

Gabriel sighed, disappointed, but smiled anyway. “Well, at least tonight wasn’t a total bust. And,” he said, waving at a nearby woman, “I always have more options.”

“Glad my rejection didn’t get you down,” Harry said dryly.

“I would have been worried if it had,” Loki stated.

“Next round’s on you, kiddo,” Gabriel said.

All in all, drinking with an angel and a Norse god was rather uneventful.

 

 

Chapter Text

There was a boy in a dark room who was not asleep. There was another boy in a dark room who was asleep, but he was of little concern to the boy who was not asleep.

The boy who was not asleep, otherwise known as Sam Winchester, stared at the only light inside of the room. The light projected from the small screen of his flip phone, and on the cell phone was a picture of the creature known to them previously as Harry Potter.

To be fair, they now knew Harry Potter still as Harry Potter, but recent events had brought what exactly the nature of the creature known to them as Harry Potter into question.

The picture itself was unassuming, with a touch of jolliness. Harry Potter himself was laying down on the backseat of a ’67 Chevy Impala—that was not noteworthy. Sam Winchester knew this already. He practically grew up in that car, and could detail each dent and scratch and every corner with its own plethora of stories.

That was not important in this picture.

The creature that may or may not be Harry Potter was important. In the still image, Harry Potter was lying on his back. Sam Winchester, having been present at that moment, as well as present in the moments before, knew that Harry Potter had been sleeping before this particular moment.

In this particular moment captured by the small camera in Sam Winchester’s flip phone, Harry Potter was lying back with his phone balanced precariously between his nose and his cheekbone. This was the purpose to the picture—it had been funny, and nothing more, aside from a just bit silly.

Sam Winchester had been in a jovial mood when he snapped this picture.

Why Sam Winchester took the picture is also unimportant. Only the fact that he had taken the picture remained.

The face of Harry Potter was not of one who had been recently and suddenly woken up, which Sam Winchester knew that he had been, moments before. As stated before, Sam Winchester had been present not only in the moment but also in the moments before.

As well as the moments after, but those are not even worth mentioning. Not yet, anyway.

Harry Potter, despite the unspoken laziness implied by lying one’s phone on top of one’s face, did not appear to be tired at all in the picture. His eyes were attentive and sharp—sharp was a good adjective for Harry Potter, Sam Winchester thought. Sharp and clear. Sharp and driven. Sharp and unrelenting. Or even just—sharp.

The younger Winchester did not feel sharp at all. He felt dull, and tired, and envied the Harry Potter in the photograph just a little.

Envy was a sin that Sam was familiar with, but that did not lessen the guilt he felt for feeling envy. He dwelled a little bit on it, but did not mope, he told himself, though he was definitely moping. Moping was easier than considering the actual problem in the photo, as Harry Potter’s expression in the photo had no bearing on anything whatsoever.

Harry Potter’s eyes were bright and green, and Sam Winchester, who had actively avoided Creative Writing classes while in college, would describe them as emeralds. He thought that something more poetic would do them justice. Perhaps Avada Kedavra green? But that comparison would make no sense to Sam Winchester.

Not now, anyway. Give it time.

Harry Potter’s eyes, as green and bright as they are, were startling in person, but appeared natural. Natural was good, for Winchesters. Supernatural was bad, and that meant that the Winchesters had to try to kill it. But Harry Potter seemed as human as they from the start.

The green irises were just as startling in the picture. It was the pupils that captured Sam Winchester’s attention now, and in the moments after the photo had been taken.

There was a green light in the pupils of Harry Potter.

When Sam Winchester tried to be rational—which was often. Some would say too often—he would say that Harry Potter was likely a shapeshifter. Or some sort of variant of shapeshifter, as they too, could be caught by the eyes on camera.

Unfortunately, Sam’s rationality was based and biased by a childhood with John Winchester. While Sam was aware of that, he was also arrogant enough to assume that his father no longer could affect him.

Sam Winchester was wrong, of course.

If he thought further on the subject even before Harry Potter had left, he would have realized that Harry Potter’s eyes were rather quite different from a regular shapeshifter. The green was a bit distinctive and his irises appeared completely normal, even in the camera, quite unlike a shapeshifter’s.

In the moments after the photo had been taken, Sam Winchester had seen the light in the photograph, and hid its existence. Whether or not he would have decided to tell anyone had become virtually moot when Harry Potter literally popped out of existence a few hours later.

Not quite moot. Sam Winchester could still tell.

He glanced at the boy who was asleep. Dean Winchester slept all across the bed and fully dressed; like a man who neither wanted bed company nor was used to it.

Sam Winchester slept contained to one side; like a man who missed sharing his bed.

Sam Winchester had yet to tell Dean Winchester of the information found in the photograph. He did not know if he should tell Dean Winchester at all. His older brother had not reacted well to Harry Potter’s vanishing act.

Sam Winchester believed that Dean Winchester would have reacted better if not for the presence of their father during the vanishing act.

An accurate assessment.

As it was, Dean Winchester had had a role to live up to with his father present, and had taken Harry Potter’s evidence of the supernatural as a personal offense.

That, too, made Sam feel tired.

Slipping his phone away, neither deciding to share the photo nor deleting it, he attempted to go to sleep, only to toss and turn for hours before finding sleep that only made him feel groggy and sleepless in the morning.

...

Months pass, and the boy known as Sam Winchester continued to hesitate over the photograph on his phone. In the end, he made no decision at all. Harry Potter was not there, and had proven that he could vanish into thin air—how do you hunt something like that? And despite his clear unnaturalness, Harry Potter had been nothing but helpful to the Winchesters.

So Sam Winchester had only let his father and brother talk, and made no mention of any other evidence. After their father died, they had to move their focus anyway.

Or rather, Dean’s focus had moved on to trying to cope with the death of their father. Harry Potter was present, distantly, in Sam’s thoughts, but trying to get Dean Winchester to discuss his feelings, tracking down the Yellow-Eyed Demon (Azazel, they had learned, it had a name, the thing that had killed their mother), and discovering other people who had powers like Sam, was a lot to handle at once. He didn’t need anything else added to his plate right now, so Harry Potter could wait.

Sam watched the small television in the motel room display shots of himself and Dean as wanted by the FBI, and wished that they had to deal with Harry Potter instead.

The face of Sam Winchester on a hunt flashes on the screen, and Sam considered his own appearance. He looked like a murderer, he thought, his body large and looming, his features hard-set and intense. Murderous. That person has killed, he thought, staring at his own face. That person is a murderer.

Dean was out getting food, so Sam whispered, “Look, Ma, I’m on TV,” which only made him feel worse about everything on every level. Never was he to be normal, now. Not with his face out there, wanted by the FBI. He could never go back to school. He and Dean would have to be more careful when hunting. Could they even pull off their normal hunts when their faces were public?

The knot of dread in his stomach, which had been there since the bank, only tightened. He felt bile rise and he swallowed it down. From his infancy, his father had taught him not to cry, and while he didn’t recall it directly, Sam Winchester subconsciously abided by that teaching.

When Dean returned, Sam brought up a newspaper article about two mysterious deaths in Providence, Rhode Island.

...

Dean Winchester was as much of an adult as he had been his entire life. Namely, he was a child with an adult’s responsibility, and had never had the opportunity to grow into adulthood. An adult’s responsibilities were instead thrusted upon him, and he had had no choice but to meet the demand, at cost of his own emotional health and development.

Needless to say, he was a mess.

Dean didn’t like self-reflection because he feared the answers, so he didn’t. He was honest about that much, and his refusal kept more honest truths at bay.

He did know: Harry Potter was a monster and Dean Winchester killed monsters.

(But Harry Potter had been nothing but a friend to him and he disappeared so Dean’ll get to it eventually, he swore, but in the meantime, Dean had more pressing concerns, so he could leave Harry Potter be, for the meantime. But, eventually. Eventually. Dean Winchester would kill Harry Potter if he had to, he would track him down and do it, but it had to wait until afterwards.)

Azazel needed to be tracked down and killed, that was first. He killed their mother, and destroyed their father.

And more important: his brother, Sammy. Sammy, who had visions. Sammy, who was a monster.

Sammy, who Dean had been told to kill by his father if necessary. If he went too far.

(Dean tried to imagine this, tried to imagine Sammy going too far. That he could see in his mind’s eye, Sammy becoming a monster, with empty black eyes. It made his gt wrench uncomfortably, but he could see that. But even when he imagined a Sammy with black, black eyes, staring at him with hatred, Dean just couldn’t—)

After an argument with Sammy for that very reason, Dean admitted to himself after six stiff drinks at the local bar, that he missed Harry. Harry could discuss emotions with Sam, so he didn’t have to with Dean. Without Harry, Sam had no one to talk to about emotions. He was left with Dean, who was shit at—everything. At emotions.

What he could think about, at length: being wanted by the FBI wouldn’t hinder them that much, not Dean. Dean was too pretty to be remembered.

He’d used his looks before and he’d do it again, Dean thought, staring at his drink, when another was plopped down in front of him. The bartender gestures to some hot chick to the left, who was eying him hopefully—a good distraction.

A good distraction indeed.

...

Nothing got better.

Sam died and Dean sold his soul to bring him back. It was as low as anyone could go, and against everything that Dean had ever been taught.

(But John Winchester did it, his father did it to save Dean’s life, Dean couldn’t understand it when John did it for Dean because it was John doing it for Dean, and that made no sense, who was worth that, but for Sammy, oh, there was nothing Dean wouldn’t do for Sammy—)

They followed Jake Talley all the way to the Devil’s Gate, and Dean thought that this was it, he sold his soul to bring his brother alive, and instead of a year for the rest of Sam’s life, he’d have a few more minutes with his brother’s identically short life-span.

(There was a moment of panic, of terror that he would spend the rest of eternity in Hell to eventually become a demon, the thing he hunted, and he would become one of them, he would become one of them, he would become one of them—)

Ellen was there, shooting like there was no tomorrow (there might not be, Dean did not think), and Bobby, swearing up a storm. Despite their best efforts, Jake survives to open the Gate, but Ellen shot him dead right after.

His death didn’t stop the demons poured out of Hell by the boatload.

And there was—there was the Yellow-Eyed Demon, there was Azazel, standing the graveyard, his plans come to fruition, with the colt, pointing it at Dean.

And—and one of the demons grab Azazel and holds him still. Dean seized the gun, seized the opportunity, and shot him into permanent death. The demon—no, not the demon, the spirit—fades slightly into a recognizable appearance, and Dean saw—Dad.

And then he faded away. Gone.

The outpouring of demons slowed and stopped. Bobby and Ellen must have succeeded in closing the Gate. Or, all of Hell had already emptied, and while Dean hadn’t been counting, he figured there would have been a lot more than that.

The graveyard was silent, suddenly without the joyous screams of demons escaping Hell, until a singular pop sounded across the stretch of field.

Dean couldn’t see from where he was, collapsed against a gravestone, but after a moment, he heard the distant English accent of, “Bloody hell, I get out of bed and I’ve already missed everything?”

 

Chapter Text

Harry reappeared in their lives just as instantly as he had literally vanished, and picked up exactly where he left off. The first thing Harry said directly from his mouth after so many months was, “What the fucking hell did you do, Winchester?!”

Dean was still slumped by a gravestone, and while he had heard Harry’s voice and knew he was there, he couldn’t have been bothered to get up. And, with whatever preternatural Winchester sense that Harry had had since he met Sam Winchester for the first time, Harry immediately honed in on Dean.

And, somehow, knew that Dean had sold his soul to demons the minute he’d looked at him. Or maybe even before—was that why he went straight for Dean rather than Sammy?

And now, Harry was yelling himself hoarse at Dean for being an idiot.

“What the hell were you thinking? You can’t—you don’t—you can’t just make a demon deal and expect anything to be okay!You idiot, I can’t believe you, I left you for just a few months and you sell your bloody soul to a fucking demon.”

The words were nothing he hadn’t heard before nor told himself constantly anyway. Instead, he watched as Ellen and Bobby come up behind Harry, guns raised, and—to Dean’s irritation—not only lowered their weapons but gained a vindicated expression as Harry went on. They didn’t even know Harry, and they were taking his side.

“Yeah, well,” Dean mumbled, while standing up despite the various bruises and lacerations he had from being a demon’s personal hacky sack for a while. “You’re missing a shoe.”

Harry looked down at his besocked but not beshoed appendage. “Oh. Well. I was sleeping and this whole thing caught me by surprise.”

Traitors, he thought, but even it sounded childish even to him. After all, Harry wasn’t wrong, and Ellen and Bobby knew it.

“Harry?” said Sammy, Sammy who was gloriously alive and well and Dean felt himself relax.

“Sam!” Harry called out, and then made a startled, “Oh!” when Sam pulled Harry in by the arm for a hug. Harry was awkward in the hug even from where Dean was still sitting.

With only the faint howling of demons stalking off into the distance as background noise, Dean jumped when suddenly,

Psycho Killer

Qu’est-ce que c’est

fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better

Run run run run run run run away

 

Why the fuck was Talking Heads playing?

Harry squirmed out of Sam’s grasp, flashed an apologetic smile, and answered his phone. “This is Potter. No, it’s fine. The situation has already been resolved. I’ll call later to tell you what happened, but right now I need to wrap things up—and take some other calls, shit, gotta go.” He must have hung up the call and immediately started speaking to whoever else was calling him. “Everything’s fine. The situation’s taken care of. No, no, it—no, I had nothing to do with it, really, I got here after shit hit the fan, but now I got damage control, I’ll fill you in later—yeah, sure. Love you, too.” He hung up, looked at his phone, sighed, and pocketed it.

Harry abandoned his pursuit in yelling at Dean, though he had given it a good go, and walked over to the giant door that was the Hell’s Gate. “And what is this?” he asked, to them or to the air, it was uncertain. “What happened here?” he asked, reaching up to touch the door. His hands felt the grooves, felt the cracks that were the result of millennia of holding the forces of Hell back.

Harry turned back to them, green eyes bright.

“I need you to tell me everything.”

...

Everything took time.

They found themselves back safely at Bobby’s. Harry, fascinated by everything that wasn’t even related to what he missed in the past few months, somehow managed to immediately locate the panic room, so most of the discussion took place there. Harry ran his hands on the salt that covered the walls, on the metal of the room, and Dean tried to remember if Harry had acted like this before. With a preternatural ability to find the supernatural.

Dean watched Harry moved about the room, following some signs that Dean couldn’t hope to ever see.

“So, now,” Harry mused after they were finished speaking of John Winchester’s demon deal and subsequent death, Sam’s discovery of the demon blood in his veins and others that were like him in their mutant-like abilities, Sam’s death and Dean’s own demon deal. “We need to find a way to get Dean out of the deal.”

Goddamit, no. “Who’s we?” Dean snapped. “Why are you even back? Last time I checked, we still don’t even know what you are.” Sam was frowning and on the verge of interrupting, but Harry beat him to it.

By rolling his eyes and saying, as if Dean’s misgivings were merely a nuisance, “I’m a wizard, Hell’s bells, don’t get your knickers in a twist.”

“You’re a witch?” Dean asked, alarmed. His hand twitched towards his gun, and Dean didn’t exactly abort the movement.

“No, a wizard. And not one of those you normally encounter either. You see,” Harry began, slipping into a more educational tone. “There are people, like me, who are born with magic. Then there are people who learn how to manipulate natural magicks. It is the latter that you would be more familiar with. We—my people—we have training and laws and our own resources to fall back on. The occultist practitioners you find have nothing but themselves to control them.”

“Occultist practitioners?” Bobby said, finally deigning to speak. He’d been suspicious and watchful, particularly when it was obvious that whoever or whatever this Harry guy was, Sam was fond of him.

Harry just shrugged. “It’s what they are. We used to call ourselves witches, wizards, warlocks and call those who manipulated external energies sorcerers and sorceresses; but then all of those terms became interchangeable. We needed something a bit more self-explanatory.”

Dean wasn’t going to let up, not yet. He needed to know what Harry was doing here. Why had he come back? Why had he left? Why did he join them in the first place? “So, what, you decided to hang around with us before Dad managed to scare you off? What’s your game?”

“My game?” Harry repeated. “You think this is a game, Winchester? Demons run amok in the world, and the epicenter is right here. The wizarding community has tracked the numbers for years. We don’t know why now, why here, or just why. There is no American Wizarding government, not like Britain or most of the world, just a few communities to outsource the issues and some low-grade schools, nothing with the ability to manage it.” As he spoke, his green eyes bore into Dean’s. Dean looked away, gritting his teeth. There was something unsettling about the stillness that settled over Harry. “And so here I am, a one-wizard army, to get to the bottom of why there are so many demons popping up.

“In my search, I found you lot, who were being tracked by demons. Now we know why, and in all honesty, this whole thing has caused a lot more demons to be released upon the earth—which I now have several meetings I have to attend to help deal with it, so thanks for that. So, Dean, to answer your question—I am here to help.”

Harry sighed, again, and rubbed his face. It was no longer unsettling to look at him, so Dean did. Now, he looked like just as any other human. “There’s more to it than that,” he continued wearily. “There are politics involved. I’m only investigating this unofficially. I wasn’t kidding when I said I was a fugitive, but I’ve still connections and people to keep updated. I need to be here to help deal with this, and since you two have been targeted,” Harry glanced at Sam, who was attentive to every word that Harry said, “it isn’t likely to let up. I was, actually, the wizarding equivalent of a police officer for a while,” pre-emptively cutting off Dean’s protests. “You were targeted, you survived through it, they’ll come after you for revenge, if they don’t consider Dean’s deal revenge enough. They might. They might not. Or it might be some over-complicated scheme for some over-complicated goal that’ll just piss all of us off. I’m going to be here regardless, and while I’m here, I’ll see if demon deals can be broken.”

Ellen broke in with, “Wizarding government?”

Bobby added, “’Wizarding equivalent of a police officer’?”

Harry opened his mouth, and wasn’t able to rest for quite some time.

...

Harry had had a shit past few months if he was going to be honest, which he wasn’t going to be, not with the Winchesters, not on this subject. After his stellar success with that one demon in the suit, Harry’s search came to a grinding halt. Though he knew a name and the goal, he still had no clue as to the method that was going to be used, and no one else seemed to know either. Demons still ran amok, and while they spoke of Hell on Earth, they didn’t know the how, only soon and that Azazel was leading the movement. Which was great, but Harry couldn’t find the fucker.

The fruitlessness of his searches had been frustrating, but that—that Harry could have dealt with fine. It wouldn’t have been promising, because every time he checked in with Zabini and Wallace about his progress left them all a bit more impatient and worried. Zabini began hinting towards getting him some assistance, which likely would have been either Zabini himself—who might have liked to spend some time with Harry and Harry would like to spend some time with Zabini, but everyone would notice Zabini’s absence and could Hermione really do without him right now?—or Neville, who would be understanding and well-meaning but was still a talker. They didn’t know where Luna was at the moment or for the past few months, otherwise Harry would have told them to just send her along, and together, they would wreck destruction upon the demon population of America and single-handedly circumvent the grand plan.

“The fact that’s probably what would happen makes me disappointed that Lovegood isn’t here,” Zabini had confessed.

“She may always turn up on her own,” Harry had responded with optimism.

Luna never turned up, which was a shame, because Gabriel did instead, and Harry really would have preferred Luna, especially after the fact. Instead, while Harry was careening down a highway at the speed of way too fast, for anyone but especially on a motorcycle, Gabriel popped into existence. Although he didn’t really pop, like a wizard would when Apparating, as there was no sound or even a feeling of displaced air. Gabriel wasn’t there, and then he was, arms around Harry like he had been there every since Harry left Minnesota.

Harry swerved and thankfully, he was the only one of the road, otherwise it would have been nasty. Harry pulled over and hit the brakes, but before he even could, Gabriel was pulling on his arm and saying, “So, Master of Death, what can you do, can you summon souls? Or resurrect people? ‘Cause if you can’t, that’s gotta be one useless title.”

Harry exhaled a shaky breath, and stopped completely. Gabriel sounded... off. Tense. Harry slipped off his bike and faced Gabriel and said the most eloquent thing he could think of, “What?”

Gabriel had a full-body spasm. Wait—angel. How did angels get bodies? Were they born? Or—or what? Did they possess people? Who was this body? Harry filed that thought away for later, as Gabriel, with what he probably thought of as great restraint, repeated, “What powers do you have as the Master of Death?”

“And why are you asking?” Harry drawled. No, he was not mistaken, something was terribly wrong with Gabriel. Both he and Loki, who Harry noted was missing from this delightful exchange, had had fun dropping in on Harry for various reasons: a flirt, point him in the direction of the suspect, point him in the wrong direction, ask him bullshit questions about being the Master of Death to which Harry gave bullshit answers... but never had Gabriel had any emotion that seemed as real as what he was displaying now.

Harry cocked his head. Gabriel’s hands were burnt, in odd patterns. Could angels burn?

Gabriel clenched his jaw but spoke calmly. “Loki has fallen into the Void.”

Harry nodded like he knew what that was. “Oh, no. What do we do?”

Gabriel leaned back onto Harry’s bike. “I can’t feel his soul anymore. Even in any of the nine realms and Heaven, I could always find him, and... now I can’t.”

Shit. Harry had liked the guy, too. “Okay. What do you expect me to do?”

“I don’t know,” Gabriel snapped, patience waning. “Does your Master of Death title actually mean anything?”

“Well, is he dead?” Not that it would mean anything to Harry either way, since so far all he knew is that he survived being shot and having his heart stop and that could probably be attributed to his singular position as the Master of Death. However, if Gabriel, an Archangel of the Lord and faux Trickster believed that he had powers that could bend the laws of life and death, well, others also had to believe that. In that case, Harry wasn’t exactly going to confess that he had no idea what he was doing to just anyone.

“I don’t know,” Gabriel snarled. “Should’t you know that? Can you find him? Find him, and point me there. I’ll do the rest.”

Harry shrugged. If an archangel thought that he ought to be able to do some soul-finding, who was he to argue? He could always plead that it was just impossible to find him if nothing else. “Sure, I’ll do my best.”

...

Harry didn’t know what he would need, but he did grill Gabriel on some details on what happened to Loki. “So. Void. How did that happen?”

Gabriel glared at Harry, but relented. “There were some issues with inheritance of the throne in Asgard,” which Harry did know was the realm of the Aesir, and was part of Norse mythology, or rather Norse history, considering Loki and Asgard both existed and were not actually fictional. “It was messy, so far as I know. Thor and Loki were fighting on the Bifröst, and sometime during the fight Loki fell.”

Not very helpful. Harry still didn’t know the first thing about approaching this.

Think. He wasn’t sure he would take Gabriel on in a fight, which would happen, if he thought Harry was fucking with him. Problem: Loki was missing. What did he normally do for something lost? Harry would scry for them, normally, but would that work to peer into the Void?

Gaze long into the abyss, crossed Harry’s thoughts idly, but he put it aside. He didn’t even know if it would work.

Harry thought of a wide, glass bowl, and pure water, thought of an imperfection of the rim and the purifying feel of water over his hand and in front of him was a glass bowl and from his hand ran cool, pure, water.

Gabriel, still and silent, sat on his bike, his legs up on nothing.

Bowl filled, Harry knelt and traced his fingers over the rim of the bowl. Technically, scrying could be done with nothing but a puddle, but Harry had always preferred glass and clean water to work with.

His fingers skimmed over the surface of the water, and he emptied his mind of nothing but Loki. His green eyes, his smirk, the line of his nose, the angle of his eyebrows. The length of his back, the shape of his lips. The smell of leather and frost and absinthe.

By the time the ripples had vanished, Harry had nothing. No Loki, no abyss.

Harry frowned. Another approach.

What else could he do? Scrying was based on imagining to the finest detail what you wanted to see. Perhaps—perhaps. Harry almost turned to look at Gabriel, but aborted the movement. In the end, he might have jerked in an odd fashion, but Gabriel was too invested in Harry’s success and no comment came from him.

Gabriel’s physical form may or may not accurately represent what he looked like. Harry was willing to bet it didn’t. It certainly wouldn’t for many magical creatures—demons were only twisted souls, after all, possessing humans.

While Loki was a Norse God and maybe not be possessing anyone, he was known in the stories as a shapeshifter. What if that was enough to disrupt a scrying? Maybe what he toted around as his face wasn’t what he usually did, or thought of himself as appearing. Would a shapeshifter’s shifting affect a scrying?

New approach. Harry quieted his mind to nothing but Loki. A radio, tuning into a particular frequency. Open, but specific. This time he did not imagine Loki’s physical appearance, but how his magic had felt and tasted. A mixture of contradictions: cold and hot. The feel of frost but smell of smoke. A wild magic that licked at the edges of of a tight control. Harry thought of the inferno and storm that was Loki until he could feel it, feel it like it was next to him, and so it was. 

LOKI!

Harry startled and fell into the dirt, and Gabriel was across the bowl. A transparent Loki was crouched next to Harry, expression as surprised as Harry felt.

“Gabriel?” Loki asked. “Harry?”

“Loki, where are you?” Gabriel demanded, reaching out. “Tell me where you are, and I will come and bring you back.”

Loki made a choking, strangled noise. “How...?”

Harry raised his hand. “Me. I did it.” Sitting up, he noticed that the water in the bowl was black. The Void?

“We’re bringing you back,” Gabriel said, suddenly really into the whole ‘we’ thing. Harry scowled at him. Loki, surprisingly, seemed even less pleased than Harry.

“You must stop,” Loki told them desperately. “Release this spell, send me away, or else he might see you.”

“Who?” Harry asked, staring at the black water. Gaze long into the abyss, he thought, and the abyss also gazes into you. But the abyss can’t see, can it? And it’s not a ‘he,’ in any case.

“Thanos,” Loki hissed, as though it caused him pain. At least they weren’t pulling any of the You-Know-Who bullshit, because Harry had had enough of that to last him a lifetime. “They call him the Champion of Death, he leaves the destruction of entire planets in his wake.” With growing desperation, Loki urged them, “Harry, break the spell, before he sees you and this planet, please—”

Too late, Harry thought but not, a chill traveling through his spine from the slick invasion of his mind. Gabriel twitched and his eyes began to glow white, so Harry supposed that he too heard the thought from—was it Thanos? What could invade the mind of an archangel without notice and scare a Norse God?

Loki began to scream. Gabriel and Harry leapt to their feet, upending the bowl and the black water which was normal by the time it hit the ground, but Loki was still screaming an endless, miserable screech. Loki’s presence, his inferno and storm, had been constant the entire time he had been there, and Harry could feel it being wrenched away from him to the other side. To Thanos.

Harry clung to Loki’s—to his—to his soul?—to Loki tighter and tighter, until he felt himself ache but not in his body, until he himself was screaming and screaming and Gabriel was nothing but a white light next to him, nothing but cold power trying to tether Harry to the world, but Harry was losing Loki, Loki was slipping in his grasp because whatever was on the other side was too strong, too powerful, and Harry didn’t even know what he was doing

—gone.

Harry fell.

Loki was gone. Gabriel was flesh and bone once again, but now that he had seen it so clearly, the white light appeared around him like a mist, and the wings he had always seen were no longer the faint shadows they were before, but large appendages made of light and razor sharpness and cold.

Gabriel shook his shoulder and when Harry didn’t get up, pulled him to a sitting position. The bowl was pressed into his hands and fresh water was poured into it. “Again,” Gabriel ordered. “We’ll bring him back this time.” When Harry didn’t respond, but stared at Gabriel and the white mist that was crushed into his human form and the wings that stuck out from his what must have been his back, Gabriel slapped him.

Harry grasped the bowl, and quieted his mind to nothing but Loki, but Loki was gone. There was no frequency, no inferno and storm, nothing. The water remained clear.

“Again,” Gabriel ordered. Harry swallowed and told him that he couldn’t.

Gabriel screamed and Harry could hear the sounds from the human’s throat and a terrible, terrible sound that came from the white light—

When Harry got up, Gabriel was gone.

The abyss also gazes into you, Harry thought. What have we done?

...

The Winchesters didn’t need to know any of this.

Harry had picked himself up, and despite his best efforts at summoning, had been unable to contact Gabriel. He wasn’t very surprised, of course; he had let Loki go to an almost certainly terrible fate. Harry tried to find information on Thanos, the Champion of Death, but unsurprisingly found nothing on a creature that existed in the Void. Or on the other side of the Void? Which was it?

A creature that had ripped a soul from his own grasp...

Despite the lack of physical sensation, Harry could still feel Loki’s soul being ripped from his (metaphorical) hands. He clenched his fists to rid himself of the sensation, and he told himself that it helped.

What did help was deciding that Dean Winchester would not go to Hell; what helped was searching through Bobby’s old tomes and seeking any hint of a way to get him out of the deal; what helped was seeing Sam’s relieved face that Harry was there to help.

So help he would.

Harry’s favorite place in Bobby’s house was a toss-up between the panic room and the library. Most of the entire house was wall-to-wall bookshelves, but the library had piles of books and plush chairs with distinct body indentations. Harry could see where Bobby preferred to research, as well as Sam and Dean in the negative spaces. Water stains on the table from a cold glass; an almost empty bottle of whiskey; there was a chunk of the armchair missing from the left, like it had been gouged. There was a long, hard history in this room.

The panic room was just really cool. Harry liked the idea, too; ought to mention it to Hermione.

Ghosting his fingers across the salted iron walls of the panic room, he wondered at the limits of what it could keep out. He knew salt went a long way for most magical creatures—there was a reason why lines of salt had been incorporated into every important government and mass transit center in Britain, after all, settled as permanently as possible under the entire foundation of the buildings. It changed the very air, which had been very noticeable to Harry while he had been traveling via aeroplane. The ambient magic had been muted, which had been—peaceful. Disturbing, but peaceful.

The effect was so much stronger here.

Walking into the panic room felt like stepping from a rainforest to an arid desert. Gone were the natural currents of magic, the aura radiating from magical objects, and the distant connectedness Harry had constantly with the world, and instead there was a quiet that Harry felt in his soul. Alone, but not lonely.

He flopped back into the kit in the centre of the room. He had closed and locked the door, in order to maintain the privacy he desired. He closed his eyes and just breathed.

Peace never lasted, for along came the most hideous thudding noise against the door.

“Harry!” Dean called out. “Harry, we need your help! We’re surrounded!”

Harry was on his feet by ‘help’ and opening the door before Dean finished ‘surrounded.’ “Tell me,” Harry ordered and he slipped past Dean and started up the stairs.

“It’s the Seven Deadly Sins,” Dean said from behind him. “We released the Seven Deadly Sins out from Hell. Fucking shit...”

Bobby, Sam, and a black woman that Harry hadn’t yet met were preparing the house with salt lines, devil’s traps, and weapons. “The Seven Deadly Sins—what are they? Demons? Or something else?” Harry asked Dean.

Dean’s eyebrows raised. “Demons,” he said slowly. “Why?”

“I have an idea,” Harry told him, and crossed the room to the door to exit the house.

“Harry! Harry!” That was both Dean and Sam, but Harry waved a hand to push and lock the door of the house closed, and their calls became bearably muffled. Convenient, and if this didn’t work, Harry didn’t want bystanders in the crossfire.

The first demon that showed came from the front, and was wearing the body of a black man, using the man’s voice to call for a woman named Tamara. Harry was an unexpected obstacle for the demon, but the demon didn’t view it that way. It saw Harry, and dropped the facade of being the man it was wearing as an unwanted burden.

The demon drew closer and spoke, but Harry found the aura surrounding it too curious. He had generally been able to feel the power of a demon when nearby, like he felt a werewolf and other wizards and witches, but he had needed proximity and focus to do so, and never had there been anything visible. Their eyes blackened while using their power, and they themselves were visible while outside of a body as a black cloud, but their presence inside a host had never been visible before.

It was unlike Gabriel. There was no light, but black, light-sucking shapes sticking out of the host’s body, like an ill-fitting costume. Power radiated from the demon in waves, but it was not part of the demon as Gabriel’s power had been. A difference between demons and angels, or was this demon not high enough on the hierarchy of demonic power?

How high were the Seven Deadly Sins on the demonic hierarchy anyway? 

Well, regardless. This would either work or it wouldn’t, and then it would be a free-for-all. Or, really, it would be Harry Hunting all over again, but with higher stakes and more magic.

The demon approached and taunted Harry, but Harry had reached out for the demon’s—the demon’s soul? The demon in essence—the demon and began to tighten his grip.

The demon stopped in its tracks. When Harry tightened his grasp, and the demon began to scream in fury. Interesting—connecting on this level increased his awareness around him for feeling other souls. The other demons, the Sins, were approaching them from all around the house.

They were still a good distance away.

The demon screamed with the man’s voice, and the Harry pulled the demon out to his hand. The man fell, already dead. The dark cloud of the demon writhed against his palm, but Harry held it tight and compressed into a small, swirling, black ball.

He didn’t know what else to do with it, and the others were almost upon him, so he would deal with it later. There six more, and Harry didn’t have the time to do them one at a time, so he would have to immediately graduate to doing multiple at once.

It almost didn’t work. He slipped up and one of the demons almost got to him, but he threw a stun spell at him to buy himself some time.

Soon, he was surrounded by fallen bodies, some of them still alive, but most of those only barely, and a handful of demon souls sticking to the skin of his left hand and wrist. Like terrible, black boils that were very distinctly not anything made of flesh or infection. The flaw in his brilliant plan was the aftermath, for what was he to do with the demons now?

He needed to prioritize; the people who had just been possessed by the demons might have sustained wounds while being used. Harry released his hold on Bobby Singer’s house, and instantly, there was a loud, crashing noise, as the door was forcefully slammed open.

 “HARRY!” Sam yelled, the pounding beats of he and his brother running to the scene. “WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?”

It took Harry a few seconds longer than it should have to realize that he was expected to reply in a verbal manner. When he did, the words felt forced through his throat and heavy in his mouth, even though it was only, “I had an idea.”

“You said that before,” Dean said, standing in front of Harry. “Are all of your ideas like this?”

“The Magic 8 Ball points to Yes,” Harry answered, aiming for humour and hitting the notch above monotonous. Dean glanced at him with concern but quickly looked away, to a couple of the humans who were beginning to struggle up. “They’re all demon-free, now?”

To avoid speaking, Harry nodded. Dean signaled something to Sam, and they began to search amongst the humans for injuries. The dead host of the first demon was studiously ignored by both of the Winchesters, but the others were inspected for injury. Two who were in relatively decent shape were told to walk to the house and settle down, help themselves to water or food, whatever they needed. The ones who were not were carried inside. Those who died too quickly after the demons left their body for them to help were left there for the time being; they would care for the living first.

Harry watched the Winchesters work, detached.

When they were done, Sam met his eyes and seemed about to speak, but Dean touched his arm and shook his head.

Harry considered the demons’ souls on his arm. Despite the urgency of the matter, Harry could not determine how to deal with them. He needed—he closed his eyes. He couldn’t release them; they’d just find new hosts. He couldn’t keep them on his arm for the rest of eternity.

Sending them to Hell was his only option, but how does he get them from his arm to Hell? Would an exorcism work?

“Sam,” he called out, hoarsely. He swallowed. “Sam,” he repeated. The younger Winchester, near Bobby’s house with his brother, approached.

“Yeah, Harry?” Sam asked, with a forced smile.

“Can you recite an exorcism?” Harry asked, unintentionally jerking his left arm to display the demons, as if it needed explaining.

“Yeah, sure,” Sam replied, and began to repeat the Latin from memory. The demons’ souls began to pull away from his arm; Harry let them go, and watched them vanish into the ground. To Hell.

“Great,” Harry said. “Good job, team.”

Sam let out a laugh that ended quickly, and there was a silence between them that strained the very air. Harry said, “I’ll join you later.”

Sam nodded and left too quickly.

And Harry was left alone amongst the bodies, desperately trying to claw out of the coldness that had sunk into his soul.

Chapter Text

Only two of the demons’ hosts survived.

Four were already dead before they hit the ground due to the injuries sustained as the demons’ meatsuits, and the last didn’t make it to the hospital.

Harry barricaded himself in the guest room that he was calling his own for the time being. When he had summoned Loki’s soul and had then failed to save him, he remembered seeing the conflict and contradictions that made up Loki, just as he remembered the cold whiteness of Gabriel and the six protrusions that could easily be called wings.

That had faded. This wasn’t fading.

Looking at any one of the people downstairs had been like looking directly into headlights, blinding and piercing his brain like a knife. It obscured the rest of his vision, and he blocked the features of the actual people.

And it wasn’t going away.

Sam and Dean had left him outside after Sam exorcised the demons, given him space, and Harry had re-entered the house after one of them had left to take on of the hosts to the hospital only to returned shortly thereafter with a corpse. He thinks it might have been Dean who had tried; Dean seemed to be the brightest of them all, though Sam was not far behind.

He thought he could see Bobby in the living room when he finally sped back in, burning low but constant. A respite from the piercing beacons that were the Winchesters, but it wasn’t enough. Harry fled upstairs; he thinks he knows exactly how far Dean gets and when the former host’s soul slips away as he would be aware of the position of his feet on the ground. He should have offered to heal the host. He didn’t know if he could have managed anything remotely resembling a healing spell right now. He doubted he could have. Doing magic when he clearly could not get a grip on it was inadvisable on all accounts.

It didn’t help.

He could still feel them, downstairs. Dean—that must be Dean, who drove the Impala halfway to the hospital and back—was walking into the house, not as bright as he had been immediately following their success. The death dimmed him. Sam must be the one who was clear and focused and bright—brighter than Dean now. Standing in front of the surviving hosts, trying to make their souls brighter. It wasn’t working—the two surviving hosts were dimmed and dulled by what they went through. They were still, too, not reacting to whatever Sam was telling them.

Dean was approaching his door, and Harry was unsurprised when he knocked.

“Harry?” Dean called through the wood. “You alright in there?”

“Yeah.” Harry didn’t feel alright at all. “Just need a bit of space right now.”

“Sure, man. Let me know if you need anything,” Dean said with the patience and non-judgmental casualness that came with the experience of raising a younger brother.

Harry crawled into bed and didn’t respond. There was a door between them, and Harry had his eyes closed, but he could still see the brightness that was Dean Winchester, despite the recent deaths weighing on him. Harry pulled the covers over his head, which blocked out exactly nothing.

Eventually, he fell into a fitful sleep.

...

Lilith said, “Sic him, boys,” and the hounds were on him.

He couldn’t see, but he felt the suffocating weight of them on his chest and when the claws slashed down his side, he screamed and tried to turn over to protect his stomach. He closed his eyes, too. It wouldn’t help, none of it, and one of the hellhounds bit into his arm and tore away flesh and oh god oh god oh god oh god—

--would it be like this in hell i am not ready i am not ready i am not ready oh god please let it end

He could hear Sammy screaming and screaming and then he wasn’t and Dean couldn’t even open his eyes to see his little brother his Sammy—

sammy having a nightmare and wants dean to sing to him focus dean focus on that think of sammy sammy is alive your sammy

Sulfur was on the breath of the hellhounds and Dean felt like that all there was to breathe. He was choking on it.

please let me die let me die letmedieletmedieohgodohgodohsammyohsammysammyiamsosorrysammyletmediesammyletmedieletmegoletmedie—

...

Harry didn’t wake up until after he felt Dean die.

...

It was the middle of the night but Harry relocated to Bobby’s library and continued to research ways to break Dean’s demon deal.

His hands shook in the aftermath of his dream, and after an hour of trying that felt like several, Harry took out his cell phone and dialed a familiar number. 

“What’s wrong?” Hermione greeted.

“Is there anyway to get out of a demon deal?” Harry asked hopelessly.

“Is this about that hunter?” Hermione queried. She’d been interested in the terms and conditions of Dean’s deal, as demon deals typically had a standard of ten years not just one. The fact that Dean only got one year in exchange for his brother’s life was atypical for demons, and anything atypical of demons demanded attention. It was possible, of course, that the demons wanted to punish the Winchesters for all of the trouble they had caused; Harry smelled something fishy though. Considering the attention the demons had been paying to Sam, the identical supernatural deaths suffered by his mother and girlfriend, Harry didn’t think it could be passed by as a coincidence.

Especially since it gave them so little time to find a solution.

“It is.”

“I’ve been poking around,” Hermione said thoughtfully. “There have been many people throughout the centuries that turned to the magical community when trying to get out of a demon deal.”

Hermione didn’t continue. Harry prompted, “Any luck?”

“No,” she said regretfully.

Harry sighed, massaging his temple. “Gotcha.” He paused. Got up to peek out the door, and close it firmly behind him once he saw that no one was there. “Dean Winchester is going to die,” tasting the words. They felt final and heavy.

“It’s not like you to give up so fast, Harry,” Hermione said, asking without asking.

“I dreamt it. His death,” Harry confessed. “We need to stop it.” Harry knew this was true. Harry squeezed his eyes shut; he had never had any skill with divination and he didn’t want to start now. “We must stop it.”

“Oh, Harry...” Hermione said from the either side of the world. Harry had never felt further from her. He closed his eyes and tried to replace thoughts of death and pain with Hermione’s face. Her beautiful brown skin and eyes and her wild, untamable hair. He could see the frown and furrowed brow she would have now. “I’ll do some more research, and I’ll let you know if I find anything.”

Harry swallowed. “Okay. How are things there?”

Hermione huffed. “They’re going. Madison’s been a godsend, actually, thank you so much for sending her our way. She’s gotten interns and volunteers to work on that online archive and database, and we’ve gotten the beta version hooked up in the Ministry, and I’ve heard that some clever students at Hogwarts got it up there too.” Hermione’s voice grew warm with amusement and pride by the end. It loosened the tenseness in his chest. “They have WiFi at Hogwarts now.”

“Just think about how much easier our schooling would have been if we had had wifi,” Harry mused.

“Not to mention all of our extracurricular activities.”

Harry smiled wryly, but didn’t dwell on it that much. They hadn’t had it or other technology at the time. That was it.

“Some of the parents are really quite enraged,” Hermione continued. “They don’t like that we’re incorporating muggle technology in their children’s education. Their tagline has become ‘Are We Wizards Or Not?’ and they feature these real gross comparison of what wizards and witches are supposed to be, while putting down anyone who does things the muggle way. It’s infuriating, but they’re really quite a small group. Just annoying.”

“I’d keep an eye on them,” Harry murmured, distracted.

Relieving an old memory.

ARE YOU A WITCH OR NOT!

“Oh, we will.” A pause. “Someone tried to kill Kingsley.”

What?

“He’s fine. Parvati and Lavender were working as his press managers when it happened, so they took care of the problem. They’ve been asking about you too, by the way. I gave them your number.”

Harry groaned. “Seriously, no one understands this whole being a fugitive thing but me. You lot aren’t supposed to have my number, and certainly not call me on it for a chat. Because I’m a fugitive.”

“Harry,” Hermione said in that tone she had often used in the past, when Harry could see everything but the obvious and Hermione had no idea how he survived as long as he had. “You led a war. The people you led are standing by you even after you got run out of the country. This is a good thing.”

The house creaked above him and startled Harry from his conversation. The house was old—it creaked pretty much all of the time. Harry used that newfound sense, like a butterfly flying for the first time, and found it to be Dean, who was up, who was walking along the floor and down the stairs, a creak for every step he took. “Hang on a sec, Hermione.”

Dean stopped by the door and opened. He blinked at the light. Harry blinked too, at the brightness of Dean’s soul. But he had centered his gaze at Dean’s face and the result was an odd sort of double vision. He could see Dean’s face and his soul overlapping each other. “Hey, man. What are you doing up?”

“Right back at you. It’s been a tiring past few days. You should sleep.”

“So should you.” Not likely, if it meant feeling and thinking Dean’s last thoughts as he died. Harry was trying not to think about it while he was speaking to Dean. “You ever gonna spill about what you did? You’ve never done that before.”

Harry shrugged. “It’s complicated. I couldn’t do it before. Otherwise, I would have. It would have saved us and other people a lot of grief.”

“No kidding.” Dean looked down, and saw his phone. “Oh, sorry, am I interrupting?”

“Just a friend. We were almost done, anyway.” The exchange was light, even though he was thinking of Dean’s thoughts as he died. Or would die. Might die.

“Well, let me keep you for one second more, since it’s convenient you’re up; I’m going to go visit an old friend for a bit. I just called her and we talked and I got an invite. Let Sam and Bobby know?”

“Sure,” Harry agreed. “Who’s the friend?”

“Her name’s Cassie, Sam will remember her. Thanks, man, I appreciate it.”

“No problem. Have a safe trip,” Harry said, as Dean smiled and assured him he would, before turn away and closing the door. Harry closed his eyes, lifted his phone up, said, “I need to go,” and they hung up. He followed the light that was Dean to the Impala and to the street and off on the freeway in the middle of South Dakota. Dean grew fainter and further as the clock ticked on in the library, and joined in the masses of other lights.

Harry released a breath and tried to shake away the lingering awareness of Dean’s soul. He would have to explore this, but later. Now, he wanted to try something.

He closed his eyes and like with Loki, he focused. He tuned himself in to just one frequency and silenced the world to all but it. He finally lost track of Dean, and even Sam and Bobby upstairs he couldn’t feel. Nothing existed but Harry Potter and what he was about to do.

“Hey, mate,” came Ron Weasley’s soft voice and Harry opened his eyes.

Ron Weasley looked much the same as he had when Harry had last seen him, if a little translucent. Nineteen and smiling, still not quite grown into his long and ungainly limbs. Still fresh-faced and much too young.

As he would always be, now.

“Oh, Harry,” he heard Ron say but he couldn’t look at him, not with the tears coming uncontrollably. Harry began to gasp, tried to get it together, but seeing his dead best mate’s face after so many years only brought a fresh wave of grief and tears.

He felt a cold touch on his shoulder and—grief that wasn’t his own, and understanding, and longing. Harry placed his own hand on top of Ron’s; it wasn’t flesh but it was there. It brought bone-aching coldness to his hand but it was there.

For the first time since Ron had died many years ago, Ron was there.

...

It had been a fucking car crash.

They survived the war and tracking down Death Eaters, and it had been a fucking car that killed Ron.

...

“You alright, mate?” Ron asked, his voice soft and beautiful and just how Harry remembered it.

“No,” Harry said. “But I will be.”

Ron smiled sadly. “Being dead isn’t so bad. It’s very peaceful.”

“No heaven or hell or all that rot?” Harry asked.

Ron’s silvery and translucent eyebrows raised. “No? I mean, I don’t think it’s heaven.” He frowned. “It doesn’t sound right. And I have definitely never seen an angel.”

“Shame. With all of the demons running around, we could use an angel or two,” Harry said, feeling like he was doing a bang up job pretending his heart was breaking during every word. His throat was tight and sore and his eyes burning, but at least he could speak.

“Hey,” Ron said softly, though with a grin. “You never know. Angels might have been the worst of them all.”

Harry smiled. It was almost painful, to hear a joke from Ron again. “Thank God for small favors.”

They quieted. Harry swallowed, and said, “Can you... keep up, with the living, where you are?”

Ron frowned. “Sort of,” he said slowly. “I mean, I know what’s been happening, but I couldn’t tell how.”

“How do you mean?”

“Like... I know what you’ve been up to, I know how we got to this point, but it’s not like I remember thinking, ‘Gee, you know what would be fun now that I’m dead? Haunting Harry!’ Actually, now that I think of it, I know what Hermione’s been up to, too. Huh. She’s become quite a beast, hasn’t she?”

“That’s... fascinating. We should talk about that more, but not right now.” Harry felt exhausted now. “I’ve... I’ve missed you so much.”

“Yeah, I am pretty awesome, aren’t I?” Grinning, at his own joke. God, it might as well been he never died.

Oh, how Harry wished he hadn’t. But this... this was the best thing that had happened to him since he got his Hogwarts letter.

Chapter Text

Keeping Ron present and visible for several hours exhausted Harry to the point of a migraine. On the plus side, he felt tired enough to go back to bed.

That was a mistake.

He woke up only after he had felt Dean die.

...

When Sam and Bobby rose for breakfast, Harry was much more relaxed though he hadn’t slept since relocating to the library. He could still see a certain brightness around them both, but like double-vision, Harry was beginning to visually separate the auras from the physical features. It didn’t make his head feel any better, though.

“Where’s Dean?” Sam asked, when the smell of bacon permeated the house and Sam had noticed that Dean hadn’t yet made an appearance.

“He left in the middle of the night to visit a friend,” Harry answered at the stove. “He said her name was Cassie and that you would recognize the name.”

“Really?” Sam startled, but broke out in a grin. “That’s great!”

“Is it?” Harry asked. “He didn’t explain who she is.”

“Oh, Cassie was an ex-girlfriend. He’ll deny it if you ask him, but he was in love with her.”

“What?” Bobby asked, looking up from where he was taking notes on his newspaper. “I never heard of this.”

“He was,” Sam confirmed, with all of the smugness of a younger brother. “He told her about the job and everything. They reconnected when we helped her deal with a haunting in her hometown a couple of years ago.” Sam grinned. “I’m glad he’s going back to her. He deserves that.”

“And,” Harry drawled. “It gives us a good chance to work on breaking his deal without him having to leave hearing range.”

“Yeah,” Sam said. “We’ve still got a stack of books to look through.”

“I’d like to get to those books my friends have,” Harry said. “But I need to wait for her to get back to me. Bobby, do you know anyone who might have any resources worth taking a look at?”

“Not that I can think of off the top of my head. There’s plenty of hunters who are good at their jobs and knowledgeable, but actual research is a bit scarce.”

“Guess we’ll have to stick to your books then.”

...

They did not stick to the books. Sam received a call.

“Hello?” Sam answered. “No, he can’t come to the phone. Who is this? ...Uh-huh. Yeah, what’s the address? John Winchester’s passed away, but I can come and take a look at his storage.”

Sam scribbled down an address, thanked the caller, and hung up the phone. “So it turns out my dad had an entire storage unit he never told me and Dean about, and something was stolen from it.”

“Did he have storage units he did tell you about?” Harry asked.

Sam blinked. “No.”

“Then where else would he keep all of the cursed objects and other shit he found while hunting?”

Sam nodded. “Well, I have the address, I can go check it out, see if maybe Dad stored anything that might be useful to us in our search.”

“Oh, no,” Harry said, happily smacking down his book and standing up. “No, absolutely not. You will not go off to a storage unit filled with unknown objects that could be cursed and hexed placed there by a notorious hunter over a couple decades. I’ll go.”

“It’s my dad’s stuff!” Sam protested.

“And will that protect you from a curse that turns you inside out to die a agonizing death? Oh, wow, I don’t think I’ve ever had the bitch face directed at me like that.”

Bobby cleared his throat. “Boy’s got a point, Sam. And honestly, I like the idea of him going to check it out. Your daddy found a lot of unusual items, that someone with a bit more knowledge of magic than you would be better off handling.”

“See? Bobby agrees with me.”

Sam threw his hands up. “Fine! I’ll stay here and sort through these books.”

...

“This is terrifying and awesome,” Harry said as he examined a cursed necklace that would, as far as he could tell, would compel the wearer to ride on a horse backwards. He wasn’t sure what that would accomplish, but there had had to be a reason.

Most of the other items seemed more nefarious in nature (there was a chair that had some blood on it and gave off such a smell that Harry didn’t even want to touch it), but the item that had been stolen—the item Sam was called about—had just been a little box. A little box with something inside that they had no idea what it could be because John Winchester did many things while alive, but keeping an inventory was not one of them.

But the people who broke in were caught on camera, so finding them were pretty simple, with a little scrying.

With his invisibility cloak, it was easy to hide in their rooms. Their faces were difficult to see, beneath a film of color they each had, but at least it wasn’t as bright as the Winchesters or Bobby.

And then there was… a rabbit’s paw. With very powerful magic at that. Harry could smell the air as if he were flying… and Zabini’s conditioner. Hmm…

Harry zeroed in on that rabbit’s foot. If Harry had to bet, and he was certainly a gambling sort of person, he thought it was pretty safe one to think that that rabbit’s paw was the source of all of this.

Well, that was taken care of easily enough, Harry determined, as he pulled out his wand and ended up on his face.

What the fuck? Harry thought, which was quickly followed by the all encompassing sound of being shot.

There was some white noise, either from the cacophony of swears and pain in his head. Perhaps his hearing actually stopped for some moments.

Not again, Harry thought, Not again.

But this could be advantageous—he played dead. Well, he was actually dead, so he wasn’t sure if that really counted as playing, but a sharp kick to his ribs cut his musings short.

“Fuck!” Harry shouted and he rolled onto his side, only to be shot several more time. “Stop that!”

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you, hell spawn?” said one of the rednecks.

Accio rabbit’s paw,” Harry whispered, reaching out a hand, which soon closed around soft fur.

What happened then was a little strange.

There were more gunshots, but nothing hit Harry, and one of the rednecks fell, the filmy color around him gone. Was he dead? How did he die? Is that what happened when the film went away?

“FUCK!” shouted the other redneck, as the light fell on him.

“You might want to stop. Just stop, stop doing anything. Right now.” Harry picked himself up—he had many more holes than usual, and it hurt, but he was beginning to get used to it. “This thing is some serious. Thing. Some serious thing, serious magic, and I’m sure it’s bad or going to kill you—what the bloody hell happened to your partner, did he die?”

Harry peeked over to the partner’s direction and—yeah, yes, he was definitely dead, that was a spoke through his brain. “Right. Why did you steal this?” Harry waved the fist the rabbit’s foot was clenched in. It had a sticky sort of magic, it was trying to cling to him, it was distracting.

“Was paid to,” the redneck grunted.

“By who?” Harry asked.

“By whom?” the redneck corrected.

“What, seriously?” Harry said, re-evaluating. “Okay, great. By whom?”

“Why should I tell you?”

“I have a business proposition to present,” Harry fibbed.

“Why didn’t you contact her yourself?”

Bingo. “She’s a hard person to reach.”

Harry waited a breath before he heard the man sigh. “Ain’t that the truth. Fine, I can put you in touch with her. But give me back that rabbit’s foot—Wayne’s dead, and I’m getting our payment for this job.”

That was going to be a bit tricky, considering it had hooked onto Harry already, and he wasn’t quite sure what it would do, though… well. What’s the worse that could happen to someone who couldn’t die like a normal person? He tossed it over to the redneck.

As soon as the other man caught the rabbit’s foot, Harry felt the magic sticking to him curdle.

Harry knew what was going to happen before it did.

The other man lifted up his gun and Harry stared down the barrel of his gun before he was gone.

“God fucking damn it,” Harry swore, coming to. What was the point of being un-killable if a headshot still put him out of commission?  He had not only lost the rabbit’s foot, but also his only connection to whoever was calling the shots.

“Good morning, sleep-head,” came a sing-song voice with an English accent that immediately put Harry on edge.

It was a woman, sharply-dressed with attractive, fox-like face.

“With a vision to wake up to like you, how could it be anything but good?” Harry spouted, trying to get himself up. The woman laughed lightly.

“I’m afraid you’re not my type,” she said. She had a smile like a razorblade.

Harry pulled himself up by the tattered couch. “What is your type?” he asked, buying time.

“Money,” she said.

Harry maneuvered himself to face her from the couch. “Wonderful. I have a business proposition for you.”

“I know,” she said. “Why else would I be here? You’re certainly no Sleeping Beauty. Spit it out, already, I have things to do.”

Harry could make this work. “I’m seeking a very specific item, and I’m hoping you can acquire it for me.” If she wanted money, and was getting a cursed item like the rabbit’s foot, Harry had only a few guesses as to her type of business.

“Which item?”

“The Egyptian Book of the Dead,” Harry answered.

“You have expensive taste.”

“I’m good for it.”

“What’s your name?”

“Does that really matter?”

“I don’t think I’ve heard of anyone matching your description, so I have to wonder if you really are able to handle my fees.”

Well, considering Harry had spent several months hunting down demons and questioning them, it seemed unlikely that she hadn’t heard of his description before. She seemed like the sort who heard whispers everywhere she went.

“Oh, I’m sorry. This seems like it was a mistake.” The corner of her mouth twitched, slightly, but enough. “I was told that you were good at what you do.”

“You did hear wrong. I am the best,” she insisted. Ah, pride. Pride was a wonderfully reliable character trait.

Harry furrowed his eyebrows and quirked his head, and asked sweetly, “But you haven’t heard of me?”

She pursed her lips. “You’ve been hunting down demons,” she conceded.

Deliberately, Harry raised his eyebrows and widened his eyes a tad. “Oh, you have heard of me then? So you know I mean serious business. Find me The Book of the Dead, deliver it to me in one piece, and you’ll get your fee.”

“Give me a way to contact you and I’ll take care of it.”

“And yours, so I can check in,” Harry requested, handing her his phone number. He wanted to get her name, to better get information on her, but since he was supposed to have already heard of her, he couldn’t.

She gave it to him, though she promised that she’d have the book for him in only a few weeks. He wasn’t to bother her until then.

He knew her face. Now just to get her name.

Bobby was able to immediately identify her.

“Goddamned Bela Talbot,” he groused. “You guessed right, she’s a cursed object dealer—I’ve done a bit of business with her in the past for some tomes. She’s good for business deals, so long as you have the money, but she’ll seek out other buyers if she thinks she can get more for it.”

Bobby poured Harry a glass of whiskey. Harry hadn’t asked for it and didn’t really want it, but Bobby seemed to be an alcoholic, and Harry wasn’t really up to addressing that right now. Also, hunters tended to be touchier about their vices than most people, given their occupation and whatever happened to get them in the business.

Harry didn’t really like liquor straight, either, but in the interests of being companionable, he sipped it slowly.

“So what did she want from John’s storage unit?”

“Rabbit’s foot. Gave me a lot of good luck when I was holding it, but as soon as I gave it away that luck turned.”

“That’s one hell of a curse,” Bobby said. “You haven’t been particularly unlucky since you’ve been back. Hell, you even caught that cup before it fell. That was pretty lucky.”

“Oh, the curse killed me already and I came back,” Harry answered.

“You’re gonna have to explain that a little more.”

“Well, I die and then I come back.”

Bobby glowered at him. “Don’t be smart with me.”

“That’s literally what happens. Not entirely sure why.”

“You’re not a demon or anything, are you?”

“Did you give me some holy water earlier? That’s not enough evidence.”

Apparently not, since Bobby suddenly splashed a nearby glass all over Harry. Seeing that Harry did not sizzle, he relaxed back in his chair.

The door banged open, and Sam walked in, with some blood on his sleeves and looking more than a little roughed up. “Guess who’s back?” he asked. “Gordon.”

“Who?” Harry asked, while Bobby cursed.

“Wasn’t he still in prison?” asked Bobby.

“He is,” stressed Sam. “He sent another hunter after me. Kubrick. Told him how I was a monster who released the demons from Hell, and that he was on a mission from God or something.”

“Where’s Kubrick, now?” Bobby asked.

Harry knew the answer before Sam could speak. Sam’s face twisted guiltily and nervously. “He’s dead.”

“I didn’t realize who was attack me so I pulled out my knife,” Sam explained. “I tried to stop the bleeding…”

“Well, shit,” Harry murmured. Bobby got up; he and Sam left the room, presumably to talk. Harry sighed.

They still hadn’t heard from Dean—hopefully his time with Cassie was passing by much more smoothly.

“Hermione, I have to tell you something,” Harry started.

“Oh, no, what did you do?”

“Oh, come on, I’m not that terrible,” Harry said, with more calm than he felt. He wasn’t sure how Hermione would take this news, and even well would still require time to process.

“Yes, you are. Tell me.”

“I can summon spirits of the dead,” Harry said.

“Since when?”

“Since… well, actually for a few months now, but one of them wasn’t technically dead just spatially misplaced, and I tried again last night, and… I talked to Ron.”

“Where are you?”

Harry gave her Bobby’s address. Sighing, he made his way to the living room. Bobby and Sam were still in the library, reading for a way to save Dean. He trudged over there and knocked.

“A friend of mine is dropping by. We have something to discuss. We won’t bother you at all.” Sam yawned and nodded, reaching around to his own shoulders to work out the tightness. Bobby took a sip of his whiskey. Again? Harry thought.

“Who’s this friend?” Bobby asked. Sam liked Harry too much to question him, but while Bobby warmed up to him and accepted that Harry could die and come back in stride, that didn’t mean he didn’t think Harry could be up to something at some point.

“She’s like me—a witch. No, not that kind of witch. She works for our government. I… have a particular magical problem I need her consultation on.”

“Yeah, okay, just take it to your room.”

While hoping Bobby wasn’t implying what Harry thought he was implying, he slipped out and waited for Hermione to show up on the porch, which she did, promptly.

“Show me,” she demanded. Her natural hair was wet and she had a towel around her shoulders. And she was in slippers.

“Didn’t interrupt, did I?” Harry asked, to fill the silence. Hermione shot him such a look that he shut up, walking back in the house and up the stairs to what was his room for the time being. When Hermione shut the door behind her, Harry began.

Seeing Ron’s young face again did not hurt any less than it did the night before, but Ron’s face brightened upon seeing Hermione.

“Hermione! Blimey, it’s great to see your face again.”

Hermione began to cry.

Harry left the room and made his way down the study. Hermione, like Harry himself, would need time to talk to Ron alone.

It was in the early, grey light of dawn that Harry finally heard silence from his room. He had found no respite on the living room couch that night—he had dreamt of the death of an old woman nearby, but he couldn’t be sure what would happen to her. In the middle of the dream, he had seen Voldemort’s face contorting on the back of Quirrell’s skull, so it may be possible that it wouldn’t be true at all.

Perhaps none of them were true at all.

Maybe Harry really should go see a therapist.

He needed to get out of Bobby’s house, so he left before Hermione could seek him for an emotional heart to heart, and walked down to the center of Sioux Falls. He really did need to get away, but he found himself scanning faces for the old woman in his dream.

He also needed to think about the fact that he could now speak to the dead.

Could he summon his parents?

Sirius?

Remus?

Was there a limit? Would it something he could become accustomed to over time? Would he be able to keep Ron with him longer and longer? How would Ron feel about that?

Harry’s throat became heavy as he thought of all of the people who died too young. Who never got a chance to speak their experiences to anyone. Cedric… Harry would have to try. It would be hard. But he would have to try and somehow, reach out to their families so they could all say their goodbyes.

… but he would start with his family. To test it. To say his own goodbyes.

Sioux Falls was large, but the neighborhoods right by Bobby’s house were small. People knew each other’s faces, and Harry got some stares. But not as many as he would have expected—perhaps Bobby often had strange people visiting? It would make sense, as he was the central connection of news and information for most hunters in North America.

A face caught his eye.

The old woman from his dream.

She was in a store, shopping. She looked fine. Harry tried to remember what had happened to her and that vague sensation prior to a headache began to form.

He couldn’t help her if he didn’t know what would happen.

Harry stared at her—a bit too hard. She looked up and saw him.

Harry looked away and continued on his walk.

He couldn’t help her if he didn’t know what would happen.