A/N: Well, that was a pretty nice response, thanks guys. Hope you continue to enjoy.
Harry frowned down at the screen of his laptop, more at the nearly unintelligible whispers in his head than the results the search engine had spat out (though that, too, was reason enough to frown). 'Dean and Samuel Winchester'. They had quite the reputation. He still wasn't sure if it was better or worse that the voices in his head seemed to be giving him legitimately real information.
His tired brain turned that over and poked at it, and Harry decided—worse. It was worse. Much, much worse. It would've been preferable if he'd just been hallucinating in inexplicably biblical psychosis, because now there was this. If what he had been hearing was the truth, it meant that this really could be the end of the world. That angels and demons and the Devil were all real, and they were all hurtling headlong into the Apocalypse, one Seal at a time. Thinking about it too long made him feel like he'd swallowed a lead ball, heavy and anxious.
Harry shivered and powered down his laptop, sliding it into his bag and then shouldering it as he stood. His back cracked unpleasantly when he stretched, the consequence of yet another sleepless night in a chair he knew better than to sit in without an extra pillow or three. The early morning light peeked through the gauzy curtains, staining the cream wallpaper of the guest room –his room– a mellow peach, a familiar sight these past years of uneasy, sleepless nights. Harry took it in fondly. He had the feeling it would probably be the last time he got to see it for quite some time.
Hermione was already in the kitchen despite the early hour, Hugo fussing against the shoulder of her kneazel-patterned dressing robe while she hummed and shushed him. She smiled warmly when she noticed Harry standing in the doorway; when he came over to run gentle fingers through the baby's fine ginger hair, her expression grew into something genuinely happy. After a moment Hugo cooed wetly and tucked his head into the soft collar of his mother's robe, fast asleep.
"You should've been an omega," Hermione teased, eyes bright, and only just kept from yelping when Harry retaliated by leaning in and rubbing his cheek and neck against her frizzy head, and unmistakably territorial alpha scent-marking gesture. It was something that would've gotten him into deep trouble if Ron didn't know he considered Hermione as nothing more than a sister. "Ack! You're such a brat, Harry!" He snapped his teeth playfully, smiling, and then yawning before he could manage stifle it; Hermione's expression softened and she went about preparing tea, the two of them content in the early morning quiet.
"Leaving again already?" When Harry turned away from the kitchen window it was to Hermione's big brown eyes –resigned but fond– lingering on the backpack slung over his shoulder. "You don't look like you slept very well last night. Are you sure you don't want to stay? Rose could use help sorting her candy."
Harry hummed and turned back to the window—it was easier to get away with lying when Hermione couldn't see his face. "Maybe I'll go to Ireland this time, bring the kids back something nice."
His eyes unconsciously tracked a russet fox darting across the yard, sleep-deprived mind turning over the clamor that'd woken him in the early hours of the morning; voices –angels?– like bees and feedback singing about the breaking of a Seal, the rising of the demon called Samhain, and then its subsequent banishment back to Hell by the 'abomination' Samuel Winchester and his demon-given powers.
He may as well have not slept at all.
But there was absolutely no way that he was letting his friend know that he was hearing these things –especially if it turned out to be real–, or that he would be on his way to the United States before the day's end. "Or Scotland again, maybe. Somewhere green."
The beta sighed and came up beside him, leaning close enough that he could feel the heat Hugo was putting off, just feverish enough to make the boy miserable. "You'll come home for Christmas." It wasn't much of a question, but there was a very slight rise at the end that made Harry murmur a quiet "I'll try." He meant it, too, but also knew that there was no chance in hell that he would come back home if he thought trouble would follow.
"Tell Ron and Rosie I said 'bye'." Hermione's hair brushed the side of his face when she nodded and agreed with a subdued "I will." He could tell she suspected something, but she didn't ask things like 'what's wrong?' as much, after so many answers of 'I don't know' from the nightmares.
His first stop was Grimmauld Place to swap for a different backpack. Normally he carried a few enchanted items to make his trips more comfortable –waterproof bag, heated clothing, an ever-sharp knife, space-expanded pouches– but it would all have to be left behind unless he wanted the magic in them turning against him. He packed light; two changes of clothes, his laptop, a small book he thought would be helpful, his muggle passport and a stash of American dollars Sirius had hidden away with the Order reports. As far as he knew, money didn't go bad.
Into the maybe-there Invisibility Cloak, Harry hid away his wand and a silver plated pocket knife. (Trying to figure out how he was hiding solid objects within the intangible material gave him a headache thinking about, so he generally tried not to.)
The Galleon –as heavily enchanted as it was– stayed behind, left in plain sight on the kitchen table. Ron would probably find it first; his friends would be pissed that he left it behind, but it didn't stop Harry. It also didn't make him leave an explanation with it, just in case they came by the house before he left the country. Harry didn't want a confrontation.
Within an hour he'd boarded a plane, and then –stuck in a pressurized capsule with too many other people– he didn't have any other choice but to think. And just like they'd done since that first clear, blaring scream in September, his thoughts invariably turned to the angels. The voices in his head, however muffled they usually were. Harry wasn't a Seer –Ron had more skill in Divination than he did– but still the voices in his head seemed to speak of real people, from what he could dig up on the internet. He didn't know what else to believe, or to doubt.
Dean and Samuel Winchester. The angels said that one was a Righteous Man who sold his soul to bring his brother back to life, and had been raised from the fires of Hell to do Heaven's work. According to them, the other was an Abomination, infected with demon blood since he was an infant, given unholy power and an offense to Heaven. The internet confirmed that two such brothers did exist, but told a tale that, alone, would've made Harry hesitate to seek them out. Both confirmed dead at least once, wanted by law enforcement with charges from grave desecration to murder. There was something more going on there, and if the voices in his head were indeed real… It meant that those brothers sought out and killed the dangerous creatures that not even wizards wanted to tangle with.
And Harry was on his way to that country, full of those creatures, to track down those brothers and get himself involved with this whole Apocalyptic mess. Because the longer it went on, the more he heard the angels –(however much he got the feeling he really wasn't supposed to be hearing them)–, the less he doubted the reality of it all. He wasn't going to just sit aside and do nothing to help prevent the damn end of the world!
By the time the plane touched down in Maryland's BWI airport, Harry was nearly desperate to be off and away from the masses. It had slipped his mind just how strangely the near-universal use of hormone suppressants in the muggle world could affect omega heats—and someone on the plane had been in pre-heat. In the Wizarding World, heats came in spring and early summer with very few exceptions, scents and the worst symptoms managed by spells that'd been around for hundreds of years and that every witch and wizard was obligated to learn at age eleven. Otherwise, heats weren't suppressed, and ruts were managed almost the same way. Muggle suppressants were much more recent in comparison, still improving, and more likely to fail their purpose. One of the reasons for many pureblood's scorn of the muggle world came from the fact that, in their effort to alleviate the worst of their biology's functions, they had completely eliminated a distinct heat season.
Harry needed to get out of there because he didn't take the muggle hormone pills, and the last thing he needed right now was to go into rut because of some omega's heat.
With his single bag, Harry was able to slip through the crowds quickly, and then it was only a matter of flagging down a shuttle bus to take him to one of the many nearby hotels. Lack of sleep was hitting him hard by then, blurring the world around the edges and completely erasing his memory of the trip from airport to hotel. He was just barely conscious enough to book a single and get to the room before he dropped and promptly passed out.
Harry awoke disoriented, confused by the light level in the hotel room. It took him ten minutes staring at the clock, face still half-buried in a pillow, to realize that, no, he hadn't woken up thirty minutes before he fell asleep, he'd just managed to sleep for a solid twenty-three hours. He dragged himself free of the tangled nest of sheets, but didn't actually leave the bed as he closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on the part of his brain that always hummed, and sometimes even loud enough that he could make out the voices clearly enough to understand. It was always easiest to hear them just after sleep.
There was a very good reason that Harry didn't make it a habit of trying to listen in, thought.
There was only one voice. One voice that's screaming nearly rivaled the volume of the chorus that broke through him that first day. Harry squeezed his hands over his ears on reflex, hard enough to hurt, trying to keep out the agonized mantra that repeated over and over: "I am sorry, forgive me, forgive me, I am so sorry my friend, please—." It took Harry a long time to shut the voice out again, and by then –not for the first time– he was muttering under his breath in that old language: "Stop, please, I forgive you, I forgive you, you are absolved; please stop."
There were some worrisome connotations to that, but they took a backseat to the freaking Apocalypse, so Harry didn't think about it, no matter how much it felt like a literal knife to the heart to hear that voice.
Harry shuffled out of bed and into the shower, at last taking note of the sort of hotel he'd checked into during his almost-sleepwalk. The lack of disquieting stains, plus the neutral beige and tan decor said it was probably more than he should've spent taking into account the very limited amount of money he had. At least the bathroom had complementary toiletries, considering it had completely slipped his mind to pack any—he would definitely be taking them with him.
As he brushed his teeth, he made a list in his head. At the very top of it was finding one of the increasingly common muggle 'New Age' shops to get the herbs he would need for a spell to track the Winchester brothers down. Second was to buy the rest of the essentials he had either forgotten in his split-second bolt to ground zero or deemed too much trouble to get through customs. (There had been one time he'd gone the muggle way from Britain to Germany with a bundle of meadowsweet root for his then-frequent headaches and been detained, and that wasn't something he was in a rush to repeat.) Third, as he spit and wiped mint foam from his lips, was to consult the '60s traveler's guide stuffed in his bag to see if shaving spells were safe, or he'd have to buy a razor before the stubble just darkening his chin grew into anything more.
He'd been lucky enough to check into a hotel with a diner next door—one that offered free wifi. It took a few minutes to convince his laptop that it wanted to talk to the American system, but routinely traveling internationally had given him the proper equipment for the job. By the time Harry was sipping the too-acidic coffee and poking at a pile of scrambled eggs he had an address and a promise from the pretty omega that took his order that she would call a cab for him, ("No problem, honey,").
He almost considered sending Hermione an email –because Ron and computers still didn't mix well– while he checked for local thrift and super-stores, but decided against it almost as quickly. They probably hadn't even realized he didn't have his Galleon, yet. The niggling guilt had him adding another point to his list, all the same: Buy a disposable cell phone, and enough minutes to cover the inevitable rant when everyone realized where he'd gone.
Just as long as they didn't try something stupid like chasing after him, Harry would happily deal with any vitriol they had to spit his way. It was just his luck that all his friends covered their worry with anger or tears nowadays.
Breakfast eaten and waitress charmed with a sweet smile that'd gotten Harry out of so much worse that the jam packets he'd swiped from the table, he paid his bill and went to the cab waiting outside. He had a lot to do today, and couldn't shake the anxious nownownow feeling that'd sat heavy in his gut since he hit solid earth.
Harry needed to find the Winchesters. They could tell him, one way or another, if this was real. (And if it was, then maybe they could tell him what to do.)
The closest New Age shop happened to be one called 'The Turning Wheel'. He eyed the unfamiliar symbols painted on the windows with dubious amusement –since he'd started practicing the pagan side of magic, he had become much more familiar with the god and element symbols, but didn't consider himself an expert of symbology by a long shot– and entered anyway, nose immediately filled with the overwhelmingly sweet and spicy scent of smoke incense. The plump young woman behind the glass counter smiled at him absently, already helping a woman and her daughter pick through a tray of wearable crystals. Past the cloth-draped tables covered in cheap arcane knickknacks, candles and semiprecious stones Harry could see the dried herbs packed into neat little plastic bags.
Right beside the wall of herbs was a display of bowls, and Harry stopped, fingers running restlessly over what felt like solid brass for a moment before he reluctantly decided against it. Besides being bloody expensive it would take up too much space, and he didn't actually need it. He could mix the spell in a damn paper cup if he needed to –and was willing to part with a little bit of blood–, but he did grab a few dram bottles with screw-on tops.
Everything he needed was right there. Thank magic for muggles, Harry though, amused at the irony. Ginko, damiana leaf, mugwort…a little expensive, but Harry knew his herbs better now, and they all had uses beyond the hunting/scrying spell he needed them for immediately. For that reason he grabbed some baggies of willow bark and spearmint leaf; everyone knew they could offer mild relief from fever, headache and upset stomach, but with a little boost of magic? If done right it was almost as good as the more modern, foul tasting wizard potions.
The mother and daughter were still at the counter, but when Harry approached they moved aside with identical shy smiles, giving him the space to lay out his purchases. He tuned out their chatter about crystal resonances more easily than he could the way their suppressant-laced scents drew his attention, unused to it after his long hiatus from the majority of the world. The clerk was watching him with some intensity as she jotted down his selection on a clipboard beside the register.
"Interesting bunch here," she said, husky voice just barely louder than the flute accompaniment drifting softly from hidden speakers. "Planning something?" She picked up the bag of finely shredded damiana, meeting Harry's eyes with an eyebrow cocked and a smile twisting her plum painted lips at one side. Her face clearly broadcasted her thoughts; 'I know you're up to something~'
Called for or not, all of Harry's instincts immediately screamed DEFLECT! All those herbs had alternate, more common uses than his spell; damiana was a common aphrodisiac, so—
"Just a bit of fun," Harry replied, not having to fake embarrassment as he ducked his head to hide behind his fringe. He wasn't oblivious; Harry knew he looked so much younger than his twenty-eight years like this, not nearly as forward as his alpha status insisted he could be. He was good at playing it up, even if it still rubbed him wrong sometimes. "It's just not worth the trouble to get all the herbs through customs–" Harry peeked at the beta thought his hair, eyes bright like he was letting her in on a secret, "– and no one ever believes me when I say they're just for tea."
The woman laughed, charmed, and finished ringing him up. Harry was glad he only had cash and not a card—something with his name. He felt her eyes on his back all the way out the door, lingering until he got back into the waiting cab.
Harry tried to never show just how on-guard he became around large crowds of people –or really, people at all; even small groups in close quarters got to him–, and he'd gotten pretty good at it from lifelong practice, but it was hard in the cities. Give him an attack by a rabid bear anytime (it'd happened once), but people? People were cruel, and much more of a threat than anything he'd ever encountered in the woods.
It only put him so much more on edge because he really had to try to keep up the Wizarding World's Secrecy Pact, even if there was no one to enforce it in the United States. Defending himself was so much harder when he really shouldn't draw his wand.
It paid to stay wary, though, and it only took him an hour in Washington DC to decide it would be best to get everything he needed done before darkness fell. He would've liked to avoid the capital altogether, except logic said it would be easier to get a bus ticket to anywhere from the nation's brain, and he wouldn't know how far he'd have to go until he got time to put the spell together. The city was dangerous, thought. The dregs of society clung in dark alleys and vacant buildings like flotsam, hungry eyes watching with all the desperation of starving wolves, and twice the danger.
Harry couldn't shake the feeling of being followed as he went from thrift store to Goodwill, picking up things like a sleeping bag and extra clothes. By the time he'd hit a convenience story for trail mix, water, and a cell phone with enough minutes to last in an emergency, Harry was sure that there was someone on his tail.
The sun was setting and he hadn't found a room for the night, yet, but now he was too paranoid to stop at any of the cheap ones he passed. He didn't trust the locks. He couldn't afford one of the more expensive hotels, not in the capital, because this money had to last, and now Harry was stuck. He trusted his instincts to know when to keep going, but he wanted to stop; the sooner he got a room, the sooner he could do his spell, the sooner he could be on his way to the Winchesters…
His eyes scanned his surroundings again, and Harry only had a second to feel the frisson of unease at discovering the length of the block empty before he went flying off his feet and into the alley he'd been passing. His knee clipped the dumpster on the way in, a flash of hot pain, and it was only his backpack that saved his head from smacking dirty concrete when he landed, the breath knocked out of him. The sound of approaching footsteps made him struggle to sit up, fighting disorientation and the knowledge that he probably couldn't run with his knee throbbing like it was.
Adrenaline gave him strength enough to scramble to his feet, even if he had to lean against the grimy brick to stay up when his knee buckled under his weight. He needed to get away, now. Whatever force had tossed him didn't feel like any magic he'd encountered before, sticky and slick like oil and tar; black.
"Well this is a surprise! I didn't think there were any of you little pests left on this side of the world." The putrid smell of stale urine and moldering refuse permeated the alley, blocked the man's scent even with the weak breeze of city traffic at his back. The orange glare of sunset kept Harry from seeing more than a silhouette. "And I get you aaa~ll to myself, too. We're gonna be good friends, and you're gonna tell me how you're hiding so well, 'kay?"
Just as Harry was launching himself sideways, prepared to dodge and shoulder-check the man on the way past, a hand like iron shot out and wrapped around his throat; this time there was nothing to save his head from the hard surface behind him, his vision briefly dissolving into white sparks when he hit. The new burst of pain didn't matter so much when that single hand lifted him from the ground, brutal strength pinning him to unforgiving bricks, the rough scrape through his shirt and his feet in open air. Even that momentarily ceased to matter. Harry's hands scrabbled uselessly at the arm, nails drawing blood at the wrist, eyes watering and mouth gasping, but trying to make sense of—
Like a distorted mask; the skin on the outside normal, male, maybe even handsome, but under that…
Void dark eyes and skin charred black, cracked, raw red and putrid yellow ooze, forked tongue and sharp teeth and a twisted wrongness—up close, it almost drowned out the foul reek of the alley with one like struck matches.
Harry lashed out, arching his back and bracing his feet on the inhuman creature's legs long enough to leverage himself up and gasp in a breath, eke out a hoarse "What the hell," before it leaned more pressure on his throat and made him choke. It laughed at him, gleeful and malicious, and for the first time since the War ended, Harry felt genuine fear. This thing was going to kill him—or worse.
"Yeah, that's it exactly, pretty boy." It peered at him, face far too close to his own, and Harry couldn't help kicking again, even if the strain on his neck was agony now. "You can see me, can't you?" It sounded delighted. "Oh, I wanted you for myself, but this is so much better!" It pressed up close to him, and Harry would've recoiled if he could've; he could only twitch weakly as sulfur-heavy breath wafted over his face. "I think Lilith will reward me most generously for such an exotic pet, don't you?"
Realization struck like lightning. Lilith. He knew that name—the angels spoke it often. The one who was breaking the Seals. Lucifer's first. A demon.
This thing was a demon. It wanted to take him to Lilith.
It happened in flashes, snapshot pictures.
The demon drawing its free hand back—a fist speeding towards his face.
A flare behind his eyes that didn't feel like magic.
The demon flying back, hitting the opposite wall with a sickening crack as Harry stumbled, almost fell, hands grasping his brutalized throat, panting.
The demon pulling itself up, head bleeding and murderous threat written into every line of its twisted face—it flying away from him again at its first motion forward. A roar of fury.
Risk be damned—Harry Apparated before it could come at him again. Grateful beyond words that he arrived in one piece in his original hotel room –over an hour's travel away– even if he had to fight his leg to sneak away when he realized the sound of his appearance was less akin to a backfiring car than a thunderbolt.
For the first time since it reappeared, Harry wished his Invisibility Cloak actually made him invisible. It didn't though, even when it was more imperative than ever to go unseen. Demons would be after him now, and Harry still needed to find the Winchesters.
With a stubborn set to his shoulders, Harry limped into the darkness, paranoid and watchful. He had work to do, and fewer doubts than ever.
Harry woke just before first light the next morning, wrinkling his nose where it was pressed into a scratchy comforter that smelled like too many ruts and not enough washes. Sleep had been elusive and unsatisfying, his dreams full of formless feelings of helplessness and a sadness so profound his chest still ached with it.
He staggered to the bathroom in his boxers and yesterday's shirt, relieved himself, and checked his injuries more thoroughly than the night before when he rented the seedy little room. His knee was swollen, black and purple and scabbed at one side; it was hot to the touch when he applied some neosporin, but he still thanked the gods it wasn't worse. The ring of black bruises around his throat would be nearly impossible to hide, even if he folded up the collar of his coat. They were damning bruises, too; there was no mistaking the shape of fingers on his neck, or the redness of his eyes from popped blood vessels. His hands were scraped and there was a lump on the back of his head.
One day in the United States and he was worse off that he'd been in years.
Harry sighed, scrubbed out the grimy bathroom sink, and got to work.
He dressed and dug out the herbs while the sink filled, mind turning over the intent of the spell as he did. This was why he was good at pagan magic; there were guidelines, but a lot of the good stuff was pure intuition and determination.
The water was rust flecked in the sink; Harry stuck his hand in and swished it around for a few minutes, frowning in concentration until it purified. He dried his hand on his jeans and pinched the herbs into a cupped palm –two of damiana, one of mugwort, and one of ginko–, mixed them together and then blew softly into his hands until they smoldered. The ashes went into the sink, spreading over the water undisturbed until Harry pricked a finger and bled a single drop of blood into the water; then, all the ash seemed to evaporate, leaving the water an improbably mint-green. Almost done, Harry dipped the bloodied digit into the potion and stated, hoarse through his damaged throat: "Dean Winchester and Samuel Winchester."
There was no outward sign of success as Harry painted two quick lines of the spell across his face, one down from forehead to chin, the other temple to temple over closed eyelids. It was only when he dipped down to swallow a sip of the bitter, scorched water that he felt success—a faint yet sharp tug behind his forehead, urging him that way.
Harry floated in a daze for a few moments, acclimating to the sensation, the intuition of West and very long distance. It was so distracting that it wasn't until he'd bottled up a few drams and let the rest go down the drain that he noticed the other sensation. A low level thrum of heat and frustration that was infrequent but familiar: It could've been anxiety, or it could've been rut. Of course.
There wasn't any help for it.
Before he left to buy himself a cross-country bus ticket, Harry made sure he had 'A Journeyman's Guide to Magic in North America' tucked into the front pocket of his bag. It was going to be a long trip, and it was now painfully obvious that he would need a way to protect himself, strange accidental magic notwithstanding. He needed to know which wand-spells were likely to blow up in his face before the demons found him again, and Harry was under no illusion that they wouldn't be looking.
Grimly, he thought about Snatchers, and figured it was just about right. This was a war, after all.