Harry has some non-PC language in this chapter.
A slice of noise, like a scream at the end of a tunnel, came at him from the left. He snapped back around just in time to get slapped - or clawed. Five points of pain ran from his ear to the edge of his eye as he fell backwards, wand slashing in reflexive attack. Something pale flickered out of sight before the ripple of violent magic smashed into the wall behind it. His other hand found the doorknob and he ducked out of the bathroom just as water began spraying violently from broken pipes.
His brothers were on their feet, staring at him. Extremely conscious of the wand in his hand, he lifted it and his chin defiantly.
He was through with being scared.
"What happened?!" Sam demanded, darting towards him with hand outstretched. Dean mirrored him, darting backwards to grab a gun and level it-
-straight at Harry.
"Dude!" Sam reprimanded, right in Harry's space now, towering over him and shit what if this was all just a trick and-
He twisted his wand in a tight arc, ending with it pointed down. Both brothers face-planted in reaction, pulled by a first-year jinx and Harry's adrenaline-charged silent casting.
"Fuck!" Dean snapped. His gun was still in his hands but was wedged awkwardly facing away from them all, right wrist bent in a painful-looking manner.
Harry swallowed tightly but in for a penny, in for a pound… "Petrificus Totalus." He enunciated carefully, relieved when he managed not to bungle the incantation. He wanted to protect himself but he didn't want to accidentally dismember them.
The gun dragged along the ground as the spell forcibly wrenched both men's arms to their sides, breaking Dean's grip and possibly also a finger or two. Luckily, the gun didn't go off.
He picked it up, still a little awkward with the foreign weapon, and checked the safety before pocketing it the way Dean did, wedged into the back of his pants under his shirt. He was on his own now, he'd need the protection. Actually, he'd need more than just a weapon…
He stepped over his eldest brother, feeling the man strain helplessly. Outside of Hogwarts' heavily magical environment, he could sense his own magic better - and could feel his spell holding without issue. Sam was actually a little more problematic, there was something about his struggles that were… not quite stronger so much as that he had a 'better grip'? Whatever, maybe he was like a Muggleborn a squib or something. It didn't matter. All it meant was that he didn't have to physically watch the pair as he guiltily went through their bags and pockets, taking a couple of extra clips and any cash he found but leaving the fake cards.
"I'm sorry." He forced out. And he was, he bloody hated having to do this. Hated that his own, actual brothers were even worse bigots than the Dursleys - less hateful maybe, but more lethal. It wasn't his fault, to be born what he was - though it felt like it, sometimes. It felt like he was always the problem, from the Dursley's hate to his schoolmates' fickle favour and even the strangers in the Wizarding World who were always so quick to think badly of him. There was always something wrong with him, something he did or didn't do or should be, but wasn't…
This was just more of the same.
And it fucking sucked. Because…
Call him childish, but he still daydreamed sometimes of having a family that loved him - or even just liked him. Someone who asked how he was and actually gave a shit. Someone who'd have his back when everyone else was turning on him, including his best friend. Someone to teach him things about… about life, about… all those things that Ron and his brothers had. Sam, Dean and the clumsy-distant man who was his father… they could have been that dream. With a little more time…
If only he hadn't been born a wizard.
"I'm sorry." He apologised again, getting to his knees and shoving both brothers onto their backs so they wouldn't suffocate. Dean glared at him with the fury of a thousand Slytherins. Sam gave him some kind of doe-eyed look with creased eyebrows that, frankly, was even harder to take. "It'll w-wear off. Just-. Leave me alone."
That sorted, he took another quick look 'round, grabbed his duffel and slipped out the front without disturbing the salt line.
The door clicked softly shut behind him.
Left magically bound on the ground, his brothers were helpless as something flickered into existence in his wake, stopping at the line of salt and hissing with fury before whirling on them with murder in its eyes.
It lunged for them.
He didn't run. He strolled, some of Dean's lessons already proving useful.
Don't run. People remember a runner. They're hardwired to see it as suspicious or dangerous.
He spared some of his attention on the thread of magic leading back into the motel, maintaining the spell that would break as soon as he was far enough away. The rest, he kept on his surroundings - watching out not only for shadows, but possible witnesses and possible help - ideally girls around his age or women who could be Mums, people who posed less of a physical threat and who could maybe be persuaded into giving him a bus ticket, or a ride, or some cash to get 'home'.
Chicks are more likely to give you something for nothing, especially when you're young and scrawny. Give 'em the big eyes, keep your shoulders down and your body language nonthreatening - and for God's sake, respect 'em. Whether they help you or not, they're gonna remember you and trust me - you don't want them to remember you badly.
Taking a deep breath to shore up his confidence, he approached a bus that was just pulling in at a stop, digging into an empty pocket like of course he had money and just about to pay, and-
He got on the bus, frowned a little, checked his other pocket, then his bag, then his back pockets. Frowned deeper, tried to add a touch of embarrassment to it as he turned to the suspicious and irritated bus driver.
"Sorry, I thought-" He cut himself off, let his head drop, then lift to look resignedly out at the road he'd otherwise be walking.
"Sorry." He said again, turning to get off.
This kind of play was a gamble, Dean had taught him, and you should always go into a gamble prepared for it not to pan out.
"Oh, just let him sit down!" Someone called from the back of the bus. "It's close to a hundred degrees out there and it ain't even noon yet!"
Harry wavered, glancing down the bus, then at the driver - who just looked even more irritated, but gestured him angrily back into the bus before shutting the door.
The bus rumbled to life. Harry got a few unfriendly looks from the people who'd paid their fares, but a plump woman at the back waved at him cheerfully.
Harry smiled bashfully back, nodding his thanks as he gingerly found a seat next to an old man with way too much nostril hair.
He breathed out.
Okay then. He could do this.
The ghost went for Sam, of course. They always went for Sam,
Luckily, this was either a newbie ghost or one of the stalker variety because it flickered out of existence before its claws could take more than a few layers of skin. A split second later and whatever hoodoo was keeping him n Sam bound and silent, snapped, both of them scrambling to their feet and towards various weapons.
Salt and cold iron at the ready, they waited - but the spectral attacker didn't return.
Stalker, then. Great.
"We need to find him, now." Sam snapped, already pocketing his knife and throwing their stuff into various bags.
"Sam." Dean countered incredulously, gaining himself a flash of angry eyes in response. "Did you just block out the past few minutes? 'Cause I don't know if you noticed? But our little half-bro just wiped the floor with our asses - magically. The kid's a witch, dude. I'm sorry, but he is."
"SO WHAT?" Sam shouted back, eyes snapping and nose flaring. "So we go gank him Dean? Huh? Go find our little brother and put a knife in him?"
"No!" Dean snapped back. "But I'm just sayin', maybe we shouldn't be all eager to chase after him is all. We were freakin' helpless dude. He could have killed us-"
"But he didn't." Sam shot back, softening a heatbeat later. His eyes bored into Dean's, imploring, needing his brother to see, to understand. "He didn't, Dean. He could have, yeah sure - but capacity doesn't equal probability - or you and I would be serial killers."
Dean scrubbed a hand over his face. The hunter part of him wasn't conflicted at all. The kid was a witch, witches dealt with demons and no demon let their witch bitches use their borrowed power for bettering the lives of others. It always, sooner or later, came down to blood and suffering and death. Left alive, Harry would eventually (if he hadn't already) use his power to hurt and kill, just like all the other witches he'd had to put down over the years.
And yeah, it fucking sucked ass that this witch was half-Winchester. But sometimes? Life sucked ass, but you just had to keep on going.
"Just, think about it Sam." He all but begged, his own version of imploring eyes nailing his brother right back. "His family died horribly, the kid got out with barely a scratch. There was sulphur everywhere - Witches get their power from demons. He just pinned us down like we were nothing, took my gun and - oh yeah - robbed us while he was at it. I'm sorry Sammy - I really am - but you've gotta think this through, man."
Sam shook his head. Sonofabitch had always been stubborn.
"He was scared, Dean. The whole time he's been here, look what he's seen: Us, hunting, the supernatural. And, his file - it said there were signs of long-term domestic abuse, he probably-"
"Yeah, yeah, I get it - his family probably knocked him around or worse, and a demon caught him in a weak moment. Offered him revenge, or safety, for the low-low price of his soul. I know, okay? How often do people with happy and stable life situations go 'hey, eternal damnation in exchange for sacrificing the cat and cursing my enemies? Sign me up!'? But dude, just 'cause he signed up in a weak moment? Doesn't mean that what he does, isn't his fault."
"And what has he done, Dean?" Sam challenged. "Killed his family? You don't know that. Killed us? Uh, nope! Despite having every reason to, he just held us down while he ran-"
"Oh, and sicced a freakin' ghost on us!"
"The ghost that attacked him first?!"
Sam stepped back.
"He was bleeding, when he came out." He explained, tapping the side of his own face where four long scratches marred his cheek. "Just like this, but worse. Remember?"
…And yeah, Dean remembered. But still-
"So he doesn't have full control yet." He argued. "He tried some summoning in the bathroom and it backfired."
Sam got that mulish look- then sighed, defeated.
"Yeah, maybe." He agreed without agreeing. "I dunno man, it's just. I don't think he did. I don't think he did anything - or at least, not on purpose. I just… I just don't get that kinda vibe from him, you know?"
Yeah. No. Maybe.
Dean's instincts were razor sharp when it came to monsters, but people… people he'd never really gotten. For the most part, he left the interpretation and judgement of people to Sam - except when those people might be a threat, of course.
And this kid was both. All of the above. People, brother, monster and possible threat.
"What if it was me, Dean?" Sam asked softly and fuck him, he wasn't supposed to use that shit against him. Because they both knew that if it were Sam, there'd be no question about it for Dean. He'd bitch his brother out for it, kick his ass and tell him what a dumbshit he was, gank the demon in question and do everything he could to get his brother's soul out of hock, but…
But he'd never hunt his brother for it. NEVER.
"He's not you, Sam." He complained. "We barely even know this kid."
Sam just looked at him. Pleading, and waiting, not even disappointed because Dean had never given him cause to be disappointed, because he always fell into fucking line with his whiny little brother's whims and, ah for fuck's sake.
"Fine." He snapped. "We won't hunt him. But we are gonna kick his ass for pullin' that shit on us, y'hear?"
Sam grinned. Dean scowled at it, turning away to grab the last of the weapons before stomping out.
In the background, water continued to blast from broken bathroom pipes.
"Gonna have to throw our new card out too, for fuck's sake…" He grumbled.
Sam followed him out. Him keeping his mouth shut was the first smart thing he'd done all day.
In the midst of an exceptionally long, panic-filled Wizardmagot session, Albus Dumbledore felt a surge of magic come from his pocket. Despite years of practice, he was hard-pressed to keep his expression calm and pleasant as he withdrew his seventy-year-old fob watch and checked the time.
A tiny pinprick of light, bright but fading rapidly, marked a spot smack in the middle of a landmass he recognised as the ex-American colony - which was rather peculiar considering this particular spell was tied to one Harry Potter's wand, and last he knew, Harry was safely tucked away at the Dursley's.
For several long, frozen seconds, he could do nothing but stare.
Why was the boy there? And how did he not know? Worse, how was he there - innocent summer holiday or a kidnapping that had slipped right under his nose? Whatever it was, he'd have to move fast.
"I move for a fifteen minute recess." He called over the roar of noise, magic allowing his own voice to cut through and be heard by all. "To allow for tempers to subside and reason to regain a foothold." An ally and friend swiftly seconded the motion and he wasted no time in leaving the chamber, his mind whirling with plans. The misuse of magic office would have already sent an automated notice and he wouldn't put it past anyone in the current climate not to prosecute Harry to the fullest extent of the law - just to take attention away from the unexplained and gruesome murders of Purebloods all over the country. He needed to head that off and find Harry and possibly rescue him… all within a 15 minute break.
And he'd lay money that he wasn't the only one with a trace on Harry's wand.
The bus didn't take him far. Barely ten minutes later and it was pulling over again, people clumping off and the nice woman patting him on the head with a warning that 'it's turnin' around now honey'. The dismay of only going so far, the urgency of needed to go much farther still, pushed him.
"Are there any other buses?" He asked, following the woman out. "To a city, I mean?"
The woman shook her head with an amused air.
"Not from around here, are ya? No, honey, there ain't no bus or train that comes to our li'l town, not anymore. Hank just runs a service for those've us who live in or around the place. Well, I say service, you didn't used to have to pay for it-"
"So I'm stuck here?" Harry interrupted, not quite panicking but not far from it either. He'd just bespelled two hunters-of-the-supernatural not ten minutes down the road and they had a car! He needed out of the state and certainly out of any small town where his age and youth would stick out like a sore thumb, making him easy to find.
Maybe he should have stuck around a little longer. Dean had promised to show him how to hotwire a car as soon as a non-impala one was handy - and how hard could it be to drive, really?
"Well, you got a pair of feet on you, don'tcha? Pick a direction 'n walk, honey - you'll hit another town in a few hours 'n the scenery's real nice."
He trailed after her as she bustled along, casting about for options he didn't have.
She took pity on him.
"Look, I know that Trailways runs a line through Rapid City - that's north, just over the border into South Dakota. I caught a bus from there once - but it might be safer to follow the 20 east into Wyoming instead, just keep goin' till you find a place. Here." He looked up to see her hand pressing towards him, a handful of bills folded into it. He took it automatically, blinking down at the plain pieces of paper that passed for American money. The woman patted his hand.
"Remember to drink plenty of water and rest in the shade when it gets hot, okay? And for goodness' sake, take care of that scratch before it gets infected! Good luck, now."
Conversation firmly closed, the woman left him. Apparently, her kindness had limits.
He stood alone in the baking July heat and looked around at the plain boxy buildings. Heavy trees broke up the monotony and in the near distance was a weird mountain - boxy like the buildings - that rose up like a barrier. The street was almost empty. Dean's gun was warm against the sweaty small of his back.
He walked over to a gap between buildings and turned his back to the street. Pulling his wand, he lay it flat over his palm to cast.
The wand spun to face north - and pointed right at the box mountains. Shrugging, he tucked it away and headed east.
The tracker pulsed again right at the end of the break.
Staring at the mess still staining the walls and floors of the Dursley's home, he only barely noticed. Pulling it from his pocket, he glanced at it in time to see the light fade again - this time in a closer vision of the same area. Harry wasn't moving far or fast, which was very good when it came to getting a lock on his location. The lack of rapid-fire spells suggested he wasn't in too much distress at the moment either - though the violence etched in blood all though Harry's home would surely make any amount of spellcasting justified.
How stupid he'd been, to assume that Harry was safe. To not check-
He disapparated mid-thought, arriving rudely into Arabella's home - where he gagged at the stench. Another mess met him, this one not even partially cleaned up as the minor wards on the property would have kept any curious Muggles out.
"Oh, Arabella…" He moaned, the husk of a woman frozen in the state of agony she'd died in. He cast a quick spell but just like at the Dursley's, there was no magic to be found - not even a scrap. Who was doing this? The pattern didn't make sense! Harry was neither a Pureblood nor Dark-inclined, as he had begun to assume was the connecting factor for all the recent victims - and Arabella might have been born to a less than kindly-minded family but she'd had no contact with them since they'd abandoned her. Had she been a proximity kill? Had they been after Harry and she'd just been a loose end to tie up?
Or… had they been after her and her proximity to Harry had drawn him into all this? But if that were the case, how had they gotten in to him? The wards around his home had been in ruins when he'd arrived, but they hadn't been broken from without so much as crumbled from within.
To top it all off, he'd discovered (in his attempt to stall it) that the Department of Improper Use of Magic hadn't sent the boy a letter at all. Why? Because Harry wasn't a minor any more.
His Aunt, his last blood on record, had been murdered. Harry was of age to take the OWLs. An archaic and automatic system had changed his legal status to full citizen and disabled the trace, all without a flicker of human intervention. Only people who had personally tagged his wand would be able to find him now - and plenty of people had had opportunity to do so.
He should have taught the boy how to test for it, how to shake it - but lazy fool that he was, he hadn't wanted Harry to be able to shake his tracking. Hadn't wanted him to know too much, too soon.
Now, with only an intermittently sparking wand as proof of life… he couldn't help but wonder if he should have done more. Actively trained Harry, or even just given him an emergency portkey, a way to call for help, anything.
Well. Too late now. All he could do was follow the trail and hope he found the boy before anyone else did.
"This is stupid." Dean shook his head. "Man, for all we know, he hoofed it into the freakin' forest. We don't even know which way he's heading and if he got a freakin' lift from someone…"
"Yeah, I know." Sam drummed his fingers against the door, window wide open as he half leaned out and scoured the surroundings for his missing little brother. Dean was taking the Impala at a crawl so they could check for tracks as best they were able, but there was just… nothing. They were already in the ass-end of nowhere and nobody at the roadside inn had seen anything.
"Where would he go?" He asked rhetorically. "He's fourteen - almost fifteen - in a foreign country. He's scared, probably thinks we're out to kill him."
"He'd go home, or try to." Dean offered. "He's got a passport, Dad gave it to me when he, ah… dropped Harry off with us." Sam snorted but didn't comment.
"Still got it?" He asked instead. Dean just shook his head. He'd seen Harry take it from the duffel he raided. "So, he'll be headed for an airport. I'm pretty sure the amount of cash he took isn't enough for a ticket, even if he doesn't spend it all getting there. How much do you think he has?"
"Well, I had a couple hundred for the game tonight."
"The game I planned on finding - dead place like this, there's gotta be something to keep people from killin' each other."
"Hhh. Right. Well, I had just over thirty bucks on me, so that's $230 minimum. That's plenty to get him pretty far, if he knows how to use it."
"Not for a taxi to the airport, though." Dean countered. "What are his options? Maybe we can beat him there and wait."
"Uhhh…" Sam pulled open the laptop and started the laborious (and expensive) system of hooking it into his cell phone. "Lets see… nearest airport is… Chadron Municipal. Nearest international is Denver, Colorado - but plenty of places will fly through it."
"Okay, so he's probably headed south."
"Uh, maybe, if he knows that's where the nearest international airport is. He could just be winging it, or looking for a phone, or hell - a British embassy."
"He wouldn't go the embassy route would he? I mean, he's a legal citizen now - they'd just turf him back to dad."
"Maybe man. I dunno. Probably not, if he says Dad abandoned him - or that we did."
"Great." Dean muttered. "So basically, we got nuthin'. He doesn't even have a phone to track and meanwhile, he could be doing anything."
Sam sighed in irritation but didn't say anything. A little later he pulled one of their stolen badge numbers and a burner phone and put out a BOLO at the nearest domestic airports & bus terminals. It was a risky tactic, but hopefully something most small-time businesses wouldn't bother to verify.
In the meantime, his brain chewed over the puzzle that was his little brother. The type of magic he'd used - words and a stick. The type of attack against his family. Magic that could petrify the body but let it still breathe and blink. Magic that could inflate a person until they exploded.
Maybe they were one and the same. If so…
What the hell were they supposed to do about that?
He was too late.
John looked around at the wreck of Elkins' home. The damage spoke of a battle lost, but more than that - it spoke of a search. Whoever had attacked the old hunter, they'd been looking for something.
What were the odds they hadn't found it?
He glanced at the open safe, a rectangle of missing dust matching the size and shape of the gun case lying empty on the floor. Hunters didn't keep their weapons in neat little display boxes and especially not in hard-to-reach safes.
"Son of a bitch." He muttered. "You had it the whole time, didn't you?"
He'd always had that little kernel of suspicion, based on nothing but paranoia - or so he'd thought. They'd parted ways in temper and he'd never really had any reason to doubt the man…
He should have. Now Elkins was dead and a pack of vampires had the only gun that could kill a demon, the only thing he'd found after twenty years of looking that might finally put a stop to the yellow-eyed bastard.
For Mary. For Sam.
"Need a lift?"
Harry took a step back as an eye-searingly turquoise car, boxy and outdated even to his inexperienced eye, pulled up beside him. The driver was similarly fashion-challenged, sporting a bright orange Hawaiian shirt over teal shorts with a matching tie looped loosely around his neck.
He looked like a mental patient.
Weighing his need for a faster form of transport with the common sense not to get into a car with some random psycho, Harry didn't immediately answer. It was long enough for cheerful brown eyes to look him over and narrow slightly, first at the dried blood on his face and then up to his forehead.
They widened in recognition.
"Holey Moses! You're- you're that Harry Potter kid! Holy cow! Wait'll I tell the guys- oh! Sorry, hang on."
With a lurching bunny-hop bang, the car switched off. The man got out, scrambling around the car to thrust his hand out.
"Sorry." Harry nodded to his heavily damaged arm as he refused, other hand creeping back to close around his gun.
"That looks nasty." The maybe-wizard observed, taking his hand back. "You let the Muggles patch you up? Bad call that, I had an aunt who went in for a simple case of gangrene and you know what they did? They cut bits of her off! Don't get me wrong now, they're good folks for the most part but phhooo-whee! I would not want them and their knives anywhere near my person."
"I didn't have much choice." Harry muttered.
"I guess not." The man shrugged. "So anyway, can I give you a lift? I'm headed to Nevada - you probably came in that way. Biggest Wizarding city in the world? The Muggles think the whole place is a desert, it's a hoot!"
Harry shook his head as the man giggled to himself, relaxing his grip.
"Sure, thanks." He accepted, still wary but not about to look a gift horse in the mouth either. It wasn't quite a Ministry official, but it was better than nothing. "Is it a long drive?"
"Couple hours." The man shrugged, meandering back to his side of the car. He got in, slid over and opened the passenger door.
"The name's Bud." He held out a hand again, the left one this time as Harry joined him in the car. Harry shook it, glancing around at the bigger-on-the-inside Wizard Space as his seatbelt rubbed against him and purred.
"You bet your ass you are! Any chance I can get an autograph?" He cranked the engine - literally, the place where a key should be having instead a little handle to rotate. "Oh and don't mind the dashboard," The dashboard was actually a full-sized and well-stocked a wet bar with LED lighting and unfolding arms that were rapidly mixing a drink. "I got this thing when I was in college and old girl still thinks 'two drinks minimum' is a way of life."
A narrow glass with five colourful layers - one of them pure liquid fire - was topped with a cherry and proffered to the driver- "Thanks, sweets!" -who knocked it back with the ease of long habit.
"Ahhh that hit the spot. Right, off we go!"
Gears ground, the car shuddered and they took off - from 0 to Knight Bus in less than five seconds.
"I love a good old-fashioned Muggle road trip." Bud enthused, one hand on the wheel as the car zigged and zagged around light traffic, at one point gaining some serious air to get ahead of a patrol car. "I can see why they go on about them. It's so relaxing to just take the open road at your own pace, y'know? I've crossed the country three times now. Once, it took me an entire day! Can you believe that? My folks think I'm crazy of course, but I said - Mom. Dad. You just don't understand. Sometimes, the slow path is the only path worth taking. You know?"
A town blurred by too fast to make out.
"Sure." Harry humoured him, gently pushing away a spiralling glass of clear liquid that could be mistaken for water if it weren't for the large, slow bubbles that broke the surface. The dashboard-cum-bar pouted without a face, pulling the offering back and mixing something else instead.
"I'm really not thirsty, thanks." He tried, which was a total lie but he wasn't stupid enough to get drunk in a stranger's car, no matter what.
Bud snorted and, taking his hands completely off the wheel and his eyes off the road, started rooting under his chair for something. Harry yelped and caught the wheel with his one good hand, keeping them steady despite tugs from a steering system not designed to make so many quick turns.
"Ah ha! Knew I had some somewhere." The wizard re-emerged victoriously, bottled water in hand.
"I picked this up as a gas-o-line station." He explained. "Lookit this bendy glass! Like a shoddy transfiguration but the Muggles do it on purpose! Tickles me sideways, I tell ya. G'wan then, I sure ain't drinkin' it. Water makes me powerful thirsty."
Harry took the plastic bottle, relieved. The seal was still intact so he cracked it open and took a long gulp. The rest he'd use to… clean his… face…
The bottle fell from slack fingers, bouncing off the seat only to be caught by the bar and tucked neatly away as a spelled cloth cleaned up spatters of doped liquid.
Donald 'Bud' Malgrain, bounty hunter and wanted criminal in three separate Wizarding nations, snorted at the ease of it all.
Kids were so dumb. You'd think a famous one would have been raised a little smarter.
Another crunching of gears and the car changed direction, passenger seatbelt winding itself anaconda-like around its unconscious prisoner's arms and legs.
Oh well, no skin off his back. Soon to be plenty of gold in his account, in fact, for little more than picking up some other wizard's dirty laundry.
Yeah, today was a good day.
Finally got that breakthrough needed. Huge thanks to those of you who peppered me, spitball style, over the past few months. Every time edged me closer to working it out.