If you haven't already seen Lamapan's awesome sketches of the interior of Bobby's house, please do take a look! lamapan . Deviantart gallery /
They were beyond helpful in writing this chapter. I adapted her depiction of the attic a little because the viewing railing and inaccessible 2/3rds of the windowed space didn't make sense to me. I also used reference shots from the outside of Bobby's house (gosh, he has a lot of boarded up windows, doesn't he?) and his car yard - which I think is actually two different areas for filming, but whatever.
Thanks for the great feedback for this story. I'm really enjoying writing it. It's so refreshing to be able to do something in a different fandom. :)
12th July, 2007
The kid was annoyingly quiet.
Alright alright, if he'd been chatty then he'd think he was annoyingly chatty. Sure him, he wasn't good with kids. Hadn't ever needed to be, except with John's rugrats and those kids had been alternatively miniature hunters almost as surly as he was or poster-children for adorable, depending on how much hell they felt like raising.
The skinny thing sitting self-contained and stiff in the passenger seat of his cab was neither.
"Y'need anything from the shops?"
The kid gave shake of stupidly long, messy black hair.
"No, thank you."
There followed a long stretch of silence, broken only by the chug of the engine and passing cars before he leaned forward slightly to flip on the radio.
"-ultimate goal for our children's sexuality is that they will be able to see-" the radio blared, loud enough that the sudden noise made him swerve the car and the kid slap his hands over his ears. Cursing, Bobby focused on not running them into oncoming traffic before dealing with the problem. "-as Christians, we want to help them understand that sexual intercourse is an act of love shared between-"
"Feel free to turn it down!" He growled over the racket. Goddamn Dean Winchester, next time he saw that boy he was gonna tan his hide, onrushing Hell or no. Of all stations for the overgrown brat to prank him with, it had to be the AFR.
One of the kid's hands came down from his head to fumble with the controls. His lack of experience was obvious in the wandering trail of his fingers, but made even more painfully explicit when he experimentally turned the volume knob up.
"-SACRED ACT SYMBOLISES THE SPIRITUAL UNION THAT WILL OCCUR BETWEEN CHRIST AND HIS BRIDE, THE CHURCH, UPON HIS RETURN TO EARTH-" The radio blasted, the sound turning tinny as the truck's old speakers were pushed past their tolerances. The kid, unhelpfully, had reacted by slapping his hand back over his ear instead of, say, turning the knob the other way.
With a bitten off curse, his own ears aching, Bobby snapped out a hand to switch the whole damned thing off.
This time the silence was ringing. God help the kid if he'd triggered permanent tinnitus.
"…I'm sorry." The apology was unexpectedly meek and the quick glance he took showed a matching contrition in body language and facial expression. Unable to justify verbally eviscerating him he instead released most of his aggravation in a heavy sigh and just nodded.
Forget shopping. He just wanted to get home, run the kid through a few tests then get started on working out just how much actual use he was gonna be.
Let the kid work out how insufficient his packing had been at his own cost.
This may have just been a business arrangement, but Mr Singer's impatient, grudging attitude was really driving home the reality. He didn't want Harry in his space, not one little bit, but Harry had pushed for it in exchange for help the man desperately needed.
No wonder the guy resented every breath he took.
And then he'd gone and done a Ron with the radio. He hadn't meant to! He wasn't some idiot wizard (no offence to Ron, or Ron's dad), it was just that Uncle Vernon's volume dial turned the other way. And then he'd flinched from the sudden blast of sound, Mr Singer stopping it before he could get his hand down to try again.
What a wonderful first impression I'm making, he thought unhappily, turning to look out the window. The world was dreary, a slight smudge in the air that made green grass and passing car lots look dusty and tired. It only got worse the further they drove, with less cultivated land and more industrial wastes. Eventually, though, it turned into farmland. It wasn't as lush as he was used to, with prickly tall trees breaking up row after row of cabbage and carrots, corn and tomatoes. Finally, as the daylight weakened and shadows grew longer, they slowed and entered a long driveway over which a rusted old sign arched.
SINGER AUTO SALVAGE
On either side of the driveway, piles of cars were set about like Dudley's discarded possessions. In between them, looking so grotty and neglected that he couldn't imagine why they were even there in the first place, were sheets of metal and timber, piles of bricks and stacks of barrels. A small shed off to the side looked like an office with larger sheets of wavy metal stretching from it to form some kind of shelter. For more expensive cars, maybe?
Then they were pulling up to the house, large and black against the oncoming night, easily two to three times the size of the Dursley's home. Only a single light was on in the main room, spilling a yellow glow through two front windows.
"Here we are." Mr Singer grunted, parking further along and switching off the engine with a sharp jerk of his wrist. "Wipe your feet comin' in."
Harry slid out the passenger side, dragging his bag and locking the door behind him. Underfoot, dead and damp leaves crunched. Bugs were filling the air with a sort of metallic hissing and in the distance he could swear he heard frogs croaking. He glanced around as he followed Mr Singer but slowed as he spotted a row of doghouses set 90 degrees against the far edge of the house. They were slightly raised off the ground, sturdy and obviously for very large animals.
"You have dogs?" He asked cautiously. A lifetime of Aunt Marge's little treasures left a lingering scar.
"Used to." Mr Singer grunted, stomping up the porch and into the house. He let the door swing shut behind him and Harry had to scramble to catch it, slipping inside and closing it behind him with a soft click.
Dark and cramped and slightly musty was his first impression of his new home. Contrary to Aunt Petunia's obsessive cleanliness and light-coloured walls, Mr Singer's place was cluttered and dark and cramped. The floor was clear but every shelf, desk or table was piled high with books, papers, bottles or random junk that it still felt like you couldn't move without hitting something.
He paused in the middle of the front room - what might be the living room, based upon the single couch crammed against the window.
"Whattya waitin' for, Thanksgiving? Get in here." Mr Singer called from the kitchen and Harry hastened to join him. The man was watching him intently through the wide doorway. It was a little creepy. The table in the kitchen, pushed to the side, was empty except for two glasses of water - one of which Mr Singer pushed towards him.
Suspicion prickled down his spine.
"No thank you. I'm not thirsty." He was, actually, but he'd rather drink from a tap or something. It occurred to him suddenly that he was in the home of a complete stranger, in another country, with no neighbours and with the only people who knew where he was also being very happy to forget he ever existed.
Oh, and the stranger only barely tolerated unnatural things in general and Harry in particular because Harry hadn't given him much choice in the matter.
"It's holy water." Mr Singer ground out. "It won't hurt you 'less you've not been honest with me about exactly what you are."
Harry frowned at him.
"Actually, Mr Singer, I think now would be a good time to finalise our contract." He said firmly, swinging his bag onto the kitchen table and rummaging in it for the pre-spelled scroll he'd had mailed to him earlier in the summer. It was a magical contract, one designed to bind both parties to their word. It was apparently very common in the Wizarding world, for anything involving paid services. One of the reasons the Burrow looked so charmingly odd (and unstable) was because of a poorly-worded one that had allowed the Weasley's builder to do a slap-dash job.
He and Mr Singer had come to an agreement about the wording of their binding contract by mail, during the set-up period. But, it had to be signed at the same time using the same one-use contract quill, in order to actually work.
He unrolled the scroll and lay it flat on the table, followed by its counterpart red quill above it.
"Please read it over, then sign your name at the bottom. I'll do the same and then we're both protected."
He expected the man to refuse, but instead he got a narrow-eyed look of assessment followed by a perusal of the contract.
Harry had copied out their final agreed version, word for word, in his very neatest handwriting. In essence it promised that he would do everything he could to assist Bobby Singer in protecting or rescuing Dean Winchester from Hell, in exchange for Bobby Singer to protect him by legally adopting him and providing him all reasonable and ethical care for a human minor.
Harry had been very careful to ensure he wouldn't be trading one rotten home life for another. He'd learned from the Dursley's example that being human didn't always equate to being treated human.
And, okay, 'reasonable and ethical care' had been Mr Singer's wording - he'd seemed a bit suspicious that Harry would abuse anything more, but it was still better than what he'd had before.
"Looks fine." Mr Singer eventually agreed, after reading it twice - once under a coloured light as he muttered under his breath. Harry rolled his eyes but picked up the quill when Mr Singer seemed in no hurry to actually sign.
"This is a one-use contract blood quill. It'll hurt a little, as if you're writing on your own hand, but it's gotta be done this way if you want those 'no betraying me to evil' clauses to stick."
Unexpectedly, the man snorted something that came close to amusement. He plucked the quill from Harry's fingers and signed his name in a rapid, illegible squiggle. The skin of his hand was rough and a bit too dirty to see any visible echo of his signature but the tightening of his jaw gave evidence to his brief pain. Harry took the quill from him as soon as he finished and quickly signed his own name. Against his paler skin, the red and raised echo signature was much more visible. He didn't have time to consider it, however, as the contract itself began to glow a deep red the second the quill lifted off from the last letter of his name.
Man and teen watched the red of their blood seep into every letter of the contract, their mutual agreement of the terms being judged as true and bound together. Harry felt it settle along his shoulders, the faintest of pressure at the edge of his mind and magic. He'd promised effort, active help, and the contract would compel him to keep his promise. Already, he felt his fingers itch to start picking up books, felt his mind come to focus on a problem which had only been very vaguely described before now.
Mr Singer rolled his own shoulders, although Harry had no idea if he felt it too.
Still, wanting to get on with it, he picked up his glass of water and swallowed it back, no longer worried about anything that might be in it. The contract would compel Mr Singer to knock it from his hands if he knew it contained anything 'unreasonable or unethical'. It just tasted like slightly cool, slightly stale water with an unpleasantly metallic aftertaste. Mr Singer took the empty glass from him and dropped it in the sink without a word.
"Alright." He said, coming back to the table. He pulled a small leather book from inside his jacket and sat down, tucking the contract away into the same pocket. Harry sat across from him and focused on the book flipped open and around for him to examine.
"I told you before that Dean Winchester made a deal with a demon, and that we need to break it somehow. Here's the backstory:"
Harry's eyes widened as Mr Singer told him of two men, brothers, who had fought evil all their lives. Whose father had sold his soul to save his eldest son's life, who had then turned around almost a year later and done the same thing for his younger brother.
Harry rather thought it sounded like he did it for himself, considering his brother was already dead and gone, but he wasn't about to say as much to Mr Singer. Not when the man looked torn between grief and anger at having to talk about it at all.
Dean had sold his soul on the 2nd of May. It was now July 12th. They had less than 295 days to break his deal, only 42 weeks, or Dean would be dragged to Hell and tortured forever.
Harry swallowed. Coming here had been about getting away from people who wanted him to protect them. Now another person's salvation relied on him - but this time he'd brought it upon himself.
"Take the book." Mr Singer pushed it closer to him. "It has the exact wording, or as exact as Dean will admit to, along with all known or suspected clauses - such as Dean's own inability to try to escape the contract."
Harry blinked up at the man.
"Specifying that he can't try…" He said cautiously. "Sounds like they're afraid if he did, he'd manage it. And if he can…"
For the first time, Mr Singer smiled at him. It was short, but genuine.
"That's the kind of thinkin' we need. So, what do you need?"
Harry rubbed a hand over his face. The flight had been long, his nap in the airport had been brief and stressful. He was exhausted. But the contract was in force, so he pushed it back to focus on his task.
"I need to do some research. I've never heard of demons or deals before. I only know the basics of Wizarding history in America - that we haven't been able to use our magic here since the British Wizards won the magical side of the rebellion. I mean, war of independence. I can owl away to buy or borrow books, but I sent my own owl to my friend so she couldn't be used to track me. I'll have to buy a new one locally."
"Okay." Mr Singer seemed completely on board, hands clasped on the table, body leaning in. "How do we make that happen?"
Harry shifted, his back straightening.
"There are three magical settlements in Canada, but the largest is in Manitoba." He reported. He knew that from both his own careful investigation and Luna's breezy complaints. "That's our best bet for a localised library too. Magical books aren't mass-produced on the same scale as Muggle books, which makes them more expensive and harder to get a hold of. That said, anything written about American problems - especially after the fall of the Wizard colonies here - is most likely to be stored in Canadian libraries rather than British ones."
Mr Singer nodded thoughtfully.
"Well, I reckon it won't do us any good to jump in blind right away." He stated, tugging his cap down absentmindedly. "I'm thinkin' you should get a better handle on what we'll be lookin' for, and I'll get a better handle on exactly what sort of things your people can and can't do. Between us, we won't waste too much time lookin' in the wrong places."
Harry nodded. Mr Singer nodded back, then stood.
"Right now though, I reckon it's time you got some shut-eye. Fatigue won't help us none. Grab your bag 'n follow me."
A little surprised, Harry obeyed. Mr Singer led him back into the main room, then up a flight of stairs to the second floor. The hallway there ran along the front of the house, where the wall around the windows was reinforced and boxes of gun ammunition were stored in neat little stacks. Harry eyed the boxes of bullets with unabashed fascination. He'd heard that all Americans had guns of course, but it was a bit strange to be faced with evidence of it, as casual as cutlery.
The hallway snaked around, deeper into the house.
"Bathroom." Mr Singer grunted, waving his hand at a closed door on the right. "My room." He gestured at a matching door on the left. "You can enter if you need to, but it had better be an emergency." Harry nodded silently. The next door on the right was ignored and then they were in a large open room at the back of the house. Dust cloths covered tables and furniture, windows were boarded up and boxes and cabinets competed for space alongside the walls.
Harry could see no other doors. Was this dusty, large room with no door where he would be staying? Would he be allowed to unblock the windows?
Mr Singer was reaching up for something. A string?
With a yank, a wooden ladder swung stiffly down from the ceiling, unfolding to reveal a space above it.
From the cupboard under the stairs to the space in the attic. Harry thought ruefully. I suppose, technically, I'm moving up in life.
Following Mr Singer into the space revealed it to be much better than he was expecting. Far from the dust-clogged room below, the attic space was clean and open. The roof slanted sharply on the left except for a vaguely rectangular section where a mild bay window lifted it. It was the only window in the room that opened. The one directly behind the entrance to the attic was completely boarded up, a large rectangle of cork glued on top of the heavy wooden beams.
"I thought you might like to put pictures up or something." Mr Singer grunted, seeing him looking. Harry couldn't help but slant him an incredulous look. That was not the sort of forethought he'd have expected from a man who'd seemed so utterly unwelcoming.
And yet… a lot of little touches spoke of similar forethought. The centre of the attic space was divided in two. The half closest to the entrance was like a miniature library space, with a collection of bookshelves, one large table and a comfy-looking chair, all with good lighting which had obviously been recently installed. The other half was a closed-off little bathroom all of his own, visible through its open door. Harry crossed over to it and found that Mr Singer had squeezed in a combination shower and bath under the narrow and high window looking out over the front of the salvage yard. The loo was against the wall by the door and a small vanity was against the wall between it and the bath, a mirror glued above it. Everything was obviously second-hand and DIY installed but it was also obviously a new addition, specifically for him. Back in the main room, again towards the front of the house and up against the forward most picture window was a bed already made up with simple, well-washed cotton sheets and blankets. There was a rickety side-table by the head, with a lamp on it, and a chest of drawers next to that for his clothes.
A rectangular shag rug that looked very old but mostly dust-free softened the harsh wooden floor and - Harry imagined - would make winter a little more tolerable underfoot. At the foot of his bed, the chimney from the downstairs fireplace ran up through the attic and out to the roof. It would help warm the place too and for the first time, Harry really and consciously realised that he wouldn't be going back to Hogwarts this year. For all intents and purposes, he was a high school dropout. Even if everything went well with his deal with Mr Singer… at the age of 18, Mr Singer would no longer be legally obligated to keep him. He'd be alone in the world, probably still with people trying to find and/or kill him and with no qualifications to help him survive.
He drew a deep, steadying breath. There was no point borrowing trouble. He'd made his bed already.
It was time to lie in it.
"It's a little smaller than it used to be." Mr Singer broke into his silent contemplation. "I added more insulation. Your bathroom is over mine, which means your study area is mostly over my bedroom so I'll thank you to keep it down after I've gone to bed. I sleep light." There was a slightly sour twist to his expression, as though he fully expected to get no sleep ever again. He gestured to the wall of the study area.
"As you can probably guess, I've walled off a third of the attic space for storage. I did run a line from downstairs up and to the desk, though, if you wind up needing one of them internet connections. I expect Sam will insist on it, and I'd rather you not trekking up and downstairs at all hours to use the one in the living room. That said, we'll deal with it if and when it happens and it will only be for research, y'hear me?"
Harry nodded, baffled. He knew Dudley had his own internet-connected computer but, embarrassed as he was to admit it, Harry didn't actually properly understand what it was beyond a sort of always-on telephone line for computers. He knew how to type and such from Primary school, but he'd just… never been allowed to do anything more, not at school and certainly not at the Dursley's. It was like the television. Theoretically entertaining, but something that existed outside his everyday experience.
Mr Singer unwound a little, fidgeting with his hat.
"That's good. Uh, there's protections at all the windows and entrances, so if shit hits the fan and I ain't around to tell you otherwise, head up to your room and close the ladder behind you. The string pulls up from this side. Uh, the side window opens onto the roof-" He gestured at the oddly sticking-out window, which looked out over very little car yard and quite a lot of farm land. Under it was a cushioned bench and four low shelving units on either side that could double as tables. "So if you need to get out in an emergency, you can git out there, then go up and toward the front of the house. It's a low drop to the porch roof and then from there to the ground."
Harry nodded, taking it in and tracing the route in his mind as he looked up at the steeply sloping ceiling and over to the bathroom.
"There's also another exit point over here." Mr Singer moved to the end of his bed and Harry followed. Tucked away between the chimney and the wall, hidden by the placement of his bed, was a trapdoor. Mr Singer lifted it to reveal a ladder that ran down a narrow chute.
"It's like a fire escape. It don't go all the way down unless it's got some weight on it, so you can go down, but not up. From below, it just looks like a ventilation shaft. It comes out eventually at the storm cellar doors - which is where you should head if you ever see a tornado. They don't come 'round often, but when they're close enough to see you'd best get your behind underground, pronto."
Harry nodded again. It was kind of cool, a little secret escape hatch - without magic. Leaning this close, he could see what looked like runes carved into the trapdoor itself. And the legs of his bed. And the side of the chimney. He glanced at his new adopted… well. Parent.
Had they always been there? Or were they there for him? Did Mr Singer think he could contain Harry's unnaturalness?
Then again, as a Muggle who dealt with uncontrolled - and violent - supernatural phenomena every other day… maybe he could.
It was an unnerving thought.
He can't do anything bad to me. He reminded himself. He signed the contract. 'Reasonable and ethical'. Worst case, I just need to be out of here before his side of the contract expires.
"Well." Mr Singer groaned as he stood, his knees cracking. Harry backed quickly away, resuming normal polite distance. "I'll leave you to settle in. If you're hungry, grab something from the kitchen. Don't leave food anywhere but the bin, or we'll get rats comin' in. Anythin' you wanna ask?"
There was probably something he should, but his mind was blank. Wordlessly, Harry shook his head.
"Alright then. G'night."
He watched his new guardian leave then dropped his bag by his bed. He should probably have a shower but he was so tired…
He toed off his shoes and crawled between the covers, softer and more comforting than anything the Dursleys had ever let him have, and blinked up out his window at the early evening stars.
His last thought before he fell asleep was that he was in America and - technically - an American citizen. Even after Mr Singer got rid of him, he'd never… have to… leave…
I respectfully sourced some text from one of the shows that runs on the AFR channel - which is a religious radio channel that airs in South Dakota. And yes, I did slightly cherry pick in order to make the experience more uncomfortable for all involved. ^-^
For those who are curious, Harry passed multiple tests by: Entering the house, passing through a devil's trap and drinking a combination of holy water and colloidal silver.