Chapter 4: Christmas Break
Nebraska in December was different from what Harry was used to. It was bitterly cold but there wasn't much snow on the ground. Not that he was complaining, having people to spend the holiday's with was just as different and wasn't a bad thing. Unfortunately all the change he'd been through and everything that was going on at Hogwarts was setting him on edge. After nearly six months of being under Ellen's care he still couldn't get used to how much she wanted to get to know him. How much she really seemed to care.
Ellen had even demanded that they write at least once a week. Though it ended up being more like every other day with both Ellen and Jo writing and Harry needing someone to talk to and having the added advantage of editing his letters before he sent them out made it easier to confide in them. Harry was getting attached and no matter how much he didn't want to it seemed inevitable.
Ellen's letters and the conversations he was privy to when he was hanging around the Roadhouse, not to mention the interrogation he gave Remus when he got back to England the week before term started, confirmed that Ellen ran a place for Hunters even if her and Jo weren't active ones. It made Harry even more determined not to tell his new found family about his magic and risk them hating him just as much.
It didn't help that 'witches' were something that Hunters seemed to hate more than most other supernatural things, though Harry didn't know the details about these witches and their magic he'd be sure to keep his mouth and magic shut tight.
In Harry's letters he'd told them both about Umbridge. Explained how much the woman hated him and thought he was a liar for the simple fact that he'd informed the police about Tom Riddle's sudden reappearance.
Harry had told Ellen that Tom Riddle was a vindictive serial killer that had evaded the police. James Potter, when he was still alive, was an officer assigned to taking Riddle into custody. Which was so close to being the truth that Harry barely had to censor himself about the issue. It was nice to have someone believe him even if he were omitting some key details. Everyone at hogwarts seemed to think he was making it all up, despite what had happened at the Dursley's. Half of them even thought he was the one responsible for the fire, even though The Ministry had cleared him of all charges.
Harry had been pleasantly surprised when, instead of just telling him to ignore Umbridge like everyone else Ellen had given him advice on dealing with people like her.
Let everyone know you stick to your guns but don't let her bait you. She wants to hurt you any way she can so don't give her the satisfaction.
Harry had still had to do the detentions with Umbridge, still had to go through Hogwarts being subverted by the Ministry but he had Ellen's support and Jo's vehement protection. He was even sure that if they'd had the ability they would have both sent Umbridge howlers. As it was they sent her very angry letters and threatened to take Harry and the substantial financial support his trust fund provided to another school all together. Remus had even suggested a few schools in the states he could attend if he was seriously considering it. Harry had refused, he didn't want to leave his friends to deal with Umbridge by themselves. Not to mention it would just make him look like a coward and he wouldn't give the woman the satisfaction of knowing she'd won.
As soon as Harry started Dumbledore's Army he wrote Ellen about it the very next day. Describing it as a self defense class. Ellen had written back that she and Jo were proud of him for preparing his classmates for every eventuality without causing a panic. Calling him a 'natural born Hunter'. Harry had found himself inexplicably crying when he'd read it. A happy swell of warmth in his chest that he couldn't put words to.
Jo's letters told all about what had been going on at the Roadhouse. There were outrageous stories about punching Hunter in the nose when they tried to feel her up, Ash hacking into the FBI database for some information that ended up saving twelve children from being eaten by a troll, along with a few of the happier anecdotes involving very little death and too much 'gross sticky monster goo'. As she called it.
The last few letters he received before the holiday had been a little troubling though. Jo was fighting her mother tooth and nail to try and go out Hunting on her own and she was trying to convince Harry to help her whittle her mothers defenses down. Harry hadn't given her and answer.
Harry was worried. He liked Jo. She didn't seem to mind talking to him, even when Harry wasn't in the mood to respond. He'd stay silent and she'd talk through the day or sit silently with him in the small storage room that had somehow become his while they spent their evenings at The Roadhouse. The room calmed him even more than his daily grounding exercises did and Jo's presence made the hours fly by as he stared out the window.
Jo had taught him some had to hand techniques too, and how to keep the Hunters at a distance so subtly not one of them would notice that he wouldn't allow them to so much as shake his hand. Little things really but it all helped him protect himself. And keep his magic from churning so badly that muggles attuned to the supernatural could notice.
Jo didn't ask why Harry was so wary of touching people. Why he spent an hour a day in his room meditating, or why he kept an owl for a pet. She accepted him just the way he was without expectation or judgment. Unlike most everyone in England.
"Harry? What are you doing in here all by your lonesome?" Ellen asked as she entered the storage room. She'd obviously knocked a few times but Harry hadn't heard her.
"Hmm?" Harry asked distractedly. Ellen smiled sadly at him.
"Bad day?" Ellen always seemed to know when Harry was feeling his lowest or when his magic was particularly hard to keep under control. She called them his 'bad days'. Though he had no idea how she knew how to classify them like that. He just took life one day at a time and barely noticed the good from the bad.
"I'm worried about Jo," Harry replied honestly. Since he was keeping such a big part of himself from his new found family he felt obligated to be honest in any way he could just to make up for it. The newest scar on his hand, which had yet to fully heal, more than enough of a reminder that he did far to much lying to them.
"I am too. But she's just about grown now and I can't keep her locked up forever, no matter how hard I want to," Ellen seemed to be talking more to herself than Harry. "Don't you worry 'bout nothin', Harry. It'll work itself out."
Harry nodded even though he doubted it would. Harry's life wasn't ever that simple.
"Come on out of here, you can help me at the bar."
Nodding he followed her past Ash's room which was suspiciously quiet. The man must not be in there then, if he were it would have been thumping to the beat of Ash's favorite classic rock music. That was Ash's way of centering himself. Just like when Harry felt out of sorts he always found himself in that small room with its cot, boxes sitting everywhere, and the one window that looked out along an expanse of grass and sparse trees. The magic in that room was so much less chaotic, probably had something to do with the almost invisible etchings along the walls. Harry still wasn't sure what they were meant for, he'd intended to ask more than once but always pushed the thought aside as unimportant as soon as he left the room.
The bar wasn't all that full yet, being only seven-thirty but Ash was sitting there with two Hunters Harry had never seen before and Jo was singing along to whatever song was emanating from the jukebox.
Harry frowned as he saw the shorter of the two hunters leave the bar to approach Jo in a far too familiar manner. Harry didn't even need to look to know that Ellen was doing the same.
The blonde man glanced at them nervously while still talking to Jo and before Harry could move to protect his cousin the taller hunter was dragging the other out the door.
"Who was that?" Harry asked once they had left, feeling suddenly very protective of his older cousin.
"Those were the Winchester boys I told you about. Something's going on with those two and they need to fess up and soon or I'm gonna tan their hides. I swear."
"Which one is which?" Harry asked trying to put names to faces he'd never seen. Ellen had talked about them a few times in her letters and mentioned their father had died while Harry was in school.
"The one that talked to Jo was Dean, the other is Sam. I suspect those boys are gonna get themselves killed if they don't slow down sometime soon."
Harry clenched his hands and grabbed a wet glass from the sink to start drying. Harry knew that he wasn't the only child in Ellen's life, Jo would always come first, but he had no idea that she would feel similar affection toward two practical strangers. It made Harry see just how low on the pecking order he was here. Harry made a quick decision to find out what exactly the Winchesters were up to. If only because Ellen wanted to know. So that meant he'd have to have a talk with Ash.
Several hours later, when Ash was in his room for the night, Harry knocked; hard. The man was a genius but he always had his music on to loud.
The door opened to reveal a half dressed Ash with glossy eyes and his mullet mussed as if he'd just run his fingers through it. "Harry, my man."
"I need to know what the Winchesters were talking to you about."
"I don't know if I should. Ellen wouldn't take to me letting you in on a hunt like this."
"I've dealt with worse, Ash," Harry said, really meaning it and ignoring the curious look Ash shot him. "Please?"
Ash looked torn but eventually let Harry inside.
Demons. Harry hadn't ever heard of them, at least not at Hogwarts. Before now they were only movie monsters, something you told little kids about to keep them from hurting others. But the information Ash had given him about the Winchesters and their lifelong hunt for a Yellow-eyed demon was making Harry's head spin.
All the printouts and notes Ash had taken and translated from Sam and Dean's own father were spread out around Harry's room, on the bed, the dresser, the desk, even a few piles on the floor. The room was bigger than he was used too but having the papers scattered around, made the space look smaller. He liked it better this way.
These were all obviously copies, the originals Harry had handed off to Ellen hours ago. He might not know the Winchesters too well but he knew that Ellen wanted to help them and she could only do that if she knew what was going on.
Harry was fanatically highlighting and underlining things that struck him as disturbingly similar to his own life, gaze skittering over several pages before picking up a few and sticking them to a map of the US with seemingly random circles and dates. A corresponding table of weather reports and cattle mutilations along with various hunts that John Winchester had gone on that involved demons made the information on the map clear to anyone familiar with both.
Harry grabbed the old laptop that Ash had borrowed to him and logged onto the internet. He was looking up news that related to the most significant days in His life; the night Voldemort killed his parents, the nights of the philosopher stone incident, the day Ginny received Tom Riddles diary from Lucius Malfoy, the various Dementor attacks last year, and the night of the fire.
Harry might not be a genius like Ash but looking at the weather reports for those days he noticed a distinct rise in thunderstorms on more than a few, more immediately preceding them. Finding out about cattle mutilations would be a little harder to find, as some of those would undoubtedly be the deaths of magical creatures considering the locations. Harry would need back issues of the prophet for that. Or maybe Hagrid would know about the ones at Hogwarts. The centaurs would certainly be able to give him some information if only Harry could talk to them.
Harry dug around in his still open trunk, tossing around books and clothes to find the small folded piece of paper that held the magical map of England he'd bought on his first day in Diagon Alley all those years ago. It had been a small fleeting purchase, something to go along with his parchments and quills; he hadn't remembered having it until now. Harry idly thought that it said a lot about him that he kept even that small thing so obviously protected in the small pocket of the trunk. Anything he's bought for himself had always been well taken care of, no matter how meaningless. It made him even gladder his trunk had survived the fire.
With a triumphant shout Harry pulled out the parchment and unfolded it, tapping the edge to keep everything from moving, a subtle charm that the maker had built into the magics of the map to allow wizards to use it in the presence of muggles without worrying about exposure, it was a considerate little charm given that it showed the various muggle/magical portals throughout the whole of Europe.
That done Harry taped it to the wall right next to the other, the entire wall between the window and the adjacent wall above his bed now covered. Harry then circled spots on the map that corresponded to the reports he'd found on the net and put up the appropriate dates. As he started putting together the table he would tape to the lower corner of the map there was a knock on his closed bedroom door. Harry absently said "Come in!" as he continued to write down dates.
Jo, peeked her head around the door slowly, just in case Harry wasn't decent but stopped and opened the door fully. The room was dimly light by a bedside lamp and the glow from the computer screen. Papers of different sizes and textures spread out over every available surface and Harry working furiously on a map taped to the wall.
"Harry? Is everything alright? It looks like a tornado tore through here," Harry hadn't really talked all that much in the few months that he'd lived with them, though Jo was trying her best to act like a big sister, it was hard when he was gone all the time at school and still recovering from whatever had happened the night before he came to live with them.
"I think I know what he is now. I mean it's not like I know for sure yet and I've never even heard of Demons before so I don't know how to kill one but everything I've found so far points in that direction you know? I wonder if I should call Hermione, she'd know how to find out about cattle mutilations, be able to get me some copies of the paper and ask the Weasley's if they've ever heard of anything like this. But if it's true then maybe they can finally get him."
Harry was babbling a mile a minute, a glint of something in his eyes that freaked Jo out just a little bit, his movements were frantic and edgy, as if at any moment something was going to come out and attack him.
"Harry, it's time for dinner. How about you come downstairs and finish this up later?" Jo asked hesitantly, feeling a bit of fear trying to creep into her voice.
"No. No, I have to finish this, have to find out if it's true."
Harry didn't even look at her, not even bothering to cease his scribblings as he spoke.
Jo frowned and bit her lip. Something was wrong with Harry.
There was only one thing she could think to do: She had to get her mom involved.
As soon as Jo mention Harry's odd behavior Ellen knew she'd have to talk to him but she figured she could give him a few minutes to wear himself out before she confronted him. So she made a plate up for him and put it in the oven to keep it warm while she and Jo ate. Jo going on and on about the papers spread all over the floor and the way Harry's eyes looked like he wasn't in the room at all. Every minute detail she could remember, down the the slight shaking in his fingers as he scribbled notes onto the wall.
"Harry?" Ellen asked as she knocked on his door, which was still half ajar, she suspected he hadn't even noticed.
Harry made a non-commital noise from where he sat in front of his laptop. Ellen took that as an invitation and carefully stepped around the papers scattered across the floor, recognizing more than a few of them from what Ash had given her earlier.
"Jo said you were working on the Winchesters demon problem."
"No. Not for them, for me. It explains so much, I mean I always wondered why the explosion didn't wipe him off the face of the planet or how he got Quirrel to help him like he did but now it makes sense, all of it. Don't you see?!" Harry gestured to the map just above his bed, pushpins littered the center of England and into Scotland. Labels with dates attached or words like 'Fire', 'Forest', and one that said 'Graveyard'.
"Honey, you're not makin a lot of sense," Ellen said soothingly.
"Riddle, he's a demon. I'm near positive he is."
"The cult leader who's been trying to kill you is a demon?"
Harry nodded hard and fast and went back to the laptop. "All I have to do now is find a way to stop him. Keep him from hurting anyone else."
"He the one who started the fire?" Ellen hadn't brought it up before but she felt like the way he was talking now was a good a time as any.
Harry froze, eyes going blank and distant before nodding. "I remember it," He said voice soft and whisper quiet. Barely audible over the humming of the computer.
"Remember what, Harry?" Ellen said placing a hand over his not acknowledging the flinch as she pulled it away from the keyboard.
"The night my parents died."
Ellen felt her heart jump clear into her throat at the thought.
"He was standing there, telling my mom to move, telling her to stand aside. She wouldn't she-she kept asking him to take her instead."
Harry barreled on he didn't seem to have heard her "Then I saw her fall and I looked into his eyes, they were red, I-I wasn't afraid at all. I didn't cry didn't scream, nothing. I remember feeling like she were still there, protecting me. Then there was this black cloud, like a thunderstorm but smaller and I didn't like it. Wanted it gone and then, nothing. Nothing after that at all until I was four years old."
There was silence again and Harry's face was wet with tears but he didn't sob or cry just salty water on his cheeks and glistening in reddened eyes.
"I'm crazy right. I shouldn't be able to remember all that, I was only a year and a half old."
"The human mind is a strange thing, sweetheart," Is all Ellen said and she knew that it wouldn't help but what else was she supposed to say. A demon was after her nephew.
They sat there, silent and mostly still, Ellen rubbing comforting circles into Harry's back as he sat like a statue staring out the window. She knew exactly what she had to do next and even if she hated the idea she had to prepare Harry for what might be coming next.