It was a Saturday morning. Harry had just finished wiping all the breakfast oatmeal off Lily’s hands before she got it in her hair. James and Albus were already in the living room, getting along for the time being while they played with a very elaborate Lego set that Dudley had bought James for his birthday.
There was a knock at the door.
Harry looked over at Ginny, but Ginny just shrugged. Not many people used the door, though Bill or Charlie sometimes did, if they found themselves in London unexpectedly. Harry had told the boys not to answer the door themselves, so they were instead pressed up against the front window, trying to see who was standing on porch. All three kids crowded behind Harry as he made his way to the door and swung it open.
Dean Winchester was standing on his front stoop. Behind him, just down the front steps, was Sam.
“Hello Harry,” Dean said, smiling. “We were just in the neighbourhood and thought we’d stop by to say hey.”
“Hello,” Sam said.
“Hi,” Harry said stupidly, then his brain clicked into gear, “What the hell are you doing in Britain? I’ve been trying to get in touch... Why didn’t you call? How did you get here? Oh what am I saying...come in, come in!”
Harry nearly tripped over his own children as he backed up to let Dean and Sam inside. All the kids seemed to be peering out from behind Harry’s legs and back – depending on height.
“Oh wow, is that Lily?” Dean said, dropping to his haunches just as he had when he had first met James and Albus. “Look how big you are! You probably don’t remember me, but I met you when you were very little.”
“I’m five,” Lily said, coming out from behind Harry a little.
“Yeah? Wow,” Dean said, then he looked up at Albus and James. “Wow, you guys got big too! How old are you?”
“Eight!” James said. “Ally is seven.”
“I can say it myself!” Albus said from beside James, but when both Dean and Sam looked over at him, he darted shyly behind Harry again.
“Ok, let Sam and Dean into the house guys, come on, back to the living room,” Harry ordered, and then kids lead the way into the sitting area – which Harry now realized was covered in toys and lego. “Um, sorry about the mess, we weren’t expecting company...”
“Ooo, cool Lego guys!” Dean said smiling at James.
“It’s mine! Cousin Dudley gave it me,” James said.
“Gave it to me” Ginny corrected, “Sam, Dean, it’s so lovely to see you!” Ginny swooped in and gave both the Winchesters a hug. Dean smiled warmly at her, and Sam smiled too, but... Harry mentally shook his head - Sam had always held himself a bit back, it was nothing. “Can I get you something? Tea? Coffee?”
“A coffee would be great, thanks,” Dean said. “Still a bit jet-lagged, we only just got in umm...yesterday? No, the day before? See, jet-legged!” Dean finished with a self-deprecating chuckle.
Sam declined a drink and Ginny disappeared into the kitchen.
Now that Harry looked, he could see how tired Dean looked, a little worn – no, a lot worn. For some reason Harry had always thought that whenever he saw Dean again, now that Sam was back, he would look happy and healthy, not just as tired and stressed as he had looked when the world was coming to an end. Harry looked over at Sam expecting him to look the same – only Sam looked fine. Well rested and without a care in the world. It was oddly more discomforting, rather than the welcome sight it should have been.
“Did you take a plane? Why didn’t you call? What are you even doing over here?” Harry asked.
“Last minute thing, and that mirror you gave me is...um, well, I didn’t have it on me at the time,” Dean said.
“We had to find some bones up in Scotland,” Sam said. “Bobby needed help with a little demon problem.”
“Is he okay?” Harry asked.
“Yeah, we talked to him on the drive back down here – everything is fine,” Dean smiled.
“Good, I’m glad,” Harry said. “Now, how long are you in Britain? Do you already have your flight home booked?”
“We leave tonight,” Sam said, “Dean just thought we should say hello since we had a day to kill in London.”
“Oh,” Harry said. Slightly hurt at the matter-of-fact tone of Sam’s voice. He didn’t miss that Sam implied that Dean was the one that wanted to visit.
Ginny appeared with a coffee for Dean, herself, and Harry – thus saving the moment of awkwardness.
“That was quick,” Dean smiled.
“Magic,” Ginny winked.
“Mm, you spoil us,” Dean said, as he took a sip.
“So, what did I miss?” Ginny asked.
“The guys were just telling me that they had business to attend to in Scotland, and were leaving for America tonight,” Harry said.
“So soon?” Ginny asked, disappointed. Dean opened his mouth as if to apologize, but Sam beat him to it.
“No rest for the wicked,” Sam winked.
Ginny gave him a smile, but seemed as disconcerted as Harry felt. There was definitely something wrong here. Bobby did say that Sam was different since coming back from Hell, so maybe this odd hollow persona was just a strange manifestation of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“Sam,” Harry said, “it is good to see you – we were so....I mean, have you been able to discover how it was that you’ve returned at all?”
Sam shook his head and shrugged, as if he didn’t even care to know.
“Cas doesn’t even know,” Dean said. “And as far as we’ve read, angels are the only things powerful enough – but the odds that they could get into the cage – let alone get out again with Sam-”
“It doesn’t matter,” Sam said. “I’m out. I’m hunting again.”
“Of course,” Harry said.”We’re all very thankful regardless.”
“So, I guess Ted’s in school, right?” Dean said.
“Yes, he just started his fourth year,” Harry smiled. “He’s not even my son, yet he still manages to make me feel old.”
Dean laughed. “I hear ya, Ben’s just a few years younger than-”
“I’ll uh, be right back-“ Sam said, gesturing to the stairs, “-sorry, I just – it was a long car-ride.”
“Oh right,” Harry said. “Understood.”
Harry couldn’t help but track Sam as he left the room. Sam walked by Harry’s children, who Harry had assumed were all playing with the Lego set on the floor – but instead discovered that although they were sitting next to the Lego, they weren’t actually playing with it. Instead, James had Lily tucked behind him, her hand in his and all three were eyeing the room warily.
His attention turned back to Dean, who sighed and seemed to relax slightly into the couch, as though he were only just arriving. It was all rather confusing.
Ginny drew her wand and muttered a muffling charm at the doorway, and then turned to Dean.
“How is he really?”
“He says he’s fine,” Dean shook his head. “He...seems...fine, but...”
“Something is off,” Harry finished.
“Yeah,” Dean said. “I guess...I guess he’s still dealing or something? I tried to talk to Bobby about it, but he, uh, it was a bad time – so yeah, I was hoping now that we’ve helped Bobby with his problem, maybe-”
Dean cut himself off, as Lily came over and crawled up on the loveseat beside Ginny. James came to stand by Ginny as well. Harry wondered if the kids had perhaps had a very quiet fight and they hadn’t noticed. They seemed subdued and worried.
“Hey James,” Harry said. “How’s the Lego-set coming?”
“Ok,” James said.
“Yeah? You’ll have to send a thank you card to Cousin Dudley, won’t you then?” Harry smiled.
James rolled his eyes.
“I hate thank you cards,” James said, but Harry’s attention was diverted because Albus had walked up to Dean and Albus’ question cut through the room like a finely sharpened blade.
“Bathroom,” Dean said. “He’ll be right back.”
“No,” Albus said, looking annoyed and confused. “Where’s Sam?”
“Albus, Sweetheart, Sam’s upstairs,” Ginny said. “You were very young when you met them, but you remember Dean and Sam, right?”
“Well, this is Dean, do you recognize him? Sam just went upstairs to use the bathroom. He’ll be right back,” Ginny said.
Albus only looked more upset and frustrated.
“I remember,” Albus said, and Harry could see they were minutes away a possible frustrated tantrum, “I remember Samdean, and...and...”
“Shh,” Dean said suddenly, placing a hand on Albus’ shoulder. “Look at me, Ally, ok?”
Albus turned to look at Dean, biting his lip and still looking confused and upset.
“I’ll find Sam, ok? I promise,” Dean said softly, and smiled reassuringly at Albus. He then glanced up to where James and Lily were both watching the whole exchange with concern. “Why don’t you three go draw me pictures of what I’m missing and what I should be looking for, do you think you could do that? It would really help me out.”
“Ok,” Albus said.
“I can write words too,” James said proudly.
“Awesome,” Dean smiled. “You guys are so smart and big now. Maybe you can help Lily, if she wants to put words on her pictures too.”
“Okay,” James agreed. “Come on, Lily!”
Lily seemed reluctant to detach herself from Ginny’s side, but James coaxed her away and all three kids retreated to the far corner of the room, armed with crayons and paper.
“We should leave,” Dean said.
“Oh please don’t,” Ginny said. “I’m sorry about Albus, I don’t know what got into him. He’s probably just confused because he was so young the last time you were here.”
“He’s probably just misremembering,” Harry tried. “Don’t let it bother you.”
“Kids and dogs, Harry,” Dean said, giving Harry an unimpressed look. “If there’s one thing Hunting has taught me, it’s that you should always listen to what children say. Also, don’t you read your own books?”
Upstairs they heard a door shut.
“Wha-” Harry tried to say.
“Early Wizard Development,” Dean said, “in your books on parenting – the chapter on how to tell if your kid is a wizard.”
Sam was halfway down the stairs now.
“Why were you-” Harry started.
“I wanted to be able to tell the difference between a Wizard kid and a Cambion,” Dean answered, as though Harry should have known.
“A Cambion?” Harry asked, just as Sam walked into the room.
“Why are we talking about cambions?” Sam asked. “Is there one here?”
“No,” Dean smiled. “We were just talking about how crazy children’s imaginations can get. You remember that case, Sam?”
“Of course,” Sam shrugged. “He got away.”
“We weren’t going to kill him anyway, Sam,” Dean said.
“Right, of course not, I know that,” Sam said. “But we could have used him.”
“It worked out in the end,” Dean said. “It doesn’t matter. I just hope he’s alright, wherever he is.”
Sam nodded - a look of sympathy and concern on his face – but, Harry couldn’t help but think that the expression looked oddly affected, not genuine.
“So, it turns out that one of the downsides of surprising someone with a visit,” Dean said, turning to Sam, “is that they may already have plans.”
“Oh?” Sam said, looking at Harry – and Harry couldn’t tell if Sam was disappointed or happy that Dean wasn’t planning to spend the day there.
“Um, yeah,” Harry said. “Sorry – I could cancel, it’s just-”
“Oh, no, I understand,” Sam said.
“Do you want to go surprise Drake and Scorp?” Dean asked Sam.
“Why?” Sam said.
“Museum then?” Dean tried again.
“Nah,” Sam said. “Let’s find an internet cafe and I’ll research another Hunt for us.”
“Ok,” Dean replied, his expression carefully neutral. As Sam turned away to smile insincerely at Harry and Ginny, Harry watched as Dean’s expression fall into despair, before he carefully schooled it again.
They made small talk for the rest of the short visit. Harry and Ginny did most of the talking, answering Dean’s questions about how the kids were doing, or how Teddy and his friends were doing at school. He asked after Ron, Hermione, and George as well. It was an extremely one-sided conversation, but then, everything Harry wanted to ask about Dean’s life couldn’t be asked with Sam in the room.
They had just said their goodbyes to Sam at the door, when Dean interrupted.
“Sam, why don’t you walk down to the main road and see if you can find us a cab,” Dean said. “I’ll catch up to you – I just gotta hit the head.”
Sam nodded, and smiled a goodbye at Harry and Ginny, waving at the kids who still stood shyly behind their parents. Then Sam left, and it was as though he pulled all the tension out of the room with him.
Dean immediately dropped down into a crouch and the children ran forward. They held out crudely drawn pictures with carefully written capital letters on them, and Dean smiled broadly and stacked all the pictures together.
“Good kids, good kids,” Dean said, “thank you.” He folded the pictures carefully and slid them into an inside pocket of his coat. He patted James on the shoulder, ruffled Albus’ hair, and kissed a shy Lily on the forehead.
“Do you think you’re safe with him?” Harry asked, knowing they had limited time to talk.
Dean straightened up and nodded.
“I ran all the tests Harry,” Dean said. “Holy water, silver... whatever is wrong with him, he’s still...he’s still my brother.”
“The mirror,” Dean said. “I left it in storage, I don’t know when I’ll be able to get to it.”
“Take this one, just one second,” Harry said, taking out his own communication mirror and his wand. He carefully enchanted it to belong to Dean and Dean alone, while Ginny gave Dean a hug goodbye.
“I have a mirror too,” Ginny said. “So does Ron – if you need help and you can’t get in touch with Harry for some reason-”
“Thanks Ginny,” Dean said. “If you need to get in touch with me for any reason, send a letter to Bobby and I’ll call as soon as I can. I uh, it’s not like I want to be doing stuff behind his back, but if Sam is just dealing with hell in a weird way, the last thing I want to do is hurt him. If he knew I might not trust-”
“We understand,” Ginny says. “You’re just looking out for him.”
“Yeah,” Dean laughed. “He might not see it that way though.”
“Send word as soon as you know anything,” Harry said, handing Dean the enchanted mirror.
“I will,” Dean said. “Thanks for the help, guys.”
As soon as Dean was out the door, and the kids settled back in the living room with their toys, Harry sprinted up to his study. His parenting books were on a low shelf in the far corner of the room. Harry sat cross-legged and quickly scanned the titles until he found Early Wizard Development - a book that Hermione had gifted them back when they found themselves rather unexpectedly pregnant with James.
Harry flipped to the chapter on how to tell if your child was a Wizard. The chapter started out with the usual explanations about genetics, then lead into the most obvious signs of accidental magic – things moving when the children were angry or scared, etc. Harry knew all this, and why on earth would being a wizard make a child more trust-worthy than-
“Merlin’s beard,” Harry said.
“What is it?” Ginny’s voice startled Harry. She was leaning in the open doorway. Harry hadn’t even heard her come up the stairs. “What does Dean Winchester know about Wizards that we don’t?”
Harry cleared his throat.
“Surprisingly, when a Wizard or Witch is born to Muggle parents, it is usually not incidents of accidental magic that alert them that they’re children are different from Muggle children,” Harry read. “Many believe this is due to the fact that Muggles have no context with which to understand the existence of magic, and so excuse away any accidental magic as simple optical illusions or bizarre coincidences. It is, however, the heightened intuition of muggleborn Wizards and Witches that their parents later claim was the first sign that their children were unique. In various studies, Muggles most often used the term “psychic” when describing their young Wizard children – referring to an ability that Muggles can possess, or feign to possess, that grants them the ability to read-minds or foresee future events. Studies show that Wizard children have a heighten intuition, and indeed can sometimes display the same abilities as true Seers, in the early stages of their development. This “psychic” ability seems to reach its height at five or six years of age. In 90% of cases, it will then steeply taper off until disappearing completely by the time the children have reached adulthood.”
Harry looked up to find Ginny starring at him. He thought back to his own childhood – how he constantly dreamt of events that he should never have been able to remember. He had never even considered what that meant.
“We both read that book Harry – did you ever read that chapter?” Ginny asked.
“No,” Harry said, “You?”
“No,” Ginny said. “It didn’t matter to me if our children were wizards or squibs – it’d be an insult to Fred, to Colin, to all of them...”
“All those bad dreams that Albus-”
“We told him they were just dreams,” Harry closed his eyes, realizing the truth.
“We never even asked,” Ginny said.
“We’ll start now,” Harry said. “We’ll ask, but...maybe it’s better that we didn’t know – if he believes that they’re only dreams. We can’t be sure that they aren’t.”
“We can’t be sure that they are either though,” Ginny said. “I wish I had looked at the pictures before Dean took them.”
“I’ll ask him, if he calls,” Harry said, standing and moving over to his desk.
“You know,” Ginny said. “I foolishly believed that the day we saw those two reunited would be a joyous occasion.”
“Me too,” Harry said, “but then, nothing is ever so simple when it comes to Winchesters.”