The cry of pain caught his attention. He’d heard a lot of them over the years- part of the demonic gig, really. You’d assume, of course, that it would all sound the same eventually, all those silly little mortal cries interchangeable through time in the ears of demons. You’d be surprisingly, mortifyingly wrong. For a start, most demons enjoyed forcing those sorts of unpleasant sounds from humans- in many ways, it was the demonic equivalent of a choral performance, just with a far more gruesome way to make sure the high notes were perfectly achieved. Demons could hear the varied notes, preferred some sounds to others, and were generally self-considered to be connoisseurs of life’s great carnage choir. Even Crowley, who had spent as much time removed from human suffering as possible given the whole living among them thing, understood that humans were creatures of absolute variety, and even their experiences of pain required different tonal inflections. He’d learned to ignore the majority, but this cry was terribly special, in a horrible sort of way. It wasn’t the sound of a child falling, or stumbling, and being taken by surprise. It was the sound of a child expecting, and resigned to receiving, a hit. He spun, taking in the scene, a soft, enraged hiss cut off abruptly the moment he realised he’d made it.
She was small, too skinny to be healthy, and sprawled on her back in the dirt, her body shaking but her eyes the kind of empty that spoke of being far too used to these kinds of moments, and far too defiant to let the bully see and enjoy her fear. Her carefully blank gaze moved from the older, far larger boy standing over her, to the well-dressed woman seated a few meters away, studiously scrolling through her phone even though there was no way in Heaven the woman hadn’t heard her kid getting hit. The boy followed the girl’s gaze, smile morphing into predatory delight.
‘See, freak? Even your mother doesn’t care about you.’ The boy dragged his leg bag comically far in preparation for the kick, and Crowley?
Crowley was not having it.
‘DO NOT TOUCH HER.’ The boy spun, stumbling as his leg returned to the earth. He’d hoped that the little shit would see an adult intervening and run the Hell away. No such luck. Of course, the little bastard was of the age of proving himself. How terrorising a smaller, weaker child was proving anything he'd want anyone to know about himself, Crowley wasn't entirely sure.
‘What are you gonna do about it, old man?’ Old man? Crowley grinned the villainously demonic smile of someone two stupid comments away from ripping out somebody’s spleen with the express purpose of slapping them in the face with it. Perhaps the boy was too stupid to sense that particular danger, but even the stupidest of bullies will notice someone’s head morphing into that of a large and clearly demonic snake. It was just for a moment, but it was enough. The boy shrieked, painfully high pitched, and ran away as though chased by the demons of hell. As if Crowley would run in these shoes!
The girl was staring at him, eyes blown wide in pain and surprise. Aziraphale could sense love and all that sentimental dross, but Crowley? Crowley could sense fear and pain and misery. The girl was in pain. But she wasn’t afraid of him, even though she’d clearly seen the change. (Were Aziraphale actually present, he would have stumbled at the sudden, overwhelming sense of hope in the girl the very second of Crowley’s metamorphosis. As this would mean Crowley being considered a beacon of hope by his lover, it was probably rather fortunate that the pair had split up for the day). He reached out a hand to the girl, smiling as she took it without hesitation, keeping his movements gentle as he helped her to her feet. He could smell the stench of Fate on the girl, looked her over and spotted a serpentine twining of silver on her right wrist. She would play a part in the ineffable plan, and he fought the urge to start shouting at the clouds at the unfairness of branding a kid for war. The universe didn’t mark you unless it was for something big, and the big things? They always ended in pain and death and heartbreak.
Instead of shouting at clouds, he crouched to the girl’s level, checking her over for injuries. A punch to the face. Nothing broken, thankfully, but sore none the less. ‘I can heal that, if you’d like?’ She shrugged.
‘It’s okay. He doesn’t hit as hard as Fath-‘ she cut herself off, but he’d seen it in her eyes as she spoke, didn’t need those final letters to make the connection. He had a moment of consideration, of realising that Aziraphale would be furious. He’d probably assume Crowley had gotten bored and stolen a child for a lark. And then cursed himself for an Angel to be so full of stupid, pointless idiocy. He’d seen Aziraphale terrorise mortals for doing far less to their children. His angel would take one look at those big, soulful eyes and adopt her on the spot. Of course he would, and even if he wasn't entirely thrilled, it was unlikely he'd be so rude as to say something about it in front of the kid, especially if they brought a cake from that little bakery he adored to the introductory conversation.
‘What’s your name, kid?’
‘Hermione.’ He held out his hand, shook hers politely when she mirrored his actions. Her hand was warm, and so, so tiny. He couldn’t imagine letting something so small and fragile be knocked about in front of him without caring.
‘I’m Crowley, though you can call me Anthony if you’d rather.’ She studied him a moment, before nodding once like she had come to a rather important internal decision.
‘It’s nice to meet you, Crowley. Thank you for helping me.’ He ignored that. Force of habit.
‘What does your mother do when your father hits you?’ She startled a bit at the change of topic, but straightened her spine and answered regardless. Brave kid.
‘Says “better me than her.''’ She shrugged as though it was normal, to be expected, and Crowley eyed the oblivious woman in fury that morphed to sadness when he actually took a read of the woman. Bruises carefully hidden, but she was at her own breaking point, and terrified. Kicking another victim when they're down and ramping up the collective misery was never a demonic trait Crowley liked, let alone possessed. Clearly Aziraphale had always been a terrible influence.
‘Riiiight.’ Unsure of what, precisely, the correct thing to say to that kind of admission was, he opted to loudly clap his hands and hope it counted as a suitable distraction. ‘Moving on. You have choices kid, though they may not be brilliant ones. You can scurry off home with those two, if you’d like. They’d never hurt you again, I’d make sure of that. But if you’d rather not deal with that (he gestured in disgust at the oblivious, frozen woman behind them with a sneer he hoped looked authentic), you could always come live with me. Can’t say I’m great at the whole parenting thing, but I’ve kept houseplants alive and that’s basically the same thing, really, and I’m pretty sure it’d still be a step up from that lot. My… I don’t know what he is, really? He’ll love you, though, I’m sure of it, and you’ll be safe.’
Her eyes were huge, and even he could sense the hope in her at his words. It was uncomfortable, and strangely, a little bit wonderful, too. ‘Do you mean it?’
‘Yuuup. We can go pick up your stuff and leave, if that’s what you want?’
‘Please.’ She hugged him tightly, not even noticing that her mother hadn’t looked up from her phone despite all the screaming and the whole ‘strange man walking off with your kid’ thing.
The home, if you could muster suitable enough sarcasm to call it such, was drenched in the reek of pain and fear, like a dog that had rolled in a puddle full of something dead and decaying and possessing a stench unable to be exorcised regardless of how many baths were enforced. Crowley lowered his glasses in surprise, forgetting that the girl hadn’t seen his eyes. Forgetting that children were generally scared of such things as demons. Her soft gasp of shock caught his attention, and he returned his glasses into position before turning to fully face her, mentally preparing for the screaming and the panic. ‘Your eyes are beautiful’ she said softly, moving to hold his hand as though it were entirely unconcerning to be ransacking your own home with a demon who was, rather obviously, quite demonish and very much not actually a human. He couldn’t help but smile at her. She was a brave little snot, he’d give her that.
All in all, it didn’t take long to pack up the kid’s life and go. Being completely unaware of the nature of demonic magic, the child dutifully packed up her books (oh, Aziraphale was going to love her, clearly) without realising the subtle, cruel magic being woven into her former home. Just because Crowley wasn't particularly fond of terrorising mortals didn't mean he wasn't damned good at it when he needed to be, and this prick more than had it coming. Her father was going to have a rather painful night, not that Hermione would ever know. And if they stopped in to buy a ridiculously indulgent looking cake on the way to the park, well, Crowley knew how to tempt his angel, after all. The girl didn’t even flinch when he vanished her belongings into the boot of the Bentley, or when he took her hand and vanished them to the nearest cafe. He’d noticed the soft rumbling of her stomach as she packed, even if she looked determined to pretend she wasn’t hungry. Watching her grin in delight at the very idea of choosing whatever she wanted to eat added to the not-so-sneaking suspicion that Aziraphale was going to love her. Especially when she gave him the most adorably doe-eyed expression and asked if she could have ice cream for dessert.
He would need to go soon, of course. There was barely an hour before he would be meeting Crowley, ready to start the drive home to Tadfield, and he hadn’t even made it to the bakery yet! But there was something niggling at the back of his mind, like a half-formed memory that he was forgetting something desperately important. Sighing, and glancing upwards in a way he hoped conveyed a distinctly unimpressed air, he fell into line behind the urge to turn left, and moved towards the quieter part of the park.
He crisscrossed the park like a lost dog, the niggling growing to a persistent, almost painful itch just beyond his reach. Aziraphale shot a far grumpier look Heavenward in response. He had been wandering for twenty minutes, wondering if this was Gabriel’s celestial way of getting him to exercise, when he saw it. Or rather, them.
The boy was tiny. Even knowing Adam and his friends, it was easy to forget that humans could be that small, that frail. Gangly in a way that reminded him of Crowley, his hair a chaotic mess that Crowley would appreciate just on the principle of the thing, there was a defiance in the boy’s expression that surprised him. Most humans would try to hide it, to prevent trouble, but this boy? He could feel it from across the park- this boy was powerful, powerful enough to have gained Fate's interest. Not as powerful as Adam, of course, but strong enough that should he will it, the larger boy would be in a world of trouble. Said larger boy (was it a boy? Was it a strangely small demonic whale with legs? Truthfully, Aziraphale wasn’t terribly sure) shoved the smaller one, hard, against a tree, and the target of his violence winced in pain. He was already moving forward when he heard the adults laugh. He turned to them, startled. He had hoped, of course, that they had been watching something amusing on their mobile telephones, the way Crowley did sometimes when he was bored. But no, they were definitely watching the rotund boy. The smaller one didn’t even spare them a look, simply contorted until he was free, and started running away from the confrontation.
Aziraphale paused, reminded of Crowley’s almost boneless movements, so distracted he didn’t notice the moment when the man staggered to his feet, and moved far faster than should be possible, snatching up the smaller child by the throat. The boy gurgled pitifully as he was shaken, the man shouting cruelly. The woman and the small demonic whale smiled as though enjoying the presence of a particularly pretty flower, rather than an act of abuse against a child.
It would not do. Aziraphale hurried forwards. The miracle was probably more demonic than angelic, were he honest. Free will was always a rather touchy issue for Angels such as himself, after all. But the man lowered the boy to the ground and released him, his large, hairy face emotionless as a robot, and that was enough. The boy backed away, wary and clutching his throat, his whole body shaking so violently that it was near miraculous he hadn’t fallen yet.
‘Are you alright?’ A rather foolish introductory question, were he honest, but it was the first that came to his mind. The boy turned to him, more a startled, jerking jump than a turn truth be told, his startling green eyes wide in pain and panic.
‘Did… did you do this?’ Ah, the boy was clever. Clever enough to know that something was very, very wrong with his family. Kind enough to be worried for them, despite their cruelty.
‘I did. They’re fine, no damage done. But I could not, would not, let that man continue to do you harm.’ There was hope radiating from the boy, tinged with fear as though he’d never had someone intervene on his behalf before. Aziraphale rather doubted anyone had. In his heart, he knew that no one would again, that if he left this boy here, nothing would ever change for him. He sighed, wondering just how cross Crowley would be before his mind shifted invariably to Crowley, horrified at the notion of the flood and drowning children and somehow smuggling them into the arc, and chiding himself for his foolishness. He offered the boy a smile.
‘My name is Aziraphale. I am an angel, and I wish to offer you a choice. Possibly not a particularly good one, if I’m honest, but a choice none the less. You can stay with them, if that’s what you wish to do. They will not hurt you again. But you could, if you wanted, come… with me? My partner Crowley won’t mind, though he’ll likely be a bit cross at first, because that’s just how he is, dear boy, but for all that he pretends to be terrible, he’s rather sweet. And either way, I’ll heal you. I wouldn’t send you anywhere with your throat in such a state.’ He was rambling, and he knew it, but once he’d gotten started it was frightfully difficult to actually stop it. The boy was staring at him, utterly silent, but he could feel the joyful hope burning like fire in the child's very soul, and that, perhaps, was enough to stop his chatter.
‘It’s a pleasure to meet you, Harry, though I wish it had been under happier circumstances.’
The boy smiled, and it was a beautiful sight. ‘Did you mean it?’
‘All of it, dear boy. All of it.’
The smile widened. ‘Then… I’d like to come with you, if that’s okay?’
‘It’s perfect. Now, is there anything you need from your former home?’
‘No, Sir. I don’t actually have anything.’ It didn’t take much to heal the boy, barely more effort to miracle away the abominable clothes he was wearing to be replaced with a pair of nice pants and a button up shirt. And then they were walking away, the Dursley’s still frozen in place. After all, there was a storm coming. Maybe a cold shower, or some hail, would help them contemplate their poor life choices.
The girl was getting tired. They had eaten, well, she had. Crowley had sipped absently at a coffee. They had wandered while he bought Aziraphale a cake (she had adored one that was all fresh white cream and pink flowers, and he had, of course, relented to her choice)... and a book that the angel had mentioned during a late night conversation weeks back... and some wine. Somewhere in all the chaos he had forgotten that humans, and especially the smaller more fragile variety, don’t have the same endless energy as an immortal being. Transporting the cake and book to the Bentley with barely a thought (the cake, after all, wouldn’t dare to presume to be damaged even if the Bentley was sitting in full summer sun), he scooped the kid up, letting her cling to his side like a particularly fluffy and oddly trusting spider monkey. She snuggled against him, her face against his neck, and her riot of curly hair looking ready to strangle him if given the opportunity.
He could, he realised with only mild horror, get rather used to this.
Still, he wondered how Aziraphale would respond. It would be weird, wouldn’t it, to walk up to your… partner? Lover? Your angel, with a kid on your hip as though it was a normal everyday kind of thing? Should he text, perhaps? Would Aziraphale even remember to investigate the phone’s buzzing? Probably not. But then, there’s no real way to say ‘I have rather permanently confiscated a small and adorably tragic human child, so please love her immediately and don’t yell at me until she’s out of hearing range’ without it sounding odd, regardless of whether it’s got an emoji attached. Had he known that, on the other side of the park, Aziraphale had only just finished his meal with his own new and adorably tragic small human child, and was currently holding the boy’s hand as they hurried to meet, his thoughts just as panicked as Crowley’s own, he would likely feel a lot better about the entire situation. However he didn’t, so like Aziraphale, Crowley was rather focused on planning what the first awkward words should be to smooth over a potentially large and human-shaped problem between them.
God, rather like Crowley, has always been a fan of a suitably dramatic entrance. Perhaps, had the angel and the demon been less panicked at the thought of a coming confrontation, they would have noticed the way the sun seemed to shine just that little bit more brightly, a breeze forcing the branches of the trees above them into just the right position for each celestial and/or esoteric being and their new ward to be spotlit and dazzling.
Instead, Crowley saw the angel, and smiled, the smile dropping to shock at the sight of a small, gangly young boy clutching his hand, reeking of worry and prolonged exposure to fear.
Instead, Azipraphale beamed at the sight of his demon, before tilting his head in confusion at the sight of a small girl, asleep against him, an aura of trust and love surrounding her.
It was Crowley who broke first, laughing so hard the girl startled awake before burying her face against his neck with a sleepy huff. 'Well that's just downright ineffable, innit, angel?' Angels, it turned out, could huff far louder than tiny, adorably tragic, confiscated humans. Not technically as adorably or as effectively. But certainly louder.