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A Kind of Magic

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A deep, swirling midnight blue stretched across the ceiling of the Great Hall, providing a perfect canvas for the milky splatter of stars that made up the galaxies drifting lazily upon it. The candles floating amongst the scene only lit the night sky brighter. Twelve dozen pairs of eyes gazed skyward at the simple yet beautiful display of magic above them, perhaps in awe, or perhaps attempting to uncomfortably avert the gazes of the several other hundred students unabashedly measuring the first years up.

“That boat ride in this rain? The poor dears look like lambs led to slaughter,” tutted a wizard dressed in creme robes.

The owner of the voice provided a stark contrast to the rest of the staff’s table, the occupants of which were almost entirely dressed in dark colors. He sat with impeccable posture; his nose practically pressed to the crease between the pages of his book. Only his intelligent blue eyes, peering over his small circle-framed reading glasses, and his fluffy white-blonde hair were visible to the gaggle of students standing expectantly behind the tome.

“Awwwwhhh, nah, they look like that every year,” drawled the wizard beside him. It was inevitable that some of the young, nervous faces turned their attention toward this professor. He looked almost as if he’d wandered into the castle from the streets and made himself comfortable on the seat he liked best. Balanced perfectly on the rear two legs of his chair, he rocked himself back and forth with one fashionable, heeled, snake-skin boot unceremoniously anchored on the table in front of them.

Most likely, the eleven-year olds were wondering if he was gazing at them through the dark shades that concealed his eyes.

He was.

Murmurs broke out amongst the youngest students of, “Is that really a professor?”, “He looks like he must be head of Slytherin, eh?”, and the inevitable, “Why on Earth is he wearing sunglasses in here? Merlin’s Beard it’s dark!”

The subject of the whispers gave a wry smile.

“Popular as always, Crowley,” mused his stout companion, face concealed yet again by the covers of the book.

“An- a- annnnd how many will wind up our little baby puff-lings do you think?”

The blue eyes flicked up yet again to peer at the students, but only for a moment before delving back into his pages.

Your ‘baby puff-lings’, and blessed few I should hope,” the blonde mused sympathetically behind his book, “With your antics I can hardly believe they’ve gone and made you head of house!”

“Oh come on, Professor Fell,” Crowley emphasized his name in a playful sing-song voice, “You can’t be jealous? They’d have done you, if you’d be bothered to get your nose out of those books long enough to teach.”

It wasn’t empty flattery. Azira was a genius at Transfiguration. Crowley reckoned he could give even aging Professor Flitwick a run for his money when it came to Charms. With how impossibly many Muggle artifacts he’d patiently explained to his pure-blood friend over the past school year, he could easily teach Muggle Studies, too.

“Oh no, Dear Boy,” Fell rushed to reassure his friend, “I much prefer providing a more supplementary education to the students.”

A dark eyebrow arched over Crowley’s sunglasses.

 “Is that what you call chasing students out of the restricted section and refusing to let them leave the library with books? ‘Supplementary Education’?” he spoke the last two words through his nose, mocking the man beside him, “C’mon, Azira, you can’t even be bothered to watch them sorted! Don’t you want to see what poor petrified faces you’ll be chasing out of the library next? That’s got to be more interesting than…. th-… than…”

A gangly arm reached forward, the long fingers attached to it yanking the book from the librarian with ease. The chair fell back to all four legs as he raised his shades to squint comically at the cover, his strange amber snake eyes only visible to the man next to him. His face fell deadpan and the glasses fell back down onto the bridge of his nose with a slapping click.

“Evolution of the Common Peruvian Harpy from 1537 BCE to 718 CE,” he read in a pointedly slow, droll voice before staring incredulously at the dining partner to his right.

“Hardly!” Professor Fell rebutted indignantly, “but if it means that much to you.”

He gingerly, but pointedly, snatched the book back, resting it with care safely behind his dishware before lamenting, “Oh, I do wish they would hurry, though. Dinner was meant to be served half an hour since.”

His stomach gargled angrily as if to definitively punctuate his statement. Half the students in the Great Hall were grumbling with the same sentiment. Just as Crowley was about to marvel on Azira’s only two modes of thought (literature and cuisine), a gruff voice to his left spoke up.

“Sorry ‘bout tha’, Professor Fell! Gian’ Squid wan’ed to say hallo to the firs’ years!”

Crowley instinctively picked up his wine glass just before the half-giant sat down next to him, effectively crashing half the dishes in front of them to the ground.

Azira tutted a spell under his breath and flicked his wand, the dishes restoring themselves to their former state and placement before he remembered his manners. A few first years looked on in amazement, not having seen proper magic performed yet. He provided Hagrid a reassuring smile, “Not to worry, Dear Boy. Look at me, complaining about dinner when you shepherd those first years here, rain or shine, every year! Quite commendable, really.”

The bulking man beamed at the praise, chest puffing out and shifting the table with it, sloshing liquid out of several cups, but not Crowley’s. He mused at this small victory, sipping his wine. His victory was a bit premature, he found, as Hagrid nudged his spindly figure with his elbow, nearly tossing the man out of his chair and splashing half his wine onto his black, red-threaded designer robes, “I reckon you got a good few of your lot this year, Professor Crowley.”

It was Crowley’s turn to swish his wand and mumble a quick spell, righting his robes before turning to give Hagrid a toothy grin and a cheeky, intrigued response.

“SILENCE,” cried the sorting hat before another word could be said. The hall submitted obediently to the command.

Headmistress McGonagall stood dutifully next to the hat as it began its song. Crowley chortled at the expression on some of the muggle-borns’ faces as they tried to reason if what they were seeing and hearing was, indeed, a singing hat. Quickly the attention faded as many of the older students got back to whispering at each other. Crowley was, unsurprisingly, no great role model as he, with much focus, held the end of a spoon between his thumb and forefinger, pulled the oval back with his other hand, and launched it at the table’s occupant adjacent to Azira. It smacked her squarely on the cheek, and fell with great ruckus. When McGonagall turned to silently admonish the professor responsible, both the guilty party and the target pointed at one another with equal vigor. The librarian between them wore an expression between flustered and exhausted, staring skyward as if to ask God Herself, “Why must it be I that’s given charge of these adult children?”

One of the first years stifled a giggle, Crowley gave him a knowing grin and held a finger to his lips. When the coast was clear, he leaned across Azira, who let out a silent but notable huff and sat back in his chair, as if that would do anything to exclude him from this nonsense. Crowley tried to pretend his heart wasn’t beating out of his chest at the proximity and that this wasn’t on purpose, and he hoped aimlessly that the pounding from within couldn’t be heard externally.

“Pssssst, Anathema!”

Really, Anthony? A spoon? It’s almost like you could have gotten my attention- oh I don’t know- by leaning over and speaking to me?” Professor Device hissed back at her rival colleague and friend, looking forward lest the Headmistress turn back around.

Crowley ignored her, “Wanna make a bet? I get more in my house than you yours. Loser buys a round at Hogsmeade Saturday.”

She nodded, mouth taut, but with an energy Crowley knew well as saying, “You’re on, Snake-Man.”

Crowley leaned back into his own chair, much to Azira’s relief.

They were quiet for most of the sorting, occasionally Professor Fell would make little comments of affirmation regardless of house they were sorted into, a small, “So much ambition in this year!” at the fifth Slytherin, or “A good age for academics it seems” at the eleventh Ravenclaw.

The boy who Crowley had grinned at earlier was named Warlock Dowling (must be from a muggle family with a name like that). A burst of giggles erupted the Hall at the name.

“Oof, can’t even pretend to be from a wizarding family,” Crowley empathized.

“And why should he have to? He’ll be alright, it’s not so bad,” Azira said, instinctively defensive with his own father being a muggle and his mother a squib.

Crowley gave a reassuring nod as the boy, who looked like he wanted to die on the spot, was then sorted into Hufflepuff, “I’ll make sure it’s not so bad.” His colleague gave him an approving little smile that made the Herbology professor sure he would melt in his chair. Since Azira started the year before, Crowley found himself surviving day to day off those soft smiles, little comments of praise, arm pats, and endearments.

Indeed, Crowley was Head of House Hufflepuff, a fresh choice made just this year. Since Professor Sprout had left a few years prior, the position had spread here and there, but never to a true Hufflepuff such as Anthony. He was hard-working (when interested), impeccably loyal (to those he trusted most), incredibly patient towards achieving his goals (and chasing those his heart yearned for), and though, he would loathe to admit it, evidently and obviously kind.

His mood soured as a clique of four students watched each other be sorted, and the first- a girl named Pippin Galadriel Moonchild (must be from a wizarding family with a name like that) was placed in Gryffindor. And so, he assumed the other three would be as well. Groups like that always sorted into the same house. His premonition proved correct as the last member of the little gang, an Adam Young, was without hesitation sorted into Gryffindor. The final student remaining of the first years was sorted into Ravenclaw. Crowley had lost his bet 31 Hufflepuff to 38 Gryffindor.

With some final words of welcome, a buffet set itself before them. Azira rubbed his hands together as he appraised the spread before loading his plate, clearly pleased. Crowley rested his loss on an elbow, picking half heartedly at his peas and loaded potatoes with a fork. He rarely ate, his colleagues often mused how they were unsure how he didn’t simply disappear when wine alone sustained him.

“Oh, come now, Dear Boy,” Azira encouraged as he cut happily into his spinach and cheese stuffed chicken breast, “It’s only a drink. Why don’t you come share a drink with me after the students are settled? That should make things right enough! I still have a bottle in my office from when I started.”

A platoon of pixies fluttered in Crowley’s stomach. It wasn’t all that strange for the two of them to share a nightcap, but a long summer apart had left him desperately missing his companion.

“What, did you miss me, Angel?” he gave a coy grin, using the nickname he’d adopted for Azira back when they were in school together. They hadn’t been friends, but the blonde had never thought a lick of it. In the face of being called a “mudblood”, someone calling him “Angel” was the least of his concerns.

“Of course, Anthony!” Azira expressed with his eyebrows raised and his eyes bright, the sentiment expressed all too genuinely.

The pixies spread to Crowley’s chest at the earnestness, and he felt a bit sick, “right. Erm. I’ll be there. After the stud- students are sau- saught after.” His partner forwent addressing his stutter, he always did.

Azira gave a hearty nod, as if glad the matter was settled, and crossed his utensils over his plate, which promptly disappeared. He appeared invigorated as an array of scrumptious desserts set themselves before him. He perked up further as McGonagall, as was tradition, warned the first years of the rules.

“Oh, I do hope she remembers to mention the restricted section,” he said, as if there wasn’t an entire list of rules he’d tacked on the library door that was bewitched so students couldn’t even enter before reading and understanding them. He looked utterly delighted when she did. Crowley was resting his cheek on his fist, gazing at Azira and soaking up his variety of happy expressions until he caught Anathema’s own knowing smile leering behind the object of his affections. Crowley gave her a standoffish glare, her smile grew, and she twitched her eyebrows before turning her attention back to McGonagall. Nearly every witch or wizard on staff knew- except for Azira, that was. None of them had ever met someone so brilliant who was, in tandem, so impossibly thick.

A great ruckus was risen as the staff and students were dismissed. Prefects gathered the first years, pulling them to different directions for their respective Head Professors to meet up. Azira rose to his feet, righting his vest underneath his robes before departing, smiling dutifully at the few students who managed to raise their hands in greeting on his quickest path to the exit.

“Got any adviccccce, Deviccce?” Crowley hissed playfully, raising his eyebrows and shooting for casual, but his black nails tapping on the tabletop betraying his anxiety.

Professor Device looked around her, as if she was about to tip her most profound secret, before leaning in close and whispering urgently, “they smell fear.”

Crowley pulled down his glasses specifically so she could watch the great roll of his eyes before standing, gathering the long sleeves of his robes. She grabbed the end of them, and he turned back to a more genuine smile.

“You’ll do wonderfully, Anthony, the students already love you. Just remember a lot of the first years are afraid and probably homesick already,” she expressed, genuinely this time.

He gazed at her for a moment behind his shades before giving a noncommittal shrug and “Hnnnm” of understanding, and of thanks. Fully Fluent in Anthony J. Crowley, Anathema found this satisfactory and released the fabric of his sleeve.

The first-year Slytherins looked fairly flabbergasted as they gazed expectantly at Crowley, and he breezed past them with only an eyebrow waggling and a slight grin. Their jaws dropped further as he swaggered over to the Hufflepuffs, hopping onto the edge of the table, one leg dangling, the other bent on top of the surface, and supporting his weight on one hand behind him. The other remained free so he could fling it about while speaking.

“Good summer, Fawley, Blishwick?” he inquired the Prefects.

“Aye, Professor Crowley!” both responded.

“Cause lots of trouble?”

“You know it, Professor Crowley,” came a toothy grin from Fawley. Blishwick blushed at him, timidly. The first years looked back and forth as if watching a tennis match.

“Well done, you! And the Gigas Darlingtonia Californica?”

“Tried to swallow me mum’s cat, made me cut it down after that,” Prefect Fawley tried to frown, but was grinning too hard at Crowley’s loud, hard cackle.

“Suppose the cat deserved revenge then.”

With that, he turned his faces to the first years.

“Well helluuuu,” he mused, unable to contain his smirk at their faces of awe. They seemed in disbelief that this professor was intentionally addressing them, “I’m Professor Anthony J. Crowley. I’ll be teaching you Herbology, and I’m Head of your house. Now, I won’t bother asking you not to cause trouble, I know you will, but just be sneaky about it, yeah? It’d be a shame if you were caught, I have much more pressing matters than coming up with cruel and unusual punishments.”

Unusual? Sure. Cruel? Hardly. Professor Crowley’s punishments were universally acknowledged as not only lacking in discipline or enforcement of remorse, but as being fun. One punishment involved him releasing every snitch the school owned, resulting in chaos of not only the punished party, but nearly every third year Hufflepuff screaming and laughing while chasing a litany of golden orbs around the courtyard on broomsticks, blowing air up other house’s robes and sending papers scattering everywhere. Another involved the wrong doers having to answer riddles by a variety of rambunctious and mischievous toadstools and then wrestling a Hyacinth Bean Vine that was keen on tickling to find seeds Professor Crowley had unscrupulously “misplaced”.  Most importantly, Hufflepuffs were excellent finders, and usually loved a good scavenger hunt, Anthony never forgot this while planning his “punishments”, and he had been scolded by the headmistress on many an occasion for being too lax. Luckily, playing ignorant was nearly second nature to him after his own schooling experience at Hogwarts.

“Now, my office is the room nearest the greenhouses, ground floor. If I’m not teaching, I’ll be there. If not there, check the library,” If he wasn’t very much mistaken, a grin of knowing looked over Fawley’s face. Blishwick gazed at him as if he held the moon on a string, “I’m sure you’ve been filled in, but your house here, it’s like your family. Even I was a first year once- unbelievable I know.”

A small fit of giggles spread out amongst the first years.

“And as such, if you need to talk to someone, just find me or your prefects. Don’t leave your dormitories past nine on school nights. If you need me, boys fetch Fawley, girls fetch Blishwick. In-betweens and others, let me know if you have issues staying with boys and girls.”

Some looked confused at this, some looked surprised. Fawley and Blishwick gave nothing but a determined and attentive reaction. Crowley had always stayed with the boys in his school years, but, as every student of every other year knew, he was definitively genderfluid, and unashamed of being such.

“Let’s have a good year, yeah?”

Many of the first years shuffled their feet. Their professor hopped down, holding both his arms high to his sides. “Yeah?” he pressed.

His first years seemed to relax, many smiling, “Yeah!”

He felt a bit of an urge to try harder when the first boy he saw, Warlock, looked downcast and troubled.

“That’s more like it, now get out there and cause some trouble. Make sure to steal food from the kitchens at night. Give some people the wrong password so they’ll be doused in butterbeer, all that Jazz.”

The boy looked up at him, and Crowley pulled down his glasses to wink, earning a slightly reconciled smile in turn. With a spackle of giggling and whooping, the prefects led their charges away, towards the kitchens and their ground-floor dormitory. Crowley rarely went in there now, wishing to give the students their safe place away from prying ears, but he did so deeply miss the warm, underground room with its high windows, comfortable chairs, soft blankets, endless tap of butterbeer, and happy houseplants living on tall shelves atop an endless supply of fairytales of dedication, hard work, and loyalty. It was home. And he hoped they thought so too.

He felt a bit of a happy buzz only gained by earning more family members as he walked towards his office, a knowing nod thrown to Professor Device, who had a smile on her own face betraying a similar feeling. His feet carried him instinctively towards the greenhouses. He did a final run through each. Most of the plants were young, he had only arrived a few days before, but the older ones had been tended to by the summer staff. He hissed at the few ignorant who had relaxed in his absence, whispering threats of tearing them up and planting their children in their soiled remains. Like magic, they fixed their errs, shaking until Crowley allowed them the slimmest smile of satisfaction. Last, he checked the precious Whomping Willow.

“LOOK AT YOU!” he shouted, leaning back to take in the full glory of the Willow with his arms held wide at his sides, “STILL SWINGING LIKE ANYTHING”. A gigantic grin was plastered on his face, and the willow groaned, leaning over so it’s longest branches could extend themselves to Crowley. He rubbed them happily, remembering climbing its branches as a young teen and his professors screaming at him in awe and panic from afar. Though he would never admit it, his heart felt full. His students were here, his plants were here, his oldest friends were here, Azira was here. How could he wish to be anywhere else?

With a bit of a flourish, he threw the last (and the majority of) the compost that had been stocking up over the summer around the willow’s roots, watching it bristle with happiness and soak in the sludge like it hadn’t in the long months without him.

Briefly, he stopped in his office to adjust his hair that was currently sticking straight up as though he’d blown up a potion. He righted his vest beneath his cloak, smoothed his shirt, and was off for his first meeting with Azira in four painstakingly long months.

 

Chapter Text

The sharp clack of heeled boots echoed off the stone walls of the castle as Crowley strutted through its soaring archways, his hands shoved deep into the pockets of the tight black jeans beneath his robes. As pureblood as he was, he’d always had a bit of a penchant for muggle aesthetics. 

Despite the temptation to stop presenting itself every few meters, he walked with unyielding purpose in his step. The first day back at school always made him feel like a chocolate frog waiting in its box, with several hands knowing exactly where to find him and eager to grab him.

“Hello, Professor Crowley!” cheered a few Ravenclaw fourth year girls, apparently ecstatic to see him. 

“You lot comin’ back from the library already ? Now how much more Ravenclaw can you get? Poster children, you are,” he teased dubiously as he passed them.

“You know it, Professor Crowley,” one of the girls managed back through their proud giggles. 

“Good summer in the Amazon, Professor Crowley?” asked a Slytherin sixth year passing him not even a few moments later. 

“Ohhhhh yeaaaah, wrestled a 20-foot Anaconnnnda,” he crooned coolly. His pace didn’t slow as the student nearly tripped over themself by stopping in their tracks, turning to stare and decipher if the academic could possibly be serious before being bustled away by oncoming students. 

The floating staircase had just begun its departure. Not feeling particularly patient to see his colleague, Crowley used his long legs to his advantage, getting in a few lunging strides before jumping the meter gap to the bottom step and letting out a “whoop! Don’t try that at home, kids- or here, Madame Pomfrey’ll have my head.” 

“Sweet air! We wouldn’t dream of tattling, Teach,” grinned one of Crowley’s favorite Gryffindor third years. The other several students on the staircase let out laughs and whoops of agreement. It paid to be a popular professor.

“You kidding? I’m pretty sure the old bat has half these dusty old motel-art geezers-“ he was interrupted by an affronted throat-clearing from a painted woman in a collar so large it looked as if it was about to consume her head, “er- that is- ehhh,  th- erm, priceless masterpieces , practicing espionage for her.” 

Out of the corner of his eye he saw a floating blue specter and groaned internally. The last thing he needed was the poltergeist following him the whole way to the library with sing-song shouts of Where’s Creepy Crawly slithering off to? Trying to snog his sweetheart? Not so sneaky!

“Right, shove over, would you,” he mumbled, squeezing past the students so he could be the first one off, again jumping a gap before the staircase had even stopped moving and slipping immediately into the hallway leading to the library. 

With only a happy few other interruptions from students barring him from his destination, he found himself facing the library doors and the list of rules written in a meticulous, giant font upon it.

 

  1. Absolutely NO food or drink permitted while in the library.
  2. Excessive socializing will not be tolerated. It distracts students attempting to study. Go elsewhere.
  3. Only appropriate books for each year will be available for check out requests.
  4. The books are NOT coasters.
  5. They are not projectiles, either.
  6. Admittance to the Restricted Section is STRICTLY PROHIBITED.
  7. Students may ONLY check out a book from the Restricted Section with a note of authorization from a professor.
  8. Don’t attempt to forge a note of authorization from a professor. You’re not that clever. Honestly.
  9. Damage of a checked-out book will result in loss of check-out privileges.
  10. As will if I catch checked-out books out in the Great Hall.
  11. Book check-out requests will be considered only within the following times:

Monday- after class and before curfew, unless I’m out or otherwise occupied

Tuesday and Thursday- I often have business to attend to, but you may try 6-8 PM 
(6-8 PM was when supper was served, ensuring no requests would be confirmed at this time)

Wednesday and Friday- Re-shelving Days, I will either get to it between rounds, or I will not

Saturday- Requests will start being taken as late as 1 PM, though I have been known to accept them as early as 8 AM. Request submission will end at 7 PM, though on occasion I end submissions at 2 PM to see to other tasks

Sundays- see Saturdays

     12. No Question is a bad Question. Ask away!

 

 

The bit about projectiles was new, Crowley wondered what happened there. 

He tried for the door- it was locked. The tall wizard paused briefly to check his pocket-watch, reading it only as 8:30 when curfew wasn’t until 9. He raised an amused eyebrow. From his robes he drew his 13-inch applewood wand, swishing it at the lock.

Alohomora.”

No luck. Of course, Azira was smart enough to have enchanted the door to nullify the charm. Crowley leaned back, looking down the hallway for a clear opening before feeling his skin shift into smooth scales, sides sinking in and his world-view shrinking downwards as he transformed into a snake and slipped easily under the door. 

The smell of old books, the cocoa Azira was making, and perhaps a whiff of the other man’s cologne all hit Crowley at once like a troll’s club made entirely out of sentimentality and memories. Instantly he remembered a trick he’d played on the Ravenclaws here in his third year, where every book they opened was sucked smack-up against their noses. It stuck a touch too well and they’d had to go to the infirmary to get the books removed. He had a certain two Weasley’s to thank for helping him mastermind that one. He snickered aloud to himself at the recollection.

“Really?” came Azira’s voice from behind a towering shelf, “It’s the first day! Haven’t you anything better to do than break into the library? We’re not accepting check-out requests today and it’s nearly curfew! Classes start tomorrow, shouldn’t you be getting a good night’s res-” His well-prepared scolding came to cease as he rounded the corner, a stack of books towering high in his arms, and witnessed his colleague transforming back into a human form that hosted an amused grin, eyebrows raised well above his glasses.

“Well hello , Professor Fell,” Crowley waggled his brows flirtatiously, draping himself seductively on the library’s front desk, “I have a load of check-out requests for you.”

“Oh, Crowley!” Azira expressed, seeming so pleasantly surprised to see his friend it could be mistaken whether or not he was the one to invite him in the first place, “Do make sure the door is locked behind you, won’t you, My Dear?” 

Anthony nodded as if they both didn’t know the door was already locked. He cleared his throat a bit to shrug off the heat of what those words could have implied, if the situation was a bit different. He backtracked his own path, ensuring the door was locked behind him before slithering after Azira, who was still talking to him despite having walked off to his office a few moments since. 

“You know, Dear Boy, I was always quite envious of that skill of yours. I dreamed of being an animagus when I was younger. I was so determined to study my way into the ability- I had few other extra-curricular interests from third to fifth year. I nearly risked failing my OWLs after staying up a week straight!”  

Crowley padded into the warm office behind the library desk, attempting not to let the feeling of shock he felt at the fact that Azira had been envious of him betray itself on his face. Not only that, he could do something Azira couldn’t. If someone had bet him on that yesterday he’d have sworn to find Nicolas Flamel’s grave, dig the old bastard up, and kiss him silly if they proved him wrong. The red-head threw away his sarcastic speech about the blonde even implying he could have failed the OWLs even if he tried his best- or, worst, rather. 

“A- annnn- and you just gave up ?” Crowley pressed, his inflection flinging itself wildly as he baulked. 

A gaze of annoyance only made him grin as Azira stood from where he’d retrieved their bottle of wine. 

“Well, there’s a world of knowledge out there, Crowley, I would be remiss to lose so many learning opportunities simply to hyper fixate on one skill. How long did it take you?” 

He often asked questions such as these, almost implying they hadn’t gone to school with each other or shared the exact same house, only a couple years apart in age. Crowley had long since realized Azira didn’t have a single inkling of memory with him in it. 

“Ah, learned how to do it pretty young, to be sneaky . Comes along with the blessed family curse, you know,” he raised his sunglasses to set atop his head, as if emphasizing his point with the presence of his eyes. He gladly accepted the glass Azira offered him, instinctively drinking from it with eagerness. After the first draw of the drink, he folded his glasses and set them on the edge of the desk. 

Azira didn’t mean to smile, he knew it was a sensitive topic for Crowley, but still it was always nice to see those golden eyes. He only ever did when it was just the two of them, sharing a drink and casual conversation. It meant something greater, provided a sense of intimacy that was only shared with Azira, and he treasured that vulnerability.

“Well, you are quite clever.”

Crowley choked on his wine, passing it off as grumbling and shoving the glass further into his face as if it would hide the heat creeping up his cheeks. He immediately finished his drink, shoving the empty dishware out for another glass. “How was your Summer Book Hunting- find anything good?” he redirected.

The Herbology professor welcomed himself to the cozy armchair across Azira, basking in the heat from the fireplace and swinging a leg over the arm of the chair to bring a foot closer to the flames. He sat on the other foot, one arm slung over the back of his seat with the other extended out to Azira expectantly. Overall, he appeared much too tall and lanky for the short, fat armchair.

“Oh quite!” Azira jumped at the bait, pouring Crowley a second glass and immediately delving furiously into his findings, “I found a first edition of the German ‘Tales of Beedle the Bard’ in Goslar. Oh! And I met the kindest gentleman in a pub in Northern Finland who’s spent his last few years chronicling the locations of long lost first editions and their inflations against the galleon. He built quite his own collection, and could you believe that he was kind enough to sell me not only his list of findings but also a mint-condition first print of The Invisible Book of Invisibility!”

Crowley didn’t know whether to be annoyed or endeared at how easily the object of his affections was conned. He opened his mouth, shut it, then opened it again, “And this bloke, did he have any kind of… oh I don’t know, credentials or business associations he could prove?”

“Oh honestly, My Dear, you must learn to be more trusting of strangers- And then in the Magical Library of Paris- I do hope you’d go with me next time, my French leaves so much to be desired- I found a whole collection of compilations I didn’t even know existed of Adalbert Waffling’s earliest journals. I offered nearly my whole years salary for it and the owner simply refused to budge! Oh, he did let me look at it for quite a long time, however. Quite Kind. It’d never even been published; can you believe that?”

Crowley could believe it quite easily, “Ah, good old Adalbert holding out on us, eh?”

“You can’t even imagine, Anthony! The theories that haven’t even made it into later biographies and published journals is insurmountable! Not to mention positively criminal! You know he was one of the first magical theoreticians to even propose the idea that there’s a trans-dimensional effect of the casting of charms when they’re cross-analyzed with—oh dear, I’m afraid I’ve lost my manners. How was your trip to the Amazon? Exciting, I’m sure!” he redirected, realizing Crowley’s summer adventures must have been much livelier than his own. 

For Azira to stop mid-rant to inquire about Crowley ’s summer? Well, it was enough to make his heart flutter in his chest. He did his best to shove the fluttering right back down before grinning at his friend- it was his own turn to tangent about his passions, “Well. Entirely more of an adventure than I expected. I m- meee- mean I thought I’d get by just fine as a snake but there are- well, much bigger snakes in the Amazon. Giant buggers, really. Nearly got eaten. Saw some of the most fascinating magic wildlife, though, would make old Newt Scamander green with envy, I’d bet. And the plan- the PLANTS, Azira! Beautiful! Bigger and greener than anything! If I could figure out how to make my own plants grow like that I would put every other Herbologist in the whole of damned Europe to utter shame. Did bring back plenty of soil samples, that ought to make some amount of difference. Been looking up loads of charms to emulate the ecosystem--” 

The librarian listened to him ramble on with the patience of a saint and the genuine interest of a person listening to someone they care very deeply for expressing a great passion. When Crowley finally paused for a great gasp of air and swung the base of his glass around rudely as a silent request for a third pour, Azira took it from him delicately, smiling comfortably as he refilled it. “And did you find what you were looking for- the Piper obliviscatur, was it?” he looked up at Crowley’s face and immediately felt the pang of guilt of realizing he’d mis-stepped. So far in fact, Crowley’s sunglasses had seemingly teleported to his face from where he’d safely folded them on the desk earlier, creating an emotional barrier of distance. The longer Crowley took to find the object his research thesis relied on, the more sensitive the topic became. Azira still didn’t know quite why discussing his research was so sensitive or what exactly Crowley was hoping to find, as Crowley didn’t like discussing the nature of his thesis with others, even Azira, but the librarian had long since become aware there were personal stakes involved for the other wizard.

Crowley took the glass, somewhat half-heartedly, and took a rather large swig that drained half of it before replying, “No. Well- yes.  Took the first two months of holiday to find just one, managed to cultivate just a couple more the next month. Finally ran some early tests while I was in Bolivia. Couldn’t get the right test scenarios. The Academics that had promised to do the study with me fell through. Test subjects weren’t nearly varied enough. Seemed promising enough, couldn’t wait to get it back here and test it out under more stable conditions. Every single plant died on the trip back. It’s properties only sustain when it’s fresh. Won’t grow here, either, not with all the charms in the world. Nooo- n- now I’m thinking the plant itself wouldn’t do to serve its purpose when it’s so incredibly fragile. I’ll have to move on to the next prospect. Waste of a summer really.” 

“Oh Crowley,” Azira empathized, expression putting on display the way his heart was clenching in his chest, “I really am so very sorry, Dear Boy. I know how very much you were banking on that plant proving fruitful.” He sat forward in his chair, gapping the distance between them and taking the other professor’s hand gingerly in his own. There were a couple moments that passed between them where they sat that way, their hands clasped in one anothers’. Crowley marveled at how Azira’s soft hand that almost only certainly had only touched smooth books felt in contrast to his own calloused hands that had spent years working in gardens. Their intense gaze was only separated by the thin smoked glass shielding Crowley’s cursed eyes. A kind of magic sparked between them, and Crowley forgot to breathe. He looked at the way Azira’s eyebrows came together just the smallest bit when he wore that expression of concern, how one corner of his mouth turned upright as if specifically to cradle Crowley’s discomfort, how his intelligent blue eyes searched his as if they could pierce right through the glass blocking them from their objects of focus. Azira passed the bright red complexion of his companion off as distress and perhaps some embarrassment at the admission of vulnerability. 

A knock at the door nearly sent Crowley jumping out of his skin, his hand flying back toward him and his black nails digging into the cushion of the armrests. 

“WHAT?” he spat, baring his teeth and immediately feeling remorseful as he turned to see the male seventh-year Hufflepuff prefect, Harry (a name that had become wildly popular following 1998) Rubis, his skin flushed and unable to decide if it should turn red from embarrassment or white from terror. The younger years sometimes inquired if it was possible to actually make Professor Crowley angry- the older ones always pressed that it was better to not attempt, “Ehem… that is… something you need, Rubis?” He didn’t dare look at the gaze of disapproval he knew Azira wore. 

“Ye- I- um… sorry, professor,” he said sheepishly, “I told Filch I needed you and he unlocked the door.” 

“That’s alright then, first years okay?” 

“Yeah! They’re alright- I mean, some of them were crying but we prefects took care of that.”

“Right,” Crowley approached casually, slowly—apologetically, and clasped the boy on the shoulder, “What’s wrong, then?” 

“Third year boys got into a fight, Borealis gave Twigs a bloody nose,” he relayed, a little more relaxed but still moderately traumatized. 

“What the bloody hell for?” Crowley asked. The first day? Really. The first day and already he had to assign detention and play Mean-Head-of-House-Professor. 

Azira held himself back from jumping into Crowley’s thoughts with a, ‘You did sign up for this, Dear Boy’. 

“Er…. argument over…. bed…… claims….,” Rubis’s voice grew more mumbled with each word, as if afraid his professor would explode at him yet again. 

“To Hell with it,” Crowley swore, sighing and throwing Azira a pitiful expression. 

“Now, now, duty calls,” Azira enforced, standing to usher the Hufflepuff pair out. 

“Another time?” Crowley asked, feeling quite like a kicked dog. 

“Naturally,” Azira promised with a reassuring smile, making sure the door was locked after them with a couple extra charms thrown on top this time around. 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Crowley stood on the stool in the middle of Greenhouse One with a quill between his teeth, hands tying up half of his now shoulder-length hair (he’d used a hair-growth potion- figured he could afford to be more vain now that he wasn’t in the middle of the Amazon) into a sloppy bun behind his head. He counted the amount of mandrake roots, bags of soil, gardening tools, and fresh pots to assure there was enough for each Hufflepuff and Gryffindor first year student as he did so. Sure, when he was their age this task would never be given to first years, but since Crowley had taken over the Herbology department he liked to tempt new students into the topic using- well, the mayhem that the subject had the potential for as an appeal. Besides, while McGonagall had her doubts at first, 10 years of Crowley’s strange teaching style had proved safe enough for the students, for whom he was always responsible for and quite invested in the safety of. Finding he had set up properly, he leapt from the stool, doing a high kick as he did so and landing in what he found to be a very stylish position indeed (he’d seen a series of mid 20th-century muggle action films with Azira and ever since had fancied fantasizing himself as their heroes). He took the quill out of his mouth, making the final few adjustments to his sorry excuse for a teaching plan before a cacophony of 11-year-old voices filled the greenhouse.

“Bit of pep in your step, please. Take a seat, wherever you’d like, go on,” he droned at them, finding his own black earmuffs in preparation. He righted the items on his station, lined up at the end of all theirs. He made little jokes at the few overly nervous first years near him, who immediately calmed into a state between relaxed and surprised. An extra ten minutes of allowance were inserted to await any first years who got lost on their way.

“Use this time to make sure your earmuffs don’t have any holes. Scream at each other, serenade your neighbor, have some fun with it,” he encouraged with a bored patience. Every new student that entered seemed slightly alarmed at the chaotic scene they stumbled upon. Griffindors and Hufflepuffs laughed wildly as they screamed the most ridiculous of gibberish at one another.

“It’s been one thouuuuusand yearrrrrrrrs,” he groaned, slumped nearly entirely on his table with his head in his hands, the students around him giggling as the last of his pupils moved all too slow to find their places. 

“All right!” he expressed as everyone settled down, raising his leg and pumping his fist with a determined face, “Let’s get this show on the road—”

“Move!—” “Ow—” “Get out of the way, you dolt!” grunted the four students who nearly fell through the front doors.

“Ah- Adam Young And Company,” Crowley popped the ‘P’, his hands set on the table leaning forward, “Fill in, yeah? Already waited a millennia, would hate to wait another century”. 

The four grinned, slightly grateful for the leniency. However, they looked a touch bummed and took a bit long as they had to split directions to find empty places. The occupants of the room started snickering as their professor rested his cheek on his fist and tapped the painted nails of his other hand on the table, waiting several moments too long for the group of children to realize they were being waited on and finally shut it. 

“Mandrakes! Heard of them, yeah? Ehhh wh- whooo- who’s ever heard the sound a Mandrake actually makes?”

A spackled few raised their hands, Crowley raised his eyebrow, “Oooh-hoo-hoo not very Honest or Chivalrous of you Hufflepuffs or Gryffindors, eh, little liars? If you’d heard a mandrake, you’d probably know, because you’d be dead. And a bit transparent- a bit. Little pale…..”

This earned a few laughs, and a few embarrassed looks. He forewent noting that these were adolescent mandrakes, and thus wouldn’t kill them, simply knock them out for a few hours.

“Now, who can tell me what kind of plant a mandrake is?”

A Gryffindor boy wearing spectacles shot his hand in the air, Crowley continued looking, he’d never much liked know-it-alls, one exception standing. He saw a few half-raised, unsure hands and his attention was drawn to an introverted, white-haired Gryffindor, “Yes Miss-“

“No Miss”

“Right, your name is?”

“Chalky, Please.”

While curious, Crowley didn’t impose any line of question. He knew what it was like to have people fight the name you’d chosen for yourself, and he had a strict policy against ever being grouped with ‘people’, “Right, Chalky?”

“It’s a root.”

“One point- Gryffindor. And who can tell me what it is often used as medicinally?”

Hands raised more slowly this time, Crowley chose a young, mousy Hufflepuff girl with pigtails this time, adjusting his previous misstep “Your name?”

“Violet B-Be-Bit-Bitterwood.” He grew an immediate fondness, shooting a group that giggled a glare that made them turn stark white and promptly shut them up.

“Yes Miss Bitterwood?”

“It’s used as a sedative and p- pa- pain-ki- pain-killer.”

“Well done, you, Miss Bitterwood, 5 points- Hufflepuff, let’s win this house cup, yeah? ” he stage-whispered, earning a laugh and cheer from Hufflepuffs and distrustful looks from Gryffindoors before he crouched down, waving his hands, “Ohhh-hoooo, so serious ! I’m fibbin’ . One point, still well done, you. It’s also useful in several common potions, so we’ll be doing Professor Device a favor and preparing them now so you lot can use ‘em to make ‘exciting’ and ‘exotic’ lip-chapping balms in a few weeks.”  The air quotes were practically visible as his voice dripped with sarcasm.

“Now, how about a death-defying experience your first day at Hogwarts, eh? Big strong witches and wizards, you lot, now. ‘Bet Herbology will be boring?’,” he spoke in a nasally, high pitched voice when mimicking them, waving his arms about and wiggling his fingers comically, “’Learning every latin name of every plant, writing on the history of the evolution of me aunt’s ferns’, eh? Not bloody well in my class. Now, these mandrakes are adolescent, they’re outgrowing their current pots and need to be repotted. Repotting is a fundamental part of herbology, but the mandrake bit adds an exciting little kick. Now, let me give a demonstration. Earmuffs on.” 

Most of the students watched attentively, whether from a genuine interest in the lesson, or from curiosity of what their strange professor would do next. Crowley near screamed the instructions as he provided a step-by-step guide, anchoring a hand and a foot on the tabletop as he wrestled the writhing mandrake into its new pot.

“Right, now, all of you. I’ll make my rounds, give a shout- er- probably a tap, if you need some assistance.” He walked around the arrangement of work benches, nearly wincing when the young Pippin Galadriel Moonchild (“ Pepper,” she sassed in correction when Crowley insisted on using the entirety of her name) tried to pull the Mandrake from the tips of its roots instead of the base. He showed her the proper technique, and she followed along marvelously. 

Another several minutes followed with Crowley answering questions and directing on techniques, explaining why they were doing things in the fashion that they were and what the nature of the soil was. His attention turned to a timid tap on his arm, and he found himself face to face with the Dowling boy. He followed him wordlessly to his station, finding him and the Gryffindor boy Adam Young working together. 

“It’s too fat!” Young cried.

“WHA?” Crowley shouted, straining to hear.

“It won’t stop squirmin’!” Warlock mimicked the dramatic wiggling movements of the mandrake. Young joined in.

Crowley watched the little dance in utmost amusement, examined the mandrake thoroughly, and nodded firmly in encouragement, “MAKE IT STOP.”

“WHA?” Young and Dowling shouted back, in tandem.

“MAKE. IT. STOP!” 

“HOW??” the two boys looked at each other in equal confusion.

Crowley wildly wound his arm in exasperation, signaling for them to hand it over. They did so. Crowley got into a ready position, knees bent, back hunched, neck straight forward. He raised his glasses so he was eye to eye with the plant, ignored his two students’ gaping, took a harsh intake of breath, and soul-piercing enough to strike fear into the darkest wizard’s heart, put on a hideous scowl and shrieked, “SHUT ITTTTTT!!!!” 

The entire greenhouse fell quiet- the mandrakes, the children, the bacterium. They all stared at him in terror for a solid 15 seconds.

“There you go, as you were!” he said, pleased, dropping his glasses back into place and thrusting the creature back towards the boys. Warlock took the creature, in utter shock. Crowley turned away, eagerly drifting about to find the next students that needed assistance. 

As he was starting to discuss the larger and more menacing cousins of the Mandrake, putting his students in awe of some of the simplest living things the Magical World hid away, Adam Young turned to Warlock Dowling, giving him a toothy grin, “This is gonna be a wicked year.” 

Timidly, with agreement and in the hope that he'd made a new friend, Warlock grinned back, “Wicked.”

Chapter Text

Icey dew encased every green blade of grass on the castle grounds. No matter how thick one’s socks or how high their shoes, it was the kind of weather that soaked one’s feet to the bone anyways. A brisk chill was in the air, not quite cold enough to turn the hot breaths of those who trudged through the groggy morning visible. However, sharp winds rolled off the surface of the lake, billowing the leaves of the trees that called Hogwarts their home and pinkening the cheeks of the poor souls who had to leave the warmth of their cozy four-poster beds and heated rooms. September was over halfway past, and as such was sweeping Hogwarts over with its Autumn trappings. 

Sod September , a certain Herbology professor stewed in misery. The way he stalked over the grounds was practically physical comedy. He hunched over himself, arms hugging his torso tight. His face was shoved as low into his thick red scarf as he could possibly get it, and he moved at nearly running pace despite only stepping with his tip toes to avoid ruining his designer shoes. The morning chores in the greenhouse were done (with help from a couple very dedicated herbology students that were looking for more learning opportunities), and Crowley couldn’t make it to his office fast enough.

“Fuck it’s cold, fuck it’s cold, fuck it’s so bloody fucking cold,” Crowley hissed, his hands fumbling over his keys and dropping them twice before he finally managed to unlock the heavy wooden door. He leapt inside so fast his movement was hardly registerable. 

Incendio ,” he wasted no time in starting up the modest hearth in the small office, bunching up his cloak around him and sitting at his desk. He flicked his wand at the record player in the corner, which promptly began playing the Weird Sisters’ Best Hits. The wizard rustled around the bottom right drawer of his desk, enchanted with an extension charm, cursing as he knocked over several bottles of liquor, and pulled out two separate black knit blankets. One was pulled over his shoulders, serving as a second cape, and the other was spread over his lap. He didn’t bother taking off his scarf- partially because the charmed fabric retained the warmth against his face and neck all too well but mostly because Azira had knit it for him the Christmas prior.

 For several moments, the wizard simply rested his head on the desk, unable to function before warming up properly. It was only 7 AM. The Herbologist had planned on going to breakfast, and then, only when finishing his chores, had heard his students excitedly chattering about how the announcement for the Dueling Club would be this morning. Most things were too much for Crowley before 9 AM, the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor’s smug bastard face and voice were near the top of the list. Breakfast wasn’t that important to him anyway, though he would miss Azira’s bright and shining morning smile. The man hardly slept- never needed to. Crowley never understood it.

He snoozed for nearly an hour before a loud smack struck the window, followed by an eardrum-decimating screech, and the lanky figure’s soul nearly left his body. He raised his head to glare at Twit.

The collared scops-owl pecked impatiently at his window, eyes narrowed at his master. Its owner begrudgingly stood, shuffling to the window and sliding the pane upward to allow the owl to fly in, drop the mail rudely in the middle of Crowley’s cold stone floor, and land on its perch near the desk. It was most likely irritated that it had been unable to find Crowley in the Great Hall, first.

“Ghhhhhhhh,” Crowley growled, “Lovely. Thanks, Twit.” He made a great show of dramatically leaning down to gather each individual piece of mail, making eye contact with the owl the entire time. The bird looked at him combatively, bustling its feathers and staring at him without a lick of trust. 

Not once, not ever, had Crowley gotten along with non-reptilian animals. He’d never had a pet as a student, and his rare attempts to bond with his peers’ cats or owls had left him turning up to class with gruesome battle scars marring his face. Additionally, he’d been, perhaps, the only Hufflepuff in history to barely pass Care of Magical Creatures (and that was only because Hagrid had taken pity on him). However, with all the research he did it simply made much more sense to have his own owl. So, he’d gotten Twit. 

“Such a feisty little thing,” the painting of Professor Sprout commented from the wall, “Perhaps you should give him more treats.” Crowley ignored her, he was not a fan of the array of paintings of previous Herbology professors lining his office, but after getting very drunk and trying very hard to tear them off the wall, he’d discovered they were enchanted to stay there. The paintings had made him pay for it, inviting all their friends and throwing boisterous parties in their frames as he tried to do research. After he threatened to cut them out of their frames, they reached an armistice.

After nestling back under his blankets, he went through his mail. The Prophet was more of a tabloid today, though Crowley did read an article about a witch who had disappeared after flying her broomstick through the Bermuda Triangle in 1961 and found herself in the cheese section of an American muggle establishment called “Whole Foods” appearing ten years younger, just recently. Next, he went through his personal mail. The shipment composed of a letter from Cordelia Heller, an invitation from HERB (Herbologists of Europe Research Bureau) requesting an interview to discuss his research project, and finally a response from Neville Longbottom, an old classmate and a valuable Herbology colleague. Crowley carefully set the letter from Cordelia near a picture of 14-year old Crowley and Valencia Heller, who were currently laughing and screaming while dancing around a magical firework they had accidentally set off on themselves in Cordelia’s garden, so he’d remember to respond. He wasted no time opening the letter from Neville, using a long pinky fingernail to tear the paper of the envelope. 

A.J.C,

I hope you’re doing well, it’s jolly good to hear from you! I’ve been in touch with my colleagues in Bolivia and found some exciting news about your research in the Amazon. While it didn’t offer the results we were looking for, I’ve learned that after your return to Scotland, delayed test results proved effective in treating dementia! I know this isn’t quite the victory you were looking for, but it is a step in the right direction. We’re making ground, Anthony. We’re helping.

I’ve examined my own notes and found a few other genuses of cognition-altering herbs that I think are worth us looking into-

Crowley jumped yet again as there was a tapping on the door. 

“Wot?” he barked shortly. Morning Crowley was not the finest form of Crowley. 

The door swung open, a tall, dark-complexioned, brunette woman with black eyes rose her eyebrow and entered, holding the door open as a slightly-less-cheery-than-usual man with white curls came in with two steaming mugs. 

“Thought you might like something warm to drink, Dear Boy,” Azira chirped to the best of his ability, holding the steaming cup of black coffee out for the exhausted figure bundled up behind the desk.

“You really are an angel, you know that?” Crowley asked, taking the cup gratefully and sipping eagerly at the hot sludge. He fished around in the drawer again for some bailey’s, pouring in a generous amount.

“Crowley, you do know it’s only 12⁰ C, right?” Anathema asked, gazing with a brow raised over her glasses at the heap of knit yarn that was her friend. She closed the door behind the librarian and plopped herself down in one of the two chairs opposite Crowley’s desk. Twit bristled on his perch, moving back and forth impatiently. Not wishing to disappoint, Azira made his way to the perch, giving him a treat and softly brushing the feathers on Twit’s neck. The owl leaned into it, hooting cheerfully. 

Bloody cold, ” Crowley hissed in dissent, “How bad was it?”

“Now, Anthony, we didn’t come here to gossip. We were simply worried when you didn’t show up for breakfast,” Azira insisted, turning his attention to his friend and not noticing Twit reaching his foot out as far as he could, trying to grab his hand for more pets.

“Scale of one-to-ten, how obnoxious was Professor Gabriel Fuckbody?” 

Good body, you don’t want students catching onto that and it coming back to you, my dear.”

“One-to-ten.”

“...Eleven,” Azira sighed in defeat, making his way to the free chair beside Anathema and sitting down with impeccable posture, “He kept going on about- well-“

“’You never know who’s a Death Eater these days, there are plenty of relations left from the war. They might even be lurking in this very school- in the shadows- or in the Greenhouses ,’ blah bleh blarrrrgh,” Crowley mocked, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose and doing his damndest not to display the depth of his irritation.

“Well- yes,” the librarian admitted, “But who’s really listened to him so far? Just keep your distance and mind your manners.”

“My manners are bloody well impeccable, Angel. He’s the one coming after me,” the Herbologist grumbled, not realizing the irony of his language while feeling so provoked.

“Of course- you’ve been very civil, my dear. I didn’t mean to imply otherwise.” Azira countered, flustered by Crowley’s poor mood.

“Come on, Anthony, we all know who the student’s favorite professor is. It’s not me, and it’s certainly not Goodbody…. Or Trelawney ,” Anathema muttered the last bit under her breath.

Finally, for the first moment of this grey, uninspiring day, Crowley cracked a smile, allowing just a bit of light to shine through.

“What’d the old bat do this time?”

“Ugh, you should have heard her , Crowley!” the witch burst open like floodgates, “She had the audacity to try to tell ME that she’d seen my destiny! ‘Do be careful, Dear’, she says to me, ‘I see the Grimm in your future. Don’t dare to rely on the blood relations of ages past to keep you safe and ensure good fortune.’ Can you believe that? What a complete fraud! How dare she try to dismiss the word of Agnes. I have no idea why McGonagall keeps entertaining her! I should have had that Divination position years ago! But ‘I’m sorry, Professor Device’, ‘Subjects are chosen by staff seniority and experience, Professor Device’. Keeping score, how many prophecies of mine have come true in comparison to hers?”

“Loads,” Crowley humored her, thinking about what a good idea the bailey’s had been.

“That’s right! Thank Merlin I didn’t ever have to be her student. I have no idea how the two of you did it” the American snapped back.

“With much amusement. Talk about gullible, she’s the easiest professor to mess with. Fifth year, Heller and I couldn’t stand her going on and on about floating orbs, I mean there are actual ghosts here. So, we’re on our best behavior all class, right? But what Trelawney doesn’t know-“

Device narrowed her gaze, ignoring Crowley’s stories of childhood shenanigans to observe Azira sipping at his cocoa while staring into the ceiling, declining to comment. “Alright, come out with it, Professor Fell.” Crowley looked entirely put out at the interruption. He was just getting to the good bit where they doused snidgets in baby powder.

“Whatever do you mean?” Azira feigned innocence (he was quite good at it, Crowley thought).

“You know what I mean,” the potions professor responded sourly.

“Oh, you know I don’t mean to upset you, my dear. It’s just that our dear Professor Trelawney is aging up, starting to move onto other things. I do think your chance will come soon enough. In the meantime, your six years here has been the longest Hogwarts has gone with a single Potions professor in twenty years, and you were hired at the incredibly young age of twenty-two! That’s nothing to turn your nose up at. You’re quite skilled, Anathema,” he encouraged.

She sighed, submitting to the praise, “I suppose so, it’s just so hard to be patient. I never had any premonitions about waiting this long, I just saw I would get there and went for it.”

The clocktower chimed 8:30 AM, and Anathema shot upright, “Ah, hex it, I still need to set up for my third years. By the way- have you been keeping an eye on Twigs? I think he’s being bullied.”

“Hey, who’s Head of Hufflepuff, here?” Crowley chided indignantly, feeling aggrieved by the doubt, “It’s under control. Dirt about Borealis is spreading as we speak.”

This earned a “honestly, Anthony” from Azira and a loud laugh from Anathema. 

“As long as it works, who am I to question your methods?” Anathema mused, “Now then, off I go. Don’t forget to get me that aloe vera and bloodroot in the next couple days.” 

She made her exit, her deep green velvet robe fluttering about her green tartan dress as she did so. 

“So, will you be helping with Dueling Club?” Crowley asked his remaining company, out of both intrigue and a touch of spite as he sipped his hot, bitter beverage.

“Most likely. Someone needs to take Gabriel down a notch, yes?” he smiled reassuringly at his grumpy colleague.

Crowley attempted to frown but grinned despite himself. He’d always thought Azira was too soft on Goodbody- this was apparently on account of his mother’s family and Gabriel’s father’s family being close friends for decades. However, he couldn’t deny that Azira’s savvy with Battle Magic could embarrass even the prideful Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. 

“I suppose so,” he hummed, stretching out both ‘o’s thoughtfully, “I’d prefer if you kicked the high horse out from under him all together. Just- do me a favor, Angel, don’t go easy on him.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it, Dear Boy,” Azira expressed, smiling brightly. Crowley had almost entirely got over the anxiety of living with his family reputation, but it didn’t hurt for his friends to reinforce their solidarity. “Now, I’m sure you must set up for your class, but my dear, you look positively freezing.”

Focillo ,” the shorter professor enunciated clearly, flourishing his 10 ½ inch Pear Wand in Crowley’s direction.

The Head of Hufflepuff felt a great surge of heat fill him, though only partially from the warming spell itself. 

“Well then, off I go to open the library! Do have a good day, Crowley.”

Azira took his leave, but the warmth remained.

 

 


 

 

 

It was a lovely afternoon- so lovely that Professor Fell’s rousing book about ancient tribal magics of the arctic tundra went unattended despite being held open in his hand. Instead, his attention was focused on the grounds outside the library window. It was an incredibly warm afternoon for the last lingering days of September. Students were dispersed unevenly across the bright grass, many opting to sit on the shore of the lake as they studied and socialized. The scene was so peaceful it almost calmed Azira’s heart even when he spotted few of the children near the shore with library books (almost, not quite). Even Crowley was outside, showing the second years preparing for quidditch tryouts how to properly swing a Beaters’ club. Azira had never much cared for quidditch, but his beloved companion Cedric had been captain of the Hufflepuff Quidditch team, so he’d gone to every match anyway. Thus, Azira’s few memories of Crowley did include the lanky red head and his partner-in-crime Valencia Heller as formidable Beaters. 

He smiled down at the scene, watching Crowley hold his hand up high and the second year in his company desperately trying to high five him before the professor crouched down, allowing the girl to smack his hand and then standing upright before she noticed, body splaying outwards in excitement to wholeheartedly congratulate her efforts. Fell had always enjoyed that, how one could practically hear what Crowley was saying just by watching his cartoon-ish body language. To be honest, Azira felt bad for having next to no recollection of Crowley. ‘Crawly’, was his surname when they were in school, he remembered that much. His friend was loathe to be called that now. He also remembered whispers of ‘The heir of Slytherin- that’s got to be Crawly, have you seen his eyes?’. Every time Harry Potter wasn’t the scapegoat for something, Crowley had been the next target. 

Azira had never participated in gossip when younger. Looking at his friend now, he wasn’t surprised. He wished he could recall why he’d never taken an interest in Anthony while they were in school together. Sure, he was rough around the edges, crude at times, loud and distracting, terribly mischievous, but he was also one of the most kind-hearted people Azira had ever met in his life. The library hadn’t properly been restored from its former glory after the Battle of Hogwarts until Azira came, it proved too difficult a task for every other librarian that had attempted it, the challenge had been what had gotten him to take the job. The nature of his friendship with Crowley is what had gotten him to stay. At one point he had done the math and realized Crowley had been there twenty years ago, a seventh year student, who had opted to stand up and fight at the Battle of Hogwarts. Not only that, but he’d been the only child of a long-standing, prideful pureblood family dedicated to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. The fact that he had participated on behalf of Hogwarts, on behalf of all the muggle-borns and half-bloods, and that he could stay at this school after all that was a testament to his courage, his selflessness, and his dedication to his students. Azira wasn’t sure he would be able to do it, play free of care in the same exact place he had fought for his life decades prior.

Still, Crowley was a puzzle, a conundrum of hidden feelings and secret history. After a year, he called Azira his closest friend, and yet still wouldn’t share his research thesis. He still shut down when the librarian attempted to provide the gentlest compliment, the softest praise. But still there was a presence- a need for love, for validation, and how could Azira deny giving something that was earned so honestly? 

“Excuse me, Professor Fell?”

Azira was distracted from the view just before Crowley got smacked square in the face with a bludger. 

He turned to the timid fourth year Ravenclaw who requested his attention, “Miss Soulton! How can I help you?”

“Yes, well, I was reading about banishing charms for Charms class, and I saw that in Singapore they use an entirely different spell, almost a ritual, that I’ve never heard of being used here. Why not use the same spell as us? Seems simpler.”

“Ah! Excellent question, Dear Girl! The spell compendium for each country, the mannerisms to achieve them, and the origins of their creation are all just as varied as the cultures themselves.”

“That’s so strange! But it’s to the same effect, isn’t it?”

“Oh, more or less! It’s quite the involved philosophy that involves foreign wizarding societies trying to stand independent from the ripple effects of colonization. I could find several books on the subject for you, and you’re welcome to ask any questions they don’t answer. I’ll do my best to help.”

“I would be so grateful, Professor Fell! This is so interesting!”

“It is, isn’t it?” Azira asked excitedly, spending the next twenty minutes or so helping the girl find the books she was interested in, discussing the theory in detail, and turning cold only when she asked if she could check the books out. “Well, we shall see how far you get. If you don’t get through this material, I suppose I could… consider granting your request.”

Well aware that this was quite a generous offer on Professor Fell’s behalf, Soulton was on her best behavior.

“Oh, I do wish you taught a class, Professor Fell, I think I learn more from you than anyone!” she insisted, genuine despite her more deliberate goal of buttering Azira up.

“You’re too kind, my dear, I’m truly happy to help,” the librarian mused, leaving the girl to her own devices and ensuring the books that the day’s visitors had retrieved were returned properly. Somewhere near the Giant’s Cuisine Cookbook section he heard what he was sure was a sniffle. Azira tapped his last book with his wand  in the Obscure Potions Materials section, allowing it to shelve itself, folding his glasses, and sliding them into his pocket before rounding the corner and growing assuredly nearer the crying. 

Finally, he found the source of the noise, crouching down to peer under an isolated desk. 

“Oh, dear,” he exclaimed gently, seeing a young brown-haired first year wearing Hufflepuff robes crouched in the far corner beneath the furnishing, clutching a cellphone in his hands, “What’s all this about, are you quite alright?”

“I’m--- not--…. I can’t…. it won’t work,” sobbed the boy, clutching the mobile to his chest. 

“Right, come now, let’s get you somewhere more comfortable,” offered Azira, extending his hand to the young child. 

The boy took it, hiding his face in his professor’s side. The wizard was meticulous in his mission to get him to the office as discreetly as possible, making him a cup of cocoa once they got there successfully. 

“Now, drink this, it’ll help you feel a bit better. Are you having trouble settling in?”

The boy nodded, hiccupping as he took a tiny sip from the mug, “I don’t fit in. I feel so alone.”

Azira nodded in sympathetic understanding, “Have you talked to the prefects about it?”

Averting his glance, the student mumbled, “they’d probably just pin me as a baby….”

“Would you like me to get Professor Crowley up here? I’m sure he could help. He’s not too bad to talk to, truly.” 

The boy sniffled, nodding the tiniest bit and nearly disappearing into the armchair near the fireplace. 

“Right- just one moment,” Azira exited his office, surveying his pick of students before approaching the sixth year Hufflepuff prefect, Hagatha Howler.

“Miss Howler, would you mind running down to the grounds and summoning Professor Crowley? It seems we have a crisis with one of your younger schoolmates.” 

The dark-skinned girl gave a look of concern, standing up almost immediately- of all Hufflepuff prefects, she was the most serious about her appointment. The librarian thought she was well on her way to becoming Head Girl next year, “Of course, Professor Fell! Be back in a jiff.” 

Azira gave her a grateful glance before returning to the shattering boy in his office. The youngster seemed a bit calmer after sipping at the warm chocolate.

“Alright then, I must tell you, Dear Boy, muggle objects such as these don’t work here, in fact they aren’t even allowed on premises. I am… I am afraid I’ll have to confiscate it from you. It could throw off the magical fields.”

The boy looked slightly ashamed, “Yes… but…. My parents don’t write letters. Don’t have owls. Don’t pay attention to any magic stuff… I was just hoping….”.

“Oh yes, it is a difficult transition. When I was a student here, I felt much the same. The absence of phones made me afraid I’d never speak to my family again.”

“Did you?”

“My Dear Boy, of course. Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it will all fall apart. Your parents love you, you love them, that will transcend any complications with owls or phones or what have you,” he reassured, though undeniably biased. Azira had always been quite close with his family, returned home nearly every holiday, friends in tow, and had gotten at least two letters every week.

The boy sheepishly handed his phone off to the professor and stayed quiet for a while, sniffling and sinking further down in his chair while sipping the hot chocolate. Azira didn’t push him to speak. There were several moments of silence before the door swung open and a tall, flaming-haired, dark-bespectacled figure stood in the doorway, panting for air with a bloody handkerchief pressed up to his nose. He looked a right mess, and the librarian desperately wondered what on earth had happened to his face and why he had evidently sprinted here. Azira watched as Crowley’s gaze glued to him, examining him closely, then jumped to the boy in the chair, and the Herbologist’s shoulders visibly relaxed. When he’d heard Howler’s over eager, ‘Professor Fell sent for you! It’s an emergency in the library!’ his mind had jumped to all sorts of unsavory fears. 

“Oh, Crowley,” Azira said, a cross between sympathetic for the man’s injury and scolding for what he already assumed to be carelessness. 

“Er- quidditch mishap,” he mumbled in explanation before turning his attention back to the boy.

“Dowling,” Crowley acknowledged smoothly as if there wasn’t blood coming out of his nose, walking over and folding one leg under him, the other bent to the side so he was sitting in front of the first year, “What’s got you bothered?”

“Er-,” Azira interrupted awkwardly, “I caught him trying to use this.”

He handed the phone to his colleague and witnessed the most adorable cluelessness on Crowley’s face as he turned it over and over in his hands, jumping much like a startled cat when the screen flashed at him. Warlock gave his Head Professor a less distressed and more amused look, realizing the man had no idea what he was looking at. Azira wore an expression between concern and absolute endearment. How precious could the red-head be?

“Erm…. Eh….. Wha-w-what is this? Some kind of torch?”

“Crowley- It’s a phone.”

“….. Nahhh, you’re fibbin’!” Crowley exclaimed after a moment of considering whether or not he should believe Azira, “I saw a telephone only 15 years ago, looked way different than this. Big. Chunky. Bulky- what’s it called? Wire-…. Ah! C-cooo- coor- cord!” 

Finally, Warlock released a bit of a giggle. Crowley looked up at him, desperately confused.

“I promise you, it’s a phone,” Azira insisted, exasperated, “Technology has advanced quite a bit the last fifteen years, my Dear Boy, and it sounds like the one you saw wasn’t quite with the times, either.” 

The first year laughed yet again at the dumbfounded look on Crowley’s face. The professor was confused, but offered a consolation grin to Warlock anyhow.

“Well then, what’s this about?” he asked, reminding himself to ask how people considered ‘gentle’. Azira’s eyes softened watching the usually harsh, closed-off professor grow so open for the grieving boy. 

“…. I got a letter from my parents…. When I left they said… they said they’d see me at Christmas. Now, they’re already telling me they’re too busy for it. I thought if i called them… Anyway, they just shipped me off here. They didn’t mean to see me at Christmas, they just wanted to get rid of me. I thought it was because I ended up magic, but honestly, I think this would have happened with any boarding school.” 

“Mmmmh,” Crowley thought on the grievance, “That’s rough. Never feels good, does it?”

“What would you know? You don’t know what it’s like for your parents to throw you out. I hear you’re a pureblood.”

Crowley staggered, having to take a moment to organize the thoughts that had just shattered every which way. Azira’s gaze back and forth between the two Hufflepuffs grew more anxious. He knew Crowley’s family situation was sensitive.

“Now, Mr. Dowling--,” he began, but fell quiet when Crowley gave him a little smile and a headshake as if to say, ‘ I’ve got this ’. 

“So, purebloods are always wanted? I’m afraid that whether wizard or muggle- humanity just isn’t that simple, Dowling.” 

“…. What do you mean?” the boy asked in hesitation.

“Hm….,” Crowley took an extended beat to decide how much he wanted to share, “When I was a first year, a few days after school started, I got a howler.”

Azira supposed that made three things he remembered about Crowley: the rumors, him and Heller as Beaters, and that howler. He remembered it, and he remembered how it had ostracized Crowley for two years after.

“What’s a howler?”

“Pray you never find out ,” he pressed, before continuing, “Anyway, my parents had heard I was sorted Hufflepuff. Every single one of my ancestors that’s ever attended Hogwarts was Slytherin, so, they didn’t like that much. They said not to bother coming home- not for winter, not for spring, not for summer, not the next year- never.” 

Warlock looked a bit guilty for the accusation he’d thrown at his professor, “How’d you handle it?”

Crowley took a large inhale, exhaling slowly through his teeth as he cringed at the embarrassing recollection of his younger self, “Not. Very. Well. I assumed if I couldn’t please them, I couldn’t please anybody. That if they didn’t want me, nobody did. I kept to myself for the most part my first couple years. Was angry at everything. Things got easier. I got loads of new perspectives I’d have never known if I’d stayed home with my family. All the wrong ideas I’d been raised with were finally shook loose.” 

Azira had never heard Crowley talk this honestly about being excommunicated from his family, or about unlearning the toxic pureblood Death Eater mentality that had been pounded into his head for eleven years. He scolded himself, the second time today, for not befriending him during their childhood. Anthony must have been so lonely.

“I just don’t…. I’m scared that me being a wizard… I think I’m disappointing my parents,” the Hufflepuff mumbled insecurely.

“Ohhh-hooo, well, let me speak as the reigning king of disappointing your parents, yeah?” Crowley laughed at himself, “Those expectations, they’ll do nothing but weigh you down. You get to choose who you want to be. Wasn’t until third year someone helped me figure that out, but when I did, everything got better. I finally felt safe putting myself out there, stopped being so scared of asking questions, of mucking it up.” 

If Azira wasn’t very much mistaken, Crowley had thrown him quite a meaningful look, so quickly he hadn’t the time to decipher it, or to be sure he truly saw it to begin with.

 “So, I just forget having a family?” Warlock asked quietly, pitifully.

“Not in the slightest, boy. Better. You find another one. You choose one. And in turn for your trust, they’ll stay by you forever. I chose my family that first year, and she’s still here for me to this day. You’ll make friends. You’ll visit them on holiday. You’ll find love. You’ll wonder how you ever got along without the people you build relationships with. You have so much to offer the world. Choose who you want to be, and who's worthy to witness it. In the meantime, hopefully your parents will come around, if not, then they’re missing out, and we’ll gladly appreciate what you have to offer here.”

The blonde couldn’t help but watch their conversation openly, despite feeling like he was eavesdropping. He had no idea where inside himself the other professor found these words. Something about Crowley like this, being so vulnerable, so kind, without any hesitation, it captivated him. It made his heart flutter in the most curious way- something Azira had felt only a few times before with the other man but had never searched into. He supposed it was just the pride of watching a friend overcome their demons.

Warlock thought on this for some time before slowly nodding, looking nervously up at Crowley, “I don’t know how to make friends.”

“Hmmmm,” Crowley thought before grinning mischievously, “I’m going into Diagon Alley this weekend, how about I make a visit to my good friend George Weasley and pick you up something from Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. That’ll get you some friends faster than you can think.”

And there it was, Azira marveled, couldn’t expect Crowley to act grown up for too long, though the generosity was endearing.

“What’s Weasles Wizards W- what’s that?” asked Dowling, drying the last of his tears.

“Magic joke shop,” Crowley replied, watching the grin on the boy’s face grow huge and his eyes positively light up. 

“Now, are we done with all this phone nonsense?”

Warlock hesitated a long while before taking a deep breath, closing his eyes, opening them again, and looking at his professor, “I think so.” 

His professor manifested a gigantic grin, “Good, now do you want to go play a game with us, get to know some of your classmates? Find some good contestants for family?” 

After another beat, the boy nodded heartily. Crowley nodded back, “Right. Let’s go get the ever-living shit beat out of us by bludgers.” 

“Language, Professor Crowley,” Azira half-heartedly interjected, pointing his wand at Crowley’s nose. Warlock briefly looked horrified at this. Anthony lowered his hand and shut his eyes tight, groaning even before Professor Fell enunciated, “ Episkey

“Ngk,” said Crowley before turning to the first year, who looked quite amazed by the display of magic and his professor’s repaired nose.

“That was wicked, Professor Fell.”

“Oh than- Oh thank you , Dear Boy, simple charm, really,” Azira said modestly.

Warlock hopped up onto his feet, appearing much invigorated, and then looked off into the distance, as if just realizing something, “What’s a bludger?”

“You poor little bugger, you have so much to learn,” Crowley empathized, having played Quidditch since he was old enough to ride a broomstick, “And you, Angel, care to join us? Just ground-Quidditch, no broomsticks.”

“You know I’m not much of a sportsman, Crowley,” Azira began.

“Ahhhhh, come on, Professor Fell, we always need a referee,” he gave a look that his friend could, surprisingly, only categorize as puppy dog eyes despite the sunglasses- rather impressive, really.

“Pleeeeeeease, Professor Fell!” Warlock echoed, pouting up at Azira with an utterly adorable expression.

“Enough of that,” Azira heaved with a quite put-upon sigh, “Very well.”

Dowling let out a “Yeahhh!” while Crowley let out a “Wahoo!”, shuffling out quickly arm in arm. 

Azira followed after, slowly, watching the hair of the two Hufflepuffs bounce before him, his light blue eyes turned to the ceiling in defeat, “I’m soft .”

 

 


 

 

Crowley stood in Greenhouse 4- well, he didn’t stand. He had fallen to his knees, his eyes stinging, staring at the sight of his beautiful plants being devoured by more garden gnomes than he had ever seen in his life . Pots were turned upright, soil was scattered all about the ground. He held the ruins of a planter in one hand, the decimated bloodroot that had been growing in it in the other. 

“Mmmmm, hnnnn- hhh- h-how….. why…..,” he mumbled and stuttered, his heartbeat deafening as it pumped in his ears. This didn’t just happen. There were too many. This was too specific a place. Someone put- no- someone led them here. The second years and up knew damned well how to avoid this kind of chaos, how to keep from luring such awful pests, especially into an enclosed environment

The wizard felt like the lowliest of garbage, even in his expensive robes. Years of cultivating, months of surveying and intimidation and encouragement all gone to waste . He didn’t turn as the first years entered. They all seemed to know to stay silent and remained on the other end of the greenhouse. 

After what seemed like an eon of silence, save for the laughing and chittering of the gnomes and the occasional pot being smashed to smithereens, Crowley rose to his feet and turned around to the confused and concerned faces of the first years.

Who ,” he began, hissing barely above a whisper, watching the color fade from every single one of the 65 faces in the room, “ Did thisssssss .”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Watch out for their heads, the little devils love to bite,” a gruff voice advised as if the students were preparing to pet baby kittens instead of bag the three dozen cackling and shouting gnomes currently swinging from overhead lamps. The half giant surveyed the greenhouse to make sure all the first years could see and hear him. He could have been thirty yards away and they still would have managed both just fine. 

“Do you think he’s gonna find out?” Brian mumbled, earning a sharp elbow in his ribs from the girl beside him.  

“Shut up ,” she grumbled under her breath. Pepper wasn’t particularly frightening looking, with her soft fluffy ponytail and small stature, but the boys new plenty well that didn't mean she was safe to mess with. And so, Brian fell quiet. 

The Hufflepuff and Gryffindors’ Herbology lesson had been redesignated a Magical Creatures class for today’s period, as their usual professor had a mental breakdown and might have started chucking the gnomes at the childrens’ heads had Professor McGonagall not entered in a very timely manner. 

It had been a fortunate event that she had encountered Professor Device in the halls after breakfast. They shared a small discussion about The Daily Prophet before Anathema interrupted her, quite out of nowhere, and said, “Actually, I believe you should be headed to the greenhouse. Things are about to go down like a lead balloon. Professor Crowley will desperately be needing some reinforcements. You may wish to go ahead and send for Hagrid as well.” After relaying this, she had turned sharp on her heel and retreated to the dungeons to begin her potions class. 

“Jus’ grab ‘em from their legs and stuff ‘em in a sack. Don’ worry about grabbin’ too many, now. They can play nice 'til we get ‘em on their way.”

“OW!” Wensleydale expressed, gaping in terror at the gnome currently swinging from his forearm by its teeth.

“Give ‘im a good swing, go on, that’s it!” Hagrid encouraged, incredibly optimistic and somehow not registering the boy's terror as he finally managed to fling the pest out the front greenhouse door, "Well done, Mr. Wensleydale! Now go and get 'im, if ye don't mind." The first year looked mortified. 

He gave Adam a forlorn look, muttering, “This was the worst idea you’ve ever had.”

“Yet. School year just started,” Adam admitted, trying to figure out how he was going to get his little group out of this one, “and I didn’t mean for this to happen. I didn’t know they were pests!” He lunged for one of the giant-headed creatures, grunting when it evaded him, and he fell into a pile of what had been a bag of fertilizer. He groaned in disgust, the gnome giggling madly as it frolicked away squeaking “Gotim! Gotim!”

“Did you see Professor Crowley’s face? I thought he’d skin us alive!” Brian expressed nervously. 

“He still might,” Adam noted solemnly.

“Yes, I suppose even the most laid back of people don’t enjoy when their hard work is obliterated, how odd,” Wensleydale snarked sarcastically. 

“He’s all bark, trust me, he’ll calm down, and it’ll all be fine,” Warlock reassured his new gang of friends. He reached for a gnome five different times from different directions, but each time the odd little leathery creature waited for his arm with a well-placed open mouth and bared teeth. 

“And what if he doesn’t ? I hear he comes from an old wizarding family that were followers of You-Know-Who. He might be a Death Eater. He might just curse us all,” Wednesdaydale said matter-of-factly, leaning against the counter and forfeiting any attempt to catch the gnomes.

“You don’t really believe that?” Warlock asked sadly. The Them looked conflicted. A few moments of silence passed as they each did their best, desperately grabbing at gnomes. 

I don’t, Crowley’s the only professor in this school that doesn’ make us write papers longer than our arms, and his class is more fun than anythin’. He can’t be evil,” Adam finally said, sounding very sure. Quickly the rest of the group agreed- they often fell in line behind Adam. He was their natural leader, and his firmly set ideals were unshakable and unanimous. 

“Of course he’s not evil . That’s stupid. Now would you lot shut it before you get us all caught?” Pepper hissed, already having a potato sack full of three yelling, squirming lumps- that was three more than any of her friends.

Warlock turned his bag upside-down and attempted to sneak up on a gnome from behind. In one rush of a movement, he threw the sack down over it, looking quite pleased when he caught it. The other boys in his group adapted to this technique, though it only caught them one each. Brian smiled in victory, holding up his bag and dramatically exclaiming, “haha! We’ve bested the wretched beasts- ARGH!” the burlap sack was now dangling from his hand and he flung it about himself cartoonishly. The gnome had bit him through the bag. 

“I think I miss Professor Crowley already,” the sole girl of the group expressed as she watched Brian’s comical little dance of pain, thinking about how their professor would have made some witty remark, there.

“Is tha’ all of the li’l buggers? Right, let's take em’ out near the forest, dizzy ‘em up, and throw ‘em back in,” Hagrid said brightly. The Them decided this part sounded decidedly more fun than the previous step. It wasn’t Herbology with Crowley, but perhaps Care of Magical Creatures wasn’t so bad.

 

 


 

 

 

“A-an- and m- ugh, m-my poor Dittany- I’d finally gotten the conditions just right, Angel. I had finally gotten it growing perfectly. Didn’t even get holes in its leaves anymore. You know how many hours of convincing that took?” convincing, in this context, meant threats of waterboarding, “Saint Mungo’s expected them two weeks from now! And don’t even get me STARTED on what those filthy vermin did to my stinging nettles.”

The traumatized Herbologist had been going on like this for nearly an hour, going through each of his poor victimized plants and detailing the devastating loss of each one. Azira had picked up on the urgency and depth of the delicate situation as soon as Professor McGonagall had deposited Crowley there, pale-faced and mumbling something about, “all that work, all those plants, all that cultivating and waiting and maintenance. I’ll smite them, swear to Flamel. Blast ‘em straight off the face of the earth. I don’t care. The greenhouse crashing down? Sure, would have gotten that. It setting ablaze? Understandable spell gone wrong. But a legion of sodding garden gnomes? What kind of bloody army is that! How is that even possible?”

“We’ll get to the bottom of this, Professor Crowley, I assure you,” McGonagall had tried to assuage him, exchanging a look of understanding with Professor Fell before leaving the distraught wizard in his care.

Azira hadn’t managed to get a single word in between then and now. At first, he’d said nothing, because his friend had looked quite on the verge of exploding. He’d been hunched over in his usual armchair, holding his head as if letting go would result in a cosmic psychic wave of frustration blowing up the school. No, when Crowley was that flustered it was best to let him calm himself down. 

Typically, the librarian didn’t approve of drinking during the school day, but it had fallen to him to defuse the bomb somehow. A spiked cup of coffee had done the trick. While it would most likely seem tedious to be yelled at for this long to anyone else, Azira had felt a great sense of relief when Crowley had started. Raving Crowley was assuredly a safer bet than Silent Crowley. Raving Crowley was business as usual.

He watched the redhead stalk back and forth in his office, swinging his arms wildly and drastically fluctuating volume. “‘Oh, I know what’ll be fun,’” he mocked an unknown student in a nasally voice, “‘Let’s invite some gnomes to a garden party. We’ll have tea and chat about how to send Professor Crowley over the fucking edge as our guests obliterate every living thing in sight.” He slipped back into the harsh timbres of his own hissing voice near the end of the sentence. “Can you even fathom? The gall an eleven year old has to ruin my greenhouse? How bloody au- das- auda-”

“Audacious?” Professor fell offered, speaking up for the first time since Crowley had been carefully deposited into his presence. 

“YES! That! Thank you,” Crowley exclaimed, throwing his arms in the air and huffing before finally collapsing in his chair. Azira watched the man finally sit still, arms splayed out to the sides of the armrests and head collapsed backwards onto the back of the chair. 

“That truly is awful, Dear Boy, I’m so sorry to hear. I do hope we can get to the bottom of this,” Azira sympathized. This was evidently the correct sentiment to offer, as Crowley raised his head to glance at the librarian, an eyebrow arching over his glasses.

“You mean you’d help?” 

“Of course, Crowley,” Azira reassured, “You’ve worked so hard. I can’t imagine how you must feel.” That was a lie, he could imagine exactly how the Herbology Professor felt. If a student had destroyed his library like that, Heaven and Hell together couldn’t come close to the wrath that would be Azira Fell. 

Crowley had long since been in love with Azira. He’d had a crush on him since he was thirteen and had watched the sixteen year old Head Boy floating after Diggory like he held the moon on a string. But of all the moments, he was quite sure he loved Azira in this one the most. “Right, thanks,” he mumbled, feeling his cheeks warm as Azira gave him that look that made his heartbeat deafen his ears, that look of concern that was so deeply cherished and memorized. Perhaps it was because it made the man look so soft- soft for Crowley. Perhaps it was because he believed it was the closest his angel would ever come to looking at him with love.

“Are you quite well, my dear? You’re looking rather flushed.” 

“Erm- J- ehm, just a shite day,” Crowley managed the flimsy excuse, relieved when Azira seemed to take it. 

He was glad, this time, when there was a knock on the door, freeing him from his friend’s scrutiny. The librarian answered the door dutifully, opening it to a first year boy with hair more ginger than Crowley’s and robes covered in soil and fertilizer, “erm, is Professor Crowley around?” 

“In here,” Crowley called, leaning forward in his chair and looking mournfully at the soil on the uniform as if it was blood from fallen comrades. 

“Do come in, Mr. Knotts,” Azira encouraged the boy, standing back and letting him pass. 

“Erm…. can we shut the door? There’s something you ought to know.” 

Both Azira and Crowley looked intrigued by this, and Professor Fell obliged, shutting the door and turning back to the boy, standing there, awkwardly fiddling with his hands. 

“Are you quite alright, Dear Boy? Would you like some cocoa, I find it soothes the nerves.” 

Knotts gave him a grateful smile, relaxing at the kindness, and shook his head. Crowley marveled at that, at how Azira could melt worry away from people the way a potion could rid a body of any trace of Dragon Pox. 

“This will only take a minute,” the ginger insisted, turning to Crowley and clearing his throat. 

Crowley didn’t bother adjusting his posture, and he arched a brow at his student. They seemed to stare at each other for a few moments, the boy’s fidgeting returning, before a dawning realization came to the professor.

“Knotts,” he crooned, sitting forward and sliding his glasses down his nose before tilting his head in intrigue, “What do you know?” 

The boy turned pale under his professor’s gaze, trying not to gawk at the strange eyes and clearing his throat, “It was The Them.”

“.... What was The Who?” 

“The Them- that is, Young and his little gang. I heard ‘em in class whispering about letting the gnomes in.” 

“Right,” the Herbologist nodded, leaning back again and reveling in how easily that answer had come to him. He was a bit remiss that this meant no playing Detective with Azira, however. He wondered how he would punish ‘The Them’. Most likely they’d be taking a trip with Hagrid into the Forbidden Forest to hunt for rare herbs and fungi. This transgression was a bit too large to be rewarded with one of Crowley’s fun detentions.

The boy looked pleased that he’d exposed the guilty party, that is, right up until Crowley followed himself up with, “Thanks for the info. Two points from Hufflepuff- don’t be a snitch.” 

No sooner did shock plaster itself onto Knotts face than Azira began ushering the boy out of the office, “Now then, off you go, Mr. Knotts, well done for honesty. Very admirable. Do clean up before you use the library, please.” 

The first year was in a daze as he exited the office, busy wondering what exactly had just happened and running face-first into a tall, broad figure’s chest.

“Oh- S-sorry Professor Goodbody!” 

“No problem, Mr. Knotts. You should use more caution though, I could have been a boggart,” joked the man who wore a ridiculous, empty smile plastered on his face. 

“I’d take the boggart,” Crowley mumbled under his voice as he laid eyes on what was officially The Very Last Thing he wanted to deal with today. 

Azira threw him a warning glance that roughly translated to ‘behave yourself’ before putting on a polite smile that was assuredly just as insincere as Gabriel’s. While Crowley found himself wishing very deeply to obey Azira, to earn praise, he doubted his behavior mattered. This day surely couldn’t get any worse. 

“Crawly. Heard about the greenhouse, so sorry,” Goodbody cooed. Something about it made him seem not very sorry at all. The librarian tensed, worrying his hands together and glancing nervously at Crowley.

Crowley ,” Anthony corrected through gritted teeth, seething at the audacity. He glanced at Azira’s pleading face and cursed his own weakness, clearing his throat and dedicating all his efforts to appear relaxed, “‘s fine.”

“Don’t look so glum, it’s not like anything was destroyed that can’t be replaced. That’s the whole thing about plants, isn’t it? They grow?” 

“What you know about plants could--,” Crowley started hissing.

“-could be a very interesting and helpful contribution,” Azira interrupted, desperately trying to keep the peace, “I’m sure Professor Crowley would love to discuss it with you some time.”

“Oh yes, I’d be soooo charmed,” his friend mocked in a high-pitched sing-song voice. 

Professor Fell pushed the conversation forward as if Anthony hadn’t said anything, resulting in the man sulking further, “But for today, how can I help, is there something you needed, Gabriel?” 

“Ah, yes, actually!” Gabriel beamed, “Dueling Club starts this afternoon and I was looking for some volunteers. Professor McGonagall mentioned Professor Crawly wasn’t going to be bothered to work today. I figured some productivity might do him well. You must be free as well, it’s not like there’s anything keeping you busy here.” 

There was practically steam coming out of Crowley’s ears. He had his head tilted, jaw clenched, and while his posture was still languid and unconcerned, his dark red nails dug into his palms so hard he nearly drew blood. There wasn’t one person in this whole blasted school that worked as hard as Azira, who aided more students or who had anywhere near his compendium of knowledge. He deeply considered playing nice just long enough to give Gabriel a tour of the greenhouse harboring his giant carnivorous plants. Or perhaps he’d invite him to an innocent sport near the Whomping Willow. 

“Of course,” the corners of Azira’s mouth twitched upwards, but the expression could only be labeled a smile by the loosest of terms.

What? ” Crowley spat. Professor Fell looked at him so sharply he immediately shut his trap, but continued gaping. 

The forced smile returned to his face. Crowley figured Gabriel spread those contagiously, “Professor Crowley and I would be delighted to help.” 

We would? ’ Anthony wanted to blurt out, offended at being offered as an unwilling volunteer, but found himself unable to speak, a sharp jolt of fear striking his heart. 

“Excellent!” Professor Goodbody expressed, clapping his hands together in front of him, “Well then, I’ll see you both there.” 

Azira smiled as the man shut the door on his way out, turning back to Crowley and finding he was being squinted at incredulously. 

“Oh, don’t look at me like that. You know things will be much simpler this way.”

“I’m sorry, did you hear about how my bloody day has gone?”

“Yes, Dear, I’ve heard little else for the last hour,” Azira said. His voice didn’t betray his feeling of irritation at being snapped at, but his face did. 

Crowley opened his mouth, then closed it, clenching his teeth. He slowly turned down the dial of how heated his response would be as one salty retort after another carded through his mind. “Right. Sorry to bother you with it,” he finally settled on, standing to make his exit. 

“Crowley, wait. I only meant that volunteering will keep today from going bad to worse.”

“You’ve gone and made it worse , Angel. Might as well mark this day off as steaming dragon dung, all because you’re too scared of upsetting Fuckbody the Plastic Professor.” 

Azira scoffed indignantly, narrowing his eyes at Crowley, “honestly, Anthony, you can be such a child sometimes.” 

“Oh, can I? Great then!” Crowley nearly shouted, mocking joy through his bitterness as he snatched a book off Azira’s desk at random and waved it in the air, opening the door and backing out of it, “Checking out a book, Professor Fell! Thank you, Professor Fell. Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to eat lots of chocolate and get smudges on every single page and dog ear every place I pause.” 

He turned to stalk out of the office with his long legs, ignoring the students giggling over the loud and accurate read on what ruffled the librarian’s feathers. Azira did as well in his heated state, walking out of his office and growling, “You wouldn’t dare , Anthony!” just before the Herbologist let the library door slam behind him. 

 

 


 

 

 

The room hosting the Duelling Club was large, but the sheer number of students that had shown up along with their boisterous noises made it feel much smaller. Crowley’s stomach churned as he slithered towards the back wall. His path was blocked by two young second year Slytherins comparing their dramatic (and horribly incorrect) battle stances.

“Okay, okay, but what if it was like this ,” Scorpius Malfoy lunged forward with one leg, dramatically swinging his wand over his head as if it were a lasso and attempted to fling his arm down so his best friend, Albus Potter, would have to look down his nose at the tip of his wand. Instead the wand flung and hit him squarely in the face, “Oh… perhaps not that one then.” 

“Potter, Malfoy, love the comedy, love the script, grade A casting, but let's not take each other’s eyes out trying to get the performance right, yeah?”

The boys grinned sheepishly up at him before shuffling out of the way, “Sorry, Professor Crowley.” 

As Crowley neared his destination, he passed by Azira, and he would have felt embarrassed at his earlier behavior if he allowed himself to feel embarrassment. He did feel badly, however, and wondered if his companion was still upset with him. Upon making eye contact, the blonde promptly turned his nose up, righted his cloak, and walked to the opposite side of the room. Well, that was one question answered.

Soon enough the room settled down and the smug bastard himself stood in the center of it, his hands folded together in front of him.

“Good evening, everybody. Thank you for coming to the first meeting of Dueling Club. I’m delighted so many of you show an interest. Wizard duels are as old as the wizarding world itself. While things are safer than they may have been say, twenty years ago, the knowledge of self-defense is crucial, and the practice to back it up is even more so. We remain in a dangerous world. The after-effects of the Second Wizarding War are still shaking us to our foundations. There are plenty who remain in plain sight that have connections to Death Eaters: their friends, cousins, children . They exist in all places as many things. Some are bakers, some are bankers, some work for the ministry, some are professors and gardeners.”

He looked pointedly at the tall, red-headed figure in the back of the room and was glowered at in return. Why didn’t he just flip out his wand and shoot confetti all over Crowley? Or transfigure a sign of a giant arrow pointing right at him?

Crowley tuned out the rest of the introduction, looking around at the students and wondering if any of them felt any different about him due to Gabriel’s incriminating allusions. One pureblood Slytherin girl near the back, a fourth year by the name of Amelia Snyde, looked as if she was about to burst into tears. Clearly Crowley wasn’t the only one feeling victimized. He shuffled toward her, placing a reassuring hand on her shoulder. She nearly jumped, looking at him with watery eyes. He offered a comforting and sympathetic smile, she smiled back, grateful when he blocked her so she could rub her eyes dry without anyone noticing.

It wasn’t until Crowley heard his deadname that he looked back up at the stage.

Crowley ,” he corrected instinctively before realizing he was being looked at expectantly, “… what you want?”

Gabriel looked pleased that Crowley was embarrassing himself without him having to lift a finger yet, “I asked if you would mind joining me for a demonstration of a wizarding duel.”

The bespectacled professor felt the base of the wand in his pocket, feeling his heart start to speed up significantly. His mouth became dry and he swallowed hard, suddenly struggling to keep his breaths even.

Trying to take a moment to distract himself, he closed his eyes. Think of something else, come on, Anthony, he thought desperately. His mind betrayed him, forcing him dangerously close to memories of the last time he’d wielded his wand against another person. Flashes of colors shot across his vision from behind his eyelids. Suddenly, deafening noises skirted the rim of his consciousness: cries for loved ones, screams of agony, castings of unforgivable curses. It took all his concentration to push the memories back down. Through all of it, his heartbeat was growing deafening in his ears. He needed to calm down. He needed to stop remembering. Opening his eyes again, he realized the entire room was staring at him.

“I- eh, th- tha – that issssssss I- I- I’m,” he began, cursing his speech impediment for being a dead giveaway of precisely how he felt. The smile on Goodbody’s face grew sickeningly more honest.

It was in this moment Azira had a shameful revelation behind why, exactly, Crowley had gotten so upset when he’d  volunteered him in the library office earlier.

“That is, Professor Crowley’s had an incredibly stressful day, I’m sure you’ve heard. I would be happy to be your opponent, Gabriel. Perhaps Professor Crowley would be willing to moderate?”

If Crowley could leap across the room, grab Azira’s face, and kiss him absolutely silly, he would. That is, he had always wanted to, since he was a teenager, but never as much as right now. Once his guardian angel, always his guardian angel. Crowley took a deep breath, shaking off the panic that had been setting in a moment ago and readapting to his typical laissez-faire nature, “Yeah- ehhh, w-why not. As much as I’d love to blow someone up today, might not set the best example.”

A few laughs spread through the room, the occupants of which had easily overlooked Crowley’s stony silence and stuttering that had occurred a moment ago. After all, it was practically Hogwarts Trivia that he was easily frazzled when having a stressful or bad day.  

Gabriel almost let his smile drop, clearly disappointed that his plan of publicly humiliating the Herbology Professor was foiled. The glint of challenge in his eyes returned as quickly as it disappeared, “You’re sure you’re in shape enough for it, Professor Fell? I would hate you getting hurt.”

The students immediately started whispering at each other. Crowley debated throwing his wand and cloak to the wayside and slugging the bastard straight in his square jaw right there. Perhaps he couldn’t bring himself to Wizard duel after what he’d witnessed at the Battle of Hogwarts, but he was prepared to Muggle scrap without hesitation. To hell with the fact that the man easily doubled Anthony’s size.

Azira didn’t react, simply smiled with a slight wrinkle in his nose, “I assure you, I’m quite good for it.”

The two wizards removed their outer robes and positioned themselves across the room from each other.

Protego Totalum, Repello Inimicum, Fianto Duri, ” Crowley chanted as he circled the area around the two wizards, protecting the students from any deflected spells that might come their way. He caught eyes with Azira as he did so. The other wizard gave him a secret, sly little smile with a glint in his eyes that Crowley didn’t know how to decipher. For some reason, it sent a prickle of chills up the back of his neck and arms, and he felt blood pool to his face.

“Um, right,” he said, trying to shake off the heat the look had made him feel, “Ahem. Erm. Wizards ready?”

“Ready,” Gabriel said, walking to the center of the room.

“Ready,” Azira mirrored the single word and action.

“Bow,” Crowley instructed, and the two did so. Gabriel made eye contact his entire decent. His opponent smiled innocently in turn. They split directions, returning to their opposite ends of the room. Gabriel spread his stance sideways, his right arm arched over his head and holding his wand ready. Aziraphale stood with his heels together, feet perpendicular to one another, and delicately but unwaveringly raised his left arm before him, Pear wand an extension of it, his right hand held behind his back.

“And….. duel!”

Confringo!”

Protego!”

The two spells were cast almost simultaneously. A gush of fire and smoke rolled against the invisible wall to Azira’s right, and all students behind it jumped back, startled. Azira barely flinched away from it, squinting his blue eyes in determination. The impact caused his hair to flutter in the opposite direction, and he gracefully sprung into action. Immediately, the room was filled with exclamations and excited shouting. Crowley was silent, mouth slightly hanging open as he, too, was instantly captivated.

Azira’s feet moved skillfully in a semi-circle as he spun his wand again but didn’t strike.

“Baubillious ,” Gabriel shouted, throwing his arm aggressively. Before the pattern for the spell had been completed, Aziraphale countered yet again.

Lumos Maxima.”

A bright breach of yellow white lightning erupted from the end of Gabriel’s wand, however it went nearly everywhere but its target as the light Azira conjured blinded him. The lightning crackled against the invisible barrier on the left side of Azira. The crowd instinctively ducked down, except for the duel’s mediator, who was frankly quite useless as such as he’d entirely forgotten how to function.

Never before had he seen Azira like this. The blonde looked completely and utterly calm, and yet an invisible wave of uninterpretable power radiated off him. His face wore an expression of focus and concentration that made the way he looked at books seem utterly meaningless. If his eyes were the sky, a mighty storm was brewing in them now- all-consuming, merciless, mighty. He bided his time, and it became obvious he was allowing his opponent to reveal his cards before playing his own. His movements contained an effortless fluidity, and yet Crowley had a growing hunch that something of intoxicating vigor lurked hidden beneath them.

Every hair on Anthony’s body was standing on edge, and if he thought his heart was beating too hard and fast before, now he was sure it would rupture out of his chest and his eardrums would burst. His face was flushed and his breath was scarce and ragged. Beneath his glasses, his pupils were blown wide. If Azira had been the sun, Crowley would get burnt to a crisp attempting to endlessly soak in his light. His mind melted into a puddle in his skull, and all he could think of is how desperately he wanted Azira to look at him like that .

Nox, ” Azira enunciated clearly, and Gabriel harshly fell forward, thrown off by the disappearance of the bright light and swinging his wand again, more impatiently now.

Despite his stature, Azira dodged and countered swiftly, advancing in a way that could only be described as elegant. It was a wizard’s duel, but it was utterly reminiscent of a fencing match.

Stupefy !” Gabriel growled, losing patience. This had been meant to be easy. He was supposed to humiliate the unpracticed librarian.

Protego,” Azira said again smoothly as he deflected the attack, fluidly countering without a second’s hesitation, “Expulso.”

Gabriel burst backwards, body slamming against the wall and sliding down against it, roaring in frustration. The room was wild now, students shoving each other out of the way to see better, shouting at either of the professors and at each other. Professor Goodbody thrusted his wand, fisted inelegantly in his hand now, forward, “Lacarnum Inflamarae!”

The leg of Azira’s trousers burst into flames. It didn’t do anything close to breaking his focus. Without looking downwards, Professor Fell spun his wand in a circle, chanting “ Aquamenti ” on the downswing, extinguishing the fire, and flourishing the wand on the upswing into a smooth, “ Glacius Duo.”

PROTEGO !” his opponent shouted, only deflecting the spell by the skin of his teeth, and the barrier to the side of him became encased in thick slabs of ice. The students behind it crowd-surged their neighbors to the side so they might continue to watch. Gabriel’s always-immaculate hair was hanging loosely in his face, sweat was forming on his brow, and his signature smile was nowhere in sight, “ Petrificus Totalus !”

Another deflection. Azira’s intensity only seemed to grow, but the duelist remained all the more collected, focused, determined. He was a predator cornering its prey, and his opponent was submitting exactly into the desired position. Gabriel was being fashioned into a frazzled mess, and all Crowley could seem to manage to think, over and over, his eyes locked on the scene, was fuck, I wish that were me .

Locomotor Mortis.”

Gabriel’s stance faltered, and he barely remained standing as his legs snapped together into the binding spell, sending his patience over the edge.

SAGITTA,” he spat, shaking with rage as he put all his fury behind the spell.

Spinning on his foot, Azira jumped to the side like a skilled swordsman dodging a lunging strike. The arrow that had shot from Goodbody’s wand missed piercing him, but it grazed his upper arm, cutting into his sleeve and causing blood to seep from the wound.

Crowley wanted to be outraged that the duelist had used such a dangerous spell, but right now he was a devout believer and his religion was Azira Fell. The faith and worship pounding through his veins told him it hadn’t mattered; the spell was a desperate attempt from the drowning victim of a Kappa to fight back, thrashing noiselessly and hopelessly in the river, but his fate had already been sealed.

Azira prowled forward slowly, preparing his last strike. Gabriel fell backwards, pushing himself away from his opponent with his free hand and throwing his arm back to wind up his next spell.

“Impedimenta,” Professor Fell interrupted, taking a step forward. Suddenly, Gabriel’s draw forward was slowed down several times over, as if gravity had rescinded its graces.

“Expelliarmus,” a second calm step toward his prey. The wand that had been aiming at him in slow motion slapped against the wall behind his target, clacking weakly as it bounced to the floor.

Finally, Azira took a third and final step before halting his approach only a yard from Professor Goodbody. He intense eyes bore down at him, posture powerfully poised above the man who was entirely at his mercy. His entire body emanated a ferocity that no spectator had ever witnessed from Azira Fell. The room was silent, every occupant gaping in awe, wondering what he would do next.

It was Azira’s turn to show his token smile, unbothered by Gabriel clamoring to snatch his wand, but slow to do so with his legs bound together. Azira finally relaxed the intensity of his focus, the storm clearing into a beautiful blue sky. He flourished his wand in finality, simply unable to help himself.

“Rictusempra.”

Gabriel collapsed in his journey to his fallen wand, bursting into hysterical laughter despite the furious look on his face and rolling around on the floor, clutching his stomach.

Crowley realized as he tried to laugh along with the crowd that not only did he have no oxygen, but his lungs were burning, and he must have been turning quite blue in the face from not breathing. He took a great gasp and panted for air, grinning madly, uninhibited, totally vulnerable as Azira turned to him and gave him a coy wink.

Azira himself looked surprised, wondering what he had possibly done to earn the most beautiful smile he’d ever seen on Crowley’s face.

“Witches and wizards, I do believe we have a winner!” the mediator shouted over the whoops and cheers as the champion of the duel released the loser from his hexes. Crowley took Azira’s hand and raised it in the air, that same smile not leaving his face as the cheering went on for quite a while. Gabriel stood, righting his hair and smoothing his vest, realizing he was glaring at his opponent and working hard to put on a fake smile for the students.

“Can I get a ‘wahoo’?”

“WAHOO!” the room shouted back in tandem.

Azira blushed at the most attention he had ever gotten at his time in Hogwarts- as a student or a teacher. “Oh please,” he pushed back against the praise, not that it did much. He squeezed Crowley’s hand, and the taller Professor was sure he’d combust on the spot, still absolutely riled with adrenaline from witnessing the force of nature that was Azira.

When Gabriel finally regained control of the room, he started discussing deflection spells. He cited the many spells Azira had deflected in their duel in an attempt to make his opponent look cowardly. Really it served more as a testament to his reflexes.

Afterwards, the students paired off, and Crowley took his chance to slip out of the room unnoticed. Surely, they would need more help now than they did before keeping the kids civil, but Anthony was currently a raving mad mess. He was burning up, beads of sweat forming under his clothing. He was positively sure he was going to combust if he didn’t cool down immediately. Into the cold October air he went, immediately shucking off his cloak, scarf, and sweater. He staggered for a moment before leaning against the castle wall and sinking down it, throwing his head back with a loud and painful smack as he panted for air.

“Get yourself together, man,” he groaned, setting his elbows against his knees, taking his glasses off, and rubbing his face into his hands. The fresh experience of the duel kept his heart at its rocketing pace, and he leaned his head back against the cold stone wall again, more carefully this time. His long fingers rested over his heart, as if they could persuade it to quiet down. The images and feelings he witnessed raced through his body and mind. The way Azira moved so skillfully, decisively, precise. The manner his eyes shifted and gleamed, reflecting all the colors of each burst of magic. The absolute power he had commanded .

“Helga Hufflepuff’s Hippogriff, I’ve never seen you with this little clothing in this weather. You look like you have heatstroke, what the hell happened?” came the potion-master’s voice.

Anathema Device stood in front of him in her flowing green velvet cloak, holding a basket of books in her arms and raising her brows when she saw his blown-wide amber snake eyes.

“Azira Fell,” he groaned.

A massive grin of mischief took over her features, “Ohhh, so things are finally getting spicy? I knew he must feel the same. Where’d you do it? Broom closet?”

This was not helping Crowley’s skin tone return to normal.

“Th- tha- that’sssss n- nnn- not what h-happened,” he hissed, irritated as Anathema looked further amused.

She found a seat next to him and listened as he regaled her with the story of The Duel of Fell and Goodbody. She looked at him with a pitiful, adoring expression that he hated, but getting this out of his system was paramount.

“Ah, here’s where you ran off to, meeting’s over,” came an all too familiar voice.

“Came out for a breath and I held him up, sorry, Azira,” Anathema covered for Crowley all too kindly. He felt a wave of gratitude.

“Think nothing of it, Dear Girl! What are you two discussing so animatedly?”

“Your incredible exploits, of course!” Professor Device grinned, and Crowley felt his appreciation dissipate.

“Oh, I’m sure Crowley was exaggerating,” Azira insisted, his ears turning pink as he smiled bashfully.

“Not even close!” Crowley exclaimed, “Hell’s bells, where did that come from, Angel? You were bloody brilliant!”

“I do think I might have gotten carried away,” the librarian admitted, “years of resentment I suppose.”

Anthony pulled his cloak toward him, fumbling around for his wand and standing to take Azira’s arm. He brandished it at the cut in a few different patterns, with a few different words. The cut healed completely, blood vanishing from the shirt and sleeve mending itself. The expression of thanks was promptly ignored.

“Years of resentment? Towards Goodbody? I forget he went here before I came in, did you know each other?” Crowley asked. Anathema cocked her head, eager to know the answer as well.

Azira sighed, looking back and forth between his two friends, both looking at him with burning curiosity.

“Yes. He was in the same year and house as my older sibling, Michael. They treated me terribly growing up- and as an adult. I try to be civil, as the relationship between me and Michael is stressed enough without Gabriel running and telling them all my dirt.”

Both of his friends were surprised at this admission, realizing all at once that they truly didn’t know much about Azira’s personal history.

“You haven’t got any dirt, you’re an angel,” Crowley grinned at him, delighted as this resulted in Azira’s cheeks pinkening. 

“Oh, Crowley, I’m so sorry for earlier. I was a bit of- … well, a bit of a bastard,” he mumbled the last word.

“After that? You’ve more than made it up to me. And if that duel proved anything to me, it’s that deep down, you’re just enough of a bastard to be worth knowing.”

The absolutely adoring and slightly bashful smile Crowley earned lit up the world. 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

September 18th, 1993

 

It was a warm, lazy Sunday morning at Hogwarts. Most students had opted to take off their house robes and lay them on the grass to use as blankets, studying or gossiping with friends as the slight September breeze rustled their hair, flipped their books closed, or sent their parchment whirling into the wind. The slight September breeze, in this case, wasn’t founded in any kind of nature but instead in the mischief off two inseparable Hufflepuffs.

Ohhhhh that one got air, not bad, A.J.,” said a girl with bright green eyes and dark skin.

Crawly deposited his wand into his lap as the most recent targets of their petty crimes peered at the pair in suspicion. The offender was sitting behind his partner-in-crime, innocently occupied with braiding her long dark brown hair, “N-no-n-not b-bad, eh? Let’s s-sss-see what you can do, then, Heller the Hellraiser.”

“Hmmmmm,” hummed Valencia Heller, eyes narrowing as she surveyed their surroundings, “who’s the target?”

“G-g, eh, g- go for G-Granger. She’ll lose her head,” Anthony suggested, the two grinned at each other and Valencia retrieved her wand, which was sitting in Crawly’s lap next to his own. The two third years had spent the entire summer at her parents Spanish cottage learning low-level jinxes so they might keep themselves entertained with trouble all year. Heller kept her wand low under her knee, attempting to be as inconspicuous as possible as she pointed it at the Gryffindor trio and whispered, “ Ventus .”

The ‘wind’, picked up again, more viciously this time, hitting several innocent parties on its way to the three students and effectively sending all their parchments swirling up in a spiral and spreading so far apart the three of them had to jump and leap about the lawn to snatch them. Valencia and Anthony snickered to themselves quietly, both gazing off innocently when a few nearby groups glared at them.

“That wassss wicked ,” Crawly leaned forward, whispering to avoid eavesdroppers. He tied off the end of her long braid, and she pulled it over her shoulder. The energetic girl jumped to her feet, stretching and cracking her back before grinning at her best friend.

“Thank you, Master Crawly,” she said, twisting her hand about her wrist as she dramatically bowed down before him. “Today’s the first day we can go to Hogsmeade, what you say we go to Honeydukes and split a haul?”

“Oh please, Madam Heller, Mas-ss-ster Crawly was my father ,” he said, holding his hand over his heart, “You can c-ca-call me his reigning highness of Hogwarts, Crawly—and yes, Honeydukes issss a go.”

An enormous grin struck Val’s face, and she picked her robe off the ground, swinging it dramatically around her shoulders without putting her arms through the sleeves, “then, I suppose I must be her reigning highness of Hogwarts, Heller.”

“Shit, that s-sss-sounds way better. Alliteration really m-makessss it work,” Crawly mused lazily, laying down to lounge on his side and stretch out his spindly limbs over his robes.

“Well then! Let us be off~ Abbott, Finch-Fletchley, and Macmillan are meeting us there,” she chirped.

As she listed the company meant to join them, the redhead felt his heart sink in his chest. Crawly always felt badly for holding his best friend back, hoarding her to himself, but he simply didn’t find himself worth being around other people. They wouldn’t want him around. No one save for Valencia ever did

“You n-knnn-know,” he mused, doing his best to act uninterested as he raised an arm straight up, idly examining his fresh golden and black nail polish in the light, “think I might fanccccy a nap instead.”

“Oh come off it, AJ, you can’t hide away forever! Let’s go cause some trouble.”

“We jus-sss-st did a p-pretty good job of it, if I do s-sssay so myself,” he mumbled defensively.

“Fine then. More trouble! Fresh meat! First time off school grounds at Hogwarts!”

“You shhh-should leave the tempting to m-me,” Crawly advised. He was more of a person -person as opposed to a people -person, as in he usually gravitated towards a single individual, but he did have a remarkable way of talking people into the most ridiculous things.

“You’re impossible! Come ON, you lazy snake!” she delivered a playful kick to the bottom of his shoe.

“S-sss-sleep,” he groaned, flopping onto his back.

Chaosssss,” she whispered back devilishly.

Instead of a proper response, Crawly put his hands under his head and let out a loud fake snore which turned into a loud “NGK” as Valencia stepped on his thin stomach as part of her path past him, grinning over her shoulder, “Sweet dreams, sweet AJ.”

He threw her a rude gesture before adjusting his bag to use as a pillow, folding his hands over where she had stepped in case someone else dared give a try.

Naps on the grounds were one of Crawly’s favorite ways to be lonely. Not on weekdays- too much foot traffic over the area, but Saturdays? Absolutely. Students and professors alike left each other to their own devices.

He closed his eyes and did what he always did when taking cat naps. Focusing his mind, he isolated each sound in his surroundings. The waves of the lake gently lapped on the shore. Excited voices spoke unintelligibly in the distance. The soft leaves of the trees shook gently above him, the sun poking through the canopy warm as it danced across his skin. Owls hooted gently as they soared overhead. Grass crunched dryly under two sets of passing feet.

Crawly’s heart leapt out of his chest when, more quickly than he could register, his glasses were snatched off his face.

“Oi!” The gangly teen jolted up right, desperately slapping his hands over his face as he peaked through the cracks of his fingers to spot the offender. It was two tall figures towering over him, standing on the edge of his robes. He couldn’t quite make out their faces, but he had a pretty good guess as to their identities.

“G-ge-get off my robes,” he hissed, “and give my s-sss-s-sunglasses back.”

“Ohhh, did we upset you, C-C-C-Creepy C-C-Crawly?” said a familiar mocking voice, “Where’s your knight in shining armor? Felt safe letting your guard down?”

This confirmed his fears. Blasted Hastur and Ligur, the two Slytherin fifth years. They were terrified of Valencia, who had quite the hot temper, ever since she’d turned Hastur into a duck and shrunk Ligur’s head to a tiny little nub on his neck. There were also a couple incidences of well-placed kicks and punches involved in the matter: a knocked-out tooth, a broken nose, a fractured cheekbone, and a professor yanking her, writhing, away as she hissed, “ touch him again, and you’ll wish you were dead.”

“B-B-Bugger off,” warned Anthony.

“Oh, not very friendly. I guess that’s what we should expect from a blood traitor.”

“I’m not a b-bl-blood traitor,” the boy defended himself, lowering his eyes and removing one hand from his face to feel for his wand.

“Looking for this?” Hastur asked. Anthony couldn’t see what he was holding but wasn’t stupid. “Let’s call this exhibit A? Applewood. For someone an esteemed pureblood family? Doesn’t work well with dark magic, but is perfect for fuzzy wuzzy little Hufflepuffs, huh? And let’s call that exhibit B. ‘Hard-working’, ‘honest’, ‘ kind’ , pathetic. That’s not you, is it? You were born bad, lost at that, tried your hand at being a goody and were awful at that too. You’ll never be friends with Muggle-borns, and you certainly will never find your place with us purebloods. No one will ever want you. Look at you. You know that, don’t you? You play the part perfectly . Won’t even show your eyes. No wonder your family won’t even keep you.”

That hit Anthony where it hurt, and he desperately withheld tears, choking up as his stutter worsened. “Ssss-sss-shhh-Shuuu- Shuuuut-,” he struggled to begin.

“W-w-what, Creepy Crawly? Gonna c-c-cry?”

“Shhh- shhhhuuu-,” he continued to try before swallowing hard and hissing, “ Fuck off, sss-supremecist pricksss .”

He tried to shout as he felt a sharp pain on his scalp and the weight of two people on top of him, pinning his hands down to the ground, away from his face, and covering his mouth.

“Show us your eyes, Creepy Crawly.”

“Yeah, show us or we’ll take them out and look for ourselves.”

His lungs burned as he screamed under their hand, struggling with all his might but not strong enough to overpower the two older boys. His eyes were clamped tightly shut.

“Are you afraid, blood-traitor? Why do you hide them? Is it because you know your father is ashamed that you have them? Are you afraid of not fitting in with your little house running rampant with half-breeds? Or is because you know deep down that you’ll never belong anywhere?”

“Get off of him this instant,” came a melodic voice from a boy who, based on his timbre and pitch, Crowley assumed to be an older student.

“Shove off, it’s a Saturday and we’re finding fun where we can.”

“Did it sound like I was posing a request? If so, I misspoke. This is truly pitiful, Hastur, Ligur. Bullying a third year? Honestly. Get off him now or I’m going directly to Snape with this.”

“Ohhhh, mad little Mudblood, going to tattle on us? You can’t do any- “

 “Expelliarmus,” the voice enunciated clearly. That took care of one of them. Crawly immediately felt the weight on him lift away. The third year expected to hear the other half of the pair immediately countering, but instead heard silence.

“His things, if you don’t mind,” tutted the voice, and after another moment, “thank you. Now get out of my sight. If I catch you bothering younger students again, especially in my house, I won’t hold back.”

Finally, Hastur’s voice sounded, “Remember what it feels like to be down in the dirt, blood-traitor, that’s where you belong, and that’s where you’ll stay.” A sharp kick to Crawly’s ribs sent him sprawling onto his side.

“Veritas Ostendit,” said the soft voice in a surprisingly severe manner. A cry was released from the person Crawly believed to be Hastur. A beat of silence passed, then the two Slytherins burst into hysterics.

“Stupid Mudblood Puff. Can’t even do a proper hex. Pathetic.” The laughing retreated, but Crawly remained curled into himself, holding his aching ribs. He waited in the silence before he heard someone approach him again, flinching inward as he felt a hand on his arm.

“Don’t be afraid,” said the voice, much more gently than it had sounded a moment ago. Crawly winced as he tried to roll onto his back, squinting through his eyelashes at the figure above him. Despite himself, despite his self-hatred and deep insecurity, his eyes shot open at what he saw.

A beautiful boy leaned above him, his bright blue eyes offering a look through his blonde lashes that was gentler and more comforting than any glance Crawly had ever received. He had a round face, a pointed nose, a soft-looking mouth, and beautiful white-blonde curls. The sun beat down behind his head, creating a halo effect from the younger boy’s perspective. He was silent as he gaped stupidly up at his savior- Azira Fell.

It’s not that he’d never seen him before, of course he had. He was the sixth year Hufflepuff Prefect, infamously intelligent, notoriously kind, and wildly popular. It’s just that he’d never approached Crawly before, and the 13-year-old had a strict policy against approaching anyone else. He was quite sure they’d never made eye contact before, much less spoken.

“Here you are, these are yours, yes?” Azira asked, holding out a pair of sunglasses.

Crawly turned stark white as he realized the prefect had seen his eyes, scrambling quickly to grab the glasses and shove them onto his face. He took his wand next, and tried to sit up, crying out in pain as he did so.

“Oh, you poor dear, they really are scoundrels, aren’t they? Let me fix you up,” he said, so reassuringly that Crawly didn’t bother saying anything or arguing- not that he was sure he was really capable in his current stupor. He drew his cardigan and shirt up to reveal his bony torso, wincing as he saw the already deep bruise forming where he’d been kicked as well as what appeared to be a broken bone. Azira tutted in concerned disapproval, “This may hurt for just a moment. I promise I know what I’m doing. Episkey .”

Crawly wished he hadn’t watched as the bone snapped back into place. He cried out again, biting his lip hard until he realized the pain was entirely gone. When he looked back down, the wound had already vanished.

His gaze turned back to his savior, who was sitting back on his heels, hands on his knees, and smiling comfortingly at Crawly, “Now, that’s better, isn’t it?”

Anthony nodded sheepishly, sitting up and rubbing his side in wonder.

“Your name is Crawly, isn’t it?”

“Anthony Crawly, I’m n-nnn-not the heir of S- SSS-Slytherin,” Crawly managed out defensively, “Or a s-sss-suporter of You-Kn-Know-Who.” Fell made an expression of surprise before finding his kind smile again.

“My Dear Boy, I would never accuse you of any of those things,” he promised. Despite his paranoia, Crawly was inclined to believe him, “and neither should anyone else, if they’re decent. Just so you know. Not everyone is like Hastur and Ligur.”

“B-b-but,” Crawly began with a struggle, feeling incredibly flustered in front of the boy, much to his own dismay, “they’re right.”

“About what?” Fell responded so fast it made Anthony stagger.

A long pause of silence ensued. Crawly stared at the grass below him, loosely grasping it in his fingers and watching it almost curl towards him on its own. He expected the older boy to immediately start lecturing him, to share his wild speculations, to ask insensitive questions. It never came. When he braved a glance upward, he found Azira still present, leaning forward patiently as he gazed at the third year’s face.

His heart thumped loudly in his ears. He would wonder why, but the reason was literally staring him in the face. The way the prefect was looking at him- it made him feel ... seen . Exposed. Vulnerable.

He brought his knees up to his chest, looking away again with his cheeks burning bright as he spat out standoffishly, “I’m a b-bl-blood-traitor.”

“How do you figure?” Azira asked, thoughtfully.

Crawly scowled at him, crossing his arms over his chest, but much to his surprise and discomfort, the blonde’s composure didn’t change a bit in response to his distant, dry behavior. Finally, after another several moments of realizing the older boy wouldn’t leave him alone until matters were sorted, he started talking.

“If you must know, all the reasons they said. I’m the only Hufflepuff from a family of over a millennium of Slytherin Crawly’s. My favorite and best subject is bloody Herbology . I’m shit at dark magic. I don’t want to serve the Dark Lord. I don’t want to live in a world where everyone’s a pureblood, but I can’t be one either. I’m not bad enough. I’m not good enough, either. My family despises me. They don’t want me. I’m everything they didn’t want me to be.”

“I see, that does sound very difficult,” Azira said empathetically, “But I don’t see how that makes you a Blood-traitor.”

Crawly looked up at the boy again, gaping. It took every ounce of his strength to be nasty to this person who made his heart do such strange things, “Are you daft? Did you even listen?”

“I did,” the boy guaranteed, unbothered by the attitude, “I heard you’re a good person. One that has the potential for kindness, loyalty, and dedication. I heard that you’re passionate about things your family were never brave enough to explore before, and that you don’t wish to extend the tradition of hating those that aren’t like you. Your blood doesn’t belong to the Crawly’s, it belongs to you, Anthony.”

He could swear his heart was speeding up, and Crawly hugged his knees tighter, trying to put pressure against his chest so it would bloody well stop before the whole school heard it.

“So... I j-ju-j- just s-sss-stop caring that I failed every one of my parents’ exp-expec-expectations? Every one of everyone else’s?”

“Well… the way I see it, Anthony, no one else deserves to have any expectations of you,” Azira said. This shattered Crawley’s world. He looked up at him, desperately confused. The older boy offered a gentle smile, leaning down to look Crawly in the eyes through the dark glasses. Again, the sensation of being seen made Anthony’s bones shake. His prefect continued, “Perhaps you should spend less time looking back on what people who aren’t there expect of you and instead ask what you expect of yourself. What do you want? Who do you want to be? Because as far as I’m concerned, Anthony, you get to tell people who you are. They don’t have the right to decide for you.”

The boy gazed, mouth slightly ajar, at the person- no, the angel in front of him- here all this time, but only appearing when Crowley needed him most. He scrambled for words, for questions to ask the celestial being before he vanished from Crowley’s presence once more.

“W-wh-erm…what do I do? I’m a Crawly ” he finally managed, helplessly.

Azira pursed his lips in thought, dedicating genuine thought to giving the floundering boy a good answer, “Hmmm… Well I’d think... You don’t have to be a Crawly. You can make a new name for yourself. You can find a new family. One that loves you for who you are instead of resenting you for who you’re not. You’ll choose one. You’ll make friends. You’ll visit them on holiday. You’ll find love. You’ll wonder how you got along without the people you build relationships with,” he offered, “you have so much to offer the world. Choose who you want to be, and who’s worthy to witness it.”

Words failing him after several moments of soaking in the advice, he nodded in understanding, defense mechanisms torn down by the penetrating gaze. Azira smiled, so warm it heated Crawly like no fire in his life ever had.

“Then, good luck, Crawly,” he said, raising to meticulously dust the grass off his trousers and take his leave. After a few steps, he halted, turning back to the pureblood and tacking on, “And by the way, my dear. I know it goes deeper than aesthetics, but you do have truly beautiful eyes.”

A kind of magic Crawly had never felt before swept around him, it felt as if someone had let loose a platoon of pixies in his chest. Goose pimples coated his whole body,  and he stared in awe after the boy who held the sky in his eyes. He could swear an energy was spiraling around him, making him feel lighter than he ever had in his life. For once, he tasted a freedom he never knew before. For once, he felt the potential for what he could be, for the possibility of what others could see in him, instead of the weighty guilt of what he wasn’t.

Later that night, in the library, Crawly sat in the library with a table full of Hufflepuffs for the first time in his academic history, making them laugh for the fifth time in the last thirty minutes. This came as an incredibly pleasant surprise to Heller, who had worried so deeply for her solitary friend the last two years.

“Found some other P-P-Piss-Poor Purebloods to socialize with?” Ligur asked in passing, gaining a laugh from Hastur.

“Gone native, have you? Meanwhile I have all the proper pureblood friends I could ever want,” Hastur replied, trying to appear brave as Valencia narrowed her eyes at him in a way that could only be described as feral.

The table and the duo alike fell silent, Heller was stopped in her tracks from standing up from the table, and none of the students of any house knew how else to react to the fact that the tip of Hastur’s nose had absolutely just extended two inches. The Slytherin boy looked concerned as Crawly and Val finally erupted into laughter together.

“Oh shut it, you filthy blood-traitors! You’re dirt beneath my feet, you hear me?” his nose extended yet again, and this time, true panic set in.

“What’s happening?” Ligur asked, dumbfounded.

“Oh, I don’t know! Just get out of my way ,” Hastur cried, shoving past him. The entire table of Hufflepuffs burst into uproarious laughter. From across the room, Crawly caught a set of intelligent blue eyes glimmering at him from over a book that had to weigh at least 15 pounds.

Thanks ,’ he mouthed, remembering the hex Azira had casted that ‘hadn’t worked’.

One blue eye winked at him, before the set disappeared back behind the hardened leather book. The younger Hufflepuff didn’t look away.

“-Crawly, Anthony, AJ, Tony, Crawly, AJ-” Anthony was oblivious, not realizing Valencia had been waving her hand in front of his face and calling different variations of his name for a solid 30 seconds. She was currently squinting in a perplexed manner at the dreamy expression on his face. Realizing she wasn't about to get his attention, she slid his glasses down the slightest bit and followed his gaze, eyebrows raising when she found its target, “Why are you making cow eyes at Fell?”

“Because he’s an angel,” Crawly replied instantly. It was a statement made with more certainty than he’d ever had in his life, and as such it came with no stutter, no hesitation, and no insecurity.

After an initial look of shock, a manic grin began to take over Val and she tilted her head at her adorably infatuated best friend, “An Angel, huh?”

“Yesssssss,” Crawly hissed, looking more relaxed than he had in the two years she’d known him. His gaze didn’t waver, and it hardly would again for two years to come, “Angel.”

Over those two years preceding Azira’s graduation, Crawly never managed to have a conversation longer than “would you pass the butter, Angel?” with the object of his affections ever again. But he could live with that. That one encounter had been enough to last him a lifetime. Lucky for him, he didn’t have to go that long- instead, he only had to wait twenty-five years.

 

 

 


 

 

 


October 20th, 2018 - Present Day

 

“Here you are,” Anathema said cheerily, handing Azira a potion. The librarian looked at her curiously, and she followed up with a minimalist elaboration, “Crowley’s going to want that tomorrow. He’s had a rough day. You should bring his birthday present along, too.”

Her friend easily deduced she had foreseen this, as neither of them had seen the eccentric professor for the whole of Saturday despite that they’d all had plans together at Hogsmeade. Crowley had never stood them up before.

“Right, of course,” Azira nodded dutifully, navigating to his office to grab the package meant for his friend before making his way to Crowley’s office and knocking politely on the door. No answer. He waited a moment before knocking more forcefully, still to no avail. He prepared to assume that Crowley had stayed in bed all day (during some previous, very dire occurrences, the man would sleep three days straight) before his third knock resulted in a groan from the other side of the door.

Professor Fell opened the door, immediately freezing at the sight of parchment thrown all about the room and several empty bottles on the desk which Crowley was slumped over, asleep, cheek sticking to a piece of ink-spattered paper. It was clear the Herbologist had thrown a fit in his office before indulging an attempt to drown out his sorrows.

“Oh Dear,” Azira expressed, moving to take a step forward and crushing a deeply abused and crumpled letter under his foot. He hesitated before picking it up, glancing cautiously at his sleeping friend. Reading someone else’s mail wasn’t strictly moral , but if he could figure out the root of Anthony’s pain, perhaps he could understand better. Professor Fell paced back and forth for several minutes, debating ethics versus duty with himself, until he finally decided to smooth out the letter.

Salutations, Professor Anthony J. Crowley,

I’ve read your request for my contribution to your research thesis: The Medicinal Properties of Rare Rainforest Herbs in Correlation with Treatment of Cruciatus Curse-Induced Psychological Damage . I’m afraid I will be unable to lend my aid, as I find this topic a deeply problematic one. You cannot simply wish to magic away such deep trauma. It’s been twenty years that you’ve clung to this thesis, and I find it irresponsible of the Herbology community to continue humoring you at this point. I’m afraid I must insist that this is a fantasy, and as a reputable scholar, you mustn’t let such notions tarnish your career.

I am aware of your work. You have made deeply impressive discoveries and contributions to the field of Herbology, and I’ve memorized your name, as I believe it will be a big one. Neville Longbottom has nothing but stellar recommendations for you. However, you simply must move on from this obsession, lest you drive yourself as mad as your subjects. Please don’t hesitate to reach out again for any other projects or if you choose to form a more realistic thesis. I would quite enjoy the chance to work with you.

Sincerely,

Gethsemane Prickle

Azira stood clasping in the letter in his hands a remarkably long time for a man who could read so quickly and with such deep comprehension. He read it again. Then again. A mixture of anger, sorrow, and pride tangled in his chest.

This was the research Crowley had been aching over not just since they met but for decades before, as well. Of course it would be so sensitive a mission. He wondered how Crowley had found this thesis, why he had clung to it. Whatever the rhyme and reason, he had dedicated himself to it entirely, and Fell could only see it fitting that the man’s research would be something so entirely motivated by selflessness and kindness.

Crunching the letter yet again in his hands, perhaps more aggressively simply because of his own anger at the woman, Azira dropped the ball of parchment in the waste bin and reached down gently to wake Crowley. He’d long since made a note to be careful of this, as the red-headed man was very sensitive and easily startled by touch.

“Crowley, wake up, Dear Boy,” he called softly. The pad of his middle finger touched the edge of the pureblood’s bony shoulder. He pushed his hand towards the base of the back of his neck, gradually increasing pressure until he was rubbing soothing little circles in Crowley’s upper back.

Finally, his colleague stirred, raising his cheek and blinking blearily at Azira, “hmmmmm? Wha’ time ‘sit?”

The librarian had to stifle a hearty laugh, attempting to pass it off as clearing his throat and then coughing as he saw the map of black ink stuck to the side of Crowley’s face, “It’s only nine, Anthony. Though, perhaps we’d best get you to bed.”

“No no no no nuuuuu!” Anthony rushed out, crossing his arms back and forth in front of him, “You’re here. I’m here. Le’s ‘ave a drink.”

Azira smiled sympathetically at his friend, “I’m not sure that’s the best idea, my dear, you’ve had quite a bit, it might make you groggy tomorrow and I know you have your get togethers with Miss Heller first and third Sunday of every month.”

“Oh come onnnn . She’ll be there no matter how hungover I am, let’s party! Besides, that’s wha’ this is for, righ’?” he asked, swaying on his seat and plucking the potion from where it was tucked into the crook of Azira’s arm. He set it pointedly on his desk with a mischievous little grin up at his friend.

Without allowing room for complaint, Crowly grabbed a second glass from his desk, pouring himself and Azira a drink of bourbon.

“Yo- y- you knowww,” he drawled, “I had a dream ‘bout when we met.”

“Last year?”

“No, when we were lil’ brats, I was third year, you were sixth,” Crowley corrected.

Azira looked guilty, “I’m afraid I don’t recall.”

“You wouldn’. There’s sooo many people who need ‘elp and only sooo many angels to ‘elp ‘em. I wasn’ special.”

“I’m sure that’s not true!” Azira insisted, “I was…. Distracted sixth year.”

“Diggory,” Crowley immediately identified, mumbling into his glassware with almost a tinge of bitterness if Professor Fell wasn’t mistaken.

“I was going to say my studies, but- well, yes,” he admitted, blushing as he recalled the romance that occupied his youth. He finally indulged himself, taking a swig of his bourbon, “how did you know?”

“Pppbbbbht,” Crowley expressed, the epitome of manners, “Who didn’ know?” He attempted to rest his sorrows on an elbow, smearing ink from his cheek all over his hand.

“Honestly, my dear, you’re a mess tonight,” the older man sighed, though the truth was he found Crowley painstakingly endearing. He was so hard working, so dedicated, so kind, and Azira felt a personal vendetta against fate that he had never seemed to be rewarded for any of it. From his vest pocket, he withdrew a handkerchief. Standing near the man, he took his chin in hand, wiping the ink off his cheek. The inebriated wizard’s stunning eyes fluttered shut and he leaned into the touch, cheeks pink from what Azira assumed was far too much alcohol.

“’m sad,” Crowley admitted, reaching up and holding the librarian’s hand still.

“I know,” Professor Fell sympathized, “Life has a way of trying to keep you down, I do wish you had something that could make you feel better.”

“I have you,” the man crooned, the corners of his mouth turning upright as he nuzzled the palm near his face.

Feeling his face heat up, Azira took his hand away, ignoring his whine of protest and taking Crowley’s ink covered palm to clean it off as well, “Of course you do.” He had discovered long ago that when his friend crossed the barrier between drunk and absolutely sloshed, he would start seeking out attention more openly. If he’d just be a little more open to it when sober, perhaps it wouldn’t gush out in such strong bursts, Azira suspected.

“’m destined to lose, Angel.”

“Lose at what, Dearest?” said angel asked, delicately. Finding the nearest chair and settling down into it, he picked up his glass of bourbon from where he’d set it on the ancient mahogany desk and directed his undivided attention to Crowley.

“Everything,” he said morosely, shooting back the remaining contents of his own glass as Azira gazed at him with a cocktail expression of concern and sympathy, “Can’t find the cure, can’t get the guy, can’t do a bloody practice duel, can’t keep a soddin’ greenhouse from falling to ruin. ‘s all over. ‘s bloody Armageddon.”

“Now, Crowley, you know that the greenhouse wasn’t your fault,” the blonde chastised, processing everything Crowley said a bit late, “What chap are you chasing after?”

“Don’t mock me , it’s poor t- ta- tae- taste,” Crowley groaned morosely, pouring another drink and swirling it around.

“I would never!” Azira insisted authentically, the package he’d set near the door springing into his mind as he heard the record skip in the corner of the room, “In fact I do believe if I’m here, I should make an attempt to cheer you up.”

“Howsat?” a response was grunted.

“Well, I did get you something for your birthday next week, but I thought maybe it would do you good to receive today.”

Crowley paused everything, dramatically swinging his head upward to look Azira in the eye, squinting to ensure he was serious before grinning wildly. Seeing a happy look on his face brought the shorter wizard so much relief, he hadn’t noticed how much pain his heart was harboring from witnessing his friend’s grief.

“You’re not jokin’. What’d you do that for?” Anthony asked in amusement.

“For your birthday, as I said. Why is that such a surprise?”

With a shrug of his shoulders, Crowley gazed with unabashed adoration at Azira, setting his chin on his fist and taking a sip of his drink, “Haven’t gotten a proper birthday gift in years. 38 seems weird to start.”

“Well, let’s try it anyhow, shall we?” Professor Fell offered, gathering the square, flat package in golden paper by the door and handing it to Anthony. Azira found it undeniably adorable, the way he immediately shook it near his ear and then drew his fingers around the edges to feel what it might be like a child on Christmas.

“Records?” he asked, raising a brow at Azira.

“Oh, just open it, Anthony,” he fussed, nervously worrying his hands around his glass of bourbon.

With a grin, the gift recipient tore open the paper, pulling out a stack of about five records. Excited realization struck his face as he shuffled through them, “This is Muggle music!” The two had bonded that way, with Azira showing him the whole other world that was non-magical culture.

“Yes, I chose bands that I thought might suit your style, some of them are quite out of date, I do hope that’s alright,” he said, worry still in his voice, though Crowley’s engaged response made him feel quite a bit more at ease.

Crowley immediately rushed to the record player, popping on the first record by a musician called Elton John. A smile immediately hit his face as the music started and he took a seat again, leaning back in his chair and drumming his fingers against his desk.

They spent well over an hour like that, playing Muggle music on Crowley’s record player, drinking far too much, and chatting about all matter of things- school days, students, faculty, Wizarding music, Muggle music, food, books, and much more. For the most part, the Herbologist’s mind was far away from the earlier misfortunes of the day.

“A-an-ann-and did you hex him on the spot? ” Crowley asked with wild inflection, disbelief thick in his voice as he grinned madly. Azira had been regaling him with the tale of a man who had who had tried to take him on a date, promising an excellent restaurant and taking him instead to a dirty pub.

“Not at first, I’d hate to judge by appearances, but when the waiter delivered when they called food -,” he joked, grinning at Crowley’s cackling. Azira did the honor this time of flourishing his wand at the record player, switching it out for the next vinyl.

She keeps her Moet et Chandon

In her pretty cabinet

‘Let them eat cake’, she says

Just like Marie Antoinette

“Woah woah woah wait-,” Crowley said, leaning back in his chair and raising his hands, affronted, “I though’ you said these were Meggle- Maggl- Muggle bands.”

“They are, Dear Boy.”

“Then why am I charmed by this man’s voice?” he asked, a cheesy grin on his face as he leaned forward.

Azira put his hand over his face, as if the bad pun had obliterated his brain, but his shoulders shook with laughter despite himself.

“This band is amazing , Angel!”

“Queen.”

“Am not,” Crowley rebuked, “look who’s talkin’!”

Azira burst into laughter, “No- no, Crowley, that’s the band’s name- Queen. The singer is Freddie Mercury.”

“Wha’? Such a cool name for a Muggle! I like ‘im,” he said decidedly, enlivened by the music. Despite having drank much more, he seemed much less out of sorts than when Azira had found him. The librarian smiled as he watched Crowley swaying to the music, clearly intrigued.

Soon enough, the next sang came on, Another One Bites the Dust, and Crowley was immediately immersed.

“This one’s even better than the last one! I think you’ve found the music I’ve been searching my whole life for, Angel! Didn’ even know what I was missing,” he drawled, animatedly playing an invisible drumset on his desk despite never having touched a percussion instrument.

“I’m glad you like it, Dear Boy,” Azira laughed, eyes twinkling at the adorable scene playing out in front of him. His mother had loved music, she’d dedicated her whole life to it, playing all different kinds of bands and genres for her children and bonding with them over it. More recently, she’d even started writing her own music, finding an immense amount of happiness in it. She couldn’t make magic, perhaps, but she could make music. Seeing Crowley like this, so happy when he’d just been so miserable and all because of some old records- it helped Azira understand her love of it.

“Like it? I LOVE it!” Crowley exclaimed, pushing his rolling chair away from his desk and spinning in it with a loud, “WOO!”

Azira laughed as Crowley stood up, kicking his chair across the room to create what was a makeshift dance floor and commencing what Professor Fell was quite sure was the Worst Dancing He’d Ever Seen in His Life.

“Brew the potion!” Crowley hummed, shifting his hips side to side as his hands mocked stirring a cauldron.

“Now catch the snitch!” His legs pivoted side to side as he reached across himself with his left arm, grasping a nonexistent snitch, and then did the same with the other arm.

“You look like you belong in a disco,” Azira barely got out through his light-hearted laughing. He wondered if Crowley had always danced like this- because there was no way in Hell the blonde would have forgotten that .

“Wha’s a disco?” Crowley asked as he began doing the Sheela Shuffle.

“Old type of Muggle dance club in the 70s. Terrible music, worse dancing.”

“Oi!” Crowley halted, smiling as Mercury’s dulcet tones began, ‘ Tonight, I’m gonna have myself a real good time ’, “Well then, Professor Fell, let’s see your moves.”

The song picked up its tempo, and Azira shook his head with a bit too much vigor, waving his hands in front of his chest, “Oh no, I don’t think so, I’m really not much of a dancer.”

A knowing grin came across Crowley’s face as he stopped his current excuse for a dance move, instead swinging an invisible lasso over his head. Azira stared at him, attempting to appear dubious, but shoulders shaking in laughter despite himself. He was ‘looped’, and the taller man was now attempting to draw him in closer. He heaved a greatly put-upon sigh, finishing off the last half of his glass, thanking God for alcohol, and standing. He side-stepped to Crowley in rhythm with the song.

“Ye-heahhh! Professor Fell coming to life! Ow!” Crowley exclaimed, taking Azira’s hand and spinning him.

They swung each other around for the remainder of the song, occasionally pausing for Crowley to throw in one of his signature dances while Azira laughed at him. At some point their hands became clasped, opposite hands on one another’s backs, and they stepped side-to-side, together.

They didn’t stop as the next song started playing, but they did slow down their dancing to the beat. It was more of swaying, now.

“Woo, I’m beat,” Crowley huffed, collapsing comically over Azira’s shoulders.

The other man laughed, holding his arms around Crowley and rubbing his back as they continued to sway drunkenly to the music in one another’s embrace.

“I do hope you’re feeling better,” Azira consoled him. Everyone assumed that being Crowley’s main support was so difficult, but it truly wasn’t. He was never down for too long, and he beat up himself far more than he ever did anyone else. When he was happy, there was absolutely no greater reward for the time and patience put in. The fact of the matter was that he was desperately misunderstood, but Azira wouldn’t rather have anyone else as his closest confidant and companion while employed here.

Crowley took an opportunity to consider his dance partner’s comment. Remembering the letter he’d gotten, the harsh criticism that he was an idealist with a pipe dream, and the possibility that he would never find the answer made him realize he wasn’t feeling better at all. If he was, it was because of Azira. It was because in this moment, held in his arms, he could pretend he was more than a colleague or a friend of convenience. He could pretend he was his lover.

The miserable man took a moment to wonder where it had all gone wrong. When they were kids, the older boy had told him to set expectations for himself. He’d done that. He’d set his expectations to become a world famous Herbologist, to win Azira’s heart and settle for no less, and later, to find a cure for the horrible psychological damage the Cruciatus Curse caused.

It hit him all at once- those weren’t expectations, the famous Herbologist Prickle was spot on in her letter to him. These were simply dreams that Crowley had built his entire life around, wishing on a star they would come true like an ignorant child.

The stupidest dream of all of them was his childhood fantasy about being with Azira. Even more foolish was the fact that he’d snatched it back up twenty three years later, still believing it was remotely possible. How could he have ever expected Azira to love him back? How could he have been so stupid ?

“There is no chance for us

It’s all decided for us

This world has only one

Sweet moment set aside for us

Who wants to live forever?”

The velvety words drifting from the record player pierced Crowley like a dagger.

Azira had his eyes closed as they swayed together. It was pleasant, the liquor had his head buzzing and his body warm, and despite Crowley’s bony structure, he nestled onto the broader man’s shoulders quite nicely. It was comfortable. It felt natural. That is, until Azira felt the taller wizard’s torso quaking.

“Anthony,” he said in surprise, pulling away and quickly guiding Crowley to his chair, kneeling down before him.

Crowley’s hands flew to rub eyes as he shook, and he instinctively reached out for his glasses, jumping and nearly smacking Azira’s arm away when his hand was captured in his colleague’s own. He looked up at Azira angrily for refusing him his comfort.

“I know. I know, Crowley, you feel safer when you shut the world away. But the world isn’t here, it’s just me. So please, my dear, tell me what’s wrong?”

Crowley’s face twitched as he desperately tried to keep it straight, and he looked down at the hand Azira was holding.

“It’s all been a waste,” he croaked, “whatever I set out to do, it’s never going to happen. I’m trapped.”

Azira slowly closed his mouth, soft eyes opening up like clouds parting for Crowley’s own watery golden pair.

“Crowley,” he said gently, taking the hand he had managed to grab and holding it in both of his, “That’s not true.”

“It is.”

“Just listen to me,” Fell pleaded, satisfied when Crowley sighed, rested his head in his free hand and looked at him, visibly holding back tears, “The stars have to wait lightyears for their light to be seen. They must do years of hard work before anyone can acknowledge any of it. And yet they’re more loved and beautiful than anything. I think you’re like that, Crowley. I know you’re tired. I know you’ve put in so many years of work and believed beyond belief, but please don’t stop now. In the sky I see, you shine brighter than any other. Give it a chance for your efforts to find purchase, just a little longer.”

Crowley looked at him desperately, swallowing hard and wiping his eyes yet again. He stopped averting the gaze of those beautiful eyes, gazing into the clear blue sky that existed within them. Not referring to his research even remotely, he asked, “Do you really think it’s possible? Should I really keep holding out?”

“Good things come to those who wait,” before Crowley had the opportunity to scoff, he followed up with, “I really do believe that. And more than that, I really do believe in you. Have I ever led you wrong before?”

Anthony was starstruck. Just like twenty-five years ago, he’d crumbled in front of the other man. And just like twenty-five years ago, the angel had knelt before him, uplifted him, and set him forward on a brighter, more beautiful path.

A path of hope.

“No,” Crowley answered definitively, smiling weakly at the most beloved creature in his life, “You never have.”



 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The Great Hall had a minor amount of Hallowe'en decorations, but nothing close to the elaborate dressings that would don its stone walls and high arches later in the evening. Currently, beautiful orange, black, and purple streamers fluttered over the windows and between the high house banners, which had all been altered to depict various supernatural scenes. The enchanted ceiling cradled a clear midnight sky, stars twinkling and moon full. 

None of the students seemed to be appreciating the beautiful hall, however. Warlock wondered at this as he took his place at the Hufflepuff table near Violet Bitterwood and several older students. His little gang of Gryffindors had not yet come to breakfast.

“Happy Hallowe'en,” he offered, receiving a couple distracted grunts in turn from the older students.

“Hap-p-happy H-Hallowe'en,” Violet greeted back, offering a shy smile and scooting the toast closer to Warlock after she noticed him eyeing it.

Their seniors were all staring, transfixed at the door, and Warlock couldn’t help but wonder what they were waiting for. A quick glance around the vast room made his curiosity burn brighter, as several students from other houses and even some ghosts seemed hypnotised as well. Everyone was wearing their student hats to mark the holiday, making the sport of staring at the door much more competitive as they tried to peer over and around the obstructions. After a moment, Warlock realized Violet must be curious alongside him, as in their unknowing, they both tried to solve the mystery by following suit. 

“Happy Hallowe'en!” Adam’s voice rang out, and the distracted older Hufflepuffs finally paid attention to what was happening, groaning and voicing loud grievances as the four Gryffindors of the five The Them shoved everyone else down to sit with Warlock at his house table. 

“Oi! Go to your own table!” voiced a disgruntled fourth year several bodies down that had been crowd-surged away from his breakfast plate. 

“Stuff it! Banners are gone, see? We can sit where we well please!” Pepper snapped. The other four boys nodded behind her in solidarity. With much groaning and grumbling, the students returned to their previous state of gaping at the door and haphazardly grasping at food to munch on.

“Uh…. everyone’s turned undead,” Brian remarked with the most minor of observation. 

“Is something going on?” Wensleydale asked Warlock, quietly, “can they hear us?”

Adam tested it out, “Gryffindor’s the superior house.”

“We can hear you just fine,” Fawley the prefect groaned, not bothering to look at them as he strained his neck to look around the crowd of heads in front of him. 

“Is there going to be a parade?” Warlock asked, genuinely.

“Oh yes, they’re going to bring in an entire band, with a troupe of skeletons dancing behind them and candy exploding everywhere,” remarked a third year boy, Coriander Talpin, with what he thought was a generous amount of sarcasm. 

“Really?” Warlock, Adam, and Brian asked in unison.

“No,” Talpin responded flatly. 

“Then what’s everyone waiting for?” Pepper pressed, hating not to be in the know.

“Professor Crowley,” Bernadette Blishwick sighed dreamily. 

The Them shared a puzzled glance, wondering what made today so special a day to see Professor Crowley. 

“Why?” Adam finally asked.

“It’s Hallowe’en,” Fawley finally responded. He didn’t bother with additional information, as if that explained everything.

“It is,” Wensleydale agreed, matter-of-factly, “What’s that got to do with it?”

No one bothered answering them, they looked to Bitterwood, who gave a shrug showing she was fumbling in the dark right beside them. 

The first years took to talking about the Festivities of the day instead, salivating as Wensleydale recounted all the treats and tasty goods that they served at the Hallowe’en Feast according to Hogwarts, A History. 

All at once, the quiet of the Great Hall burst into chatter, and their fifth year prefects acted up, Blishwick smacking Fawley’s arm repeatedly as her mouth and eyes shot wide open.“If I died now, I think I’d be okay with that,” Fawley groaned in response. The first years were overcome with curiosity, and they had to stand or strain to see what the fuss was about. 

A tall woman strutted down the center of the hall, hips swaying under her mid-calf length fitted black pencil skirt, fastened with a golden buckle around her waist. She wore fishnet tights and a black chiffon blouse beneath it, atop it all a fitted, flowing black robe with gold silk lining fluttered about with every step of her tall black snakeskin Louboutin heels. A dramatically brimmed black witches hat with a golden snake coiled around its base sat above her beautiful red curls. The snake was enchanted to slither about its perch. Golden eyes glanced at them from a distance. As the figure drew closer- seeming to head straight for Hufflepuff table- they saw her eyes looked akin to a snake’s. It still didn’t quite click with the first years until her dark purple-stained lips moved to express in an all-too-familiar voice, “Happy Hallowe’en, my Hufflepuff Hellspawn!”

“Happy Hallowe’en, Professor Crowley!” nearly the entire table chanted back. 

“Shove over,” he requested, casually waving a hand that donned pointed dark purple nails at Albert Knotts, who happily complied but seemed too devoid of air to manage a proper response. His professor settled in happily at the table, as if he belonged there.

“How are we all doing? Everything in order?” he asked, ecstatic to discuss the festivities of his favorite holiday.

“We’ve got everything for the haunted maze in order, the Slytherins came up with some really good ideas and the Ravenclaws already arranged all the spells and costumes we’ll need.” Fawley informed proudly.

“Excellent! And who’s got the goods?” 

“Well… I did , but a certain prefect confiscated them,” Talpin murmured bitterly while glaring at Blishwick.

“Blishwick, say it ain’t so,” Crowley lamented, mock pouting at the fifth year prefect. She promptly choked on her breakfast, turning bright red as the professor turned his attention on her, “Do chew your food, girl, unless you’re learning to eat as a snake, in which case I would advise transforming first. Just speaking from personal experience.”

This did nothing to aid Blishwick’s complexion, she drank some pumpkin juice and cleared her throat, “Well… it’s just that it’s contraband.” 

“Ohhhh, come on, Blishwick! It’s Hallowe’en! You’re not gonna be a stickler for the rules on the most mischievous day of the year, are you?” he teased.

The girl looked down at her food and fussed to fix her short orange hair. She was bright pink and unable to meet the devious gaze of her professor, “Uh.. um… well I suppose… as long as it doesn’t get out of hand, I could give some of it back.”

“Wicked!” Talpin cheered. 

“There’s more than just the feast today?” Warlock finally voiced his curiosity.

“Loads,” Crowley grinned, “Older years always organize all kinds of games and spooky things for the younger years out on the lawns. Starts right after dark. But we teachers have something better planned for the Feast.” 

The first years burst into ecstatic chattering and theorizing about the events of the day. The older years looked fairly pleased. Adam seemed to be stuck on something from earlier in the conversation.

“Wait, so causing trouble is allowed on Halloween?” he asked.

“Don’t go telling the other professors, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s encouraged ,” Crowley purred with a grin.

“If I’d known that, I would have waited until today to let the garden gnomes in the greenhouse,” Adam joked.

The surrounding students grew absolutely silent, peering anxiously at Crowley to await his reaction. He stared blankly at Adam Young for a moment, and the boy grew pale, swallowing hard, before a grin slowly consumed his Herbology professor’s face and the redhead threw his head back to laugh uproariously.

“You’re a right cheeky little bastard, you know that, Young? You might just be alright,” he approved.

The boy seemed to relax into his seat, grinning sheepishly. Knotts looked jealous.

“Professor Crowley?”

“Mmm?” 

“Why are you dressed like that?” Wensleydale finally braved the question. 

“It’s Hallowe’en,” the simple explanation was given for the second time that day.

“No, I mean, in a skirt?” 

“Because I wanted to. Do you always ask questions with stupidly obvious answers and I just never noticed? Is Herbology the miraculous exception? Or is it only for today?”

Pepper found it fitting to pipe up, here, “The gendering of clothing, and the entire gender binary really, is an effort upheld by our patriarchally-reigned society to promote toxic masculinity and perpetuate a construct of privilege, oppression, and the concept of othering.”

“Sister, you’re speaking my language,” Crowley hummed approvingly, giving the girl a high five that made her appear quite pleased with herself. 

“Professor Crowley,” Fawley had been in a trance for the last several minutes of staring at his head of house but finally seemed to snap out of it, “About this show Professor Fell is putting on at the Feast, what is it?”

“Aw, c’mon, Fawley. What’d be the fun if I just told you?”

“Will it be another duel? No one will shut up about Fell wiping the floor with Goodbody! I’m dying to see it for myself!”

“Sadly not,” Crowley sighed, matching disappointment with the prefect. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a flash of deep green and smiled as he spotted Anathema standing at the doorway, scanning the contents of the Great Hall, “Well, I’d ought to be off. Remember, at least for today, do exactly what I would do.” 

The students giggled and waved, most of them donning dreamy expressions on their faces as their professor stood and took his leave. Many residents of other tables eagerly greeted him as he sauntered past. He gave a grin back that left most of them swooning in their seats as he made his way over to the other witch.

She too had embraced the pageantry of the holiday. Her dress beneath her robes was a black lace that breezed and fluttered about her. Over it she wore a rich, velvet green cloak with raven’s feathers adorning the shoulders. She also wore a wide-brimmed witches hat, the same green as her cloak with a long feather sticking out from the black ribbon wrapped around its base. On her feet were high-heeled, pointed black boots that Crowley found himself quite envious of. 

“Aren’t you a vision,” he hummed flirtatiously as he approached his friend.

Professor Device grinned back at him, slowly looking him up and down, “Look who’s talking. You look absolutely beautiful, Crowley. No glasses today?”

“Well, if there’s any day of the year to be unabashedly spooky, yes?”

“I suppose that’s true. A nice change of pace either way. Happy Hallowe’en, and Happy Birthday.” 

“Happy Hallowe’en to you too, off to Hogsmeade we go. Shall we go collect Azira?” 

The Potions’ Master gave him a knowing grin he couldn’t quite decipher before shaking her head, “You go on ahead without me. I’ll meet you there. I have a couple last minute details for tonight’s show to iron out with Flitwick and McGonagall.” 

“R- eh, erm, right…,” he mumbled, debating how suspicious he should find her behavior before deciding it wasn’t worth the worry, “See you there, then.”

The trek to the library was a fast one, most of the students were outdoors, setting up for festivities, playing lawn games, at breakfast, or sleeping in. One stray Slytherin girl was so busy gaping at Crowley, he had to grab her hood to keep her from wandering off the platform the stairs had just moved away from. By the time Crowley got to the library he was unsurprised to find it empty. Classical music drifted softly from Azira’s open office door. Old tomes stamped themselves back in at the front desk. Enchanted carts rolled between the tall mahogany shelves, and battered books shelved themselves. It was so peaceful like this, and while he personally favored more exciting environments, Crowley could understand why Azira called the book-laden haven home. 

Slithering along quite quietly to preserve the comfortable ambiance, Anthony peaked into Azira’s office, leaning against the doorway and crossing his arms. Professor Fell was humming along quietly with the music, his upper right desk drawer pulled all the way out as he organized it. He wore the darkest blue Crowley had ever seen him in (the darkest shade in general, really), embroidered with shimmering silver constellations of stars that were enchanted to slowly drift about. His wizard’s hat matched perfectly, and beneath he wore a silver vest that was a great leap from his usual brown ones, a light blue bowtie perched above it. The redhead said nothing, simply watching for a while and marveling at how the contrast of colors made Azira’s halo of hair look even more angelic than usual. The sky in his eyes was a night-time horizon today, stars within glimmering even brighter than the ones on his robes. 

Quite some time passed before Azira noticed there was another presence in the office. He glanced up at the figure waiting at the door and did a double take. His face immediately flushed pink, and he nearly fell downward as he accidentally yanked the drawer out of the desk in his surprise. Crowley raised an amused eyebrow, unable to contain a smug and flattered grin. 

Azira cleared his throat, fumbling to place the drawer back where it belonged before smoothing his robes self-consciously and walking around the desk to face the Witch before him. Much to the Herbologist’s pleasure, the blue eyes took an invigorated journey up and down his tall figure, soaking in and dwindling a bit long in certain places: his calves, his hips, his waist, his throat. 

“Crowley! You look- well, I must say, you- you look-,” he began, his eloquent mastery of words evaporating from his lips on the spot. For the first time in Crowley’s two and a half decades of knowing him, it was Azira’s turn to stammer. 

“Bewitching?” Crowley offered with a grin, posing seductively against the door frame. 

“I’m afraid that doesn’t begin to cover it, Dear B- Dear Girl,” he caught himself, making Crowley’s heart flutter at both the consideration and the apparently quite genuine flattery, “You’re an absolute vision. Happy Birthday.”

The pureblood was over the moon, offering such an authentic smile it made Azira’s knees even weaker than they already were- a feat he had been sure just a moment ago was absolutely impossible.

“Happy Hallowe’en,” Crowley countered as soft as his heart felt, “Shhh-eh-s-shall we be off? A new cafe just opened, I thought you might like to give it a go. They have crepes.”

“Crepes!” Azira said excitedly, and the snake-eyed Witch was suddenly quite remiss that the Wizard’s thoughts were now far and away from the glamorous figure before him. 

The walk to Hogsmeade was slow and relished. The weather was a bit overcast, but the cheer of the students setting up different activities on the grounds made it feel very bright. Everything looked technicolor to Crowley, who was so accustomed to the tint of his sunglasses.

“Well done, you lot!” Crowley called to a couple seventh year Herbology students who were using a growth charm to form the hedges for the haunted maze. They beamed back at him, waving ecstatically. 

At some point there was a wolf whistle as the pair walked past, and Azira turned to scold said student about the inappropriate nature of objectifying a professor, however all parties were looking away and appeared entirely innocent. 

After they were a ways away from the grounds, the blonde offered his arm to his companion, and it was eagerly taken. They walked slowly, Anthony staggering them side to side as he went out of his way to step on crunchy looking burnt orange and deep yellow leaves littered upon the walkway. Azira found this very endearing.

“So, Professor Fell, how did you come up with this genius performance of yours tonight?” Crowley broke the comfortable silence. The Wizard looked pleased he’d asked.

“Oh, my family used to put on something similar for the children when I was young. I get my love of books from my father, and he used to wind the most fantastical tales. Scary stories were his favorite challenge. My aunts and uncles would use levitation spells to manipulate objects, casting shadows to provide imagery. It’s quite immersive and exciting, really, I thought the students might like it, too,” he provided, earning a confused silence from Crowley, who seemed stuck on what to say. 

“Oh dear, do you suspect they won’t?” Azira asked.

“No! It’ll be a roaring success. It’s just… I.. erm.. I thought your p- pe- p- parents were… erm… you know… Muggles,” Crowley managed out in a way he prayed wasn’t horribly offensive. 

The Wizard looked almost amused at the Witch’s stumbling over courtesy, “Oh, yes, well- sort of. We celebrated Muggle Halloween too, sometimes dressed up in silly costumes and begged for candy or watched scary marathons of old black-and-whites. My father’s a Muggle, so he took great joy in it. Of course he liked learning about Wizarding Hallowe’en, too. My mother’s from a Wizarding family, she’s just…”

“A squib?”

“Non-magical.”

Crowley turned pink, unable to be more embarrassed if he’d shoved his entire foot into his mouth.

“I- erm, I d- di- didn’t m-mean... ssssorry,” he struggled out lamely. Azira kept his calm without difficulty. Something occurred to Anthony quite suddenly, “Wait- then why did people call you- well, you know.” 

Azira took a moment to appreciate Crowley’s discomfort with the word despite his upbringing grooming him to use it liberally, “Well, it’s not exactly the best retort you know? ‘I’m not a mudblood, my mum’s just a squib!’ Besides, I preferred to have insults targeted towards me rather than my mother.” 

“Sorry,” Crowley said again out of a lack of a better alternative, feeling quite embarrassed about the whole conversation. 

“Honestly, my dear, don’t be. I know you never uttered a foul word about it. Besides, it’s not as if you fared much better. Opposite sides of the same coin, really,” Azira consoled his friend, who had never learned how to navigate conversations about Muggle families other than a general distaste of prejudice towards them.

The taller of the pair appreciated that his companion considered them remotely close to being on the same coin. 

“How did you celebrate Hallowe’en as a child?” Azira offered, pleased when this rocketed his friend directly back into an excited and less anxious energy. 

“Oh! We did loads. Didn’t have any siblings, parents couldn’t manage more after me, but had dozens of cousins, and Merlin’s Beard that must have been where I got my affinity for playing pranks. They had loads of new ones, every year, and they set up the old sheds and farmhouses to be haunted houses for us younger kids. Probably why I’m so invested in the haunted maze this lot makes for younger years. Every year they tricked us into wandering in there. We knew they were up to something but they always got us anyway .”

Crowley went on and on the entire way to Hogsmeade, and the librarian soon realized that what he was sharing was almost exclusively the entirety of his positive childhood experiences. He gained a little more clarity on why the day was so special to the pureblood. 

By the time they finally reached the tiny town of Hogsmeade, Crowley realized with some embarrassment how long he’d been raving. This was never of any concern to Azira, who quite enjoyed getting Anthony onto a topic he wouldn’t shut up about. The little town also seemed to be preparing for the festivities. Garlands of Autumn leaves lined the cobblestone walkways and children too young to attend Hogwarts played in the streets on low-flying broomsticks. The smell of apple cider lingering in the air tempted even Crowley to indulge. He hadn’t grown up in a small town, hadn’t ever really even gone to one on holiday, but he did fancy the idea of a home somewhere more secluded with a tight-knit community that wouldn’t make him miss Hogwarts so much during long summers.

The two friends debated if they should indulge in business or pleasure first. After some deliberation, they decided to go complete their separate business- Azira at the bookstore and Crowley at the botanist- so they might wait for Anathema before eating. The little shop Professor Fell entered alone was cozy, and smelled even more of parchment, ink, and leather than his library. It did utterly remind him of the bookshop he called home in his summers and holidays, and a bit of homesickness panged in his chest. 

“Professor Fell!” called the sweet elderly woman, Madame Magpie, who was always eager to see her best customer. Azira alone made up nearly 9% of her annual business. The pair gushed over recent reads, discussing potential options for the next book of their Hogsmeade book club, and Madame Magpie eagerly showed the Hogwarts professor all of her new stock- which was always someone else’s old stock. He never could leave with less than five ‘new’ books, harping about saving them as if they were homeless puppies. An interesting book on the successful hybrid production of plants boasting entirely different properties caught his eye and he bought it for Crowley. Perhaps he’d already gotten him a gift, but it didn’t seem right not to give him something on his actual birthday. 

With a good deal of surprise, Azira realized it’d been over an hour and a half that he’d been in the tiny shop. Typically Crowley finished his own business in less than an astonishing ten minutes, and would nap on the armchair near the back of the bookstore until his companion was finished. Out of an abundance of concern, Professor Fell made his purchases and said his farewells, making his way over to the storefront overflowing with a variety of fauna. 

He shuffled into the shop, disconcerted as he didn’t see the shopkeep, Timothy Greenhorne, at the counter. Azira had only been inside the store a handful of occasions when Crowley needed an extra pair of hands to carry his purchases. While peering at a very strange plant with pods oozing a blue, lumpy pus that made his skin crawl, he heard soft murmurs near the back of the store. Navigating about the shelves of strange gardening products, he found Crowley sitting with Greenhorne, a tall man with dark hair and a well groomed beard, in two armchairs by a hearth near the back of the shop. 

The blonde instantly sensed something amiss, as the Herbologist was sitting uncharacteristically with absolutely impeccable posture, right leg crossed tightly over his lap. The shopkeep was leaned forward into his space. A strange, foreign burning that Azira hadn’t felt in years crept into his chest, and as he shifted to better observe the scene, he saw the man’s hand grasping Crowley’s calf, thumb rubbing the skin under the hem of his skirt. 

Several overwhelming urges overcame Azira at once: to grab Crowley’s hand and drag him away, to point his wand at Greenhorne’s hand and inflate it to the size of a balloon, and most strongly, to leave Crowley there and storm back to the castle, abandoning their plans that were apparently the last reason his friend had agreed to come to town. That was, until he saw the absolutely forced and pathetic excuse for a smile on the witch’s face. The discomfort he felt was practically tangible. It was incredibly out of character for Crowley to pretend to feel any way he didn’t, and as such, he was an atrocious actor. 

Azira took a deep breath, returning to the front of the shop, gathering himself, calming the surge of jealousy that had reared its ugly head within him, and then approaching to rescue his friend with a much heavier step. 

“Crowley!” he called out, doing his best to sound unaware of what was going on at the back end of the shop. 

“Over here!” came his friend’s obviously over-eager voice.

“Ah! There you are! Just wait until you see what I’ve found at Inkspell, Madame Magpie had dozens of new books in and the best recommendations.” 

As soon as he was around the corner, Crowley was flush to his side, and Azira had to wonder if what he’d witnessed had been some kind of secret based on the speed of the witch’s response.

“Really? Fascinating, Angel. Love to hear all about that. Well then, best be off, places to be, people to see, plants to profess about. Never have any downtime, we Hogwarts professors, eh? Much too dedicated to our students. Oh- see you around, Greenhorne, ciao!” he spat out at an impressively rocketing place as he shoved the wizard he was a bit more fond of out the front door. 

“Whew, thanks for the rescue, Angel.”

“Dear Girl-”

“Now where’s Anathema at? What’s she done? Fallen off the face of Scotland?”

“Crowley-”

“Ah there it is, Moonlight Cafe, and there’s Anathema, how convenient.”

Crowley .”

The peering brown eyes of their Potions Master friend watched Crowley curiously as he hustled over to her like he was being chased. A look at Azira’s demeanor made her realize what he must be running from. 

“Anthony-”

“Lovely to see you, Anathema, Darling, that green looks even more remarkable in this light, you know that?” Crowley asked, grabbing Anathema’s arm and unceremoniously shoving her into the cafe. 

“Anthony, you really mustn't put up with it if someone’s making you feel uncomfortable.”

“Ah great! Let’s practice exercising that right now, and drop it. Where shall we sit?”

“It’s not like you to worry about letting someone have a piece of your mind.”

“Inside? Outside? Inside, lovely,” Crowley continued on, leaning over to grin at the blushing hostess before she lead them to a nice little table in the corner of the small cafe. Anathema followed after silently, greatly amused at the interaction and wondering what Azira had seen that he hadn’t been meant to.

“Of course, my dear, that’s not saying it’s anything resembling your fault.”

Angel ,” Crowley groaned, finally breaking down as he slunk into his puke-green paisley seat. They’d been left in privacy with their menus, “it is my fault. ‘Course it is.” 

“Whatever do you mean, my dear?” Azira asked patiently, relieved that his incessant fussing had found purchase.

“Came to Hogsmeade last month, had a bad day, decided to drink it off in company. Got shit faced, stumbled home with Greenhorne, shagged. Now he won’t come off it, and if I tell him to shove off I’ll have to spend my Saturdays going three towns over whenever i need any last-minute supplies. So, moral of the story- don’t sleep with your supplier. Watch out for that Madame Magpie, Azira, her entrancing wiles will bust your book club dynamic to bits.”

Anathema looked positively delighted that such an experience had come to her in such a short amount of time without her speaking a single word. Azira looked positively beside himself with worry and a hint of something unintelligible . Crowley grimaced at him pointedly before rolling his eyes and thanking the waitress when she poured him coffee. He drank it black, holding the mug to his mouth while calmly averting both friends looks of judgement. Suddenly he found himself remiss that he didn’t have his sunglasses.

“Oh, Crowley -,” Azira started.

What?” Crowley spat defensively as his composure popped with the tiniest pinhead, “Take your whole ‘Holier-than-thou’ pity spiel elsewhere, Fell, I ain’t buying.”

“I never!” Azira’s well-manicured hand rushed to his chest to show the indignation that the accusation had provoked. 

“How was it?” Anathema finally spoke up, enjoying the lunch with her colleagues very much so far. 

“What? Shagging Greenhorne?”

“Yes.”

Crowley waited for Azira to protest and was surprised when there was only silence, allowing him to answer.

“The man’s greatest passion is selling fertilizer in the middle of the highlands. How do you think it was?” he asked flatly, grinning a bit at the laugh Anathema rewarded his misery with. He glanced at Azira’s face and stuck a finger in front of it, “Oh what is that if not pity?”

“Oh, no, my dear, now it is pity,” Azira responded sympathetically. The witch in black and gold squinted at him, slack-jawed, and the one in green was now beside herself with manic giggles, wiping tears away and trying desperately to regain her breath. 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

“But every venture she had braved to reach this point- the dragons, the rituals, the rapids, the riddles and obstacles- it all paled in comparison to what she had awaiting her at Azkaban.” 

The giant carved jack-o-lanterns lining the walls spit bright flames, and nearly every student in the hall jumped out of their seat. A rush of excited whispers filled the room as green smoke now oozed out of the pumpkins, creating a more bone-chilling atmosphere to set the new scene in. The murmurs were silenced as soon as they came, and every Hogwarts student stared at Professor Fell in anticipation. 

The man knows how to command a room , Crowley noted with a couple shivers sparkling through his spine at the thought. It was hard not to observe Azira while waiting around for his cues. The wizard was an absolutely amazing story teller. When he’d originally pitched the idea of a spooky story , Crowley scoffed at the idea. He couldn’t imagine a chance in hell where one thousand teenagers would listen quietly for story time. But alas, here it was before him. 

The garden witch wasn’t listening very carefully to the story. He’d heard it a couple times in rehearsal, and now he fancied watching the angel tell it. Occasionally he’d shift his focus to the students’ reactions, grinning smugly as spotted The Them looking absolutely entranced and clutching to each other's arms in anticipation. 

A giant shadow of their heroine, Elise Toadstool, was projected in a deep orange light over the left side of the teacher’s table. A green light in the middle displayed the shadow of cell bars. Over the right side of the table, a purple light sat unencumbered by shadow. Crowley stood behind its source at the back of the hall, readying his wand. 

“Our world contains many fantastic beasts: creatures of harmony incarnate, brutes and beasts, compositions of fantasy, and the darkest of them resided here; the guards of Azkaban, Dementors.”

The smoke rolling on the cold floor of the Great Hall turned dark and cloudy, and the scenes displayed faded from their bright colors to a dull greyscale. Crowley flicked his wand at a charmed piece of fabric and levitated it in front of the far right light, casting a hyper-realistic moving shadow of an emaciated figure draped in sheer, greasy fabric that wicked about it. Gasps of fear were risen about the room.

“She’d heard tales about the monsters. She’d heard they sapped the happiness from a room. They summoned forth the most dreadful memories of one's mind. With a kiss, they could steal the very soul from one’s body. While all true, none of these tales could compete with the tangibility of the dark void of hopelessness and inevitability that seeped deep into her heart, now.” 

While the room was silent, the energy radiating in the room was uproarious, it was… panicked, Azira realized all at once. Something felt amiss. He looked across the room to Crowley. 

The redheaded witch met the wizard’s gaze, but the urgency was lost on him. Had he forgotten his lines? A sharp pain radiating through Crowley’s jaw made him realize he’d been clenching it shut. A soft crackling caught his attention, and he gazed to the window, which was slowly icing over. Glances thrown to the rest of the hall reflected the same situation with the rest of the glass panes. That was strange, had they charmed them to do that? A fierce chill filled the room, and the warmth of the holiday was sapped from it. A low hum from his Horned Serpant-horn wand core informed Crowley that something was, indeed, gravely amiss. 

His panicked amber snake eyes delved into the sky held in Azira’s, and understanding quickly translated between them. The entirety of the teachers table jumped to their feet and started rushing towards the exits. 

“Back to your dorms,” Azira pressed eagerly into amplifying charm of his wand. 

The students didn’t respond, glancing at one another in confusion. Some mumbling was stirred. 

“Oh for Heaven’s sake! This isn’t part of the performance! Prefects get all students back to your dorms immediately ,” he instructed as he marched down the center of the room. 

This was enough to spring the students to action. Prefects immediately sensed the severity of the situation and started organizing their houses and leading them out of the room. 

Crowley, Anathema, and Azira all met at the door, seamlessly matching each other’s strides to run alongside one another to the main door. 

“Oi, Goodbody! How did they get past the wards and not sound the alarms?” Crowley barked ahead at Gabriel. 

Someone must have dispelled them!” Gabriel yelled over his shoulder. 

“And shouldn’t a Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, you know, defend against that kind of thing?”

“Quiet your dog, Azira, this isn’t the time for barking,” the larger wizard said. 

They’d just gotten outside, leaving Crowley unable to show him his bite as they all scattered in different directions. The Herbologist slowed to a halt, looking around in horror as hundreds of dementors swirled and shrieked about the grounds around him. Flashes of blue went off, and Crowley found himself staggering backwards in fear as the disintegrating corpses floating in every conceivable direction surged towards him. He hadn’t the time to panic about when and how this had happened. There were no answers to be had now, regardless. Anthony had little time to think about anything at all, really, as repressed memories stirred and rose up inside him, threatening to grasp him into a petrified, inescapable state.

His grip on reality wavered as he remembered standing in this exact spot twenty years ago, wielding his wand with flashing lights sparkling at the edges of his vision. Immediately, the sound in his ears was unbearably loud, panicked, urgent. 

“Anthony! AJ, get UP!” Val screamed in his ear. 

“Fred! They’ve k-ki-killed Fred!” Crawly was broken to pieces in her arms, clinging to her sweater. 

“I know, Anthony, but we can’t stop! We’ve got to fight!” she sobbed.

Crowley shook his head in an attempt to free himself of the memories, nails digging into his scalp. He braved a glance around at the other professors patronuses warding the Dementors back towards the barriers. That’s right, that’s what he ought to be doing. He reached for his own wand, but was paralyzed with fear as one of the beasts descended upon him. Hisses of ‘Blood-traitor! Blood-traitor! ’ started to infiltrate into the few unoccupied spaces of Crowley’s mind, echoing in every crevice. His arms covered his head as he doubled over. 

“I’m trying! I’m trying but i’m s-sss-scared, V-v-Val,” Crawly managed out, crouching low with his best friend to avoid being hit in the crossfire of offensive magic. 

“Well, we’ve been scared before, yeah? Remember our first Quidditch match all those years ago? We thought we’d die of fear!”

“I don’t want to die of b-b-bloody fear!” her counterpart yelled back desperately. 

A blue raven patronus swept before Crowley, plucking the Dementor that had nearly grasped him in its beak as it did so. 

“Crowley! Get up!” Anathema screamed from a hundred yards away as the raven swept back towards her. His slender hand shook violently as he raised his wand at the mass of monsters forming around him. While his cognition leapt wildly between present and past, all he could do is respond to instinct.

“Then, let’s do now what we did back then!”

Crawly laughed in awe and searched her green eyes through his watery own golden pair, “Blast it all and do it anyway?”

“Blast it all and do it anyway,” she confirmed, a mad grin spreading across her face despite the tears of fear and grief running down it. 

And suddenly Crowley was there at that Quidditch match his third year. The feeling of victory and pride swelled in his chest as he and Val received their praise from their teammates and fellow Hufflepuffs. He pumped his fist in the air on his broomstick as he glided along, smiling down at the arena below his team. 

Expecto Patronum!” a great snake burst from the end of his wand, surging full-force into the group of Dementors before him and exploding into a great blue wave that burst them all back behind the barrier. 

The bewildered Herbologist regained his footing, standing still for a moment to ensure the rogue memories were under control before surveying his surroundings to see who needed help. Anathema and her Raven were doing just fine. Flitwick was doing good work off near the forest. McGonagall was nearly around the corner with everything under control, Azira was-

Crowley’s heart sank as he saw blue sputters coming from Azira’s wand. He leapt backwards. The foreboding cloaked figure in front of him reached out with both hands. Its fingertips were nearly brushing the librarian’s face. The wizard simply stood there, in a trance, limbs unmoving. 

“AZIRA!” Crowley screamed, lungs aching at the intensity he put behind it, “DO SOMETHING!”

The blonde seemed to break out of the pit of hopelessness he’d been slowly sinking into, recollecting himself enough to cast one burst of blue from his wand that just managed to repel a couple Dementors. This gained the attention of many more, and soon, Crowley was watching in horror as they all at once descended upon Azira. He was two hundred yards away. He would never get to him in time. Crowley heard the deafening pounding of his heart stop sounding entirely as he witnessed their opponents slowly begin feeding off the great love of his life. 

That was all he needed. Anthony didn’t waste a moment throwing caution to the wind. He ignored every flashing warning in his mind. He banished every calculation of the space-time continuum and if it would tear him apart like tissue paper. He drew a remarkably intricate symbol with his wand and poured every morsel of his energy into it, clearly enunciating, “ Conparco tempus!”

In an instant, the world swirled around him, flexing and waning, changing colors and textures. His lungs and heart continued, stopped, and slowed all at once. Sound was absent from the atmosphere. Crowley struggled to stay in a straight line as he ran towards Azira as fast as he could, limbs straining, breath absent, and steps silent. He desperately gathered all the happiest moments he’d ever had as he approached the hoarding dozens of Dementors frozen solidly in time and space.

He thought about that moment when he first saw the sky in Azira’s eyes. He thought about him winking at him from behind that book in the library. He thought about the reluctant little smile on his face when he realized he was stuck with Crowley last year. He thought about Azira asking if he was going to finish his dessert. He thought about their late nights of drinking, discussing everything and nothing at all. He thought about the way Azira saw and accepted him for who he was. He thought about them together, dancing in his office to that band named Queen.

In one movement, Crowley bounded in front of the other man, recontinued the space-time continuum, and shouted, “ Expecto Patronum!” The Red-Bellied Black Snake erupted from his wand again. It reared its head back, hissing as it wound up a deadly strike. The beast lunged viciously at the crowd of Dementors. All matters of screeches and squeals were released as the creatures fled, some of them finding themselves pursued by the great serpent.

Crowley wasn’t able to appreciate his work, as he was too occupied experiencing the most bizarre sensations of his life. Blood poured out of his nose and ears and also streamed back in. He fell to the ground and also felt himself raise upwards to his feet. His heart beat backwards and his lungs unbreathed. He felt forty-five seconds of running, thinking, and feeling strike his body in zero moments. His physical form tried to find its rightful place on every plane of dimension between where he’d stood then and where he stood now. Time and space destroyed and built itself one thousand times in one thousand different realities. 

The most astonishing part about standing on the precipice of each of these realities was that in nearly every single one, Azira leaned down over the place Crowley was sprawled out, fallen, on the ground, preparing to uplift him again. He took many forms, many different appearances, and posed many purposes, but Anthony would know Azira anywhere, in any universe. And evidently, Azira would know him too. Crowley’s brain finally stopped attempting to process the ineffable fabric of reality. As he lost consciousness, a new belief and definition of Destiny was breathed into him.

Chapter Text

There were many attempts to sleep on Azira’s part, at first, but every night he would inevitably dream of the end of the Triwizard Tournament his 7th and final year as a student. In the crowded bleachers stood the attendants of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Beauxbatons Academy of Magic, and Durmstrang Institute, side by side and cheering with a competitive vigor for their respective Triwizard champions. A moment later, in the center of the bright colored and festive arena, laid Cedric Diggory, dead. Azira remembered the deafening silence of confusion as if it’d happened just the day before. He remembered Harry Potter sobbing over the boy. He remembered the first urge to curse someone in his life as Cho Chang struggled, beside herself, against the staff to get to Cedric, screaming, “Please! He needs me!”

Azira would appear at Cedric’s side in the dream, a desperate temptation he had not been allowed during the actual occurrence. He would hold and kiss Cedric’s hand and stare, shocked and transfixed, at his pale, stiff fingers. He would rock back and forth, clutching the hand to his chest while whispering, “I’m here, Cedric, I’m right here.” It took him an achingly significant time to turn and gaze at his beloved’s face, to soak in the truth. But instead of the face of his childhood sweetheart, he would see Crowley’s, instead. The blonde would grasp his lean shoulders in disbelief. He would search every inch of the pale face and those empty golden eyes, devoid of life and transfixed into nothingness. Finally, he would whisper in terror, voice barely above a hoarse whisper, “Crowley?”

The figure wouldn’t move, its eyes wouldn’t waver, and for every moment Azira could remember the redhead’s energy and animation penetrating the atmosphere, the silence and stillness of him took an additional eternity to seep in, “Crowley, no! Not you, Crowley! It can’t be you! Don’t leave me! Please!” 

As quickly as he’d slipped into the night terror, Azira Fell would awake, sweating, crying, gasping for air, and would run to the infirmary. It happened so many times in so few nights, he finally resigned himself to remaining in the uncomfortable chair next to Crowley’s bed, insisting he refused to leave until his companion found consciousness. The steady rise and fall of the redhead’s chest brought him an incredible amount of relief and comfort.

The infirmary felt lifeless and cold. Azira had managed to sweet talk his way into coaxing more blankets from Madame Pomfrey for Crowley, knowing that if the man were awake, he’d never stop complaining about the temperature. The long room lined with owner-less beds resonated with emptiness. There weren’t even any portraits in here, as the nurse had long since declared their chattering would distract the students from their rest. Professor Fell couldn’t decipher if the emptiness felt so severe due to the only noise echoing the chamber being Madame Pomfrey’s harsh footsteps, or if it was because he’d never been in a room alongside Anthony where his friend hadn’t filled it with uproarious life. Either way, that married with his undying concern made it quite impossible to immerse in any distraction.

The librarian had brought with him a considerable amount of books to occupy his time, but Azira found very little purchase in attempting to indulge. He felt sleep deprivation tugging at the edges of his consciousness. At one point, when he looked at Crowley, he saw him spread out on the lawn, blood dripping from his nose and ears, already-delicate limbs seizing beneath him, unresponsive. The memory seemed to be burned into Azira’s mind like runes into wood after the Herbologist had appeared before him, saving him from the Kiss of Death. Crowley, proudly donned in her Hallowe’en best, had been so beautiful, vibrant, and real when she’d stood between Professor Fell and the Dementors crowding around him. The now grey faced figure in the bed, deep purple shadows under their eyes, seemed so different from that fierce and vivid witch.

It was now Sunday, four days after the holiday. Azira was busy attempting to re-read the second paragraph of his page for the third time when a tired voice croaked, “Ah, thank Satan.”

The book was immediately flattened so it might allow brightened blue eyes to examine the exhausted professor before him.

“Thought I’d have to face my old man for a moment,” Crowley struggled to laugh into his exhale, grinning innocently in total lack of awareness up at his companion.

“Right, you’re feeling alright, then?” Azira had asked, almost transactionally. 

“Never better,” the Herbologist croaked, shaking hand raising to touch his throbbing temple.

“Excellent, then. I really do have a lot of work to catch up on. Do feel better, Crowley.”

Crowley’s brain was left spinning as his companion uncharacteristically didn’t fuss over him at all but instead stormed away before Anthony could even inquire after his plants.

Azira managed to avoid his friend for about a week, pretending he had work to catch up on, keeping his nose in a book, and occasionally repeating Crowley’s own words back to him.

He would sit next to him at meals. He would respond shortly to his inquiries and requests for conversation. Looking at Crowley, however, was just too much. Thus, for those seven days, Azira adapted to being remarkably interested in whatever he directed his eyes at and keeping quite busy with whatever minute tasks he could think of.

The Herbology Professor had always been almost endearingly ignorant and uninhibiting towards Azira’s attempts at discretion and secrecy, but the lengths this disregard went onto seemed to grasp even his short attention. 

“Helluuuu?” Crowley called for what felt like the hundredth time, throwing himself in Azira’s way as he reorganized a section of the library by the wizarding variation of Dewey Decimal. They were in the far reaches of the second floor of the massive room. The librarian had managed his way back there the moment he spotted the animagus trying to slink in unnoticed with the clear intent to launch a sneak attack. Crowley looked much healthier than he had when he’d awoken in the infirmary, and he appeared to be fully recovered, not that Azira had bothered to look at him.

“If you don’t mind,” the blonde countered smartly, waving his wand and reorganizing a staggering amount of books via a dizzying method as he shoved past, causing the object of his irritation to stagger before regaining his footing.

“I d-d-do mind actually,” the taller wizard murmured before heaving a sigh, “Azira, please? Just talk to me? I’m actually b- eh, b-begging you.”

The stutter caught the soft spot of Azira’s heart, which was most of it. It always did. If he hadn’t known the prankster’s mannerisms better, he’d be sure he did it on purpose. The warpath he was on across the library finally slowed to a halt. He sighed, suddenly becoming very interested in the books on his cart as he thumbed their spines and gazed down at them, “What do you want me to say?”

“I want you to explain- well, that!” Crowley rebutted, nearly crawling over the trolley between them to shove his finger intrusively in Azira’s face, “Why won’t you look at me? It’s been days!” 

The librarian promptly smacked the hand out of his face with a huff and continued on his way, reorganizing another set of shelves, “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”

“Angel.”

“Fellow associate.”

That’s what I mean!” the Herbologist pressed. Azira didn’t even need to look; he heard the pout in his colleague’s voice. Crowley followed aimlessly after his crush, hands deep in his pockets as if he could shove his insecurity into them, “What did I do?”

What did--,” the other wizard started to repeat in awe, nearly slipping up and looking at Crowley to scrutinize his audacious ignorance before stopping himself and returning to his icy demeanor, “Never mind Crowley, just leave it be.”

“N-n- eh- no! I’ve left it all week and it’s just gotten worse. I’ve gone and made you angry. Explain it to me.” He draped himself across the shelves opposite the blonde, attempting to cross his legs before he was bustled pointedly out of the way again. 

Azira bristled at the entitlement of the command. Sure, Crowley had been cast into the cold and abandoned by his pureblood grooming, but the privilege from it rang as strong and true as ever, occasionally. “Has it occured to you, Anthony, that I don’t have any obligation to tell you how I feel?” 

“That doesn’t seem fair if it’s about me.” 

“Who said it’s about you?” Azira snapped, ignoring Crowley standing blatantly in his path yet again and the uncomfortable squeezing he had to do to get past him, “Would you get out of the way? Honestly, Dea- Crowley.”

“Aghhhh, c’mon, I’m not daft! As I’ve said, you can’t look at me. You’re clearly angry with me. Hell, you didn’t even deny I’ve done something.”

“I’m allowed to experience my private emotions,” the librarian rephrased his aversion yet again.

“What emotions?” 

“Crowley!”

“Tell me!”

“Oh I don’t know!” Azira finally snapped, “Emotions over you nearly dying due to my incompetence coupled with your own compulsion to flirt with death. Curiosities about how and why on earth Dementors made their way onto Hogwarts grounds. Wonders if they might do it again and how in Heaven I might be able to summon a patronus before then. Anxieties about the fact that my best friend was secretly investigating time magic- forbidden magic behind my back and what else he could possibly be hiding. I’m not stupid, Crowley. I know what that was. I saw what you did.”

His companion opened and shut his mouth, attempting as Azira spoke to initiate a rebuttal to each statement, to which Azira would hold up a hand and immediately render him silent each time. The librarian had never been angry at him in this fashion before, and thus the Herbologist struggled to find the best tone of response to offer. Not knowing any better, he settled on his default, which was always one of wit, “Behind your back? That’s not fair. When you were busy with check-out requests just last week a bunch of sixth-years built a snogging fort in the Obscure Artifacts section. Just because you weren’t aware of it doesn’t make it ‘behind your back’. I’m not hidin’ anything from you, honest.”

Crowley nearly believed this retort had been effective.

“They did what? A bunch of which sixth years?” Azira asked instinctively before realizing he was allowing his counterpart to change the subject, “Oh never mind.

Crowley paused, pushing his glasses on top of his head and spreading his palms to either side of the rolling cart to stop it from plowing him over before searching imploringly into Azira’s eyes, begging for acknowledgment, “I’m sorry, Azira. I am.”

The librarian paused for a moment, finally, for the first time in an entire week, resigning himself to gaze back into the eyes he’d grown so fond of. His heart momentarily ceased its aching and finally felt at peace, finding refuge in those warm golden pools. The sun was in those eyes, the stars too, and Azira felt a gentle urgency to stargaze every time he saw them. It was almost a challenge, remembering to look at him so severely despite his heart feeling so soft toward the wizard based on the familiarity of the scenery alone.

“You’re the greatest wizard I- I’v- v- ev- I-I’ve ever known,” Crowley managed out, blushing and forming a disgruntled pout as he fixated on Azira’s bowtie. Typically he had a bit more liquid courage when resigning himself to vulnerability. He was surprised when he braved a look upwards and found the storm in his friend’s eyes subsiding, rays of potential sunshine reaching out to him invitingly. He could neary feel the warmth on his skin, “So when I saw you struggling with a protection charm, I panicked. I knew something was wrong. You were afraid. I was afraid too, Angel, and so I didn’t think. I know that. I just… acted.”

Azira looked sympathetic and a bit guilty, leaning over his cart and looking honestly into Crolwey’s eyes. He swallowed hard as tears welled up, fighting to hold them back.

“If any of us had reason to freeze up, it’s you. And you didn’t. I should have been stronger,” the blonde berated himself impulsively, finally letting his insecurities present themselves to the Herbologist. He looked down at the pages beneath him, slumping against the cart. The sensation of the other wizard’s cool, long fingers winding through his own digits was a small comfort to Azira, and thus he allowed it. 

“Azira… you’re plenty strong. I dunno another wizard our age that’s worked for the kind of strength you have, but that isn’t to do with anything. Summoning a patronus isn’t about strength…,” Crowley muttered anxiously, suddenly very wary of upsetting his companion. He didn’t want to press, and yet, there was a question burning in his eyes.

Azira finally built the courage and composure to answer it, taking a deep breath and squeezing Crowley’s hand for a moment before braving the elaboration, “When I think about my childhood happiness, it’s tainted by Michael and Gabriel torturing me. When I think about my times with Cedric, it’s draped in his death. And when I think about my adulthood, it’s marred by concerns of what I might have accomplished instead. I’ve never been able to summon a patronus. You’ve fared so much worse. I don’t know how you manage it.”

Gorgeous amber eyes peered into the depths of his sadness, learning to adjust to their unpredictable tides. This was a shocking admission coming from the man who’s nature was that of kindness, happiness, and love incarnate. Crowley’s voice was low, and softer than his love had ever heard it, “You almost summoned one, I saw it. You were nearly there, Angel. What did you think of?”

His voice carried an urgency of something akin to imploring. His eyes searched deeper than they’d ever dared to delve. 

The honesty of the words Azira prepared to say felt almost too fragile to release as his blue eyes soothed the intensity of Crowley’s amber, “I thought about us together in your office a couple weeks since, dancing to those records.”

The reptilian eyes bore wide, unmoving back at him, as if stunned. Typically, Azira was unbothered by this, but given the sensitivity of his last statement, he shuffled his feet and averted his gaze. 

“That’s alright then,” Crowley encouraged gently after a long pause, relearning how to breathe,  and with much determination he proposed, “let’s make more happy memories like those.” 

Azira teared up as he absorbed the words. He cleared his throat and rubbed his eyes, appreciating his companion blocking the glances of passing students.

“Yes, well,” he responded, suddenly remembering he was quite angry with Crowley and snatching his hand back, “That would settle things, if you weren’t mucking about in forbidden magic.”

Crowley snorted and made a ridiculous keening noise, rolling his eyes dramatically and throwing his arms above his head in total exasperation before staring deadpan into his friend’s face, “You’re impossible.” 

“Hmmm,” Azira responded, running his finger over the spines of a row of books and investigating their titles.

“You’re really going to make me grovel?” the taller wizard hissed in disbelief. 

“Hmmm,” the shorter expressed noncommittally, reorganizing these books as well.

“Wh-wh-eh...what will it take to make you forgive me?”. 

His friend found it more important to answer honestly than to continue his torture, and he sighed, gazing hopelessly at Crowley, “Promise me you’ll never do it again.”

The pureblood leaned over the cart of books, legs crossed behind him, and he twisted his face with a sudden sense of inner discord. 

“Angel,” he began, pleadingly, giving a coy grin that he hoped to be charming and yet knew already wouldn’t be charming enough, “Now how would I be me if I went and promised something like that? It’d positively wreck my reputation.”

Azira felt his face harden again, and his eyes immediately flicked away from Crowley, providing a sunny sky for a location decidedly elsewhere. 

“Hmmm,” he answered sternly, pushing his cart forward and re-committing himself to avoiding the other wizard’s gaze.

 

 

 


 

 

 

The typically inviting, warm staff room that offered a reprieve from teenaged nonsense was much less comforting today. Most professors were standing around it, leaning against the tapestries of the walls. Others perched uncomfortably on the edges of the cozy armchairs as if there were spikes sticking out the back of them. Dull light through the stained glass windows cast unenthused colors on the carpets. An anxious silence was occasionally permeated by nervous whispers and gossip from the entirety of the Hogwarts staff waiting in the room. 

“It’s ghastly,” Professor Trelawney whimpered, “the path I forsee is dark and full of terrors beyond what we on this mortal realm can comprehend!” 

“Is it?” Anathema asked dryly, nails digging into Crowley’s arm. 

Uhm, oww?” he hissed at her in irritation, jerking his arm away and smoothing the fabric of his expensive robes to ensure they were unscathed. The redhead had gotten no sleep, and a sleep-deprived Anthony was the most difficult Anthony to deal with. He had dark circles under his eyes and a tight-lipped expression that dared anyone to test him. The mug of hot liquid in his hand, reading ‘I’m a Boss-Ass Witch’ in sparkling black script, was quickly chugged down. An applewood wand was waved and the mug drifted away to refill itself before returning to his long fingers. 

“Sorry,” Professor Device mumbled, ”It’s just unbearable.”

Their headmistress swung the heavy wooden door open and entered, robes fluttering behind her. She waved her wand sharply to shut the door behind her and swiftly made her way to the center of the room, filled with Hogwarts faculty members. All at once, they raised eager inquiries. 

“Now, calm down, all of you. This is no way to have a proper meeting,” snapped Professor McGonagall, gazing severely over her staff as they all fell silent yet again, “I know this is irregular timing for a staff meeting, however given the dire circumstances I thought it prudent.”

The faculty watched and listened with an unwavering focus. The majority of them were only aware of one dire circumstances that had occurred of recent.

“We all know what happened the night of Hallowe’en. We still have no answers. There is simply no evidence that the barriers or alarms were ever dispelled to begin with and no word that any Dementors left Azkaban.”

“Are we to assume that they simply fabricated out of thin air?” inquired Professor Aurora Sinistra.

“I assure you, we have already contacted the Ministry to discuss launching a full-scale investigation. However I’m afraid something else has happened, and we must now focus on how to keep the students and their parents calm.” 

“Something else? Excuse me, Minerva, but why wasn’t I informed of this?” Gabriel asked.

Crowley invested all his concentration into withholding his snide as he answered, “Because I had it under control.”

“We’re trusting the Herbologist to protect the school now?” 

“Yes,” Crowley said, wrinkling his nose a bit and sneering, “Because the threat was one of Herbological nature, not Dark Arts. You forget each one of us here has an equal stake in the safety of Hogwarts.”

“A threat of Herbological nature?” Flitwick piped up in curiosity. 

“Filch woke me up last night over it, nearly lost his head, the Forbidden Forest seemed to-,” Crowley paused to yawn, unbothered by the dozen and a half pairs of eyes staring at him with intense focus, ”take on some type of sentience and started consuming the grounds with all kinds of nasty fauna. Aurora and Anathema helped me get it under control.” 

“No, Anthony, you helped us,” Professor Sinistra reassured assertively, “You knew every single method to force back every single plant, and then you were able to subdue them. If we hadn’t had your expertise at our disposal, the entire castle would be overgrown in dangerous fauna and the students would be in great peril.” 

“Has anyone considered, while Professor Cra- Crowley knows how to subdue these fauna, he’s also the only one here who knows how to coax a reaction like that from dangerous plants to begin with?” Gabriel asked calmly, stepping forward in an attempt to take charge of the room with his confident presence and wide-spread arms, “Anyone know who or what else could get the forest to respond like that?”

“Now, Gabriel, I don’t think that’s quite fair,” Azira spoke up before allowing any of his coworkers to even consider the slander, “Or that this is the time to be throwing around wild accusations about our own colleagues. We should be banding together to discover what’s causing all this disarray.” 

Crowley felt a surge of gratefulness as his angel came to his defense. It was only this morning, after Azira had learned what happened with the forest, that he had started being considerate and kind towards his companion yet again. Crowley was left confused at how one act of heroism could get him into trouble and how another could get him out of it, but he wasn’t about to look a gift gryffin in the mouth. He was quite tired of being shunned, as it had begun to feel uncomfortably familiar to his childhood. In addition, he’d desperately missed their friendship and the librarian shielding him from Gabriel’s incessant contempt.

“Well said, Azira,” McGonagall agreed, “There’s little we can do now, save for wait for aid and guidance from the Ministry. In the meantime, it would be prudent to keep parents up to date on these occurrences, and prioritize focus on how we have proved ourselves quite capable of managing them, despite their mysterious origins.”

“And what of the students?” Professor Bathsheda Babbling inquired. 

“We shall commence the usual drill. In… past circumstances of unusual and dangerous events, we found it ideal to keep school life as routine as possible. This gives the students a sense of normalcy,” the headmistress advised.

“Profe- erm, Minerva, I- er- I was a student here all seven years of… you know, the unusual and dangerous events you describe, mind if I throw a thought in the hat?” Crowley spoke up, clearing his throat uncomfortably. It wasn’t that he was afraid of McGonagall, it was just that he sometimes still felt like her mischievous student that she trusted as far as she could throw and would give detention at the drop of a pin. 

“Yes, Anthony, I suppose your perspective would be valuable here,” she allowed to his surprise and relief.

“Alright. I have to disagree. The ‘normalcy’ you’re talking about drove us mad. There were no distractions, nothing to look forward to, just anxiety about what nonsense the next day would bring,” he offered honestly. The thought of his students having to live in fear and paranoia the way he did was deeply disturbing. 

“I must admit, I hadn’t considered that perspective. What type of distraction are you suggesting?” Minerva asked. 

Crowley didn’t have as much to say to this. His mind reeled as he thought up a dozen different things, most of them filled with mischief that he knew the headmistress would immediately turn down. 

“Wasn’t there a ball here, a couple decades ago?” Anathema voiced after a few moments of silence, “For the triwizard tournament, I read about it.” 

“The Yule Ball! Yes! That’s a clever thought, Anathema!” Azira beamed at her before turning to McGonagall with much more comfort than the Herbology professor had. Unlike Anthony, he had been one of her best students, “I, too, attended Hogwarts around that time. It was the one year when all that fear was going on that students weren’t so worried about it. Tournament aside, everyone was anticipating the Yule Ball from the moment it was announced.”

“Ah, yeah. Remember that pretty well. Drama, gossip, hormones, nothing distracts a bunch of teenagers quite like it, eh?” Crowley mused. 

“Oh the students took so well to it. They all put so much effort into looking so charming, to learn their dances and invested so much cleverness in asking one another. Please, Minerva, I think it would be a splendid idea! So much life brought to the castle in such dark times…,” drolled Professor Binns, floating through Crowley, who flailed humorously out of disgust and hissed a passing ‘do you mind?’.

Minerva pursed her lips in thought, looking severely across the faces who had spoken up as she seemed to be grasped in an air of indecision. 

“It did improve morale, students made much more impressive attempts than usual coming back to second semester,” supported Professor Vector, to nearly every teacher’s surprise. The incredibly stern and cynical professor was a valuable asset in a debate such as this.

“Very well, I suppose if the idea is so popular amongst you, we shall execute it. However I must re-emphasize, while this might distract the students, we must stay as vigilant as possible. Please be on your guard for anything of a suspicious nature. In the meantime, we must assign duties to you all to contribute to the ball,” McGonagall finally gave in, looking a bit wary of the daunting task, “In 1994, we had help from several professors from other academies. It will be a great deal more work amongst us.”

“I certainly wouldn’t mind organizing the tasks, Minerva,” Azira offered cheerily, “You won’t need to worry about a thing.” 

“Thank you, Azira. Then, that’s all. Please notify me immediately of any other disturbances. We shall reconvene with any news from the Ministry.” 

As she dismissed them, the chatter grew loud and excited. Crowley appeared in much higher spirits than earlier, despite still being overwhelmed with exhaustion. “Well done, you,” he offered the rare compliment to Anathema. 

“Indeed! What a splendid idea, Dear Girl,” chirped Azira. 

“It was nothing. I hadn’t even thought that you two might have attended it, I suppose it’s good that you did,” she reassured humbly while idly steeping her tea, “What was it like, did you two have fun? Remember who you asked? Recall any heart-pounding romantic endeavors of youth?”

“Waste of a Sunday, this meeting,” Crowley changed the subject promptly, gaining curious glances from both his colleagues, “Could have gone to Edinburgh. It’s nearly lunchtime too…”

“Lunchtime! Shall we voyage into town?” the librarian bought the distraction with such vigor that it left Anathema in awe. For being so dead-set on denying his obvious feelings for Crowley, he certainly was wrapped around the taller man’s finger as tight as a ring. However, she too had missed the peace amongst her two best friends at Hogwarts these last excruciating weeks. Thus, she withheld her observations and heaved a greatly put-upon sigh, meandering alongside Crowley as Azira hurried on ahead of them. 

 

 

 


 

 

 

The view from the bridge was beautiful this time of year. The vast ferocity of The Black Lake appeared so small and peaceful at distance, cradled gently in the canyons between the rolling red and orange snow-capped hillsides that extended into the horizons. The grey overcast clouds made the colors of Autumn appear technicolor in contrast. A slight breeze rustled through the dying leaves and carried the aroma from where Hagrid burned those that had been raked up in a great bonfire near his hut all the way from the other side of the grounds. 

Very few students’ routines incorporated paths across the old, rickety structure on Sunday afternoons. There was nowhere to go and nothing to do save for venture to the owlery at the end of the road and risk being pecked by fowl of all sizes and breeds, inevitably begging for treats. Thus, this was one of Anathema’s favorite locations since she’d started her work here six years prior. She could find peace here, enough to study her ancestor’s prophecies and form her own. The Device family alone had filled nearly half of the American Ministry of Magic’s Hall of Prophecy. However, Anathema herself had contributed very little to either America’s or the UK’s. Her visions were few and far between, and furthermore, they were almost never of cosmic consequence. No, she’d only come here, to Scotland and to Hogwarts, because Agnes Nutter’s prophecy told her she’d ought to.

As of late, she seemed to be seeing less than ever. This brought her significant amounts of self-doubt and frustration. If she had predicted the Dementor attack, perhaps Crowley would not have fallen into the state he had. He may have recovered, but her conversations with Azira reinforced how close to death their mutual friend had truly come. Then, there had been the attack from the forest, from which Anathema hadn’t gotten an inkling of foresight- not even a glimpse. Students could have been maimed. These thoughts haunted her with every glance at a student’s face, every pass of a window overlooking the grounds, and every night when she closed her tired brown eyes to sleep. But not here.

Here there was only peace. 

Anathema was in a sort of trance looking out at the harmonious scene painted around her. She appreciated the shapes, colors, and techniques that constructed the masterpiece of nature. A bit of her felt envious that her two British friends had gotten to spend their childhoods here, in this beautiful place, surrounded by friends. She’d been homeschooled in isolation, with only her mother for company. While she’d been versed in many subjects, Divination took up over two thirds of her schooling. Gathering materials and brewing potions had been more of a personal interest than anything else. 

“Professor Device?” an anxious voice broke the serenity, and if the Potions Master was at all startled, she showed no outward sign indicating as much. Her thin hand raised to the side of her glasses, adjusting them as she turned to gaze upon the intruder of her solitude.

“Adam Young,” she hummed thoughtfully, looking him up and down, “You look troubled. Come join me.” 

An unsure look sat upon his face, his blue eyes were averted to the side, and his hands worried together. His House Head sensed a guilty and anxious energy radiating off him. She’d long since been interested in the boy, from the moment he entered the Great Hall. He was the only student she’d ever had that emitted no aura whatsoever. And yet, he was always so filled with life, creativity, and imagination. She was proud to have him in her house and intrigued to unfold the mystery that shrouded him. 

The boy shuffled to stand beside her, nearly tripping over the black cat that purred and circled around his feet. 

“Oh!” he said in surprise, “Hello there! This one’s yours, right professor? Always see it prowling around the Potions Lab, causin’ trouble.”

“Ah yes, that’s Mischief, don’t worry, she doesn’t bite, though you’re quite right that she causes a great deal of strife for me, as her name implies,” Anathema reassured him. 

He stopped to scratch the loud, demanding cat behind her ears before standing to take in the scene before them. Over a bit of time, his shoulders seemed to relax from their tense state, and he crossed his arms over the bannister, resting his chin upon them. 

The teacher and her student stood like that for a while, a comfortable silence building between them as Anathema waited for the messy-haired boy to grow confident enough to tell her what he’d come to. 

“You know all this… stuff goin’ on, lately? With the Deman-Demon- uh...”

“Dementors?”

“Yeah, that’s them, the Dementors. And the Forbidden Forest tryin’ to eat the castle?”

“I might have heard about it,” Anathema teased him. 

“Well… I want to turn myself in.”

The Potions Master finally turned her head to look at him, arching a dark, thin eyebrow over her round glasses, “Turn yourself in?” 

“Yes, I’m… I did it… I caused it,” Adam raised his head from his arms, looking down over the railing and chewing his lip. 

“How do you imagine you managed that?” Anathema asked, amused that an eleven-year-old boy could believe he manifested some of the darkest forces she’d ever witnessed. 

“Well… During the Hallowe’en Feast, Professor Fell was telling that story, and when he was talking about the Dementors, all I could think about how cool it was, and how I’d do anything to see them right there at that moment, to see for myself what Elise Toadstool must be feeling. And then they came. And then- then me and my lot had our detention in the Forbidden Forest for trashing Crowley’s greenhouse. We saw loads of spooky things in there. Not even a bit of what’s really going on, I’d reckon. We harvested some of the creepiest plants I’d never even thought could exist. The night that it attacked I… I dreamed of all those plants I was scared of, coming out of the forest to come and get me.” 

“Professor Crowley,” Anathema corrected instinctively, not that her friend really gave a flying flobberworm if students used the title. She considered Adam’s words carefully before hunching over a bit to meet his gaze better, “Adam, what do you know about causation and correlation.” 

“Uh…. well…,” he started, clearly not planning on going anywhere else with it.

Professor Device gave a friendly laugh and attempted another approach, “You’re from a Muggle family, isn’t that right?”

“Yeah, that’s right.”

“So, this is all new to you, this whole great Wizarding world, all its plants and creatures and rules?”

“S’pose so,” Adam mumbled, kicking the bricks on the walkway. 

“It’s a lot to take in, and you have a greater imagination that any of my first year students, you know that?” 

“I don’t… I don’t think I’m imaginin’ it though, Professor Device,” he mumbled anxiously, peering up at her from the side of his eye.

“I’d be willing to bet most of those students were eager to know more about Dementors that night, don’t you think?” she inquired gently.

A few beats passed between them before her student answered, “Yeah, I’d reckon so.” 

“Do you think that their curiosity caused the attack?”

“Well… no…”

“And as for the forest, do you know what intuition is?” 

“Hm… ain’t it like, iunno, knowin’ somethin’ deep down in your gut?” 

“Right. Some witches and wizards are born with a special intuition called the Sight. It allows them to know what’s happening somewhere else, or what will happen in the future. Perhaps you’re one of them. Perhaps that intuition was warning you of what was happening while you were dreaming. That’s a valuable skill, you know. It will keep you and your friends safe. We have an entire subject for it once you reach your third year.”

“Really? Like, fortune telling? There’s a whole class for that? That’s so cool!” Adam expressed, shooting upright and beaming at Anathema.

“Yes, Divination. It’s not just predicting the future, but also having insight into past and present events as well, things you would have no way of knowing otherwise.”

“And you think I might be good at it?” 

“I do,” she smiled warmly down at him, “dreaming of current events is a common indicator in young witches and wizards with the Sight.” 

“So…,” Adam began thoughtfully, gazing anxiously up at his professor, “So, it’s not my fault, then? You’re sure?”

“I’m sure.” 

“Right,” he smiled broadly, “Thanks Professor Device. Between the two of us, maybe us Divinati- Divinate- Divinators can tell before any other bad stuff might happen to Hogwarts!”

“Maybe,” she grinned, scrunching her nose and winking at him playfully, “But before we become the Heroes of Hogwarts, what do you say we go sneak some sweets from the kitchen? I heard they’re making the first pumpkin tarts of the year, today.” 

“Pumpkin tarts! What are we waitin’ around here for then?” Adam asked, beside himself with excitement. He grasped Anathema’s hand haphazardly and yanked her along towards the kitchens. She stumbled after him, laughing and marveling how invested he was in her idle suggestion. Both of their worries of recent disasters fell behind them, the breeze whistling through the covered bridge carrying them far away into the Highlands.

Chapter Text

“I’m going to throw up!”

“You throw up in my car, it’s over for you, Device. Avada kedavra, bitch.”

“That’s really not funny at all, Dear Boy” Azira managed out through gritted teeth, able to do little else but succumb to his fate as his life flashed before his eyes.

“What in Satan’s name makes you think I was joking?”

“Here! Turn here, Crowley!” the librarian shouted urgently.

Crowley swung his palm around the steering wheel harshly, skidding halfway through the busy intersection as he followed the directions. Unlike his passengers, he appeared to be cool as a cucumber, leaned back into the leather seat with right arm resting on the windowsill. He whistled to the tune of Queen’s I’m in Love with my Car

Outside the confines of the vintage Bentley was, presumably, London. However, at the speed its driver was taking it, a glance outside the windows that donned James Bond bullet hole decals would only show a blur of colors. If one didn’t blink, they would manage a glimpse of the automobiles and human beings Crowley narrowly avoided hitting as he swerved in and out of his own lane and that of oncoming traffic. 

“How are we supposed to avoid being seen like this?” Anathema hissed from the back seat, arms flailing to find support as her safety belt did impeccably little to keep her from being thrown about the cab. 

“Ehhhhh, you lot worry too much. This baby’s got perception charms out the wazoo,” Crowley hummed flippantly, supporting the wheel with his knee as the hand he had been using to drive with waved dismissively in the direction of his friends.

The effectiveness of these charms was brought into question as a woman who nearly stepped immediately into the car’s path screamed- a mere blip at the speed they were going. 

“This is worse than the Knight Bus! Do you even have a license to drive?” Azira asked desperately, clinging to the overhead handle of the car as if releasing it would result in him rocketing behind into the street. 

“Sure. You know how much paperwork the Ministry makes you do to enchant and own a flying car? Criminal, really.”

“I mean a Muggle license! For driving on the street!” 

“Why would I get one of those? I’m not a Muggle.” 

“Crowley, we need to make a decision here, because something’s coming up,” Anathema whimpered, looking quite green when the redhead glared at her in his rear-view mirror.

“I won’t hesitate, Anathema. I swear on my father’s grave- I’ll gladly go to bloody Azkaban.” 

“Just park!” Azira begged in exasperation. After Crowley slammed harshly on the brakes, sliding seamlessly into a parallel space between two cars that certainly hadn’t been there before, the blonde dared to breathe again for the first time since they’d landed in the city. 

The witch of the group flung open the door, scrambling out of the automobile and to the nearest trash can before promptly losing her lunch. Her cohorts followed after her. Crowley did a lap around his Bentley, in part to check for damage as well as to admire his most prized possession. 

Following a James Bond marathon with Azira, he’d set out in search of his own Bentley, and had found purchase at a scrapyard in Wales. The man who presided over the wonderland of junk had smugly pegged Crowley as a sucker, as he seemed to have no knowledge of automobiles, no perception of currency, and a burning curiosity to know the nature of objects as common as microwaves. It was as if space aliens had dropped him nearby and said, ‘There you are, have a go.’ The tables were turned when the yard owner agreed to sell the mysterious man the absolutely decimated, long out-of-order vehicle. The wizard couldn’t forget the way the poor fool had poured his coffee all over himself, not even noticing the scalding heat as he was flabbergasted by the view of the the now practically mint-condition Bentley cruising out of the lot. 

“There we are. Everyone’s alive. Not so bad, yeah?” Crowley hummed.

“You’re a demon straight from Hell.” If looks could kill, the one Anathema directed at her colleague would send his guts splattering in every direction.

“I am. And you love it ,” the Herbologist grinned devilishly, slinging the end of his red scarf over his shoulder with a dramatic flare and shoving his hands into the pockets of his leather pants. He missed his robes, they had so much more pocket space. He blended in decently to the Muggle world around him today. His outfit was fairly simple, with a grey keyhole sweater and his favorite snakeskin boots. His hair was pulled up into a messy bun behind his head, “So, where to, Captain?” he drawled, mock saluting Azira. 

“The record shop is down that way,” Azira gestured with a nod down the busy street, holding back Anathema’s hair with one hand and rubbing her back with the other as she got the last of her nausea out of her system. 

“Alright then, off we go! Look alive, Device,” Crowley walked with an impressive amount of confidence in his step for a wizard who would have roughly the know-how of a 5-year-old child if stranded alone amongst Muggles. 

“I. Am going. To kill him,” Anathema swore as she finished her business, smoothing her olive green knee-length dress and adjusting the brown braided belt that held it in place. She swung her leather apothecary bag over her shoulder and gave Azira a grateful look when he offered her his arm. The two followed after the man who was aimlessly marching forward. 

Crowley’s stride of confidence faded as he saw canvassers up ahead. For all his confidence, he knew he was unequipped to interact normally with Muggles. Thus, the other wizard collected him on his way past. Azira towed both of his friends along with him now, on either side. This wasn’t their first voyage into the Muggle world together, and he was well aware of how much guidance they needed. Luckily, he had the patience of a saint, and he found their naiveté quite endearing.

The witch and wizard who knew only the Wizarding world eagerly asked questions about objects in store windows, different gadgets they saw Muggles using, and strange social habits they picked up on in passing.

A boy glided past them, feet unmoving on a horizontal board. 

“What on earth is that? How is he doing that? Isn’t that magic?” Anathema asked in quick succession, both her and Crowley twisting their bodies and slowing their pace to gaze in awe at the spectacle. 

“Is what magic?” Azira asked, pausing to look behind them. 

“That boy, on that thing,” Crowley said, “He’s floating.”

“Oh- no, that’s not magic, it’s technology. It’s called a hoverboard, I believe. They’re all the rage with youngsters these days.”

Youngsters? How old are you?” the redhead marveled at the terminology. He may have been a wizard, but he wasn’t ancient.

A low hum sounded, and for a moment, terror took over Crowley’s face as he flailed for the wand secured in his waistband. He paused, taking a deep breath to calm his nerves as he realized that it was not the source of the obstructive noise, “Where is that coming from?”

“Oh that’s me, sorry,” Azira said bashfully, realizing he’d forgotten to silence his phone before they arrived at an area with mobile service. 

“That’s… you?” Crowley asked, exchanging confused looks with Anathema before his angel reached into the pocket of his tan jacket and pulled out a basic flip phone. 

“What’s that?” the brunette asked.

“It’s my mobile,” he explained patiently.

“I thought you said what Dowling had was a mobile?”

“They both are.”

“That’s confusing,” Crowley mumbled, leaning invasively over Azira’s shoulder to examine the technology. Anathema followed suit. Azira remained unbothered. 

“What’s a mobile?” she asked.

“It’s a phone, and it appears I’m receiving a call. You must excuse me, I have to take this. The shop’s right down there. Why don’t you two go in ahead of me? Do stay together, please! And refrain from wandering off, I’d hate to lose you.”

“Yes, Mom ,” Anathema teased with a coy grin.

“We’ll hold hands the whole time,” Crowley teased, winding his fingers through the Potion Master’s and swinging their arms in a wide arc. 

“Honor the buddy system!” the witch chirped as they skipped down to the edge of the block like school children, finding themselves quite amusing. 

They released their grip on one another as they entered the music store, lined with posters of what could only be assumed to be modern Muggle bands. Crowley noted that their fashion tastes were exceedingly hideous. There were several rows of small, flat, square plastic cases depicting different artists. He grimaced as he wondered what they were and if there were any actual formats of music here.

“Welcome to Fresh Beats,” droned a girl behind the counter with short bright pink hair, one side of it shaved. She sported several facial piercings and tattoos, a black studded choker, a yellow plaid miniskirt, and a black tee-shirt that read ‘Nirvana’. The entrance of customers didn’t appear to motivate her to bother looking up from her mobile.

“Ciao. Dig your whole…,” Crowley spread his fingers and circled his hand around his wrist to gesture to the entirety of her as he found the right word before enunciating it with a pop, “vibe.” 

She heaved a sigh, preparing to raise her gaze to some obnoxious man who’d only come in because he felt entitled to her attention. Instead, she found Crowley and Anathema. She raised a brow, looking the wizard up and down.

“Hey, right back at you,” she grinned, “Love the jumper. What you in for?”

“Ah, yes, we’re uh… you know… normal…,” he began, attempting to decipher how to speak so he might blend in as a typical Muggle.

“Just average human beings, you know, like you,” Anathema attempted to help, “And we’re looking for…” 

“Uh… a specific type and format of...  musical…,” Crowley continued. The girl looked back and forth between them, both eyebrows raised now, her face otherwise concealing her emotions.

“Musical entertainment!” the American finished confidently, finding her and her colleague’s method of communication to be quite a success. 

“Right then, fellow homo sapiens,” the woman hummed, clearly entertained by this outlandish interaction, “what format is it you speak of?”

“Aw, yeah, er, they’re ‘bout this big, circular,” Crowley began, holding his hands up to show the size of a vinyl. 

“That’s right, and they have little grooves in them, they’re flat,” Anathema elaborated further.

“You might know them aaaas…,” Crowley stretched the word out, praying that the word wasn’t exclusive to the Wizarding world as he scrunched his face and held his breath, squeaking out, “records?”

The shopkeep looked between them, amused beyond reason, “are you guys like, looking for drugs? Or actual records?” 

“No- well, I mean- what the Hell. Sure. I’m not working today. What you got?” the wizard indulged her, leaning against the counter in intrigue. 

Crowley,” his friend chided.

“Oh boo, live a little, Anathema,” he groaned, waving her off dismissively, “fine then, just the records.” 

The spectator snorted, trying to swallow her giggles. The relief that she was finally able to make sense of the oddball pair was almost tangible, “What records do you need?” 

“Well, it’s like, 70’s, I think,” the redhead started up yet again.

“That’s right, and it’s kind of… well… it’s sort of…”

“Do you know the name of the band?”

“Queen,” Crowley breathed in relief. 

“Jesus, you should have just said so when you came in,” she laughed, unable to hide her entertainment any longer, “Everyone knows Queen. Follow me.” 

After a bit of browsing, Anthony found a couple of the band’s records he did not yet own, as well as a couple other suggestions the shopkeep directed him to. 

“Oh, I should have mentioned earlier, my coworker isn’t back with change for today, yet, so we can only take card.”

The witch and wizard exchanged anxious glances, and the staff member leaned over the counter expectantly, prepared to have yet another go around with the strange customers. 

Crowley felt around his pockets. He didn’t have business cards on him, and even if he did, he couldn’t exactly hand a Muggle a card that said, ‘Professor of Herbology at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Researcher of Magical Plants.’ How did that constitute as payment, anyway? He simply didn’t understand Muggles. A great wave of relief washed over him as he watched the object of his affections finally enter the shop, finishing his phone call, “I must let you go, Amelia. I’m quite serious, don’t you dare sell that book. I won’t ever forgive you if you do!” 

“Mr. Fell!” the girl scanning the vinyls called out cheerfully, “Nice to see you back in town.” 

“Thank you, Melanie, it’s nice to be back, even for just the day,” he smiled warmly, pocketing his phone and immediately reading the desperate look of confusion upon his fellow professor’s face, “Is something the matter, my dear?” 

“Hey, Angel. Er… no, it’s just that she says I can only pay with a card?” Crowley asked, unsure if he was relaying the information correctly. 

“Oh! Right, I’ve got it, don’t worry, Dear Boy,” Azira reassured him, finding his wallet and handing Melanie his card. 

“They’re... with you?” the shopkeep asked, surprised, eyeing the two peculiar individuals yet again as she took the card between her index and middle finger.

“Oh dear, have they caused you any trouble?”

“No, nothing like that. Strange lot, though. This one tried to buy drugs from me.” 

“Anthony,” the blond deadpanned, uneeding of further elaboration and giving him a scrutinizing glance.

“Wh- that’s- s-sh-she offered!” Crowley blurted defensively, causing Melanie to burst out in laughter. 

“Don’t worry, I like ‘em, a bit of crazy keeps things interesting,” she said quite decidedly, handing Azira the card and the bag of records, “By the way, you oughta sell a book someday, or you’ll have to close shop.” 

“Haven’t been driven to those extremes yet,” Azira smiled confidently, holding the door open for his friends, “Do take care, Dear Girl.” 

Once they were out on the street, he handed Anthony the plastic bag of goods, gazing warmly at the man who grinned widely and held it to his chest like it contained priceless treasure, “Lunch, anyone?” 

“Sounds good, I do have an empty stomach,” Anathema said pointedly, glaring at Crowley.

“Wha? Don’t blame me, buck up, or whatever.”

Azira appreciated the beautiful, uncharacteristically sunny day as the two bickered amongst themselves, trailing behind him. Their arguing was as natural as the Herbologist and Azira sharing a drink after classes, or he and Anathema meeting every week to discuss the book they’d agreed on. It was their silly, strange way of showing one another affection. There were many different dynamics amongst the three of them, but the librarian fancied this little group as his Hogwarts family. They protected and defended each other. They supported each other.

They loved each other.

 

 

 



 

 

The tiny French bistro the trio had settled on for dinner was located at a little hidden corner down a cobblestone alleyway lined with lovely yellow-green bushes sporting purple berries. Callicarpa bodinieri, Crowley had informed them, or Beautyberry Bushes. It was an unusually warm day, at least by Azira and Anathema’s standards, and they’d managed to outvote their friend in a decision to sit on the quaint little pateo that sported cracked concrete and outdated metal furnishings. The animagus’s scarf was wrapped several times around his neck as he slunk down into his chair, the heat charm keeping his neck and face warm, however he was beginning to regret his choice in jumper as the flesh exposed by his keyhole was at the mercy of the chilly breeze. 

The three spell-casters exchanged wild theories on the recent events affecting their place of work and living. Crowley came up with the most bizarre idea, that perhaps a hole had been ripped in time and space, causing influences of 25 years past to affect the present. Anathema was entertained. However, It appeared that space-time continuum jokes were a bit too fresh of material for Azira. The witch caught the odd exchange that reminded her so vividly of the librarian shunning the Herbologist just a week or so prior. She again marveled at what Crowley possibly could have done to upset Azira so deeply. As far as she was concerned, the Muggle-born was almost always willing to overlook any and all flaws the pureblood boasted. An out-of-breath voice broke each of their focus. 

“Ana! Anathema!” 

The witch and wizards turned their attention towards the figure that had called out, and even beneath her olive skin, Anathema turned a notable shade of red that neither of her cohorts had ever witnessed her don before. After a tall, spindly man wearing glasses leaned down to kiss her and she timidly returned it, glancing anxiously at Crowley from the corner of her eye, he grew a wicked grin, realizing the unfamiliar emotion she was portraying was, in fact, embarrassment. It didn’t suit her well at all, but her sadistic friend was quite enjoying watching her skin crawl anyhow.

“It’s so good to see you! Why didn’t you tell me you were coming into London?” the man asked.

“Well, it was all very sudden, I didn’t have time to get a letter in the post to you before we came. It’s just a day trip really.”

“A day trip? Isn’t the academy you teach at in Scotland?”

Anthony and Azira both measured the man up as the interaction occurred. Crowley eyed him carefully through his glasses, wondering what it was about him, aside from his dorky demeanor, that Anathema was so eager to hide. Azira thought he looked like a nice young chap. 

“Well, yes- that is- it's just that I’m here with my colleagues… ,” she finally settled on before trailing off. 

The strange intruder looked a bit embarrassed as he finally noted the men at the table, self-consciously adjusting his shirt and clearing his throat, “Right, erm- hello! I’m Newton Pulsifer, Newt, if you don’t mind.” 

“Azira Fell,” the blonde wizard greeted, holding out his hand and shaking Newt’s with such a friendly smile that the nervous figure seemed to relax the smallest amount. 

“Anthony J. Crowley, but it’s just Crowley” the other provided, shaking his hand firmly after. He must have given off an intimidating aura, because the newcomer squirmed and swallowed hard under his gaze.

“What’s the ‘J’ stand for?” Newt asked with an anxious grin, attempting to jest in an amicable manner.

“Just a ‘J’ really,” Crowley bounced back instinctively, acting laid-back as usual, though he was heavily guarded on the topic. Even Azira hadn’t ever gotten a real answer to that one, “How about you? Is it ‘Newt’ like Newt Scamander?”

“Er… who?”

“Oh,” Crowley said. Then, when all the color drained from Anathema’s face, her black eyes boring into him in anticipation, realization dawned on him. A mischievous grin took over his features, “Ohhhhhh. Say, Newt, why don’t you join us, we’ve already gotten our food, but it would be a great pleasure to get to know Anathema’s.... “

He dragged out the ‘s’ and rolled his hand around his wrist as if to coax an answer from the couple. Awkward tension filled the air as several beats passed. Newt glanced at Anathema expectantly, and Anathema was transfixed on her napkin in turn, unfolding and refolding it. Azira gazed scoldingly at Crowley. 

“Ahem, he’s my boyfriend, and I’m sure he’s busy-” the witch finally supplied, interrupted before she could shoo Newt away in self-preservation. 

The devilish wizard looked overjoyed, “Right, boyfriend, pull up a chair.” 

“I’d hate to intrude, I’m so sorry I did! I just saw Anathema and-” 

“No worries, Dear Boy! It’d be a pleasure to get to know you,” Azira provided with much more innocent intentions than his companion. Despite the friendly offer, he seemed much more interested in his sandwich than he was in Newt. The witch among them still appeared very much dismayed.

“If you’re sure,” Newt complied, anxiously. The unused chair he pulled up scraped boisterously against the concrete as he joined them at their modest dinner table. 

Anathema appeared to be captivated with a bird’s nest above a nearby streetlamp. 

“Don’t you all teach in the Highlands? Must have been quite a journey?” Newt offered, still quite clearly shaken with nerves. He seemed to be a skittish fellow. 

“That’s right, but even professors ought to have fun sometimes, right? We’re headed out after dinner,” Crowley cooed the lie, trapping his prey like a spider in its web. 

“I suppose that’s true, you must get a bit of cabin fever. What do you two teach? I know Anathema teaches Chemistry.”

The pureblood’s grin grew wider, eyes narrowing behind his glasses as his suspicions were confirmed. He answered on his friend’s behalf, allowing the blond to continue focusing on his meal, “Azira’s the librarian. I teach… Botany.” 

“Oh, really? I didn’t know schools in the UK offered subjects like Botany.” 

“Some boarding schools do- but that’s all quite boring, isn’t it? What do you do, Newt?”

Crowley felt himself inching closer and closer to revealing Anathema’s shame, as now she stared straight at him, eyes wide as saucers, and visibly gulped. 

She looked as if she was lost at sea and the waitress was a rescue ship as the woman came outside to deliver desserts. Upon spotting Crowley’s barely eaten quiche, she apologized for her proactiveness. In turn, he insisted she take it away, quickly turning his attention back to the Muggle before him, not losing track of their conversation. Anathema looked devastated that the topic had not been lost.

“Oh- well, it’s silly really. I’m a witchfinder.” 

Crowley’s eyebrows rocketed above his glasses in absolute giddiness. Azira choked on his tea, cleared his throat, and withdrew a handkerchief from his vest pocket to clean the mess he’d made, avoiding the Muggle’s gaze.

“A witchfinder ,” the Herbology professor repeated, “and what does that entail?”

“It’s nothing, honestly. Just something to do. Most of the day I cut out ridiculous articles about any suspicious or irregular phenomena nearby,” Newt mumbled self-consciously.

“So, pray tell, I’m burning with curiosity,” Anthony crooned, ignoring Anathema’s eyes boring into him as if she could will him into combusting into flames at any moment, “How does one tell if they’ve found a witch?”

“Well, according to Shadwell- the, er, witchfinder Sergeant, if you prick one with a needle, they won’t feel it, and, according to him… they have… well…”

“What do they have?” the Herbologist encouraged.

“Three nipples.”

Crowley looked positively delighted, a wide smile on his face and brows raised high, “Well then! Tell me, Newt, have you found any witches?” 

“No, to be honest I’m quite certain they don’t exist.”

“Is that so?”

While Azira would typically intervene and scold the pureblood for tormenting someone who didn’t know his mischievous ways, he was much too captivated eyeing the untouched chocolate torte on the table, as he’d already finished his own Crème brûlée. Crowley instinctively slid the dessert towards him. For the first time since they’d been joined, he glanced at the librarian, unable to cheat himself of the look of joy on his face as Azira sat up straight, happily sinking his fork into the torte. It was really the only reason Anthony bothered with desserts. Newt seemed to operate much more smoothly without the mysterious shielded gaze drilling into him.

“Yes. I’m honestly much more inclined to believe in science, finding witches seems like a bunch of hocus pocus, really. I do like computers, but I’m afraid I seem to have a curse of some sort around them,” he sighed, smiling a bit as Anathema finally reacted to him, reaching out blindly to place her hand over his and squeeze. Her face was still pale. She cautiously began eating her cheesecake, glaring up at Crowley occasionally from over her plate. 

“Oh there’s no curse, you’re being silly, really,” she reassured, offering Newt a half-hearted smile.

“Computers? Are those the-,” Crowley mimed a box in front of him and then raised his hands up and down to imitate typing- or more accurately, slapping his palms on a keyboard as if it were a set of bongos. 

“Um… yes, don’t you have them at the academy?” 

“Oh no, our school is very… that is, it is, it operates on neo-luddite philosophies for the students’ fundamental years,” Azira provided in between bites, not appearing obvious, as he was not specifically lying. He was a terrible liar, and even his serpentine friend couldn’t peg this particular statement as a breach of truth. Crowley blinked at him blankly, having no idea what neo-luddism was. 

“That’s very odd- I mean, interesting! Not many schools are going that direction with things nowadays,” Newt said, jumping as his phone buzzed in his pocket. He read the message, his face falling, “Unfortunately, it looks like I should be going. Please do let me know the next time you’re in town?”

Anathema smiled weakly at him, “Of course, Newt. Do be safe?” 

“I will, Ana, please write as soon as you get back!”

Crowley withheld a theatrical gag as the two kissed. He leaned back in his chair and inched his glasses down his nose, grinning smarmily at Anathema without uttering a word as Newt’s footsteps faded away into the white noise of the city bustle. She avoided the gaze, streaking the prongs of her fork through the strawberry syrup on her plate. Several tense beats passed with only some delighted hums from Azira as he fully indulged in Crowley’s dessert. 

“So Ana ,” Crowley began, cooing the nickname she had staunchly clarified no one had permission to use. 

“Oh, shut the fuck up, Crowley!” 

Azira appeared startled by the sudden hostility, finally bothering to pay attention to his surroundings, “Anathema, I really don’t believe it will be necessary to use that kind of language.” 

“You’re joking,” she said flatly, “He just spent the whole lunch making fun of my… of Newt.”

“I was not making fun,” Crowley mock pouted, innocently. 

“He was only curious, Dear Girl, and I can’t say I don’t understand why. You’ve never mentioned this beau to us before,” the librarian elaborated, finishing the last of his treat before chirping contently, “simply excellent.” 

The Herbologist looked positively smug as his crush defended him. The waitress returned to divvy out their checks. Azira aided his companions in sussing out how to manage their euros. The conversation was paused until their server was out of earshot.

“Because I knew this one would have something to say about me dating a No-maj- a Muggle, I mean,” Anathema accused Crowley with a grimace.

“I don’t appreciate that assumption,” her target committed to his charade of innocuousness. 

“Really, Crowley wouldn’t tease you for that. There’s nothing to be ashamed of at all, my dear. I know you two come from different upbringings, but there’s really nothing wrong about it in the least. I’ve been with plenty of Muggles. In fact, my last long term relationship was with a Muggle,” Azira offered the trivia empathetically, patting Anathema’s hand. She responded with a look of appreciation. 

“How about a witchfinder?” Crowley tested his luck, attempting to conceal a grin by nuzzling down into the soft yarn of his scarf.

“Well- no, I can’t say I’ve dated one of those. But he seems fairly harmless about it, doesn’t he?” the blond reflected, “I must admit I am curious as to how you got into that relationship, however.”

“I’ll tell you what,” Anathema heaved a sigh, offering an armistice, “You two take me to a tavern, get absolutely smashed with me, and then you can ask me all the questions you’d like.

“Oh, I’m not sure, Dear Girl, we really should be getting back,” Azira hesitated.

“C’mon, Angel! We’re in Muggle London and it’s not even a school night. When was the last time you went out to have some fun?” Anthony pressed.

“Today.”

“Nahhh, real fun,” Crowley corrected, “Just because we’re old doesn’t mean we can’t have a good time. Can’t I tempt you to indulge in some drinks and games?” 

“Well… I suppose it couldn’t hurt,” Azira processed cautiously.

The trio wound up at a gaming bar called Player Ready, which was a fine setting for the rapid escalation of wild absurdity the evening had in store for them. Crowley and Anathema were drawn to a flashing neon dancing game and quickly discovered a correlation between consuming more alcohol and achieving less deplorable scores. Anthony was enamoured with the variety of arcade games at first but begrudgingly resigned to switching gears after the Muggle-born wiped the floor with him at the tenth consecutive game. Azira’s plans for sobriety were thwarted as the pureblood innocently coaxed him into joining strangers for a game of Beer Pong, not mentioning he’d become a professional at it in his 20’s, and hustled him staggering drunk. In her sloshed state, Anathema slipped between cooing over how much she loved Newt and ranting over how mad she must be to settle on a single person. When in her more panicked episodes, she would eagerly attempt to snog the nearest attractive specimen. Her dedicated companions continuously toted her away, Azira with a considerate “so sorry!” and Crowley with a more amused, “you wish it were that easy, don’t you?”

The friends they made at Beer Pong challenged the trio to some digital game called Mario Kart that was played on the tele (the Muggles chalked it up to drunkenness when Anathema and Crowley marveled at this). Crowley declined, much more invested in watching his friends attempt it. Azira was neck to neck with another player for first place. Several spectators yelled excitedly from behind the seats. Anthony stood over Azira’s shoulder, pacing back and forth and heatedly screaming, “YEAHHHHHHH, DEMOLISH THEM, ANGEL! WRECK THEIR SHIT!” as if he was at a Quidditch game. This was not helpful, but apparently it wasn’t too much of a hinderance either, because the blond came out the champion of the playful competition. He only spiraled further into drunkenness as at least three different people bought him drinks to congratulate him on his big win. 

At one point, late in the night, a man asked Azira for his number. The poor sap didn’t manage to get very far with it, as a fiery redhead cornered him and pressed him flush against the wall in the men’s room, threatening to destroy everything he loved if he didn’t dispose of it. Later, while watching a game of football, Crowley made the audacious decision to cheer for Colombia. He didn’t know anything about football, but being adopted by a Colombian family gave him the inclination to do so. Azira had to obliviate the entire bar, the contents of which were eager to drag Crowley outside and beat him senseless. His ardent friend was sure he could take them all on, and he almost certainly would have tried if the librarian hadn’t stepped in. They decided that was perhaps a good place to end the night, and they wandered outside to collect Anathema, who Anthony was greatly amused to find smoking a joint with some strangers. 

“That was a very strange cigarette,” she drawled dazedly as her two friends propped her up between them to begin their trek.

“I’ll bet,” Crowley snickered. 

Several minutes later, at approximately 1:30 in the morning, the trio was staggering side to side in a drunken stupor as they made their way onward. Azira and Crowley were cheerfully, loudly, and very, very badly singing I Love a Lassie . The witch, almost entirely being held upright by her friends support now, was barely succeeding staying awake. Crowley noticed the third shop they’d passed with extremely phallic-shaped goods that he realized now were, in fact, sex toys. 

“Az- Zzz- Azizzz- Azir-” he tried, his failure to say his friend’s name launching them both full heartedly into a state of snorting and giggling.

Angel ,” he managed after calming down, “wh- eh w-where the bloody hell are we? We lost?” 

“Noooooo, I wouldn’t get you lost!” Azira reassured him so genuinely it made Crowley’s heart hurt, “Werin- we’ren, we’re in Soho.”

“Soho,” Crowley giggled, “That’s fun to say”

“Soooohoooo,” Azira drawled, chortling as he found his companion quite correct.

“Yo-ho to So-WOAH,” the taller of them yelped as he nearly sent them all stumbling over the curb. The pair burst into laughter again. Crowley wore his glasses atop his head, his vision impaired enough without adding a dark filter to the world, “I dun think I parked here.”

“Me old mate,” Azira started, tiny bouts of giggles interrupting him despite him attempting to be genuine, “you think I’d let you drive right now?” 

Before his companion was able to think up a proper answer, Azira blurted out, “Here we are! Knew we weren’t lost!” and dragged them up a few concrete steps to a storefront. 

Crowley released Anathema and smashed his face against the windows, cupping his hands around his eyes so he might be able to peer into the dark interior of the building. Shelves and stacks of old books and some comfortable looking chairs were meticulously positioned inside. 

“A- aaaa- are we robbin’ a bookstore? Stealin’ some rare first edition you’ve been pining after?” his voice was muffled, as he hadn’t removed his face from the glass.

“Oh, yes. I was thinking to myself, ‘what would be the best possible end to this night? I know! A heist ’,” Azira jested, struggling to hold Anathema up by himself now while searching his pockets in tandem. 

“You mad man!” Anthony gasped, and then, with no hesitation, “I’m in. Wha’s the target, boss?” 

“Crowley,” Azira requested his attention while failing to withhold a laugh.

“Hm?” the animagus finally turned in response to his name and saw Azira pointedly inserting a key into the door and gazing at him in amusement.

“Woah! Where’d you get them?” 

“My pocket, dear, I live here,” he grinned, raising his eyebrows at his friend. 

“Whaaaat!” Crowley mused in disbelief, taking it upon himself to unburden his friend of the barely-conscious woman. The moment they entered the shop, he fell in love with it. It was cozy, warm, and smelled identical to Azira. He couldn’t imagine a more fitting place for the man to call home if he tried his hardest, “Wh-we-where’d you get a whole bloody bookshop from? How d’you afford this?” 

Azira led them to the back stairs, turning every few steps to make sure Crowley was handling Anathema alright, “Oh, it’s been in the Fell family for generations. Michael didn’t want it so me dad left it to me when he and mum retired to the country. My cousin, Amelia, and I have a deal; she runs the shop when I’m at school, and she has a free place to stay while she attends University. She’s out for the night.” 

“I love it. Very Azira Fell,” Crowley offered, earning such a bright smile it made his heart skip a beat. The upstairs living space was just as inviting as the bookshop beneath it. They deposited Anathema on the sofa, and Azira offered his friend something more comfortable to sleep in than leather pants. The pajama pants and soft knit sweater were a bit big on Anthony, but he looked so precious in them that Azira felt his heart swell. He left for the kitchen briefly to put the kettle on.

A huge, dramatic gasp could be heard from the living room, and for the first time since they’d left the bar, Anathema’s voice articulated faithfully, ”God is real.” 

The scene that Azira returned to made him quite curious if the alcohol was playing mind games on him. His two friends sat cuddled, side by side on the sofa, and were transfixed on picture frame they both held tightly. Tears- actual tears- were running down both their faces as they whimpered and squealed. Curiosity got the best of him, and he set the mugs of tea down on the coffee table, circling around them to see what they were in such a state over.

“Oh, Lord,” he murmured. The photo they were spiraling into borderline insanity over was, much to his dismay, him in a pumpkin costume at roughly age five.

“You’re so cute,” Anathema sobbed.

“Wook at his wittle cheeks!” Crowley cooed in a high voice, pinching his fingers together over the photograph. 

“Please, no,” was all Azira could muster, though he of all people couldn’t say he wouldn’t act quite similarly were the situation reversed.

“I want one,” the witch sniveled. 

“I can die happy now. Take me now, Satan. I’m ready,” the wizard declared, spreading his arms wide as if prepared to be struck from the face of the planet then and there.

Azira managed to distract them by putting Scooby Doo on the tele. In their drunken stupor, he managed to sneak the photo away, returning it to its rightful place and seating himself on the other side of Crowley. 

As the influence alcohol drew them to fatigue, the three gradually spread out upon the furniture. Crowley stretched his legs out, indulgently resting his head on Azira’s lap. Anathema laid face-down on top of him, her head on his chest, and snored quietly as she immediately slipped into unconsciousness. The redhead had a bit more stamina, and was absolutely captivated by the cartoon, as he’d never seen animation before. He hadn’t the slightest clue how they did this without magic.

His hair was pulled down now, and Azira, still quite inebriated, found his impulse control slipping away. As far back as when he’d first grown fond of the Herbology Professor, he’d had a burning desire to delve his fingers into those beautiful red locks. He supposed if there was any opportunity to do so, it was now. Thus, he gently began stroking Crowley’s hair, waiting for an indication that he had permission. Anthony happily gave it, humming low in his chest as his eyelashes fluttered open and closed sleepily. Azira continued on for a while like this, and rather than feeling satiated, a hunger for more took over him. Very gradually, he sunk his fingers deep into the mop of hair, gently massaging soothing little circles into his scalp.

Crowley released a shameless moan, and Azira almost froze in response, his heart skipping a beat. Every bit of common sense in his head demanded he quit while ahead. However, some primal influence deep within that he hadn’t encountered in years urged him forth, starving for more of those gorgeous noises. His fingers learned how to move more skillfully and decipher what patterns drew out the most honest melodies, groans, and sighs. The wizard’s heartbeat started racing faster and louder in his ears, but he paid no mind, as there was only one thing he was currently interested in hearing. He wasn’t sure he’d ever submitted to his inner hedonist as much as he did in this moment. In an act purely motivated by greed, he delved his other hand into the deep red waves as well. 

“Mmmmmm, that feels so good , Angel,” Crowley whined, entirely unaware of how he sounded. 

It was in this moment that Azira became aware of his own body, his flushing face, racing heart, and a Situation that must have been growing for some time during the course of his ministrations. Unsure if the man below him was asleep and certainly not wishing for him to take notice of his rising problem, the blond slipped out from under him, placing a pillow under the sleepy wizard’s head. 

“Where’re you off to?” complained the Herbologist, pouting at the loss of such devoted attention. 

“I- erm- Just- I’m just off to shower,” Azira rushed to say, pleased that Crowley seemed to accept this without further question and rushing off to his bathroom. 

The running water was loud enough to drown out worries about any noise escaping the small room, and Azira made quick work of stripping his clothing. A sharp hiss was released as the cold air hit his almost completely hard erection. Typically, if he were sober, he would turn the water on cold, try to bury his shame, and pretend nothing had ever occurred in the first place. But his head was dizzy from a cocktail of alcohol and lust, and his Hedonistic streak continued as he was unable to deny his mind and body what it was they ached for. 

He stepped into the warm water, releasing a sigh of relief. He brushed his fingers down his body, wrapping them gently around the base of his cock and resting his free hand against the tile of the shower wall for support as he slowly began stroking himself. His cloudy blue eyes fluttered closed, and it didn’t take long to think of a fitting scenario to indulge as he allowed his mind to slip away into it. 

They were in his office, sharing a drink that was certainly not the first of the night. He gazed through a drunken lense at Crowley’s face, his high cheekbones, thin nose, soft lips, and his eyes- oh those eyes. They burned like embers, even brighter now as they stared, transfixed, at Azira’s own lips. The librarian felt short of air, just starting to wonder if that face had always been so intoxicatingly gorgeous before their mouths came crashing together. He stumbled backwards for a moment, taken off guard, before returning the passionate kiss with force. His hands greedily buried themselves into his partner’s hair, and he took a moment to appreciate how absolutely right this felt. Little hesitation occured before the kiss grew more heated, Crowley moaning into the taste of cabernet on their intertwined tongues at the feeling of Azira’s hands in his red locks. 

It felt like no time at all, but in perfect synchronization, they pulled away from the kiss, lungs burning for air. Crowley seemed to decide that air was for suckers, anyway, and his mouth quickly rushed to Azira’s neck. He experimented on his journey, stopping here and there to nibble and suck until he found what he was looking for just beneath the blond’s jaw. The sharp teeth bit down gently, and he sucked with a vengeance, rendering Azira unable to contain his own guttural moan. The act lit a fire in the shorter of the two. All at once he lost his patience, finding himself wanting more and wanting it immediately. His hands grazed and grabbed at the slender body, covetously, until they landed on his belt and quickly made efforts to remove it. Crowley’s hands rushed to cease his own, and the librarian pulled back, gazing questioningly into his eyes. 

“You do so much for everyone, all the time. Let me take care of you,” Crowley crooned. 

The unspoken question resting on Azira’s lips was answered when he allowed himself to be pushed down into his office chair. His pupils dilated as he watched the tall figure sink to his knees before him, wearing a devilish grin. His mouth felt dry from desire. Crowley made quick work of freeing Azira’s cock, and his eyes fixed on it with a serpentine focus. A forked tongue slipped out of his mouth, wetting his lips. His spectator groaned in anticipation, anxious to see what the uniquely shaped appendage could accomplish. 

The first impression was not one of disappointment. Crowley leaned forward eagerly, pressing the center of the tip of his tongue to the underside of the target before him, the forked flesh on either side brushing the sides of Azira’s cock as he gave a liberal lick upwards towards the head of it. One arriving at his destination, he sucked the tip into his mouth, flicking his tongue against it and drawing the beginning of an “Oh, yes,” from Azira before, without warning, swallowing deeply downward onto his shaft. 

The older wizard’s hands flew back to those gorgeous waves he’d become so enamoured with, and he flexed his fingers against his scalp in rhythm with his moan before pulling the hair there commandingly. This drew one of those intoxicating moans from Crowley, who fluttered his eyelashes and arched his back, bobbing his head obediently and rolling his tongue against the contents of his mouth in an attempt to bring his lover as much pleasure as he could. Azira grinned down at him, gasping at the way the moan vibrated against his cock. He wasn’t sure if he prefered the sensation or the view more, and he thanked God that he didn’t have to choose between them. Crowley was a mess, his hair fisted firmly in Azira’s hands, his face flushed, and his eyes half lidded with lust as he gazed adoringly up at his partner.

Azira gasped and panted, hunching forward into the stream of the shower water, face flushed as he was hopelessly lost in the fantasy. 

“You love this, don’t you, Anthony?” Azira hummed from deep in his chest, “How long have you been wanting to do this?”

The man on his knees before him turned a darker shade of red, lowering his eyes as he focused on his ministrations.

“No, no, eyes up here, Dear Boy, I want to look at you,” he commanded, heat pooling in his stomach as he was obeyed. The stars in Crowley’s eyes were blinding, now. 

The animagus was so devoted to bringing Azira pleasure, massaging his tongue against the appendage and hallowing his cheeks on each downstroke, taking as much of him as possible. He acted as if his life depended on his performance. Azira wondered with a small frown if he acted this eager for all the other men he’d undeniably done this for. A surge of jealousy he wasn’t aware he was capable of burned through his chest. He’d simply have to make sure Crowley set him apart, that he couldn’t do this to anyone else ever again without thinking of him.

His grip on the soft red locks tightened, earning a whimpering moan, and without warning, Azira rocked his hips forward into the wet heat of Anthony’s mouth. Crowley inhaled sharply through his nose, eyes watering as he received the thrust like a champion. His golden pools gazed blearily up at Azira, and he gave a hearty groan of approval, just as Professor Fell was quite sure he was unable to be any more excited. He set a slow pace of thrusting his hips against Crowley’s flushed face, marveling at how deep he could swallow him. A mixture of needy little moans and chokes sounded from Crowley. His eyelashes fluttered uncontrollably, his nails scratched hungrily at Azira’s thighs, and streaks of tears ran down his face. 

“Oh, Anthony,” Azira moaned, “Yes- that’s- Oh, I’m-” 

Azira bit his lip so hard it bled as he came into his hand, pumping himself slowly through his orgasm as he imagined Crowley licking away the bit of sticky residue on his face that he could reach with his long tongue. He imagined pressing his thumb pad down on his glistening lower lip, grasping his chin and raising it so he could properly examine the extent to which he’d positively ruined him. Finally, Azira slumped against the shower wall, hoping he hadn’t made too much noise as he allowed himself to catch his breath. 

 

 

 


 

 

 

The next morning, Azira awoke feeling like someone had dropped a cinder block over his head. He fumbled out of bed, groaning as the room spun around him upon standing. Very slowly, he shuffled to the kitchen to put on the kettle for tea. As he waited for the water to heat, he patiently attempted to recall the events of last night. 

They’d went to the bar and had fun- so much fun that he was quite sure he could go a fair stint of time before experiencing anything close to it again. He’d managed to get them all back here, that was a good sign. No one was horribly maimed or injured. Perhaps it was best to ensure no one had gotten sick, either. 

Azira felt a surge of guilt when realizing he’d left his two friends uncomfortably intertwined on the tiny couch when there had been a perfectly good second bedroom that had gone unused. He padded quietly into the living room, relieved when it appeared everything was in order. At some point in the night, a blanket had been draped over Anathema, who was firmly hugging Crowley around his waist in a death grip. His arms rested comfortably atop her shoulders. 

Azira wondered about what else had happened last night. His eyes wandered to Crowley’s peacefully snoozing face, hair in disarray on the pillow beneath his head, and a flood of raunchy memories stormed him like a horde of centaurs. 

“Lord, give me strength,” he mumbled under his breath, face a distinct shade of red, “I’m in trouble.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

A general sense of safety rippled through Hogwarts as the major hazards plaguing academy life subsided. Smaller curiosities began occurring in their stead. One lunchtime, the meal changed to an entirely different assortment of food halfway through. Professor Device had guided her first years through the brewing a boil-curing potion step-by-step. Much to her anxiety, by the end of class the contents of every cauldron in the laboratory contained Herbicide potion. She quickly confiscated the thick green bubbling liquid, and made a point to ensure the Herbology professor never discovered this phenomenon. On each occasion in which Azira attempted to organize the children’s literature section of the library, he discovered a plethora of new Muggle novels that he was absolutely positive were not present before. 

For several days, these incidents went unreported and overlooked. Gradually, they became more obvious. In Gryffindor and Slytherin’s first Quidditch game, the goal posts kept moving to accommodate attempted scores by Gryffindor chasers. The Slytherin Keeper’s broom seemed to continuously jerk him out of the way of blocking the quaffle. In one of Crowley’s classes, a boy called Greasy Johnson’s planter exploded in his hands, shards cutting his face and arms deeply, and the notoriously docile plant that had been inside clung to his face, attempting to suffocate him. It’s fragile limbs grew longer and thicker, wrapping around his head. The first years were talking about it for days after they got to see their professor in action, despite him barking at them to bugger off when dismissing class so he could drag Greasy to the infirmary with urgency. The Hogwarts professors managed the obscurities as they came, maintaining normalcy the best they could while waiting for the Ministry to finally begin their investigation. 

Crowley and Azira sat in the comfortable office tucked away in the library, the fire burning bright as the pureblood sat near it, his thin back absorbing the heat from it the best it could. The floor of the librarian’s abode had been taken over in a messy catastrophe that Crowley insisted was his own system of organization. Several papers and notes were fanned out in a litany of piles. Three separate stacks of books encircled the shivering figure and at least four open ones were spread in front of him (they had been stacked atop each other, but Crowley moved them after Azira complained he was ruining their spines for the third time). A journal with notes unintelligible to the average eye sat in Crowley’s lap. A quill was held in his mouth. Azira stepped carefully around the chaos that obscured the vintage rug covering the stone floor in his office as he returned to his armchair with his tea. 

“Aaaaan, ah ghah eh!” Crowley threw his arms over his head. 

“Sorry, what was that?” Azira asked patiently. His companion opened his mouth, letting the quill clatter to the floor. 

“Done with the outline, not too bad, eh?” the redhead grinned triumphantly, crawling forward on all fours to extend a long arm and hold a piece of crumpled parchment out to Azira. The more proper wizard turned an interesting shade of pink at the view of Crowley on the floor in front of him, finding it uncomfortably reminiscent of a particular shame he carried. He averted his eyes, taking the parchment and clearing his throat. Ever since their London trip, he’d been very peculiar about meeting his friend’s gaze. Originally, Anthony wondered if he was angry with him again, but he didn’t seem to be treating him any differently, otherwise. Indeed, Azira wasn’t angry. In his experience, after one consciously fantasized about finishing on their best friend’s face, it made it decidedly difficult to look said best friend in the eye.

Azira’s mind buzzed uncomfortably as he attempted to calm himself down and focus on the outline he’d promised to look over. Crowley had just recently admitted he was going to write a book on rare plants with valuable properties belonging to an array of biomes and their potential to revolutionize potion-making. His research hadn’t found fruition so far, but he’d collected multitudes of impressive findings, and publishing them might appease the Herbology circles into being more patient with supporting his cause. However, the author was more than aware that words were not his strong suit, and resigned himself to reluctantly ask the librarian for guidance, knowing he would never permit him to publish an unreadable book. Azira was well aware how difficult it was for Anthony to put his ego aside and request assistance for anything related to his research, and thus he was overjoyed to help. He felt as if his friend was letting him in, in a way he never had before.

“Hmmm, I believe you’re putting too much stock into the reader having prior knowledge of Geology and ecosystems. Instead of diving straight in, it might be prudent to preface the material with a chapter discussing the biomes you plan to reference and their natural attributes,” Azira advised after carefully overlooking the outline. 

“Bahhhh,” Crowley complained, throwing his arms out and rolling dramatically over the parchment on the floor, “w- wh- eh, why is writing a book so much bloody work? Why haven’t we as a society learned how to directly insert knowledge into people’s brains?” 

“We’d be out of a job if that happened. I know you can do this. Chin up, Dear Boy,” his companion encouraged, assuming his contribution to this book would be just as much motivating Anthony to actually bother writing it as it would be reviewing any progress. 

The figure laying face down on the floor now heaved a theatrical sigh, remaining in the uncomfortable position for a few moments before finally rising to his feet. 

“Fine, off to find references again ,” he mumbled, making his way to the door.

“Can I organize this for you while you’re gone?” Azira asked hopefully, referring to the hurricane of research materials that had struck his office with a vengeance.

No , Angel, don’t touch it! I’ve told you, it is organized,” Crowley warned, holding his index and middle finger to his eyes before pointing them at Azira and narrowing his gaze. The librarian smiled and held his free hand up to declare his innocence. 

Lumos,” the redhead mumbled, wielding his wand in front of him as he trekked through the library. He hated being alone in it at night. The towering shelves blocked any moonlight that might have come in through the windows. It was so cold Crowley immediately caught a shiver and so silent he could hear his own breath. He nearly jumped out of his skin as he heard a distant sneeze. His feet came together at a halt. There was a student out of bed. 

As he smoothly transformed into a red-bellied black snake, the stone flooring sent a pins-and-needles sensation through his stomach. “Fuck, it’ssss cold,” he hissed, slithering through the rows toward where he’d heard the sneeze. The restricted section, be was realizing now. This student was practically begging for trouble. 

After Crowley bumped his snout against a bookcase for the third time, absolutely unable to see where he was going, he decided to take things a bit more slowly. His infrared detection finally allowed him to spot a small figure anxiously holding up his wand to scan the spines of a row of books. 

“Sssssssomebody’ssss sssssnooping where they ssssshouldn’t be,” Crowley hissed, flicking his tongue and lifting his head to be slightly more on level with the student.

The boy jumped and gasped loudly, flinging his wand to see who had spoken to him. He appeared confused until he lowered his wand and spotted the serpent. A smirk took over his features as he processed the friendly snake’s comment. Adam Young, the animagus noted while wildly wondering what a first year could possibly be looking for here. The Gryffindor squatted down, chest against his knees, and reached out his hand to the snake before him.

“Hello there, little ssssssssnake, where did you come from? You’ll keep my sssssssecret, won’t you?” Adam said in a language that was absolutely not English. 

Crowley’s body froze for a moment, and his mind might have, too. It wasn’t until the boy tried to touch him that he transformed back into his human form. Adam fall backwards, hands flinging behind him to support himself. He stared up at his professor with a mixture of shock and terror. The two wizards seemed to be having several competitions all at once: whose eyes were wider, whose face was paler, and who looked more like they were about to faint on the spot. 

“Come with me,” the professor rapidly formed the words, pulling Adam to his feet by the back of his pajamas and dragging him along hurriedly. He wasn’t sure of many things in this moment, but he was quite certain he was entirely unequipped to handle this situation. 

“Azira,” he called as he neared the office, his heart finding some relief when the familiar figure appeared at the door, “come on, need you in McGonagall’s office.” 

“And where did you find Mr. Young?” Azira asked, narrowing his eyes. 

Crowley’s pace had Adam nearly tripping over his own feet. The librarian practically had to jog to keep up. 

“Restricted section.” 

“The restricted section? ” Azira repeated incredulously, “Mr. Young-”

“We have bigger problems,” Crowley mumbled anxiously, “He-” 

The Herbology professor silenced himself as they twisted and turned through the corridors, his eyes flickering to Azira, then scanning his surroundings, then landing on Adam. The boy looked quite interested in what his professor had been about to say, as he was unsure what bigger problems were being referred to. As far as he knew, sneaking into the restriction section at night had been his greatest misstep. Fell’s face turned to one of concern as he finally examined Crowley’s own, noting his pale complexion and his razor thin pupils. He’d rarely seen him look so shaken. Azira’s scrutinizing gaze fell to Adam as well. The Gryffindor looked from one professor to the other and back again in desperate confusion.

“I what?” he asked, hoping for an answer. 

“Everything’s going to be okay, Adam,” Crowley tried to reassure him, sounding very unsure, himself. The attempt of comfort made the boy more anxious than ever. 

The trio landed in front of a massive and hideous stone gargoyle that eyed the trio curiously. 

“Cu-curio-curiositas- bloody fucking latin,” Crowley cursed under his breath.

The other wizard waited patiently in silence before realizing his friend was looking at him hopelessly. 

“Oh!” he said, clearing his throat and enunciating clearly, “Curiositas autem occidit catus”

Adam jumped back, clinging to Azira’s arm as the statue crawled to the side, revealing a slowly ascending spiral staircase.

“You see? What’s that nonsense. Would have taken me all year,” Crowley mumbled, gesturing for Adam to follow him as he boarded one of the rising steps. The boy anxiously followed after, looking uncertainly at Professor Fell, who gave him a stern but reassuring little smile before stepping on after him. 

The young Gryffindor seemed to forget he was being brought to the Headmistress’s office for disciplinary purposes as the staircase deposited them into the elaborate room. He marveled at it, gazing around at the obscure objects spattered around, the likes of which he’d never seen before.

“In trouble, are we, Young?” 

Adam yelped, jumping back and realizing the voice had come from the sorting hat. 

“Oh,” he remarked, rubbing the back of his head anxiously, “I think so.” 

“Professor Crowley. Professor Fell,” McGonagall acknowledged, looking up from her desk, “what has Mr. Young been up to for you both to find it necessary to escort him here?”

“He was in the restricted section,” Azira lamented, unable to hide his disappointment at the betrayal. 

“That’s not all though- we c-ca-cou-could have handled that,” Crowley was quick to follow up. His two colleagues looked at him intently, offering their full attention. The pureblood overlooked student behavior constantly, as he tried to be the kind of professor he wished he’d had when younger. For him to appear so anxious and serious about a student’s activity was a worrying indicator. He cleared his throat, “I transformed to catch him in the act, and when I did, he spoke to me.” 

Azira furrowed his brow in confusion, wondering why that was grounds for Crowley to drag him here in a frenzy. Likewise, McGonagall pursed her lips, gazing at her staff and waiting for an elaboration.

“In Parseltongue .”

This received a reaction more along the lines of what Crowley was expecting. Azira was unable to withhold a small gasp. McGonagall’s eyes widened, flicking to Adam to measure him up, but her expression remained otherwise unchanged. 

“In what?” Adam asked nervously.

His professors basked in a silence that was deafening to Adam, exchanging secret looks that made him even more uncomfortable before McGonagall finally offered, “Parseltongue, Mr. Young, is the language of serpents. The ability to speak it is remarkably rare and, with only one exception, hereditary.” 

“I didn’t know I was speaking it, honest! I didn’t know talking to snakes would get me in trouble!”

“You’re not in trouble,” Crowley promised.

“Not for that anyway,” Azira added pointedly before something occurred to him, “I thought Mr. Young was a Muggle-born?” 

“I am,” Adam confirmed, “My parents thought it was a joke when I got my letter. They wouldn’ know magic if it smacked ‘em in the face.” 

“Mr. Young,” Minerva started with a growing suspicion, “Would you share with us what it was you were looking for in the restricted section?” 

The boy anxiously ran his hand through his messy brown mop of hair, biting his lip. “Well… ,” he began, looking around at his professors, “I’ve… been makin’ things happen- on accident. All the stuff that’s happened lately, it’s ‘cause of me. I’ll just think about somethin’ too hard, something that I want, or I’m afraid of, and it happens. I couldn’t find any books on how to control it, and I thought maybe the restricted section…” 

“Oh dear,” Azira commented.

“How is that possible?” Crowley marveled. 

Minerva stayed silent, trying to make sense of all this information.

“If Mr. Young is a Parselmouth,” she began thoughtfully, “he may be inclined to be a very powerful wizard, indeed. We know that adolescence can cause irregular magical events to occur.” 

“To the point of manifesting a hundred dementors?” the Herbology professor asked incredulously. 

“In this case, evidently.”

“Er… Minerva,” Azira started, “Are we equipped to handle this?”

“If we aren’t, I can’t imagine who is,” she answered, a point that proved indubitable, “I believe the best course of action would be to monitor Mr. Young closely and learn the patterns of the phenomenon. The continuance of his education is the best way to ensure he learns to control his magic. Until then, it might be best if we give him an amulet with a magic-dampening charm to avoid more dangerous situations- or cheating at quidditch. With the exception of Professor Device, I believe it’s best we keep this amongst ourselves.

“Right,” Crowley agreed, “so we don’t say anything.” 

Azira nodded in confirmation. Adam remained anxious.

“So I’m not... expelled?” he asked cautiously.

“Accidents do happen, Dear Boy, we’ll just have to learn how to minimize them,” Azira reassured. Adam’s shoulders relaxed, and he released a deep sigh of relief, smiling sheepishly at his professors. 

“Let’s get you off to bed,” Crowley said, clasping him on the shoulder and leaving his colleagues to discuss on their own.

“Oh- and Mr. Young,” the librarian called out.

Adam stopped, turning around to look back at Azira, “Yes, Professor Fell?”

“Report to me first thing after class for detention tomorrow.” 

The boy looked absolutely devastated, his hopes that his transgression would be overlooked crushed, “Yes, Professor Fell.” 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

“I’ve done it!” shouted the sixth year Hufflepuff prefect, proudly holding up a vile of Venemous Tentacula juice.

“Look alive, Howler!” Crowley called from across the room, where he currently was holding one of the monstrous plants in his hands and extracting venom from its thorns. The rest of the class was standing at least five feet away from their respective plants, leaping forward and backwards again to attempt to pluck a single leaf at a time. Their professor was not impressed. He’d tried to get more of them to brave harvesting juice or venom from the carnivorous creatures, but very few built the courage, “Cowards, the lot of you.” 

Professor Crowley,” whimpered Hagatha Howler, whose head was currently wrapped in the vines of a Tentacula dragging her towards its open mouth. 

“What did I say?” he groaned. The Herbologist returned his own plant to the table, ignoring as it rattled and reached out to him, affronted at the abrupt halt of attention. He pointed his wand at the base of the vines grasping the girl, “Diffindo”.

The vines snapped off and she flew backwards, bumping into Slytherin Aedan Goosander, who in turn fell onto his own plant, which chomped down on his hand.

“FUCK,” he barked, snatching his hand out of the organism’s mouth and leaping backwards. 

“Antidote’s on my desk, Goosander,” his professor drolled boredly, “You might want to hurry, stunning effect sets in quick. Then, you know, death. Aaaaand I’m going to say that’s a good stopping point for the day. Next time you lot are harvesting venom. No more whining. Howler, gather those leaves before you go, that goes for any of you who had to hack off vines. The rest of you, I appreciate you not destroying my plants. Go cause some trouble today, on me.”

The sixth years whooped as they were dismissed, many of them bantering and saying their farewells to Crowley on their way out. He looked after the stragglers, ensuring no one else got bitten before making the walk back to his office. Well- it was more of a run, really. September had been chilly and wet, October had been unbearably cold, and November had a personal vendetta to kill the cold-blooded man. 

“Oi!” he responded to the students who attempted to greet him as he sprinted past. It was snowing today, and Crowley could think of little else but kicking off his shoes and peeling off his soaking wet socks. The overcast skies made the pureblood incredibly groggy, tired, and irritable. He simply wanted to settle down in front of his fireplace with a steaming mug of coffee and a copy of the Prophet. 

The heavy wooden door of Crowley’s office slammed against the wall as he threw it open.

“Ow!” hissed a man standing next to a startled and fluffed-up Twit. He shook his hand that had obviously just been victim to one of the owl’s unforgiving bites. 

“Oh, sorry ‘bout it, he’s a bit of a bastard,” the owl’s owner said, just now realizing how odd it was that anyone was waiting in his office for him.

The man in question sported Auror’s robes, dark hair, round glasses, a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead, and a face that Crowley hadn’t seen in twenty years- well, in person, anyway. 

“Potter?” he asked incredulously, wondering if his brain was playing tricks on him, “Is there some kind of class reunion or something I don’t know about? You stopping by to check on the kids?” He guessed wildly, but none of his speculations served as an explanation as to why Harry Potter would be here, in his office. 

“No, er, here on business,” the Auror explained.

“Ah. Not the most comforting thing to hear from an Auror standing in the middle of my office. Fancy a cup of coffee before we get down to the dirty deeds?” 

“Please,” Harry responded, looking as exhausted as Crowley felt. An awkward silence filled the room as Crowley poured them each a cup of coffee and settled down into the chair behind his desk. 

He cleared his throat, “Erm… Ginny doin’ good?” 

“Yeah, she’s great,” Harry exchanged awkwardly, “And you, how are your… er… plants?”

“Good, good,” Crowley answered. 

Several awkward moments of silence passed between them.

“We never were good at small talk, were we, Potter?”

“No, we weren’t,” his old classmate said, appearing very relieved, “Let me get straight to it. The Ministry received a tip that you were a Death Eater responsible for the recent attacks on Hogwarts. I’ve been sent to investigate you.”

Now would be a good time to explain exactly who was responsible for the attacks on Hogwarts, but Crowley had sworn to secrecy. He was not about to turn in a rogue 11-year-old who’s emotions were tied to his magic into the Ministry of Magic. He was an enormous liability, and there was no conceivable way they wouldn’t take action.

“Does the Mmm- Mi- eh, Ministry investigate every wild accusation they recieve, or is it just my lucky day?” he asked incredulously.

“It came from a source they decided was reliable. You also have connections to Death Eaters.” 

“What? You mean my vegetable mother? You think I’m in cahoots with her? ‘Yes, Mum, twitch your eyelids if you mean for me to have a forest attack the place of work I depend on for survival’,” he mocked in an over-enthusiastic voice. 

“Look,” Harry said, feeling annoyed. He and Crowley had been too sarcastic when they were in school for them to be anything resembling friends, “It’s a school. We both know parents get a bit twitchy when they worry their kids are being taught by someone dangerous. They need to know they can trust you.” 

“And you? As a parent, what do you think? Do you trust me with your kids?” Anthony combatted defensively, eyes boring into Harry. He was pulling out every argument he could manage.

The Auror looked conflicted, and finally admitted, “I do. James adores you, and Albus wouldn’t shut it about your class all summer. You’ve been there for both of them when they were going through it. From one cursed boy to another, I know you’re just a victim of the stigmas held against you. But I’m not here as a parent, Cra- Crowley, or as a schoolmate. I have to do my job, and that’s to investigate you.” 

Several beats of silence passed as Crowley stared into the swirling liquid in his mug, nails picking at a chip in the handle of it. He had no idea what he’d done to deserve this. He was a good teacher. He loved his students. He was dedicated to his work and was a staunch advocate for Muggle-borns and half-bloods. He hadn’t spoken to a Death Eater in decades. He’d spent the last twenty years trying to undo the damage from a curse they wielded to wound the world. This wasn’t right. 

“Why didn’t they send Emiliano Heller?” he finally asked. 

“C’mon, Crowley, that’d be like the Ministry having me investigate a Weasley. Big conflict of interest. Besides, he’s in the International Affairs unit.”

“Don’t you think if I was responsible for these attacks I wouldn’t have nearly died at the hands of the Dementors? Why would I have been the first responder to the forest situation?” 

Harry looked at him uncomfortably. There was nothing he could say that he hadn’t already, so he said nothing. 

“This is Goodbody’s doing, isn’t it?” Crowley hissed.

“Dunno,” the other wizard said, honestly.

Anthony set his mug down to hide his shaking hands, swallowing hard as he desperately fought  to suppress his rising emotions and building tears. He was not about to cry in front of Harry Potter. Another couple moments passed as he tried to compose himself, “How does it work?” 

“I take all your belongings from your office and quarters, we inspect them, we bring them back in a few days. If we don’t find anything, you’re in the clear. I’m- er- here to collect them now.” 

Crowley’s heart skipped a beat as he remembered his lost Time-Turner. Ever since Halloween, he’d been unable to find it. If the Ministry found that combined with his notes on Time Magic, he’d be fired for sure, and maybe arrested. 

“Now?” he asked quietly.

“Er… yeah, sorry,” Harry replied lamely. 

He allowed the Herbologist to compose himself again, though Crowley seemed to be entering something closer to a trance-like state. 

“Even my plants?” he asked almost inaudibly. 

The Auror cleared his throat and nodded, unable to look at his old schoolmate without being overwhelmed with guilt.

“They’ll die if no one takes care of them, even for a few days,” he lamented pitifully, pouring all his heartache over the entire situation into his inquiries about his plants.

“I’ll… er… I can get someone to look after them,” Harry compromised, wishing they’d sent someone else to do this.

“Right… eh… gh… this one needs to be watered three times a day. The Valerian’s soil needs to remain damp, but don’t over water it either. The three on the left only need to be watered once daily, and the other one only on Thursday. The stromanthe needs just an ounce of fertilizer mixed into its soil every morning. The puffapods can’t be in the sun during the height of the day, but still need a good amount of light in the morning and just before sunset. And then there’s- should I write this down?” he rambled.

Harry stared blankly at the plants, then slowly turned back to Crowley, “Er, you know what? I’ll check them out before I go.”

“Oh,” the Herbologist said, “thanks.” He stood, reaching to gather the materials for his book. 

“Sorry, Crowley, you can’t take anything,” Potter mumbled, bracing himself as Anthony inhaled deeply, looking very much like he was suppressing a loud scream. 

The professor leaned forward on his desk for several seconds, pacing his breathing before finally managing out through gritted teeth, “Right. I’ll leave you to it, then.” 

“Right,” Harry parotted. 

Crowley’s hands reached around, searching for something to grasp, before remembering they weren’t permitted to take anything. He awkwardly straightened a stack of papers before righting his robes and heading out the office door that led to the corridor. 

An episode of dissociation tangled around his mind. This was all too much. The idea that he would have to leave this place he’d called home for nearly twenty years was too daunting to entertain. The world around him blurred as all he could allow himself to think about was finding a way to stop. He didn’t want to feel anymore. He didn’t want to remember this. He didn’t want to torment himself for three straight days wondering if his life was about to be ripped apart at the seams. 

A good choice at the time would be to go to Azira. Azira, who always could calm him down. Azira, who always knew exactly what to say. But Crowley wasn’t in a state to make good choices. Instead, his feet carried him towards the potions lab. Several students attempted to greet him, but he floated past with no reaction, his mind on a different plane of existence. He rushed through the dungeons, breezing through the laboratory. Anathema wasn’t there, that made this easier. No questions to answer or objections to overcome. 

He burst into the store room, towered high with different sizes and shapes of vials that contained colorful arrays of potions. The catalogue was pulled off the nearest shelf and dropped unceremoniously onto the stone floor. Crowley dropped to his knees, flipping the book open and using a painted purple nail to scan the effects column. He would settle for almost anything here, ‘Momentary forgetfulness’, ‘relaxation’, ‘sedative’, anything would do. Under one potion listing, he read the words ‘dreamy mental state’, and without reading any of the other descriptions, he found the correlating potion. The desperate man pressed his thumb against the cork of the bottle containing a thick purple sludge, popping it off and chugging it without hesitation. 

It tasted abhorrent, and he couldn’t care less.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

“Oh, that’s too kind, Daisy, are you entirely sure?” 

Azira stood in the kitchen. Dozens of house-elves bustled past, toting trays piled high with food and pots of boiling liquids. In his hands he held a full-sized, mouth-watering Fresh Fruit Tart. 

“Oh yes! Daisy is happy to give this to Master Fell! Daisy made it fresh just for him! Perhaps Master Fell can share it with his friends?” the tiny female elf peeped, looking entirely pleased with herself. 

“Thank you so much, Dear Girl, I think I will,” Azira reassured. He offered the elf a warm smile before carefully navigating his exit, avoiding interfering the paths of any of the other scrambling creatures. 

As of late, he’d been making frequent visits to the kitchens towards the early afternoon. The wizard had been plagued with stress over his new appeal to Crowley, and snacks served as a useful and much-enjoyed distraction. 

When an adult figure abruptly crashed into Azira, he struggled to avoid dropping the dessert.

“Oh! Sorry Azira,” rushed out Professor Device, who had been attempting to read a student’s pathetic excuse for a half-finished essay and brazenly walk forth simultaneously. She was just returning from chasing said student down to the Hufflepuff dormitories after they’d attempted to leave without turning their homework in. 

“No worries, my dear. Say, would you care to enjoy this with me? It’s far too much for me to eat alone.” 

The witch eyed the dessert appraisingly before shrugging indifferently and smiling at Azira, “sure, couldn’t hurt. I didn’t have much lunch today so I am quite hungry. Let’s go and enjoy it in my office. We’ll have less interruptions than the library.” 

Her friend seemed to be intrigued by the offer of a pester-free environment, and matched her pace as he accompanied her down to the dungeons. The corridors grew less busy as only the occasional Slytherin would pass by. 

“Sooo,” Anathema started, failing at an attempt to appear innocent in her line of questioning, “We haven’t really had a proper conversation, just the two of us, since we went to London, hmm?”

Azira was none the wiser of her objective, as he always fiercely believed everyone he spoke to had only the best intentions. He smiled at her obliviously, “I suppose not! I’m so sorry for it, Dear Girl. Is there something you’ve wanted to discuss?”

She tried to pull down the corners of her mouth to mask the mischievous grin forming, “Oh it’s just- I noticed you’ve been acting quite oddly around Crowley, lately. And I couldn’t help but wonder if something happened between you, you know, after I fell asleep?”

Her colleague averted his gaze, swallowing hard, and the corner of Anathema’s mouth turned upwards. 

“No, of course not. I just brushed his hair for a few moments and went to bed.”

“... You’ve been acting like a shameful school boy because you brushed his hair? I don’t think so. Dirty dreams, Azira?” 

His ears turned red.

“That’s- ! No, it’s-… ,” he paused to think of how he might honestly defend himself against the allegations. Since that night, there had been dreams, which did indeed contribute to his inflating sense of shame. He finally came up with an answer, pleased with his ability to both dodge the question and avoid lying, “That’s not what happened that night.” 

“Hmmm, then what did?”

“Anathema, please, I really would rather not discuss this.”

“Why? What are you hiding?” A moment passed of Anathema squinting scrutinously at his pinkening face. She gasped in realization, grinning like a mad woman, “Azira, did you think of Crowley while-? You know, ‘enjoying yourself’?”

Azira nearly tripped over his own feet. He cleared his throat uncomfortably and straightened his bowtie, trying to regain his composure. But it had already been lost, and Anathema couldn’t be more pleased about it. 

“I don’t appreciate what you’re insinuating, Dear Girl.”

“Oh come on, jump his bones. You know he’d be eager. He’d probably let you do anything. Hell, you could leave him tied up naked in the Forbidden Forest and he’d thank you for it.”

Azira looked as if he might die of embarrassment where he stood, but he couldn’t help but consider Anathema’s point. Crowley had most certainly displayed interest before, though the librarian wasn’t sure if the flirting was genuine or if it was playful teasing. The witch seemed to be pretty sure of the statement, perhaps she knew something Azira didn’t. It might be awkward to sleep with such a close friend, but it didn’t have to be. Crowley seemed perfectly content keeping sex casual, as he was unashamed of speaking about one night stands and friends with benefits. Professor Fell weighed the pros against the cons, “You really think he’d be interested? Has he said something to you about it?”

The witch looked overjoyed that he was asking in a manner that appeared quite sincere. Just as she was about to answer, they passed the potions lab, and heard a great ruckus of metal clanging against stone. 

“What now?” Anathema sighed in irritation, aggressively swinging open the laboratory door. Both her and her companion’s jaw dropped at the scene they had stumbled upon. 

Crowley stood atop a table triumphantly, below him lay a metal cage containing several frogs ribbiting loudly in alarm. The cage door had fallen open, and the wizard waved his arms aggressively towards them, hissing, “GO! Get out of here! Before she gets back! Be free of your oppressor!” 

“Anthony,... you okay there, buddy?” Anathema asked, quite startled by the wild behavior. When the pureblood’s head shot up, and he raised his glasses to see who the intruders were, the pupils of his eyes were so dilated they nearly eclipsed the entirety of each iris

“SHIT,” he barked, “It’s the fuzz! GO! SCATTER!”

The gangly figure dropped down, barrel-rolling off the table and grunting as he hit the floor. He got on his elbows and knees, army-crawling on the floor beside the frogs, who were lazily hopping away. 

“Oh Dear,” Azira said as Anathema beelined towards the store room.

“Crowley, what did you drink?” she said flatly. 

“BACK, you mad dictator! You can’t HURT them anymore!” he shouted, beginning to grab at the confused frogs and fling them through the air, “Fly away! Quick- fly! Fly! Flap your webbed little feet!” 

He looked up in confusion when his nose nearly pressed against a pair of brown loafers. His golden eyes peered upwards, through his sunglasses, and saw a very concerned looking librarian. Azira kneeled down, pulling Crowley off the floor.

“My dear, are you feeling alright? What’s happened?” he asked gently, holding his friend by his forearms. 

“Angel! Thank Satan you’re here! They were crying. They asked me for help. They said she’s a monster! But it’s okay, I liberated them! I’m a bloody hero!” 

Anathema rounded the tables, coming towards him quickly. Anthony jumped back, crouching down and wielding his hands as if he was about to deliver a karate chop to her throat, “Back, you beast!”

She paused for a moment, looking between him and Azira briefly before continuing forward, “He-”

“Don’t take my eyes out!” Crowley cried, jumping behind Azira and attempting to hide, “That’s what she does to frogs, you know?” 

“You’re not a frog, Crowley,” the Muggle-born reassured sympathetically, allowing the spindly figure to wind around him. 

“I wouldn’t bother trying to convince him,” Anathema started, “He’s drank enough thestral tranquilizing potion to knock out a full-grown stallion.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“No, no, don’t cry.”

“I’m not crying.”

“It’s okay, little baby pumpkin. Y- yo- you’ll be big and orange someday. November’s not too late!” 

“I’m not a pumpkin.”

The tall redhead stumbled back and forth as he aggressively stroked his hand against the front of the Potion Master’s face, pausing only to shove a finger to her mouth. She leaned backwards, black eyes crossed as they focused on the long digit at her lips.

“Shhhh, shhhhhh, don’t speak. I’ll m- mae- make you cupcakes.”

Before the bemused witch could respond, the wizard slipped out of her hold and dodged under Azira’s arm, grabbing several bottles of miscellaneous potion ingredients. Anathema attempted to chase after him only to find he was much more slippery than any serpent. 

“No, no, no, no! CROWLEY!” 

Amber eyes flicked up at her, staring unwaveringly as the contents of six different bottles oozed onto the laboratory floor. 

“Don’t-”

The delighted man crouched forward, gazing into her dark eyes excitedly and raising his arms readily over the mess-in-progress.

“I’m warning you, Anthony.”

With great enthusiasm, Crowley smacked his hands down into the several different textures and colors spread across the ground, mixing them together on the stone until a frothing grey goo coated his long fingers. He whistled idly while he worked. Anathema had to take a prolonged moment to keep herself from wrapping her hands around his neck.

“Don’t you want cupcakes, you stupid baby pumpkin? I’m making them just for you.” 

“I don’t,” she sighed.

“Oh,” he said, looking down at the mess he’d created, then shrugging as he fell back onto his haunches, “That’s okay, there’s far too many horned slugs in this batter.” 

“Oh dear,” Azira said, managing to say little else these last several minutes of his and Anathema’s combined efforts failing to subdue the delusional man. 

The witch among them kept her patience, but only barely as she gritted her teeth, “What on earth could have triggered such a lapse in judgement that he’d down a potion without even reading what it was?” 

“I’m afraid I don’t know,” her sober colleague responded. 

“Quick! Get off the floor!” Crowley cried, clambering onto the surface of the nearest work bench and hopping haphazardly across several others on his way to the other side of the room.

“Anthony, dear,” Azira said anxiously, scurrying after him and holding his arms out in preparation to catch the teetering figure balancing on one foot, “Please come down!” 

“I can’t, Angel! It’s lava! Of c- coa- course you can stand in it; you can do anything! Bet you could walk on water.” 

“The floor’s not lava, I promise, please come down,” the blond pleaded, holding his hands up to the pure-blood.

“Dice que el piso no es lava,” Crowley explained. His focus waned in and out. He slowly began turning in circles on the table, transfixed on a floating object that was unseen to his companions. 

“Who are you talking to, Dear Boy?”

“The tiny blue whales, don’t you see them? They’re wearing top hats and monocles. They came to visit all the way from Equador! They said you’re lying ‘bout the floor.”

“Well, who do you believe, me or the whales?” Azira offered with a warm smile. 

The confused wizard leaned over to look cautiously on the ground, then back to the angel in front of him. With a nervous little groan, he took Professor Fell’s hand, sitting on the edge of the wooden workbench and cautiously pressing a tip toe to the floor. A loud gasp escaped him, and he dropped both feet to the ground with a loud smack of his boots, jumping from one foot to the other and marveling, “I’m immortal.”

“Oh dear. No. No, you’re not, Crowley, but you are very brave, well done,” Azira entertained him, clasping one of the Herbologist’s hands in his own and patting it comfortingly. No doubt things would escalate quite quickly if he allowed Crowley to run around believing he was invincible. 

The redhead beamed at the praise, puffing out his chest. He allowed the shorter figure to guide him to an empty cauldron and clean his hands with a towel before wrapping them around a licorice root, “Will you stir this dear? Wouldn’t want it to burn.” 

“Is this my new wand?” Anthony gasped quietly, overjoyed as he clasped the root in his hand and gazed hopefully at Azira. This whole situation was quite ridiculous, and it would certainly take a trip south if anyone outside the room were to discover the man’s state, but the spectating wizard would be lying if he were to suggest there wasn’t something incredibly endearing about seeing his friend in the childlike state of wonder. 

“Absolutely, all yours,” Azira supported, taking a moment to ensure his new charge was transfixed before making it through the ruined room back to Anathema. She gazed at the disaster zone, unable to decide if she was enraged, amused, or impressed. The chalk board that had once featured meticulously written notes and lists on it was obscured in several scribbles that had been applied when Crowley decided he had been hired to illustrate A History of Hogwarts. A variety of mundane classroom objects lined the walls of the room, believed to serve as protection against impending boggarts. Several cauldrons of varying sizes were stacked high on the centermost table, serving as a makeshift drum set built when they had been ‘serenaded’ with a percussion-only performance of Fat Bottomed Girls.

The witch held her breath for a solid thirty seconds, amazed when Crowley’s unwavering concentration on stirring a non-existent potion finally yielded a moment of peace. 

“I… best be getting back to the library,” Azira started.

“Oh no. Nope. No fucking way. You are not leaving the Weird Sisters’ newest member here with me,” the witch spat out defensively. 

“I don’t mean to- it’s just that I really do have work to do,” the wizard explained guiltily, worrying at his lip. 

“So far you’re the only one that can seem to manage Loony McGoo over here, so here’s what I propose: you take him back to his office so he can make a mess that he has to clean up, I tidy up here and take approximately five shots of vodka, and then I’ll come take over babysitting so you can get to work.” 

Azira found himself unable to argue, as he didn’t feel particularly comfortable abandoning Crowley in his current state to begin with, “Can’t we… I don’t know, give him something else to make him come down a bit? He seems to be in such a fragile state. I’d hate him getting hurt” 

“Not unless you want him down and out for a good few days. He took a pretty ridiculous amount, but he’ll be tuckered out in a couple hours and then pass out ‘til morning,” she mumbled, “At least- I think. Never exactly hung around the crowds that recreationally took tranquilizing potion intended for massive magical beasts.”

“I’m sure it wasn’t recreational…”

“So what, it just fell into his mouth?” Anathema asked incredulously. 

“These co- cul- colors are getting so loud,” Crowley complained, “I think it’s over-brewed.” 

“Oh no, you’ve done marvelously, Dear Boy. What a great help you are. It’s time to go back to your office now,” Azira praised, exchanging a nervous look with Anathema as he made his way to collect Crowley. 

“I don’t want to go alone! There’s Nargles out there, Luna Lovegood told me all ‘bout it second year!”

“You won’t be alone. I’ll protect you from the Nargles. I promise. Don’t you trust me, Anthony?” the librarian asked innocently.

“‘Course I do,” Anthony attested so honestly that it made Azira’s heart squeeze in his chest, “Do you even have to ask?” 

“Good, let’s be on then,” his guardian pressed gently, taking Crowley’s arm in his own.

“Goodbye, little pumpkin!”

“See you soon, Crowley,” Anathema sighed, giving him a half-hearted pat on the shoulder before turning to the room that had once been her potions lab, deciding where to possibly start. 

The journey to the Herbology professor’s office proved to be much more difficult than Azira possibly could have anticipated. In an effort to avoid any unpredictable encounters with professors or students, he made the decision to navigate the outdoors. 

The sky was a gloomy, overcast, uninspired shade of grey. Lazy snowflakes danced downwards, much less daunting than the aggressive bits of ice that had crashed down from the heavens with a vengeance the day before. Both the men’s shoes and socks became soaked in the thirty centimeters of snow. While the detour was undeniably the best choice, the journey was hard for the cold-blooded man he escorted. Less than halfway through their trek, Crowley let out a great whine and fell sideways into the fresh, powdery precipitation, squirming until he lay on his back.

“I’m so tired,” he complained. 

“I know, Dear Boy, it’s only a bit further. You’ll feel so much better when we get you into the warm. I’ll read to you if you’d like,” Azira attempted to lure his charge. Once the redhead began making a snow angel, he knew he should stop him before he became too cold to move, but the joy on his face made the task a difficult one. 

“Look! I’m making a sssssnow-you!” 

The blond smiled at the confused sentiment, “It looks quite lovely.” 

“Come make a friend for snow-Azira!” 

“Crowley, aren’t you cold?”

“Aww I can wait! C’mon in, Angel! Water’s fine!” 

In Professor Fell’s experience, the more inebriated Crowley was, the more genuine and pure-natured the temptations he offered became. They were honest, vulnerable, and pleading, and Azira had paramount difficulty in refusing to indulge them. With a quick look around, he only surveyed a blanket of soft, white, unmarked snow. It appeared no one dared to go out into the cold today. 

“Well, alright. Quickly though! Here I come!” 

The Muggle-born spun on his heel, grinning at Crowley’s giddy giggling as he spread his arms and fell backwards into the fluffy substance coating the ground with a small ‘oof’. The snow melted much more quickly under Azira, as he was much warmer. A shiver crawled up his spin and he yelped at the cold, drawing a louder laugh from his companion. He made quick work of drawing his arms and legs through the snow, huffing when he found it satisfactory. 

“How’s that?” 

Upon turning to receive Crowley’s response, his breath was drawn from his lungs, and he was rendered unable to coax it back in. Not even slightly due to the icy substance surrounding him, he was shaken to his core. Crowley’s glasses were pushed up onto his head, still. A gleeful grin was worn on his face, skin wrinkling at the corners of his eyes. His rich red hair provided a stark contrast to the pale snow it was splayed out upon, and the sunshine provided from the stars in his eyes was warm enough to deem the chill piercing Azira’s flesh utterly insignificant. He reached out his hand, grasping the tips of his angel’s well-manicured fingers into his own. Crowley’s digits were freezing, they sent a jolt up through his companion’s arm and deep into his heart. It wasn’t the same as the cold from crystallized water beneath him, or the smarting wind in the air. This cold was one that made Azira feel alive in the way only Crowley managed to impart upon him. 

“Much better,” Anthony crooned, “Now you’re not alone.” 

The sun in his eyes finally broke away from the sky in Azira’s, and the librarian finally remembered to breathe. Crowley meticulously rose to his feet in an effort to preserve his art. He reached down to take Azira’s hand, bracing himself and leaning backwards onto his feet as he yanked the other man up off the ground. 

“If you made me, did I make you?” the shorter wizard asked playfully, taking it upon himself to brush the snow from his companion’s hair with equal amounts of consideration and self-indulgence. 

The taller pursed his lips as he examined their hard work, carefully tip toeing around the imprint Azira had left and sticking his fingers on either side of the head to create the illusion of horns.

“Th-th-there!” he said with a shiver, thrusting his arms forward and looking quite pleased with himself, “That’s a bit more like it, eh?”

The librarian laughed, unable to argue, “I suppose it does. Now, are you quite ready to go inside?” 

“Do you think the mermaids want to have tea? Do they drink tea? Can they under water? Wouldn’t really work, would it? Physics. I’m going to ask anyway,” Crowley said with the confidence of a man wholeheartedly embracing ignorance. Azira recalled the purpose of his mission all at once as his charge used his long, agile legs to scurry away from him towards the lake. 

“Wait! Don’t go in the lake, Crowley! It’s too cold!” 

The redhead was already pulling off his robes as he broke into a run, preparing to leap into the water shielded only by a thin layer of ice. 

Crowley,” Azira urged nervously, beginning to jog in a futile attempt to catch up to the troublemaker before he could enter the lake. He picked up the robes as he passed them, throwing them over his arm. 

“Chamomile or English Breakfast?” Crowley shouted as he took one last giant leap, creating quite a spectacle as the ice cracked around him and the water splashed upwards onto his sweater. He was submerged down to his thighs. Azira’s face turned pale as he rushed near the shore, watching in horror as the delirious man plunged his arms down into the lake and fished around near the bottom. He seemed to find purchase with a type of aquatic plant he immediately uprooted and held up inquisitively for his friend to see, the weed writhing in his hand as he did so, “Did you lose a shoe?”

A mixture of anxiety and worry coursed through Azira’s veins as he looked onto the scene of the soaking wet Herbologist. He had only on one occasion persuaded Crowley to regale him with the gist of his curse. His great-grandfather, for some reason unbeknownst to Azira, had been cursed while transforming back from a snake. He and every male heir that would become of him would be plagued to carry the specific serpentine features that would display to all the world what and who the Crawly’s truly were- snakes. Crowley had smarmily noted that it was a good thing he had no intention of procreating. There were only three features of the curse Azira had noticed: the serpentine eyes, the forked tongue, and Crowley’s inability to maintain body-temperature the way warm-blooded creatures should. Exposure like this to such harsh temperatures could potentially kill him. 

Anthony J. Crowley,” he commanded with a presence the pure-blood had only heard from him once before, “Come here this moment!” 

For a moment, the figure stood frozen in place, golden eyes wide and fixated on Azira. As if he were in a trance, Anthony loosened his grip on the organism in his hand, letting it splash down into the waves below. He’d seen what happened to those who didn’t heed Azira Fell when he carried that tone, and he dared not disobey. His feet mechanically trudged forth past the shore despite his limbs growing stiff and noncompliant. By the time he made it to the location indicated by his guardian’s demandingly pointed finger, it was clear he was having difficulty moving at all. His teeth chattered noisily and the pink complexion he so often sported around the man he was so fond of was now a light blue. 

“I d-d-don’t-t-t think I can m-mm-move,” Anthony whimpered, his arms frozen across his chest as they uselessly attempted to generate warmth. 

Azira finally allowed his features to soften as Crowley’s transfixed gaze locked onto him and awaited his next command. 

“Oh dear,” he tutted with a sympathetic sigh, “Are you able to change into your snake form?” 

His friend looked anxious at this, eyes bouncing back and forth between Azira and the cold snow beneath him. 

“It will be okay, Crowley. Trust me,” he reassured, holding out a hand to the shivering figure. 

It wasn’t hesitation that took Crowley so long. He never hesitated when his angel requested his trust, as he’d full heartedly given it decades ago. It took what appeared to be a great amount of concentration for him to reach out his long, thin hand to take the soft palm that had been offered. Azira met him half-way, and with what appeared to be a great deal of insecurity on his companion’s part, he soon held a serpent in his hand. The red-bellied snake flicked out his tongue in a botched attempt to hiss at the cold, trying and failing to recoil inward toward himself. 

The human wizard quickly unbuttoned the top fastening of his vest, depositing the poor creature into the garment and holding him carefully as he wrapped his robes around himself to trap any heat the best he could. His feet carried them faster than he ever believed they could have, past the greenhouses and towards the familiar ivy-covered outdoor entrance to Crowley’s office. Towards the end of the trek, his heart was pounding with worry at the motionless figure in his arms. That was, until a tiny serpentine head slithered upwards to curl into the curve of his neck, desperately soaking in the warmth found there. He breathed a sigh of relief, opening the door to the office and wasting no time in igniting the fire. 

The snake that had been quite enjoying sapping him of his body heat hissed as he withdrew it from his clothing, setting it in front of the fire. 

“Come on, then. Transform back. We’ll get you dried off,” he encouraged, pleased as the serpent reluctantly morphed to present as a decidedly less blue man. Crowley squinted as the pear wand was pointed at him, forgetting what was happening in his dazed state, “Tergeo.”

The liquid seemed to evaporate from the very fibers of the fine clothing, and Azira wasted no time before flicking yet another pattern through the air, “Focillo.”

Crowley visibly relaxed as he soaked in the effects of the warming charm, sighing deeply, “Ughh. Thank you, Angel.” 

“Of course, Dear Boy,” Azira reassured, wrapping Crowley’s robes around their owner’s shivering shoulders. He turned to the desk in the room to withdraw the blankets he knew were inside, knowing full well the man loved to nest when cold. He paused. Something wasn’t right. Not only was he unable to find what he was looking for, but the entire drawer seemed to be missing its contents. Daring to snoop, he opened a couple others, again finding nothing. His eyes peered over the edge of the usually chaotic desk to find it entirely barren. Finally, he stood, looking to the bookshelves below the windowsills and finding that, beneath the ever-present plants, they were devoid of their inhabitants. He realized now the room was empty of everything but the portraits, furnishings, and plants.

“Crowley,” he said slowly, turning to the man who was squatted before the fire and staring at the flames in a trance, “Where are your things?” 

“An au- an a, auro- an orangutan took them,” he mumbled back. 

The blond stared at the back of his head, desperately confused. 

“He means an auror, I’m afraid,” Herbert Beery said from his frame on the wall.

Azira raised his eyebrows, holding his arms behind his back as he turned to properly face the painted wizard, “An auror? Whatever for?”

“Ministry’s put him under investigation. Think he’s a Death Eater. Think he’s responsible for all the nonsense happening lately. Probably wouldn’t if they saw the nonsense we saw him get up to here, the great buffoon. No idea why they don’t ever think to ask the portraits, it’s as if they forget we exist!” 

“That does sound difficult,” Azira sympathized instinctively, only half-listening to the end of Beery’s rant. His mind was buzzing.

This explained everything. A litany of emotions tore him in separate directions. First was an overwhelming swell of anger that someone would dare accuse Crowley of such monstrosities. Crowley, who was so beloved by his students. Crowley, whose face could light up a room at the mention of a rare plant. Crowley, who’d nearly died defending Hogwarts- not once, but twice. Next came grief. It was no secret that the pure-blood wizard had never learned to manage his negative emotions. The trait so many perceived as broodiness was a symptom of emotional neglect for all his fundamental years alongside the inability to process distress. Lastly came disappointment. Azira could only wonder why his friend hadn’t come to find him as soon as he’d received the crushing news. The coping mechanism he’d resorted to was absolutely unacceptable, dangerous, idiotic, and self-destructive. Anthony was too intelligent and too concerned about upkeeping his reputation for Azira to allow this misdemeanor to slide in any capacity. 

He tasted several forming lectures on the tip of his tongue at once. They died just as quickly when he turned to the sight of Crowley mirroring the movements of one of the portrait occupants near the fireplace. 

“When did I grow a beard?” 

“You haven’t, Crowley.” 

“This is a weird mirror, then.”

“I’m not a mirror, you daft fool,” the stately man within the frame scoffed, causing Crowley to leap back, falling over the arm of his sofa with a mangled shout. He squinted suspiciously at the wall-mounting before catching a glimpse of his plants out of the corner of his eye and gasping loudly. The heat was contributing considerably to another spike in energy, and Azira had to withhold a groan. The spindly figure somersaulted off the sofa, landing harshly on his arse as he crashed to the ground. He barely took time to rub his rear end before scrambling over to his plants.

“Have you met my friends?” he drawled inquisitively, crouching down and gesturing to the array of life with both arms.

Azira gave a half-hearted smile, his mind still far away as he attempted to appease his friend, “No- well, yes. We’ve crossed paths on several occasions, though I suppose you could say we were never formally introduced.” 

“Well let me do the honors!” Crowley offered enthusiastically. He began with a plant that looked like a variant of the one Azira had seen at the botanist in Hogsmeade. It sported white pods oozing a thick blue pus, balanced precariously on a long spiky stem, “This one I call Fern Lillypilly, a guy I once slept with, because it too is so nasty no one cares to examine the properties of its contents. I mean. Is it really worth it? Gross. Oh! And this one’s Casper Doe.”

He gestured to the rare Niffler’s Fancy, with it’s beautiful shimmering copper leaves, “After another old fuck-buddy, because wow, yeah, it’s pretty, nice to look at, but it has absolutely no practical application. Nothing going on in there whatsoever. Zero useful content.”

Azira raised his brows, intrigued by the introduction’s slow transition into a colorful lesson about Crowley’s sexual history. 

“And then this one’s name is Harvey Strix,” he gestured to a simple flower of snowy white petals and a pretty disposition, “because it, like Harvey, begged me to take it home every time I saw it for five months straight, and when I finally did, what it put out was an incredible disappointment. Ah- and this one’s Jeremy.” 

The blond waited a beat for Crowley to elaborate, admiring the lovely purple-black berries sporting tiny, glowing, crescent shaped seeds. He realized as the plant-owner gazed at him expectantly that no further explanation was coming

“Why Jeremy?” he entertained him. 

“Oh, I dunno. Looks like a Jeremy, doesn’t he?” 

Azira gazed into Crowley’s cloudy eyes for a few prolonged moments, watching him stand with a wide stance in front of all the plants, looking quite pleased with himself.

“Well, very well met, all of you. And how are you feeling, Dear Boy?”

“I feel great! You?”

“Hm… I feel,” Azira started, withholding a laugh and reviewing all the new information he now obtained about Crowley’s typically very vaguely mentioned affairs. He understood now why his beau’s were never mentioned in detail and, furthermore, why Crowley had a strict no-romance policy, “Informed.”

“Good then!” Crowley cheered, “let’s celebrate!” 

“What did you have in mind?”

Crowley drummed his fingers on the smooth wood of his desk as he slid by, “Alcohol. Quite extraordinary amounts of alcohol.”

“Oh dear, I’m not sure that’s a good idea, Crowley,” the librarian started, softly but with an undeniable firmness. 

The excitable wizard was already reaching deep in his drawers, so far that nearly the entire upper half of his body disappeared into it, his knees awkwardly bent on either side to brace himself.

“Where the hell did it go? Bloody Nargles! I told you!” he called from the confines of the expanded space. Slowly, his spindly legs relaxed, sliding against the floor so his lower half was comically spilled out of the drawer. 

“Crowley?” Azira asked nervously, hurrying forward and becoming startled as Crowley slid backwards out of it and splayed out on the rug. 

“Everything’s so slow all of a sudden,” he drawled, blinking slowly as he began to dissociate. 

“Do you want to sit down?” 

The Herbologist nodded his head lazily, taking Azira’s hand with gratitude and allowing himself to be guided to the couch.

“Read to me? Said you would,” he reminded.

“Of course, though I’m not sure I have anything that would be of interest to you!”

“That’s alright. Anything’s fine.” 

Azira complied with a comforting smile, reaching into the robe pocket he’d had cast an expansion charm on and withdrawing a Jane Austen novel he’d been re-reading. He sat next to Crowley, near the arm rest, and found his place before setting a steady pace with a clear, soothing voice that filled the void left in Crowley’s office. He was surprised when, after several minutes, he felt the light weight of Anthony’s body press against him, resting his head on his angel’s shoulder and draping an arm across his chest. The blond’s cheek pressed against the top of his friend’s head, and with a moment’s hesitation, he carefully raised his free hand to pet those red curls he was so fond of. Minding to keep it gentle, he curled his fingers into the soft locks, falling back into his reading and reveling in the feeling of Crowley’s body melting against his. 

Just as he believed the animagus had fallen asleep against him, he heard a barely intelligible mumble of, “Are we there yet?” 

“Are we where, Dear Boy?”

“Wherever this port key is taking us, we’ve been spinning for so long, I’m getting dizzy.” 

“We’re not going anywhere, I promise.”

“Angel.”

“Dearest?”

“Am I really?” 

“Of course! You’re right here with me, perfectly safe, and you’ll feel just tickety-boo by tomorrow.”

“N-nn-no, I mean am I really your dearest?” 

The question took Azira by surprise. He pursed his lips as he entertained the thought with his full consideration. Truly, he didn’t intend to use the endearment, but if he had to ask himself, he supposed Crowley truly was the most precious and irreplaceable part of his life. They’d only just come together fifteen months prior, and admittedly, he’d become quite attached. He couldn’t imagine a future in which he didn’t have the opportunity to become closer to him still. He longed to earn enough trust over many more years together for Crowley to unburden on him the secrets and pain he kept locked away so deeply inside. 

“I suppose you are, yes.” 

A staunch silence fell over them, only the crackling of the fire sounding through the near-empty room for a time. Crowley inhaled deeply, beginning to recite in an airy, dreamy voice,

“But in the deep of my despair,

When dark my doom was writ,

Some saving hand was always there

To pull me from the Pit.”

“That’s from a Robert W. Service composition,” Azira remarked in surprise. He’d never known Crowley to have the slightest interest in most literature, especially not poetry, “How do you know that poem?” 

“It’s yours.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s your poem.”

“I’m not sure I know what you mean, Crowley.” 

Anthony lifted his head from Azira’s shoulder, and blue eyes gazed in wonder at the intensity of the stars within the golden pools. There was something there, something deep within them that was surfacing. It had always been there in the shadows. It was undeniable, and Azira had always seen it, always acknowledged the unknown force. But it had been obscured, subdued, hidden in the depths of Crowley’s overflowing fountains of unspoken emotion. Now, it was gaining form and becoming clear. The desperate wizard was bearing his soul to his angel: bravely, loudly, without any inhibition.

“We’ve been playing this game for so long. Have you ever wondered what it could be like if we ended it? Right now. Could you imagine?” 

All at once, Azira was struck with an epiphany. How many times had Crowley expressed this sentiment before? How many ways? How desperately and obviously had he spelled it out to him? 

Anthony loved him- was in love with him. For the first time in their months together, the angel was unable to play ignorant. He remembered so distinctly every time the wizard had made his heart flutter. He had held sacred every adoring smile Crowley had ever given him. He’d noted every ridiculous extent the professor had gone through to do him favors, big and small, and then act like it had been nothing and for no reason. Every past indication of love was revealed in jarringly few moments.

He knew- everyone knew- that Crowley was only capable of loving things in one fashion: hopelessly, self-destructively, and with reckless abandon. He’d only been with someone who loved like Crowley once before- Cedric Diggory. Azira, when committing to love, supported his partner’s endeavors in all their passions.  He’d encouraged Cedric’s pursuit of the other loves of his life- adventure, competition, and excitement. In turn, he’d witnessed him die. Ever since, Azira had never promised his heart to anyone who had the chance of chasing their passions to Death. Crowley would. Crowley had. If not for his unwavering love of Azira, he wouldn’t have nearly died. The librarian couldn’t handle that again; if Cedric’s death had stopped his life in its tracks, Crowley’s would be its demise.

Crowley was his dearest, truly. The dearest the Muggle-born wizard had ever had. He couldn’t imagine another love whose death would ever impact him the way Anthony’s would. It was impossible to return the sentiment of love. It would be repugnant to invite him into the cold embrace of death. The idea of even daring to try filled Azira with a dread that made his eyes water and a pain that reverberated through his chest. He resigned himself to protect his beloved’s life and his own heart. Still, how precious a gift it was he was being offered. How fragile and sweet was Crowley’s love. How deeply did he wish to hold and cherish it. 

Their noses were nearly touching as Azira was forced to face his deepest fears and most hidden anxieties. Their lips were millimeters apart, and Anthony waited. He waited for acknowledgement, for confirmation. He waited with such hope. The amber snake eyes burned with a brightness, a ferocity unlike anything they’d exhibited before. Azira likened him to the sun, and, in this instance, himself to Icarus. He was flying closer than ever, and he felt the soft feathers of his wings begin to singe. 

He sucked in air, turned his head away harshly, and scrambled for the only words he could think of.

“You go too fast for me, Crowley.”

An agonizing silence permeated the air. The pressure of Crowley’s body against his own was immediately relieved. Azira couldn’t bare to look. After several moments, his friend adjusted to sit a foot or so away and slumped back against the back cushion of his sofa. 

“Oh,” Crowley finally remarked. 

Another considerable amount of time passed before a marriage between curiosity and anxiety forced Azira to tilt his chin and scan the face of the man who was so dear to him. He was slightly surprised and immensely relieved to find no trace of heartbreak residing there. Instead, Crowley seemed to align himself with an emotion akin to complete puzzlement. The angel had never wished to have a talent for Legilimency more in his entire life. 

The shorter of the two wizards shot upright with a start when the door opened. The taller didn’t seem bothered, instead stretching out and lazily twisting himself to see who had entered. 

“Anathema!” he expressed with a tired cheerfulness, pleased to see someone who never withheld from putting sense in his head. He needed some of that right about now.

“Ah, so you know who I am now? I’m not an evil dictator or a pumpkin?” she teased, relieved to find the man much more subdued than he had been earlier. She made her way over to the pair, gesturing for Crowley to lift his legs so she could position herself beneath them.

“‘Course I know you, how could I forget my baby sister?” he drawled endearingly, taking his time in complying with her request and squirming around to get comfortable after he did so. 

“Crowley, we’re not related.”

“No, never had any siblings, other than the three Heller kids, anyway. They adopted me when I was alone without a family at Hogwarts. Figured back when we became friends that I’d do the same for you.” 

Anathema seemed surprised at the now incredibly open and sleepy state Anthony had seemed to slip into at the mercy of the potion. She exchanged weighted looks with Azira. Neither of them had ever witnessed him so vulnerable- so unafraid of judgement. 

“Why’ve you done that?” she asked curiously. Her and Crowley had been friends for six long years. Prior to Azira’s arrival, they had spent nearly all their free time together. Indeed, it had built into a playful, loving rivalry and a multi-faceted friendship. The appearance of the librarian had the witch feeling a good amount of contempt coupled with some jealousy in the beginning. She’d realized upon befriending him and watching Crowley’s love of him grow even stronger that it didn’t diminish their unique bond at all. Still, she’d never heard him speak in such an openly fond way to her, and she wished to milk the opportunity. 

“‘Cause you were pitiful!” he lied, finally showing some of the token redirection that was a staple of rational, self-preserving, sober Crowley, “So bored and lonely all the time. Lost little lamb, you. Needed someone decent to have mercy on you. Mercy’s not my strong suit, but what can I say? We all have lapses in judgement.” 

“Glad to see you coming down, Crowley,” Anathema responded with a sarcastic grin, rolling her eyes, “Right then, I think I can handle it from here on out. Off to work with you, Azira.”

The blond had entirely forgotten about any duties other than caring for Crowley. However, after such an emotionally charged exchange, he was eager to give his friend a chance to process. The poor wizard was suffering so many dilemmas already, Azira was reluctant to stack onto it with his presence. 

“Of course. Do feel better, Dear Boy,” Azira reached down to squeeze the Herbologist’s hand, giving him a warm smile. 

“Anything you say, Angel,” Crowley hummed back, sleepily blinking up at him. 

As he left the office and the company of his conflicted companion, working was the last thing on the librarian’s mind. The rage he’d felt earlier returned, and as he breezed through his duties the rest of the evening, all he could fixate on was a discussion with the man he was sure was the culprit behind causing the whole sordid affair. 

 

 

 


 

 

 

“You called for an investigation on him?” Azira asked incredulously after bursting into Gabriel Goodbody’s office. His presence was commanding, but the occupant of the room didn’t bother looking up from the array of parchment littering his desk.

“Azira. Good evening. Feel free to come in. Is there something I can help you with?” he asked, finally looking up and offering forth his token facade of a smile as if he hadn’t heard exactly what the wizard had said. 

With those eyes on him, Azira felt less brave. Those eyes that, alongside Michael’s, had gleamed as the pair tortured and ridiculed him his entire childhood. They made him feel as weak and helpless now as he had felt then. This wasn’t about him, however. It was about Crowley, and just like in Dueling Club, that gave him the strength he needed to square his shoulders and face his tormentor. 

“You submitted false information about Crowley to the Ministry,” he said flatly, holding his arms behind his back and standing his ground. 

“Would you like to sit down?” Gabriel asked, continuing to radiate the dismissive attitude towards Azira’s accusation.

“No. I don’t think I will,” Azira said decisively. 

“Alright then,” the larger figure mused, standing and slowly stalking around his desk to lean against the edge of it nearest Azira and properly stare his accuser down from a more powerful position. The blond had to stop himself from taking a step backwards, “That’s quite an accusation to throw around, are you sure you have the evidence to back it up? How can you be sure someone else didn’t report him? How can you know so certainly that he’s not a Death Eater?” 

It felt as if he towered over Azira by hundreds of yards. That penetrating gaze pierced him down to his soul. If Azira’s blue eyes were the sky, then Gabriel’s were a cold, lifeless, unforgiving ocean. The librarian’s heartbeat quickened in his ears. Crowley was suffering, he reminded himself. 

“Because we’re close. I know him. He’s not a Death Eater. He’s on our side.” 

“‘Our side’,” Gabriel repeated slowly, laughing slightly at the ridiculous notion, “How much do you know about the Crawly’s, Azira?” 

This caused pause. Professor Fell worried his hands behind his back. He’d always been curious why the Crawly’s had a darker reputation than other Death Eater families. He’d considered looking it up on numerous occasions, but the subject proved itself a sensitive one for Crowley. The pure-blood could share with Muggle-born when he was ready, until then Azira would not betray him. His trust was far more valuable than satiated curiosity.

“A person isn’t their family. He wouldn’t have changed his name if he was proud of where he came from or if he identified with their values,” he dodged the question.

Gabriel appraised him with narrowed eyes, lacing his hands together in front of him, “A war is coming, Azira.”

This rendered the shorter man silent, breaking his chain of thought. He swallowed hard, waggling his eyebrows the slightest bit in concern before repeating, short of breath, “A war?”

“A war. Between the pure-bloods and the decent folk of the wizarding world. The Death Eaters aren’t satisfied being shamed into hiding. The pure-bloods feel their power slipping and the tides turning. They’re afraid. They’re going to act. We have to put them in their place. We- Michael, me, the Minister of Magic, every person of mixed blood who love this Wizarding World, you- we won’t be reigned over and shamed again. It’s them, or us. Crowley is them. Death Eater or not, you’ve seen the way he flexes his privilege, having grown up his whole life a pure-blood prince among wizards. You’ve seen the way he’s shamed Muggles. The way he says ‘Muggle-born’ as if it’s as if it’s a naughty word. He fell from grace the moment he was born into a family that followed Voldemort, that worshipped Muggle-murdering ideals.” 

“No- no. Crowley would never support murdering anybody.” 

“Is that so? He used the killing curse on his own father. Can you ever truly know a person like that? Can you trust that you know what he’s capable of and what he isn’t?” 

Azira responded only with an expression of complete and utter disbelief. His mouth felt dry. His throat felt swollen shut. He half-heartedly shook his head in denial. Crowley had trouble hurting any person, any thing. He couldn’t even wield his want offensively. There was no way he murdered his father, especially not with an unforgivable curse. 

“By all means, continue fraternizing with the enemy, but from now on, you report back to us. Any suspicious word, any hidden action, you make a note of it. You’re on our side. Do well, and your efforts will be rewarded.”

“And what if I say no? I simply refuse to spy on Crowley, he’s my friend-” 

“He’s an enemy,” Gabriel interrupted, “and if you say no, we won’t have anyone to keep an eye on him. We’ll have to do something else with him. Our side has some powerful people, Azira. Aurors, politicians, publicists. How well do you think your cowardly ‘friend’ would do wasting away in Azkaban? He wouldn’t be able to get in too much trouble, there. We wouldn’t have to worry about him at all.”

The librarian’s heart pounded in his ears. He struggled to breathe. 

“You wouldn’t… please, I’m begging you! He wouldn’t survive in there,” he scrambled desperately.

“Well then,” Gabriel cheered, clapping his hands together as he walked to the door and opened it. He gestured outward, turning his body towards Azira, “It sounds like we have a deal. We’ll be watching, Azira.” 

Upon entering the room, Azira had wielded his protectiveness over Crowley like a shield. It had been destroyed, melted, and forged into a sword pointed at the most beloved person in his life in just a few short minutes. Unable to find any other words, any solutions to the horrifying recruitment he’d just endured, he slowly walked out the open walkway. Just as he turned, mouth open, to say something, the door shut in his face. 

His blue eyes watered, staring emptily over the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom with its abandoned desks. He imagined his poor students, so young and unprepared, suffering through whatever was to come. He thought of the horrific events that had plagued this school twenty-so years earlier, and how they’d traumatized a generation. He thought of vulnerable, trauma-inflicted Crowley, who could hardly handle more heart-break in his life.

A war, he marveled, a witch hunt against all pure-bloods. That wasn’t good. 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

A long, agonized groan echoed off the empty walls of the room as Crowley felt the morning sun shine on his face, waking him. At least- he assumed he was waking up. It felt more like he’d been murdered. Fatigue seeped deep into his bones, weighing them down. His head felt as if concrete had been poured inside. Upon trying to sit up, he noticed his limbs felt limp and heavy. Every motion took more effort than he could have imagined. 

Blearily, he examined the room, pleased to see he’d found his bed yesterday. At least Potter had left him his bed sheets, he noted saltily. He wrapped his hands around one leg, grunting in frustration as he had to drag it over the side of the bed. He did the same with the other. As he sat on the edge of his comforter, he stared, unfocused, at the stone of the wall where a painting he was quite fond of had been only the morning before. If he didn’t know better, he’d think the surface was moving.

“What the bloody hell happened yesterday?” he growled at himself, putting his head in his hands. 

Obviously, he remembered that god-awful meeting. Then, he remembered wanting to forget. He assumed he succeeded in that pursuit, as everything after was a bright, dizzy blur. Vague flashes of little blue whales, freezing temperatures, and, for some reason, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice flickered across his mind. Who was there? Had he made a complete ass of himself? Azira’s face came to mind, as well Anathema’s token expression of unrelenting irritation. That couldn’t be great. Anthony picked through the little bits of memories and concepts, attempting to piece them together. His head shot upright when at last he recalled Azira’s beautiful, soft face, closer than he’d ever seen it, those lips wavering so closely to his, and that voice like honey whispering, ‘You go too fast for me Crowley’.

His spine shot into a straight position. What could that possibly mean? Crowley had been moving so slowly a snail would out-run him by miles. Over 25 years, he’d finally offered a single chaste kiss, and it had been rejected. Or perhaps that hadn’t been rejection at all. After all, if Azira didn’t want his love, if the idea was so deplorable to him, he would have said no. He would have said he wasn’t going anywhere. 

All the pain in Anthony’s body became the last thing on his mind as he rolled over his bed, grinning like a mad man and throwing his arms out as he yelled, “YES!” 

‘You go too fast for me,’ implied there was somewhere to go, and that Azira would consider going there. After decades of the angel not even registering who he was or that he existed followed by months of absolutely no response to his confessions and acts of service, this little statement felt like the clouds parting and heaven’s light shining down on Crowley for the first time in his existence. He felt it warm his skin and fill him up with ecstasy. He felt his heart swell so much he feared it might explode out of his chest. He felt a sensation he had been starved for his entire life. 

He felt hope.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The uppermost, ancient stone steps climbing up and around the West tower were slick with ice, discouraging many who attempted to gain entry to the Owlery. The aviary occupants hooted softly, feathers fluffed up as they huddled together for warmth inside the glassless windows. A roaring fire, surrounded by three tiers of circular metal rings for the owls to perch on, sat at the center of the top of the tower. Several unexpecting creatures utilizing the space were spooked away by a rude hand flailing amongst them to make room for a tall, lanky figure that practically climbed into the pit of flames. Twit immediately recognized his master, flying eagerly to his shoulder and nuzzling into his neck. Typically, the pair did not get along; extreme cold posed as an exception. 

“Oh good!” expressed an all-too-familiar voice, “You’re early. That’s a pleasant surprise.”

“And w-wh-why did we have to meet at the bloody north pole?” 

The shorter of the two wizards could be said to have been bundled up, but his layers appeared as a pitiful excuse of keeping warm in contrast with taller’s ensemble of overkill. He wore his thick fur earmuffs, along with what appeared to be approximately 5 sweaters and a heavy-duty thick wool cloak. As much as Crowley fancied himself to be fashion-conscious, winter won over his particular taste in clothing every time. 

The redhead raised a hand to scratch Twit’s neck feathers, allowing the bird to twist himself up in his beloved red scarf and relish the warmth. After a prolonged moment of silence, Crowley turned to examine Azira’s uncharacteristic silence and immediately placed the anxiety creasing his face.

“What’s wrong?” 

Another moment of silence followed as the librarian nervously took in his surroundings, performing a short walk-about to peek behind any obstructions that could provide hiding spaces. 

“Azira Fell,” Crowley crooned in a naughty tone, “Are we having a secret meeting?” 

“A bit of discretion wouldn’t kill you, Dear Boy, surely,” Azira chastised, making quick work of casting a silencing charm around his companion and himself. 

“Right,” the Herbologist agreed. Before Azira could say another word, Anthony was performing a bizarre sequence of hand signals and ridiculous facial expressions. The act slowly slid into something that resembled more of a miming bit. 

“What are you doing?”

“Being discrete. Code, right?” 

“Crowley, be serious.”

“Ah. Huh,” Crowley remarked, “That bad? What is it?” 

Paranoid that his first survey of the surroundings was not sufficient, Azira took another quick look around them before leaning into his friend’s space in a manner that was anything but unwelcome, “There’s going to be a war. Another one.” 

Peripheral noises presented themselves in the way of only a crackling fire, whistling wind, and occasional hoots from the occupants of the tower. Crowley’s only reaction while in thought was a staunch shiver in response to a particularly icy gust of air. 

“Where’d you get that idea?” he finally responded. His tone was not committed to the severity of the situation quite yet, but no longer did it attain its typical unbothered and jesting qualities. 

“There’s a… oh, I’m really not entirely sure- a secret group of Muggle-borns and mixed-bloods who are forming some kind of organization under the mission statement of ‘putting pure-bloods back in their place’,” he worried while twisting his hands within one another. Anxious blue eyes scanned Crowley’s face. His jaw clenched, but Azira remained unaware if that was from the temperature or if perhaps he had triggered his anxiety with mentions of another war. For a moment, he debated if this was the best course of action. After all, Anthony was still so deeply plagued with memories of the last war. No, he decided. He had a right to know that he and his kind were about to suffer. 

“Is that it then?” Crowley finally groaned, “Angel, that’s just typical post-war talk. Everyone’s still angry, still simmering down. Next time you care to share that you’re indulging in paranoid conspiracy, write it in a note. It’s bloody cold. Let’s go inside. Got my stuff back- a bottle of Vinos de Pago, even, if you’d care to share.” 

A wave of frustration washed over Azira. As the nonchalant wizard attempted to drift past, he grabbed his arm, pulling him close in a way that stole Crowley’s breath from his lungs and left his chest aching.

“This isn’t a conspiracy, Crowley. Or it might be now, but it won’t be soon. They’ve asked me to spy on you. They’re taking action. They say the remaining Death Eaters are forming their own coalition, to extinguish Muggle-born inclusion in the wizarding world- to climb back on top.”

“Alright, alright. I’ll play. Who is ‘they’?” Crowley resigned. Twit took the opportunity to hop over to Azira’s shoulder, preferring him better, and earned a dirty look from his master.

“I… well I don’t know. I just know that Gabriel and Michael are involved. I heard mention of the Minister of Magic, as well…”

A great, theatrical vocalization akin to a snort escaped the pure-blood, and he rolled his head over his shoulders before giving Azira the most incredulous stare he could manage, “Hermione Granger? Forming a coup to oppress ancient wizarding families? No way. Gabriel and your brother, I can buy.”

“Sibling,” Azira corrected gently. He worried at his lip, leaning in to Crowley, “Michael’s not someone to mess with, Crowley. This is serious. And they’ve singled you out. I don’t want you to get hurt. I don’t want to spy on you. I don’t want to be part of this war.”

“There’s not going to be a w- www- war, Angel,” Crowley dismissed, voice dripping with disbelief as he flapped his hand at its wrist. A glance at his companion made his heart clench in his chest. It was that look of concern again, stronger than he’d ever been subjected to, but it was mixed with such fear, such alarm.

“Azira,” he continued, this time much more softly, but still obtaining the strong element of doubt, “It’s going to be alright. I’m going to be alright. I- eh- iii- if Gabriel and Michael want to gossip over my ah- ac- activities at their slumber parties, let them. If they want you to pour them the hot tea of what fertilizer I’m using on my newest plants from India or which clubs I frequent to nab one night stands, then by all means pour it. They’ll lose interest in no time. You can’t start a war over nonexistent findings. I guarantee you, the vast majority of other children of Death Eaters are trying to do the same thing as me- live life, move on, and not be the despicable war-mongering shitlords our parents were.”

He watched fondly as the wrinkle of worry between Azira’s eyebrows grew slightly more defined, “You… want me to spy on you? To tell the truth about what you’re doing? I don’t understand why you would agree to that.”

“If it’ll make you feel better, I can’t really find the energy to care very much at all what they know about my day-to-day activities. I have nothing to hide.”

“That’s…,” Azira’s eyes softened, clouds slowly beginning to drift away as he looked at his companion with such fondness, “That’s very kind, Anthony.”

“Agghhhhh!” Crowley complained in response to the compliment, attempting to bury his face into his scarf so he might hide the redness spreading across it, “Let’s not get carried away, Angel.” 

The taller figure sauntered back towards the stairs, clinging to the railing to avoid slipping in the same manner he did on his way up (there had been no witnesses, and thus he would never admit it happened). Azira hurried to catch up, taking Twit from his shoulder and giving him a treat as he placed him back on the perch near the fire. The owl seemed pleased that the visit upgraded his position to one closer to warmth. 

“I don’t believe I’ll ever understand why you take such discomfort with being acknowledged as you are. You really are the kindest person I know.”

No,” Crowley hissed over his shoulder, “I am not kind. ‘Course you’ll never understand. I’m an enigma, Angel.” 

Considering that they had only just discussed the mundane reality of Crowley’s daily activities, Azira found this claim very amusing and let out a small laugh. Still, it was true there was so much that the pure-blood would never share with his best friend. His were some of the only stories and histories that the librarian had accepted he might never have access to.

“Indeed,” he allowed, “you are a mystery.” 

 

 

 


 

 

 

“And then- oh dear,” Azira found himself interrupted by a loud scream, and from over his book, he spotted a small child flying through the air across the room.

“Right- uh,” an absolutely overwhelmed Healer began, rushing after the human projectile to scoop him up off another child’s bed, “I believe that might be a good place to stop story-time for today, Mr. Fell. Thank you so much, as always!” 

“Of course, Adora,” the wizard offered a warm smile, collecting his things from the children’s ward of St. Mungo’s. He’d been volunteering to read to children and elderly enduring long-term recovery for several years now. Typically he would come on Saturdays, and it seemed that perhaps sticking to schedule was best, as his electing to come Sunday instead had rendered the children into a mad frenzy of excitement. They weren’t quite able to settle, even as Azira persevered through nearly the entirety of the book. 

“Goodbye, little ones, don’t get into trouble, yes?” he offered them, attempting to appear stern but failing miserably. He couldn’t help but offer a warm smile as several of the children ran up to hug him or waved from their beds, taking care to give each of them an individual farewell. 

“It’s this way, yes? I do always get a bit turned around in here,” Azira admitted sheepishly.

Adora gave him a patient smile, shaking her head, “We’re actually just cleaning up after an accident that happened down that stairwell. If you don’t mind going all the way down the other way, then there’s a stairwell there as well.” 

He offered his thanks before departing down the hallway, passing several different wards as he did so. It was difficult not to find himself anxious over the new route. After all, the fourth floor always drudged up emotions of dread and sorrow in the pit of his stomach. Magic could manifest itself in such beautiful ways, but it could also corrupt and break and ruin the human mind and body so deplorably. Several people on this floor were only here for prolonged treatment. Many unfortunate others were confined here indefinitely after facing irreparable damage. 

Azira’s melancholy line of thought resulted in him getting aimlessly lost more than once, and each time he resigned himself to ask Healers in their eyesores of green robes for directions. One such occasion sent him through the psych ward. 

If the thoughts previously occupying his mind had hurt his heart, the ones that came next shattered it entirely. A few patients of the ward socialized at tables in a common area. Two men nearby seemed to be playing two entirely different card games with one another. Likewise, they each contributed to their own respective roles in conversation while discussing two different things entirely. A silent woman was perched on a rickety wooden chair near a smudged window that she stared blankly out of. None of the room’s inhabitants seemed present in this reality, Azira found himself very much hoping the ones they were experiencing instead were happier. 

As he started his way down the hall, greeting blank, empty looks with warm, encouraging smiles, he couldn’t help but think of Crowley. He wondered how many people here were suffering after being tortured with the Cruciatus Curse. An air of misery draped over these halls like a black cloth over a bird’s cage, muting any trace of life beneath it. This sensation drove Azira to believe in his colleague more than ever. It didn’t have to be like this. Anthony would change things. He truly believed that. 

“Can you believe that cheeky little bastard? Who does he think he’s talking to, anyway?” 

For a moment, Azira wondered if his own wires were getting crossed, as Crowley’s voice seemed to seep seamlessly into his perception of reality. 

“But just as I was about to bog him down with a month’s worth of detention, I remembered the nonsense we used to get up to. Little nightmares, us.” 

The voice was definitely getting louder, and Professor Fell experienced a great relief that he was not over-empathizing with the ward’s patients and going mad. Burning curiosity dominated his senses next. Azira took a few steps forward, heard the voice grow quieter, then took several steps back. After identifying the correct room that the invested tones were slipping out from, the blonde found the door ajar, and allowed himself a peek inside. Whatever would Anthony be doing here? It was the third Sunday of the month, wasn’t he supposed to be off partaking in his bi-monthly shenanigans with-

Azira had to stop himself from expressing aloud. Indeed, he’d been correct in identifying Crowley’s voice. The pureblood was awkwardly splayed out in one of the uncomfortable visitors chairs arranged next to the only hospital bed in the small room. The stylish velvet curtains- clearly personalized and not at all the institution’s default drab donnings- were drawn open to allow in the pathetic excuse for today’s rays of sunshine. Newspaper and magazine clippings of popular wizarding comedians from the ‘90s lined the walls alongside personal photos and posters of musical artists. A modest stand-up piano occupied the farthest side of the room. The person who dwelled here was sitting cross-legged on the bed- a dark haired woman, approximately the two men’s same age, with warm brown skin and an exhausted, distant expression. Her bright green eyes raised to meet Azira’s, but they were blurred, rendered empty by a stream of consciousness that simply wasn’t there. 

An instinct to run overcame the intruder, but his feet felt heavier than cinder blocks, effectively anchoring him in place. A sense of dread that can only be attained by witnessing something one is definitively not meant to filled his heart and made his stomach churn. He felt absolutely caught red-handed as the gaze from green eyes encouraged an amber pair to turn their attention to him as well. 

Crowley was holding the woman’s hand, a brush covered in a dark purple nail lacquer held in his free fingers. His expression upon taking in the new presence was absolutely undecipherable, the placement of his sunglasses obstructing Azira’s quest to find reassurance on his features. After what felt like an eternity of wishing to be smited from the surface of the earth, Azira was finally offered a subtle, but not unwelcoming or forced, smile from the friend he knew so well. 

“Valencia, you remember Azira Fell. What are you doing here?” his voice wasn’t unpleasant, but it did feature a sharp tone that betrayed an eager desire for answers. Azira felt as if had shown up, uninvited, at the gates guarding Crowley’s heart, and he had, entirely on accident, forced them open.

“I-,” the librarian began. A hundred realizations rushed his mind upon gaining entry. Heartbreak wasted no time in filling the vacancy anxiety had left. It was her- Valencia Heller, Crowley’s childhood best friend and partner-in-crime. Every time Crowley said he was going to visit her, he’d gone here. She was the heartbeat that had kept his research pumping for twenty years. And for twenty years, Crowley had mourned her in silence, alone, without his other friends having the slightest clue. Azira suddenly felt like a wretched friend. Perhaps the Herbologist had opted to suffer in solitude, but how much pain must have haunted him over this? What measures of agony had Azira, as a friend, simply overlooked, opting instead to embrace ignorance? 

“Angel? You alright?” Crowley asked, resting the hand holding the brush on his thigh as he waited for confirmation. Azira seemed frozen, opening and closing his mouth with the suggestion that he was about to say something. However, his blue eyes darted around in a distant, occupied manner that revealed his mind was far away.

“Ah, yes!” the wizard finally managed, shaken back to the present. He cleared his throat sheepishly, recognizing how strange the behavior he had been exhibiting was, “Yes- I’m sorry. I come here as often as I can to read to the children and elderly. Usually I come on Saturdays. I didn’t mean- I had to- That is- I’m sorry.”

Unconditioned to witness Azira in a state that rendered his typically impeccable speech so deplorable, Crowley raised an entertained eyebrow. He ignored the plethora of apologies, instead admiring the rare shade of pink flushed upon the face of the object of his affections. 

“Of course you do.” 

“Right. I didn’t mean to interrupt. I just heard your voice and- well- curiosity got the better of me. It was lovely to see you again, Heller,” he acknowledged the witch despite knowing she was entirely unable to register him.

This seemed to pique some form of interest in Crowley, whose features softened as he shook his head and teased, “You often come sneaking into rooms and then running out right after, Angel? Take it from a couple of professional miscreants, running just makes you look more suspicious. Take a load off. Visiting hours are almost over anyways. You and I can get some lunch after.”

Unable to deny the temptation of lunch and uninterested in exhibiting any more rudeness than he already had, Azira fumbled with his book, setting it timidly on a nearby surface and pulling a rickety chair to the foot of the bed. Crowley seemed pleased, turning his attention back to painting. Azira settled down the best he could. His nerves did not. Eager to redeem himself, he spotted a stack of books teetering on the edge of the night stand.

“Oh- it looks like you two have been reading as well.” 

Crowley glanced up from Valencia’s nails to scan her expressionless face. Her thousand-yard stare had glided off in the direction of the wall. A few beats of silence passed. It appeared almost as if he was giving her the chance to answer Azira’s question. The librarian studied the dynamic carefully. The redhead didn’t seem to fuss over or coddle his childhood best friend. He was simply patient, the Hufflepuff trait Azira saw shine most brightly in him beside loyalty.

“Oi, Val. Remember what we read earlier?” 

Another long silence filled the stagnant air. Just as their visitor wondered if their waiting would find purchase, he heard her speak for the first time. 

“It… is a mistake to fancy…,” an airy voice escaped the withered witch’s pale lips and trailed off into nothingness. 

Azira looked carefully at Crowley, who was again focused on painting the nails he had so meticulously filed. Hoping he was not overstepping any bounds, he invited warmly, “What’s that, Dear Girl?”

“It is a mistake to fancy that horror is associated inextricably with darkness, silence, and solitude,” she said, more clearly this time. 

“H. P. Lovecraft! ‘Cool Air’, if I’m not mistaken? Do you like Lovecraft?” 

Another quick glance traversed from Crowley to the dazed woman’s face as he capped the nail lacquer. 

“Loves him. Don’t you, you sadistic bitch? Eh- ev- every bloody time I come here we read him, and you get to forget all about it and go dancing off to dream-land at night. Not me, though. Noooo, I get to go try to sleep alone in a giant haunted castle, creepy fucking stories crawling through my head the whole time,” he teased. 

“I never assumed you’d be easily affected by horror,” Azira expressed in amusement.

“Pffft. You should see where I grew up,” Crowley mumbled, “Living Hell, there.”

Gradually becoming less intimidated by the strange new dynamic, Azira slid into a comfortable understanding of how to approach conversation in this setting. It was meant to be open and inclusive of Valencia, despite her lack of presence or lucidity. They could discuss other topics but always with the invitation of her contribution. Crowley had adapted a remarkably clever and considerate way of answering questions targeted at her without speaking on her behalf. He’d developed an even craftier method of rephrasing questions for her, but not demeaning or othering her in the process. As much as he appreciated how vulnerable Crowley was being by letting him see this, how special it was that he trusted him, Azira couldn’t help but wish everyone could see him like this. Then, no one would be able to continue indulging in willful ignorance; they’d have to finally see and acknowledge Anthony’s impeccable character. 

Some time passed, and they discussed all manner of things. Crowley regaled Azira with some of the wild stories of mischief from his and Valencia’s schooldays, often including her with a casual, “You remember that, V?” After one such invitation, a sign of conscious activity sparked across her eyes. 

She sat up on the bed, cocking her head to the side and speaking in a much stronger voice than earlier as her cat-like orbs scrutinized Crowley, “AJ?”

“Yeah?” her friend answered casually, stretching with a groan, his hip popping in the process, and propping his foot up invasively next to her hip on the bedding. 

“What the bloody hell happened to you? Why do you look so fucking old?”

“N- nnn- not so fucking old,” Crowley mumbled indignantly, pouting slightly as he pushed his sunglasses up with his middle finger. He seemed to forget he was meant to supply an explanation.

“... well?” she pressed, splaying her hands out to her sides inquisitively. The brief moment of lucidity made Azira aware of a nearly suffocating presence of personality. He instantly understood why the two had been so close.

“Ah- yeah, remember that stupid aging potion Fred and George made? Spiked my pumpkin juice at breakfast. Got me good, I guess,” he lied, as naturally as breathing. Years of practice made it easy.

“Wankers,” Valencia laughed before realization dawned on her incredibly expressive features. She looked at him, brows raised, with an amazed little grin overtaking her plush lips. 

“What?” Crowley mused suspiciously, “What’s that look for? You plotting something, Heller? Come off it. Pick a different target. I won’t hesitate biting back.”

The astonishment she felt appeared to deepen, and her grin grew toothy, “Naw, nothin’. It’s just- that’s got to be the most I’ve ever heard you say without your stammer. What else was in that potion?” 

He looked a bit embarrassed at the remark, shrugging in admission and glancing off to the side. 

“Yeah. Used to be something awful. Guess we all have to outgrow some things,” he muttered, in part to acknowledge her musing and in part to bashfully explain her reaction to Azira. 

“What, overnight? Yeah, right. God, Snape was such an arse yesterday, making you read that out loud. Why the bloody hell did he become a teacher when he hates us kids so much? I can’t believe he still has a job. No- I can’t believe no one’s made him sorry yet! He should absolutely be our next target- ohhh I have so many good ideas, AJ. We could… we could… we…,” the enthusiasm and vigor she started her tangent with seemed to dissipate into the stale hospital air, and her eyes fogged over yet again. The sadness in Crowley’s face was fleeting, and almost indistinguishable, presenting itself as just a brief twitch of his features, but it was enough to break Azira’s heart. It must have been so difficult, he reflected, to have his best friend back, but with the mentality that it was twenty years earlier, and only in fleeting, unpredictable moments.

They returned to the pattern as it had been before. Crowley took the time to update Valencia on the happenings of his life since his last visit. 

“- and the ministry finally returned all my things. ‘A few days’ my arse. I had to buy new clothes at Hogsmeade just to have something to wear. And they were hideous. Potter’s different now. So weird to see old classmates as adults. Like his kids way more than I ever liked him, though. Let’s see, what am I forgetting, Angel?”

“Perhaps your unsanctioned journey into narcotics meant for magical beasts thrice your size?” Azira’s bitterness was lost on Crowley.

“Oh yeahhhh!” he cheered with a laugh, “On top of the world, I was. Master of the Universe and Liberator of Frogs.”

A look from Azira was sharp enough for the wizard to quickly jump subjects, he could only test him so far with feigned ignorance.

“We had a staff meeting to discuss all the creepy nonsense going on. Decided to have a Yule Ball, again-”

“Oh, the Yule Ball! I’m so excited, Anthony,” Valencia came to life nearly immediately at the words, animatedly clapping her hands together. Again, Crowley had to mentally transport himself to 1994. His friend carried on with vigorous excitement, “It’s going to be so amazing. Only took three years of You-Know-Who’s nonsense and fearing death daily at school for them to finally dish out something fun for us to do. Oh, by the way, Lee Jordan asked me yesterday. I know we were probably going to hang out with that lot at the Ball anyway, but it’s nice to finally have a date. Have you asked Fell yet?”

Crowley nearly hacked up a lung, earning a concerned look from his company before clearing his throat and promptly attempting a topic change. Azira wondered if he’d misheard Valencia, and he narrowed his eyes as he looked inquisitively between the two friends. 

“Did you know there’s a type of magical rowan called a Wiggentree, and if you touch its trunk it will protect you from Dark creature attacks? They should plant them around the grounds as a security measure, don’t you think?”

“No one cares about bloody plants, Crawly. Did you ask him or not?” 

“Wow, look at the time, yyy- y- you know, McGonagall assigned me a ton of extra homework after our last little escapade, so I really should get to it,” he tried again, standing and flattening out the creases of his clothing with his palms. 

She stood as well, blocking him from the door. Heller was approximately twenty-five centimeters shorter than her friend. Years of hospitalization ensured any athleticism she once attained was long gone from her atrophied muscles. Her wand had long since been confiscated. Still, even from behind her, Azira was quite under the assumption that a full-grown dragon could be placed next to her and he would be unsure of which creature to be more afraid. 

“You want to try me, little man? You know I can have you in a headlock in two seconds flat.”

Crowley hesitated, looking nervously down at her. Perhaps he could take her, but not without suffering, and he’d certainly be kicked out for a month, at least. After weighing his options, he decided it was indeed better not to get into a scrap with a woman in a psych ward and resigned to sitting back down. She crossed her arms, a now foreboding presence lording over him.

“Valencia,” he pleaded quietly, anxiously glancing over to Azira for help and finding to his own absolute devastation that his friend was far too intrigued by the situation to help him at all, “If you love me, if you really do, please don’t say another word.”

“Ohhh, I do love you,” she hissed in a menacing voice, eyes glowing brighter than fire from a dragon’s breath, “and because I love you, I’m going to say many words, and you’re going to sit there and listen to them.”

Crowley’s face looked like it was competing with his hair to achieve the most astonishing shade of red. His black fingernails scraped over his own shoulders to grasp the hood of his robes. Very slowly, he began pulling it over his head and slinking down further into his chair, bracing himself as his fear of being exposed to Azira was about to be brutally realized.

“The last fourteen months, all you bloody talk about is Fell, your ‘Angel’. No matter the topic, you bring it back to him. ‘I need a new quill’ ‘Azira Fell just got a new quill, middle of the week, too, do you think someone gave it to him?’. ‘I prefer crepes over pancakes’ ‘You know Azira Fell loves crepes? Him and his friends go to that cafe in Hogsmeade every Saturday’. ‘I’m dreading this Muggle History lesson’ ‘I overheard Azira Fell talking about it and it actually sounds fascinating! He said it’s his favorite part to study, I bet it’ll be good’.”

Crowley was not sitting quite so much as he was sliding out of his seat and pouring onto the floor as if there were no bones in his entire body. The fabric of his hood now concealed his entire head and face. He was letting out a long, low groan that Azira only now realized was an incredibly drawn-out and bastardized variation of the word, “no.” Valencia granted her friend no mercy.

“And it’s not even just talk! Noooo, everything you do is linked to him! Let’s review, shall we? You’ve started reading Oscar Wilde, Christopher Marlowe, whatever other boring Muggle nonsense that you absolutely can’t stand just so you don’t embarrass yourself on the off chance he ever picks out a student three years his junior to have tea and discuss the world’s most excruciating literature with. You put all this work into making sure his friends think you’re a hilarious delight even though you have absolutely no intention of using those connections at all, because maybe they’ll mention you to him. You didn’t sleep for a week because you heard he was struggling in Herbology and stayed up every bloody night extensively annotating a library book you had a hunch he’d check out just to help him.”

The hooded figure was now entirely on the floor, curled tightly into a ball as if the smaller he got, the more likely he was to disappear from Azira’s view and mind altogether. To say this flood of new information entertained the onlooker would be as much of an understatement as to say Crowley was merely ‘embarrassed’. Azira wondered at how he possibly could have forgotten Crowley when the other man had been so absolutely enamoured with him. He recalled that Herbology book. He remembered being absolutely appalled that anyone would so horribly deface a library book. Admittedly, the annotations were the only reason he’d gotten a decent grade in seventh year Herbology- the only subject he had ever struggled with. How clever must Anthony have been to be so well versed on content three years advanced past his own classes. How sweet must he have been to do all that work for Azira, not expecting the slightest bit of credit in return. 

Truly, as Crowley laid on the hospital floor wishing for Death to come for him, Azira was overwhelmed with adoration at the absolutely endearing discovery of his friend’s childhood crush.

“And after all that, he doesn’t even know who you are! So you have two options, here. You can continue shaping your life around him, be a bloody stalker, let him graduate without ever making an impression on him, struggle through life because you wasted your school years indulging in your silly little fanclub of one instead of studying, wait for death, and then maybe, if you’re lucky, he’ll read your name in the obituaries of The Prophet. Oh! Then he’ll know who you are! Or, you can grow some fucking cojones and ask him to the bloody Yule Ball! What’s it gonna be, Ñero?” 

A stark silence fell over the room. Valencia stood unwaveringly over her childhood friend, hands on her hips.

Killlll meeeeeeeeee,” Crowley finally groaned, voice muffled as his fabric-covered face pressed against the floorboards. 

“Ay, no. No, no, no. I’m not going to kill you. But I’ll tell you what-” With a remarkable amount of strength for someone her size, she yanked the pathetic man up off the floor and back into the chair. In an equally impressive show of stubbornness, Crowley remained in the same position, curled into himself and hiding his face within the confines of his hood.

“I love you. I support you. You like Fell? Fine. I literally cannot begin to understand why- but fine. But you’re going to break your back pining over him and then decide that he’s out of your league without even trying? Oh no, Papi. I, for one, will not tolerate that shit at all. I’m kicking your ass out of the nest, baby bird. You’re asking him today. If one more day passes and you haven’t and you so much as mutter the words Azira fucking Fell? I’ll- Anthony.” 

In two swift motions executed so fast Azira nearly didn’t see her perform them at all, she yanked off the humiliated wizard’s hood and snatched his sunglasses off his face, “I will throw myself off the fucking Astronomy tower. I’ll do it. I don’t give a fuck. I’d do anything to get you to stop being such a goddamned pussy about this. So promise me.” 

Crowley’s hands guarded his face. He let out another long, agonized groan. The witch in front of him grabbed his wrists and lowered them, narrowing her eyes as she shoved her nose against his.

“Mírame a los ojos, pequeño cobarde!” she growled.

He complied, barely cracking his eyelids apart to brave eye contact. Her eyes bore into his with an intensity that Azira was sure could kill people all on its own. After a moment of comparing her to others he’d had the pleasure of meeting, he decided she was likely the most terrifying person he’d ever met in his life. She proved herself to be a very devoted best friend, however.

“Prometeme.”

Fine. I promise. Can we please change the bloody subject now?” 

“Sure! What’re you gonna wear? I guess it depends how you feel the day of. You should plan out two outfits just to be prepared. Oh! We should coordinate! This is gonna be so fun-,” she started, the anger and intimidation that nearly set the room on fire a moment before disappearing in a snap and being replaced by absolute enthusiasm.

Crowley had to be relieved when conversation changed its course. Finally, he was permitted to enjoy his best friend’s momentary ability to communicate instead of feeling the urge to strangle her into silence. Time passed amongst the trio in the tiny hospital room. Valencia geared into a less solid perception of time and awareness, but small conversations were still possible. Azira was placed back into the rotation of conversation, although the witch was unsure who he was. Over the last two decades, communicating with individuals she could not grasp or retain the identity of had become commonplace. At this point, as she talked with Crowley, his identity was lost to her as well. The three of them all managing to socialize together was a sweet, special moment that Anthony treasured more than he let on. It was something that transcended his expectations. It was fleeting, however, as soon, Heller returned to her unresponsive, unaware state. 

“Right,” her companion of decades said gently, taking her hand in his own and kissing her knuckles, “We’ll be off, then.”

They gathered their things and said their goodbyes, leaving Valencia to rest. Azira was grateful for the companionship, as Crowley’s guidance meant he was unable to continue wandering aimlessly around the fourth-floor in search of the exit. The two were quiet as they stepped out of the broken window of the dilapidated department store that served as a perception filter to Muggles. Finding his companion’s mind was somewhere far away, the blonde took it upon himself to transfigure their robes into more commonplace jackets. They walked in silence for a while, Azira simply following after his companion. They weren’t going anywhere in particular, but understanding kept him from interfering. Crowley hadn’t meant for anyone to find out about Heller. Of course this unexpected turn of events would affect him.

“Thanks, Angel,” Crowley finally said as they waited side-by-side at a crosswalk.

“Of course, Dearest,” Azira reassured, watching as the endearment caused his companion to visibly relax the slightest bit. After a moment, he realized he was unaware what he did to earn the gratitude, “Whatever for?”

They were a couple blocks further along by the time he earned an answer, “For not treating her like she’s invisible. For not talking as if she’s not in the room. They always do. Makes her drift away more and more over time, I think.”

A regular pattern formed of a long, comfortable silence between each question and answer.

“How often does she recognize you?” 

“Depends on the day, really. That was a more lucid interaction than we’ve had in ages. But it’s gotten worse over the years- the more we age. She recognized me every time she saw me in the beginning, now it’s more like… ten percent of the time she knows me- if that. The worst thing is, now that I'm older, sometimes she thinks I’m- … never mind.”

“Has she been in there the whole time?”

“No. twelve years. Azira?”

“Yes?” Azira answered instantly.

“If I wanted to talk about this, I would have told you about it.”

The harsh clang of metal gates closing around Crowley’s heart was nearly audible, the chains rattling noisily as they locked shut. Azira appreciated that they had been opened them to him at all. It had provided the precious opportunity to learn about Crowley’s life, to open doors that had been previously locked and look inside. He had gained valuable, beautiful perspective and come to appreciate his companion more than ever before. Most importantly, he’d gotten the chance to show Crowley that he was safe to open them again, if he was ever so inclined.

He did wish he could cheer him up- perhaps he could. An innocent grin took over Azira’s features as they entered a park.

“Well then, what should we talk about?” he pondered coyly, “Perhaps your evidently massive schoolboy crush on me?” 

“YOU-,” Crowley started, instantly bright red in the face. He snatched the fabric at the chest of Azira’s shirt, shoving a finger in his face as he backed him against the trunk of a tree and his voice dropping low as he hissed, “ssssshut it.”

“Why didn’t you ever ask me?” Azira asked curiously, absolutely unbothered by his friend’s attempt at physical intimidation. It was the equivalent of being threatened by a very cuddly bunny. 

The taller figure’s face shifted from embarrassed anger to a more dumbfounded expression, “What?” 

“To the Yule Ball?”

Crowley let him go and covered his own face, taking a deep breath, “Satanás ayúdame.”

He turned slowly on his heel, walking away at a pace Azira practically needed to jog to keep up with. 

“Well?”

“Diggory,” Crowley attempted passively, too flustered to brave looking at his friend.

“No,” Azira debunked the answer, “I remember very distinctly, Cedric and I were split up at the time. There was a very bothersome amount of gossip over it. He went with Cho Chang. Don’t lie.”

“You really want to know why I didn’t ask you to a dance twenty-three years ago?”

“Yes,” Azira confirmed matter-of-factly. 

Crowley sighed a great cloud into the icy air, slinking down onto a cold, damp bench. He seemed too overloaded mentally to even register the temperatures, for once. Azira sat cheerily next to him, enjoying the view of several people skating on the frozen lake of the park. A small smile graced his face and he rested his hands comfortably in his lap. He watched as a set of parents lifted their tiny daughter up off the ice between them, and she kicked and whooped in excitement. Crowley watched his companion from the corner of his eye. How awful- Azira’s smile made his heart beat just as furiously now as it did all those years ago, like it was going to burst out of chest and leave him to die. He spread his arms out over the bench to hide his shaking hands behind it. 

Azira being let in had started something. It had triggered a chain reaction of Crowley, against all fear and reason, wanting to open himself to him, to let him reach inside and put the pieces back together, to be freed from the bowels of the horrid memories and traumas that had consumed him. After all, Azira was his guardian angel- if he couldn’t be trusted with his vulnerability, who could?

“I did.”

Azira was broken from his trance at Crowley’s low mumble. He leaned forward a bit to read his expression, but the object of his attention looked the other way in a botched attempt to appear stoic. 

“I’m sorry, what was that?” 

The animagus heaved another frustrated sigh, crossing an ankle over the opposite knee. 

“I did ask you. Three weeks before the ball.” 

This served as perhaps the last thing Azira had expected to hear. He looked at Crowley in surprise, desperately searching his memory for the experience. He remembered, admittedly, several people asking him, but never the tall, gangly, notoriously mischievous Crawly. 

“And I… what? Publicly rejected you? Walked away? Didn’t hear you? I can’t imagine I would forget that.”

Crowley shifted uncomfortably, “It was a note.” 

“Ah. What did it say?” 

The pureblood looked at him in such an affronted manner that Azira wondered what he’d done to earn it. 

“What does it matter? Nothing worth responding to, apparently.” 

“Oh, come now, Crowley, are you really that embarrassed over something that happened so long ago?” 

“It said, ‘A.Z. Fell, W-www-will you go to the dance with me? A.J. Crawly’,” Crowley half-lied. 

“Ah, well, brevity is the soul of wit, I suppose,” Azira reflected thoughtfully, causing his companion to gape at him incredulously, “how do you know I read it?”

“I put it in your favorite book.”

The silence that followed was a great relief to the Herbologist, who needed time to sulk over a rejection he thought he’d gotten over roughly two decades prior. He bitterly watched a couple skate, hand in hand, laughing uproariously as they fell into a snowbank and began thrusting mounds of the white fluff at one another.

“Ask me again.”

Crowley was quite sure he’d misheard as his head snapped to face Azira. The expectant expression that greeted him ensured that no, he had not. He was rendered absolutely flabbergasted. 

He let out an airy laugh of disbelief, “You’re really still stuck on this? Don’t feel sorry for me. That’s beneath you. I was prepared for rejection. You were the brilliant, beloved, popular Head Boy Azira Fell, and I was cursed, plant-loving, delinquent, stuttering Crawly.”

“I don’t feel sorry for you,” Azira said with a frown, unamused by Crowley’s attempt at self-depreciation, “I didn’t then, and I don’t now. But I do so deeply appreciate the cursed, plant-loving, delinquent, stuttering Crowley I know now, so I don’t think it’s fair for you to assume I wouldn’t then.”

This earned a distinct blush from his companion, who again turned to look away, body language remaining relaxed as he feigned indifference. 

“Ask me again,” the librarian insisted a second time. 

Crowley turned back to him, raising an amused brow, “Would you let it go, you absolute nutter?”

“You promised Heller.”

The pureblood’s jaw dropped, he looked practically impressed at Azira’s dedication and daring, “Are you really playing my sick-best-friend-slash-adopted-sister card against me?”

“I am,” Azira said smugly, raising his eyebrows in challenge.

Crowley laughed sharply, shaking his head in amazement. How could he not be so in love with this man when he went around so unapologetically and brazenly being Azira Fell? He rolled his eyes and heaved a sigh, submitting to the pressure and figuring his friend had certainly earned it with that cunning check-mate, “Right then. Azira. Go to the dance with me?” 

“Properly,” Azira insisted.

“I’m sorry,” Crowley made a show of putting his finger behind his ear, leaning towards Azira, “what?”

“Ask me properly,” his companion shamelessly repeated, wearing an expression so unwavering and smug it made the taller wizard want to kiss him absolutely silly. Crowley pivoted his jaw, laughing at the utter audacity. 

Anthony made a dramatic display of standing up, fixing his jacket, taking two long strides to stand in front of Azira, kneeling down, clasping his hands together, and, with an investment to be as overly theatrical as possible, loudly pleaded, “Azira Fell! Won’t you please accompany me to the Yule Ball?” 

This gained the attention of several onlookers. However, his attempt to embarrass his friend was absolutely thwarted as the wizard gave him a positively blinding smile, and he could have floated away into the inviting clear blue sky of Azira’s eyes. Crowley was left, heart pounding, cheeks flushing, dumbfounded, on one-knee in front of his angel as his proposition was greeted with an entirely genuine and enthusiastic, “Oh, Crowley, I would absolutely love to!” 

The joke certainly hadn’t landed, and Anthony was left finding he had absolutely missed some nuance of the situation. It wasn’t brought up again, and he didn’t quite understand why the odd request had been made to begin with. They continued, business as usual, for the rest of the day. A cozy little hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant served satisfactory for lunch. Crowley gave his dessert to Azira. They disapparated from the city, finding themselves side-by-side in Hogsmeade. The walk back to Hogwarts was slow, but the pure-blood was so focused on the way the back of their hands brushed together that it felt unfairly fast. 

“Tea?” Crowley offered as they neared his office.

“I don’t think so. I really should get back to the library,” Azira politely declined. His companion curbed his disappointment, not wishing to appear as needy as he was. 

“Hello, Professor Crowley! You look very sharp today!” Blishwick chirped as she passed by, appearing absolutely ecstatic to see him. She was accompanied by Fawley, who drifted in a separate direction to avoid the upcoming structure marking their path. The young Hufflepuff herself was so enamoured while gazing after her professor that she failed to change course.

“Ciao, Blishwick. You’re about to eat it.” 

“Huh? AGH!” the unsuspecting girl exclaimed as she marched directly into the side of the greenhouse. Fawley attempted to come back to collect his friend, but was occupied falling over himself in laughter.

“Alright?” Crowley called out, slowing his pace.

“Y-Yes! I’m fine! Thank you!” Blishwick waved him away while hiding her face in the other hand, utterly devastated by the embarrassment. 

“Right. Be more careful. I don’t know what I’d do without you prefects.”

He righted his robes, giving Azira a toothy grin, “Look so good I’m a safety hazard.”

His friend laughed as they gradually began to split paths, him towards the library and Crowley towards his office, “It would seem like it.”

“Gonna get asked to the Ball, just you wait,” Crowley jested.

“Well,” Azira smiled warmly over his shoulder as they parted ways, “You’ll just have to tell them you already have a date.” 

The pureblood stood alone in the snow, an absolutely dumbfounded look upon his face as he clutched his keys weakly in his hand. A date?

Azira Fell is my date. To the Yule Ball. Azira Fell, he thought, again and again. 

Crowley was frozen in place until he watched the figure retreat into the castle. He turned towards his door, mind reeling as he unlocked it, walked inside, and habitually removed his outerwear. He idled in the middle of the floor, hands cupped around his nose and mouth, and stared into the empty fireplace for several moments. Trying to make sense of it all, he looked around the room, catching his reflection in the mirror over the sofa.

“Azira Fell,” he said out loud, taking off his glasses to look himself in the eye, “You’re going to the Yule Ball with Azira Fell.” 

He could hardly believe it. A surge of pure joy charged his heart, and he began leaping around the room, aggressively pumping his fists as he did so, “YES! Yeah! Fuck yeah! Yes!

For a moment, he felt like it was 1994- in the midst of the Triwizard Tournament. The Yule Ball was coming up soon. His crush had said yes.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

An atmosphere of exhilaration spread through Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry like a wildfire on the twentieth of December. Those attending the ball were eager to put the last schoolwork of the term behind them and indulge in the rare social affair. Students too young to attend elated in their impending return home for the holidays just two days later. The Professors were not absent from the end-of-semester joys as they applied the finishing touches on grading and correcting their class’s last assignments. 

Azira was in particularly high spirits this evening, empathetic to the contagious energy of the students. It made him recall a time that he himself was losing sleep in anticipation of the beautiful and elaborate holiday gala that was yet to come. Currently, he was navigating the castle halls to Crowley’s office. The redhead had been absent from all three mealtimes, and despite notoriously and miraculously not requiring food to survive, Azira was concerned about how he was handling his responsibilities for the upcoming ball. 

The blonde entirely forgot to knock on the door, far too familiar with the cozy little room, and swung the door open to find the fiery Herbologist (a witch, today) mid-bite into a dinner roll. The pure-blood made eye contact, un-sinking her teeth from the bread with visible discomfort and dropping it with a clatter onto a plate. She pushed the dish to the other end of the desk.

“Oh! I’m so sorry, I didn’t know you were eating- or rather… I didn’t know you… ate?” 

“Of course I eat , Angel. I just don’t do it in front of people,” she explained, shifting in her seat. Her face flushed in an odd and misplaced embarrassment.

Azira was bemused, mentally cataloging how long Crowley must have been doing this- eating in secret, that was. They’d been to countless restaurants, attended mealtimes together every day for over a year, and yet he couldn’t recall a single occasion on which his friend ate more than a single bite of food in his company. A bit of guilt for his ignorance nipped at him like Doxies. 

“I could come back?”

“N- nnn- eh, no, that’s alright. I’m done, anyways. Finished grading papers for the term! And the first chapter of my book. Now just… ack, 10 more to go. Blast it all.” 

“Chin up, Dear Girl! You’re doing marvelously.” 

“I suppose,” Crowley mumbled, not encouraged as she resumed scribbling on some parchment with a black-feathered quill. 

Azira grinned, taking a turn about the plants lining the windowsill, “Fern, Casper, Harvey, Jeremy. You’re all looking quite well.” 

He muffled his laugh upon turning to the witch’s shocked face, taking the liberty to explain, “You’ve introduced us.” 

“Perfect,” Crowley noted with dread, ears notably pink as she pressed her nose to her work and hoped she could disappear into it if she got close enough. The last bloody thing she needed was to share her embarrassing litany of sexual exploits with her crush. She prayed to Hell that the introduction hadn’t come along with explanations. Azira was merciful enough not to reveal to her that it absolutely had. 

The blonde allowed her to finish her narrative thoughts, opting to occupy himself with a scan about the room. Most items were moved or rearranged after their recollection from the Ministry. Some pictures that had not previously been presented were now on the mantle over the fireplace. A photo of Crowley smiling and bantering with a blue-eyed, dark-haired man caught Azira’s attention. The two of them were holding the same variety of plant, and they appeared quite proud of the fauna. 

“Who’s this?” he asked curiously, carefully removing the frame from the mantle and holding it up for his friend to see.

“Ah- that’s Neville Longbottom,” Crowley mused, barely sparing a glance up from her parchment. 

“Really?” Azira asked in a nonplussed tone, “My goodness. He looks entirely different from when I last saw him his fourth year. I didn’t know you two were friends.” 

“Oh yes, really grew into himself the later years of school. Herbology nerds, the two of us. Really brought us together. Were colleagues for several years before I started on at Hogwarts. That photo was taken at the Edinburgh Herbology Conference; we’d managed to create a new Mimbulus mimbletonia hybrid. Looking back, it’s silly that we were so proud of such a small feat.” 

“I’m sure it wasn’t silly at all. Every career has its beginnings,” Azira reassured, though he wasn’t precisely sure of the feat’s notability at all. It felt safe to assume that Crowley was trivializing his own impressive abilities, as he so often did.

A comfortable silence fell upon the room as the blonde continued perusing the office’s decor. He eventually circled back to Crowley’s desk, and froze at what he found there. Without uttering a word, he reached out his fingers to pluck up a frame housing the picture of himself at 5-years-old in that ridiculous pumpkin costume, held it up to the office occupant, and squinted at her incredulously. Upon crossing her eyes to observe the photo, held only a few inches in front of her long nose, Crowley responded with a mischievous grin.

“Swiped that when we were at the bookshop. Couldn’t help myself. It’s too cute.” 

“That doesn’t seem fair,” Azira complained, setting the photo back down, “I want one of you if you’re going to keep it!” 

“I was a horrendously miserable child, and it would likely only serve to make you sad, but alright. I’m sure Thelpie can fish something up.”

“Thelpie?” the Muggle-born asked, voice laced with curiosity. He tilted his head the slightest bit upon hearing the new name and attempted to place it.

“Yes, Thelpie,” Crowley repeated. A long, silent beat passed before she paused her writing to examine the confusion on Azira’s face, “Oh. The Help.” 

“The Help?” Azira countered, eyes widening at the audacity of Crowley to call anyone such a thing. His slacked jaw contributed to the affronted expression.

As if on cue, a jingle of ringing bells resonated throughout the small office. From the over the desk, a large pair of watery green eyes and bat-like, floppy ears could be seen. Azira was surprised at the sudden appearance of a House-elf. His friend, in contrast, was remarkably unperturbed by the presence and couldn’t be bothered to look up from her work. Immediately, the gigantic pair of green eyes directed their attention to the plate resting on the desk, then sternly turned on the witch’s face.

“Master Anthonia hasn’t finished her food! Master Anthonia is going to wither away if she goes on like this! The Help won’t tolerate it!” 

Azira couldn’t remember a single mention of Crowley having any kind of relationship with a House-elf. He had even less of an inkling why on earth she would be serving the witch in such a direct manner when the workers of Hogwarts went to such great measures to remain discreet. In part of processing this new discovery, he marveled at the social dynamic he was witnessing. Never before had he observed one of the tiny, subservient creatures attempting to chastise a human.

“Thelpie, quit fussing. I’m fine. I couldn’t eat anything else. Honestly,” Crowley muttered with the embarrassment of a grown child being scolded by their parents. The Muggle-born in their company couldn’t help but be amused as he observed his friend’s sheepish expression, and he betrayed himself with an innocent, amazed little laugh. The tiny creature’s glance turned to the wizard, and her ears perked up, expression immediately adopting a more amicable nature.

“Oh dear! Master Anthonia has company! The Help didn’t realize. The Help is very happy to meet a friend of Master Anthonia. She has heard wonderful things about Mr. Fell!”

The tiny female house elf made her way around the desk, curtseying deeply to Azira, who felt quite uncomfortable with the display. She called the pure-blood ‘Master’, and the librarian found himself appalled that Crowley would forgo mentioning the fact that she owned a living creature. The servant gave a flourish of her frail hand, righting her master’s messy desk, and ignored the witch’s protests that her system of organization had been perfectly fine. Crowley pouted, flailing about to snatch her things and restore them to their former chaotic glory. The Help seemed a tad smug as the efforts were halted half-way through, accompanied by a defeated, “Oh. Well actually when you put it there…”

“Ah, yes! It’s quite nice to meet you as well… er…,” Azira trailed off, disconcerted with the idea of calling any sentient creature ‘The Help’. 

“You can call her Thelpie,” Crowley offered, “You don’t mind, do you?” 

“Certainly not! Mr. Fell may call The Help whatever he likes,” she reassured, occupied with snapping her fingers to make the half-eaten meal and its accompanied dishware disappear. The wizard felt his stomach churn as he noticed the deep brand of a snake on the back of Thelpie’s frail hand, “Master Anthonia has called her ‘Thelpie’ since she was a tiny little tot.” 

“You serve the Crawly family?” Azira inquired to confirm his suspicions, catching up on the identity of the most self-assured house elf he’d ever met. 

“Oh, yes! The Help has served the Crawly family for over a hundred years!” she said, puffing her chest forward with pride beneath the dishrags that enrobed her tiny, thin frame, “Is there anything else Master Anthonia needs? The Help must be getting on with her other duties, and she doesn’t wish to intrude.”

“Azira was asking for a childhood picture of me. Do you think you could manage to scrounge one up for him?” Crowley asked lazily, resting her cheek on a fist and flicking the black feather of her quill about with her free hand. 

“Oh, The Help would be delighted to revisit the manor and search for photos! Master Anthonia was such a precious baby, after all. Such a sweet, imaginative little child, always coming up with the most fantastical games, however mischievous they were. She used to fashion extravagant little heists into the pantry to steal cookies. But The Help knew her tricks too well-,” the House-elf reminisced wistfully.  

“Thank you, Thelpie,” the witch cut the exposure of her childhood nature short with a tinge of embarrassment, her ears now a bright pink. Azira found himself eager to talk to Thelpie again, interested in being regaled, uninterrupted, with tales of Crowley’s childhood exploits. They sounded unyieldingly adorable.

“Of course. If Master Anthonia needs anything else, she shan’t hesitate to call! The Help has been honored to meet Mr. Fell,” Thelpie chirped with cheer, curtseying low to the two humans before disappearing with a snap of her fingers.

“The Help?” Azira asked yet again, his voice laced with an incredulous tone.

“Well I didn’t name her,” Crowley defended herself.

“Why haven’t you let her go?” 

Very few things reminded Azira of the stark contrast between their upbringings, but Crowley’s dubious glance certainly did. The expression was followed by a grimace. She pretended to busy herself in the manner she always did when forced to discuss the sordid details of her family life. However much ground Azira made inching into her guarded heart, massive stretches of guarded histories seemed to tack onto the journey at each discovery. The closer he came, the more tenuous the terrain.

“I haven’t inherited anything, including Thelpie. I likely won’t, considering I was disowned. But my mother is incapacitated and I’m the only other living Crawly, so she’s in- eh, en- in- inclined to serve me in the meantime. Didn’t know what to do with her and didn’t have claim to free her, so I asked her to work here. But even if I was able to, she’d probably be heartbroken if I tried to dismiss her. I suppose I wouldn’t be opposed to paying her, though. She raised me, you know. She’s quite attached.” 

“What do you mean she raised you?”

“Oh, you know. Kept me busy. Away from my parents. Played with me. Fed me. Taught me everything I needed to know. No one else was going to do it. Never was able to discipline me, though. I’m her soft spot.”

A pang of sympathy struck Azira’s heart. It must have presented itself on his face as well, because Crowley shifted in her seat and cleared her throat, continuing to avoid eye contact. He’d never heard her say anything remotely positive about her childhood, and suddenly he felt a deep appreciation for the presence of the House-elf in her life. 

“You’re quite attached to her too, then?” 

“Of course. I’m very fond of her,” Crowley mumbled.

Azira reflected on this, deciding that the dynamic was, in reality, very sweet. As he processed the new intel, he realized that while he knew his friend’s mother was alive, he was unaware that she was unwell, “If I may ask, what did you mean about your mother being incapacitated?”

Crowley remained silent and adjusted her glasses- reinforcing her emotional guard. The token action served as an unmistakable signal that Azira was not to tread any further. The Muggle-born heeded the body language, aware of its meaning. He was committed to work for a reality in which Anthonia only shared when she felt safe and comfortable, and this approach yielded neither luxury. Azira realized he could move too quickly, as well- in his own way. Out of an abundance of respect for his friend’s fragile, guarded heart, he exhibited mercy in the fashion of a change in topic, “How are the decorations coming along?”

“Oh! Perfect. Thanks for reminding me; I wanted to show you something!” she rushed out, embracing the turn in conversation with great enthusiasm. Promptly standing up from her desk and adjusting her tight grey knit sweater dress, she made her way to the coat stand. Her robes were pulled on over her clothing and a Hufflepuff scarf thrown about her neck with a flourish.

“Outside?”

“In the greenhouses.”

Azira bundled up as well and obediently followed, stifling a fond laugh at the way his friend tiptoed at a sprint through the snow in her knee-high black boots. The journey to their destination was remarkably quick with the greenhouses placed only a short distance from the Herbology professor’s office. Crowley let out a sigh of relief as they entered the warm enclosure of Greenhouse Seven. As far as the eye could see were flower buds of varying size.

“Oh dear, they haven’t bloomed in time?” Azira asked in concern, wringing his hands about one another. After offering to organize the Yule Ball, he’d become quite busy. His knowledge that Crowley was often eager to please and his trust that she’d keep her word had resulted in a failure to micromanage her, or to check up on progress at all. The librarian settled on the conclusion that this must have been the result of an unfortunate timing issue.

“So little faith in me, Angel,” Crowley chided, sauntering over to the supply closet and pulling out two burlap sacks, “Come ‘ere.”

The librarian complied, an anxious grimace on his face, and staggered a bit under the unexpected weight of the bag that was shoved into his arms.

“Just sprinkle a bit over this row, I’ll get the other side.”

“Oh, I really don’t know Crowley… I have quite the black thumb. I’d hate to ruin your hard work.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Azira. It’s good for you to get your nose out of a book now and then, you know. Breathe in some fresh air. You won’t kill them. They won’t kill you. A five-year-old could do this. Watch.”

She sunk her hand into the sand-like substance within her own sack, liberally allowing the grains to strain through her fingers over a cluster of the adolescent plants. When finished, she upturned her palm, fingers splayed, as if to emphasize the ease of the act.

“I suppose I can manage…,” Azira hesitated.

“Goody,” Crowley rolled her amber eyes in an obvious enough manner that the action was perceptible even past the smoked glass.

She hummed ‘Killer Queen’ under her breath after setting her companion to work. The two idled around one another, navigating their way through the simple task. Azira tutted under his breath as he seemed to add either far too much or not enough of the powder atop the plants and hoped Crowley wouldn’t be too aggrieved with him. Well, it had been her idea, he supposed. He spared a glance over her way, and his dedicated focus to the chore changed course entirely.

He’d known Crowley- at least, really known her- near fifteen months now, and he liked to think he knew her quite well. He knew how easily flustered she was, how she abused and belittled her own character, how afraid she was to lower her guard, and how beneath her noncommittal facade, she cared so deeply about everything that occurred around her. But now, in this moment, she appeared so at peace. This was second nature to her- a safe, familiar, and happy ritual. The tranquility it brought her permeated the entire atmosphere, and the wizard in her company couldn’t help but feel it was a contagious blessing. Perhaps Azira was a safety hazard to the inhabitants of the greenhouses, but he made a silent decision in that moment to frequent the place much more often, if only for the privilege of seeing Anthonia here, like this.

“Right,” Crowley set down the heavy bag, clapping her hands together in opposite directions to dust off any loose residue, “Oh- Angel, that’s a bit much, don’t you think?”

Azira realized he’d been staring and, while doing so, had been allowing a heavy stream of the powder to sink through his fingers onto a single unfortunate botanical victim.

“Oh! So sorry! I don’t know where my mind went,” he lied.

Crowley couldn’t bring herself to be angry when her angel awarded her that sheepish, apologetic smile. She sighed, shaking her head.

“It’s alright, we won’t use that one, we can put it up in your office instead.”

“What’s the nature of this powder, anyway?” Azira finally asked as he relieved himself of the heavy sack.

“You’ll see,” Crowley hummed, offering him a grin of childish enthusiasm. The wizard didn’t question his colleague as she took his hands, guiding him to the front of the architectural structure, “Now, stand here. I wanted you to see this.”

“Should I be worried?”

“Would I cause trouble?” the witch crooned with a devilish inflection.

“I don’t have a trace of doubt.”

“Oh, shut it. You worry too bloody much.”

Azira allowed the hypocrisy of the statement to slide, observing with curiosity and mild concern as his friend walked to the other side of the room, upturned a wooden crate with her foot, kicked it in front of her workbench, and climbed on top of it.

“You ready?”

“As I’ll ever be, Dearest.”

A tinge of pink hue blessed Crowley’s face alongside a bashful little expression at the term of endearment. Azira found himself motivated to use the term more if it would always get such an adorable reaction. The Herbologist cleared her throat, pushed up the tight knit sleeves of her dress, and drew her wand from her robes.

Hervibicus .”

In a moment that was fleeting but beautiful enough for a lifetime, each bud of every flower burst open to boast iridescent silver blossoms. Incoming rays of sunshine danced unapologetically off them, casting a variety of blue, glimmering light throughout the greenhouse. Specks of shimmering pollen and soft petals shot into the air in response to the sudden blooming, lazily drifting downwards and swirling about the figure at the end of the room. Crowley pushed her glasses onto her forehead, an unyielding smile on her face as she gazed around at the fruits of her own labor. However brightly the flowers sparkled, they couldn’t hold a candle to the blinding shine of Crowley’s eyes. After all, Azira always had preferred gold over silver. The imagery of the lovely garden witch amongst her beautiful creations etched itself on his heart, which skipped an extra few beats just to ensure every detail was captured to perfection.

“So?” Anthonia began, enamored expression unwavering as it turned from her painstakingly prepared plants to the object of her deepest affections, “What do you think?”

The wizard fumbled for an answer, finding his speech had been lost to the flurry of flowers. Not until his hand rested over his heart, encouraging it to behave, did it start back up

“Remarkable, brilliant, beautiful- and so much more,” he finally settled on, though it served to be a shameful understatement. The comment was hardly directed towards the fauna, but Azira assumed it could safely be applied to them, as well, “You were right. I should have had more faith in you.”

“A bit louder, Angel, couldn’t hear you from up here,” Crowley grinned, making a show of leaning in and cupping her hand behind an ear. She gazed smarmily at the ceiling as she waited.

Azira resigned himself to giving his friend the victory, laughing and shaking his head before awarding Crowley the reiteration, “When have you ever let me down? I should have had more faith in you.”

The pure-blood crossed her arms smugly, feeling quite pleased with herself, “And don’t forget it. I’d fancy that one on record.”

“Careful with that big head,” Azira teased, “You’re bound to crush all your hard work.”

“Oh! Wh- whhh- what’s that? Eager to eat more crow, Azira?” his friend combated with a playful vigor, “Just you wait until tomorrow.”

 

 

 


 

 

 

Crowley was not surprised in the slightest with the gentle control and calm Azira maintained while managing the ball’s preparations. He’d seen him handle situations of greater intensity without a trace of anxiety. With such a tight timeline between the end of lunch and 8 PM, the transformation of the Great Hall was quite the undertaking. Marvelous efforts from the faculty proved well worth the investment. 

The flowers Crowley had grown were arranged among white poinsettias and blue baby’s breath. The glow from the floating candles and moon above shifted off the silver blossoms, reflecting dancing blue lights onto the floors and walls. A beautiful night sky spanned the enchanted ceiling tonight, modest clouds passing over the milky galaxy and blessing the hall below with spiraling, fluffy snowflakes. The image was not accompanied by cold, as the surrounding fireplaces hosted roaring fires of toasty blue flames. A gigantic Christmas tree was situated at the end of the hall, donning large blue glass ornaments and meticulously placed silver tinsel. Sheer silver curtains cascaded over the tall arched windows, fluttering in a gentle bewitched breeze. They had not yet been drawn, as the Herbology professor had forbade anyone from entering or peering into the garden until the night officially began. 

The decked hall had remained vacant for a time as the attendants and chaperones changed into their finest formal wear. Anathema was one of the first to volunteer as a supervisor, which seemed proper considering it was her idea that had been responsible for the event’s occurrence. She arrived early to find Azira obsessively shifting the decor- this a bit higher, or that a touch to the left. While her breath had been stolen away by the transformation, she was quite bitter that Azira had managed it without a trace of distress, as she now owed Anthony five sickles. She should have known that however clear her Sight, he’d always best her when it came to predictions of the librarian’s behavior. 

“It looks amazing Azira- and so do you,” she reassured while sneaking up from behind, “Didn’t think it was possible for you to forgo a single touch of tartan, though. Thought you counted on it for survival.”

The two were alone in the hall, the first faculty to arrive for their duties. Never one to entertain mundane, modern clothing, Azira was dressed in remarkable vintage light blue and white dress robes. They must have been decades old, but they appeared brand new. The ensemble was adorned with ruffles that would appear far too much for any other man, but suited the old-fashioned wizard with impeccable refinement. Somehow, in the clothing that was the height of fashion an entire century prior, Azira looked sleek, chic, handsome

As he turned her attention to her, he made notice of two things: she looked beautiful, and as obviously as she wore the strapless, form-fitting green gown, she also wore a remarkable discomfort upon her face. She tugged at the long silver gloves encasing her arms. Her dark hair was tidied up in a lovely style above her head, and around her neck was a silver statement necklace adorned with emeralds. The dress had a sweetheart neckline in front, and plunged low in the back, revealing a great expanse of skin that she was entirely unaccustomed to featuring.

“Courtesy of Crowley,” she explained while subjected to appraisal by her friend’s kind blue eyes, “Should have known he’d choose something that didn’t suit me. That wily old serpent can just be so damned persuasive.”

“I couldn’t possibly disagree more. He must have known what he was doing, as you look absolutely stunning, my dear.”

Anathema’s dark cheeks flushed at the compliment, and she responded with a noncommittal shrug and a modest, “Thanks.”

They paced the hall together, ensuring for a third time that everything was in order as the rest of the staff trickled in. After seeing to it that all designated tasks had been fulfilled, they matched strides and floated towards the grand staircase in anticipation of the students’ arrival. 

“Are all your Gryffindors prepared to dance to their heart’s content?” Azira asked with a dreamy look in his eyes as he reminisced about his own experience at the Yule Ball. 

“As prepared as they could be. Crowley and I joined forces, knocked out a lesson for both our houses.”

“Crowley? Taught dance? Heavens, the entire generation is going to grow up a drastic dancing disaster. I can’t wait to witness a horde of students performing the ‘sheela shuffle’ to Shostakovich,” he expressed, eyebrows raised high and unable to contain a smile as his friend joined him in a long and hearty session of laughter.

“‘Catching the Snitch’ to Shubert’,” she squeeked through manic giggles. 

“‘Brewing the potion’ to Beethoven!” 

The two grasped onto one another for support as they rode out their hysterics, earning a disapproving glare from some of the other faculty at Anathema’s abrupt snort. They reduced to snickers, catching their breaths as they wiped away tears. 

“But honestly, you’d be surprised,” Anathema finally managed, “As much of a horrendous free-stylist he is, he has a proficient grasp on ballroom dancing.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it, Dear Girl,” Azira countered with an amicable smile, “Will Newton be joining us tonight?”

The dark eyes that scanned him bore an inquisitive element as her face struggled betwixt a glower and a polite smile, “Why would Newt be here? Don’t think I could trick him into thinking all this is a No-Maj affair.” 

Azira’s expression fell vacant, his eyelashes fluttering at her. Finally, he cocked his head, unable to contain his curiosity, “You mean you still haven’t told him? Surely, you’ve decided you like him by now.” 

“I do! Like him, I mean. It’s just that I’ve never dated a No-maj before. I know the witchfinding business is all nonsense, but I don’t want him to be afraid of me. I don’t want to spoil things. I don’t even know if this will last. It all just feels like so much pressure.” 

“He seems like a nice chap, my dear. He’ll be surprised, but I can’t imagine he’d ever be afraid of you. It doesn’t really change things. Not really. Muggle or Wizard, we’re all human in the end.”

The witch remained silent, mulling over the words. Uneasy about the topic, still, and unsure how to respond, she opted for a change in subject, “Speaking of dates, where’s yours? He was supposed to be here nearly a half-hour ago.” 

“Oh, you know Crowley. Always fashionably late.”

“Always embraces the chance to be a spectacle, too. He’s probably still looking in the mirror, fussing over whatever entirely inappropriate ensem-”

Anathema cut herself short, but her lips remained ajar, jaw gradually sinking lower as her gaze fixed past her friend, upwards. Her cheeks flushed a burning red like Azira’d never witnessed before, and she rambled a nonsensical string of syllables as her sentence trailed into nonexistence. Azira observed her with an expectant glance, tensing the corner of his lips and furrowing his brows before following her line of sight. Instantly, his own features adopted the same stunned expression.

Indeed, Crowley did embrace the opportunity to become a spectacle. However his appearance could be described, ‘inappropriate’ was the last term to be justified. The fiery red locks were cropped short and loosely pushed backwards in stunning depiction of elegance. His attire was a dashing hybrid of modern and vintage. A sleek black floral brocade jacket was meticulously arranged over a fitted, double breasted silk waistcoat. The fine black cravat and pocket square complementing the ensemble featured tasteful red detail work. Fastened over it all was a deep red asymmetrical cape, secured over one shoulder with an antique silver clasp. Crowley’s golden eyes were unimpeded tonight, betraying the fact that he was gazing at Azira in equal measure of awe. He descended the staircase, escorting Professor Sinistra on his arm. 

Her sentiment of appreciation went unnoticed as she floated away. Anthony was flooded with powerful notions of sickening love and irrevocable adoration that drowned out any particle of sense or reason. While his mind was unable to function, his feet seemed to manage just fine, as he found himself standing directly in front of Azira. This gave him the advantage, as Azira was rendered incapable of coaxing either his mind or his body into functioning. His blue eyes remained locked on the wizard before him. 

“Crowley,” he gasped, refusing his lungs the oxygen they yearned for from the moment spotted his companion, “You look… absolutely-” 

“Ethereal,” Crowley blurted out, clearing his throat. He attempted to break his gaze away as his hand raised to rub his neck in embarrassment, but how could he cheat himself of indulging in the view that sent pixies fluttering madly through his chest? 

“Y-yyy-you do, I m-mean. Not me.” 

“I’d have to disagree,” Azira breathed, lost in a sensation of intoxicating adulation. 

“Uh. Hello?” Anathema grinned, looking back and forth between them. 

“Huh? Oh. Hey,” Crowley said, turning his head toward her in an indication that he noticed her presence, but remaining transfixed on the angel before him. 

The witch gave a great roll of her eyes, shaking her head as she unceremoniously shoved past the pair and chortled, “You two are a couple of dumbass gays, you know that?” 

The comment went entirely unnoticed by the duo, who remained spellbound within one another's presence until the excited chattering of impending students finally distracted them. For every moment they had basked in admiration, the minutes of ecstatic activity that came after went fleeting by. Greetings were exchanged, students bantered with, and photos taken. Crowley dished out several “who would have thought you lot would clean up this nice”s while Azira distributed “don’t you look just marvelous?”s with a wholesome enthusiasm.

The first waltzes were performed, and Crowley and Azira danced rather several of them together. Anathema had been honest- the pure-blood did have a solid grasp on ballroom dance. However, he delighted in mixing styles together, keeping his partner entertained and on his toes. On occasions such as these, when the redhead’s spirits were so high, his playful demeanor was infectious. It was impossible for Azira to refrain from grinning like a madman all the while, sounding a laugh that was heaven-sent whenever Crowley would suddenly twirl him or fall dramatically backwards into his arms with the well-placed trust that his partner would catch him.

The pair managed to pull themselves away from one another long enough to politely rotate through other partners. While the Muggle-born spun round and round with Anathema, Crowley found himself offering a dance to Professor McGonagall. 

“So, you finally managed to muster the courage,” she mused mid-waltz, eyebrows raised and a scarce, secret grin gracing her stern face. 

“What do you mean?” 

“To ask Azira to the ball. Only took you- oh dear, how long was it? Twenty-five years?” 

“Www-wh-what?” Crowley stuttered out, cursing himself as he felt blood pool to his cheeks, “You knew?” 

“Professor Crowley. Who didn’t? The staff had a betting pool. I suppose I should thank you; two decades later and I’ve finally won the pot.”

For lack of a better reaction, Crowley let out a loud laugh. He was unsure if he should be embarrassed, impressed, or flattered by the fact that not only had Minerva gambled over students’ social affairs, but she also appeared to have been in his corner.

“Always pleased to bring about the unexpected, Professor McGonagall,” he managed back with some semblance of aplomb. 

The Yule Feast was served mid-way through the evening festivities. While Azira savoured the holiday delicacies, they played an innocent little game of the more devilish man’s devising, in which they would choose a couple of the more theatrical students and speak on their behalf, making up ridiculous exchanges. It was a quiet tournament between the two of them that left them snorting and giggling above their dishes. Anathema’s unexpected contribution as she squeezed in between them nearly had Crowley spitting out his wine from hysterics. 

After supper, more contemporary entertainment was provided by one of the UK’s most famed modern wizarding bands, The Benevolent Boggarts. The teenager in Crowley came out as he marveled, “How on Earth did you get them to agree to this?” and Azira answered only with a secretive smile and a coy, “I have my ways.” 

The blonde kindly refused his date’s offer to cavort about the ballroom floor, finding he wasn’t much one for free-form dance. However, he took utter delight in watching the redhead dance with the students, admiring his courage to debut his awful moves without a hint of self-consciousness or fear of making a fool of himself. The sense about his childhood friendship with the Weasley twins was clear as day. 

It was true, any occupant of Hogwarts could be asked who the favorite professor on staff was, and the answer would always be Crowley. Even Gabriel Goodbody would be begrudged to admit it. It wasn’t any enigma; it was for reasons like this. For as persistent the illusion of him caring about image, he would throw it away on a dime to make his students laugh or bring others the slightest bit of joy. The words ‘good’ and ‘kind’ came immediately to Azira’s mind. He couldn’t help but wonder what had been said and who had said it to make the man loathe being praised down to his core. Whoever the mystery offender, the Muggle-born decided they were absolutely his enemy. 

“Whoo-ee!” Crowley panted, resting his hands on his knees to catch his breath after gallivanting back over to his date, “It’s getting warm in here. Shall we step outside?” 

“You? Want to go outside? Into the cold?” 

“Yes. A walk about and I’ll be back up and raring to go in no time.”

“We could just sit down, I can get you some water?”

“Well I had a plan to smoothly say, ‘shall we step outside?’ and you would say, ‘Professor Crowley, I’d be absolutely elated to join you,’ and then I would bring you out to the gardens where you’d be utterly spellbound by its transformation, but you seem hell bent on resisting that suave move.”

“Oh! Terribly sorry. Ask again.” 

Crowley grinned, anybody else and that would’ve ruined it, but Azira was so heartfelt about being accommodating to his shenanigans, always, and he couldn’t help but fall victim to the captivating sensations of love he felt toward him for it. It had never been a matter of giving Azira his heart. He’d had it for quite some time now, whether or not he remained ignorant about it. The librarian had done a remarkable job of preserving it for being so unaware of its presence in his pocket.

“Care for a stroll outside?” 

“Ah! Professor Crowley, I’d be absolutely elated to join you.” 

Azira cursed the heat pooling to his cheeks as he gazed up at the absolutely enchanting image of Crowley, looking like a prince with that devilishly handsome grin on his face and offering his arm to him. He took it, gladly, and matched strides with the redhead as they wandered through the great glass doors and found themselves outside. 

“Well?” his companion said, and it was only now that Azira realized he was appreciating the wrong view. He turned his head, and all his other senses- the prickling reception of the cold on his skin, the soft thrumming of his heart in his chest, the shaky inhale of the icy air- were begged to cease to allow opportunity for his eyes to take it all in, unimpeded. 

The typically wild, ungroomed hedges now boasted smooth spirals that tapered near their tops, spinning in place as they fed into the gentle waves of the shrubs. The spackle of stars upon the dark, velvety black sky were shining with a shameless splendor, and they cradled a full, opulent moon among them. The gentle beams of white light that came down from it coaxed the blooms of the shrubbery out from their hiding places of dark, bristley botanical refuge. The flowers were unlike anything Azira had ever scene, petals fluttering and spinning playfully on the massive blossoms as they emitted an enrapturing white glow, illuminating the entire garden. The way they swayed in response to the moonlight was utterly reminiscent of the persuasive push and pull of the ocean’s tides. 

“Have they always been here?” he exhaled at long last, unaware of the glowing amber eyes that gazed at him with unwavering expectancy.

“The flowers? Oh yeahhh. Looked miserable, though. Had to put the fear of God- or rather the fear of Crowley into them to shape them up. The rest of the garden just took patient maintenance,” he explained, trying his very best not to betray how absolutely pleased he was. As far as he was concerned, this was sort of their first date, and it was sort of going perfectly. 

“I’ve never- never seen them before.” 

“L- i- lll- eh, lunar Lantana, only blossom on nights of the full moon.”

“It’s… my Dear Boy, it’s-”

A soft rustle and shushing came from behind a nearby shrub, and Azira was snapped back into chaperone mode, leaning around to see who the culprits were.

“Miss Macmillan, Mr. Aves, I believe you’ve gotten a bit lost. Inside. Now, if you don’t mind.”

The seventh year Slytherin boy and Hufflepuff girl shot up out of the bushes, looking out of sorts and donning dark shades of red visible even in the dim light as they scurried into the ballroom. Azira turned to share a look of disapproval with Crowley, and admonished himself for bothering to be surprised when he found the man snickering. 

“You shouldn’t encourage that kind of behavior, Crowley,” he scolded.

“Oh, c’mon, Professor Fell, we were all students once. You mean to tell me you never snogged in the garden?” 

“You mean to tell me you did? ” 

“A gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell.”

“And neither do you, apparently,” Azira retorted smartly, earning a coy grin from Crowley that made his heart skip a beat. 

“I am quite the scoundrel, aren’t I?” 

The tone of the music drifting out the open windows changed to something different, something slow and soft and familiar, and Azira struggled to keep his breath even as he turned back to the wicked smile that was far more charming than it had any right to be. A long, slender hand was held out to him, the red cape about the shoulder attached to it fluttering in the wind. As the voice of the Benevolent Boggart’s front-man singer started sounding, Azira placed the tune as Queen’s ‘Play the Game’. 

“But you will dance with me anyway, won’t you?” 

Crowley appeared confident, suave, but there was an unmistakable undertone of anxiety, a fear of being rejected the way so many attempts had rendered him before. Azira reached out his hand instinctively but half-way there, faltered.

Clearly, his friend had planned this. He had put so much work into every detail. If he didn’t know better, Azira would think he’d spend hours stringing the moon up to be placed just so, the stars dimmed just right, and each bloom of each flower meticulously placed. All at once, he wondered if he wasn’t being asked for a dance, if he was being asked for something much more. Despite this all being of Crowley’s devising, Azira heard the warning bells, the shouts of stranded sailors, and felt very much like a siren, pulling the careless, devoted admirer out to sea. He thought of the face of dead Crowley that haunted his dreams. He was plagued with flashes of the face of dead Cedric that haunted his reality. His fingers began to flinch closed.

“Angel- Azira,” Crowley pleaded, his face softened to something much more gentle and understanding than it had been before. Azira felt like he’d read his mind as easily as words etched onto parchment, “I’m not taking you anywhere. We can slow down. Hell, we can stay right here, in this moment- anything you want.” 

And that was enough. Time stopped, no spells required. They weren’t going too fast, or going anywhere at all as his angel’s soft, warm hand gripped the icy digits of his own. Ever so slowly, they pulled close, chest to chest, and swayed in a moment independent of reality. In these stollen seconds, they could drift together in a sea of glowing flowers, unafraid of drowning. The stars in Crowley’s eyes felt so much more beautiful, so much more real than the ones that hung overhead, and Azira found himself more inclined than ever to traverse them. 

Open up your mind and let me step inside

Rest your weary head and let your heart decide

It's so easy when you know the rules

It's so easy all you have to do

Is fall in love

Play the game

Everybody play the game of love”

Hypnotized hearts beat in synchrony, flushed foreheads fell together, and as one body exhaled a sigh of sweet sentimentality, the other inhaled it in a cycle so comfortable it felt second-nature. Their lips were mere centimeters apart as the mellifluous music faded into the magical atmosphere. 

This is your life

Don’t play hard to get

It’s a free world

All you have to do is--” 

The spell between them was broken by a cacophony of panicked screams and microphone feedback, snapping each wizard back to his own mind and body. 

“Oh Lord, please, nothing else,” Azira prayed. 

Though their bodies parted, their hands remained tightly clasped while the pair broke into a sprint to return to the hall, wands drawn on instinct. 

The room’s glow had soured from a comforting blue to a menacing shade of red. Up amongst the enchanted stars hung two limp bodies. One a fifth year Ravenclaw girl named Beatrice Beetle and the other-

Fawley!” Crowley cried to no avail. 

“Did you think you could escape reality? Stop the world from turning?” echoed a sinister voice that, that while being so familiar, the Herbologist could not place, “The true heir of Slytherin has risen to complete the tasks their predecessors have failed to fulfill. Do you think he’ll be happy with the state of the Wizarding World? I believe he’ll be rather displeazzzzzed .” 

The two students rotated slowly in the air- faraway, entranced expressions on their faces. 

“Finite incantatem!” several professors tried at once, to no avail. 

“Renervate!” Crowley shouted in desperation.

“Surgito!” Azira growled with amassing frustration. 

Save for the despairing incantations of the Hogwarts staff, the room was absolutely silent. The voice of the invader continued.

“Things are about to change for our kind… but something’s got to give. We must clean things up for our master’s arrival. What should be taken care of first? The Muggle-borns who have invaded and corrupted the sanctity of wizard-kind?” 

The body of Beatrice was viciously thrown to the ground like a ragdoll in a child’s tantrum. 

“Or the blood-traitors who have forsaken us?” 

Crowley attempted to lunge forth to catch Fawley’s limp body as it too came crashing down with a cruel celerity. He found himself too late, and fought the fear permeating his bones, begging him to submit as he grabbed the boy in his arms and listened for a heartbeat, hanging onto the tiniest inkling of hope.

“I suppozzze we’ll have to see. How intriguing. I can’t wait.” 

The voice fell silent. Darkness enveloped the room.

 

 

 


 

 

 

The last twenty-four hours had bombarded Hogwarts with chaos as the staff scrambled to reinstate order and normalcy. All students returning home for the holidays had been sought off as early as possible. Professors were temporarily re-housed to stay within the house dormitories to ensure the safety of those left behind. Crowley missed the Hogwarts Express departure for the first time in his decade of employment, solidly situated in an infirmary chair between Adrien Fawley and Beatrice Beetle’s beds. All three of them appeared as if they’d ventured through Hell and back. 

Azira took in his companion’s sorry state as he set down a mug of tea and a book he thought he’d like beside him. The professor was sprawled out in his chair in a manner that would have his limbs aching something fierce later on. His glasses were askew. His jacket and cape had long since been shed, his waistcoat unbuttoned, and his shirt untucked. Those lovely red locks upon his head were now sticking every which way after a night of being anxiously tugged on. 

“Crowley,” Azira murmured in a soft tone, resting a mindful hand on his friend’s shoulder. The other wizard jumped upright, on edge, but calmed at the librarian’s presence. 

“Oh. Must’ve dozed off.” 

“How are they?”

“M- eh- it’s- mmm- Madame Pomfrey says they’ll be right as rain in no time. Few broken bones, but nothing some potions can’t fix up. They probably won’t even remember what happened. Blishwick’s the real victim here. You should have seen her. Poor thing. Her friends practically dragged her to the train station. Have they figured out how it happened?” 

“There's a five second gap in the protection wards from last night, long enough for something to slip in. Aurors are stationed on the grounds until they can figure out what caused it and offer a guarantee it won't happen again."

A long pause passed between them.

“I’m sorry,” mumbled Crowley.

“What for, my dear?” 

“That I didn’t believe you. That I said it was just propaganda.”

Another silence.

“How can I blame you for hoping for better?” 

“Yeah, well. I should have known better. These people. I grew up with them. This is bad news, Azira,” Crowley snatched off his glasses to rub his tired eyes, revealing dark shadows below them. Uneager to elaborate, he jumped subjects, “You’re off for the holidays, then?” 

“Oh, I don’t know if I should-”

“Azira. Go. Like you said, there are aurors now. Besides, I’ll keep everything above water. Go be with your family. Anyone stuck here over the holidays would kill to have somewhere to be. Seems ungrateful, suffering on purpose.” 

Azira hesitated, wishing to argue but finding himself unable to. Crowley was right. There were plenty of people holding down the fort. All he could contribute was yet another anxious presence. Meanwhile, the Herbologist always stayed at Hogwarts over breaks, an essential element in keeping the students’ spirits up. 

“How about you? You’ll go visit the Heller’s at some point, won’t you?” 

“W- www- eh- worried about me, Angel? I’m flattered. Going home to visit tomorrow, but just for a couple days. Coming back here in time for dinner on Christmas Day. Promised the lot staying that we’d have a Quidditch match.” 

“And I’ll see you at Anathema’s for New Years?” 

Crowley stopped himself from making a tasteless joke about being attacked by Death Eaters before then, well aware Azira wouldn’t appreciate the dark humor.

“See you there.” 

The Muggle-born nodded and gave the pure-blood’s shoulder a tight squeeze before turning and making his way to his office to pack. He paused before reaching the door to the infirmary. 

“Crowley?”

“Hmm?” his friend responded, head resting against the back of the chair he slumped down in and arms crossed over his chest.

“I know you’re taking care of the students staying behind, but please remember to take care of yourself, too.” 

“Always do, Angel.”

Azira felt unconvinced.