As it turned out, Aziraphale did not make it back to the bookshop until quite late that night. Which was why Crowley, who had fallen asleep in the chair next to the bed, found himself being shaken awake by an extremely displeased angel.
“Crowley?” Aziraphale whispered, his tone of voice indicating that he wasn’t sure he actually wanted an honest answer, but was asking anyway. “Why is there a child in my bedroom?”
Crowley shrugged and got out of the chair. “He needed to get some sleep.”
“Crowley,” the angel whispered again, exasperation colouring his voice as he pulled Crowley out into the hallway and then gently closed the door so as not to wake the sleeping boy. “Why is there a child in my bedroom?”
“Couldn’t let him sleep on the shop floor, angel. That’s bad for his health.”
“Crowley!” Aziraphale snapped, having had enough of the demon’s glib answers because there was a child in his bedroom. “What did you do?!”
Crowley affected an injured expression. “Nothing! Why is it that you always assume I’ve done something?”
“Because you usually have!” the angel whispered exasperatedly. “In this case, evidenced by the fact that there is a child in my bedroom!”
“Well it’s not as if you ever use it- all right, all right,” Crowley said, gesturing placatingly. “Look, he’s a runaway. He came into the shop earlier this evening. He was freezing cold and almost dead on his feet and he collapsed halfway through a conversation. I thought the . . . the smart thing to do would be to let him have a rest. Okay?”
Aziraphale opened his mouth to reply and then paused, a puzzled look coming over his features. “I thought you were spending all of today as a snake? You said it was, er, that time of the century?”
Crowley sighed. “Yes, angel. And I was all set to have a good shed when the kid walked in and distracted me.” He looked at Aziraphale’s still puzzled expression and sighed again. “The boy’s a mage, angel. He speaks my language.”
The puzzled look on the angel’s face vanished, replaced by one of surprised comprehension. “Oh good Lord,” Aziraphale exclaimed. “It’s been a while since we’ve run into one of those humans, hasn’t it? I believe they’re calling themselves wizards and witches now.”
“Mmm,” Crowley hummed non-committedly.
“Well, no doubt his family are worried about his whereabouts. We can contact them as soon as he wakes up.”
“Ah,” Crowley said awkwardly. “About that, angel . . .”
Albus Dumbledore was not having a good day.
For the last ten years he had had a very complex, very powerful tracking spell keeping him informed of Harry Potter’s exact whereabouts. At approximately five o’clock on Saturday evening, the compass which contained the spell had briefly spun wildly, before it exploded in shower of magic sparks which then set fire to the carpet in Dumbledore’s study. That had been the old wizard’s first clue that things were not as they should be.
His second clue was a frantic message from Arabella Figg, which arrived while he was in the process of dousing his smouldering carpet, informing him that there were muggle policemen at the Dursley’s house and that they had visited her to ask if she had any idea where Harry was.
And thus, Albus Dumbledore discovered that the ten-year-old saviour of the wizarding world was missing.
To his credit, once the initial moment of shock wore off Dumbledore moved very quickly indeed. He travelled by Floo powder to Mrs Figg’s house, where he was obliged to spend a few minutes soothing the anxious woman’s panic and assuring her that everything was under control. Then he made his way to Number 4 Privet Drive. Once there, Dumbledore Obliviated the memories of several policemen and sent them on their way.
He did not feel that the general public should be aware that Harry Potter’s whereabouts were currently unknown. Despite the fact that wizarding society kept itself fairly separate, muggle current affairs did happen to trickle over eventually and he shuddered to think of the Daily Prophet’s next headline, should Harry Potter’s name appear on the BBC news as the subject of a missing child investigation.
Petunia Dursley had been first alarmed at the appearance of Dumbledore in her house and then, much to her annoyance somewhat relieved, as he had saved her from having to explain to a confused constable why she had not a single photograph of the nephew who had been living in her house since infancy.
It was she who explained Dumbledore that Harry had behaved abominably to his loving uncle, purposely smashing a brand new television set and then running away from the mildest scold and worrying all of them half to death. Dumbledore felt that while Petunia was obviously editing the story slightly, questioning the reason for Harry’s absence beyond that would be a waste of precious time, now that he had established the fact that the Dursleys did not know where Harry was. So he accepted Petunia’s version of events with a nod, warned her to contact him immediately should Harry return and then left.
Once back at Hogwarts he attempted without success to scry for Harry’s location. Then he attempted a second time. On his third attempt, using some rare components which he’d been saving for an emergency, Dumbledore managed to get an approximate location. But since he’d already come to the conclusion that Harry was probably still in London, the result of the scrying spell was not as helpful as he’d hoped.
He was reassured by the fact that the boy was still alive to be scryed on. How long that would continue to be the case, Dumbledore did not want to speculate. Only extremely powerful magic could have succeeded in blocking his scrying from determining Harry’s exact location and there was a very limited number of people in the United Kingdom who had access to that kind of power. Among them, those who Dumbledore could trust would have surely contacted him already. That left those he could not.
The old wizard groaned. This was an emergency of massive proportions. He would have to call on the Order of the Phoenix to organise a clandestine search. Wherever he was and whoever he was with, Harry was very likely to be in deadly danger.
Aziraphale opened the door and quietly walked over to the boy sleeping soundly in the bed. Crowley, who was a step or two behind him, suddenly twitching in agitation.
“Alright,” the angel said, gently placing his right palm against Harry’s cheek, “let’s see . . .”
Aziraphale Looked at Harry the way only an angel (or demon) can Look at someone. He saw the boy’s health (not great), his aura of magic (very strong) and his recent emotional state (panicked). He stared in wonder at the shield of pure love permeating the boy’s very skin. Then he Looked at the oddly shaped scar on Harry’s forehead.
The angel froze. Behind him, Crowley shivered as the temperature in the room plummeted, a sudden and terrible chill radiating from the Guardian of the Eastern Gate of Eden.
Aziraphale withdrew his hand. The expression on his face was that of pure outrage.
“Yeah,” said Crowley, and Aziraphale could hear matching hellfire-hot fury in the demon’s voice. “I was about to mention . . . that.”
“Who dared?” Aziraphale spat, the words coming from his mouth sharp as ice. “What disgusting monster put that . . . that thing in a child’s head. A demon?”
Crowley shook his head. “Don’t think so. Demons haven’t got the imagination for that. Except for me-“
“You would never!” Aziraphale exclaimed cutting him off. “Even at your worst, at your most demonic, you would never sink to something like this!”
Crowley smiled crookedly, though the Angel could still see the fury in his eyes. “Thanks Angel. I know that, but it’s good to hear you say so too. Anyway, as I was about to say, this has the hallmarks of humanity at *their* worst all over it.”
“You spoke to the boy,” Aziraphale said slowly, getting the urge to destroy something with his flaming sword under control.
Where is my sword? he wondered. I’d really like to have it right now.
“Yeah. For a few minutes before he passed out.”
“Does he know?”
“Didn’t really get a chance to ask before he fell asleep,” Crowley answered. “But I doubt it. Pretty sure Harry thinks it’s just a weird scar. His parents are dead, Angel,” the demon continued. “Probably due to whoever did that to him. He lives with some relatives, who even though he was obviously trying to be tactful, they still sound like utter shite. That’s how he ended up here. He was running from his uncle. He thought he was going to die, angel.”
Aziraphale looked at him. There was an almost pleading look in Crowley’s eyes now. The boy spoke the language of the serpent. That was a rare gift, the angel knew, even among the practitioners of magic. And Crowley had always been undemonically soft where children are concerned. All the way back to the Ark.
Aziraphale heaved a sigh. “I suppose,” he said slowly, “that it would be irresponsible to just send the boy off with that thing in his head. We ought to miracle it out at least.”
“Exactly,” Crowley nodded, reaching into his pocket for his sunglasses. “Even with it miracled out he’s going to need a few days to recover,” he said reasonably, and Aziraphale could feel himself giving in. “You know how magic users are. We’ll just keep an eye on him. For a few days that’s all. Then we’ll find him someone to stay with and get him out of your hair. I promise.”
“All right. Just for a few days,” the angel echoed, idly wondering what kind of décor he should put in the spare room. Soothing colours, he decided. Perhaps he’d wait until Harry woke up in the morning. They could go for breakfast somewhere nice and discuss what he’d like. Maybe a nice tartan bedspread.