Chapter 1: Prologue
Once upon a time there was a little boy who lived in a house with a family who didn’t want him. He wore his cousin’s old clothes, he had glasses that were held together with sticky tape and he slept in a cupboard under a stairs. And then one day he was rescued, found out that he had magic and was very special and was taken to a magical school run by a wise and kind old wizard.
But it turned out that being magical doesn’t just make everything better. The magical world was dangerous and the old wizard was neither as wise nor as kind as the boy thought. The boy suffered much at the hands of evil because of the old wizards mistakes. He lost friends, he lost family and he lost the home he’d gained. In the end, however, he survived and was happy after a fashion.
That story is not this story.
In this story, the summer before he turns eleven, the boy is taken to London by his uncle along with his cousin. His uncle has just got a raise and wants to spend it on expensive electronics. His cousin is coming along, because he’s been promised a new video game. The boy is going, because his aunt is having her book club over and would rather that her despised nephew was out of the house. And besides, someone has to carry the bags.
In this story, the boy was denied dinner the night before because his aunt was in a bad mood and took it out on the nearest convenient target. So after tramping around London after his uncle and cousin, the boy is very very tired.
He trips and the heavy bag he was carrying, containing the very new, very expensive electronic equipment, goes flying. It lands with a loud crash, the contents very clearly smashed beyond repair.
In this story, the boy’s uncle loses his temper. He loses it so badly and shouts and roars so loudly and so angrily that the boy is terrified. Because he can see murder in the man’s eyes as his uncle walks towards him.
In this story, Harry Potter turns and runs for his life, because he is very much afraid that if his uncle catches him that he might just kill him.
He turns and runs and doesn’t look back. His uncle doesn’t catch him. Eventually, while Vernon Dursley calls his wife in a panic to explain that the dratted boy is gone and he, Vernon, has no idea how to find him, Harry Potter ends up outside an old bookshop in Soho. He is cold and tired and hungry and it’s starting to get late.
While Petunia Dursley is cursing and shrieking at her husband to call the police and find the dratted boy immediately because she cannot afford for a certain wizard to find out that her nephew is missing, Harry Potter is trying the door of the bookshop.
In this story, while Petunia and Vernon Dursley are having extremely well deserved panics at the thought of anyone in authority finding out how they’ve been treating him, Harry Potter enters the old bookshop and meets a very big snake.
The very big snake is intrigued by the appearance of a young magical human who can speak the language of the serpent and says so. Harry Potter denies having any magic, because he is just Harry.
The very big snake, who is a very, very old demon, is very alarmed when halfway through their conversation Harry’s exhaustion catches up with him and the boy faints mid-sentence.
The last thing Harry sees that evening before his vision goes dark and he collapses, is the very big snake changing into a very lanky red-headed man.
In this story the Demon Crowley, Serpent of Eden, recognises a very badly treated child when he sees one. He is outraged, because despite his demonic nature he is genuinely fond of children. So he catches the fainting boy in his arms and carries him upstairs to the bedroom in the flat above the shop and tucks the child in.
In this story, Crowley spends the rest of the evening sitting in the chair next to the bed and trying to figure out what he’s going to the tell the owner of the bookshop when he gets back.
After all, there’s really no good way to explain to an angel that you’ve decide to kidnap a child for his own good.
Still, Crowley has six-thousand years worth of experience in talking Aziraphale, Guardian of the Eastern Gate of Eden, into going along with Crowley’s less than saintly ideas. He’s sure he can manage it again.
Chapter 2: The Beginning
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.
Chapter 3: The Search
The search for Harry begins
Edited the last chapter slightly to fix some timing issues. Az returns to the bookshop late at night rather than early morning
Hogwarts Castle, Scotland. Several hours after the disappearance of the Boy-Who-Lived.
Minerva McGonagall sat in one of the ornate yet comfortable chairs in Albus Dumbledore’s study and gratefully accepted the glass of brandy that the headmaster handed to her.
“Any news yet?” she asked, before taking a delicate sip from her glass.
Dumbledore shook his head. “I am afraid not,” he said heavily. “Kingsley Shacklebolt and Alastor Moody are checking the street where Harry was when he disappeared. Severus is attempting to scry his whereabouts again and the rest of the Order is doing what they can, but so far there is nothing conclusive.”
Minerva closed her eyes, trying desperately to stop her imagination from providing her with pictures of the horrible fate that James and Lily Potter’s little boy could be suffering even at that moment.
“But I think we should not waste energy distressing ourselves unduly.”
Minerva raised her head at the words and looked at Dumbledore with sudden hope. “Why? I thought- Albus, have you heard something?” she demanded, gripping her glass of brandy very tightly.
Dumbledore raised a hand to forestall her questions. “I have not. But consider, if Voldemort’s followers had Harry and if-“ here Dumbledore paused a moment to gather himself before continuing, “if they have killed him, they would be crowing about it. We would soon find his body. Publicly, no doubt. The Dark Lord always loved making a show of his enemies. His followers are the same. The sheer fact that we have heard nothing yet is reason to hope. Also, from what my sources tell me, what’s left of Voldemort is currently hiding in a forest in eastern Europe.”
Minerva frowned. “You think it’s not him or his followers then? Who else could it be?”
“I think the Death Eaters may not be responsible. And there are others for whom Harry would be a tempting target.” Dumbledore paused again and wiped his spectacles with a blue silk handkerchief. “There is also one other possibility which I pray may be the answer.”
“It is rare, but there have been cases of children whose first indications of their magic involved temporarily making themselves invisible. If Harry’s fight with his uncle was upsetting enough, his own natural desire not to be found may be at the root of his disappearance. If so, we should be able to track him as soon as his subconscious loses focus on the spell.”
“But, shouldn’t that have happened already? It’s been hours. Surely an untrained child couldn’t hold a powerful subconscious spell for that long!”
Dumbledore shrugged. “That would depend on the child. James and Lily were two of the most talented students I ever had. It would not be a complete surprise for their son to be precocious when it comes to strength of magic. It may be that tomorrow morning we will find a perfectly fine ten-year-old who will need nothing more than a few days in bed and some chicken soup to deal with the after-effects of a night exposed to the elements.”
“I hope you’re right,” Minerva replied wearily. “I just wish there was something more we could do now.”
She looked around the study seeking some inspiration, when her eyes fell on the headmaster’s desk. It was a solid piece of furniture, carved out of polished oak. The surface was piled high with books and parchment. A quill with its accompanying inkpot was perched precariously on the edge and a stack of letters looked to be in danger of tipping onto the floor.
The idea struck Minerva McGonagall like a bolt of lightning and she almost choked on her brandy.
“Albus!” she coughed, trying to get her breath back. “The letters!”
Dumbledore looked curiously at her. “What letters?” he enquired.
“The letters, Albus,” she repeated, trying to force her scattered thoughts into words. “The school letters. The letters written by Ravenclaw’s Quill. The letters addressed to every child in this school and every child due to start this year. With their precise address!”
“Ah,” said Dumbledore. He smiled crookedly. “I’m afraid I’m ahead of you there, Minerva. I’ve already attempted to alter Ravenclaw’s Quill and failed. It will not start to produce letters for at least another week, no matter what attempts are made to interfere with it. I suspect the spell on it was designed that way for security reasons when it was originally cast. The muggles were still burning people at that time, I believe.”
The sudden hope which had flickered in Minerva’s chest was doused thoroughly at these words and she took another disconsolate swallow of brandy. “Then there’s nothing we can do.”
“For now,” Dumbledore agreed. He reached out his hand and squeezed Minerva’s shoulder gently “But we must not despair. Things could look much brighter in the morning.”
The Burrow, Ottery St. Catchpole, Devon, England.
Molly Weasley gently eased open the door of her youngest son’s bedroom and looked in. Ron was asleep and snoring, his legs and arms thrown out haphazardly under his duvet. A tiny sliver of moonlight coming in through the curtains illuminated the poster of his favourite quidditch team. Molly nodded to herself and then closed the door quietly. Then she made her way down through the stairs, stopping at each landing to check on her other children, all of whom were fast asleep and snoring quite as loudly as Ron.
Finally Molly padded softly into the kitchen and started to boil the kettle for a cup of tea. A noise from the parlour made her reach for her wand, but after a quick glance at the many-handed clock, she relaxed and fetched a second cup from the cupboard. The hand labelled Arthur had just swung from ‘Work’ to ‘Home’. A few minutes later he joined her in the kitchen and gratefully accepted a hot cup of tea.
“Has there been any news?” Molly asked, as she looked up into her husband’s tired eyes.
Arthur shook his head. “I’m afraid not, Molly. No one at the Ministry even knows that the boy is missing. At least, if they do, then they’re keeping quiet about it. And it was hard enough to make enquiries if anyone had heard anything without accidentally spilling the beans myself.”
“I understand why Professor Dumbledore doesn’t want it public,” Molly said. “People would certainly panic. But surely it would be better to have everyone looking for him. Arthur, when I think of what could be happening to him right now . . . He’s just a child the same age as Ron. Oh, that poor boy,” she finished and wiped her suddenly teary eyes. “His poor aunt and uncle. They must be worried sick.”
Arthur Weasley hugged his wife tightly and kissed the top of her head. “We’ll find him,” he promised her, trying to keep his tone as cheerful as possible. “Who knows, a few months from now, Ron could have Harry Potter as a dorm-mate in Gryffindor tower.”
Auror Kingsley Shacklebolt waved his wand in a complicated spiral movement, watched as the tip glowed momentarily and then nodded in relieved satisfaction. “Moody!” he called to his associate, “I’ve got a trace.”
Alastor Moody was standing at the end of the street, surveying it with his magical eye. He grunted in response and then stumped over to Shacklebolt. “Me too,” he said. “Definitely looks like the boy worked some accidental magic.”
“Invisibility?” Shacklebolt suggested. The wand in his hand shook, indicating a direction. He set off down the street, Moody beside him. “Dumbledore said as much when he briefed me on the situation. Wouldn’t be the first time a runaway wished no one could find him. And when the runaway is a wizard . . .”
Moody frowned, his magical eye revolving wildly. “That wouldn’t explain nobody being able to scry his location. Accidental magic wouldn’t do that. At least,” he conceded thoughtfully, “not for very long. Someone else is involved in this. I can smell it.”
Shacklebolt shuddered inwardly at the implication, despite himself. “I hope you’re wrong, Alastor. If He has returned then we could be looking at a lot more missing people in the future.”
Moody’s frown deepened into a full blown scowl. “I told Dumbledore that one neighbour wasn’t enough to keep an eye on the boy. We’ve should have had him watched ‘round the clock till he was old enough to attend Hogwarts, but Dumbledore insisted that wasn’t necessary. And now look!”
“He couldn’t have known that this would happen,” Shacklebolt said fairly as they turned a corner and followed the faint trace of magic down a side street.
“That,” Moody hissed, “is the point of constant vigilance Shacklebolt!” The older auror’s magical eye spun wildly again before settling and glowing slightly brighter. “That way you don’t get caught flat-footed when the Boy-Who-Lived takes it into his head to run off after a family argument!”
The two men continued following the faint magical trace as the night wore on. It took them through several more side streets and alleyways as well as a brief trip through the Muggle Underground before finally leading them to a particular street in Soho in the early hours of the morning, where it finally petered out.
Moody surveyed the street carefully, his electric blue eye swivelling in all directions. He was silent for a few moments and then growled in frustration. “Trail ‘s gone cold on me. What about you?”
Shacklebolt looked around at the muggle street, noting the different shop fronts. A bar, a few cafés, some clothing stores which probably referred to themselves at boutiques, and a large old bookshop on the corner with the legend ‘A Z Fell & Co Est 1803’ carved into the façade. He gestured with his wand one more time, but the tip stubbornly refused to light up. “Nothing. Dead end,” he replied, and instantly regretted his choice of words. He hoped very fervently that his near-future would not contain the task of informing Harry Potter’s family of the worst possibility.
A Z Fell & Co, Soho, London, England.
“Research?” Crowley complained as Aziraphale placed an old, very ornate and very heavy book in front of him. “At this time of night?”
“That -thing- in Harry’s head is both evil and magical in nature,” Aziraphale said firmly. “I’m not going to risk things going wrong because either of us just used an off-the-cuff miracle when a more detailed delicate approach was needed.”
Crowley nodded slowly. Aziraphale had a point. Miracles were generally more powerful than human magic, but they’d both had a few surprises over the millennia. Better safe than sorry.
“All right, angel. Guess we’d better get to work.”
Chapter 4: Breakfast
Harry Potter woke on Sunday morning feeling more rested than he had in years. For a moment he was very confused to find himself in a big comfortable bed under a thick warm duvet and not his cupboard. Then his memory of the previous evening returned like a brick to the head. Despite the warmth, Harry shuddered convulsively, an anxious twist settling in his stomach. He’d never seen Uncle Vernon that angry in his entire life. He didn’t know what would’ve happened if Uncle Vernon had caught him, but he was very sure he never wanted to find out.
So, thought Harry, where am I now? Still at that bookshop?
Harry sat up carefully, pushing aside the tartan duvet, and looked down at himself. Not only had someone tucked him into this very comfortable bed, they had also changed his clothes. He was wearing a pair of pyjamas which fit him perfectly. They were black with a pattern of snakes.
Harry peered myopically around the room, blinking in the morning sunlight. After a quick investigation of the bedside table, he found his glasses. Harry put them on and looked round again, this time taking in the solid old bookcase which was very full, the desk, the wardrobe and lastly the chair beside the bed.
Which was full of snake.
Harry went very still. Alright, he told himself, you didn’t imagine the snake then.
Had he imagined it talking? It had asked him his name. He’d told it about Uncle Vernon and the accident with the shopping. About his parents dying in the car crash and having to live with the Dursleys. It had been sympathetic and it . . .
Had vanished when he’d started to faint. He remembered that too. The room had started to spin and Harry had lost sight of the snake. That was when the man had turned up, he thought. Harry had felt so tired and light-headed and his legs had given in. Just before he’d hit the floor, skinny but surprisingly strong arms had caught Harry and cradled him protectively against a lean chest. He’d looked up and seen a lot of red hair and some expensive looking sunglasses.
“Sshh,” the man had said as Harry fought against his suddenly heavy eyelids, his vision growing dark. “It’s alright. You get some sleep kid. You’re safe here, I promise.”
“And then I woke up here,” Harry said to himself. He looked at the snake again. It hadn’t moved.
“Are- are you asleep?” he asked.
There was no answer.
“Hello?” Harry tried. There was still no response. Harry looked closer at the snake. There was something odd about it. Snakes were said to sleep with their eyes open, but this one looked like it had something covering them. He leaned closer.
There was a faint cracking noise and Harry scrambled backwards as the snake began to move, wriggling this way and that. Oh, the boy realised watching as the film over the snake’s eyes moved and patches of scales seemed to loosen. He’s shedding.
Harry waited, watching in fascination as the large snake wriggled out of the chair and around the floor, shedding ever more skin as it went. The whole process didn’t seem to take long at all and finally Harry found himself looking at a considerable length of sleek and shining black scales.
The snake turned its attention back to Harry and he looked into its large golden eyes. Well, it said in a conversational tone, I’m glad that’sss over with. How are you doing kid?
“Um. Fine,” Harry replied carefully, noting that he had not in fact imagined the talking snake. “Uh, how are you?”
Much better, thanksss, the snake hissed, slithering towards him. You hungry, kid?
“Um,” said Harry again, not sure if he should answer. Then his stomach rumbled loudly. “A little,” he admitted. A thought struck him and he plucked at the sleeve of his pyjamas. “Do you know where my clothes are?”
The snake tilted its head in the direction of the wardrobe. Have a look in there. You’ll find something that fitss.
The wardrobe did not have Harry’s clothes in it. What it did have was a selection of trousers, t-shirts and jumpers that were all in Harry’s actual size, as well as several pairs of what looked like brand new trainers. Harry stared for a moment at the contents of the wardrobe, the looked back at the snake. It rolled it’s eyes and muttered something about ‘overdoing it’.
It's alright, the snake assured Harry, you can pick whatever you’d like. Just do me a favour and try not to pick anything tartan. It paused a moment and then added, please.
Harry was mildly worried about accepting brand new clothes from a complete stranger, (especially since that stranger was either a talking snake, or a friend of the talking snake), but he decided that if he had to run again, he’d rather do it in clean clothes and shoes with no apparent holes. So he grabbed whatever was closest and changed out of the black pyjamas. When he was done, and wearing clothes that actually fit properly for the first time in years, he turned back to face the snake.
It let out a long-suffering sigh.
Tartan sockss? Really?
Harry shrugged. They’d been the closest pair to hand. “What’ve you got against tartan?” he asked.
Nothing! The snake protested. C’mon kid, let’s go get breakfast.
The snake slithered out into the hallway, towards an open door at the end of the passage. Harry sniffed, catching the smell of frying bacon, and his mouth began to water. It had been quite a while since his last meal and his stomach was starting to let him know how displeased it was at this state of affairs. So he followed the snake and peered through the open door, still ready to run.
The room was a small kitchen. Harry’s attention was immediately claimed by the frying pan that lay on the hob, sizzling cheerfully. The smell of frying bacon that he’d noticed in the hallway was coming from it.
Harry didn’t quite have a heart attack when a loud cheerful voice exclaimed “Oh, you’re up already, Harry! How are you feeling?”, but it was a near thing.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said the owner of the voice, a stocky man in a waistcoat and rolled up shirtsleeves, with a head of blond curls so pale that they were almost white. “I didn’t mean to startle you. Are you alright dear?” he asked contritely.
“Fine!” Harry gasped, struggling to get his breathing under control. How had he not noticed the man? “Just fine. Who are you?”
The man smiled at him. “My name is Aziraphale. You fainted in my bookshop last night and my friend brought you up to the flat. Would you care for a cup of tea?”
“Yes, please,” Harry replied politely. Some of the anxious feeling in his stomach eased. So he was still in the bookshop. Or, above it anyway. That was good to know.
Aziraphale smiled again and busied himself with filling a kettle and Harry relaxed further. He didn’t know why but something about the bookseller gave him a feeling of safety and comfort.
Angel, the snake hissed. Your bacon iss burning.
“What?” Aziraphale exclaimed. “Oh bother!” He set the kettle down and turned his attention back to the frying pan, which had indeed begun to smell a little of overdone rashers. “Crowley, be a dear and sort the tea, will you?”
Ssure thing, angel.
Harry stared as the large black snake began to slither upwards as if it was climbing some invisible wall. As it moved it grew larger and its scales shifted and changed into skin and cloth and hair.
A few seconds later a skinny redheaded man in black clothes and expensive sunglasses was grinning toothily at Harry while setting the kettle to boil. “Hallo again,” he said cheerfully.
Half an hour later Harry was on his second cup of tea and had eaten far too much bacon. He hadn’t thought it was possible to eat too much bacon, but he was discovering that he’d been wrong. Still, it was much, much better than the painful emptiness that was being hungry.
Harry looked across the kitchen table at Aziraphale and Crowley. The blond man had eaten almost as much bacon as Harry, but Crowley had only drank from a small cup of very black coffee which was still half-full.
“So, you’re . . . wizards?” he asked curiously.
“Not precisely, my dear,” Aziraphale replied. “You are a wizard. The magic Crowley and I have access to is . . . somewhat different.”
“Me?” Harry said disbelievingly. “I’m not magic. I can’t be. I’m just Harry.”
“You can and you are,” Aziraphale said. “Harry, if you were not a wizard, a special type of wizard at that, then you could not have understood Crowley while he was a snake. All a non-magical human would have heard was hissing. But you could and you did understand.”
“You must’ve noticed other things,” Crowley added. “Anything odd or weird happen to you before?”
Like meeting a man who turns into a snake? Harry thought. Not really.
But then a memory came back to him and he frowned. There had been a couple of times when strange things had happened to him. Like the time Aunt Petunia had cut his hair so short he’d been practically been bald and it had grown back almost overnight. Or the time Dudley and his gang had been chasing him and Harry’s desperate jump to safety had ended up with him on the school roof.
“See,” Crowley said triumphantly when Harry admitted to having a experienced a few odd things after all. “You are a wizard. I can always tell.”
“You do have a certain affinity, it’s true.” Aziraphale smiled affectionately at Crowley.
“Okay,” Harry said. He swallowed the last of his tea. “So, what do I do about it?”
“I expect you’ll be getting a letter from school about it soon,” Aziraphale mused. He turned to Crowley. “What was the name of that place in Scotland, dearest? Something to do with pigs?”
“Hogwarts,” Crowley supplied. “Britain’s biggest school of magic. Or at least it was, last I checked. Haven’t been there since that business with whatshisname – you know, the one with the staff?”
“Oh yes, how time does fly. He was quite put-out with you wasn’t he?”
“Serves him right for trying to summon me.”
“Um,” said Harry. “A magic school?”
“Oh yes,” Aziraphale said enthusiastically. “A place of learning where you’ll learn to use your gift as well as meet other children like yourself. As I said, I expect you’ll be getting a letter from them any day now.”
“Aunt Petunia said they were sending me to the local secondary school. It’s called Stonewall.”
“Yeah,” Crowley said. “Somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen.
“Is Hogwarts where you learned magic?” Harry asked. He thought he might like to know how to turn into a snake.
Crowley shook his head. “Nah. We were home-schooled, I suppose you could say.”
At the mention of the word home Harry’s stomach sank. “I don’t think I can go unless my aunt and uncle say so. And they won’t. Aunt Petunia hates anything to do with magic. She wouldn’t even let my cousin Dudley have a magician at his birthday party.” Harry poked at a remaining scrap of bacon with his fork. “And they’re going to be really mad at me for running off when I get home. I won’t be allowed out of the house for months.”
The two adults exchanged glances. “My dear,” Aziraphale said, his voice very gentle, “would I be correct in saying that your home life is not ideal?”
“Um,” said Harry again, because how was he supposed to answer a question like that? “It’s . . . I mean . . . it’s fine really. Lots of people don’t have a roof over their head at all.”
There was another exchange of glances.
“Uh huh,” Crowley drawled. “You know your uncle and aunt would get into a lot of trouble if people found out they were making you sleep in a cupboard, right?”
Harry flushed. He’d forgotten that he’d told Crowley about the cupboard. “I told a teacher before. She came to the house and Aunt Petunia talked to her. Then I got in trouble for lying.” He frowned. “How do you know I’m not lying?”
Crowley took a miniscule sip of his coffee, which in defiance of the laws of thermodynamics, was still steaming. “I know a liar when I sssee one,” he said, a small hiss seeping into his words. “And you’re not one.”
“You don’t have to go back,” Aziraphale said carefully. “You do have other options.”
Harry blinked. “I can’t just not go back,” he objected, thinking about how much trouble he’d be with his aunt and uncle if he didn’t. “I didn’t mean to run away from Uncle Vernon like that. But he was so angry and I just . . . I just . . .” He trailed off. The memory of Uncle Vernon’s enraged roar kept coming back to him.
“Was afraid,” Aziraphale finished for him.
“Yeah,” Harry whispered.
“Well, if you want to return to your aunt and uncle, you can,” Aziraphale said. “That’s your choice. But if you don’t, we’ve got a spare bedroom that’s just been decorated.”
“With tartan,” Crowley muttered into his coffee.
“I don’t know,” Harry said hesitantly. “I really should go home.” He looked at Aziraphale. “Thank you,” he said, “for the clothes. And the breakfast. It’s the best I’ve ever had.”
“You’re very welcome, my dear.” Aziraphale smiled, and Harry caught a glint of steel in his eye. “If you’re set on going back, Crowley and I will escort you home after lunch.”
“Right,” Crowley said casually, “and if you’ve got a phone number for your aunt I’ll give her a call and let her know to expect us.”
Harry nodded and reeled of the Dursleys’ phone number. Crowley grinned at Aziraphale who smiled back as if the two of them were enjoying a private joke.
“I’ll just give them a call while you two are doing the wash-up. Be right back.”
Chapter 5: Number 4 Privet Drive
The phone was answered on the second ring. Crowley didn’t give whoever was on the other end time to answer. Before they could say anything he hurled himself through the atoms of the phoneline. Seconds later he found himself flying out the other end and into a hallway which screamed ‘upper middle class’.
This was followed by a literal scream from the person who had answered the phone. Crowley found himself confronting a boy of about Harry’s age who was staring at him in astonishment.
Ah, thought Crowley, this must be Cousin Dudley.
Crowley snapped his fingers and Dudley froze, along with the ticking of the hallway clock. Crowley regarded the boy thoughtfully. He had planned something inventive for whoever answered the phone, but that had been based on the assumption that it would be Harry’s aunt or uncle. Objectionable though Cousin Dudley probably was, he was only ten years old and following the example of his (terrible) parents. He still had time to learn how not to be a total shit and in Crowley’s professional judgement, did not quite deserve demonic vengeance.
So Crowley turned away from Dudley and surveyed the hallway. The front door at one end, probably with a porch outside, identical to every other porch on every other house on the road. Nothing that would stand out, Crowley was sure. At the other end of the hallway there were three doors, two on one side and one on the other. At the moment however, Crowley was not interested in where they led. His attention was entirely claimed by the polished wooden stairs. More specifically, by the cupboard built into it.
Despite himself, Crowley’s hands clenched into fists for a moment, his nails biting into the palms of his hands. Then he walked forward and wrenched open the cupboard door. And stared at the contents, appalled.
The cupboard was big enough that a pre-teen boy could probably just about stand upright in it. Just.
A lightbulb hung loosely from what could charitably be referred to as the ceiling. Instead of a family’s collection of shoes and wellingtons, a single thin mattress had been stuffed onto the cupboard floor. There were two thin blankets covering it. A collection of very worn clothing was piled onto the one remaining shelf.
Crowley crouched down and pulled gingerly at the blankets. They came away from the mattress, exposing several springs which has long ago escaped its confines. They also exposed more than a few spiders.
The entire space smelled extremely musty. Crowley was uncomfortably reminded of the stale gust of air that followed the opening of an ancient tomb.
“It’s . . . I mean . . . it’s fine really. Lots of people don’t have a roof over their head at all.”
Harry’s hesitant words echoed in the demon’s mind. Crowley could feel his nails lengthening and sharpening and he knew that if he were to take off his sunglasses and look in the mirror he would not be able to find the whites of his eyes.
He stood up, stepped back, and slammed the cupboard door shut so hard that it rattled on its hinges.
Crowley stood in the hallway for a few moments, contemplating the various ways he could make the lives of the owners of this house an absolute misery. Some of them were quite complex.
Eventually he forced himself to focus. Harry’s cousin had answered the phone, therefore his aunt and uncle must be elsewhere in the house. Crowley considered his options for a moment and then decided to investigate upstairs first.
Upstairs turned out to consist of three bedrooms, a bathroom and another cupboard which when Crowley opened it, revealed a hot water tank. Upon being regarded balefully by a demon, it spontaneously developed half a dozen slow leaks.
The first and second bedrooms which belonged to Harry’s aunt and uncle and his cousin respectively, made Crowley much angrier than he already was. They were big, comfortable, had double beds in each, and although Dudley’s could not be said to be tidy, it was clean and spider free. It was the third bedroom however, which catapulted Crowley from merely angry to boiling with wrath. It was full of toys, most of which were either slightly damaged or outright broken. Quite a few had a large D scrawled on them.
The large double bed looked like it had never been slept in.
“A ssspare bedroom,” Crowley hissed to the empty air, glaring like only a serpent could at the comfortable bed and the collection of old, discarded and damaged toys. “They’re cramming the kid into that disssgussting cupboard downstairs and their own boy has a ssspare bedroom!”
There had not been a single toy or book in the cupboard under the stairs.
“Okay,” Crowley muttered to himself as he headed back down the stairs. “Harry’s not coming back here. Wasn’t really gonna let him come back anyway, except maybe for an hour just collect his stuff, but now? No way. Not gonna make him go near these people ever again.”
“He wants to go back,” Crowley rambled, arguing with himself as he headed towards the kitchen. “And free will, yeah, that’s important. But, human kids aren’t allowed a hundred percent free will anyway. Their brains aren’t ready for it. That’s why they’ve got adults to look after them. Anyway. Not going to keep the kid if he doesn’t want us to. Just not going to let him come back here. That’s the right thing to do, isn’t it? Keep him out of a dangerous situation? I can do the right thing if I want. I’m retired.”
Harry’s aunt and uncle were not in the kitchen. Crowley took the opportunity to work off some of his temper by loosening the screws in every appliance and breaking the temperature control of the freezer. As an after-thought, he jammed the volume control on the radio to Obnoxiously Loud.
Finally, after briefly investigating a room that he suspected the mistress of the house referred to as the parlour, he made his way to the living room and found the frozen forms of Vernon and Petunia Dursley.
Looking at them, Crowley hesitated. It had been a long time since he’d come across a human who he personally had wanted to throttle and now there were two right in front of him. Vernon was sprawled on a large couch, frozen in the act of picking up a mug of coffee. Petunia was standing by the fireplace, arms crossed and mouth open. Crowley suspected from her expression that his time-stop had interrupted the start of an argument.
He looked at the fireplace behind her and frowned. Up on the mantelpiece were various picture frames containing family photos of the Dursleys. Dudley at various ages featured heavily.
Harry wasn’t in any of them.
“Like he doesn’t exissst,” Crowley muttered. He drew in a breath, the air hissing between his teeth. Then he turned back to the human couple.
“What should I do with you two?” he wondered. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’ve got ideasss, but right this second I should probably be a little more practical. Sso, information, I guess.”
Crowley snapped his fingers and Petunia and Vernon began to breathe again. Their eyes, however, remained vacant and unfocused.
“Petunia Dursley?” Crowley asked, just on the extremely slim chance that he had the wrong woman.
“Yes,” Petunia replied in a flat monotone.
“Good. I want answers. Tell me everything you know about Harry Potter. For sstarters, how he got that scar on his forehead.”
“I’ll do the wash-up,” Harry volunteered as he helped Aziraphale clear away the plates.
Aziraphale smiled at him. “Thank you my dear, that’s very kind of you. But you’re a guest in my home, there’s no need to put yourself out.”
“I don’t mind,” Harry protested mildly. “I always do the wash-up.”
For a second, Harry noticed an odd look in Aziraphale’s eyes, but it vanished before he could identify it. Then the bookseller smiled at him again. “Well, since you insist. I’ll dry.”
The two of them together made quick work of the chore and it wasn’t long before they were finished. Harry picked up the last of the now clean dishes, a cup with a handle that was shaped to look like wings, and began to hand it to Aziraphale. However, the oddly shaped handle was awkward and Harry’s hands were still covered with soapy water. The cup slipped from his grasp and shattered on the floor.
Harry felt the blood drain from his face. “I’m sorry! I’m s-sorry,” he stammered. “I didn’t mean to, honest!” He dropped to the floor and reached for one of the broken pieces, then flinched violently when Aziraphale grabbed his wrist, an expression of alarm on his face “I didn’t mean to!” Harry repeated desperately as his breathing started to quicken.
“My dear boy,” Aziraphale said gently, “It’s quite alright. Don’t touch the pieces, you’ll cut yourself.” He let go of Harry’s wrist and snapped his fingers. The cup pieces jumped back together. “There,” he smiled. “No harm done.”
“I’m sorry,” Harry repeated again in a whisper. He felt odd, cold and hot at the same time and his hands seemed to be shaking. Harry looked up at Aziraphale and to his inexplicable relief saw only puzzlement and concern in the man’s face.
“Oh. Oh dear,” said Aziraphale, as if he’d suddenly worked something out. “Harry, sit down a moment will you?” he asked.
Harry obeyed. He sat as still as possible and tried not to flinch when Aziraphale sat down opposite him and looked him straight in the eyes.
“Harry,” Aziraphale said, his voice still very gentle, but now with an undercurrent of firmness. “I’m going to say something very important and I want you to listen to me. Alright?”
“Yes,” Harry replied, trying to keep the trembling out of his voice.
“Good. Listen closely, because this really is very important.”
Harry nodded, feeling his stomach twist anxiously, a lump in his throat and a low buzz in his ears.
“Here it is then,” said Aziraphale. “You didn’t break the cup on purpose. It was an accident. You are not at fault and I am not angry with you. Do you understand, Harry?”
Harry tried to answer but couldn’t. The lump in his throat seemed to get worse and tears were pricking at the corners of his eyes. He could feel his face flushing. “I didn’t mean to,” he managed to say again. “Really, I didn’t.” He wasn’t talking about the cup anymore.
“Yes, I know. It was an accident, Harry. They happen to everyone.” Aziraphale paused and then said, “It was very wrong of your uncle to react the way he did, no matter how upset he was. You know that, don’t you?”
Harry shrugged. “It was a really expensive television,” he said awkwardly, unsure why he was defending Uncle Vernon.
Aziraphale shook his head sadly. “Harry, that doesn’t matter. It’s the duty of adults to protect the children for whom they are responsible. Not only did your uncle fail to protect you, he actively put you in fear.” He paused again and then said, very softly, “Are you sure you want to return to your aunt and uncle?”
Aziraphale’s gaze was filled with understanding and seemed impossibly kind. Harry’s mouth worked soundlessly for a moment, before he gave into the overwhelming urge to tell the bookseller exactly how he felt.
“I don’t! I don’t ever want to go back! But I can’t stay with you. People might think you and Mr. Crowley kidnapped me and then the police would be called and I’d have to go back anyway and I don’t want you to get into trouble because of me. You’ve been kinder to me than anyone else I’ve ever met,” he finished, breathing hard.
“Oh my dear,” Aziraphale murmured. Now he looked heartbroken. “You don’t have to worry about me, or Crowley for that matter. We’re quite capable of taking care of ourselves.” He held up a hand and snapped his fingers. “Magic, remember?”
“Yes, but that means the police would be even more trouble!” Harry protested. “Doesn’t it? And, Mr Crowley’s calling Aunt Petunia now. She’ll know where I am already.”
“Ah, no, in point of fact,” Aziraphale assured him. “Harry, please believe me when I say that if you wish to stay with us, the police will not be a problem. Neither will your aunt and uncle.”
Harry’s heart pounded. “You promise?” he asked, trying to keep the hope he was feeling out of his voice. The possibility of never having to return to Number Four, Privet Drive was staggering.
Harry drew a deep breath. “Okay,” he said shakily. “Okay, I’ll stay.”
Aziraphale beamed at him and opened his mouth to reply.
He was interrupted by the sudden appearance of Crowley.
“Angel!” Crowley called, striding into the kitchen. “Change of plans!” He turned to Harry. “Kid, I am absolutely a fan of free will, really, the biggest, but I’m sorry, we are not letting you back in that house for a second.”
Harry blinked. “Okay.”
“Seriously don’t argue- what?”
“Crowley,” Aziraphale said slowly. “Harry’s decided he’d like to stay with us for a while.”
“Oh,” Crowley said. “Right. Well then. Good. Problem solved.” He grinned widely at Harry. “Want to learn how to be a snake?”
“Crowley, absolutely not! He’s not even started school!”
“Oh come on, angel! Don’t be a spoilsport.”
Chapter 6: Interlude: Heaven and Hell
Beelzebub leaned against the railing and waited. Some moments later the sound of thunder echoed somewhere off to their right.
Beelzebub glanced over. The Archangel Gabriel stood next to them, idly wiping nonexistant dust off the sleeves of his extremely well-tailored suit.
“So?” he asked in a tone which heavily implied he had much more important things to be doing. “What’s up?”
“Itzz the traitorzz,” Beelzebub replied, unable to keep their idiosyncratic tic out of their voice.
Gabriel stiffened. “I have no idea who you mean, Beez. There are no traitors.”
The Lord of the Flies rolled their eyes and sighed. “Look Gabriel, juzzt because all of Heaven iz pretending that the whole mezz never happened doezzn’t mean that all of Hell iz.”
Gabriel didn’t look at them and Beelzebub heaved a bigger sigh. “For Hellz zake Archangel. Crowley and Azzziraphale are who I am referring to.”
“Don’t know anyone by that name, Beez,” Gabriel insisted stubbornly. His eyelid had started to twitch.
“Zzure you don’t.”
There was a moment of silence as they both stared straight ahead.
“Hypothetically,” Gabriel said eventually, “if some beings by those names did exist, why would I care about it?”
“You mean bezidez the fact that they’re zomehow immune to the primal forzez of above and below that would deztroy the rezzt of uz?”
“Uh, yeah,” Gabriel said awkwardly, experiencing a vivid recollection of Aziraphale spitting Hellfire at him. “Besides that.”
Beelzebub frowned at him. “We’ve had agentz watching them. They’re up to zomething. They’ve been looking after a child. A boy. He’zz been ztaying in the angel’z bookzhop.”
“And again, I care because?”
“The lazzzt time they were looking after a human child they zztopped the apocalypzze,” Beelzebub snapped, suddenly buzzing in agitation. “Or have you really forgotten how they made a fool of you?”
“Now I wouldn’t say that,” Gabriel protested, a faint edge in his voice. “I’m pretty sure we both had to do a little back-peddling that day, didn’t we?”
“Oh zo now you remember,” Beelzebub muttered under their breath.
“Look, Beez,” Gabriel said, “whoever this kid is, it’s not like he’s another antichrist. Probably just a normal human kid.” He sniffed. “Even our intel knows your serpent is soft about the smaller humans.”
“He izz not my zzerpent!”
“Yeah, yeah. Still soft on the small ones though. Why is that? Bit odd for one of your guys, I’ve always thought.”
“Yez well. Curiouzity’s alwayz been a problem when it comez to Crowley.”
Gabriel raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me? What’s curiosity got to do with it?”
Beelzebub shifted uncomfortably. “Humanz have got to be old enough to know the differenz between right and wrong to end up Below. Zo, not that many kidz. Almozt none in fact.”
Gabriel opened his mouth to reply and then closed it as the implications of the statement occurred to him. “Ah,” he said finally.
Beelzebub decided not to mention that the few children who ended up in hell disturbed even the demons.
“So . . .” Gabriel prodded.
“Zo Crowley’s too curiouz for hiz own good. Alwayz haz been. He never ztopz azking queztionz. Itzz why he Fell.”
Gabriel blinked “Really?” he asked, momentarily distracted. “I wonder wh- Ah, no, never mind, please continue.”
“Zo,” said Beelzebub with emphasis, tactfully ignoring what Gabriel had been about to say, “little humanz azzk many queztionz. Juzt like the Zzerpent. He’zz been zoft on them ever zince Eve had the very firzt one.” They sniffed contemptuously. “Itz almozt like he dotez on the little beaztz.”
“Then aren’t you worrying over nothing?” Gabriel pointed out. “Your shitty demon and,” he winced and the continued, “my shitty angel are temporarily playing house with a human. Probably a very normal human that they’ll get bored of and find other humans to do the looking after of in a week or so.”
“We don’t know that for zzure.”
“Alright, alright,” Gabriel gave in. “I’ll have my guys keep an eye on the situation. If anything mutually interesting turns up, we’ll be in contact.”
“Likewize,” Beelzebub agreed. The earth opened up beneath them and they vanished.
“Huh,” Gabriel said to himself as the echoes died away. “Fell for asking questions? Now why is that familiar?”