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Year One:

 

"If someone's having me on, now's the time to 'fess up."

Crowley said this to no-one in particular. The only thing that could have heard him was the steam engine in front of him, enormous and unapologetically scarlet, with puffs of steam billowing from its smoke stacks. He didn't expect the train to respond- but then again, magic trains… one never knew if those hisses and creaks were in fact a way of communication.

He took his own deep breath, and scurried aboard.

If he really was a wizard, as his Hogwarts acceptance letter had stated, then there was no turning back now. He swiftly snaked into an empty carriage- he much preferred to be alone for the journey, if only so that he could perfect his flash bastard persona by the time the alleged Sorting came along. You can't call a flash bastard a "mudblood," he thought. If a mudblood was a bad thing to be. He assumed it was;the wizard he had asked about how to exactly get to Platform 9 ¾ had certainly sneered the term with a good deal of contempt.

He hadn't felt so slick about being a wizard after that, but now he was here, and that was what mattered.

His heart had dropped into his stomach when he had received his invitation letter. A lovely, rounded yellow slip of paper, with neatly-quilled emerald writing, addressed ever so politely to a "Dear Mr. Crowley," stating that "We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry..."

At first he had not believed it. Once his heart had assumed its rightful place back in his chest, he had flicked the letter into the wastebin. Spam mail was getting out of hand these days.

He had dawdled around under the tree outside his house, pondering who could have sent him such a shite prank letter, but unable to think of anybody- to what purpose, really?

When a passing-by garden snake asked him why he was looking so low, he had haphazardly snapped at it to shut up, he was thinking, you see. He had then paused, shrieked very quietly, and ran back inside to give the letter a little more consideration.

Crowley had had to interrogate several snakes on how exactly to get to Diagon Alley. It was rather like the Spanish Inquisition, he thought, as he poked an unassuming garden snake with his finger until it had become annoyed and told the wizardling to "sod off". Crowley had recoiled in surprise at the rude language and, hurt, had stomped off to the other side of the yard to gather information from more cooperative victims.

His journey to London had been solitary, aided only by his skeptical mother as far as downtown. Crowley now stood looking up at the sign for Charing Cross Road, directions gleaned from his snakes scrawled on a crumpled slip of paper in one hand. He set off down the sidewalk, slipping through the bustle of the city as inconspicuously as he could, until… there! Between a bookstore and a rundown record shop sat the Leaky Cauldron: the gateway to the center of wizarding London. He pushed open the door and let himself inside.

An old man at the counter, who reeked of gin and sweat, had leaned over and given Crowley instructions as to how to enter the Alley in a low voice. Crowley, extremely uncomfortable with the man's blatant invasion of his space, dashed off as soon as he could and was whisked into an afternoon of frantic shopping.

And now here he sat in the carriage, clutching a wand (chestnut, serpent scale core, a little rigid and just hitting 8 inches- he had memorized Ollivander's description after repeating it to himself all afternoon), muttering the words, "Hallo, I'm Crowley. Just Crowley," over and over again. He pressed his face to the chilled window and stared at all the wizarding families hugging, kissing, and scolding their children farewell.

He was so entranced by a man on the platform seemingly conjuring water out of thin air that by the time he pried his cheek off the window pane and turned to face the seat opposite him, it was no longer empty. He yelped at the sight of the stranger - a chubby, fair child with glasses - and then blushed angrily at his spontaneous outburst. You couldn't get startled that easily when you're a flash bastard, he thought, reprimanding himself. That was sort of the entire point.

The chubby child was reading something- something which didn't seem like typical magic stuff, Crowley noted with interest. The boy paused, marking his page, and poked his glasses up his nose before beaming up at Crowley.

Crowley started in surprise before blurting out, "Crowley, I'm hi, er, I'm just, um-" in a panic. He stopped.

The blond child smiled hesitantly and managed a "Hallo, I'm-", and Crowley cut him off yet again.

"What's that you're reading?"

The blonde boy didn't seem to mind the interruption. "This?" he said, tapping the volume in his hand. "This is the Torah. Abridged."

"Oh," Crowley said thoughtfully, recovering embarrassedly from his faux pas. "I didn't know wizards were religious."

"Well, some of them are. Besides, I'm just reading this because I want to learn more about it, it's just some, uh, pastime reading."

"Oh."

"Yes... "

There was an awkward pause. Then the other boy seemed to remember himself, and offered his hand to Crowley.

"Oh, I didn't get to finish. I'm Aziraphale, by the way. Pleasure to meet you."

Crowley took his hand and stated automatically, "I'm Anthony, enchanté."

He clenched the hand shaking Aziraphale's, then. The other boy looked mildly alarmed.

"Wait, no, I'm Crowley, just—augh, I messed up. Just call me Crowley, okay?"

Aziraphale looked at him with something close to amusement. "Alright, then."

The looked at each other for a stretch of time. Crowley bothered his lip with his tooth, and Aziraphale smiled a bit.

"'Enchanté'?"

"Look, it- it just slipped out, okay?" groused Crowley sourly.

"I'm not admonishing you, it was just… not expected."

Crowley attempted to glare at him, but found he could not maintain any amount of anger. He was too bloody excited.

So was Aziraphale, though, and for the remainder of the trip, they spoke about what they knew of Hogwarts. Aziraphale didn't comment on the fact Crowley was muggleborn, so Crowley reasoned that either the other was going to use the information against him later, or perhaps it wasn't as big of a deal as he assumed it was. At any rate, Aziraphale was eager to prove his knowledge to Crowley, speaking at length about the history of Hogwarts, the architecture of the place, the class curriculums, the known Professors present. He seemed particularly obsessed with Gryffindor's sword.

"D'you suppose it can catch on fire?"

"Pardon?"

"As in, the sword. Do you suppose it's one of those flaming swords?"

Crowley did a double take. "Dunno. Why?"

"I don't know. Flaming swords are cool, I think."

"Er, alright, Aziraphale."

They changed into their uniforms halfway through the trip, as they drew ever closer to Hogwarts. Crowley noticed Aziraphale's stubby nails were a bright turquoise. They matched his eyes, almost.

"Hey, how come your nails are painted?" he asked curiously.

Aziraphale bristled, before saying owlishly, "Because I like it when they're coloured. Is that an issue?"

Crowley raised both hands to show he meant no harm. Clearly, this was touchy territory.

He curiosity was piqued, though.

"No, no. I was simply wondering. Um. D'you… have any gold colour?"

Aziraphale gave him a blank stare.

Crowley waved to his own eyes. "Y'know, to match my eyes. Come on, AZ, you're quicker than this."

"Don't call me AZ," Aziraphale said, his face coloring blotchily. "And don't tease me. I thought you were nice."

"What I'd do? What I'd do?"

Aziraphale looked away, incensed.

"I mean it. I want to paint my nails too. Come on, I'm probably shite at it, you can teach me." Somewhere in the back of his mind, flash bastard was shaking his head, disappointed. But he wanted to please his new friend so very badly…

Aziraphale looked at him critically. Crowley gave his best innocent look in return.

"If you really want to, I suppose I can…get my stuff out…" Aziraphale trailed off, eyeing his bags.

Crowley smiled widely to reassure him. Flash bastard was obviously knocked out somewhere in the crevices of his head. He could come back later.

Aziraphale precisely painted Crowley's nails while he prattled about what a muggleborn life was like. Ever so often, Aziraphale would ask a question or make a shocked noise ("No… no summoning spells, even? How do you keep track of everything?"), but was otherwise silent. Crowley was happy to share about how difficult life was, being sure to exclude the part where muggles had advanced electronics that eased their lives quite a bit. It was nice to have someone who treated his suffering with the appropriate amount of pity (as opposed to, say, his mother).

While Aziraphale worked on the second coat, Crowley asked shyly, "Do you really not want to be called AZ?"

"Erm," Aziraphale said. "No, it's okay. I had thought you were making fun of me. It's alright. You can use it, if you want. It's sort of, er, nice." He looked away, bashful, and that was the end of that.

Crowley admired his new nails once they were done, while Aziraphale fretted, awaiting judgment. He grinned at him, flashing sharp canines.

"They're quite something, AZ. I like it. Thanks mate."

Aziraphale smiled nervously at him, revealing his own metallic braces. He had earlier explained that when his uncle had attempted to fix his teeth naturally, he himself had insisted on doing at least one thing the 'muggle way.' Crowley could not for the life of him comprehend why he'd do such a thing, but again, wizards were a little weird.

"Of course."

The train juddered to a halt, just then, and they locked eyes. They were going to attend Hogwarts, they were going to learn magic….

The clamor in the carriage path was overwhelming, full of first years through seventh years hollering excitedly to their friends and at their pets, adjusting scarves and bunched up robes and excessive luggage. There were feathers and the dusty smell of birds, too, and people- magical people, Crowley reminded himself- pushed up against each other uncomfortably in their plight to escape first.

Once the two of them escaped the overcrowded train, they themselves into the dinky boats at an alarming speed.

The neat vessels kicked off and sloshed over the lake, and both saw that Hogwarts was a flickering doll castle just a little way over. The candles and lanterns were winking jonquil stars in the distance.

A water snake drifted to the surface and trailed besides them.

"Are you excssited?" it asked Crowley good-naturedly. Crowley started, but adjusted quickly, looking down at the snake.

"Yeah. Do you know what happens after sorting?"

"A feassst, I sssuppossse. I don't know. Haven't really been in there. Though I think Ssslytherin's a good houssse. 'S Got a sssnake as it'sss massscot. Sssounds perfect to me."

"Oh. Well, thanksss- I mean, thanks. See you around."

"Good bye," it offered as departure as it sunk and slinked away in the oily black water. Crowley turned back to Aziraphale, who was staring at him with comically wide eyes, golden lantern lights reflecting in his big circle specs.

"Are you okay? Not feeling queasy now, are you?"

Aziraphale shook his head slightly. "I…you didn't tell me you were a parseltongue," he babbled weakly.

"What's that?"

"Erm. It's when you can speak to snakes. It's not common among wizards. It usually means...but you're a muggleborn, so how..." He shook his head.

"I thought all wizards could do that," said Crowley. Was there reason to be worried?

"Wow. Alright. You might want to keep that hidden for a bit, dear," Aziraphale thought aloud. "I won't tell anyone myself. I'm not sure if you're going to…want to tell anyone about that. Just for now," he added quickly. "It's nothing to be ashamed of…mostly…I think…"

"You're scaring me," Crowley said bluntly as they pulled up the shore. "People only call other people 'dear' if they're gonna die soon. I'm not thick."

"No! No one's going to die…I mean. It's not a bad thing, it just means you might be related to Salazar Slytherin…the bloke who founded the Slytherin house…hated all muggleborns, wished their deaths, started a prejudiced campaign against them…but that's all, really," he finished, waving his hands vaguely as if to halt the conversation. "Just don't tell the Sorting Hat that," he finished grandly as he stepped off the boat.

"Wha- Why would I talk to the hat?" Crowley called after him, but he was already gone, swept away in the crowd, ready to be alphabetized.

***

The Great Hall was majestic, spacious, all cream arches and stone and floating candles. If one looked up, they would see the amber illumination of the room melted sleepily into a Prussian blue, and the cold stars joined them in the chamber, as if to look on interest at the sorting as well.

Aziraphale shifted from foot to foot with trepidation. Which house would he get in? His family had had people from all across the board, so there wasn't as much pressure upon him as others- but he had to admit that he didn't want to take it too lightly.

He spotted Crowley in the corner of his eye, a splotch of tan-brown with dark robes and darker hair, frantically trying to get his attention, but he kept his gaze rapt and focused ahead. At this point, he couldn't comfort him, and acknowledging his presence would only encourage him to create a ruckus.

Alder, Gertrude was sorted first. She kicked her legs in a steady rhythm on the stool, like a ticking clock, until the hat came to its decision. Hufflepuff nearly swarmed the girl as she stumbled to her new house. Then it was Ashton, Rashida, who promptly made Gryffindor her's. Down it went, through the A's and B's and it was well into the C's when Crowley, Anthony Jal was beckoned forward. Aziraphale made what he hoped was reassuring eye contact at him as he observed the poor boy wipe his palms against his robes on the way up.

***

Here we go, Crowley thought as he shakily approached the ultimate moment of Judgment. He settled uncomfortably on the chair, broke out in a light sweat at the sight of hundreds of wizarding students looking him down, and jammed the hat down on his head.

Ah. Hello now, Anthony. Crowley released his pent-up breath. So he was a real wizard, if the hat was talking to him. He'd hope.

Um. Hallo. Crowley, please.

Oh- I can see why you'd want to be called that, instead. Let's see then, Crowley- Do you have any preferences regarding your placement?

Erm. Dunno. Well, this snake told me that Slytherin was nice, I s'pose.

Snake?

Oh. Damn. I wasn't supposed to tell you I'm a paper…parcel…parseltongue, I think.

Not especially sharp, are you, the hat noted sardonically. …And I can't sense any thirst for knowledge. So Ravenclaw's right out. Quite loyal, though. You're the type that'd run into a burning building for a loved one, aren't you?

I mean. I guess. If I liked them enough.

Interesting. But you're not consistently hard-working, nor patient, so Hufflepuff isn't going to work, either. So, Slytherin, you had said earlier…you're cunning, I can tell that much. And Salazar is your relative, evidentially, so we don't want to disappoint him too greatly, do we…

Never met the git, he thought bitterly. What good was it having a wizarding ancestor if he never bothered to write and say "Oh, by the way- you're magical!"? It would've saved some effort and confusion.

Quite a mouth for a first year, you'd fit right in at Slytherin. And yet…running into a burning building. An act that can be readily construed as brave, do you agree?

Yeah, why not.

And are you an optimist, A. Jal Crowley?

Definitely. Life would be hellish if I wasn't.

Hellish, now? What an interesting choice of words. But you do value optimism, and have a certain sense of boldness. I guess that settles it, then. Clearly, you're a-

"GRYFFINDOR!" the hat bellowed from above Crowley's ears.

"O- Oh," said Crowley feebly while removing the hat, stumbling his way to the right most tables.

The Gryffindors enveloped him in a gleeful, mass event of rapid fire hand-shaking and back-patting and side-hugs before he finally was able to settle down next to another first-year girl with thick, red hair. She gave him a sidelong look, and smiled coyly.

"Hey, welcome to the team of winners. How're you feeling?"

"I was almost sorted into Slytherin," Crowley responded at the speed of light. Why did he tell her that? Nearby, two students fought over a Remembrall vehemently.

"Ah," she says, gleefully. "Me too! Insisted 'gainst it though. Slytherin's gotta load of fellows that start bad ideas all on their own- ambitious types, y'know? I'd be a dime a dozen, there. Here? I'll have some fun."

For some reason, this made Crowley mildly unsettled- but he couldn't fully look down at a chance at mischief. . He smiled faintly at her. "You do that," he replied.

He looked more at the people around him. His neighboring and adjacent peers were arguing hard and passionately, but he wasn't sure about what. The girl- Scarlett, apparently- merely smiled impeccably white teeth at him before turning her head back to the sorting.

Crowley turned as well, and watched with renewed interest as "Ingladus, Aziraphale," was eventually called forth.

***

Aziraphale had nary set the hat down on his head that it began speaking.

Aziraphale Ingladus. An interesting name, truly.

Thank you, sir.

Alright, down to business. Are you brave, Aziraphale? Are you optimistic beyond compare?

Erm. I mean, I can't say I'm optimistic. Life just happens as it happens, and our reactions to them- negative or positive- are justified. We can't really question it, it's unfathomable, and-

-So you're trying to say it's ineffable, in the end.

Er. Yes, precisely.

Alright. And you're brave enough, but let's not pigeonhole you into Gryffindor quite yet…how loyal are you? Hm. Not too much above the average decent person. You're notably patient, but I think I can find a better fit for you. Are you ambitious? Cunning?

Well-

Oh, goodness. You're much more than you give yourself credit for. You'd not be the average Slytherin, but you'd do so well there…

Really?

Really.

Whoo-ee. I wasn't expecting to be a Slytherin.

Ah, but we're not done yet. How are you on knowledge?

What do you mean?

Do you thirst to learn more? To pore over books over and over until you've absorbed all of their content? Are you on a never-ending quest to find out more?

I-

Oh, my. Yes you are. Indeed you are. Tell me, now. How do books and learning make you feel? Be honest.

...Kind of like flying. It's exhilarating. I'd do anything to get my hands on more books, words-

Ah, just strap some angel's wings on you and you're primed to go-

Angel's wings?

No interrupting. As I was saying: Primed to go into-

"RAVENCLAW!"

Aziraphale made a breathy noise, clumsily shifted the hat to its original position on the stool, and made his way to the blue and bronze table.

He dealt with the standard jolly welcoming procedure, and was left pleasantly harried by the time he got a seat next to a sullen looking Japanese boy who introduced himself as "Sable." Sable then proceeded to glare at the platter on the table that would soon be filled with everlasting food and made a cut off, growling noise.

"Disgusting," he spat out. "Makes me sick."

Aziraphale inched away a bit from this ominous behavior, and instead stretched his neck, trying to pick Crowley out from the table blazing red and gold, but there were far too many people milling about for him to clearly spot him. He shrugged mildly. He could try to say good night to him later, and tomorrow they could figure out schedules, if he wanted.

The feast materialized as soon as the sorting finished and the Headmaster had given his necessary speech. As Aziraphale scrounged down his meal, he turned to Sable as asked in a muffled voice, "Are you aware of when we're going to be able to socialize with the other houses?"

Sable looked decidedly unimpressed with his full, grubby mouth and shook his head.

"Ah. Aziraphale, right? Right. Aziraphale. I'm not sure why you missed the crucial memo, but you don't really get to socialize with the other knockers save for classes, 'Less some airhead tries to sit outside their house table during mealtime. Anyway, house competition is going to be at its highest- At least for our standard, I'd think."

"Why's that?" asked Aziraphale thickly, eyes wide. Sable glanced meaningfully at a fellow first year across the room, a Gryffindor Aziraphale remembered as "Kuryg, Scarlett." She looked up as soon as they saw her red, vibrant hair and smiled smartly at them, winking at a startled Aziraphale, who coloured vaguely. But then he noticed Crowley looking squeamish next to her, and began to raise his hand to wave hello-

Sable grabbed his arm on its way up and lowered it down with calculated strength that Aziraphale did not know such a stick of a boy could possess.

"No, that's not going to happen, Aziraphale. Are you even listening to me?"

"But he's my fr-"

"Then you're a traitor to our house!"

"But- but you seemed pal-ly with that Scarlett girl just now, why can't I-"

"Oh, Aziraphale, Aziraphale, Aziraphale," said Sable, shaking his head deliberately, as if he sympathized with him. "Scarlett's my cousin. As is Albus, over there-" he indicated a pale, grimy boy spilling his frog slime across the table in Hufflepuff- "and there's Mort-" apparently a brooding, dark child seated at Slytherin- "And I get to be friendly to them because, y'know. Family. We were married in to each other. Trust me, though, during matches and classes we'll practically be dogs set at each other. Glory for our houses, and all that. I promise you, good ol' –whassit name? Tony Jal? Crow? Crowley?- good ol' Crowley isn't going to be as pleasant tomorrow. Simply human nature."

"Er," said Aziraphale, sounding uncertain now.

"That's right," sighed Sable morosely. "Tragic, isn't it? Anyways. Pass the custard."

Aziraphale did so in an unfocused haze, mulling over Crowley and their now apparently strained friendship. He failed to notice that upon receiving the custard, Sable had promptly upturned it onto the ground and looked a little pleased with himself, then did the same with the remaining platters in front of him.

***

The following day, Aziraphale decided he didn't buy Sable's theory. Inter-house unity was key, wasn't it? Besides, Crowley was a little pompous from what he gathered on the train ride, but he wasn't haughty.

When he finally made his way into the Great Hall after a frustrating incident with the stairs, he nearly blessed the whole room out of gratefulness. Instead, he eyed a bleary-eyed Crowley slumped over at the Gryffindor table. Most of the area was unoccupied- it was markedly early. And while Aziraphale was a morning person, he didn't sense Crowley was.

He made his way over with renewed confidence. Crowley looked like any other first-year, not like an opponent bent on competing with him fiercely to out some house rivalry.

"Hallo," he said hopefully when he was just behind Crowley. Crowley flinched from the sudden voice, swiveling around and eyeing Aziraphale wearily.

"Oy, give me a warning next time, AZ. How's it going?"

"I'm fine."

"How's it, then? With the Ravenclaws and all. Dorm and all?"

"Interesting. They're nice."

"D'you suppose that they're all that different from the Gryffindor ones?"

"Dunno," Aziraphale said, uneasily. He wasn't keen on bringing up the topic of houses so early on in the conversation.

"Alright," said Crowley, already a little more cheery than he was at the beginning of their conversation, and he did not poke Aziraphale into revealing more. "You wanna compare schedules, then?"

"Ah. Yes, please," Aziraphale said, a little faintly. He noticed the large room filling out. He was getting strange looks, now. The both of them were.

Crowley noticed this too, and shifted uncomfortably, but otherwise tried to carry out the act of eyeing the two leaflets. Aziraphale noted his nails were still a brilliant gold, contrasted against the color of the parchment.

"Erm, looks like we have Herbology together, and Defense Against the Dark Arts…Potions, too. Oh. Wow. I think our schedules match up exactly, that's impressive…" he trailed off, flicking his eyes towards the redhead who had sat next to him quite sunnily.

Scarlett gave the pair a little wave and started picking at the buffet in front of her, just as two boys a few feet down began to scuffle about which Quidditch team was best.

"Ah. Yeah, as I was saying…same schedules. Weird. I s'pose all of us firsties have a lot of classes in common, required as they are…I mean, I would've figured that as a Ravenclaw you would've gone a little more advanced," he joked.

Aziraphale, for some reason, did not take kindly to that at all.

"What's that supposed to mean?" he snapped. He didn't mean to say it so sharply, but he had. Scarlett looked at him from the corner of her eye.

Crowley regarded him, surprised. "I was joking. We all have to take the same classes, y'know, there's no way you could've tried to get a more advanced-"

"I'm not a dunce!"

Crowley prickled. "Sure, you may not be a dunce, but you sure are being a right arse right now."

"Oh, shut up. You were being needlessly malicious."

"Oy, don't start this with me now, mate, I haven't even started eating. I'm going to lose my appetite. Are all Ravenclaws so defensive? 'M Starting to feel glad I didn't get sorted there."

Later, Crowley would wonder why he had said that. Scarlett bit the inside of her mouth in an attempt not to laugh.

"Are all Gryffindors noisy pigheads, then?!" Aziraphale cracked back. Crowley recoiled momentarily, but then his face grew dark.

"I thought you weren't an arsehole. Was I wrong when I though you weren't?"

Aziraphale glared at him and said nothing, acutely aware that much of the room was staring at the two of them.

"Now might be the time to show any other hidden parts of you. Come on, take a crack at it while the iron's still hot," Crowley continued, his voice oddly high. "Got any words you wanna call me? Any words that rhyme with 'Shudblood?'"

Aziraphale's blood turned to ice under his skin. How dare- How dare he imply that he would ever-

"See you around," he hissed at Crowley abruptly. He swept around and rigidly walked to the Ravenclaw table as students made hushed whispers around him.

He spotted Sable, who patted the empty seat next to him understandingly. The incensed boy sat down hard and buried his head in his arms. His ears burned.

"What did I tell you?" interjected Sable smoothly, once Aziraphale emerged from his hiding spot and began eating, slowly and without passion. "House rivalry's a strong thing. Always has been."

Aziraphale grunted. Across the room, Scarlett glowed, relishing.

And the next time Aziraphale decided to look at him properly, following a week of the mutual cold shoulder, Crowley's nails were scrubbed clean, immaculately plain, and colorless.

***

 

Year Two:

Looking back on it, Crowley wasn't sure why he had brought up the whole "mudblood" thing. Perhaps he had wanted to hurt Aziraphale. Perhaps he was so frightened of someone calling him that it was a knee-jerk reaction to be the one controlling the influx of the word. Perhaps, he was just a shoddy excuse of a person. The possibilities were endless.

Either way, the two had not spoken since but for a few terse exchanges involving, "Pass the pot, please," during Herbology, and on particularly social days, "What does the board say?"

Well, that was a lie, Crowley realized. A blatant one. They had not spoken civilly since the fight. Bickering was a completely different story.

"Ravenclaws have a tendency to prattle a bit, no offense-"

"Really? Then it must be true that Gryffindors have a tendency to be prats themselves-"

"Well- well, Ravenclaws have a tendency to get THEIR HEADS STUCK IN THEIR ARSEHO-"

Crowley got smacked for that one by Professor Snape, and caused his house to lose 10 points. He also got smacked by a prefect, later. His head ended up in a world of pain at the end of the day.

Aziraphale, though, had given Snape an angelically innocent expression and didn't get demoted at all. If Crowley could have given looks that killed, Aziraphale would have been very much a corpse.

They didn't notice Scarlett was in all their classes, less than two seats away, always lazily chewing on the ends of her hair when these spats occurred. It wasn't that she was tryingto do anything, necessarily; she just wasn't bothering to turn off her magic from escaping and manifesting in brawls. What came of that decision was just life, y'know (She'd get bored sooner or later, she reasoned- she didn't hate them or anything, it was just amusing to watch it happen)?

In the middle of the year (a year of ignoring and screaming and copious amounts of glaring), Crowley decided that even if Aziraphale was a self-righteous ass, he was on the right track about the nail polish thing. He borrowed a gold from a fellow Gryffindor who was happy to lend it to him, and although it didn't match his eyes quite as well as Aziraphale's did, nor did they look as neat and finished as the finished job Aziraphale had done on his hand, it still looked quite appealing.

It cheered him up for a total of one week before a Hufflepuff- that not many liked in his standard, but he existed all the same- in his Charms class asked him snidely if he enjoyed looking like a queer like that blonde Ravenclaw, or if he was just a gold-eyed freak queer, period.

Crowley had frozen. Two seats away, Aziraphale stiffened.

There was a momentary pang of understanding Crowley experienced. He remembered his long-ago encounter with Aziraphale, and the way the he had tensed up when the painted nails were brought up- and then he felt nothing but a taciturn blankness.

"None of your business," he maintained in a flat voice to the Hufflepuff. He then decided that now was as good a time as any to practice the hexes he had learned earlier- it washomework to practice, anyways- and the offender found themself with a heavy headache and the inability to stop sneezing for two days straight. Scarlett was quite incensed as well, taking it upon herself to add additional curses to the boy for the remainder of the month.

Regardless, Crowley set away the nail polish again, and took to wearing sunglasses.

***

 

Year Three:

Aziraphale turned thirteen a bit before Christmastime, and asked his uncle for books. The oldest books he can find. Religious texts, if he's time to spare. And that's what he received on the frosty morning of December 25th, at the base of his bed, sitting neatly and properly.

There was the Qur'ān, a handsome black and adorned sparingly with gold Arabic text, though there was pure transliteration inside. There was the Yasna, which he let out a gasp at- he hadn't thought his uncle would have known about it. And finally, he gleamed with admiration at the four blue Vedas, the final gift. He toyed with the covers experimentally, placed a pressed flower or two between the pages of all the books total, and then set them proudly on his night stand. There. He now had something to read during the two weeks of hols.

His Uncle Gregory had decided to let him stay at Hogwarts this time around, only because he insisted (he wanted more alone time in the spanning library) and because Uncle had gotten his hands on some very choice tickets to a cruise in the Bahamas. Both got their wishes.

He sat in the empty dorm for a few moments, appreciating how nice the books looked on his bedside, contoured against the window that revealed little flakes of snow gently billowing down outside. He tightened his dressing gown closer against him, shivering but smiling slightly all the same; There was something- just something- about snowy winter mornings that inspired blooms of warmth in his chest.

He got up, changed into an over-sized sweater (barely anyone would see him, why not?), trousers, and a heavy robe before taking his leave to make the trek to the greenhouses outside. He had to retrieve some more flowers to press into bookmarks, and his arrangement with Professor Sprout required him to drop in before 8 AM if he wanted to get them.

Sprout was kind to him. She would pretend not to notice when he went a little over his allowance for the flowers, and her lips would twitch at the corners when she noticed that he would place them delicately in his pockets such that they could be seen. Aziraphale never had to explain to her he simply thought it was good luck, and that he thought it looked nice. And sometimes, if a peer made fun of him regarding the flora on his clothes, they'd discover that suddenly they were the ones assigned by Sprout into collecting bubotuber pus for the duration of that week. That was always gratifying.

He walked briskly through the now rather empty and echoey stone hallways, and clenched his teeth when he hit the stinging cold air outside as he exited via Great Hall.

The land was almost solely white, and the air was crisp to his nose. His gaze drifted to the horizon- The Forbidden Forest met the sky in stark contrast, near black, jagged cracks against the blinding white of the cloudy sky. Aziraphale smiled very softly at the landscape, his cheeks flushed and rosy, his nose a comical red within two minutes of trudging outside- at least it had stopped snowing. He dug his gloved hands deeper into his pockets as he rambled to the greenhouses.

He fumbled with the entrance to the property and grimaced. It was extremely cold, his hair was beginning to get damp from sweat under his hat, and his damp mittens could not seem to get a good grasp on the doorknob…

He gave the door a final shove and burst into the greenhouse with a little yelp, and nearly trampled someone kneeling on the dirt ground in his path.

Crowley jerked away from a wayward leg and whipped up from his plant project to see a tousled Aziraphale, sweaty, flustered, and hair a curly gold mess.

"What the hell?!" shouted Crowley accusingly.

"Um- er-"

If he was being honest with himself, Crowley was more taken aback than angry. He took a deep breath, quickly fussed with his hair, falling into his eyes now (he was trying to grow it out, much to the chagrin of his mother), and straightened his robes before standing up deliberately.

"Sorry I yelled," he muttered dully, calmer now. "I was worried my plant was going to be ravaged." He gave his project a worried glance. It was intact.

"Um. I'm sorry I, uh, burst in so suddenly…I wasn't trying to startle you, promise," replied Aziraphale, not quite looking Crowley in the eye.

This was the first time they were speaking in two years, excluding their bouts, he realized. To be frank, Aziraphale thought a tad sadly, he barely remembered what Crowley was like when he had first met him. He remembered blurrily that he had seemed decent enough… he had not been awful about the nails, at least…and he had been like a bundle of nerves before sorting (In the back of his mind, he knew he was a parseltongue, but he hadn't told anyone the fact, even for blackmail. He didn't know why). Besides that, he had very little memory of their positive interactions. Most of his head was too focused on the way he was an arse, now. And that he wore sunglasses. Who even wore sunglasses during classes at thirteen? Tossers.

"Not a problem," responded Crowley steadily, adjusting his large sleeves to check the time on his watch. As hard as Aziraphale was trying not to look at Crowley, he couldn't ignore the jangling sound that had accompanied the movement.

He glanced at the other's arms and saw that he was wearing bracelets- or, rather, bangles, he amended- on his wrists. They were jewel toned, littering from his wrists to somewhere within the depths of his robe sleeves.

Crowley noticed him staring. He looked at him, raising one eyebrow over his shades. Aziraphale blushed, mumbled something about fashion, and then very pointedly looked at some hanging plants away from Crowley's general vicinity.

After a sufficient amount of waiting (very, very quietly), Crowley asked, "Oy, shouldn't Professor be here by now?"

Aziraphale shrugged, still not looking at Crowley. "She must be busy."

"Taking her right sweet time, she is."

They loitered in silence. Aziraphale would peek at him quickly and would notice how he chewed idly on his lip. Did he do that before? thought Aziraphale. Well. Even if he did. Best not to humanize him now.

And yet, he reasoned with himself. Two years had passed. At best, Crowley and he were acquaintances. He had gotten over the fight a long time ago, embarrassing as it had been. He knew Crowley had been tense from the audience at the time and had snapped, and he knew that he himself had been a little unnecessarily cruel. They were simply background characters to each other's lives, pesky bugs that they swatted and dealt with to a minimal amount every day... Maybe it was time to forgive him. Or start over.

He thought this very much to himself, however, and when he came to his conclusion he opted to say nothing and rather tugged on his robe sleeve fringe instead. He wasn't quite full of the conviction to carry out his preachings. Besides, Crowley wasn't looking too interested in carrying out diplomacy now. Might as well stick with small talk.

"So…" Aziraphale started amiably. "You're staying here during the hols too, then?"

Crowley looked at him as if he were dense.

"Yeah. I wouldn't be here if I wasn't."

"Oh. Of course…"

There was another uneasy period of silence. Aziraphale felt a trickle of sweat run down his neck in the enclosed, flowery space.

He tried again. "Um, is it because you wanted to stay here or…?"

Crowley now looked at him like he was losing his mind.

"Yes," he said plainly. "Why are we talking?"

Aziraphale fumbled. His eyes were wide again, and Crowley could not help but remember how they had looked exactly like that when he had found out he was a parseltongue.

"I just figured- I mean-"

"Oh- hallo, children, I apologize for being late. There was an emergency with Flitwick's Screechsnap, but I took care of it."

Both Aziraphale and Crowley looked away from each other to see Sprout adjusting and fussing with plants. She bustled around, not giving the two of them a glance- She was clearly preoccupied, after making such a hasty and rather overdue appearance. Aziraphale gulped.

When she realized they were still standing there, she became mildly peeved.

"Well, go on then, dears! What's it that you need? Ah… Aziraphale, you can retrieve your flowers now. Don't touch the ones in that corner, though, the cyan ones… they're dangerous, mighty little devils." She glanced at Crowley. "Anthony, you can drop your extra credit project over by my desk. I'll grade it within this week, don't you worry."

Aziraphale smiled gratefully and began to drift around the rows of leafy vegetation, looking for flowers that caught his eye. A maroon one here, a sculpted yellow one there…

Sprout began speaking again as he searched, this time pensive. "Now, I just realized… It seems that you children both drop by often enough, and many of my students are gone for this week, and I really could use some helping hands…"

Crowley looked up from where he was delicately placing his project in panic. No, Sprout couldn't possibly be implying that-

"So how about you children help me for a bit? Think of it as extra credit. A little required, but you'll get your points nonetheless, and it'll only be for the first week of holidays. What do you say, boys?"

Crowley noticed Aziraphale was looking a little blanched out. His lips were trying very hard to not frown, he could tell that much.

"Erm," said Aziraphale hesitantly. "I suppose… I could…"

Augh, thought Crowley. Now I can't back out, I'll look bloody rude in front of Sprout…

And in this manner he agreed, equally as reluctant as Aziraphale, to tend to the plants in the greenhouses for two hours every day in the early morning for the remainder of the week.

***

Now, Crowley reasoned to himself. He didn't hate Aziraphale more than he hated the stringy things on bananas. As in, he found them unnecessary and particularly bothersome on bad days, but in the end they were quite inconsequential. This is what he made sure to remember on Monday as he made his way to the greenhouse. He frowned as snow made its way into his boots- god, he despised the cold, it made him feel listless- and finally entered the greenhouse to find Aziraphale already there, watering the puffapods.

"Ey?" said Crowley. How did he get here long enough before him that he was already watering the plants?

"Oh- hi." Aziraphale said back, glancing up from his work. He looked as if he wanted to say more, but didn't continue.

The room was, once again, humid and a lush green, and the ground was trodden-on hard packed dirt, damp from the moisture. Crowley tugged off his scarlet and gold scarf and placed it absentmindedly on a nearby table. The greenhouse itself was long and narrow, and bursting with foliage from every point.

"Where's Sprout?" he asked, after he realized that it was just the two of them and the sound of water thrumming on leaves. She wasn't in the room, and he couldn't see her through the blurred glass into her back office.

Aziraphale shook his head at him. "I ran into her on my way here. She told me that she'd rather have us do our work on our own, and she would drop in after we were done."

"Oh," responded Crowley stoutly. Well, that made things significantly more…horrible. But it wasn't an issue. He'd just do his work, and leave. No need to interact with Aziraphale, no need to kick sand in each other's eyes for no reason. He thought vaguely that he wasn't even feeling particularly belligerent- which was a first.

He picked up a rough trowel from the back, and began setting new pots up for new mandrakes that would be instilled into their new homes in two days. He was curious and a bit excited by the promise of mandrake handling- he wanted to know if he could discipline them as he did with most his plants. He couldn't tell Professor Sprout that, though. She'd throw a fit.

And so the first day passed, as wordless and blissful as a restless silence can be.

***

The next day was the same.

***

The day after that, not so much.

Sprout had been there in the morning, for one. She had shown them where the baby mandrakes were, and enunciated very carefully and clearly how they were to handle them. No yelling, keep calm but firm, and no, Anthony, you cannot try your mind games on them, do you understand me?

Crowley wilted like the dying hellebore in the corner, but said nothing.

Sprout had then left, having an urgent issue in which she was required to determine whether the strange plants growing near the groundskeeper's hut were Flitterboom or an actual Devil's Snare growth. You never know with Hagrid, she had said. He could have done it on purpose, the fool…

Aziraphale watched her go with slight gloom, as he was not looking forward to dealing with shrieking little devils, but acquiesced for her sake. And for extra credit's sake, as well. That was important.

They got to work. They had both shed their robes and scarves and hats; Crowley had rolled up his sleeves in his uniform till the vertex of his arm, and Aziraphale decided to do the same. He then began to bring out the heavy pots from the back of the room so he could set them on the middle table while Crowley set up the tools. He figured he could be sociable, then, for the sake of avoiding more awkwardness- he had spent a bloody consolidated five hours with him with barely three words exchanged, it was pitiful.

"So, ah. Crowley," he began, and then immediately stopped. It was so strange, the name felt bizarre in his mouth. He tried again. "Crowley. How have your hols been so far?"

"Mmm. Okay, I s'pose."

He did not offer anything beyond this, and once Aziraphale realized no more was forthcoming he searched desperately for something else to say. He found an easy topic.

"Did you get anything nice for Christmas?" he asked pleasantly.

"Nah. Don't celebrate Christmas at home."

"Oh. Hanukkah?"

"No."

A pause. "Any winter solstice sort of…holidays going on for you, then?"

"Nope." He popped his 'p.'

Longer pause. "If you don't mind me asking…I'm rather interested in religion…can I ask if you follow any-"

"Oy!" Crowley interrupted him sharply, turning so that he was facing Aziraphale, one hand on his hip while the other held him up on the table. "Why are you doing this? Interrogating me?"

"I- I- I'm simply trying to be friendly-"

"What's the deal, Ay- Ah- Ingladus? You want to be friends now? You don't need to pretend we can be pals, you understand that, right?"

Aziraphale felt his temper rising- he was just trying to be nice, is all-

Crowley continued as he retrieved the pots for the three mandrakes they were going to soon move. "We've had our differences. I mean, besides that first one. We were both being a bit thickheaded then, but I'm over that. Not sure about you." He quickly grabbed two earmuffs hanging on the wall for the procedure. "Anyways, my point is…my point is…my point is that it couldn't have worked. And that's alright. Anyways, put this on, we're going to need it unless you want to pass out."

Aziraphale slowly took the earmuffs from him without breaking eye contact, tightening his hand against it, hardly believing what he was hearing.

"Inter-house unity. Ha! As if. No offense, but my house was right when they warned me about Ravenclaws. Bunch of self-important dunderheads with elitist complexes," Crowley ranted, while snapping on his earmuffs. Aziraphale still had his in hand.

"I mean, for once you've stopped blabbering long enough for me to get a word in, so I appreciate that, AZ. Real considerate. When I think of it, though- and hold on, I've been developing this amazing theory, even a snob like you might like it- Ravenclaws are just a demotion from pureblood elitists. You think you guys are better than everyone, and push the rest of us lot down despite the fact that we don't give a damn about you. Sounds less like thirst for knowledge than it seems to be thirst for supremacy, right, mate?"

He finished with a satisfied breath, smiling down at the mandrake he was about to uproot. There. He had gotten it all out, and Aziraphale could go to hell with his contrived friendship offers. You couldn't just- just erase house rivalry and a mild enemyship one fine day.

Crowley was so busy getting a hold on the mandrakes top that he didn't notice that Aziraphale had been strangely complacent about his previous outburst, he didn't notice Aziraphale's mouth becoming a straight line, he didn't notice him putting down his earmuffs gingerly, and he certainly did not notice his slightly plump hand clenching and unclenching.

Crowley got a hold on the mandrake top, bracing himself against the table in readying for the coming pull, and opened his mouth towards Aziraphale to pass the pot-

His face was struck to the side by a powerful fist, and he heard a definite crack in his nose as pure agony shot up his face. Although his eyes were screwed shut in pain, his vision turned white, as white as the snow outside, and he dimly knew that his earmuffs had fallen off as he collapsed. There was a sour taste in his mouth, metallic and old, and then he felt slick hot wetness running down his mouth. Holy shit. The fucker had broken his nose.

His eyes were smarting as blood gushed down his front. He tried wiping the tears and blood away with one hand, gasping, and looked up to see Aziraphale fuming at him, panting.

"Don't call me AZ."

***

But despite his aggressive moves, Aziraphale was still Aziraphale, meaning that he was yet disgustingly virtuous and could not help but to feel responsible to take care of what was- rightfully and technically- his mess. And that's why Crowley found himself in the hospital wing, sulking while holding an ice pack to his nose as Madam Pomfrey told him that noses were a delicate thing and that if he wanted it fixed by wand-only there could be "complications" so won't he be a lad and wait it out for two days? And he had no choice but to agree.

He wasn't pleased about it, though.

He stared out a nearby window and looked at the land, bleached with the seemingly never-melting snow. He could almost glimpse the greenhouses from here.

He thought of Aziraphale, the bastard. He thought of how he didn't expect him to have it in him at all, and how at the same time he knew all along and perhaps that was why he got so carried away with his speech, because he wanted to get some kind of reaction, it hadn't been fair that he had just left quietly in their fight in first year, it wasn't fair he was composed when Crowley could never manage that sort of behavior-

He stopped the line of thinking and thought of himself instead, and how he had said things he hadn't meant very much but had said anyways.

He thought of Aziraphale trying to be friendly. He went to sleep.

***

At 5 o' clock in the evening, he was woken up by nervous hands gently shaking him awake.

"Mmnh?" he said drowsily. "Whassab..?"

He rubbed his eyes, wincing at the pain still present on his face, and then adjusted to look around him. Aziraphale was at his bedside.

His first thought was that again, Aziraphale's eyes were wide (perhaps it was a quirk he never noticed?) and the warm lighting of a crackling torch behind him danced on his specs. He was sitting on a stool next the bed, leaning forward as if intent, but twitching just a bit anxiously.

The window showed the sun had barely set, and the light was a dim blue, spilling into the room and curving around Aziraphale to trace his silhouette, oddly playing in his otherwise golden hair. The second thing he thought was that Madam Pomfrey had apparently taken away his sunglasses, probably because they rested on a much damaged nose. Probably. Either way, he was displeased with the latter development and looked away from Aziraphale hastily.

"Come back for seconds?" he said hoarsely, when Aziraphale did not immediately begin talking. Although with his nose, it sounded a little like "Cub back for secobs?", so he wasn't too certain if they message got across.

"Came back to say sorry, mostly," said Aziraphale. He picked at his colored nails while he said this. Not that Crowley noticed it very much.

"'S that so? Well, then, let's hear it."

Aziraphale took a deep breath. Then:

"I'm sorry I broke your nose. But I'm not sorry that you keep- consistently, mark you- trying to make us even more unpleasant to each other than we already are. You also happen to be the one who keeps- who keeps trying to blame me, me specifically, for being a pureblood elitist. And I'm not, and you know that, I'd hope. And it made me angry when you tried to imply I was. Again. Erm, that's all."

Crowley said nothing.

"Just so you know, I don't think any lesser of you for being muggleborn. No one in your house thinks like that, either. I'm sorry that you're so self-conscious about it that you feel the need to whip out the fact you're aware that the word 'mudblood' exists in public whenever you feel threatened, that's just an honest reaction. You want to protect yourself, and you want to be the one deciding who gets to bring it up first so you still get some amount of control. But you need to learn that most of us are not out to attack you. And you have gotto stop assuming that if someone's a little annoying that they're blood elitists. It's typical Gryffindor thinking. Not very logical."

Crowley pursed his lips.

"Not that Gryffindor is all that bad," Aziraphale sighed in defeat. "It's just not very thought out. Jumps the gun as line-of-thinkings go, but that's what Gryffindors do. Sometimes it works out for them. Ravenclaw has its own issues too, you know. Well, you probably more than know- You've been very vocal about them in the past, and I've myself have been vocal about my own ideas on Gryffindor in the past as well. My point is that we're thirteen, now, we're teenagers, and as much as house rivalry can drive us, it seems a little pathetic now, doesn't it? We're all students either way. I'm not saying we need to be friends. But we don't need to be enemies, either."

Crowley sat very still. Aziraphale left.

***

And the issue at the end of the day was that Aziraphale was right. Crowley was self-conscious about being Muggleborn, enough that it leaked into every vein of his life, a charcoal cloud that hung grimly over his head day in, day out.

He wanted to be a regular wizard, or at least one that was looked at for being stupendous, not abnormal. He knew his eyes weren't quite right, he had always known, but it hadn't bothered him till now. Now, it set him apart, and not in a good way, so he hid them. And he wore his bangles very quietly and hidden, tucked away in his sleeves, and he didn't question house rivalry, and he did everything possible to conform...

He hated feeling lost. He hated asking others to clarify what cultural importance he was missing in the wizarding world just so he could keep up in group discussions. He hated not knowing how to handle certain magical situations, simply because he had not grown up in a magic household. And he loathed walking around, always brushing his hand to his wand pocket whenever he heard blood purity discussions pop up, as they tended to, just in case, just in case.

He was Muggleborn; there was no way to hide it, in the end. If Aziraphale was right- that perhaps, people didn't mind as much as he thought, then maybe, just maybe, he could embrace it. Own it.

And- and when he thought about it, it didn't make much sense, hating an entire house for being, well, not your house at your bloody magic school. As fun as it was for Quidditch matches and House Cups, outside of that- there was no need to go after one another.

Crowley twiddled his thumbs, grimaced, and went back to sleep.

***

Two days later- Saturday, the last day before all the students came back in from their various vacations- Aziraphale was misting the plants near the entrance of the greenhouse, alone, when the door unsurreptitiously burst open to reveal a very animated Crowley. Aziraphale immediately sprayed him in face with a tiny yelp, and the other yowled like a cat.

"Yargh!"

"I- oh! Sorry!" Aziraphale managed while hurriedly setting the bottle away. "Just instinct, I. Uh. Are you okay?"

"Yeah," said Crowley, checking to make his face wasn't melting off. You never knew what could be in those spray bottles in the Herbology department. Anything from lava to magically enhanced cyanide was a legitimate guess. Seemed like it was just regular water, though.

Aziraphale was looking at him oddly. His gaze was centered on his nose.

"Yeah, yeah, it's a bit crooked now," he said self-consciously.

"Sorry about that again," said Aziraphale, feeling entirely unhelpful. He added, "I think it looks sort of sporting, if that's any consolation."

"Really? That's, uh, wicked."

They stared at each other. Crowley cleared his throat, reached for the pair of gloves hanging on a peg near the door, and put them so he could get to work.

They did their chores in a musty silence for the two hours, falling easily back into the lackluster tedium of before. Thus, Aziraphale was very much alarmed when Crowley grasped his arm urgently, just as he was leaving.

"I, I have a holiday in March. Dunno if you remember, but I'm not much religious, but I still participate on the last day. Family sort of– culture- thing, I guess."

"..Oh," voiced Aziraphale, surprised.

"Yeah."

"So, then, ah, may I ask which…?"

"Eid al-Fitr. You might not have heard of it, not a lot of students here are…" he trailed off when he noticed Aziraphale gawking at him.

"D'you- d'you think you can come to my dorm for a sec?" Aziraphale asked excitedly.

"…Is…is that allowed?"

He rolled his eyes. "Oh, shush. Barely anyone's here, it isn't like it's going to matter."

So Crowley found himself being dragged by his sleeves through first snow, crunching under his feet, and then hollow decorated hallways as paintings looked on with mild interest (he scowled at a woman who winked at them), through creaking, moving staircases before he was finally, finally set before the Ravenclaw entrance.

Aziraphale firmly slammed the knocker. The eagle spoke:

"What does man love more than life?
Fear more than death or mortal strife?
What do the poor have, what the rich require,
And what contented men desire?
What does the miser spend, the spendthrift save,
And all men carry to their graves?"

Aziraphale tapped his finger to his chin while Crowley stared at the knocker, confusion written across his face.

"Ah," said Aziraphale said brightly. "Nothing!"

"Nothing?" Crowley asked, baffled, as the door shifted open. Aziraphale nodded.

"That was the answer to the riddle."

"Oh."

Upon entry, Crowley realized the Ravenclaw common room was picturesque in a soundless way. Dark, midnight blues dominated the area, set off by sheer bronze and cerulean fabrics draped on the ceiling. The top itself was the night sky, much like the Great Hall, but constellations were labeled in shifting silver letters, dissolving and reanimating in a complicated ballet set. He could see himself studying here very easily- a bad sign, seeing as he despised studying.

He had but a second to appreciate it before Aziraphale led him up to his dorm, and opened the door. The dorms themselves were very similar to his own in Gryffindor: a circular room with beds lined up, posters pasted to the walls, careless clutter strewn across the room. Aziraphale walked forward to what was presumably his bed and went through some books set next to his bedside, and jiggled out a great big black one. He turned around to reveal the cover to Crowley.

Crowley raised his eyebrows. "It that-"

Aziraphale nodded, smiling. "Yeah. Got it for my birthday, wanted to read it-"

"You were reading the Torah on the train, weren't you? When we met?"

"Yes," Aziraphale said, vaguely flummoxed by the fact that Crowley had remembered.

Crowley looked a little awkward as his next words came out: "I'm not entirely sure if you can, uh, touch that, you know… we were just handling plants, you need to perform Wu'du before you can touch…"

Aziraphale stared at him blankly before realization dawned. "Oh, no, don't worry- it's entirely in English, so I'm not touching any real holy parts."

"Oh," said Crowley after a thoughtful pause. "That's good. Er, If you don't mind, when you're done, can I… borrow it? Like I said, not really religious. But it would be nice to-"

He was interrupted midway by Aziraphale setting the Qur'ān in his hands, smiling at him gently. He was peculiarly close to him now.

The azure color of his eyes was otherworldly, Crowley thought vacantly. Even ethereal.

"Oh. Um. Thanks, mate," he managed as he gripped the book. Aziraphale continued to study him wordlessly. And he was so awfully close.

Crowley fumbled. "So, er. I'll return this later, I guess? I'll try to keep the flower bookmarks intact, at least."

Aziraphale nodded wisely. "Keep it for as long as you like."

They looked at one another. Crowley decided that Aziraphale had done his part in the hospital wing, so now it was his turn. He extended his hand.

"Ah, are we cool, then, Ingladus?"

Aziraphale smirked as he shook Crowley's hand, saying mockingly, "Call me Aziraphale…enchanté."

Crowley coloured. "Oh- oh please, you twat, I told you that it was my parents who-"

"We're 'cool'," said Aziraphale, as smarmy as could be. Crowley shut up, and then grinned a little. The charcoal cloud was grumbling and had just become a lovely dove grey.

"Can I at least call you AZ?" he asked. He quickly lifted his elbow in front of his face, in case the other wasn't done with all his punching yet.

"We'll see," murmured Aziraphale lightly. "We'll see. Now, get out of here. I have work to do too, you know."

"Augh, alright, alright. Pushy." Crowley exited with a little hesitant wave to Aziraphale. Aziraphale just smiled back.

As he made his way to the Gryffindor common room, he casually began flipping through the book. The left side was Arabic, but the right was English. Something fell out of it and tumbled to the ground.

He stopped, looking down. It was one of Aziraphale's flowers.

When he picked it up, he saw that the flower in question had five petals, each a soft white, nearing pink at the edges, and a yellow center. It was rather small for a bookmark, much more ornamental than anything. He eyed it in his hands. After a moment of deliberation, he pocketed it.

"We'll see…" he crooned faintly, striding on. "Damn right, we'll see…"

***

 

Year Four:

"You guys are getting a bit too close, aren't you now?" Scarlett commented sardonically. "I understand the whole 'overcoming barriers' stunt you two are pulling, but being best mates pushes the line, don't you think?"

Crowley's face heated up. "We- we aren't best friends-"

"Yes, you are. You two have gotten much too close over the last year. Partnering in Potions, spending the free period outside together feeding the ducks at the Lake,- oh yes, I've seen that, Crowley, don't try to deny it- tutoring each other after Charms to practice…It's getting out of hand."

"Bugger off," he muttered. "AZ- Aziraphale and I are friends that get on well, no more, no less."

"Mmhmm," hummed Scarlett, grinning, looking out the carriage window at the dark green mountains and vast lakes that flew past the train as it sped through the countryside.

Crowley, who was ignoring the scenery, was currently caught up in spitting out an earwax-flavored jelly bean, and sticking the half-chewed glob under the seat. He'd managed to make it halfway through a Bertie Bott's bag, and had just popped a disgustingly greenish-brownish colored bean in his mouth (stagnant pool water, he realized with equal parts fascination and horror) when the carriage door rattled open.

Crowley looked up to see a bright-eyed and breathless Aziraphale, who was smiling like an absolute angel.

Crowley's mouth dropped open for reasons he couldn't quite understand, and the jelly bean he'd been eating rolled off his tongue onto the floor. All three of them looked down at the offending bean before Scarlett snickered and squished it under her shoe, grinding it into the floor.

Aziraphale quickly took the seat next to Scarlett and across from Crowley, trying not to smile so hard that he ended up looking ambiguously constipated.

"Hi," he finally managed, although it came out as more of a huff of air as he barely kept himself from laughing outright. His eyes vivified as he leaned forward in his seat, facing Crowley.

"You have no idea what I've been through to track you down - first off, you aren't even sitting in the usual Gryffindor area - just so you're fully aware, I thoroughly embarrassed myself in front of your entire house, carriage by carriage. Knock knock, hello, who's there, not Crowley," Aziraphale mimed rapping his knuckles on Crowley's forehead.

"I'm…sorry?" Crowley offered, in a vague and removed state of shock. Had Aziraphale's eyes always been that deliberate a shade of blue?

"It's okay. I found you eventually," Aziraphale sighed. He paused, then scooted forward in his seat even more. "Well-"

"Well what?" Crowley responded far too quickly. Damn, was there jellybean residue on his face? He hurriedly wiped at his mouth with his sleeve. And how was Aziraphale's messy hair so appealing?

"Aren't you going to greet me or...hug or...it's been an entire summer, Crowley." He looked at Crowley expectantly, patting down his windswept hair.

Scarlett barked in what could be interpreted as a laugh, if you really stretched the definition. Aziraphale flinched, stunned, while Crowley fought the urge to cover his face, sink into his seat, and become one with it.

She stumbled up as she hooted, clasping her face. "Oh, god, that's rich. What'd I tell you? What'd I say? Fuck's sakes. I'm going to leave now, give the best mates a little alone time. See you around, Crowley-" she showed him her terrifying teeth in a smirk- "-you too, Ingladus." She winked at him.

Aziraphale stammered out a farewell as Crowley snapped, "Bugger off, Scarlett-" and with that she was gone, with only muffled exclamations of, "Christ, I was right, I was right," left being heard out in the corridor.

"I'm sorry about that," Crowley mumbled, looking down at his folded hands. "Scarlett's a little fiery, sometimes. A real pain in the ar- oomph!"

Aziraphale cut him off by hugging the living daylights out of him, while he waved his arms around gracelessly. This was new. A moment later, though, he embraced him back.

"Erm," he said when Aziraphale pulled away. "Right, then." He was never really good with being touchy-feely.

"I missed you," stated Aziraphale matter of factly.

"I…missed you too," he said, although his words sounded more like he was admitting something rather humiliating in a confessional.

"So? How was your summer?" Aziraphale had to ask, because although he had kept the other updated with his owl, Crowley didn't have one yet. Not to mention they seemed to put him on edge ("Great big birds…swooping in and out like damn harbingers of death for poor snakes and rodents…" Aziraphale decided to not ask again).

Crowley smiled wryly. "Good, good. Did some muggle stuff, what with clearing gutter and lawn mowing. Talked to some more garden snakes. They're rather well-behaved sometimes, you'd be surprised…"

***

Aziraphale and Crowley, like all of their peers, had had to decide at the end of second year what their electives would be for the rest of their time at Hogwarts. Both had settled on Divination, whilst Aziraphale - after much deliberation and consultation with his indifferent peers - had chosen Study of Ancient Runes; Crowley, privately almost as indecisive, had finally decided on Care of Magical Creatures, reasoning that he was good at Herbology and the two were kind of similar.

What neither of them had accounted for was that Divination was often nothing short of painful. At least in their other subjects it was possible to make some kind of visible progress, however slow; but even those students, like Aziraphale, who tried in vain to follow every one of Trelawney's instructions to the letter, usually got only incomprehensible results. Crowley, at least, had decided it was bollocks from day one, and was simply becoming worn down from making up his homework answers every few days. By the time the first day of fourth year rolled around, his imagination was beginning to run dry.

It only got worse on the actual first day. Crowley had just broken it to Scarlett that he wanted to be partners with- you know, er- for this Divination year, and although Scarlett had rolled her eyes, she had not seemed to mind. She had swiftly tugged on Aziraphale's old partner's arm, a thin boy with strange blue-grey hair- and they had seemed to figure something out. Later, she had also made Crowley promise to give her unlimited rights to his Honeydukes stash as repayment, to which Crowley had reluctantly agreed. The sacrifices he made for friendship, he thought, were truly staggering.

The room had been so stuffy and warm, dimly lit and rich with color. Aziraphale had been poring over their new textbook at the low-set table, and Crowley had barely begun his journey to have a nice nap on the pillow that was supposed to be his seat when Trelawney announced that this year she was having ideas. Crowley had lifted his head up slowly at the disruption, drowsy and disoriented. Trelawney went on to specify the idea was a yearlong project which involved determining your partner's fate day by day, as well as additional long-term features such as date and method of death, love interests, and any important events you can foresee in the next three years at Hogwarts. Number of children, too, if you're feeling adventurous.

Aziraphale had paled, his quill accidentally tearing right through that lesson's notes, while Crowley had only groaned inwardly. The minute Trelawney had settled back into her armchair, leaving the rather panicked class to "discuss their approach to the project", he poked a blankly staring Aziraphale in the side.

"What - oh." Aziraphale jumped in his seat, looking thoroughly flustered, but tried to assume a businesslike expression.

"Right. This ... project. It's going to be difficult, I don't doubt it, but -"

"Let's just make it up."

"I'm - sorry?" Aziraphale froze mid-flow, staring at Crowley curiously.

"I said, let's just make it up, shall we?" Crowley muttering, suddenly, and much to his own disgust, blushing quite fiercely. He convinced himself that it was just worry about the idea of defrauding Trelawney, and certainly didn't have anything to do with poking Aziraphale.

"Make - make it up?" Aziraphale quickly rearranged his features into a scandalised expression, though not nearly quick enough for Crowley.

"Oh, come on," he said, with a little more confidence. "Don't try and tell me you've never made up one of her homeworks. And it's not as if she'll know - she can't read minds, can she?" He smirked, glancing up as Trelawney swept past their table, humming softly to herself.

"Well -"

Aziraphale was troubled, Crowley could tell. And why not? He was a self-respecting Ravenclaw, of course he had to vouch for academic integrity above all else- but Crowley knew it wasn't going to be that difficult to persuade him that Divination had to be an exception.

"C'mon, it'll be fine," he continued, "or do you want to fail this year? 'Cause if we try and do it on our own merits, we'll never get any results. Better made-up ones than none at all, I reckon."

Aziraphale put his quill down, took a deep breath and glanced around the classroom, considering. Crowley began to tap his fingers impatiently on the table.

"Oh - fine," he said finally, glancing surreptitiously over at Trelawney's armchair. "If - if we can't think of anything, then we're going to have to, aren't we? It's probably our best bet," he added miserably. Crowley smiled.

And so it was an Arrangement.

***

"You can't fool around, then. No horseplay at all."

"Yeah, yeah."

"Are you absolutely certain?"

"No. But we can't waste time, we only have so much before the free period's out. Let's get down to it."

"Er. Fine, alright."

The two of them were seated at the library, at a table nestled comfortably far in enough that they were alone (and, more importantly, less likely to be victimized by Madam Pince). The book shelves were tall and endless, the place itself smelling of parchment and something like the wizarding world's equivalent of Lysol.

Crowley hadn't spent much time in this an interminable and dusty labyrinth of a place, given that he wasn't so inclined; the sparse moments he had spent here out of free will were entirely Aziraphale's fault. But it was no matter- he was ready to get fully intimate with the setting with what the project coming on.

"Okay, we should set this up month by month. If we're to do this sort of meet-up every twice a week, it's more logical to figure out our fates for the next two to three days before the next meeting, you understand?" Crowley said reasonably. "Easier to handle, as a schedule."

Aziraphale seemed taken aback by Crowley's initiative, but quickly confirmed with a gratified nod before setting off to locate books on fortune-telling. Crowley agreed to do the same, but made no movement to move once Aziraphale was out of view. It wasn't like it was going to help all too much, and Aziraphale did enough reading himself for the both of them. No need to add atop that.

When he came toddling back, lugging along at least eight stacked thick volumes with him (the highest one was grazing his nose), Crowley barked out a "Ha!" in amusement before getting up to help him. Aziraphale didn't seem particularly impressed with the fact Crowley had failed to do his side of the job; but he didn't comment, he was used to this behavior, after a little under a year with him. Crowley was surprisingly reliable, and shockingly compassionate, but was predictably a rather lazy excuse of a student.

"What can I say?" he had uttered once. "If I can get the same results with less work, I'm saving up my energy for something even better. Sounds noble to me."

Aziraphale had muttered something nasty about nobility and Gryffindors under his breath after that, and Crowley had simply smiled like a Slytherin.

"What about the love interests and death and all that? When will we establish those?" asked Aziraphale, present moment. Crowley considered.

"Eh. Don't think Trelawney really thinks we can do that stuff, if any ordinary wizard could pull that information up by fourteen then we'd have a lot more people walking around having their whole life set up. She just wants to add more work, we can just make that stuff up as well." He started pulling out the papers and assignments, setting them neatly across the table.

Aziraphale felt queasy as he watched Crowley organize. So this is where it began, where he would shed his honor for the sake of a good grade…

"Stop looking so mopey, you great big fool. We only have so much time- let's just get the fates of tomorrow and day after done now. We can figure out that extra nonsense by December, how's that?"

"Fine," mumbled Aziraphale. He grabbed a book and opened it rather sluggishly.

"Come on, cheer up, mate!" said Crowley, earnest. "We can even figure it out during our Hogsmeade visit…imagine, nice and snowy and blustery outside while we grab ourselves a Butterbeer at Three Broomsticks, where it'll be all toasty…now, doesn't that sound nice?"

Aziraphale made a noncommittal noise.

"And we can drop by Honeydukes after," Crowley suggested ever so sweetly. "Miles and miles of treats and candies there, I'll even buy you a few, complimentary. Promise."

Aziraphale inhaled sharply.

"Tomes and Scrolls will probably be having a sale," Crowley went on. "Just think, how many books you can grab there…"

The other finally looked up from the book, eyes lighting up.

"Could we drop by Madam Puddifoot's?"

"Eh?" Crowley blurted out, killing the charming aura he had been holding.

He could feel his face heat up in record time, and he was suddenly rather giddy for no particular reason at all. How was he supposed to react to this? Why was his heart jumping out of his throat? Was Aziraphale-

"I mean- I mean, if you want, mate, uh, of course-"

"That place has the best tea, I heard, but I never really dropped by…" Aziraphale explained as if in a dream, not noticing how ruffled Crowley was.

"Oh…oh, yeah. Certainly. Whew…where was… I…ah. Yeah. Sounds nice, doesn't it? So no need to be a sour Sally. What do you say?"

"You're awfully good at tempting," sniffed Aziraphale after a pause. But then his face broke out in a smile. "I'd love to."

***

But although Crowley had quickly soothed Aziraphale's troubled mind, he could not put his own at rest.

He struggled to terminate it. He was trying so hard, too, yet he couldn't help but notice Aziraphale more. Had Aziraphale always been so…Aziraphale? He couldn't describe it. Aziraphale was still the same, but he wasn't, or was it Crowley who was different? It was an endless circle in his head.

He reasoned it was because they were getting closer; it was only natural that he'd find the other more and more interesting, but that wasn't it. He was still learning things about Aziraphale, but it wasn't- it wasn't information that made him that much different, it just made him bizarrely endearing. It was mind-boggling. There weren't any developments that could've logically brought this sudden amalgamation of… fascination that was coming on.

And fascination is what Crowley dubbed it, at least for two weeks. Aziraphale was still Aziraphale and yet he wasn't; his eyes were so much brighter, his hair looked so much more soft, and when he spoke he seemed so much more… amazing. Which was strange to think, because Aziraphale didn't look what magazines would call amazing, he looked sort of frumpy and mild-mannered, if not vaguely fussy. And yet even that feature of him was so much more appealing than Crowley had realized prior.

Crowley would catch himself staring, which was arguably a problem for a flash bastard. Which was definitely still a thing. He was working on it, okay? Either way, he couldn't help but stare at the way Aziraphale's nails were rounded and- at that moment- a pleasant lilac color. And how his eyelashes were a bit on the short side but still managed to brush the inside of his specs gingerly, when he pushed them too far up the bridge of his nose. And how his cheeks became blotchy and unevenly flushed when he was agitated. And how his lips- which were strangely even more interesting to Crowley than most of his other newly enhanced features- would pout ever so slightly because of the braces in his mouth. The list went on.

Yet that wasn't all- Crowley would have been able to handle having a friend who suddenly looked a lot more…more, for lack of better word (he refused to say attractive, even to himself, that would be just strange). Everyone was looking nicer, really. Puberty was doing its work very efficiently.

It was the blasted way it made him feel awfully, irrationally pleased when he was around Aziraphale. How it made him feel both flustered and even more smug than usual when a joke landed well and he got a laugh out of him, how it left him light in the chest and twitchy when they would finish having a conversation and would rush to classes their own ways, how it screwed with his mind and drove him to do nice things for Aziraphale just because, how it made him long- of all things! - long to be around Aziraphale for just five more minutes.

When Aziraphale asked him if he could borrow a quill, please during Transfiguration at the end of the two weeks, Crowley complied in record time. He passed it over, his fingers brushing against Aziraphale's, and Crowley felt woozy all of a sudden. He looked up.

There was Aziraphale, smiling at him fondly and briefly before he turned back to him work, but in that moment Crowley could have sworn he was some earthbound angel. The light was hitting his hair just so, forming a dust halo above his head, and his eyes had been so clear that it was simply uncanny, and he was maddeningly perfect in the strangest way…

And that was when Crowley realized his fascination was, rather unexpectedly (and yet not unexpectedly at all), an infatuation.

***

It was difficult to come to terms with, at first. It wasn't that Crowley didn't find others attractive, it was just - Aziraphale was never really the type he thought he'd ever… like like. For a lot of reasons. He studied Aziraphale's face from across the library table: his lips, which Crowley spent an inordinate amount of time tracing with his eyes, his nose (upon which were perched his glasses that had an unfortunate tendency of making him look sort of bug-eyed), his cheeks, into which a slight blush crept whenever he looked up and caught Crowley staring. Crowley quickly looked away and pretended he was gazing around nonchalantly while inwardly berating himself for even wanting to stare in the first place.

Because...because Aziraphale was sort of the antithesis of a flash bastard, for starters. Because he spent more time holed up in the library than anywhere else. Because he was more naïve than Crowley, cherubic in his innocence, and yet at the same time much, much more aware than Crowley in ways he could not even begin to comprehend.

Because he was not a girl, and that was worrisome and terrifying for Crowley in ways he could not frame.

There was a whole host of problems associated with it. Was Aziraphale…? As in. Crowley paused in his reverie. Would Aziraphale ever be able to reciprocate his feelings? The thought brought a flurry of butterflies to Crowley's stomach, but in a decidedly pleasant way. And then, if they were to…date (Crowley had to concentrate very hard not to break out smiling when he thought of this)… how would it be taken? By their families? Their friends? Even their teachers?

He fiddled with the feathery part of his quill as he deliberated. It happened. Crowley knew it happened to a lot of people, yet in their little Hogwarts, he had yet to find a couple that weren't- well, what you'd expect them to be. It was always one boy, and then one girl, and both of them would be very happy together. Disgustingly, morbidly happy…

He scowled. It just wasn't fair that there were so many people on their merry, lovey-dovey way while here he was, pining- pining, for God's sake- for the ponce of a boy who was sitting right across him, kicking his feet with enough energy you might have thought there was an invisible bicycle underneath the table, leaning over a book and sticking his tongue out as he furiously read up on determining how the planet's moons affected fate changes. Now, how was that fair at all?

Aziraphale glanced up from his work when he noticed Crowley ogling at him.

"Er? Do I have something on my face?" he asked, self-consciously brushing his mouth free of nonexistent crumbs. Crowley blushed.

"No- I was just- no, I was thinking-" Crowley fumbled with his words. Aziraphale raised an eyebrow at him, inspecting him from over the rims of his glasses. Crowley took a deep breath.

"I- I was just taking a break from reading, you see, and I happened to look at your- at your- braces. I'm… curious about them? Very interesting looking. All metal-y and… brace-y..."

Aziraphale appeared mildly confused and more than mildly concerned. "Er...are you okay?"

"Yeah! Yeah," Crowley stuttered. "Fine. I'm fine. Who's got two thumbs and is completely fine?" Crowley pointed at himself. Aziraphale raised an eyebrow and stuck his head back in his book.

"If you say so." His voice was muffled through the book binding. "Just wanted to make sure you're okay. And not slacking off!"

At the end bit he flashed a lighthearted smile at Crowley, who got an eyeful of the coveted braces but also felt his chest thrum eagerly for three whole seconds straight.

***

Long after Crowley had packed and left the library for his own dorms, Aziraphale still sat in the same spot, working on yet another unit project. Halfway through scribbling a sentence down, he stilled. He brought a hand up to his mouth. There was one thing that didn't make sense, he realized now.

If he had been leaning down over his book, prior, there was no way Crowley could have been looking at his braces- they would have been imperceptible from the angle. Crowley had been lying.

He sat placidly, considering, and then shook his head and picked up the quill again. He had real work to do now. Analyzing Crowley's strange behavior could wait.

***

"Whoo-ee!"

"You have got to stop saying that."

Aziraphale ignored him. It was a freezing, blustery white just as Crowley had promised, and it was absolutely wonderful. He clasped his hands- clad in mittens- together as he let out another pleased noise, viewing the village laid out in front of the two of them.

Hogsmeade was milling with people, students and adult wizards alike as they popped in an out of the shops, admiring flashy candies through the Honeydukes frosted windows, throwing each other in the snow and laughing, moaning loudly about their lack of funds to afford a nice shining on their broom. It was rank with excitement, and he was just soaking it up.

"Ohhh, this is simply divine…everyone looks so happy, isn't it wonderful?"

Crowley grunted. Though he wouldn't admit it to Aziraphale, he did feel his spirits rising as they made their way down the slushy path.

It was also nice to be able to look at Aziraphale, for he was so engaged with his surroundings that he wouldn't notice Crowley's gaze. Right now his cheeks were rosy flushed again, and his eyes had taken on that strange, bright, unearthly quality that made them shine. His hair was curling even more and a mess in the dampness of sweat and humidity, a bird's nest as ever. He turned his head.

"What's wrong?" he asked a dazed Crowley.

"Your glasses are fogging up," he replied breathlessly. He cleared his throat and played with the pendant on his necklace as Aziraphale cleared the blur with a tap of his wand.

"Your face is rather red yourself!" commented Aziraphale, after.

"Is it now? Didn't notice," said Crowley, blushing more in the process. "Getting very cold here, y'know. Let's drop by Three Broomsticks and figure out this project, how 'bout it?"

"Mmm. Can we drop by Tomes and Scrolls after?"

"Yeah…okay. You don't want to go anywhere else though, right…?"

"Oh, right. I want to go to Puddifoot's as well. Let's do that last, shall we?"

"Yeah," said Crowley weakly. "Sure."

***

It was crowded and rustic and rowdy once they managed to fit themselves inside the inn. And again here Crowley had been right; the setting was toasty, a great big tree standing proudly in the corner adorned with ornaments, and a fire roaring in a hearth. It was vaguely dim, with fairy lights strewn around and fire and the occasional lantern providing the only lighting in the whole establishment, but cheerful all the same.

Crowley maneuvered Aziraphale and himself roughly through the bustling crowd to an open table and set him down there.

"I'm gonna get us some Butterbeer, alright?" Crowley told him.

"Right," said Aziraphale. He was already eyeing the decorations scattered on the walls with admiration. The blinking lights reflected in his specs like little glowing stars, Crowley thought with something close to wonder- But he quickly shot the thought down and went to grab the drinks.

After a good deal of elbowing and arguing over whether he's really not allowed to have Firewhiskey or not because let's face it he's almost seventeen, who has to know? And general feet-tapping and eye-rolling later, Crowley settled across from Aziraphale in the little booth and placed the foaming Butterbeers down between them. Aziraphale had already set out the Divination papers and was studying them closely, chewing thoughtfully on his lip.

"What's the verdict, doctor?" asked Crowley.

"Mm?" Aziraphale looked up. "Oh, you bought the drinks, good, thank you... two sickles, right?" He reached into his pocket.

"Oh, no," Crowley said, shaking his hands. "Drinks are on me. This whole trip is on me, other than the book stuff you're going to buy later. Otherwise, I'm accountable."

"But- but that's too much. I insist-"

"No, AZ, I insist. Think of it as me trying to make up for the fact your academic integrity has- essentially- been folded very neatly and thrown out the window over this project." He didn't add that he liked doing nice things for Aziraphale just because he could, no, that could be left not said.

Aziraphale managed to feel guilty for all of two seconds before he began drinking his Butterbeer. Warmth filled him, from the atmosphere and from the hot butterscotch taste itself of the drink, and he relented.

"Fine, fine. Now, I was looking at these requirements…we have to cover this." He indicated a short list on the parchment.

"Youch," noted Crowley. "Death dates, that's a downer…"

"Yes. So we might as well cover that while we're somewhere pleasant, do you agree?"

Crowley shrugged. "Let's get to it, then."

Aziraphale cleared his throat and adjusted his glasses. "Sure. Now, I was studying a bit and I found-"

"Oh, don't bore me. I want to enjoy this drink. Just hop up and tell me now, when am I going to die? Oh, and how, I guess. That's on the sheet too."

Aziraphale huffed and pulled out his papers from his bag. The pages inside were laid out on top of the already messy table, and Crowley could see they were full of little blue scrawled runes and symbols. There was even the occasional equation.

"What's this?" he asked. "Your Ancient Runes homework? Seesh, wizards are really into the occult, aren't they?"

"It's not occult," said Aziraphale. "Ancient Runes is the study of the expanse of the past- that's not occult, it's ethereal."

"Whatever," groaned Crowley, too apathetic to argue.

"Either way," Aziraphale continued, "It's my Divination work. Really. I understand some things we're going to have to scry and look into crystal balls and use tea for-" At this point he shuddered. Whenever tea was bought into the classroom for fortune-telling, he tended to twitch a bit at the awful quality. "-but I find that there is a bit of help we can get from the stars. Astrology can determine quite a lot of dates, and it's a lot easier to comprehend."

Crowley nodded. "Alright. When does my doomsday arrive?" He took a swig of Butterbeer.

"Well….according to what I've been doing…and some little smoke reading I did recently…it's going to be when you're seventy-five. And, uh, the method seems to be choking on some food. I. Erm. I think." He squirmed in his seat.

"Wow," said Crowley dryly. "Climatic."

"Well, that's what I got, okay? I can't control the stars."

"Mmhmm." Crowley smoothly turned the offending paper towards him and considered it for a bit.

"This," he declared after enough time had passed, "is a load of bullocks. Bunch of symbols leading to some random answer, no thought or direction. We came here to make up something for this project, I'd want to make up something worthwhile, I'd hope."

Aziraphale rolled his eyes and scowled. "Fine, what amazing, elaborate death have you designed for me, then?"

Crowley set down the paper and grinned, showing off his canines while cracking his knuckles. Aziraphale groaned in anticipation.

"Very simple, actually! You die when you're forty-two. It's because you get very heavily involved in a heist to overthrow Gringotts. You will try to escape the facility once you realize your grave mistake, but it will be far too late once you do and instead you will try to hold some poor goblin hostage over it. The goblin will know martial arts and will take you down in seconds. You will beg for mercy and will instead be fed to the Basilisk they secretly have underground- trust me on this, I've read stuff. Poor snake will have some indigestion with you, but eh. We can't all win," he finished with a smirk and another sip of Butterbeer.

Aziraphale gaped at Crowley. The silence stretched, and Crowley only grew smugger.

"Ugh," spat Aziraphale. "That's…awful. You're awful. How did you even…?"

"Oh, yes, that was all my work. Don't doubt my creative skills, I like to keep them finely tuned at all times." He sighed then, wistfully. "Too bad you're not a fan."

"Is that really what you're going to submit?"

"To the tee."

Aziraphale grimaced. "Well, now that I know how that enthusiastic you are about my demise, I suppose I should build upon your own." He took out a fresh piece of paper and a quill, and went dutifully to work.

"Alright, so…say you will join a muggle band. You'll be twenty three. And in one of their concerts, you try to do that one thing you see at muggle concerts…uh…crowd-surfing? Erm. Well, either way, you do that, except your mortal enemy is in the concert…he hates you to death, but he does enjoy your music, so he can't be blamed, really…anyways, he finds you in his grasp, and he wrings your neck out. Like a little dirty rag. And, erm, you go limp… like a worm or snake something… and die. The end."

Crowley finished the rest of his Butterbeer in one fell swoop and wiped the foam off his mouth with the back of his hand.

"That's rich," he said. He smiled a bit. "But I like it. Loads better than the other one you had. You've written it down, right? Good. We can stay here for a bit, then we should get moving again."

Aziraphale nodded while he put away the newest work on the project. "I'd sort of prefer to leave now, actually…I'm almost done with my drink, really." He took a huge gulp of his Butterbeer, swallowed, and then hiccupped a little.

"Okay, I'm finished! Can we go to Tomes and Scrolls now?" he asked excitedly.

"Do we have to?"

"You said I could!" A pout.

"Fine, fine, fine... honestly, the things I do for you. Let's go. But Honeydukes after."

"And then Puddifoot's."

"…Right."

***

One grueling- at least for Crowley- trip to the bookstore later, they were in Honeydukes. The candy shop was as boisterous as ever; literally, sweets and toffees were enchanted to fall from atop the store and then bounce back up equally as fast while flashing, as to entice customers. The effect was startling, if not at least tempting.

Crowley wrangled out the parchment and a quill again from Aziraphale's bags as they inspected some Fizzing Whizbees.

"Oi, we're not done yet, you know. Still have to come up with some major events for the rest of our 'Hogwarts Career.' Three events each should so it."

"You think? Well, alright," replied Aziraphale distractedly, his eyes glued to the Acid Pops.

"Come on! Pay attention, AZ, this is critical stuff."

"You're quite deadset on this," Aziraphale noted, toying with the Liquorice Wands. "A bit uncharacteristic…"

"Well, you know me. Keen."

"Yes… certainly," he said so blankly that Crowley couldn't detect if he was being sarcastic or not. He shook his head.

"Here, I'm gonna make some while we're here." Crowley set the paper against his thigh and began writing. "Uh, let's see…right now you've sacrificed a big lot of morality for this project, so let's just continue that pattern. Fifth year: you will do something you consider against your moral compass, a crime, and get away with it. That's vague but it should be enough to satisfy her, yeah? Okay, sixth year then… you're going to be brave about something to make up for your latent ethics breaching, and you're going to succeed at it. Seventh year, eh, a secret you've been hiding for a while will become public. How's that?"

"Sure, dear," Aziraphale murmured, drifting towards the Pumpkin Pasties. Crowley scowled at his retreating back, and followed hum.

"Well? You still have to do mine," he reminded. He placed his own papers back in the bag and began taking out another sheet when he noticed Aziraphale's pockets, which were showing little hints of white flowers tipping out.

"Aziraphale," he voiced, astounded. "Dogwood? In your pockets? In winter?"

Aziraphale was then suddenly paying attention to Crowley, and his face was a little red again.

"I told you- I like them, okay?" he hissed, embarrassed. He hurriedly adjusted them such that they weren't visible in his pockets, glancing around to confirm no one saw.

"Yeah, but in this weather? I advocate a strict upbringing for plants as much as the next, but this is going a bit far…"

"I charmed them," said Aziraphale irately. "They're perfectly fine."

"Oh," said Crowley, surprised. "Well I suppose that's okay, then."

There was a silence between them as Aziraphale browsed more, self-conscious. Crowley sighed. He should've kept quiet, he knew that Aziraphale had gotten teased over his floral interest in the past…

"Oy… you know I like that you do that stuff with the flowers, right? I just pointed it out now because I thought you were going to, uh, kill them without realizing."

Aziraphale side-eyed him wearily. "You're not just saying that?"

"Mate, why would I care if you like flowers? Everyone likes flowers. And you never say anything about- well-" he gestured to his necklace, and shook his arm a little such that Aziraphale could hear the jangling of bangles. "Why's that, anyways?"

"I thought they were pretty, and it wasn't really any of my business, I guess," replied Aziraphale, a little quietly.

"Same on my side, then. Truce?"

Aziraphale didn't say anything, but did smile wryly at Crowley. "Hm. Now, you wanted some fortunes for yourself too, right? Let's see…"

He took the parchment and quill from Crowley and set them against the wall. "Okay, fifth year, you're going to come to terms with something's that embarrassed you for a long time and are going to overcome it, um, with vigor. Er, then sixth year, you're going to reveal something deeply private about yourself by mistake. In public, yes, that sounds fine…and seventh year, something from the past is going to make itself apparent again. Is this fine?"

Crowley nodded, grateful. "Good, we're almost done with our rough drafts. Grab your stuff, and make sure it's in the budget- I'm not made of galleons."

Aziraphale nodded and gathered an assortment of candies that both he and Crowley enjoyed, and they both checked out without incident.

They split a Honeyduke's Best Chocolate bar as they walked. The chocolate had already hardened from the cold, and when Crowley broke it into sizeable chunks a shower of

chocolate flakes fell onto the ground behind them.

The two of them stared at the wasted chocolate pitifully until Aziraphale reached for another piece of chocolate from Crowley, except he wasn't actually reaching for the chocolate after all, Crowley realized, as Aziraphale slipped his hand through the crook of his elbow, linking arms.

Crowley's brain went into overdrive; now was his chance. Quickly, he wriggled his arm out, to a slightly hurt Aziraphale- before grabbing the other's hand and entwining fingers through them decisively.

Aziraphale gave him a startled, questioning look. But Crowley refused to say a word, instead deigning to very pointedly watch the shops in the distance. Shit, this was a horrible idea, he realized belatedly; What would Aziraphale think of him...

But when he glanced back nervously, Aziraphale was smiling fondly.

"I-" started Crowley, voice cracking.

But Aziraphale squeezed him closer gently through fleece gloves, and pulled him forward before Crowley had time to explain himself, and that was that.

Aziraphale looked at the foggy display windows they passed, and Crowley looked at Aziraphale. The blond bibliophile sure took his time staring through the Quill shop's window. Crowley was especially enamored with the discount Zonko's had on Dungbomb sets, but Aziraphale steered him firmly away from the inevitable mess that would result.

Crowley realized only once it was too late that Aziraphale was tugging him insistently towards Puddifoot's. He decided it was better now than later, but still readjusted his sunglasses closer to his face. Just in case he was recognized.

Aziraphale asked politely for a booth for two once they were in. Crowley buried his nose into his scarf, noting absently that the interior decorator for this particular establishment had terrible taste and, in his opinion, should promptly be fired. It's not that he didn't appreciate lace-he did, really-but here it was draping over every single surface, like icing so sweet it could induce a sugar coma. It was tacky, overdone, sentimental….and far too romantic.

Once he and Aziraphale were seated across from each other in an entirely too intimate booth, Madam Puddifoot took their orders.

"Chamomile tea, please," said Aziraphale amiably.

"And you?" she asked Crowley, who was currently pressing his face directly into the table, as to avoid identification.

"Gimme a firewhisky," he muttered into the table.

"Ah ah ah, that's not going to work with me. Let's try again, sweetheart."

"Ugh. Masala chai, then. Only a little, I just had a Butterbeer."

"Alright then, perfect. I'll be back with your orders in just a bit. Enjoy yourselves." With that, she left.

Aziraphale tapped the back of Crowley's head gently with one finger after a few minutes. "Er, we still have to work on the love interests part of the project, you understand, right…?"

"Oh, god," moaned Crowley, again into the table. "You couldn't have picked a worse location for this part of the project even if you tried."

"I- I didn't mean to, I just realized now…" Aziraphale looked a bit discomfited. "Honest."

"Fine, fine."

Their drinks arrived as they finished setting out the papers for the last time. Crowley carefully sipped away at his steaming chai as Aziraphale gazed out the window next to them- the snow was so bright, it was reflecting little panes of light right onto his glasses and eyes. He looked contemplative, and Crowley realized with dread that he had never noticed personally how delightful Aziraphale's nose could be, with the angle and the curve viewed from this position. He turned to Crowley.

"Are you ready?" he asked, eyebrow raised.

"Y-yes."

Aziraphale's mouth twitched at his stutter. Crowley sulked.

"Why did you have to ask like that? Sounds right intimidating, caught me off guard."

"I don't know what you're talking about." Again, his lip twitched. Crowley squinted at him spitefully.

"Just get the damn papers out, Aziraphale."

"Of course."

He set it up, one parchment for Crowley and one for himself. He tapped his quill's end against his mouth.

"Now, the assignment says we describe love interests, if any…though it doesn't specify how many we need to cover. So for time's sake, we can keep this to a minimum of one or two each, I suppose. Does that sound fine?"

Crowley was too busy watching the quill bounce against Aziraphale's lower lip- so very pink, probably very soft- to comprehend what had just been spoken to him.

"What? Yeah, um, sure. Go for it, mate."

Aziraphale rolled his eyes. "Just write down one potential love interest you see in my future, alright?"

"Oh. Okay."

But then Aziraphale began writing his own little paragraph in silence, which terrified Crowley- why the sudden privacy? He gulped and began writing wordlessly as well.

Aziraphale looked thoughtful while he wrote. Crowley just blushed quite a bit.

He continued to use his scarf as an obscuring device to hide his heated face when he turned in his work to Aziraphale, who promptly slid both of their works into his bag without a glance at either of them.

"Well, we've done it, Crowley. Now we just need to rewrite and build on these fortunes, but the hard work is done. Do you feel satisfied?"

"…Yeah," said Crowley, voice stifled by his scarf, which was now up the bridge of his crooked nose. His face was practically melting off, he could not believe what he had just written-

"Er, are you okay?" asked a concerned Aziraphale.

"P-Peachy."

"You look a bit hot, your face is all flushed, like this morning… are you sure you haven't gotten a fever-"

"Just drink your god damn chamomile, Aziraphale."

Aziraphale paused and then smiled at him, bemused. "If you say so," he maintained, and did just that.

***

It was June, and the castle was absolutely sweltering. Classes moved sluggishly; even the teachers were a bit distracted, staring just as wistfully out the windows towards the lake as the rest of the students. Just three more days till the year was out…

When the classes ended that day, Crowley was vaguely horrified to find that he had agreed to accompany Aziraphale to the owlery. Why had he done that? The heat was really getting to him. As if he wanted to spend anymore time around Aziraphale.

But he did. And time was running out for this year…

"Just one letter," Aziraphale had explained when he was making the request in the library the other day. "I need to warn my Uncle about our plans before I arrive home, so he can think it over…"

Crowley had scratched the back of his head and yawned, "Sure, sure. My folks are thrilled that they get to host another wizard at home, honestly. Last two weeks of summer, right?"

"Yup."

Crowley had smiled blearily at the time. Imagine, Aziraphale in his house, under the same roof, sleeping in the same room, for two weeks straight. Sounded very…pleasant. Sounded extremely pleasant. He hadn't even needed to beg for it- his parents had readily approved, knowing from his earlier letters home that Aziraphale was the same boy who Crowley worked with for his Divination project that scored so well with Trelawney.

He now trekked behind Aziraphale as they made their way up the West Tower, up the outer winding staircase. He was tired from the long day and trying heat, but luckily it was fairly breezy here- he could cool down a bit. The view, at least, was stellar: emerald valleys and mountains in the distance, the lake a glass pendant behind them, and the Forbidden Forest spread around, verdant and alive once more.

When they finally reached the top, both of them were winded. But while Aziraphale caught his breath, Crowley suddenly tensed up.

"Oh, no," he moaned anxiously.

"What?" asked Aziraphale, bewildered, looking around. He saw was Crowley was looking at. Or, rather, the multiple things he was looking at.

"Crowley, it's an owlery. There are going to be some owls."

"Yeah, I know, I just…didn't know they'd be so many." He stared at them, playing with his robe sleeves nervously. "Or that they'd be so big…" he added, muttering.

Aziraphale sighed. "Okay, okay, I'll get this done as quickly as possible." He treaded carefully towards a golden-brown barn owl in the corner of the room, making sure to not step in the wayward droppings.

"Silas!" he beckoned, holding his arm out steadily. The owl flapped down and landed on his outstretched forearm, and nipped his ears tenderly.

"Hallo…you've been doing fine up here, have you?" he cooed at the bird. Crowley watched apprehensively from ten feet away. Silas was sweet and all, but you never knew with those large birds, with their weird, malicious little claws… any self-respecting rodent or snake would be downright terrified. Not that Crowley was either, but still. Frightening all the same.

Aziraphale fished out a crumpled letter from his back pocket and read it a final time, his eyes flicking over the paper. Even from this distance, Crowley could see the way his lower eyelashes were bunching up in little peculiar rectangles, and how his hair was again shining because of the sun streaming in from a window opening right beside him. Aziraphale was preoccupied, chewing on his lower lips as he considered the letter.

And then it hit Crowley like a ton of bricks; he had yet to kiss those lips, and the year was almost over. Months and months of mortifying, guilty pining and here he was, no progress made in the least. He panicked.

"Aziraphale!" he yelped. All the owls in the room swiveled their large eyes on him, and he shrunk into himself.

Aziraphale looked up, confused. "Hm?"

"I- I was wondering, how have you- I mean, I was wondering if you fancied anyone. At all this year," he rushed.

Aziraphale stared at him vacantly, as did Silas. "Pardon?"

"Er- like, you know. Liking people." He distinctly felt like he wanted to evaporate. "Uh, romantically."

"Um…" said Aziraphale, looking back at Silas, lost in thought. "No, I don't think. Why do you ask?"

"Just curious," replied Crowley, feeling a bit hollower. Not that he had expected Aziraphale to confess his brazen requited feelings for him, but now that it was confirmed that his feelings were strictly one-sided, it was discouraging.

There was an awkward silence that occurred as Aziraphale fastened the letter on Silas's leg. Crowley tried again, attempting casual.

"So, no one?" he ventured. "No girls…?"

Aziraphale looked at him again, perplexed. "No, no one. You're asking the oddest questions, dear."

"No one," Crowley repeated.

"No one," echoed Aziraphale vaguely as he set Silas out. They watched him soar into the distance.

Crowley shrugged as nonchalantly as he could. "If you say so."

They began walking back down the tower stairs, significantly quieter than their last trip.

"You- you'd tell me if you liked someone though, right?" Crowley said suddenly, eyeing Aziraphale hesitantly.

Aziraphale gave him a final, strange look. "Yes, Crowley, I suppose. Why are you so tense?"

Crowley shook his head, feeling both lighter and heavier. After all that, he still couldn't tell if he had a chance in hell with Aziraphale, but at least the results weren't completely negative.

"Heat's getting to me. Too much work. Hey- how 'bout we do our Potions essay now?"

Aziraphale still looked interested in figuring out Crowley's latest topic of interest, but he let it go with a quick breath.

"Lake or library?" he inquired.

The lake was looking like a right mirror the clear sky, Crowley thought. Peaceful, perfect. But Aziraphale liked the library so much, it was practically his natural habitat, and they wouldn't be here for another two months…

"Library," he conceded.

Aziraphale looked at him from the corner of his eyes, searching. "I was thinking…the library is going to be blistering in this heat, we'd both be extremely uncomfortable. Why don't we try the lake instead?"

Crowley looked at him, surprised. "Really...?"

Aziraphale smiled at him, as sincerely as possible. And Crowley- after searching his face, yearning for a hint for something- eventually smiled back.

***

 

Year Five:

Aziraphale opened his mouth, shut it, and then opened it again. He was gaping.

"Piercings, Crowley?!"

"Very observant. Ten points to Ravenclaw," declared Crowley. He smiled slyly. "D'you, uh, like them?"

Crowley's house- 21 Chapman Road, Maidenbower, Crawley, West Sussex, Aziraphale had memorized the address- was made of pale sun-bleached bricks. The door and garage were a vivid red, and the roof was comprised of brown ceramic shingles. It was decently sized, in a nice neighborhood.

Aziraphale thought it was wonderfully charming. Crowley thought it was drastically boring.

"Yes," said Aziraphale after studying the new, small gold rings in both of Crowley's lobes, and the identical ones lined up on both helixes. "It suits you. You look dashing."

Crowley mumbled something unintelligible in response and then tugged Aziraphale and his bags inside.

Two weeks till school started up again, and it still felt like they were in the throng of summer- it certainly was hot outside, and from the window Aziraphale could see the evening sun shining on the plants and swaying trees in the backyard, setting a golden-purple hue to everything. The prospect of school was both dim and exciting- back to magic, back to schoolwork.

"Here, let's dump your stuff in my room, then I'll give you a look at the place," said Crowley.

He and Aziraphale lugged the baggage upstairs. He suddenly remembered something on the way up.

"Er- Mum, Aziraphale's here!" he called out behind him. Aziraphale heard some shuffling downstairs, but Crowley insisted that they set the chest away first.

"We'll be down in a sec, Amma," he added loudly.

From the second floor it was a quick trip to his room.

Aziraphale stared, fascinated, around the surprisingly tidy bedroom. A collection of overgrown potted plants crowded around a corner window overlooking the peony-dotted back garden. There were freshly-ironed shirts hanging over the wardrobe door, and a sleek model of a black 1928 Bentley, completely devoid of dust, sat on the desk.

Aziraphale realized with a start that the matte posters on the wall did not move, not even the slightest bit, unless one counted the dried-out edges that peeled lazily off the stark white walls; and, most interesting of all, there was a sleek plastic and glass artefact in the corner that he could only assume was some form of Muggle electronics.

Once they actually maneuvered the chest into a corner, Aziraphale huffed and took a good look at Crowley. He was a bit taller, his hair was a bit longer, his skin was a bit darker, his cheekbones were getting only nicer, and- and- and he wasn't wearing his sunglasses.

"Oh," breathed Aziraphale, wondrous.

He hadn't seen Crowley's eyes right-on for nearly two years, not since in the Hospital wing in third year. The other had been especially dedicated to keeping his sunglasses on at all times, and it was a rare sight when Aziraphale would catch him rubbing his eyes underneath the glasses, or even removing them for seconds at a time. He'd get glares from under them when he was caught trying to glimpse more.

Crowley shrugged when he realized what Aziraphale's discovery. "Mum won't let me wear them at home. Besides, I think I'm going to retire them now, time has come for it…"

They eyed each other some more. Crowley boggled at the fact Aziraphale had had his first major growth spurt since he had met him, and now was three inches taller than their last meeting. Aziraphale continued blinking several times at a row at Crowley's- newly uncovered- gold eyes. They were so very vivid, and hard to look away from; It was as if someone had corked two little drops of felix felicis, and had plopped them in his irises.

"Well, hallo," began Crowley awkwardly after they finished sizing each other up. He indistinctly moved his arms forwards, to show he was welcoming a-

Aziraphale hugged him as tightly as possible, pushing him back just a bit from sheer force, and then pulled back. He was thrilled to be here. And Crowley's face was undeniably red, but not from embarrassment.

"You have got to stop hugging- so- damn- hard, Ingladus," he wheezed. "You're going to kill me."

Aziraphale stepped back and turned around to inspect the room again, pacing over colorful shiny Lindt chocolate wrappers littering the floor.

"I've been looking forward to this the whole summer, Crowley, you would not believe…imagine, muggle life for two weeks, and with you! I missed you. Wow, isn't it sort of creepy how these pictures don't move? Er. Unsettling, really. Oh, and, I wanted to ask you about this but I forgot to include it in my last letter, but can we visit the library here? I haven't read pure muggle texts for ages."

He eyed the books stacked sloppily on the floor with keen interest (LIFE: 50 Years of James Bond and The Book of Bond or Every Man His Own 007, respectively) before he remembered something else.

"…And I'm a prefect, by the way! I received my letter a few days ago, I'm so glad about it, did you…No? Well, no offense, but it's only for the best, you'd be a terrible example to the younger children…oh no, Crowley, what are your parents going to say if I go around calling you Crowley, oh, will it look disrespectful? Should I call you Anthony? Wait- what should I call them? Mr. and Mrs. Crowley? Goodness, I should have thought this out beforehand..."

Crowley seized Aziraphale by the shoulders. "Firstly: Christ, settle down. Secondly, I missed you too, dolt. And lastly, don't call me Anthony, anything but that. Either way, my mum's waiting downstairs to at least meet another wizard, so let's not keep her waiting, she gets damn pissed when she's kept waiting..."

He navigated the both of them downstairs, through the living room, and into a lovely glass conservatory. A woman- Mrs. Crowley, apparently- looked up from the plants she was watering, spotted Aziraphale, and immediately paced towards them.

"Oh, hallo, Aziraphale, I'm so pleased to have finally met you!" she greeted warmly. She stuck her hand out, which Aziraphale quickly shook.

"Nice to meet you too…Mrs. Crowley," responded Aziraphale, unsure if it was appropriate.

She was tall, with dark curly hair pulled up in a bun. Her eyes were the same color as Crowley's. And she had perfect cheekbones.

"Antarah has been going on about you for years now, and it's time I got to meet his friend. Not to mention I wanted to learn more on wizards! I hope you'll make yourself at home, dear."

"Antarah?" Aziraphale repeated. Crowley raised his eyebrows.

"Yes, Anta-" and then she paused, and pursed her lips. "Oh, he hasn't told you? Ah, well, Anthony- we legally named him that for convenience. Antarah is a bit harder to pronounce for the English. Anthony's real name is Antarah- an Arab hero and poet, it's such a respectful name. He goes by Antarah at home, at least... don't tell me he's still pulling his last name stunt on everyone, though, we've talked about how crude that sounds, Antarah..."

"Crowley- you didn't-" started Aziraphale, turning to him.

"Oh, so he is still trying to do that! Naughty boy," she admonished, pinching Crowley's ear while he tried to pull away, wincing. She faced Aziraphale again, smooth as wind.

"Anyways, love, you can call me whatever you feel most comfortable with. Mrs. Crowley, Sheza-auntie, either one is fine with me."

"Oh- okay," said Aziraphale shyly. That was a little intimate, wasn't it?

"Eshan- Antarah's father- is going to be here in an hour or two, he'll be happy to see you too," she told Aziraphale. Her eyes became far-away. "How exciting, two wizards in the house…"

Crowley rolled his eyes and cut her off. "Alright, Mum, I'm gonna take Aziraphale around and give him a tour before you talk his ear off. He can give you the rundown on the wizarding world at dinner, yeah?"

"Ey," she said, a dangerous edge to her voice. "Don't talk to your mother like that."

"What I'd say? What I'd say?"

"Ulu ke pata," she tsked, crossing her arms. Aziraphale noticed (with a bit of horror) that she had one hell of an evil eye.

"Amma!"

"Antarah."

Crowley glared at her, grabbed Aziraphale, and lead him back to the entrance. "God, my mum sometimes…" he muttered darkly. Aziraphale stared at him.

"You didn't tell me about your name!"

"Oh, right." He scratched the back of his head. "I, uh, dunno. Never thought I had to share. I like being called Crowley, either way." He shrugged. "But I definitely like Antarah overAnthony, for Christ's sake…how high and mighty do you need to get, can't say Antarah so you opt for Anthony, what is the thinking there…" he muttered, looking moodily at thin air.

"I… I'm just surprised you didn't tell me."

"Told you, mate, didn't think you had to know. Sorry."

Aziraphale blinked. "Well, alright," he pronounced slowly. "I suppose I understand…still, I would think I should have known, now I feel plain silly having called you Anthony in the past…"

"S'not a problem, AZ."

Aziraphale eyed him critically. He didn't feel lied to, but he certainly felt like a bad friend. What kind of person doesn't know their best mate's bloody first name?

"Don't get tense on me. You know now, right? Oh- by the way- the whole auntie thing is a regular thing in middle-eastern households, don't take it weirdly."

"Oh. Okay," said Aziraphale. At least that was interesting. "You were going to give me a tour…?"

"Oh yeah. Okay, so that's the study-" he pointed to a room on the right, and then walked down the hall- "here's the kitchen-" a clean room, aromatic- "And, uh, you've seen the living room and conservatory…mm, here's the dining room, nothing interesting in there right now."

They continued on the second floor. "There's my parent's bedroom, there's my room, the bathroom's down the hall…"

"Is that a spare room?"

"Uh. Yeah."

"How come I'm sleeping on the ground in your room, then?"

Crowley faltered. "That's- no- I have a trundle bed, you're going to be sleeping on the bottom-"

"How come I'm still in your room though? It's a good size, but don't you think it'll get crowded?"

He gulped. "I though, uh, that it would be more fu- efficient, I mean, if you don't want…"

"No, no, that's not what I meant, it just…seemed unusual," hurried Aziraphale. He laid a hand on Crowley's shoulder. "Sorry. Let's go back to your room, you can tell me about your summer."

Crowley felt his stomach flip under him when Aziraphale moved closer, but nodded. "Sure thing," he replied. "Avoiding homework, mostly…"

***

Dinner was held in the dining room, and much of it involved Crowley's mother and father interrogating Aziraphale about the wizarding world- and he was happy to share. Crowley, on the other hand, was not so pleased; for the most part he wasn't allowed to open his mouth in case he'd interrupt precious, darling Aziraphale.

"So, baita," started Eshan. "You're saying that they have a separate hospital, for only magical people?"

Aziraphale nodded. "Yes, there are many. St. Mungo's is the one closest from here, though."

"What if there's an emergency? What if all the, uh, normal hospitals are filled up…would St. Mungo's take in the m…what was that…muggles? Muggles, correct? Would they accept muggles?"

"I suppose," said Aziraphale, deliberating. "I mean, we'd have to erase the memories of a lot of people, but it would be inhumane if we made no movement to help…"

"I want to hear more about Nocturne Alley," declared Sheza. "What again do they sell there? Would it be- theoretically- unethical if I asked Antarah to grab me something… just out of curiosity?" she finished. Her face had taken on an impish look.

Aziraphale, for the slightest moment, could not help but realize that Crowley must have gotten a lot of his…more devious qualities from her. There was the same quirk in the lips, the same twitch in the eyebrow that indicated only bad could come.

"No, Mum, that's not gonna work. I doubt I'm even legally allowed to go there," sighed Crowley. He sounded woebegotten.

"Well, ah, that's a good thing, I'd assume," resolved Eshan. He gave his wife a reproachful look. He had a square face, and a bit of a beard, and Crowley's sharp nose- sans the slight crookedness of it, Aziraphale realized. Well. That had been his own fault, hadn't it…

Sheza shrugged. "I was just wondering," she said she cut the food in her plate "Now, enough talk about magic, Antarah's getting a little grumpy, aren't you, baita…"

Crowley sneered at her. "No, let's keep going, let's not let your son talk for the next three years, how 'bout it…"

Sheza rolled her eyes. "Alright, alright, I'm done for now." She smiled at Aziraphale. "Such a polite boy, aren't you though? You don't seem like the type Antarah would typically befriend…"

"Scarlett," interjected Eshan. "Now Scarlett, she was another league, wasn't she…"

"Oh, yes," added Sheza. "At first we thought she and Antarah were two tricky minds stuck together, but… no offense, meh piyaara, she was much more daring and, uh, 'playful' than our son… she always visits for a week in the beginning of summer, since Antarah's first year, I have to practically hide all the flammable things in the house prior."

"Well, it's a fun week," admitted Crowley. "Some of her ideas are just… damn. She plays for keeps."

"I wouldn't put it that way," said Sheza dryly. "She doesn't keep anything. I, meanwhile, get to keep the debt of the time she tried to start an impromptu fireworks show down the street." She stabbed a potato slice with her fork a bit harder than necessary. "I hadn't been aware so many people's hair could catch on fire at once before the incident."

"Two years ago, Amma."

"And yet, I am still obliged to call all the neighbors a week in advance, just to ensure them that yes, the red-headed girl is coming over, please stop leaving your ladders next to your sheds where she can easily get her hands on them."

Eshan laughed. "This is all very true, Sheza, but we still don't know how Aziraphale and Antarah came about to be friends."

"Well, uh-" started Aziraphale.

"Remember how I told you some bloke broke my nose?" interrupted Crowley matter-of-factly. "Well, here he is, in the flesh."

There was a silence. Aziraphale broke a light sweat. And then:

"That was you? Goodness, I take back my earlier words, you're precisely the type of friend Antarah would go for," said Sheza, impressed. "Misleading first impressions, indeed!"

"I mean- no, it wasn't quite like that," said Aziraphale, his face heating up. "Uh, we, we, weren't quite on the best of terms, at the time-"

"Right across the face, like whoosh, POW. It was a real zinger, Amma," said Crowley. He was clearly having fun.

"Ah- well, true, but-"

"Thought I was gonna die, Papa," Crowley sniffed.

"You did not!" yelled Aziraphale, flustered.

"It's all true. Blood everywhere, pouring, it was atrocious…"

"I- I can't believe you-!"

Crowley began laughing. "Can't you, though?"

Eshan broke in, although he was chortling a bit too. "As nice as it is to hear that, I can't help but wonder how the two of you made friends after?"

Crowley quieted down. "Oh, well, that's a bit of a long story, no need-"

"We met in first year, you see," said Aziraphale tartly. "We were friends for a bit, then we had a fight, and we fought more for a bit of time, and then third year I- uh- lost my temper, but it was justified, really, and I apologize deeply for harming your son, Sheza-auntie, Eshan-uncle, but he- he was only really harming himself…either way, we spoke later, we put aside our differences. We became friends, and now we're best friends," he finished.

"Best friends?" said Sheza, a bit surprised.

"Yes."

Crowley did not say anything.

"What…what did you argue over?" asked Eshan, his voice careful.

Crowley was looking at his lap. Aziraphale eyed him, and then shrugged.

"It was unimportant. Random tiffs, you know…"

"I see," remarked Eshan. "But Antarah would never tell us why he wore his damned sunglasses to school, is it related to that?"

"No, that was- something else, I think," said Aziraphale. Crowley flashed him a look. Eshan noticed.

"Then what was the matter with the sunglasses, in the end?" he probed.

Aziraphale was silent. Crowley frowned at his plate, and tried desperately to not remember the incident from second year.

"Antarah, baita, what was it?" asked Sheza, as kindly as possible. Crowley sighed very slightly.

"My eye color. It- I don't know, it was weird for some people," he said. As is being able to speak to snakes, as is wearing jewelry, as is being attracted to- to- to not-a-girl, as is being a different color, as is being a muggleborn, as is every damn thing about me. I'm a real piece of work, he thought, ticking off every point mentally.

Sheza clenched the knife in her hand. "Eye color? They teased you over your eye color?"

Oh, there was more than that, thought Crowley bitterly. But it wasn't relevant anymore, he tried to convince himself, no one cared if he was 'queer', that was positively ages ago…

"Of all things! My child was being- harangued- for the color of his eyes? He wore sunglasses for two years straight, so that he could hide his eyes?" she was heated now, her face red. Eshan tried to pat her hand.

She pushed him aside, clearly angry. "No! Eshan- this is not right, we've sacrificed enough- his legal name, if you've forgotten- so that Antarah could fit in, and yet he still gets picked on!" She turned to Crowley. "Don't let them shame you for the color of your eyes, sweetheart, it's something to be proud of-" and it was true, her own gold eyes were flashing like warning signals- "And those ben chots have their head up their arseholes if they try to say they're anything less of amazing, khoobsuratSuneh, baitaMain kia boleh?"

"Suneh, suneh," said Crowley tiredly. "Please, Mum, do we have to do this at the dinner table?"

Sheza let out a long breath and put her knife down. "I apologize for lashing out, but… it's just not acceptable. And I can't do anything, I'm just a muh… mug… a normal human, I can't even write a letter to your school without knowing if anyone's going to take it seriously…" She shook her head. "And you don't tell us anything, I just…no mother wants to feel helpless, Antarah."

They ate for in silence. Sheza's shoulders gradually relaxed. "Sorry about that, boys," she said wearily. "Antarah, you and Aziraphale have to clear the table once we're done."

"What?!" exclaimed Crowley, at the same time Aziraphale said pleasantly, "Of course, Sheza-auntie."

"No! You're a damned traitor," Crowley told Aziraphale, turning to him angrily. "This is crap!"

"Er."

"You could've pulled the guest card, at least for one day! I can't believe this, the one time I could've gotten out of kaam…"

"Sorry?" offered Aziraphale.

"Don't be," said Sheza, pleased. "Nice to have someone willing to do some work around here."

"Very nice change of pace," agreed Eshan.

Crowley groaned into the table. Aziraphale beamed.

***

After dinner (and clearing the table) they went back up to Crowley's room and began getting ready for bed. Aziraphale changed in the bathroom, Crowley drew his curtains and changed in his room, and they settled into their separate beds at the same time.

"Long day," exhaled Crowley.

"Mmhmm," Aziraphale replied, his mouth sunken into a pillow, his eyes already tired. He fumbled his hand around his face, took off his glasses, and placed them somewhere behind him. "Crowley…"

"Hm?"

"When we were talking, before…"

"Yeah?"

"Your mom seemed awfully surprised when I said we were…best friends," he said, yawning a bit in the middle.

"Oh." Crowley said vaguely, but his mind raced- was Aziraphale mad at him? He watched the pale moonlight play on the walls in the dim room, thinking furiously.

"I don't…mind, or anything, I was just wondering… why you didn't… you're my best friend, you know that, right…?" Aziraphale murmured drowsily.

"Y-yes."

"Hm..."

There was a pause.

"You're my best friend too," Crowley said very quickly. "I just…I get…it's hard to say it, sometimes I just feel…" he trailed off like a train chugging slowly to a stop. He clenched his left arm awkwardly.

"Feel what?"

I just feel like you'll take all your talk about being best friends back if I ever returned the sentiment, and I don't want to drive you off. But he couldn't exactly say that.

"Shame, mostly. I mean, on one hand, I'm embarrassed to be friends with you-"

"Huh?!" exclaimed Aziraphale, affronted enough to lift his entire head up from his pillow.

"I'm kidding, kidding."

"Bugger off, Crowley…" moaned Aziraphale. He thumped his head back down. "Sometimes I just… don't understand your line of thinking…"

"I'd hope so."

"Mmh. God, I'm tired…" Aziraphale said sleepily. He reached his arm out, and felt it up the bed next to him till he reached what was Crowley's arm, and patted it. "Anyways, you're important to me, I just…wanted you to know that… for sure, y'know…" he slurred the end bit, and then was silent.

Crowley was still recovering from the fright of being suddenly touched in the darkness, but he caught that part perfectly clearly, and felt his heart pound distinctly. He lay completely still.

"Um," he whispered after a stretch of time. "You're… important, to me too, AZ…"

But when he shifted and looked down, he saw that Aziraphale was already peacefully asleep.

His hand was still grazing Crowley's arm. Crowley delicately lifted it and placed it back next to Aziraphale, and then after a moment of thought, gently patted it. It's the thought that counts, right? He thought distantly. His eyes wandered up to his face.

He looked pretty, of all things, when he was sleeping. Pretty. His curly hair twirled around his face, his eyelashes slanted ever so gently onto his soft cheeks, his lips were just the slightest bit ajar. He looked like a blessed angel- one that was fifteen, and in the dregs of puberty, but an angel nonetheless.

And Crowley didn't know how to think beyond that, his head full of jumbled thoughts, so he turned around and went to sleep too.

***

Aziraphale was only thrilled to learn about muggle culture. Public transport, modern shopping malls, getting ice cream, movie theatres, and all without magic- it was nothing short of a miracle.

"Why is this so enthralling to you?" asked Crowley, once Aziraphale begged to go out for ice cream and then a movie for the eighth time in his stay. "What makes it so positively amazing?!"

Sheza passed their door right then, smiling. She popped her head in, and Aziraphale saw she was wearing a violet, embroidered hijab. "Children, if you're going to go out again, remember to lock the door behind you. Antarah, Papa and I are going for Maghrib, now, so don't disturb us if you're leaving in a while."

Crowley nodded as Sheza left. He turned to Aziraphale again.

"Seriously, though, why do you like it so much? Magic is loads better."

"Because muggle ice cream tastes better, and oh, Crowley, it's sort of magical, though, how the little box can project a moving picture with sound for everyone to see, and it's so big, too..!"

"Uh, it's the opposite of magical, mate. That's sort of the point of being a muggle."

"I don't know, it just is, Crowley. It might help that I get to do all this stuff with you, it just makes it more enjoyable."

And Crowley found that he had nothing to say to that.

(Although he did blush quite a bit.)

***

"D'you wanna get ice cream?" he asked Aziraphale.

Aziraphale sniffed. "It's not the same."

And so they walked by Florean Fortsecue's Ice Cream Parlour without another glance, heading instead towards Eeylops Owl Emporium.

Crowley had explained he needed an owl a few days before their school shopping trip to Diagon Alley- It was simply becoming wearisome, not having a method of communication. Even if the method was horrifying.

Aziraphale had agreed serenely and said it was a good idea, but Crowley had kept looking at him with a pleading blip in his eye, as if waiting for more. Aziraphale had sighed, and that's how he was now tied into going into the store with Crowley as well.

"Are you sure you need me there?" he asked as they approached the door. Crowley gave him a desperate look.

"Okay, fine, fine," he conceded. "I'm coming."

But it didn't quite work out. Crowley became pale within the first ten minutes, and let out an unholy shriek when an assistant at the establishment tried to introduce a scoop owl to his arm. Aziraphale apologized quickly on his behalf and escorted the both of them out.

"He was going to claw me arm off, I swear to god," Crowley whimpered. "Fuck's sakes, what was I thinking…"

Aziraphale led them on, patting Crowley's arm all the while. "Oh, it's okay, dear, you tried," he clucked.

He stopped, regarding a store. "Would you still like to have a pet, though?" he asked.

Crowley removed the hand covering his face. "Are there pets besides owls to have?"

"Oh, my dear…" murmured Aziraphale as he led them inside Magical Menagerie.

The place had mice and cats and toads and spiders and snakes. A lot of snakes, actually. Crowley was ecstatic.

"Look at that one," he said to Aziraphale, pointing out a red, black, and yellow one a little over two feet long. "Oh wow, the coloring is gorgeous. Ah, and its eyesss… ssso… sssplendid…"

Aziraphale knocked him with his elbow. Crowley fumbled and, then recovered with a sense of chagrin hanging heavily upon his head.

"Whoops," he said shamefully.

"No, please, just wear a shirt declaring 'I am a parseltongue, look at me' while we're at it, why don't you," grumbled Aziraphale scornfully. "Make the job easier for just about everyone here."

Crowley pouted. But he got the snake (a Pueblan milk snake, as it turned out) in the end- she was named Saib after a little reflection, and she was very pleased with her new owner.

Crowley grinned as she looped around his shoulders and rested there lazily. She was talking to him, all the while, but he wouldn't tell Aziraphale what (though he did insist she had quite the sense of humor). He stroked her head, and Aziraphale realized with a start that the movement was fluid and long from both the snake and Crowley; his arm rippled downwards in ways that weren't quite human, wizard or not.

Aziraphale shifted his eyes and gave Saib a pondering look.

"D'you suppose she'd like to meet Silas? They can have a sort of, er, playdate- thing," he suggested. "It could be nice."

Crowley death glared him for the next thirty minutes. Saib did too.

***

"I forgot, alright?! I forgot that owls eat snakes, I'm sorry, how many times must I apologize?"

Crowley eyed him critically as clenched the cage holding Saib closer towards him. "I dunno. Until I feel like you mean it."

"I do mean it."

He sighed. "Fine, I s'pose I forgive you. Seriously, though, if you get Silas within twenty feet of Saib…"

Aziraphale grunted in response.

They were nearly all done with their shopping, and it was a little after evening. The place was dim, the drowsy color of blurred out indigo seeping into the sky. Not to mention it was slightly less crowded in these later hours, and was altogether pleasant- all the window displays were bright, and spilled golden light like water onto the cobblestone. It was beginning to get a little chilly.

They passed a display for a jewelry store, and paused to look. Earrings and necklaces glittered, and there was an opal stone the size of an egg on one of the main centerpieces, but something else had caught Crowley's eye.

"Look at the eyes on that one," he breathed, his hands and face slowly pressing against the window. "Downright magnificent."

Aziraphale looked where he was staring, and he saw it. A bracelet- gold- with an emerald green serpent coiled around the length of it, its miniscule metallic scales hitting the spectrum of cool colors. Red jewel glinted malevolently under the bright display light, beckoning.

"How much is it?" asked Aziraphale. Crowley searched, and then groaned.

"Twenty-five galleons. That's almost 125 pounds! There's no way I can afford that, 'less I told Amma I was dying and this was my last wish, or something…"

Aziraphale looked at him, and saw that his eyes were shining as if molten, almost the exact same shade at the gold bracelet. He was so intent, he was pressing his face against the glass like a toddler, for God's sakes, there was obvious longing in his eyes, and in the end Aziraphale could not help but feel like it was his job to fix it.

"Can you pick up Prefects Who Held Power from Obscurus Books, please?" he said abruptly, his voice oddly tense. "I completely forgot to get it, and I need to grab something from Rosa Lee Teabag, and they're in opposite directions, so…"

Crowley looked away from the bracelet, surprised, and then his eyebrows fell into a rigid line. "Sending your friend Crowley off to do all the boring work, very nice, very clever," he complained as he took some of his recently acquired supplies from Aziraphale. He agreed, though, and went on his way.

Aziraphale stared at the bracelet. Using a combination of wits, a brief spill of owl food, and an entirely unnecessary amount of faked throwing up, he managed to do something rather unethical.

Once he was safe again, he remembered Crowley's hasty predictions from last year: He'd do something against his moral compass- a crime- and get away with it.

Blast Divination, he thought as he ran towards the teashop before Crowley would inevitably come back for him. Blast Divination, and blast Crowley.

***

School started again, and Crowley and Aziraphale took to pushing the limits of inter- house unity; although tensions had lowered a bit off the Quidditch pitch now that they were older, dropping by frequently to other House tables was still outrageous. Which made it all the more fun for Crowley.

At one Friday breakfast a month in, Crowley unexpectedly dropped into the Ravenclaw table next to a very disconcerted Aziraphale. His own mouth and hand were full of toast.

"Did you hear about the party?" he asked in a muffled voice.

"What?!" Aziraphale replied as Sable, who was sitting next to him, made a face at Crowley's stuffed maw and dirtied face and inched away.

"Party. Slytherin dorms. Tomorrow night."

"Are you out of your mind?! Why- why would you go to a Slytherin party, what kind of Gryffindor are you?"

"Oh, Aziraphale," he said kindly, except Aziraphale knew it was more likely than not his not-so-kind voice, only disguised. "If there's a Slytherin party, then it can only be guaranteed that most- if not all- Gryffindors, fifth years and up, will be attending."

"Why? Since when?"

"We Gryffindors enjoy a good party, you know." He licked the butter and crumbs off his fingers. "And no one can get hands on alcohol quite like our pals the Slytherins…"

"I'm not going," Aziraphale responded stoutly. "We aren't even of age." Then he frowned to himself, remembering something. "I'm a prefect."

"Pity," sighed Crowley. He deftly plucked at red apple from a platter nearby, and bit into it, a crunch ringing out. "It's not going to be as fun without you, you know…" he said through his chewing.

"Wha- you're not going either! We're both not of age, and I can't let you do that with a clear conscience-"

Crowley raised his eyebrows, and took another juicy of the apple. "And how exactly are you going to enforce that, AZ?"

"I'll- I'm…I, uh…will…" There was a pause.

"Niceee," Crowley drawled. "Anyways, I might even do something extra irresponsible if you're not there." He shrugged. "Well, see you in Charms…" And began to get up.

"Wait!" exclaimed a girl, sitting nearby. Her friend was also looking on, attentive. "When did you say it was…?"

Crowley grinned at them. "Tomorrow night, starting at eight PM. Password to their common room is going to be 'Chelicerae.'" He turned to Aziraphale and waggled his eyebrows. "Last chance, mate, are you in? You know you want to."

"Oh, I don't know that," Aziraphale quipped sharply. "But yes, fine, yes. Just know that I despise you, and I refuse to enjoy it. I'm only there to- eugh- babysit you."

Crowley grinned and placed his half-eaten apple in front of Aziraphale. It was a deep burgundy, polished, and it smelled so flavorful, so tempting. "If you say so," he declared contentedly, and was off.

***

Aziraphale met Crowley right before the entrance to the Slytherin common rooms. It was musty and cooler and darker here, especially as many of the lanterns had dimmed for the night. The whole stone corridor had a green cast to it, and in the strange suffused lighting Crowley looked sallow and vaguely wicked slanting against the wall.

"Crowley?"

Crowley kicked himself off and grinned. "Finally, I was beginning to think you had bailed. We're a bit late." He tapped two knuckles on the damp wall behind him and hissed, "Chelicerae."

The wall immediately shifted to reveal a dark passage. Crowley pulled Aziraphale in with him, giddy all the way.

When they emerged on the other side, the din was astounding. People of all houses were spread around in masses, shouting and dancing and laughing and shrieking, and The Weird Sisters blared in the background over some magically enhanced speakers. The lanterns on rusted chains had been enchanted to swing and radiate lively, colored lights across the room, though it was altogether dark besides. In the back corner there was food set up, and Aziraphale noticed with a sense of dread that there was a great lot of Firewhiskey available (among other, less potent things).

"What happens to the little ones?" he asked worriedly, having to raise his voice to be audible.

Crowley waved a hand vaguely. "The Slytherins send them to bed early, they're not monsters. Somehow. Dunno if they get any sleep with this ruckus, but it's a Saturday, so in the end they're fine."

"Okay…" he replied unsurely. "So, what do we do now…?"

Crowley smiled widely, placing a hand on Aziraphale's opposite shoulder. He firmly quashed the ecstatic sensation he got in his gut and instead continued:

"Oh, AZ. We socialize. We dance. We drink."

Aziraphale gulped.

***

"I'll- I'll, I'll haaave another red currant rrrum, please…" Aziraphale said to a wall. "Oh… wait, haha…I'm supposed to be…to be getting the drinks, that's…yesss…" He reached out and poured two glasses in the back of the room, rather shakily. "No…no b- bartenderrr, why would I…silly, sillyyy…"

He giggled vapidly as he picked up both plastic cups and wandered to a corner to drink them. He was a bit dizzy. The lights being thrown across the room were not helping, and yet he felt it would break his heart if they were removed. Anything would break his heart right now, really. He loved this. These were his people. He loved everyone, and he was so sure of that that he could barely remember to open his mouth before smashing the cup against his lips and tilting back.

It had started an hour in. Crowley had been on his second shot of Ogden's Old Firewhiskey- mixed rather shoddily with Coke- and was insisting that the stuff was not as strong as you would think, Aziraphale, d'you want a sip? And it was only downhill from there.

Speak of the devil, Aziraphale thought blearily as Crowley himself plodded towards him from across the room. His hair was seriously mussed, his tie was loose, he was looking rather flushed, but his eyes were brighter than ever.

"Oy, Aziraphale, my…my b-bessst mateee, how'sitgoin'." He hiccupped. "Ssso much fun, innit?" He stabilized himself against the wall. "Wait, wait, waitwaitwait, w-who are you holdin' that other cup forrr?"

"They're, um…no, wait…" Aziraphale tried to think, but his mind had locked and closed up shop for a good few hours. The owner did not even have the decency to flip the 'open' sign to 'closed.' "Now I'm pur…perplecks…now I'm confused…" He stared emptily at the second cup in his hand, and wondered if maybe it would jog his memory if chugged it. But then he remembered. "…No, I r-reckon they're both fer me. Yeah, that sounds about right…"

"D-double fisssting!?" exclaimed Crowley. "Whoa, you're pushin' it, A-AZ…"

"I'm fisd…I'm fisting what?" asked Aziraphale, acutely horrified.

Crowley ignored him, instead squinting at his watch with intense effort, and Aziraphale stared at the little tally mark lines that manifested up around his eyes, and how he wanted to smooth them out.

"Oyyy, it'sss gettin' too late…we oughtta leave, we oughtta…" Crowley trailed off, obviously confused. "Sssnape is going to check up on usss sssooner or laterr…oughtta…" he slurred. "Azirah…Azee…Ingladus, we need to…"

Aziraphale began sniggering. "Yer ssso out of it, Crr…An- Antah... no, no…Antarah. Antarah!"

"Nngh?" replied Crowley, looking up automatically.

"I got it! I sssaid it r-right!" proclaimed Aziraphale happily.

Crowley let out a little sigh. "C-congratsss, love," he slurred. "Ssseriousssly, we need to go…b-before we can't…before we're too pisssssed to remember howta get back to our dormsss…"

Aziraphale nodded drunkenly. "Yes, let's- let's do that. G-good idea."

They stumbled through the crowd and out of the common room, into the stone corridor. It was uncanny- once the door shut, nary a noise could be heard from outside that indicated anything was out of the ordinary. Crowley snorted.

"Gotta love thossse Ssslytherinsss, th-they know how to do it."

"Do what?"

"Partiesss, yah prat, what elssse?"

"Ohh…"

They slowly blundered down the dark passage and up the stairs, until they were at their fork - Ravenclaw Tower was in a completely different direction than the Gryffindor one.

Crowley clutched Aziraphale's robe sleeve when they reached the point. "D'you- d'you think you can come ta the Griff…Ryffindor groom firssst? Pleassse?"

"Why?"

"Becaussse…because."

"W-well, okay."

Crowley all but dragged him up the moving staircases and into the Gryffindor common room (the password was "Tri-wizard" in honor of the coming event, but it took Crowley several times to say it properly. The fat lady was not impressed.).

"Come to my dorm," he beseeched, once they were in.

"Won't- won't we wake up the other fifth years…?"

"Naw, they're all ssstill at the party, I checked…"

Aziraphale gave the lively fire in the hearth a parting look, and then both he and Crowley moved up into his room. Saib flickered her tongue at him from Crowley's bedside as Crowley himself moved in and immediately fell back on his bed, letting out a gratified noise.

"Did you c-call me in here to watch you sleeppp?!"

Though Aziraphale couldn't see it, Crowley's face became hotter. "N-no!"

He searched for the right words, but he opted for the truth. His mind was too muddled for word games. "I jussst was l-lonely."

"Oh," replied Aziraphale. He slowly went to sit at the base of Crowley's bed. "Oh, g-goodness, I'm sorry…"

"It'sss not yer fault," said Crowley. He stared up at the canopy of his bed, suddenly feeling lost and strangely empty.

"A-are you okay?" asked Aziraphale concernedly after the silence stretched for minutes.

"I dunno," Crowley admitted. He lolled his head to look down at Aziraphale, who was clearly worn out but was yet sitting here for him, and decided to change the subject to the first thought that came to mind.

"Ah- Aziraphale," he said as gravely as possible. "You… are… ssso pretty."

Aziraphale laughed. "My d-dear. You're pissed."

"I mean it!" he insisted. "Like…an angel or sssomethin'…" he wandered off, enraptured by the way one curl of Aziraphale's hair fell on his forehead, a little golden crest of a wave. "Like, like a…yeah…"

"If you s-say so," said Aziraphale, as pleasantly as drunk teenager could manage to be.

"I do," Crowley confirmed. His eyes wandered to Aziraphale's hands. "I, I like the color on them today."

Aziraphale smiled and admired his own nails. "D'yuh really? I thought silver would look t-tawdry…"

"Naw, looksss great," said Crowley sincerely. "I wish that I could…" he stopped himself, before he could proceed.

"What?"

"Nothing."

"Crrrowley…"

"…"

Aziraphale tried again. "D'you want me to do your n-nails?"

Crowley didn't say anything. Then:

"There's sssome leftover gold frrrom ages ago, in that top drawerr…"

Aziraphale smiled at him, and the weight on Crowley's chest lightened.

Aziraphale moved to the floor next to Crowley's bed. He gently held each hand as he painted it- with extreme concentration, mind you, he was still drunk.

Crowley fell asleep somewhere in the middle of the second coat. Regardless, he was still very delighted with the result when he woke up the next day.

The hangover wasn't so pleasant, though.

***

As December came into view, Aziraphale only grew more and more unsettled.

It was the oddest phenomenon that had been going on for a while, now, right after the party, but he had assumed it would end eventually. And yet, months later… Crowley was still just off, there were no two ways about it.

He still dropped in for little stamps of time during meals. They still partnered when they could in the classes they shared. They still spent time in the library together, studying, and they still loitered in the same general areas when they could. Really, they were still very much best mates.

But the issue was…the issue was how Crowley became very edgy when Aziraphale tried to sit closer to him, how he made excuses to leave some of their meetings earlier, how he looked decidedly dejected for no reason at all while staring at Aziraphale until the latter had to remind him that yes, I can see you staring at me, what's the matter? But he would insist nothing was wrong, and then make a hasty retreat. Sometimes his face would be red during this. Sometimes not. But Aziraphale felt slighted every time.

Although things with the Tri-Wizard tournament were heating up, the homework load did not quell. They now sat across each other in the library, toiling away at a Potions essay when Aziraphale noticed for the fourth time this meeting that Crowley was most definitely watching him from the corner of his eyes.

"Is something the matter?" he asked quietly and suddenly. Crowley nearly flipped the book out of his hands in surprise.

"Wh-what?!"

"I said, it something the matter?"

"Uh, what do you mean, AZ?

Aziraphale gave him a look over the top of his glasses, unimpressed with his sloppy deflecting. He could do so much better. Crowley was almost always slick; why was it that he was losing his touch as of late?

"Why were you staring at me?"

"I wasn't!"

"Yes, you were. And you weren't looking at my braces, you can't see them from that angle."

Crowley glared at him furiously, though it wasn't as powerful as could be, given that his cheeks had two spots of rosy pink on them.

"Why are you interrogating me-"

"Why have you been acting so strange?"

"I haven't-"

"Yes, you have," said Aziraphale firmly. "You're jumpier than ever, and you keep running off before I can figure out why. Are you irritated with me? Because if that's the case, I can respect that…I'll back off, really," he stated earnestly. The thought still made him a little sad, but he still held it. "I can do it, if that's what you want."

"No!" Now even Crowley sounded a little dejected. "That's not…I don't want that, I promise."

"Then what's wrong?"

They stared at each other. Crowley looked acutely uncomfortable. Aziraphale felt mostly confused, and hurt.

"I…uh, I need to go," mumbled Crowley after a little. He looked regretful. "Have to…coordinate something with the Gryffindors…"

Aziraphale only raised an eyebrow at him, and did not say one word as Crowley quickly packed and hurried off without a glance backwards.

***

The cloud over Crowley's head, which had been an uncontroversial grey for so long, was once more pitch black. Was Aziraphale mad at him? That would be horrible, he wouldn't be able to stand that…

It was just becoming harder for him to concentrate around him, and his automatic solution to the dire situation was to slowly start avoiding Aziraphale. Less time spent with him meant less time embarrassing himself, right? He stared at this fingernails- bright red, this time- as he considered.

Sometimes he left early when he was sick with boredom, and was worried he'd admit something inappropriate unconsciously. Sometimes he left when it was beginning to get difficult to stand the fact that there was almost no chance Aziraphale could ever like him back in the way he fancied him. And sometimes he left to go to the loo, and would decide not to go back because it was stressful, of all things, to keep a constant check on himself.

When they'd nearly touch, he'd taken to jerking away. This had developed about a month after the party; Aziraphale was passing him a pillow in Transfiguration, and when he'd brushed his fingers against Crowley's, Crowley realized with horror that he had very nearly dropped the pillow in order to try and simply hold his hand. It had only been an urge, at the time, but still: it was just pathetic. He was a nancy-boy, much too far in. It had to stop.

So now, when Aziraphale would scoot closer to show him something neat in his textbooks, Crowley would shift away too. When Aziraphale would try to embrace him in joy after a Quidditch match where Ravenclaw won, Crowley would duck out of the way and airily say that he felt queasy, or that he had seen something on the ground, it was just here a moment ago…

He didn't feel lovesick. He felt diseased with some sort of horrendous, disgusting, soft feeling. It was eating away at him. It was making him much more unstable in Aziraphale's presence, which was a real issue. Flash bastard was being annihilated, cell by cell, and in the end Crowley was at fault for letting it progress so far.

He decided he needed to ignore Aziraphale altogether. He held conviction in this theory for a grand total of four seconds, before his shoulders slumped over again; Like hell he'd manage that. That wouldn't get rid of the…infection, so to speak, it would only accelerate it in the worst possible way.

He could not escape it. What could he do? What could feasibly be done to alleviate the outright ache of being hopelessly, repulsively in love?

The questions generated no answers. He was approaching it all wrong; he had to try something more familiar, more relatable…

What would flash bastard do?

Flash bastard, reckoned Crowley, would attempt to woo Aziraphale with every weapon available in the artillery. He'd make it clear what his intentions were. He wouldn't shy away even once. And if there were even the slightest sign of reciprocation, flash bastard would grab Aziraphale by the collar and kiss him soundly against one of these library shelves.

This discouraged Crowley more. He wasn't flash bastard when it came to matters like this, he just wasn't. He traced a finger aimlessly on the library table in front of him. And yet, he reflected. Though he wasn't flash bastard, he'd been taking tips from him for years on end.

Perhaps it was time he took another.

***

The announcement regarding Yule ball was made on Sunday, December 18th, a week prior to the actual event. Seven days, Crowley reckoned. Seven days was plenty of time to ask Aziraphale, right? Right.

***

He spent much of that same Sunday writing jibberish on his homework while sitting across Aziraphale in the library, and then angrily crossing his words out. He refused to look at the other lest Aziraphale was still mad about his tendency to gawk- their relationship was tense as of late, and he didn't want to irritate it farther. At the end of their study session- the only time they were able to be completely alone, really- he mustered all of his nerves. He opened his mouth, looked Aziraphale dead in the eye, and left without a word.

***

On Monday, he tapped Aziraphale's shoulder right before Charms started. Aziraphale turned around, mildly curious, and Crowley punctually lost his train of though. He said something about how the weather's been nice lately, hasn't it?

Aziraphale said it was overcast and dull and freezing. Crowley mumbled something about differing opinions, and that was the end of Monday.

***

On Tuesday, Scarlett asked him what's wrong. He told her to bugger off, and slumped deeper down into the high-backed chairs in front of the common room fire. He gazed into the fireplace with a melancholy, haunted look. She rolled her eyes.

***

On Wednesday, after a lot of hand-wringing and pride-squashing, Crowley told Scarlett exactly what the matter was. She slung an arm around his shoulders and said meaningfully, "If you want him to be offed, I know a guy…"

Crowley decided not to go to Scarlett after that.

***

On Thursday, Scarlett apologized and instead offered that Aziraphale was probably deeply, deeply in love with Crowley all this time, and if Crowley were to ask him to the ball he'd whoop with joy and snog him immediately.

Crowley explained from his spot on the carpet- directly in front of the fire- that this was of no help to him (though her heart was in the right place). Scarlett considered some more.

"Ask him somewhere very romantic," she said thoughtfully, splaying her hands. "Then he'll be so lovestruck he won't know what hit him. Like a punch across the face."

"I don't think that's the way you ought to to think of it…"

"Awh, Crow, such a spoilsport sometimes. I'unno, you maybe want me to tell Sable to relay to angelface that you fancy him and would like to go to Yule?"

"No! Don't tell anyone one damn thing," he insisted quickly. "This is private."

Scarlett eyed from the chair and shrugged. "Only tryin'na help."

"Who're you going with, anyways?"

"No one, I'm not interested in that sorta stuff, gets trite so fast. But it's funny to watch others mess around with their feelings, ha…"

"Who made you such a masochist?"

"All's fair in love and war," she yawned contentedly. She got up from the chair and fixed Crowley with a look. "Seriously, though. If you want to ask him, then just do it. You won't know unless you try."

With that, she left.

Crowley wondered what she was trying to 'know' when she had ignited four heavyweight fireworks in a row and blasted them directly into trees, and if she got the answer she wanted.

***

On Friday, Crowley could barely concentrate in class. He had to ask today- the ball was on Sunday, and Saturday was the day spent shopping and choosing attire, so it was now or never.

He told himself this at breakfast, when he made his regular visit to the Ravenclaw table. His heart was thumping. How was he sitting next to Aziraphale already? Was he actually jittering, or was that just his head?

"H-hallo, AZ," he started.

Aziraphale looked up from his oatmeal and smiled pleasantly at him. "Oh, hallo."

"So, you know," he began strongly. "Ah, uh, there's something coming up, the Bule Yall- Fuck, I mean- it's coming up, right, so I was wondering, if-"

But he was interrupted by a flurry of confetti. This was the going-off affair that typically happened on the Friday before hols started- a goodbye of sorts to the children going home. Because the Yule Ball was happening this year, only the third-years and unders who hadn't been asked as so far to the Ball were leaving.

"Oh, how splendid!" exclaimed Aziraphale cheerily, putting his hand out to catch some of the sparkly bits. He was so preoccupied with this that he barely noticed Crowley slip away and seethe all the way to Transfiguration.

***

He tried again in Charms, Divination, Defense Against the Dark Arts, hell, even Herbology (verified to be the least romantic setting in the school, if only for the fact that they were handling plants that smelled and looked like rotting flesh) but to no avail. Yet again, he was backed into asking during their evening study dates.

Aziraphale was reading his Ancient Runes textbook, his brow furrowed. He was a mere two feet from Crowley, so close that if Crowley leaned over and stretched his arm over the table he would be able to brush his messy hair out of his eyes.

That was a vaguely calming thought- something he needed. Crowley rather felt as if his nerves had been stretched over miles and someone was tap-dancing on them smarmily.

He had been doing his very best to be discreet about his admiring since Aziraphale's confrontation, but he figured one last time was allowed- Just in case Aziraphale would hate him, or be disgusted, or would become suddenly awkward and never hang out with him again (somewhere, the tap-dancer started dancing even more vigorously).

"Aziraphale…"

"Hm?"

Crowley noted with touch of despair that the other didn't even look up from his book. He continued, regardless:

"You, uh, know how Yule Ball's in two days, right…?"

"Mmhmm."

"I was wondering, uh…" His voice became very small. "Ifyouwanttogowithme."

"Mm?" replied Aziraphale, glancing up. He looked very genuinely confused. "Sorry, didn't quite catch that."

"I- said- do you want to go to the ball with me?"

Aziraphale sounded mildly surprised as he said, "Of course."

Crowley gawped. Was it really that easy? Was there no catch-

"Going as friends is a great idea, Crowley."

There it was.

***

"Can you believe it, though?! How dense do you have to be?!"

"Crow, love, maybe if you snogged him like I told you-"

"You aren't of any help at all, you know that?"

Scarlett only snickered in response.

They were back at their old haunt- the fireplace. It was dark outside, and snowing, and older Gryffindors were excitedly talking about their coming outfits and dates.

Crowley gazed at the crackling fire, completely and utterly wrecked, moping freely on the carpet again.

"But what do I even do now? Do I just— give up? Not even bother trying?" he asked.

Scarlett sucked air through clenched teeth, sitting on the chair. "No, no, that's not the right way to go about it…" She bit her lower lip. "See, the way I see it is that angelface didn't say he didn't like you. There's hope yet."

"So do I run after him like a dog?" he inquired flatly.

Scarlett exhaled. "Look, I dunno. Sometimes you're going to have to decide what's best for yourself, right, Crow?"

He made some sort of groaning noise into the rug.

Scarlett sighed, leaned down, and patted the back of his hand awkwardly. "Come on now, love, you and I can drop by Hogsmeade tomorrow and find some nice dress robes for Sunday. How does that sound?"

"Mphrghph."

"Crowley."

"Mgppgh."

"Anthony J. Crowley."

"Thaf'th noph ebhen my bloophdy nameph!"

"Antarah. Are we going to Hogsmeade or not?"

"…Fineph."

***

The bad thing about shopping with Scarlett was that there was always a trail of trouble following. People arguing, fighting, quarreling over petty things, big things, it didn't matter; it was just always a constant.

While Crowley found it anywhere from maddening to somewhat amusing, Scarlett breathed it. She savored it. To date, it was the one thing about her that Crowley could not get used to- it was downright troubling, sometimes. But that was Scarlett.

She dragged Crowley along around Gladrag's Wizard Wear, her arm looped in his at the elbow as he stumbled behind her.

"Let me just wear a nice plain black dress robe," he begged. "All my jewelry looks best in that, and it's a good color for me. Please."

"Not so quick," she tsked. "We've got plenty of time. You don't want angelface to seem same-old, same-old Crowley, right? I thought so. Anyways, I've always thought that darker red looked nice against your skin, so we'll give that a look…"

Three hours (and seven fights) later, he decided on a robe that was black, but offset with a maroon silk vest. Scarlett had bought the tie in a separate box, and insisted that he wouldn't look at it until the night of the ball. Knowing Scarlett, he reckoned that it had 'SNOG ME, AZIRAPHALE' emblazoned across its front. Ah, well. He would cross that bridge when he got there.

They aimlessly wandered the town. Teenagers were pouring in and out of Gladrag's and other stores, heckling the last good robes and accessories out from each other's noses, and creating a general racket.

The two of them watched with idle interest as two students fought over the last bottle of Sleekeazy's Hair Potion; in the end, the bottle ricocheted out of their mittens and crashed into the neighboring snow bank, spreading its contents everywhere. Both contenders walked away dejected.

"Warms my heart," cooed Scarlett.

They walked on. Scarlett hummed tunelessly in the crisp air, and then turned to Crowley.

"Y'know, I never asked, but how are you and angelface friends?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that you and he are not… similar at all. He's a goody two-shoes; you're… you. Well, I mean, lately you've been sort of a bit of a wuss, but that's love for you-"

"Oi!"

"-Either way, my point is, how do you get along?"

He massaged the back of his neck with his free hand. "Erm, I dunno… opposites attract, I s'pose…"

"Oh, I'd argue that there's a little more than platonic attraction from your side, isn't there-"

"Damn it, Scarlett!"

Scarlett guffawed for a bit. "Okay, okay, go on," she amended once she stopped. "What else?"

"I said I'unno, okay!... He's a lot more gutsy than you'd expect- I know, it was a surprise to me too, but it's much more satisfying to find out on your own, I can't explain it… and I guess it's fun to have someone who isn't like me around, I guess…"

"Would'ya say you balance each other out?" Scarlett crooned.

Crowley's face fell. "Why'd you have to say it like that, it sounds like a ponce of a thing to say when you say it like that…"

"Would you say you complete each other?" she sang happily. "Oh, you lovebirds…"

"Scarlett!" he exclaimed again, and this time he tried to escape her grip. "I'm not- I'm not going to walk around with you if you're going to be hellbent ruining my image!"

"What's the matter, lover-boy? Running to your boyfriend again?!" She made kissy faces at him.

"You're- you're a right menace, you are, I'm done-" he struggled to move on, but Scarlett's hand was locked on his arm with an iron grip.

She teased him all the way back to Hogwarts. He could not escape once.

***

He spent a little over two hours getting ready. His hair had to be just right, and dress robes were a pain to adjust to, but he wanted to look good. Charming, even.

He had decided that even if Aziraphale were going to take it as a platonic outing, he'd at least do his best to be a stark perfect date either way. He'd feel better that he'd tried.

When he opened the box for the tie, he found that it was the exact same shade of gold as his eyes. There was a slight paisley pattern on it in lighter, thinner yellow thread that could be seen in shifting light; moreover, it had been enchanted to glow a bit. Which, he supposed, was not too bad. It accented all the golds of his jewelry- necklace, earrings, and bangles included- and considering Scarlett's track record, this was a blessing she had bestowed.

He saw her in her own outfit at the portrait hole. She was wearing teal robes and tie, and her vest was a sunflower color.

"Slick," he told her. He leaned in a bit, such that others couldn't hear. "Uh, thank you for the tie, by the way-"

Scarlett shook her head. "Save the touchy feely for angelface, I don't need any of it. You're welcome."

Crowley let out a little sigh of relief. He rather would save all his skills for one endeavor tonight.

She winked at him mischievously. "Now, go break his tart little heart."

"I-" He blushed. "I'll try."

"That's what I want to hear," she beamed.

***

Aziraphale was already there and waiting patiently at the base of the stairs by the time Crowley got there. He looked up to see Crowley standing very close to Scarlet as he descended. He looked a bit feverish, and Scarlett looked very miffed.

He heard her saying something, and then "Shove off, now, go deal with your problems yourself!" as she quite literally shoved him off. Crowley looked momentarily panicked.

"Crowley!" Aziraphale called. "Over here!"

Some heads swiveled towards him, but Crowley quickly adjusted and made his way over, panting.

"You, uh- You look very nice, Aziraphale," he said once he recovered. His was clenching his robe's sleeves.

"Oh, thank you," he replied. He himself was wearing light blue dress robes, and his sleeves had rose embroidery. His bowtie and vest were a pale pink. He had taken the trouble to arrange his hair, such that it wasn't as messy, and his cufflinks were little roses as well.

He studied Crowley, who was also looking especially nice in the colors. His eyes glowed, and his jewelry was looking tasteful and elegant.

"You look lovely," he said sincerely. Crowley's eyes widened at that, but he didn't say anything besides a hasty "Thankyouverymuch" in response.

"So, uh," started Crowley awkwardly after they exchanged greetings.

Aziraphale deflated; Crowley was still acting so strange and guarded, then? He was hoping it would have blown over by now. It had been months and months…

But then Crowley did something Aziraphale did not expect. He gently locked arms with Aziraphale, cleared his throat, and said steadily, "Should I find us a table, then?"

Aziraphale made a tiny noise of surprise. "Oh- yes, that would be fine."

Crowley led him through the bright, large, crowded room and to an empty table near the back. He pulled out Aziraphale's chair out for him, which was a surprise, and then didn't pull it out from under him before he sat down (an even bigger surprise).

"I'll get us some drinks, yeah?" he told Aziraphale. Aziraphale nodded.

He admired the room as Crowley went off. The color scheme was white and icy blue, with enchanted icicles tallying up on the ceiling arches. Tinsel draped sophisticatedly around as well. For now, the room glittered in the bright light- though if Aziraphale tilted his head to look out the high windows, he could see that it was a dark, cloudless night over the courtyard, with the moon illuminating the silhouette of the bushes. There were ice sculptures near the food area, and glowing bits of snow hovering ten or so feet above everyone's heads. All in all, it was pristine and perfectly structured.

"They really went all out, didn't they?" said a voice from next to him, after a few minutes. Aziraphale turned to see Crowley holding two wine glasses of iced pumpkin juice, smiling ruefully.

"Er, sorry it took me so long. There was a bit of a crowd."

"It's no matter," he replied. "Thank you, though."

Crowley placed the glasses on the table, and sat down in the chair right beside Aziraphale.

As in, right beside. Startlingly close. Exceedingly close.

"Um," said Aziraphale, staring point blank at the fact their thighs were pressed up next to each other. "Uh."

Crowley muttered, "Whoops," under his breath and shifted about two inches away, which was a tiny improvement, but not by much.

Aziraphale was rendered momentarily speechless at Crowley's sudden change in behavior. Just a week ago, he refused to look at him in the eye for more than two seconds, let alone touch him. And he was being so damned polite. What was he playing at?

"I heard Weird Sisters was playing tonight," Crowley told him excitedly. "Live! Can you imagine, it's going to be wicked…"

Aziraphale continued eyeing him suspiciously but nodded. "They're nice, I guess."

"Nice?" asked an affronted Crowley, raising an eyebrow at him. "They're a bit more than nice, AZ."

Aziraphale thought vaguely about how Crowley hadn't called him AZ for the last month, as so far. He took a sip of him pumpkin juice and tried again.

"They have nice instrumentals, I'll concede that much, but Midnight Bludger Fall is much better in their vocals-"

"What?!" exclaimed Crowley, turning his whole body around now. Though it wasn't as close as before, their knees were still up against each other. Aziraphale felt a bit hot under the collar. "Are you daft? Their riffing doesn't even compare to TWS…"

"It's on a different level!"

Crowley groaned and facepalmed. "AZ, I've known you for half a decade, don't tell me we've never discussed music in all that time."

"Er, I don't think we have, actually."

Crowley grinned. "Then we have a lot of catching up to do."

***

Two hours passed doing just this, and music had lent way to Quidditch, and Quidditch had lent way to teachers, and that later had lent way to simply life. Aziraphale could feel giddiness practically pumping in his veins- he was just so glad to be able to talk to Crowley again, it had been too long.

He had been starting to get lonely, even though Crowley always been physically not too far off. But when he'd see him flinching away, and becoming quieter and quieter, and simply cutting their meetings off for obviously falsified reasons, he'd feel guilty. He was drifting away, and he couldn't do a thing to stop it. He had worried that it was his fault. But now, he was starting to feel as if the distance had been amended.

"Oh, goodness, I'm hungry," he remarked when they had paused for breath. Crowley immediately straightened his back.

"Is there anything you'd like specifically from the banquet?" he asked, composed in refined tones again.

"Uh, not in particular, no-"

"Then I'll grab something for the both of us, alright?"

Aziraphale balked, again caught off guard by the uncharacteristic courtesy, but then added quickly, "Yes, that would be good."

Crowley nodded graciously. "Be back in a sec', then."

Aziraphale kept his eye on his shrinking figure. The change wasn't unwelcome, per se, he thought later as he dug into the food and resumed conversation with Crowley. It was just…new. And awfully strange, how the combination of relief at being able to talk to Crowley again added with his earnest manners made Aziraphale feel very flustered indeed.

Perhaps it was the absence of homework or a book to read, but he couldn't help but pick out details about Crowley he hadn't seen so much of in the last few years. He never realized Crowley had such nice hands, that he moved a lot. Constantly, even. They were very square, though his fingers were long and soft (he knew this only because of the time Crowley almost got the bad end of a Hex in DADA, and Aziraphale had had to grab his hand and wrench him out of the way. Crowley was much disoriented after that.) The slight downward tilt of his eyes, too, that was endearing. And his lower lashes were voluminous.

His nose, Aziraphale could not help but ogle at. It was naturally long and slightly hooked, but it also had a slight crooked bump near the top, because of him. The worst part was that he didn't even feel all that bad about it. Crowley had needed a- how could he put it pleasantly- mind jogger at the time, and in a way it had allowed the both of them to initiate a friendship, right? It was physical evidence that they had overcome their differences. Eventually.

Besides, Aziraphale thought a bit more quietly. It made him look, ah, handsome, so it wasn't really harming anyone, in the end…

After a period of time, couples began pairing up and drifting towards the clear space of tile in the middle of the room, directly under the chandelier. Aziraphale watched with interest; the music had changed to something more tender, better to waltz to. He tapped his foot along to it gently, and turned to see Crowley peering at him.

"Uh," said Crowley. His adam's apple bobbed. This was his last word for the next two songs, but on the third he cleared his throat and gave it another go.

"Wouldyouliketodanceifyoufeellikeit?"

Aziraphale looked at him in shock- sure, he had been being peculiarly sweet for the night, but this was rather, er, how could he put it- romantic, really…

The way he was sitting, too, leaning forward on his knees and eyes flitting to the sides, reminded Aziraphale of their confrontation in the Hospital Wing in third year, with their positions reversed. Crowley had initially not responded to his attempts at reconciliation, right? He shook the thought out of his head.

"Er- um, yes, that sounds like fun…" he answered, not wanting to offend.

Crowley smiled nervously, stood up, and offered him a hand. Aziraphale took it in a daze.

"What has gotten into you?" he tried asking Crowley. But he found he couldn't exactly speak, and it came out more as some mumbling that Crowley didn't hear at all.

Taller one leads, he thought dimly once Crowley placed his hand on his waist. His other hand was up in the air, waiting, so Aziraphale met him in the middle. He rested his other hand somewhere on Crowley's shoulder.

They had all gotten dance lessons prior to the outing, so they weren't lost at all, but Aziraphale certainly didn't remember the part where Crowley clasped his hand a bit tighter and more tensely than strictly necessary, nor the part where the hand on his waist pulled him vaguely closer. No, he didn't remember that part at all.

"Goodness," said Aziraphale about nothing in particular, and yet about everything at the same time. Crowley didn't say anything. He realized with horror that he was blushing. Blushing. It was just Crowley, why was he so reacting in this way?

But Crowley wasn't 'just', really, he thought in the back of his head. Crowley was- was very nice to be around, and fun, and he lifted his spirits like no other, and a thousand other things that made him in no way simply 'just.'

So perhaps he was blushing because of the fact that almost all the couples dancing were just that- couples. And he and Crowley weren't, er, dating, so people were looking and that was a good enough reason to be a little on edge, he reasoned to himself.

Not to say that he hadn't thought about it, realized Aziraphale as they spun. As in, if you spend enough time around someone, it sometimes passes through your head, right? It's only natural. But he had never taken the idea seriously, and to be frank, it made him more embarrassed than anything, though he couldn't explain why…

But now he was thinking about it again. And it sounded fascinating in the most mortifying way possible. Crowley was his best friend; he already made him feel happy, most of the time, and to even imagine that they could be in that sort of a relationship was an awfully thrilling idea.

It was also a horrible idea, he concluded hurriedly, because Crowley would probably not like him that way, and it would complicate things, and it wasn't as if Crowley was even attracted to, ah, his type in the first place, so what was the point in pursuing it? He felt a little drained at the thought.

"How do you feel about Queen?" Aziraphale croaked, trying to make conversation. "That nice muggle band, I've been looking up some of their music, very decent."

"Oh," said Crowley, not looking him in the eye as he paced backwards, holding Aziraphale. "Oh, I like them, I guess… but their songs get stuck in my head too easily. Bloody annoying when that happens."

Aziraphale let out a tense giggle, and they lapsed back into taut silence.

Yet Crowley was dancing with him, Aziraphale thought again. And in context, it could very well be a sign that he was interested- or was he just overthinking it? He kept scrutinizing the situation until his mind was so disorderly he could barely keep up dancing, and needed to take a break.

"Do you mind if we sit down?" he asked after the fourth song. "I'm getting a bit dizzy, and it's very hot…"

"Oh, yeah, sure," said Crowley. "Sorry."

"It's alright, don't worry yourself, I just need a break for a moment…" he sat down by an empty chair and caught his breath. "Gosh, it's so hot…"

Crowley regarded him shyly. "D'you wanna go outside, in the courtyard? It's a bit cold outside, if that's what you want."

"Um, yes, that would be nice," he agreed. He thought very pointedly about how he wouldn't try to do anything silly, like hold Crowley's hand or kiss him.

Now where had that thought come from? He hadn't the time to figure it out, because Crowley was already leading him outside and through the path in the bushes. There was a cold stone bench there, and he sat down. Crowley sat beside him. They waited in vague silence- the music could be heard here, although muffled, and crickets and little bugs were making their own noises.

"That was…enjoyable," said Aziraphale after a while. "You are, ah, good at dancing."

Crowley shrugged, smiling a bit at him. "No better than you, really. We got the same lessons."

"True…"

They looked at each other, and it was so silent Aziraphale could hear his heart thumping, and he searched Crowley's eyes for a sign, for a warning, and then he very quickly looked at his lips, and Crowley was only shifting closer, and-

"I think it's getting late, isn't it?" said Crowley suddenly, only inches from Aziraphale's face. His voice sounded strangely high-pitched. "I need to give you something- come to my dorm."

"Y-yes, okay," squeaked Aziraphale.

They took the outside route to the Gryffindor tower. Crowley rushed up the stairs and hallways so quickly that Aziraphale didn't have the time to speak- not that he would know what to say.

When they got to the fat lady's painting, Crowley murmured, "Phoenix song," and the portrait swung to the side, allowing them to enter.

Aziraphale crept in through the hole behind him, finding that the experience was much easier when not intoxicated. The common room itself was easier to study as well- having a clearer head, and all that. The fire bustled merrily in the fire place, but the room was once again empty.

"Curious how the only times I come here, you and I are completely alone, huh?" Aziraphale observed to Crowley.

Crowley looked at him over his back; Aziraphale realized that was probably not the best thing to say, considering the current situation. He mumbled something about strange timing.

They moved into the dorms. His room was much the same as the last time he was here, except that now Saib was perfectly still in her glass container, a thin film covering her eyes.

"She's sleeping," explained Crowley in a whisper when he saw that Aziraphale was staring at her.

"Oh."

Crowley ducked under his bed and rummaged through the rubbish, trying to find the little box he had wrapped months ago- ah, there it was. He drew it out and turned to Aziraphale, who was still standing and looking rather apprehensive. He stood up and jutted the box forward.

Aziraphale slowly took it from him, glancing between the box and Crowley's face confusedly. It was quite small, and wrapped (a little sloppily) in light green wrapping paper. There was a purple bow on top.

"Huh?"

Crowley eyed him fretfully. "Well, I don't- I don't, celebrate Christmas, obviously, but last year you had gotten me that book on Bentleys, which I really appreciated, and I felt bad that I didn't…anyways. Consider this a holiday's present. Not necessarily Christmas."

Aziraphale gave him an expression of shock and unwrapped the box wordlessly. There was a small, velvet, indigo container inside, which he opened to reveal a pendant- about the size of a knut, really- sitting in the middle. He gasped softly.

It was a flower, a creamy white, and the edges of the four petals curved up gently, revealing they were gold on the other side. The center was also a delicate little gold hub.

"Is- is this-"

"Dogwood?" finished Crowley for him. He stuck his hands in his dress robe pockets and shrugged as nonchalantly as possible. "Yeah."

"Oh, Crowley…" murmured Aziraphale, still staring at it in his hands. "Oh, I can't possibly…"

"Hey," said Crowley, a stern look on his face. "You have to accept it. Spent a good number of galleons on it, and it isn't my color at all, so it can't even be put to good use if you don't want it." He gave Saib a sidelong glance and added in a lower voice, "Besides, I still feel sorta bad about that whole incident in Honeydukes last year, and I really am sorry if I made you uncomfortable or something, but you shouldn't have to be ashamed, and I figured if I could put away the shades then you could maybe wear-"

"Crowley," stated Aziraphale. This was all the warning he got before Aziraphale enveloped him in a crushing hug.

"AZ…watch the lungs, I sort of need them…" he rasped. Aziraphale released him, beaming widely.

"Oh, thank you, Crowley, I'm going to wear this as much as possible, thank you so much.." he gibbered. He grabbed Crowley's wrist.

"I have a present too, y'know," he told him seriously. "You're going to have to come to my dorms."

"Um, alright," replied Crowley, trying not to look at Aziraphale's hand around his wrist.

They again made the journey, but Aziraphale was so enamored with the pendant that he said nothing, rather admiring it in lieu of conversation. Crowley was (intensely) pleased to see that he liked it.

"What goes down but never goes up?" asked the knocker, once the got there.

"Raindrops, raindrops," answered Aziraphale impatiently. The door shifted open, and he pulled Crowley in.

They hurried up the stairs, for although the room was empty Aziraphale had a feeling it wouldn't be soon. A Gryffindor in the Ravenclaw common room would be beyond scandalous, he told Crowley. It would be treason.

He hurried into the fifth-years room and opened his bedside drawer, searching insistently through the clutter until he found the tiny purple bag. There it was. The- guilty- fruit of his labor.

He handed it to Crowley, giddy with excitement (and a certain amount of shame, creeping up like ivy the back of his neck). Crowley took it in his hands carefully, opened it, and dug through the colored paper until his fingers brushed something hard. He pulled it out. His jaw fell.

"No way," he mouthed. "Aziraphale, how in the fucking world…"

He twirled the snake bracelet in his hand, and its tiny red gleamed up at him in the lamplight. It threw reflections across his hands, in every shade of green and gold.

"How did you- there's no way you could've afforded this, and there's no way your Uncle Gregory would have lent you that much…"

Aziraphale's face fell a bit. "Yes, I…er…" he fiddled with his robe sleeves. "Mayhavestoleit."

Crowley's jaw dropped. "You didn't."

Aziraphale looked pained. "I mean, you wanted it so badly, and you're actually a nice parseltongue, so no one else would have really deserved it as much, and I swear I left ten galleons on the table, I just couldn't allow someone else to get it, oh, goodness, I'm reprehensible, I know…"

Crowley shook his head in disbelief.

"I….wow. Wow. Thanks, mate," he breathed. "This is the best…I wouldn't even have expected…"

He tried his very hardest not to fall to Aziraphale's feet, and instead hugged him tightly. When he pulled away, Aziraphale's face was red, but he was smiling again.

"I'm going to need to fly soon," reckoned Crowley once he slipped the bracelet on. He found that it felt right, against his wrist and bangles, a heavy, cold sort of weight.

Aziraphale nodded. "The other Ravenclaws are going to make their way in any moment now, and you don't want to be caught here."

"We'll talk later, yeah?" affirmed Crowley as he made his way to the door. "So, uh…bye, I s'pose." It was a pathetic way to end the night, he thought, and yet he couldn't think of anything else to say.

Aziraphale felt conflicted, and then made a decision. He bounded to the door and grabbed Crowley by the shoulder as he made his way out, causing him to start and spin around at the doorway.

"Eh?"

"I-um. I wanted to thank you again for the gift," Aziraphale said breathlessly. "And, ah, tonight was very fun, so thank you for being so, um, kind, so, uh, yes…"

He darted forward and quickly pecked Crowley on the cheek, then backed off equally as quickly. The last thing he saw before hurriedly closing the door was Crowley's shocked- but gratified- face turning a curious flushed color.

***

On Valentine's, Crowley snuck next to Aziraphale at dinner, and left a little box of sweets without a word.

In return, Crowley received delicate, pink flower at his study session with Aziraphale later that night.

"Convolvulus," said Azirphale lightly. "They symbolize-"

"Friendship?" Crowley interrupted, steeling himself to be reminded of his very platonic relationship indeed, yet again.

Aziraphale raised an eyebrow. "…Bonds of affection, dear," he finished, and went back to his book.

Crowley found it hard to keep his heartbeat down after this, but to his great delight, saw that if he looked hard enough- Aziraphale's cheeks were definitely brushed a warm pink, as well.

***

Before they knew it, it was April. The skies were gloomy, but the ground was lush with springy new grass, and the whole school began smelling like fresh earth for hours on end.

Aziraphale had begun taking it upon himself to pay visits to Crowley at the Gryffindor table, to even out the visits Crowley already gave him. The decision wasn't at all produced because of his new and exciting crush on him, oh no, why would one think that?

On one such visit he saw Crowley with his head in his hand as the other wrote quickly in a scrawl on parchment paper. It was a letter, Aziraphale realized, which was strange for Crowley- his aversion to owls usually meant he informed Aziraphale at least a few days prior that he needed him to send this letter on Silas, oh please Aziraphale, can you do it, you know how I feel about those brutish birds, especially the ones in the corner of the owlery, Hastur and Ligur, they've shat on me before, filthy buggers…

And Aziraphale would slip the envelope in his pocket and send it, which was the usual course of events. But Crowley hadn't told him about this at all. Not to mention he looked rather strained about it.

"Hallo, Crowley," he said pleasantly as he placed himself beside him. Crowley immediately scrambled to cover the paper, a panicked expression on his face. On his other side, Scarlett plucked his bowl of cereal away from him such that it wouldn't teeter and fall over, and peered at Aziraphale with an inquisitive expression.

"Am I interrupting something…?" he asked once Crowley had wrestled the letter into Scarlett's hands.

"Yes!" exclaimed Crowley, still frazzled. He took a few breaths. "Wait, as in…I was writing something private, see…"

Aziraphale raised an eyebrow at the fact the letter was in Scarlett's hands. She stuck her tongue out at him.

"Oh, I mean, Scarlett knows already, so-"

"Knows what?"

Crowley rolled his eyes while Scarlett nodded sagely. "I dunno, AZ, stuff!"

"Why aren't I allowed to know?" asked Aziraphale. His voice was much more petulant than he'd intended.

"Because, AZ. Because."

"Whose owl are you using, then?"

"Scarlett's, you poof. Now sod off." And with that Crowley pushed him away from the table, saying that he'll talk to him in Transfiguration, but he's a bit busy now, so thank you very much…

It bothered Aziraphale a little bit, but not enough that he fretted over it. What was actually worrisome was the fact Crowley was on edge for the rest of the week.

He noticed that he was picking at his nails when he had nothing to do with his hands, that he was bleary and unfocused during classes, and at one point he excused himself for several breakfasts in a row on account of feeling queasy. As much as it wasn't his place to intervene, he knew that he wouldn't stand to see his friend spiral downwards. He had to at least try.

"Are you feeling quite alright?" he whispered to him in Herbology, when Crowley accidentally cut off too much off a shrivelfig (for the third time).

Crowley looked at him confoundedly. Even through the goggles, Aziraphale could see that there were two violet crescents under his eyes.

"I'm- I'm fine, why do you ask?"

"You seem to be a little stressed, dear."

"Really?"

"Does this have anything to do with that letter…?"

"That's none of your business!" he replied sharply. He snapped off yet another hefty chunk from the poor plant.

"Alright, alright…" said Aziraphale composedly, and did not bother him again.

This went on for two weeks, until across the Great Hall, Aziraphale saw a majestic Red Owl swoop in through the windows and drop a letter square onto Crowley's head. The bird perched itself on Scarlett's shoulder, who was right next to Crowley- as always- and she stroked it lovingly.

Crowley deliberately opened the letter. He was biting his lower lip extremely hard, Aziraphale noted with concern, and his brow was furrowed.

Scarlett sent off her owl with food, and then read over his shoulder as well. Her eyes flit over the page, and as she reached the bottom she raised her eyebrows, began smiling, and then beat Crowley on the back in what Aziraphale imagined to be a comforting manner (though looked rather painful from his angle).

Crowley had lifted a hand to his mouth. His eyes looked strangely shiny, even from two tables across. He suddenly ducked his head into the crook of Scarlett's neck, who pat him more gently on his back, and then he hastily got up, gathered his stuff, and hurried his way out of the Great Hall.

What was going on? Aziraphale got up, fully intending to follow him, but a rather firm hand stopped him by the hood as he got to the exit. Jerked him back, more like.

"I don't think so, Ingladus."

He turned around. It was Scarlett in all her redheaded and freckled glory, and she was tapping her foot a trifle testily.

"Not gonna happen," she repeated. "Give him some space, why don't you?"

"We have classes soon!"

"He can afford to skip a few," she retorted, rolling her eyes.

But- but he's crying, I think, I can't just-"

"'I' can't just?! Oh, that's rich. I saw he was crying too, angelface, you think I wouldn't been on top of it if it were an issue?"

Aziraphale looked away, cringing. "Well- I don't, exactly, know of your nature all too well, so I reasoned…"

"You thought I don't care about Crow down there?" She shook her head, and Aziraphale saw that her eyes looked a bit brighter than usual. The students in the Great Hall were beginning to get restless, Aziraphale thought fuzzily, there was such clamor the background...

"Let me get something clear up front," she continued, a terrifying lilt to her voice as the commotion behind them increased. "Crowley's my friend, too, and if anyone- anyone- tries to mess about with my friends, they'll get it."

She said this in such an intimidating manner that Aziraphale didn't even ask what 'it' was. He just knew he did not want to deal with it. He gulped, nodded, turned around to make his way back to his seat, only to bear witness to the largest, most violent food fight to occur in Hogwarts history happening right in front of his eyes.

"My god," he whispered as a cream pie nearly struck him in the face. "How…?"

Scarlett smiled lazily at the ruckus, then gave Aziraphale a sidelong glance. "Run along, now, Ingladus, Transfiguration will be starting any moment now…"

Aziraphale got to class in record time.

***

"You and Scarlett and a handful of others were the only clean ones," groaned Sable, later that week. "Ugh, d'you have any idea how dreadful that is, being covered and smothered by food? Thought I was going to hurl on the spot, truly did…"

Aziraphale nodded weakly as he plucked another book out from the stack in front of him.

O.W.L.'s last minute cramming was a fifth year tradition, and though it was only the beginning of May, he knew he had only little time left. Crowley was working on his Care of Magical Creatures project ("I cannot believe this, AZ, I really can't- an essay on flobberworms. What's there to say? It's a bloody right worm, except without the class."). And so Aziraphale and Sable planned their own study sessions in the library.

"It was a bit convenient, wasn't it…?" murmured Aziraphale distantly as he took notes on the same section of a book for the third time.

"How come you and Scarlett were having a row?"

"Something…about Crowley….doesn't matter, Sable, please let me finish these notes…"

Sable scowled. "Zirah, you've taken enough notes on that part. I want to know, Scarlett told me-"

"Told you what?!" interrupted Aziraphale. Was she- was she telling everyone what was going on in that letter except for him-

"Whoa, settle down!" Sable shook his head. "Look. She just told me that it had to do with you, sort of. So I was going to ask you."

"Oh…"

"So?"

Aziraphale drew his eyebrows together in puzzlement. "I didn't know it was about me, I had no idea. Crowley won't tell me anything."

Sable whistled. "Well, alrighhttt. If you insist." He took out a half finished essay and a new quill, and then looked up again. "What is your relationship with that Anthony, anyways?"

Aziraphale stumbled. "What- whatever do you mean?"

"I mean you two seem like best mates- and I don't want to delve into analyzing that monstrosity of a friendship, it makes no sense, you two aren't even a little alike…unholy, if you ask me….Anyways. You two went to Yule together, didn't you?"

"I mean- yes, as friends," stammered Aziraphale.

Sable studied his face, and then shrugged. "If you insist that's all there is," he said neutrally, and went back to his paper.

Aziraphale picked at this nails. He trusted Sable, but he had no idea how his reaction would play out, and yet…It would be nice to have at least one person know. He chewed the inside of his mouth, and then said in an extremely rushed voice,

"IthinkImightfancyhimmaybe."

Sable raised his eyebrows, gave Aziraphale a calculating look, and leaned back in his chair.

"Heavy stuff, Zirah. You mean romantically, correct?"

Aziraphale nodded slightly. His face felt warm.

"Have you tried to go after him?"

He shook his head. "No, I doubt….he'd return the feelings, and it's easier to, ah, admire from afar, right…"

Sable tsked. "That's not any good. You'll be starving your heart."

"You think so?"

"Mmhmm. So- and you don't need to answer this if you don't want to, of course, I'm just a bit curious- are you gay, then?"

Aziraphale shrunk into his seat. "I don't know, I've never really liked anyone besides Crowley, this is my first- y'know, er, crush…"

Sable cocked his head. "Okay. Well, this is a bit like you coming out to me, right?"

"I suppose," peeped Aziraphale.

"Do you want me to tell you I'll support you and still love you and all that?"

"Do you?" he asked nervously.

"Yeah, of course, mate."

"Oh. Well…um. That's good."

"Yeah."

They stared at each other. Aziraphale squirmed in his seat. Sable tapped his long, thin fingers on the paper in front of him, and suddenly his face lit up.

"I know! We should celebrate this. Mort can get us some elderflower wine pronto, he's older and can take from the Slytherin supply."

"Celebrate?"

"Yeah. Make it all positive, I've heard loads about this sorta stuff."

"But I'm a prefect, Sable-"

"What, prefects have to be straight?"

"No, god- I meant alcohol, Sable, alcohol."

"What about it?"

"We aren't allowed!" he squeaked.

Sable smirked. "You think I'm a dunce, don't you? You were at that party at the Slytherin house earlier this year, and you were more shitfaced than half of the people in there."

"Was not! I was only- um- a tad squiffy, that's the word-"

"Utterly sloshed."

"-'Sides, Crowley was the one who convinced me to go, anyways-"

"Arseholed, even."

"-It was a party, and I was curious, is that such a crime-"

"Zirah. I'm getting the wine, alright?"

"-I. I…" he sighed, and his shoulders fell, admitting defeat.

"D'you have any other requests?"

There was a pause.

"…Red currant rum."

Sable smiled thinly. "Perfect."

***

Aziraphale stared at the broom on the ground, then at Crowley, and then at the broom again.

"Excuse me?"

"You heard me, Ingladus. Up."

"And what brought this on, exactly?"

Crowley stretched his hands out behind him, relishing the feel of the Chaser's gloves in the agreeable May air. "'Cause Scarlett lent me her gloves, and the pitch is empty, and I've never seen you fly."

"That's because I don't, Crowley," Aziraphale maintained flatly.

"Sure you do, you're a wizard. You have to have done it once."

Aziraphale rolled his eyes. "Just because you give me a- what is this one, anyways-" he twisted his neck to read the cursive silver engraving on the side of the broom. "-Just because you give me a Comet 290 doesn't mean I know how to fly it."

The grass was springy out on the field, and there was barely any wind at all. A decent day for flying- which, for Crowley, was a privilege reserved for summer visits to the Kuryg's household.

But Scarlett had chosen to be generous today, bypassing flying for a Hogsmeade trip with Mort ("We need some more family time, I swear," she had explained the day before), leaving Crowley with her younger brother's Chaser's gloves, her broom, and a heavy death threat lest anything happened to the latter.

"I can't believe you made me skip the Hogsmeade trip for this hogwash," Aziraphale grumbled as he placed his textbooks and bag aside. He picked up the broom carefully. "It's so nice outside, the castle's empty, all our friends are in town, and we're loitering around looking at brooms."

Crowley tsked. "Maybe if you cooperate, we can stop looking at brooms, and start riding them."

"I can think of better things to ride," Aziraphale said passively as he twirled the broom around.

Crowley stared at him, disbelieving. Did Aziraphale just- no, he couldn't have-

"What?"

"Hm?" Aziraphale hummed listlessly. And Crowley decided not to ask again.

"Er," Crowley started after enough time had passed. "Seriously, though, d'you want to at least give it a go?"

Aziraphale looked up again, face screwed up in suspicion. "Where'd you learn to fly, anyways? Can't be at home, and we never did much excluding those mandatory Pince classes…"

Crowley grinned widely. "Scarlett taught me summer of second year," he proclaimed proudly. "She's really good, too. And all her brothers and sisters too. And her parents. Ace teachers, if you ask me."

Aziraphale looked mildly queasy, recalling Scarlett's manner of flying on the field, erratic and bold and dangerous. What made the image even more threatening was the thick Beater's bat secured in her hands. He shuddered- no, that wouldn't do, that wouldn't do at all.

"Uh, no," he said stoutly, handing the broom back to Crowley. "The last time I flew, it was on a toy broom, and I was about five years old. I think that's quite enough for me."

Crowley pouted. Aziraphale glared.

"Fine!" he snapped, wrenching the broom back from Crowley. God knew how much power he reigned with that damned face. "One quick round, and then I'm done. Okay?"

Crowley nodded excitedly.

Aziraphale, a little less thrilled than Crowley, mounted the broom and kicked off, holding his breath. To his intense happiness, the broom held in the air, only wavering the tiniest bit.

To Crowley's intense disappointment, Aziraphale seemed to refuse to go higher than about three feet off the ground.

"Come on, AZ, I want to see some action!"

"This is the most action you're getting in your life," Aziraphale said dryly from his position in the air, and yet again, Crowley was unsure as to whether he had just been sorely insulted or not.

"Come back down," Crowley said glumly after a stretch of time. Clearly Aziraphale wasn't going anywhere.

Aziraphale felt a pang of guilt as he gently lowered down. It's just that he wasn't the most comfortable on brooms; but on the other hand, he didn't want to disappoint Crowley, either (on the very contrary, something inside him said, he wanted to make Crowley laugh, to make Crowley blush, to make Crowley happier beyond his wildest dreams- but that was something else entirely, completely irrelevant.).

"Um," he said in a small voice, once both of his feet were firmly back on the ground. "If- if you want, you know, I'd feel safer in the air if someone was… with me, just as a guide, it's been so long-"

Crowley's face lit up, and the slight weight on Aziraphale's head lifted.

"I'll sit behind you, then?" he asked sunnily. Aziraphale nodded, and felt his stomach jump as Crowley climbed on behind him, his chest pressing into Aziraphale's back, his forearms just beginning to glance his midsection as Crowley's hands crept forward to get ahold of the broom as well.

"Ready?" Crowley asked, his mouth moving almost against Aziraphale's hair. Aziraphale himself did not trust himself to speak, and continued nodding until suddenly, with one strong kick, they were five, ten, twenty, forty feet high.

"Ohhhhh," he said weakly, heartbeat uneven as he looked down at the retreating grass and increasing distance. "Oh, goodness, would you… look at that…"

"Don't look down," chastised Crowley gently. He steadied the broom. "Look at the castle, isn't it pretty from here?"

Aziraphale looked up shakily, and realized Crowley was right. Against the backdrop of the periwinkle sky, the castle looked magnificent, in shades of copper and cobalt stone.

"Ah," he said, as if surprised.

"Do you want to move around a little, now?"

"Can- can you…"

"Sure."

Crowley directed to broom to follow the outside rim of the pitch, and they sat in companionable silence as they hovered along. Aziraphale found that as time passed he was beginning to feel more and more at home on the broom. As if he was meant to be in the air, to some extent- as if he understood somewhere inside him how flying was really meant to be.

"Crowley?" he asked softly. "D'you think I can try a hand at it now?"

Crowley paused, before saying equally as quietly, "Yeah, go on."

Aziraphale took a deep breath and concentrated. The broom drifted forwards as intended, then jerked a bit, up and down, knocking the both of them about- but after a few moments of turbulence, he was able to get the hang of it, even managing to vary heights and speed just a bit.

Aziraphale glanced down at the handle and saw his hands, white-knuckled in their grip on the cherry wood, and right under them, Crowley's.

Heart thumping, he inched his hands downwards so they just covered Crowley's fingers. He just wanted to have something to hold on to, he reasoned, in case he was nervous, in case-

The thought promptly died in his head as he felt Crowley bury his face into his hood, from the behind. He could feel the smile through the cloth.

Well, perhaps flying wasn't too bad after all.

***

Eventually May slid out of sight, and exams started up as ordained. Fifth and seventh years bustled feverishly, studying during meals as food dribbled onto their textbooks, reading under desks while they simultaneously copied the notes from the board, creating large mass study sessions during which the library was swamped with stressed teenagers while testing went on.

"I can't believe this," Aziraphale had fretted as he crammed for History of Magic across Crowley, the both of them leaning against opposite book shelves. Open table space was low at the time. "We barely covered this unit and we're getting tested on it- The Ministry Education board can't play games like this, it's not fair!"

"Whoo-eee," had said Crowley. "Where have you been?"

The end of the second week of June brought the test results. Aziraphale did not open his, but rather kept it crammed in his pocket, waiting for the absolutely unavoidable moment.

This turned out to be three days after he received the foreboding paper. He and Crowley were nestled against a large tree right by the lake, a careful four inches away from each other. Other students walked the length of the lake in the distance. The sun streamed down through the leaves just as a breeze blew through, and it was more or less a perfect day, if not for the weight in Aziraphale's side where the letter sat.

"Come on, AZ. Just open it."

"You haven't opened yours either!" he snapped.

"I mean…that's different…" muttered Crowley.

Aziraphale gave him a decidedly unimpressed look. "Fine. I'll look at it, no thanks to your goading."

Crowley looked on with interest as Aziraphale slowly, slowly crept the paper out of its manila envelope, and unfolded it.

Aziraphale Ingladus, O.W.L.s

Pass Grades:
Outstanding (O)
Exceeds Expectations (E)
Acceptable (A)

Fail Grades:
Poor (P)
Dreadful (D)
Troll (T)

  • Astronomy: O
  • Charms: O
  • Defense Against the Dark Arts: O
  • Divination: A
  • Herbology: E
  • History of Magic: O
  • Potions: E
  • Study of Ancient Runes: O
  • Transfiguration: O

"Whoa, AZ! Niceeee, you passed everything! And how many…six Outstanding's out of nine, Christ, that's impressive."

Aziraphale shakily smiled. "Could've done better in Potions and Herbology…" he mumbled dazedly, but he was very much pleased otherwise. A weight had left his mind.

Crowley rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, don't show off." He took his own paper out, and now it was Aziraphale's turn to look.

Anthony Jal Crowley, O.W.L.s

Pass Grades:
Outstanding (O)
Exceeds Expectations (E)
Acceptable (A)

Fail Grades:
Poor (P)
Dreadful (D)
Troll (T)

  • Astronomy: A
  • Care of Magical Creatures: E
  • Charms: E
  • Defense Against the Dark Arts: O
  • Divination: P
  • Herbology: O
  • History of Magic: D
  • Potions: O
  • Transfiguration: A

"Oh no," he moaned. "Amma's going to murder me, I bombed History of Magic…"

"You don't need to tell her about the grading scale," Aziraphale said quietly. "She's not here to find out…"

The look of shock he got from Crowley right after his suggestion made him blush.

"What's this, Aziraphale, are you suggesting I do something theoretically…immoral?"

"You're a bad influence!" the other huffed.

Crowley wiped an invisible tear from his eye, smiling callously. "I'm so proud of my work, ah, they grow up so fast."

"Bugger off."

Crowley laughed at that as they both tucked away their papers. They rested in silence, watching slow ripples undulate through the dark lake, appreciating the sound of birds in the background.

"So…" started Aziraphale after a while, looking down at his folded hands. "I'm not sure if I can come over again this summer… I signed up to do volunteer work at St. Mungo's, and it starts in a few weeks and goes on through till the beginning of sixth year." He cringed a bit. "I apologize for not telling you earlier."

"No, no, it's fine, actually," said Crowley mildly. "My parents aren't allowing anyone to come over this summer, I don't think… Scarlett might try to drop in, regardless, but that'll be for maybe two days, she lives close by enough."

"Why aren't they allowing people to come?"

"Oh. Well." Crowley ran his tongue along the inside of his mouth. "They decided we should have some 'alone time', as a family."

"Anything that brought that on?"

Crowley was quiet for a long time. To Aziraphale's alarm, he was beginning to look vaguely panicked.

"Are- are you quite alright, dear?" he asked urgently.

Crowley nodded, his lips pursed tight, and then suddenly he let out a huge breath and began speaking very quickly.

"You -Y'know how in April I was writing that letter and I wouldn't let you see what it was? It was, uh, it was a letter to my folks, see, and I was- I was coming out to them and it had me a little high-strung, if you noticed, and Scarlett was allowed to see it because, because, because I already had come out to her in December, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to tell you yet, so I was hiding it." His face was red, and he wasn't looking at Aziraphale at all as he took another large breath.

"Anyways my family told me they still, love me and all that, and that they think it's high time we spent time together as a family again, no distractions, and I said fine, certainly. And I thought you should know now, because you're my best mate and all, that I'm not straight and, um, that's that." He pressed his lips together again, and his forehead creased a bit, but was otherwise mute.

"Oh," breathed Aziraphale. He didn't know what to say. He looked up at the rustling bright green leaves, while Crowley drew his knees in to his body and tucked his head in the crook. There was a pause.

"Do you- you don't mind, do you?" stammered Crowley very faintly. His words were muffled by his position.

"Not in the least," Aziraphale said unclearly. He was still reeling.

There was a longer break, before Crowley shifted his head slightly to the left, such that he could see Aziraphale from his station atop his knees, and asked in the tiniest, barest voice:

"We can, um, still be friends, right…?"

Aziraphale turned and stared at him in blank astonishment; And Crowley held his gaze with a sudden fierceness, as if daring Aziraphale to try to hurt him now, to throw him under the bus, make his day. He wouldn't go down without a fight.

"Crowley…" he said softly, voice strained. "I'm your best mate. Of course we're still friends."

Crowley ducked his head back into his knees, but Aziraphale could see that the tips of his ears were becoming a hot red.

"Crowley," he sighed. "I don't think any less or any more of you. I'm…honored that you feel comfortable enough to tell me, and I still love you just as much."

"You're sure, yeah?" drifted Crowley's voice out from between his legs.

"Absolutely certain."

He crooked his head out and let out a little smile. Aziraphale returned it.

"Oh, and Aziraphale?" said Crowley, now lifting his head completely and gently setting his legs back down.

"Yes?"

"I know you and Sable got pissed without me. Scarlett told me."

"I- Well, Mort got the-"

"A perfect prefect indeed," crooned Crowley. But he grinned at him right after, and Aziraphale found that despite himself, he could only smile in agreement.

***

 

Year Six:

"Prefects get a bloody nice carriage, don't they now?"

Aziraphale spun around from where he was standing by the window. "Huh?"

Crowley was leaning against the entrance of the spacious compartment, smirking as he watched Aziraphale recognize him. His hair was falling into his eyes, there were little gold rings on his knuckles, and he was wearing the most self-assured grin Aziraphale had ever seen.

"Crowley?"

"Yes, Crowley- did you forget my name already?" he crooned airily as he sauntered his way over.

"Oh- don't be smug, I can see you haven't stopped growing, yet, big deal," replied Aziraphale. But it was a big deal. Quite literally, a big deal. Kind of intimidating.

"Managed to get just a smidge under 183 centimeters this summer," Crowley boasted. "Very ideal." He eyed Aziraphale critically, pondering. "How about you?"

"173 is perfectly respectable," said Aziraphale sharply. "Right, Silas?"

Silas hooted from his cage besides him, and Crowley most definitely jerked.

"You- you- Warn me before-"

"Before what? Before I say hello to my owl?" said Aziraphale, sugar sweet.

Crowley scowled. "Nice you see you again too, little bugger," he grumbled. But his expression softened into something more embarrassed as he bent down to hug the other, as per usual at their first meetings after the summer.

"How've you been?" asked Aziraphale, now amiable. "How are Sheza-auntie and Eshan-uncle? Did you have fun with them?"

Crowley smiled ruefully. "They were good. We went to France for a bit, apparently they had planned that without telling me as some sort of surprise. It was nice, though. You?"

"Volunteering took up all my time," explained Aziraphale. "Some of the patients that came through, I swear, the most wild, strange things! One had enchanted her plants to catch mice, the dear was allergic to cats- but one cactus got especially nasty, and- well, the rest is self-explanatory, I'd think."

"Youch."

"Yeah," sighed Aziraphale. "And there were tonnes of other mishaps and injuries, I was on constant run."

Crowley asked if he had come upon any cases of a certain sexual sort- there was a very interesting muggle case that had occurred recently that involved batteries that just would not give out, and an object being lodged a little too firmly up somewhere- and found that Aziraphale could pull off being flustered and exasperated at the same time admirably.

"Absolutely not," Aziraphale huffed. "And as if they'd assign a 16 year old to handle that sort of stuff, honestly, Crowley…" A curious expression came over his face, and then suddenly he was indignant.

"Crowley, you- who told you that you could come in the prefects carriage?!"

Crowley's eyes widened. "What? I just wanted to say hi-"

"Oh, Crowley," Aziraphale moaned. "You aren't allowed to be here, I would've sought you out later, I can get in trouble for this…"

"Why?" asked Crowley, spreading his hands. "There's not one other damn person here in this bloody huge carriage 'cept for us!"

Aziraphale shook his head. "Protocol, dear, protocol." He began to push Crowley towards the door. "The meeting's going to start in five minutes, either way, so you better get a move on now…"

"You can't just kick me out, we've barely spoken for what- two minutes-"

"I'll find you later, I promise," soothed Aziraphale, driving Crowley farther backwards.

Crowley attempted to dig his heels into the carpet as a last move. "Come on, AZ, let me stay, I'll be good, please or I'll- I'll tell all of your prefect lot just how much Firewhiskey you had that last party-"

Aziraphale froze, and Crowley basked in his momentary success until he was wrenched down by the tie such that he was eye-level with him.

"You do that, my dear, and you'll very quickly find how hard it is for me to turn a blind-eye on all the dung-bomb traps you and Scarlett set up at night," hissed Aziraphale. "My, I might even just report at this meeting that it was you behind the fiasco with the bewitched vegetables that occurred last year, Head Boy and Girl are still dying to find out…"

"Oh," Crowley warbled. "Right, you are, then."

Aziraphale let the tie slip out from his hand and watched as Crowley spun on his foot and left, in an apparent daze- but Crowley himself could not figure if the stupor had been brought on from threat, or for the fact he had been seriously entertaining the idea of kissing the other from the close proximity.

Probably both.

***

"It's- it's only the first day of classes!" exclaimed Aziraphale.

"So?"

"So, do you recognize this potion at all?"

The potions classroom was already bubbling with new, readymade brews, which was a surprise in of itself. Aziraphale and Crowley had quickly chosen the table in the front, closest to the door. Crowley did it because he wanted to leave class as soon as possible. Aziraphale did it so he could get to his next class as soon as possible. It was a win-win situation, either way.

Crowley peered with mild interest at the little gold cauldron in front of them. There was a shimmery rose concoction inside, and it gave off steam in perfect, lazy swirls.

"Nah," he admitted. He leaned forward, trying to get a better whiff of the scents the potion was emitting, for there seemed to be more than one smell; The earthy mustiness of a greenhouse just misted, sharp incense, the berry shampoo his mother used, and something between a cross of books with a light smattering of flowers. It was all enticing and very lovely.

"Wow," he breathed, trying to gulp down more of the aroma. "Oh, wow, but it smells wonderful…"

"That's not advisable," said Aziraphale dryly. He gripped the back of Crowley's uniform and reigned him into his seat once more. "Too much of the fragrance alone can cause some mild effects, and though they'll wear off in no time, it's still inconvenient."

"Whaddya mean?" asked Crowley absent-mindedly. "What effects? What even is this?"

"Amortentia," stated Slughorn, pacing and stopping in front of their table. "Do either of you know what that is?"

Aziraphale nodded, his curly hair bouncing into his eyes. "It's the most powerful love potion in the world!"

"Indeed," said Slughorn. "Although the name is misleading, because…?"

"Because," continued Aziraphale, "There's no such thing as a potion that inspires true love, as so far. Amortentia only causes intense obsession, or infatuation."

"Good, good," said Slughorn contently, awarding Ravenclaw ten points before moving on. Aziraphale glowed.

"Love potion?" asked Crowley again, just to verify.

"Yes. That's why it gives off the perfume of that what we love- and why," he stressed again, pinching Crowley at the elbow, "You really ought to stop trying to inhale it, what did I just tell you? Stop leaning over it now, really."

Crowley scowled and inched backwards. A thought struck him.

"What do you smell?"

"Me?" said Aziraphale. "Oh, well-" he took a tiny whiff and considered. "Well, first editions, and- and cocoa, and, um, freshly brewed tea…" His eyes grew distant. "Flowers… Blueberry scones, Silas, slushy ice… cotton air-freshener." Here his eyebrows twitched and he squinted, as if to locate a particularly tricky smell. "Er- cinnamon? No, no, I think it's turmeric, turmeric and something else. The little smoky bit you get after a candle's blown out, I think, and a hint of plants, but drier…"

He opened his mouth, locked eyes with Crowley, and something clicked. Suddenly his face was flushed as pink as the potion.

"Oh."

"Oh, what?" Crowley asked skeptically.

He shook his head, took out his textbook, and buried his head in it, his shoulders hunched up in a high collar around him. Crowley eyed him suspiciously, but shrugged. He began his own reading.

But the smell beckoned him throughout the process, clouding his senses, smoothing out against his face and then washing up again like waves. Was that engine oil? And apple pie?

He glanced to the side to ascertain that Aziraphale wasn't looking, then leaned over and took one final, big inhalation. By the time Aziraphale realized what had happened, it was too late.

"Crowley! Crowley, what did I tell you, there are effects, you dolt-"

He pulled Crowley back and set him back in the seat, but he was already in another world.

"Crowley," he enunciated worriedly, waving his hand in front of the other's face. "Crowley, are you alright?"

"Yes," said Crowley in a voice that didn't sound all right at all to Aziraphale. "I'm perfect. Stupendous. Magnificent."

"Um… are you certain? You sound a bit too, er, musical."

"Do I? Huh." He studied his own hands, and then turned to Aziraphale and stared at him intently.

"Crowley?"

"AZ…" he shook his head, and then set his hands against Aziraphale's leg and leaned forward. Aziraphale tried not to shy away, but the butterflies in his stomach weren't easing the job for him.

"…Yes, dear?" he asked weakly.

"You have… Amazing eyes. The color of the sky. Mindblowing."

"Oh," stated Aziraphale. His ears turned red. He plainly didn't look Crowley in the eye with his next sentence. "That's, um, very nice. Thank you. Professor? Yes, erm- my partner, he's seemed to have inhaled too much of the Amortentia fumes, and the Rose-Tinted Glasses effect is laying in."

"He's going to have to wait it out," Slughorn told him from a distance away. "Antidotes require too much effort for mild fume-poisoning. Don't worry, boy," he added, waving an unconcerned hand. "The Rose-Tinted Glasses effect is not as bad as the book makes it to be- he's just going to be a little over affectionate and lost. You might need to keep an extra special eye on him, but it'll pass in a few hours, mark my words."

"I see," Aziraphale all but whimpered as Crowley tried in vain to- to hold his hand.

"Crowley!" he eventually hissed. "We can't- you can't hold hands with me right now!"

"Well, why not?" enquired Crowley, sounding a bit hurt.

"We're in potions class."

"So?"

"It's not exactly appropriate," he said desperately.

"Why's that?" Crowley asked. There was an edge of confusion to his voice.

"PDA is banned in classroom settings, r-romantic or platonic, and I need to use my hand to write, so, er-"

"How about," started Crowley excitedly, "You give me the hand you aren't using for writing, and we do it under the table?"

"I- Crowley, no."

"Why?" he shot back, in a childishly stubborn voice.

"Because, dear," Aziraphale sighed tiredly, his face an even shade of pink. "Because. Let's just finish our work, how about that."

Crowley wrinkled his forehead and then shrugged, accepting defeat. Or so, Aziraphale thought, until a bit later when he very definitely felt his hair being pet.

"What in God's name are you doing?!"

"Very soft," remarked Crowley matter-of-factly. "I like it."

"Get your hands off my head."

"I always imagined it would be a lot stiffer, thought you didn't comb it much."

"Wh- I brush my hair everyday!"

"Really?" Crowley observed with interest. "Cool. Cool."

Aziraphale's face was burning. But all Crowley had to say to that was that the color of his face was especially exquisite, which if anything, made matters worse.

***

"I- I did what?" whispered Crowley, horror creeping into his voice.

"Where do I begin," Scarlett laughed. "Oh, man, it was a right-on mess. The whole standard saw. The whole school saw."

Crowley sank lower in the common room seat, head clutched in his hands, as Scarlett regaled him.

"First, I had a first class ticket to watching you trying to make grabs at his hand in Potions. Then you pet his hair, and when class was dismissed I'm almost certain you tried to hug him. I have never, ever seen angelface that eager to leave a classroom. Then in the halls, you followed him around and kept jabbering about how nice he was, not that was another fiasco... 'Oh, Aziraphale, you're so perfect. Oh, AZ, you're the best sort of friend, I really like you, you know that? Oh, Aziraphale, kiss me.'"

Crowley sputtered.

"Okay, okay, you didn't say the last part," Scarlett conceded. "But the rest, well… let's just say Ingladus looked like a tomato for the rest of the day. And I'm not certain, but I think- I think- that you tried to kiss his hand during palm-reading in Divination, but either he jerked back to quick, or all that incense was messing with my head."

"Oh my god," breathed Crowley through his hands. "Oh my god, it's all over."

"Don't worry, sweet," chimed Scarlett. "He's probably in Ravenclaw tower right now, convincing his dear little heart that it was just the Amortentia messing about your mind. And, if not, then at least a significant lot of your work has been done for you, right?"

Crowley did not respond. Scarlett tugged away his hands from his face to study him, and cocked her head.

"Actually, now that I think about it, his face looked like how yours does about now."

He whimpered.

***

Aziraphale all but jumped out of his own skin when Crowley hesitantly sat next to him at breakfast, the next morning.

"Oh- hallo, Crowley," he said nervously.

"Hi." Crowley rubbed his neck, looking sheepish. "Er. So. Yesterday sure was something."

"Um. Yes, it was."

"Sorry about that."

"It's, uh, alright."

"I mean," Crowley continued, not looking Aziraphale in the eye as he moved his hands in wide gestures. "It's not as if I meant any of it, y'know. I was bunkered up by the potion, see…"

"Oh, I did see."

"Yeah, well. Anyways, ignore all the rubbish that came out of my mouth. That was just the Amortentia talking."

"Ah." Aziraphale's voice sounded small, even to himself. Silence stretched between them.

Crowley cleared his throat. "I'm glad we got that cleared that out, then, right? Er. See you in Transfiguration, then."

"See you."

Crowley rubbed his legs, bit his bottom lip, and left.

***

By late October, things were- outwardly- back to normal. But an idea brewed in Crowley's head, turning and twisting and boiling, splashing up the rim of his mind- all he needed was a trigger for it. Some sort of sign, some boost to convince him to just- just go for it.

The critical push turned out to the Haunted Walk at Hogsmeade during Halloween. It was freezing out, and he couldn't feel his toes but his throat and chest were warm from running and guffawing and- admittedly- some screaming, and near the end a witch dressed as a Banshee jumped in front of them. He himself had opened his mouth but no sound had come out, he was so startled, but Aziraphale had gripped his arm with the force of a vice, and proceeded to duck his face directly into Crowley's chest until the actress went on to terrify others.

"She's. Um. You can come out now," he said, awkwardly patting Aziraphale's back. His heart was beating at jittery pace for more than one reason.

"That's alright," said Aziraphale into his jacket, his voice all muffled by the layers.

"Pardon?"

"I'm gonna stay like this for a while. If you don't mind."

"Um." Crowley swallowed. "Sure."

He spent the rest of the walk maneuvering the both of them through the walk, not commenting when eventually Aziraphale's hands migrated from his arm to clutching his jacket's lapels.

The trail finally ended at the back entrance to Three Broomsticks (the establishment had set up the event themselves), and Aziraphale let out a little whoop of relief when they arrived.

They caught empty seats near the back, complimentary pumpkin juice in hand. The place had a commotion as always, people trading stories about their own Halloween experiences, but Crowley chose to observe Aziraphale- to make sure he was all right, of course, nothing else. Not at all.

He studied his fogged up glasses and curly, messy hair, watched his round nose and bright eyes, the way he gripped the Butterbeer glass appreciatively through fingerless gloves, how his face was flushed from the chill- or from any other number of reasons, he surmised, he could be embarrassed- but either way, the effect was rather endearing, and sweet.

Aziraphale smiled ruefully after they settled into a comfortable silence. "Hey, er- thanks for letting me- essentially- cower in your coat."

"It was no problem," Crowley said, and Aziraphale could not help but notice that he sounded almost shy.

"No, really," pressed Aziraphale. "You didn't need to."

Something may have possessed Crowley, but later he'd admit that it was purely out of his own volition that he leaned in and traced the tip of his shoe up Aziraphale's instep, from under the table.

"Well, I allowed it because I like you."

"Oh." Aziraphale fumbled with his cup, but grinned nervously back. "I- I like you too." And he, in turn, lightly nudged Crowley's retreating foot with his own.

They continued playing their feet up against each other once they lapsed into silence. Crowley couldn't help but smile abashedly and feel warm and decidedly squishy inside (despite the chilled drink). A thought overcame him.

"You know, I think I was wrong about that whole love potion fiasco."

"How so?"

"Well, the part where I said I didn't mean any of the stuff I said while, er, under the influence. I probably meant some of it."

"Ah. And which parts would that be?"

"I'unno. Barely remember it. Scarlett told me the basic gist of it."

"You said I was a 'perfect sort of friend', and then amended it to say I was the 'perfect sort of person, period.' And then you tried to sling your arm around me and skip in the hallways."

Crowley ducked his head, grinning.

"Yeah," he laughed. "I probably meant that part."

***

It was a Friday in November. Which meant there was no excuse now.

Crowley decided to make it snappy.

"Hey," he said, sidling up next to Aziraphale during lunch. "Our Astronomy diagram is due day Monday, yeah?"

Aziraphale nodded, only giving the barest of glances up from his textbook. Crowley noticed absent-mindedly that he was wearing the dogwood pendant, twinkling on his chest.

"Meet me at the top of the astronomy tower tonight, at midnight. We can do our work then."

"Wait- what?" Aziraphale asked, brow furrowed. But when he looked up, Crowley was waving back at him from a distance away, already running to Care of Magical Creatures.

***

The astronomy tower was the tallest tower in all of Hogwarts, located directly in the back of the castle, atop the Ravenclaw common room. For the most part, it was out of bounds for the students save for during classes; but in third year, Aziraphale had found that a backdoor in the library led directly into a stairwell that spiraled up into the highest balcony of the tower.

Most Ravenclaws knew about the passage. Aziraphale, despite understanding it could get him in potential trouble, still made the journey as it made astronomy homework significantly less difficult. Not to mention that if he ever mistakenly stayed too late in the library, after closing hours (as he often did), he could creep up the passage, and with a minor detour quickly get into the Ravenclaw dorms.

Around fifth year he shared the knowledge with Crowley. Which was good, because they were able to finish partner work that had not been completed in class later without worrying about when their next free period would come along with an open slot at the tower.

However, midnight was cutting it very close, Aziraphale reckoned as he sneaked up the stone stairs. He and Crowley would both make sure to settle the work prior to midnight in the past, just in case rounds were to be made by Filch or Professor Sinistra would come out to stargaze, seeing as midnight was indeed the best time to calculate the stars. This was easily the latest they had stayed out.

He finally reached the top of the path; there was an empty cobble doorway leading outside. He stepped outside softly, and drew his robes in closer from the chill. The sky was a bleak cobalt, and the stars were pieces of chipped ice in the sky next to the rotund, bleached moon. Definitely a good day for the diagrams.

As promised, Crowley was there, sitting on the edge of the balcony. He didn't seem to realize Aziraphale was there- he was staring some distance out, perhaps at the Forbidden Forest, Aziraphale couldn't tell. What he could tell, though, was that there were no papers with him.

"Crowley?" he said softly, his breath turning into white puffs in front of his eyes.

He turned around with a little start. From the monotone lighting, he appeared in shades of black and white, and there was something simply stark about him tonight. A certain sharpness from the light and dark planes rendered upon him, a particular heavy set to his movements that made him crystal clear in the cold.

"Hi," he said. Even the tone of his voice was blunt.

Aziraphale brushed the hair falling into his eyes aside. "Where are your papers, dear?"

Crowley shook his head silently in response. "I didn't bring them. I need to talk to you."

"Oh," breathed Aziraphale. He clenched the rolled papers in his hands (which were getting numb, now) and then set them down against the wall before making his way over to sit across Crowley on the edge. "Has… has something happened?"

Crowley didn't respond. His eyes were downcast, and Aziraphale admired the way the white light from the moon sloped across his eyelashes, the bridge of his nose, his cheekbones.

"No," he finally responded. "I mean, not recently. Something has been happening. Er, for a while now."

"And what would that be?" Aziraphale gently pressed on.

Again, Crowley looked away, and for a moment it appeared as though he was going to set his head in his hands, but then suddenly he was looking Aziraphale dead in the eye. To his shock, the moonlight had left some color Crowley's eyes, making them a peculiar, washed out, sandy color.

"Aziraphale," he began tightly. His shoulders slumped after the first word, however, and he puttered out.

"Yes, dear?" Aziraphale murmured, nudging him on.

"Aziraphale," he tried again. "I like you."

"I know," responded Aziraphale, surprised. "I thought we'd established that."

And here he saw Crowley's cheeks suffuse with darker color as he stood up.

"No, AZ, I mean that-"

"Mean what?"

"I mean that-"

"Mean what?!"

"That I fancy you, you great big fool!"

Aziraphale gawked up at him. And despite himself, Crowley could not help but notice for the billionth time how round the other's eyes could get, and how the moonlight played so well on his specs, or how intensely silvery his eyes were looking at this moment-

"Fancy," he said again. "From the bloody, blistering, fourth year."

"Fancy…?" croaked Aziraphale, slowly standing up as well.

"Fancy. As in, I want to date you. And hold your hand. And snog you, and any other number of romantic, soppy, couple-y things, whatever."

"…Fourth- fourth year?"

"What, are you going to keep repeating what I say?" Crowley snapped defensively. He paced around, his hands moving in severe gestures. "Yes, fourth year. And it was- is- driving me absolutely fucking mad, following you around and knowing that you had no clue, and I think- I think I was going to lose it if I didn't at least tell you. But you're my best friend, and- If you're disgusted, or just don't like me, then, at least I told you, right? I just wanted you to know." Here he took a breath of air, and Aziraphale watched the slump of his shoulders creep back in. "It's… important that at least you know."

"Ah," said Aziraphale eventually. The air tasted cold in his mouth. He couldn't think in complete thoughts, he found, but rather in fragmented, jagged ones as they faced each other. And once more, Crowley was looking down.

"You're allowed to leave, now," Crowley stated flatly, the vigor in his voice gone. "I mean. I know it's a lot to dump on you at once. We can talk… later. Whenever, I don't know. Sorry."

He was beginning to turn away, and Aziraphale stepped forward not knowing what to do, only that he didn't want Crowley to leave, not yet, not before he could speak for himself as well-

He pushed the other up against the solid stone wall, his hands pressing in on his chest. Crowley looked decidedly agitated.

"What the hell?!" he yelped, his own hands wrapped around Aziraphale's wrists.

"I- I fancy you too!" squeaked Aziraphale. "Not since- fourth year, or, whatever, but- I do. Er. Yes!"

Crowley's jaw fell slack. "What?"

"I like you, in the way you- you just said, how you described," Aziraphale stammered.

"Waitwaitwaitwaitwait," said Crowley, panicking. "Are you- are you sure we're talking about the same sort of fancy? Because this is going to quite a lot more embarrassing if we're not on the same page here, see-"

"Yes, yes!" fussed Aziraphale impatiently. "I fancy you! Since Yule!"

"That's nice," said Crowley weakly. "But are you absolutely certain we're, er, talking about the same fancying, because I mean the fancy where you, ah-"

"Crowley," Aziraphale stated, and he looked up at him through pale eyelashes. "I know."

"Are you sure, though-"

But then he found it hard to speak, because his tie was pulled much too tight. As in, by Aziraphale, who was using it to bring him lower and pressing his lips against his own, insistent and adept, if a little confused, but the way he was curving into him was heavenly, and he smelt like jasmine and buttered pastries and honey and everything warm, and in in the end it rendered Crowley completely and utterly helpless, unable to do anything but kiss him back confusedly.

When Aziraphale drew back, Crowley's neck strained to follow him. Aziraphale laughed inaudibly.

"Can we agree that we're talking about the same fancy, then?" he murmured lowly.

"I dunno," said Crowley breathlessly, heart beating out of control. "Let's check again."

And he drew Aziraphale closer again, to which neither of them had any complaints.

***

Scarlett was waiting in the common room chair for him, her foot tapping against the rug, smiling, when he snuck back in with a dopy grin on his face.

And though Crowley anticipated- well, no, he expected, he'd have been offended if she didn't, he had told her what he was going to do a week ago- her to be there, it did not stop him from jumping a bit once he caught sight of her in the dark, flames flickering to light up her left half and glancing in her brown eyes.

"You look pleased with yourself, don't you now?" she all but sang, her chin resting on her locked hands, her elbows resting on the armchair. Crowley smiled nervously.

"Er…"

"How did it go?" she asked. The wide smirk on her face contorted the many freckles on her cheeks.

"Well… really, really well. "

"How well?" she enquired carefully.

Crowley padded closer, looked around quickly, and gave her a conspiratorial look before hooking his finger by his collar and tugging down the slightest bit.

"Oh my god," shrieked Scarlett softly. "Oh my god! That's- Crowley! You-!"

"I said it went really well, didn't I?"

"Yeah, but you didn't mention that Ingladus gave you a love bite, of all things… angelface moves fast, doesn't he? Damn, that's looks dark. You're lucky it's on your collarbone, 'else you'd have to wear your scarf all the time. Don't want McGonagall catching sight of that."

"True," he admitted, and slid the collar back into place. "Now that would put a damper on things."

"What about Ingladus?"

"What about him?"

"Is he sporting any of those beauties on him as well?"

Crowley stuck his hands in his pockets and shrugged, smiling embarrassedly despite himself. "I dunno. There's a chance he is."

"You blokes really picked up very quickly, I'd say. Snogging on first- confession, whatever you want to call it- is basically the equivalent of shagging on the first date, innit? Speaking of sex, did…?"

Crowley sputtered. "What-?! I- No, of course not-"

"I'm messing with you, love," she laughed. "So- it worked out, then? He fancies you back?"

"Yes," responded Crowley. And even now as he said it, he could scarcely believe it. "He does. And- get this- he has been for a while now. It's bloody wild-" and here he cut himself off by smiling at the thought, smiling like a lovestruck fool. "-It's some sort of awful miracle, I reckon."

"So are you an item now?"

"I dunno, we- we didn't really talk about that."

"Then are you going to be public?"

"I don't think so, but we didn't discuss that…"

"So what did you discuss? It's a bit after 2 AM, what were you doing for two whole hours?"

His bashful silence spoke volumes.

"You can't have snogged for a whole two hours. There is literally no way. That's not even healthy, I bet."

Crowley blushed. "We weren't snogging the whole time, there was some- some talking, about very personal and very private feelings, alright? So pardon me if I don't want to share."

"Oh, I see how it is," sniggered Scarlett. "Fine, fine, I'll back off. But keep me updated on you two lovebirds, alright?"

"Yeah, I'll give you your precious blackmail later. We ought to go to bed now, though- it's late."

Scarlett nodded, and they made their way to the separate staircases. "See you tomorrow, champ," she told him cleverly (if a little tiredly), and gave one last eyebrow waggle at him as they left each other's view.

***

"How come Crow's not visiting today?" Sable asked Aziraphale, the next day at breakfast. "He almost always drops by fifteen minute mark. Or you're there, or something or the other."

Aziraphale shrugged as casually as he could manage. "I don't know. He- he probably has a lot of work today."

Sable nodded and went back to trying to curse his food into being smaller (it was a Charms assignment, he'd explained). Aziraphale himself glanced across the room and caught Crowley's eye for at least the seventh time in fifteen minutes, and then ducked away, smiling giddily to himself.

Crowley faced the same predicament, but could not help but feel like someone out there thought he looked like a pink-faced buffoon what with all the sly flirting. By out there, he was referring to right next to him, and by someone, he meant Scarlett, who was openly snorting at them.

"Stoplaughing!" he hissed to her under his breath.

"But you lot are so pathetic!"

"Am not!"

"Then explain why you haven't said one word to him this entire meal- And he's not better off, too, he keeps swooning over you from way over there, very smooth, angelface. Did he even call after that treatment he gave you?"

Crowley's hand self-consciously drifted up and tightened his collar. "Bugger off, Scarlett," he stated with as much dignity he could maintain.

"Yeah, yeah," she sneered. "Keep saying that. Your arse will be the first one caught by Filch snogging with someone in the broom closets, and I won't even try to defend you."

"You seem to forget," said Crowley daintily, "that my- erm, my- newly acquired snogging partner is a prefect. Hard for Filch to snap up at a prefect just doing his rounds, right?"

"Eh," Scarlett grimaced. "I dunno, there's a difference between doing rounds and dry-humping against stone walls-"

"God damn it, we weren't-!" and here his face became a little red as he struggled to put a hand over her mouth and silence her.

Scarlett whooped with laughter, pushing him off. "I'm sorry! Just a joke, just a joke-"

He settled back into his seat, sulking, as she appeared to sober up a bit. But there was still a troublesome look in her eye.

"Friendly groping, on the other hand-"

"Scarlett-!"

***

Sable wrinkled his brow. "Seriously- did you two get in a row?"

"No, Sable, we're just- I'm tired today, alright?"

He made a doubtful face. Through the whole day, Aziraphale and Crowley had maintained a distant and stiff politeness towards each other, in every class, without fail. It was disconcerting to watch.

"Speak of the devil himself," Sable muttered at the end of History of Magic, as the students packed away their textbooks. "Here he comes."

Aziraphale snapped his head up, alarmed, and Sable was right; Crowley was standing (quite awkwardly) in front of their desks.

"Hello," Aziraphale said tersely.

"Hey."

"Why're you here?" asked Sable.

Crowley stared at him as if he had never seen the student before in his life.

"Oh- I, oh, right." He turned to Aziraphale. "I can't make it to our library meeting later."

"Oh."

"Erm- but, I have this project I'm going to working on at the seventh floor, in the left corridor."

"That's… nice, dear…."

"No I mean- Seventh floor."

Aziraphale stared at him confusedly. Then it hit him.

"Oh," he said quickly. "Oh, yes, seventh floor. Left corridor?"

"Yup," Crowley nodded slowly, popping the 'p'. "Around eleven."

Sable rapidly switched between looking at the both of them, obviously suspicious. "What- what are you two going off about?"

"His project, dear, what do you think?" said Aziraphale smoothly, tucking away his books. He glanced up at Crowley. "I guess I'll- not- see you around, then."

"See you- not- later," Crowley grinned, and turned around and exited the classroom. Sable shook his head.

"Bloody mad gits."

***

It had taken a while for Aziraphale to establish what he should be mentally asking for, but once he had settled for "The room Crowley's in", the rest was easy work.

"That took long enough!" Crowley chided as soon as Aziraphale shut the Room of Requirement's door behind him. And then suddenly he had a whole front full of Crowley, trying to kiss him so eagerly he missed Aziraphale's mouth (several times in a row).

"Oh my-" laughed Aziraphale against Crowley's face. "Getting ahead of ourselves, are we?"

Crowley pulled back as it dawned on him how childishly enthusiastic he must be looking, and blushed quite a bit. "I- er, sorry, that was-"

"Not that I mind, per se," added Aziraphale contentedly, and pulled Crowley down to give him a proper, short peck on the lips before releasing him. "But we should talk. And sort ourselves out."

"Yes, that's- yes, good idea."

"So…" started Aziraphale conversationally, and the corners of his lips twitched. "Before we get down to serious topics. What did you exactly mean yesterday, by 'since fourth year'?"

Crowley's face colored. "Obviously I had meant I fancied you since then."

"Yes, I got that," clucked Aziraphale impatiently. "But explain the details. I'm interested."

"Wh- no, that's embarrassing!"

Aziraphale pouted.

"Stop that."

"I just want to know, dear."

"Then- then you have to tell me about 'since Yule', deal?"

It was Aziraphale's turn to turn pink. "Fine, fine. Now get on with it."

Crowley let out a humiliated groan, massaged his forehead, and sat down on a deep purple pillow the room had conjured. Now that Aziraphale was paying attention, he realized that Crowley had asked for a dimly lit, relatively small room, with cushy pillows covering the floor and leaning up against the wall. Light fabric was draped on the walls, creating a tented atmosphere, and incense smoked in the corner. There were even tiny potted plants spattered next to a lantern, but he suspected Crowley hadn't done that on purpose.

"I dunno. It was around when we started that Divination project, but before we went to Hogsmeade, the time right before Christmas."

"But why?"

"Why what?"

"Why did you fancy me?"

"You're seriously going to ask that?!" Crowley asked indignantly. "What more do you want, public confessions of everlasting love in the Great Hall?"

"It's not asking for much," sniffed Aziraphale. "I'm just curious."

"More like you're just digging for compliments, you tosser."

"Quit stalling."

"Fine. I can't place it, okay? You were- are, whatever- my best friend, 'sides from Scarlett. And at first in third year, I didn't think of it because I was getting over loathing you. I didn't even mean to think of it, actually, it just sort of settled in my head and I thought, that- well, you're a nice-" he began stammering, not being able to find words that were less embarrassing to explain himself. He shook his head.

"Anyways. We began working on the project in fourth year, and we were still getting closer, and I just knew I liked you, because you were decent, but I didn't know it was, er, romantically until later. Much later. Once I realized that, though, it was a bit … odd… for me to. To come to terms with it. And even odder to realize that, while I was figuring that rubbish out, you were still in your own little world, and didn't consider anyone- least of all me- in any sort of fancying way. Discouraging, really," he grumbled.

Aziraphale made a curious noise. "I never realized you had liked me that way, back then," he murmured mildly. "I didn't even suspect anything till much later. And even then, I thought I was being delusional. Continue, though," he indicated with a nod.

"Then in fifth year, after the party, it got worse, and I was sick of it, so I started avoiding you." He winced a bit. "Er. Sorry about that. I was worried you were going to catch on sooner or later and it would all go to hell from there."

"That's why you were so off?"

"I thought you were mad at me, to be honest. When you had yelled at me in the library."

"No, of course not… I was hurt, more than anything. I thought you were displeased with me, but weren't telling me why. "

Crowley sighed and pulled his knees in, resting his head on its side atop them. "Nah. But it was tiring, I can tell you that."

"Then what happened?" Aziraphale asked. He sounded like a little child particularly enamored with a bedtime story. "Yule, right?"

Crowley eyed with sideways, amusement playing in his voice. "Yes, Yule. I figured that I had to at least try to see if I had a chance, so I made plans to ask you. And I told Scarlett I liked you around that time, there wasn't much of a deal with that. I tried asking you out at least twenty times, and by the time you realized what I was asking for, you bloody took it in the completely wrong way, you complete arsehole."

"I'm- I would never have thought that you had meant it-"

"Going as friends is a great idea," mocked Crowley. "Thickheaded-ness at its finest, more like."

Aziraphale huffed. "Okay, whatever, moving on. Then?"

"Then…" Crowley looked to the ground and traced a finger around on the pillow. "Then we went to Yule, obviously. And I tried my damndest to- eh, woo you, for lack of better word."

"Well, you succeeded at that," Aziraphale admitted. "That's why I first considered it then."

"Really?"

"It's true, I suppose I was oblivious to your other methods of… 'seduction'… but you were so- so explicitly bent on being some sort of tempter, that night."

"Tempter?" laughed Crowley. "That's rich. No one even says that anymore, AZ."

"I say it."

Crowley pulled a face that told of what he thought of Aziraphale's importance ranking, and Aziraphale picked a small pillow and smacked him on the head with it.

"Alright, alright!" Crowley relented, and Aziraphale sat back. "Go on, then. Tempter, and all that good stuff."

"Yes, well," continued Aziraphale. "You were behaving so kindly, and it was all sort of a shock after all that running away you had been doing as of late at that point of time, so I suppose I was even more aware of it. And I'm not sure if you realized, but I had noticed that before-"

He took a bit of a reproachful breath. "Before the dance, for some months, you wouldn't even touch me. And I don't mean in an excessive way, I just mean- even brushing against you by mistake, you'd hop off like a burned rabbit. And it was only with me, not with even any of our other peers, which frankly worried me."

"Er- yeah. I didn't want to do anything by mistake, so I figured, why risk it…"

"Either way, there was a rather lot of, uh, touching at the dance. I remember that you were sitting awfully close to me. And then the actual dancing- that was the last straw."

"Whaddya mean?" snickered Crowley. "Did I sweep you off your feet?"

"No!" Aziraphale said defensively. "But the dancing itself, it had obvious romantic connotations, and I put two and two together, so…" He gave Crowley a sidelong glance. "You know, I thought you were going to kiss me when we had gone outside on that bench."

"Oh."

"Were you?"

"Don't remember. Good thing I didn't, though, that would've been a little too keen."

Aziraphale shrugged. "I suppose. But yes, after that I was definitely thinking about it often enough. Then I told Sable, once I figured it out… and that's why we had gotten sloshed in fifth."

"Sable knows?!" exclaimed Crowley. "The skinny one, right? Kiga?"

"That we're- now? No, he doesn't," Aziraphale amended. "But he knew that I liked you. That I- er- still like you." He rolled his eyes. "And I've been friends with Sable since first year, how come you're so surprised?"

Crowley tilted his head. "I dunno. It's just wild to think that while I was moping around after your arse and complaining to Scarlett, you were doing the same with him."

"Er, by the way- just a question, dear- what does your friend Scarlett think of me?" Aziraphale asked worriedly.

"Eh?"

"Does she dislike me? We had a bit of a misunderstanding last year."

"She once told me that she could set it up to murder you in early fifth year, and that she thought you were a giant ninny. Don't take offense, though, she said I was a ninny too, so she's obviously off on something. Otherwise, I think she's fine with you- why?"

Aziraphale thought about that one food fight, and smiled worriedly. "Oh, no reason."

"Alright," Crowley, before yawning and stretching his legs out. He folded his arms behind his head. "So we're done talking about this touchy-feely stuff, yeah?"

"Well…" Aziraphale trailed off, his voice become small. "Mostly, yeah. I mean… there's one thing…"

"What's that?"

"Are we- er-" He pursed his lips. "A couple?"

"Oh." Crowley looked pointedly at another corner of the room, and tried not to stumble as his face became warm for the umpteenth time in the last two days. "If- If you're okay with that, then, yes, I'd suppose…"

Aziraphale grinned, confidence rising. "I am more than just okay with that, dear."

"Oh?"

He nodded, drawing closer. "I'm thrilled about it."

"Yes…?,"

"Delighted," murmured Aziraphale. He placed his hands on either side of Crowley's legs, and shifted towards him.

"Go on," Crowley mumbled amusedly.

"Ecstatic," he breathed, his face inches from Crowley's, flicking his gaze across the other's face, studying.

"There it is," whispered Crowley.

And he was pulled closer until their lips met, which was a generally positive experience, as he'd explain (multiple times) later.

***

It was true, though, Aziraphale mulled for the following months. He had never paid much attention to kissing scenes in his books, for they were too brief to consider, or too graphic to digest. And it didn't make much sense, did it? Pressing your lips against someone else's. Big whoop, he'd thought. It sounded a little boring, even, sometimes. Perhaps occasionally enjoyable if for the novelty, but besides…

Yet kissing Crowley was- remarkably- nice. Nicer than he'd have ever thought snogging would ever be, really. Nice enough that he had a nagging suspicion that he and Crowley did it much too often and little too fervently for people who had to study for exams. Or compared to their peers, in general.

Well. Perhaps that's because he didn't pay attention to people snogging in the hallways- or, rather, he demoted points from them, as per his responsibilities as a prefect- it was only his job, he'd explain demurely.

Either way, there was something distinctly extraordinary about dragging an unsuspecting Crowley into an empty classroom, grabbing him by the face and kissing him with as much zeal as possible. Crowley liked zeal. He liked it a lot.

Aziraphale reasoned with himself. Maybe it was so gratifying for the fact that it was a lot more than pressing lips together- there was smelling the distinct scents on Crowley, throwing arms around his neck, using hands at the small of his back to pull him closer. There was fluttering eyelashes against his cheekbones and tickling him by mistake, and him smiling against his own lips, there was lacing fingers together, there was dragging lips along his jaw and neck and collarbone, and from there, there was even occasionally some biting and sucking. There was sighing and squealing and yelping and laughing.

There were times where he'd kiss Crowley gently and the other would murmur very quietly- so quietly he was sure he wasn't intended to hear it- "Perfect", or simply, "Aziraphale," and he would feel very giddy indeed.

There was kissing him lightly on the crook of his nose, where it bent funny. There was mumbling, "Lovely," while he did so, which made Crowley go red indeed- but he suspected the other quite enjoyed it. There was simply pecking him on that exact spot as a greeting in private, which wasn't exactly kissing-kissing, but it was still wonderful indeed.

There was kissing in all sorts of places, too. Which could make a difference. Varied ambience, you see.

There was kissing in the Room of Requirement, in a makeshift pillow fort, which was usually accompanied by a lot of giggling (Crowley denied this fiercely, if questioned). There was kissing desperately in cramped and cluttered broom closets, usually at night, always with the danger of Filch lurking nearby. There was kissing after-classes in the greenhouses, when Sprout wasn't around- both of them had a soft spot for this, because Aziraphale liked sitting on the middle tables while Crowley bent down standing to snog him, and Crowley liked being in a warm, lush place with plants, and also enjoyed knowing that Aziraphale's trousers were literally soiled by the end- as in, dirt got all over his backside, from waist to knees. There was kissing under the Quidditch pitch bleachers. Now that involved some conniving and sacrifice- getting under the bleachers was a hard task in of itself- but it was also exhilarating, pressing together breathlessly while the crowd thundered above them.

There was Crowley unconsciously trying to hold his hand in the halls and Aziraphale brushing it away in a panic, and watching a hurt expression flash across his face, even though it wasn't anyone's fault. And then there was kissing under the stairs in a little nook, and holding Crowley's hands tightly all the while, smooching his knuckles and rings, one by one until he melted.

There was learning the other person's body like a map- but not a map of a country, but rather the seas, or a chart of the stars. Crowley had high cheekbones and a crooked nose, yes, but there was a certain thrill in knowing that no one else knew about how his throat bobbed right before moving in, or how his fingers flexed when Aziraphale kissed his jaw, or how the planes of his chests and the smooth curves of his back felt through clothing, with hands splayed on top. How he gasped and jerked to the side if Aziraphale toyed with his ear's upper piercings, how he bit his lip worriedly when Aziraphale would kiss him delicately on the forehead, how he'd automatically take a deep breath and draw his shoulders up when pulled forward by his tie.

It wasn't that all he did with Crowley was snog him. Far from it- they still quarreled and joked and studied together. But, Aziraphale thought happily, it was always nicer to finish a pointless tiff with some much-needed snogging. That was always a plus.

***

Hogsmeade in March was peculiar. It was overcast and wet and chilly, and the dirt roads were mud, but it was still charming in its own way (even if it dirtied your uniform beyond repair).

"Just wash it magically," Crowley told Aziraphale as they walked down the streets. "Cleaning charm, and all that."

"Yes, but I'll always known the stain was there," grumbled Aziraphale. "You know. Deep down, I mean."

Crowley rolled his eyes doubtfully. "I see."

They wandered the town, lingered outside Dogweed and Deathcap- a little store that contained both of their interests, but the prices could be categorized as 'firmly places a look of panic on any self-respecting student's face'. Mere touching was already risky. They didn't dare enter.

Aziraphale had thrown a hopeful look to Crowley when they passed Madam Puddifoot's, but smartly kept his mouth shut at the furious glare he got in response. Perhaps next time.

Halfway through their drink at Three Broomsticks, a telltale look glimmered in Crowley's eye. Aziraphale shook his head at him concisely, warning him that it was not the time nor place.

Five months of secret hand-holding and quiet endearments and much snogging had given Crowley a sort of confidence; and somehow he had gotten it into his head that once he wanted to be affectionate, he would make sure Aziraphale knew. Consequently, he'd also try to act upon it. Which was more than a bit inconvenient.

"Crowley," Aziraphale stated, unimpressed, as the other attempted to do everything from hold his hand to outright press up into him in the most discreet manner, in the middle of a pub. "Crowley."

"Let's get out of here," said Crowley eagerly. "Come on, come on!"

"I never thought I'd be saying this, dear," Aziraphale sighed as he allowed himself to be led out, "But you're needy. Remember the first month of us-?"

"What about it?"

"Back then, you still blushed every time we kissed," he sighed wistfully. He followed Crowley to a little alleyway between the pub and a neighboring shop, empty and secluded. "And you'd always stutter when you'd tell me that I looked nice, or something along those lines."

"Yeah? Well, what's so wrong about being more forward about what I want?" Crowley asked.

Aziraphale grinned. "Is that how it is? I see." He laid his arms on top of Crowley's shoulder, and brought him down to eye level. "What about me, specifically, being forward about whatI want?"

"You're already too forward," sniffed Crowley as he hovered. "I still have a bruise on the back of my head from that one time you rammed me into a broom handle- when you got in the third floor closet too fast, remember- and that was two weeks ago."

"Shut up," Aziraphale tittered, and then brought Crowley in for proper kissing behavior.

The marvelous thing about kissing Aziraphale, Crowley thought, was how he always tasted sweet. Excusing the few bad morning-breath days, he was always careful to keep his mouth clean (remnants of dealing with muggle braces, Crowley suspected) and his weakness for dry pastries left only pleasant, sugary hints in his mouth. That, and the fact his unkempt fluffy hair was good for carding, convinced Crowley that Aziraphale very much a find in the snogging department.

"Getting late," said Aziraphale a good deal later, muffled by Crowley jostling his jaw. "I have an essay."

"Whensitdue?" He mumbled against his neck.

"Next- oh- next week."

"You need to loosen up, you have plenty of time."

"I prefer to start early."

"Five more minutes."

"No, Crowley," Aziraphale asserted. "I need to go now." He began to push him away, but he hadn't anticipated the fact that Crowley was already moving away, and accidentally sent him straight into the muddy ground, arse-backwards.

"OY!" Crowley yelped as mud splashed around him. His robes were splattered, as was the back of his head. "Are you bloody KIDDING me?"

"Sorry!" peeped Aziraphale as he looked down at Crowley, his face the specific shade of pink of someone who is trying very, very hard not to laugh.

"They're not going to let me back into Hogwarts like this! I'll stain the hallways!"

"Cleaning charm?" He offered weakly.

Crowley glowered at him from the ground, and during the whole trip back to school.

***

They reached the base of the staircase at which Crowley would have to make a turn, after a tenuous trip. Aziraphale smiled unsurely at him. Surely there was a way to redeem himself…

"Wait!" he told him, grabbing Crowley's arm before he left. "I can make this mess up to you. You're going to go take a bath right now, correct?"

"No, I'm going to have tea with the Queen, what do you bloody expect?" Crowley responded wretchedly.

"Please, dear. Now, look- if you're alright with staying a little muddy for a bit longer- then you can use the prefect's bathroom to clean up, it's on the fifth floor, fourth door from Boris the Bewildered. It's clean, and very relaxing. Trust me, you'll thank me later."

"Alright," Crowley replied suspiciously. "Fine. I'll see and tell you the results tomorrow."

"Oh-" Aziraphale added distractedly, his attention focused on some second years a few feet behind Crowley, handling a lumpy, moving bag. He squinted his eyes it. "Uh, there's a… password… for the. Um." He stared as the bag yowled, train of thought jumbled. "For the bathroom, as in. A password."

"Yeah? What is it, then?"

"Er… it's…" he trailed off as he watched the bag give a significant pulse. "It's…"

"Come on, AZ, I don't have all day!"

But Aziraphale moved past him as soon as he saw the little twine enclosing the bag was being tinkered with, drawing out his wand.

"Just get there at 9 or so," he shouted apologetically behind him. "I'll help you get in, don't worry!"

Crowley watched him go in confusion. "Okay, uh… see you then, I s'pose…" he mumbled, mostly to himself, suddenly feeling very alone.

***

The other Gryffindors hadn't been happy about the mess he had been creating in the common room once he finished the trek there. By the time nine rolled around, Crowley was in a very foul mood indeed, and had successfully glared back at almost every single housemate in the dorms.

He had gotten to the assigned door at nine sharp (on time for once). It wasn't long before Aziraphale appeared, a towel and change of clothes in hand as well.

"Er- what are you doing with that?" Crowley asked as way of greetings.

"With what?"

"Why do you have your own towel and stuff?"

Aziraphale stared at him blankly. "Because I'm taking a bath too."

Crowley scowled. "What, so I have to wait around outside until you're done?"

"No," he said, giving him a curious look.

"Then what?!"

There was a confusing, tense silence before it dropped on Crowley. "Wait- you're not saying that…?!"

"You don't mind, do you?"

Crowley sputtered. "A little, yeah!"

"Oh… okay," said Aziraphale. He turned to the door. "I'll go tomorrow, then. Gillyweed."

A little click sounded from the lock of the door, and he opened it such that the Crowley could slip in.

"Alright," Aziraphale started from the outside doorway. "There are a few things you might like to know… the hot and cold handles are there, those things are the bubble soaps, there are extra towels in the back, as with body wash… er, you have to leave by eleven, so no longer than two hours… that's it, really." He glanced at his watch. "I'll be going, then…"

Crowley groaned inwardly. A guilty conscience dragged him downwards.

"Oh, just come in, you tosser," he blurted out angrily, and tugged Aziraphale in.

The bathroom was cream tile and stained glass windows, with a smooth, large tub in the middle. Shiny gold faucets lined up on the side, complete with a variety of multi-colored soaps behind them, and tiny jewels were inset into the bases.

Aziraphale blinked rapidly. "Crowley?"

"No looking at me while I undress."

His brow furrowed. "Er. Okay." He carefully took the towel from Crowley's hand and placed it in the corner with him own, before starting up the faucets. Jets of hot water poured through and filled up the tub at a quick pace.

"Would you mind adding some of the soaps?"

Crowley tinkered with the knobs closest to him. Out gushed some thick strawberry-scented mixture, violet lavender bath oil, and lime citrus foam, dissipating into the water and creating suds immediately. Crowley had to admit that the bath looked extremely enticing indeed.

He heard rustling. He looked up to see Aziraphale unbuttoning his white shirt, his vest already discarded behind him. He turned away hurriedly.

"Are you going to get undressed?" Aziraphale asked him.

"Yes." He didn't make eye contact with the other and stalled by the tub.

"Anytime in the next few hours?"

"Sod off. Remember- no looking."

"I know, dear."

He grumbled and began to strip down out of his muddied clothes, and was wrangling off his bangles when he heard water sloshing. He glanced up to see Aziraphale setting his glasses delicately by the rim of the tub, and then easing back into the water, sighing, eyes closed.

His eyes stayed closed until Crowley was fully seated in the opposite ledge of the large pool.

"Pleasant, isn't it?" Aziraphale asked amiably, opening one eye.

Crowley nodded. The water was thick with bubbles, warm and had a soothing scent. He was already beginning to feel vaguely drowsy.

Aziraphale quirked a small, knowing smile at him. He bristled.

"What's that for?" he snapped.

"What's what for?" Aziraphale replied, innocently.

"Your smug little Ravenclaw smile. What's the deal behind it?"

"Oh…" Aziraphale closed his eyes again, grinning lazily. "I was just thinking, about how earlier today… you told me you were over your flustered phase, but that doesn't seem to be the case right now…"

"N- not at all!" groused Crowley. He tried not to sink farther into the water. "I'm not embarrassed, I'm just- just enjoying this private moment."

Aziraphale rolled his eyes at him, unimpressed. "If you say so, dear."

"I do!"

"Mmhmm."

"Oh- damn it, here, come snog me all you want, I can handle it!" he exclaimed viciously.

Aziraphale sighed. "I was only teasing, dear."

"I can still handle it."

"I'm sure."

"I bet you can't, and you're too scared to try anything yourself."

"Don't try to bait me."

"I'm not baiting."

Aziraphale raised an eyebrow. "Lying isn't an attractive quality in anyone, Crowley."

"You're a load of codswallop!" Crowley spluttered furiously.

Aziraphale shrugged. "If you insist."

They stared each other down across the tub.

"I can snog you just fine," Aziraphale said eventually. "Regardless of the setting. Here, too."

Crowley squinted at him, pride roaring inside his chest. "Prove it."

Aziraphale bit the inside of his mouth and edged his way around the pool, shifting the water in quiet waves, until he was right beside Crowley. He was cautious to not make physical contact. Crowley's face was flushed, but from the heat, or what else, he couldn't be sure.

Crowley himself felt a tingle in the back of his neck, near the tip of his ears, and decided to hell with it- he was going to get the upper hand in this- and gently laced his arms around Aziraphale's slippery shoulders, making sure not to shift closer near his bottom half, and leaned in.

The strange thing was that they had never been so meticulously careful when kissing; hands always got involved somehow, and on some days it was a race to see how closely they could press together before it became painful. But now their only point of connection was their mouths and where his elbows rested on Aziraphale's shoulders.

It wasn't that he had never become aroused before during snogging, Crowley thought ruefully. It happened. Especially when Aziraphale would start gasping, or when he'd clutch at his tie so tightly that there really was no space between them- But there was a significant difference between staying fully clothed during so and then being mere inches from each other, completely and stark naked, which upped the stakes a little. They could ignore it before; it was difficult to do the same here.

Aziraphale tilted his head a little more, and hesitantly ran his fingers lightly up Crowley's side, finally deigning to break the touch barrier. Crowley sighed into his mouth. He peeked open his eyes for a moment, to see if the other was still red, and he was. He grinned into the kiss; no matter how hard Crowley tried, he would always have an edge of shimmery naivety to him. He firmly glided his hand to Crowley's back, where he could feel all his muscles bunching and shifting, as he tightened his grip on his damp hair.

"Are you okay with this?" Aziraphale asked lowly as his hand skirted towards Crowley's thighs.

"Yes," mumbled Crowley embarrassedly, and pulled Aziraphale's nape closer such that he could bury his face in it. "It's fine, go on."

Aziraphale pressed his lips to Crowley's cheek (burning hot, he realized contentedly) and finally moved close enough that their thighs were side by side. Crowley clutched at his shoulders as he slid his hand up his stomach, and then back down; scratching lightly at his waist and the dip in the side of hips.

"Am I allowed to…?" Aziraphale entreated again, muffled by Crowley's soaked hair next to his mouth.

"Yes, yes!" Crowley exclaimed surprisingly impatiently, breathless around the edges. "Get a move on!"

"Oh, sweetheart," murmured Aziraphale. Crowley let out a little sound at that- Aziraphale had never called him that before- but the thought simply flew out of his head as the other hesitantly gripped his length and stroked it slowly.

"Oh!" he squeaked, and Aziraphale froze.

"Am I- Am I doing something wrong? Do you want me to stop-"

"No, no that was a good thing," he managed weakly. "Er. You can go back to. Doing it. Please."

Aziraphale stared at him, and then slowly resumed his movements while Crowley shuddered and scrabbled his hands down towards his back, pulling him closer, twitching at every stroke.

"Oh my god," he whined, eyes screwed shut. "Oh my god."

It wasn't all that new to him, but in a way it was, because it was Aziraphale, and Aziraphale was setting the pace, and Aziraphale was running his other hand down his spine…

He pulled back, then, from the other's neck, and instead chose to hungrily kiss him again, desperate for something and finding that the sensations were starting the bleed together. Aziraphale returned his kiss as eagerly as ever; by now Crowley was making tiny moaning noises into his mouth as he jerked his hips up into his hand.

Aziraphale began to do something very clever with his hands that involved some deft twisting; either way, Crowley was only able to hold on for a brief few moments more before he came with a gasp, leaving red marks on Aziraphale's back.

"Holy shit," he whimpered. Aziraphale smiled nervously.

"Was that- er- satisfactory?"

"Ugh. Obviously," Crowley mumbled, burrowing his face back under Aziraphale's chin. "But it can't be too sanitary to do- that- in a bathtub, can it…"

Aziraphale rolled his eyes, head tilted up to view the ceiling. "Magical filtration, dear."

"Ah." He swallowed. "Er… do you want me to…?"

Aziraphale shook his head slightly. "You don't have to."

Crowley felt some relief at this; he wasn't sure if he was ready himself to do the same back, not now. Probably later, probably soon, but right now he was tired, and it was late, and the most important thing was that Aziraphale was petting his hair gently.

"Dear?" Aziraphale asked eventually, in quiet tones. "We're going to have to get out, Crowley. I still have my essay to finish."

"I'll bloody kill you if I hear about that damn essay again. I swear I will."

Aziraphale gulped, and then said in a tiny voice, "Oh. I suppose that resting for a bit more can't hurt…"

"Good," purred Crowley, and nuzzled closer.

***

And then again June was upon them, bringing its usual heat haze and promise of impending freedom. Sixth years wandered from class to class with a lighter quip in their step, something decidedly cheerful about them, but this didn't change the fact that yet other sixth years were studiously trying to cram for the N.E.W.T.S. next year. To Crowley's (complete and utter lack of) surprise, Aziraphale was among their number. Typical.

He made his way over to the far off library table at which Aziraphale sat, poring over textbooks upon textbooks, and sat down across him.

"Babe," he uttered plainly. He was trying out pet names, to see what stuck. He was sort of liking the sound of 'babe', although it wasn't quite what he wanted. "AZ, please, you're going to hurt yourself if you stick your nose any closer to the book."

"Uh huh," mumbled Aziraphale back. He turned the page. "I see, dear."

Crowley rolled his eyes and sank into his seat, sighing. There was simply no leeway to be had here, then. He glanced around at the other figures in the library, and saw that, strangely, many of them had bundles of tiny plants and flowers in their fists, tucked in their collars, dotting their pockets. He frowned. How curious, then- he glanced back at Aziraphale for a closer look, and saw that he had one solitary daisy tucked behind his left ear.

"What's the deal with the flowers?" Crowley asked confusedly. "Why's everyone got one?"

Aziraphale glanced up mildly, blinking. "I've heard that the most recent fad for us testing students is buying into magical flowers that supposedly… 'enhance' our ability to study." He sighed, and went back to his book. "Rubbish, really. You'd think students would know better than to trust recycled, fraudulent advertisements in the Daily Prophet."

Crowley squinted at him. "Then why've you got one?"

"Oh, this?" He indicated the white bloom. "I just like it."

Despite himself, Crowley smiled. It was charming, and very distinctly Aziraphale. He rested his chin in his hands, considering Aziraphale closely, before shifting one foot forward and hooking it underneath the other's leg.

Aziraphale only glanced up briefly from his notes, but Crowley knew he saw a hint of a smile there. He only grew more pleased when he jostled his feet back.

"Back to your old games, dear?" murmured Aziraphale into the pages of Advanced Rune Translation.

"Of course," he professed back. And Aziraphale grinned for real.

***

"So you're certain you can't visit this summer?" Crowley shouted worriedly as they dismounted the train. The din around them was stupendous. Parents rushed forward to grab at their children, the train let out intermittent bellows of steam, and luggage rattled across the stone floor all at once while they set their own chests down behind them.

"I'm afraid not," hollered Aziraphale back. "I have to keep up with volunteering if I'm to get to amount of required hours for being a Healer."

Crowley shrugged sadly. "Alright," he managed, before he spotted his parents in the distance, making their way towards the two of them. His face lit up. "Oy! There they are!"

Aziraphale turned too and gulped uncertainly; Crowley had told him that Sheza-auntie and Eshan-uncle knew about their relationship, and had assured him they were only glad about it, but it was one thing to hear about good news and another thing to speak to them.

They arrived and crushed Crowley in a hug, first and foremost. He smiled nervously at them when Crowley was released; and to his immense relief, both of them were beaming at him.

"Aziraphale, baita, you've grown so big-"

"How've classes been, dear-"

"Oh, you're carrying so muchdaykhna, Eshan, kitna ek bachcha lay suktai-"

Aziraphale stumbled, confused as to what to address first. "I- um," he started.

"Shove off my boyfriend," grumbled Crowley. Sheza glared at him.

"Let him speak for himself, Antarah, bohoth bad-tameez kuch kareh aaj kul..." She turned back to Aziraphale. "No rush, sweetheart. How are you, though?"

"I'm doing well," Aziraphale answered, glad for a simple question. "I'll be off any moment now, though. I hope you're fine as well, Sheza-auntie, Eshan-uncle…"

"So polite!" gushed Sheza. She glanced at her watch. "But- oh, we need to get going too, I have a meeting in two hours, and it's a long ride home…"

Eshan nodded. "Sorry, children, but we're going to have to leave. It's regretful that we couldn't speak more, Aziraphale- but perhaps you'll visit over the summer?"

"Nah, he can't," Crowley informed him gloomily. "Volunteer work again."

"That's a pity," said Eshan. He even sounded a bit sad. "Well, maybe another time. Oh, but it is getting late- say your goodbyes, boys. "

Aziraphale moved forward to hug Crowley, but found himself being tugged forward into a very enthusiastic kiss. It ended too quickly for him to fully comprehend what had just happened, but he was sure it was very startling indeed. He balked.

Sheza glanced at him amusedly. "Your face is a bit pink, baita."

"I- oh," he faltered. "Ah."

"See you, AZ," Crowley murmured lowly to him. He gave him one last peck on the cheek before gathering his luggage and moving off towards the exit with his family, chest in tow.

Even from the distance, Aziraphale could hear Eshan muttering, "Why don't you put that same kind of effort into your chores, Antarah…"

And he could definitely hear Crowley's retort: "You think that was effort? You should see AZ, he knows effort-"

Aziraphale whimpered. Well- at least he knew he was going to be missed this summer.

***

 

Seventh Year:

Dear Crowley,

This is the first letter I've sent you in a while, I didn't manage to pack one in last summer…. You can respond using Silas if you have the nerve, but it's alright if you don't. I just wanted to get you caught up before we meet up at Diagon. A lot of stuff has been happening at St. Mungo's, and although I've just been doing volunteer hours, I think they intend to pick me up as an apprentice by the end of seventh year! They're impressed with my, er, previous knowledge, I think they called it. I'm not sure if I want to be a Healer anymore, though, I never took to some of the aspects of it, so I don't know… I guess we'll see after our N.E.W.T.'s. Besides, you've yet to tell me what you want to do, and we're almost of age… Sort of strange, isn't it? I still feel like a first-year sometimes. And isn't it weird to think we hated each other for three years? And now we're, well. Anyways. I'll see you at Diagon on the 30 th , at twelve. Don't be late!

Sincerely,

Aziraphale

P.S. Please remember to give Silas some water, or tell Sheza-auntie to. He can hunt for himself.

P.S.S. I told my uncle about our relationship. I think he's taking it well.

Crowley read the whole letter three times over, and then the second post-script ten times. He folded it again, into a neat eggshell-colored rectangle, and flipped it in a drawer at his desk, and stared at the shiny brochure lying in front of him.

"Mum, AZ sent his bloody bird again, can you give him some water?" he hollered from his room. He heard some indistinct response from below.

"She'll be here soon," he mumbled vaguely to Silas, perched a mandated two feet away. He went back to the front of the brochure, though he had near memorized the text.

MAGIZOOLOGY

Do magical creatures fascinate you? Do you wish to study them, to discover their hidden traits that the public cannot see? If so, you might want to consider in taking up Magizoology as your career path following mandatory schooling.

He paged through to the fourth page, where the text was highlighted and circled all over.

SNAKES

Apprentices wishing to take on a study in magical herpetology can initiate their entrance into the program by journeying in a year-long trip across the world for preliminary work. This is mandatory, and will take place by July 7 th , following the student's last year at their designated magic school. Contact Nevaeh Anderson at 1382-68553 for more information. Supplies listed below:

He stopped reading again as Sheza walked into the room, carrying a little container of water.

"Baita, are you still looking at that pamphlet?" she clucked lightly when she glanced over. She placed the water in front of Silas, and stepped back to smooth her shirt. "How are you feeling about it?"

"I dunno," shrugged Crowley. "I think I want to do it. It sounds like what I want to go into. And the pay's fine, once the apprenticeship is over, so it's ideal, I guess…"

"Does Aziraphale know?"

Crowley was silent, and she pursed her lips. "Antarah, you're going to need to tell him if you take this up seriously. A year long is a lot of time to be apart, especially for a young couple."

"I know, I know," he groaned. "I'll tell him, eventually…"

"I don't want to hear that- I know you, I'm your mother. You're not going to tell him until it's too late. Please, Antarah, for your own sake, tell him soon."

He simply sighed in response. She reached out to stroke his hair, and he rested his head at her hip.

"Do you think your relationship with him is serious enough for something like this?" she enquired quietly, as her fingers glanced across his earrings.

"I don't know," he admitted. "He told his uncle about us, at any rate."

"Then you might need to find out where you two are before you make any drastic decisions, meh piyaara."

"I know."

"Lunch will be in ten minutes, alright? Be there by then." She pet his hair one last time and the left, leaving him with the brochure and Silas once more.

"What do you think?" he asked Silas, making sure to stay his two feet away. "What's your twopence?"

Silas hooted back in what he assumed was in affronted manner.

"Yeah," he said glumly. "Me too."

***

Aziraphale was only halfway through his supplies list when he spotted Crowley off in the distance, dutifully making his way through an ice cream cone from Florean's.

It was hot. The sun was beating down on everyone in the shopping center, and Aziraphale had a running suspicion that sometimes, wearing full body, black wizarding robes wasn't the best decision the magic folk of olde had made for countless generations to follow. But regardless of the heat, he was here and so was Crowley- who was less than pleased, at first, when Aziraphale tackled him for a hug.

"Oy, mate, watch it! I have an ice cream, here, go fu-"

He stumbled when he realized who it was. Aziraphale raised an eyebrow.

"Go what myself?"

Crowley gaped, ice cream forgotten, and then remembered himself. He hastily returned the hug, swooping down to do so. He had grown yet a bit more over the summer.

Aziraphale quirked a smile at him. "Here, I need to show you something I saw in a shop nearby…"

"What, no conversation? I have to tell you-"

"Shh," he indicated, cutting Crowley off as he hurried after him down the path. "Come on, it's right down here…"

"What? But this is Knockturn-"

But once again he was swiftly cut off, but notably by a pair of lips and tugging hands on his collar this time around, standing awkwardly in some dark corner with an ice cream in one hand and an enthusiastic boyfriend in the other.

Though that didn't stop him from returning the kiss just as heartily. Even as the ice cream melted and made a drippy cold mess on his hand.

"Imissedyousomuch," Aziraphale breathed against him through the frenzied pecks.

"Mmm," he replied in agreement. He had missed this- two months without any sort of contact at all, it was bound to get to him. Vaguely, in the back of his head, he considered the torture a year apart could bring-

Aziraphale pulled back, his face mussed enough that it was obvious he had just been snogged silly. "Oh! But you were saying something, before-"

"Later," growled Crowley, and wrenched him back. And Aziraphale figured it couldn't have been too important.

***

The opening ceremony went much the same as always, and Aziraphale went out of his way to savor it, knowing it was his last. This was it, then. The final stretch.

Two tables down the same thoughts were running through Crowley's head, with a twist. For once he actually listened when the Headmaster went through the announcements for seventh years, and gulped audibly when he heard "career choices" mentioned at least four times. By the time dinner materialized, he had already set out a mental agenda to speak to Sprout and Grubbly-Plank about the Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures N.E.W.T.'s, the ones he was required to pass for Magizoology.

"You look tense," Scarlett noted while scarfing down chicken. "What's the matter?"

"Nothing, nothing."

"Don't give me that."

Crowley faced her. "D'you ever think about the future? Like, our careers, yeah?"

"Er, yeah, I guess…" she said slowly. "Why? We don't need to get jobs straightaway after this year, we have some time to get used to the wizarding world and all that…"

"Yeah, but…"

"But?"

He sighed. "I think I already know what I want to do. A Magizoology thing. And it starts right after this year."

"What's so bad about that, then?" she said through loud bites. "Sounds fine. Got your whole job planned out."

"It requires a bit of leave from here. As in, international travel. For a year long, no breaks."

"Oh," she said. "Oh, wow."

"Yup."

"That sounds great, mate… but what does angelface think?"

Crowley cringed. "Haven't told him."

"What?!"

"Er."

"Crowley," she stated incredulously. "You march on over there and tell him now, then. You sound pretty damn decided on this, you can't just spring this on the poor kid-"

"Since when did you care about my boyfriend?" he sniffed, before his shoulders sagged a little and his voice shrunk. "And it is more than a little decided. I called the head of the program, I've signed up and everything. I just need to pass my N.E.W.T.'s."

"I can't believe you!"

"If you've forgotten, it's my future!"

"Yeah, but at what cost? You should at least TELL him, damn it-"

"I will! I will, alright!"

Scarlett glared at him. "I've seen you pine after Ingladus for two years. I knew before you even told me in fifth year, did you know? It was so obvious, you'd go all glaze-eyed when he was near you. And now you manage to get into a relationship with him, against all the odds, and you adore him and he adores you too, and you went and did this behind his back?"

Crowley gave her a broken look. "I didn't realize I was going behind his back, it just happened, alright? I don't want to ruin our relationship or anything, I just. I'm going to tell him, I will, and soon, too, I promise." He edged on fraught near the end, convincing more himself than Scarlett.

Her expression softened just a bit, and she shook her head, sighing. "Fine. You had better, anyways… I'm only saying this because I care about you, Crowley. Ingladus is part of your life, now; you have to start acting like it. You're going to hurt yourself more if you don't."

"I guess."

Scarlett sighed again and turned back to her food. "Well, when are you going to tell him?"

"Before Christmas hols," Crowley decided. "I'll have three and a half months."

She groaned. "You're dragging this out much too long, you know that?"

"It's just the start of term now, though, I don't want to dump this on him!"

"Fine. But you have to do it by Christmas hols, okay?"

"I know."

"Good."

***

But Crowley also decided that if he were going to put it off for a bit, he might as well thoroughly enjoy Aziraphale's company at the same time. Desperately enjoying. He had less than a year left.

Sneaking into the Ravenclaw dorms late at night was hard enough. So was finding a date where most of the House would be out for the night- but the library had generously hosted a study night in preparation for pre-exams at the start of October, and most of the house dorms had cleared quickly.

Crowley was in the middle of twisting up into Aziraphale's arms, his head on the pillow of Aziraphale's bed while he drew himself deeper into Aziraphale's mouth, when they were rudely interrupted by a dormmate.

"Bloody hell!" shouted Sable, holding exactly four textbooks and a shocked expression as he stood frozen by the door. "What the-?"

Crowley crawled backwards up the bed hurriedly, while Aziraphale lifted himself off him and desperately patted down his own mussed hair.

"Oh- Sable, we were just-"

"You two haven't been doing that on my bed, have you?!"

"No!" exclaimed both of them at the same time. Aziraphale winced.

"I mean," he amended, "We were just reviewing medical emergency procedures, it wasn't like it looked-"

"You two were snogging."

"No, didn't you hear?" Crowley groused. "Medical emergency procedures."

"Your hand was on his arse," Sable told him blankly. "Your hand was groping his arse. Very enthusiastically."

Crowley colored and resolved not to say anything else.

Aziraphale tried again. "Well-"

"And your hand was down his trousers," he added to Aziraphale. He turned to Crowley once more. "By the way, your belt's undone, mate."

"Didn't notice," grumbled Crowley sarcastically, but quickly readjusted his belt nonetheless (and other parts of his body, too).

"There's no way out of it now, is there?" Aziraphale said. "Well, er- as you saw, Crowley and I are dating. We're involved."

"How long has this been going on?"

Crowley grinned. "Do you mean the part where we're in a relationship, or the part where his hand was on my-"

"A little under one year!" Aziraphale spoke hastily, drowning him out.

"Why didn't you…?" and here Sable sounded almost hurt.

Aziraphale looked guilty. "Er, I didn't know how to exactly tell you… Sorry about that. I was going to get around to it."

"Yes, but when?" Sable said, frowning. "How long were you planning to go without informing me?"

Aziraphale bit his lip.

"Look, all I'm saying, Zirah, is that you shouldn't keep important matters like this from your friends. It can create…distances. Rifts."

Aziraphale nodded, movements rushed as he tried to prove himself. "I know, I'm completely at fault here, I understand, I'm very, very sorry…"

He continued, while Crowley felt vaguely sick. This conversation was bringing up topics he was trying to keep repressed until absolutely necessary to hash out, and until then, even the barest mention of 'big news' and 'rifts' was untouchable. Really, now, for him the only 'touchable' matter was probably Aziraphale's bottom.

He unsteadily tuned back in. Aziraphale and Sable seemed to be amending their squabble, and Sable even let out a tiny smirk near the end.

"Well, I can't say it's a match made in heaven," he said smoothly. "But strangely enough, I can't really imagine either of you with anyone else. It just fits."

Aziraphale seemed to be pleased with that, smiling goofily at Crowley as soon as it was out of Sable's mouth. Crowley grinned unsurely back.

"As nice as that is, though," Sable continued reproachfully, "I'd rather appreciate it if you left, Crowley. Not to be rude. It's just that I need to sleep, and what you and Aziraphale were doing prior isn't exactly… comfortable for me to listen to. Or be aware of, really. Not when I'm trying to go to sleep. Or otherwise."

Crowley blinked. "Er, yeah, no problem. I'll get going, then, the other Ravenclaws are going to be coming back any second now, I reckon…"

He dazedly gave Aziraphale a parting peck, nodded at Sable, and adjusted his clothes to look less rumpled on his way out of the dorm. He had two or so more months, he reasoned as he crept to the Gryffindor common rooms. Two more months to break the news. Two more months, then six months of school, then one year away…

He gulped as he mistakenly tightened his tie a bit too much. Perhaps it wasn't so good to think of two months as plenty of time. If two months was long for him now, then one year would be interminable.

***

"Did you hear?" Aziraphale asked him politely as he sat down next to him in Divination, late October. "They're running career meetings today!"

Crowley's face contorted. He waved a cloud of incense away, trying to refocus back on what Aziraphale was saying.

"Career meetings?"

"Your head of house converses with you during this period regarding your future plans, N.E.W.T.'s, et cetera," Aziraphale explained. "If you have any ideas already, or what your strengths are, that too. Goodness, Flitwick is going to kill me, I've been conferring with him so long about Healer plans, and now… I'm not so sure…"

"Nuh, I'm sure you'll be fine, mate," Crowley said, trying his best at reassuring. "We've still got… plenty of time…"

Aziraphale sighed. "I suppose. What about you, dear?"

He shrugged noncommittally as his heart thumped harder, frightened inside the cavity of his chest. He could do this, just not now, now was too soon, still, what if Aziraphale broke up with him-

"Crowley! You've been called for your meeting!" said Aziraphale, real time, looking stern. "Haven't you been paying attention?"

"Ngk!" Crowley said in response. He blinked a few times, quickly dusted himself off and made the trek down the trapdoor and ladder out the room, where McGonagall was waiting for him with pursed lips.

"Do hurry up, Mr. Crowley, I expect this correspondence to end in precisely ten minutes- no more, no less. Do you understand?"

"Yes, ma'am."

She gestured him into a nearby empty classroom, nodding at him with her papers in hand. They had all sorts of markings on them (including "Lacks goal, but strong passion for certain classes," and "Suspect for vegetables incident two years ago, along with Scarlett Kuryg"). He sat down expectantly in the first row of tables opposite the large wooden teacher's desk.

McGonagall placed the folder and papers down in front of her on the desk, readjusted her glasses, and sat down.

"Now, Mr. Crowley," she said swiftly. "Do you have any plans for your future in mind already?"

He stumbled. "I- yes. I already have something in mind."

"Oh?"

"Uh. Well, I actually might have probably set up an apprenticeship."

She leaned back, impressed. "Well, I offer my congratulations. It's always nice to see some initiative from a student."

"You know me," he said wearily. "Anyways, it's a Magizoology program. Specializing in herpetology, round trip around the world for a year."

"What are the N.E.W.T. requirements for that, Mr. Crowley?"

"Eh, Herbology, Care of Magical Creatures. Although for my specific field they recommend Potions, too."

"Anti-dotes to venomous serpents, no doubt."

"Probably. But I think that's it, really."

She nodded, marking something down on the papers. "Well, I can see from your transcripts that your marks in these classes are certainly decent enough. Based off this, you should be able to reach your N.E.W.T. goals. If you continue studying hard."

"Oh, yes, Professor, I will," he said while thinking of the amount of times he had half-assed an essay mere seconds before it was due.

"I'm glad. Now, this apprenticeship… one year, correct?"

"Yes."

"Have you made all the arrangements regarding this trip?"

"Yeah. My mum and dad know, I'm making trips to get the initial supplies from Hogsmeade… nothing too big, in case I don't get the N.E.W.T. requirements…"

"Ah," she said thoughtfully. "Have you been keeping up on the reading for this branch of Magizoology?"

"Herpetology, you mean?"

"Yes. You have to have some prior interest or knowledge about the subject, I understand."

"Oh, I think I have snakes reasonably covered," he said dryly.

"Good, good. Now, where was I… Oh, yes. One year is a reasonable stretch of time. Your expenses and health must be in tip-top shape, and you must prepare for accidents and mishaps in advance. The trip can easily extend into the two year margin if it's delayed in any sort of way by you or your fellow apprentices in this particular program."

"Two- two years?!" he exclaimed, his stomach twisting sharply. "I can't do two years- One year is long enough, thanks!"

McGonagall tipped her glasses upwards and eyed him calculatingly. "Why can't you do two years, Mr. Crowley?"

"It's just…" he trailed off worriedly. "It's just a long time…"

"I understand that it can be a drawback. But it's your future, and you must get suited up for it- you're already of age, and soon you'll be part of the wizarding community. And that includes picking up on your responsibilities."

He tried not to look morose as he nodded and was shooed out of the room, planner for seventh year in hand. Responsibility meant…

Responsibility meant being on time with homework. It meant less late-night prank-pulling with Scarlett, it meant no more Zonko's goods smuggling and convincing others to use the cheating quills (and bailing them out sometimes, later), and less secret rendezvous with Aziraphale in the middle of the night. It meant doing classwork efficiently. And thinking about the future. It meant considering money matters, now, it meant looking for places to live, and how to exercise freedom safely when it came. It meant that and so much more-

Responsibility meant telling Aziraphale about his plans to leave for a year, before it was much too late. Crowley understood that. And it wasn't really fair to the either of them if he kept it to himself, right?

And for that matter, he had no idea what Aziraphale's plans were going to be. He could stay in England, but he could also very well be on his own route to some far-off place.

It was almost strange to consider, in that respect- for once his life was more organized than Aziraphale's. And this was the thought on his mind when he sat again besides him in Divination, looking vaguely sick.

"What's wrong?" Aziraphale whispered through Trelawney chanting something or other. "Were you not able to figure something out for end of year?"

Crowley groaned very quietly.

***

The tension in Crowley amassed in strange ways for the remainder of his grace month, before he absolutely needed to break the news. He became frantic in taking advantage of the time left at Hogwarts.

"C-Crowley, wha-aa-ttt-"

"Shhh!" He told Aziraphale fretfully, fumbling with the other's belt in pitch darkness. He took care not to elbow the books on the shelves Aziraphale was backed up on. Restricted Section books had a bothersome way of screaming or igniting when opened.

"Here?!" Aziraphale asked, affronted and breathless all at once.

"Oh, please," Crowley murmured before ducking down and getting on his knees. He continued from his new position as he unzipped Aziraphale's fly. "As if the books don't give you that extra thrill."

"What are you talking ab-bouut-"

Crowley did something daring with his mouth, and then pulled back to simply state, "Typical Ravenclaw stuff, AZ. Thought I reviewed this with you in third ye-"

But now it was his turn to be rudely cut off as Aziraphale insistently tugged his hair.

"Really?" he asked sarcastically, slightly muffled. But quietly he flattened up against Aziraphale even farther, naturally willing, pleased to be ordered, if only just a little.

And Aziraphale knew full well of his tendencies, and took granted advantage of it too, stroking his hair and mumbling little commands as Crowley tried his very best to satisfy, keening and sighing.

"Oh- oh, fuck- Crowley, I'm going to-"

"Did you just swear?" he managed to ask around the object in his mouth, before it was filled with something else entirely.

"Oh," he said after he swallowed. "Oh, gross."

"Sorry," Aziraphale muttered shakily, then slid down the shelf as his knees slowly gave out.

"It tasted weird."

"Well, Crowley, I didn't exactly implore you to try it out, did I-"

Crowley kissed him from the strained angle and pulled away.

"Oh, that is sort of strange," Aziraphale said after smacking his mouth and wrinkling his nose. "Well, that's just going to have to be something we both work on."

"Nuh. There's nothing wrong with mine."

"I can prove that there is," he contested.

"Yeah?"

"Yes."

And by then, his hands were already down Crowley's pants. Not that he was complaining.

***

The Quidditch pitch was frosted over by the beginning of December. The grass stood starkly, stiff and short and crunching under Crowley's foot as he made his way to the bleachers, where Aziraphale was hunched over, a pile of books stacked next to him. The Hufflepuff players were only just making their way out for their practice by the time Crowley reached him. He noncommittally watched the players kick off as he stood next to Aziraphale, waiting to see if the other had anything to say for himself.

"Aziraphale," he sighed quietly, after a period of time had passed. His breath sublimated into white puffs in front of him, matching the steam rising from the hot chocolate mug in his hand. "AZ. Why are you studying here?" There was an unsaid 'again' that was understood between the two of them.

"Too noisy in library. Need more privacy," grunted Aziraphale into his books. Crowley saw that his nails looked weirdly naked without any color on them- he had been insisting as of late that he was too stressed out to indulge right now.

Crowley dug his free hand into his pocket, pulled a bundle out, and presented it to Aziraphale.

"You forgot your gloves again," he said tiredly.

Aziraphale stared at them, looking up from his notes for the first time in two hours.

"Oh. Yes. Thank you..."

"Your fingers were about to turn blue."

"Mmhmm." He slipped the gloves on and went back to his book.

"You need to take of yourself as well."

"I need to work, Crowley," he replied, starting to sound peevish.

"You can take a break," said Crowley, and if anyone was listening closely, they'd hear an edge of pleading in his voice. Luckily for him- or not- Aziraphale wasn't paying him all that much attention. "This has been going on for the whole last month. We have winter hols coming up, in two weeks-"

"Yes, and we already have plans for that, right?" Aziraphale said distractedly. "You're coming to stay with me and Uncle at my house for two weeks."

"Yeah, I know," he replied impatiently. "And I'm glad for that and all, but you're- you're going to drive yourself insane doing all this work-"

"What else can I possibly do, Crowley? Got any better ideas? Got one single better idea?!" Aziraphale snapped.

"Huh?"

A wall broke, and Aziraphale began sputtering. "I'm in seventh year, and my old career plans aren't coordinating with my interests as well as I would like, so I have to face the consequences, simple as that!"

"What the bloody hell are you going on about?!"

The Hufflepuff players started peering over at their sole spectators as voices rose.

"I have no idea what I'm going to do for the rest of my life, is what I mean!" Aziraphale near shrieked, approaching a frenzied panic that indicated that a tantrum was underway. "I've worked so hard, all this time, all these years, I've never turned in work late, I've- I did all the reading before it was due, and never got a detention, I did almost all the extra credit, I- But- It doesn't mean anything if I don't have any idea what to do after this!"

Crowley stared at him in shock. He had known Aziraphale had been increasingly fragile and harried as of late, but this was news to him. "AZ, I think you need to calm do-"

"No!" Aziraphale exclaimed heatedly. He slammed his book shut, shoved it to his side, and pointed accusingly at Crowley. "You- you shut up! You're even worse off than me, you know that?!"

"Pardon?"

"Your track record here is horrendous at best- how many times did I tell you these years to stop cavorting with Scarlett? Detentions upon detentions upon... Ugh! It'll count against you for sure, and your grades, they're alright, but is that really all you can offer? Not once have I heard you mention any career or future you're interested in, you're so- so irresponsible, Crowley, you're irresponsible and you have the nerve to try and make me like you!" He was yelling by the end, frantic.

Crowley's one temper rose. "You think you're so great, d'you now? Is this what you've been thinking about me this whole time? A pointless, no-good wreck?"

Aziraphale glared. "Don't twist my words. I said nothing of the sort- I said you were unprepared for real life. You live in some fantasy world, thinking that Hogwarts is going to last forever- why else would you pull all those stunts with Scarlett? For your information, you can't set off twenty dung bombs anywhere you please in civilized wizarding society. You'll get fined by the ministry."

"Fantasy world?!" shouted Crowley incredulously. "This is- this is a bloody SCHOOL OF FUCKING MAGIC, it doesn't get more god damned fantasy than that, you prat!"

"Doesn't change the fact you're too sloppy for it, fantasy or not, then," Aziraphale sneered.

"Oh yeah? You think my life's so unorganized, you're a piss drunk mess yourself. I have plans already." And it felt so good to say it, fresh and icy as it slipped through his teeth and into the crisp air.

"Oh, I'm sure," Aziraphale growled. But there was uncertainty in his voice.

"I have an apprenticeship already, you arse! It's all set up- I contacted the Magizoology Bureau at the Ministry, over the summer, and if I play my N.E.W.T.'s right, then I'm off for a year after seventh ends. So there!"

There was a silence as it fell upon Aziraphale, as if a sudden tonne of snow was dropped upon the both of them. His expression slipped from anger to shock, melted from shock to doubt, drifted from doubt to confusion, and settled decidedly on hurt.

"What?"

And the way he said it, so plainly, so thoroughly bewildered in a small voice. Crowley was jerked out of his adrenaline-rush, left feeling miserable, and quite small himself.

"Yeah," he offered, voice cracking on the transition to quiet. "Er, I. I set it up in the summer."

"How… how come you didn't tell me?"

"I had only one chance to get in on it, with the due date, and I thought you'd hate me if I did it, but I really wanted to, it was getting late…"

Aziraphale stared up at him. His eyes were speckled with a whole range of blues, Crowley noted for the ten-thousandth time, from ice to little flecks of navy.

"You don't- hate me, right?" Crowley said almost inaudibly.

Aziraphale's brow crinkled, and he looked away. "You could have told me earlier."

"You had enough stress as it was," Crowley said, glancing pointedly at the books and papers strewn next to Aziraphale, and the handbook titled "So you don't know what career to settle on?"

"I need some time to think," Aziraphale eventually murmured.

"Okay."

"Alone."

"Oh."

Crowley fiddled with his sleeves, and placed the mug of hot chocolate next to Aziraphale. "Er. I got this for you."

"Thanks."

"I'll see you, then."

"Yes."

He left.

***

"Zirah," Sable said tonelessly, tapping him on the shoulder. "Your boyfriend's making his way over here."

Aziraphale did not glance up from the morning paper and sighed. "When isn't my boyfriend making his way over here?"

Sure enough, Crowley nudged his way in the space between two Ravenclaws sitting across them at the table and promptly placed himself there.

"Hey," he said anxiously. Aziraphale nodded at him from above the paper.

The two of them hadn't been on strictly speaking terms for the last two weeks. Hols were due to start tomorrow, and though Crowley knew it was too late to change their plans, he still worried that Aziraphale would cancel out on him any moment now. Not that it seemed Aziraphale was angry, which was yet another problem; If anything, he was gently polite when they had to interact, and quiet when they didn't need to. Crowley had yet to learn what the conclusion Aziraphale had reached about their relationship. This made the notion of spending two weeks with Aziraphale in his house even more stressful.

"We're still up for tomorrow, right?"

"Obviously," Aziraphale murmured.

"Oh. Okay. Just, nuh- just wanted to confirm."

"You're all packed, correct?"

"Yeah. Mostly."

"Make it completely," Aziraphale said, a vague hint of snide running into his tone. "You're all responsible and organized now, aren't you?"

"AZ-"

"Looks like your friend Scarlett needs you," he said lightly. And indeed, when Crowley turned around, he saw her at the Gryffindor table, waving to catch his attention.

"Oh, cripes, she wants… to copy my Transfiguration home…work…. Oh. Er."

Aziraphale raised an eyebrow while Sable watched on, also anticipating.

"Not that I'll let her, of course…" Crowley continued slowly. "Being responsible. Respectable, and all that."

"Glad to hear it," said Aziraphale dryly, and pulled his newspaper back up to indicate the conversation was over, indefinitely.

***

Crowley resolved to at least address the issue on the train ride back to 9 and ¾'s, where Aziraphale's uncle Gregory would pick them up. Better to sort this out before hols actually started.

But the first half of the train ride back was largely unfruitful. Aziraphale was hellbent on staring vaguely out the carriage, at the blank white landscape, as Crowley made fragmented attempts at starting conversation.

"So. Er- how's your Charms essay going?"

"Finished it," Aziraphale said vacuously.

"Oh. Good. I dunno how you manage it, AZ-"

"I plan out my week and work so they meld together, and I don't waste time." It was entirely unspoken, but Crowley swore he could hear him say "Unlike some people."

Crowley scratched at the back of his head and let out a long breath. Ah, well. Clearly, trying to loosen him up wasn't working. He had to cut his losses.

"Aziraphale, I know you're mad at me. And you have every right to be. But we should talk it out, at least- I gave you time to think, didn't I? Might as well hear it."

Aziraphale continued looking outside as the carriage rumbled.

"Aziraphale, please."

Crowley was about to give up trying to reconcile when Aziraphale spoke up, sharply:

"You know, you never asked me how my uncle was about us."

"Eh?"

Aziraphale turned and looked him in the eye from across their small space. "I sent you a letter, during the summer. I told you I had told my uncle that you and I were dating, and he was taking it- reasonably- well. But you never asked me about it further."

"Shit, AZ, I forgot-"

"And now," Aziraphale continued over him, louder, "You're willing to go traipsing off with me to my house and meet him, not a clue on how he's going to deal with you. What on Earth is wrong with you? Have you no comprehension of how the real world operates?"

"'Course I do!"

"I still can't believe you managed to pull together for your future before I did. It's preposterous. But," he considered, pausing, "Not impossible. Clearly, you haven't much to consider for boundaries."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"You don't take me seriously enough."

"Obviously I do. I'm listening to you, aren't I?"

"I mean, seriously enough as a relationship. A couple."

"Oh." He fumbled for a way to retaliate. He wasn't prepared for the conversation to steer in this direction.

"Exactly. Your recent behavior has ascertained that much at least, for me. That's alright. Not everyone's perfect for each other. Que será, será. What hurts, though, is that I thought we were going to last a little longer than just the length of some school years. I certainly liked you enough for that." He looked out the window again tiredly. "My question is, then, if we're not going to be serious… then why bother?"

Crowley stared at him, hands sweaty and cold. "What?"

"Well, I don't want to hold you back. And if I'm giving you any credit, I don't think you want to intentionally hurt me too. So it would be best if we weren't… together, don't you agree?"

He gawped. "What?"

Aziraphale sighed again, and rubbed a hand at his face wearily. "Please stop repeating yourself."

"I'm not sure if I'm following you," Crowley said hollowly.

"I'm saying that it would be ideal if we broke up. After the hols, of course, even I can admit it would be awkward to spend two weeks with an ex under the same roof. It'll make things easier for the both of us, instead of fooling around even as the pressure at school rises."

"I see," Crowley said, for what else could he say? He felt strangely dull. He hadn't the heart or mind to even consider starting a protest.

"I'm glad," murmured Aziraphale, and he sounded almost kind, for a tiny moment. And there was nothing much to be added after that.

***

Gregory, to Crowley's relief, seemed to be a kind older man who was generally amiable. A little eccentric, with graying hair and grayer eyes and a perpetually ticking and sparking pocket watch, but kind all the same.

"Crowley, my boy?" he had said fully, swooping Crowley's hand in for a hearty shake when they first met at the station after his introductions with Aziraphale.

"That's me, er- sir," Crowley indicated with a small smile.

"Good, good. Lovely to finally meet you." He withdrew his hand, checked his pocket watch, and raised his eyebrows. "Sakes alive! We're late by- negative three minutes already! Come, come, we must get going, I have plans for dinner…"

Crowley turned around and gave Aziraphale a pointed glance as Gregory hurried off with his bags.

"He likes to be early," Aziraphale said primly, and took his own bags and followed him.

The trip home was long and consisted largely of Gregory bringing up conversation to get to know Crowley. Crowley didn't mind this, of course, but it made him nervous to realize Aziraphale sat in the backseat and was silent through the ride- which was just under four hours, mind you. That was a lot of time to be asked "So how's Hogwarts for you young un's?" multiple times, in various phrasings.

"Where exactly do you live?" Crowley asked exasperatedly as the third hour drew to a close. It was beginning to get dark, and the land was growing more and more rural as they sped on, spans of white-blue snow rushing past.

"Northallerton, m'dear. Lovely bungalow, overlooks farmland. Close enough to some other houses for a nice neighborhood, of course, but nicely tucked away I think, gives a sense of privacy."

"Farmland?"

"Oh, yes. Acres upon acres of mar-ve-lous farmland. The cows have been taken in for the winter, to be sure, but they're such a sight in warmer days…"

Crowley's interest was piqued. "Any nice scrumping sites?"

Aziraphale rolled his eyes from the backseat, but didn't answer the question. Gregory did not seem to take notice of this.

"No, dear, we don't have to privilege of living nearby orchards," he sighed. "As nice as it would be. But there are some wayward apple trees, I believe, not too far off from us."

"Sounds good," Crowley concluded. "I'm willing to improvise."

***

They reached Aziraphale's home late enough that it was pitch black outside, and Crowley didn't have much of a chance to inspect the establishment. He resolved to see it the next morning, but for now his only goal was to unpack and go to sleep, and try to pretend that whatever Aziraphale had said was part of an ill-conceived fever dream.

"I'm turning in for the night, m'dears," Gregory informed them with a tired edge in his voice. "That ride really took a mark on me." He retired to the master bedroom down the hall- the house only had one floor, but was wide built.

Then it was only Crowley and Aziraphale left on opposite ends in the dimly lit kitchen.

"I sleep in the room besides yours, right?" Crowley asked quietly while the other rummaged through a cabinet and pulled out a mug. Aziraphale had a standard double sized bed, he had peeked in to check, but he hadn't raised thoughts about sharing, so Crowley hadn't, either.

"Yes, that's the plan," Aziraphale verified. He stuck the mug- now filled with milk, some cocoa powder, and two tablespoons of sugar- into the microwave and set it for two minutes. "I'll show you around the house tomorrow, it's a bit too late today for that, I apologize."

It was so formal now, between them- Crowley blanched at the thought. Their last two weeks together, and it was going to be spent with awkward glances and uncomfortable silences, he could imagine it all too clearly…

"What do you think of my uncle?" Aziraphale enquired politely.

"Huh?" Crowley responded, broken out of his reverie. "Oh, yeah. He seems like a decent fellow, sure. Pretty eyes. Kind of like yours," he noted absently.

He paused. That was probably a horribly tasteless thing to say, god damn it-

But Aziraphale only smiled slightly in return and tilted his head. "I guess. The similarity is entirely unrelated, though. He's my mother's older brother. I've supposedly gotten my eyes from my father's side of the family."

Crowley nodded. He wondered if this was an invitation to ask about Aziraphale's parents- he had always maintained a distance from the topic, he didn't want to intrude on anything that wasn't his business.

"I've lived with Uncle since I was four or so, though, so I'd think most people make the assumption that I got my eyes from him," Aziraphale continued, changing the topic. The microwave dinged.

He pulled out the mug carefully and swished at it with his spoon before taking a careful sip.

"'S it any good?" Crowley asked after a moment.

"Mmhmm." He took another sip and stepped forward, reaching behind Crowley to turn off the lights and pulled back so that they were very close together.

"We had a long day today," he murmured, looking Crowley in the eye.

Crowley gazed back. He realized he was holding his breath. "You're telling me."

Aziraphale stood on his tiptoes and pressed his lips to Crowley's gently, softly enough that Crowley could still get the slightest hint of sweet hot cocoa, and rolled back down to his heels.

"Get some sleep," he offered tiredly as ways of advice, and clicked the last light on his way out.

But Crowley couldn't.

***

Crowley was shaken awake the next morning but Aziraphale, patient and still vaguely withdrawn.

"Nn?" Crowley groaned.

"Uncle's making pancakes," Aziraphale explained mildly. "I thought you might still like them while they're hot. And I'll show you around town today, if you'd like."

"Ngh," he voiced in agreement. He yawned. "Uh, sure. Should I get dressed before or...?"

"Later. The bathroom's down the hall, if you want to take a shower." He eyed Crowley with a strange expression that implied he really ought to take a shower, either way.

Crowley left quickly, rubbing his burning eyes and leaving Aziraphale in the room.

Aziraphale frowned at the pillow Crowley left behind. There were wet splotches on it- drying, but most definitely there. He shrugged. Perhaps it was simply excessive hair gel.

In the back of his mind, he considered that he hadn't ever seen Crowley use hair gel save for ever so often- and why would he have used it last night? He shook his head. Well, sometimes you just don't know with muggleborns.

Crowley paced down the hallway, yesterday's events trickling back to him. Aziraphale had broken up with him. In advance, actually, which was worse in its own respect- what was the point of maintaining something so obviously fake for a feeble two weeks?

He rubbed his eyes. Maybe it was Aziraphale's way if saying there was a chance to salvage something of their relationship, if he could make it up to him in these last two weeks. It just happened to quickly, he hadn't even meant to make it seem that the other wasn't a priority, but it that didn't matter now, did it? He had done it anyways.

He brushed his teeth and looked around in the bathroom. There was a small grainy picture framed in gold, of a tiny child pouting at the beach, holding a stick and making squiggles in the ground. In a fit of self-awareness, the blonde child turned to Crowley and scowled, waving his stick threateningly.

He started. He had forgotten magical pictures could do that.

His gaze drifted to another picture, the same child- with glasses now, and curlier hair- trying to clamber on top of a table to a stack of precariously balanced children's books. The books began floating just out of his reach, before he got to them, and then neatly reorganized themselves once he dismounted, as to start the process over again.

He smiled vaguely at the thought of a younger Aziraphale running after books. It was definitely a thing from childhood, then.

When he thought about it, he barely remembered what Aziraphale looked like as a first year. He barely remembered first year with Aziraphale at all. There was some discourse, and a lot of glaring involved at the very least. And then third year, he remembered Aziraphale looking righteous with some fury, the way his fist sailed in the air, and the crack of a job well done.

This could be just another fight, he reasoned miserably. Perhaps there needed to be some climax that Aziraphale had yet to decide on, and then it would be okay again.

On the other hand, he didn't want his nose broken twice. Once was quite enough.

He spat in the sink, washed his face and took his own impromptu tour of the house. There was a pretty lounge- if old fashioned- a separate dining room in a cream color, and Aziraphale's bedroom, which was a light purple color and had papers and parchments strewn everywhere. But Aziraphale wasn't there, and he was in enough trouble as it was. He decided not to study farther.

Eventually, when he was satisfied with viewing the rest of the house, he wandered into the kitchen. He could see it better in the light; a little cramped, but definitely doable for a family of two. Yet Aziraphale wasn't there either.

Gregory turned from the pancakes he was making on the stove and welcomed Crowley with a smile. Crowley noticed his apron- bright red, with the caption "I'm Merlin's gift to cooking!" He decided not to comment.

"Crowley, my boy, how did you sleep?"

"Fine, sir," Crowley said. "That smells great, by the way."

"Thank you, thank you. The mix took a smidge of time, I had misplaced my wand, had to do it the muggle way... No matter, though. Eat up!"

The stack of pancakes on the porcelain plate next to him levitated and placed itself delicately on the dining table. Crowley smiled unsurely, not knowing whether to ask if utensils and maple syrup were an option. But Gregory corrected himself, and with a flick of a wand both of those were on the table too.

Wizarding houses were strange, Crowley thought again. Everything was done differently. But Scarlett's house was larger and a bit more violent than Aziraphale's, with her two younger sisters and one brother all fighting for territory over everything. Crowley had found out the hard way that even guests weren't exempt from this rule.

At first he had felt bad throwing Dmitry out of his bed, or taking back his morsel of chicken that Natalya stole during dinner, or even making Alexandria stop dumping her dirty laundry on his pile so that he would do it. By the end of the week, though, mercy was a concept he had completely lost touch with. Their household was some battle, and he could do nothing but play soldier.

He sat down and pulled the plate towards him. "Where's Aziraphale, by the way?"

"He's picking the mail from down the road."

"Ah."

Gregory continued speaking as Crowley dug in. "You know, my dear, when Aziraphale told me you two were in love, I didn't know what to think."

"In what?" spluttered Crowley, choking a bit on his pancake.

"Well, he didn't exactly say that. But I could tell. It took me a bit, mind you, but it was all the same symptoms."

"What're those?" He asked incredulously.

"It made me realize that there was a reason all of his letters from his sixth year were so cheery. And this passing summer, the poor boy'd head was up in the clouds, he was thinking about something near constantly. And he continually mentioned you, my boy, that truly made it all too clear. 'Oh, Uncle- did you know Crowley allows his snake to wander his room freely? Oh, Uncle, I hope Silas doesn't scare Crowley too badly, he can't stand owls. Uncle, can I buy this book on magical books for Crowley? He's really very talented with them. Crowley, Crowley, Crowley.' It was endless," he joked.

Crowley felt suddenly very ill and strangely soft in his chest at the same time.

"I realized then that it was clear as day he's loved you for a good deal of time. It isn't any of my business whether it was platonic to romantic, is it?" He came closer and patted Crowley on the back. "I daresay you're good for him, though. He's been... brighter since he's been with you. And I'm very grateful for that."

It was too much.

"He hates me," Crowley blurted out, to his immense horror.

Gregory raised his eyebrows and took a careful seat.

"Whatever do you mean, dear?"

Crowley shook his head. "I buggered it all up. I- I took a job abroad, and didn't tell him. I couldn't bring myself to."

"Oh," said Gregory. He pursed his lips, his brow furrowed as he looked down at the grain of the table's wood. "Goodness."

"I know," moaned Crowley. "And that isn't all. I've just been a right out tosser for the last few months, and I didn't even know. As if he needed more stress on head."

"I'm sure he's fine, he's sturdier than you'd think-"

"He thinks we ought to end it. Permanently."

"Whoo-ee," whistled Gregory. "Well, Aziraphale can sometimes go into little tempers, it's not too uncommon... It may yet pass," he ended hopefully.

"That's the thing, sir. He's not in a temper. He's just sort of sad. I've seen him in a temper. Or, rather, my nose has."

Gregory smiled wryly. "Oh, yes, he's mentioned that. I'm so sorry, m'boy-"

"I'm over it," Crowley said quickly, thinking of the multiple times Aziraphale had gone out of his way to peck him affectionately on that crook.

"I see. Well, I see that you're upset about this, and I saw that Aziraphale did indeed seem a little quiet yesterday... The only advice I can offer, love, might prove to be very helpful to entirely useless."

"I'll take what I can get, sir."

"If his concern is that your relationship won't last, or that there's an uneven distribution of love-" Crowley tried not to break out in a nervous sweat the the word- "Then you ought to show him that you can manage such a relationship. Or that it's not one-sided." He peered at Crowley apprehensively. "You do love him, don't you? You're not treating this as some joke of a-"

"Of course not!" Crowley said loudly, and then winced. "I mean, no, I don't want it to be a joke or anything like that."

"So then prove that to him, Crowley."

"Prove me what?"

They both jerked to see Aziraphale standing by the doorway in a dressing gown, snow brushing the trim of his pajama pants while holding the mail and squinting suspiciously at the both of them.

"What did you say?" he repeated.

"Are we going to see town soon?" Crowley asked at the same time Gregory said, "Why, the weather's very nice for some ice skating, don't you agree, dear?"

Aziraphale stared at them and scowled. He dumped the pile of mail on the side table, and with an angry flinch of his wand, half of the pancakes from Crowley's plate resituated themselves on a neighboring, empty one.

"I'm going to get dressed," he said sulkily. "Don't eat my food, Crowley." With that, he turned around and left in a huff.

Gregory watched him leave. "Getting too good at nonverbal spells, that one."

***

In this fashion, the first week of hols passed with an awfully familiar uneasiness for the both of them. It was like they had pitched a tent in winter break of third year, and were now camping out in that godforsaken greenhouse for some perpetual moment of time.

Crowley had done his research regarding muggle tourist spots before the trip. He took Aziraphale to Mount Grace Priory and Kiplin Hall, near forced him on a ride on the Wensleydale Railway, even managed to get him to wander around at the Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden. And it was all exciting and new and interesting in its own way, but it didn't change the fact that there was some heavy, bitter air strung out between them, that bogged the general mood down.

Sometimes they'd forget. White Scar Caves was an expansive gash of caves running down under a nearby part of Yorkshire, dark and cool and wet with all sorts of rock formations creeping up the walls. They went on Thursday of the first week.

Ducking through dripping passages was hard enough, but coupled with travelling in a tight line of people in near blackness made it significantly more difficult. They had been straightening up in a cavern following a tunnel crawl when the leader of the group had dropped her flashlight in a loud clattering noise.

The light had skittered, and the bang echoed in the cave. Someone shrieked off to their right.

Crowley's own heart had pounded wildly in his chest, and he reached his hand out, grasping for some purchase and was met with something soft and sort of slippery, but firmly holding on to his hand. Another hand. He had clutched at it.

The tour guide eventually got her hands on the flashlight, turned to the group to sedate them from the mild panic, and readjusted the light to check that everyone was intact.

It was only then that Crowley had realized that it was Aziraphale's hand he was holding, and that said individual was looking very pale.

"You okay?" he had asked, shuddering.

"Mm," Aziraphale had responded tightly, and dropped his hand.

***

"How do even I show that I- well, you know!"

Gregory tsked. "Don't give me that poppycock, dear boy. You just tell him."

"It's not that easy," moaned Crowley.

"Yes well, it never really is, is it?"

Aziraphale had turned in early, stating he was tired and that he wanted to take the next day- Saturday- a bit slow. This left Crowley and Gregory in the lounge, with the former slouched over on the couch, and the latter sitting across him in another chair and contemplating thoughtfully.

"Crowley, dear… If it's not too forward…"

"Go ahead," Crowley said flatly.

"I sense you have some trouble expressing your affection. Which is perfectly normal among many-"

"No offense, sir, but I think I can express just fine," he rebuked. If all those late night escapades he had been participating in for the last year and the activities they included weren't displays of affection, then he wasn't quite sure what was.

"No, no, you might be misunderstanding me. There seems to be a sort of verbal block."

"What?"

"From what I can gather, anyhow. You haven't even been able to say the word 'love' to me."

Crowley opened his mouth in disbelief.

Gregory raised his eyebrows at him, over his glasses. "Now, if you can't tell me that you love him, then how do you expect him to know any better?"

He searched for something to say, but could pull up no cards. Gregory was right.

"Now, it's getting late," Gregory continued, glancing at his pocket watch. "I think I'm going to turn in for the night as well. Goodnight, dear."

He creaked out of the chair and hobbled out of the room while Crowley sat still on the couch. Crowley could already remember it, remember the summer before fifth year when he just couldn't manage to tell Aziraphale that he was his best friend too, or how terrifyingly excruciating it was to simply admit to Aziraphale that he fancied him on the balcony of the astronomy tower.

But he had managed it, hadn't he? And he did- he gulped to himself- love Aziraphale, yes, of course he did. For a long time.

"I love you," he said to the turned off box of a telly, testing out the words in his mouth. He imagined being able to say it, over and over, into Aziraphale's mouth, hands, cheeks, neck. That could work. That could definitely work.

***

"Where is God's name is Crowley?" Aziraphale muttered, sounding quite irritable as he walked into the kitchen in pajamas. "I just spent the last ten minutes looking for him, he's not in the house."

"Why, no need to sound so bitter, m'dear. I believe you wanted a slow day today."

"So…?"

"Thusly, he's 'giving you some space,' as he so aptly told me this morning."

Aziraphale's brow crinkled. "But it's morning now. When did he tell you?"

"Oh, whereabouts of five AM." Gregory took a relaxed sip of his tea. "I got quite a fright, being woken up at that time by him. But all the better, wouldn't you agree? Had much more time to make a nice, slow breakfast."

"Five AM?" Aziraphale mouthed. "Uncle, you're- you're talking about our Crowley, correct?"

Gregory's eyes twinkled good-naturedly. "Oh, my dear, I think you mean your Crowley."

Aziraphale blushed furiously, and did not press the topic of his boyfriend after that.

***

"This is The Flower Bowl, yeah?" asked Crowley, breathless and hair tussled after running into the small shop in such a hurry. "I'm gonna need a rather quick order, if you don't mind-"

"Woah there, sir, take a few deep breaths there, no need to rush," said the woman quickly behind the register. The newcomer had nearly toppled over some plants on the way in, and she was sure that he had kicked over that one pot, but it looked like it had righted itself at just the last moment.

"Sorry, sorry. Look, er- I'm going to need a bouquet. Romantically themed."

"Twelve roses, then?" she suggested, tapping on her electronic cash register.

"Ngh. Nah." Too common. "D'you have alternatives?"

"Certainly- any flowers in mind?"

Dogwood? No, too redundant. What about that flower he had from way back in third? From when Aziraphale had lent him his Qur'an. An apple flower, he thought- but he doubted this place sold them en masse, or that Aziraphale would even understand the reference.

"A few red and yellow roses, I guess," he amended. Red was for romantic love, but yellow was for platonic. Hopefully, even if this didn't solve anything, they could still be friends?

"Sure. How many?"

"Uh. Two red, two yellow."

What else, what else...

"You know, if you're interested, you can use flower language."

"Eh?"

"Flowers that have symbolic meanings- most people only know the roses. I can list a few other romantic ones."

"Oh. Yeah, that'll be good." Aziraphale better'd know his flower language, he thought darkly. These things cost a surprisingly large sum of money.

"Well, honeysuckle represents the bonds of love, and lilac likewise stands for the first beginning feelings of love...acacias, secret love, and violets, faithful love-"

"Toss a few of those violets in there, then," he said, trying to sound as businesslike as possible. The clerk smiled slightly.

"Alright, sir. Should I go on?"

Crowley nodded.

"Primrose, usually there for young love." She squinted at Crowley, who focused much of his energy into not breaking into a sweat.

"You don't look like you can be more than-"

"I'm seventeen."

"And the recipient of this gift?"

"Also seventeen, yeesh. Fine, some primroses too, I suppose."

"Anything else...?"

"Sunflowers," he said after some thought. He didn't care to explain his reasoning. Too embarrassing. "And, uh, if you have anything that symbolizes..." He made desperate hand gestures. "You know..."

The clerk raised an eyebrow and grinned a bit. "I'll put down some yellow tulips."

"What's that for?"

"You'll see. But I have a feeling it's on point."

***

Scrumping was a (literally) fruitless endeavor in the winter, with all the snow out and the apple trees completely dormant. Which was a complete shame, because Crowley enjoyed the taste of stolen apples. Forbidden apples. They were strangely juicier, and much more savory.

There was a copse of apple trees not but two miles from Aziraphale's house, he had realized the last night. Around the same time, he remembered he was fully of wizarding age. How uncanny.

***

"Oh," said Gregory as the slow day drew closer to afternoon. "I forgot to tell you, Aziraphale, but Crowley left a message for you before he left."

Aziraphale looked up from his crossword at the dining table, frustrated. He had been pestering Gregory for information all day, and now he chose to remember?

"Left for where, though, Uncle?! Why won't you just tell me-"

He paused. "Message?"

"Quite. He said that he was going to be spending some time in the nearby farm, McCallister's, where there's a little tiny orchard of sorts."

Aziraphale stared at him emptily. "Orchard?" he repeated. And then, more angrily: "He's in an orchard?"

He began breathing a little heavily, and his ears went pinkish.

"Aziraphale, my boy, no need to get worked up-"

"The nerve!" he spat. He slammed his pencil down, and stood up quickly, looking wildly for his coat, talking all the while. "I told that git no, no scrumping, I told him over the moon and back, and what's the use, anyways? In the middle of winter? Oh, I bet he's using some inane spell for his own awful reasons, I cannot- I cannot believe-"

He continued ranting to himself as he stormed to his bedroom, tossing a fuzzy sweater and sweats hastily on top of his pajamas.

"Honestly, as if he isn't in enough trouble already, the barmy little shit-"

"Language!" exclaimed Gregory as a reminder from the kitchen.

"He's off his trolley, he is! Of all the tosh, I just- ugh!" He shoved his arms through a thick jacket, wrestling with his shoes and scarf straight after. "I'm going out to see him, okay, Uncle?"

"You're just going to walk all the way? In this cold?"

"What?" he huffed indignantly. "If he can do it, I can!"

He left with a slam of the door that rattled the room. Back in the kitchen, Gregory sighed wistfully, blinking at the bright window across him.

"Ah, young love."

***

When two young people both have speeches memorized, typed across their cerebrums, when two young people are secretly sweating and wringing their hands to prepare for the moment that they'll finally launch into their dialogue, praying vaguely that they won't trip over a word, a remarkable thing takes place.

They begin to question if their words are really important. When one blonde wizard thundered out of his house in a fit, he had started out with lengths of angry words on hand. They were always waiting, behind his mouth, for the last week, and now it was his chance to let loose, finally, finally-

But when he drew closer to a fence, from which beyond laid a patch of unevenly-spaced apple trees, his words ticked closer into each other until he couldn't recall the original sentiment at all. He was angry, wasn't he? Something about that. He crawled between the wooden beams and tried to pick out where Crowley would be.

And at the same time, a dark-haired wizard attempted not to fly off a bough of an apple tree, while his heart thumped as if he had fallen off anyways. He held a large bundle of flowers, that he worried about- understandably, for the temperature was technically quite nippy, and that wouldn't do well at all.

Coincidentally enough, Crowley was perched atop the only apple-bearing, fully-leafed tree in the entire span of trees. Even stranger was that there was no snow- rather, only summer kissed grass- in a ten foot radius of the tree's trunk. And it was quite warm too.

"Wh- how long did that take?" Aziraphale asked, forgetting himself in awe. It was almost as if the little portion of land had been reverted to its state in late summer, early fall. Crowley peeked his head through the leaves, craning his neck such that he could see Aziraphale more clearly.

"Er- about all morning."

"All for some apples-" Oh, right. That's what he was mad about. He took a deep breath and launched.

"Why, Crowley, why?! I told you that you can't go scrumping, and it's the least you owe me to respect my wishes, and you go out of your damn way to make it possible? In winter?! Do you have any shame?!"

"Uh," Crowley started.

"Either you have some deep-seeded- pun not intended- problems with apples, dear-" Oh, Aziraphale hadn't used that term for the last few weeks, nice to hear it again- "Or you really, really want to spite me. If that's your purpose, then go ahead! What do I care! It's not as if I still want us to maintain to the very least degree a healthy friendship, noooo-"

A Honeycrisp apple narrowly missed Aziraphale's head as it zoomed past. It smacked first into the springy grass, and then rolled into the nearby snow.

"Did you just-" Aziraphale gasped, affronted.

"I don't give a rat's arse about the apples, alright?! Fuck's sakes, AZ. Listen."

Aziraphale crept closer to the tree and looked straight up, with a decidedly unimpressed expression. "Fine. I'm listening. What is it? Please, justify your thievery for me, I'd love to hear it."

Crowley gave him a scornful look. "That's rich, coming from you. For the record, I'm still wearing that snake bracelet-"

"Go on, your point?" Aziraphale said loudly, drowning him out as his own face turned reddish. Crowley stuck his tongue out at him.

"Huh. Fine." He fidgeted with the base of the bouquet, which was still out of sight for Aziraphale due to the angle of viewing. "First off, I didn't come here to nick the apples. I would, if I could, but I wouldn't waste my energy for four hours trying to figure out some advanced magic for something I can buy at the local supermarket. And either way, you're not really mad at me about that, are you?"

Aziraphale stared up at him. He stared back.

"I know why you're mad. You have a god-given right to be mad. I buggered it up, and I wanted to- well first of all, actually apologize for it."

"Sod off," said Aziraphale, sounding exhausted. "Crowley, I'm so tired, I'm so tired of this already, please, I don't want to…"

"No, really, please listen. You don't have to accept it. But I have to try. So, er…" he paused. It had always been so difficult for him to 'speak from the heart', and rejection had likewise always been so terrifying, but the dive was right there, in front of him. At the very least, it wasn't that public of a declaration.

"Aziraphale, I'm sorry that I completely and utterly disregarded your feelings and presence, and made the decision to go abroad for a year without telling you- also known as the decision to be a first-class prat."

Aziraphale's mouth twitched at that. Crowley rolled forward, encouraged:

"It was horrendous of me- not because I wanted to do it, but because I kept it from you for so long. That was awful. I'm so, so sorry, truly, mate. And I did it because… because when the opportunity came up, I knew that I wanted to go for it. It made so much sense. But you think that I didn't consider you in the equation, but honestly, you were the second thought I had. I guess I realized that it would make you unhappy to know that I wanted to go down that career, and I didn't want to hurt your feelings, so I- being the wanker I am- bypassed even telling you and did it anyways. But you were always on my mind. Honest."

His voice became quieter. "You had mentioned, on the train ride here… that I don't take you seriously enough, as a boyfriend, partner, whatever. I don't know if I can convince you otherwise. It's up to you to decide, but for the record, I didn't tell you because I love you too much to even think about hurting you. The fact that it happened anyways kind of screws up the whole purpose of my pathetic actions- again, I am so sorry- but I guess that's why it was hard to hear you say that you thought didn't love you as much as youloved me."

Crowley's heart bounded while Aziraphale continued looking up, but now with a slack jaw and wide eyes.

It was exhilarating, saying 'love' so many times. It was as if something had been finally let loose inside him, and was pouring cheerfully out of his mouth in the form of that word.

"It's always been a bit weird for me to talk about love, y'know? You probably noticed, naturally. But even in fifth year, just hearing you calling me your best mate, that scared me. Because I always figured that- I don't know. That I'd call you my best mate too, and you'd turn around and ditch me, and I'd look like a fool. Then where would I be? Flash bastard would find me a total failure."

Aziraphale let out a nervous, choked laugh. Crowley smiled. Flash bastard, the ideal of his earlier years, still liked to make an appearance ever so often. But not now.

"So in the end, it's just been difficult for me to get it all out, and that's a bit unfair to you. I mean, you ought to know. You deserve it."

"I don't know if I can accept your apology, yet," Aziraphale yelled up quickly, before Crowley could continue. If they were talking about fairness, he had to keep Crowley updated too. "It's still not fair, what you did. Just because you feel sorry doesn't change the fact that I'm still hurt. Or that you leaving will make it harder for the both of us."

"I know. You're right. I won't try to make excuses, it's all up to you whether to forgive me for being such a shithead or not. I'm not going to push it any farther than that. But I have other things to say, too," Crowley explained.

He considered for a moment. "Nn. You, uh, might want to climb up here for a moment."

Aziraphale silently hoisted himself up, and leaned himself on a limb opposite Crowley's, holding his breath.

He promptly let out in a gasp, at the sight of the colorful bouquet in Crowley's hands.

"I dunno, I thought that if I couldn't say 'I love you', then at least the flowers could," Crowley joked. "But I can still try."

"Oh, Crowley…"

"No interrupting, this is fucking difficult. Alright. Aziraphale Ingladus. I love you. I've loved you for a good deal of time, and it's complete rubbish that I haven't been reminding you of the fact ever so often, because you're not only my boyfriend- but you're my best mate. I love you, I adore you, all of that- fuck, this is embarrassing, I hope you're getting all of this down- and, I think… that if you're willing to try again, and to put work in, we can manage a year apart and still come out fine. It's up to the both of us."

He left it at that and presented the bouquet to Aziraphale, lovely and large and blooming. The other delicately held it, peering at each flower one by one, trying to keep himself from pinching himself in awe.

"Is this based off traditional flower language?"

"Er, yeah. Do you…?"

"Oh, yes, of course. But I'd like it better if you explained the meanings."

Crowley felt his face become hot, and reminded himself that it was all to prove his feelings, he just had to bear the embarrassment for now.

"Yeah, well…" he maneuvered himself closer through tree limbs and leaves, such that there was only enough space for the bouquet between them. The new spot was harder to balance in, with only a crook of the limb's base providing a base for his feet.

"Roses, the red one obviously being romantic, but the yellow ones for friendship. And those violets are, uh, faithful love-"

He shifted closer, picking out the others. He deliberately ignored the smile Aziraphale wore on his face. "Primrose, young love… please stop giving me that look, AZ, I'm getting bloody nervous here."

"I was just wondering what the sunflower meant. That's not part of flower language."

"Oh. I chose that. It's because- ngh. It's unimportant, really-"

"No, tell me!"

"Because sunflowers are like the sun, and I thought that youlightupmylifesortofthing."

"Pardon?" Aziraphale asked, grinning widely.

Crowley sulked. "You bloody well heard me, don't push it."

He looked again, concentrating. There was one more flower type… Ah.

"And the yellow tulips, which are…" Hadn't the clerk failed to tell him what they symbolized? "I actually didn't quite catch what type of love they were, to be honest."

"Don't worry," reassured Aziraphale. "I know which one."

"And what's that?"

Aziraphale let out a breathless, short laugh.

"Hopeless," he said, and then leaned in and kissed the other soundly.

***

"I don't forgive you completely, yet," Aziraphale decided by that night, while they watched some muggle movie play on. They were pushed up against each other on the couch, under a tartan blanket of Aziraphale's own, and it was very late. "If I forgave you that easily, you'd think that I can be wooed by any pretty bunch of flowers, and it'll all be okay."

"Can't you, though?" Crowley said slyly, and was elbowed in the ribs for that.

"Seriously. I understand you made a mistake this time, but it was still a rather big one. You're going to have to make it up somehow, you figure it out."

"But…"

"But I… do believe that if you and I are invested in our relationship, then we can manage the year apart just fine."

"So we aren't…?"

"We aren't breaking up, dear."

Crowley smiled childishly to himself, and then tried to stop himself. But he was too tired to keep a full measure over all his faculties, and ended up grinning foolishly anyways.

"I'm glad," he yawned happily, and burrowed himself closer to Aziraphale, under the blankets. "I… can… probably try helping you, in finding… a career you want, by the way… If you want any help."

Aziraphale's eyes widened as he stared the telly. "Oh! That would be- nice."

That would be beyond nice. He could see himself forgiving Crowley over that, if he worked hard enough and was true to his word.

"We can… start tomorrow," Crowley slurred, starting to drift off. "You know, wizards ought to get computers… search engines are such a blessing… would make research for this much easier."

Crowley's hand found itself on Aziraphale's underneath the blanket, and their fingers laced into place.

"Good night," sighed Aziraphale, because it was obvious where this was going.

"I love you," Crowley murmured dazedly, right before he fell off, just as a reminder that he could say it. And it felt so wonderful, like something he never wanted to stop saying, ever.

Aziraphale squeezed Crowley's hand a bit tighter. "I love you too, my dear."

***

By springtime, Hogwarts was their home again, and the crocuses and tulips and lilies of the valleys were springing up like little waxy colored buds in the school garden. Already flowered were the marsh marigolds, glossy and golden in the slight breeze, and the neighboring lilac milkmaids.

The grass was long and unkempt here, and slightly wet and squishy as Aziraphale and Crowley walked down between the rows of blooms. It was slightly overcast and misty, indicating that sooner or later it was going to start down pouring, as it had been doing so for the majority of the last month.

"Arithmancer?" Crowley asked, sliding his finger down the book in his hand as Aziraphale strolled on in front of him. "I mean, you're good at Arithmancy, right?"

"No," responded Aziraphale firmly. "I'm decent at it, as an extension of Ancient Runes, but I don't want to take it up as a life-long career."

Crowley sighed. "That's the point, isn't it? We don't have to look for the rest of your life. You can change jobs."

"I know, but…" he said slowly, distracted by the sight of a bloom of Greater stitchwort seemingly devouring the nearby Germander speedwell. "I mean, that would be…"

"Embarrassing?" Crowley offered. "Shameful? A blow to your pride, because it shows that you aren't really as certain about your life as you thought you'd be?"

Aziraphale stared helplessly at him. "I don't- no, not when you put it like that…"

He shook his head. "Look, AZ- you have to stop thinking like that now. We've looked into wandmaking, being a professor, Obliviator, and you don't want to do any of them, and that's fine, but you know what isn't? Trying to crush your entire future into one box. It's not shameful to not have a plan, y'know."

"But you do-"

"That doesn't matter now, does it? I decided pretty randomly, I'm not going to lie- and that's the beauty of it. Taking chances."

"Encouraging me to take risky choices, Crowley?"

"Just opening your eyes for you."

"I know you, you old…" Aziraphale started tiredly, and then trailed off. "I just…"

"If you're so deadest on finding your end career, then can you at least tell me what you want to do? Theoretically? No restrictions apply."

It began to drizzle. They both tugged up the hoods of their robes, and Crowley tucked the book tightly against his chest.

"I want to…" Aziraphale said thoughtfully, and then turned to look Crowley in the eye. "Well, to help people."

"Okay, good start, good start. Any specific-"

"I want to heal people."

Crowley paused, puzzled. "Wait- but, but I thought you didn't want to be a-"

"I know, I know, but I sort of- I don't know if I can do the physical aspect of it-"

"So research-based healing department?"

"I mean, yes, that would be ideal."

"So what's holding you back?" Crowley exclaimed incredulously. They trekked back around the garden, making haste to get back in as the drizzle heightened to a steady downfall.

"I guess-" Aziraphale panted as water splashed onto his glasses and hair, dripping down his face, "It just seems like an easy way out of real Healing-"

"What?!" Crowley replied. "You're- you're bypassing an entire life decision because you feel you won't be validated completely, is that it?!"

"Well-"

"AZ, you and I both know that researchers are as integral to the whole thing as the Healers are."

"Yeah, but…" Aziraphale huffed out as they drew closer to the entrance into Hogwarts, where two torches flickered hotly under the protection of a roof of stone. He leaned against the dry wall and wiped the water from his face. "It feels selfish, it's…not as helpful as Healers…"

Crowley tried not to roll his eyes. Three months of filing through career after career for this conclusion?

"It's everything you'll ever want, AZ. You get to help people, you get to heal people- and it counts as healing if you provide the method for the healing, mark my words- and you get to do all the reading and research and writing you want. You won't only be organized, you'll be the organizer. Does that sound appealing to you at all?"

He could see the hunger in Aziraphale's eyes, even through fogged up glasses. Something inside Aziraphale was most definitely salivating at the thought. A certain bookworm.

"Come on, don't die on me here, love…" he taunted delicately. "Do you want to do it, or don't you?"

Crowley wasn't tempting. He wasn't even nudging. He was simply presenting Aziraphale with what he was going to choose in the end, either way (or so he hoped).

"I- I do. I do, I want to." Aziraphale said flatly, and then made an expression as if he were surprised with himself. "I do. I can do it," he repeated.

"I do," he said once more, and then shouted with fervor. He took his glasses off, and his blue eyes shone brightly with electricity. "I really do, I REA-"

"Whoa, whoa," hissed Crowley, and slithered a hand over Aziraphale's mouth. "I'm glad you're excited, mate, but try to keep it down-"

"I'm goinph toph dof it!" Aziraphale continued excitedly, from underneath Crowley's hand. Two passing by second years stared. Crowley glared back, and they hurried off.

Aziraphale pulled off the obstructing hand. "Crowley," he repeated breathlessly. "I'm going to do it!"

"Yes, yes, I'm very happy for you-"

"I have so much to get on!" continued Aziraphale, unbridled in enthusiasm. "I have to pass my N.E.W.T.'s in Potions, and Transfiguration, and Herbology- oh, you can help me with that, can't you?- and Charms, and DADA, goodness, that's a lot, but I think I can do it-"

"Yes, dear, I'm sure you can," said Crowley quickly, and then suddenly paused, the sentence dying in his throat.

"Did I just…?" he wondered out loud.

Aziraphale blinked at him, taking a break from his mounting excitement. "You did," he said, smiling over again as he realized what Crowley had said. "You did, didn't you?"

"It- it just slipped out…"

"Seven years, and you think that would rub off a bit more," he noted wistfully.(1)

"Yes, well," Crowley got out dryly, "I'm sure we can stand around and talk about all the rubbing we do against each other-" Aziraphale made a shocked, offended noise- "But I think we should drop by the library and start taking notes on what research Healers need to do in order to be successful and all that buggerall, dear."

"Alright," said Aziraphale daintily, eyeing the large wooden entrance next to them that would lead them to the library. "But only because you asked so kindly, sweetheart."

He brushed by a wordless and flustered Crowley- who still reacted so strongly to that endearment, bless his heart- and wondered idly if Madam Pince wouldn't mind if he snuck out a few books, too.

(1) And for some reason, even if in some theoretical world the both of them lived for 5000 years and more, it still would barely rub off on Crowley.

***

The Quidditch schedule for Hogwarts went like this, every year: Gryffindor and Slytherin up against each other first in November, and Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw a few weeks after. Ravenclaw-Slytherin was the next match, in February, while Gryffindor and Hufflepuff went off at in a month later- March. And finally, when things were getting heated, Slytherin and Hufflepuff had a match in early May, which meant the last, deciding match fell at the end of May, between Gryffindor, and Ravenclaw.

"You've got your essays ready, yeah?" Crowley fussed as both he and Aziraphale made their way up to the pitch. "You're sure you've studied Section Four of Encyclopedia of Toadstools, right?"

The weather was perfect for a match- a clear sky the color of a robin's eggshell, the grass springy and lush, not too much wind save for a calming waft, and the humidity levels rather decent. There was sunlight splaying down goldenly on the whole pitch, and the crowd was raucous with competition, both friendly and aggressive, but united in the high hopes that school would be over any moment now, any moment now…

"Darling, please," soothed Aziraphale in response, ignoring how Crowley quickly glanced around to see if anyone caught the usage of the pet name. "You're worrying more than I am. Did I botch up your circulation last night with the ties? I knew that we did it too tightly-"

"No, no, that's not it!" hissed Crowley, rubbing self-consciously at his wrists. "I'm just trying to make sure you're prepared for exams!"

"N.E.W.T.'s are next week. I doubt we can do anything much more, let's just calm down and enjoy the match…"

Aziraphale's voice dropped smugly. "I mean, I know I'll most certainly enjoy it. Not sure how it'll feel for you, being on the losing side, and all that."

They moved through the crowds, the unspoken understanding between them that though they'd stand next to each other at the Gryffindor-Ravenclaw divide in the stands, each staying by their own side, they wouldn't get too friendly. After all, this was where House pride mattered. Not to mention that for the first time in two years did Gryffindor have a running chance at getting the cup- they were easily beaten in the past, but there was some fierce training this year.

"You sound awfully smug," Crowley finally said once they found good standing seats, right up against the dividing fence. "It'll be a bit of a pinch to lose after all that self-assurance, but what can you do…?"

The game began before Aziraphale had a chance to retaliate. Immediately Gryffindor had the quaffle, and began tossing it about them, but Ravenclaw's keeper was a strong one- they weren't able to get any in, not yet.

"Gryffindor has to win by a margin of eighty point to get the cup, or else it'll go to Ravenclaw, right?!" Aziraphale shouted over the ruckus. Crowley nodded, cheering and whooping when a bludger made contact with a Ravenclaw chaser.

"Get 'em, Scarlett!" he shouted into cupped hands. Scarlett was all but busy, bright ponytail whipping in the wind as she swung the Beater's bat to land yet another hit.

The Gryffindor seeker was already finely tuned and at work, scouring her surroundings for the tiny hint of gold that would guarantee the win- if she caught it early enough.

Gryffindor began picking up speed, shooting goals as the Ravenclaw chaser became inundated by bludgers the opposing Beaters kept aiming at him; within ten minutes, the score was 100- 30, with Gryffindor in the lead.

"COME ON, YOU BLOODY TWITS!" bellowed Aziraphale with intense fervor, shaking his fist accusingly as yet another goal was made. 110-30. "PLAY IT LIKE YOU MEAN IT! WHAT IS THIS, QUIDDITCH FOR FLOBBERWORMS?!"

Crowley gave Aziraphale a sidelong glance, and hurriedly looked away when he noticed.

"What?!" Aziraphale asked accusingly. "Never seen a Ravenclaw root for his team!?"

"I have only seen you that loud one other time in my life," Crowley answered. "And that was when we were in the broom closet, and I had just-"

"No need for that!" Aziraphale rushed, and then turned back to the game, a tinge of red across his face.

The score only got more desperate. 120-30. 140-30. 160-30.

But then the Ravenclaw seeker dropped suddenly on his broom, seemingly accidental, but not quite innocent enough; he had seen it, the snitch, and the Gryffindor seeker had seen that he had seen it, and the both of them knew what that meant.

One moment the Gryffindor was in the lead, and the next moment she was left hovering senselessly in the corner of the pitch; Crowley realized suddenly that the Ravenclaw had feinted left, but had most probably known where the snitch was for the last five or so minutes.

The words "Clever little bugger" were barely out of his mouth before the snitch was securely fisted in the Ravenclaw seeker's hand.

"WE WON!" shrieked Aziraphale jubilantly, as if he himself could barely believe it. He turned to Crowley, bouncing on his heels. "CROWLEY, WE WON!"

"Oh, no need to rub it i-" he started grumpily, and was promptly interrupted by Aziraphale grabbing him firmly by the face and kissing him deeply.

He was aware of a few things, at that moment. The wood beneath his feet was rumbling, vibrating with the force of a crowd of bronze and cerulean decked students screamed in thrilled victory. And Aziraphale's hands were so resolutely insistent against his face. And that Scarlett could be heard from up on the pitch, howling with laughter, screaming "Oi! Nowthat's one way to go public!"

Aziraphale pulled back, eyes bright and as blue as the sky. "Oops. I got- got carried away there, ha…"

"Ngk," said Crowley smartly. There were already other hands smacking his back in approval, hesitant at first but confident as time passed, congratulating him for his accomplishment, celebrating his relationship. He tried not to obliviate the crowd on the spot, and apparate somewhere far away.

"Atta boy, Crowley," was something he heard a lot for the following twenty minutes. If he were to be honest with himself, though, it was a lot better than hearing other, not as friendly things.

"Why'd you do that?" he asked once the crowd thinned, draining out of the stadium. They shuffled through the crowd. "Not that I minded, of course, but-"

Aziraphale slowly took Crowley's hand in his own, interlocking the fingers together. Crowley looked blankly at the open display of affection, and realized he didn't really need to let go, anymore, did he?

"It's about time," Aziraphale said plainly, and that was that.

***

The rest of the school year was much more pleasant. Crowley suspected it was because he was allowed to sling his arm around Aziraphale's shoulders openly without worry that people would realize what was going on. Or maybe it was because Aziraphale could now peck him on the cheek when they met up in the morning. Or even still, it could even be that he could casually reference "my boyfriend" and know that everyone in the vicinity knew who he was referring to, because Aziraphale was his boyfriend, and he didn't need to cover it up.

Well. It was definitely one of those.

***

Aziraphale Ingladus, N.E.W.T.s

Pass Grades:
Outstanding (O)
Exceeds Expectations (E)
Acceptable (A)

Fail Grades:
Poor (P)
Dreadful (D)
Troll (T)

  • Astronomy: E
  • Charms: O
  • Defense Against the Dark Arts:E
  • Divination: P
  • Herbology: A
  • History of Magic: O
  • Potions: E
  • Study of Ancient Runes: O
  • Transfiguration: O


***

Dear Mr. Ingladus,

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted into our Healer research program at St. Mungo's! From here you may wish to collect the following pamphlet (included in the envelope) and view your future campus for the next few years. A private establishment for academic purposes is also set up nearby, for when you aren't training with an on-hands approach- as you are most probably aware of. There is an additional pamphlet/map included for St. Mungo's University inside. Supplies are listed on page 7 of the Starter's Handbook, and tuition fees must be paid by August 27 th . We hope to see you next September!

Sincerely,

Marianne Waters

Head of S.M. Applications


***

Anthony Jal Crowley, N.E.W.T.s

Pass Grades:
Outstanding (O)
Exceeds Expectations (E)
Acceptable (A)

Fail Grades:
Poor (P)
Dreadful (D)
Troll (T)

  • Astronomy: A
  • Care of Magical Creatures: O
  • Charms: A
  • Defense Against the Dark Arts: O
  • Divination: D
  • Herbology: O
  • History of Magic: D
  • Potions: E
  • Transfiguration: A

 ***

Mr. Anthony J. Crowley,

Report to King's Cross Station at Platform 4004 on July 6 th , 1997, with your supplies on hand. You have been accepted into the program. More details in the booklet provided. Note: no rodent familiars are permitted in the Herpetology concentration of the Magizoology Apprenticeship Course hosted by the Ministry of Magic. This is repeated in the booklet. We repeat: No rodent familiars are permitted in the Herpetology concentration of the Magizoology Apprenticeship Course hosted by the Ministry of Magic. Any pet deaths are not covered by the MAC-HC.* Congratulations on getting in, and we are looking forward to seeing you in two weeks.

Cordially,

Nevaeh Anderson

Head of MAC-HC

*Especially rodent deaths.

***

"I'm going to miss you so much," Aziraphale said in the most heartfelt manner he could muster.

Crowley snickered. "Yeah, who wouldn't?"

"Antarah," warned Sheza darkly.

Crowley shut up promptly.

They were at the station, a yellowed brick wall behind them and heavyset blue steam engine already pulled up. To the side other apprentices were fidgeting with their bags and departing families, some of them from Hogwarts, some of them clearly foreign. Mrs. Anderson herself- rather young for the job, Crowley thought vaguely- was organizing and sorting through everyone's luggage, checking off little things on a clipboard.

"You'll keep in touch, right?" Aziraphale asked a little nervously. "I heard the MAC-HC provides some trained municipal owls, and you can ask someone else to…"

"Yeah, I will," he said, with the mild tone of someone who was being completely honest. "Definitely."

The train whistled. Mrs. Anderson clucked her tongue loudly, and pointed at the entrance of the train, which was currently sliding open with a few hisses and puffs of serpentine smoke.

"I guess that means it's my time to leave," Crowley managed. His chest felt a little tight. Was that mist in his eyes? Now, his throat couldn't have gotten clogged up that quickly.

"Ohh, mera pyaara sa baita, itna lumbe aur barde khub ho ghuay?" Sheza said tearily, and pulled Crowley towards her, keeping him in a tight embrace. For once, he didn't struggle when she kissed him desperately across the face before time was called.

"Be safe, hain na bucha?" Eshan added sadly when it was his turn to hug goodbye. "Meh ko jaanna tum yeh achhchhe se karsucteh. Abhi… jao. Good luck. We love you so, so much."

"I love you too."

Finally, it was Aziraphale's turn.

Crowley was crying vaguely, Aziraphale realized belatedly. So were Eshan and Sheza- who were looking elsewhere, giving the two of them some privacy. And by the tiny hint of wetness he felt on his own cheeks, he realized he was getting teary too.

"Have fun," he blubbered. "Don't touch any snakes that are too dangerous, dear… Send me a letter once a month or t-twice, if, if you can manage it. I'm going to miss you so much, I wish it was a year from now already-"

"Me too," Crowley said, trying to keep his voice level as he moved forward and kissed Aziraphale, whose mouth was warm and soft and familiar, but might not be in a year.

He savored it, trying to memorize the way Aziraphale moved against him, to keep the sensation with him for the next one- or two- years. It would work out. Everything would be fine.

"I love you," Aziraphale stated openly once he pulled back. They were practiced words now, not embarrassing, just truthful.

"I love you too."

There wasn't much more to say.

The train ride to the MAC-HC headquarters was especially long.

***

(Note: Dates listed are when the letters are read. Not all letters are included. Some sections of letters are omitted for irrelevancy reasons.)

August 1st , 1997

Dear Crowley,

How are you? How's the trip going? I know it's only been a month since you left, but things are already getting slow around here. You got to get away almost as soon as school ended, and I have to wait for another month before I can start at St. Mungo's University (SMU). Honestly, I'm just so bored. Tell me about the snakes you've seen. Have you told anyone you're a parseltongue, for that matter? It'll definitely help you in the career, but… Well, we'll see. The reading for SMU is already exciting, on the bright side. I've been looking into dorms near SMU, because obviously the commute from my house (3- 4 hrs.?) is too long to make every day, but I also found this really lovely two bedroom apartment that one of Uncle's old friends is the Landlady of. The only problem is that if I take it, I have to keep it for a minimum of five years, and my education at SMU is only going to last four, so unless I continue a career in London following SMU, I'd be at a loss. Anyways, I'll keep you updated. Reply soon, dear.

Love, Aziraphale


***

September 4th , 1997

AZ,

I'm fine, actually, no snake bites or anything (can't say the same for the rest of the group.) (Can't say I didn't cause those, either). Sorry it took so long to get a reply, I'm in Sri Lanka right now, and you won't believe this kind of snakes they've got here. I think Saib gets excited when I handle some of them, like I've found her a playmate or something, but then she starts getting tetchy once I have to borrow from her food for them. Anyways, no- I haven't really told anyone I'm a parseltongue, but some of the snakes here know. There's a Sri- Lankan krait here (Bungarus), named Dilshani apparently, and she threatens to attack me if I don't sneak her extra food. I can't believe I'm being blackmailed by animals that don't even have hands, let alone opposable thumbs, the clever little buggers. Also, I think you should get the apartment. When we were doing research in April, I had read up and apparently many Healer-researchers continue education in London, there are some good societies for it nearby. It'll be a good investment. You'll probably have already started SMU by now, so tell me about that in the next letter, okay?

Love, Crowley


***

September 20th , 1997

Dear Crowley,

SMU has a huge library. As you can imagine, I've been frequenting it rather often, so much so that I've already established my regular territory in there already (it took so long to do that at Hogwarts, at least a year!). The classes are actually quite hard, but it's a welcome challenge after the slow summer. We're still reviewing some things, and getting a feel for the human body. Did you know there's no real physical difference between muggles and wizards? They're still trying to figure out why we can do magic, and they can't, to put it bluntly. Oh, I rented the apartment, by the way. It's really nice. I set up orchids in the corner, and there are sunflowers in my room, and I placed peonies on the windowsill. It's sort of bothersome to keep up with taking care of all of them, frankly, but life's life. Still, it's sort of empty.  There's a whole unused bedroom and I was thinking that if  I hope Dilshani hasn't actually bitten/ hurt you, yes? She's probably a better playmate to Saib than Silas, I guess. Remember how mad you had gotten when I had mentioned that in fifth year? I miss you. Reply soon.

Love, Aziraphale


***

January 6th , 1998

AZ,

Only seven more months, and I'll be back home. And yeah, Australia is really that hot, I've been walking around shirtless have this time. Not a good idea, though. Remember Bernadette, from two letters ago? Yeah, well, she won't stop telling me off about how one of these days a snake is going to attack me, and because I won't have anything on on top, I'm going to get bitten really hard and die for sure. She's just jealous that the local Coastal taipan we're studying now- Yarran- won't start panicking when I approach him, as opposed to everyone else. It's nice and convenient, really. As for the Pierre guy in your Physiology course- I think he fancies you. Why else would he be lugging around your books? Either that, or he wants you to tutor him or something, but I doubt that… Tell him to bugger off. Or I might have to cut my trip short.* By the way, the phrase I had been looking for in the last letter was "Like water slides off a duck." You're no help, I had to figure that out all by myself. And yeah, I remember that, and I still haven't completely gotten over it. I don't care if Silas wouldn't eat Saib- are you really willing to take that chance?! While we're talking about older memories, remember when I pushed you in that snow bank during winter break, seventh year? And you started making snow angels, and then I started calling you 'angel' to bother you, but then you started to like it? You're a horrible sap. I'm embarrassed to be in a relationship with you, honestly. Anyways, if your flat's still getting drafty in the open room, you can hire someone for that. Or complain to the landlady. There's probably some failure in insulation, and once it starts raining in a few months, you're going to be screwed over. Stay safe, and I miss you-

Love, Crowley

*And bring one of the more poisonous snakes along, yeah?

P.S. I wish wizards had more bloody cell phones. I want to hear your voice at least once this year, and I need to ask you something.

***

February 1st , 1998

Dear Crowley,

Pierre is still pestering me, but I've been making sure to drop your name and title in conversation, I think he's starting to get the message that "Crowley, my boyfriend, the herpetology major, my boyfriend, Crowley, my boyfriend, if you haven't realized yet-" is going to be back soon. Six months. Also, I'm going to go right ahead and ask it, but it's been on my mind since September, and I know it's a bit of a big jump, but— Would you like to move in with me? I fixed up the second room in the flat and everything, and I know that since you'll be working under the Ministry of Magic you're going to be staying in London anyways, at least for a while… Again, I know that it'll be a big step, I'm sorry if it's overstepping any boundaries, and it's completely fine if you don't want to. Tell me how the rest of Australia goes, and stop being so heedless about Bernadette's advice- you're going to meet at least one snake that realizes that you're a prat, and it will harm you. I'm warning you out of love, dear.

Love, Aziraphale (Angel!)


***

February 18th , 1998

AZ/ "Angel" (I feel humiliated just writing that, I swear),

I contacted my parents about it, and they're fine with it, and so: Yes, I'm going to be moving in once I come back, if the offer's still up. They might try to get in contact with you, because some of my stuff can be transferred while I'm still abroad, so yeah, watch out for them. Funnily enough, that's what I had wanted to call you about. I had a feeling you wanted to ask, but then I figured you didn't want to anymore once you stopped mentioning the empty room, etc., etc. Glad about Pierre, gladder about moving in, and impressed by the insult near the end. You're getting good, Ingladus. Now tell me more about that Skele-Gro again, because Pomfrey didn't give it to me for some reason in third year when you smashed up my nose, and I want to know why I had to deal with it the muggle way. Load of hogwash, to me anyways. Australia has otherwise been decent, but recently someone was bit when handling some of the snakes. Not that serious, especially with magic and anti-venom on our side, but I don't know if it might delay us or what. The bloke's dealing with it poorly. Lot of shivering and hallucinations and blabbering. I figured I might as well start wearing shirts more often, in case a snake feels intimidated by my wit or something (as opposed to your own rude suggestion). Anyways, I hope you're well, I love you, ravage Pierre in your pre-exams for me, thanks.

Love, Crowley


***

June 10th, 1998

Dear Crowley,

I passed all my final exams! My lowest ranking was a 'P' in Nervous-Circulatory-Potion Analysis, and that isn't too bad, because I only butchered the practice part of it- my theory essay was fine. My final thesis paper, though, still being graded. I think it'll do well, though, I know for a fact Professor Hsiung likes my topic with what the Respiratory-Charm correlation, so I have high hopes. I can't believe the year's almost over. Just three more weeks. So much has happened, you won't even believe, sometimes there are things I can't fit in a letter, you know (Even though I've sent you at least fourteen so far)? Some of your stuff came in from your house (don't worry, I haven't touched any of it) and I set it in your room, it's like you're nearly here. I'm a bit out of it right now, haven't been getting too much sleep from exams. It'll sort itself out by next week. Kind of tipsy right now if we're being honest, the Healer apprentices- including me- all went out to a bar just a few hours ago to celebrate exams being over. I wish you were there, you need to meet some of my friends. There's this strange chap, Newt, and Anathema, she's another one. I think you'd like her (though she might not like you?), she reminds me of Scarlett in the vaguest way. How is Scarlett, anyways? I know Sable's still studying Wizarding Culinary Art in Glasgow, and he and she probably hang out a bit at family events and all, so I can ask if you haven't been able to keep in touch with her… Anyways. Don't do anything risky, dear. Remember: Just one more month.

Love, Aziraphale


***

July 10th, 1998

Angel,

Two more days, I'm assuming, by the time this reaches you from Liberia. Would it be pointless to tell you Scarlett's fine? She still part of that Dueling group in Russia, I'll probably be meeting up with her in two months or so. My mum and dad have told me that they'll come by to meet me not when I arrive, but later that night, so we have a few hours alone before I assume we'll have dinner out with them. I'd tell you more, but I figure I can tell you in person instead, so… Love you, miss you, all that bollocks, can't wait to see you, don't be late or I'll hex your glasses off.

Love, Crowley

***

“I can’t believe it,” Crowley said at the same time Aziraphale managed an “Oh my God.”

"You- you look older!" Aziraphale squeaked. The train door was still sliding shut behind Crowley, his luggage in hand, his hair a bit unkempt, small tired bags under his eyes, and a large smile on his face.

"Yes, well, that tends to happen over time. Aging, I know, sneaks up on the best of us."

"Crowley."

"Fuck, I missed you," he said happily, and crushed Aziraphale in for a sudden fierce hug, pulling back as quickly as it had started.

"I- sorry. That was a bit…" he said quickly once he realized Aziraphale was still staring at him. Was that too much? Oh, were they going to have to endure that awkward getting-to-know-each-other-again phase? He hated that phase the most. Really awful. Ruined schedules. Inconvenienced love lives.

"You can do better than that," explained Aziraphale incredulously, and then pulled him so that he could finally remember the same kiss he had memorized a year ago.

When he pulled away, he was smiling again. "I can do even better than that, actually-"

"Save something for the apartment, won't you?" said Aziraphale, reprimanding. "We have some time to make up for."

"Our own flat," he mused. "Us, sharing a flat together. Hard to believe."

"True," agreed Aziraphale as he gathered some of Crowley's luggage and pulled it along beside them as they left the platform. "We've come a long way, love."

For once, Crowley didn't look embarrassed with the name, rather blushing proudly instead. "Sure. Remember first year? We hated each other."

"Remember third? I broke your nose. I mean, it's cute now, don't get me wrong, but it couldn't have been too pleasant on your end."

"What about fourth? I spent almost all of fourth year following you around in a haze. I fancied you so much I thought I would die from it. Poor fourteen year old me, so naïve, so melodramatic." They wriggled their way through the throngs of people, making their way closer to the exit.

Aziraphale talked distractedly, half lost in the conversation as he tried to focus on what was real. "Fifth year with what its Yule…"

"Oh, yeah, Yule," Crowley agreed as they stepped into the fresh air. "I thought I was being so suave. You thought I was being so suave. It worked out for us little ninnies, didn't it?"

There was a bench nearby, and he quickly sat down for a moment, trying to reorganize his items. Oh, it was nice to be back in England.

"That it did," Aziraphale conceded with a smile as he sat down too. "What about sixth, though?"

"Sixth was good. I finally told you. You finally told me. We snogged like there was no tomorrow all the time, and I couldn't have been more pleased about it."

"What about how we celebrated Valentine's that year?"

"Didn't I try to buy you a box of enchanted chocolates?"

"Oh, you didn't try. You did. Just the wrong kind of enchantments, is all."

"Yeah, well, how was I supposed to know that Canary creams could be replicated in innocent sweets?!'

"I suppose you couldn't have. But I'm certain you knew about the generous amounts of firewhisky in there."

"Eh. There's a chance," he conceded with a smirk. "It was a fun night in the end, so-"

Aziraphale grimaced. "How fun it ended up being isn't really relevant."

"If you insist," leered Crowley.

"We might need to get a cab," Aziraphale mused after a few minutes. "You have a good deal of luggage, and the flat's a good few miles away…"

"Give it a few minutes, and don't change the subject- we're still catching up on our very long and very extensive history."

"What is this, a review session?"

"No, more like confirmation time," Crowley maintained dryly. "Seventh year?"

A cool wind blew down between the station and buildings, and Aziraphale clutched at his windbreaker. "I dunno, Crowley, what about seventh?"

"Uh. To be honest, a lot of seventh year was sort of stressful. The beginning half, at least."

"Yes. Well. There were some problems, weren't there... But what's important is that we got over them, right?"

"Yeah."

Aziraphale tugged at his sleeves. "So… what about now, then?"

"I'm not much good at Diviniation," said Crowley carefully, "But I think it's going to be good, yeah?"

They looked at each other again, and Aziraphale flitted his eyes over the other's nose, wrists, tie, mouth, eyes, nails (bright emerald green) all in disbelief that he was back once more.

"We were both sort of shite at Divination," he reasoned. "But I think you're right."

They sat in reasonable silence, looking down at their hands, minds whirring with so many things they had wanted to say and had forgotten but would hopefully remember later, in the middle of the night, or while taking a shower, or preparing lunch, or at a meeting when the other wasn't around but would find a way to share it anyhow, because that's simply how they worked as friends, as partners. There would be time to hug and fight and pour over bills together, there would be time to make up spells and share old notebooks and study cram into late night over exams, there would be plenty of time, even if they weren't quite immortal. And Crowley thought- he thought-

"Oh- oh my goodness!" Aziraphale exclaimed unexpectedly, looking down at his chest, where his dogwood pendant lay. "Crowley- did you-?"

"Huh?" Crowley said, startled, before his eye fell on the necklace. "Oh- holy shit, what?"

The necklace, which had previously been a small white and gold flower, had suddenly sprouted a cascade of gold and cream leaves and smaller flowers- all blooming underneath the original pendant in a wash of flora.

"How did you do that?" asked Aziraphale, stunned.

"I don't think I meant to," Crowley realized. "It must have been-"

"Your magic leaked?" said Aziraphale, even more shocked.

"That's really the only thing that makes sense…"

"What on god's green Earth were you feeling? Magic gets harder and harder to leak as a wizard ages, you know!"

Crowley's face colored deeply. "I was just- I was just happy that we're still, well, together, and we have- a lot of time ahead of us, and-"

Aziraphale stared at him uncomprehendingly, before his face lit up with realization. "Oh, Crowley…"

"What?"

"You were- you were feeling love, right?" he said in a very small voice.

And as he uttered the words, the snake on Crowley's bracelet slinked lively-like up his arm and then back down, tiny rubies tinkling in its wake.

"You…!" Crowley murmured, shuddering as the snake froze up again in its usual position. "That was you, wasn't it? You just leaked, too. You're feeling-"

"I know."

Crowley let out a wavering sigh, nervous but with a hint of grin left on his face. "Hell, we really are…"

"Hopeless," Aziraphale concluded for him, in a way that was both a reminder and a fresh start.

The both of them leaned in for a crisp kiss that, in the end of it, was near redundant. But that didn't matter to either of them. 

It was July 12th, a Sunday- and it was the first day of the rest of their magical lives.

***