Someone passing, whose business this whole affair was not, said “Speak English, this is England for fuck’s sake!”
The young man and Crowley turned as one and hissed at the person, who suddenly remembered an urgent and important errand elsewhere and ran off to sort it.
Then they turned back towards each other. The young man scratched the back of his head. “Um, this is awkward,” he said, in English, “I don’t run into this often. On the street. Or… Ever. Actually.” He had casually laid a hand on his hip, and Crowley was suddenly sure that there was a wand concealed in that pocket.
Crowley remembered that it was very common in England for serpent speech to be considered a trait of evil. Which, well… anyway. “It’s not common,” Crowley allowed. “Special circumstances all around, I’m sure.” He tried to think of a good way to defuse the situation. “Fancy a pint?”
The young man looked relieved. “Yeah.”
“Crowley,” he said, offering a hand.
“C’mon, I know a pub nearby. First round’s on me.”
If Harry was surprised by being led to the Cauldron Bottom, he didn’t show it. It was one of the few wizard pubs not attached to Diagon Alley in London- they were a growing population, but still unusual. It was middle of the afternoon and there were a few regulars at the bar, but it was otherwise quiet.
Crowley nodded to the one-eyed barkeep, who nodded back, and then gave a friendlier wave to Harry. “Evenin’, Mr. Crowley, Mr. Potter,” she said.
“Room in the back open, Jane?” Harry asked. “We’ve got some business to discuss.”
Jane nodded. “Usuals for ya both?”
“Go on back, I’ll be right there.”
The back room was small and dark, Harry lit the lantern with a casual flick of his wand and laid on the table as he sat down. Sort of a polite threat, as it were. Harry clearly wasn’t sure they should be having a pint together, but was willing to show good faith. A cautious young man.
“You know, I don’t run into many people who don’t recognize me on sight, in our world.”
“Oh, I don’t keep track of… things,” Crowley said. “I’m not a wizard, per se. I’m- it’s embarrassing and not entirely correct, but technically I’m a ‘magical creature’. I believe my sentience is still up for debate.” He rolled his eyes, glad to see it echoed in Harry’s response.
“I believe that,” Harry said. “The ministry is coming around on that sort of thing, but it’s taking a lot of work.”
Harry nodded. “My friend is in the ministry. Well, several friends, I suppose, now. Elections were recent, I lose track.”
“What do you do?”
“I teach Defense of Dark Arts.”
“No, my friend Hermione is leading an effort to decentralize wizard school. Make it more accessible for everyone, even those who don’t have much in the way of magic ability. She’s got this theory that squibs do have magic, just not as much, and they end up suppressing it because they believe they don’t have it, or… there’s a lot of psychology involved, and I don’t understand all of it, but I support her. So I do a kind of tour around the schools and teach all kinds of classes. I started at Hogwarts but I like this better, actually. I get to teach loads more kids and I learn a lot.”
“That sounds nice, actually,” Crowley said.
“It is, and I love kids, they’re great. Kind of wild, sometimes, but then I remember the kind of things me and my mates got up to…” He shook his head. “I’m sorry, you were saying you’re a sapient species of magical origin?”
“Is that the term?”
He sighed. “We’re trying some new ones out that are less offensive. It’s the best we’ve come up with.”
“It’s better than some,” Crowley admitted. “I suppose the best explanation is the simplest. I’m a demon, and sometimes also a snake.”
Harry nodded, blinking. Jane came in with their drinks (they both apparently favored a Flaming Broomstick, which was butterbeer and a shot of firewhiskey). “All right, Potter?” she asked. Her tone was light but there was a tension in it that made Crowley blink.
“Nothing DA related, Jane,” he said. “Something for Minister Granger.”
“Oh, well, alright then,” Jane said, seeming to relax. She, too, had noticed the wand on the table, apparently.
“The Minister of Magic? Last I checked, it was that toadstool, Fudge.”
Harry grinned. “Fudge has been out for ages. The new Minister is a lot more progressive. A demon, you said?”
“Hear me out, I’m not… I’m kind of retired.”
“Oh, listen, I’m more curious than anything. I don’t really go looking for trouble these days. As much. Most of the time.”
Crowley grinned. “I think I like you.”
“So you’re not really part of the whole magical thing, really, you’re kind of… around the corner from it, right? I’ve read a little bit about angels and demons, and mostly the literature says ‘run’.”
“That’s… not untrue, or unwise,” Crowley allowed. “As I said, I’m retired.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t go looking for trouble, but should I happen to bump into it…” Harry shrugged, but he was grinning. “I’m not the running type. Tell me why you retired.”
“It’s kind of a long story.”
“I love long stories.”
Crowley took a deep breath and began.
THREE HOURS LATER
“Huh,” Harry said.
“So, a book shop?”
“Tell me your story,” Crowley said.
“Well, alright. It’s… a bit long, too.”
“I’ve got nowhere to be.”
THREE MORE HOURS LATER
“I really need to be better at keeping up with the whole wizard thing, I guess,” Crowley said. “You lot almost blew up what I was trying to save!”
“That’s what I kept thinking while you were talking!” Harry said.
They shared a laugh.
“Hey, I’ve really got to go, I need to finish some lesson plans.”
“Oh, right, of course,” Crowley said.
“Um, same time next week?” Harry said. “I’ll buy.”
Crowley grinned. “You’ve got yourself a deal.” He clapped Harry on the shoulder and went to settle the tab, humming to himself.
(Later, Harry could not figure out why on Earth he had Bohemian Rhapsody stuck in is head for three days.)