As the phone blared to life, startling Aziraphale right out of a rather interesting treatise on ornithology, Crowley’s sniggering was almost enough to distract him from the accursed ringing. Aziraphale, though rather enamoured with the whole parenthood notion overall, was starting to dread the ringing of their telephone.
It was a source of endless amusement for Crowley, especially in those moments when the demon was fast enough to witness a celestial, if wholly instinctive, shudder of revulsion at the sound. Until parenthood, the angel had never been strictly fond of the notion of telephony, but he certainly wasn’t averse to it, aside from the times customers had the utter cheek to phone him as though entitled to his time, and worse, his books. Taking pity, or more likely aware of the limits to Aziraphale's patience, Crowley rose gracelessly from the sofa and veered into the kitchen.
Soft muttering, with Crowley clearly playing at respectful and polite for all he was worth, and Aziraphale could almost, almost imagine that there wasn't anything wrong, and that there hadn't only ever really been one reason for a phone call in all of their time in Tadfield.
'Oh, Aziraphale?' Crowley’s sing-song voice was drenched in amusement, with a faint hint of mockery thrown in for good, demonic measure. ‘It’s for you.’ Of course it was. It always was. (Strictly speaking, it was actually almost always, but angels in fits of pique are not required to be wholly literal, thank you very much). Though the call was for him, Aziraphale didn’t bother moving towards the phone. There was no point, not really. They both know the routine by heart already, and could recite the speaker's unimpressed if utterly generic spiel word for word if required, right down to the frustrated ‘don’t you know I have better things to do with my day?’ huff at the end. As he stood and moved to fetch his hat, Aziraphale could hear the telltale click of a phone meeting its cradle.
'Shall we?' As he returned to the room, keys in hand, Crowley held his expression in place both wilfully and uncomfortably, as though it were a physical pain to appear so serious and sympathetic. Aziraphale found himself hoping that his responding glare was far more powerful than he knew it to be.
'This is all your fault, you know.' Crowley grinned, but wisely said nothing about vanishing mobsters, keeping silent as they hurried to the car for yet another jaunt to the children’s school. After all, they both knew Aziraphale had a point. For all that Hermione was Crowley’s daughter and Harry Aziraphale’s son, it was hard not to notice the way the pair took so strongly after their unofficial fathers, too.
It was, of course, frightfully easy to see Aziraphale in Harry. It was there in the boy’s love of masterful cooking, or the small and almost shy smile he always wore that morphed into a gigantic and beaming grin around the people he cared for. It was there in the overwhelming goodness of the boy, or the way that he never seemed to lose his belief in the kind nature of humanity.
But Aziraphale, for all his bravery and heroism (he had helped to stop an Armageddon, after all), was the sort to contemplate an action before making it, to work to find a solution before committing to it, and Harry, though a sweet and polite boy on the whole, was the sort of idiotic kind of reckless that ran straight into trouble just because he could. The more hopeless the situation, the more likely it was to find him leaping thoughtlessly into the mix, as though the impromptu addition of a gangly, messy-haired boy (and a girl with seemingly sentient and slightly evil hair, because his honorary twin would never fail to have his back) would always just so happen to be the very thing needed to positively solve the problem.
The school’s office was as it always was, a little too old and shabby to look professional, a little too modern to look comfortable, or even particularly welcoming. Smiling, sloganed posters, ripped at the edges, urged the reader to smile! To share! To support! with the sort of cloying imagery to make an actual angel of the Lord contemplate acts of graffiti. In any other situation, watching Crowley’s barely concealed disgust at the sight would be more than enough to improve his mood. But before Crowley could launch into a diatribe worthy of the saccharine monstrosities, a loud, melodramatic throat-clearing stole his focus. The receptionist, an older woman with a concerning love of chartreuse yellow blouses and an expression better suited to a lifetime of sucking upon particularly tart lemons (Crowley believed it more akin to putting said lemons somewhere far less appealing. Aziraphale tended to ignore his input on such matters) than dealing with the school’s administration duties, appraised Aziraphale with the sort of look saved for rancid meat or going for a second bite of the apple and noticing the worm.
He was unsure whether this was because she was frustrated in general, frustrated at seeing the pair yet again, or unimpressed that she had spoken to Crowley rather than the official parent of the child known by far too many other parents as “The Demon”. Unsurprisingly, he and Crowley had met all of those people’s children (in varied states of battered and/or bruised) in the office. The nickname, unkind as it was, was less hurtful than insulting given that Hermione was infinitely more prone to actual wickedness and spite than her slightly younger brother, and the school’s resident bully was set to become a particularly nasty kind of a thug if his behaviour was not curbed. Forcing a polite smile to his face, the smile growing warmer to see their two hellions sitting outside the Principal’s office, arms crossed and defiant scowls firmly in place, Aziraphale decided to get it over with and ask what had happened (he was proud that he stopped himself from adding ‘this time’ to the question).
‘Your son (she spat the word like it was an unclean thing in her mouth, a slug trying to drain the blood of her tongue rather than the best word Aziraphale had ever known or had applied to him) punched Billy Davis. Again.’ Oh. He shot Crowley a look before the demon could, quite rightly, point out that little Billy Davis was certain to have had it coming, and settled in to wait for the rest of the woman’s blustering. Billy Davis was the sort of horrid boy found in every school ever, as though issued to the school when the local politician (in this case, Billy’s father) cut the ceremonial ribbon. Rude, aggressive, and prone to terrorising smaller, more vulnerable children, he somehow managed to convince his teachers that he wasn’t actually a miniature thug. Or perhaps that was merely a perk of having such influential parents.
In the two months since Harry’s arrival, Aziraphale had been to the school’s office on no fewer than eight occasions to talk about Harry’s habit of bodily slamming anyone (usually Billy) he happened to see bullying the younger students. Well, nine, now. Like his more demonic adoptive father, Harry Potter-Fell was prone to being an evil little shit when he willed it, but just like Crowley, it was always for the holiest of reasons. In the months since Harry’s arrival, bullying had become almost non-existent in his school, aside from Billy’s staunch refusal to be a decent human being, and Harry’s undiminished desire to knock the stupid right out of the other boy. Despite Harry's unconventional methodology, Aziraphale was incredibly proud.
Before he could decide upon a suitable rebuttal, Crowley’s unimpressed drawl broke the staring match between angel and irate receptionist. ‘So what first grader was Billy terrorising today?’ The receptionist gasped, actually gasped, as though the idea of sweet little Billy doing something so mean was a surprise, rather than regularly evidenced by the small children coming into the sick bay bruised and crying that Billy Davis had hurt them in the moments before he inevitably limped into the office with a new bruise.
Hermione’s voice cut through the awkward silence like a dulled blade. ‘Heather Michaels. Her parents are divorcing, and he said it was because they hated her.’ Like her father, she had quite the habit of hissing her 's' sounds when angry. The receptionist shuddered at the sound, as though her primal fear responses had been activated. Aziraphale wasn’t sure it was a bad thing.
‘That’s enough nonsense out of you, young lady. Lying is a sin.’
‘It depends on the lie, actually,’ Aziraphale added helpfully, before realising that this was not the sort of appropriate conversation to have with humans when dealing with such matters. Crowley snorted in amusement. ‘And Hermione doesn’t lie.’ Much.
‘I take it we should let ourselves in, then?’ Crowley added when it became clear the receptionist wasn’t sure how to proceed. Before she could reply, he hurried away, dropping a kiss on the heads of each of the children before dramatically throwing open the Principal's door, not even bothering to knock. Judging by the loud bang, and the lack of door slamming back towards them, it was likely the handle was impaled in the wall. Crowley, it seemed, was as tired of the idiocy of adults as he was. Hermione and Harry hurried after him, Hermione’s eyes glinting dangerously, but thankfully, without the serpentine appearance she had a habit of sporting when suitably angry. They weren’t even offered chairs, merely made to stand around awkwardly while the humans had a rant and bandied about things like 'expulsion', 'anger management therapy' and 'assault'. If the children had thought it would be Crowley leading the confrontation, though, they were in for a shock. Perhaps it was the malicious grin on Billy’s face as he stared Harry down, the expression blithely ignored by the adults around him. Perhaps it was the realisation that this was the second Mrs Davis they had met so far, though she looked similar enough to her predecessor to be utterly galling. Truthfully, it was probably the way Mr Davis stared at Harry, fist clenched like he was itching to take a swing, and bandying about threats of lawsuits and trumped up terrorism charges.
Beside him, Crowley was dangerously still, expression utterly blank and clearly one bandied about threat shy of murderous. The demon opened his mouth to retort, but Aziraphale didn’t give him the chance.
‘Your problem, Jacob, aside from being a brute and a bully, it’s that you’re an utter idiot. You honestly believe that all you have to do is mention that you’re a politician and all of these families will allow that psychopath you’re raising to keep on brutalising their children. And perhaps it’s been mildly amusing to watch you orchestrate your own downfall, but it’s getting rather tedious now, and I have better things to do that watch a grown man with as much sense as a bird flying repeatedly into a windowpane. So let me explain, as simply as I can manage, what you’re clearly incapable of figuring out on your own: when it was one child, it could perhaps be hidden. But ten? Fifteen? You assume, because you’re clearly devoid of the capability for basic reasoning, that none of these families all living in a small bloody town together will ever interact, that they’ll never realise there are other families out there to prove their claims. You assumed, foolishly, that I wouldn’t go talk to them. Which makes you infinitely stupider than even I gave you credit for, and dear boy, I’ve always been amazed you can walk and breathe without doing yourself an injury.’ You do not spend most of your life beside a demon without picking up some traits, and the smile he bestowed upon the uppity mortals was easily the most gleefully wicked smile an angel had ever made in the history of angels, wickedness and smiles. (Crowley had never been more in love with his angel in his life).
‘Bring that thug of a son into line, Jacob, or you will be explaining to your constituency why you’re raising Billy to believe their children are his punching bags. This is not a fight you will win.’ Aziraphale moved to the door without another word, not bothering to look back. At least, until Crowley’s drawl broke the silence.
‘Quick question, Principal: how long do you think you’ll have this job when the parents realise you’ve given a child free reign to brutalise their little darlings?’
Harry and Hermione were near incandescent with joy as they were escorted to the Bentley, though at least they contained their laughter long enough to be polite. Aziraphale could feel the love radiating off of both children long before Harry launched himself into his arms, hugging him tightly and muttering ‘thank you, Dad’ into his neck.
His son might have adopted the role of demon of lost causes, but that didn’t mean he would ever be left to fight alone.