Chapter 1: A Child is Born
Lily Potter (formerly Evans) had a great respect for the wizarding world. She would readily admit it. While wizarding culture had its problems, some of them grave ones, it also had its virtues, and there was nothing that could ever make Lily regret that she was a witch.
But no matter how much she loved magic, no matter how pleased she was to belong to the wizarding community, there were some things she would not experience.
Giving birth under the care of wizard healers was one of them.
In some ways healing was a very advanced field, but unfortunately in others it was just as backward and subject to the same prejudices and blinkered perception as the rest of the wizarding world.
The muggle world had long tried to make childbirth both as safe and as comfortable as possible. Nurses and doctors involved in the process were rigorously professional, adhering to strict standards of training and medical procedure, and did their best to control every aspect of the birthing process. Muggles also approved of the use of drugs to minimise pain and ease the effort of childbirth, which, as every mother knew, was something to be devoutly thankful for.
Wizards, on the other hand, regarded childbirth almost as a mystical event, an initiation into the deeper mysteries of life. Rather than being seen as a process which should be as managed and controlled in order to obtain the most positive result possible, the magical community regarded childbirth as an event which must be endured and allowed to take its course. Healers would intervene if the mother or child appeared to be in any danger, of course, but no efforts were made to ease the pain that the mother was in, or affect the birthing process in any other way.
“Sod that,” Lily had told her husband dangerously, when James had waxed lyrical on the beauty of the fullness of the experiences of motherhood and the meaning of life. “I’m giving birth in a muggle hospital with modern medicine and proper doctors and pain-relieving drugs, and if you feel like arguing I’ll hex your bollocks into next week.”
“Right,” James said swiftly. “Muggle hospital it is.”
So it was that the 31st of July, 1980 found Lily Potter in one of London’s muggle hospitals, giving birth to a baby son.
Unfortunately, as events unfolded, she might have been better off with St Mungo’s.
Crowley was running late.
This wasn’t precisely an anomalous event: Crowley had just enough of a theatrical streak to like making a dramatic entrance, when the occasion called for it. Tonight, however, he was cursing the fact that he was running late.
After all, when the infant Antichrist was lying in a carrycot in the back seat of your car, and you were supposed to be exchanging them for a rather more human baby at a particular time, it was best for things to go as planned. The forces of Hell might approve of anarchy and disorder in theory, but when it came to their own business they liked everything to be just-so.
Crowley wasn’t sure exactly how he had gotten the job of handing the Antichrist over to be raised by some unsuspecting pair of human parents, but suspected darkly that it had something to do with the fact that he was the only one who seemed to actually understand how human affairs worked. This was a delicate operation, the kind where you couldn’t just go blundering in. This required subtlety, which Crowley was – unfortunately – forced to admit wasn’t exactly a common trait among the denizens of Hell. Besides which, the fact that Crowley was actually stationed on Earth on a full-time basis no doubt made it more convenient for him, of all people, to be the demon in charge of switching the Antichrist for someone else’s child.
Crowley parked the Bentley in the car park outside the hospital, and opened one of the car’s back doors. The Antichrist had cried, at first, a thin high wail, but he had quieted down during the drive. Crowley stared down at him. The baby looked like any other baby that age: small and red-faced, with a few tufts of black hair on his head. But as Crowley watched, the Antichrist opened his eyes, to reveal a pair of eyes that were a deep, brilliant green, and unexpectedly knowing for an infant.
Crowley shuddered slightly. Knowing that the kid had inherited his unholy parent’s eyes didn’t make Crowley feel any more comfortable about what was going on. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Crowley picked up the carrycot gingerly, ignoring the fact that the baby Antichrist was staring straight at him, and walked into the hospital.
No one paid him all that much attention – a harried-looking man with a baby wasn’t exactly an uncommon sight in the maternity ward – as he made his way to the part of the hospital where he was supposed to meet his contact.
When he got there, there was a nurse waiting for him.
“You’re late,” she hissed, and practically snatched the baby from Crowley. She peered down into the Antichrist’s face with a look of fascination.
“He looks so… normal,” she said at last.
“Wait until he looks at you,” Crowley said darkly. “You’ll make the exchange, then?”
“Of course,” said the nurse, dragging her gaze away from the Antichrist’s face to give Crowley a dismissive glance. “It won’t be a problem.”
“It had better not be,” said Crowley. “Hell has a lot riding on this, you know.” And he knew exactly who would get the blame if anything went wrong. Him.
The nurse rolled her eyes.
“It’ll be fine,” she said.
Crowley lingered for a moment longer, but the nurse said, “Well? Get along with you, then,” and reluctantly, Crowley left the matter in her hands, walking back outside to the car park.
He got into the Bentley, and sat for a moment.
He’d done his bit to ensure the apocalypse; now all they had to do was wait eleven years. Hell would send agents to corrupt the boy, of course, while Heaven sent their own people to try and coax him down the path of righteousness. But either way, the end was inevitable.
It was a funny thing. Crowley had been working for millennia towards the end goal of the apocalypse, and he’d always known he’d be around when it eventually happened – angels, even fallen ones, were more-or-less eternal. But now that the end of all things was actually at hand, he found that he wasn’t exactly happy with the prospect.
For one thing, Crowley actually liked Earth, and humanity. It was a major failing in a demon.
It was just – humans were so creative. They had an imagination that both Hell and Heaven lacked And for all that humans they could devise with worse tortures than any demon could come up with on their best day, humans sometimes showed more grace than even Heaven could dream of. Sometimes even the same individual was responsible.
The whole thing was ineffable, as Aziraphale would say.
Crowley shook his head, and started the Bentley, with the intention of going home to a nice bottle of wine, and then having a long nap. Tonight, after all, had been a stressful occasion.
It was funny, though, Crowley mused, as he pulled out the car park, that they’d chosen a pair of wizards for the Antichrist’s parents. But then, he supposed, a magical couple would be more likely to overlook any oddness associated with their child. Whatever the reason, Crowley almost found himself feeling sorry for James and Lily Potter.
Still, at least Crowley’s part in this was done, for the moment. He’d handed the kid over, just as he was supposed to.
What could possibly go wrong?
Chapter 2: Plans Gone Awry
Life was going well for Harry James Potter.
He had two doting parents, several friends-of-the-family who regarded him almost as a son of their own, and he lived a comfortable, cherished existence.
Every now and then an angel or a demon would pass by, just to keep tabs on the child; for some reason the Potters had set up wards to hide their property, but that was hardly enough to keep away the forces of Heaven and Hell. Harry seemed happy, and cared for, which was what everyone involved wanted at this stage of the proceedings. Leading him down the path of righteousness or the path of damnation could come when he was a little older, and capable of more than baby talk. So both sides checked in on the boy every so often, and report back to their superiors that things seemed to be going exactly as planned. They were routine report, brief and lacking in detail, which was perhaps why no one thought to mention the Fidelus ward.
If Crowley had been the one sent to check on the Antichrist, he would have asked: hang on, why are the Potters hiding behind a Fidelus ward? What are they hiding from? And he would have investigated.
Unfortunately, the other demons (and angels, for that matter) weren’t exactly the type to think beyond their immediate orders: Harry Potter was safe and cared for, so what did it matter if his parents had chosen to hide their home? Who understood the whims of humans, especially wizards?
So the Fidelus ward went unremarked upon, and no one bothered to find out why the Potters were in hiding, which was why it came as a nasty shock when a demon stopped by Godric’s Hollow on the second of November, 1981 to find the Potter’s house falling apart, powerful magical residue hanging in the air, and absolutely no sign of the Potters anywhere.
A frantic search for information was made, and eventually some details of the situation became known. The Dark Lord who had been terrorising the wizarding world for the last couple of decades or so had targeted the Potters, killing both Lily and James, only to somehow be destroyed himself when he attempted to attack their son.
(Well, not destroyed, the higher-ups of both sides muttered among themselves disapprovingly; not after the way Voldemort had mutilated his soul in the search for immortality. But the rank-and-file didn’t need to know that.)
Only Harry had survived the attack, which meant he was alive – somewhere. And that, really, was the root of the whole problem.
“We lossst the Antichrist!” Crowley hissed. “Losst him!”
Aziraphale and Crowley were dining at the Ritz, discussing the latest twist in the whole Antichrist affair.
“I’m sure someone will find him again, sooner or later,” Aziraphale said soothingly. “And once one side does, it won’t take long for the other side to find him as well, you know.”
Crowley was not appeased.
“It’s got to be a spell, and a powerful one,” he said. “Last week everyone knew exactly where the kid was, and then bam! He’s disappeared, and no one can find any sign of him, even though practically all of Hell’s been sent out looking for him.”
“Do you really think a mere spell could thwart the forces of both Hell and Heaven?” Aziraphale asked doubtfully.
“If enough power was involved, it’s possible,” said Crowley darkly. “It’s an unpredictable force, magic – the really old stuff, that involves the human soul, you never know exactly what it can do. And if the Antichrist’s power is tied up in it, somehow…”
“Oh dear,” Aziraphale said, a little lamely, as he grasped the implications.
“…then we’re all bloody well done for, that’s what,” Crowley finished, in stronger language than Aziraphale had used. “He’s got more than enough power to keep himself hidden from us. We won’t know where he is or what’s happened to him until he’s old enough to go to Hogwarts – and that’s if the spell doesn’t somehow stop us from finding him then, too.”
“Hogwarts,” said Aziraphale, brow wrinkling. “That’s the British wizarding school, isn’t it?”
“He should be old enough to attend in September 1991,” said Crowley. “But that’s ten years away, angel! Ten years in which no one’s going to have any idea what’s going on, and whoever’s in charge of finding him is going to be in a lot of trouble indeed.”
Aziraphale patted his shoulder sympathetically.
“Put you on the case, have they?”
“I hate responsibility,” he said miserably.
“Well, you know where he’s going to be in ten years,” Aziraphale said briskly. “Come up with a plan to find him then, and I’m sure your superiors won’t be too upset, surely?”
Crowley sent Aziraphale a look.
“You’re talking about the mercy of Hell,” he said flatly.
Aziraphale winced a little.
“I’m screwed, angel, let’s face it,” Crowley said gloomily. “Hell’s not going to forgive me for this one. There’s no way I can spin this to make it look good.”
There wasn’t much that Aziraphale could say to that, because it was true. So instead he poured Crowley another glass of wine, and the two ethereal beings proceeded to get well and truly drunk.
Meanwhile, at number four Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey, a set of monumentally powerful blood wards thrummed, hiding young Harry Potter from anyone who might come looking for him.
The blood wards should have been weak, adversely affected by the fact that Harry had been taken in grudgingly, and resided in a far from loving home. But the power running through Harry’s blood and residing in his soul had boosted the wards to unheard-of strength. At this point, not even Albus Dumbledore could have found Harry, and he was the one who’d left the boy there. Mail would still reach Harry – trained post owls weren’t likely to care one way or another about the child they were delivering letters to – but anyone with any thoughts of harming, using, or manipulating Harry would have no hope of locating him.
Dumbledore wouldn’t realise what was going on until later, when he tried to remember where Harry Potter lived, and couldn’t. It would be far too late to correct the problem by then.
Young Harry slept on, in the cupboard where Petunia Dursley had stashed him, unaware of the many people out searching for him.
On his forehead was a bloody mark, shaped like a lightning bolt. For anyone who knew their ancient runes, the symbol for success and victory was branded on his forehead.
It was difficult to find a more pleasant boy than Harry Potter.
Small for his age, and badly dressed, the boy was nonetheless calmly-spoken with lovely manners, and a shy, endearing smile which only increased his charm. Despite the unfashionable glasses he wore, he was a good-looking boy, with a pair of brilliant green eyes that drew remark wherever he went.
The Dursley couple had tried to spread rumours about Harry, talking about delinquency and bad behaviour, but it was obvious to everyone who actually met the child that there wasn’t an ounce of harm in him. He was far too well-behaved, too well-mannered, and a kind word or two was enough to make him beam in startled pleasure. It was more than likely, the neighbours thought, that the Dursleys were trying to divert attention from their own, rather unpleasant offspring, whose bullying ways were well-known to the neighbourhood. It was only a shame that Harry wasn’t treated better.
Harry himself was largely unaware of the way other people viewed him. All he knew was that most people were kind to him, apart from his relatives.
Even, as it turned out, when the ‘person’ in question was a snake.
Harry liked snakes. They were always inclined to answer his many questions.
“And then what happened?” Harry hissed in curiosity.
“And then the Father of All Serpents told her to eat from the tree, for it was the fruit of Knowledge,” said the snake. “And her eyes were opened, and she perceived her nakedness, and sought to cover herself.”
Harry was supposed to be weeding the garden, but sitting behind the garden shed listening to a snake tell him stories was far more interesting.
“Couldn’t she tell?” Harry asked the snake, his brow wrinkling. “I mean, it’s sort of hard not to notice, being naked.”
‘It’s a metaphor,” said the snake tolerantly. “When I say that she noticed that she was naked and sought to cover herself, I mean that she became different from other creatures, and noticed the way in which she was different.”
Harry thought about this for a while.
“It’s a mettyphor because... because only humans wear clothes, right? And she was different from all the animals,” he said finally.
“Very good,” praised the snake.
Somewhere in the distance an angry voice screeched, “BOY!”
“Uh-oh,” Harry exclaimed, scrambling to his feet. “I’d better go. Thank you for the story, Mr Snake.”
“You are welcome,” said the snake. But the boy had already fled.
The next day at school, Harry approached his teacher.
Miss Harper turned to look at Harry.
“Aren’t you supposed to be outside during lunch?” she asked him.
Harry looked up at her with wide green eyes, looking dismayed.
“It’s just that I had a question,” he said.
Miss Harper smiled, and Harry relaxed as he saw that he wasn’t in trouble.
“What’s your question, Harry?”
“Someone was telling me stories,” he explained. “About an angel who turned into a snake and told the first lady to eat of the Tree of Knowledge. It was really interesting.”
Miss Harper’s eyebrows rose.
“That’s a story from the Bible,” she told Harry kindly. “You don’t have any Bibles at home?”
Harry shook his head, frowning.
Miss Harper thought for a moment.
“You know, I think the library has a some religious literature, if you want to read more,” she said thoughtfully. “I can show you next time we go there for reading time, how does that sound?”
Harry’s face turned radiant.
“Than you, Miss Harper! That’s brilliant!”
Thus, the next time that Harry talked to the snake in the garden, he had a little more understanding of the stories the snake told.
“So,” Harry summarised the snake’s latest tale, “basically Lucifer is in trouble because he ran away and was naughty, instead of doing what he was told.”
“...I suppose you could say that,” the snake conceded eventually. It had never heard Lucifer’s actions described quite that way before.
Harry nodded in the serene conviction that he was right.
“My book says he was the fairest and most beautiful angel of them all, and they called him the Morning Star, for he shone as bright,” Harry quoted. “So how come he was a snake in the garden then? I don’t get it.”
“That was a different angel,” said the snake. “The Father of All Serpents turned himself into a snake, on the orders of the Morning Star.”
“Oh.” Harry frowned. “Why does my library book say they’re the same person?”
“Because most humans don’t know how to talk to snakes, so they got the story wrong,” said the snake, with lofty superiority.
“That makes sense.” Harry looked considering. “Why do you suppose Lucifer wanted people to eat of the fruit of Knowledge?”
“Oh, that was the Father of All Serpents’ idea,” said the snake. “He was told to cause trouble, and that was what he chose to do. And now humanity understands the difference between good and evil because of it.”
Harry thought that over.
“Reckon we owe him one, then,” he told the snake finally. “What’s his name, the Father of All Serpents?”
The snake would have shrugged, if it could have. As it was, it’s tongue darted in and out, and it said, “I couldn’t tell you. Snakes don’t really bother with names.”
Harry nodded politely, a little disappointed.
“That’s a pity,” he said. “I should have liked to know his name.”
Chapter 3: The Trip to the Zoo
As Harry grew older, growing ever closer to his eleventh birthday, the Dursleys found it more and more difficult to treat him badly.
If Petunia went to order him to do something that he didn’t want to do, she found herself hesitating, and asking Dudley to do it or doing it herself instead.
If Vernon opened his mouth to yell at the boy over breakfast, one glance into green eyes and he found himself shutting it again and going back to his bacon, without any further fuss.
Dudley no longer chased or tormented his cousin; Harry would just look at him and say, ‘Dudley, don’t be a prat,’ and Dudley would find himself nodding politely and leaving his cousin alone.
There was only one occasion when Dudley persisted in bothering Harry until Harry reached a point of annoyance. Ten minutes later a dazed Dudley realised that he was helping Kelly Hampton braid her hair and agreeing that gosh, the blue ribbons were pretty.
After that, Dudley made a greater effort to be nicer to Harry.
Over time, Harry developed an assurance and confidence in himself that in anyone else might have been conceitedness. And yet, in Harry, it wasn’t arrogance; it was simply that the idea that things might not go as he wanted them to, or that people might not do as he wished them to, never entered his head.
Petunia found herself buying Harry proper clothes of his own, and books, and toys, and making sure that he ate properly. Vernon found himself clearing out the extra bedroom one afternoon and making it habitable; he exchanged a confused, speaking glance with Petunia, and gruffly told Harry to move his things out of the cupboard because he was sleeping in the room next to Dudley’s from now on. Harry appeared completely unsurprised by this information, and his aunt and uncle shuddered at the implications.
Whatever the reason, by the time that he was nearly eleven, the Dursleys treated Harry almost like a normal human being.
Harry sometimes wondered, vaguely, why the Dursley’s behaviour had changed so drastically, but other thoughts usually soon put the thought out of his mind.
On the morning of Dudley’s eleventh birthday, Harry wandered downstairs to find his cousin opening his birthday presents. It looked like Dudley had gotten the new computer he wanted, as well as the racing bike.
“Happy birthday,” Harry said, more out of a sense of politeness than anything.
Dudley opened his mouth to say something rude – and paused.
“Thanks,” he instead said cautiously.
Three heads swivelled to watch Harry as he walked over to his seat at the dining room table, where a plate of bacon and eggs was waiting for him. As Harry sat and began eating, his relatives relaxed, and Dudley went back to opening his presents.
Harry ignored the tantrum Dudley threw about having fewer presents than last year, too busy eating his bacon. But as Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon began talking about taking Dudley to the zoo, Harry started paying attention.
He’d heard from Joseph at school that there was a giant boa constrictor at the zoo, and Harry badly wanted to talk to it. Harry had never met a snake from another country before. He wondered if the boa constrictor would have different stories to tell than the snakes that passed through the Dursley’s back garden.
“Can I come along?” Harry spoke up.
Instant silence fell.
“I won’t be any trouble, I promise,” said Harry. His aunt and uncle exchanged troubled looks, the way they so often did whenever Harry did or said something, now. (It was better than being yelled at all the time, so Harry didn’t mind the odd looks so much. But sometimes he wondered what they were about.)
Dudley began to pretend to cry, caught Harry’s eye, and abruptly stopped.
“I suppose you can come along,” Aunt Petunia said slowly, as though the answer was being forced from her.
“Thank you, Aunt Petunia!” He turned to Dudley, who was looking disgruntled. “You’ll love the zoo, Dudley. They have a giant snake called a boa constrictor there.”
“How do you know that?” Uncle Vernon asked suspiciously, swelling a little, even as Dudley began to look vaguely interested.
“Joseph at school told me,” said Harry truthfully. Uncle Vernon seemed relieved by that answer, because he only went ‘hmph’ and didn’t ask Harry any more questions.
Sometimes, Harry thought, his relatives were rather odd, although he’d never tell them that, of course.
Not that Harry could talk, he knew. Strange things often seemed to happen around him. Aunt Petunia had given him a horrible haircut once – short all over, except for his fringe, which she’d left in place to cover the jagged scar on his forehead. Harry had hated it, and by the time he woke up the next morning, all his hair had grown back, exactly as before.
Then there was the time Harry had been running from Dudley’s gang, and somehow ended up on the roof of the school kitchens. One moment he’d been on the ground, wishing he was out of the gang’s reach: the next minute the wind seemed to bear him aloft, setting Harry neatly down on the school roof. Dudley’s gang had run off screaming and yelling, for reasons that Harry still couldn’t divine: when Harry had looked down at himself, he’d seemed perfectly ordinary. Harry had even glanced over his shoulder to make sure there wasn’t anything frightening behind him. But there was nothing.
Harry had gotten into terrible trouble for that incident at the time: he’d been sent to the headmaster’s office, for climbing school buildings. Dudley and his gang had been sent to the headmaster’s office too, though, for chasing Harry in the first place. Uncle Vernon had blustered at the headmaster, while Aunt Petunia had sat there with a pinched, mortified look on her face. Afterwards Harry had been punished severely, but Dudley had, of course, been treated like he’d done nothing wrong at all. Uncle Vernon had even told Dudley that the school was picking on him and he should keep his chin up.
Anyway, the point was, that Harry didn’t know why such bizarre things happened to him, only that they did, which meant that it wasn’t really fair to call the Dursleys odd, not when Harry was just as strange, somehow.
So Harry didn’t say anything – not that it would have been polite to – as he and the Dursleys prepared to leave. Dudley’s friend Piers Polkiss was dropped off at their house shortly before they all got into the car, and the group – Harry, Dudley, Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, and Piers – drove off to the zoo.
Harry trailed behind the rest of them as they visited the different animals at the zoo. Not that he wasn’t interested in the other animals, but what he really wanted to see was the boa constrictor. It wasn’t until after lunch that he got his wish.
The boa constrictor was huge, with glistening brown coils. It also appeared to be asleep, lying perfectly still behind the glass wall separating it from the curious humans who had come to gawk at it.
Dudley stood with his nose pressed against the glass.
“Make it move,” he whined to Uncle Vernon. Uncle Vernon rapped on the glass, but nothing happened, not even when Dudley told him to knock on the glass a second time.
“This is boring,” Dudley moaned, and shuffled off to look at the venomous cobras. The others followed him, except for Harry.
Harry stepped up to the glass, and peered at the snake. He couldn’t blame it for sleeping – it was probably dreadfully boring, with nothing to see but rude people knocking against the glass all day long.
“Hello,” Harry hissed politely. “How do you do?”
The boa constrictor suddenly raised its head to stare at Harry.
“I’m sorry to disturb you,” Harry went on, “but I was dreadfully excited to meet you. I’ve never met a snake from another country, before. And you’re ever so much bigger than the snakes I’ve met in the garden at home.”
For a moment the snake simply continued to stare. Then:
“A talking human,” it said, in a low, hissing voice. “That’s a new one.”
It slithered closer to the glass, as though it wanted to get a better look at Harry, raising its head until it was looking Harry straight in the eye.
“Have you always been able to talk to snakes?” the boa constrictor asked. Harry shrugged.
“For as long as I can remember,” he said. “Do you miss Brazil?”
“Never been there,” said the boa constrictor. “I was born in the zoo.”
“Oh. Well, what’s it like living in the zoo?” Harry asked.
“What’s it like living outside the zoo?” the boa constrictor countered, sounding slightly amused.
Harry paused to think.
“I don’t really know how to explain,” he said slowly, and the boa constrictor gave a hissing laugh.
“Exactly,” it said. “What’s your name, amigo?”
“Harry,” Harry responded. “Do you have a name?”
“The keepers call me Lucas,” said the snake dismissively. “Is it nice, living outside the zoo?” It sounded wistful.
“Yeah,” Harry said honestly. “I’d hate to be cooped up like you are.”
“Believe me, I hate it too,” said the snake. “It’s s boring. The same space, every day. It gets old, I tell you.”
“I wish I could help,” said Harry sincerely.
Harry wasn’t quite sure what happened next. But suddenly the pane of glass in front of him was gone, and he was nose-to-nose with the enormous snake.
The boa constrictor’s tongue flickered in and out as it scented Harry.
“Huh, ” it said. “You smell weird, kid. Like feathers and fresh air. Thanks for letting me out. Brazil, here I come...”
The enormous snake slithered past Harry, out of the enclosure, and all Harry could do was scramble to get out of the way as it went by. People throughout the reptile house began screaming and running for the exits. Harry looked around to see if anyone had seen him talking to the snake before the glass had vanished. He saw Pier’s gaping face, looking straight at him. Harry met his eyes, and slowly shook his head without ever breaking eye contact. Piers swallowed visibly, and as Harry walked over, Piers moved to put Dudley between himself and Harry, even as Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon hustled them to the nearest exit.
The drive home was strained. Uncle Vernon waited until Piers was safely out of the house before he turned to Harry. He was so angry he could barely get the words out.
“Go – bedroom – no meals–” he managed, before he collapsed into a chair.
Harry thought it best to do as Uncle Vernon said, under the circumstances. He slunk upstairs, feeling sorry about being in trouble, but not feeling particularly guilty about the boa constrictor being free.
How had it happened, though? The snake had seemed to think that Harry himself had been responsible – but that wasn’t possible, surely?
Harry thought back to all the strange things that had happened around him, though, and couldn’t help but wonder.
Why did all the weird things happen around him the way they did?
Chapter 4: Harry's Birthday
Harry was punished for the zoo incident for three days, after which his relatives seemed to suddenly forget the whole thing. Harry was just glad to be allowed out of his room and to go back to regular meals instead of subsisting on bread and ham, which was the only food Aunt Petunia had allowed him.
The rest of the school term passed by uneventfully, and the holidays came. Before Harry knew it, it was the morning of his eleventh birthday.
Harry lay in bed for a while, marvelling at the fact that he was no longer ten, and planning out what he was going to do today. When he finally went downstairs, there was a package wrapped in brightly-coloured paper sitting at Harry’s place at the dining table, next to Harry’s breakfast. Harry stared at it. He looked around at the other occupants of the dining room, but no one seemed to be paying the package any attention.
“Is this for me?” he finally ventured, his heart beating faster.
“Who else would it be for?” Aunt Petunia sniped. “Go ahead and open it instead of keeping us waiting.”
The Dursleys had never given Harry a birthday present before. Harry hastily began to unwrap it before Aunt Petunia changed her mind, half-wondering if this was some kind of nasty trick.
Harry ripped off the last of the gaily-coloured paper, and stared at the contents of the package. It was a Walkman music player, just like the one Dudley had, and a set of cassette tapes to go with it.
Harry picked up his birthday present with trembling fingers, and looked up to meet Aunt Petunia’s beady gaze.
“Thank you, Aunt Petunia, Uncle Vernon,” he said. His voice was a little wobbly. “It’s a wonderful present.”
Aunt Petunia only sniffed loudly, as though unimpressed with Harry’s thanks, and Uncle Vernon hmphed and said that it was only right that Harry should be grateful.
“Oh, I am,” said Harry.
“How about you show your gratitude by getting the mail?” Uncle Vernon grunted, and so Harry fled the room, his arms still full of his unopened Walkman and his new cassette tapes. He hurried upstairs to leave his present on his bed, before clattering back down the stairs and into the front hall to check the mail.
There were three pieces of mail lying on the doormat: a postcard from Uncle Vernon’s sister, Marge, a letter that looked like a bill of some sort, and – a letter for Harry.
Harry gaped at it. Never in his life had Harry received a letter in the mail before. He didn’t really have any friends to write to him – before, Dudley used to pick on anyone who tried to befriend Harry, and these days everyone else already had friends and didn’t need any new ones – or any other relatives than the Dursleys. Yet there it was: a letter clearly addressed in emerald-green ink to Mr H. Potter, The Smallest Bedroom, 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey.
Harry frowned, wondering how the sender had known which bedroom was his. He turned the envelope over to see if there was a return address on the back, noting as he did that the paper it was made of was thick and heavy and yellowish in colour. There was no return address – only a purple wax seal, bearing a coat of arms with four different animals, all of them surrounding a large letter ‘H’.
Harry walked back into the dining room.
“There’s a postcard from Aunt Marge, and what looks like a bill,” he told Uncle Vernon, passing Uncle Vernon the two pieces of mail. Uncle Vernon accepted them without bothering to thank Harry, and Harry went back to looking at his letter.
“What’s that you’ve got there?” Aunt Petunia asked sharply.
“Some kind of strange letter,” Harry said. “Someone sent it to me.”
“Who would send you a letter?” Uncle Vernon said, snatching the letter out of Harry’s hands, and opening it.
“I don’t know, but it’s mine,” said Harry, annoyed. “Give it back.”
Uncle Vernon took one look at the letter, and turned greyish-white. He silently handed the letter back to Harry.
“Vernon?” Aunt Petunia asked curiously.
“It’s them,” Uncle Vernon croaked. “With their blasted school.”
Aunt Petunia seemed to understand at once. She gasped, and put a hand to her heart.
“Vernon! Oh my goodness – Vernon!”
Harry barely noticed. He was too busy reading the letter. Finally, he lifted his eyes from it, and one glance was enough to pin his aunt and uncle to the spot.
“I’m a wizard,” he said slowly. On the face of it, the idea seemed absurd, but then – Harry thought about all the odd things that had happened around him, the strange and inexplicable things, and thought that for the first time he might have an answer as to why.
After a moment, Uncle Vernon’s words registered.
“Wait, you knew?” Harry demanded, taking a step forward. “Tell me!”
Aunt Petunia opened her mouth, and the words came pouring out as though she was compelled.
“Of course we knew! How could you not be, my dratted sister being what she was? Oh, she got a letter just like that and disappeared off to that – that school – and came home every holiday with her pockets full of frog spawn, turning teacups into rats. I was the only one who saw her for what she was – a freak! But for my mother and father, oh no, it was Lily this and Lily that, they were proud of having a witch in the family!”
Harry stood very still. Part of him was horrified at the vitriol in his aunt’s voice, but another part of him, deep and dark and hungry, wanted to hear more. Harry had wondered about his parents all his life, and now here was Aunt Petunia telling him secrets about his mother – in tones of hatred and spite, yes, but also with a raw honesty that Harry couldn’t deny.
“So I’m like my Mum, then?” Harry asked quietly. “Magical?”
“Pet–” Uncle Vernon said, in a worried voice.
“I don’t know what you are,” said Aunt Petunia, the words still coming out in a rush, like Aunt Petunia didn’t know how to stop. “Lily did things she shouldn’t have been able to, but she never made people do things they didn’t want to do like you do, you little freak!”
Aunt Petunia’s jaw suddenly snapped shut, and she looked horrified at herself. She stared fearfully at Harry.
There was a long and chilly silence.
“I reckon,” Harry said finally, “that you didn’t mean to say that. Not really.”
Aunt Petunia shook her head quickly, denying any intention of saying what she just had, and Harry nodded thoughtfully. His stomach was twisting itself into knots, and there was a distant ringing in his ears, but Harry felt strangely calm.
He looked back down at the letter.
“Says they await my owl no later than 31 July,” said Harry. “What’s that mean?”
“Wizards deliver their post by owls,” said Aunt Petunia hurriedly, but no more than that. Harry nodded.
“Is there anything else,” he asked, “that I ought to know?”
As it turned out, there was.
Uncle Vernon sat there in mute horror, Dudley looking between the three of them with wide eyes, as Aunt Petunia told Harry what she knew of how Harry’s parents had really died.
Apparently there had been a Dark Lord who had been attacking people like Harry’s parents – Aunt Petunia wasn’t sure of the details, exactly. But he’d come after Harry’s Mum and Dad, and killed them both.
“You survived,” Aunt Petunia said spitefully. “But somehow, the Dark Lord was destroyed in the backlash. They – those people – hailed it as some kind of miracle. You’d think they could have raised you, but no, they dumped you on our doorstep with nothing more than a letter, expecting us to just take you in, as though we didn’t have more than enough on our plates.” Aunt Petunia’s disdainful look said what she thought of that.
“Why did you take me in, then?” Harry asked. He knew that his relatives weren’t exactly fond of him, even if they’d been treating him better for a while lately.
Aunt Petunia’s face did a peculiar thing. First her lips pursed, then her eyes narrowed, and for a moment it looked like she was trying her hardest not to answer. Finally, she said simply: “Because you’re my sister’s boy.”
Harry nodded slowly.
“I think,” he said, his voice as steady as he could make it, “that I want to be alone for a while.”
He stuffed the letter in one pocket, and grabbing the cutlery and plate of food in his place at the dining table, left the room and went upstairs. Nobody tried to stop him.
Harry sat on his bed, and took out the letter again.
HOGWARTS SCHOOL OF WITCHCRAFT AND WIZARDRY
Headmaster: Albus Dumbledore (Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock, Supreme Mugwump, International Confed. Of Wizards)
Dear Mr Potter, We are pleased to inform you that you havea place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Winzardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment. Term begins on 1 September. We await your owl by no later than 31 July.
Harry stared at the letter for a long time. Then he looked at the equipment list. It was an improbable list, to say the least: it was full of equipment such as robes and cauldrons, and books with names like The Standard Book of Spells (Grade 1).
It was all real, though, and Harry wasn’t sure how he felt about that. If you’d asked him the day before whether he’d like to be a real-life wizard, with magic and everything, Harry would have responded that of course he would.
But Harry had just learned that the reason why his relatives hated him was that he’d been secretly magical, all along – that was why all the peculiar things happened around him all the time, the peculiar things that the Dursleys hated so much. And magic wasn’t just wonder and brilliance, that much was clear – it was death and destruction as well. Magic was the reason why Harry didn’t have parents, and that took some of the shine off the whole ‘wizard’ idea.
Harry carefully folded the letter and equipment list up again, and stored them under the loose floorboard under his bed. Whatever horrible things magic had done, it was pretty clear that Harry was a wizard, whether he liked it or not. He always had been, and if that were the case, it followed that he always would be. Which meant that even if he didn’t like it, it was probably important for Harry to go away to wizard school.
Harry’s dark thoughts took a turn for the lighter as he considered the concept of wizard school.
Weird things had happened around him all his life, which probably meant that Harry was a natural when it came to magic: after all, if he could do magic like that without knowing it, what might he be capable of when he was trained? And probably Harry would be surrounded by other wizards and witches, who were just like Harry, and they could all be friends. The idea of friends appealed to Harry.
Before his thoughts quite moved on, however, Harry’s mind involuntarily returned to Aunt Petunia’s words.
Lily did things she shouldn’t have been able to, but she never made people do things they didn’t want to do like you do, you little freak!
Harry thought of the way that Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon had treated him so much better, lately. He’d hoped that it had meant they liked him better, even though he knew, deep down, that they didn’t. There had been no logical reason for them to treat him better.
Unless, somehow, Harry’s magic had made them do it.
Harry swiped angrily at his eyes with his sleeve as a couple of tears trickled down his face.
So what if his magic had made them do it, Harry told himself defiantly. It served the Dursleys right, for not treating him well in the first place.
But the tears continued to trickle down Harry’s cheeks, and he gave up on wiping them away.
And deep down, a little voice in Harry’s head murmured, I wonder what else I can do?
Chapter 5: Astaroth
Harry couldn’t bring himself to face the Dursleys, but after a while he got tired of sitting alone in his room, doing nothing but thinking about what had happened. So Harry opened his new Walkman, put in some batteries and one of his new cassette tapes, and slipped out of the house to go for a walk.
It was a hot, sunny day, with almost perfect weather. It was the kind of day that was full of children laughing and playing, music drifting on the air, as people enjoyed the pleasant atmosphere.
It wasn’t the kind of day you’d expect a hell-hound to be wandering the streets, but there you go. That’s life for you.
The hell-hound was a huge, dark shape as it made its way through Little Whinging, heading towards Privet Drive. It looked like a dog, more or less, in the same way as a shark looks more or less like a fish – that is, it was vaguely dog-shaped. But there the resemblance ended. No mere dog had teeth like knives, or eyes that glowed like hellfire. Nor did they leave slightly-smoking footprints in the tarmac as they walked.
The hell-hound was on the move. It was looking for its master, and Heaven help anyone who got in its way.
Hell hadn’t been sure whether the hell-hound would even find the Antichrist, but, well, even if it didn’t, a hell-hound on Earth would create exactly the kind of chaos and discord Hell most appreciated.
Halfway down Privet Drive, the hell-hound caught Harry’s scent. Its ears pricked up, and it continued on at a slightly faster pace.
Harry, meanwhile, had wandered down to the local park, and was sitting on the swings, listening intently to the music being played through his headphones. It was the kind of music Dudley liked, with electric guitars and whatnot. Harry had to admit that it wasn’t bad. Some of the songs he’d heard before, on the old broken radio that he had rescued from the rubbish, and which had mysteriously begun working perfectly again once Harry had tried to turn it on.
Harry tried valiantly not to think about the implications of that, and failed.
Unbeknownst to him, the hell-hound was still following Harry’s scent trail, and any moment now, it was going to reach the boundaries of the park.
The thing was, though, Harry wasn’t exactly fond of dogs. Most of his canine interactions had been with Ripper, Aunt Marge’s growling, vicious bulldog. The dog had tried to bite him – once. After that it had been a whimpering mess that huddled behind Aunt Marge, but the whole incident had given Harry a distaste for dogs in general. Besides, he didn’t like the way they smelled. On the whole, Harry would much rather have a snake, if he had to have a pet. They were proper companions, snakes.
As the hell-hound grew closer and closer to its new master, it became aware that it was changing. The thick black fur was disappearing, replaced by smooth scales, and with every step the hell-hound seemed to be closer to the ground than before. By the time the hellhound reached the edge of the park, it was, in fact, no longer a hound.
It was, instead, a large black snake, with a red belly and coal-black eyes, over six feet long, and with a highly toxic venom hidden away in the glands of its mouth. As snakes went it was surprisingly docile in nature, despite its large size and powerful venom.
The snake went winding through the grass, towards the set of swings where Harry sat.
Harry glanced down as he swung idly back and forth, and stilled at the sight of a long, sinuous body lying in the grass.
Where the hell-hound no doubt would have gazed up at Harry with doglike devotion and absolute loyalty, the hell-serpent was a little more pragmatic. It was, after all, a snake. Its head rose a little out of the grass, gave Harry a once-over, and said, “So you’re the one I’m supposed to babysit.”
Harry pulled his headphones off and pressed the ‘stop’ button on his Walkman.
“I’m your new companion,” said the hell-serpent. “Downstairs sent me to keep you company, and make sure you’re getting into as much trouble as possible.”
“Wait, who sent you?”
The snake gave a dismissive wave of its tail.
“Never mind,” it said. “What should I call you?”
“Harry.” By this point Harry was feeling well and truly bemused. “My name’s Harry.”
The snake gave the serpentine equivalent of a snort.
“Harry,” it repeated. “Not Cain, or Adam? Something, well, Biblical?”
“Well, never mind,” said the snake philosophically. “As long as you give me a better name than that, it doesn’t matter what you’re called, I suppose.”
“I thought snakes didn’t go in for names,” Harry said, ignoring the insult to his own name.
“No, but people do,” said the snake. “If I’m going to be your companion, you’re going to have to call me something, right?”
Somehow, the snake managed to give Harry an expectant look.
Harry looked down at the serpent for a long moment.
His day hadn’t gone very well so far, and the thought of having a snake as a companion was... rather tempting, actually. Having snakes around had always been a little like having friends. Harry wondered if Hogwarts allowed snakes as pets. It couldn’t hurt to ask.
Harry looked down at the snake, an intimidating sight in gleaming black and red, its long body stretching away into the grass. It was, Harry thought, a snake which deserved an impressive, frightening sort of name.
“How do you feel about the name Astaroth?” Harry asked finally. He wasn’t sure where he’d mentally pulled the name came from, but it seemed to fit. The snake gave him a fanged smile.
“Sounds good,” said the snake. He fixed Harry with a look. “So, tell me what has you smelling so upset.”
Harry hesitated a moment, before beginning to explain the earlier encounter of the day.
When he finished recounting the story to Astaroth, the serpent was silent for a moment.
“Well. Those Dursleys sound like a right pack of bastards,” he said at last, surprising a slight laugh out of Harry. “What do you plan to do about the wizard school?”
“Don’t know,” said Harry. “Attend, I suppose. But I can’t stay here, not after what happened this morning.” He stared into the distance, his mind elsewhere for a moment. “I suppose I could go to London. It can’t be that hard to find a wizard, I bet. Not if they all wear robes, and witches hats, and such.”
“Well wherever you’re going, I’m coming with you,” said Astaroth firmly. This made Harry smile wanly.
“I should pack a bag with some things, since I don’t plan to come back here,” Harry said. “Are you happy to wait here until I come back?”
Astaroth’s tongue flickered in and out.
“I’ve nothing else to do,” he said, which Harry correctly took for assent.
“I’ll be back as soon as I can,” said Harry, standing, and putting his headphones back on.
It didn’t take him long to walk back to number four, Privet Drive. No one was in sight as he entered through the front door and went upstairs to his bedroom. After tipping all his school stuff out of his backpack, Harry packed a couple of changes of clothes and his Hogwarts letter and equipment list, before trying to decide what else to pack. Harry’s new Walkman and cassette tapes went into the backpack as well, in addition to his favourite book. By this point the backpack was very nearly full, so Harry shoved in his wallet full of saved pocket money and a couple of packets of crisps to eat in London, before zipping the backpack closed and hefting it onto his back.
Harry looked around his bedroom one last time. He was a little sorry to be leaving all his books behind, but otherwise, he found that the prospect of leaving didn’t fill him with the sorrow he’d expected. But then, Privet Drive had never been much of a home to him, so perhaps it wasn’t so surprising.
Backpack on his back, Harry left the house a second time, and headed back to the park. Astaroth proved to be where Harry had left him, lying lazily in the grass, enjoying the summer sunshine. He lifted his head as Harry approached.
“You’re ready to go, then?” he asked Harry.
Harry nodded bravely, and Astaroth slithered close.
“How are we getting there?” Astaroth wanted to know.
Harry had been wondering about that too, but put up a confident front.
“I figure that my magic should be able to help,” he said. “I’m going to try wishing really hard that I was in London. Wishing for things has always worked before, even if I didn’t realise at the time.”
“You should carry me so that I don’t get left behind,” he told Harry, and so Harry gently scooped the large snake into his arms. Astaroth’s tail hung right down and stretched along the grass, still, but Harry decided that didn’t matter. He closed his eyes, and willed himself to teleport to London.
With a quiet pop, snake and boy vanished from sight.
Chapter 6: The Antichrist is Found
Sorry about the delay, guys - I have a lot going on at the moment, and not much time for writing. So it may take me a while to get each new chapter out, I'm afraid. But this chapter is a bit longer than usual, so hopefully that makes up for the wait. Comments are always appreciated!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It was a nice day, as summer days went.
Crowley and Aziraphale had been out to lunch at the Ritz earlier in the day, and now Crowley stood with the angel near the edge of the lake, watching ducks gobble up thrown pieces of bread and sink like a stone (until Aziraphale nudged him, at least, at which point the ducks bobbed to the surface again) when there was a quiet pop somewhere behind them, and a powerful ethereal presence was suddenly right there.
It wasn’t an angelic presence, Crowley knew that immediately, but it wasn’t demonic, either. It was – something else.
Crowley exchanged a sudden, alarmed glance with Aziraphale, and slowly turned around.
A small black-haired boy stood a short distance away. Even as Crowley and Aziraphale stared at him, the boy looked up from the enormous snake he was holding – and there was something funny about that snake, but Crowley was too worried to pay much attention to it – and brilliant, unmistakeable green eyes met Crowley’s own.
There was a moment of helpless staring, because while Crowley had wanted to find Harry Potter, yes, and get the higher-ups Downstairs off his back, the last thing he’d wanted was to be caught by the Antichrist feeding the ducks with an angel.
From the look on Aziraphale’s face, he was having similar thoughts on being caught consorting with a demon.
For a moment, Crowley didn’t know what was going to happen. Then –
Those bright green eyes shone with astonished delight, and the Anitchrist exclaimed, “I know who you are! You’re the Father of All Serpents!”
There was a moment of uncertain silence, but the boy didn’t seem at all hostile, and Crowley felt himself relaxing a little, only to tense up again as Aziraphale turned to him, eyebrows arched.
“Er,” said Crowley.
“ ‘The Father of All Serpents?’ ” Aziraphale repeated, and Crowley knew he was in for it now.
“Look,” he said defensively, “I was a bit new to the whole serpent thing, alright? I didn’t realise being a serpent came with instincts.”
“Instincts,” said Aziraphale. “Crowley...”
“I met a female snake,” Crowley snapped. “How was I supposed to know what was going to happen?”
Aziraphale put a hand over his mouth.
“Oh, Crowley...” His shoulders shook.
“Did you make baby snakes?” Harry asked, with the knowledgeable air of someone who has read the age-appropriate Where Did I Come From? book at the library.
Aziraphale opened his mouth to speak, eyes dancing.
“Shut up, angel,” Crowley snarled hastily, and whirled on Harry. “And you! I’ve spent the last six thousand years trying to forget about that, thank you very much.”
The Antichrist stared at him in confusion.
“But why?” he asked. “Snakes are brilliant.”
Crowley opened his mouth to deliver a blistering reply, then stopped, as he realised that he was about to explain to an eleven year old exactly why he hadn’t relished fathering a bunch of snakes.
(Well. That wasn’t quite true. The process of fathering hadn’t exactly been unpleasant. It was only afterwards that a dazed Crowley had curled up in acute embarrassment and vowed never to tell anyone about what had just happened.)
“Just because,” said Crowley. A thought struck him. “How’d you know who I was, anyway?”
“The snakes told me!” Harry said brightly, and Crowley gave the snake in the boy’s arms a jaundiced look. “And then I saw you just now, and I just sort of knew. Same as I can tell you’re a demon, and he’s an angel.”
“Right,” said Crowley. He supposed it made sense that the Antichrist could tell. He changed the subject to a more pertinent issue. “Do you live near here?” he asked casually, because if he could find out where the Antichrist lived, that would solve most of his current problems with Hell.
Harry’s face fell.
“I don’t live anywhere right now,” he said, shaking his head sadly. “I had to leave, because I was making my relatives do things.”
Crowley wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, but it sounded good for the forces of Hell, if rather ominous for everyone else. He regarded the boy warily, wondering exactly how strong his powers were. He could feel himself tensing up again at the reminder that this was no ordinary eleven year old.
“Do things?” Aziraphale repeated, sounding puzzled.
“Yeah, like making my relatives give me Dudley’s second bedroom, instead of making me live in the cupboard under the stairs,” Harry said matter-of-factly.
Crowley felt himself go still. Next to him Aziraphale did the same.
“They made you live in the cupboard under the stairs?” asked the angel, in a very calm voice that meant trouble. Crowley had no idea who the kid’s ‘relatives’ were, but if Aziraphale ever got hold of them, he was willing to bet they’d regret trying to make a child live in a cupboard.
Harry just nodded.
“Until I was ten. But I didn’t know I made them give me Dudley’s second bedroom. I just thought they did it to try and be nicer.” He looked miserable.
Crowley felt himself in the grip of an unfamiliar feeling. He met Harry’s eyes, despite how worryingly familiar they were, and crouched down slightly to put himself on Harry’s level.
“Listen up, kid,” he ordered, and Harry looked a little startled. “No one should have been making you live in a cupboard in the first place. If you had to make your relatives give you a proper bedroom, then it’s their own fault for not giving you one. Defending yourself from abuse isn’t the same as trying to hurt other people. Don’t feel guilty about it. Understand?”
The Antichrist stared at him, looking wide-eyed and vulnerable. Crowley became aware that Aziraphale was looking at him with an expression of misty-eyed, beaming fondness. He glared at the angel.
Aziraphale’s look didn’t abate in the slightest, but only transferred itself to Harry.
“He has a point, my dear,” said the angel gently. “Besides, you didn’t intend to do it, did you?”
Harry shook his head, appearing a little comforted.
This is what my life has come to, Crowley thought. Comforting the eleven year old Antichrist.
Still, he supposed things could be worse. Aziraphale saying, “In the meantime, if you don’t have anywhere else to stay, you must simply stay with me,” for example.
“Oh, he – bollocks to that!” Crowley snapped, startling both the angel and the Antichrist, if the looks they gave him were any indication. “The first time he damaged one of your precious books you’d act like the sky was falling in. You know you would, angel.”
“I wouldn’t damage anything,” Harry said, looking indignant. “And even if I did, I’d fix it. I have magic, you know.”
“He’s eleven,” Crowley pointed out, ignoring the Antichrist’s interpolation. “Think about it. Think about how much mess the average eleven year old boy makes, Aziraphale.”
“Well, what do you suggest?” he asked irritably. “That he should live with you?” Aziraphale’s tone made it clear that he considered the idea absurd.
Crowley actually paused to think about it. He wasn’t Aziraphale, and was therefore inclined to think that having a child around wouldn’t be anything but a bother, but on the other hand... well. He could probably fix anything the Antichrist broke, and it wasn’t like he was volunteering to be a parental figure, or anything. It would be more like having a roommate, one who Crowley could coax into temptation. And it would definitely improve his standing in Hell, that was for certain.
As for the kid himself – well, sharing a flat with Crowley had to be better than living in a sodding cupboard, right?
“Why not?” Crowley asked flippantly.
Aziraphale gaped at him.
“I’ve got enough room, and it’ll give me a head start on corrupting the kid,” Crowley went on.
Aziraphale’s eyes narrowed, and he gave Crowley a worrisomely piercing look. Harry, on the other hand, looked like Christmas had come early.
“You mean it?” He sounded hopeful and excited at the idea.
“Sure,” said Crowley.
“Then I will simply have to visit as often as possible,” Aziraphale said. “To thwart your demonic wiles, of course.”
“Of course,” Crowley said agreeably.
Harry looked between them with a suddenly suspicious expression.
“Hang on,” he said, like the thought had just occurred to him. “You’re a demon, and you’re an angel. Shouldn’t you two be smiting each other, or something?”
“Er – well –” Aziraphale mumbled, looking guilty.
“Well, we could do that,” said Crowley. “Except that if we spent all our time smiting each other every time we laid eyes on one another we’d never get any work done, see? Whereas in our current arrangement, I spend my time attempting wicked deeds, while Azirphale does his best to stop me. So I get kudos from my superiors Downstairs for whatever evils I manage to commit, while Aziraphale here gets points from his bosses Upstairs every time he derails my plans. So it all works out.”
It sounded, on the surface, like a convincing enough argument. But the Antichrist only gave Crowley and Aziraphale a knowing look.
“You two were feeding the ducks when I got here,” he said. “Isn’t that a bit... friendly, for two people who are supposed to be enemies?”
“Well, a bit, I suppose,” conceded Aziraphale, looking worried. “But really, Crowley’s not such a bad sort, deep down.”
“And Aziraphale’s just enough of a bastard to be worth liking,” added Crowley. “Not to mention we’ve both been on Earth for the last six thousand years. The rest of Hell and Heaven aren’t exactly in touch with what goes on down here.”
“So if you could just keep our little arrangement to yourself, that would be for the best,” Aziraphale suggested, looking perfectly innocent.
Harry nodded slowly.
“I think I understand,” he said. “It’s like politics, or something, isn’t it?”
“Exactly,” said Crowley.
Harry nodded decisively.
“Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone,” he said confidently, and Crowley allowed himself a small sigh of relief. “And Astaroth won’t, either.”
“Astaroth?” Aziraphale repeated, sounding alarmed. Harry nodded to the snake in his arms.
“This is Astaroth,” he beamed. “I named him. He’s my new companion, he said.”
It was at this point that Crowley finally paid attention to the niggling little voice that said there’s something funny about that snake, and gave the serpent a closer look.
“Is that – was that a hell-hound?” he asked in disbelief.
“I don’t know, but he was a snake when I met him,” he said. “ Hey, were you a hell-hound?” he hissed at the snake, making Crowley and Aziraphale both start in surprise. Crowley understood the words, of course, being what he was, but to Aziraphale Harry’s words no doubt came out as unintelligible hissing.
“Briefly,” said the snake. It sounded bored. But then, they’d been speaking in English, so it likely hadn’t understood much of what had been said.
“Well, I’m glad you’re not a hound now,” said Harry. “I like snakes much better than dogs.” He wrinkled his nose.
Aziraphale tugged on Crowley’s sleeve.
“What are they saying?” he asked Crowley.
“The snake says he used to be a hell-hound, and the kid says he likes snakes much better than dogs,” Crowley translated for him.
“Well, I suppose that explains it.” Aziraphale looked pensive. “Not that I know all that much about the denizens of Hell, thank you very much, but with the kind of power the Antichrist is supposed to have, it makes sense that his powers could affect a hell-hound in that way.”
“Yeah,” said Crowley. “Kid, why’d you call the snake Astaroth?”
“It suited him,” he said simply, and frowned. “What do mean, ‘Antichrist’?”
“Oh boy,” said Crowley, who knew a minefield when he saw one. “Listen –”
Crowley had been about to prevaricate, but Harry fixed his eyes on Crowley in a way that demanded an answer, and Crowley felt the words spilling out against his will.
“You’re the prophesied Antichrist,” he said. “Son of the Devil, and all that. You were swapped at birth with the Potter child, and were supposed to be raised by them as their own. You should be pretty close to coming into your full powers any time now – you’re already pretty powerful as it is, judging by the fact that you’re able to make me say all this. And if you don’t stop it right now, I’m going to box your ears.”
The sense of unrelenting pressure suddenly stopped, and the Antichrist looked stricken. Crowley stood frozen, waiting for some kind of retaliation. Aziraphale looked horrified. But Harry just stood there, without doing anything nasty to Crowley, looking like... well, like someone had just told him he was the Antichrist.
“Well,” he said finally, and his voice was unexpectedly calm. “I suppose that explains the magic.”
“The Potters were wizards,” said Aziraphale gently. “I understand that Hell chose them to be your parents precisely because no one would question your supernatural powers.”
“What happened to the real Harry Potter?” Harry asked quietly.
Aziraphale looked to Crowley.
“He was abandoned outside the doors of the wizard hospital, where someone would find him,” said Crowley, because it seemed best to be honest at this point. “I don’t know what happened after that, but the odds are he’ll show up at Hogwarts this year.”
Harry nodded slowly, and looked at Crowley.
“I’m sorry for making you tell me,” he said. “I didn’t do it on purpose. I just wanted to know.” He hesitated. “So... who are my real parents, then? Is the Devil really my dad?”
“He is, I’m afraid,” said Aziraphale.
“No doubt about it – you’ve got his eyes,” Crowley added.
“What about my mum?” asked Harry. Crowley blinked. That wasn’t a question he’d ever considered.
“No idea,” said Crowley. The question was going to bother him, now. “No one ever said.”
Harry nodded, accepting this.
“Can we move along, now?” hissed Astaroth, a little acidly. “Or at least put me down, so I can see if there are any frogs in that lake. I’m a bit peckish.”
“We can get you some dead rats from the pet store later,” Crowley hissed. “Do you mind? We’re having a conversation.”
Astaroth gave a grumpy hiss, but subsided.
“Come on, kid,” said Crowley. “Let’s get back to my flat, and get you settled in. If anyone asks, I’m your cousin, and you’re living with me until your family issues are sorted out, got it?”
Unexpectedly, Harry grinned.
“That’s almost true,” he said admiringly. “You’re a bit sneaky, aren’t you?”
“Unfortunately,” Aziraphale said dryly.
“Is that where the snakes get it from?” Harry asked.
“Stop bringing that up, will you?” asked Crowley irritably. Harry only grinned amiably at him.
Crowley was a bit suspicious of the sudden change in mood – he suspected that the kid was going to get upset again later, once the truth of his parentage and nature had sunk in – but for now, he’d let it be.
The notion of Crowley being the original progenitor of every snake on Earth was one I came across in a Supernatural/Good Omens fic once, and it's sort of become my headcanon. I would tell you which fic it was, but I can't for the life of me remember.
ETA: Some people have suggested it may be the Arrangements-verse by icaruschained, which would make sense.
Chapter 7: Crowley's Flat
This is basically a filler chapter. The next one will be much longer. Sorry for the infrequent updates; I'm still really busy at the moment.
Crowley’s flat was very clean and neat and modern, in the same way that Crowley himself had a kind of sleek, sharply-dressed look. Everything in the flat looked new and expensive, from the pristine white carpet to the big TV to the ansaphone. The cleanliness reminded Harry a little of the Dursleys’ house, but that was where the resemblance ended. There was nothing ‘homey’ about Crowley’s flat, even though it was clearly lived-in.
The only thing about it that wasn’t cold and sterile-looking was the collection of house plants, which were the greenest, healthiest house plants Harry had ever seen. They were even bigger and greener than the plants Harry used to look after back when he was forced to do the gardening, and Aunt Petunia’s plants had been the envy of all the neighbours.
Crowley showed Harry into the spare bedroom, which was empty but for a bed and a set of drawers with a fancy electronic alarm clock sitting on top of it.
“Here we are,” said the demon. “You can have this room. I expect you to keep things neat and tidy, and to clean up after yourself. I’m not a maid.” Crowley’s sunglasses slid just far enough down his nose to reveal a pair of yellow eyes with slit pupils, which stared at Harry in warning. Harry stared back in fascination, but nodded obediently. Crowley looked satisfied, and pushed his sunglasses back up his nose again.
“Tomorrow, we’ll need to buy you a few things – clothing and so forth, since I doubt you managed to fit much into that backpack of yours,” Crowley said, nodding at the backpack. “And you,” he added, switching seamlessly to hissing as he looked at Astaroth, “you don’t make a mess either, or I’ll turn you into a pair of boots.”
Astaroth gazed back at him, looking unimpressed, before sliding out of Harry’s arms and to the floor.
A thought seemed to strike Crowley, and he added, “Oh, and if you get hungry, just help yourself to whatever’s in the fridge.”
He paused a moment, but Harry just looked at him, waiting to see if Crowley had anything else to say. But the demon left the room, leaving Harry alone.
Harry sat carefully on the edge of the bed. He was fairly sure that living with the Father of All Serpents was likely to be much more interesting than living with the Dursleys, but he felt... lost, sitting here in the unfamiliar white room all by himself.
“Cheer up,” said Astaroth. “You’re away from the Dursleys, and The Father of All Serpents seems surprisingly decent, for a demon. But then, I suppose he wouldn’t dare be anything but nice to you, given your standing in Hell.”
Harry only shrugged. It was true that Crowley seemed alright, so far. It was weird, meeting someone Harry had heard so much about. He hoped that Crowley liked him better than the Dursleys had.
Deciding what he thought of Aziraphale had been a little more difficult. The angel had seemed fussy and a little odd, in his vest and crisp pink shirt. But he’d also seemed kind enough – and the look on his and Crowley’s faces, when Harry had said he used to live in a cupboard...
Harry shook his head, and took off his backpack and unzipped it, pulling out his Walkman and cassette tapes, putting them on the chest of drawers next to the fancy electronic alarm clock. His favourite book went up there too. His wallet Harry shoved under the edge of his pillow that was closest to the bedroom wall.
When Harry checked, the set of drawers they proved to be completely empty, and so Harry pulled his spare clothes out of his backpack and unrolled them, folding them neatly and placing them in the empty drawer.
Astaroth had slithered out of the room to explore the rest of the flat, so Harry went looking for him. He found Astaroth curled up under the dining room table, while Crowley sat reading the paper and drinking a cup of tea.
Harry stood there awkwardly for a moment, unsure of what he was supposed to do next. Crowley glanced up.
“What?” he asked.
“Can I watch the TV?” Harry asked politely.
“Go ahead,” said Crowley, and went back to his paper. So Harry approached the TV, looking for how to turn it on. It didn’t have dials, like the Dursleys’ TV. It didn’t have buttons, either. Harry stared at it.
The TV turned itself on.
Harry blinked, but sat down onto the black leather couch, which made creaking noises as he sank into it. The TV was showing a Monty Python movie, so Harry settled down and was soon absorbed in what was going on on-screen.
Crowley went on reading his paper, and the whole thing was strangely comfortable, despite the white sterility of the flat.
After a while, though, Harry got sick of the TV, and stood up.
“I’m going to go for a walk,” he said, a little cautiously, testing the waters.
But Crowley only said, “Don’t be back too late, then,” without looking up from his paper, and so Harry went back into the spare bedroom – his bedroom now, he supposed – and shoved his wallet into his backpack, which he slung over his shoulder.
He walked back towards the main living area of the flat, and let himself out the front door, leaving Crowley and Astaroth behind. Harry didn’t have a key to get back in – he’d have to ask Crowley about that – but if nothing else, Harry could always try teleporting again, he thought. With that comforting thought in mind, Harry went out to explore his new environs.
His new neighbourhood, Harry soon discovered, was very fancy, and full of the kind of shops the Dursleys would have loved to have been able to afford to shop at. Harry was too polite to actually press his face against the glass, but he peered through all the plate-glass windows, looking at the expensive suits and jewellery and watches on display. He wandered for quite some time, until eventually he reached a park.
Harry quite liked parks, and it was good to know that there was one within walking distance of his new home, even if it took a while to get there. Harry sat down on the nearest bench, and thought about everything he’d learned today.
Surprisingly enough, discovering that he was the Antichrist and the son of the Devil wasn’t actually that much more upsetting than finding out he had magic, and that was why the Dursleys had hated him. Maybe it was just that Harry had been through too much of an unpleasant shock already, but he found himself simply accepting the fact that he was the Antichrist. Maybe it should have seemed a little unbelievable, to say the least, but now that Harry had been told what he was, a little voice inside his head seemed to insist that it was true. Besides, Aunt Petunia had said that even as a witch, Lily Potter had never done the things that Harry had done. Harry being the Antichrist neatly explained all of that.
Harry thought about the fact that Lily and James Potter weren’t really his parents. He’d never known them, of course, never so much as seen a picture of them, and Aunt Petunia had never mentioned them except in denigrating tones, but part of Harry ached to know that they weren’t really his parents. They’d loved him, after all, and died for him, as though he was their own, probably never knowing that he wasn’t. Exchanging them for the Devil was a little difficult, under the circumstances.
Harry thought back to the stories the snakes had told him of the fallen angel who had led the rebellion against Heaven, and failed. Harry had always been more interested in Crowley, really, but he’d enjoyed hearing stories of Lucifer, too. Now, though, he looked back on those stories with quite a different perspective – because while the Devil made an entertaining figure in stories, Harry wasn’t really sure he wanted to be related to him.
Harry remembered the comment Crowley had made about his eyes, and wondered if he really had inherited them from his father. When Harry thought about angels and demons, he knew – somehow – that the bodies Aziraphale and Crowley wore were mere corporations, worn on Earth so that they could interact with humans. Angels, in their natural state, didn’t have eyes, or bodies of any kind, really. So how could Harry have Lucifer’s eyes?
Perhaps, Harry thought, Lucifer had come to Earth in the past, and the body he wore had eyes that colour. That would make sense. And if he’d come to Earth in the past, who wasn’t to say that he’d visit Earth again? Harry might even get to meet him, some day. Harry wasn’t sure how he felt about that.
Harry looked out at the long expanse of grass and trees, and sighed. It was getting dark. He should probably be getting back to Crowley’s place.
Getting to his feet, Harry left the park, and began the trek back to Crowley’s flat.
The next day, Crowley and Aziraphale took Harry shopping.
It was definitely an experience. The demon and the angel took Harry to a very up-market department store, where they fought over what clothes to buy Harry. Aziraphale’s clothing choices appalled Harry, who was very much on Crowley’s side: pink, tartan, and so on were definitely not fashionable, Harry thought. So with Harry’s approval, Crowley’s clothing choices won out, and Harry found himself leaving the department store with several dress shirts and trousers, all of them in black, a couple of pairs of jeans made from dark denim, and some more casual shirts, as well as some new underwear.
The shop assistant who had been helpfully carrying Harry’s new clothes around the store as Crowley picked them out, had eyed the angel and demon and said to Harry, “Don’t seem to agree on much, do they?”
Harry only grinned, and said, “Not really.”
“So which one’s your dad?” asked the shop assistant. Neither Crowley nor Aziraphale heard, too busy arguing over a child-sized paisley print shirt.
“Oh, neither,” said Harry. He pointed to Crowley. “That’s my cousin, and I’m staying with him until my family issues are sorted out. My parents are dead and my aunt and uncle didn’t want me, you see.”
The shop assistant looked deeply sorry for Harry.
“You poor thing,” she said, and gave Crowley a soft look. “It’s good of your cousin to take you in.”
“Yeah,” Harry agreed readily. “He’s brilliant.”
After that the shop assistant had smiled a lot at Crowley, although he hadn’t noticed, too busy bickering with Aziraphale.
The three of them took a cab back to Crowley’s flat, where Harry had put his new clothes away, while Crowley examined Harry’s Hogwarts letter and equipment list.
“It seems straightforward enough,” said Crowley. “How do you feel about a trip to Diagon Alley, angel?”
Aziraphale, it seemed, was quite alright with the idea, and so off the three of them went.
Chapter 8: Diagon Alley
The thing about wizards, as Crowley said to Harry, was that they were rather backwards, really. Oh, they’d made wonderful strides when it came to using magic, even built a fully-functioning society around its use, but that didn’t change the fact that they hadn’t bothered to keep up with the advances that the rest of the world were making.
Crowley, for his part, avoided dealing with the wizarding world whenever he could. There had been exceptions to that rule, of course – take Merlin, for example; he hadn’t been so bad, for a wizard, even if his ideas about appropriate regal succession procedures had involved sticking a sword in a rock – but generally, wizards were an inconvenient lot. They were far too prone to casting spells willy-nilly on non-wizards to preserve the secrecy of their world, without bothering to make an effort to keep their activities hidden. The poor sods who lived in an area with a lot of wizards tended to end up getting their minds fiddled with on a regular basis, while the wizards responsible for their predicament went blithely on their way.
Crowley had had the odd run-in with wizards over the years, who had usually been quite surprised to discover that the ‘harmless muggle’ they’d been about to curse wasn’t so harmless, after all. On one occasion Crowley had even been summoned by a wizard who wanted a pet demon to set loose on his enemies. One, Crowley wasn’t into that sort of thing – he was hardly the murderous, butchering sort, unlike some of his fellow demons – and two, he took offence at the idea of being at the beck and call of an ignorant wizard who thought that magic made him the next best thing to a god. Crowley had been quite happy to show that particular wizard that there were more things in heaven and earth than he had ever dreamed of, and that some of them were most unhappy about being summoned, thank you very much.
So, Crowley didn’t really interact much with the wizarding world. He kept tabs on it, of course, but otherwise, he did his best to avoid it.
Harry listened attentively as he and Crowley and Aziraphale walked, and then said shrewdly, “You don’t like wizards much, do you?”
“They’re not all a bad sort,” he admitted. “But give a human power, whether it’s magical or something else, and you soon find out what kind of petty darkness lurks within their soul.”
Crowley exchanged a pointed look with Aziraphale then, because Harry himself had seemed to be remarkably free of petty darkness so far, considering the power he wielded. Crowley was inclined to think that Harry was a good kid, overall, but the thing with humans was that you never knew what they were really capable of until push came to shove.
Harry nodded thoughtfully, missing the look between his demon and angel companions.
“Like keeping me in the cupboard,” he said, and Aziraphale gave him a sympathetic look.
“Precisely, my dear.”
The three of them crossed the road and approached a dingy pub. Crowley noted with distaste the grimy state of the building in general.
“Some wizards also haven’t discovered the era of modern hygiene,” he added in a low voice as they entered the pub, and Aziraphale sent Crowley a chiding look out of habit, even though Crowley knew the angel agreed with him.
The state of the inside of the pub wasn’t all that different from the outside; that is, it was rather dark and shabby. Harry looked around critically, taking in the couple of wizards drinking at the bar, and the general atmosphere of the place. Well, Crowley thought, at least the drinking glasses were clean. He had to give the barkeep that much, even if the state of the rest of the pub was appalling.
The three of them got some odd looks from the pub clientele for their distinctly non-magical attire, but no one tried to stop them as they walked out the back of the pub into the tiny courtyard.
“Right then,” said Crowley, because it had been a while since he’d done this, “let’s see...”
He tried to remember the correct pattern of bricks to tap, and reached out to do so with one finger. The wall responded as though he’d tapped it with a wand, the bricks wriggling away to create an archway into Diagon Alley. Without waiting for the others Crowley strode forward, into the heart of the wizarding shopping district.
The other thing Crowley hated about the wizarding world was that whenever he was around a group of them, whatever technology he was carrying inevitably went haywire, reacting to the high concentrations of magical energy. One wizard wasn’t a problem, but an entire street full of them, like Diagon Alley, was enough to make anything electrical break down entirely. Crowley had been forced to leave his expensive mobile phone at home, and while he didn’t really need it – the only ones who ever really reached him on it were Aziraphale, and occasionally, his superiors in Hell (who would speak through whatever technological device was closest), it was the principle of the thing.
Crowley liked to be at the forefront when it came to technology, and being forced to abandon his devices rankled. Oh, Crowley probably could have forced them to run on pure demonic energy, but he had the suspicion that would only make it easier for Hell to contact him on them, like tuning the signal on a radio. And while Crowley never avoided his superiors, per se – he wasn’t stupid enough to think they wouldn’t work out he was avoiding them – that didn’t mean he wanted to make their occasional incidents of communication more frequent.
Crowley glanced back at Harry and Aziraphale. The former was looking around Diagon Alley with wide, fascinated eyes, talking animatedly to the angel, who was nodding indulgently. Funnily enough, Aziraphale wasn’t all that good with kids, usually – he just lacked the knack, somehow. Part of it was that he tended to think of children as pure and innocent, whereas Crowley was well aware that most children were underhanded, rotten little devils (metaphorically speaking), who delighted in disorder and were easily tempted to mischief. Crowley tended to get along with them rather well as a result. Aziraphale thought that it was a sign that Crowley wasn’t really bad, deep down, but Crowley reckoned that it was more probably because he and kids had that much in common, with him being a demon and all.
“Hurry up,” Crowley called back irritably to Harry and Aziraphale. “I want to get this over with as quickly as possible.”
Harry gave Crowley a patient look, but quickened his pace, while Aziraphale looked put upon as he hurried to keep up with both Harry and Crowley.
“It’s just all so interesting,” said Harry, as he caught up to Crowley.
“You can come back here on your own and gawk another time,” said Crowley, who had seen far more exciting sights than Diagon Alley.
“But do be careful to avoid Knockturn Alley,” Aziraphale warned, huffing slightly from the exertion of hurrying to join them. “It’s most unsuitable, full of all kinds of dangers.”
Crowley groaned, as Harry’s eyes lit up with speculative curiosity.
“Now you’ve done it,” he told Aziraphale accusingly. “Just had to get his curiosity up, didn’t you. Bet you a fiver he’s going to check it out first chance he gets, now.”
Harry sent Crowley a grin at that, equal parts sheepish at Crowley’s accuracy, and determined to explore Knockturn Alley anyway.
Aziraphale looked doubtful, because he didn’t understand kids as well as Crowley did.
“Oh, I’m sure he wouldn’t –” Aziraphale began, but Crowley was busy talking to Harry.
“I know that nothing I say is going to stop you from doing what you want, but if you do go there, keep your eyes open, and don’t trust anybody, no matter how kind or harmless they might seem,” Crowley told Harry, because someone had to, now Aziraphale had been stupid enough to accidentally tempt him.
Chances were that Harry could deal with any problems himself, being the Antichrist, but the boy was only eleven. Who knew what could happen if he was taken unawares, or was a little too trusting.
“Knockturn is full of the types who wouldn’t think twice about kidnapping a kid like you, and you don’t want to know what they’d do to you, believe me. So be on your guard.”
Harry nodded, looking a little warier. Good. Just because he was ridiculously powerful didn’t meant that the kid didn’t have weaknesses someone could exploit.
“Really, Crowley, stop encouraging him,” complained Aziraphale.
“I’m not encouraging him, I’m telling him what he needs to know,” Crowley retorted. “And it’s your fault in the first place for telling him about Knockturn.”
Aziraphale looked like he was ready to argue, but they’d reached Gringotts by then, and the angel fell grudgingly silent as they entered the huge, echoing marble hall of the bank.
Crowley nodded curtly to the goblins by the door as he passed, because it paid to be polite to goblins, and made for the long counter where more goblins were scribbling in large ledgers and weighing coins on brass scales.
“I’d like to withdraw some money from my account,” Crowley said to the teller.
“You have your key, sir?” asked the teller in an uninterested voice, and in response Crowley pulled out his key.
It was a rather ornate key. The original lock to Crowley’s vault had been replaced for a more complicated and secure one sometime in the 16th century, and when they’d replaced the lock, the goblins had given Crowley a new, impressively-wrought key that reflected his status as a long-term and valued customer of the bank; Crowley had first opened his account back around the time that the bank first opened, with the vague notion that it would be a good investment. At this point, the centuries of accumulated interest had made Crowley a very wealthy man in the wizarding world.
The teller’s eyes widened slightly at the sight of the ornate key, and his tone was slightly more respectful as he said, “That seems to be in order. Urg will escort you to your vault. Urg!”
One of the nearby goblins leapt to attention, and Crowley followed her out of the great marble hall into one of the many long tunnels beneath the main building of the bank. Crowley grinned a little as he travelled in one of the automated carts, because while they were hardly the most advanced method of travel, Crowley was something of a speed king, and enjoyed racing through the twisting tunnels. It didn’t take Crowley long to remove some money from his vault, and then it was back in the little cart.
When he returned to the marble hall Aziraphale was fidgeting noticeably in impatience, but Harry didn’t seem at all bothered by the wait, watching the passing goblins and witches and wizards with interest.
What followed was a whirlwind hour as Crowley and Aziraphale took Harry up and down Diagon Alley, buying his school supplies. At the end of that hour, there were only two destinations they had yet to visit: the book shop, and the wand store.
They went to the book store first. Aziraphale had somehow lifted the equipment list from Crowley’s pocket without Crowley noticing, and now he bullied one of the shop assistants into fetching all the books on the first year book list. Crowley was content to just observe as Aziraphale ordered the assistant around, and Harry browsed through the aisles with the look of a devoted bibliophile.
There was a young girl about Harry’s age also in the store. She was standing with her nose in one of the books from the history section, and Crowley watched as Harry wandered over to her in a friendly sort of way.
“Good book?” Harry asked, and the girl jumped, making her bushy hair bounce. She looked up from her book in a startled sort of way, as though people her age coming up to talk to her wasn’t something she expected to happen.
“Oh! Yes, actually,” said the girl, regarding Harry cautiously, and with a little suspicion. “It’s called Hogwarts: A History, and it’s all about the history of the school.”
Harry looked interested.
“Really?” he asked. “I’d like to know more about Hogwarts. Where’d you find it?”
Still looking at Harry as though she thought his friendliness might be some kind of trick, the girl pointed out the place on the shelf where Hogwarts: A History was kept, and Harry got down a copy, flipping through it.
After a moment he turned to Crowley with a hopeful air, and asked, “Crowley, is it okay if I get an extra book that’s not on my list?”
Crowley glanced at Aziraphale, who was reprimanding the shop assistant for not having the most recent edition of some particular book available.
“Aziraphale would have my head if I tried to deny you a book,” he said, out of comfortable knowledge of the angel. “Go ahead.”
Harry’s eyes brightened.
“Brilliant!” he exclaimed with enthusiasm. He turned back to the girl with a smile. “Thanks for pointing it out, I’m sure I’ll enjoy it. Are you at Hogwarts?”
In the face of Harry’s evident and continued affability, the girl finally relaxed a little.
“Not yet, but I start in September,” she said.
“Me too,” said Harry, looking pleased. “Maybe we’ll have classes together.” Before the girl could react to that, he added, “I’m Harry.”
“Hermione Granger,” said the girl, clasping Hogwarts: A History to her chest and regarding Harry hopefully. “You think it would be nice to have classes together?”
“Of course it would,” said Harry, looking puzzled. “Be nice, to be friends with someone else who likes books. At my last school most people didn’t, really – or at least, didn’t admit to it.”
“It was the same at my old school,” said Hermione. She was visibly warming to Harry. “Everyone thought I was something of a know-it-all,” she added self-consciously.
Harry looked displeased at that.
“Nothing wrong with knowing things,” he said firmly. “Nothing wrong with wanting to know things, either. Not everyone does, and that’s fine too, but no one should be mean because you like to learn.”
Hermione looked reassured by this. It was hard not to be, when Harry spoke with such conviction. Crowley watched, with a sense of vague admiration at how easily Harry had gotten to the heart of her insecurity – and instead of undermining her, as so many children his age would have, had tried to bolster her confidence instead.
The kid’s parent might be the Devil, but it looked like Harry had inherited more angel than anyone was expecting.
“You mean it?” Hermione asked in a small voice.
“Of course.” Harry smiled at her, and his green eyes shone with sincerity.
Hermione smiled tentatively back, and she might have said something more, but just then Aziraphale bustled over with a stack of books.
“Well, I think that’s everything,” he said, and noticed Hermione. He smiled gave her an avuncular smile. “Who is this?”
“This is Hermione,” Harry declared. “She’s going to Hogwarts, too.”
“How lovely,” said Aziraphale, beaming at the two children. Crowley rolled his eyes.
“And Crowley said I can get this,” Harry added, holding up his copy of Hogwarts: A History. “It’s all about the history of Hogwarts.”
Aziraphale sent Crowley a knowing glance, before giving Harry an approving look.
“There’s never such a thing as too many books,” he declared.
“You would know,” Crowley muttered. “Do you ever actually sell any of the books in your bookstore, angel?”
Hermione looked between him and Aziraphale in a dismally obvious look of dawning surprise and realisation, and Crowley narrowed his eyes at her.
“Oh,” the girl exclaimed with a remarkable lack of tact, “Are you two – er –” She didn’t quite have the nerve to say what she was thinking, although it was obvious to Crowley.
Aziraphale gave her a puzzled look, failing entirely to understand what Hermione wasn’t saying.
“Yes?” he asked kindly. Hermione found enough courage to say what she wanted to ask.
“Are the two of you, um, special friends?” Hermione asked. “Because one of my uncles has a special friend, you know, so I’m perfectly fine with it, if you are.”
Crowley sighed. It wasn’t the first time someone had made that assumption, and it wouldn’t be the last. The fact was, that angels – and by extension, demons – were sexless unless they really wanted to make an effort. Crowley had, once or twice, to see what it was like, but honestly, most of the time he couldn’t be bothered.
It was a human thing, to categorise people’s relationships into certain boxes, and inevitably, the close relationship between Crowley and Aziraphale was interpreted through a human lens, and generally placed in a particular box even though their relationship really belonged in an entirely different box. A box that hadn’t been constructed yet, probably.
Yes, when you came down to it, Crowley liked Aziraphale better than anyone else, and they were definitely close, but that didn’t mean they were what people always assumed that were. It didn’t mean that they weren’t, either, of course – as far as Crowley was concerned, the matter was irrelevant. It didn’t matter what he and Azirphale were or weren’t. Why did humans have to define everything?
“That’s none of your business,” said Crowley bluntly, giving Hermione a stern look. “And just because you’re fine with it doesn’t mean the rest of the world is, you know.”
“Oh,” said Aziraphale, belatedly cottoning on to Hermione’s assumption. “You think–”
Hermione blushed up to her hairline at Crowley’s reprimand. Just then a couple who were presumably her parents walked over, carrying the same stack of books that Aziraphale was.
“No more books,” said her father immediately, seeing the book in Hermione’s hands. “We’ll already be paying a small fortune for everything on your school list, Hermione. Put that one back.”
Hermione’s face fell.
“Now,” said her mother sternly. Hermione looked sad, and slowly walked over to the shelf she’d taken the book from, and placed it back on the shelf.
Aziraphale looked sympathetic to Hermione’s woes, but said nothing, knowingt that ti wasn’t his business. Hermione’s parents were unmoved by Hermione’s heartbroken expression, but Harry was visibly affected.
“Hey,” he said, apparently on impulse, “I can lend you my copy when we got to Hogwarts, if you like.”
Hermione’s heartbroken look lightened a little.
“Really?” she asked.
“Sure,” said Harry. His face lit up as an idea occurred to him. “Or, if you want, I can post it to you when I’m done with it, and you can give it back to me when we get to school.”
Hermione brightened instantly, while her parents looked taken-aback.
“Oh, thank you! Just let me get out a pen and paper so I can give you my address –” and she began rummaging through the bag slung over her shoulder.
“That’s very kind of you, Harry,” said Aziraphale. “Very thoughtful.”
“You realise it’s going to cost money to send it through the post,” said Crowley, giving Harry a look. “And you just met her. For all you know, she won’t give your book back.”
Harry frowned at Crowley.
“She will,” Harry said, with such certainty that Crowley couldn’t argue. “I can tell.”
Since Crowley had a similar knack for judging someone’s character – all angels did, even former ones – he knew that Harry was right. Hermione struck him as the conscientious sort; she’d probably give Harry’s book back to him on the first of September, in pristine condition, and tell him all about how she’d taken special care of it for him.
“This is my address,” said Hermione, smiling radiantly as she handed Harry a scrap of paper. “I’ll take good care of your book, I promise.”
“I know you will,” Harry assured her, tucking the paper away into his pocket.
“Right, well if you’re quite done,” said Crowley, “why don’t we buy these books so we can move on to the wand store?”
Harry and Hermione said their goodbyes, as Crowley paid the extortionate amount required for Harry’s school books. Then, as Crowley had suggested, they went to Ollivander’s.
Ollivander’s was one place Crowley had never been before; he had no need for a wand, after all. So he looked around with a faint sense of curiosity as he and Aziraphale and Harry entered the shop. It was a small, dusty place, reminding Crowley vaguely of Aziraphale’s book store, and piled high with thousands of long, narrow boxes.
A moment later, an old man was standing before them. His eyes went straight to Harry, and to the lightning-bolt scar on his forehead.
“Good afternoon,” he said in a soft voice, and then: “Ah, yes. I thought I would be seeing you soon, Harry Potter.”
Crowley watched as Harry looked the man up and down, not in the least spooked by the sudden appearance, or the man’s unblinking stare.
Ollivander moved closer to Harry.
“Your eyes are almost like your mother’s, although yours, I think, are rather more green than hers,” said the wandmaker. “It seems only yesterday she was in here herself, buying her first wand. Ten and a quarter inches long, swishy, made of willow. Nice wand for charm work.”
Harry looked wistful. Aziraphale cleared his throat pointedly.
“We didn’t come here to discuss his parents,” said the angel. Crowley glanced at Harry, wondering how he felt about the Potters not being his birth parents.
“Yes, yes, of course,” Ollivander murmured. But he didn’t move away from Harry. Instead, he reached out one long, pale finger and tracked it over Harry’s scar. “And that’s where...”
Aziraphale yanked Harry back, out of Ollivander’s reach, and stepped forward, his blue eyes blazing, and Crowley thought, oh, Ollivander’s done it now.
“How dare you!” snapped Aziraphale, and the fury in his eyes was something to behold. Crowley watched with a mixture of trepidation and amusement.
“Do you think that Harry is some kind of amusement to poke and prod at as you like?” Aziraphale demanded. “He is eleven years old, and he has the right to exist without being fondled by overly-familiar shopkeepers!”
Aziraphale took a deep breath, reigning himself in.
“Now, if you please,” he said, with cold civility, “Harry requires a wand.”
Ollivander blinked large, stunned eyes at Aziraphale. Crowley knew the feeling; being the target of Aziraphale’s ire was a little like watching a placid, friendly bunny-rabbit transform abruptly into a raging tiger. Even after all these centuries, it still sometimes took Crowley by surprise, to see Aziraphale get angry. Ollivander had actually gotten off pretty lightly, considering what Aziraphale was like when he really got going.
“My apologies,” murmured the wandmaker, looking slightly shaken.
Finding Harry a wand took some time, but eventually Harry found one that shot red and gold sparks when he gave it a wave.
“Oh, bravo! Yes, indeed, oh, very good,” said Ollivander. “Well, well, well... how curious... how very curious...”
“Sorry,” asked Harry, “but what’s curious?”
Ollivander fixed Harry with his pale stare.
“I remember every wand I’ve ever sold, Mr Potter. Every single wand. It so happens that the phoenix whose tial father is in your wand, gave another feather –just one other. It is very curious indeed that you should be destined for this wand when its brother – why, its brother gave you that scar.”
Harry went still.
“Yes,” said Ollivander, “thirteen and a half inches. Yew. Curious indeed how these things happen. The wand chooses the wizard, remember... I think we must expect great things from you, Mr Potter...”
“Enough!” said Aziraphale sharply.
“How much is his wand?” Crowley asked brusquely. The answer was seven galleons, which Crowley paid, and the three of them quickly left the shop.
By this point Aziraphale and Harry were laden down with bags and parcels – Crowley had refused to carry any, with the excuse that he was paying for all this stuff, and shouldn’t have to carry it as well – and Aziraphale, at least, seemed glad that they were ready to leave.
Crowley shot a look at Harry, who looked rather pensive after hearing Ollivander’s words.
Oh, well, Crowley thought. Not my problem.
Chapter 9: The Agreement
Over the next month or so, Harry got settled in and used to living with Crowley (and Astaroth). It was different to living with the Dursleys. Crowley was usually gone for most of the day (up to evil deeds and wicked mischief, as he put it) and only came back to the flat at night to eat dinner with Harry and go to bed. Even then, sometimes he didn’t bother with eating or sleeping and therefore didn’t come back to the flat at all, and it would be another day or so before Harry saw him again.
Harry was left to fend for himself, mostly, but there was always fresh food in the fridge (even though Crowley never seemed to actually buy groceries, or anything) and money in the moneybox on top of the fridge for take-away food if Harry felt like it.
Harry had hoped, a little, that living with Crowley would be like having a dad, and in that respect he was disappointed. Still, while it was nothing like having a parent, it was still better than living with the Dursleys, Harry thought. He’d always known deep down that they hated him, even when they were forced by Harry’s magic to be nice to him; Crowley’s careless yet vaguely benevolent attitude was an immense improvement. When he was there, he was always nice to Harry, and genuinely seemed to care that Harry wasn’t miserable, and had everything he needed.
He also took action after Harry went four days without showering, ruthlessly shoving him fully-clothed into the shower cubicle and turning the cold water on full-blast, callously ignoring Harry’s shriek as he was deluged with freezing water. After that Harry made sure he showered every day, and brushed his hair and cleaned his teeth as well – he didn’t want Crowley to take matters into his own hands again.
Still, they got along fairly comfortably, and when Crowley was away Harry still had Astaroth to talk to. He’d even sent Hermione a couple of experimental letters, which had apparently been received with great delight. Overall, Harry’s life seemed to be going fairly well, and Harry was more or less content.
There was one evening when he and Crowley were eating dinner at the dining table, listening to the radio play Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel (Harry was singing along to the chorus, substituting the word ‘Crowley’ for ‘Heaven,’ and Crowley was telling him irritably to shut up) when suddenly the singer on the radio was talking to them.
Crowley choked on his food, and swallowed hastily, turning white. Harry had the sudden feeling that Crowley was rather afraid of whoever was on other end – and Harry knew, instinctively, that it was a representative of the forces of Hell.
“Yes?” asked Crowley, trying for nonchalance and failing – Crowley, who was irritable and mischievous and strangely kind and who, until now, Harry had never seen afraid.
HAVE YOU FOUND THE ANTICHRIST YET, CROWLEY?
“Yes,” Crowley said quickly, his eyes darting almost apologetically to Harry, as though he didn’t want to tell Hell, but felt he had to.
IT IS ABOUT TIME, CROW–
Harry felt a surge of hatred towards the voice, and just for a moment it went fuzzy and indistinct, the radio filling with static, before the voice was back.
WHERE IS HE?
“He’s living with me for the moment, actually,” said Crowley, his entire body radiating tension. “I’ve been doing the good – er, bad work. Trying to show him the rightness of our side, and so on and so forth.”
GOOD. YOU KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF YOU FAIL.
Crowley went from white to a sort of greenish colour, and suddenly, there in Harry’s head, was the knowledge of the sort of thing Hell did to demons it was displeased with.
The radio abruptly switched back to Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel. Harry and Crowley sat there, Crowley still looking unwell and frightened, and Harry trying to contain the unfamiliar anger he felt.
“What does Hell want me for?” Harry asked. The radio turned off the moment he wanted it to, leaving Harry’s voice the only thing breaking the silence.
Crowley didn’t respond for a few seconds.
“They want you to end the world,” he said simply.
For a moment Harry could only stare, but then he read the tired, angry resignation in Crowley’s face and body, and realised that the demon meant it.
Harry’s anger doubled, and he clenched his fists, and breathed deeply.
Crowley looked at him warily.
“I don’t want to end the world,” Harry said fiercely. “They can’t make me.”
“There’s a lot they can do to make you, kid,” said Crowley, still looking resigned and weary.
And suddenly, in Harry’s head, there was knowledge, so much knowledge he was almost overwhelmed, before his mind absorbed it all.
“No,” said Harry, “there isn’t. This is my territory. Mine. Not Heaven’s, and not Hell’s. And I reign here. Or I will, soon enough.” Harry shook his head angrily. “I won’t end the world, no matter what either side tells me. And I won’t let them hurt you or Aziraphale, either.”
Crowley gave Harry a kind of astonished, gaping look at that. It was almost comical, except that Harry knew that the reason Crowley was so surprised was that no one else, outside Aziraphale (and perhaps, not even him) would ever say such a thing, and mean it. Crowley was used to the mercy of Hell, and that, as Harry knew as the Antichrist, was no mercy at all.
“I appreciate the thought,” said Crowley after a minute, his expression uncomfortable, “but you won’t live forever.”
“Won’t I?” More knowledge flashed behind Harry’s eyes. “My father’s an angel, even if he’s a fallen one. Who’s to say I didn’t inherit his immortality?”
Harry could see it, in his mind’s eye: himself, great and powerful and more than human, living the aeons until the end of everything. It was a huge, terrifying idea, and it scared him horribly, but it was, Harry thought, preferable to letting Heaven or Hell hurt two people who were only trying to live their lives. Harry hated bullies, and both Heaven and Hell could be exactly that, in their own way.
“I’ll live forever if I need to,” Harry said furiously, and Crowley looked bewildered by the fact that Harry cared so much.
“No,” said Crowley, shaking his head. “Look, kid, Aziraphale and I are old enough to take care of ourselves, alright? You don’t need to look out for us. Just live the life you want to live. Don’t go sacrificing that life for us. The angel would say the same.”
“But it’s not fair,” said Harry helplessly.
“Life isn’t,” Crowley said, but his tone was gentler than Harry had expected. “Don’t worry about us, okay? We have a long history of talking our way out of trouble.”
“You’re just a kid, for Chr – Go – Hell’s sake,” said Crowley firmly. “While I’m not exactly averse to you not ending the world – after six thousand years, I’ve gotten fond of it, and Hell isn’t exactly a prime residential area, if you catch my drift–”
–And visions of subterranean caverns filled with liquid fire and the sound of the screams of the damned filled Harry’s head, his newfound knowledge of Hell coming to mind easily –
“–it’s not your job to protect me and Aziraphale,” Crowley finished resolutely. “Got it?”
Slowly Harry nodded, and Crowley gave him a sharp look.
“Good. Glad we got that sorted out,” said Crowley, as the radio began playing a different song.
Harry just stayed quiet, and hoped that Crowley was right, and that he and Aziraphale could look after themselves. Harry didn’t want to live until the heat-death of the universe, after all.
But I will if I have to, he thought. I just hope it doesn’t come to that.
Crowley, meanwhile, was nowhere near as composed as he was making himself out to be. The thought of what Hell would do to him if he failed to turn the Antichrist onto the path of the damned terrified him.
But somewhere beneath that, deep down, Crowley was glad that Harry was so vehement about not ending the world – glad not only for his own sake, but for the sake of everyone who lived on Earth. The alternatives to Earth, after all, were Heaven and Hell, and Crowley wasn’t sure which was worse – endless Hell, or endless Heaven. Neither would have fine dining, or aged wine, or rock music, or any of the other marvellous things that Crowley was accustomed to. If Harry was determined to protect the world, not end it, then at least the Earth had a chance.
Even if Harry failed, it would take Heaven and Hell time to start all over again with a new Antichrist – which they would, because neither side possessed much in the way of imagination, and doing the same thing over and over until by some chance it finally worked was precisely their modus operandi – which would give Earth at least another eleven years to go on.
Moreover, Crowley might be a demon, but he had a heart all the same, and Harry’s fierce protectiveness towards him had touched it.
Dimly, Crowley still remembered what it had been like to be an angel. Boring, mostly, of course – in that respect, being a demon was a vast improvement – but Crowley hadn’t ever forgotten what it felt like to care for others with all his heart and soul (well, the angelic equivalent of a soul, anyway) and to work for the betterment of all creation. And little though he liked to admit it, a tiny sliver of divine angelic grace remained in his soul, radiating beneficence and good intentions. The prospect of the world ending had stirred that tiny part of him that cared about what was right, and Harry’s evident sense of caring towards Crowley had unearthed an old, lonely ache, for the feeling of constant comradeship that had existed before Crowley’s fall from grace.
Feeling that ache made Crowley suddenly wish that Aziraphale were here. A moment later he realised that he had a perfectly good reason to search out the angel: after all, if the world wasn’t ending (hopefully, anyway) Aziraphale would want to know, Crowley rationalised.
So Crowley got to his feet, and said, “Come on, kid. Get your coat. We’re going to visit Aziraphale.”
Harry brightened visibly – for all that Aziraphale was terrible with children, Harry seemed fond enough of him – and a moment later, was wearing his coat.
Without having left the room to get it.
Crowley blinked, and reminded himself that this was the Antichrist, and things like that were bound to happen around him as he came into his power.
“Right then,” said Crowley awkwardly. “Let’s go.”
They drove over in the Bentley, after Crowley had made dire threats should anything happen to its immaculate condition. Harry sat in the passenger seat, fiddling around with the tape deck, and apparently enjoying what should have been Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, but was, inevitably, Bohemian Rhapsody.
Crowley parked the car in the street outside the bookshop, and he and Harry got out.
“Now, whatever you do, don’t touch the books,” Crowley warned Harry. “I won’t be responsible for what happens if you do, you get me?”
Harry nodded his agreement, a little sadly, and the two of them walked into Aziraphale’s bookshop, the bell on the door jingling as they went through the front doorway.
The interior of the shop was filled from floor to ceiling with books. Old books, with brown covers and crackling pages; many of them, as Crowley well knew, were incredibly rare and valuable first editions. Harry looked around at the books enviously, but was intelligent enough not to touch them. Instead he followed Crowley into the back room of the shop,.
Aziraphale was there, as Crowley had expected at this time of night, reading a library book over a cup of tea. He was half-out of his chair, as though he’d begun to get up at the sound of the door bell, and looked surprised to see Crowley and Harry.
As well he might. Crowley and Aziraphale had something of a routine, involving lunches and dinners at the Ritz, and meetings in St James Park, and it was unusual for Crowley to actually stop by the bookshop.
“Crowley? Harry?” Aziraphale asked, glancing between them. “What brings you here at this time of night?”
“I’ll get to that in a minute,” said Crowley, and turned to Harry. “Go have a look at the books for a minute. I want to talk to Aziraphale.”
Harry nodded cheerfully at the prospect of looking at the books, and turned to walk back into the shop’s front room, where all the books were. Aziraphale called after him, “But don’t touch them!”
Crowley waited until Harry was gone, and then sank into one of Aziraphale’s chairs.
Aziraphale watched him with concern.
“Are you quite all right?” he asked.
“I got a message from Downstairs,” said Crowley, and Aziraphale winced in sympathy.
“Oh dear,” said the angel. “About the Antichrist – Harry, I mean?”
“Yep,” said Crowley darkly. “This is it, Aziraphale. The big one. The one we’ve all been waiting for. And if things don’t go to plan, they’re going to take it out of my hide.”
“And the kid isn’t going to do it,” Crowley finished.
“But surely–” Aziraphale began.
“Harry!” Crowley called out, and got an answering ‘Yeah?’ from the front of the store. “Come here and tell Aziraphale how you feel about ending the world.”
Harry stomped in, green eyes blazing.
“I won’t do it!” he snapped, his voice full of fire and fury. “No one can make me! Not if they spent the rest of eternity trying to do it!”
And for just a moment, Aziraphale and Crowley saw the same thing: the outline of wings behind Harry, six of them, and a crown of righteousness upon his brow, while his face shone with the strength of his conviction.
“I... see,” said Aziraphale, looking a little shaken – and suddenly Harry was just a boy again, eleven years old, looking at them worriedly. But there was no mistaking what they had just seen. Oh, a human might have waved it off, convinced themselves that they were seeing things – but for all that they’d picked up a few human habits, Crowley and Aziraphale hadn’t forgotten what they really were.
And they definitely hadn’t forgotten what Harry really was.
“Well,” Aziraphale went on, after a moment, “good for you?”
Harry relaxed a little at that, and smiled brilliantly at him, all impossible charm and boyish good-humour, before wandering back out into the front of the bookshop again.
Aziraphale sat back and slumped in his chair.
“Oh dear. This certainly does put a crimp in Heaven’s plans, doesn’t it.”
“Oh yeah,” said Crowley, with manic good cheer. “They’re going to be hopping mad, I’d say, just like Downstairs is going to be when they work out their little Antichrist isn’t going to fall into line – although why anyone’s surprised, considering who his father is, I really couldn’t tell you.”
“He isn’t in the least like his father,” said Aziraphale mournfully. “At least – not as his father is now. My, he really is a righteous soul, isn’t he?”
“And got the halo to prove it,” Crowley added, thinking of the way Harry’s face had shone.
“What can we do?” Aziraphale asked worriedly.
“Who says we should do anything?” Crowley countered, sitting forward to regard Aziraphale intently.
“What are you talking about?” Aziraphale asked suspiciously.
“We’re talking about the end of the world, angel. What happens next? It’s either endless Heaven or endless Hell, and I honestly don’t know which one is worse.”
“Heaven would win, of course,” said Aziraphale. “Not to disparage your side, but–”
“Call it endless Heaven, then,” Crowley continued, interrupting Aziraphale. “Think about what that means. No more sushi restaurants, no more The Sound of Music, no more dining at the Ritz...”
“Well...” Aziraphale, Crowley could see, was starting to waver, and Crowley pushed on remorselessly.
“...and worst of all, no more books,” said Crowley, and sat back with satisfaction to see how the angel took that.
Aziraphale turned pale at the thought, but said wretchedly, “I can’t interfere with divine plans.”
“What about diabolical ones?” Crowley said persuasively.
“Well, it’s my side doing it, isn’t it? Therefore it has to be a diabolical plan,” said Crowley, who was good at making these kinds of arguments.
“Ah, but it’s all part of the overall divine plan,” said Aziraphale, who by this point was very good at countering said arguments. He’d had a lot of practice.
“Who says?” said Harry’s voice, and both angel and demon glanced up to see Harry standing in the doorway, arms folded, expression mulish. “You told me you’re supposed to thwart evil wiles. Isn’t convincing me not to destroy the world thwarting an evil wile?”
“Who can be certain you’re not supposed to thwart this diabolical plan, too?” asked Crowley, sensing an advantage. “After all, just because it’s a divine plan, doesn’t mean it’s the ineffable plan. Maybe thwarting it is what you’re supposed to do.”
“I suppose...” he agreed doubtfully, “I suppose my superiors can’t really argue with my attempting to prevent a diabolical plan, when it’s put that way.”
“Exactly!” Crowley agreed triumphantly. “It’s like asking a fish not to swim, asking an angel not to thwart evil wiles. Even they can’t argue with that. Agreed?”
He held out his hand.
Aziraphale shook it, cautiously.
Harry beamed at them both.
Crowley wasn’t entirely sure what he’d just set in motion, but couldn’t bring himself to regret it. Not yet, anyway.
Chapter 10: Off to Hogwarts
On the first of September, Crowley and Aziraphale escorted Harry and Astaroth to King’s Cross to catch the Hogwarts Express. In spite of himself, Harry found that he was incredibly excited to begin wizard school – even if, as he suspected, he didn’t really need the education: making things happen was easier and easier with every passing day, although Harry tried not to upend the laws of causality too much. It was difficult, though – Harry’s blooming power felt like a steadily inflating balloon inside him, and Harry was afraid that one of these days it was going to burst unexpectedly.
He was incredibly grateful to Crowley and Aziraphale, who both treated him like just another person. Harry knew, in the way he sometimes just knew things, that Crowley was occasionally wary of what Harry could do – but Harry also knew that in his own way, the demon was growing fond of Harry.
As the three of them walked towards Platform Nine and three quarters – and Harry was charmed by the absurdity of that, he really was – Aziraphale was fussing over whether Harry had remembered to pack everything he needed for school.
“If he didn’t, it’s too late now,” said Crowley pragmatically. “If he forgot something, you can always owl it to him.”
“Me? He lives with you!”
“Yeah, but you’re the one who cares,” said Crowley reasonably, and Harry laughed out loud.
It was a little like having parents, Harry had to admit, and felt a even happier than he had before.
Crowley proceeded to lean nonchalantly against a wall, and immediately vanished from sight. Aziraphale patted Harry’s shoulder.
“You’d better go through, my dear...”
So Harry, dragging his wheeled luggage behind him, with Astaroth slithering along next to him, crossed between the boundary of non-magical and magical King’s Cross. He found himself standing on a wide platform, surrounded by other kids and their parents. Aziraphale walked through the boundary behind him.
“Goodness, it’s certainly crowded,” remarked the angel.
Crowley was grinning.
“Welcome to Platform Nine and three quarters,” he said grandly, gesturing towards the rest of the platform. “That there is the Hogwarts Express, the traditional method of getting to Hogwarts.”
Impulsively Harry let go of his luggage and threw his arms around Crowley, hugging him tight. Crowley went stiff with surprise.
“Er –” said Crowley, uncomfortably, but Harry was already letting him go to hug Aziraphale, who seemed just as startled by the embrace.
“Hush, you,” Crowley hissed at Astaroth, who was sniggering.
“I’m going to miss you,” said Harry. “Both of you. I’ll write to you while I’m away. Promise you’ll write back?”
“Of course,” Aziraphale at once, while Crowley shrugged noncommittally in a way that didn’t fool Harry at all. Aziraphale would probably be the one to actually write, Harry thought – but Crowley would be there hanging over his shoulder, making comments, and generally contributing to the letter-writing process, while denying the entire time that he was doing so.
“Have a good trip,” said Crowley. “Now get lost.”
Grinning at him and Aziraphale, Harry waved goodbye, and headed for the train. He found an empty compartment where he and Astaroth could sit comfortably, and shoved his luggage in the luggage rack.
It didn’t take long before Hermione burst in, beaming.
“I thought I saw you!” she exclaimed. “With your cousin and his, um–”
“Aziraphale,” Harry supplied, because trying to define what Aziraphale was to Crowley was an exercise in futility.
“Yes, him,” Hermione agreed, struggling to lift her luggage into the rack. With a thought from Harry, it was light enough for her to lift easily.
While Hermione was regarding her suddenly-light luggage suspiciously, Harry sat back against the seat, while Astaroth slithered onto his lap.
Hermione gasped at the sight, and Harry hurried to reassure her.
“This is Astaroth. He’s my friend,” said Harry, and Astaroth lifted his head to regard Hermione.
“Your f-friend?” Hermione looked frightened.
“It’s okay, he won’t hurt you,” Harry said. “Try not to look scary,” he hissed to Astaroth.
Hermione gasped again.
“You can talk to it?”
“Him,” Harry corrected. “And sure. I’ve talked to snakes for as long as I can remember.”
“But snakes aren’t on the allowed familiars list,” said Hermione, sitting down warily on one of the seats opposite Harry. “Won’t the teachers object?”
Harry thought about that.
“Reckon they won’t notice,” he said eventually.
“Won’t notice?” Hermione’s voice was a little shrill. “He’s six feet long!”
Harry grinned at her.
“And I’m prodigiously magical,” he told her, smiling in the way that usually made even the sternest of teachers unbend towards him. It worked; Hermione bit her lip, but sat a little less stiffly on her seat.
“I don’t know how you expect to hide him,” she said.
“Trust me,” said Harry. “They really won’t notice.”
“What spell are you going to use?” Hermione sounded reluctantly interested.
“Don’t need a spell,” said Harry. “Same as I didn’t need one to make your luggage lighter.”
“But that goes against all the laws of magic!” Hermione protested, a little pompously.
“Wizard magic, maybe,” said Harry. “I’m something different.” And then he stopped, regretting having said even that much.
“What are you, then?” demanded Hermione.
“Not supposed to say,” said Harry.
“But–” Hermione’s jaw snapped shut, and she looked surprised at her sudden silence. She stared at Harry in suspicion, but he only gazed amiably back at her, the picture of innocence.
“You know, I never got your last name,” said Hermione, instead of grilling Harry.
“Oh,” said Harry. “It’s Potter.”
Hermione’s eyes went huge.
“Are you really?” She seemed astonished. “I know all about you – you were in half the books in the bookstore.”
“I was?” Harry asked uncomfortably.
“Goodness, didn’t you know? I’d have found out everything I could if it was me,” Hermione said, and that was so patently true that Harry laughed.
“Well, don’t put too much faith in what they said,” said Harry. “It’s not like they ever talked to me about what happened, and it’s not like anyone else was there.”
Hermione looked doubtful, unwilling to question her faith in books.
“Really,” Harry added. “Anything about the night my parents died is speculation.”
“Well, if you’re certain...” Hermione looked crestfallen.
“I am,” Harry said firmly. He changed the subject, and soon he and Hermione were discussing what they knew of Hogwarts from Hogwarts: A History, which Hermione had enjoyed as greatly as Harry had.
The compartment door slid open, and a tall, gangly red-headed boy stood in the doorway.
“Is there –” he began, and ended on a squeak as he saw Astaroth.
“Don’t worry about Astaroth, he’s harmless,” said Harry, and Hermione’s eyes narrowed.
“Wait a minute, ‘Astaroth?’ Isn’t that the name of a demon?”
“Is is,” said Harry. “Astaroth’s just a snake, though. I wouldn’t bring a demon to Hogwarts. Not most demons, anyway. Not generally very nice people, demons.”
Hermione looked like she didn’t know whether to roll her eyes, or take Harry seriously. The boy in the doorway, meanwhile, was staring at Harry like he was mad.
“There’s plenty of room if you want to join us,” Harry added. “I’m Harry, and this is Hermione.”
“How do you do?” Hermione murmured politely.
“I’m Ron, Ron Weasley,” said the red-headed boy, and hesitated. “When you say Harry, do you mean Harry Potter?”
Harry nodded easily. Ron looked awestruck.
“Have you really got – you know...” He pointed at Harry’s forehead.
“The scar?” Harry asked. “Yeah.”
Ron looked even more awed.
“So that’s where You-Know-Who...”
Harry stared at him.
“I don’t like to talk about it,” said Harry, and his voice was a little chilly.
“Do you remember it, though?” Ron asked eagerly, and Harry couldn’t believe it.
“Do I remember the night some nutter of a Dark Lord murdered my parents, do you mean?” Harry asked coldly, and the temperature inside the compartment seemed to drop.
“Er –” said Ron, who seemed to have realised he’d said the wrong thing.
“Like I said, I don’t like to talk about it,” Harry repeated, and Astaroth hissed menacingly at Ron.
“What did the idiot say to you?” Astaroth demanded.
“Asked me about the night my adoptive parents died,” Harry responded.
Ron turned pale at the sound.
“You can talk to snakes!” he blurted. “That’s a Dark gift!”
Harry regarded him coolly.
“Do I look Dark to you?” he asked, and for the first time felt glad of his newfound fame as the Boy-Who-Lived, if only because it made it easier to shut Ron down. “I’m Harry Potter. You really think I’m Dark?”
“Um, no, of course not,” Ron mumbled, looking embarrassed. “Sorry.”
For a moment Harry thought about the fact that all of wizarding Britain was convinced that he, the Antichrist, was some kind of saintly saviour. It was ironic, Harry supposed, but he didn’t find it funny. He resolved not to prove wizarding Britain wrong, and to be the best person he could, despite his heritage.
Anyway, all that Antichrist stuff was bollocks, really – after all, Harry’s father had been an angel, hadn’t he? Saying that Harry was destined to be Dark because of genetics just because his father had become Dark was absurd, when you thought about it. If genetics were involved, it was far more likely Harry would grow up to be an angel, surely. Harry nodded to himself, resolute. Maybe Harry wouldn’t turn out to be an angel – much as Harry liked Aziraphale, he got the impression that Aziraphale wasn’t much like other angels, and Harry wasn’t sure he wanted to be like the others – he could still try to be the best possible person he could.
“Harry?” Harry blinked, to see Hermione looking at him in concern. “Are you okay? You look upset.”
Harry blinked again, smoothing out his expression.
“I’m fine,” he said. “Just thinking.”
“What about?” asked Ron tactlessly.
“Genetics,” Harry said cryptically. “Never mind.”
Silence fell, the three of them content to sit and watch the countryside go past.
“Oh,” said Hermione suddenly, “I forgot to give you your book back!”
She scrambled up to get her luggage down from the rack, and opened it, pulling out Hogwarts: A History and handing it to Harry, who put it down on the seat next to him.
“Thanks,” said Harry. “I’ll put it away later, when I put my school robes on.”
“Are you two friends?” Ron asked, having watched the two of them quietly for a while now.
“We met in Diagon Alley,” Hermione explained.
“And bonded over books,” said Harry, grinning.
“I don’t really like books much,” Ron confessed, eyeing them both oddly. “Not unless there’s pictures.”
Hermione looked scandalised, but Harry said, “Well, that’s okay. What do you like, then?”
Which was how Harry was introduced to the great wizarding sport, Quidditch, played on broomsticks.
Hermione looked bored, but Harry said thoughtfully, “Think I’d like to play a game like that. I expect I’d like flying.”
He was fairly certain it was one of those things he was going to instinctively be good at. Memory came back to him, of the time he’d ended up on the school roof. He had a much better idea of how he’d ended up there, now.
If Harry thought hard enough, he could almost feel the feathers of imaginary wings against his back, stretching towards the sky and brushing against the ceiling of the carriage.
Harry shook his head, dislodging the impression.
“Flying’s brilliant,” said Ron, with a knowledgeable air. “And Quidditch is loads of fun.”
At about half-past twelve, a woman with a trolley full of food stopped by and asked if the three of them wanted anything. Ron looked wistfully at the food trolley, while Hermione went through her coin purse to see how much money she had.
“We’ll take some of everything, thanks,” said Harry, because Crowley had given him a ridiculous amount of pocket money before they’d left the flat that morning, with the excuse that Harry would need a lot if he was going to be away all year.
Ron and Hermione stared as Harry returned from the trolley carrying a large pile of sweets and snacks, which he tipped onto an empty seat.
“Help yourselves, there’s no way I can eat all this,” said Harry. Hermione immediately reached for a pumpkin pasty, while Ron looked at the food longingly. “Go on, Ron, have a cake or something.”
The compartment was filled with the rustle of sweet wrappers, the sound of and contented munching. Hermione didn’t touch the sweets (“My parents are dentists,” she explained), but she had several pasties and one of the small cupcakes.
Harry ate one of the chocolate frogs, which was packaged with a small collectible card. Albus Dumbledore, said the label beneath the portrait on the front of the card. As Harry watched, the photograph of Albus Dumbledore gave him a small smile.
As they sat there, Harry noticed, for the first time, that there was a rat on Ron’s lap. Harry stared at it.
He stared at it so hard, in fact, that Ron and Hermione began to stare at him.
“Harry,” Ron asked uncomfortably, “why are you staring at my rat?”
“That,” said Harry darkly, “isn’t really a rat.”
“What are you going on about?” asked Ron. “Of course he’s a rat, see–” He held the snoozing rat out for Harry to get a better look.
“That rat,” said Harry, “is really a person. And I think it’s best if he stopped pretending to be a rat.”
And just like that, the rat was gone, replacing by a balding, grimy looking man.
Ron and Hermione both screamed and scrambled back, and the sleeping man jerked awake, his eyes widening in alarm as he realised he was wearing human shape.
Before he could move, Astaroth was wrapped around him, and Harry’s wand was pointed at his heart – more for show than anything, of course, but no one but Harry and Astaroth knew that.
“Name yourself,” Harry ordered, while Ron and Hermione clutched each other at the far end of the compartment.
“I – I – I –” stammered the former rat, eyes wide and terrified.
“Answer me, or my snake will bite you,” said Harry. “Astaroth –”
The rat man looked like he was going to pass out as Harry hissed, eyes popping as Astaroth opened his jaws wide, revealing sharp fangs.
“He’s terribly venomous, Astaroth is,” Harry said conversationally. “Now tell me who you are.” The strength of command was in Harry’s voice.
“Peter Pettigrew,” blurted the rat man, looking horrified at himself, but unable to stop the words from coming out. “I betrayed your parents to You-Know-Who, and framed your godfather, Sirius Black for it. I also murdered twelve people.”
Ron looked like he was going to be sick.
“Right,” said Harry decisively. “You’re going to go to sleep, Mr Pettigrew, and you’re not going to wake up until the police are here to arrest you.”
Pettigrew fought it, but couldn’t do anything to stop his eyelids drooping. A moment later he let out a soft snore, his head lolling forward.
Harry turned to Ron and Hermione.
“Wizards do have police, don’t they?” he asked. “To arrest bad people?”
“You’re talking about Aurors,” said Ron, and swallowed. “My brother’s a prefect. I’ll go get him. He’ll know what to do.”
“I’ll go with you,” said Hermione quickly, eyeing Pettigrew with perturbation. “Will you be okay, Harry?”
“I’ll be fine, Astaroth’ll bite him if he tries anything,” said Harry. “Go find Ron’s brother.”
It was a good ten minutes before an older boy with a prefect badge opened the compartment door, saying, “What’s all this nonsense about – great Merlin!”
“I told you!” said Ron’s voice from the hallway.
A second prefect peered in past Ron’s brother, and frowned at the sight of Pettigrew.
“We’d better tie him up just in case, Percy,” she said. “We can turn him over to the teachers when we get to Hogwarts. Even if he’s not really Peter Pettigrew, the fact that he was masquerading as your brother’s pet is suspicious.”
Percy swallowed, and said, “Of course, you’re right.”
By the time they got to Hogwarts, it was all over the train that the prefects had taken someone who might be Peter Pettigrew into custody. It didn’t take long for two of the teachers to hurry down to inspect him.
Harry made himself difficult to notice, and sidled into the prefect compartment, where Pettigrew was trussed up.
“Good heavens!” gasped the older, black-haired woman. “It really is Pettigrew!”
The other teacher, who had dark hair and a hooked nose, looked down at Pettigrew with an expression like thunder.
“He said he betrayed my parents to Voldemort,” said Harry, making himself noticeable again. The female teacher gave a small start, her eyes going to Harry’s forehead, and the hook-nosed teacher glared at Harry with utter loathing as he took in Harry’s scar.
“Harry Potter,” said the female teacher. “I am Professor McGonagall, and this is Professor Snape. Mr Weasley said that you captured Mr Pettigrew?”
“He turned back into a man in front of us,” said Harry, wondering why Professor Snape was exuding such malice towards him. “Told us everything. And then he... passed out?”
Harry didn’t mention Astaroth’s role, or the fact that Harry had made Pettigrew unconscious. It seemed best not to.
“Passed out?” Snape sneered, raising a sceptical eyebrow.
“I don’t think he’s very well,” Harry replied, meeting the disbelieving gaze unflinchingly.
Harry felt an itch in his brain, and instantly knew what Snape was doing.
“That’s not very polite,” said Harry reprovingly, stopping the mental probe in its tracks. “Looking into people’s minds, and all. You should keep your mind to yourself.”
McGonagall looked sharply at Snape, who looked flabbergasted and furious.
“Severus?” asked McGonagall.
“The boy doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Snape said contemptuously.
“I know when someone’s trying to mess around with my head, thank you very much,” said Harry.
McGonagall frowned at Snape.
“We’ll discuss this with the headmaster later,” she promised, and Snape’s scowl grew even darker. “Mr Potter, you should rejoin your classmates. The other first years will be taking the boats to the castle very soon.”
Taking the polite dismissal for what it was, Harry left the compartment, and went to find Ron and Hermione.
They were standing with the rest of the first years, still looking a little shaken. Harry joined them.
“It’s alright,” said Harry. “The teachers have Pettigrew, now.”
“We’ve had Scabbers for years,” said Ron, “and none of us ever thought he was anything but a rat. He was Percy’s before he was mine, you know.” Ron turned pale again as a thought occurred to him. “I used to let him sleep on my bed!”
Hermione patted Ron’s shoulder comfortingly.
“Well, I’m sure the Aurors will take him away,” she said.
“Good,” said Ron savagely. “When I think of him living in my house, all this time, pretending to be a rat–” He shuddered.
Just then a giant of a man started calling out for the first years, directing them to get into the boats by the edge of the lake. Harry scooped Astaroth into his arms, and climbed into a boat. He, Ron, and Hermione all ended up in a boat together, along with a boy with dark hair and green eyes, who introduced himself as Marcus Weatherby.
“Nice to meet you, Marcus,” said Harry, as the boats began to move, across the surface of the lake towards the castle on the other side.
“Are your families magical?” Marcus asked. “I mean, I know about Harry Potter, everyone does, but what about you two?”
“I’m muggleborn,” said Hermione loftily, while Ron said, “Oh yeah, my whole family are wizards. Well, I think there’s a cousin who’s an accountant, but we don’t talk about him.”
“Why not?” Harry asked, frowning. Ron just shrugged.
Harry frowned some more, but let it go.
“What about you?” Hermione asked Marcus.
“Well, my parents are both magical, but I’m adopted, you see,” said Marcus. “So no one knows about my biological parents. But I was found outside St Mungo’s when I was a baby, so it seems likely they were wizards, whoever they were.”
Harry snapped to attention at that, remembering Crowley’s story of how Harry had ended up with the Potters, and what had happened to the real Potter baby.
Crowley had said that the abandoned child would likely be in Harry’s year, after all.
“That’s interesting,” said Harry. “But your parents take good care of you?”
“Of course,” said Marcus, a little snobbishly.
“No ‘of course’ about it,” said Harry. “Not everyone’s lucky enough to have parents who take good care of them, you know. You’re lucky.”
Marcus seemed to remember then that Harry didn’t have parents, and looked suddenly embarrassed.
The rest of the boat ride passed uneventfully, and soon Harry found himself in the castle, waiting in a small hall with the other first years. One of the other boys detached himself from the small group he was with, and strolled over to Harry, his eyes on Harry’s scar.
“So you’re Harry Potter,” he said. “It’s been all over the train that Harry Potter captured Peter Pettigrew. Is it true?”
“It’s true,” said Harry.
“My name’s Malfoy, Draco Malfoy,” said the other boy. Ron gave a slight cough, which might have been hiding a snigger. Draco Malfoy looked at him.
“Think my name’s funny, do you? No need to ask who you are. My father told me all the Weasleys have red hair, freckles and more children than they can afford.”
He turned back to Harry, while Ron turned red with anger.
“You’ll soon find out some wizarding families are much better than others, Potter. You don’t want to go making friends with the wrong sort. I can help you there.”
He held out a hand for Harry to shake.
Harry just stood and regarded him.
“The way I see it, everyone in the wizarding world is equal,” said Harry thoughtfully. “So I’m guessing you and me are going to have to disagree on that one, Draco.” He didn’t shake Malfoy’s hand.
Malfoy looked like a spoiled toddler whose favourite toy had been taken away from him. He turned faintly pink, but it wasn’t from embarrassment.
“I’d be careful if I were you, Potter,” he said slowly. “Unless you’re a bit politer you’ll go the same way as your parents. They didn’t know what was good for them either. You hang around with riff-raff like the Weasleys–”
Malfoy suddenly stopped.
“You should learn when to hold your tongue,” said Harry, taking a casual step forward. Malfoy frantically opened and shut his mouth, but no sound came out. “I defeated a Dark Lord, you know, and me only a baby at the time. Don’t you think it might be a good idea to be careful what you say around me?”
The other first years were crowded around, staring. Harry thought, I could make Malfoy do anything I wanted, and they wouldn’t even remember if I didn’t want them to.
Instead, there was a gasp from Malfoy as he found that speech was returned to him, but instead of speaking, he shot Harry a frightened look, and hastily rejoined his friends.
Harry turned back to Ron and Hermione and Marcus.
“How did you do that?” Ron looked impressed.
“Magic,” Harry said vaguely.
They stood around for a little while longer, before one of the teachers finally showed up. She gave them a little speech about the different Hogwarts houses, before asking the first years to form a line and follow her into the Great Hall. They did so.
The ceiling of the Great Hall was charmed to resemble the sky outside, Harry remembered, and looked up, taking in the sight of stars twinkling high above. It was difficult to believe there was a ceiling there at all.
The teacher who had led them into the hall – Professor Burbage, she’d introduced herself as – placed a four-legged stool in front of the first years. On top of the stool she placed a pointed wizard’s hat.
The hat was frayed and patched and dirty, but Harry had only to look at it to know that here was complicated magic indeed. He waited to see what happened next.
For a few seconds, there was total silence within the hall. Then the hat twitched, and a rip near the brim opened wide, and the hat began to sing.
“Oh you may not think I'm pretty,
But don't judge on what you see,
I'll eat myself if you can find
A smarter hat than me.
You can keep your bowlers black,
Your top hats sleek and tall,
For I'm the Hogwarts Sorting Hat
And I can cap them all.
There's nothing hidden in your head
The Sorting Hat can't see,
So try me on and I will tell you
Where you ought to be.
You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve, and chivalry
Set Gryffindors apart;
You might belong in Hufflepuff,
Where they are just and loyal,
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true
And unafraid of toil;
Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,
if you've a ready mind,
Where those of wit and learning,
Will always find their kind;
Or perhaps in Slytherin
You'll make your real friends,
Those cunning folks use any means
To achieve their ends.
So put me on! Don't be afraid!
And don't get in a flap!
You're in safe hands (though I have none)
For I'm a Thinking Cap!”
The entire hall began to applaud as the hat finished its song. Harry looked around. Most of the other first years looked bewildered.
Burbage stepped up again, and began calling names off a roll. With each name a student came forward, and was directed to sit on the stool and put on the hat. A few seconds later the hat would yell out a Hogwarts house, and off the student would go to the correct house table.
Harry wondered what, exactly, the hat was doing.
Of Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Marcus, Hermione was the first to be called up to try on the hat.
“GRYFFINDOR!” the hat yelled after a moment, and Hermione – looking very pleased – went off to the Gryffindor table.
Several more names were called, and then it was Harry’s turn. At the sound of Harry’s name, the hall filled with murmurs, and the students craned their heads to get a better look at him. Harry ignored the attention, walking forward to sit on the stool and put on the hat.
There was an itch in his brain, just like there had been with Snape, and Harry realised that the hat was reading his mind. This time, Harry let it happen.
“Hmm,” said a small voice in his ear. “You’re a tricky one, aren’t you? It’s not every day we get the Antichrist here, and that’s a fact. Difficult, very difficult. Plenty of courage, I see. Not a bad mind, either. There’s talent, oh my goodness yes – more power in your little finger than the rest of Hogwarts put together, if I make my guess. And you certainly have ambition, given your resolve to protect the world and your two guardians. So where shall I put you?”
I’d like to be with my friend Hermione, Harry thought firmly.
“Gryffindor? Are you sure?” asked the hat. “Slytherin would suit you just as well. You could be great, you know, it’s all here in your head, and Slytherin would help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that – no? Well, if you’re sure – better be GRYFFINDOR!”
Harry took off the hat to the sound of applause, and walked over to join Hermione at the Gryffindor table.
Ron was sorted into Gryffindor like Harry and Hermione. Harry clapped Ron on the shoulder as he joined them. Marcus, however, was sorted into Ravenclaw, which he seemed to be happy about.
The headmaster – Albus Dumbledore, from the chocolate frog card – stood up, and gave a brief, peculiar speech, before sitting back down. Food appeared on the tables, and students began eating and talking amongst themselves.
Harry looked around curiously at his new housemates, and wondered what was in store for him and his new friends.
Chapter 11: The Headmaster's Office
Harry and the other Gryffindor first years soon got onto the topic of their families. Seamus Finnegan, it turned out, had a muggle father and a witch for a mother, Parvarti Patil’s family were all magical, while Dean Thomas was, as far as he knew, muggleborn.
“What about you, Harry?” Dean asked, before anyone could stop him. The wizard-born students looked uncomfortable.
“My parents were killed when I was a baby,” said Harry, and the muggleborn students looked shocked and appalled. “I lived with my aunt and uncle for the last few years, but they don’t really like magic, so when I got my Hogwarts letter I went to live with my cousin Crowley,” Harry added.
“Your aunt and uncle don’t like magic?” Ron asked, sounding amazed. But Dean was nodding.
“My mum was a bit nervous about the whole magic thing, too,” he said. “She’s come around, but it took her a while.”
“That’s horrible,” said Hermione. “My parents thought it was a joke at first, of course, but they’ve been perfectly accepting since they realised magic was real. I’m so sorry about your aunt and uncle, Harry.”
“Don’t be,” Harry told her. “Crowley’s brilliant, and so’s Aziraphale. I like living with Crowley much better than I did my aunt and uncle.”
“Who’s Aziraphale?” asked Seamus.
“My cousin’s friend,” said Harry. “I see him a lot.” Harry glanced at Neville Longbottom, who had yet to say much of anything. “What about you, Neville?”
“Well, my Gran brought me up and she’s a witch,” said Neville, “but the family thought I was a squib for ages. My Great Uncle Algie kept trying to catch me off my guard and force some magic out of me – he pushed me off the end of Blackpool pier once, I nearly drowned – but nothing happened until I was eight. Great Uncle Algie came round for tea and he was hanging me out of an upstairs window by the ankles when my Great Auntie Enid offered him a meringue and he accidentally let go. But I bounced – all the way down the garden and into the road. They were all really pleased, Gran was crying she was so happy–”
“Happy?” Harry repeated. “Your great uncle nearly killed you, and she was happy? She should have been furious that you were dropped in the first place, not happy that you were magic. That’s terrible, Neville.”
Neville looked surprised to see that the others were all nodding in agreement with Harry.
“If my brothers had done something like that to me, Mum would’ve hit the roof and gone right on through it,” said Ron.
“That’s truly awful,” Hermione said to Neville. “Didn’t your family care you might have been hurt?”
“I guess not,” Neville said in a small voice. He looked upset. “I never thought of it like that, before.”
“Well, it’s not right,” said Harry, with conviction. “Your family should have treated you better, Neville, especially your great uncle.”
There were nods all around the table. Neville still looked upset.
“Tell you what, Neville,” said Harry, “if your family won’t look after you, we will. After all, Professor Burbage said that our Hogwarts house is supposed to be like our family, and we’re Gryffindors – we’re supposed to be brave and heroic, looking after others. Isn’t that right?” Harry looked around at the other first years.
The other first years seemed to like that idea. Neville looked a little overwhelmed.
“Actually,” said Harry, warming to the topic, “why don’t we all look out for each other? Make sure no one gets picked on, or left behind.”
“All for one and one for all,” said Hermione, looking excited by the concept. “That’s an excellent idea, Harry.”
Somehow, no one could disagree with Harry’s enthusiasm, and all of the Gryffindor first years agreed to look out for one another.
“Does this make us all friends?” asked Lavender Brown.
“Why not?” asked Harry. “And if anyone has any trouble with something, we can always go to someone else for help without being laughed at or turned down. Let’s make that a rule.”
All of the Gryffindor first years agreed.
After dinner, Harry followed Percy the prefect through the castle, along with the other Gryffindor first years, up to Gryffindor tower and into the Gryffindor common room. Harry, Ron, and Hermione were about to go to their respective dormitories when Percy stopped them.
“Professor Dumbledore wants to see you three in his office,” said Percy. “I’ll take you up there.”
“What? Why?” Ron blurted.
“I expect it’s about Pettigrew, I’ve already given my statement,” said Percy. “They’re unlikely to keep you long, but the Aurors are going to want to hear from you about what happened.”
Looking a little green about the gills at the prospect, Ron followed his brother back through the portrait hole, and together he and Harry and Hermione walked through the castle up to the headmaster’s office.
Percy stopped outside a statue of a gargoyle, and said, “Fizzing Whizzbees.” The gargoyle leapt aside, revealing a moving circular staircase. Percy immediately stepped forward onto it. Harry, Hermione and Ron followed suit. The staircase continued to move upwards, until the small group stepped off just outside a large door. Percy knocked respectfully.
“You may come in,” said a male voice.
Percy opened the door and walked in, saying, “I’ve brought the students you wanted, sir.”
As Harry walked into the office, he looked around curiously. The headmaster’s office was a large, circular room, the walls covered with the portraits of previous headmasters and headmistresses, most of whom were alert and watching the scene below them intently, although one or two portraits were snoozing in their frames. Strange silver instruments sat on spindly tables, whirring and emitting puffs of smoke. There was also an enormous, claw-footed desk, behind which sat Albus Dumbledore. Standing in front of the desk were a witch and wizard with badges pinned to their robes, both of whom turned to look at Harry and the others as they walked into the room.
“Thank you, Mr Weasley. You may go,” said Dumbledore, and his and Harry’s eyes met.
Dumbledore’s eyes were an intense, piercing blue, and his gaze had a penetrating quality, as though he were able to discern whatever secrets the object of his gaze might be doing their best to keep hidden. But Harry wasn’t easily discomposed; he stared back at Dumbledore curiously, taking in Dumbledore’s immensely long beard and the robes the man wore, which were spangled with stars and planets. They were impressive robes, Harry thought approvingly. Exactly what he’d expect a powerful wizard to wear. Of all the wizards Harry had seen so far, Dumbledore was the first who really looked the part.
Dumbledore, meanwhile, appeared to be looking back at Harry with just as much curiosity, and a certain amount of relief.
“Mr Potter,” he said quietly. “Mr Weasley. Miss Granger.”
“Sir,” said Harry. “Is this is about Peter Pettigrew?”
“We don’t know yet that it’s Peter Pettigrew–” began the wizard in with the badge, only for his female counterpart to elbow him in the side.
“That’s right,” she said. She smiled at Harry. It was, Harry thought, a smile that had been carefully practised to look harmless and reassuring. Harry immediately wondered why such a smile was necessary, and felt suspicious.
Hermione and Ron, however, both looked a little less nervous about being in the headmaster’s office, talking to Aurors; clearly, the reassuring smile had its intended effect.
“We need you to tell us, in your own words, what happened on the train,” the female Auror said, while the male Auror set up a piece of parchment and a quill. When he let go of the quill, it stood up on its own, poised to write. “Can you do that?” She nodded to Harry. “Let’s begin with Mr Potter.”
And so Harry gave a slightly more detailed version of the story he’d given McGonagall and Snape, about Pettigrew spontaneously turning back into a man, before Harry forced him at wand point to admit to his identity.
“Then he told me his name was Peter Pettigrew, and that he’d betrayed my parents to Voldemort, framed someone called Sirius Black, and killed twelve people,” said Harry. “Then he just seemed to go to sleep, so Ron and Hermione went to get Ron’s brother, who’s a prefect, while I stayed to make sure Pettigrew didn’t get away.”
The male Auror looked at some of the pieces of parchment on Dumbledore’s desk, and cleared his throat.
“That would be Percy Weasley, I take it?”
“Mr Weasley said something about a snake,” said the male Auror. “Can you tell us about that?”
Damn, thought Harry. So much for keeping Astaroth a secret.
“Oh, that’s my pet snake,” said Harry, and darted a look at Dumbledore to see how he was taking this news. Dumbledore looked inscrutable. “He’s harmless, mostly, but he seemed to know that Pettigrew was a threat, because he wrapped around him and hissed at him.”
“Wrapped around him?” echoed the female Auror. “Exactly how big is this snake?”
“I don’t think you really need to know that,” said Harry. He glanced at the quill, and it stopped writing for a moment. “Actually, I think it’s best if you forgot the snake altogether.” His glance encompassed not only the two Aurors, but also Dumbledore.
All three blinked.
“So your friends went and got Mr Weasley,” said the female Auror, as though Astaroth had never been mentioned, and the quill resumed writing. “Then what happened?”
“Percy and another prefect I don’t know the name of tied Pettigrew up, and took him away to the prefect’s compartment,” Harry explained, ignoring the worried looks Hermione and Ron were giving him.
The male Auror read over the piece of parchment that the quill had been writing on, and said, “Everything seems to be in order.” He held out the quill to Harry. “Sign at the bottom of the parchment, please.”
Harry took the quill, and signed his name just beneath the place where the quill had stopped recording his statement. He handed the quill back to the male Auror, who set up a new piece of parchment.
Hermione and Ron both went through the same process that Harry had, telling more or less the same story as Harry had – and carefully leaving out all mention of Astaroth. They also left out the fact that Harry had told Pettigrew to go to sleep before he became unconscious.
When all three of them had given and signed their statements, the female Auror gave them the reassuring smile again, and turned to Dumbledore.
“I think that’s all we need for tonight,” she said. “We’ll contact you if we need to talk to either the staff or the students again. Evening, Professor.”
The two Aurors gathered up all the pieces of parchment on Dumbledore’s desk, and threw a pinch of some kind of powder into the fireplace, which flared green.
“Ministry for Magic, Auror Office!” called out the female Auror, stepping into the flames, and vanishing. The male Auror did the same, and disappeared.
Harry and his friends were left alone with the headmaster, who gazed at them over the top of his desk. Hermione and Ron looked nervous, but Harry simply stared back.
“It was a brave thing you did, Harry,” said Dumbledore, and Harry blinked.
“Not really,” said Harry, whose powers were more than capable of taking care of Pettigrew. “Besides, what else was I going to do? Running away wouldn’t have solved the problem – it just would have made him a problem for someone else.”
“Regardless, you showed precisely the qualities which, if I may be so bold, I would suggest were the reason why you were sorted into Gryffindor,” said Dumbledore. “For an eleven year old boy to capture a fully-grown wizard is an impressive feat.”
Harry felt a little uncomfortable.
“Well, Hermione and Ron helped,” he said. “They went and got Percy, after all.”
“They did indeed,” Dumbledore agreed, his eyes moving to Hermione and Ron. Hermione squeaked a bit, and Ron’s ears turned red. “I would say that they showed bravery and resourcefulness in their actions. In fact,” Dumbledore went on, “I would say that altogether, the three of you deserve house points. Shall we say thirty points – each?”
Hermione and Ron seemed unable to speak, but Harry smiled, and said, “That’s very kind of you, sir.”
Dumbledore nodded, and said, “Well, now, since that is done, I think it’s time the three of you were off to bed, don’t you? You do, after all, have an early start tomorrow.” He stood up from his chair behind the desk. “As I doubt that the three of you can remember your way back to your common room, I would be happy to escort you.”
“Thank you, sir, but I’m sure we can find our own way,” said Harry, who never got lost, no matter how much he wandered. He always seemed to get to his destination without any trouble, in the end.
“Are you certain?” Dumbledore asked. “The castle is difficult to navigate, and contains many traps for the unwary.”
“Quite sure, Professor,” said Harry. “Besides, we’d hate to put you to any trouble.”
“Very well. In that case, I will bid the three of you goodnight, and wish you well in your classes,” said Dumbledore, looking benignantly upon them.
“Thank you sir, and we hope you have a good night, too,” said Harry, and he and Hermione and Ron made their escape.
The moment they were down the staircase and beyond the gargoyle, Hermione and Ron pounced on Harry.
“Harry, what did you do?” Hermione demanded. “You can’t simply go using magic on the headmaster and police officers!”
“It was only a little bit of magic,” Harry defended himself, “just enough so I wouldn’t get in trouble for bringing Astaroth.”
“I never heard of anyone who could do magic like that without a wand,” said Ron. “It’s a bit creepy, mate.”
“It doesn’t matter if it was only a little bit of magic!” said Hermione. “Really, Harry, you mustn’t do that again.”
“Alright,” said Harry agreeably. “I’ll do my best to avoid needing to, then.”
Hermione frowned, like that wasn’t the response she’d wanted, but seemed to sense that was the best response she was going to get, because after giving a small huff she let the matter go.
“How’d you do that, anyway?” Ron asked, as Harry led them back through the castle’s many winding passages.
“I’m not actually a wizard,” said Harry, as he walked. “I’m something else.”
“What are you, then?” Ron asked.
“Not telling,” said Harry, with a smile that he hoped would take the sting out of his words. The last thing he was going to do was tell his new friends that he was the Antichrist.
Both Ron and Hermione looked disappointed by his reply.
“Do the teachers know?” Hermione inquired.
“Nope,” said Harry. “Not going to tell them, either.” Harry didn’t know if wizards had exorcisms and the like, but the last thing he wanted was for people to try and kick him out of the school. It wouldn’t do them much good, of course, but Harry preferred to avoid stirring up trouble. “Who knows how they’d react.”
Hermione frowned, but Ron was nodding.
“Dad works at the Ministry, and he says anyone who’s not fully human gets a bad time,” he said.
“But Harry is human – aren’t you, Harry?”
Harry said nothing, since he wasn’t too sure himself, either way. His father was a fallen angel, he had no idea what his mother was – so what did that make him?
“But you look human!” Hermione protested, when Harry didn’t answer.
“That’s the whole point,” said Harry. “I’m supposed to.” He turned to face Hermione and Ron. “Listen, you can’t tell anybody I’m not a wizard, alright? It’s a secret. I,” said Harry seriously, “am trusting you.”
Put like that, there was no way the other two could disagree. Ron nodded solemnly, and Hermione said grudgingly, “Well, I suppose...”
Harry gave her a look.
“Oh, fine,” said Hermione. “I shan’t tell anyone.”
Harry smiled at his new friends.
“That’s good,” he said. “Because the alternative wouldn’t have ended well for anybody, believe me.”
Chapter 12: Snape and Quirrell
I'm not entirely happy with this chapter, but oh well.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Harry’s first week passed mostly without incident, barring two exceptions. Like the other students, he was given his class schedule the next morning at breakfast, and straight afterwards trooped off to the first of his classes. Harry – to everyone’s surprise but his own – got all of his spells right on the first try, which made Hermione scowl jealously and double her efforts in class. The teachers all took note of Harry’s status as an apparent magical prodigy and looked at him approvingly, especially when he tried to explain to the other students what they needed to do to get their spells right.
Well, most of the teachers did, anyway. And that brought Harry to the first incident.
Friday morning – at the end of Harry’s first week of classes, almost – Harry, Ron and Hermione had double potions with the Slytherins. The class was taught by Professor Snape, who, according to Ron, always favoured his Slytherin students.
Harry, remembering Snape’s dark glower and the malice he exuded towards Harry, felt a small amount of trepidation as they walked down to the dungeons for their first potions lesson.
It wasn’t that he was afraid of Snape – Harry wasn’t much afraid of anything. It was more that Harry had a strong suspicion that things weren’t going to go particularly well, considering the potions professor’s attitude. And considering the volatile substances they were going to be working with, that could end in disaster.
Harry took a seat in the potions classroom, and waited for Snape to call the roll. Almost immediately, things began to go wrong.
Snape paused when it came to Harry’s name on the roll, and said softly, “Ah, yes – Harry Potter. Our new – celebrity.”
Malfoy and his friends sniggered, and Harry thought, This one’s going to be trouble.
Snape moved onto the next name on the list; however, Harry had a feeling that Snape hadn’t finished with him yet.
Harry proved to be right. Snape gave a sinister, mesmerising speech about the potential of potions, and then his eyes narrowed back in on Harry.
“Potter!” said Snape suddenly. “What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?”
Harry had read his potions book right through in the month before classes started, along with his other class books. Nowhere in it was that question addressed.
“I don’t know, sir,” Harry was forced to admit. Snape’s lips curled in a sneer, and he tutted.
“Clearly,” Snape drawled, “fame isn’t everything.”
Hermione had raised her hand, and was now waving it around in the air, obviously wanting to answer Snape’s question. He ignored her, however, still intent on Harry.
“Let’s try again. Potter, where would you look if I told you to find me a bezoar?”
That question wasn’t in the textbook, either. It was clear to Harry that Snape intended to humiliate him by asking him questions he couldn’t possibly know the answer to – but the question was, why?
“Don’t know that either, sir,” said Harry, focusing all of his attention on Snape. “Is there something I’ve done to upset you?”
As usually happened when Harry wanted an answer to something, Snape found himself telling the exact truth.
“You survived when your mother died!” Snape snarled at Harry. “Lily should have survived, not you! I’ll never forgive you for being the reason she was murdered!”
Snape’s jaw snapped shut as he realised what he’d just said. Whispers went around the classroom.
“It seems to me,” said Harry, “that that’s not a very fair reason to be picking on me, Professor. It’s all well and fine to have those feelings, but to act on them when you know it wasn’t my fault is unprofessional.”
Snape, in front of the fascinated eyes of the entire class, turned a nasty purplish-red colour.
“DETENTION!” he bellowed, and then, like he couldn’t stop himself: “Of course it was your fault! You’re a Potter!”
“You have a problem with Potters?” Harry asked, keeping his eyes on Snape.
“I hate Potters!” Snape yelled for the entire class to hear. “Bumptious, big-headed, self-obsessed–”
It was clear he meant to go on, but Harry got the gist.
“I think I’ve heard enough,” he said, and Snape’s compulsion to tell all cut off.
Snape wasn’t stupid, however, and he looked even more enraged.
“What did you do to me?” he roared at Harry, and sprang forward as though to grab hold of him.
There was an instant of great confusion.
The next moment, the class were all sitting sedately at their desks, and Snape was standing at the front of the room, shaking his head.
“Potter –” he began, and a funny look crossed his face. He turned on Hermione. “You! What is the difference between monkshood and wolfsbane?”
Hermione looked delighted to be asked.
“They’re the same plant,” she said promptly.
“Five points to Gryffindor,” said Snape, and the funny look crossed his face again. “For your information, Potter, asphodel and wormwood make a sleeping potion so powerful it is known as the Draught of Living Death. A bezoar is a stone taken from the stomach of a goat and it will save you from most poisons. Well?” he suddenly asked the class. “Why aren’t you all copying that down?”
There was a rummaging for quills and parchment. As Harry set up his parchment and quill, Ron, sitting on his right side (Hermione was on Harry’s left) leaned in and whispered, “Harry, did you bewitch Snape?”
“Good on you, mate,” Ron whispered, and sat hurriedly back in his chair as Snape glanced at them.
Snape told them all to group themselves into pairs, and while everyone was doing so, Harry glanced at Neville, who looked utterly petrified.
“You two work together,” Harry muttered to Ron and Hermione. “I’m going to work with Neville – look at him, he’s shaking.”
And so Harry walked over to sit next to Neville, who looked surprised at Harry’s sudden appearance.
“Morning, Neville,” Harry said cheerfully. Neville stuttered out his own good morning as Harry sat down next to him.
Snape gave them instructions for making a simple potion to cure boils. Neville’s hands shook as he started to crush the snake fangs with the flat of his knife, and Harry quickly took the knife off him.
“You put things in the cauldron as I finish them,” Harry said, with quiet authority. “I’ll cut them up and crush them.”
Neville nodded, looking pathetically relieved. Harry sent a frown in Snape’s direction.
He could just stop Snape being an awful git altogether, of course – but that was too close to messing people about, Harry thought. Giving Snape a personality transplant, tempting though it was, would be crossing a line, and Harry knew it. It was one thing to force Snape not to take out his bad temper on the students, and to make sure he gave points when someone deserved them – but to actually change who Snape was, that was something Harry wouldn’t do.
So Snape patrolled the classroom, giving points to people who were doing well, while Harry weighed nettles and cut porcupine quills, and Neville put them in the cauldron whenever Harry told him to.
By the end of the class Neville’s hands were steadier, and he looked less terrified of Snape. He and Harry were given a grudging five points for their potion, as was Malfoy, who according to Snape had stewed his slugs perfectly. Snape sent Harry a dark look, certain that Harry was responsible for his newfound fairness: Harry just gave him an amiable grin, and began packing up his things.
As the class finished, and the students left the classroom, Harry knew that he was going to need to keep a close eye on Snape.
The second incident wasn’t an incident as such, because nothing had really happened. But it was a source of concern for Harry, all the same.
The day before Harry’s disastrous potions lesson, Harry had had his first Defense Against the Dark Arts class, with Professor Quirrell. Quirrell wore a turban, and stuttered a lot, and by the end of the first class most of the first years had decided that as a teacher, he was next to useless, but generally harmless.
Harry, however, had formed quite a different impression of Quirrell, and on Saturday morning he sat down and wrote Aziraphale and Crowley a letter about it.
Dear Aziraphale and Crowley, Harry wrote, I hope you’re both doing well. Hogwarts is amazing, and I’m really enjoying my classes so far. I have two friends, now: Hermione, who I met at the book store in Diagon Alley, and Ron, who I met on the train to Hogwarts. They’re both in Gryffindor with me, which means we share all our classes, which makes it much easier to spend time together. But that’s not what I wanted to write to you about.
Harry paused, his quill poised above the parchment, and thought. Then, with what he wanted to say carefully worded in his mind, he began to write again.
There’s something badly wrong with Professor Quirrell, our Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. He’s not alone in his own head. As far as I can work out, he’s sharing hat space with a sliver of someone else’s soul. It’s only a tiny bit of soul, all ragged and torn, and it feels evil. Really evil. Like there’s no good in it at all, and never was.
The next bit was hard to write.
Looking at it made my scar hurt, and when I took a close look, I realised that there was an even tinier piece of the same soul inside my scar. So I took it out, and put it in a jar for safekeeping. I decided that I wanted to collect any more bits of soul that were lying around, and suddenly all these random objects were sitting in a pile in front of me, and each of them had bits of soul in them. I’ve put them in my luggage for the moment, but I’m not sure what to do with them. The only one I don’t have is the one inside of Quirrell. It seems to be properly aware, unlike the other pieces of soul, and I didn’t want to mess with it.
One of the objects was a diary, and when I wrote in it, the piece of soul inside it wrote back. I made it tell me who it was, and it said that it was Lord Voldemort’s horcrux. Apparently there’s a spell wizards can do that splits their soul into pieces, so that they’re immortal for as long as objects with the bits of soul in them are kept safe. I didn’t ask any more questions about that, because I didn’t think that was the sort of spell I wanted to know about.
Anyway, if you could tell me what I should do about the pieces of soul, including the one inside Quirrell’s head, that would be really helpful.
Feeling satisfied with what he’d written, Harry folded the parchment and put it in an envelope, upon which he wrote out the address for Aziraphale’s bookstore. Sealing the envelope, he left the dormitory and headed up to the owlery, where he gave the letter to one of the owls to post.
Harry didn’t like having artefacts of unspeakable horror locked in his luggage; it wasn’t safe, for one thing. The horcruxes kept trying to influence the minds of anyone who walked past them, and only Harry’s efforts stopped that from happening. And for another, having something so evil so close to him was keeping Harry awake at night.
Aziraphale and Crowley would know what to do, he thought, and the thought was a comforting one.
Aziraphale called Crowley the moment he received the letter, and the two of them opened it together. Aziraphale began reading it aloud, only to falter when he got to the part about the bits of soul; Crowley read the rest of it over his shoulder, turning the colour of curdled milk. When he got to From Harry, Crowley sat back in the nearest chair.
“Bloody, buggering–” he began.
For once, Aziraphale didn’t chide the demon for his language. The angel looked pale and sick at the contents of the letter.
“Can’t believe the evil bugger was mad enough to split his soul,” said Crowley, who while just as horrified as Aziraphale was, was rather more used to this sort of thing. “Amazing, isn’t it, what the human brain can come up with. I mean, who thinks, oh yes, this is my immortal soul, I wonder if there’s a way I can hack it into pieces, that sounds like a grand idea–”
“Crowley,” said Aziraphale, and Crowley stopped. “What do we do?”
“Tell the kid to destroy the wretched things, would be my suggestion,” said Crowley. “Last thing anyone wants is for them to be left lying around, especially in a school.”
“You’re talking about the complete destruction of a human soul,” said Aziraphale.
Crowley took a long look at him, and said gently, “There’s not much left for him, angel. There’s no way he’d get into Heaven, after what he’s done, and not even Hell will take him in that state. The destruction of his own soul is his doing – all Harry would be doing is finishing what the mad bastard started.”
“Did you know it was possible?” asked Aziraphale. He was very pale, but very calm. “The division of a human soul?”
“It happens every now and then, with wizards – I think it was that weirdo Koschei who first worked out how to do it. Idiots who care more about supposed ‘immortality’ than the structural integrity of their own soul.”
For a moment Aziraphale didn’t respond. Then: “I suppose there is no coming back for him, is there?”
“Voldemort’s crossed the moral event horizon, and no mistake,” Crowley agreed.
Aziraphale sighed, and said, “Let me get my writing set.”
Not too long now until the end, guys. Only a few chapters more and then we're done.
Chapter 13: The Time Draws Near
Meanwhile, far away...
The first of them was a woman. Her name was Scarlett, or Carmine; at least, that was how she introduced herself. Her true name was far older and darker than that, of course a name of bloodshed and terror; but no human would have believed her if she’d introduced herself by her true name, and anyway, it was more fun this way.
Scarlett was a journalist – a war correspondent, in fact – and until very recently she’d happily been enjoying the sight of people shooting at one another. But there had been a change in the air, in the fabric of reality itself, on such a deep level that only beings like herself had noticed it.
And Scarlett thought, It’s about time...
At the same moment, in New York, a successful businessman was getting on a plane. His name was Dr Raven Sable – or at least that was what people called him. He was the successful author of a number of diet books, all of them guaranteed to make you lose pound after pound, and he had a particular interest in what people ate – the less nutritional value involved, the better.
Elsewhere, a young man – he looked like a young man, anyway – was sitting and watching the ocean burn, a wistful gleam in his pale eyes. His skin was chalk-white and his hair was very fair; overall he had a pale, sickly sort of look. With a sigh, he got to his feet, and prepared to go on his way. It was a pity; he would have liked to watch the burning oil spill a little longer, but there was somewhere else he had to be, and very soon.
The last of them was extremely tall, and very thin, and he wore a long black cloak which covered his face, which was just as well. Unlike the others, he was working. After all, it was best to get as much done as possible before the rush...
Harry woke up in bed the next morning, and knew.
“Are you alright?” asked Seamus. “You’ve gone all pale.”
“I’m fine,” said Harry mechanically, acting on autopilot; his mind was elsewhere. “Don’t worry about me.”
But deep in his mind, part of him was thinking, this is it...
Still, there wasn’t much Harry could do about the situation right now – not until things actually began to happen – and so he pushed the presentiment to the back of his mind, focusing on getting ready for breakfast and going downstairs to join the other Gryffindors in the Great Hall.
All of the other first years were talking about flying lessons, which were scheduled for straight after breakfast. To everyone’s dismay, the Gryffindors would be sharing a class with the Slytherins.
Harry didn’t actually mind most of the Slytherins; it was mostly Draco Malfoy and his friends who were the problem. They seemed to have forgotten what Harry had done to Malfoy before the sorting ceremony, and were intent on making nuisances of themselves. Petty mischief, most of it, although Harry knew it had the potential to escalate into something more harmful, if someone didn’t keep an eye on things.
It ought to be the teachers keeping an eye on things, really, but since none of them were doing so, Harry figured that he might as well.
Most of the wizard-born students seemed to have been on a broom before, barring Neville (whose Gran had insisted that it was too dangerous for him), but the other muggle-raised students were a mixture of curious, excited, and apprehensive at the prospect of flying on a broomstick. Hermione in particular was very nervous: here was something she couldn’t learn out of a book, although not for want of trying – she kept reading out flying tips from Quidditch Through The Ages, much to the annoyance of everyone else.
Only Harry didn’t mind; it helped keep his brain focused on the here and now, instead of the increasingly near-future.
Hermione’s litany of flying tips was interrupted, however, by the arrival of the morning post. There was an envelope for Harry, with his address in elegant, old-fashioned handwriting, and Harry quickly opened it.
It was from Aziraphale and Crowley, in response to the letter Harry had sent them a few days earlier. Harry read it through. Both Aziraphale and Crowley advised caution when dealing with the horcruxes, but they seemed to agree that it was best if the foul objects were destroyed, along with the active piece inside Quirrell.
Harry resolved to do something about the problem later that evening, after classes.
Hermione was back to reading flying tips aloud, and the others were rolling their eyes and looking bored.
“Leave off, Hermione,” said Ron. “No one wants to hear it.”
“But...” Hermione began.
“It is getting a little tiresome, Hermione,” Harry said, a little apologetically. “You’ve been reading them out all morning. Maybe give it a rest?”
Hermione sniffed, and kept reading, but silently this time. Dean mouthed a ‘thank-you’ at Harry, who smiled politely back.
Neville had received a marble-sized glass ball in the mail, and was holding it morosely; it had turned a smoky red, which according to Neville, meant he’d forgotten something. He was trying to remember what he’d forgotten when Malfoy, who was walking past, snatched the little glass ball out of his hands.
As one the first year Gryffindors stood, and Harry said quietly, “Give that back, Malfoy.”
“What’s going on?” demanded McGonagall, appearing beside them.
“Malfoy’s got my Remembrall, Professor,” said Neville.
Scowling, Malfoy quickly dropped the Remembrall onto the table.
“Just looking,” he said, and sloped away, with his friends Crabbe and Goyle following behind him.
After breakfast everyone trooped down to the broom sheds, where Madam Hooch, the flying instructor, was waiting. About twenty broomsticks were out, lying on the grass, and Madam Hooch directed everyone to stand next to a broom.
“Stick out your right hand over your broom,” barked Hooch, “and say, up!”
“Up!” chorused the class.
Harry’s broom instantly shot into his hand, but his was almost the only one: Ron’s broom rose shakily, and Hermione’s only rolled over in the grass, while Neville’s didn’t move at all.
Hooch then went around the class, showing them how to mount their brooms and correcting their grip; Ron sniggered when he overheard her telling Malfoy he’d been gripping his broom wrongly for years.
Harry stood with his broom, trying not to allow his mind to wander, and watched the other students.
“Now, when I blow my whistle, you kick off from the ground, hard,” said Hooch. “Keep your brooms steady, rise a few feet and then come straight back down by leaning forwards sligthy. On my whistle – three – two –”
But Neville, nervous as he was, accidentally pushed off before he was supposed to.
“Come back, boy!” Hooch shouted, but Neville was shooting straight up into the air, apparently unable to stop. Harry saw Neville gasp, slip sideways off his broom, and before Harry could do anything Neville was falling, plummeting towards the hard ground far below.
Harry thought, No.
And to everyone’s astonishment, instead of crashing into the ground, Neville bounced – just like a rubber ball, once, twice, a third time each bounce a little lower than the last, until he came to a stop, looking dazed and frightened.
Hooch hurried over, and gaze him a quick inspection.
“Doesn’t seem to be anything broken, but we’d best take you to the hospital wing just in case,” she said. “Up you get.” She helped Neville to his feet, and turned to the rest of the class.
“None of you is to move while I take this boy to the hospital wing! You leave those brooms where they are or you’ll be out of Hogwarts faster than you can say ‘Quidditch.’” She turned back to Neville, and said in a slightly gentler tone, “Come on, dear.”
As soon as the two of them were gone, Malfoy burst into nasty laughter.
“Did you see his face, the great lump?” he asked, hooting, and the other Slytherins laughed as well.
“Shut up, Malfoy,” snapped Parvati.
“Ooh, sticking up for Longbottom?” sneered one of Malfoy’s friends, a hard-faced girl named Pansy Parkinson. “Didn’t think he was your type.”
“Look!” said Malfoy, darting forward to pick up something that was lying in the grass, glinting in the sunlight. “It’s that stupid thing Longbottom’s gran sent him.”
Harry decided that it was time to step in.
“Give that here, Malfoy,” he said quietly, and all of the other students stopped to watch.
Malfoy smiled nastily.
“I think I’ll leave it somewhere for Longbottom to collect – how about up a tree?”
And he leapt on his broom and took off, the Remembrall clenched in his fist.
It only took an instant for Harry to decide what to do. He mounted his broom.
“No, Harry!” Hermione shouted. “Madam Hooch told us–”
But Harry wasn’t listening. He was already in the air.
As the wind whipped through his hair and his robes, Harry could feel the blood pounding through his body, and felt a rush of fierce, instinctive joy. He took off after Malfoy, and pulled up just before they would have collided, leaving them facing one another in mid-air.
Malfoy stared at Harry, looking stunned by his proficiency with a broom. Harry glared at him, a cold, dark glare that made Malfoy swallow, looking suddenly worried.
“Give that here,” said Harry a second time, and just for a second, Malfoy looked like he would, as his primitive hindbrain screamed danger!
Unfortunately, a second later Malfoy’s arrogance kicked in, and he smirked at Harry.
“Catch it if you can, then!” Malfoy called, and threw the Remembrall. It arced up into the air – and then began to fall.
Harry wasted no time. He leaned forward, pointing his broom down – the next second he was gathering speed, the wind whistling in his ears – distantly Harry could hear the sound of screams as he raced to catch up with the tiny ball – he reached out his hand – it closed around the ball – and Harry realised that the ground was coming up far too fast, too close –
There was a sudden jerk at Harry’s back, and he stopped in mid-air, before gently dropping to the ground, still gripping his broom tightly. There was utter, astounded silence, and Harry looked around to see that the entire class was gaping at him. Behind them was McGonagall, frozen in the act of running. Slowly Harry turned his head, and at the edges of his vision he saw a mass of white feathers, stretching away towards the sky.
“Damn,” said Harry, and folded his wings, hoping that would make them go away. As he did he felt them dissolve away into nothing, turning even more intangible than air.
He looked back at the students and professor who were still staring at him, and sighed.
Reality blinked for a second, and Harry toppled gently off his broom onto the grass, Remembrall in hand, having pulled up at just the right moment to have avoided a collision with the ground.
Harry looked up, to see McGonagall running across the grass towards him. Students scattered out of her way, even as the Gryffindors began calling out to her.
“It wasn’t Harry’s fault, Professor–”
“Malfoy stole Neville’s Remembrall, he was going to leave it up a tree–”
“Never – in all my time at Hogwarts –” McGonagall was spluttering furiously. “How dare you – might have broken your neck–”
The other Gryffindors tried to tell her what had happened, but McGonagall was having none of it.
“That is enough!” she snapped. “Potter, follow me, now.”
Harry glanced back at the other students as he left. Ron and Hermione looked worried, and the other Gryffindors looked concerned or indignant on his behalf. Malfoy, though, was grinning triumphantly, and for a moment Harry felt a real urge to make something horrible happen to him.
But Harry was trying to be a good person, not a bad one, and so he simply straightened his shoulders and followed McGonagall up to the castle.
McGonagall didn’t say a word to him, sweeping through doors and down corridors fast enough that Harry had to jog to keep up. Eventually she came to a door, and opened it, poking her head inside.
“Excuse me, Professor Flitwick, could I borrow Wood for a moment?” she asked.
A moment later a burly boy some years older than Harry came out into the corridor, looking confused.
“Follow me, you two,” said Professor McGonagall, and marched down the hallway to the nearest empty classroom. Harry and Wood followed, Wood glancing curiously at Harry.
The empty classroom proved to have Peeves in it, who was writing rude things on the blackboard.
“Out, Peeves!” McGonagall barked, and Peeves dropped the chalk into a bin, cursed loudly, and zoomed out of the room. McGonagall slammed the door behind him, and turned to face Harry and Wood.
“Potter, this is Oliver Wood. Wood – I’ve found you a seeker.”
“Wait, what?” Harry asked in astonishment, while Oliver’s puzzlement turned to delight.
“Are you serious, Professor?” he asked.
“Absolutely,” said McGonagall. “The boy’s a natural. I’ve never seen anything like it. Was that your first time on a broomstick, Potter?”
“Er, yes?” said Harry, who wasn’t quite sure how he’d gone from being in trouble to on the Quidditch team.
“He caught that thing in his hand after a fifty-foot dive,” McGonagall told Wood. “Didn’t even scratch himself. Charlie Weasley couldn’t have done it.”
“Ever seen a game of Quidditch, Potter?” Oliver asked excitedly, and Harry shook his head.
“Wood’s captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team,” McGonagall explained – a bit belatedly, Harry thought.
Oliver was circling around Harry, getting a good look at him, and muttering.
“He’s just the build for a seeker, too. Light – speedy – we’ll have to get him a decent broom, Professor – a Nimbus Two Thousand or a Cleansweep Seven, I’d say.”
“I shall speak to Professor Dumbledore and see if we can’t bend the first year rule. Heaven knows, we need a better team than last year. Flattened in that last match by Slytherin, I couldn’t look Severus Snape in the face for weeks...”
McGonagall peered sternly over her glasses at Harry.
“I want to hear you’re training hard, Potter, or I may change my mind about punishing you.” She smiled suddenly. “Your father would have been proud,” she added. “He was an excellent Quidditch player himself.”
“Right,” said Harry – while he was fairly sure that his actual father was a brilliant flyer, he doubted he’d ever played Quidditch. Although he had to admit, the notion of a demonic Quidditch team was an amusing one. “Thank you, Professor. I’ll do my best.”
Assuming we ever get to the first match, part of Harry’s brain thought, and Harry forced the dark thought down again before the rest of them could rise up.
Oliver swore Harry to secrecy about his new role on the Gryffindor Quidditch team – he wanted it to be a surprise for the other teams, he said. Harry agreed readily.
After some discussion, McGonagall sent both Oliver and Harry back to class. Harry was still feeling a little bewildered as he rejoined the flying class, just in time to see them putting their brooms away in the broom sheds.
“Are you okay?” Ron asked, as Harry went to collect his broom.
“I’m fine,” said Harry. “I’ll tell you about it later.”
The rest of Harry’s day went uneventfully, and shortly before dinner, Harry quietly slipped away from his friends, and went in search of Quirrell.
He found the professor in his office. Quirrell looked up as Harry entered.
“S-Something I c-can do f-for you, P-Potter?” he stuttered.
Harry smiled at him. On the surface it was a nice smile, but beneath the surface was something dangerous.
“Actually, Professor, it’s more something I can do for you,” he said. “It’s about you and your... tenant.”
“W-what are you t-talking about?” asked Quirrell, apparently nervous – but there was a glint in his eye that boded ill.
“It’s not right, being two people,” said Harry. “I reckon you’d better go back to being two separate people.”
And suddenly where there had been one man, now there were two. One was Quirrell; the other was a tall, handsome young man, with dark hair, good cheekbones, and bright red eyes.
He immediately began feeling his own body, astonishment and glee written clear upon his face.
Quirrell stared at him.
“My lord?” Quirrell asked doubtfully.
“Yes, you fool,” said Voldemort. He spoke with a hiss in his voice, a little like when Crowley got really annoyed, or had a little too much wine. “It is I.”
Voldemort turned to Harry, who was watching him calmly.
“Well, well,” said Voldemort softly. “Harry Potter...”
“That’s me,” Harry agreed. “Well, it is now, at any rate. Not a good idea to mess with the past, and Marcus seems happy enough as it is. Being adopted is better than being dead, after all – and he would be, if he’d been the one you tried to kill ten years ago.”
Voldemort blinked, the only sign that he didn’t understand what on Earth Harry was talking about.
“But never mind that,” said Harry. “I’m here to offer you a choice.”
And suddenly, on the desk in front of the three of them, was an assortment of objects – a small black diary, a glittering diadem, a ring with a dark stone, an ornate locket, a golden cup... and an empty jam jar.
Voldemort’s eyes widened at the sight of them.
“Your horcruxes,” said Harry unnecessarily. “All of them. Each with a bit of torn-apart bit of soul inside. As things stand, the moment these are destroyed, you cease to exist – not just in body, but in soul. But it doesn’t have to be that way.”
Harry met Voldemort’s eyes, and his own were very, very green, and filled with ancient knowledge. They didn’t look like they belonged to an eleven year old boy.
“It’s possible to put your soul back together,” said Harry, “if you feel sorrow or regret for what you’ve done – even an ounce of remorse would be enough. I could unite your horcruxes, and your immortal soul would be saved. You’d probably still go to Hell,” said Harry gravely, “but at least you’d exist. It’s your choice.” And he waited to see what Voldmort would do next.
“Foolish boy,” said Voldemort. “You expect me to feel regret, when I have a body once more? When I am myself again?” He laughed, a cold, high sound. “No, Potter, your fanciful talk of Hell and destruction does not frighten me. I shall rise again, more powerful than ever – and this time, you shall not be in my way. Quirrell,” Voldemort added, “kill him.”
Quirrell stood, and aimed his wand at Harry, and Harry saw that there was no hope for either of them.
“I thought you might say that,” said Harry. He sighed, and each of the horcruxes began to scream.
“No!” Voldemort shouted; but the diary crumpled, ink pouring from its withering pages, while the diadem became tarnished, the cup and the locket melted, the jar shattered, and the ring broke in two, leaving the stone unscathed. A cacophony of eerie screams filled the air, the dying horcruxes shrieking in agony; and then there was silence.
Harry turned his gaze on Voldemort; and in that instant, so close to the moment of reckoning, Voldemort saw him for what he really was.
“No!” the dark wizard screamed futilely, as Quirrell gibbered in the corner. “No – you cannot – I am Lord Voldemort–”
But suddenly the youthful form of Tom Riddle was aging, slowly at first, but at a steadily accelerating rate. As Harry watched, Voldemort grew wrinkled and stooped, his frame transforming from tall and proud to weary and frail.
“No...” said Voldemort, and his voice was an elderly croak.
The next moment, there was nothing but dust where Voldemort had stood, as time and the darkest of magic caught up with him at last.
Harry sighed again, and turned to look at Quirrell. Like Voldemort, Quirrell had a glimpse of what Harry really was - but unlike Voldemort, he was still human enough that his brain had rebelled at the knowledge. Now he sat, dribbling slightly, muttering to himself unintelligibly. His eyes were focused on nothing.
Harry left the room, shutting the door quietly behind him. No one was there to see him leave, and Harry walked slowly back to Gryffindor Tower, his mind whirling.
Every instinct told him that it was nearly time. Harry only hoped that when the moment came, he could be strong enough to hold back what was coming.
Harry found himself singing softly, a song he’d heard on the radio years ago.
“It’s the end of the world as we know it...”
Chapter 14: Apocalypse Now
While I couldn't possibly hope to do as well as the original book with this scene, I've given it my best shot. I hope you all enjoy it. Thank you, all of you, for reading my fic. I don't know about you, but I've had a blast.
Harry sat on the castle steps. Astaroth lay in the grass nearby, a reassuring presence. The rest of the students were inside having dinner, but Harry had made sure no one would notice his absence.
He hadn’t been able to talk to Astaroth at first, after removing the horcrux from his forehead, but with a little concentration Parseltongue was once again one of Harry’s many gifts.
“Are you sure you can do it?” asked Astaroth. “Not that you don’t have a lot of power, but, well, power isn’t everything. Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance, and so on.”
“I know,” said Harry. “But they’re not very imaginative, either. And imagination and cunning can beat out a lot.”
“As long as you’re sure,” said Astaroth. “I’d rather not be here if you turn out to be wrong.”
“I thought you were supposed to be loyal to me?” Harry asked.
“Hey, I’m loyal – I said nothing about suicidal,” the snake retorted. “But don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere. I just hope you’re right.”
“So do I,” Harry muttered, staring out into the distance. He could see the castle gates from here, and four people – if you could call them that – had just entered the castle grounds.
At this point they were humanoid only in the loosest sense of the word, their true natures breaking through. Their presence called to Harry like a siren’s song, but he stayed where he was.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were here, and if Harry wasn’t careful, Armageddon would be starting up any moment now. There was a voice in Harry’s head, growing stronger with every passing moment, telling him that all he had to do was join the Horsemen, and lead them out across the world – a world that was his for the taking.
Harry closed his eyes, but that didn’t help. Visions of death and destruction danced behind them.
“I think,” said Harry, “that I’m going to need a little help.”
And just like that, Harry and Astaroth were no longer alone.
Aziraphale looked up, saw the Horsemen on their way up to the castle, and went, “Oh dear.”
Crowley’s language, on the other hand, was rather stronger than that. Harry listened to him curse for a moment, before giving him a look.
Crowley faltered as he got a good look at Harry, whose eyes glowed with otherworldly knowledge. All of eternity was in his gaze, and even an ethereal being like Crowley found it difficult to withstand.
Harry could feel the planet turning beneath his feet, and the life-force of five billion people going about their business, unaware of what was about to happen. Harry felt ghostly wings at his back, and the outline of a sword in his hand, itching to materialise. A heavy crown almost rested against his brow, waiting only for Harry’s will to bring it into existence.
Somehow, Harry held out, and both the sword and the crown remained figments of his imagination – shadows of what might be, and nothing more. His wings remained insubstantial, not yet called into physical form.
Harry turned desperate eyes on Aziraphale and Crowley.
“Help me,” he said, and there were strange harmonics in his voice, and a note of command that even the angel and demon had no hope of resisting.
They didn’t try.
“Of course, my dear,” said Aziraphale, putting gentle hand on Harry’s shoulder.
“You can do it,” said Crowley, who looked pale, but who was, at heart, an optimist. He gripped Harry’s other shoulder. “Just hold out, and everything will be alright. This is your turf, remember? No one can make you do anything you don’t want to. It’s your choice.”
Harry tried to hold onto Crowley’s words, but they were being steadily drowned out by the voice in his head.
This is it, the voice seemed to say, implacable and irresistible. This is what it’s all about, you have to follow the Plan, because you’re part of it –
Harry shook his head, barely feeling it where Crowley’s fingers were digging into his shoulder, and stepped forward out of the angel and the demon’s grasp to meet the Horsemen.
IT IS TIME, said Death – a tall, skeletal figure in a dark robe, with blue light glinting where his eyes should be. Out of the four, his form was the least frightening; a skeleton was at least human in nature, more or less. The other Horsemen weren’t even that.
“I don’t care,” said Harry, who was fighting the dark, dreadful voice in his head as hard as he could. “I don’t want it done. I never asked for this. I won’t do it, and you can’t make me.”
War stepped forward, and her voice was like the quiet gurgle of a dying breath.
“We don’t need you,” said War.
“We can do it ourselves,” added Famine.
“All we need,” said Pollution, oozing where he stood, “is destiny. And we have that.”
WHETHER YOU JOIN US IS IMMATERIAL AT THIS POINT, said Death. ONLY YOUR EXISTENCE WAS REQUIRED.
For a moment, Harry said nothing, because he knew it was true. The moment was right; the time was now; and that wouldn’t change, even if Harry refused to lead the Horsemen. And there was nothing, said the voice in his head triumphantly, that he could do about it.
“Harry?” asked Aziraphale, in a worried voice.
STAY OUT OF THIS, said Death, turning glinting eye-sockets on Aziraphale.
But the sound of Aziraphale’s voice was a lifeline to Harry, reminding him of Aziraphale and Crowley’s presence... and in the distance, Harry could hear laughter and voices coming from the Great Hall, drifting on the slight breeze. Harry knew that his friends were in there, enjoying their dinner, with no notion that the world was about to end.
And Harry said, “No.”
THERE IS NOTHING YOU CAN DO TO STOP US, said Death. IT HAS ALREADY BEGUN.
“You’re forgetting,” said Harry. His thoughts were beginning to override the voice in his head, its poisonous words growing fainter as Harry’s conviction swelled. “I’m the Antichrist. All of this world is my domain, and that means you are subject to me. And I say no. Not now. Not ever, as long as I’m alive.”
I DON’T UNDERSTAND, said Death, who seemed to be spokesperson for the four Horsemen. YOUR VERY EXISTENCE DEMANDS THE END OF THE WORLD. IT IS WRITTEN.”
“Oh yeah?” asked Harry. “Well I have a healthy respect for books, but even the most well-researched book can be wrong. And whoever wrote this one clearly didn’t do his homework.”
“You are the Antichrist–” began War, her words falling like bullets, but Harry was having none of it.
“My name is Harry Potter,” he said, and the suggestion of wings at his back vanished, leaving him looking like nothing more than an ordinary eleven year old boy. Except for the eyes, that was. “And I don’t want you here. So go away.”
The light in Harry’s eyes flared, and suddenly, something was happening to the Horsemen – to War, to Famine, to Pollution. Their forms were wavering around the edges, like a mirage in the heat of the desert, and slowly, as Harry and Crowley and Aziraphale watched, they began breaking up...
“What’s going on?” asked Crowley, who was seeing, but didn’t understand.
“I’m sending them back,” said Harry, his brow wrinkled with determination.
“Back where?” asked Crowley –
– and the three Horsemen were suddenly gone, as though they had never been.
Only Death remained, unaffected by what Harry had done.
WHERE THEY BELONG, said Death, answering Crowley’s question, although his eyes – such as they were – remained locked with Harry’s. WHERE THEY HAVE ALWAYS BEEN. BACK IN THE MINDS OF MAN.
There was a long, fraught moment, where Death and Harry sized one another up; and then Harry relaxed, shoving his hands into the pockets of his robes.
YOU CANNOT DESTROY ME, said Death, FOR I AM AZRAEL, CREATED TO BE CREATION’S SHADOW. TO DESTROY ME WOULD BE TO DESTROY CREATION.
“I don’t need to destroy you,” said Harry. “Without them, it’s already stopping. Isn’t it?”
And Death said, YES. BUT THIS ISN’T OVER.
“But of course it is,” said Aziraphale. “Why wouldn’t it be over?”
But Crowley’s eyes were on the sky, where the clouds were boiling.
“Oh bugger,” he said. Aziraphale and Harry followed his gaze.
Lightning flashed, and stayed in place, a blazing column of light, crackling and filling the air with the smell of ozone; and when it did finally fade, a young man made out of golden fire stood where the lightning had been. His face was beautiful, but utterly expressionless. The blank gaze turned to Harry, before alighting on Aziraphale.
Aziraphale gulped a bit, but stayed defiantly where he was – on Harry’s side.
The ground began to shake, and all five of them – Harry, Aziraphale, Crowley, Death, and the man made of golden fire – turned to look, as a figure made of blood-red flames rose up from the ground, not far from the man made of golden fire. The new figure looked at Crowley, who shrank back a bit from the baleful gaze.
Harry looked at both figures, one golden, one blood-red, and knew that Death was right. It wasn’t over.
“Metatron, Beelzebub,” he said politely, because Harry believed in being polite whenever possible. “What brings you here?”
“Armageddon,” said Beelzebub, and his voice was like a thousand buzzing flies.
“Much as I hate to agree with a demon,” said Metatron, in a voice like trumpets, “the Apocalypse must take place now. Certainly there may be some inconvenience, but that should hardly stand in the way of the ultimate good.”
Harry’s eyes turned flinty and hard.
“Uh-oh,” Crowley muttered to Aziraphale. “That’s done it.”
“ ‘Some inconvenience?’ That’s how you refer to the suffering of every soul on Earth, is it?” asked Harry, standing a little taller than before. “And here I thought angels were supposed to be good and compassionate. So much for that. As far as I’m concerned, you’re just as bad as that one.” And he nodded at Beelzebub.
Metatron’s blank expression cracked, just enough to show deep offence.
“As to what it stands in the way of, that is yet to be decided,” buzzed Beelzebub, but with a smug look at his counterpart that suggested he was enjoying Metatron’s insulted state. “But it must be decided now, boy. That is thy destiny. It is written.”
“Well, I’m rewriting things,” Harry said matter-of-factly. “I don’t see why everyone has to suffer and die just because you lot have a Plan. Seems to me that any plan that involves inevitable suffering and death is a bad plan that needs revision, understand? Besides, it’s not even for anything important, really – just to decide which one of you comes out on top. And it won’t even stop there. It’ll start all over again, only on a different battleground. Hell, maybe, or perhaps even another war in Heaven. Is that what you want? Open warfare in your own home?”
“It doesn’t matter!” snapped Metatron, who seemed precariously close to losing his temper. Clearly, he wasn’t used to people arguing with him, or telling him that he was just as bad as the side he opposed. “The whole point of the creation of the Earth and Good and Evil–”
“Is that people make a choice,” Harry interrupted severely. “But you lot, you don’t understand that – both of you,” he added, his gaze including Beelzebub as well as Metatron. “You mess people around, trying to take away their free will, when free will is the whole point. It’s why this one,” he gestured at Crowley, who didn’t look like he appreciated having Beelzebub and Metatron reminded of his presence, “was sent to tempt them into eating the apple of knowledge of good and evil, way back when. I don’t see what’s the point of creating people, and then getting upset when they act like people. Infinite potential for both good and evil, you see?”
Metatron wore what could only be described as a mulish expression, while Beelzebub didn’t look like he was willing to listen, either. Harry sighed.
“Anyway,” he said, “I refuse to destroy the world, or let anyone else do it, either. So you can just both pack up and go home.” He folded his arms, and glared steadily at both of them.
“You can’t just refuse to be who you are,” said Metatron. “Your destiny is all part of the Great Plan. All the choices have been made.”
“Except for mine,” said Harry. “And I’m making it now.”
“Rebellion is a fine thing–” Beelzebub began.
“Who’s rebelling?” said Harry reasonably. “I’m not rebelling against anything. With great power comes great responsibility, you know,” he added, because he’d read some of Dudley’s old comics once Dudley was finished with them. “I’m not about to turn my back on the people who need me.”
“A noble sentiment,” said Metatron, “but a trifle misplaced–”
“Misplaced?” asked Harry. “I don’t think so. I think you’re the ones that are misplaced. And I think,” he added, “that you should go home. Both of you.”
Harry reached out with his mind. Neither Metatron nor Beelzebub wanted to go, but this was, as Crowley had reminded Harry earlier, Harry’s own turf – and destiny had given Harry exactly the right amount of power to do what he was doing now.
There was a faint popping noise, like a cork out of a bottle, and both Metatron and Beelzbub vanished. Harry sagged, trembling a little bit – that last use of power had taken a lot out of him.
“Harry!”Crowley was there to steady him within an instant. Aziraphale was there too, tutting over Harry, and between them they helped Harry back over to the castle steps. where he sank down, feeling utterly spent.
WE WILL BE BACK. NOT EVEN YOU MAY STOP US FOREVER, said Death, and vanished.
“Are they gone?” asked Astaroth, from where he lay in the grass. Harry had almost forgotten that the snake was there.
“I think so,” said Harry cautiously. He looked around. The clouds from earlier were gone, leaving a darkening sky as the world slipped into twilight, and there was no sign of any angels or demons except Aziraphale and Crowley.
Crowley joined Harry on the steps.
“All’s well that ends well,” said Aziraphale.
“I don’t mind telling you,” said Crowley, “I was right worried there for a minute or two–”
He stopped. The ground was shaking.
“Oh shit,” said Crowley, as cracks began to appear in the earth. “That’s not Beelzebub. That’s Him! This isn’t Armageddon, this is personal!”
For a moment, he looked like he was going to flee, but Aziraphale put a hand on his arm.
“Crowley,” he said quietly, “we can’t leave Harry.”
“Bollocks we can’t–” Crowley started, but he looked at Harry. Harry looked up at him, tired and worn out, and utterly helpless against what was to come.
Crowley sagged for a moment, then straightened again, with new determination in his eyes.
“Right, then,” he said, and turned to face the oncoming trouble.
The ground was moving, and yellow smoke was boiling upwards from the cracks.
“I’d just like to say,” said Aziraphale, “that if we don’t get out of this... Harry, it was lovely to have known you. And Crowley...”
“I just want to say that I’ll have known, deep down inside, there was a spark of goodness inside you.”
Crowley glanced at Harry, who was looking up at them with worried eyes.
“Whatever happens, kid, it wasn’t your fault,” said Crowley. “And Aziraphale... just remember, I’ll have known that, deep down inside, you were just enough of a bastard to be worth liking.”
The ground was bubbling now, yellow smoke everywhere, and the noise was incredible.
“Brace yourselves–” said Crowley, as one last, enormous tremor hit. He and Aziraphale grabbed onto each other to brace themselves.
A moment later, everything was still.
When the smoke dispersed, Harry, Crowley, Aziraphale and Astaroth found that they had been joined by a new figure, standing a short distance away. He was tall, and looked to be about thirty at the oldest. He had very blonde hair, and his eyes were exactly the same shade of green as Harry’s were.
Harry stared at him. The new arrival stared back.
“What’s all this about refusing to bring the apocalypse, then?” asked the Devil. He didn’t sound angry – his tone of voice sounded quite reasonable, even – but Crowley turned a horrible greenish-white colour, which was probably a bad sign.
Harry gazed up at his father, and glared.
“I won’t do it,” he said. “And I won’t let anyone else do it, either.”
“So I understand,” said Lucifer. His expression was curious. “But why?”
“Because people don’t deserve it,” said Harry simply. “And because this is my home, and I’m not about to let anyone else destroy it. I don’t care who I have to fight.”
“You’re willing to stand against both Hell and Heaven, just to protect the Earth?” mused the Devil. “That’s brave of you.”
“Well, I am a Gryffindor,” said Harry. “We’re supposed to be brave and chivalrous and everything. The Sorting Hat said so.”
The Devil stared down at Harry with a look of bemusement.
“You realise you’re sending a lot of plans into disarray,” said Lucifer.
“Don’t care,” Harry retorted.
The Devil’s eyes wandered over to Crowley, who twitched, but stood his ground, despite his evident terror. After all, running wouldn’t do any good.
“What exactly did you have to do with this, Crowley?” asked Lucifer, and for the first time, there was the slightest suggestion of a threat in his voice.
“He didn’t have anything to do with it, and if you try and hurt him, I’ll stop you,” said Harry, surging to his feet.
This was a mistake; Harry wobbled and almost fell over, and had to be grabbed by Crowley and Aziraphale, who caught him under the arms and held him upright.
Lucifer’s eyes stayed on Crowley, thoughtfulness in their gaze.
“Hmm,” was all Lucifer said.
“I mean it!” Harry said fiercely.
“Oh, I can see that you do,” the Devil agreed. “Don’t worry. He’s far too valuable to harm, at present. He’s looking after you, after all.”
“Erk,” said Crowley, who didn’t like the sound of at present. It suggested bad things for his future.
Harry gave the Devil a suspicious glance; but Lucifer’s expression was perfectly sincere.
“Well, I can’t say I expected this,” the Devil remarked. “But perhaps I should have. You seem to be a chip off the old block.”
Harry stared, because right then, Lucifer looked almost proud. Harry blinked.
“I suppose we can postpone things for a few generations,” said Lucifer. “Hopefully my next offspring won’t be quite so strong-minded.”
“Don’t bet on it,” said Crowley, and shut his mouth abruptly as Lucifer gave him a musing kind of look.
“Very well. I’ll leave you to your kingdom,” said Lucifer, and the last Harry saw of him, his expression was considering as he vanished in a cloud of yellow smoke.
Harry didn’t go back into the castle to eat dinner with the other students. Instead, he had dinner at the Ritz with Crowley and Aziraphale, who felt he’d earned it. Even Astaroth had been allowed to come, and sat coiled under the table, miraculously invisible to all the wait staff.
“I think that went quite well,” said Aziraphale, once they’d finished eating, and Crowley and Aziraphale were contemplating everything that had happened, in addition to contemplating a rather nice champagne. Harry was drinking a glass of lemonade. The staff had seemed quite surprised to see him: they were used to Crowley and Aziraphale turning up, it seemed, but not with small boys in tow. Harry had just smiled wearily at them as one of the staff had shown him and Crowley and Aziraphale to a table.
Harry still felt very tired, but eating a large dinner had helped.
“For you, maybe,” said Crowley, who hadn’t forgotten Lucifer’s words. “Give it a few decades, and today’s events are going to catch up with me in a big way.”
Aziraphale patted his hand sympathetically.
“Perhaps Harry can do something?” he asked, and both the demon and the angel turned to look at Harry.
“Maybe I can talk him around,” said Harry. “Convince him not to punish you.”
“If anyone can, it’s probably you,” said Crowley. “But he’s not really the kind who gets talked around, if you know what I mean.”
Harry was too tired to tell Crowley that he was going to look out for him, no matter what it took. Instead Harry only went, “Mmm.”
“I’m sure things will work out,” said Aziraphale.
“Perhaps,” said Crowley. He frowned at Harry, who was listing in his seat. “You alright there, kid?”
“I have a name, you know,” Harry grumbled, although secretly he rather liked the fact that Crowley always called him ‘kid.’
“That doesn’t answer my question,” said Crowley.
“Oh, my dear, I’m sure he’ll be fine after a little rest,” said Aziraphale.
“Should be,” said Harry. “The power’s all still there; using it tired me out, is all.”
“Well, if you fall asleep, I’m not carrying you,” said Crowley, which was such a patent lie that Harry grinned at him fondly. Aziraphale smiled at him as well.
“Really, Crowley, we both know you will.”
“Rub it in, why don’t you,” muttered Crowley, but when Harry smiled at him, he couldn’t seem to help smiling reluctantly back.
“Did I tell you I destroyed Voldemort earlier?” asked Harry. “Horcruxes and everything.”
“Thank heavens for that,” said Aziraphale. “He wasn’t a very good person.”
“You think?” Crowley asked sarcastically. He reached over to ruffle Harry’s hair, which made it stick up in all directions.
Harry didn’t care. He smiled tiredly at his unofficial guardians, and raised his glass of lemonade.
“To the Earth, and everyone on it,” he said. “Let’s hope it lasts a long time yet.”
“Hear, hear,” said Aziraphale, while Crowley downed the rest of the champagne in his glass.
Harry closed his eyes, and slowly drifted off, content in the knowledge that right now, everything was just fine.