It was nearly the start of school.
A trip to Diagon Alley was never an easy excursion, especially when a new year at Hogwarts was about to start. Though none of the Potter children were yet old enough to attend, their parents thought it would be good to do a little shopping for the year ahead.
James had run about the house for days in excitement about the trip, as it was his first time, screaming with joy and riding around on a toy broomstick until he'd knocked down little Lily and was scolded by his mother so badly he didn't touch the toy for hours. nd then, of course, he'd picked it right back up again, hooting and hollering. It was good for the whole Potter family to get out for some fresh air.
The youngest Potter son, Albus, had hung back behind his father, sucking his thumb and gazing about Diagon Alley with a sort of vague interest. Swirling lights and sounds were all around him, Weasley's Wizard Wheeze's new branch bigger and louder and more distracting than ever as they passed it. The screech of an owl caused the boy to gasp and toddle closely behind his father, little fist clenched tightly to his pant leg, eyes quite distrustful of it all.
His older brother seemed to be quite in his element, as he had already dashed off gleefully for the nearest sweetshop, shoving others out of the way. Harry and Ginny, holding the toddler Lily, had smiled and laughed, holding each other fondly, lost in their memories of their own Hogwarts trips. Their middle child was thoroughly forgotten.
As the family marched through the throngs of other new students eager to get their Hogwarts gear, Albus felt himself buffeted by the crowd, an elderly witch whacking him in the face with her bag. He let go of his father, a small cry drowned out by the laughter and shouts of the rest of the street. He frowned a bit, crying out again, waiting for the usual flustered face of his mother, who'd scoop him up and shush and coddle him till he stopped wailing. It didn't come.
Albus was lost in a sea of feet and knees, of alley cats and swooping owls and strange cages that hissed when their carriers swung them by. His lip quivered, and he began to cry, but he was unheard among all the other crying children, the ones still clinging tightly to their mother's skirts. As a scary old wizard with something horrible and wriggling oozing out of his sleeve, Albus gasped, jumping to his feet and running as fast as his little legs would carry him. He was bumped around by endless bags and legs and wizards and witches, eyes shut tight as he sobbed and wailed and threw his arms about, trying to make it through all the waves of people and soon he was just running, sobbing until he ran smack into something – or someone, as the thing gave an 'oof!' as it fell onto its backside as well.
"Watch where you're going!" snapped the thing, and as Albus sniffed and rubbed his big blue eyes he saw that the thing was a person.
A small person. A boy person. The boy was dressed in fancier clothes than he, and neat little shoes poked out the ends of the black robes. He was much different from Albus, as his hair was blond and sleek, his eyes narrower and now narrowed even further, looking a bit miffed. Albus just stared, sniffling. The other boy watched him just as carefully, rubbing some dirt off his cheek.
"You're a crybaby." he said, but not cruelly. It was very matter-of-fact, as though he was labeling Albus as a wizard, or as having brown hair.
Albus just nodded, which seemed to assuage the light-haired boy, who nodded back curtly and got to his feet. He wasn't much taller than Albus, perhaps the same age.
"I lost my mum..." mumbled Albus, who still sat flat in the dirt. At this realization he seemed to shake again, tears threatening at the corners of his eyes, lip quivering. The other boy stared as though he were a rather interesting bug, and then held out his little hand, which unlike Albus's was pristinely clean. The Potters weren't much for scrubbing fingernails, but it seemed this boy's family was very different in that aspect.
Albus stared a moment and then smiled quite suddenly, like the sun breaking out from behind the clouds. He took the hand in his own grubby one, wobbling to his feet and wiping his eyes and nose. He looked down at the grime on his hands, and wordlessly wiped it on his shirt.
The robed boy wrinkled his pale little nose.
"That's gross." he said simply, but seemed fairly impressed. "What's your name?"
"Albus Severus Potter." recited Albus on cue, still smiling rather stupidly at the other. He seemed very happy all of a sudden, which made the other boy a little nervous, but Albus did not notice. "Want to go to the joke shop?"
He beamed at the blond little boy, who seemed to be considering the fact that Albus was missing a tooth, but once again he just nodded curtly.
"Okay!" grinned Albus, and without further warning grabbed the little boy by the arm and tugging him towards the Weasley's Wizard Wheezes.
All misery from losing his way and his mum and dad were forgotten in the rush of making a new friend. Said new friend stumbled a bit behind Albus, but met his pace after a while, eventually stopping right outside the entrance to the joke shop. Albus had already toddled inside, but turned around once he noticed his new friend had not followed.
"This is the joke shop!" he said and opened his arms wide, in case the other boy had missed this fact.
The other boy shifted his neat little shoes in the dirt, uneasily staring into the shop.
"My dad says this shop's run by no-good filthy blood traitors." he said with obvious recitation, still mesmerized by all the whizzing and whirring golden instruments on display. "I'm not allowed."
Albus frowned, confused. "This is the joke shop!" he said again, looking around as though the filth might have been hiding somewhere. But no, all he could see were heatless fireworks popping about above the customers, hats of all colors and sizes hanging off the wall, some of them chirping oddly. Reassured, Albus turned back. "It's fun!"
The other boy did not seem convinced, and Albus frowned again, a very determined look on his face. He marched back up to his new friend, grabbing him by the sleeve and grinning.
"My dad says it's okay to go in if I'm with a grown-up. And there's a grown-up, and there's a grown-up..." he said smartly, pointing about at all the adult witches and wizards crammed in the aisles with their kids. Not taking no for an answer, he tugged the other boy inside, who despite what he'd said, did not seem to be resisting much. He deposited his friend by a row crammed with boxes of fake vomit, while dashing off into another aisle.
With a happy gasp Albus ran over to the row of hats, running back with a big grin on his face. The blond boy had been peering around edgily, then just stared at Albus and the obnoxiously feathered hat, obviously distrusting the fluffy purple thing. Once again, Albus seemed happy not to notice.
"It's a Headless Hat! Watch!" He plopped the hat over his head, the rim slipping down all the way to his ears.
The other boy looked fairly unimpressed, until both head and hat disappeared. He gasped in shock, toppling backwards and taking a shelf of the fake vomit with him. He fell hard, surrounded in boxes, some of which had burst open and were now leaking an unpleasant brown liquid all over his neat little shoes.
Albus was startled, yanking off the hat and clutching it in his hands as he stared down at the mess in a guilty sort of awe. The boy on the floor looked like he might cry as he lifted his hand from the muck, staring at his once-pristine fingernails, no longer quite so clean. The vomit had soaked into his robes, splattered on his hair, turned his socks a yucky yellow.
But instead, he laughed.
Covered in fake vomit and surrounded by broken boxes he laughed almost gleefully, flicking the muck off his fingertips. Albus stared blankly and began to laugh too, helping the small boy up out of the mess they had created.
"Let's go before someone sees!" said Albus wisely, grabbing his messy friend and dashing off into the street, a few smuggled rope tricks stuffed in his pockets.
The boys spent the whole day together, leaving little disasters in their wake as they made their way through owl emporiums and parchment stores and bookshops. By the time they wandered out of Honeydukes, both children were covered in many different shades of muck, the blond boy with feathers glued to his hair, Albus splattered in ink and bird droppings and mud.
And yet they both looked immeasurably happy, sucking on pilfered Sugar Quills and gazing about for their next adventure. The blond boy had gotten into the habit of clinging to Albus's hand, as he was the one who knew how to run from the grown-ups and how to sneak sweets down his shirt without anyone seeing. But he seemed to be picking up tips, as a few Chocolate Frogs were stuffed into his own robes.
Their next adventure was never to come, as both boys were startled to hear their own names called out in the crowd.
"Scorpius! Where are you?!"
The boys looked at each other, eyebrows raised as they continued to suck on their candy, clasped little hands glued together by mud and muck.
Two families emerged from the crowd, both looking rather frazzled as they panted to a halt.
"Albus! Where have you been?! We've been looking all over for you! Your mother's been worried sick, and Lily is crying! And who's--?"
Harry was the first to speak, moving forward and staring from his son to his new little friend.
Both boys were staring back rather disinterestedly at him, then turned in unison to the next person to speak, a tall man with sleek blond hair who was trying to flatten it. Apparently, he'd been running. A slim, dark-haired woman was behind him, gasping at the sight of her dirtied little son.
"Scorpius! What are you...?! What are you covered with? You can't just go wandering off in the middle of the street, your mother's told you explicitly—"
The word was spoken in complete shock, and both fathers straightened up and turned to look at each other, the picture of surprise on both faces. They looked at each other and then at the boys beside them, still holding hands. Albus was impassively licking sugar from his fingertips, watching his father.
"So..." said Harry slowly, trying to mask his surprise with a friendly smile, "This is your...son, is it?"
He couldn't help his eyes from flickering to the pair of boys, their clasped hands making the encounter no easier.
"Yes." responded Draco coolly, but his own eyes were drawn inexplicably to the pair as well. They seemed to be getting bored with proceedings, eyes wandering over to the nearest shop they had yet to demolish.
And still, they held hands.
Lily and James stared from behind their mother, watching their brother in awe. They, too, had completely forgotten about him, though it was obvious Lily had been crying. Now she just seemed as shocked as the rest of the family. They, of course, had heard of the Malfoys and their legacy, though Lily didn't understand much besides the word 'bad'.
"Well, then..." said Draco, grimacing at the state of his once-clean son and looking quite uncertain about touching him. As Scorpius sucked his fingers much like Albus had, he was snapped to attention.
"Come along, Scorpius. We've got the cauldrons we needed. Time to go home." He tugged at the little boy's hand, who grunted, dark eyes pleadingly on Albus. Mrs. Malfoy looked like she might have a heart attack, her son acting in such an undignified manner while doused in fake vomit.
Draco pulled again and their sticky hands were unglued.
Before Albus could protest he was scooped up by his father, who tried to pick owl droppings from his hair as the boy wriggled about, groaning in annoyance. He splayed himself out over his father's shoulder, watching his new friend get tugged away by the stiff-backed Malfoy family.
Scorpius was guided along by the hand, stumbling over his filthy robes, but looked over his shoulder, dark eyes staring at Albus.
He waved, and then, as unsmiling as ever, pulled a Chocolate Frog out of his pocket and waggled it in the air. Albus beamed, waving frantically and showing off his own pilfered sugared pineapple pop. They watched each other till the Potters rounded a corner, Albus finally slipping comfortably into his father's hold.
"What was all that about?" asked Ginny uneasily, watching her son happily suck on his candy. "I thought he'd be in hysterics when we found him."
"Me too." said Harry honestly, still trying to pick some of the bigger chunks of dirt off the boy. "But I guess...he found a little friend?" He stared at Albus as though he were a whole new species, the boy just licking away on his lollipop with a blissful look.
The spouses stared at each other and kept walking, both wondering about their son, and about the Malfoys, and what sort of potion took out fake vomit stains.
It would be six years before the boys saw each other again, when they both received letters from Hogwarts and were ushered with the other children onto the Hogwarts Express. Albus had just finished talking to his father, who'd given him an encouraging lecture before he boarded. Brimming with confidence he stepped out onto the platform, blue eyes gazing about in wonder.
They fell upon another first year, with sleek blond hair and fancier robes than his own, neat little shoes poking out the end of them. The boy looked very uneasy on sight of the train, much as Albus had been just minutes before the talk with his dad. Albus smiled and lingered behind, waiting while all the others students bustled past, until only he and the blond boy were left to board the train.
The boy had been staring at his shoes, and looked startled and distrustful as he looked up at Albus.
The youngest Potter son was perched on the first step to boarding and grinning broadly. Albus stuck out his hand, and for a while, the other boy just stared.
But then, inexplicably, a flicker of a smile came over his face, and he took the offered hand, and they were off.