"Ah..." exhaled the old man merrily.
Ignoring the woman at the door, Professor Dumbledore craned his neck to take in the view of the sun rising over the dreary landscape of Spinner's End. It was a sad district, a kind of nook in the world that even its inhabitants misunderstood. He adored it. Splendid place.
"Mrs Evans," Dumbledore suddenly realised that he was standing in a doorway with its owner eyeing him scornfully. "What an excellent morning it is!" he remarked.
There were only two people that braved the streets at this hour – thieves and salesmen. Mrs Evans did not think that this peculiar man resembled either. He was entirely a mystery.
"Can I help you?" she asked coldly, but was very careful not to be outright impolite.
The man wore strange, floor length robes which shimmered several shades of purple while his white hair, trailing down over his shoulders and sprouting from his chin in a thick beard, still held a few flecks of grey. Presently, he was showing an unusual amount of interest in their cheap doorknob and simply could not restrain himself from fondling it.
"I presume you have been expecting me," he continued, finally letting go of the object. "The letter that preceded me must have come as a surp-"
Lily's heart skipped a beat. She was crouched at the bottom of the stairs, peering at the door through the old wooden railings, hanging on every word. The letter addressed to her parents was still clutched firmly in her fist, undelivered.
"Letter..." Mrs Evans's eyes narrowed with suspicion.
Dumbledore entirely missed her meaning. "Precisely," he continued, clearly astounded that this muggle had not tried to interrogate him. Most were quite anxious after hearing of the magical world – some were downright furious.
"I have received no letter..."
He stopped mid-sentence as the word 'no' sunk through his soft mane of hair into his mind. "No?" his curled eyebrows raised themselves as if by magic. "No letter?"
Mrs Evans's head was slowly shaking.
"How extraordinary," Dumbledore seemed more pleased by the thought, if that was at all possible. "Well well, what a morning this will be."
The woman's patience began to wear. She folded her arms crossly and fought back a yawn. It may have been summer but the sharp cold winds of Autumn were testing their luck down the street.
"Are you..." a small voice trembled next to Mrs Evans. Lily had crept up to the door, unnoticed by both her mother and the old man. She was holding a letter. "A wizard?" Lily finished, both terrified and excited. She could feel the magic around him. The very air was flickering and buzzing even though nobody else could see it.
"Goodness Lily," her mother glanced down at her child, "you gave me a fright."
Dumbledore though, owned a grin wider than the moon's.
"But of course," he replied, withdrawing a small, smooth looking stick from one of his gaping sleeves. He held the wand up and pointed it at the dried patch of dirt beside the door. He muttered a string of nonsensical words under his breath and suddenly a brilliant green vine erupted and climbed the wall beside the door, finishing with a spray of crimson roses.
Lily's jaw dropped. That was real magic, she thought, as one of the roses let go of its petals and they tumbled down onto the man's hair, and it was beautiful!
"Oh," Dumbledore reached forward and slipped the letter out of her hand. He turned it over several times and then presented it to Mrs Evans, who stood, mouth agape like her daughter. "Your letter."
It had not taken much persuasion to convince the Evans's to allow their daughter to attend Hogwarts. The mother was, and remained for the duration of the interview, completely detached from the world. Shock as it was commonly known, was a most useful emotion.
The child now trailed him happily, skipping and bounding down the road beside him as if she were seeing the world around her for the first time. In some small way he was happy that Filius had been detained by a wayward charm as it gave him the opportunity to wander with muggles. A lone car cruised past them and Dumbledore became entranced by the turn of its wheels and the sleepy creature half-heartedly resting on the wheel. It was so primitive, but quite fantastic. Without magic humans had found a way to make do.
"Excuse me, sir."
He felt his arm tugged down sharply. Upon further inspection, he found Miss Lily Evans waiting eagerly for his attention.
"Where are we going?"
"What an excellent question," he replied, "one that has a most simple answer. We are on our way to retrieve another student and then, dear child, we are going shopping."
Lily let go of his sleeve and resumed trailing him. That explained the small purse her father had slipped into her bag before they left.
It was not long before Lily realised that they were nearing the last of Spinner's End. The avenue of trees had become further and further apart. Several had died leaving conspicuous gaps while the rest of the tortured plants were curled into themselves. Weeds and rubbish replaced manicured lawns and the terraces were squeezed impossibly close to each other.
They came to a stop at the most unloved house she had seen yet. It was the last one in the street and had a view over the dirty trail of river and expanse of factories.
The Professor raised his hand to the door to knock but it opened on its own. A small boy with greasy hair poked his head out, took one look at Dumbledore, and then hastily exited the house and closed the door.
"That was easy," smiled Dumbledore, stepping aside to reveal Lily. "I believe you two have already met."
Snape saw the girl's bright eyes and ferocious grin. "I knew it," he whispered in delight.
"Right – Miss Evans, Mr Snape," Dumbledore led them away from the sinister looking house and out into the street which wasn't much better. He quickly scanned the windows for early morning eyes but all was quiet and asleep as it should be. "Hold on tight now."
Fascinated, they both did as instructed and the world they knew ripped away and vanished like a candle blown out by the wind.
The world resumed in a rather crowded, cobblestone street lined with all-day bars and odd shops spilling into the onslaught of people. Nobody seemed to notice the sudden appearance of a man and two children as they quickly got their bearings and joined the general flow of people.
Snape and Lily glanced at each other, often forgetting to watch where they were going. Twice Dumbledore had to rescue the boy when he was whisked out of reach by hurried groups of workers, tangled up in their briefcases.
"Careful now," he said, as they finally came to a stop in front of a pub. It was, if possible, covered in more centimetres of dust and grime than any of the other buildings. The mortar could have fallen from between its stones and Dumbledore was quite certain that it would have no problem remaining upright. Remnants of repair spells and anti-muggle charms were smeared rather generously over it – the most recent of which was currently holding the cauldron on the sign in place.
The Leaky Cauldron's doors opened and the three stepped inside.
"Albus," a rather scruffy looking man in the nearest booth looked up from his butterbeer, "working already?"
"Alas this is not work, Olaus," he diverted to his table with the two children in tow, both hiding behind him. "I expect we will being seeing you this year?"
"Yes Professor," the man replied. He was a middle-aged wizard with a fabulous moustache curling theatrically up both sides of his cheeks framed by long, wavy hair that ended at his collar, all of which was a healthy brown.
"You're looking younger and younger," remarked Dumbledore, as the man finished his glass. "Found something I should know about in that cabinet of yours?"
"My secrets are not your secrets, Ablus," the man replied lightly. "But I assure you, I shall be on time for the school year, just as I promised. Students...?" he spied two pairs of keen eyes.
"Oh yes," Dumbledore had quite forgot his purpose for being in the Leaky Cauldron. "Merlin's beard, I believe we're late."
And with that, Dumbledore hurried them through the bar and past its other shadowy inhabitants all of whom were dressed in curious long robes and the occasional pointy hat. They left through a door that had seen better centuries and found themselves in a depressing alleyway that made Spinner's End look positively pleasant.
The Professor broke from the children and began counting bricks on a wall in front of them. Snape and Lily turned to each other with quizzical looks, neither sure of what to expect from the wall or the wizard.
"What is he doing?" whispered Lily, leaning closer to Snape.
"Something – magical – I guess," he replied, as confused as she was. He had known of magic all his life but his parents had never taken him into the magical world. They always left him behind, alone in the house whenever affairs took them out of town. He only knew what he had scavenged from discarded newspapers and the odd book from his father's study.
"There is it," Dumbledore honed in on an average looking brick. "Nearly evaded me this time..." he confessed, for it was rare that Dumbledore entered Diagon Alley in this way, most inconvenient as it was. "Right," he gathered the children beside him, "ready? Of course you are – look at those big round eyes, gaping in wonder."
Actually, thought both Snape and Lily, they were gaping in scepticism.
"Aaaand..." Dumbledore touched the brick deliberately with his wand.
"He's completely mad," said Lily quietly.
"He's our headmaster..." added Snape, more than slightly worried.
The unremarkable brick groaned and began to sink through the wall and then – at the last minute, folded away.
"Wait, waaaaaaaait!" the man that had been slouched boredly behind the bar fell out the back door into the alley beside them. "Prof-ess-or," the crooked creature panted, scurrying to his feet. A large lump between his shoulder blades prevented him from straightening as he offered a small package in Dumbledore's direction.
Professor Dumbledore turned his back on the folding wall which had all-but vanished to reveal an archway into a completely different street.
"Tom?" Dumbledore queried, taking a few elegant steps toward the Leaky Cauldron's landlord.
"You for-got this."
Dumbledore eyed the package, hesitant to take it. "I don't believe I did..."
"Six months ago," Tom shoved the round, brown paper wrapped object roughly into Dumbledore's unwilling grip. "The Leaky Caul-dron is not an owlery." With that, Tom dusted off his cloak and shuffled back into his bar leaving Professor Dumbledore to inspect his parcel.
"What's in it?" asked Lily finally, unable to keep her curiosity at bay.
Dumbledore threw it up in the air as if to juggle, then caught it and buried it deep in one of his pockets.
"No idea," he replied honestly. "Come on children," he re-affirmed his grip on their arms as he led them to the archway in the brick wall. Diagon Alley stretched out before them in all its disordered glory. "Let's shop."
Severus dipped his free hand into his pocket where his fingers found a small silver key. Satisfied that it was safe, he allowed himself to enjoy the whoosh as the muggle world vanished and Diagon Alley begun.