Dad and Mum were rowing again. Albus put his hands up over his ears and wished that he had a wand, wished that he was as old as Teddy, his father's ward-old enough to be at a fancy finishing school in France, studying under Uncle Bill, fixing locked boxes and understanding warded homes.
A loud crash sounded from underneath the floorboards. Albus could heard muddled fighting-that meant that Mum and Dad were fighting in the kitchens, Albus' room was directly over the kitchens; since the house was built slanted-wise it let all the noise in if they didn't cast a charm before they got in on each other.
Albus leaped off the bed and pressed his face to the floor.
"I don't know why you have to go over to the Zabinis, Harry!" Mum was hissing. Albus had no idea why that name was such a dirty word to her that she had to spit it out from between her teeth like it might cause her to get ill.
"I suppose you don't," Dad said back calmly, a little too calmly. "Really, I go over there have fun, Ginerva."
Mum laughed and it sound rough and harsh, like the time James swallowed one of Lily's doll's shoes and had to go to St. Mungo's and swallow a tonic for a week.
"Your children are here," Mum said, "Your wife is here, your home is here, and your parent's graves are here. I'm sorry we don't amuse you, though, Harry-perhaps I'll spell the children to dance while the eat dinner and then you might be home on time every night, or maybe if I got a hold of her hair I could polyjuice myself-"
"Oh you're funny," Dad shouted. "It's about that, is it! It's about you, suffering poor, defenseless Ginny Weasley? It wasn't like that after the war and you saw how successful I was, what I good prospect I was. When your mother was whispering in your ear every night to get married or that you'd have to stop seeing me! Then it was easy enough to slip up on your potions and get pregnant! How long do you think it will be before the children can count up to nine and realise, Gin-you trapped me into marrying you because of Jamie!"
Albus jumped up off the floor and leapt back, his chest pounding. James always said he get himself into trouble for listening at doors-and James was too right.
Albus took the duvet off his bed and the pillows and rolled them into a mound, stuffing the pillows under the door, and the duvet on the floor. It was better, in that he could hear no sound, but worse in that he couldn't get what he'd heard out from his mind. Could it really be true? Dad didn't seem the type to lie or deceive, but Mum made it sound as if he had-had-Albus didn't want to think about that. And Mum was the best Mum in the whole world, could it be Merlin's real vow that she'd tricked Dad into-
Albus' stomach felt unwell. The walls in his room felt too close as well. He wanted desperately to go into James' room and sit with him, but if he knocked James would only ask why he was out of bed so late, and Albus couldn't tell Jamie this. It really wasn't fit to tell anyone.
Going to tell Lily wasn't right either-he'd only wake her, and scare her half to death, even if he didn't tell her. Lily was such a light sleeper.
Albus creeped out of his room. In their house in Godric's Hollow, there was a servant's staircase, a back staircase that would have been used for real human servants to go along and see to their tasks without disturbing the master, mistress and the children. Dad was always meaning to ward off the stairs, as they led directly to the backyard and Mum's garden, but he had never gotten around to it.
The old staircase made a horrible racket and Albus was scared that Mum and Dad would come out of from the kitchen to scold him or that they would hear him and start rowing again, arguing about how best to care for him. That was one of their favourites, how to best manage the children. Mum was very laid back, while Dad thought they should have a bit more rules, or a few more talks.
Albus sighed at the back entrance to the kitchens. The candles were all out-that meant Mum and Dad had finally gone to sleep and had stopped their fighting. Thanking all the gods, Albus said one more prayer that the garden gate wasn't warded shut.
The automatic porch fairylights didn't go on either. Dad was always forgetting to pay the fairies their customary honey and sprinkledust and so they always had bills from the Queen of the Fairies, demanding that the Saviour pay his Overdue Bill with Tariff.
Albus didn't much mind the dark, though it scared James, although he just pretended he was tired really early. It was loads better than being indoors, sitting around hearing voices raised and people hollering, or your siblings like two miserable shut ins, both two worried to make a scene and add to the noise going on all around them.
No, in the dark, there were pleasant, quiet sounds, little bugs scuttling along leaves and mulching merrily and gnomes moving from yard to yard, looking for another place to hide. In the dark Albus wasn't Albus Potter, son of Harry Potter, he was just another hidden magical being, another secret of the night.
A sharp rustling drew Albus' eyes to his left. Suddenly Albus wished again for a wand-he couldn't cast lumos and since Dad didn't pay the fairies and Mum didn't believe in Muggle lighting, he couldn't know what the sound was. Only that it sounded like human breathing. Albus could think of many things that breathed like a human that went out at night, and none of them were good.
Albus tried to back up a little, but a hand shot out in the darkness and grabbed him by the collar.
"Hello," it was a boy's voice- a very human boy's voice. "Don't be frightened-why don't you step back into your neighbor's porch light and then we can see each other?"
Albus nodded and then smacked his own forehead. Of course the boy couldn't see him-there wasn't any light.
They walked a bit of the way over. It was a boy-he was dressed very ordinarily, in Muggle jeans and a t-shirt, the design of which was the Appleby Arrows logo. So he came from a wizarding family then, which was nice to know, if they became friends, Albus wouldn't have to explain anything to him-he'd already understand. The boy had very blond hair and very light eyes-it reminded Albus of a night time story that Mum read Lily with a princess with hair as white as snow, and eyes as deep as your dreams.
Albus looked at his feet. He wasn't wearing any shoes.
The boy shrugged. "I didn't walk here."
"You can't Apparate," Albus scoffed. "My brother can't-he's nearly eleven, and next week, we're going to buy his wand."
The boy looked away as his cheek's pinked. "I never said I could anyway. There's other ways of getting around the wizarding world, Albus Potter."
A broom then. With a t-shirt like that, he probably had a broom around a tree, hidden somewhere, wait a moment-"You know my name," Albus said in wonder. The boy shrugged again. "You've been in the papers. Don't you read them at all-no, I suppose you wouldn't, would you? I wouldn't either, but my father makes me, he says that a foundation of a successful government are it's citizens being informed of what's going on at every level."
Albus whistled. "Your dad sounds really smart-was he a Ravenclaw, then?"
The boy shook his head. "No."
Albus knew what that meant-Slytherin or Hufflepuff. People were only cuffed when their parents were brave or swots, didn't want them to be too sleazy or too romantic in school. Dad said all people were equal though, and Albus believe in that firmly.
"It's no matter," Albus said bracingly. "I'm named after a Slytherin-Severus Snape, Dad says he's a genius every New Year when he drinks too much brandy."
The boy beamed. "My dad's a Slytherin. He's an MP-but it's deadly dull, I won't do anything political. Not that I would be elected anyway."
"Oh," Albus laughed, "We don't have to decide that now-we have until nearly the end of Hogwarts to decide those sorts of things. Say-will you be going to Hogwarts, too?"
The boy's smile faltered until it looked painted on. "I-I don't rightly know yet," he admitted. "I might go away for school . . . or I might have a tutor and be home schooled. My father is quite over-protective, you see."
"Oh," Albus said, deflated. This boy was his first friend outside the family, and they had made such a good go of it-Albus had really wanted to know someone going into Hogwarts, to have a friend to sit with on the train and to be able to talk with. Dad had met Aunt Hermione and Uncle Ron on the way, and like Mum he had a large family, but meeting people quite frightened him. Who could just sit and chat about being Harry Potter's son as though it were nothing over a plate of kippers?
"I wish you would go to Hogwarts," Albus admitted, kicking a pebble that turned into a bug that skittered away. "Then I'd have a friend-a real friend."
The boy smiled, his teeth shining like unnatural white lights. "You only say that right now because you're lonely. In the morning you'll wake up and you'll be Harry Potter's son and you'll have your mum and your cosy house and you won't want a friend again for a long, long time. You're happy, you just don't remember."
"That's not true!" Albus protested. He just didn't understand-but Albus did. He knew all about the hours of cloying loneliness. The days waiting for the other wand to -break-Mum waiting for Dad to say that she cooked the eggs too long so she could get in on him about how he got paid too little at the Aurors. Or Dad waiting for Mum to say he worked too many hours, so he could say she spent too much at the hairdressers. It drove him nearly mad, it did.
"Nothing is as it seems," Albus said sadly, drawing a line in the dirt with his trainers. He didn't understand how this boy's toes didn't just freeze off, it was quite cold out tonight.
"No," the boy said sadly back. "Nothing is, is it? Or you'd be inside snug in your bed, not talking to the likes of me on a chilly fall night. Anyway, I should probably be going-my father worries if I don't get home in time for breakfast."
Albus moved back a little in shock. "Your father lets you go outside on your own at night?"
"No," the boy grinned. "Not exactly. But he can't stop me, either. So we have a compromise. If I don't get into any trouble I'm allowed to do as I wish, within certain . . . erm, regulations."
Albus tried to imagine his parents allowing him to go out while they rowed all night. He smiled. He pictured Mum in her Oriental wrapper and headscarf, her paste pearls tinkling Albus' neck as she leaned in for a kiss. Go on Al darling and take a walk while your Dad and I clear the air. Then Dad would cast an air-clearing charm and all would be well. Actually, it was pretty funny, all things aside.
"You're really lucky you have a mum and dad like that," Albus said enviously. Around the corner the clouds were just becoming red over the horizon as the sun began to rise.
"Just a dad," the boy said. "And a grandmother."
"Oh," Albus replied back. "You must be lonely."
The boy shrugged again. "Not really. I've got a few cousins. You seem more lonely than I am, and you've got more people, haven't you?"
"I suppose I have," Albus hadn't a clue. Maybe one day he'd meet this boy's family and they'd sit down and talk?
"I've got to go," the boy stared at a golden-tipped cloud menacingly.
Albus didn't want him to. Perhaps he could stay for breakfast. Dad might like that-he was always encouraging Albus to be more friendly to Rose and Hugo, like Jamie was with Freddie and the Scamander twins. Albus just didn't like their pranks, and their rowdiness, and Rose instigated everything- she never popped up to ask a question that wouldn't get someone into trouble later. Maybe Dad would be glad he had a friend all his own.
"Will I see you soon?" Albus tried hopefully.
The boy looked to the left and to the right, as though he was surveying the ground. It was very strange. "I don't know," he finally said. "I don't like to come to the same place twice. It causes me-problems. Maybe if I have extra time one night on my travels I'll come and pay you a visit."
Albus beamed back. "Alright. I'll come out every night and look for you-but what will I call you, anyway?"
The boy smiled a soft open smile which showed nearly all his teeth. "My name is Scorpius-like the constellation. But I won't be seeing you for a while, it's going to be winter soon. So don't worry if I can't come straight away."
"All right, Scorpius," Albus said cheerfully. His first real friend.
Albus turned back to the porch, and as he raised his hand to wave goodbye, Scorpius had already disappeared.
In the morning Mum found him sleeping on the back kitchen steps.
"Oh, Al," Mum clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. "It's half past eleven and you're sleeping on the stairs-you remind me so much of my brother, always getting yourself into a scrape. Why don't you come into the kitchen properly like a good boy and eat your eggs and toast, yeah?"
Albus followed Mum into the kitchen. Mum had the wireless off and Lily was dancing in the yard right where Scorpius had stood last night. In the morning it did feel like a dream- a miraculous, wonderful dream. Albus wondered how many days it would take before Scorpius could sneak away again from his father the MP and visit. Probably very many, even if his dad was lenient, owing to the fact Scorpius had no mum.
Mum sat down and gave Albus a heaping plate of eggs, tinned beans and toast. In the morning light Mum looked very pretty-she was wearing emerald dress robes and her paste jewels, and her thick red hair was coiled high on her head. Dad said she liked to spend gold and dress up for no reason, but Mum said that the world watched the Potters, and they had to look good, there were cameras always trained on the house.
"Eggs all right, Al?" Mum asked, picking up her sickle novelette with the shirtless wizard on the cover.
"All right, Mum," Al smiled back. Mum patted his hand and grinned.
"There's my good boy," she said, putting her nose to her book. "We're to go out today and get Jamie's books, so I want you to get dressed and put on your good robes-the green ones, Al. Mind you run a brush through that hair."
"Yes, Mum." Albus dragged his toast through his eggs and swallowed it back with a bit of pumpkin juice.
"Yes, Al?" She sighed. Mum only sighed like that when she was getting to the juicy bits. "What's wrong?"
"Is Dad coming along?" If Dad was coming along there was sure to be an argument of some kind-lately Mum and Dad couldn't be in each other's company for more than five minutes without something damaging leaking out.
"I haven't the slightest clue," Mum said irritably, wiping out her wand to clear out Albus' plate and her own tea mug. "You know your father, Al. He does what he likes when he likes it, and none of us can control it."
Albus slipped off his chair and went up to his room to get ready. Even though Mum was right and none of them could predict Dad's moves, he didn't want to stay around to hear her slagging off Dad either. Albus showered quickly-James was hollering through they keyhole to let him in-and he went back to his own room.
At least now he had a friend-someone that wasn't a Potter or a Weasley, someone that belonged just to himself, like Mum had her books and Dad had his career, and Jamie had his pranks. He'd be his own person, then, and they'd make up their own secrets, their own stories-Albus and Scorpius, just like a niffler and gold.
"Al!" Mum cried. "You'd better get down here, the Aurors have come!"
They always had to have Aurors wherever they went-that was another side-effect of being Harry Potter's son. Mum said it was because when Jamie was little someone tried to poison his baby bottle with some potion-but Dad said the threat was long gone and using Aurors as bodyguards was a waste of the taxpayers money. Albus just thought it was another thing for them to row about.
James was dress in his red robes, which made all of the brown hair on his head look reddish and his freckles look made of a pattern-Mum must have been annoyed with him today. Lily was sitting on the floor, and Mum was plaiting her hair with her wand.
"All done," Mum said proudly. "Are we all right, gentlemen?"
Albus only recognized one of the Aurors-Auror Smith, and Dad didn't get on with him very much.
They all took hold of a worn boot and disappeared.
Diagon Alley was mostly empty early on a Saturday afternoon-there were a few children in Florean Fortescue's and a few couples milling in and out of Gringotts. Mum walked with her head held high-her shining false gems glittering in the sun. Mum said they added class to her robes, and that the Daily Prophet never could figure out that they were just old formerly cursed fakes that Uncle Bill picked out of the curse-breaking objects he found.
"Books first or tea?" Mum smiled.
"Tea," James cried. He could never stay still long enough for Mum to ever finish reading them a story, let alone buy him a whole year's books.
"But Mum," Albus tried to be charming, "I just ate."
"That's because you woke up after ten," James hissed. "I want to go into take tea at La Boheme and then go to Quality Quidditch, Mummy! Please, can't we? Anyway-what where you doing sleeping on the stairs, Albus?"
Albus glared back at James, but he didn't dare say a word. Mum hated them quarreling in public-it always made the next-day papers and made her look like a bad mother, which was far from the truth. And now Albus had his own secret to keep-a friend all his own.
"Good," Mum sighed. "We'll get tea after Quality Quidditch, alright-now let's go along, James take Lily's hand-and Lily don't you fuss on him or I'll use a sticking charm on you-"
Dad apparated right in front of them in his work robes, his eyes blazing. "Smith, Woodhouse, you can go home for the day."
The men winced and left with a crack! of air.
Dad rounded in on Mum. "What have I told you about wasting galleons on your little shopping expeditions, Ginny? Aurors are for saving people, not for carrying your shrunken purchases in their pockets-"
"Dad," Jamie said brightly. "Mum's not shopping today-I am! We're getting my Hogwarts supplies!"
Albus wished that he could muzzle James permanently-surely there was a spell for that? A curse? Hadn't he learned already that when Mum and Dad were going start with each other that the best they could do was to shut up and wait out the storm. Lily stood quietly beside Albus, her hand tight in his.
"Oh," Dad said, dangerously quietly. "Was this your little revenge for last night?"
"Last night?" Mum scoffed, throwing out a hand a little too calmly-"Oh why don't refresh my mind on which parts- the parts where you insinuated that I was gold-grubbing whore, or the part where you said I had managed to trap you? Because I can tell you a whore's name, Harry and it begins with the letter T-"
Harry flinched. "So now you're going to control me through the kid's are you? That's not new at all-imagine that one!"
"Oh, don't get me started on controlling, I can't even go outside without you tracking me down," Mum cried. "I can't breathe, I can't think-"
Across the street Albus saw a man and his son walking calmly. No one was noticing them, and if they made a scene, Albus was sure no one was going to put them in the next-day's paper. The man had blond hair, slicked back, and wore professional robes, and his son was wearing quirky bright blue robes and his white-blond hair was whipped back on a gust of breeze from his face.
Hair so blond it was nearly white. Albus dropped Lily's hand, and ran across the street, ignoring her shout, ignoring Mum and Dad yelling to each other, ignoring everyone. It was Scorpius, Albus was so sure . . .
The door pinged to Flourish and Blotts. Albus walked inside, dejected. Now Mum would call the Aurors to find him, and Dad would quarrel with her, and James' day would be ruined, and everyone would hate him. Albus sat down on a stack of half-price The Secret Life of Harry Potter books by Romilda Vane.
"Hello," Scorpius smiled. "How are you-I thought it was you, only I wasn't quite sure you'd want me to say hello."
"Hi," Albus was so relieved he nearly gave him a hug only he was far too old to do a thing like that. So instead he made space on the pile of books. "I didn't expect to see you again."
"You thought you made me up," Scorpius laughed. In the daylight he looked just like any other boy, his light eyes were a funny colored blue-grey and he had a smattering of freckles on his upturned nose. He looked sort of tired, too-like he hadn't slept well in a long time, like Albus had the month he had gotten Spattergroit from cousin Victoire after she'd gone to visit Teddy.
"Didn't," Albus grinned back. "I knew you were real-you're human, see?"
Albus touched his hand-it was cold, but still warm, the skin a bit clammy-maybe he was unwell. Scorpius snatched his hand away.
"I've got anemia," he said, looking at his palm.
"Oh," Albus replied, "Is it catching?"
Scorpius laughed. "No, silly. My blood-it isn't really good, that's all. I've got to drink-to take a potion for it. A blood replenishing potion. Only I woke up too late this morning and my grandmother forgot to give it to me. Father will just have to stop by the apothecary and fetch me some on the way home."
"Ah," Albus said, scooting even closer. He didn't want Scorpius to think that he was afraid-he wasn't. He wanted them to be best mates, and his mind was utterly made up.
A long shadow appeared over them. It was a man with light blond hair and piercing grey eyes, and a very pointed chin. There didn't seem to be much warmth about him, though he had fine clothes and he looked somehow important-instead he seemed graver than a well, a grave.
"Who's this?" He said to Scorpius.
"Albus Potter," Scorpius said. "He's my friend, Father. I met him yesterday."
The man's mouth twitched twice. "If you had managed to break into Gringotts Sweden and steal a fortune on your midnight ramblings you couldn't have caused us more trouble, Scor. A Potter!"
Scorpius bit his lip. "But I'd like to keep him, Father."
His father smiled-it was pretty indulgent and warm, Albus thought he should smile a lot more often. "And I'd like my party to be in the majority come next election, but we know the likelihood of that. Come along, Mr. Potter, I'm sure your parents must be sick looking for you."
Scorpius' father walked quickly and people gave them a wide berth-some doffing their hats, and some looking away, with disgust. Albus wondered why.
"Where do you live-Godric's Hollow or the Black house?"
Albus had no idea how Scorpius' dad knew about either-they were both unplottable.
"Godric's Hollow, sir."
He nodded curtly, they linked arms, and they were off.
Dad was the only one home. He looked tired and worried, and he was wearing his shirt and jeans-no shoes, no robes. As soon as he saw Albus he hugged him so tightly that Albus took in an extra deep breath to make up for it.
Albus turned to wave goodbye, but no one was there.
"Gods," Dad sighed. "Gods-how did you get home?"
"My friend's dad, I met him at Flourish and Blotts- he helped me home-"
"Who is he?" Dad asked, pouring Albus a cup of tea and cracking off a bit of chocolate.
"I don't know," Albus admitted.
Dad sat down quickly, his tea sloshing over the cup. He didn't bother to clean it.
"I think you'd better tell me everything," Dad said firmly.
Albus lied. He said he met a boy at Flourish and Blotts with blond hair and who had a father with blond hair too. That the boy said that his father was an MP and that he knew where Dad's homes were. And that the boy's name was Scorpius.
Dad's face wet pure white. "I know who you met, Albus. You met someone I went to school with-and you should leave that alone."
"I want to be his friend," Albus protested. He had promised Scorpius this-their own friendship. "Why can't I be his friend, Dad? Why!"
Dad turned away-his face pained. "If I could let you, I would, Al. But I simply can't. You must not go looking for that little boy again."
And so Albus lied and said he wouldn't.