"Er, hello," Harry said. He stepped out of the living room's partition. "I'm Harry. Harry Potter, that is. Me."
"An' here's Harry!" Said the giant man. "Say, could I have a cup o' tea with the tube? Have a little chat about the bird problem you've got here." Not a single Dursley moved, and the giant man seemed to lose some of his surety. He laughed- it was terribly hearty, it seemed like the house nearly shook with it. "Simple matter of a reply, an' Dumbledore sent me here now. Settled but-" The beast man bent down to glance out the parlor window from the entryway. "well, bit of infestation you've got. They should clear off in, oh, a few hours, give or take." Petunia sucked in a fluttery breath, seemingly having regained the ability to move.
Harry thought that was a shame.
"He won't-" she spluttered.
"Hear now!" Said a standing Uncle Vernon. "I won't be having the boy off learning tricks with my money-"
"We swore when we took him in we'd stamp out the rubbish-"
"-under my roof, it's a load of tosh!" It seemed both the older Dursleys had regained their minds, and proceeded to lose it in front of Harry and Dudley. Even the stranger seemed confused. "he is not- he is not going to some devil worshipping magic school! We won't have it, mark my words," snarled Uncle Vernon.
"And what's a muggle going ter do to stop him?"
"A what?" said Harry, interested.
"Non-magic folk, or muggles as we're to be calling them." The big stranger shot his Uncle a dirty look. "Worst lot of your sort I've met. Shame for tha', Harry. Oh," he smiled sheepishly and rubbed his beard. "Harry- Harry, I'm Hagrid. Rubeus Hagrid, but Hagrid's just fine."
"Hello, um, Hagrid," Harry said. "Right Hagrid, what are you-" he hesitated. "Why are you here? Is it because of the letter? Hogwarts?" The hopefulness that seeped into his voice was inescapable.
"Clever lad." Hagrid said praisingly. "Right you are, Harry. I'm," and he puffed up his chest, "the Keeper o' Keys at Hogwarts. An' I'm here to bring you to Diagon since your muggles couldn'ta been arsed to answered the owl." Vernon was now, it seemed, fully quaking in rage.
"Go on then," Petunia spat. "get yourself blown up like my sister and that good-for-nothing!" Harry felt himself wince. What's the Hogwarts got to do with his parents' car crash? He voiced this out loud.
"What's this letter got to do with my parents?" He asked the Rubeus Hagrid curiously.
"Did yeh never wonder where they learned it all?"
"Not- not magic?" Harry said hopefully. "It's- it's from the letter- really a real letter?"
"O' course magic!" The beady black eyes hidden in that scraggly beard squinted suspiciously. "Jumping gargoyles, don't you know nothing?"
"Nothing's a bit strong of a word," he protested.
"Just wait on-" the stranger rumbled, like a mountain moving. "Do you mean ter tell me, this boy knows nothin' about his world? DURSLEY!" He boomed. Uncle Vernon was for the first time in Harry's short life completely silent and pale, and looked to be sweating.
"Yeh must know about yer parents... they're famous... yer famous, Merlin sake."
"My mum and dad? Famous? They couldn't have been.. I mean... I thought they died. Got drunk and had a crash."
"Yeh don' know... yeh don' know who yeh are..."
"I'm Harry Potter," Harry said, and it sounded rather dumbly even to his own ears. "Are my parents- not-" An absurd hope began to swell in Harry. It couldn't be...
"I never expected this," he said in a low voice. The giant man sounded worried, even. "Ah, Harry, I don' know if I'm the right one to be telling' yeh. Yer parents, James an' Lily, they were always fightin' for yeh. Oy, someone's gotta tell yeh... let you go ter Hogwarts without being told? I couldn't do that... they've got books on yeh, I suppose, too."
"Books? On me? On my parents?" Harry said this very, very interested. "My parents..." he added slowly. "They didn't die in a car crash?" The hope came to it's crescendo.
Hagrid threw a dirty look at the Dursleys.
"Never. Not James an' Lily. Dunno if yer dad ever stepped foot in a car, 'Arry." He sighed. "It's- well- mad you don't know him- You-Know-Who, he went after your parents tha' night. A wizard who went as bad as you can go, worse than tha', really."
"Gallopin' gorgons, can't be going around sayin' that name. People are still scared."
"Could you- could you try?" Harry said with wide eyes. Hagrid rubbed his face tiredly. He looked sort of sad.
"I- I'm sorry, I can't. I jus' can't." He noisily cleared his throat. "The real myst'ry of the thing- he tried to kill you, too. Wanted ter make a clean job of it, I suppose, or maybe he just liked killin' by then. But he couldn't do it. Never wondered how you got that mark on yer forehead? That was no ordinary cut. That's what yeh get when a powerful, evil curse touches yeh- took care of yer mum an' dad an' yer house, even- but it didn't work on you, an' that's why yer famous, Harry. No one ever lived after he decided ter kill 'em, no one except you, an' he'd killed some o' the best witches an' wizards of the age- the McKinnons, the Bones, the Prewetts- an' you was only a baby, an' you lived."
Harry could suddenly, vividly, recall that bright green light and heard something new: a high, cruel voice. He rubbed his forehead- over that scar- as it ached. The hope was dumb anyways, and gone now. His parents were really dead. He was stuck here. With the Dursleys.
"Saw the ruined house myself." Hagrid really did look sad now. He must've liked Harry's parents quite a bit. Harry thought that if he could compare them to the Dursleys- no matter what sort of people they were- they would be better. An old sadness was being remembered now.
"But what happened to the wizard?" He asked. "What happened to- You-Know-Who?"
"Disappeared. Vanished. Hasn't been seen since that night he tried ter kill you. Makes yeh even more famous. They say you got rid of him after yeh survived the curse."
"A curse?" Harry repeated.
"It's called the Killing curse. Yeh the only one dun survived it, 'Arry. Nothin' but a scar." Harry felt like a terrible mistake had been made. Him? Vanquishing some powerful, evil wizard? No way. He's been a doormat for the Dursleys as long as he could remember, and somehow he was supposed to be some miracle survivor. This powerful wizard- he must've made a big mistake. Hagrid must've seen his doubt.
"You wait, you'll be right famous at Hogwarts," he chuckled.
"He is not going," Vernon had regained the ability of speech. "Haven't you heard me? He- is not- going!"
"Listen here you great big prune," Hagrid said. "I may be a friendly sort, but yeh wouldn't want ter 'ave some more visits from some less friendly- of our kind- would yeh?" Vernon was back to silence. Hagrid hmph'd.
"Best be off, Harry, lots ter do today, gotta get up ter London an' buy all yer stuff fer school." Harry had just thought of something that made him feel as though a wave was crashing over him, drowning him. It felt oddly familiar.
"Mm?" said Hagrid, who was pulling on his huge boots.
"I haven't got any money- and they won't pay for me to go and learn magic." Harry wouldn't even risk looking at the Dursleys. He was afraid it would break this spell of hope.
"Don't worry about that," said Hagrid, standing up and scratching his head. "D'yeh think yer parents didn't leave yeh anything?
"Ah, first stop fer us is Gringotts. Wizards' bank."
"Wizards have banks?"
"Just the one. Gringotts. Run by goblins."
"Goblins? Like the- the cave people? In books?"
"Yeah- so yeh'd be mad ter try an' rob it, I'll tell yeh that. Gringotts is the safest place in the world fer anything yeh want ter keep safe- 'cept maybe Hogwarts. Summat needs picking up anyway, when we go." Hagrid drew himself up proudly. "Official Hogwarts business, fer Dumbledore."
"The... headmaster?" Harry said, recalling what his hidden letter said. "What's he like?"
"Great man, Harry." Hagrid said. "He's a great man." Hagrid had effectively nearly lifted Harry by the shoulder and brought him to the front door. "You lot- we'll be back later today." With that terse farewell, he'd herded a very willing Harry out of Number Four Privet Drive. Harry took the lead towards the nearest bus stop that had lines travelling towards London. Hagrid gave vague directions- they needed to get to Central and he'd then know where to go. Harry decided to make conversation once they caught the bus. It'd be a bit before they got to the outskirts of London proper, and it'd taken a lot of wheedling to explain to Hagrid that no, the Dursleys don't have their own "tube" and that in order to take the tube they had to get to the tube. Hagrid didn't seem to know much about transportation. But Harry wasn't very interested in going over bus routes again, so-
"Why would you be mad to try and rob Gringotts?" Harry asked. He was breaking the number one rule of the Dursleys household: don't ask questions.
"Spells- enchantments," said Hagrid, unfolding his newspaper that he'd dug out from one of his thousand pockets as he spoke. "They say there's dragons guardin' the high security vaults. And then yeh gotta find yer way- Gringotts is hundreds of miles under London, see. Deep under the tube thing. Yeh'd die of hunger tryin' ter get out, even if yeh did manage ter get yer hands on summat."
Harry sat and thought about this while Hagrid read his newspaper, the Daily Prophet. Harry had learned from Uncle Vernon that people liked to be left alone while they did this, but it was very difficult, he'd never had so many questions in his life. Although he really, really wasn't meant to ask questions. But so far, Hagrid seemed almost helpful for an adult. It looked like his life's luck, his infamous shite luck, was turning around.
"Ministry o' Magic messin' things up as usual," Hagrid muttered, turning the page.
"There's a Ministry of Magic?" Harry asked. Was it meant to be like their- er, the Muggle government?
"'Course there is, lad," Hagrid gave Harry a funny look, but cleared his throat noisily and went back to his paper. Even so, it seemed he had more to say. "They wanted Dumbledore fer Minister, 0' course, but he'd never leave Hogwarts, so old Cornelius Fudge got the job. Bungler if ever there was one. So he pelts Dumbledore with owls every morning, askin' fer advice." The bus careened left and Harry gripped his seat tightly.
"What precisely does a Ministry of Magic do? Has it got rules like ours- and wait- have you got a royal family of magical people?"
"Well, their main job is to keep it from the Muggles that there's still witches an' wizards up an' down the country. Blimey, there's magicals in the royalty, but I couldna imagine our own royalty." Hagrid boomed out a laugh that had people on the bus looking up. "Things yer thinking' of, Harry, right funny." He felt a bit embarrassed but a little upset too- how on earth was he to know that was a silly question? It's a whole new world...
"Why's magic a secret, Hagrid?"
"Why? Well, everyone'd be wantin' magic solutions to their problems. Nah, we're best left alone. Magic's made us a very independent lot. Not that we mind o' course. Best government there is. We don' need all tha' monitoring the Muggles do." Harry processed this as they neared the end of the bus route, however he didn't know much about politics and how governments worked. Also, Harry thought suddenly-
"Hagrid," said Harry, "did you say there are dragons at Gringotts?"
"Well, so the rumours go," said Hagrid. "and I'd always wanted a dragon, myself."
"You'd think that's- um, doable? Aren't they rather large?" Harry was finding it very hard to believe, magic or not, dragons could be undiscovered. This was getting ridiculous!
"Wanted one ever since I was a kid- oh, I know a thing 'r two bout magical beasts an' whatnot."
They had reached the station. There was the line to London- they needed Holborn station Hagrid said- in five minutes' time. Hagrid, who didn't understand "Muggle money," as he called it, gave the bills to Harry so he could buy their tickets.
The hulking man was stood right in front of the turnstile, and seemed to be chuckling to himself. People were shooting very dirty looks at them two, and Harry was getting worried about Hagrid's mental state.
"Right, Hagrid, no you can't really stop. It's sort of how it works, we all need to keep moving, you know?" He gave no indication of having heard Harry.
"Why 'aven't you got a tube closer ter home?" He said loudly. "Yer buses there instead." Oh not again, Harry thought. He'd asked this already quite a lot in Little Whinging.
"It's- oh, I don't know. Everything is further apart in Surrey, and um, tubes are for where everything is closer together like London. Takes a lot of work to build things underground, and if there isn't lots of people, I suppose they wouldn't bother. So, you know, buses."
"Funny, yeh know. Funny, funny muggles."
"The hell's a muggle," Harry heard a man mutter as he pushed through a neighbouring turnstile.
"Hagrid, shouldn't we be getting on?" He said plaintively, shifting awkwardly.
"Right, right, o' course!" And they managed to shuffle down to the stuffy tube without any more furtive glances. When Hagrid wasn't gaping at the turnstiles, it seemed no one paid him any mind. Then again, this was London. Hardly surprising.
Hagrid took up two seats and sat knitting what looked like a canary-yellow circus tent, he got a couple looks then but they also seemed to be outsiders. Tourists abound in the big city, probably chalking it up to London individuality.
"Still got yer letter, Harry?" he asked as he counted stitches. Harry took the parchment envelope out of his pocket.
"Good," said Hagrid. "There's a list there of everything yeh need, too."
Harry unfolded that second piece of paper from his burrowed away letter, and re-read the mystical words that had soothed him for the last few days:
HOGWARTS SCHOOL of WITCHCRAFT and WIZARDRY
First-year students will require:
1. Three sets of plain work robes (black)
2. One plain pointed hat (black) for day wear
3. One pair of protective gloves (dragon hide or similar)
4. One winter cloak (black, silver fastenings)
Please note that all pupils' clothes should carry name tags
All students should have a copy of each of the following:
The Standard Book of Spells (Grade 1) by Miranda Goshawk
A History of Magic by Bathilda Bagshot
Magical Theory by Adalbert Waffling
A Beginners' Guide to Transfiguration by Emetic Switch
One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi by Phyllida Spore
Magical Drafts and Potions by Arsenius Jigger
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander
The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self-Protection by Quentin Trimble
wand cauldron (pewter, standard size 2) set
glass or crystal phials
Students may also bring an owl OR a cat OR a toad
PARENTS ARE REMINDED THAT FIRST YEARS ARE NOT ALLOWED THEIR OWN BROOMSTICKS
"Can we- where can we get all this in London?" Harry wondered aloud. He'd never been in the first place.
"If yeh know where to go," said Hagrid. "Reckon yeh gonna like it, Harry."
Although Hagrid seemed to know where he was going, he was obviously not used to getting there in an ordinary way. The journey thus far had been slightly stressful for Harry- the man was wowed by ordinary fixtures such as television adverts in shop windows and rotating displays. He was loud and made Harry felt scrutinised as the crowd parted easily around his great berth.
They passed book shops and music stores, hamburger restaurants and cinemas, but nowhere that looked as if it could sell you a magic wand. This was just an ordinary street full of ordinary people. Could there really be piles of wizard gold buried miles beneath them? Were there really shops that sold spell books and broomsticks? Even though everything Hagrid had told him so far was unbelievable, Harry couldn't help trusting him.
"This is it," said Hagrid, coming to a halt, "the Leaky Cauldron. The gateway."
It was a tiny, grubby-looking pub. If Hagrid hadn't pointed it out, Harry wouldn't have noticed it was there. The people hurrying by didn't glance at it. Their eyes slid from the big book shop on one side to the record shop on the other as if they couldn't see the Leaky Cauldron at all. In fact, Harry had the most peculiar feeling that only he and Hagrid could see it. Hagrid steered him inside, while Harry began to imagine what sorts of wild magic he would learn at this school. What types of magic even are there? Are there limits? There shouldn't be. It's magic, after all...
For the gateway, it was poorly lit inside and looked a couple centuries outdated. A few old women were sitting in a corner, drinking tiny glasses of sherry. One of them was smoking a long pipe, but the smoke came out in a different shape each time. Not rings or what, but the smoke came as little people. Harry saw a ballerina, a man in a top hat with a cane, and three children swinging themselves in a circle holding hands before they dissipated and Hagrid directed Harry towards the bartender meaningfully. He began to realise that everyone seemed to know Hagrid; they waved and smiled at him, and that bartender reached for a glass, saying, "The usual, Hagrid?"
"Can't, Tom, I've got a future Hogwarts student on m' hands t'day," said Hagrid, giving Harry a knee-shaking pat on the head.
"Good Lord," said the bartender, peering at Harry, "My mistake. You know- he looks just like the Potter boy-"
The patrons that had been sitting at the bar ceased the mumbling talk- drunken or otherwise- and Harry had a terrible feeling it had to do with his name.
"Bless my soul," whispered the old bartender, "It's been... ten years... hello Harry Potter, and what an honour it is."
He hurried out from behind the bar, rushed toward Harry and seized his hand, tears in his eyes.
"Welcome, Mr. Potter, welcome to the Leaky Cauldron." Oh, great, Harry thought miserably. He definitely raised his voice to say that.
Harry didn't know what to say now. Everyone was looking at him. Hagrid was smiling so wide it looked like it hurt, and it didn't look like he would be any help anytime soon. These people seemed to be interested in him because that story Hagrid told. A wizard with no name disappeared and Harry should be dead. What morbid curiosity, he thought.
Then there was a great cacophony of scraping of chairs and the next moment, Harry found himself shaking hands with everyone in the Leaky Cauldron.
"Syna Hyslop, Mr. Potter, my youngest is named after you!"
"So pleased, Mr. Potter, I'm just so glad to finally meet you. My oh my, Potter Spotter had it right. You look like James! Well he was a stockier lad in his day-"
"Always wanted to shake your hand, I'd married a muggleborn a week after it all ended."
"Delighted, Mr. Potter, just can't tell you, Diggle's the name, Dedalus Diggle."
Harry shook hands again and again until he nearly felt a cramp coming on- Rahul Tandel kept coming back to gloat about meeting Harry first. Apparently his brother was a big fan of Harry's work. He didn't really like Rahul.
A pale young man made his way forward as the crowd became less fervent. One of his eyes was twitching, and he kept massaging his palm.
"Professor Quirrell!" said Hagrid, suddenly having returning to Harry's side. "Harry, Professor Quirrell will be one of your teachers at Hogwarts. Go on, say hello."
"P-P-Potter," stammered Professor Quirrell, grasping Harry's hand, "c-can't t-tell you how p- pleased I am to meet you."
"What sort of magic do you teach, Professor Quirrell?" He didn't want to get off on the wrong foot even before school started.
"D-Defense Against the D-D-Dark Arts," muttered Professor Quirrell, as though he'd rather not think about it. "N-not that you n-need it, eh, P-P-Potter?" He laughed nervously. "You'll be g-getting all your equipment, I suppose? I've g-got to p-pick up a new b-book on vampires, m-myself." He shuddered.
"Oh," Harry said. "Will we be learning about vampires then?" He could not believe it- vampires too? Was everything from all those childhood fairy books true? And Defense- were they going to fight vampires at school?
"N-no, up-p-per years material. S-s-sorry, Mr. P-potter."
"It's really no- it's alright. I'm rather new to this, Professor."
"One w-w-would think that your d-dark lord kn-n-nowledge would c-come in handy." Quirrell adjusted his turban with a wince.
"It's all Greek to me," Harry said honestly. "But do you mean the wizard who killed my parents? He vanished or something didn't he? What's a dark lord? I don't even know his name, er, Professor Quirrell." The man gave up on the nervous fidgeting of his hands and instead eyed Harry suspiciously. As if he'd said something very wrong.
"W-well. They d-d-don't say it, but-" His voice dropped considerably and Harry leaned in against his will. " Lord Voldemort." He straightened up again. "You, of all people, should get to know that." With a peculiar attempt at a smile, he patted Harry's hand again and wandered off. Harry was beyond pleased that the Professor had told him, and he looked to be the first teacher not out for Harry's blood. This new school was looking better and better by the minute. It was so utterly fantastical.
"Must get on- lots ter buy. Come on, Harry." A couple stragglers looking to shake Harry's hand vigorously looked devastated as Hagrid returned again from his chitchat with Tom the barkeeper. Oh where were you, Harry thought grumpily. But he knew the answer, as he could smell the lingering, wafting smell of a pint. He managed gave a small wave to the Professor who shakily did the same a moment later from his stool.
Hagrid led them through the bar and out into a small, walled courtyard, where there was nothing but a trash can and a few weeds. He grinned that ear splitting grin again at Harry.
"Told yeh, didn't I? Told yeh you was famous. Even Professor Quirrell was tremblin' ter meet yeh- mind you, he's usually tremblin'."
"Is he always that nervous or has he got a speech impairment?"
"Oh, yeah. Poor bloke. Brilliant mind. He was fine while he was studyin' outta books but then he took a year off ter get some firsthand experience... ah, here's me umbrella..."
Harry was wondering what wizards and witch folk did after magic school. Going off and fighting vampires, perhaps? Hagrid, meanwhile, was counting bricks in the wall above the trash can.
"Three up... two across..." He muttered. "Right, stand back, Harry."
He tapped the wall three times with the point of his umbrella.
The brick he had touched quivered- it wriggled- in the middle, a small hole appeared- it grew wider and wider- a second later they were facing an archway large enough even for Hagrid, an archway onto a cobbled street that twisted and turned out of sight.
"Welcome," said Hagrid, "to Diagon Alley. The best high shoppin' in the Isles."
Harry let the amazement slacken his face. He had no idea how Hagrid was so bamboozled by the plain, stupid Muggle odds and ends when this is what he was used to.
It was magical.
Once they'd gotten done at the bank, Harry had to confess that Gringotts was the best thing he'd ever experienced- he imagined it trumped any sort of amusement park Dudley and ever been to. Although the goblins were an unfriendly bunch, and Hagrid nearly puked, Harry had a fun ride and found out he had loads of gold. This really was the best day of his life.
Hagrid had gone to get them ice cream, and so Harry now stood in Ollivander's- the best wand worker in Great Britain. In Hagrid's opinion, the 'best in the whole damned world'.
"I need a wand for, um, school." He announced to the dark store. "Do I just- like do I just take one? I'm not sure... how this works?" The dim store remained silent. Small streams of light filtered through dust closer to the high vaulted ceilings above. Harry thought it was so quiet, he could almost hear his own heart beat. It was almost relaxing, and the slightly musty smell reminded him of the library two streets away from his primary. A haven that Dudders wouldn't dare think of.
"Jesus Christ!" Harry spit. He violently jerked his head backwards to where the disembodied voice had come from- and found a body. A stringy man- who looked like he was barely clinging to life- with thick silver hair and milky eyes was hovering at his left shoulder. How long had he just been... standing there? Points for dramatic effect... "Sorry, I- sorry, mister. Erm." The strange looking man lifted an unimpressed brow. "Go on." He rubbed his chin with a snort.
"A wand is not a school accessory, child. It's everything to a young wizard or witch." He swept past Harry and behind the counter separating the haphazard mountains of slim boxes from the shopfront.
"You wouldn't need one, then," Harry muttered under his breath. The skinny old man whipped his head around and Harry did his best to look innocent. How on earth could've he have heard that? After a moment of him studying the far wall with meticulous precision, the likely-shopkeeper turned back to his box stacks.
"Perhaps not," he said pleasantly with his back turned. "Now, give this one a whirl- oh I haven't gotten your measurements- knew I was forgetting something-" Measuring tapes flew at Harry who, from extensive home experience, managed not to flinch.
Every wand that the man- Ollivander- brought to him, wrought new disaster. It burnt Harry, it burnt the floor, it sputtered pathetically, it shaved off a patch of Ollivander's beard... Each swish caused Harry to cringe. Was he doing something wrong?
"The wand chooses the wizard," the man was muttering. He, unlike Harry, got more excited with each miserable failure. "I do wonder..."
And the very second Harry touched his wand, he knew. With a soft swish an eruption of golden and silver sparks shot up into the high beamed rafters and rained down. It looked better than fireworks. It felt better than anything he'd felt before.
"Nine galleons, eleven Sickles," Ollivander asked for at the counter. "Curious this wand would choose you, Mister Potter, most curious. I can see you are meant for greatness. This wand, holly and phoenix feather, eleven inches of- may I say- wonderful wand working, has a brother. The phoenix that gave that feather gave just one other- to the wand that gave you that scar."
"Voldemort?" Harry blurted out. Ollivander jerked back.
"Yes," he hissed. "You are meant for great things, Mister Potter. I look forward to it. After all, the Dark Lord did great things. Terrible, yes, but great..."
With that ominous little story, Harry backed out of the shop, wand in his pocket. Ollivander watched him go.
Hagrid smiled as Harry pushed open the door back onto the bustling, loud, colourful street. He was holding two ice cream cones, perfectly scooped. Harry was smiling bashfully. He was going to have his first ice cream. He pushed some Knuts into Hagrid's hand, and refused to take the ice cream else wise. Hagrid smiled weirdly, and Harry was satisfied when he stopped arguing and pocketed the coins.
Now they were off to Madam Malkin's, for his school clothes. He was going to look like a proper wizard.
They finished their ice cream before going in, and Hagrid led him up to a woman with a sort of tool belt on her. She took him to a stand, next to another boy on another stand who was already being measured by the floating bits Harry had been subjected to in Ollivander's. There were many more pins and so on here however. The blond hadn't even looked at Harry yet. Harry noticed that the boy had a very pointy nose.
"Hogwarts too, then? I'm still itching that first years can't join Quidditch. Thinking of smuggling a broom. You are a first year, right?"
"Yes," Harry said. He was glad he understood that question, but he'd jinxed himself.
"Do you play Quidditch?"
"I, haven't, yet, so no?" Harry said carefully.
"My father says I'm brilliant. I think I'd do great on the team," the boy went on. He didn't seem to care that Harry didn't play. Needless to say Harry had no clue what they were even talking about.
"I think I'd have to leave Hogwarts if I was in Hufflepuff," he declared. "By far the worst house, wouldn't you say? I'd take Gryffindor over that, and they have the Weasleys."
"Right," Harry nodded meaningfully.
"My mother's doing a bit of looking for herself in the showing rooms round back, father's at Blott's... where are yours?"
"My parents aren't around," Harry said gently. He didn't want to be insensitive.
"Do you not like your family?" Harry blinked.
"How'd you know?" He asked curiously.
"I didn't!" The boy said, looking taken aback. "I was only joking you know."
"Me too." There was a beat of silence. Harry watched Hagrid knock over a rack on the opposite side of the store dispassionately.
"So wait, you've got the Hogwarts manservant- well man is a loose definition isn't it- following you about? Whatever for?"
"I, don't know?" Harry said helplessly. He should get that on a shirt as a forewarning. I do not know. Hagrid would agree, certainly, with the amount of times he's said it.
"Ri-ight," the boy said in a way that made Harry think he didn't really believe Harry. "You haven't got a parent on the Board of Governors- have you? Besides me, I thought Alderton and Midgen and Ollerton were the only others- but how on earth did you get that oaf to cater to you else wise-" What the hell is he talking about, Harry thought incredulously. And now he's gone on to have a full conversation with himself about these Ollies or whatever. Oh no, he was looking at Harry now. Rather expectantly.
But Harry was saved by the soft chime of the front door swinging open.
"Oi Zabini over here!" The blond exclaimed when he looked. "Been the dullest morning, you?" Zucchini, Harry thought. Did he just call that boy zucchini? What is it with wizard names...
"You're being weird," the zucchini kid said. "Draco let's go look at the brooms, I think my mother's caving-"
"-oh fantastic," the blond breathed out and jumped off his stool. "really I was done anyways, they know where to bill it- I'd hope-"
They dashed out of the robes shop without a look back.
Hagrid meandered over again when the lady patted him on the shoulder. "All done! Get over to the counter, love." This meant Harry could get some answers- because that strange little blond kid (who seemed rather dislikable) left him with a lot of questions.
"That's your school houses. There's four. Everyone says Hufflepuff's dull, but-"
"I'm for Hufflepuff. I just know it." Harry interrupted gloomily.
"Better Hufflepuff than Slytherin," said Hagrid darkly. "There's not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn't in Slytherin. You-Know-Who was one."
"Sorry- the wizard who killed my parents? You-Know-Who went to Hogwarts?" Voldemort, Harry thought. He'd taken care not to say the name, because Hagrid had been so bothered earlier. He'd forgotten at Ollivander's and the name just popped out. Was easier to say than You-Know-Who, frankly.
"Years an' years ago," said Hagrid.
"Wait- hang on," said Harry. "Slytherin's just full of a bunch of bad people? Why even have them in the school then?"
"Er- well- now tha's a bit broad definition-"
"You- you said it..." Harry said slowly. "So, it takes bad-ness to get into... that house. It's like the house of being bad? Seems a bit, um, odd." Then again, Harry was really starting to think wizards and witches were very odd people. They didn't seem to talk or think or act like other people- erm, Muggles that is.
"Oh, I don' know! Bad people come from Slytherin, alr'ght'?"
"Ri-ight," Harry said, carefully licking his ice cream. "Anyways, what's the Board of Governors?" Hagrid looked at him sharply.
"They, ah, got the final say on appointments of teachers and so, if they'd want to veto 'r what have you."
"For Hogwarts?" He said pleasantly. "I think I just met one of theirs' kids. No wonder. Bit uppity, he was. Complaining about- oh, Hagrid, what's Quidditch?"
"Blimey, you really don't know nothin'-" Again, this rather rankled Harry but he chose to stay quiet. He'd lost count of how many times Hagrid had practically called him stupid, but he assumed it wasn't meant that way. He didn't say things with the inherent cruelty of the Dursleys or Dudley's gang. "It's a sport- with brooms- hard to explain, well there's a lot to be explainin'-"
"It's alright, Hagrid." They walked on and Harry nearly walked into a lady sweeping the cobblestones.
And although all the magical shopping folk were odd, there was something odder still about the sweeper lady. She seemed to not be talking under her breath- but cackling. Harry made sure not to linger too long, swerving around and away.
"Hag," Hagrid muttered. Harry thought that was a bit rude, but she was rather off putting with the hunchback and warts. "Yer folks were in Gryffindor, yeh know." He shot a meaningful look at Harry who didn't know what to say. He hadn't known that. Again, this seems to be an obvious fact but Hagrid didn't seem to see it.
"That's nice," he said politely. "Did they, um, like it?" Harry felt a pang in his chest. "Were they, er, good at being wizard and witch and all?"
"Certainly," Hagrid nodded solemnly. "Up there with some o' the best- an' so young too!" They'd arrived in front of Flourish and Blott's, the most important stop, Harry thought. He didn't ever want to leave Diagon Alley, but if he pocketed enough information here he could keep himself busy until school.
"Oh, Harry, I've got ter get summat from Knockturn- could you manage to get yer books?" The big man gestured to a narrow alleyway Harry hadn't immediately noticed. It was dark and lanterns were lit in there although it was daytime. It felt like something, something familiar, and again Harry felt the sensation of water. So much, he was drowning, but the water was calm like in that... dream...
"Sure," he shook his head, trying to clear it up. "Sure, I've got it. Of course. Thank you Hagrid, really." That alleyway looked quite shady to be honest but Harry didn't think Hagrid was a shady sort at all. He was maybe a bit rough around the edges.
He sort of regretted letting the hulking man abandon him, when Rahul Tandel reappeared, this time with two adults and a much thinner boy next to him. They all stood blocking up the Beasts aisle.
"Hello again." Harry scratched the back of his neck.
"Told you so," Rahul said smugly. His brother looked very put out, while their (probably) parents lingered awkwardly behind the two. The silence didn't last long enough to be uncomfortable, thankfully.
"Ai, get yer arse out of the way, Rahul." A boy elbowed through Rahul's family and gave a thumbs up to Harry. "Mornin'!" It was not morning, but Harry liked the way he rolled his r's and how the boy was nearly as short as Harry. He nodded back.
"Ugh, not you again," Rahul crinkled his nose. "Commoners abound."
"Rahul," hissed the man behind him sharply. He then- abruptly- whipped his wand down and Rahul whimpered, rubbing his arm. Was that a spell? Harry wondered. He didn't even say anything.
"Father-" The two began to speak rapidly in a language Harry did not understand. The conversation involved a lot of hand movements.
"Nice to meet you." The woman said suddenly, and the other boy, Rahul Tandel's brother most likely, nodded slowly. She herded the man, probably her husband, away with them. The heated, foreign argument was still ongoing.
"You looked right pleased to see them." The boy that Rahul didn't like was covered in freckles- more freckles than boy- and had sandy brown hair.
"We met, earlier," Harry said. "I don't really know him, though."
"Lucky you," he snorted. "Know that prat for years too long. He's loaded. Dun' mean he's a twat right off, but he is anyways. Anyways, I've got practically lost in here- so many sections 'n all- what's your name then?"
"Harry," said Harry.
"You've gotta be a first year too, mate. You know what, I've been coming to terms with my Hufflepuff future-" He stumbled forward when a parade of red rolled over him. Particularly, two identical redheads took care to ignore the boy in their way.
"Oof, go easy on the cauldron cakes beefy!" The pair that had rammed into him snickered, and another boy gave a laugh but didn't look back. Freckles rolled his shoulders as the group trouped down the aisle with those giggling twins. Harry thought they were funny, if rather rude, but he didn't see the harm because the little boy he was talking to was not beefy at all. He figured they'd have to be joking. Harry also now needed to find out what cauldron cakes are.
"Ringas!" Hollered the Irish boy. He got a rude hand gesture in return. Harry pressed his lips together in the universally awkward what-can-you-do expression when the very vocal boy turned back to him. "Ack, see you round, Harry, I've got the whole list left-" And as if he had a small seizure, he slammed a palm to his forehead and nearly shouted "Seamus!" He was then grabbing one of Harry's listless hands and vigorously pumping it.
"Er, right, nice to meet you Seamus." Seamus smiled big, a smile full of crooked but shiny teeth.
"Right atcha. Ah, back- or what have you! I'm a having a bit of a day. Da's been proper off- that is, off kilter what with me taking after me mum for certain... MUM!" With little else as warning, spotty Seamus was vanishing into the stacks of Flourish and Botts.
"Goodbye then," Harry said to himself. A frumpy witch squinted at him from the shelf over. "Not- no, not you." She continued to stare at him and Harry was trying not to look as uncomfortable as he felt. He didn't think he was very successful as she leered at him.
When Hagrid returned, they absconded to what felt like every store in the damn Alley. He wouldn't let Harry buy a solid gold cauldron, unfortunately ("It says pewter on yer list"), but they got a nice set of scales for weighing potion ingredients and a collapsible brass telescope.
Then they visited the Apothecary, which was fascinating enough to make up for its horrible smell, a mixture of bad eggs and rotted cabbages. Barrels of slimy stuff stood on the floor; jars of herbs, dried roots, and bright powders lined the walls; bundles of feathers, strings of fangs, and snarled claws hung from the ceiling. While Hagrid asked the man behind the counter for a supply of some basic potion ingredients for Harry, Harry himself examined silver unicorn horns at twenty-one Galleons each and minuscule, glittery-black beetle eyes (five Knuts a scoop). It looked like Potions would be a breeze, he had lots of experience cooking. How different could it be?
Outside the Apothecary, Hagrid checked Harry's list again.
"A yeah, an' I still haven't got yeh a birthday present."
Harry felt himself go red with shame and thrill. He'd never got a birthday present before, and he rather wanted one, but something in him rose against the idea of this man buying him one. Hagrid had given him the greatest gift- some measure of freedom, and hope. Harry thought also it was some shred of his pride resisting.
"Please, you really don't have to-"
"I know I don't have to." He barked out sharply. "Tell yeh what, I'll get yer animal. Not a toad, toads went outta fashion years ago, yeh'd be laughed at- an' I don' like cats, they make me sneeze. I'll get yer an owl. All the kids want owls, they're dead useful, carry yer mail an' everythin'."
Twenty minutes later, they left Eeylops Owl Emporium, which had been dark and full of rustling and flickering, jewel-bright eyes. Harry now carried a large cage that held a beautiful snowy owl, fast asleep with her head under her wing. He swallowed the burning in his throat and didn't find the excessive, eccentric questions about the tube annoying anymore.
That was all for school supplies (and other books Harry had squirrelled away from Flourish and Blotts). He was particularly interested in the Dark Arts histories books he'd bought. He had asked a shop assistant about Dark Lords and she had waved him off towards the proper section. Voldemort.
He had to remember that. He wondered if the no-name rule included in writing, or if the wizards and witches were allowed to write the mysterious wizard's name...
Hagrid left him on Wisteria Walk with a pat and reassurances that he wasn't taking muggle transport back to Hogwarts. He also gave him a ticket, a train ticket he said, that was rimmed red with elegant black lettering. He also told him not to listen to the Dursleys because they seemed like a rotten bunch, and Harry agreed very much.
Only a bit less than a month to go. Until then, he swallowed, it was going to be new territory at the Dursleys. But he was strong, and he was going to be ready when September first came.