Chapter 12: Diagon Alley
Mother and I stepped out into the crowded alleyway after Lily. Lily was awestruck at the size and beauty of the wizarding street.
The hustle and bustle of children and parents was endearing but everyone looked so nervous. All of the parents were pushing their children along, one hand on the small of their child’s back, the other, carrying the shopping they had completed so far. Every now and then they would cast a hurried glance over their shoulder and propel their children along faster than before.
As we progressed down the street, I shook the worried faces from my mind. Lily pointed and gasped at different stores as we fought our way through the crowd.
Our first stop was Gringotts where we planned to exchange Lily’s muggle money for Galleons, Sickles and Knuts.
Lily spun in circles trying to take in the large, grand entrance hall. Gold pillars lined the walls and the walls themselves were creamy white. Her eyes fell on the strange, ugly creatures that sat behind the gold desks, stamping letters and writing things on bits of parchment. ‘What are they?’ Lily asked, sounding quite scared.
‘Goblins,’ I told her. ‘Nothing to be worried about.’
Then it was off to Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions.
We entered the shop and looked around.
An aged woman addressed us as we reached the counter, ‘Hogwarts robes, dearies?’
‘Yes, we’re first years,’ Lily said, smiling politely.
‘Over here then,’ she said kindly. She stood us on little stools and a magical tape measure measured us in many different places, floating about and occasionally wrapping around our arms or our waist while Mother watched from a corner.
Finally, she gave us both some black robes to try on. There were change rooms on one side of the store, so Lily and I each headed into one of our own.
From inside the change rooms, I heard the bell as the door opened.
‘Ah, Madam Malkin!’ A voice exclaimed from outside.
‘Mulciber. And this must be your son?’ Madam Malkin had a tremble of fear in her voice and I imagined her extending her hand towards the speaker’s son.
‘Infirmos Mulciber,’ said a higher voice. Then, ‘First year.’
‘Nice to meet you, Infirmos.’ But the coldness in her voice said otherwise. ‘You will need Hogwarts robes.’
‘Well, step over here for a moment and let me finish tending to my other customers.’
I pulled open the curtain and stood in front of her, letting her inspect the size of my robes.
‘I think they’re pretty good you two,’ she said. I turned to my right and saw that Lily was standing beside me in her robes too. I had been too busy staring at the newcomer to have noticed her. She was looking at Infirmos Mulciber too, but not in admiration – in worry. When I glanced back to the strange boy, my gaze was startled away – he was eyeing me too.
I left to get changed back into my muggle clothing.
When I emerged, Mulciber’s son was standing on the stool being fitted. I handed the robes to Madam Malkin and so did Lily. I glanced back at the boy and felt an urge to introduce myself. I stepped over a large pile of robes on the floor and walked over to Infirmos Mulciber. I then extended my hand towards him and said, ‘Snape, Severus Snape.’
He smiled a smile that didn’t reach his eyes as he shook my hand, ‘Infirmos Mulciber.’ Mulciber’s hair was pitch black and his eyes were dark and shadowed by his bushy eyebrows. His mouth was a thin line and his features were arranged in a way that made him look menacing and damaged. ‘Is this your girlfriend?’
‘What? Oh no! This is my best friend, Lily,’ I said, gesturing to her. Her eyes never left his as she shook hands with him and scrutinised his face with the same look of anguish she had worn before.
‘Blood status?’ he asked me pointedly.
‘Half-blood!’ I exclaimed hurriedly.
He nodded thoughtfully. ‘And you?’ He asked, eyes on Lily now.
‘Also half blood,’ I interrupted. The lie left a bad taste in my mouth and Lily looked at me – confused. ‘She’s a Halfblood.’ I looked at her pointedly to tell her to just go along with it.
‘Right. Well I’d better get changed into these,’ Mulciber said, holding up a pair of robes that Madam Malkin had handed him. ‘I expect I’ll be seeing you around a lot at school, Snape. You and your half-blood friend… but you seem like a cool enough kid.’ I knew then that Mulciber had seen straight through the lie. That didn’t matter, he had called me a ‘cool enough kid’. In my mind, we were already friends.
We left Madam Malkin’s and as soon as we stepped out of the door Lily rounded on me. ‘What was that all about?’
‘I was just playing it safe. Some people are hostile towards Mud… Muggle borns,’ I corrected myself quickly.
‘You told me being Muggle Born didn’t make a difference.’
Lily glared at me.
‘Alright! It does make a bit of a difference! I just didn’t want you to worry.’
At this, her expression softened. She had forgiven me already. I could tell. ‘But that Mulciber boy is horrible! You can’t really be serious about being friends with him at school!’
‘I thought he was quite nice,’ I said a little defensively.
‘I don’t like him… something just doesn’t seem right.’
Next door was Amanuensis Quills. It was very colourful inside and there were quills everywhere with labels of different colours and sizes. Automatic spell correcting quills, Note taking quills (writes extra fast), Super Speed Interview quills (writes by itself) any kind you could think of.
I bought one plain black quill, a magpie feathered quill and an interesting looking one that was blue when it was in the air but as it goes down towards the paper it turns aqua and then it is green when you touch the parchment and start writing. I got 2 bottles of plain black ink and one bottle that changed colour every letter.
Lily’s quills were all different colours. One was blue, one was green, and one was bright pink. The pink quill was a self-scribing quill that spell-corrected and wrote on its own when you told it what to write. She got one plain black ink bottle, one that (like mine) changed colour every letter, and red ink that turned whatever colour you wanted it to be.
We were nearly finished our shopping and our last stop was Ollivander’s wand shop. Peeling gold letters over the door of the shop read: Ollivanders: Makers of Fine Wands since 382 B.C. The store’s dusty display window held only a solitary wand lying on a faded purple cushion.
We walked through the door and the bell made a loud ding that rang through the small space. The store’s empty space was limited. Thousands of narrow boxes containing wands were piled right up to the ceiling of the tiny store.
At first, the store seemed empty until I heard a grunt from the back of the room where a man seemed to be hidden from view by the wand boxes. He came into view, peering around one of the shelves.
‘Oh hello, dear Eileen! I was wondering when I would be seeing your children here buying their first wands! Twins?’
‘Oh no! Lily isn’t mine!” Mother laughed airily. “And it’s lovely to see you too, Mr Ollivander. This is Severus.’
‘Well hello, Severus!’ he said kindly, leaning over the counter in order to see me better. ‘Should we get started on our wand buying?’
Mr Ollivander buzzed between the shelves, reading the labels on the long, thin boxes. Sometimes, he stopped to pull out a box halfway, glance down at it and then shake his head and return it to its shelf.
Finally, he came around the shelves with 6 boxes stacked in his arms.
‘Here we are, children. Here Severus, you try this wand, 10 ¾ Inches, hazel and the core is dragon heart string. The wand is pliable and great for transfiguration. Lily, was it? You can try this wand. It is 10 ¼ Inches, Birch and the core is Unicorn Hair. The wand is swishy and good for charms.’
We took the wands he offered us and I swallowed deeply as I held the wand in my hand.
‘Well go on then, give it a wave!’ Mother said impatiently.
Lily and I waved our wands at the same time and I was lifted off my feet into the air by some magical force. I thought this was the wand for me but then it dropped me to the ground and my knees crumpled from underneath me. I turned my head to see what had happened to Lily. I gathered she had had the same done to her because she was scrambling to her feet when I saw her amidst the new cloud of dust.
‘It threw me into the wall!’ Lily said, rubbing the back of her head and coughing as she struggled to breathe in the cloud of dust she had disturbed when she hit the wall.
I scurried on my hands and knees towards the counter and kneeled up to drop the wand on the bench.
‘No, no! Definitely not!’ Mr Ollivander said. ‘Try these. Lily, yours is 10 ¼ inches, Willow, and the core is a phoenix feather. The wand is swishy and good for charms. Severus yours is 10 ¾ inches, Maple and the core is unicorn hair. The wand is quite rigid.
Lily waved her wand first and the room was suddenly brighter. Her hair blew back from her face though I didn’t feel any wind.
‘Yes, yes! Very good! That’s the wand for you, my dear! Severus, wave your wand.’
I wanted this to be the wand for me because Lily looked so excited holding hers. It made me jealous.
I waved my wand and the shelf behind Mr Ollivander started to lean and then fell. Before I knew it, Mr Ollivander was crushed beneath the shelf. I hurriedly put the wand back on the counter. I hoped Mr Ollivander was going to be okay.
Mother used a spell to lift the shelf off him and he sprung up, virtually indifferent, as if this happened every day.
‘No, no! Definitely not!’
He handed me another wand while Lily stood by mother’s side and watched on.
‘This wand is 10 ¾ inches, Birch, inflexible and the core is made from runespoor fang. I don’t make wands with runespoor fang, but this was imported from Gregoravitch's store. It will be very interesting to see if this wand is for you, Severus. You see, runespoor fang, is great for dark magic. Of course… most of the wands that are sold with the core of runespoor fang produce owners that are simply excellent potion makers,’ he said with a tentative smile.
I waved the wand and was thrown backwards with such force that the door swung open and landed outside in the alley
‘No, no! But very close!’ I heard Ollivander call from inside.
I walked back into the store thinking that I would never find the wand for me.
‘Here! This one should do it!’ He said cheerfully handing me a wand. ‘10 ¾ Inches, Mahogany and the core is dragon heartstring. And also produces excellent potion makers.’
I waved the wand, just praying for it to be the right one and sure enough I felt my hair fly back from around my face and felt wind tickle my eyelashes although the other objects in the room seemed undisturbed by the sudden breeze.
‘Ah, yes, yes. That’s the wand that belongs to you,’ he said with a smile. ‘We shall be expecting to see great things from you, Mr Snape.’
Finally, we were finished our shopping and it was time to go home. My aching muscles and heavy eyelids weren’t enough to dim the curiosity and anxiety that engulfed me when I thought of the people always looking over their shoulder or the whispered conversation in which Florean had engaged Mother. I glanced at Lily and she stared into my eyes. In their depths, I saw my own anguish reflected in them. I knew she wanted to know too.
‘Mother! It’s time to come out with it.’
‘Come out with what, Sev?’ Mother asked tiredly.
‘What was that whispered conversation with Florean about? And what about the people hurrying through their shopping like there will be something scary waiting behind every corner? We want to know what’s up!’
‘Severus, please! You’re too young to understand –’
‘We want to know!’ I said forcefully, glaring up into her sallow face.
‘Alright! Alright!’ she said finally, after a long pause. ‘The thing to understand is that some wizards, and witches for that matter, turn bad, very bad. It’s not all liquorice wands and daisies all the time,’ she chuckled at her own wit. ‘One wizard, I suppose you could say, turned as bad as they go a couple of years ago. And his name is…’ Mother lowered her voice to a whisper as a couple of middle-aged women hurried past with their children, ‘Voldemort.’
‘Voldemort?’ I said loudly.
‘Shhhh! The whole of the wizarding world, with the exception of a select few people, fear the name more than anything else,’ Mother said, smirking. ‘Silly, really.’
‘So… so what does… He… do that’s bad exactly?’ Lily asked cautiously in a low voice.
‘Uhh… He murders muggle families and wizard families alike. But he only murders wizard families if it is of some personal gain to him. He wants wizards to come out of hiding and rule over muggles. It is said that he is immortal… but I don’t believe it.’
‘That’s horrible!’ Lily whispered.
‘So that’s why everyone is rushing around like something’s chasing them. How come we aren’t too?’ I asked.
‘Well, some of my friends’ husbands are close to him. I don’t think he’s really looking to murder us – if you know what I mean.’ She smiled her manic smile and, for the first time ever, I considered the notion that my mother could be mad. Her comment only made me ashamed to be her son.
Lily was horrified. I felt heat rise to my cheeks and I looked at the ground.
‘Come along now! Or Lily will be late home!’ She swept off in the direction of the Leaky Cauldron and Lily and I glanced at each other before following her at a distance with our heads down, determined not to be seen walking behind her.