Chapter 4 : Diagon Alley
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‘Morning, Daniel,’ he greeted the boy brightly a little over an hour later as the eleven-year-old answered the door.
‘Morning,’ the boy grunted his reply. He had on the same over-large football shirt as he had worn the week before, and his face still hid beneath his rusty fringe.
‘I take it you’re coming shopping, then?’ Greg offered, brightly, but the boy didn’t return his smile.
‘Mum says I can’t go,’ Daniel muttered, without making eye-contact. ‘We can’t afford it,’ he explained, sombrely.
‘That doesn’t need to be a problem,’ the teacher reasoned. ‘Is your Mum in?’
‘She’s out,’ Daniel shook his head. ‘Meeting someone. Didn’t say when she’d be back.’
The teacher shrugged, ‘then we’ll worry about that later.’
Daniel blinked. ‘What?’
‘You heard right,’ a small grin spread across Greg’s face. ‘If you want to come to Hogwarts, I’m not letting something daft like that get in the way.’
‘But...’ The boy began to protest.
‘Do you want to come?’ Greg altered his question slightly, and the eleven-year-old nodded quickly, almost apologetically so. ‘Alright, then,’ the teacher continued. ‘What’s stopping you?’
A look of understanding dawned on Daniel’s face. ‘You mean...’ he stammered. ‘Just go anyway?’
Greg smiled. ‘It’s down to you, Dan.’
‘Wicked,’ the boy reflected his expression. ‘None of my old teachers would ever have said that.’
‘Probably not,’ Greg agreed, ‘but then again, I don’t reckon your old school is going to be anything like Hogwarts. You all set?’
The boy nodded.
‘Let’s move out, then,’ the teacher grinned, turning his back as the eleven-year-old grabbed a set of keys from behind the door.
‘You’ve got a car?’ Daniel questioned, loudly, as Greg pulled open the driver’s door of a small black hatchback that sat at the end of the garden path.
‘What did you expect, mate?’ The man laughed, watching the boy trot around to let himself in the passenger’s side. ‘A broomstick?’
Daniel looked back at him, uncertain for a moment. ‘Well, yeah, maybe,’ he stuttered. ‘I mean, in that book...’
‘Brooms are fine for short distances, Dan,’ the teacher explained, ‘quick, manoeuvrable, you know... but they’re not great for Oxford to London. All a bit windy and you’d get one hell of a sore arse.’
The boy blinked again, before smiling as he took in the man’s words. ‘You definitely aren’t like any of my old teachers.’
Greg shrugged. ‘I’m still learning. Now,’ he indicated out of the housing estate, turning back towards the city’s ring road that would soon lead back towards London. ‘We’ll dump this at mine, then get the tube across to Charing Cross.’
Daniel nodded, dumbfounded. ‘Okay.’
The teacher smiled. ‘The things that must be going through your head right now... I remember my first trip to Diagon Alley,’ he recalled. ‘Couldn’t stop staring at everything, and now it seems so normal,’ he glanced over to the boy the car turned left on a roundabout and joined a dual carriageway. ‘Seatbelt.’
‘What?’ Daniel started. ‘Oh, right,’ he reached for the belt behind his left shoulder, pulling it across his chest. ‘Sorry.’
‘No worries,’ Greg acknowledged him. ‘The others will be waiting for us at the station.’
‘That other boy?’ Daniel asked. ‘Albert?’
‘Albus,’ the teacher corrected, gently, ‘or, better still, just Al. It’ll be him, his cousin Louis, and another boy in your position.’
‘Right,’ Daniel nodded. ‘How long will it take us to get there?’
‘Well,’ another grin spread across the teacher’s face. ‘That depends how fast I drive.’
‘Morning, Arthur,’ Greg hailed the cousins’ grandfather across the concourse of the Underground station. ‘Boys,’ he acknowledged Albus and Louis with a short wave, ‘and the Llewellyns,’ he offered a hand to Philip Llewellyn, before grinning as Nathan extended a tense arm in his direction. ‘Hey, Nathan. You look smart. You alright?’
The blond boy, sporting a sharply ironed shirt that matched an immaculate combination of tie and trousers, just nodded rigidly.
‘Coming with, Arthur?’ The teacher continued.
The older man shook his head. ‘List of chores this long from Hermione,’ he chuckled, holding his hands apart. ‘I’ve had a chat with Hannah; they can floo back to the Burrow when you’re done.’
‘Fair enough,’ Greg thanked the other man. ‘I’ll see you later.’
‘See you, boys.’ Arthur turned to leave. ‘Of course, I shall have to have another go on these Underground trains first...’
‘Bye, Grandad!’ Albus and Louis chorused.
Greg smiled, before beckoning the group together. ‘Just the six of us, then?’ He looked around the others. ‘An odd group we make...’ He glanced back to the two cousins. ‘I take it you two have been before, right?’
‘Yeah,’ Louis answered his question, whilst Albus just nodded.
‘Good, good,’ Greg smiled again. ‘That means you won’t be doing any window shopping, or wandering off – you’ll be looking after our guests. The first stop is the Leaky Cauldron.’
Greg led the small group along the short route through the London streets from the station to the pub that formed the hidden doorway between muggle and magical London. ‘Through here, guys,’ he pointed to his right, stifling a grin as he watched Philip Llewellyn’s jaw fall open in shock. ‘It’s called a Fidelius Charm,’ the teacher explained. ‘You can’t see it until I tell you it’s there. Thought you’d appreciate the Latin.’ He allowed the cousins to take the lead into the inn, bringing up the rear as the group shuffled through.
‘Isn’t this a dead end?’ Daniel observed as Louis brought them into a small courtyard, hemmed in by a brick wall.
‘Not quite,’ Greg’s eyes sparkled. ‘Never take things at face value, Dan,’ he advised, unsheathing his wand and aiming at a particular brick on the wall. ‘Three up, two across... Enjoy.’ He stepped back, nudging the cousins to follow him, and left the muggle-born boys to take in the full panorama of Diagon Alley as it unfolded in front of him. ‘What do you think, then?’ He prompted, a moment later.
‘It beats Westgate,’ Daniel managed, turning around as if to check that what he was seeing were indeed real. ‘Wow.’
‘Come on, then,’ the teacher placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder. ‘No time like the present. These two need to head for Gringotts,’ he nodded to the Llewellyns, who both still seemed entranced by the sights in front of them. ‘Wizard Bank,’ Greg explained. ‘You won’t get anywhere without some wizarding money.’
The four children were left standing outside the marble pillars that surrounded Gringotts Bank whilst the adults went about their business inside.
‘What are you wearing all that for?’ Daniel gestured towards Nathan’s shirt and tie.
Nathan shrugged, wordlessly.
‘Leave him alone,’ Louis defended the other boy. ‘He didn’t know he didn’t need to. At least he’s wearing something that fits him.’
‘Shut up,’ Daniel snapped back, his eyes narrowing.
‘Leave it, Louis,’ Albus turned to his cousin. ‘It doesn’t matter, does it?’ He persisted. ‘When you go and get your wands, they don’t care what you’re wearing.’
Louis shook his head, all the while keeping his eyes on Daniel’s cold stare. ‘Fine,’ the redhead muttered, before turning his back.
‘Sorry about him,’ Albus offered, hesitantly.
Daniel snorted. ‘I don’t care.’
‘He didn’t mean anything,’ Albus lowered his voice. ‘He’s not like that.’
‘I said I don’t care,’ Daniel insisted. ‘I know this shirt doesn’t fit me properly. Just cause he’s got all that fancy stuff doesn’t make him any better than me.’
‘He didn’t say that,’ Albus whispered.
The muggle-born boy rolled his eyes. ‘I bet he meant it, though. I’ve heard it all before...’
Albus sighed, looking up to the great doors of Gringotts Bank as he wondered what to say next. ‘That won’t matter at Hogwarts,’ he stammered.
‘I bet it will,’ Daniel turned away, leaving the four boys to wait in silence for the teacher to return, oblivious to the quarrel that had just flickered between them.
‘Ollivander’s first?’ Greg led Philip Llewellyn from the bank a few moments later. ‘Might as well start at the top.’
The wandmaker’s shop stood a short walk away from the bank, past a second-hand robe shop, where Daniel’s eyes lingered briefly, but not for long enough for any of the other boys to notice. The inside of the shop was dark, and a little dingy, and when Louis turned to squint through the musty windows back to the lively street outside, his only reward was a nose covered in grime.
‘Hello,’ Greg called out. ‘Anyone in?’
‘Coming, coming,’ a frail-sounding voice answered. ‘Give an old man a minute.’ The speaker sounded slightly irritated as he made his way through an open doorway to a counter at the back of the room. ‘Can I help you?’
‘Morning, sir,’ Greg greeted the wandmaker, warmly. ‘Hogwarts’ business,’ he explained. ‘A couple of muggle-born boys, here for their first wands.’
The old man’s eyes sparkled, as his gaze moved around the teacher’s body to the waiting children. ‘Not you, Potter, Weasley...’ he muttered, before his eyes settled on Daniel’s hard stare. ‘Interesting, interesting,’ he pulled a tape measure from the musty pocket of a long, dark blue robe and begun to take a series of measurements as the boy stood stock still, save for a quick glance in the teacher’s direction.
‘Let him do his bit, Dan,’ Greg assured the eleven-year-old. ‘I got my wand here, back when I was your age.’ Instinctively, Greg reached for his own wand. ‘Mahogany, kneazle hair, nine inches...’
‘Excellent for Transfiguration,’ Ollivander finished the other man’s sentence abruptly, snapping his measure back into his hand before retreating into the back of the store.
The teacher laughed, awkwardly. ‘Good job I’m not teaching Charms, then.’
‘How does it work?’ Daniel broke his silence. ‘I don’t know what kind of wand I want...’
‘The wand chooses the wizard, Dan,’ Greg recalled one of the oldest clichés in the magical world. ‘I haven’t the faintest how it works, but Ollivander there’s the expert. He’ll make sure you end up with the right one.’
‘How will I know...?’ Daniel protested.
‘You just will,’ Albus cut in. ‘When I got mine, I could just feel it. It was just right.’
‘Yeah,’ Louis agreed with his cousin, although he didn’t add any more as the old wandmaker had already returned to the front of his store.
‘Well, well...’ Ollivander muttered. ‘How about this one?’ He held out a narrow wand. ‘Ten inches, cedar and unicorn hair.’
Nervously, Daniel reached out to take it from the wandmaker, holding it in his left hand. ‘What do I do?’
‘Just wave it,’ Greg smiled. ‘Like Al said, you’ll know if it’s right.’
‘Is something supposed to happen?’ The muggle-born boy asked aloud.
‘Not if it’s the wrong wand, boy,’ Ollivander chastised him, almost snatching the wand back and turning instead to a much shorter rod. ‘Seven inches, rowan with hippogriff feather.’
Daniel took the wand, and this time his aimless wandwork triggered a brief blink in the dusty lamplight that shone from one corner of the shop.
‘No, no,’ the wandmaker interrupted Daniel again. ‘That won’t do at all.’ He bustled back into the rear of the shop. ‘Keep it small, keep it small. Let’s try hazel...’ He returned, presenting another short wand to the eleven-year-old. ‘Eight inches, hazel with mooncalf hair.’
Daniel reached forwards tentatively, taking the wandmaker’s offering gently, and letting out a deep breath as he felt it touch his left palm.
‘I believe we may have found it,’ Ollivander chuckled, watching the boy gaze, open-mouthed, at the object in his hand. ‘That will be... oh,’ he tailed off, halted by a sharp nudge from the teacher.
‘Hogwarts account,’ Greg whispered, covering his mouth behind his hand. ‘Just that lad.’
The old man nodded, seriously, before allowing his expression to brighten as he turned back to the boy. ‘A little something,’ he added, ‘compliments of Ollivander’s.’ He lifted a soft, black drawstring bag from the pocket of his robes. ‘Look after it.’
‘Y... yes, sir,’ Daniel shook himself back to the moment. ‘I will, sir.’
‘Pleased to hear it,’ Ollivander acknowledged, setting his sights on the other boy. ‘Good morning,’ he trilled, ‘are you ready?’
Louis almost had to physically push Nathan forwards, as the blond boy stared at his own feet, shivering as he struggled to reply. ‘No... no...’
The old wandmaker clearly paid no heed to the eleven-year-old’s panicked answer, however, as he had already begun his practised routine of measurement and scrutiny before Nathan had opened his mouth.
‘W... what if it doesn’t work?’ He turned to Louis, rubbing the arm of his shirt over his damp eyes. ‘What if I can’t find a wand? What if none of them work?’
‘You’ll be alright, Nathan,’ the redhead stepped forward. ‘You caused a thunderstorm, remember? You’ll make a wand work.’
The blond boy managed a thin smile, before swallowing deeply as Ollivander re-appeared.
‘Seven and a half inches, beech with crup tail hair...’ He held out a stubby wand with a wide grip, and Nathan reached for it slowly, waving it as he had been instructed, only to drop it in stunned shock as the shop’s glass windows exploded outwards, splintering into the street.
‘Shi...’ Nathan caught his instinctive swear word, glancing around fearfully as he watched the others survey the damage.
‘Nathan?’ Louis managed, disbelievingly.
‘I didn’t mean to!’ The blond boy’s eyes watered. ‘I didn’t know that would happen!’
‘Not to worry, not to worry,’ Ollivander fussed, lifting the discarded wand from the ground. ‘My fault entirely, young man. Not enough wand to hold you, that’s all.’
‘B... but... but...’ Nathan whimpered. ‘W... what about the w... windows?’
‘Leave them to me,’ Greg smiled, drawing his own wand and pointing it at the broken glass. ‘Reparo!’
‘Wow...’ Daniel exclaimed, watching the glass seemingly suck itself back into place, free of any of the grime that had blocked a clear view back into Diagon Alley. ‘Will we learn how to do that?’
‘I’d hope so,’ the teacher grinned. ‘Otherwise it’ll mean I’m not doing my job properly.’
‘I’m sorry,’ Nathan repeated again, as Ollivander returned from the rear of the store with another set of wands. The wandmaker, however, was too engrossed in his task to respond to the boy’s apology, instead handing him another, much longer, tool.
‘Thirteen inches,’ he explained, reverently. ‘Willow. Augurey feathers.’
Nathan’s right hand shook as he reached out to take the offered wand, but his grip seemed to relax as it filled his palm.
‘Give it a wave, then,’ Ollivander pressed the eleven-year-old, who turned to the window and obliged. ‘Well...?’ The wandmaker persisted, only for his attention to drift to the newly-cleaned panes of glass. The bright summer’s morning had begun to darken, and spots of rainwater – first scattered, and then suddenly with a fierce intensity – began to batter the windows, only to fade away as quickly as they had arrived.
Louis whistled. ‘I think that’s the right one,’ he remarked. ‘It’s a good thing you fixed the windows, sir.’
The teacher nodded. ‘I won’t argue with you on that one, mate.’
‘That’s sixteen galleons, then,’ Ollivander turned to Nathan’s father, who distractedly fished for the coins inside his wallet. ‘Thank you,’ the wandmaker pocketed the gold, before presenting the blond boy with a navy blue version of the drawstring bag he’d earlier given Daniel. ‘Use it well. I have a feeling you will do.’
The skies stayed clear for the rest of the morning as the small party trekked up and down the alley, checking off the items on Nathan and Daniel’s lists from robes and cauldrons through to books and parchment. They ended at Quality Quidditch Supplies, where Greg allowed Louis and Albus five galleons of spending money each to thank them for their help that morning. The teacher had hoped that it would also prove an opportunity for the cousins to share something of the wizarding game with the two muggle-born boys, but both children were too absorbed in their own purchases for much conversation to take root.
Indeed, Greg reflected as he finished a plateful of steak and chips back at the Leaky Cauldron, there had been precious little chatter between the boys all morning. Even now, all four children seemed very guarded in what they shared with the others: Nathan was asking Louis a handful of cautious questions about his new belongings, with Daniel regarding him suspiciously all the while. Albus, sitting closest to the teacher, was slumped halfway backwards in his chair, apparently disinterested in any further discussion.
‘Alright, Al?’ Greg prompted him.
‘Yeah, yeah,’ the boy sat up, slightly startled. ‘Fine.’
‘You got everything all set for Friday?’
The teacher smiled. ‘Can I have a look at those gloves you bought?’
‘Sure,’ Albus reached into a simple canvas bag that squatted beside his chair, pulling out a neat pair of brown leather Quidditch gloves and passing them to the man.
‘Nice,’ Greg observed, turning them over and stroking the fabric. ‘A heck of a lot better than mine were when I first started.’
‘You were a better player than me, though,’ Albus began to protest, only for the teacher to cut him off with a laugh.
‘Al...’ He shook his head. ‘I’d never even sat on a broom before my first day. You can be as good a player as you want to be.’
The eleven-year-old sighed. ‘Maybe.’
‘Definitely,’ Greg ruffled the boy’s already messy hair. ‘Just as long as you believe in yourself: if you don’t, who’s going to?’ He repeated a phrase which Theo had first mentioned during his own first-year. ‘Well, I think that’s everything, isn’t it?’ The teacher looked around, getting to his feet. ‘You two know how you’re getting back to the Burrow, and I think it’s about time we hit the road. Philip,’ he turned to the other man. ‘See you on Friday – half past ten, Kings Cross.’
Philip Llewellyn nodded. ‘Certainly.’ He stood up to shake Greg’s hand. ‘See you there.’
‘You ready, Dan?’ Greg asked the muggle-born boy, who began to gather his own belongings as he stood, leaving the teacher to call his farewells to the other children. ‘See you at Kings Cross.’
Few words were shared in Greg’s hatchback as the relentless beat of drums dominated the motorway journey back to Oxford. As the car neared the roundabout that would take them away from the ring road and back onto Daniel’s housing estate, Greg faded the volume down. ‘Do you want me to come in with you? Talk to your Mum?’
Daniel swallowed, turning his head away from the window through which he had been staring for the last half-hour. ‘It’s alright,’ he replied, quietly. ‘I’ll be fine.’
‘Okay,’ the teacher flicked his indicator into life. ‘I’ll wait in the car. Today hasn’t cost her a penny, remember.’
‘I know,’ Daniel’s face was expressionless, and Greg struggled to contain a sigh as he picked his way through the side streets towards Daniel’s house.
‘Here you are, mate.’
Daniel gathered up the bags that had sat in the passenger’s footwell, reaching for the door handle with his left hand before pausing. ‘Thanks for taking me today, sir.’
‘That’s okay, Dan,’ Greg managed a smile. ‘I’ll wait here until you’re in, and then I guess I’ll see you Friday... about eight o’clock.’
‘Eight?’ Daniel repeated. ‘You said half ten...’
The man laughed. ‘Have you ever tried driving into London on a morning?’
Daniel returned his smile, pushing the door shut and leaving the teacher to wind down the car’s window ready to watch and listen. As it turned out, however, there would have been no need to lower the glass.
‘DANIEL HAMILTON!’ The boy’s mother appeared in the house’s doorway before he could reach for his set of keys. ‘Where on earth do you think you have you been?’
‘Shopping,’ his reply was cold.
‘What did I tell you?’ Stephanie snapped back. ‘What did I say this morning?’
‘That we couldn’t afford it,’ Daniel grunted. ‘You said that you weren’t spending any of your hard-earned money on that magic shit.’
Stephanie purpled. ‘Language!’
‘That’s what you said,’ the boy didn’t apologise, ‘and I didn’t spend any of your money on this magic shit,’ he swore again. ‘Professor Bennett...’
The mention of the teacher’s name was enough to provoke Stephanie Hamilton into pushing past her son towards the black hatchback. ‘Hey,’ she shrieked. ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing with my boy?’
Greg glanced into the door mirror of his car, checking for passing traffic before letting himself out to answer the woman’s demand. ‘You know exactly what we were doing,’ he answered calmly. ‘Daniel starts at Hogwarts School on Friday...’
‘Daniel does not start at Hogwarts School on Friday,’ Stephanie snarled. ‘He will start at Gosford High, like everyone else.’
‘With all due respect,’ the teacher cut over her shout, ‘it is not your decision.’
‘Says who?’ The woman screamed, drawing ever closer to the teacher. ‘He’s my son.’
‘The law of the land,’ Greg held his nerve. ‘Any eleven-year-old in Britain who is eligible for a magical education has the right to a place of Hogwarts. End of story.’
‘Your land,’ Stephanie glared at him, her features contorting with rage. ‘Your laws.’
‘Wizarding laws are perfectly compatible with those of the muggle world,’ Greg explained. ‘If Daniel wishes to go to Hogwarts, he goes to Hogwarts.’
‘Fine!’ Stephanie exploded, turning back to the eleven-year-old. ‘Go to your fucking school, you treacherous little shit!’ She marched towards him. ‘Just don’t think you’re getting any help from me on the way. Give me your keys,’ she commanded, and Daniel, eyes wide, passed his set of house keys over without argument, ‘and don’t fucking come back!’ Stephanie stormed back into the house, slamming the door behind her.
‘Dan...’ Greg swallowed, turning his attention to the eleven-year-old, who stood, still open-mouthed, on the garden path. ‘Come on... let’s go. I’ll work something out.’
Without a word, the eleven-year-old nodded, picking up his bags and traipsing back to the front door of the hatchback. This time, there was no music to fill the trip back to London.
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