Chapter 7 : Pocket Money
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8 August 1971
London buzzed. That’s how it seemed to Petunia, anyway: a swarming, buzzing, beehive of activity. Without the honey. Mum had promised that if they finished early with Lily’s shopping, they could go to Harrod’s to ride the Egyptian escalator and maybe get a sample of perfume. Petunia wondered if she could sneak an extra sample for Susie.
“It doesn’t make any sense!” Her father was saying as they emerged from the tube station into glaring sunshine. “I’ve been to Charring Cross Road hundred of times. I can tell you, there aren’t any signs for cauldrons or magic wands or pixie dust!”
Petunia half agreed with him and half wished he’d shut up. Dad had motion sickness on trains. After the train in from Cokeworth, and then the underground from St. Pancreas, he was hardly in a pleasant mood.
“Robert, please,” Mum said. She glanced anxiously at Lily, clearly intent that her youngest daughter would have a nice day out, so help the rest of them. No one ever spoiled Petunia this way.
“The whole thing still seems mad, Lizzie,” Dad said, and Mum’s eyes twitched toward Lily once again. Petunia wondered if they’d even notice if she disappeared down some intriguing alleyway. Surely there were loads of interesting things to see in London…
“The professor was perfectly pleasant, and there’s no denying that she turned into a cat. That was something else”—
“Shh!” Father looked around hurriedly, but the street was filled with gawking tourists and families out for an afternoon at the shops. No one was paying the slightest attention to them. “Anyway, the place should be here, right at this corner. If there’s no denying it, where is the place?”
At the front of their pack, Lily stopped abruptly, causing Petunia to nearly walk into her.
“Sorry Lils,” she murmured, but Lily ignored her. She pointed to a dingy pub. It was small and ragged, not to mention incredibly old looking, and Petunia had not even noticed it until Lily pointed it out. A small wooden sigh protruded from the stone entry: The Leaky Cauldron.
“There, that’s it,” Lily exclaimed, and set toward it at a trot.
Mother followed behind without comment, but father paused a moment, scratching absently at the back of his neck. “But… I could’ve sworn that was a locksmith…” he was mumbling, and looking between the pub and an address he’d written on a scrap of paper. He saw Petunia studying him and grinned. “The whole thing is odder than all get out, and you know your pop.”
“Chocolate and vanilla are plenty good,” Petunia grinned back. It was what he always said when they got ice cream at the beach and she and Lily bemoaned the lack of flavor offerings.
“Right you are. But, someone’s got to keep Lily and your mum from floating into the ether.” He winked. “On we go then, love.”
Feeling unusually fond of her father - both her parents had been the most irritating busybodies lately - Petunia slid her hand into his and together they entered the pub.
The space inside was considerably larger than Petunia expected. The man at the counter was pouring a suspicious looking drink for a blonde witch in a blue dress that Petunia felt sure her parents would never allow her to wear, not even when she was 40. All around, scattered through the poorly lit room, were men and women in odd clothing reminiscent of the dress the professor had worn, many sporting tall pointed hats. Two men sitting by the fire - a haggard-looking man with numerous scars and one enlarged eye that swiveled maddly, and a man in bright purple with the longest silver beard Petunia had ever scene, glanced at her family and exchanged a few words with knowing, though not unpleasant expressions. Father was speaking to the barman, and before Petunia had satisfied her curiosity he was towing her behind him along with Lily and Mum toward a small patio in the back.
“You sure you got to bring the other ‘un?” The man asked, tilting his chin at Petunia, and it took all her self-restraint not to poke out her tongue at him.
“Yes, we’ve got to bring her!” Mum snapped, and Petunia felt her sense of justice restored.
“Ah, well, I understand. Not encouraged, you know, for Muggles to enter unless it’s strictly necessary. I’m required to ask.” He gave an apologetic shrug.
Mum and Dad exchanged uncertain glances at his words, but then the man did something and they all forgot their irritation at once. Petunia hadn’t seen what he did - though she was certain Lily had and resolved to ask her later - but suddenly, quite out of nowhere, the brick wall at the back of the patio revealed an arched entryway onto the most jaw dropping street she had ever seen. Lily, who had been uncommonly quiet all day in a sort of uncanny ecstasy about the whole outing, gave an audible gasp and immediately crossed through the entryway into the vivid chaos beyond.
Mum and Dad walked behind her, and Petunia followed, her stomach now just as beehive-like as the London streets.
There were adverts everywhere, and while normally Petunia paid little attention to adverts, these were difficult to ignore. “SALE: Romanov’s Rune Stones! Made from real Baltic Amber!” “Buy Two Quills, Get One Free.” And, unbelievably, “TODAY ONLY: Cornish Pixie Dust Half Off.” (Ahead of her, Dad elbowed Mum in the ribs.) Shop windows displayed broomsticks, gleaming silver cauldrons, live owls, and a hundred other jaw dropping things. Besides the shops themselves, the people were hardly ordinary. Of course, the fashion was quite distinct from anything Petunia had seen before. Moreover, right before her eyes, a teenaged boy changed his own nose to that of a pig and snorted at a passing girl, who stuck her own perfect nose in the air and stormed off while his friend laughed loudly. A good-looking lad around Lily’s age hung back, awestruck, and grinned at the pig-nosed boy, until the girl came back and dragged him off.
Petunia had barely begun to take it all in, really, when Lily threw herself on her with a shriek. “Oh, Tuney! It’s amazing! Isn’t it amazing? I’m so glad Mum and Dad let you come.”
Petunia smiled. She couldn’t help it. “Yeah, it’s amazing,” she agreed. She wiggled out of Lily’s tackle and gave her a one-armed hug.
“Girls!” Dad’s voice bellowed from the far side of the street. “Come here.” He signaled over to where Mum had laid claim to a cast iron bench. They joined their parents, Mum having pulled out Lily’s school supply list to plan out the day’s shopping. She was bouncing thoughts off of Dad, who repeated them mindlessly. For all his earlier grumbling, he was now looking around the street with undisguised eagerness.
While Mum figured out the game plan using the shopping list and a neatly drawn map Professor McGonagall had given them, Lily and Petunia exchanged excited giggles and smirks over the bizarrely fascinating sights of the street. What had the barman called it? Diagon Alley, that was it.
“There’s lots of kids here,” Lily said. She was looking with interest at a boy a year or two her senior, walking alongside a woman in a hat topped with a vulture.
“Yeah,” Petunia agreed. “I wonder if any of them go to your same school?”
“There’s only one school of magic in Britain.”
“I thought that McGonagall lady said there were others?”
“There are others, but I think they’re in America and China and places like that.”
“Oh.” Petunia tried to imagine attending a school of magic in China and gave up. The very idea made her head spin.
“I guess these will be your mates then.” Petunia said.
“Yeah,” Lily agreed, suddenly a hair breathless.
Nearby, a plume of bright orange smoke erupted from a small explosion, and pair of sandy-haired twin boys burst into laughter.
Petunia laughed. “Good luck with that, Lils.”
Mum’s itinerary brought them first to a massive stone building, every bit as imposing as the Bank of England. Overhead, an ornate script christened the place Gringott’s Wizarding Bank. All of them, even their father, shrunk back a little at the sight of it, but eventually Mum sighed and said, “In we go then.”
The hall inside looked very much like the fancy banks Petunia had visited once or twice, with lots of marble and columns and little divided counters behind which grim employees counted out money. Except - and this was the most exceptional except of all time, Petunia thought - instead of men in suits and neckties, the employees were, honest to God, goblins. Lily’s eyes widened to perfect circles as they trailed behind Dad to a vacant counter, and Petunia thought she must look similarly cowed.
Petunia tried her best to appear curious rather than afraid, which was considerably closer to the truth, and the moment Dad finished exchanging a wad of pounds for a small pile of gold, silver, and bronze coins that looked like something out of a pirate’s treasure haul, she dashed out of the bank without looking round once.
The first place they went was a store called Madame Malkin’s, where tape measures hovered around children draped in black cloth, taking measurements entirely of their own accord. Petunia couldn’t take her eyes off of them the entire time Lily was being fitted. Then they went to a dusty little shop owned by a mustached man who frankly gave Petunia the creeps - she and Dad opted to wait outside. Despite the oddity of the place, Lily emerged from it with a grin the size of an elephant, carrying the new purchase - an actual magic wand - as if it were the most valuable thing on Earth. Petunia didn’t blame her, to be honest.
They were slurping at enormous ice cream cones from a street vendor when Mum leaned over and handed Petunia a single silver coin. Petunia looked up in surprise.
“I think you deserve some pocket money,” Mum smiled.
“Really?” Petunia knew her parents could barely afford Hogwarts, and pocket money of any kind was a definite luxury. “Thank you so much, Mum!”
“Just, nothing too magical, okay? I don’t want the neighbors to call the cops on us!”
Petunia giggled. “Yeah, alright.” She polished the coin with a thumb. On one side, it bore a coat of arms and the words “One Sickle.” On the other side was an engraving of a witch in clothes that looked old even by the standards of the magical world, framed by the name Morgan Le Fay. “Cool,” she breathed, and considered keeping the coin instead of buying anything.
That idea vanished almost at once. Across the table, Lily had delicately removed her magic wand from it’s protective box, and was gently swishing it so that it emitted a small shower of golden sparks. “I want a wand,” she stated. “That’s what I want.”
“Petunia,” Dad said, overhearing, “you know you can’t have a wand. It’s too dangerous having one at home. Besides, they cost an arm and a leg! It was more than the rest of this haul put together to get your sister’s!”
“Sorry, Dad,” Lily mumbled, flushing. Petunia rolled her eyes.
“I don’t care!” She barged on, ignoring her mother’s unusually stern look. She jumped up from the table and snaked through the crowded street to the wand shop, which was thankfully nearby. She hadn’t gone in before, and once inside she was surprised by the quiet, as if there weren’t hundreds of people just on the other side of the door.
“Hello miss,” said the odd man she’d seen before. “Can I help you?”
“There’s nothing to be nervous about,” he interrupted. “We’ll find you a wand in no time.”
“Yes!” She agreed, finding her voice. “I’d like a wand please.” She held out her hand politely, and the man laughed.
“I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way. The wand chooses the wizard—er, witch— you see.”
“Huh?” The man seemed crazier with every passing second, and his eyes took on a misty expression as be began to pull thin boxes off the wall. “Here.” He jabbed a stick of wood into her hand, but it had hardly been there a moment when he snatched it back and replaced it with another nearly identical stick. This went on for some minutes, Petunia letting him administer the objects in overwhelmed silence. Finally, when she was nearly dizzy from the strange man’s attentions, Dad entered the shop, and the rush of noise that came through the door with him shook Petunia out of some kind of trance.
“Petunia Anne Evans! What do you think you’re doing? You mother just about had a heart attack when you dashed off like that.” He took her hand and headed back toward the door, adding to the man as he went, “I’m so sorry about my daughter, sir. I don’t know what she was thinking. Apologize for wasting the man’s, time,” he prodded her.”
“Sorry,” Petunia muttered.
“Wasting my time? But, doesn’t she need a wand?”
“No,” Father said curtly.
The man paused for a moment to take them both in, and his face softened with understanding. “I see. Muggles. You’ve got a child at Hogwarts then?”
“Yeah,” Dad answered. “Our younger daughter.”
“I must say, I’m a bit relieved. You had me worried, miss. None of the wands took to you at all! It all makes sense now, doesn’t it?”
Petunia felt her cheeks redden as Dad nodded and, wishing the man a pleasant afternoon, ushered her back into the street.
After a thorough chastisement from her parents, Petunia followed behind her family in dour silence for the next several hours while they bought scores and scores of things for Lily. It could have been worse. Mum coaxed Dad into letting her keep her unspent pocket money, which made it hard to be entirely gloomy. The bookstore they went in first was a bit dull - although Lily didn’t think so at all, and was nearly down on her knees begging for every book she could get her hands on. However, after that they visited stores absolutely bursting to the seams with magic. Petunia would have happily taken home anything in site, apart from some of the nastier items in the Apothecary, where Pixie dust was by far on the more pleasant end of the spectrum. She ended up with a mood ring that really worked, a package of a candy called Fizzing Whizbees, an imitation wand, and a magazine called “Magical Miss” that she had to absolutely swear not to show her friends because the photographs moved.
They ended the shopping spree back in the Leaky Cauldron, where Dad bought fish and chips for lunch. The food was delicious, but Lily scarfed hers down in a rush and spent the rest of the meal looking eagerly through a book called Hogwarts: A History. Petunia thought it look horribly dull, until Lily opened a page for her bearing a black and white photograph of an enormous stone castle, complete with towers and bridges and an enormous lake on one side.
“Look, Tuney,” Lily whispered, “Hogwarts.”
“That’s a school?” It was even more incredible than she’d imagined. Despite her lingering bitterness, the truth slipped out: “It’s beautiful.”
The green of Lily’s eyes seemed to brighten at Petunia’s words. “We’ll go there together someday, Tuney. Think how cool that would be!”
Petunia wanted to answer, but she couldn’t find the words, and then Mum said, “Girls, do you still want to stop by Harrod’s? I think we’ve got enough time.”
Lily shrugged, turning to a new page. Petunia knew she ought to say yes. Lily had been in the spotlight all day, Petunia trailing behind like the afterthought she was, and Mum was trying to make her feel included She should’ve been grateful. Truthfully, though, she felt a bit worn out from the crazed bewitchment of Diagon Alley. She could’ve used a nap. Besides, there was simply no denying it: The Egyptian staircase at Harrod’s seemed hardly worth bothering about next to the incredible sights of the day. “Nah, that’s alright. I’m a bit tired.”
“You’re sure?” Mum asked, surprised.
“Excellent,” Dad responded, and his relief was obvious. “I’ve had more than enough of shops for the day.”
“Me too,” Lily agreed, her nose still stuck in her fat book.
Petunia nodded absently. Dad paid the bill, and Mum gathered up their many parcels for the trip back home, handing a few of the bags to Petunia. They exited the pub and walked back toward the underground station, quiet with weariness from a very busy day, and the complete normalcy of the world - even the busy London world - made Petunia’s throat catch. She had a palpable feeling of having lost something desperately important. Diagon Alley lingered in her memory like an intangible but delicious flavor that glimmered and awed without effort. Already she craved to return to the magic, and somewhere under her eagerness she felt a little tickle of knowledge, an indistinguishable whisper that something was off. For the rest of time, would the regular world appear dusty and dull? Petunia didn’t think she could stand it.
She looked at Lily again. “You promise?” She whispered.
Lily smiled. “I promise.”
Thank you so much for reading! As always, a review would make my day.
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