I stayed close on the heels of this auburn-headed man, this almost-stranger who called himself Professor Dumbledore. I could still hardly believe that this place was real. The hustle bustle of the alley enveloped me, welcoming me with open arms into this world of power and magic. At first glance Diagon Alley was the same as any old market district in London. There were old women chatting over cups of coffee, young men taking their sweethearts on a special date, and mothers rushing through the shops with a bunch of children behind them. It was the little details that made this place different. Beside the abandoned coffee cups lay the morning paper, with pictures as vivid and moving as if they were a miniature version of life. In the grasp of the young men’s palms lay their own magic wands, waiting for the right moment to deliver a heart-shaped cloud of proposal to their sweethearts. And the mothers were clutching bags upon bags of books, spell books and monster books and powerful books.
We walked down the alley in silence. Professor Dumbledore had long given up on trying to converse with me, which didn’t bother me at all. He nodded at people on the sidewalk, smiling an acknowledgement at them as we pass by. It seemed as though he knew most people in this magical world, a fact in which I envied him. Of course I would envy Dumbledore, he had in his hands the best things in the world. With his wand he had power, and with his position her had respect. I stared hungrily at the tip of the wand jutting out of Professor Dumbledore’s pocket.
“Here’s the robe shop,” said Professor, climbing up the steps into a dark and murky shop.
I followed suit, although if I had my choice we would be visiting the wand shop first. As the door closed behind me, a powerful smell of mothballs hit my nostrils. I lifted my eyes and scanned the room, feeling very insignificant next to the impossibly tall shelves of folded robes. Professor Dumbledore was already at the counter, talking to the owner.
“...were hoping that you have some decent robes for first years left...” said Dumbledore as I approached the pair.
“Of course,” said the fat man behind the counter, “We just need a few measurements is all, before I summon the robes. Ah, is this the boy? Well, he’s a handsome one, if unfortunate.”
The man looked me up and down from behind the counter, his eyes calculating. Suddenly he raised a robust arm holding the wand and pointed it at me. I jumped back. It was a mere reaction of surprise, not fright. He flicked his wrist and mumbled something like ‘accio tape’, and to my disbelief a worn roll of tape measure flew down from the shelf behind me straight into his outstretched palm.
“Now, this will be quick,” he said in between his mutterings to the tape measure, “Hold your arms out and stay still.”
I did as he told me, secretly laughing in my head at his close resemblance to Humpty Dumpty. The measuring was lightning fast, and in no time at all Humpty summoned down two robes from a high up shelf and handed them to me.
“Try them on boy,” he ordered, “Should fit fine.”
They fitted me all right, but the sleeves were frayed slightly and the elbows worn. It was not the brand new robe that a first year student would’ve wanted, rather a cast off from an ancient student. As I folded the robes up neatly, Professor pushed four brass coins over the counter. We left the mothball-scented room after a curt farewell from Humpty. I clutched the big brown parcel to my chest, trying to control my shivers as I walked through the alley, its crisp air touched with the first chill of winter.
We visited shops from the further end of the alley, bookshops filled with the musty smell of prehistoric books and junkshops filled with the most ridiculous rubbish one could buy. I handed my booklist over at Brutus’ Books, where a stick-thin man returned me the list on top of a pile of crumbling textbooks. I gingerly deposited the dog-eared books into my satchel, biting my lips to stop the tears from coming. I didn’t want to seem weak, and feeling upset about starting school equipped with a beggar’s possessions was definitely being weak.
The junkshop was quite a treasure trove once I started digging through. I was sent in by Professor Dumbledore to search out a suitable cauldron, but after a few minutes I was too distracted to even think straight, let alone about something as boring as a cauldron. There were all sorts of strange things, from faded masquerade masks that tinge the wearer’s hair to match its colour to chessboards with pieces that are alive. I ran my hand along the shelf, my eyes wide with interest.
“What are you looking for?” asked the matronly mistress of the shop.
“Oh. I want a cauldron, one that would be suitable for Hogwarts?” I replied, quickly taking my hand away from the shelf.
“There’s no cauldron here,” she told me, attempting to pull her face into something more agreeable than the scrunched up frown that she was wearing, “You’d better try looking down the next isle, at the end near the corner.”
I thanked her and walked away, silently cursing her for disrupting my moment of joy. Rounding the corner I saw the cluster of cauldrons and headed towards them. I squat down between the clusters and a basket of chameleon buttons and started to inspect the rusty cauldrons. All of them were worse for wear, many dented and chipped. Eventually I picked out the best cauldron, one with only two minor dents and a slight layer of rust. I headed to the counter.
“Just taking the cauldron?” the matronly woman asked from behind the counter.
“Yes,” I answered, my voice a little sharp.
“Well that’ll be three knuts,” she told me, “Oh, what have we here? Trying to smuggle away an item are you?”
“No!” I said, flustered as she took a little figurine out from inside the cauldron.
It was a beautiful figurine, one of an angel perching on a cloud holding a shiny hourglass to her chest. The tips of the angel’s wings were still decorated with gold paint, and her face was radiant despite the missing chunk of her hair. Eyeing me accusingly, the woman tucked the angel on the shelf behind her.
“Wait, how much would that figurine cost?” I asked, feeling an unnatural urge to have the angel with her shining hourglass.
“Two knuts,” she told me.
“How about one? I only have four knuts and I need to buy the cauldron,” I negotiated.
“No, two knuts. That hourglass frame is good silver, so the price ain’t going down,” she said stubbornly.
I left the shop with my cauldron after she refused to budge the price. As I exited, I swear the angel was staring at me, her smile smug as she tilted her head towards the hourglass.