The Sugar Quill
Author: Chambraigne (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: First Meeting  Chapter: I. School Supplies
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

 

 

All characters belong to J.K. Rowling (except for the Flourish and Blotts manager and Severus Snape’s and Sirius Black’s parents, who I made up). This story is strictly for personal use and not for profit.

I. School Supplies

Severus Snape hated going to Diagon Alley especially during the day, when it was crowded with people shopping and lunching. If he could not avoid the place altogether, he preferred to go at night when he could silently walk in the shadows of almost empty buildings and go about his business in peace. At night, there were no middle-aged witches in cheerful robes asking him if he was all right with concerned eyes, or bustling shopkeepers furtively (sometimes not so furtively) watching him in case he tried to steal anything, or worst of all, other children staring and asking their parents in a whisper (sometimes not in a whisper) why that boy in the black robes looked like that. He didn’t care what any of these people thought of him, of course; he just wanted them out of his way.

Unfortunately, he had an entire day in Diagon Alley before him. It would take long enough to buy all his school supplies under normal circumstances, but searching for second-hand items in good condition, and amid the early summer mob alone, would be a shopping marathon. If his mother could have come, it would take less time--at least, he would have company--but she couldn’t, and he quickly put the thought out of his head. She was ill, and didn’t need to make herself worse by spending a day walking in the hot sun, being jostled about by clumsy oafs and fretting over prices. He could shop for his things alone.

It was early morning when he left the tiny room he shared with his mother on the edge of Knockturn Alley and walked quickly toward Gringotts Bank. There was no one else on the street at this hour; Knockturn Alley was a very apt name, since many of its regulars only came out at night, like proper freaks (although Severus knew a surprising number of people who did not understand the pun.) He felt uneasy going to the bank, but it wasn’t because of the usual things that bothered people about the place. He was used to goblins; he saw them outside the pubs near his home all the time, and knew some of their language. He was also used to the cold, dark confines of underground chambers; he’d spent so much time in dungeons from a young age that it was the sun and the open air that oppressed him. No, what bothered him was the fact that he was there to empty his mother’s vault of the little gold that was in it--much of which he himself had earned with the work he did in those dungeons (brewing Potions—mostly). He and his mother were so poor that all of their savings were barely enough to buy a trunk-full of school supplies: textbooks (used, of course); a Potions kit and cauldron (he had one of those, but it was industrial size 6, while the list specified standard size 2); a wand of his own (he’d used second-hand wands before; they were unpredictable at best, and could be dangerous); and school robes, black with the Hogwarts crest.

Severus forced himself not to think about his clothes--about his appearance at all--as he left the bank. It was best to act as though he had not the faintest idea why people turned their heads to look at him in the street as though he were some bedraggled young scholar too preoccupied with intellectual pursuits to notice his pale skin and greasy hair, his rotten teeth and emaciated body. He was a pureblood wizard, after all, no matter how ugly or shabby; there were many half-breeds and Mudbloods who would gladly accept his looks if they could have his ancestry. His lips curled as he thought about his genealogy--yes, he was pureblood all right. His father was from an old and noble wizarding family, even if he’d never met the man, and so was his mother (although his relatives on that side tended to die before their time--or end up in Azkaban). He had as much right to walk into any shop in Diagon Alley, or anywhere else in the magical world, and buy or not buy whatever he chose. If people thought he looked odd, they were welcome to snap a picture of him and take it home to study.

He was not even aware of the sneer spread across his face, the expression of someone who was much older, as he walked through Diagon Alley. He marched over to the Apothecary’s Shop first, with barely a glance at the Magical Menagerie (he had no money to buy a pet). With a professionally-trained eye, he considered the selection of ingredients available. The ingredients weren’t as potent as what could be found in Knockturn Alley, if one knew where to look, but were of a more consistent quality. The shopkeeper was honest; he was not trying to unload ingredients that had gone bad or had been illegally diluted on unsuspecting customers, and his prices were fair enough. It was best to buy all his ingredients here in any event; if the Potions professor at Hogwarts was even half competent, he could tell if they were from nonstandard sources. He already had brass scales and as many glass vials as he could want. He’d also already purchased new dragon hide gloves a few months ago; his old pair was too small, and the previous owner had not taken proper care of them, so they wore out prematurely and did not shield his skin as well as they should. As a result, patches of itchy red blisters had broken out on his arms, which were only now disappearing.

As he left the shop, he thought that the first part of his errand had gone well. The place had been almost empty when he arrived, and he had impressed the shopkeeper by engaging him in knowledgeable conversation about his wares, so much so that the man had sold him a cauldron someone had returned to the shop without using for less than some of the more battered ones. He checked his list again and thought that he should get his robes next, since he was standing near Madam Maulkin’s. He was ambivalent about buying his uniforms new instead of used. He dreaded going to Hogwarts in shabby second-hand robes, but he simply could not justify spending so much extra money to himself. However, his mother insisted that he not go to school looking “like a street urchin” and after many heated arguments he had acquiesced.

He strode up to the robe shop but did not go in and cursed himself for his hesitation. It was ridiculous that he should be afraid of a witch who sold robes when he lived among some of the most unsavory characters—thieves, smugglers, mercenaries, murderers--in the British wizard community. He was tempted to go to the second-hand shop after all, and wait out his mother’s anger at his disobedience later, because he would have been more comfortable there. But Severus reminded himself that his money, even if it was very little, was as good as anyone else’s. After all, Muggles who had produced a magical child by accident shopped at Madam Maulkin’s. He tried to concentrate on how stupid Muggle-borns looked, wandering about Diagon Alley gaping in awe at the most ordinary things, to summon his confidence. But instead he imagined himself, standing on a stool waiting to be measured. The picture was uncomfortably clear: a boy, dressed in robes so worn that they were blue-gray instead of black, with fraying sleeves and hem; so thin he looked diseased, with hollow cheeks and great gray circles under his eyes, the size of his nose exaggerated by his gauntness. Worst of all was the hair: Severus shuddered thinking about it. Once, he’d had beautiful hair—long, wavy, glossy black--that his mother had loved to brush and stroke. It was still long, still black, but now it was foul: slick with oil, matted and tangled, and filthy even though he had washed it that morning. He didn’t know what had caused it (overexposure to some compound in the dungeons, no doubt) but it had been like this for going on two years, and nothing helped. His mother had scrubbed his scalp until it bled, first with Scouring Charms and then her own hands; doused him with cleansing solutions that burned, and finally shaved it all off one night with a flick of her wand. She gave up when it grew back exactly as before: she screamed that it was a disgrace to have people thinking she didn’t keep her own child clean, and refused to touch it again. He no longer looked at his hair himself, and only washed it to keep it from smelling.

This was the boy he saw, all alone, surrounded by clean, healthy, beautiful children being fitted for brand new robes of perfect black. Next to these children stood their parents, with admiring and affectionate eyes, listening to them talk excitedly about the Hogwarts Express or racing brooms or whether there really were unicorns in the Forbidden Forest. And he knew, even if everyone there was pleasant and courteous to this boy, even if they didn’t stare or ask pointed questions or mutter under their breath, that the child simply did not belong with these people. His bloodline gave him the right to walk in their world, but that didn’t mean that he should.

Severus suddenly felt very exposed out in the street and the bright light, and, though he couldn’t have been more than a mile from his mother’s room, very far from home. The solid citizens of the wizarding world were, as always, beginning to stare, and he couldn’t just stand there, looking nervous; he needed to do something. He decided to get his wand, and strode as purposefully as he could down the street to Ollivanders.

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