When aunt Petunia went shopping, she often took Dudley along so that he could choose some toys and sweets for himself. Harry was usually left at home to complete his chores, or serve some punishment. Even when she went to pick some clothes up for the boy, in the second hand clothes shop on the other side of town, Harry was left behind.
Truthfully, the only time he remembered being inside of a shop was a few days ago, when father took him to the bookstore. The prospect of another outing to the shops was very unsettling, his cousin was always overcome with glee at any such opportunity, but he knew not to expect anything for himself. Maybe his father just needed someone to carry his shopping for him? Yes, that made sense, as his father didn’t have a car.
The man was waiting by the front door when he returned downstairs, hands on his hips and a ferocious scowl on his face.
“There are some rules to this outing,” he said sternly to the child, who came to a jarring halt a few metres away from him. “Which you will obey religiously, or your behind will be very sore by the time I’m through with you. You will hold my hand at all times on the pavement or as we cross the street, and stay in my sight inside the shops. I will not tolerate temper tantrums or arguments, when I refuse to buy something. One complaint, and we’ll cut this shopping spree short. Is that understood, Harry?”
“Y-yes, father,” Harry stammered, his eyes going wide at the possibility of a harsh punishment.
“Repeat to me what I just told you,” the man instructed, smirking when the boy obeyed, reciting word perfect what had been said, his small voice trembling in fear. “Outstanding listening comprehension, Harry. Alright, we may go.”
Swallowing his anxiety, the boy stepped closer and took father’s outstretched hand, his grip was firm but not yet painful, but Harry suspected that would change when the man started to stretch his long legs. They walked up the path and out the rickety gate, but paused when Mrs. Wilkinson hailed them from the next property.
“Good day to you, madam,” father said politely, dipping his head in acknowledgement as the elderly woman came up to her gate. “How may we be of assistance?”
“Good day,” Mrs. Wilkinson answered sourly, nodding her chin at the silent child. “I’m merely surprised to see this one out and about, rather than nursing his sore arse, as my Eliot is doing. He deserved a hiding for lying and talking Eliot into doing the same, you need to take him in hand, Severus!”
Harry gasped, his free hand trailing to touch his bum, and his eyes filling with tears at the terrible realisation that his friend had been punished for helping him.
“I assure you that Harry has been sternly admonished for his foolish actions,” father said in his most imposing voice. “We’re out and about, as you say, to replenish the boy’s wardrobe as you advised, and I see no reason to delay the errand to allow the miscreant time to sulk.”
“Oh,” the woman’s face cleared off its previous disapproval, her sharp eyes took in the tears on the child’s cheeks and a hand on his rear, and she seemed satisfied at this evidence of stern chastisement. “Quite right, we mustn’t let them run amok.”
“Is Eliot alright?” Harry choked out before father could pull him away. “It wasn’t his fault!”
“My grandson has a mind of his own, which he should have used,” Mrs. Wilkinson scolded softly, but she patted the boy on the head, pleased to see how upset he was on her Eliot’s behalf. “He’ll be fine, you may visit him again soon.”
“Thank you,” he whispered, he felt incredibly guilty that the younger boy got in trouble because he made the wrong choice. It was unfair that Eliot had been punished, when father only lectured him about his behaviour.
“Here, wipe your nose,” father said, startling the boy out of his misery.
He took the offered handkerchief and blew his nose hard, they had been walking briskly for a while by then, and as he looked up, he realised that they were nearing a large grocery shop.
“I suppose you’d like to push the trolley, hmm?” the man mused, pulling one of the empty trolleys outside over, and relinquishing it to the astonished child. “No speeding inside, I don’t bloody believe myself…”
Harry looked at his father warily, he had never been given this chore before, and he worried he would do something wrong. The boy put his hands on the horizontal bar at the back of the trolley, and began pushing it alongside his father.
At the beginning, he couldn’t keep the unwieldy thing from going all over the place, even bumping into the man’s calf by accident. Harry froze in terror, certain that he would be punished for that, but father only put a hand on the trolley to help steer it, and told him to be more careful.
The boy was tense as a spring as they moved along the different aisles in the shop, father piled all kinds of food products into the trolley, until it became heavy. He tried not to think how much money it would cost, surely he’d be put on short rations soon to recover some of the coin that had been wasted on food he’d eaten lately.
“You’ve behaved well enough,” father suddenly broke the silence, as they walked up a new aisle. “You may choose one packet of biscuits, go on.”
Harry looked at the shelves with trepidation, they were filled with different kinds of biscuits and cakes, so much to choose from that one could get a headache trying to decide. He stared, picking out some of Dudley’s favourites with his eyes, but quite unable to move any closer. The boy wasn’t allowed to eat sweets, feeding him was quite expensive enough.
“Well?” the man demanded impatiently, gesturing toward the shelves. “Which ones do you want, boy? We don’t have all day to stare at them!”
Harry began to shake, he couldn’t touch them, he hadn’t even touched the cakes that Eliot’s grandmother brought for them. He had been too afraid, as he was too terrified now, the boy knew that something terrible would happen if he ever touched any of Dudley’s things.
A gentle finger brushed across his cheek, catching a few tears, the child whimpered, wide eyes flying to the man’s face. His father looked… rather strange.
“What is wrong, Harry?” he asked in the mildest voice the boy had ever heard directed at him, and it made him brave enough to tell the truth.
“I don’t eat sweets, father,” he said softly.
“Oh?” the man raised his eyebrows in evident surprise. “I do, on occasion, and it’s best to have some sweets on hand for when Albus visits,” father picked a packet of biscuits at random, and threw it on top of their shopping. “Will you help me pick out some fruit, Harry?”
“Yes, sir,” the boy answered meekly.
Harry was relieved to be leaving the sweets aisle, but helping father choose fruit turned out to be almost as frustrating. The man was completely undecided, asking the boy for advice all the time, when he had no idea what most of them even were.
“Aunt Petunia likes these,” he finally said, indicating the peaches, he was exasperated with the man changing his mind constantly.
“I wouldn’t trust her recommendation,” father muttered darkly. “What would you like?”
He had been asked this at least a hundredth time by then, at first, he had been extremely wary of giving any opinion. Usually, father chose whatever he wanted, when the boy gave no preference, but now he was stubborn on purpose! Eventually, Harry was so irritated that he marched toward the fruit boxes with a scowl, and pointed out the pretty red ones that he’d never seen at the Dursleys.
“Strawberries? Excellent choice,” the man said, as he loaded a big bag of them onto the trolley, adding apples and oranges.
“Why didn’t you say you wanted those?” the boy demanded indignantly.
“Because I wanted to see what you wanted, dunderhead,” father responded dryly, as he pushed the trolley towards the register. “Now, mind your tone before you earn yourself a sore behind.”
Harry huffed, rubbing his bottom worriedly, he didn’t dare say another word, but his face spoke volumes about his feelings. The man paid, and packed the mountain of food into a smallish shoulder bag that Harry could have sworn they hadn’t brought from home. They parked their empty trolley outside, and started walking towards the pedestrian crossing before he worked up the nerve to ask.
“Did you magic the bag, father?” the boy whispered, not entirely sure if he was in trouble or not.
“What bag?” the man inquired with a smirk.
The street lights changed, and Harry was pulled across while gaping at father’s empty shoulder, where the bag had been moments ago.
“Where did it go? I saw it, and now it’s gone!”
“I imagine it’s waiting at home for the unpacking,” the man drawled. “Now, be quiet. This topic can’t be discussed around people without special talent like ours.”
The boy frowned, trying to figure out what special talent of his father could be referring to. As far as he knew, Harry’s only talent was the ability to clean the house faster than aunt Petunia. They stopped at a vendor to buy fish and chips for lunch, and ate at a park bench. He looked around, trying to determine if this was the same park they had been at before, but he couldn’t see the swings anywhere.
“Why can’t we talk about magic?” Harry finally asked, deciding that must have been what the man meant, even though he didn’t know any.
“That’s the law,” father explained, fishing for a chip in his almost empty paper bag. “We aren’t allowed to share anything about magic with people who aren’t magical, and that includes your pal Eliot.”
“That’s unfair!” the boy protested, angry tears stinging his eyes. “You’re supposed to share secrets with friends, not hide them!”
The man laced his fingers behind his neck, leaning back against the bench’s backrest, and gazed pensively at the scowling child.
“Life is very rarely fair, Harry,” he said in a dry voice. “And breaking the rules always has unpleasant consequences. As you are a child, you’d only get a spanking from me, while I, as the adult responsible for you, could get a hefty fine from the Ministry of Magic. Little Eliot, however, would face the worst consequence of being made to forget. Do you think it’s fair to risk his sanity just for the comfort of sharing a secret?”
Harry was horrified, his chin was quivering as he listened to father’s matter-of-fact depiction of what the Ministry of Magic did to Muggles [that were people without magic] who found out that magic was real.
“That’s terrible!” the boy wailed, fat tears running down his face. “I don’t want them to hurt Eliot!”
“Indeed,” the man nodded sagely. “We are responsible for keeping our neighbours safe from the Obliviators. Do you know how we can best protect them, Harry?”
“By keeping magic secret,” he whined, wiping his face with a sleeve.
“Yes,” father murmured, pulling the boy’s hand away from his face, and drying his tears with a handkerchief. “Have you eaten enough?”
Harry glanced at a few remaining cold chips in his bag without enthusiasm, and nodded. To his surprise, the man didn’t immediately launch into a lecture about wasting food, he gathered the paper containers and deposited them in a nearby rubbish bin.
“Come, we have a Primark to visit,” father said, holding out his hand for the child to take.
The boy gave a sigh, but clasped the man’s hand without hesitation. The outing hadn’t been as bad as he expected, there were a few tense moments when he was a little scared, but mostly it was ok. They were walking along a really high curb that separated the lawn from the pavement, and on a whim he jumped on the curb, and started tip-toeing along it.
“Are you trying to spring your ankle?” father rebuked him, gripping his hand more tightly and slowing to a crawl.
The boy looked up at the scowling man, grinning from ear to ear.
“I always wanted to try it,” he explained.
“I see,” the man said dryly. “If this is a developmental milestone for you, then by all means, pretend to be a monkey.”
“Can we go faster?” he asked enthusiastically.
“Hold out your other hand to the side for balance,” the man grumbled, rolling his eyes at the heavens.
Harry did as instructed, and grinned even wider when they sped up a little. That was a lot of fun, walking like that, but much too soon they had to cross to the other side of the street again. He jumped to the pavement with a regretful sigh.
“Ankles survived in good shape?” father inquired mockingly.
Harry nodded, suddenly a bit embarrassed about behaving so childishly, he peeked up at the man’s stern face, but he didn’t seem to be angry, only impatient that they had to wait for the lights to change again. They went into a clothes shop that was simply enormous, and the merchandise was so new and colourful that the boy’s eyes almost fell out of his sockets from staring. It all looked very expensive, like nothing he had ever owned in his entire life.
Father led him towards a colourful children’s section, and his heart started to pound in anxiety at seeing all those pretty and clean things that didn’t fit a worthless brat like himself.
“I can’t have any of these things…” he said in a hushed voice.
“Excuse me?!” the man abruptly growled. “Not good enough for you, boy?”
Harry peered up at the suddenly tightening expression of his father, and gulped in fear. He didn’t understand how he managed to offend the man, when he only said that these things were too nice for him.
“These things aren’t right for me,” he tried to explain, but it only seemed to make the situation worse.
“Enough,” the man snapped, grabbing the boy’s arm with one hand, and delivering a sharp smack to his posterior with the other. “I don’t care what designer clothes you think you ought to have,” he scolded harshly. “These are adequate to your needs, so stop complaining, I’ve no intention to pay five times the price just so that you can have a fashionable tag!”
Harry ducked his head, his face flushing crimson in mortification that father misunderstood him so horribly. It was always Dudley who threw screaming fits demanding expensive presents, but Harry knew his place in the world very well. He knew he needed to explain that he didn’t deserve such pretty things, but father’s lips were pressed into such a firm line that the boy didn’t dare make another sound. Father asked a pretty shop assistant to help select all manner of clothes for him, but before she could pull Harry away, the man pushed his chin up, until he was forced to meet his angry eyes.
“You will behave yourself for Ms… Redflock,” father instructed in his strictest voice. “Or I’ll buy all your shirts and trousers in some horrible pink. Is that understood, Harry?”
The boy felt dizzy as blood drained away from his face at the horrid threat, it would be much worse than a whipping for sure. He’d have to run away and live in a forest somewhere to avoid the ridicule.
“I’ll be good,” he promised hoarsely.
The young shop assistant was grinning as she took the child by the hand, and pulled him to look at the clothes. She started by showing him all the different shirts in pink, they were all so girly and frilly that his eyes filled with tears of humiliation.
“Chill, I’m just teasing you,” she laughed. “Your dad’s a cruel bas-, er, let’s go pick up some manly clothes, right?”
After that bit of fun at his expense, Abigail [that was the girl’s name] only showed him very nice things for boys. Harry argued weekly that they were too expensive, but she didn’t seem to listen, and he was too afraid of father hearing his complaints to try very hard. He looked back towards the register, but from this distance he could only make out a dark imposing figure. Sighing, the boy pointed out a red t-shirt that he liked best.
It took ages before Abigail was satisfied that they had enough clothes, and Harry hoped that the huge pile of clothes would last him at least until he was twenty, as it was very exhausting. There were several short- and long-sleeved shirts, a few pairs of trousers and shorts, underwear and socks, and even three jumpers - so much that he doubted anyone could really afford it in one go, and he watched father’s face carefully for a reaction.
“Here, you’re set for a while,” Abigail said cheerfully, dumping her load on the counter. “Except for the shoes, you’ll have to look in the footwear department, sir.”
Harry groaned at hearing that, earning himself a critical glance from the man.
“Thank you,” he said as he pulled out his wallet. “Have you got school uniforms as well?”
The boy trailed to the window in boredom, as the girl added a school uniform to the mount Everest of clothes, and began figuring out how much it all cost. He peered with longing at the people outside who weren’t trapped in this miserable shop, when he caught sight of a familiar shade of brown hair pulled into a tight bun on the opposite side of the busy street.
“Aunt Petunia!” he breathed.