Greeting Gringotts – A Cautionary Tale
Calvin’s mother seemed almost disappointed when Professor McGonagall informed her that she would not be taking Calvin away to Hogwarts just yet, which worried the stern, yet caring, witch. She’d talked to the woman a bit longer, explaining to her that a portkey would be delivered to the house on the morning of September 1st, ready to take Calvin to King’s Cross station. She told her that he would be coming home for holidays the same way, and gave her the dates of said holidays, as well as the end of term.
After that, they left to go shopping for Calvin’s school supplies – all of which were listed on the parchment that had accompanied the letter – at a place called Diagon Alley. Professor McGonagall teleported them – wizards called it ‘apparating’ apparently – to a busy street in London, lined with shops. The telepor- apparating made his stomach feel funny, sort of like making a wrong turn in his wagon on the way down the hill and ending up dropping off the short cliff at the end.
“Ugh,” Calvin moaned, stumbling a bit and placing a fist over his mouth. “Tastes like Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs.”
“I’m sorry?” said Professor McGonagall, looking at him in concern.
“Nothing. So this is Diagon Alley?” He looked around. It was definitely bustling, but nothing about it really screamed ‘magic.’
“Oh heavens no, Mr. Calvin, this is still muggle London – Diagon Alley is hidden from the muggle community, of course.”
“Muggle?” questioned Calvin. Sounded to him like an obscure alien race.
“Muggles are non-wizards, people who cannot use magic. Now follow me, and don’t dawdle.” The green-clad witch set off across the street, and Calvin cursed his short legs as he tried to keep up. I always knew everyone else was an alien, he thought to himself as they reached the far sidewalk. They approached a large book shop, and Professor McGonagall pointed at where it ended and a record shop began. “That’s where we’re headed,” she said. And suddenly, there was another shop there – he’d only noticed it once she’d pointed it out, but it must have been there the entire time. It was a small, greasy-looking bar.
“We’re going to a bar?” Calvin exclaimed. “Gosh, I’ve always wanted to go to a bar! My dad went to a bar once, but he told me I wasn’t old enough to go. Mom said that dad shouldn’t have told me about it at all, and they started arguing, so Hobbes and I just headed out back to our tree house for a G.R.O.S.S. meeting, but then Susie showed up and started arguing with us, and we tried to ignore her while singing the anthem, only by the time we’d finished all seventeen verses it was dark and we had to go in.” He glanced up at Professor McGonagall excitedly. “Are we going to get wicked drunk?”
She thought back to her conversation with Calvin’s mother. Perhaps the boy’s tendency to talk until he ran out of breath stemmed from a lack of interaction with other people, and a need to say as much as he could to those who did pay attention to him. She dearly hoped he’d make friends quickly, and that that habit of his would be dropped. “No, Mr. Calvin, we are not going to ‘get wicked drunk,” the Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts replied, sounding mildly offended at the mere thought of such activity. “This is the Leaky Caldron, and it is the entrance to Diagon Alley. Stay close, now.” She stepped forward and entered the darkly lit bar, holding the door open just long enough for Calvin to slip through.
Wow, I can’t wait to tell Hobbes that I got to go to bar! I hope he’s okay at home without me – I usually never leave him alone during summer vacation. There sure are a lot of old people in here. Professor McGonagall seems to be pretty well known, is she famous or something? That guy looks like he’s had way too much to drink. Cool, I’ve never seen a pipe like that before, is the smoke supposed to be purple? I wonder if it’s magic smoke.
Calvin followed his temporary guardian up to the bar, where a very bald and very toothless old man stood on the other side, pointlessly trying to polish a grimy glass with an even grimier cloth. “Another one for Hogwarts, Professor?” he said with a gummy grin, setting down the glass and draping the cloth over his shoulder.
Professor McGonagall nodded to the barman. “Good day to you, Tom, and yes. We’re rather in a hurry…” she trailed off, eyeing the door at the back left of the room.
“Of course, Professor, head on through, nice seein’ you,” Tom said happily, picking up the glass and resuming ‘his polishing’.
They headed out of the bar through the doorway, into a cramped sort-of-courtyard that didn’t appear to contain anything other than a rusted trash can. “Why are you in a hurry, Professor McGonagall?” Calvin asked, looking around the courtyard curiously. “Are the shops going to close or something?” There didn’t seem to be any sort of door in the brick wall, which quite confused him.
“I was only in a hurry to get out of that place,” the Scottish witch replied sharply. “I do not enjoy the…atmosphere. Now, let’s see,” she said, studying the bricks. Then she drew a smooth length of wood from her wide sleeve, and tapped a certain brick with it, three times. The tapped brick began to squirm.
“Is that a wand?” asked Calvin, staring at the polished wood in her hand. Meanwhile, the brick grew a hole in its center, a hole which continued to expand, eating away at brick after brick. “Is that how you do magic? Do I get a wand? How many wands do I get? I’m pretty good at losing things, so I think I’d need at least three to get through the year. Does everyone have the same wand? Can I get a yellow one? Or maybe orange or- wait, can I get a wand with flame patterns? Or, or, with the batman symbol on it? Oh! I want a wand that looks like a water pistol! Do they have those?” he finished, looking up Professor McGonagall and tilting his head in question.
Professor McGonagall, for her part, was staring at Calvin with a mixture of amazement and utter bafflement. The hole in the brick wall had expanded until it formed a perfect archway, far taller than her even with her hat on. Calvin was still looking at her, apparently waiting for an answer. Most muggleborns responded with much surprise when they witnessed the bricks transforming into the archway to Diagon Alley. Some simply stood in shock, staring at what had appeared on the other side. A few even fainted. Professor McGonagall shook her head to clear it, and walked through the magical archway.
“Come now, Mr. Calvin, we must first go to the bank, Gringotts, to exchange the muggle money your parents have given me for wizarding currency. Your wand is one of the last things on our list for this trip, so you will have to wait to see what type of wand you receive.” She pulled out the list of school supplies and scanned the contents. “And no, I highly doubt there are any that look like water pistols.”
“Aw, really?” Calvin responded, disappointment evident in his voice. He rushed to catch up with the swift professor. “Are you positive?”
“I would bet my hat on it,” came the reply.
The shops they passed on their way to Gringotts had odd names. Names like Eeylops Owl Emporium, The Apathetic Apothecary, and Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions – okay, so that last one wasn’t too odd. But wizards sure seemed to like alliteration.
They passed stalls selling cauldrons – “All shapes! All sizes! All flavours!” – shop windows piled to the top with jars of…things floating in strange fluids – ‘Buy one, get one, but only the one you bought’ read the sign out front – and one shop selling ordinary-looking telescopes, the man standing by its door yelling loudly and fervently, “You can see the moon! You can see the stars! You can see the end of time and space! You can see the present! You can see what’s happening, even if they don’t have a clue! You can see that they’ll fall in love! You can see the bottom line!” His voice faded behind them, but Calvin thought he could hear something about a trio being down to two.
As they rounded a corner, a grinning man in maroon robes bounded out from the shadow of a stall and placed himself in front of Calvin, grabbing his arm. “You, young man! I know what you need!”
Calvin was taken aback by the man’s forthrightness, but answered, “What do I need?”
“You need a broom!” The man, still grinning – actually it was getting a bit creepy, his mouth muscles didn’t seem to be working properly – pointed energetically to the window of the shop right next to them, which displayed an extremely polished broom resting on a shining stand, a plaque below it claiming it to be a ‘Nimbus 2000.’ “And not just any broom,” the man continued enthusiastically, “the fastest broom in the entire world! With the Nimbus 2000, none of your friends – or enemies – will be able to keep up! So, what do you say, boy?” He smiled even wider and gave Calvin a hopeful thumbs-up.
“No thanks, I’m not really into competitive sweeping,” answered Calvin with a shrug. The man frowned in confusion, his eyebrows slowly drifting down from where they’d been hugging his hairline. He didn’t seemed to be about to say anything else, so Calvin returned to Professor McGonagall’s side.
She chuckled and looked down at him. “The Nimbus 2000 is a flying broom, Mr. Calvin, and if you were to use it for sweeping anything I could not guarantee your safety – there are many Quidditch fanatics who would turn violent if they knew of a racing broom being put to such mundane uses.”
“What’s Quidditch?” Sounds like a nasty disease.
“It is the national wizarding sport, played in the air, on brooms such as the Nimbus.” Huh, I was right.
They walked for a while longer before coming to a blindingly white structure that soared into the sky, far taller than any of the surrounding shops. Two strange creatures stood outside the bronze double doors, wearing matching scarlet uniforms. Their faces were pointed and seemed to be made of greenish, wrinkled leather, and their unusually long fingers ended in yellowed claws.
“Aliens!” Calvin shrieked, quickly ducking behind Professor McGonagall. When nothing else happened, he peeked out, turning his head up. “Those are aliens, right?”
The bemused witch smiled dryly. “Those are goblins, Mr. Calvin. They run Gringotts. Try not to antagonize them.”
The goblins bowed as they walked through the doorway.
“Why are there more doors behind the first doors?” asked Calvin, staring at a set of shining silver doors engraved with what, at first glance, seemed to be a poem.
“Different layers of magical security,” answered Professor McGonagall. “There are wards that search for magical items or enchantments up persons entering Gringotts.” The poem on the silver doors read:
Enter, stranger, but take heed
Of what awaits the sin of greed,
For those who take, but do not earn,
Must pay most dearly in their turn.
So if you seek beneath our floors
A treasure that was never yours,
Thief, you have been warned, beware
Of finding more than treasure there.
Calvin stared at the last line for a few moments before comprehension dawned on him. “So if you’re good enough to get past all the security and steal something, you’ll find treasure and more?” Professor McGonagall, along with the two goblins standing next to the silver doors, just stared at him in disbelief. “Awesome! Sounds like they’re good sports about it, at least.” With that, he sauntered through the doorway with a very worried Professor McGonagall following, the goblins belatedly remembering to bow.
One of the squat creatures leaned over to the other, his face scrunched by confusion. “Is that kid for real?” The other shrugged, shaking his head in wonder.
The inside of Gringotts had an astoundingly high ceiling, and was constructed almost entirely out of white marble.
“Helloooo!” Calvin called, hands cupped around his mouth. The needlessly loud greeting echoed throughout the massive hall, and everyone inside instantly turned to stare at him. He gave a little wave and a grin as Professor McGonagall hid her face in her hands.
“Whatever I did to deserve this,” she whispered, voice thick with emotion, “I’ve more than paid for it now. Please, end this madness.”
“Professor McGonagall?” called Calvin, looking over his shoulder. “Are you alright?”
She straightened her robes and pushed the thoughts out of her head. Just a few more hours, Minerva, you can do this! “Yes, Mr. Calvin, I am quite alright. To the exchange counter now, we have to wait in that line,” she said, pointing toward a line of people not dressed in robes and cloaks, but rather jeans, t-shirts, and button-downs. They joined the line, and only had to wait five minutes before they arrived at the counter, a grumpy goblin blinking boredly at them.
“We’ll need it mostly in sickles,” Professor McGonagall said crisply, plopping a bag down on the marble counter-top. Calvin’s eyes bulged at the sound of so many clinking coins. How much did they need just for school supplies? The goblin opened the bag and peered inside, curling his lip slightly and wrinkling his long nose. Then he closed it and dropped under his side of the counter, and handed them a much clinkier-sounding bag in return.
“Next,” he intoned blandly, staring blankly ahead.
“On to shopping, Mr. Calvin, let’s go.” Calvin followed the green-clad witch out of Gringotts, wondering what kind of school supplies they’d be buying.
“Can I see the list, Professor McGonagall?” he asked as they exited the bronze doorway, lifting a hand to shield his eyes from the glaring sunlight.
“Of course. Here,” she said, handing him the parchment with the glittering green ink on it.
They walked in silence for a few minutes, Calvin reading the list of required supplied for first-years at Hogwarts, Professor McGonagall just enjoying the silence. It couldn’t last. “There are gloves made out of dragons!?” he exclaimed, stopping in place and staring at the parchment. He looked up to see the Scottish woman rolling her eyes. When she noticed he was watching her, she stopped and bit her bottom lip.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Calvin. Yes, the gloves are made of dragon hide. When handling potions it always pays to be cautious and safe, so dragonhide gloves are worn to prevent any contact with the ingredients, as well as the potion itself.” She turned her head to the left, and pointed. “Your first stop, however, is Madam Malkin’s, where you will be fitted for your robes. I am going to go get a drink, which I sorely need and undoubtedly deserve. Do try to stay out of trouble for ten minutes, all right?”
“Cool, I get to wear real wizard robes!” said Calvin, staring at the black robes in the shop’s display window.
“Am I clear, Mr. Calvin?”
“What? Oh, yes, of course. Man, wait till Hobbes sees me in wizard robes! I bet they make me look mysterious and powerful!” He ran over to the shop, imagining how he might look in fitted robes.
“Stay there until I come to get you!” yelled Professor McGonagall as he grabbed the door handle. He opened the door and stepped inside, vanishing from sight. The Hogwarts professor was left with her fingers on her temples, muttering something along the lines of ‘…ridiculous Gryffindors…’ and ‘…have lost so many points by now…’ and ‘…did I get myself into…’ Then she took a deep breath and headed off down the street, determined to enjoy the short respite.
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