Saturday morning, Kestra was woken up bright and early by an overly energetic mother invading her bedroom and throwing open the curtains.

"Mother! Will you please stop bursting in like that!" exclaimed Kestra. The incident with the Hogwarts letter was forgivable, but Kestra did not want her mother to make a habit of these dramatic entrances.

"But darling, we simply must get to the shops as soon as they open! There's so much to do!" Talia, completely unfazed by her daughter's exasperation, strode over to the wardrobe and began to throw clothes everywhere.

"Mother!" cried Kestra, throwing off the bedclothes and diving over to save her carefully arranged wardrobe from further depredations. "Do be careful with those!" Kestra carefully re-hung the items that her mother had scattered, and selected a blue/white checked pinafore dress that she thought would be acceptable attire for the hot and bothersome business of shopping.

"Okay," conceded Talia, "I guess I'll just go change and leave you to it." Kestra had rather been hoping that Talia was not going to change from the relatively sensible jeans and t-shirt she was wearing, but should have known something more dreadful was inevitable.

----

The Leaky Cauldron was a horrible place. It smelt of smoke, alcohol and drunk people; the tables looked horribly rough and the walls were all sooty and dark. Thankfully it was so early in the morning that only the barkeeper was present, and Talia was so taken with the idea of what was to come that she didn't insist on stopping to catch up on the 'latest gossip'. Kestra hoped that not everyone in the wizarding world had such medieval standards of hygiene and cleanliness.

On the journey down, walking through the polluted streets and travelling on the hot, airless, crowded Tube, Talia hadn't stopped telling her about the delights of Diagon Alley, despite the curious looks she was attracting from some of the Muggles on their way to work. Thankfully she had explained the entrance to the Alley in the elevator down to the ground floor of the apartment building they lived in, so Kestra hadn't been forced to desperately try and quiet her for fear that some adventurous Muggle would listen in and reveal the Alley's existence to Muggles in general. It would be a great pain to have to track them all down for Memory Charms.

Tapping sharply on the correct brick, Talia could hardly contain her impatience as the wall irised open. She watched carefully for Kestra's first reaction to the sight of the Alley, but to her disappointment her daughter was as impassive as ever, calmly scanning the line of shops, pausing interestedly to observe folk struggling with all kinds of arcane equipment. Talia pulled out the letter and checked once again through the list.

"We ought to buy the lighter items first," suggested Kestra, "then we will not have to carry so much around with us."

"But then we'd have to get your wand first," complained Talia, consulting the letter, "and that's the most exciting bit!"

"The familiar, then?" requested Kestra, having memorised the list.

"Owls are quite heavy, you know," warned Talia. "And their cages aren't light, either."

"What would I want an owl for?" asked Kestra. "I have had quite enough of owls to last me a lifetime."

"But... everyone wants an owl!" puzzled Talia. "They're so much more useful than cats and toads. Toads are so out of fashion, after all! With an owl you'll be the envy of your classmates. And it'll be so much easier to send all your letters home!"

"If they are so popular," replied Kestra calmly, "I am sure some of my room-mates will have them, so I will find one whenever I need to. I must admit that a toad does not sound like the ideal choice of companion, so I will purchase a cat."

"It'll bring in all kinds of dead mice and icky things, you know," tried Talia.

"And
an owl will not?" asked Kestra, a slight note of triumph escaping into her voice.

"A cat it is, then," replied Talia, defeated. Leading her daughter past the owl shop with a longing glance - her own owl, a miserable little brown screech owl with no redeeming features but loved dearly by his owner anyhow, had flown off with a shipment of sherbet lemons never to return many years ago - mother and daughter made their way to Cuthbert's Cattery.

Talia was quite taken with some of the tiny kittens on offer, but Kestra insisted on buying something a little older, so they made their way further into the shop. The older cats were in individual cages, and Talia was most distressed about how small the accommodation was. Cuthbert himself, a tall, slightly chubby, middle-aged wizard with long, straggly brown hair, came out from behind the desk - business was slow at this time in the morning. He personally reassured her that charms put on the cages made them much larger inside than they were outside. On closer inspection, it could easily be seen that some of the cats were prowling around without apparently moving.

A crazy black and white dappled cat, who was racing around chasing her tail, was Talia's favourite, but Kestra initially favoured a red tabby with piercing green eyes. Cuthbert carefully and lovingly lifted the feline from the cage and placed it in Kestra's arms. She stroked it experimentally. It blinked sleepily at her. She considered for a moment, then shook her head and handed it back. As Cuthbert released the tabby back into the cage, which appeared to have grass growing in it, blowing in an invisible breeze, Kestra walked along the rows and rows of felines, looking into dozens of pairs of green and yellow and amber eyes. She stopped outside the cage of a small tortoiseshell, whose highly unusual blue eyes stared curiously out into her own. Cuthbert ambled over and opened the cage. The tortoiseshell cat glared at him until he delivered her into Kestra's arms, where she settled down and began to wash.

"Found this one scratching at my door one morning," reminisced Cuthbert. "Normally we buy or breed 'em, but I take strays in if they look okay."

"She's perfect," said Kestra, carefully stroking her latest acquisition's head with one finger, something approaching wonder in her tone. Talia was ecstatic at this display of emotion from her overly sensible daughter, even if it was over a cat and not something she'd normally consider worthwhile, like an owl or some clothes.

"How much?" asked Talia, opening her bright pink drawstring purse. The outfit she had chosen for shopping was typically unsuitable - a flouncy red blouse with short, puffed sleeves and tassels, a short black miniskirt, red fishnets over opaque black tights, ridiculously high pink stilettos, and startlingly white gloves, topped off with a salmon pink straw hat with pink lace flowers sewn onto it. Kestra had sensible, flat black lace-up shoes to match her sensible blue-check dress.

"Twelve silver," replied Cuthbert. Not particularly knowing the value of cats, Talia didn't argue the price, but dutifully counted out the requested amount. Mother and daughter thanked Cuthbert and were about to leave when he said, "That price includes a carry-box, if you want it. Two silver extra for one enchanted like the cages."

There were almost as many different carry-boxes as cats. Talia dashed from hot pink to golden wire to dazzling blue to fiery red/orange, while Kestra calmly selected a convenient wicker arrangement with a nice beige blanket inside. Decanting the cat into the basket, she collected her mother, who was rather disappointed by the altogether sensible choice of her daughter but did have to admit that the muted tones were a better match for the fur of the cat inside.

"What are you going to call it?" asked Talia excitedly.

"Her," corrected Kestra firmly. "And I haven't decided yet."

"Then I shall call her Fluffypoos," replied Talia smugly. The feline shot her an expert glare from within the basket, but Kestra was silent on the matter; there was no point in rising to the bait.

Cuthbert waved a cheery goodbye as they left his shop. By now there were significantly more shoppers in the Alley, many of them schoolchildren with parents in tow.

"Where next?" asked Talia, obviously energised by the success of their first purchase.

"Perhaps we should buy uniform next," replied Kestra. "It's a little bulky, but I doubt it will be too heavy to manage."

"Oh, clothes! Wonderful!" exclaimed Talia.

"I believe this is the right shop," said Kestra, stopping outside Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions.

"No, no," admonished Talia, "they'll just set you up with the same boring robes everyone wears. Just because it's uniform doesn't mean you can't make it your own!"

Kestra decided that noting too terrible could be done to a set of plain black robes, and dutifully followed her mother to a smaller, newer-looking shop, with an elaborate display of brightly-coloured robes half-undone on startlingly realistic female shop dummies. These kept posturing invitingly until Kestra nailed one of them with a full-beam glare, at which point the target tried to hide behind another, leading to rather a catfight. A sign above the entrance declared 'Style', in red, modern, italic script - an incongruous contrast to the medieval lettering of the other signage. Kestra began to revise her first assessment of the seriousness of this particular problem, but it was too late - Talia had already swept her inside and breezed up to one of the heavily made-up, significantly top-heavy and rather underdressed shop assistants.

"My daughter here's going to Hogwarts," said Talia by way of introduction, "and we were wondering if you could point us to something a bit special - but still to the letter of the rules, y'know?"

"Hogwarts, huh?" asked the assistant, sounding dead impressed. "We've got a few bits, tricky one to get round, nothing too flash, y'know."

"I'm sure they'll be fabulous," replied Talia. Kestra had more-or-less given up by this point, so followed her mother dutifully into the packed recesses of the shop, squeezing between electric blue and hot pink robes 'designed for the witches of cool'. She obviously wasn't 'cool' enough to appreciate them, as she thought they looked rather childish at best.

Tucked in the back corner of the shop were some much more sedate items, in black with just the barest hint of decorative trimming around the edges. They were still made of some kind of shimmery material, and in a stupid, clingy style designed to accentuate features that a normal ten-year-old just doesn't quite posess yet, but they were more-or-less tolerable, Kestra supposed, if it'd keep her mother happy. The assistant lifted one off the rack, at which point Talia caught sight of the price tag. The colour drained from her face.

"Call that style?" she said nervously, clutching Kestra's hand. "My darling Kestra will look worse in that thing than in one of Madam Malkin's standard affairs!" With this she swept out of the shop in a carefully calculated display of snootiness, dragging an uncomplaining Kestra behind her. "I'm sure you'd prefer to look like all your classmates anyway, won't you, dear?" she attempted when she was out of earshot of the shop on the way back to Madam Malkin's. Kestra just nodded reassuringly, very pleased to have escaped that possible setback to a day that had so far been quite bearable, her mother's outfit notwithstanding.

Madam Malkin's mauve outfit and efficient, no-nonsense manner did not suit Talia's taste or style of shopping at all. Everything of interest was behind the counter and in the fitting area, which Kestra was briskly whisked away to. Talia sat on a plain wooden stool to wait for her child, gazing out of the window at the passers-by. The street was buzzing with families - excited, babbling children, anxious mothers, and... fathers. Strong, capable, sensible fathers. Once again, Talia felt a pang of guilt at not taking up the offer of her parents, to bring Kestra up as theirs. The busy, chattering family back at the big house would have driven her quiet, studious daughter even madder than her crazy mother, Talia reassured herself - but she remained unconvinced.

Kestra was pleased at the change of scenery. This was a much more sensible way to purchase robes, she felt - making sure that the robes fit, rather than fussing about style and material. She was the only one in the back of the shop being fitted, and the witch doing the pinning (also kitted out in mauve, but it was a sedate, sensible mauve, so Kestra didn't mind overly) was a quick, silent worker. Kestra liked the feel of the long flowing material covering her, much better than that clingy, too-tight rubbish in 'Style'.

Soon the witch had all her measurements and bustled off. Madam Malkin herself returned and led her back to the front of the shop, where the other witch was already handing over three nice plain black robes, a plain, matt black pointed hat, a thick black woollen winter cloak and a pair of brown dragon-hide gloves to Talia, for a very modest spray of Sickles and Knuts.

"If we buy the cauldron next," suggested Kestra, "we can carry the other items in it."

"Sure," replied Talia, struggling to carry all the packages of robes and the cloak. Kestra carried the hat and balanced the gloves on top of the carry-box in which the tortoiseshell cat was contentedly sleeping.

The hat joined the gloves atop the wicker carry-box as Kestra selected the correct type of cauldron - pewter, size 2, self-stirring, collapsible - from the display spilling out of the shop. She placed it on the counter and held some of the robes while her mother took out her purse and paid. The fairly young attendant offered to collapse it for them, but Kestra replied that wouldn't be necessary and proceeded to dump all their purchases into it. Talia took the cauldron by both handles and heaved it out of the shop.

"Phials, scales, telescope, books," recited Kestra. "I suspect the phials and scales will be found in the same place."

"Flourish and Blotts is right here," suggested Talia, her enthusiasm for shopping dampened somewhat by the heavy cauldron, as Kestra had suspected it would be when she offered that idea.

Kestra let Talia wait at the entrance while she quickly gathered the required tomes. She hovered in indecision for a moment over Hogwarts - A History, but decided it would be unfair to make her mother purchase more than the essentials, as she knew that money was actually quite tight for her, especially wizard money. The purse was indeed looking sadly depleted after this transaction was finished and the books joined the other items in the cauldron. Kestra felt rather sorry for her mother at this point and offered to take one of the handles. Talia initially began to refuse the offer of help but decided that it was becoming rather a challenge to carry everything alone and let Kestra help.

One small collapsible telescope, a rather undersized set of brass scales and some sparkling crystal phials (Talia insisted on crystal, feeling rather stingy about the size of the last two items, and Kestra wrapped them carefully in one of the robes and laid on top of the cauldron) later, the pair finally dragged their cauldron full of magical goods up to Ollivander's. Kestra had suggested some of the less expensive wand shops on the way, but Talia was absolutely determined to get the best wand possible for her daughter.

"The wand is the most important part of all your equipment," admonished Talia. "It isn't something you should scrimp on, or treat lightly."

Ollivander's didn't look like much, but Kestra had the feeling that, from the other shops they had visited, the shabbier the exterior and the less ostentatious the window display, the better the quality of the merchandise. Talia seemed very ill at ease within the echoing, musty area in front of the counter, the sound of tinkling bells almost making her jump, but Kestra felt quite at home there, with the ancient walls reeking of bookish silence. Ollivander himself soon emerged from the stacks and stacks of carefully labelled, neatly stored wands, and although Kestra spotted him coming, his soft greeting elicited an 'Oh!' of surprise from her mother.

"Greetings, Ollivander," replied Kestra. Even coming from one so young, the formal tones did not sound so odd in this place.

"Welcome to Ollivander's," said Ollivander kindly. "Whom do I have the honour of addressing?"

"Kestra Levine," answered Kestra confidently.

"Ah, yes," replied Ollivander. He looked up to meet Talia's nervous gaze. "Talia, isn't it? Eight inches, pine, unicorn hair, rather flexible?" Talia nodded nervously in agreement, wishing that Ollivander would hurry up and get to the point so that she could escape. Ollivander turned his attention to Kestra again. "Hold out your wand arm for me, will you, dear?"

Kestra obediently held out her right arm, and Ollivander's famous charmed tape-measure set to work. Kestra held dead still as it measured all kinds of dimensions, while Talia fidgeted nervously from foot to foot, wondering how much longer this was all going to take. At last the tape measure flew back to Ollivander's hand, and he produced a wand - selected, it seemed, before the tape measure had even finished its work - for Kestra to try.

"Oak and unicorn hair, ten inches, bendy," he announced, handing her the wand. She began to swish it through the air, but before she could give it a flick Ollivander plucked it from her hand. He carefully replaced it and selected another.

"Larch and phoenix feather, twelve inches, pliable." Swish, flick - Ollivander shook his head and took it back.

"Ebony and dragon heartstring, eleven inches, almost rigid." It was difficult to get a good swish on this one, but it felt like it belonged in her hand. "Try again," encouraged Ollivander. Swish, flick - the wand spat a few fat green sparks, and a smell of burning dust wafted through the air. Ollivander looked thoughtful for a moment, then took the wand back. After quite a while he came out with a very similar-looking wand.

"Ebony and dragon heartstring again, ten inches, slightly more flexible." This time, the swish and flick was much easier to pull off, and the green sparks were more orderly and faded faster. "That's more like it," nodded Ollivander approvingly. "That'll be seven Galleons, then." Talia looked a little pale at the price, but obediently opened her purse and counted out the money. She only had five Galleons, and had to count out the rest in smaller change - the final Galleon she had to make up with some Knuts. Finally, though, she placed the last Knut on the counter and fled from the store.

"Thank you," said Kestra politely, before pocketing the wand and heaving the cauldron out, to be met by a very concerned Talia, feeling guilty about making Kestra attempt to lift the cauldron on her own.

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