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 I wrote this  for decafest, a community where writers explore the changes in the wizarding world ten years after the fall of Voldemort.

 

Title: To be a Customer

Word count: 3381

Beta:Stubefied,  Rugi

Rating: G

Characters: Spinner – a house-elf, Madam Malkin, Ron Weasley, cameo by Hannah Longbottom

Summary: A house-elf dreams of buying red dress robes.

Prompt: No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow. Alice Walker

Author's notes: My daughter loved this and my husband hated it. I'd like to see what you think of it.

 

 

Spinner was fascinated by money, its bright glitter, and the sound of the wizards' voices when they spoke of it. The wizards who visited the pub where she lived talked about money all the time: how much they had and how much they were required to give to others to get all the things they wanted. She often watched them use their money. One wizard would have Galleons and would hand them over to another. She could feel their interest, the hunger of the one receiving and the pain of the one who gave the Galleons up.


 

Above all Spinner saw that the one who gave the money had power over the one who received it. Many a wizard, proud and boastful, became meek before another who paid him money. Spinner had noticed this time and again. Even Old Tom behaved this way. Sometimes a wizard drinking at the pub would be nasty to Old Tom, but Old Tom would just smile, give him his firewhiskey and take his money, because that man was a customer. Wizards were careful how they treated customers. They smiled at customers and gave them all they wanted and in return customers paid them Galleons. Secretly Spinner wanted to be a customer.


 

Spinner would often pretend that she had money. She would study the store windows on Diagon Alley and make believe she was shopping. The best part of the game was when she imagined paying for her purchases; in her mind she would pass the Galleons over the counter and the clerk would take them from her before handing over her parcels. The witch would be grateful and thank Spinner for her custom. The shop Spinner liked to pretend in more than any other, the shop whose windows Spinner most loved to look at, was Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions, because Spinner dreamed of dress robes, beautiful dress robes. A house-elf wasn't supposed to want clothes, or money or things; a house-elf's happiness was to come from service. Spinner knew she was a bad house-elf, but she didn't care.


 

Spinner was bound to the Leaky Cauldron. For hundreds of years, generation after generation, members of her family served at the pub without being paid. As far as Spinner knew, her parents and grandparents had never questioned the situation. But from the time she was young, even before she met other house-elves who were free, Spinner had dreamed of having money and being a customer.


 

Sometimes Madam Malkin would visit the Leaky Cauldron and have a drink. She would greet Spinner and ask her about her day and joke about how often she saw Spinner walking on Diagon Alley. She'd laugh and accuse Spinner of fancying one of the house-elves who worked in the shops. Spinner would shake her head but say nothing.

 

Then things began to change. Everywhere house-elves were given clothes and were even paid money. When Spinner visited other house-elves they talked about the changes and sometimes even argued about whether it was right to get clothes, whether it was better to get clothes and be free or to continue to live as they were. Spinner would tell no one that she wanted clothes, because she was a little ashamed of it.


 

Then even the Leaky Cauldron began to change. Old Tom died and left the pub to his grand-niece Hannah. Young Hannah had worked for seven years for her great-uncle and each year she had made the pub more and more her own.


 

After Old Tom's funeral, Young Hannah sat down with Spinner and gave her the old clothes which would free her from bondage to the pub. She explained that Spinner was welcome to stay on and work. She could continue to live, sleep and eat at the Leaky Cauldron, but Hannah would also give Spinner money to spend. At the last Hannah reminded Spinner that she was free to go if she wished and was no longer required to stay.


 

Hannah handed her some Galleons. “It's not much, but this is the money you earned this year. I can't pay you for all your work for my great-uncle, but I can pay you this.”


 

Spinner stared at the money. She marveled at the weight of the Galleons in her hands, their roundness, the numbers that ran around their edges. Later, when she was in her sleeping place alone, she spread the Galleons out on a shelf and admired them. The gold glittered in the candle light as she studied the pictures carved into the faces of the coins. All the Galleons were hers.


 

Later Hannah visited Spinner's sleeping place and explained to her about money, how to use it and how to save it. She told Spinner she needed to make sure she saved her money for the future, for when she was sick or couldn't work. Hannah would help her, but Hannah might not always be around to do it. She warned Spinner against spending her money all at once. It was much better to save the money for one special prize than to spend it on many worthless items.


 

Spinner understood young Hannah. She knew that even her boss had to wait to buy the things she wanted. One night she had listened while Hannah and her husband sat in the kitchen and made plans for the pub. They had made lists of what they wanted done. They had spent a great deal of time on these lists, adding items and subtracting them.


 

“We only have the Galleons for half the repairs I would like to make. Well, I reckon that's what the future is for,” Hannah had said.


 

Spinner again had been impressed by money's powerful magic: it could keep even the wizards from doing what they wished.


 

Work went on in the Leaky Cauldron and Spinner washed linens, made beds and cleaned bedrooms as she had always done, but in her room she slowly filled two large glass jars with Galleons. The first was her savings and could not be touched. The second was her dream jar and contained the Galleons she would use to buy the dress robes she dreamed of having. She had a separate box where her Sickles and Knuts collected, waiting until she had enough to make a Galleon, because only Galleons were pretty enough for the jars. Every day she found the time to gaze at the window at Madam Malkin's and plan the robes she would some day wear.


 

Madam Malkin was the first witch she told of her good fortune. The day Spinner received the old clothes, Madam walked into the pub. Spinner rushed over to her and told her that Young Hannah had given her clothes, so she was being paid with Galleons. Madam smiled at her and warned her not to do anything foolish with her freedom. Spinner ducked her head, but thought, Now you are our customer, but someday I will be yours.


 

One day Spinner saw the dress robes she wanted on display in Madam Malkin's front bay window. They were red, but glittery like gold. Spinner's dreams became very specific: she would buy those red dress robes. For two years she worked and planned as the Galleons in her jars accumulated.


 

Finally, she realized she had enough money; she was ready to buy the dress robes and become a customer. She shrank the heavy jar, hid it in her apron pocket, and walked proudly out of the Leaky Cauldron. She would wear her new robes at the celebration of Voldemort's defeat by Harry Potter. All house-elves knew that Dobby the free elf had saved Harry Potter from Death Eaters. They knew the elves of Hogwarts had helped to fight the evil wizard, Voldemort. The house-elves did their part. I will celebrate that in real dress robes, she thought.


 

Spinner walked slowly, studying the shop windows and the other patrons as they went by. She wondered if they knew that she wasn't just any house-elf, she was a house-elf with money who was about to make a purchase. Madam Malkin would be surprised. Spinner would hand her the money and Madam Malkin would take it with gratitude. She'd thank Spinner for paying so promptly. Spinner would wear her clothes home and everyone on the street would see her and know that she wasn't a house-elf on her master's business, but a customer as they were.


 

“Whose robes are you here to pick up?” the saleswitch asked as she walked into the store.


 

Spinner pulled the jar out of her apron and set it on the counter. It had become heavy again as it left her pocket and landed with a loud thunk. She explained that she was here to buy dress robes for herself. She knew which ones she wanted; she'd been dreaming of them for two years.


 

At first the girl simply stared back, but then she told Spinner to wait while she got Madam Malkin. She scurried into the back of the shop.


 

“She can't buy clothes here. Where would she get the money?” The words came from a witch being fitted for dark purple robes. The saleswitch, who stood by fitting her sleeve, had pins in her mouth and could only shake her head in confusion. The witch who spoke narrowed her small flat witch's eyes as she looked at Spinner, but no matter how hard it was to meet an angry witch's eyes and not cower, Spinner did it and was silent. Madam Malkin would come and recognize Spinner as a customer and then Spinner would buy the red robes and this witch's thoughts would not matter.


 

In a few moments Madam Malkin approached. “Spinner! Now you are joking. What would you do with red dress robes? How would you even pay for them?”


 

Spinner told her about saving her money for two years in order to buy the beautiful red robes that she'd seen in the shop window. She told her how hard she'd worked for the money.


 

“Of course you worked hard! That's what house-elves do; they work hard. Whoever heard of a house-elf complaining about working hard?” asked the other customer, the witch in purple robes.


 

“Spinner, what's this nonsense? You've always been such a good girl,” said Madam Malkin.


 

Spinner looked back at Madam Malkin, mute for a moment, willing her to understand.


 

Madam Malkin led Spinner to a corner away from the purple-robe witch with the angry eyes. She sat Spinner down in a chair and stood over her. “Spinner, dear, you know I've always liked you.”


 

Spinner nodded; she thought of Madam Malkin as a friend.


 

“Spinner, you are a house-elf, which is a fine thing. Your kind was created to serve; you were born to serve and that is noble. You are a house-elf; be a house-elf. You don't need expensive red dress robes.”


 

Madam Malkin was worried about her, concerned that she was foolishly spending her money on expensive things. Spinner told the witch not to worry. Young Hannah had told her about money and the need to save; Spinner had a large jar at home with more Galleons than this in it. She had waited two years for the red dress robes, and had gone without many lovely things to save for this prize, as Hannah had counseled her. She was not being foolish.


 

Madam Malkin's witch eyes became angry. She spoke with the voice witches used when house-elves misunderstood an order and didn't do their work correctly. “Spinner, this dress will not make you happy. Service and acceptance of who you are will make you happy.” She straightened and took several steps away from Spinner. “Take your Galleons and go home,” she said.


 

Behind Madam the shopwitches and the customer stared at Spinner like she was a mouse that had crawled into the store and begun to talk. Behind the witches a trio of house-elves stuck their heads around the door of a work room and watched her with faces shocked by her boldness. Things were not going as they were supposed to go. Madam Malkin should politely make her a dress in return for the money, not explain to her why she shouldn't have the dress. Spinner had watched Madam Malkin with customers; she smiled at them even when they were rude. Spinner was not rude. Madam Malkin made customers the robes they wanted, even when the robes were ugly like the purple ones the nasty witch wanted. The robes Spinner wanted were beautiful. She knew they were because Madam Malkin had displayed them in the window.


 

Anger rose up within Spinner. She told Madam Malkin that she wanted that red dress and she had the Galleons to pay for it.


 

“Is this what comes of giving you money -- demands and orders? Money and luxury will ruin your nature and I won't take part in that.” Madam Malkin summoned Spinner's jar of coins from the counter. “Kindly leave my shop,” Madam Malkin said in a very quiet, but angry voice. She handed the heavy jar to Spinner.


 

“Unnatural creature,” Spinner heard the witch buying the purple robes mutter.


 

Spinner's hands shook as she slowly fitted her jar of Galleons into her apron pocket. She left the store with as much dignity as she could muster, but outside the store she sat down in the alley and cried. She would never wear the red robes, she would never pay a witch across the counter and she would never be treated as a customer. What did it matter if she was given clothes and money if no one wanted her to buy from them? Her beautiful day had become ugly.


 

The angry witch in the purple robes had called her unnatural. What was natural for a freed house-elf?


 

“Spinner, what's the matter? Nothing could be that bad.”


 

A very tall red-headed wizard stood in front of her. She could hardly see his face, because she was crying so hard, but she knew his voice. He was Mr. Weasley of Weasley's Wheezes and one of Young Hannah's friends. Spinner wiped her face with her apron and explained about the red robes. She showed him the money, so full of promise but now so useless. She could not speak of the shame of being sent from the store.


 

He reached down and grabbed the jar of Galleons. He put out a hand and lifted her off the ground. “They might not want to sell you robes, but I know Madam Malkin will sell them to me.” He smiled at her. “Don't worry, you'll be the one to pay. I know the satisfaction of putting a pile of your own Galleons on a counter. I won't take that from you.” He winked at her. “This is full of gold. How'd you get so much?” He took her hand and lead her into the store. He had to stoop over, because he was so tall.


 

The shocked look on the faces of the saleswitches and the ugly purple-robes customer when Spinner said that she wanted to buy a robe was nothing to the looks they gave her now. They had never expected her to come back. The purple-robes customer was leaving the store when they marched in. She looked like she wanted to stay to watch what happened next but couldn't think of any proper excuse not to go. Ron brushed past the witch as he walked up to Madam Malkin, who had come bustling out of the workroom.


 


 

“That's Ron Weasley,” the purple-robes witch muttered as he went by. She gave Spinner one last nasty look and walked out.


 

Mr. Weasley had put up some sort of charm to block all others from hearing his conversation with Madam Malkin. Even Spinner's ears could not hear what they were saying. Their small flat faces frowned and grimaced. They both gestured towards Spinner over and over again and Madam Malkin pointed once at her own house-elves who had stepped out and were staring openly at Spinner. The saleswitches gaped. Their heads turned back and forth from Spinner to their boss so often Spinner decided they'd all have sore necks in the morning.


 

Spinner made a great show of examining the robes on display in the shop. One yellow pair as bright as egg yolks had the name Lovegood pinned to their sleeves. Spinner felt warm and happy for a moment. She imagined telling Hannah's husband that his friend had bought a new set of egg yellow robes. He would smile and he and Young Hannah would share a laugh. Better to think about that than the big round elf eyes and the little flat wizard eyes watching her.


 

When thinking about the yellow dress had stopped helping her forget the watching eyes, and Spinner was ready to run out of the store, Madam Malkin broke away from Mr. Weasley, snapping commands left and right.


 

“Spinner, Come here! If you want the robe, you'll have to be fitted,” she said. Madam Malkin glared at her workers, both witch and house-elf, and they jumped to work at her look.


 

Spinner was propelled into the dressing room and handed the red dress robes to put on. Madam had made three attempts to shrink the clothes, but they still hung off of Spinner, who had to hold them up to keep from tripping as she walked. She had many plans of what she could fold and twist to make the robes fit.


 

“You're so small, we'll have to make a lot of adjustments. I'll have to charge you more than the usual for alterations.” She turned to the witches, pointing. “You, and you over here.”


 

They rapidly began to measure, push and pull Spinner with impatient hands. The whole time they worked Madam Malkin spoke rapidly to Mr. Weasley.


 

“No one wants to see house-elves treated fairly more than I do. I hate seeing them mistreated, and always have, but this is ridiculous and unnatural.” She stopped speaking long enough to carefully pin the seam along the robe's shoulder, muttering charms as she did it. When she finished she looked up. “House-elves are not wizards and never will be,” she said.


 

Spinner stared ahead without blinking. Wizards and witches often talked around house-elves as if they weren't there. Spinner was used to it, and she often found things out that way, but today she hated it. She knew no one talked in front of customers like that.


 

“It's easy for you to say serve house-elves. Your clientèle won't care. Mine are discerning -- they expect more. They won't want to buy the same dress that a house-elf is wearing.”


 

“You surprise me,” Mr. Weasley answered. “I expected more from a witch who Dumbledore trusted.”


 

“Young man, you think you're helping her, but you are not. Money will ruin her. It will do nothing but breed discontent.”


 

“Make her like us, you mean,” Mr. Weasley replied.


 

At last the fitting was done. Spinner was told to return in a week to pick up the dress and was handed the bill. They had charged her a large fee for the fitting, but Spinner did not mind -- she understood extra work. Then the moment came that Spinner had looked forward to more than even wearing the dress. She opened her jar and counted out the Galleons for Madam Malkin. They formed a large pile on the counter, too large to fit in Spinner's hands. She pushed them over to Madam Malkin, who swept them up and dropped them into a drawer. Spinner had payed Madam Malkin and the witch had taken her money. Spinner turned and left the store without Mr. Weasley.


 

Later when she had the dress robes, she hung them in her sleeping place where they glowed like fire in the candle light. Spinner lay in her bed and gazed at the dress robes as she had earlier gazed at them in Madam Malkin's shop window. She knew she could not have bought them without the wizard's help. Her money had not made Spinner a customer. That truth hung in the room next to the robes like their ugly twin. She felt she had brought the ugly purple robes of the nasty witch home from the store along with her own red ones. But Madam had taken the money in the end, and that made Spinner happy. Spinner smiled at her glittering robes and decided to save for her next set, which she wanted to be as blue as the sky.


 


 


 


 


 

Comments

( 31 comments — Leave a comment )
iamstarmom
Jul. 17th, 2008 01:42 pm (UTC)
This is such a poignant story. Thank you!
vegablack62
Jul. 17th, 2008 02:08 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you liked it. You are very generous to comment.
malinbe
Jul. 17th, 2008 02:57 pm (UTC)
I really liked it. Poor Spinner! It makes me think about the ascending little burgeoise- that burning desire to be above others, when you have always been at the bottom of the pyramid.
It reminds me a lot of a short story, Cabecita Negra by German Rozenmacher (I'm from Argentina and this is an argentinian writer). Its main character, Mr. Lanari, owned his own shop and his father had been a mere worker in a factory. He took great pride on having his own house and his own business- what reminds me of Spinner is that he had a vast library, but he never read any of the books. He only had them because he could, and because it made him feel important to go and buy classics and expensive biographies and then show them off to his friends.

Tangents. Pretty shiny things, aren't they?
Short story: I liked it. Very real-world.

(I'm a Letters student. A sucker for books, literature, history and social movements. You must forgive me.)
vegablack62
Jul. 17th, 2008 03:25 pm (UTC)
Those were my thoughts exactly. I think Spinner would like to be Madam Malkin. Spinner's love of money and clothes isn't greed or vanity; they represent power, freedom and self-determination to her.

I'd like to read the story you mentioned; it sounds interesting.

Thanks for your comments.
werewolfsfan
Jul. 17th, 2008 07:21 pm (UTC)
This is a well done and interesting tale with great insights. It really should be a parable of our times and not just the wizarding world. These were my favorite lines:
Spinner lay in her bed and gazed at the dress robes as she had earlier gazed at them in Madam Malkin's shop window. She knew she could not have bought them without the wizard's help, because her money had not made Spinner a customer--that truth hung in the room next to the robes like their ugly twin. She felt she had brought the ugly purple robes of the nasty witch home from the store along with her own red ones.
vegablack62
Jul. 17th, 2008 08:14 pm (UTC)
Thanks for your comments on my house-elf story. I have strong feelings on their use in the Harry Potter books. I'm glad you wrote those two lines. I had a hard time coming up with that last paragraph.
snorkackcatcher
Jul. 17th, 2008 09:44 pm (UTC)
Nice to see a house-elf POV story -- rather sad, really, but at least Spinner got something for all her trouble by the end!
vegablack62
Jul. 17th, 2008 10:39 pm (UTC)
It is sad. My husband didn't like the story because he thought it was too grim. I liked writing Spinners POV. Thank you for reading and reviewing.
iulia_linnea
Sep. 17th, 2008 12:33 am (UTC)
I love this story for so many reasons: I'm in love with Spinner; she's a very clearly drawn, interesting character. While reading, I was as excited by her plans as she was, and extremely cast down by the prejudice she experienced. And even though she couldn't have purchased her robes without Ron's help, she retains her dignity and spirit. I wish that Spinner had had the opportunity to wear her robes, but the way you end your story is poignant and realistic. I'm so glad I read your story; thank you for sharing it. :)
vegablack62
Sep. 17th, 2008 02:30 am (UTC)
Thank you for your comments. I'm so happy that you love Spinner. More than anything I wanted to give her dignity and a voice. I wanted to give her spirit without being accused of being ooc. She will wear her dress robes to the anniversary celebration; she saves it for special occasions.
iulia_linnea
Sep. 17th, 2008 01:23 am (UTC)
I've recced you at my IJ and LJ; here is the link to the rec at IJ (my lj's flocked).
vegablack62
Sep. 17th, 2008 02:26 am (UTC)
Thank you so much for your kindness. How wonderful to be recced.
(no subject) - iulia_linnea - Sep. 17th, 2008 02:45 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - vegablack62 - Sep. 17th, 2008 03:04 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - iulia_linnea - Sep. 17th, 2008 04:14 am (UTC) - Expand
fodirteg
Sep. 17th, 2008 01:51 am (UTC)
It takes determination and dedication to make things change. A house elf must understand this better than most, even while patently aware of the power of "tradition."

Powerful, poignant. Thanks!
vegablack62
Sep. 17th, 2008 02:34 am (UTC)
Yes I agree Spinner will need determination and dedication to gain the dignity and rights she deserves. I think it takes time for a society to accept change. Thank you for your thoughtful comments.
ladyphoenixia
Sep. 17th, 2008 03:46 am (UTC)
Here from iulia_linnea's rec, and I thought this was a beautiful little story. You eally make us feel for poor Spinner, and of course you're right... even though the house elves are free, they're still going to be seen as second-class citizens. You make me want to read more from their POV. :)
vegablack62
Sep. 17th, 2008 03:52 am (UTC)
Thank you for your comments. I wanted to have my readers feel for Spinner. I'm glad you want to read more from their POV. I hope others try to write about them in a respectful way. I liked Spinner so much that I'm thinking of doing another story about her.
scarletscarlet
Sep. 17th, 2008 05:03 am (UTC)
Wonderful story :). It read like a fable. So sad that even with the money, Spinner didn't have the power to use it without assistance. So neat to read something from the POV of an original house elf character, too!
vegablack62
Sep. 17th, 2008 05:37 am (UTC)
Thanks for your comment. Spinner won't be completely free until wizards see her as an equal. I'm glad you liked that she was an original character. Some readers prefer only canon ones. I enjoyed writing this story.
missingkeys
Sep. 17th, 2008 09:29 am (UTC)
Her money had not made Spinner a customer.

This little sentence just shattered me. I just sat back from the screen and said, "Wow." Then I recapped the story to my flatmate and got all teary over it, then read the last paragraph aloud to him. This story is amazing. I love how original everything is, I adore Spinner, and I really love how you kept the concept deep but the words quite simple--I felt it reflected a house elf's perspective and language brilliantly.

I don't know whether to be hopeful with the last paragraph or shattered that she wasn't accepted as she should have been. :(

Here via iulia_linnea's rec.
vegablack62
Sep. 17th, 2008 02:05 pm (UTC)
Thank you for reading and reviewing my story. The sentence you quoted was the most important one in the story to me. It summed up Spinner's life and what her world was really like.

I'm glad you liked the language I worked hard to get across "house-elfishness" without resorting to dialect.

"I don't know whether to be hopeful with the last paragraph or shattered that she wasn't accepted as she should have been. :("

That was how I felt when I wrote it. Spinner is an optimistic person and she did get her dress, but yet in a way that almost spoiled it for her. I had to think a long time about how she would feel at the end.

Thanks again for your comments.
shiv5468
Sep. 17th, 2008 05:57 pm (UTC)
Here from Iulia's rec.

I've always felt the poor house elves got short shrift from JKR. She just dropped that ball and ...

And the line about Spinner still not being a customer is so powerful.

Thank you for writing this.
vegablack62
Sep. 17th, 2008 06:15 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I felt the same way and decided to write my own story for them. Thank you for reading and reviewing.
phil_urich
Sep. 26th, 2008 01:52 am (UTC)
sad and touching all at the same time. I really enjoyed this story and the truths of post-war prejudice it brings to light
vegablack62
Sep. 26th, 2008 02:19 am (UTC)
Thank you for reading and reviewing. I like your work so your comments mean a lot.
iulia_linnea
Jul. 15th, 2010 08:57 pm (UTC)
Shog just asked me if I remembered the "house elf story," and I knew immediately which one he meant. Given how long it's been since I read this, let alone Shog, who isn't even in fandom, I thought I'd tell you how memorable To Be a Customer is. We still love your story. ♥
vegablack62
Jul. 15th, 2010 10:16 pm (UTC)
That is the best compliment I've ever had. Thank you!
iulia_linnea
Jul. 5th, 2011 07:56 pm (UTC)
I shared this story with my honorary niece, who is eight, and she just adored it. I thought I'd let you know as H.N. isn't allowed to browse LJ at will because she's an eager clicker. :D She says, "Thank you for writing such a cool story!"
a_boleyn
May. 25th, 2016 02:24 am (UTC)
Heartbreaking that Spinner needs a wizard to fight for her right to be a customer. And Madam Malkin's resentful attitude in spite of her agreement to sell her the robes. But in spite of the cruelty of the purple robed customer ... I loved Spinner's determination to buy a blue set of robes next.
( 31 comments — Leave a comment )

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