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The Emperor’s New Coat

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You will never understand

How it feels to live your life

With no meaning or control,

And with nowhere left to go.

Pulp, Common People.

The Emperor’s New Coat

James Potter has a new jacket. It’s navy blue with a zip down the front and pockets on the chest. It’s crumpled and frayed and looks as if it has had at least three owners before Potter. The jacket is brand new.

Severus sits under the yew tree and watches Potter and his cronies gambol over the grass, tossing a ball to each other. Potter’s new coat already has grass spattered down the back, which knowing Potter is probably intentional. This is Black and Potter’s style nowadays; scruffy coats, oversized sweatshirts, torn jeans and battered trainers. They must reckon it looks cool. Severus thinks it makes them look ridiculous. Everybody knows that the Blacks are ancient, affluent and aristocratic, and it’s obvious that Potter is his well-off family’s pampered prince. Their shabby clothes are designed to look that way. Unfortunately and predictably, nobody’s noticed this. No-one ever notices these things about Potter and Black; everybody’s taken in by their brains and their jokes and Potter’s Quidditch skills and Black’s eyelashes.

“Can’t you see?!” Severus wants to scream, “Can’t you see how fake they are? Everything they do is an act!”. Why does nobody realise? What makes Severus most furious is that the scruffbag style Potter and Black have adopted is how Severus himself dresses, and what Black and Potter taunt him for. Potter tells him he looks dirty but Potter’s own jeans are always intentionally muddied. Black makes fun of Severus’ accent despite the fact that he’s adopted a Mockney dialect himself recently, dropping his Ts and Hs while puffing away on away on grimy roll-ups. They scoff, “Have you ever owned anything that actually fits you, Snivellus?” but their own jumpers are baggy and their t-shirts too tight. They have no idea what it’s like to wear clothes like this because you can’t afford any others. Every holiday Mum drags Severus to the charity shop on Turnton Road. She grabs clothes from the rails, holds them up against Severus’s shoulders, mutters, “That’ll fit,” and shoves them onto the pile to buy.

“Mum, that’s too big,” Severus protests or, “That’s so ugly,” or, “This is an old lady shirt,”

“Nonsense,” snaps his mother, “Plenty of children don’t get bought new clothes so that’s enough of your moaning,”

This awful ritual has continued for years. Last Summer Severus decided to take matters into his own hands and steal himself new clothes. He’s not proud of it, but he’d been desperate. Now he was growing it was becoming more obvious that his clothes were too small or women’s or had been darned five times already. He’d gone on a couple of stake-out trips to the Debenhams in town to choose what he wanted- nothing too flash or expensive. Just…normal clothes, stuff that other teenage boys wore. Severus selected a jumper, a t-shirt and a pair or trousers that he liked, and on his third trip he checked nobody was looking before pulling them off their rails, stuffing them into his coat and dashing out of the shop. Severus ran until he reached the Post Office at the end of the high street and then he’d taken the trousers, t-shirt and jumper out from his coat to admire his work. But on examining them, Severus realised that he'd picked up the wrong sized jumper. This one was an Extra Small and he needed a Medium. He couldn’t go back and change it, and it was a month until school started and he could use magic to enlarge it. There was no chance of asking Mum to help. When he got home Severus hurled the jumper angrily into the back of his rickety wardrobe. Why did he have to mess everything up? Thank God Dad had never found out.

Severus turns his gaze back to Potter’s posse and their ball game. Black tosses the ball to his minion Pettigrew, who misses the catch. Imbecile. Pettigrew scrambles to fetch the ball, then throws it to Potter, who passes to their other lackey, Lupin. Lupin dresses shabbily too, although Severus can tell that that raggedness is genuine. Black and Potter strut in their threadbare jeans whereas Lupin wears his with a self-consciousness. Potter and Black’s clothes always match, whereas Lupin dresses in clashing colours and styles, although his jumpers never have stains on like Severus’ do. Lupin chucks the ball to Black, who bowls a fast, high ball back to Potter. Potter runs to catch it but he isn’t fast enough and Severus thinks he’s going to miss, but at the last second Potter leaps gracefully into the air and grasps the ball in his left hand. Pettigrew gasps and even snobby Black looks impressed. James Potter with his lightening reflexes and his floppy hair and his top marks and his snide taunts and his arrogance and his gaggle of admirers who can’t see what he truly is. James Potter and his crumpled, frayed, battered new coat.

Severus spits on the floor in front of his own tattered trainers.