The Sugar Quill
Author: Stubefied (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Muggles of Ottery St. Catchpole Part I: Muggles and a Mystery  Chapter: Chapter 1: September 6
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Acknowledgments:
The list of people I need to thank has grown pretty long in the year since the germ of this story first infected my daydreams. Jen and Ash listened to some really confusing attempts at describing it early on. My mother patiently shared her knowledge of life in the sixties as well as her set of forty year-old British encyclopedias. My Brit-picker was tri-delta-rific in his way. The helpful people at the Writing a Good Summary thread are one reason anyone is reading this right now. My encouraging, conscientious beta NigthtZephyr is another. And J.K. Rowling is, of course, the first and last.



September 6, 1965

Six children gathered along the grayed wooden fence behind Lord Muggle School in Ottery St. Catchpole one unusually sunny morning in early September.

"Can you see them?" asked the girl with floaty blond curls, standing on the ground.

"Nothing," said the boys on the fence. One had large, round eyes, the other a large, round stomach.

"Well, they're there," the girl insisted, resolute.

"We believe you," said a second girl.

"No, we don't," said a third, who flicked a braid of straw-like hair behind one ear and began to pull flowering weeds from around the fence posts.

The third boy shifted uncomfortably and wished he could say something to make Margaret, the anxious blond girl, happy.

Then the second girl remarked, "Do you suppose that's our new teacher?" and they all turned to watch a brightly painted Ford Anglia that had never been seen before in the village as it approached the school lot.

"I wonder where she's fro-" began Julia, the girl with the straw-like hair, but she was interrupted when Margaret gasped,

"Maybe she saw them when she drove by!"

"Let's go meet her!" cried the smaller of the boys on the fence.

"We can't go inside yet," Julia reminded him somewhat unkindly.

"Oh," he said, and they returned to discussion of the mysterious, strange somethings Margaret said could be seen in the fields to the north of town.

*^*^*^*^*^*^*


The driver of the Ford Anglia had noticed he was the object of their attentions. They made him a little nervous, as he was trying to attract as little attention as possible. He had the sudden urge to make the car and everything in it, including himself, disappear. But he couldn't do that. More precisely, he shouldn't, which was just as prohibitive.

He wondered if they had noticed anything odd about him or about the car. Had he left something important open? Was his new red bowtie incorrectly attached? Maybe it was his hair. People were always staring at his hair. For perhaps the first time in his life, he wished that people were staring at his hair. Please let it be the hair.

Then he remembered. "They're naturally curious, children are," Quamble had warned him. "They'll stare and they'll ask questions. Don't be evasive. They'll just want to know more. The best thing to do is lie. Come up with some good, elaborate lies. And if they get too suspicious, just whip out a good Memory Charm. You do have a decent Obliviate, don't you?"

That he did.

*^*^*^*^*^*^*

Arthur Weasley had not thrown himself whole-heartedly into many things in his life. Certainly not the O.W.L. subjects he had taken so that he could make his parents happy with an administrative job in the Ministry. It might someday earn him enough money to have a wife to take on extravagant vacations to the Wizarding Wonders of the World, but it did not excite him. Not Quidditch, either. He loved to watch the sport, but had trouble maneuvering a broomstick at high speeds. Things got blurry and he had tried to catch a Bludger instead of the Quaffle a few too many times.

But the summer after his sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, he had spent a week with a Muggle-born friend and it had been the most fascinating experience of his life. One morning, as he stared at a pot of water for his oatmeal, waiting for it to boil, he had the epiphany. He suddenly knew what he wanted to do, all day, every day, for all his days until his vision got so bad that he tried to use one of those neat little "pencils" as a wand. He wanted to study Muggles.

His parents had thought the idea ridiculous. Muggle Relations was probably the least prestigious department in the Ministry. His mother pointed out that there was not time before graduation to earn the required O.W.L. in Muggle Studies. He said he'd take another job and study independently until he could sit the exam. Then his father had smirked.

"And you need a decent Obliviate. You can't work with Muggles without an Obliviate." Arthur's mother had sighed in relief at that, because, of all the things at which her son wasn't particularly good, he was most particularly not good at Charms. He couldn't even change the pattern on a teapot. He'd gone through three wands before the family had accepted it. He'd never manage a powerful and tricky charm like Obliviate.

But he had. He had finally devoted himself to something like he never had before. And, with the help of one very brave Gryffindor named Molly Prewett, he had mastered Memory Charms - quite masterfully.

Of course, he had never expected to need to use one so soon. He still didn't have his O.W.L. in Muggle Studies. He had applied for jobs in all the Ministry departments his parents had recommended so that he could at least earn some money while he studied, and had rather expected to be testing Floo Powder batches for destination accuracy or something boring and brainless like that. He was really quite shocked when he received the owl from Quamble. He'd gone in for an interview and been offered a job pretty much on the spot ("You do have a decent Obliviate, don't you? And you live just outside Ottery St. Catchpole in Devon? Never spoken to any of the villagers, though? No? Perfect.")

Then had come the minor caveat, but he'd said he'd do anything to work with Muggles and he'd meant it. He understood now why they'd sought him out. But he didn't care. This was his way in. If he could survive the year -- just ten months, really.

He'd Flooed Molly right away to tell her and she'd smiled in that misty odd way she'd developed. He wondered sometimes if he had perhaps permanently befuddled her during one of his earlier charm attempts. She seemed so different now.

When Arthur had first approached her for help, he'd actually been terrified. The female sixth-year prefect had earned a reputation not only for being able to Charm a textbook to talk, a thimble into a tureen of soup, and a professor's hat into a nightingale with a full bladder, but for being able to Hex you into next Tuesday if she didn't feel like coming up with a nice, creative Charm. But he'd needed the best Charms teacher around, and she was it. And he'd been lucky enough to grow on her--or that's what she told him when he asked why she'd offered to help him with studying for his N.E.W.T.s as well as the Memory Charms.

She'd been so proud of his results on those that she'd actually leapt into the fireplace to hug him. That had been a bit disconcerting at the time, but the memory was comforting now and he clung to it. He also told himself, They're just children. And you're their teacher. You're in charge. Those thoughts weren't nearly as comforting as the memory of Molly's hug.

Feeling a bit more confident, Arthur Weasley drew himself tall, reminded himself that he was a Gryffindor, and tried to remember how to get out of the car.

*^*^*^*^*^*

Twenty minutes later, he stood nervously behind a coal-colored metal desk, very glad that Molly had charmed all of his dress-shirts to conceal any signs of perspiration before she'd gone back to Hogwarts. He had tried to mentally prepare himself for the day to come, but had ended up playing with the stapler instead. That had kept him happy enough until the Head Teacher had rung the bell for the students to enter the building.

He was only expecting six. It was a small village. It really shouldn't have had its own school anymore, but the Ministry saw to it that Lord Muggle School wasn't closed. Much like they saw to his teaching credentials ("Please don't screw up. These are devils to fabricate. Our last set lost all credibility when they found Mrs. Finch out. And there were canaries everywhere.").

He picked up a piece of pristine, crisp-edged chalk and carefully formed the letters of his name on the board behind his desk. He at least could go by his real name. That had been a source of nerves at first, but it turned out that, while his family had lived in the area for generations, none of the Muggles had ever heard the name Weasley. There was, however, a bit of a legend about the clan of carrot-topped lords with unusual fashion sense who had owned the land surrounding the village back in the days when lords owned the land. Their last name was Muggle, so the legend went, and the local school was named after one of them because Ottery St. Catchpole Primary was just too much of a mouthful.

It was taking the children a while to reach Arthur's classroom from the grounds. He nervously surveyed the two rows of heavy wooden desks and the thick stone walls that were so thoroughly ancient-looking that they rather reminded him of some of the brighter rooms at Hogwarts. The floor was cracked and the classroom globe had a few localities labeled on it that weren't actually independent political entities anymore. (Arthur had learned in Chapter Four of his Muggle Studies text had only ever been recognized by wizarding governments anyway.) The only bright spot in the room was the one wall not occupied by banks of windows or the chalk board. It had been inexpertly decorated by Arthur himself.

He wished he could have used magic on it, but that, of course, would have been out of the question. It wasn't his top priority to create a positive learning environment. Keeping appearances up and his ears open were what was important. They were his real job.

That was what the Ministry had recruited him for: to be their eyes and ears. It was a tricky business, keeping Muggles in the dark about witches and wizards. Tricky enough in places like London, where at least the wizards were scattered and discrete. But, with four old and slightly ostentatious wizarding families around the very Muggle village of Ottery St. Catchpole, it was one of the places the Ministry was most worried about when it came to security breaches. Of course, adult Muggles would never mention any strange things they'd observed if questioned by strangers, for fear of sounding crazy. But, with children less ashamed to admit to belief in magic or seemingly magical things and teachers in the perfect position to learn all about the lives of their students, Arthur Weasley was positioned to be a perfect spy.

"You're damage control, too, Arthur," Quamble had said. "If there's physical evidence you can't make go away, Memory Charms won't do you any good. You'd have to do them every day and the effects do build up. Anything you can' t explain or make them forget, you have to find a way to blame on aliens. Aliens, got it? Little green men from space. They eat it right up."

"But, usually, there's not much need. Aurelia Diggory says she spent more time keeping her own secrets from the children than dispelling nasty local myths about us in general. The biggest trick is to never let on anything you don't know. Always tell them to look it up. We've provided you with a very good set of encyclopedias. Learn how to say that word."

Arthur was mumbling "en-sigh-clo-pee-di-ah" under his breath and gesturing towards the collection in the back of the room in a way that reminded him a bit of one of his first Charms lessons (WingGARdium Leviosa. Swish and flick!) when his first pupil gasped.

Arthur's hand froze in mid-air. He really didn't want to have to Obliviate anyone so soon. He'd have to at least wait until they were all in the classroom. He moved his hand up to straighten his glasses and turned with the widest smile he could manage before he remembered that smiling was a sign of weakness, according to Quamble, and that he'd surely be eaten alive. But it was too late and they'd forget the smile in a minute, anyway. So he kept grinning.

And the boy who had gasped, eyes large and round and very much like a mooncalf's, threw an arm behind himself and waved it around until he made contact with the next child in line. Now with a fistful of a larger boy's sleeve, he hissed slowly, but none-too quietly, without taking his eyes off Arthur, "Ezra! She's not a lady!"

The boy behind him stifled a snort and Arthur stifled a sigh of relief. He pretended not to have heard while a thin-faced girl, whose hair was bleached lighter than her skin was tanned, squeezed past the boys.

"Timothy-" she started impatiently, then stopped. "Oh! You're right! Well!" She stood indecisively, then twitched her hair over her shoulder in a shrug. She matched Arthur's grin and said smoothly, "Pleased to meet you, sir. I'm Julia." Then she stepped on the still-gaping first boy's foot.

The boy closed his mouth obediently and opened it again to say, "I'm Timothy!" but didn't get much further than that before another girl flounced into the classroom and dropped a curtsy.

"I am Margaret," she announced, lifting her eyes to smile at Arthur from behind golden lashes.

"Wonderful," said Arthur weakly. There were so many of them. "Now, if you'll all please take your seats..." The first four students had begun to comply when two more appeared and Arthur braced himself for another unconventional introduction.

"I'm Benjamin," the boy said, sticking out his hand with an ear-to- ear grin. "I can help you take roll, if you'd like, until you learn our names." He was the smallest child in the class and Arthur had to look a long way down to see into his bright hazel eyes when they shook hands. He had large birthmarks on his forehead and chin, dark and haphazard like his short hair.

"Benjamin," Arthur repeated.

"And Julia Atwood, she's first on the roll-" the boy leaned over the desk politely, and pointed, "And Timothy, and then that's me... Margaret Roberts - she curtseyed you - Ezra's there, after her. And there," now he pointed to a girl who had seated herself in the second row of desks, with hair dark like his own, only a bit longer and thicker, "well, on the list, she's here under Timothy. Catherine Davies."

"But we call her C.C.," interjected Julia, who was still hovering by Arthur's desk as well.

"C.C." Arthur repeated, staring at the girl and trying to attach the name to her. Her eyes were dark blue and solemn. Her blouse was unruffled and white. She was wearing very sensible shoes and her hair was tucked neatly behind her ears. He had never really tried to imagine what a girl called C.C. would look like, but if he had, she would have been about as far from it as possible.

"Yes," said Julia, "C.C. Because she moved here last year from Cardiff and said she used to be called Cath and so she was Cath from Cardiff, you know, but that's so long and we got tired of saying it all the time. So now she's C.C. for short. Isn't it perfect?"

"C.C.?" Arthur repeated. No child of his would ever go by that name. Not that he planned on having children.

The girl in question glanced at Julia and said carefully, "Last year's teacher called me Catherine. She was very proper, you see, about manners and things. She said C.C. wasn't a polite name for school. I understand if you think so, too." She paused and added quickly, "At my old school, the teacher called me Cath."

Julia beamed at Arthur, "But you can call her C. C, of course."

Arthur straightened his bowtie and said, as thoughtfully as possible, " I see." He wondered how far into the school year he could get without calling the dark-haired girl by any name at all. Hopefully, it would be longer than it took for the pinched-faced one to stop talking and take her seat. He had forgotten about such issues as nicknames and proper names at Hogwarts, where there wasn't really much question-Mr. Weasley, Mr. Wood, Miss Prewett. Very simple. He liked things simple.

"Thank you, Miss Atwood," he said. The girl looked surprised and sat down. He cleared his throat while hastily glancing down at his agenda and read, "Now I will distribute textbooks."

That went relatively well. It was rather like the handing out of toads or teapots to be Transfigured, only the students had to write their names inside the covers of the books with their Muggle writing instruments, and Arthur had to keep a list of who had what. He did this very carefully with a Muggle fountain pen. He had tried what they called a "quill pen," but it just wasn't the same as a proper wizard's quill. The Muggle paper was light and flimsy, too. And very white. Over the course of that first morning, he restrained himself five times from remarking, "My, isn't that bright," upon revealing a new sheet. He did very much enjoy the printed lines on it, though. They kept his script from wobbling down the page in its usual un-teacherly manner.

*^*^*^*^*^*

The students did not notice Arthur's poor handwriting or his enchantment with the Muggle paper. And it seemed that he had done the bow-tie correctly, because there was no comment on that, even from the girl who managed to comment on everything. They didn't notice anything amiss when he remembered to launch into his carefully prepared Welcome Back to School speech or listed the rules for the year.

What they did notice, about half-past eleven, when the sun had climbed out of reach of the north window, was that the room was a bit dark. Benjamin, in the corner of the room furthest from the windows, found himself squinting to read his own writing of the year's first essay title: "What I Did on My Summer Vacation" (The new teacher had especially encouraged them to include anything odd they may have noticed around the village, to make it more interesting). Puzzled Benjamin looked around at Timothy, who sat behind him. Timothy was staring out the window.

He peered back at the page, then glanced sideways to Margaret. She appeared to be hard at work, so he stepped on his shoe until it slid off, and leaned over from his desk to fix it.

"Margaret. Can you see?" he asked in a whisper from the floor between their desks. She shook her hair a bit to mean "no" and pointed her pencil up at the lights. More precisely, she pointed at the unlit lighting fixtures.

"What do we do?"

Margaret shrugged and tossed her curls this time towards Julia. While Benjamin was trying to catch Julia's eye, Ezra, in the second row of desks, noticed him on the floor and hissed, “What are you doing?” Benjamin pointed up at the lack-of-lights. Then Ezra nudged the girl next to him, who tugged lightly on one of Julia's braids.

They all looked at the ceiling, except Timothy, who was still looking out the window. Ezra finally poked him awake, too. Then they all looked at their teacher, who was at his desk, intently concentrating on something that involved a lot of sellotape.

Julia nodded at Timothy, he raised his hand, and they all waited expectantly. They had never had a teacher become so engrossed in sellotape that she failed to notice such a disturbance in the classroom. Benjamin scooted back into his chair in anticipation.

But nothing happened.

They all looked back up at the lights to check that they were really out. Julia coughed a bit. Ezra coughed more loudly. But their attempts to draw attention to the lack of lighting without drawing the attention and possible wrath of their still-mysterious new teacher failed. Margaret had begun to wheeze in a dramatic prelude to a sneeze when Benjamin took a deep breath and stepped into the aisle.

He stopped a few feet in front of the teacher's desk. "Sir?" he inquired. Arthur looked up with a start and dropped the sellotape into his lap, where it tangled disappointingly. He felt his ears warming and wished longingly that personal embarrassment were a worthy reason to cast Memory Charms. It was a bit shadowy in the room just now. Maybe the boy hadn't noticed. The shadows did not really strike Arthur as odd, as he was used to classes in poorly lit dungeons.

"Yes?" Arthur finally responded. The class seemed to be holding their breaths.

Benjamin glanced back up at the light fixtures. They were sort of fascinating, he began to think. From this perspective you could see the intricate workings through the glass without getting yourself blinded-he looked back his teacher resolutely before he could get too distracted.

"We were just noticing, well, that it's getting a bit dark in here-" he trailed off, hoping he could leave it at that, that the teacher would ask him to get the lights on the way back to his seat, and maybe even not scold him for getting up in the first place as he was, after all, just trying to help.

"That it is. I was just noticing myself," Arthur returned cautiously, wondering if they wanted to see what he was doing with the tape.

Benjamin waited. He wanted very much to look back over his shoulder to Julia or anyone-even Timothy-for a sign.

Timothy actually did come through. "Well, do you like it in the dark or can we turn on the lights?"

This was met with a silence, during which time Benjamin wondered if he'd get caught in whatever wrath was surely headed towards Timothy and Arthur wondered if it was dark enough to subtly bang his head against the desk.

He felt far too sheepish to compose a dignified response. Instead, he was thinking desperately that one little Memory Charm really couldn't hurt. There was a form that, if used immediately, was just about harmless to developing minds. And Quamble had said that any government test scores from Lord Muggle School were fixed anyway. But then Quamble interrupted himself in Arthur's head, shouting, "Hang on, boy! What are you so worried about? Never forget: YOU are the teacher, YOU are in charge, and you are never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever wrong. Some of these new softies think it's best to be open, human, and honest with children. But these aren't just children. They're Muggle children."

The class was still waiting in silence. Arthur fingered his bowtie and concentrated on resembling as closely as possible an indignant Professor Doomb. But an image of Molly Prewett the day he'd accidentally skipped their Memory Charms tutoring session for a date with Elspeth Brown overrode that. He was now hoping that his red face was at least somewhat visible despite the dark, as coloring was always good for intimidating effect.

"What are you?" he bellowed, or tried to. "Infants? Did your last year's teacher turn the lights on for you? If you need lights, take care of your own lights!"

It felt awful to shout like that. He looked around expectantly and then added, "Please."

All six students jumped up and scrambled for the light switch. Arthur watched very closely. All it seemed to require was a little nudge and the whole room was amply illuminated. Ingenious, really. The next moment, all six students were back in their seats, industriously scribbling on their bright white leaves of paper.

"Thank you," he said. He glanced at his watch. Lunch was at noon. "You have twenty-five minutes."

It was really too bright now to try to salvage the sellotape. He shoved it into a desk drawer with a sigh and decided to review the science he had planned for the afternoon instead. Quamble had warned against attempting to teach any science or social studies other than assigning reports from the encyclopedia. But he'd noticed, flipping through the student texts, that there was a whole unit on the basics of Herbology. Of course, the text didn't call it that, but he'd rather enjoyed Herbology and planting things looked easy and fun.

*^*^*^*^*^*

The children disappeared for lunch, either home or to their friends' homes, or just out to the schoolyard. Arthur, although very tempted to spend as much time with Muggles as possible, was wary of lunching with the other adults after the number of near-disasters he had hopefully averted that morning with the children. So he lunched in his classroom alone-after spending a few minutes of quality time with the classroom light-switch. He noticed one in the corridor as well, and one in the loo. They were all a bit different. He wanted very much to tour the building and try them all, but he suspected that that might appear odd. He'd read about light-switches and they seemed to be in very common use. He couldn't believe he hadn't thought to turn the lights on.

Arthur was fairly certain that it had been his own six students he'd passed by the fence that morning. Ezra's shape and Margaret's feathery hair, which really did put one in the mind of an angel, were both still distinct in his memory. So he kept glancing out at the yard as he ate, anxious to see if they were back together again commiserating this time about him, commenting on what an odd teacher he was, asking where he'd come from and did they not have sellotape there. . .

But they did not conference about him or anyone. The first of them to come back was the cheerful, helpful boy who reminded Arthur strongly of an eager spotted dog, a combined effect of the large, dark birthmarks, lively eyes, and the way he always appeared by Arthur's side. He was recognizable from afar by his spiky hair, a style which was uncommon in the village. The boy talked animatedly for a minute with the children eating on the school grounds and disappeared again. A few others arrived before he came back, bearing a striking white-and-black patched ball. Arthur hadn't noticed any division into teams, but soon the children were all kicking at it in a somewhat organized fashion. He decided to research this sport in his Muggle textbook, as the rules and purpose were obviously universally understood among the children. Margaret, Timothy, and Julia joined in when they arrived, as did the last two of Arthur's students shortly before it was time to come back in. That left no time for conversation.

Arthur's teaching instructions said he was to "Assess the students' retention of mathematical concepts from previous study," so the first thing he did when they got back inside was to ask them, "Now, can you tell me everything that you remember learning about Arithmetic last year?" He started trying to make notes on the board, but eventually gave up and whispered a quick recording charm while Margaret and Timothy were arguing over something he'd have to look up in his Muggle textbook, the student text, or both, called a cal-Q-later.

That went on somewhat longer than he had expected so that he barely had time to introduce the Herbology unit. Then he was sidetracked by Margaret volunteering that she knew all about the subject already, as her father was an "agriculturalist," Julia muttering that Margaret didn't know "all about" anything, Timothy asking if his father was a "grickle-tourist," too, because they both had farms, and Ezra falling out of his chair laughing.

Arthur didn't feel like that part of the day had gone too well academically, but at least he'd managed to act fairly normal, he thought. And soon he'd be home reading over the essays about the children's holidays and preparing extensive lists of questions to ask when they read them aloud the next morning. He cleaned the chalkboard, nudged the classroom light- switch, emptied the dustbin, and nearly skipped out the door to the blue car the Ministry had lent him for appearances.

He drove the car a few miles down the road to the carport at Aurelia Diggory's small house, where he was staying in a spare room if anyone asked, and minding the property while the owner was away. Arthur would have liked that story to be true, actually, but he was the youngest and his mother and father just weren't ready for him to leave home. "It will be yours soon, anyway," they kept saying, even though he insisted that a place like the Burrow really ought to go to one of his brothers, who actually planned on having a bit of a family. But he was the youngest and being the youngest in the Weasley home occasionally meant that you got spoiled, but mostly meant that no one ever listened to a thing you had to say.

So instead of going inside, Arthur Apparated home directly from the carport. His parents were nowhere to be seen and, even better, there was a large package on the kitchen table being guarded protectively by Molly Prewett's owl. With friends like that, who needed their parents to welcome them after their first day on the job?

*^*^*^*^*^

Arthur's students did have parents waiting for them, though. They had to remind Margaret of that.

"Where are you all going?" she had demanded as they had begun to scatter outside the school.

"Home," called Ezra shortly from across the street.

"But don't you want to go down Queen Mary Road to see - you know - what I saw there?" Margaret asked while she hopped impatiently, straddling her bicycle.

"Not really," he returned. "Come on C.C.," he said the girl next to him. They were neighbors and were expected to walk home together. "My mum'll have cookies and there's a tennis match on the telly."

"Our mums are expecting us," the girl called back to Margaret. "We could get permission and come tomorrow. Wait – no - Timothy's got piano. Wednesday?"

No one shook their head, so Julia said, "Right then. Wednesday. Everybody check." Then they parted: Benjamin to the shop where his father worked, C.C. with Ezra, and the rest of them heading home, all of them forgetting to wonder about their new teacher who was not quite like any teacher they'd had before, and not just because he did not wear dresses or high heels.

//
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