The Sugar Quill
Author: Stubefied (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Muggles of Ottery St. Catchpole Part I: Muggles and a Mystery  Chapter: Chapter 2: Getting to Know You
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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.

Thanks again to NightZephyr and my Tri-D for sorting out the confusing bits. I also need to acknowledge that any anachronisms are all my fault. My mother does, quite vividly, 'remember the sixties.' But she can only answer questions I think to ask her.

Getting to Know You

Having survived his first day of Muggle school, Arthur felt brave enough to set a loftier goal for his second. He would actually begin to gather information. He would learn about the Muggles: who they were, how they worked, and what they knew.

He began to whistle his favorite tune by Hate Charm when he drove by the school that morning and didn't find the cluster of students scrutinizing him from across the fence that he had the day before. He almost hadn't looked, but he was glad he did. It gave him the confidence he needed to accomplish his new goal. So Arthur whistled.

*^*^*^*

The girl named Margaret, however, wasn't whistling. She was darting around the field, trying to collect her classmates to find out if they would be free the next day after school. She had C.C. waiting patiently on the school steps, but Benjamin was back in his habit of being late, Timothy was being chased around the shade tree by his small brother waving an enormous worm, and Ezra refused to come within ten feet of Julia because the rest of the school was playing Tag and the girls were 'It.'

Margaret was nearly in tears by the time the Head Teacher signaled the beginning of the school day. She glumly anticipated everyone scattering at lunch as they had the day before, and then again at dismissal. She would never get to show them what she'd seen, they would never believe her, and she would never figure it out and be famous on the six o'clock news.

In desperation, as her teacher began to take attendance, Margaret quietly took out a piece of loose-leaf paper and wrote across the top: Can you come tomorow? Anser please! She passed it to C.C. first because C.C. generally did whatever Margaret wanted and she was afraid that if she started with Julia or Ezra the whole thing would go straight into the bin.

Predictably, when the note did eventually reach Julia, she leaned over to point out Margaret's spelling errors instead of answering it. Margaret had to try very hard not to repeat any of the impolite phrases she'd heard from her brothers when all Julia had to talk about was silent w's.

Just as Margaret thought of something relatively civil to say to Julia, she was interrupted.

*^*^*^*

The interruption came from Arthur, who had reached Benjamin's name on the register. When he didn't hear the boy call, "Present," as he was supposed to, he looked up to scan the room and cringed, momentarily forgetting the roll to worry instead about the girls commiserating in the front row. It was very difficult not to take students passing notes and whispering on the second day of school as a sign that they could tell how clueless he was. Arthur decided it was time to pretend to be Stern Schoolmaster again, as it had seemed to save him from the sellotape incident the day before.

It was harder, though, planning it out like this instead of acting on impulse. He tried to make his voice deep, but that made him feel like he was asking a witch to Hogsmeade. That somewhat ruined the effect of, "Margaret, Julia," a hopefully significant silence, and then, "if whatever you're discussing wasn't important enough to talk about before school began, then it's not something important enough to interrupt our class."

"Sorry, sir," Julia said quickly nonetheless. "It was nothing."

But Margaret squeaked with indignation. "Nothing?"

Julia glared at her and explained dismissively, "Margaret thinks she's seen something spooky off the top of the hill on Queen Mary Road."

Arthur's demeanor changed entirely. "Where, exactly, was this?" he asked carefully. The Burrow was hidden beyond that hill, as were a few other wizarding households. "And what was spooky? And who else knows?" Then he stopped questioning because he was afraid he might seem too eager. But Margaret, who was itching to talk about her discovery even more than he was itching to hear it, didn't notice and the others were too incredulous at the lack of scolding to wonder.

Margaret straightened herself in her seat before beginning her story with barely contained excitement. "Well, you know how Queen Mary Road twists up that hill north of the village? And how there's that big rock at the very top of it? Well, if you climb it, you can see for ages, even over the trees a bit, and it's not just woods that go on and on, the way it looks from the road."

That wasn't a surprise to Arthur, who knew the wizard family that had lived in the presumed privacy of those woods for generations. The surprise was that anybody could see their land, even from that hilltop.

"-and you can see part of it from the rock. It's just bit. And it looks like a field like the rest of them around here at first except - here's the weird part - there are patterns in the grasses. Circles over circles. One a bit like a flower. And I think there were maybe tufts in the middle of some of them, but it was really hard to see."

Here Arthur had to hold his breath so as not to emit an audible sigh of relief that the Muggles hadn't seen any real magic, just the trampled grass from some dancing mooncalves. He was actually slightly excited now. Mooncalf activity was simple to explain away with Quamble's rule. The patterns were made by aliens, of course -- from Outer Space, landing in their Space Ships. The locals had heard it so many times they actually believed it, Quamble said. "Just like when you were at Hogwarts and could blame anything on the poltergeist, except for the part where there really was a poltergeist." Arthur replayed the conversation in his head and tentatively considered the possibility of actually being a success at this new job.

But while Arthur was trying not to jump with undignified boyish glee, Julia interrupted Margaret.

"Hard to see because there's nothing there," she sneered. "My mother says all this hullabaloo about aliens in wheat fields is rubbish."

"I saw it," Margaret began hotly, "and so did my brothers. We were out picnicking and I saw it and they came up on the rock too and they said I have eyes like a hawk."

"And a mouth like a chipmunk!" Julia shot back, at which Ezra, who had been snickering somewhat subtly, laughed aloud, bright red rash-like splotches spreading across his cheeks.

The girls bickered on, Julia found an excuse to insult Timothy, as well, and Arthur wondered wildly if surreptitiously turning one of the desks into a hawk or a chipmunk might be sufficient distraction to make them all be quiet. He wasn't even listening to what the two girls (who had written in their essays that they were best friends) were calling each other any more. He considered turning one of them into an animal. That, he decided, was surely illegal. But he didn't know a legal way to stop the laughing and name-calling ruckus that was growing before him.

Finally, the last boy entered the noisy room. "Hi, Mr. Weasley," he said brightly. "Sorry I'm late. Are you done with the roll or would you like help again?"

Ezra fell off his chair, but Benjamin kept smiling expectantly.

"Is there a reason you're late?" Arthur asked, trying to remember the school's tardiness policy.

"He's always late," Timothy offered.

"Not always," Julia corrected, promptly forgetting her dispute with Margaret. "He was here on time yesterday. But he isn't usually."

"All students are supposed to be in their classrooms by nine o'clock," Arthur recited from memory. "If this becomes a pattern, I'll have to send a note home."

"That's what our other teachers did," said Julia knowingly, then shrugged. "His father still forgets to wake him up."

"Then why doesn't his mother wake him?" Arthur asked, feeling that that was the obvious solution and that Muggles could really be silly sometimes.

A short silence followed that question before Julia piped up again, "He hasn't got one."

"You can't be born without a mother!" Arthur spluttered, although he wondered if maybe things were different for Muggles.

"Oh, there was a lady that gave birth to me," Benjamin said lightly from where he had stopped in the doorway, "and told my dad she loved him, and married him, and all that. But then two months after I was born she scarpered and left me with him and him with a broken heart and so I haven't got a mother. Who'd want someone who'd do that to stick around anyway?"

Arthur, stunned slightly stupid, asked, "What about an alarm clock?" as though being motherless had no effect on a person outside of their punctuality.

Luckily, the boy didn't seem to be offended. "I wanted one for Christmas, but all I got was this watch, and it doesn't make noise," he sighed, holding up his wrist to show a pale watch face. "I'm putting it on my list again this year, with a picture to show what I mean this time." Arthur got the feeling that the boy was being overly optimistic.

There were no House points to be taken here, but he had to do something about the rule violation, so he tried to think of a very mild version of a Hogwarts detention. "Well, you're ten minutes late, so you can stay an extra ten minutes after school to help me tidy the room. Agreed?"

"Agreed," grinned Benjamin, and Arthur felt satisfied that things were back on track and he could get down to business. Of course, he was wrong.

"You'd better be on time tomorrow," Margaret was telling Benjamin warningly, "so we can all go down to Queen Mary Road right after school." And C.C. was responding that she couldn't make it because she had an orthodontist appointment to decide if she would need a brace for her front teeth. Then Arthur was distracted for a bit while he tried to remember what braces did to one's mouth.

"Well, Thursday, then?"

"Timothy's chore day," reminded Julia.

"Friday?" asked Margaret desperately.

"We're leaving for my Grandma's birthday in Surrey," said Ezra.

"Next Monday?"

"You'll all be staying after until next Monday if we don't get down to work!" Arthur finally cut in. He decided to table the essay reading for another day, as it would no doubt inspire more conversations, and asked them to take out their readers. He hadn't really planned a lesson, but he had discovered that a few wizard writers were quite popular among Muggles as well, and thought he could wing a discussion of a little familiar poetry that his mother had read him as a child. Arthur particularly enjoyed Muggle-born William Wordsworth's veiled reflections on his discovery of the magical world.

However, Margaret wasn't so easily discouraged, and Arthur eventually had to relieve her of a sheet of paper being entitled: O.K. so when CAN we meet? When he took it, he noticed that she had been writing on it with a most remarkable instrument, remarkable because it did not seem to have a tip of any sort that could mark a page. No ink, no lead, just a little hole. He asked if he could see it.

"Are you confiscating my pen, too?" Margaret whispered. Her Year Three teacher had enjoyed "confiscating" things.

"Yes! That's a great idea! That's just what I'll do," Arthur murmured, and wandered back to his desk, poking, prodding, and jumping when, for no apparent reason, the writing tip popped out at him with a click. Margaret gaped for a minute and then returned to reading I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud. Arthur silently finished taking roll.

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

Arthur maintained as much normalcy as he could for the rest of the day and felt rewarded for his hard work when he found Molly Prewett's owl flying around the kitchen upon his arrival home. He had, of course, written effusively to thank her for the previous days' care package. "I think this might even make up for that Pringle incident," he had said, and meant it, even though thinking of said fiasco did still cause him to twinge in a few spots. He had oddly fond feelings about that night, when both of them had been so busy with study groups for exams that they'd been forced to schedule their Memory Charms session in the wee hours and Molly had mysteriously suggested the Astronomy Tower as a meeting place.

Arthur had blushed a bit about her choice of location, but it had been lovely up there, and conversation had strayed from magical theory to pleasant contemplation of the stars, and he had felt utterly happy and relaxed for the first time in weeks. That is, until the castle caretaker showed up. Arthur had panicked, tried a Memory Charm on him, and all heck had generally broken loose, earning the painful detention for which Arthur still held Molly responsible.

But the food she had packed-and the cover she had magically knitted for the steering wheel of his car so that it wouldn't burn his hands from sitting in the sun like it had the first afternoon-and the lovely, encouraging letter she'd written-all made him feel blissfully cheerful and forgiving.

Her latest letter was also valuable. Molly had detected his uneasiness at trying to rein in the children when they went on tangents, as with the "cal-Q-laters." He could tell that something was wrong when that happened, but he didn't know what to do. Afraid they won't listen? Molly asked perceptively. Well, then keep a window open and it can conveniently bang shut whenever you feel things get out of hand. If you have it happen a few times when all is well as well, they'll never suspect that you're behind it at all, let alone using magic. An old trick of mine... Molly Prewett was brilliant.

He wrote right back telling her so. He also told her about Margaret and her interest in the evidence of the mooncalves' dance. What should I do? She's a bit of a dramatic girl, and none of her friends even believe her. She's said her brothers have seen it as well, but if they shared her interest in investigation, she wouldn't be pestering her classmates... I'm writing a report to the Ministry of course, but I'm wondering if I should talk to the old man. Let him know Muggles have spotted something suspicious on his property, even if he's got no more control over mooncalves than he would over the moon.

Then he read as much as he could about Muggle windows, and how exactly one did and didn't open or close them. He cleaned his Muggle clothes, shined his shoes, and finally made himself dinner since his parents were getting home later and later these days.

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

The next two days went well. Arthur didn't even have to use the window trick, although he tried it out for fun once when Ezra had one of his laughing fits. Some of them are so strange, he wrote to Molly. I can't tell if it's because they're children or because they're Muggles. Ezra doesn't just laugh a bit. He snickers at everything, tries to stifle it, and ends up falling out of his chair at least once a day. Timothy knows less about the Muggle world than I do sometimes. The other day he thought his clicky-pen was broken because he had forgotten to click it. Have I told you yet about clicky pens? I'm trying to find the proper name for them. The two girls who are always at each other's throats are apparently not only best friend, but cousins. And then there's the girl who lets the others call her C.C. That is the most ridiculous name I have ever heard and the very last thing I would ever call a child of mine. The boy who stays after school every day, Benjamin-I tried to call him Ben, but he says it's his father's name with this odd sort of finality, not like him, he's usually one of those eager-puppy sorts. Anyway, he really is pleasant to talk to, and very helpful, and I'm beginning to enjoy the time with him, even though he cleans far more slowly than I could do with magic and I'm in horrible danger of blowing my cover. But he's far too cheerful about not having a mother around. They're all just so odd.

Molly had written back saying that it was neither because they were children nor because they were Muggles, but because they were human that Arthur's students were odd, and that she could think of a few names more hideous than C.C. to call a child. And did the phrase "the very last thing I would ever call a child of mine" mean he was finally considering the possibility of himself one day having children? He wrote back a very short "no."

On Thursday afternoon Arthur visited the Ministry to borrow a camera to document the mooncalf patterns off Queen Mary Road.

"Doing a bang-up job already, Weasley!" Quamble beamed at him. "You're really digging. No one in your post has ever made so much progress so fast! You'll be first in line for a promotion to regular field work!"

Arthur beamed back and thanked his lucky stars for mooncalves.

On Friday morning he decided to venture having the children read their essays so he could finally ask about the "strange" details he'd had them include.

Julia volunteered to go first. She read:

My Summer Holiday

By Julia

For my summer holiday I mostly stayed here in Ottery St. Catchpole. I helped my father at the Post Office. He has a very important job. Our Post Office serves six villages. Sometimes strange things happen there. Like the time we got a letter addressed to someone in Argentina. We don't know how it came to us. And sometimes we get letters or packages for people we've never heard of, with nonsense things about rabbit holes and such written instead of the street number or postcode. Also one time someone sent a blue box. I didn't know there were such things as blue boxes.

What else I did on my summer holiday was I played at my best friend Margaret's house. One day her brother Edward wore a suit and that was strange but then it turned out he had a date. That is also strange. Edward smells funny and no one would want to kiss him.

Then we spent a week on the beach with Margaret and her family because we're cousins. Edward had two dates there. Except for strange things like that, I had a delightfully superb and lovely summer.

The first thing Arthur did when Julia was done was commend her pointedly on her perfect spelling. Some of the others were giving him headaches with their creativity in that area. He tried to say a few knowledgeable-sounding things about her vocabulary and organization before nonchalantly wondering about the strangely addressed packages her father received at the Post Office. He'd have to write up a short report on wizards trying to use Muggle post.

Margaret tapped her essay against her desktop importantly and cleared her throat before begging to read in a very serious voice.

My Summer Holiday

By Margaret Anne Roberts

I had the best holiday ever because my frend Julia got permishin (finaly!) to ride her bike to our farm by herself now that she's eight so she came and played about a milyin times and we had the most fun ever.

I had the strangest holiday ever, too, becuz of what I saw on queen Mary road last week with my brothers. It was the strangest and spookyest thing ever. I think it was alens. So do they. But I want to find out more. I want to find the alens. My brothers don't. They said they used to look for alins all the time but they never found anything except a mean old lady whatever that means. But I'm going to find out about the alens and be famous and then I'll get on the six o'clock news and everyone will remember me and then when I grow up I can get a job there too. I want to be an anchorlady on the six o'clock news. When I grow up I am going to be an anchor lady on the six o'clock news.

Arthur wanted to tell her gently that it was lovely that she wanted to be an "anchorlady" on the six o'clock news, but that that wasn't really the point of the essay. However, as he wasn't entirely sure what either of those things were, he could have been wrong about that. It sounded like she wanted to write articles about boats, but he was not confident enough to act on that assumption. So instead he told her that that job sounded fascinating and asked her to tell him more about it. He felt very proud of himself when it seemed that he had worded the question neutrally enough not to betray his ignorance.

But then he asked if she could bring a television in to school for him to see, and Ezra broke out snickering and Margaret stammered and said that it would be a bit too heavy for her to bring on her bicycle.

His fingers clenched around his wand as Arthur realized he had made his third real blunder of the week, but he forced himself to laugh heartily instead of deleting all their memories of the gaffe. Timothy offered kindly that sometimes he forgot how heavy televisions were as well and Arthur got Ezra to be quiet by telling him it was his turn to share, which he did in one enormous breath.

My summer holiday by Ezra

I went fishing. I went swiming. I cott a real big fish. It was real long. One time I cot the same fish twise. I knew it was the same fish because it had a spot on it. Ottery St. Catchpole is boring. Nothing else strange happens here. Nothing at all happens here. Except when C.C. moved here last year. That was something. But she's not strange. Now we have a new teacher. That's something. But it's not strange. Except he's a man and not a lady.

Arthur said he'd like to hear more about Ezra's big fish and that the ending of the essay was a little weak. When Molly Prewett had begun proofing his essays, she'd always made him write a good ending. He asked Benjamin to read next because his essay had the best ending of the three that remained and he had always appreciated it when Molly had given him examples of what to strive for.

My Summer Holiday

By Benjamin

My summer holiday was pretty good this year. It didn't get too hot and it didn't rain too much. I helped my dad at the Shelly Shop like always and my friends visited sometimes. One week we built a fort out back out of empty boxes and I stayed there one night. It's quiet around here at night. It's strange how quiet, and a little scary. All you can hear is hooting owls and the okashunal toad. That's the only strange thing I can think of. Sometimes I wish something strange would happen here. Margaret thinks she's seen something out off Queen Mary Road, but my Aunt Jean says people have seen things like that around here before and that nothing ever comes of it. She says nothing ever comes of anything in Ottery St. Catchpole, not even my dad. He was supposed to be the smartest kid ever to go through The Muggle School. They let him go off to grammar school a year early and he studied engineering at University. But things happened like they always do in this village. But that's okay because I like it here even if nothing much happens over summer holidays. I get to play with my friends over summer holidays and I wouldn't trade them for an exciting holiday on a tropical island or anywhere on earth because they're the best.

When Benjamin read the last part, he was smiling warmly and all the other students were smiling, too, so that Arthur didn't have the heart to bring up dividing things into paragraphs like he'd intended. He just smiled as well and called Timothy up to read because he'd be easy to comment on.

My summer holiday

By Timothy

My summer holiday was nice. My little brother went to my grandparents for a whole week and left me alone. I went fishing with my best friend. His name is Ezra. He cot a big fish. It was bigger then my face. I tried to eat it. But we hadn't cooked it yet. So it tasted strange. And then I got sick.

Since Arthur had already discovered it was nearly impossible to embarrass Timothy, he was able to talk freely about what he knew about essay writing after that. He made it a class project to turn Timothy's dozen sentences into a somewhat organized answer to the question and felt very cheerful when he motioned for C.C. to read the final essay before lunch.

My Summer Holiday

By Catherine Davies

I had a nice summer. I went swimming with my friends. I visited my grandma and grandpa Owen for my birthday. They got me a chemistry set. I loved it. My mum and dad and my Grandma Davies got me a Polaroid camera. It is very nice and very complicated. I'm not very good at it. It must be like art.

Noting strange happened. Someone rang our doorbell and ran away. But that was just Ezra. He was bored.

As C.C. sat down, Arthur glanced at his wrist, but there was nothing there because earlier in the week he had discovered that, although Muggles did have alarms clocks "to remind them when it's time to get up," these reminders didn't come from wristwatches and were generally non-verbal. He'd made quite a fool of himself when his timepiece had exclaimed, "It's 12:05! You're late for lunch!" The children had looked very startled, with Ezra demanding, "Who said that?" and Arthur had absentmindedly answered that it was his watch.

It had taken a while for him to realize he was in trouble, but when Timothy sheepishly declared that he had forgotten that watches could talk, Julia had reminded him sharply that that was because, in fact, they couldn't. Then he'd had to pretend that he'd said it himself, and that he'd had a frog in his throat, too, making him sound like an irate female, and it had been rather embarrassing all around.

So now he sighed and consulted the school clock on the wall, which was silent apart from its ticking. He had about two minutes to fill before he could reasonably release the students.

"Well," he said gamely, "That was interesting. I'm curious about one part, though. When you said, 'It must be like art,' what does art have to do with anything?"

"Oh, sorry." The girl blushed slightly. "I'd forgotten you didn't know. I'm awful at art. All of it. Drawing, painting, sculpting- I've tried everything, since my father and grandmother are artists. I'm awful at all of it."

"Artists?" Arthur asked, genuinely interested. "What do they do?" He didn't know much about Muggle art.

"My dad makes pottery and my grandma paints it and then they sell it," she said proudly.

"Oh! Is that why you moved here?" Arthur exclaimed. His mother was always disguising herself as a Muggle and running off to look for Devon pottery, so he felt somewhat knowledgeable.

The girls' smile flickered. "Well. We've been here a whole year now," she said quickly, "so it's a little hard to remember-"

She looked distinctly uncomfortable and Arthur instantly regretted bringing up her uprooting. If Ezra's essay was any indication, there weren't many new people in this village, making C.C. something of a novelty. Even after a whole year, which, he remembered, felt like a lifetime when you were a child, she was still called The New Girl, practically--Cath from Cardiff, not from Ottery St. Catchpole--one of them, but not quite.

That made her like Arthur himself, in a way. He'd grown up just outside the village, his house actually a bit closer to the school than Timothy's, and his family had lived there forever. But to these children he was an outsider and he always would be.

The girl bit her lip and exhaled before she continued wearily. "Partly. My grandma was ill and Cardiff is lovely when the sun shines, really. But the problem is the sun doesn't shine so much there and half of the time when it does it's still a bit cold or windy or damp-"

Ezra snorted here, but quietly.

"-and it wasn't good for her health. And she really wanted to go back to country life, too. My dad used to come out here a lot. He'd buy pieces to sell in our shop or trade them for some of his to sell here. So he knew it was a good area for the business, and the weather was a little milder than in Cardiff-"

"Oh, go on," put in Ezra, "Tell him why you really ended up here instead of, say, some place sunny that anyone had ever actually heard of."

"Oh, all right," C.C. said, with a bit of spark finally. "Yes, we could have built just about anywhere, but my mother fell in love with this village because--well--it's silly, but otters are her favorite animal and she saw the name on a sign once when they were driving through. And there wasn't already a pottery shop, so here we are."

"Yes," said Margaret happily, "and we're ever so glad because you're just the nicest new girl possible."

"She is," Timothy told Arthur, nodding earnestly. "C.C.'s the nicest ever. She helps me remember my jacket and she's not a Welshman with a chip or anything."

"And not just because she's a girl, not a man," Julia added significantly.

The girl herself was looking uncomfortable and seemed to be biting her tongue when a strangled voice called from the back of the class, "It's 12:05! You're late for lunch!"

Mr. Weasley looked down at his wrist in surprise, but the rest of the class turned around and laughed at Ezra, whose cheeks were so blotchy with mirth that he looked ill, and they jumped up to leave.

*^*^*^*^*^*

Arthur only thought it fair to give the children an extra five minutes to chat after they came straggling back into the room an hour later, as he had caused class to run five minutes into their lunch. Another motivation was that he had discovered that their conversations were often either very funny or very informative.

This Friday he had the specific goal of finding out if any of them were venturing out to Queen Mary Road after school, because that was when he planned to take his photographs and it was going to be tricky enough without six children crawling all over the place. He couldn't very well just Apparate to the middle of the roadside, and he didn't want to be spied driving by and stopping right there. He hadn't figured out exactly how it would work just yet, but at least the children all seemed to have other plans.

At 1:05, he cleared his throat, which he knew would have no effect, and then at 1:06 he whispered a quiet Wingardium Leviosa, lifting the blinds on one of the windows and letting them drop back just loudly enough to startle six chattering mouths into silence.

He kept them on task well enough for an hour of math and thirty minutes of ancient history, which he always found fascinating from the Muggle point of view. The boys seemed to share his enthusiasm for such clever inventions as catapults and burning oil. Arthur often ended up drawing diagrams, as best he could remember from his Muggle Studies texts, of how things worked, making miniature ones out of things around the classroom, and having a grand time in general.

He was considering letting the class have guesses at how things worked before he drew them. Benjamin, in particular, seemed very quick on the uptake in these experiments. He could always find just the right substitute materials. Best of all, when discussing ancient history, Arthur didn't need to worry so much about slipping up and marveling at the ingenuity of it all and "how they got by without so many everyday things" because the children felt the same way, too.

These lessons were rapidly becoming his favorite part of the day. (He had temporarily abandoned the study of Herbology because Margaret and Timothy were too much in 'harvest' frames of mind to think about planting.) Even so, his apprehension and excitement about the task awaiting him after school matched the Friday afternoon jitters of the students, and the last half hour of class degenerated into a discussion of favorite animals.

It may have begun with Timothy revealing that he detested every single one of the sheep on his farm, favoring frogs instead. Then they all wanted to know how Mr. Weasley felt about weasels, and he said he liked them fine because otherwise he was sure to be asked what he liked better, and neither 'crup' nor 'phoenix' seemed like a very good answer. Ezra admired lions and snakes, Julia eagles. Benjamin shrugged and said he supposed dogs were nice, which Arthur thought seemed fitting for a boy so reminiscent of a spotted puppy.

Margaret startled Arthur by declaring that she absolutely adored unicorns.

"You know unicorns don't count, Margaret," Julia sighed at her. "They're not real."

"People used to think they're real. They might be. Just because we don't see them anymore-"

"Means they've either turned invisible or they're just not there. People used to think there were dragons and mermaids and monsters in the sea, too. Unicorns are lovely but they're make-believe and they don't count as favorite animals," Julia said with finality, and the others seemed to concur.

Then Margaret looked at Arthur so pleadingly with her wide eyes and curly golden halo that he knew he couldn't lie to her when she asked, "What do you say, sir? Do unicorns count?"

It wasn't even hard to say something truthful, yet not revealing. "If you want them to," he told her. "Just because we don't see them every day doesn't mean they're not beautiful things to wonder about."

"They are very beautiful," Margaret agreed and Arthur wished he could share pictures with her. He decided then that he should end the conversation before he could make a ridiculous offer like that and directed his attention to C.C. in the back, the only student who hadn't shared.

"What's your favorite animal?" he inquired.

"She plays unicorns with me!" Margaret said.

"And eagles with me. We soar!"

"She does a great lion."

Arthur was a bit confused by the bombardment of conflicting answers and must have looked it because C.C. giggled quietly before explaining, "I just like them all."

"Isn't it otters like your mum?" asked Timothy.

"Them, too."

"What animals did you play before you knew us?" wondered Margaret.

"Oh, gosh, I don't know," C.C. said, with what seemed intended to be a careless wave of her hand. "I was just a little kid then! I mostly remember playing with Julia and you."

Arthur felt her exasperation and regretted having brought her into conversation for the second time that day. He'd be quiet, too, if every time he opened his mouth someone reminded him he was different from all his friends

So he exclaimed, "Okay! Let's play a game!" as his mother had done with him and his brothers when they got impatient at family gatherings. "I'm thinking of a creature--animal-whose name starts with A. Who can guess it?"

Benjamin got it-alligator, and kept the rest of the class going until 3:00 with "barnacle." By then, Arthur was so ready to embark on his photography mission that he nearly shooed his five punctual students through the classroom door. He had been looking forward to continuing a discussion of aqueducts with Benjamin while they cleaned, but he just couldn't keep his mind on anything other than his upcoming investigation, so he dismissed the boy five minutes early and made a bee-line for the Ministry car. He whistled in its privacy all the way to the Diggory carport.

//
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