The Sugar Quill
Author: Stubefied (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Muggles of Ottery St. Catchpole Part II: Muggle No More  Chapter: 1: News
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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.

If you haven’t read Part I: I think (hope) you can still appreciate this. You’ll be missing some character establishment, and, of course, the explanation of how Arthur Weasley got to know a half dozen Muggle primary school students. But if you can suspend disbelief enough to read stories about people doing magic right under our noses, that shouldn’t be too big of a problem.

General Author’s Note: Part II is very different from Part I. Somewhat to that end, there is a canon reference in this chapter that, if you catch it, will tell you something about where the story is going -- although what you’d predict would be the end won’t be. That would just be depressing.

This chapter is brought to you by my beta, NightZephyr, and my tri-delta, who has forgotten how to be British, but is always honest.

News

July, 1968

A somewhat surprised Arthur Weasley tightened his protective grip around the photo-album under his left arm. He had expected the ladies from the Wizengamot Administration Services and Department of Magical Education to be an eager audience for the pictures of his recent wedding and just-completed honeymoon, but the excited twitter coming from the First and Second Level Staff Lunchroom was a little intimidating. His trip had only been to Australia, after all.

Arthur stood, unobserved, in the doorway to the staff lounge for a few moments. Even the sterner members of the Magical Law Enforcement Department, on the other side of the room, seemed a bit more animated today. And it was hard to believe that they cared much for details about flower arrangements or stringmints on pillows.

Wondering what was going on, Arthur took a tentative step forward and was attacked from the right by Mimi Finch, an old classmate of Molly’s.

“Arthur!” she exclaimed, clutching his free arm and ushering him towards a table. “Have you heard? The Hogwarts letters went out!”

“Really?” he asked politely. He thought it was a bit silly how excited people got about notification day. It wasn’t as if there was ever any doubt in the matter.

“My baby sister’s in,” Mimi was saying. “We’re so proud.” As she was depositing him firmly into a chair, Arthur slipped the photo-album into his lap and surveyed his company. One beaming mother, two giddy aunts, three glowing grandmas, a great-grandmother crossing her fingers for five generations in Gryffindor, and two very pleased-looking fathers were all being congratulated, patted on the back, and encouraged to describe, in detail, every bit of magical potential their youngsters had ever displayed. Arthur glanced almost longingly across the room to the Law Enforcement crowd.

“And you, Arthur?” Mimi asked. “Do you know anybody?”

“Can’t say I do. My eldest brother’s first is just six, and I was one of the youngest cousins,” he answered lightly.

“Poor dear,” said the older woman to his right.

“What about your kids?” Phil Perkins asked from the other side of her.

“I haven’t got any yet,” Arthur responded, a little miffed that even the man with whom he’d shared a closet-sized office for the last two years had forgotten he'd just returned from his honeymoon.

“Of course not,” Perkins laughed. “I meant your Muggles, the ones you were always going on about last year.”

“I never went on about them!" Arthur protested. "If they came up, it was part of the job. Because they’re Muggles, and did Muggle things, and so do we, and--”

“So it’s true, then?” someone interrupted sharply. It was the witch directly across from Arthur, dark and somewhat imposing. He believed her first name to be Dorothea.

“What’s true?” Arthur asked, distracted by Perkins' chuckling at him.

“You’re familiar with the Ottery St. Catchpole children who would be of age to start Hogwarts this year.”

“Well, I’d have to count back… They were eight, I think, how many years ago?" Figuring was harder than it should have been because the witch was making him feel like he was under interrogation.

“Yes, they’d be eleven this year,” Perkins confirmed before Arthur could sort out the numbers. “I remember because the lot was the same age as my son’s Effie. She’s starting in September, you know. Been practicing her potions.”

That deflected attention away from Arthur a bit as three different witches at once tried to tell the grey-haired man how lovely that was, or how they had adored Potions, or how their own little pride and joy was bound to be the youngest House Quidditch player in ages. But the witch across from Arthur was still fixing him with a gaze that he would have characterized as ‘steely’ had her eyes not been dark brown.

“Er, who is that?” he whispered to Mimi, leaning in behind her conveniently voluminous hair.

“Dorothea Johnson, Department of Magical Education,” Mimi reported, with a gleam of gossip in her eye. "And she has a secret.”

Arthur waited patiently while Mimi pretended to be busy spreading something on her sandwich before she continued carefully, her voice casual, but muted. “You see, there’s no point bothering the staff of Hogwarts with all the acceptance letters, especially the ones where people gush on and on about what an honor it is and all that. So they're all directed to a Ministry employee, one of the office staff in the Department of Magical Education. That's her. She receives all the mail, checks the names off on a list, and sends a summary off when everyone’s replied.”

“It’s a secret that she gets the Hogwarts acceptance letters?” Arthur asked dubiously, yet still quietly. He glanced across the table at the letter-receiving woman, who appeared to be engrossed in her corned beef.

“She gets all the letters,” Mimi repeated. Arthur waited again while she chewed.

“And,” she continued significantly, “they’re not all acceptances.”

Arthur had been trying to mirror her nonchalance but, at that, he did pause momentarily, mouth half-open and still inches from his first wife-prepared sandwich. Mimi looked very satisfied with herself.

“Rumor has it," she confirmed, "that this year someone’s said no.”

“I’m sure plenty of Muggle-borns do the first time around, don’t they?" Arthur reasoned, recovering. "And it all comes out right in the end with proper counseling--"

“It’s not a Muggle-born,” Dorothea announced. Arthur hoped that his startled face looked more like he was surprised by the random comment than guilty about being caught gossiping. But he couldn’t escape the woman's gaze and he could feel his skin heating up. He was sure she'd been listening all along.

“Then what does it have to do with me?” he challenged. Dorothea impassively raised an eyebrow.

“Could one of your old students that Phil mentioned have been magical?” Mimi suggested.

“Actually,” Arthur said, lighting up, “one was! The girl in the woods.” He turned to Mimi. “Did you know she incapacitated a full-grown werewolf?” Mimi looked duly impressed. “She’s on your list, isn’t she?” he inquired across the table. “Catherine Davies?”

Dorothea looked at him oddly and shook her head.

“But she has to be!”

“Did you witness her performing magic?”

“Well, no, but there she was, a werewolf not an inch away frozen in midair, and not a soul in sight!”

“What about out of sight?” Mimi asked, unsettling Arthur. That had never occurred to him.

“One of the other children?" he wondered, then turned back to the Magical Education woman. “Was it Margaret? Margaret Roberts?” He recalled a fanciful but astonishingly determined blond who had believed Devon was being visited by aliens. “She'd have been excited, though. She loves unicorns. Did you tell her we have unicorns?”

The woman didn’t answer.

“Why isn’t she saying anything?” Arthur asked Mimi.

“If you’re going to name every child you ever met, I can’t keep answering,” Dorothea responded for herself. “You’d guess by process of elimination.”

“And that’s bad why?”

“It’s my duty to maintain privacy under Educational Decree Eleven.”

“And you’re doing it admirably, dear,” said the woman to Arthur’s right, who had apparently been listening in.

“Never mind,” consoled Mimi. “She said whoever it is isn’t Muggle-born. All your students were from Muggle families, weren’t they?”

“Of course they were.”

“And you’re sure of that?”

“I know all the wizarding families within miles of that village. I grew up there.”

“What if a new family moved in,” Mimi said slowly. “Half-and-half, sent their child to the Muggle school?”

“No one ever moves into Ottery St. Catchpole,” Arthur said firmly. “Except the girl I mentioned before.” He thought a bit more. “I suppose a few of the children’s mothers were from a little further away and met the fathers in school or university." He began to list. "Ezra’s mother was one, I think. But I met her, and she is utterly un-magical. Julia… She would be one to scoff at the idea of a school for magic, but both sides of her family are villagers. Benjamin’s father was from the village, and he didn’t have a mother—"

“Everyone has a mother,” said Mimi.

Arthur started to explain to her about Benjamin, and his insistence that he didn’t, that the woman who had married and deserted his father didn’t count. But then he closed his mouth and turned away from his friend to address Dorothea instead.

“I know who it is,” he said confidently, “I know who declined their invitation to attend Hogwarts this fall and I know why they said no.”

Dorothea placidly chewed her lunch. Arthur couldn’t make out any change in her facial expression beyond the required contortions of mastication.

“Rather like a cross between a sphinx and a cow, isn’t she?” Mimi commented, and earned a stern look from the woman to Arthur’s right, but no response from Dorothea.

Arthur bided his time until the lunch hour was nearly over and the lounge began to empty. He wished Mimi a good afternoon, nodded to Perkins to go on without him, and generally puttered around the room until only he and the Magical Education witch remained.

He approached her in a corner, where she was re-arranging salt and pepper shakers.

“I’m right, aren’t I?” he asked quietly. “It’s Benjamin who's magical, Benjamin Fenwick.”

The woman still didn’t exactly answer, but she nor did she ignore him anymore. She looked him in the eye, imploringly, which startled him. “It’s very dangerous, you understand, to have an untrained wizard grow up in the Muggle world. Dangerous for him, for the people around him, not to mention wizarding secrecy. Especially if the boy has the power you say he does. You have to talk to him.”

Arthur exhaled heavily. “He won't be easy to convince.”

“Do your best.” Her back was to him again.

“Why do you care?” he asked. She had been exhibiting emotion and urgency stronger than was usually associated with the protection of wizarding secrecy, but her response to the question was indecipherable silence.

Arthur had an idea. “Did you know his mother?”

The emotion was back when she answered, facing him, but not looking at him. Her eyes were unfocused, recollecting. “Everybody knew her. She was that kind of girl. Sweet and friendly. To a fault, really. To her end, some say. She just didn’t know how to disappoint, to say no, to not smile at you like you were her best friend.”

“To her end?” Arthur asked.

“I need to get back to work,” Dorothea said, and Arthur found himself dismissed.

(><) (><) (><) (><) (><)

Arthur held his tongue through a long afternoon of enduring insults from a surly alarm clock he and Phil were investigating, but all he could think of was getting home to Molly so he could share the news, the secret, and his new burden.

“Do you remember Benjamin?” he sprang on her, first thing, without even bothering to brush himself clean of dust from the fireplace.

“Benjamin who?” Molly asked, before blowing some ash off his shoulders and knocking out the bit that had settled in his hair. “Ben Brillabroom from the House Quidditch team?”

“No. Benjamin Fenwick.”

Molly looked surprised. “The Muggle boy?”

Arthur nodded while she remembered.

“Small, you said he was. You were fond of him. You and he used to talk about crazy Muggle things during detentions. What did he ever do to earn so many detentions?”

“He was late,” Arthur said, remembering, too, pleasant conversations while tidying up with the cheerful boy and his abnormally large birthmarks. The one creeping down his forehead alongside his left eye had made him resemble to Arthur the Lovegoods’ spotted crup. “And holding out for his father to get an alarm clock.”

“And he didn’t have a mother,” Molly recalled. Her concern for Arthur melted now that she had deemed him simply nostalgic; she was heading for the kitchen.

“That’s the thing,” Arthur said, stopping her. “Turns out we were wrong about that. Well, not wrong, just missing some information.”

Molly turned back to him in confusion. “You’re not making sense.”

“His mother was a witch.”

“So they pretended she’d disappeared?”

“No, he honestly never knew her,” Arthur said quickly.

“Is he a wizard, then?” Molly asked.

“Yes.”

“Him and the girl both?” she asked, a little incredulous. Arthur was surprised she remembered about Cath.

“Turns I was wrong about the girl, too,” he said, trying to find some humor in it.

“But how do you know that?” Molly paused again, and then fixed on him a keen eye. “Arthur, where are you getting all this information?” she asked, and Arthur decided it was time for them both to sit down on the couch while he explained. He told Molly about the news at lunch, and the ensuing conversation, and how he’d been approached afterward by a member of the Department of Magical Education.

“And so I’ve been asked to get Benjamin to reconsider his decision,” Arthur finished heavily.

“Because you’ve known him and might be able to convince him that not all magical people are evil?” Molly confirmed.

“Yes,” Arthur sighed.

“Don’t worry, then!” she said brightly, standing up. “He was fond enough of you, wasn’t he? You are,” she added, taking his chin, “one of the least evil wizards I know.”

But Arthur was still dejected. “That’s not it, Molly. I mean, I’m afraid it won’t be enough. I’m afraid that even if his mother had been perfectly lovable Benjamin still wouldn’t want to go.”

“Why’s that?” she asked, catching his sad mood.

“Because I know him. Molly, this is the boy who’s been intentionally underachieving since he was about six because he’s terrified of being sent to boarding school if anyone figures out he’s intelligent.”

“What’s so horrible about boarding school? You’d think he’d be glad for a chance like that.”

“You’d think,” said Arthur. “But he doesn’t want to leave. Not his father, and certainly not his friends. I still remember, Molly, the look on his face when he told me. ‘They don’t let you bring your friends!’ he said, as if it was the most scandalously horrible thing he could imagine. “

“That’s sweet,” Molly said confidently, “but it was years ago. He was young and emotional.”

“I’m not so sure,” Arthur replied. “He'd been at it for years. He was rather set about it.”

“Then you will be the man to un-set him!" Molly insisted. "But you can’t do that on an empty stomach, so come and eat and we’ll make a plan. You’ll put things right.”

Arthur wished he had her faith, both in himself and in what was right for Benjamin.

//
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