The Sugar Quill
Author: Stubefied (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Muggles of Ottery St. Catchpole Part II: Muggle No More  Chapter: 3:Old Friends/Bookends
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Author's Note: Yes, Old Friends/Bookends is a song. No, this chapter was not inspired by the song. I had the chapter written and was looking for a title when the song came into my head and just felt right. I love Simon and Garfunkel and also my beta, NightZephyr.

Most importantly, the title of this story is Muggle No More, not Muggles No More. I'm trying to fix this, but I don't want to mislead anyone longer than necessary. Benjamin is the only one of the children who is magical.


Old Friends/Bookends

Benjamin wasn't in the mood to run, or even jog, back to the village after Mr. Weasley disappeared. He couldn't stroll and he wouldn't trudge, so he walked. He walked and felt unhappy at Mr. Weasley. Then he felt unhappy at himself for feeling unhappy at all, because it wasn't like him. He was resolved not to be unlike himself -- not to change an iota of who he was because of magic.

He walked blindly past the Shelly Shop. It was intentional blindness. He was trying not to see things that would remind him of what he would have to explain, or people who would require explanations.

Yet he did glance through the front window of Transplant Pottery, and found the smile of someone he knew. It was a warm, welcoming smile just for him and he was glad, after all, to have seen somebody. It had to happen eventually.

He looked past the display and there was Cath, who spent nearly as much time at her family's pottery place as he did at the Shelly Shop where his father was employed, and he was glad she was there. She had a way of making people feel believed-in.

Benjamin waved as his friend picked her way between the shelves to come out and greet him. She was still smiling when they met on the porch, but the smile dropped out of her eyes when she saw him more closely.

"Benjamin! What's wrong?"

"I feel lonely," he blurted out. "Lonely already, I mean. I'm not going to the comprehensive school with you and everyone." It was not the entire truth, but one of the most painful parts of it. And he still felt lonely, even now with her there with him.

"I hadn't known you'd applied to go anywhere else," she said quietly. She leaned onto an ornamental bench under the window box.

"I haven't." He sat beside her.

"Your Aunt Jen, then?" He shrugged, although he doubted Aunt Jen had anything to do with it. He wondered for a moment how his name had gotten on the list for this magic school. Had his mother put him down at birth? Or did they just know?

"Where is it you're going, then?" Cath asked. "Following your dad's footsteps?"

"Something like that," Benjamin answered, noncommittally again. Father's footsteps were close to mother's, for most people.

"That's a really good school he went to, Benjamin!" Cath squeaked, suddenly beaming with pride. "Congratulations!"

"It's a boarding school," Benjamin said, with none of her enthusiasm.

Cath's mouth twitched and Benjamin knew she was fighting not to chew on the corner of her lip, a habit their mutual friend Julia called childish. "But you'll make us all so proud there," she said insistently.

Benjamin shook his head. "None of you will be there, Cath. I don't want to go. I don't want to make anyone proud. I just-- I just want to be with my friends."

"You'll make new friends, Benjamin," Cath said earnestly.

"I don't want new friends!" he said, exasperated. Leave it to Cath to be supportive when it was the last thing he wanted. "I don't plan on staying long enough, anyway."

"You don't?"

Benjamin could tell she was disappointed and hopeful both, although he couldn't tell which pleased him more. "I've only promised to try a month," he explained. "Then I'm coming right back home."

"Won't your father be disappointed, though?" She was still hovering between things to feel, he could tell. It hurt to think about leaving friends he knew so well, even for one month.

"He just wants me happy." That was the closest Benjamin had come to a lie. If it really had been his father's school he was trying out, he never would have dreamt of not doing his very best for him. "Speaking of my dad. . ." He'd just realized something. "Instead of writing to me directly while I'm at school -- which I hope you'll do -- could you all send my mail care of him? It'll remind him to keep in touch."

"I'm sure he'll--" she began, but he cut her off.

"You know he won't. You're the one who has to ring up every morning just so he'll remember to wake me for school." He didn't admit that about his father often, but he desperately needed her not to push this point. No one would believe his father's boarding school only carried mail via trained owls.

Cath looked a little sheepish. And then she looked sad. Benjamin was watching her closely. "So you're leaving me with the blondes," she said a minute later, slumping back against the bench.

"Timothy's not blond," Benjamin pointed out.

Cath rolled her eyes. "Close enough," she said. They both knew she hadn't entirely been talking about hair color anyway. All six villagers their age were friends, but Ezra had always had Timothy to do whatever he wanted, and Julia clung to Margaret; Benjamin spent a lot of time reading and Cath experimented with her chemistry set.

Benjamin and Cath did visually stand apart because they both had dark brown hair of the dull sort that could almost be mistaken for black, although Cath's was always chin-length and Benjamin's was so short it stood up in spikes. The two dark heads leaned back next to each other on the bench.

"You'll make new friends," Benjamin told her, feeling ironic. She looked at him dubiously. "Oh, come," he said. "There are girls out there who aren't all frilly dresses and tea parties!"

"Not on the telly," Cath said morosely.

"I've told you books are better than the telly."

"That's because you haven't got a telly yourself."

He made a face.

The others who'd grown up with Benjamin had been taught too well by their parents to avoid mentioning things like that. When he was younger he'd never wanted to think about it himself, how his life was different. But by the time when Cath, still in many ways new to the village and not knowing any better, had showed up at his flat, he'd been relieved to have someone he didn't have to pretend with. His father and his life weren't normal. He loved them, but they weren't normal, and neither was tiptoeing around that lack of normalcy.

"I'm going to miss you," he said.

"Don't," she pleaded. "Have fun... Pretend like it's sleep-away camp. We'll all pretend, too."

"I'd never go to camp without you all."

She turned towards him, her left hand going to her hip. "Benjamin, stop it. You know it's a big school we're going to anyway and we're not even going to be in most of the same classes there. This is a great thing, a great chance you have. And even if you can't see that I won't have you moping. It's not like you." Cath stood briskly. "Now come help me re-arrange this display. Nothing I put out ever sells until you or Julia fix it for me. "

Benjamin followed her obediently. "Don't know why they don't just have you mix paints," he commented as they wove through the maze of glass shelves lined with bowls, vases, and everything else that came off a potter's wheel. "You wouldn't be nearly so horrible at that. You like mixing things."

"But they don't like me doing it -- not since I asked them to order some six molar hydrochloric acid. My mum over-reacted to the warnings." She sighed as she pointed to the shelf that needed attention.

"Maybe they'd spring for a microscope if you said you'd switch from chemistry to biology," Benjamin offered. They discussed the relative merits of the two sciences while Benjamin changed Cath's specimen-like row of vases into a more aesthetically pleasing arrangement. Suddenly, Cath jumped and nearly made Benjamin drop a fluted blue piece.

"I'm late!" she cried, running fingers through her hair.

"For what?"

"Tea party with Margaret and Julia," she mumbled, chewing the corner of her bottom lip.

"You've got to stick up for yourself, Cath." Benjamin said sternly. "Tell them you don't really like stuff like that."

"You'd go, too, if they asked."

"I'm going off to boarding school for a month!

"Look, I'll explain that to them, if you want. And Ezra, too. Then you just have to ride out and tell Timothy." Benjamin let her change the subject because explaining-yet-not-explaining the whole thing four more times was not an appealing prospect.

"Thanks," he said, then added slyly as she hurried away, "You're the best new girl ever." Julia still said that to Cath seriously on occasion, even after two years of knowing full well she couldn't stand it.

"You're evil," Cath called from the shop doorway, smoothing her blouse. "Absolutely awful and completely ungrateful." That, Benjamin decided, meant, "I'll miss you, too."

//
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