The Sugar Quill
Author: Seldes Katne (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Owl Surprise, Too  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

***

On a sweltering July afternoon, Percy Weasley sat at his desk, the sleeves of his robes rolled up to his elbows, and a Cooling Charm working at full blast.

Things at the Ministry of Magic had been tense all summer, after the events at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry earlier that year.  One student had, tragically, been killed; an impostor had impersonated a staff member; and Percy’s own boss had disappeared.  There were rumblings of disagreements between Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge and the school’s Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore.

There had also been a rash of claims of Dark wizard sightings, mostly by members of the families of Hogwarts students who’d been told Voldemort had returned.  Percy shook his head; that sort of thing just created more work for everyone, and he could certainly sympathize with the witches and wizards who had to deal with those rumors on a daily basis.

And on a more personal front, Percy himself had almost been late to work this morning, thanks to Fred and George, who had tried to substitute a disguised Giggle-Up Potion for his orange juice.  He shook his head in disgust.  The twins were worse than ever this summer.  Between the trick wands and the fake food....

A barn owl sailed through the window and landed in his “In” box.  It folded its wings, dropped an envelope on his desk, and stood watching him.  Percy flipped the envelope over and his heart almost stopped.  The return address read Hutchins Institute and Bird Sanctuary.

 

Dear Mr. Weasley,

I don’t know if you remember me, but my name is Eva-Marie Steward, and we met in King’s Cross Station about a week ago.  At that time, we had a most unusual conversation concerning an owl.

I have come into possession of what appears to be a genuine postal owl.  A couple of area residents found him, injured, and brought him to the Institute.  After he had healed, we attempted to release him, thinking him to be an ordinary owl.  You can imagine our surprise when he flew into my office, picked up a letter from my desk, and carried it directly to the person to whom it was addressed.

Since that incident, he has been displaying a number of unusual behaviorisms.  I don't know whether or not these are normal for a postal owl; I would like to set up a time to meet so that we could discuss the matter. 

At the very least, I hope to arrange for him to be returned to his owner.  I am available either via phone or mail at the address specified in the letterhead.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Most sincerely,

Eva-Marie Steward

His hand was trembling.  He remembered Dr. Steward and their meeting vividly.  She had been carrying an owl in the train station.  Mistaking her for a witch, not realizing she was in fact a Muggle who specialized in studying and healing wild birds, he had inadvertently revealed a number of secrets about the wizarding world.  By the time he had realized his error, Steward had called over a station guard, and Percy had been forced to flee before he could correct the situation.

Percy’s gaze went from the letter to the barn owl.  The bird stood blinking at him calmly.  Percy closed his eyes and willed this not to be happening.  He should have gone to the Hutchins Institute the day after the train station incident, and dealt with Dr. Steward.  He’d had the woman’s card, and had just put it off, telling himself it didn't matter, that nothing would come of it.

Well, it was his mistake, and now he would have to correct it.  Preferably without anyone at the Ministry of Magic finding out about it.

Resolutely, he reached for parchment and quill, and scribbled a quick note:

 

Dear Dr. Steward,

 

I will be at the Institute this afternoon at 1 p.m. sharp.

 

                                                Sincerely,

 

                                                Percival Weasley

Then he rolled the parchment up, tied it to the owl’s leg, and sent it on its way.  He spent the next two hours alternating between filling out forms and staring at the wall while visions of disaster danced before his eyes.  Finally at 12:30, he changed his clothes (jeans, shirt, sneakers), walked down the hall to the department secretary’s desk, told her he was going to lunch, and Apparated.

 

***

 

Percy walked through the doors of the main building of the Hutchins Institute and Bird Sanctuary.  The large room housed what appeared to be a visitors’ center, with a series of tables and glass display cabinets.  A rather attractive young woman sat behind a front table piled with brochures, maps, and a variety of other papers.  She looked up from her book and smiled at Percy.  “Can I help you?”

“Yes.”  Percy took a deep breath.  “I’d like to speak with Dr. Steward, please.”

“I think she’s in her office,” the woman said.  “I’ll ring down there to let her know you’re here, Mr. --”

“Weasley.  Percy Weasley.”  Percy adjusted his glasses and straightened his shoulders.  “She’s expecting me.”

The woman reached for device on the wall behind her, pressed a couple of squares on the surface, and said, “Dr. Steward?  There’s a Mr. Weasley to see you.”  She placed the device back into its holder and turned back to Percy.  “She’ll be right out.”

“Thank you.”

The woman studied him.  “So, are you here about the volunteer position?  If so, I hope you can type -- and file.  Please tell me you can file -- the last person we had doing the filing kept putting everything under the word ‘the’.  No one could find anything for weeks.....”

“No,” Percy replied.  He glanced around the room, then lowered his voice.  “I’m actually here about a matter of security.”

The woman’s face lit up.  “You’re interviewing for the security job?  Thank goodness.  We really need another guard here.  You wouldn’t believe the spooky guy I saw wandering around the grounds this morning.  Long hair, beard.”  She grimaced, then looked at Percy hopefully.  “Have you had much experience in security?”

Unable to resist showing off a little, Percy told her, “Actually, at school I was responsible for patrolling the halls and keeping students in line, that sort of thing.  To tell you the truth, the staff relied on me a great deal.”

“That’s wonderful!”  The woman reached for a pad and a long, thin item that turned out to be a writing instrument.  “Usually after the interview, I call to check people’s references.  I’ll need the name of the school and a phone number.  Oh, and the name of the person who served as your supervisor.”

Percy’s mouth went dry.  Uh-oh.  Not only could he not tell her the name of the school he’d attended, he doubted very much that Hogwarts had a phone number.   “Uh,” Percy said, trying to stall for time.  “Well, I, uh, doubt you’ve heard of it—“

“Ah, Mr. Weasley.”  Dr. Steward had appeared from a doorway across the room, and Percy mentally breathed a sigh of relief.  “Nice to see you again.  Why don’t we step down to my office?  I’ve got something I think you’d like to see.”

As she steered him away from the receptionist, Steward said over her shoulder, “Thank you, Janine.  Would you please ring me when the fire inspector gets here?”

“Okay, Dr. Steward.”  Janine gave Percy another smile and went back to reading.

Steward ushered him through the door and closed it behind them.  “I’ve got someone coming to make sure our buildings meet the fire codes,” she explained; the statement meant nothing whatsoever to Percy.  She eyed his clothes and remarked, “Nice outfit, by the way.  I see you’ve upgraded your wardrobe.”

The walked down a hallway whose walls displayed a number of scenic paintings and several doors.  “In here,” Steward instructed, and opened the last door on the right.

Steward’s office held a jumble of shelves, books, magazines, filing cabinets, a desk, a worktable, and what looked like a needlepoint picture of a great horned owl in a pine tree.  Percy recognized what was probably a telephone, sitting on the desk next to a long, red metal cylinder that he couldn’t identify.  The office window was open; outside was a lawn that led to a meadow, which in turn became forested hills.

 Perched sedately on the back of a chair near the window was the barn owl.  The bird blinked at him slowly, then opened its wings and half-hopped, half-flew to land on the arm Percy automatically extended for it.

“So, do you two know each other?” Steward asked.

Percy shook his head.  “No.  I, ah, I don’t know many people who, ah, own a barn owl.”  He was looking back and forth between the owl and the woman.

“He’s a genuine postal owl,” Steward said.  “As I told you in my letter, he carried a package for me last week.”  She moved across the room to lean against her desk.  “He delivered it to the correct address, in about half the time the post would normally take.  I got a call from the recipient, asking how his post got there without any stamps or markings.”  She half smiled.  “I told him a colleague dropped it off.  Which I suppose was technically true.”

Percy stared at the barn owl perched on his arm.  A wizarding owl, in the middle of a bunch of Muggles.

Steward was still speaking.  “-- Heard you talking about postal owls and magic in the station, I thought you were, well, a bit muddled, if you know what I mean.  Until I saw it for myself.  But the fact that this fellow carries the mail is only part of the mystery.”

His arm beginning to cramp, Percy carried the owl back to the chair and encouraged the bird to perch there as Steward continued.  “All the time he was in rehab, he acted just like a normal owl.  But the evening we released him, his behavior changed noticeably.  First, instead of flying away from us and toward the forest, which is what a wild owl would do, he flew straight through my window and picked up the envelope that I’d left on my desk, and delivered it.  That was certainly strange enough, but even more surprisingly, he came back here afterward.  And he won’t leave.”  Steward spread her hands.  “We’ve been deliberately not feeding him, so he has to hunt for himself, but he stays here.  I’ve taken to leaving the window open so he can come in and out as he pleases.”  She gestured with her hands to show her bewilderment.

“Well,” Percy said slowly, “our owls are used to having a place to perch near their owners, so that makes some sense.  But that’s also the problem.  If he has got an owner, why doesn’t he go home?”

Steward shook her head.  “You’ve got me there.  But believe it or not, it gets stranger.  Watch.”  She walked to where the owl was perched and bent down to talk to it.  “Fetch me a number two pencil, please.”

The owl turned to look at Percy, then sailed over to Steward’s desk.  Cocking its head first one way, then the other, it pounced on a long stick that looked like the pen Percy had been using.  Picking the pencil up in its beak, it flew back to land on Steward’s arm and dropped the pencil into her hand.

Percy stared at it.  “Uh, well, I guess its owner could have taught it that.....”

“Wizards have pencils?” Steward asked.

“Well, I suppose a few might.”  Although he didn’t think that was terribly likely.

Steward nodded.  “All right, let’s try this.  Pick a title of one of the books on my shelves.”  She turned, the bird still on her arm, so that the owl couldn’t see the bookshelves.

Percy craned his neck to read the titles.  “Uh, all right.  How about Songbirds of Wales?”

“Good enough.”  Steward looked back at the owl.  “You heard him.  Please go and show us that book.”

The owl launched itself across the room and landed on the top shelf.  It peered at the titles, then hopped to the next shelf.  Then it hooked its beak on the top of the spine of a book and tugged until the book slid free and dropped to the floor.  The front cover read Songbirds of Wales.  The owl sailed back across the room and settled on the windowsill.

“He can identify a variety of objects,” Steward said as Percy goggled at the owl.  “One afternoon earlier this week I was telling one of my assistants that I couldn’t find my car keys.  The next thing I knew, he was rummaging around on my work table and picked up the ring with my car keys on it.”  She paused.  “Do wizards have cars?”

“Well, my fath--” Percy stopped and shook himself mentally.  “Uh, no.  No, we don’t.  He gazed at the owl sitting on the windowsill, and the owl gazed back.  He had to get the owl out of here and back to the Ministry; he needed to put a memory charm on Steward, and possibly other members of the staff as well.  The bird wasn’t behaving normally, even for a wizarding owl, but someone at the Ministry would be able to figure out what to do about it.

Percy took a step forward, but the owl, as though sensing what he was about to do, spread its wings and sailed out the window and across the yard, coming to roost in a tree.  Steward glanced out the window after it.

“It’s all right, he’ll be back,” she said.  “That’s where he goes to leave pellets and other waste.”  She turned away from Percy and opened a filing cabinet drawer.  “I’ve been taking notes on his behavior so I can check with some of my colleagues, but --”  She stopped short when she turned and found Percy’s wand trained on her.  Her eyebrows rose  “So you even have a magic wand,” she remarked with a half smile.  “What’s --”

“I’m sorry, Dr. Steward,” Percy interrupted, “but I can’t let you show those to anyone or to talk to your colleagues about this owl.”

Steward’s eyes went from the wand to Percy’s face.  “Is this the whole secrecy thing you were talking about in the train station?”

“Yes.”  Percy forced his voice to remain steady.  “I’m afraid I’m going to have to take those papers and the owl with me.  And I’m very, very sorry, but I’m going to have to modify your memory --”

Steward’s smile had vanished.  “I don’t think I like the sound of that, Mr. Weasley.”

“Neither do I,” came a man’s voice from the other side of the room.

Both Percy and Steward jumped, and Steward whirled to face the man, who had materialized behind her.  He was dressed in somber brown robes; looking at the man’s face, Percy wondered if this was the “spooky person” Janine had mentioned.  The wizard did indeed have a beard and long hair.  He also had his wand out and leveled at the two of them.

“I’m looking for an owl,” the wizard said pleasantly, but between the unwavering wand and the hardness of his eyes, the friendliness in his tone lost its effect.

Percy couldn’t see Steward’s face, but her voice carried an annoyed note.  “We certainly have owls around here, but this is a bird sanctuary, not a pet store.”  She looked the man up and down.  “How did you get in here, anyway?  And who are you?”

“I Apparated.”  That statement told Percy that this wizard wasn’t attached to the Ministry; none of them would deliberately discuss wizarding travel methods with a Muggle.  “And my name isn’t important.”

Steward cut him off before he could say anything more.  “Well, Mr. Isn’t Important, you don’t belong in here, and it’s time for you to leave.”  She turned away from both men and headed for her desk.

“Ah, Dr. Steward,” Percy began.

“Just stay where you are, Mr. Weasley.  I’m calling Security,” Steward said.

Steward picked up part of the telephone and held it to her face.  The wizard in brown calmly pointed his wand at Percy and said, “Expelliarmus!”  Percy’s wand sailed across the room and into the man’s free hand.  The wizard then turned to Steward and murmured something under his breath.  The device tore itself from Steward’s grasp and went flying across the room, leaving the ornithologist staring after it.

“I think not,” the wizard remarked dryly.  He gestured at Percy with his eyes still on Steward. “Over there, next to the good doctor.”  His wand now covered them both.  “As I was saying, I’m looking for a barn owl that I believe you recently acquired.  I’ve come to,” here he smiled unpleasantly, “take it home with me.”

“When he was brought here, that barn owl looked as though it had been mauled by a cat or some other animal,” Steward challenged the wizard with only a slight quaver in her voice.  “If you’re the owner, you certainly didn’t take good care of it.”

“It was indeed mauled by a cat.  And believe me, when I get my hands on it this time, I will take care of it,” the man responded grimly.  He waved the wand.  “Now, we’re going to go get the owl, and then I will do a little memory modification.  On both of you.”  He gestured toward the office door.  “Let’s go --”

At that moment the barn owl swooped through the office window and shot straight at the wizard’s face, clawing and pecking at his eyes, wings buffeting his head.  Cursing, the wizard swatted at it with both hands.  Percy dove for the wizard and wrenched his wand away.  Steward dove for her desk.

“Stupefy!” the wizard snarled, and the owl dropped limply to the floor in a shower of feathers.  Percy leveled his wand at the wizard.

“Put your wand on the table and get your hands up,” Percy ordered in his best Prefect voice.  The man’s face twisted into a snarl and he aimed at Percy.  Percy snapped, “Expelliarmus!”

His wand promptly uttered a rooster’s crow and turned into a rubber chicken.

Both Percy and the wizard stared at it, dumbfounded.  Percy could feel a blush creeping across his face.  I am going to kill Fred and George, he thought heatedly.

The other man burst out laughing -- and at that moment Dr. Steward leveled the large red cylinder she had picked up from her desk, and blasted the wizard with a spray of white foam.

Coughing, the man reeled back, wand wavering.  From the door came another unexpected voice.

“Stupefy!” said Arthur Weasley, and the unnamed wizard collapsed.

Steward turned toward the senior Weasley, still holding the red cylinder, and Percy yelped, “Stop!  Don’t!  That’s -- that’s my father!”

Steward looked from one to the other, then lowered the cylinder.  “Well, I can kind of see the resemblance,” she remarked.  Still looking a bit dazed, she added,  “I see your snappy dress sense runs in the family.”

Arthur Weasley looked down at his jeans, dress shirt, leather shoes, and socks (which were mismatched).  “Oh, yes.  Sorry.”  He looked sheepish.  “I just grabbed the first things I could find.  But at least I’m not wearing a dress.”  He glanced up at Steward and grinned.

Steward managed a smile.

Impatiently, Percy asked, “Father, what are you doing here?”

“Oh,” said Mr. Weasley, eyeing the intriguing articles on Steward’s desk, “well, I-- ah, is that a...?”  He gestured at the cylinder hopefully.

“Fire extinguisher,” Steward told him.  “I suppose wizards don’t have those, either?”

“Erm, no.”  Mr. Weasley was gazing at it enviously.  “Ah, I don’t suppose --”

“Father!” Percy snapped.  “My wand?”

“Oh, yes.”  Mr. Weasley pulled himself together with an effort and tore his gaze away from Steward’s desk.  “Your mother found your brothers laughing about having switched your wand this morning.  She took it away from them and sent it to the Ministry, but of course you weren’t there.  I found the letter from the Institute tucked partway under your desk blotter.  I thought you’d want your wand back as soon as possible.”  He looked down at the man and the bird lying on the floor, and all traces of humor vanished.  “Obviously I was right.”  Percy accepted his real wand, and laid the rubber chicken on the worktable.

A few minutes later, having been filled in by both Steward and his son, Arthur Weasley was peering thoughtfully at the bird, which Steward had eased onto the table.  “You’re right,” he remarked to Steward, “that’s not normal behavior even for a wizarding owl.  Hmm.”  He flicked his wand at the bird and muttered something under his breath.  The owl glowed green for a moment.  Mr. Weasley nodded.  Percy blinked, and some of Professor McGonagall’s lessons came flooding back.  His father smiled at the look of recognition on his son’s face and turned back to the owl.

“Ennervate,” Mr. Weasley said, and the owl suddenly was awake and flapping its wings.  It righted itself and stood blinking, as though in astonishment.  Then it cocked its head at Mr. Weasley, who told it,  “On the floor, if you please.”

The barn owl immediately hopped off the table and stood watching Mr. Weasley expectantly.

“What exactly is going on here, gentlemen?” Steward asked.  She hovered over the bird protectively.

Percy and his father exchanged glances.  “I think it will be obvious in just a moment.  Please stand back; I promise I won’t hurt him,” Mr. Weasley assured her.  He pointed his wand at the owl and made a series of complicated gestures.

The owl vanished; in its place stood a man in dark grey robes, with shoulder-length brown hair and a trim mustache.  The man fell to his knees in front of Steward, who actually let out a yelp and staggered back against her desk, staring at him in outright bewilderment.

“Oops.  Sorry about that,” Mr. Weasley apologized; he and Percy laid their wands on the worktable and each took one of the man’s elbows to help him to his feet.  “He’s obviously been in that form for a while.  Apparently forgot how to walk.”

“He’s -- he’s really a human?”

“Oh, yes.”  The two Weasleys helped the man into a chair.  “This is Damien Rutherford.”  Mr. Weasley looked around Rutherford at Percy.  “You remember him, Percy, he works with Arnold Peasegood a lot.”  Percy nodded.

Mr. Weasley bent down and peered into Rutherford’s face.  “Damien?  Do you know where you are?”

Rutherford’s mouth moved a couple of times before he managed, “Office.  Bird doctor’s.”

Mr. Weasley glanced at Dr. Steward.  “Well, yes, I guess you could say that.  Do you remember what’s happened to you?”

“I was -- was -- an owl?”  Mr. Weasley nodded encouragement, and Rutherford continued.  “Been here for -- a while.”  His face suddenly took on a greenish cast.  “I’ve been -- I’ve been eating mice!”  He put both hands on the table and took several deep breaths, eyes closed.

Steward stepped forward and touched Rutherford’s shoulder.  Rutherford managed to meet her eyes and smile weakly.  “Mr. Rutherford, are -- are you all right?  Would you like something to drink?

Rutherford’s voice was hoarse.  “Oh, ah, yes, thank you, Miss.”

“I’ll go fetch us something.”  Steward paused for a moment and looked down at the man lying on the floor.  “And I need to check on Janine.  I’ll be right back.  Don’t start without me.”

 

***

 

“Let me see if we’ve all got this straight,” Steward remarked about twenty minutes later.  She’d returned with a pot of hot water, an assortment of tea bags and coffee, and a report that not only was Janine all right, she hadn’t even realized anything unusual had been happening in Steward’s office.  “This is my former barn owl.  He’d been attacked by a cat, which this -- individual --” here she gave the now-bound wizard on the floor a none-too-gentle nudge with the toe of a shoe, “-- deliberately set on him.”  All three men nodded.  “And how did he get to be a barn owl, exactly?  I mean, aside from the obvious answer that someone cast a magic spell on him?”

“Damien works for the Improper Use of Magic Office,” Mr. Weasley explained.

“Which in plain, non-wizard English means....?”

“He’s something of a, ah, please-man,” Mr. Weasley answered.

Steward nodded slowly.  “Wizards have police officers.  How reassuring.  All right, go on.”

“Apparently he and Arnie got a message complaining about Halden Frayne,” Mr. Weasley indicated the wizard on the floor, “and went to investigate.  Damien?  I know your memory of some of this is a little hazy, but what do you remember?

“I remember finding Frayne’s house, and then -- well, nothing for a while, and then I was attacked by the cat, and then.... I think I was here for quite some time -- days, at least, and then.... there was an envelope....”

“You delivered a packet to a colleague of mine,” Steward explained.

“And after that I started feeling as though something wasn’t right.  I do remember thinking that this was a safe place; that must be why I came back and stayed here,” Rutherford concluded.

Mr. Weasley cleared his throat.  “I suspect that Frayne caught you off guard and knocked you out, then Transfigured you into an owl.  That would explain the memory loss,” he added for Steward’s benefit.  “Transfiguring a human is very tricky, and if the spell is done while the person is unconscious, it can cause noticeable memory loss.  Transfiguration alters everything, even the mind, if the caster isn’t extremely skilled.”  He eyed the wizard on the floor.  “That’s why, as much as I’d like to turn our friend here into a budgie and cart him back to the Ministry in a cage, I think I’ll have to arrange other transportation.  I certainly want him to remember everything when we start to question him.”  Mr. Weasley looked thoughtful.  “You know, come to think of it, I haven’t seen Arnie around the Ministry lately....  Oh, that’s all we’d need, another employee missing like poor Bertha....”  His voice trailed off.

“Father,” said Percy suddenly, “if Arnold Peasegood is missing also....”  He spoke directly to Rutherford.  “Sir, did you and Mr. Peasegood go to Frayne’s house together?”

Rutherford blinked.  “Uh, I, uh, I think so.  Yes, I’m almost sure of it....”

Percy looked back at his father.  “If they’re both missing, and Rutherford was turned into a owl, then maybe Mr. Peasegood is still at Frayne’s house in the form of --”

“--The cat,” his father finished suddenly.  “Good heavens.  If that’s the case, we need to get moving right away....  All right, Damien, do you feel up to traveling?  It would probably be easiest to bespell a Portkey, then we could all go at once.”  He spent the next several minutes borrowing an old newspaper and setting the spell.  “Are you strong enough to hold onto this for a minute?” he asked Rutherford, who nodded and grasped the newspaper.  “Splendid.”  Mr. Weasley’s gaze turned back to Steward.  “Ah.  Yes.  Well, I suppose....”

“It’s all right, Father.  I’ll finish up here,” Percy volunteered.

Mr. Weasley looked relieved.  “Well, it’s for the best, I suppose.  Still....”  He offered his hand to Steward.  “Dr. Steward, it’s been a pleasure.”

“Mr. Weasley,” Steward replied, “it’s been -- instructive.”  She turned to Rutherford.  “Mr. Rutherford?”  He shook hands with her, still looking rather bemused.  “Drive carefully.  Or whatever it is you’re going to do.”  Mr. Weasley gathered up all but one of the wands, took hold of the newspaper, and a moment later the three men had vanished, leaving Steward and Percy alone in the office.

“Well, now there’s something you don’t see every day,” Steward remarked.  “Or at least, I don’t see every day.”  Percy picked his wand up off the table, took a deep breath to steel himself, then pointed the wand at Steward and quickly said, “Obliviate.”

For a moment nothing happened; then the wand once again made the sound of a rooster crowing, and turned into a rubber chicken.

Percy uttered an oath; Steward began to chuckle.  “And here I thought you did that on purpose the first time as a distraction.”

“No,” said Percy tightly, scowling at the wand.  “This is all courtesy of two of my - frivolous - younger brothers, who seem to think playing practical jokes on everyone qualifies as a full-time job.”

“Well, they do seem to be good at it,” Steward remarked.  “It certainly had me fooled.”

Percy was shaking his head.  “Just once, once, I’d like to….”  He trailed off with an exasperated growl.

 Steward looked thoughtful; then a sly expression flitted across her face.  “You know, Mr. Weasley, I happen to have a couple of brothers myself.  I think an appropriate, ah, payback could be arranged.”  She paused, and her smile disappeared.  “In exchange, though, I’d appreciate it if you forgot about this whole memory charm thing.  I mean, really -- who am I going to tell?  I don’t have the owl any more, and if I went around telling my friends and colleagues what really happened here, they’d all think I belonged in a room with padded walls, wearing a jacket with extra-long sleeves.  You’ll recall what I thought of you, when we first met in the train station.”  She held out a handful of papers.  “You can take my notes, if you like.  They won’t do me any good. Besides, my field of study is birds, not humans, interesting as studying a wizard might be.”

Percy accepted the papers.  “But our rules clearly state --”

“Mr. Weasley, how would you like it if I hit you over the head with the fire extinguisher and gave you amnesia?  That would be the same as altering your memory, wouldn’t it?”

“Well, I suppose, but....”

“Would you like it?”

“Of course not.”

Steward smiled faintly.  “Then I’ll tell you what.  I promise not to tell, if you promise to leave my memory alone.”  She folded her arms.  “Besides, at my age, I have enough trouble remembering things as it is.  I don’t need help forgetting things.”

Percy considered.  Without his real wand, he couldn’t do a memory charm.  Nobody else at the Ministry knew what had happened (or had not happened) after his father left.  Steward really had no way to contact anyone in the magical world, and her comments about being thought crazy by Muggles certainly made sense.  Besides, there was a tiny part of him that was curious to see what she had in mind for Fred and George.

“All right,” he said finally.  “I’ll agree.”  They shook hands on it.

Steward heaved an exaggerated sigh.  “I guess I’ll just have to tell Janine that we still haven’t filled the security position.  She’ll be rather disappointed, I’m afraid.”  She chuckled and offered Percy her arm.  “Well, come along, Mr. Weasley.  After we’ve stopped by the cages out back and collected a few things from the patients, I’ll walk you out.”  She paused, then asked, “Do you work well with non-wizard owls?  We really could use the volunteer help.  It would be extremely useful to have another person here who has your way with birds.  Besides, you’d get experience interacting with non-magical folk.  That way, you could learn to avoid those awkward situations where you’d give yourself and the rest of the wizards away.  Like earlier this afternoon; you looked rather uncomfortable when I went out to get you.”

“Your receptionist was asking where I went to school and what the phone number was.”  Seeing Steward’s raised eyebrows, he explained, “I went to a wizarding school, and I’m pretty certain they don’t have a phone number.”

“I can see where that might be difficult to explain.  Did Janine get around to asking for your home phone number, too?  She seems to have a particular interest in young men with red hair.”  Steward’s smile bordered on a smirk.

Percy couldn't help it -- he winced.  “Is there a back way out of here, by any chance?”

Steward laughed and led the way out of the building.

 

***

 

“Just thought you’d like to know, Percy, that Frayne has been placed under arrest for various counts of Misuse of Magic, and Resisting Arrest,” Mr. Weasley told his son when Percy arrived at the Ministry.  “Arnie Peasegood’s been found and returned to his correct form, although he’ll have a tendency to shed for the next few days.  And Damien’s memory is expected to return completely.  Fortunately, when Frayne cast the Transfiguration spell, he was thinking of wizarding owls, and not common wild owls, or Damien might still be fluttering around in the woods eating mice.”

Percy nodded and permitted himself a smile.  “That’s good to hear.”

“And,” Mr. Weasley continued, “you, my boy, will be receiving a commendation in your file.  On account of your being in a position to help expose and capture Frayne.”

“Excellent.”  This time Percy grinned.  Some good was going to come of this whole fiasco, after all.

Mr. Weasley eyed the box Percy was carrying.  “What’s that?”

Percy’s expression turned innocent.  “Oh, just a parting gift from Dr. Steward.”

“Ah, yes.”  Mr. Weasley’s eyes lost their focus.  “Very capable woman, that.  Seemed to take everything in stride, what with Frayne bursting in on her and all.  I’ve been thinking that it might have been nice to keep her in the family -- maybe we could introduce her to Charlie.  Although Bill would be closer in age, wouldn’t he?  But I think she’d have more in common with Charlie....”

At that point Percy excused himself, claiming he had paperwork to catch up on.  Once in his office, he opened the box and peered, smirking, at the contents -- a variety of discarded feathers, owl pellets, and assorted other waste products Steward had furnished.  She had also suggested that he wrap the box in paper and ribbon when he got home, and to be rather obvious about “hiding” it.  Percy closed the box and dropped it into a bottom desk drawer.  Yes, indeed -- Fred and George were going to be the ones in for a surprise this time....

 

 

__________________________

Author’s Note: Percy and Arthur Weasley, Cornelius Fudge, Albus Dumbledore, the Ministry of Magic, the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and the concept of postal owls belong to J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter novels.  All other characters and locations are figments of my imagination.  This story is actually an adaptation of a plot that I was going to spring on Professor Snape, but it seemed to work reasonably well in this situation, and I doubt very much if he’ll miss it....

Six years of journalistic experience taught me that a writer should always have her work checked by an editor.  I was fortunate to have an excellent beta reader for this piece: Sarah, whose knowledge of birds was extremely helpful and greatly appreciated.  Any remaining errors or inconsistencies are strictly the fault of the author, and should not be blamed on either my beta reader or Dr. Steward.

//
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