'Tis a villain, sir, I do not love to look on. The Tempest, I.ii
I suspected I'd been set up. And by whom.
I detoured to Dumbledore's side before taking my seat at lunch.
"You didn't by any chance submit my name for a conference, did you?" I murmured in his ear -- just loudly enough that McGonagall could hear.
He pinked up slightly; McGonagall shot him a glance, teacup poised halfway to her lips.
"Oh, that," he muttered vaguely. "I suppose I might have done...."
"Oh, Albus." McGonagall shook her head disapprovingly. "Not that tired old Muggle Relations symposium. They do it every year, you know," she told me, "and a more stuffy lot of attendees can't be found."
"Except Arthur," Dumbledore interjected indignantly.
"The notable exception. What's she done to deserve being bored to death?"
"I thought she could use a change of pace. And she doesn't have to stay the whole week-end; Arthur will be be going back and forth, so she can Apparate with him and be back by tea-time, if she likes."
McGonagall tsked her disapproval and returned to her tea. Albus shot me a wry, reproving look: he knew I'd deliberately gotten him in trouble with his deputy head, but didn't really begrudge me the mischief -- he wasn't one to throw stones, not if the mischief was harmless.
"You will do it?" he asked anxiously. "I've been bragging about you, you know -- it'll look bad for me if you refuse."
There was a derisive snort from Snape's end of the table, which I ignored -- but McGonagall set her cup down sharply and gave him a nasty look.
"I've no idea what to speak on," I told him, "but yes, Albus, if your heart's set on it...."
"Capital! And don't worry about the topic -- I've a few ideas," he said with relief.
That threat nearly made me change my mind.
But it was true that I'd be grateful for a break from the edgy atmosphere Snape and I were managing -- far too easily -- to project.
"Arthur will be so excited he'll probably splinch her," McGonagall sniffed as I moved to take my seat.
"We're going to -- ow, Moll, careful there! -- going to be late, stop fussing!"
Alastor and Sirius Black, in his Animagus form, had protectively walked me to Hogsmeade that morning so Arthur and I could Apparate directly from Heart's Solace (that had seemed best, as Arthur habitually ran late).
"All right, all right, don't get shirty. Now, you be careful," she bossed him with a final brush at his shoulders. "You know double Apparition's never been your strong suit."
Wonderful. Splinching was one hazard of the Wizarding World I did not want to experience.
Arthur finally extracted himself from Molly's clutches and we made our way out the door and down to the gate (Snape had permanent anti-Apparition wards on the cottage itself).
"Remember, Arthur, you two stay together. And you bring her straight back here for supper," Molly bawled out the door after us, "no larking or pub-crawling, do you hear me?"
Arthur might not remember, but the rest of Hogsmeade certainly would.
Arthur kicked aside a garden gnome as it went for my ankles -- some of them had followed the Weasleys from the Burrow (Snape was not amused) -- and rolled his eyes at me, thankfully with his back to Molly.
"Yes, Moll, I hear you," he threw over his shoulder.
"Albus appointed you my minder?" I asked him, amused.
"Ah, no, actually, someone else," he admitted sheepishly. "I've been threatened with bodily harm by my own wand if I misplace you."
Oh. It was Snape, then. I could imagine where the wand would go.
"Though how he thinks he could do worse to me than Molly would, I don't know," Arthur said in an undertone, and with a shudder. "Here we go -- just hang on tight, now," he added, slipping an arm 'round my waist. "We'll be there in a tick."
"Ooooof -- sorry, Miranda -- I usually do this alone," Arthur apologised as he tried simultaneously to open the box door and pull his briefcase out of my stomach (no, he hadn't splinched me and it).
"I'm fine, Arthur," I laughed as I struggled out and set my own briefcase on the ground. "Hang on a moment --"
I worked at the snarled knot Molly'd made of the tie and did it up properly, giving him a wink. "Remember to untie it before we go back," I teased, and he grinned at me.
I liked teasing and flirting with Arthur: Molly didn't mind in the least -- she knew it was good for his ego -- and he pinked up nicely at the attention. And he knew exactly what I was doing and wouldn't take it amiss, unlike some (Sirius Black) people.
When I'd finished we walked two blocks, stepped into another call-box, and after a brief ring to a disembodied receptionist we sunk below the street level and stepped out into a vast lobby.
It was impressive in that vast, monumental style -- calculated to make one feel small and insignificant in the face of such overwhelming authority -- but, as I suspected, it was also typical of administrative buildings everywhere: the public rooms were as impressive as possible, while the peons' offices were at best strictly utilitarian and at worst downright nasty. Arthur's office was particularly shabby and cramped, stuffed to the ceiling with the detritus of Muggle culture in various stages of dis-assembly.
"Just need to trot a few things to the conference room," Arthur observed cheerfully -- he was presenting as well, in the morning -- and he proceeded to load me down with a portable record-player, a toaster, and the bundled parts of an old treadle-style dentists' drill -- and then, both of us weighed down with items, we struggled up to the conference room to set up for his lecture.
He'd asked me to go over his notes, and I'd tried to correct the worst of his errors, but with only two weeks and my own presentation to prepare I hadn't accomplished much. At least Hermione Granger had been able to apprise him of advances in dental equipment and techniques: he'd been under the impression that the old foot-powered drill was as far as the technology had progressed. (One thing I was sincerely thankful for in the Wizarding World was the painless dentistry.)
I still couldn't get him to say "electricity" properly, and he maintained his somewhat eccentric views on how that phenomenon actually worked. But it was certainly an entertaining lecture: the toaster was a particular hit.
True to his word, Arthur stuck to me like a burr throughout the morning and luncheon.
And then it was time for my presentation -- "Muggle Studies: A New Curriculum for the 21st Century." I should have been thrilled to be called on as an expert, but I wasn't: speaking as myself, rather than having a character to hide behind, has always been difficult for me. Madame Maxime was there, at least, and it was good to see one friendly face.
Just think of the rest of them as a group of exceptionally bored Fifth Years.
Arthur trotted over to the podium to introduce me. "Welcome, all. Our next speaker is Miranda Hunter, the first Muggle to teach at a school in Britain or the Continent." (The Americans had paved the way and beaten me to the world-wide title.) "Her qualifications include a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Brandeis University in the United States and a Master of Philosophy from University of London. Professor Hunter --." Then he turned the podium over to me in a smattering of polite applause.
"Good afternoon." I nervously arranged my notes as the group murmured a reply, and took a deep breath.
"First, given the unusual choice of a Muggle to teach at a Wizarding school, let me give you some background information before we proceed. In June 1994 I was approached by Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore with the offer to teach Muggle Studies. His goal was not only to fill a vacant position, but a restructuring of the Muggle Studies curriculum and addition of primary source materials to the standard and, at the time, only text.
"His rationale for hiring outside the Wizarding World was his belief that a Muggle -- the genuine article, if you will --" I smiled at the memory, "-- would be beneficial not only from a practical standpoint (access to materials, general and specific knowledge of Muggle culture, etcetera), but would foster greater familiarity with Muggles and an appreciation for diversity among both students and faculty.
"Over the summer months of 1994 Headmaster Dumbledore and I developed a new curriculum which has remained virtually unchanged through two school years, and which has proven itself effective in meeting most of his goals. The syllabi used will be the topic of this presentation; let's take a look now at the structure of the curriculum as a whole."
The professional educators in the group suddenly perked up and held their quills at the ready.
Hmmmmm. Perhaps Albus' decision was more controversial and trendy than I'd assumed....
I nodded to Arthur and he tapped the first page of the guide with his wand; the curriculum outline was magically projected onto the blank wall behind me.
"The basic breakdown of areas studied has remained largely the same, as you can see from a comparison of the old curriculum on the next page...."
A rather grubby-looking wizard rose to address me; he was accompanied by a disgruntled-looking, baldish man whom I recognized from his dust-jacket picture -- Wilhelm Wigworthy, the author of Home Life and Social Habits of British Muggles. We'd cut into his sales rather heavily by removing it from the required texts list, and I was betting the grubby one was his publisher. I wasn't very sympathetic with their situation. Given the pace at which Muggle society changes, if you can't be bothered to put out a new edition for fifty years you deserve to be discarded.
"What justification can you give for the wanton abandonment of the usual text?" Grubby asked in an exceptionally nasal whine. "It is acknowledged to be the most comprehensive."
We'd expected this one, and prepared for it.
"The inclusion of vast amounts of primary source materials simply didn't permit us to use Home Life as much as it had been in the past," I said smoothly. "However, while it is no longer a required text for all students, I still utilise it with the upper-level classes." Those discerning enough to see through the errors and bias, at any rate. "I often consult it myself, actually; it's offered me a fascinating look at the Muggle world from the Wizarding point of view, and was instrumental in helping me find an effective approach to teaching Wizarding children."
The rebuttal was offered so reasonably (and with a compliment as well) that he wasn't sure from which angle to attack next -- and the next questioner had already popped up out of their seat, so he had to give up.
"How is such in-depth study of Muggles beneficial to the average Wizard?" queried a middle-aged witch with blindingly red hair.
I was also prepared for this one: it was basically Draco Malfoy's question, politely phrased.
"The study of any non-native culture is generally acknowledged to be beneficial for a better appreciation of ones' own, and a deeper understanding of human nature. And on a practical level, while most of our students may never deal with Muggles on a regular basis, they may now do so with some comfort should they choose to -- or have to. They'll certainly be better prepared for the necessary adjustments than the average Muggle."
This elicited some appreciative laughter, and not a few derisive snorts.
"Along that vein," came a question from the back of the room, "what was your personal reaction when you were approached?"
I considered it a moment. "Polite disbelief."
More chuckles from the more kindly-disposed in the audience; one erstwhile wit yelled, "Surprised you didn't run screaming when you met Dumbledore."
"Well, I was more inclined to open-mindedness than most Muggles," I retorted with a grin.
"How, specifically?" From the same questioner.
"My nephew was Muggleborn. As his guardian I realised he had unusual talents -- though I didn't know exactly what they were, at first -- so when the revelation came, I was predisposed to accept the existence of the Wizarding World."
Thankfully this satisfied him, and he didn't pursue my comment about Ian.
"Would you recommend ze furzaire use of Muggles in teaching ze subjét?" This, from Madame Maxime. If I didn't know better, I'd suspect Dumbledore or Hagrid had sent her as a ringer.
"It's certainly the next best thing to hiring Wizards who've lived extensively in the Muggle World -- and I take it those are few and far between," I said thoughtfully. "I suppose it largely depends upon the comfort level of the individual governments and school administrators, as well as the perceived necessity for Muggle Studies. For example in the United States, where the wizarding government has no great objections to a more open relationship between the two societies, Salem Academy and Menlo Park actively encourage interaction and have strong Muggle Studies programs, while Groom Lake is equally isolationist and has none at all. I understand these differences are due largely to decisions on the part of their Headmasters and Boards."
Several other hands were waving frantically in the air, but Arthur rose to cut them off.
"I'm afraid we're on the cusp of the hour," he said apologetically, "but I'm sure Professor Hunter will be happy to answer your questions if we adjourn to the hallway so the next presentation can continue."
And with a round of applause -- rather warmer than that which had opened the session -- Arthur and I gathered up my things and made for the corridor. A gaggle of the educators in the group followed us out, and I spent the next twenty minutes fielding their questions.
"Impressive," a carefully schooled voice sounded in my ear, and I turned to find none other than Minister Fudge standing behind me. "Good afternoon, Arthur, Miss Hunter. Congratulations on a successful presentation."
The lips may have said 'congratulations,' but the eyes were flat and cold. I doubted that he recognised me from last years' incident in the Infirmary, but nonetheless I was Dumbledore's pet Muggle, and therefore on Fudge's blacklist.
"Thank you, Prime Minister," I managed. "It was an honour to be asked to speak."
"Not entirely your choice, I understand -- Albus is still up to his old tricks?"
"I wouldn't have submitted on my own, but Headmaster convinced me that it would be a good experience," I fibbed with a smile.
"Ye--sss, very persuasive, Dumbledore. Do give him my regards. Arthur," Fudge added with a curt nod, and strode away.
"Sorry about that," Arthur muttered. "Courtesy greeting to all non-Ministry presenters."
I shrugged. "You have to hand it to him, he's the consummate politician. Knows with whom he needs to be pleasant, and with whom he needn't be bothered. What's next on the agenda, oh Guru of all things Muggle?" I teased Arthur to lighten the mood.
His eyes lit up alarming. "Now we have fun," he said with a grin. "I've got the rest of the afternoon off -- so has half the department, and they're anxious to meet you --"
A sharp-looking secretary of Flitwick's persuation bustled up to Arthur and whispered in his ear.
"Oh, bugger all -- all right, I'll take care of it," Arthur muttered to him, and turned back to me apologetically.
"Bit of paperwork I forgot to turn in -- it'll take me half a mo. Can you wait for me in the lobby?"
"Won't be long!" he replied cheerily, and took off for the basement, the odd little secretary trotting behind him.
I made my way back to the lobby, plopped my briefcase on one of the many fragile gilt chairs, and amused myself with examining the vast moving portraits that lined the marble walls (I was not impressed with that bloody great fountain -- I recognised it right off as a piece of heavy-handed propaganda). I was regarding a particularly gory paintings (Defeat of the Goblins, 1612) when a resonant, lazy voice drawled in my ear, "One of the more lurid examples of the art, I'm afraid."
"I can't imagine Gringotts' representatives appreciate seeing it," I replied, amused, just as the Goblin leader was skewered by a particularly nasty and effective hex that turned him inside-out.
"Oh, but they don't, as a rule. They aren't allowed onto the premises without an escort. The building is warded against such... undesirables." There was an unmistakable note of malice in the observation that startled me, and I turned --
-- and found myself practically nose-to-nose with a man who could only be Lucius Malfoy.
And he scared the shite out of me. I felt like a mouse cornered by a particularly vicious cat.
"We've never met, have we?" I asked in puzzlement, to try to hide my alarm. "But you look very familiar."
"I believe you teach my son, Miss Hunter," he volunteered, eyes glittering with a little more malice. "I am Lucius Malfoy. I saw the very end of your presentation."
Ah. I hadn't noticed him enter the room, as focussed as I'd been on the questions.
"One of my brighter students, Draco," I offered. "He keeps me on my toes." (Well, it was true, though not in the way I hoped Malfoy would take it.)
"You challenge him as well, judging by some of the comments on his work." He smiled tightly and unpleasantly.
So the little fecker won't show Snape the disputed essays, but sympathy from daddy is another matter.... I could only play dumb and oblivious at this point, and hope that Malfoy would leave me alone.
"He's doing much better this term. I think he's adjusted quite well to my teaching," I assured him, and again, this was true, though ironically intended.
"I believe we have someone else in common," Malfoy noted, smoothly switching gears. "The Potions Master is a... friend of yours, I believe."
I coloured at the implication, and made no attempt to hide it -- but I might be able to distract him as to why.
"Colleague certainly; 'friend' is overstating it, at this point," I stammered
"Oh? The last time I saw Severus, he implied a rather... closer relationship."
Where in bloody hell is Arthur?
"I don't know when that might have been, but the situation has changed rather drastically, lately."
"What a pity. Of course, his is an old family, you know, and there are certain standards."
This was a difficult point to play. Aside from the obvious insult to me, we wanted everyone to believe I'd been the one to cut Snape off.
"I have certain standards, as well -- of behavior and respect," I retorted tightly. "and -- begging your pardon, in deference to your friendship with Professor Snape -- it became obvious that he was unwilling to meet them. I'm afraid you shall have to ask him directly, if you want further clarification."
He stared at me for a long moment, and then relented. "I beg your pardon, I didn't intend to pry into what it obviously a painful subject. You have my apology," he added with the bare hint of a bow.
You may pillage, rape, and murder, but God forbid you be mistaken for anything but a gentleman.
The clock on the other side of the hall chimed three-qurarters to the hour, and Malfoy started.
"Gracious, I shall be late for my next appointment. I hope your remaining time at Hogwarts is as pleasant as it has been in the past, Miss Hunter." And with another thin-lipped, malicious smirk he strode away and out the doors to the street.
I didn't believe for a second that I'd fooled him, and I was terrified of the damage I might have done to Snape. When Arthur came for me two minutes later, I was sitting on a chair, trying desperately to get my knees back under control.
I've been to my share of wild theatre parties, and this was much like one. It was nice to have further confirmation that human nature is still basically the same, whether muggle or wizard.
"Arthur, are you sure you want to try this?"
Arthur'd had more than a little to drink at the pub, and I wasn't at all certain I wanted to Apparate with him in this condition. (As far as I'm concerned, Wizarding alcohol should come with one of those usage warnings -- you know, 'Do not attempt to flick a wand, fly a broom, or Apparate while under the influence.')
"Oh, balderdash, Miranda, I'm right as rain -- c'mere, girl," Arthur laughed as he tipsily groped for my waist, " -- oops -- 'scuse me," he backtracked as he grabbed something definitely not my waist. "Besides," he added with a grin, "If I splinch us, Dumbledore and Pomfrey'll put us right in a day or two."
I should have insisted, but I was desperate to get back home and see Albus as soon as possible. So I squeezed my eyes shut and prayed.
"Just need to stop by the Apothecary's," Arthur muttered, and we headed into the dark little shop where he purchased some foul, grotty-looking concoction which sobered him up immediately.
"Now, you don't tell Moll where we've been," he directed me as we walked up the lane to Heart's Solace, "and I won't tell her you consorted with Malfoy, and we'll both stay out of trouble."
My jaw dropped. "You knew?" I asked in outrage, totally forgetting that he'd be in more trouble for that than me. "Why the hell didn't you step in, Arthur?"
"Severus expected something of the sort; told me to let you handle it," he admitted. "I would've stopped him if he'd tried anything nasty, but it wouldn't do for him to see me being protective of you."
"Cripes," I muttered in disgust.
And just for that, I deliberately forgot to remind him to undo his tie or remove the swizzle-stick he'd tucked behind his ear. Molly and I had a pleasant supper, but a chastened Arthur sulked over his toad-in-the-hole.
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