Sunday, July 22, 2012

An Expedition Made

"Why are all those Muggles standing and staring in the window like that?" wondered Spike. The group of Hogwarts students clustered tightly together in the middle of the great hallway, looking all around them at the clumps of Muggles hurrying here and there. "They can't be talking via floo. They're Muggles!"

The teaching team had announced a special treat for the class--a field trip! Everyone had excitedly began to chatter about the last trip to Hogsmeade, about their experiences in Diagon Alley, and the professors let it go for several minutes before waving the class to silence again.

"It's a special trip," beamed Professor Poole, his fine strands of grey hair waving as he nodded. He had bright blue eyes, an old man's near-tonsure, and a fascination with tweed that extended even to his peaked hat. "We'll be going to a Muggle village. Imagine! A world without any magic."

"You'll be undercover, of course, and you all know the restrictions regarding underage magic, as well as the rules of secrecy." Professor Ethelbard flicked her wand, and the student's robes transfigured into charcoal grey jackets with gold and silver Hogwarts crests and piping in the House colors. "There. The Muggles are accustomed to seeing students in school uniforms out and about, so you'll fit right in with their perceptions. That which is not seen is not, and all that."

"We'll be observing a modern Muggle market--a shopping mall. Muggles in their native habitat." Professor Grinderford smiled dreamily, as if contemplating frolicking forest creatures with large eyes and high foreheads.

They took turns side-along Apparating, standing in a clump at a bus station, where the teachers told them a gorup of miling students would look right at home to the Muggles. Apparently they did, because no one seemed to pay any heed to the kids in school uniforms, not even the tough-looking Muggle teens who swaggered past, ostentatiously smoking cigarettes. At last the class was gathered together, and they approached the squat concrete set of cubical buildings together.

I had expected it to be more festive, thought Spike. More full of nooks and crannies and a sense of wonder and enticement. This just looks like a bunch of grey giant's blocks set in a jumble when junior was called off for lunch. Perhaps it's more fun inside.

But inside, it was racks of things set out for perusal. Some of them had bright colors, and a few had interesting things in the windows, but when she stopped in front of one, Professor Grinderford took her arm. "Not now, Spike."

"But--" She pointed to the aptly named store, Fascinations, with its flowing script. "But perfume, and shoes! Boots!! Really cool boots!!" Green snakeskin, shiny as if they were wet, with heels as high as a handspan and poinard sharp.

Grinderford sighed. "Not for a Muggle girl of your age, Spike. You'd be escorted out of the store. Besides, you don't have any Muggle money, do you?" Spike sighed, glumly conceding defeat. Maybe I could sketch them, ask for them as a Winterfest gift. They'd look so splendid under my dress robes.

"We're here to observe, not to shop." Grinderford pushed her hair out of her eyes, and smiled wanly. Poole had stopped to pry a quartet of Hufflepuffs away from the windows of a candy store. "So. What do you see?"

Spike looked around. Most of the people looked either dazed or grim, laden with bags. Meandering from pillar to post, or striding along with a purpose. "No one looks very happy, do they? It's as if they've been Imperiused to do this, and they take no joy in performing the task." She frowned as an idea took root. "Do you think . . . this would be a great way to separate Muggles from their galleons. It would keep you at one remove, too. Even better, they'd be doing this of what the Muggle authorities would say was their own free will, that no one was forcing them to come to the mall and spend money they didn't really have on things that would lose their luster shortly after being packed home!"

Grinderford took firm hold of Spike's sleeve. "We are here to observe," she hissed. "Not to save them from themselves."

Spike looked at her, bewildered. "Who said anything about saving them from themselves?" Thinking quickly, she added, "The mere act of observation changes the behavior we're here to observe, right? So actively doing anything about it would . . . muck it up even worse. No, I'll just watch." Grinderford considered this, nodded, and let her go.

Besides, maybe I can learn something about . . . hmmm, crowd control this way.

Several Muggles were gathered in front of a great glass wall, watching attentively. Behind the wall were many boxes, each filled with an identical scene. Like seeing through an insect's eye. The fascination wasn't apparently with the novelty of seeing the world many times over, because the Muggles cheered and groaned in response to something happening on the screen. Spike edged into the crowd to get a better look.

Oh, it's like Quidditch, then. She had heard of the game and seen pictures in the paper growing up, although her father had little use for sports, and there was no one of her age to play it with, unless she went down to the village. But even then, the other children only knew her as the lord's daughter, and were swept up by grinning, scraping parents, who curtsied or bowed, hat in hand. No one would play with her or her bodyguards.

No, she'd only seen Quidditch played a time or two during her short time at Durmstrang. Practice games, mostly, where the team would divide and play against itself. As a first-year, she wasn't allowed to join in, but it had looked like such fun. The Chaser stalking the Snitch, waiting until just the right time to swoop in and steal victory. The Beaters whacking the Bludger . . . it hadn't looked all that hard, until she finally tried it herself. This was apparently a Muggle version of the game, played on a flat green field, with only one ball that was Bludger and Snitch rolled together, and four Keepers -- no more than that, because one of the men ran in the field, getting himself directly under it! She put her hands over her face, watching through her fingers as the white ball came down, down, hard and fast directly at the man's face. Oh, this is going to hurt . . . and then he held up a big leather glove and caught the ball deftly. Threw it back to the man standing in the ring, and all the Muggles groaned.

The Bludger currently holding the bat dropped it to the ground, and the two teams swapped sides in a neatly choreographed set of maneuvers as tidy as if they had been on a big green ballroom floor. Spike was charmed. "What is this?" she whispered, unaware that she was speaking out loud.

"Baseball," said a man beside her. "And the Braves are winning."

Must have been a Gryffindor ... no, Muggles don't have Houses, do they? No matter, she knew what to say. "Victory is almost always to the brave," she replied. She saw Grinderford scanning the crowd, realized that most of the class had been herded together, and hurried to catch up.

Later, she turned in a parchment detailing the game of baseball, with the green field, the white ball, the blue sky and sun shining down on it all.

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