"Dad, we need your advice."
Arthur jumped out of his chair at the unexpected voice, spilling tea over his lap and his extraordinary newspaper.
The newspaper, called the Daily Prophet, was made especially for witches and wizards. It would have astounded any normal person, or Muggle, as wizards called them.
For starters the articles had silly sounding titles like "Death Eaters Cook Cauldron Factory" and "Ministry Denies Dementors Despite Deaths". Then there was the fact that the people in the pictures were all moving. If you looked closely enough you could see people wearing long robes and pointy hats walking around the burnt remains of a factory.
As the tea splashed over the page, the people inside the pictures ran out of the way and started shaking their fists in the air at Arthur. One opened up a rather large umbrella and several others immediately tried to crowd in under it.
"Oh hello boys, didn't hear you come in," said Arthur wiping his lap and paper with a handkerchief he pulled from a pocket in his robes.
"Would you like some tea?" he asked.
"No thanks Dad, but we do need your help," replied George.
At least Arthur thought it was George. Ever since they were old enough to hold a wand, the twins had taken pains to remain identical. Even now, as 18-year-old teenagers, they both wore identical green dragonskin suits, and kept their thick red hair in exactly the same style.
Arthur gave up wiping at the tea, having managed to mop up some, and to spread the rest across the page. The people in the pictures were now squeezing themselves into the corners of their frames trying to keep away from the growing stain.
He looked up at his sons. It had been a long time since any of his seven children had come to him for advice, especially these two. Mostly that was because they never wanted him or their mum to know what mischief they were up to. Usually this was because it was something that Arthur and Molly were sure to object to, like leaving school one year before graduation to open a shop selling all manner of magical jokes and gags. Luckily the shop was doing so well that even Molly was impressed. Who would have thought selling fake wands that exploded or hats that made your head disappear could make so much money?
Then again, the boys had always shown a knack for jokes and gags in their younger days, much to the consternation of their siblings, and to the despair of Molly. Most of the items they sold in the new shop had been invented in their old bedroom upstairs. Everyone thought they had just been fooling around making loud noises and bad smells, when in fact they had been working on new products.
Arthur slowly sat back down in his seat.
"Why, what have you done now?" he asked, half afraid of the answer.
"Nothing bad," said Fred, sitting down.
"It's just that we have a problem we would like to talk to you about," continued George, seating himself next to Fred.
Now Arthur was worried. Never in his memory had the twins come to talk to him before doing something. Usually they needed his help to keep their mother from finding out what they had already done.
He pushed the wet paper aside, ignoring the fist shaking from the pictures, and concentrated on Fred and George.
"Let's have it then," he said. "What's going on?"
"You know the shop is going very well," started Fred, "so well in fact, that we have branched out a bit." He leaned forward on the table as he spoke eagerly.
"We have this new line of protective clothing. Hats, cloaks, shoes, and other things that have shield spells on them. All designed to help stop someone from becoming the victim of unwanted hexes and curses." Fred paused looking at his father to make sure he was following.
"Yes," said Arthur slowly, "I am well aware of your new line. We recently had to investigate several of your items after a complaint from the mother of Master Joey Young."
As the head of the Office for the Detection and Confiscation of Counterfeit Defensive Spells and Protective Objects, Arthur, and his team, were constantly on the lookout for people trying to make a quick galleon by selling supposedly genuine protective items that were in fact junk jewellery, or worse, dangerous fakes.
"It puts me in a very difficult position you know. On one hand investigating the outrageous claims of people selling this stuff, and on the other hand having two of my own sons in the same business. Luckily for you, it turns out the youngster in question had shaved his own head with a Severing Charm in order to win a bet and your hat did not in fact 'steal his hair'."
"Dad!" said Fred, "We might have a bit of fun now and again, but we would never sell defective or fake merchandise. It would ruin our reputation!"
The indignation on both of their faces was almost enough to make Arthur laugh out loud. Their precious reputation had previously been as the biggest pranksters and hell-raisers at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. That was before they had released hundreds of magical fireworks and turned a whole hallway into a swamp as a "product demonstration". Then they had flown out of the school forever, to the cheers of their former classmates.
Then again, thought Arthur, they had grown up so much in such a short time, opening up their store and moving out of home, just like their older brothers. Perhaps they were serious about this 'problem', whatever it was, and really did need his help. Returning his concentration, he forced the smile from his mouth and put on his most serious expression.
"Then what is the problem?" he asked.
"Well," began George, "up to now we have been buying the clothes from Madam Malkin in Diagon Alley. She makes the best and at a reasonable price-"
"But we have been selling so many to the Ministry of Magic that she can't keep up and we are in danger of not been able to fill our orders!" finished Fred, his annoyance clear in his tone.
"So why don't you just buy the extra things you need from someone else?" asked Arthur.
"We tried," answered George, "but somehow everybody found out we were a bit desperate and have jacked their prices up to ridiculous levels. We would lose money."
"It's blooming highway robbery," added Fred.
Arthur chose his next words very carefully. "Well, you can hardly blame them, since you yourselves have been known to occasionally take advantage of other people's misfortunes," he said watching their faces closely.
Both of the boys' looks of outrage were replaced by sheepish expressions as they considered his words.
"Yeah well we think we've got a way out, and that's what we have come to see you about," said George.
Again Arthur felt worry start to rise in his chest. Any way out that involved him was probably going to end in a long explanation to Molly.
"See we found a supply of clothes we can use," explained Fred. "There was a shop that has gone out of business and they had all this stock left over but couldn't sell it. We offered to take it off their hands for a very fair price- "
"Extremely fair actually," interrupted George.
"-and they agreed. But there is a slight catch." He hesitated and looked at George before continuing. "You see the clothes are not, well have not been made by wizards."
Arthur sat back and let the words sink in. Not made by wizards. What did that mean? House elves were usually not allowed to wear clothes. Centaurs chose not to and Goblin clothes would be too small. That only left… realisation hit him like a blow.
"MUGGLES!" he shouted standing up suddenly knocking the rest of his tea over the paper. "YOU BOUGHT CLOTHES FROM MUGGLES?"
"Dad! Shush, mum might hear you!"
Arthur looked around for Molly. Luckily she was out in the garden and had apparently not heard his outburst. Last thing he needed now was to have her join the conversation. He put his hands on the table and leant over to give them a serve in an angry whisper.
"I hope you know what you have done! I suppose you just wandered up to the Muggles waving your wands about and tossing Galleons around like nobody's business didn't you?"
"You will be in for it now. Exposing Muggles to magic is a major offence-"
"-and I won't be able to help you out of this one, not this time. I can't risk my position with everything else that's been happening-"
"DAD!" they both shouted.
Arthur stopped his tirade and looked down at them. They had evidently been expecting his outburst because both were sitting patiently waiting for him to calm down.
"We were very careful," said George calmly. "We dressed like Muggles and used Muggle money. We even took Hermione with us to make sure we didn't make any big mistakes. Her parents are Muggles and she knows all about them. Don't worry, it all went very well and they don't know anything."
"They thought we were a couple of farmers collecting scraps of material to use in fertiliser," laughed Fred.
Arthur sat back down on his chair heavily. His rush of anger disappeared leaving him drained and confused.
"If you took all those precautions and nothing went wrong, what do you need my advice about?" he asked.
"Well, you used to be in charge of the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office, and these are Muggle artefacts," started George.
"So we need to know if it's illegal to use them to fill our order," finished Fred.
Arthur was surprised again. Of all the things he had expected, asking about breaking the law before they had done it was not one. Looking into their waiting faces he could see they were serious. They really wanted to know if it was ok, and the best person to ask was the man who had for years been in charge of investigating and enforcing this very law, himself. He thought about it for a few seconds before answering.
"The reason the Muggle Protection Act was created was to protect people with no magic from harm and exploitation by people who have and use magic," he began. "My old department was created in order to make sure that people did not go around enchanting everyday Muggle items with spells that would hurt them or expose the wizarding world to them." Arthur had slipped into a typical lecturer voice, which sounded far too similar to a Hogwarts professor for the boys' liking.
"That means that every one of those items you bought were made by people who have to do everything by hand. They don't have magic to help them out when something goes wrong, or to make the work easier."
Arthur took a deep breath and considered the best way to explain the next bit to a couple of boys who had known nothing but magic their whole lives. They, like all of his children, tended to take many things for granted and did not truly appreciate how hard life was for most people in the world.
"Much of the persecution of witches and wizards was bought on by Muggles demanding to have what wizards had, magic to make their lives better. Since wizards couldn't give it to them, things got pretty nasty. The decision to keep everything magical a secret from the Muggles has allowed the wizarding world to grow and thrive, but if too many Muggles were shown the truth there would be problems for everyone. We have to keep it all hidden from them or there will be riots and burnings again." Both boys were looking slightly astonished.
"Dad, Are you saying it should be called the Protection FROM Muggles Act?" asked George, the scepticism in his voice apparent.
"Come off it dad. Most of them can't even see magic when it is sitting right in front of them," laughed Fred.
"Just let me finish," Arthur said, raising his hand to stall argument.
"Muggles were rarely able to hurt a wizard, but they often murdered each other by mistake, usually believing it was a wizard they were killing."
"As you can imagine, a few centuries of hate can make even the most tolerant people start to feel a bit of resentment. Occasionally some folks would get it into their heads to go out and play nasty tricks on Muggles, sometimes with fatal results. This leads to all sorts of problems including raising the chance of exposing us and getting a lot of Muggles, and probably a few wizards, killed. Now most people, like your mother and me, also think it is morally wrong to do something to someone who can't defend him or herself, so the act was passed."
"My old department was created so that someone would be there to keep an eye out and make sure people didn't start enchanting items that Muggles might find. That brings us back to your Muggle clothing. Since you are going to be selling to the wizarding community only, what are the chances of any of your stuff getting back into Muggle hands?"
"Practically none," piped George, dropping the glassy eyed expression his Hogwarts lecturers knew so well.
"And what are the chances of a Muggle noticing anything magical about the clothes if he did?" asked Arthur.
"None at all," supplied Fred.
"So there really isn't any problem then is there?" said Arthur, "except…"
The smiles disappeared from both the boys' faces.
"Except what?" asked George.
"Well there is just the problem of exploitation" finished Arthur. "Do you think it is morally right to take the hard work of Muggles and make a profit from it, remembering how much harder it is for them to get anything done since they can't use magic?"
As far as Arthur was concerned, this was the big question. He had done his best to raise all of his children with a clear understanding of the difference between right and wrong, but in the end they had to make up their own minds. The boys sat looking thoughtful, then without a glance at each other both replied resoundingly at exactly the same time.
"What?" Arthur said taken aback. "You think it's ok?"
"Not a problem."
"How can you say that? Haven't you any conscience? Didn't you understand what I was saying? Is making money so important to you?" Arthur pleaded futilely searching their beaming faces for signs of doubt.
"Dad, you are right, it would be wrong. Except that this lot was headed for the tip before we got it," explained George.
"Yeah Dad," added Fred. "The silly Muggles that made the clothes had gone broke and were about to bin it and lose all of their money. They were really happy when we showed up and gave them something for it, not that it was much mind you, but it was better than nothing".
Arthur leaned back in his chair and took a hard look at his boys. Not boys anymore he thought to himself, men. They had actually faced a serious problem and solved it in a sensible, moral and mature manner. Suddenly he felt proud of his sometimes wayward offspring, and his eyes got a bit watery at that thought.
"Well then lads, I must say you don't seem to have a problem at all. The Ministry won't reject the order just because it is Muggle made, they probably won't even know unless you tell them, and it has done no harm to anyone. It may even have helped out somebody a bit. So I'd say that puts you in the right."
Fred and George stood up, obviously intent on leaving now that they had their answer.
"Thanks Dad, got to fly. Bye."
"Yeah thanks a lot. That makes us feel heaps better. See you soon."
"Why don't you hang around for dinner?" Arthur asked, suddenly sad that the house would be empty again in a few seconds. "Your mother would love to have you back, even if it is just for a meal."
"Sorry Dad, got the big order to fill. Give Mum a kiss," said George waving as he followed Fred out the front door.
As the door closed Arthur looked back at his forgotten newspaper, now completely soaked in cold tea. He took out his wand and gave a quick wave. All of the tea leaped up off the paper and back into the cup, much to the obvious relief of the figures in the pictures, who took down the umbrella and went back to examining the burnt building.
As he was about to pick up the now dry paper to continue where he left off, he changed his mind and left it lying on the table. All of its problems seemed far away for the moment.
They are good boys, he thought to himself. If the morals of the majority were more like theirs, the world would be a better place. Probably best not to tell Molly too much about this conversation though, just to be on the safe side.
Outside of the house Fred and George walked to where they had left their broomsticks leaning against a tree.
"See, told you they couldn't reject the order just because it was Muggle made," said Fred smiling.
"Yep, you were right old boy, but I still think they are going to be a little bit upset at getting two hundred pairs of spell shielding bright pink with purple polka dot underpants when they were expecting black hats and cloaks," replied George.
"Well they should have written it in the contract then shouldn't they? It clearly states articles of clothing, not hats and cloaks," laughed Fred mounting his broom and kicking off the ground.
"And besides, I think some of the more portly ministers will be very interested in the girdles."
He flew off towards the clouds.
"I dunno," sighed George to himself, "all this worry is starting to make me feel quite old."
Then he too kicked off and followed Fred, who was now whooping and chasing a startled flock of geese through the air.