“Right, now, this beastie is a cute little lady named Fran,” Charlie said in a fake, and not very good, Australian accent, tickling the niffler under its chin. “Just look at those sharp teeth! She’s a Norwegian Ridgeback, you can tell by the large bronze horns and the characteristic black ridges down her back. I bet she’d like to take a nibble out of me arm. Whoa there, little lady!”
The assorted Hufflepuff and Gryffindor girls in the class giggled as they watched him leap away from the sneezing niffler as if it were about to breathe fire on him at any moment. He rolled across the grass a bit and ended up right at the professor’s feet.
“Mister Weasley!” barked Professor Kettleburn. “What are you doing?”
Charlie hopped to his feet and gave him an innocent grin. He was quite good at it, after fourteen years of giving that same innocent grin to his mother. “I’m, erm, being the Dragon Hunter, sir.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Charlie frowned a little then. How could Kettleburn, who worked with magical creatures, not know the Dragon Hunter? Charlie’s half of his bedroom at the Burrow was wallpapered in posters of his two favorite things: Quidditch and the Dragon Hunter. “You know, sir, the Dragon Hunter, the Australian wizard who does that show on the Wizarding Wireless Network, talking about the world’s most dangerous magical creatures? He catches dragons all the time. You haven’t heard his show?”
Professor Kettleburn gave him a look of freezing disapproval. “Young man, this is Care of Magical Creatures, not the Australian Outback. In the future, when you feel the impulse to pretend your niffler is a dragon, kindly restrain yourself.”
“Yes, sir,” Charlie said solemnly.
“I’ll have you know highly dangerous magical creatures like dragons are nothing to joke about. I lost my left foot to a Ukrainian Ironbelly, you know.”
“Yes, sir.” He’d heard the Ironbelly story so many times, he could probably tell it in his sleep. Come to think of it, Kettleburn rather resembled an Ironbelly himself, with his silvery grey hair and ample girth, and his puffy, bloodshot eyes.
Kettleburn gave him an icy nod and stalked back to the cage where he’d been putting the nifflers away, with Fran in tow. The niffler gave Charlie an affectionate snuffle at his ankle as she passed him.
Charlie went cheerfully back to the ranks of the class, who were now packing up their things to leave class. One of the Hufflepuff girls who’d been giggling at his antics, the metamorphmagus Nymphadora Tonks, her hair today done long and turquoise and pulled back into a bouncy ponytail, grinned at Charlie.
“Good one, Charlie,” she called to him.
Charlie glanced over his shoulder. Kettleburn was bent over, trying to hustle Fran into the niffler cage, though the niffler had decided the shiny silver threads that formed the outline of stars on Kettleburn’s charcoal grey cloak were far more interesting than going in the cage.
Charlie looked back at his classmates with a devilish grin and resumed his Dragon Hunter impression in a low voice. “Crikey! Look at this fellow! That Ukrainian Ironbelly is a mean bloke, he’d just as soon bite off me head as look at me. Let’s see if we can get a little closer.”
The other students were tittering softly as Charlie crept up behind Kettleburn. He was debating internally whether or not to actually leap on his teacher in the style of the Dragon Hunter capturing a dragon, knowing it would probably earn him a detention, but it might be worth the laugh and notoriety among his classmates, when Kettleburn quite suddenly straightened up, bowling into Charlie with his capacious rear end, sending both of them sprawling to the ground from the impact.
Charlie could see, from his vantage point of flat on his back and looking upward, that his classmates were now falling over themselves in hysterical laughter. He glanced over at Kettleburn, who had landed on his backside, with his artificial left foot turned at an unnatural angle. Charlie had to try hard not to laugh, knowing it would earn him an extra week’s detention.
“Mister Weasley,” Kettleburn began.
“What would your mother say about your behavior today?”
Charlie’s desire to laugh drained instantly. “She’d tan my hide, sir.”
“I am in complete sympathy with her, then.” Kettleburn hauled himself to his feet. The other students scattered, wide-eyed, running in small clumps toward the castle, as if they feared detention themselves for witnessing this particular spectacle.
Charlie sat up, gazing up at Kettleburn apprehensively. Please don’t write Mum, please don’t write Mum….
“Detention, Mister Weasley.” Kettleburn glared down at him, resembling an Ironbelly more than ever.
“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”
“And I’ll be writing to your mother as well,” Kettleburn added.
Charlie sagged. “Please, sir, can’t you just give me some more detentions instead?”
Kettleburn stared down at him for a moment with an inscrutable expression, then his shoulders began to shake, his jowls wobbling, and Charlie’s eyes widened in fear. Rage had finally overcome the Care of Magical Creatures instructor! Perhaps he really would tan Charlie’s hide.
Then Professor Kettleburn let out a loud guffaw, and collapsed down onto the grass next to Charlie, clapping him on the back.
“Oh, you should have seen your face just then, Weasley,” he said, still laughing. “That was truly priceless.”
Charlie wasn’t sure what to say, or whether he even should respond to that.
“You really do an excellent Dragon Hunter impression,” Kettleburn continued, wiping a tear from his eye as he chuckled heartily. Charlie perked up a little, grinning, but then Kettleburn added, “Except the accent. The accent is atrocious.”
“Yes, sir,” Charlie said tentatively. “Thank you, sir.”
“Now get out of here, you’re going to be late for Transfiguration.”
“Yes sir.” Charlie clambered to his feet, then paused. “Do I still have detention, sir?”
Kettleburn let out another hoot of laughter. “Of course you do,” he managed to say.
“Are you going to write to my mum?” Charlie asked anxiously.
Kettleburn shook his head. “No,” he chuckled. “As long as you promise never to do another Dragon Hunter impression in Care of Magical Creatures.”
Charlie nodded vigorously. “No, sir, I won’t.”
“Even if your accent improves,” Kettleburn added with another laugh, but it seemed to be more to himself than to Charlie, so Charlie just backed away slowly, nodding.
He snatched up his bookbag as he jogged up the hill to the castle, leaving Professor Kettleburn to laugh himself silly on the ground next to the niffler cage.