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How To Raise A Child
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9 June 1888 — Mulciber Home, Wellingtonshire — As the birthday party is winding down

Social functions were more things to be endured than things to be enjoyed, in Ernest's experience, and the one today had been no different. Well, actually, it had been different, because the average social function did not force upon Ernest the society of children, which this one had. No matter what Rufina might have said about the significance of the birthday, Ernest was not convinced that any of the Hogwarts students on the guest list had suddenly gained a significant degree of maturity as they crossed the line from sixteen to seventeen, whether they were adults in the legal sense of the word or not. Of course, it didn't make much of a material difference; a significant portion of adults never grew more interesting than they were as oversized children.

Normally Ernest took no particular interest in his children's birthdays, or in any other routine celebration, but there was a tradition involved in this year's festivities which had excited his interest. Rufina, knowing his typical apathy when it came to the mechanics of fatherhood, had offered to choose the pocket watch to gift the boy so that Ernest could merely affix his name to the package, but the idea had struck him as particularly abhorrent after the Chinese auction she had staged earlier this year. A boy's pocket watch was something that might stay with him for life, or at least for many years to come; Ernest would not entrust it to the woman who had made the purchase of the ugly Asiatic shrub that now featured prominently at the center of their garden, nor did he much care for the idea of his son carting around some sub-par timekeeping device and telling anyone who inquired that it had been Ernest's handiwork to procure it.

Ernest had spent the majority of the party aloof and disinterested, as he typically did, with the small wrapped gift in his coat pocket. The event was not entirely over, yet, and the garden was not entirely cleared of guests, but it was certainly in its death throes; everyone interesting had gone, and those that remained looked ready to depart at a moment's notice. Merriweather was unoccupied, which made this the ideal moment to pull him aside. Ernest didn't imagine that this exchange would take long, and he'd waited long enough that he could reasonably retreat inside once he'd completed his task, while his son could go back to... seeing the guests off, Ernest supposed, or whatever it was he had been doing.

"Merriweather," he said by way of simple greeting as he approached the boy. "A moment."
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Merry was actually kind of (very) tipsy, which was probably the only thing that had gotten him through the person-cake without embarrassment. He was also more gregarious than usual thanks to the champagne, and was cheerfully saying goodbye to all of the people his stepmother had decided to bring here. This was going well. This was going super well. He really ought to get more champagne; he was three glasses in and it was delicious.

Merriweather was about to do just that when he was summoned by his father. This was a situation that Merriweather greeted with no small sense of trepidation sober; drunk, he stood with excellent posture and nodded seriously, and tried to ignore the fact that his face definitely had more color than usual.

"What's going - err, what can I help you with, Father?" Merriweather said. He was cool. Everything was cool. He was an adult, and he could survive a conversation with Ernest Mulciber.

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Ernest supposed he should have prepared some sort of speech. The idea honestly hadn't even occurred to him before this moment, but he could hardly just thrust the gift into the boy's hand and then abruptly turn to walk away. He had to say something, and if he was saying something, it should probably relate to the Momentous Occasion which society seemed to think this was.

So. Right. A speech.

"This party — this occasion — is meant to mark a transition in your life," he began, correcting himself midway through because he was loathe to assign any importance, real or imagined, to this ridiculous birthday party. "I've never put much stock in that idea, myself," he clarified. "A boy becomes a man when he ceases to act as a child, regardless of how old he is. Some people never reach that point. But, regardless —" he realized he'd gone a bit astray from what the point of this speech was supposed to be, which was what happened when one improvised things one ought to have planned out. "There's a tradition, for a boy turning seventeen."

That was, he thought, enough awkward prelude. He pulled the small wrapped box from his pocket and offered it to his son with one outstretched hand.


#4
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Merry could not figure out if this was a speech on his becoming an adult or a speech on his inadequacies. Seeing as this was Ernest Mulciber, both were kind of possible. (Merriweather noted that Rufina was better at emoting out loud, in general, but was not at all surprised by this revelation. Anyways.)

He took the box, more on reflex than anything else. "Thank you, Father," Merriweather said. Nervously - his hands could be shaky at the best of times, and he was a little off-kilter, at present - he opened the box. "A pocketwatch!" he exclaimed, actually startled into a genuine smile even before he could get a good look at it.

(To be completely honest, he was surprised Ernest had remembered.)

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Ernest was startled in turn by his son's genuine enthusiasm for the gift. Having never taken an active role in the gifting of any present (birthday or otherwise) prior to this one, he wasn't entirely sure whether that was a normal response for Merriweather having received a gift, or whether he was particularly interested in it for what it was.

Ernest, of course, had always been fascinated by time, and to a certain extent considered it the only true study of the universe; everything stemmed from it, in one way or another, and if one properly understood the way time functioned, one could understand everything else — anything that mattered, at any rate. There were a good deal of things that Ernest considered too trivial to concern himself with, and whether or not any of those things related to his primary interest, he really couldn't say.

Despite his passion for the subject, though, he seldom talked about it, at home or anywhere else. Only a handful of people within the Department of Mysteries would really understand him. He had never imagined that his son might share anything even remotely close to his interest in the study of time, but the look on the boy's face now made him wonder if perhaps he had been misjudging his intellect. Much as he was loathe to assign any importance to the arbitrary event of turning seventeen, perhaps Merriweather had transitioned from child to man, without his ever realizing it.

"Not a typical pocket watch," he pointed out, though that would soon become obvious: upon opening the watch to reveal its face, the boy could not fail to notice that the watch had four hands instead of two; one of the extraneous ones labeled with a small red P and the other with an elegant blue F.


#6
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This conversation was now longer than many of the conversations he had with his father, or, at least, it was longer than most of the lecture-less conversations Ernest presented him with. He ran his thumb carefully around the edge of the pocket watch, feeling its ridge - this was more of a symbol of his adulthood than any party could be.

Merry brought the box closer to his face, and squinted at the extra hands to try to derive more meaning from them. (This would have been a great time for his reading glasses to make an appearance, but they were inside.) He looked from the watch to his father, expression openly curious.

"The P and the F?" Merry said, although he supposed that much was obvious, "Do they represent extra - functions?"

He could just check, but given his father's job...

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With that question, any slight hope Ernest had held that his son would impress him with his perception and intellect was dismissed. Shouldn't it have been obvious that they represented extra functions? What else would he have put them there for, to sit in the way of the working hands and be needlessly decorative? If he was going to do something so pointlessly vain, wouldn't an MM have made more sense than P and F?

Nevermind; he supposed expecting Merriweather to have an inkling of what he was holding in his hands was unfair. It wasn't as though his son had any experience with time magic, or any inclination to learn (at least, none that he had ever expressed to Ernest). "Let me show you," he said, not unkindly but with no particular warmth as he reached out to take the pocket watch. Flipping it over, he indicated a small, circular patch of metal on the back of the watch of a slightly different color, which, when he pressed it with his thumb, popped open.

"There's a compartment here," he explained. "And you can put anything in it — any small token that might be representative. Such as..." he pulled his wand from his pocket and used a short flicking motion to remove a very small lock of hair from his temple, which he rolled into a little ring and shoved into the opening on the back of the watch. Pocketing his wand again, he flipped the watch back over to show its face. The two additional hands had moved, which caused a self-satisfied smile to appear on his face. He had designed this particular function of the watch, after all — while he had no special attachment to his son's gift for reasons of sentimentality, Ernest Mulciber would hardly delegate time magic if there was a bit to be done.

"There, you see? This conversation has gone on for three minutes," he said, tapping where the P hand had moved backwards. "And it will last for... about one and a half minute more, unless something changes. The future, of course, is always changing," he said, handing the watch back to Merriweather. "And then when I leave, the hands should tell you how long it's been since we spoke, and how long until we speak again. Until you put something else in the compartment."

He did not imagine tracking conversations with his father would be the primary interest such a function held for a seventeen-year-old boy, but it served for demonstration purposes reasonably well.




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