Wednesday, March 4, 2009

153. Margarine Headache

Contest winner: greyniffler
Runner-up: Benjamin Ng

The hard-faced men in one of the more brutish, back offices of the Ministry of Magic had ways of making people talk. Or, given a suspect like Sadie, who had vast resources of shtumness to draw upon, they had ways of keeping people waiting.

Sadie began to sweat during her sixth hour in a row of holding her fists clenched. The ring of Count Matthias was in one hand. In her other fist was the bone whistle Joe Albuquerque had given her. Nothing could compel her to show either item to her interrogators. But they were equally determined to know what she knew.

She still hadn't had a moment of privacy in which to blow the whistle. She wondered whether she would, anyway. She wasn't exactly sure what would happen if she did.

For the eighteenth time since they rescued her from the footnotes of a self-updating report on the number of breeding pairs of augureys in Hertfordshire, the crack interrogators of the Office of Magical Documentation and Records swapped position - most likely a strategy to wrong-foot her. It hadn't worked six hours ago; far less would it work now that Sadie had gotten to know them so well. This time it was Duckham who walked out of the room, while Millbray stood up to pace and Weedom stepped in and took the seat Millbray had just vacated. If they kept this up, Sadie thought, she might pass out from dizziness.

"Are you ready to make a statement?" Weedom asked with a clipped voice and a tight-lipped, joyless smile. He regarded her with shooting-glass eyes and patted a roll of parchment spread open before her, its corners weighted down and a quill and inkwell standing nearby.

"I would like a drink of waiter," Sadie said quietly.

"I don't take your meaning," said Weedom, with the tiniest hint of a smirk at the corner of his mouth.

"My meaning," said Sadie, "is as plan as the noise on your face."

Drat, she thought as she heard herself speak. Will that misspell never wear off?

"Are you feeling quite well?" Weedom asked with a fair semblance of concern.

"No," she said, digging her knuckles into her temples. "I feel a margarine headache coming on."

Weedom coughed, then replied in a strangled voice, "You might feel butter after a full confession." Behind him, Millbray sneezed loudly and retreated from the room. The door did not close quite fast enough to cover his explosive laughter.

"Have you always had this way with words?" Weedom asked sweetly.

"Only sincere I - oh, dart! - only since my little occident in your filling system." Sadie hoped he would conclude that she had fallen afoul of a poorly cast check-spell. She wasn't about to explain that she had been hexed by her pursuers, who seemed to have gotten away. The less these sad little men knew, the better for all concerned.

"And will you, at last, explain what you were doing there?"

"Just having a larch," she said, taking little care to rein in her sarcasm. "Nothing quilt like a stole down memory lance - particle when it belongs to the buoyed politic. We three-silkers are drowned to it like months to a flame."

Weedom held her with a level gaze for some moments, then shook his head. "No," he said. "I don't buy it." The truth is: he didn't understand a word of it.

"I wand my want back," Sadie blurted, unwittingly saying all the words she meant but not in the right order. "I have a sight to rend one Patronus - "

"Sister," said Weedom, "you won't want to risk casting advanced spells in your condition. The laws you've already violated are nothing compared to Spellman's 67th Essential Inference, and I quote: 'Chaotic cadences conjoined in casting contrapoise crossbinding cataplexes on sequentially staged spells...'"

"To say nothing of Tybalt's Second Law of Transfiguration," said Duckham, sidling into the room. A sound like whimpering laughter came in with him, cut off by the closing of the door. Weedom jumped up and dutifully began to pace while Duckham sat down.

"Wish is?" Sadie prompted.

Duckham raised his eyebrows with the self-righteous hauteur of one who has done his homework, and knows who hasn't. "When attempting to transfigure an object into something else whose name rhymes with the original object, the strength and permanence of the transfiguration are increased sevenfold. Corollary: If a spell goes off because of incorrect rhyme or fumbled delivery, the magical consequences are seven times as serious."

"Ridiculous," said Sadie, surprising herself with her perfect pronunciation. "Magic is beyond languish. (Oh, carp!) How does it master whether the spell rhythms or not?"

"It matters," said Duckham, as smugly as ever, "because the spell-caster thinks it matters. What is significant to the magic user is significant to the result."

"None of this is revenant," said Sadie, "to casting a Pantalones charm."

"No?" said Duckham, raising only one eyebrow this time.

"Try it," Weedom barked, as he turned at the end of the room, "and see if we don't charge you for reckless spell-casting and endangering the" - he coughed - "buoyed politic."

"Change me?" Sadie snorted. "You? Who do you thick you are? This is a burial gown for expired froms and mementos, and you're nothing but grape diggers..."

"Since you bring that up," Duckham cut in, looking at Weedom, who nodded his assent. "There seems to be nothing for it but to turn you over to Mr. Graves."

For some reason, Sadie felt like making a gulping sound. Due to her misspelling problem, she said "Golf!" instead.

Weedom opened the door a crack and said to the wheezy giggling outside, "Send for Mr. Graves." The giggling stopped, this time before the door shut.

"I take it you know of Mr. Graves," said Duckham, who had continued to study Sadie's face throughout this exchange.

"I'm not sugar," said Sadie. "What deportment does he work for?"

Duckham shook his head as if in regret. "It were better to say: What department works for him?"

Already there came a soft knock at the door. Weedom opened it, admitting a man both strange and familiar to Sadie's eyes. Very tall, very thin, a bit gray at the temples, with small, even features and a looseness of gait that suggested very limber joints, he looked - Sadie realized with a stab of panic - like a middle-aged Chat Noir.

"Mr. Douglas Graves at your service," he said, offering his hand toward her.

Mesmerized, Sadie did not think what she was doing until he gave her hand back without the whistle that had been in it.

For a moment, Sadie felt horror and despair. Then the mysterious Mr. Graves winked at her, and she knew him at once to be the man she had last seen only hours ago, disguised as a Swiss Guard. She didn't have time to wonder whether this latest disguise revealed the true face of Joe Albuquerque or merely a man Joe had chosen to impersonate. She had only enough time to realize that whoever owned this face was probably Chat Noir's father, before Joe Albuquerque raised the whistle to his lips and blew.


You can help decide what happens next in The Magic Quill! Simply leave a brief comment (up to 150 words) answering the following Survey and Contest. The survey answer with the most votes, and the contest answer that Robbie likes best, will turn up in the chapter after next. [EDIT: This discussion is now closed.]

SURVEY: Who is Chat Noir's biological father? (A) Joe Albuquerque, who under all his disguises looks a lot like Mr. Graves. (B) The real Mr. Graves, who is Joe Albuquerque's secret nemesis. (C) A completely different person, related to Uncle or Aunt Leslie.

CONTEST: What happens when Joe blows the bone whistle?


Robbie F. said...

SURVEY: Who is Chat Noir's biological father? (A) Joe Albuquerque, who under all his disguises looks a lot like Mr. Graves. (B) The real Mr. Graves, who is Joe Albuquerque's secret nemesis. (C) A completely different person, related to Uncle or Aunt Leslie.

CONTEST: What happens when Joe blows the bone whistle?

Dragonic said...

B. I think. I'm very confused now. Who gets the Father/Graves/Joe business in the last paragraph?

Contest: The Whistle makes a loud, irritating, shrill noise.

Then everybody in the room except Graves falls asleep, and when they wake up have no memeory of the previous 24 hours.

greyniffler said...

Well, I vote (B), Joe's secret nemesis. So secret, in fact, that Joe doesn't know that he is an enemy. I can imagine him as an Unspeakable who got promoted out of the department. As to the whistle ...I think the whistle should summon something or someone. I'll have to look for a magical being or beast that could be involved. Leprechauns, possibly, or veelas. Or maybe rogue goblins?

I like the idea that the whistle is the sort of thing that might have passed through Borgin and Burkes, and using it has a price. Maybe it was lost in an accident at the Department of Mysteries, and it was believed destroyed.

Margarine headache indeed!

TWZRD said...

Margarine headache: the sort of pain one feels when approaching the end of a long grocery list while being overdue for lunch.

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Well, I suppose Mr. Graves is a good candidate for CN's dad. I don't think Auntie/Uncle would have such a normal looking child. The idea of A/U producing a kid at all... No, I don't think so.

OK, The whistle obviously summons help, or Sadie wouldn't feel despair when she thinks she's lost it. I think it summons some sort of magical creature that can sniff out secret openings and passages, perhaps even causing security personel to not notice anyone holding it's leash, or at least providing a sneaky way around to the exit. In other words, it calls a magical "escape bloodhound".

greyniffler said...

Y'know, Sadie is arguing for a chance at a Patronus charm. What if the whistle calls up something like a patronus?

greyniffler said...

By the way, nothing says that the whistle has to make an audible sound, or sound like a whistle. It could bray, or hoot, or roar like a cataract. Or have the refreshing clash of a load of bricks through a skylight.

What happens?

Linda Carrig said...

Margarine headache indeed!

I'll go for A) CN father is none other than Joe Albuquerque himself.

As for the whistle, it summons a thestral/thestramule which will help Sadie and J. A. get out of there. The whistle makes a 'neigh' sort of sound.

greyniffler said...

The whistle is made of bone. The bone of what creature? Is the magic related to the abilities of that creature?

What sort of price might it extract from its user?

greyniffler said...

Of course, there could be some kind of Muggle confusion here:

"Well," went on Father Brown, with lumbering lucidity, "as you wouldn't leave any tracks for the police, of course somebody had to. At every place we went to, I took care to do something that would get us talked about for the rest of the day. I didn't do much harm--a splashed wall, spilt apples, a broken window; but I saved the cross, as the cross will always be saved. It is at Westminster by now. I rather wonder you didn't stop it with the Donkey's Whistle."

"With the what?" asked Flambeau.

"I'm glad you've never heard of it," said the priest, making a face. "It's a foul thing. I'm sure you're too good a man for a Whistler. I couldn't have countered it even with the Spots myself; I'm not strong enough in the legs."

"What on earth are you talking about?" asked the other.

"Well, I did think you'd know the Spots," said Father Brown, agreeably surprised. "Oh, you can't have gone so very wrong yet!"

The Innocence of Father Brown

Anonymous said...

Well, I suppose I'll choose A. It sounds the most intriguing to me.

The whistle doesn't necessarily have to make a sound, but it could summon the creature whose bone it's made out of. The creature would then attack or at least distract the men so Sadie and Joe could escape.

greyniffler said...

From the whistle issues a noise that combines the rumble of an earthquake, the roar of a foghorn, the snarl of the tiger, the quack of a million ducks, and every other noise, right up the scale, to the crack of a bullet, repeated like paint drips on a Pollack painting. And in the midst of this full-frequency-range inferno (heard only in this room), the center of the room starts to spin like the water over the bathtub drain. A whirlspace opens up, and engulfs the whistler ... and maybe others. But ... which others?

greyniffler said...

Oh, yes. I forgot to add: the whirlspace connects with the last place where the whistle was blown.

TWZRD said...

Please, grey; not on a full stomache! : P

I do like the "bone of what it summons" idea.
And the pea in the whistle is a little bezoar. (Did I spell that right? A goat stone, you know.)

greyniffler said...

Okay, so a whirlspace opens and a troll walks out. Now somebody give me a punchline!