Chapter II

Speight planted himself on a chair, and beamed at the girl. "So, you're probably brimming with questions, eh? Countless things you want to ask us?"

The girl opened her mouth to speak, but no sound could be heard. She started gesturing at her throat, looking upset.

"Oh! Of course," the ministry wizard chuckled. He waved his wand at her, cancelling the Silencing Charm. "There you go! I'm sure that the first thing you'll want to ask, is-"

The girl piped up. "Are you capes?"

Speight and Twirlpike stared at her. The girl glared back.

"Erm..." Speight blinked, brows drawn together in a befuddled frown. "I thought Muggles didn't wear ca-"

"Are you going to kidnap me, as part of your evil plan to show the world how evil you are?"

"What?! No! Th-"

"Are you British? You sound British," the girl babbled with an intense look of both fear and curiosity on her face. "Do all British capes dress like that?"

Speight's shoulders slumped. "...These are not the questions I was expecting, at all."

"Did you kill Mrs. Thompson?"

The Ministry wizard tugged nervously at his beard. "Huh? Who's Mrs. Thompson?"

The girl clapped her small hands on the unconscious government drone's cheeks, and pulled her limp head up in a position that let Speight see the woman's face. "That's Mrs. Thompson."

"Oh! No, she's not dead, little girl. Don't you worry." Speight's smile went from awkward to smug. "She's just taking a little nap."

The unconscious woman drooled a bit, dripping on the table.

"See? She's fine. Never better!" Speight straightened in his chair. "Now, young lady, you sh-"

"I have a name, you know. And it's not 'young lady', or 'little girl'... It's Taylor," said the tiny human, carefully placing the unconscious Thompson's head back on the table. She folded her arms, and glowered with every fibre of her scrawny being. "Taylor Hebert."

The Ministry wizard seemed to actually quail a little, under the force of that young human's glare, before he bristled with indignation.

Twirlpike spent an enjoyable few seconds, gloating over Speight's obvious discomfort. Then, he focused on the girl. "Miss Hebert, we need to ask you a few questions."

The Hebert girl glanced at the insensate woman next to her, and shrugged unhappily. "'Kay. Not like I can stop you."

She seemed remarkably composed, for a Muggle-raised child faced with a curse-slinging wizard for the first time. Perhaps she'd recognized Speight for the clueless idiot that he was, and reasoned that she'd likely have a decent chance of outsmarting him?

"We believe that you may be distantly related to one of the old Pureblood wizarding families in Britain," Twirlpike explained.

"Most ancient and noble Pureblood families," Speight interjected primly.

Twirlpike resisted the urge to roll his eyes. This was a waste of time, in any case. He'd been in the room long enough for his keen goblin nose to get a good whiff of everyone's scent. (An eternally unpleasant yet unavoidable aspect of dealing with humans.) Lester Speight had the stink of wizard-kind about him, but the two female humans were both as Muggle as could be. No Pureblood family would care one whit about the Hebert girl, once they discovered that little detail.

Still... She'd proven herself capable of standing up to the Ministry blowhard, even while sitting down. If Twirlpike could get a few cheap laughs out of it, at Speight's expense, who was he to cut this farcical affair short? It wasn't like the Ministry would trust anything as unreliable as a goblin's opinion, when determining whether a child was magical or not.

The Hebert girl stared at Twirlpike, and pointed at his chest. "What is that?"

He glanced down at his vest, where she seemed to be pointing. "What?"

"That thing, in your breast pocket! What is it?"

Twirlpike shrugged. "Oh, this? It's just a packed lunch, in case these proceedings drag out."

"Lunch?" Hebert looked vaguely nauseated. "It's wriggling!"

"Of course it's wriggling." Twirlpike patted the squirming package in his vest pocket. "The best way to keep trebwassles fresh, is by leaving them alive until you eat them. Easy way to prepare a lean, yet filling meal."

Hebert probably didn't agree with his comments about easy and lean cuisine. In fact, she was closer to looking both queasy and green.

Oh, humans were so easy to wind up. She no doubt assumed he was going to devour the trebwassles whole, raw and alive, like some sort of savage. As if anyone would want to eat uncooked trebwassle, when it only took two minutes to boil it with the portable cooking gear he carried in his back pocket.

Speight cleared his throat. "As I was saying... According to the information we've collected thus far, you may be the last descendant of a Pureblood wizard family branch that emigrated to this country, centuries ago."

Hebert looked a little dismayed at this explanation. Probably upset by the oblique reference to the fact that her entire remaining family had been killed, not that long ago. Still, her sadness was not overwhelming enough to completely suppress her curiosity, it seemed. "...Wizards? Seriously?"

Speight bobbed his head in a pompous nod. "Indeed! It would be quite an honour for you, to be acknowledged as a scion of one of the old Pureblood families."

"Not to mention profitable." Twirlpike quirked a snide grin. "Many of the old Pureblood families are quite affluent."

"Right... Sure. Ancient wizards have loads of gold and magic jewels, I bet... and spells for making money on the stock market, and stuff." Hebert looked as sceptical as she sounded. "So, what happens if I'm not related to one of your British wizards?"

Speight shrugged. "If it turns out that you aren't a witch, we'll arrange for your memory of this meeting to be modified or erased, and you'll go back to the Muggle orphanage... or wherever you came from."

Hebert blanched a little. "Y-you'll erase my mind?!"

"Not all of it," Speight said, in a voice that was probably meant to be soothing. "Just the memories of meeting us, and seeing magic. Things that would just cause you trouble."

After staring fearfully at the Ministry wizard's wand for a moment, Hebert seemed to steel herself. "Right, so... Either I get to go live with some rich, old wizard uncle... or you mess with my mind, and toss me back in the foster care system?"

"Succinctly put," Twirlpike said. "But accurate enough."

"Okay," she said, balling her hands into fists on the table. "I'll... I'll try to answer your questions, then."

Speight smiled at her. "That's the spirit! Now, we need to-"

A sudden musical trilling sound erupted from the recumbent Thompson.

"What is that noise?" Speight stared at the unconscious woman, fingering his wand anxiously. "Do Muggles keep pet birds in their pockets?"

Hebert shot the wizard another questioning look. "Um... I think that's her cell phone."

The Ministry wizard looked even more confused. "Her woozit what now?"

"You know... a phone?" Hebert held up one hand next to her ear, miming something. "You call people on it, when you want to talk to them?"

"Aha! Of course!" Speight nodded with dawning comprehension. "You mean, a phellytone! I've heard about those, before... I suppose they call them something different, here in the colonies."

Hebert stared at him in silence, jaw hanging slightly agape with shock.

The tinny chirruping noise had stopped, by now. A few seconds later, it started bleeping again.

"Um..." Hebert glanced at the unconscious Thompson. "If somebody doesn't answer that, people might wonder if anything happened to her, and then come looking to find out."

"Well, that would be dashed inconvenient." Speight stroked his beard contemplatively. He leaned forward, putting his face closer to the bleating woman. Then, he hesitantly began mimicking the shrill noises.

"That's not how you... Never mind, I'll do it." Hebert shook her head, and stuck one hand in Thompson's pocket. She pulled out a small device, which she fiddled around with for a second, poking it in a deliberate manner. Then, she held it to her ear, the same way she'd mimed, earlier. "Hello?"

Twirlpike watched with mild curiosity, as she proceeded to communicate with some unseen person through the device. She explained to them that Mrs. Thompson was unable to reply to their call at the moment, since she was currently busy with an important meeting, uh-huh, yes, that's right, and could Hebert take a message?

Meanwhile, Speight had blissfully ceased making tweetery whistling noises, and just stared.

"Okay, I'll tell her... 'Bye." Hebert lowered the device, and jabbed at it with a finger again. She slipped it back in Thompson's pocket.

"Remarkable!" Speight cheered, looking hopeful. "Did you use a bit of accidental magic to repair the broken phellytone? That would certainly make your British relatives interested in taking you in!"

"Broken?" Hebert frowned at him. "What do you mean?"

"Well, that phellytone was clearly not in good working order." Speight gestured at the unconscious woman. "It didn't have any strings or wires tied to it, and both the bells and the handle had fallen off!"


Speight nodded energetically, moving one fist in a circular motion. "Yes, the handle on the side that you twiddle, to make it work. You know?"

"Ah... Ri-i-ight." Hebert chewed her lower lip. "The, uh... handle. Well, you see... Only some phones have spinning handles on them."


"Yeah, special cranking phones." Hebert nodded. "They're used to, uh... make crank calls."

"Indeed?" Speight smiled. "Fascinating!"

Rather than burst out in loud, chortling laughter, Twirlpike limited himself to raising an approving eyebrow at the girl. He might not have much greater understanding of Muggle trinkets than the Ministry wizard did, but he knew a bald-faced lie when he heard one. Hebert's faux-innocent expression was almost impressive, for a human child of her age.

"Since Miss Hebert apparently didn't use any wandless spells or accidental magic to operate the device, we'll have to ascertain whether or not she's a witch by different means," Twirlpike said.

Speight fetched a self-inking quill and a piece of parchment from a pocket. "Did your parents ever let you borrow their wands?"

"Erm..." Hebert hunched her shoulders, and shifted uncomfortably in her chair. "Mom and Dad aren't... I mean, they weren't magical. At least, I don't think so. I've never seen... I never saw them cast any spells, or stuff like that."

"Oh, dear." Speight grimaced, and jotted a note on his parchment, muttering to himself. "I was afraid of that... Must be a descendant of a Squib line, then. Her relatives won't be best pleased with that, and small wonder..."

Hebert swallowed nervously. "Um... What are the other ways of testing if I'm magical?"

"Well, ah..." Speight scratched his beard with the end of his quill. "Have you ever exhibited any bouts of accidental magic?"

When Hebert only responded with a perplexed expression and more lip-gnawing, Twirlpike spoke up. "Have you ever had any strange things happen around you that you couldn't explain? Things appearing or disappearing? Things changing size, or shape, or colour?"

Hebert sat in silence, mulling this over. After a minute, she shook her head. "...No?"

"That's a shame," Speight sighed. "I suppose we could try to induce a spot of accidental magic... Any preferences?"

Twirlpike's eyes narrowed.

Come to think of it, his fellow goblins had always mocked him for being overly soft and tolerant towards wizards. On reflection, his colleagues at Gringotts were probably right: A battle-axe was too good for the likes of Lester Speight.

Hebert leaned sideways, whispering to Twirlpike out of the corner of her mouth. "What's he talking about?"

"He wants to provoke your inner magic into defending you." Twirlpike laced his fingers. "Chucking you out of a window, or dropping a heavy object on top of you, or setting you on fire..."

Hebert squeaked, wide-eyed. "A-actually, I, uh... I just thought of something! Accidental magic, I mean! Which I did, on my own!"

Twirlpike blinked languidly, and relaxed in his chair. This ought to be good.

She shuffled awkwardly in her seat, hunching and reaching under the table. When she straightened upright again, she held up an odd-looking Muggle shoe. "So, uh... One time, I was walking home from school, but it was getting dark out, and I couldn't see where I was going... But then, my shoes began to glow!"

Hebert rapped the shoe rhythmically against the table. Each time the sole slapped down on the tabletop, some small inlaid glassy beads lit up with a red light.

Speight's beard crinkled in a pleased grin. "Capital! Well done!" His smile faltered a little. "Erm... It's not very bright, though, is it?"

Hebert's eyes darted up and down, glancing between the shoe and the wizard. "Yyyeah? Well... It's not very dark in here right now, is it?"

"Very true, very true..." Speight scribbled another note. Then, he suddenly sat up straight, snapping his fingers. "Of course! Inheri-Test parchment! Why didn't I think of that in the first place?"

In the privacy of his own mind, Twirlpike cursed and swore vehemently. Hebert had proved to be a steady source of entertainment, conning Speight through deftly improvised bluff and trickery, getting him to believe that she was a witch. Now, the Ministry idiot had finally stumbled on a good idea of his own. Once he had conclusive proof that Hebert was just another Muggle orphan, the show would be well and truly over.

All good things must come to an end, it seemed.