There was a particular sound to that yell which brought Michael running.
“And did you know this dog was really a man?” Howl asked as he and Michael dragged the reluctant mountain of dog up the stairs.
“He’s not, is he?” Michael asked, shocked and surprised.
“Then I let you off and just blame Sophie,” Howl said, hauling the dog through the broom cupboard. “Anything like this is always Sophie! But you knew, didn’t you, Calcifer?” he said as the two of them dragged the dog in front of the hearth.
Calcifer retreated until he was bent backward against the chimney. “You never asked,” he said.
“Do I have to ask you?” Howl said. “All right, I should have noticed myself! But you disgust me, Calcifer! Compared with the way the Witch treats her demon, you live a revoltingly easy life, and all I ask in return is that you tell me things I need to know. This is twice you’ve let me down! Now help me get this creature to its own shape this minute!”
Calcifer was an unusually sickly shade of blue. “All right,” he said sulkily.
The dog-man tried to get away, but Howl got his shoulder under its chest and shoved, so that it went up onto its hind legs, willy-nilly. Then he and Michael held it there. “What’s the silly creature holding out for?” Howl panted. “This feels like one of the Witch of the Waste’s again, doesn?
“Yes. There are several layers of it,” said Calcifer.
“Let’s get the dog part off anyway,” said Howl.
Calcifer surged to a deep, roaring blue. Sophie, watching prudently from the door of the broom cupboard, saw the shaggy dog shape fade away inside the man shape. It faded to dog again, then back to man, blurred, then hardened. Finally, Howl and Michael were each holding the arm of a ginger-haired man in a crumpled brown suit. Sophie was not surprised she had not recognized him. Apart from his anxious look, his face was almost totally lacking in personality.
“Now, who are you, my friend?” Howl asked him.
The man put his hands up and shakily felt his face. “I—I’m not sure.”
Calcifer said, “The most recent name he answered to was Percival.”
The man looked at Calcifer as if he wished Calcifer did not know this. “Did I?” he said.
“Then we’ll call you Percival for now,” Howl said. He turned the ex-dog round and sat him in the chair. “Sit there and take it easy, and tell us what you do remember. By the feel of you, the Witch had you for some time.”
“Yes,” said Percival, rubbing his face again. “She took my head off. I—I remember being on a shelf, looking at the rest of me.”
Michael was astonished. “But you’d be dead!” he protested.
“Not necessarily,” said Howl. “You haven’t got to that sort of witchcraft yet, but I could take any piece of you I wanted and leave the rest of you alive, if I went about it the right way.” He frowned at the ex-dog. “But I’m not sure the Witch put this one back together properly.”
Calcifer, who was obviously trying to prove that he was working hard for Howl, said, “This man is incomplete, and he has parts from some other man too.”
Percival looked more distraught than ever.
“Don’t alarm him, Calcifer,” Howl said, “He must feel bad enough anyway. Do you know why the Witch took your head off, my friend?” he asked Percival.
“No,” said Percival. “I don’t remember anything.”
Sophie knew that could not be true. She snorted rather.
Michael was suddenly seized with the most exciting idea. He leaned over Percival and asked, “Did you ever answer to the name of Justin—or Your Royal Highness?”
Sophie snorted again. She knew this was ridiculous even before Percival said, “No. The Witch called me Gaston, but that isn’t my name.”
“Don’t crowd him, Michael,” said Howl. “And don’t make Sophie snort again. The mood she’s in, she’ll bring down the castle next time.”
Though that seemed to mean Howl was no longer angry, Sophie found she was angrier than ever. She stumped off into the shop, where she banged about, shutting the shop and putting things away for the night. She went to look at her daffodils. Something had gone horribly wrong with them. They were wet brown things trailing out of a bucket full of the most poisonous-smelling liquid she had ever come across.
“Oh, confound it all!” Sophie yelled.