Michael gave Calcifer a log. Sophie fed the dog-man. But neither of them dared do anything much else except stand around eating bread and honey for breakfast until Howl came out of the bathroom.
He came forth two hours later, out of a steam of verbena-scented spells. He was all in black. His suit was black, his boots were black, and his hair was black too, the same blue-raven black as Miss Angorian’s. His earring was a long jet pendant. Sophie wondered if the black hair was in honor of Mrs. Pentstemmon. She agreed with Mrs. Pentstemmon that black hair suited Howl. His green-glass eyes went better with it. But she wondered very much which suit the black one really was.
Howl conjured himself a black tissue and blew his nose on it. The window rattled. He picked up one of the slices of bread and honey from the bench and beckoned the dog-man. The dog-man looked dubious. “I only want you where I can look at you,” Howl croaked. His cold was still bad. “Come here, pooch.” As the dog crawled reluctantly into the middle of the room, Howl added, “You won’t find my other suit in the bathroom, Mrs. Snoop. You’re not getting your hands on any of my clothes again.”
Sophie stopped tiptoeing toward the bathroom and watched Howl walk round the dog-man, eating bread and honey and blowing his nose by turns.
“What do you think of this as a disguise?” he said. He flicked the black tissue at Calcifer and started to fall forward onto hands and knees. Almost as he started to move, he was gone. By the time he touched the floor, he was a curly red setter, just like the dog-man.
The dog-man was taken completely by surprise and his instincts got the better of him. His hackles came up, his ears lowered, and he growled. Howl played up—or else he felt the same. The two identical dogs walked round one another, glaring, growling, bristling, and getting ready to fight.
Sophie caught the tail of the one she thought was the dog-man. Michael grabbed for the one he thought was Howl. Howl rather hastily turned himself back. Sophie found a tall black person standing up in front of her and let go of the back of Howl’s jacket. The dog-man sat down on Michael’s feet, staring tragically.
“Good,” said Howl. “If I can deceive another dog, I can fool everyone else. No one at the funeral is going to notice a stray dog lifting its leg against the gravestones.” He went to the door and turned the knob blue-down.
“Wait a moment,” said Sophie. “If you’re going to the funeral as a red setter, why take all the trouble of getting yourself up in black?”
Howl lifted his chin and looked noble. “Respect to Mrs. Pentstemmon,” he said, opening the door. “She liked one to think of all the details.” He went out into the street of Porthaven.
In which there is a great deal of witchcraft.
Several hours passed. The dog-man was hungry again. Michael and Sophie decided to have lunch too. Sophie approached Calcifer with the frying pan.
“Why can’t you have bread and cheese for once?” Calcifer grumbled.
All the same, he bent his head. Sophie was just putting the pan on top of the curly green flames when Howl’s voice rang out hoarsely from nowhere.
“Brace yourself, Calcifer! She’s found me!”
Calcifer sprang upright. The frying pan fell across Sophie’s knees. “You’ll have to wait!” Calcifer roared, flaming blindingly up the chimney. Almost at once he blurred into a dozen or so burning blue faces, as if he was being shaken violently about, and burned with a loud, throaty whirring.
“That must mean they’re fighting,” Michael whispered.
Sophie sucked a slightly burned finger and picked slices of bacon off her skirt with the other hand, staring at Calcifer. He was whipping from side to side of the fireplace. His blurred faces pulsed from deep blue to sky blue and then almost to white. One moment he had multiple orange eyes, the next, rows of starry silver ones. She had never imagined anythi
ng like it.
Something swept overhead with a blast and a boom which shook everything in the room. A second something followed, with a long, shrill roar. Calcifer pulsed nearly blue-black, and Sophie’s skin fizzed with the backblast from the magic.
Michael scrambled for the window. “They’re quite near!”
Sophie hobbled to the window too. The storm of magic seemed to have affected half the things in the room. The skull was yattering its jaw so hard that it was traveling round in circles. Packets were jumping. Powder was seething in jars. A book dropped heavily out of the shelves and lay open on the floor, fanning its pages back and forth. At one end of the room, scented steam boiled out of the bathroom: at the other. Howl’s guitar made out-of-tune twangings. And Calcifer whipped about harder than ever.
Michael put the skull in the sink to stop it from yattering itself onto the floor while he opened the window and craned out. Whatever was happening was maddeningly just out of sight. People in the houses opposite were at doors and windows, pointing to something more or less overhead. Sophie and Michael ran to the broom cupboard, where they seized a velvet cloak each and flung them on. Sophie got the one that turned its wearer into a red-bearded man. Now she knew why Calcifer had laughed at her in the other one. Michael was a horse. But there was no time to laugh just then. Sophie dragged the door open and sped into the street, followed by the dog-man, who seemed surprisingly calm about the whole thing. Michael trotted out after her with a clatter of nonexistent hooves, leaving Calcifer whipping from blue to white behind them.
The street was full of people looking upward. No one had time to notice things like horses coming out of houses. Sophie and Michael looked too, and found a huge cloud boiling and twisting just above the chimney tops. It was black and rotating on itself violently. White flashes that were not quite like light stabbed through the murk of it. But almost as soon as Michael and Sophie arrived, the clot of magic took on the shape of a misty bundle of fighting snakes. Then it tore in two with a noise like an enormous cat fight. One part sped yowling across the roofs and out to sea, and the second went screaming after it.
Some people retreated indoors then. Sophie and Michael joined the rush of braver people down the sloping lanes to the dockside. There everyone seemed to think the best view was to be had along the curve of the harbor wall. Sophie hobbled to get out along it too, but there was no need to go beyond the shelter of the harbor master’s hut. Two clouds were hanging in the air, some way out to sea, on the other side of the harbor wall, the only two clouds in the calm blue sky. It was quite easy to see them. It was equally easy to see the dark patch of storm raging on the sea between the clouds, flinging up great, white-topped waves. There was an unfortunate ship caught in that storm. Its masts were beating back and forth. They could see spouts of water hitting it on all sides. The crew were desperately trying to take in the sails, but one at least had torn to flying gray rags.
“Can’t they have a care for that ship!” someone said indignantly.
Then the wind and the waves from the storm hit the harbor wall. White water lashed over and the brave persons out on the wall came crowding hurriedly back to the quayside, where the moored ships were heaving and grinding at their moorings. Among all this was a great deal of screaming in high, singing voices. Sophie put her face out into the wind beyond the hut, where the screaming came from, and discovered that the raging magic had disturbed more than the sea and the wretched ship. A number of wet, slithery-looking ladies with flying green-brown hair were dragging themselves up onto the harbor wall, screaming and holding long, wet arms out to more screaming ladies tossing in the waves. Every one of them had a fishtail instead of legs.
“Confound it!” said Sophie. “The mermaids from the curse!” That meant only two more impossible things to come true now.
She looked up at the two clouds. Howl was kneeling on the lefthand one, much larger and nearer than she would have expected. He was still dressed in black. Typically enough, he was staring over his shoulder at the frantic mermaids. He was not looking at them as if he remembered they were part of the curse at all.