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Fern-hunting parties became popular, allowing young women to get outside in a seemingly innocuous pursuit with less rigid oversight and chaperoning than they saw in parlors and drawing rooms. They may have even had the occasional romantic meetup with a similarly fern-impassioned beau. — Bree


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Bunny Devon for Anne Devon. My fair lady of the night
Separating was also not a great idea, though they weren't doing great at staying together anyway. If she were to volunteer to be the human sacrifice.. well... Hogsmeade had plenty of debutantes anyway...

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Well-Traveled

Complete threads set in ten different forum locations. Threads must have at least ten posts, and three must be your own. Character accounts cannot be combined.

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Fowl Play
#1
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27th April, 1888 — Ministry Atrium
Her favourite thing about her job had always been the people-watching. Oh, she liked talking to them too, with good mornings to the Ministry masses as they thronged into the Atrium in the morning and goodnights as they filtered out at the end of the day. She never much minded helping visitors, either - even the peevish ones. But not everyone needed assistance, and some were always in a rush, or too engrossed in their own business to pay the welcome witches any mind: and then, Sarah was free to do as she liked. She'd have to sort through the menial tasks she'd been assigned to at their desk in the meantime, but she could do so well enough with her eyes on the Atrium and permitting her mind to wander.

It was almost most fun when she faded into this state of near-invisibility, because she sometimes caught sight of the oddest things, people being the strange folk that they were. On occasion, she might even spin a story or two to herself about someone's life, dream up little details about the lives of people she knew mostly by face, name, and department.

And then there was the middle of the afternoon, when the Atrium was at a post-lunch lull of emptiness, and there was extraordinarily little to do. Sarah watched the lone visitor she had just spoken to make their way over to the lifts, her gaze lingering there long after the lift had trundled away with them and another one clicked into place with its operator.

It was not long after that that she heard the clucking. She slipped out of her seat at the desk and paced across the yawning room after it. And there it was: a chicken, plump and brown-feathered and pecking confusedly at the tiled floor. It looked as though it had come from the open lift. Sarah peered inside: the lift-operator was nowhere to be found.

Her eyes trailed back down to the chicken. Hmm.

She leant down. "Now, where did you come from?" Sarah asked it - in a cooing sort of voice, she supposed. How one would talk to a lost chicken. (Was it a chicken?)



#2
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Although he had quite obviously been next in line for the promotion (and by all accounts really ought to have received it before the young son of Lucius Lestrange did), Ernest wasn't entirely certain that he liked being the Assistant Head. The position did come with a pay increase, of course, which he appreciated, but the death of his oldest brother and then subsequently his father had made trivial money matters largely irrelevant for him. The added prestige was largely minimal in a department where no one was entirely sure what it was they did. The extra workload, however, was something he wasn't fond of at all. The time was, Ernest could spend his entire work day fiddling away on his own personal projects and experiments, largely without interference (except when the entire department was required to work together for some larger project). Now, he could hardly get through one full day without needing to go micromanage something, or go intervene for someone or other.

Which was what had brought him to the Atrium in the afternoon. His job really ought never to have necessitated his leaving the Department of Mysteries, because their work was by its very nature never supposed to leave the walls of the Department — or at the very least, not until they were finished with it. It seemed that in this case, however, a bit of it had, and he'd gone up to see how much damage control was necessary — and therefore how irate he ought to be when he went back down to speak with the employee responsible.

When the lift doors opened and he strolled out into the open area of the Atrium, he noticed the woman and the chicken immediately; the former looked vaguely familiar, the latter not at all. The empty elevator next to him loomed ominously, doors open like a gaping mouth. Ernest's lips set in a thin frown.

"The lift operator, I believe," he said over his shoulder as he inspected the lift previously occupied by the chicken (and presumably, before that, by a man). "Quite a pity."
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   Sarah Townsend


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She'd been so focused on the chicken that she started slightly at the voice that came, though it did add weight to her suspicion.

Sarah glanced up, watching as Mr. Mulciber looked over the lift. She wondered if he noticed anything odd about it; it looked rather ordinary to her.

"Do you think so, sir?" She wondered, less questioning him - he'd already said, after all, she'd heard him plainly - than bemused as to why. A prank? An accident? Something stranger or more sinister? Mr. Mulciber hadn't looked as though he'd expected to see the chicken roaming the Atrium, but his quite a pity did not sound especially surprised. She supposed nothing would surprise the men and women who worked in the Department of Mysteries; no mystery would seem like much, next to whatever it was they laboured over. (She supposed. She spent rather a lot of time trying to imagine what that secret department did while the Unspeakables passed her by day after day, and she'd never managed much of a conclusion, only that they were likely things she had no hope of understanding.)  

She turned her attention back to the chicken, just to be doubly sure. "Mr. Pickering, is that you?" Sarah declared loudly, biting her lip to make sure that she didn't laugh while she awaited a sign from the lift operator that he was him. (Had he been transfigured? Hopefully whatever had happened to him hadn't affected his human brain.)

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   Ernest Mulciber


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Ernest did think so, though in this instance he would have been pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong. He wasn't often proven wrong on any account, and very seldom found himself in that position with any degree of grace; he was used to being the smartest man in the room on any given occasion and acted the part accordingly. This, however, was quickly becoming a headache. The department was given a fair amount of latitude where their work was concerned (and they took a substantial amount more than they were given, cloaked in secrecy as they always were), but unfortunately casualties were something it was difficult to just ignore. There would have to be a report filed, and probably some sort of compensation package dispensed to the widow, all of which was a good deal of work he didn't want to do and a lot of questions from idiots in other departments that he didn't want to answer.

"I wouldn't expect a response," he said passively, continuing to inspect the empty lift from the doorway. "If he road all the way up here like that, his wits will already have gone."


#5
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Sarah's face paled rather abruptly, along with her temptation to laugh. Mr. Mulciber's words still didn't sound especially shocked or especially affected, but he did, from the evidence, appear to be right again. Mr. Pickering - the chicken - had barely registered her question (or her, at all), had just continued to scrabble at the tiles.

His wits - gone? Really? But not for good, surely? Her brow creased anxiously at the very idea, feeling worry bubbling up for the poor lift operator: a perfectly decent man, who whistled at his post, made a habit of waving across the room, and nearly always smelled of cheese and pickle. She rattled through the other options, with all the positivity she could muster. It had been a prank, it was a spell that would wear off in a minute or two and Mr. Pickering would pop back into place, in his ordinary human form. Perhaps he'd just become an animagus!

She would have known if he'd been studying for such a thing, though. And he hadn't had the schooling for that. Sarah hadn't the schooling to know precisely what had happened that had made the man change form and lose his human wits, but her gaze slid back to Mr. Mulciber as she straightened up again, a little nervously.

"Did he... did the lift come up from the Department of Mysteries?" She asked hesitantly, doubtful now that the Assistant Head's appearance had been a coincidence. Not that she meant to blame anyone, of course! But she was quite certain Mr. Mulciber would know far better what to do with Mr. Pickering the Chicken now than she did. "Shall I take him to the hospital?"



#6
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In response to her question about the hospital, Ernest merely shrugged. He had a much higher opinion of healers than he tended to have of most professions, including other Ministry workers, aurors, and most businessmen and shop keepers, but he had very little faith in their ability to correctly deduce what had happened to Mr. Pickering, much less find a way to reverse it. She'd do as well to take him home to his family as some sort of consolation, he thought. If they were the sentimental sort, they could keep him as a pet or a family mascot of sorts; if they weren't, they'd at least have one hearty meal before the man's paychecks ran out and they were left impoverished. He doubted, however, that the welcome witch would share his cavalier attitude towards permanent galline transfiguration, and so perhaps it was best not to crush her hopes for the man too prematurely.

He ignored her question about the Department of Mysteries; he assumed at this point that should be rather obvious.

"Is there a way to quarantine this lift?" he asked instead. "It's very important that no one else get inside it, from any floor, until it's been decontaminated."


#7
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Mr. Mulciber had never been the friendliest of Ministry workers - he had always seemed straight-faced and a little severe - though Sarah had never known quite whether that was down to his particular job or just his station in life. Important people did important things, and had much less time to be cheerful, generally.

That said, it was almost disconcerting, how blasé he was about this. Secret as his department was, Sarah and the rest of the world would surely have known if this was the sort of thing that happened to them everyday.

“Yes - yes, of course,” she answered swiftly to the question of quarantining it, keen not to let anyone else be turned irreparably into chickens. “We’ll have it cordoned off in no time.” From all floors and entrances. These weren’t her ordinary sort of responsibilities, but she thought she was more than capable of coordinating the task. “Shall I call Magical Maintenance for you, or - are you the only ones able to decontaminate it?” Whatever that meant. Besides, the Maintenance workers were no more disposable than Mr. Pickering, after all, and the Department of Mysteries really ought to clean up its own dangerous messes.

That said, Sarah crouched down again to scoop up the chicken. She would figure out how to resolve that part of the mess herself.


#8
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Ernest rolled his eyes, though as his back was still turned to the welcome witch at the moment it was doubtful that she would see. "Unless the Magical Maintenance team has recently hired an expert in experimental transmutation fields and dissociative transformation — which would make them, I should think, just a touch overqualified for the usual sort of work Magical Maintenance gets up to — then we'd best let my Unspeakables handle it," he said dryly. His respect for the uneducated, brutish men who made a living mopping floors and fixing sticky door jams was not remarkably high.

"Someone will be up in a moment," he said, starting towards the stairs. He had lost his appetite for a lift ride, and if the welcome witch could handle quarantining the lift, it wasn't as though there was really much of a rush. It was lucky for him (and for the employee responsible) that lifts didn't tend to have a high population at this time of day. Less casualties to explain. Speaking of which...

"What do you intend to do with him?" he asked the woman, eyebrow raised slightly as he watched her pick up the chicken.
.


#9
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Sarah couldn't pretend that she understood half of what Mr. Mulciber was saying - and she didn't disagree that Magical Maintenance probably wouldn't either - but that didn't mean she had to like Mr. Mulciber's tone. It was both patronising and dismissive, though she was sure he wasn't conscious of this. It must be different, working in such a closed-off department, with a highly-specialised group of people who could keep up with whatever cerebral magic they worked with down there.

She also couldn't pretend it was her place to say anything in protest, so she merely nodded. He seemed content to leave, so she was busy settling the chicken - now squawking softly and ruffling its feathers in befuddlement - securely into her arm, her throat taut at the thought that this was Mr. Pickering's lot, when she heard Mr. Mulciber's last question.

"I'll look out his address and make sure he gets to his family, I suppose," Sarah replied, swallowing down a miserable sigh. He had a wife, she knew that much, and children, and he told the silliest stories about his mother - and if someone were going to break the news to them, she would rather it wasn't simply by some unfeeling missive from the Department of Mysteries. The family could choose to take him to the hospital, probably - but if there was no easy fix, she wasn't sure that they could afford the cost of it. Hopefully the Ministry would take responsibility, and be generous in their compensation.

Hopefully the Department of Mysteries did bother to compensate people for these tragedies. "I expect your Department will be making a full report?" she returned, lifting her gaze to him once more: the question wasn't much, but it was as close to confrontational as she came. A full enquiry would be better. Perhaps some kind of Department of Mysteries review.

Given all the calamity the Department of Mysteries was known to have caused in the past, however, Sarah's expectations were not high.


#10
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If there was a confrontational note to the question, Ernest entirely missed it. He was so completely unused to thinking of the Welcome Witches as actual people who might have their own thoughts and opinions about things that he wasn't apt to notice much beyond the content of what she was saying. The interaction would have to border on assault before he would be likely to recognize her disapproval. He was focused, instead, on the headache of paperwork that would await him when he got back downstairs, and the — ugh — inevitable report of the matter to the Minister. Perhaps Mrs. Lestrange would bestir herself to deal with the latter, but he thought it unlikely.

"Oh, there won't be any avoiding that," he said with a weary sigh. "Good luck with the address. Hopefully you needn't walk far." It seemed monstrously inconvenient to have to carry a chicken through any great length, particularly if it were in a populous area like the streets of the less fashionable neighborhoods of London. She might arrive at the house with only a handful of feathers and a story the family likely wouldn't believe.




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