Title: Sonatina For Unaccompanied Minor
Fandom: Archer's Goon, Diana Wynne Jones
Notes: I've been putting off posting this until I had time to revise it. No more procrastination. :) I'll post an update if I do wind up revising.
December 13, 1984
The trouble started the day Anthea came home from school to find the Goon sitting in their kitchen. Again.
It was Ann who had called him the Goon. Ann was one of the musicians who lived with them and saw to the tea when their parents were out. When Howard opened the door and Anthea swept through it, the first person she saw was Ann, sitting extremely still and pointedly not picking up her teacup.
"Not again." Anthea undid the tie at the neck of her cape and flung it over a chair. "I've told you and told you. You can do as you like, but I'm not going to help you, no matter what you say to Howard." She went to the sink and began refilling the kettle.
"She won't, you know," Howard added. He tried to accompany this with the weary man-of-the-world sigh he’d been cultivating since he’d begun studying for his O-levels. It got caught somehow and he choked and sputtered.
The Goon thumped Howard on the back absently. "All Hathaway's fault," he said. "Should never have taken you to see him in the first place."
Anthea slammed the full kettle onto the stove and turned the ON dial with more force than necessary. "How can it possibly be Mr Hathaway's fault that you're an unspeakable pest?"
"Hathaway's fault you don't believe me," the Goon explained. "Taught you too much common sense this time."
"Mr Hathaway hasn't taught me anything," put in Howard quickly. "And I don't believe you either. Anthea might like fairy tales, but I’m too old for them."
Ann didn't try to get in the middle when Anthea and the Goon had this conversation, not any more. She pushed back her chair and stood up. "Yes, well, this has been a lovely visit, but you’ll have to excuse us now. Howard has homework and Anthea needs to hang up her cape, please, and then go and do her singing practice.”
"More Hathaway," said the Goon grimly.
Anthea yanked her cape off the chair, which fell over. "Oh, shut up about Mr Hathaway, can't you? He's the nicest teacher anyone ever had. What do you know about being nice to anyone? You just come back when no one’s asked you, and say rude things, and you ought to just--" She paused for breath and briefly thought some of the words Mum used when the car wouldn’t start.
Instead, she finished "--get lost!"
And, just like that, the Goon vanished. One moment he was there, the next moment his chair was empty.
"That wasn't wise," said Ann. She looked at the kitchen window. "More snow's coming. I’ve got packages to fetch from the Post Office before it starts."
Anthea stared at the chair the Goon had vanished from. Something tight and buzzing seemed to be wrapped around the part of her where Mr Hathaway always told her to take deep breaths. "Where's he gone?"
"I don't know," said Ann calmly. "I expect he doesn't either. That was what you wanted, wasn't it?"
"I never did," began Anthea, then trailed off.
"You told him to get lost. So now he is." Howard spun around in his chair to look at Ann, who was digging in the bottom of the cupboard for her warm boots. "It's all true, then."
Ann straightened up and looked directly back at him. "The Goon has never told you anything that wasn't true. Or you," she added, looking over at Anthea. "Although, to be honest, I don't think he expected this."
"Expected what?" said Anthea shakily.
"That you’d be able to say something and it would happen as though it had always been there." Ann sat down and began pulling her boots on. "It’s a backwards form of being able to speak only the truth. I have a friend who's got it, or was given it--it's rather a long story."
"True Speech," said Anthea. "Wizards. Everything he's told Howard whenever he came to visit. It's--I said something and it came true. Does that make me a wizard too?"
"I shouldn't think so," said Ann cheerfully, from the depths of the muffler she was wrapping around her head. "I began quite suddenly to understand what the cat was saying when I was about your age, and it went away after a few months. But you'd better mind your speech, just in case. Just think what would happen if some of the other things you've said came true."
Anthea felt ill. "So why did the Goon--"
“We’ll talk about it when I come back,” said Ann firmly. “Only if you promise to do your practice after. Hang up your cape, please, and look after the kettle.” Going out the door, she glanced back at Howard. “You might go and bring down your notebooks before you begin your arithmetic.”
Anthea picked up the fallen chair and draped her cape over the wooden hanger in the cupboard, brushing off the dust. She had begged two years’ worth of Christmases and birthdays for a heavy wool cloak with a hood instead of a winter coat, and had only got it by promising to take as much care with it as she would with a bicycle or something else equally dear. It was dark gray with a soft, thick red string to tie up the hood and hang in tassels down the front. Howard was growing tired of his friends teasing him about walking about with Little Red Riding Hood, and Anthea was beginning to think a blue string would have done just as well.
Howard went upstairs and came down with a neat stack of spiral-bound notebooks. He began a new one every year, filling it up with stories at the front and lists at the back and all sorts of things in between. Anthea rather thought that what Ann wanted him to look at was somewhere in the middle.
When Ann came back from the Post Office, Anthea poured the tea and the three of them sat around the table. Without saying anything, they all left the Goon’s usual chair empty. Howard had been leafing through the notebooks, and had set aside the one he’d begun the year he was ten.
“You wanted me to look at what the Goon’s told me,” said Howard. “Is that what you meant?”
“Well, since you like to make lists, I thought we might as well begin there,” said Ann. She smiled. “My father brought me up to pay attention to well-kept records.”
Anthea looked at Howard to see if this made any sense to him. Both of them had met Ann’s father several times. Mr Abraham worked in the Natural History section of the Museum, and he didn’t seem to pay attention to much of anything apart from butterflies and drawings of stick insects. Howard shrugged and opened his 1981 notebook towards the front. He handed it across to Ann. No one said anything for a moment, until Ann looked up from the notebook and made a go-ahead motion at Howard.
Howard turned his chair a bit to face Anthea. “The Goon started visiting when you were a baby. He told me all kinds of stories at first, but when you got old enough to listen, it seemed as though he began telling the same one over and over. Eighty-one was the first year I started writing down what he said, to see if it really was always the same.”
“What do you remember about the story he told?” asked Ann, holding the notebook so Anthea couldn’t see what was written on the page.
“Once upon a time, there were seven young wizards,” began Anthea. The Goon said very little, even when he told the story, so it was like remembering something you’d seen written in enormous letters in the middle of a blank page. “Their parents were wizards too. The seven children quarreled with each other and with their parents. Their parents had enough and turned them out to seek their own fortunes. The youngest had more power than all the others, so their parents laid it on the older six to look after him until he was old enough to know how to use his powers. The seven of them went to live in a town that had no wizards.”
Anthea paused, because this was the part that stopped being like a fairy tale and became more like a lie people expected you to believe. “The youngest wizard was mad for spaceships, it was the kind of magic he wanted to do, but spaceships need science and the science hadn’t been invented yet. He had enough magic to move himself forward in time, when there would be enough science. And he made machines to build his spaceship for him. But when he tried to go back in time to where he’d been, he turned into a baby.” She stopped and looked at Ann. “Have I got it right?”
Ann was looking at her oddly. “Howard remembers it a little differently, actually. But never mind.”
“All right. The baby wizard was adopted by some people who didn’t know about wizards, and he was a baby so he didn’t know he’d been a wizard. The other six wizards tried to go away and do magic, but they couldn’t get past the edge of the town. It was because of the magic their wizard parents put on them, to look after the youngest—that didn’t go away just because he had new parents now. They fought some more among themselves and had to share the town among them, because none of them could get rid of the others.”
Anthea’s throat was getting dry, and she absent-mindedly took a sip from Howard’s teacup. “Two of the wizards chased after the youngest and he went to where the spaceship was being built, and it made him remember that he was a wizard. But the spaceship was broken, the machines had been building it wrong. The youngest wizard was so angry that he did it all again. He made the machines build again, and he went back in time again. And this time, he took all of time back with him when he went.”
“Well, I didn’t mean to,” said Howard. “Not exactly.”
Anthea dropped the teacup.
“I really didn’t,” Howard continued, staring fixedly at his arithmetic. “I thought I’d only become a baby again, not that everything would go back to what it had been when I was a baby the first time, and--” He finally looked up and saw Anthea’s face. “And you didn’t remember this part at all.”
“No,” said Anthea faintly. “I always got confused about the going back in time bit and stopped trying to follow it. Would you finish it? Please?”
“I suppose I’d better,” said Howard. He got up and fetched the brush and dustpan, and swept up the broken china while he talked. “I fixed the robots to build the spaceship properly. And I made some plans so the others wouldn’t know why they were still stuck here. And then I went back, and it all happened again.”
Howard went over to the rubbish bin and tipped in the bits of china and dust. “Mum and Dad adopted me again. I’d been thirteen the first time, when the others began chasing me, and I was thirteen the second time when the Goon turned up.” He tried to smile at Anthea. “You were rather a handful, and the Goon was the first person besides me who could make you do much of anything. I couldn’t make out at first whether that made me hate him more or not.”
“Did I have a cape?” said Anthea stupidly. It was the only thing she could think of, somehow.
“No. You had a terrible temper and you could shriek like anything. You followed me, too, when I went back and found the spaceship the second time.” Howard sighed. “That second time, it was perfect, the spaceship I mean. And it was all for nothing, because by then the three eldest wizards—“
“Your brothers,” said Anthea.
“A brother and two sisters. They were round the bend by then, and I got it in my head that the only way I could make right what I’d done was to use my spaceship to send them where they couldn’t hurt anyone else. So I did.”
“What became of the other wizards?” asked Ann. She had been listening quietly. Anthea thought perhaps she’d been waiting to make Howard tell the things he didn’t want to tell. It certainly sounded as if she already knew the answer to her question.
“One of them’s gone to America,” said Howard quickly. “He fancied music and there’s a lot of it in New York that he liked.” He took a deep breath and looked at Anthea. “One of the others, the oldest one who was left, was fond of music too. He had taught it once, to the children of queens. Three years ago, he agreed to take one last student.”
“Mr Hathaway’s a wizard,” said Anthea, trying to keep all of it in order. “That’s what the Goon meant. I always thought it was strange that his part of the Museum has curtains over its windows all the time, but of course he doesn’t want anyone seeing inside, not if he’s doing magic.” She thought for a moment. Howard waited. “Mr Hathaway teaches me music, but if I sing well for forty minutes he lets me earn five extra minutes at the end and he tells me stories with all kinds of useful things in them. The Goon said Mr Hathaway had taught me too much common sense this time. This is the second time I’ve, I’ve, been. Been born. And Mr Hathaway didn’t teach me the first time, but the second time someone made him give me singing lessons.” She looked across at Ann.
“You’d be too young to remember,” said Ann. “Your mother came home one day when you were four and I had been teaching you and Howard to sing the song about ‘White coral bells upon a silver stalk’. Howard was staring at the floor and scowling and singing his notes all-anyhow.”
“It was a song for little girls!” protested Howard.
“You were twirling about the room,” Ann told Anthea. “And skipping, and scattering imaginary seeds on the garden walk, and holding up your hand for an invisible fairy to sit on.” She smiled. “Your mother sighed and rolled her eyes and said you’d better have proper singing lessons before you had time to develop any more bad habits.”
“Mr Hathaway doesn’t allow bad habits. Or twirling,” Anthea began. Then she stopped. “Three wizards in space, one in America, one who lives in the Museum. And Howard’s the youngest. Who’s the seventh wizard?” She looked at Ann again.
Ann began to laugh. “Not me, if that’s what you’re thinking. The bit with the cat was the only magic I’ve ever been able to do, and, as I told you, it didn’t last.”
“The Goon,” said Howard. “His name is Erskine, really, he told me that for the first time when I was ten. It was that that made me start writing down what he told me. I thought, if he really was a wizard, I’d have some kind of hold over him if he’d told me his true name. And I was afraid that once he’d told me, he’d make me forget he’d done it. So I wrote it down.”
“I told a wizard to get lost?” Anthea was fairly sure this was the worst thing she’d ever done. She’d been fond of pranks a few years ago, salted sugar and things like that, until Ann told her that professional musicians could be sacked for touching other people’s things even by mistake. But nothing she’d ever done had been like this.
“You did,” said Ann. “I told you it wasn’t wise. You did it, so now it’s on you to take it back.”
“I thought you said she wasn’t a wizard,” said Howard.
“I’m not,” said Anthea slowly. “I think I’m a bard.”
“What do you think this is, Dungeons and Dragons?” Howard began to laugh at her. “I expect you’d like a magic harp? And bells on your shoes? You’ve already got a
“Shut up, Gandalf.” Anthea stuck her tongue out at him and went to do her singing practice.