Chapter Nine: Gesamtkunstwerk
Scully was jarred awake by a crash at the window.
Grabbing a shoe from the floor, she pulled back the curtain just in time to see--
A large bird crashed into the window; not hard enough to break the glass, but hard enough to make quite a racket. When it noticed her standing at the window, it awkwardly hovered in the air, plainly waiting for her to open the window, which she did. The bird, a beautiful tawny owl, sailed silently into her room and dropped a scroll on the desk. It then perched on the chair and began preening.
Scully picked up the scroll and examined the seal, a proud "P," then unrolled the parchment. In neat cursive was written:
A mutual friend informs me that you are in need of a wand and basic supplies. I will meet you in the lobby of your hotel at 5:45 this evening. Please bring all the Muggle money you can. I suspect you will want to spend a great deal in Diagon Alley, the premier London shopping area for our kind, and you will be able to exchange your money once we get there. I suggest cashing any traveler's cheques you may have, since no stores will accept them and the goblins charge exorbitant sums for exchanging them for Galleons. Dr. Wei will lend you appropriate attire for the excursion. You will be posing as my cousin, which, given the colour of your hair, would never be questioned by anyone familiar with my family. Good luck with your investigation.
Percival A. Weasley
P.S. Give Hermes the attached owl treat if he managed to get this letter to you unscathed. He's been a bit shirty about the mail recently, ever since my brother George gave him an exploding package that went off before delivery.
Scully peeled off the brown morsel that was taped to the parchment and gingerly fed it to the owl, who downed it in one gulp. He gave her an appraising glance, then flew out the open window.
Well, that explained the bizarre avian behavior she'd observed the previous morning. Unfortunately, the net effect of Percy's missive was still confusion. Galleons? Wizard shopping centers? Goblins? She shook her head and glanced at the clock. Not bad. Only a half hour before she had meant to wake anyway. She dragged herself into the bathroom and turned on the shower. While undressing, she realized that she was wearing a t-shirt and underwear instead of her pyjamas. Had she been that spaced-out the night before? She studied herself in the mirror and made a face; ugh, unruly hair, pillow lines and dark circles. A good shower should fix all that. When the mirror began to steam up, she stepped under the hot spray and let it massage the tension out of her neck and shoulders. Her mind was beginning to emerge from the morning fog. As she massaged shampoo into her hair, she recited the spells she'd learned the night before.
She emerged from the shower refreshed, embracing the cool morning air that blew in from the window. She was a little nervous about entering the Magical world for the first time, but the excitement that accompanies all great discoveries alleviated her anxiety quite a bit. Having dressed- a more casual suit than yesterday's severe black and much lower heels-, she snuck into Mulder's room and took Liangru's case file from the desk. Mulder was still sawing logs, and she figured she'd let him sleep a while longer yet. Besides, it would give her a few minutes alone with the file without distractions.
She gave the pictures of the body a quick glance, since she figured she'd be studying the actual body later that morning. There appeared to be very little decomposition, so the victim had either been found shortly after death or the manner of death had preserved the body unnaturally. Aside from the obvious necrosis of the tissue layers, the body didn't appear to have suffered much preliminary trauma; no broken bones or evidence of violence. The primary investigator's notes shed very little light on the circumstances under which the body was discovered, the location of the body, or even the identity of the victim; in other words, they were very heavily edited.
She sighed. This was going to be one of those political messes; inconvenient for investigators simply because anyone who knew the truth had something to hide, and anyone with useful information would manage to bury it in speculation or half-truths. Why else hire foreign investigators? She had the feeling that they were expected to fail, and were even being paid well to do so. She went through the report again, focused on finding the lines and reading between them.
When Mulder finally stumbled into her room looking much in need of coffee, she closed the file. "Ready for some breakfast before disturbing the deceased?"
Mulder grumbled in assent.
Scully strode briskly out her door and down the hall before noticing that Mulder was dragging his feet. She tsked at him. "Yesterday's meals slowing you down a bit?"
Mulder grumbled irritably.
"That settles it. Today I'm choosing the restaurants and ordering your breakfast. You'll thank me for this later."
He groaned. Good. He was waking up.
<*> <*> <*> <*> <*> <*> <*>
After a breakfast of grain muffins, fruit, yogurt and granola ("more roughage than you can shake a stick at" as Mulder delicately termed it), they greeted Harold, the desk clerk, and boarded their bus to the Brisbin Institute. The day was slightly less agreeable than the day before; an increase in humidity made clothing sticky and hair frizz. Scully was glad she'd worn a suit with a skirt today and hoped that Mulder wouldn't be too uncomfortable in his long pants. Though he was loath to admit it, the healthier breakfast had done wonders for Mulder's energy level. He was quietly rhapsodizing on the properties of the herbs and fungi he'd read about the night before and their fokloric/Muggle equivalents. Since she'd not had the opportunity to look through the book, she was grateful for the briefing. When he asked her permission to look through her other books that evening, she remembered the owl.
"Percy wants to hit the magic stores at 5:45 tonight."
He raised his eyebrows insinuatingly. "When did you see Percy?"
"I didn't. He sent me his owl."
"His owl, hm?" Mulder's facility for sledgehammer double entendre was fully awake. Scully ignored his tone.
"Apparently that's how Wizards deliver mail."
"I see. Do they utilize all birds or just owls?"
"I'm not sure. Every Magical courier I've seen has been an owl, though it seems almost a waste to have such a large bird delivering something like a postcard."
"One would think."
She looked thoughtful for a moment. "Of course, our concepts of size and weight are illusions, according to Magical Theory."
"Speaking of which, when are you going to be able to transfigure things? That sounded interesting."
"I don't know. I haven't spoken to anyone about getting training beyond what I can glean from the books."
"No other strange birds in your room this morning, then?"
"Other than the turkey who complained about my choice of breakfast, no."
"Oh, so we're continuing with the fowl puns today?"
"The last thing I need to do is egg you on."
"Oh!" Mulder exclaimed, jerking himself out of pun-mode. "Speaking of strange eggs, I found several references in Magical Herbs and Fungi to a book called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It seems like a fairly definitive work, written by someone named N. Scamander. When you go shopping today, see if you can pick up a copy for me."
"Right. Anything else you want me to bring back for you?"
"Detailed descriptions of everything." He was silent for a moment. "They probably don't allow Muggles there, do they?"
Noting the wistfulness in Mulder's voice, Scully replied briskly. "Don't you think Percy has enough to worry about keeping me from making an idiot of myself?"
"You and Percy could be brother and sister. The worst they'll think is that you're an eccentric."
"Can I give you an IOU on your indoctrination into Magical Consumerism until I can do it myself?"
He smiled and squeezed her hand. "It's a date."
The rest of the ride was uneventful, though at one point Mulder swore he saw two swallows carrying a round package on what appeared to be a strand of creeper. Scully rolled her eyes.
<*> <*> <*> <*> <*> <*> <*>
There were two identification badges and a map of the building waiting for them at the security desk. The guard rang up to Liangru's office and told them to wait in the lobby. Mulder wandered over to the koi pond and contemplated tossing in a penny.
"What would you wish for?" Scully followed his gaze toward the sign that read, "Please do not throw coins."
He smirked, remembering the last time he'd been asked that question. "Definitely not peace on earth."
"A never-ending sack of turnips, then?"
"Naah, that's been done."
"I might wish for knowledge of some kind."
"But look where wishing for the knowledge of good and evil got us."
"I doubt Eden was all it was cracked up to be. No underwire brassieres."
He smirked. "Or high heels."
"Or high heels. Maybe there were some good things about paradise after all."
"Without knowledge of evil, could there have been good?" Mulder and Scully spun around. Apparently Liangru had the same skill at silent movement as his daughter. "I trust you had a restful evening?"
"I'm feeling much better today, thank you. Now that I've had the chance to look through the file, there are many things about this case that intrigue me."
"I only wish I could answer your questions. I personally haven't even read through the file. The pictures on top were enough of a deterrent."
Mulder's eyebrows drew together. "You don't know anything about this case?"
"One of the directors on my floor handed me the file and asked me to take care of it. Fortunately, he was also able to direct me to you. I wouldn't have known where to begin finding credible supernatural investigators. I can't remember ever having had an assignment like this. I work mostly in administration anymore."
Scully and Mulder exchanged a surreptitious look.
"Can we have the name of the man who gave you the file?"
"His name is Lawrence Malfait. Good luck trying to set up an appointment."
"Why, does he work off-site?"
"That, and the admin assistant has a tendency to "lose" appointments."
Scully had little difficulty picturing the difficult young man at the receptionist's desk doing such a thing. "Can't you request a new assistant?"
"I could request one, but as long as Malfait and I are sharing an assistant I doubt he'll be replaced."
Mulder nodded, comprehension dawning. "A relative?"
Liangru sighed. "His son. Only a year and a half younger than Cho, if you can believe it. I think Malfait is grooming him to take over his position one day." Liangru shook his head. "Maybe he'll be ready in another sixty years."
"Well Mr. Chang, lead us to the body. I'm sure Scully's just itching to get into the old latex gloves, and I'd like to pick your brain about Mr. Malfait a bit, if you don't mind."
"Very well, after dropping off Dr. Scully, shall we adjourn to my office?"
Scully smiled. "Why is it that Mulder always gets to schmooze over coffee and I get stuck cutting the corpses?"
"Maybe you should have thought of that before going into pathology, Scully."
"Cho tells me that pathologists are always getting stiffed." Liangru led them to the elevator and pressed a seven-digit code into a keypad below the regular floor buttons. The elevator squealed as if shifting into a seldom- used gear and began descending slowly.
"I'm afraid you'll need me or someone else with the codes in order to access the lower floors," he explained apologetically. You'll notice that security is much tighter down here. The few projects of which I am aware are not so much dangerous as they are controversial." He caught Mulder's eye. "Sometimes I find it wise not to ask too many questions, at least not here."
Mulder nodded and followed Scully and Liangru down a wide, gleamingly white hallway.
"Will I have an assistant for the autopsy, Mr. Chang?"
"Oh yes. Cho expressed great interested in seeing an autopsy performed up close. She's also pretty handy with surgical tools; a skill she gained in her graduate school days when she got stuck with the grislier laboratory chores, like euthanizing sick mice and collecting and preparing slides of organ tissue."
Scully smiled broadly. "I'm sure she'll be a great help." Things were definitely looking up
They stopped in front of a heavy looking metal door. Liangru keyed in the pass code and ushered Mulder and Scully into a small but immaculate autopsy bay. Cho looked up from the book she was reading and smiled at them, her eyes lingering on Scully. Scully noted the circles under Cho's eyes and wondered how much discussion had gone on after Dumbledore left the hotel the previous night.
Good mornings and pleasantries were exchanged, and when proximity to the white-shrouded corpse on the table became too much for Liangru, he politely excused himself and Mulder. On his way out, Mulder whispered in Scully's ear. "Why is it that I always get stuck schmoozing over coffee and you get to hang out with charming magical types?"
"Maybe you should have thought about that before going into psychology, Mulder."
Scully closed the door behind them and turned to Cho. "So, where should we begin?"
<*> <*> <*> <*> <*> <*> <*>
Cho tossed Scully a plastic Harrods bag, which she deftly caught. "I thought you might want to have a look before we're up to our arms in it."
Scully's eyes were wide as she examined the silver trimming on the midnight blue robe. It had the look of something painstakingly handmade, but the tiny stitches were even and well concealed.
"I take it that this didn't come from Harrods." She folded it carefully and put it back into the bag.
Cho feigned horror. "Heavens no, it's from Gladrag's Diana Collection." She pronounced it "Di-AWN-ah," but was only able to maintain the pretension for a moment before bursting into giggles. "I figured if you're going to be shopping at Diagon Alley in the evening, you should be dressed to impress, especially if Percy takes you someplace nice for dinner."
Scully was about to respond sarcastically when it struck her how long it had been since she'd been on a date-date. Not that this was a date-date. More of an undercover job. A learning experience. Undercover learning in a smashing velvet robe with a virile red-head. No, that can of worms was best left unopened. Scully placed the bag with her purse and began donning her scrubs. Cho followed suit.
"So, what does one wear under robes?" Scully snapped her double-layered latex glove into place.
Cho cocked an insinuating eyebrow at her for a moment, then blushed. "Oh! You mean for yourself. For most robes you can wear whatever you want. Lots of us go incognito in the Muggle world and wear street clothes underneath." Cho's voice was slightly muffled as she adjusted her surgical mask. "But this one is designed to be more like an evening dress. It even has its own built-in support."
Scully looked at her owlishly from behind her protective eyewear. "Isn't it a little outlandish for standard evening wear?"
"Not if you wear a coat over it. Or I can lend you a cloak. It will just look like you're out for a night at the opera." Cho was fiddling with her own gloves. "You know, for one of my robes it's really subdued. I figured you wouldn't look good in fire engine red or yellow."
"No, definitely not. What kind of shoes should I wear with it?" Scully removed her shoes and slipped scrub booties over her bare feet.
"Witches tend to go for comfort rather than style, but the robe is long enough that you could get away with wearing Birkenstocks if you wanted."
"What if the robes don't fit?" Scully put her hair back neatly and tied her paper cap firmly in place. She'd learned her lesson about hair during autopsies the hard way.
"It's a Diana. They're guaranteed to fit for a lifetime, no matter what shape you're in."
"Does it function on the same principle as a transfiguration charm?"
"Basically, though it had to be calibrated to respond to the wearer. Kind of a neat bit of technology. I take it you've been doing some reading?"
Scully grimaced as she adroitly knotted the ties on the back of her surgical gown. "Some, but I haven't been able to practice or anything, since I don't have a wand." Her voice became brisk. "Well, shall we get started, then?"
"Let's. I think the diener got everything laid out. If there's anything missing we're kind of screwed. I don't have any of the codes to get anywhere except the elevator."
"If worst comes to worst, I've gotten pretty good at improvising with shoelaces." Scully walked over to the tray beside autopsy table and examined the list of external measurements left by the diener. Odd, usually the diener stayed to assist, not just leave the body and run. It was almost a shame that Cho was too nice to deserve "running the gut;" a malodorous but necessary part of an investigative autopsy. But she'd worry about that when the time came.
Scully pulled the sheet unceremoniously off the body on the table and pressed the record button on the battered tape player. "July 15th, 8:45AM, Brisbin Institute, postmortem examination of Mr. John Doe. Prosector is Dr. Dana Scully assisted by Dr. Cho Wei."
The 2-inch section of Cho's face that Scully could see had a distinct green cast to it, but she was paying determined attention to everything Scully did.
Scully verbally noted all external damage on the anterior side of the body, carefully measuring the "eaten away" areas and noting their slightly inflamed edges. Cho shuddered at the implication that the victim was still alive when the damage to his body occurred. Scully collected tissue samples from the wounds and plunked them into vials of formalin that Cho subsequently labeled and capped. Scully then took scrapings from underneath the fingernails and scrubbed leaves and dirt particles from the victim's hair. The two women then roughly turned the body over ("It's not as if we'll hurt him") and Scully described the posterior, noting two previously unnoticed puncture wounds in the splenius cervicis region, at the back of the neck. She swabbed these and took tissue samples. When Scully had finished the external examination, they flipped the body over again. She caught Cho's eye before inserting her scalpel.
"Are you all right?"
Cho took a shaky breath and nodded. "I think I'll be all right once we're inside. But looking all over the outside makes it impossible for me to pretend is something other than a person. Once you make the cut, it's just a big rat."
Scully wrinkled her nose underneath her surgical mask. She privately felt that she knew more people deserving of such treatment than rats; not that she was particularly fond of rats. She dismissed the thought with a shrug and began cutting.
<*> <*> <*> <*> <*> <*> <*>
A few hours and a score of severed ligaments later, Scully and Cho had obtained samples from every major organ and from various points along the alimentary canal. Scully was pleased to find that the acrid feces-vomit smell that accompanied opening the bowels had dissipated rapidly, thanks to an efficient ventilation system. Cho had assisted admirably, although she didn't seem too eager to give up her current life and go into pathology. She'd been an extra set of hands for tying off the blood vessels and she had meticulously kept track of organ size and weight. Fortunately, the diener had done his or her job and Scully didn't have to utilize any shoelaces. In the end, Scully and Cho had a neatly labeled collection of tissues and incidental matter for later analysis.
After covering up the body, discarding their surgical wear and a scrubbing thoroughly, Scully and Cho were soon talking like old friends. Scully was especially interested in Cho's experiences in wizard school, but the conversation had quickly veered away from scholarly discussion.
"...so then it exploded, and everyone who got hit with the potion had erotic dreams about him for a week, even the guys!"
Scully's sides ached from laughing. She had been frightened of Severus before and was enjoying Cho's fresh perspective of him. As a matter of fact, she doubted that she could keep straight face if she ever met him again. "Did he ever find out what the potion did?"
"I think he had an inkling when he received 15 owls the next morning, all bearing vows of undying love."
"What did he do?"
"He took away points from the people who signed their names and was in an even fouler mood until his anonymous suitors finally got the hint."
"Did he ever find that you were behind it?"
"Miss Perfect Prefect Chang? Never!"
They were laughing so hard that Cho almost missed someone paging her over the loudspeaker.
"Damn! I thought they'd be all right without me this morning."
"But it's already afternoon." Scully smiled sheepishly. "Time flies when you're dissecting kidneys."
"Double damn, I've got to get back to work. Give my love to Liangru and your partner, I'll see you Monday." She grabbed the tray of tissue samples. "I'll run these up to the freezer in my lab; we can start in on them Monday, if you don't mind my hanging around."
"Not at all. It's much friendlier with two."
Cho smiled and hugged Scully awkwardly with the one arm that wasn't occupied with the samples. "I'll see you tomorrow. Have fun tonight! You'll look like a million quid in that robe." Cho winked roguishly. "Percy won't know what hit him." She strode out the door whistling a familiar tune.
Scully's laughter floated after her when she realized it was "Mrs. Robinson."
<< Back | Story Index | Next Chapter >>
(Chapter Notes) | Back to Top | Stories by Author | Stories by Title | Main Page