by Robbie Fischer, concept contributed by Janice Vanourney
The next night, the cloaked wizard who called himself Spanky shouldered his way through the standing-room only crowd of cloaked wizards and witches at the Hog’s Head. Horrible noises, like a tomcat getting the worst of a nocturnal assignation, came from a magically floodlit rear corner of the room. Clearly, a band was tuning up. Taking care to keep his face well covered, Spanky gained the relatively quiet corner where Sadie stood under her veil, tapping her large booted foot on the ground next to a table groaning with spoiled vegetables.
“Tomatoes, two for a knut,” she called in a gruff voice. “Cabbage, good and slimy. Get your rusty lettuce here!”
“This your idea of a salad bar?” Spanky asked her. She flinched at the sound of his voice.
“Oh, it’s you,” she said, as coquettishly as possible from behind a heavy veil. “You looked the same as everybody else.”
“Live music tonight?”
“Different band every week,” said Sadie. “It always draws a crowd. A good outlet for people who have curses burning a hole in their wands. Plus, there’s this bloke I know as needs help disposin’ of a lot of unsavory produce. Mangled mangoes, a dozen for five knuts! Rutabeggars! Really mushy purple things!”
“Who’s the band tonight?”
“Couple of young perishers with an accordion and bagpipes, name of Nasal Drip. It’s like bowling a double wicket, mate. ‘Ere, ‘ave a couple overripe plantains, on me. They’ll bounce off the band’s Sphere of Insensitivity, most likely, but it’s something for the curse people to aim at.”
“No, thanks. Where are your friends?”
“They’ve got a private parlor in back. We might as well join them, sounds like they’re going to start.”
Magically amplified by the Sonorus charm, a very obnoxious combination of instruments began playing an absurdly inappropriate arrangement of Tiptoe through the Tentacula. It was the kind of music that required neither talent nor good taste to do it justice. On the other hand, the players were quite bad.
“Let’s get out of here,” Spanky agreed.
They retired through a greasy, evil-smelling curtained doorway into a nearly pitch-dark hallway lined with other curtained doorways. The corridor twisted erratically, went up and down steps at unpredictable intervals, and was troubled by creaky floorboards and drafty walls. Each doorway they passed emanated unspeakable smells and, in some cases, bizarre sounds. Spanky shuddered to imagine what creatures were dining within.
At last Sadie led him, stumbling, down two steps and through a ragged curtain that seemed to have been a bed sheet in a former century.
Three other cloaked and veiled figures stood to greet them.
“Merlin and Endora you’ve met,” said Sadie said, pointing to two anonymous figures draped in cloaks-one tall and thin, the other short and plump. Back in the corner of the booth, the light of the small brazier on the table playing on the handkerchief tied across the lower half of his face, was a broad-beamed, square-jawed person with hard, gleaming eyes. “This ‘ere is another business associate of ours, name of…er…”
“Harvey,” said the broad-beamed one, pumping Spanky’s hand.
“Yes. Harvey. And this is Spanky, right? Right. Harvey’s in’erested in hearing about your two-fisted dueling, maybe seein’ you in action. Wouldn’t surprise me if ‘e ‘ad a business proposition for you later this evening. Right, Harve?”
Harvey grunted and sat down. “Don’t bother bringing me up to date,” he said, in a cool, deep, cultured voice. “I hope you don’t mind that our mutual friends have regaled me with your adventures. You may as well continue from where you broke off.”
Spanky hesitated, and then sat down opposite Harvey.
The latter snapped his fingers, and five smoking, sizzling mugs of firewhisky appeared on the table.
Spanky took a deep drink, coughed, and began.
“I probably should have mentioned,” he said, “something that happened the very instant I boarded the school train, at the start of my first term at Hogwarts. I had found an empty compartment and was leaning out the window, waving farewell to my good landlord as the train began to move out of the station. Finally, I turned ’round to take my seat, and ran headlong into a student who had been standing behind me. He shoved me in retaliation, and I fell down hard.
“‘Watch your step, fellow,’ said the other boy. He was pale and hatchet-faced, with a sneering lip and an ice-cold eye, and his tow-colored hair was cut very short. He looked at me as if I were a bug and he was deciding whether to crush me under his heel, or keep his shoes clean.
“‘Excuse me,’ I said, forcing myself to be polite. ‘I didn’t know you were there.’
“‘You’re one of Lionel Niblet’s little charity cases, I take it,’ drawled the blond boy, sitting down uninvited without offering to help me up off the floor. ‘From that dirty little village, what’s it called?’
“‘Mangeford,’ I said proudly.”
Merlin snickered very briefly-until Harvey’s look quelled him.
Spanky went on. “‘Mangeford,’ I declared.
“‘Whatever,’ he replied sleepily. ‘I suppose your name isn’t Niblet, is it?’
“‘I would be honored if it was,’ I said firmly. ‘But no, it’s Spanky Spankison.’-You realize, by the way, that I’m changing the names.”
Harvey nodded, the light from the brazier glowing in his eyes. Spanky finished his goblet, wiped his mouth, and continued.
“The blond boy, my first Hogwarts acquaintance, pulled out his wand and began drawing in the air with it. A coat of arms began to take shape. ‘This,’ he said smugly, ‘is the Shmedly family crest. There have been wizards on both sides of my family since the ninth century. Came over with William the Conqueror. Own practically all of Wiltshire, you know. Magic can be awfully helpful in managing mostly Muggle tenants, keeping law and order, and so forth. Not that we don’t do our share to benefit our neighbors. Father subscribes to one of the oldest and largest charity schools in England. My name, by the way, is Sid Shmedly.’
“By now his wand had finished drawing the coat of arms, which among other nasty things depicted a slain lion impaled on a spear. Still pointing his wand in my direction, he offered me his left hand to shake.
“‘In some parts of the world,’ I observed, ‘it is considered a great insult to offer your left hand to a man.’
“‘I like to keep my wand hand ready for all eventualities,’ said Sid Shmedly.
“‘So do I then,’ I replied, pulling out both my wands and pointing them at him. The blond boy’s eyes went round with amazement. ‘I’m afraid that leaves me none to spare,’ I added.
“Shmedly recovered fast. Standing up, he said in a very upright, prissy tone of voice, ‘I will not stand for this sort of treatment. I favor you with my protection, and this is your gratitude. You’d best learn manners when addressing your betters, or you’ll find yourself in a bad way by and by. Until we meet again, then.’
“And with a haughty flourish, he turned and walked straight into the closed compartment door. I couldn’t help but laugh. Fixing me with one last chilling look, Shmedley shrugged out into the corridor. I already knew that I had made an enemy of my first school acquaintance. If only I had known then how far our rivalry would take us, and what it would cost me before our school days ended…”
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