by Robbie Fischer, concepts contributed by: Alessandro Simoni, Aidan Raelyn, & Jessica Parker
“The most intense five minutes of my life, up to that day, began. The final of the Owlympic Freestyle Duel, between me and my most hated enemy, Sid Shmedly…”
Spanky continued his story, while a small audience of invisible, veiled, and masked witches and wizards listened in rapt silence–broken only by an occasional sneeze as a sizzle of firewhisky got up someone’s nose.
“I had learned to suspect Shmedly of a having a talent for legilimency, so the fact that we both started with the same kind of spell did not surprise me much. For I had decided during the last, long second before the bell rang to open a Vegetable spell–and so did he. My spell struck the stage at Shmedly’s feet, and the ground beneath him suddenly budded into a dense patch of four-leafed shamrocks. Shmedly didn’t have time to chuckle, but he sneered as a tendril of Devil’s Snare wound its way up my leg. I didn’t hesitate. My left wand shot flames at the vine–which, unfortunately, burned my leg and my robes very badly, but also took care of the Devil’s Snare.
“At the same time, my right wand caused a small rain cloud to appear above Shmedly’s head. It wasn’t much of a rain cloud; it drizzled on him rather. But as it was late afternoon, the low angle of the sun combined with the fine drizzle above Shmedly’s head to create a gorgeous rainbow down which, as will happen when you stand in a patch of shamrocks at the end of a rainbow, a leprechaun who had come to support the Irish side dropped a pot of gold. (Well, a saucepan really–which was fortunate for Shmedly, because a cauldron of Galleons might have killed him.) As it was a small rainbow, and a small patch of shamrocks, the Leprechaun felt it only warranted a small pot of gold. As it was, Shmedly was nearly knocked senseless.
“I pressed the advantage. I summoned a swarm of doxies, which rose up out of the shamrocks and got inside Shmedly’s robes, tickling and pinching and biting him all over. He squirmed and staggered but still managed to shield himself when I tried to hurl a load of profoundly smelly fish entrails at his knees. Even from where I stood, I was forced to put a bubble-head charm on myself, which took precious time while Shmedly vanished the doxies and prepared to go on attack.
“He first attempted to call down lightning upon me, but I conjured a weather balloon which took the bolt instead and burst with a deafening sound. Fortunately, with my bubble-head on, I was spared–as were most of the people within twenty meters of the fish entrails that lay in the middle of the stage. Then, while I turned the bed of shamrocks beneath him into a bed of quicksand, he summoned a huge rock which squirted up out of the ground, reducing the stage to splinters. It saved him from the quicksand and knocked me off my feet. Still, even lying down, I had two wands. With one, I summoned a bitterly cold wind which, combined with the rain still falling on Shmedly’s head, sent him shivering and cowering behind the great stone that had thrust up between us. As I tried to pursue him, Shmedly sent a chain of bright red handkerchiefs snaking after me, trying to trip me up. I turned the rain storm into a shower of cod-liver oil, which soon had Shmedly sputtering and gagging as it dripped off the brim of his hat into his mouth.
“Our five minutes were little more than half over, and by my reckoning I only had to attack Shmedly’s sense of sight to fulfill the Freestyle tradition in record time. But once again, Shmedly stooped to a new and unexpected low. He yelled, ‘Accio bottle!’ Out of the crowd of spectators, where someone must have been waiting with it for just this eventuality, the spell summoned a dirty old stone bottle that had been covered and sealed with wax. As soon as it came to Shmedly’s hand, he dashed it to the ground, where it shattered. A tiny man inside it rolled out on the ground, then rapidly grew to enormous size–bigger than the bull that had charged Crinkle earlier in the event. The man seemed to be covered in gold leaf, powerfully built, dressed in oriental attire, very insolent, and very angry. While I was still working out the fact that Shmedly had, in fact, summoned a genie, he commanded it.
“‘See, I have set you free,’ Shmedly said. ‘My wish is your command. I wish you to curse my enemy until he submits.’
“I should have put a silencing charm on Shmedly before he got all this out, but I was too staggered by the enormity before me. I don’t just mean the size of the genie, nor do I mean the fact that I had neither seen nor heard of anyone, in living memory, who had seen a genie. I was simply appalled that, once again, the contest was going forward after Shmedly had done something truly vile–like enslaving a being, like meddling with a powerful spirit, like enlisting the help of another person to curse me in the middle of a duel. Once again, it became clear that Shmedly’s money had silenced the objections of the Owlympic officials. As I stood there marveling, the genie raised his hand as if to take an oath.
“‘Meaning you no harm, sir, but being bound by my master’s wish,’ the genie said, in a nearly deafening but surprisingly pleasant voice, ‘I am afraid I must curse you to lose your heart’s desire, and spend your entire life searching for it in vain.’
“At that moment, I heard the voice of the woman I loved screaming what might have been the first syllable of my name–then there was a sound like a door slamming and a flash of light from the foot of the stage where Ilona had stood; a number of people who had been standing near her gasped aloud. I didn’t have to look for her to know that Ilona was gone. I simply exploded with fury. As the genie raised his hand to swear another friendly, hideous curse, I turned the rain of cod-liver oil into wine and moved the cloud over the genie’s head. He stopped in mid-curse, looked up, and smacked his lips as the wine began running into his mouth. Then, greedily, forgetting everything else including his master–who hopped around screaming profanities and only just restraining himself from kicking the genie’s shins–the genie began to guzzle wine. I strengthened the little winestorm so that it poured down on the genie, but especially down his throat. Every so often, the genie belched, and with each belch he grew a little smaller.
“By the time Shmedly started cursing me again with his own wand, the genie was only a little taller than I am. I conjured a rack of rare wine bottles and a corkscrew, which the already somewhat inebriated genie began to use with gusto. Though I had never met a genie before, I had read the right kind of books and studied under the right kind of teacher, so I knew that within a few minutes the genie would be drunk enough, and small enough, to be forced down the neck of an empty wine bottle and sealed inside.
“But only bare seconds remained of the five minutes allotted to us. I fended off several truly nasty curses from Shmedly, while hitting him with a conjunctivitis curse, oozing boils, rash, inappropriate hair, ingrown toenails, athlete’s foot, irritable bowel syndrome, ringing in the ears, carpal tunnel syndrome, spider hallucinations combined with arachnophobia, lactose intolerance combined with a craving for cheese, and bleeding gums combined with halitosis. I gave him hemorrhoids, astygmatism, a pinched nerve, a bad case of lice, a compulsion to duck his head in a bucket of icewater, and one of those sinus infections that make you think something has crawled up into your head and died. I caused every rook in the forbidden forest to fly over his head and perform, er, surgical strikes on him. I signed him up for a 30-day subscription to hand tremors, persuaded him to bite the inside of his own cheek, and arranged for him to have some private problems that I needn’t explain in detail, other than to say that they might upset his young wife, Jonquil. In other words, I inflicted as much physical suffering on Shmedly as I could, though it did not begin to feel like revenge for what he had done to Ilona. And I easily deflected all his curses with my other wand.
“Eventually the officials had to shield Shmedly from me and carry him away, and others restrained me when I tried to follow. I had kept cursing him long after the bell rang to end the final. The rooks were still relieving themselves on him as they carried him away, uselessly trying to shield his face with their robes. Finally I was tackled by my mates Crinkle and Ruff, Otis from the quodplot team, and several of Ilona’s friends from magymnastics, as well as others. They held my hands to my sides, took my wands away, and patted my back while I howled with rage.
“The fact was that I did set a time record for completing a traditional Freestyle programme, without conjuring a miserable gilded man to help me. But remember, we were in a climate where a good pedigree and a fat purse meant more to people than a wizard’s merit or ability–as the case of the poor Russian lad had proved. Even though Shmedly had ruthlessly exploited a creature whose entire life is divided between hateful servitude and tedious imprisonment–except for brief, wild benders in which he did literally “fall into the bottle”–and even though Shmedly had once again used danger or harm to someone outside the shielded area to work to his advantage, and even though Shmedly had not even come close to finishing a traditional programme, and even though I had given him the sort of magical beating that every schoolboy dreams of giving to his least favorite bully, the judges actually voted to declare Shmedly the winner.
“Fortunately, the tie-breaking vote came from a Belgian judge who later admitted that he was persuaded to vote for Shmedly when he was offered free tuition at Durmstrang for all of his children. Another judge who had voted for Shmedly came forward and said he had received a wad of gillyweed wrapped in a Union Jack handkerchief, along with a note that said, ‘This is a Romanian message. It means: If you vote for England, you’d better grow gills.’ So I won the Galleon after all, though the Daily Prophet had already run a story trumpeting that I had been robbed. And apparently, those judges’ last-minute confessions saved Mr. Harvey here–”
“Just Harvey,” said the gentleman whose face was covered by a handkerchief. “Indeed, the hour or so between the posting of the scores and the medal ceremony was one of the most exciting parts of that duel, for me.”
“I would imagine so,” said Spanky. “By then I had searched up and down the entire Owlympic village and, of course, I found no sign of Ilona. I did not attend the medal ceremony in which Shmedly was dramatically stripped of his Galleon–Crinkle, who was off the crutches by then but still limping, accepted it for me. I had an Owlympic record, another Galleon, and an opportunity to see Shmedly humiliated in public. But I didn’t care. I believed that I would never see Ilona again, but I couldn’t dream of doing anything except search for her.”
He sighed. It was infectious, passing around the table like a save on a beach.
“I suppose that’s why you muffed the Singles Final so,” said Harvey.
“Did you ever see her again?” Endora asked anxiously.
“Shouldn’t you still be looking for her?” Merlin said, tactlessly.
“What did he mean about muffing it?” Sadie demanded.
“You’ve all got it wrong,” said Spanky. “Why, if I hadn’t lived to marry Ilona by now, I wouldn’t be here talking to you. I would still be looking for her. But that’s a tale for another time. Now is the time to finish the tale of my Owlympic career, with the duel that finished it. And when you’ve just set a record and won five Galleons in six events, and your boyhood enemy has been made to look the fool in front of the whole wizarding world, and you are young enough to have a good chance of competing in another Owlympiad or two, it ought to take a good deal to finish your sporting career in just one duel. But I managed it…”
What happens next? Send us your idea in 150 words or less, and tune in next week for another installment of the Magic Quill.