by Robbie Fischer
Contest Winner: voldymortus
The waiting room at St. Mungo’s allowed coffee, and a bottle concealed in the vicar’s cassock made the coffee Irish, and so a convivial atmosphere prevailed while Spanky and Harvey delivered the somber news about Merlin’s condition. When the speakers reached the point in their tale where Rigel arrived at the patient’s bedside, they faltered with a nervous look toward Orion Oldmanson, who was the first to finish his coffee.
Vicar Joe Albuquerque poured him another and said, in the benignly knowing way suited to his appearance, “I would guess that raising Rigel for the second time must be easier than the first time. To be sure, he knows all your tricks; but so do you know his.”
Orion chuckled affectionately, yet not altogether happily. “The day that I know all of that lad’s tricks will be the day muggles learn to do magic. And it isn’t as if he has to learn them all over again. He has better than thirty-five years of experience at making mischief and avoiding the consequences, all packed into that eleven-year-old brain. He could be more dangerous now than ever before, because no one would suspect a child his age of having the skills and ideas he has.”
“I’ve only looked at him that once,” Sadie shuddered, “and I wouldn’t put anything beyond him.”
“The only help, this time around, is the fact that all his old cronies got captured or killed while he was in Gringotts, and they wouldn’t care for him if they knew he was alive and free. Which, until the lad’s book came out, they didn’t know. None of them could have suspected that the young man who had vanished from their midst, all those years ago, is now a little boy.”
“So the book puts Rigel in danger,” Harvey observed, with a shrewd look.
“It advertises his presence,” old man Oldmanson agreed. “Which could endanger his life, yes. Or it could endanger him in another way.”
“It could get him back in with those Voldmart people,” Endora whispered. “He could join the Dark side again.”
“My guess is that he never left the Dark side,” Spanky said grimly.
“You must undertand,” said Oldmanson. “Rigel isn’t really wicked. But he craves adventure, and danger, and thrills. He likes loud noises and fast brooms, and he enjoys shocking people. But above all, he likes to possess things – precious things, powerful things, important things. Even to hold them for a moment, even merely to scheme to get them, is enough to make him happy…”
Joe topped off Oldmanson’s mug once again, with an understanding look.
Endora sighed and shook her head. “But certainly,” she said, “you must have had some good times with your son.”
“No doubt,” said Oldmanson, between steaming sips. “But the best fun we had together was when he didn’t realize that I was there. Perhaps I should begin by saying that, every year that I was married to Rigel’s mother, the quality of my Disillusionment Charm grew. Then she…er…left us, when Rigel was very little; but every year with him improved my Disillusionment skills even more. So by the time, say, when Rigel invented Head Quidditch –”
“Hang on!” Sadie cried. “He never invented that! Only, I’ve had a flutter on every World Cup game for the last…”
“Twenty years,” Oldmanson agreed. “They don’t go back farther than that. And though you probably lost money on some of those games, Rigel earns a fortune at every one – royalties. And I’m not just talking about ghost money; some of those ghosts still have vaults at Gringotts, and they have very little trouble persuading their heirs or trustees to transfer a few galleons into Rigel’s vault whenever they play Head Quidditch. The boy doesn’t know it, but he’s worth more than I am.”
Joe blinked, amazed. “And to think he gets all that for saying, ‘Wait, I have an idea. Why don’t ghosts play Quidditch?’”
Orion grinned sheepishly. “But, you see, ghosts have never been particularly good at sports. All right, there is the Headless Hunt, but many ghosts aren’t headless. More importantly, very little athletic equipment crosses over into the spirit world. It makes you wonder why a sporting wizard or witch would bother becoming a ghost, when they have so little to do except glide around and ooze ectoplasm. In fact, the first haunting I ever witnessed was when a dead cricketer moved into the scullery and drove all the servants to desperation, moaning about not being able to hold a bat.
“The cricketer was still there when Rigel came along, and he started scheming up a sport that ghosts could play. Naturally, the sport he considered most suitable was Quidditch. So at age ten, Rigel began collecting ghost twigs and sticks – mainly from wand trees that had been killed by lightning or floods. In a year’s time he had found enough bits of ghost wood to assemble fourteen ghost brooms. Then, when he was eleven years old – the first time, I mean – he started hunting for some Ghost Snidges, to take the place of a Golden Snitch. The birds were very rare to begin with, and it was very hard for him to find a single one that had become a ghost. I think he was planning to assassinate one of the mating pair that lives in the Really Unplottable Bird Sanctuary, but on his twelfth birthday a pair of ghost snidges flew out of his Godfather Clock, so that was all right.
“During the next year, Rigel combed the countryside for ghost owls. He found quite a few of them, and managed to train several to act as ghost bludgers. I didn’t know what he was about at the time, but now I see what a clever idea that was; for nothing but a formerly living thing could possibly effect a ghost Quidditch player the way a bludger effects a live player. The quaffle remained a problem for him, until he decided to allow a headless ghost to furnish the quaffle – essentially creating a fifteenth player who would only be involved from the neck up.
“After that, it was only a matter of deciding on the rules, and testing them out. I enjoyed watching this part, from under my really quite admirable Disillusionment Charm. Rigel was very determined, and creative, and such a natural leader. At different stages in the process, the quaffle was supposed to be a neutral combatant who merely suffered his or her head to be chucked to and fro, and carried about under some other ghost’s elbow. Later, it grew evident that the quaffle had either to be an independent force that could act equally against both side, or a supporter of one side contributing to what the muggles call a ‘home field advantage.’ Finally, Rigel decided to let the quaffle serve in a perpetually defensive character, trying to wriggle out of the grasp of whoever held it, and biting them when necessary.
“Being dead, of course, the players were able to put up with a great deal more brutality than regular Quidditch players could, so the number of possible fouls was reduced to only seventeen – and twelve of those had to do with name-calling. Any authority in ghost athletics will tell you – and really, there weren’t any authorities in ghost athletics until twenty years ago, so they owe Rigel too – will tell you that when sticks and stones can no longer break your bones, words can REALLY hurt you. So, although the players can fly right through each other, and commit any atrocity on each other’s ectoplasm they see fit, they are required to restrict their vocalizations to, ‘Well played,’ ‘I’m wide open over here,’ and, ‘I say, old fellow, that’s my spleen you’ve got there.’”
“I could swear I heard references to a pancreas at the last World Cup,” Sadie mused.
“Or words to that effect,” Orion corrected himself. “So at age fourteen, Rigel began recruiting teams, starting at the Tower of London near our home, and also searching abroad during our holiday trips together in France, Uganda, Austria, Serbia, and other such places where there were high ghost populations. Most of the really good quaffles come from France. After teaching each group the basic rules, and having some demonstration games, Rigel registered a patent on the game and began organizing the first world cup…”
“What did they do for beaters’ bats?” Endora asked, risking a scornful glance from those around her who now knew she had never seen a game of Head Quidditch.
“Carved out of more pieces of undeadwood,” Sadie said, adding, “Hush.”
“The rest is history,” said Orion. “It was a revolution in ghostly entertainment. Now headless ghosts aren’t the only ones who can have fun; though, of course, the number of teams that can play at any time is limited by the number of trained owl ghosts, Ghost Snidges, and properly constructed undeadwood brooms and bats. Spectators, living and dead, have flocked to the games in ever larger numbers, and ghosts have become an increasingly significant group of consumers in today’s wizarding economy. Plus, others have followed similar procedures to invent ghost versions of their sports – severed football, severed handball, basketcaseball, and ouija hockey being only a few of the more popular examples – and every one of them has to pay a small share of their royalties to Rigel, who pioneered the process. It really will be interesting to see what he does with all that…”
Orion trailed off as the assistant healer ran into the waiting room, wild-eyed and red in the face. “Merlin and the boy,” he panted, before having to bend over to catch his breath.
Endora surged to her feet, clutching the collar of her robes. “What’s happened?” she demanded.
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