by Robbie Fischer
“Grand Prize” contest winners: voldymortus, jatibbal, zanaboo
Honorable mentions: i6uuay, Norman Greene, pdhorner, swing667, dele, PotterPig, TWZRD, _houdini, charlottexgf, theotherminister, Dragonic, Poet, and rory86
The group of thinly disguised witches and wizards muttered to each other around the dingy parlor table. Once again, their leader was missing.
“I went by The Drains this morning,” said Joe Albuquerque, who was disguised as a Japanese tourist. “The doorman hasn’t seen him since Christmas. I tried to peek through the windows, but they were on screensaver mode.”
“What’s that?” Endora said while digging under her fake nose to scratch her real one.
“Tinted pitch black, covered by an unbreakable charm, and locked by the sort of spell that only a password can open.”
“Curious,” said Merlin, noticing the uneasy look that passed between Endora and Spanky.
“Then it’s a good job I found this note,” Sadie said cheerfully, pulling a thin, tightly rolled strip of paper out from under her veil — Endora shuddered to think where it had been hidden — and unrolling it between her agile hands.
“It says — ahem — ‘Esteemed colleagues, please be patient during my extended absence. I am deeply embarrassed to confess that my erstwhile mishap involving a waterfall, a crystal cave, and a hag wearing a tooth-studded vest has happened again. Though I do not think it will take long to escape, there are other things I must do before I can join you again. Until then, please continue to gather at the usual time and place, and amuse yourselves as you see fit. I hope that I can soon furnish you with a means of following my exploits. Yours in fellowship, H.’”
“Well, that leaves us nothing to do except drink and swap stories,” Joe said wistfully, though perhaps owing to the unfamiliarity of his new disguise, he looked oddly elated by the prospect. “Where were we last time?”
“I had just finished telling mine,” said Merlin. “There’s nothing else to tell about except odd jobs and broomstick races.”
“No, thank you,” Sadie muttered, rolling her eyes.
“I still don’t think we’ve heard all of Spanky’s story,” Endora chirped. “The last bit I can remember had to do with the night Harry Potter was born.”
“Oh, yes!” said Sadie enthusiastically. “That was when you located Ilona. Did you marry her right away?”
“Was it a lovely wedding?” Endora gushed.
“Were there any werewolves on the guest list?” Merlin suggested.
“Give,” said Joe, with an ironic flick of his eyebrow.
“All right!” Spanky cried, gesturing for peace with both hands. Then, after tugging his hood forward, he resumed his long-suspended tale with a sigh.
“After all the commotion with the Death Eaters, and the genie, and Harry’s birth, and so on, we were all questioned by Aurors and checked out by healers, and then there was a bit of cleaning up. By this time I had realized my mistake, in telling the genie that I wished to see Ilona again. No one else could see her; it was as if she existed for me alone. Had I been able to tell anyone that I could see her, they would have thought me mad; but some freak accident thwarted my every attempt to explain that Ilona was right there. A colossal thunderclap would come out of the clear sky, or a rack of pots and pans would come off the kitchen wall, or if I tried to sign it, a gust of wind would blow through the room and put out all the lamps.”
One of the oil lamps on the parlor wall flickered as if in sympathy with Spanky’s tale. He coughed and went on:
“I tried to write to Ilona’s parents about finding her, and wanting to marry her, but every time I got to that point in my letter, either the quill would drop a massive ink blot covering an entire paragraph, or a spark from the fireplace would ignite the page, or a draft would blow it out the window. Once, when I had done everything in my power to prevent these things from happening, I had actually finished the letter and was about to tie it to my owl’s leg when a huge bat flew down from the rafters and snatched it out of my hand.”
“The owl’s leg?” Endora gasped.
“No, the letter,” snapped Merlin, smacking the back of Endora’s head.
“My brother Festus,” said Sadie, “once tried to compete with the Owl Post Service, only using bats instead of owls.” She shook her head grimly.
“What happened?” asked Spanky, momentarily dropping the thread of his story.
“Turns out owls are a bit higher on the food chain,” Sadie said, and left it at that.
Before Spanky could question her further, Joe cut in: “At any rate, you were saying…?”
Spanky shook his head, shrugged, and continued: “It was a problem. We couldn’t get legally married. No one would license us to marry without seeing proof of the bride’s existence. Family, friends, ministers, judges — none of them could see her or hear her. We couldn’t even declare ourselves married, because there was no way to explain Ilona’s condition. The problem wasn’t merely making people believe, but even getting them to understand what was going on.
“Ilona didn’t want to start living together without getting married, but ever since the Owlympics she had been lonelier than a ghost. No one could see her, hear her, or detect her presence in any way; it was a miracle that she survived at all. Now, at least, one person recognized that she was there. It was the only way she could live. So we wrote out our vows on parchment — knowing that if anyone tried to read it, the parchment would probably crumble into pieces — signed and dated it, and sealed it with an ensorcelled wafer, ensuring that it could not be opened until after Ilona was freed from the djinn curse. From that time on, we considered ourselves married, and I was even able to speak of her as my wife, so long as I didn’t try to explain her whereabouts.”
s Endora raised her hand tentatively. “So your marriage…”
“Wasn’t a matter of public record until after our Gringotts caper, when the third djinn finally removed the curse,” said Spanky. “That’s when the scroll was unsealed, and the Hogsmeade magistrate officially made our marriage license retroactive to the date we signed the scroll. You can’t imagine how many difficulties this has cleared up…our children’s schools, healers, neighbors…but never mind that now. The Potters had Harry, and Ilona and I had each other, and even though the times were pretty dangerous, we were all very happy.
“My supervisors at the RMB noted the improvement in my behavior, and I was allowed to return to full duty for the first time since the Owlympics. This made our living situation a bit more comfortable. Even better was when Ilona found out that, by leaving anonymous tips, she could continue battling dark magic, and was especially effective in ‘undercover’ situations because nobody could tell that she was there. This didn’t bring in any income, but she did it because she felt it was right. The RMB is only now recognizing how much she has done for them all these years.”
“Wow,” breathed Sadie. “But…er…what does this have to do with…?”
The dark hood turned slowly toward her, and Sadie gulped.
“What I mean is, do go on,” she said in a rush.
“My first RMB assignment following the Godric’s Hollow incident was the one that eventually put me on the trail of a Death Eater who planned to make Harry Potter’s first Christmas his last. I was put in charge of security for the British entrant in that year’s All-Europe Wizarding Garden Contest. The contestants were generally very wealthy, very fussy, very determined to win — and very concerned about their competitors spying on them, stealing their ideas, or sabotaging their gardens.
“That year, the British champion happened to be my old friend, Sir Lionel Niblet. I was already very familiar with his grounds, having played on them and even worked on them during my youth. I knew that half of my job would be easy: I wouldn’t have to work very hard to keep Sir Lionel out of trouble. Most of the RMB agents working the contest spent so much time keeping tabs on their hosts that the gardens mostly had to protect themselves. But Sir Lionel was a fair player, and his gardens had a good deal of protection of their own. So at first, the assignment looked like a pleasant vacation, even a honeymoon.”
“What kind of protection?” Merlin asked, before Joe could say, “And then what?”
“There were screaming gargoyles at intervals around the perimeter, and fence fungus that grew all over the walls around Sir Lionel’s prize garden.”
“Fence fungus?” asked Endora.
“When crushed, it gives off a gas that puts intruders to sleep,” said Spanky. “Also, they had stone scaregnomes, and flowers that sprayed an anti-pest venom, and medusa nettle hedges— ”
“I’ve seen those,” said Sadie, bitterly. “Stinging, clinging little gits, once they get a hold of you, only the voice of their owner will induce them to let go.”
“Very good deterrent for intruders,” Spanky agreed. “My favorite, though, were the pirate frogs that guarded the freshwater oysters and their transparent pearls. Any would-be pearl thief had only to hear the pirate frogs’ distinctive croak, which sounds closer to ‘Shiver me, shiver me, timbers, timbers’ than ‘Ribbit, ribbit,’ and he would run for dear life.”
“I thought pirate frogs were a garden pest,” Merlin remarked.
“Only if you don’t pay them tribute,” Spanky argued. “Then they plunder and pillage every flowerbed in sight. But throw a few galleons into their pond now and then, and they come over to your side. Good at pest control, too. After the pirate frogs moved in, he never had to spray against coin beetles.”
“What beetles?” Endora demanded, digging in her ear. “I thought you said coin beetles.”
“Beastly insects,” Spanky went on. “They were destroying Sir Lionel’s money tree.”
Sadie coughed up a mouthful of firewhisky.
“This even I’ve never heard of,” she wheezed, an awed gleam in her eye.
“They’re not as good as they sound,” Joe assured her knowledgeably. “All they do is exchange money; they don’t create it.”
“Exactly,” said Spanky. “If you need to change galleons into sickles, or wizard money into Muggle money, all you have to do is fertilize the tree with money, then pick the fruit and open it up and — voila! — the equivalent amount of whatever kind of currency you want is inside. Money trees give a much better exchange rate than goblins, but they’re hard on the soil and they suffer from a lot of pests, such as the spendthrift vine, embezzleworms, and inflationary fungus. They’re also very difficult to graft, so they’re close to extinction.”
“Where does this Niblet character live again?” Sadie asked with studied innocence.
Spanky ignored her. “There were a lot of rare treasures in that garden, a lot of good reasons for all that protection. Sir Lionel had one of the few Dentistrees ever found on British soil. He used to let the village children chew on its leaves, which did more for our dental health than monthly visits to the dentist would have. He had a Valenvine, which every year on the fourteenth of February produced a crop of chocolate-covered cordial cherries. He had a Truffle Bush, distantly related to the Whomping Willow, that was trained to dig up truffles, and a Flowsha Bush whose cuttings mimicked the favorite flower of anyone who looked at them.
“Sir Lionel always said the key to a harmonious and well-tended garden was to have the plants themselves do most of the tending. So he had spent decades cultivating self-fertilizing rosebushes, self-weeding aspidistras, self-trimming grass, and even a rare variety of self-filling fairy-feeder that, unlike the common type, didn’t actually eat the fairies. It was also a terribly comfortable garden to spend time in, with hammock vines around all the trees, providing a comfortable place to stretch out whenever and wherever one wanted to rest. Right next to the oyster pond was another pond full of everlasting ice, where Sir Lionel let the village children skate all through the summer. And the garden paths were shaded by a portable ceiling, which allowed sunlight to come through while keeping rain, acorns, and bird droppings off the path, and off the head of anyone walking the path.”
“It must have been a lovely assignment,” said Endora, dreamily.
“On the contrary,” said Spanky. “On the fourth day after I arrived, weird things started happening and from then on, I never had an hour’s rest. The first casualty was the broom tree…”
“I thought brooms were made, not grown,” said Joe accusingly.
“I’m not talking about the flying kind,” said Spanky. “I’m talking about a flowering shrub, related to gorse. Sir Lionel liked to pickle the flowers and serve them in a salad.
“The fourth morning of my assignment, I was awakened by a sharp tapping on the window above my bed. Ilona and I were sleeping in the summerhouse, which was basically a one-room apartment built over the potting shed. I looked out the window and saw the broom tree standing there, beckoning at me with its branches. It had uprooted itself and walked across the garden to knock on my window.”
“That’s odd,” observed Endora. Then she observed, “Huff!” as Merlin drove his elbow into her ribs.
“Yes, I thought it was odd, too,” said Spanky. “But that was nothing to the oddness I found when I dressed and went outdoors and found the broom sitting in a lawn chair with its roots crossed, holding my Daily Prophet open with its branches and apparently reading it with its bright yellow flowers. I suppose you can guess what I learned from this?”
“That you should never keep a walking shrub waiting,” Joe suggested.
“That the literacy of Daily Prophet readers deserves concerned attention,” Merlin put in.
“That Sir Lionel’s favorite salad is full of eyeballs,” gagged Endora.
“That your security problems were worse than expected,” Sadie added.
Spanky sighed, and said, “Fourth time lucky.”
+++ DOUBLE CHALLENGE for TMQ Nos. 112 and 113 +++
Contact Robbie through the CoS Discussion Forum, or through the Feedback System, to share your ideas about how the Magic Quill should continue. Survey answers that get the most votes, and contest answers that Robbie chooses, will be in the next two chapters!
SURVEY for Chapter 112: Will the bad guy in Spanky’s story turn out to be his old nemesis Sid Shmedly?
CONTEST for Chapter 112: At the time of Spanky’s story, Ilona is not only invisible but actually undetectable to anyone except Spanky. This doesn’t mean she is completely helpless. What are some things she could do to help Spanky in a fight?
SURVEY for Chapter 113: In Chamber of Secrets, Tom Riddle claimed that Hagrid tried to raise “werewolf pups” under his bed. This raises at least two questions: (A) Was Tom exaggerating, or can werewolves be born by normal reproduction as well as through humans being bitten? (B) And if baby werewolves can be born that way, do they ever turn into people or are they always in their wild, hairy state?
CONTEST for Chapter 113: What do werewolves eat when they can’t have human?