by Robbie Fischer
Contest winner: Quercitron
Mrs. Ahmed scouted ahead (by sticking her head through the outer door of Harvey’s flat) and reported: “It’s a jungle in there.”
“That many of them?” Joe Albuquerque growled in his disguise as General Patton. “It won’t take them long to wreck the place.”
“No,” said Mrs. Ahmed, her vague form flickering with irritation. “I meant, everything has been taken over by vines. Grape, by the look of it.”
“Oh,” said Joe, suspending his mental calculations about potential casualties on both sides. “That’s a hippogriff of a different color. What about people? Did you see anything going on?”
The see-through lady shrugged. “Just one bloke, it looked like, pulling down vines and rifling through the cupboards.”
The word was passed, and Harvey came forward. “Well?” he said.
“I think a frontal assault will do,” said the general, pitching his whisper so it could be heard all the way down the hallway – the recently constructed hallway off the back of the lobby of the high-rise apartment building known as the Drains – the hallway where each door led to a different floor, so that stairs and elevators were no longer needed. The people at the back of the line, near the street door, could hear Joe Albuquerque’s rasping voice as he announced: “People! Bear in mind that your job is not to be cursed for your country, but to curse some other poor wizard for his. On my signal…CHARGE!”
The door imploded into the flat. A monocled wizard with a frowning moustache, a walking-stick topped by a silver cat’s head, and a silk ascot fashionably printed with an illusion of cascading water in motion, glanced up from his business with very little concern, then resumed pulling vines off the wall above the fireplace. As Mrs. Ahmed had reported, the walls, ceiling, floors, and furniture were nearly invisible under a carpet of Vitis Leprosa, except in areas where the ascot-wearing interloper had done his work – areas that looked bare and scarred. The vines kept going into a rather small sack that hovered in front of the wizard, holding its mouth wide open as he stuffed more and more vines into it; the sack never seemed to grow full.
All this Harvey took in as the wave of his supporters swept him toward the intruder. The monocled man seemed little concerned by the approaching mob. The reason for his unconcern became clear a moment later, when Harvey, Joe, and Spanky – all at the front of the line – tried to tackle the man, and missed.
After several frustrating passes, Harvey stood back and watched what was happening. Every time someone surged toward the monocled man from one side, he suddenly came out on the other side without seeming to pass through the middle, where the stranger continued calmly stealing the fruits of Harvey’s long journey through time.
Harvey tried to call everyone off, then tugged on Joe’s shoulder – just before the latter dived back into the assault line – and got him to bellow, “STAND DOWN!” Then he approached what he took to be the edge of the stranger’s invisible bubble of invulnerability, and said: “A word with you, sir.”
Monocle gave him a slow look with one lifted eyebrow, then nodded and offered his hand to Harvey. Harvey took it, and was suddenly in another place – a gentleman’s study paneled in dark wood and crammed with trophies. Not stuffed bears and mounted fish; no, a different kind of trophy – shiny, complicated machines that gyred and gimbaled and hummed; potions that bubbled and frothed inside sealed jars; a clock with two pendula swinging at right angles, passing through the same point at the bottom of their swing, yet never touching each other; an incandescent dark-bulb standing next to a prism that refracted its plain, radiant darkness into an anti-rainbow of unimaginable hues; and standing on one small table, an autographed photo showing a portly, bearded man (somewhat similar to Hagrid), whose signature read: “To one character who never let me put one over him – all the best, Robbie Fischer.”
“Who are you?” Harvey asked, feeling himself on thinner ice than ever.
“I am the Reality Sorcerer,” said Monocle Man. “The Magistrate of the Laws of Nature. The Judge of the Intangible, the Jury of the Illogical, the Executioner of the Impossible. I am the Counter of Contradictions, the Midwife of the Inconceivable, the Spell-Checker of the Inexpressible . I am the Censor of the Ineffable and the Squeezer of the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. I am the Plumber of Paradoxes – you would be surprised how often they get stopped up. I am He Who Assays the Iron Content of Irony. I am He Who Checks the Thread Count of the Fabric of the Universe. I am the Warlock of Wisdom, the Sage Mage, the Popinjay of Punctiliousness, the Lifetime Honorary Recorder of the Islington ‘Are You There, Moriarty’ Society, and the Number One Supporter of Pride of Portree (annually since 1982). Those are merely my official titles, however. My real name is Robertus Magnus Carolus Johannes etc. etc. etc. de Quipthorne-Westbrookfieldstonehillcrestwoodsmillburyington the Sixth times Two to the Eighth Power, K.B.E., Ph.D., Order of Merlin, First Class. You may call me Bobs.”
Harvey blinked. “Is that all?” he asked.
“Well,” said Bobs, “My schoolfellows once voted me ‘Most Likely to Become a Mystical Hermit,’ and I am listed in the Who’s Who of Wizardry in the Lower Thames Valley, but I don’t like to boast.”
“Well, I’m Mr. H. Harvey of the Harvey & Sons’ Wall Magic Harveys. I would like to know what business…”
“Have a seat,” Bobs interrupted, with the casual air of one not used to listening to others. He conjured up a tray crammed with cups, pots, spoons, a sugar bowl, a milk boat, and a plate of biscuits. “Coffee or tea?”
“Coffee, if you please. I was saying, what right have you…”
“Please forgive me,” said Bobs, before dropping what looked like a couple of ice cubes into Harvey’s coffee. “It’s my house-elf’s half-day off, so the pot has gone lukewarm. Hopefully these will help.” Clink, clink.
“That’s quite all right,” Harvey lied. “But may I ask…”
“Milk?” the other man cut in. “Sugar? Perhaps a dash of Irish whisky?”
“None of the above, thank you. But perhaps you could tell me…”
“I hope you don’t mind that the biscuits have flaxseed in them,” said Bobs. “I find they aid my digestion. Do try your coffee before it gets cold again!”
Harvey, perplexed, sipped his coffee and found it piping hot. “But I don’t understand,” he said. “If it was lukewarm before you put ice in it…”
“Hot ice,” said the Reality Sorcerer with an airy smugness. “When one is charged with stopping the magical world disrupting the Laws of the Universe, one confisc-… that is to say, one comes across some truly amazing things. I don’t know what I would do without cold fire during the summer, for example. And this hot ice – so handy, melting in cold liquid, giving off heat as it does so – was invented by the same wizard. Pity I had to destroy him. If more people found out how to make these things, the laws of thermodynamics would be in jeopardy – and all life on this planet with it.”
Harvey swallowed discreetly, then blurted out: “What business have you in my flat, and what gives you the right to tear down my vineyard?”
“I should think that would be perfectly obvious,” said Bobs. “You have already risked enough with your foolish Draught of Merlin…”
“I was about to destroy every trace of it,” Harvey snapped. “I understand the danger, and I have it well in hand.”
“I am not interested in your silly potion,” Bobs said, almost laughing (but not quite smiling). “It is this thousand-year grape that you planted at the far end of your round trip through time. I cannot allow you to make wine with it.”
“What could happen?” Harvey cried. “Could it be worse than a time paradox?”
“As falling off a cliff is worse than stubbing your toe,” Bobs assured him. “But you can hardly know what you are working with; nor can you formulate the Essence of Merlin on your own. Both potions belong to the lost art of Yves the Leper. So, if you do as you planned and destroy the Essence, and, if you turn over every twig, leaf, and berry of your cultivar for secure disposal and study, I may not have to destroy you.”
“You forget where I’ve been – and when I’ve been,” said Harvey. “I’ve learned a great deal in the matter of not being destroyed.”
“Don’t make this hard,” said Bobs, with a pained expression. “I so hate to be forced to threaten large groups of relatively innocent people. Though, to be sure, I spotted one Miles O’Roughage back there, among your little army. One of these days I may be forced to come for him as well. It would be rather like killing two augureys with…”
“I have put a substantial investment on the line,” said Harvey. “You can’t just go around confiscating things on which so much depends. I must have some kind of compensation.”
“Compensation!” the Sage Mage’s monocle fogged up. His moustache bristled. “Don’t you know who I am?”
“You made that quite clear,” said Harvey. “So clear that I suspect you know what has gone into this project, and what depends on it. We are discussing a major portion of the wizarding economy – several large fortunes, the assets of some important businesses – besides the trials and travails of the people who have carried it this far. Did you know some of my people spent years escaping from Gringotts to prepare for this? And knowing as much as you seem to know of things, you must perceive the broken state of health – physical, mental, and magical health – in so many of my supporters…”
“All right!” groaned Robertus Magnus. “I shall restore full value. Merlin knows I can afford it, what with my formula to turn plastic poker chips into galleons. And when we return to your flat, you will find all your friends restored to their, shall we say, ‘baseline’ condition, mad though they may be in that natural state. Do you have a personal goblin at Gringotts? Very well, have him write to my goblin and they will settle the financial side of the deal. Spit and shake on it?”
And so a magical contract was sealed, and within a few hours Harvey and his party had taken over the entire Hog’s Head. Mrs. Ahmed, once back to her fully visible form, had beaten everybody in Spanky’s therapy group in an armwrestling tournament. Mr. O’Hare had lost his orange fuzz and looked glum and sheepish until Mrs. Yenta offered to dance with him. Rigel grew up quite suddenly into a disreputable-looking man of about 30, and was now slow-dancing with Sadie while Miles O’Roughage, Anatoly, and the illustrated wizard from Minsk looked on glumly. Siobhan was singing with the band, head thrown back and mouth open wide, while her father Niall wished (to no avail) that she weren’t quite so tone-deaf. Mr. Surdo sat next to him, wincing, and trying to stuff napkins into his ears, while Mr. Sphaeris slouched over his firewhisky, not feeling like doing anything in particular. This made a striking contrast to Mrs. Sedulus, who had gone behind the bar (much to the innkeeper’s annoyance) and was cleaning everything from the mugs to the floor with grim determination. “This place is disgusting!” she was frequently heard to say.
Among the happiest members of the party was Ilona Spankison, who beamed at her husband, her eyes brimming with tears, as he spell-sparred with Joe Albuquerque and Merlin, deftly defending himself with a wand in each hand. But no one watched these goings-on with greater satisfaction than Harvey, who sat between Ilona and Endora at the corner table, complacent with the success of his plan. As he had hoped, Robertus Magnus had paid off every knut that the Vitis Leprosa adventure had cost him and everyone else – going all the way back to Orion Olmandson’s standing debt toward Merlin, whom he had retained to look after his son before their first Gringotts caper; to say nothing of the money he had invested in Spanky’s education, channeled through his cousin Lionel Niblet, whom Spanky still believed to be his benefactor. And at last, Harvey was rid of all the receipts he had collected during his 3,000-year trek up and down the mountain of time, which had been reimbursed with interest.
In short, he was the wealthiest wizard in the world, though much of his wealth was already held in trust for the people who had helped him. Some day they would find out how very, very rich they were… but not until Harvey had extracted one more favor from them. For now he could finally afford to carry out his most ambitious plan… He smiled, and seeing his look of satisfaction, Endora and Ilona widened their grins and hugged him from both sides.
“It turned out all right!” said Endora, who for once was not ashamed to show her remarkable nose in public.
“Everything is as it should be,” Ilona sighed.
Harvey nodded, and added in a softer voice: “So far, so good.”
+++ DOUBLE CHALLENGE FOR #136 +++
Don’t worry. We’re not skipping #135 (as if…!). In order to get things back on track, I am going to use some “leftover” ideas from the incredible discussion on TMQ #133 to generate the magic of #135. So this “Double Challenge” isn’t for the next chapter, but the one after that.
SURVEY: Which female character of The Magic Quill should feature in the next big plot line?
CONTEST: Come up with a brief joke such as one might find in a wizarding joke book. Anything on the order of “Knock, knock?” or “How many house-elves does it take to change a light bulb?” or even “A hag walks into a bar” is welcome, but PLEASE keep it clean – and PRETTY-PLEASE keep it short. More than one winner may be selected.