by Robbie Fischer
Contest winner: greyniffler
(Sound of rustling in cupboard.)
WITCH: Oh, drat!
SECOND WITCH: What’s wrong, Carmen dear?
CARMEN: Would you believe it, Branwen? I need to make a simple Complexion Concoction and I’m all out of bees’ wings, four-leaf clover stems, and moonwater!
BRANWEN: There, there. That used to happen to me all the time, before I found…
VOICE: We interrupt this advert for a word from our sponsor.
REALLY DEEP VOICE: No matter where you fly on Saddler brooms, you are not alone. Old man Saddler stands behind every flight on Saddler brooms. (Evil laughter…)
PREVIOUS VOICE: And now we return to our regularly scheduled advert.
BRANWEN: There, there. That used to happen to me all the time, before I found Lizzie Cauldron’s Potion Packs!
CARMEN: Potion Packs?
BRANWEN: Each one has all the ingredients for one batch of a standard potion. They have over one hundred recipes available, and they are adding more every week. And they come complete with full directions.
CARMEN: Do they really work?
BRANWEN: Lizzie’s recipies are foolproof, dear. They’re guaranteed.
CARMEN: Well, let’s go buy some of Lizzie Cauldron’s Potion Packs. I can’t wait to make my Complexion Concoction.
WHISPERING VOICE: Potion Packs do not include calendar-sensitive ingredients. Read package for full instructions. (Louder) Lizzie Cauldron’s Potion Packs are avail-….
Ethelfrigga Spankisdaughter switched off the wireless and closed its cabinet doors. She straightened her shoulders and prepared a cheerful face before turning to face the drawing room and its denizens.
“Still no word from them,” she said with courageous carelessness.
“No password, you mean.” This came from the rafters, where her older brother Aloysius hung upside-down. He had been doing this a lot since his unfortunate attempt to brew a Polyjuice potion. Ethelfrigga secretly believed Aloysius had performed the recipe perfectly, but that a certain disreputable friend of the family had cheated him by selling a common bat pelt labeled as boomslang skin. Of course, she wasn’t going to tell Aloysius that. She was still having too much fun taking it out of him.
“Caught any juicy flies lately?” she teased. “You should be careful. For all we know, one of them might be carrying a message from Mum or Dad.”
“Careful yourself,” Aloysius sniffed, wriggling his batlike snout. “You don’t want to make me cry in my condition. With the echo in this place, I could probably hear where your diary is hidden…”
“Ha, ha!” Ethelfrigga stuck her tongue out at him. She was strictly too old to behave like this, but she did it anyway because it amused the younger children–at least Persephone and Bob, who by this hour of the evening tended to be so worn out that they could swing instantly from giggles to sobs. It didn’t help that they had been worrying about, and missing, their parents as long as they had. Nor did it help that the middle boy–Marmaduke–was in a dark, sullen mood tonight. At the sight of Ethelfrigga’s wriggling tongue, his pout downgraded itself to a scowl.
“I think it’s time for bed,” Ethelfrigga said, just as Marmaduke opened his mouth for a speech that most likely would have ended with the little ones in tears.
“I want a story,” Persephone said.
Marmaduke rolled his eyes, but he didn’t argue against the little witch’s wish. Ethelfrigga gathered Bob onto her hip, wrapped her hand around Persephone’s hand, and headed for the stairs saying, “When you two are ready for bed, we’ll see.”
For a long, resentful moment Marmaduke stayed where he was, dwarfed in his father’s armchair, wearing a handkerchief in Gryffindor colors knotted at the corners on his head, a T-shirt blazed with the slogan “Down Vold-Mart! Reduce Your Carbon Hoofprint,” and a pair of canvas trousers recently and hastily patched at the knees. His pride was still smarting from being hauled off the ground by the scruff of his neck–or more precisely, by the straps of his knapsack–and flown home from the anti-Vold-Mart demonstration by his freak brother. Under orders from their bossy sister. When his parents hadn’t sent any word about whether he could go or not, or about anything else…
The sound of Aloysius’s snoring finally drove him from his pity party. Marmaduke crept upstairs, where Ethelfrigga was just now tucking a freshly-combed Persephone and a minty-fresh Bob into their beds. He refused to meet Ethelfrigga’s gaze as she settled down beside Persephone and began the bedtime story. He perched at the foot of Bob’s bed as if he had just stopped for a moment to catch his breath after climbing the stairs, and looked away as if he wasn’t really listening to the story. Anyone would have thought he was about to get up and leave. But he didn’t.
“Tonight’s story,” said Ethelfrigga, “is called ‘The Picture of Doreen Grape.'”
Marmaduke shivered slightly. He remembered their father telling this story years ago. His hand had left black-and-blue marks on Aloysius’s wrist that night.
“Once upon a time,” Ethelfrigga began, “there lived a very vain young muggle lady who liked to be admired. She had a lovely face and an even lovelier figure, which she loved to dress up in fabulous gowns and show off up and down the avenues and in all the salons of her city. She dressed like a duchess to walk her dogs. She dressed like a princess to visit the theatre. She went to every fashionable levy and ball dressed like a queen. Her hair always shined and her skin always glowed. Every woman who saw her hated her, because every man who saw her could look at no one else. Her name was Mrs. Grape.
“Mrs. Grape was known for her manners and grace. She had only one fault in polite company, and it was this: She could not resist food. The more delicate the food was, the more ravenously she ate it. If a tray full of canapes came within arm’s reach, it would be empty before it passed out again. Mrs. Grape was a menace to any buffet table. At banquets, she ate like a pig. It was almost embarrassing to sit by her.
“Almost, I say; because however much she ate, her beautiful shape stayed the same. She gobbled rich food that would have brought any other lady out in pimples, but her skin stayed perfect. She guzzled heady wines that should have swelled her nose into a big, red, veiny thing; yet she kept the same perfect, perky, lily-white nose. At first, her jealous lady-friends tried to ruin her figure by plying her with food and drink. But the lady went on eating and eating, and drinking and drinking, without so much as a wild hair. Meanwhile, her lady-friends either got fat trying to keep up with her, or went broke trying to feed her.
“Soon Mrs. Grape was the belle of all society. She married numerous times. Her husbands all died young, worn out from trying to keep up with her. Even after mourning so many husbands, her face never got puffy or lined with grief. And she looked as good in black as all the other colors of the rainbow.
“Mrs. Grape had a huge litter of children. They all had to be taken away for their own good because their mother would steal the food off their plates, she was such a pig. Even after bearing all these children, she still had the same girlish figure.
“Many years passed. All the ladies of Mrs. Grape’s generation had passed middle-age. Many of them had grown frumpy, if not dumpy. Most of them could at least be described as full-bodied. Mrs. Grape was still wearing the same dress size as when she debuted. Now the daughters, and even the granddaughters, of the ladies who had first resented her, resented her. Men young enough to have been her children’s playmates pursued her. Fashions changed, but Mrs. Grape stayed in front of them. Nobody could reckon how she did it. Artists offered to paint her, even at their own expense, but she refused them all.
“One day, a man came to Mrs. Grape with a proposal. At first he offered her money, but she already had plenty of that. Then he offered her love, but she had no trouble getting that. Finally, the man offered Mrs. Grape the one thing she couldn’t refuse: a non-stop supply of the world’s most exquisite food and drink, served on polished silver by herds of servants in a never-ending ball with music and dancers and lively conversation going on at all hours. All the lady had to do was reveal the secret of her indestructible figure and beauty.
“So the lady explained, between bites of her inexhaustible canapes. She explained how she came from a large family of witches and wizards, but she was a squib”–here Persephone gasped–“with no magical powers whatsoever. Even then she had been greedy and vain, but her family loved her and felt pity for her. So they had often taken her along with them to places in the magical world such as Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. It was in Hogsmeade where a wizarding painter had fallen in love with her and decided to preserve her loveliness in a magical portrait. Unfortunately, the portrait took several years to complete, though Mrs. Grape had only sat for the painter once, and briefly. Still, the artist made a faithful record of the young woman whose beauty had always haunted him.
“The day finally came when the artist presented his portrait to the girl and her family. He was shocked to find that the young lady had become plump and spotty, due to her ceaseless stuffing. Worse still, the foolish squib took offense at the painting, as a reminder of what she had fallen from. The artist took his painting away and never saw Mrs. Grape again. Only a few days letter, Mrs. Grape suddenly began to lose weight. By the time she learned that the heartbroken painter had died, she had become the same beautiful young creature he had captured in oils.
“No one knows whether Mrs. Grape ever knew what the artist had done. Moments before he died, the painter had cast his death-spell on her portrait. From then on, Mrs. Grape would always look like the girl he had painted. But as she ate and drank her way across Europe, her image in the painting grew monstrously fat. The real Mrs. Grape’s stomach seemed to be a bottomless pit, but her painting developed a diseased look, covered in rashes and sores. Her painted skin turned red from broken blood vessels. Her ankles and feet swelled up. Her painted fingers looked like sausages. Her painted hair grew lank and greasy, and her eyes all but disappeared in the folds of fat around her face. Whether she knew it or not, the only portrait of the beautiful Mrs. Grape showed a vile, gross thing that could hardly move because of its own crushing weight. But for one reason or another, Mrs. Grape had always set her mind against having her portrait painted, even by a muggle. Maybe it was because of the way that first artist’s painting had made her feel.
“But the day finally came when the heartbroken painter’s death-spell came down on Mrs. Grape’s head. It happened when she stopped to visit her sister, with whom she hadn’t spoken in years. Her sister was a witch, and all her children were magical. And one of those children was quite handy with crayons. So Mrs. Grape’s doom came when her little niece or nephew–no one remembers which–sketched a crude portrait of Auntie Grape. The squib lady might have torn it up if she had known what was going to happen. But for some reason, she accepted the child’s crayon drawing as a gift. Maybe she used it to wipe her guzzling mouth. Maybe she didn’t recognize what it was. Maybe she didn’t even know that someone had stuck it to the inside of her bedroom door until the middle of the night.
“One way or the other, though, Mrs. Grape got up in the dead of night to use the loo. And what a scream she gave! For on that piece of paper tacked to her door was a wizard’s portrait of Mrs. Grape, however crude. And as you know, people painted by a wizard artist can move from one portrait of themselves to another. So it was then, and only then, that the grossly fat picture of Mrs. Grape, painted all those years ago and charmed by its maker in the moment of his death, came face to face with Mrs. Grape herself. At that instant, the painter’s death-spell was undone. The vile portrait of Mrs. Grape shrank back to her original, slender beauty. At the same time the real Mrs. Grape swelled to the size, appearance, and state of health the painting had reached.
“She was now too big to get through the door. Even the window was not large enough. Too big to support her own weight, Mrs. Grape had to lie down. And since her bed was no longer big enough to support her, she had to lie on the floor. She never got up from that floor, either. The diseases brought on by a lifetime of bad habits soon overtook her, and Mrs. Grape died. Her sister’s husband had to knock down the outer wall to remove her from the room so she could be buried. They couldn’t find a coffin big enough for her, so they buried her in the hull of a two-masted ship. Her grave was a crater caused by a meteor. They had to drop soil out of a squadron of airplanes to cover her up…”
By now Persephone and Bob had fallen asleep. Marmaduke had wriggled under the covers with Bob and was desperately trying to stifle his giggles as Ethelfrigga relentlessly embellished the end of the story.
“…They stuck Stonehenge on top of her grave to keep it from washing away in the floods. And if you fly over Sarum when the angle of the moon is just right and your broom is pointed straight into the wind, you might even see the shape of Mrs. Grape holding up the shoulders of the hill…”
+++ DOUBLE CHALLENGE FOR TMQ #178 +++
You can help decide what happens next in The Magic Quill! Simply leave a brief comment (up to 150 words) answering the following Survey and Contest. The survey answer with the most votes, and the contest answer that Robbie likes best, will turn up in the chapter after next.
SURVEY: When next we see Merlin and Miss Pucey, they should: A) Catch up with Il Comte di Bestemmia at last. B) Have to use another life-saving item in Merlin’s survival satchel. C) Meet a type of magical creature or being we haven’t seen for a while.
CONTEST: Chapter #178 could include a light-hearted parody of what non-Harry Potter film? Provide a few brief examples of how lines or images from the film could be transformed into a magical context.