The Magic Quill #173: Dance of the Fauns


by Robbie Fischer Contest winner: kaleidoscopicepic The arrival of a tall stranger wrapped in a cloak, his face hidden in the shadow of a hood, had the usual result on the patrons of Talia’s inn. Most days, the arrival of any stranger at all was enough to stop conversation. Talia’s inn shared a lonely intersection of two forest roads with three other businesses: an apothecary who moonlighted as a no-questions-asked surgeon for magical beasts, a wandwright who doubled as a trader in charmed amulets and talismans against the dark, and a toothless old biddy who performed divination, midwifery, and all the duties expected of the village curmudgeon. No one had any business in these woods except the wizarding clans who lived there and, now and then, the type of visitor best left alone. And though such visitors were rare, the nature of the village meant they were always looking for something rare and powerful. Long experience had taught Talia’s patrons to assume, when they saw a hooded and cloaked stranger, that he was someone not to be crossed, someone not to be trusted, someone up to no good. “Looking for something special?” Talia asked the stranger when he approached the ... Read More »

The Magic Quill #172: Sadie’s Wine Flight


by Robbie Fischer Contest winner: Linda Carrig Sadie muttered something highly uncomplimentary about the ring of Count Matthias as she climbed another steep street in Lisbon. Her head was fuzzy from drinking too much wine, an occupational hazard of searching every wine cellar in the city for signs of a genie. People would expect a body to join them in a bottle or two, or half a dozen, when a body shows an interest in what their cellar holds, she grumbled to herself. It’s all a body can do to stay upright. And now a body’s lost in these bloody streets! She had started in the obvious places: the haunts of wizards and witches. There was a stop on the Santa Justa Lift, the city’s famous outdoor elevator, that only revealed itself to those who had placed a sickle on the tongue of a particular gargoyle on the eaves of a particular building (which could only be reached by broom), and on that floor was a dark, smoky room full of sad Fado music, strong wine, and slow-burning vendettas. It was the only time Sadie had ever seen a centaur dancing with a vampire. She felt lucky to have gotten out of ... Read More »

The Magic Quill #171: The Litter Box


by Robbie Fischer Contest winner: Evensong With an assist from Sir Read-a-Lot Merlin felt he had been walking for hours, but the scenery had not changed. They were some kind of vast tunnel, filled with an unchanging twilight coming from no visible source of illumination. The ceiling arched high above them, supported by damp stone walls standing several dozen meters apart. Their unvarying greyness and pattern of masonry did nothing to relieve Merlin’s sensibility that he was going nowhere. Indeed, the only signs that they were making any forward progress at all were the round, grate-covered drains in the floor that they overtook at regular intervals, and the scorch-marks that Miss Pucey left beside each one with a jab of her wand. At least they could take comfort from the fact that they hadn’t passed any of these marks again. They were both getting tired. Miss Pucey’s shoes made ever more frequent scraping noises on the flagged path. Merlin’s shoulder ached under the weight of the survival satchel his friend Karl had gifted him in–oh, another lifetime. The weight of his companion’s hand on his other arm had grown heavier as well. So when Miss Pucey paused to scorch another ... Read More »

The Magic Quill #170: The Boudoir of Doom


by Robbie Fischer Contest winner: Sir Read-a-Lot Rigel stumbled along a dark passage for what seemed like ages. Soon his arms, legs, and head were aching with sprains and bruises from unexpected overhangs, sudden turnings, and a tumble down a flight of broad, shallow steps. His language became nearly incendiary enough to light the passage for him — but not quite. Presently he saw light ahead. After rounding a corner, he saw a room illuminated by a ring of high, narrow windows. The walls were papered in a pattern of bright stripes and flowers. A canopy bed, a dressing-table with a wide bench before it, a washstand, a wardrobe, and a large chest filled most of the space in the room, every item of the finest quality. The room carried the scent of the witch whose appearance had lately bewitched Rigel. He noticed an old school trunk poking out from under the bed. As he walked past, he kicked it so that it turned, revealing the name painted above the lock: “Sheherazade Jenkins.” Nice name, he thought, grinning at the memory of the way she had looked at him. On the far wall were two doors, locked and bolted from ... Read More »

The Magic Quill #169: Bernie Landstein

Hogwarts Choir

by Robbie Fischer Contest winner: Dragonic Runner-up: TWZRD The rehearsal of the Blastburn Philharmonic was not going well even before the guest conductor called a 30-minute break and stormed offstage, muttering and clutching his head. The musicians dispersed, some to take a nap in the green room, some to have a smoke outside the stage door, a few to throw back a quick drink at the pub around the corner. Two or three viola players (it was never easy to tell for sure) stayed onstage, trying to get their instruments in tune. The stage manager loitered near the snack machine, unable to decide between a vacuum-packed sandwich and a bag of crisps. The horn players played a quick hand of rummy. The backup conductor, whose primary income came from a secondary school teaching job, put his feet up in the sound booth and began correcting a stack of algebra papers. So no one observed the purple light that flashed from under the door of the guest conductor’s dressing room. No one heard the muffled “whuff” sound caused by a stunning spell; nor, if they had, would they have been able to identify it as such. No one even noticed the ... Read More »

The Magic Quill #168: The Revolting Ones


by Robbie Fischer Contest co-winners: Linda Carrig, Joe, and _houdini Runner-up: greyniffler Rigel had survived being chased by merhags, wereyaks, and enemies on the rooftops. After running through zigzagging alleys and across several bridges without hearing pursuit behind him, he began to think he could survive anything. Then he saw light ahead – an open square! No one would think of attacking him there… He put on a surge of speed, in spite of his weariness. The lure of open space called to him. It was almost close enough to touch, if he stretched out his arm… …and then the ground disappeared beneath his feet. He landed in a shoulder-roll, his fall cushioned by what seemed to be sacks of dried beans piled in an underground storeroom. Looking up from where he came to rest, he saw the hole he had fallen through as a rectangle of starlight in an otherwise pitch-black sky. Was this some sort of Venetian sewer with the manhole cover left off? It didn’t smell like one. In fact, it didn’t even smell damp – which, for an underground passage in Venice, could only mean one thing. Magic. Rigel sat up and tried to look around. ... Read More »

The Magic Quill #167: Muggle Magic


by Robbie Fischer Contest winner: Rehannah Runners-up: Dragonic and TWZRD ABINGDON WIZARD UNLOCKS SECRET POWERS OF MUGGLES! Bo Dwyer reports for Fascinating Fizzog!–the journal for enquiring mages, holding the Mirror of Pissog up to the magical world since 1777… While the Unspeakables in the Department of Mysteries grapple with the first principles of what makes Muggle gadgetry work, one wizard, toiling in a damp, draughty clocktower in the ancient Thames town of Abingdon, claims to have cracked the case. “It’s a simple matter, really,” says G. Fiddlewood Snordahl, of No. 8, Old Abbey Close, Abingdon, Berks. “One simply has to study a few thousand of the Muggles’ arcane texts, discreetly observe their behavior eleven hours a day for 30 years or so, and devote every other waking moment to tinkering with their expired gadgets until it all comes together.” Snordahl, the son of Europe’s leading bearded operatic soprano, the late Lynnie Jend of l’Opera du Freak fame, and her mentalist husband, Professor Hypnocrates Snordahl, was left a lame orphan on the doorstep of the Sisters of Intermittent Hostility at the age of six. He is still haunted by the memory of his parents’ death, buried in an avalanche triggered by Madam ... Read More »

The Magic Quill #166: The Cart-o-Matic


by Robbie Fischer Contest winner: greyniffler Runners-up: Joe & TWZRD Inside one of the crude huts in the island compound was a large, comfortably decorated room. It had wainscoted walls, a flagstoned hearth, and windows filled with diamond-shaped panes that seemed to admit more light than the conditions warranted. Still more light was provided by flames in hurricane lamps mounted on the walls, lamps that gave off a warm glow even though their crystal oil reservoirs were empty. Bookcases, chairs, a rolltop desk, and a teatable were all cluttered with rolls of parchment and dirty cups. Harvey sighed when he saw it. He shook his three heads, and one of them said: “This place needs a house-elf’s touch.” A noise like a pistol-shot rang off the walls and windows. Several of Harvey’s prisoners flinched. But it was, after all, only Dinty the house-elf, appearing with a blue-and-white striped handkerchief tied somewhat in the manner of a sumo wrestler’s mawashi. He made three bows, one to each of his master. “What’s this you’re wearing?” Harvey 2 demanded. “You’re not thrashing that elf from flat 3-E again?” “Only keeping in condition, sir,” piped the elf. “Shall I tidy up, sir?” “Yes, please, Dinty.” ... Read More »

The Magic Quill #165: Verity Pilgrim


by Robbie Fischer Contest winner: Dragonic When they reached the top of the long, dark, spiral staircase, Merlin and Miss Pucey found themselves in a drab hallway floored in scuffed tile. Flickering jars of fluorescent fireflies hung from the ceiling, casting a sickly light over the framed prints that lined the yellowish walls on either hand. One of the prints was a moving, wizardly copy of Munch’s The Scream, complete with a deafening bellow of anguish triggered by their arrival. A little gray man looked up from behind the counter that barred their way forward. The room beyond the counter was featureless except for a small dumbwaiter, a pneumatic tube, and a pair of doors at the far end. One of the doors appeared solidly built and secured by numerous tough magical locks and bolts. The other looked like a battered screendoor held shut by a dainty hook. Merlin took in all this in the time it took the little gray man to clear his throat twice and say, in an unsurprisingly reedy voice, “May I help you?” “Yes,” said Merlin. “We’re here to break into il Comte’s private vault. Is it the door on the left?” “Hmmm,” said the man, ... Read More »

The Magic Quill #164: The Pocket Elephant


by Robbie Fischer Contest winner: cv675 Spanky’s jaw dropped. Beside him, Ilona stiffened. Behind them, Endora gasped. Sadie growled. Sir Lionel said, “Er.” Harvey faced them from the end of a blind alley in the fast-growing yew maze Sadie had planted (seeds courtesy of her friend Miles O’Roughage). Not just one Harvey, nor even both of him. Three Harveys confronted them. But that wasn’t what made Spanky gape. It was partly the menacing way each Harvey’s wand was pointed at them. And, partly, it was the third Harvey’s outstretched hand. “Give me the ring,” he said coolly. “Was this your racket all along?” Spanky asked. “Don’t let’s have a fuss,” said Harvey 1. “It’s only a wee bauble. You’ll come to no harm.” “What do you want with it?” Ilona demanded. “How will I use it, you mean?” said Harvey 2. “Would you believe me if I said that I would never use it?” “Indeed,” added Harvey 3, “that I would make sure nobody ever used it again?” Ilona looked at Spanky. Spanky turned toward Harvey again and said, “No.” “He,” Sadie shouted, then corrected herself: “They must be working with Il Comte and Lee Shore. How else…” “…would I ... Read More »

The Magic Quill #163: The Golden Cap


by Robbie Fischer   Contest winner: Sir Read-a-Lot All the ghosts in Venice were rioting. Head Quidditch hooligans, every one of them. Il Comte di Bestemmia winced at the sound of massed wailing, moaning, and rattling of chains. The walls of his compound dripped ectoplasm as ghostly apparitions of severed body parts were hurled at them like pieces of rotting fruit. It was giving him a splitting headache. “Ombra,” the wizard called weakly, shuddering as an army of ghosts marched below his window playing musical saws. “Fetch my manual of exorcism, if you please.” A simpering house-elf ran out of the room. While il Comte waited for his return, something went crash in the garden. He hurried, muttering, to a window on another side of the room. The beastly ghosts were getting into his greenhouse now! Il Comte wrung his hands, thinking about some extremely rare plants that might not recover from the cold, clammy touch of these unquiet spirits. “What is taking that elf so long?” he wondered aloud. All his attention was focused on the lagoon side of his private island, from which more ghosts were still rising from the sickly fog over the water. So il Comte ... Read More »

The Magic Quill #161: Defensive Tattoos


by Robbie Fischer Contest winner: Joe After successfully picking the locks to seven doors in a row, Merlin felt himself struggling with the eighth and knew that another dose of liquid skill had worn off. He shrugged, looked meaningfully at Miss Pucey, and knocked instead. The door opened by itself. Cautiously, the wizard and witch squeezed through the narrow gap. Then the door slammed so suddenly that Miss Pucey scarcely had time to jerk the hem of her robes out of the way. Merlin was surprised to find a working laboratory in this deep dungeon. Retorts bubbled. Cauldrons stirred themselves. Liquids, glowing in the oddest colors, chased each other through coils of glass tubing. Candles smoked and flickered as they drifted through the air. “They seem to be from home,” Miss Pucey sniffed, inspecting her dusty finger after stroking the handle of a blue ceramic teapot. “No one has had tea here for at least a week.” “Maybe they prefer firewhisky,” Merlin suggested. He made a sweeping gesture that gathered in all the simmering potions and distilling fumes. “These would have boiled dry by now if – ” His reasoning was interrupted when a disembodied voice shrieked, “Petrificus totalis!” Merlin ... Read More »

The Magic Quill #160: Furrier Destructions


by Robbie Fischer Contest winner: Sir Read-a-Lot Runner-up: greyniffler Sadie charged into Endora’s laboratory, shouting strings of consonants that sounded indecent without vowels to clothe them. A crystal finger stuck out of her right ear. She didn’t seem able to hear or understand the protests of the receptionist, the watchman, and the laboratory assistant who ran in after her. Endora looked up from the mortar and pestle, with which she was crunching numbers. “What’s all this?” she asked, in a tone of voice that Sadie understood to mean, “Calm down!” even before she unplugged her right ear. “Have you resleeved any massages by Floo?” Sadie demanded, her words still a bit jumbled but at least recognizable. “Yes, we all have,” said Sadie. She gestured toward a sealed roll of parchment on the edge of her workbench. “Been rather busy, though,” she added. “Someone spiked a shipment of Chanel No 5 with a magical algorithm that makes it shift through a succession of surreal numbers. There’s no telling what effect the scent might have on the general public…” “Then you haven’t bean enclaved to that gist with the ring?” Sadie grinned with relief. “Whatever you dough, doughnut read it. Have everybody ... Read More »

The Magic Quill #159: Minimilian Returns

Malfoy Manor

by Robbie Fischer Contest winner: Linda Carrig As Sir Lionel crept through the mysterious compound, he discovered that it was much larger than he had spotted at first. Clearly, the wizards here were caught up in more than one sinister plan. Beyond the ring of huts he found a grove of walnut trees playing cricket with their own fallen fruit. Getting through it without being hit by a leathery, walnut-cored ball was quite tricky. Then there was the thicket of ash and yew trees that he found practicing archery, using bows and arrows made out of their own branches; Sir Lionel had to be very careful to avoid becoming a target. He edged nervously around a copse of whomping willows that he found sparring with each other, raining splinters and twigs from every collision of their powerful limbs. At the brink of a stream he encountered another variety of willows whose long, supple branches, trailing in the water, snatched up passing fish now and again. He wondered what they were called, and was trying to decide between “reaping rillows” and “wringing whompers” when he felt a wand-tip touch the back of his neck. “Hands up slowly,” said the wizard behind ... Read More »

The Magic Quill #158: History of Magic


by Robbie Fischer Contest winner: Dragonic Runner-up: greyniffler, Linda, Rehannah, TWZRD, & Evensong With apologies to Pamela Dean and Roald Dahl In a hut of mud-caulked timber, in a compound full of similar huts, in a remote valley, a door opened and closed as if by itself. As a school lesson was going on in that hut, the teacher halted her lecture on magical inventions to look round at the door, but she saw nothing to explain the event. She looked narrowly at the children before her, studying them for signs that one of them was playing a joke with, say, a wand under the desk. Seven young faces looked up at her, as surprised and alarmed as she was. “Never mind,” she shrugged. She resumed pacing up and down in front of her students. “Let’s check what you’ve learned now. Patrick, who do you think was the greatest wizard inventor?” The youngest of the three boys flashed a crooked smile and said, “I’m after sayin’ it were Bertrand the Bibulous.” The teacher composed her face to a long-suffering expression and asked, “And how did Wizard Bertrand make our world better?” “Why, by inventing the cure for hangover, sure.” The ... Read More »

The Magic Quill #157: Dungeon Brownies


by Robbie Fischer Contest winner: Rehannah Runner-up: TWZRD The light at the tips of their wands revealed a grim sight to Merlin and Miss Pucey. Ahead of them, a flagstoned passage receded into darkness. Along each side ran an endless series of heavy doors with barred windows in them at eye level. When they looked through the windows, they saw heaps of bones, some more or less held together by remnants of sinew and tattered clothes. The bones of humans mingled with those of the rats who had starved with them – or, at least, shortly after them. Miss Pucey shuddered. Merlin growled at the back of his throat, sounding fiercer than he felt. The dungeon continued straight ahead, damp and cold and still and heavy with despair and death. It seemed they had been walking through it for hours, yet the cell doors marched onward in unbroken formation. Now and again Merlin checked to see if a cell had been occupied, and each time he came away from the window with the same bitter growl. Then, for the first time since passing the Joke Knocker, they saw something different. It appeared so suddenly, in fact, that the duo only ... Read More »

The Magic Quill #156: In For a Sickle


by Robbie Fischer Contest winner: Linda Carrig Runner-up: Dragonic A canal in Venice. A moonlit night. The sound of a guitar playing behind some open window. A dog pauses while chasing a rat across a bridge, looks down and sees a head emerging from the water, then resumes pursuit. Wisely, Rigel doesn’t dismiss the Bubble-Head charm until he is well on dry land. He heaves himself wearily up a short flight of stone steps and collapses on the stone quay. Looking down, he sees a clutch of hideous women looking up at him from just below the water’s surface. They favor him with rude gestures; he returns the favor. They linger, as if hoping he will come back down into the water, until he catches his breath enough to walk away. Rigel’s legs feel like pieces of cooked spaghetti as he trudges, dripping, through a narrow alley. He looks around carefully, trying to get his bearings and hoping he can get to his hotel without having to cross water. He absent-mindedly rubs the stoneskin ring that hangs around his neck on a leather thong. He owes his survival to its protection from the merhags’ piercing fangs. On the other hand, ... Read More »

The Magic Quill #155: The Hystereo Effect

Xenophillius Lovegood

by Robbie Fischer Joint contest winners: Rehannah & TZWRD The whistle didn’t sound as Sadie expected. When Mr. Graves, or rather Joe Albuquerque, put it to his lips and blew, she had braced herself for a shrill blast. Instead, it gave a loud “Baaa!” Duckham fell forward out of his chair. He had been resting his forearms on the table, until it vanished. Suddenly the Ministry inquisitor sprawled face-down on the floor. As he pushed himself up onto hands and knees, he heard another “Baaa!” behind him. Looking over his shoulder, he had only enough time to see a furry blur charging toward him, head down. He rolled out of the way. The charging goat narrowly missed, its hooves clattering and sliding on the floor tiles, the smell of its fur filling the interrogation room. Weedom screamed when the table turned into the goat. He tried to get to the door, but the goat charged that next – with splintery results. The door stood up to two more blows from the goat’s bony head before it gave way, landing on a surprised Millbray who had come running to see what was the matter. The three men picked themselves up, panting, ... Read More »

The Magic Quill #154: Gnome Warfare


by Robbie Fischer Contest winner: Dragonic Runner-up: Sir Read-a-Lot Using his wand to join the edges of the monkey skins, Sir Lionel Niblet put the finishing touches on his new all-weather cloak. It was both practical and stylish, with a warm layer of fur facing inward and a suede-like suppleness facing out. He examined it approvingly, then slipped it on. The fit was perfect. He should have been a tailor. “If I ever find my way out of this horrid valley,” he thought aloud, “I’ll have found my true calling, at least.” Round about his campsite were the trappings of his new life, since his broomstick had rammed into an invisible wall high above the island. The broom, still held together by a few splinters, had barely managed to slow his fall into this long, deep cut between two parallel mountain ridges. It had been a hard landing, but survivable – except his broom was completely shattered now. Without it, he had no way of scaling the sheer sides of the ravine. So he had turned his thoughts toward survival. Uncounted weeks had passed. The stream that ran along the bottom of the ravine had provided him many suppers of ... Read More »

The Magic Quill #153: Margarine Headache

Ministry of Magic

by Robbie Fischer Contest winner: greyniffler Runner-up: Benjamin Ng The hard-faced men in one of the more brutish, back offices of the Ministry of Magic had ways of making people talk. Or, given a suspect like Sadie, who had vast resources of shtumness to draw upon, they had ways of keeping people waiting. Sadie began to sweat during her sixth hour in a row of holding her fists clenched. The ring of Count Matthias was in one hand. In her other fist was the bone whistle Joe Albuquerque had given her. Nothing could compel her to show either item to her interrogators. But they were equally determined to know what she knew. She still hadn’t had a moment of privacy in which to blow the whistle. She wondered whether she would, anyway. She wasn’t exactly sure what would happen if she did. For the eighteenth time since they rescued her from the footnotes of a self-updating report on the number of breeding pairs of augureys in Hertfordshire, the crack interrogators of the Office of Magical Documentation and Records swapped position – most likely a strategy to wrong-foot her. It hadn’t worked six hours ago; far less would it work now ... Read More »