Enormity in Action
Contest winner: Linda Carrig
The cupboard door effectively hid her, while the holes carved into it in
an elaborate design enabled her to see every move of the duel. This, she
thought wryly, must be the reason Aunt or Uncle Leslie wanted to load up
It began with the sound of thunderous footsteps growing ever closer.
Sadie had hidden before the door even opened. As the enormous witch or
wizard passed through the broad archway at one end of the room, the
space was suddenly filled with a blaze of light that made Sadie's eyes
water. It came from mirrors hung all around the walls, and showed that
the room was furnished only with a sturdy bench under the center of each
long wall and an enormous dresser at the end opposite to the arch.
Several other ornately carved doors stood around the room, similar to
the cupboard door in front of Sadie.
Aunt or Uncle Leslie paced, his or her body quivering with each step. It
was impossible to read the expression of his or her bloated face.
Meanness and hunger always seemed to be there, and there was precious
little nuance the tiny eyes and puckered mouth could add. But impatience
must have been on the menu, for when Sadie heard a distinct pop near the
far end of the room, His or Her Horridness snarled, "You're late."
Sadie shifted her position quietly to get a better look at whoever had
Apparated. She didn't have to stifle a gasp - her habits of burglary
were too deeply settled to allow such a gaffe - but her shock registered
in the way her grip tightened around the fang whistle that hung round
"I was forced to make an unexpected detour," Il Comte di Bestemmia
"Detour my toe," said the mountain of flesh that faced him, his or her
voice as androgynous as her or his body. "You Apparated, didn't you?"
"But in stages, of course," said the well-groomed wizard, fingering a
black carnation in his buttonhole. "Many carefully planned and prepared
stages, some in countries I have only visited for the purpose of setting
them. So when I spotted someone following me - inconceivable as that may
seem - I was forced to double back and work my way around through
another region. It would have been even more difficult, had I not
traveled so extensively. You see, it does pay to be a wizard of the
"How could anyone follow you?" the giant or giantess honked peevishly.
"You can't follow someone who is Apparating, unless you know where they
were going and every stage of their route. How would someone know that?"
"I was wondering the same thing," said Il Comte with his usual smiling
charm. "I'll admit one theory crossed my mind."
"I would hardly need to put a trace on you," Uncle or Auntie snapped,
having caught his or her guest's meaning. "I know where I live. Which
leaves few possibilities apart from one of us being indiscreet."
Il Comte's eyes sparked and gleamed. "Shall we settle the matter in the
usual form?" he purred.
"If that pleases you," said Uncle or Aunt Leslie. "But I must say, it's
a pity to kill you before we get down to business."
"That is hardly a difficulty," said Il Comte, drawing a gleaming white
wand out of his spotless robes. "We can deal while we duel. Our heirs
will carry out whatever agreement we reach. Have you an elephant bird
"Certainly," said Auntie or Uncle. "Two of them, in fact. They can write
duplicate contracts with utter reliability, while one of us obtains
satisfaction. May I ring for my nephew? He will bring the quills."
"By all means," said Il Comte.
Uncle or Aunt Leslie reached forward and pulled on thin air - or
perhaps, an invisible bell-pull. Somewhere in the distance a gong
While they waited for the nephew to show up, Il Comte fingered his wand,
sniffed his fingertips, and looked his opponent over.
"I believe you have lost weight," he said blandly.
"It's possible," said Auntie or Uncle Leslie. "My former physician
suggested a low-carb diet. I started by eating him."
"Did you notice a difference?"
"He was a lot tougher and dryer than my previous doctor. I hate the ones
who practice what they preach."
Il Comte rolled his eyes heavenward. "I meant," he said with deliberate
patience, "a difference in how you feel."
"I find it harder to feel full," said Uncle or Auntie. "And at night I
"At least that's something," Signore Maledicto muttered.
A starved-looking young man - the one Sadie had been following - bowed
his way into the room. "Yes, sir or ma'am?"
"Fetch the wooden box from my bedchamber," he or she snapped at him.
The youngster hesitated.
Uncle or Aunt Leslie snorted impatiently: "Well?"
"Do you mean the hope chest at the foot of your bed?" the youth asked.
"The one with pink bunnies, flowers, and a pony painted on the lid? Or
is it the box with the cricket things and hunting knives, that you keep
under the stuffed swordfish on your wall?"
Uncle or Auntie chewed his or her tongue, turning several shades of pink
and purple, before choking out the words: "The small one, like a pencil
box, in the first drawer of my writing desk. Quick step, now."
Il Comte refrained from snickering, as that would be beneath his
dignity; but he did so in such a manner that Aunt or Uncle Leslie knew
about it, and resented it.
"It's not that I am so attached to childish things," he or she explained
loftily. "I have earned far more valuable belongings since I turned to
... er, business. But some of the objects handed down to me in childhood
are really quite valuable. Do you know I own the very pot in which Jules
Melantier and Everard Owens brewed their infamous Tempest of 1588?"
"The one that got away?" Il Comte's slightly raised eyebrows showed
slight interest, which coming from him meant he was very impressed
"The very one," said Uncle or Aunt Leslie. "Their mistake was trying to
pour it into a cup without adding milk first. The china was not of the
best quality. The cup shattered, the storm escaped, the Spanish Armada
was destroyed... "
"It's an ill wind that bloweth no man to good," quipped Maledicto.
"My granduncle gave me the pot," said Auntie or Uncle. "I keep it in my
hope chest. Before I punch out, I hope to use it again. Perhaps I will
brew a storm that will wash a lot of useless people away. Pity that you
won't be there to enjoy it."
"If you say so," said Il Comte.
The starved nephew was back. Looking very serious, he handed a small
wooden box to Auntie or Uncle Leslie. Obeying a look from him or her,
the youth backed out of the room and vanished around the corner.
"Let me set this on the dresser," said Uncle or Auntie Leslie. "Once the
quills are ready to write, we can begin."
He or she heaved his or her bulk the length of the room, pulled two
scrolls of parchment out of a dresser drawer, weighted the edges down
with lead soldiers who, Sadie was sure, would walk down the scroll,
keeping a length of it open for the quills to write on, while allowing
the ends to roll themselves up. Two inkwells were uncorked and set
alongside the parchment. Finally, the enormous witch or wizard lifted
the lid of the wooden box and took something out of it. As he or she
swung round to face Il Comte, Sadie saw briefly that it was a wand -
white, like Il Comte's, but a white not of wood but of bone.
Sadie's eyes widened, but Il Comte was not all surprised. Before the
wand came to bear on him, he had his trained on the center of Uncle or
Auntie Leslie's body mass. He said something then, something terrible
and loud that echoed from the rafters and cracked the glass in some of
the wall mirrors. The vast figure opposite him stood suddenly
motionless. The mean little eyes rolled with terror, but their owner
seemed unable to speak or even breathe. Aunt or Uncle Leslie began to
turn blue as Il Comte walked toward her or him.
"That was poor form," he murmured, taking the wand out of his or her
Beyond belief, Sadie felt sorry for the monstrous creature that sucked
in one huge, wheezing breath, then breathed out once and stopped again,
looking as terrified and almost as blue as before.
"I find the Imperius Curse terribly passé, don't you? Besides, your
Ministry here has set up so many new restrictions and taboos that I am
loath to risk it. What do you think of this litte substitute? I whipped
it up myself. Breathe."
Auntie or Uncle gasped in, blew out, and was frozen again. Sadie
clutched at the sides of her face, feeling some of his or her torture
herself, yet afraid to give in to her urge to gasp for air. She was sure
Il Comte would hear her, even from her hiding place several meters away.
"Here's how it works," said Il Comte. "You still have your free will -
but you can only act upon it with my permission. If I forget to tell you
to breathe, for example, you will die. Breathe."
His helpless victim breathed, looking both terrified and furious at
"I will only give you permission to do what I want you to do," Il Comte
said calmly, walking all the way around him or her. It took quite a few
steps. "And if you don't do it, I will leave you like this. You won't
last very long - just long enough to make it unpleasant. But really, at
bottom, it's up to you. You can choose to do what I ask, and live; or
you can do nothing. Breathe."
Another breath. Sadie breathed at the same time. Watching this was
agony. She fiddled with the whistle on its dragon-bone chain, tempted to
"Now," said Il Comte, "I believe you have in your possession a certain
ring that has only come to light after being lost for centuries. What is
it called again? The Ring of Count Stephen? Answer."
"Either that or of Count Matthias," Uncle or Auntie wheezed, stealing as
many breaths as possible between his or her words. "It depends on which
"That's enough," said Il Comte, instantly arresting his adversary's
tongue and lungs. "Is it true that whatever writing you seal with this
ring must be obeyed by the first person who reads it?" Nod yes or no.
Swelling dangerously, Auntie or Uncle nodded yes.
"Have you tested this? Nod yes or no."
Another affirmative nod.
"All right, breathe. You now have a choice, esteemed colleague. Take me
to the ring and I will free you from this curse. Refuse, and I will turn
every room of this house upside-down till I find it. Either way, I will
have the ring. I am offering you a chance to live, simply in exchange
for shortening my stay in your lovely home, and saving me a bit of
trouble. What is your answer? Nod yes or no."
Uncle or Auntie didn't move for quite a long time. She or he was quite
black in the face before, at last, he or she nodded.
"Excellent," said Il Comte. "You may breathe at will."
Apart from relieved gasps, the huge witch or wizard did not move at all.
Sadie bit her lip, furious and confused. Her mind raced. How could she
find the ring before Uncle or Auntie Leslie led Il Comte to it? How
could she steal it before he did, without becoming the target of a curse
like the one he had cast on Leslie? And how could Il Comte - who, by all
accounts, was not such a powerful wizard in terms of pure magical power
- how could he have cast such a powerful spell?
+++ DOUBLE CHALLENGE +++
You can help decide what happens next in The Magic Quill! First, go to
the forums, or send Robbie feedback. Then, in 250 words or less, answer
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: Which storyline will we see in TMQ #145? A) Sadie and Joe's
mission to recover the Ring of Count Matthias. B) Merlin's mission to
recover a goblin talisman from Il Comte's villa. C) Spanky and
Dalrymple's investigation of Persephone's yak. D) A new mission
featuring another recurring TMQ character. Write-ins will be regarded as
"concepts contributed" and the winner will be chosen by Robbie, if D
gets the most votes in the survey.
CONTEST: What if the "book mistakes" in the Harry Potter series were
actually deliberate ploys to cover up things muggles like us aren't
supposed to know about? Pick an apparent "book mistake" and suggest the
"untold story" that may lie behind it.
Discuss this installment in the forums.
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