The Magic Quill No. 175: The Hag Bride
Contest winner: TWZRD
Harvey found himself in the Great Hall at Hogwarts, standing just below the dais where the head table belonged. Instead of the house tables, rows of chairs filled the room, with an aisle down the center carpeted by a strip of avocado-green taffeta. The chairs closest to the aisle were decorated with nosegays of shockingly ugly flowers, most of them either venomous or redolent of spoiled meat.
What, Harvey wondered, had he gotten himself into? And why couldn't he remember how he came to be here...? He looked at himself, and around himself, in a desperate quest to remember.
The dais was covered in a tasteless weave that looked almost like burlap embroidered with twine. The designs featured flowers even more garishly ugly than the ones that decorated the chairs. The staff table had been removed, replaced by a hideously decorated lectern under a gazebo-like awning. A wizard Harvey vaguely recalled as a member of the Wizengamot smiled down at him from under a mantel that appeared to have been stitched out of a yak's pelt. Harvey tried not to look lost as he checked out his own attire (dress robes) and the audience waiting in the chairs. The cream of wizarding society sat on one side, and a collection of crones and hags on the other. Each side watched the other with some mixture of disgust, fear, and resentment.
Are they waiting for me to make a speech? Harvey wondered. Or am I about to be presented with some type of award...?
He shifted on his feet nervously. Someone coughed. A few people on the wizarding side of the aisle smiled at him. One or two of the crones glared at him. Most people who showed any signs of impatience, did so by looking round at the doors at the back of the hall. They didn't seem to be waiting for Harvey to say or do anything.
The more Harvey studied the people in the chairs, the more he was convinced that something truly life-changing was about to come through those doors. He wished with all his might that he could remember what he was waiting for. As more time passed, he looked for other things to hold his attention, so that he wouldn't have to think about his feelings of dread and anticipation.
There, in the sixth row, he recognized the chap from his year who had been caught stealing other students' school books and selling them to a squib porter at Hogsmeade Station. Harvey remembered it because he was on the student committee that had tried to restore the confiscated books to their rightful owners. The ownership of some of them had proven too mysterious for their sleuthing skills, such as the creepy "Half Blood Prince" one Harvey had voted to burn. He was outvoted, though, and the unclaimed books were all tucked into cupboards in the classrooms where their subject was taught, in the hope that their owners would come searching for them....
Harvey sighed. As nothing continued to happen, he reflected on how his passion for student safety had mellowed during the years since he was a student in these halls. He himself had put four thankless children through Hogwarts. He understood the hope that some wizarding parents cherished that their dear little ones might come home with one or two less limbs and an attitude more receptive to parental advice. During his years on the Hogwarts Parent Council, he had seen six motions to raze the Forbidden Forest outvoted by wide margins, on the grounds that rule-breaking and inability to mind one's own were genetic traits that could do with a bit of weeding out. In other words, most Hogwarts parents seemed to agree that, without at least a small chance their children might never come home, there would be no fun in sending them away to school.
The Board of Governors (which Harvey had chaired three years in a row) had also held, for as long as anyone could remember, that nothing teaches a healthy respect for the dangers of potion-making, transfiguration spells, magical beasts and plants, and the dark arts than the occasional mishap such as having one's finger bitten off by a venomous tentacula, or being trapped in the Haunted Airing Cupboard for a month or two. And if the student in question dies, what then? The lesson would be learned by others!
Harvey nodded grimly as he recalled the incident that had brought him over to this point of view -- the little blighter who just wouldn't wouldn't turn down the dare to say "Widdershins" three times while looking into the Mirror of Noitcepsorter -- the one in the fifth-floor hallway that usually showed what one looked like from behind. After whispering the key word for the third time, the boy began to squeal. To this day, no one knew whether he squealed out of excitement to see the back of his head (in the mirror) turning, so that at last his face looked back at him, or whether it was from pain as his body twisted around, from the neck down, to face the direction opposite to his head.
The case was incurable. To this day, the lad (now a young man working in the back room of an apothecary shop in Dublin) had to look backward while walking forward. And Harvey, who no longer had to deal with his younger son's inability to resist a dare and his third wife's habit of throwing hysterics over the tiniest things, was eternally grateful to the Mirror of Noitcesporter.
Harvey was prodded out of his contemplations by a sudden onslaught of nerve-shredding noise. A ghostly orchestra, all armed with musical saws, had started playing a tune that remotely resembled Isaiah Thwackem's well-known processional piece, "The Ear-Trumpet Involuntary in C-Double-Sharp." Harvey reckoned that if this went on for much longer, a lot of the folks in this room would soon be in the market for ear-trumpets of their own.
The doors at the far end flew open with a rafters-shaking crash. The first to make their dramatic entry was a couple, walking promenade-fashion with the female's hand on the wizard's arm. The wizard, Harvey noticed with interest as they moved closer, was himself -- another one of himself, that is -- and the female in question was a simpering hag, got up in a flouncy dress of tangerine-tinted twill. She also sported a shapeless, lacy hat and a completely unnecessary parasol, which rested open on her free arm and, consequently, caught in the hair and clothing of the person nearest the aisle in each row.
By the time Harvey noted all this, two more similar couples had joined the procession. All of the men were Harvey. All of the females were hags. Different hags, each a startlingly original variation on the theme of ugliness trying, with little success and less taste, to appear beautiful. Six, seven... nine... eleven of couples marched in, one after the other, stepping more or less in time with Thwackem's Involuntary. As they reached the foot of the dais, the couples parted, the hags to form a line in front of their side of the audience, the Harveys to line up to Harvey's left.
Harvey's heart sank as he began to realize what this event was, and the role he was fated to play in it.
And now it sank even further when the musical-saw orchestra changed its tune. As they played the opening bars of Pachyderm's "Bombardment and Dissociative Fugue," a hairy, muscular leg thrust itself out of the shadows beyond the great doors, its foot clad in a shoe Harvey could have worn as a helmet. A high-heeled shoe. With training wheels.
The rest of the leg followed, accompanied by the other of the pair and the rest of a very lumpy, spotty, snaggle-toothed hag. She blushed. She giggled. She blew kisses to Harvey over the top of her toadstool bouquet. Her hair had been teased into a massive structure, reinforced with bits of wood and bone and elaborately knotted pieces of mismatched string. Her dress was a suffocating mass of yellowy-white lace, gauze, satin, bleached and felted human hair, and albino leather. Nevertheless, it revealed too much -- things that made Harvey shudder to think about his wedding night. How had he gotten himself into this? Could he still get out of it, considering present company, without getting smashed to a jelly? Where was his wand? Perhaps he could at least put his own eyes out...
Harvey's horror grew as he realized that he could do or say nothing to stop the ceremony. Compelled by a force he didn't understand -- though it certainly didn't feel like an Imperius curse -- he took the bride's hand on his arm and faced the smiling justice of the Wizengamot. Help me, he screamed, but only in his mind. The justice's opening patter ended too quickly. Harvey didn't seem able to make a single sound, except when asked if he was willing to take Madrigal (so that was her name!) as his awfully wedded spouse; and then his mouth disloyally formed the words, "I will." The vows were even worse. Apparently Madrigal had written the vows for both of them, and Harvey was horrified to hear the things he promised her. My soul WHAT? ...What's this about my internal organs? ...Bathe WHERE? ...Oh, stars, no! Not the troll-bone tea service!...
The exchange of rings was most unpleasant, given how filthy and clammy Madrigal's hands were. Harvey thought his despair could grow no deeper until the bride threw back her veil. Until then he hadn't realized she was wearing one. Seeing her for the first time in all her glory, Harvey felt his innards recoil with a start. Her puckering lips protruded, wriggling and making a flesh-crawling sound like two balloons being rubbed together. Worst of all, he couldn't stop himself from leaning in for their first kiss as husband and wife...
Harvey screamed in his sleep. Madrigal smiled a smile of blissful satisfaction as she sat on his chest, cross-legged, knitting a tasseled cosy for the knob in the center of the headboard.
The house-elf named Dinty appeared beside the bed with a pop, bearing a glass of mulled milk on a tray in answer to his master's summoning cry of anguish. The elf's eyes bulged at the sight of the hag riding his master.
"I will, thank you," Madrigal said with gravelly daintiness. "None for himself, I'm afraid." She threw back the toddy in one dash, tossed the glass into the hearth with a crash, and belched richly. "A little less milk next time," she reflected critically. "Let's say, one third as much. Make up the balance with firewhisky. Keep the rest the same. All right?"
The house-elf gulped, nodded, and disappeared.
Harvey groaned. Madrigal giggled.
"Is he gone?" said a painting of a young wizard with his body facing the opposite way to his head, a full-length portrait squeezed into the narrow wall-space between two sash windows.
Madrigal gave the painting a slightly disturbing wink.
The turned-around wizard stepped down out of his painting--or rather, Joe Albuquerque stepped down off the frame, where he had stood carefully balanced in front of the actual painting. For a moment, it looked as though a young wizard contemplated his own, exact image. Then Joe shook himself, pulled a robe over his head, and emerged as an exact double of Madrigal the hag -- though, naturally, with her head facing the right direction.
"Coo," said Madrigal. "It's like being in two places at once!"
"Something your victim knows a lot about," said the other Madrigal. "I'll take over here, in case that house-elf comes back. You move along down the corridor. You have a lot of Harveys to terrorize tonight. And remember, if you see this bauble" -- Madrigal 2 held up a gnarled little finger, wearing a replica of the Ring of Count Matthias -- "bring it directly to me. All right?"
The original Madrigal appeared to give these orders some consideration as she climbed off Harvey's chest.
"Is there a problem?" said Madrigal 2, taking her place.
Madrigal 1 looked confused. "I just don't know if..."
"Look at me," said Joe Albuquerque, his voice (like his face) almost indistinguishable from the hag's. "Don't you trust this face?"
After a split second of seemingly painful thought, Madrigal flashed a grin that almost stopped Joe's heart in his chest. "I suppose there's no point arguing with meself," she chortled; then she left the room with a merry wave.
Joe crossed his thick, hairy legs (or rather, Madrigal's) and tried to make himself comfortable on top of Harvey's chest. Still trapped in a nightmare, Harvey whimpered beneath him.
"Police work," Joe muttered.
+++ DOUBLE CHALLENGE FOR TMQ #177 +++
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