The Double Barreled Wizard, Part 2
"Those were exciting days to be at Hogwarts," the cloaked stranger continued. "Dumbledore had just become headmaster. There were lots of new teachers coming in, and everyone was talking about Dumbledore's new measures and what the future might hold, good or bad. Among the people who studied at Hogwarts while I was there were some of the worst death eaters, and many of their bravest and strongest opponents. Harry Potter's parents were just a couple years ahead of me. Seven people in my year became decorated aurors. And four became professional Quidditch players, somewhere or other.
"I wanted to be one of them. I could play any position, except maybe Keeper. I was pretty good, so I tried out each year for the Quidditch team. I was very surprised, very disappointed. I didn't make the team until my fifth year, and that year I was only a reserve player. In spite of working hard and being versatile and agile and quick-witted, I was never a sport hero. I wasn't bad enough to get booed off the field, or great enough to get noticed most of the time. And besides, I had other interests by then.
"It was during my second year, just when I was feeling crushed by not making the house team. What do you think happened? Old Professor Flitwick decided to revive the old Dueling Club. The way Flitwick ran it everything was very formal and structured. It was almost more like debate than combat. Teams or opponents competed in tests of magical skill and creativity. Then each opponent had to conjure something, or transfigure something, and whatever they made would fight it out. In the last round, we blasted hexes at each other-and you'd be amazed how many hexes would get you disqualified if you even tried them-and we tried to shield ourselves from each other's attacks, until one or both of the opponents was too exhausted or disabled to continue. The referee awarded points for style and potency, and the winner of two out of three rounds won the duel. Winners and losers moved up or down in the lists accordingly. It was very complicated, but the challenge was very refreshing.
"Naturally, having two wand hands gave me an edge in dueling. That, and being able to track two series of events at once. Also, I was able to maintain a shield with one hand and shoot hexes at my opponent with the other, or block his spell and create a diversion at the same time. I became especially adept in the third round.
"One time, I believe it was the intra-house championship during my fourth year, my best friend and I were up against each other. Let's call him, er, Otis, for the moment. In round one, we were both set the task of threading a camel through the eye of a needle, without transfiguring, harming, or changing the size of either. We were both stumped for a while. After what seemed like an hour of thought, Otis conjured an Arabian camel, a plastic-canvas needle, and a spinning wheel. Then he put a five-dimensional, non-Schroedinger, curved-space shell around the camel, stuck its tail into the spinning wheel, and spun it out into a thread which (unbroken) required a spindle the size of a cricket bat. Then he put the end of the camel-thread through the needle, backed it into the spinning wheel, and began to spin the thread into a camel again. It looked like he was going to win the race for sure, but when he was down to only a yard or two of thread, I had my inspiration. Conjuring a whalebone sail needle and a pack of unfiltered cigarettes, I won the round as fast as you can say 'L. S. M. F. T.'
"Of course, I lost points for underage possession and littering. The cellophane wrapper, don't you know. But Otis also lost points when the camel relieved itself on Professor Flitwick.
"The tension mounted as we went into the second round. I was barely ahead, and Otis was angry that I had overtaken him. There is nothing like competition between best friends to bring out the throat-cutting louse in the best of us, and we were no exception. Flitwick drew a circle of containment on the dungeon floor, and we were each allowed to place three objects inside it before the spell went into effect. Choosing from the items cluttering the room, I picked a wax grape, a stuffed dog, and a wire brush. Otis picked a wax banana, a cracked goldfish bowl, and a used coffee filter. Our instructions were to transfigure each object once, turn and turn, until one opponent's objects were all destroyed or incapacitated. Also, each transformation had to follow some kind of logic.
"I drew the first turn. I turned my toy dog into a live one, which barked and ran straight toward the garbage on Otis' side of the circle. Flitwick gave me two points. Now it was Otis' turn. He turned the aquarium into a large crab with snapping claws. He got a point because crabs sometimes live in aquariums. Just as my dog was about to attack the coffee filter, the aquarium-crab scuttled over to him and clamped its jaws shut with one huge claw. Otis got another two points.
"Immediately I turned the grape into a gorilla. Flitwick demanded to know what a grape and a gorilla had in common. 'Er, alliteration?' I tried. 'Try again,' said Flitwick, as the gorilla stormed around the circle, stomping the stuffing out of my living toy dog and breaking the glass crab into a million shards. I then remembered a television cartoon I used to see sometimes, when I played with my Muggle friends in the home village. But I knew Flitwick wouldn't know about it. Just as Flitwick was about to award me a negative score, I cried out, 'His crab took my dog's grrr. I took the gr from the grape and I got an ape.'
"Flitwick looked very dissatisfied, but he awarded me half a point. By now the gorilla was sniffing the wax banana, and I was wondering why Otis hadn't done a spell yet. Then the gorilla chomped down on the banana, and it shattered like glass. The gorilla howled with pain, ran around the circle a couple of times, and curled up by itself to have a good cry. 'Very good!' Flitwick squeaked. 'A full point for the glass banana, and two points for putting the gorilla out of commission.'
"'But Professor,' I fumed, 'what does glass have to do with bananas?' 'Well,' Flitwick said smugly, 'If his taking the gr from your dog justifies you in taking the gr from your grape, then your wax fruit ape smashing his glass crab justifies him in using glass wax fruit on your ape.'
"I didn't understand the logic of this, but Flitwick was the expert, so I respected his judgment. Resentfully, to be sure. It was my turn now, and fortunately Otis had left me at an advantage by sacrificing his banana to destroy my gorilla. So I made the wire brush grow wiry legs and it ran over to the coffee filter and began scrubbing it, with soapy suds that came from nowhere. Flitwick was suddenly on my side again, clapping and laughing, and he was about to hand me the whole duel (remember, it's best two of three rounds) when Otis quickly turned his coffee-filter into a waste disposal in the middle of the floor. The brush got caught in the drain, its wiry legs tangled up and its back broken. I had to concede defeat.
"So the duel moved into the third round. Otis and I were both quite heated. Each of us glared at the other as at his worst enemy. We could no longer hear the cheers of our clubmates in the echoey dungeon around us. We could only hear the blood throbbing in our..."
"How do you know what he could hear? OW!"
"Shut up, Merle, and let him tell it!"
"Okay, just the facts then. It was in this phase, as I said, that my ambidexterity served to my best advantage. Because I had the first turn in the second round, Otis was allowed first shot this time. This is where lots of players get disqualified, under official dueling rules. Itchy wand-hands, can't wait to get off a defensive spell. Jump ahead of the player who is supposed to have first curse, and you fall prey to the Offsides Duel Rule. Well, I kept my cool. I waited until I saw the Tetonka hex on my opponent's lips. Knowing that he was about to drop a buffalo on me, I aimed my right wand straight up and cast a cushioning spell, and before the next heartbeat I pointed my left wand at Otis and said, Ichthyolabia.
"The dungeon was filled with cheers and roars of laughter as, at the same time, a buffalo came to rest on a cushion of air above my head and Otis' face broke out in, well, fish lips. 'Do you submit?' I challenged. But Otis managed to blub another curse at me-I couldn't hear what he said, all that came out was a bubble-but all at once I felt a horrid sensation all over my body, as if treacle were oozing out of every pore of my skin. Which it was.
"Half-blinded by anger and the other half blinded by treacle, I tried to heave the buffalo in Otis' direction, but it merely slid off the air-cushion and crashed onto the floor between us. At the same time I tried shooting a donkey-ears curse at Otis, but it hit the buffalo instead. And besides, in my anger and slimy, sticky-sweet discomfort, I had become careless and gave it bunny ears instead. Next Otis shot a ringing-in-the-ears curse over the buffalo's back, and while I was fending it off with a quick shield spell in one hand and taking the treacle-sweating curse off with the other, he managed to turn his fish lips back into a regular mouth.
"Before he could say a word, I was shooting greasy packets of limburger cheese at him with both wands. The smell caused him to stagger backward, but as the squishy things drummed against his chest and piled up against his legs, he cried Piloskeinus! If you've ever been hit by that spell, you'll know how awful it is. It's like having all the hair on your head pulled and woven into the spindles of a loom. I was ready, though. I deflected it with my left wand and brought down my right for the finishing blow: Bodenpuden! Instantaneously, the floor beneath his feet turned to custard. Otis sank up to his neck and was stuck.
"'Do you submit?' I shouted again, holding both my wands on him...'I do,' Otis sighed, red in the face. And the intra-house title was mine."
"Was that the end of your friendship?" asked the veiled witch who called herself Sadie.
"Well, we didn't talk to each other for a couple of days, and when we did, the first thing he told me was that if I didn't beat Slytherin in the all-school tournament, he would put a perpetual-flatulence hex on me. But that's another story for another day."
The tall, cloaked stranger tossed back the last of his McKnickers Incendiary, coughed, shrugged deeper into his all-concealing garments, and stood.
"You're not goin' already!" Endora's voice said, disembodied and dismayed. "It's hardly eight o'clock!"
"In the morning," said the cloaked stranger. "I have work to do, before the day is much older. But I will be back, if you'd like to meet me here, and then I'll tell you another chapter in my story."
Without another word he swept away.
"Fiddlestick," said Endora.
"Ah, well," said Sadie. "It's about time for breakfast anyway. I know a great henhouse where we can nick some eggs..."
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