Il Comte di Bestemmia
After the goblins sealed Merlin and his party in the vault of Il Comte, once again, he gave up hope of ever escaping. Their attempts so far
had led nowhere, and the flaws in Gringotts security they had found were now repaired. Four years had skipped by, thanks to the few drops of
Tomorrow Tonic that had splashed on them. So, he began the painful task of accepting reality: namely, the reality that he would most likely
never see the outside of Il Comtes vault again.
Ironically, deliverance was at hand for all of them: for Merlin; for Rigel (though he had been turned into a one-year-old child); for the
four runaways from Durmstrang who had accompanied them on many of their adventures; and for the three Italian clown wizards who had been
drinking their way through Il Comtes wine cellar in search of the one bottle that contained a genie.
It was Jaan who first remembered that Rigels wandhornbeam, with an augurey tail-feather core, eleven inches, bendywas still in the robes
he had been wearing when he changed from a grown man into a tiny child.
Of course, when he remembered this and explained it to Slavik, Slaviks mind immediately jumped to the pocket universe storage locker that
was also in Rigels robes. This contained a portable hole, a silken ladder, and various other magical goodies that would surely help them
all get out of the vault...
But when they searched Rigels robes, the wizards excitement and hopefulness turned again to bitter despair. No one could find a pocket
universe storage locker. It seemed that it only presented itself to Rigels fingersand Rigel was now at an age where he could hardly
understand what a pocket universe storage locker was, let alone attempt to use it.
So once again it came down to that last, unused wand. Jaan held it up triumphantly and asked a question in his own language. Slavik
translated, We get one spell with this wand. What shall it be?
Accio genie! said Don Pagliai and Signor Subito at the same time. In his excitement, the maudlin mime named Signor Boccachiusa began
skipping around the room, laughing soundlessly.
Youd best take shelter, Merlin warned, before Jaan executed the spell.
A cork shot out of a champagne bottle, deep among the rows of wine-racks into which the clowns had been making steady inroads. At once, Don
Pagliai uttered a stream of oaths in Italian, followed by the words, Of course! How diabolically clever. We never seemed to be in the mood
Instead of bubbles, the open bottle gushed forth copious amounts of glittery vapor that gathered on the floor and soon filled the whole
vault to a depth of about two feet. Then, with an even louder POP, the genie emerged. It looked like a huge gilded man, whose girth crushed
several racks of wine bottles, and whose height forced him to double over with his back wedged against the ceiling. The wizards were forced
back into a corner opposite the vault door. Now, unless they could get what they wanted out of this genie, they were truly trapped forever.
The first thing the genie said was, Blimey! Thats more like it! And he spent the next few minutes groaning, stretching, and flexing his
flabby limbs. I cant tell you what a relief it is to be out of that bottle. Can anyone spare a drop of drink? Im fairly parched, that I
Nervously, Anatoly handed over his goblet of wine, which barely wet the genies palate. Still, by the time he had swallowed it, the genie
seemed a bit less crowded between the floor and ceiling. Slavik, Karl, and Subito offered their own cups, which the genie gratefully drank,
smacking his lips. Soon he was able to stand with only his head bowed beneath the ceiling. Then he belched, and thanked everyone for their
kindness, and asked for directions to the loo.
Wait a moment, said Don Pagliai. Havent you forgotten to give us our wishes?
Oh, bother the wishes, said the genie. Cant a body enjoy his first moments of freedom without being nagged for the bloody wishes? I tell
you, a genies life is hard. Its all business, business, businessexcept for a thousand years wedged inside a bottle, now and then. Its
enough to drive a body to drink!
I sympathize, truly, said Don Pagliai, looking as angelic as a purple-haired fat man in a clown costume can. But just think about it. If
you grant us just one wish, you can have this whole vault full of fine wine all to yourselfand if you happen to fall into a bottle, there
wont be anyone around to stick the cork in.
The genie scratched his thin thoughtfully.
Well throw in a magic picnic blanket that never runs out of food, Merlin added.
We have a deal, the genie said, snapping his fingers. Whats your wish, then? Lets get this over with.
Thats our sentiment exactly, said Pagliai. That you would send me home with all these friends of minethat is my wish.
So much for Merlins attempts to stop Pagliai from stating his wish so quickly and carelessly. He was still making stop gestures at the
fat clown when the dank vault vanished and he found himself, with all his companions, standing in an enormous hall. Bright sunlight poured
in through windows high in the walls, illuminating portraits and statues and tapestries. Fluted columns, a ribbed ceiling, and a shimmering
expanse of tiled floor surrounded him, making him feel very small. In every direction he could see large trees in planting pots, singing
birds in cages, richly woven rugs, and expensive vases full of flowers. And in the center of the room, a devilishly handsome man of some
forty-five years lounged on a fainting couch, gazing into a hand-held mirror, attended by a house-elf bearing a tray laden with sections of
fruit and cheese.
The house-elf saw them first, but said nothing. Its eyes narrowed, and its tall ears flattened against its head, but that was its only
reaction to the appearance of eight men and a baby in the middle of the great hall.
Ah, me. Dear me. Dear me! the man sighed, still fascinated by what he saw in his mirror. The silk ascot around his throat bobbed up and
down with emotion. Have I ever mentioned, Ombra, how deeply I care for myself?
Si, signore, the house-elf said. But signore...
I have never met anyone so remarkable as me, Signore went on heedlessly. I am simply superb. My equal in elegance, in power, and in
worthiness to lead cannot be named. Literally! But enough about him. It is myself with whom I am concerned. The ascot bobbed again. You
see? Whenever I think of myself, I get choked up. There is nothing that I wouldnt do for menothing!no matter how difficultno matter how
painfulno matter how wicked...
Overcome with emotion, the Signore buried his face in the folds of his rich, velvety robe.
The house-elf took this opportunity to introduce the guests, who were just now trying to sneak behind the Signore with Don Pagliai in the
Signore Maledicto, squeaked Ombra. The clowns have returned, and they have brought company.
Indeed? Maledicto looked around and brightened at the sight of his long-absent clown servants. Pagliai! Subito! Boccachiusa! How I have
missed you! And who are these others? Apprentices, perhaps?
With your leave, we will depart from this house, Don Pagliai said bravely, and then added, Signore.
What! cried Signore Maledicto. And fail to partake of the largesse of Il Comte Maledicto di Bestemmia? By no means!
With a snap of his fingers, Il Comtes fainting couch and mirror vanished, replaced by a table covered with rich wine and food. Clowns,
runaway Durmstrang boys, and Merlin alike shuddered at the sight. They had no wish for another morsel of Il Comtes hospitality.
No, Don Pagliai said simplythough by the sound of his voice, it was the only sound he could get out without gagging.
But I insist! said Il Comte, and he snapped his fingers again. The other wizards felt themselves forced down into deep, cushiony chairs,
from which they could not rise. Laughing cruelly, Il Comte seated himself at the head of the table, with Ombra standing at his elbow. I am
so eager to know what you and your friends have learned, Pagliai. I swear that the wine will not stop pouring, and good things will continue
to be served to you, as long as you talk. Now: what did you find in Gringotts? Eh?
Rigel, pinned to Merlins lap, wriggled and whined. For once, Merlin knew exactly how he felt.
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