Concept contributed by: "Eric Clapton"
"Coo, if 'e ain't a bloke as needs to use the courtesy a lot," Endora sighed from under her deep hood. "An' 'ere I ham, on tenterhooks awaitin' for 'im to go on wiff 'is story. I wunner if 'e's never heard of an illocal bladder spell."
"I wouldn't worry about it," growled Harvey, who was mopping up water rings on the table with the handkerchief that had been covering his face. Only there was another handkerchief over his features now.
"What do you mean?" asked Endora.
"I mean, he may have other business to attend to, besides visiting the WC."
Sadie and Endora both shuffled their feet nervously in the thoughtful silence that followed this statement.
"Sportin' chap, that Spanky," Merlin remarked amiably, eager to change the subject. "Nothin' like a good sportsman for tellin' a good tale. Mind you, I did a bit of racin' in my day."
"On broomsticks?" Sadie demanded. "You never! I've been to every Cleensweep Derby since..."
"Not that kind of racing," Merlin said pettishly. "Nor the Walpurgis 500, nor the NASBROOM circuit. Them is all about who's cut down his broom for the most speed, an' who has the most nerve, and whose pit crew has the fastest twig clippers. Plus, they're more like a relay race you know, changin' brooms every fifty laps or so. And there's nothin' to see but a hundred duffers flyin' around in circles, tryin' to pass one another on the inside, an' movin' too fast to be able to curse each other decently. No, I mean the Iwixarod."
"The I waxed a what?" Endora asked, puzzled.
"Iwixarod, dear, Iwixarod. Haven't you never heard of the Iwixarod? It's only the greatest test of endurance known to wizardkind! Annual, international, cross-country, no-holds-barred. That's where you need toughness, and resourcefulness, and strategy. 'Cos whoever survives to cross the finish-line is a winner, and whoever wins is one dickens of a survivor. You get one broom, one wand, and any other gear you can carry on your back. And you personally have to obliviate any Muggle who sees you."
"So it's not, like, to the moon and back then?" asked Endora.
"Nah. Course changes every year. First time I flew, it started in Murmansk and ended in Tashkent. Last year, I believe you had to fly from one end of Chile to the other. Some years, most of the flyers never return. Like the year they flew from Mombasa to Dakar...seventy-one wizards started the race, fourteen finished."
"And you did this for fun," Sadie commented dryly.
"It's exciting!" Merlin rhapsodized. "Seein' all them foreign places, meetin' all them strange creatures, cursin' every blighter you saw ridin' a broomstick because if you didn't, he'd curse you. Sleepin' under strange stars. Eatin' things you couldn't name. The wilderness is a great equalizer, you know. Without fancy equipment or a pit crew, all you had to rely on was your own broom and wand. Didn't matter if you were rich or poor. Didn't matter whether you were sponsored by Ogden's Best or Wizz Fizz or even just the Furrage-under-Byre Witches' Auxiliary. You found out if you was a wizard or not."
"And how many times did you finish?" Sadie inquired archly.
"In seventeen runs?" Merlin asked himself. He counted on his fingers. "Er. Four times. Not countin' the time I finished the race ridin' a featherduster."
Harvey choked on a gulp of firewhisky, and resorted to patting himself on the chest.
"Did you ever show?" Sadie asked, even more smugly than before.
"Well...I daresay...er...well, that isn't what's really important. What's important is the experience. Meetin' new people..."
"Yes, yes," Sadie muttered impatiently. "You've gone over all that. What was your best run, then?"
Merlin's eyes brightened and he gazed toward the far wall as though it was far, far away. "Ah, yes. That would be the year after You-Know-Who went who-knows-where. Interest in the race had fallen off over the previous few years, but that year folks came in droves. I remember, too, that was the year Ali Bashir started tryin' to introduce a Carpet Class. They weren't official, of course, but there were four Persians, two Indians, an Arabian, and a kid from Portugal ridin' a rag rug. Most of 'em got snagged on some tree or bush and unraveled before it was over. Then there was a couple of folks who insisted on ridin' sledges pulled by Abraxan horses, but they were sent home 'cos it would have drawn too much notice.
"But the broomsticks! There were big, sky-hogging, magic-guzzlin' ones from the States. Little, dingy ones from Yugoslavia that would tip you over in a crosswind, and bumpy, slow-moving ones from East Germany that had plastic bristles and paper-thin cushioning charms. There was freakishly ugly brooms from France, a funny one from Brazil that vibrated a lot, an Egyptian broom made entirely out of papyrus, and a Russian broomstick that had a hammer at one end and a sickle at the other. There was sleek, chrome-plated ones from Italy, and fussy-looking, high-powered ones from West Germany. There was a Mexican one that had been put together, twig by twig, from the parts of other brooms. There was a lot of Japanese brooms that didn't look too powerful, but they could sure fly long distances on very little magic. And there was me, too, with my trusty old Silver Arrow, as had been to the South Pole and back and still had all the original twigs.
"That year, we was to fly from Vancouver to Thunder Bay, eatin' and drinkin' and wearin' nothin' that we didn't carry from the start, or conjure, or procure for ourselves in the wild. That is to say, we was strictly forbidden to have associates meet us with supplies, or to purchase or steal anything from Muggles along the way. Of course, who's to say as everyone kept these rules? There were five stages along the way-Calgary, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, and International Falls. Outside of them, how were the judges supposed to keep track of a hundred and twelve flyers? We were really quite on our own."
"Coo," said Endora.
"My feelin's exactly," said Merlin. "But bein' on my honor, I stayed on my honor and didn't bend the rules any more than the average flyer did."
"That's right noble of you, Merle," drawled Sadie.
"And you know," Merlin went on, "when you only use your broom to ride a couple of counties over for a pub-crawl or a shoppin' trip in Hogsmeade, you never realize how much magical energy it uses. By the time I got to Saskatoon, I could barely get sparks out of my wand, and by Winnipeg my broom was ridin' so low to the ground that I had to swerve to avoid gettin' caught in trees. It was so exhausting, by the end I had to sleep twelve hours a night and spend another two hours foragin' and eatin' before I could fly again. I had to stop for a rest three, four times a day an' all.
"Then there was the problem of food, drink, and shelter. Conjurin' a feast would have cost me an hour or more of flyin', so basically I had to stun squirrels an' rabbits an' fish and, once or twice, skunks. Stunned 'em with my wand, then did the rest with my knife. I actually collected firewood by hand, and even the incendio charm was sometimes more'n I could manage, so I learned to use a flint and tinder. Tea was a nightmare. And I threw my tent away after Regina 'cos its weight was pullin' me down, so I had to look for ruined houses and sheds to sleep in."
"Sounds like a grand time," said Sadie.
"It was, it was! But the most exciting bit was when I crossed paths with another Iwixarodder. Some of 'em wouldn't stop at nothing to stay ahead, so you learned to hit them before they hit you. Settin' broom tails afire, conjurin' vines to trip them up, runnin' them down into the treetops, peltin' them with rubber chickens..."
"You carried a supply of rubber chickens, I suppose," said Sadie.
"Who didn't?" Merlin said, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. "One wizard staggered into Saskatoon wearin' an upturned firebucket on his head an' nothin' else. Another was found gibbering in a tree after a rival turned his broom into a cobra. And two, three wizards got stuck by wads of Drooble's Best Blowing Gum to the tail-end of an airplane, I won't never say who done it. They hung up their brooms after that, lookin' like they'd been hit by a tornado. And I won't say as no one ever was hit by a tornado. The weather can be tricky in those plains...
"Me, I just kept pushin' my good old Silver Arrow along, makin' sure to whistle up a hailstorm whenever I saw another flyer comin', and one time causin' grass to grow out of a French flyer's nose. Another time, when I noticed a Korean wizard sneaking up on my campsite, I persuaded a colony of termites to attack his broom. When I got to International Falls, there was only forty still in the race, an' more'n half of 'em was ahead of me. But I had taken it pretty easy till then, so I put on my best speed. I flew night and day, scarin' flocks of geese and herds of deer. I buzzed low over boatloads of fishermen who were too busy rummaging in beer coolers to see me, and for a while I rested on the back of a moose as was headed in my general direction.
"On the forty-third mornin' out of Vancouver, I finally flew into Thunder Bay. I was so low to the ground I had to pull my legs into a crouch to keep from draggin' in the dirt. I was goin' so slow, I had a hard time dodgin' a fat old dog that came lungin' after me. I had thrown off all my gear except my wizard robes and hat, my wand, and the dried flower my sweetheart had given me for a buttonhole-a yellow rose, I think it was. An' I was so thin my belly button raised a blister on my back. The old Silver Arrow was startin' to rattle and throb, an' I wasn't feelin' too swift neither. But I crossed the finish line-it was the door of the Drowned Man pub-and was instantly congratulated on coming in twelfth place!"
"Coo," Endora said again.
Sadie wondered, "Did you win anything?"
"A coupon to buy one porridge, get one free at the Leaky Cauldron," Merlin admitted. "And then I could tell you about the time I..."
"No need, no need!" cried Harvey, with evident relief. "Here's our Double Barreled Wizard again. How did you find the lavatory?"
Their heavily cloaked guest shrugged as he sat down at the little parlor table. "It was in the same place as before," he said. "Did I miss something?"
"No," said two voices, and "Yes," said the other two.
"Another time, another time," Harvey hastened to add. "Come, come, tell us more about your fascinating career."
"Very well," said Spanky. "Where was I?"
"Stickin' it to that fellow, Sid Shmedly, in the All-School title duel," Sadie replied. "What 'appened after that?"
"Well, of course, I fought many duels during my last three years at Hogwarts," said Spanky. "And many of the most important ones were against Sid Shmedly. But the next one that really made a difference was during my seventh year, when the first round of the Intra-Years final led to the Affair of Gryffindor's Sword..."
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