The Magic Quill #10: The Affair of Gryffindor’’s Sword

by Robbie Fischer, concept contributed by: “R. J. Lupin”

“Now wait a mo,” Endora cut in. “I do believe as I’ve ‘eard of somethin’ like that. The Sword of Godric Gryffindor, right? Now where…”

“Shush,” Merlin insisted.

“Well, you may have heard about it,” Spanky conceded, with a generous inclination of his hooded head. He turned his goblet of shimmering firewhisky round and round in his hands. “You see, there’s been this legend, some say only a myth, that each of the four Hogwarts founders left something-a gift, a weapon, whatever-to those who would come after them. Something hidden, outside of time or place. Something to come to the aid of their true spiritual descendents, in a time of dire need, and that would return to its hidden realm after need for it was ended.

“Of course, the details of the legend vary from one account to the next. I’ve done some research on it myself, so I know. The oldest form of the legends say that Slytherin left a venomous fang, Ravenclaw a hawk’s eye, Hufflepuff a badger’s pelt, and Gryffindor a lion’s claw. But later variants add that these symbolic terms stood for other things-something deadly and poisonous, something that can see from afar, something warm and protecting, and something sharp like a sword. The Sword, that is, of Godric Gryffindor, which was fast enough to strike between thought and action, and true enough to cleave good from evil.

“As for what the other Gifts were, I cannot say. One legend has it that Slytherin left a monster hibernating in the bowels of the school, but whether that’s connected to the venomous fang I know not. There’s also rumor of an enchanted mirror at Hogwarts, and that might be Ravenclaw’s eye, if it isn’t all stuff and nonsense. About the Hufflepuff cloak or what have you, there can be any number of ideas. But in each case, only a true heir-not by blood descent, but by inclination-only a true heir of each of the Founders can winkle out that Founder’s hidden gift. And when that heir is done using it for whatever purpose it was meant to be used, he or she must return it to where they found it. You follow me?”

Harvey nodded, tapping the side of his nose with one finger.

Spanky raised his mug of firewhisky and took a long, slow drink. Smoke poured out from under his hood. Then, smacking his lips, he set down the mug and continued.

“I learned all this because my great enemy, Sid Shmedly, learned it. His great interest was finding, hoarding, and, if possible, wielding the great magical artifacts of bygone powers. Dark ones, especially. I knew he had plans to unleash monstrous things. In the service of what cause…I feared to think.

“It was now our seventh year at Hogwarts. We had met each other in every title duel since the end of our fourth year: the Intra-Years in December and the All-Schools in June. Each was a hard-fought duel, we were so closely matched-he with his lightning reflexes and sheer magical power, I with my double-wanded agility and creative flair. I had beaten him both times our fifth year, but he had triumphed in the All-Schools our sixth year and the Intra-Years our seventh. This would be the last time we would meet in a fair contest, under Flitwick’s watchful eye. I cannot describe to you how important this duel was to both of us. Winning this duel would be like having the last word in a seven-year argument, though we knew it wouldn’t be the end of our rivalry.

“N.E.W.T.s had come and gone. We were both at the top of our form, respected and either loved or hated by nearly everyone in the school. I will not pretend that I didn’t deserve to be hated by nearly as many people as he, but such a huge crowd had gathered to watch us that the duel had to be moved to the Great Hall-and I think most of them supported me. A thundery, flashy storm surged over our heads in the enchanted ceiling, setting a dramatic backdrop. The air was so thick with tension you could have knitted a comforter with it.

“Professor Flitwick reached into his hat and pulled out a slip of parchment, on which our first round’s magical task was written. He frowned at it as though he did not remember putting that particular task in there, but rules are rules. With a wave of his wand, two benches appeared inside the magic circle on the floor, one in front of Shmedly, the other before me. On each bench stood three small chests, varying in shape and ornamentation. On my bench, for instance, one chest was a plain box of wood with an iron clasp; the second was made of stone richly inlaid with gold and jewels; and the third was of highly polished steel with an elaborate etching on it. On Shmedly’s side, there was a box made entirely of stained glass that glowed from within, and something black decorated with bits of real skulls, and a leather-covered trunk trimmed in brass.

“‘The task,’ Flitwick squeaked uneasily, reading from the parchment, ‘is to choose what to do with the contents of each of the chests in front of you. Before you do anything, you must know that one of your chests contains the key to finding the Magical Gift left behind by the founder of your House. In Mr. Shmedly’s case, that must mean the venom; and for Mr. Spankison, the blade. There are three choices you must make, and much depends on the wisdom of your choice-including, perhaps, the shaping of the next great era in our world. Here is what you must do. First you must give one chest to your opponent, in exchange for the one he chooses to give to you. Next, you may open one chest and look within; but what you see inside must return to where it belongs. Then, you may open one chest and show it to your opponent, so that only he can see inside it; what it contains will only ever be known to him, but will only ever be of use to you or an heir of your great House. And finally, whatever chest remains unopened will be sealed forever, and its contents will never come to light again. Beware, lest you choose unwisely; for if the key to your House’s secret power is lost, the tide of events will go badly for everyone who shares your hopes and dreams.’

“By the end of this speech, Flitwick’s squeaky little voice had begun to sound strangely impressive. As soon as he was finished reading from the parchment, it vanished in a flash of flame and a puff of smoke. Flitwick staggered and blinked, as if he did not know what had just happened.

“‘Load of rubbish,’ said Shmedly, but his calculating eyes glittered.

“We both studied the chests before us. Then we chose. I picked up the stone chest on my bench and carried it over to Shmedly’s side of the circle. He pointed idly at the leather-and-brass trunk on his bench and declined to help me with it. So I set down the stone chest, picked up the leather trunk, and lugged it back to my bench. The second bit was to open one of our chests and look inside. I saw Shmedly go straight for the one with the glowing stained glass, and lift the lid off carefully. He looked inside, clapped his hands, and laughed joyfully. Heavy with dread, I fumbled the wooden chest open. Inside was the school Sorting Hat. It vanished the moment I recognized it, box and all. Now I felt truly wretched.

“The third bit was to show each other the contents of a box, but whatever he showed me would be something that would help his side, and I couldn’t do anything about it. And of course, whatever I showed him was a glimpse of something that would help my side, but he would know it and I wouldn’t. So this was really frustrating, and the pointlessness of it all was beginning to aggravate me. I prodded the lock on the leather trunk with my wand tip and it sprang open, spinning so that its contents were in Shmedly’s view. This time he practically danced with laughter, and shot me such a smug look that I knew I was ruined. Whatever was in that chest must have looked really useless. I could only pray that appearances would prove to be deceiving.

“He immediately became anxious, however, as he seemed to have a hard time deciding between the jeweled sarcophagus and the black thing with skulls on it. He knew now that whichever one he didn’t pick would be lost to the purposes of the Dark Side forever, and I am sure he didn’t want to lose anything good for his lot. Yet he also didn’t want to reveal to me some dirty great weapon of destruction that he wouldn’t even know about, even if I couldn’t stop him from using it. Finally he tapped his wand on the skull chest, figuring that it would at least prove to be something really nasty that he could use. Only when the chest spun around to gape in my direction, all that was in it was a little slip of a book, covered in black leather. I shook my head, perplexed. You can never tell by a book’s cover, you know…

“Of course, the rest of the chests disappeared, along with the benches. In a flash, another piece of parchment appeared in Flitwick’s hand, and he read the result of this strange contest. ‘You will both be gratified to know,’ he said, ‘that neither of you has caused your House’s deepest secret to be lost for all time. One of you has seen the key to finding both of them, and in due time both keys will fall into the hands of a single person, who will use one gift to destroy the other. The other of you has merely seen items that may afford each of you a temporary, personal advantage. As for what has been sealed for all time, I can tell you only that in a crisis to come, you will both pay dearly for want of it. But for one of you, and only one of you, that cost will be repaid. Unfortunately, since the advantage is evenly divided between you, this round ends in a draw. Prepare for the second round.’

“And I had seen nothing but a tattered old hat and a moldy little book. Judging by the smirk on Shmedly’s bloodless, hatchet face, he had seen a couple of really impressive things. Obviously, he had seen the key to finding both Gryffindor’s Sword and the venomous Fang of Slytherin. And the fact that, in some future engagement, we would both pay dearly but that I would come out the better for it, was small consolation when I realized what a blunder I had made. I could only hope that whatever the key to Gryffindor’s Sword was, it was in the chest I had shown to Shmedly. Then, at least, someone on the side of good would be able to use it. Whatever it was….”

The cloaked figures around the parlor table were silent, expectant.

Finally, Sadie barked, “That’s it? That’s the Affair of Gryffindor’s Sword?”

“Well,” said Spanky, reluctantly. “A funny thing did happen a little later. I was going through my trunk that night, looking for spellotape to patch up my Transfiguration textbook, when I discovered the school Sorting Hat buried among my socks. To this day I don’t know how it got there, but then, it was in the chest I had looked into during that morning’s duel. When I took it up to the headmaster’s office to return it to him, he gave me a very odd, appraising sort of look, and thanked me as though I had done something really important.

“‘Has anything else disappeared from your office?’ I asked him, impulsively.

“Dumbledore let his reserve slip a bit, and for a moment he seemed shocked and alarmed. But maybe it was my imagination, since I was thinking about what sort of thing might have turned up in Shmedly’s trunk that afternoon. ‘What sort of thing did you have in mind?’ he asked calmly, as though it was the most unimportant question in the world.

“‘I dunno,’ I said honestly. But then, on another impulse, I added, ‘Maybe a little book?'”

“‘No,’ said Dumbledore with unexpected firmness. ‘But that does give one something to think about, doesn’t it? Be off with you, Spankison, there’s a good chap. I have reams of letters to write to the parents of naughty children.’ And with a wink, he shooed me toward his door, already humming a little tune like he always does when he’s thinking hard. But as I stepped onto the spiraling staircase outside his office door, I heard his voice one more time-‘And thank you, dear boy. Your good judgment may save many lives some day…'”

“Huh!” Sadie snorted. “If that isn’t the most pointless…”

“No, on the contrary, I like it,” said Harvey’s rich, deep voice from behind his silk handkerchief. His eyes studied the cloaked wizard with greater interest than ever. “Have you many other stories that are so enlightening?”

Spanky sipped his firewhisky, and nodded slowly.

“There are things a double-barreled wizard can do,” he said, after smacking his lips a few times, “besides dueling. But for that story, I have to skip ahead to some things that happened after I left Hogwarts. I wonder if you’d like to hear about my little stint as a lad-of-all-work for an American Wizard Detective named…”

“Oh, don’t tell me,” Merlin groaned. “Not Joe Albuquerque!”

“You know him?” Spanky asked, with a start of surprise.

“Never heard of him,” said Merlin, rubbing his belly with discomfort. “Say, does anybody have an Alchema-Seltzer? This firewhisky is suddenly giving me heartburn….”

What happens next? Send us your idea in 150 words or less, and tune in next week for another installment of the Magic Quill.