The Magic Quill #15: The Bette Noir Affair, Part 3

by Robbie Fischer, concepts contributed by: Angelbot, Jessica Parker and Greg

The path wound up the hill between wide areas of deeply scored earth, shattered trees, and the dark, threatening shapes of the whomping willows. Warily, deprived of a good broom and an even better wand, I walked the middle of the path and wondered what I would find at the end of it.

“I rounded one last bend and gasped. Before me, surrounded by a moat that flowed with bubbling, sizzling acid under a bridge made of solid diamond, was a sprawling and ornate palace. Its grounds had yew trees cut into the shapes of giant animals–only these shrubs moved around and grazed on the lawn. It had a mirror pool surrounded by an unbroken row of beautiful, bell-shaped flowers that actually rang like bells when the wind nuzzled them. It had fawns and satyrs, baby unicorns, and winged swine–which American breeders call ‘pigasus’–frolicking in beds of mixed flowers that belonged to all different parts of the year. It had a fat, docile dragon–the kind with the fire glands removed–snoozing on a pile of gold and jewels.

“At the very top of the gardens, set up against a cliff that overlooked a forest spreading as far as eye could reach, was a house on the scale of Windsor Palace, made entirely out of candy and gingerbread. Its foundations were lined with chickens’ feet, but the rest was edible. Biscuit-brick walls cemented together by marshmallow-cream mortar; sugar-glazed windows hung with Fruit Roll-Up curtains; candy-cane doorposts, chocolate-bar door and windowsills, Gummi Worm pediments, and a Chiclet-tiled roof. The doorknobs were butterscotch candies and the bell-pull outside the front door was made of black licorice. There was even a candy-wax fire-bucket next to the doorstep with a sign painted on it, reading: Please Do Not Dash On the Lady of the House. The bucket was full of Grape Fizz.

“Only magic–and lots of it–could have held all this together. As I stepped on the doorstep, which seemed to be made of Chick-O-Sticks cemented together with quick-set cake frosting, the door swung open of its own accord. Within was a hallway floored and paneled with ordinary marble, wood, and plaster, though on a side table there was a bowl full of Atomic Fireballs with a warning label stuck on it: Use Only When Survival of the Species Is at Stake. I crossed the hallway and found myself in a long, sumptuous gallery that must have stretched from one end of the house to the other. Art works from every period were there, from early Egyptian bas-reliefs to Renaissance sculpture, from the great Impressionists to the most abstract modern style. Every one of them was a living, moving, seductively talking portrait of the same woman. With all respect to Ilona Ilonera, the love of my life, the woman in these portraits was the most magnetic, the most sultry, the most maddeningly desirable and yet unattainable creature I have seen in life or art.

“And then she stepped out from behind a giant piece of blown glass that had three arms, eight eyes, half a dozen lips, and yet seemed to be as fascinating a portrait of her as any. The woman herself was tiny–her head only came up to my mid-chest. She had delicate hands, perfect skin, and a light blue dress with bits of silver thread glittering in it. The dress set off her figure magnificently. Framed by shining, waving yards of hair that captured every color from lightest blond to deepest brown, was a proud yet delicate face, refined yet intense, with a long slender nose and wide-set eyes that were the only jewels she needed to wear. The one flaw was her smile, which was sardonic and cruel.

“’Mr. Spankison,’ she said, looking me over as if I was something vaguely ridiculous to her. That brief look made me feel smaller than she was. ‘I see you have a rare appreciation for art. Would you like to see the crème of my collection?’ I nodded, unable to make a sound. So she led me through the gallery, pointing idly at pieces of interest–‘Poor Van Gogh. After he painted this I had to alter his memory. He was never the same. Something about not being satisfied with colors that stayed put on the canvas anymore…Ah! Here’s the Grimaldi, a wizard painter of Venice. He interpreted me as the Mother of God, would you believe that?’ Finally we reached a door made of the only alloy impervious to magic: silicon steel. She dialed a long combination on the rolling lock, then turned the handle and opened the door.

“The vault was quite small. It had a few shelves and drawers, whose contents were swathed in silks; but hanging on the far wall, illuminated by a pair of torches (Gubraithian fire, Ms. Noir explained), was a magnificent tapestry shining with the richest colors. It depicted a fabulously complex family tree. At the very bottom, at the root, were the names of Godric Gryffindor and his good wife. His name was in gold, hers in black. ‘The gold names,’ Ms. Noir explained, ‘are wizards or witches. The black ones are Muggles and Squibs. It’s interesting how evenly they are mixed in this family tapestry. Some that I have seen have only magical names on them. In comparison, the House of Gryffindor is most impure. But look–a new union has just taken place.’ She pointed to an edge of the tapestry, where the name of my friend the bridegroom was connected to that of his Hogwarts sweetheart. ‘I wonder if one of their children will be the One.’

“’The one what?’ I asked stupidly.

“’The One,’ she explained patiently, ‘who answers to the prophecy embroidered around the edges. Oh, don’t bother. It’s very long, it’s in a pidgin of Latin and Middle English, and most of it is redundant. In summary, it says that an heir will come who will purify…no, hold it. That’s the Slytherin tapestry. How silly of me to confuse them. The Gryffindor heir is the one who is supposed to–I say, is that a wand in your pocket?’

“Instantly I whipped out my left wand and pointed it at her.

“’I told you to leave your wand outside the gate,’ Ms. Noir said irritably.

“’I did,’ I replied. ‘You didn’t say to leave both of them.’

“’Oh, we are clever! But since I am between you and the door of this goblin-wrought, silicon-steel vault, perhaps you should explain what you mean by this impertinence before I entomb you forever.’

“’I’m here to give you a chance,’ I said, ‘to clear your name.’

“Her laughter echoed harshly off the walls of the vault. ‘My good name? And which name is that? My dear Mr. Spankison, it will be such a pity to lose you.’

“’Someone has stolen the Sword of Gryffindor,’ I said, ‘and is trying to frame you for it.’

“’And how are you so sure I didn’t steal it?’ she asked, as if offended by the suggestion that she was innocent.

“’Because I understand you now,’ I said. ‘You collect originals, priceless things. Yes, you rob, steal, and defraud, but not to buy transient things. Everything passes away but you and these treasures that you have seen fit to preserve. Nothing else matters to you because it is all as fleeting as a doxy in springtime that hatches, feeds, breeds, and dies. Or like a puffapod that…’

“’Skip the flowery similes,’ said Ms. Noir. ‘So to steal a valuable thing like the Gryffindor Sword would be beneath me, I take it?’

“’Yes,’ I say, hoping I’m right. ‘Because it’s a fake and you know it. It’s only true value is the value of cash. In itself there is nothing about it worth preserving, and except for the prestige and workmanship and the historical value of having the replica in the Gryffindor Museum, it isn’t intrinsically worth so much that it would be worth the trouble of stealing it. Unless you wanted to perform some kind of diabolical fraud–the kind that is done not for money, but for power…’

“’I see your drift,’ said Ms. Noir angrily. ‘You are right. You will only find originals in this collection; but a ransom would be worth a good deal of money–enough, perhaps, to store up more treasures for eternity.’

“’Yes,’ I argue, ‘but the Gryffindor Trust is in the business of preservation, too. You may be a great criminal mind, Ms. Noir, but are you really the type that would interfere with something in that line?’

“’If you already know that I didn’t do it,’ she says, biting off each word fiercely, ‘why did you come here?’

“’Two reasons. First, I wasn’t entirely sure until I saw this place. Second, because you might be able to tell me who would want to frame you for this…and why.’

“’Well, use your inspecting skills, Inspector! Who led you to me?’

“’Well, Joe Albuquerque, but…’

“’Yes, it would be his style, wouldn’t it?’”

The wizard Spankison paused in his narrative to take a long draught of firewhisky.

Another wizard at the table, nicknamed Merlin, shook his hooded head in disbelief. “Not Joe,” he said, rubbing his belly. “Say it ain’t so.”

“My tale is not finished,” said Spanky. “The worst is yet to come.”

The witch Endora rubbed her hands together. “Oh, goody!”

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