The Magic Quill #18: The Double Barreled Wizard, Part 5

by Robbie Fischer, concepts contributed by: Jessica Parker, Aidan Raelyn, Jamie Peters, Armand, “Angelbot” & Leanne

Spanky found Sadie at dusk, standing in the street outside the Hog’s Head, ringing a handbell loudly and already wearing her broom-veil. Enough of the veil was pushed aside by the pipe clenched in Sadie’s teeth that Spanky could glimpse the forest of pale stubble on the witch’s chin. Between every series of four or five rings, Sadie bellowed in a hoarse, coarse voice: “Oy! Walk up and give your life-saving donation to the ETHF, wot is workin’ to put an end to starvin’ witches and wizards in the Fird World!” Beside her a cauldron was set up on a tripod. It was already half-full of knuts and sickles, and even the occasional galleon.

Spanky sidled over and bunged a knut into the cauldron. “I’ve never heard of this ETHF,” he remarked. Though his face was hidden by the hood of his cloak, one gathered from the sound of his voice that he was smirking. “What do the letters stand for?”

Out of the side of her mouth Sadie muttered, “Exterminate the Hungry Foundation. Run by the Eighth Earl of Fishtoft, a former Death Eater wot reformed and travels the world looking for good deeds to do.”

“Exterminate the Hungry?” Spanky scritched in the cauldron until he had got his knut back. “That’s not on, mate. I mean, mam. Not exactly what I would call a good deed.”

“Well, for a reformed Death Eater, it’s a start,” growled Sadie. “Besides, seein’ as what they’re doin’ ain’t strictly good work, skimmin’ the donations ain’t strictly stealin, is it? Oy! You there, with the hairy mole! Give us some chink for the ETHF! I guarantee you that not one knut of your donation will be used for any purpose besides feedin’ the hungry!” She added in an aside to Spanky, “Or at least, givin’ drink to the thirsty. You seen Harve yet?”

“Hard to tell,” said Spanky, “as I don’t really know what he looks like. Shall we go back to his parlor and wait for him? It must be nearly time.”

Sadie managed to dump the contents of the cauldron into her voluminous pockets, then vanished the cauldron, tripod, and bell with a wave of her wand. Taking Spanky’s arm with a hard, hairy hand, she allowed him to escort her through the noise and bustle of the Hog’s Head public room, where a fire-breathing cockfight was taking place on the same shielded stage where Nasal Drip had been playing the week before. Once past the beaded curtain at the top of the room, Sadie let go of Spanky’s arm and cleared her throat loudly. “I can manage from here,” she muttered in an unnaturally deep voice.

“As you wish,” said Spanky, who felt oddly like clearing his own throat.

When they reached the parlor where they had exchanged so many stories the previous week, they found two goblets of firewhisky already hovering in midair, being tipped down the throats of invisible drinkers.

“Back to the old invisibility cloaks, I see,” Sadie observed with disdain as she squeezed alongside the table.

“They’re much cooler than those heavy old cloaks,” said the voice of a wizard who liked to be called Merlin.

“The color goes better with my eyes,” the witch Endora remarked at the same time.

“No sign of Harve, then?” Sadie asked. She snapped her fingers and two more drinks appeared. She nodded toward Spanky, who sat down before one of the drinks with a whispered, “Cheers.”

At that moment, flames burst out of the air above the center of the table. Endora started, splashing firewhisky everywhere. She hastily mopped it up with a scouring charm before it could burn holes in the table. Meanwhile, Spanky had caught the roll of parchment that fell out of the flames, before they sizzled out with a puff of sulfurous smoke.

“Whew,” said Sadie, waving the smoke away. “Almost enough to put me off my drink! What a ‘orrible, smelly, hinconsiderate thing to do!” At once she began preparations to light her pipe.

“Well, mates,” said Spanky, spreading the parchment on the table, “I suppose this means Harvey won’t be making his business proposal tonight. Listen: ‘Esteemed colleagues…’”

“Esmoked would be more accurate,” Merlin coughed.

“Do you want to hear this or not?” Spanky made as if to roll up the parchment again.

“Oh yes, do go on,” said Merlin hastily.

Spanky slowly unrolled the parchment, training the opening of his dark hood directly on Merlin’s end of the table. Then he lowered his head and continued to read. “’Esteemed colleagues, please forgive my absence this evening. My reasons for being unable to keep our appointment are so complicated that I haven’t time to relate them here. Suffice it to say that it involves a spill over a waterfall, a crystal cave, and a hag who wears a mail vest studded with men’s teeth. I need hardly express to you how inconvient all this is for a man in my position. I fully expect to make my escape within a day or two; but if I’m not with you by this time next week, please have my subscription to The Goblin canceled. Meanwhile, talk amongst yourselves. Yours in fellowship, H.’”

“That’s all right,” said Merlin, smacking his lips after a long draught of firewhisky. “Old Harve’s gotten himself out of worse, he has. Anyway, I’ve been dyin’ to hear what happened next.” When Spanky showed no sign of understanding, Merlin added, “You know, with you and Joe Albuquerque.”

“Oh, that,” said Spanky. He sighed loudly, drained his goblet, then refilled it with his wand.

“All right. After the Bette Noir affair, Joe and I went our separate ways for a while. I went back to England, took a leave of absence from the RMB, and went into training. I’m sure you all know of the international magical games that are held every five years. That year was to be the 2000th Owlympiad, and it was to be held right here in Hogsmeade during the summer holidays. A lot of the events took place down the road at Hogwarts. You must remember it: the whole country was aflutter over hosting the Owlympics; England had high hopes for many of its teams. My friend, the one whose name came up on the Gryffindor tapestry, was expected to do wonders on the Quidditch team. My school mate, Otis, had gone in for Quodpot. I knew people who were competing in nearly every event: from the Defense Against the Dark Arts Decathlon to Levitation Weightlifting, from the Wand Throw to Transfiguring Objects in Flight. But I was training for the most anticipated event of all, save Quidditch. Guess which.”

“Er,” said Endora.

Sadie jabbed her elbow at the empty air from which Endora’s voice came. “Dueling, you nit,” she said over Endora’s grunt of pain.

“Right-o. I was also looking forward to meeting Ilona, who was training for the Romanian Magymnastics team. I had seen some of her moves during the time we both worked out of the Bucharest Mission. You take a witch or wizard in top physical and magical form, and it’s amazing what they can do. Ilona held a national record for riding a bucking pommel-horse. Her uneven-brooms routine was so daring that I once passed out while watching it. Well, nearly. And her quintuple-backflip-with-a-twist dismount from the levitating-stepping-stones has gone into the repertory as “the Ilonera.” But when she wrote to me about an old school mate of mine who had joined the Romanian Dueling squad–one who was eager to meet with me again–I was perplexed and concerned. I asked her what old mate she meant. Her return owl said his name was Sid Shmedly.”

“He never!” Endora gasped.

“Oh, yes, he did,” Spanky said grimly. “It seems the entire Romanian Dueling team had come down with a mysterious case of dragon pox, and their ministry’s Department of Magical Games and Sports was so desperate to compete in the event that they advertised for expatriates to fill up the team. And by some amazing coincidence, Sid Shmedly’s family owned vast estates along the Prut River, almost directly opposite the castle where I had been stationed on Worm Patrol. Shmedly and a couple of his school cronies happened to have been staying in a lodge on those estates for just long enough to meet the Romanian Ministry’s residency requirements. They passed all the usual blood tests–polyjuice potion, strengthening solution, rapidity rub, supercharge salve, and so forth–and they were all clean. Their wands were weighed and approved. And in trial duels against the national team’s trainers, Shmedly and his cronies–let’s call them Lobster and Quadrille–had proved themselves formidable duelers indeed. It was almost as if they had been training to be on the Romanian team all along.

“You can imagine how this news thrilled and unnerved me. Though I could end up facing the most talented duelers from around the world, the idea of facing my old school nemesis made me determined to work my very hardest. There was even a rumor that Shmedly had perfected a new kind of curse that would be difficult to block, and the Owlympic Commission had approved of its use. It had something to do with lightning shooting out of a wand and even the thought of it made my hair stand on end. I had to be fast, and I had to be strong. I practiced dueling with just my left wand, then with just my right. I labored tirelessly, wearing out the other members of my team–their names were Crinkle and Ruff–in my fierce determination to be ready for Sid Shmedly. I believed that if I was ready for him, I would be ready for anyone.

“The Owlympics finally opened on a blazing summer day. I’m told the opening ceremonies, held out on the grounds at Hogwarts, were spectacular. I’m also told that several of the matches were very exciting, and that records were set and rivalries settled in many events. But I missed it all, because I couldn’t bring myself to stop preparing for what I knew was coming. With Dueling teams from a hundred and twelve countries in a double-elimination tournament, statistical chances were good that I would never face Shmedly in these Owlympics. But in my heart, I was sure it would happen…”

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