The Magic Quill #23: Team Dueling

by Robbie Fischer, concepts contributed by: Jessica Parker & Norman Greene

“The next event in which I faced Shmedly,” said the cloaked wizard after a long, thoughtful sip of firewhisky, “was the Owlympic Team Duel. The Romanian team met ours in the semifinal, and the match was delayed because the judges wanted to make sure our spells wouldn’t break through the magic circle around the combatants, as mine had in the final of the Relay event. Part of me accepted this, and understood it, for otherwise Shmedly could have tried hurting someone in the stands–Ilona, maybe–to distract me from dueling with him. But part of me was miffed. I had, after all, saved a lot of people from being crushed by a collapsing, flame-tipped, giant wand. Heigh ho.

“In the quarterfinal, Crinkle, Ruff and I overcame a relentless bombardment from a Chinese side that had obviously trained for years under merciless coaches. It seemed that those lads never needed to rest. We hardly had time to take a breath as we stood in one line, they in another facing us, and spells flew both ways as thick and fast as anything. The judges had trouble keeping up with what was going on. The Daily Prophet correspondent who wrote it up said that he was only able to follow the match by noting the missed spells that bounced off the magic circle. After it was over, our team took the Chinese team out for a few pints, and we spent six hours just trying to reconstruct what had happened. The Priori Incantatem spell came in rather handy. So we ended up in the semifinal against Romania, and the Chinese got their revenge by beating Romania in the final.”

Spanky sighed. So did his audience of one wizard and two witches–only one of whom was visible.

“So you lost to Shmedly and his mates,” Merlin said compassionately.

“But they lost to the Chinese, what you’d defeated,” Endora added, sounding angry on Spanky’s behalf.

“Well, yes,” said Spanky. “Remember, it was a double elimination. China stayed in because their match against us was their only defeat. Our match against Romania was our only defeat. And as it was the semi-final, and China trounced Rwanda in their semi-final, we ended up beating Rwanda for the Knut. It wasn’t what we had hoped, but at least Shmedly’s side didn’t get a Galleon. And that, by the way, is what clinched the All-Round Dueling Galleon for us. We had won three Galleons and a Knut, and they only two Sickles and a Knut; there were only two more events, so they couldn’t improve on us overall. It’s ironic, when you consider that Romania beat us. Our Chinese friends, who respected us as much as they despised Shmedly and his mates, were really the ones who won the Overall Galleon for us.”

Though his face was hidden in the shadow of his hood, the way he sipped his drink seemed somehow glum.

“Well, tell us about it,” Sadie, the veiled witch, snapped irritably as she tamped a wad of coarse, nasty-looking tobacco into the bowl of her pipe.

“All right,” Spanky said sullenly. “On our side of the center line, I stood in the center and somewhat forward. Ruff was on my right, Crinkle on my left, a step or two back. In a straight line opposite us stood Lobster, Shmedly, and Quadrille. The rule was, you could block any spell that came your way, but you could not aim a curse at the same member of the opposing team twice in a row. There we stood, in rubber galoshes and rain slickers, trembling with the thought of facing Shmedly’s invincible bolts of lightning.

“The bell rang. I continued my sound strategy of conjuring a rubber mat under my side of the ring, and a lightning rod grounded near Shmedly’s feet, using both wands at the same time. Crinkle shielded me, and Ruff provided covering fire by shooting boiled eggs at Shmedly. But Lobster put a jelly-legs jinx on Ruff, Shmedly turned the eggs back at him with a simple shield spell, and Quadrille finished Ruff with the Incarcerouscurse. That left Crinkle and me against three, and little more than a second had elapsed.

“Crinkle shot icewater at Shmedly next, and I cast an engorgement charm on Lobster’s right ear and a psoriasis curse on Quadrille at the same time. Then I switched to shielding Crinkle with my left wand and causing Shmedly’s eyebrows to turn into centipedes with my right, while Crinkle filled Quadrille’s trousers with pistachio shells. This would have been great fun except that at the same time, Lobster was trying to barbecue us with a miniature solar flare, Shmedly was attempting to turn the grass at our feet into deadly snakes, and Quadrille was hurling tinned salmon on us–tins and all. Shmedly yanked the rubber mat out from under our feet, but before he could throw lightning at us I conjured another mat and, with my other wand, summoned a swarm of potato bugs to join the pistachio shells in Quadrille’s trousers. Lobster and Crinkle fired curses at each other at the same time, but the spells ricocheted off each other and hit the magic circle to no effect. Quadrille, managing to keep his head (even though he clearly wanted to rip his robes off and roll naked in the grass), almost got me with a shower of fewmets–still fresh enough to cause serious burns–but he was shaking so hard that he missed. And then Shmedly did something so despicable that even I didn’t expect it and it turned the tide of the duel.

“Through all this, you may remember, Ruff was lying off to the side, bound tightly in ropes and jiggling from the knees down like a bowl of jelly every time something went bang or boom. By the wizarding code of honor, he was out of the duel. But apparently, this rule was not spelled out in the official Owlympic Dueling rules, because Shmedly began hurling curses at Ruff and no one did anything to stop the duel. I was, for a moment, frozen by outrage, as a thousand pounds of sugar beets rained down over the corner where Ruff lay. Then I used my right wand to create a dome of protection over him. But since Shmedly now alternated between pulling rubber mats out from under my feet and dropping heavy objects over poor Ruff, I was now kept busy with shielding Ruff and conjuring more mats. Crinkle, meanwhile, could only shield one of us, while both Quadrille and Lobster remained free to curse Crinkle and myself by turns. I barked at Crinkle to stop playing defensive magic and do something to Shmedly, but as soon as Crinkle dropped his guard, Lobster conjured a stuffed swordfish which hit Crinkle in the chest and knocked him flat. Pinned, Crinkle could do nothing while Shmedly covered him in Yeti bogeys. I tried to stun Shmedly while his back was turned, but I wasn’t fast enough. Lobster got in under my defenses and hit me with a Silencio charm, then Shmedly wrapped me up in a spider’s web and threw me down between my two mates.

“So it ended. Shmedly and his mates won the Sickle–the first time they had come out ahead of us in an Owlympic event. But we won the Knut and another Galleon for the Overall category, so that was all right. It took ages to clean ourselves up, and Crinkle still smelled somewhat of Yeti when we stood up for the award ceremony, victorious in defeat. I needn’t tell you that Shmedly was furious, nor that Ilona was very, very proud. That night, I asked her to marry me…”

Spanky’s voice trailed off. This time, he didn’t lift the goblet of firewhisky to his lips. He just sat very still. Something about the way he said or did nothing gave Sadie and the others a shiver of dread.

“Well, what did she say?” Endora asked hesitantly.

Spanky said nothing for a while. Then he held up his goblet, sniffed it, threw its contents on the floor, and squirted something from his wand tip into the goblet. Something that frothed and bubbled, with an evil green color and a sour smell. “Time for a real drink,” Spanky explained, taking a sip that caused him to shudder so hard that his hood slipped. Coughing, he put the goblet down and pulled the hood over his features again. But it was too late. Sadie dropped her pipe with a clunk.

“So it is you,” she said hoarsely.

“Indeed,” said an unexpected voice from the corner, between the places where Endora’s and Merlin’s disembodied voices came. A cloak of invisibility fell shimmering to the floor, and the figure of Harvey–with his face swathed in a handkerchief–appeared. “And it’s about time I had a drink too,” he added. “It’s tried my patience, sitting still for so long, pretending not to be here. But not in vain! A round for everyone?”

“Cor,” said Merlin, who, for his part, had every intention of staying invisible.

“Blimey,” added Endora, still ditto.

“I fought I smelled something rotten,” Sadie said smugly, as she swept a bowlful of spilled tobacco into a heap and began trying to reintroduce it to her pipe.

“Well, now you know who I am,” said Spanky, shaken. “What now? Introductions all around?”

“Save that for later,” said Harvey, conjuring a round of drinks (and very emphatically vanishing the one Spanky had poured for himself). “First, you have a tale to finish. I believe you were up to the Freestyle event, which I remember vividly. You made me considerably richer than I already was in that duel. I wonder if you remember it as vividly as I do.”

“You must be joking,” Spanky.

“I never joke about business,” Harvey said, and he obviously meant it. “Now clear your palate with some good, wholesome firewhisky and get on with the story, there’s a good lad…”

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