The Magic Quill #41: Unfinished Business – Part 2

by Robbie Fischer, concepts contributed by Ally

Spanky’s tale continued…

“’So it’s all up with me, it is,’ said the first Death Eater. ‘I’m done for.’

“’Aw, don’t put such a sour face on things,’ said the other. ‘That’ll only make sure the worst happens.’

“’A lot you know,’ said the first. ‘You weren’t there when the Dark Lord sizzled the ones that failed. I saw it, every time. He sent them out, one by one, to stop this Potter kid being born, and they came back, one by one, to face the consequences of not managing it. And now You-Know-Who wants me to go. I’ll be a fritter before the week is out. A fritter on a stick!’

“‘Now, Orel, you know better than to give up before you’ve tried. You just think about what you have to do, what the others tried, and why they failed; and then you’re sure to come up with some plan that will work!’

“’I’m telling you, Eustace, there’s something funny about the Potters. Something protecting them—something big. I might as well pop myself on a spit right now.’

“’All right, Orel, if that’s what you want. But before you do, perhaps you might think back to what all the other witches and wizards did and tell me what happened. At least I can try to give you a suggestion that will work.

“’Well, it can’t do me any more harm than is coming anyway, so why not? First there was Iphigenia Crowe, who worked with Lily Potter, though they were not really confidential friends. Iphigenia thought Lily would consider it a surprisingly friendly gesture if she put on a high tea for Lily and all of her witch friends, making sure that each of them brought some kind of gift, like self-rocking cots, self-cleaning nappies, and a feeding bottle that is always blood-warm. Iffie’s gift was a rag doll, which had button eyes sewed on to it. But under the button eyes, Iffie had secretly painted a pair of evil eyes that were cursed to cause all growing things that they looked upon to wither and die. She expected that, if it didn’t stop the baby being born, it would at least get him soon afterward.

“’Unfortunately,’ Orel went on, ‘Edwina Bridlethwaite was also invited, who, ever since a bludger hit her on the head and ended her career with the Tornados, had been unable to do any magic except by accident. And even more unfortunately, it seemed that Edwina’s magical accidents tended to work in favor of Mudbloods like Lily Potter. Edwina was reaching across the tea table to grab up the last dragon-paté sandwich when the sleeve of her robe caught on the teapot—the ever-full kind, wouldn’t you know—and it spilled gallons of scalding tea over Iphigenia’s gift. The paint washed off the doll’s face, not that the doll was worth keeping after that anyway. The whole plot was ruined. When Iffie told You-Know-Who what had happened, he turned her into a chickpea and closed her up inside a set of matryoskhi since she liked dolls so much.’

“Eustace shuddered audibly. ‘And then?’

“’And then,’ said Orel, ‘he sent Sir Humphrey Twigg.’

“’Oooh! I wondered what happened to him,’ observed Eustace.

“’Shush! So he sent Sir Humphrey, who, as you may recall, had a game leg. Sir Humphrey contrived to have a broomstick breakdown within a mile of the Potters’ house, and as he expected, Lily came running to help him before he had hobbled twenty paces. She brought him to her home and was going to use a pinch of Floo Powder to call a broomstick repairman, but Sir Humphrey jinxed the stuff so that it wouldn’t light. So Lily tells Sir Humphrey to make himself comfortable and takes his broom and tries to disapparate, but that won’t work either. Finally, she was forced to run out on foot and try to catch the Knight Bus to Hogsmeade, while Sir Humphrey lay down for a nap in the parlor, complaining of a headache. As soon as she was gone, he pulled out a skull-shaped flask full of a potion so evil that even You-Know-Who stammers when he speaks its name: Essence of N-n-n-n-…erm. You know what I mean.’

“’Nundu Breath?’ Eustace whispered.

“Orel giggled nervously. ‘That’s the one. The slow-release stuff that may take weeks to reach lethal levels. So Sir Humphrey sprinkled it in the four corners of the house, across every doorsill and windowsill, and into the hearth. Afterward, he felt a real headache coming on and decided to go outdoors for some fresh air and a constitutional. He pulled out his cognac flask, took a pull on it, and realized at once that he should have let his house-elf learn to read. Evidently, the little treasure had mistaken Essence of N-n-n-n-…

“’Nundu Breath.’

“’Ha! Ha! Yes, it had mistaken that for the bottle of cognac, which apparently looked very similar, and had poured each one into the wrong pocket flask. The skull-shaped one, which Sir Humphrey saved for skulduggeries such as his business with the Potters’ eaves and threshold and hearth, had contained nothing worse than the finest French brandy Galleons can buy. The silver flask with the Twigg crest, on the other hand, was full of N-n-n-n-n-…’ Orel faltered.

“’I get it,’ said Eustace.

“’Good,’ said Orel. ‘Sir Humphrey hurried back to the Dark Lord to make his excuses and to demand, in the name of his family line of noblewizards going back to Yves the Leper, that our master give him the antidote before the poison kicked in. No such luck! As punishment for his failure, Sir Humphrey was left to stand outside His Dark Lordship’s potions cupboard, game leg and all, while his illiterate house-elf was locked inside, trying to decipher the labels on a thousand potions. Needless to say, the house-elf was still looking for the antidote—if it was even there—when death caught up with Sir Humphrey.’

“’That’s pretty nasty,’ Eustace admitted.

“’Who was next?’ Orel mused. ‘Ah! I remember! It was Octavius Pidgeon. You remember him; he did a stretch in Azkaban for werewolf baiting, back in the early days of His Dark Lordship’s rise to power. He rigged a Daily Prophet Galleon Draw so that the Potters would win a free cruise on the H.M.S. Necromancer. Having seen what happened to Iffie and Sir Humphrey, and being a great fixer of betting games, Pidgeon knew better than to put all his eggs in one basket. He made several unrelated arrangements to do the Potters in, so that if one plot failed, another would go on. First, he paid off some merpeople and a giant squid to try to scuttle the Necromancer. Next, he made an arrangement with a kraken to produce an enormous wave that would force the ship onto a shoal, just off a desert island. Then, he made sure that the ship was going to stop at Easter Island, and he turned one of those standing stones into a golem with the single purpose of bashing the Potters to smithereens. And finally, he reverse-conjured an unplottable charm and placed it on the crew of the ship, so that they would wander forever without ever getting to where they intended to go. That was only supposed to go into effect after they reached Easter Island, though.’

“Eustace whistled. ‘Quadruple fail-safes. Octavius was a sure bet if there ever was one. So what went wrong?’

“’What didn’t?’ said Orel. ‘As near as I can figure, the kraken misjudged the timing of her tidal wave and ended up dashing the giant squid and the merpeople onto a desert island, where they perished. Then the reverse-unplottable spell somehow got transferred to the golem, who, unable to tell where he was going, walked off a cliff into the sea. The Potters didn’t even get seasick.’

“’So what did the Dark Lord do to Octavius?’

“’I seem to recall that he was turned into a carp and released into a tank full of barracuda.’

“’Lovely.’

“’And the last time, the unlucky party was Tatiana Snelling. She tried the most direct approach. Everyone knew, since Witch Weekly did that write-up on Lily Potter, that she and James took a walk in the wood near their house every day after dinner. Tatiana disillusioned herself, sneaked into the wood with plenty of time to spare, and took up station in a leafy oak tree overlooking the path that led down to the Potters’ house. Well, as soon as that pair of Muggle-loving upstarts strolled into view, Tatiana aimed her wand right at Lily Potter and screamed that death curse we all know so well. Unfortunately, she forgot that she was in a wand tree, surrounded by loads of limbs and twigs and, I hardly need mention, Bowtruckles. Her curse wiped out a whole branch of the Bowtruckle clan that lived on that tree, but it didn’t even faze the hundred or so other Bowtruckles that instantly rushed at Tatiana. She barely managed to escape with her life, but that was more than she could manage after the Dark One caught up with her. He turned her into a woodlouse and added her to a bucket of woodlice that was going to be fed to the guardians of the Dark Lord’s pet tree…’

“’The one that is trimmed to a perfect likeness of our Master himself?’ asked Eustace. ‘What do they call that tree again?’

“Well, when He Who Must Not Be Named isn’t around, they call it Yew-Know-Who…’

“Eustace snorted with laughter, then composed himself, apparently out of consideration for his friend’s anxiety. ‘All right, so he gave old Tatiana a sporting chance. She could have gotten away… one out of a million woodlice, after all…’

“Yes, well, that’s all there is. I’m the next lamb to be sent to slaughter, and I probably won’t be the last. If potions, curses, magical creatures, and jinxed artifacts can’t finish this Potter child, I can’t think what will.’

“’And who,’ Eustace said, with a sly smile in his voice, ‘said those things can’t do the job? It wasn’t the magic that failed, Orel old pudding, it was the fault of the people who planned and carried it out. They all hatched plans with too many variables, and the variables got in their way. Iphigenia ran a risk by involving a whole roomful of unwitting accomplices, so she had no one but herself to blame when that washed-up Quidditch maven spilled tea on her jinxed artifact. Octavius tried to hedge his bets by calling on more than one magical creature to do his dirty work, but he did not bother with choreographing the operation as a whole. So it was entirely his fault when they tripped over each other! Sir Humphrey blithely let his plan pivot on the menial actions of a witless body-servant, when he should have trusted no one with any part of his plan; and Tatiana failed to take careful note of the lay of the land, and plunged ahead without careful preparation.’

“’So what can I do that will avoid their mistakes?’ said Orel, sounding hopeful for the first time.

“’Why, that’s simple,’ said Eustace. ‘First, come up with a simple plan, or maybe two plans, in case you need a backup. Second, see to every detail of the preparations yourself. Third, examine every square inch of the place where you want to hit the Potters. And fourth, make sure there’s no one else around when you put your plan into action, except yourself and James and Lily Potter. Oh, and one more thing. Whatever happens, come to me before you report to the Dark Lord.’”

“’Why?’ asked Orel.

“’Well, mainly, so that if you fail,’ said Eustace, ‘I’ll know what mistake of yours to avoid, in case His Darkness passes the assignment on to me…’”

+++ RIDDLE TIME! +++

Some of you readers have been keeping busy with the “unanswerable” riddles!

WHO DOES THE LAUNDRY ANYWAY? Rhiannon observes that Ron once said his mother would like a house-elf to help with the ironing. Maybe this, along with Dobby’s availability to pick up robes for cleaning, suggests that you can give clothes to a house-elf for the express purpose of cleaning them, without setting them free. Maybe it’s a matter of attitude, though. It could be like how a genie or Psammead can turn your most carefully worded wish into a dreadful curse, by willfully twisting what you meant – because the genie wants to harm you or the Psammead wants to be left alone. If a house-elf wants to go free, you can ask him to iron a shirt and he may interpret it as a pink slip. But if he loves working for you, you can leave any number of socks lying around and he will merely tidy them up for you because leaving the house doesn’t occur to him. What do you think of that theory?

WHAT ARE LITTLE BOGGARTS MADE OF? Nicole suggests an even trickier riddle, from the “How Many Angels Can Dance On the Head of a Pin” Dept. If a boggart is your worst fear, what do you see when you meet one? Does the boggart switch to your second-worst fear?

WHAT’S SO FUNNY, SIRIUS? Clara thinks the reason Sirius was found laughing after Wormtail killed all those Muggles and got away was that Sirius thought Wormtail had killed himself with his own curse. Maybe I’m not putting this right, so I’ll leave it to Clara’s own words: “I mean, if you were trying to kill the man that killed your best friend and he ended up killing himself when his own curse backfired, I’m sure you’d find it very ironically funny. I believe that’s why he was laughing, because Wormtail was so stupid.” I don’t know. Are you convinced?

CRUMB! A reader named Victor points out that, in the so-called wandless magic which I so cleverly pointed out in Riddle 2, Dumbledore was actually using his wand. Drat!

THE SPY WHO PUKED ON ME: Andrea has a mind-bender that isn’t so much a riddle as a new “clue” for inquiring minds to wrestle with. In her words: “Madam Marsh has been on the Knight Bus every time Harry has. She also leaves the bus clutching her handkerchief or something to show that she feels ill. What are the odds that someone who feels that nauseated would be a regular on the Knight Bus? If she does not ride the bus on a day-to-day basis, then who puts her on the bus to watch over Harry?”

And finally:

RIDDLE #27, FROM THE “SOMEONE’S BEEN EATING MY PORRIDGE” DEPT: Caren gives us a brand new Riddle! How did Dumbledore and, later, Snape, know that Harry was visiting their memories in the Pensieve? If Harry was really, physically “sucked into” the Pensieve, would they be able to see him by looking into the bowl themselves? Or wouldn’t Snape have a hard time telling Harry apart from James from an overhead view? And, “If the person simply has his/her head in the Pensieve, then how are they pulled out? Does their brain play a trick on them and make them think a person they do not have their eyes on is in the memory?” etc. You go ahead and try to figure that one out!

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

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