The Magic Quill #62: Waiting to Disapparate

by Robbie Fischer, concepts contributed by: Poet, Liane, and Jade T.

A certain, private parlor in the back of the Hog’s Head remained unoccupied the next week, while its regulars waited at home for a summons that did not come…

Spanky sat at a roll-top desk in the very small, very tidy study at the back of his house. A candle hovering nearby illuminated the letter he was writing, as he took long pauses for thought. It was a letter to the editor of the Daily Prophet, urging Rufus Scrimgeour to put a portrait of Albus Dumbledore in every wizarding institution in the country. As he paused to go over his arguments in his head, his face moved out of the shadows cast by the candle. It was a fairly young face, yet one that had long since been lined with pain. Those lines looked deeper now than ever before.

He did not start when a familiar hand came to rest on his shoulder. Ilona squeezed, then leaned up against his back and rested her chin on his head.

“There is still hope,” she whispered.

“A very little hope,” Spanky whispered back, “but yes.”

“He knew what he was doing. I am sure he prepared the boy well.”

Spanky bit back another sentence containing the word hope and, instead, said, “Have the children stayed indoors, as we asked?”

Ilona fiddled with Spanky’s hair and said, “I think so. It’s hard to be sure. They’re having another one of their invisible days.”

“Better that all of them are invisible,” said Spanky, “than just part of them, like a leg or an eyeball or a head. I would hope that by now, Mrs. Fiddling would have grown accustomed to that sort of thing and wouldn’t throw such hysterics. We haven’t the time to look out for a new nurse, what with a war on and double shifts at the RMB…”

“You let me worry about that, dear,” said Ilona. “After all, I’m not actually on the RMB payroll, am I? I could spend more time at home.”

“Yes, dear, but Mrs. Fiddling can’t see you. When she loses her composure, she has only me to come to. How will it help anything for our best stealth agent–”

“It would be good for the children,” said Ilona, sounding now almost as desolate as her husband looked. “Really, I think they almost sense that I’m there, sometimes…”

Meanwhile, in his cluttered garret, Merlin snored on the battered sofa, his mouth wide open and a trickle of drool running down his cheek. An empty bottle lay on the floor nearby. As a dream took hold of him, his legs pedaled until the ragged blanket was twisted around them. He turned in his sleep and muttered, “Use the hole, Rigel. The ACME hole, you fool!”

More a memory than a dream, it showed a pair of wizards darting through a gap in the tunnel wall just before a cart rolled around the next curve, its wheels clattering loudly on the rails. As it went by their hiding place, Rigel hissed at Merlin: “We could have hitched a ride, you daft–”

“Who’s daft?” Merlin said harshly, right into Rigel’s face. “You’re wearing the cloak of visibility. They would have seen you—us! We would be right back at the beginning!”

“Perhaps we should be,” said Rigel, “if getting through that Pit can really win us an early release.”

“You don’t think those goblins really intend to let us go under any circumstances,” Merlin said. His voice returned to normal, now that the cart had gone on out of earshot. “Come on, let’s see where this tunnel – what in – Merlin’s beard!”

Rigel twisted around. Beyond the opening created by their portable hole, they saw a corridor lit with flickering torches, lined with doors.

They tiptoed along, looking at the signs painted on the doors as they passed. They all read GOBLINS ONLY. In addition, one door bore the legend METAL POLISHING SUPPLIES. Across the corridor from that was BLADVAK, ASSORTED SIZES. Farther down was a door that was heavily chained and bolted on the outside; Rigel had to push aside a length of chain to read: CURSE STORAGE. Beyond that was BREAK ROOM – SNACK BAR.

“By Everard, I am famished,” Rigel remarked, looking hungrily at this last door.

“Don’t be a fool,” Merlin warned. “There could be goblins in there.”

“Don’t be silly,” said Rigel. “Goblins? They only stop grasping for treasure for about fifteen minutes out of twenty-four hours. Even supposing they take breaks on rotating shifts, chances are heavily against us finding a goblin in there.”

“All right, it’s your funeral,” Merlin said, crossing his arms.

Rigel reached for the doorknob, hesitated, then turned back. “You first,” he said.

“Oh, bother,” said Merlin, and he yanked the door open.

Luckily, nothing living seemed to be in there. In fact, everything was covered with dust. “Everything” being cage after cage lined up against the long, grimy walls. None of the cages was occupied at present, but there were discarded items in them – a tattered book, a pair of spectacles – that gave Merlin a fair idea what sort of creature had lived in them.

On the wall beside the nearest cage, someone had written with his finger in the greasy dust: “Tell mother not to wait for me. Dan Cooper, 24 November 1971.” Below this was a large area covered with tally marks, ending in another cryptic message: “Now I know what goblins do with U.S. Dollars. Too late for me. Save yourself!”

“Right,” said Rigel, passing on to the next cage. “Oh, look,” he said, gripping the bars of the cage to steady himself. “Dried blood.”

Merlin looked closer at the crusty, reddish stain. Then he stood up and said, “It’s tomato catsup.”

Rigel fainted.

“Ennervate! Up you get!” Merlin patted some of the grimy dust off the cloak of visibility, and the pair hurried down the row of cages, looking for a cupboard or any other sign of real, edible food. Finally, tucked behind a crusty old pipe, they found a rolled-up, half-eaten bag of very stale biscuits, shaped like witches and wizards.

“Made to suit goblin tastes,” Merlin said, reading from the faded label on the packet.

“I think I’m going to vomit,” said Rigel.

“If so, do it before you eat,” Merlin advised. “We musn’t waste nourishment.”

Rigel managed to hold down his share of the revolting biscuits, then they hurried back toward the front of the break room. Then they froze.

Voices. Footsteps. Drawing nearer…

They stared at each other. Rigel looked like he might be sick after all.

“The hole,” Merlin said in a soft yet urgent whisper.

Rigel fumbled for the portable hole. Merlin unrolled it and threw it at the ceiling. Before Rigel could squeak more than a word of protest, Merlin tied the free end of the balled-up Silken Ladder to his finger, then threw the ball up through the dark hole in the ceiling. Where ever the other end of the Silken Ladder went, it stayed there. He gave the ladder a tug.

The shrill goblin voices were nearly to the Break Room door. Merlin beckoned to Rigel, who swallowed loudly and then hopped up onto the ladder. Though it looked, for all the world, like a thread hanging down from nothing, it held firm as he climbed up through the hole. Merlin hurried after him, winding up a bit of the slack around his finger. His feet had just cleared the hole in the ceiling when the door clattered open below.

Merlin paused to look down through the hole at his feet. Among the crowd of pushy, armed goblins he recognized four miserable Durmstrang lads being prodded into cages. Then, before anyone had a chance to look up and see him, he ripped the portable hole off the ceiling below him and clung to the silken ladder. It was all he could do, as he trembled with shame, despair, and anger.

“Come on!” Rigel snarled from somewhere above him. “I’ve reached the top! Let’s get out of here!”

Merlin hesitated…

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