The Magic Quill #63: The Tunnel of Boggarts

by Robbie Fischer, concept contributed by: Lighthouse Junkie

During a break at work, Endora sneaked a look at the notices in the Daily Prophet. Still no sign of the words “scala di seta” – she didn’t know how she could stand another week without the thrill and danger of meeting with Harvey’s adventurous circle. Nothing interesting happened in her life, except…

“Hmm,” she said to her supervisor, a plump man with a handlebar mustache, as she ladled up a bit of runny, molten sweets from each cauldron in a row. Five such cauldrons were lined up on a bench in the Flavor Development Department at the Bertie Bott’s factory. “Hmm,” she repeated, salivating. “They do make one’s mouth water. But this one,” she said abruptly, pointing to the second cauldron from the left, “uses a drooling draught instead of a dribbling decoction. You must be careful with the strength of that one, otherwise there will be a terrific mess….”

Less than a mile away, Sadie was standing on a shadowy band in Diagon Alley, giving passersby a peek at the inside of her cloak. It bristled with wands.

“Genuine Ollivanders,” she murmured whenever anyone came close. “Lovingly nicked by hand from a master of the trade. Each represents thousands of years of tradition, it does, and you’ll never be able to find the like again. Get ’em here while they’re to be had. Only for today you can take this wand home for thirty – Oi! You there! With the dragonhide hat! Are you going to throw that Daily Prophet away? I’ll give you two fake wands for it!”

And on his battered sofa in the attic, Merlin continued to mutter in his sleep while a nightmare – or perhaps a memory – played out in his brain…

He dangled in the darkness, trembling all over. He couldn’t let those goblins take him again. He had come so close to escaping from Gringotts; he could not bear the thought of having to start over. Again. Yet in the room below, four scruffy, unbathed, abjectly shuffling young men were being put into cages, to wait until the goblins put catsup on them.

“What are you doing?” Rigel hissed down at him from high above. Even in the dim light that surrounded his cloak of visibility, he was only a very faint shadowy glow from where Merlin hung, clinging to the Silken Ladder.

Finally, Merlin pulled himself together and said, “Come down. We have to get them out of there.”

“Have you cracked?” squeaked Rigel. “Do you want to be some goblin’s tea?”

“Don’t be silly,” said Merlin, trying to hide his own uneasiness. “They don’t really eat wizards. That catsup down there must have come from something that Cooper fellow ate.”

“Unlike you, I listened to Binns,” Rigel snapped, by now halfway down the ladder again. “Number one, no goblin ever went out of his way to make a wizard comfortable. So do you really suppose they would furnish free food, leave alone condiments, for their prisoners? That catsup wasn’t used for dipping fish fingers. It was used for dipping wizard fingers!”

“Number two,” Rigel panted as he stopped just above Merlin on the threadlike ladder, “in the Goblin Rebellion of 1546, a goblin named Jugshard the Peckish devoured thirty-two full-grown wizards and witches in a period of twelve hours. So if you think half a dozen of us are more than a squad of goblins can swallow…”

“The odds have been against us from the start,” Merlin said in a strangely calm voice. As he spoke, his own trembling stopped, and the tirade died on Rigel’s lips. “But we’ve made it this far,” Merlin went on. “We’ve made it, thanks in part to the help of others. If we don’t save those lads, we don’t deserve to get out of here. And who knows, they may save us in return.”

“That’s all very well until you become a biscuit made to goblin taste,” Rigel said softly, a note of sullen resignation in his voice. “Very well,” he said. “What’s your plan?”

Merlin didn’t answer, because there was no plan. He smacked the portable hole against the ceiling below him, and saw that the coast was clear. Then he scrambled down the ladder, unwound the silken thread from his finger, and tossed the end back up to Rigel. “Stay right there,” he said, improvising on the spot. He ripped the hole off the ceiling and went to the nearest cage, where the first of the Durmstrang lads was crouched, wide-eyed with hope, suspicion, and fear.

A moment later, the portable hole had been stretched across several bars of the cage, and Merlin found himself being hugged by a pudgy young man with scratchy whiskers. Three more cages and three more hugs, and the whole party was trailing up the silken ladder into a vast darkness, in which the glow of Rigel’s cloak was the only thing visible. Merlin took up the rear with the portable hole in his pocket and the slack thread winding up around his finger.

The fact that everyone else was chattering away in a language he didn’t understand gave him time to wonder what in Rigel’s make-up had enabled him to listen to Professor Binns. Taking an interest in what other people had to say had never been one of Rigel’s chief character traits; nor was he marked by a sense of responsibility, like most people who make an effort to do well in school. Yet Rigel had paid attention in History of Magic classes. Why?

His musings were interrupted by his arrival at the top of the ladder, which had somehow managed to get pinched in a crack between two large, hewn stones. The stones were near the top of the wall, which the others had climbed over. Merlin followed them, dropping down into a room lined with stacks of trunks, wardrobes and old desks. It was an enormous room, with several rows of piled-up furniture stretching hundreds of feet ahead of them.

“I move that we look inside one of these trunks,” said Rigel.

One of the Durmstrang lads said something, sounding uneasy.

“I second Anatoly’s motion,” Merlin said, as the group started moving toward the far end of the room.

“I thought you didn’t understand his language?” Rigel said, looking startled.

“I don’t. But by his tone of voice I could tell he was saying, ‘Let’s find an exit.’”

Anatoly flinched as a trunk next to his knee began rocking from side to side, by itself.

“Oh, good,” said Rigel. “This must be where they store the boggarts.”

“All in favor of running for it,” said Merlin, but there was no need for a vote. By now the rattling and creaking of old dressers, cabinets and desks surrounded them on all sides. Everything in sight was shaking, as if something inside was fighting to get out. Naturally, everyone broke into a run. But before they reached the far end of the room, an enormous barrel rolled off the top of a seven-foot-high pile and burst upon the stone floor in front of them.

Rigel was in front, closest to the boggart. He tripped and fell down backward, covering his head with both arms, as the hard face and soft body of Uncle or Auntie Leslie rose up out of the ruined barrel…

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