The Magic Quill #77: Lilly Grate
by Robbie Fischer
Contest Winner: Eagleanimagus
Poor, sensitive Signor Boccachiusa could not stand to watch the duel between Il Comte and the considerably less dapper, but much braver, British wizard. While the lads from Durmstrang gathered around the fight to chant, “Ugly Stick! Ugly Stick!” and the other clowns fussed over the baby who was actually a twentyish-year-old man who had fallen victim to an overdose of Yesterday Pills, the mime wizard wandered.
The hall they were in was identical to the one where Il Comte had force-fed them dinner, except for its contents. As Boccachiusa strolled along the arcaded paths, he observed a variety of magically-potted plants that he had never seen before. One shrub was covered with odd little blossoms that quivered and made sniffing noises as Boccachiusa passed. A sign poking into the pot declared: “The Nosebush: Smelliest Plant in the Civilized World.” A bit further on, the mime was alarmed to see smoke issuing from several large, closed buds – until he noticed the sign saying, “Fire-Breathing Snapdragons: Best When Planted above Buried Treasure.” After that point, Boccachiusa was careful to keep his distance as he strolled past such plants as the Patty-cake Cactus, the Vampire Bougainvillea, the Chocolate Milkweed, and the Pear- shaped Problem Plant (whose root, if you can dig down to it, is the only part that will do you any good).
Before he knew what he was doing, Boccachiusa had wandered into a long tented area, where rows of house-elves wearing surgical masks were chopping, grinding, and crushing all kinds of flower petals. Hastily, Boccachiusa snatched a mask out of a box near the wall and put it on. It wouldn’t do much to disguise him, but after many years as a mime, Boccachiusa had learned to make an art out of moving silently. The house-elves paid him no notice.
Boccachiusa was beginning to wonder what the house-elves were doing there, when he came to the far end of the enclosure and saw bottles of glittery powder being corked and added to a crate with the words LILLY GRATE stencilled on it. The mime’s painted-on eyebrows lifted, and his bright red lips formed a silent O.
Meanwhile, the duel between Il Comte (wielding a Stupid Stick) and the British wizard (with an Ugly Stick) went back and forth. Mostly the sticks just banged against each other as both men furiously slashed, thrusted, and parried. But now and then, one of the sticks touched a piece of clothing. This would explain why Il Comte’s vest had turned a horrible shade of orangey-brown, and why his ascot looked like something a coal miner had used to mop his brow. It would also explain why Merlin’s shoelaces were tied together, and his robes were on back to front, and his hat kept trying to slip down over his eyes.
Little by little, the tide was turning against Merlin. It wasn’t just that Il Comte was a better fencer, but stupid clothing was so much more restricting than ugly clothing. The next hit that went home, on Merlin’s chest, caused an enormous buttonhole flower to blossom there – a flower whose scent made Merlin’s eyes water and his nose itch. He began to despair…it would all be over in another few strokes…
Suddenly something smashed at Il Comte’s feet. A glittery cloud rose up, and Il Comte coughed. Before Merlin could find out what was going on, a thin white hand pressed something over his face. Merlin struggled, then found that he had a surgical mask on. Looking around, he saw that all of his companions, including little Rigel, were similarly protected. Then he turned back toward Il Comte, awaiting the villain’s next attack.
The cloud around Il Comte dissipated slowly. When it had gone, Merlin found his enemy standing with his hands down at his sides, staring dreamily off into the distance.
Merlin looked quizzically over to Signor Boccachiusa, who responded with a series of incomprehensible signs. Don Pagliai interpreted: “Il Comte has pricked his thumb on his own spindle. My associate here found a house-elf sweatshop where Il Comte is producing Lilly Grate. It is a rare powder, compounded from a bit of every flower in the world. One sniff sends the victim off into a daydream for hours. I would estimate that Il Comte has just inhaled about twenty years’ worth.”
“That should keep him out of trouble, then,” said Merlin grimly. “I daresay Ombra will make sure he gets fed regularly. Now, let’s find a way out of here.”
Don Pagliai fidgeted. “I deeply fear that the only way out, without Il Comte’s blessing, is back the way we came.”
At this Merlin exploded with fury. “Then why did you wish us here, you magnificent fool?”
The magnificent fool was unsure whether he had just been complimented or insulted. He shook his head sadly. “I am not here since many years. I did not realize what kinds of security charms Il Comte had set around this place. I think he was planning to become the next He-Who-Must- Not-Be-Named, until the real He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named came back, and now…now, I suppose, he is keeping his head down until the next big opportunity.”
“Well, that won’t be for another twenty years or so,” Merlin said, regaining most of his composure. “But that leaves us with two problems. The first problem is: should we wait here for twenty years, and then see if we can persuade Il Comte to let us go? Or should we try to get back to Gringotts, which is the last place in the world any of us ever wants to see again?”
“This place isn’t so bad,” said Anatoly.
“At least with Gringotts, there is small chance that we could escape in less than twenty years,” Slavik put in.
“But are ve sure there is no vay to escape from here?” said Karl.
Jaan made a remark in his own language, which Slavik translated: “He says, is not only wizard magic that seals this place. Is much house-elf magic too. Very difficult to break.”
“But the house-elves…” Merlin began.
“…are loyal to His Pestilency,” Don Pagliai insisted, “in spite of how he treats them.”
At that moment, Il Comte sighed.
“I just wish you hadn’t been so hasty when you told the genie to send us here,” Merlin muttered gruffly.
“I know,” said Pagliai, shaking his towering, purple-haired head with regret. “I know. I, too, wish that.”
Il Comte disappeared. His vast hall disappeared with him. In their place, the nine companions found themselves surrounded by familiar stone walls and casks, bottles, and barrels of wine.
“Welcome back – hic!” squeaked a voice near Merlin’s ankle. He looked down and saw a chubby little fellow struggling to uncork a bottle of Chianti. “Would you – hic – mind giving me a hand?”
“That was easier than I thought it would be,” said Don Pagliai, torn between a sigh of relief and a groan of misery.
“Well, you ’ad – hic – two more wishes, didn’t – hic – didn’t you?” the inebriated genie said, as Merlin tapped the bottle with his finger. The cork slid out with a soft popping noise. It was one bit of wandless magic Merlin had perfected over the years. When he stood the bottle next to the genie, he saw that the little man might have trouble drinking from it; the top of the bottle was as high as the genie’s head.
But Merlin was not interested in watching what the genie would do. He turned quickly toward Don Pagliai.
“Before you say another word,” he hissed at the trembling clown wizard, “We had better think about what your next wish will be.”
They conferred. The Durmstrang lads gathered around them and put in their ideas. Quietly they murmured together, with an occasional outburst from someone saying, “But the goblins will have made sure…” or, “That could have more than one meaning!” Unconcerned, the genie struggled with the bottle, finding that if he tipped it over too far, he got drenched in wine; but if he didn’t tip it far enough, nothing would come out. He was starting to think wistfully about the advantages of being able to fit inside the bottle, when the circle of wizards broke up and Don Pagliai knelt down to face the little genie.
“It’s like this,” said the fat clown wizard. “That all nine of us should be in a place from which we can make a safe and speedy escape from Gringotts Bank – that is our wish.”
“Not tha’ you were simply out of ’ere?” the genie said, surprised.
“Too many possible ways that could end up being worse than this,” Pagliai said sadly.
The genie shook his head. “Wizards today,” he complained. “Too clever by ’alf. Takes all the fun out of doin’ this job.”
“Just grant the wish,” Merlin snarled.
“Well, la-di-dah,” said the genie, and the vault went dark.
Dark, that is, until Merlin located his once-used, homemade wand and lit its tip. More water than light came out of it, as usual. After a few minutes their eyes had adjusted to this dim, damp light, and they counted heads and saw that everyone was there. Then they recognized their surroundings. It was a vast, cave-like chamber. Seven passages branched off from the wall ahead of them.
Once again, they were in the Pit.
Merlin swore loudly. Then he said, “We’ve been had!”
DOUBLE CHALLENGE FOR TMQ #79
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