The Magic Quill #82: The Catfish Burglar, Part Two

by Robbie Fischer

Contest Winners: TWZRD, _houdini, eagleanimagus, Shadow Phoenix, and zanaboo

““After I fought off all the grindylows,” Sadie went on with her tale, “I swam further upstream with my powerful, tireless stroke. I had to squeeze through a tight gap in a network of curses strung across the fjord. Then, wearing dragon-hide gloves to protect my skin from the hallucinogenic algae, I pushed myself along…”

Actually, what happened was this:

Haakon Tran was having tea with a security consultant named (as luck would have it) Merlin.

“I see you’ve worked for Seymour Entwistle,” Tran said, browsing through the references Merlin had brought with him. “You know, if this works out, I should recommend you to a dear friend of mine, name of Oldmanson. Orion Oldmanson. Sad story. Endless trouble with that brat of his. Well, you’ve had a chance to look around; you’ve seen the dungeon where I brew my Subterfuge Solvent; you’ve been over the room where the thieves tried to sneak in last time, and they would have robbed me blind, too, if it hadn’t been for the sick dragon my niece was nursing. It’s too bad that not enough was left of them to identify, but we must assume that more thieves will follow them, and take steps – especially now that the dragon has gone – to deter them in a gentler, but equally decisive, way. So, what do you propose?”

Merlin smiled gravely. “The first line of defense could be planted all around the house.” He conjured a seed-packet out of the air and handed it over to Tran.

“Dandelions?” Tran said, incredulously.

“Wizard’s Dandelion,” Merlin corrected. “Read the packet. I found out about this in Miles O’Roughage’s Compendium of Botanical Contraband. Miles is a friend of a friend, so he was happy to furnish me with this sample. Read what it says on the envelope.”

Tran read: “Wizard’s Dandelion (Taraxacum illegalis). Muggle Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is well known for its laxative and diuretic properties. The non-approved “illegale” variety of the plant has been found in the gardens of some wizarding homes. In it, the aforementioned effects are enhanced so that unauthorized guests foolish enough to step on the lawn get a face-full of seed fluff that will send them racing for the nearest restroom or dense hedge. The plant is believed to have been bred as a deterrent to solicitors, and carries the advantage that, if it should act on an acquaintance, they are likely to request admission to the residence to seek relief, and so are not repelled from the property. Few prosecutions for possession have been successful, as the home owner can always claim the seeds blew in on the wind.”

“How will my family and staff move around the compound when this stuff is getting all over them?” Tran asked sharply.

Merlin smiled and held up a small phial. “The antidote,” he said. “Take it with your morning pumpkin juice, and all will be well.” His smile became a bit wan as, through the window behind Haakon Tran, he saw a strange sight. The water near the shore of the loch below Tran’s window was disturbed, though nothing visible seemed to be causing the disturbance.

“What else do you have?” Tran asked, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

“We could also plant a hedge of Guardbush all round the garden,” said Merlin, trying not to watch as water poured off the head and shoulders of an otherwise invisible person, rising from beneath the surface of the loch. “When looked at from a distance it seem to be a normal hedge. But when anyone approaches, it grows quickly and blocks the path to the house. If they get too close, it whacks them with its branches until they either run away or are captured.”

“Again, how can trusted people get around this Guard-shrub?”

Merlin focused directly on Tran’s face, to avoid the sight of a familiar, veiled head emerging from the hood of a weird, ripply, semi- invisible wetsuit.

“The Guardbush obeys verbal commands. If you train it up from a seedling, it will trust you and allow you to train it. Then, anyone who says the password you’ve given it will be allowed to pass unmolested.”

Behind Tran, Sadie had pulled out her pipe and a map, and was trying to smoke and figure out where the Hidden Fjord might be at the same time. Merlin rolled his eyes (fortunately, when Tran was looking at his watch).

“What else do you have?” Tran asked, a bit impatiently.

“The Doromat is a wonderful product,” said Merlin. He stood up and went over to the fireplace, where he vanished the hearth-rug and, over Tran’s stifled exclamations, conjured a bristly doormat with an Irish insult worked into it: MAY THE ROAD RISE UP BEFORE YOU…WITHOUT DELAY. “Watch this,” he said, and then he stepped on the doormat. At once it began to scream in a shrill, hysterical voice: “Help! Murder! Intruders at large! Hide the babies! Arm yourselves! Call the Ministry!”

Tran winced and covered his ears. Fortunately his back was now to the side window, so that he could neither see Sadie, nor hear her swearing loudly as she stumbled over a loose stone in the path and was obliged to stamp out a small fire started by an ember that had escaped from her pipe.

“As you can see,” shouted Merlin, tugging uselessly with the leg that was standing on the mat, “I am stuck to the Doromat, and the Doromat is stuck to the hearthstone. The only way for me to escape is to get out of my shoe and run away without it. By that time, half the household should be down about my ears.”

“I’ll say,” yelled Tran. “Can you make it stop?”

“Heel,” said Merlin, and the screaming stopped. The mat released his shoe with a slightly flatulent sound.

“That was very good,” said Tran, with an approving nod. “But what if the intruder has the sense to step over the mat, rather than onto it?”

“In that event, you may want to spritz a bit of this fluid on the outside doorknob,” said Merlin, as a small spray bottle appeared in his hand. He unscrewed the top of the bottle, pulled out the straw attached to the nozzle, and blew through a plastic ring at the end of the straw. Several beautiful, shiny soap bubbles appeared.

“Bubble juice?” Tran said, incredulously.

“Extra-strength bubble juice,” said Merlin, wincing as Sadie tumbled down a well-concealed slope into what must have been the cliffs overlooking the Hidden Fjord. Fortunately, Tran was distracted from the commotion when one of the soap bubbles collided with a crystal bowl on the side table, and the bowl shattered – but the bubble remained intact.

“Very impressive,” said Tran. “But what good does it do?”

“Spritz this on the doorknob, I say, and if anyone touches the doorknob within say, twelve hours, they find themselves trapped inside a bubble until the next morning. A bubble that, as you have seen, is harder than crystal, though air passes through it, and it will dissolve in water. The thief is helpless until you come down in the morning to hose him down and take him into custody; yet he can come to no harm, either. Which is a comfort in case of accidental entrapment.”

“What do you have that can protect my product specifically?” asked Haakon Tran, with a warmer interest than at first.

Merlin almost lost his train of thought as Sadie staggered back up the slope from the Hidden Fjord, covered in dust and scratches, carrying a huge bundle of reeds on her back. Merlin coughed, cleared his throat, and conjured up a cloth nappy and a couple of safety-pins.

“You must be joking,” Tran said with evident disgust.

“Not at all,” said Merlin, who had in fact planned to conjure something else. Inventing furiously, he said, “This nappy has been magically modified to protect whatever little treasure you may think of as your ‘baby’. Simply wrap it up in this cloth, then pin the edges together with these little fellows, and there it is! A soft, absorbent safe which can only be safely unlocked when the appropriate password-spell has been spoken. Otherwise, when you undo the pins, they start poking you all over, and the nappie tries to stuff itself up your nose. Most unpleasant, and if you change your password-spells regularly, very difficult to penetrate. I would demonstrate it, but…”

“No need,” said Tran. “I’ll take the lot.”

Shouldn’t you just, thought Merlin, as Tran counted out a pile of galleons and sickles and as (through the window behind him) Sadie could be seen diving back into the loch with the bundle of reeds still on her back. Merlin wondered if she would drown, considering how much the reeds impeded her movement. But since he had no prior knowledge of Sadie’s plan to steal sannheten from Haakon Tran, and since (until the last galleon was counted out) Merlin was not officially on Tran’s payroll, he felt no guilt about passing over Sadie’s breach of security in silence.

“It’s all there,” said Merlin, banishing the money to his Gringotts vault with a wave of his wand. “I will begin installing your new security system immediately. Send me an owl if ever there are any problems, or if you want to make changes.”

“Very well,” said Haakon Tran. “Thank goodness that’s settled. I would hate to let my formula fall into the wrong hands…”

“…Then I turned my toenails into propellers and left Tran’s pursuing henchmen floundering in my wake,” Sadie boasted to a deeply impressed Endora. “Once I was past the null-apparition zone, I popped back to the Thames and swam to that underground quay below the Leaky Cauldron. Bloke who worked for Madam Hardbiscuit was waiting in me room by the time I got there, still drippin’ wet. He took the bundle of reeds from me, paid me enough galleons to buy the whole Leaky Cauldron right off, and vanished into the fireplace in a flash of green flames. That’s how I made my first fortune.”

“Wow,” said Endora. “And how did you lose it, then?”

“A week later, I bet the lot on a hippogriff named Sannheten at the Hogsmeade Stakes,” said Sadie, unrepentantly. “Easy come, easy go.”

Joe Albuquerque piped up from across the aisle: “Did you ever find out how that Hardbiscuit woman used Haakon Tran’s secret potion?”

Sadie brightened. “Ah! That’s the story of how I made my second fortune,” she said.

Just then, a very old man and a boy of about eleven years turned up in the hospital waiting room. Sadie, Endora, and Joe forgot about their conversation and turned to stare at the pair. “Blimey,” Sadie whispered. “Its himself and…”

The boy, whose head was shaved bald on one side and covered with tall, sharp, lacquered spikes of unnaturally black hair on the other, also wore white powder on his face, heavy black eyeliner, black lipstick, and genuine fairy skulls dangling from both ears. His clothing was ripped and soiled, but it was just possible to make out a Weird Sisters slogan on his shirt. Grimy chains were stitched into the seams of his faded, black jeans. His trainers were artfully ripped, showing a bit of black-painted toenail here, and a demon-shaped tattoo there.

“Rigel, are you sure…” said the old man, glancing nervously at the scruffy, untrustworthy lot seated in the waiting room, who in turn were looking warily at them.

“Shut up, father,” said the youngster. “I’ve got to see me Dad.”

“I wish you wouldn’t call him that,” said the old man, miserably.

“No doubt,” said the boy without a trace of concern. “Oi! Orderly! Where have you lot put the wizard that calls himself Merlin?”

An assistant healer looked scandalized at this rude address. The old man clapped his hand over his eyes.

“You’re never Rigel?” said the asssitant healer, suspiciously.

“The very same,” said Rigel, grinning (it seemed) for the express purpose of displaying his sharp, gleaming teeth.

The assistant healer, who had been contemplating a display of passive-aggressive obstructionism, changed his mind and said, “Right this way,” very meekly.

“Stay put, you old fool,” the child barked at the old man, when the latter moved to follow him with the assistant healer. Discouraged and humiliated, the old man sank sadly into a seat near Joe Albuquerque, who at least (in his disguise as a vicar) looked a bit more reliable than the two characters across the asile.

“I expect it’s harder the second time you raise them,” said Joe sympathetically.

The old man sighed, and nodded. “He knows all the tricks already. I can’t get anything past that one.”

“Maybe, if he calls Merlin his Dad,” Sadie said distastefully, “you should let Merlin bring him up.”

“Oh, we’ve tried that off and on,” said the old man, shamedfacedly. “The simple fact is, Rigel likes having money of all things…”

+++ Double Challenge for The Magic Quill #84 +++

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