The Magic Quill #88: Mother Goosed
by Robbie Fischer
Contest winners: Linda Carrig and _houdini
Note to our readers: Endora was the clear winner of the survey about which character’s background you want to hear more about. But this week, the requirements of the plot line (including winning survey answers from the past few weeks) squeezed Endora out. Sorry! You’ll hear about her next time – you have our joint word as a Muggle and a Magic Quill. Meanwhile, enjoy this story that “just happened”…and then, instead of a Survey and Contest for Magic Quill #90, you can take part in TWO contests!
Joe Albuquerque found the clown wizards quickly, but Il Comte had found them first.
Disguised as a juggler, Joe made his way to a Muggle street carnival where the three clowns had been lying low, doing non-magical magic tricks, and sometimes magical non-magic tricks, in hopes of having pocket change and (occasionally) ripe fruit hurled at them. When Joe found them, something terrible had happened to each of them.
Signor Boccachiusa, the mime, floated three feet off the cobbled street. Anguish was written all over his face, and radiated from every joint of his ridiculously limber body. He appeared to be trapped inside an invisible box, against which he writhed and struggled. The bystanders laughed, gasped with wonder, and occasionally dropped money into a nearby hat on the ground, while the mime’s eyes pleaded for help. Now and then, a curious child – or, just as often, a mean-spirited adult – would reach into Boccachiusa’s insubstantial prison, and give him a poke or a pinch or a pull on the nose. Joe’s heart broke at the sight of the mime wizard, silently sobbing while a skeptical youth searched for the wires holding him up.
“Get off him,” Joe roared, hurling an orange at the youth’s head, while the latter attempted to climb up on Boccachiusa’s knee. The youth ducked, the orange returned to Joe’s hand, and as the crowd shifted to take in the newest entertaining spectacle, Joe caught sight of Signor Subito. The little clown had been chained to a hurdy-gurdy, which a bored-looking chimpanzee played while Signor Subito danced and capered. From Subito’s jerky movements and sagging head and shoulders, Joe gathered that the small clown was not in control of his own limbs.
The most apalling sight was yet to come. For, just round the corner, stuck inside a wooden booth with a window in front, moving and speaking only when the passersby put money into the machine, was Don Pagliai. Joe was struck speechless by the sight of the lively old clown, reduced to a lifeless dummy that had nothing to say except nursery rhymes…
“Mary had a little moke,” Don Pagliai said in a mechanical sing-song, while unseen instruments set up a ghastly accompaniment. “Its skin was silvery green, and everywhere that Mary went, the moke was never seen…”
Joe rushed forward, dropping several apples and a banana, and dispersing a small crowd of scoffing teenagers. “Don Pagliai,” he cried. “Do you remember me? I was your first pupil in the Laughing Academy you set up after you disappeared and reappeared. Remember? I was only brushing up on my quick-change skills, but you said I had a real talent, especially when I could play all twenty-one clowns in one phone box…”
“It would shrink into a little ball, no bigger than a tack,” Don Pagliai continued, chanting right through Joe’s speech, “and hide itself way down inside of Mary’s bright red sack…”
Then, mercifully, the machine wound down, and a coin dropped noisily into the nether regions of the carnival attraction Don Pagliai had become.
Joe groaned, then dug hopefully in his robes for another coin. “You have to speak to me,” he pleaded to the still, seemingly wooden face behind the glass. “Tell me what Il Comte did to you, and how I can fix it.”
Don Pagliai’s jaws opened and a voice not his own chanted:
There was a wizard man,
Who flew a wizard mile.
He found some wizard money,
Upon a wizard stile.
He bought a little kneazle,
Who caught a wizard mouse,
And they all lived together,
In a little wizard house.
“Eh?” said Joe, scratching his jaw. “If you’re trying to tell me something, I think I missed it. Aha! One more knut should do it…”
Another invisible band struck up, and a merry voice began to sing out of Don Pagliai’s mouth:
Old MacGonagall had a farm EIEIO
and on her farm she had a Ghoul EIEIO
With a moaning here and growling there
Here a moan there a growl
Everywhere “grr, grr”
Old MacGonagall had a farm EIEIO!
This was no good, and Joe knew it. It was complete nonsense; the sort of silliness little wizards and witches learned from their parents and nurses. Apart from the ghastliness of hearing those words come out of the mouth of one of his old mentors, against the old clown’s will, there seemed to be no reason for the rhyme. The most ghastly bit was that the voice seemed lifelike and animated, while the face did not.
Joe slumped miserably next to the machine while it went into a second stanza:
Old MacGonagall had a farm EIEIO
and on her farm she had a Troll EIEIO
With a “grunt, grunt” here and “grunt, grunt” there
Here “grunt” there “grunt”
Everywhere “grunt, grunt”
Old MacGonagall had a farm EIEIO!
“You’re a big help,” Joe muttered as the machine ground to a halt again. “What am I going to do?”
Then he noticed something sticking out of the coin-return slot. It looked like the corner of a handkerchief. First gazing up inquisitively at the impassive clown under glass, Joe gave the silk a tug. It was a handkerchief. And somehow, Joe was able to read the words scribbled on it in dried-up whipped cream (from a pie the clown had, no doubt, kept in his pocket in case of emergency).
Jack, get nimbus,
Jack, be quick,
Jack, fly over the candlestick.
At first, Joe’s heart sank. It was just another nursery rhyme!
Then an interesting thought struck Joe. All of the nursery rhymes the mechanical Don Pagliai had chanted, had to do with some magical creature being confined – a moke in a bag, a mouse and a kneazle in a wizard’s house, a troll and a ghoul on a farm – but the rhyme on the handkerchief broke the pattern. Was Don Pagliai trying to communicate? Was it a clue about using a broom – or fire –
“No, you fool,” he said to himself, almost a moment too late, “it’s just a warning to get out of the way QUICKLY…”
Joe was still finishing this thought as he rolled headlong across the street, between the legs of carnival-goers and the wheels of carts and bicycles. Had he moved a moment later, the curse that disintigrated the wall next to the Nursery Rhyme Machine would have disintegrated Joe instead.
Il Comte cursed under his breath. In the confusion of running, screaming Muggles, he had lost sight of the juggler-wizard. He walked round the corner, blending into the crowd as much as a perfectly dressed man with a regal bearing and blindingly glossy hair could blend in with any random group of camera-toting, shorts-and-T-shirt-wearing, sunburned American tourists and grimy street children. He looked round, saw Ombra the house-elf standing nervously next to a dustbin with his master’s great cloak draped over its arm, and beckoned impatiently to the servant.
Ombra hastened over, taking great pains to avoid dragging the cloak on the ground.
“I don’t know who that was,” said Il Comte, handing his wand to the house-elf while he put on his cloak.
“I do,” said Ombra, leveling the wand at his master.
Il Comte hesitated for the briefest of instants, then laughed. “Are you hoping to become a clown one day, when you grow up?”
“I’ve already been one,” said Ombra, and before Il Comte could make another move, enough spider-silk shot out of the wand to keep Il Comte tied up for hours.
Some of the passersby gasped, then applauded and threw coins while Ombra bowed and smiled. As soon as he was able, the house-elf darted behind the dustbin, where the real Ombra lay tied up with a rope made of knotted handkerchiefs. Joe Albuquerque emerged a moment later, this time disguised as a local policeman. He used Il Comte’s wand to reverse a few nasty spells, threw it down a sewer, and within a few minutes was seated with three exhausted clowns in an exclusive, wizarding café.
“You are still the best student we have ever taught,” Don Pagliai said, almost tearful with gratitude, between deep thirsty draughts of wine.
Signor Subito said something that contained most of the Italian swear words Joe knew.
“Yes, I agree,” said Don Pagliai, tilting one of his bushy eyebrows toward Joe. “It’s the last place we would ever want to go, but it is the only place where we can hope to be safe from Il Comte, – ”
Subito let fly another stream of rapid, and not very clean, language. Signor Boccachiusa made hand gestures as if to say, “Hear him!”
“ – indeed,” Pagliai translated, “the only place where we can find the means of being rid of Signor Maledicto forever!”
Joe shivered slightly at the deadly seriousness in the old clown’s tone. “And what place is that?” he asked, with a rising feeling of foreboding.
“Why, exactly where you are headed,” said Don Pagliai. “Gringotts!”
+++ DOUBLE CONTEST FOR TMQ #90 +++
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