The Magic Quill #90: Grim Prospekt

by Robbie Fischer

Contest #1 winners: Linda Carrig, zanaboo, Shadow Phoenix, and TWZRD
Contest #2 winner: _houdini

Sadie had all but given up finding the Wizard Quarter of the city, not to mention Anatoly’s shop. But then a careening taxi forced her to flatten herself against a wall – and instead of meeting the wall’s resistance, she went straight through it as if through a bead curtain. On the other side was another street that seemingly ran parallel to the one Sadie had been on.

It might as well have belonged to another world. Instead of chilly wind, mud and intermittent rain showers like the rest of the city, this new street was filled with sunlight, warmth, and gleaming surfaces. Spicy aromas drifted out of a tea-shop across the street. There were a lot of people walking to and fro on foot, but no one seemed to be in a great hurry. There were no cars, buses, or even bicycles to endanger the pedestrian. Sadie sighed with relief. She had never been here before, but already she felt at home.

The phrasebook was no use. Sadie could not read the alphabet the local phrases were written in. So she settled for asking for directions the simple way. She grabbed a passerby and asked, “Grim Prospekt?” The passerby looked alarmed and suspicious, and hurried away without saying a word.

That feeling of being right at home didn’t last long. After trying the same thing on several other pedestrians, Sadie decided just to walk along until she stumbled upon Grim Prospekt. She was certain that wasn’t the name of this street; it just didn’t sound right. She had in mind something more like Knockturn Alley in London. But it didn’t help that she couldn’t speak with anyone, or read the signs.

Then she saw something that made her do a double-take.

In a wide spot in the street ahead, a powerfully built young wizard was standing on a wheelbarrow, its wheels chocked with bricks. The wizard was stripped to the waist and covered, front and back, with tattoos. The tattoos, naturally, moved around and even changed from time to time, while the wizard turned this way and that to make sure everyone passing him saw both sides. Sadie’s first thought was (gulp) that the wizard was very impressive, especially when he flexed. Her second thought was that the unintelligible words written all over him seemed to be changing every few moments, like adverts on a magical marquee. Her third thought was, “Blimey. That looks like English on his left bicep.”

The adverts on the left arm were, indeed, in English. Sadie stepped closer and stared. The wizard winked at her, and she blushed under her veil. She tossed a few knuts into the hat at his feet. Whenever his left arm came into view, she read it. First it said, “Snake cakes! Feel them slither down into your tummy…yummy!” Then it changed to, “Colleen’s Charmed Clothing: Enchanting transfigurations for the fashionable witch. Inch-vanishing waistlines, self-levitating busts, and self-fit gowns on request.” A moment later it read, “Maglar: Protective robes for the extreme sports wizard. Made from 100% acromantula silk – as strong as dragon skin at half the weight!” And finally, “Foofaraw’s Dancing Shoes – 2 Finic Alley – Fitting wizards with two left feet since 1483.” Then the adverts started to repeat.

Sadie shook her head firmly, then spoke to the human billboard. “I say,” she said. “Did you get those tattoos done in Grim Prospekt?”

The illustrated wizard did not seem to understand. He replied with a stream of language that seemed to have an impossibly high ratio of consonants to vowels. Sadie gulped again, then grabbed the wizard’s wrist and jabbed her finger at the writhing letters advertising snake cakes. Then she said, very loudly and slowly, “Grim Prospekt?”

The wizard grinned and nodded.

Sadie made a vague, round-and-round gesture that was meant to say, “Where is it?”

Cheerfully, the wizard pulled his robes on and dumped a hatful of change into one of the pockets. Then he grabbed Sadie’s hand and led her down the street at a nearly running pace. Soon Sadie felt winded, but she was too breathless to complain and the wizard dragged her onward. Then, suddenly, they turned a corner and the sunlight vanished, like a blown-out candle.

Grim Prospekt looked just as the name had led Sadie to expect. Roofs sagged, doors and shutters hung crooked. Windows were missing panes. The bricks in the walls and the roadway were crumbling and crooked. Painted signs hanging over the pavement had faded almost beyond recognition. Everything was coated with a layer of sooty grime. Smoke from numerous chimneys seemed to gather just above the rooftops. In doorways they passed, Sadie spotted women with tear-streaked faces, and emaciated children dressed in rags.

It was not, however, a Knockturn Alley type of place; not at all. As their running pace slowed to a brisk walk, and as the muscle wizard moved alongside Sadie in a vaguely protective way, she saw that it was simply a place of desperation. That such places could exist in the magical world did not seem right, but it saddened rather than surprised her. The shops bore witness to the way of life in Grim Prospekt. One window displayed a stuffed image of a goblin hanging by its neck. Another place seemed to specialize in mending tea-towels worn by house elves. Still another storefront appeared to house a recovery program for billywig addicts. A restorer of derelict brooms crouched over a pathetic tangle of twigs and splinters, chewing on his filthy thumbnail. A small booth offered a variety of fried morsels – of what kind of meat, Sadie did not care to ask.

At a bend in the alley, the tattooed wizard stopped, pointed dramatically, and said, “Tak!”

And there, in a stall just large enough for a camp bed and a short, three-legged stool, was Anatoly. He was seated on the stool, pressing the glowing tip of his wand against a shaved spot on the back of an overweight wizard, who was biting down on his own wand in pain. Now and then, sparks flew out of the side of the fat wizard’s mouth. Sadie knew the tattoo artist was Anatoly, one of the ex-Durmstrang runaways who had shared Merlin’s ordeal in Gringotts. Perhaps it was because of the haunted yet determined look on the man’s face as he bent over his wand, sweat dripping from his brow. Or perhaps it was the fact that the words “Anatoly’s Wizard Tattoos” flashed on his bare forearm, in English and three other languages, successively.

A moment later, the job was done. The fat man got up, wincing. Anatoly handed him a small tin of cream and refused an offer of what seemed to be the fat wizard’s last few coins. The obese wizard turned his back to the window and tried, gingerly, to put his robes on. Now Sadie could see that the tattoo was a slowly blinking portrait of Harry Potter, looking sad and wise beyond his years and a little dangerous at the same time. Under the portrait was a title that scrolled by in a succession of languages. Just before the robes covered it, Sadie caught part of the English version: “Potter for Chief Mugw-“

The fat customer came out. Sadie smacked her guide’s shoulder gratefully, then went into the shop rubbing the pain out of her hand.

Anatoly was polishing his wand with a rag and a jar of bat earwax. He said something to Sadie in a voice that sounded almost too weary to pronounce the difficult-sounding words of his language. Sadie told him, “I’ve come from Merlin.”

“In that case, I’ll give you five percent discount,” said Anatoly, without showing a bit of surprise. “But I need to see picture you want me to draw, and then we will set appointment. I need at least one or two days to practice. Otherwise you get bad tattoo. Advertiser will not be happy.”

“The tattoo will have to wait till some other time,” Sadie said, glancing out the window to where her guide was still waiting. “I’ve actually come to warn you that…”

The window facing the street shattered as Sadie’s muscle-bound friend barreled through it. He hit the camp-bed rolling and crushed it to splinters. Through what was left of the window, Sadie saw a figure with shiny hair and gorgeous robes advancing from across Grim Prospekt with his wand outstretched. She threw herself at Anatoly, yelling, “Down!” A moment later, the shop wall where Anatoly had been standing turned into a giant, wobbling pudding, and then collapsed.

On the floor, half immersed in pudding, the illustrated wizard gurgled. On top of him, but under Sadie, Anatoly groaned. Time was running out. Il Comte about to step through the window, wand aimed at the three figures piled on the floor, a demonic gleam in his eye. Sadie grabbed one arm of each of the wizards under her and Disapparated.

It was re-Apparating that proved to be tricky. For what seemed like several minutes, but that could have been hours, she felt herself struggling in a tight, dark, airless place. The walls gripped her like elastic sheets, pulling this way and then that, rippling, squeezing, crushing. Each of her arms seemed to be carrying the weight of an elephant, two elephants walking away in opposite directions. She thought she might be torn in two. She tried to scream, but couldn’t. Then she thought about that sunny street whose name she couldn’t pronounce. The warmth beckoned to her. She focused on it, and willed herself toward it. She wrapped her mouth around the name of that fabled street, and as if stealing the sound of it from a tightly sealed room she repeated it in her mind: Mayna Solntsevorota…

Something went SNAP! and Sadie materialized on top of warm cobblestones, with two half-conscious wizards piled on top of her.

“Does anybody have a pinch of Floo powder handy?” she yelled at the startled passersby, while trying to poke Anatoly awake.

“What a coincidence,” said a suave voice. A hem of those silky robes emerged from the gathering crowd. Sadie could not see much around Anatoly’s shoulder, but she knew Il Comte had his wand raised. The voice purred, “I would so love to send you all on your way.”

Anatoly muttered something that didn’t sound like Latin, but it still sounded like a spell. Il Comte backed off a step and demanded, though with a bit of a quaver in his voice, “What is this?” All that Sadie could see what something like paint dripping off the fingers of the illustrated wizard on top of the pile. Then she saw images – pictures, letters – not only moving, but racing across the cobbled street towards Il Comte’s feet.

“Stop it!” Il Comte screamed. “I demand…!” But before he could give voice to his demand, the migrating tattoos were almost on top of him. He tried to blast them with a curse, but they only swarmed around the burnt hole in the street. “No,” Il Comte sobbed; then he barked, “Out of my way!” and vanished into the crowd at top speed.

“That will keep him busy until we can get out of here,” Anatoly said, practically right into Sadie’s ear.

“We’d better work on that quickly,” groaned Sadie, almost unable to breathe under the weight of both wizards. “Is what’s-his-name coming round? He’ll want to come with us. Knowing Il Comte, he’ll be a target now, too.”

“I agree,” said Anatoly, then he yelled for help in the local language. It took several people to drag the formerly tattooed wizard off them, and a couple more to help Anatoly and Sadie to their feet. Anatoly dug in his pockets and found a pouch of Floo powder. He looked up at Sadie with those same haunted, yet determined, eyes – only now, there was something more in them: a dancing light.

“Where to, then?” he asked her.

“Hogsmeade,” she replied.

+++ THIS WEEK’S DOUBLE CHALLENGE +++

To send Robbie your personal feedback or original ideas, visit the Feedback Formhere.

To vote in the Survey and Contest to determine what happens in the Chapter-After-Next, visit the Discussion Forum here.

SURVEY: Who will Sadie end up romantically involved with? (A) Anatoly. (B) What’s-his-name, with the tattoos. (C) Il Comte. (D) Someone else. (E) Nobody.

CONTEST: Describe a gruesome magical booby-trap, or a nasty curse used for security purposes.

The Survey answer that gets the most votes, and the Contest entry that Robbie likes the most will be featured in Magic Quill #92. So be sure to visit our Discussion Thread – and if you aren’t a member of COS Forums, join today!

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