The Magic Quill #92: The Last Recruit
by Robbie Fischer
Contest winners: DeatheaterJ, zanaboo, and Linda Carrig
The new headmistress sat in the back of the classroom, seemingly absorbed in the Journal of Early Wizardry Development, Vol. 937, No. 6, while the brand new Defensive Magic teacher carried on with his lecture. She sighed as she listened, reminding herself once again that no one would have expected it easy to introduce the new curriculum at Durmstrang. Old ways – like teaching the flat-out Dark Arts – were hard to put aside. It was no wonder that she was the third head of Durmstrang to be appointed since the disappearance of Igor Karkaroff. Still, there was something about this new teacher…if anyone could make it work, he could.
“…It wasn’t hard for me to hop from on top of one giant, glass eyeball to another, all the way across the dungeon – though, to be sure, if I had fallen between them, they would have rolled over me and crushed me to death. After that, it was a simple matter of sawing through two iron bars, squeezing through the window, and crawling along a low-hanging tree branch over the Inferi-infested moat. Then I had all afternoon, until the sun went down, to run for my life across miles of swampy waste. It was actually the most fun I had had all summer. Nevertheless, that was the last time my parents allowed me to spend the holidays with my vampire aunt and uncle. The End.”
The young witch nodded politely, acknowledging the other students’ applause, and returned to her seat.
“Very good, excellent work,” said the new teacher, wiping sweat off his pasty brow. “We will continue hearing your compositions about your experiences with the Dark Arts next week. Now, let’s see how many of you read the chapter that was assigned for today. Pavel, how would you define the word ‘munchkinesis’?”
“Er…munchkinesis…” One of the boys in the front row got a strained look on his face. “Is that a curse that causes you to grow a second stomach, so that you have to ruminate like a…”
“No,” said the professor. “Who knows this? Samirah?”
A girl cleared her throat nervously, then said, “Munchkinesis: a security spell, often triggered by stepping on a trick stair, that causes the victim to become about two feet tall with a squeaky voice and adorable, rosy cheeks.”
Several of the children in the classroom shuddered.
“Fair warning,” said the teacher. “The trunk that contains the answers to this year’s quizzes is protected by the munchkinesis spell. Now, Alexandra, perhaps you can tell us one advantage, and one disadvantage, of the Albinusmentis spell.”
A very quiet girl turned very red and seemed, for a moment, unable to say anything. Then a couple of students giggled and the girl shot a piercing glare in their direction. “All right,” said Alexandra. “The advantage of Albinusmentis is that it wipes your adversary’s mind blank, giving you time to decide what to do with him. The disadvantage is that it only lasts about a minute.”
“Then you obviously can’t use that as an excuse for failing a whole exam,” the professor pointed out.
Some of the students chuckled briefly. The moment of levity showed that the students were starting to warm to the new subject, but the children seemed confused – some of them ashamed, some angry – after it happened. The headmistress stifled another sigh and turned a page in her magazine.
“We just have time for one more question,” said the teacher. “What is another name for the Tonabrix Trap?”
Several hands went up. The teacher called on a student named Laszlo, who said, “Unwelcome Mat.”
“Very good. It’s an effective deterrent against unwelcome guests knocking on your door – but remember, it leaves an awful mess to clean up, and it can go off unintentionally. Read chapter two for next time!”
This last bit was shouted over the sound of the bell ringing, students gathering up their things, and a general rush for the door.
Once the last student had left the room, the teacher went and sat down next to the headmistress, who was stuffing her magazine into a pocket of her robes.
“Well, Tatyana, how do you think that went?” he said.
“I warned you that it would be difficult, Slavik,” she replied, looking directly at him for the first time all day. He was a pale, bespectacled man – fairly young – a bit on the portly side, with a good-sized bald-spot above his forehead and a wary look in his eyes that some people had mistaken for a sign of weak nerves. Actually, Tatyana knew that Slavik was a very brave wizard, and dangerous when crossed. He had saved her life once. That was why he was the first teacher she had thought to hire for this difficult, new job. Seeing a shadow of discouragement fall across his face, Tatyana added, “But if you keep on as you have begun, I think you will succeed.”
“Good,” said Slavik. “Then perhaps you are in a good enough mood to grant me one small, tiny favor.”
“I need to take a leave of absence.”
Tatyana laughed aloud. Then she realized it wasn’t a joke, and scowled instead. “Slavik, this is hardly the time. We have so much to do, and we have to do it fast, before the school governors lose their nerve.”
“Only for a week, I promise. I’ve received an urgent plea for help from an old friend.”
Actually, Slavik had received nothing of the sort. Rigel had contacted him through the matched pair of magic mirrors they shared, to warn him that Il Comte was coming after them. Slavik knew that he was safer at Durmstrang than most anywhere else. But he also knew that Rigel was about to try another Gringotts heist, and he had an idea about how he could help…without getting trapped for years and years.
“All right,” said Tatyana. “I will teach your class for one week, no more.”
“Thank you. I will leave tonight.”
When he Apparated in the back parlor at the Hog’s Head several hours later, the room was empty except for a burly tattooed wizard being aggressively kissed by a veiled witch — what little of her face Slavik could see was quite nice — plus a thinner, haunted-looking wizard who was watching the amorous couple with a gloomy air. The loud popping sound of Slavik’s arrival startled the couple, who loudly fell under the table. The third wizard hopped to his feet, his gloom suddenly replaced by a beaming smile.
“Slavik, my old friend!” he cried, shaking the teacher’s hand vigorously in a two-handed grip.
“Is it really Anatoly?” Slavik exclaimed.
Anatoly kicked someone under the table, and the couple resurfaced, looking quite rumpled. “The meeting will begin soon. These two came with me.” He introduced them to Slavik, a bit of his sullenness returning at the sight of them.
The introductions had scarcely ended when they had to start again – and again, and again – as more of the would-be bank robbers Apparated in the small parlor. Somehow, there was always just room enough for all of them, including a chair next to Spanky that seemed to be empty whenever Slavik looked right at it, though at other times the table seemed fully occupied. Drinks were ordered all around, amid a continuous flow of friendly chatter.
Last to arrive was Harvey, who opened the official meeting with a bit of good news: “I have found a way through a magical wall that leads to the underground river, near the Pit under Gringotts.”
The conspirators cheered, then listened intently to his detailed explanation, then cheered again. “It only wants something to divert the goblins’ attention,” Harvey finished, “and our plan will be complete.”
“That’s why I’m here,” said Slavik. “I have an idea – but I will need your master of disguise to help me…”
“Gladly,” said Joe Albuquerque.
“…And,” Slavik continued, “We have to do the break-in within the week.”
Suddenly, the crowded room became so silent that it seemed the breathing had stopped. Harvey’s friends, Spanky’s children, the clown wizards, Rigel and Mr. Oldmanson, the Durmstrang lads and even the tattooed wizard stared at Slavik like so many wax figures. It was one of those moments when the wary look in Slavik’s eyes proved, beyond any doubt, not to be a sign of a nervous disposition. Setting his jaw firmly, Slavik said, “Here’s what I suggest…”
+++ THIS WEEK’S DOUBLE CHALLENGE +++
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