The Magic Quill #102: The Drains
by Robbie Fischer
Contest winners: _houdini, myndon, jatibbal and floribunda
A 9-foot cargo van veered to a halt, with one tire on the pavement in front of a tall residential hotel. The van had the words “Warehouse on Wheels: Home Removals Made a ‘Wiz’! For daily rates, pop your head in the Floo and ask for Manny” painted on it in Muggleblind colors.
The hotel had an awning with the words “The Drains” painted on it for all to see. Under the awning stood a doorman, who quickly tucked the employment page of The Daily Prophet inside his waistcoat, and a charcoal pencil under his cap. He held the door open and stood at attention as Harvey, Spanky, Joe, and Merlin piled out of the front left door of the van, followed (impossibly, one would think) by Tip, all three clown wizards, Anatoly, and the burly, illustrated wizard who had come along with Anatoly. The doorman managed not to look surprised by the van’s front-seat passenger complement.
“Well, here is my humble abode,” Harvey said, waving his hands modestly at the huge building.
“This little thing?” said Joe, who today was disguised as Quasimodo. Due to the angle of his spine, he had to struggle to get a view of the building’s great height. “Phew,” he panted. “I don’t suppose it has above two dozen gargoyles.”
“You can play with them later,” said Harvey, going round to open the back doors of the van. “And really, I only live in the top two or three floors.”
“Ah,” said Anatoly, knowledgeably. “Is called Pentacle, yes?”
“In some societies, I daresay,” Harvey grunted. He and Tip had one end of a large barrel, and together they were tugging it out the rear door of the van so that Spanky and Merlin could grab the other end. The doorman looked on in boredom, even though the barrel seemed larger than the cargo area of the van.
“You couldn’t help a bit, could you?” Spanky snapped at Joe, as the four men huffed and puffed under the weight of the barrel.
“You’re doing fine,” said Joe, rubbing his hump. “Besides, I’ve got a bad back.”
With the help of Anatoly and his friend, the wizards got the first barrel onto the magic carpet, which the clown wizards had spread out on the pavement meanwhile. “Window’s open,” Harvey panted. Don Pagliai nodded, and the carpet began its ascent up the front of the building, bulging dangerously at the bottom while the three clowns struggled to balance the barrel on it.
“I could have levitated it the whole way, sir,” the doorman volunteered smugly.
“Let me know before you try that,” Harvey replied. “Give me plenty of time to move out of range, too. I wouldn’t aim my wand at that stuff – ignites too easily.”
Merlin stretched his arms, sniffed the air, and asked, “Why is your building called The Drains?”
“It used to be the Fitz-Fritz,” said Harvey. “But estate agents and rich Muggles kept coming round. I thought about doing some kind of magic to keep them away, but I decided that changing the name would be easier.”
“Ah,” said Merlin, rubbing his chin. “Yes, I suppose that would do it. So it’s all witches and wizards that live here? I’ve never heard of it.”
“People in our position – speaking on behalf of my fellow residents – don’t like our private address to be widely known. I say, here come the clowns! I take it, from the lack of dragon bogeys and wood splinters falling from the sky, that all went well?”
“Indeed, Signor Harvey,” said Don Pagliai, as Signor Boccachiusa made emphatic signs of agreement. “The house-elves are taking care of everything at that end. However, they did not take to Signor Subito as readily as I had hoped.”
The shortest of the three clowns looked furious. Whatever he was saying in his native tongue did not sound particularly friendly.
“They mistook him for one of their own, only with clothes,” Don Pagliai explained sadly. “I had to raise my voice to stop them ripping Signor Subito’s trousers off.”
Subito concluded his bout of incomprehensible swearing with an emphatic snap of his braces.
“Well, I’m sure they won’t make the same mistake another time,” said Harvey. “Ready for the second barrel, gentlemen? One down, twenty-seven to go.”
After the sixteenth barrel was removed from the van, the six heavy-lifters were resting on the pavement clutching sweat-soaked handkerchiefs when Joe decided to take an interest in the doorman. The latter was no longer concealing his search through the employment pages.
“Moving onward and upward, I take it?” Joe said slyly.
“No doubt of it,” said the doorman. “There has to be a better career than this. You know I’ve been holding this door open for fourteen months? And does any of these rich witches in their yeti-fur cloaks give me a tip? Eh? Or how about their husbands, the deputy grand warlock of so-and-so and the sub-assistant minister of what have you? Eh? Eh? Don’t even use the door, do they? Pinch of Floo powder ‘ere, Apparition there, broomstick on an overcast night. Even when they come home drunk from The Leaky Cauldron, the Knight Bus drops ‘em in their hallway upstairs…daftest job in London…”
“So what have you got circled?” asked Joe. “Let’s see there. ‘Hate Mail Wizard’? What does that one say?”
The doorman, looking flattered by the hunchback’s interest, gave the newspaper a brisk shake and began to read out loud.
“‘Minister for Magic seeks personal assistant. Duties to include checking the Minister’s daily correspondence for curses, poisons, howlers, and other traps. Ear plugs and dragon-hide gloves provided; anti-jinx expertise preferred.’ See, I could do that.”
Joe scratched his deformed head. “I just wonder…”
“I wonder why Mr. Scrimgeour should want someone to check his daily mail, when it would be so much simpler for him to stop sending things like that.”
The doorman looked puzzled.
“Nevermind,” said Joe brightly. “Read that other one.”
“Oh, yes. It says, ‘Pyromarketer needed to visit random wizarding homes via Floo powder and offer them a range of highly discounted products. Caution: While current wizarding laws and common sense forbid actually entering a wizarding home uninvited, injury can still occur while talking with one’s head in the fire. Annual reports indicate that the number of Pyromarketer complaints of “being severely poked in the eye” has skyrocketed in recent years. Applicants are required to sign a liability waiver and to provide their own protective eyewear.’ I don’t know, that one doesn’t sound half as good when you read it out loud.”
“I suppose not,” Joe agreed. “How about that PortaPuffy thing?”
“’PortaPuffy Service Mage,’ it says. ‘Banshee & Sons, makers of Banishing Cream, the self-sweeping Ashwinder Broom, and other pest products, announces the launch of the PortaPuffy: A permanent portkey that you set under couches, beds, dressers — wherever Puffskeins breed — to port them safely away, ensuring that you never again find yourself up to your armpits in the fuzzy little darlings. Delivery and repair magicians needed urgently; allergy testing and training provided…’ I don’t know, though. That ‘permanent portkey’ bit sounds dodgy.”
“You’re absolutely right,” said Joe. “Yet, it sounds a bit nicer than this spot for a Magical Manure Sample Processor.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t mind that,” said the doorman. “I haven’t had a sense of smell since that bludger crushed my nose, last game of my seventh year at Hogwarts…”
“That’s never…!” Tip looked round, squinted, hopped to his feet and went in for a closer look. “Ted? Teddy Smith? I didn’t recognize you with the nose and all.”
The doorman turned red and mumbled something like, “I’m sure the gentleman is mistaken.”
“You were the Yule Ball King the year old Kettleburn’s fake hand fell into the punchbowl. When it turned up in your goblet, we carried you around the Great Hall on our shoulders and sang ‘All hail the three-handed wizard’! You only missed being Head Boy by a handful of votes! We voted you ‘Most Likely to Become Minister for Magic by Age 40!’ You captained the Hufflepuff side to within sixty points of…what happened to you?”
The doorman looked very uncomfortable now. Then he looked closer at Tip. “Hang on,” he said. “Now I remember you. You were the bloke that busted every instrument in the school band. Ed, or Ned, or…”
“Tip,” said Tip. “Tip Smith.”
“Right….Weren’t you in some singing group or other? After we left school, I mean.”
“Nasal Drip,” Tip said, though perhaps a bit wistfully.
The doorman grinned, feeling much better. “Yeah, I remember you now.”
Joe’s enjoyment of this conversation was interrupted when someone bumped into him – someone walking out the front door of The Drains for all that the doorman complained that no one used the door – someone walking backwards.
“Hey,” said Joe irritably.
“Excuse me,” said Harvey, continuing to walk backwards down the street and around the corner.
Joe scratched a wart on his nose in a bemused way. He looked down at the curb, where the others were still resting and wiping their sweaty faces. He hadn’t noticed that Harvey had left the group. Joe did a quick head-count – five sets of slumped shoulders. With the clowns upstairs, and Tip and himself talking with the doorman, and Harvey around the corner, there should only have been four wizards sitting there…
Harvey turned around from where he was sitting on the curb, shooting an irritated look at Joe. “What?” he asked.
“What what?” Joe asked back, nonplussed.
Harvey shrugged. “I could feel your eyes burning a hole in my back. Is something wrong?”
“No,” Joe said hastily. “Not that I know of.” But at the same time he asked himself: Am I losing my mind?
+++ DOUBLE CHALLENGE +++
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SURVEY: On a scale of 1 to 10, how much would you like to hear about each of the following:? (A) The rest of Merlin’s escape from Gringotts. (B) The rest of Spanky’s story about the werewolf he encountered in TMQ #2. (C) How Sadie made and lost each of her fortunes. (D) What happens to Harvey as he lives backward in time.
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