The Magic Quill #114: The Unusual Suspects

by Robbie Fischer

Contest winners: Dragonic, Linda Carrig, MsJunior84, voldemort_13, Celairiel, voldymortus, i6uuaq, and woot

Spanky’s tale continued…

“During the entire visit to Zophar Goode’s farm, Ilona hadn’t said a word. Other than a few moments when I thought Goode might attack me, when knowing that she was there to cover my back made me feel safer, I wondered whether it had been a good idea for her to come along. I decided the sights, the smells, the sad story of the place had effected her deeply. She didn’t speak until we got home.

“We were met at Sir Lionel’s gatehouse by Eglantine Conkling, the RMB agent I had left in charge. She had been at the Bureau since before I was born. Should have outranked me, but got demoted after the Prewetts were killed under her protection. Everyone at the Bureau called her ‘Silver’ because, twice in her career, she had destroyed a pack of rogue werewolves that was preying on Muggle villages. After the Prewett affair, the Daily Prophet gave her a new nickname.”

“I remember,” Endora put in sadly. “Eglantine Bungling.”

“It could have happened to anybody,” said Spanky. “The Death Eaters lured her away on a fake emergency. When she came back, the house was half destroyed and there were dead bodies everywhere, the Prewetts among them. She took full responsibility, but frankly, it wouldn’t have happened if the RMB had followed James Potter’s advice about equipping agents with charmed mirrors, so they could talk directly, instantly, and securely with the office. By the time her owl got to the office asking for advice, and the return owl came saying ‘Stay where you are,’ she had already gone and left the Prewetts unprotected. The only positive thing about it is that three Death Eaters died in the attack.”

“Tough wizards, those Prewetts,” Merlin grunted. “Dangerous when cornered.”

“Yes,” said Spanky. “But Silver was pretty dangerous too. If she had been there, they might have lived. She spent the rest of her career looking for a chance to make up for her mistake. And against anyone’s expectations, this little garden-security assignment turned out to be her chance.

“When I reached the gatehouse, Silver gave me a roll of parchment, which I had been awaiting impatiently, and also a slip of parchment, which I had not been expecting at all. She had read the latter, so I really didn’t need to see it. ‘Sir Lionel’s compliments,’ Silver recited, ‘and he requests your company in the upstairs parlor. He has guests, very private guests, who must need your services.’

“’What kind of guests?’ I asked, noting the impatience with which Ilona was staring at the scroll in my hand.

“’Three people,’ said Silver. ‘Man, woman, and very small child. Can’t tell you more; they wore their hoods up and, I suspect, some kind of anonymity charm.’

“’Thank you,’ I said, giving Silver’s shoulder a squeeze. ‘I’ll relieve you as soon as I see what Sir Lionel needs.’

“As soon as we were out of Silver’s line of sight, I handed the scroll over to Ilona. She murmured something about seeing me at the summerhouse and went off across the garden. I went in the back door of Niblet House, up the servants’ stairs – which was a bit tricky, because they were built for house-elves – and knocked on the darkwood, sliding-panel door of the parlor. I waited until Sir Lionel said, ‘Come,’ and opened the door.

“James and Lily Potter were seated near the fire, their cloaks draped over the back of the sofa. Lily was feeding little Harry, who had grown a lot since I had seen him last. In the back of my mind – and this shows the extent of my divination talent – I thought, ‘There’s a boy who’s going to be big and tall when he grows up!’ James jumped up and wrung my hand in both of his, while Lily remained seated but greeted me with her usual frank but friendly smile.

“‘Please excuse my exposure,’ she said, though she had a respectable blind-spot charm protecting her modesty. ‘For some reason, I just can’t bear to say no when Harry wants to eat. It’s almost as if he’s fattening himself up in preparation for something…’

“’Perhaps an Arctic ordeal,’ James suggested teasingly. ‘He’ll need the blubber to stay warm.’

“Lily rolled her eyes. Laughing eyes.

“’My mother always said children are born with the sight,’ Sir Lionel said chattily. ‘If they seem to know something you don’t, they probably do.’

“’We’ll want to start buying warm clothes for him, then,’ James kidded, tugging playfully on the baby’s foot.

“’First, you’ll need a warm place to stay,’ said Sir Lionel. ‘And after your narrow escape this evening, it had better not be anywhere as public as this house. I keep a safehouse not very far from here. It’s my little secret, protected by a Fidelius Charm. It has only been used twice before, and only by people in whom I place complete confidence. So I trust you will be safe there. Mr. Spankison will go ahead of you to make sure it is safe, to light the fires, and so forth. Here are the directions.’

“Sir Lionel handed me a slip of parchment containing directions to the house in the woods that I had only been able to see from the inside. Now, suddenly, it appeared to my mind’s eye – where it stood, what it looked like, and its present condition.

“’Er,’ I said, clearing my throat nervously. ‘Sir Lionel, I’m afraid this won’t do.’

“’You astonish me,’ said Sir Lionel, looking at me with suspicion for the first time in my life. It hurt me deeply to see such a look on the face of my kindest benefactor – indeed, my godfather.

“’I’ve been in this house,’ I said, watching Sir Lionel’s face darken with wrath. ‘I can’t explain how I got into it, because I couldn’t see it until I was inside, but…well, I’m afraid both the secret and the house are busted.’

“’Impossible,’ said Sir Lionel, bluffly.

“’That’s where I dueled with Sid Shmedly,’ I added. ‘It was in my report…only, I couldn’t give the location of the house, because I never had a clear impression of how I got there.’

“’You never mentioned that the house was protected by a Fidelius charm,’ Sir Lionel accused.

“’I wasn’t certain of that,’ I said. ‘I really didn’t know what was going on.’

“Sir Lionel stood up and paced. My stomach tied itself in knots; I hated having him displeased with me.

“’All we need is safe passage back to Godric’s Hollow,’ James said. ‘We’ll be fine once we’re under our own roof. Nothing short of the raising of Atlantis could break those wards.’

“’I myself am powerless to help you,’ said Sir Lionel, still pacing. ‘But my friend here has some influence with the Rogue Magic Bureau. He may even have the authority to send a detachment of agents to guard you on your way. I shouldn’t wonder that, whether he has the authority or no, he can manage it somehow.’

“Stung by Sir Lionel’s remark, I politely asked to be excused so I could ask for volunteers. ‘I will lead them myself,’ I added.

“’No, you have important work here this evening,’ said Sir Lionel. ‘Have your people meet the Potters at the gatehouse in forty-five minutes. I will instruct the house-elves to hitch the Abraxans to the carriage. The Potters will ride inside; your people will ride on top. They do not need to know whom they are guarding.’

“’Understood,’ I said, and left.

“The house-elves were already leading a pair of winged horses down the drive, hitched to a closed carriage, by the time I had my team assembled at the gatehouse. Silver insisted on leading the team. The other three agents were youngsters just out of training; I had only known them for a few weeks. I finished giving them some pointers while half a dozen house-elves formed a pyramid so that the driver, an elderly she-elf named Mitsy, could climb up to her seat. I shivered to think of Mitsy having to fly that carriage through the chill night air, wearing nothing but a tea towel belted around her waist with a frayed piece of string.

“I finished giving the younger agents some last-minute dueling tips, then ordered them up onto the carriage while another house-elf guided two cloaked figures down the drive. The sleeping baby looked like no more than a bundle of clothes in the shorter figure’s arms, as the stooping house-elves formed steps up to the carriage with their backs. Instead of stepping on them, James lifted Lily into the carriage, then hopped in after her and closed the door. The windows were shut, the curtains drawn, and as a final touch I placed a Disillusionment Charm over the whole kit. The horses pulled the carriage out of the drive, flapped their wings, and ascended into the sky in an indistinct blur, which I could only follow with my eyes because I knew where to look. Then they were gone.

“Back inside the house, Sir Lionel showed me his copy of the roll of parchment that had come for me earlier. ‘Old Slughorn has finally responded to your questions about your duel with Shmedly,’ he said. ‘A tale I find even more fascinating, now that its setting has been more clearly explained. We are left with still more questions…’

“’Such as, How did Shmedly get into a house whose location only you could reveal?’

“’If you are suggesting,’ Sir Lionel started, then bit his tongue and started again: ‘He isn’t the only one whose…’ He faltered again.

“’I’ve never heard you trip over your tongue before now,’ I said.

“’I’ve never wondered whether I could trust you before now,’ he replied.

“I must not have done a very good job of hiding the pain this answer gave me. He had the look of a man who was trying to work himself up to an apology, but having little luck breaking the habits of a lifetime. While he struggled, I quietly suggested that I should read my own copy of Slughorn’s letter and discuss it with him in the morning. He agreed, and I went down to the summerhouse.

“Ilona was seething when I got there. ‘The name-dropping old gasbag finally deigns to answer your letter,’ she muttered, pacing the very narrow strip of floor between the bed and the old iron stove, ‘though of course he addresses Sir Lionel instead of you, and every time he mentions you in the letter it’s “the RMB agent.” He seems to have forgotten the autographed photo he begged off you when you went to the Owlympics. Or the dinner party he threw in your honor when you were promoted after the Penguarts affair. Or the crate of licorice wands you sent to him after you signed that endorsement deal.’

“’He was the one who set up that deal,’ I said, wistfully remembering my moment of fame and popularity, when wizarding children all over the country had been admonished to ‘Be a Double-Barreled Wizard with Licorice Wands!’ I added, ‘His connections, you know, with past alumni of the Slug Club. And you mustn’t forget that, since a certain genie’s curse drove me insane with the compulsion to search for you, I haven’t been quite the blue-eyed boy I was then. Forced leave of absence, forfeited medals, and so on. I’ve been persona non grata.’

“’I’d like to take a cheese grater to his fat, oily nose,’ Ilona fumed. ‘Non gratawouldn’t seem so bad. Good people don’t forget their friends.’

“’All right,’ I said soothingly, patting a spot on the corner of the bed, next to where I was sitting. ‘All right, so Slughorn isn’t good people. But he isn’t bad people, so let’s see what he says, eh?’

“Ilona threw herself backward on the bed, covering her eyes with one arm and extending the other toward me. I took the scroll from her and read it aloud. It said:

Your Honor,I have researched the types of potions that might meet the description that the RMB agent gave, and that might have the effect of making Mr. Shmedly immune to the agent’s allegedly accurate spellcasting. Before I get to my findings, though, I feel compelled to express my shock and regret at the choices Mr. Shmedly has made. At one point I was convinced that he had a promising career ahead of him. I assure you that I have no ties with Mr. Shmedly or his family at present.

And now more bad news. There are actually several different potions that could potentially be involved here; or perhaps a combination of potions, a tricky and dangerous art in itself.

First, there is the Achilles Unguent, generally a reddish-brown, oily mixture that, when rubbed into the skin, makes the body impenetrable for several hours. The Achilles Unguent has been known to guard against spears, rocks, swords, arrows, and such things, but I have never heard of it being tested against spells.

“‘That isn’t it,’ I grumbled. ‘When that table hit him in the windstorm, you could see that it hurt.’ Ilona waved me onward. I went back to the letter.”

Another possibility is that the potion wasn’t actually protecting Mr. Shmedly, so much as impeding the RMB agent. For example, some vampires prepare a blood-red, fizzy concoction that I like to call Draculessence. Poured into, say, a town well, it causes conflict and disorder, which I am told the vampires find entertaining. I’m not sure I can support the rumors that they use this potion to “separate weak animals from the herd,” as it were. But sadly, there has been very little impartial scholarship on the subject of undead potionlore. Could not the agent have been, perhaps, confused and weakened by the potion that seemingly spilled on him?

“’You weren’t,’ Ilona assured me as I continued reading.”

Perhaps the RMB agent’s recollections were inaccurate. If so, and if the potion was actually dark brown instead of red, it might have been Liquid Armor. This was allegedly invented by Merlin the Hirsute as a metal-polish, to provide added hardness to the armor of certain knights he favored. The recipe was preserved in the 13th-century manuscript of Reverential Sneed, and I seem to recall Mr. Shmedly quoting from Sneed in one of his N.E.W.T.-level papers. According to Sneed, Liquid Armor can be applied to any material, including cloth, to make it as hard as steel. The advantage of adding this to steel armor was to make thinner, lighter armor just as strong as the heavy stuff.Similar to Liquid Armor in its effect, but bright blue in color, is the concentrate of Shieldberry Juice. However, it definitely doesn’t provide protection against spells; it only protects the drinker from physical trauma. However, when mixed with an iron-rich vitamin supplement, it turns a dark, reddish-purple and causes an unusual side effect, discovered by the unfortunate Milo the Magnetic. If Mr. Shmedly has been taking this mixture, he may be more mineral than man by now. The only things that can hurt him, in that event, are powerful magnets and blast furnaces. So Mr. Shmedly’s claim that “vitamins” were responsible for his invulnerabilty may have been truthful.

One must also consider the gruesome possibility that the phial contained giant blood. It is difficult to say what would happen to a wizard who received infusions of giant blood. If he survived, it might make him impervious to spells. However, it might also destroy his ability to do magic. It might also account for the sickly, if not dead and rotting, odor that surrounded Mr. Shmedly. This could seriously compromise his health. Or, perhaps worse, it could make him smell like a giant.

None of these concoctions are known to scream when spilled. However, the scream may have come from the flask itself. Some of my potion-making equipment has been ensorcelled to tell me when a potion is ready, or when an ingredient has turned bad. There are days when my pantry is so full of mutterings that I can’t concentrate.

Please also consider the likelihood that the potion was not, in fact, connected with Mr. Shmedly’s alleged invulnerability. The building, or the room, may have been shielded by a defensive spell that would dampen the effects of any magic directed against the caster. The RMB agent may have been battling a very clever illusion.

There are even stories of certain wizards “slaving” their magic to another user, a type sorcerer who feeds off the magical power of others to become more powerful. If Mr. Shmedly has done this, I should be very concerned for him. He will have only a very limited amount of magic at his disposal, and using too much of it may result in loss of all powers or even shorten his life. However, one does hear occasionally of a witch or wizard who donated his or her powers to another, of their own free will, usually motivated by a fanatical belief in a “cause” represented by the receiving wizard, but occasionally given in exchange for certain gifts…such as invulnerability.

Lastly, far be it from me to question the reliability of the RMB agent involved, but when you consider certain gaps in his story, combined with spots on the agent’s record…

“I stopped reading at that point and stuffed the parchment into the stove. I enjoyed watching it burn.

“’That wasn’t worth the wait,’ I said cheerfully. ‘The man doesn’t have a clue what we’re dealing with. None of those potions could have been what Shmedly used.’

“’He did make one good point,’ Ilona allowed. ‘That potion wasn’t necessarily connected with Shmedly’s spellproofness. It may have been meant for Sir Lionel.’

“’Yes,’ I agreed. ‘And maybe Shmedly’s old romance — remember Jonquil? — is still hanging around him. Maybe she’s hidden by a genie’s curse, and helping him fight his duels.’

“Ilona finally broke out of her sulk enough to laugh. ‘That’s just crazy enough to be true,’ she hooted.

“’It would be poetic justice,’ I chortled.

“I forget what we said next,” Spanky lied. “The next thing you’ll want to know about, happened the next morning….”

To help choose the direction of the next few chapters of The Magic Quill, visit theDiscussion Forum, or send Robbie feedback. The survey answer with the most votes, and the contest entry (or entries) Robbie likes best, will be featured in the chapter after next.

SURVEY: Does Shmedly have any werewolf blood in his ancestry?

CONTEST: Describe an article of clothing with unusual, magical properties.