The Magic Quill #125: Ask Fran Sanders

by Robbie Fischer

Contest winner: Celairiel

Sadie looked up when the cell door opened, but it was only Agent Dalyrmple bringing in another prisoner. The new inmate was a frail, elderly man attired richly in the old Persian manner, with many layers of robes and high-heeled half-boots. He had proud, wizened features; long, gray-white hair; and pointed moustaches and goatee of a somewhat darker color. The moustaches quivered as the man continued an indignant speech that had begun before the door was opened:

“…papers to prove it!” the man complained.

“But magic carpets are not legal here,” Dalrymple said patiently, “and therein lies the difficulty. In this jurisdiction, rugs are regarded as muggle artifacts, and so…”

“And what is this?” the old man exclaimed, having noticed Sadie sitting on the lower bunk of the double-decker bed. “A female cellmate? No, sir. That would be most unseemly.”

For a split second, Dalrymple’s face closed – few, besides Sadie, would have known that he was scrambling for an answer. Then he shrugged idly and said, as if he had planned this all along, “We reckoned you would approve of her modest nature. The veil, you know.”

“Well, she does seem very demure,” said the old man, uncertainly. Sadie suppressed a snort. “But all the same, such an arrangement would lay her virtue, and mine, open to any sort of question. There must be another cell.”

“I’m very sorry, Mr. Jamasb,” said the agent, looking rather tired than sorry. “Holding cells are at a premium these days, what with the downfall of You-Know-Who and the capture of so many of his followers. Even magic can’t make the wheels of justice turn faster. The only other vacancy is with a troll named Marrowspurt the Bilesucker. I don’t suppose you would prefer him as a cellmate?”

Jamasb faltered, looking sideways at Sadie.

“Any road, nobody here will think anything inappropriate happened between you and Sadie,” Dalrymple said with a wry smile.

“Why-ever not?” the Persian wizard asked weakly.

“Because she can take care of herself,” Sadie said in a rough voice, squeezing both fists so that the knuckled popped loudly.

Dalrymple patted the shocked Persian’s shoulder. “Her hearing is in half an hour,” he said. “You couldn’t even get her veil off in that time. Then you’ll have all this to yourself,” he added with a sweeping gesture toward the cramped cell with its thin mattresses, its chipped washbasin, and its chamberpot under the bed.

While Jamasb was surveying this grim vista, the door snapped shut behind him. He turned quickly, and saw that Dalrymple had slipped away.

“Most improper,” Jamasb muttered prudishly.

Sadie patted the edge of the bunk beside her. Reluctantly, Jamasb sat down, keeping his distance from her.

“You’re not one of You Know Who’s lot, I hope?” he ventured after several minutes of awkward silence.

“Would I tell you if I was?” she snapped. Then she coughed and said in a contrite voice – or perhaps just a froggy throat – “If you meant to ask why I’m here, it’s just a small matter of redistributing the assets of some pinched Death Eaters. Nobody told me the RMB had a freeze on them. The assets, that is. Don’t have a pipe up one of those sleeves, do you? Old Dal-Pimple took mine yesterday, and right now I’d give three toes off my left foot for a smoke.”

“All I have up my sleeve is today’s Daily Prophet,” said Jamasb, pulling it out. “I’m afraid it’s only the opinion section. I was using the rest of it to stop a hole in my carpet when I was arrested.”

Sadie looked as sympathetic as it is possible to look from behind a thick veil. “Rotten punctures,” she commiserated. “That might be my least favorite way to get nicked. And in my business, there are so many ways. Anyway, if I can get this paper burning, I might be able to inhale something…”

Her voice trailed off as something on the page caught her eye and she began to read.

Jamasb hummed to himself, arms crossed, looking as if the end of a half hour couldn’t come soon enough.

“What’s the opposite of singing?” Sadie asked after a few minutes of reading. “Ten letters, starts with an S, and it has a K five letters along.”

“Speaking,” said Jamasb.

“That sounds right, but it only has eight letters. Oh, look! This one has Fran Sanders in it. I forgot it was Tuesday.”

“I do not understand you,” Jamasb said, lifting his chin haughtily. “Who is Fran Sanders, and what does he have to do with Tuesday?”

“She is a seer who writes an advice column every Tuesday in the Prophet,” Sadie explained, as if to someone very dull. “And she’s better than the one in the Quibbler, wossname, Dear Mabby. Ask Fran a question and she nearly always gives the true answer, though it doesn’t often make sense. Here, listen to this:

“‘Dear Fran Sanders: For the past several weeks, I’ve had this odd piece of classical music running through my head. Can you tell me what it is? Signed, Humming in Havant. Dear Humming: It’s the Capriol Suite by Peter Warlock.’ What do you think of that?”

“It might be very impressive,” Jamasb conceded, “if I was Humming in Havant and could say whether this witch’s advice was correct.”

“Well, that wasn’t really a representative one. Here’s another: ‘Dear Fran Sanders: To be, or not to be? That is the question. Signed, Dithering in Denmark. Dear Dithering: I’ve given this matter a great deal of thought and, sorry, in your case the answer is: Not to be.’ That’s good, eh?”

“Yes, I’m very impressed,” said the old Persian wizard, though he sounded more irritated than impressed.

“Here’s the next one,” Sadie said enthusiastically. “‘Dear Fran Sanders: I’ve looked all over the house and I can’t find my keys. Can you tell me where I’ve left them? Signed, Frustrated in Finsbury. Dear Frustrated: They fell out of your pocket over Charterhouse Street in Holborn at 2:38 a.m. last Wednesday. You should really seek help for your sleepflying problem. Riding a broomstick while asleep can be very dangerous.’ That’s good advice, right there.”

“How many more of these letters are in there?” Jamasb asked pleadingly.

“Just one more,” sighed Sadie. “It says: ‘Dear Fran Sanders: I’m looking for a particular timepiece that was last seen in the possession of someone I know. Where will it be at eleven o’clock on the day your next column is published? Signed, Joseph of Albuquerque.'” Sadie frowned. “That’s funny. I know someone with almost exactly that name.”

“Really?” said the elderly wizard, with little evidence of genuine interest. “And what answer does this Fran Sanders woman give?”

“She says: ‘Dear Joseph: At the time you mentioned, the timepiece you seek will be concealed in the undergarments of the person reading this column to you.'”

Sadie’s put her hand over the upper part of her veil, about where her cellmate reckoned her forehead would be. “You’re never…”

“I think you should give the timepiece to me,” said Joe Albuqueque’s voice, coming now out of Jamasb’s throat. “And be quick about it. They’ll be back to take you to your hearing in a few minutes, and who knows if there will be a chance after that.”

“You don’t think they’ll send me…”

“It’s not your chances I’m worried about,” Joe said, his voice soft yet urgent. “This watch can undo some bad doings, but only while they can be undone.”

“Bad things?” said Sadie, clinging possessively to her left armpit. “Like what?”

“Like a rainstorm of bad magic that could put Hogwarts out of business,” said Joe. “And there might also be something bad happening right now to one of our friends.”

“Harvey?” Sadie gasped. “Or Spanky?”

“Yes and yes, for all we know,” said Joe. “Cough it up now.”

Sadie obediently coughed into her hand, then showed it to Joe. It suddenly held a large, heavy watch, shining with precious metals, crystal, jewels, and delicate traceries around its many dials and hands. He took it carefully and secreted it up one of his many sleeves, along with the newspaper he had pulled from the same sleeve.

“I just want to know one thing,” said Sadie.

“Snorkeling,” said Joe.

By her silence and the blank look on her veil, Joe reckoned she was staring at him.

“The opposite of singing,” he explained.

“How is snorkeling the opposite of singing?” Sadie begged to know.

Joe shrugged. “I reckon you inhale through your mouth and exhale through the nose.”

“That wasn’t what I was going to ask,” she said, after another blank-veiled pause.

“Then ask it,” said Joe.

“How did you know to come here and give me that newspaper at precisely eleven o’clock? I mean, if I hadn’t read the Fran Sanders column to you at exactly that time, you wouldn’t have known that I had the watch, and so…”

Before Sadie could complete her question, or Joe could answer it, the door opened and the bailiff came in, clearing his throat loudly. As the bailiff led Sadie away, the voice of an old Persian gentleman called after her: “You’ll just have to ask Fran Sanders about that!”

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: Which minor TMQ character deserves to star in the next chapter? (A) Tip Kensington-Smith. (B) Marmaduke Spankison. (C) Orion Oldmanson. (D) Signor Subito. (E) Your write-in candidate (see Chapter 99, “Who’s Who,” for some ideas).

Name and describe a new magical creature not described in Magical Beasts and Where to Find Them. Be sure to say what it looks like, its magical properties, its disposition (friendly, dangerous, reclusive, etc.), and what it eats.