The Magic Quill #126: The Platypus Test

by Robbie Fischer

Contest winner: Linda Carrig

Runner-up: TWZRD

Spanky drooled. His eyes stared blankly, his head hanging at an odd angle, as Avarice Exion spooned porridge into his slack mouth. His wrists and ankles were tied to the chair, and the skin around his mouth was discolored.

“Well, I think he’s faking it,” said her sister Concupiscence, who was leaning against the doorjamb. “It’s his training. He’ll wait until our guard is down, and then attack. Or run for it, maybe.”

“That may be so, Connie,” said the third sister Malignancy from her rocking chair in the corner, without looking up from her needlework. She was embroidering thorny vines around the edges of a pile of linen napkins. “But it may also be that the serum is working, and his power is breaking.”

Spanky chose this moment to belch a mouthful of porridge onto his bib. Ava sighed and mopped it up. “His mind is breaking, more like,” she said. “We have to stop dosing him before he loses his marbles completely.”

“The quest for knowledge calls for sacrifice,” Malignancy chirped.

“This is next to murder,” Ava grumbled, slamming the bowl down on the corner of the washstand.

“Finished, is he?” said Connie. “Time for his dose, then.”

The moment Connie fished the bottle of platypus potion out of her apron pocket, Spanky began to sing in an eerily childlike voice: “Moo, moo, mooncalf, Have you any milk? Yes, sir, three cans, Smooth as silk. One for my wizard, One for my witch, And one for the little elf, Who lives in the ditch. Moo, moo, mooncalf…”

By this time Connie had uncorked the bottle and measured a spoonful of a thick, brown, nasty-smelling syrup. Ava pinched his nose and held his head back, averting her eyes, while Connie jammed the spoon into Spanky’s mouth. He choked slightly, then swallowed, and finished his song in a hoarse voice: “Have you any milk? Yes, sir, three cans, Smooth as silk!”

The sisters waited in tense silence while Spanky breathed in rapid short gasps. Ava discreetly hovered behind him with a bowl and a towel, in case of another incident of stomach upset. After a few minutes his distress passed, and the prisoner resumed staring and drooling, and breathing normally. The women relaxed.

“Time to test him,” Malignancy warbled sweetly.

“Why don’t you test him?” Ava complained. “This was your idea, Nancy, I didn’t even want to do it, and now I’m doing all the work!”

“This is work too,” her sister replied, brandishing her needlework. “That’s why this thing” – she nudged a hamper full of freshly-ironed napkins at her feet – “is called a work-basket. If you think you can finish all the new napkins by the weekend, you’re welcome to try…”

“All right!” Ava snapped. Grumbling, she rummaged in her pocket and produced an opened Chocolate Frog. She placed it on the wash-stand, where Spanky could see it as he lolled and drooled. Then she pulled a wand out of another pocket and stuck it in Spanky’s hand, helping him close his fist around it. “All right, Mr. Spankison,” she said gently. “You know how it goes. Make the sweet come to you.”

Spanky stared unseeingly toward the Chocolate Frog.

“Go on,” coaxed Ava.

In a whispery voice that tore at Ava’s heart, the once-powerful RMB agent began to sing another song: “Chocolate Frogs, Chocolate Frogs, One a sickle, two a sickle, chocolate frogs…”

“Just say Accio frog,” Connie groaned, rolling her eyes.

To Ava’s surprise, Spanky said just that. But the sweet didn’t budge an inch.

“Try again,” said Ava, almost hopefully. “Twirl the wand like so.”

Spanky moved the wand a bit and repeated the spell, but again, nothing happened.

“I would call that a success,” Nancy drawled from behind her needlework.

Connie clicked her tongue in disagreement. “He’s hoaxing us, I tell you. There’s know way we can tell whether he’s lost his powers at all.”

“He’s lost more than his powers,” Ava said, but this argument had been going round between them for days, so no one felt a need to continue it as Ava shoved the wand and frog back into her pockets.

“Cauldron cakes, cauldron cakes,” Spanky sang softly. “One a sickle, two a sickle…”

“Well, there is one way we can tell,” said Nancy.

“Not that,” Ava said, clutching her belly.

“I agree,” said Connie. “If he’s hoaxing us, he could get away.”

“But he’ll die,” Ava whispered, as if Spanky couldn’t hear her from an armspan away.

“Only if the serum works,” Nancy answered brightly.

“Or if he’s out of his mind,” said Ava. “You still wouldn’t know!”

Nancy shrugged. “I’ve heard it said that the knowledge of certain death ‘concentrates the mind wonderfully.'”

“This is monstrous. I’ll have nothing…”

“You’ll do it,” Nancy insisted in tones of icy sweetness.

Ava wrung her hands in despair. “But why me?”

“Because,” said Nancy, “Whoever does this will need to be shielded, and Connie has always been best at shield spells. So she’ll be busy; that leaves you.”

“And where will you be?” Connie wondered aloud.

“I will be shopping in the village…”

“Oh, well done!” Connie howled.

“…with exact, walking and talking simulacra of the two of you. I would give my left eye to see either of you manage that spell, leave alone sustaining it for an hour-long stroll in public.”

Ava covered her mouth. Connie snorted and shook her head. “I should have known,” said the latter. “I always wondered why the two of us always got blamed for trouble in school, when we were never there to see it happen. It was you all along, you and your Samuel Acres.”

Nancy winced, then shrugged again. “You’ll thank me after today. There will be dozens of witnesses placing you anywhere but at the spot where you dump the body. In a word, I’m giving you an alibi.”

“That’s five words,” Connie said, scratching her temple.

Nancy rolled her eyes.

“Make it look like he succumbed to his injuries from the Battle of Hogwarts,” Nancy suggested as she packed up her work-basket. “It’s what everyone will expect anyway.”

Nancy walked out of the room. Her sisters remained where they were, staring at each other in astonishment, as the sound of footsteps on the stairs faded in the distance.

“I suppose we should wait a bit, give her a chance to get into town,” Connie suggested.

“You’re talking this calmly!” Ava shouted.

“Might as well,” said Connie.

“I don’t even know what kind of spell…”

“Sectumsempra should do the trick,” Connie said briskly.

Ava looked sick. She spent the next few minutes pacing nervously between the wash-stand and the window. On one pass she paused by the window and looked out with a sudden stillness that should have caught Connie’s attention, but the latter was occupied, cleaning her fingernails with her wand. Then Ava turned away quickly and resumed pacing, her face blank.

At length Connie glanced at the clock on the wall and said: “Why don’t you undo his bonds? I’ll shield you, then you can throw him a wand and we’ll see what happens.”

“I would sooner see anything else,” Ava muttered. Nevertheless, she waved her wand and the bindings on Spanky’s wrists and ankles fell off.

Spanky immediately began rubbing his arms and stretching his legs. He looked like a man waking up from a long sleep.

“Protego,” Connie muttered, casting a shield to protect herself and Ava from their prisoner. “It’s starting to look like I was right,” she added, catching Ava’s eye.

Ava’s face turned bright red, and her eyes swam with tears.

“What’s the matter with you?” Connie snapped. “We’ll be all right. You might as well bung him a wand, so we can finish this scientifically.”

Ava threw Spanky’s wand at him. He caught it in his left hand and waved it at the two sisters. The tip of the wand fizzed and sparked, but otherwise nothing happened.

“Looks like he still has a bit of a charge in him,” Connie remarked.

“Could just be a bit of residual magic in the wand itself,” Ava countered.

“Well, there’s one way to be sure,” said Connie. “Try to slit his throat once and see if he puts up a defense.”

Ava leveled the wand at Spanky, who was standing now, staring at his wand in apparent shock. Ava’s hand trembled. Finally she confessed: “I can’t.”

“You will,” said Connie. “Or do you want me to fetch Father?”

Spanky shook his wand again and again. Nothing but a few puffs of glittery smoke came out of it.

“All right,” said Ava, grimly. She pointed the wand at Spanky’s heart and chanted: “Sectumsempra!”

A jet of light struck the center of Spanky’s chest…and disappeared. He looked down at himself, uninjured.

Connie gasped. “How did he…?”

Before she could complete the thought, a tremendous crash sounded from downstairs, followed by a commotion bangs, yells, and the sound of solid wooden furniture being reduced to splinters.

“Watch him for a moment,” Connie said, rushing out of the room. A moment later Ava heard her scream: “Father!” More bangs, yells, and crashes came up from below.

Ava held her prisoner at wandpoint, wild-eyed, wondering what to do. She didn’t have long to reflect on this matter. She heard Connie’s voice give one last, desperate scream – then the thunder of footsteps on the stairs, the shouts of men and women searching the rooms …

Too late, Ava thought of barricading the door. It had barely closed when it was blasted open again. The first person through the door was Queen Silvia of Sweden – or rather, Joe Albuquerque, though at the moment the resemblance was remarkable. Ava recovered quickly from her surprise and began firing curses and defensive spells at the door, while herding Spanky behind her toward the corner by the window. In the sudden thrill of battle, with her mind clear of anything but survival, she kept Joe so busy that, for several moments, he didn’t have a chance to call for help. When he finally did manage to yell “In here!” Ava winged him with a stunning spell, which sent him staggering into the wardrobe.

Ilona, Agent Dalrymple, and a half dozen other RMB agents poured into the room before Ava could finish Joe off. Their curses glanced off her shield – she was, after all, not far behind Connie in that department – so that she could scarcely see through it. Meanwhile, the force of ricocheting spells had shattered a vase and two lamps, melted a ceramic figurine, set fire to Nancy’s rocking-chair, and burst the stuffing out of the bed.

When four more agents rushed into the room, Ava realized she had only one choice. She grabbed the bewildered Spanky by his collar and shoved him ahead of her, straight into Dalrymple’s arms – and in the momentary confusion, she jumped out of the window.

Ilona ran to the window and looked down.

“I didn’t hear an impact,” Joe said, adjusting his tiara.

“Her broom caught her,” said Ilona. “She’ll be miles away by the time we go after her.”

Nevertheless, Dalyrmple ordered the other agents to give chase. Their footsteps thundered out of the room, down the stairs, and off into the distance.

Ilona turned slowly from the window. A blurry second later she was clutching Spanky like a lifebelt, and making kitten-like noises into his chest. Joe and Dalrymple both coughed and turned away awkwardly.

The first intelligible thing Ilona managed to say was, “I knew you were alive.”

Spanky said nothing, but only patted her shoulder with a bemused look on his face.

“Well?” she cried. “What do you have to say?”

Spanky pulled away from her, cleared his throat, smiled awkwardly…and began to sing: “Little Boy Blue, come wave your wand, The Kneazle’s at the chickens, the Abraxan’s in the corn. Where is that boy that looks after the beasts? He’s back in the broom shed, fast asleep…”

+++ DOUBLE CHALLENGE +++

To help choose the direction of the next few chapters of The Magic Quill, visit the Discussion 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: What happens to Spanky as a result of the platypus potion? (A) He permanently loses most of his magical powers. (B) He recovers and is soon back to normal, give or take an occasional relapse. (C) Without losing his own powers, he develops a resistance to other people’s magic that makes defense a snap – but also has some goofy side-effects. (D) Other: ____.

CONTEST: Invent the name of a professional Quidditch player and the “world record” he or she holds.

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