The Magic Quill #149: The Fruit Troll
by Robbie Fischer
Contest Winner: Quercitron
Spanky gasped as his broom approached the grounds of Mangeford Manor. He was so staggered that he missed his footing and landed face-first in a pile of uprooted shrubbery that had been gathered up for burning. His eyes gleamed with tears when he stood up, partly because of the pungent scent of the leaves. But only partly.
He looked around at a scene of devastation. Sir Lionel’s beautiful, exotic gardens were no more. Instead there were heaps of earth and gravel, plowed up by large machines that now stood idle. One area had been paved with an interlocking pattern of bricks, and already several shiny, expensive automobiles stood on it. The wall surrounding the estate had been breached, and from the painted stakes and taut lengths of string that divided it up, it was evident the land was being subdivided.
Shaking his head, Spanky trudged round the back of the manor house, past windows whose glass had been replaced with wooden boards and “DANGER: KEEP OUT” signs. As he rounded the end of a heaping-full waste container, he spotted one wing that appeared intact. Only, where the garden shed had been, there was now a kidney-shaped swimming pool lined with shiny, pale-blue tile. Spanky gaped at it in shock and sadness.
Then a hand reached out of the water, followed by another. Two arms pulled the rest of a scrawny young man onto the edge of the pool. Spanky moved closer, watched by the stranger’s slightly crossed eyes as he toweled himself dry. Neither man spoke until Spanky was within arm’s reach, gazing down at the shorter man with his thin, wispy mustache, acne-scarred skin, sneering lips, lopsided nose, and mismatched eyes – brown on the left, gray on the right, each seemingly stuck staring in a different direction.
“You must be that Spankison chap,” said the stranger, his face turned upward so that his eyes seemed to look at each of Spanky’s ears, separately. “Father told me so much about you, I feel like I could pick your face out of a crowd.”
“Father who?” Spanky growled suspiciously. After seeing the grounds, he could barely restrain his instinct to interrogate this wizard as a rogue suspect. “And who are you, anyway?”
“I’m Philip Niblet, of course,” said the pied-eyed man. “Sir Lionel was my father.”
Spanky choked back a harsh laugh. “That’s ridiculous,” he said. “I knew Sir Lionel’s sons. I grew up with them. I went to Hogwarts with them. I was here when he buried them. They were both killed by the Death Eaters.”
“Those were Lady Niblet’s brats,” Philip snapped, pulling a plush robe onto his narrow shoulders. “Happily for her, she did not know about her husband’s affair with my Mum, the village apothecary. She went away before I was born.” While he said this, Philip walked over to a well-stocked poolside bar and began mixing two drinks, without bothering to ask Spanky if he wanted one.
“Madam Gisela?” Spanky said, his eyes popping with surprise. “I remember when she packed up and left so suddenly…”
“Exactly,” said Philip. “Now you know the whole story.”
Spanky shifted to a new tack. “But why didn’t you go to Hogwarts?”
Philip’s face colored as he handed Spanky a drink with a paper umbrella in it. He sipped his own, with evident relish, before answering. “My Mum felt she had more to teach me than I could learn at that stuffy old place. Besides, questions would have been asked, and the answers would have embarrassed Sir Lionel. Since we relied on his support…”
“But this is absurd,” cried Spanky, wincing from the flavor of the cocktail Philip had handed him. “I’ve been in Sir Lionel’s confidence for over twenty years. I would have… Did you say he was your father?”
Philip stretched out in a chaise longue, nursing his drink thoughtfully while Spanky stood over him, glowering.
When he could stand it no longer, Spanky demanded, “What’s happened to him, then?”
“No one knows, do they?” said Philip. “Hadn’t you heard that he was missing? Some confidant you are.”
“Missing!” Spanky snorted. “Since when?”
“Since Halloween at least. When the local wizarding families arrived for the annual ball in his grand gallery, they found the doors wide open and no one at home. There were no signs of struggle and nothing was missing…except Dad, of course.” The man’s repulsive lips twisted at the corners as he said this, as if he was fighting to suppress a smile. “The village magistrate officially declared him dead at the end of the year. What a shock that no one told you…”
“And I suppose you were Sir Lionel’s sole heir,” Spanky muttered, setting his dry glass on the bar with a brief shudder. His insides had gone ice-cold at the thought of his friend and mentor missing, perhaps in danger…perhaps dead…
Those narrow shoulders lifted in a shrug. “You didn’t expect him to leave it all to you, did you? Well, I hate to say it, but it came at a good time for me. I have debts. This place is worth a good bit. Sad as it is to break it up so, I’ve had no choice but to sell it to a developer. I can afford to keep just this one little wing, but it will be enough.”
“Whose are all the cars, then?” Spanky gestured around the corner of the house.
Fuzzy-lip gave him a slow look, then said, “You can’t expect me to sit on all this wealth and not enjoy myself a bit, eh? Can’t you let a body enjoy a few comforts…?”
“What does a wizard need with so many cars?”
The narrow face colored again, more deeply than before. “I’ll beg you to stay out of my business. Unless, that is, you’d care to find out what’s happening to my house-elves…”
“Sir Lionel’s house-elves,” Spanky corrected, his voice husky with controlled emotion.
“What you will,” said his host, holding up his glass. Spanky pointed his wand at it and it refilled. He added firewhisky to his own glass and threw away the paper umbrella. “We’re running low on servants, anyway. The little pilferers can’t have run away, so I’m at a loss. What do you think?”
“Maybe a shalynx moved indoors after you started tearing up the gardens,” Spanky suggested.
“A what? I haven’t heard…”
“One of those Hogwarts lessons your Mum didn’t think you needed,” Spanky said heavily. “Picture a panther, practically invisible, always blends into the scenery around it. Handy for controlling pests like gnomes and doxies, but once driven indoors, they can develop a taste for house-elves.”
“I suppose that would explain the bloody tea-towel that turned up in the pantry this morning,” said Philip, rolling his eyes. “How does one go about catching a what’s-it…”
“Shalynx. One doesn’t. One leaves the back door open and hopes that it leaves on its own, before it finishes off one’s servants.”
Philip looked exasperated. “Some help you are. Feel free to walk the grounds, anyway. Perhaps you’ll see a lot that you like. There are some that have a nice view overlooking the village…”
“Actually, I need you to tell me everything you know about Sir Lionel’s disappearance. I should have been informed sooner. There might still be something I can do…”
“I’m entirely at your disposal,” said Philip, attempting (but failing) to meet Spanky’s eyes with a smile that held equal parts sincerity and irony. “But since I’ve already told you everything I know, perhaps you’d do better to interrogate the elves, the neighbors, the magistrate, and so forth. Besides, I reckon there’s another reason behind your visit.”
“Can you direct me to the Himalayan Gardens and Preserve? I believe they’ve been added to the grounds since my last visit.”
“It has been a while, hasn’t it?” Philip said, his smile reverting to its natural sneer. “Well, I’m afraid Sir Lionel’s little piece of heaven has been bulldozed. Beastly mountain kept having avalanches every other day. I couldn’t afford to keep clearing up the snow. If I didn’t know better, I would suspect it was a wowtain…”
Philip’s eyes twinkled maliciously. “Didn’t you hear about that at Hogwarts? Dirty great monster, the wowtain – mythical, of course – uses natural camouflage to disguise itself as a mountain. Frightfully ticklish, though…”
A house-elf approached, burdened with a tray full of fresh fruit and warm muffins. It must have weighed as much as the elf and half over again. “How considerate,” said Spanky, plucking an apple off the tray. “Would you happen to have any records of the plants and animals that were removed from the wow-… er, mountain? Or perhaps a garden ledger?”
“Well, let’s see…” Philip gazed thoughtfully in two different directions, while reaching toward a bunch of bananas. As he tugged at one of the bananas, Spanky yelled: “Look out!”
The banana turned out to be the long, curved, yellow claw of a giant troll that had somehow escaped everyone’s notice while trailing around behind the heavily-laden house-elf. When Philip tugged on that claw, the troll screamed and pulled its claw free of the bunch of bananas.
“Good heavens,” Philip cried breathlessly, tumbling out of his chaise longue while the troll pounded its chest in fury. “What is that?”
“It’s a fruit troll,” said Spanky. “I should have thought of it when you mentioned camouflage… It explains what’s been eating your house-elves…”
The present house-elf gazed up at the fruit troll, frozen in fear as the huge beast looked around stupidly. It had teeth the size and color of Bartlett pears, eyes like persimmons, a nose like a drawstring bag full of apples, and cauliflower ears that stuck out at the sides of its canteloupe-shaped head. Its body was shaped like a gigantic pineapple with aubergine-like arms and legs and hairy red skin, like that of a poison sumac berry. It was terrifying to behold; and yet the beast had moved so slowly and matched its gait so well to that of its prey that, somehow, no one had noticed it until now.
The elf gave a tiny squeak of fear. The troll looked down and saw it standing between its horny, hairy feet.
“Move,” Spanky urged the house-elf in a sharp whisper.
The house-elf did better than that. As a massive, banana-clawed hand lunged toward it, the house-elf disapparated with a loud pop! The fruit troll roared with anger, turning toward Philip, who was crawling crabwise toward the pool.
“Stun it!” Philip begged.
“It’s skin is too thick,” Spanky rasped, dancing around behind the blundering monstrosity with both wands drawn. “Nothing I do will affect it. You have to aim for its eyes…”
“I can’t do magic!” Philip screamed, his face turning blotchy. “That’s why you never saw me at school, all right? I’m a Squib!”
The troll took a step closer to Philip, who was about to find out whether trolls could swim. The scrawny squib threw himself into the pool and began stroking toward the far end.
“This is what comes of razing your father’s orchard,” Spanky remarked drily as he side-stepped down the edge of the pool opposite the furious fruit troll. “I don’t know if you’re worth saving, after what you’ve done to Sir Lionel’s…”
The fruit troll reached across the water and made a grab toward Philip, who dove out of the way just in time.
Spanky decided he had to act fast, not so much because he cared about Philip’s wellbeing as that he needed more information to help him find Sir Lionel. “Accio broom,” he said, pointing his right wand toward the side of the house where he had left his broomstick. Meanwhile, he gave his left wand a series of flicks, causing bottles from the bar to smash themselves against the fruit-troll’s head and shoulders.
The massive creature found this only mildly annoying, until a spark from Spanky’s wand ignited the alcohol. Then it reared back from the pool, screaming and beating at its flaming skin.
“Levicorpus,” Spanky remarked as he mounted his broom. Philip rose sputtering out of the pool, left ankle first, and Spanky caught him around the waist as he zoomed over the pool, cleared the fruit-troll’s flailing arms, and landed on the roof of the manor house.
“That’s going to cost a fortune to clear up,” Philip mourned as the troll rampaged around the pool, smashing barstools and tossing the entire bar into the water.
“What’s going to cost you even more,” said Spanky, “is setting Sir Lionel’s property back the way it was – once I find him.”
Philip darted a seething look at him. “Can’t you leave well enough…”
He finished the sentence with Spanky’s fist in his mouth.
“If I find out you had anything to do with this,” said Spanky, shaking Philip by the front of his dripping robe, “I’ll give you back to the troll.”
“Pick on somebody who can do magic,” Philip spat. “Think you’re so entitled, don’t you, you double-barreled, wand-waving…”
“I know your father,” said Spanky, shaking him harder. “He wouldn’t just walk away from his responsibilities. He wouldn’t kill himself, he wouldn’t let himself be taken without a fight… and he wouldn’t approve of what you’re doing with this place. Now let’s you and me pay a visit to that magistrate…”
+++ DOUBLE CHALLENGE FOR NO. 151 +++
You can help decide what happens next in The Magic Quill! Simply leave a brief comment (up to 150 words) right here answering the following Survey and Contest. The survey answer with the most votes, and the contest answer that Robbie likes best, will turn up in the chapter after next.
SURVEY: What gift from way back in Chapter 141 should Merlin use next? (A) Karl’s survival satchel. (B) Jaan’s point-the-way-out wand. (C) Some of Anatoly’s defensive tattoos. (D) Another dose of Endora’s Liquid Skill. (E) Harvey’s inflatable wall. (F) Subito’s Turbo Gum. (G) Boccachiusa’s Peekaboo Kit.
Contest: Submit a clean, family-friendly “knock, knock” joke that has something to do with magic.