The Magic Quill #151: The Knock-Knock Joke of Doom

by Robbie Fischer

Contest winner: TWZRD
Runner-up: greyniffler

Merlin and Miss Pucey watched the water on the steps after Rigel swam away. When it had grown quite calm, Merlin smiled thinly and said, “Well, Miss Pucey, we’ll want to make the best of our lad’s diversion and move on before the merhags come back.”

“That sounds very well,” said the pretty young witch, “but I don’t see a door.”

“It will be well concealed,” Merlin admitted. He laid his lit wand on the palm of his hand and said, “Point me.” The wand spun of its own accord. It came to rest pointing back over Merlin’s left shoulder. As he turned to face that direction, the wand continued to point toward the same featureless wall. “I reckon it’s this way,” he said, trying to sound confident about it.

“North?” said the witch. “What makes you think the door is on the north side of the vault?”

“I don’t,” said Merlin. “This is a special wand, made by a friend of mine. The troll nose-hair core makes it point the way out of any place underground.”

“Hmmm,” said Miss Pucey. “I suppose it’s as my mother always says.”

“What is?”

“You can pick your friends. Your friends can pick trolls’ noses. But you may not want to share a basket of popcorn with them.”

“Your mother must have prepared you for anything,” Merlin murmured as the they approached the bit of wall indicated by the wand. As he moved to and fro along the wall, the wand shifted on his palm. He raised it, lowered it, watched what the wand-tip did, and soon made a “Hmmm” sound of his own.

“Did you think of something your mother said?” Miss Pucey asked demurely.

“No,” said Merlin, “but our exit seems to be more of a window than a door.” He set his bag down and pressed his free hand against the wall and slid it toward the area indicated by the wand. He almost fell forward when the solid wall gave way to blank space.

“What is it?” Miss Pucey whispered. “A magic wall? An illusion?”

“Something like that,” said Merlin. He felt around the edges of the unseen window, then started to climb through.

Miss Pucey gripped his elbow, holding him back. “Are you sure about this?”

“It’s that or a long swim through a merhag colony,” said Merlin.

She released his elbow. Merlin shoved his bag through the window, then climbed in after it. The wall remained seemingly solid, so that he seemed to be disappearing through solid stone. At last only his wrist and empty hand remained on Miss Pucey’s side of the window. It beckoned to her. She gripped it and plunged through the wall head-first.

Merlin pulled her into a narrow chamber and helped her regain her feet. Once again, they seemed to be surrounded by unbroken stone. The wand now pointed toward the far end of the chamber, only a dozen strides away. At the top of a short staircase was a door, only vaguely disguised as a stone wall. It had a definite door shape, and a kind of knocker at Merlin’s waist level, but no knob. Clearly it had not been designed by or for humans.

Merlin reached toward the knocker, then hesitated before his fingers touched it. It had the appearance of an ugly face, scowling malevolently at them. The hinged part hung below its nose, curving downward at the ends like a pair of thick, frowning lips.

“Not very welcoming,” said Miss Pucey, staring at the knocker over Merlin’s shoulder. She pointed her wand under his arm and added, “Fovea Revelio.”

Nothing happened.

“Nothing happened,” Merlin observed.

“It isn’t a trap, then,” said Miss Pucey. “Give it a knock.”

“I hope you’re right,” said Merlin. He grasped the scowling face’s lips and tried to prise them loose, but they wouldn’t budge.

“Bit rusty?” Miss Pucey asked.

“I’d say it’s all one piece,” said Merlin.

For a moment, Miss Pucey’s frown mirrored that on the supposed knocker. Then she pointed her wand again and muttered, “Techna Revelio.”

The next moment, the face on the knocker came to life. The lips parted, and in a voice like the shriek of a rusty hinge they said: “Turn a frown upside-down.” Then it clammed up.

The wizard looked at the witch. The witch looked at the wizard.

“Maybe it’s a doorknob after all,” Miss Pucey suggested. “Shall we try turning it?”

Merlin tried turning the knocker with no success. “Any other suggestions?”

“Unless you feel like standing on your head,” she said, “I’m out of ideas.”

The knocker snorted.

Miss Pucey gave Merlin a wounded look. “This is no time for levity, sir.”

“I know,” said Merlin, privately wondering how Rigel had managed to turn out the way he had with such a battle-axe dangling over him. “It wasn’t me. It was the gargoyle.”

For a long while they stood on the steps, quietly considering what to do next. Then Merlin squeezed past Miss Pucey and knelt down to rummage through the satchel he had brought with him. He was sure there must be something in his sack of tricks, something that could get them through this – until a rusty snicker brought him up short.

He shot a glare over his shoulder. The knocker scowled as evilly as ever.

“It has a sense of humor,” Miss Pucey observed.

Merlin’s rummaging hands became still. “Turn a frown upside down,” he mused.

“Eh?”

He marched up to the door again, satchel in one hand and wand in the other. “Knock, knock,” he said in a false, singsong voice.

The iron lips parted just enough to retort, “Who’s there?”

“Caldron.”

“Caldron who?” grated the horrible knocker.

“Caldron this time yesterday,” Merlin replied archly, “but you weren’t in.”

The knocker seemed to contemplate this remark for a split second. Then it stuck its tongue out and made a rude noise.

“It didn’t seem to like that one,” said Miss Pucey.

Merlin rolled his eyes. He scratched his scalp with the nub of his wand. Then he squared his shoulders and said, once more: “Knock, knock.”

The knocker managed to pout even more as it scraped out the words, “Who’s there?”

“Yer wand.”

“Yer wand who?”

“Yer wand better manners, yer lout.”

A corner of the knocker’s grotesque lips twitched for half an instant. Then it resumed its studied frown.

“We’ll starve to death in here at this rate,” Miss Pucey fretted.

Merlin raised his eyebrows at her. “Can you do better?”

“Knock, knock,” she said at once, looking him in the eyes.

“Who’s there?” snapped the face on the door.

“House-elf.”

“House-elf who?”

“House-elfish of you to keep us standing out here all this time!”

The knocker’s frown suddenly became a grin. It even gave a raspy chuckle.

“Quickly!” Miss Pucey hissed.

Merlin hooked the bottom of the iron smile with two fingers and pulled. The center of the smile parted from the face. He gave two knocks with it that seemed to be swallowed up by solid stone. It seemed impossible that anyone could have heard it from even a few feet away.

The scowl returned to the knocker’s face.

“Now what?” Miss Pucey asked.

“I’m open to suggestions,” Merlin replied.

“Do that point-me thing again,” Miss Pucey prompted.

Before he could position his wand on the palm of his hand, however, the stone wall at the top of the steps began to slide away from them with a terrible grinding noise that filled their small chamber. They covered their ears and looked at each other with watering eyes. It only lasted for a moment before the movement stopped, and the noise with it.

Merlin looked up. The front wall of the chamber had receded just enough to allow them to sidle around it. There seemed to be open space on both sides of it.

“After you,” he said.

Holding their lit wands ahead of them, Miss Pucey ducked to the left of the wall, Merlin to the right. Scarcely had he tugged his satchel out of the way before the wall slammed back into place, leaving the chamber in total darkness.

+++ DOUBLE CHALLENGE FOR TMQ #153 +++

You can help decide what happens next in The Magic Quill! Simply leave a brief comment (up to 150 words) at this blog 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: After being trapped in Lysippus Bean’s departmental memo, Sadie finds herself held at the Ministry of Magic under arrest. What happens next? (A) She withstands interrogation while planning her own escape. (B) Joe Albuquerque swoops in (disguised, of course) and springs her from custody. (C) Chat Noir swoops in (pretending to be Joe) and captures her.

CONTEST: Propose a law or basic principle of magic, complete with a whimsical name, such as Tybalt’s Second Law of Transfiguration, or the Principle of the Conservation of Ectoplasm, etc. Briefly explain what it says. Creative nonsense will be accepted!

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