The Magic Quill #167: Muggle Magic
by Robbie Fischer
Contest winner: Rehannah
Runners-up: Dragonic and TWZRD
Bo Dwyer reports for Fascinating Fizzog!–the journal for enquiring mages, holding the Mirror of Pissog up to the magical world since 1777…
While the Unspeakables in the Department of Mysteries grapple with the first principles of what makes Muggle gadgetry work, one wizard, toiling in a damp, draughty clocktower in the ancient Thames town of Abingdon, claims to have cracked the case.
“It’s a simple matter, really,” says G. Fiddlewood Snordahl, of No. 8, Old Abbey Close, Abingdon, Berks. “One simply has to study a few thousand of the Muggles’ arcane texts, discreetly observe their behavior eleven hours a day for 30 years or so, and devote every other waking moment to tinkering with their expired gadgets until it all comes together.”
Snordahl, the son of Europe’s leading bearded operatic soprano, the late Lynnie Jend of l’Opera du Freak fame, and her mentalist husband, Professor Hypnocrates Snordahl, was left a lame orphan on the doorstep of the Sisters of Intermittent Hostility at the age of six. He is still haunted by the memory of his parents’ death, buried in an avalanche triggered by Madam Jend’s high F in the aria O zittre nicht, mein lieber Sohn–a tragically pure note that also rang the death-knell of the Finsteraarhorn Outdoor Music Festival.
Traumatized by the act of singing, young Fiddlewood hid himself in the noisy clocktower whenever the Sisters began to chant their devotions. He became increasingly reclusive, developing his mesmeric powers (inherited from his father) to charm mice, pigeons, and cats into bringing him stolen bits of food and small objects left lying about the neighborhood. By the time his Hogwarts letter came, young Fiddlewood had begun his lifelong study of Muggle gewgaws.
“How did you get along at Hogwarts?” I asked him, as he showed me around his workshop one cold November day.
“Ack!” Snordahl croaked, stuffing his thumbs into his ears. “Ask it again, but with less singsong in your voice.”
“How-did-you-do-at-Hogwarts?” I asked, all on one tone.
“Aargh!” Snordahl pulled his hair. “That’s what they sound like when they’re chanting Evensong!”
Finding this hard to believe, I nevertheless repeated my question in a harsh rasp that, after I continued using it for the rest of our interview, left me with a sore throat for a week.
“Ah, better!” Snordahl hissed. “Don’t you remember me, then? We were in the same year.”
“Really?” I grated. “It’s been a long time, though. I reckon you can’t remember everyone–”
“We were in the same house,” Snordahl insisted gutturally.
“And so were plenty of other–”
“We slept in the same dormitory,” added Snordahl. “There were only six of us. Don’t you remember?”
Abashed, I began to make some noncomittal noises about how one loses touch with one’s old–
“You don’t remember when old Gungy turned all the furniture on his side of the room into sculpted butter, and we had to sleep two to a bed for the rest of the term? I was your bunkmate.”
“Well, I’m quite sure that never–”
“To be sure, I mostly slept under the bed.”
The penny dropped. “Oi!” I crowed. “That was you!”
“Easy with the tonality,” Snordahl winced.
This is the part of the essay where I tell you what Snordahl was wearing. However, I seem to have burned that part of my notes by accident. Mentally as well as physically. Visit him sometime, and you will most likely do the same.
Meanwhile, the floodgates of memory had opened. How could I forget little Woody Snordahl? Well, to be honest, forgetting him was easy. I don’t recall hearing him say five words in all the years we studied together. He always seemed to be comfortably, gratefully outside my angle of view. I find, on exploring the matter further, that he spent several weeks living in a closet on the Third Floor, eating scraps left for him by the house-elves and tinkering with broken things the creatures hoarded, things the teachers and students had thrown away.
“The elves are very literal-minded,” Snordahl revealed over a tea of sandwiches that savored of wet cardboard and biscuits that felt, in the mouth, like baked socks. “If you didn’t tell them, directly and firmly, to get rid of something, they kept it in any of hundreds of secret stashes all over the castle. Most of it was never good for anything again, but the elves stripped off anything they could use and saved the rest forever. If you knew where they got the cloth bags for boiling suet pudding, you would never eat another Christmas dinner.”
“What did you live on, then?” I asked, desperate to change the subject before he went into more detail.
“Sweets, mostly,” said Snordahl. “The house-elves were mad keen on sweet wrappers, but–many people are surprised by this–they didn’t care for the sweets themselves. Especially around Hogsmeade weekends, when students often left sweets lying openly around their beds, the housekeeping elves often came away with loads of shiny, colorful wrappers. They let me eat the sweets. Chocolate frogs and fizzing whizzbees especially. Those tended to upset a house-elf’s stomach. Ever seen an elf yack?”
“Elf yak, you say?” I replied evasively. “I’ve heard of dwarf oxen, bred by the goblins to–”
At this point in our interview, the tower struck the hour–according to my magic quill–of four o’clock. In my memory, however, it seemed like at least eight, perhaps twelve. The next thing I clearly heard Snordahl say was, “Why don’t you get up off the floor? It’s filthy down there.” It was, too.
“Why don’t you show me your lovely experiments,” I said, “and quickly, so I can leave you in peace before the next time the clock chimes?”
“That’s the best question you’ve asked so far,” growled Snordahl.
The first contraption he showed me looked like a cross between a walking stick and a set of bagpipes. It wheeled around on a heavy base, trailing a long thin tail with a metal fork at the end.
“Is this some type of medieval weapon?” I guessed. “Or perhaps a musical instrument? And who is this Hoover it belongs to?”
“It does stir up a right racket,” Snordahl agreed, shivering. “I’ve observed through my telescope. I don’t know yet why they do it, but Muggles like to run them up and down their floors. As far as I can tell, all they do is spread dirt around the room. But after many years of patient study, I have come to understand exactly how it works.”
“Muggles have many, many devices with the same type of forked tail. My researches have convinced me that these tails are a diabolical device for summoning, and harnessing, the power of lightning. This power, in turn, is used to summon and trap and tiny whirlwind.”
Snordahl brightened at my gasp of shock. “Yes, old son, it’s quite true. Those Muggles aren’t as innocent as we thought. It started with an American fellow named, er, Benjamin Francis. Went out in a storm and invoked the powers of the air. Somehow he confined some of them in a talisman, like a brass key, and the Muggles have built every one of their inventions since then on the same dark magic!”
I asked if I could see proof of this, but Snordahl claimed that the machine would not work in the presence of wizardry. So, dear reader, you will have to make up your own mind!
“What is this?” I asked, as Snordahl led me to a boxy device that had several leathery tails curling out of it.
“Would you believe me,” Snordahl purred mysteriously, “if I told you this little box holds an entire printing press inside?”
“No,” I said without hesitation.
“One day soon,” said Snordahl, with a twitch of irritation, “one day soon I will be ready to prove it to you. For now, all I can suggest is that you use my telescope to spy on that window across the square. The people over there use one just like it, every day. Somehow they feed their thoughts into it–”
“Like into a Pensieve?”
“Exactly! The energy goes through one of these tubes and into this necromancer’s box, which instantly – and I mean instantly! – spits out sheets of paper that would have taken the Daily Prophet’s typesetting spells at least five minutes to set up. Of course, the pictures don’t move…”
We share a shudder at this latest example of the proverbial Muggle weirdness.
“Soon,” Snordahl claimed, with an air of grandiosity, “soon I will have perfected a device enabling me to connect a wand to one of these tubes. Then I will be able to transfer my thoughts into the, as it were, printer’s devil. You’ll see.”
I smiled indulgently and assured him that I would, indeed, see.
“But if you want to see ironclad proof that the Muggles are performing evil magic to conceal the source of their powers”–Snordahl handed me his telescope. “Go to that window. She’s always in the square at about this time. Look for the woman facing north–the other north–and fiddling with a makeup mirror. See her?”
I saw her.
“Now push in on the mirror…”
I almost dropped the telescope out the window.
“Where are those letters and words coming from?”
“Some of them, she puts there by the mystical movements of her fingers,” Snordahl explained knowingly. “Some of them just appear by themselves…as if someone, orsomething, is answering her…”
“Oh, protect us!” I moaned.
“She isn’t the only adept at such arts. I have seen dozens of people, in this square alone, dabbling in the smae powers.”
“What are they playing at?” I squeak. “I mean, surely, Muggles don’t have enough experience to control such… such…”
“But wait,” said Snordahl. “You haven’t heard the worst. Do you know what they call the little messages that come to them on their magic mirrors?”
I trembled, waiting for Snordahl to tell me. And when he did, I kept trembling.
“Tweets,” he said, cruelly relishing my horror.
“Oh, yes!” Snordahl pointed accusingly at the pleasantly-dressed, nice-seeming young woman in the square below. “Can you imagine what they must have done to the poor owls?”
While it wouldn’t be responsible to speculate on that question, there is little else we can do. Nothing else that happened in our interview could be worth reporting after this, this utterly astounding discovery. We must await confirmation, or (one hopes) clarification, from the Ministry of Magic. Until then, this is Bo Dwyer urging every witch and wizard in Britain to be on alert against the rising threat of Muggles dabbling in dark powers. Owl your district RMB supervisor, your local member of the Wizengamot, or any aurors you may know, and urge them to look into this promptly!
+++ DOUBLE CHALLENGE FOR TMQ #169 +++
You can help decide what happens next in The Magic Quill! Simply leave a brief comment (up to 150 words) answering the 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: Which long-lost character would be most fun to bring back? (A) Madrigal, the finishing-school hag. (B) Madam Solfeggia, the lady who uses music to hold back her werewolf transformation. (C) Otis, Spanky’s old school chum. (D) The “illustrated wizard” with all the moving tattoos. (E) ____ (write-in candidate).
CONTEST: Propose a feat of sheer magic for a master of disguise like Joe Albuquerque.