Wednesday, December 24, 2008

104. Vitis Leprosa

Contest winners: PotterPig and _houdini

When Harvey arrived at his greenhouse, Dr. Miles O’Roughage clasped his hand in both of his own, beaming with pleasure. Harvey noted that O’Roughage was wearing filthy, floral-patterned gardening gloves, as he waved round at his vast kingdom of shrub, tree, and vine.

“Welcome to my garden,” he cried.

“I never knew there would be so much of it,” said Harvey, impressed in spite of himself.

“I did all this with one hand tied behind my back. Literally.” He pulled off his gloves and showed Harvey his digits – the right thumb stained green, the left thumb brown. “I don’t dare touch any of my children with my left hand,” he explained, wiggling both thumbs. “I call it ‘demmed if I do,’ and the other one ‘demmed if I don’t.’ What, what?”

Harvey smiled politely. “I can see why Sadie likes this place. Clearly, she does more around here than deliver dodgy dragon dung.”

“Good job she does,” O’Roughage agreed. “Without her pair of ordinary thumbs to help with repotting and pruning, I wouldn’t have accomplished half so much. For instance, take this Obstinut seedling...”

“I’m very grateful to you for agreeing to my little experiment,” Harvey interrupted. “In return, of course, I have something that should interest you endlessly. Where is the tree in question?”

O’Roughage hesitated, looking briefly sad. Then, stifling a sigh, he led Harvey over to an alder tree that sprang up through a hole in the brick-paved floor. It had peeling bark, droopy branches, and sparse, ragged, blighted-looking leaves. “I’m afraid Cecil isn’t long for this world,” he said, patting the tree’s trunk with a brave attempt at cheerfulness. “But if he must go, it might as well be for the furtherance of herbological knowledge. So do whatever you wish. I shall assist you in any way that you need.”

“Excellent,” said Harvey, a bit too excited to empathize with O’Roughage’s troubled feelings. “What time is it?”

O’Roughage glanced at a nearby sundial and said, “About two o’clock.”

“Splendid. Now, keep your right hand on Cecil’s trunk until I say otherwise. All right, here goes.” Harvey unstoppered a tiny beaker of some murky, oily liquid. Pressing his left hand to the trunk of the tree, he emptied the beaker over the tree’s roots.

Both men stood there, each with a hand pressed to the tree’s trunk, saying nothing for a while. O’Roughage grew increasingly fidgety. Finally he said, “Nothing seems to be happening.”

“Just wait a bit,” said Harvey. “The difference may not become apparent for a few minutes.”

O’Roughage squirmed, scraping his feet against the cobbles. Harvey hummed to himself absently.

“I say,” O’Roughage burst out. “Didn’t you come here quite a few years ago, when I had the walls redone? I remember it quite clearly. Those young hooligans kept shooting the windows out, so I had them replaced with magical walls – solid brick on one side, clear glass on the other. You helped install them, didn’t you?”

“You have quite a memory,” said Harvey.

Another seeming age passed, during which O’Roughage repeatedly squinted in the direction of the sundial, then rubbed his eyes with his brown thumb. By and by he burst out again: “I must have mistaken you for a common delivery man, all those years back. I take it you were the heir to the company.”

“I’m merely carrying on a long family tradition,” Harvey said modestly. Then he clammed up again.

After singing all the songs he knew under his breath, O’Roughage overcame his natural shyness and said, “It must have been grand, growing up in one of the old magical families, eh? I sometimes wonder what it would be like. My parents were Muggles, you know. Father was an aerospace engineer. All my brothers dreamed of becoming spacemen, but here I turned out to be a wizard. Isn’t life something?”

Harvey found himself intrigued, against his will, by the wistfulness in O’Roughage’s manner. The man almost seemed to regret being the only magical member of his family.

“I’m not familiar with spacemen,” Harvey said, pitying his host just enough to feign interest. “Are they a kind of estate agent?”

“No, I mean astronauts,” said O’Roughage. Noting Harvey’s blank expression, he added, “Like the men who flew up to the moon, don’t you know.”

“They really did that?” said Harvey. “I always supposed that was just another one of their fanciful wireless plays.”

“Oh, no,” said O’Roughage. “Men actually landed on the moon and walked around, and looked up at the Earth in the sky.”

Harvey shook his head, bemused. “I don’t see any sense in it,” he said. “I mean, it’s amazing what Muggles can do, even without magic. But what was the use of it?”

“Proving that it could be done, I suppose,” said O’Roughage. “Being able to point up at the night sky and say, ‘I wiped my feet on that.’”

“I’ll never understand Muggles,” said Harvey. “So much magic comes from moonlight, or happens in connection with its tides and phases. If I had tracked my muddy boots all over the moon, my mother, of witchy memory, would have taken her broomstick to my backside.”

“That’s the difference in how we were raised,” said O’Roughage. “I suppose I learned my scientific ways from my parents. And they didn’t get punished or scolded for what they did. In fact, my father was given the key to Birmingham.”

“The key to Birmingham what?” said Harvey. “You don’t mean the city? Why would Birmingham give anyone the key to itself?”

“I suppose they meant it as a gesture of respect,” said O’Roughage, looking mildly irritated.

“It isn’t as though one couldn’t get into the city without a key, though,” Harvey argued. “That is, unless the key was meant to open every door in town.”

“It wasn’t,” said O’Roughage, rubbing his eyes again. “It was symbolic only.”

“That’s the trouble with Muggles,” said Harvey. “They’re always waving symbols about, without any regard for their power.”

“Well, as to that,” O’Roughage said rather sharply, “I believe the Muggles left some of their symbols permanently fixed on the moon. How’s that for power? You could try to fetch them down, out of respect for your late mother’s feelings, but I wonder whether your broom would take you so far. Then there’s the small matter of air, heat, and radiation shielding...we wizards would have to work a long time to accomplish what the Muggles managed with a bit of duct tape, some gold foil, and a few canisters of liquid hydrogen.”

Harvey realized that he was on shaky ground, so he kept his peace again.

After a long pause, O’Roughage sighed. “That’s an argument I’ve had with my brothers countless times. I never expected to be on their side of it, until now.”

“What do they do?” asked Harvey. He was really curious, for once, about what happens to the family of a Muggleborn wizard.

“One designs clocks that keep metric time. Another crashes experimental aircraft to test their pilot-ejection systems. And the youngest is a full-time obituary writer for In Memoriam magazine. Really, they all play golf a lot, and live off the earnings from my patents.”

“Really? Do you earn that much, then?”

“Well, I get a subsidy from the Office of Abraculture at the Ministry, as long as I don’t sell or plant certain breeds of magical plants. For example, just last month I patented a recreational fruit called Tomacco – I got the idea from a television program that my brother Rivers showed me – and the Ministry offered me the cash value of the Bailiwick of Jersey to destroy all the plants, and never to allow it to be grown again. I would have turned down their offer, on principle, if they hadn’t added an ‘or else’ clause that mentioned a gryphon, twelve yards of Acromantula silk, a Time Turner, and a round of mooncalf cheese.” Miles O’Roughage shuddered. “Those Abraculture blokes can be demmed persuasive.”

Harvey tried in vain to imagine what kind of penalty the Office of Abraculture had threatened O’Roughage with.

“Still, it always makes me sad, knowing that none of my brothers will ever appreciate the thrill of a good game of Quidditch, a sparring match with a young whomping-willow sapling, or a display of Abraxan horses flying in formation...” O’Roughage sighed again. Then he did a double take at the sundial. “Isn’t that odd,” he said. “I could have sworn it was two o’clock before, but now it seems to be a quarter of one.”

“That will do,” said Harvey, taking his hand off the tree trunk.

O’Roughage stepped away from the tree, stumbling slightly. “And there’s another odd thing. While I could swear that I planted this tree myself, I now suddenly recall that it was standing here since before Hogsmeade was settled. In fact, there’s a plaque among the roots, designating it as the Hogsmeade Grandfather Tree. How silly of me, not to point that out to you before...” He scratched his head. “I wonder why I still recall it growing, twig and bough. I must have dreamed it.”

“Success!” Harvey exclaimed, rubbing his hands together. “This proves that casual contact with a retrotemporal being can induce a non-permanent, parallel state of retrotemporality. What a chapter this will make in the guide-book that I shall write at some future point in the past!”

“Er...I beg your pardon?”

“Never mind,” said Harvey, suddenly overflowing with good humor. He squeezed the old herbologist’s shoulders and said, “A reward is in store for you. My house-elf Dinty is waiting outside with some well-preserved grape-pips, the likes of which have not been planted in a thousand years. It’s an unusual type of grape, which I like to call Vitis leprosa. There’s a special project in it for you. But it all depends on whether you can grow a new vine out of very, very old pips. Believe me, it’s an exciting project for which I will reward you beyond anything that the Office of Abraculture can offer.”

“Will you really?” said O’Roughage, his gloomy face brightening for the first time all day. He patted Cecil’s trunk. “And do you know, the old stick doesn’t seem quite done for, after all. All right, let’s see these pips of yours!”


To send Robbie your personal feedback or original ideas, visit the Feedback Form [EDIT: Rather, leave a Comment]. To vote in the Survey and Contest to determine what happens in the Chapter-After-Next, visit the Discussion Forum [EDIT: This discussion is closed].

SURVEY: Which of the following describes the relationship between wizardry and religion in the world of Harry Potter? (A) Wizardry or witchcraft is a religion unto itself. (B) Wizards and witches, in general, have no religion. (C) Witches and wizards can belong to any religion, but they hide their magical background from their fellow worshippers. (D) Witches and wizards can belong to any religion, but they generally limit themselves to all-magical congregations.

CONTEST: Describe something that might happen in a duel between two house-elves.

The Survey answer that gets the most votes, and the Contest entry that Robbie likes the most, will be featured in Magic Quill #106. So be sure to visit our Discussion Thread – and if you aren’t a member of COS Forums, join today!

[Originally posted 10/8/06]

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