Saturday, December 27, 2008

120. The Safety Pin

Contest winner: i6uuaq

Spanky’s tale continued...

“Ilona’s stunner spell had no effect on Iulianescu, except that he shivered, and a frown passed briefly over his boyish face. ‘How interesting,’ he said, already smiling again. ‘It seems that ghost has followed us from Madam Hunsicker’s parlor. Which means it isn’t a ghost after all. I know hauntings, and long-range travel isn’t in the picture at all.’

“My wife stood by, shaking with fury and helplessness, as this miniature angel of death teased me with the tip of his wand. As if sensing her presence—though that was impossible—he turned his head to one side and spoke to the air: ‘I’m not as stupid as I look, my dear. I took the precaution of reapplying the late Mr. Shmedly’s nectar before I returned here. I knew it would be wise to have its protection against hostile spells restored, after that blow from the teapot wiped it out.

“Ilona set her jaw and began walking toward the bag of golf clubs that the house-elves had put down in order to tie up Zichri Goode and the hagmaid. But she stopped short when Minimilian added: ‘I also put on a little talisman I should have remembered to wear in the first place.’ He fondled a diamond tie-pin that I hadn’t noticed before. It was shaped like a golf ball on a silver tee. ‘I call it my Safety Pin. As long as it is fully charged with magic, you can hurl any number of teapots at me, but they will all bounce off. It’s stronger than a shield charm, and it requires no effort on my part, except an occasional round of golf to bring it back up to full strength.’

“‘I was wondering about your interest in golf,’ I said, not bothering to disguise me contempt for a wizard who cared for any sport besides Quidditch. ‘I take it the pin was made for some rich but accident-prone golfer.’

“‘It was made for me,’ Minimilian said, with a distinctness that was as close as he ever came to snarling. ‘Rich, yes; accident prone, no. Merely prudent. Any exercise activity will do, but I particularly enjoy the gentlemen’s sport. And unless you give me what I want, you may soon see the kind of golf course a rich, prudent wizard builds for his own exercise. It begins only a few steps from here. I should warn you, though: it has hazards one usually does not find on the links. Without a Safety Pin of your own, I should be very concerned for your well-being.’

“I felt paralyzed. I was out of options. The cavalry apparently wasn’t going to ride over the hill this time. And the worst part of my helplessness was that I honestly didn’t know anything about this artifact Minimilian was looking for. For a moment he studied the expressions on my face with an infuriatingly calm look on his own. Then he said something that made all the fear I had felt until then seem like a mere flutter in the stomach.

“‘I am beginning to form a new theory,’ he said, with a beaming smile of ecstatic discovery. ‘And, oh, yes! It holds together very well, so far. First I asked myself if this mysterious, movable haunting might not be connected with you. And who would haunt you except your one true love, who was banished into oblivion in front of the entire wizarding world! Second, I supposed to myself that she had found some way to communicate with you, and only you. This would explain this feeling I have had, throughout our time together, that someone I cannot see is looking at you over my shoulder. Or rather, that you are signaling her. This would also explain how, like a ghost, she might be able to bash my head in with a teapot, or tie up my servants, without being seen or felt. And how, unlike a ghost, she could travel by Portkey. How do you like my theory, Mr. Spankison?’

“‘It’s very amusing,’ I said, praying for the ability to look composed.

“‘But I haven’t reached the punchline yet,’ Minimilian grinned. ‘You see, I remember your beloved very well. In fact, I have known her longer than you have. I knew her even before she worked for the Romanian Ministry of Magic. It’s a very long story, so I will spare you the sordid details; but now it occurs to me that she may have plundered my family’s property while the two of you were patrolling the same border. She may even have used your friendship as an opportunity to enter my castle, even though it had long been sealed against unwelcome visitors of her family. I should have guessed all this before, but until just now I had never imagined Agent Ilonera was still at large.

“‘It all fits together, doesn’t it?’ he said triumphantly. ‘She used you to steal my birthright. And whether or not you know anything about it, she is still using you to keep me from it.’

“He paused to enjoy whatever show my face was putting on as these very disturbing ideas sank in. I didn’t want to think any of it was true, but it did fit together. I looked pleadingly at Ilona, but she stood like a puppet hanging on its strings, her face disclosing nothing.

“Finally Minimilian chirped, ‘I have a new bargain for you, Mr. Spankison.’

“‘I would rather see that golf course of yours,’ I said bitterly.

“‘Maybe later,’ he said smoothly. ‘First, however, I propose that Agent Ilonera tell you, and you tell me, precisely what she has done know what. Once I have it in my hands again, I will send you to join your foolish friend Sid in the only rest a cuckold can ever know. I imagine that will be a death sentence for Agent Ilonera, too; since you seem to be her only life-line to the world of the living. Perhaps you will take comfort in that thought as you prepare for the end.’

“‘If that’s your idea of a bargain,’ I began to say.

“‘I haven’t gotten to the important part yet,’ Minimilian added quickly. ‘If you hold up your side of the bargain, I will let your friends live—though, perhaps, with some memory modifications. If, however, you refuse my terms, I will let you watch them die before I kill you. And it won’t end quickly for any of you. Is that better?’

“Suddenly I broke through my fear into pure, searing-hot anger. It took all my strength to control the shaking of my limbs and voice as I said, ‘I’ll need to think about it.’

“‘All right,’ Minimilian said. ‘I want to play a round of golf, anyway. Divot will come with me, but I will leave you Mulligan to make sure you are comfortable and provided with any refreshment you desire. That gives you a few hours to confer with your immaterial beloved.’

“He then handed my wand to the uglier of the two house-elves, muttering to it, ‘Don’t use it any more than you have to. I don’t want any mess like the last time.’ After one last look to make sure all of his prisoners, living and dead, were where they belonged, he followed the other, golf-bag-bearing house-elf out of sight.”


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. [EDIT: This discussion is now closed.]

SURVEY: It feels like time for Spanky to take a break in storytelling. Whose story should we hear about next? (A) Joe Albuquerque. (B) Sadie. (C) Harvey. (D) Endora. (E) Merlin. (F) You’re wrong! Spanky should keep going!

CONTEST: What non-magical creature may be completely resistant to magic?

[Originally posted 6/25/07]

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