The old man attracted remarkably few stares as he pedaled his bicycle around three sides of the village green, up the high street and out among the fields at the edge of town. Perhaps the reason for this apparent lack of interest was embarrassment. No one likes to be caught gaping, even at a man who chooses to ride a stationary exercise bike down the street.
Puffing only slightly (since the rear legs of the exercise machine were supported by a levitation spell), the old man turned directly into a seemingly solid hedge...and drove through it as if it wasn't there. On the other side he halted in a cobble-stoned courtyard half-filled with an assortment of hovering brooms, flying carpets, Abraxan horses, and jalopies fitted with holes in the roofs to accommodate pointy hats. The old man rolled his eyes at the sight of the sprawling building ahead. In meter-high letters of Gubraithian fire it heralded itself as VOLDMART. Beneath this, a free-swearing sign painter dangled from a rope that ended in thin air ten feet above his head. He seemed to be trying to replace the slogan "WE SPELL FOR LESLIE" with one that read: "FEWER CURSES. MORE DAMAGE." By the sound of banging paint pots, splattering liquid, and yells of dismay, the old man deduced the original sign was resisting being replaced. He sighed.
Orion Oldmanson found his son Rigel in the pet department, arguing with a hooded, cloaked sales associate who gave off an aggressively rancid odor.
"What is this all about?" he asked wearily as Rigel stamped his foot. The boy whirled to face him, causing his father to wince. His latest phase was one of the most difficult for his father to cope with: his face was painted like that of a clown, one of the Italian clown wizards, in fact. The tall purple wig made it so much worse.
"I'm not clowning around," Rigel said fiercely. "I want a refund for this cauldron scraper. This git sold it to me under false pretenses!"
The boy held up a charcoal-gray rat with oddly stiff-looking fur.
"Ah! The grimp," said the old man. "Surely, if you meant to buy a cauldron scraper, you could..."
"I meant to buy a beast that spits jewels," Rigel raged. "But this swindler got to me before the newest edition of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Look what it says here!"
Rigel pulled a large book out of his pocket locker and shoved it into his father's hands. Then he waved his hand and the book opened to a page with a picture of a rat nearly identical to the one in Rigel's other hand. The text below the picture said:
GRIMP"Sounds like an open question to me," said the boy's father. "It might spit jewels, and again it might not."
M.O.M. Classification XX
The Grimp looks remarkably like a common rat, except that instead of having fur, its skin is thickly covered in small, grayish-brown diamond crystals. These crystals form a highly protective shield for frightened grimps, which curl up in a ball like hedgehogs and armadillos when threatened. Although the diamonds that make up their coats are far from gem quality, some wizards keep grimps because they're quite useful as knife sharpeners, sandpaper, scrub brushes, etc.
The only food grimps are known to eat is coal, which they magically transform into their diamond coat. They are found wherever coal deposits naturally occur, and also wherever humans store coal for heat or electricity generation. Since grimps are nocturnal and quite dark in color, Muggles always mistake them either for lumps of coal or for common rats.
Over the past several centuries, a handful of wizards have claimed their pet grimp coughed up a large gem-quality diamond with various magical properties. None of these claims has ever been verified, and, although many have tried, no wizard has ever succeeded in charming a grimp into producing such a gem.
"I made no guarantees," the saleswizard said with a puff of rotten-smelling air.
Rigel fumed as his father marched him out of the store. "What's the big hurry?" he demanded. "Another minute and I would have had a refund."
"Why would you want to get rid of a cauldron scraper?" said Orion. "Your potions cupboard is a mess. Cauldron gets any filthier and there's no telling what you'll cook up."
"You used to say the same thing whether my cauldron was clean or not," Rigel pouted as he hopped onto the handlebars of his father's non-stationary bicycle. "And you haven't answered my question."
"You ran out this morning without reading the owl post," said the old man. "We're to have a caller in a few minutes. Someone you would hate to miss."
"My Dad, is it?" said Rigel.
Orion didn't dignify that cut with a response. Tight-lipped, breathing loudly through flared nostrils, he pedaled his one-wheeled, one-legged contraption back across the village and down the road toward the manor.
As soon as the front door closed behind them, a squad of goblins armed with barbed clubs surrounded him. They seemed to have been waiting behind every tapestry in the entry hall. Man and boy stood still, hands raised, as long-clawed fingers dug their wands out of their pockets.
"Well done, Mashsqueak!" cried the goblin with the sharpest nose, addressing Orion Oldmanson.
Rigel turned his head slowly to glare at his father. "What did he..."
The words died on his lips when the old man popped like a balloon. Exactly like a balloon, in fact, right down to the tattered pieces of elastic cloth that littered the ground. Rigel staggered backward, gaping.
"That was a close one," said the goblin who emerged from the tatters, pulling thin ribbons off his hands and face. "I thought he had made me on the ride home, when he said I wasn't his Dad. If he had tried to get away then, I wouldn't have been able to catch him without shedding blood." The goblin leered, flexing his fingers with their unusually long claws.
"What was that?" Rigel gasped, nudging one of the shreds of the burst gasbag that had convincingly impersonated his father. "And where do you get things like it?"
"Comes out of shock quickly, that one," remarked the head goblin (or rather the nose one).
"He has profit on the brain," said a squat goblin with the biggest ears Rigel had ever seen. "Clearly the one we're looking for."
Rigel inched toward a concealed door in the nearby, paneled wall. "Why were you looking for me?" he asked innocently.
"To correct a fault in our security arrangements," said the nose goblin. It was the last thing Rigel heard before someone tripped him from behind, pulled a sack over his head, and hit him on the head. The last thing he felt was a twinge of pain as the frightened grimp in his pocket tried to dig its claws into his skin. The last of his senses to let go was smell...the same rotten smell he had recently whiffed off someone's breath...but before he could remember whose, Rigel blacked out.
+++ DOUBLE CHALLENGE +++
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: Do the goblins take Rigel back to Gringotts?
CONTEST: Name and describe a spell that can easily backfire on the wizard or witch who casts it.
[Originally posted 12/4/07]