Tuesday, December 23, 2008

75. Mammali Enemectus

Contest Winner: Echoreyn

Three Italian clowns, four Durmstrang runaways, a wizard-of-fortune, and a toddler squirmed in Il Comte’s luxurious armchairs, but could not stand up. The magically prepared food, rich in abundance and variety, nevertheless sickened them. For years they’d had nothing but the same sort of fare off a magic table cloth, deep in the labyrinthine vaults of Gringotts Wizarding Bank. Now, it was being forced down their throats again, literally. For when Il Comte saw that they were refusing to eat, he waved his hand and the food began to levitate toward their mouths, one morsel at a time.

“Talk or eat,” Il Comte said tauntingly, as a buttery wedge of potato mashed itself against Merlin’s clenched teeth. He tried to open just a corner of his mouth to make a reply, but the potato squeezed in and he was forced either to chew or to choke. Looking around the table, he saw the other men struggling as veal cutlet, vegetable, and spoonfuls of soup forced themselves on them. Food dripped down their faces and robes. Then, a glass of wine lifted itself off the table and began tilitng itself toward the mouth of young Rigel, who reached toward it eagerly.

“No!” Merlin screamed. “Leave him alone!”

“At last, a talker,” Il Comte replied. He held up his hand, politely refusing a dinner roll that was offering itself to him. At the same moment, the food stopped moving about, though some bits of dinner continued to hover before the captives in a threatening way. “Go on, then,” Il Comte said. “How does one say it? Ah, yes—spill the beans!”

So Merlin explained all that had happened to them during their long imprisonment in the goblins’ bank. Il Comte was such an intent listener that he did not seem to notice when Rigel slipped out of Merlin’s lap and waddled off by himself. In fact, from the look in his hard eyes, Il Comte seemed to be plotting every detail of Merlin’s story into some mental map of the, alas, unplottable bank. Ombra, the house-elf, stood dutifully beside his master’s chair, but looked nervous.

Merlin kept talking, Il Comte kept listening, and Ombra kept looking dutiful and nervous even when something went crash at the other end of the vast hall. The clowns exchanged worried glances. A few minutes later, while Merlin was describing an encounter with the goblin Nailspike, everyone but Il Comte was startled by the raucous cry of a bird. Behind Il Comte’s back, Merlin glimpsed Rigel trotting happily across the space between two columns, chasing an enormous, electric-blue raven that flew just out of reach of his upstretched hands. Merlin paused in his tale, but a sliver of roast pork darted toward his face and he was forced to resume speaking.

A few minutes later, Merlin almost lost the thread of his story when he saw Rigel tiptoe up on Il Comte’s right flank, the side opposite Ombra. But again, Merlin was prompted to carry on by that bit of hovering pork roast. Meanwhile, Rigel reached toward Il Comte’s pocket with a sly look on his face. Ombra’s ears flattened against his head, but he held his peace. Il Comte had the look of a man who would not be disturbed at any cost, so the house-elf did nothing. One of the Durmstrang lads stifled a giggle.

Somewhere between the Breath-Ants and the Dragon’s Lair, Merlin lost himself in his own story and noticed nothing else that Rigel did. He poured his tale toward Il Comte, who greedily drank it up with attentive ears and intent eyes. But then, as the story came round to the part about the Tunnel of Boggarts, Merlin felt something gently pushed into his hand, which lay on his lap under the table. Without missing a beat in his narrative, Merlin observed that the “something” felt like a wand.

Shortly thereafter, Rigel decided that the time had come for him to be the center of attention. With a yodeling yell, he plunged out from behind a pair of heavy drapes, swung through the branches of a potted tree (which nearly broke under his weight), ran twice around the entire table, and then clambered up onto Don Pagliai’s lap and, from there, onto the table itself. He continued hallo-ing all the way along the table, while capering like an ape and upsetting most of the dishes. Ombra looked like he was choking with outrage, but Merlin gamely went on with his story and Il Comte never stirred.

Never, that is, until Rigel kicked a tureen of mashed turnip toward him. The turnip splattered against the front of Il Comte’s robes. At this, Il Comte looked up at Rigel with a benignly weary expression, and Merlin’s voice trailed off.

“My dear infant,” Il Comte said lightly, though Rigel suddenly cowered before him. “If you must behave like a chipmunk, you could at least have the good taste to look like one as well. Here, let me help you.” He plunged his hand into his pocket, then froze. Somehow, without seeming to shift a muscle, the Il Comte’s benignly weary face was transformed into murderous fury. For a moment he said and did nothing, perhaps because he did not want to say what was missing from his pocket and thereby inform his enemies that they had an advantage over him. But Merlin already knew, and he took advantage of Il Comte’s momentary indecision.

Standing so quickly that his chair tipped backwards, Merlin pointed Il Comte’s own wand at him.

Ombra discreetly edged away from his master, eyeing the ceiling with interest.

“One mustn’t point a wand at someone unless one intends to use it,” Il Comte said in a soft, level voice. “What do you intend to do?”

“I intend to show you what a chipmunk looks like,” said Merlin. Then, waving his wand toward the table, he muttered, “Mammali enemectus!”

In the blink of an eye, all the overturned dishes and scattered gobbets of food vanished, and in their place crouched a multitude of plump, furry chipmunks. In one accord, the chipmunks looked up at Merlin with identical, questioning looks in their beady eyes. Merlin nodded toward Il Comte, who had already crossed his arms over his face. The next moment, all the chipmunks rushed off Il Comte’s end of the able, attacking every inch of him from his trouser cuffs to the top of his head. Screeching, scratching, and savagely biting, the little creatures covered Il Comte completely.

“Don’t just sit there,” Merlin screamed at the shocked clowns and runaways. “Run!”

“I’ll never forget this!” howled Il Comte, in a voice muffled by his own robes and the bodies of a hundred attacking chipmunks. But Merlin was the only one who heard this, as he scooped up Rigel and followed the others, at a flat run, out of the sun-splashed hall.


To send general comments to Robbie, you can still use the Feedback Form [EDIT: Rather, leave a Comment]. But to be a part of the magic of writing The Magic Quill, go to the COS Forums and discuss this week’s Survey and Contest! [EDIT: This discussion is closed.]

Your votes will determine the winning answer to the Survey. Robbie will pick the winner of the Contest. The winning answers will be used in The Magic Quill two weeks from now. Click here to respond by 11:59 PM Greenwich on Friday, 30 December 2005.

*** THE SURVEY ***

Sadly, Merlin and his friends still have some years left on their seven-year sentence in Gringotts. (See TMQ #33.) So they must soon leave the warm, Italian sunshine of Il Comte’s palace, and return to the dark tunnels of the goblin bank. When they go back, what part of the bank should they visit first?


Describe an original POTION. What is it called, and what does it do?

[Originally posted 12/23/05]

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