Thursday, December 18, 2008

8. The Double-Barreled Wizard, Part 4

Concept contributed by: Kelly Dillon, Ben and "Aidan Raelyn"

"The first time I faced Sid Shmedly in the Dueling Club," Spanky continued, as another sizzling mug appeared before him, "was during our second year at Hogwarts, the year Flitwick started it up. In the meantime, many things had come between us, and only the school's strict discipline and lack of opportunity had kept us from cursing each other to smithereens before then. Not to mention the fact we didn't really know enough magic yet to do much harm.

"Under Flitwick's supervision, we were paired against each other in many practice duels. But with a much more experienced and powerful wizard watching our every move, we didn't dare try anything more aggressive than putting imperturbable charms on each other's zippers."

The cloaked wizard paused for a long draught of firewhisky, while his audience searched the shadows under his hood as sparks from the goblet threw faint light on his features. Sadie began lighting her pipe again. After another cough, Spanky went on.

"After a number of practices and demonstrations came the Intra-Year Lists, in which students competed against other students in their year, and the houses competed against each other to get the most wins and draws. It wasn't the most important tournament of the season, but it was the first. And in the quarter-finals for our year, I came up against Sid Shmedly. It was a moment we had both longed for. But we didn't actually get to duel properly, because it was over in two rounds. He beat me in two out of two. I think he enjoyed showing me up; and maybe he wasn't as eager to face my wands as he made out to be, but I at least was disgusted at losing the chance to turn his toes into horse-chestnuts.

"Neither of us got past the Intra-House Lists that year, because my friend Otis knocked me out cold with a shower of frozen haddocks, and Shmedly let a pretty Slytherin girl named Jonquil beat him on purpose-they're married now. So the next time we had carte blanche to curse each other was in the Intra-Years our third year, and again it was over in two rounds. Only that time I beat him, first by bringing up Leviathan with a fishhook while he was still trying to put a gold ring in a Minotaur's nose, then by letting his living hedge-clippers attack my giant wad of chewing, never mind about the details.

"Our hatred of each other grew and grew, yet still we were denied the opportunity to jinx each other fair and square. We grew impatient, and were caught several times on the point of blasting one another. It didn't help that Shmedly and I were top students in our year, and both of us were very competitive. It also didn't help that his friends and my friends were always exchanging filthy looks, taunts, and pranks from the minute we stepped on the Hogwarts Express every September to the minute we stepped off every June.

"Once again, a chance to face each other in the All-School Championship was denied us, as I spent the whole week laid up in hospital after a barrel of cameleopard bogeys fell at my feet and burst all over me in Herbology. It's terrific fertilizer, but you never want to let it touch your skin. To this day I don't think all of it has come off. Every time I pass a mulberry tree, it tries to make a pass at me."

Sadie coughed mirthfully, and Merlin and Endora raised their mugs with laughter and congratulations. Harvey went on staring, disconcertingly, over the handkerchief that concealed his lower face.

"In our fourth year, Shmedly and I failed to meet in the Intra-Year Lists, though I ended up being best in my year. Shmedly made it as far as the semifinal, but was beaten by a Hufflepuff fourth year who turned his tow hair into ticks and tacks. So our chance finally came at the end of our fourth year, after I had beaten Otis for the Intra-House title. There were four house champions, then. The ones for Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff were older, since all years were playing against each other. In the semi-final I dueled against a sixth-year Ravenclaw named Limpet, who actually beat me in two rounds, but was afterward disqualified when Flitwick found out that Limpet had cork in his wand. Meanwhile Shmedly had triumphed over a seventh-year Hufflepuff named Whelkington, who has never been able to regrow his eyebrows since then. I knew then that I was going up against a freakishly powerful young wizard. But I had two wands, and I was sure that I could do just as much magic with each of them as Shmedly could do with one. At last, it was time to find out."

More firewhisky arrived with a snap of Harvey's fingers. Spanky drank deeply, then sneezed. Sparks came out of his nose. Harvey pulled the handkerchief off his face and offered it to Spanky, who used it to blow his nose. Oddly, there was another handkerchief under it that remained in place, still concealing Harvey's features.

"Am I boring you?" Spanky asked as he tucked the used handkerchief into his pocket.

"Not at all," said Harvey, over the appreciative murmurs of Sadie and the others. "I only hope you are not tiring yourself out in the telling."

"I think I can go a bit further," said Spanky, taking a more modest sip of firewhisky this time.

"So at last, Sid Shmedly and I had our wands pointed at each other, and no one was stopping us from doing our worst. Well, nearly our worst. In the first round, we were set the task of turning a silk purse into a sow's ear. For some reason, Shmedly just couldn't bring himself to do it, though it took me three slow and painful attempts. Hagrid tells me that the sow in question had a two-sickle-piece stuck in its ear for the rest of its life."

"Two-sickle-piece, eh?" said Merlin, jovially. "Ain't seen one o' them since...ow."

"And then?" Endora urged, rubbing her elbow absently.

Spanky plunged onward. "In the second round, Shmedly surged ahead. He found a fiddle and its bow, a pair of shoes, and an asbestos flatiron and placed them in the magic circle. I put in a bicycle tire, a rubber flamingo, and a horsehair wig. Right off, the peer panel objected that Shmedly had picked more than three things. Flitwick agreed and told Shmedly that the bow and the second shoe made five items, but Shmedly appealed that some pairs of things went together like one thing. The peer panel, which consisted of the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw duelers who had gone down in the semifinals, agreed to let Shmedly keep the bow and fiddle and both shoes if he got rid of the flatiron. So with that subtraction, we drew for the first move.

"I won the draw, and transfigured the rubber flamingo so that it came to life. It went straight for the fiddle, but Shmedly charmed the fiddle and bow to begin playing a little jig, and the flamingo stopped in its tracks to listen. It was my turn again, so I jinxed the wig to life and it went after the violin as well. I was hoping it would get tangled up in the strings. But once again, Shmedly proved to have lightning reflexes. The shoes danced to life, in step with the jig from the fiddle. The tune, by the way, was awful-Shmedly had absolutely no ear for music. But dance the shoes did, and they danced right over the top of the wig and kicked that flamingo out of the circle.

"I had one more spell, but Shmedly had already used his-he had run out of things to transfigure. So I engorged the bicycle tire to the size of a tractor wheel and let it roll right over the shoes, crushing them flat. But the violin was still playing, and as the giant wheel rolled toward it the jig tune slowed down. The wheel slowed down too. Then the tune started playing backward, sounding worse than ever, and the big wheel rolled backward. The tune went faster and faster, going around in circles-so did the wheel. Finally, Flitwick called an end to the round, giving me six points and Shmedly seven; for although he did not exactly neutralize my wheel, it ended up under his control.

"And so, after three years of brutal rivalry, we came to the third round: dueling proper."

Endora rubbed her hands together excitedly. "At last! At last!"

"Shush," barked Merlin. The other listeners had hardly stirred since the last time Spanky paused to sip his drink.

"My first spell was one I had been planning to use on Shmedly since our second year. I had saved it up all this time, improving on it over the holidays. Because I had drawn first in the second round, I had to wait for Shmedly to curse me first. Contrary to my usual procedure, I didn't prepare to defend myself against his spell. Maybe this was part of the reason it came off so well, he wasn't prepared for me to hit him with both wands when I should have been shielding myself with at least one.

"As soon as Shmedly said, 'Saltatrix!' I began whirling both wands in his direction and cried 'Columbae!'

"At first, I thought his spell must have gone wrong, because I didn't notice anything happening to me. But I was rather busy watching him being viciously pecked by two dozen angry pigeons. Then I picked up the stifled giggles, turning into nervous laughter, from the shielded observation area behind me. I looked down at myself and realized that I was dressed in a frilly powder-blue tutu, like a prima ballerina. Also, my arms and legs were trying to do some really weird stuff, all by themselves. I tried standing on my very tiptoes, but stumbled. I heard ripping noises and felt agony as my legs lifted at unnatural angles. I minced around, unable to control my body, and worst of all, my hands were doing all kinds of floaty, sweepy, melodramatic things. I couldn't control where my wands were pointed for more than a second at a time.

"Meanwhile, Shmedly was rapidly recovering. I had to think of something fast. So with my left wand I tried to cast a stampede spell, and with my right I tried to hit myself with a stiffening curse. Both spells only half-worked. Since I couldn't quite control the movement of my left wand, or what it was pointed at, I didn't get the stampede of buffalo I had expected. They didn't charge at Shmedly either. Instead, a dense cloud of butterflies flew between us, from side to side across the magic circle, coming out of nowhere and disappearing into nowhere again. Meanwhile, with my right hand I only managed to hit my tutu, causing the costume to stiffen while the rest of me went on dancing. Needless to say, I ripped free and was now doing leaps and whirls wearing little more than my Gryffindor Lion boxers. The laughter behind me became uproarious.

"At least Shmedly was having trouble cursing me through the rush of butterflies that completely cut off his end of the dungeon from mine. Between the flapping of their wings and the laughter of our audience, I could only just hear him dancing around, shouting jinxes at the top of his voice. He finally got rid of the pigeons and the butterflies at the same moment that I managed to stop dancing, and we faced each other again.

"His impeccably tailored robes were in tatters. His white-blond hair was matted with bird guano and blood. He had bruises and cuts all over his face and hands, and there were feathers sticking to him everywhere. As for me, I had my red and gold boxers with little lions prowling around the waist band, and soft ballet slippers, and little bits of glitter all up and down my arms and legs. I looked like a total fool. For a split second we both stood there, panting and glaring at each other. At any other time, facing any other opponent, we would have both laughed. But our hatred for each other was too great.

"Then we both struck. I could not believe how fast his reactions were! I shot ice cubes at him with one wand and tried to throw a net over him with the other, but he twisted away from the net and hit my ice cubes with a blast of hot air. In the next two seconds I tried a tickling curse, a rain of dog biscuits, hairy boils, and turning the floor under his feet into burning coals. He deflected the first three with an umbrella-shaped shield charm, then levitated himself to a cooler patch on the dungeon floor. I pelted him with toothpicks, toads, tobacco juice, and tinned tomatoes, and he simply danced to the right and left and pirouetted out of their way. Then I managed to put up an impediment curse just in time to slow down a fountain of lemon juice before it hit me in the eye.

"The duel went on for what seemed like hours. Soon I was past exhaustion, feeling as though I was standing by watching myself duel my most hated rival, barely aware of the rhythmic chanting of the onlookers and the tiny, concerned figure of Professor Flitwick darting around the outside of the circle. I cheered myself on, losing my hatred for Shmedly in my sheer determination to press on, to endure. We shot lightning bolts, puffs of foul-smelling gas, and tendrils of devil's snare at each other. We tried to trip each other up with oil slicks, pools of quicksand, and loose marbles. I turned Shmedly's teeth into marshmallows, and he caused parsnips to grow out of my armpits. Finally, when Flitwick seemed about to call a draw, I hit Shmedly with a jinx I had never dreamed of trying. I couldn't do it today if I tried. But somehow, he found himself with his head facing the wrong way on his shoulders.

"Shmedly was completely confused. Suddenly he was looking away from me, and when he turned to face me again, his wand was pointed in the opposite direction. His next two curses hit the shield in front of our audience, one of them almost brushing the top of Flitwick's head. We stared into each other's face, equally surprised. Again, he seemed to recover first, and was starting to turn his face away from me-and his wand toward me-when I got hold of myself and screamed, 'Petrificus totalis!'

"And that was that. That was the year I won both the Intra-Year and the All-School dueling title, for the first but not the last time. And as soon as Flitwick made sure Shmedly's head was on straight, I knew it was also the day I turned a schoolboy rival into a deadly enemy. The look on his face was indescribable. Even his hair seemed to change color, and his eyes..." Spanky's shudder caught on, and went round the table.

"Sore loser, that Shmedley, eh?" said Merlin, nervously.

Spanky shook his head. "One day, mark my words, one of us will destroy the other. It'll be either Spankison or Shmedly, as surely as it'll be either Potter or Riddle. And the funny thing about it is, it was really a good duel..."

[Originally posted 6/26/04]

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