Sunday, October 18, 2009

166. The Cart-o-Matic

Contest winner: greyniffler
Runners-up: Joe & TWZRD

Inside one of the crude huts in the island compound was a large, comfortably decorated room. It had wainscoted walls, a flagstoned hearth, and windows filled with diamond-shaped panes that seemed to admit more light than the conditions warranted. Still more light was provided by flames in hurricane lamps mounted on the walls, lamps that gave off a warm glow even though their crystal oil reservoirs were empty. Bookcases, chairs, a rolltop desk, and a teatable were all cluttered with rolls of parchment and dirty cups.

Harvey sighed when he saw it. He shook his three heads, and one of them said: "This place needs a house-elf's touch."

A noise like a pistol-shot rang off the walls and windows. Several of Harvey's prisoners flinched. But it was, after all, only Dinty the house-elf, appearing with a blue-and-white striped handkerchief tied somewhat in the manner of a sumo wrestler's mawashi. He made three bows, one to each of his master.

"What's this you're wearing?" Harvey 2 demanded. "You're not thrashing that elf from flat 3-E again?"

"Only keeping in condition, sir," piped the elf. "Shall I tidy up, sir?"

"Yes, please, Dinty." Harvey strolled to three of the windows and looked out of them pensively. All three of him raised the same eyebrow in an identical manner. "Interesting," he said in unison. Then he looked around at each other and asked, "Are you seeing what I'm seeing?"

"Hippogriff foals frolicking in the grassy downs," Harvey 1 volunteered.

"A family of faeries checking out a nest box in the woods," said Harvey 3.

"This window overlooks a scrubby rock in the middle of the sea," Harvey 2 contended.

"Scenery spells," said Harvey 1 and 3.

"No doubt," agreed Harvey 2.

During this exchange, Dinty had turned into a veritable whirlwind of grabbing hands, wiping rags, and swishing feather-dusters. Minimilian winced at the sound of breaking crockery. By the time Harvey agreed among himself that the window spells were well done, all that remained of the room's clutter was a sudden, blazing fire on the hearth.

"I say," Minimilian complained. "Those papers were extremely..."

"Yes, yes," said Harvey 3. "I'm sure they were. But look! Chairs for everybody! Do have a seat, won't you? Dinty will have tea up in a jiffy."

Meanwhile, Harvey 2 spread a piece of parchment over the desk, weighting its corners with an inkwell, the iron head of a golf club, a a dragon's fang, and a bottle clearly labeled "Preparation W," the sight of which made Minimilian turn red and look as though he wanted to sink into the ground. Then Harvey 1 reached under his cloak and pulled out a small contraption, somewhat like a saucepan on wheels, covered with a glass lid. As Harvey's guests, or prisoners, settled in chairs around the desk, he placed it on the parchment. They all leaned toward it, gazing through the transparent top at the brass frame, silvery cogs and wheels, and delicate springs and coils that worked inside it. At the center was an egg-shaped, crystal reservoir full of liquid that changed constantly from one bright color to another.

"Coo," said Sadie. "I had one of those when I was a chicken."

"You?" Harvey 3 asked, distracted from his purpose for the first moment so far.

"You know," Sadie insisted. "A cub? A pup? A kid?"

Harvey 3 shook his head. "I mean, I find it hard to believe you..."

"Well, it didn't work," said Sadie. "Not like the advertising jingle. Mum had to take it back to the toy shop."

All three of Harvey stared at her. "Toy shop?" Breathed Harvey 2, gobsmacked.

"Well, you see," said Sadie, like one talking to an idiot, "it was supposed to zip when it moved, pop when it stopped, and whirr when it was standing still. But our one popped when it moved, whirred when it stopped, and zipped when it stood still. So the ditty was complete b-"

"Look here," said Harvey 1. "This isn't a toy. There have been no commercial ditties about it. While it should be celebrated in song and legend..."

"It has been," Harvey 2 argued.

"No," said Harvey 3, "but it will be."

"Don't let's start this again," cried Harvey 1, waving both hands above his head. "The important thing is..."

"It's a Cart-o-Matic," said Sir Lionel Niblet.

Harvey 1 glared at Sir Lionel in irritation. "That's hardly the way one should talk about a device some say was invented by Prester John, others by Daedalus himself..."

"It was patented in 1936," Sir Lionel went on ruthlessly, "by a wizard named Mark Grey from Piscataway, New Jersey..."

"You'll find," said Harvey 2, "that Grey only registered the self-refilling ink reservoir..."

"...based on an earlier device invented by Alvin Snook-Peebles of Drizzling Duffham, Beds, for creating engravings for the wizarding press."

All three of Harvey looked beaten, deflated. "Have it your way, then," said Harvey 3. "But it most certanly does not pop when it stops."

"What does it do?" Ilona asked, directing her question at the room in general.

All six of Harvey's eyes rested coldly on Sir Lionel, so he answered: "It draws very beautiful and detailed maps, with copperplate writing, decorative borders, and watercolor shading. The longer you let it run, the finer the detail - though it tends to overlook things that it considers insignificant, such as expressways and rail depots, and embellishes the landscape with such features as 'Here there be Crumple-Horned Snorkacks' and 'Wreck of the Pirate Ship Irving.'"

"Does it really?" Sadie said eagerly. "Could you get it to draw that one?"

"I didn't bring this device for your amusement," Harvey 1 said sourly. "I am only showing it to you so that you understand why I need the ring of Count Matthias. I think it may solve a little problem. You see, there are some places that cannot be plotted on a map. Even such a magical device as the Cart-o-Matic cannot break through their enchantment. But if one were to instruct the Cart-o-Matic, under the seal of Count Matthias..."

"I see," said Spanky. "There's some place you want to find, someone or something whose location is only known to a few..."

"Or perhaps no one," Sir Lionel offered. "No one still living, that is."

"Like a secret protected by a Fidelius Charm," Endora added.

"Something you want to steal," Sadie suggested.

"Someone you want to kill," said Allie O'Modo.

"Perhaps it is a lost art or buried knowledge that he seeks," said Sir Lionel, always willing to see people in a better light than most.

"A magical object," suggested Minimilian.

"A weapon," Spanky speculated.

"A document of some kind," said Sir Lionel.

"This had better not be about some bric-a-brac to decorate your flat," Ilona muttered.

Harvey waited for the chatter to stop, all three of him looking down at his hands folded in his lap. Into the pause that followed Ilona's remark, Dinty squeaked, "Tea!"

No one objected to taking refreshments, even under such strained circumstances. The fact that even such savage enemies could share a quiet fellowship over the munching of cakes and the sipping of tea, lent a reassuring sense of civilization and civility. Spanky felt himself beginning to relax - which, owing to the habits of a lifetime, immediately put him on edge.

"Well, you have the ring," he said, setting his cup down. "What do you want with us, then?"

"I need eyes," said Harvey 1.

"Ears," said Harvey 2.

"Hands and feet," said Harvey 3.

"In plain language," Harvey 1 said, "I need someone to follow where this map will lead."

"Someone who isn't - how shall I put this? - enmeshed in a temporal paradox," Harvey 3 added.

"Mmm," said Harvey 2. "Enmeshed. I like it."

"I would have said embarrassed," said Harvey 1.

"That would have been good too," said Harvey 2.

"Balked," suggested Harvey 3.

"Constrained," Harvey 1 countered.

"Encumbered," said Harvey 3.

"Hampered," said Harvey 1.

"Crippled?" Harvey 2 tried.

Harveys 1 and 3 gave Harvey 2 a pitying look.

"I applaud your wide-ranging vocabulary," Minimilian said testily, "but could you please come to the point?"

"If I go where I'm hoping this map will lead us," said Harvey 1, "there is no telling what might happen. I might cause the (cough) prize to move backward in time..."

"...and so become the cause of its being lost, rather than being found," Harvey 3 clarified.

"Or I might uncreate it," said Harvey 1.

"Or cause it to multiply," suggested Sir Lionel. "Which, for all we know, could be as great a disaster..."

He fell silent as he noticed the blank look the Harveys were giving him.

"You know," said Sir Lionel, grinning. "Like yourselves."

Harvey 1, 2, and 3, each shook his head, perplexed.

"You're getting nowhere with that one," Endora told Sir Lionel out of the corner of her mouth.

Harvey put down his teacups in perfect, threefold synchronicity, stretched his arms, clapped his hands, rubbed them together, and said (in Harvey 3's voice), "Now then, let's give this a try. Quill and ink, Dinty. Dear Mr. Cart-o-Matic... Or should that be Monsieur?"

"Why not Madam?" Endora suggested pugnaciously.

"How about To whom it may concern?" Allie O'Modo said over a stifled yawn.

"Never mind," said Harvey 3, crossing out the Mr. "Dear Cart-o-Matic. Feel free to disregard any and all magical barriers in drawing a map showing the location and route to the..."

Whatever he said next was drowned out by a deafening stroke of thunder. The entire hut shook with it, and a sudden heavy fall of rain roared upon the corrugated steel roof.

"Dash it all," Harvey 1 swore. "This is going to be harder than I thought."

Endora perked up. "That's just like what happened when..."

Ilona elbowed Endora hard in the ribs.

"...wh-when it wouldn't stop raining in the great hall at Hogwarts," Endora covered feebly.

"It's not necessary to dissemble," said Harvey 2. "I was there when Spanky told that story, wasn't I? When that djinn arranged for him, and only him, to know where Ilona was, and every time he mentioned her, there was a deafening noise."

"And look," said Harvey 1. "The ink blotted all over the paragraph."

"Even if we use a roundabout way of describing the prize," said Harvey 2, "the map will most likely come out blotted just as badly as that letter."

"It's no use," Harvey 3 said, throwing down his quill. "We're going to have to find a djinn before we can do anything else."

"We nothing," said Allie O'Modo. "If you have no further use for us, at this time, may we please have our wands back? We were just about to slaughter each other, and I would like to get on with it."

"That's not quite true," Endora said hotly. "You'd already been knocked into a cocked hat. We were just about to..."

"The point," Allie interrupted, "is that he can't keep us all locked up until he finds a djinn to lift the taboo on whatever he is trying to find."

"He doesn't have to," said Ilona, talking through clenched jaws. "With that ring, he holds the free will of every one of us in his hand. He can bring us back here, or whever he wants us to go, simply by dashing off a note and sending it under seal."

"I reckon I'll be moving houses, then," retorted Allie O'Modo. "And leaving no forwarding address."

"Oh, no," said Harvey 1, suddenly brightening. "You'll be fetching me a djinn. And with my little friend here" - he patted the Cart-o-Matic - "we will soon have some ideas of where to start looking."


You can help decide what happens next in The Magic Quill! Simply leave a brief comment (up to 150 words) answering the following Survey and Contest. The survey answer with the most votes, and the contest answer that Robbie likes best, will turn up in the chapter after next.

SURVEY: What area of magic do you think was most neglected in Harry Potter's education?

CONTEST: If there was ever a wizard's revolution, and the months of the year were renamed along magical lines, what would they be called?


Robbie F. said...

SURVEY: What area of magic do you think was most neglected in Harry Potter's education?

CONTEST: If there was ever a wizard's revolution, and the months of the year were renamed along magical lines, what would they be called?

Morning Star said...

I think that Harry never learned much about every-day household spells, such as cleaning a house, or repairing bruises. The latter he also admitted himself in DH, where he suddenly thought of how he couldn't treat the least injury (or something like that).

I must think about the months, but that'll be fun thinking.

Linda Carrig said...

Besides not learning about house-holdy spells and first aid as Morning Star said, he also has no clue in magical history. I mean, with the ghost professor he has at Hogwarts, he's learned zero in wizard history.

Months of the year? Merlin, Chloe, Marchbanks, Niff, Unicorn, Jules, Arbuthnot, Snargaluff, Oppenheimer, Nightshade, Gwendolynn, Twelvth. That should get you started. I hope someone else comes up with some good month names.

greyniffler said...

Well, I have to think some more about these, but I suggest that the year should have thirteen months rather than twelve.

greyniffler said...

As to the gaps in Harry's education, the big ones I see are arithmancy and the making of clever little magical machines, at which Albus Dumbledore seemed so to excel.

_houdini said...

i would agree with the first two... household spells and first aid spells seems to be the most negelected as there are house-elves to do all the work... Hermione would probably agree.. XD

Firen, Pheonix, Griffinis, Earthen, Centauris, Unicornus, Aquaren, Draconis, Slytheris, Airen, Farie, Elfus

Christmas would be in the month of Elfus... :)

Sir Read-a-Lot said...

Agree with everyone else on what harry missed.

On the months, I agree with Greyniffler that there should be thirteen, and with a little hocus pocus they could easily end up with a 364-day year, leading to every month being 28 days long. With a little more magical adjustment, the moon could be made to fit in as well, and then our solar months would equal our lunar months, and there would be exactly 4 weeks in each month.

I don't know what to name them, but I do know that the fourth one (formerly known as April) has a name that's always different, because some joker was messing with the names.

Sir Read-a-Lot said...

The truth is that even wizards don't have enough skill to adjust the number of days in the year. The extra day and a quarter were stuck into April, so it's the longest month. But it's still 28 days long, and matches the lunar period.

Quantum magic is just as difficult to understand as quantum physics.

Dragonic said...

I agree that home maintanence magic really did out with Molly Weasley.
I think the wizards would be quirky enough to just number the months- one, two, three, but not practical or simple enough to do it in English, but rather in Latin: unum, duo, tria... or maybe Grrek, since magic has roots there.

greyniffler said...

Okay, here are my thirteen wizard revolution months, starting from the depths of winter:


TWZRD said...

I agree with Morning Star; the practical domestic stuff like cleaning seems to entirely go by the wayside. Of course, Prof Bins was a dismal failure, but Hermione did manage to learn on her own by reading the text, so there was opportunity to get history.
Interesting about Dumbledore's devices. I'd put that under "mechanical engineering" and consider it graduate work, perhaps.

And what about home ec? Don't wizards need to learn how to cook and keep track of their Gringotts balances?
There, that's it! I think Hogwarts needs a home ec class. Can cover everything from finances to minor first aid, with lots of maintainance and cleaning spells thrown in. (Maybe some hygene too, or does that come under Phys-Ed with what's-her-name?)

Funny about the months. I'm just reading the book "Thirteen Moons", and will agree with greyniffler and Sir R that the organic 13 moon cycle thing seems good.
What to call them? I'd name those moons mostly after potion ingredients and natural events that happen during. Hopefully I'll come back with the details.
Maybe First Moon is a place to start? or not...

Now, I've looked all over this site for a link to complain about getting shut off all the time. (None of the preset complaints are quite what's happening with my browser.) Does anyone know how to reach tech support?

Linda Carrig said...

A home-ec class? Yeah! How to cook and clean and change diapers! That is defitiely something that comes in handy for both witches and wizards.

Names of potion ingrdients/magical plants? Hmmmm.... let's see


Dragon Blood
Morning Glory

well, sort of, and there are 13 of them!

Joe said...

I have to agree with pretty much everyone.. all the kids need to have some basic day to day living magic... and along with that how to maintain a magical dwelling with out attracting muggle attention...

Hmmm months of year named along magical lines...

January Jupiter
February weaselius
March Mars
April Ambrosia
May mystium
June juxtipius
July giganticus
August Albunia
September grangerius
October poteria
November cornicus
December elfinius

Its something at least...

TWZRD said...

Probably too late, but just for fun here are my moons:
1 Wand Moon (Best time to harvest wand wood)
2 Amortentia Moon (Cuddles are nice in cold weather --Valentine type cards, and other such)
3 Antidote or Sapphire Moon (The stone that frees from enchantment -- and whatever did I see in what's his name?)
4 Mirror Moon (as in Erised -- longings for spring trouble wizard souls.)
5 Rain Moon
6 Petal Moon (Collect the first flowers for potent potions.)
7 Dew Moon (nearest Mid-summer, it's time to wash in the midnight dew for a youthful complexion.)
8 St John's Moon (Midsummer herbs come ripe)
9 Drying Moon (preserve those dried potion ingredients as the rain decreases.)
10 Harvest Moon (Even Wizards have to eat. Wonder what a wizard farm looks like?)
11 Dance Moon (With the fields clean, not only is hunting good but you have a great view of the Moon Calf circle dance. Collect that fertilizer and dig it in for a good crop next year!)
12 Harrow Moon (See above)
13 Pensieve Moon (Time to reflect on the past year.)

greyniffler said...

It seems to me that Harry hasn't had much geology. Hogwarts's interest in Earth seems to be growing things, not minerals. I wonder if there's something missing there.