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A Series of Unusual Events
The last of the bubbles had long since dissipated, and her bath water had
grown cool, before Isabel clambered stiffly from the tub. After toweling
herself off, she pulled on a fleecy robe and padded into the kitchen, her
bare feet slapping gently against the tiles. Filling a copper kettle
and setting it on a burner to heat, she pulled her favourite violet-patterned
tea cup and saucer from the cupboard before assembling a tray of necessities:
a teaspoon, a handful of sugar packets, and a large plate of biscuits. It
wouldn't be much of a meal, but it would suffice; it had been a tiring day,
and she wasn't going to cook.
While she waited for the water to boil, she allowed her mind to drift back
over the last two hours. She had known, of course, that she couldn't spend
the day at her parent's shop without coming home with a carload of castoffs,
but her mum had really outdone herself this time. The four garish, paisley-print
pillows would clash spectacularly with Isabel's earth-toned furnishings,
and she would be amazed to find anything more valuable than tin under the
tarnish coating an old-fashioned tea service and a pair of candlesticks.
Two ancient footstools, their colourful embroidery almost obliterated by
a thick layer of grime, had been relegated to her small back room; they would
need a thorough scrubbing before she could decide whether they were salvageable.
On the bright side, at least she hadn't needed to haul a carton of outdated
encyclopedias up three flights of stairs to her flat.
Before she had even opened her car door, in the car park outside her building,
Isabel spied Mr. Piper, her elderly landlord, hovering a few steps away.
She waved cheerfully at him and wasn't surprised when he trotted over to
her car, puffing slightly with effort. Despite his obvious infirmities, Mr.
Piper enjoyed taking care of the ladies who lived in his building, and he
frequently offered to carry their parcels and packages. Isabel never had
the heart to discourage his gallantry as long as he didn't overexert himself.
Today, she quickly decided it would be safe to allow him to carry the pillows
and the tea service, but she would haul up the footstools as well as the
encyclopedias her mum had insisted she might find useful.
When she opened the car's boot, however, she received something of a jolt.
The Bones' box was sitting there, in the exact spot where she thought she'd
stowed the carton of encyclopedias. She realised now she must have somehow
mixed up the two boxes and thrown the encyclopedias into the dustbin outside
her parents' shop -- but, for a moment, she was rather flustered by the unexpected
reappearance of the Bones' box. The encyclopedias were no great loss, of
course, since the reference books had been more than a dozen years old .
. . but she still didn't understand how she'd made such a mistake. It made
no difference now, though. Since the Bones' box was so lightweight, she hadn't
felt any qualms about asking Mr. Piper to heave it away into the dustbin
behind her building.
Carefully balancing her teacup, Isabel walked through the arched doorway
separating her kitchen from her sitting room, planning to curl up with her
snack and a new romance novel she'd brought home from the library. She stopped
short as she glanced around the cozy space.
A familiar cardboard box was sitting on her coffee table.
She approached slowly. Was it possible that Mr. Piper had misunderstood her
request and brought it up while she was in the bath? She supposed so . .
. but it wasn't like him to enter her flat when she was home, even though
he did have a master key. A quick glance at the door, however, told her the
extra security chain was in place, just where she'd left it.
Stepping further into the room, she walked slowly around the coffee table,
examining the box from every available angle. After a few moments, she realised
she was holding her breath, almost as though she expected the box to explode.
Which was quite silly . . . there had to be a rational explanation for its
unexpected appearance. The fact was, though, that sometimes odd things did
happen around Isabel . . . things she tried to rationalize away but which
never quite made sense. Of course, they didn't happen so often now that she
was fully grown, too old for childish tempers and flights of fancy . . .
but once in a while . . . .
Shaking herself, Isabel returned her full attention to the box. There was
nothing childish about curiosity, after all. The box wasn't exactly hers,
but it had sat benignly in her parents' storeroom for nearly two decades.
It didn't really belong to anyone else, either. Setting her tray near the
edge of the table, she began to peel away the tape wrappings. They came loose
remarkably easily -- they must have gotten a bit rain damp, after all. Then
she wrenched open the cardboard flaps and peered inside. A musty, slightly
burnt smell assaulted her nostrils, reminding her faintly of the time she
had accidentally set fire to a hideous dress Aunt Gertrude had given her
for her birthday.
As she reached inside, her fingers brushed against fabric, stiff with age
and disuse. She pulled out several black robes, the kind a child might wear
as part of a Halloween costume. After giving one a vigorous shake, she held
it in front of her, allowing the material to dangle at arms' length. The
robes must have belonged to someone fairly young, she realised. Even with
her own less than average stature, the robes fell several inches short of
the floor, and she remembered with a pang that her mother had mentioned several
children dying in the Bones' cottage. The owner of these robes couldn't have
been more than eleven or twelve.
Setting the robes aside, she quickly emptied the box, pulling out worn books,
scraps of parchment, and several long, curling feathers, and laying them
in neat piles on the table.
When the box was empty, she surrendered to her librarian's instinct, settling
down on the sofa and pulling the stack of books closer. She ran one finger
down the cracked leather spines as she read aloud such uncommon titles as
"The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 1" and "Magical Drafts and Potions."
Her mum had been right. These were very strange books, indeed.
Mum had been right about another thing, too. There wasn't any point in keeping
this stuff. She couldn't imagine someone paying even a few pence for the
entire collection. The robes were singed and stained, and the books had the
unmistakable odor of mold -- a scent she knew, from experience, she would
be unable to eradicate. As she prepared to pile the books back into the box
for their final journey to the city incinerator, she was unable to stifle
a sigh, as though she were snuffing out the last echo of a dead child's fantasy.
Isabel was about to lift the stack of books when she realized the box wasn't
completely empty, and she stood up to get a better view. Lying on the dusty
bottom was a small piece of polished wood. As she reached in to pick it up,
heat shot up her arm as though she'd sustained an electric shock. She dropped
the stick and stumbled back, rubbing her fingers against her lips. Then she
leaned forward again, expecting to see the stick smoking . . . or possibly
to watch the box burst into flames. There was nothing unusual to be seen,
though; the stick was laying exactly where she'd first noticed it.
Reaching into the box once more, she touched the stick with one finger. Her
entire body tensed, ready to withdraw if she felt the burning again. Instead,
she found the stick was comfortably warm, sending a pleasant, tingling feeling
up her arm.
After standing for several moments with one finger resting gently against
the smooth surface, Isabel cautiously picked it up. It was ten or eleven
inches long, tapered at one end, and made of a rich, glossy wood -- perhaps
pecan or cherry. For some reason, holding it gave her a content, almost euphoric,
Still grasping the stick loosely in her right hand, she opened one of the
books at random and grinned at a ridiculous passage about making objects
fly. In addition to the text, the page contained a half dozen sketches of
a human arm, in various stages of brandishing a stick very similar to the
one she had just found. The stick, she realized in some bemusement, was apparently
meant to represent a magic wand.
Feeling a bit sheepish, but unable to resist the sensation of exhilaration
and abandon flowing through her, she waved the Bones child's wand a few times
through the air, attempting to copy the movements in the illustration. "Wingardium
leviosa," she said, as she reread the caption under the last diagram, "Swish
and flick. Swish and flick." She swept the wand through the air with a grand
flourish and then flicked it upward several times. "Wingardium leviosa!"
On the last flick, two things happened almost simultaneously. Her teacup,
which had been sitting on the end of the coffee table, rose several feet
into the air, turned a graceful somersault, and crashed back to the floor,
shattering. And two young men in flowing black robes materialised out of
thin air in the middle of her sitting room rug.