A Little Magic
Five people proved to be far too many to fit inside a wardrobe.
“Remind me again why we had to bookwander from in here?” Tilly asked, face squished uncomfortably close to her grandad’s shoulder.
“As I rather think you know,” he replied, “we don’t technically have to bookwander from inside a wardrobe—but it adds effect, don’t you think?” But he sounded decidedly less sure than when he’d first suggested the idea half an hour ago.
“I mean, if the effect you’re going for is a much closer relationship with each other and our personal hygiene choices, then yes, it does add effect,” Oskar said, voice muffled by Grandma’s scarf, which was simultaneously tickling his nose and getting fluff in his mouth every time he spoke.
“I bet the Pevensies didn’t have to deal with this,” Tilly said.
“Yes, but they were emptying straight out the other side of their wardrobe,” Grandma said. “Which does rather give them an advantage.”
“Yes, yes, okay,” Grandad admitted. “It has become abundantly clear that my attempts at a little poetry and whimsy weren’t entirely thought through.” He shuffled his way back toward the door and shoved it open. Tilly; her best friend,Oskar; her two grandparents; and her mother all fell gasping into the cinnamon-scented air of the bookshop.
“I mean, it isn’t even a wardrobe,” Oskar complained. “It’s a stock cupboard.”
“Honestly,” Grandad huffed. “I was just trying to add a sense of adventure. Mirror the journey into Narnia, have some fun. Goodness knows we could all do with a generous dollop of fun at the moment. A little magic.”
“It’s already literally magic,” Tilly pointed out.
“I’m wasted on this family, I truly am,” Grandad said. “Shall we try again from out here? We’ve still got an hour or so beforewe need to go to the Underlibrary for the Inking Ceremony.”
“Actually, Dad, I think I might pass on this one,” Tilly’s mum, Bea, said quietly, smoothing down her crumpled clothes.“The shop is so busy before Christmas, and I’m sure an extra pair of hands wouldn’t go amiss. You know how it is. . . .” She trailed off, smiled wanly, and headed out to Pages & Co., the bookshop the Pages family lived in and owned. Tilly sagged a little.
“She hasn’t bookwandered once since we got back from A Little Princess
,” Tilly said, trying not to sound petulant.
“I know, sweetheart, but try not to worry,” Grandad said. “I’m sure she’ll get back into it soon enough. It’s no surprise after being trapped inside one story for nearly twelve years. Imagine how frightening that must have been for her.” As always, when he thought about his daughter being imprisoned inside a tampered-with copy of A Little Princess
, a look of distress swept across his face. “But we’ve got her back for good,” he went on. “And now that we know Enoch Chalk was the one who trapped her, he won’t be able to get away with anything like that ever again.”
“If he’s ever found,” Tilly pointed out.
“Did Amelia manage to find out anything about the book he escaped from before she was fired?” Oskar asked.
“Amelia wasn’t fired,” Grandad said. “She was asked to step back from her position as Head Librarian at the Underlibrary while the situation is investigated properly.”
“I mean, that sounds a lot like getting fired to me,” Oskar said under his breath.
“And, in answer to your question: no, frustratingly not,” Grandma said. “She barely had any time before the Bookbinders started poisoning the other librarians’ views about her capabilities. They’d been looking for a reason to get rid of her as soon as she was first given the job, and her handling of Chalk was merely an excuse. Those hard-liners, with their silly, self-important—not to mention self-appointed—name, blustering around pretending they were focused on anything other than their own power and influence.” Grandad laid a hand on Grandma’s arm and she took a deep breath. “Sorry,” she said. “Now is not the time, and here is not the place.”
“Should I know who the Bookbinders are?” Oskar said, and Tilly was glad, not for the first time, that he didn’t mind asking about what he didn’t know.
“They are nonsense!” Grandad said. “A group of librarians who push for stricter rules and for more control for the Underlibrary over the lives of bookwanderers. They rallied around Chalk—although they must be red-faced now that everyone knows he was a renegade Source character. But embarrassment often pushes people several more steps down the path toward hatred, and I worry that their championing of a colleague who proved to be fictional is fuel for their witch hunt of Amelia.”
“Nonsense they may be,” Grandma said. “But they’re bringing an alarming number of librarians over to their ways of thinking. People are worried about how the role of the Underlibrary is evolving, and fear is another thing that pulls people toward hatred.”
“Aren’t the librarians worried about where Chalk is?” Oskar said. “Isn’t it dangerous for him to be out there somewhere?”
“I think they’re torn between concern about what he is up to and wanting to sweep it under the carpet so the other Underlibraries don’t find out.”
“The other Underlibraries?” Oskar asked. “In other countries,you mean?”
“Yes,” Grandad said. “There are Underlibraries in most countries, although not all of them have Source Libraries. But I think that’s enough politics for now; we have a long afternoon ahead of us, which will likely be even more draining than an eternal winter ruled over by an evil queen. Let’s have something to eat.”
Copyright © 2020 by Anna James. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.