The wind was sharper this close to the water. Hands trembling, Astrid hurried to zip her jacket before the ride operator checked her seatbelt. She wished her tremors had more to do with the chill in ... [+]
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After reading Howl's Moving Castle, Cecil enchanted our house. It walked in creaking, swaying steps, shifting barely two blocks in an afternoon, so when I woke to see a rocky coast outside my window, I was startled, to say the very least. Our old house must've walked all night.
Mum and Dad were in the kitchen, drinking tea. They smiled at me, looking foolishly pleased.
"Are we in Cornwall?" I demanded. "School starts in less than an hour!"
"It's your birthday, Tillie," Mum said, as though I were the one being unreasonable. "You should appreciate your brother's gift. You can go to school tomorrow."
Dad tipped milk into a cup of tea and handed it to me. "You always loved playing by the sea on holidays."
I stared out at the scraggy grass and cliffs, a touch stunned. It was lovely, but that wasn't the point. Neither was my birthday, or even missing school. My parents gazed at the same view, their faces serene. Why did no one understand how troublesome it was, having a little brother who fancied himself a magician?
It all began when Gran sent Cecil a magic kit for Christmas. I got a microscope, which is neither here nor there, though if it were there rather than here, at least I wouldn't have to look at it. Cecil's was a garden-variety kit, full of cards and scarves and a ridiculous wand with a little white cap. At first he magicked coins to appear behind ears and other impossible places, but very soon he'd graduated to pulling rabbits from hats and doves from absolutely anywhere. By the new year the house was fairly bursting with rabbits and doves, and Mum had quite sternly insisted he try something new.
He did so with enthusiasm. It was soon impossible to live a normal life, not with him transfiguring my toothbrush into a spoon or enchanting the plumbing so that the water ran violet. He magicked the kitchen to work on its own, and I never knew whether the toaster was in the mood to make toast or simply bite fingers. He used magic to eavesdrop on phone calls and once he'd even turned all my clothes bright green.
Dressed head-to-toe like a leprechaun, I demanded my parents make him stop. They did not, and I got a reputation for being jealous.
"D'you like it?" Cecil's voice chirped behind me. He stood grinning in pyjamas. "Last summer you wished you could spend every birthday by the sea."
I crossed my arms over my chest. "I did not!" I snapped, though a small part of me was pleased he remembered. If only we'd come in a normal way, by car or by train, I could enjoy the day.
"Magic is ridiculous," I told him, "and I want no part in it."
"Tillie," Mum chided. "He has a whole day planned for you." The rest of her spiel – I have only one brother; look out for each other; someday I'll be grateful for him – I'd heard a thousand times.
I rolled my eyes. "Fine." I turned back to my brother who was once again bouncing with eagerness. "So what are we doing?"
Forty minutes later we were fed, dressed, and outside. It really was a glorious day – sunny and almost warm as summer. "I tried broomsticks first," Cecil admitted as we both stared down at Mum's toffee-brown shag carpet, which he'd laid out in the garden. "They're surprisingly hard to manage. This works better." He sat cross-legged on the rug and motioned for me to join him.
Making sure no one was watching, I sat. I felt ridiculous.
Cecil murmured an incantation and the rug twitched. It buckled. It lifted and fell and lifted again. Gritting my teeth, I gripped the rug's thick pile. My life was in the hands of a magical nine-year-old. Barely thirteen, and I was about to die! "Cecil!"
"Sorry!" He repeated the magic words and after a few staggering moments, the carpet moved smoothly. It floated until we were even with the eaves. I was able to breathe again only when it seemed we weren't going higher.
"What do you want to see first?"
I wanted the view of London from my bedroom window, but I'd agreed to play along. "The sea?"
The sea was everywhere, but Cecil understood. We glided slowly over the cliffs, sweeping so close to the birds' rocky roosts that I could smell the musty scent of them. A brave few flapped up to us, squawking and scolding until Cecil laughed and backed away.
We soared across the water then, picking up speed and dipping low over ice-cold waves. The salty spray got everywhere, but I only laughed, exhilarated. I felt full of wind and magic – there wasn't space left inside me to be cross or afraid. "Let's look for wild ponies!" I cried into my brother's ear.
We searched until we were cold and breathless. Cecil brought the carpet down in a meadow of stonecrop and thrift. Grazing ponies wandered close, curious. "Close your eyes," Cecil told me. Later, I didn't remember changing. I remembered running – the feel of my hooves on the earth and the cold wind tangling through my mane. I remembered that buttercups taste sweet and that there's nothing in the world quite like belonging to a herd of creatures.
The sun was low when we returned, and for the first time I felt like having a magical brother might not be so terrible. The house was stretching its legs, ready to start its journey back to London. "D'you still think magic's ridiculous?" Cecil asked.
"Maybe not," I conceded, almost confessing I'd only said so because I was jealous.
But then, Mum came outside. "From Gran," she said, handing me a parcel in brown paper.
I tore off the wrapping, opened the box. Nestled in a bed of shredded paper was a narrow wooden wand. Beneath it, a lavender-covered book. I pulled it out, smiling at the gold-foiled title: A Girl's Guide to Everyday Magic.