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As soon as Gram left the apartment Sunday morning to work at the food pantry, I raced to my room and slipped on my shoes. After everything that had happened in the last week, Gram had decided the magic repair shop was too dangerous and I was forbidden to go there. But I knew I couldn’t stay away. I had to get Mr. McGuire to convince Gram to let me work there.
That’s not to say I didn’t understand why Gram didn’t want me to go down to the shop anymore. I’d been in Connecticut for less than a week and already I’d already been attacked by a lion and kidnapped by a crazed magician, and just two nights ago I was seconds away from spending the rest of my life in a magic mirror.
Getting her to change her mind was going to be harder than teaching an elephant to ride a unicycle on a tightrope.
I grabbed my keys off my night table and bumped Hasenpfeffer’s cage. Grimacing, I crossed my fingers and hoped I hadn’t woken him up.
“For pity’s sake,” he snapped. He poked his furry white head out from under his blanket, blinking his pink eyes in the light. “Can’t a rabbit take a nap in peace?”
“You’re always sorry, Maggie,” he continued. “How about you just watch where those enormous feet of yours are going?”
“They’re only a size four!”
Hasenpfeffer sat up on his haunches. “Yet they somehow always manage to hit my cage.”
I rolled my eyes. There’d been more than one occasion I’d regretted casting the spell that gave him speech—even if it had been by accident—and this was one of them. “Fine, I’ll move your cage away from my bed where I won’t bang into it.”
I looked around the tiny bedroom I’d be staying in for the next year while my parents were hunting cockroaches in the Amazon. There weren’t a lot of options. “How about over there, by the window?”
Hasenpfeffer peered at the window overlooking the street below. “What, and get heatstroke when the afternoon sun comes in? No thank you.”
I pointed to the other side of the room by my closet.
He shook his head. “Too drafty.”
“By the computer?”
“What, and listen to that infernal humming all the time? Tsk. There really isn’t a good spot in this shoe box of a room.” He chattered his teeth as he sniffed around, peering into every corner. “I’m not used to being in such confined quarters all the time. I miss the grand hotel rooms when Milo and I traveled; I miss performing and hearing the cheers as I got pulled out of the hat. Look what’s become of me. Stuck here with nothing to do all day but stare at an overabundance of unicorn posters.”
He sniffed, and I wondered if it was possible for a rabbit to cry.
“I never imagined I’d retire this early,” he continued, “but I thought if I ever did, I’d be living it up in a spacious hutch in Japan. Milo and I were very popular in Japan. I even got fan mail.” He let out a long, mournful sigh.
I decided not to remind him he was stuck with me because his former owner, Milo the Magnificent, had abandoned him in the magic repair shop. The fact that Milo had tried to kill me apparently had no effect on Hasenpfeffer’s longing for his old life.
“Well, I’m going for a walk,” I said, trying to sound light and breezy. “Tell Gram if she gets home before I do, okay?”
“Oh, please. You’re going to the shop. And don’t pretend otherwise.” He shook his head. “You’re a terrible actress.”
“I’m not going to the shop!” I lied. “I’m just going for a walk. You know—fresh air, sunshine.”
“I demand parsley or I tell the old woman you’re with McGuire.”
“That’s blackmail,” I said, putting my hands on my hips.
He put a paw on his nearly empty food dish. “Call it what you want, but it would be very easy to forget this conversation ever happened if I had a belly full of parsley.”
I squeezed my eyes shut tight. “Fine, you win.”
“Make it the flat-leaf Italian parsley. It’s my favorite and easier on my digestive system.”
I shook my head as I took out my grandfather’s old wooden wand—curved and bent like a tree branch—from my desk drawer. After working out a simple rhyme in my head, I pointed the wand at Hasenpfeffer’s cage. “Garden’s growing rather sparsely, let’s just get a crop of parsley.” A shower of green sparks shot from the tip, and then Hasenpfeffer’s bowl filled to the top with parsley.
He hopped over and sniffed. “Ah. Perfect.” He grabbed a mouthful and started chewing noisily. “Tell McGuire I said hello,” he mumbled.
I walked down the steps to the sidewalk and looked up at the apartment above mine, where Raphael lived. I would’ve asked him to come with me, but I knew he was at his bagpipe lessons.
I shook my head. Who takes bagpipe lessons?
Since Raphael was a twelve-year-old genius, I was sure he could help me to think up the perfect argument to convince Gram that working in the shop was safe; but in the meantime, Mr. McGuire and I would be on our own.
I headed down a couple of blocks and finally turned at the corner of Barnum Avenue, where McGuire and Malloy’s Magic Repair Shop was located. A beat-up blue van covered with large daisy decals was parked out front. When I got closer I saw a magnetic sign on the van that read CLARENCE’S MAGICAL CLOWNING.
I wrinkled my nose. I had never much cared for clowns.
I walked down the steps to the basement storefront and slowly opened the door.
My eyes popped when I stepped inside. An orange rabbit with purple paws and ears was turning slowly in the air. Birthday hats, a deflated green balloon, a partially eaten hamburger, and several brightly colored, wrapped presents orbited the rabbit like disorderly planets around a sun. The rabbit seemed unconcerned as it drifted in lazy circles, and I couldn’t help smiling thinking about what Hasenpfeffer would say if he were in this situation. He wouldn’t be taking it so calmly, that’s for sure.
“Maggie!” Mr. McGuire said. “What are you doing here? I thought your grandmother made it clear you weren’t to come down again.”
I turned and saw Mr. McGuire standing next to a small man who looked like he could be a hundred years old. He was bone thin and dressed in a baggy orange clown suit. His white makeup gathered in the deep creases on his face, and the blue diamonds painted around his eyes glistened with tears. As he tugged on the oversize pink bowtie under his chin and pointed to the rabbit, I couldn’t help thinking this clown was looking sad not scary.
“Are you Maggie?” the man asked, squinting at me. “Gregory said he was wishing you was here to help. It’s my Gertrude who needs fixin.’” He pointed to the rabbit again. “She’s been like that for three hours now. I can’t lose her; she’s all I got—well except for the wife, but Gertrude is the only one who really understands me.”
“I just came to talk about . . .” I paused, unable to keep my eyes off the gravity-defying rabbit.
Mr. McGuire snapped his suspenders. “Maggie Malloy, meet Mr. Clarence Fishbone. He had a bit of a mishap at a birthday party earlier today.”
The old man scowled. “There were nearly twenty of them—twenty rotten kids. They laughed at me, they did. Didn’t think I could do nuttin. They know better now.”
“What happened?” I asked.
Mr. Fishbone shook his head mournfully. “The wife keeps telling me I’m too old for putting on shows, but we’ve gots bills to pay. So I take the job for this Billy kid’s fifth birthday, and as soon as I walked in I knew it was gonna be trouble. Them kids was pawing through me stuff—they let the pigeons loose and one of ’em dumped a whole jar of magic dust number seven into me hat.”
I looked at Mr. McGuire. “A whole jar?”
“A whole jar,” he echoed.
Mr. McGuire had told me that a teaspoon of magic dust number seven gave extra power to spells, so it was easy to understand why he was having difficulty repairing this particular one.
Mr. Fishbone took the daisy-covered, dome-shaped hat off his head and brought it to his chest. His faded brown eyes misted over as he clutched it tightly. “Me grand finale is something special. I don’t just pull a rabbit out of me hat like most party magicians do—I have Gertrude float out.” He raised the hat slowly in the air to mimic the effect.
“Showstopper it is, I tell you. Only when Gertrude floated out today, she started attracting things. Hats got ripped of kids’ heads. Presents floated up, and well, as you can guess, that wasn’t real popular with Billy. Had a bit of tantrum he did. But the worst part was my poor Gertrude floating like a balloon on the ceiling and me not being able to do anything about it. Luckily, Gregory here was on call and able to cast a containment spell around her so she wouldn’t float off.”
His face crumpled as he looked at Gertrude hovering just out of reach.
“What have you tried so far?” I asked Mr. McGuire.
“I haven’t been at it long, but the various rabbit-in-the-hat spells didn’t work.”
I turned to Mr. Fishbone. “What spell did you use to make Gertrude levitate?”
He scratched the purple wig on his head. “I’ve got it written down somewhere. The wife insists I write everything down now. She wasn’t happy when I made the laundry disappear and couldn’t remember which spell I’d used. Had to go buy new underwear we did.”
He reached into a giant pocket and pulled out a handful of what looked like glowing jelly beans. “That’s not it.” He walked over to a lime green, daisy-covered suitcase on the floor and opened it. He rifled inside a bit, tossing colored scarves and oversize playing cards on the floor, before coming up with a worn piece of paper.
“Here it is!” He squinted at it, and then held it at arm’s length. “In the hat my Gertrude lies, but like the sun, she’ll start to rise.”
The spell seemed ordinary enough, and I figured it was definitely the magic dust number seven that had twisted the trick. The question now was how to repair it.
I tilted my head as I watched Gertrude float. My mind raced and clicked until I realized the scene reminded me of video clips I’d seen of astronauts floating in zero gravity.
“How about a gravity spell?” I asked Mr. McGuire.
Mr. McGuire’s eyes lit up. “Of course! I have a book that addresses gravitational problems in the back room. I’ll just be a minute to find it.”
He pushed aside the curtains that hung in the doorway separating the back room from the main shop.
With my eyes I followed the trajectories of the objects orbiting Gertrude and hoped we could fix this spell quickly. Mr. McGuire and I needed to strategize before Gram got back from work.
“Hang in there, Gertrude,” Clarence said. “These people will get you back to normal.”
“Have you always been a stage magician?” I asked him, curious about why some magicians perform and others don’t.
He shook his head and removed the red foam ball from his nose. “Oh, I’m not a stage magician—I don’t have me the power to pull off all that fancy stuff. It’s just parties I do. It’s different now, though. Kids want more.” He sighed. “I could blow the socks off them kiddies, I know I could. If only . . .” He gave me a sly smile as his eyes sparkled. “Well, I can show you.”
He went back over to his suitcase and pulled out a long red balloon and an air pump. He quickly inflated the balloon and twisted it with surprisingly nimble fingers. When he was done, he placed a shiny balloon dachshund on the floor and took a yellow wand out of his oversize pocket. “Inflate, animate, sit, and stay, dogs will bark, dogs will obey.”
Mr. Fishbone beamed as the dog sat on its rubber bottom and opened its latex mouth to let out a series of high-pitched yips and yaps that echoed around the room. He waved his wand in tight circles, and the dog rolled over and over. He lifted the wand straight in the air and the dog stood up and danced on its little hind legs. It howled at the ceiling, and Mr. Fishbone flicked his wand, returning the balloon dog to its original, nonmagical state.
“Wow.” I laughed. “That would blow the socks off the kids. You’d be booked for months in advance.” But as the words left my mouth I knew that wasn’t possible. “Except . . .”
Mr. Fishbone nodded sadly. “It would be obvious it was real magic and not sleight of hand—and definitely not a Viola Klemp–approved trick. She thinks it’s best people don’t know magic is real. I suppose she’s right. Don’t think she’d be real happy if she knew about Gertrude’s levitating trick, but I always tell the kids I does it with mirrors.”
Viola Klemp was the head of the Society for Ethical Magicians. Years ago she’d been sawed in half by a stage magician who didn’t have the power to pull the trick off properly. After Mr. McGuire and my grandfather had finally found a spell to put her two halves back together—four days later—she’d started the society as a way to keep track of magicians behaving badly.
I grimaced. I was currently under investigation by Viola thanks to my fellow magician and classmate Darcy Davenport. I shook my head to chase the thought away. “Don’t worry about Gertrude. We’ll get her fixed up.”
Mr. Fishbone smiled. “The wife used to help out with me act, but she got tired of dressing up—said she was too old for feathers and sequins. She used to look real cute too, but now it’s just Gertrude and me. It’s real nice Gregory has an assistant like you to help out, someone to pass the business on to and such.”
I sighed. Unless we changed Gram’s mind, my apprenticeship in the shop was officially over. As it was, Gram would kill me if she knew I was here.
Mr. McGuire came out from the back room and placed a large, leather-bound book with yellowed pages on the wooden counter.
“Defying Gravity and other Spells by Sir Isaac Newton,” I said, surprised. “He was a magician?”
“Oh yes,” Mr. McGuire said. “It’s rumored he was a poor student and used magic to get into the University of Cambridge.”
My cheeks burned. I was pretty sure Mr. McGuire suspected I’d used magic to get into the Black Rock School for the Gifted and Talented—and he was right. But there was no way I could’ve passed the entrance exam if I hadn’t. “So where’s the spell?” I said, changing the subject.
He opened the book and ran a finger down the table of contents. “Page sixty.” He flipped to the page, and I leaned over to look at the ingredients we’d need.
“‘Restoring gravity,’” I read out loud. “‘Half a cup of Origins powder.’” We’d used that before—it was made of stardust and helped get things back to their original states.
Mr. McGuire looked at Gertrude and clucked his tongue. “Better double that—just in case.”
He’d told me how expensive Origins powder was, and I wondered if Mr. Fishbone would be able to pay for this repair job. “‘Two teaspoons of magic dust number four,’” I continued. “That helps bind the ingredients,” I said to Mr. Fishbone.
Mr. McGuire smiled at me like he was proud I’d remembered what it was used for. Instead of feeling happy, I thought about how this most likely would be the last time I’d get to repair something, and my heart sank.
“‘Two cups of pulverized granite,’” I continued.
Mr. McGuire’s eyes lit up. “To add weight to the spell—help get her down.” He rubbed his hands gleefully. “I haven’t pulverized rocks in such a long time.”
“Oh! Can I help?” Mr. Fishbone asked as he shook his fists excitedly at his sides.
Mr. McGuire hustled to the back room. “I’ll get us some goggles!”
I looked down at the book again and shook my head. “The last ingredients are three slices of dehydrated apple and gunpowder.” I looked quizzically at Mr. McGuire when he returned. “Gunpowder?”
“What goes up must come down,” Mr. McGuire said, pointing to the ceiling. “The gunpowder will send the spell up to Gertrude, and then down she’ll come.”
“She won’t get hurt?” Mr. Fishbone asked, worry filling his eyes.
“No,” Mr. McGuire said gently. “She’ll be fine—if Maggie’s a good catch.”
“I used to play softball—outfield,” I said, and Mr. Fishbone look relieved.
Mr. McGuire and Mr. Fishbone took turns blowing up chunks of granite with their wands. Every time a rock got zapped, it let off a loud pop and exploded into a fine powder, making them chuckle and hoot like schoolboys.
When they were done, I added the rock powder to the mixing bowl and used my wand to magically stir the ingredients. Mr. McGuire took the bowl and placed it under Gertrude and her collection of party-themed satellites. “Ready?” he asked.
I nodded and knelt on the floor, positioning myself underneath her with my hands held open.
Mr. McGuire pointed his wand at the bowl. “Newton’s apple needs to drop, ignite the spark to hit the mark.”
A mini–lightning bolt zigzagged out of his wand and hit the bowl. Blue and orange flames shot up straight in the air, and I leaned back, gasping.
“Gertrude!” Mr. Fishbone wailed.
I suddenly realized the flames weren’t producing any heat, but as the tips reached the hovering objects, they dropped like stones toward the floor. I dove and caught Gertrude in my arms just as the hamburger landed on my head. A pickle bounced out from under the bun and rolled down my forehead and nose, leaving a trail of ketchup in its wake.
“Ew,” I said as Mr. Fishbone scooped Gertrude out of my arms.
“Baby,” he cooed. “It’s all right now, everything’s fine.”
He snuggled and kissed his rabbit, and it reminded me of Raphael talking to his pet mouse, Pip. I wondered if I’d ever feel that way about Hasenpfeffer—not that I imagined he’d ever want to be kissed!
Mr. Fishbone turned to Mr. McGuire, nervousness replacing the relief in his eyes. “Gregory, I don’t know how to thank you, but . . .” He hugged Gertrude tight. “Things is kinda tight at home right now, and I don’t think I’m getting paid for Billy’s party and all.” He looked at the floor and shuffled his large clown shoes. “Do you think maybe you could fix me up with one of them payment plans? I’ll try to find me some more work, and I’ll make sure you get your money just as soon as I can.”
Mr. McGuire shook his head. “It’s on the house, Clarence. Don’t give it another thought.”
Mr. Fishbone looked down again, embarrassed. “Thank you,” he said in a whisper. “Thank you.” He jostled his rabbit in his arms and kissed her on the top of her head. “I best be going; get Gertrude settled in her hutch and give her a nice treat for all she’s been through.”
“Good to see you, Clarence,” Mr. McGuire said as he patted him gently on the back. “Give Celeste my love.”
“I will.” He gathered up his things and cradled Gertrude gently in his arms. “And it’s been very nice to meet you, Maggie. Thanks to you both. I’ll keep you in me prayers.”
I watched him walk up the stairs to the sidewalk with a happy bounce in his old legs, and all I could think was that repairing magic was way better than being some stupid stage magician like Milo—or even a magical clown like Clarence.
What would I do if Gram didn’t change her mind?
“Maggie,” Mr. McGuire said gently after Mr. Fishbone’s van drove off. “You really shouldn’t be here. Your grandmother made it quite clear how she felt about you continuing to work here. And after what happened, I can’t say I blame her.”
Tears pricked my eyes. “But Milo’s gone—he’s trapped in the mirror. Things are safe now—just tell her. She’ll listen to you. She has to.”
Suddenly a loud rattling noise caught our attention. We both turned toward the noise, and I saw a silver mailbox nailed on the wall behind the counter jumping around on its hook. Steam shot out from the door, which was slightly ajar, and it began to whistle like a teakettle. The letters VK glowed and wavered in the mist.
“Oh dear,” Mr. McGuire said, putting a hand to his lip. “Mail’s coming—from Viola Klemp.”
My stomached did a slow somersault. “About me?”
He nodded slightly. “I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about.”
But from his pursed lips and wrinkled brow, I knew he was lying.
© 2010 Amanda Marrone