It was the first day of classes at Brakebills Elementary, and Julia was ready. She had her lunchbox which contained extra packets of Bugles and fruit by the foot for trading with other kids. She had a brand new Lisa Frank notebook with a tiger on it. She had her copy of "The Hobbit" to show off her advanced reading level to the other third graders. And she had her best friend, Quentin Coldwater, who only sometimes worried that she had cooties because she was a girl.
Julia was Prepared.
Quentin's mom gave them both a ride to school, since Julia's mom had to work early. This suited Julia just fine, as it gave her a chance to check in and evaluate against Quentin. He always seemed pretty disorganized to Julia but last year she had heard their joint babysitter say that "they are both so smart!" so she hoped she could get an idea from him of what the other kids might be like.
"Hi Julia." Quentin mumbled as she climbed into the back seat of the minivan next to him. He was propped up in his booster seat, staring out the opposite window. Sometimes he got like this, and in Julia's experience there was simply nothing to be done about it.
"Hi, Q." She replied, in what she thought was a very polite tone, considering that he seemed to be ignoring her.
"Do you need any help back there, honey?" Quentin's mom asked as Julia strapped herself in.
"No thank you Mrs. Coldwater." Julia intoned in the practiced singsong voice that she found was best for deflecting adult attention. She finished buckling the belts-it would be such a relief when they hit their next growth spurts and could stop using these stupid booster seats-and settled in for the ride.
A few minutes in Quentin turned and looked over Julia's things, seeming a bit curious and surprised. Julia seized the opportunity.
"What did you bring for lunch?" She asked, innocently enough.
Quentin's eyes lit up as he replied. "Dad said that going to a new school I could pick and make my lunch myself. So I made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with extra jelly and cut off the crusts!" He smiled and stuck his tongue out a small gap made by pushing his newest loose tooth a bit to the side. He'd started doing that when his first teeth had come loose, but Julia thought it looked a little dumb now that his loose teeth were mostly far off to one side or the other.
"That's neat! I have lunchables and some extra chips and candy and a juice!" Julia dutifully replied, holding in her comments about how dumb Quentin's teeth looked.
Quentin's eyes fell a bit at this. Julia knew what that meant. He probably forgot to pack chips or juice and he would want to borrow some from her. So much for impressing the other kids.
"I also brought The Hobbit. I just finished reading it and I thought I could tell the other kids about it!" Julia changed the subject to something More Interesting.
"I brought the first Fillory book!" Quentin almost shrieked and his smile was even wider than it had been in his supposed triumph over lunch. Julia never saw Quentin happier than when he talked about Fillory. "Do you think there will be any magical clocks at Brakebills?"
"I bet so." Julia said with the expert confidence of someone who has read the book being talked about. "I wonder if we could use one to go to the Shire and meet Bilbo Baggins and have second breakfast."
"Sec-ond break-fast! Sec-ond break-fast!" Quentin started chanting, and Julia joined him for the rest of the ride.
The first part of the school day involved meeting their teacher, Mister Fogg. Julia thought it was very silly that their teacher was named after a cloud, but she also knew that you weren't supposed to say mean things to teachers, even if they did have silly names.
For some reason Mister Fogg wanted to talk to all of them individually. Julia had never had a teacher who had done this before. She was worried that she hadn't Prepared for this. She wrote that down in her Lisa Frank notebook. Expressing your feelings was important.
Quentin was the first one to be called. Julia knew that his last name was early in the alphabet, but usually there were more students called on before him. She had heard that Brakebills had very small classes-it seemed like the only thing adults knew about the school.
Julia was surprised again when Mister Fogg came out of the room without Quentin. He called on another student she didn't know. Julia wrote down that she was surprised again in her notebook.
It took a very long time for Julia to be called on because her last name, Wicker, was so late in the alphabet. Julia liked it when teachers did things in the reverse order of the alphabet, because she liked going first. But she could be patient sometimes. She had only nibbled on a couple of her pencils a little bit, and she still had one with a working eraser by the time Mister Fogg called on her to come with him. She was the last kid left in the room.
"Hello Mister Fogg."
"I'm sure you are very curious about why we have called you all in to talk to you individually."
Julia nodded excitedly. She took a moment to think about the word 'individually,' which she wasn't sure if she'd heard before. She thought she knew what it meant anyway. She liked when adults used big words around her. And she also liked it when adults told her things.
"Well you see, this is a very special school. This is a school where we teach magic."
Julia held her breath. Maybe she heard Mister Fogg wrong.
"We haven't told your parents, since most of them can't do magic and wouldn't believe us." Mister Fogg continued. "But we also need to tell all of the children separately. We brought you in because we think you can do magic. But sometimes we are wrong. Can you do some magic for me now Julia?" Mister Fogg asked, tilting his head just to one side as an invitation.
"Um." Julia started, then felt bad. She shouldn't start sentences with 'Um.' "Excuse me, but I thought magic was only real in books and movies."
Mister Fogg smiled gently at Julia. "Yes, that is what most people think. And it may be true for you. But it might not be." His eyes twinkled with this last sentence. "Some people, just a very few people, not even all the children you've seen today but fewer than that can do magic. And I need to know if you are one of those special children, Julia. So would you please do some magic for me now?"
Julia was a bit nervous now. She had thought she was Prepared. But she had not thought she would have to do magic to be in school!
"Maybe you could tell me about a… about a spell? And I could learn it and do it for you?" Julia asked, hoping she could squeeze some kind of hint out of him. She turned to her bag and took out her nice new Lisa Frank notebook. It now had some notes about how Mister Fogg had a silly name, and how she was surprised that he talked to each of the students alone. She began to think it might not be the best idea to take out the notebook around him. She stopped with it on her lap, and looked at it for a moment.
"May I see that?" Mister Fogg asked, leaning over his desk and reaching his hand out to grab the notebook.
Julia thought again of the first words she had written: "Why is Mister Fogg named after a cloud?!"
"NO!" She shouted, and the tiger on the front of her notebook roared with her.
Julia stared wide-eyed at the notebook and the tiger.
Mister Fogg smiled. "I think it's best for you to go catch up with the other children. I'll be with you all in a moment."
When Julia found her way to the rest of the class, she found Quentin sitting with two other kids. He waved to her, and she walked over to see that they were sitting around a Ouija board.
"Hi Jules!" He said, unusually chipper. "This is Alice and Penny."
Alice shot Julia a polite but forced smile. Penny narrowed his eyes.
"We have to have more boys than girls otherwise the ghosts will have cooties." Penny growled, scowling at Julia and Quentin in turn.
Quentin looked a bit frightened at this, and looked uncertainly between Penny and Julia. Alice seemed to ignore them both, intent on studying the board.
"That's stupid." Julia said. Penny stuck out his tongue and blew a raspberry. "You're stupid!" She shouted, then stomped away before Quentin could fail to say anything to help her.
Julia took out her notebook-her new notebook, her secret notebook, her living magical notebook. And she wrote:
"Quentin is a jerk and his friends are dumb and I hope they die!"
While she wrote this she shot glances over to the three of them. Their hands moved quickly, and she could see Quentin growing even more excited.
"Quentin always gets excited about silly things and then he needs my help." She wrote, still angry. "Well, this time I'm not going to help him at all!"
Quentin squealed, and drew her attention back. "Martin! That's the name of one of the Chatwin children! He went to Fillory! If magic is real then Fillory is real too! And Martin wants to talk to us!"
The lights of the classroom flickered, then went out. It was peculiarly dark for the time of day-it should have been only mid-morning and the windows were wide open. Still, the classroom was ensconced in a sort of twilight. That time where the day starts to get sleepy but doesn't yet want to go to bed, so it goes on being almost night without quite committing.
There were two knocks on the door to the classroom. Everyone looked, but there didn't seem to be anyone outside the door.
The door opened.
A tall man walked in. He was thin, and he wore a nice black suit. His face was nondescript. Trying to look at it just led to a bit of confusion and one's eyes seemed to lose focus.
There was a loud buzzing sound, as though a beehive was very close by.
The door to the office where the children had met with Mister Fogg slammed open.
"STOP RIGHT THERE!" Mister Fogg screamed. The teacher pointed toward the man, then twisted his fingers around, and a bright beam of silver flew from one man to the other, before stopping, shimmering and sparkling, in midair.
The nondescript man in the black suit lifted one hand and caressed the silvery beam, six fingers dragging across its surface. His fingers contorted and the beam deteriorated as though being sucked into his hand through them.
Mister Fogg had been moving still and a number of shapes made from red and gold and blue and silver floated in the air, spinning and shifting around one another.
The other man's other hand rose, poised in a painfully unnatural shape. All of the color in the room faded. The man walked across the classroom to see the teacher. The man's hands rose again, and plucked out the teacher's eye's.
Mister Fogg's body fell to the floor, still.
The buzzing noise increased in volume to a fever pitch, making it impossible to think or do anything but watch.
The man turned to the children, and began walking closely past them, as though inspecting each one.
When he arrived near the Ouija board, the man squatted, and looked Alice directly in the face.
Alice gulped, and sobbed, and the sob was clearly audible even over the deafening sound of the buzzing. She sobbed only once, and then it became impossible to focus on her, just as one could not truly see the man.
The man turned his head to Penny. Penny attempted to stand, pushing himself off the floor.
Penny's hands slid off of his arms, and the child stumbled, landing face down on the carpeting. Blood streamed from the ends of his arms.
The man faced Quentin.
Julia felt herself breathe, a desperate gasp after holding her breath for too long. No other part of her body moved. The man didn't seem to notice her.
The man placed one of his hands under Quentin's chin, gently lifting and moving it. Then he took hold of Quentin's neck and lifted him as he stood.
The man turned, slowly, deliberately, to face Julia, and for a moment she thought she saw a dim smile on his face through the haze. Then he disappeared.
Julia's breath returned, and she wailed, tears streaming down her face. She began to tear the pages from her notebook, but it was too late.