Gregory Higgins was running down Hemlock Street, his shadow fleeing before him in the setting sun. He kept his eyes straight ahead, not daring to look even to either side, lest he catch a glimpse of the monstrosity chasing him. His heart was pounding almost as fast as his own echoing footsteps; if he had the breath he was sure he would be screaming. Instead he could only look ahead and listen to the sounds of his flight punctuated by the slow, steady whoosh of the thing flapping behind him.
He could see his house now; he had rounded the slight bend in the street. Dead ahead, 28 Elm Road, on the other side of the intersection. He sped up, sprinting faster than he ever had in gym class, arm already reaching for the doorknob even though he was at least fifty meters away. He had to slow as he went up the driveway and leaped up the concrete stairs, and that's when it happened: SMACK! He hit the ground. No, not ground, concrete steps. His face felt like it had exploded, but he couldn't move, he was all tangled up in ... he didn't want to think about what he was tangled in. He was trying to get his right hand free to reach for the doorknob.
His mother was screaming. Gregory heard the door open, a couple frantic footsteps, and then a broom was being swung repeatedly; it hit him as often as his assailant, but he didn't care anymore. Everything was fading to black.
Mrs. Higgins stopped swinging her broom when two men in black seemed to materialize out of the twilit air. She held it up before her warily, unsure what part these men had to play in the unbelievable scenario she was drawn into: a gigantic brassiere had chased her son home and tried to kill him.
One of the men, the shorter, stouter one, pulled something from inside his coat and pointed it at Gregory. The brassiere went still and slid off of him. The man looked at his companion, a taller, thinner man with red hair, and the two remained silent; Mrs. Higgins was fairly certain the reason was simply to keep them from letting out the burst of laughter they were trying so hard to contain. The shorter one handed her the brassiere.
“Step inside, Ma'am, and we'll bring your son,” the taller man – he was younger, she could now see – said, before looking at the older man who was rolling his eyes. “I was supposed to ask if this is your son first.”
“Yes, yes, come on in,” she said, too confused and bewildered to care about much more than the fact that annoyance felt so much better than the fear of moments before. “Are you going to track down where this thing came from? Find who is responsible?”
“Uh ... you seem to be handling this quite well, Ma'am.” Again the look to his older partner before “sure we'll track down the one responsible, it's out job!” He pulled a small bit of wood out of a pocket and scrunched his face muttering something under his breath. He pointed it at the giant brassiere still in Mrs. Higgins' hands and a green ball of sparkling light shot from it to Gregory and faded. The young man looked uncertainly at the other, who lazily flicked a similar ... wand ... at the bra and the same thing happened. He shrugged, though he seemed to be suddenly struck by another urge to giggle.
“I – I'm not sure how to explain this. I mean first we need to know what happened ... you see, he seems to have done this to himself....”
“'ow's abou' ye wakes da b'y up, b'y?” Mrs. Higgins blinked.
“Sh-shouldn't we heal him first? He'll be in quite a bit of pain....” Again the older man – a newfie? -- waved his wand and the nasty cut on Gregory's jaw healed itself. Another flick and Gregory blinked and sat up.
“Wha-who are you?”
“We needs ta know wha' happened tonigh'”
“Err, all of it?” the man nodded his head and Gregory's shoulders slumped; he looked at his feet. “Well, Stanley and I, on the way home we always stop at this playground over on Maple Place, because, well ... every day when she gets home Veronica Gates goes up to her room and changes her clothes without closing the blinds. Today ... today I said 'wouldn't it be nice if just once she actually took off her bra?' and then Stanley punched me in the shoulder because her bra had just pulled free and flown out the window – I could've sworn it was closed – and as it got closer it got bigger and it was flapping towards us like a giant bat so we ran....”
“Well, that seems like that's it ... that is everything, right?”
“We has ta explain it, b'y!”
“Oh, right. Well, see ... Gregory, you're a natural magician. I mean, you've come to be able to use magic on your own without any instruction on the subject. So, you see ... just because you're a natural doesn't mean you can control what you do overly well. When Veronica's bra came off like you wanted, you panicked, I'm guessing. So you lost control of what was happening. Lucky for you it backfired on you and not the girl.”
“Nah, wha' happen' was there was some terd party in'erference. Mos' likely a somewhat protective spirit or sprite 'round this Veronica's house. Sicced the bra on ya for tryin' at somethin' what ya shouldn' ha' been.”
“I didn't mean to do any of it!”
“Ye didn' mean ta be sittin' on a swing lookin' in the window of one Veronica Gates because you was expectin' her ta be takin off 'er clothes?”
“Well ... yeah. But we don't always see anything at all, and I'm pretty sure she knows we're there anyway. I mean, we're sitting in plain view of her window....”
“It doesn't matter, it doesn't matter. But we have a school you can go to. You'll learn how to control your magic. It's a boarding school, that's how we make it safe for you to learn. We can't make you go, but it's a lot less work for us if you do. I mean, could you imagine us bumping into each other every other day because you accidentally used magic again?”
“I ... I'd like to go, but ... I wouldn't get to see Stanley or the others anymore, would I?”
“Unless you're busy ... err, wait. How old are you?”
“Oh. Well, you can visit on holidays, I'm sure. And at ... what is it now? Sixteen? They've been changing the rules lately. Anyway, I think at sixteen they let you come home for a visit whenever, but only if you're keeping up with your schoolwork.”
“We'll go help the crew what's cleanin' up and check with ye later.”
“I'll take that from you, if you don't mind, Ma'am.”
“An' rememmer, none o' this happened, right b'y? Secret, it is.”
Gregory's father came home, the two men in black – with pink shirts! – returned, and they all ate supper. His father looked shocked and uncomfortable the whole time, and Gregory was sent up to his room afterwards.
He could hear parts of the conversation while he was packing, and his father sounded evasive.
An hour later, he was outside with the two men and his duffel bag.
“So we're not going to drive there?”
“Do you see a car? I don't see a car. But, well, I do know a few more reliable bits of magic than you, so ... maybe we don't need a car.”
“Oh, so we'll teleport, or ... or ... I can't remember another word for it.”
“Look, magic is real. That means that just about everything you've ever seen on T.V., in a movie, or read about in a book is probably possible to varying degrees of practicality. We've got rides.”
“Not tha' one again! B'y, me arse hurts jus' thinkin' o' flyin' 'round wit' a bloody broomstick up me crack! Dozens o' more comferable things ta enchant, ain't there?” They paused at a little park, one of many and Gregory couldn't remember what this one was called. “'ave a seat, b'y” the newfie said, gesturing at a bench. Gregory sat down with a man in black on either side.
Whatever Gregory had been expecting, it certainly wasn't for the bench to leap into the air at a forty-five degree angle and speed off towards Toronto through the dark, skimming just above trees and accelerating the whole way. He was kept pushed back into the wooden bench, squished against the back by the force of their travel and barely able to breathe.
“Y-you’re early!” a shrill voice greeted them when they touched down in an overgrown lot. It was a moment before Gregory acknowledged he could see and hear again, and his skin was a little raw from the wind.
“I can see why broomsticks might not be ideal ... but that could use a seat belt and some goggles,” he said, not really aware he was practically shouting a thought he hadn't meant to share aloud just yet.
“Someone's been fiddlin' with that there bench,” the newfie started.
“No! I-I d-don't know what you're talking about! Nonsense.”
“If I has to pick one splinter outta me arse, ye knows where she's goin', don't ye?”
“Wha-what's wrong? I did try to fix s-s-s-something earlier ... I-I kinda need to know what's wrong so I can fix it properly this time.”
“We came all da way from 'alifax Nova Scotia in for'y-fie minutes. I hears that wouldn' be such a bad ride in some of them new jets, but we weren' in one, now was we? From the momen' I activated her, she was flat out out like she couldn' get here fas' enough. An' I don't suppose you has any idea why that might be, do ye?”
As they walked away, the younger man said “if I hadn't been on that bench I'd probably say you were too hard on him, George.”
The school was two blocks away. Gregory wasn't sure how efficient this method of travel was, but at least it saved them a couple hours dealing with the airport. As they were waiting for the gates to be unlocked – it was about midnight at this point – Gregory was struck by a thought.
“When I go home for Christmas or whenever, I don't have to use that bench, do I?”
“I doubt it. You'll probably get a plane ticket and travel like ordinary folk. You know, mundane, non-magic ... muddlers.”
“Muddlers? You mean muggles?”
“Sure. As good a word as any, I suppose.”
At the front desk a half asleep young woman just stared at them.
“At this hour? Just a second.”
“We're early,” Gregory said, not really thinking.
The woman squinted at him. “No dear, I'd say you're late. I sent these two out this afternoon. Why did you bring the boy? Where is the girl?”
“Girl? He did this all on his own. Well, maybe not. Might be a nasty spirit living at that girl's house.”
“You waited just to see him get chased down the street by a giant bra, didn't you?”
“N-no ... never. Not that. Of course not. Well ... maybe. It was pretty epic.”
“And I suppose you can justify waiting?”
“Well ... we would have picked up the girl with no questions, when she probably has no ability for magic and this boy is a natural. And we wouldn't have known to have the clean-up team looking for another presence at her house.”
“Right. Clean-up was back two hours ago. They didn't find anything.” The two men looked at one another uncomfortably. “And he doesn't –” George shook his head slightly, and she stopped. “Whatever. You know what to do now.”
George led him down a hallway to an elevator. “Jenny's good with divination. Often finds us young folk like you, ones that need to come here and learn. Just it's not always clear what is going on in her visions. And ... well ... sorry. We should have been able to stop the bra before you shattered your face on your front doorstep. George grunted at the younger man and waved them into the elevator.
Gregory first thought it was odd that the elevator was dropping, then when two or three minutes passed he had to ask “why are we going so far down? Isn't the school up there?”
“You didn't think the safe place to learn magic was really in downtown Toronto, did you?”
“Well, it did seem a bit odd. But how far down are we?”
“Don't worry yourself with that. Come on, out we get.”
Stepping off the elevator, Gregory found himself in a small black room that was perfectly round. At first he thought it was dark, but it was definitely just black. “See him to his room, b'y, it's a bit late, wouldn' want him to fall asleep on the way.”
“George doesn't like this bit,” the younger man said as George stepped back into the elevator. “You're gonna stand here and watch yourself, it doesn't feel pretty.” The room started to pulse. It felt like everything was being compressed and then expanded. All of a sudden Gregory felt like he was being crushed and then ripped apart, and then everything stopped. “Need a minute before we go up? Take a couple steps before you say no.”
Gregory walked over to the elevator, confused. “I'm good, but ... where are we going?”
“Upstairs to get you to bed.”
“Then why did we come all the way down here?”
“Oh. Right. We're actually about a thousand kilometres northwest of Toronto. See, moving stuff like that is hard, we couldn't do it from your house to here, but we could do so from the fake school to the real one. And it doesn't feel too good; it wouldn't be as impressive to arrive in full view after that, would it?”
The elevator ride up seemed to take forever, and Gregory realized he didn't know the man's name. He asked instead of standing there in awkward silence.
“Frederick,” he said, holding out his hand. Gregory shook it.
When the elevator stopped and the doors opened, a bored voice intoned “room three seventeen” and held out a key without looking. They didn't waste time on the way. The room was rather bare, with just a single bed with plain white comforter, a desk against one wall, and wardrobe next to it.
“Bathroom is down the hall. Now, allow me to provide your first decoration.”
From somewhere the giant bra was produced, and with a flick of his wand it flapped its way up to the ceiling and started flapping in a circle. With an impish grin, Frederick took off. Gregory shrugged and fell onto the bed.