The Wardrobe to Iqaluit
Christmas was fast approaching. One morning in mid-December, they had woken up to find the whole school covered in a blanket of velvet smooth snow as white as the corporate board of the average FTSE 100 constituent. The loch had frozen over, and the Beaversley twins were punished for telling Professor Crumbleceiling that Santa wasn’t real. Snowstorms battered the windows from outside and made it near impossible for any post to be delivered. The few pigeons that did make it through had to be hidden to save them from Barry putting them out their misery.
No one could wait for term to end, and spirits were high when they woke up on their final day before the holidays. Their lessons that morning were laid back, and instead of making them do work, Professor Millbrook let them all watch Arthur Christmas on an old television set that was wheeled into the room and far too small for anyone at the back to see. In Professor McDouglass’ class, they watched a pirated version of The Muppet Christmas Carol. At lunch, they laughed and joked with Chad and Larry about building a giant snow slide on a hill in the grounds, or using the snow to trap Kevin in his office.
As they left the Banquet Hall to go to their final lesson — Alchemy — they found a giant Norwegian spruce blocking their way. The two feet they could see at the bottom of it, and the casual swearing coming from within its branches told them Barry was at the other side.
“Hi, Barry,” said Ed. “Need any help?”
“Nah, ah’m grand, Ed,” said Barry. “Bur while theur all ‘ere, any o’ theur be interested in buyin’ y’ sen a kayak from book? Ah only got t’ sell four n’ then ah gerr’ entered in’t contest t’ win me sen an ‘olibobs t’ Florida, see.”
“And how many have you sold so far?” Billy asked, entertaining him.
“Well… none — bur it’s a reight grand kayak. Ah’ll show theur.” But as he went to take the catalogue from his pocket, he let go of the giant tree, and it came crashing down on the floor with a reverberating thump.
“Would you mind taking a little more care?” came Austin’s pretentious drone from behind them. “If that thing had fallen the other way, you might have taken my head off.”
“I wish it had taken your head off,” said Billy, but he regretted doing so straight away. Professor Grape had just appeared at Austin’s side.
“It wor jus’ a joke, Professor,” said Barry.
“Threatening another student is against school rules, Barry,” said Grape coldly. “Ten credits from Osphranter house, Mr Smith, and be grateful I’m not murdering you instead.” He turned to Barry. “And next time, if you could aim for Smith’s head, that would be excellent.”
Barry didn’t seem to hear what Grape had said. He held up his catalogue and said, “Ah dunt suppose tha’d like t’ buy y’ sen a kayak, Professor Grape?”
Before Grape could say anything, a loud wailing alarm suddenly filled the entire entrance hall, seemingly coming from nowhere.
“What’s that?” said Elahoraella, covering her ears with her hands.
“Oh, not now,” said Grape. “It’s snowing outside.”
Professor McDouglass came from the Banquet Hall, ushering students forward. “Everybody outside, please. It’s only a fire drill, but we need everybody to exit the building — you too, please, Sir Walter,” she said, for Sir Walter Melvyn Scrivener Esq. had just come floating past.
“But one is a ghost, my dear lady. One simply cannot perish in flames that rage with the wrath of the gods.”
“Everybody needs to leave. It’s in the regulations.”
As Billy, Ed, and Elahoraella joined the rest of the students making their way out of the castle and into the cold and frosty grounds, they could hear Karen complaining loudly behind them.
“I’m giving a one star review on Tripadvisor for this,” she was shouting to anyone who would listen. “I was in the middle of my shower when that alarm went off.”
It took a long time for the rest of the school to assemble outside, and longer still for students to sort themselves into their houses. Eventually, the teachers began moving among them and asking everyone if they weren’t there. Satisfied with no one saying they were still inside, they concluded the drill had been a success.
As the whole school began rushing back to the shelter of the caste, Billy overheard Professor McDouglass asking Professor Millbrook if he knew where Crumbleceiling was. They didn’t have to wait long to find out. As they came back into the entrance hall, there was a loud “WHEEE…” as Crumbleceiling entered from the Banquet Hall on an office chair being propelled forward by two fire extinguishers that had been taped to the back of it. He had just enough time to say, “Just checking they’re all working, Professor McDouglass,” before he flew off down a staircase.
Professor McDouglass took a moment, then turned to the students gathered behind her. “I think perhaps it would be best if we all agreed we hadn’t just witnessed that,” she said.
“Well, there is one good thing about all that,” said Billy as they were walking down to the dungeons a few minutes later.
“What’s that?” said Ed.
“We’ve missed most of Alchemy.”
Grape wasn’t yet there when they took their seats in his classroom, but that still didn’t stop him from waltzing into the room five minutes later, and taking a credit from each of them for turning up an hour late to his lesson.
Billy wanted to argue, but Ed stamped on his foot.
“Wise move, Beaversley,” said Grape.
Grape went over to his desk, and to his great surprise, someone stood up from behind it.
“Oh, you’re not Professor Crumbleceiling,” said a man wearing a while polo shirt and carrying a clipboard.
“Who are you?” asked Grape.
“My name’s Brian,” said the man, holding out his hand to shake Grape’s. Grape didn’t reciprocate. “I’m from the energy company. I just came to read your meters. Your gas is fine, but electricity consumption for this part of the school seems a little high, so we might need to check for a fault.”
“GET OUT!” Grape yelled, and the man left in a hurry.
“What is going on today? Is this some sort of parody?” Grape thought aloud, and then he picked something up from his desk and held it up for the class to see. “This is a banana…”
When they left the dungeons at the end of the class, they could overhear Austin talking loudly to his friends ahead of them.
“I do feel so sorry,” he said, not sounding sorry at all, “for all those people who have to stay in the cold castle over Christmas because they are simply not welcome at home.”
The Crocodilians around Austin all laughed while Austin himself, obviously knowing Billy was walking behind them, turned around and sneered.
It was true Billy wasn’t going back to the Moustaches for Christmas, but he didn’t feel sorry about it at all. In fact, he was looking forward to the holidays and thought this would probably be the best Christmas he’d ever had. Ed and his brothers were staying at Frogsports too, because Mr and Mrs Beaversley were going on a cruse, so they could watch Issac’s new stage show.
They came into the entrance hall. Barry was stood waiting, catalogue in hand.
“So, ‘bout them kayaks,” he said, bounding straight for them.
“We’d love to hear more, Barry,” said Elahoraella, “but we’ve got to get up to the library before dinner.”
“Theur off t’ library?” said Barry. “Bur lessons av’ finished ain’t they?”
“Oh, we’re not doing school work,” said Billy. “We’ve been trying to find out who Émile Arquette is ever since you mentioned his name.”
“Theur bin doin’ wha’?” Barry looked both angry and a little worried. “Look, ah’ve already said, it’s nowt t’ do wi’ you lot, so drop it, reight. Or theur will end up wi’ clip ‘round ear.”
“We only want to know what he’s famous for,” said Elahoraella.
“You could always just tell us,” said Billy. “We’ve looked in hundreds of books so far and can’t find his name anywhere.”
“Theur gerrin’ nowt from me,” said Barry bluntly.
“We’ll just have to keep looking ourselves then,” said Ed, and they left Barry, who turned his attention to asking a passing Professor Quigley if he’d ever considered taking up water sports as a hobby.
It was true they had been searching in books for some mention of Émile Arquette ever since Barry had let the name slip, because how else were they going to find out about something which had nothing to do with them? They’d thought about asking Karen for help, because that was exactly the sort of thing she was good at, but it was hard to convince her to do anything when there was nothing in it for her.
Not knowing what Arquette might be known for, it was difficult to know which sort of books they should be looking in. The size of the library didn’t help their search either. Tens of thousands of books were piled high across hundreds of shelves, floor to ceiling, and wall to wall.
As Elahoraella continued searching row by row so as to be able to keep track of where she’d already looked, Ed went over to a random shelf and started looking inside books on subjects such as shoebills and economy stability in countries ruled by authoritarian regimes. Not for the first time, Billy couldn’t help but wonder why for people who could perform sorcery, the magical community was so far behind the rest of society that they didn’t even have access to Wikipedia. He wandered over to the restricted shelves. He had been thinking for some time Arquette might be in one of these books, but unfortunately, books on these shelves were considered too dangerous or unpalatable for most readers, and they could only be read by older students for purely academic purposes.
After another hour of finding no mention of Arquette, they gave up and went for dinner.
“You will keep looking while I’m not here, won’t you?” said Elahoraella. “And send me a note with Yodel if you find anything.”
“Sure, but you probably won’t receive it until Easter,” said Billy.
“You could ask your parents if they know who Arquette is,” said Ed. “They might know something.”
“They don’t know anything about anything,” said Elahoraella. “They watch GB News every night.”
It wasn’t easy to keep their word to Elahoraella when the holidays started the next morning. Billy and Ed were having too good a time to worry about Arquette or whatever it was that Grape was trying to steal. They had the dormitory to themselves, and the common room was empty most nights, so they were always able to get the good chairs by the window. Not having to get up for lessons the next day meant they could sit long into the early hours of the morning, plotting ways to get Grape fired — though they concluded if he still had his job at this point, he could probably murder a teacher and end up being promoted for it. When they went to bed on Christmas Eve, Billy was looking forward to the food and celebrations the next day, but he wasn’t expecting to receive any presents.
When he woke the next morning, however, the first thing he saw was a small pile of colourfully wrapped packages waiting for him at the bottom of his bed.
“Happy Christmas,” said Ed, as he sat up and stretched.
“Happy Christmas,” said Billy. “I can’t believe it. I’ve got presents!” he said, getting out of bed and pulling on his dressing gown.
“What were you expecting, a boxset of the field hockey coverage from the XXV Olympiad?” said Ed.
Billy picked up the top package. It was wrapped in thick brown paper and had a note scribbled across the top which read To Billy, From Barry. Inside was a gift set of Lynx Africa shower gel and body spray. He opened the box — it smelt like a desperate teenager’s first date.
He went to pick up his second present, which wasn’t a parcel, but a white envelope. He opened it, expecting a card, but instead found a small handwritten note.
We are currently under investigation for tax evasion and cannot afford to send you a proper gift. From Uncle Michael and Aunt Jennifer. Billy checked the envelope again and found a used bus ticket. On the reserve was an expired voucher offering six chicken nuggets for only one ninety-nine.
“One from Barry and one from my aunt and uncle,” said Billy. “So who sent me these?”
“I think I know who sent you that one,” said Ed, pointing at a package which looked similar to one of his own that he had just picked up. “My mother. I told her you weren’t expecting to get anything, and — oh,” he sighed, “she’s made you a Christmas jumper.”
Billy had torn off the paper to find a woollen, hand-knitted jumper with rows of colourful Christmas patterns.
“She makes us one every single year,” said Ed, unwrapping his own, “and they’re always really itchy.”
There were just two presents left now. Billy picked up the larger of the two and felt it. It was heavy, but soft. He tore off the paper.
Something brown with small glints of green fell into a heap on the floor. Ed gasped.
“I’ve heard of those,” he said in a low voice, dropping the present he was unwrapping. “If it’s what I think it is —”
Billy picked the thick material up from the floor. It was rough to touch, like a well-worn fabric.
“It’s a translucency tree,” said Ed, a look of amazement on his face. “I’m sure of it — try it on and see.”
Billy pulled the costume over his head and stood up straight, his arms outstretched.
“It is! Look in the mirror!”
Billy went over to look at himself in the mirror. There was no other way to describe it; he was dressed as a tree. Twig like cuttings were stitched to hang off the material as though fingers and toes. On his head, it looked as though he was wearing a gigantic wig made out of leaves in various shades of green.
“I don’t understand,” said Billy. “What is a translucency tree?”
“It’s a costume that makes you unnoticeable,” said Ed. “You’re not invisible, just sort of unseen.”
“But I can see myself, and you can see me too,” said Billy.
“You already know you’re wearing it, though, and I saw you putting it on,” Ed explained. “But if you went outside wearing it, no one would know you weren’t a real tree. You’d just sort of blend in, and they’d think you were meant to be there. It’s kind of like a disguise. Makes sense when you think about it, trees are everywhere.”
“So not invisible… just unnoticed,” Billy repeated.
“Translucent,” said Ed. “Look, there’s a note,” he added, pointing at a piece of parchment that had fallen from the parcel.
Billy pulled off the costume and picked up the parchment. Unfolding it, he found a handwritten note scribbled in green crayon, but he didn’t recognise the handwriting.
There was no name.
“What’s the matter?” said Ed, noticing the expression on Billy’s face.
“Nothing,” said Billy. But something was the matter. Who had sent him the tree costume? Did it really once belong to his father?
He put the costume and the note to one side, then picked up his final present and unwrapped it. It was from Ed.
“Ed, you shouldn’t have,” said Billy.
“Oh, it’s nothing,” said Ed.
“But really — you shouldn’t have. I didn’t get you anything.”
Ed stopped unwrapping the package in his hand and looked up at Billy.
“Well, this is awkward,” said a third voice.
Chad and Larry had come into the dormitory, both of them wearing their own Christmas jumpers.
“Hey, look, Billy’s got a Christmas jumper too,” said Chad.
“And I’m sure he’ll have sent something to mum in return,” said Larry.
“Er…” said Billy, uncomfortably.
“Yeah,” said Chad. “I mean, here’s our family all poor and struggling to get by, and there’s Billy with all that money and nothing and no one to spend it on but himself.”
To Billy’s immense relief, Chad turned his attention to Ed.
“Why aren’t you wearing your jumper, Eddie?”
“I don’t want to. They’re too itchy.”
“Come on, it’s Christmas. We all need to put them on.”
“Especially when mum has gone to such great lengths with the designs this year.” Larry glanced at Billy here.
“Yes,” said Chad. “I mean, look at Larry’s here, I think it makes him look like a member of the Conservative Party trying to appear casual.”
“And I think Chad’s makes him look like a member of the Labour Party striving to appear professional,” said Larry.
Ed pulled his own jumper over his head. “So what do I look like?”
Chad and Larry glanced at each other, and then looked tragically at Ed. Together they said, “A Liberal Democrat.”
“What’s going on here?”
“And here comes Reform UK,” said Larry as Jacob came into the room, carrying his own Christmas jumper in his hand.
“And why haven’t you got your jumper on, Jacob?”
“I find them too itchy.”
“That’s what I said,” said Ed.
“Well, that’s not good enough,” said Chad, and he grabbed the jumper from Jacob’s hands, then with the help of Larry, began forcing it over Jacob’s head.
When they walked into the Banquet Hall for Christmas dinner a few hours later, nothing could have prepared Billy for the sight of Professor Crumbleceiling being kicked violently in the chest by a reindeer he was attempting to fit a red clown’s nose on.
“Are you okay, Headmaster?” Professor McDouglass said, helping him to his feet.
“Nothing seeing that thing turned into a fireside rug won’t fix, Professor McDouglass,” said Crumbleceiling as she helped him limp up to the teacher’s table.
Billy had never had a Christmas lunch like it. There were plates of roast turkey which they gobbled up — because for some reason, this much drier, tasteless, and all-round worse cousin of chicken is the ideal centrepiece for special occasions — and bows filled with vegetables of every variety: carrots, parsnips, roast potatoes, TERFs, and more. Well, almost every variety; there was a noticeable absence of sprouts, because the Secretariat of Sorcery had banned them for refusing to renegotiate a legally binding treaty.
The tables were also lined with Christmas crackers in silver, red, and green. Billy was entirely apathetic to receive a giant plastic paperclip, a set of miniature playing cards, and a fortune telling fish.
Hundreds of Christmas puddings followed the main course. Jacob nearby broke a tooth on a euro hidden in his slice, and he skipped the rest of the meal to go off and find Karen to see if she was interested in filing a group litigation order against the school. Billy, meanwhile, sat and watched Barry getting more and more drunk at the teacher’s table, finally kissing Professor McDouglass on the cheek, who responded by slapping Barry in the face and reminding him that the mention of alcohol and the occasion of Christmas didn’t make it any less messed up to portray sexual harassment as a joke now than it had been in Chapter Seven.
After lunch, they decided to go out to the Frogsports stadium in the grounds with some of the school space hoppers and have a snowball fight while bouncing around. A few of the teachers joined them too, and Professor McDouglass seemed to use it as an opportunity to let out a lot of unspoken feelings. She chased Crumbleceiling right around the whole pitch, using her enchanted celery to send snowballs crashing into the back of his head, but then took it too far when she also knocked over the snowman he’d spent an hour building.
Even Professor Grape had come out to join the fun, though for some reason he was wearing Hawaiian shorts and appeared much more laid back than usual. When Professor Millbrook asked him if his legs were cold, he muttered something about cool vibes and then told an anecdote about a cat video he’d seen on the internet a few days before.
As darkness fell, Billy and Ed returned to the common room alone — Jacob was busy running away from Crumbleceiling’s rebuilt snowman that Chad and Larry had bewitched to chase after him, and Chad and Larry themselves had gone off to help Crumbleceiling with something — where they spent another evening sat around laughing and joking while toasting marshmallows on the fire until eventually going up to bed in the early hours of the morning.
Just as he had expected, it had been the best Christmas Billy had ever had. Even so, neither the good food or the snowball fight on the Frogsports pitch, nor the fireside conversations could distract him enough to forget about the thing that had been on his mind since that morning: who had sent him the translucency tree?
He was about to ask Ed if he was also creeped out by the fact a complete stranger had come into their dormitory during the night to deliver presents while they were asleep, when he heard snoring.
Well fed and with nothing playing on his own mind, Ed had fallen asleep quickly, but no matter how tired he might have felt, Billy couldn’t do the same. He laid back on his bed thinking. The note had said the costume had once belonged to his father. And then he thought about what else the note had said.
Put it to good use.
Had Ed been correct when he described what it did? Would it really allow him to go anywhere he wanted, not invisible, but unnoticed? He had to find out now. He jumped off the bed and grabbed the costume from under it. Slipping it over his head, he looked at himself in the mirror again. He could still tell it was him, but then, he thought, he knew he was wearing it.
Put it to good use.
Suddenly, Billy felt wide-awake. The whole castle was open to him while he was dressed as this tree. Ideas flooded him. If Ed was right, he could go anywhere he wanted, and no one would ever notice he was there.
Ed let out a loud snore. Billy thought about waking him, but something held him back — Ed was still bitter about Billy not buying him a gift — and besides, this had been his father’s tree costume — he felt this time, he wanted to use it alone.
He left the dormitory, walked down the stairs and across the empty common room — careful not to trip over any of the roots protruding from the bottom of the costume — then exited out onto the hallway outside.
Where should he go? He stopped. Thoughts were racing through his head and his heart was pounding. He could go anywhere he wanted. He could sneak into one of the other houses’ common rooms and look around, or break into one of the chambers down in the dungeons that Professor Grape had forbid students from entering. He could even visit Grape’s personal office and mess it up if he wanted. But then it came to him. He wasn’t going to do anything fun or exciting, he was going to go to the library and look at some books. He’d be able to read for as long as he liked, until he was able to find out who Émile Arquette was. He’d even be able to look at the books on the restricted shelves.
He set off and was lucky not to come across anyone on the way.
The library was pitch-black and very quiet. Billy lit a lamp that had been left near the door. He made sure to hold the lamp a little ahead of him; he wasn’t sure how flammable a tree he was.
The restricted shelves were at the far end of the library. He made his way over to them and held up the lamp, so he could read the spines. He knew these were the books considered to contain material too inappropriate, offensive, or even dangerous for most students, and as he read the titles, he could understand why.
There was a copy of Piers Morgan’s autobiography, an entire shelf dedicated to biographical accounts of George W. Bush’s time as President, and a book titled Liberal Privilege; the man on the front cover looked as though he was having an uncomfortable time trying to pass a kidney stone.
Billy picked a book off the shelf at random, opened it to the first chapter, and started reading: And such was he, of whom I have to tell — He stopped. He could hear footsteps nearby that weren’t his own. And then a voice.
“Is that you, Karen?” It was Kevin who spoke.
Panicking, Billy dropped the book and it slammed onto the floor.
“What was that?”
Billy looked over at the entrance to the library. Kevin was walking towards the restricted shelves, his own lantern in hand, checking each row as he passed them.
It was now or never, thought Billy. It was time to test if the translucency tree really did work. He stepped out into the open, held one arm high and the other low, and waited for Kevin.
“That’s funny, there’s only this tree here,” said Kevin, walking up to him. “I could be sure I heard something.”
Billy held his breath, rooted to the spot, as Kevin held up the lantern to examine his face.
“You are just a tree, aren’t you?” asked Kevin.
Doing his best impression of a giant sequoia, Billy replied, “I am just a tree.”
“I thought so.” But as Kevin went to walk away, he turned back and asked, “You haven’t seen anybody come this way, have you, tree?”
“They went that way,” said Billy, pointing off into the distance.
“Thank you,” said Kevin, and he wondered off into the darkness.
Unable to believe his luck, Kevin’s stupidity, or that the tree costume had actually worked, Billy made straight for the door. He wasn’t ready to return to the dormitory just yet, though, and he decided to take a detour to see what else he could find.
He was just walking past Professor McDouglass’ classroom when he heard two sets of footsteps ahead, and then to his horror, Professor Grape’s voice.
“What is it, Kevin? Why are you rushing?”
“There’s a student out of bed, Professor. They were looking around the library.”
“How do you know?”
“I asked a helpful tree, and they pointed me in the right direction.”
“What do you mean, you asked a tree? There are no trees in the library. And trees can’t talk.”
“This one did. He answered my questions.”
“Trees don’t grow in libraries.”
“Well it was either a tree, or a performing arts student exploring their emotions.”
“Frogsports doesn’t have a performing arts department. The Secretariat cut our funding for that last year.”
“That’s how I know it was a tree.”
“You idiot! That probably was the student dressed as a tree.”
“No, it was definitely a tree. I asked it.”
Worried the costume might not work on Grape, and feeling certain Kevin would recognise him as the same tree he’d just seen in the library, Billy held his breath and backed away from them as quietly as possible, taking care not to let his roots drag along the floor. He passed by a door that stood ajar. It was his only chance. To his great relief, he was able to make it through the gap without the door creaking, but he did so just in time. He felt a draft as Grape and Kevin passed down the corridor outside. Billy took a few deep breaths as he listened to their footsteps fading away. That had been too close, he thought to himself.
Billy wasn’t sure exactly where he was. He thought it might have been McDouglass’ classroom, but there were no posters on the walls promoting membership of any religious cult-like organisations which only pretend to care about children. Rather, it appeared to be an unused classroom. The tables had all been pushed up against the walls, and the chairs were stacked on top of one another. And then, he noticed something standing in the middle of the room that didn’t seem to belong there.
It was a giant ornate oak wardrobe at least twice Billy’s height, and had detailed patterns and drawings etched into the wood. At the top of the wardrobe was a carved inscription: Los que traducen tienen demasiado tiempo libre. With no sound of Grape or Kevin, curiosity replaced his panic, and he approached the wardrobe.
Billy reached for the door handle, expecting the wardrobe to be locked; but to his surprise, it wasn’t. He pulled the doors open and felt a sudden blast of cold air hit his face, but he wasn’t sure where it could have been coming from. He was staring at a collection of thick coats. He was so intrigued by the mysterious wardrobe that he didn’t even stop to worry about whether they were made out of real fur. He wasn’t sure why, but somehow he knew he had to step forward into the wardrobe. And then he took another step. And another. He thought he should have hit the back of the wardrobe by now, but no. Another step, but this time his foot didn’t land on wood. He’d stepped onto snow.
For a moment, he thought he might have just stumbled upon a secret passageway out of the castle, but he couldn’t be in the grounds. It was daytime, and he knew Frogsports didn’t have this may adults; nor a motel, bank, or 7-Eleven. He was stood on a street corner, but he hadn’t any idea which street corner.
It wouldn’t hurt to look around, he thought to himself. After all, he hadn’t technically left the school. He set off down the street and came across a small coffee shop. Feeling hungry all of a sudden, he went inside and ordered himself a plate of Belgian waffles served with sides of bacon and maple syrup. It wasn’t until his plate was empty, that he realised wherever he was probably didn’t accept euro as payment. To his surprise, when he explained this to the owner of the coffee shop, they said, “Oh, don’t worry about it, eh!” and then invited Billy to join them and their family to watch the game, whatever that was.
The game turned out to be a lot like Frogsports in that the players had hockey sticks, but there was much less bouncing and more ice, as well as no blow darts, but a lot more violence. It was good, thought Billy, but he couldn’t help feeling it could still be improved somewhat by the inclusion of a pantomime horse wearing ice skates.
It was starting to get dark outside when the game had finished, and Billy thought he better hurry back through the wardrobe before Ed woke up and noticed he wasn’t there. As he hurried out of the unused classroom and up to his dormitory, though, Billy knew he had to come back again.
“You should have woken me up,” said Ed, through a mouthful of toast. It was the next morning, and Billy was telling him about what he’d found.
“I’m going back tonight, you can come with me,” said Billy. “I want to show you this place.”
“And I want to see this mysterious snowy land you’ve discovered by walking through a wardrobe,” Ed said eagerly. “It sounds just like —” A loud beep came out of nowhere and censored the end of Ed’s sentence.
“That was strange,” said Billy.
“Yeah,” said Ed. “Anyway, have some toast or something, why aren’t you eating? You’re not jet-lagged, are you?”
Billy couldn’t eat. He wanted to save room for some more Belgian waffles that night.
As they left the Banquet Hall at the end of breakfast, they passed a determined looking Professor Crumbleceiling wearing shorts and two giant gloves coming the other way. “I’ll show that reindeer,” he was attempting to say through a mouthguard.
“Headmaster, this isn’t what they mean by Boxing Day,” Professor McDouglass was saying, trailing after him.
It took a long time to reach the room with the wardrobe in that night. With Ed also hiding under the translucency tree, they had to move slowly, so they wouldn’t trip. Billy was surprised there was enough room for two of them in the costume, but it did seem to be just big enough because of course it did.
“It’s freezing down here,” said Ed, as they opened the door to the unused classroom.
“You’ll be a lot colder in a minute,” said Billy.
They closed the classroom door and pulled off the translucency tree.
“Is this it?” said Ed, walking around the outside of the wardrobe. “But how does it work?”
“I don’t know,” said Billy. “Are you ready?” He pulled open the doors of the wardrobe, and they were greeted by the same cool blast of air Billy had experienced the night before. With Billy leading the way, they walked between the fur coats and out onto the snow-covered street on the other side.
“Weird,” said Ed, looking around. “It’s the middle of the night, but it’s light here.”
“That’s what I thought,” said Billy. “We can’t still be at Frogsports, but I don’t know where we are.”
“We could go ask at that visitor centre,” said Ed, pointing at a nearby building.
“We don’t have time for that now,” said Billy. “I want to show you something,” and he led Ed to the coffee shop he’d eaten at the night before. After two helpings of waffles, they went back outside to explore the town until it got dark, when they decided to go back to school.
“Cool place,” said Ed, as they climbed out of the wardrobe and back into the castle. “Do you reckon it’s real or just an illusion?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think people like that exist in real life, do they?”
The snowstorm outside the castle had cleared a little the next day.
“Want to go out to the Frogsports pitch with some space hoppers?” asked Ed.
“No,” said Billy.
“We could go find out more about those kayaks from Barry?”
“You can go if you want.”
“I know what you’re thinking about, Billy, that wardrobe. You shouldn’t go back tonight.”
“I’ve got a bad feeling about it — you don’t even know where that place is. What if you end up trapped there?”
But Billy wasn’t interested in listening to Ed. He had only one thought on his mind that day, and it was to go back through that wardrobe as soon as night fell, because for some reason, even though he had nothing else to do all day, he still had to wait until night.
He found his way down to the correct classroom quicker that night, and didn’t meet anyone on the way.
He swung open the wardrobe doors, pulled the fur coats to one side, and there it was; the perfect town waiting for him. He stepped through and went over to sit on a bench overlooking the water. There was nothing to stop him staying here as long as he wanted, except an overly complicated immigration system and —
“It’s a nice view, isn’t it, Billy?”
He looked to his right. Professor Crumbleceiling was sat next to him wearing his usual purple dressing gown.
“I didn’t see you there, Professor,” said Billy.
“It’s strange how being dressed as a tree can make that happen.” Billy was relieved to see he was smiling.
“So,” said Crumbleceiling. “I see you have discovered the wonders of the Wardrobe to Iqaluit.”
“I didn’t know that’s what it was called, Sir.”
“But I expect by now you have worked out where it takes you?”
“It — well — we’re not inside Frogsports, are we?”
“No, we are not. But perhaps you should have taken your friend Ed’s advice to visit the local visitor centre.”
“How do you know? —”
“I don’t have to dress as a tree in order to go unnoticed,” said Crumbleceiling. “I can simply make myself invisible whenever I choose.”
“Sir, do you mean to say that you made yourself invisible to spy on two of your students during the night?”
“Yes, I suppose that is what I’m saying.”
“That’s really creepy.”
“You know, when I think about it, I suppose it really is,” said Crumbleceiling. “Anyway, let us not dwell on another, shall we say, disturbing fact of this world. Tell me, Billy, can you think what the purpose of the wardrobe is? Why it brings us here?”
Billy shook his head.
“Allow me to explain. Somebody wishing to see the world as it should be — I mean to say, the sort of world where Tony Blair never became Prime Minister and Simon Cowell never appeared on television — would step through the wardrobe and discover a place that met their vision.”
Billy thought. Then he said, “So it shows us a better place…”
“Yes and no,” said Crumbleceiling. “The wardrobe transports us to a place where things are better than even our wildest dreams. A place where people care about one another. In short, it takes us to a place where things are as they could be at home, were we so inclined to make it so. We are in the city of Iqaluit in Nunavut. However, it is very important to remember that the wardrobe does not transport us to a place of possibility, but rather false hope. People have wasted away wishing for the chance to move to such a place, often having to settle upon retiring somewhere like Adelaide instead.
“The wardrobe shall be moved by tomorrow, Billy, and I have to ask you to promise you will not go searching for it once more. It does not do to dwell on how much better things could be if people simply cared a little more about their fellow citizens — it all gets rather depressing after a time.”
“Sir — Professor Crumbleceiling? Can I ask you something?”
“You may,” said Crumbleceiling, smiling.
“What are you doing here?”
“I? I am here to pick up some legally sourced marijuana to help soothe the injuries I received from riding an office chair down a flight of stairs and coming off worse in a fight against Rudolph.
“I find that which can be found on this side of the wardrobe to be just a little safer than some local sources.”
It was only when he was back in bed that it struck Billy how little sense it made for politicians not to legalise cannabis for recreational use in this country. No one would be forced to smoke it, but for those who chose to, it would make it much safer if the supply was controlled and regulated. And then there was the good that could be done with all the tax revenues. It also wasn’t as though there weren’t plenty of studies showing it was much safer than alcohol of tobacco.