The day after she took - and passed and soared through - the Fillory entrance exam, Julia went through her closet and put everything pink into bags and boxes.
Before the test, before she'd walked down the steps into the subway and stepped out into a grand and gorgeous room of light and treasure, she would wear pink, magenta, red and orange. Yellow, too, and blues and purples in every shade from light to dark. Pink and glitter and color and shine.
Once she made it through every challenge on the papers and in the room, but nonetheless been escorted out the door and into a chocolate shop to the side of the Sony building in Midtown where an older man with blue streaks in his hair gave her a box of chocolates filled with liquified caramel, she stopped wearing round collars and pink scarves. Maybe later, she thought. Maybe she would, after she changed the world with nothing but her own determination and quick mind. And, of course, a stack of purloined books and notebooks and a somewhat stolen wand.
On days when she sat by the fountain in Central Park while rain streamed all around her, it never touched her hair or skin or clothing or the books she held on her lap to keep them safe - she saw the colors in the rainbows where the sun's light broke through the tiny droplet-prisms. They were pale and tepid, not like the colors that burst from her hands when she memorized and practiced the secrets from the fading onionskin book pages that never ruffled in the breeze.
It had taken years to get to the point where she could hold a book that had any magical knowledge that she could learn, could use. It was New York, of course, so at the Strand, or even from the vendors who sold used books on blankets along Madison Avenue, she managed to find books involving magic, discussing magic, hinting at magic, and she spent nearly a year absorbing their language and tales. Magical histories taught her the context of the world that paralleled hers, a world that she had touched for a few hours on a blustery day, mystery novels set at a magical school showed her a life she so desperately wanted to have, romance novels focused on the love affairs of the denizens of a midtown office building gave her glimpses of what-might-be, but she was still on square one when it came to learning spells or charms or potions.
It was a laugh, how naive she'd been at eighteen when she shouted to the stars that if nobody would answer her questions and pleas and demands and shouts she would get her own education and claim her own magic. Books would have the answers to everything she needed to know. She was sure of it; it had been whispered to her by the customer in the grey coat with the pocket watch who'd been in the chocolate shop while she bit into her first chocolate caramel, and she'd had time to think about each of her words on the three buses and two subways she took to get to the library where James was waiting for her with a tale of dead interviewers, envelopes with his and Quentin's names on them, and his utter failure to reach Quentin by phone for the last three hours. She'd sat silently at the table beside him, anger and frustration and hope growing within her, emotions that were twisted and magnified when they got texts from Quentin the next day, spiraling a story about sudden scholarships and boarding schools and for a long while she felt induced to accept that as fact.
It was a weird sort of hope, though - that if Quentin could end the test with a sudden scholarship, then someday wouldn't Julia's chance come, too, again? Why would the watch-woman have told her about real magic if there was no hope of her someday finding it for herself?
She didn't know then that actual magic books would be impossible to buy at any price. In April, as a prize to herself for getting into Columbia, she found on eBay (at a ridiculous "Buy It Now" price) a uniform that purported to be from a magical college, and once it arrived the following week, she wore it every Thursday, through the summer and into the following year. Her classmates probably thought it was just another weird quirk of Julia-ness, like the Fillory novels she'd downloaded from Bittorrent and read over and over again on her Palm.
They were real magic, she knew that - but the books didn't give her the specific words or concepts she knew she needed to make magic appear. Her hunts for the real stuff continued, but the tomes she ordered, from eBay or Alibris or from tiny little websites that still had Yahoo shopping cards and blinky text, never arrived. By her second semester at college, she skipped classes to sit in corridors on the phone with the credit card companies and PayPal and FedEx tracking packages and getting credits for money spent on things that never arrived. She once spent days sitting on her front step in an August haze waiting for a delivery that had been promised by phone and fax and email and even a mailed letter sent certified - and when it came, the box contained nothing but surprisingly heavy air. She suspected an invisibility spell or even an Invisibility Cloak but she couldn't feel anything in the box either, and nothing made a sound from falling when she shredded the cardboard with her fingers and teeth.
Before she swept the pieces into the street, a stabbing pain coursed across her eyes and all of a sudden, she could read a number formed by the trash. Ten digits - 433-439-1824 - and it couldn't be anything but a phone number. She snapped a photo of it with her camphone, just in case....
Dammit and crap and WTF, though, it was out of service when she dialed it; all she heard were three tell-tale beeps before she stabbed at the off button and glared at the phone and the numbers on the ground. Her fingers weren't that clumsy, it wasn't that cold, it was just a phone number, no different from the dozens she dialed every week. Could this be any harder than her weekly phone calls to her mother and sister where they lamented the state of her hair and her shoes, and her ridiculous insistence on wearing that outfit. Even in the August heat, it was Thursday, so she was in what she called her Magic Clothing and the thought skittered through her head that perhaps that's why she could see the phone number in the rubbish.
Julia took a deep breath and redialed each number slowly, with deliberate precision, then hit the little green button.
Three tones, again! She hit the keypad in frustration, but instead of disconnecting, she somehow hit the speaker button and heard something unexpected.
This number has been changed. To reach the person at this number, please go to 808 Maiden Lane, Manhattan.
Three subways and two buses later, Julia stood in front of a townhouse squeezed between high rises and soup restaurants and pulled the old-fashioned bell chimes beside the door. They sent sparks into the air, all the colors of the rainbow soaring down the stoop and up the bricks, shimmering from red into pink. After a few moments, a woman no taller than herself opened the door and said, "Yes? Can I help you?"
Julia shifted where she stood. She'd spent almost two hours thinking about what she was going to say when she got there, but now that the moment was hers, her carefully planned and rehearsed words skittered away. She shifted and thought about turning and running away, but she couldn't do it. She was Pandora and this doorway - this box - was already opened, and it was time to grab onto Hope. "Um," she said, then nervously moved her satchel from one shoulder to the other.
"Oh!" the woman gasped. "You must be one of Amanda's friends from school!" She reached out her hand to grab Julia's hand, then shook it almost nervously before pulling Julia into a hug that was considerably bigger than she was.
"Yes!" Julia said, her definitiveness muffled by the woman's shoulders. "Yes, I am, and..."
Before she could say another word, the woman released her, then stepped back and pulled Julia into the foyer and sniffled. She took a deep breath, and it was like floodgates opened when she spoke again.
"Were you there, when she died? They wouldn't tell us exactly what happened, a terrible accident, but you already knew that, didn't you? They said someone from the school would be coming to pick up her books and schoolthings she'd left here over the last school holidays; that's you, isn't it?"
Julia opened her eyes wide and patted the woman on her arm in a way that she hoped demonstrated kindness, sincerity and sympathy. "I'm so sorry about Amanda. She was a wonderful girl, a good friend to everyone. She meant the world to me - my guide at school, so to speak. And yes, I need to collect her things. Are they in her room?"