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Pure Dead Wicked
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Pure Dead Wicked

Written by Debi GlioriAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Debi Gliori

· Knopf Books for Young Readers
· eBook · August 13, 2002 · $5.99 · 978-0-375-89026-0 (0-375-89026-2)

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Elementary Magic

Much later, Titus was to remark that this must have been the only time in history when a dirty diaper could be said to have saved several lives.

On that memorable morning, unaware of the terrible danger that hung over their heads, the Strega-Borgia family had been attempting to squash themselves into the interior of their long-suffering family car. Their shopping trip to the nearby village of Auchenlochtermuchty was long overdue, and consequently, all members of the family of two adults and three children were vociferous in their demands that they should not be left behind at home. Titus needed a computer magazine, Pandora had to buy something to eradicate a minuscule crop of pimples that had erupted on her chin, their baby sister, Damp, required more diapers, and their parents, Signor and Signora Strega-Borgia, had to go to the bank and do boring adult stuff.

As was usual with any planned expedition between StregaSchloss and Auchenlochtermuchty, the process of leaving the house was taking longer than anticipated. Boots and coats had to be retrieved from the cloakroom, Damp had to be supplied with a clean diaper and given a ration of crackers to stave off starvation, and Titus needed to render himself deaf to everything going on around him by the simple expedient of clamping a pair of headphones round his head and pressing the play button on his Walkman.

Titus threw himself into the car seat next to Damp, turned up the volume, and settled back with a smile. From outside the car, where she stood with her parents as they went through the ritual of finding checkbooks and car keys, Pandora noted with some satisfaction that Titus's expression was changing rapidly to one of disgust.

"PHWOARRR!" he bawled, competing with the deafening sounds inside his headphones. "DAMP! THAT'S DISGUSTING!"

He struggled with his seat belt, desperate to put as much distance as possible between himself and Damp's odious diaper. Signor Strega-Borgia groaned, unbuckling his baby daughter and plucking her out of her car seat. Just at the precise moment that both Damp and Titus exited the car, the unthinkable happened.

A trio of vast and ancient roof slates that had clung to the topmost turret of StregaSchloss for six hundred years, held in place by little more than a clump of moss, broke free of their moorings and began their downward descent. Gathering momentum by the second, they barreled down the steep incline of the roof.

It all happened so quickly that initially the family were convinced that, for reasons unknown, an invisible bomber had dropped its payload directly onto their car. One minute they were standing around the unfortunate vehicle, happily slandering Damp's diaper, the next they were lying groaning on the rose-quartz drive, wondering what had hit them.

"What on earth?" Signor Strega-Borgia picked himself and Damp off the ground and ran to Signora Strega-Borgia to check that she was unharmed.

"Titus? Pan? Are you all right? Whatever happened?" Signora Strega-Borgia rubbed dirt off her clothes and stared at the car in disbelief.

"WHAT A WRECK!" yelled Titus, still muffled in his headphones. "LOOK AT IT! IT'S TOTALLY TRASH--OWW!"

"There," said Pandora with satisfaction. "That should help."

"Did you have to do that?" moaned Titus, holding his ears and glaring at his sister. His headphones dangled from Pandora's hands.

Signor Strega-Borgia was walking slowly round the wreckage of his car, surveying it from various angles, simultaneously horrified at the damage and amazed at the family's lucky escape. Embedded in the roof of the car, at a forty-five-degree angle to the battered paintwork, were three huge slabs of slate.

"We could all have been killed," said Signor Strega-Borgia reproachfully. He squinted up at the turreted roof of StregaSchloss, attempting to locate the origin of this attempt on his life. Beside him, Signora Strega-Borgia sighed. This was proving to be the most expensive morning's shopping thus far. To their list of items to be purchased in Auchenlochtermuchty, they now had to add one roof and one family car.

"We'll have to get it fixed," decided Signor Strega-Borgia. "The whole roof looks like it's in danger of raining down on top of our heads."

The family automatically took several hasty steps backward, away from the danger zone. Titus tripped over a low stone wall and fell backward into a herbaceous border with a dismayed howl. Ignoring her son completely, Signora Strega-Borgia addressed her husband. "But that will cost a fortune, Luciano. Look, before we call in the experts, why don't you let me see if I can mend it. I'm sure there was something I learnt at college that would do the trick."

"Darling, I hardly think that your diploma in Primary Magic is a sufficient qualif--" He halted abruptly, alerted by the glacial expression crossing his wife's face.

Throwing her black pashmina dramatically across her shoulders, Signora Strega-Borgia stalked away from her husband across the rose quartz until she stood at the head of the steps leading down to the old croquet lawn. "I know you think I'm a half-baked witch, incapable, incompetent"--she choked back a sob--"inconsequential."

The front door opened and Mrs. Flora McLachlan, nanny to Titus, Pandora, and Damp, emerged into the December chill, shivering as she surveyed the family and their ex-car. "Now, dear," she admonished, gazing fondly at Signora Strega-Borgia, "there's no need to be like that. We all know that you're a very fine witch, indeed. . . ."

"Do we?" muttered Pandora.

"I don't think so," whispered Titus, crawling out of the herbaceous border and coming to stand next to his sister. Beside them, Signor Strega-Borgia sighed. If only Baci wasn't so prickly. He hadn't meant to insult her. Not really. Just perhaps to remind her that six months into a seven-year degree course in Advanced Magic might mean that her skills weren't exactly up to speed--yet.

From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpted from Pure Dead Wicked by Debi Gliori Copyright © 2002 by Debi Gliori. Excerpted by permission of Knopf Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.