Alvin Winter's father had been talking about getting a new house in some quiet place for at least ten years, since Alvin was seven (he didn't remember so well before that), so when one day he announced that the new house was indeed bought, both Alvin and Mrs. Winter were almost as surprised as if he had bought an elephant. But since neither of them had thought of any objection in the previous ten years, they piled their most indispensable possessions into the battered family car (the house was already furnished, Mr. George Winter assured his wife and son), all three squeezed into it, and left the city behind. Alvin didn't mind moving; he was leaving behind no close friends, wasn't exactly attached to his school and didn't really care about the prosaic flat that used to be his home. He was even looking forward to seeing some of the countryside; he liked walking, and the dirty grey streets and vulgar neons of the city made for very uninspiring walks. One could argue that for an almost grown-up man Alvin had entirely too much imagination. His best friends were made up. He spent more time reading than sleeping. But if one asked him (not that anyone did), he would have said that if there was nothing interesting and beautiful in real life, then imagination was the best asset a person could have. The new town was little and old, like something out of a picture book; the new house, however, was huge and old, also like something out of a picture book. The kitchen could probably contain their entire previous flat. "We cannot afford that house," Mrs. Winter said as soon as they got out; Mr. Winter calmly pointed out that they already did, and it was hard to argue with that. They got it really quite cheaply, he expounded; nobody else wanted it because somebody disappeared there, or somebody killed someone, or somesuch, he really hadn't paid any attention when the real estate agent told him. Superstitious rubbish, but it's all for the better, since they got it cheaply. (Alvin, of course, immediately decided he wanted to know, and he would ask around later.) The house had many windows, with such odd placement that it was obvious even from the outside that "floor" had been an alien concept to the architect. Most rooms were at least a few steps up or down from each other, and it was often hard to decide which ones were meant to be beside each other. It also had several balconies, a huge cellar full of cobwebs and irregularly placed arches, and a tiny tower on one side. It was anything but prosaic, and Alvin fell in love with it at first sight. He spent the entire day after their arrival exploring it, and was quite certain that he could spend any number of days with the same and not get tired of it. Every corner had something to discover. It was night by the time he found the attic. Found, because the staircase that led up there was located in what seemed from the outside a built-in wardrobe. He felt the thrill of something forbidden as he entered, as if it was hidden on purpose; he had to remind himself that he lived here now. The staircase was narrow and dark and so full of spiderwebs that his hair (that was, according to his mother, in urgent need of a haircut) went from blonde to grey by the time he reached the top. The upper door had gone unopened for so long that it stuck shut with cobwebs and he had to tear it open. So he did, and stepped out into the attic. In what was almost unprecedented in this house, there was not a single window up here. Without his torch he wouldn't even have seen his own hand. He shone the light around on the crates that filled the room: they were wooden crates, not cardboard boxes, and he could see large, heavy padlocks on some. He resolved to open them later. There was only one thing not in a box, something that was too large to fit in even the largest of them. That something was covered with a black velvet drape and many years' dust. It stood far taller than Alvin, so tall in fact that it had to be stood in the middle of the attic where there was space for it. Alvin set down his lamp on a crate to shine in the right direction, took hold of the edge of the cover carefully on both sides and eased it off. And he found himself looking into the largest, most beautiful mirror he had ever seen.