Boy 412 gazed at the wings. On one beautiful silver wing were the words FLY FREE, and on the other wing were the words WITH ME.

Fly Free With Me, Boy 412 said to himself, loving how the words sounded inside his head. And then…

He couldn’t help it.

He didn’t really know he was doing it.

He just said the words to himself, his flying dream came into his head and…

“I knew you would do it!” exclaimed Marcia excitedly. “I just knew it!”

Boy 412 wondered what she meant. Until he realized that he seemed to be the same height as Marcia. Or even taller—in fact, he was floating above her. Boy 412 looked down in surprise, expecting Marcia to tell him off like she had done the evening before, to tell him to stop fooling around and come back down this minute, but to his relief she had a huge smile on her face and her green eyes flashed with excitement.

“It’s amazing!” Marcia shielded her eyes against the morning sun as she squinted up to look at Boy 412 floating over the Boggart patch. “This is advanced Magyk. This is stuff you don’t do for years. I just don’t believe it.”

Which was probably the wrong thing to say, because Boy 412 didn’t believe it either. Not really.

There was a huge splash as he landed in the middle of the Boggart patch.

“Oi! Can’t a poor Boggart have no peace?” An indignant pair of black-button eyes blinked reproachfully out of the mud.

“Aaah…” gasped Boy 412, struggling to the surface and grabbing hold of the Boggart.

“I bin awake all yesterday,” the Boggart complained as he pulled the spluttering boy toward the edge of the mud patch. “Went all the way ter the river, sun in me eyes, rat yammering in me ear”—the Boggart pushed Boy 412 up onto the bank beside the mud patch—“an all I hope fer is a bit a sleep the next day. Don’t want no visitors. Just want ter sleep. Got it? You all right, lad?”

Boy 412 nodded, still spluttering.

Marcia had knelt down and was wiping Boy 412’s face with a rather fine purple silk handkerchief. The short-sighted Boggart looked taken aback.

“Oh, mornin’, Yer Majesty,” said the Boggart respectfully. “Didunt see you there.”

“Good Morning, Boggart. I’m so sorry we disturbed you. Thank you very much for your help. We’ll be off now and leave you in peace.”

“Think nothin’ of it. Bin a pleasure.”

With that the Boggart sank to the bottom of the mud patch, leaving nothing more than a few bubbles on the surface.

Marcia and Boy 412 slowly made their way back to the cottage. Marcia decided to ignore the fact that Boy 412 was covered from head to toe in mud. There was something she wanted to ask him. She had made up her mind, and she didn’t want to wait.

“I wonder,” she said, “if you would consider being my Apprentice?”

Boy 412 stopped in his tracks and stared at Marcia, the whites of his eyes shining out from his mud-covered face. What had she said?

“You would be my first one. I have never found anyone suitable before.”

Boy 412 just stared at Marcia in disbelief.

“What I mean is,” said Marcia, trying to explain, “that I have never found anyone with any Magykal spark before now, but you have it. I don’t know why you have it or how you got it, but you do. And with your power and mine together I think we can dispel the Darke, the Other side. Maybe forever. What do you say? Will you be my Apprentice?”

Boy 412 was shocked. How could he possibly help Marcia, the ExtraOrdinary Wizard? She had it all wrong. He was a fraud—it was the dragon ring that was Magykal, not him. As much as he longed to say yes, he couldn’t.

Boy 412 shook his head.

“No?” Marcia sounded shocked. “Do you mean no?”

Boy 412 nodded slowly.

“No…” Marcia was, for once, lost for words. It had never occurred to her that Boy 412 would turn her down. No one ever turned down the chance to be Apprenticed to the ExtraOrdinary Wizard. Apart from that idiot Silas, of course.

“You do realize what you are saying?” she asked.

Boy 412 did not respond. He felt wretched. He had managed to do something wrong again.

“I am asking you to think about it,” said Marcia in a more gentle voice. She had noticed how scared Boy 412 was looking. “It is an important decision for us both—and for the Castle. I hope you will change your mind.”

Boy 412 didn’t see how he could change his mind. He held the Charm out for Marcia to take back. It shone clean and bright in the middle of Boy 412’s muddy paw.

This time it was Marcia who shook her head.

“It is a token of my offer to you, and my offer is still there. Alther gave it to me when he asked me to be his Apprentice. Of course I said yes straight away, but I can see that it’s different for you. You need time to think about it. I’d like you to keep the Charm while you think things over.”

Marcia decided to change the subject. “Now,” she said briskly, “how good are you at catching bugs?”

Boy 412 was very good at catching bugs. He had had numerous pet bugs over the years. Stag, who was a stag beetle, Milly, a millipede, and Ernie, who was a large earwig, had been his particular favorites, but he had also kept a large black house spider with hairy legs, who went by the name of Seven-Leg Joe. Seven-Leg Joe lived in the hole in the wall above his bed. That was until Boy 412 suspected Joe of eating Ernie, and probably Ernie’s entire family too. After that Joe found himself living under the bed of the Chief Cadet, who was terrified of spiders.

Marcia was very pleased at their total bug haul. Fifty-seven assorted bugs would do nicely and was about as many bugs as Boy 412 could carry.

“We’ll get the Preserve Pots out when we get back and have these in them in no time,” said Marcia.

Boy 412 gulped. So that’s what they were for: bug jam.

As he followed Marcia back to the cottage, Boy 412 hoped that the tickly feeling going up his arm was not anything with too many legs.

24

SHIELD BUGS

A truly horrible smell of boiled rat and rotten fish was wafting out of the cottage as Jenna and Nicko paddled the Muriel Two back along the Mott after a long day on the marsh and no sign at all of the Message Rat.

“You don’t think that rat got here before us and Aunt Zelda’s boiling it up for supper, do you?” Nicko laughed as they tied up the canoe and wondered whether it was wise to venture indoors.

“Oh, don’t, Nicko. I liked the Message Rat. I hope Dad sends him back soon.”

Keeping their hands clamped firmly over their noses, Jenna and Nicko walked up the path to the cottage. With some trepidation, Jenna pushed open the door.

“Eurgh!”

The smell was even worse inside. Added to the powerful aromas of boiled rat and rotten fish was a definite whiff of old cat poo.

“Come in, dears. We’re just cooking.” Aunt Zelda’s voice came from the kitchen, where, Jenna now realized, the awful smell was coming from.

If this was supper, thought Nicko, he’d rather eat his socks.

“You’re just in time,” said Aunt Zelda cheerily.

“Oh, great,” said Nicko, wondering if Aunt Zelda had any sense of smell at all or whether countless years of boiling cabbage had killed it off.

Jenna and Nicko reluctantly approached the kitchen, wondering what kind of supper could possibly smell so bad.

To their surprise and relief, it wasn’t supper. And it wasn’t even Aunt Zelda doing the cooking. It was Boy 412.

Boy 412 looked very odd. He was wearing an ill-fitting multicolored knitted suit, consisting of a baggy patchwork sweater and some very droopy knitted shorts. But his red beanie hat was still crammed firmly onto his head and was steaming gently dry in the heat of the kitchen, while the rest of his clothes dried by the fire.

Aunt Zelda had at last won the battle of the bath, due only to the fact that Boy 412 was so uncomfortable when he had arrived back covered with sticky black mud from the Boggart patch that he was actually quite glad to disappear into the bath hut and soak it off. But he wouldn’t let his red hat go. Aunt Zelda had lost that one. Still, she was pleased to get his clothes clean at last and thought he looked very sweet in Silas’s old knitted suit, which he had worn as a boy. Boy 412 thought he looked very stupid and avoided looking at Jenna as she came in.

He concentrated hard on stirring the reeking glop, still not completely convinced that Aunt Zelda was not making bug jam, especially as she was sitting at the kitchen table with a pile of empty jam jars in front of her. She was busy unscrewing the lids and passing the jars to Marcia, who sat across the table taking out Charms from a very thick spell book titled:

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