Shield Bug Preserves

500 Charms

Each Guaranteed Identical and 100% Effective

Ideal for the Safety-Conscious Wizard of Today

“Come and sit down,” said Aunt Zelda, clearing a space at the table for them. “We’re making up Preserve Pots. Marcia’s doing the Charms, and you can do the bugs if you like.”

Jenna and Nicko sat down at the table, taking care to breathe only through their mouths. The smell was coming from the pan of bright green gloop that Boy 412 was slowly stirring with great concentration and care.

“Here you are. Here’re the bugs.” Aunt Zelda pushed a large bowl over to Jenna and Nicko. Jenna peeked in. The bowl was crawling with bugs of all possible shapes and sizes.

“Yuk.” Jenna shuddered; she didn’t like creepy-crawlies at all. Nicko wasn’t exactly pleased either. Ever since Edd and Erik had dropped a millipede down his neck when he was little he had avoided anything that scuttled or crawled.

But Aunt Zelda took no notice. “Nonsense, they’re just tiny creatures with lots of little legs. And they’re much more scared of you than you are of them. Now, first Marcia will pass around the Charm. We each hold the Charm so that the bug will Imprint us and recognize us when it’s released, then she’ll put the Charm in a jar. You two can add a bug and pass it to, er, Boy 412. He’ll top the jar with the Preserve, and I’ll screw the lids back on nice and tight. That way we’ll get this done in no time.”

And that’s what they did, except Jenna ended up screwing on the jar lids after the first bug ran up her arm and was only dislodged by her jumping up and down and screaming loudly.

It was a relief when they were on the last jar. Aunt Zelda unscrewed the lid and passed it to Marcia, who turned the page of the spell book and took out yet another small shield-shaped Charm. She passed the Charm around so that each of them held it for a moment, then dropped it into the jam jar and passed the jar to Nicko. Nicko wasn’t looking forward to this one. At the bottom of the bowl lurked the last bug, a large red millipede, just like the one that had gone down the back of his neck all those years ago. It was running frantically around and around the bowl looking for somewhere to hide. If it hadn’t made Nicko shudder quite so much, he might have felt sorry for it, but all Nicko could think was that he had to pick it up. Marcia was waiting with the Charm already in the jar. Boy 412 was poised with the last disgusting ladleful of Preserve gloop, and everyone was waiting.

Nicko took a deep breath, closed his eyes and plunged his hand into the bowl. The millipede saw him coming and ran to the opposite side. Nicko felt around the bowl, but the millipede was too quick for him. It scuttled this way and that, until it spotted the shelter of Nicko’s dangling sleeve and ran for it.

“You’ve got it!” said Marcia. “It’s on your sleeve. Quick, in the jar.” Not daring to look, Nicko frantically shook his sleeve over the jar and knocked it over. The Charm skittered across the table, fell onto the floor and Disappeared.

“Bother,” said Marcia. “These are a bit unstable.” She fished out another Charm and quickly dropped it into the jar, forgetting to Imprint it.

“Hurry up, do,” said Marcia irritably. “The Preserve is wearing off fast. Come on.”

She reached over and deftly flicked the millipede off Nicko’s sleeve, straight into the jar. It was quickly covered in sticky green Preserve by Boy 412. Jenna screwed the lid on tight, plonked the jar down on the table with a flourish, and everyone watched the last Preserve Pot transform.

The millipede lay in the Preserve Pot in a state of shock. It had been asleep under its favorite rock when Something Huge with a Red Head had picked up the rock and lifted it into Space. The worst was yet to come: the millipede, who was a solitary creature, had been thrown into a pile of noisy, dirty and downright rude bugs who jostled it and pushed it and even tried to bite its legs. The millipede didn’t like anything messing with its legs. It had a lot of legs, and each one needed to be kept in perfect working order; otherwise the millipede was in trouble. One dodgy leg and that was it—a bug could be forever running around in circles. So the millipede had headed for the bottom of the pile of low-life bugs and sulked, until it suddenly realized that all the bugs had gone and there was nowhere to hide. Every millipede knew that nowhere to hide meant the end of the world, and now the millipede knew that that was indeed true because sure enough, here it was, floating in a thick green goo and something terrible was happening to it. One by one it was losing its legs.

Not only that, but now its long, sleek body was getting shorter and fatter, and the millipede was now shaped like a stubby triangle with a little pointy head. On its back it had a stout pair of armored green wings, and its front was covered in heavy green scales. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the millipede now had only four legs. Four thick green legs. If you could call them legs. They certainly weren’t what it would call legs. There were two at the top and two at the bottom. The top two legs were shorter than the two bottom legs. They had five pointy things on the ends of each of them, which the millipede could move about, and one of the top legs was holding a small sharp metal stick. The bottom two legs had big flat green things on the ends of them, and each one of those had five more little pointy green things on it. It was a complete disaster. How could anything live with only four fat legs ending in pointy bits? What kind of creature was that?

That kind of creature, although the millipede didn’t know it, was a Shield Bug.

The ex-millipede, now a completed Shield Bug, lay suspended in the thick green Preserve. The bug moved slowly, as if testing out its new shape. It wore a surprised expression as it stared out at the world through its green haze, waiting for the moment when it would be released.

“The perfect Shield Bug,” said Marcia proudly, holding up the jam jar to the light and admiring the ex-millipede. “That’s the best one we’ve done. Well done, everyone.”

Soon, the fifty-seven jam jars were lined up along the windowsills, guarding the cottage. They were an eerie sight, their bright green occupants dreamily floating in the green goo, sleeping the time away until someone unscrewed the lids of their jars and released them. When Jenna asked Marcia what happened when you unscrewed the lid, Marcia told her that the Shield Bug would leap out and defend you until its last breath, or until you managed to catch it and put it back in the jar, which did not usually happen. A released Shield Bug had no intention of getting back into any jar ever again.

While Aunt Zelda and Marcia cleared up the pots and pans, Jenna sat by the door, listening to the clatter from the kitchen. As the twilight fell, she watched the fifty-seven little pools of green light reflected onto the pale stone floor, and saw in each one a small shadow slowly moving, waiting for its moment of freedom to arrive.

25

THE WENDRON WITCH

By midnight everyone in the cottage was asleep except Marcia. The east wind had blown in again, this time bringing snow with it. All along the windowsills the Preserve Pots clinked mournfully as the creatures in them shifted about, disturbed by the snowstorm blowing outside.

Marcia was sitting at Aunt Zelda’s desk with one small flickering candle so as not to wake the sleepers by the fireside. She was deep into her book, The Undoing of the Darkenesse.

Outside, floating just below the surface of the Mott to stay out of the snow, the Boggart kept a lonely midnight watch.

Far away in the Forest, Silas too kept a lonely midnight vigil in the middle of the snowfall, which was heavy enough to find its way down through the tangled bare branches of the trees. He was standing, shivering a little, under a tall and sturdy elm tree, waiting for the arrival of Morwenna Mould.

Morwenna Mould and Silas went back a long way. Silas had been a young Apprentice out on a night errand for Alther in the Forest when he had heard the bloodcurdling sounds of a baying pack of wolverines. He knew what that meant: they had found their prey for the night and were closing in for the kill. Silas pitied the poor animal. He knew only too well how terrifying it was to be surrounded by a circle of glinting yellow wolverine eyes. It had happened to him once, and he had never forgotten it but, being a Wizard, he was lucky. He had done a quick Freeze and hurried away.

However, that night on his errand, Silas heard a faint voice in his head. Help me…

Alther had taught him to take notice of such things, and so Silas followed where the voice led him and found himself on the outside of a wolverine circle. On the inside was a young witch. Frozen.


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