A silence fell. The reflection of the moon began to grow bigger until a huge white, almost perfect circle filled the duck pond. At first, vague shadows began to appear in the circle. Slowly they became more defined until they saw…their own reflections.

“See,” said the Apprentice. “You asked to see me, and there I am. I told you.”

“That doesn’t mean anything,” said Nicko indignantly. “It’s just our reflections.”

“Maybe. Maybe not,” said Aunt Zelda thoughtfully.

“Can we see what happened to Septimus when he was born?” asked Jenna. “Then we’d know if he was still alive, wouldn’t we?”

“Yes, we would. I’ll ask. But it’s much more difficult to see things from the past.” Aunt Zelda took a deep breath and said, “Sister Moon, Sister Moon, show us, if you will, the first day of the life of Septimus Heap.”

The Apprentice snuffled and coughed.

“Quiet, please,” said Aunt Zelda.

Slowly their reflections disappeared from the surface of the water and were replaced by an exquisitely detailed scene, sharp and brilliant against the midnight darkness.

The scene was somewhere that Jenna and Nicko knew well: their home back in the Castle. Like a tableau laid before them, the figures in the room were immobile, frozen in time. Sarah lay in a makeshift bed, holding a newborn baby, with Silas beside her. Jenna caught her breath. She had not realized how much she missed home until now. She glanced at Nicko, who had a look of concentration on his face that Jenna recognized as Nicko not looking upset.

Suddenly everyone gasped. The figures had begun to move. Silently and smoothly, like a moving photograph, they began to play out a scene before the entranced audience—entranced, except for one.

“My Master’s Camera Obscura is a hundred times better than this old duck pond,” the Apprentice said contemptuously.

“Shut up,” hissed Nicko angrily.

The Apprentice sighed loudly and fidgeted about. It was all a load of rubbish, he thought. It’s nothing to do with me.

The Apprentice was wrong. The events he was watching had changed his life.

The scene unfolded before them:

The Heaps’ room looks subtly different. Everything is newer and cleaner. Sarah Heap is much younger too; her face is fuller and there is no sadness lingering in her eyes. In fact, she looks completely happy, holding her newborn baby, Septimus. Silas is also younger; his hair is less straggly and his face less etched with worry. There are six little boys playing together quietly.

Jenna smiled wistfully, realizing that the smallest one with the mop of unruly hair must be Nicko. He looks so cute, she thought, jumping up and down, excited and wanting to see the baby.

Silas picks Nicko up and holds him up to see his new brother. Nicko reaches out a small, pudgy hand and gently strokes the baby’s cheek. Silas says something to him and then puts him down to toddle off and play with his older brothers.

Now Silas is kissing Sarah and the baby good-bye. He stops and says something to Simon, the eldest, and then he is gone.

The picture fades away, the hours are passing.

Now the Heaps’ room is lit by candlelight. Sarah is nursing the baby, and Simon is quietly reading a story to his younger brothers. A large figure in dark blue robes, the Matron Midwife, bustles into view. She takes the baby from Sarah and lays him in the wooden box that serves as his cot. With her back to Sarah she slips a small vial of black liquid from her pocket and dips her finger into it. Then, glancing around her guiltily, the Midwife wipes her blackened finger along the baby’s lips. At once, Septimus goes limp.

The Matron Midwife turns to Sarah, holding out the floppy baby to her. Sarah is distraught. She puts her mouth over her baby’s to try to breathe life into him, but Septimus stays as limp as a rag. Soon Sarah too feels the effects of the drug. In a daze she collapses back against her pillows.

Watched by six horrified little boys, the Matron Midwife takes a huge roll of bandages out of her pocket and begins to wrap Septimus, starting with his feet and expertly working upward, until she reaches his head, where she stops for a moment and checks the baby’s breathing. Satisfied, she continues with the bandaging, leaving his nose peeking out, until he looks like a tiny Egyptian mummy.

Suddenly the Matron Midwife makes for the door, taking Septimus with her. Sarah wills herself to wake from her drugged sleep just in time to see the Midwife throw open the door and bump into a shocked Silas, who has his cloak tightly wrapped around him. The Midwife pushes him aside and runs off down the corridor.

The corridors of the Ramblings are lit with brightly burning torches, which cast flickering shadows across the dark figure of the Matron Midwife as she runs, holding Septimus close. After a while she emerges into the snowy night and slows her pace, looking about anxiously. Hunched over the baby, she hurries along the deserted narrow streets until she reaches a wide-open space.

Boy 412 gasped. It was the dreaded Young Army Parade Ground.

The large dark figure moves over the snowy expanse of the parade ground, scuttling like a black beetle across a tablecloth. The guard at the barracks door salutes the Midwife and lets her in.

Inside the dismal barracks the Matron Midwife slows her pace. She walks carefully down a steep flight of narrow steps, which lead to a dank basement room full of empty cots lined up in ranks. It is what will soon become the Young Army nursery where all the orphaned and unwanted boy children from the Castle will be raised. (The girls will go to the Domestic Service Training Hall.) Already there are four unfortunate occupants. Three are triplet sons of a Guard who dared to make a joke about the Supreme Custodian’s beard. The fourth is the Matron Midwife’s own baby boy, six months old and being babysat in the nursery while she is at work. The babysitter, an old woman with a persistent cough, is slumped in her chair, dozing fitfully between coughing bouts. The Matron Midwife quickly places Septimus in an empty cot and unwinds his bandages. Septimus yawns and unclenches his tiny fists.

He is alive.

Jenna, Nicko, Boy 412 and Aunt Zelda stared at the scene before them in the pond, realizing that what the Apprentice had said now seemed to be all too true. Boy 412 had a nasty feeling in the pit of his stomach. He hated seeing the Young Army barracks again.

In the semidarkness of the Young Army nursery the Matron Midwife sits down wearily. She keeps glancing anxiously at the door as if waiting for someone to come in. No one appears.

A minute or two later she heaves herself up from her chair and goes over to the cot where her own baby is crying and picks the child up. At that moment the door is flung open, and the Matron Midwife wheels around, white-faced, frightened.

A tall woman in black stands in the doorway. Over her black, well-pressed robes she wears the starched white apron of a nurse, but around her waist is a bloodred belt showing the three black stars of DomDaniel.

She has come for Septimus Heap.

The Apprentice didn’t like what he saw at all. He didn’t want to see the lowlife family he was rescued from—they meant nothing to him. He didn’t want to see what had happened to him as a baby either. What did that matter to him now? And he was sick of standing out in the cold with the enemy.

Angrily, the Apprentice kicked a duck sitting beside his feet, and booted the bird straight into the water. Bert landed with a splash in the middle of the pond, and the picture shattered into a thousand dancing fragments of light.

The spell was broken.

The Apprentice ran for it. Down to the Mott, along the path, racing as fast as he could, heading for the thin black canoe. He didn’t get far. Bert, who had not taken kindly to being kicked into the pond, was after him. The Apprentice heard the flapping of the duck’s powerful wings only a moment before he felt the peck of her beak on the back of his neck and the tug of his robes almost choking him. The duck took hold of his hood and pulled him toward Nicko.

“Oh, dear,” said Aunt Zelda, sounding worried.

“I wouldn’t bother about him,” said Nicko angrily as he caught up with the Apprentice and got hold of him.

“I wasn’t worried about him,” said Aunt Zelda. “I was just hoping that Bert didn’t strain her beak.”

38

DEFROSTING

The Apprentice sat huddled in the corner by the fire, with Bert still hanging on to one of his dangling damp sleeves. Jenna had locked all the doors and Nicko had locked the windows, leaving Boy 412 to keep watch over the Apprentice while they went to see how the Boggart was.

Source: www.StudyNovels.com