The silver spiral stairs turned slowly, and, as they took Septimus and his catch down through the Wizard Tower, he got some cheery waves from the Ordinary Wizards who lived on the floors below and were beginning to go about their business for the day.
There had been much excitement when Septimus had first arrived at the Wizard Tower. Not only was Marcia Overstrand returning in triumph after ridding the Wizard Tower, not to mention the entire Castle, of a Darke Necromancer, but she was also bringing with her an Apprentice. Marcia had spent ten years as ExtraOrdinary Wizard without taking on an Apprentice. After a while some of the Ordinary Wizards had been known to mutter that she was too fussy for her own good. "What did Madam Marcia expect to find, for goodness' sakethe seventh son of a seventh son? Ha!" But that was exactly what Madam Marcia Overstrand had found. She had found Septimus Heap, seventh son of Silas Heap, who was a poor and untalented Ordinary Wizard and himself the seventh son of Benjamin Heap, an equally poor, but considerably more talented, Shape-Shifter.
As the silver spiral stairs slowed to a smooth halt on the ground floor of the Wizard Tower, Septimus jumped off and made his way across the Great Hall, hopping from side to side to try to catch the fleeting colors that played across the soft sandlike floor. The floor had seen him coming and the words GOOD MORNING, APPRENTICE ran across the shifting patterns and flitted in front of him as he made his way over to the massive solid-silver doors that guarded the entrance to the Tower. Septimus murmured the password, and, noiselessly, the doors swung open before him, sending a brilliant shaft of sunlight into the Hall, which drowned out all the Magykal colors.
Septimus stepped out into the warm midsummer morning. Someone was waiting for him.
"Marcia's let you out early today," said Jenna Heap. She was sitting on the lowest of the huge marble steps that led up into the Wizard Tower, carelessly swinging her feet against the warm stone. She wore a simple red tunic edged with gold and tied with a gold sash, and a sturdy pair of sandals on her dusty feet. Her long dark hair was held in place by a slim gold circlet that she wore around her head like a crown. Her dark eyes had a teasing glint in them as she regarded her adoptive brother. He looked as scruffy as usual. His curly straw-colored hair was uncombed, and his green Apprentice robes were covered in dust from the Librarybut on his right index finger, his gold Dragon Ring shone as brightly as ever.
Jenna was pleased to see him.
"Hello, Jen." Septimus smiled, his brilliant green eyes blinking in the bright sunlight. He waved his jar of spiders at her.
Jenna leaped up from the step, her eyes fixed on the jar. "Just don't let those spiders out anywhere near me," she warned him.
Septimus jumped down the steps, shaking the jar at her as he went past. He went over to the Well on the edge of the courtyard, and very carefully, he tipped the spiders out of the jar. They all landed in the bucket. The hairy spider had another quick snack and started climbing back up the rope. The three remaining spiders watched the hairy one leave and decided to stay in the bucket.
"Sometimes, Jen," said Septimus as he joined Jenna by the steps,"I think those spiders just go straight back up to the Library again. I recognized one of them today."
"Don't be silly, Sep. How can you recognize a spider?"
"Well, I was pretty sure it recognized me," said Septimus. "I think that's why it bit me."
"It bit you? That's horrible. Where?"
"In the Library."
"No, where did it bite you?"
"Oh. Look, here." Septimus waved his thumb at Jenna.
"Can't see anything," she said dismissively.
"That's because Marcia put some venom on it."
"Oh, that's just something we Wizards do," said Septimus airily.
"Ohyou Wizards," scoffed Jenna, getting up and pulling at Septimus's green tunic. "You Wizards are all crazy. And, speaking of crazy, how is Marcia?"
Septimus kicked at a pebble and sent it skittering over to Jenna. "She's not crazy, Jen," he said loyally, "but that Shadow follows her everywhere. And it's getting worse, because I'm beginning to see it now."
"Eurgh, creepy." Jenna kicked the pebble back to Septimus, and the pair played pebble football across the courtyard and into the cool shade of a tall silver archway lined with deep-blue lapis lazuli. This was the Great Arch that led out of the Wizard Tower courtyard and into the broad avenue known as Wizard Way, which ran straight to the Palace.
Septimus shook off all thoughts of Shadows and ran into the Great Arch ahead of Jenna. Then he spun around and said, "Anyway, Marcia says I can have the day off today." day?" asked Jenna, amazed.
"A whole day. Till midnight. So I can come back with you and see Mum."
"And me. You're going to have to see me all day too; I haven't seen you for ages. And I'm going off to Aunt Zelda's tomorrow to see the Dragon Boat. It's MidSummer Day in a few days' time, in case you'd forgotten."
"Of course I haven't forgotten. Marcia keeps going on about how important it is. Here, I've got a present for you." Septimus fished the chocolate Charm out of his tunic pocket and gave it to Jenna.
"Oh, Sep, that's lovely. Er, what is it exactly?"
"It's a Taste Charm. It'll turn anything you want into chocolate. I thought it might be useful over at Aunt Zelda's."
"HeyI could turn all that cabbage and pilchard stew into chocolate."
"Cabbage and pilchard stew..." said Septimus wistfully. "You know, I really miss Aunt Zelda's cooking."
"No one else does." Jenna laughed.
"I know," said Septimus. "That's why I thought you'd like the Charm. Wish I could come and see Aunt Zelda too."
"Well you can'tbecause I'm the Queen."
"Since when, Jen?"
"Well, I will be. And you're just a lowly Apprentice." Jenna stuck her tongue out at Septimus, who chased her out of the Great Arch and into the heat of Wizard Way.
As they came out from the shadows of the Arch, Jenna and Septimus Heap saw Wizard Way spread out before them, bright and empty in the early morning sun. The huge white limestone slabs formed a broad avenue all the way to the Palace Gate, which glinted gold in the distance. Tall silver torch posts lined Wizard Way, holding the torches that were used to light the Way at night. That morning each one carried a blackened torch, which had burned out the previous night, and would be replaced and lit that evening by Maizie Smalls, the TorchLighter. Septimus loved the sight of the torches being lit; from his room at the top of the Wizard Tower he could see right down Wizard Way, and Marcia often found him gazing dreamily out of his window at lighting-up time when he should have been doing his incantation preparation.
Jenna and Septimus moved out of the sun's glare and into the cooler shadows of the squat buildings that were set back and lined the Way. The buildings were among the oldest of the Castle and were built of a pale weatherworn stone, pitted and marked by thousands of years of rain, hail, frost and the occasional battle. They were home to the numerous manuscript makers and printing houses that produced all the books, pamphlets, tracts and treatises that were used by the Castle inhabitants.
Beetle, who was General Dogsbody and Inspection Clerk at Number Thirteen, was lounging outside sunning himself and he gave Septimus a friendly nod. Number Thirteen stood out from all the other shops. Not only was it the only one to have all its windows stacked so high with papers that it was impossible to see inside, but it had also recently been painted purple, much to the distaste of the Wizard Way Conservation Society. Number Thirteen housed the Magykal Manuscriptorium and Spell Checkers Incorporated, which Marcia and most of the Wizards used regularly.
As they neared the end of Wizard Way, Jenna and Septimus heard the clatter of horse's hooves echoing on the empty road behind them. They turned around to see in the distance a dark, dusty figure on a huge black horse gallop up to the Manuscriptorium. The figure dismounted in a hurry, quickly tied his horse up and disappeared inside, closely followed by Beetle, who looked surprised to have a customer so early in the morning.
"I wonder who that is," said Septimus. "I haven't seen him around here before, have you?"
"I'm not sure," said Jenna, thinking. "He looks sort of familiar, but I don't know why."
Septimus did not reply. His spider bite had suddenly sent a stabbing pain up his arm, and he shivered as he remembered the Shadow he had seen that morning.