Septimus was suddenly wide awake. "Don't let it touch you, Jen. He's put a Tag on it. It mustn't touch yougot that?"

"I don't want it to." Jenna shuddered. "Horrible thing."

"If it doesn't touch you, it won't be able to go back to Simon and tell him where you are. So you're still safe. Okay?"

Jenna looked anything but okay. She was pale and trembling and had a green tinge about her.

"Ouch..." Wolf Boy muttered. "Oohah. Ouch!"

"You all right?" asked Nicko.

"Ah ... It's getting hot ... I can'tI can't hold it ... Aargh!" Wolf Boy dropped the Tracker Ball, the palms of his hands burned raw.

Sleuth was glowing so bright it hurt to look at itit was red-hot. At lightning speed it shot over to Jenna, jumped up and touched her arm. Jenna screamed with pain and shock. The ball hurled itself through the window, smashing the glass, and burned its way through the wooden bridge, landing far below in the witches' rotting rubbish heap with a loud hiss. It lay for a moment deep in the pile of tea leaves, rabbit bones and frog heads, and waited until it had cooled down.

Then, triumphantly, it shot out of the rubbish heap, shook off a thick coating of tea leaves and sped away, back to its Master, Simon Heap.

Chapter 24 The House of the Port Witch Coven

There was a stunned silence in the annex. It was broken a few moments later by Septimus, who gasped, "The bridgeit's on fire!"

Nicko turned his attention from Jenna, who was sitting with her hand clasped over the small circular burn that Sleuth had left on her arm, and followed Septimus's gaze. Flames were flickering from the charred hole that Sleuth had made in the bridge, and as they watched, the dry, old, wooden bridge suddenly erupted in a ball of fire and fell six floors down to the ground with a crash.

"Uh-oh..." said Septimus.

"Rats," muttered Nicko.

"It's nothing to do with rats," Stanley protested. "It's all because of that Mr. Heap, if you ask me. And I don't know what old Nursie's going to say about her bridge going up in flames either."

"Bother what old Nursie has to say about it," Nicko retorted. "That's the least of our worries. Have you forgotten where we are?"

"Stuck at the top of the headquarters of the Port Witch Coven," said Septimus glumly.

"Exactly," muttered Nicko.

Another silence fell. Wolf Boy shoved his burned hands under his arms and looked preoccupied. He was doing a slow dance from foot to foot, trying to take his mind off how much they were hurting. Jenna shook herself out of her own worries and went over to him.

"Are they bad?" she asked. Wolf Boy nodded, gritting his teeth.

"We ought to bandage you up," Jenna said. "Protect your hands. Here." She unwound the gold silk sash she wore around her waist and, using her teeth to start it off, she tore the sash in half.

Septimus and Nicko watched Jenna carefully wrap the gold silk around Wolf Boy's burned hands. But their minds were elsewhere, trying to think of a way to get out of the witches' house.

"Listen," said Septimus in a low voice.

"What?" whispered Nicko. Jenna and Wolf Boy looked up anxiously. What had Septimus heard?

"Can you hear anything?" muttered Septimus.

There was a tense silence while everyone listened forwhat? Footsteps outside the door? Simon Heap at the window? Nurse Meredith discovering her bridge had been burned to cinders? After a few minutes, Nicko whispered, "I can't hear anything, Sep."

"Exactly. Nothing."

"Oh, Sep," protested Nicko. "We thought you'd heard something. Don't do that again, okay?"

"But that's it, don't you see? The bridge fell down with a great crash into their backyard and the witches haven't stirred. Not a peep. Nothing. It's dawn and now they must have gone to bed. Marcia says that Darke Witches usually sleep all day and do their stuff at night. So we can just walk out. Easy."

"Oh, yeah, easy to walk all the way through a creaky old house stuffed full of traps and witches waiting to grab you and change you into a toad and then even easier to get out their front door which, I'll bet, is Barred with something nasty. Easy-peasy."

Jenna looked up from finishing off Wolf Boy's hands. "There's no need to be so grumpy, Nik. We don't have any choice anyway. We have to get out through the witches' house. Unless you want to jump the twenty-foot gap back to that creepy house full of dolls."

A few minutes later they were standing in the dingy, cobweb-strewn passageway outside the annex. Nicko was invisible. He was using his Silent Unseen Spell that, with Septimus's help, he had eventually managed to get right, after much prompting"No, Nik, it's Not seen, not heard, not a whisper, not a word. And you have to imagine it too. It's no good just rattling it off like a demented parrot." So far the spell seemed to have workedat least they had managed to get out of the room without activating the Creak on the door. Jenna and Septimus both had an Unseen Spell, which was not silent, but they had decided not to use it. It did not seem fair to leave only Wolf Boy visible to the witches.

They stood uncertainly outside the annex door, wondering which way to go; it was difficult to work out which way led up and which went down. The Port Witches were great home-improvement enthusiastsalthough improvement was not the word most people would have used to describe the results of their efforts. Over the years the Coven had turned the house into a warren of dead-end corridors and twisted staircases that usually ended in midair or dropped you out of a window. There were doors that opened into rooms where the witches had taken the floors out and not got around to putting them back; there were dripping pipes sticking out of the walls and at every step a rotten floorboard threatened to snap and send you plunging to the floor below. Added to the home improvements were the Blights, Banes and Bothers that infested the house and were designed to trip up any unwary intruder.

A small blue Bother was hanging from the ceiling by a string just outside their door. The Bother was an unpleasant, one-eyed, spiky creature covered in fish scales whose sole purpose in life was to stop anyone from doing what he or she wanted to dobut first, before it could do anything, it had to catch the person's eye. Jenna had not noticed the Bother and had walked straight into it. She had stepped back at once, but it was too lateshe had glanced up and met its beady blue eye staring at her. Now the Bother set about its task with glee. It bounced around in front of Jenna, chattering in its babyish way. "Hello, ickle girly. Hellooo, there. Are 'ooo losty-wost? Me wanoo help 'ooo. Ooh me dooo."

"Oh, shut up," Jenna muttered as loud as she dared, trying to edge away from the creature.

"Oooh. That's rudy-wude. Me only wanoo help 'ooo..."

"Sep, can you stop this Bother Bothering me before I throttle it?"

"I'm trying to think of something. You've got to calm down, Jen. Try to ignore the stupid thing."

"Oooh. Nasty boy. Nasteeee..."

"Sep," said Jenna irritably. "What are you waiting for? Just get rid of it, will you? Now!"

"Not rid of meeee. I help 'ooo."

"Oh, shut up!"

"Jen, Jen, don't let it get to you, that's how it worksit irritates you so much that you can't do anything. Just give me a moment. I've got an idea."

"Oooh. Nasty boy's got an idea. Oooh."

"I'm going to kill it, Sep. I am."

"Oooh, bad girly. Not nice saying things like that. Oooh."

Septimus was busy rummaging in his Apprentice belt. "Hang on, Jen. I'll just find my Reverse. Ah, here it is." He took out a small triangular Charm and laid it in the palm of his hand with the sharp end pointing toward the Bother.

The Bother looked at it suspiciously. "What 'ooo got there, nasteee boy?" it asked querulously.

Septimus did not reply. He took a deep breath and chanted very slowly and quietly so as not to wake the witches,"Bothersome Bother, Bother no more,Forget what you're created for."

"Oh, dear," said the Bother faintly. "I feel all peculiar."

"Good," muttered Septimus. "Sounds like it's working. Now, I suppose I had better test it."

"Be careful, Sep," said Jenna, who suddenly felt much less hot and Bothered.

Muttering a simple SafeShield Spell to himself, Septimus forced himself to look at the Bother.

"Good morning," said the Bother brightly. "How may I help you?"