Septimus said quietly. “I've been listening for him all along, and he's not here. There is no human heartbeat in the Old Way apart from you and me and—about every five minutes—Marcellus.”

Septimus tentatively placed his hand against the Glass. It went through as easily as putting his hand into an icy bowl of water. “Come on, Jen,” he said, gently.

Taking Septimus's hand, Jenna followed him into the Glass—and out to the world where they belonged.

They were welcomed by an ear-splitting shriek. Marcia leaped up from her place at the table in the Hermetic Chamber and dropped a huge book of calculation charts on her foot. Jillie Djinn came running.

“What is it, Marcia?” gasped Jillie, emerging from the seven-cornered passage into the Hermetic Chamber. "The mouse catcher caught them all yesterday, he promised.

There can't be any more—oh, my goodness, the Glass!"

“Septimus!” yelled Marcia, kicking the calculation charts away in abandon and rushing to the Glass. “Oh, Septimus, Septimus!” She swept up the emerging Septimus into her arms and swung him around, much to his complete amazement, for Marcia did not do hugs.

Jenna watched, happy that at last that she had put right the harm she had done Septimus. And then she remembered Nicko and burst into tears.

In the Manuscriptorium, twenty-one pale faces looked up as the tearful Princess, carrying a scraggy orange cat, and a disheveled boy, who looked a lot like the ExtraOrdinary Apprentice—but could not possibly be, because everyone knew that the ExtraOrdinary Wizard would never have allowed him to have his hair like that—came quietly out of the Hermetic Chamber with the ExtraOrdinary Wizard. No one had seen them go in, but some of the older scribes were used to that. People who went into the Hermetic Chamber did not always come out, and people who came out had not always gone in. It was just the way things were. The scribes also noticed that the ExtraOrdinary Wizard was smiling, which she most certainly had not been the day before when she had gone into the Chamber. Most scribes had, in fact, thought that, as part of her job, the ExtraOrdinary Wizard was not allowed to smile and were quite shocked. But whatever any of the scribes happened to be thinking at that moment, they all suddenly stopped when a loud crash shattered the pin-drop silence of the Manuscriptorium—and the front window.

Foxy, who had taken over from Beetle after he had been rushed to the Infirmary with the Sickenesse, threw himself through the flimsy door that separated the front office from the Manuscriptorium, white-faced and yelling, “Help, help! There's a dragon in the office!” Then he fainted.

There was indeed a dragon in the office—and not much else. The window was in a million pieces, the desk was firewood and the teetering stacks of pamphlets, papers, booklets and manuscripts were either trampled to the floor and covered in muddy dragon prints or were blowing down Wizard Way in the brisk early-morning breeze.

“Spit Fyre!” gasped Septimus, rubbing the dragon's nose. “How did you know I'd be here?”

“We did a Seek,” said Jenna happily. “And it worked. Kind of.”

Jillie Djinn surveyed the wreckage. She was not happy. “I would ask you to keep your dragon under control, Marcia,” she said, “but it is obviously too late.”

“It is not my dragon, Miss Djinn,” snapped Marcia, her smile rapidly evaporating. “It belongs to my Apprentice here, who is a skilled and careful dragon keeper.”

Jillie Djinn snorted dismissively. “Not quite skilled enough, apparently, Madam Marcia. I shall be sending you the bill for the window and the multitude of lost and destroyed papers.”

“You may send as many bills as you wish, Miss Djinn. The nights are drawing in, and I shall take great pleasure in lighting the fire with them. Good day to you. Come, Jenna and Septimus, time to go home.” Marcia stepped disdainfully over the chaos and swept out the door. Once safely in Wizard Way, Marcia clicked her fingers at Spit Fyre, who jumped obediently through the smashed window, for there was something about Marcia that still made Spit Fyre think Dragon Mother.

Barely able to believe that his dream had come true, Septimus wandered onto Wizard Way— his Wizard Way. He stopped and breathed in the air—the air of his Time, which smelled of wood smoke and baked pies from the meat pie and sausage cart that was approaching the Manuscriptorium just in time for the mid-morning break.

He looked down the broad expanse of the Way, with the long, low Palace—Jenna's Palace—in the distance, and he could not stop smiling. This, thought Septimus, is where I belong.

But while Septimus was feeling glad to be alive and, after six months of near silence could not stop talking, Jenna was exhausted. “You are to come back with us and get some sleep,” Marcia told her. “I will send a message to the Palace.”

They walked through the Great Arch, Septimus closely tailed by Spit Fyre, who was suspiciously sniffing his strange-smelling tunic. “Ouch!” yelped Septimus as the dragon trod on the backs of his heels in an effort to keep as close as possible to his Imprinter.

“Goodness,” said Marcia, “what have you got on your feet, Septimus?”

Septimus felt quite silly enough in his shoes without explaining them to Marcia. He quickly changed the subject. “I wish Beetle had seen Spit Fyre come in through the window. He'll be really sorry to have missed that. I wonder where he was.”

“Ah, yes,” Marcia sighed. “Beetle. Oh, dear. Septimus, there's something you ought to know...”

45

The Physik Chest

“And another thing, Septimus,” said Marcia, sounding as stern as she could manage while they watched Catchpole inexpertly wielding a large crowbar, try to lever up a dusty floorboard in the broom closet. "You are not to stay out at night on your own ever again."

“What, never?” Septimus looked up, saw the smile in Marcia's eyes and ventured,

"Not even when I'm really old ... like when I'm thirty?"

“Not while you're my Apprentice you're not— oh for goodness sake, Catchpole, give me the crowbar and I'll do it—and don't think that going out with an irresponsible old ghost will be all right either, because it won't. Anyway— oof, whoever nailed this board down made a good job of it—I sincerely hope that by the time you're thirty— aha, I think it's moving—you will have an Apprentice of your own, and then it will be your turn to worry.” Marcia's smile faded as she remembered. She straightened up and looked Septimus in the eye. “But I hope you never find a letter from them written five hundred years ago the way I found yours. Never. ”

“No. I hope not too,” said Septimus quietly.

Marcia set to with the crowbar again, and a few moments later there was a loud crack as the nails finally gave up their struggle against the determined ExtraOrdinary Wizard. Septimus helped Marcia lift the board.

“I had no idea that this rose was here,” said Marcia, closely inspecting the intricate rose that was carved deep into the wood. It was much worn away by hundreds of years of feet tramping over it—for the broom closet had previously been used as a cloakroom—but the delicate curves of its petals were still clearly visible.

“It was my symbol,” said Septimus almost proudly. Now that he was back safe in his own Time, Septimus was beginning to enjoy thinking about his time with Marcellus Pye. “It's the old sign for a seventh son. Marcellus had it carved into his table years before I got there.”

“Wicked man,” said Marcia. “I'd like to tell him a thing or two.”

“He was okay really,” Septimus ventured.

“We'll agree to differ on that subject, Septimus,” said Marcia huffily. “I am just about prepared to dig out this chest full of quackery, since even a remote chance of curing the Sickenesse is worth a try, but you will never find me agreeing that that man was 'okay really.' Never. ”

Septimus and Marcia knelt down and peered into the dusty void under the floor.

Gingerly, Septimus put his hand into the space and the glow from his Dragon Ring found an answering shine in the depths.

“I can see it,” he said, amazed. “Here it is, just like Marcellus said it would be— sub rosa. Hidden beneath the rose.”

“Oh, twaddle and tripe,” Marcia huffed. “Now come on, Catchpole, don't just stand there gawking, we could do with a hand to get this thing out.”

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