“But—but do you have any qualifications?” Beetle stammered.
In reply, the boy leaned forward and clicked his finger and thumb in Beetle’s face. A flicker of black flame appeared from the tip of his thumb. “That’s my qualification,” the boy said.
Beetle sat down in his chair with a bump. He’d heard about Darke tricks, although he’d never actually seen one before.
It had not escaped his notice that the boy was wearing what he assumed to be a cheap copy of the fabled Two-Faced Darke
Ring. The boy was obviously one of those weird kids who thought that if they dressed in black and bought pretend Darke trinkets from Gothyk Grotto in The Ramblings, they were the next Apprentice to old DomDaniel.
Beetle blamed Jillie Djinn. She had, much to his disapproval, put a notice up on the door to the Manuscriptorium a few weeks ago, seeking a new scribe. Beetle had objected, saying it would be an invitation to all kinds of weird people to apply. But Miss Djinn had insisted.
To Beetle’s relief, up until that moment no one had applied for the job. He had been busy trying to persuade the notoriously stingy Miss Djinn to pay for an advertisement in The Scribes and Scriveners Journal. That morning he had, in fact, left a copy of their special-offer reduced rates on her desk. But now it looked as if his worst fears had come true.
With a sigh, Beetle got out the standard Manuscriptorium job application form, licked the end of his pencil and asked,
“Septimus Heap,” said the boy.
“Don’t be stupid,” said Beetle.
“No one calls me stupid!” the boy shouted. “No one. Got that?”
“Okay, okay,” said Beetle. “But you are not Septimus Heap.”
“How do you know?” the boy said with a sneer.
“Because I know Septimus Heap. And he’s not you. No way.”
The boy’s dark eyes flashed angrily. “Well, that’s where you’re wrong. I know who I am. You don’t. So where it says
‘name’ on your little form you can write down ‘Septimus Heap.’”
Beetle and the boy stared each other down. The boy looked away first. “Yeah, well,” he said. “I was called that. Once.”
Beetle decided to humor the boy in case he suddenly lost it—not that Beetle was concerned about coming off worse in a fight. Although the boy was a little taller than him, he was thin and had a weak look about him, whereas Beetle was sturdy and powerfully built. But Beetle did not want the front office trashed, particularly while he was in charge. “So what are you called now?” he asked quietly.
The boy did not answer right away. His black eyes, which Beetle noticed were flecked with green, flickered around like a lizard’s. It seemed to Beetle as if the boy was making up a name on the spot.
Beetle was right. Merrin needed a name fast and he wanted something special. He didn’t like being Merrin Meredith; it didn’t feel like him. Besides, it was a stupid name. Meredith was a girl’s name and he thought that Merrin was plain silly. He needed something scary. Quickly, Merrin chose the two scariest people he had known in his life—DomDaniel and the Hunter.
Beetle was getting impatient. “So what’s your name?” he asked.
“Dom—er, I mean, Daniel.”
“DomDaniel?” Beetle shook his head.
“Don’t be stupid. I said Daniel. Daniel. Got that?”
Beetle concentrated on keeping calm and said, “Daniel what?”
“Okay. I’ll put down ‘Daniel Hunter,’ all right?” asked Beetle with exaggerated patience.
“You sure? Don’t want to change your mind again, do you?”
“Look, it’s my name, right? So put it down,” the boy said with a snarl.
Deciding that the best thing to do was to get rid of the boy as soon as he could, Beetle hurriedly filled out the rest of the form. He made no comment when the boy told him he had had at least ten years experience as an Apprentice to two Wizards and a working knowledge of White Witchcraft. Beetle did not believe a word of what the boy said and would have written down that he had flown to the Moon and back if it would have sped up his departure.
At last the form was filled in. With some relish, Beetle viciously impaled it on the spike of paperwork awaiting Jillie Djinn’s return.
The boy showed no sign of leaving.
“That’s it,” said Beetle. “You can go now.”
“So when do I come for my interview?”
Bother, thought Beetle. Merrin watched him closely as he looked through the Daily Diary, a hefty ledger that lived on Beetle’s desk and was his job to keep up to date. “Two thirty-three precisely,” he said. “Not a minute early, not a minute late.”
“See ya then,” said the boy with a smirk.
“Look forward to it,” replied Beetle coolly. “Allow me to show you out.” Beetle got up, held the door open and stared at Merrin until he was gone. Then he slammed the door with a bang that shook the office. At that the Rogue Spell Alarm sounded.
The Rogue Spell Alarm was designed to be particularly annoying—a series of loud screeches to the accompaniment of shrill, unremitting bell. Unsure whether it was another Darke trick or if there really was a rogue spell on the loose, Beetle sent four reluctant scribes down to the basement to check it out. But despite some serious thumping sounds echoing up from the basement, the alarm did not stop. Beetle was faced with a rebellion from the remaining scribes, who
were trying to get on with the day’s work. Exasperated, he sent two of the more beefy scribes down as reinforcements and suggested that the others find some earplugs. This was not received well.
At that point, a great crash shook the front office. Fearsome growls and thuds could be heard through the reinforced door that led from the office to the Wild Book Store. Beetle took a deep breath and peered through the inspection flap in the door. A big fight had broken out. The air was thick with fur and feathers. Beetle knew he had to get in there fast, before the whole bookstore got trashed. As he tentatively opened the door, a large—and very hairy—Spider Almanac tried to force its way out.
Unfortunately Beetle asked Foxy, one of the more highly strung scribes, to help him hold the door. It was not a good choice. Foxy screamed and fainted, knocking over two huge bottles of indelible ink, which spilled their entire contents over two weeks’ worth of Jillie Djinn’s calculations that Beetle was supposed to be copying for her.
Beetle put his head around the door to the Manuscriptorium and yelled, “Erase Spell! Quick!” Then, taking a deep breath, he plunged into the Wild Book Store.
Ten minutes later a disheveled, sore, but successful Beetle emerged from the store. Foxy was still flat out on the floor, being stepped over by the scribes as they hunted desperately for an Erase Spell before Jillie Djinn returned. The Rogue Spell Alarm was still ringing. And Beetle, who had taken his own advice and had two cork earplugs with twirly handles sticking out of his ears, was nursing some nasty scratches from an ambush by a Foryx Field Guide. It could not, thought Beetle, get any worse.
There was a sudden ping
and the door counter clicked over to four. In strode Marcia Overstrand, ExtraOrdinary Wizard; her purple cloak flying in the wind, her dark curly hair wet and windswept from the cold spring rain. Marcia frowned at the shrieking of the Alarm, which drilled into her ears and seemed to meet somewhere in the soft and delicate middle of her head.
“Beetle!” she yelled. “What on earth is going on?”
T here was something about Marcia
Overstrand that always seemed to fill the space she was in—and then some. Beetle instinctively stepped back to give the ExtraOrdinary Wizard more room.
“What on earth is this awful din?” Marcia shouted.
“She’s not here,” replied Beetle, who thought Marcia had asked, “Where on earth is the awful Djinn?”
Beetle glanced desperately at the clock—had Jillie Djinn only been gone for such a short time? “Back in thirty minutes!” he yelled.
Marcia was beginning to get the feeling that she had stepped into the middle of one of the new-style plays that Septimus had taken her to see in the small Theater in The Ramblings. “And what have you got growing out of your ears?” she asked.