Merrin chose one of the governess’s rooms at the front. It was small, but there was a bed, a table, a small closet and a fireplace that still bore the dusty remains of the last fire in the grate. The room had a mournful atmosphere, helped along by the faded rose-covered wallpaper, but it suited Merrin, who noticed neither.
Merrin, however, did not
suit the occupant of the room. The governess, who was wearing the long gray dress with a red stripe around the hem that all governesses to the Princesses used to wear, leaped to her feet. With a look of horror she watched Merrin walking around her precious, private space as if he owned the place. Twice he nearly Passed Through her foot—which was not surprising as she wore the long, pointy shoes fashionable in her Time. By the time Merrin had sat down on her bed, testing the springs by bouncing like a naughty three-year-old, the governess was in great distress. With a rush of freezing air, she fled from the room, leaving him wondering why the door had suddenly slammed shut.
Merrin took off his backpack and one by one he laid his precious possessions on the small table underneath the little dormer window in descending order of size. He then changed his mind and laid them out alphabetically and—finally—in order of importance. It took a while but eventually from left to right there was: 1 dog-eared book titled: The Darke Index by T.F.F. (Deceased)
1 small, square ebony box inscribed Sleuth
1 Magog claw
1 bottle of flies (mostly dead)
Small tub of Wurm Slime
1 pair of pajamas
1 bar of soap
Everything in order, Merrin rubbed the grime from the inside of the little window in his attic room and peered out through the smeared circle. It was a great view—all the way down the old Ceremonial Way. The Ceremonial Way was deserted, as usual, but to the left he could see the Wizard Way, the wind sending the cloaks and hats flapping and flying of those who were scurrying along trying to stay in the shelter of the low, yellow stone buildings. And almost at the end of the Way, on the left, Merrin could just make out the purple door of the Manuscriptorium. And outside the door was that Septimus Heap boy—the bright green Apprentice tunic gave him away.
Merrin could hardly believe that a chance to continue the Darkening had happened so soon—and so easily. Quickly he opened The Darke Index, found the page and began the next stage of Darkening the Destiny of AnOther. He fixed Septimus in his gaze and positioned his thumb so that the left-hand face of the ring was looking out the window. Then he began to chant a long, slow incantation under his breath. Merrin saw Septimus stop, look back and then glance down at his shoe as if he had stepped in something. Merrin chuckled to himself. That Septimus Heap boy had no idea what was going on—no idea at all. Merrin was getting good at this Darke stuff. And he was going to get a lot better.
An amazing feeling of power suddenly swept over Merrin and he laughed out loud. He was the Possessor of the Two-Faced Ring—he was indestructible. For the first time in his life he felt important. But what, right then, felt best of all was the fact that he had his own place, and no one
knew where to find him. No one could come and drag him from his bed and demand that he learn his lessons or eat up his cabbage sandwich. He could stay in bed all day if he wanted to. In fact, he might just lie down for a bit now. He had not slept well at the Grateful Turbot; the bed had been lumpy and he had heard the sound of someone else breathing in the room. And the night before that he had hardly slept at all. Merrin yawned. There was a letter he was planning to write, but he’d do it later. He lay down on the governess’s equally lumpy bed and fell fast asleep.
Merrin woke groggy and in a panic, unsure of the time. He looked out of the window. There was a large clock on the
tower above the clock repair shop at the end of Wizard Way, and he breathed a sigh of relief. It was all right. He had half an hour until his interview. Quickly, he stuffed The Darke Index into his pocket, strode across the little room and pulled at the door. It was jammed. Merrin pulled again, harder. It was stuck fast.
Twenty-five minutes later and in a total panic, Merrin desperately gave one last, enormous heave on the door. It flew open and sent him hurtling back across the room. Bruised, he picked himself up and rushed out.
Not caring who heard or saw him, Merrin flew down the stairs. He was determined not to mess up this chance. He would get there on time, whatever it took. And whoever got in his way had better look out.
S eptimus Heap stepped off
the rotating silver spiral stairs that had taken him down through the Wizard Tower from the ExtraOrdinary Wizard’s rooms at the top to the entrance Hall. As he hurried across the Hall, he was not surprised to see a message saying GOOD
MORNING, APPRENTICE, YOUR DRAGON IS AWAKE
appear in the multicolored floor, for the floor always greeted him and seemed to know what was going on before he did.
The next greeting was less welcome. “Good morning, Apprentice,” came a voice from the Old Spells cupboard next to the pair of massive silver doors guarding the entrance to the Wizard Tower. Septimus jumped—as he always did. The voice belonged to Boris Catchpole, demoted from failed Wizard to night porter after a Final Warning from Marcia. Boris Catchpole’s voice always startled Septimus. It gave him flashbacks to his days in the Young Army when Catchpole had been, for a while, the dreaded Deputy Hunter.
“Oh! Good morning, Catchpole,” Septimus replied. “Did you deliver my message to the Palace?”
“Indeed I did, Apprentice. Always at your service, ha-ha. And how may I help you this morning?” asked Catchpole, who was on a self-imposed efficiency drive, determined to get back his sub-Wizard status. Catchpole was a beanpole of a man who still wore his treasured blue Ordinary Wizard robes with his old sub-Wizard flashes on the sleeves. It had been just Catchpole’s luck not only to be given a set of robes too short for him, but also to get them shrunk in the wash, which meant that two thin white legs stuck out from the hem of the robes before they finally reached the safety of Catchpole’s boots.
Like an insecure giant heron, Catchpole skipped in front of Septimus saying, “Allow me to open the doors, Apprentice.”
“I have the password, thank you,” Septimus replied.
Catchpole hopped back. “Oh, yes, of course you do. Silly me. Well, if there’s anything else I can do, anything…” He suddenly stopped, remembering that there was something he definitely did not want to do. He did not want to help with Spit Fyre’s breakfast.
But Septimus—to Catchpole’s relief—did not take him up on his offer. He just murmured the password and let the giant silver doors silently swing open to reveal a gray, blustery spring day splattered with stray drops of rain. Septimus wrapped his green woolen Apprentice cloak around himself and set off at a brisk pace down the big marble steps that led from the Wizard Tower into the Courtyard. He skirted the base of the Tower and headed for a newly built wooden shed, which was neatly tucked in against one of the huge buttresses. Then, very quietly, in the hope that Spit Fyre would not hear and get overexcited, he opened the door and slipped inside.
Septimus clicked his fingers. Two candles sprang into flame, brightening the gray morning light inside the shed and illuminating the interior, which consisted of three big tubs of oats, a barrel of skimmed milk delivered that morning, one tub of windfall apples and, crammed into an old sack, an assortment of pies and sausages, the leftovers from the Meat Pie and Sausage Cart—also delivered early that morning.
With the practiced air of someone who did this every day—weekdays, weekends, holidays and feast days, come rain or shine—Septimus got to work. From outside the shed he wheeled in a large empty wooden tub on the side of which was written in multicolored letters:
DO NOT REMOVE
If found please return to the Wizard Tower Courtyard
Septimus started to fill the tub. He took hold of a long-handled shovel and began to scoop out great quantities of oats and throw them into his wheeled tub. When it was about one third of the way full he emptied the sack of meat pies and sausages into the oats and mixed them in well; then he added two big shovelfuls of the apples. Finally he heaved up the barrel of skimmed milk, unscrewed the top and upended it over the mixture. The milk tumbled out with a loud glugging noise. When it had all disappeared into the oat and sausage mix, Septimus plunged in the shovel and, with some difficulty, stirred the glutinous mix. By the time he had finished, the oats had soaked up the milk and had expanded to nearly fill the tub. Septimus took out the shovel, shook off a few clinging pieces of steak and apple and regarded the mixture with an air of satisfaction. It was now a grubby brown color flecked with bits of broken piecrust, smashed sausages and bruised apples. Perfect.