“You know,” Beetle said in a loud whisper. “The place that Marcia told us to check out.”

“Marcia?” Septimus was puzzled.

“Didn’t she tell you?” asked Beetle.

“Marcia doesn’t tell me anything,” Septimus replied gloomily.

Beetle got off the sled. “Well, anyway, we gotta check out something, Sep. Stuff’s been happening down here. Come on.”

Septimus gingerly stood up on the ice and followed Beetle as he set off, shining his brilliant blue light around the smooth ice walls of the Chamber. Suddenly Septimus knew where they were. “It’s the Chamber of Alchemie!” He gasped. “I…I used to come here every day.” Septimus sounded wistful. “Marcellus showed me tons of stuff. And he didn’t nag me all the time.”

“Yeah, well, I bet it was a bit warmer then too,” Beetle said. “Ah, here we are. Look, it’s melted and refrozen.” Beetle’s blue light had picked out the slab of ice that covered the old doorway to the Chamber. Unlike the rest of the hoarfrosted ice, this was clear, with hundreds of tiny bubbles trapped within it. It reminded Septimus of one of Beetle’s FizzFroots—the lemon-flavored one that he did not like so much.

“That’s new ice,” Septimus whispered.

Beetle shrugged. “I know. But at least it’s refrozen. I’ll just check the Seal.” Beetle pressed his wax Keye into the metal disc at the side of the ice. “Weird and weirder,” he said. “It’s been ReSealed. Come on, Sep, we’ve got one more to check—but first I’ve got something to show you.”

Five minutes later, Beetle threw his sled into a double spin reverse whiz and stopped in a spray of frost. Septimus fell off and lay on the ice, staring up at the blue-white roof of a tunnel.

“Come on, Sep,” said Beetle. He grabbed hold of Septimus’s hands and pulled him to his feet. “I found it last week. I figured out a shortcut down one of the Narrows and I saw that.” He pointed to a small piece of purple rope sticking out of the ice.

Septimus got down on his hands and knees to have a closer look.

“There’s no color down here,” explained Beetle. “So it stood out a mile. I tried to dig it out but it’s no good; the ice has taken it in. It does that. I dropped my lucky scarf once and I found it the next week, trapped under two inches of ice. For a while I’d see it when I went by, but it got drawn down deeper and deeper until one day I couldn’t see it anymore. So it’s funny that you can still see the rope.” Beetle scraped at the ice with his penknife and freed up a little more of the rope so that a few inches stuck clear. “Well—go on,” he said.

“Go on, what?” asked Septimus, puzzled.

“Grab hold of the rope and pull. It won’t come out for me, but I reckon it will for you.”

“Why me?”

“Well, it belongs to you.”

“What belongs to me?”

Beetle smiled a mysterious smile. “You’ll have to give a tug and find out, won’t you?” he said.

Septimus shook his head with a puzzled smile and then, humoring Beetle, he took up the frayed rope end and pulled. He couldn’t get much of a hold, but to his surprise a long length of thick purple rope freed itself from the ice as easily as if he had been pulling it from newly fallen snow.

“It’s coming!” Beetle yelled, excited. “I knew it would. Keep pulling, Sep!”

Septimus needed no encouragement. He pulled steadily until the ice began to crumble and two golden runners broke the surface. Amazed, Septimus gave a hefty tug and from the depths of the ice emerged the most beautiful sled he had ever seen. “The Wizard Tower sled,” he breathed. “Beetle, you found the Wizard Tower sled.”

“Yeah,” said Beetle with the biggest grin Septimus had seen in a long time. “Good, isn’t it?”

“Good? It’s incredible.” Septimus brushed the dusting of ice crystals off the sled and set it down on its golden runners. It stood waiting patiently on the ice—sleek, high and delicate like a racehorse compared to the donkey of a sled that Beetle had. The intricately carved wood, inlaid with strips of lapis lazuli, felt almost warm to Septimus’s touch, and its purple, blue and gold paint sparkled in the light of Beetle’s lamp. Hanging from the gold bar that ran between the front of the two curved runners was a silver whistle, tied on with a green ribbon.

“No wonder they lost it,” said Beetle. “They left the whistle on the sled. That’s a dumb thing to do. You should always keep it with you, Sep. Here.” Beetle untied the whistle and handed it to Septimus. “It will come whenever you whistle,”

he said, “and you might find you need to. These highly strung sleds were notorious for wandering off. I bet that poor Apprentice spent a long time looking for it. Must have been a nightmare.”

Septimus put the whistle in his tunic pocket. “Thanks, Beetle,” he said. “You know so much stuff. Stuff that even Marcia doesn’t know.”

“I dunno about that, Sep. Marcia knows more than you think. She just doesn’t want to tell, that’s all,” said Beetle.

“She certainly doesn’t tell me,” said Septimus.

“So,” said Beetle, quickly changing the subject—aware that Marcia had told him rather a lot that morning—“are you going to get on? I can teach you how to do a double spin reverse whiz and even a triple spin if you like.”

“Um. Well, maybe later, when I’m used to it.” Septimus gingerly sat down on his sled, half expecting it to shoot off the way Beetle’s sled did. But it just sat patiently beneath him as if waiting for instructions. “How do you work these things?” he asked, realizing he never inquired how Beetle got his sled to go up and down the ice slopes and do exactly as he wished.

“You just think about what you want it to do and it does it—but only if you’re the right person to ride it. If you tried to ride mine it would just ignore you.”

“Okay, then, I’ll give it a try,” said Septimus, and in his head he thought, slowly—go slowly. And so, very, very slowly, the Wizard Tower sled set off to the sound of Beetle’s laughter.

“What did you tell it, Sep?” he shouted after him. “Make like a snail?”

“I’m just testing,” said Septimus a little defensively.

“So test how fast it’ll go,” suggested Beetle. “I bet it’s amazing. Much faster than this old thing.” He kicked his own sled affectionately.

“Well, maybe later,” Septimus replied.

“Okay, Sep,” said Beetle, getting on his sled. “But there’s one last thing Marcia asked us to check out.”

Septimus smiled—what did Marcia matter when he had a beautiful sled like this? “Okay, Beetle,” he said. “I can help you with your Inspection now. Like they did in the old days.”

Beetle grinned. “Great,” he said.

14

THE HOUSE ON SNAKE SLIPWAY

B eetle shone his light onto

a hatch in the roof of an ice tunnel. It was no more than a few feet above their heads, almost near enough to touch if they jumped up high. The hatch formed an oval depression with the usual metal Seal beside it. All around it was a thin line of clear ice.

“See,” said Beetle, “it’s the same here. The ice has melted and refrozen. And, let’s see…yes, it’s been ReSealed too.

Weird.”

“Hmm…” said Septimus, not totally surprised. He knew whose hatch this was.

Beetle peered up at the hatch. “Of course this one could just be a faulty Seal on the other side. Sometimes the domestic ones do that. It would be good to get in there and check, but some really weird guy moved in not long ago. Bit of a recluse, apparently. Won’t even answer the door.”

“I know,” said Septimus. “I wish he would. But he’s not really used to things yet.”

“Do you know him, Sep?” asked Beetle, surprised.

Septimus made a decision—he would confide in Beetle. He was tired of keeping his visits to Marcellus a secret. “Well, yes, I do. But…er, Marcia doesn’t know I come to see him. I keep meaning to tell her but she’s so grumpy at the moment and—” Suddenly Septimus remembered something. “Oh, gosh—Beetle, have you got your timepiece with you?”

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