Marcellus made an effort to compose himself. “No, no. You are quite right, Apprentice. I must not hide away from this Time,” he said. “Open the door and we will be sociable, as you say.”

Septimus gave the door a halfhearted pull. “I think it’s stuck,” he said.

“Here, let me,” said Beetle, and he gave the handle a hefty tug. The door flew open to reveal Marcia Overstrand standing on the doorstep windswept, grumpy and soaked.

“Oh,” said Septimus. “Hello, Marcia.”

17

TROUBLE

W ell,” said Marcia icily. “Aren’t you going to ask me in?”

Septimus looked around in a panic and caught Marcellus’s eye. “With pleasure, Madam Marcia,” said Marcellus, bowing one of his old-fashioned bows. “Please, do come in.” He stepped to one side only just in time to avoid Marcia treading on his sodden shoes as she swept inside.

“Shut,” she instructed the door and it did so with a loud slam that rattled the fragile walls of the old house—but it did not rattle Marcellus. In his own Time, Marcellus had had many dealings with belligerent ExtraOrdinary Wizards; he knew the best thing to do was keep a cool head and be polite at all times—whatever the provocation. And right now, as he looked at Marcia fuming in the hall, the rain dripping off her purple winter cloak and her green eyes flashing angrily, Marcellus reckoned he was in for a fair amount of provocation.

All of Marcellus’s lack of confidence at living in a Time not his own suddenly left him. Some things in life were Timeless, and an ExtraOrdinary Wizard was one of them. Feeling quite at home, Marcellus said, “How kind of you to call. May I offer you some refreshment?”

“No,” snapped Marcia, “you may not.”

“Ah,” murmured Marcellus, thinking that this was going to be one of the tougher ones.

Marcia fixed her gaze on Septimus much in the way a snake might look at a small vole at suppertime. “Septimus,” she said icily, “perhaps you would like to introduce me to your…friend.”

Septimus desperately wished that he could be somewhere—anywhere—else. Even the bottom of a wolverine pit in the Forest would be just fine with him right then. “Um,” he said.

“Well?” Marcia tapped her right foot, which was encased in a pointy purple python shoe complete with new green buttons.

Septimus took a deep breath. “Marcia, this is Marcellus Pye. Marcellus, this is Marcia Overstrand, ExtraOrdinary Wizard.”

“Thank you, Septimus,” said Marcia. “That is precisely who I thought it was. Well, Mr. Pye, my Apprentice will not trouble you any longer. He will not

be returning and I am sorry for any bother he has been over these last few months. Come, Septimus.” With that Marcia made for the door but Marcellus got there first and barred her way.

“My old and greatly valued

Apprentice has been no bother,” he said. “It has been very kind of you to let me borrow him every now and then. I am most grateful.”

“Borrow him!” exploded Marcia. “Septimus is not a library book. I have not forgotten that you borrowed him—as you put it—for six whole months and put the boy through absolute misery. Why he still wants to see you I cannot imagine.

But I am not having him corrupted by your Alchemie claptrap any longer. Good-bye. Open!” The last word was addressed to the door. It sprang open, nearly pinning Marcellus against the wall. Reluctantly Septimus, Jenna and Beetle followed her out into the rain and wind.

Septimus risked a tentative wave to Marcellus as Marcia yelled, “Shut!” and the door slammed, shaking the windows of the old house. A rumble of thunder rolled in the distance as Marcia scolded all three of them. “Beetle,” she said, “I am surprised at you. Let’s hope for your sake that Miss Djinn does not get to hear about you fraternizing with an Alchemist—especially that

one. And Jenna, I should have thought you would have learned your lesson by now to keep away from that man. He is Etheldredda’s son, for goodness sake. Come, Septimus, there are a few things I wish to discuss with you.”

Jenna and Beetle shot Septimus sympathetic glances as Marcia propelled her Apprentice rapidly along Snake Lane, which led into Wizard Way. Beetle almost asked Jenna if he could walk her to the Palace gate but to his annoyance he didn’t quite dare. Jenna gave him a brief wave and rushed off along Snake Slipway toward the Palace. Beetle set off at a snail’s pace, taking the long way back to the Manuscriptorium—and a possible encounter with Jillie Djinn, which he did not relish at all.

Marcia and Septimus took the turn into Wizard Way. A sudden squall of rain blew in from the river and a gust of wind funneled up the broad avenue. They pulled their cloaks tight about them until they were wrapped up like a couple of angry cocoons. Neither said a word.

Halfway along the Way the green cocoon finally spoke. “I think you were very rude,” it said.

“What?” Marcia could hardly believe her ears.

“I think you were very rude to Marcellus,” Septimus repeated.

“That man,” spluttered Marcia, almost lost for words, “has no right to expect anything else.”

“He was very polite to you.”

“Huh. Polite is as polite does. I do not think it is polite

to kidnap my Apprentice and place him in extreme danger. Not to mention what he is up to now—exposing my Apprentice to all kinds of weird and dangerous ideas behind my back.”

“He doesn’t have any weird or dangerous ideas,” protested Septimus. “And he didn’t know I hadn’t told you about him.”

“But why didn’t you tell me?” asked Marcia. “For months

you let me think you were visiting your poor mother. No wonder she looked so puzzled when I asked her if she was enjoying seeing so much of you—I thought

she was a bit snappy. If I hadn’t gone to Terry Tarsal this morning I would never have found out. And incidentally, Septimus, I would like to know exactly how Marcellus Pye got to be looking so young again—and living in poor old Weasal’s house.”

“It was Marcellus’s house first,” said Septimus, ignoring the first question. “I lived there too, in his Time. I told you.

And you didn’t call him poor old Weasal last year. You said that he was lucky not to be sent into exile along with his housekeeper.”

“And so he was,” said Marcia.

Anxious to stop Marcia from pursuing the question of Marcellus’s youthful appearance, Septimus quickly carried on.

“So when Weasal left to go and live in the Port, Marcellus bought his house back with some gold pebbles he had hidden under the mud on Snake Slipway.”

“Did he really? Well, Marcellus seems to have it all sewn up, doesn’t he? But the point is, Septimus, that I shouldn’t have to run around after my Apprentice like this just to find out the truth about what he is doing. I really shouldn’t.”

“I know. I’m sorry,” muttered Septimus. “I…I wanted to tell you. I kept meaning to but, well, I knew you’d get upset and it just seemed easier not to.”

“I only get upset,” said Marcia, “because I want to protect you from harm. And how can I do that if you are not honest with me?”

“Marcellus is not harmful,” said Septimus sullenly.

“That is where you and I disagree,” said Marcia.

“But if you just talked to him for a bit. I know you’d—”

“And I would like an answer to my question.”

Septimus stalled for time. “What question?”

“As I said, I would like to know exactly how

Marcellus Pye got to be looking so young. The man is over five hundred years old. And don’t try to tell me he’s just kept out of the sun—no amount of face cream is going to do that for him.”

“It was my side of the bargain,” said Septimus quietly.

“What bargain?” asked Marcia suspiciously.

“The bargain I made to go back to my own Time. I agreed to make him the proper potion for eternal youth. There was a conjunction of the planets and—”

“What claptrap!” spluttered Marcia. “You don’t really believe that ridiculous stuff, do you, Septimus?”

“Yes, I do,” said Septimus quietly. “So the day after I got back to my Time I made the potion.”

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