“Word seems to have gotten around that my Apprentice, Septimus Heap, is about to finish his first Projection,” she said.
An excited murmur arose. “I do not entirely approve of this fuss,” Marcia continued. “Frankly, I would have hoped you all had better things to do. But unfortunately it has become a tradition—in fact I seem to remember the same thing happening to me some time ago. Presumably, as you are all gathered here, you think that this is where the Projection has been placed.”
A general muttering ensued and one brave Wizard shouted out, “Give us a clue, ExtraOrdinary!”
“I know no more than you,” Marcia replied. “My Apprentice has made his own choice about what to Project. He has not informed me of his decision.”
Excited murmurs spread as the Wizards propounded their own pet theories of what Septimus had actually Projected.
Marcia raised her voice. “However…excuse me, can I have silence please? Now? Thank you. There are some things I must insist upon. One: until the Projection comes to an end, please do not move about more than necessary. Two: if, when the Projection is finished, it is not immediately apparent what has been Projected I do not want an undignified stampede around the Tower searching for it. If you haven’t spotted it already, then you are hardly going to notice it once it has disappeared, are you?”
There was an outbreak of obedient nodding among the crowd.
“And three—positively no betting.”
A stifled groan came from the Wizards. The little slips of pink paper that Jenna had noticed were hastily stuffed into deep pockets.
“I will now give a countdown to the end of the Projection. Five…four…three—”
A loud crash came from the Old Spells cupboard and the next moment Catchpole staggered out, pursued by a large, clattering trash can. The can proceeded to chase the unfortunate Catchpole around the Great Hall, to the great amusement of the audience. Marcia looked on in disbelief—if this was a Projection then she had never seen anything like it before. It had both substance and sound, something that was thought to be impossible. When she had been a young Apprentice, Marcia had once managed to coax a small baa from a troupe of dancing sheep she had Projected as a joke on Alther’s birthday, but it had been a short and rather faint baa and Alther, who was getting hard of hearing by then, had not even heard it.
“Why’s he so scared of an old trash can?” Jenna shouted to Beetle above the excited hubbub.
“I reckon Sep’s done a double bluff,” said Beetle.
“We see a trash can. Catchpole sees something else.”
“Probably the thing he fears most. That usually works. And it means that Sep didn’t have to decide what Catchpole sees—Catchpole has done that for him.” Jenna flashed Beetle an admiring look—how did he know all that stuff? Beetle caught the look and went red.
Pursued—or so he thought—by his old boss, the Hunter, Catchpole shot back into the Old Spells cupboard and slammed the door, leaving the trash can outside. The trashcan/Hunter retracted its legs, straightened up its lid, folded its little hairy arms and settled down outside the door, until it looked like any other can with little hairy arms left outside for the trash collection.
Amid the excitement, no one had noticed the stairs suddenly speeding up to emergency fast mode and a flash of green whizzing down them. A few seconds later, with perfect timing, Septimus leaped off the stairs and skidded to a halt next to Marcia, with the words CONGRATULATIONS, APPRENTICE, ON YOUR SUCCESSFUL FIRST PROJECTION
swirling around his feet.
An outburst of applause greeted Septimus’s arrival at Marcia’s side. Septimus grinned happily. He pointed to the can, clicked his fingers and, to a delighted chorus of oooooohs, the can disappeared with a bang and a flash of green smoke.
Marcia was not amused. “There is no need for that, Septimus. We are not putting on some kind of cheap Magyk show.
This is serious business.”
Marcia did not know how true her words were. At that very moment the doors to the Wizard Tower swung open—to reveal Tertius Fume silhouetted against a blinding flash of lightning.
T he excited hub- bub was replaced by an eerie silence.
“What’s going on, Marcia?” A lone shout came from the Wizard who had been running the bets and, with this unexpected turn of events, could see a windfall coming his way. “Is this part of the Projection too?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Of course it’s not,” Marcia snapped. And then, as a small flicker of doubt crossed her mind she muttered to Septimus, “This isn’t still your Projection, is it?”
“No, it’s not,” replied Septimus, who wished that it were. He had a bad feeling about Tertius Fume.
On the threshold of the Wizard Tower, Tertius Fume regarded Marcia with a mocking gaze. “Well,” he said, “aren’t you going to invite us in? It is customary, you know. In fact, as I understand it, it is obligatory.”
“Obligatory?” said Marcia, peering into the gloom behind the ghost, wondering why he had said us. And then she saw the reason—behind Tertius Fume was a sea of purple. It covered the white marble steps and flowed down into the Courtyard shifting like water in the dim light as hundreds of ExtraOrdinary Wizard ghosts floated about. Marcia went pale. “Oh,” she whispered.
“Oh indeed.” Tertius Fume said with a smirk.
With a shock Marcia recognized what this was—the Gathering
of the Ghosts. It was something she had not expected to see until the very last day of Septimus’s Apprenticeship—the day when the Gathering would arrive and the Apprentice must draw a stone from the Questing Pot. That was a terrible moment. Everyone knew that if the Apprentice drew one of the Questing Stones, then he or she would be sent off on the Queste
immediately—and no one had ever returned. Like all ExtraOrdinary Wizards before her—apart from DomDaniel, who had been rather looking forward to his Apprentice getting his comeuppance—Marcia dreaded that day; indeed it was one of the reasons why Marcia had hesitated in taking on an Apprentice for many years.
Marcia knew that the Gathering, which consisted of the ghosts of all previous ExtraOrdinary Wizards, must be admitted to the Wizard Tower at all times. She also knew that its unexpected Appearance only happened in times of peril in order to give the Living ExtraOrdinary Wizard the benefit of all her predecessors’ collective wisdom. As she looked at the long line of ExtraOrdinary Wizard ghosts flowing down the steps, Marcia felt sick with apprehension—and Tertius Fume was pleased to see it.
Tertius Fume was hovering well above the broad white marble step—he had been short in Life and liked to float about eight inches above the ground to give an impression of height. He pressed his advantage, his booming voice echoing through the Great Hall of the Wizard Tower. “It is considered polite for the Living ExtraOrdinary Wizard to invite the Gathering
over the threshold of the Wizard Tower,” he informed Marcia. “But it is not essential, for we have a right to enter.
Indeed, there have been some misguided ExtraOrdinary Wizards in the past who have not invited us in and they always regretted it. Always. I will ask you for the last time—are you going to invite us in?”
“Tertius Fume, you are no ExtraOrdinary Wizard,” Marcia retorted. “I have no obligation to invite you in.”
The ghost looked triumphant. “I am afraid you are mistaken there, Miss Overstrand,” he declared. “I held the office in locum tenens for seven days, in honor of which I was given purple to wear upon my sleeve. There.” He pointed to the bands at the end of his sleeves. Reluctantly Marcia looked. There, between the two gold strips set on the dark blue was a color that could, she supposed, have been purple. “Added to which, Miss Overstrand, it is I who have convened the Gathering and as Convener I demand entry.”
“You convened it? But why—what has happened?”
Tertius smiled, pleased that it was now Marcia asking the questions. “You are forgetting procedure, Miss Overstrand.
First the Gathering is admitted. Then—possibly—we may answer your questions.”
Marcia knew she had no choice. “Very well,” she said.
Tertius Fume smiled with his mouth but not with his eyes. “Very well what, Miss Overstrand?”