Marcia knew what she had to say. It was one of the many Articles of Conduct that she had had to memorize in the frantic few days following her sudden appointment as ExtraOrdinary Wizard. But she didn’t want to say it, and Tertius Fume knew it. And she knew that he knew it. She could tell by his mocking smile and the way he folded his arms, just as he had done the morning she had paid a visit to the Vaults.
Marcia took a deep breath and began to speak, her defiantly confident voice filling the Great Hall. “As ExtraOrdinary Wizard I hereby invite the Gathering
into the Wizard Tower. Upon your entry I do declare that I lay down my authority as ExtraOrdinary Wizard and become but one voice among many. We are all equals in this place.”
“That’s more like it,” said Tertius Fume. He stepped over the threshold and waggled his forefinger at Marcia.
“Remember, one voice among many. That’s all you are now.” The ghost strode in and gazed around the Great Hall as though he owned it.
Taking advantage of everyone’s attention being focused on Tertius Fume, Septimus slipped away from Marcia, into the shadows at the edge of the Great Hall. He made his way around to the doors, where he had just noticed Jenna and Beetle.
“Hello, Jen, Beetle,” he whispered.
“Oh, Sep,” said Jenna, “thank goodness you’re okay. Tertius Fume is—”
“Shh…” Septimus laid a finger on his lips.
“Shh! I’ve got to concentrate, Jen.” Septimus looked so fierce that Jenna did not dare go on.
Septimus was rapidly running through his memory of the gigantic Rule Book that governed all aspects of being an ExtraOrdinary Wizard. Marcia made Septimus read a section each day and he had just gotten to Gebblegons: Health and Safety Regulations part ii.
As he watched the river of purple ghosts begin to flow into the Wizard Tower, Septimus rewound some pages back to Gathering: Rules of Convening, concentrating hard on each ghost as it stepped over the threshold.
As the Great Hall of the Tower began to fill, the Living Ordinary Wizards respectfully drew back to make room for the ghosts—no one wanted to Pass Through
an ancient ExtraOrdinary Wizard. Still the ghosts kept on pouring into the Great Hall, until the Ordinary Wizards were pressed against the walls, a thin rim of blue around a huge circle of purple. A surprising number of Ordinary Wizards were crammed into the various cupboards and alcoves that led off the hall. In fact the record for Wizards in the broom closet—set by eighteen Wizards at the end of a memorable banquet some years previously—was broken that night.
As each ExtraOrdinary Wizard ghost stepped over the threshold, as a matter of courtesy, he or she Appeared to all inside the Tower, and Septimus watched each and every one. Some were faded and extremely ancient; some were newer ghosts who looked quite substantial. Some were old, some young, but all wore an expression of wistfulness as they stepped inside the Wizard Tower once again.
Fascinated, Beetle watched too. At the sight of so many ghosts he could not help recalling some calculations that Jillie Djinn had once made. Although an individual ghost is always somewhat transparent, the combined density of a group of ghosts will soon add up to enough to block an object from view. The number of ghosts necessary for this will depend upon their age, for ghosts become more transparent over the years. Jillie Djinn had worked on a formula to predict this, but she had had trouble with it, as a ghost’s emotional state can also affect how transparent he or she becomes. This, like emotional states in general, irritated Miss Djinn; but she had calculated that the number of ghosts of average range of years of age and stable emotional state needed to obscure a Living being was five and a quarter. Which was why, as the ghosts poured in, Septimus soon lost sight of Marcia at the far side of the hall, but he made sure he did not lose sight of any of the ghosts as they filed in one by one. There were two he was particularly looking out for—one that he wanted to see and one that he did not.
His job was made easier by the bottleneck that had begun to build up at the doors, as virtually each ghost stopped for a moment and gazed at the place he or she had left so long ago. A patient line formed on the steps, each ghost eventually floating through the doors, looking around and finding a place to be. The very last ghost was the one that Septimus had been longing to see—Alther Mella. A tall and relatively new ghost, Alther stood out. He still had a bright look to his robes, and a purposeful way of moving. He was neat and tidy, much more so than he had been when Living, due to the fact that—as he often joked—the upkeep was considerably easier. His hair stayed neatly tied back in its long gray ponytail and his beard remained a manageable length and no longer got bits of food stuck in it. Alther stepped almost reluctantly into the Wizard Tower, leaving the white marble steps behind him empty and glistening in the rain.
“Alther!” whispered Septimus.
Alther’s face lit up. “Septimus!” Then his expression darkened. “You know what this is?” he muttered.
Silence had fallen in the Great Hall and the huge silver doors were slowly closing. Marcia climbed up the first few steps on the Stopped spiral stairs so that she could look down upon the Gathering. Her mouth felt dry and her hands were shaking; she shoved them deep into her pockets, determined not to show any trace of fear.
A solemn, expectant atmosphere pervaded the Tower and all eyes were on the ExtraOrdinary Wizard. Marcia scanned the sea of purple, looking for Septimus—where had he gone? There was no sign of him, which annoyed her. At a time like this, her Apprentice should be at her side. She would, she thought, be having words with him about his slap-dash attitude when all this was over. Marcia could see no sign of Alther, either. She felt disappointed and a little hurt. She had expected Alther to come find her, but he obviously hadn’t bothered. She was on her own.
Marcia was not completely on her own, however. Standing close to her—far too close and deliberately invading her personal space—was Tertius Fume. The ghost had positioned himself on the spiral stairs and was hovering a good ten inches above the step in order to make himself taller than Marcia, who was a tall woman. Marcia looked down and noticed that the purple sea of ExtraOrdinary Wizards was parting to let a speck of green through. With a feeling of relief she watched Septimus make his way toward her—at least now she knew where he was.
Tertius Fume surveyed the scene with an air of satisfaction. “Aha,” he said. “I do believe I see the very reason for our Gathering approaching.”
Marcia frowned. What did Fume mean—the very reason?
Septimus reached the foot of the silver spiral stairs and Marcia looked at him, worried now. “Where have you been?”
Septimus did not want to say what he had to tell her in front of Tertius Fume. “Could you come down here a moment, please?” he asked Marcia.
There was something in Septimus’s voice that made Marcia Pass Through Tertius Fume’s cloak with no hesitation whatsoever and join her Apprentice at the foot of the stairs. “Unauthorized communication is not allowed,” boomed Tertius Fume as Septimus whispered something to Marcia.
Unauthorized or not, the communication was just what Marcia wanted to hear. “You’re absolutely sure?” she whispered in return.
“Thank goodness. I was so
worried. It’s his ring—the Two-Faced Ring. You see, I never took it out of the sludge after I did the Identify. I looked for it after I did the Deep Clean
and it wasn’t there so I thought it was all right. But, well, I have sometimes wondered if the reason it wasn’t there was because it had put him back together and he’d actually gotten away.”
“But he was just a puddle of sludge,” said Septimus. “And he was all over the place. How could he get back together after that?”
“Well…you never know. That ring’s a powerful thing. Got him back together after the Marsh Brownies ate him.
Anyway, I was looking out for him coming in, but I couldn’t tell from over here. They all look the same.”
“No. You’re right. That awful old hat—he’d be wearing that, wouldn’t he?”
Septimus grinned. “I guess he would.”
Marcia rejoined Tertius Fume with a spring in her step. “I do not need any authorization to talk to my Apprentice,” she informed the ghost.