Lucy shook her head. What was it with boys and their fights? “It’s a long way to come just to get your ball back,” she said.

When Sarah Heap got over her fright and realized that it was Simon tapping on her sitting-room window she did not know whether to laugh or cry. So she did both—at the same time. Lucy stood by feeling awkward, thinking that maybe she should go to see her

mother. And then, as Sarah began to bombard Simon with questions—where had he been living, what was he doing, did he really do all those awful things everyone said he did and why hadn’t he written to her—Lucy thought that it was probably better not to see her mother. Not yet.

Lucy and Simon sat and dried out in Sarah’s sitting room beside the fire, eating the bread, cheese and apples that Sarah had found in the kitchen. Lucy liked the chaos of the sitting room, and she was fascinated by the stubbly duck with a crocheted waistcoat that Sarah had picked up from beside the fire and placed in her lap. Lucy liked the Heaps; they were so much more interesting than her own family.

“I don’t know what Marcia will do if she finds you here,” said Sarah, beginning to worry. “She’s always in a bad mood nowadays. Very touchy. And not very nice, either. I never see Septimus and she knows that, but whenever she sees me she makes a point of saying that she hopes I am enjoying seeing so much of him. Don’t make that face, Simon. I will not have you fighting with your little brother any longer, is that understood? Well, is it?”

Simon shrugged. “It’s not me who’s fighting. He’s stolen Sleuth,” he muttered under his breath.

“Stolen what?”

“Nothing,” growled Simon. “Doesn’t matter.”

Sarah sighed. She was thrilled to see Simon after so long but she wished he were not so angry. “No one must know you are here—no one,” she told him. “You and Lucy will have to lie low in the Palace until we can work something out.”

Lucy yawned and swayed sleepily. The yawn was not lost on Sarah. Carefully, she put down the duck and stood up beside the fire. “You must be exhausted,” she said, giving Lucy a concerned smile. “Why don’t we go find you a comfortable bed somewhere?” Lucy nodded gratefully. Simon’s mum was nice, she thought.

Half an hour later, Lucy was fast asleep in a warm bed in a huge Palace guest room overlooking the river. Simon however—one floor up under the eaves of the attic—was moodily staring out the window. It was then he noticed that something was wrong…something was missing. The lights of the Wizard Tower had disappeared. Simon threw open the window and stared into the windswept night. Spread out below were the lights of the Castle. The torches of the Wizard Way flickered and danced in the wind but the great ladder of purple, Magykal lights that always lit up the Castle sky was simply not there.

Simon knew he could not stay in his tiny room wondering what was going on at the Wizard Tower—he had to find out.

Feeling horribly like he was a little boy creeping out on an adventure when his mother had told him to stay in and do his homework, Simon eased open the creaky bedroom door and tiptoed down the darkened corridor. He was so intent on not making a noise that he did not notice Merrin—just returned from another late-night visit to Ma Custard’s—emerge from the top of the stairs. Horror-struck at the sight of Simon, Merrin nearly choked on his last banana-and-bacon chew. He stopped dead in his tracks, then ducked behind one of the huge beams that lined the walls.

As Simon tiptoed past, Merrin stared at his former employer like a rabbit Transfixed. He could not believe his eyes.

How had Simon tracked him down—how did he know? Not daring to even turn his head, Merrin watched Simon as he slunk down the stairs, treading as carefully as Merrin himself had during his first days at the Palace.

Simon snuck out of a side door and headed for the alley beside the Palace. He was soon striding up Wizard Way toward the darkness that he knew contained the Wizard Tower. Despite all the things he had done—which now Simon could hardly believe, what

had he been thinking of?—he retained a proprietary interest in the Wizard Tower. Deep down Simon Heap still wanted to be ExtraOrdinary Wizard. But he no longer wanted to do it the Darke way. That, he thought, was cheating. He wanted to do it properly, fair and square, so that Lucy would be proud of him.

Simon knew this was an impossible dream. But it didn’t stop him from being drawn to the Wizard Tower and it didn’t stop him wanting to know what was happening there.

As he approached the Great Arch at the entrance to the Courtyard, Simon saw a large but subdued crowd congregated outside, talking in low, anxious voices—he was not the only one to have noticed the absence of Magykal lights. Simon pulled the hood of his cloak over his head and, ignoring mutterings of protest, he pushed his way to the front. There he came face to face with two tall figures, surrounded by a Magykal haze. They were, although he did not know it, two of the seven Questing Guards who had come to escort the Apprentice away on the Queste. At Simon’s determined approach the armed Guards crossed their pikestaffs in front of him with a loud clack and barred the way through the Arch. “Halt!” they barked. Simon halted.

Mustering his courage, Simon asked, “What’s going on?”

“Siege,” was the terse reply.

Behind Simon an anxious muttering spread through the crowd.

“Why?” Simon asked.

The Guards’

reply was swift and unexpected. They drew their daggers and brandished them at Simon, one of them catching his cloak.

“Go!” they barked.

The crowd scattered. Shocked, Simon ripped his cloak from the dagger, then walked away as slowly as he dared.

Entertaining fantasies of storming the Wizard Tower, rescuing it from the Siege and being asked by a grateful Marcia Overstrand to be her Apprentice, Simon walked around the outside perimeter of the Courtyard walls, but the Courtyard gates were Barred. All Simon saw was the ghostly outline of the Wizard Tower in the moonlight and all he heard was the screech of an owl and the distant slam of a door as one of the crowd regained the safety of his home.

Simon trailed back to the Palace. This would not, he told himself, have happened if he had been Apprentice. Which was, of course, true.

Back at the Palace, Merrin was angrily packing his backpack. Why, he thought, why did it always go wrong? Why, just when he had found a place of his own, did Simon stupid Heap have to come and spoil it all? As he left his room, several Ancient ghosts, including a very relieved ghost of a governess, watched him go. Merrin crept down through the sleeping Palace, slipped out and headed for the kitchen garden shed. At least, he thought, there would be no former employers there.

How wrong he was.

But Merrin was toughening up fast. Angrily, he grabbed the sack of DomDaniel’s bones, dragged it out of the shed, and

after getting a few rhythmic swings going, he heaved it over the kitchen garden wall. The sack flew over in a perfect arc and thumped down in Billy Pot’s ex–vegetable patch, now home to a certain Mr. Spit Fyre, as Billy Pot respectfully called the dragon.

Spit Fyre slept on, unaware that breakfast had landed.

33

BREAKFAST

T he next morning Billy Pot

was up early mixing Spit Fyre’s breakfast according to Septimus’s strict instructions—but the dragon was not interested.

Spit Fyre lay outside his new Dragon Kennel and regarded Billy drowsily through a half-open eye. As Billy approached with the breakfast bucket, a subterranean rumbling shook the ground and the dragon burped. Billy reeled.

He scratched his head, puzzled. If Billy didn’t know better, he’d say that the dragon had already eaten. “I’ll leave yer bucket o’ breakfast here, Mr. Spit Fyre,” he said. “You might like it later.”

Spit Fyre groaned and closed his half-open eye. Deep in his fire stomach he could feel the old Necromancer’s bones lying heavy and Darke. He wished he’d never swallowed that nasty old sack. He didn’t ever want to eat again.

As the dragon’s fire stomach slowly geared up for the Darke

task of dissolving the bones, the ghost of DomDaniel was reveling in being at the Wizard Tower once more. It had done him good to see old Nastier Underhand get her comeuppance at long last—it amused him to see her hanging around like any other common Wizard, waiting to be told what to do. And now he had cornered his old Apprentice, Alther Mella, who had pushed him off the golden pyramid at the top of the Wizard Tower. That memory was still there, clear as the day it had happened. DomDaniel was enjoying telling Alther in great detail all the Darke plans he intended to put into action now that, at last, he had become a ghost—when he began to feel a little strange. At that moment Alther noticed that DomDaniel’s left leg had disappeared.

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