Chapter 8 The Port Witch Coven

W olf Boy was not often nervous, but as he stood on the suspiciously slimy steps of the House of the Port Witch Coven, a flock of butterflies began playing football in his stomach. There was something about the battered old front door with its black peeling paint and Reverse writing scrawled from top to bottom that scared him. He reached deep into his tunic pocket and brought out the note that Aunt Zelda had insisted he not read until he was standing on the very doorstep of the Coven. Wolf Boy hoped that the sight of Aunt Zelda's friendly handwriting would make him feel better. However, as he slowly began to read the note, it had quite the opposite effect.

Aunt Zelda had written her note on special paper that she had made from pressed cabbage leaves. She had written very carefully in ink made from crushed beetles mixed with water from the Mott. Aunt Zelda had not used cursive writing, because she knew that Wolf Boy had trouble with letters - he would often complain that they rearranged themselves when he wasn't looking. There were a lot of letters - it had taken a whole family of beetles to make the ink. The beetles said:

Dear Wolf Boy,

Now you are outside the Port Witch Coven. Read this, remember every word and then eat it.

Wolf Boy gulped. Eat it? Had he read that right? He looked at the word again. E-A-T. Eat. That's what it said. Wolf Boy shook his head and continued reading very slowly. He had a bad feeling about what was coming next. The note went on: This is what you must do:

Take the Toad doorknocker. Knock only once. If the Toad calls, the Coven must answer.

The witch who answers the door will ask, "What be your business?"

You must say, "I have come to feed the Grim." Say nothing else. The witch will reply, "So be it. Enter, GrimFeeder," and let you in. Say nothing.

The witch will take you to the kitchen. She will tell the Coven that you have come to feed the Grim.

When you reach the kitchen, speak only the words "yes" and "no" and "I have come to feed the Grim. What will you give me?"

The Coven will bring you what they wish you to feed to the Grim. You may refuse anything human, but everything else you must accept. They will Awaken the Grim. Be brave.

Now they will leave you alone with the Grim.

You will FEED THE GRIM. (For this, Wolf Boy dear, you must be fast and fearless. The Grim will be hungry. It is more than fifty years since it has been fed.)

Take the silver knife I gave you this morning and, while the Grim is feeding, cut off the tip of one of its tentacles. Do not spill any blood. At this point Wolf Boy gulped. Tentacles? He did not like the sound of that at all. How many tentacles? How big? As the bad feeling in the pit of his stomach grew, he continued reading.

Place the tentacle tip in the leather wallet I gave you, so that the Coven does not smell Grim blood.

When the Grim has finished feeding, the Coven will return. Because you came in via the Darke Toad, they will allow you to leave in the same way.

Come straight back along the Causeway, and Boggart will be waiting. Safe passage and a valiant heart, Aunt Zelda xxx

When he finally reached the end of the letter, Wolf Boy's hands were shaking. He knew that Aunt Zelda had something special she wanted him to do, but he'd had no idea it was anything like this. Attracting curious glances from passersby and an offer of advice - "you don't wanna be standin' there, boy. I'd go an' stand anywhere but there if I was you" - Wolf Boy read Aunt Zelda's note again and again and again until he knew every word. Then he screwed it up into a ball and warily put it into his mouth. It stuck to the roof of his mouth and tasted disgusting. Very slowly, Wolf Boy began to chew. Five minutes later he had managed to swallow the last pieces of the note. Then he took a deep breath and gathered his thoughts. As he did, a subtle change came over him. Two girls walking past, who had been looking at Wolf Boy and giggling, fell quiet as the dreadlocked boy on the step suddenly looked less boylike and more...wolflike. They hurried on, clutching each other's arms, and later told their friends they had seen a real live warlock outside the Coven.

Wolf Boy had retreated into his twilight world of wolverine ways - as he always did when he felt in danger - and with a heightened awareness of everything around him, Wolf Boy studied the door of the House of the Port Witch Coven. There were three doorknockers positioned one above the other. The bottom one was a miniature iron cauldron, the middle one was a curled silver rat's tail and the top one was a fat, warty toad. It looked very realistic.

Wolf Boy reached up to the toad doorknocker and the toad moved. Wolf Boy pulled his hand back as if he had been bitten. The toad was real. It was squatting on the doorknocker, its dark little amphibian eyes staring at him. Wolf Boy loathed slimy things - which was probably the reason he did not like much of Aunt Zelda's cooking - but he knew he would have to touch the toad doorknocker, and that that would probably not be the worst thing he would have to touch. Gritting his teeth, he reached for the toad once more. The toad puffed itself up to twice its size so that it looked like a small, toad-shaped balloon. It began to hiss, but this time Wolf Boy did not draw back. As his hand began to close over the toad, the creature stopped hissing and shrank back to its normal size - there was something Darke about the grubby hand, scarred from the Tracker Ball, that the toad recognized.

Taking Wolf Boy by surprise, the toad slipped from under his hand and hopped off the doorknocker. It lifted it up and let it fall with a resounding bang. Then the toad resumed its place on the knocker and closed its eyes.

Wolf Boy was prepared to wait, but he did not have to wait long. Soon he heard the sound of heavy footsteps on bare boards coming toward him, and a moment later the door was wrenched open. A young woman dressed in raggedy, stained black Coven robes peered out. She had a huge pink towel wrapped around her head and big, staring blue eyes. She very nearly snapped, "Yeah?" as usual, but then she remembered that it was the Darke Toad that had knocked. Taking care to keep her towel balanced, she stood up straight and said in her formal witch voice - which was bizarrely squeaky and shot up at the end of the sentence - "What be your business?"

Wolf Boy's mind went blank. The taste of dried cabbage leaves and crushed beetle filled his mouth once more. What was it he had to say? He couldn't remember. He stared at the young woman. She didn't look too scary; she had big blue eyes and a squashy-looking nose. In fact, she almost seemed nice - though there was something peculiar about her, something that he couldn't quite figure out. Oh! There was a weird, bristly gray flap thingy escaping from underneath the towel - what was that?

The young witch, whose name was Dorinda, began to close the door. At last Wolf Boy remembered what he had to say. "I have come to feed the Grim," he said.

"What?" said Dorinda. "You're kidding me, aren't you?" And then she remembered what she was supposed to say. She readjusted her towel once more and resumed her squeaky voice. "So be it," she said. "Enter, GrimFeeder."

Unfortunately he was not kidding, thought Wolf Boy, as he stepped into the House of the Port Witch Coven and the door began to close behind him. He wished he were. There was nothing he would like better right then than to step back into the sunny street and run all the way home to the marshes, where he belonged. The thought of the marshes made Wolf Boy remember that being in this ghastly place actually had something very important to do with the marshes and all the things he loved there. And so, as he followed Dorinda down the dark passageway, deep into the House of the Port Witch Coven, he kept that in mind. He was determined to do what he had come to do - tentacles and all. The passageway was pitch-black and treacherous. Wolf Boy followed the rustling sound of Dorinda's robes as they swept along the rough floor. Just in time he sidestepped a gaping hole from which a foul smell rose, only to be assailed by a sudden onslaught of Bothers - one of them very prickly. Frantically Wolf Boy batted the Bothers away, to the accompaniment of Dorinda's giggles. But he was not Bothered again as word of the touch of the Darke Toad quickly spread through the Bother community, and Wolf Boy was left at a respectful distance.

Wolf Boy followed Dorinda deeper into the house. At last they came to a tattered black curtain hanging in front of a door. As Dorinda drew back the curtain, clouds of dust made Wolf Boy cough. The dust tasted foul, of things long dead. Dorinda pushed open the door, which someone had taken a huge chunk out of with an ax, and he followed her into the kitchen.