Holding the note at arm's length (not just because she could not stand the smell of dragon poop - Marcia did not want Zelda to realize she needed spectacles), Marcia read: Dear miss Zelda, I hope this gets to yu i am very very sory but the apprintice wood not take the safe charm yu gave me and then a scribe took it and i want you to no this becus i do not want too be a lizzard From Barney Pot.

PS plees tell me if I can help becus I wood like too "Lizard?" asked Marcia, looking at Barney, puzzled.

"I don't want to be one," whispered Barney.

"Well, Barney, who does?" observed Marcia. She gave the note back to Zelda. "I don't know what you are making such a fuss about, Zelda. Thank goodness Septimus didn't take it, and after all that trouble with the Questing Stone I wouldn't expect him to. It's a good thing the scribe did take it for SafeKeeping - at least someone had a sense of responsibility. Frankly, Zelda, it's not fair giving a live SafeCharm to someone so young, not fair at all. I will most definitely not allow Septimus to have a jinnee. We have enough trouble with that wretched dragon of his without some pesky Entity hanging around too. Now I really must leave. I have an important appointment at the Manuscriptorium." With that Marcia strode off down Wizard Way.

"Well!" Aunt Zelda exclaimed to a group of onlookers who were rather thrilled to have seen their ExtraOrdinary Wizard living up to her argumentative reputation and were looking forward to regaling their friends with the story.

Aunt Zelda impatiently pushed her way through the small crowd. And as she emerged with Barney Pot hanging on to her dress like a little limpet, Barney squealed,

"There he is! The scribe! The scribe who took the SafeCharm!"

Halfway down Wizard Way, a disheveled, gangly boy in a grubby scribe's uniform saw a large patchwork tent emerge from a small crowd. He turned and ran.

"Merrin!" yelled Aunt Zelda in a voice that rang down Wizard Way. "Merrin Meredith, I want a word with you!"

Chapter 25 Wizard Ways

A ccompanied by an assertive ping and the click of a counter turning to thirteen, Marcia pushed open the Manuscriptorium door and walked into the front office. The front office was empty and had a neglected air to it. It made Marcia realize how much Beetle, as Front Office Clerk, had actually done. The place had always looked clean and well organized, and even though the window was piled high with books and papers (and the occasional sausage sandwich), it had a tended look to it, as though someone actually cared.

Marcia marched up to the desk - which was strewn with papers, crumbs and candy wrappers - and rapped on it sharply. She inspected her knuckles with distaste; they were sticky and smelled of licorice. Marcia didn't like licorice.

"Shop!" she yelled impatiently. "Shop!"

The door in the wood-and-glass screen that divided the Manuscriptorium itself from the front office burst open and none other than the Chief Hermetic Scribe, Miss Jillie Djinn herself, marched out, her dark blue silk robes rustling with indignation.

"This is a place of study and concentration, Madam Marcia," she said crossly.

"Please respect that. Have you come to pay your bill?"

"Bill?" Marcia bristled. "What bill?"

"Invoice number 0000003542678b is still outstanding. For the window."

Marcia sniffed. "I believe we are in dispute about that."

"You may be in dispute, but I am not," said Jillie Djinn. "There is nothing to dispute."

"What ever," said Marcia, catching a word and intonation that Septimus had recently begun using. "Now, I have an appointment for the Vaults."

Marcia waited, tapping her feet impatiently. Jillie Djinn sighed. She looked around for the daybook and finally extracted it from under the pile of papers on the desk. She turned the thick cream pages with great deliberation.

"Now, let me see...ah yes, well, you have missed that appointment by two minutes and" - the Chief Hermetic Scribe consulted her timepiece that hung from her rotund waist - "fifty-two seconds."

An exasperated noise escaped Marcia.

Jillie Djinn ignored it. "However, I can give you an appointment in seventeen days' time at...let me see...three-thirty-one precisely," she said.

"Now," snapped Marcia.

"Not possible," retorted Jillie Djinn.

"If Beetle were here - "

"Mr. Beetle has left our employment," Jillie Djinn said frostily.

"Where's your new clerk?" asked Marcia.

Jillie Djinn looked uncomfortable. Merrin had not shown up for the second day running. Even she was beginning to doubt the wisdom of her latest appointment. "He is um...engaged elsewhere."

"Indeed? What a surprise. Well, as you are so short staffed it seems I shall have to go down to the Vaults unaccompanied."

"No. That is not possible." The Chief Hermetic Scribe folded her arms and stared up at the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, daring her to disagree.

Marcia met her dare. "Miss Djinn, as you well know, I have the right to inspect the Vaults at any time, and it is only as a matter of courtesy that I make an appointment. However, courtesy seems sadly lacking here. I intend to go to the Vaults right now."

"But you went there only last week," Jillie Djinn protested.

"How true. And I intend to do it every week, every day and every hour that I consider it to be necessary. Stand aside."

With that Marcia swept by and threw open the door in the thin partition that led into the Manuscriptorium. Twenty-one scribes looked up. Marcia stopped, thought for a moment, then threw a large gold coin - a double crown - on the front office desk. "That should fix your window, Miss Djinn. Get a decent haircut with the change."

The scribes exchanged glances and suppressed smiles. Marcia strode through the lines of tall desks, well aware that twenty-one pairs of eyes were following her every move. She pushed open the secret door in the bookshelves and disappeared into the passageway that led to the Vaults. The door closed behind her, and Partridge said,

"Meooooow!"

To Partridge's delight the newly appointed Inspection Clerk, Romilly Badger, giggled.

Down in the Vaults, Marcia discovered two things, one pleasant, the other much less so. The pleasant surprise was that Tertius Fume, the rude and overbearing Ghost of the Vaults, was not at his post. For once Marcia was able to go into the Vaults without being harassed about passwords. Marcia enjoyed being alone in the Vaults. She Lit the lamps, left one on the table by the entrance to guide her back and took the other deep into the musty vaulted chambers that ran under Wizard Way. As a matter of courtesy, a scribe was normally sent to the Vaults with the ExtraOrdinary Wizard to fetch whatever she wanted, but today, as Marcia had noticed, courtesy was in short supply at the Manuscriptorium. However, like all ExtraOrdinary Wizards, Marcia had a copy of the Vault Plan, and she was quite content finding her way through the maze of boxes, trunks and metal storage tubes, all neatly stacked and labeled over thousands of years. The Vaults contained the archives of the Castle, and the Wizard Tower had nothing to rival them. This had always been a matter for smugness among Chief Hermetic Scribes but also a matter of annoyance, as ExtraOrdinary Wizards did indeed have a right of entry to the Vaults at any time - and on some of the ancient maps (secreted in the Chief Hermetic Scribe's upstairs office), the Vaults were actually shown as belonging to the Wizard Tower.

Marcia found what she was looking for - the ebony box containing the Live Plan of What Lies Beneath. There had recently been some trouble with ice hatches becoming UnSealed, and Marcia had been keeping an eye on things. In the light of the lamp she cut the wax seal, drew out the huge sheet of paper and carefully unrolled the Plan. The Plan showed all the Ice Tunnel Sealed hatches - including tunnels that were not shown on the basic map given to the Inspection Clerk. Marcia stared at the Plan, not quite able to believe what she was seeing - the major tunnel out of the Castle was UnSealed at both ends.

Minutes later the secret door in the bookshelves banged open, and Marcia burst into the Manuscriptorium. All the scribes looked up. Pens poised, ink dripping unheeded onto their work, they watched the ExtraOrdinary Wizard speed between the desks and disappear into the narrow, seven-cornered passageway that led to the Hermetic Chamber. A murmur of excitement spread through the room - what would their Chief Hermetic Scribe have to say about that? No one, not even the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, entered the Hermetic Chamber without permission. The scribes waited for the inevitable explosion. To their amazement it did not come. Instead Jillie Djinn appeared at the entrance of the passageway looking a little flustered and said, "Miss Badger, would you come into the Chamber, please?"

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