"Edifice! Chemistry!" A shout came from the counter.
Beetle got up to collect the sandwiches, leaving Jenna with a vague feeling that she had said something wrong. He returned with a teetering stack of triangles and a huge cube.
"Wow," said Jenna. "Thank you." She tentatively took the top triangle off the pile and bit into it. It was a delicious mixture of chopped smoked fish and cucumber with Wizard Sandwiches' famous sandwich sauce.
Beetle regarded his large cube with dismay. It was one solid lump of bread made from half a loaf. In it were drilled nine holes filled with different colored jams and sauces, and from the center hole a wisp of smoke was rising. Beetle knew at once he had made a mistake; he just knew that when he tried to eat it, the colored gloop would run down his face and drip on the table and he would look like a kid. Why hadn't he chosen something simple?
Beetle began sawing at his cube. The multicolored gloop ran across his plate and swirled into a thick rainbow puddle. Beetle began to turn pink. His sandwich was an utter disaster.
"So . . . um, what is it you wanted Sep to do?" he asked, trying to deflect attention from the accident on his plate.
"There's something going on in the Palace. In the attic," said Jenna. "No one's allowed up there since that stuff with Dad and the Sealed Room - even I don't go there - but sometimes when I'm in my room I hear footsteps above my head."
"Probably rats," said Beetle, staring at "Chemistry" in dismay. "There're some big ones down by the river."
"It's human," whispered Jenna.
"But some ghosts make footstep noises," said Beetle. "It's one of the easiest things a ghost can Cause. And you have a load of ghosts at the Palace."
Jenna shook her head. That was what Silas and Sarah had said too.
"But Beetle, someone is using those stairs - the dust is worn away from the middle of the treads. I thought it was Mum, as she does wander around a bit at night when she can't sleep, but when I asked her about it she said she hadn't been up there for ages. So yesterday I decided to go up and have a look."
Beetle looked up from the mangled mess on his plate. "What did you see?"
Jenna told Beetle what had happened the previous evening. By the time she had finished, Beetle wore a look of consternation.
"That's not good. Sounds like you might have an Infestation," he said.
"What, like cockroaches or something?" Jenna was puzzled.
"No. I didn't mean that kind of infestation. It's what we used to call it in the Manuscriptorium. I suppose Wizards might have a different name for it."
Beetle also lowered his voice - it wasn't good to talk about the Darke in a public place. "For when something Darke moves into someone's house. In fact, it sounds like something might be setting up a" - he glanced around to check that no one was listening - "a Darke Domaine."
Jenna shivered. She didn't like the sound of that at all. "What's a Darke Domaine?" she whispered.
"It's like a kind of foggy pool of Darke. It can get really powerful if it's not gotten rid of. It grows by drawing strength from people, and it lures them in with promises of all the things they long for."
"You mean there might really be something nasty in the attic?" Jenna looked scared. She hadn't quite believed it until now.
From what Jenna had just told him, Beetle thought it was highly likely. "Well, yes. You know, I think you should really get Marcia to have a look."
"But if I ask Marcia to come today, Mum will throw a fit." Jenna thought for a moment. "Beetle, I'd really appreciate your advice first. If you say it's a" - she too glanced around - "you-know-what, then I'll go straight to Marcia. I promise."
Beetle could not refuse. "Okay," he said.
"Oh, thank you." Jenna smiled.
Beetle took out his treasured timepiece. "Suppose I come round, let's see . . . about half-past three. Gives me time to pick up a SafeCharm from the Charm desk at the Wizard Tower. It will still be daylight then. You don't want to go near that kind of stuff after dark."
It was then that Jenna remembered that the last time Beetle helped her, he had lost his job. "But what about Larry? What about your job?"
Beetle grinned. "Don't worry, I'll fix it with Larry. He owes me a lot of time. And Larry's okay as long as you tell him what you're doing. He's nothing like Jillie Djinn, so don't you worry about that. Half-past three at the Palace Gate?"
"Oh, thank you, Beetle. Thank you." Jenna regarded the gooey mess on Beetle's plate, which was beginning to fizz alarmingly. She pushed her stack of sandwiches to the middle of the table. "Let's share," she said. "I can't possibly eat them all."
Chapter 9 Charming
Beetle and Jenna emerged from the warmth of Wizard Sandwiches into the gray chill of Wizard Way. A few stray snowflakes drifted down and Jenna pulled her red fur-lined cloak tightly around her. Beetle buttoned up his admiral's jacket and wound his long woolly scarf around his neck.
"Hey, Beetle!" came a shout.
A tall, impossibly thin young man was walking toward them from the upper reaches of Wizard Way. He waved and picked up speed.
"Good morning . . . Princess Jenna," the young man said, out of breath. He bowed his head and Jenna felt embarrassed.
"Wotcha, Foxy," said Beetle.
"Wotcha, Beet," replied Foxy, stamping his feet and rubbing his hands together. His long, pointy nose glowed like a bright red triangle set in his thin, pale face and his teeth chattered. He looked cold in his gray scribe's tunic. "Ser-sausage sandwich?" he asked.
Beetle shook his head. "Not today, Foxy. Gotta go and get a SafeCharm from the Wizard Tower."
Foxy grinned, his slightly pointy teeth shining in the warm light from Wizard Sandwiches' windows. "Hey, don't go to the competition. You're talking to the Chief Charm Scribe here."
"Since this morning at eight fifty-two precisely," Foxy replied with a grin, mimicking his boss, Miss Jillie Djinn, Chief Hermetic Scribe, to perfection.
"Wow. Hey, congratulations," said Beetle.
"And it would be an honor, Mr. Beetle, if you would consent to be my first commission."
"Okey dokey." Beetle grinned.
"We'll just run through the formalities, shall we?"
Beetle looked uneasy. "Actually Foxy, I don't really want to go into the Manuscriptorium."
"No need. I have, as of this moment, in my capacity as Chief Charm Scribe, instigated the Manuscriptorium's pioneering mobile Charm service." Foxy took what Beetle recognized as a standard-issue scribe notebook from his book pocket and unclipped the pencil from its holder.
"Okay," said Foxy, pencil poised. "Just a few questions, Mr. Beetle, and then I guarantee we will have the perfect SafeCharm for you. Unlike the WT Charm Desk One-Charm-Fits-All policy, we tailor our Charms to your personal requirements. Inside or out?"
"Um . . . inside," answered Beetle, somewhat taken aback by Foxy's sales patter.
"Up or down?"
"What do you mean?"
"I dunno. Sounds good though, don't you think?"
"Foxy." Beetle laughed. "For a weird moment I thought you actually knew what you were doing."
"I do know what I'm doing," protested Foxy. "Just trying to make it more exciting, that's all. Inside is all I need to know."
"What about the strength?" asked Beetle.
"Hmm . . ." said Foxy. "Forgot that. Small, medium or large . . . no, I don't mean that."
"Minor, major or maximum," Beetle supplied.
"Yeah, that's it. So waddyou want?"
Beetle glanced at Jenna. "Maximum," said Jenna. "Just in case."
"Okey dokey. I'll see what we got. Delivery to place of work in one hour okay?"
"Thanks. Just ask for me. Say it's business."
"Will do, Beet. Sausage sandwich tomorrow then?"
"Yep. See you, Foxo."
With that, Foxy - looking not unlike a large heron picking its way through the shallows - headed for the multicolored door of Wizard Sandwiches.
Ten minutes later Jenna was wandering through the Northern Traders' Market. She was looking for a fun birthday present for Septimus, but she was also avoiding going home until her appointment with Beetle. Jenna knew that if she went back to the Palace, Sarah would find her and she would end up in yet another discussion about the letters from Simon. Unlike Sarah Heap, Jenna had read her letter from Simon only once and had left it screwed up on her bedroom floor. When Sarah had asked her what he'd said, Jenna had been curt. "Sorry," she'd replied.