“But Jen, like I said, Marcellus hasn’t got the Fyre going yet. He can’t do it until then.”

“Sep, we have to ask—we have to!”

Wolf Boy stepped in. “Septimus,” he said, feeling strange using his friend’s real name for the first time, “have you looked outside?”

Septimus glanced across at the window. Snow was falling fast. He went over to the front door and pulled it open. All he could see was a grayish-white blanket of snow falling so thick that the air looked almost solid. “Bother,” he said.

“It’s a real marsh blizzard,” said Wolf Boy, joining him. “You’d be crazy to go out in that. In ten minutes you and that flask would be just a weird-shaped pile of snow.”

“How long will it last?” asked Septimus.

Wolf Boy shrugged. “Who knows? But I’d guess all day. We’ve had a few of these recently and once they start, the snow keeps falling until the cold night air comes in.”

Septimus would have happily waited the blizzard out in the comfort of Aunt Zelda’s cottage. He would have loved to spend a day by the fire talking to Wolf Boy, catching up with his life and finding out what he was doing. But one look at Jenna told him that that was not an option. “I’ll have to come back for it,” he said. “Tomorrow, when the blizzard’s blown out.”

Jenna pushed Septimus into the little cupboard under the stairs, closed the door and lit a small lamp. The light flared up in the dark and Septimus saw the familiar shelves with their orderly bottles of Unstable Potions, and below them he saw in the dark wood a line of drawers, in which he had always supposed the Partikular Poisons were kept. He watched as with a practiced air, Jenna reached down to the bottom drawer and opened it. He sensed something move within the drawer and heard a soft click behind them as the cupboard door locked itself and they were plunged into darkness.

The next thing Septimus knew was Jenna pushing the door open again. He guessed she had forgotten something. She stepped out and he waited for her to go and get whatever it was.

Jenna looked back into the cupboard. “Are you coming, Sep?”

“Huh?”

“We’re here.”

“Where?”

“Back at the Castle. In the Palace.”

“Already?”

Jenna grinned. “Yep. Good, isn’t it?”

Septimus followed Jenna out of the cupboard and stepped into a small, cozy room. It possessed a little fireplace with a fire burning in the grate, and a comfortable, somewhat worn-looking chair placed beside it. What he did not see was the occupant of the chair: the ghost of a Queen—a young woman, wearing a red silk tunic, with a gold cloak wrapped around her shoulders. Around her long dark hair was a gold circlet—the one that Jenna now wore.

At the opening of the cupboard door, the ghost jumped up. She had been waiting for this moment. Her daughter had rushed past her so fast on her way into the cupboard that she had not had time to react. Now she was ready. The ghost of the Queen got to her feet and stepped in front of Jenna.

Jenna stopped dead—something was in the way.

Septimus was just behind Jenna. “What is it?” he whispered.

Jenna remembered something the ghost of Queen Etheldredda had once said to her. “I think that maybe my mother is here,” she whispered. Tentatively she put her hand out in front of her.

The ghost of Queen Cerys stepped back to avoid being Passed Through. “Yes, yes, I am here!” she said—but no sound emerged. What the ghost did not realize was that it takes some practice to speak without Appearing. And Cerys knew that the Time was not yet Right for her to Appear to her daughter.

Jenna turned to Septimus. “Do you feel it?” she whispered.

Septimus nodded. The little room felt strangely full of movement, as though currents of air were swirling around.

Jenna took a deep breath and said out loud, “Is anyone there?”

“I am here,” said the ghost of the Queen, silently and somewhat irritably. “Daughter, our mothers tell me the Dragon Boat is dying. You must save her!”

Beside the ghost of Queen Cerys stood the ghost of her own mother, Jenna’s grandmother, the redoubtable Queen Matthilda. The rotund ghost, gray hair awry, crown slightly askew as it always had been in Life, was agitated. “For goodness’ sake, Cerys, say something,” the ghost told her daughter.

“I am trying to, Mama.”

“Well, try harder, dear. She’ll be gone in a moment. The young move so fast.”

Queen Cerys concentrated hard. “Daughter. Listen to me!”

Jenna glanced at Septimus. “Was that you?” she asked.

“Was what me?”

“A kind of whisper.”

Septimus shook his head. He longed to get out of the oppressive little room; it held bad memories for him. “Let’s go, shall we?” he said.

Jenna nodded.

Queen Matthilda was exasperated. “Cerys, tell her!”

“How can I concentrate when you keep going on at me?” Cerys demanded crossly, as she watched her daughter and the Alchemie Apprentice edge past her.

“Well, I shall tell her,” snapped Queen Matthilda.

“No, you will not.”

“I shall. She is my granddaughter.”

“And she is my daughter.”

“Sadly neglected if you ask me,” Queen Matthilda huffed. “You really should make more of an effort with her. Poor child. You know I would happily stay here in your place so that you could go to her. She needs you, Cerys.”

Jenna took the few steps across to the blank space in the wall where the hidden door to the outside lay. Septimus followed, glancing backward uneasily.

Cerys was fast descending into one of the legendary fights that she used to have with her mother. “Mama, you know The Queen Rules perfectly well. We do not Appear until the Time Is Right. You know that. How can my daughter ever become a true Queen if we keep Appearing to her, telling her what to do, preventing her from finding her own true path?”

“Absolute twaddle,” harrumphed Jenna’s grandmother. “I never did agree with that part of the Rules. Never.”

“You cannot cherry-pick from the Rules, Mama. It is all or nothing. Wait!”

The ghost of Queen Cerys saw her daughter take hold of the Apprentice’s hand and heard her say, “Let’s go, Sep!” Cerys began whirling around the room in frustration. Why couldn’t she speak? Why? As her daughter headed toward the wall, a faint, despairing cry found its way into the room: “Hear me! Only you can save the Dragon Boat!”

On the other side of the wall Jenna stared at Septimus openmouthed. “That was my mother!”

“Are you sure?”

“Sep, I know her voice. I know it. It’s my mother!”

“It was only her ghost, Jen.”

“So why doesn’t she Appear to me, Sep? Why? She must have seen me often enough. She’s just like my father. They’re both the same. They both keep away. It’s horrible.”

“Oh, Jen,” said Septimus, at a loss for words.

“And now—now all she does is tell me to do something that I can’t do!”

11

DRAGON FYRE

Septimus held a burning rushlight to light the way as he and Jenna walked through the coils of the lapis lazuli Labyrinth. The last time Jenna had been there was five hundred years in the past, and the flickering of the flame lighting up the blue lapis walls brought back terrifying memories of being dragged through it by the murderous ghost of Queen Etheldredda.

At last they reached the arch that led into the Great Chamber of Alchemie. After Septimus’s descriptions of all the soot and sand, Jenna was expecting to see a wreck, but what met her was a bright glittering chamber, full of gold—a testament to Septimus’s cleaning skills.

Jenna’s gaze was at once drawn to the two huge, patterned gold doors set in the wall opposite: the Great Doors of Time that had once been the gateway to the Glass of Time itself. Even though she knew that the Glass had shattered and no one could now pass through them to another Time, they still had a presence that gave her goose bumps. Jenna shivered and looked away to the neat ebony workbenches that lined the walls, clean and polished, with unpacked boxes stacked up neatly.

Jenna loved all the gold gleaming softly in the candlelight—gold catches, handles and hinges, tiny gold drawers below the workbenches, gold brackets that held up the shelves and even the scuffed strips of gold that ran along the bottom of the ebony benches, protecting the precious wood from the boots of Marcellus’s ancient and long-gone junior Apprentices. Jenna and Marcellus shared a fascination for gold.

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