Syrah looked up at the three faces staring down at her. Her gaze traveled blankly from Marcia, to Dandra Draa and on to Septimus.
“Syrah,” said Septimus. “It’s me, Septimus. Syrah, you’re safe. You’re in the Wizard Tower.”
Syrah frowned and struggled to speak.
“Is enough now,” Dandra said. “I watch Syrah tonight and if all go well, we move her. Is good. Out, please.” In her own domain, Dandra Draa had confidence. She shooed Marcia and Septimus out like a couple of annoying bluebottles. They emerged into the Sick Bay, smiling.
“Wonderful,” said Marcia. “Dandra has done all I hoped she would. I’ll see you tomorrow evening, Septimus, six o’clock sharp, please, in time for Dandra and Hildegarde’s Wizard Warming Supper.” She strode across the Sick Bay, giving a cheery wave to Rose, the Sick Bay Apprentice, and was gone. Septimus sighed. He wished he did not have to go back to Marcellus. He so much wanted to be there when Syrah came out of the DisEnchanting Chamber.
Loath to leave, Septimus stopped to say hello to Rose. Rose—tall and skinny with brown hair so long that she could sit on it—looked very efficient. Her hair was tied back into the regulation Sick Bay plait and she wore a white tabard over her green Apprentice robes.
“Still here?” Septimus asked. He knew that Rose, who was on the new Apprentice rotation scheme, had been hoping to go on to the Charm Desk.
“Still here,” agreed Rose. She glanced around. “Worse luck,” she whispered.
“I’m sorry.” Septimus stopped. That didn’t sound right. “I mean, I didn’t mean I’m sorry to see you. I meant—”
Rose smiled. “That’s okay. I know what you meant. I say stupid stuff like that all the time. Oh! See, I did it right then.”
“Quits then,” Septimus said, grinning. “Anyway, maybe it’s not so bad still being here. Maybe you’ll end up upstairs.”
“Yes. With Marcia. She’s put the Pyramid Library onto the scheme.”
“Wow!” Rose looked amazed. The Charm Desk paled into insignificance compared with the Pyramid Library. “Oh, gosh, I must go and get some sheets,” she said. “We’ve got a scribe coming up. Broken leg.”
Rose rushed off and headed for the cupboard between beds twelve and one. The beds in the Sick Bay were ranged around the room like numbers on a clockface. There were only two occupants, both elderly Wizards and both asleep. Septimus watched a large pile of sheets stagger over to bed three.
“Need any help?” he offered the stack of sheets.
“Oh, yes, please,” it said.
Septimus helped Rose make the bed in the approved Young Army fashion. Rose surveyed the result. “You’re good,” she said, surprised.
Septimus very nearly gave Rose a Young Army salute but stopped just in time. “Thank you,” he said. “I’d better go. I’ll be back tomorrow evening.”
Rose smiled. “Syrah will be out then.”
“Yes, isn’t that great?”
“Yes. Miss Draa has been amazing.” Rose watched Septimus breeze out and tried not to wish that he was coming back to see her rather than Syrah.
Down in the Great Hall, Septimus bumped into Beetle. “Hey, Beet!” He smiled. “What are you doing here?”
“Hello, Sep. Just seen poor old Barnaby Ewe onto the stretcher lift. Broke his leg. He fell into one of those puddles—there’s a really deep one in a dark corner of Little Creep Cut. Be careful if you go down there. People cover them up, then some joker gets an idea it would be fun to move the covers.”
Septimus fell in with Beetle as he walked across to the doors. “Marcia was going on about puddles too,” he said. “She thinks it has something to do with Marcellus.”
“It has,” said Beetle. “I am convinced of it. He’s doing something he’s not telling us about.”
The double doors swung open and a rush of fresh, cold air met them. Twilight was falling as Beetle and Septimus headed down the wide steps and the great doors closed silently behind them. They walked across the Wizard Tower Courtyard, their boots crackling through the frosted snow, the ice crystals sparkling in the light from the rushlights that lined the wall.
“I suppose you haven’t noticed Marcellus doing anything unusual?” asked Beetle. “Like disappearing and not saying where he’s been?”
Septimus did not reply.
“Sorry,” said Beetle. “I know I shouldn’t ask. Confidentiality between Master and Apprentice and all that.”
“It’s okay. I’m not his Apprentice, and I’m not going to be either. I was thinking about what you said. Well, Marcellus comes and goes, you know? Nothing unusual, really. He’s just busy, I guess.”
Beetle sensed a “but.” He was right.
“But . . . well, yesterday Marcellus sent me off to Aunt Zelda’s to get a flask. He didn’t tell me it was so huge that I’d have to bring it back across the Marshes. He must have known it would take days. And he didn’t seem pleased that I was back so soon. It made no sense—until I thought that maybe he didn’t want me around for some reason. You know?”
“Well, well. Fancy that,” said Beetle.
At the Great Arch both Beetle and Septimus stopped and turned around to look up at the Wizard Tower. It was one of those crystal-clear nights when the lights of the Tower were dazzling; they glittered and sparkled in the frosty air, brilliant against the Tower’s silver sheen, turning the gently falling snowflakes a soft purple and blue.
“Wow,” breathed Beetle. “Sometimes I forget how beautiful this place is.”
“Yeah,” said Septimus. After a month underground, he too had forgotten. He felt a pang of homesickness for the Wizard Tower and had a real desire to turn around and go back . . . home. He sighed. He had one more day with Marcellus. That was all. It would soon be over.
Septimus and Beetle walked through the inky shadows of the Great Arch and emerged into Wizard Way. They looked down the snowy Way, quietly busy with people closing up their shops for the night, and at the far end they saw the unmistakable red flash of Jenna’s cloak as she disappeared through the Palace Gate. Septimus was in a reflective mood.
“You never did say anything to Jenna, did you?” he said.
Beetle looked at his friend, surprised. “About what?”
“Beetle, you know what. About liking her.”
Beetle shot Septimus a look as if to say, How did you know? “Well. No,” he said. “She didn’t want me to. I could tell.”
“Could you? How?” Septimus really wanted to know.
“I just could. And then . . . well, I suddenly knew for sure that she didn’t care. Not in that way. But it’s fine now. I’ve got better things to do.”
“So that’s okay, then?” Septimus sounded doubtful.
Beetle smiled. He realized what he had said really was true. “Actually, Sep, it is okay. What I love is being Chief Scribe. Most days I wake up and I still can’t believe that’s what I am. Most days I don’t even think about Jenna.”
“Well . . . maybe that’s not totally true. But it’s okay. And anyway, she’s very young.”
“She’s not that young—she’s nearly fourteen and a half now.”
“Yeah . . . well. Even so.”
“Same age as me.” Septimus grinned.
“You’re six months older, remember—after your time with Marcellus?”
“Oh, yeah.” That was not something Septimus liked to remember much—being stranded in another Time. The more he thought about it the less he wanted to go back to Marcellus’s house in Snake Slipway, which—especially at night—reminded him of that Time. He took a deep breath of the Wizard Way air from his Time and wandered along with Beetle toward the Manuscriptorium.
At the door, Beetle said with a grin, “Want to come in and have a FizzFroot? I’ve got buckets of ’em upstairs now.”
Septimus shook his head. “I should really be getting back to Marcellus. I have to tell him that Marcia won’t let me do another month with him.”
“Oh, come on, Sep. Just one little FizzFroot. You haven’t seen my new place yet.”