At the Wizard Tower, Septimus slept on.
Up in the Pyramid Library, Marcia was very happy indeed. She had her Apprentice back and now things could get back to normal. Marcia was preparing the next stage in Septimus’s DeCyphering course—the practical. For all Apprentices, this meant having a go at the hieroglyphs inscribed into the flat silver top of the golden Pyramid that crowned the Wizard Tower. It was generally agreed that they were indecipherable—or as Marcia preferred to call them, gobbledygook. But it was a tradition and she supposed they should stick with it.
In front of Marcia was the old rubbing that a long-ago ExtraOrdinary Wizard had made of the hieroglyphs. It wasn’t, thought Marcia, very clear. No wonder no one had figured out what they meant. She remembered ruefully a comment she had made to Septimus about “going back to original sources” and she had a nasty feeling that was what he might do. He would take himself to the very top of the Pyramid and sit there, working it out. Or, at the very least, go up there to do his own rubbing. A shiver went right through Marcia—she had had enough nightmares about Septimus falling to last her a lifetime. Marcia came to a decision. She scribbled a note for Septimus in case he woke before she returned, then she was off—tippy-tapping down the stone stairs, pinning the note on Septimus’s door, then back up to the Library to pick up an envelope she’d forgotten, down the steps again, rapidly past the ghost of Jillie Djinn and out of her rooms.
In the Great Hall, Marcia rapped on the door of the duty Wizard’s cupboard. Hildegarde answered.
“Ah, Miss Pigeon,” said Marcia frostily. “I thought you might have company this morning.”
“No, Madam Marcia. It is very quiet this morning.”
“Mr. Banda otherwise engaged, is he?”
“I think so, Madam Marcia. Did you want to leave a message in case he drops by?”
“No,” said Marcia. “I don’t.”
“Is there anything I can help you with?”
Marcia handed Hildegarde an envelope. “My choice for the rotation scheme Apprentice for the Pyramid Library. Send it up to the Sick Bay, will you?”
“Of course, Madam Marcia. Right away.”
“I’ll be back in about an hour.”
“Very well, Madam Marcia.”
Hildegarde called for the duty Message Apprentice and gave him the envelope; then she went into the duty Wizard’s cupboard and sat down with a sigh. She knew she had done something to offend Marcia but she had no idea what. She sat down and finished a note.
Thank you for your message. I will meet you at the old bakehouse at two o’clock this afternoon.
Marcia ignored Hildegarde on the way back. She hurried by, put the stairs on fast and zoomed straight up to the twentieth floor. She found Septimus in the kitchen, making porridge.
“Aha, Septimus!” she said cheerily.
“Morning,” said Septimus, blearily scraping the porridge into his bowl.
“Coffee?” asked Marcia brightly.
“Oh! Yes, please.” Septimus looked surprised. Generally it was his job to make the coffee.
Marcia snapped her fingers at the coffeepot, which was loitering in the shadows with the sugar bowl. “For two!” she told it. The coffeepot scooped in a couple of spoons of coffee, added three teaspoons of sugar, stood under the tap, which obligingly turned on, then scuttled over to the stove and settled onto a ring. “Light!” Marcia told the stove.
Septimus smiled. When he made coffee, he had to do it himself. The coffeepot was a one-Wizard pot and took absolutely no notice of him.
Marcia waited until Septimus had finished his porridge—which was drenched in syrup—and two tiny cups of hot, sweet coffee were sitting on the table; then she took a dark blue velvet drawstring pouch from her pocket, which Septimus recognized as a standard Manuscriptorium Charm bag. Marcia pushed the bag across the table to Septimus. “For you,” she said.
“Oh. Thank you . . .” Septimus was touched. Marcia didn’t often give presents.
He wiped his hands on his tunic, then loosened the drawstring and tipped the Charm out onto his palm.
“Wow! Oh, wow!”
Septimus could not believe it. Lying in the middle of his slightly sticky palm was the Flyte Charm. He had forgotten how delicate and beautiful it was—a simple gold arrow covered with intricate swirling patterns. But what Septimus loved most about it were the two delicate little silver wings that sat on top of its somewhat misshapen flights—fluttering gently as if to greet him after its long sojourn inside a dark urn in the Vaults of the Manuscriptorium. These were the wings that Marcia had given him when she had first asked him to be her Apprentice, and it was these that Septimus had missed so much after Marcia had confiscated the Flyte Charm.
“There are conditions to its use,” said Marcia. “You are only to use it when on Apprentice duties in the Wizard Tower. At all other times it is to be kept on the Charm shelf in the Library. Understood?”
“Yes, yes, totally understood.” Septimus didn’t care about any conditions. He had the Flyte Charm back.
“There’s another thing,” said Marcia. “Last night.”
Septimus gulped, convinced that Marcia was about to ask some very awkward questions. “Yes?” he said.
“It was awful.”
“And it made me realize that you have been working far too hard. It has been a lovely Big Freeze and you have missed so much . . .” Marcia searched for the right word, a word she did not often use. “Fun.”
“Fun?” Septimus sounded surprised.
“Fun, Septimus,” said Marcia adopting the word with enthusiasm. “You need to go out and have fun. You have spent a month underground, and now I want you to take a month aboveground to do what you want.”
Septimus looked puzzled. “Like what?”
“That is entirely up to you. It is your vacation—”
Septimus was at a loss. “But what am I going to do?”
Marcia had it worked out. “What you are going to do, Septimus, is fun.”
Septimus smiled. “All right,” he said. “I can do fun. If you insist.”
“You look better already,” said Marcia. “Off you go. And forget all about that ghastly underground stuff.”
“I’ll try.” Septimus wished he could forget, but the unblinking red eye of Fyre was imprinted on his brain—whenever he closed his eyes he saw it. He longed to go back and see it again. He longed to know what it was, crouching below the Castle like a living creature. And most of all, he longed to tell Marcia all about it.
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN
Septimus was on his way to have fun. He stood waiting by the spiral stairs, because unlike Marcia he was not allowed to change their direction, and before long he saw the green Apprentice robes of their passenger. “Rose!” he said.
Rose stepped off, her green eyes shining with excitement. “Hello, Septimus.” She stopped and looked around. “Wow, it’s amazing up here. So bright. And kind of . . . sparkly.”
“It is, isn’t it?”
“I can’t believe I’m going to be up in the Pyramid Library. With you and Marcia.”
“Ah. It’s just Marcia for the next few weeks.”
Rose’s face fell. “Just Marcia? On her own?”
“I have to be on vacation. Marcia told me that I have to go and have, um, fun.”
“Marcia said you had to go and have fun?” Rose looked astonished.
“Yep. That’s what she said.”
“Yes, I know.”
Until Rose had arrived, Septimus had felt quite excited at the prospect of his vacation. Now it just felt like another job he had to do. And then he remembered something. He fished Jenna’s Welcome Back Party invitation out of his pocket, took a pencil from his writing pocket and added Rose’s name to it. He handed the invitation to Rose.
“Would you like to come?” he asked.
“Oh. Wow. Yes, please.”
“Tell Marcia I asked for you to have a late pass,” said Septimus.
“Oh. Right. Yes, I will.” Rose stood clutching the invitation.
“I’ll pick you up later?”
“Yes. Crumbs.” Flustered, Rose rushed off along the corridor toward the big purple door.