Jenna’s moment of what-might-have-been was not easily shaken off. For the rest of that day she was left with a feeling of sadness for what she had lost. And she began to understand that Milo, too, had lost his own what-might-have-been.
Evening arrived and the Palace grew quiet. Jenna’s what-might-have-been thoughts began to fade as she got things ready for Septimus’s Welcome Back Party. The party was, despite Sarah’s objections, going to be in her room, and Sir Hereward was under strict instructions not to let any parents in, on any pretext whatsoever.
At eight o’clock a bemused Sir Hereward watched a succession of Young Ones, as the ghost called them, troupe past him. A wide assortment of Heaps came first: four Forest Heaps, Nicko, Simon and Lucy, then Septimus with Rose. Rupert Gringe came next with his girlfriend, Maggie, and after them the Manuscriptorium contingent arrived: Beetle, Foxy, Moira Mole, Romilly Badger and Partridge, who were followed by Marcus and Matt from Gothyk Grotto. Jenna and Marissa arrived a few minutes later pushing an old Palace trolley (once used for transporting documents down the long corridors) in which sat a huge flagon of what Jenna called “punch” and a box of pewter mugs from one of the old kitchens. It was greeted with a cheer as they pushed it through the doors.
On his way to the party, Foxy had ordered an extra-large bucket of sausage sandwiches from Wizard Sandwiches for delivery to the Palace. Foxy perused the trolley with a practiced eye—he could spot the lack of a sausage sandwich a mile off. “No sausage bucket?” he asked.
“I’ll go down and check,” said Jenna. “It might be in the hall, waiting.”
“You don’t want them to get cold,” said Foxy anxiously.
As Jenna was descending the sweeping stairs to the Palace entrance hall a loud knocking started up on the old oak entrance doors and did not stop. Jenna picked up speed. “Coming!” she yelled. She threw open the doors and found not the Wizard Sandwiches delivery boy, but two bedraggled elderly men, clearly identical twins, who looked oddly familiar even though Jenna was sure she had never seen them before. They took it in turns to speak.
“You took your time, Miss.”
“It’s freezing out here.”
“Can we come in?”
The twins made as if to step inside but Jenna stopped them. “Who are you?” she asked.
They both chuckled annoyingly. “We’re a surprise. Now be a good girl and run along and tell Silas Heap there’s someone to see him.”
Jenna didn’t like being spoken to like that. “I won’t do anything of the sort.”
“Can’t get the servants nowadays, Ern,” said one, nudging the other.
“You are not speaking to a servant,” said Jenna frostily. “You can wait outside. I will go and find Silas Heap.”
The twins turned to each other. “Hey, Eddie. I reckon she might be . . .” But Jenna never heard who they thought she might be. She slammed the door on them and set off, highly irritated, to find Silas Heap.
Silas was no more pleased than Jenna at the intrusion. He had been relaxing by the fire with Sarah in her old sitting room. Despite Jenna’s fears, neither Sarah nor Silas had any intention of going anywhere near her party—they were savoring the prospect of a quiet evening together. Very reluctantly, Silas left the fireside and set off with Jenna along the icy cold Long Walk.
Jenna threw open the Palace doors to reveal the two scruffy men, each munching their way through a sausage sandwich.
“Goodness!” gasped Silas.
“What nerve!” said Jenna. She snatched up the rapidly cooling sausage bucket from the doorstep.
“Not eaten all day.”
“Been a bit of a hike.”
“How are you, Silas?”
“Have we missed the wedding?”
“Can we come in?”
“Perishing out here.”
Silas looked flabbergasted. He stood back and let the two scruffy tramps in. Jenna was not particularly surprised; Silas had some weird friends.
“I’m off upstairs, Dad,” she said, setting off across the hall.
Silas collected himself. “Jenna! Wait a minute.”
One of the twins elbowed the other. “See. It is her. Told you.”
“Dad, I need to go,” said Jenna, already on the staircase. “The sandwiches are getting cold.”
“Well, come and say a quick hello before you rush off. This is Ernold and Edmund. Your uncles.”
“Yes. My brothers. You know, the two that didn’t make it to our Simon’s wedding? Gosh, I haven’t seen them since before . . . well, since before all the stuff happened.”
It was on the tip of Jenna’s tongue to tell Silas that the two rude old men were not actually her uncles and were nothing to do with her, but she knew how much that would hurt Silas. She bit back the words and hurried down the stairs—the sooner she said hello, the sooner she could get the sausage sandwiches up to where they belonged.
Jenna held out her hand, keeping her distance from Ernold and Edmund. They looked, she thought, like the sort of uncles who would lunge at you for a sloppy, sausage-sandwich-scented kiss. The very thought made Jenna feel sick. But Ernold and Edmund behaved themselves. They meekly shook Jenna’s outstretched hand and mumbled:
“Sorry we . . .”
“Didn’t recognize you.”
Jenna slipped into gracious Princess mode. “Please don’t worry about it. I didn’t recognize you either. I hope you will excuse me; I have to go. I have some people waiting for me,” Jenna said, making it sound as though she were returning to a board meeting. She picked up the bucket of sausage sandwiches and, carrying it as though it were a precious heirloom, she gracefully ascended the stairs. As soon as she was out of sight, Jenna broke into a run. Thirty seconds later she hurtled into her room yelling, “Sausage bucket!”
“You certainly know how to throw a good party, Jen,” Septimus said many hours later, as they led the revelers out along the shadowy upstairs corridor.
“Thanks, Sep!” Jenna was buzzing with excitement; it had been a wonderful evening. As the guests made their way out along the candlelit corridor, an assortment of Palace ghosts—old servants, ancient officials and a few of the more sociable Queens and Princesses—looked on approvingly. The Palace was beginning to return to its old, lively self.
The party giggled its way down the sweeping stairs, out of the Palace and into the snow, where the icy night air hit them. With their breath hanging in the freezing air, they walked slowly across the broad plank bridge that led over the iced-up Palace moat, gazing at the strangely beautiful forms of the snow sculptures sparkling in the light of a full moon; the sight gave rise to a chorus of “wow” and “hey” and “spookieeeeeee” as everyone stopped and gazed. Some of the boys began a snowball fight and Jenna got out of the way. She found herself standing next to Beetle, who was laughing about something with Marissa.
Jenna tried to think of something interesting to say but couldn’t. Beetle tried to as well, with the same result. Marissa, however, had no such problem. “Hey, Beetle; are you walking back to the Manuscriptorium?”
“Yep,” said Beetle.
“I’ve got a room at Bott’s Cloaks now. Just opposite. Walk with you?”
Beetle sounded surprised. “Oh. Yes. Of course. How’s poor Mrs. Bott doing?”
Marissa shrugged. “Dunno. She doesn’t say much.”
Beetle turned to Jenna, the gold braid on his Admiral’s jacket glistening in the moonlight. “Jenna. Thank you for a lovely party,” he said, rather formally.
Jenna smiled. “Oh, thank you so much for coming, Beetle. It was very nice to see you,” she said and immediately wished she hadn’t. She had sounded so Princessy, she thought. No, worse than that, she had sounded prissy.
“Yeah, it was really great,” said Marissa, giggling and linking her arm through Beetle’s. “Byeeee.” With that Marissa tugged Beetle off into the sculpture garden and Jenna watched them disappear behind a giant frog. Maybe, thought Jenna, she didn’t like Marissa quite as much as she thought she had.
Jo-Jo, Matt and Marcus stopped their snowball fight. “Where’s she gone?” they demanded.