Apprentices, ghost and jinnee set off across the harbor front and took a small lane leading off it. Port streets were dark and not particularly safe at night and Simon, who knew the Port well, led the way—heading for the Doll House, where Merrin now resided with his long-lost mother, Nurse Meredith—or Nursie as she was known to all in the Port.
“I don’t agree with this,” said Alther as they walked quietly down a narrow street that smelled strongly of cat pee. “I think you should tell Merrin the truth.”
“Alther, he won’t believe us,” Septimus said in a low voice. “Think about it. The two people that Merrin loathes most—me and Simon—turn up on his doorstep at night and say, ‘Oh, hello, Merrin. You know those two Darke Wizards who were in your ring? You know, the one we cut your thumb off to get back? Well, they’ve escaped and because you have worn the ring, you’re on their hit list. But don’t worry. Because we like you such a lot, we’ve come to take you to the Wizard Tower, where you’ll be safe.” I don’t think he’s going to say, ‘Thank you so much. I will come with you right away,’ do you?”
Alther sighed. “If you put it like that, I suppose you are right. I just don’t like your solution, that’s all.”
The party reached the end of the smelly street and took a turning into a long, marginally less smelly street with tall houses on either side, unlit apart from a pool of light at the far end. They walked swiftly along, heading toward the light. A few nosy residents twitched aside their curtains and saw a strange procession: a man who appeared, from the black and red robes he wore, to be a Darke Wizard, followed by a lanky Wizard Apprentice, and a man trying to keep a pile of yellow doughnuts on his head. But they thought little of it—living not far from the Port Witch Coven, they had seen much more bizarre sights. They soon closed their curtains and went back to their fires.
Toward the end of the road the group stopped opposite a garishly painted house on the other side of the street. This was the Doll House. It was, underneath its paint, a typical Port house: tall and flat-fronted, with the front door just a broad step up from the street. But the Doll House stood out from all the others in Fore Street by virtue of its freshly painted glossy pink and yellow bricks that shone in the light of a lone torch that burned brightly beside its front doorstep.
Septimus looked anxiously at the house next door—a gloomy, ramshackle building in urgent need of repair that, even from the other side of the road, smelled faintly of sewage. He was relieved to see it looked quiet, although he guessed that now that night had fallen the occupants would probably be stirring. This was the residence of the Port Witch Coven.
Septimus scanned the jaunty Doll House and searched for clues as to what might be happening inside. The Doll House’s cheery façade gave nothing away, but Septimus could not help but wonder if they were too late—were Shamandrigger Saarn and Dramindonnor Naarn already inside?
“It all looks very quiet,” Alther whispered nervously.
Simon glanced around. “So far. Best not to hang around.” He looked dubiously at Jim Knee, who was biting his nails. “Septimus, your jinnee does understand what he has to do?”
“He understands,” said Septimus.
“Jolly good,” said Alther. “Over we go, then.”
They crossed the street to the doorstep of the Doll House and listened. All was quiet. Jim Knee, consumed with nerves, checked his reflection in the shiny surface of the brass letter box, bobbing up and down to get a full view of his face.
Septimus addressed his jinnee sternly. “Jim Knee, stop preening and listen to me.”
“I am all ears, Oh Apprentice.” Jim Knee prodded at his somewhat protruding ears. “Unfortunately. They never came back properly after that ghastly turtle you made me—”
“Good,” Septimus cut in. “You will fit the part perfectly. Are you ready?”
Jim Knee looked sick. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”
“Jim Knee, I command you to Transform into the likeness of—”
“Septimus, are you absolutely sure about this?” Alther interrupted apprehensively.
“It’s only a likeness, not the real thing.”
“Even so . . .”
Septimus addressed his jinnee with a formal command. “Jim Knee. I wish you to Transform into the likeness of . . . DomDaniel!”
From an attic window in the house of the Port Witch Coven, Dorinda saw a portly man wearing a stovepipe hat, a purple ExtraOrdinary Wizard’s cloak embroidered with Darke symbols and an impressive array of rings on his stubby, fat fingers. Dorinda’s huge elephant ears twitched in amazement. Surely that was DomDaniel? Her mouth went dry. But wasn’t he dead? She peered out again and saw the man lift the knocker and knock loudly on the door. Dorinda knew no ghost could do that. She sat down on her bed in horror. He’s real, thought Dorinda. And then she thought: DomDaniel is visiting Nursie! Dorinda began to panic; clearly there was more to Nursie than she’d realized. She just wished she’d known that earlier—before she’d tipped a bucket of Darke spiders over her that afternoon while she was hanging out the washing. Dorinda groaned. She wrapped her elephant ears around her head and began to chew a soft ear-edge for comfort. Nursie had looked up and seen her—so that was what she had meant by “I’ll get you for that, you little trollop!” Nursie was going to set DomDaniel on her. Dorinda shook her elephant ears free, leaped to her feet and screamed. And when Dorinda screamed, the whole of the Port Witch Coven knew it.
Down on Nursie’s doorstep, Jim Knee was, to his surprise, enjoying himself. He had a penchant for rings and he rather liked his new collection. He raised his hand to knock once more and admired the flash of the diamond cluster that nestled on his little finger. As he was about to let the knocker go, the door surprised him by opening to reveal the back view of a lanky youth with short black hair and a neat dark tunic, who was yelling back into the house.
“Answer . . . the . . . door!” a disembodied voice yelled from somewhere at the top of the house.
Septimus, who was standing hidden in the shadows behind Jim Knee, was relieved to see that Merrin Meredith seemed his usual self—clearly the Darke Wizards had not yet found him. Septimus thought that Merrin looked surprisingly neat and tidy—pretty normal, in fact—apart from a bandage around his left hand, which, as it grasped the edge of the door, showed an odd flatness where the thumb should be. But Merrin himself had yet to notice who had knocked. He was too busy yelling, “I’m doing it!”
“Merrin! Answer . . . the . . . door!” came the voice from upstairs.
“I’veansweredthestupiddoorareyoudeaf?” Merrin screamed into the gloom of the house. “Jeez!” He swung around grumpily and saw his visitor for the first time. His mouth fell open and stayed that way.
“Who . . . is . . . it?” yelled the voice from upstairs.
Merrin was in no state to reply—all he could do was stare at the apparition on the doorstep in terror.
Jim Knee perused his dumbstruck victim with an air of satisfaction; things were going well. The jinnee drew himself up to DomDaniel’s full height—which was not much, although the stovepipe hat added enough to be just taller than the boy at the door—and was surprised by the nasty little voice that came out of his mouth.
“Apprentice.” Jim Knee coughed and tried to get the voice deeper and more scary. “Ahem. Apprentice.”
Merrin emitted a small squeak and leaned against the doorframe. His long, thin legs wobbled as though they were made of rubber and looked ready to fold in half at any moment. From inside the house heavy footsteps could be heard coming downstairs accompanied by a voice yelling, “Merrin! Who is it?”
“Hurry up!” Septimus urged his jinnee.
“Apprentice,” intoned Jim Knee. “You will accompany me to the Castle.”
Merrin leaped back and tried to slam the door, but Jim Knee stepped forward and wedged his foot against it. Merrin stared at his old Master in horror. It was worse than his worst nightmare ever. “N-nah . . . ah . . .” he gurgled.
“Apprentice. Come with me!” Jim Knee boomed, getting control of the voice now. He leaned close to Merrin and said in a voice so laden with threat that even Septimus got goose bumps, “Do I have to make you, you little toad?”