With that, Marcia closed the door and Beetle heard the sound of her pointy python shoes crunching away through the snow. They sounded kind of lonely, he thought.



Number One, Snake Slipway.

From the desk of Marcellus Pye, Castle Alchemist.

Dear Marcia,

Work has now begun on the Great Chimney and I suggest that, with a view to DeNaturing the Two-Faced Ring as soon as possible, we consider opening the Great Chamber of Alchemie and Physik. Of course, the Fyre cannot be started until the chimney is reinstated, but the sooner we get going on the work belowground, the better. To this end I would request that my Apprentice Septimus commence his month working with me as soon as possible is convenient.



Marcia read the letter while she drank her second cup of breakfast coffee. She handed it to Septimus, who was finishing his porridge. “Well,” she said, “how about going to Marcellus today?”

Septimus had been looking forward to the break in routine. He was doing the advanced analytical DeCyphering module of his course and was finding it very tedious. “Might as well,” he said, not wishing to appear too eager and hurt Marcia’s feelings.

“Off you go and pack, then,” Marcia said briskly.


Marcia watched Septimus jump up from his chair and scoot out of the kitchen. She was not looking forward to the next four weeks without him.

Up in his room, Septimus was having trouble closing his backpack.


He looked up and saw Marcia’s head peering around the doorway. “Yes,” he grunted. “And my comb. Just like you said.”

Marcia’s gaze wandered around Septimus’s room. It was not big—Apprentices’ rooms in the Wizard Tower were always small—but it was, she was pleased to see, well organized and businesslike. The shelves were stacked with labeled boxes and papers from Septimus’s various Magykal projects and assignments; they also boasted a line of small lapis pots (a MidWinter Feast gift from her), which contained his slowly growing collection of Charms and Talismans. There was a large, shiny black desk under the window with six legs, which Septimus called “the insect,” on which were perched a pot of pens and stack of unused paper. Marcia avoided looking at the desk; with its spindly, hairy legs and its shiny, flat black top it put her in mind of a giant cockroach. Instead she glanced up at the dark blue ceiling with the constellations that Septimus had painted when he first arrived. The silver stars were still bright and they shone in the sunlight that was pouring through the window.

Marcia suppressed a sigh. She really was going to miss Septimus. Her gaze alighted on a folded pile of green woolen cloth with a telltale purple flash peeping out from it. “You’ve forgotten your spare Apprentice robes,” she said. “It’s the new set that arrived this morning. I ordered them specially.”

“Well, no. I haven’t forgotten,” Septimus said a little awkwardly. He pulled the last backpack buckle closed and heaved the pack onto the floor, where it landed with a hefty thud.

Marcia jumped. Septimus was getting very big and clumsy, she thought. Everything he did sounded so loud. “I suppose you don’t have room,” she said. “I’ll send a Wizard over with them later.”

“Actually,” Septimus said, “I won’t be needing them.”

Marcia sighed. “You cannot possibly wear the same robes for a whole month, Septimus.”

“No. I know, so—”

“So I’ll send them over.”

“Marcia, no. I won’t need them. I . . . I’ll be wearing my Alchemie Apprentice robes.”

Marcia nearly choked. “You’ll be wearing what?”

“My Alchemie robes. You did agree that I would be Marcellus’s Apprentice for a whole month.”

“I agreed to no such thing,” spluttered Marcia. “I agreed to send my Apprentice to help him for one month, and that is an entirely different matter altogether. And during that month you will remain my Apprentice, Septimus. You will not be an Alchemie Apprentice.”

“That’s not how Marcellus sees it,” muttered Septimus.

“I don’t give a brass baboon how Marcellus sees it,” snapped Marcia. “I shall send the spare robes over later. And I expect you to wear them.”

Septimus suppressed a sigh. He wished Marcia and Marcellus would stop fighting over him. “I thought you might say that,” he said.

Half an hour later, Septimus was perched on the old oak chest by the purple front door waiting for Marcia. In the past he would have found something interesting to read and sprawled comfortably on the squashy purple sofa while Marcia finished fussing about in her study, but now the dumpy ghost of Miss Jillie Djinn, the ex-Chief Hermetic Scribe, occupied Marcia’s once much-loved sofa. Jillie Djinn had, unfortunately, died on Marcia’s sofa a few months previously. And because ghosts must remain for a year and day in the place where they entered ghosthood, Marcia had nine long months of Jillie Djinn’s company still to go before the ghost was free to move on.

As a new ghost, Jillie Djinn was a bright figure: her dark blue robes had a crisp outline and the expression on her round face was easy to see—she looked annoyed, as though she were about to tell someone off. To Septimus and Marcia’s relief, Jillie Djinn had not yet spoken, although she was now reacting to what went on around her and had even managed to get rid of her recent companion on the sofa—Septimus’s jinnee, Jim Knee. One evening Jim Knee, who had been hibernating there, had suddenly got up and sleepwalked off to the spare bedroom, where he now lay snoring.

Jillie Djinn’s dark little eyes stared unblinkingly at Septimus. It was most disconcerting and it had not occurred to him before that ghosts do not need to blink. He was relieved when Marcia appeared.

“Ready?” she asked.

“Yep.” Septimus picked up his backpack.

Marcia glared at Jillie Djinn. “Come along, Septimus, let’s get out of here.”

Marcia and Septimus stood silently on the silver spiral stairs as they gently revolved, taking them down through the Wizard Tower. Septimus breathed in the scent of Magyk, which was stronger than usual due to the extra energy being expended keeping the Two-Faced Ring secure in the Sealed Cell. Down and down the stairs took them, past each floor where the Magykal business of the day went purposefully on as the ExtraOrdinary Wizard and her Apprentice glided quietly by.

As they stepped off the stairs onto the soft floor of the Great Hall, Marcia—loath to give up tutor mode just yet—stopped and said, “You haven’t seen the Sealed Cell, have you?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Time you did, I think. The Two-Faced Ring is due a check before we go.”

The long tunnel that led to the Sealed Cell was reached through the Seal lobby—a small room behind the spiral stairs. Outside the lobby, two Wizards were on guard. Marcia was taking no chances.

Inside the Seal lobby the atmosphere was hushed. The silver-walled room was suffused with Magykal purple light that shone from the Seal covering the door to the tunnel. Its polished silver walls and rounded corners were designed to confuse any entities or Live Spells that might escape—it certainly confused Septimus. When he walked in, he had the odd experience of seeing about five or six most peculiarly shaped versions of himself come in. And when Marcia closed the door behind them, it felt as though he were in the middle of a purple bubble.

Inside the lobby, a Wizard stood staring at the Seal to the tunnel, watching for any changes that would indicate a disturbance on the other side. Seal Watch was a boring task requiring little skill but a lot of concentration, and it was not a popular duty. A rotation of half-hourly shifts was kept, which used up a lot of Wizards every twenty-four hours.

Marcia approached the watcher. “I have come to do an inspection. If you would like to stand aside, please?”

There was nothing that Thomasinn Tremayne, the Seal Watch Wizard, would have liked better. She stepped to one side and shook her head. The flickering lights made her feel nauseous and gave her a thumping headache. It was a horrible job.

“I am taking my Apprentice with me to inspect the Sealed Cell,” Marcia said in a low voice. “You are to remain on guard. If we do not exit within ten minutes I authorize you, for security, to ReSeal the door.”

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