The Two-Faced Ring was now dangling just a few feet above the Fyre, and the tips of the delicate Alchemie flames leaped up to meet it, like fish jumping for insects on the surface of a stream. The pure light of the Fyre illuminated the evil green faces trapped in the ring for the very last time. They flashed in anger and as Marcellus lowered them into the Fyre, clapping and cheering erupted from the assembled watchers.
Marcellus turned to his audience. “It is done,” he said. “The Two-Faced Ring will stay in the center of the Fyre for twenty-one days. Then the ExtraOrdinary Wizard—I mean Madam Marcia Overstrand, although naturally, all ExtraOrdinary Wizards here are welcome to attend—and I will retrieve the ring, which by then will be no more than a lead band. As we transmute lead to gold, so we transmute gold to lead. It is the Alchemie way.”
Marcia had bitten her tongue for long enough. “Oh, give it a rest, Marcellus,” she said. “Come and have some lunch.”
Three weeks later, all the Drummins had gathered beneath the Cauldron. Duglius glared at the late arrivals—young teens who rarely emerged from their burrows before midday.
“We are all here, we are?” Duglius inquired.
A singsong murmur of assent spread through the dusty crowd.
“Good Drummins. There is a ghostly person who has a thing to say to all of us all.”
A murmuring spread through the crowd as the ghost of Julius Pike Appeared, glowing bright in the gloom.
“Drummins,” Julius began nervously. “I, um, have come to apologize. Many hundred years ago I did all Drummins a great wrong. I did not listen to your wisdom. I left you all to die. I did not care. For this I am truly, truly sorry.”
A murmur of surprise spread through the Drummins. Duglius signed for them to be quiet. “Do we Drummins all accept this sorry, do we?” he asked.
Another murmur began and this time Duglius did not interrupt. It continued for so long that Julius was beginning to think they would not accept his “sorry.” He felt sad at the thought. Over the previous weeks, the ghost had, at Marcia’s suggestion, accompanied her on a series of visits to the Drummins in order to get to know and understand them. Like Marcia, Julius had grown to like and respect them. He was surprised to find how much it now mattered to him that the Drummins felt the same about him. Julius waited anxiously while the Drummin crowd was clearly discussing him, illustrating their discussion by pointing their suckered fingers at him.
At last the discussion subsided and Duglius signed to the crowd. They made a sign back to him, which looked to Julius like a refusal. Duglius turned to the ghost and Julius felt nervous.
“We, Drummins,” said Duglius. He paused. “We do accept your sorry, we do.”
“Oh!” Julius sounded surprised and pleased. “Thank you, Duglius. And thank you, Drummins, all.” He bowed and floated up the ladder to join the group on the Viewing Station above.
Julius was just in time to see Marcellus present Marcia with the DeNatured ring. “It is done,” said Marcellus.
Marcia looked at the plain lead band resting on her palm. “It is done,” she agreed. “Thank you.”
Marcellus bowed. “It was, I can truly say, my pleasure.”
Marcia smiled and handed the lead band to Hotep-Ra, who inspected it closely. He sighed. “It is for the best. But who would have thought that it was once a beautiful gold ring,” he said, giving it back to Marcia.
Marcia had an idea. “Can you turn this back to gold?” she asked Marcellus. “To how it was when Hotep-Ra gave it to the Queen?”
“Indeed I can,” said Marcellus. “And I shall do so with great pleasure.”
Preparations now began for Jenna to be crowned Queen.
Hotep-Ra decided to stay for the Coronation and he continued as the honored guest of the Wizard Tower. Everyone, even Marcia, was a little overawed to have the founding ExtraOrdinary Wizard take up residence in the Tower, but Hotep-Ra was used to a quiet life in the House of Foryx and preferred to spend most of his time in the Pyramid Library with Septimus and Rose. One morning, during a visit to the Sick Bay to see Jim Knee and Edmund and Ernold Heap, Marcia confided in Dandra Draa that she was worried that Hotep-Ra did not like her.
“It not you he not like, Marcia. It that nasty little ghost on your sofa.”
Marcia felt relieved, but she made her way back to her rooms with a heavy heart. How she would love to have cozy evenings sitting by the fire with Hotep-Ra, Septimus and Rose discussing Magyk. Trust the wretched Jillie Djinn to ruin a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She opened the door and Jillie Djinn welcomed her with what had become her usual greeting: “Fire!”
Marcia stomped up to the Library, where Hotep-Ra was sitting at the table, explaining an Arcane Transformation to an enthralled Septimus and Rose. “Excuse me for interrupting,” she said apologetically.
Hotep-Ra smiled. “Come in, Marcia, my dear. It is always good to see you.” Encouraged, Marcia joined them. “Hotep-Ra, I have a question,” she said.
“Is there any way of removing a ghost from their place of entering ghosthood during the first year and a day?”
Hotep-Ra shook his head. “Generally, it is not possible. But if, like your friend on the sofa downstairs—”
“My friend!” Marcia was shocked.
“Is she not?”
“No! No, no, no! I can’t stand the woman—I mean the ghost. That is why I am asking. Is there any way of getting rid of her?”
Hotep-Ra smiled. “Ah. I see. Well, you are fortunate. She has short legs, does she not?”
Marcia was bemused. “Yes, she does. Short, fat little legs, actually.”
Hotep-Ra smiled. “Then it is an easy matter.”
That evening Marcia Lit the fire in her sitting room and sat around it with Hotep-Ra, Septimus, Rose, Simon, Lucy and Marcellus talking quietly about Magyk and Alchemie. A feeling of contentment stole over her—this was how it was meant to be.
Outside, in the wide corridor that led to the stairs, sat the sofa. And on the sofa sat the ghost of Jillie Djinn. Her little legs had never touched the ground.
MidSummer Day—the traditional day for a Coronation—drew near. Jenna decided, despite Queen Cerys’s disapproval, that she wanted it to take place beside the river.
Sarah Heap began to panic. “What if it rains?” she said.
“It won’t,” declared Jenna.
Jenna’s grandmother thought it was a wonderful idea. “I wanted to have mine outside too, dear,” she said, “but I let my mother talk me out of it. Remember, today you can do what you want and, take it from me, it won’t always be like that. I would make the most of it.”
And so preparations went ahead, and the Palace and its gardens once more became the busy hub of the Castle. The four Forest Heaps stayed to help Sarah and Silas get things ready, and everyone lent a hand—except for Milo, who once again had disappeared.
On Coronation Morning Marcia was up early. Milo, to Marcia’s annoyance, had insisted on a 7:00 A.M. appointment at the Palace to “check everything is tiketty-boo, if that’s all right with you, Marcia.” Marcia arrived as the Clockmaker’s clock was striking seven. She knocked on the Palace doors and yawned. She would be glad when the Coronation was over and Hotep-Ra—lovely though he was—had gone home, so that she and Septimus could get back to normal.
The doors were flung open. “Good morning, Marcia,” said Milo chirpily.
Embarrassed, Marcia stopped in midyawn. “Oh! Morning, Milo.”
“Good morning, Madam Marcia.” A familiar voice came from behind Milo.
“Hildegarde!” said Marcia.
Milo turned and clasped Hildegarde’s hands in both of his. “Thank you so much, Hildegarde,” he said. “It’s been a long night. You have been wonderful.”
Hildegarde blushed. “It was my pleasure,” she said as she squeezed out of the door past Marcia.
Marcia watched Hildegarde hurry off down the Palace drive. “Well!” she said.
It was a distinctly frosty Marcia whom Milo escorted through the Palace entrance hall. At the entrance to the Long Walk, Milo stopped. “Close your eyes,” he said.
“Milo, I do not have time to play silly games,” Marcia snapped.
“Please,” Milo said. He gave Marcia the slightly lopsided smile that she had liked so much, so very long ago.