Rose was late. Things were somewhat chaotic at the Wizard Tower and she had had to fill in at the sick bay until the duty Wizard had eventually turned up from the Call Out. But now, excited by the prospect of being part of the amazing piece of Magyk that was the Safety Curtain, Rose raced down Wizard Way, trying not to be any later for Bertie Bott than she possibly could.
* * *
In front of the dazzling Safety Curtain, Bertie Bott stood resolutely guarding the fusion point, unaware that only a few feet behind him, on the other side of the shimmering purple wall, twenty-five Things were patrolling to and fro, silently looking for the join.
Bertie's stomach was grumbling. He was having cruel visions of supper: sausages and mashed potatoes dripping with gravy, treacle tart and custard and possibly even a small square of chocolate fudge, if he could manage it. Bertie sighed inwardly. He was sure he could. As Bertie wondered whether he would prefer peas or a double helping of mash with his sausages, his stomach emitted the loudest rumble yet. A mere arm's length behind him, the strangler Thing stopped and listened hard.
Bertie was getting extremely cold. Even his finest pre-loved, fur-lined cloak was not keeping out the chill of the Longest Night. Bertie took it off to shake the fur out and thicken it up for a while - a trick he knew from the cloak business - but as he shook it, the edge of the cloak touched the Safety Curtain. Bertie never knew what hit him.
Lightning fast, the Thing punched a hole through the fusion point, grabbed Bertie's cloak with one hand and pulled hard. Bertie toppled backwards into the Safety Curtain. In a moment the strangler Thing had its hands around Bertie's throat and was pulling him in so that he lay across the Safety Curtain like a small, humpbacked bridge - later immortalized in Apprentice textbooks as Bott's Bridge.
On either side of Bertie the Magykal purple light still shone like a luminous wall, but now there was a dark gap, like a broken tooth in a smile. As Bertie Bott lay face-up on the snow-dusted grass, a Darke tide of Things began to flow across him. (Many years later, when the Safety Curtain was Raised by one who wished he had not missed his only chance to see it done, this scene was the first to be replayed.)
Rose arrived at the two torches that flanked the Palace Gate. She stopped for a moment to catch her breath and then pushed open the gate, on which a large notice had been stuck that tersely read: PARTY CANCELLED. Gudrun the Great - the faded old ghost on guard at the Palace Gate - smiled at Rose, but Rose, almost blinded by the startling brilliance of the Safety Curtain, did not see her.
"Take care, Apprentice," whispered Gudrun. "Take care." But all Rose heard was the whispering of the wind blowing in off the river.As Rose approached the Safety Curtain she began to feel uneasy. Rose was a sensitive Apprentice who was aware - some said far too aware - of the Darke. And Rose had a talent that she did not yet know she possessed but was soon to discover: she could See Things. Looking out for Bertie Bott, Rose walked slowly across the grass, heading to where she knew the join in the Safety Curtain was - directly in front of the Palace Gate. The twinge of anxiety that had been niggling at her grew greater. Where was Bertie Bott? She could not see him anywhere. It wasn't as if he was hard to spot. There was plenty of Bertie to see. She wondered if, because she was late, he had already gone home for his supper, but Rose was sure that not even a ravenous Bertie Bott would dare desert such an important post.Reluctant to get any closer, Rose slowed to a halt. She had the oddest sensation that the harder she looked for Bertie, the less she could see. She shivered and pulled her green Apprentice cloak around her, not to keep warm - she was still warm from her run - but to protect herself. Against what, she was not sure."Bertie?" she called in a half whisper. "Bertie?"There was no reply.Rose decided to use an old Wizard trick. She stood still and turned her head slowly from side to side, letting her eyes "see what they will see." And they did. Suddenly Rose saw the gap in the Safety Curtain, and pouring through the gap were Things. Monstrous, shadowy Things loping toward her like all her nightmares rolled into one.Rose ran. She ran so fast that she was halfway up Wizard Way before the true meaning of what she had seen struck her. And then she kept on running, as fast as she could, back to the Wizard Tower to tell Marcia.But Marcia was not there.Marcia was still at the Manuscriptorium.