As Rose raced past the dark windows of the Manuscriptorium, Marcia was inside struggling to place a Locking Band around Merrin's wrists.

Merrin was fighting her all the way, and Marcia was shocked at how powerful he had become. She was using the strongest Restrain she could without putting him at risk, and still he was not totally subdued. Merrin's dark eyes blazed with anger and his feet twitched as he tried to kick out. The gold on his Two-Faced Ring flashed as he pulled and twisted his wrists, stretching the Locking Band almost to the breaking point. After a torrent of verbal abuse, Marcia had also placed a Silent on Merrin but that did not stop his mouth moving. Marcia was - to her regret right then - a good lip-reader.

A loud knocking came suddenly on the outside door. Marcia looked annoyed. "Beetle, see who it is and tell them to go away."

Beetle went into the front office. He opened the door to find Marcellus Pye on the other side. "Ah, Scribe Beetle." Marcellus sounded relieved. "I am glad it is you."

Beetle had long ago given up trying to explain to Marcellus Pye that he was no longer - and indeed never had been - a scribe at the Manuscriptorium.

"Excuse me, Mr. Pye," he said closing the door, "we're a bit busy at the moment."

Marcellus stuck his foot in the door. "I have just been to the Palace for the party, only to find there is a Safety Curtain up." He sounded worried. "My Apprentice, Septimus Heap, was going there and I am concerned for his safety. I thought I'd call in on my way to the Wizard Tower. Is he here, by any chance?"

"No, he's not. I haven't seen him and no, before you ask, I don't know where he is." Beetle sounded annoyed. He was tired of everyone asking him about Septimus. "Excuse me, Mr. Pye, but do you mind leaving now? We have things to do. Would you move your foot please?"

But Marcellus did not move - his attention was suddenly taken by something down at the Palace end of Wizard Way. Beetle took the opportunity to close the door. He had to lean against it hard to shut it, and as he turned the key he saw that Marcellus was executing an odd kind of dance.

Beetle decided to ignore him.

Marcellus began banging on the door.

Marcia came into the front office, grasping Merrin by his Locking Band. Jillie Djinn trailed behind like a ghost. "Beetle, what's going on?" Marcia demanded.

"It's Marcellus," said Beetle. "He won't go. He's looking for Septimus."

A look of concern flashed across Marcia's face. "But I thought Septimus was with him."

"Apparently not," said Beetle, a trifle sulkily.

"What's that in the door?" asked Marcia. A long, thin piece of red leather was poking between the door and the doorjamb.

"Oh," said Beetle. "It's his shoe." He unlocked the door and it flew open to reveal Marcellus Pye, equally irritable, on the other side, nursing the squashed tip of his precious red shoe - a birthday present from Septimus a few years back.

"It's ruined," said Marcellus. "Look." He pointed to the torn ribbons that were tied just below his knee.

"You shouldn't wear such ridiculous shoes," snapped Marcia.

"Well, you'd know all about that, Marcia," Marcellus retorted.

While Marcia and Marcellus were bickering, something had caught Beetle's attention - the two torches burning on either side of the Palace Gate had just gone out. Beetle had a bad feeling - why had both torches gone out at the same time? He soon had his answer.

"No . . . no, it can't be!" he gasped.

"What?" asked Marcia, stopping midway through a shoe-based insult.

Beetle pointed down Wizard Way. Like water through a sluice gate, the thick fog of the Darke Domaine was pouring out through the Palace Gate and swirling into the lower reaches of Wizard Way. "The Safety Curtain! It's been breached!"


Merrin smirked.

"Marcellus," said Marcia. "Make yourself useful for once. Hold on to this . . . this creature for me. I must see what's happening." She handed Merrin over to Marcellus and hurried out into Wizard Way. She was just in time to see the first torch at the Palace end of the Way extinguished by what looked like a bank of black fog.

Marcia ran back into the front office, slammed the door and leaned against it. She looked as white as a sheet of best Manuscriptorium paper. "You're right. It's breached." And then, to Beetle's shock, Marcia swore.

Merrin broke through his Silent with a snigger.

Marcia glared at him. "You won't be laughing soon, Merrin Meredith," she snapped. "Not when we are getting that Paired Code out of you."Merrin went pale. He hadn't thought about that."Get him out of here, Marcellus," said Marcia. "Beetle, you take Miss Djinn. We must get back to the Wizard Tower now."Beetle was reluctant. "But we can't abandon the Man-uscriptorium," he said."The Manuscriptorium must take its chance."Beetle was horrified. "No. No. If the Darke Domaine gets in everything will be destroyed. All the arcane Magyk in the Hermetic Chamber and in the old Chamber of Alchemie . . . it will all be gone. Nothing will remain. Nothing.""Beetle, I'm sorry, there is nothing we can do.""Yes, there is," Beetle retorted. "The Hermetic Chamber can be Hermetically Sealed. That's why it's built like it is. And the ExtraOrdinary Wizard can Seal it. That is true, isn't it?"Marcia answered with great reluctance. "Yes, it is true. But to Seal Miss Djinn in there would be nothing short of murder. She wouldn't know what was happening to her. She'd have no chance.""But I might," said Beetle quietly."You?""Yes. Seal me in the Hermetic Chamber. I'd guard it."Marcia was grave. "Beetle, there's only enough air for about twenty-four hours - after that you'll have to do a Suspension. You do know that not all those Sealed in the Chamber have survived, don't you?""I'll take a chance. Fifty-fifty isn't bad."Marcia shook her head. So often Beetle knew far more than she expected. "Three lived, three died," she muttered. "Not great odds.""Could be worse. Please, Marcia. I don't want to lose the Manuscriptorium. I'd do anything to stop that. Anything."Marcia knew that Beetle was not going to change his mind. "Very well, Beetle. I'll do as you ask. I'll Activate the Hermetic Seal."Leaving Marcellus Pye with a firm grasp on Merrin and Jillie Djinn staring into space, Marcia and Beetle made their way to the entrance of the seven-cornered passage. They stopped outside."You'll find the secret siege drawer in the table by tapping the tiny black circle in the center seven times. The drawer contains emergency supplies and the Suspension Charm with instructions," Marcia told him."I know," said Beetle."You're a brave young man, Beetle. Good luck.""Thanks."Marcia wondered if she'd ever see Beetle again. "Right then. You'd better go in. As soon as you get into the Chamber, sit in the Chief Hermetic Scribe's seat. It's in the very center and you'll be all right there. The Sealing Magyk will be very intense and that isn't always pleasant.""Oh. Right."Marcia gave Beetle a strained smile. "I'll count to twenty-one and then I'll Activate the Seal. Understood?""Yep. I'll count too. One . . . two . . ."Beetle was gone. He ran through the narrow stone archway into the darkness of the seven-cornered passageway, and before he had finished counting to ten he was in the brightness of the circular Hermetic Chamber. Feeling as though he shouldn't, Beetle sat down in the Chief Hermetic Scribe's seat at the table and, still counting, he watched the archway that he had just run through. The next few seconds were the longest of his life.The Activating of the Seal began. A hissing sound filled the Chamber, immediately followed by a rush of cold air as the Seal was driven along the seven-cornered passage. Beetle watched in awe as a shining wall of purple Magyk came around the last corner and stopped at the arch that led into the Chamber. The brilliant Magykal light pulsed over the archway and the circular white walls of the Hermetic Chamber intensified it, sending currents of Magyk swirling while Beetle sat in the calm at the very center of it, hardly daring to breathe. After a few minutes he could see that the purple light was beginning to fade, wisps of Magyk were drifting off. They hung in the air, and the bittersweet taste of Magyk caught in Beetle's throat and made him cough.As the last vestiges of Magyk disappeared, Beetle understood what it meant to be Sealed in the Chamber. Where the arch had been there was now solid wall, indistinguishable from any other part of the walls that surrounded him. He was entombed. Above his head rose the dome of white stone that formed the ceiling of the Hermetic Chamber and below his feet was the Sealed hatch to the Ice Tunnels.Remembering what Marcia had told him, Beetle tapped the tiny black circle in the center of the table seven times. A small drawer below the table sprung open. He reached in for the Suspension Charm - and drew out a handful of licorice bootlaces.