On the way down the Palace drive Jenna remembered her walk with Septimus the previous evening. The memory still upset her but now, with The Queen Rules safely in her pocket, it annoyed her too. Septimus had treated her as though she was no more than an irritating child. And here she was chasing after him again, about to give him the opportunity to behave in exactly the same way. Why did she need his opinion on what was going on in the Palace attic? He wasn't the only one who knew stuff - there was someone much nearer who would actually be glad to help.
A few minutes later Jenna was standing outside Larry's Dead Languages Translation Service. She took a deep breath and readied herself to step inside. Jenna didn't like Larry and Larry clearly didn't like her. However, she did not take this personally because, so far as she could tell, Larry didn't like anyone. Which made it very odd, she thought, that Beetle had not only taken a job as Larry's transcription scribe but, now that his mother had moved down to the Port, was living there too.
Bracing herself for the caustic remarks that always accompanied her entrance, Jenna put her shoulder to the shop door and shoved (the door was notoriously stiff - Larry liked people to really want to get into his shop). The door flew open with unusual ease, Jenna hurtled across the shop and crashed into a pile of manuscripts on which a tall, expensive-looking vase was precariously balanced.
Accompanied by the sound of Larry's throaty chuckle coming from the upstairs gallery, Beetle performed an impressive flying catch and saved the vase just before it crashed to the floor.
He helped Jenna to her feet. "Hey, are you all right?" he asked.
Winded, Jenna nodded.
Beetle took Jenna's arm and led her through the shop to the library at the back, saying loudly, "I have your translations ready, Princess Jenna. Perhaps you'd like to take a look?"
As they disappeared out of Larry's earshot, Beetle said, "I'm really, really sorry about the door. I didn't have time to warn you. Larry oiled it yesterday afternoon and set up the vase on top of the manuscripts. Since then he's sat upstairs in the gallery waiting for people to do exactly what you did just now. He's charged three people for breaking the vase - and they've paid."
"Yep. He sticks it back together after each time."
Bemused, Jenna shook her head. "Beetle, I really don't know why you want to work here - let alone live here. Especially as Marcia offered you a place at the Wizard Tower."
Beetle shrugged. "I love the old manuscripts and their weird languages. And I'm learning all kinds of stuff; you'd be amazed at what people bring in. Besides, I'm not Magykal. The Wizard Tower would drive me nuts."
Jenna nodded. The Wizard Tower would drive her nuts too. But so would working for Larry.
As if he'd read her mind, Beetle said, "You know, after working for Jillie Djinn, Larry's not so bad. And I like living on Wizard Way. It's fun. Fancy a FizzFroot?"
Jenna smiled. "You got one in chocolate?"
Beetle looked crestfallen. "Sorry, no. They only come in fruit flavors."
Jenna took her much-loved Chocolate Charm from her pocket. "We could try them with this," she said.
"Okay," said Beetle a little doubtfully. "Larry!" he called out. "I'm going for my break."
Jenna heard a gruff, "Ten minutes and no more," from the gallery and followed Beetle to a small, incredibly filthy kitchen right at the back of the shop.
"Happy Birthday," said Beetle. He looked embarrassed. "I . . . I've got something for you but it's not wrapped up yet. I wasn't expecting to see you until this evening."
Jenna looked embarrassed too. "Oh. Gosh. That's not why I came. I wasn't expecting anything."
"Oh. And, um, sorry about the mess," Beetle said, suddenly seeing the kitchen through Jenna's eyes. "Larry gets really angry if I clear it up. He says mold is good for you."
"Slime too?" asked Jenna, looking at a bag of carrots that were pooling across the floor.
Beetle felt mortified. "Let's go to Wizard Sandwiches," he said. "I'm owed some time."
Some ten minutes later - after Jenna had witnessed a new and impressive Beetle telling Larry he was taking his lunch hour now and it was actually going to be one whole hour - they were sitting at a small window table in Wizard Sandwiches' newly opened upstairs cafe. They made a striking couple. Beetle wore his blue and gold admiral's jacket and his thick black hair was, for once, behaving just the way he wanted it to. Jenna's gold circlet shone softly in the light of the small candle that stood in a pool of wax on their table. She sat with her red, fur-lined cloak still pulled around her, slowly warming up after the chill of the outside, while she gazed around the exuberantly painted room with its steamed-up windows. Jenna noticed with relief that no one was staring at her (the members of the Wizard Sandwiches Cooperative did not believe in hierarchical systems and acted accordingly). She felt like an everyday person - a grown-up everyday person going out to lunch. Even better than that, she had her happy and excited birthday feeling back.
"What would you like?" asked Beetle. He offered Jenna the menu, which was covered with Wizard Sandwiches in-jokes and colorful drawings of sandwiches but offered no clue as to what the sandwiches might contain.
Jenna picked a tall, triangular stack of small sandwiches called "Edifice." Beetle chose a large cube-shaped sandwich called "Chemistry." He took the menu and went up to the counter to order (Wizard Sandwiches did not believe in the servitude of waitstaff. This also kept the wage bills down.) Beetle returned carrying two WizzFizz specials, which were as near to a FizzFroot as it was possible to get. He set a pink and green drink in front of Jenna with a flourish.
"Minty strawberry," he said. "It's new."
"Thank you," Jenna said, feeling suddenly shy. Being out with Beetle like this felt different from being with Beetle in the everyday way she had become used to. It seemed that Beetle felt the same, as for some minutes they both looked intently out the window, although there was little to see apart from a wintry Wizard Way and a couple of people scurrying along with boxes of candles in preparation for the Longest Night illuminations.
Eventually Jenna spoke. "Actually, I wanted to ask you something," she said.
"Did you?" Beetle felt pleased.
"Yes. I asked Sep last night and he won't do anything."
Beetle felt rather less pleased. Jenna did not notice. She carried on, "Sep's weird at the moment, don't you think? I've asked him a few times now and he's always made excuses."Beetle now felt distinctly un-pleased. He was tired of being second best to Septimus. It was, in fact, one of the reasons why he had refused Marcia's offer of a place at the Wizard Tower."Edifice! Chemistry!" A shout came from the counter.Beetle got up to collect the sandwiches, leaving Jenna with a vague feeling that she had said something wrong. He returned with a teetering stack of triangles and a huge cube."Wow," said Jenna. "Thank you." She tentatively took the top triangle off the pile and bit into it. It was a delicious mixture of chopped smoked fish and cucumber with Wizard Sandwiches' famous sandwich sauce.Beetle regarded his large cube with dismay. It was one solid lump of bread made from half a loaf. In it were drilled nine holes filled with different colored jams and sauces, and from the center hole a wisp of smoke was rising. Beetle knew at once he had made a mistake; he just knew that when he tried to eat it, the colored gloop would run down his face and drip on the table and he would look like a kid. Why hadn't he chosen something simple?Beetle began sawing at his cube. The multicolored gloop ran across his plate and swirled into a thick rainbow puddle. Beetle began to turn pink. His sandwich was an utter disaster."So . . . um, what is it you wanted Sep to do?" he asked, trying to deflect attention from the accident on his plate."There's something going on in the Palace. In the attic," said Jenna. "No one's allowed up there since that stuff with Dad and the Sealed Room - even I don't go there - but sometimes when I'm in my room I hear footsteps above my head.""Probably rats," said Beetle, staring at "Chemistry" in dismay. "There're some big ones down by the river.""It's human," whispered Jenna."But some ghosts make footstep noises," said Beetle. "It's one of the easiest things a ghost can Cause. And you have a load of ghosts at the Palace."Jenna shook her head. That was what Silas and Sarah had said too."But Beetle, someone is using those stairs - the dust is worn away from the middle of the treads. I thought it was Mum, as she does wander around a bit at night when she can't sleep, but when I asked her about it she said she hadn't been up there for ages. So yesterday I decided to go up and have a look."Beetle looked up from the mangled mess on his plate. "What did you see?"Jenna told Beetle what had happened the previous evening. By the time she had finished, Beetle wore a look of consternation."That's not good. Sounds like you might have an Infestation," he said."What, like cockroaches or something?" Jenna was puzzled."No. I didn't mean that kind of infestation. It's what we used to call it in the Manuscriptorium. I suppose Wizards might have a different name for it.""For what?"Beetle also lowered his voice - it wasn't good to talk about the Darke in a public place. "For when something Darke moves into someone's house. In fact, it sounds like something might be setting up a" - he glanced around to check that no one was listening - "a Darke Domaine."Jenna shivered. She didn't like the sound of that at all. "What's a Darke Domaine?" she whispered."It's like a kind of foggy pool of Darke. It can get really powerful if it's not gotten rid of. It grows by drawing strength from people, and it lures them in with promises of all the things they long for.""You mean there might really be something nasty in the attic?" Jenna looked scared. She hadn't quite believed it until now.From what Jenna had just told him, Beetle thought it was highly likely. "Well, yes. You know, I think you should really get Marcia to have a look.""But if I ask Marcia to come today, Mum will throw a fit." Jenna thought for a moment. "Beetle, I'd really appreciate your advice first. If you say it's a" - she too glanced around - "you-know-what, then I'll go straight to Marcia. I promise."Beetle could not refuse. "Okay," he said."Oh, thank you." Jenna smiled.Beetle took out his treasured timepiece. "Suppose I come round, let's see . . . about half-past three. Gives me time to pick up a SafeCharm from the Charm desk at the Wizard Tower. It will still be daylight then. You don't want to go near that kind of stuff after dark."It was then that Jenna remembered that the last time Beetle helped her, he had lost his job. "But what about Larry? What about your job?"Beetle grinned. "Don't worry, I'll fix it with Larry. He owes me a lot of time. And Larry's okay as long as you tell him what you're doing. He's nothing like Jillie Djinn, so don't you worry about that. Half-past three at the Palace Gate?""Oh, thank you, Beetle. Thank you." Jenna regarded the gooey mess on Beetle's plate, which was beginning to fizz alarmingly. She pushed her stack of sandwiches to the middle of the table. "Let's share," she said. "I can't possibly eat them all."