Now as classes moved into their second week, the Second Floor of Ash House began to think about what to turn their other energies to. The answer turned out to be the school’s mysterious basement. Daphne and Cloudius got to see it when they went down there with Timms for metallurgy, but otherwise no one was allowed down there but profs. Naturally, hardly a student had passed the doors of the Lyceum of the Lake Winds who had not, eventually, snuck into the basement for a look around, but nearly every one had assumed that he or she was the first to make the attempt. Of the Ash House residents, the first to make the attempt were Arnulf and his new friend Pindar Webb; they had gotten no further than the top of the stairs before they were apprehended by Mistress White.
Most of the professors had, as well as an office upstairs, a work room off the basement, and what went on in those was a matter of conjecture. There were several sections of book shelves; there were the racks of loaner wands, from which the mysterious J S wand along with all the rest had come. And then there was the rubbish pile.
“It’s like twenty feet high,” said Cloudius.
“Maybe ten,” said Daphne. “But still, it’s huge.”
“I saw Temple down there, you know,” Cloudius added. “He had his wand out for light. He went behind the rubbish pile.”
“I told you,” said Daphne, “he probably has one of the work rooms down there.”
“Strange guy, don’t you think?” asked Angelica.
“That would be yes,” said Daphne.
“Someone overheard him arguing with Professor MacMorris,” said Angelica.
“I think he’s cool,” said Tom. “But yeah, I bet he has all kinds of secrets.”
“Just give me an hour with that rubbish pile,” said Cloudius. Angelica laughed and nodded.
“Sure,” said Arnulf, looking at J S. “That rubbish pile is why Pinhead and I have another month of kitchen duty after this month.”
“Keep it up,” said Daphne. “You guys are getting pretty good at gravy.”
“So what’s the plan?” asked Angelica.
“No plan,” said Arnulf. “I’m not going.”
The next Crimson day, at 2:40 pm, Tom held his wand aloft and made a lovely little bluish light. He was doing very well with Professor Match’s class on light. Beside him, wand out, walked Arnulf. They had ascertained that no professors were anywhere near, they had slipped through the door to the stairs down, and now they were hurrying quietly to the bottom to wait for the others.
They heard voices behind them as they came off the wooden stairs: Mistresses Ash and White, best friends, chatting in front of the stair door, audible as it opened and closed.
Someone was coming down behind them, after exchanging terse greetings with the ladies. It was Temple. “Holy crap,” muttered Arn, “I am not here.” He dragged Tom off to the right and behind the steps. But Temple didn’t seem to notice them: he turned the other way, the main cleared way in the cluttered basement, and vanished.
Behind him by a minute or two came Cloudius, and behind him came Angelica and Daphne. “Sorry we’re late,” said Angelica to Tom as he lurked with his little blue light behind the stairs. “White & Ash were going to stop us, but Spiny made the interception. They were still talking to her when we slipped out of the library the front way. But here we are. Uh, where’s Nulf?”
“Oh, hi, Nulf,” said Daphne. Arnulf was standing right between them. “Invisibility??”
“No, just sneaky,” said Arn, waving his wand toward a door on a clear space along the south wall. “Temple’s in his office over there. He’s talking to someone.”
“You listened at the door?” asked Angelica. It didn’t look safe to her.
“Eva’s on the lookout,” said Tom.
“Oh, I see,” said Ange. “Well, I see no problem then.”
“You want to go listen?” Arnulf asked.
“Yeah. Sure.” She looked at Daphne, who smiled and waved her on. She followed Arnulf across the dark open space to the door. A lamp glowed near the door, and cast the shadow of a large cat. Angelica watched the shadow cat: for a moment she could almost see Eva as a real cat in the room with her. She got the willies and overcame them.
Temple’s voice was coming through the door. He was literally arguing—making an attempt to persuade. The other man was not persuaded. They couldn’t hear the words, and they couldn’t hear the other man enough to identify him.
Presently they seemed to approach the door. Arnulf and Angelica bolted across to the rubbish pile, dove for shelter, and then waited about ninety seconds before the door opened. Only Temple came out, not smiling but hardly seeming perturbed. He used his wand to turn off the orange lamp and then to light his way to the stairs.
Once he was past, the five kids looked around at each other. Tom let his wand light glow just enough for them to see one another.
“I want to look at that pile,” said Cloudius.
“There’s another prof down here,” said Angelica. “Nix on the rubble pile. We’d get caught. And it’d be serious. Comprenez?”
“Let’s check the shelves,” said Daphne. As the others considered this suggestion, the upstairs door opened again and someone with a wand lit was coming down. “Now,” whispered the Amazon. “This place is like Union Station.”
So, Eva in the lead, they hurried into the nearby section of shelves. Most of these seemed packed with files. To escape from notice, they quietly filed themselves—all the way to the back, and then right toward the corner of the basement.
The wand-bearer went into a room. “It was Jambis,” said Cloudius. “The other metal smith. I hear she’s kooky.”
“Fortunately,” said Daphne, “the smiths are always hard of hearing. That’s why I always take the ear protection seriously, um, Cloudius.”
“Hey,” said Angelica, “look, a desk.”
In the corner, among the shelves, was a little office: a desk, some candles, a magic lamp, a can with pipe ashes in it along with a few stubbed-out cigars. They gathered around, but Tom Hexane was looking down at the floor. “Gao,” he muttered.
His wand lit up, then dimmed toward the ultraviolet. “Oh my gosh,” said Angelica. “The dust is glowing.”
Tom laughed. “I knew I could do it,” he said. “Glad I took Light, huh? Yeah. Those are recent footprints, but you can see they’re older than ours.”
“And that seems like the only footprints,” said Arnulf. “Those ones, and ours.”
“Well, let’s follow them,” said Daphne. Everyone shrugged. Daphne in front, they followed the prints up a side shelf. The prints turned aside at several points and then went on out into the open floor, where they disappeared.
“These are student records,” said Angelica. “Year 1932. Fifty years ago. I can’t tell if they looked at any file in particular.”
“Transcripts,” said Daphne. “Transport records. Papers. Oh, look, Melinda Malmquist got an A minus on this paper. ‘As everyone knows, the sleep spells are among the most useful spells anyone knows.’ I hope it gets better.”
“Look at this one,” said Tom. “It’s thinner than the ones around it.”
“Hey, you’re right,” said Daphne, taking the folder. “These all are an inch thick. This one’s only got about four sheets in it. Looks like someone grabbed everything and left these four sheets. They’re just scratch paper for schedules. They took all the transcripts, all the papers. From a folder from 1932.”
She flipped it shut. She squinted at the name in the blue light of Tom’s wand. In a flowing script, a woman had written, in red, Josephus Shmoke. She looked up at Arnulf. Ange and Cloud read it around her shoulder, and looked up at him in their turn.
“What,” he said.
“Josephus Shmoke,” said Angelica. “Ring any bells?”
“My grandpa,” said Arnulf.
“It’s his wand,” said Daphne.
“What?” said Angelica.
“Yup,” said Arnulf. “It’s his wand.”
They crept out into the blackness and had another go at listening at Temple’s door. At first Angelica thought she heard nothing, but then she wasn’t sure there wasn’t a sort of constant whispering in there.
“Yeah,” said Cloudius, “I heard it too.”
“Me too,” said Tom.
“Either he was telling someone a bunch of secrets,” said Daphne, “or he has an alarm system. Sometimes they sound like whispers.”
“And how would you know that?” asked Tom.
“My sister and I used to break into Grandma’s workshop.” She fixed Arnulf with a look. He was examining his wand again. “You’re quiet. What do you know about your grandfather?”
“Nothing but his name,” said Arnulf.
“Oh, please,” said Angelica. “You know more than that.”
“Nice day,” said Arnulf.
They spent the rest of Week Two catching up on their studies. Daphne, Arnulf, Ahir and Jen Chang started practicing magic combat every afternoon; Angelica got some practice herself, trading low-energy barbs in the back of Illusions class with Jen Greenbelt.
Even History of Magic was almost interesting: it seemed like half the historical figures they had once yawned over were mages, including Ramesses II, Julius Caesar, Cyrus the Persian, Confucius and several signers of the Declaration of Independence.
“But how did they not know Ben Franklin had magic?” asked Angelica that night.
“He was cool about it,” replied Daphne. “So was Hamilton. I guess that Aaron Burr thing was actually a spell battle.”
“Temple’s taking us to the Field Museum,” said Ange. “What do you think of that? We aren’t even going to have an assignment or anything. I think he just wants to recon the place for reasons of his own!”
Daphne looked at her. Angelica could tell Daphne really wanted to burst her balloon. The Amazon just raised her eyebrows. “As Arn says,” she replied, “nice day, isn’t it.”