Sneaking around the basement was still the chief outlet for their quest for knowledge. On Tuesday Angelica, with her friends Natalie Lopez and Rachel Rabat, was leaving Illusions in the afternoon when she stopped the other two. Down the hall, Professor Temple seemed to be lurking by a statue of a past headmaster. As they watched, young, handsome Professor MacMorris came out of his office and set off toward the cellar stairs, and Professor Temple followed him at a discreet distance.
“You guys don’t want to get involved in this,” she told Rachel and Natalie. “I’ll catch up with you in the library.”
“We’re going with you,” said Natalie, “we don’t want you to get in trouble.”
“Yeah,” said Rachel, “those guys don’t like each other.”
MacMorris turned toward the stairs down, and Temple watched from the corner, and as Angelica moved up, she caught Cloudius’s eye. Cloudius was coming out of a classroom; he winked and hurried off, and by the time Ange and Natalie and Rachel had made it to the forbidden stair door, she looked up and there were the rest of the second floor gang.
“You guys are going to go down the stairs?” whispered Rachel.
“Hey,” said a voice from down the hall, “you guys aren’t going down the stairs, are you?” It was Jen Greenbelt. At 4pm, the school was far from a buzzing anthill, but they were all sure a dozen teachers had heard her.
“Obviously not, Jen,” said Natalie, walking quickly toward her. Natalie and Rachel closed the distance as quickly as they could, talking a mile a minute. “I mean,” Natalie went on, “you weren’t thinking of going down there, were you? It’s off limits, you know.”
“Yeah,” said Rachel, “I don’t think you’re even supposed to be within sight of the stairs. It’s suspicious. Sometimes I have to go by here, but I always hurry by as quick as I can.”
“Anyway,” said Natalie, “after Illusions my brain’s a little fried. I got a great idea, Jen. Let’s go out and duel it up a little? I got some new moves your friend Angelica showed me.”
“I need to go study,” Jen was saying as she was swept around the corner.
“Phew,” said Cloudius, “that’s taken care of.” He opened the stair door and they slipped into the darkness. Tom didn’t dare make a light, because they could still hear MacMorris moving across the cellar floor below. The darkness was thick, all the thicker for the few photons of light escaping from MacMorris’s wand. The clutter of objects, even on the stairs, seemed to become monsters and horrid machines in the gloom.
“Yeah,” said Arnulf, “now the easy part, right?”
They crept down the stairs in time to see MacMorris unlocking his cellar room, along the south wall beyond the rubbish pile. As soon as the door was shut behind him, Temple came out from among the pile and checked MacMorris’s door. The five hid out among the rubbish pile: Tom picked something up and played with it, while Cloudius just kept finding obviously broken things and the others fidgeted. After a minute, Temple gave up his vigil and went around the corner to his own basement room door. He unlocked it and went in.
“What do we do now?” asked Angelica.
“This was your idea,” said Daphne. “What do you want to do?”
“Well, there are those other shelves over there,” said Ange. “Those have books on them, not records like the shelves we were looking at before.”
“A lot of interesting things could be in the Records,” said Daphne.
“A lot of interesting things could be in those books,” said Angelica, “and we haven’t had a look at them yet.”
“I just want to try my Sleep spell on someone,” said Cloudius.
“Well, you have two choices,” said Arnulf, “and they’re both professors, so I’d say don’t.”
“Books it is, then,” said Tom.
They headed over to the bookshelves and fanned out. Cloudius kept looking back at MacMorris’s door, but Arnulf kept nudging him and whispering “Pay attention, boy!” Angelica and Tom were looking for spell books and presently discovered that they were in Memoirs. “Look,” said Tom, “it’s Dr Edward H Fred’s autobiography.”
“I bet he knew some interesting spells,” said Angelica, looking over his shoulder.
“Uh, kids,” said Daphne.
Angelica and Tom hurried to where the Amazon stood, by the shelf nearest and parallel to the south wall. She was about halfway along, and looking at a book.
“See that? This is what I saw,” said Daphne.
“The dust is disturbed,” said Tom.
“Very good, Tommy. And there were footprints, which are now wiped out by you guys. Anyway, yeah, Remediae medioevales de plantis, I’m sure lots of people come down here to read that in the dark. So I pulled it out,” and she pulled the book out, “and then I looked through it,” and she leafed through it: lovely old plant pictures. “And then I put it back,” she said, putting the book back upside-down. She turned around for no obvious reason and looked past them.
The huge stones of the south wall suddenly showed the lines of a door two feet wide and five feet high, which swung back without a sound.
Just then they heard a spell.
It was Ag. It was Cloudius’s voice.
Arnulf had been watching Cloudius, so he hadn’t got anywhere searching the books, which he didn’t especially care to do anyway. But somehow a book on healing plagues distracted him, and the next thing he knew, Cloudius was over by MacMorris’s door. Arnulf put the book down and hurried over, hoping to drag the boy away. “Children,” he said to himself. Sometimes he thought he was thirty years older than Cloud.
It looked like he’d have no trouble. Cloudius was backing away, and gave Arnulf a smile. But just then the door opened. Cloudius whipped around and said his spell.
MacMorris came out, wand lit, and he was not put to sleep.
Instead, he flicked a little of his magic combat skill at the boy, gently in fact, and laid him out flat. He knelt down by Cloudius and got a shiny wrapper out of his pocket. From it, he produced a piece of dark chocolate, which he gave to Cloudius. Then the young professor looked up and saw Arnulf.
“Uh, hello, sir,” said Arnulf.
“Mr Shmoke, I believe,” said MacMorris. He stood up, quite tall, inches taller than Arnulf, who was already nearly six feet tall at age twelve. His hair was fashionably too long, and perfectly combed. “Would you come in for a moment? And bring your friend, he’s coming around nicely.”
MacMorris’s rooms consisted of a short entry way with a curtain at the back, and beyond that an office that they did not get to see. “Sir,” said Cloudius once they were inside MacMorris’s door, MacMorris standing with his back to the curtain, “we just came down to ask Professor Temple a question about alchemy, and—!”
“Ah, Mr Cloud,” said MacMorris, “ yes, I know your parents. I suspect they would be proud of their trouble-making son!” He turned his blue eyes on Arnulf. “I also knew your father, Mr Shmoke. He was a good student, a good man. He was in the class after mine at the Academy. You have big shoes to fill. So what were you going to ask Temple? Ask me instead.”
“Oh, uh,” said Arnulf, thrown off by the sudden change in tone, “it was about the homework.”
“What about the homework? What’s the old codger making you do?”
“Uh, he’s all about gems,” said Arnulf, who was in White’s Intro Alchemy class, as was Cloudius; in point of fact, neither one of them had Temple for anything, but MacMorris wouldn’t know that..
“Yeah,” said Cloudius, “calcite and fluorite and stuff like that, what happens if you put a little radioactivity into a potassium chloride and stuff.”
“It turns purple,” said MacMorris. “I took that class. Actually, I had White, but I’m sure Temple teaches the same things. Well, Mr Shmoke, Mr Cloud, I’m going to escort you back to the first floor and leave you with the hope that you will remember, in the future, that the cellar is forbidden to students unless you are with a professor, and by that I mean that he knows that you are with him. Do you understand?”
So what Angelica, Tom and Daphne saw from the shadows of the shelves was MacMorris coming out, his wand lit, and the boys on either side of him, their wands down. Making sure the secret door was shut again, the three kids followed their two friends, waiting at the bottom of the stair in the shadows in case MacMorris came back down. He did not, and Temple did not come out.
“Phew,” said Angelica, as she and Daphne and Tom stood with their backs to the closed stair door. No one was to be seen on the first floor. They turned and came to the cafeteria, where Natalie and Rachel waved them over to a table: the dining service had closed, but it wasn’t dinner time yet at the houses, and kids could get a few things like milk and tea and cookies and fruit.
“So what happened?” asked Natalie.
“Ask them,” said Daphne, as Arnulf and Cloudius came up. “We just found a secret door. They got busted.”