There was only one attempt to steal the segment during the month of March.
There was no doubt people were watching the kids of Ash House. Lunch in the cafeteria was full of glances among the tables. Lots of second and third year students seemed to know who they were, and Jen Chang and Pinhead both got asked questions they didn’t understand by older kids.
“You,” said Jen Chang to Cloudius as he came up the stairs to the second floor. She and Pinhead were sitting on the first step of the stair up to the third floor. She lowered her voice. “What is the Great Bond?”
“What?” asked Cloudius.
“What the heck is a dim wall?” asked Pinhead. “Or a dim door? Anything on those two little vocabulary items?”
“Okay,” said Cloudius, “I can tell you that one, but that other thing, we’ll have to ask someone who knows stuff.”
“You mean Ash?” asked Jen.
“Hey, a party!” said Tom coming up the stairs, Arnulf and Ahir behind him, returning from MacMorris’s Pentonics class.
“A dim door,” Cloud said once the six of them all sitting around Tom’s room, with Eva sitting on the window sill watching them implacably. “A dim door is a door in a dim wall. A dim wall is a wall that you can’t see even though it blocks you out. You literally don’t feel it. You don’t know you’re blocked from entering an area.”
“Okay, so it’s a seal,” said Pinhead. “And you can’t see it.”
“No, no,” said Cloud. “It’s much more than a seal. Think about it, it’s like you draw a line on the ground and you create a new universe behind the line. You can’t just walk from one universe to another, you know. You can’t even see into another universe.”
“So a dim wall would just cut you off into another cosmos,” said Jen.
“Except,” said Tom, “if you have a door, you can pass through. You have this hiding place, right? But you can peek out the door and jump on people you don’t like.”
“Okay,” said Pinhead. “It’s a really interesting seal, and you can build a door in it.”
“No, listen,” said Tom. He looked at Arnulf. “We were just talking about this in Pentonics, actually.”
“Strange,” said Arnulf. “I never heard of this thing, and now it’s like this topic of conversation in the caf. And MacMorris gets asked a question by one of his favorite third years, who happens to be Elizabeth McNing. I’d say it’s a really interesting seal. I want to know why it’s come up.”
“Listen,” said Ahir, “it’s actually cool, all right? There is a perfect example of a dim wall. It’s the boundary of the basic, what you would call the Newtonian universe. You can’t even approach it, really. Anywhere you go, it’s equally far away. But the thing is, there are doors through it.”
“Where do they go?” asked Jen.
“Let’s go through some time,” said Ahir. “Is that all right, Arnulf? I get to go on that one. Please, please tell me I get to go on that one.”
“You get to go on the rest of them, actually,” said Arnulf. “I’ll feel a lot safer if you get to go on a lot more of our little adventures.”
“So what was the other one?” asked Ahir. “The other vocabulary item?”
“The Great Bond,” said Jen.
“Ah,” said Ahir. She leveled her brown eyes on Jen’s and left them there for some seconds. “And you actually want to ask what this thing is,” said Ahir.
“I don’t know,” said Jen, “do I?”
“What’s the question?” asked Daphne, barging in. “Hey, Pin, hi, Jen.”
“Daphne,” said Jen, “do you know what the Great Bond is, and do I want to know?”
Daphne came in and shut the door. “I’ve heard it mentioned,” said the blond Amazon. “I can’t remember where. It wasn’t in a loud voice.”
“So is this some sort of evil organization or something? Like the C Group? Or the Cosa Nostra?” asked Arnulf.
“No, no,” said Daphne. She shook her head, looking dangerously dubious. “I don’t have any idea, but I’m pretty sure it’s not that. Look. I don’t know. I told you all I know.”
“Ah, it’s like that,” said Pinhead.
“Yeah. It’s like that. How did it come up?”
“Well,” said Jen Chang. “Let me explain.” They all looked at her: medium height, skinny, pure Chinese look and pure Chicago suburban talk. She wore a Kenosha Wisconsin sweatshirt and Chicago Bears sweat pants. She also wore an embarrassed look.
“Chad Whately,” said Arnulf.
“Yeah,” said Jen. “He was sort of trying to hit on me, I think.”
“He’s a third year,” said Tom.
“He’s a Maroon,” said Arnulf. “He’s also like fifteen.”
“Look,” said Jen, “for the record, I didn’t give him the time of day. But he sits down in the caf and turns to me and kind of leans over and says, ‘Hey, you know something about the Great Bond.’ Like it was a pickup line.”
“Much experience with that?” asked Daphne.
“None, thanks for asking. So what is it?”
There were feet on the stairs, and then Angelica and Natalie and Rachel came filing in. Angelica got to the far end of Tom’s room and turned around, standing between Pindar and Arnulf. “Okay,” she said. “Here’s the thing. Remember one of the early times we went down into the school cellar?”
“Ah, the good old days,” said Tom.
“Well,” said Angelica, “remember the Deep Voice that MacMorris was arguing with?”
“Oh yeah,” said Arnulf. “Riiiight,” said Cloudius. “I was the one who was listening at the door,” said Tom. Eva just mraowed.
“You heard it again,” said Daphne.
“Of course I heard it again,” said Angelica; Natalie said, “We heard it this time.”
“Where—?” several of the teenagers began.
“I’m telling you, okay?” said Angelica. “We weren’t even in the basement.”
“We were on the roof, actually,” said Rachel. “Well, they were,” said Natalie.
“We were cleaning up in the Illusions lab,” said Angelica. “Professor Shag and one of the third years had to go down to the cellar to put some equipment back. It was Barney, Barnaby Rundke.”
“He’s a sleaze,” said Pinhead.
“He’s just good at illusions,” said Angelica. “And he was clearly under a gag order from Shag. They didn’t say a thing after they got back, but Shag gave Barney about three Serious Looks and then sent him off to help Donati do filing.”
“And Shag?” asked Daphne.
“He creeps me out,” said Pinhead.
“Shag was really happy with himself,” said Natalie. “He got rid of ol’ Barney and he was all humming as he cleaned flasks and stuff.”
“I heard him burst out laughing over by the sink,” said Ange. “He was talking to himself and shaking his head and laughing. Then we saw MacMorris walk by in the hall on the second floor. Real fast. He went through the maintenance door at the far end.”
“Which locks automatically,” said Cloudius. “I tried it before.”
“Not if you catch it before it closes,” said Natalie. “They don’t call them sneakers for nothing.”
“And MacMorris didn’t notice?” asked Cloudius.
“No, he was far too interested in getting onto the roof as fast as he could. We had a chance to weave an illusion of emptiness. Shag would have been proud, except that he was on the other access stair, also listening in.”
“So, do you know what a Deep Voice looks like?” asked Daphne.
“No,” said Angelica. “But it sure is Deep. I mean, air, you’d think it’d be a freakin’ angel, but it’s not.”
“A spirit of Air,” said Ahir. “A djinni perhaps.”
“Do you have them in Iran?” asked Cloudius.
“In the south, but they infest Saudi Arabia.”
“So do they talk about debts and promises and stuff a lot?” asked Angelica. “Because this one really had a thing about debts and promises.”
“What do you mean you couldn’t see it?” asked Daphne.
“We couldn’t see it,” said Angelica. The other two nodded. “We could see MacMorris’s back but there were obstructions and things, and I couldn’t tell where the voice was coming from.”
“So let’s see what we’ve got,” said Arnulf. “It wants its debt repaid, it wants to talk on the roof this time, it could make itself unseen, Mac hurried to meet it; what did he say to it?”
“They argued. Just like before,” said Angelica. “Except for one thing.”
“Which was?” asked Daphne, after Angelica and Natalie grinned for just one second too long.
“It wasn’t real,” said Angelica. “It was just Shag tossing illusions.”
“What the? This was all Shag’s hoax on Mac? The whole Deep Voice thing—?”
“No, no,” said Natalie. Angelica said, “That wouldn’t make sense anyway. Mac had to be afraid of the Deep Voice to begin with.”
“So what did it say?” asked Arnulf.
“Oh,” said Natalie, “it was all vague and all about how Mac had failed and he’d better find another method of payment or he’d get to meet worse than he knew. ‘It’ll be worse than you can possibly know,’ those were its exact words. It said possibly exactly the way Shag does.”
“He was saying those exact words,” said Angelica. “Over by the sink. And barely containing himself.”
“And MacMorris didn’t realize it was him?” asked Tom.
“Shag didn’t push it,” said Natalie. “He made a few vague threats and cheesed it. He was all, ‘You do not know what you’re getting into,’ and then he said he’d be hearing from higher ups and he vanished in a lovely Peabody swirl.”
“A what?” asked Pinhead.
“Peabody swirl,” said Jen Chang. “It’s named for Ariel Peabody, she was Director of Illusions for the Smithsonian in like 1870. It’s, like, this spiral thing.”
“He glinted wonderfully,” said Natalie. “It was all I saw of the Deep Voice. A burst of swirling diamonds, but just enough like sand to be sand. Shag’s a pro.”
“Uh, hey,” said Arnulf. “Is anyone worried about this at all?”
“That Shag knows MacMorris’s relationship to the Deep Guy well enough to use it against him? He’s getting some kind of revenge, or maybe he’s just trying to blackmail MacMorris for his own fun and profit, but if Shag knows—?”
“And what happens,” asked Daphne, “when the real Deep Voice shows up?”
“Well, it goes to show,” came Anne Ash’s voice from down the stairs, “that certain people bear watching.” The kids in the hall pushed into Tom’s room, and the mistress, flanked by her cat Kenneth and the house ghost, filled the door. “And clearly some of the best watchers are here. Goodness knows many of you bear watching.”
It was clear who would take up the task of watching Shag: his three best first-year students, Angelica and Rachel and Natalie. It was fairly clear who should be assigned to MacMorris: Tom and Arnulf and Ahir. Cloudius and Rats were assigned to keep an eye on Temple. That left everyone and everything else to everyone else in Ash House. Meanwhile they were watched, continuously, in wonder or suspicion or intent or the simple desire to be looking the right direction when Ash House had its meteor crash on it, metaphorical or physical.
Across the quad and up one, MacMorris House provided an opposing fortress to Ash: one was Minas Tirith, one Minas Morgul, but presumably which was which depended on one’s point of view. Ash House was flanked by White House along Birch Street and Match House along the alley; these constituted quite different types of neutral territory.
White herself might be the Elvenking of Mirkwood, with a band of half-tamed elf princes that included most of the first year Maroons, but her House definitely represented a safe haven for the Ash students. Norbert Match, a classic Hider with a specialty in Light spells, was unfriendly to everyone except, as far as the other Ash kids could see, Tom Hexane. But Natalie was in his house and she seemed to get on okay; several of the other kids in the house were nice too, in particular a tall, willowy Chicago Jamaican named Tee Doubletary and a plump blond girl called Sam Ray.
The other eight houses, inhabited by second and third years, seemed all the more menacing now that they knew sort of who lived where: Shag House, Blaine House, Shapurova House, Sear House all had students who knew spells well beyond what any of the first years had, and who were Maroons or MacMorris adepts. And then there was Temple House.
Daphne and Spiny were out hacking at each other one breezy, dusty morning in late March, and next to them, Ahir was trading techniques with “Machete Girl” Rayah Marin, a darkish, athletic second year from the Caribbean who happened to live chez Temple.
“You gotta bear down on your opponent,” she was saying to Ahir. “You can’t rely on your stylish moves. They be trying to kill you.”
“Reee-ly,” said Ahir Shaheen. “En garde?”
“En garde,” said Rayah.
“A prize to the next winner?” Ahir offered.
“Loser has to tell a secret,” said Ahir, batting her eyes.
“Hot damn,” said Rayah, “you got secrets all right, and I want me some of that.” On the word “some,” Rayah launched her assault on Fortress Ahir: subtle, for her, and also muscular, a drive to Ahir’s waist, then a swing up and then low. But Ahir parried as if she were reading Rayah’s mind, which she was not. And when Rayah had used up her moves, Ahir went over to the attack. One, two, three, four, five, and then she was swinging her whistling saber at Rayah’s ankles, and then with a sharp elbow she put Rayah on the ground, and then, on seven, Rayah found herself supine with a metal point in her face.
“So,” said Ahir softly, “is Master Temple doing anything interesting these days?”
“He’s spending a lot of time in the cellar?” asked Arnulf, sarcasm lurking at the doorway to his voice. “I’ll tell you where he is, and they have Parmesan on the tables.”
“More than usual, Arnulf,” said Daphne. “Look, all I’m saying is, why don’t we do one of our cellar crawls? It was our thing last semester. We’re gonna get rusty.”
“Why send all of us?” asked Tom. “I’ll go.”
“Take a buddy,” said Arnulf. “No one does anything like this alone anymore.”
“Okay,” said Tom, looking around. Everyone he saw looked too obvious. Then his eyes found Jen Chang in the doorway, almost invisible in the lee of Pinhead and Ahir. “Jen.”
“Are you sure she’s okay?” asked Angelica. “Are you sure she’s okay with doing it?” asked Rachel.
“Oh,” said Jen Chang, “have I been waiting to even be asked.”
So Tom began to teach Jen Chang how to be a second floor kid: how to time the house ghost, how to get into the Ash House basement without making noise, where the best hiding spots in the school cellar were, which table to try for at Giordano’s. For the most part, of course, Temple’s movements were ordinary: he spent time in his cellar office, he took a few late night pizza dates by himself, he poked about the rare books. He held conversations in his office, usually with himself.
“He does that a lot,” Tom whispered.
“Can you make out a word he’s saying?” asked Jen Chang.
“Never,” Tom replied, “but he sure seems happy about it.”
Tom and Jen, joined twice by Beep Finger, ate a lot of pizza over the course of the middle week of March. They challenged themselves to try new ingredients.
“Anchovies were a definite maybe,” said Beep.
“I say a no,” replied Tom. “But pineapple remains a serious possibility.”
“Especially with anchovies,” said Jen. The other two both made ugly faces. “So,” said Jen, “am I nuts or does he know we’re here?”
“He knows we’re here,” said Tom.
“I think he knows we’re watching him,” said Beep.
“Yyyyeah,” said Tom, grudging the syllable.
“I don’t think it matters though,” said Jen. She smiled at Beep. “You’re in MacMorris House. What would Professor MacMorris do if he kept noticing us whenever he was sneaking around?”
“He’d totally go out of his way to lose us,” said Beep. “He’s so coooool, but he’s really very uptight.” They looked through the plant where Temple, very obviously not looking their way from across the brick-walled underground room, was relishing his pizza. “Not the feeling I get from this guy,” she said. “He’s not trying to be cool. He really is cool.” She looked at Tom. “What’s the story with him, anyway?”
“No idea,” said Tom. “Love to find out.”
“What do you mean you have no idea?” Jen said. “You’re his favorite student.”
“To pick on,” said Tom. But he thought about it and he knew she wasn’t entirely wrong. He felt like he had the secret key to Temple and didn’t know it. “I don’t know,” he said. “He’s not that old, you know. Did you know that? He’s actually pretty young, like fifty or so.”
“That’s young?” said Beep.
“He’s younger than Ash or White,” said Tom. “Ash told me he was just entering the Academy when she was in her last year. That makes him six years younger than her.”
“Seven,” said Beep. “Academy’s seven years.”
“Six,” said Jen. “Year Seven minus Year One is six years.”
“He’s getting up, he’s getting up,” said Tom. He grinned. “Act normal.”
“You’re doomed then,” said Beep, and they giggled. Jen shushed them, but Temple strode by a couple of tables away, paid the waitress, exchanged a pleasantry, took his box of leftover pizza and headed for the door to the tunnels. “Okay, so we can’t follow him too close,” she went on. “How long do we give him?”
“Long enough to lose us for sure,” moaned Tom.
“It’s why he does it,” said Jen. “Next time, you two come here. Leave me in the cellar.”
And so it was done. On a lovely Thursday in March, in the evening as the wind picked up and blew trash all over the city, blew the dust of the corn fields all across the Loop, blew till the thawed puddles froze again, the light in Temple’s office aboveground went out and three kids followed at a discreet distance below ground. Then two of them continued, using a different tunnel, an old Indian passage Tom had found on a map, all the way to the friendly confines of Giordano’s. Indian ghosts nodded at them and smiled as they passed; the waitress and the old black wizard busboy did the same when they came out of the cellar door. Upstairs, the normals were having a grand time, shouting, breaking glasses, spilling beer, calling for more garlic bread. Downstairs, amidst a sparser but more interestingly dressed crowd, Temple ate by himself and chuckled to himself and made chit chat with the waitress, while Tom Hexane and Alicia “Beep” Finger actually kind of had a date.
Beep was smart. Beep was funny. Beep was a bit of a tomboy, sure, but she was now thirteen (an age that Tom was about a week away from attaining) and she was looking rather good, even in a collared shirt and mismatched sweatshirt (Indiana Pacers) and jeans.
“So,” said Tom, “Magic Johnson. Really magic?”
“Oh, has to be,” said Beep. “But then Larry Bird has to be too.” They laughed. “So why isn’t your friend Daphne on the basketball team?”
“Whelp won’t let her or Spiny try out,” said Tom. “She thinks basketball is too dangerous. I guess Daph’s gonna try out for softball.”
“I’m gonna try out for base ball,” said Beep. “We don’t play soft ball. You gonna try out for baseball?”
“Can’t hit,” said Tom. “Maybe I could pinch run.”
They laughed and chatted and snarfed pizza and they were on their second root beers when they noticed Temple was paying up. Beep was giggling at something and Tom gave her a meaningful glance and then all four of their eyes, two green and two blue, were peering through the bush beside the table as the professor, with a final cool smile not quite at them, headed for the tunnels.
“Poop,” said Beep. “He’s sneaky.”
“As opposed to Professor MacMorris?” asked Tom.
“No, differently,” said Beep. “Okay. How long do we wait?”
“At least ten minutes,” said Tom. “Last two pieces? Or take out?”
“Let’s eat them,” said Beep. “Then hey, why not just walk home? It’s not too bad out.” Tom looked at her with a mixture of expressions. “What?” she said, around a bite of pizza with pepperoni and black olives and green peppers. She had only just got him to stop stealing black olives off her slices. “You’re not afraid I’m gonna make a move on you, are ya?”
“I’m afraid we’re gonna get attacked,” said Tom.
“Yeah, cause you think all the exciting spell battles should be kept exclusively to your house. Well, I’m ready. You know I’m getting better at that defense stuff. Let’s pay up and see what’s out there.”
“Kay, fine,” said Tom. “Money out, wands out.”
Tom and Beep pooled their U. S. currency, downed the last of their root beers, took their last crusts with them and headed out into the windy night. The stars looked like they were flying into a headwind as they sailed westward across the sky. The kids finished their last crusts and stuck their hands into their coat pockets, where they were still cold. They exposed their hands again to pull their hats over their heads and then stuck their hands back in their coat pockets, but Beep put her left hand into Tom’s right hand coat pocket, where they held hands.
“It’s warmer that way,” said Beep. Tom smiled and nodded. It was.
They were still holding hands, but out in the air, an hour later when they strode down Birch and turned in at the school. “MacMorris doesn’t run a tight ship at the house,” Beep was saying. “Are you gonna be in trouble with Ash?”
“Not if we get good info,” said Tom.
“Then I’d better not kiss you,” said Beep. “Oh, by the way. Temple’s office light is on.”
“Well,” said Tom, thinking in double entendre, “that’s an interesting development.” They looked at each other, still vaguely holding hands. “I suppose since I’m the Temple liaison, or whatever,” said Tom, “I better go in and see what he’s doing. Huh?”
“Sure,” said Beep. “But I’m going with.”
The school was still open, but Miss Donati was shooing people out of the library, and the hippy janitor, Greg, was locking up the auditorium. Tom led Beep to the left, waving his wand behind them and whispering gyor gao. A thin fog arose behind them in the hall, deepened by a typically Tom Hexane muting of the ambient light.
“You got a real talent there,” Alicia was saying as they came up to Temple’s door.
“He’s left,” said Tom. Indeed, the door was shut and locked, the light in its frosted window was out, and there was a note on a card stuck into the window frame. “Oh I am so not sure I like this,” he said. “Temple saw us and left a note.”
“Aw, come on.”
“Dear Tom: bring your friend to the Castle with all speed. Miss Chang’s grade depends on it.”
Alicia “Beep” Finger was up to hurrying through the thin mist and creeping back down the stairs to the basement, although they had to wait for Miss Donati to lock up and retreat inside her realm, and for Greg to move up to the second floor. She was okay with the crawl around behind the rubbish heap and across the open space to the shelves. Through the secret door opened by pulling Remediae, and on down the hallway as far as the panel that hid the “usual” tunnel to pizza. After that, she grabbed Tom’s hand and hung onto it.
Past the second short stair, down the long hallway, Tom made them stand still and quiet for a count of ten. “Nothing,” he said.
“Can I talk?” asked Beep in a loud whisper.
“Well,” said Tom, “we shouldn’t. This hall echoes. I mean, maybe a whisper, but even a whisper echoes kinda weird. So maybe we should just walk.”
So of course they were whispering enthusiastically by the time they reached the dock. They came out beside the dismal gulf.
“Oh crap,” said Beep, using her wand to send a glow out into the air above the murky bit of briny. “That is water.”
“Lots of it.”
“And there’s gonna be, like, fish in it. And things. Bones and stuff.”
“I’m pretty sure,” said Tom.
She took a long look at it, and then started off along behind the set of pillars along the south side of the chamber, her wand out and down, illuminating just her feet. Tom caught up with her and they went along holding hands.
“Are you magic on both sides?” asked Beep.
“Oh yes,” said Tom. “They’re both magic teachers. My mom is in magic defense. She used to be a Code Enforcer. Their fights are something.”
“Code Enforcers?” Beep repeated.
“No, my mom and dad. They would chuck spells. She usually won.” They approached the far doorway into the hall that led on to the Castle. “But they’re really very nice. Yours?”
“Weeeellll,” said Beep very quietly. They stopped before the doorway. “Do things get weirder from here? I mean, I already feel like this is kinda dangerous and I might die?”
“Ahhh, it’s a piece of cake from here,” he said. “Safe as a stuffed animal. Just got to avoid the hakken-kraks. They just howl a lot. He’ll have informed the Guardian guys, so they’ll let us through for sure.”
He smiled. “I’m really sorry. What I mean is, everything’s going to be just fine.”
They took hands again and stepped into the hall, wands out, in her left hand and in his right, both lit with the fancy light that they had both learned from Match. They were completely surrounded by darkness, and the only sounds were their footfalls and the diminishing splash of waves behind them. Alicia whispered, and her voice fell dead in the hall: “My parents are both normals. My dad’s just this guy. He lives in Michigan, he’s a car salesman. My mom is the choir director at school and church.”
“Yeah, way back. Dad doesn’t really know I’m at magic school, but Mom does. My kid sister has it too, I can already tell. Mom could tell. She was totally not surprised when the first recruiter showed up. Hoosier Lyceum thought I’d just have to go there, and Ann Arbor sent a guy to talk to me, but the Lake Winds really wanted me to go here. I’m really glad.”
“Did MacMorris recruit you personally himself?”
“Yeah, MacMorris recruited me personally himself. I don’t know. Do you think I’m good at magic combat? My little sister thinks so.”
“You taught her?”
“A little. Hey, she’s pretty good, but I want her to be able to protect herself. Anyway, he thought I was pretty impressive, I can tell, but I think I’m a big disappointment to him.”
“Well, he can—!” But they had come to a meeting of four hallways, and suddenly from the left a chorus of howls nearly bowled them over. Tom hustled them up the righthand hallway. Soon they were bending right, then climbing dozens of stone steps. “Stinkin’ hakken-kraks,” said Tom. “They’re gonna give me a heart attack someday.”
“How much further?” asked Beep as they struggled up the second staircase.
They came out into an open area with very faint moonlight filtering in from somewhere. There was a soft whoosh! and a dozen candles lit on tables nearby. Leaning against the lefthand table, holding a long shiny black wand, was Rayah Marin, the Caribbean girl from Temple House. Standing in the shadows on the other side was a man of slight build wearing black. He came forward: it was Temple, looking as good as he ever, ever did.
“No further,” he said. He smiled. “I have to remember all my lines. You may be wondering why I have asked you here? And so on.”
“What I want to know,” said Tom, “is where is Jen?”
Temple turned without a word and headed for the third set of stairs. Tom and Beep followed, and Rayah took up the rear. “So,” said Beep to Tom, “is this one of those we gotta escape things, or is this more of a he’s got something wonderful to show us, or is this us letting him play his hand so we know what he’s up to things?”
“No idea,” said Tom.
At the top, Temple turned and backed into the room, his study. Sitting at the writing table, looking uncomfortable in a comfy chair, was Jen Chang. “She’s ceased,” said Temple. “She was monitoring me so closely it became impossible to ignore her.”
“Are you okay?” asked Beep.
“I’m fine,” said Jen. “I got zip for magic energy though. I can’t even get my wand to light.” She held up her wand: the tip did not even glow feebly.
“She has learned a lot this past hour or so,” said Temple. “Some of it is things you already knew, Young Thomas. Some of it is things I hope I don’t have to teach either of you.”
“Like,” said Tom.
“Can I be more clear? You do not have to follow me. I am not up to anything. You are more up to something than I am. Come, confide in me sometime, I beg of you, I will listen most politely and never tell a soul, about all the things you are up to, I give wonderful advice and it’s free, but I am not up to anything. Not anymore. It’s not worth the trouble.”
“You know things we don’t though,” said Tom.
“Of course I know things you don’t. You know things I don’t. I hope I know more things you don’t than you know things I don’t but I no longer place bets.”
“So two questions,” said Beep Finger. “One, what is this place anyway? Are we still in Chicago? And two, if you’re not up to something, then who is up to something?”
“Or is everything just fine,” said Tom.
“No,” said Temple. “Everything is not just fine. Miss Finger, welcome to the real Second City. That is not what anyone but me calls it, of course. This is the Castle, and there you can see how imaginative the wizarding community can be about names. Beyond is the Forest of Cluth on the west, and to the north the Plains River flood plain, and the city of Chicago on the shores of the Inland Sea.”
“So it’s, like, this other world?” said Beep.
“Oh, there are many worlds, Miss Finger,” he said, and he smiled. “There are many worlds, Miss Finger. Do you know, I never in my life thought I would be uttering those words in sequence. In any case, what was the other question?”
“If you’re not up to something,” asked Beep, “then who is?”
“Oh, everyone else, really, everyone else.”
The three made it back to Ash House a bit after midnight. Mistress Ash wrote a note for Beep, saying that she was not feeling well and would be sleeping on Mistress Ash’s spare bed. But she would not get to lie in that bed until they had been thoroughly debriefed.
“Mistress,” said Tom after they had told their stories as truthfully as they could bear to, “what do you think Professor Temple is up to?”
“Oh, he’s not up to anything,” said Ash. “He used to be quite the rogue but he outgrew it.”
“He always acts like he’s up to something,” said Beep.
“I’m afraid it’s become a habit for him,” said Ash. “It’s much better to have it the other way around. No one would think a serious, stern, formal old school teacher like me would be, as you say, up to something.”
“Appearances can be deceiving,” said Jen Chang.
“And you,” said Ash, “now have a reason to learn the Cancel Cease spells.”