Jenna slumped down onto the ice and put her head in her hands. “I can’t believe we did that,” she said. She looked at Septimus, a horrified expression in her eyes. “Sep, we’ve just killed someone.”
“Yes,” said Septimus simply.
“But that’s awful,” said Jenna. “I…I never thought I would…”
Septimus looked at Jenna, his green eyes serious. “It’s a luxury, Jen,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
Septimus stared at the scraped and bloody snow at his feet. It took him some moments to reply. “I mean…” he began slowly. “I mean that if you go through life and never face a situation where, in order for you to survive, someone else has to die, then you’re lucky. That’s what I mean.”
“That’s terrible, Sep.”
Septimus shrugged. “Sometimes that is how it is. I learned that in the Young Army. It’s either the chief cadet in the wolverine pit, or you.”
Jenna and Beetle caught Septimus’s good mood. The gurgling of the stream broke the oppressive silence of the forest, and the yellow glow of the lantern illuminated the frosty snow before them. The combination of snow and lanterns made all three feel happy. For Jenna and Septimus, it reminded them of the time they had spent the Big Freeze together at Aunt Zelda’s—a time they both looked back on with happiness. For Beetle, it recalled Snow Days when he didn’t have to go to school—days full of possibilities when he would wake up to find that snow had completely covered the windows and his mother had lit the lantern and was cooking bacon and eggs over the fire.
Beetle celebrated his temporary promotion by sitting on his swivel chair and spinning around and around in circles—which was not allowed—while practicing his I’m-in-charge look. For five heady minutes everything had been wonderful—and then it all went wrong.
Wolf Boy knew there wasn’t much he could do to help Jenna with the Locum Tenens, but he thought he could try out the skills he had learned when he had lived with the wolverines in the Forest. And so Wolf Boy sat down about ten feet in front of Spit Fyre and very deliberately fixed his gaze on the dragon, willing him to stay calm and quiet. Spit Fyre caught Wolf Boy’s glance and quickly looked away, but it was enough. The dragon knew he was being Watched. He shifted about uncomfortably, but he did not move away. Spit Fyre sat unusually still in the soft drizzle, hoping that soon his Imprintor would appear and put an end to the unnerving two-legged wolverine who would not stop staring at him.
Later, after they had cleared as much brown goo out of the cottage as they could, Aunt Zelda surveyed the damage, determined to look on the bright side. “It’s really not so bad,” she said. “The books are fine—well, at least they will be when they’ve all dried out and I can redo the potions. Most of them were coming up to their drink-by date anyway. And the really important ones are in the Safe. The Brownies didn’t eat all the chairs like last time, and they didn’t even poo on the table. So, all in all, it could have been worse. Much worse.