Police Aux Frontières
Billy would never be quite sure how he managed to get through all his exams when he was half expecting to be murdered if not by Steven coming through the door at any moment, then by Professor Grape, who seemed to have become much more aggressive towards him since the last Frogsports match. Could Grape possibly have found out that he, Ed, and Elahoraella knew what he was up to?
It was stifling hot and humid around the castle, most of all in the Banquet Hall where they had to sit their written exams. As the teachers lined them up to check they weren’t trying to cheat (Josh was caught attempting to smuggle in a water bottle that had notes written on the inside of the label), the first-years complained to each other about how this sort of weather might have been nice on holiday, but never in this country.
“What’s going on?” said Patrick O’Connor. “I thought this was supposed to be Scotland? They should give us the day off when it’s this hot inside — I heard they have to!”
“I don’t think that’s true,” said Elahoraella.
“I heard if somebody faints during an exam, then we all pass it,” said Simon Jones.
“That’s not true either.”
In addition to their written papers, they also had practical exams. Professor Millbrook called them all one at a time into his classroom to see how much profit they could generate by making coins appear behind a small child’s ear. Professor McDouglass, meanwhile, asked them all to transform a pile of soiled rags into a colourful chain of handkerchiefs protruding from their sleeve — marks were given for how long the chain was, but taken away if a second small child worked out how they did it and started crying that their birthday party had been ruined.
On Wednesday afternoon, they took it in turns to hold their breath underwater for as long as possible while playing dead, so as not to give away that they were a magician and face being burned at the stake.
Their final exam was Fringe Production, which took place on Friday and consisted of three parts. First, they had a written exam where they spent two hours writing down the wittiest comebacks to unoriginal heckles shouted out by drunk audience members. Next, they had to perform their best magic tricks to an audience made up of three rowdy teenagers and an old couple who had wandered in by accident, all while avoiding a career breakdown on stage. The final part of the exam took place in the afternoon, and it too was practical. One by one, they had to demonstrate all the ways they had learnt of handing flyers to passersby who were trying to avoid eye contact, while at the same time arguing on the phone with a landlord about a security deposit.
This last exam turned out to be the hardest; not because of what they had to do, but because they first had to pay thousands of euro for the privilege of taking the exam, and then complete it after being deprived of sleep the night before. It was also the only exam where it was impossible to get full marks, because no matter how they did, the teachers would take thirty-five percent of their score for themselves.
The only person who felt confident about how they had done was Elahoraella.
“That wasn’t as difficult as I thought it was going to be,” she yawned as they joined the rest of the first-years who were walking out into the sunny grounds. “I managed to guess the old man’s card correctly on my first attempt, and once I’d finished, both he and his wife told me they’d had a wonderful day out.”
“They fell asleep before I could get to my card trick,” said Billy.
“They walked out of my show and demanded a refund,” said Ed. “It was pay-what-you-want!”
Elahoraella always liked to go through their exams afterwards, but Billy and Ed kept asking her not to; it made them both feel uneasy about how they might have done. They walked over to the shade cast by an enormous oak tree on the edge of the loch and sat down on the grass. Out on the water, Crumbleceiling was wakeboarding behind Nessie.
“No more lessons and no more exams,” Ed signed as he stretched out and laid back on the grass. “You could look a bit happier about it, Billy. We’ve got the whole summer ahead of us before we get any more work to do.”
Billy was scratching at his forehead and looking as though he might be sick.
“It’s not the exams,” he said. “It’s my trademark — it’s irritating me.”
“We all feel like that sometimes,” said Ed.
“It’s like it’s burning.”
“Go to the hospital,” Elahoraella suggested. “You don’t look well.”
“I’m not ill,” said Billy. “I think this is some sort of message… it means something is going to happen, but I don’t know what…”
Maybe it was because they knew they were both too important to the plot to kill off, but Ed and Elahoraella didn’t seem as worried about the Bewitched Brie as Billy. The idea of Steven returning certainly frightened them, but they both thought nothing would happen so long as Crumbleceiling was around.
“Billy, you’re worrying about nothing,” said Ed. “Elahoraella was right before, the Brie is safe so long as it’s under Crumbleceiling’s protection. Anyway, you saw Grape earlier, did he look as though he’s found out how to get past Waddles?”
It was true that after a Eudyptula first-year had given him a flyer as a joke, Grape had threatened to use it as a weapon if they ever dared do it again, but that was no different to how Billy would have expected Grape to react. He just couldn’t shake off the feeling that there was something else going on.
“That’s just the stress from this week,” said Elahoraella when he tried to explain this feeling to her. “You’ll be feeling like this until we get our results back.”
But whatever it was that was making him feel this way, Billy felt quite sure it wasn’t the stress of his exams. He looked over towards Barry’s hut where he could see Barry sat outside with Charlie, who was sunbathing on his back with all four legs up in the air and a pair of sunglasses on his face.
Only Barry and Crumbleceiling knew how to get past Waddles… Barry would never tell anyone else… never… but —
Billy had just realised something. He jumped to his feet.
“Billy, where are you going?” said Ed.
“We need to go see Barry straight away.”
Confused, Ed and Elahoraella both got up and followed him. They had to walk quickly so they could keep up.
“Billy, what’s going on?” said Elahoraella. “Why are we rushing?”
“I’ll explain in a minute.”
As they got closer to the Barry’s hut, Charlie noticed them and started to bark.
“Ey up!” said Barry, looking up to see what Charlie was barking at. “Theur exams all over? Fancy a brew?”
“Yes, please —”
“We don’t have time to stay,” Billy told Ed. “Barry, I need to ask you something important. That night you joined the pyramid scheme, what did the man who signed you up look like?”
“Ah dunt know,” said Barry, conversationally. “He ‘ad ‘ood covering’ ‘is head.”
He noticed a sudden look of shock spread across their faces.
“Nowt strange ‘bout tha’, though,” he said. “After all, ‘ole thin’ turned out t’ be illegal. Probably jus’ wanted t’ ‘ide ‘is face in case somebody wor already on t’ ‘im.”
As Ed scratched behind Charlie’s ears, Billy sat down on a stump next to Barry.
“What did you both talk about? Did you mention Frogsports at all?”
“Ah think it came up, yeh,” said Barry, straining to remember. “e’ asked wha’ ah did, n’ ah said ah wor groundskeep’ ‘ere at Frogsports.”
“And what did he say to that?”
“Well, e’ said ah can’t be making much doin’ tha’, n’ ah told ‘im ‘e wor right, which is why ah started sellin’ stuff from me book… tha’ wor when ah asked if ‘e wanted t’ buy him sen a kayak… ‘e said he ain’t interested, bur ‘e knows sum’ way ah can mek me sen much more money… tha’ wor when ‘e brought up all ‘air products n’ tha’… bur ‘e said it can be ‘ard work, n’ so ‘e wanted t’ mek sure ah could ‘andle it… n’ then ah told ‘im, ah said, after Waddles, ah can ‘andle owt tha’ gerr’ thrown at me.”
“And was he interested in Waddles?” Billy asked, trying to sound casual.
“‘course ‘e wor. Not ery’day theur ‘ears ‘bout a two-‘eaded duck now, is it? Anyway, ’e asked wha’ it’s like t’ keep ‘im as pet. It’s easy, ah said — Waddles falls asleep whenever e’ ‘ears opera, see.”
“So do I,” joked Ed, but then he realised what Barry had just said.
Barry himself seemed to know he’d just said something he shouldn’t, because in a panic he added, “Forget ah said owt. Theur not t’ know ‘bout tha’ stuff — ‘old on, where theur all goin’?”
Billy, Ed, and Elahoraella didn’t speak to each other as they rushed back up to the castle. When they stopped in the entrance hall to catch their breath, Billy turned to the other two and said, “Barry told that strange how to get past Waddles, and I bet it was Grape under that hood.”
“But Billy, that doesn’t make sense,” said Elahoraella. “In the previous chapter, you said you didn’t think Grape had found out yet, and that was after Barry had already met this stranger.”
“Never mind that plot hole now,” said Billy. “We have to tell Professor Crumbleceiling.”
“Do you think Crumbleceiling will believe us?” said Elahoraella. “Barry will get in trouble if he backs us up. He might lose his job.”
“Barry wouldn’t lie to Crumbleceiling,” said Billy, or so he hoped, he thought privately to himself. “Where is Crumbleceiling’s office anyway?”
They looked around as if hoping to see a door with his name on. They had never been told where to find Crumbleceiling, and they didn’t know anyone who had ever been sent to see him — none of the teachers seemed to think the headmaster would be very good at keeping discipline.
“We could try the staff room?” Ed suggested.
Billy and Elahoraella agreed, so they set off to the second floor at a run. But as they passed by the Transformation classroom, a voice called after them.
“What are you three doing inside, and why are you running?”
They stopped and turned around. Professor McDouglass was standing there carrying a pile of books.
“We’re looking for Professor Crumbleceiling,” said Elahoraella. “We need to talk to him.”
“You wish to talk to Professor Crumbleceiling?” said Professor McDouglass, as though she couldn’t understand why this was something anyone would ever choose to do voluntarily. “Why on earth do you need to speak to the headmaster?”
Billy tried to think of something to say, but all he could come up with was, “I don’t think we can tell you, Professor.” He knew right away that he had said the wrong thing; Professor McDouglass suddenly looked both angry and suspicious.
“I am sure that anything you need to say to the headmaster you can share with me instead, but seeing as though you do not seem to think I am important enough — you just missed him, Professor Crumbleceiling left the school five minutes ago,” she said, sounding offended. “He received an urgent message from the Secretariat for Sorcery and left immediately for London. He even cut his wakeboarding session short for it.”
“He’s left?” said Billy. “But Professor… this is important…”
“More important than the Secretariat of Sorcery?”
There was nothing else for it. Billy swallowed. “Professor — this is about the Bewitched Brie —”
“This is cheese as cheese should be. The Bewitched Brie is the cheese for me. HEY!”
With her hands forced into the air to start waving, the books in Professor McDouglass’ arms fell to the floor, but she made no effort to pick them back up again.
“Come again?” she said.
“The Bewitched Brie…”
“This is cheese as cheese should be. The Bewitched Brie is the cheese for me. HEY!”
“One moment please,” said Professor McDouglass. Then she went back into her classroom, leaving the three of them standing there with her books at their feet.
“What is she doing?” said Elahoraella.
Professor McDouglass returned with a bottle of water in her hand.
“One more time, Mr Smith, if you wouldn’t mind.”
“It’s about the Bewitch —” Professor McDouglass held up her hand to stop him. He paused as she unscrewed the top of the bottle, filled her mouth with water, then replaced the cap. She gestured for him to continue. “It’s about the Bewitched Brie —”
Shocked, Professor McDouglass spat out the water into Billy’s face.
“This is cheese as cheese should be. The Bewitched Brie is the cheese for me. HEY!”
“But — how can you possibly know about the Brie?” she coughed, choking on the last bit of water in her mouth. “And do not worry yourself, Miss Parker, this bottle is one hundred percent plant based,” she added to Elahoraella.
“Professor, we think — no, we know — somebody is going to try and seal the Bewitched —”
“Please do not say its name again, Mr Smith. I am sure that by now you have all worked out it has its own jingle, which all who hear the name are forced to sing?”
“Professor, I have to talk to Professor Crumbleceiling immediately,” Billy finished, wiping water out of his face.
Professor McDouglass eyed him with suspicion.
“But who are you suggesting could possibly steal the Brie while it is here at Frogsports?”
For a moment, Billy thought about being honest and saying Grape, but then he decided revenge would be better. He looked Professor McDouglass in the eye and said, “That-Evil-One.”
Elahoraella watched with horror, while Ed bit his tongue to stop himself from laughing. Billy expected Professor McDouglass to be angry with him, but as the cloud disappeared from above her head, she brushed her wet fringe to one side and said, “Touché, Mr Smith.
“As for Professor Crumbleceiling,” she added finally. “The headmaster will be back tomorrow afternoon, at which time I shall inform him of your concerns. But for now, be assured that nobody can possibly steal the Brie while it is at Frogsports. It is too well protected, and if I may say so, I am fairly confident that nobody will be able to get past my own enchantment. It would take powerful sorcery like Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo to break through that barrier — good afternoon, Professor Quigley,” she added, for Quigley had just walked past them scribbling notes on his hand.
“Oh — yes, good afternoon, Professor McDouglass,” he said, seemingly shocked that anyone had noticed him.
“But what if they already know that, Professor?” said Billy.
“How could anybody possibly know that, Smith? You are worrying about things that do not concern you. Quite unnecessarily, I might add,” she finished shortly. “Now, I suggest now your exams are over, you all go outside and enjoy the weather.” She bent down and picked up her books.
Professor Quigley had returned.
“How exactly do you spell Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo?” he asked.
“Oh, it’s quite easy,” said Professor McDouglass, and without another word to three of them, she and Quigley strode off down the corridor.
“It’s today,” said Billy, once he was certain Professor McDouglass couldn’t hear them. “Grape is going to steal the Brie today. He knows how to get past Waddles, and now that Professor Crumbleceiling isn’t here, there’s nothing standing in his way.”
“But what can we do about — what?” said Ed, for Elahoraella had just gasped.
Billy and Ed turned around. Grape was stood there, looking down at them all with an even colder smile than he usually wore.
“And what might you all be doing inside when there are no more lessons or exams taking place? Surely you cannot be studying for your second-year already?” His eyes narrowed on Billy. “I mean, you don’t even know if you will make it yet.”
“We were only —” Billy began.
“Only looking for —” said Elahoraella.
“Yes, Mr Smith? Miss Parker?”
At that moment, Professor Quigley came past them again. This time he was showing the way to a Pavarotti tribute act. He almost jumped out of a window when Elahoraella said, “Good afternoon, Professor Quigley.”
“Oh — yes, right — yes — good afternoon, Miss Parker.”
As Grape turned his head to watch Quigley out of sight, the three of them took it as their chance to leave, but as they reached the end of the corridor, Grape called after them.”
“I’m warning you now, Smith — if you spend any more time wandering around this castle at night, I shall be forced to personally murder you. Good day.”
Once Grape had marched off, Billy turned to the other two.
“What do we do now?” said Ed.
“We have to keep a watch on Grape,” said Billy. “He’s gone off to the staff room. One of us should wait outside and follow him if he leaves — Elahoraella, you’d better do that.”
“No one will be suspicious if you’re waiting for a teacher.”
“And what should we do?” Ed asked Billy.
“Camp out by the door to the proscribed passageway and just hope we can do enough to slow him down if he shows up.”
It didn’t take long for their plan to fall apart. Billy and Ed had only been standing outside the door to Waddles for ten minutes when Professor McDouglass showed up carrying a giant loaf of bread, and this time, she was angry from the start.
“Enough of this!” she said, glaring at them both. “Do you think you’re both more of a threat than the duck or the rest of the teacher’s enchantments?”
“I don’t think you’re supposed to feed ducks bread, Professor,” said Billy. “I read it in a book once.”
Professor McDouglass ignored him. “If I hear either of you have come anywhere near this door again, you will both be in detention for the rest of the year!”
Billy and Ed returned to the common room where they found Elahoraella waiting for them.
“I’m sorry,” she said, as they sat down beside her. “Professor Millbrook came past and while he was talking to me, Grape came out the staff room and strode away. I wasn’t able to follow him.”
“Well, that’s it then, isn’t it?” said Ed.
“No, there’s got to be something else we can do,” said Billy, a look of determination in his eye.
The other two stared at him.
“What are you thinking of?” said Elahoraella.
“I’ve got to do it,” said Billy. “I’m going to wait up here all day and give Grape the chance to go steal the Brie now, then tonight I’m going to go after him hours after he could already have left.”
“You can’t,” said Ed.
“What about Professor McDouglass?” said Elahoraella. “If she catches you, you’ll be expelled for sure.”
“WHAT DOES THAT MATTER?” Billy shouted. “If Grape gets to the Brie, Steven is coming back! He wants to kill me. He killed my parents. Don’t you understand?”
It was Elahoraella’s turn to shout. “NO, DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND, BILLY?”
Billy was taken aback.
“You’re not the only person whose family Steven has murdered. You’re not the only person he’s tried to kill. You’re not the only person he would try to kill again if he came back. Not everything is about you just because it’s your name on the front of things, Billy. Don’t you ever think about that?”
“She’s got a point, you know?” said Ed. “Doesn’t everyone else matter just as much?”
There was an awkward silence. Bill glared at them both.
“I’m going out here tonight, whether you’re with me or not,” he said eventually. “I’ll use the translucency tree.”
“But will all three of us fit inside it?” said Ed.
“All — all three of us?”
“We’re with you, Billy,” said Elahoraella. “You’re not going to do this alone.”
“But if anybody catches us, you’ll both be kicked out too.”
“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” said Elahoraella with a smile on her face. “Professor Millbrook told me I got extra marks in our exam today for thinking to stick flyers to the top of people’s umbrellas in the rain. He said it’s one of the best techniques he’s ever seen. They don’t even teach it.”
They went for dinner, then returned to the common room and sat apart from each other. Elahoraella was busy reading Brie and Me, checking to see if there was anything written in it that might be of some use to them. Billy and Ed sat in silence, occasionally giving the other a nervous glance across the room.
Slowly, the common room began emptying as their fellow Osphranters went off to bed. Finally, after a group of sixth-year students went up to their dormitory, Ed turned to Billy. “Time to get the translucency tree,” he said. Billy nodded, then ran upstairs to pull it out from under his bed.
“We should try it on here to make sure it’s big enough to fit all three of us,” said Elahoraella when Billy returned.
“It’s going to be big enough,” said Billy.
“How can you be sure?”
As Billy pulled the costume over his head, a voice suddenly spoke from the other side of the room.
“Where are you going?”
Billy stood frozen as Josh stepped out from behind the chair nearest the door.
“Nowhere,” said Ed, speaking too quickly to sound innocent.
“Where’s Billy? I heard his voice. And why is there a tree in the common room?”
“Er — it’s to brighten the place up,” said Elahoraella, thinking quickly.
Josh stared at them.
“You’re taking it somewhere, aren’t you?” he said.
“No, we’re just watering it,” said Elahoraella. “But we don’t need any help now, so why don’t you just go up to bed, Josh?”
“You can’t leave the common room,” said Josh. “You’ll get Osphranter house into trouble again. We’ll lose even more credits if you’re caught.”
“You don’t understand, Josh. This is important —”
But Josh clearly had no intention of giving in. He moved back and stood in the doorway to block their way out.
“I’m not letting you leave,” he said. “I’ll fight you both if I have to!”
Billy glanced up at the clock. Every moment they were stuck here wasting time with Josh gave Grape more time to escape.
“We need to go,” said Billy.
“The tree…” said Josh. “The tree spoke.”
“Can’t you do something?” Ed said desperately to Elahoraella.
“I’m sorry for this, Josh,” said Elahoraella. She pulled out her enchanted celery and pointed it at him. “Hippity Hoppity You Should Fu…” Ed coughed, “… Offity!”
Josh fell silent at once, then he turned around to face the nearest wall and advanced into it face first. Next moment, he was lying back on the floor unconscious.
Billy, Ed, and Elahoraella rushed over to him.
“Is he okay?” said Billy.
“He will be. He’ll come around in an hour or so,” said Elahoraella. “But that felt so good.”
“Come on, haven’t you both wanted to do that to him all year? He’s an idiot!”
Billy and Ed both thought about this for a moment, then nodded in agreement. “It was brave of him to stand up to us like that, though,” Billy admitted.
“When I stood up to you like that, you called me interfering and annoying,” said Elahoraella. “It really is quite sexist, you know?”
“That’s not our fault,” said Ed. “We didn’t write it into the plot.”
Ed and Elahoraella joined Billy under the tree costume, and the three of them carefully made their way out of the common room and into the deserted corridor outside. Feeling as nervous as they did, they couldn’t help but jump at every shadow or expect to run into a teacher whenever they turned a corner, but they were lucky. It wasn’t until they reached the corridor leading to the proscribed passageway that they met anyone else. Karen was busy trying to trip over a loose bit of carpet in front of a security camera.
“Who’s there?” she said, looking up at the sound of footsteps. Her eyes narrowed on the tree. “I don’t like trees. Why does everybody always talk about saving the trees? Don’t all plants matter?”
Billy had an idea.
He coughed, then said, “Bing-bong — could the owner of the white ninety-nine Lexus RX with the Costco air freshener and In This Car, I’m the Manager sign in the back window, please return to your vehicle as it is illegally parked over the white line.”
“No. No. This is tyranny,” shouted Karen. “You’re disrespecting me! It’s unacceptable!”
“That is the owner of the white Lexus with the The Closer You Get, The Slower I Drive bumper sticker, please return to your vehicle as it will be towed — thank you.”
“This is inconveniencing me!” And she flew off down the corridor screaming about how she would never shop there again.
“Brilliant,” said Ed.
“How did you know that would work?” said Elahoraella.
“It’s what they all drive.”
They continued forward, and a moment later, they were outside the door to the proscribed passageway. As they had expected, it was already open.
“It looks like Grape has already got past Waddles,” Billy whispered to the other two. But there was no need for him to talk so quietly. Waddles’ heavy breathing carrying through the gap in the door was enough to muffle their voices.
“If you want to turn back here, you can,” said Billy. “I won’t need the translucency tree anymore.”
“We’ve come this far,” said Ed.
“We’re not going to leave you now,” said Elahoraella.
Billy nodded his appreciation, then gently pushed the door open with his foot.
They entered the passageway. Waddles was sleeping with one of his heads leaning over the open trapdoor. Then, a voice from behind them made them all jump.
“Is somebody there?”
Having presumed they were alone, the shock made them yell out. Waddles stirred a little.
They turned around. The face of the Pavarotti tribute act who had walked past them that afternoon was gazing over at them from behind a pillar. He looked terrified.
“That’s funny,” he said. “There wasn’t a tree there before.”
They pulled off the translucency tree, and the man yelled out just as loud as they had done. Waddles stirred some more.
“Oh, thank goodness you’ve found me,” said the man, realising they weren’t going to attack him. “I was brought up here to sing this duck to sleep — I didn’t want to take the job, but it was either this or selling car insurance — and I couldn’t find my way back out. The man I was with fell down that trapdoor over there,” he continued, pointing at the trapdoor. “He probably needs — needs —”
“What’s wrong?” said Elahoraella.
Next to her, Billy already knew what was wrong. He had just glanced back at the trapdoor and noticed Waddles’ head was no longer hanging over it. And then they heard it.
Waddles was awake again.
They turned back and looked up at the duck’s two giant heads. They were both gawping down at them all with a curious expression.
“You need to start singing again,” Billy told the tribute act.
“I can’t,” he said. “It wouldn’t be a union contact. They’d kick me out if they knew.”
“HAVE YOU GONE MAD?” Ed bellowed. “We’re all about to be killed!”
“I really need some sort of contribution. You know, times are hard enough for performers like me.”
“We don’t have any money with us,” said Elahoraella.
“That’s okay,” said the man as he pulled a small device from his pocket. “I accept credit cards.”
“JUST SING!” said Billy.
Glancing up at Waddles was enough to spur the man’s voice. The effect was immediate. No sooner had the notes hit the air than Waddles seemed to calm, then lay back down again. With a few moments, the duck was asleep.
“Now, about payment —”
Billy turned to him. “Elahoraella,” he said. “What was the sorcery you used on Josh?”
“Hippity Hoppity You Should —”
“How about you just tell me the way out, and we’ll forget about the money?”
After giving the tribute act directions back to the entrance hall from where they were, Billy, Ed, and Elahoraella turned their attention back to the trapdoor, which, thankfully, no longer had one of the duck’s giant heads dangling over it.
Billy knelt down and looked through the door.
“Can you see anything?” said Elahoraella.
Billy shook his head. “It’s too dark, I can’t even work out how deep it might go.”
“Is there a ladder?”
“No. We’re going to have to jump. I’ll go first,” he said, standing up again.
Billy turned to the others. “If I don’t shout back that it’s safe, don’t follow me — go straight back to the common room and use Yodel to send a letter to Crumbleceiling.”
“Okay,” said Ed.
Ed and Elahoraella stood back and watched as Billy lowered himself into the hole until he was only holding on with the very ends of his fingers. He looked up at them and said, “I can’t feel the bottom.”
“Be careful,” said Elahoraella.
Billy let go. He felt cold, damp air rush past his face as he fell. Above him, the trapdoor was getting smaller and smaller, then — “Ouch!” he shouted out. He’d landed onto stone.
“Billy, are you okay?” Elahoraella shouted down.
“I think I’ve broken something, but it’s okay. There’s a magic potion down here that we can use to recover our health.”
“Save some for us.”
Ed jumped down next, landing next to Billy. Elahoraella followed, but had her landing cushioned by falling on top of Ed.
They were in a small circular room lit by a single torch on the wall. The way forward was behind a wooden door, and next to it, just as Billy had said, was a bright red potion bottle sitting atop a small table. Billy reached out for it and picked it up.
“Let Ed use it first,” said Elahoraella. “He’s the most injured.”
She wasn’t wrong. Ed’s whole body was flashing bright red on and off like a broken Christmas tree light, and he couldn’t stop mimicking the sound of his heartbeat. “Ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum-tsh!”
Billy handed Ed the bottle, and he drank a third of it.
“Thanks,” said Ed, as his body seemed to recover. He handed the bottle back to Billy. “Well, there’s no turning back now,” he said, staring up at the trapdoor high above them. “How do we get out of here when we’re done?”
“We’ll have to go up there,” said Billy, and he pointed to a staircase at the other side of the room with a fire exit sign hanging above it.
When Billy and Elahoraella had drunk their share of the potion, they stood up and went through the door. They found themselves in another passageway. This one was longer and narrower than the one Waddles was guarding above. Ahead of them, a troll blocked their way. They recognised it instantly as the one who normally resided under the bridge to the Vigilantism classroom, but it didn’t look as friendly as it usually did.
As they approached, the troll watched them. Then, when they were only a few steps away, it said, “You have three guesses.” This was different, they all thought. Normally they had as many guesses as they needed; it often took Josh the whole lesson to think of the correct answer.
Billy nodded to the other two, then said to the troll, “What’s the riddle?”
“Who let the dogs out?”
“Who?” said Billy.
“Who?” said Elahoraella.
“Who?” said Ed.
“Who?” said Elahoraella.
“Who?” said Billy.
The troll glared down at them all menacingly. “Incorrect,” it said. “Two guesses left.”
“Barry?” said Ed, assuming he was the obvious answer; Barry was the only person at Frogsports who owned a dog after all.
The troll gave them a cruel smile. “One guess left,” it said.
They were starting to panic now. They looked up into the troll’s hideous face and felt sure that if they didn’t get the correct answer on their next attempt, they would have bigger problems than simply not being allowed to pass.
Billy was thinking hard, but before he could give an answer, Elahoraella said, “Prince Michael of Kent during an official visit to Battersea last March.”
Billy and Ed braced themselves for something bad to happen, but to their great surprise, the troll scratched the back of his head and said, “Oh… yeah, that’s right that is.”
As the troll moved to one side to let them continue, Ed turned to Elahoraella.
“How the hell did you know that?” he asked.
“I went there on a school trip last year and they had a photograph of his visit on the wall.”
As they continued down the passageway, the echoing sound of their footsteps was joined by a gentle drip of water coming from the gaps in the stonework above their heads. Billy figured they must be somewhere under the loch now; there was a damp smell in the air. Eventually, the passageway began sloping downwards. Ahead, it looked as though it was about to open into a bright chamber, but before they could reach it, they all froze mid-step as though forced into suspended animation.
Although unable to move his head, Billy could move his eyes. He focused on the chamber ahead of them, where he could see flickers as objects began populating the room.
Then, as suddenly as they had stopped, they were all able move again.
“What just happened there?” said Ed. “Do you think that was McDouglass’ enchantment?”
“It can’t be,” said Billy. “Grape will already have disabled that one.”
“I think the next room just needed time to render in,” said Elahoraella.
They continued forward into the chamber and took a moment to survey the room around them. The way forward was visible ahead of them, but between them and the door they needed to reach were three precarious stone platforms floating not on water or in the air, but rather — for absolutely no logical reason — a river of lava flowing across the width of the room.
“This is ridiculous,” said Ed.
“Maybe the developers just got lazy,” said Billy.
Cautiously, they stepped forward. They could smell sulphur in the air and feel the warmth on their faces now.
“Do you reckon these platforms will be strong enough for us to jump across?” said Ed.
Billy looked around to check if there was anything they had missed.
“I don’t think we’ve got any choice but to find out,” he said. “There’s no other way to get across.”
He told the other two to stand back, then took a run up and jumped onto the middle platform. It took a moment for him to find his balance; the whole platform had started moving as though surfing on the lava.
“Billy, are you okay?” said Elahoraella.
“It is strong enough,” said Billy. “But it’s not easy to stand on.”
He took a moment to ready himself, then jumped again, this time across to the solid ground on the other side.
“Just take it slow,” he said, turning back to them.
Elahoraella went next. She jumped onto the platform, then across to Billy.
“Are you okay?” he asked her.
“Yes, I’m fine. Come on, Ed.”
Ed was steady on his feet as he jumped onto the platform, but as he went to jump again to safety, the stone platform started to crumble beneath him, and he fell into the river of lava below.
“NO!” shouted Billy and Elahoraella together, then —
“What are you shouting for?” said Ed.
Somehow, the moment Ed touched the lava, all three of them had been transported back to the start of the chamber.
“That was weird,” said Billy.
On their second attempt to cross, they had more luck. By each using a different platform, they reached the door without any of them falling in.
As Elahoraella reached for the door, though, she couldn’t help but notice there was something different about Ed.
“Ed, have you got taller?” she asked.
“Oh, yeah,” said Ed. “I think I just levelled up.”
By now, they were all starting to think that nothing they might come across next would surprise them, but even so, the next chamber still came as a shock. They were in a vast hall filled with rope lines that led to a row of counters at the other side of the room. Billy wondered for a moment if they had somehow ended up in Sino Pauper Edo Recondo Mammonas, but it couldn’t be the bank; this room looked far too sterile.
Ahead of them was a sign that pointed EU citizens one way and non-EU citizens the other. They looked over to the counters and noticed another much larger sign hanging above them, which read Police Aux Frontières. It seemed they had reached the French border.
“Of course,” said Elahoraella, “this all makes sense.”
“Does it?” said Ed.
“Yes, it does. Think about it. The Brie has come from France, hasn’t it? That’s where Émile Arquette lives, it says so in one of his book. But it’s too difficult to bring anything through customs anymore, so Crumbleceiling must have just given part of the castle to France and decided to keep the Brie in there.”
“What sort of idiot would come up with that as a solution to anything?”
“You’d be surprised,” said Elahoraella.
“But that doesn’t make any sense,” said Billy. “The Brie was being held at Sino Pauper Edo Recondo Mammonas before it was moved to Frogsports, and the bank isn’t in France. How can you explain that?”
“Magic,” she said simply.
They pulled out their passports and began snaking their way up and down the rope line until they encountered their first problem. As they got close to the counters, a border agent, noticing their passports were British, shouted at them and directed them back again; they had accidentally joined the line for EU passport holders only.
“How is this a benefit?” said Elahoraella as they now entered the line for non-EU citizens.
This time when they reached the counters, an aggressive looking man called them forward. A moment later, they all jumped when suddenly the man started beating them for approaching together instead of one at a time.
“What is the purpose of your visit?” the border agent asked Billy when he then approached alone.
“I’m here to stop Steven from coming back and murdering me!”
The agent typed something on his computer and said, “I’ll put business trip.” Then he stamped Billy’s passport and let him continue.
Elahoraella was called forward next.
“What is the purpose of your visit?”
“I’m here to stop Grape stealing the Bewitched Brie!”
“This is cheese as cheese should be. The Bewitched Brie is the cheese for me. HEY!”
With a stamp in her passport, Elahoraella was free to join Billy on the other side of the counters.
Finally, Ed was called forward.
“Er — whatever they just said,” he answered when asked why he was visiting.
The border agent looked at his passport, then up at him, then back to his passport.
“No,” he said. “You cannot enter.”
“What?” said Ed. “But you let both of them through.”
“Your passport, it is not valid for six months.”
“Come on, Ed,” said Billy, we need to go. “Grape’s ahead of us, remember.”
“He won’t let me through,” said Ed, gesturing at the border agent. “He says my passport doesn’t have more than six months validity left on it.”
“But you aren’t actually leaving the UK,” said Elahoraella. “You’re just going into a part of it that’s now treated as France for some reason.”
Ed tried explaining this to the border agent, but it was no use.
“There’s got to be something we can do,” said Billy. “What about an emergency passport application?”
Ed shook his head.
“There isn’t time for that,” he said. “This is one of the sacrifices we have to make for the freedom to visit fewer places and do less things — you have to go on without me.”
“Do you want to stop Grape stealing the Brie or not? If you don’t hurry up, he’ll already have gone.”
There was no other choice.
Billy and Elahoraella left the immigration hall without Ed and continued into yet another passageway. This was the strangest they’d been in yet. As they advanced, Billy was sure they kept passing by the exact same plant pot, window, vase, and creepy portrait with moving eyes that followed them as they went by. They were just wondering how long this passageway could possibly be when they came to another door.
This next room appeared empty, but that didn’t stop them from treading carefully, just in case.
“What do you think this is?” said Billy.
“I don’t know, but I have a bad feeling about it.”
They relaxed a little when they were able to make it across to the opposite door without anything happening.
“This must have been where McDouglass’ enchantment was,” said Elahoraella. She tried the door, but it was locked. “Have a look around,” she said. “There must be a key hidden somewhere.”
But Billy had just noticed some writing that was etched into the wood.
“Hey, look at this,” he said, pointing this out to Elahoraella. He read aloud, “Say the magic word, and I shall open.”
“The magic word?” said Elahoraella. “But what’s the magic word — I’ve got it.” She pulled out her enchanted celery and pointed it at the door. “Open Sesame!”
“That’s strange,” she said. “But those are the magic words to open locked doors.”
“Maybe it’s something different here?” said Billy. Then he pulled out his own enchanted celery and started listing all the magical words he could think of.
“Legalese! — Hippity Hoppity! — Alakazam! —”
“Billy, I need…” Elahoraella tried to say over him.
“Hocus-Pocus! — Abracadabra! — A La Peanut Butter Sandwiches!”
“Billy, I need to think, can you please —”
The door swung open at once.
“Oh,” said Elahoraella. “The magic word was please.”
She glanced around the room, then said to no one in particular, “Thank you.”
The door swung shut again.
“Er… please,” she said again, and the door swung back open.
“After you,” said Billy, gesturing for her to lead.
“Thank you —”
They went through the door and found themselves in what Billy was sure had to be the final chamber before the Brie. There was no puzzle to solve or creature to defeat in this room. Instead, a giant black chest stood alone in the middle of the room. Behind it, opposite where they were standing, was the way forward; a high stone double door covered in chains running from all four corners into a giant golden lock that was hanging in the middle of it. As his eyes moved down to the chest, Billy thought he knew exactly where to find the key they needed.
“I reckon this is it,” he said to Elahoraella. “I think Grape is on the other side of this door.”
He walked forward.
“Be careful,” said Elahoraella, but nothing happened.
Billy knelt down beside the chest and opened it. He was right; the key for the lock was inside it. He stood back as the key floated out of the chest, then came towards him through the air. As it started spinning in front of him, he pulled out his enchanted celery and gently tapped it on the edge of the key.
Billy shook his head, then grabbed the key.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Dramatic effect, probably.”
With the key in hand, he went over to the double doors and placed it into the lock. Immediately, the sound of mechanical clicking filled the room, then the lock started spinning in front of their eyes. Next moment, the chains dissolved into nothing, and the lock fell to the floor at his feet with a thunderous crash that caused the torches on the wall to flicker.
With the way forward unlocked, he turned back to Elahoraella.
“I need to do this alone,” he said. “It’s too dangerous —”
“But, Billy —”
“No, listen — go back and find Ed, then go up that fire escape and use Yodel to send a letter to Crumbleceiling. He’s the only person who can stop all this. I might be able to slow Grape down, but he’s stronger than me really.”
“But Billy, what if he’s got Steven with him?”
“Then I’ll just have to challenge him to a magician’s duel, and before Grape can say ta-da, I’ll pull the hat over Steven’s head and push him down the stairs.”
Elahoraella looked scared.
“Billy — you’re a great magician, you now,” she said. “Even if you haven’t actually performed even one bit of sorcery since you arrived at Frogsports.”
“I’m not that good,” said Billy. “Not like you are.”
“Me,” said Elahoraella. “Reading books all the time?”
“Why are you talking like that?”
“I’m supposed to play down my achievements and talents, and instead support you as the white male hero who saves everybody.”
“But you’re always learning more when you read.”
“I’ve only read seven books this month! And there are more important things — decency, acceptance, understanding, and knowing the difference between your imagination and the real world.”
“They don’t teach any of that at Frogsports.”
“No, they don’t,” Elahoraella laughed. “And they never will.
“Good luck, Billy.”
She turned to leave.
“Oh, and Billy,” said Elahoraella, turning back to him. “Don’t forget to save our progress before you continue. That way we won’t have to do everything again if you die in there.”
“Er — sure,” said Billy.
Alone, Billy faced the double doors.
“Here I come Grape,” he said to himself, and he pushed them open to reveal the path forward. He took a few minutes to prepare himself, then took a deep and stepped through into the final chamber.
But to his great surprise, Grape wasn’t there.