Max and Olivia have arrived at Castle Camelot for the Annual Festival of Magic. Max needs somewhere to practise his frogspell act for the novice’s competition – so he and Olivia head off to a little-used corner of the castle to try it out. But Max’s worst rival, Snotty Hogsbottom (otherwise known as Adrian), is looking for him…
Max and Olivia headed straight for the west wing, where they knew there were always empty rooms. Merlin lived in this part of the castle, and most people were keen to avoid any confrontation with the extremely powerful wizard. Max, however, thought everything he’d heard about Merlin was brilliant, and was always hoping they would run into the wizard so he could finally meet him and tell him so – but so far they never had.
‘Right,’ said Max, as they settled into a small room with narrow windows, off the fourth-floor corridor. It was empty except for some old tapestries on the walls and a few bits of wooden furniture. ‘Time to practise the frogspell antidote.’
They had brewed up the general reversal spell the day before, as well as some carefully controlled frogspell potion, but they had not had time to test them before leaving for Camelot. The Novices’ Spell-Making Competition was the next day, right at the end of the festival, so they had a day and a half to perfect their act.
‘So,’ said Max, pulling one of his hunting gloves onto his right hand, ‘If you’ll just stand there in the middle of the room…’
‘I’m sorry?’ said Olivia, pretending great surprise. ‘You were intending to try this out on me?’
‘Yes, on you,’ said Max, slowly and deliberately. ‘Seeing as you’re my assistant, and seeing as assistants test potions, not wizards.’
‘Well,’ said Olivia, folding her arms and looking very determined. ‘Since you’re not exactly a wizard, Max, and seeing as I’m doing you a very great favour by agreeing to be your assistant tomorrow, I think it’s probably down to you to test your own potion today. I’m not getting turned into a pink elephant with green spots because you got one of the ingredients wrong, thank you!’
Max sighed. That was the trouble with younger sisters. They’d be fine for a while, almost like they were completely trustworthy, and then they’d let you down when you really needed them. Drat. He would just have to take the smelly potion himself, then.
‘All right,’ he said, taking off his glove and handing it to her along with a translucent green glass bottle on a chain. ‘Here’s the antidote to change me back and a glove to wear when you hold the frogspell potion. We wouldn’t want you to accidentally get changed into a frog, now, would we?’
He carefully took a small blue bottle out of his belt pouch and shook Ferocious out at the same time.
‘Oh, don’t tell me,’ said Ferocious as he tumbled onto the stone floor. ‘You’re about to voluntarily spell yourself into a frog. As if you didn’t cause enough trouble the last time. Some people never learn.’
‘You know – sometimes I miss the days when I couldn’t understand you, Ferocious,’ said Max, sighing. ‘This is important. It’s going to get me out of sword practice for good and maybe save me from getting my arm chopped off in one of Dad’s madder moments. Besides making Snotty Hogsbottom eat dirt.’
‘And it’ll be fun!’ added Adolphus excitedly. ‘Max will go whoosh! In stars!’
‘Oh, right. Well, wake me up when the antidote doesn’t work and I’ll consider giving you a big wet rat kiss.’ And Ferocious curled up behind one of the trailing tapestries and went to sleep.
‘Right,’ said Max, and took a deep breath. ‘Put my glove on and hold out your hand.’ He shook one little drop of blue gunk out of the bottle onto Olivia’s gloved hand and then stowed the bottle in his pouch.
Olivia threw the blue gunk at Max’s head.
He disappeared, and in his place was a small orange frog with blue spots.
‘Uurrghh!’ he said. ‘I’d forgotten how weird it is, being changed into a frog.’
‘OK,’ said Olivia. ‘That worked. Now for the antidote.’ She took the stopper out of the green bottle and prepared to shake a few drops onto the frog. But at that moment, the door to the room opened, and a loud, sneering voice interrupted them.
‘Well, if it isn’t little Olivia Pendragon in here all by herself. How nice to see you again. And where’s your good-for-nothing brother?’
The boy in the doorway was tall and pale, with spiky black hair and an expression of contempt. Behind him was a shorter, stockier boy with red hair and a pug face. His eyes were slightly squinting and he looked mean.
‘Oh… hello, Sn–… er… Adrian,’ said Olivia nervously, putting the stopper back in the green bottle and throwing it hurriedly round her neck. ‘What are you doing here?’
She shuffled across in front of the frog, hoping Max would get a chance to hop under her skirt, but the movement caught Snotty Hogsbottom’s attention and he dived for the floor.
‘Aha!’ he said, coming up with the orange frog held firmly between finger and thumb. ‘What a delightful creature! Your pet, Olivia?’
‘Um, yes,’ said Olivia. ‘Give him back please! I need to – er – get back to our rooms to help Mother.’
‘Oh, I expect you do,’ drawled Snotty in a bored voice. ‘But you see, I have some questions for you. And I don’t feel like letting you have your frog back unless you answer them. Isn’t that right, Jerome?’
The shorter boy nodded, and moved closer. Olivia was now trapped between the two of them. Adolphus, not quite sure what was going on, had been sniffing around the boys’ feet, but he now decided they were friends and went to hunt woodlice in the corner, waving his tail happily.
‘Well, OK,’ said Olivia, trying not to sound bothered. ‘What do you want to know?’
‘I want to know where your dratted brother is and what spell he’s cooking up for tomorrow. I want to know exactly what spell, because I want to make sure it doesn’t win. And to make a counter-charm I need to know what it’s for, see?’ said Snotty nastily, putting his face close to Olivia’s and waving the frog in front of her.
Max, despite being held in a pincer grip, wriggled his back legs in outrage. No wonder his bucket spell hadn’t worked last year! Snotty Hogsbottom had been operating a counter-charm. The dirty rotten cheating scumbag!
‘I’m not telling you!’ said Olivia, hotly. ‘You horrible cheat! Why should I sneak on my own brother?’
‘Because,’ said Snotty meaningfully, ‘If you don’t, I shall be forced to drop your frog into the moat. And I’ve heard there’s a six-foot-long pike in it.’ He moved to the window and held his arm out over the water.
Olivia could see Max shaking his frog head frantically. But did that mean, ‘No, don’t tell him, I’d rather die!’ or ‘No, don’t let him drop me in the moat, tell him everything, I’m not proud’?
Olivia sighed. ‘All right, you win. He’s planning to turn me –’
The frog croaked loudly, and frantically waved its back legs.
‘Purple,’ finished Olivia, and Max sighed with relief. But not for long.
‘Purple?’ laughed Snotty. ‘What a loser! That’s the easiest spell in the book. I guess he really doesn’t have any ambition, after all. Well, thanks,’ he added carelessly, and opened his finger and thumb so that the small orange frog dropped like a stone to the grey water fifty feet below.