"She what?" gasped Aunt Zelda.

"She wants me to ask her new Dragon Master to take her away to safetyto keep her safe just as the last one did when he put her into the old temple. I'm really sorry, Aunt Zelda, but that's what she said. She said the Time has Come for her to complete her journey to the Castle."

"But I am the Keeper," Aunt Zelda protested. "There have always been Keepers here ... I have made the Keeper's Promiseto Keep her safe at all times. And I will. I can't let her go. I can't."

She heaved herself up from the stool she was sitting on. "I'm going to make a cabbage sandwich. Does anyone want one?"

Jenna and Nicko shook their heads but Septimus hesitated a moment. Since he had become an Apprentice he had missed Aunt Zelda's cabbage sandwiches, and even though Marcia had made him one as a treat on his last birthday, it had not tasted the same. But he too shook his head; he did not feel at all hungry just then.

As he sat on the floor beside the fire, worrying about what he was expected to do with the Dragon Boatnot to mention what Aunt Zelda was going to have to say about it if he didSeptimus became aware of something pecking at him. It must be Bert, he thought, reaching out to shoo her away. Bert was Aunt Zelda's cat who had taken the form of a duck and was in the habit of pecking anyone who sat in her place beside the fire. But there was no sign of Bert.

"What's up, Sep?" asked Nicko.

"I felt something peck me. But Bert's not here ... Ow! There it is again." Septimus jumped up. "Ouch! There's something in my pocket. It's biting me!"

"Eurgh," gasped Jenna. "I bet it's one of those Mud Snappers. They were jumping all over the place while I was waiting for the Boggart. Get rid of it, Sep. Chuck it out the doorquick!"

Septimus headed to the door.

"What's going on?" asked Aunt Zelda, coming back with a great doorstop of a cabbage sandwich in her hand.

"Sep's got a Mud Snapper in his pocket," said Jenna. "It's biting him."

"Vicious little brutes," said Aunt Zelda. "Make sure you throw it over the other side of the Mott, Septimus. We don't want it coming back indoors."

Septimus opened the door and gingerly turned out his tunic pocket. To his surprise, there was nothing there. Then, as his hand hovered near his belt, something poked its head from a large hole that had appeared in the pouch he wore at his waist. It bit his fingerhard, and this time it hung on to it.

"Aargh!" yelled Septimus, dancing around, frantically shaking his hand to try to get rid of the small green thing with very sharp teeth, all of which were sunk into his right index finger, just above his Dragon Ring.

"Good heavens," gasped Aunt Zelda. "What have you got there?"

"Getitoffme!" Septimus shouted, not daring to look. And then, the small green thing (which had not yet worked out how to breathe and bite at the same time) took a breath. It let go of Septimus's finger and, as Septimus gave his hand yet another wild shake, it arched high into the air, narrowly missing Aunt Zelda's collection of brooms that hung from the rafters. Everyone watched as, at the height of its trajectory, the creature opened two small wings and flapped them ineffectively as it headed straight for Jennaand landed in her lap.

Jenna sat, staring with amazement at a small baby dragon.

Chapter 29 Spit Fyre

"You're stuck with it now," Aunt Zelda told Septimus as she bandaged his bleeding finger. "It Imprinted you when it bit your finger. It's going to be a bit of a handful when it grows up, mind. You ought to get yourself a Dragon Training manual from somewhere. Though where you'd find one nowadays, I don't know."

Septimus sat looking at the cracked remains of the rock that Jenna had given him during their previous stay with Aunt Zelda. She had found it while Septimus was helping her escape from the Hunterit had been lying in the tunnel that led to the temple where the Dragon Boat was hidden. Septimus had treasured the rock; it was the very first present that anyone had ever given him. As he stared at the thick green eggshell that lay in pieces in his cupped hands, Septimus could not believe that his beautiful rock had turned out to be a dragon eggwhat were the chances of that happening? he wondered.

The chances were remote. Septimus did not know that there were only about five hundred dragon eggs scattered throughout the world, and it had been many, many years since a human had helped to hatch a dragon. Dragon eggs are usually found in old, long-forgotten dragon haunts, and many people who find them do pick them up and keep them on account of their beautiful sheen. Not all dragon eggs are greenmany are blue and occasionally a rare red is found. But generally they spend their days in display cabinets or tucked away in old shoe boxes and never hatch, for a dragon egg needs to follow a complicated sequence of events, all in the right order, all within a certain amount of time, to allow it to become a baby dragon. The last time that had happened had been five hundred years ago on a small desert island, when a lone shipwrecked sailor had awoken one morning to find that his treasured blue rock had hatched into an unexpected, and extremely troublesome, companion.

Like the shipwrecked sailor, Septimus had unknowingly done all the right things that needed to be done in order to hatch a dormant dragon egg. Firstly, he had kick-started the incubation by leaving the egg close to the fire at Aunt Zelda's on his last visit. A dragon egg needs sustained heat of over eighty degrees for at least twenty-four hours in order to get the process going. It then needs a year and a day of constant warmth and movement.

After rescuing the dragon egg from beside the fire, Septimus had decided to keep it in his pocket, which provided not only the warmth that the dragon needed but also the sensation of movement. A dragon will not hatch just because it is warm; it needs to think that its mother is carrying it around with her and will be there to care for it when it hatches. To a dragon egg, no movement means no mother. Septimus unwittingly provided the egg with a year and a day of warmth and quite enough running and jumping to convince the tiny dragon that its mother was very lively indeed. After the year and a day had passed, the dragon would be almost ready, but even at this stage all could go wrong. It now needed a sharp tap to wake it upif this did not happen within the following six months, the dragon would die and never have the chance of hatching. A dragon mother would normally use this time to find a safe place in which to hatch and bring up the baby dragon. When she had done so she would give the egg a very gentle bite. Luckily for Septimus's egg, the wolverines had thoughtfully stepped in for the dragon mother when they had broken their teeth crunching the outer shell. At that point the baby dragon was very nearly hatchednearly, but not quite. There was one last thing it needed, and this was provided not by Septimus, but by his brother Simon. The dragon egg needed a touch of Darkenesse.

All dragon mothers had different ways of providing the last requirement. Some would kidnap a passing Thing and show it to the egg; some would leave the egg outside a Darke Witch's house overnight and hope that it would still be there in the morning.

Some dragons had enough of their own Darkenesse and no need to go looking for more. So when Simon's cloak had become a snake and wrapped itself around Septimus and the egg, it had provided the final touch and started the clock ticking. The baby dragon was then set to hatch in twelve hours' timewhich was exactly what it had done.

"I don't know much about dragonswell, not newborn ones anyway," said Aunt Zelda as she finished bandaging Septimus's finger and the last bite of her cabbage sandwich at the same time. "But I do know that the sooner you give them a name the better. If you leave it too long they will be Nameless and never come when you call. It's hard enough getting them to take any notice of you at the best of times, from what I understand. And for the first twenty-four hours it should not leave your sideso you'd better let Septimus have it back now, Jenna."

"Here you are then, Sep," said Jenna a little regretfully. She scooped the tiny winged lizard out of her lap and handed it to Septimus. "It's cute, isn't it?"

Septimus stared at the sleeping dragon, which lay curled up in the palm of his hand. It felt surprisingly heavy for its size,cool to the touch and as smooth as the egg from which it had hatched.

Nicko gave a loud yawn and stretched sleepily. "Gotta get some sleep," he said. The yawn was catching.

"Name first, then sleep," said Aunt Zelda. "What's it to be?"

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