"Infinite. My goodness." Catchpole was lost for words. He had a vision of spending the rest of his life marooned on the landing trying to make polite conversation with Marcia Overstrand. It was not a relaxing thought.
"An Infinite spell will take as long as it takes," Marcia informed him. "It will not stop until the job is finished. Something that perhaps you could learn from, Catchpoleas I seem to remember that the section on Infinite spells is on the very last page of the Cleaning Schedules."
"Oh. Ah, yes. I do remember now, come to think of it, Madam Marcia," Catchpole gulped nervously, but Marcia did not seem interested. She had more pressing things on her mind.
"Alther, I want you to go and get Weasal and his ghastly housekeeper. I want them brought here right now. I shall be interested to hear what they have to say for themselves."
"Nothing would give me more pleasure, but I was Returned from the house." Alther shook his head dismally. "Marcia, I am so sorry for giving you such bad advice. I can't believe that after all Otto Van Klampff did for me, his son could turn out so wrong."
"I don't blame you, Alther," said Marcia. "I blame Una Brakket. And Hugh Fox. You warned me about Hugh Fox, and I wouldn't listen."
"You were affected by the Shadow," Alther replied. "You were not yourself."
"And I didn't listen to Septimus when Simon took Jenna, either," said Marcia. "All the signs were there but I wouldn't see them."
"Couldn't see them, Marcia, not wouldn't," replied Alther. "It's a terrible thing to be Shadowed."
Marcia stood up suddenly, and Catchpole leaped to catch the chair as it tumbled backward.
"Well Alther, the Shadow's gone, and I see things clearly now.
And even when I was being Shadowed, I knew well enough to keep an eye on the place where my ShadowSafe was being made. And one thing I know for sure is that although Simon must have been delivering those bones all through the year, he did not bring them through the front door of Weasal's house. None of my Watchers ever saw him
"Your Watchers?" asked Alther. "What Watchers?"
"The ex-Young Army Lads. The ones from the Resettlement Home. There are a few nice boys who want to be Wizards"
"Nice!" snorted Septimus. "They were horrible. Every time I went there they called me names."
"Well, I told them to make it realistic. I didn't want anyone to get suspicious. They were very good. Out on the pier day and night in all weathers, quite dedicated, they were. They'll make good Wizards when they're older."
A sudden thought struck Septimus. "He went through the Ice Tunnels, didn't he? He's been doing that all the time."
"Shh!" Marcia looked shocked. "Not in front ofCatchpole, get down to Snake Slipway and bring Weasal Van Klampff and Una Brakket here. Put them in the Strong Room just off the Great Hall until I am ready to see them. Then you can go and get Hugh Fox and do the same. Understand?"
Catchpole bowed and headed for the spiral stairs, grateful to be spared any further duties as party host.
A few minutes later a soft whirring sound announced that the door was UnBarring. It swung open and everyone stepped into an immaculate room, Repaired, Cleaned and free of any lingering Darkenesse. Even Marcia looked pleasedfor a brief momentuntil she saw Spit Fyre sitting on her best Chinese carpet.
"It's fledged," cried Marcia in disbelief, "all over my best carpet. Wretched creature!"
Spit Fyre looked unconcerned; he was busy unfolding his wings for the first time. The soft down that covered them had fallen off, leaving a thick dusting of green fuzz on Marcia's carpet. Now Spit Fyre had an irresistible urge to open his wings and flyand Marcia knew enough about dragons to know that there could be no stopping him.
"We'll have to get him out onto the launch pad," said Marcia. "I'm not having him trying his FirstFlyte in here."
"What launch pad?" asked Septimus, confused.
"Oh, the old one outside the dragon window," Marcia said, waving her hand at the window that Simon had Caused to open.
"Ah..." said Septimus, realizing at last why there was a small carving of a flying dragon in the stone lintel above the window.
"Don't worry," said Marcia, "it's quite safe. All ExtraOrdinaries have to keep the launch pad maintainedyou never know when you might need italthough unfortunately it does give idiots like Simon Heap somewhere to land."
Spit Fyre was enticed out onto the launch pad with a box of biscuits that Septimus found under the sink. They were a little damp and soggy but that did not seem to trouble the dragon. He sat contentedly on the wooden platform, chewing his way through the biscuits and surveying the whole Castle, which was laid out below him like a massive Counter-Feet board.
Inside the Wizard Tower a discussion was going on.
"Now, Septimus," said Marcia. "I don't want you doing anything complicated on your FirstFlyte. You are to fly around the Tower once and land in the courtyard. Do you want a Navigator?"
"A w-what?" asked Septimus, looking out the window and feeling his legs turning to jelly.
"Draxx, rule 16b, subsection viii states that: a Navigator may only be used if be. or she has participated in the FirstFlyte. So if you want a Navigator, it's now or never."
"It's no good asking me, Sep," said Beetle apologetically, as he tried to help Marcia push the dragon's tail out the window. "I'm indentured to the Manuscriptorium for five more years. Only get one day off a fortnightif I'm lucky. Don't think I could fit in being a Navigator. Though I s'pose I might not have a job after all this..."
"Of course you'll have a job," Marcia told Beetle. "Which is more than can be said for Hugh Fox."
"Thank you," Beetle stammered.
"I'll do it, Sep," offered Jenna. "I'll be your Navigator. I mean, if you want one, that is."
"Would you really, Jen?" asked Septimus, brightening a little at the thought that at least he'd have some company when he was hundreds of feet above the ground.
"Yes, of course I would. I'd be honored to."
Out on the launch pad, Spit Fyre finished the last biscuit and then, to avoid wasting any crumbs, the dragon gulped down the box as well. He sniffed the evening air. The thrill of electricity that all dragons get just before their FirstFlyte ran through him. He snorted loudly and smashed his tail down in anticipation. Marcia and Beetle leaped back just in time.
"You'd better hurry up and get on, Septimus," said Marcia. "You don't want him taking off without youwe don't want the Castle to be plagued with a riderless dragon for years to come."
Septimus forced himself to climb out the window onto the launch pad. You can do it, he told himself. You've been up a three hundred-foot tree, walked across a rickety bridge at the top of a witches' house and flown a boat. You are not afraid of heights. Definitely not. But whatever Septimus told himself, his legs appeared to take no notice and still felt as if they were made of jelly that has been left outside on a hot summer's day.
"C'mon, Sep," said Jenna, scrambling up behind him onto the launch pad. She put her arm around his shoulders and guided him along the wide wooden platform. Septimus swayed for a moment as he felt the wind that blew around the top of the Wizard Tower ruffle his hair. "You're okay," whispered Jenna. "Look, Spit Fyre is waiting for you to get on."
Septimus had no idea how he managed it but a few seconds later he was sitting on the dragon's neck, in a dip just in front of the shoulders. It seemed to be the natural place to sit and he felt surprisingly secure. The dragon's scales, although smooth, had slightly rough edges that stopped him from slipping, and the broad spines running like a mane down the back of Spit Fyre's muscular neck fitted perfectly into Septimus's hands.
Jenna was less comfortable. "Budge up a bit, Sep," she said. "I'm right by the wings here." Septimus wriggled forward as much as he dared and Jenna dropped down into the space behind him.
"Right," said Alther, floating beside them. "Three things to remember. Firsttakeoff. When he jumps he's going to drop like a stone. But, trust me, it will only be for a second or two. That's how FirstFlyte always starts. Then you'll be off. Secondsteering. Kick left for left turn, right for right. Two kicks left for down, two kicks right for up. Or you can just tell him. He's a bright dragon, he'll understand. ThirdI'm right here with you. You'll be just fine."