“Marcia,” said Alther, “what exactly did you find in the I, Marcellus?”

“I found...” Marcia started, and then ground to a halt as her voice choked up. “Oh, it was awful.”

“What did you find?” asked Alther gently.

“I found a note from Septimus. It was addressed to me.”

“Marcia, are you sure?”

“Yes. You know how Septimus always signs his name with that complicated squiggle at the end—I think it's meant to be a number seven?”

“Yes,” said Alther. “It's terribly affected, but the young do have the most peculiar signatures nowadays. I just hope he settles on something more down-to-earth when he gets a bit older.”

“He can have the weirdest signature he wants, Alther. He can sign his name in strawberry jam standing on his head if he wants to—I really don't mind. But I doubt we'll ever see him get older ... not in this Time anyway.”

Alther was silent. He was stunned, for he knew that Marcia was not one to exaggerate. Marcia was silent too, because she had just realized that what she had said was probably true.

“What did the note say?” asked Alther quietly. They had reached the foot of the stairs and stopped in the curtained darkness of the doorway. A brief squall of chill rain battered a skylight high above them, and Marcia shivered as she brought out a scrap of very fragile old paper. Carefully, for the paper was threatening to disintegrate into a pile of dust, Marcia unfolded the note, and squinting in the dim light, she read aloud the words that Septimus had written all those years ago.

Dear Marcia,

I know that one day you will find this note because when I don't come back I know you will look everywhere in the Library and through all the Alchemie things that are there. I've never seen Marcellus's book in the Library but I bet you know where it is. It is probably in that Sealed shelf. I hope you find it soon after I have gone so that you do not worry about me too much and you can tell everyone where I am. I am going to put it in the Almanac section of Marcellus's book. He is writing it for our Time—I mean, your Time. It is not my Time anymore. I will put it in the day that I went so you will know where to look for it. I hope the paper beetles don't eat it.

I want to say thank you as I really liked being your Apprentice and 1 wish I still was, but I am Apprenticed to Marcellus Pye now. You must not worry as it is not so bad, but I miss you all and if you can by any chance come get me (but I don't know how you can), I would be SO happy.

I have to go now, Marcellus is coming.

I came here through a Glass. Jenna will tell you.

Love,

Septimus xxx “Oh,” whispered Alther.

18

The Dragon Kennel

Jenna and Wolf Boy were outside Spit Fyre's kennel. Although the kennel was only a couple of months old, the door had already acquired a battered look and was showing some serious splits that had been repaired by metal ties.

"You take one side of the bar and I'll take the other," Jenna told Wolf Boy.

"They're really heavy. Sep ... well, Sep always gets someone to help him.

Usually me." The door was barred with three broad iron bars, and it was the top one of these that Jenna and Wolf Boy were about to lift off.

Septimus had not liked keeping Spit Fyre locked up at night, but he had been forced to give in after a deputation of Wizards had refused to leave Marcia's rooms until something was done. Up until then, Spit Fyre had been allowed the run of the Wizard Tower courtyard, but the combination of a free-range young dragon and two-foot-high piles of dragon droppings had led to trouble. Soon there was scarcely a Wizard who, late at night, had not inadvertently walked into one of these piles and lost a boot or, even worse, fallen in headfirst and had to be pulled out. Spit Fyre had also developed a taste for the blue woolen cloaks worn by the Ordinary Wizards, and the dragon enjoyed nothing more than a quick chase around the courtyard in pursuit of a tasty-looking cloak to work up an appetite.

The kennel was reverberating to the sound of the young dragon's snores, for Spit Fyre, who had reached the dragon equivalent of a teenager, had recently begun to sleep late in the mornings. But as Wolf Boy and Jenna lifted the bar and placed it carefully on the ground, Spit Fyre woke up. With a great crash, his tail smashed against the rafters of the roof, and a loud crack of splintering wood resounded through the air. Wolf Boy jumped back in shock, but Jenna, who had heard worse noises by far coming from Spit Fyre's kennel, stood her ground.

“Sorry, Jenna,” said Wolf Boy, a little shamefaced. “Wasn't expecting that. Here, I can do the other two.” To Jenna's surprise, Wolf Boy heaved off the badly bent middle bar and the lowest bar all by himself and dropped them onto the ground with a clang. Inside the kennel came an answering smash as Spit Fyre thumped his tail with excitement at the prospect of being let out.

Now all Jenna had to do was unlock the kennel door. She fetched the large key that hung on a hook and placed it in the big brass keyhole. “The door opens outward,”

she told Wolf Boy. “So you have to be careful it doesn't smash into you when Spit Fyre comes out. And keep your feet out of the way too, as he likes to tread on your toes. Sep always said—says—he does it by accident, but I reckon Spit Fyre does it on purpose. He thinks it's a game, he likes the way people hop around yelling and holding their feet.” Jenna turned the key, the door crashed open and Spit Fyre hurtled forward, neck outstretched to catch the cool morning air, claws clattering down the ramp. At the foot of the ramp the young dragon stopped and looked around as if puzzled. He tilted his head to one side and then, seeming a little dejected, he sat down unusually quietly. Spit Fyre was growing into a handsome young dragon.

Although he was still only about fifteen feet long—half his eventual adult size—he already looked large and powerful. His brilliant green scales shone in the early-morning drizzle and rippled across his huge shoulder muscles as he shifted position slightly. His leathery greenish-brown wings were neatly folded on either side of the row of thick black spines that ran along his backbone, from just behind his ears to the very tip of his tail. Spit Fyre's emerald-green eyes flashed and his wide nostrils flared as he sniffed the air, searching for the scent of Septimus Heap, his Imprinter.

Keeping a tight hold on Septimus's boots, Jenna approached Spit Fyre with some caution, careful not to make any sudden movements, for he could be unpredictable in the mornings. But the dragon did not react as Jenna walked slowly up to him and laid her hand on the cool scales of his neck. “Septimus is not here, Spit Fyre,” she said gently. “I'm here in his place.”

Spit Fyre regarded Jenna suspiciously and sniffed the boots. Then he snorted and blew out a large greenish-gray blob of dragon snot, which shot straight across the courtyard and landed with a resounding splat on one of the second-floor windows of the Wizard Tower. A moment later the window was thrown open and an angry Wizard poked her head out. “Hey!” she yelled. “Can't you keep that beast under control? It took me three days to scrape the last stuff off,” and then, seeing that it was Jenna rather than Septimus with the dragon, “Oh. Oh, dear. Sorry, Your Majesty,” and slammed the window closed.

“Don't call me that,” Jenna muttered, and then, seeing Wolf Boy's quizzical look, she said, “I'm not Queen. They shouldn't call me that. And I don't ever want to be Queen either.” Wolf Boy looked surprised but he said nothing, which is generally what Wolf Boy did when things became a little tricky.

“I've got to do the Locum Tenens now, 409,” said Jenna, looking a little anxious. “I hope it works.”

“ 'Course it'll work,” said Wolf Boy, who was of the opinion that Jenna could do anything that she wanted to. He watched Jenna take Beetle's scruffy card of instructions from her tunic pocket and read them slowly, then open an old toffee tin, draw out a fragile sheet of blue dragon skin, and carefully unfold it. Jenna sat down quietly beside Septimus's boots and Wolf Boy saw her lips move as she read the words on the dragon skin over and over, painstakingly memorizing them. He was surprised at how long it took—almost as long as he had taken to read one of Aunt Zelda's potion recipes. 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.

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