Septimus wheeled the tub out into the Courtyard and took off, the wheels clattering and jumping on the cobbles. As he expected, as soon as the tub hit the cobbles, a loud thudding echoed around the Courtyard walls and the ground under his feet shook as though a stampede of elephants were on its way. Spit Fyre, Septimus’s almost full-grown dragon, was hungry.
A stampede of elephants might well have been easier to manage than Septimus’s next task, which was to let Spit Fyre out of the Dragon Kennel—a long stone building with a line of small windows set in just under the eaves. Septimus had recently had the Wizard Workshop make up a new set of doors with a huge iron bar inside each one. The trick was to open them without getting himself, or any passing Wizard, trampled into the ground. Septimus had noticed that it had been quite some time since any Wizard had actually dared to pass by during Spit Fyre’s breakfast time, particularly since the notorious episode of Catchpole being mistaken for a large meat pie (or was it a sausage?) and hurled into the breakfast tub by a well-aimed swipe of the dragon’s tail.
Septimus left the breakfast tub at the foot of a wide ramp that led up to the barn doors of the Dragon Kennel. He tiptoed up the ramp in the vain hope that Spit Fyre would not notice him coming, which of course the dragon did. And as the doors reverberated to great thuds of Spit Fyre banging them with his nose, Septimus calmly placed his hand on the doors and said, “UnBar!” Deep inside the thick doors he felt the whirr and rumble of the bar retracting. He immediately leaped to one side. No sooner had Septimus safely cleared the ramp then the doors sprang open under the force of a dragon, who now weighed the equivalent of 1,264 seagulls.
His claws sending up showers of sparks as they scraped along the stones, Spit Fyre skidded to a halt in front of his breakfast tub and began siphoning up the contents. The noise reminded Septimus of the sound his bathwater made when he took the plug out, only a hundred times louder. Catchpole, who claimed to have seen the elusive bottomless whirlpool in Bleak Creek, said that when he closed his eyes, he was hard pressed to tell the difference between Bleak Creek and Spit Fyre eating his breakfast, although he thought that Spit Fyre was probably louder.
The dragon did not take long to finish his breakfast. He scraped the barrel clean with his long, green, rasping tongue; then he licked his lips appreciatively and sucked up the last few shreds of sausage that had stuck to his scales.
“Hello, Spit Fyre,” said Septimus, careful to approach the dragon from the front as he had had a few narrow misses with Spit Fyre’s powerful tail. The dragon snuffled a greeting and put his head down so that his great green dragon eye, the iris rimmed with the red of Fyre, looked into Septimus’s brilliant green eyes. Septimus stroked the dragon’s velvety nose and said, “I’ll be back later, Spit Fyre. Be good.”
The dragon settled down outside the Dragon Kennel and closed his eyes. Now the usual late-morning chorus began—the crash of slamming windows as Wizard after Wizard tried to escape the low rumble of Spit Fyre’s snores echoing around the yard.
Septimus jumped over Spit Fyre’s tail, taking care not to trip over the barb at the end. Then he walked across the Courtyard and into the blue shadows of the beautiful lapis lazuli Great Arch. There, as he always did now, he stopped and looked down Wizard Way. Septimus still loved the feeling of being in the Wizard Way of his own Time, where he belonged. He breathed in the rain-misted air and as he gazed down the wide avenue something purple caught his eye at the far end. Septimus knew it was Marcia Overstrand; a gust of wind had blown the ExtraOrdinary Wizard’s cloak out like a great purple sail behind her as she strode through the Palace gates.
Wondering what had sent Marcia to the Palace, Septimus checked in his pocket for a piece of paper and set off along Wizard Way to the Manuscriptorium. He paused for a moment outside the door, freshly painted in Jillie Djinn’s new corporate color—a pinkish purple. He Felt someone Ill-Watching
him. Slowly, Septimus turned and, to avoid the Watcher realizing he had been Felt, he lifted his foot as if he was looking at something he had stepped in. At the same time he tried, as best he could, to put up a Shield against the Ill-Watcher.
While he energetically scraped the sole of his shoe against the curb he turned his eyes in the direction of the Ill-Watching. To his surprise his eyes were drawn to the Palace. Puzzled, Septimus stopped scraping. He must be wrong.
There was no one in the Palace who would do that. He was getting jumpy. What he needed was half an hour of Beetle’s company and a mug of FizzFroot.
Septimus pushed open the door to the Manuscriptorium. Ping. Jillie Djinn’s counter clicked over to number seven.
“Wotcha, Sep,” said Beetle, jumping up from his chair.
“Wotcha, Beetle,” Septimus replied.
“That was quick. I wasn’t expecting you so soon.”
“I didn’t know you were expecting me at all,” said Septimus, puzzled. He took the piece of paper from his pocket. It was covered with his very best capital letters carefully drawn in various colors. “I need a space in your window.”
Beetle looked at the Manuscriptorium front window—what he could see of it, at least, which amounted to no more than a few square inches. The rest was piled high with stacks of books, pamphlets, papers, manuscripts, parchments, bills, receipts and remedies that were randomly—and rather stickily—interspersed with old pies, socks, poems, peashooters, marshmallows (Beetle was a great fan of marshmallows), umbrellas and sausage sandwiches from the meat pie cart, most of which had been put down by absentminded scribes only to be instantly lost in the muddle and never seen again—although they were sometimes smelled.
“Can’t I get you something else a bit easier, Sep?” asked Beetle. “Like an All My Dreams Come True Spell or something?”
Septimus looked at the piece of paper. “It’s not very big,” he said. “Couldn’t you fit it in somewhere? It’s really important. Marcia’s threatening to send Spit Fyre away because she says I’m spending too much time looking after him and I’m not getting any work done. So I thought if I did this…”
Septimus handed the paper to Beetle. “‘Dragon-sitter wanted,’” Beetle read out. “‘Irregular hours but interesting work.
Sense of humor an advantage. Apply to Septimus Heap, Wizard Tower.’” Beetle snorted with laughter. “They’ll need a bit more than a sense of humor, won’t they, Sep? How about cast-iron feet, no sense of smell and being able to run a hundred yards in two seconds flat—and that’s just for starters.”
Septimus looked downcast. “I know,” he said, “but I didn’t want to put people off. I’ve had people interested but as soon as I show them how to clean out the Dragon Kennel something weird happens. They suddenly remember that, oops, they completely forgot that they had agreed to look after their great-aunt or, oh bother, it escaped their mind that they had to take a long sea voyage the very next day. Then they look all embarrassed and say how really upset they are as they would have loved to have taken the job. I believed the first two but after that it got a bit predictable. Oh, go on, Beetle, please put my notice up. You get all sorts of unusual people looking in here; one of them might do the job.”
“You’re right, we get all sorts of unusual people in here,” grumbled Beetle. “Too unusual for my liking. Tell you what, Sep. Since it’s you, I’ll make a space on the door. This advertisement for a new scribe can go. It’s attracting the wrong kind of people, just like I told Miss Djinn it would. I’ll stick yours there instead.”
“Oh, thanks, Beetle.”
With some enthusiasm, Beetle ripped down Jillie Djinn’s notice, crumpled it into a little ball and hurled it into the wastepaper bin. Then he got a pot of glue, slathered it all over Septimus’s paper, and stuck it on the grubby window.
Septimus tried not to notice that the colored letters had run.
“I’m due a break now,” said Beetle, licking the glue off his fingers. “Like some FizzFroot?”
“You bet,” said Septimus. He followed Beetle out through the Manuscriptorium and into Beetle’s den in the backyard.
Beetle set out two mugs, dropped a Fizz Bom cube into each one and lit a small burner. As the kettle began to boil, it let out the loud squeal that—ever since Beetle had once let it boil dry—it always made when the water got too hot for it.