Marcia felt hurt. She remembered how amazed and thrilled she had been to have Septimus back and how she had fondly left him to sleep all day in his room, thinking that he must have been exhausted. And all that time he had been quietly making a potion for that appalling Alchemist who had kidnapped him in the first place. It was unbelievable. “Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked.

“Because you’d say it was ridiculous—like you just did. You might even have tried to stop me. And I couldn’t let Marcellus go on being so unhappy. It was horrible. I had to help him.”

“So you made a potion for eternal youth—just like that?” asked Marcia, bewildered.

“It wasn’t too difficult. The planets were right—” Marcia suppressed a splutter. “And I just followed the instructions that Marcellus had left in the Physik Chest. I put it in the golden box he had left in the chest and I dropped it into the Moat by Snake Slipway so that he could pick it up. He used to like going for night walks in the Moat.”

“In the Moat?”

“Well, under it, really. He used to walk along the bottom. It helped his aches and pains. I saw him once. It looked weird.”

“He went for walks…under

the Moat?” Marcia looked rather like a fish that had just been dragged out of the Moat herself. Rivulets of rain ran down her face, and her mouth was open as if gasping for air.

Septimus continued. “So he picked up the box and I knew he’d got it because he put the Flyte Charm in it in exchange. I fished it out, although it took me weeks to find it. There’s an awful lot of garbage in the Moat.”

Marcia remembered Septimus’s sudden interest in fishing. It all made sense now—well, not quite all. “What was he doing with the Flyte Charm?”

“He took it. But later he promised to give it back. Although he didn’t know he’d taken it anyway.”

“What?”

“It’s a bit complicated. Um, Marcia…”

“Yes?” Marcia sounded a little faint.

“Can I have the Flyte Charm back now? Please. I won’t fool around with it anymore, I promise.”

Marcia’s answer was what Septimus expected. “No, you may not.”

Wizard and Apprentice walked in silence along the rest of Wizard Way, but as they went across the Courtyard of the Wizard Tower, Marcia’s python shoes with their new green buttons slipped on something dragony. That was the last straw. “Septimus,” she snapped, “that dragon is going right now. I am not having it pollute this yard a moment longer.”

“But—”

“No buts. It’s all arranged. Mr. Pot will be looking after him in the big field next to the Palace.”

“Billy Pot? But—”

“I said no buts. Mr. Pot is very experienced with lizards and I am sure he will be absolutely fine with what is, after all, nothing more than one enormous lizard with an attitude problem. The rain’s blowing over; you can take him there right now before more comes in.”

“But Spit Fyre’s still asleep,” protested Septimus. “You know what happens if I wake him up.”

Marcia did know—they had only just finished reglazing all the ground-floor windows of the Wizard Tower—but she didn’t care. “No excuses, Septimus. You will take him over to Mr. Pot. Then you will come straight back here to make a start on your first Projection. It is high time you got some Magyk back into your head and got rid of all this Alchemie stuff once and for all. In fact, Magyk is what you are going to be doing full-time from now on, as you are not setting foot out of the Wizard Tower for the next two weeks.”

“Two weeks!” protested Septimus.

“Possibly four,” said Marcia. “I shall see how it goes. I expect you back in an hour.” With that, Marcia Overstrand strode off across the Courtyard. She ran up the marble steps; then the silver doors of the Wizard Tower swung open and swallowed her up.

For once Spit Fyre woke without any trouble. He allowed Septimus to climb up and sit in his usual place, the dip behind the dragon’s neck, and there was none of the usual snorting and tail thumping that Spit Fyre had recently taken to doing when Septimus climbed up. Today he was almost docile—apart from the quick burst of scalding hot air that he aimed at the passing Catchpole’s cloak, which resulted in a foul smell of burned wool and old toast.

As this was a last chance for the Wizards to see the dragon take off at such close quarters, Septimus decided to give them a good view. On his command of “Up, Spit Fyre,” the dragon beat his wings slowly and powerfully, sending a great downdraft of air whipping through the Courtyard. It was a perfect liftoff. Septimus took Spit Fyre up slowly past each floor, getting as near to the Tower as he dared. Windows were thrown open, blue-robed Wizards excitedly leaned out and the sound of applause rippled out from the Tower. As the dragon reached the twentieth floor a large window was thrown open and Septimus got a less appreciative response.

“Fifty minutes!” Marcia yelled and slammed the window shut. Spit Fyre wheeled away from the Tower in surprise but Septimus brought him back. They flew once around the golden pyramid at the top for luck, then set off. The storm had passed and clearer skies were coming in from the Port. The sun broke through the clouds and, far below, the rooftops glistened in the rain and glints of brilliant light sparkled from the puddles in the street. After six months of regular dragon-flying and three months before that of intense tuition with Alther Mella, Septimus was a confident flier. He decided to make the most of what would be his last flight for a while and take the long route to the Palace.

Septimus took Spit Fyre out over the North Gate and back above his favorite part of the Castle, The Ramblings.

Entranced by the sight of so many peoples’ lives going on below him, Septimus gazed down and let Spit Fyre choose his own way. He saw people out after the storm, hanging out their washing, tending their rooftop gardens or watching the rainbow that had just appeared over the Farmlands. At the sound of the dragon wings beating far above, they stopped and waved—or just stared in amazement. Children, let out of stuffy rooms to play in the sun, ran along the open

walkways of The Ramblings. Septimus heard their voices yelling with excitement, “Dragon, dragon!” But with Marcia’s words ringing in his ears, Septimus knew he did not have much time for lingering and, reluctantly, he pointed Spit Fyre in the direction of the Palace. All too soon he was approaching Billy Pot’s new vegetable field.

Septimus thought he made a good landing, but Billy Pot thought otherwise.

“Careful! Watch them lettuces!” Billy yelled as Spit Fyre folded his wings and set his tail down with a dull thud on some lettuce seedlings.

Septimus slipped down from Spit Fyre’s neck. “I’ve brought Spit Fyre,” he said rather unnecessarily.

“So I see,” said Billy.

Billy Pot waited while Septimus patted the dragon’s neck, rubbing his hand over the smooth scales, which were still chilled from the flight. After a minute or two he said, “Well, aren’t you going to introduce us?”

“Yes,” said Septimus, reluctant to leave his dragon.

“Dragons are sticklers for etiquette. They like to be introduced properly.”

“Do they?” asked Septimus, surprised. “Well, Spit Fyre, may I introduce Billy Pot? And Billy, this is Spit Fyre, the best dragon ever. Aren’t you, Spit Fyre?” Septimus gently patted the dragon’s velvety nose.

Spit Fyre ducked his head and snorted a plume of air, which scorched some nearby carrot tops. Billy stepped up close.

He met Spit Fyre’s red-rimmed dragon eye and said, “I am honored to make your acquaintance, Mr. Spit Fyre.”

Spit Fyre leaned his head to one side, considering what Billy Pot had said. Then he ducked his head once more and pushed his nose into Billy’s rough tweed coat. Billy staggered back with the push and fell into a bed of parsley. But he jumped straight back on his feet and, after wiping his muddy hands on his corduroy tunic, he patted Spit Fyre’s neck.

“There,” he said, “I can tell we’ll be friends.”

18

IN PIECES

J enna was making her way

back to the Palace. The squall that had caught Marcia and Septimus in Wizard Way had ambushed her, too. The driving rain stung her eyes and the wind sent her cloak flapping around her ankles as if it were trying to trip her up. Jenna put her head down and ran, one hand holding on to Ullr and her cloak, the other tightly clasping Nicko’s notes and Snorri’s precious map. She headed straight past the Palace Gates and ran for the relative shelter of the alleyway at the side of the Palace, which would take her to the kitchen garden. As she scooted into the alley she was going fast—so fast that even if she had been looking she would not have had time to stop—when a dark, lanky figure dashed around the corner and hurtled toward her.

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