"Huh? Oh, funny. Actually, I don't think I'd like to meet what lives in here. Big and spiky, I bet." Beetle put the shell back on the sand, and a small crab scuttled out.

"Actually, I was thinking about that this morning before all the yucky tail stuff," said Jenna, picking her way through the pile of seaweed to reach the firmer sand below. "But I don't know if anyone lives here. I remember now - I only read the first part of the chapter about the islands. It was when all that stuff with the Glass happened and then we lost Nicko...and when I got home, my tutor was annoyed that I'd missed so much and she made me start straightaway on the next subject, so I never read the rest. Bother!"

Jenna kicked a tangle of seaweed in irritation. "All I can remember is that there are seven islands, but they were once one island, which got flooded when the sea broke through and filled up all the valleys. But there must be some kind of secret here, because the chapter was called 'The Secret of the Seven Islands.' It is so annoying. I have to read so much really dull stuff; it's typical that the one thing that would have been useful is the one thing I didn't get to read."

"Well, we'll just have to find out what the secret is." Beetle grinned.

"It's probably something really boring," said Jenna. "Most secrets are, once you know them."

"Not all," said Beetle, following Jenna through the seaweed and down toward the sea. "Some of the Manuscriptorium secrets are incredibly interesting. But of course, I'm not supposed to tell - or rather, I wasn't. Well, actually I'm still not supposed to tell -  ever."

"So they're still secrets, which means they're still interesting. Anyway, Beetle, you like stuff like that - you're clever. I just get bored." Jenna laughed. "Race you."

Beetle raced after Jenna. "Whoo- hoo!" he yelled. Jenna thought he was clever - how amazing was that?

Septimus was sitting on the warm rocks, leaning against Spit Fyre's cool neck while the dragon slept peacefully. There was something very relaxing about the breathing of a sleeping dragon, especially when in front of him lay a deserted strip of white sand and, beyond that, a calm blue sea. The only sounds Septimus could hear, now that Jenna and Beetle had disappeared over the rocks at the far end of the bay, were the slow swish-swash of the waves, punctuated by the occasional snuffling snore from Spit Fyre. The weariness from the last week began to catch up with Septimus. Lulled by the warmth of the sun, his eyes closed and his mind began to drift.

"Septimus..." A girl's voice, light and melodic, wandered through his drowsiness.

"Septimus," it called softly, "Septimus..." Septimus stirred, and he half opened his eyes, looked at the empty beach and allowed them to close once more.

"Septimus, Septimus."

"Go 'way, Jen. I'm 'sleep," he mumbled.

"Septimus..."

Blearily Septimus opened his eyes and then closed them again. There was no one there, he told himself. He was dreaming....

A slim girl in green stood in the sand dunes above the rocks looking at the dragon and the boy below. Then she slid down the dunes and padded silently over to a warm, flat rock, where she sat for a while and Watched Septimus as he slept, exhausted, in the sun.

Chapter 23 Buckets

S eptimus slept on, and the sun reached its midday zenith. Fascinated by sleep, the girl in green sat motionless on her rock, Watching. After some time the feeling of being Watched began to filter through even to Septimus's deep sleep, and he stirred. Quickly the girl got to her feet and slipped away.

The heat was slowly warming Spit Fyre's chilled dragon blood, and as his circulation began to quicken, his tail started to throb with pain. The dragon let out a long, low groan, and instantly Septimus was awake and on his feet.

"Spit Fyre, what is it?"

As if in reply, Spit Fyre suddenly twisted around, and before Septimus could stop him, he had his tail in his mouth.

"No! No, Spit Fyre. Stop, stop!"

Septimus raced back to the tail. He grabbed hold of one of Spit Fyre's nose spines and pulled as hard as he could. "Spit Fyre, let go, let go!" he yelled as he struggled to wrench the dragon's curved fangs out of the carefully wrapped HeatCloaks, to no effect.

"Spit Fyre," Septimus said sternly, "I command you to let go of your tail. Now! "

Spit Fyre, who was not feeling quite his normal confrontational self that morning - and did not like the taste of his tail at all - let go. Much relieved, Septimus pushed the dragon's head away. "Spit Fyre, you must not bite your tail," he told him. He rewound the shredded HeatCloaks while the dragon regarded his bandaging attempts with a baleful eye. He finished knotting the cloaks together, looked up and met Spit Fyre's stare.

"Don't even think about it, Spit Fyre," he said. "You must leave your bandage alone. Your tail will never get better if you keep biting it. Come on, move your head this way. Come on." Septimus grabbed hold of the large spike on the top of Spit Fyre's head and pulled him away from his tail. It took ten minutes of persuasion, pushing and shoving to get the dragon's head to a safe distance from his tail once more.

"Good boy, Spit Fyre," said Septimus, crouching down beside him. "I know it hurts, but it will get better soon. I promise." He fetched the WaterGnome and poured a long stream of water into Spit Fyre's mouth. "Go to sleep now, Spit Fyre," Septimus told him and, to his surprise, Spit Fyre obediently closed his eyes. Septimus felt hot and sticky after his exertions with Spit Fyre's tail. The sea looked cool and inviting and he decided to dip his toes in the water. He sat down on the edge of Spit Fyre's rock and, unaware that Spit Fyre had opened one eye and was regarding him with some interest, he undid his laces, pulled off his boots and thick socks and wiggled his toes in the warm sand. Immediately Septimus felt a wonderful feeling of freedom. He walked slowly down the gently shelving beach toward the water and across the line of firm wet sand left by the retreating tide. He stood at the edge of the sea, watching his feet sink a little into the sand as he waited for the next tiny wave to meet his toes. When it did, Septimus was surprised at how cold the water felt. He waited for the next wavelet and, as he breathed in the clean salt air, he felt, for a fleeting moment, indescribably happy. There was a sudden flash of movement behind him.

Septimus spun around.

"No, Spit Fyre!" he yelled. The dragon had his tail firmly clamped in his jaws once more and this time he was chewing. Septimus raced back across the sand, leaped onto the rock and proceeded to drag the dragon away from his tail.

"You are a bad dragon, Spit Fyre," Septimus told him sternly as he finally managed to pull the dragon's jaws off the now-shredded bandage. "You must not bite your tail. If you do, it won't get better, and then..." Septimus was about to say, "and then we'll be stuck here forever," but he stopped. He remembered something Aunt Zelda used to say - that, once spoken, things come true more easily - and he changed it lamely to, "and then you'll be sorry."

Spit Fyre didn't look like he was about to be sorry for anything. He looked, thought Septimus, extremely grumpy. Ignoring his dragon's bad-tempered stare, Septimus bound up what was left of the tattered HeatCloaks and stood on guard while he tried to figure out what to do. He wished that Beetle and Jenna would come back; he could do with some help - and some company. But there was no sign of them. He had to do something about Spit Fyre biting his tail, and he had to do it now - he didn't think the tail would survive many more attacks like the last one. He maneuvered Spit Fyre's head away from his tail once again, and then, keeping a firm hand on Spit Fyre's nose, he sat down and began to think.

Septimus remembered an incident with Beetle's mother's cat some months earlier. The cat - an aggressive creature that Beetle had never taken to - had also had trouble with its tail after a vicious fight. Beetle's mother had lovingly bound up the tail, only for the cat to do exactly what Spit Fyre had done - over and over again. Mrs. Beetle had had more patience than Septimus and had sat with the cat for three days and nights before Beetle insisted she get some sleep and promised that he would watch the cat. Beetle, however, was not as devoted as his mother. He cut out the bottom of an old toy bucket and stuck the bucket over the cat's head so that the creature had to wear it in the manner of a bizarre necklace. But the bucket had solved the problem beautifully - the cat could no longer attack the bandages around its tail, as it was unable to reach its head past the sides of the bucket. Mrs. Beetle was horrified when she awoke and saw her beloved cat with a bucket on its head, but even she had to admit that Beetle's idea worked well. She had spent the following weeks apologizing to the cat while the cat studiously ignored her. But the tail healed, the bucket came off and the cat eventually stopped sulking. Septimus thought that what worked for a grumpy cat was likely to work for an equally grumpy dragon - but where was he going to find a giant bucket?

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