Septimus decided he would just have to make his own bucket. He took a leather cup from Marcia's saddlebag, cut out the bottom and also cut along the seam that ran up the side of it. Then, telling Spit Fyre very firmly that he was not to move an inch or there will be big trouble, he laid the small, almost crescent-shaped strip of leather on the sand and performed seven Enlarging Spells - allowing the leather to grow slowly and avoiding the risk of collapse, which can so often happen with an over-enthusiastic Enlarging Spell. Eventually he had a piece of leather about ten feet long and four feet wide. Now came the hard part. Septimus approached Spit Fyre, dragging the Enlarged sheet of leather across the sand; Spit Fyre lifted his head and eyed him suspiciously. Septimus caught the dragon's gaze and held it, then very formally he said, "Spit Fyre, as your Imprintor, I hereby command you to stay still." The dragon looked surprised but, to Septimus's amazement, obeyed. Septimus was not sure how long the dragon's obedience would last, so he quickly set to work. He wrapped the unwieldy piece of leather around the dragon's head and Sealed it along the line where he had cut it a few minutes earlier. When his Imprintor at last released him from his command and stepped back to view his handiwork, Spit Fyre was wearing what looked like an enormous leather bucket on his head - and an extremely irritated expression.

As Septimus stooding watching Spit Fyre, he became aware that he himself was being Watched.


He spun around. There was no one there.

"Septimus... Septimus."

The hairs on the back of Septimus's neck rose. This was the voice he had heard calling to him when he had flown out to the Trading Post.

Septimus stood beside his dragon for protection. Keeping his back to Spit Fyre, he turned slowly in a circle and scanned the rocks, the beach, the empty sea, the sand dunes, the rocky scrub grass behind the dunes and the hill beyond - but he saw nothing. He repeated the circle once more, using the old Young Army technique of detecting movement by looking ahead but paying attention to what was at the edge of his field of vision; and then - there it was. A figure... two figures...walking across the scrub grass behind the dunes.

"Jenna! Beetle!" Septimus called out. An immense feeling of being released from something came over him, and he ran up the dunes to meet them.

"Hey, Sep," said Jenna as she and Beetle scrambled down the last dune toward him.

"You okay?"

"Yep." Septimus grinned. "I am now. You two have a good time?"

"Lovely. It's such a beautiful place here and - hey, what's that on Spit Fyre's head?"

"It's a cat bucket," said Beetle. "That right, Sep?"

Septimus grinned. It was so good to have Jenna and Beetle back. There was no denying it - the island was a creepy place to be on your own. That afternoon, Septimus made a hideout.

The feeling of being Watched had unsettled him, and Septimus felt himself slipping into his Young Army way of thinking. The way he was beginning to see it, they were trapped in a strange place with unknown, maybe even invisible, dangers, and they needed to act accordingly. This meant having somewhere safe to spend the nights. Using the contents of Marcia's Young Army Officer Cadet Hostile Territory Survival Pack, and with rather reluctant help from Jenna and Beetle - who liked sleeping on the beach and didn't understand what he was bothering about - Septimus constructed a hideout in the dunes. He chose a spot overlooking the bay but near enough to Spit Fyre to keep an eye on him.

He and Beetle took turns digging a deep hole with sloping sides and strengthened it with driftwood to avoid any danger of collapse. Septimus then pushed Marcia's set of bendy telescopic poles deep into the sand around the hole and covered them with a roll of lightweight Camouflage canvas, which he found wedged at the bottom of the bag and which blended into the dune so well that Beetle nearly stepped on it and fell in. Septimus then covered the top of the canvas with a thick layer of grass pulled from the dunes, because that was how they had always done it in the Young Army, and it felt wrong not to. He stood back to admire his handiwork. He was pleased - he had constructed a classic Young Army hideout.

The inside of the hideout was surprisingly spacious. They lined it with more long, coarse grass and placed the opened-up saddlebags on top as a rug. Jenna was won over - she pronounced it "really cozy."

From the outside, the entrance was hardly visible. It was no more than a narrow slit that looked out through the dip between two dunes to the sea beyond. Septimus was pretty sure that, once it too was covered with grass, no one would ever guess they were there.

That evening they sat on the beach and cooked fish.

The Young Army Officer Cadet Hostile Territory Survival Pack did, of course, include fishing line, hooks and dried bait, which Marcia had naturally remembered. And as the evening tide came in over the warm sand, bringing a shoal of black and silver fish with it, Beetle had sat on a rock and caught six in quick succession. Fish held high, he had waded back triumphant and worked with Jenna to make a driftwood fire on the beach.

They cooked the fish in the approved Sam Heap style, by threading them onto wet sticks and holding them over the glowing embers. Marcia's StayFresh bread and dried fruit provided the rest of supper, and the WaterGnome fueled so many FizzFroots that they lost count.

They sat late into the night, chewing Banana Bears and Rhubarb Lumps, and watched the sea as it began once again to retreat, leaving the sand shining in the moonlight. Far across the bay they saw the long line of dark rocks that led to a lone rock standing tall like a pillar, which Jenna named the Pinnacle. To their right, past Spit Fyre's rocks, they saw the rocky summit of a tiny island at the end of the spit, which Jenna declined to name, as she had an odd feeling that the island knew its own name and would not take well to being given another. The island was, in fact, called Star Island. But for much of the time they looked neither right nor left but gazed straight ahead to the distant lights of the lighthouse, the lights that had drawn them to the island and saved them. They talked about the little man at the top of the lighthouse and wondered who he was and how he had gotten there. And then, much later, they squeezed into the hideout and fell fast asleep.

Sometime later, in the early hours of the morning, the thin shadowy figure of a girl in green wandered back down the hill and stood over the hideout Listening to the sounds of sleep.

Septimus stirred. In his dreams someone was calling to him; he dreamed that he put a bucket on his head and heard no more.

Chapter 24 Post

Back at the Wizard Tower, Marcia was having a very late breakfast. On her table, beside a scattering of toast crusts and a sulky coffeepot (which had fallen out with the toast rack over a question of precedence), lay a glass capsule - neatly snapped in half along its red dotted line - and a flimsy strip of rolled-up paper. On the floor beside her feet, a pigeon pecked at a pile of grain.

In the ExtraOrdinary Wizard's kitchen the stresses of the previous week were showing. A pile of dishes lay unWashed in the sink and a variety of crumbs, much to the pigeon's delight, were scattered on the floor. Marcia was still a little distracted - while she had been Stirring her oatmeal that morning, the coffeepot had managed to get away with nudging the toast rack off the table without her even noticing. Marcia herself was not looking her best. Her green eyes had dark shadows beneath them, her purple tunic was crumpled and her hair was not as carefully combed as it might have been. And a late breakfast was almost unheard of - except possibly on MidWinter Feast Day. But Marcia had not slept much the previous night. After Septimus's self-imposed midnight deadline for his return had expired, she had spent the night staring out of the tiny lookout window high in the roof of the Pyramid Library, hoping to see the sight of a returning dragon. But she saw nothing until, at first light of dawn, she saw the dark shape of the Pigeon Post pigeon flapping purposefully toward the Wizard Tower. The pigeon had arrived bearing a message capsule. Marcia had breathed a sigh of relief when she had opened it and seen Septimus's name (oddly sticky) on the outside of the tiny scroll. She had unwound the flimsy piece of paper, read the message and, feeling immensely relieved, immediately fallen asleep at her desk. Marcia now swallowed the last of her coffee and reread the message: DEAR MARCIA. ARRIVED SAFELY. EVERYONE HERE. ALL WELL BUT



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