It was a tight squeeze in the cupboard for Aunt Zelda, particularly in her new well-padded dress. She lit the lantern, opened a hidden drawer and, with the aid of her extra-strength spectacles, she consulted a small, ancient book entitled UNSTABLE

POTIONS AND PARTIKULAR POISONS CUPBOARD: KEEPERS' GUIDE AND PLAN. Having found what she was looking for, Aunt Zelda opened a small, blue-painted drawer of Charms and Amulets and peered inside. An assortment of carved precious stones and crystals were laid out neatly on the blue baize cloth that lined the drawer. Aunt Zelda's hand hovered over a selection of SafeCharms and she frowned - what she was looking for was not there. She consulted the book once more and then reached deep inside the drawer until her fingers found a small catch at the back. With a great stretch of her stubby forefinger, Aunt Zelda just managed to flip the catch upward. There was a soft clunk and something heavy dropped into the drawer and rolled forward into the light of the lantern. Aunt Zelda picked up a small, pear-shaped gold bottle and placed it very carefully in the palm of her hand. She saw the deep, dark shine of the purest gold - gold spun by the spiders of Aurum - and a thick silver stopper inscribed with the single hieroglyph of a long-forgotten name. She felt a little nervous - the small flask that rested in her hand was an incredibly rare live SafeCharm, and she had never even touched one before. Marcia's visit to Keeper's Cottage to collect the potions for Ephaniah and Hildegarde earlier that morning had left Aunt Zelda feeling very twitchy. After Marcia had left, Aunt Zelda had been overcome by a sudden Sight: Septimus on Spit Fyre, a blinding flash of light and nothing more, nothing but blackness. Feeling extremely shaken, she had sat very still and Looked into the blackness but had seen nothing. And nothing was a terrifying Sight.

After the Seeing Aunt Zelda had been in turmoil. She knew enough about what people called second Sight to know that really it should be called first Sight - it was never wrong. Never. And so she knew that despite Marcia's insistence that she herself would be flying Spit Fyre to get Jenna, Nicko, Snorri and Beetle, it would actually be Septimus on the dragon. What she had Seen would surely happen. There was nothing she could do to stop it. All she could do was send Septimus the best kind of SafeCharm she had - and this was it.

Aunt Zelda squeezed out of the cupboard and very carefully took the live SafeCharm over to the window. She held the little bottle up to the daylight and turned it around, checking the ancient wax seal around the stopper. It was still intact - there were no cracks or any sign of disturbance. She smiled; the Charm was still Sleeping. All was well. Aunt Zelda took a deep breath and in a weird, singsong voice that would have given goose bumps to anyone listening, she began to Waken it.

For five long minutes Aunt Zelda sang one of the rarest and most complicated chants that she had ever performed. It was full of rules, regulations, clauses and subclauses, which, if written down, would have put any legal document to shame. It was a binding contract, and Aunt Zelda did her very best to make sure there were no loopholes. She began by describing Septimus - the recipient of the Charm - in great detail and, as she sang his praises, her voice rose to fill the tiny cottage. It cracked three panes of glass, curdled the milk and then curled out of the chimney into the breezy spring Marsh morning.

As Aunt Zelda chanted, her witchy voice went past the range of normal human hearing and reached the pitch that Marsh creatures use for danger calls. A family of Marsh Hoppers hurled themselves into the Mott, and five Water Nixies buried themselves deep in the Boggart's favorite mud patch. Two Marsh voles ran squealing across the Mott bridge and fell into a sludge pit, and the Marsh Python, which was just taking the turn into the Mott, decided against it and headed off to Chicken Island instead. At last the chant was done, and the panic among the Marsh creatures outside the cottage subsided. Aunt Zelda strung a fine leather cord through the twisted silver loop around the neck of the bottle and carefully placed it in one of the many deep pockets of her dress. Next she went out to the tiny kitchen at the back and set about one of her favorite tasks - making a cabbage sandwich.

Soon the cabbage sandwich had joined the live SafeCharm in the depths of the pocket. She knew that Septimus would enjoy the cabbage sandwich - she wished she could be as sure about the SafeCharm.

Chapter 3 Barney Pot

A unt Zelda was stuck. She didn't want to admit it, but she was. She was trying to go through the Queen's Way - a Magykal passageway that led straight from her UNSTABLE

POTIONS AND PARTIKULAR POISONS cupboard to an identical one in the Queen's Room in the Palace, far away in the Castle. In order to activate the Way, Aunt Zelda needed first to close the cupboard door and then open a certain drawer beside her right foot. And after a winter spent fattening up Wolf Boy - and herself - closing the cupboard door was not going to be easy.

Aunt Zelda squeezed herself against the tightly packed shelves, breathed in and pulled the door shut. It sprang open. She heaved the door shut again and a row of potion bottles behind her toppled over with a little clinking sound. Very carefully, Aunt Zelda twisted around to right the bottles and in the process knocked over a stack of tiny boxes of dried banes. The boxes clattered to the ground. Puffing, Aunt Zelda bent down to pick them up and the cupboard door flew open.

Muttering to herself, Aunt Zelda piled up the boxes and lined up the potion bottles. She surveyed the cupboard door with a baleful eye. Why was it being so contrary? With a firm tug - to show the door just who was in charge - Aunt Zelda pulled it closed once more. She stood very still and waited. It stayed closed. Very, very slowly and carefully Aunt Zelda began to turn around until at last she was facing the shelves once more. She breathed out with relief and the door sprang open. Aunt Zelda resisted the urge to utter a very bad witchy word, reached behind her and slammed the door shut. A small troupe of potion bottles rattled, but Aunt Zelda paid them no attention. Quickly, before the door got other ideas, she pried open the bottom drawer with her foot. Success! Behind her a telltale click inside the door told her that the UNSTABLE POTIONS AND PARTIKULAR

POISONS cupboard was Closed and the Queen's Way was Open. Aunt Zelda Went Through the Queen's Way - and then became stuck at the other end. It was some minutes later before Aunt Zelda finally managed to get out of the identical cupboard in the Queen's Room. But after squishing herself sideways and breathing in, the cupboard door suddenly flew open. Like a cork out of a bottle, Aunt Zelda made a fast and somewhat undignified entrance into the Queen's Room. The Queen's Room was a small, circular chamber containing no more than a comfortable armchair beside a steadily burning fire - and a ghost. The ghost was ensconced in the armchair and sat gazing dreamily into the fire. She was - or had been - a young Queen. She wore her dark hair long, held loosely by a simple gold circlet, and she sat with her red and gold robes wrapped around her as if feeling the cold. Over her heart the red robes were stained dark where, some twelve and a half years earlier, the Queen - whom people in the Castle now called Good Queen Cerys - had been shot dead. At Aunt Zelda's dramatic entrance Queen Cerys looked up. She regarded Aunt Zelda with a quizzical smile but did not speak. Aunt Zelda quickly curtseyed to the ghost, then bustled across the room and disappeared through the wall. Queen Cerys settled back to her contemplation of the fire, musing to herself that it was strange how Living beings changed so rapidly. Zelda, she thought, must have eaten an Enlarging Spell by mistake. Perhaps she should tell her. Or perhaps not.

Out on the dusty landing Aunt Zelda headed for a flight of narrow steps that would take her down through the turret. She hoped she had not been rude in rushing past Queen Cerys, but there would be time enough later to apologize - right now she had to get to Septimus.

Aunt Zelda reached the foot of the stairs, pushed open the turret door that led to the Palace gardens and set off purposefully across the broad lawns that swept down to the river. Far away to her right she could see a battered striped tent perched precariously beside the river. Inside the tent, Aunt Zelda knew, were two of her favorite ghosts, Alther Mella and Alice Nettles, but she was heading the other way - toward a long line of tall fir trees at the far left-hand edge of the lawns. As Aunt Zelda hurried toward the trees she heard the loud swoosh of a dragon's wing, a noise not unlike the flapping of a hundred striped tents full of ghosts being blown away in a fearsome gale. Above the trees she saw the tip of Spit Fyre's wing as it stretched out, warming up his cold dragon muscles for the long flight ahead. And even though she could not see the rider, Aunt Zelda Knew that it was not Marcia on the dragon - it was Septimus.