Aunt Zelda murmured, "That is true." She sighed. Aunt Zelda missed the Dragon Boat badly. She worried about the boat lying unconscious in the Dragon House deep within the walls of the boatyard - even though that was the very place that had been built to keep the Dragon Boat safe. And while Aunt Zelda knew that this meant Jenna was now free to leave the Castle without exposing it to danger, Aunt Zelda still regretted the loss of her Dragon Boat.

Queen Cerys continued. "So, it seems to me that, as the duties of the Keeper have changed, maybe the very nature of the Keeper should change too. If you recommend this Wolf Boy, I shall accept him."

Aunt Zelda smiled broadly. "I do recommend him, Queen Cerys. Highly recommend him, in fact."

"Then I accept Wolf Boy as the Intended Keeper."

Aunt Zelda clapped her hands excitedly. "Oh, that is wonderful, wonderful!"

"Bring him to me, Zelda, so that I may see him. Bring him through the Queen's Way. We must see that he can go through the Way."

"Um...he already has. I, um, I had to bring him once before. In an emergency."

"Ah, well. He seems eminently suited. I look forward to meeting him. He has done the Task, I suppose?"

A small butterfly of anxiety settled in Aunt Zelda's stomach. "He has embarked upon it as we speak, Cerys."

"Ah. So we shall await his return with interest. If he does return, then I shall indeed look forward to making his acquaintance. Good-bye, Zelda. Until the next time."

Her delight at the Queen's acceptance of her Apprentice was somewhat tempered by the Queen's mention of the Task, which Aunt Zelda had managed to put out of her mind for a while. Slowly she rolled up the parchment and replaced it in the tube. Then she curtseyed and went across the room to the UNSTABLE POTIONS AND PARTIKULAR

POISONS cupboard. Cerys watched her open the door and struggle to squeeze inside.

"Zelda?" Cerys called.

"Yes?" puffed Aunt Zelda, poking her head out of the cupboard with some difficulty.

"Is it possible to eat an Enlarging Spell without realizing it, do you suppose?"

Aunt Zelda looked puzzled. "I shouldn't think so," she said. "Why?"

"No reason. I just wondered. Safe journey."

"Oh. Thank you, Queen Cerys." And she heaved the cupboard door closed behind her.

Chapter 5 412 AND 409

S eptimus felt elated. He was flying Spit Fyre, and from now on he could fly him whenever he wanted. It was, he realized, the very first time that he had flown his dragon without a sneaking feeling of guilt, and the knowledge that Marcia did not really approve or had actually forbidden it.

But this time she had waved him off with a smile. She had even given him a hug - which was a bit weird - and now he had the excitement of a whole journey ahead of him, just him and his dragon. And even better, thought Septimus, as he took Spit Fyre up through a low bank of mist and emerged into the sunlight, he was on his way to see all the people who mattered to him the most. Well, nearly all. There were others, of course, but it was Jenna, Beetle, Nicko and Snorri who were waiting for him in an old net loft far away across the sea, and he was on his way to bring them home. Septimus knew it would be a long flight. He had done it two days earlier with Marcia, Sarah and the very sick Ephaniah Grebe, and it had not been easy, but that had mostly been due to what Sarah had called Marcia's "backseat flying." But now it was just Septimus and his dragon, and he would fly his dragon exactly how he wanted to. And so, skimming above the mist, Spit Fyre followed the winding curves of the river as it made its way down to the Port. Septimus sat in the Pilot Dip just behind the dragon's neck and in front of the dragon's broad, bony shoulders. With every long, slow beat of the wings, Septimus felt Spit Fyre's muscles move beneath the cool scales under him. He leaned back and rested against a large, flat spine - known as the Pilot Spine - and held on loosely to a short spine at the base of the dragon's neck, which some handbooks rather scathingly referred to as the Panic Spine but which Septimus knew was more correctly called the Guide Spine, for it was through this that he felt the dragon's every move. Soon Septimus and Spit Fyre were flying across the Port. The mist had disappeared and small white clouds were scudding high above them - happy clouds, thought Septimus. A bright sun shone, and Spit Fyre's green scales glistened with a beautiful iridescence. Septimus laughed out loud. Life was good - in fact, life was wonderful. He had survived the Queste - even better, he had successfully completed it - the only Apprentice ever to do so. And now, to his astonishment, he was a Senior Apprentice. He checked the hems of his sleeves - yes, the purple stripes were still there, shimmering in the sunlight.

Septimus looked down. Far below he saw the Port spread out like a patterned cloth. Many of the streets were still dark, as the sun was not yet high enough to reach deep into the warehouse canyons and take away their shadows, but the rays shone on the old slate roofs, which glistened from a recent shower of rain. Lazy curls of smoke rose from the chimneys below, and Septimus caught the sweet smell of woodsmoke in his nostrils. It was a good morning to be out on a dragon.

Leading away from the Port like a long white snake was a familiar raised road reaching out to the Marram Marshes: the Causeway. He set Spit Fyre to follow the Causeway, intending to fly out across the Marram Marshes to the Double Dune Lighthouse and from there set his course out to sea. As he drew toward the Marsh end of the Causeway, Septimus saw a figure, black against the whiteness of the road, making its way toward the Port.

Septimus did not altogether believe in a sixth sense. He was inclined to agree with Marcia that a sixth sense was "a load of witchy nonsense." He did have, however, a well-developed sense of knowing when he was being Watched, and suddenly Septimus knew that the figure at the end of the Causeway was Watching him. Not Ill-Watching but just plain Watching, the kind of thing a Wizard might do when he sees his child off to school and follows his progress, checking that the local bullies aren't lying in wait. Septimus gave Spit Fire two gentle nudges with his left foot and the dragon slowly lost height. Now Septimus could see that the figure had stopped and was looking up, shading his eyes with both his hands. "It's 409. I'm sure it is," Septimus muttered, lapsing into his habit of speaking his thoughts out loud when it was just himself and Spit Fyre. "Go down, Spit Fyre. Go down. Hey - not so faaaaaaast."

Spit Fyre landed on the Causeway with a tremendous thud and went into a skid on the slippery clay surface. Trying to brake, he held his wings out at ninety degrees to the road and pushed his tail down but only succeeded in making a deep groove in the chalky surface. Front feet splayed, heels dragging, Spit Fyre was still going fast and heading straight for a deep puddle. A plume of dirty water spewed into the air, and finally the dragon ground to a halt, the clay at the bottom of the puddle sticking to his feet like Marcia's mouse glue - a concoction she used for trapping the paper-eating mice in the Pyramid Library.

Septimus looked down from his perch. Where was 409? Surely he had been standing just about where they had landed. A horrible thought occurred to Septimus - Spit Fyre wouldn't have landed on him - would he? Septimus Listened. He Heard nothing, only the soft sighing of the breeze rustling across the reeds on either side of the Causeway. In a panic, Septimus scrambled down from the dragon. There was no sign of Wolf Boy in the road behind him; all he could see was the long tail groove and the skid marks of Spit Fyre's feet. Now an even more horrible thought came to Septimus - had the dragon dragged Wolf Boy along underneath him? "Stand up, Spit Fyre," he said somewhat squeakily.

The dragon regarded Septimus as if to say, Why should I? but Septimus was having none of it. "Stand up!" he ordered. "Spit Fyre, stand up at once!"

Spit Fyre knew when he had to do as he was told, but it didn't mean he had to do it gracefully. Irritably, he raised himself out of the puddle, which he was quite enjoying sitting in. Very warily Septimus peered underneath and suddenly felt much better. There was no sign of 409.

"Something wrong with the undercarriage, 412?" came a cheery voice from behind Septimus.

"409!" said Septimus, spinning around just in time to see his old friend emerge dripping with water from the reed beds. "I couldn't Hear you. For a horrible moment I thought...well, I thought - "

Wolf Boy's brown eyes laughed. "409's been squashed," he finished. "No thanks to you that I wasn't. Your driving is a menace. Had to throw myself into the reed beds." He shook himself like a dog, and a shower of drips flew off and landed on Septimus's wolverine skin. Wolf Boy eyed the skin suspiciously. He didn't like to see wolverine pelts being worn. Wolverines were family.