The lights flash back on and I’m blinking in the brightness. Captain Kirk and Spock are gone. I glance across the star-ship’s command console; Harris and Stevens are wearing puzzled looks.
We spin round in our seats to see our Professor emerge from the doorway at the rear of the flight deck. She trots over to us and perches on the edge of the console.
‘Are you all right, Professor?’ I ask. ‘The mind-worm, has it gone?’
She smiles serenely at me, her usual calm and confident self, touching a hand to her ear. ‘It’s if it was never there, Jemma.’
The viewing screen blinks into life revealing Matt Smith’s version of the Doctor pointing a frustrated finger at us. ‘You lot!’ He yells, wagging the finger furiously. ‘Get off that ship now! How many times…’
‘Okay, Doctor.’ The Professor flicks a switch and the screen goes blank. ‘It seems that we are free to leave.’ She shrugs. ‘Come, Cadets, let’s go.’
She stands and leads us to the doorway. A blast of fresh air suggests a hatch to the planet’s surface has opened.
We follow. Harris flexes his fingers and Stevens walks with a slight limp. My legs are stiff from sitting. How long have we been on the ship?
So much has happened, so many dangers averted; after all that we’ve been put through by our captor, can leaving really be this easy?
The Professor reaches the doorway. She stops and turns, blocking our path. Her face begins to fade and she grows taller. She is transforming into…
We take a collective step backwards.
A towering humanoid looms before us. One whom we all recognise. We saw him on the star-ship’s viewing screen when we first arrived. It’s the Zyborgatron and this is his ship.
The shiny silver mouth opens. ‘Return to your seats, Cadets. I haven’t finished with you yet.’
The ship’s engines start to hum.
What has the Zyborgatron done with the Professor? Could they be one and the same? (after all, we’ve never seen them together) and what are his plans for the Cadets? Tune in next week to find out.
And if you we’re wondering what on Earth (or off-Earth) is going on,
you can catch up with the entire first series of Space Cadetshere
A thud on the doormat interrupted Alys and Sparky’s perusal of the Witches’ Weekly crossword. Intrigued by the unexpected arrival, they hurried over to find a large paper-wrapped parcel perched on the doormat. It opened obligingly and two beautiful books tumbled out.
Alys ran an admiring hand over the flower-embossed cover of the first book. She scrutinized the spine: Unbelievable Potions from Unusual Ingredients. An excited plume of purple steam rose from Sparky’s snout as he read the title of the other: Fabulous Beasts of the North: an Illustrated Guide.
A slip of crisp white paper rose from the wrapper. ‘Greetings to you from the Biggest Bookstore, we know you like books, so here are some more.’ The little slip of paper bowed. ‘Presented to you with our compliments. Enjoy!’ It tittered as it disappeared in a tiny puff of powdery smoke.
Alys and Sparky grinned at each other and dived into their books. The room fell silent for some time.
Alys was first to break the silence. ‘Sparky, come and look at this! A rose-scented potion with a drawing of a rose that’s so lifelike I can almost smell the perfume.’
The diminutive dragon started to crawl across the page he’d been studying. It was a beautifully drawn map of a magical destination far away in the north. He stepped off the stone-coloured land and… sploosh! His front paw sank into the inky blue sea. Sparky reared up and retreated in a shower of surprised sparks that hissed and fizzed as they landed in the water.
‘What are you doing, Sparky?’ Alys pushed the potion book aside and watched as the he placed an experimental paw on the patch of sea in the centre of the map.
A miniature whale-like creature emerged from the inky depths. Sea-spray spouted from its blowhole, splashing across Alys’s sleeve. Sparky leapt backwards as the head of an angry sea serpent appeared from centre of the page. It writhed and glared about, its pointed tongue twitching unnervingly.
Alys edged away from the table as a second fountain of sea water surged forth from the tiny whale. The sea serpent flapped its tail causing a small tidal wave to break over the page, drenching the table top. Sparky hovered high over the map as Alys rescued the potions book, dropping it almost immediately with a sharp cry of pain. A thin thorn-covered rose tendril was growing from the cover and a bunch of blooms had sprung from its spine.
The book landed on the floor with a thump. Alys and Sparky stared wide-eyed as more rose stems sprouted, twining around the table’s legs and creeping over the carpet. The soggy table sneezed as sea water ran down its legs and the retired cauldron cowered in her corner.
Alys dashed across the room and snatched her wand from the kitchen table. ‘Hurry!’ yelled Sparky, seeing a small horse-headed creature rising from the map’s inky water. The creature tossed its mane and planted its hooves on the shore, flapping its fish-tail furiously behind it.
‘Arresto!’ commanded Alys, pointing her wand at the sprouting briers. The branches hesitated. She turned to the map and pointed at the sea. ‘Sicco!’ The waves calmed. Alys breathed a sigh of relief.
There was a moment of calm, then the sea serpent stuck out its tongue and the roses resumed their march, crawling over the cowering cauldron. The cloying scent of roses overpowered the room.
The air started to shimmer. Something was about to materialize. Sparky hovered by Alys’s head, worried white steam rising from his nostrils.
A tweed-suited man with floppy brown hair appeared. Sparky recognised him straight away. It was the man from the bookstore in the Magical Mall of All. The tweedy man held up his hands.
‘Ester, Narwall, stop this at once!’ He clapped his hands. ‘STOP IT NOW!’
As he spoke, the rambling roses vanished and the sea creatures sank down into the map, sucking up the water behind them. The books slammed shut. Silence reigned.
‘Sorry about that.’ The book seller scooped up the books, clamping them in his hands. ‘Immersive-Experience Books, they must have escaped in the confusion during that business with Shylock the Spiv,’ he said, glancing at Sparky.
‘Immersive-Experience books?’ Alys looked askance, still stroking the retired cauldron who hadn’t quite recovered her composure. The table stifled a sneeze.
‘There’s an Interactive-Imagination spell inside them. Fortunately they left a paper trail, so I could track them down.’ He held out a remnant of wrapper. ‘They’re not really for home use, but you can come and study them at the shop. They must be useful to you or they wouldn’t have posted themselves here.
The book-seller prepared to leave. ‘Anyway, all’s well that ends well.’
Alys and Spark exchanged glances, nodding vigorously.
Alys was studying the store guide at the entrance to the Magical Mall of All, where she and her diminutive dragon had just arrived by doormat. It was incredibly busy and Alys, as a first time visitor, was finding it hard to get her bearings.
‘Wow! This is massive!’ exclaimed Sparky through a shower of excited purple sparks, as he flew to the top of the lofty atrium and stared about. He returned to Alys’s shoulder. ‘Second floor, World of Wands.’
The wand-maker, who was leaning on the old-fashioned shop counter reading a hefty tome, smiled as they entered. Behind him were row upon row of little wooden drawers, each labelled in a neat cursive script. All the ingredients for wand-making! It was all Sparky could do to restrain himself from flying over and taking a look.
Alys placed her damaged wand on the counter. Under the stress of performing FBB Agent Mickey’s transformation, the poor thing had unraveled at the tip, revealing its shiny unicorn hair core. Alys was well aware of the dire consequences of using a damaged wand so they’d hastened to the biggest mall in the magical world to find his famous shop.
The wand-maker blew out his cheeks as he examined Alys’s wand. ‘What’s happened here then?’ He sucked in a breath. ‘Looks like you over-loaded it with a particularly high-grade spell.’
Sparky puffed a plume of concerned crimson smoke across the counter. Alys hesitated. Mickey had sworn them to secrecy.
‘Top secret, was it?’ the wand-maker, touching the side of his nose.
‘Something like that,’ agreed Alys.
‘You sure you don’t want a new wand? More powerful, with a double core, perhaps?
Alys shook her head. ‘She’s like an old friend,’ replied Alys running a gentle finger down the wand. ‘I’d rather have her mended if that’s possible.’
The wand-maker squinted at the damaged end. ‘She’ll need restringing and the point needs a meld-weld but I can have her as good as new within the hour.’ He rubbed his hands together. ‘Two hundred witch-gilders to you, my dear.’
Alys let out a sigh of relief. ‘Thank you.’
At that moment, shop door opened. Alys turned around to see Agatha of Agador’s big beaming, green-tinged face. ‘I thought it was you, Alys.’ Agatha grinned as she entered. ‘Come and help me choose a new set of dress robes.’
Alys grinned back but Sparky face fell. The wand-maker caught his expression. ‘If you’d rather leave the ladies to it, there’s a very interesting book store just around the corner.’
Sparky looked at Alys, a trickle of hopeful steam dribbling from his snout.
‘Of course, Sparky!’ Alys said eagerly. In truth, Alys would rather visit the book store too, but Agatha was her best customer.
The wand-maker waved them off, grinning to himself as the older witch took Alys’s arm and propelled her along the walkway with the tiny dragon rapidly flapping his little purple wings behind them.
Sparky hovered in front of the brightly-painted sign. ‘A Wizard of a Welcome to the Biggest Book Store’, it sang as he entered.
The diminutive dragon’s jaw dropped. He had never seen so many books. Everywhere he flew there were rooms, all packed with books. Potions and poultices, charms and curses, transport and transformation, fight and flight, and finally, a massive, towering room containing works on mystical and mythical creatures, with a whole wall devoted to dragons.
Sparky was in his element. He decided to start with the dragon wall.
Sparky looked around. The other customers were all busy browsing
‘Psst! Sparky! Up here.’
Sparky looked up. A pair of brown whiskers twitched between two large, leather-bound tomes. It was a small brown mouse with unusual, bright yellow eyes.
‘Mickey?’ Sparky let out a shower of surprised sparks. ‘Mickey from the FBB?’ One of the other customers muttered and glared over at him.
‘Not so loud,’ hissed Mickey through the side of his mouth. ‘Remember, I’m deep undercover.’
Sparky raised his eyebrows. ‘In here?’
‘Listen, kid,’ whispered Mickey confidentially. ‘We’ve had a tip off.’
Sparky’s eyes widened.
Mickey’s whiskers twitched for a moment. ‘Maybe you can help.’
Sparky nodded eagerly, his golden eyes shining.
Meanwhile Alys and Agatha had traipsed around a plethora of fancy robe shops and engaged a myriad of anxious assistants as Agatha tried on her umpteenth combination of gown, jacket and pointy hat. Alys smiled at each selection, wondering if Agatha would ever make up her mind, but finally she did. A voluminous set of royal-blue robes and a tall sage-green hat. She’d also insisted on buying Alys a pretty purple cashmere shawl. Alys was delighted.
The two witches bustled back towards the book store. As they approached they heard angry shouts and running footsteps. Something was clearly amiss.
A man, dressed in a tightly buckled raincoat with a felt hat pulled down over his ears, came running around the corner. Agatha stepped in front of Alys and whipped out her wand. The man wheeled around and headed back the way he’d come.
‘Come on, Alys, that’s Shylock the Spiv. Nasty piece of work!’ Agatha marched onwards with a determined expression on her face, Alys hurrying worriedly in her wake.
There was a small explosion and the shouting ahead intensified. As they rounded the corner, a huge plume of purple smoke filled the air.
As the smoke cleared Alys saw that Shylock the Spiv was face down on the floor clutching his hat. A burly security elf stood over him with Sparky perched on his shoulder. Sparky grinned and waved a proud purple paw in Alys’s direction.
Once all the excitement had died down and Shylock the Spiv had been taken away in wand-cuffs, Alys and Sparky returned to the wand-maker’s shop. Alys took out her purse, but the wand-maker shook his head. ‘On the house,’ he said, handing her the mended wand and looking at Sparky. ‘Your little dragon catching Shylock the Spiv like that? It’s the least I can do.’
‘What actually did happen,’ asked Alys, as she headed for the exit with Sparky on her shoulder.
Sparky giggled in her ear. ‘If I told you, I’d have to kill you.’
‘What is it, Sparky?’ Alys asked her diminutive dragon, whose yellow eyes were fixed on something outside the kitchen window. The end of his tail twitched, rattling the rack of Special Stirring Spoons that Alys stored by the sink.
Alys counted under her breath as she stirred crocodile tears and tincture of unicorn hair into her bubbling cauldron. She turned the cauldron down before joining Sparky at the window.
A huge bird was perching on top of the garden shed. The little building looked none too pleased as her roof creaked under the weight of the great big bird.
‘Oh,’ exclaimed Alys. ‘Whatever is that?’
‘I thought it might be an owl with a message for us, only I’m afraid to go out in case it gobbles me up!’ said Sparky.
‘Owl’s don’t deliver messages except in story books, Sparky. In any case, I don’t think it is an owl. It’s much too large. It could an eagle of some sort.’
‘Or an eagle owl, perhaps?’ suggested Sparky.
‘Well, whatever it is, we’d better find out what it’s doing here, if only for the sake of our poor shed!’
Alys poked her heard around the door. Much to the shed’s relief, the bird flapped its huge wings and flew to the ground. It was as tall as Alys, and twice as wide. The bird took a step towards her and opened its great curved beak. Alys clutched the edge of the door. The bird hesitated then uttered a high pitched peep. Alys was taken aback. Its voice didn’t match its owner at all.
‘Can I help you?’ She looked the bird up and down. Its feet were enormous, ending in evil-looking talons. ‘I’m Alys,’ she added politely.
The huge bird hunched its shoulders. Its eyes darted around the garden, before fixing Alys with a big beady stare. The edges of its beak curved upward into a kind of smile. ‘I’m Mickey,’ he chirped in a very un-eagle-like voice. He looked around again. ‘You wouldn’t be a witch by any chance?’
Alys nodded uncertainly.
Mickey reached beneath his left wing with his beak and flashed a blurry I.D. badge at her. ‘I’m with the FBB.’
‘The Fabulous Beasts’ Bureau!’ Sparky shouted excitedly, appearing from behind the door. ‘Wow! Let him in.’
‘Not so loud,’ hissed Mickey, as he squeezed through the door
‘You’re actually an agent with the FBB?’ said Sparky through a puff of admiring amber smoke. ‘What’s your mission?’
‘That’s confidential. If I told you, I’d have to kill you.’
Sparky’s eyes grew even rounder.
‘Okay, Alys. The FBB is going to have to trust you on this.’ Mickey glanced around. ‘I need to go deep undercover.’
Alys nodded uncertainly.
Mickey fished beneath his right wing and tossed a small roll of spell-parchment to Alys. ‘Don’t ask questions, just do it.’
Alys unrolled the parchment and read the scratchy silver writing. ‘But this…’
Mickey hushed her with a shake of his head. ‘Do it.’
Alys shrugged and picked up her wand. Silently she mouthed the words, casting the wand in a wide circle.
There was a blinding flash of silver light, then everything went black. Alys heard something small scurry across the kitchen floor.
When the room returned to normal there was no sign of Mickey.
‘What did you do, Alys?’
Alys pointed at the tiny tail which was disappearing under the kitchen door. They hurried to the window to see a small brown mouse shoot across the garden and slip under the gate.
A moment later there was a thud on the doormat. Sparky sped across the room. A pristine piece of parchment stood to attention then spoke. ‘The FBB thanks you for your assistance. Be prepared. You may be called on again in the future.’ The message sizzled into self-destruction.
Little puffs of pleased purple smoke sprang from Sparky’s nostrils. ‘Secret Agent Sparky!’ he whispered.
Sparky dropped another batch of ripe dragon-snap pods on the table. A plume of sad smoke dribbled from his drooping snout.
Alys frowned. ‘What’s the matter, Sparky?’
Her diminutive dragon sighed. ‘We never seem to have time for any fun anymore!’
Alys examined her hands which we’re raw and stained from splitting the sharp seed pods which contained the collectible dragon cards. Even liberal applications of her Hand cream for Hard-Working Witches, hadn’t healed her skin. Their partnership with George the Dragon had really taken off, but it was awfully hard work on top of her cosmetics and potions business.
The Magic Messaging Machine pinged into life. George’s big friendly dragon face filled the screen. ‘How’s it going, partners?’ He clapped his big blue paws together. ‘I have news!’ I’m going to be discharged from the Home for Delusional Dragons! ‘I’m cured, you see,’ said George happily. ‘It’s the business. Given me focus. No more delusions about long lost family!’ A stream of happy steam billowed from his big nostrils.
Once the steam had cleared, he continued. ‘I’m off house-hunting. Preferably a place with a large garden. For expansion, you know,’ said George. He lifted a big blue paw and waved. ‘Toodles!’ and with that, the screen pinged off.
Alys and Sparky exchanged glances, but before they could say anything, a gentle thud on the doormat heralded the arrival of the morning mail. Sparky flew across the room and brought back an elegant envelope bearing the logo of Edelweiss Paradise, the Swiss factory that produced a crucial ingredient for one of Alys’s best-selling face creams.
Sparky opened the envelope with a carefully trained stream of fluffy white steam and a crisp white card slipped out. The card took a deep breath and bellowed: ‘Otto and the team at Edelweiss Paradise humbly request your assistance. We have a big problem and we’re certain you can help.’ The announcement was accompanied by a small shower of tiny white edelweiss buds. The card sobbed slightly and added. ‘As s-soon as you c-can, p-please.’
They both glanced over to the book-case where the Medal of Honour, presented to them by Otto for fixing the Edelweiss Paradise factory’s Eternal Flame, was proudly displayed.
Alys frowned. ‘I wonder what this is all about?’
A plume of puzzled purple smoke rose from Sparky’s nostrils. ‘Only one way to find out.’
‘Okay, let’s go.’ She picked up her wand and hurried over to the doormat. Sparky flew after her and perched on her shoulder. ‘Edelweiss Valley, Switzerland,’ she enunciated carefully.
Moments later they were standing in front of the flower-shaped emblem which adorned the frontage of Edelweiss Paradise. The doors opened and Otto appeared, a worried look on his face. His white beard twitched anxiously as he raised his pointed red hat.
Otto sighed gratefully. ‘Glad you could come so quickly.’ He raised his hands in the air. ‘I didn’t know where else to turn.’
Alys looked around. All seemed fine inside the factory where the copper vessels bubbled away contentedly.
‘Come with me, I’ll show you.’ Otto ushered them back outside and gestured to the hillside where the new edelweiss was growing. A swathe of matted dark vegetation was creeping down the valley towards the tiny white blooms. ‘Smother-weed.’ Otto huffed. ‘It started this morning and Horace has gone AWOL.’
‘Horace?’ Alys and Sparky questioned in unison.
‘He’s the flame-thrower dragon who burns off all the smother-weed. It’s the only way to control it.’ Otto shook his head.
Sparky’s yellow eyes widened. ‘It’s a very large area,’ he said worriedly.
‘Oh no, I didn’t mean that a little fellow like you should try to tackle all that,’ said Otto hastily. ‘I just thought that you might know another dragon who might be able to step in.’
Alys and Sparky looked at one another. ‘George!’ they said in unison.
‘It couldn’t have worked better, could it?’ said George, draining his third pint of edelweiss cordial. ‘Gave me a bit of a turn to be summoned like that though.’ He winked at Alys.
Alys grinned back. ‘I wasn’t sure the summoning spell would work on someone so… er, large.’
‘But it was such fun! Mass incineration!’ George laughed. ‘So kind of you to offer me a little plot on your valley, Otto. A place to stay and room for a few rows of dragon-snap trees,’ George continued delightedly. ‘And you’ll never have a problem with smother-weed again,’ he said, beaming at Otto.
‘You’ll be happy to take over our share of the business, Otto?’ said Alys, rubbing her sore hands.
‘Delighted my dear.’
Sparky showered the table with relieved ruby-red sparks.
Otto raised his tankard. ‘Here’s to you, George! Settle down here, plant your trees and we’ll provide the labour. The gnomes of Edelweiss Valley are at your service!’
Sparky was sitting on the table reading the latest edition of Magical Creatures Monthly. He was studying a tempting-looking chocolate cake recipe by a dragon from Wisconsin, when with a loud pop and a puff of pink smoke, a small rectangular object landed on the doormat.
‘What was that, Sparky?’ called Alys from where she was busy cleaning her cauldron.
The diminutive dragon flew down to inspect the recent arrival. ‘It’s a Magical Messaging Machine. How exciting!’ He poked it gently with a small purple claw. ‘Oooh,’ he exclaimed through a shower of excited sparks as the screen sprang into life.
Alys hurried over. The Magical Message Machine pinged loudly and the large friendly face of George the Dragon filled the screen.
Alys and Sparky exchanged glances. Even though George had made a huge mess of Alys’s herb garden when he’d visited, and hadn’t actually turned out to be one of Sparky’s relatives as he’d claimed, they’d felt rather sorry for him when he had to be returned to the Home for Delusional Dragons. It was good to see him.
‘Listen both of you,’ George said, leaning even closer to his side of the screen. ‘I want to make it up to you for barging in on you like that.’
Alys smiled. ‘No harm done, George.’
‘Nothing which Alys couldn’t put right with a wave of her wand,’ added Sparky.
George held up a big blue paw. ‘I have a gift for you. It should be arriving about now.’
There was a gentle thud on the doormat accompanied by a cloud of dust. The retired cauldron sneezed, clearing the dust to reveal a tray containing six silver seedlings in little green pots.
‘Dragon Snaps,’ George explained. ‘Pop them out in your garden. They’ll be ready to harvest in ninety-nine minutes. I’ll call you back then, toodle-pip!’ The screen went blank.
‘Come on, Alys,’ excited steam issued from Sparky’s nostrils. ‘Let’s plant them.’
Soon the little Dragon Snaps were sitting comfortably in the soil. ‘All we need to do now is wait,’ said Alys. ‘What shall we do?’
‘We could make a cake.’ Sparky flew over to the table and brought back the recipe he’d been reading. ‘Looks good, doesn’t it?’
Alys grinned. ‘Let’s do it!’
‘Of course,’ replied Alys. ‘I can cook conventionally.’
Sparky raised a purple eyebrow but said nothing.
The time flew by as they measured and mixed and finally popped the cake in the oven. Sparky glanced out of the window. ‘Look!’ he pointed with a chocolate-covered paw.
The silver seedlings had grown into tiny trees. Hanging from their branches were dozens of strange-looking objects.
Just then the Magical Messaging Machine pinged. It vibrated agitatedly on the table until Alys picked it up. George’s face appeared. ‘Are they ripe yet?’
Sparky took off through the kitchen door and returned clutching a rectangular-shaped pod. ‘Go on, open it,’ said George excitedly.
Alys took the pod and carefully split it open. Inside was a playing card with a picture of a dragon on the front and some numbers and symbols beneath it. Alys turned the card over. The words Dragon Snap Collectibles™ shimmered in silver.
‘There are lots of different dragons to collect and it’s a game too!’ George grinned toothily.
‘Awesome!’ said Sparky through a shower of excited silvery sparks. ‘How many cards are there, George?’
‘It’s impossible to say. They just grow…’ George paused, noticing Alys’s expression. ‘They’re perfectly legitimate. I have a wizard contact who cultivates them in Seattle. He’s given me a license to import the seeds. All I need is somewhere to grow them. There’s no garden here at the Dragon’s Home.’
‘Collectible cards that grow on trees, Alys,’ said Sparky. ‘You were talking about growing the business, weren’t you?’
Alys grinned. ‘Why not, we’ve nothing to lose. They might attract a new set of customers.’ Sniffing the air, she whirled around and snatched open the oven door. Alys sighed and picked up her wand.
George continued. ‘I can supply you with the seedlings, you can to the rest…’
‘…and we can split the profits!’ Excited amber smoke issued from Sparky’s snout.
‘That looks tempting,’ said George, eyeing the cake with its glistening chocolate frosting from the screen. ‘You’re obviously a very accomplished cook.
Alys smiled at the compliment. ‘I’ll send you a piece, George.’
Sparky glanced at George’s beaming face and winked at Alys. ‘He may not be my uncle, but he can be our business partner, can’t he?’
‘What are you reading?’ Alys asked, glancing over the steaming cauldron at her diminutive dragon. His pointy tail was twitching with agitation as he read from the crumpled piece of parchment in front of him.
‘It’s a letter from my Uncle George. It just arrived by doormat.’ Sparky put his head on one side. ‘I didn’t know I had any family.’
‘Nor me. What does it say?
‘It says he wants to visit; something about a family tree. At least I think that’s what it says. His writing is terrible.’
Alys peered at the parchment. ‘Well, if he’s a relative of yours I suppose we should invite him.’
The room darkened. Something very large was squashed up against the window. Alys hurried over to see what it was.
‘Oh, I think this must be Uncle George.’
Sparky flew to her shoulder and together they opened the back door to a huge scaly green flank which undulated as its owner turned around. A large but friendly-looking face appeared. ‘Hello,’ it said, yellow saucer eyes gleaming.
‘You must be Uncle George.’ A welcoming plume of purple smoke issued from Sparky’s snout.
‘I was expecting someone… er, smaller,’ said Alys, edging around the door and stepping into the only part of the yard which wasn’t occupied by Uncle George. His great paws sunk into her carefully-tended herb and flower beds and his tail was draped inelegantly over the little garden shed which complained crossly under its weight.
Alys remembered her manners. ‘Pleased to meet you,’ she said politely.
‘So, this is young Sparky, is it?’ Uncle George grinned toothily. ‘I haven’t got long, I’ve lots of relatives to visit.’ He rummaged under his left wing and retrieved a battered book. Then he felt under his chin and pulled out a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles which he perched precariously on his huge green snout.
Sparky flew up and landed on Uncle George’s head, so as better to see the book. He read the title: Who’s Who in the Dragon World.
‘What are you doing up there, boy? Can’t you see I’m trying to read?’ Uncle George said sternly.
‘Sorry, I just wanted to look at the book too.’ A little steam of sapphire smoke seeped from his snout.
‘All right, but keep still.’ Uncle George leafed through the pages with a golden claw.
‘You don’t look like each other at all,’ ventured Alys.
Uncle George ignored her and continued his perusal of the pages. ‘You know, boy, you could be a high-born dragon just like me. Caves and castles, riches and…’
He was interrupted by a big booming voice. ‘George, there you are!’ A bearded face appeared over the wall.
Alys looked around in alarm. Another giant! She’d only just repaired her ceiling after the last one visited.
‘Sorry, Miss,’ the giant apologized, flashing an identity card at her. He smiled sympathetically at Uncle George. ‘My name’s Arthur, I’m afraid George gets awfully confused.
Uncle George looked up. ‘Oh dear, I’ve been rumbled again.
Sparky flew over and perched on the wall, just out of Arthur’s reach. ‘What’s going on? This is my uncle.’ A handful of indignant indigo sparks flared from his nostrils.
Arthur sighed. ‘He’s escaped from the Home for Delusional Dragons again. Not your fault, of course, his letters can be very persuasive. I expect you invited him, didn’t you?’
Alys and Sparky nodded.
‘It breaks the Spell of Confinement if you do, you see.’
‘Perhaps you need to change your spell,’ suggested Alys.
‘Yes, Miss, we will. We don’t want to be too harsh on him though. He’s had a rough time. Gambled all the family riches away…’
‘And I’m not part of that family?’ asked Sparky.
Arthur chuckled. ‘I don’t think so young’un.’
‘I’m fully grown,’ replied Sparky stoutly.
‘Well then, you’re not likely to be related to a dragon like George, are you?’
Sparky stared at George, who was folding his horn-rimmed spectacles. ‘Don’t I have any family?’ asked Sparky plaintively.
George shrugged his huge shoulders.
‘Ready, George?’ asked Arthur.
George nodded happily. ‘Lot’s more family to visit, eh?’
Arthur waved a giant-sized wand and both he and George vanished. The garden shed sighed with relief.
Alys turned to her diminutive dragon. ‘You’ve still got me, Sparky.’
‘And you’re all the family I need, Alys,’ he replied, sending up a pretty plume of purple smoke. ‘I’ll fetch your wand and we can tidy up the garden.’
Alys smiled. Sparky was all the family she needed too.
Alys unpacked her latest doormat delivery from Acme’s Ingredients for Witches. It was a bumper order as she’d used the voucher she’d been given as a reward for capturing the bogus Dragon Inspector.
‘One item’s missing,’ said Sparky, consulting the delivery note. ‘Distillation of Edelweiss is out of stock.’
‘That’s the ingredient I was particularly waiting for. I need it for my Special Skin Cream for the More Mature Witch.’ Alys frowned. ‘Does it say when they’ll be getting more stock?’
The diminutive dragon shook his head. ‘Isn’t there anywhere else you can get it from?’
Alys shrugged. ‘It’s imported from Switzerland. Edelweiss grows in the Alps there.’
‘We could try contacting the manufacturers,’ suggested Sparky.
Alys took a dark blue bottle from the shelf and examined the flower-shaped label. There’s a doormat address here. I suppose I could try sending them a note.’
‘Or we could visit,’ said Sparky through an excited puff of purple smoke.
‘That would be an adventure! We’ve never been abroad.’
‘We went to Scotland for the Dragon-Flame Games last year,’ Sparky reminded her.
‘That’s not abroad.’
‘Well, it was foreign,’ retorted Sparky. ‘If it hadn’t been for the Babel-Fish Charm we’d have never understood what anyone was saying!’ He flew across the room and hovered by the door. ‘Shall we go then?’
Alys hesitated for a moment then, snatching up her wand, she joined him on the doormat.
They found themselves looking up at huge flower-shaped emblem which hung over the front doors of a large building. All around them were green fields carpeted in alpine flowers with snow-capped mountains beyond.
The doors opened to reveal a short, white-bearded man wearing a red hat, whose appearance reminded Alys of a garden gnome. ‘Welcome to Edelweiss Paradise,’ said the little man grandly. ‘My name is Otto.’
‘We came to buy some of your Distillation of Edelweiss,’ said Alys brightly.
Otto smiled, but then his face fell and his shoulders sagged.
‘What’s wrong?’ asked Alys, while Sparky, who was perching on her shoulder, snorted out a concerned stream of violet smoke.
Otto stared at the diminutive dragon. ‘Please. Come inside.’
They followed Otto into the building. The walls were lined with a series of copper vessels connected by a maze of pipes leading up from a central smoke-stained pit. Further along was a bottling area, with a line of the familiar dark blue bottles standing on a long table.
The factory, however, was silent.
‘What happened?’ asked Alys.
Otto walked over to the fire pit. ‘The Eternal Flame which has fired our production for two hundred years has gone out. We’ve tried everything to rekindle it, but…’ Otto shook his head sadly. ‘Our village is desperate. We sold the last of our stock a month ago and this is our livelihood.’
Sparky sprang up and hovered over the pit, tiny flames issuing from his snout. He landed on the edge and looked up at Alys.
The young witch nodded and took out her wand. ‘Initio incendio!’ Alys commanded.
Sparky took a deep breath and blew a great golden gout of flames at the centre of the pit.
A blaze of bright blue flames poured forth from the tiny dragon’s mouth. Alys enunciated her incantation again. The flames glowed white-hot and with a whoosh the pit was ablaze. Alys and Sparky withdrew as the flames shot up towards the roof, then died down to a steady, healthy crackle.
‘You did it!’ Otto exclaimed. The factory doors flew open and a group of small gnome-like people flooded in, all whooping and cheering.
The retired cauldron quivered with pleasure as Alys draped a fresh garland of fragrant alpine blooms around her rim.
‘Maybe we should travel to foreign parts more often,’ called out Sparky as he flew over to admire the flower-shaped Medal of Honour which stood proudly on their bookshelf.
Alys was admiring the flowers which Agatha of Agador had sent to thank her for sorting out the shoddy builders who’d made such a mess in her house. The flowers were still as fresh as when they’d arrived several weeks ago. The young witch was wondering why Agatha hadn’t come for her monthly cosmetic order when the Retired Cauldron burst into a fit of coughing.
Alys hurried over. The Retired Cauldron spluttered and coughed up a crumpled note. Sparky flew across the room and scooped up the note, handing it to Alys.
The diminutive dragon perched on her shoulder as she read: ‘Agatha of Agador has vanished. Please come quickly!’
The note turned itself over revealing Agatha’s doormat address.
‘Why ask us?’ asked Alys.
An excited puff of steam issued from Sparky’s nostrils. ‘Only one way to find out.’
Giving the Retired Cauldron a farewell pat, Alys stepped onto the doormat and announced the address.
‘Hello? Anyone here?’ called Alys hopefully. But there was no reply.
The room was dominated by an expensive cauldron standing between a huge book case and a large wooden table. Assorted ingredients were strewn over the tabletop where a golden ladle had spilled its contents across a well-thumbed spell-book.
Alys peered into the still-warm cauldron while Sparky hovered over the mess on the table craning his neck to read what Agatha, presumably, had been working on.
‘Look at this, Alys.’
Alys read the title: ‘Vanishe Away:for Prettie Youthefull Hands’. Alys frowned. ‘Why didn’t Agatha come to me? I could have easily made something like this.’ She shook her head. ‘I wonder what happened.’
‘Maybe she overdid the vanishing bit,’ suggested Sparky.
‘But she’s such an experienced spell-mistress.’
At that moment the curtain over the doorway to the next room started to flap wildly.
‘Is that you, Agnes?’ Alys called out.
The curtain flapped again.
Alys and Sparky exchanged glances. ‘What happened, Agnes?’
The curtain stopped moving.
The curtain dangled unresponsively.
‘I’m sure that was her, Sparky.’
Sparky blew out a little cloud of purple smoke in agreement.
‘But what can we do?’
‘Undo the spell?’
‘But Sparky, undoing another witch’s spell…’ Alys shook her head. ‘I wouldn’t know where to start.’
‘You could ask one of the Sisters…’
The curtain flapped violently.
Alys shook her head. ‘No, we have to find a way. Maybe that’s why Agnes asked us. She’d be mortified if other members of the Western Coven found out that she’d vanished herself.
The curtain nodded in agreement.
‘Okay. Let’s think.’
‘Could we go back in time and stop her?’ asked Sparky.
‘Hermione used a time-turner in one of the Harry Potter books.’
‘Sparky, that’s fiction. It’s not real.’
‘There are real things in the Harry Potter books… like dragons,’ replied the diminutive dragon through a shower of indignant sparks.
He flew up to the bookshelf and began examining the titles, while Alys fingered the sticky spell-book.
Tucked away on the top shelf, Sparky found what he was looking for. He tugged at the leather-bound volume with his claws. It teetered on the edge of the shelf before Alys came to the rescue.
‘Tweeking Time, a beginners guide,’ read the title.
Together they pored over the contents page. Spotting a promising description, Sparky turned to page 288. They read in silence for a moment. Alys started to nod. ‘Sounds like a plan, Sparky.’
Alys looked up from the flowers she’d been admiring to see Agnes of Agador standing on her doormat smiling at her.
‘Alys, darling, thank you for the wonderful cream. It works like a dream!’ She admired her hands. ‘You know I almost cooked up a hand lotion from my old spell book. I know you’re busy and I didn’t want to trouble you, but then before I could start your little pot arrived…’
Alys looked over her shoulder at Sparky and winked.
Alys waved her wand with a flourish. ‘Ceiling reparo!’
Sparky, her diminutive dragon, looked up as several stray flakes of plaster dislodged themselves.
Alys waved her wand again. ‘Plaster mendaro!’
The cracks in the ceiling made by the bogus dragon inspector stubbornly remained.
Alys lowered her wand. ‘I don’t know, Sparky. I’m no good at these DIY spells.’
‘Maybe we should call someone.’ He flew over to the bookshelf and pulled out a thin volume with a bright yellow cover. Sparky started leafing through the flimsy pages.
They were interrupted by a loud thud on the doormat heralding the arrival of two stocky little men wearing blue overalls. One held a large bucket and the other carried a ladder. ‘You called, Miss?’ they said in unison.
Alys turned to Sparky. ‘Did we?’
Sparky shook his head.
‘Aha,’ the two little men pointed at the ceiling. ‘We see your problem, Miss.’
‘Can you repair it?’ asked Alys hopefully.
‘Of course.’ Fred rubbed his hands together. ‘We’ll have this done in a jiffy.’
Alys returned to the kitchen where a hair preparation ‘for constantly flowing locks’ was gently simmering in her cauldron. Sparky followed carrying his new copy of Dragon Detectives’ Monthly which had arrived by doormat that morning. He’d only just settled down to read when a loud hiss of crimson steam issued from his nostrils.
‘BEWARE THESE COWBOY CONTRACTORS!’ the heading screamed. Sparky hastily silenced the article with a swift pat of his paw.
‘What is it, Sparky?’
Sparky put a purple claw to his mouth. He beckoned to Alys and pointed at the photograph. The faces of the two stocky workman stared out from the article. ‘Wanted in two counties for preying on the unwary, these practitioners of make and mend have been wreaking mischief and mayhem on unsuspecting clients’ homes. They extort money on the promise of rectification and then disappear without completing the work. Their most recent victim was Agatha of Agador…’
Alys looked up. Agatha was one of her best clients. ‘Poor Agatha!’ she exclaimed.
Alys ladled a couple of spoonsful of the preparation from her cauldron into a glass jug and muttered an incantation. The mixture fizzed and bubbled, then slowly cleared to a pleasant lemony colour.
She poured it into two glasses, winking at Sparky. ‘Refreshments, gentlemen,’ she called out cheerfully, carrying the glasses into the next room and putting them on the table.
The two men seized the glasses and drank. ‘That really hits the spot,’ said Bob.
‘Just as well,’ said Fred. ‘This job is trickier than we thought. We’ll need to come back tomorrow.’
Alys eyed the ceiling where there was now a gaping hole.
‘We need more materials,’ Fred rubbed his hands together, ‘and an advance on the payment.’
Sparky snatched up the Dragon Detective’s Weekly and flew across the room, dropping it on the table in front of the two men. A threatening shower of sparks spurted from his snout.
Fred put his hands on his hips. ‘So? D’you want the job finished or what?’
Bob nudged him. ‘Your hair, it’s… it’s green and it’s growing!’
Fred turned to him. His jaw dropped open. ‘So’s yours!’
Within seconds grisly green hair was pooling at their feet.
Alys glared at the two men. ‘Put my ceiling right and your hair will go back to normal.’ She twitched her wand and the hair began to curl and tighten around their bodies. ‘And finish all those other jobs,’ she pointed at the article.
‘That’s blackmail!’ Fred mumbled indistinctly through a forest of green beard.