A bright purple, orange and lime green minibus full of people trundled past Sammy Rambles’s living room window and stopped abruptly outside his green front door.
Loud dance music was blaring from the radio, the booming of drum beats breaking the silence in the otherwise peaceful village street.
Children of all ages were singing along to the music and shouting at each other. They were standing on the seats and rocking the minibus from side to side.
Large blue letters printed on the side of the minibus said “Murphy Family Dragon Healers – Looking After Your Dragons Since 1980”.
Above the brightly coloured minibus, there were several large dragons circling around the nearby houses. They were huffing impatiently at the interruption to their journey.
The dragons cast huge, dark, aeroplane shaped shadows through the living room window.
Seeing the shadows, Sammy threw down the magazine he had been reading, leaped up from his chair and dashed out of the room.
‘Darius is here!’ Sammy yelled to his parents. ‘Come down quickly! His parents are dropping him off! Darius is finally here!’
Sammy raced along the hallway and threw open the front door. He charged out onto the pavement.
‘Hi Darius!’ Sammy shouted, tapping his hand on the glass window of the minibus. ‘I’ve been waiting all morning for you!’
A dark skinned, dark haired boy pushed his way to the front of the minibus and dragged open the sliding side door.
‘Hi Sammy!’ yelled the boy. He dragged a brown and black suitcase with the initials “D.M.” embossed on the straps out of the minibus and threw it on to the pavement, narrowly missing Sammy’s feet.
Sammy jumped out of the way as Darius leaped out of the minibus after his suitcase, landing awkwardly and falling over into a heap on the ground.
With a huge grin on his face Darius got to his feet. ‘I’m here!’ he said triumphantly.
Someone inside the minibus shut the brightly coloured door with a bang and within seconds the purple, orange and lime green minibus was being driven off down the street at top speed.
Hands waved out of every window and above the drums and electric guitars on the radio they heard Darius’s family shouting goodbye and telling him to be good at school.
The large dragons followed the minibus, their wings creating the familiar black aeroplane shaped shadows all the way down the road.
Sammy and Darius waved vigorously until the minibus turned the corner and was out of sight. The music faded and Sammy picked up Darius’s brown and black suitcase. It was surprisingly heavy.
‘Come on,’ said Sammy, heaving the suitcase, ‘let’s go inside.’
‘Sorry I’m late,’ said Darius, giving Sammy a hand pushing the suitcase through the doorway. ‘It was because of all that lot. We stopped eight times, “can we stop for food”, “can we stop for the toilet”, and then,’ Darius waved his arms in the air, ‘then we had to stop for petrol!’ He frowned, ‘then we stopped for…dragons.’
Sammy nodded, knowing that Darius’s parents were Healers who helped sick dragons. They travelled all over the country in the family minibus, stopping every time someone needed help.
Sometimes Darius’s parents were called to help with something simple, like a stone or thorn caught in a dragon’s paw, or to give a dragon medication to cure a cold. Other times they performed on the spot surgery, helping to mend broken bones or broken wings.
‘There was one dragon with its draconite stone half in, half out,’ Darius continued, ‘but we fixed him.’
‘That’s awful,’ said Sammy, thinking about the precious, sparkling, shimmering stone, called draconite, found inside the dragon’s brain that enables a dragon to breathe fire and to fly. Without draconite, a dragon cannot breathe at all and would die instantly. ‘Do you think it was the Shape?’
Darius nodded. ‘I think it was the Shape. Who else could it be?’
‘Is that Darius, honey?’ a voice belonging to Julia Rambles, Sammy’s mother, called down the hallway.
‘Yeah, he’s just arrived,’ shouted Sammy.
Julia Rambles appeared in the kitchen doorway. She had the same blonde hair and blue eyes as Sammy and was about the same height as her son, now that Sammy had grown a few inches over the summer. She was wearing a green apron over her white blouse and three quarter length denim jeans and her hands were covered in flour.
‘Hello Darius,’ said Julia. ‘I hope you had a good journey. It’s lovely having you to stay. Sammy, please take his suitcase upstairs and call your father. Dinner is nearly ready.’
Sammy led Darius through the hallway, heaving the suitcase, which weighed a ton, up the narrow twisting staircase on to the landing. He knocked on his parents’ bedroom door. He could hear the shower running in the en-suite bathroom.
‘Dinner’s ready Dad!’ Sammy yelled.
Not waiting for a reply, Sammy and Darius ran to the door that led into the airing cupboard. Behind the wooden slatted door were rails of his father’s shirts and his mother’s skirts and another smaller, wooden staircase that led up into the attic flat.
They thundered up the steps into the fully furnished, two-bedroom flat above the house. The flat had been given to Sammy to use after his uncle, who owned the house and jewellery shop downstairs, admitted that he was the “P” in the Shape and had been arrested and detained for further questioning.
At the end of Sammy’s first year at school, his uncle had admitted that he wanted to kill all the dragons in the world and steal their draconite. Sammy had learnt that by having draconite, this might give his uncle control of the elements of earth, air, fire and water, invincibility and immortality.
Sammy’s uncle, his mother’s brother, Peter Pickering, had signed both the house and jewellery shop over to his sister, Sammy’s mother, Julia Rambles, when he had been taken prisoner two months ago by the Snorgcadell.
The Snorgcadell, also known as the Dragon Cells, are the organisation in the dragon world which was set up to fight the Shape and stop the Shape from killing all the dragons.
Using his belongings, which had been delivered from his parents’ old house in Ratisbury, Sammy had tried to make the flat more like home.
Although the boxes had been in the flat for just over six weeks since the Ratisbury house was sold, Sammy hadn’t finished unpacking and many of his books and toys were still in cardboard boxes.
Sammy had found the process of unpacking his things rather tricky since he was sharing the flat with three fully grown dragons, his own dragon, Kyrillan, and now Darius and his dragon, Nelson, who had stuck his navy blue head out of the top of Darius’s suitcase.
‘You put your dragon in your suitcase?’ exclaimed Sammy. ‘No wonder it was so heavy! How did you do it?’
Darius let out one of his famous explosive giggles and held out his hand to his dragon. ‘Come here Nelson. Did you sleep on our way to Sammy’s house?’
Ignoring Darius, Nelson looked around the room, his black eyes taking in his new surroundings. He stretched his navy blue body and crawled out of the top of Darius’s brown and black suitcase. His sharp claws gripped the side and he stood up tall on his hind legs. Tiny wings expanded and grew wide as he spread them to their full span. Nelson opened his mouth and yawned loudly, showing two rows of sharp white teeth.
The dragons were being kept in the flat in secret and Sammy’s parents knew nothing about any of them. They couldn’t see them or hear them and as far as they were concerned, dragons did not exist.
‘How did you get him into your suitcase?’ repeated Sammy, but Darius just laughed even harder and he could get no sense out of his friend at all.
‘Where’s Kyrillan?’ asked Darius when he finally stopped laughing.
‘Probably in my bedroom,’ said Sammy, puffing slightly as he lifted Nelson’s heavy spiky tail away from the small television on the sideboard. ‘Gerrup!’
Nelson obliged, flicking his tail and scattering a tub of jelly beans in every direction. Darius let off another of his famous giggles as he clonked heads with Sammy as they bent down to pick them up.
As they straightened themselves, Sammy noticed a puff of pale orange smoke wafting from the second bedroom towards them.
‘Do you remember Cyngard, Jovah and Paprika?’ asked Sammy.
‘Your parents and your uncle’s dragons, yes, of course,’ whispered Darius nervously.
Sammy didn’t blame Darius for being scared. All of the dragons had grown steadily over the summer. He had fed them a varied diet of hay, mice, sweets and, when he felt it safe to smuggle it up, a variety of cooked and fresh meat he had bought with his pocket money from the butcher in the village.
When Sammy had told the butcher why his parents weren’t able to collect the meat themselves, the butcher had frowned, then smiled, then from that day onwards he had given Sammy double servings at half price.
‘Shall I call them?’ asked Sammy. ‘You can see how much they’ve grown.’
Darius nodded. ‘Go on.’
‘Cyngard! Jovah! Paprika!’ called Sammy, pronouncing their names “Sin-guard”, “Yo-vah” and “Pa-pree-car”.
There was a scuffling noise in the second bedroom and the clinking of scales as the three adult dragons marched into the lounge area.
Paprika, Peter Pickering’s dragon, was first to emerge from the bedroom. She was a large, orange dragon, the size of a medium sized van, with streaks of pink, yellow and red on her tummy. She marched into the middle of the room and stared at the new occupants with her dark black eyes.
Cyngard and Jovah followed Paprika into the lounge. Their footsteps sounded like thunder and their scales made a loud clinking sound as they walked into the lounge.
They were the same size as the orange dragon, however Cyngard, Charles Rambles’s dragon, had jet black scales and enormous amber eyes. Julia Rambles’s dragon, Jovah, was forest green in colour with a pattern of gold streaks on her back and all the way down her tail.
Darius took a step backwards. ‘They’ve got enormous,’ he whispered.
‘It’s ok,’ said Sammy. ‘They should remember you from when you stayed at Christmas.’
Darius nodded and stepped forwards, going up close to Paprika, Peter Pickering’s dragon, to inspect her.
‘Paprika could do with some fresh air,’ said Darius. ‘She’s missing your uncle. Her scales are dull.’
‘I know,’ said Sammy, ‘but I can’t ride her. She’s gone wild without Uncle Peter here. I’ve had to buy loads of green pellets to keep her quiet at night.’
‘Can I try getting on her back and take her flying?’ asked Darius, his eyes gleaming, his fears forgotten. ‘I’ve always wanted to ride a fully grown dragon.’
‘Um,’ started Sammy. He was sure his parents wouldn’t approve. ‘Maybe after tea? How are you going to get outside?’
Darius grinned and tapped his nose. ‘Wait and see.’