The Sugar Quill
Author: Eurydice (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Expert  Chapter: Default
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"The Expert"

"The Expert"

by Eurydice

Disclaimer: Of course the wonderful Harry Potter books and characters belong to J.K. Rowling.† Modwin and Ingrid, however, are my brainchildren.† Enjoy!

{Author's Note: This is my first story; thanks so much to B. Bennett, my beta-reader, for all of her help- I couldn't have done it without her.}

---

Charlie watched Hagrid and his enormous companion depart, feeling the onset of trepidation.

He was extremely fond of Hagrid, but wasnít entirely sure he could be trusted with the secretÖ then again, what did it matter? Everyone he knew, with the exception of the Malfoy family, wanted Harry to win the tournament, so a little prod in the right direction couldnít hurt-

A thunderous roar ripped through the air, and Charlie whirled just in time to see a great gout of flame erupt from the mouth of the Fireball, startling and orange against the blackened sky. Shouts of extinguishing spells echoed from the pen, and Charlie raced across the field to help. By the time he got there, however, the Fireball was calm again, though glowering occasionally at the wizards as though she would make sure to roast them the next time.

"That was a close one," gasped Modwin Banks, collapsing against a nearby rock. "These dragons are going to be the end of me. You try to tell them not to have four different species in one area, tell them itís dangerous business, but do they listen? Noooo, all they want is the excitement, the varietyÖ and now one of them is sick, torching everything in sight whenever she sneezes-"

"Oh, come off it, Modwin," grinned Charlie. "Youíre loving this, every minute of it. Youíre not fooling anyone."

Modwin glared at him, and then a sunny smile broke over his handsome face. He was older than Charlie by about four years, but with that grin he looked all of fifteen. "Guilty as charged," he said, running a hand through his thick mop of curly brown hair. "But you have to admit itís more tiring than Romaniaís ever been. There, youíve got some order, but thisÖ hell, I'll even take the blame for it, but it's just barely organized chaos. No one will be more glad than I when this task is over and we can send this lot home."

"Youíre wrong there," said Charlie. "The champions, I expect, may have more cause for celebration."

"One of them, anyway," Modwin pointed out. His green eyes suddenly glinted, and his smile became mischievous. "You met the expert yet?"

"Expert? You mean heís here?" Charlie sighed. "About time. I didnít fancy having to find another Short-Snout on such short notice."

"Flew in a few hours ago from Norway. You were busy with the Horntail. Expert on the Scandinavian varieties Ė smart as a whip, that one. Go on," he said, pointing toward a small shed at the edge of the woods. "Introduce yourself."

Charlie glanced over his shoulder at the dragons. They seemed to be behaving themselves; the Short-Snout and the Welsh Green were sleeping peacefully, smoke billowing from their nostrils; the Fireball and the Horntail were eating. With a shrug, he walked toward the shed, wondering why Modwin was grinning at him that way. When he reached the shed, he knocked at the door, and a voice Ė a distinctly female voice Ė called from within, "Itís open."

Charlie stopped in his tracks. He looked over at Modwin, but Modwin, for his part, was very obviously making a great effort to ignore him.

The door behind Charlie opened, and he turned to face the occupant of the shed. She was slightly taller than Charlie, with thick black curls of hair falling to her waist. Her eyes were dark brown and very large, and grew even larger when she saw who she was greeting. "Youíre Charlie Weasley, arenít you?" Her voice was low, with only a trace of an accent that was utterly charming.

"How did you know?" he asked.

"Modwin described you to me."† She was smiling, but what kind of smile Charlie couldn't tell.† "My name is Ingrid Nils. Itís very nice to meet you." She gave his hand a firm shake, turned, and went back into the shed. "Iím just doing some reading about the Fireball; Iím afraid I donít know much about the far eastern varieties. Come in, please; Iím sorry about the mess."

The shed was indeed in disarray; books lay open on every available surface, papers were strewn over the walls. By the light of the flickering fire, he could see a pen scribbling furiously over a roll of parchment as a book rapidly flipped its pages. Ingrid took a sip from an enormous earthenware mug and, donning a pair of spectacles, leaned over a dusty leatherbound tome. Charlie hunted around in his mind for something to say; he was hopeless at small talk. Especially with women. He could tell you with no hesitation the average weight of a Peruvian Vipertooth, or that the rarest form of dragon known to wizardkind was the Alaskan Sniffer. He could rattle off wingspans like the names of his brothers, but once the topic switched to more mundane things, such as the nice weather weíre having, or maybe the time of day, he went red in the face.

He realized that Ingrid was still speaking. "Ösurprised when they asked me to help. I thought for certain that the Short-Snout would be the least of your problems."

Relieved to find himself on stable ground, Charlie moved a thick book from a nearby stool and sat down. "Sheís sick. Itís nothing too serious, but rather a danger whenever she sneezes. Weíve managed to keep her sedated so that she doesnít cause too much damage, but weíre hoping that she recovers by the tournament so that the spectators donít turn into pot roast."

Ingrid laughed. "Oh my. Poor dear. Is she eating?"

"Probably not as much as she should be."

"Hmm." She squinted at him in the dim light. "Youíre quite young. I imagined you older." With a shrug, she removed her glasses and started to pull her formidable mass of hair into a ponytail. "With your reputation, I imagined you must be at least my fatherís age."

"Youíre young yourself," Charlie said. And female, he added mentally.

Ingrid gave him an appraising glance, and Charlie had the uncomfortable feeling that she could sense his misgivings. "Iíve been interested in dragons since I was five years old. I read every book I could get my hands on, and apprenticed my Care of Magical Creatures professor to learn about them. Dr. Bjornson was quite knowledgeable on the subject."

Charlie stared. "Dr. Bjornson? Thatís incredible. I always wanted to meet him; I was very sorry to hear of his death."

"Itís one of the perils of the trade," said Ingrid, straightening some of the mess. Her voice was offhand, but Charlie could hear sadness creeping in at the edges. "He told me once that he wanted to go Ďin the line of duty.í He treated it like it was an honor." She paused, and smiled. "I imagine it was, too. Come, letís have a look at this Short-Snout."

She picked up her wand, opened the door and strode out; Charlie followed. Modwin grinned at him from across the pen, and this time it was Charlieís turn to ignore him.

Once at the Short-Snout, Ingrid didnít hesitate Ė holding her wand at the ready, she carefully looked over the dragonís face. "Lumos," she muttered, and shone the light into the dragonís nostrils, first the right, then the left. She did the same with the sleeping dragonís eyes Ė right, then left. Charlie was afraid it would wake up, but theyíd sedated it quite heavily. It snuffled loudly and sighed, and the resulting smoke was so thick that Ingrid and Charlie were sent into spasms of coughing.

"Ugh," said Ingrid, waving it away as best she could.

"No kidding," replied Charlie.

"No, I mean, it shouldnít smell like that. What have you been feeding her?" Ingridís voice was mildly accusatory, and she climbed nimbly onto the dragonís head to examine the horns. "This is an allergic reaction. See, the horns have lost all of their luster. They should be shinier than this. And her bellyís all distended. Has there been spinach in her food, by any chance?"

"Iím not sure," said Charlie. "Iíve been mainly keeping watch on the Horntail; sheís been giving us more trouble than the rest of them combined."

"I can imagine," replied Ingrid. "Talk to whoeverís been preparing the Short-Snoutís food. It should consist mainly of fish, other meats, and greens other than spinach. They like mountain goat, if thatís a possibility." She leaned against one of the horns, and patted the dragon between the eyes. Both dragon and human seemed thoroughly relaxed, and Charlie found himself envying her. As much as he loved dragons, establishing a rapport with one was one heíd never quite been able to achieve. Then again, he mused, it was probably easy to establish a rapport with a dragon if it was asleep.

"You should get down from there," he said with a smile. "If she wakes up, sheíll be none too pleased to have you on her head."

"Iíll be fine," said Ingrid, nonchalant. "Poor thing, donít worry, youíll be back as good as new just in time for the tournament." She smiled at the top of the dragonís head, and it sighed again, sending out another choking plume of smoke.

An awkward silence dropped; at least, it seemed awkward to Charlie, who was once again trying to think of something to say and failing miserably. Ingrid seemed oblivious to this, and at least that was a relief. Finally, he thought of something.

"Are youÖ are you planning to stick around to watch the tournament?"

"The first task, yes," said Ingrid, her eyes gleaming. "Iíll be at the ready in case anything happens. I canít tell you how excited I am to be a part of this. Iím thrilled that the tournamentís been brought backÖ itís in my family, you know."

"In your family?"

Ingrid nodded. "My great-great-great-great grandfather won one of them."

Charlieís jaw dropped. "Youíre kidding."

"I tell the truth," said Ingrid, hand to heart. "Itís been a great source of pride to my family. I only wish I could have entered this one, but at least I can participate in some way. Iím looking forward to seeing it."

She closed her eyes and sighed deeply; she may as well have been sitting in a comfortable armchair, rather than on the head of one of the most dangerous beasts known to man. Charlie felt the envy run through him again - until he found himself looking straight into a yellow eye the size of a dinner plate. "Sheís awake," he said, trying to sound casual. "You might want to get down now."

"Pardon?" asked Ingrid, eyes still closed.

The dragon blinked once, twice, and then the great eyes rolled upward. A deep grumble issued from its throat. "Get down," said Charlie urgently. "Right now. Sheís awake."

Ingridís eyes popped open and she stood up, hanging onto the Short-Snoutís horn for balance. She started to make her way to the side of the head to jump down, but before she could, the dragon raised her head to its full, heart-stopping height. Charlie, suddenly feeling very small, ran to the edge of the pen and squinted up. In the darkness, he could vaguely see Ingrid still clinging to the horn and the dragonís eyes straining to see her. His mind raced. She would be relatively safe as long as the Short-Snout didnít figure out how to torch the top of her own head-

He mentally shook himself. That was ridiculous. She could fall. Or one of the other dragons could attack her. Maybe she was afraid of heights. Or-

"Modwin!" he screamed before he could think further. He neednít have bothered Ė his friend was already running over to him.

"What the hellís she doing up there?!"

"Holding on for dear life, I expect," Charlie snapped. "How are we going to get her down?"

The Short-Snout, realizing that her efforts to see her rider were fruitless, started shaking her head back and forth as if trying to dislodge water from her ear. Ingrid wrapped her legs around the horn as well, burying her head against the smooth surface.

"Stunning Spell," said Modwin.

Charlie shook his head. "Not with Ingrid up there. When the dragon falls, sheíll jar her head pretty hard."

"Shrink it!" exclaimed one particularly excitable wizard.

"Immobilize it," suggested Modwin.

"And then Ingridíll climb down, shall she? Not many handholds on a dragon," said the excitable wizard waspishly, miffed at being ignored.

"Has anyone got a broomstick?" asked Charlie, somewhat desperately.

"Thatís how Ingrid got here," said Modwin. "Itíll be in the shed." He took off for it, while the crowd watched helplessly. He returned moments later, carrying the broomstick- an antediluvian Shooting Star, but better than nothing.

"Okay," said Charlie, "everyone hit her Ė the dragon, not Ingrid Ė to immobilize her. If we all do it together it could work."

"It wonít last long," said Modwin, "so youíll have to hurry."

Everyone backed up, wands at the ready. "Now!" shouted Charlie.

"Imoblius!" bellowed the scores of wizards.

The Short-Snout froze in mid-headshake. Her eyes were screwed up, her tail in a graceful arc. Charlie mounted the broom and kicked off from the ground. He hadnít flown in what felt like ages, but it came back to him as naturally as walking. Even in this focused state, he couldnít help missing his Quidditch days.

When he reached the dragonís head, Ingrid was in the process of trying to climb down the thick, scaly neck. "Quick, get on," said Charlie.

Ingrid shook her head. "Iíll be fine."

"What?"

"Donít you worry about me, Iíll get down in no time."†

"No time is too much time," Charlie persisted.† He maneuvered closer.† "The dragonís going to unfreeze any minute, so Ė"

"I appreciate the rescue effort," said Ingrid lightly, negotiating a tricky bit, "but I'm fine.† You can spare me the chivalry."† ††

"Chivalry?" exclaimed Charlie incredulously. "You think Iím doing this because youíre a woman? Believe me, if this were anyone else up here Ė well, almost everyone, maybe not the Malfoys or You-Know-Who Ė Iíd be doing the exact same thing, now get on this broom before I drag you!"

Ingrid looked at him and laughed. Later, the absurdity of the situation would strike Charlie so that he laughed too Ė coercing a near-stranger off a dragonís neck before she plunged to her death Ė but for now, all he was was frustrated. And frightened. "Youíre a one, Charlie Weasley," she said, "you really are." She climbed onto the back of the broom, and Charlie flew to the ground. As they landed, the Short-Snout resumed her headshaking, only to stop, puzzled. She could almost be seen to shrug, and settled suspiciously back onto her haunches.

Ingrid climbed off the broom, and Charlie followed. Some of her self-assurance was gone now, and he could see that she had indeed been more frightened than sheíd let on. Her hair was askew, in wild ebony corkscrews that stuck out crazily from her ponytail. "Sorry about that," she said. "I have an independent streak in me. It always drove my Da crazy."

Charlie shook his head. "No need to apologize. Iídíve probably done the same thing."

Modwin hurried up to them. In the background, Charlie could hear the remaining wizards enacting a Stunning spell. "All right, Ingrid?"

"Fine," she replied. She blushed a deep pink that Charlie could see even in the darkness, and added, "Thanks."

Charlie shrugged and hooked a thumb at Modwin. "His idea."

"Yours," said Modwin. He clapped Charlie on the back and walked back toward the pen, whistling cheerfully.

Charlie felt his face go red.† "Modest fellow, that one."

Ingrid laughed. She really did have a lovely laugh. "Well, thank you once more," she said, taking back her broomstick. "I never thought Iíd be rescued from a dragon by a handsome Seeker."

"Iím not a Seeker anymore."† Handsome?† She thinks I'm-

"Ex-Seeker, then." Ingrid grinned. "Iím going to get some sleep, I think. Oh, my, Iíve had a bit of a day, havenít I? Good night, Charlie Weasley." Impulsively, she leaned forward and briefly kissed his cheek. "Iíll see you tomorrow?"

"Um. Yes. Definitely," said Charlie, and now he was the one blushing.

Laughing, Ingrid turned and went back to the shed. Charlie watched her go, and tried to ignore Modwinís curious eyes as he went back to work.

//
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