"What to Do, What to Say"
"What to Do, What to Say"
Chapter 1: Here There Be Dragons
A/N: This story is something of an experiment; I'm just writing as I think of things to say, so there's no real plan here. Thanks to Catherine, Arabella and Zsenya, whose writing has inspired me, and to marta, Minoukatze, Lisa Rourke, and A.L. de Sauveterre, whose art has done the same. And oh yes, normal disclaimer about what belongs to JKR and what belongs to me.
Charlie rolled over and pulled the covers over his ears in hopes of muffling the snores from across the room. Futile, he thought. I might as well be standing right next to him. He sat up and glared in the general direction from which the snores were issuing; no one else in the barracks seemed particularly bothered.
With a sigh, Charlie rose and made his way out of the barracks. The nearly-full moon cast its pale, gentle light over the huts, the paddocks, the mountains in the distance, and for a moment Charlie smiled. He loved England, loved his home, but the air was so much fresher here in Romania, and there were dragons. Here There Be Dragons, he thought, and smiled again.
There was activity in one of the paddocks. Normally at this time of night, only the Night Staff would be active, taking care to make sure that the dragons were well-fed and asleep. Curious, Charlie made his way to the paddock. He could hear a low voice saying, "Not unless it's absolutely necessary. She had an extremely long day. Go see if- well, speak of the devil." The weary but perpetually smiling face of Modwin Banks poked around the gate. "You must be psychic, Weasley. I was just about to see if you were awake."
"What's going on?" asked Charlie, stepping into the paddock. Inside, Norbert the dragon was lying on the ground, neck stretched out, head resting in the grass. He might have been asleep but for his open eyes. Grizelda Peach, a young and likeable witch, was examining Norbert's feet and cooing to him softly under her breath. "Is something wrong with Norbert?"
"I'll say," said Modwin. "I was coming off shift and noticed that he wasn't eating. You know how voracious our Norbert always is, so I got concerned. And look at this." Without waiting for a reply, he turned and approached the dragon. He walked straight towards it, not hesitating.
"Modwin," said Charlie sharply, "be careful. And you, Grizelda."
"Don't worry." Modwin patted Norbert gently on the nose. Norbert's only response was a grumble deep in his throat. "We're in no danger."
"We've seen this sort of thing before," Charlie reminded him skeptically, but he had to admit that Modwin had a point. Norbert, usually feisty and animate, now looked as dangerous as a sack of potatoes. "Is he sick, d'you think? Should we wake Ingrid?"
"That was my suggestion," said Grizelda softly. "I've looked in his eyes and mouth and nose and can't see anything wrong, but I'm not an expert. I'm better with the Eastern varieties, myself."
Modwin sighed, absently petting Norbert's nose. "I was really hoping that we wouldn't have to. She had a terrible day, and I was hoping to let her sleep it off."
A terrible day? Charlie blinked. He hadn't heard anything about it. Of course, he'd barely seen Ingrid to talk to her in the past few days, but still… "Terrible?" he asked, trying to sound casual. "Terrible how?"
"Well, you know, we're still working on Nadia." Nadia, a Romanian Longhorn, was a fairly recent addition to the dragon reservation. She was due to lay her eggs and was therefore under intense scrutiny. "Seems to be she doesn't want to lay. And you know how Ingrid is, connects with the dragons right off the mark, but Nadia's a little rebellious. She got real protective while Ingrid was trying to examine her and poof, nearly set her on fire. She's okay," Modwin said hastily, at Charlie's aghast expression. "Got a bad burn on her left arm, but she'll be fine. But I don't want to disturb her if I don't absolutely have to."
Charlie was bewildered. A burn? A bad one? From Nadia? "Why didn't she tell me?" he asked, a bit more forcefully than he'd intended.
"Sorry, is she supposed to report to you?" asked Modwin mildly. "She's probably embarrassed, Charlie. She usually gets on perfectly with the dragons; I don't think she's ever been burned before."
A low moan interrupted him, and Charlie, Modwin, and Grizelda spun around to see Norbert raising his head from the ground. All three backed up to the edge of the paddock, and Charlie realized that his wand was still in the barracks. He cursed himself; he'd forgotten Rule Number Two, which went thusly: "Never ever approach a dragon without your wand." (Rule Number One was "Do not under any circumstances tease the dragons.")
But Norbert wasn't attacking. He didn't even seem aware of the wizards' existence. His head swayed in midair; he almost looked drunk. His eyes darted all over the paddock and he moaned again; it sounded miserable, like a chorus of out-of-tune tubas. The three wizards looked at each other. "I'll get Ingrid," they said together, and set off for the gate. Grizelda held out an arm and stopped Charlie and Modwin in their tracks.
"Don't be silly," she said. "She's liable to hex one of you if you show up in the girls' barracks in the middle of the night. I'll be right back." And off she went, jogging through the gate and out of sight.
Charlie watched Norbert helplessly until he felt Modwin's eyes on him. He turned; his friend looked as though he had something to say. "Well?"
"Don't make a big deal, Charlie," said Modwin.
"A big deal?" said Charlie, affronted. "I don't make a big deal about things, do I?"
"You do when it comes to Ingrid." Modwin smiled gently. "She'll only get angry if you mention it."
"How do you know?"
"Because I was there when it happened," Modwin said. His voice was patient but firm. "And after we got her patched up, she said under her breath, 'If he hounds me about this I'll kill him.' Those were her exact words."
"And how," asked Charlie, with dignity, "do you know that she was talking about me?"
Modwin laughed. "Come off it, Charlie. She's always talking about you."
Grizelda appeared at the gate, followed by Ingrid. Charlie looked at his friend in shock. She didn't look just tired, she looked miserable. Her face was almost as pale as the white dressing robe she'd thrown on, and her curly black hair was tied into a messy ponytail. There were dark circles under her eyes, and under the sleeve of her robe Charlie could see that her arm was wrapped in bandages. When she spoke, however, her voice was clear and focused. "All right, Norbert," she was saying, "let's have a look at you."
Norbert's head drifted to the ground, and for just a moment, Ingrid hesitated. Charlie had never seen her hesitate before, at least not around dragons. "Thanks, Ingrid," said Modwin. "I know you wanted to-"
"No, it's all right," said Ingrid with a tired smile. She moved to Norbert's head and reached out, again with that slight hesitation. Charlie forced himself not to say anything. Don't call attention to it, he thought. She's had enough of a day without you getting on her case.
Ingrid silently checked Norbert's mouth, his nose, his ears, his eyes. Through it all, Norbert didn't move. Every so often he would let out a soft rumble that sounded like the purr of an extremely large cat, one who is trying bravely to prove that he is not in pain. Ingrid murmured to him all the while, soothing and patient. As the sun began to come up, turning the black horizon indigo and then grey, Ingrid climbed all over the ailing dragon, checking for anything out of the ordinary. Modwin went off to get a few hours' sleep, and the paddocks around them started to buzz with activity. In the distance, Charlie could hear the roars as the dragons were awakened, and the shouts from one paddock to another as the trainers and feeders exchanged jokes and instructions. A day in the life, thought Charlie.
Ingrid paused in her examination and leaned against Norbert's enormous, scaly side. Sweat rolled off her face and matted wisps of hair to her face. Grizelda wordlessly got her a glass of water, which she drained gratefully. She set it down by her feet and sighed deeply, closing her eyes.
There was nothing else for it. He had to ask. "Are you all right, Ingrid?" asked Charlie.
She opened her eyes. "Yes."
"You look awfully warm," Charlie observed. "Why don't you take off your robe?"
Ingrid stiffened. "No, thank you, I'm fine."
"You're not," Charlie countered. "You're having trouble concentrating, you look like you might collapse. Cool off a bit, why don't you? You'll feel better."
Ingrid regarded him silently for a moment and then slowly, painfully, took off her robe. Underneath she wore a white sleeveless nightgown, and Charlie could see that the bandages on her left arm went all the way up to her shoulder. She saw him staring and held up a hand. "One word, Charlie," she said sternly.
"I'm not saying anything," he soothed. "Are you more comfortable now?"
"Only in that I'm not as hot," she replied with a crooked grin. "But I am standing out here in front of you and God and everyone in my nightgown." She cocked an eyebrow, the grin widening. "Not that I'm the only one, mind you."
Charlie blushed. He'd quite forgotten that he was still in his pajamas. Oh well. Ingrid didn't seem to care, and Norbert certainly didn't.
Ingrid turned back to Norbert, staring down the length of his neck to his immobile, tired head. She looked lovely there, her white nightgown against black scales and green grass, her thick hair falling around her shoulders. For a moment her eyes were on the sky, watching the clouds drift into the golden sunrise. Charlie stared. He couldn't help it. He just stared at her staring at nothing, forgetting Romania and Norbert and Grizelda and Modwin and lack of sleep.
Ingrid shook her head and smiled to herself. "This isn't getting you anywhere," she said to Norbert softly. The tip of the dragon's tail twitched, as if in agreement. She reached out and patted his side, and Charlie saw her wince as if in pain.
"All right, Ingrid?" he asked again, taking a step forward.
Ingrid looked startled. "Yes," she said.
"You're a bad liar," Charlie advised. "Is it your arm?"
"It hurts a bit," Ingrid conceded, "but really-"
"Give me your wand," said Charlie. Ingrid just looked at him, but he remained there, his hand out inexorably; I can wait here all day, said his posture, and I'm willing to. So Ingrid deposited the wand in his hand. He pointed it at her arm and muttered, "Alleviatus."
A soft amber light drifted out of the tip of the wand and curled around her arm like an elegant glove. For a moment, the bandages glowed orange, and then the light faded. Ingrid flexed her arm and wiggled her fingers. "Better," she admitted. "Thank you."
"It's handy to know," said Charlie, handing her the wand. "The number of times these fellows have burned me…" He looked up and caught her eyes. From this short distance he could see so many things in them; relief and gratitude buried under pain and helplessness. He wondered what his own eyes reflected back at her. Admiration? Concern? Terror at his proximity to this living, breathing girl with a passion for dragons? Think of something, he yelled at himself. Say something before you do something stupid!
"So," he heard himself start, "any theories?"
"Hmm?" said Ingrid with a slight jump.
"About Norbert," Charlie said lamely.
Ingrid sighed and leaned back against the dragon's leg. "You'll laugh," she said, "but I think he's depressed."
Charlie was too astounded to laugh. "Depressed?"
"Well, yes. I'm no psychologist, but think of it this way. Norbert has been here for… four years? Five? In that time, has he ever left this paddock? He can't fly, he can't be with other Ridgebacks – not that he'd want to, come to think of it. I can't find anything physically wrong with him, so that leads me to believe that he's extremely unhappy. I think letting him out of the paddock for awhile, maybe just for a few hours, would do him a world of good. He's an enormous animal with enormous wings that were meant to fly. And we don't let him." Ingrid paused for breath, and looked back at Charlie, looking slightly embarrassed. "I suppose I sound stupid-"
"No," said Charlie, waving a hand. "No, I think you're right. That's brilliant, I would never have thought of that." He smiled at her. "I'd ask, 'What do we do now?', but I suppose the answer's pretty obvious."
Ingrid nodded. "We should talk to Modwin as soon as he wakes up."
"Speaking of that," said Charlie, "you should go back to sleep."
"No, it's all right," said Ingrid. "I should stay with him."
"Sleep. At least until Modwin wakes up," Charlie pleaded. "Really, Ingrid, you need to rest. You had a long day yesterday and this one began way too early for you. Get some sleep."
Ingrid leaned forward until her head was on his shoulder. Charlie froze and tried not to betray his panic. "Maybe," Ingrid murmured into his neck. "I'm a little sleepy."
Charlie gently took hold of her shoulders and pulled her back a bit. Walking slowly, he led her to the edge of the paddock; she sank to the ground and he covered her with her discarded robe. "Wake me'f anything happens, kay?" she said, eyes closing.
"I will," he said.
She tugged on his hand and he sat beside her. "Pillow," she muttered, and rested her head on his leg. Charlie blinked at her. "Uh," he said, couldn't think of anything else, and shut up.