The Sugar Quill
Author: Eir de Scania  Story: Dragon Watching  Chapter: Default
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Summary: It’s well known that dragons are extremely dangerous

 

 

 

Summary: It’s well known that dragons are extremely dangerous. But if you ask Isobel MacFusty the real dangers are walking around on two legs.

 

Disclaimer: I don’t own Potterverse. I just claim a Fanficcers right of way everywhere I like to go

 

 

 DRAGON WATCHING 

 

 

Muggles come to the Hebrides for a variety of reasons: bird-watching, hill-walking, fishing, sailing, mountaineering, golfing, or just admiring the scenery. Oh, and the whisky distilleries.

 

Witches and wizards come for the one reason: dragon-spotting. The MacFusty clan, supervisors of the Hebridean Blacks, the local dragon breed, organizes regular tours in the summer for a reasonable price. Naturally, some wizards go alone. Most of them come back disappointed, as they haven’t seen a single dragon. For all their size, a Hebridean Black sitting still among the cliffs is very hard to spot. Some wizards don’t come back at all, but the Ministry takes the very reasonable view that they only have themselves to blame.

 

Mostly, dragon supervising is done from a safe distance; casting, checking and strengthen various Fencing and Disillusion Charms. Muggle binoculars are a great help too. But sometimes you have to get close.

 

This calm and sunny Easter Sunday morning Isobel MacFusty had Apparated to the mountains over Staffing Bay to check the old brooding female there. The dragons are not given names, but Isobel privately had named this one Minerva, after her Head of House. They had the same way of glaring down their noses when Not Amused, although McGonagall only breathed fire figuratively.

 

Isobel received that very look when she appeared. Usually, you didn’t Apparate to a spot where the dragon could see you, but with Minerva’s lair  so perfectly placed in a small cleft by a deep gorge it was either that or try descending the dragon track from the top of the cleft. As dragons basically divide the world in things threatening, edible or uninteresting, Isobel slowly sank to the ground so she lay flat on her stomach. Things lying still on the ground are in the “uninteresting” category for most dragons. Anyway, a brooding female is reluctant to waste her fire; she needs it for her eggs. As she never leaves them, she can’t hunt, and fire-breathing uses a lot of her energy. And Minerva was an old dragon, used to humans. They never threatened her or her bairn. So after a short while she returned her attention to her eggs, breathing a long jet of fire over them.

 

That was the signal for Isobel to crawl forward to get a better view. No cracks on the eggs yet, but it had to be time for their hatching soon. Poor Minerva was so thin she looked like a dragon skeleton. Not only that, the ridges on her back were getting blunt, and her eyes had paled from purple to brown.  She had been in much better condition when Isobel had seen her during the Christmas holidays. So, this was to be her last brood before being turned into protective gloves, potion ingredients and wand cores. Isobel was surprised it saddened her; but of course, Minerva had been her special charge for some years now.

 

Minerva was busy with her eggs, rolling them over, touching them with the tip of her tongue. Not for the first time Isobel wondered if dragons, like snakes, used their tongues for smelling. Or if the eggs tasted different the bigger the embryo inside grew? Or did she simply check their temperature? She had of course read all books on dragons she could find in the Hogwarts library, but none of them even mentioned this behaviour. Of course, this was just one of many omissions. The authors had obviously mostly studied captured dragons, not feral.

 

She really should Apparate back; she would Floo to Glasgow for Dan’s birthday party about noon. His parents had wanted her to come over early, so they could “get to know her”. To see if that MacFusty person was a suitable girlfriend for their son, more likely, Isobel thought. She could understand them in a way, especially these days. The Prophet had printed several articles on “part-breeds” in the Wizarding world, questioning if they would remain loyal to the Ministry “in the troubled times we currently live in”.

 

The MacFusty clan didn’t think much of the Ministry, that was true, but this had less to do with the clan’s Selkie blood than the simple fact that they saw the Ministry as English. That was nothing new. Being openly called “part-breed” was, however.

 

The sun was warm, here out of the wind. Around the lair the ground was burned and the air thick with the smoky, metallic dragon smells, but further off the ground was green with spring. The sea was calm, mirroring the blue April sky. Minerva was sunning herself, bat-like wings spread out. Dragons could get some nourishment out of sunlight, or so Isobel had been told. She hadn’t found anything in the books. Perhaps, one day, she should write a new book on dragon lore as Kettleburn suggested? That Dragon Research Centre in Romania sounded interesting as well. And according to cousin Iain, the Prides were interested in her Keeper abilities…but that was for the future, she had still the last term of her sixth year left. She was determined to do her seventh as well, leaving school with decent NEWT results, if only to spite certain people.  “Part-breed”, indeed. Better than inbred, for sure. Compared to the London Blacks, Hebridean Blacks were soft toys.

 

Isobel was raising herself up carefully, when she heard the telltale crack! of someone Apparating and immediately threw herself down again, cursing under her breath. She knew it was no-one of her family, and while it might be an adventurous dragon enthusiast, an egg thief was the most likely. Dragon eggs were highly prized and there were always idiots trying to get at them. Most of them didn’t live to regret it, of course. But they upset the females, and had even caused some young ones to trample or even desert their broods. When younger, Minerva had once taken out four thieves in one blast – Isobel’s dad had watched from his boat- but now she needed to save her energy.

 

Where was the intruder? From the sound of it, he had appeared higher up, which meant he had to negotiate the steep slippery track down to the lair. Or she, but for some reason, egg-stealing seemed to be an exclusively male hobby. Minerva was watching the top of the track intensely, but Isobel couldn’t see anything. Someone being under a Disillusionment Charm? Good idea, if you didn’t know how sensitive dragons were to magic. You might as well dress yourself in antlers and prance around as use magic on yourself near them.

 

Isobel thought she saw something moving on the track but wasn’t sure. She wished she could have brought Yevaud, with his senses of smell and hearing he didn’t need to see anyone to point his nose exactly at them. But he, being a true Skye terrier, had the motto “The bigger they come, the harder they fall” and would happily attack any dragon. Yevaud’s sire had actually ended his days as a small black smear on the ground, after an unexpected meeting with one of Minerva’s grandsons.

 

Minerva stared at the track, crouching down over her eggs, wings folded in. This worried Isobel, right now the thief ought to be laminated to the ground. But Minerva seemed hesitant, even nervous. This wasn’t easy to spot in a dragon, but Isobel had grown up dragon-watching. She could see the small signs in the angling of the wings and tilt of the head, and it just wasn’t right for a mature dragon. Young dragons meeting fully mature ones, yes, but not an old female with a brood to defend. Was Minerva really that weakened, or was there some dark magic involved? Isobel carefully started to pull her wand from her jacket.

 

But before she had got a good grip on it, a fireball flew from the hidden thief, exploding as it landed between Minerva’s front paws, making her back away roaring, trampling her eggs, her left paw dripping dark dragon blood, two or three toes missing. Isobel scrambled to her feet, wand at the ready, cursing in English as well as Gaelic as a second fireball smashed several eggs. And now, finally, Minerva flamed at the – no, not a thief, what in all nine hells was going on? But she was weak, the flame wasn’t the usual incandescent, but orange-red.

 

Hot enough, or perhaps not. A dark shape that hadn’t been there the moment before crumpled forward on the track, and the sickly-sweet stench of burned meat reached Isobel, making her retch. But that wasn’t the worst. The worst was that the lump of burnt meat that just had been a human moved, and Isobel couldn’t tell if it was the muscles contracting or if it –he- was still alive.

 

                           ******************************

 

Two hours later, she was having tea and sandwiches with Dan and his parents. Isobel wasn’t good at small talk at the best of times, and this certainly wasn’t one of them. On the other hand she was good at controlling her mind, and she had pushed the memory of that burnt… thing … as far back as possible.

 

Dan’s parents were really nice, and did their best to make her feel at home. But she couldn’t help but notice that while they were talking about Quidditch and school and the weather, they kept glancing at her hands. Most people did, to see if rumour was true and Selkie blood really gave you webbed fingers. It did. Nothing like a seal’s flippers, just enough to make wearing a ring uncomfortable, but still webbed. But the stealthy way they glanced, and then quickly averted their eyes was new. And she couldn’t help but notice how they avoided the word “beast” when they asked about the dragons.

 

It was a relief at first, when the other guests were arriving. She knew many of Dan’s friends from school, even if most of them were older than him and had left. At least they didn’t ogle her hands. And some of them were her friend as well, like Marlene and Marion McKinnon. They both hugged her, telling her it was unfair she already had a tan. Benjy Fenwick who was lurking nearby quipped that it wasn’t suntan; Isobel had just gotten in the way of a dragon’s blast. Isobel’s stomach made a lurch at that, but luckily no-one seemed to notice.

 

James Potter and Sirius Black were among the last guests to arrive. Sirius insisted that it was because James had spent so much time in front of the mirror, giving his hair that carefree, windblown look, and he had done quite a good job, hadn’t he? To which James said Sirius was just envious, having such boring, ordinary, well-behaved hair. Sirius choose to ignore that, he was busy asking Benjy if he’d brought his gramophone.

 

He had, of course. And a stack of records. Both he and Sirius complained a bit over Isobel not bringing any of her records, but she certainly wasn’t playing any of her vinyl records with a needle more fit for tilling. Benjy’s records were scratched enough to show she was right, she thought. Perhaps just as well, as James could go all dreamy over Pictures of Lily without realising what that song really was about.

 

It would have been a good party, if Isobel had been able to relax and enjoy it. The food was excellent, the booze plentiful – not that she drank much, with Dan’s relatives watching her – and there was music and dancing. Isobel loved music and dancing. But, another thing everyone knows, so do Selkies. She felt people looking askance at her, more as the evening wore on and the bottles emptied. Also, several of them gave her and Dan very knowing looks, and one or two of his friends said something that made him look slightly embarrassed but mostly smug. No doubt what kind of Selkie stories they had heard.

 

Still, she could hide her bad mood from almost everyone on the party, even from Dan, and she couldn’t decide if she was grateful or insulted by that.  After all, he was her boyfriend; he ought to know her well enough to see through her. But what was really unsettling was the searching, even slightly worried, looks Sirius was giving her. Perhaps he noticed, because he wasn’t in his best party mood either. Isobel knew there had been some big family dinner at the Blacks, so she wasn’t surprised. Not that Sirius ever talked about his family, but Isobel had known him since he was eleven and he and James had more or less adopted her for an honorary older sister.

 

But she couldn’t really be bothered about what a bunch of mainlanders thought. The memory of the burned intruder and of Minerva’s ruined paw kept edging into her mind.  She left as early as possible, saying that she’d had a great time, but she had been up early all week checking on the brooding dragons. That was just a slight exaggeration, actually. Dan smiled and said he was glad she had had fun, and she laughed and kissed him thoroughly, for the benefit of his staring friends. And for Dan’s naturally, not to mention her own.

 

                                ************************

 

Next day was grey and rainy and fitted her mood. As she had expected, Minerva had been put down, and the rest of her eggs destroyed. Isobel’s Dad was in a foul mood. When checking out Minerva’s lair and territory he had found a big gap in the Fencing Charm surrounding it. He guessed the intruder had tried to chase her out where she could be seen. He was soon to be proven right. At breakfast Isobel’s older brother Donald turned up in the kitchen fire, telling them that Minerva’s two young grandsons had suffered the same treatment. Their lairs were just north of Portree and having no eggs to defend both had flown off to Muggle territory. It was sheer luck, or perhaps ignorance from the intruders, that it had been Easter Sunday. This was the Hebrides after all, so most Muggles were at church and those few that weren’t skulked indoors. One of the young dragons had caught a sheep and carried it back to its lair, but the other one refused to be driven back to its territory. In the end, that dragon had to be put down as well, and afterwards a nasty burn had been found in its groin, so it was no wonder it had been difficult.

 

Still, it could have been worse. Selling the carcasses of two grown dragon plus several dragon embryos earned a neat sum of money for the clan. No human was harmed, and no Muggle had noticed. And, even better from Isobel’s point of view, was that Dan turned up in the fire just before dinner, saying he was sorry for some of his relatives’ behaviour. Isobel’s Mum promptly invited him for tea, and as the rain had stopped Isobel took him to see Minerva’s remaining grandson. The young dragon was still digesting his sheep, lying in a most undignified pose with his head hanging over one rock and his tail over another, but Dan was still impressed.

 

                              **************************

 

Tuesday, they learned that one of the young males had paused at a nearby golf course, drinking from a pond, leaving scratch marks and a couple of burns. Some Muggles said it must have been a UFO, others didn’t know what it was, but were just as certain it wasn’t a UFO. So everything seemed to be under control. The MacFustys knew very well that while some Muggles happily believed in ships from other galaxies, no-one believed in dragons. Naturally no-one informed the Ministry as it wasn’t any of their business anyway. According to the MacFustys, at least.

 

But presumed UFO sightings make the Muggle newspapers… and although not many witches or wizards care to read those, there are exceptions…

 

Wednesday, “RUNAWAY DRAGON UPSETS MUGGLE SOCIETY” took up most of The Daily Prophets front page. Inside, there was a long, mainly untruthful article about how “several” dragons had been seen over the Isle of Skye. There were also some, not so subtle, hints that the MacFustys had neglected to keep up the Fencing charms.

 

Thursday an “alleged Death Eater attack” outside Bristol dominated the headlines, but as two winged horses had been turned loose during the tumult The Prophet somehow managed to combine that with free-flying dragons.

 

Friday, all hell broke loose. Normally, the Ministry’s Beast Division handled what they called “The Dragon Question”. That meant the MacFustys telling them to keep their noses out off the Hebrides, and the Beast Division grudgingly agreeing. But this time, it was taken out of the hand of a mere sub-division and left to the Department of Magical Laws Enforcement. Its Head, the well-known –to some, notorious- Barty Crouch came storming to the island with a cowed secretary witch in tow. He demanded to see the MacFusty Head of Clan immediately. And no, he didn’t need an interpreter, wasn’t it known that Gaelic was just one of the many languages he mastered?

 

Not that Mr Crouch’s Gaelic was bad, but when the Head of Clan, Isobel’s grandmother Oighrig MacFusty, finally agreed to see him it quickly turned out that while he certainly would have no problem in ordering a beer at the pub, his language skills were sadly lacking when it came to heated discussion. Or as it quickly deteriorated into, a flaming row. Basically, Mr Crouch accused the MacFusty’s of being careless with their dragon safekeeping charms and hexes, or perhaps even deliberately ignoring them. He didn’t go as far as accusing them of being in league with Voldemort, not quite. Oighrig became furious. The situation wasn’t helped by several other MacFustys crowding into the room and joining in at the shouting.  Poor Madam Greatrakes, Crouch’s secretary, hid behind her heavy oak chair at one point. In the end Mr Crouch Disapparated in fury, leaving Madam Greatrakes behind. It turned out she wasn’t very good at Apparating, especially when nervous. In the end she was given a cup of tea with a big splash of whisky before Duncan, Isobel’s other older brother, side-alonged her back to the Ministry.

 

As expected, Saturday’s Prophet held a long interview with Mr Crouch. He claimed the MacFustys, while not being Voldemort supporters were ignoring the necessary precautions, wanting the Muggle to find out about dragons, and in the long run, the Wizarding world, for the clan’s own ends. The intruder he dismissed as an egg thief, absolutely not a Death Eater trying to stir up trouble with the Muggles “as the MacFustys suggested”.

 

The Editorial Column urged the Wizarding world to stay united, while pointing out that certain groups “by blood” perhaps was inclined to think more about their own interests than those of the whole society.

 

                                          **********************

 

‘Had a nice holiday?’ Sirius asked innocently when he and Isobel met on the Hogwarts train on the way back to school.

‘Can’t complain’ she said. ‘Not as nice as yours, mind’

He just grinned and shook his head, but Isobel noticed he seemed even more tense than usual after visiting his family.  She wondered what his holidays really had been like, but knew he wouldn’t tell. At least not her. She hoped he could talk to James about it.

 

Crouch’s secretary turned out to be the mother of Tina Greatrakes, a fifth-year Slytherin. The fifth-year Slytherin prefect Selena Hopkirk told Iphigenia Dearborn, the sixth-year Gryffindor prefect, and Iphigenia told Isobel. Isobel was amused to learn that Madam Greatrakes had found the young man who had helped her back to the Ministry so very charming – and so handsome!

 

That was the only thing even faintly amusing that week.

 

 

 The reliable Hogwarts gossip also knew that several students didn’t believe there had been an intruder at all, rather the MacFustys had cooked up some story to hide their own shortcomings. Why would Voldemorts Death Eaters go to some far-away island to throw fireballs at dragons? What good would that do?

 

The Prophet ran another long interview with Crouch where he strongly advised that the Ministry took over “certain responsibilities” or at least supervised them closely. Dragons were on top of that list. Crouch didn’t believe in any intruder breaking Fencing charms, he accused the MacFustys being slack in controlling them. The “egg thief” had just been lucky. He went to say that as the MacFustys obviously overpriced dragon products the Ministry from now should set the price. Incidentally, there were several other sources of potion ingredients that ought to be supervised by the ministry as well. For the benefit of the Wizarding society, naturally.

 

Slughorn cornered Isobel and Iphigenia before Monday lunch, waving the newspaper and talking at length about what a good idea that was, especially if Hogwarts got a special discount which he was certain it should. What he really wanted was Isobel to talk her grandmother into getting him some dragon ingredients – for a discount price. In the afternoon Isobel had Care of Magical Creatures and Kettleburn said in passing that it would be interesting to have some pieces of dragon hide and some skeletal bones to show students, perhaps Isobel could mention it to her grandmother? And just to make her day completely awful, she met Hagrid when going to dinner, and he was very miffed that Minerva’s remaining eggs had been destroyed. Why not let them hatch and try to tame them? Much better than making potion ingredients from the poor little dears. She could tell her grandmother from him that it was a waste and cruel to boot.

 

Isobel had no intention telling her grandmother anything. Not long ago Oighrig could have been talked into giving Kettleburn some specimen. One good turn deserved another after all, and if Isobel wanted to work at the Dragon Reservation a recommendation from a Hogwarts professor would come in handy. But today Oighrig would only see mainland wizards acting in their own interest. She wouldn’t count on getting any favours in return.

 

And she would probably be right. Today you were as likely to get a Hex in the back as your favour returned. Why would Death Eaters try to make Muggles see dragons? To Isobel the answer was obvious: to spread more suspicion and distrust among the various groups of witches and wizards.

 

And the raid at Skye had been successful.

 

                   **************************************************

 

A/N 1   The brooding females used during the First Task of the Triwizards Tournament did flame quite freely because they had been fed by their keepers.

 

 A/N 2   “Pictures of Lily” is a 1967 hit single by The Who. The BBC, having a less scratchy copy    realised that the pictures in question were early 20th century porn and the song was about masturbation so they promptly banned it. James was devastated when he found out.

 

A/N 3   As usual, a big Thank You to Alkari for finding all my mistakes but still finding things to praise. Also Big Thanks to Zia Montrose and TDU for their comments.

 

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