The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.
Authors’ Note: All the standard disclaimers
apply.Neither of us is J.K. Rowling,
and we don’t own anything.This story
takes place before Jedi B’s Pandora’s
Curiosity and between Chapters 6 and 7 of Elanor’sMoody Slavic Man 2: Bright in an Azure
Sky.(As of this posting, MSM2 is
only up to Chapter 2, but don’t worry, no spoilers here, only hints).This story features original characters from
both of these stories, so you should probably read those first, or this story
won’t be nearly as much fun.We are also
much indebted to Moey for her excellent Reading,
Writing, and Wigging: A Wizarding Parents’ Guide to Billywig Abuse in Children, which we consider the next best thing to canon
on the subject of Billywigs.
Jedi Boadicea and ElanorGamgee
“Are you sure this is
going to work?”
“If you ask me zat one more time, Sutter, I will make youze bait for ze
“Shut up, Henry.”
am always stuck working with idiots.”
“Now look here, Bidet -”
“Quiet! You will wake ze creature before we are ready.”
“I just don’t think this
is going to work! I mean, shouldn’t we try to curse it or something?”
“Do you know nothing of
dragons? Didn’t you tell me zat you ’ad done zis work before?”
“I think -”
“Well… it wasn’t exactly
merde, merde, I knew I should have done zis alone.”
“Now listen here, Frenchy, we’re on this job together.”
“Yes, much to my regret.
Now shut up and hold zis -”
“Uh. I think that - ”
“Here, Henry, hold this.”
“No, you ’old it.Ze contents must not be
spilled before we are ready to apply it.”
“I think -”
“Yes? What is it?”
“I think that -”
“Henry doesn’t think.
That’s why his family got rid of him, isn’t it, Goyle?
“I think -”
no, no. It is nothing. Give me
ze poison now.”
“Here. So how much do you
think Horntail eggs are worth?”
“It depends on ze buyer, yes?”
“I suppose. Do you think
that this goat is big enough?”
“It will ’ave to be.”
“Are you sure that poison
is going to work?”
“Unless you can brew a
better one yourself…”
“Right.And now what? We just going to wait here till sunrise?”
“No. You will take ze goat and leave it near ze
“I will? Why me? Why don’t you go?”
“Because I am ze only competent man here and if someone must die it will
not be me.”
“Well that’s just dandy
for you, isn’t it? But I’m not
“Fine. Then send Goyle.”
“Henry? He’ll get eaten
“If I remember, when we
first began to work togezzer you said zat you did not fear facing danger if ze
profit was right, yes?”
“What if -”
“Shut up, Goyle. Look, I just- ”
“If you are so convinced zatzis will fail, Sutter, zen perhaps you should
try to curse ze dragon.”
“Fine.Goyle – take the goat.”
“What if -”
“Do not let ze infected flesh touch your skin for too long.”
“This had better work.”
“It will. By zis time tomorrow, we will ’ave a
dozen dragon eggs and soon you will be able to buy all of ze
disgusting English beer your little heart desires.”
Two days earlier…
Prandzheva, Tsvetanov, I
want a clean formation on that Parkin’s Pincer.Keep it open like that, and the opposing Chaser can glide right through."Conrad Boyar frowned and pointed his Beater’s
club at the Vratsa Vultures players grouped in front
of him. "What I am seeing is sloppy
Viktor tuned out as the
Captain’s tirade continued.He wasn’t in
the mood to hear it, and anyway, he had heard it a million times before.Life was nothing but Quidditch to Conrad Boyar, and he never accepted excuses from his
players.Not feeling well?Conrad’s answer was to put you on a broom and
toss a few Bludgers at you - he claimed that this was
the best way to forget an illness.One
would think he would have learned after Elsa Biliova
had quit the team in disgust last year.Viktor hadn’t been there to see it, but he had heard that Boyar had
suggested that playing in the team’s match against the Craidva
Centaurs would be a more fitting way for Elsa to remember her grandmother than
attending the memorial service.Elsa had
promptly turned Boyar into a skunk and left in a huff.
But Boyar hadn’t changed
- the moment he’d been changed back he had promoted Tsvetanov
from Reserve Chaser and stalked off to the showers, muttering about how he
always knew that Elsa hadn’t been cut out for the Vultures.
voice cut into Viktor’s thoughts, making him jump.“What’s taking you so long today?You should have had that Snitch in your hand
fifteen minutes ago.”
A perverse part of Viktor
wanted to explain that he couldn’t care less about the stupid Snitch, and that
he had other, far more important, things on his mind today.But he knew better than to say it out loud,
so he settled for a vaguely agreeable-sounding grunt.
Boyar peered at Viktor
from under his thick gray eyebrows.“You
may be Viktor Krum,” he said, “but if you get sloppy out there, I’ll pull you
out the same as I would anyone else.You
get your mind off your love life and back on the game, or I will.Ligachev’s been
training hard while you’ve been gone.”He nodded to Anton Ligachev, a slight, fair-haired man on Viktor’s left.Viktor knew that it was an empty threat - his
father had told him just how far Ligachev’s “hard
training” had gotten him in the matches this past year, when he had only caught
the Snitch twice - but his face burned nonetheless.Boyar had been ribbing him about that Witch Weekly article ever since
practices had started up again.The
words hit home today, though not for the reasons Boyar, or any of the readers
of Witch Weekly, might think.
Fortunately, Boyar seemed
to be finished humiliating him for the moment.“Ten minutes,” he barked.“Then I
want to see some Quidditch playing worthy of the Vratsa
The players began talking
amongst themselves, breaking off into loose groups.Viktor heaved a sigh of relief and went to
sit on one of the benches at the edge of the pitch.He balanced his broom across the bench and
leaned forward, rubbing his forehead.He
knew he wasn’t at his best today - but then, why should he be?After what had happened last night, he
doubted Rositza would ever forgive him,
much less even agree to see him again.
But really, that was the
thing that was most disturbing.Normally, when he had problems, the only place he wanted to be was on a
broomstick, pushing aside everything else to search for the rustle of silver
wings.He had certainly done it often
enough at Hogwarts, when things were going badly.Today, though, he was finding it impossible
to concentrate.There was only one place
he truly wanted to be, and it wasn’t on a broomstick.
“Don’t let him get to
you,” said a voice to his left, and Viktor looked up to see Chaser Susannah Ivanova sitting next to him.She was several years older than he was, with
dark red hair pulled back in a tight braid.They had played in the World Cup together last year, and Susannah had
always been kind to him, even when other members of the team grumbled about his
publicity.She smiled.“You know Conrad.He doesn’t mean half of what he says.”
Viktor nodded.“I know.”
Susannah frowned. “Are
you all right?”
Susannah did not look
quite convinced, but she let the subject drop as IrinaPrandzheva came over and playfully tossed the Quaffle
at her.Susannah caught it deftly.
“Have you heard this
rumor about the dragons?” asked Irina.
Susannah shook her
head.Viktor looked up.
says that everyone in the village is talking about it.Apparently some children were playing up on
the ridge and found dragon prints.A few
others say they’ve actually seen the dragon up here in the mountains.”
“Did they say what kind?”
“A Hungarian Horntail,
shuddered.“Vicious things.But I doubt that’s what it is.You know how rumors inflate these
things.It’s probably not even a dragon
- I bet it’s just a Graphorn sighting that got out of
control.Anyway, supposedly there are
some dragon people coming in early next week to have a look.”She grinned at Viktor.“But you’re the dragon expert, right?We’ll let you deal with it, if we see it.”
slightly.He wondered if he would ever
live down that wretched tournament.
“Just make sure,” said Irina in a mock-serious voice, as Boyar called the players
back together, “that you don’t let anything distract you from finding the
Snitch.Not even a dragon.”
Viktor smiled stiffly and
mounted his broomstick.Boyar shouted
some last-minute instructions, then released the Bludgers and the Snitch.Viktor saw the Snitch rise straight up in the air, then circle around
the stands and back around to the right.He sped after it, and within minutes had it clutched in his hand.
Boyar roared approvingly
from the other end of the pitch.“Now
release it and do that again!”
a chance, Viktor,” Susannah called with a grin as she swooped past clutching
Viktor tossed the Snitch
into the air and sped upwards.He closed
his eyes and did a Campos Spiral, to give the Snitch a head start.His heart contracted suddenly as he
remembered the last time he had come out of this move and seen her there in the woods below him.The first time he had ever seen her.
WHAM!A Bludger hit him in the stomach, and Viktor’s
eyes flew open as he rolled in the air, completely winded.A movement far below and to the right caught
his eye.A dragon, long, sleek, and
black, was visible in the distant sky.It wheeled around and flew to the east, and Viktor could clearly see the
spikes protruding from its tail.He’d
seen that kind of dragon before...
“Dragon!” he finally got
enough wind to shout, just as Ligachev caught the
It was a gray and drizzly
day, and nearly everyone in the dragon-keeping camp nestled in the Romanian
wilderness had sought refuge from the weather in the tents. Even the dragons
seemed subdued by the gloomy morning, for they lay in
their corrals with wings tucked close to avoid the damp, hot breath rising from
their nostrils in plumes through the chill air.
But Charlie Weasley wasn’t about to let a quiet morning go by without
taking full advantage of it. There was usually some crisis with the dragons
demanding his immediate attention, a keeper’s wounds or concerns to tend to, or
even the need for a few hours spent hunched over gathered scales, clippings, or
droppings, studying and searching for explanations to draconian illness or
migration difficulties. In short, it wasn’t often that he had the time to
indulge in the only other true passion he’d ever had: his flying.
Charlie wiped the drizzle
from his eyes, taking both hands off his broomstick to shove them through his
hair, pushing it back in the damp. It was time for a hair cut. Bill might be
able to pull off the long hair, but Charlie had learned that if he didn’t trim
his hair regularly he was likely to catch it on fire. He would never understand
how the female Handlers coped, especially those with hair as wild as his newest
He put his hands back on
the broomstick, curling his fingers in a familiar grip around the dark wood,
and pulled it up into a steep climb. He shot toward the sky, leaning low over
the handle to gain more speed, squinting and grinning into the drizzle now
stinging against his face. It had been at least a solid three weeks since he’d
had the spare time to fly like this. He didn’t often get the chance to put his Trasnet through its paces, and he had always thought it
criminal to let a quality broomstick go unused.
Though he sometimes still
liked to take his old Cleansweep for a fly, just for
memories’ sake, he never regretted having put down the money for his Trasnet. He’d bought the top-notch Romanian broom on one of
his rare visits to the wizarding district of Bucharest, after a test flight
that had left him breathless. True to its name, the Trasnet
accelerated with the ferocity of a thunderbolt; what it lacked in precision it
made up for in sheer power, and while Charlie might have chosen a more
maneuverable broom for playing Seeker in a real match, the excitement of the Trasnet was more rewarding for diversion. And no matter how
much he enjoyed the weekly Quidditch war waged by the keepers and Handlers on
their homemade pitch, the truth was that he didn’t need to push his skills in
order to win, and so the Trasnet served him perfectly
well. He rarely played Seeker during their matches anyway; the Puffskein they’d
charmed to fly around the pitch was far easier to spot than a Snitch, and the
Puffskein seemed to enjoy being caught as much as it enjoyed being zoomed
about, all of which ensured that catching the furry Snitch substitute was
altogether too easy a task for Charlie Weasley. More
often than not these days he played Chaser, which turned out well in the end
since most of the wizards and witches who came to work with the dragons had a
propensity for playing Beater, no matter their actual position, which
frequently resulted in Quidditch matches even more chaotic than the norm.
Charlie leveled the Trasnet after a good and lengthy climb, skimmed the
underbelly of the dark and heavy clouds for a short stretch, then crouched low
again and dove back down toward the trees. With the rain at his back now it
felt as though he outstripped the very wind, and he found that he was grinning
again as the tents and dragons swelled to greet him with dizzying speed. He
slowed his descent well before reaching the rough-hewn goalposts in the small
field beyond the camp; he’d only needed to plow into the underbrush once to
learn that it took a while to slow a Trasnet in full
But when he saw that his
newest assistant – easily identifiable by the wild brown curls – was waiting on
the pitch for him, he cut his descent so abruptly that he nearly plowed himself
Perhaps it was because he
knew she’d been a Slytherin at Hogwarts, or because she seemed to eye the
dragons like over-sized meals, and seemed to eye him in much the same way – but he felt like he ought to watch Alandra Fitzroy as carefully as he would a territorial
Ridgeback in mating season. Not that keeping an eye on her was an unpleasant
she called up, one hand shielding her eyes from the drizzle and the other
cocked on her hip. “There’s an owl for you!”
Charlie wiped the water
from his face again and back into his hair, which was probably clawing from his
head like Knarl spikes by now. An
owl in this weather? The poor thing was probably sodden.
“It had an official seal
of some sort,” Alandra continued to shout up at him,
seemingly undisturbed by the drizzle quickly thickening into a full blown rain.
Charlie did his best to
ignore the way the rain was plastering her trousers and flame-resistant coat to
her body, and turned his attention instead to a safe landing on the mushy
field. He swung his leg down and the Trasnet onto his
shoulder in the same easy motion, and also tried to ignore the predatory glint
that had sparked in Alandra’s eyes.
tent?”Charlie asked, hoping the owl was warming up
somewhere - but instantly regretted his choice of words when the glint in her
eyes grew sharper.
“Yes.” Her smile showed
far too many small, sharp teeth to make him entirely comfortable.
“Jane told me to ask if
you’ve seen Horace out here. She can’t find him, and thinks some of the
enchantment might have lingered again.”
He started back toward camp, grinning at the thought of the furry creature
floating and humming its way happily through the trees somewhere. “But I
wouldn’t worry. If he did get out he’ll come back eventually, flying or
rolling. I’ve never seen a Puffskein so devoted to its owner.” Well, there’d
been Ron’s Puffskein, poor little bugger. He remembered when Dad had brought it
home for Ron, in the hopes of comforting his youngest son by assuring him that
it would eat all of the spiders in his room at night. The little creature had
been unusually devoted to Ron, which might have been reason enough for Fred to
target it even without the added incentive of perpetuating the fear of spiders
he’d been inordinately proud of inspiring in his younger brother. A
six-year-old Fred had insisted that he’d changed that teddy bear on purpose,
though Charlie suspected it had been a lucky bit of chance really. He doubted
that Fred remembered any of it now, of course. The twins had calmed down
somewhat as they grew older, if such a thing was possible, and tormenting their
siblings was no longer first on their list of priorities. But he suspected that
Ron probably remembered it all quite vividly. He’d adored that Puffskein.
“I think we’re going to
have to find a new way to restrain the Ironbelly.” Alandra fell in beside him, switching from personal to
business with a speed that never ceased to astonish him. It would have been
easy to ascribe her two separate personalities if it weren’t for the fact that
the same slyness lurked behind her smile and her gaze whether she was clipping
dragon talons or eyeing the Chief Handler over consumption of a sausage
breakfast. He’d never worked closely with any Slytherin before this – he was
finding the experience very educational. But one thing, at least, was certain:
there was no denying that she was one of the most industrious and promising new
keepers he’d ever had. She probably had every intention of usurping him as
Chief Handler some day.
“He keeps rolling over
and crushing the fences,” she went on. “And if we don’t trim back those talons
then he’s going to dig the tether posts right out of the ground.”
talons grow slowly. Last week’s trimming should hold. We need to move him to a
wider field, that’s all.”
She raised her eyebrows
fractionally. “Sounds simple enough.”
“He’s just cranky, I’ll
reckon. Still got indigestion most likely.”
“Yes. ‘A waste of perfectly good wigs’ – isn’t that how
you put it?”
Charlie winced. It was
bad enough that Clagg had been foolish enough to
leave the new supply arrivals close enough to the Ironbelly
for unfortunate ingestion, and not just because his container of fresh Billywigs had finally arrived from Johnston down in Australia; there had been important equipment in those
supplies too. But worse was the fact that Fitzroy had managed to overhear him
lamenting the Billywig loss to Clagg after giving the
fellow a firm dressing down for his carelessness. Not that she struck him as
the kind of girl who would turn down a good dose of levitation, mind, but it
simply wasn’t professional to allow his assistants an arsenal to use against
“Something like that,” Charlie said with a somewhat sheepish grin.
There was no point in denying it, really. Not since that time he’d had to Flyfoot Charm rocks to his feet to get outside to handle a emergency with Norbert. He would have reprimanded
Clagg for his uncontrollable laughter if he’d been
able to stop chuckling himself.
The tents loomed suddenly
out of the drizzle and gloom, and it wasn’t long before they’d come to his own
front flap, as his tent was the closest to the corrals. The rain rolled in
streams off the magically repellent brown tent canvas, and light glowed through
“Thanks for fetching me.”
Charlie gave Alandra a friendly nod, both relieved
and foolishly disappointed when she only smiled in reply and walked away. He
wasn’t at all surprised that she walked not toward her own tent, but toward the
dragons. She was fantastic with the dragons, really. It was nice to have
someone around who loved the brutes almost as much as he did.
Charlie lifted the flap
and ducked inside, stepping gratefully into the warmth generated by the fire
he’d set to burning in the stone hearth before going out for a fly. Firelight
flickered over the usual clutter of dragon bits and equipment on his worktable,
and the untidy lumps of blankets and clothing over bed and armchair. Pretty
soon he’d be hit by a surge of guilt, thinking of his mother’s reaction to his
typical mess, and put a few cleaning charms to work. But right now there was an
owl perched on the back of his faded armchair demanding his attention.
The owl looked as
bedraggled as he’d expected, but still surprisingly energetic despite the
condition of its soaked feathers. It hooted at him as he entered, and began to
shift from claw to claw, putting the scroll case in easy sight. Charlie
recognized him as a local mountain owl, which at least meant that he probably
hadn’t been sent too far.
there, fellow. Let’s hope that
someone had a good reason to send you out in this weather.”
He took the time to
snatch up a fallen cloak with which to give the Trasnet
a quick wipe down, and then he set broom and cloak aside to relieve the owl of
“Help yourself to
anything you find in the kitchen. I’m sure there are plenty of unwashed plates
The scroll case was well
sealed against foul weather, but it opened easily beneath the pressure of his
callused fingers. Alandra had been right – there was
an official looking seal on the end of the case. He pulled out the parchment,
noting the same seal at the bottom, next to an equally official looking
signature. KonstantinZhivko, Regional Ministry Liaison, Vratsa, Bulgaria.
Charlie read over the
letter with a growing grin, noting with amusement the barely masked tone of
panic in the politely worded request.
This wasn’t the first
time that he’d been asked to come take care of an errant dragon problem, but he
never ceased to find it exciting – especially when the specimens were so far
out of their natural territory, as in this case. There was always some
interesting behavioral quirk to unravel.
He’d have to take care of
a few things here at camp first, but he should be able to whip everything into
shape in a day or two. At least enough to allow him to leave
for a bit.
in Bulgaria, eh? Sounds like fun.”
“...and the Seeker must
catch the Snitch, to end the game - ”
“I know how the game is played, Ivan,” Edina said, rolling her eyes.
Ivan grinned.“Just making sure.
You have to understand it to fully appreciate it.”
Edina leaned her head on his shoulder.“I do appreciate it, just not as much as you
Ivan kissed the top of
her head and put one arm around her.He
looked up, tracking Viktor’s progress across the pitch.“Did you see that?He just did a Lipsett
Dodge!See how he forced the opposing
Chaser out of the way, over toward the Beaters?” He raised his voice.“Good one, Viktor!”
Viktor heard him, and
gave the barest smile and nod of acknowledgment in his direction before zooming
off toward the other end of the pitch.Ivan shook his head and smiled.That had been positively effusive, for Viktor.
Ivan and Edina had arrived an hour earlier, and, after a brief
run-in with the suspicious guard at the gate, had been met by Viktor and
escorted into the stands to watch the Vultures’ training session.Ivan thought that Viktor had looked pleased
to see them - though it was true that, to anyone else, the slightly upturned
mouth and fractionally less sullen expression would hardly have been
noticeable.But he also knew, from the way Viktor was flying, that his friend was
preoccupied.Ivan frowned.He hadn’t seen Viktor fly quite so recklessly
since that night back in March, when he had found out about that Witch Weekly article.Ivan wondered if something had happened with
Hermione...but Viktor had said that he hadn’t heard from her since the
beginning of July.Ivan had managed to
extract this bit of information from Viktor when he had spoken to him the week
before, to set up this visit...and Viktor had seemed distracted then, but happy.Something had obviously happened in the past week to change that.
Suddenly he remembered
something Viktor’s mother had said, a few weeks ago when Ivan had shown up in
the fire to talk to Viktor.“Oh, he’s out of the house every day now for
hours. I don’t know where he goes - probably out flying, you know - but he
comes back in a good mood, so I suppose it does him good.”
Ivan grinned and let out
a short laugh.
“What is it?” asked Edina, sitting up and looking at him.
“I think our Viktor has a
new love interest.”
up at Viktor, soaring out over the pitch.“What makes you say that?”
suspicion.”Ivan closed his eyes.“Oh, the material...”
Edina swatted him on the arm.“You leave him alone, Ivan Pashnik.”
He opened his eyes and
smiled at her.“Do you think he’ll bring
her to the wedding?”
“Maybe he will.”Edina smiled, and her eyes grew soft the way they
always did when he brought up the wedding.It made him want to kiss her, so he did.
“Two weeks,” he
whispered, squeezing her hand.
“I know.”She smiled up at him, and Ivan felt his
insides grow warm.She was going to be
his wife.Even now, that seemed hard to
Ivan glanced up, just in
time to see Viktor speed toward the ground, then pull up at the last possible
second.He changed direction
effortlessly while coming out of the dive.“Did you see that?” Ivan yelled, jumping to his feet.“GO VIKTOR!”
He was still clutching Edina’s hand, and she looked slightly irritated as he
sat back down beside her. His attention was immediately caught, however, by a
loud yawp behind him.Ivan turned around
and saw a group of rowdy-looking wizards, and one very attractive witch,
further up the stands.One of the
wizards, a stocky man with red hair, was standing up on his seat, shouting
incoherent syllables of encouragement toward the pitch.The woman was giving him an amused look and
twirling a long brown curl around her finger.Noticing Ivan watching them, the woman turned her gaze on him.She raised her eyebrows at him, her lips
curling into a suggestive smile.Ivan
had grinned back before he’d even thought about it.Edina’s grip on his hand tightened, and he turned back
“Viktor’s caught the
Snitch,” she said, her tone somewhat distant.“Shall we go meet him?”
When he had agreed to come
out to Bulgaria looking for the dragon supposedly lurking in the
forests outside Vratsa, he really hadn’t imagined that he would get the
chance to see Viktor Krum fly again.
Charlie remembered last
year’s World Cup vividly, and Krum’s performance in particular. He knew from
experience how hard it was to pull off a successful feint, especially one as
treacherous as the Wronski, and Krum had managed it with admirable ease.
Watching Krum fly in that match had been both exciting and somehow nostalgic. Krum
was one of the youngest professional Quidditch players in history, competing in
the World Cup at only seventeen. Charlie couldn’t help wondering if he mightn’t
have been in Krum’s unique position, had he gone on to play for England as everyone had expected he would.
Well, not everyone. Bill
had always known him well enough to suspect that he’d end up with dragons
instead of brooms. And his father had probably known as well. Ron, on the other
hand, still harassed him about it at every family match.
Charlie knew where his
heart was, and he had never truly regretted choosing dragons over a Quidditch
career. Or at least, he rarely regretted it. But he remembered feeling a
longing pang for the thrill of wind in his hair and the fluttering beat of tiny
silver wings against his palm as he watched the World Cup from the top box last
year, and he felt it again now watching Viktor Krum at his practice.
Krum was good. And it was damn enjoyable to get
to see good Quidditch, even if it was only a practice session.
“I thought this was
supposed to be a business trip.”
Charlie turned to grin at
Clagg, sitting next to him in the mostly empty stands. On Clagg’s other side
was Ernest Hopkirk, another of their newest assistants. Ern wasn’t quite as
enthusiastic or fearless as Alandra, but Charlie was sure he’d turn out
competent enough. Still, fearless or not, both assistants had a long way to go
before they could claim to be fully trained dragon keepers, and even further
before they could hope to become professional Handlers. This trip to Bulgaria had seemed a good opportunity to give them some
experience out in the wilds beyond camp, and so Charlie had chosen to bring
both Hopkirk and Fitzroy along.
Ernest, at least, seemed
almost as pleased as Charlie with this unexpected opportunity to watch a
professional Quidditch team at practice, though Alandra, perched on the bench
behind them, seemed rather bored. Charlie suspected it was feigned boredom, really, as it hadn’t taken him long to recognize
that she was an excellent actress. And after all, how could anyone not be happy
about the chance to watch some good Quidditch?
The four of them had the
stands to themselves today, except for a young couple down near the pitch.
“We are here on business, Davey,” Charlie replied to Clagg’s jibe.
“Eye-witness reports, remember?”
Davey grinned and
scratched at the side of his nose. “I don’t know. Seems to me
that those reports from the village are enough to go on.I think you just wanted an excuse to
come and watch.”
Before Charlie could come
up with an argument against Clagg’s spot-on guess, Hopkirk shifted forward in
his seat and pointed with a startled exclamation. “What’s he doing?”
Charlie snapped his gaze
back to the pitch, and with Seeker-trained speed he picked out Viktor Krum,
high above the other players, executing a complex swerve at the peak of a steep
ascent. He recognized it immediately as the first stage of a Brown Ballista, a
dive which started with a winding up swerving maneuver to disperse any other
players, usually Beaters, trying to box in the opposing Seeker.
“It’s a –” Charlie began,
but just then Krum dropped into the dive, plummeting toward the earth, and the
speed of the maneuver stole his breath. He jumped onto his seat in excitement,
eyes tracking Krum’s descent. Bloody hell,
the man was good!
Krum pulled up out of the
dive with beautiful precision. Charlie couldn’t recall the last time he’d seen
another player of such skill, except maybe young Potter. But while Potter had
more natural skill than any other flyer Charlie had ever seen – by Merlin it
had been something to see that kid fly against the dragon! - he
still lacked the finesse that more experienced players possessed. In a few
years, Potter would be a Quidditch player to shame generations of Quidditch
heroes. But Krum had more experience, and a smooth technique Charlie couldn’t
help but admire.
Krum had barely pulled up
from the dive when he shifted into a sharp turn, shooting off toward the
opposite end of the pitch. Charlie let out an incoherent shout of admiration,
fist in the air, wishing fiercely for a broomstick beneath him.
“Looks like you’ve caught
some attention, Weasley.”
It took him a moment to
even register the sound of Alandra’s amused voice, and another moment to tear
his eyes away from the pitch. But when he finally turned to meet Alandra’s
gaze, she gestured further down the stands to where the young couple was
casting unreadable glances up at them as they descended the stairs toward the
field. And on the edge of the field itself a stern-faced man with broom in hand
was beckoning impatiently at Charlie and his fellows.
“Looks like he wants us
to come down,” Ernest said.
“You’re a sharp one,
Ern,” Clagg said with a grin.
“Right.” Charlie tried to keep the regret from his voice.
“Back to business, mates. Davey, grab the chain.”
Clagg gathered up the
coils of dragon chain from the bench in front of them and looped them over his
shoulder. The chain was charmed to near weightlessness, but the links were
still thick and char-stained; Clagg looked nearly swamped by their heavy coils.
He shrugged them into a more comfortable position, then
grinned, obviously appreciating the illusion of strength it lent him, and
nodded that he was ready.
Charlie led his people
down the stands, jumping from seat to seat, eager to get down to the pitch and
the people there as much to congratulate the players on a good practice as to
ask about the dragon. The first person to stroll forward to meet them was the
stern-faced man who’d beckoned for them to come down. Charlie guessed, from the
club in the man’s hand and the authoritarian look of impatience on his face,
that this was the Vultures’ Captain, Conrad Boyar. He knew that Boyar played
Beater on the team, and that he’d been Captain for at least the last ten years.
After Bulgaria’s performance in the Cup Charlie had kept on an
eye on the country’s principle teams, most impressive of which was without a
doubt the Vratsa Vultures. But without Krum they weren’t good enough to compete
with the real greats, in his opinion; they certainly hadn’t performed as well
in the season during which Krum had been at Hogwarts for the Triwizard
But even if he hadn’t
been somewhat informed on the Vultures’ activities, Charlie thought he would
have recognized the man glaring at him now as a Quidditch team Captain. He’d
been a Captain himself in his day.
“You’re the dragon
people, are you?” Boyar demanded, brandishing his club in what seemed like a
Charlie stopped with a good
safe distance between himself and the Vultures Captain. He didn’t mean to be
rude, but he had too much experience with Beater clubs to not be cautious.
“That’s us.” He smiled.
“The name’s Charlie Weasley, and these are my
associates, Da -”
“If you insist on
disturbing my players then do it quickly. Ve have better things to be doing
than vorrying about these dragons of yours.”
Charlie wondered what it
was that drove people to call all dragons ‘his’. Not that he didn’t feel a
certain sort of possessiveness, but he always considered it a sign of
inexperience with the draconic breed that anyone could imagine that wizards
truly controlled dragons.
“We’ll take care of the
problem as quick we can, sir, you can count on that. You’ll be able to get your
team back to practicing with no worries. Really stupendous
practice, by the way.Top notch. You’ve got
some fine players here, Mr. Boyar.”
“Of course I do, though
one vould not know it from the vay they have been flying this past veek.” He
tossed the last over his shoulder at the men and women landing on the pitch and
ambling over to see what the commotion was about.
Rather than get between a
Captain and his team, Charlie opted for the safer route. “We were told that
some of your players actually saw the dragon.”
“Yes, yes, that’s vy
you’re here. Ivanova!” Boyar beckoned sharply with his
club and an attractive witch with dark red hair stepped forward, broom held
comfortably in hand. “Krum!” He bellowed for his
Seeker, looking around in intense irritation when Krum didn’t promptly appear.
Charlie glanced around as
well and caught sight of Krum standing on the edge of the pitch, apparently in
conversation with the young couple who had been sitting in the stands before.
Krum looked over his shoulder
in bare acknowledgement of the call, then seemed to
share some last comment with his companions before turning and walking over. He
wasn’t exactly shuffling, but he was certainly taking his time. He looked
sullen, but Charlie couldn’t really believe it. No one could feel sullen after
flying like that. No one who flew like that could be so totally unaffected by
Before Krum was even
close enough to speak with them comfortably, Boyar was already barking orders.
“Krum, Ivanova, tell these people vot they need to know so ve can see an end to
this dragon business. The rest of you
– go! Go sleep or do votever you have to do to show me some real flying tomorrow!”
With that he turned on
his heel and practically herded the majority of his team off the pitch, sparing
not another glance for Charlie and his people.
Clagg met his eyes gaze
and raised his eyebrows, shaking his head in a pitying sort of way.
then.” Charlie struggled with
his own smile. He turned to the red-haired witch, who was already standing by
with a curious expression. “Miss Ivanova, was it?”
She smiled and nodded
casually. “Susannah Ivanova.”
“Charlie Weasley.”He shook her hand.“These are my associates, Davey Clagg, Ernest
Hopkirk, and Alandra Fitzroy.”He turned
to Krum, hand outstretched.“And you’re
Viktor Krum, of course.Fantastic Brown
Ballista you did just now.”
Krum shook his hand, a
closed-off expression on his face.“Thank you.”
Krum’s hand had the
familiar calluses that came only from long handling of a broom. Charlie
remembered the familiar hardened patches on his own hands during what he
thought of as his Quidditch days, but they were lost now to the more prominent
scars and marks of dragon handling.
It was a brief struggle
to decide whether to wax on about flying or cut straight the dragons, but in
the end, as always, the dragons won out. “So, I understand the two of you
actually saw the dragon?Can you tell us
what you saw?”
“Viktor saw it first,”
said Ivanova.“He shouted that he saw
it, and I flew up to see.It vos that end of the pitch.”She gestured with her broomstick.“I only saw it for a moment before it vent
behind the mountain, so I couldn’t say for certain vot it looked like – ”
“It vos a Hungarian
Horntail,” said Krum, his voice conveying absolute certainty.Everyone turned to him.
Charlie felt a flutter in
his gut, half dismay, half excitement. “You’re sure?”
“I know vot a Horntail
looks like,” said Krum.“That is vot it
Charlie nodded.Of course, Krum would know his dragons, wouldn’t he?After all, he had managed to get past that
Chinese Fireball pretty well last fall… Really decent bloke,
He turned to his
people.“All right then, lads, there’s
“Vot vill you do now?”
the standard routine.We’ll track it to wherever it’s holed up, do
some observation – you know, make sure it’s not hurt at all –
Ivanova’s eyes were
wide.“That vould be the least of my
vorries,” she said dryly.
Charlie grinned.“Then we’ll subdue it and ship it back to Romania, to our base.We can take care of it there.”
“You make it sound easy,”
said a new voice, and Charlie looked up to see that the young couple whom Krum
had been talking to earlier had followed him over.The young man, shorter than Krum, with blond
hair, stepped forward to stand next to Krum.The young woman, holding his hand, followed. Krum shot the two of them a
look that was almost amused.
“It’s not that hard,”
said Charlie with a laugh, “once you know what you’re doing.”He grinned at Krum. “You know that.I saw you take on that Fireball last
year.In fact,” he gave a friendly
shrug, stopping himself just short of companionably elbowing Krum; somehow he
doubted it would be as well received as he might hope, “why don’t you come
along?We could use an extra hand.”
It had been a joke, of
course, but Krum’s friend perked right up.“Ve vould love to!Vouldn’t ve, Viktor?”
Krum shot the fellow a
look so sour his eyes seemed to vanish beneath his glowering brows.
Charlie cleared his
throat, but before he could say anything a familiar, husky voice came from
“What a marvelous idea,”
Alandra practically drawled. “I love men with accents.”
Charlie didn’t need to
look back at her to know that she was fixing Krum’s eager friend with one of
her pointed gazes; the young man’s slightly widened and suddenly glassy eyes
made that perfectly clear. Just as clear to Charlie, though obviously not to
the rather dazed fellow, was the look on the face of the girl holding onto his
“Ah.” Charlie choked back
a chuckle. “Well, you’re very welcome, of course, though I can’t really promise
your safety. It’s a risky business. Rewarding, naturally, but definitely risky.
If we’re dealing with a Horntail then we’re likely to find it in a bad mood.
Horntails usually are.”
Krum gave a soft sort of
grunt that might have been meant to express agreement, or understanding, or
amusement – Charlie couldn’t be sure. Krum’s expression was likewise
indiscernible, though his gaze was shifting now between his friend and Charlie
in what appeared to be an almost speculative manner.
“Sir,” Clagg’s voice
hissed just behind him, and Charlie turned to see his friend tugging at the
chains over his shoulder and glancing dubiously at the Bulgarians. “We should
probably get going before the day gets on. D’you want
me and Ern to cover the south stretch?”
south stretch. Alandra and I
will take the north.”
“Right.” Clagg nodded, then swung
the chains down from his shoulder. He expertly unlooped and separated one of
the two sets and handed it over to Charlie, then swung the remaining loops back
up and called for Hopkirk to follow him. Without further ado they strode off
across the pitch, heading for the forest line.
Charlie turned back to
Krum and his companions, wondering if he hadn’t stuck his foot in it this time.
If there was a Horntail out there –
and he was inclined to believe Krum’s word – then it certainly wouldn’t be safe
to take untrained people out in the wilderness looking for it.
But then, Krum had already faced down a dragon. And
while Charlie hadn’t approved of the use of the Conjunctivitis Curse, he had to
admit that the fellow had shown a lot of nerve facing it down. And besides, the
man could fly.
then.” Charlie settled the
light and cool chains over his shoulder. “Who’s coming?”
Viktor pushed aside a
tree limb.This was an idiotic idea, and
he still wasn’t sure how he had been convinced that going to look for a dragon would be at all
fun.He had known, however, that Ivan
would go with the dragon people whether he himself did or not; from the look on
Edina’s face as she eyed the female dragon keeper, she would have as well, if
only to keep an eye on Ivan.Viktor snorted
softly to himself.Ivan had seemed
surprised when Edina had said she would go.It was amazing that he was getting married in
two weeks, and yet was still so oblivious to feminine signals.
Then again, Viktor
thought with a frown, thinking of Rositza, it wasn’t as if he himself knew any
Still, the walk through
the woods had been pleasant enough.It
was clear that the female dragon keeper, Alandra, was still in training, as
Charlie had taken pains to point out exactly what to look for in tracking the
dragon.However, he must have thought
her capable, because when they had found several sets of human footprints
leading off in two directions, he had sent her off with Ivan and Edina to follow one set while he and Viktor followed
Viktor was beginning to
suspect, however, that this arrangement had been more for the purpose of
getting him alone to talk Quidditch than anything else.Charlie seemed quite intent on following the
tracks, but every few minutes he would burst out with, “Spectacular Lipsett
Dodge you did back there,” or, “What do you make of the Centaurs’ chances
It was unusual to see a
British wizard so knowledgeable about the Bulgarian teams, and the young man’s
casual manner was almost enough to melt some of Viktor’s customary
“Hello, what’s this?”
muttered Charlie, kneeling.He examined
a patch of grass.Viktor couldn’t see
anything remarkable about it.
“What is it?” he asked.
“See here, where the
grass is flattened along the middle?That’s consistent with the mark of a Horntail’s tail if were dragged
means…” He looked around, and pointed triumphantly at a bit of mud a few
feet away.“Footprints.”He rushed over to prod at the mud.Viktor followed slowly.Now that it was coming to it, he wasn’t sure
how much he really wanted to face an actual Horntail.
Charlie looked up.“It’s headed in that direction, so we can
continue on this path.”He stood up and
led the way through the trees, his step suddenly livelier.
Viktor shook his head and
followed.This dragon keeper certainly
was an…enthusiastic fellow.
“Was that a Baranof you
were flying in practice?”
The man’s question
startled Viktor.He had somehow thought
it was time to focus on the dragon.
surprised, and a bit impressed, that anyone would recognize the model of his
broom; it was made by a lesser-known, local broom manufacturer, and Viktor was
one of the very few professional players who rode a Baranof.His teammates generally preferred flashier
models, but Viktor had tested many, many brooms, and none suited the kind of
maneuvers he preferred better than his reliable Baranof.
“You like it?I tried one when I was looking for a broom a
while back, but I didn’t like the way it handled.Wound up with a Trasnet.”
Viktor nodded.“The Trasnet is fast, yes, but the Baranof is
better for skilled maneuvering.It is
more flexible.Of course,” he added, “it
can be difficult to handle, if the rider lacks the proper skill and control.”
The slightest frown
crossed Charlie’s face, and then he laughed, a deep,
hearty laugh.Viktor stared at him,
bewildered; he couldn’t see what was so funny.
Charlie just shook his
head and started rummaging in his pockets.“You hungry?” he asked.“I’ve got
some trailcakes in here somewhere…” He held up a small canister and peered at
it.“Not those,” he said with a
grin.“Those are for later.Hold that, will you?”He handed the canister to Viktor, who
immediately recognized the crude drawing on the lid. Viktor raised his eyebrows
as he remembered the pamphlet he had read in the Hogwarts library once when he
had picked up a stack of books, any books, to pretend he was reading while
waiting for Hermione: Reading, Writing,
and Wigging: A Wizarding Parent’s Guide to Billywig Abuse in Children.He had been idly flipping through it when
Hermione had come in to sit with him, and her eyes had widened upon seeing his
choice of reading material.
Somehow, it was far from
comforting to know that this dragon keeper was carrying these things
around.Viktor thought back to the
pamphlet and looked carefully at the young man.His feet were firmly planted on the ground, and he didn’t show any signs
of being “stung up”, so that was something , at least.
“Here we go,” said
Charlie, brandishing another canister, identical to the one Viktor was holding
except for the mark on the lid.He
pulled off the top and removed two round cakes.He handed one to Viktor, who eyed it warily.
“It’s safe, I promise,”
said Charlie with a grin.“If we get
this dragon taken care of, we can celebrate with the other kind later.”He took the first canister back from Viktor
and shoved both into his pockets.
Viktor took a bite of the
cake.It was soft on the inside, though
its crust was quite hard, and the taste was surprisingly sweet.He supposed this was the kind of food that
was easy to make and transport when one was in the wild with dragons all day
Charlie resumed the path,
his eyes sweeping the ground as they walked, his words coming back to Viktor
through mouthfuls of cake.“What do you
think of the Firebolt?”
Viktor shrugged.“It is fast, and more flexible than a Paisi
or a Nimbus, but still not as flexible as Baranof.”
Charlie laughed.“My kid brother Ron is just dying for a
it all the time.”He stopped and
looked sideways at Viktor.“You, er,
know his friend Hermione, don’t you?”
The casual delivery of
this question was obviously studied, and Viktor stiffened slightly without
meaning to.He had suspected that this
man was related to her friend as soon as he had heard the name – after all, how
common a name was Weasley?But he didn’t
want to talk about Hermione, with anyone.
“Yes, I know her,” Viktor
scanning the forest around them as he continued.“You heard from her since you left Hogwarts?”
Viktor gritted his
teeth.“We write to each other.”
“Ah.So does that mean –” He stopped suddenly as
an overwhelming stench hit them.Viktor
covered his nose in disgust, but Charlie breathed in deeply.“The dragon’s nearby,” he said in a softer
voice.“Follow me, and be quiet.”
Charlie crept forward
through the trees.Viktor followed
dubiously, wondering why he hadn’t brought his broomstick with him – at least
then he could have made a quick escape.In fact, the idea of flying back to the Quidditch pitch seemed
infinitely smarter at the moment than creeping toward a dragon.Come to think of it, why on earth would
anyone want to go toward a dragon?
Charlie stopped and
beckoned Viktor forward.Viktor stepped
up next to him, and together, they peered through the lower branches of a fir
In the clearing not ten
feet away, lying on its side, was a massive Hungarian Horntail.
Tracking dragons wasn’t
such a bad business, thought Ivan as he followed Alandra Fitzroy through the
bushes.It was a lovely day, and he was
out in the forest with two beautiful women.No, it wasn’t bad at all.
Alandra had her wand out
and was pointing it at the ground every few feet, casting Revealing
Charms.Her boss, the red-haired dragon
keeper, had seemed perfectly capable of following the prints without magic, but
she didn’t seem to want to take any chances.
“I can’t tell,” said
Alandra suddenly, turning to Ivan with an innocent smile.“Is that a footprint?”
“Let me see,” said Ivan
eagerly, and he bent to look.He could
practically feel Alandra’s gaze on him from behind, and he straightened up
quickly.“I think so,” he said.
Edina was standing a few feet away on the path, a look
of revulsion on her face.
“What is it?” he asked
Edina raised her eyebrows, giving him a look of
disbelief, then shook her head.“Oh, nothing,” she said in a clipped
tone.She pushed past him.“The footprints pick up here,” she said,
pointing.She turned to Alandra.“I trust you can see them without
Alandra’s eyes, however,
were on the engagement ring on Edina’s left hand.She glanced at Ivan, then back to Edina, and a wicked grin formed on her face.
Edina let out an impatient sigh and turned, leading the
way down the path.Ivan followed, and
Alandra quickly fell into step beside him.
“So,” said Alandra
conversationally, “when are you two getting married?”
“Two weeks.August eleventh.”
Ivan glanced at her; she
seemed far too pleased about something.“How long have you worked with dragons?”
few months.But they take to me quickly.”She grinned, and Ivan noticed for the first
time how sharp her teeth were.“Especially the male ones.”
uncomfortably.“Shouldn’t we catch up
with Edina?What if
the dragon is nearby?”
Alandra waved her wand
dismissively.“You’d be able to smell
it, if we were close to it.”She stepped
up onto a rock, gripping Ivan’s arm for balance, and cast a Revealing Charm in
a wide swath on the ground below.
Edinacame running back toward
them then.“Up ahead –
”She stopped short, her eyes on
Alandra’s hand, which was still holding on to Ivan’s arm.Ivan stepped away quickly, causing Alandra to
stumble from the rock.He caught her as
she fell into his arms, feeling slightly guilty about making her fall; he could
have sworn that she had had firm footing on the rock.
Ivan helped her to her
feet and looked back at Edina.“What is it?”
Edina was eyeing them both with a repulsed look on her
face, but, at his words, she turned back down the path, her hair flying out
behind her in an almost angry way.“Come
with me,” she said.“You should see
Ivan stole one last
glance at Alandra, who was smirking at him, and followed.He was beginning to think that the dangers
out here would not come from dragons after all.
Edina crouched behind a large boulder at the edge of
the path.She beckoned them forward, one
finger to her lips, and Ivan and Alandra moved to join her.Alandra, he noticed, kept herself between him
and Edina.Edina moved over rather more than was necessary as
Alandra crouched next to her.
Ivan peered over the
boulder, and saw that they were just above a turn in the path that led to a
clearing.At the far end of the clearing
was an enormous cave.As Ivan strained
his eyes to see the top of the cave through the trees, an extremely unpleasant
smell hit him.
“It’s a Horntail’s cave,
all right,” muttered Alandra.“But the
smell’s not so strong, so it must not be home.”
Ivan gaped at her.That
wasn’t a strong smell?He met Edina’s eyes, and knew she was thinking the same thing.
Then Alandra gasped, and
Ivan turned back to the clearing.Someone was emerging from the cave – a man, short, with dark hair and a
moustache.The late morning sun gleamed
off the man’s bald patch.
More striking, though,
was the fact that the man was carrying something.It looked like a huge rock, granite-gray and
obviously quite heavy.The man was
singing softly to himself in French, and, as they watched, he lugged the rock
over to the side of clearing.That was
when Ivan noticed the wagon standing there, partially obscured by the
trees.Inside were several more of the
great gray rocks.
No, not rocks, he
realized.They were –
“Dragon eggs,” he
whispered.“What should we –”
Alandra, however, had
already vaulted herself over the rock and into the clearing.Ivan watched, open-mouthed, as she raised her
wand and charged at the man, shouting, “Stupefy!”
Charlie knew that something
was wrong the moment he saw the Horntail.
The dragon lay on its
side, wings sprawled open at awkward angles, the spikes of its tail tangled in
nearby undergrowth. It was a bad sign. The only dragon breed that could sleep
comfortably so sprawled was the Chinese Fireball, whose
sinuous and wing-less body allowed it to coil at rest in almost any position.
Most of the other dragon breeds, the bulky Horntail in particular, used stone
or the like for perches on which to rest, or at least arranged themselves in
careful repose so as not to harm their wings.
wrong,” Charlie murmured, frowning.
Krum grunted behind him,
but Charlie’s thoughts were now far from dwelling on the fellow’s enigmatic
personality, or even the snatches of enjoyable and fascinating Quidditch talk
they’d managed – unintentional slights to his Quidditch prowess aside. Right
now, all that mattered was the dragon.
Moving as silently as
possible, he lowered the chain from his shoulder and held it in his left hand, making
sure the properly charmed end was ready for throwing. Then he drew his wand
with his other hand and crept forward into the clearing.
He could hear the
dragon’s heavy breathing as he drew closer. It sounded labored, but did not
alter in its painful rhythm as he approached, proving that he hadn’t been heard
– which further proved that there was something very wrong with the dragon.
He inched along, staying
close to the edge of the trees as he circled around the dragon’s massive hind
legs, taking special care to keep out of range of the tail. Though
he doubted that the creature was in any condition to attack him. He
searched for signs of wounds, but wasn’t surprised when none came quickly into
view. After all, there weren’t many things in the world that could wound a
dragon, and the Horntail was too far out of its natural territory to have
encountered battle with one of its own kind.
As he crept into view of
the dragon’s massive head, the Horntail’s scaled flank rose and fell in a deep
breath that issued from its nostrils like a strangled explosion.
Charlie froze. He heard
Krum’s footsteps come to a quick stop behind him. For a man who shuffled more
than walked, Krum had fast reflexes. Then again, most people discovered fast
reflexes when faced with a dragon.
But in this case, Charlie
was sure that good reflexes wouldn’t be needed. The dragon might have smelled
or heard them, but that one angry breath was clearly all that it could muster.
Its eyes were little more than yellow slits, and not even its claws twitched as
Charlie moved directly toward its head.
“Something’s very wrong,”
he muttered, a sinking feeling in his gut. No dragon should lay like this with
humans approaching. It just wasn’t natural. It wasn’t right.
“Vot is wrong?” Krum’s voice
barely carried to him as a harsh whisper. Charlie glanced back to see that,
while the Bulgarian had followed him to the center of the small clearing, he
was still keeping his distance from the dragon. Just out of tail range, in
fact; he had a good eye.
Charlie slackened his
hold on the chain and tightened it on his wand, drawing a deep breath and then
stepping right up to the dragon’s snout. It made no move, only continued with
its labored breathing. Tiny trails of smoke rose from its nostrils. Charlie
breathed in the familiar acrid smell, noting instantly the distressing sour
tang to it. The scent of illness.Or
at least of severe indigestion. The old Ironbelly back at camp had
certainly achieved new levels of stench after swallowing all those crates of
But Charlie knew that it
wouldn’t have been anything as innocent as misplaced beans and Billywigs that
Stomach queasy with
distress and apprehension more than from the foul smell (he had learned to
appreciate the stench), Charlie let the chain fall and came to stand directly
before the dragon’s head, wand at the ready. Krum gave a strangled sort of
grunt somewhere behind him.
“It’s all right,” Charlie
said grimly. “She’s no danger to us right now.”
“Yes, you can tell by the
-” He stopped, eyes caught by the faint purple splotches barely visible along
the tiny scales of the dragon’s snout. “Damn. Damn, damn.”
He crouched down by the
massive head and placed the palm of his free hand flat against the creature’s
rough brow. When his touch elicited no reaction he leaned in closer and pried
the dragons’ eyelids completely open. The slit pupil in the yellow eye was
dilated so large that it was nearly as wide as his hand, and it remained fixed
as the sunlight hit it.
“Damn!” Charlie hissed. “The tracks.Those bastards.”
He’d dismissed the tracks
too easily, seen them as an easy way to give Alandra some tracking experience
on her own, and himself some time to talk about flying with Viktor Krum. He’d
assumed they were just the tracks of some overly-curious villagers, out trying
to catch a glimpse of the dragon. But since no injuries had been mentioned in
the report he was given, he hadn’t worried. Now he was certain that the tracks
“Vot is… the problem?”
“The dragon is dying.”
“She’s been poisoned.” He
ground his teeth together in anger, and set his hand gently against the
dragon’s neck. “The bastards poisoned her.”
Krum came to stand behind
him, apparently reassured by the dragon’s immobility. His question was little
more than a grunt.“Who?”
“I don’t know. Whoever
left those tracks.”
Krum grunted, but Charlie
was too preoccupied to bother trying to interpret the sound. Whoever had done
this was going to regret it when he caught up to them. Regret it most
“Vy vould they poison a
At another time, Charlie
might have been amused by the question; not many people would have felt the
need to ask it. But at the moment the answer to the question was the only thing
in his thoughts.
“I don’t know. But I’ll
But first he had to help
the Horntail. The problem was that he didn’t have any medicinal supplies with
him. None for the dragon at least. He hadn’t
anticipated the need to be doctoring anyone but himself.
“I have to send a message
back to camp right away. We need –”
sound of something snapping echoed clearly even over the dragon’s labored
breathing. More clear still
was the sound of a low voice cursing.
Charlie spun to face the
sound, to find that Krum was already staring into the trees, wand raised and
leveled at the large man stumbling out of the forest. Krum’s reflexes were fast
indeed. But then, he would expect a quick draw from someone who’d gone to
“Who are you?” Krum
The shadow of another man
darted through the trees behind his stumbling companion.
him!” Charlie shouted, and
leapt forward, over the dragon’s head, taking aim with his wand.
He and Krum cast at the
same time. “Stupefy!”
Both men fell to the
ground in the underbrush. Charlie charged ahead, leaving the first man to Krum,
and moved to grab the second man before the stunner could even begin to wear
off. He buried his free hand in the front of the man’s robes and dragged him
He was a scrawny man,
with a nervous twitch under one eye that continued even through the stunning
spell. Charlie shoved the tip of his wand into the fellow’s chest, and
propelled him through the trees into the clearing.
“Did you do this? Was it
The man’s twitch
worsened, but he couldn’t yet speak.
“Vot do ve do with them?”
“Tie that one up.”
Krum grunted, and Charlie
heard the familiar sound of binding cords exploding from a wand.
right.” Charlie pushed his man
over so that he fell onto his back mere feet away from the dragon’s faintly
steaming snout. The twitch worsened. “Take your time coming around, mate. Use
it to think up a real good explanation for this, because your health depends on
Charlie raised his wand
to conjure binding cords, but then his eyes fell on the dragon chain that still
lay on the ground at his feet.Grinning
viciously, he scooped up the chain and made ready to throw the enchanted end.
The man’s eyes went wide; the stunning spell was starting to wear off.Charlie narrowed his eyes and tossed the
chain.Better you than the dragon, mate, he thought, as the chain
animated, wrapping itself around the man far more tightly and more quickly than
binding cords would have done. On a dragon, the chains would be wrapped around
the muzzle, to prevent the dragon from burning a keeper to a crisp when he or
she was trying to help it.The chain did
its work quickly, and probably with enough force to
bruise the scrawny fellow before him, but, at the moment, Charlie couldn’t
bring himself to care.
“Vy did you do
that?”Krum’s voice sounded slightly
alarmed behind him.
justice.”Charlie turned to the second man, now lying
inert and bound at Krum’s feet.This man
was solidly built, and Charlie suspected he could have given both himself and
Krum a run for their money, if the look on his face hadn’t made it clear that
he was stupider than an addled Gnome stumbling into a den of Jarveys.
Charlie looked between
the two prisoners, shaking his head.“What did a pathetic pair like you think you were going to do with a
dragon?” he muttered.
The smaller man let out
an incomprehensible groan.Charlie
crouched beside him, his wand resting on his knee.“Sorry, didn’t catch that,” he said, his
voice deliberately calm.
The man’s eyes widened
again, and he began to wriggle feebly in the chain, which tightened around
Charlie smiled.“You know, the more you struggle, the tighter
that chain will get.”
The man went still at
once, but the twitch under his eye grew more violent.“Not…my…fault.”
“Is that so?Just thought you’d nip up the mountain and
have a little lie down in the bushes, did you? Thought you’d sneak in a bit of
harmless dragon-watching?Don’t buy it,
mate.”He stood up and pointed his wand
at the man.“How about giving me a real
“It’s not my fault!” the
man burst out.“He made us do it!”
Surprisingly, the answer
came from behind him, in the form of a grunt even less intelligible than
Charlie whipped around
and stared at the second man, who had come out of the stunner and was now
looking sullenly up at Charlie through heavy-lidded eyes.Charlie shot a look at Krum, who shrugged,
looking just as bewildered as Charlie felt.Bidet?Was that supposed to be some sort of
“What?” said Charlie.
“Bidet!” said the scrawny
Frenchy.I knew this wouldn’t
work.”He struggled to sit up, gagging
slightly as the chain tightened itself again.
“Then there are more of
them,” Krum said, looking off into the trees and raising his wand.
“Like bloody vermin,”
spat Charlie.He turned back to the
scrawny man and steadied his wand.“Where is he?What were you going
to do with the dragon?”
The man seemed more than
happy to cooperate, possibly because the chain was now wrapped around his
throat.“The poison…was to…keep it…out
of the way…so…he could get the…eggs,” he gasped.
hand clenched around his wand.“To sell them in some seedy
tavern basement, no doubt.”He
gritted his teeth and advanced on the man, not entirely sure what he intended
to do, but suspecting that he would regret it later.
Krum.“Shouldn’t we hand them over to
Charlie stopped with a
sigh.Krum was right. And besides, if
they kept them here, he really might do something he’d regret.
And there was the dragon
to think about.
“You’re right,” Charlie
There was a sudden
commotion in the woods behind them.Charlie started to spin around, wand raised, but stopped when he
recognized the distinctive sound of Alandra’s predatory laugh.He tracked the sound to see an unexpected
procession emerging from the trees.Krum’s Bulgarian friends were stumbling along behind Alandra, queasy
looks on their faces, while Alandra strode confidently ahead, herding a
half-naked man in front of her at wandpoint.The man, short and balding, was clad only in horrible mermaid-patterned
boxer shorts.The animated mermaids swam
around and around, and Charlie stared for a moment, horrified, before he had to
avert his eyes in disgust.He looked at
Alandra, who was waving a set of gray robes like a banner with one hand, and
prodding the man in the back with her wand with the other.
The procession filed into
the clearing.Alandra shot Charlie a
toothy grin.“It seems we have an
Ivan looked around the
clearing.It was hard to believe that it
had only been a few hours since he had stumbled into this clearing behind
Alandra and the Frenchman, to find Viktor and Charlie with two men bound at
their feet.It had been a strange day,
to say the least.
Ivan’s eyes lingered on Edina as she spoke with an official from the Bulgarian
Ministry of Magic.The Ministry people
had taken statements from all in the party, but had seemed particularly
interested in speaking to Edina,
since she had been the first to see the man stealing the eggs.In fact, Ivan thought with a frown, this
particular Ministry employee seemed a bit too
interested in speaking to her; the man keep leaning forward and smiling at her,
and there was far too much laughter ringing from their direction for his
The three criminals had
been taken back to the Ministry Headquarters earlier.Alandra and Charlie both had seemed to feel
that no punishment the Ministry could mete out would be quite horrific
enough.But after what the Frenchman had
been through at Alandra’s hands, Ivan seriously doubted the man would bother a
dragon – or a dragon keeper – ever again.He shuddered involuntarily at the memory, wondering vaguely whether Edina would consider him weak if he asked her to put a
Memory Charm on him later.It hadn’t
been a pretty sight, but he had to admit, Alandra had been… amazing.
He glanced over at her
now.She was kneeling behind the dragon’s
head, stroking its rough brow and talking to another dragon keeper, who, along
with several others, had arrived some time before, after Charlie had sent one
of his assistants to Apparate back to the Romanian camp and fetch them.Ivan shook his head.After Charlie had administered the antidote
to the dragon, he had assured them all that the dragon would remain unconscious
for several hours, and that it was perfectly safe for them all to be near it.Still, Ivan thought, as he watched several of
the new arrivals examining the dragon’s scales and talons, he wasn’t about to
go anywhere near the thing.
On the other side of the
clearing, three of the dragon keepers were carefully packing the enormous gray
eggs into crates, conjuring straw with which to pack them, and casting
protective spells over the whole lot.
Edina’s laughter pealed across the clearing, and Ivan
glared over at her.He didn’t see what
could possibly be so funny about finding dragon-egg thieves.Feeling a familiar predatory gaze on him,
Ivan realized without having to look that the laughter had caught Alandra’s
attention as well.It’s either her or the dragon, he thought, and the dragon’s supposed to be unconscious.
Almost against his will,
he looked up to see Alandra eyeing him, a sly smile on her face.She said something to the woman next to her,
then stood up and crossed the clearing to him.
“You’re still here,” she
observed, her voice conveying nothing less than delight.She touched his arm lightly.
Ivan smiled.“Yes, we are still here.Is the dragon – ”
“She’ll be fine.It’s a good thing Charlie found her when he
did, though.”She gave him a speculative
look, her eyes glittering.“Have you
ever seen a dragon up close?”
“I believe I have,”
replied Ivan, arching an eyebrow at her.
She flashed him a knowing
smile, and started to say something, but before she could, Edina appeared at Ivan’s side.
“Ivan,” Edina said, slipping her hand into his.“I am finished now.”
Alandra’s smile widened, and Ivan felt Edina’s grip on his hand tighten painfully.
“We were just discussing
the day’s events,” said Alandra innocently.“It certainly has been… memorable, don’t you think?”Her eyes were on Ivan as she uttered these
“It certainly has,” said Edina dryly, her nails now digging into Ivan’s
hand.She spared one more disdainful
look for Alandra, then turned to Ivan.“We should go find Viktor now.”
“Oh!I believe he’s by the cave, with Charlie,”
said Alandra.“I’ll go with you.I need to have a word with Charlie anyway.”
Edina looked less than pleased about this, but didn’t
say anything as she turned and led the way down the path.She kept her iron grip on Ivan’s hand,
however, and his fingers were starting to go numb.He had a feeling that it would be a bad idea
to tell her so.
As they neared the cave
site, they could hear voices.Ivan and Edina stopped and stared at one another as one of the
voices became clear.It was Viktor,
sounding more enthusiastic and talking more freely than Ivan had ever heard
“…and then Dumas dove for
the Snitch, but Vulchov and Vulchanov both hit the Bludgers at him, and he had
to break off.But while all this was
happening, and the Beaters were distracted, the French Chasers had gone into
this swirling circle formation – our Chasers had never seen anything like it,
and they could not break through – ”
There was a low whistle,
then Charlie’s voice:“I wish I could
have seen that.”
Ivan and Edina, with Alandra trailing behind, descended into the
clearing as Viktor continued his story.
“ - then Ivanova got the idea to dive into the center
and loop them.They could not keep it
up, and by this time our Beaters had seen it, and they shot the Bludgers at the
French Chasers.Levski caught the
Quaffle and had scored with it six times before the French Chasers even got
over their – ” Viktor broke off as Ivan and Edina came to a halt before
Ivan couldn’t help
grinning at the scene.Viktor was seated
on a large, flat rock, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees.Charlie was sitting on the ground, leaning
back against the rock face with his head tipped back and his eyes closed.There was a silver flask on the ground
“What is it?” Viktor
Charlie opened his
eyes.“Hey, you all survived your dragon
“And the Ministry
people,” said Ivan meaningfully, squeezing Edina’s hand.She shot him an annoyed look and let go.Ivan tried to shake out his hand surreptitiously behind his back, to get
some of the feeling back into his fingers.
“We have finished making
our statements, Viktor,” said Edina.
Viktor only grunted.Ivan shook his head slightly.He should have known the effusiveness it
“How’s the Horntail?”
asked Charlie.Viktor glanced at him. Charlie had been relaxed and talkative ever
since they had finished searching the cave half and hour ago, and had seemed
more than ready to relax in the sun and talk Quidditch.But now, as he shot the question at his
assistant, he was tensed for action again.
Alandra shrugged and
stepped up beside Ivan.“She’s
fine.Still stable.Joe and Elise are keeping an eye on her.She should be fine for transport.”
Charlie sat back against
the rock, apparently satisfied.“Good
work, Fitzroy.And, off the record, good
work on that egg thief too.Whatever you did.”
Viktor saw Ivan and Edina exchange uncomfortable looks.What had
the woman done, anyway?Neither of them
had seemed inclined to discuss it.Viktor somehow doubted that the details would show up in the Ministry
Alandra grinned, her
sharp teeth practically glinting.“No
problem,” she said.“You could say I
have… a way… with men.”She leaned
casually toward Ivan as she said this, brushing his shoulder with hers.Ivan started.
Viktor rolled his eyes
and looked away.This was almost painful
A moment later, however, Edina’s voice made him look up.“Excuse me,” she said politely.“Could I have a word with you, over
there?”She had stepped in front of Ivan
to address Alandra directly.She had her
arms crossed casually over her chest, in what Viktor recognized as a prelude to
a Heimler Draw, a technique that Karkaroff himself had taught them.Viktor shot a look at Ivan, who was looking
back and forth between the two women as if afraid to say anything.Which one of them he was afraid of, Viktor
Edina turned and led the way up the path.Alandra shot an openly flirtatiously look at
Ivan before turning to follow.Ivan
“So, you went to
Hogwarts?” Edina asked.
“Yes.I was in Slytherin.”Viktor could practically hear the smug grin
in the girl’s voice.
“Hmm,” replied Edina, in a deliberately casual tone,
“interesting.I went to Durmstrang.”
thought he saw Alandra’s step falter very slightly before she turned the corner
and disappeared from sight.
Behind Viktor, Charlie
chuckled.“She’s always like that,” he
said.“It’s about time someone called
her on it.She could use a good
There was a loud sizzling
noise from the direction in which the girls had gone.Viktor looked over in time to see a shower of
blue sparks.The three men looked at
Ivan cleared his
throat.“Well,” he said, sounding uneasy,
“what will you do now?”
Charlie was staring
toward the trees, mouth open.“I,
er…well, we’ll cast some weightless spells on the dragon and –” He paused as a
shower of gold sparks followed the blue, accompanied by a string of
helpless-sounding giggles.He raised his
voice.“-and then we’ll take her back to
the camp in Romania.We’ll take care of
her there until she can be released into the wild.”
“I see,” said Ivan, never
taking his eyes from the trees, which were now filled with glowing, ghost-like
A loud humming sound
started up in the trees, and Viktor glanced at Ivan and Charlie, both of whom
looked just as baffled as he felt.It
grew louder, until finally the trees seemed to shake around them.
And then it stopped. Viktor looked uncertainly at Ivan, wondering
if they should go find the girls, but before he could say anything, Edina came walking jauntily into the clearing, slipping
her wand into her robes.Alandra
followed a few moments later, walking slowly, one hand
clutching her now-disheveled curls.
Charlie looked at
Alandra, then at Edina, and Viktor could see him come to the decision
not to comment.“Well,” he said, turning
to Viktor.“I’ve got some time before I
have to be back at camp.Joe and Elise
will handle the Horntail transport.I’d
love to check out that Baranof you were telling me so much about earlier, if
you wouldn’t mind.”
Viktor nodded.“The team practice brooms are available
too.I would like you to show me your ‘Weasley Wobble’ as well.”
Viktor had clearly said
the right thing, because Charlie grinned and clapped him on the shoulder.“Sounds excellent.”He turned to Alandra, who was still rubbing
her head.Viktor also noticed that she
was standing further away from Ivan than she had all day.“Alandra, you head back and tell the others
to begin the transport.Tell Davey I’ll
be back at camp before the Horntail comes out of it.And you head back too.You’ve, er… done enough for one day.”
Alandra nodded.She looked at Edina, then at Ivan.Edina, Viktor noticed, casually crossed her arms once
more but didn’t look especially worried.
Alandra nodded, almost
deferentially, to Edina, then smiled at
Ivan.“I admire a man unafraid to submit
to a dangerous woman.” She drew her wand and Disapparated.
Ivan turned to Edina.“What did
you do to her?”
“I don’t know what you’re
talking about,” said Edina innocently.“We just had a little…chat.”She turned away toward the trees, a small
smile on her lips.
Ivan stared at her,
looking utterly impressed.Viktor
“So, should we go find
those brooms?” said Charlie.
This got Ivan’s
attention.“Yes!We’re coming too.That is,” he added hastily, looking at Edina, “if you want to.”
She grinned.“That would be fine.”
“Let’s go then,” said
Viktor nodded and led the
way down toward the pitch.Conrad, in
his eternal paranoia about other teams spying, had insisted on putting
anti-Apparition charms all around the pitch, so they would have to walk.But it wouldn’t be so bad.
“And when we’re done,”
said Charlie, patting at the pocket in which he had earlier stowed away his
canisters, “we can celebrate properly.”
Viktor doubted that he
was talking about the trailcakes.
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