The smell of bacon tempted him from sleep as he stretched away the dreams. He lazed for a moment waiting for his memory to return. He lay feeling toasty and comfortable under the covers, but there was something missing. He looked over and realised it was because he was alone. He felt the dread in the pit of his stomach as he sighed before sitting up. He swung his legs out and stood before cursing at the cold that surrounded him. He got dressed in his clothes as quickly as he could, muttering profanities under his breath.
“Draco?” Came Cosima’s voice through the canvas of his room.
“I’m just getting dressed” He replied through gritted teeth.
“Breakfast is ready, Red or Brown Sauce?” Draco paused not sure how to answer. He stuck his head out of the door and looked at the bacon sandwiches waiting for him. Cosima looked up, her pudgy features looking kinder and somehow prettier. She raised her eyebrows waiting for an answer.
“Don’t judge me… Little of both” Draco replied as he cringed. Cosima’s face twisted in disgust.
“Draco! You absolute muggle” She groaned loudly as she placed the sauces next to his plate. “I will not desecrate a perfectly good bacon sandwich with that concoction, you can ruin it yourself” She smirked and walked back to the stove. He smiled too as he stepped back into his room. He dressed quickly ready for the day ahead. He had managed to apparate back to his flat last night before bed. He had grabbed one of the unpacked bags from his travels and apparated back, not venturing any further into his flat to risk seeing evidence of Harry.
He looked at his desk and realised his letter was gone. He felt a stab of worry as he ran a comb through his hair before entering the living space.
“Cosima? Have you seen my letter? It was on my desk?” Draco looked around just in case he had moved it.
“Yeah, your owl came last night when you apparated, so I gave it to the owl, Was that alright?”
Draco released a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding,
“That’s fine, thank you,” He said as he sat down in front of the plate with the sandwich on. He reached for the red sauce, after squeezing out a few random dots, he grabbed the brown and did the same. He looked up to find Cosima watching him, a smile playing on her face. “What?”
“You are a strange one” She smiled again as she grabbed her own sandwich. Draco smiled back as he noticed she had smothered hers in red sauce.
“I’ve learned to embrace it,” He said with a wry smile. “What time is it?” He asked before taking a large bite of the bread.
“About ten passed eight” She replied after doing a tempus charm with her wand.
“Right then, we’d better get going soon, Sun’s about the come up, gives up the maximum time left to travel.” Cosima nodded as they both tucked into their sandwich. Draco felt his mind wander wondering whether his letter had landed yet. He hadn’t written to Harry, it was still too soon to speak with him, and after the newspaper incident, he couldn’t guarantee that he could trust what he had to say.
They heard a flapping of wings and both looked up to the entrance of the tent. A barred owl swooped in, it’s mottled brown and white wings flapping until it landed on the table. Cosima cringed as Draco caught sight of her. He raised his eyebrow in curiosity as he looked between the owl with the newspaper and Cosima.
“Is this for you?” Cosima nodded, her face going red. She leant forward and retrieved the paper attached to its leg and put her coins in the little pouch on the other leg.
“The Prophet?” Draco asked blankly. He tried not to sounds accusatory but wasn’t sure whether he succeeded.
“I need to cancel my subscription” She muttered as the bird disappeared through the door again.
Draco sighed as he shook his head, finishing off his sandwich. He watched Cosima’s face as she read the headline. She glanced up and him, her lips pressed into a thin white line.
“What does it say?” Draco asked as he felt the acid building up in his stomach. He pushed the rest of his sandwich away, his breakfast thoroughly ruined.
“Are you sure you want me to tell you?” She asked nervously.
“It can’t be worse, can it?” He asked hoping that his imagination was exaggerating.
“Depends on what you class as worse” She shrugged. Her eyes seemed to catch a glint of something else. “Does seem like there was a retraction posted about yesterday’s paper” She was quiet for a few moments as she read the retraction, a small smile coming to her face.
“For the love of Merlin, what does it say” Draco found himself blurting as he tried to relax his fingers on the table.
“The Prophet would like to apologise for yesterday’s headline regarding Happy Potter. It has recently been brought to our attention that the gentleman posing at Harry Potter was, in fact, an imposter. It was reported that the saviour was in fact at home with friends and family at the time this rendezvous occurred.” Cosima smiled brightly at him.
Draco felt his world tilt back into focus and felt awful. He turned from the table trying to ignore the churning in his stomach.
“That’s great news, isn’t it?” Cosima asked, sounding unsure. Draco nodded silently. “Why do you look like it’s not?”
“Because, now I’m in the wrong and have to apologise,” he said out loud but internally he knew that he felt guilty, for the things he’d said. For not giving Harry the opportunity to explain. He glanced up to Cosima, noticing her barely hidden concern before she opened her mouth to speak.
“He’ll forgive you, he loves you”
“No, he doesn’t” Draco argued, he shivered as that was one of the last conversations they’d had. “So what’s the main headline on today’s paper?” he asked, hoping to steer the conversation away.
“My night of passion with Potter” Cosima smirked knowingly. Draco rolled his eyes before his brows knitted together in concern before she continued. “Imposter had me fooled as wild night ensues” she smirked again “I guess they’re sticking with the headline, hoping to hook people in, but it does look like the guy in the photos, yesterday.” Cosima carried on reading “Apparently he’s a healer at St Mungo’s” Draco felt his ears prick up and the knot in his gut tighten.
“Harry works at St Mungo’s,” He said simply trying not to jump to conclusions.
“Draco, lots of people work at St Mungo’s, he’s not even in the same department!” She scoffed “You work at the Ministry, it doesn’t mean you know everyone. The paper already posted a retraction, it wasn’t him at the club” Cosima said as her eyes scanned the article.
Draco tried to feel comforted by the words. He stood up and left Cosima at the table reading the paper alone. Once he was finally back in the privacy of his bedroom he sat on the edge of the bed, daring to hope that their relationship was salvageable. He closed his eyes letting his mind wander to the thoughts of feathery hair sliding through his fingers and the softness of lips against his lips. He hoped he hadn’t ruined anything. He sighed as he let his mind wander, standing to get his gear together.
He heard the canvas move at his door as he looked up. Cosima stood there looking around the room as if looking for something.
“Problem?” He asked as he pushed more supplies into his rucksack.
“No problem, just thought you’d be writing a letter to Harry,” she said with a shrug
“No, not yet, we’ve got work to do,” Draco said heavily, “I’ve wasted enough time here as possible, sooner we get this investigation complete, the sooner I can get home and sort out the mess.” He pushed his uncomfortable thoughts to the back of his mind as he sighed. He cursed himself silently, he was supposed to be working not pining over a man. He wanted nothing more than to rush back and have Harry back in his arms, even though it would be horribly awkward and cringe-worthy.
“Have you packed yet?” He asked, trying to distract himself from the thoughts flitting around his head. She nodded in response. “Good. We’ll get going in a moment, I’d like to get to speak to the MacFustys and get back to the tent before nightfall.”
Cosima nodded again as she disappeared to get her own equipment.
He wasn’t sure why he was surprised, but it certainly wasn’t what he had been expecting. The Dragon reserve in Romania had been small yurts clustered amongst the trees with a small campfire outside in the communal area. This was somewhat and altogether different. The large building stood in isolation in the valley below them a loch surrounding it on the far side. The building looked like a cross between a castle and a shed. It looked as though it used to be a larger and grander building but now only a small wing remained. He wondered, as they descended the hill, whether the rest of the property was under a Fidelius charm, as that would explain the odd-looking dwelling. As they got closer, Draco felt the wards tingle as they crossed the gateway and knew someone would be out to greet them shortly. He felt a sudden wave of nostalgia as they got closer to the house, It was difficult to figure out whether it was a familiar smell or whether it was the magic that surrounded the place that felt known. There was a smell, the unmistakable smell of Dragons, of hay, smoke, meat and something much more difficult to describe. He battered his brain as he tried to describe it, it was like describing a colour, in his mind it smelled like the colour red, deep and rich and intoxicating but not all that pleasant. He knew they were close to the hatchery just from that smell alone.
He turned to Cosima who looked around with curiosity and smiled reassuringly. Up ahead a noise caught Draco’s attention and he turned to find a man stepping out of a side door, wringing his hands on a towel. With a rush of familiarity, he smiled warmly as they got closer, he dropped his rucksack and pulled the older man in for a firm hug. He could feel Cosima’s eyes on his back as he pulled away from the other man. They stood clasping shoulders for a moment as they appraised each other.
“Torren! What an unexpected surprise” Draco started, noting that the long auburn hair tied at his neck was looking a bit greyer than it had when they’d last seen each other.
“Right back at you,” said the other man cheerfully.
“Cosima, this is Torren MacFusty. We worked together in Romania” He smiled at Cosima and then turned back to Torren, “Torren, this is Cosima Pruitt, we work together at the Ministry.” He paused for a moment as he looked the other man up and down. “How long has it been now?”
“Probably about twelve, maybe eighteen months. It’s good to see you”
“You too, you left so suddenly before, I didn’t get a chance to wave you off”
“Yeah, I know, we had a bit of a scare. While you were hunting those poachers, I received a letter from mom asking me to come home.” Draco felt his features drop.
“Is everything alright?”
“It’s Dad, he’s getting old, not that he’ll ever admit it” Came the strongly accented voice “He can’t cope with the hatchlings like he used to, and now we’re having the other issues too”
“Other issues?” Cosima asked, Draco noticing a slight blush on her cheeks that had nothing to do with the cold.
“Aye” Replied Torren “I’m sure that’s why you’re here, the other dragons”
Draco nodded in reply as they shared a look, a look of shared frustration “Right, I guess you’re wanting to get to work then?” Draco nodded again. “Come on inside, I’ll make us a cup of tea” Torren smiled as he swished his wand, leading them back into the house. As they entered, Draco realised just how cold he was until the heat of the small kitchen hit him. The fireplace was tall and wide and took up almost an entire wall, a spit lay across it with a creature of some description rotating slowly. The walls were covered in pots and pans and other cooking equipment and it shocked Draco’s heart as he realised that it reminded him of Harry’s kitchen. He swallowed as he tried to look at anything else. Torren motioned for them to sit at the table before turning and retrieving mugs to make tea as they both sat down.
“So what trouble have you been having with these dragons?” Cosima asked from Draco’s side as Draco tried desperately to pull himself back into his focused, work mind frame.
“Well, the field out there used to be full of sheep. They’ve all gone, swiped up in the middle of the night, Muggle neighbours think that there’s a spat of rustlers in the area. There’s also been a few barn fires and house fires, not hundreds but enough to cause the local muggle council to start investigating installations and floos.” Torren turned around and handed them their tea. Draco took his thankfully and wrapped his hands around the almost blistering porcelain for a few seconds before placing it on the table. “They’re crafty and seem to mostly work at night. Which I suppose is good for the statue of secrecy, but it also means its damn hard to capture them too” He sighed as he fell into the armchair off to the corner of the room and Draco noticed the bags under his eyes for the first time.
“You look tired,” said Draco as he appraised his friend.
“It’s been a busy week, but I’m sure you’ve been busy too?” Torren smiled knowingly and gave Draco a wink.
“Yes, well the less said about that the better” Draco smirked. “Take it you’ve been reading our local rag.” Torren smiled and nodded.
“Yes, we’ve been using it in the hatchery as insulation” They all laughed, and it felt good to be speaking with an old friend. “I leave you alone for one year, maybe two and all of a sudden you’re wining and dining The. Harry. Potter.” Torren shook his head in disbelief. “It’s only taken you 15 years to gather up the courage, I’m going to owe Oxley 5 Galleons.” Draco frowned as he pulled at the cuffs of his robes awkwardly and nodded.
“As I said, the less said about that the better” Draco grimaces and caught his friends eye. The Scotsman caught the look and nodded imperceptibly, confirming his understanding.
“So? Is there anything else that you can tell us about the dragons?” Cosima asked drawing the conversation away from Harry. Draco turned and smiled in thanks as he looked at her. Catching the hint of a quiver in her voice. He raised his eyebrow at her, causing her cheeks to flame. Draco turned back to Torren to find him smiling.
“They’re a strange colour” He replied, the smile dropping slowly from his pale face as he looked into space, obviously trying to draw out his memories. “They’re a pewter colour, like a sickle” Draco nodded in understanding, knowing that the description matched the other eyewitness accounts. “They’re also bipedal,” He said quickly as if remembering it suddenly. He shook his head as he looked away. “Caught one making off with one of the last year’s lambs, was about as big as a foal, it wasn’t big enough to make off with ram yet. It stood on its back legs and hissed before shooting off” he looked back at them and shook his head. “Messy business”
Draco nodded, he felt a frown forming on his lips as he rested his fingers on his lips, a habit he’d picked up from his godfather. He felt a growing unease within him that had nothing to do with his relationship with Harry. With every new eyewitness account, the more it sounded like a hybrid. He really didn’t like the way this was going.
“It’s not sounding good is it?” Asked Torren, his brown eyes watching him closely.
“No, sixteen years unmonitored, which means about 8 eggs to a clutch, between 8 and 14 clutches per female. At least with both the Hebrideans and the Ironbellys they only mate once every 4 years. And gestation is about half that. If we’re talking one female, then we could be talking about four hundred and fifty hatchlings” Draco blew out a breath as he ran his fingers through his hair.
“four hundred and fifty?” Cosima spluttered.
“That’s worst-case scenario if there is only one female” Torren replied, “Currently there are about four hundred females in Scotland.” The silence between them hung heavy as they looked at each other’s paling faces.”
“Right we need to speak to Rolf to get someone to speak to the goblins at Gringotts and see whether they can tell us anything about their dragon. Then we need to try and find out where they’re nesting.” Draco sighed thinking about the massive job at hand. He was just glad that he wouldn’t be handling this on his own.
“Up there, beyond the next ridge” Came a gruff voice as the MacFusty patriarch stepped into the kitchen. Draco stood and nodded his head at the fearsome head of the family, He noticed Cosima follow his lead a split second later.
Lachlan MacFusty had been a tall and burly man in his youth, Draco had seen the photos. His head aflame with wild, red hair and blue eyes so pale and piercing that they almost looked blind. His eyes were still as shocking if they caught your gaze, but the straight back and wide arms had bent and thinned with age, the strong, muscular features wasted away to nothing. Old MacFusty reminded him of Dumbledore, not to look at but, in the way that they both seemed to have retained an inner strength under the façade of being a wizened, old man.
Lachlan MacFusty gave him an appraising look and then turned those painfully sharp eyes to Cosima. “Who are you anyway? Why you on my land?” He asked grumpily.
“This Is Draco, Dad, I told you about him, I worked with him in Romania?” Torren coaxed as he stood, letting his dad have the armchair. Draco let his eyes admire the muscles in Torren’s arm before he looked back down to his seat as he sat down, following old MacFusty’s lead.
“I still can’t understand why you had to go all the way to Romania to learn about dragons” The old man complained. “For Merlin’s sake, you were born in this very house. The first of the 28th generation of this family. Born on a bleeding Dragon reserve and you cried just like any other member of this family that there has ever been. What makes you so bloody special, that you couldn’t train here, eh? I’ll never know!” He ranted. Torren rolled his eyes and Draco had to bite back a smirk. The patriarch was exactly as Torren had described him in many of his tales. “Don’t think I didn’t see that eye roll!” He tutted as he finally regarded the room around him.
“Draco you say? Another Dragon man? Good! Good!” He said finally “Where do you hail from Dragon?” Draco felt himself jump at the use of his old childhood nickname. He tried not to show it as he opened his mouth to answer.
“Wiltshire, Sir, however, I now live in London,” He said confidently trying to push down any thoughts about his flat.
“Wiltshire? Draco Malfoy is it?” He asked, His eyes becoming more pointed and suspicious. Draco tried not to let the gaze faze him, this wasn’t the first time he’d had this conversation and he was sure it wouldn’t be the last.
“Indeed, Draco Lucius Malfoy” He nodded his head as a greeting. He expected some sort of comeback but got nothing but an appraising look. He was thankful when the old man’s gaze passed to his left.
“And what about you madam?” He asked kindly.
“I am Cosima, Cosima Pruitt, I work with Draco at the Ministry” She stuttered slightly.
“Right,” He said as he nodded his head as if coming to a conclusion in his own mind. “Here on Ministry business then, are you?”
They both nodded unsure what else to say.
“About these flaming, bloody dragons that have started causing mischief?”
“Yes, we’re currently trying to find out more about them so that we can best address the situation”
“Aye, and you’re the world expert, are you?” MacFusty’s eyes narrowed in on him again and Draco fought not to look away, not to show weakness.
“I wouldn’t say world expert, Sir, I would say that I am quite knowledgeable about the majority of common dragon breeds, however, I bow to your superior knowledge when it comes to the Hebridean black.” He said carefully, feeling like he was being tested. The room was silent and tense for a long moment before the old patriarch busting into a loud and brittle, barking laughter. Draco and Cosima jumped. It didn’t escape his attention that Torren didn’t. He shot a glare off to the younger man who just smiled smugly back.
“I must apologise for my dad, he likes to wind people up.” He shook his head.
“The looks on your faces, priceless! And you” He said pointing to Draco “You could be a politician with answers like that, but your maths is totally off” Draco’s brow furrowed as he ran through his calculations again.
“Well firstly, The Hebridean’s very rarely lay 14 clutches a season, and secondly I actually know how many there are. Otherwise, that was some good calculations”
“What? How can you know how many?”
“As I said when I came in, they’re nesting up beyond the next ridge to the east.”
“How many are there?” Asked Torren, looking just as interested in this information.
“There’s about half a dozen. Looks like there only one or two survive per clutch, which in the circumstances is understandable” Draco nodded at the old man’s words.
“Of course!” He said more to himself than anyone else in the room.
“What?” Cosima asked nervously.
“Obligatory siblicide” Cosima narrowed her eyes and looked at him.
“What he means is, when the first egg hatches, the hatchling emerges and begins to eat the other eggs which haven’t hatched yet. Sometimes only one dragon emerges from a clutch of fourteen, it means that we could be looking at a lot fewer dragons than we were before.”
“Why didn’t we take that into account?” She asked, a fresh flush across her face.
“Because they don’t always do it.” Said the oldest MacFusty. “Hebrideans usually have a clutch of 8 and because we keep them well fed, most survive. but, when an area doesn’t have enough food or space, they can start eating their siblings to make sure the fittest survive,”
“Which means we have less to worry about, and none of them will be fully grown but, they’re going to be strong and resilient,” said Torren as he crossed his arms across his chest. He paused and looked at his father. “I’m still curious as to how you have this information old timer!” He said reproachfully.
“I may be old, but this land has been my life since before you were even a snitch on my Quidditch pitch” Draco smirked as he saw Torren roll his eyes. “I’m not so old that I can’t apparate all over this property.” He huffed insolently before he continued. “I stumbled on the female about a month ago when I found a large pile of bones over the way.” He pointed out the window as he continued to talk “A giant, aged and pale thing, she is. Even the red in her eyes has faded, think she might be blind, you’ll have to stay out of sight and downwind, just on the off chance. Don’t think she’s long for this world, certainly doesn’t have enough strength for another pairing, Dragons are not gentle partners.” He said brusquely.
“Thank Merlin that they pair for life,” Said Torren brushing his long hair away from his face.
“That’s if this mixed pairing doesn’t change things, Ironbelly’s tend not to be too fussy.” Said Draco gravely
Draco looked at Cosima who was writing it all down as they talked. He would need to see these creatures for himself and take a few readings and sketches. “Mr MacFusty? Could I possibly make a fire call? I need to report our findings back to the office”
The MacFusty patriarch waved a hand towards the fireplace and nodded.
“Now, my boy, where is my bloody brew?” the old man complained as Draco reached for the floo powder.