“Did you not think I needed to know?” Draco mulled the question over, working out whether to answer truthfully or to lie. The silence stretched between them and Draco knew he’d have to offer up something.
“It honestly never crossed my mind,” He said with a Gallic shrug and realised that it hadn’t.
“It never occurred to you, for one second, that facing dragons would be taxing and dangerous enough, but going out there without support after having an emotional shock?” Rolf shook his head as he sat on his desk looking down at the fire.
“No, sir. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to do my job” He replied and again knew that it was true. He had spent so much of his time running around Hogwarts under the threat of death for himself and his family during his O.W.L’s and that he hadn’t really considered stress to hamper his abilities. It certainly hadn’t seemed to as he had managed to get O’s for most of his subjects.
“You’re either a really stupid genius, or a very intelligent fool, and at the moment, I’m not sure which.” Rolf sighed in frustration as he shook his head. “Draco, I’m sure you are aware however I feel the need to remind you, that magic can be affected by emotional stress”
“I am well aware of that sir; however I know myself and my magic and did not feel it to be an issue at the time,” Draco replied, restraining the urge to roll his eyes.
“And what about now? Are you up to this or do I need to get someone else to take over?” Rolf sighed again, and Draco felt slightly offended.
“Permission to speak frankly sir?” He waited until he could see the slight nod of his head. He took a deep breath as he fought to keep his impertinent tone under control. “I am, by far the most qualified and experienced dragonologist on retainer with the ministry. If this was a job that another member of staff could do, I can guarantee you that my name and all its inferences, would never have graced the table and believe me, it was certainly the last owl I was expecting to receive. However here I am, with a job to do. My personal life has no bearing on my ability to do my job. Now if you will allow me, I am calling to request some assistance and to keep you apprised of this situation here.” Draco said and thought he’d managed to sound at least semi-professional.
“Assistance?” Rolf raised his eyebrows.
“Indeed.” Draco paused for effect “We require more information about the dragon during its time at Gringotts. We believe it’s a female and elderly. We have currently been informed that it is nesting on one of the ridges close by and that the current number is approximately 8, four hatchlings possibly two dragonets, one Wyrm and one Hebridean of at least Juvenile age. We intend to visit the site today to get more information.”
“Good work!” Rolf perked up smiling.
“If someone could discuss the situation with the goblins down at Gringotts and ask some questions, we need to be certain that there is no other magic involved.” Draco paused, glad that his report had changed the subject “I will run some tests whilst I am at the site but if they charmed the Wyrm, it may have unforeseen repercussions when we attempt to extract them in the future”
“You obviously know the Romanian reserve well. Will they have the equipment to be able to offer these creatures a home”
“Without further study, it’s too early to say, I don’t know how these dragons interact with each other or whether these creatures will be suitable for the living arrangements which the reserve offers” Draco paused “At the reserve all the dragons, albeit we try to restrict them, are able to come into contact with each other. If these creatures are not able to adapt…” Draco let the words trail off, as Rolf nodded grimly.
“Very good” Rolf replied sounding contemplative, Draco could see the thoughts flitting across his face “Draco, If there’s any sign that there have been human casualties…” Draco waited as Rolfs voice trailed off and nodded solemnly
“If there is evidence, I’ll be sure to inform you straight away”
“Let us hope it doesn’t come to that” Rolf said seriously.
“Indeed” Draco replied. He hoped that there was no sign as the executioners would need to be called.
“Draco, off the record, how are you feeling?” Rolf asked, all his attention now on Draco. Draco wasn’t sure how to answer.
“I’m focused, sir-”
“Yes, yes, enough of that. I read the paper and everything that was contained within it. How do you feel about it all? I’m worried about you.” Draco felt stunned for a moment at his words.
“I- I feel” He stuttered as he tried to compose himself “I feel that once I complete my assignment here, it may be something I can resolve once I return home, however, my job is my primary concern” Draco continued, refusing to let his guard down.
“Oh very well, have it your way!” Rolf sighed, sounding exasperated “Please can you call Cosima over, I wish to speak with her also”
“Draco, be careful,” Rolf said with a smile. Draco nodded and removed his head from the fire.
“Cosima? Rolf wishes to speak with you too” Draco asked as he interrupted the conversation she and Torren were having. He walked away from the fire and made room for Cosima.
“Everything alright?” Torren asked
“Yeah” Draco added with a sigh.
“Sounds like it too” Torren added with an arched eyebrow.
“It’s this whole Potter business, The boss is concerned about my wellbeing” Draco rolled his eyes before pinching the bridge of his nose in annoyance, hoping to stop the headache building.
“So, you and Potter?” Torren asked, “It finally happened?” A small grin appeared on his lips and Draco raised an eyebrow.
“What do you mean, Finally?” Draco raised an eyebrow “You make it sound like it was expected!”
“Come off it Draco, I think the whole of the Romanian reserve knew you got hotter for Potter” Torren laughed, and Draco felt himself cringe internally as he gaped at his friend.
“You are never to say that phrase again! That was abominable!” Torren laughed harder holding up his hands in surrender until he finally stopped. He wiped the tears away as he continued to speak.
“Every time poor Charlie brought him up you’d get a mysterious migraine” Torren chuckled to himself.
“I was not so transparent!” Draco cringed again knowing he sounded haughty.
“Alright, maybe only half of the reserve” Torren winked.
“You’re not funny, you know?” Draco said, fighting the urge to smile. He shook his head, he hadn’t realised how much he missed his friends from the reserve.
“Me? I’m hilarious and you know it, I can see the cracks appearing in that mask of yours!” Torren replied with a smile and Draco gave in and smiled back “But on a serious note, have you told Charlie?”
“No, Why?” Draco asked, his eyes furrowing in confusion.
“Seriously Draco! The only thing slightly more obvious than your weakness for Harry Potter was how awkward things got between you and Charlie after the whole poaching incident. For someone as bright as you are, you can be so dense!” Draco snorted feeling a sick sensation building in his gut mingled with guilt.
“That’s what my boss just said!” Draco turned his whole body towards Torren and crossed his arms. “Have you spoken to Charlie about it?” Torren shook his head.
“About what? According to both of you, nothing happened.” Torren raised his eyebrow and gave Draco an unimpressed look “Meanwhile, whilst you’ve had the hots for Pot’s all this time, he’s been making googly eyes at you.”
“No, he hasn’t!” Draco dismissed with a wave of his hand. “He made it quite clear that we could never be anything more than friends”
“Poor, deluded Draco” Torren smiled as he put a hand on Draco’s shoulder. Draco opened his mouth to reply with a barbed comment but Cosima removed herself from the fireplace and returned back to them, the fire disappearing back with a whoosh.
“So are we ready to go?” Torren asked with a sly smile and a sideward glance to Draco. Draco glared and then rolled his eyes in defeat.
“Yes,” Cosima said also glancing at Draco from the corner of her eye.
“Cosima, I know Rolf asked you to keep an eye on me, but I’m fine, honestly.” Cosima nodded but not like she agreed.
“Come on, before we run out of daylight,” Torren remarked as they proceeded out the room, pausing briefly while Torren pulled a blanket over his sleeping father.
They apparated about a half a mile from where Lachlan MacFusty had told them the dragons resided so that their arrival wouldn’t disturb them. Draco took a deep breath of the fresh and clear air. He could see for miles, all the way down into the valley where the Macfusty reserve was and out along the loch. As he looked around, taking in the scenery he frowned. There were no signs or markings to say that dragons had ever graced this area which confused Draco; There were always signs of dragons.
Scratch marks on stone where they had sharpened their teeth, or gouges in the ground where they’d stretched, and their talons had dug up the earth. He was about to say something when Torren pulled Cosima down to the ground. Draco heard it a second after and ducked down to the ground. The sound rocked the ground and Draco half expected to see one soaring overhead but there was no sign. Draco looked up at Torren who shrugged.
“What was that?” Cosima whispered fiercely.
“Not sure yet” Draco replied as he retrieved his wand. He moved his wand in a series of complicated movements and he tried to get a reading of what was happening, He shook his head as he looked at the others just getting up. “Something seems to be affecting the magic in the area. The readings are all over the place”
Torren stood before offering Cosima a smile and a hand. She blushed as she took it. She caught Draco’s eye and he smirked kindly at her. She blushed again as they continued to walk to where the patriarch had said. Torren held up his hand suddenly as they came to a small rise. Draco got closer and noticed that there was a large drop below them. Now he could see traces of dragons, pewter and silver coloured scales littered the floor and deep scratches scarred the earth.
“It’s a cave,” Cosima said in awe. “Do dragons always live in caves?” Draco and Torren shook their heads.
“Not usually, most dragons like being out in the open however the one from Gringotts may have wanted somewhere enclosed after being locked up for so long,” Draco replied.
“That would explain the nocturnal activity, hatchlings learn their behaviours from the mother,” Torren said, his eyes darting everywhere in search of dragons. They heard a cow mooing in the distance, its call desperate and high pitched. They looked at each other as they heard the sound get closer. They saw movement and saw the ginger highland cow rise first over the ridge before seeing the pewter dragonet pulling it towards the cave. They watched as the hefty beast tried to pull away using its bulk to dig into the ground, but the dragonet was stronger. The dragonet was larger than the bull but was much lither causing it to struggle against the bovine’s mass. The cow was trying desperately to skewer the dragonet with its deadly looking horns but couldn’t get the angle. The dragon had its jaws locked on the flesh at the animal’s neck and was tugging jerkily to unbalance the cow. With a final shake, the cow was down on its front legs, most of its fight gone as blood began to coat the grass and stone. There was a screeching warble, as four smaller dragons came pouring out of the cave.
“These must be the most recent hatchlings,” Torren said as they watched the smaller dragons surround the poor beast bringing it down to its side to expose its stomach. The hatchlings were about the size of a medium-sized dog, their thin and wriggling silver bodies reminded Draco of sea serpents as they moved, their bodies serpentine with their miniature, under-developed wings.
“How can you tell a dragon’s age? Is it just their size?” Cosima asked looking away to avoid the massacre.
“Size does come into it, however, different dragons have different standards; For example, the Peruvian Vipertooth is the smallest known breed. At maturity, they usually reach about 15 ft long. The Ukrainian Ironbelly is the largest breed and they can grow up to…” Torren stopped for a moment as he wracked his brain
“About 40 ft” Draco supplied
“Thanks, Yeah so about 40 ft. In fact, dragons, as a rule, are a bit like trees”
“In what way?” Cosima asked in fascination as she stared at him in earnest. “Please tell me you don’t cut them in half and count the rings” Draco snorted as he tried to stifle a laugh. Cosima looked at him, a playful smile playing on her face. Torren blushed before he chuckled. He shook his head and ran a hand through his tied hair and looked at her. She blushed, and her smile disappeared into something else. Draco looked away, knowing that look all too well.
“Wrong analogy probably closer to a stag and their antlers. They shed and regrow annually and each year another tine gets added to their antlers. With dragons, it’s all about the shoulder scales.” Torren pointed down to the dragons below, Cosima looked briefly but turned her head away sharply. Draco watched as the dragons devoured the cow. He’s seen enough blood and gore during his time in Romania that it no longer bothered him. He was more concerned with watching how the dragons worked in a pack. It told him that these dragons were different from most he had dealt with. He pulled out his notebook and began to take notes.
“Tor? Are Hebrideans pack animals or show any pack related behaviour?” Torren caught his eye with a knowing look and shook his head. Draco sighed as he pulled his sketchbook and pencils from his backpack and added it to his notebook. Keeping low he began to draw them, as they worked together as a team.
“Are any of the dragon breeds pack animals?” Cosima asked and again Torren shook his head. “So what does that mean?”
“It means that these creatures are acting in a way we’re not familiar with, which makes them even more dangerous. Normally the mother abandons the nest within a week of the young emerging and then they’re left to fend for themselves. It hasn’t happened in this case, so it looks like we’re looking at a relationship which is more complex than we first anticipated until we’ve studied them we won’t know.” Draco replied, holding one of his pencils between his teeth. “I’m going to be here a while, I don’t know whether you want to explore some more?” He suggested looking up at Torren who nodded with a smile.
“We won’t go far” Torren confirmed as they left. Draco nodded as he began to study the creatures. He heard them walk off as he became submerged in his work. He set up his quick quotes quill to take notes so that he could concentrate on making his sketches. He made a few preliminary drawings of features like the sharp ridges down their backs and the eyes which seemed to range between crimson and violet. He found a few features that hadn’t been mentioned in the eyewitness accounts, like the arrow-shaped tail. After ensuring the quick quill had written down his points. He began to work on sketches of the scene in its entirety, including the pack attack on the cow. It was almost unheard of for another dragon to bring food back to the nest for its siblings.
Draco shook his head as he tried to understand these creatures. Marvelling at the way their metallic scales glinted like liquid iron as they shifted. He had almost finished his sketch when he realised that the light was dying and that there was very little left of the cow. He heard another rumble beneath his body and decided that they did not want to be caught out in the open with these nocturnal creatures once the night descended. He scanned the darkening scene before his trying to spot his companions. There didn’t seem to be any sign of them. Draco felt a knot forming in his chest as he packed his things away and went in search other them.
The light had disappeared quickly around him as the sun was blocked by the higher ground surrounding the valley. He could feel the chilly night air sinking into his bones as he cast another warming charm on himself. He had been searching for an hour now and was still no nearer to finding them. He wondered whether they had apparated back to the Macfusty reserve but knew that they’d have told him first. That was rule number one, ‘Always know where your companions are’. He felt angry at himself for not having kept a closer eye on them as they walked off.
He heard a snuffing noise off to his right and spun around. A pair of glowing violet eyes had latched onto him half hidden in the quicksilver scales which seemed to absorb the dimming light making it expertly camouflaged. He swore under his breath as he tried to cast a stunning spell on the creature. He watched in horror as the spell seemed to rebound and wash off its scales like water off a duck. He swore loudly as he turned and ran. He tried to zigzag to make it more difficult for the creature to catch him. He heard the flapping of wings as he dived to the left, he felt the air shift by his side before empty air appeared between his feet and the ground.
As the air rushed at his face like needles, he had a brief rush of panic before his training kicked in. He grabbed his wand with a death grip and shot a stinging spell at the creature. The white flash of light burst and dissipated around the creature causing no damage, but the light seemed to give it a shock. It shrieked as it released his backpack. He saw the darkened ground rushing up to meet him and realised he’d not been taken high. The air was forced from his chest as he collided with the ground. He felt an intense pain in his side and knew he’d cracked or bruised at least one rib. He gritted his teeth through the pain as he tried to get up, forcing himself to breathe.
He heard the whoosh of air as the dragon landed on his back again, knocking him to the floor. White light flashed through his mind, blinding him for a split second as his face collided with the floor. He cried out with the remainder of his breath and tried to cover his head and neck with his hands. He saw a flash of light and the weight was suddenly gone in a rush of grunts and cries. Draco tried to breathe and move but the pain rushing through his limbs made his movements sluggish. The stabbing sensation in his side made him panic as he couldn’t get a full breath. He fought to get to his feet against the pain. He hadn’t heard it crack so he was hoping that it was just bruised. He looked around and could see flashes coming from his right. He tried to run but the jolting winded him and his mind swam throwing him off balance, so he walked as quickly as possible towards the flashes. He got there in time to find Torren trying to cast spells on the rushing dragonet.
Draco cast a disillusionment charm on himself, waving his wand around himself as if lassoing himself with rope. He sped forward as quickly as he could, before shooting another stringing hex at the dragonet. It seemed distracted for a moment, its serpentine head rearing up, looking for its target. He was about to cast another spell when Torren tried to shoot at it again. The dragonets head rushed around as it pounced on Torren. Draco shouted out, but the creature ignored him.
He heard Torren hit the ground with a sickening thud, before being dragged across the ground. The dragonet growling and snorting as it worried at Torren’s flesh dragging him left and right. Draco watched in slow motion as those vicious talons shredded his skin. His mind went blank as he grasped at any idea to help. He fired off another couple of spells and both deflected away from the dragons armoured skin. He had a blinding idea as he pointed his wand once more.
“Sonorous” He shouted and suddenly an almighty roar erupted from the tip of his wand. The dragonet whined and screeched as it took to the air. Draco ran as quickly as his ribs would let him to his friend’s side.
“Draco?” Came a whispered gurgle.
“It’s me, I’m here. Where are you hurt?”
“Tell me where you’re hurt!” Draco stressed through gritted teeth as he tried to inspect the wounds.
“Not much time, Cosima.” He started “Rocks, broken ankle” He raised his arm and pointed towards a small pile of rocks to one side,
“Torren, I’ll get you home” There was no response and Draco felt his throat close. He felt around his neck for a pulse, his fingers coated in something black hot and slick. He forced the images from his mind as he searched for a pulse. He could have cried when he found it; weak but there all the same. He closed his eyes and said a quick prayer of thanks as he released the breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding. He cast a levitation charm on his friend.
He needed to find Cosima. He took a deep breath he needed help. He was trained in field healing but was no mediwizard. He would need to stop the bleeding and work from there. He closed his eyes for a second as he tried to recall his happiest memory he pointed his wand and whispered the incantation and watched as the white mist formed to create his Patronus animal. The wings stretched out wide as they flapped. Draco smiled slightly as he looked at it. It was a snowy owl, just seeing it reminded him of Harry’s smiling face, seeing him day in and day out through school, seeing this majestic creature, the only snow white owl at school, glide down to him every morning.
“We need assistance, we have injured. Please send help.” He sent the Patronus to the ministry hoping someone would be here soon. He guided the still body of Torren over to the rocks he had pointed to.
“Cosima?” He whispered. He called again a bit louder. He heard a noise and turned, his nerves tight and thrumming in anticipation of an attack.
“Draco?” Draco breathed out in relief as he peered into the pale light.
“Cosima? Where are you?”
“Down here” she replied, and Draco followed her voice. Draco cast the Lumos charm and looked for her more closely. She had also had a disillusionment charm cast on her as it took Draco three tries to find her.
“Are you alright?” Draco asked as he settled Torren’s body on the ground beside them. He started to cast the charms and wards around them to offer some protection. Once that was done he proceeded to deal with his wounds.
“I’m fine, just a bit shaken up and I’m er-” She paused, her voice filled with tears as she gestured to her ankle. Draco glanced down and found her foot tightly wedged between some rocks. “stuck” He looked at her foot and the angle was wrong, He knew that Torren’s assessment of her ankle being broken was correct.
“I’ll look at your ankle in a moment, is there much pain?” Draco asked turning back to his friend. He closed his eyes for a moment as he waited for his vision to return to normal.
“No” She lied, He shook his head as he heard her teeth grit.
“Let me sort Torren first,” Draco said as he looked at the mess that was his friend.
“You mean he’s still alive?” Cosima gasped. “I thought he was dead” He could hear her break down into small sobs.
“He is at the moment; however, I am not a mediwizard. I’ve sent for help from the ministry, now we just need to wait.”
“Can you not apparate with him to St Mungo’s?”
“That would leave you alone”
“I’m not leaving you without a wand”
“How did you know I lost my wand?”
“Because otherwise, you’d have blasted yourself out of that little problem already” He waved at her ankle. “Am I wrong?”
“I’m not leaving you Cosima! Help will be here soon and then we can all get to St Mungo’s”
“Are you hurt?”
“Not too badly, Think I’ve bruised a rib, it might be fractured. Also, think I may have a mild concussion.”
“Are you alright?”
“I’ll be fine. I need you to be quiet for a moment as I need to concentrate on Torren, I just need to stem the bleeding” Draco blinked away the blurring of his vision again as he forced himself to concentrate on his friend.
As he examined his friend’s body he found that there was a large gash in the side of his head which it appeared a lot of the bleeding had come from. There were deep lacerations down his chest where the dragon had all but shredded him. As he peered at the wounds, it appeared that none of his internal organs were perforated.
“Vulnera Sanentur,” He said as he pointed to his friend’s body. The wounds slowly began to seal up. He sighed, remembering what this spell felt like. His mind flashing back to his Godfather helping him from the watery floor in the toilets. He watched as the slashes reduced in size but didn’t disappear completely. He cast a cleaning charm to try and get rid of the drying blood so he could assess the man more closely.
His chest was shredded and there were deep tooth marks on his shoulder. His wand hand was missing his smallest and ring finger and deep score marks crisscrossed down his arms. Draco swallowed thickly as he tried to remain calm. Even if they got him to the hospital there would be no telling whether he’d survive this amount of damage. He pointed to his twisted leg and said firmly “Ferula” and watched as a splint and bandages appeared around the crooked limb, then proceeded to do it to his bowed wand arm too. After another quick assessment, Draco determined there was nothing more that he could do for his friend. He turned to Cosima and found her crying quietly into her hands. She was more visible now, he nodded to himself, the disillusionment charm must have been wearing off both of them by now.
“Are you alright?” Draco asked gently as he took her hand in his. She nodded and sniffed loudly, dirt collecting at the tear tracks down her chubby cheeks. “He’ll be alright,” Draco lied and Cosima smiled despite her tears.
“You’re an awful liar!” She scoffed “I can see why Rolf likes you” Draco raised his eyebrows.
“He tolerates me because I’m good at my job” Draco smiled.
“No, do you know why you got the job?” Cosima started “Ans yes you are one of the best but that wasn’t the only reason.”
“Hold that thought,” He said as he retrieved his wand “Squeeze my hand, this might hurt” He felt her cold hands grasp his as she took a deep breath. He pointed his wand at the stone and carefully. He began to chip away at the stone.
“Just do it Draco, please it hurts” Draco looked at her and their eyes met. He saw the certainty in her face and nodded. He pointed his wand and made the stone fracture and explode. Cosima whimpered as Draco moved her foot free. He held it as careful as he could muster and pointed his wand at it and performed the Ferula spell again. Bandaged wound their way around the ankle which was twisting back into place. Cosima cried out and Draco felt her squeeze his hand. Slowly the splint had straightened the foot and the bandages were sealing around her.
“That’s it, all done. The pain should start easing soon” Cosima released his hand slowly as she panted against the pain.
“Oh Merlin” She panted slowly as she began to relax.
“Now, carry on telling me how great I am” He smiled. He really didn’t want to hear anymore, but she needed the distraction. Her skin was clammy and hot, and he knew that her ankle would be in agony until the spell took hold.
“You’re so insufferable!” She swore with a smile.
“And yet you followed me here” he smirked at her and she smiled.
“What was I saying?”
“That Rolf hired me for my stunning good looks as well as my unparalleled skill with dragons.”
“Ah yes, that was it” Cosima smiled a slightly dopey smile and Draco knew the bandages had already started to ease the pain. “Luna told him to”
“What?” Draco asked reeling slightly. He tried to keep his face still and unreadable.
“Yeah, Luna told him to seriously consider you for the role.” She thought for a moment “What was it he said that she’d told him, ah that was it. She had said that ‘He has a Snallygasters ability to find trouble and has seen more bloodshed than a Red Cap but inside he is a puffskein with a heart made of solid Occamy eggshell’ She also said something about you being as rare to find as a Crumple-Horned Snorkack, whatever that is” Draco didn’t quite know what to say. If they got out of here alive, he would have to thank Luna in person. It definitely sounded like something that she would say albeit not about him. He thought that, from what he remembered, Rolf and Luna made a good match. His mind drifted to Rolf and their last conversation about Harry. He needed to sort things out with Harry, the thought of it made him sick with nerves. He didn’t even know how to approach the subject. “Draco?” Cosima asked quietly breaking his train of thought.
“When will help get here?” She shivered, and Draco cast a warming charm on them all.
“They should be here soon,” He thought that they should have already been here but he didn’t say that out loud. Draco felt a sinking feeling consume him as he considered what this meant. “My Patronus may have taken a bit longer to get there, let’s give it a bit longer before I send another one.” He checked Torren’s pulse again, it seemed to be steady but weak.
“Thank you for rescuing us Draco,” Cosima said as she leant against him. “I thought we were dead”
“We’ll be alright,” Draco said absently as he started to wonder whether help was coming at all.