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Chapter 1: Obstacles
“You don’t reckon he’s serious? I mean, dragons? We’re only Level Two,” Ron murmured, his pasty complexion void of blood. In the spacious atrium behind them, the blinking lights of Sneakoscopes and Secrecy Sensors vibrated with colors flashing from gold to pink, making Ron’s skin all the more wan-looking in their backlash. Normally Neville found Auror instruments fascinating, but today they only served to distract.
“I don’t know.” Neville swallowed a lump in his throat, fidgeting with his wand. He wished he had more time to prepare – but he supposed that that was sort of the point, wasn’t it? To be thrust right into various stages of the Auror Training Program without giving the Training Squad a chance to plan? Still, it was rather unnerving that Harry Potter had strutted right through the door without a second glance, waving merrily at his two colleagues as though dragons were old hat. Well, maybe they were for him, after the Triwizard Tournament and all.
“Longbottom,” a tiny wizard barked, consulting his clipboard. “Your turn.”
Neville left Ron with one parting expression of dread before following the wizard to a platform of doors, listening to his footsteps echo off the marble plinth. The round platform had numerous random doors bolted to its surface – Neville counted at least ten before the wizard started hurling instructions – but they weren’t attached to a ceiling or walls, only to the platform. Harry had been told to enter the cherry-red one.
Neville and Ron had been eyeing the mysterious doors with a mixture of trepidation and curiosity ever since the Head of Training summoned Harry. All three had been hoping for one of the brighter-colored doors. In their minds, the variety of frail candyfloss colors signified pleasant experiences within, and the darker doors equated doom.
“Room 102, if you please,” the wizard stated, blinking tiredly as though he’d recently consumed a Sleeping Draught.
Neville glanced all around at the number plates, which had only just washed into view, locating the one labeled ‘102’. It was painted a shade of deep, starless night and seemed to emit a shudder like a hundred dementors breathing down his neck at once.
Naturally, that would be the one they gave to Neville.
“Enter quickly,” the wizard prompted with a yawn. “You’ll need to pass this stage of the program to be eligible to continue to the next, and you only get two tries.”
“Ah, well, better luck next time, then!” Ron called, cupping his hands around his mouth. Neville jerked around just in time to see Ron’s well-intended thumbs-up before being shouldered through the black door. The training-overseeing wizard shut the door behind him with an ominous click, and Neville found himself alone in the midst of a broad green valley, buttery sunshine bathing every drop of atmosphere save for a single dark cave burrowing under a cliff face.
Sleeping in front of it was a Swedish Short-Snout dragon, curled up in a heap of silvery-blue scales and sharp ridges.
Neville released a low groan. While he’d been the most successful trainee in the Auror Training Squad’s previous mission, which entailed navigating through a jungle of poisonous plants, he knew that Ron and Harry would utterly demolish him in this particular mission. Harry had singlehandedly defeated a Hungarian Horntail in his fourth year, and Harry and Ron had once smuggled a Norwegian Ridgeback out of Hogwarts as well as escaped Gringotts Bank on the back of a Ukrainian Ironbelly.
Neville had never triumphed over so much as a Blast-Ended Skrewt. A dragon was absurdly out of the question.
His heart swelled in his chest, blood throbbing almost painfully over each of his body’s pressure points. Right, he thought forcefully, gripping his wand in one sweaty fist. I can do this. He examined his wand again, idly remembering Ollivander’s large eyes like misty crystal balls as they leered over him in the bowels of his wand shop, whispering about the wonders of his phoenix feather core and the magic it could create when combined with thirteen inflexible inches of mahogany. Good for defensive spells, he had promised. Even if the odds are against you, this wand will never fail to protect its master.
Good for defensive spells. That particular wand wouldn’t have chosen him if its owner was incapable of defending himself, now, would it? Neville straightened his shoulders bracingly. He was a Longbottom, after all – the son of two notorious Aurors, and he would do them proud. And I defeated Nagini, didn’t I? he remembered suddenly, spirits brightening. After a Horcrux, this ought to be a cinch.
With his mind clear and his teeth gritted, Neville marched forward with all the determination of a warrior. He knew inherently that whatever way out of this was through that cave, so his first obstacle must be getting past the Short-Snout.
When he crept toward it, hedging nervously around the massive creature, his heel snapped a thin stick in half. He picked up one of its ends, just in case he might need to brandish it as a weapon, and pocketed it. The dragon stirred in her sleep, spewing gaslight-blue flames through her nostrils. Smoke swirled away from her snout in a vapory haze, filling Neville’s mouth with the taste of ash.
Biting back a cough, Neville trained his wand on the dragon’s exposed stomach, which was a bumpy curvature of shining silver like metal armor, and exclaimed, “Rictusempra!”
The dragon’s eyes shot open at once. She made hacking noises, emitting more foul-smelling smoke that choked the air, while proceeding to roll entirely onto her back. She convulsed, snorting madly as Neville unrelentingly tickled her abdomen. If it weren’t for her sheer breadth and the intimidating flames rocketing out of her nose, engulfing Neville’s head in soot, he might have found the spectacle comical.
The dragon rolled and rolled, clawed feet writhing about in the air, down the hill into a tulip-dotted bowl of land; Neville noticed with a jolt that she was headed for a cluster of houses deep in the valley, presumably placed there to create another inconvenient complication for trainees. “Accio dragon!” he cried, jabbing his wand at the faraway beast who continued to roll and roll. The dragon flew backwards, rotating in the opposite direction, its brutish face frozen in an expression of intense bewilderment.
No one was more surprised than the dragon herself as she was abruptly lifted into the air with Wingardium Leviosa, strung up by some invisible cable coiled around her neck and legs. She struggled against the clouds, kicking and tumbling in midair, too absorbed in shock to pay Neville much mind. Without knowing what else to do, Neville lowered his wand and the dragon lowered with it, dropping to the ground in an earth-pounding quake of tremors that knocked Neville right off his feet.
The dragon coughed, snorted, and righted itself in one fluid roll of motion, spotting Neville at last. Her wide, glittering gaze narrowed to slits, reflective eyes mirroring all the yellow of the sun and lending itself a demonic quality. Stomping forward and switching its tail sinuously, the dragon released a roar of rage accompanied by scalding cobalt fire. Twenty feet of grass crumbled into black cinders, the vaporized landscape hanging in the air at waist-level in an itchy smog that clung to Neville’s skin.
“Imperio!” he gasped, flinging one arm up to shield his mouth from the scattering dust. Residue of burned grass coated his mouth and fingernails, settling into a fine powder in his hair.
The Unforgivable Curse was foreign on his tongue, but as soon as he spoke it he knew he’d made the right move. The dragon blinked its eyes sleepily and stared at him, tongue lolling between rows of sharp ivory teeth. In a tremendous thrashing of wings, she rose steadily into the air, climbing higher and higher against the afternoon sun, and soared over the towering cliff to curl up into a very long, very deep sleep.
Grinning hugely, Neville sprinted towards the cave. A shallow imprint of where the dragon had once slept lay stamped in the soil at the entrance, the grass there withered and brown.
He hesitated for only a fraction of a second at the mouth of the black cave, muttering Lumos to forge a path of light. He was careful with his footing, as the interior of the cave sloped downward; he felt like a very small person trotting through the throat of a colossal monster, and could almost feel the muscles in its jaw constrict, eager to swallow him whole. He shook his head, reminding himself that it was only a structure of rocks, and that he had nothing to fear in the darkness but the two seconds it might take to react to another obstacle.
As he continued, the sweat on his brow and neck beginning to cool from the decrease in temperature, he noticed something startling splattered all over the walls. It was a deep, glimmering liquid, some of it brown with age and some of it ripe, ranging in color from crimson to vomit-green.
From somewhere in the back of his mind, Neville recalled how dragon’s blood could heal minor injuries and cemented it to memory in case he came across another dangerous animal capable of inflicting damage. Dragon’s blood could also clean stains and ovens, as well as produce the Elixir of Energy (a hot, peppery substance that enabled the drinker to complete a task in half the usual time), treat Bavarian Flesh Disease, and ornament walls in enchanted scarlet paint that would never fade (rumored to be used in the Gryffindor common room’s décor); this knowledge, of course, was not of much use to him at the moment.
The path careened off to the right, the walls higher and the ground plunging steeper with every step. Neville held his wand aloft to throw more light upon the slimy walls, his muscles tense and alert. The echo of a drip, drip, drip hummed in his ears, the cold water collecting in the ceiling’s cracks splashing onto his shoulders.
He knew enough to expect some sort of Dark, sinister creature lurking to not be totally astonished when the path opened up into an extraordinarily cavernous room, the walls blending smoothly into infinite space. Above, converging with one another in an expanse of black, whirling motion, were about fifty dementors. They guarded a hovering object, a small green dot that emanated a pearly sheen strong enough to draw Neville’s eyes to its beating emerald heart. He could feel its pulse, could feel the irresistible pull to move towards it. The rocky terrain under his feet slipped out from beneath him as he lurched, one hand already drifting in front of him as if to grasp it.
I’m meant to take it.
Acting quickly, Neville retrieved the snapped stick from his pocket and transfigured it into a crudely-designed broomstick. He swung across the rough bark of its handle, hopping on just in time as it hurled into the vortex of dementors. Their slack-jawed mouths gaped wide under shivering ebony hoods, hollow bodies whistling eerily as they searched the frigid, moisture-less air for the uninvited presence. Neville cast his wand in front of him and behind him, shouting, “Expecto Patronum!” over and over, trying his hardest to fill his mind with the image of his gran, willing for her pride when she learned he had defeated Voldemort’s snake to consume every corner of his thoughts.
Her pride for her grandson, and her assurances that his parents would have been proud, too, gave Neville the strength he needed to banish the dementors to the recesses of the cave so that he could seize the shimmering green object. Tiny grooves and brass loops slid under his fingerprints: It was a key.
The second his fingers closed around it, Neville felt an icy wind hook around his stomach, yanking him through a timeless vacuum. He clutched at his broom but found it was missing – it was him and his wand and nothing else, and he could not think or fight – and then, without warning, he popped back into existence again.
There was a room of endless white, and a pale purple door that smelled like lavender flowers that hung in the middle of blinding abyss. It was a soundless room, empty space.
Still panting heavily, Neville heaved himself to his feet and twisted a knob on the lavender door. It rattled under his grip but didn't budge. Neville felt a lump under his shoe and bent down to retrieve it, familiarizing himself once again with the small brass key that had been hovering in a nest of dementors mere seconds ago. It glowed faintly still, glittering like Avada Kedavra. He thrust his clammy hand through the clouds and clouds of white nothingness, fitting the Portkey into a heart-shaped lock just under the knob.
It clicked, swinging open with a thin, high creak.
The whirring colors of Sneakoscopes and Secrecy Sensors buzzed and clanged all around him, flashing blue and green now. Neville climbed down from the platform of revolving doors, barely listening to the Head of Training congratulate him on passing the course. He had done it! He would go on to Level Three.
Ron Weasley, who had still not been approached to enter a door, gawked anxiously at Neville. “Was it really dragons?” he inquired, crossed between amazement and fear. “Well, was it?”
Neville clapped a hand on Ron’s shoulder, looking grim. “Spiders, mate. Tons and tons of spiders.”
The chapter summary, Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus, is Latin for ‘Never Tickle a Sleeping Dragon’, which is Hogwarts’ motto.
List of House Cup Task One prompts used in this story
(I used all of the prompts given):
- featured my House’s Champion, Neville (5 points)
- mentioned 4 specific breeds of dragon – Swedish Short-Snout, Norwegian Ridgeback, Ukrainian Ironbelly, and Hungarian Horntail (5 points)
- mentioned at least 1 Unforgivable Curse – Imperius Curse and Avada Kedavra (5 points)
- mentioned a Blast-Ended Skrewt (5 points)
- featured a dragon – Swedish Short-Snout (10 points)
- mentioned a Sleeping Draught (10 points)
- mentioned 2 of the following types of magic: a transfiguration spell, a sleeping spell, the conjunctivitis curse, the summoning charm (accio) (15 points)
- included mention of at least 5 uses for dragon's blood (15 points)
- mentioned at least 2 types of Dark Detectors: Sneakoscopes and Secrecy Sensors (15 points)
- featured a theme of flourishing in the face of adversity (25 points)
- mentioned the details of my Champion’s Wand, as provided by my Head of House (25 points)