Chapter 5 : Freckle
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As soon as we reached our dorm, I collapsed on my bed, burying my head in my pillow. My head was pounding awfully and I kept on wishing I had dared to look at Charlie before I left. I wanted to know his reaction, yet I was too scared to find out. If he had looked disappointed, I would’ve felt guilty and regretful. But if he had looked indifferent, I would’ve been hurt. So I had avoided his eyes and hastened to leave the party.
Lisa didn’t waste another second to interrogate me. “Why did you say yes to my brother? I thought you didn’t like him. You’re not just using him to get to Charlie, are you?” she asked, an accusing tone in her voice.
“Of course not!” I answered, as offended as I could sound with my face still buried in the pillow. I pulled myself up to a sitting position and faced Lisa. She didn’t look angry, just curious and slightly reproachful. “I’m not planning to use your brother for anything. I’m never going to stoop that low for any guy.”
“Then why did you say yes?” Lisa repeated her initial question. I sighed and twirled a lock of my hair with my fingers. I was still trying to answer that question myself.
“I just didn’t want to hurt him. Gavin is really nice to me and he seems sincere. In case you didn’t notice, he put me on the spot back there. His friends were watching. I couldn’t say no, I would’ve humiliated him,” I explained. Lisa nodded slowly, looking deep in thought.
“I understand what you’re saying, but I think it would better that you turn him down now than later. My brother’s serious when he likes a girl, and he’d be really hurt if he knew you like his best friend. I don’t want to see him hurt by a girl, especially not by my friend.” She gave me a small smile. “You’re just his type, you know. Girly, a bit shy, petite, just the kind of girl he can protect. He doesn’t get much of that type around here, you know. I watched you two dancing tonight and he seemed to be really hooked on you. I’d love to see him have a great girlfriend for a change, but I suppose he’ll have to wait a little longer.” She yawned. “God, I’m tired. Do you mind if I use the bathroom first?” I shook my head and Lisa went to the bathroom. I changed into my pyjamas and climbed back up to my bed. I was exhausted, but I couldn’t sleep. The scene of Gavin asking me out kept on playing in my head and I kept on wondering if Charlie had known that he would ask me. Had he been the one to encourage Gavin? But if he had, why did he let Lisa drag Gavin away from me?
My head was pounding and I wished I had Ella or Penelope to talk to. They would know what to do, or at least they would make me feel better. As nice as Lisa was, she couldn’t understand me like my best friends. Suddenly I felt lonely.
It took all of my willpower to wake up the next morning. Not only that I didn’t know how to act if I saw Gavin or Charlie, it was also the day our project in DeMonte’s class started. The fact that we were going to work in groups lightened my mood for a while and I could only pray that I could team up with someone responsible.
“I don’t understand why you’re so unenthusiastic about this project,” Lisa commented when we sat down for breakfast at the cafeteria. The foods in here weren’t horrid, they weren’t Hogwarts’. I had to learn to settle for sandwiches or muffins for breakfast. “Imagine all the fun we’ll have with the baby.” I gave her a look. Was she talking about the same baby I was thinking, or did she somehow picture the dragon to be a plump, rosy-cheeked baby?
“It’s a dragon, Lisa. It’s not like you can wrap your arms around it and sing lullaby for it. Or maybe you seriously want to cuddle a dragon?” Lisa scowled.
“No, it would probably bite me before I could. But imagine how it would feel to raise a dragon. We can teach the dragon to breathe fire and to fly.” She was practically glowing with excitement. I rolled my eyes and was trying to eat my sandwich when someone slid into the seat next to me. I nearly choked when I looked around and my eyes met Gavin’s sea green ones. Covering it with a cough and reaching for my drink, I tried to smile at him. He gave me a look of concern, while Lisa tried to hide a grin.
“Are you okay?” he asked, his brow knitted together.
“I’m alright,” I replied after clearing my throat and scooting away a little. He was sitting so close to me, I could easily rest my head on his shoulder. Not that I wanted to, but I realized that from a stranger’s point of view, we could easily be thought as a couple.
“So, what class do you have today?” he asked, hardly acknowledging his sister. It was flattering to have a guy’s undivided attention, but it was very awkward for me. Lisa seemed to think we were interesting to watch, because she just sat back and didn’t say a word.
“Basics to Dragons. You?” I inquired, glancing at my watch. We had five minutes before the bell rang. If I was lucky, his class would be at other wing of the campus and he wouldn’t…
“Walk you to class? We’re going the same way. I have Medical class, not far from yours.” Then again, we all know I wasn’t lucky. I smiled politely and nodded.
“Sure, but where are your friends?” I asked, wondering where Charlie was. Gavin shrugged.
“Charlie was taking forever looking for his missing homework, so I told him I’ll see him in class,” he said. I was slightly disappointed. That means I probably wouldn’t see him until later.
“Come on, we’re going to be late,” Lisa piped up, still looking at me and Gavin with a slight smirk on her face. I wasn’t sure what she was thinking. She knew I didn’t like him that way, but I supposed she still held out some hope for me to change my mind. I gave her a look behind Gavin’s back, trying to tell her to talk to him so I didn’t have to. Gavin seemed to think that we were almost an item, and that thought alone made me feel so awkward. He was too nice to be ignored, but I didn’t want to keep giving him the wrong impression.
Lisa caught my signals and stood between me and Gavin as we walked to class, talking animatedly to me about the project. I saw the annoyed looks Gavin was giving her, but thankfully Lisa ignored them. It was a relief when we finally got to class. Lisa waved nonchalantly at Gavin and entered the class. I gave him a smile before starting to enter, but he placed a hand on my arm. “I’ll see you later?” He looked nervous, as if expecting rejection.
“I think I’m going to be busy later. We’ve got a lot of homework to be done,” I said apologetically. I wasn’t that busy, but I had to turn him down more often if I wanted my chance with Charlie. He looked dejected, but covered it with a smile.
“Oh, okay. Bye.” He gave a small wave, which I returned. I turned my attention back to class and walked in. The class was full, but Lisa had saved me a seat next to her. I had just sat down when Professor DeMonte entered the class, putting an end to the class’ loud chatters. He sat down and placed his armloads on his table, smiling broadly at the class.
“Good morning everyone. Did everyone have a good weekend?” There was a murmur of mixed answers from the students. Dawn took this time to lean back so she could look past Lisa and at me.
“Was that your boyfriend?” she whispered. I shook my head immediately.
“That was Lisa’s brother. We’re just friends,” I answered. She raised an eyebrow.
“Really? You two look really comfortable around each other when I saw you in the cafeteria.” I blushed and made to protest when Lisa cut in.
“They’re not dating, but they’re going on a date next week. Gavin likes her, but Irene doesn’t like him back and only agrees on the date out of politeness. Now will you two be quiet? DeMonte’s explaining about our assignment.” Dawn’s eyes widened at the sudden information, but she fell silent. I didn’t know whether to glare or thank Lisa for that, so I turned my attention to the professor.
“As you know, you’re going to be working in groups of four for this assignment. You’re allowed to choose your partners, but I suggest you choose carefully. I’m not going to let you switch groups in the middle of the project. Also, there’s a change of plan. You will start by taking care of the eggs instead of waiting for them to hatch. Every morning, you have to bring the babies to the conservatory and there will be Dragon Keepers who are going to check your babies’ health and such.” He turned to the board and tapped it with his wand. Sentences appeared on the board, forming instruction on how to take care of the dragon. I took my quill and started to write them all down.
1. Do not drop the egg.
2. Dragon is likely to feel a stronger attachment to the first creature he sees, so make sure you’re there when the egg hatch.
3. Dragons aren’t likely to breathe fire instantly after they’re born, except for some special cases, and you must teach him how to do it and feed him correctly. The list of dragon’s diets can be seen in your textbook.
4. Teach the dragon to fly properly after he is two months old. Read the textbook for further details.
5. Never leaves your dragon unattended. Your dragon might find a way to escape or damaged your things. When you have to go to class, leave your dragon in the reservation with a professional Dragon Keeper.
By the time the list got to number ten, my head was pounding harder than before. I’ve had pets before, but I was sure this was nothing like taking care of my dog, Lola. All I had to teach her was simple tricks like rolling over or sitting down. Flying or breathing fire had an entirely different level of difficulty and responsibility. The only thing that was slightly calming was the fact that Dawn, Allison, and Lisa were going to work with me, and with a sideway glance to them, I could tell they couldn’t wait to do it.
“Remember that you need to write a report about your dragon’s growth that will be submitted at the end of the project. That report doesn’t have to be in a formal form. You can make it in any size and shape you want, but it has to contain every little thing you do for the dragon. Also, after school today, please come to the reservation gate. I’m going to show you the mother dragon and you’ll get to choose your egg. Come right after your last class, because I won’t wait around for those who are late. Now open your book at page thirteen...”
The other classes rolled by pretty uneventfully, though the professors assigned us plenty of homework. By lunch, I already had three a-thousand-words essays, a Potions project, and a Transfiguration spell that needed to be practiced. It was a lot of work, but I didn’t mind at all. I was a Ravenclaw, remember? Naturally, I liked to study. The classes also turned out to be pretty interesting. If this was something I was passionate about, I’d love every minute of it. It didn’t matter though, I only had to stick it out for a year and then I could actually study the things I liked.
I was somewhat relieved that Gavin wasn’t in the cafeteria during lunch, but Charlie wasn’t there either, which brought down my mood a bit. But I had more urgent things on my mind than boys at the moment, like the baby dragon project. The girls couldn’t stop talking about it at lunch.
“How are we supposed to teach a dragon to fly?” Allison asked, looking over her notes.
“Probably take him on a broom or something like that,” Dawn answered with a shrug. “Do you think they’ll let us raise a Hungarian Horntail?”
“I don’t think so,” I replied, suddenly reminded of something my dad said some time ago during dinner. “Horntails are difficult to handle, even when they’re just a baby. Besides, they eat humans. I don’t think Professor DeMonte would let us handle a human-eating dragon.”
“So that means Peruvian Vipertooth, Chinese Fireball, and Hungarian Horntail are out of question,” Lisa said, ticking them off her slender fingers. She didn’t even have to consult the book to mention those. “Oh well, it doesn’t matter what kind it is, as long as it’s a real dragon,” she said.
Despite her ambition of being a Dragon Keeper, Lisa had never seen a living dragon. She told me her parents are both Muggles who, while they supported her dream, didn’t have enough money to send her overseas to a dragon reservation during the holiday. They weren’t able to pay the tuition too actually, but Gavin managed to get into SFU on scholarship so the money her parents saved for his education could be used to pay hers. I supposed that was why she worked so hard in class.
Lisa nudged me with her elbow. “Gavin and Charlie are coming this way,” she whispered. My head jerked up and I could see them walking over. I felt my cheeks flushed and was grateful that I’ve finished eating. If things got uncomfortable, I could escape quickly.
“I don’t have anything in my teeth, do I?” I asked Lisa, flashing a toothy smile. She took one quick glance and shook her head.
“What are you guys whispering about?” Dawn inquired, turning around to look at the direction Lisa and I were looking at. She turned back with a grin. “Oh, your boyfriend’s coming over. Do you need us to leave?”
“Oh, shut up,” I glared at her playfully. “He’s not my boyfriend.” Dawn and Allison exchanged an ‘Oh, really?’ look and giggled. I groaned and made to protest, but Gavin and Charlie were already standing by our tables.
“Hello, ladies,” Gavin greeted with a charming smile. “Mind if we join you?”
“Not at all,” Dawn answered, moving her bag so they could sit down. I did the same an was slightly disappointed, though not at all surprised, that Gavin chose to sit next to me. Charlie sat next to Allison.
“Are you not going to eat?” I asked, seeing that they didn’t have a lunch tray with them.
“Actually, we just finished our lunch. I saw you over here and I thought I’d come by and say hello,” Gavin answered. The girls sniggered again, but were gracious enough to make it look like they were laughing at something else. I ignored them and tried to concentrate on gulping down my orange juice instead of Charlie. It was hard to pay attention to Gavin when Charlie sat right across of me, listening to our conversation without making an attempt to join in.
Charlie stayed quiet when Gavin and I talked about classes, occasionally speaking up when addressed, and chose to talk to the girls, who by then had introduced themselves. I had the feeling my friends were purposely letting me and Gavin talked alone without interruption. It wasn’t like talking to Gavin was a torture. Quite the contrary actually, it was fun to talk to him. He was obviously smart and he always had interesting things to tell. The only problem was he made me feel uncomfortable with the way he acted around me. The way he listened to everything I said like they were the most important things in the world, the way he looked at me, the way he smiled at me, and just everything. If this behaviour had come from Charlie, I’d be floating in seventh heaven. But coming from Gavin, it made me feel so guilty. If I had some guts, I would have pulled him aside and cancelled our date. But I couldn’t bring myself to do so. Every time I made up my mind to say it, he’d say something complimentary and the words left my tongue.
The bell finally rang and the boys said goodbye. Charlie departed with only a nod and a smile to me, which was rather disappointing. As we walked toward our next class, I pulled Lisa closer. “Did you notice how Charlie didn’t say a word to me?”
“Yeah, that was a bit weird, but he was never really talkative, was he?” Lisa answered.
“It’s just weird,” I replied, biting my lower lip. I wanted to ask her about Gavin, but I didn’t think it would go well if I told her I was planning on dumping her brother. But could you dump someone when you’re not officially going out?
Professor DeMonte had waited for us at the white steel gate that separated the campus and the reservation when we arrived there at three o’clock. He made sure everyone was present before he pushed the gate open with one hand and let us passed. For a moment I thought we had stepped right into a real forest, but another glance around the place told me that we were indeed in a reservation. I felt an odd sense of déjà vu as I looked up to the trees that towered over me and the cages that were designed to look like the wild. Professor told us that a strong protection spell was placed on each cage instead of bars to keep the dragon inside. That way, the dragon couldn’t get out, but they wouldn’t feel trapped. At least, that’s what my dad thought. I always had a feeling the dragons knew they were caged, spells or bars didn’t make much different.
The dragons we passed seemed calm, though they all eyed us with slight curiosity. Occasionally we would hear a roar and a burst of fire in the sky. Everyone jumped at the first roar, but my friends quickly adjusted to it while I had to restrain myself from running away at once. Once a dragon flew above our heads, the flap of its’ wings sent some of my classmates to the ground. We all laughed and someone asked the professor what the dragon was doing outside his cage.
“Well, they have to flex their muscles, don’t they? We don’t want them to get bored just sitting around in their cages,” Professor DeMonte answered with a smile. Lisa had a grin on her face as she looked up to the sky, as if waiting to catch another look at the flying dragon. She let out a dreamy sigh and looked at me.
“This is going to be the perfect place to work, don’t you think?” I chuckled at the look on her face, concealing a sarcastic huff that was starting to form on my throat.
“Yeah, sure,” I lied. I was getting really good at lying, especially with small white lies such as these. I wasn’t sure whether or not that was a good thing though.
A man was waiting for us at the end of the walk. He had a gruff and muscular look to him, and when he smiled at us I could see a thin scar gracing his right cheek. “Welcome to Romania’s Official Reservation of Dragons. I hope you like what you’ve seen here, because it’s likely that you’ll end up working here in the future. My name’s Ruben White and I’m the head of this reservation. I’m responsible for everything in here, including the eggs you’ll be taking care of. Come in, and I’ll explain everything inside.” He gestured to the wall behind him. He raised his fist and rapped on it thrice, and a black door suddenly materialized. I was somewhat reminded of the walls that often pretended to be doors in Hogwarts. God, I missed Hogwarts.
Before I could dwell on my homesickness, Ruben had opened the door and ushered us in. The room was a complete opposite of the nature outside. The walls were sterile white while the tables and chairs were pale blue. Black cauldrons were placed on the tables, and the wizards and witches working in front of them were wearing goggles and protective robes. It was almost like Muggle’s laboratory in the movies Emma made me watch, except for the cauldrons and the other magical instruments.
“This is the research center,” Ruben stated as he stood in front of our group. “Our best wizards and witches work on new potions, spells here every day. Their researches, of course, are based on dragons and intended to protect the existence of dragons and benefit us magical folks. This is also where you might end up working after graduation, if you choose to.” I nodded slightly. Dad had explained about this to me in attempt to persuade me to be a Dragon Keeper.
Just like many other careers, being a Dragon Keeper didn’t only mean taking care of dragons. There are a couple different specialties, like being a researcher that deals with dragon and its’ area, Dragon Healer, and Dragon Tamer. The latter was the most popular option, according to Dad, and probably the most dangerous one. There was also a field that focused on studying dragons and their lifestyle, so to speak. Those who studied this could work in the Ministry or work with Dragon Tamers. I didn’t listen to Dad at the time, so I couldn’t recall the details of each job. Dad had tried to talk me into studying to be a Dragon Healer, but I had refused.
“Now, let’s get on with your projects, shall we?” Ruben rubbed his palms together excitedly. “Your professor had explained most of the important things, so I will only add this: every morning when you go to class, you will have to bring your dragons in the room behind that door.” He gestured to a sliding door at the back. “Our staff will take care of them during your classes and they will check their health as well. If your dragon is sick, underfed, or in some kind of medical problem, they will give you direction on how to nurse the dragon back to health, but they will not help you do it. The only exception is if your dragon is found to be dying. Only then, we will take him out of your hand and take care of him ourselves. Of course, that also means you fail the project, so try to not endanger your dragon in any way.” He gave us a stern look that didn’t exactly match his jovial appearance, but it was effective. Some of my classmates exchanged nervous looks, and Lisa looked worried for the first time since we had heard of the project. I refrained from sighing and tried to shake out my own apprehension. While I knew the project was difficult, I hadn’t thought that we might kill the dragon if we made a mistake.
“Follow me. I’ll show you your eggs.” We trailed behind him and walked toward the sliding door. He pushed it open and let us all in. This room was similar to the previous one, but instead of cauldrons, there were small cages on the desks. Only a few of them were occupied by little dragons. A witch in blue robe was attending to one of the dragons, looking like she was trying to make the dragon drink the potion in her hand. She looked up when we passed and nodded briefly.
“Ruben, Louis,” she greeted, her voice laden with an accent I could only assume as the local accent. “Your freshmen class?” Professor nodded. She beamed at us, her dark eyes twinkling with a friendly smile. She looked somewhat familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. “Welcome to the Infirmary.”
“This is Margareth, and she’s the Dragon Healer that will be taking care of your dragons,” Ruben introduced her. “Are the eggs ready?” Margareth nodded.
“They’re over there. Good luck, kids,” she winked at us before turning back to her dragon. Ruben headed to the back of the room and waved us forward. On the desk in front of him sat about fifteen eggs with varying colours. Some were dark green, some were pale brown, and others were silvery-blue. I racked my brains, trying to recall which egg was what.
“As you can see, these eggs came from different types of dragon,” Professor DeMonte spoke up. “These green ones are from Romanian Longhorns, the brown ones are Ukrainian Ironbelly, and the silvery-blue ones are Swedish Short-Snout. Pick one person from your group to choose an egg, and try to not start a fight with another group over the egg. After you’ve chosen your egg, come to me and I’ll write it down so I’ll know what kind of dragon you’re working on.” Lisa, Dawn, and Allison simultaneously turned their heads to me.
“No way!” I protested. “Lisa, you go,” I said, pushing her shoulder slightly.
“Come on, Irene. You have more experience in this than us,” Lisa replied, shrugging my hand away. “Hurry up before we get the last one.” She gave me a push at the back and I groaned. I didn’t make any more protest and joined the others at the eggs’ table. For a moment I panicked, afraid that I would make a wrong choice and end up with an uncontrolled dragon. But there were only three eggs left, so, thinking fast, I grabbed the blue one. When I first entered the room, my eyes were immediately drawn to the blue ones, so I supposed it was safe to choose that one. I carefully held it in my hands and brought it to Professor DeMonte. He took one look at the eggs in my hands and wrote it down, nodding at me. Then I took the egg to the girls, who immediately wanted to take turn holding it. I was afraid that I might drop it so I handed it to Lisa, who held it with such care as though she was holding her own newborn baby.
“We should name him,” she announced as we walked back to the campus. I raised an eyebrow.
“How do you know it’s a male?” I asked. Lisa shrugged, her eyes not leaving the egg.
“I don’t, but we can’t go around calling him ‘it’ or ‘the egg’. It doesn’t sound right,” she argued. Dawn nodded.
“She’s right. Maybe we can pick a unisex name, so it won’t matter whether it’s a male or female. Then we can change the name when the egg hatched, if we want to,” she added. A silence fell between us, as each one of us thought hard for a name. Well, at least the three of them did. I wasn’t exactly trying.
“Freckle,” Allison blurted out. We gave her a questioning look and she pointed to the egg. “Look here, these look like freckles, except these are white.” I bent closer to it and saw what Allison had meant. There were tiny white dots scattered across the shell that I hadn’t noticed before. We exchanged looks and I shrugged.
“Freckle it is,” I stated, grinning despite of myself. Lisa beamed at the egg.
“Well then, welcome to the family.”
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