Chapter OneThe Den
“Pass me that chain over there, Hans!” shouted one keeper to another close by. The one who was being shouted at nodded curtly, flinging over a large-linked chain laying on the ground next to his thickly leathered boot.
“Thanks!” shouted the first keeper, flashing a smile that was stark against his darkly colored skin. Throwing one end of the chain over the scaly neck in front of him, he grunted in satisfaction as the dragon roared its defeat, its head thrashing halfheartedly.
A cheer went up around him and the still twitching lizard before him. It had been the last runaway from the breeched enclosure near the foot of the mountain, and now everyone could go back home to the Den.
“Good work, Thomas,” said one of the older keepers, coming over to place a friendly hand on his shoulder, smirking a little. Another one of the dragon-tamer’s signature brilliant smiles flashed across his face from the congratulatory squeeze he received before Charlie Weasley walked on to talk with one of his older keeper friends.
Over their daily ration of protein-full mountain deer stew, the twenty some odd keepers that had had to go after the three escaped dragons retold their tale to anyone who would listen.
“An’ there I was,” said Tucker Bines, one of the senior keepers, “cornered between those two boulders up on the ridge, you know? Its breath stank like it had taken a drink from the latrine pool, eyes burning with a fire I’ve never seen, that wild look in them that I thought I had broke out of it. Took a bit of effort, but I got it wrangled.”
“Are you sure that’s how it went, Tucker?” chided one of his mates from down the table. “I seem to remember you screaming your head off that it had almost removed said appendage from your body, much to our disappointment.”
Everyone at the table roared with laughter, even Bines. That wasn’t the last of the stories, or even the most unbelievable of those told; especially after someone rolled out a barrel of mead to pass around. Cheers went up all around when the dark barrel was rolled out and amidst all the commotion, the most junior of all the keepers found his chance to walk out unnoticed.
Taking a deep breath of the fresh air, he relished the fact that the night had brought with it the smell of the snow off the mountain, but not the bitter cold winds that had tortured them for the last few months. After being inside with forty well-worked men with the strong smell of hard labor, he felt like he was in heaven. The compound was beautifully peaceful during dinnertime, between the times everyone was rushing inside the mess hall until the time when they, most likely not as sober as they had been before, somehow made it to their bunks.
As youngest of the keepers, Dean Thomas was assigned the graveyard shift for watching the sick pens of dragons that keepers found on the mountain. But he didn’t mind. It kept him from being around the firewhiskey and mead loving companions of his, and made sure he didn’t become one of them too quickly.
The night was calm and beautiful, though slightly chilly. Breathing in and out slowly, taking it all in, this is what made all of this work worthwhile. Many of his fellows would disagree and would say that it was all the girls who lived up here that made it all worthwhile, but Dean had never been the kind of guy who would chase skirts constantly. Sure, he had liked and dated Ginny Weasley and a couple other girls in school, but it wasn’t like he had pined over them forever. And he most certainly wasn’t the kind of guy who would chase one girl, dump her, then take up another one, as if girls were like shirts that could be worn again or bought anew in moments.
The small village that lay near to the outcropping the Den was on usually had a plentiful supply of travelers that came through, some with daughters of their own that came along. Most of them came for sight-seeing; namely, the dragons.
Dean scowled. He had yet to meet someone who came up to the Den just to see the amazing view of the mountains surrounding. His mouth curved slightly; there was one person he knew that would appreciate it, though.
Luna Lovegood was one of his best friends back home. Against popular belief, they weren’t anything more than friends with each other, despite the time they spent together as fugitives. The bond they had formed was more mental than physical. They only kept up contact through letters sent once every week, passing news and sharing ideas. Luna’s letters were his relief up on the mountains, his private window to the outside world. Sure, Charlie Weasley got letters from his siblings and parents, not to mention a certain girl he had never named, but through Luna, Dean saw the world in a different way.
Settling into a more comfortable position where he leaned outside of the dragon pens, he took out the latest letter from his confidant back in England. He hadn’t opened it yet, for he had been in the constant company of his bunkmates and they wouldn’t leave him alone long enough for him to read it in peace. The envelope was Luna’s personal stationary, covered in swirls and little drawings of beasts that she marked as Crumple Horned Snorkack, thestral, and Freshwater Plimpies. Vines outlined the letter with plants like Dirigible Plums peeking out here and there, all drawn by her hand.
Unfolding it quietly, Dean held the letter so that the light of a moonbeam fell on it and read to himself in the peace that solitude brings.
Thank you so much for the photograph! Neville has had so much trouble trying to find a good example of a Mountain-Based Tentactula for his Herbology students at Hogwarts. He plans on using it in his next lesson, as well as trying to replant the sample you gave him. I’m not sure what he thinks toying with those dangerous plants will gain him; he’d be doing so much good in the field of dirigible plums, no pun intended.
The yearly celebration for He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s defeat is quickly approaching, and I’m quite nervous since we’ve been selected to host it this year. But father has offered to take over some things for me, and promises that our backyard will be festive enough for the occasion, but I’m not sure he can best the Weasleys’ decorations last year! Harry tells me not to worry, but he did seem a little concerned that my aging father wants to help. I do hope that you’ll be able to make it again. It was great to see you so relaxed.
Another thing; inside this letter is a smaller card. Do read it and consider what it says.
Folding the letter back up, he smiled as he reminisced about the celebration the Weasleys had put on a year ago. Since Voldemort’s defeat two years ago, it had been a unanimous decision for someone to host the party each year on that day. The Weasleys had volunteered to do the first year, since they still had the marquee from Bill and Fleur’s wedding. Many attended, nearing two hundred guests at one point, and it had been one of the best times in Dean’s life.
Still grinning as he remembered that night of festivities, he looked inside the envelope as directed and did indeed spot a card. Tipping the envelope upside-down, he watched as it fluttered down into his hand; literally fluttered. The card was in the shape of a butterfly, though Dean was sure that Luna had another name for it. Upon opening it, he read the neat and beautiful script that Luna’s hand made as it joined paper and ink.
Dear Friend, to whom I have kept close all these years
You are hereby invited to the Wedding of
Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood
On the 13th day of April, 1999
2:00 in the afternoon
Dean felt his small grin broaden into a full-out, toothy smile that shone in the dark. Rereading the invitation, he carefully replaced both it and the letter inside of the envelope and put it in his pocket on the inside of his leather vest.
“Neville finally plucked up the courage,” he said to himself. His heart swelled at the thought of two of his closest friends joining their lives, not a trace amount of regret in his mind. “Good for him.”
The night wore on as Dean watched the sick pens. It was a very tedious job that required someone with a high level of patience to do. Of course, there was always the threat that one of the dragons would try to escape or need immediate medical attention, but Dean knew that his training would help him through.
It was on one of his meandering trips around the main building that housed the ailing dragons when he saw a glint out of the corner of his eye. Stopping and looking curiously over to where he thought he saw it, he waited, but nothing happened. Shrugging it off, Dean moved on, his pace as slow as before as he gazed around him, lost in thought. He still occasionally glanced in the direction of the momentary blaze, his interest never fading, so the next time it happened, he was ready for it.
What he had previously mistaken as a dragon’s jet of flame from off the side of the mountain, was actually sparks sent off from the end of a wand. It hadn’t taken much investigation to conclude this; he had seen sparks like this before. Wandering travelers who lost their way were instructed to send off the sparks into the air when they thought themselves lost. At the sight of the red sparkles in the night, he sighed and shook his head. He had almost no patience with people who went up onto the mountain in the dead of night who didn’t know where they were going, and still expected not to get lost and making trouble for those whose job it was to go after them.
In front of the slatted building that housed the dragons, Dean sat down, leaning his back against the wall. The work of the day was catching up with him, his eyelids drooping as his head nodded. Jerking awake and scolding himself for falling asleep, he shook his head vigorously to try to jar the sleepiness away, but to no avail. He felt a comfortable wave of sleep wash over him.