Chapter 10 : Fly
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A scream rang through the open air, causing everyone who was sitting on the ground to scramble to their feet and crane their neck to see what was going on. Except for me, that is. Freckle had snatched my glove from the ground and I was still trying to pry it out from his mouth, which was rather difficult considering the fact I didn’t dare to touch him without the protective glove.
“What’s going on?” I asked, glaring at Freckle as I pulled on the glove. He tightened his bite on it and pulled too, his little eyes never leaving mine. He was getting more and more stubborn every day.
“Collin’s dragon just breathed fire,” Allison answered as she sat back down. “Burned his pants.”
My chuckles quickly turned into a grunt as Freckle yanked my glove even stronger. “Let it go,” I hissed, restraining the urge to yell. The handbook said we shouldn’t raise our voice at dragons, as it would only provoke them to attack or frighten them.
“Oh, just give it to him,” Lisa said, rolling her eyes as she plopped down next to me. “We’ll get you a new one. It’s Dawn’s turn to feed him, anyway.”
I hesitated for a moment, but let go in the end. Freckle stumbled back a bit, but recovered with a surprising grace. He gave me a sort of triumphant look before he wobbled forward again and dropped the glove in front of me. I waited a moment, making sure he wasn’t just playing at it again, before picking it up warily.
“Show off,” I muttered, making a face at Freckle, who was still looking pretty pleased with himself.
Laughing, Dawn tossed a piece of meat at Freckle, who jumped up and gleefully devoured it. Lisa watched them closely, keeping a loose grip on her wand. Allison had her pencil out and was already sketching away, her grey eyes focused on Freckle. Leaning back, I propped myself up on my elbows and glanced around as casually as I could.
We were sitting at what was called ‘The Training Field’, conveniently located in the middle of the forest (the name of which I still couldn’t pronounce). Freshmen came here to spend time with their dragons and train them to do things like flying or fire-breathing. There were also some professional Dragon Keepers scattered around the field, looking out for us and the dragons. Professor DeMonte was among them; he was still talking to the group whose dragon just breathed his first fire.
Charlie, however, was nowhere to be found. Not that I expected to see him here – seniors didn’t come here often – but I couldn’t help but hope. I hadn’t seen him or Gavin since the date, which was three days ago. At first I thought Gavin was avoiding me, but Lisa assured me otherwise. She said Gavin had told her that they had a ‘time-consuming assignment’, but he wouldn’t tell her what it was.
Whatever it was, it meant Charlie probably couldn’t help me out about flying. It was true that he hadn’t said anything to me about it since he made the offer, and I was too shy to look for him and ask. I still didn’t know what to say to Gavin when I would see him again.
“Something’s wrong?” Allison’s voice broke through my thoughts. She was gazing concernedly at me, her bang falling into her eyes. I must’ve sighed out loud without realizing it.
“Oh, just a bit tired,” I answered with a nonchalant shrug. “Good thing we don’t have to keep Freckle in our room anymore.”
Dawn chuckled. “Yeah. What did your dad say about that again?”
I made a face at her while Lisa cited, “It would be unhealthy for the dragon to be confined to a living space so different from his natural habitat, and dangerous for the trainers as young dragons could get unpredictable. Also, the dragon might get too attached to his trainers that he could not get along with his own species.” Seeing the look we shot her, she raised her hands defensively. “What? I like the book. He knows what he’s talking about.”
I smiled dryly, couldn’t help but thinking how Lisa would have been the perfect daughter for my father. But I hastily shook it away and focused on Freckle instead.
It was true that he had not done anything to hurt me – except for that incident on his Hatching Day – but I still watched him warily every time he was around, anxious for my safety. I couldn’t laugh at his silliness the way the girls did, or even think of him as a pet, despite the fact that I was the ‘mother’. Sometimes I worried that he might sense my fear and that it might damage the training, but so far he was oblivious to it.
“Done!” Allison sang out, stretching her arms in the air. She passed the sketches to us, careful not to attract Freckle’s attention. “Here, tell me if there’s anything I need to fix.”
I took one of the papers and gazed at the picture. Allison had drawn Freckle and me caught in the tug-of-war. My face was scrunched up in concentration while Freckle clenched his jaw down on my glove. Allison had drawn it so he had a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, laughing even as he was fighting me. I, on the other hand, looked like I wanted nothing more than to hit the little dragon over the head.
I returned it to Allison with a compliment, questions running wild in my head. Had she figured it out? Or did she simply think I was overwhelmed?
I froze. Lisa was looking over my head, waving her hand at someone behind me. Dawn shot me a knowing look, wiggling her eyebrow. Struggling to keep my face straight, I turned around as gracefully as I could.
Sure enough, he was there. As he walked, he waved to us, his other hand tucked into his pocket and a wide smile on his face. His eyes found mine, and I couldn’t help but smile goofily at him. Sneaking a glance over his shoulder, I realized that Gavin was nowhere to be found. I couldn’t help but felt relieved. I didn’t want to face the awkwardness right now.
“Hi,” he greeted once he was within earshot, bending forward a little bit so he wouldn’t tower over us. “Having fun?”
There was a collective affirmative from the girls, to which I quickly agreed to.
Charlie shifted his attention to Freckle, who was now lying on the grass contentedly, his beady eyes watching another dragon in the distance. I fingered my wand, afraid that his curiosity might turn into hostility if we didn’t watch out. The textbook said male dragons, young and old, would want to protect their territory just like any other animal would. So, in an open field just like this one and with a handful of other dragons around, we had to be extra careful, just in case Freckle thought one of them might just be a competitor.
“He’s a quiet one, isn’t he?” Charlie remarked.
I snorted, and regretted it immediately. Charlie raised an eyebrow amusedly. Resisting the urge to smack my forehead, I answered, “He’s a lot more... rambunctious when there are just us around.”
Dawn laughed. “Yeah, you should see him when he and Irene... play together,” she finished with a grin, completely ignoring my discreet glare.
Charlie still had that amused look on his face, so I spoke again, “So what are you doing? Here, I mean. Seniors don’t come here, do they? At least, I haven’t seen one around before.”
I bit my lip, feeling rather silly about what I just said. Of course seniors came here! It’s an open field, isn’t it? Why couldn’t I just say one sentence and then shut up? Stupid nerve.
Fortunately, Charlie didn’t seem to notice any of that. He looked right at me and said, “Actually, I was looking for you. Can I talk to you for a minute?”
My heart did a somersault as I nodded as calmly as I could and turned to look at the girls. “Would you mind..?”
“No, no,” Lisa said, tossing her hair behind her shoulder. “Go ahead, we can handle Freckle.” She was grinning, and I returned it, trying not to let my anxiety show. Freckle caught my eyes and made a move to stand up as I did.
“Stay,” I ordered firmly. “I’ll be back.”
Freckle simply looked at me, but he sat back down. I noticed that the corner of his mouth turned down ever so slightly.
I couldn’t believe I noticed that.
I followed Charlie a couple step away from where we were sitting before he turned around to talk. For a moment he hesitated, and I took that moment to force myself to calm down. It wasn’t as if he was going to ask me out, unfortunately.
“So,” he began, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about the flying lessons...”
“It’s alright,” I interrupted, and then I mentally slapped myself for interrupting, but my mouth suddenly had a mind of its own. I had an idea what was coming, and I didn’t think I could stand the rejection. “I completely understand if you’re too busy or if what happened between Gavin and me makes the situation uncomfortable and you don’t want to do it anymore. I’m okay with it. I’ll figure out how to not fall off the broom or something. I...”
A genuine grin spread on Charlie’s face, causing me to blush furiously, exasperated at myself. I took a deep breath and said briefly, “The point is that I understand if you don’t want to do it.”
He shook his head, still grinning. “Actually that wasn’t what I was going to say. I wanted to tell you that I have some free time tomorrow. I was wondering maybe we could start practicing then.”
“Oh!” I echoed my own thought out loud, a warm relief flooding over me. I quickly ran over my homework in my head. Med, Herbology, Charms. I could finish them tonight, or they could wait. No Freckle to take care of. Excellent.
“Tomorrow would be great. What time should I be there?”
So the next night, twenty minutes earlier than the scheduled time, I stood at the edge of the pitch with Dawn’s Nimbus clutched in one hand. Lisa, tired of me ranting about how I would embarrassed myself, had told me to get some practice before I met him. She had a point, but the notion of flying alone didn’t appeal to me. What if I fell off and broke a bone? Would I have to lie on the ground, writhing in pain until Charlie arrived? That would be even more embarrassing, not to mention painful.
I was glad to see that the pitch was lighted by several lamps; I didn’t think I would enjoy flying in the dark. I would’ve asked Charlie to practice in the afternoon, but the pitch was usually full around that time, and I didn’t need an audience.
Catching a movement in the corner of my eye, I turned around. Charlie was walking toward me, and for a moment I could see that he was frowning. But that frown slid off his face the moment he met my eyes, replaced by an easy smile. His fingers were curled around a broom, while his free hand waved at me, a gesture I returned rather awkwardly. His attire – a dark jumper and a pair of trousers – looked perfect for flying in the cool, fall weather, and I tugged at the hem of my pink hoodie, secretly glad that I had chosen a similar look.
“Hi,” I smiled, the nerve tugging at my lips. “I’m ready.”
He nodded, still smiling, but somehow it didn’t quite reach his eyes. I bit my lip. This wasn’t good. “I can see that,” he replied, his tone amiable. “So how about you show me how you fly.”
“Right.” Why on earth did I tell him I was ready?
I gulped, wishing I wouldn’t slide off the broom as I held the broom in mid-air and swung one leg over it. I didn’t, thank Merlin, but the hardest part wasn’t over yet. Heart hammering, I began to direct my broom upward and pick up some speed. A strong gust of wind blew my hair back as I soared to the sky, and for a moment I felt great.
That is, until the broom came to a halt, and I looked down.
My stomach dropped, and I tightened my grip on my broom, but my palms were already sweating. I shut my eyes and chanted to myself: don’t think of falling, don’t think of falling, don’t you dare think of falling.
“Don’t close your eyes.”
I jumped, swaying off the broom again. But before I could panic, a pair of hands held my shoulders and restored my balance. I quickly gripped the broom again, steadying my heartbeat, while Charlie hovers in front of me. I tried to grin, but it faltered midway at the sight of his serious expression.
“First of all, never fly with your eyes closed,” he said. “You might just fly into something. And how long has it been since you last got on a broom?”
I bit my lip. “Five years ago?” I tried to remember that last game, but quickly regretted it.
“I see.” He looked away, a contemplating look on his face as he gazed off into the night. When he looked at me again, his face was softer. “The problem with your flying is your nerves. You’re so worried about falling that you can’t concentrate on controlling your broom.”
He crinkled his forehead, thinking again, before he turned toward me again. “Let’s land.”
I nodded mutely, not really knowing where he was going with this. He showed me how to fly toward the ground without taking a nosedive, and I managed to land safely. As I put the broom in the locker as he asked, I wondered what was bothering him. This should have been the perfect opportunity for me to get to know him better, to have some moments alone with him. But he had not smiled at me at all, at least not genuinely. I wondered if he thought this was a waste of his time, but wasn’t he the one who offered to help me out? Perhaps he didn’t think I would be this bad at flying.
Sighing, I shook those thoughts away. Maybe that mysterious assignment was taking its toll on him. I walked out of the locker room, still trying to convince myself about that notion, and then I saw Charlie waiting for me, still sitting on his broom. When he saw me approaching, he held out his hand.
“Let’s go,” he said, slightly out of breath. I noticed that his cheeks were a bit red, and his hair was tousled. He must’ve raced around the pitch while I was gone. I noted that he looked somewhat happier, more relaxed.
“Where are we going?” I asked, debating with myself whether I should take his hand or not.
He solved this for me by taking my hand. As he pulled me to the broom, he began to explain, but I suddenly found it hard to concentrate on his voice and not on our hands. “You need to get over your fear of falling, so I think the best way to do that is by flying with me.” I must have looked stricken, because he added hurriedly, “Don’t worry. I’m an excellent flyer. You’ll be safe with me.”
“Oh, I’m sure of that,” I answered, willing my face to stay nonchalant. It wasn’t my safety I was worrying about. It was such a romantic idea: flying under the night sky, just the two of us. I tried not to think too highly of myself by humouring the idea that he was thinking of the same thing, but as I made myself comfortable behind him, my arms wrapped loosely around his waist, breathing in his scent – which I couldn’t quite place, but he smelled good anyway – I let myself envision us together. The Dragon Keeper and the Damsel in Distress. How appropriate. But wouldn’t he get tired of saving her? How long would that last?
Before I could linger on that thought, Charlie took off. I automatically tightened my grip around his waist, blushing furiously when I realized what I was doing. I couldn’t see his face, but he simply said, “Relax. You’ll be fine.”
I nodded though he couldn’t see it, and dared myself to look around. Charlie was going at a moderate speed, and since I didn’t have to focus on controlling the broom, I could enjoy the ride. The wind was still messing up my hair, and I still tried to not look down, but my heartbeat was steady. Willing myself to not think about Charlie, I focused on the sensation of the flight.
The world looked different from up here. It was a bit more mysterious; you could only see the general picture, not the details. I could see the dormitory and the people moving behind the windows, but the faces were just a blur. The forest didn’t look as spooky, but I could spot some movement just above the treetops. Dragons flexing their wing muscle, I thought, and I instinctively held on to Charlie a little tighter.
We flew several times around the pitch – I stopped counting after some time – while Charlie showed me some tricks: how to turn, how to slow down, and how to fly higher. Every now and then he would clasped my hands and make me drive the broom, which made it incredibly difficult for me to concentrate. But at the same time, I could remember almost everything he taught me, mostly because every recollection of the lesson was laced with his voice, telling me what to do and how to do it right. Sometimes he laughed too, especially when he suddenly accelerated and I squealed in his ears. Instead of getting annoyed by my jumpiness, he seemed to enjoy teasing me. To my relief, he seemed to have gotten over whatever it was that bothered him by the time we landed on the ground.
After we both got down from the broom, he turned to me and asked, “So, did you have fun?”
I nodded slowly, crinkling my forehead. “Strangely enough, yes. You’re a good teacher.”
He laughed, looking pleasantly surprised. “Thanks, but you’re not difficult to teach once you get over your nerves.”
I gave a nervous chuckle, and then we fell silent. I wondered if I should just say goodnight, but it seemed pretty rude to just leave without even trying to have a conversation with him. So I said, “I always thought you’d make the national team. Weren’t you offered a spot?”
He grinned sheepishly. “Well, yeah, but I always wanted to come here, you know, I want to study dragons. Quidditch is just a hobby. This is what I want to do, there was no doubt about it.” He tilted his head. “How about you? It must’ve been a natural thing for you to come here and be a dragon keeper.”
I chuckled dryly. “More like expected,” I responded. He cocked an eyebrow, and I, realizing belatedly that I would have to explain the statement, quickly changed the subject. “So are you hungry? I am. Want to go get something to eat?”
I resisted the urge to slap a hand over my mouth. Did I really just ask him out to dinner?
However, he didn’t seem to take it for more than just a friendly gesture, because he merely grinned and said, “I would love to, but I should head to the library right now. I’ll see you same time tomorrow?”
I nodded, and we headed our separate ways – he went to the library and I headed to the dining hall, still replaying that goodbye. He didn’t think I was asking me him out, which I have yet to decide whether it was a good thing or not. He said no; definitely a bad thing. But he said he would love to if he could, and I would see him again tomorrow. That was a good thing, wasn’t it?
I grinned to myself, recalling the warmth of his hand over mine. And for the first time since I arrived at this school, I couldn’t wait for tomorrow.