The dragon circled the boat in a wide arc, like a vulture hovering over a dead thing. Her wings were black and bat-like, but her scales, which from a distance looked black, were now clearly bright red. Slowly she lowered, and dropped to the deck like a gigantic bird.
She had a high crest on the top of her head, but otherwise, her red coat was smooth and unadorned. Her limbs, hands and body were thin and delicate. From the tip of her nose to the sharp, poisoned point of her tail, she was not more than twelve feet long.
She stared at Liam with her bright eyes, yellow like two tongues of fire. Her mouth opened, showing of an impressive pair of fangs, and her voice, shaking with rage and hatred, turned his blood to ice.
"Wizard . . . " she hissed.
Liam awoke with a start. His nightshirt was soaked with sweat, and he was breathing heavily. He checked his clock. It was just after midnight. The dormitory was dark and quiet. The only light was the flickering candle by Philip's bedside.
What the Bloody Hell was all that? he wondered.
He got up and changed his nightshirt, then walked down to the bathroom and splashed some water on his face. The warm, peaceful comfort of the Badger's Den slowly calmed him.
Back in his bed, he wondered more about the dream. His mind was full of questions that he couldn't answer. He had never seen a dragon before, nor was this from any movie or book that he had ever seen or read. Where was this boat anyway, and why was the dragon pursuing him?
Dragons, to Liam's mind, should be the size of whales or dinosaurs. This one seemed small, somehow. Twelve feet wasn't very long, and a quarter of that was her tail. Though fearsome with her poisoned tail and fangs, she had also seemed vulnerable, almost fragile.
How did he know the fangs were poisonous? Why was he so certain the dragon was female? He couldn't say. He only knew that they were, and she was.
"How did all this get in my head?" he murmured aloud. In the darkness, there was no answer.
He slept fitfully the rest of the night. The dragon did not trouble his sleep again, but in the morning, the memory of her voice made him shiver.
He woke early and showered. When he came back to the dormitory, in his robe, still rubbing dry his hair, the other boys were just rising. Liam came to Philip and said, "You know much about dragons?"
"Sure," said Philip. "We learned about them in grade school."
"You wouldn't have a book on them, would you?"
"I do have a book," said Philip, "a big one with pictures. I read it every day when I was a lad. It's at home, though. I could send an owl for it."
"Would you?" asked Liam. "You wouldn't mind?"
"Of course not. Curious, are you now?" continued Philip, as he started getting dressed. "I can't imagine not learning about dragons when I was a lad. I loved looking at the pictures and reading the words, even if I couldn't understand half of what I read."
"I could take you up to the Owlry," said Liam.
"No need," said Philip. "I'll get Owl Post this morning, and I'll just tell the owl to bring the book next time."
At the breakfast table, Philip gave his owl instructions to get his book on dragons from the bookshelf in his bedroom. The boys then went to History of Magic. This time, they did not go back to the common room, nor did they bring their Potions supplies with them. They decided to retrieve them after their first class ended.
Binns' lecture was as dull as ever, but Liam took the opportunity to get ahead in the reading. He even took some notes, anticipating the next assignment. Philip followed his example, but Michael and Niles Fortney did not. Instead, Fortney had in his lap a pack of tarot cards, and the two boys were playing some sort of game with them.
Liam was desperately looking forward to his next two classes, Potions and Herbology, neither of which involved wand work. There were easy parallels for these subjects in his earlier life - he had shown, as a child, aptitude for both cooking and gardening.
Watching the cauldron boil, taking in the different fumes, concocting his first successful potion, the whole hour was greatly satisfying for him. After lunch having cool, moist soil between his fingers was equally soothing to him. He was at last able to put aside the troubling dream, and his struggles with his wand.
As much as he enjoyed the meals at Hogwarts, he missed being part of the food preparation. Calliope had hinted earlier that elves did the cooking, here, and that it wasn't something wizards should half to bother with. Truth be told, Liam would have gladly given up a chapter of reading and note-taking to go into the kitchens and help with the cooking.
Philip's owl returned Wednesday afternoon, carrying the book in a leather pouch. It was a hardcover edition of Dragons of Northern Europe, and, as Philip had promised, it was full of illustrations. That evening, after his homework was done, Liam curled up in his squashy chair to read it.
He had not told his friends about the dream. He didn't want them to think he was crazy, nor did he want to be sent to some sort of counselor or psychologist. If he learned something that helped him understand his dream, then maybe he would say something about it. Otherwise, he planned to keep quiet.
Deep in his gut was the feeling that the dragon he was looking for was the same kind that was in Cyrus' wand. The dreams had come on the two nights after he had dueled Cyrus and disarmed him. To be sure, Liam needed to find out all he could about "Madagascaran Red" dragons. Were they as small and poisonous as the dragon in his dream?
Liam thumbed through the pages, looking mostly at the pictures. He was about half way through the book before he thought to check the Table of Contents. To his disappointment, there was no mention of a "Madagascaran Red" dragon. He continued on, looking for a dragon in the book that resembled the one in his dream. Proving his hunch wrong was, at this point, just as good as proving it right.
One by one, the dragons went by: Hungarian Horntails, Norwegian Ridgebacks, Swedish Short-Snouts, Welsh Greens. All of them were so much larger and more powerful looking than the delicate red dragon of the dream. They all spouted fire, too, like the dragons in fairy tales. None had poisonous fangs, and none of them, apparently, could talk (except for Welsh Greens, but they only spoke Welsh, and sometimes Gaelic.)
Liam had extra time to read that evening, because this was the night of the Astronomy Lab. Randal was going to walk the eight Hufflepuff first years to their class, and Cheryl would pick them up right afterwards.
The girls had gone to the dormitories to wait, but Liam and the other boys waited in the common room. Michael and Fortney continued their game with the tarot cards, while Philip fell asleep with his Transfiguration book open on his lap.
At ten fifteen, Randal woke Philip and sent the boys to their dormitory to get ready for class. "Dress warm," he told them, "and bring your telescopes and star charts." The boys quickly pulled on sweaters and cloaks, grabbed their supplies and went back to the common room. At ten thirty, Cheryl brought the girls out from their dormitories, dressed in hats and their warmest cloaks. Randal led the eight of them out of the Den and up the stairs to the Astronomy Tower.
It was a clear night, but bitterly cold. With gloves on, it was hard to make the precise adjustments to his telescope, so Liam went without, though his hands were tight with cold. When not writing things down or adjusting his view, Liam kept his hands in his pocket. Professor Sinistra moved between them, assisting, speaking to all of them in a clear voice which carried all along the stone parapet.
A few stations over, Liam could see Lara shivering. He wanted to cast his warming spell on her, but she was too far away.
Cheryl came promptly at twelve to collect them, and the Second Years took their place at the top of the tower. Back in the Den, they shed their cloaks and got into bed straight away. Liam left his telescope and notes on top of his trunk.
He slept soundly, and the dragon did not trouble his dreams at all, but morning came far too quickly. Randal roused them up at their usual hour. Liam dressed again, grabbed his book and notes for History, and headed up to the Great Hall for breakfast.
History of Magic was probably the worst class to be taking on the morning after a night on the Astronomy Tower. Liam could neither read nor follow the lecture. Binns droned on in his monotone, oblivious to the tired eyes before him. Finally, Liam gave up. He put away his ink bottle, laid his head on the desk and fell asleep.
Suddenly, the dreadful voice was in his ear again. "WIZARD! WHERE ARE THE EGG THEIVES?"
Liam awoke with a start. Binns was still droning on and on. The rest of the class was still in their early morning stupor. No one else seemed to have heard anything, but there was no doubt that the dragon had spoken. It sounded like she was right behind him.
He turned his head, and found himself staring straight into the eyes of Cyrus Kane. The small boy quickly put on a proud, haughty face, then pretended to take some notes. Liam gave the other boy a hard, angry stare.
Cyrus had definitely not been sitting there at the beginning of the lecture. He had moved up to cause some mischief. Not something direct, that would get him in trouble with Professor Gregor. Something subtle, deniable.
When Liam had turned his head, Michael looked back, too. Now, Michael drew his wand while Liam quickly checked his bag. There was nothing amiss. Liam had awoken just in time.
There was no doubt in Liam's mind what had happened. When Cyrus had drawn his wand to cast a spell, the wand woke Liam up.
The lecture ended, and students started getting up out of their seats. Cyrus got up to leave, too, but as he pulled his bag off the floor, Liam grabbed it. Michael closed in on his other side, his wand still drawn. "What were you doing sneaking up on me like that!" said Liam angrily.
"Nothing!" snapped Cyrus, though he was clearly afraid now. Professor Binns didn't seem to notice what was going on, and no one else was rushing to Cyrus' aid. "I just wanted to hear the lecture better."
"Liar!" said Michael. "What were you trying to do?"
Still clutching Cyrus's bag, Liam asked, "Do you ever dream of dragons, Cyrus?"
The question caught both boys off guard. "Sure," said Cyrus, boastfully. "All the time. Big black ones with red eyes that shoot fire."
"How 'bout little red ones?"
"Sure, and white ones too, with big blue eyes!"
"Do they ever talk to you?" asked Liam, casually.
"Dragons can't talk, you fool."
Michael looked ready to strike, but Liam shrugged off the insult. "That's right, I'm Muggleborn. What do I know?" He let go of the bag, and Cyrus rushed off.
"What the Bloody Hell was that all about?" asked Michael.
"I'll tell you later," said Liam. "In the Common Room." Liam realized then that he couldn't go on this alone. If he was going to figure out the mysterious dream, he would need some help. He would have to trust that his Hufflepuff friends would stick with him.
He needn't have worried. That afternoon, in the dormitory before dinner, he told Philip and Michael everything - his dream and his suspicions about why it was happening.
"Cyrus is wrong about one thing," said Philip. "Dragons can talk. Some of the breeds still can, anyway."
"And if Cyrus dreams of dragons, I'm a House Elf," added Michael, angrily. "He's the worst liar I've ever seen."
"The dream could be a prophesy," continued Philip. "You could be seeing something that will happen to you in the future. Or, it could be a memory, somebody else's memory that somehow got inside your head."
"How would somebody's else's memory get inside my head?"
"Wizards can preserve memories," answered Philip, "and read them later, like books. I don't know how it's done, exactly, but I know it can be done. How it got in your head I have no idea."
Michael said, "Weirdest thing I've ever heard of."
Philip asked, "Did you find your dragon in my book?"
Liam shook his head. "I've got a feeling in my gut that it's the same dragon that's in Cyrus' wand - a Madagascaran Red."
"That's a very obscure breed. I don't know anything about it. Do you, Mike?" Michael shook his head. "Then, at the risk of sounding like a Ravenclaw," said Philip with a sly look on his face, "I say our next move is to go to the library."
At the same moment, in another part of the castle, the Slytherin First Years gathered. Cyrus Kane found himself in a tight circle, surrounded by angry faces . . .
[Next time, a glimpse inside The Halls of the Serpent! Plus, a trip to the library! In the meantime, are there are any artists out there who would like to draw my dragon? Write me a comment and we'll go from there. I would like some pics to post on my Facebook page.]
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