“Hold her head down!” Apricot roared, forgetting she’d used Sonorus
, and Charlie almost let go of the young dragon’s head to cover his ears.
“Don’t shout at me!”
“Don’t tell me not to shout at you, I’m climbing through dragon intestines!”
It was truer, Charlie thought to himself, than it sounded. This was a colicing baby, two months old at most, and it was already much larger than an alligator, and Apricot was half-way submerged in the dragon’s midsection, searching for the twisted intestine. There was the slightly sweet, metallic smell of dragon blood everywhere, and Charlie remembered having been sick over it the first time he’d stood “in theatre.” His job was always the same--he had never been good in lessons, but had known how to handle animals. Looking down into the watery brown eyes of the Welsh Green, Charlie hummed a nonsense song, the only one that he could, at the moment, remember--
Oh, my poor heart, where has it gone?
It’s left me for a spell...
“Celestina Warbeck, really?” Apricot shouted from inside the dragon, her head fully submerged, protected by a heartier version of a Bubble-Head Charm, which they called the Bauble-Head. Charlie ignored her, and Ivor Dillonsby, who snickered at his side.
...and now you’ve torn it quite apart,
I’ll thank you to give me back my heart--
The green gave out a roar, then, and Charlie thought, as he often had, it sounded like music--but when a jet of bright yellow fire issued from between the fangs, and Charlie caught himself wondering if these were the first flames, and the shadow of a much larger dragon passed over their tent made of canvas and metal poles, Charlie yelled for a Healer, watching the ropes that bound the dragon’s feet to the ground nervously, making sure the shiny, long metallic claws did not come close to Apricot’s lower body, which was sticking out of the dragon’s gut, dangerously vulnerable.
If he had had a hand free, Charlie would have whipped out his wand and tried out Impedimenta
on the soft, visible open flesh of the dragon’s insides: even though the hide of this dragon, like all of them, would repel magic, he didn’t know about the inside--nobody could get permissions through the Romanian Ministry for controlled experiments. Though really, he thought, he wouldn’t have tried even if he knew it would work--Apricot’s head, or arms, neck, could be anywhere in there, out of sight.
That was the problem with dragon-related Healing. They were immune to so much that could heal a person. The development of dragon anesthetics was going badly, and none had been produced that could keep them out for long--hardly long enough to cut them open the first time. It took a team of at least four to operate on any dragon, but the young ones were worse, more afraid, more lethal because of it, and demanded a larger, more experienced team. Janis Popolus, the on-site Healer, ran to Charlie’s right side to wrench open the dragon’s mouth and inject her soft, pink oral tissue with another dose of anesthetic; gradually her writhing stopped, her breathing slowed, her heartbeat became steady again. Her claws lay still on the red-tinged dirt.
It was the hardest filth to scrub away, dirt and dragon blood, because even if you couldn’t see it, plastered all over your hands or face or neck, and even if you looked clean, the smell would stay with you. You’d sit around the fire at night, not really needing it because you had heating spells but wanting to be close to people, and they wouldn’t sit by you if they could help it because they knew where you’d been: at the dying side of a majestic animal, cutting it open, or sewing it up.
* * *
An owl hooted outside the window. Errol,
Charlie thought. He released the sheets under his chin from his grasp, wiped his sweaty palms on Percy’s shoulders. The younger boy protested, wiggling against Charlie’s side.
“Stop,” he whispered.
Mrs Weasley spoke from her chair. “People were disappearing. The seeds on the doors were symbols of the birthright of people born in the kingdom to make it their own. Seeds,” Mrs Weasley said lightly, sensing that her younger children might not immediately grasp the symbolism she’d worked very hard to perfect, “are dropped from a grown-up plant to make a new, baby one. They do not usually go far from where they are born. The seed is buried, and the plant grows up right from this spot.”
“We know how seeds work, Mum.” Percy’s voice was somewhat resigned. Charlie knew it was because they didn’t, either of them, actually know.
“All right,” Mrs Weasley said. “Then you will understand what it means that King Brother the Second chose to mark the territories he would fight to protect with dandelions.”
“Ew,” Percy said, “weeds.”
Mrs Weasley sighed. She’d have to talk to Arthur about being so outspoken about their meals in front of the children.
“Not quite,” she said. “Although, weeds are very strong, and they will keep coming back until you undo the root. One cannot undo a root of love, or family,” Mrs Weasley said, proud she had brought this back around. She clasped her hands together, made them into a pyramid on top of her stomach. She felt a baby kick inside. She knew there were two.
Charlie was very quiet as his mother continued her story. “A dandelion’s seeds drift with the wind,” she said, “so a dandelion was Brother the Second’s way of telling Brother the First he was wrong. Not just about people, but about ideas.”
Charlie nodded wisely. Percy looked confused, his brow furrowed and lips pursed, but did not say anything. Perhaps the symbolic route was not quite the way to go for children’s stories.
“Remember The Wizard?” Mrs Weasley asked. Percy brightened up, and Charlie felt suddenly nervous.
“Well, all this time has passed and he has finally brewed the potion! And it is ready to use!”
“Hooray!” Percy cheered. Charlie breathed a sigh of relief.
“And so now, he has been in his castle so long that he has not seen any of the destruction happening around him. He does not know that he should be very quick in using this potion for the people in the kingdom, so he decides to test it himself. He chooses a bedroom with a big, white bed and curtains, and takes some of the potion, falling into a deep sleep.
“When The Wizard arrives on Serenity Hill, everything is like he made it to be. The sky is blue and bright, there are big fluffy clouds swirling around in it, the grass is green and tall and there is nothing else around--no Kings who fight over who can be in their kingdom, no feelings of scaredness--and The Wizard feels peaceful.”
* * *
It was an envelope, dirty, because everything that came to the basecamp got coated in that same film of dirt, not quite red and not quite gray, somehow both of them, those colours, at once.
“Letter,” Charlie said. Apricot was hovering over his left shoulder--he could see her shadow splayed out over the wooden tabletop, over his porridge in its tin.
“Oh,” Apricot said. She was not interested in letters. Her brother never wrote her, and her parents had died ages before. Her brother did
send packages. She was always interested in packages. But letters were different. “The full-of-words kind?”
Charlie did not answer. He knew this handwriting. He could tell he had written it quickly. He could tell that it wasn’t the careless quick, but the necessary kind. He stared at the edges of the envelope, against which the dirt on the ground and the low, sporadic succulents, a mint green, looked dark. The bench was cold beneath him. He was afraid to open this envelope. He flipped it over in his hands and stared at the seal--simple, black--with a an ornate, raised “G” running through it.
“You’d think, that as you just saw your family, they wouldn’t be sending you letters,” Apricot said. She didn’t quite understand and, like usual, Charlie was quick to forgive her.
been a few months, Cottie,” he said. Christmas had been nearly half a year ago. It was warm, now, cold, even on the plains of the basecamp.
“I hate the name Cottie
,” Apricot mumbled as she rummaged through her knapsack to distract herself from talk of family matters. She found a quill in it, raised it up to the light streaming through the canvas tent above her head, and tossed it aside.
“Hey!” Charlie said. “I could use that, to write back, maybe.” They had been using pencils here. Pencils were cheaper, you could get them from the neighboring Muggle towns. It took much longer, was more expensive to send to the Ministry for quills.
“Fine, you get it,” Apricot said and helped herself to a second heap of porridge. She ate it quickly. Charlie watched her, torn between feeling repulsed and feeling affection for Apricot’s unwavering quirks.
He did not retrieve the quill. Instead he slid his right thumb under the black wax and peeled the envelope open. He was quiet, deadly still while he read, still enough to attract Apricot’s attention.
“What is it, Charles?” she asked. She knew him well enough to know he was a perpetual fidget, except for at times when it was necessary to ask the reason why he wasn't. He was a quiet person--she sometimes forgot how quiet, because sometimes, when she spent so much time with him it was hard to forget that all the words she
said were not somehow his words, too--that they were distinct and still, after years, decades together, at times mysterious to each other.
He seemed incapable of moving, of speaking at all, so she asked, “is it the tournament? Did Harry win?”
The words worked like magic over him--he breathed in deeply, looking up at Apricot with a hard, glassy look in his eyes, and he said “It’s from Bill. It’s about a boy I know. The other Hogwarts one, champion. He’s dead. You-Know-Who’s back--You-Know-Who killed him.”
* * *
Mrs Weasley always anticipated coming to the moral end of stories. With so many children, although in her own heyday she might have objected to feeding kids ideas, she was now appreciating just how instructive stories could be, and just how they could come to a mother’s aid. She paused in her story, took a moment to look at her Percy and her Charlie, nestled together under the covers of a single bed, with their heads on the same pillow, to hear her speak. Stories could be used for many things.
Her voice soft, Mrs Weasley leant forward, and spoke: “Up until now, remember, as an outsider, The Wizard has not wanted to pass judgement on either King, so he has not taken a side. It is true that both Brothers have had to fight in battle, and many of their troops do not survive. People who love Brother the First have died and people who love Brother the Second have been taken away and have also died.” Mrs Weasley could have laughed, could have laughed at herself for being that mother, the one who told the dark fairytales, the one who said do not laugh while the King is practicing! But she did not. Her boys were quiet, listening attentively. She doubted Percy understood what Death really meant; she doubted that if Charlie did, he would have nightmares. This was a story about a hero, after all.
“There is a war going on all around The Wizard’s castle, but he has not known this, and while he is on Serenity Hill, he continues to live in peace without knowing. The Wizard stays at Serenity Hill for a long while, picking berries--”
“But not the poison ones!” Perce shouts. Mrs Weasley nods, watching, pretending not to see Charlie elbow Percy in the ribcage lightly.
“Not poison berries, there are no poison berries on Serenity Hill. It is a perfect place, where no one can die. So there couldn’t be poison berries there.”
Percy nods, understanding, at least, a little.
“The Wizard walks around and talks to the wildflowers, and the trees at the very top of the hill, and the birds that sometimes appear. He makes good food out of the grain on the hill and the berries and flowers, and he is happy for a long time.”
*lyrics are from "you charmed the heart right out of me" by celestina warbeck, whose touching melancholy is property of the one and only JKR.