Neville Longbottom had only rarely had cause to regret his career path, but today was definitely one of those days.
He liked being an Auror. The war had been awful, but in a strange way, he thought that it had helped him find himself. It had helped bring out the ‘brave at heart’ thing that everyone was always talking about and that, as a first year, he’d thought could never, ever apply to him.
Being an Auror meant that he could continue to fight dark wizards without all the worst parts of the war there, too. No one was using the Cruciatus Curse on innocent second years, and half of his friends were not on the run from the Ministry. It was the best of both worlds.
Today, however, was a different story, because today, he had been told that the job of going to talk with the Dragon Research Bureau had fallen to him.
Neville knew that there were reports – substantiated reports, even – of a few of the dark wizards currently at large training dragons as protectors. He knew that this meant that the Dragon Research Bureau was a Ministry resource the Aurors couldn’t not draw on.
What he didn’t know was why it had to be him.
Seamus and Ron had both sniggered at the look on his face when he’d seen the note assigning him the task on his desk that morning, but they’d sworn up and down that the note was real. Harry had distractedly confirmed it, and though Harry had been so distracted lately that Neville wasn’t sure how reliable his confirmation was, he hadn’t felt like he had much choice in the matter. Doubting three of his fellow Aurors wouldn’t have been seen as acceptable by the Head of their office, whether or not he’d shared a dormitory with them for years at Hogwarts and knew the jokes they liked to pull. The secrecy sensor he kept on his desk hadn’t been vibrating, but still… they’d found ways around that before.
So he was off, heading to the isolated grounds somewhere in Wales that Dragon Research (understandably) preferred to their little office in the massive building the Ministry was housed in, hoping that he wasn’t being sent on a wild goose chase.
His fears were not allayed when he stumbled out of the fireplace into a dank, unnaturally bright room fifteen minutes later and was greeted by two harsh-looking wizards and a very accusatory witch demanding to know what he was doing there.
“I – er – the Auror Office sent me,” he said, trying not to stutter. He knew that Dragon Research could be a bit paranoid at times, but this was just ridiculous.
Assuming he was actually supposed to be there, of course. If he wasn’t, he was going to kill Seamus and Ron. And Harry, for good measure.
“Name?” the witch asked. Her dark hair was pulled back tightly in a way that put him in mind of Professor McGonagall.
That did not help his nerves, either.
She glanced at one of the wizards, who scanned a list he was holding. Neville resisted – with difficulty – the urge to ask him exactly how many visitors they were expecting that day. After a prolonged moment that he was sure had not been necessary, the wizard nodded, and despite himself, Neville felt a rush of relief.
It appeared, however, that that was not enough.
“Wand,” the witch said, holding out her hand. She did not even bother to say it as though it were a question.
After a moment of hesitation – this was definitely the Dragon Research Bureau, but Neville hated giving his wand up to anyone – he handed it over. She examined it.
“It’s Mahogany,” he said impatiently, ready to be done with this show so he could move on to the actual work he’d been sent there to do. The sooner he got to it, the sooner he would be done. “Phoenix feather–”
“Thirteen inches, inflexible,” she finished for him. She handed it back. “It’s a good wand for an Auror.”
“Yeah,” he said, trying to keep the sarcasm out of his voice. “I’ve noticed.”
She looked as though she was resisting the urge to smile, but the wizard with the list looked even grouchier than ever.
He was hoping that that would be it, but they still insisted on waving a probity probe in front of him before letting him leave the room that was undoubtedly created to be intimidating.
“Where do you want to start?” the witch asked as the two wizards melted away to return to their stations. She seemed to have relaxed a little, but not as much as he would have liked. This was the issue he had always had with the Dragon Research Bureau – they could be so paranoid and unfriendly to outsiders.
“Er –” He was caught slightly off-guard. “How about what dragons you think they’re likely to be using?”
She considered that for a moment, and he glanced around the room. The building itself rather resembled a greenhouse, and there were rows of long, solid tables with cabinets underneath them running the length of the room. Numerous magical devices he had never seen before in his life littered them, as did vials of what looked like dragon’s blood, toenails, skin, and other things he didn’t particularly want to think too hard about.
“Ahem,” she said, and he started, momentarily put in mind of Professor Umbridge.
“Sorry,” he said quickly. “I was just–”
“This way, please.” She turned on her heel and strode toward the door.
He resisted the urge to roll his eyes; this sort of woman had probably used some kind of spell to give her eyes in the back of her head.
They passed by the pens marked, ‘Chinese Fireball,’ ‘American Blacktooth,’ and ‘Swedish Shortsnout’ before coming to a stop in front of a pen labeled, ‘Common Welsh Green.’
“How did you wind up with a Chinese Fireball and an American Blacktooth?” he asked before he could stop himself.
Now she really did allow herself a small smile. “Patience, Mr. Longbottom,” she said proudly. “Patience and determination. We at the British Ministry of Magic pride ourselves on having the most complete collection of dragons in Europe.”
She waved her wand in front of the door, and the lock clicked. She opened it, and he jumped back involuntarily.
“Mr. Longbottom, we do know how to handle dragons,” she told him. Her voice had taken on a note of condescension.
“I know,” he said quickly. “I just–”
“The chances of you being seriously injured or killed on this visit are less than ten percent,” she continued, and gestured to the inside of the pen.
He didn’t find that statistic particularly comforting, but he stepped inside anyway. To his relief, he found himself standing in a surprisingly cool corridor, not the pen itself. She led him down the hall, and they passed several doors that were marked with numbers.
“Undetectable extension charm,” she explained just as he began to wonder how all of this could fit inside what had from the outside seemed to be a fairly small arena. “You didn’t think we only had thirteen dragons, did you?”
That was, in fact, exactly what he’d thought, but he had too much common sense to say so.
She stopped in front of the door marked ‘VI.’
“I believe,” she said slowly, “that your dark wizards are most likely to be using Greens.” He opened his mouth to ask why, but at the look in her eyes, he closed it again very quickly without saying anything. “The reason we think that,” she continued, “is that Greens are among the most common species in Britain, and are by far the easiest to train.”
Neville felt slightly heartened by her switch to the plural. Hopefully, that meant that Dragon Research had actually put a bit of time into this and were taking it seriously.
She opened the door and stepped inside the ring, and gathering all of his courage, he followed her. Dark wizards were one thing. Dragons were another, and he’d harbored a slight fear of them since his fourth year.
His first, absurd impression was that the sleeping dragon in front of him looked vaguely like Hagrid’s failed crossbreeding experiment with the Blast-Ended Skrewts, though admittedly he’d never seen a Skrewt sleeping.
“Did you give it a sleeping draught?” he asked curiously, and the women hushed him.
“No,” she said in a much softer voice than he had just used. “The amount of sleeping draught you would have to use to knock a dragon of this size out would be impractical and nearly impossible to administer.”
She looked back at the dragon in front of them. “This is just an unfortunate coincidence. She should wake up soon, though, and I’ll thank you not to startle her. That would raise the chances of your being seriously injured or killed much higher.”
He made a mental note to keep his voice even lower than hers was.
“So how do you immobilise a dragon like this?” he asked.
He’d apparently spoken too softly. “Pardon?”
He repeated his question, slightly louder this time, and she considered him.
That made him feel more than a little awkward, and after a moment, he said, “When the Triwizard Tournament was going on at Hogwarts, Harry used a summoning charm to get his broom and–”
“That would not work for the Aurors,” she cut him off. “I presume that most of you are not very skilled fliers, and you will be attempting to incapacitate the dragon, not merely retrieve an egg.”
She sounded altogether too dismissive of what had been a very cool piece of flying from Harry, but Neville knew better than to argue with her when they were alone in a pen with a potentially hostile dragon.
“What would you suggest, then?” he asked.
She frowned. “Well,” she said slowly, and it occurred to him that the situation facing the Aurors was not one that she was completely familiar with, either.
That made him feel better.
“The conjunctivitis curse is a bit… overused, but it is effective.” She shook her head. “But if there are wizards training these dragons, that is the first thing that they will likely try to ward against, so I would not necessarily recommend that.” The dragon next to them shifted, and a small flame blew out of its nostrils.
Neville took several large steps back. The very last thing he wanted was to be horribly burned by a dragon before he even got any useful advice.
“A sleeping spell would be best,” the witch said eventually. She did not appear to have noticed the dragon’s movement or his reaction to it. “If there are enough of you. I would not attempt a sleeping spell on a Green without at least four or five people casting it – and I only give you a number so low because I am assuming that to be an Auror you must be reasonably talented.”
Neville couldn’t help himself. The understatement was too ridiculous. He let out a laugh.
Thankfully, his laugh was masked by the dragon shifting again. When he glanced over at it, however, he saw that its eyes were open, and his laugh turned into a yelp.
To his relief, the yelp was masked, too, as the dragon sneezed. A flame passed just a few strides from where he was standing, and his heart leapt into his chest.
“Mr. Longbottom,” the woman said sternly. “How do you expect to fight a dragon when the sight of one makes you want to run screaming from the pen?”
He swallowed hard. “Well, I’m not running screaming from the pen, am I?”
She smiled. “No,” she admitted. “I suppose you’re not.”
He held up his wand, which he had been clenching tightly since they’d entered the pen. “Shoud I – er – fight it?”
The witch was surprised into an actual laugh. “No,” she said. “Of course not. One person should never fight a dragon. I just wanted to see how you would handle being near it.”
Neville stared at her. “You what?”
He had known that Dragon Research could be a bit eccentric at times, but this was absolutely insane.
“Better here than in the field,” she said. It occurred to him that in a strange way, she’d actually been trying to help.
Which was just strange all on its own.
“We’d better leave,” she said, glancing up at the dragon, which was beginning to move around in earnest. “She’s usually fairly docile, but she doesn’t like strangers.”
He moved toward the door as quickly as he dared.
As they circled around the corridor to a small office, she cleared her throat. “I don’t want to tell the Auror Office what their business is about,” she said, a note of hesitation in her voice. “But…” She stopped, and then started again. “I am not convinced that your office’s assessment of how the dark wizards are using the dragons is correct.”
He stopped dead. “Why not?”
She stopped walking, too, and leaned against one of the walls. “Because no dragon – not even a Green – likes to follow orders. When I said that they were trainable, I meant that they were most easily trained not to attack certain people. The dragon we just saw is unlikely to attack me, but if I told her to attack you, all of the work I have done with her would be wiped out like that.” She snapped her fingers. “Dragons are not crups. They do not like being ordered around.”
Neville cocked his head to one side. “Then why would they want to keep dragons so close by?”
The woman frowned. “Mr. Longbottom, do you know how many uses there are for dragon blood?”
He thought for a moment. First year seemed so long ago. “Er – spot remover, oven cleaner, and furniture dye?”
Her mouth pursed. “It is also an effective fake for human blood and can be used to poison unicorns, which makes harvesting their horns, hair, and even blood very easy.”
He swallowed hard. “I forgot those.”
“Mm.” She began to walk again, and he followed her. “It’s just a thought,” she said quickly. “I would not presume to tell the Aurors about their business.”
An hour later, he was back in the dank room, which was less uncomfortably bright than it had been. “Thank you,” he said, taking her hand to shake. “I never caught your name.”
“Diana.” She shook his. “Good luck, Mr. Longbottom. Feel free to come back.”
“Er– I will.” He stepped into the fireplace, privately thinking that he would avoid going back there if at all possible.
When he got back to the office, Seamus and Ron were eating lunch at their desks. “How’d it go?” Ron asked around a mouthful of sandwich.
A/N: This was written for the first Task of the House Cup over at the forums. Go Gryffindor!
For the record, on my computer, this oneshot had a word count of 2499. I hope that didn't change when I uploaded it... (outside of the A/N, obviously)
The reference to ‘brave at heart’ comes from JKR’s Sorting Hat song from the first book. The American Blacktooth dragon is mine, the others belong to JKR. The use of dragon blood as a furniture dye and to poison unicorns is mine, all others belong to JKR.
- features House Champion (Neville)
- mentions at least four dragon breeds
- mentions at least one Unforgivable Curse (Cruciatus Curse)
- mentions a Blast-Ended-Skrewt
- features a dragon
- mentions a sleeping draught
- mentions summoning charm and conjunctivitis curse
- mentions five of the twelve uses of dragon’s blood
- mentions at least two dark detectors (secrecy sensor, probity probe)
- features the theme of flourishing in adversity (I hope it does, anyway)
- mentions details of Champion’s wand (Mahogany, thirteen inches, phoenix feather, inflexible, good for defensive work)
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