Chapter 1 : A Dragon's Heart
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“Are you sure this is the kind of work you want to be doing, dearie?”
The old witch had worry in her eyes as she regarded the girl standing before her, who had, to that moment, been easily dwarfed by her fellow trainees.
Barely over regulation height, Susan Bones hardly looked like much of anything, apart from a fairy, her almond-shaped eyes containing a bit too much sparkle and her nose a little too sharp on the end. Some stroke of good fortune had given her thick, amber hair that she kept drawn in a long plait, skilfully arranged over her protruding ears. She could have passed for a teenager if not for the marked determination in her stance and assured confidence in the set of her chin.
“Most certainly, Miss Peppercorn.” Some would have accompanied these words with scorn or sarcasm, but Susan gave a smile that brought an echo of one to the old witch’s lips.
Although the worry did not completely fade from her eyes, she planted a firm stamp of approval on Susan’s application form.
“Well, you know yourself best.”
Susan took back the parchment, rolling it with care as she wove through the expectant crowd toward the door
“You can be sure of that, Miss Peppercorn,” she muttered, pushing open the door into the relative silence of the next chamber, its heavy wooden furniture set in sharp contrast with the garish paintings of dragons, each breathing more fire than one ever would in its lifetime. They were, perhaps, a way to weed out the less-than-stout of heart.
She looked over each picture as she took her seat. There was the Hungarian Horntail that Harry had fought in fourth year, and each time the painted creature opened its mouth, Susan heard the sound of its scream, just as she had heard it that day. Next came the Antipodean Opaleye, a beautiful thing of glittering scales, balanced high on a New Zeeland mountain. Further down the wall, was the massive Ukranian Ironbelly, its scarlet eyes smouldering as it gazed out of its imprisoning frame. It took her some moments to look away.
Those who had made it this far sat quietly, some flipping through the Daily Prophet while others stared up at the ceiling as though the answers to the interviewer’s questions were encoded into the plaster-work. Susan looked at them all in turn, but she was unable to read them in the way that some could. The dragons made much more sense.
One by one they were called into the next room, a small office. None of them returned. A frown hardened her features, but she remained motionless in her seat, back straight, legs folded beneath her like a cat’s.
When her name was at last called, she was the last occupant of the room.
It would not have surprised her if she had been forgotten, passed over because of what she appeared to be. It had been this way before.
The door was open. A bald, middle-aged wizard stood framed by the brighter light that came from within.
“I’m very sorry about the wait,” he said as she passed into his office and took the proffered chair. “We had a slight.... difficulty arise.”
Her eyes did not widen; she did not flinch. He watched her with interest in his large dark eyes, taking in every detail under a guise of disinterested politeness as he resumed his position on the opposite side of the desk, which was decorated, of all things, by a Sneakoscope and a Secrecy Sensor. James Dedalus, irreverently dubbed Lord Jim by his underlings, was not the type to take chances.
“Now, please tell me some practical uses of dragon’s blood.”
Susan narrowed her eyes in surprise at this blunt beginning without the expected harmless prelude, but she did not hesitate in giving her answer.
“It speeds up the healing process in wounds, is a reliable cure for chicken pox, though less so for measles. It increases the strength of potions by tenfold, transforming a sleeping draught into the Draught of Living Death.” She watched as he carefully recorded her answers. “It’s used for the cores of wands, and, of course, as a spot remover and oven cleaner.”
With a flourish of his quill and a sharp nod, he began quizzing her on the various species of dragons, again taking down every word she spoke.
Dedalus asked the usual sorts of questions and employed the usual tricks to entrap and confuse those unsuited to spend their lives studying dragons. Not slaying, not taming, but keeping, watching them to better understand what they were and how they worked. They were so big and grand, the most beautiful creatures on earth–
“It’s always a pleasure to hear such enthusiasm, if you excuse my saying so, Miss Bones. You’d might be surprised to know that not all our applicants would agree with your view of dragons, or of the work we do here.” His words held the potential to be patronizing, but there was a gravity to his voice, mellow as it was, that leant them authenticity.
She nodded with a small smile.
“Now, may I see your wand for a moment?”
Her smile vanished.
“I’m afraid I must check its particular affinity. Charms simply will not work on dragons.” He let out a sigh that bespoke of wearying explanations given to hopeful, but sorrily unsuitable candidates.
As she passed the wand across the desk, the sleeve of her robes fell back, revealing angry, red scars twisting about her wrist with lighter scars running up her arm. His eyes followed their path to her face, but there was no sign of embarrassment or shame. She met his gaze with stubborn intensity.
“So it’s true.” His voice emerged low, half-cracking with the emotion that suffused his dusky cheeks.
She said nothing. To speak would be to bring the memory back to life of that year and the horrors it had introduced into her consciousness, already much tainted by death’s cruel hand. The punishments had been the worst, the sobs of crucio’d students, the scars that would never heal. Her eyes only lowered as the memory made its relentless return.
But Dedalus was speaking.
“Ash and dragon heartstring, how appropriate. A good length too, if you don’t mind my saying, Miss Bones. An excellent wand for transfiguration, just as your reference said.”
He handed it back with a smile meant to be reassuring, but Susan remained too shaken to respond in kind, hand straying toward the scars as though they still poured blood from her dragon’s heart.
“Miss Bones, if you will come this way?”
When she looked up, he was standing by a door that had, by all appearances, not been there before. As she approached, it opened into a darkened room, two small lights burning in a distant corner.
“There is one more task for you to fulfill.”
She paused at the threshold, eyes studying his face, flickers of worry passing over her own. It was the first time in the interview that she revealed any hint of uncertainty.
“Good luck,” was all he said as he shut the door.
Turning slowly, lest she trip over something, she surveyed the room. But for those lights, she could see nothing. Yet there was a sound, a slow, repeated sound, deep in tone with a strange roughness almost like–
As the word passed through her lips, the truth dawned on her with ferocious intensity, her heart leaping as though to escape her chest, the breath catching hard in her lungs. The darkness was bad enough, reminding her of that horrible closet prison, Alecto Carrow’s leer the last thing she saw as all went dark, all because she was a Bones, not because she had done anything wrong. She had not the strength to defend the others. The one time she had–
Her lip quivering, tears threatening to further blind her in this shadowy world, she heard the thing in the corner move.
Those times were gone. The past would always be with her, but only because she had learned from it and swore that she would never make those mistakes again. She was resilient. She had survived then, just as she would now.
Wand in hand, she approached the source of the noise. The lights turned off and on again. They were not lights, but eyes. Dragon’s eyes. With each step, she discounted four types of dragon, then another as its eyelids moved horizontally over the eyes. The large pupils made it look cross-eyed, leaving only one possibility: the Chinese Fireball.
She had seen one before, but that had been in the full light of day, the din of the crowd irritating its already-dangerous temperament. It had been a vicious creature, great mushroom clouds of flame bursting from its nostrils, its mane of golden spikes adding to its menacing aspect.
It made no difference that the room was dark: it would see her, and then, if it was in the mood for a meal, it would try to eat her.
With a wave of her wand, the room burst into the light.
It was a forest clearing, branches, rocks, and old trunks scattered amidst scorched weeds. This was no natural habitat for such a dragon, who loved mountains, perching on the highest peaks, swooping down to capture sheep in its great yellow claws. Here, it was effectively trapped, unable to fly, hardly able to walk, its long body constricted by the nearby trees. Smoke huffed from its nostrils as it crouched, watching her as a cat watches a mouse.
Susan glanced around her, unwilling to look too long in its eyes in case it made use of its hypnotic power to freeze her in place. That tangled vine would prove useful, with the right spell. She moved with care, taking minutes where she could have taken seconds, but she dared not alarm the dragon, which watched her still.
It soared into her hand, her heart leaping in anticipation of the dragon’s reaction. The protruding eyes blinked and the smoke rose in larger plumes, but otherwise, it did not move.
Her heart did not lessen its painful beating as she, with a shaking hand, waved her wand over the vine, deep furrows crossing her brow. The vine shuddered, twisting and changing until it became a thick, coiled rope. She took a deep breath, beads of sweat dripping perilously close to her eyes.
When she turned toward the dragon, her heart dropped. It had come nearer, somehow without making a sound, unless her concentration on the spell had been so great that it drowned out even the sharp sound of breaking branches.
Without looking away from the dragon – still not meeting its gaze – she picked up the rope and began fashioning it into a long lasso, placing a quick fire-retardant spell on it before taking a step toward the dragon. It was crouching lower now, stalking its prey, luring her closer with its lack of action, as though she might believe it was already tame. But she knew the signs, the signals. Months she had spent pouring over books, interrogating Charlie Weasley about his work in Romania, using all the resources she could to be ready for this moment.
As she churned through her mind, the rope suddenly dropped from her hand. The answer was simple. No attack was necessary. It was interested in her, but to walk toward those bone-snapping jaws would be the stupidest possible thing to do. She was sure that those who had come before had tried it. Perhaps that was the reason for the delay in her interview.
Glancing behind the dragon, she saw the door between the trees. All she had to do was get around the dragon, and then she would have been successful. Then she would have the job she so yearned to have.
With brightened eyes, she again surveyed the ground. Stones. Many stones, all of about the right shape. It wouldn’t take much....
Swishing her wand back and forth, she set them into a pile on a bed of tinder before whispering another spell. The rocks glowed with crimson and gold, appearing, at least from afar, like the eggs of the Chinese Fireball.
Stepping back from the makeshift nest, she saw the dragon’s eyes widen, the smoke puffing out in a yet larger cloud that flickered with red sparks that oddly reminded her of the Blast-Ended Skrewt. But there was no time for fancy. As the dragon began to manoeuver through the limbs and trunks, Nature’s maternal intuition doing its work, Susan ducked away from the nest, keeping at least six metres away from the dragon. Just as its odd beak began to nudge at the eggs, Susan hesitated for the first time. Conjunctivitis or Dormius?
The answer was too easy, and she cursed herself for having to think about it.
The dragon reared its head in fury at the discovery of the false eggs, flame now bursting forth, turning the nest to ash and charred stone. She felt the heat against her face.
Her voice still echoed through the room as the dragon’s head bobbed, its eyes slowly shutting, all flame quenched. It collapsed on the ground with a crash.
She stared at it for a long time before stumbling toward the door, the woodland fading behind her. At the door, her hand on the knob, she looked back, but nothing was there. Not even the dragon.
It had all been an illusion. A mere test.
They were there to greet her on the other side, Miss Peppercorn and Mr. Dedalus and the others who had survived the trial, with smiles and hearty congratulations. Susan faced them with lungs heaving, her heart relentless in its painful throb. It was over. Relief would come, as would joy. But for now, it was enough to know that she had survived. She had been successful. It was there in Dedalus’s slow nod of acknowledgement.
She was now, at last, a dragon keeper.
Author's Note: The story's word count, for challenge purposes, is 2362, and I was able to make use of all the following prompts:
- features your House’s Champion (5 points)
- mentions at least 4 specific breeds of dragon (5 points)
- mentions at least 1 Unforgivable Curse (5 points)
- mentions a Blast-Ended Skrewt (5 points)
- features a dragon (10 points)
- mentions a Sleeping Draught (10 points)
- mentions 2 [all] of the following types of magic: a transfiguration spell, a sleeping spell, the conjunctivitis curse, the summoning charm (accio) (15 points)
- includes mention of at least 5 of the 12 uses for dragon's blood (canon or made up by the author) (15 points)
- mentions at least 2 of the following types of Dark Detectors: Foe-Glass, Sneakoscope, Secrecy Sensor, or Probity-Probe (15 points)
- features a theme of flourishing in the face of adversity (25 points)
- mentions the details of your Champion’s Wand, as provided by your Head of House (25 points)
As a quick note, Dormius Profundis is my invented incantation for a powerful sleeping spell. It's Latin for profound sleep.