Chapter 1 : A Beast of a Task
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”You didn’t tell me about the dragon!” Neville panted as he and Luna scrambled around a large boulder, narrowly escaping a wall of flame that erupted behind them.
“They don’t usually come this far south in the summer,” Luna shot back, also out of breath as she dropped to the ground beside him.
Neville shoved a smattering of dirt over a small patch of grass that had lit up from the blast. The fire sputtered and gave up as he stamped it out with his boot. He glared at Luna, who didn’t look nearly as upset as he thought she should be.
”Hannah said she wanted to go somewhere peaceful, with a quiet fishing spot, not this!”
His fiancé hadn’t mentioned fishing specifically, but after getting chased by a dragon, Neville was going to angle for an added bonus. He was getting married and had seven days left to find the perfect getaway. “I don’t see a lake,” he accused.
“It’s on the other side of the cottage,” Luna told him.
“You mean the other side of the dragon,” Neville corrected. ”We should have let the irate bloke with the travel pack go first. He looked like the adventuring type.”
Back at the Dragon Reserve, Charlie had gotten them ahead of the shifty-eyed man’s demands to come here first. The man had thrown his pack with latches and straps to the ground and waved papers under Charlie’s nose, but Charlie had insisted that he could wait an hour. Neville was on a deadline.
Neville wished he was back at the Reserve.
“It’s quiet. Maybe it’s moved away.” He drew his wand and peered around the boulder, making out the head of Saint George’s statue, spear held aloft as he rode a snarling beast. Luna had said that’s where they always stowed the Portkey. Undulating metallic-grey scales passed in front of him, blocking his view of the rental cottage beyond the statue. The beast’s head swung in a wide arc, snuffing the air.
Neville dropped down next to Luna. “Nope.”
Luna shifted position. “Let me see.” She popped up and quickly crouched back down. “It’s an Ironbelly,” she whispered. “That’s the largest breed in the area.”
“Comforting thought.” They were trapped in a valley deep within the Transylvanian Alps, with no way to go but up. He squinted at the dizzying height of the mountain and spotted a length of frayed rope hanging below a dark recess. Neville thought back to the long lengths of rope wrapped around that man’s pack.
He nudged Luna. “Looks like an opening. It’s not a Portkey, but it’ll get us away from that dragon. Come on.”
He tucked his mahogany stick into his pocket and began to climb as the dragon huffed and scraped, butting the boulder with its head.
Neville followed a series of weathered footholds to the crevice where Luna was waiting for him. Being a Herbology professor was stressful enough, working long hours at his desk. Luna had told them that the valley was the perfect place to unwind. Between the sweat and the anxiety, Neville wasn’t buying it.
He hoisted himself up and squeezed into the crevice after Luna, where the darkness engulfed him.
“We can try to hit it with a sleeping spell,” Luna suggested. Something slammed into the mountainside. “Or we could wait until it’s calmed down a bit.” They scrambled through the narrow passage deeper into the mountain, which soon opened into a larger cavern.
Neville leaned against the rock wall and tried to slow down the pounding in his chest. “I’m supposed to get married next week,” he gasped. “At this rate, I’ll have a heart attack first.”
Luna opened her canteen and took a long sip. She held it out to Neville. “Nervous?”
“Terrified.” His pulse was raging. They still had to get back to the Portkey without getting fried to a crisp.
“I’m really sorry about this, Neville,” Luna said. “Charlie said that his parents had a lovely time here last summer. When he showed me the cottage, it was completely dragon-free.”
“Clearly,” Neville muttered. Luna had mentioned Charlie a lot over the last few hours. He had to wonder.
“So, you and Charlie,” he said, trying to distract himself from the near-death experience.
“We’re finishing the research for my thesis,” Luna said. “The flat-belly Plimpie populations are dwindling. Charlie says that dragon births over the last three breeding seasons have declined. There’s no evidence of poaching, so we think the two might be related.”
“Sounds interesting,” Neville said. Research always got him interested.
“Maybe you and Hannah could stay an extra week, and we can compare notes,” Luna offered.
The beast outside roared with frustration. “I’m pretty sure Hannah doesn’t want a view of dragon tonsils right outside our bedroom window.” The Norwegian Spa his fiancé had suggested was starting to look like a valid option.
Mud baths, yoga classes, chanting for relaxation… maybe he’d enjoy it if he was Imperiused. He almost wished he would have let his fiancé follow through with the spa honeymoon she’d suggested, instead of persuading her to let him plan it. He’d never been good with plans, always forgetting something… multiple somethings usually. The only time things turned out right was by accident. He had relived his one-hit-wonder stunt that he’d pulled with Nagini over and over in his mind. Sure, everyone thought he was a hero, but if he’d had more than those few hours to think it through, he’d have frozen up in the face of adversity and the world would have ended.
And now the cottage getaway was a bust. “I still have a week,” he said, mostly to himself. A lot could happen by then. Or he could die right here.
“The valley is out of bounds from the dragon reservation,” Luna said. “I don’t know why…”
Spear-like formations on the low ceiling glistened in the light from Luna’s wand. Even with the imminent threat outside, Neville could appreciate the view. Stunning as it was, the objects on the floor below stunned them even more.
“Dragon eggs!” Luna exclaimed.
Three large, black-as-soot eggs lay in front of them. Two cement-colored eggs nestled against them. A few feet over were a different assortment of eggs; one was a pale grey; another was a deep brown with bright red streaks all over it. The last two were earthy brown, speckled with green.
Neville frowned. “I don’t see any flat-bellied Plimpies, but I think we’ve found Charlie’s dragon connection.”
“So that’s why she’s mad. Someone’s been…”
The cave shook. One of the formations Luna had been admiring fell from the ceiling and speared the rocks below.
Neville braced himself against the rocks. “I think she’s breaking in,” he said. His muddled thoughts kept coming back to Hannah. She’d spent a year planning and he’d spent a year worrying over ruining it all for her in a single, unforeseen moment. And in typical Neville-fashion, he’d left his end of it until the last minute. Here he was, with no plans for a honeymoon, about to be eaten by a dragon.
“Maybe we can give them back and she’ll stop trying to tear up the mountain,” Neville said.
“The black eggs belong to her,” Luna confirmed. “But we can’t go back the way we came. The passage is blocked!”
Neville stumbled over to the collapsed wall, where light was coming through the open cracks in the rubble. He was a genius when he didn’t have to think. The highlights of his life had been done on impulse, and it had always turned out for the best: swinging a sword at the head of a giant snake… accepting the Herbology Professorship at Hogwarts after Professor Sprout’s retirement… falling in love with Hannah Abbott… All of that had been easy because he hadn’t planned for it. He hadn’t had the time to think of all the possibilities of failure. He’d just done it.
All the stress he’d been under to keep Hannah’s dreams straight in his mind had paralyzed his brain. But what was he getting out of it?
Hannah. Forever. Anything was worth that. He had to get them out of here.
“Then we’ll make a hole!” Neville impulsively blasted what was left of the cave wall, creating a circular opening to the outside. “That should do it,” he yelled to Luna as the rubble fell outward and down the side of the cliff.
The dragon roared in disagreement as black wings tumbled over tail down the mountainside.
A low, creaking sound filled the air as the cave floor shifted in the aftermath. “Hold on!” Neville called as they rode the rockslide to the valley below. A few well-aimed shield spells kept them from getting buried, and Luna’s levitation spell landed the eggs safely on top of the rubble.
When the dust settled, Neville found himself staring into huge, deep red eyes. The dragon sniffed over at the exposed pile of eggs and then snorted. It huffed twice and then craned its neck to the sky, closed its eyes and let out a low, loud wail.
“What’s it doing?” Neville shouted over the noise.
Luna grabbed her pack and stood up. “It’s not eating us. Let’s go!”
They scrambled the last few feet down. Neville’s boots hit dirt and Luna stumbled beside him. He grabbed her arm and started running. He didn’t care what the dragon was doing. Their only hope was to get to the Portkey before it noticed them again.
A whoosh of air nearly lifted them off the ground, and then a large, scaly foot landed right in front of the Portkey, bringing Neville and Luna to a halt.
“If we’re very still,” Luna said breathlessly, “she’ll eventually turn back to her eggs. Charlie says that a contented mother dragon is harmless… relatively.”
Neville looked at her, the annoyance of the day reflected in his face. “Relative to what?”
Luna pointed over the mountain ridge. “That.”
The shapes on the horizon were flying fast and low, and heading straight for them. A dark-green missile with a long golden horn snorted mid-flight. Next to it, a black monolith with dark ridges down its back swooped low into a distant valley and then soared high above a third, very large, very spiky and incredibly angry dragon that screeched and snapped at the other two.
“Wow!” Luna said, mesmerized by the oncoming creatures. “Charlie would love to see them all together like that. Ridgeback,” she said, pointing to them. “That one’s a Horntail, and over there is a Common Welsh.” She briefly counted the eggs nestled in the rubble and looked back up. “If we’re lucky, we’ll see a Liondragon too!”
Neville gaped at the winged beasts, which were covering an incredible amount of distance every second. “You’re insane,” he breathed.
“Charlie’s insane!” Neville hissed. “I’ve slain one dragon in my life. I think that’s enough, don’t you?” He started moving backwards. “I’m getting married next week. And that,” he pointed to the incoming monsters, “is not getting in the way of my lifetime of happiness!” He could skip the fishing this once. “Let’s go!”
Neville pointed his wand at the dragon’s head and shot off the Conjunctivitis Curse. It tossed its head away, stomping its feet. The valley quaked around them.
“Are you sure that was a good idea?” Luna asked him.
“Got a better one? If we don’t do something soon, it’ll trample the Portkey, and then we’ll be stuck here.”
Neville felt it before he heard the intake of air behind him. He whirled around and shouted “Protego!” as the fire engulfed them. Neville’s shield held, the phoenix feather core having an affinity for defensive spells. “Next chance you get,” he shouted to Luna inside the defensive shield, “follow my lead.”
Luna nodded. “What are you going to do?”
“I don’t have a clue.”
The dragon’s flames halted; Neville turned his wand towards it and fired. “Gemino!”
The charmed dragon likenesses were like a mirror to the original. With its eyesight impeded, it was fooled enough to forget about them for the moment. Luna cast a few more charms and they made their way, slowly and carefully, out from under the dragon’s belly.
The dragons landed, one by one, snarling and snapping at each other. One dragon made it over to the pile of eggs, clutched its prize gently in its front talons and flew off through the darkening sky.
The one nearest to them stomped its foot, the others did the same, causing the ground to tremble. A ravine opened up, and the statue slid sideways, going down into it. Neville scrambled over to it, Luna close behind.
“Help me down and don’t let go,” he said. “I can almost touch it.”
The statue kept sinking. With each pounding step, it was getting buried further underground, and the spear along with it.
“A bit further!” Neville stretched out his hand and with his longest finger, scraped the surface. He reached again and grabbed the spear. The familiar, dizzying pull started in his navel and he gripped Luna’s hand tighter. “Hang on!”
The next thing he knew, he was on his back in the wide field next to Charlie Weasley’s Dragon Reserve Station.
“How’d you like the cottage?” Charlie’s voice drifted over his head.
Neville sat up and faced him as Charlie helped Luna to her feet. The strange man was still there, impatience rolling off him like a storm.
“I think you’ll have to hold off on renting it to anyone for a while,” he said. “And you might also want to arrest that man for smuggling dragon eggs. We found a stash.”
The man’s eyes widened and he tried to make a run for it, but Charlie had him by the collar at the mention of “eggs”.
When the commotion died down, Neville found himself where he belonged: indoors, with his hands wrapped around a soothing cup of tea.
“Need help finding another spot for your honeymoon?” Luna offered.
“No.” Neville watched out the window as the dragon egg smuggler got hauled off by the Romanian authorities.
“Do you have a plan?”
“Nope.” He chuckled. “But I have six days. I’m sure I’ll think of something.”
A/N: Many thanks to my lightning-fast betas, ladybirdflying, Alopex and JChrissy!
This was written for the 2012 House Cup. The following prompts were used in this story:
features your House’s Champion, Neville Longbottom.
mentions at least four specific breeds of dragon
features a dragon
mentions the conjunctivitis curse and the summoning charm (accio)
features a theme of flourishing in the face of adversity
mentions the details of your Champion’s wand
mentions one unforgivable curse
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