Chapter 1 : Charlie's Test
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Amma, his trainer, couldn’t help but chuckle at his naive excitement. “You’re sure you’re ready for this?”
She smiled and opened the door of the cabin, gesturing for him to exit. As they walked together, she explained, “You’ll be taking the Romanian Longhorn from Pen Six to Pen One.”
“The Longhorn is well, then?” Charlie asked. Pen six was part of the infirmary, while pen one was where more of the healthy dragons were kept. Charlie’s gait was unusually bouncy, an unavoidable product of his high energy.
“Erik finished his treatment this morning,” Amma answered.
Charlie liked Amma. While she was sometimes a rough instructor, she did seem to care for the people she trained. She must’ve known that an effective way to calm Charlie’s nerves would be to mention his boyfriend, Erik, who he’d met a week into training and started dating not long after.
Her strategy worked, and Charlie felt himself relax while he thought through all the research he’d done on the breed. Needing something to do to stop himself from succuming to anxiety, he said, “Romanian Longhorns are native to the area. We generally only keep them here if they’re injured or unable to live in the wild. They are not endangered. They’re very stocky, which means they aren’t very agile but pack a lot of punch. Their flame is low-temp but has a high spread.”
Amma nodded. He already knew all of this - he probably knew it before he even stepped off the Flooport in Romania. “You’ve been fitted for armor already, correct?”
Charlie’s eyes widened and nodded, feeling the pulse in his chest quicken. He’d be needing armor today, because he’d be going into the pen today. Into the pen. With a dragon. A real one.
Amma stopped outside the cabin which housed the armor and put her hands on his shoulders. “Stop it,” she commanded. “Don’t get so nervous that you do something stupid and fail your exams. I spent six months training you, I’m not starting over with someone else. Go get your armor on and meet me outside pen six.”
Charlie stepped into the empty cabin and walked quickly to the end of the room. The drawers were arranged by last name, and… yes, there it was. Weasley.
He lifted the armor out of the drawer slowly, letting his hands relearn the texture of the scales. He slipped the vest over his clothes, feeling his usual unease at wearing a dragon’s hide. Taking a deep breath, he reminded himself that they only took hide when a dragon was already dead. It took him no less than ten minutes to adorn himself with all the pieces of armor and confirm they were tied on properly.
With every step he took across the camp towards the pens, he felt his pulse accelerate.
Left, right, left, right.
If a muggle were to come within two kilometers of the reserve, they’d find themselves very confused and wander aimlessly in the opposite direction. Charlie could hardly see the pens, but he knew they were there.
Left, right, left, right.
The dragons were contained by intricate spellwork which Charlie couldn’t fathom. The largest pen, number one, was a dome at least fifty kilometers in diameter. It housed most of the dragons, and was the closest thing to the wild that they could have. Around the perimeter were twenty other pens of various sizes for different circumstances. Some of them were used for breeding dragons whose kind was dwindling in numbers. Many of them, six included, were part of the infirmary.
Left, right, left, right.
Charlie worried for a moment that his armor didn’t fit properly and something would go horribly wrong, but banished the scenarios from his mind. The tailor had spent hours with Charlie up on a pedestal to fit him with this piece of artwork, which used scales from fourteen different breeds of dragon.
Left, right, left, right.
He was there. Right in front of him was a sign post with a 6 painted across it. Behind it, the air had a shiny green tint, a product of the spells that contained the creatures.
Amma and Erik were leaning up against the sign, chatting lightly. Charlie grinned and felt his anxiety, which had now reached levels that would normally be considered incredibly irrational, subside slightly.
“You know what to do,” Amma said. “Pen six is adjacent to one, so all you have to do is lure him across the barrier.”
“Is the barrier open?” Charlie asked, suddenly forgetting the incantation. Amma nodded and Erik gave him an encouraging smile.
“Draw your wand, and go pass this exam.”
Charlie did as she commanded. He gripped his wand tightly in his left hand and he took a few long strides to cross over the barrier and into the pen.
It wasn’t large. The pen, that is. Only about five hundred meters in diameter, Charlie could clearly see where the barrier was opened to the main pen. Charlie walked along the perimeter, hesitant to be too far from safety.
After meandering for what seemed like hours, Charlie finally spotted the dragon. It was slumbering casually under a massive oak tree. With each breath that it took, smoke curled out of its nostrils and danced for a moment around its horns before dissipating into the air. The dragon had ripped off a large branch of the tree, and was camouflaged surprisingly effectively behind the foliage.
As he’d been trained to do, Charlie flicked his wand, sending sparks into the air. The sudden light awoke the dragon and it rose its head and lazily looked around the enclosure before settling its eyes on the young wizard.
It focused its eyes on Charlie, who stood as still as possible to avoid being perceived as a threat or, worse, as prey. It became increasingly difficult for Charlie to stop himself from producing any movement as his anxiety turned rapidly to excitement and he struggled to stop himself from crying out in joy, and possibly doing a dance.
It was… it was massive. Charlie watched as the dragon hoisted itself up onto its legs and took a few steps in Charlie’s direction. The dragon stretched out its wings, but didn’t make any movements indicating that it was going to take flight - purely a show of power and a demonstration of size. The muscles along its back flexed, and Charlie was given a clear picture of precisely how much strength the beast had when it cracked its tail against a tree and it creaked for a moment before tipping over.
The dragon took another step forward, and Charlie knew that his eye contact was being perceived as a threat. Even armed with that knowledge, he failed miserably in his attempts to draw his gaze away from the creature. How could he look away? Standing in front of him was a dragon, an organism so complex that it has the ability to produce fire. Dragons were more advanced than even wizards, Charlie had always believed. While wizards require instruments to produce fire and flight, the dragons have control over the elements without any outside help.
The Romanian Longhorn took another step forward and tilted its head down slightly. Its golden horns were pointed directly at the young keeper, and Charlie recognized the gesture as one final warning. Still, he was unable to draw his eyes away from the beauty.
As expected, the dragon took a slow, deep breath in and exhaled an orange flame onto Charlie, who let the blaze wash over him.
“What the hell is wrong with you?”
Charlie opened his eyes to see Amma standing over him screaming while Erik frantically poured water over him.
“I had armor on…,” Charlie muttered in an attempt to justify his behavior. He could see it: he’d be thrown out of the program and sent home.
“You know that this armor is only good for brief contact. You just stood and let the thing flame you!”
Charlie looked up to see Erik’s worried face. He smiled and said, “Was it badass?”
Erik rolled his eyes. “More stupid.” He sat down by Charlie’s head while Amma started to heal his burns (which Charlie was now starting to be aware of). “But it’s pretty great, isn’t it? Being in the pen with them?”
Charlie let his head fall back. “More than great, it’s bloody brilliant,” he said. “This is where I belong.”
Erik leaned down and kissed him lightly while Amma rolled her eyes at them. She ripped off the leg of his trousers below the knee and started healing a particularly nasty burn while saying, “If you can get flamed like this and still want to be here, there’s no doubt that you’re a dragon keeper.”
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