Disclaimer: Not mine, not for profit, just a bit of fun.

A/N: Aaaand... that's it! Side story's done. Stay tuned for more of the main tale!

Ten Months

And then comes the day when an incongruous blue box materializes in the middle of the glen.

It is a glorious day of sun like it's a rare gift to find in December; with no hint of snow in the air and a sky so clean and inviting that Harry is itching to fly from the very moment he wakes up.

Fortuna is more than happy to oblige and the feeling seems to be wide-spread, because they find themselves in good company up in the air.

An impromptu practice session of formation flying soon engages every dragon healthy enough to enjoy the clear sky and Harry isn't the only captain that whoops and shouts in sheer glee in the cold, luminous morning, made even brighter by the hopeful news of Temeraire and Captain Laurence's return. Napoleon might have defeated Russia, but the two heroes have brought back a whole pack of healthy dragons – ferals Laurence has somehow tamed, if the rumours are to be believed – and better still, a firebreather.

The day is joyous indeed.

Not that the mingled rain and snow they'd had the previous week could dampen their spirit much, not with such news reaching them: with the way things are going, no kind of weather could get them down. Everybody is giddy, even the captains stuck to the worse off dragons feeling weak stirrings of hope. The unusual, sunny weather is just icing on the cake, really.

Fortuna launches in one of her improvisations, dancing around the prescribed flight pattern at high speed, in a maddening show of her insane flying skills.

Unlike a few months ago, Waltz and Blakethorn, the captains of the two closest Reapers, just laugh and shout encouragements. No more endless complaining about "Potter's bloody crazy dragon" or sneering insults: after all, Harry's a right hero – again; the aviators know he's the one who's handled the threat of the odd blue monsters, even if the hows of it are getting garbled in the various retellings, and the villagers don't forget he's the one who helped them and protected them the most. Nobody's criticizing him anymore – he's the pride of the Covert and hailed as the bravest among them.

"Told you they'd get over it," Harry has said smugly to his friends, but his smirk was sad. Still. No threats of random violence and almost no mention of his supposed cowardice anymore (except from a few jerks like Howard) is a rather nice deal, all in all.

Harry's prepared to take what he gets.

He points Fortuna to the lake and challenges her to plunge until she can skim the water surface and return to the formation before their next pass.

Even his gleeful yell gets left behind by his insanely fast dragon.

Down below, Hermione is holding a politics lesson in the courtyard, very pleased by the attentiveness of her audience. She's quite determined to give them a clear idea of how their government works, and if she can, of how it should work as well.

She's not making any inroads on the civil rights for dragons front, she's well aware, not even with the dragons themselves, but she has not lost hope.

"...and from what my Chapman has told me about Parliament, I do not think any dragons are invited to go there," is saying Marcia, a little, fierce Greyling with elegant splashes of white on her bluish grey wings that make her look like a piece of sky with eyes when she hovers.

"How do you even know about that?" asks Hermione, surprised and pleased.

"Oh, I heard Temeraire talk about all that, down at Dover," she says, very pleased with herself. "He was saying how some of the laws which he has heard make very little sense, and how we dragons should get to have our say in making those laws, and how some of us should go into politics and be repentatives… no… raprentives…"

"Representatives," corrects Hermione automatically.

"That, yes." Marcia fusses virtuously with one of her wings. "I wouldn't do it, of course, because my Chapman would be upset; but it stands to reason that some dragons should."

"Yes," agrees Invictus thoughtfully. "It is only reasonable to consult us on the laws, if we are to follow them."

Hermione can't stop her huge grin.

These are the first steps, and they are the right ones. People just don't think about it – but the dragons are smart enough to fight for themselves, if someone points them in the right direction, gives them but a little nudge. She's so proud to be that someone.

Her School, she's quite certain, is a fundamental step in the progress of this civilization. It might still be in its infancy, it might still involve only a handful of dragons, but it is just a matter of spreading the word, she reflects. In time, the School will soar and dragon rights with it.

It is a pity that the Plague has stifled her efforts so much – if the couriers had not been stopped from travelling, if they could have sat in on a few lessons, even just occasionally or at intervals, they would have spread the word further and further. Not the worst consequence of the terrible illness, she knows, not by far, but nonetheless...

No matter.

She's planted a seed that will grow into a better society. She knows it.

Sadly, Ron's audience is not giving him the same satisfaction.

He glares at the four gathered 'apprentices' whose expressions range from bored to abashed and mentally curses Old Farham, who's practically bullied him into this.

He knows he's supposed to train up an apprentice or two now that he's been a recognized Leather Master for over six months but he's sort of been hoping it wouldn't come up. Unfortunately, what with one thing and another, he's finally run out of excuses to avoid the task.

The problem is that teaching really isn't his cup of tea.

He's always been on the other side of it – the youngest at home (he was never asked to teach Ginny in Mum's place, the way Bill and Percy sometimes did), fairly average at school (not the one you'd turn to for tutoring, that's for sure), hanging on Hermione's words during study sessions rather than contributing much. The closest he's ever come to imagining himself in the role is a vague "one day I'll teach my kids Quidditch" kind of thing!

The youngest of his students is only eight, surely he's not supposed to teach him? Damon's a bright child, to be sure, with a mischievous grin and far too great an enthusiasm for sticky and smelly substances, but Ron is slightly scared of the attentive eyes the kid has riveted on him. What if he teaches him something dangerous? What if he doesn't explain properly and something goes terribly wrong? What if an accident like Mick's happens again under his watch?

And the oldest could be his grandfather, besides being one of the best in their line of work, surely he's not supposed to teach him? He knows many want him to share his 'trade secrets', but what if he can't do it well enough and disappoints everybody? What if he slips up and teaches them some Potions? What if he stutters and confuses himself and them and makes a complete fool of himself? Old Master Wright's wrinkled face is impassive, but Ron has a feeling the man is laughing up his sleeve anyway.

The other two are even worse; Ron simply doesn't have the gift of keeping someone's attention, explaining things clearly doesn't come easily to him, and in the back of his mind, he keeps hearing Hermione complain about the lack of structure in his essays. He fears his lesson is just as disorganized.

He hems and hums, stuttering through the instructions and sort of hoping showing his techniques might be enough. Hopefully he won't have to whip out his wand to prevent a disaster.

...Are they even listening to him? Those two look like they're in Binn's class...

Should he just give up on lecturing and put them to work? And hope nothing goes wrong?

...How did Harry manage the DA, again?

Still. The kids (and one potential grandfather) who want to learn from him are better than all the ones who only want him to recount the whole killing-the-blue-beasties thing. He remembers how delighted he'd been after the Second Task of the Triwizard Tournament, when everybody wanted him to tell of the lake, and can only shake his head. He'd loved the attention then. Now? Urgh.

He must be getting old.

And then there are the idiots who want to know if the silk from the blue Acromantulas can be used. Read: made a profit from. Typical.

"All I know is that they secrete it themselves," says Ron with an eye-roll, every time they ask. "It's the appendages beneath them that extrude silk from the glands in their abdomen – which means... if you want the silk, you have to keep them alive. Not a bright idea, I don't think."

He might not have done any of the research himself, but he has long practice in memorizing the key points of Hermione's lectures, so he's very sure of what he says and manages quite the authoritative tone.

It doesn't seem to be sufficiently convincing, more's the pity.

And yes, maybe he'd have liked to harvest some of the stuff himself to, you know, experiment. But really. Not if the price is dealing with huge blue spiders!

"Alright!" he ends up yelling after barely rescuing a jar of cow brains from Damon's risky curiosity. "Enough for today! Just… er… practice with… this..." he gestures to the strips of scrap leather he was teaching them to water-proof by retanning with chromium salts and tries not to wince at how lame he sounds before he hurries away.

Snickers follow him and he pretends not to hear. He just has to get out of the Covert for a little while, that's all; take a walk or something, before he starts yelling at the idiots - or crumbles and goes to Hermione for help. He shudders a little. She'd come up with lessons plans, he just knows it.

Right. A walk is what he needs!

Which is why he's the one to spot the big blue box sitting innocently in the middle of the glen, and the two figures holding hands in front of it.

He stops. He blinks. He grins.

The Doctor is back!

Of course, their lives get right away turned upside down and filled with all sorts of strange happenings, odd twists, adrenaline-filled meetings and a lot of running.

Not that they don't have experience with that sort of thing – this is them, after all, friendship cemented by troll-baiting and all – but the Doctor makes interesting times happen at such a fast pace it's exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure.

They shouldn't like that. Kinda do, a bit.

Later, much later, when all is said and done...

...when they've convinced Hermione not to hex the Doctor (though she's still yelling at him now and then) and they've offended and confused all their new friends and comrades, and given them quite the scare...

...and sort of stolen a (now) cat-sized dragon...

...when they've saved Captain Laurence's family from the accursed blue Acromantulas that, apparently, hadn't been dealt with entirely, while also offending and confusing and slightly terrifying quite a lot of people…

...and they've brokered an improbable truce between the aggressive blue spiders from – it turns out – the planet Rarog and the aggressive local humans with pitchforks, and sent everybody home more or less pacified (if not satisfied)…

...and they've enjoyed the lovely hospitality of Lady Allendale, who's half-charmed and half-scared by them, but nevertheless an excellent hostess; and they've been accused of being French one more time than the Doctor is prepared to bear...

...when they are, at long last, ensconced again in their Common Room on the Tardis (whom Ron has been careful not to offend, this time, half-hoping that if he keeps his decided opinion of her strictly to himself they may be able to start over and he'll have hot water again) and Fortuna is jumping delightedly all over the furniture, squealing about the fantastic room the Tardis has rearranged for her and Harry – with enough room for her to be herself if she wants (but she's kind of liking being so little now that she doesn't have to)...

...Harry sits close to a downcast Hermione.

"Oh, it's nothing," she sighs in answer to his worry. "I just wish I knew if... if what I did had any effect. If I made things better for dragons... or if everything's going to go back to the way it was..."

"I know it was a bit abrupt, they way we left," Harry says carefully, and stops.

Truth be told, he doesn't mind as much as he'd thought he would. Some of life in the last ten months has been wonderful, but there have been dark spots too, ostracism and danger, not to mention the war looming ahead of them. Rather like a year in Hogwarts, come to think of it.

Without the great cooking; but with a lot of nice friendships at least.

He thinks of Barton and his steady seriousness and his patience in teaching him the dos and donts; of Berriman and her impatience with "stupid gowns" and her love of fencing; of little Hadrian Donnel and his habit to hide under beds or bushes "to have a good think"; of Captain Trenholme, who'd continued to write him about his Pascal's Blue, Carinus, and of their time in Gibraltar, until the Plague had caught up with them...

Yes, he'll miss some of the friends he's made, but deep down, the only thing that truly matters to him is that Ron and Hermione are alright, and Fortuna is with him – he asks for nothing more.

He does agree that it would have been nice to say a proper goodbye, and maybe not leave such a bad impression behind (though under the circumstances, that was unlikely), and he sort of understands what Hermione's saying, but he can't bring himself to regret much, not when his dragon is happy and they're going back home (...soonish).

So he just hugs his best friend and says nothing.

"I think I might set up a workshop, when we get back home," says Ron abruptly, flopping down on a couch beside them. He seems to catch their sombre mood and frowns: "Is something wrong?"

"No," Hermione smiles tremulously and moves to his side.

"No," she repeats after a moment, sounding surprisingly at peace. "I'm fretting but I shouldn't be. I've done what I could. We've always known That Alien could come back any time to finally take us home, I should have been ready. I wasn't, really, but when I think about it…" She smiles again, and this time there is a thread of reassured pride in it: "I know my efforts will not taper off into nothingness. Really, the dragons are a great deal more resourceful than even I ever gave them credit for! They'll get their rights recognized, with or without help."

Ron and Harry chuckle in agreement.

"So… a workshop?" asks Harry amused. "For leather wares and such?"

Ron flexes the gloves he hasn't given up and shrugs, with a little bashful smile. "It's just an idea."

"It's a lovely idea," proclaims Hermione, snuggling into him. "What about you, Harry? What will you and Fortuna do?"

"Oh," he says, smiling fondly at his miniaturized dragon. "I'm sure trouble will find us soon enough."