A/N: *glides by on dragon-back*

*parachutes the chapter down to you*

*giggles knowingly, wiggling eyebrows*

* "Weren't expecting this, were ya?" *

*soars away, already writing more*


Let it Burn

By Kittenshift17

Chapter 12: Flame

"Hey, Hermione, do you need any help out there?" Saskia called when Hermione was passing the nursery hours later, almost finished the rounds of the numerous enclosures she'd had to clean and dragons she'd had to heal.

Hermione stopped, turning to peer through the door that led into the nursery where the other woman had a baby Short-Snout perched on her shoulder while she poured over some documents recorded on heavy parchment.

"I think Charlie and I have everything under control for the Sanctum today," Hermione answered, smiling. "How are you doing in here? I suppose you'll need to be stocking up, the same as the rest of us, for the coming onslaught?"

"Don't I know it?" Saskia said, looking up and smiling. "But Papa is taking care of everything like he always does. With the Razors on the way, we need to be even better prepared, and we need to make sure that any dragon who can be moved into the Sanctum for the sake of nesting, is moved to protect the Koroleva and the eggs from the others. How are things looking out there? You must be terrified to be flung into such an emergency on your second day, huh?"

"Story of my life, really," Hermione shrugged her shoulders modestly, though they were still a bit stiff after yesterday's shovelling and rough and tumble with the dragons. "I got to Hogwarts, and it turns out Voldemort's trying to make a return by stealing the Philosopher's stone, or opening the Chamber of Secrets, or there's Azkaban escapees on the loose and supposedly trying to kill us, or he's been resurrected and is planning a war on muggleborns, muggles, and any who stand against him, and I have to help Harry defeat him. I joined the workforce at the Ministry, and there was a minor recession with massive cutbacks across the board any anyone not working overtime, all the time, was given the sack. I move to Dragonsmeade and we're slammed by an inundation of dragons from around the world, indicative of some natural disaster on the way. You know, I'm beginning to think I must be a bad luck charm."

Saskia looked a little shocked at her casual reference to Voldemort and the War, and the poor woman blinked awkwardly for a minute before recovering her perky equilibrium.

"That does sound like a run of bad luck," she admitted, frowning a little. "I suppose you've heard the news about everyone needing to bunk together to make room for the additional builders and Tamers flying in from all over, huh?"

"Yeah," Hermione nodded. "I was with Charlie when he hit the Panic Button up at HQ. Builders and supplies are already flooding in and I expect the Tamers and the Healers won't be far behind them. Charlie was called away half an hour ago to deal with some of the planning and to get everyone corralled to make this all run off without a hitch…"

"I'll need to move my stuff, I suppose, though I've no idea who I might bunk in with – I've been living in my own little single-occupancy hut since I arrived. What are you planning? We put you in a single occupancy cabin too, didn't we?" Saskia asked.

"We did, yeah," Hermione nodded, biting her lip as her cheeks flushed pink. "I… uh… well, Charlie's asked if I want to bunk in with him in his spare room…."

Saskia's eyes widened comically before a grin started to grow on her face. Hermione's face cut red at the knowing glint in the other woman's eyes and she tried desperately to keep from showing that she was absolutely smitten with Charles Weasley.

"Is that right?" she asked, looking wickedly amused at the notion of Charlie offering to let her move in with him when she'd only been in town three days.

"Yeah," Hermione rushed to explain. "I've been best friends with younger his brother, Ron, since I went to Hogwarts, and I've spent a portion of every summer since then at the Burrow with his family. When he came home after the war, we all lived there together for a year. I think he just knows that I'm easy to live with and that I prefer to stay out of everyone's way with my book in bed."

"Mmhmm," Saskia hummed, a huge smirk on her face. "Or… you know… maybe he's hot for you and staking a claim before anyone else can think about getting into your knickers!"

Hermione blushed even brighter.

"It's not like that," she rushed to assure the other woman. "He's my supervisor, it wouldn't be right."

Saskia was still grinning, and Hermione could tell that the perky Russian witch could see right through her feeble excuse – picking up on everything she didn't say by refusing to deny her feelings for Charlie.

"You know, I've known Charlie a long time, and I've never seen him act the way he's been acting around you," she said, grinning. "I think he fancies you."

"We're old friends," Hermione excused.

"Do all of your old friends carry you to bed when you fall asleep in the pub?" Saskia asked.

"Actually, yes," Hermione admitted truthfully. "Any one of Charlie's brothers, or Harry or even Neville would definitely carry me home and put me to bed if I passed out at the pub back home."

"Oh," Saskia frowned, suddenly looking less sure of herself. "Do you make a habit of it?"

"No," Hermione laughed, shaking her head. "We're just really close. They're all practically family… Fighting a war together will do that."

Saskia nodded slowly.

"That must've been awful, huh?" she asked quietly.

Hermione shrugged her shoulders.

"It could always have been worse," she admitted quietly. "What's important is that the sacrifices we made, and the pain we endured were made worth it by our victory."

Saskia eyed her sadly, clearly sensing that she didn't like to talk about the war, and that she was still sad over the loss of her friends.

"And now here you are, caught in the middle of a dragon congregation," Saskia shook her head. "You really do have bad luck. And I can't believe you're going to bunk with Charlie instead of me! Won't he drive you mental? He's such a cranky sod all the time, and that's when he's not even in charge. Are you sure you want him barking at you all day in the field, and then to have to go home and share a hut with him at night? Unless he plans to make it up to you for being grouchy by providing valuable orgasms?"

Hermione's blush brightened all over again, recalling what had transpired thanks to the use of his dragon-spunk healing decoction.

"It wouldn't be like that," Hermione protested. "Charlie's my supervisor as long as Marla's out of commission. And we'd be living together. And working together. If things went awkwardly, or we had a falling out over anything… tawdry… imagine how uncomfortable things would be when we have to work together, and we're living together? It's awkward enough that I used to date Ron…"

"What?" Saskia gasped. "You and… Charlie's brother?"

Hermione sighed.

"That's right. Ron and I were in the same year at school. We fought side by side in the war. In our final year at Hogwarts we were a couple. We've been broken up for ages and Ron's engaged to someone else now, but even so. It'd be awkward pursuing anything romantic with Charlie after that, don't you think?"

Saskia looked thoughtful, chewing her lip pensively when the baby dragon on her shoulder scurried around the back of her neck to perch on her other shoulder, leaning towards Hermione and sniffing inquisitively. Hermione reached a finger out, stroking the creature's short snout gently.

"I don't think it would be that awkward," Saskia said finally. "Before my Mama and Papa were married, my Mama used to date Papa's cousin. They were raised like brothers, but when Mama and Papa met, they just knew it was fate and they've been very happy for more than thirty years, now."

Hermione blinked.

"It wasn't awkward?" Hermione asked.

"Some people are just well suited, Hermione," Saskia smiled winningly. "And you're the only witch I've ever seen Charlie look twice at."

"I doubt that," Hermione muttered, thinking of his previously torrid relationship with Amy.

"It's true," Saskia assured her. "Charlie is like an inferno. Flares to life every now and then, burns hot, and burns out fast."

"What do you mean?" Hermione frowned.

Saskia looked around, peering out the door for a long moment as though fearful that Charlie might come looking for Hermione and overhear them.

"He's very intense," Saskia said hesitantly. "He… Charlie is… well… he scares some people."

"Oh?" Hermione asked.

"He has a terrible temper," Saskia said, lowering her voice and looking nervous as though speaking ill of the man who was currently her boss didn't sit well with her. "Very prone to volatility. He's like a dragon in that way. Flies into a rampage when you least expect it and frightens the hell out of everyone who gets in his way. He's dated a few of the women who've passed through here before but he… he doesn't drive them away, as such… he just… it's like he gets bored with them. He burns up all the fuel they have on offer and then he's hungry for more. He doesn't back down. He likes to fight. He's too intense for a lot of people."

"Because of his temper?" Hermione frowned.

"Because of his dedication. The only thing he seems to give a damn about is his family and the dragons. Everything else is an afterthought, even any girlfriend he entertains."

Hermione nodded, frowning a little and wondering if that would be the case with her, too, if they decided to live together or to explore anything more.

"I don't want to warn you away, Hermione," Saskia rushed to assure her, obviously catching her expression. "He's wonderful and a good man and easy on the eyes, obviously. But he's very intense. Many a female Tamer who cycles through here falls for him, and most of them leave here either cursing his name, or pining after him as the one that got away when he just gets bored and ditches them."

"Ditches them?" Hermione clarified.

"Like a balaur finished with his koroleva at the end of the breeding season," Saskia nodded. "He just up and flies away like he never met them, let alone shagged them bowlegged. Leaves them in bits, most of the time, if they convince themselves it's love when all he's doing is scratching an itch."

"Right," Hermione nodded, her brow furrowing further.

"Oh, I'm making things worse," Saskia sighed. "Forget I said anything. If you're interested in him, don't let my silly speculations stop you from pursuing something with him, Hermione. Merlin knows it would be nice to see Weasley happy for a change."

Hermione chuckled.

"He's not that grumpy," she laughed.

Saskia rolled her eyes.

"Sure, he isn't," she argued. "Go on. You better get back to it before he has cause to come looking for you and growling at me for distracting you. With all these new arrivals, I expect things will get very hectic around here. I'll be along to give you a hand preparing the empty cages as soon as I'm finished my ordering here."

Saskia shooed Hermione out of the office, but not before the baby dragon on her shoulder leaped to Hermione, gliding the small distance between the women and nestling in around Hermione's neck like a scarf.

"You've made a friend," Saskia beamed. "Oh, this is wonderful. She never shows much interest in anyone except me since I was there when she was hatched."

"Can I take her with me while I get on with my work?"

"Sure," Saskia nodded. "Be careful some of the adults in the paddocks don't try to eat her. Some of the wilder ones, particularly the males, will eat the hatchlings of other breeds if they can."

"I'll keep an eye out," Hermione promised.

Saskia grinned, nodding, before getting back to her paperwork and Hermione hurried back to her chores, thinking that she better find Charlie and make sure there wasn't more she needed to be doing. The last thing she wanted was for him to think she was slacking off. As she hurried through the Sanctum corridors, Hermione took note of the many comings and goings taking place. All over the place people from different groups who all lived and worked within Dragonsmeade were hard at it. There were the Dung Beetle Group guys with their trolleys, carting barrels of dung out of the Sanctum. There were the lovely ladies from Second Skin – a group Charlie said tended to collect the discarded, dropped, and shed dragon scales from the enclosures, which they made use of making various items of clothing and other trinkets. There was the building inspector, measuring doors, cages, and walls and clicking his tongue before making notes on a clipboard as he confirmed how structurally sound the entire Sanctum happened to be in preparation for what seemed like an impending Dragon Apocalypse.

She checked the supply rooms and didn't come across him and Hermione frowned, wondering if she was supposed to just get on with the next batch of dragons that needed tending today, even though she didn't have Charlie alongside her. Supposing that would make sense and reminding herself that he had suggested it would be beneficial if she could hit the ground running and take on the Sanctum, Hermione shrugged her shoulders – earning a squeak from the baby around her neck – and collected a wheelbarrow and associated supplies before checking the register for which dragons still needed attention.

"Come on, pretty girl," Hermione said to the baby. "Let's go and check on that big guy they brought in yesterday, huh? I'm sure he's had time to devour his dinner by now and he's probably tired and sore after all that fuss yesterday, don't you think?"

The baby squeaked again, and Hermione idly wondered if she'd been given a name, making a mental note to ask Saskia.

When she reached the enclosure where the male was being contained, Hermione frowned, activating the magic to allow her to see into the enclosure. The enormous beast wasn't in a good way. He was awake, Hermione noted, but he was sprawled on the floor of his cage and looking worse for wear. A collection of his wounds were still bleeding, and his eyes were dull.

"Oh, no," she whispered, pressing a hand to the glass and frowning heavily.

Part of her training to get to the sanctuary included magi-zoology training, but before coming to Dragonsmeade, she'd never had the chance to work on a dragon. She probably wasn't ready. She should wait for Charlie… but the dragon was obviously in pain and needed tending. And Hermione was no fool. She could give it a go, couldn't she?

"What do you think, cutie?" Hermione appealed to the baby on her shoulder, turning her head to look at the creature when the little one dug her claw in, snaking her head forward to peer at the massive male curiously. "You think he'll try and roast us alive if we go in there?"

The soft, curious noise from the baby decided the issue for Hermione and she nodded decisively before pushing the button to open the door into the enclosure, steeling herself for what might end up being a rather bad time indeed, and prepared to disapparate immediately if the male reacted aggressively.

His head came up when Hermione wheeled her barrow into the cage, and he bared his terrible fangs, emitting a rumbling growl of warning that she hadn't even been aware Dragons could make. The baby on her shoulder squeaked and scuttled around a bit, hiding under the mass of Hermione's hair.

"Easy, big guy," Hermione said quietly to the enormous creature, utterly awed as she moved a little closer to realise how truly big he was. After spending the morning with Rhydian, Hermione had gotten a little more accustomed to the sheer size of the dragons she would now be playing with on a regular basis, but Rhydian really wasn't that big compared to this intimidating specimen.

"You're pretty sore today, I'll bet?" she said, keeping up a running stream of conversation with the beast as she'd noted Charlie tended to do. Dragons, it seemed, liked to be sweet-talked and communicated with, even if they couldn't talk back.

A curl of smoke emitted from his right nostril, and he eyeballed her dangerously, rumbling again, but not moving from where he sprawled on the ground on his belly, looking battered and a little broken.

"I've got some stuff here that can help patch up those cuts and bites, you know?" she said. "Do you think it'd be alright if we worked on getting them all better? I could make come over there and…"

The dragon roared and her and Hermione flinched.

"Or I could stay over here for a while," she conceded, nodding. "You're right. We just met. You don't want me getting all up in your space, I'm sure. You had a rough day yesterday. Those lovely ladies you were keen on didn't take too kindly to your special attentions, now did they?"

Hermione relaxed just a little bit when the dragon actually grumbled, lowering his head back to the ground and looking away from her as though embarrassed and annoyed about how things had gone the day before.

"Awww, buddy, don't be like that. We've all had the hots for someone who doesn't feel the same at one point or another. Well, except maybe this little cutie," Hermione chuckled, reaching to smooth a calming hand over the scales of the baby on her shoulder and still hiding under her hair. "But she's newly hatched and hasn't had a chance to go out there and have her heart broken, the darling."

One enormous reptilian eye rolled in their direction and the male watched the baby for a moment when she leaned into Hermione's touch appreciatively.

"How would it be if, while we're still getting to know each other, I got this paddock tidied up for you, hmmm? Would it be alright if I brought in a barrel to deal with those leavings?" Hermione asked, nodding in the direction of the dung pile in one corner.

The huge male huffed again, grumbling some more before he closed his eyes. Hermione supposed that was as close to permission as she was going to get.

"Come on, beautiful," Hermione said quietly. "Let's get that barrel, huh?"

She made her way back to the door and located the barrel that the Dung Beetle Group had left beside it. Hermione glanced at it, preparing to move it, before noticing that it didn't have the stamp on it for Horntail, but instead said it was the type of barrel needed for an Opal-Eye. Narrowing her eyes and looking around, Hermione checked the other, nearby barrels to see if it'd been mixed up with one of the others, annoyed to find that none of them were for a Horntail.

"Well, that's just not going to work for us, is it, pretty girl?" Hermione asked the Short-Snout on her shoulder. "Come on, let's find a Dung Beetle and get it swapped over."

Closing the door to the cage holding the grumpy Horntail, Hermione levitated the incorrect barrel and headed off down the corridor. She didn't manage to find any of the Dung Beetle Group employees, but she found a cart filled with empties. Searching it over quickly, Hermione found one specific for a Horntail and levitated it down, replacing it with the Opal-Eye barrel and returning to the cage. There was still no sign of Charlie, but Hermione didn't have time to wait for him or to go looking. There were cages to clean and dragons to heal and she would just have to do it without him.

It would be fine.

What was the worst that could happen?

"Probably being incinerated," Hermione muttered to the baby on her shoulder as she made her way back into the enclosure with the big Horntail.

The beast cracked one eye open to look at her when she entered, before another grumble came from him and he closed his eyes, evidently interested in trying to sleep. Hermione wondered how bad things might be if she waited for him to fall asleep before attempting to heal those wounds he was sporting. Probably bad.

"Well, we'll just have to figure something out, won't we?" she said, squaring her shoulders and heading for the dung pile with her barrel.

Grateful she didn't actually have to shovel it, Hermione held her breath as best she could and got to work levitating the truly pungent piles into the barrel, shaking her head as she examined some of the contents, noting a collection of half-digested bones in an assortment from things as big as elephants to bones small enough to belong to sheep.

"Well, at least you have a varied diet," she muttered before stopping suddenly when a portion of undigested bone slid by her eyes in the very distinct shape of a broke human skull.

"Oh shit," Hermione whispered, twisting fast and training her wand on the enormous beast, her heart beginning to pound in fear that she might find him poised to roast her alive.

Her knees almost gave out in relief when she found him right where she'd left him, dozing now, furls of smoke wafting from his nostrils on every exhale.


The baby dragon on her shoulder made a soft, curious noise again, shuffling a little on Hermione's shoulder and she reached to pet the small creature gently, stroking her brilliant sapphire scales and feeling the tingle of dragon-magic in her fingertips.

"Maybe it was just a bad day," she said to the little one. "Maybe he was just really hungry and people were all that was around…"

Narrowing her eyes a little, Hermione lowered her wand and watched the dozing dragon for a few long minutes in silence. Maybe he was still groggy from the tranquilizers they'd used to get him away from the Ironbelly females, and into the cage. Maybe he was exhausted after his long flight and his battle with the same females, caught in musth and now worn out from all his hard work. Maybe he was just tired and sore and wanted to rest before he might go causing trouble again later and next time she might have to do a better job of keeping an eye on him, lest she be eaten.

The sight of the skull fragment in the barrel of dung was a chilling reminder that not only were these massive powerful creatures majestic and flooring… they were predators. Some were man-hunters. She would have to mention it to Charlie.

"I can't leave it there," Hermione muttered, fighting the urge to gag from the stench before using magic to levitate the bone out of the barrel, cleaning it off as best she could.

Tucking it into her back pocket for safe keeping as best she could manage and wondering if there would be any human DNA left in the bone that could be used to identify the poor soul who'd been devoured, Hermione hurried through the remainder of the chore, clearing the dung out of the paddock as quickly as she could.

"I really need to treat those wounds," she said quietly when she had levitated the dung barrel outside again, ready for collection.

Loitering in the doorway, Hermione weighed the options, wondering if she should report that the big beast was obviously a man eater, or if she should treat his wounds and get him on the mend as soon as she could so that they could get him out of there before he went crazy with the need to mate and be with the other wild dragons mobbing the area. Would they even let him leave with confirmed proof that at some stage, he'd snacked on a human? Would he end up like Esmerelda, the Peruvian Vipertooth permanently caged in the paddock across the Sanctum because she had a nasty habit of devouring entire villages if she could fly free.

"Handsome?" Hermione asked, addressing the dragon cautiously, worried she might end up eaten before she could be here even a week. Wouldn't that just be her luck? Years and years pining after Charlie, only to be gobbled up by a dragon before she could tell him she wanted to shag him ten ways from Sunday.

A grunt sounded from the dragon.

"You're bleeding," Hermione said. "I really need to patch you up. The sooner we get you all better, the sooner you can get back out there, you know?"

Hermione held her breath when an eye cracked open again and the dragon huffed a lungful of smoke in a little mushroom cloud.

"Please?" she asked politely. "It'll make you feel better. And then we can get you right back out there fighting for some pretty ladies and scrapping with the lads. What do you say? Can I heal you without you eating me or burning me to a crisp?"

The dragon lifted his head again, both eyes opening and his neck twisting around before he sniffed at a nasty wound on his side where he'd been slashed by one of the females the day before. He sniffed it repeatedly before licking at the blood still leaking from it.

"I can fix that," she said. "I promise I can heal it right up so it won't give you any more trouble, but you have to promise not to eat me, okay? Please? I really don't want to be dinner. I've got way too much going on for it all to end in a blaze of glory, you know?"

The dragon huffed in a way that seemed to Hermione rather like he doubted she'd ever done anything exciting in her whole entire life and Hermione put her hands on her hips.

"I do have," she told the beast, moving closer as she spoke. "Just like you out there with your hunt for all those lovely ladies to impregnate, I'm on the hunt for a big strong balaur of my own, see? One who'll treat me right and give me a good fight when I want to tussle, but who'll do a good job… uh… helping me with the hatchlings."

Another rumble from the dragon.

"Come on," she said. "What do you say? Can I fix you up and we can both live to fight another day?"

He eyed her for a long time, his tongue flicking out to lick at the blood on his side every now and then, regarding her; taking measure of her. Maybe he was trying to figure out if he could eat her whole in a single bite. He was so utterly massive that he probably could.

"Come on, honey," Hermione coaxed. "You're much too big and strong and powerful for this wretched cage, aren't you? We can't have you staying here too long. Not when there's hunting to do and mates to fight for, am I right? Look at you. Those glorious wings barely fit inside this tiny space, do they? Don't you want to get out of here? We can't let you when you're all banged up, you know? We need to get you better or you might get sick, or hurt, or some sneaky sod half your size will try his fangs with you and you might mess it up because you're hurt, and we couldn't have that could we? Some puny putz thinking he's bigger and stronger and fiercer than you?

A low rumble sounded from the beast from deep in his belly so powerfully that the ground beneath her feet shook.

"What do you say?" Hermione asked, stepping closer still.

Another long eyeballing followed before eventually, the dragon heaved a monstrous sigh and conceded, somehow managing to still look graceful when he shifted his massive bulk in her direction, exposing the bleeding gashes to her and curling his neck around, away from her, as though promising he wouldn't eat her by refusing to even have his jaws anywhere near her.

"Thank you, handsome," Hermione said quietly, sighing the tension from her own shoulders before she took several brave steps forward, pulling supplies from her tool-belt to begin treating the wounds as quickly as she could.

"This might sting a little, I'm sorry," Hermione apologised when she uncapped the antiseptic powder that Charlie had showed her was the best thing to use to heal open wounds on a dragon like this. Their scales were much too tough and their hides much too thick to be able to stitch such gashes, bites and other injuries closed, and so a formula had been developed that allowed an antiseptic powder to disinfect the wound and seal the torn flesh closed, hardening it to a heavy scab whenever it touched open, wet flesh.

The dragon twitched when she dusted the powder over the cuts, his hide shifting in a habit reminiscent of a horse twitching a fly. When he didn't immediately roar in fury and turn to roast her, Hermione slowly relaxed into the process of healing the big beast, seeking his permission before climbing up on his back to try and reach the many wounds he'd sustained in the fight.

"Merlin, but you are powerful," Hermione sighed when she had to seat herself on one of his shoulders to balance while she worked on the numerous bites and scratches on his neck and shoulder from where the females he'd mated had turned and tried to kill him to keep him from doing just that.

The dragon magic surging underneath his scales was enough to overwhelm her, and Hermione had to take a few moments of simply breathing deeply, her own magical core sizzling with the feel of dragon magic. Was this what Charlie had meant about the healthy dragons out in the field as compared to dragons like Rhydian, who'd been sick for some time? The difference in the amount of magic boiling right beneath the surface was intense and Hermione wondered if this would be a good way to figure out which dragons were getting better and which were getting worse.

He rumbled under her when she found a particularly deep puncture wound where he'd been bitten, and Hermione winced.

"I'm sorry, Casanova," Hermione said. "But this is what happens when you go hunting for love outside your species, isn't it? What were you thinking, anyway? Those lovely ladies were big, but they weren't Horntails, you know?"

She squeaked, clinging to one of the enormous spikes on his neck when he curled his head around to glare at her.

"What?" she asked, frowning at him. "Did that hurt too much?"

The massive creature puffed a little ball of smoke into her face.

"Or do you just not like being reminded that you got a little too horny and drunk on power and took home the wrong lover?" Hermione teased. "Don't worry, love. We've all been there. If I could tell you about the number of terrible boys I bedded while I hunted for my balaur, you'd probably offer to eat me just to put me out of my misery. Puny, pathetic little beasts, some of them. What was I thinking, hmmm?"

Casanova, as she decided she was dubbing him for the sake of giving him a name rather than just calling him "The big Horntail", blinked at her.

"It happens, doesn't it. Sometimes we get an itch that's just got to be scratched and if it itches bad enough, just about anyone will do, won't they?" she soothed the dragon. "Oh, love, you've got some bites on your handsome nose, too. May I heal them?"

She reached a tentative hand toward his face where it hung eight feet from her, and he narrowed his eyes on the appendage like he wasn't sure if he should allow the attention, or if he should rip her arm off for a nice snack. Before he could decide, the Short-Snout baby still riding on her shoulder scuttled the length of her arm, clinging to her wrist and extending her own nose toward the massive beast.

"Oh, no, pretty girl… don't… he might…" Hermione began, trying to pull her arm back, fearful that so large and musth riddled a beast would surely kill the tiny baby of another species.

She broke off when after another rumble from Casanova, he extended his nose toward the tiny baby, sniffing loudly until their noses bumped together.

"Wow," Hermione breathed, wondering if anyone would believe this when she told them.

They wouldn't. Of course they wouldn't. Everything she'd ever learned about predators – magical or muggle – was that outside of their own species, most babies were prey and within their own species, it was a fifty-fifty shot as to whether they would be killed to force new breeding, or embraced because the breeding urge has passed. Of course, there were exceptions. Ducks warmed tiny puppies with their wings and she-cats would adopt orphaned baby raccoons but most often in such instances, the creatures were domesticated.

And yet, as she stood there clinging to the shoulder of the biggest Hungarian Horntail balaur she'd ever seen with a baby Short-Snout female clinging to her arm, the two different species of dragon touched noses, sniffing curiously and defying everything she'd ever been taught.

"Please be gentle, Casanova," Hermione said softly when the much bigger male sniffed a little more curiously, almost dislodging the baby from her arm.

She was treated to another puff of smoke to the face for the warning and Hermione chuckled, shaking her head.

"Come on, cutie," Hermione coaxed the baby. "You've said hello. Now I need that hand to heal this handsome fellow so he can get back the wild and lay some more love on the wonderful females flocking the neighbourhood."

The baby made a soft sound before her tiny wings extended and she flapped them, flying up and landing on the middle of the big male's face, right between his eyes. Hermione couldn't hold back her laughter when Casanova's eyed crossed to keep the tiny creature in focus.

"Please don't hurt her," Hermione said. "May I heal these cuts and bites?"

She indicated to the wounds on his snout and the dragon rumbled again, his attention still on the baby.

"It might hurt, love," Hermione reminded him. "So please don't roast me."

He ignored her, focusing on the baby instead and Hermione took a steadying breath before she reached out and dusted the powder over his nose where he'd been bitten. She froze when his eyes snapped back to land on her and he bared his fangs, growling at her because it hurt.

"I said it would hurt," Hermione chided him. "And I can't reach the others. Would you be so kind as to come closer? The sooner they're all healed, the sooner we can let you go, love."

He rumbled again, smoke pouring from between his teeth when he opened his mouth. For a moment, Hermione feared for her life, thinking this was it, this was the moment he charred her to a crisp. She wasn't expecting it when he lowered his head down until he was well withing her reach, and she especially wasn't expecting it when one massive claw twisted up, scooping her up and lifting her up and onto his enormous head until she stood on the middle of his snout, her legs shaky.

"Oh, Merlin," Hermione whimpered, her knees giving out almost immediately and causing her to sink into a sitting position on the dragon's nose. "This is high. Please don't fling me off. I'm much too sore after yesterday for another tumble in the dirt so soon."

The baby between his eyes was scurrying about, sniffing and scratching and licking at the scales of the massive beast, making soft noises of happy curiosity and Hermione wondered if this was a strange dream she was having. Surely so big and angry a creature as this male was – as he had been when they'd brought him in – wouldn't be so agreeable as to have two strange, small creatures crawling about on his face without a care.

Not about to look a gift-horse in the mouth, however, Hermione took a steadying breath, trying to get hold of her fear and she got to work on healing the great beast before he could go getting testy. She eventually had to crawl all over his face, too, healing the many wounds inflicted during his fights, but he tolerated her well enough, only emitting a tiny blast of fire and a roar that nearly deafened her and sent the baby scuttling up her leg in terror when Hermione found a nasty cut near his eye and treated it.

"Sorry, love. Sorry," Hermione apologised, clinging to one of his horns for dear life and she shook his head vigorously, trying to escape the pain. "I'm sorry. It had to be healed. If it got infected, you could lose an eye, and you wouldn't want that, would you? Come on now, the stinging will pass in a second. Please stop shaking your head. I'm going to fly off and without wings, I will probably die when I hit the ground from this height. I don't want to die. Got me a balaur to win, remember? Casanova, come on buddy. Eeek!"

Hermione almost lost her balance when the dragon lurched beneath her, rising to his feet and unfurling his wings, obviously getting cranky again.

Just as she was thinking about disapparating – though she had no idea if it was even possible to apparate a baby-dragon – amid all the flailing, a flash of red caught Hermione's eyes. There, leaning in the doorway of the enclosure with one shoulder propped against the doorframe and watching her with the hottest look she'd ever seen burning in his eyes, stood Charlie Weasley. Just watching. He made no move to intervene as the dragon kept fussing. Made no effort to instruct her on what to do and how to keep from dying today. He just watched her, and it occurred to Hermione with sudden clarity that the incorrect barrel for dung outside the door had been a test. Leaving her on her own and seemingly disappearing had been a test. Charlie had tested her to see what she would do when left to her own devices. He was already making certain that if he was called out into the field when the Sanctum still needed attention, he could leave her to handle things.

The bastard!

She could've been eaten! Casanova was a man-eater! What if she'd died?

Then again, he was there in the doorway, watching, ready to act.

"Casanova?" Hermione said. "Enough, love. Come on. Let me down, could you? You're being a bit dramatic now. It doesn't hurt that much. Stop it."

The dragon roared again, unleashing a stream of flames across his paddock and stomping his massive feet in fury.

"You're being unreasonable," Hermione complained, peering toward the ground and wondering if she could use a cushioning charm and jump, lest the baby desperately clinging to her and likely ripping her shoulders to bits with those tiny claws whilst emitting fearful cries of distress be left in the fray.

Stomping a foot on the middle of Casanova's forehead, Hermione squawked when he suddenly froze, those big eyes rolling toward his forehead where she stood and looking more than a little murderous.

"Are you done?" Hermione asked mildly, still holding on tightly.

The dragon rumbled angrily.

"Can I get down, at least?" she asked. "You're all healed – or will be with a few more hours to let that powder set. And after that, I don't see why you couldn't be on your way, if you like. There's really no need for this tantrum."

The cantankerous creature roared again, and Hermione ears were ringing when he stopped, her head ached dizzily. Huffing in annoyance, Hermione glared at the dragon and he glared right back, curls of smoking pouring from his nostrils and from between his teeth while they faced off. Hermione wondered if he would try to roast her just as soon as she wasn't perched on his face.

"Well?" she demanded eventually, waiting to either catch the fire, or to be set down so she could get on with her day.

A cranky rumble followed by his massive claw swiping up and snatching hold of her made her think it was definitely going to be the second one, and she braced to catch his fire. She kept right on bracing too when he set her back on the ground, none too gently tossing her the last few feet before flapping his massive wings – catching them on the confines of the cage in several spots and probably hurting himself all the more. Squealing in fury and pain as the baby on her shoulders dug in sharp teeth and claws to keep from being blown off her, Hermione was propelled for the door at a run as her feet tried to keep up amid the wild gust.

When she was far enough away, Casanova roared again, turning away and stomping to the far end of his paddock, blowing out great billows of fiery breath as he went. Hermione was left wind-swept, her hair covering most of her face, her neck and shoulders bleeding from the baby's grip, and with Charlie Weasley laughing at her.

"You've made a friend," he teased, and Hermione scowled wrestling the hair from her face to glare daggers at him.

Too annoyed to speak, particularly since he'd left her to her own devices just so he could test her skills and dedication, Hermione did the only logical thing. Snatching the fragment of human skull from the back pocket of her jeans, Hermione stomped past Charlie, shoving the bit of bone against the middle of his chest as she went before leaving the enclosure entirely and thinking that she would very much like a good, stiff drink.

She didn't look back, even when Charlie took the offered bone, looked down at it and realised what it was, evidenced by his "Holy shit! He's a man-eater!" exclamation as Hermione walked away.