"Evenin'," boomed Hagrid as he stomped through the doorway of the Hogs Head pub, shaking the rain from his coat, "I'll have a firewhisky, please."
Hagrid glanced around the small room, hoping to see a familiar face. When none of the wizards in the rather ramshackle old pub appeared familiar, he lowered himself into a loudly protesting chair at an empty table. Hagrid accepted the glass thrust at him by the surly bartender and stared moodily at the table. He raised his eyes to the door as it was pushed open again, causing the torch near it to sputter and go out. A rather sinister looking wizard stepped into the pub, shaking the water from his cloak, but keeping his hood tucked neatly around his head. His eyes traveled around the pub, examining, before he walked to the bar.
"Firewhisky," the stranger demanded of the bartender. The old man grunted and put down the grimy rag with which he had been wiping the bar top. As the bartender plunked down a glass of Old Ogden's legendary brew, Hagrid could hear a low rumble from the stranger. The bartender grunted again, this time gesturing with his chin toward Hagrid. The stranger nodded briefly and tossed a few coins on the bar before rising and walking toward the half-giant.
"Mind if I join you?" asked the stranger as he neared Hagrid's table.
"O' course not! Bin hopin' for a bit o' company," Hagrid replied, indeed pleased for the company, as he pulled out a chair, "Rubeus Hagrid's my name, but folks call me Hagrid."
"Well, good evening Rubeus," rasped the stranger, "What is it that you do?"
"Me? I'm the Keeper of Key and Grounds up at 'Ogwarts. Yeh'll know what 'Ogwarts is, now?" replied Hagrid.
"Hogwarts. Of course," the stranger nodded, "I imagine you have all sorts of interesting stories from your work," his voice trailed off.
"Do I ever!" laughed Hagrid, "The students are always up to somethin'," he paused a moment to drain the glass he was holding, "What do yeh do?" he asked the stranger.
The stranger motioned for another round of drinks, even though he had not finished his own, and shrugged, "A bit of this, a bit of that." He swirled the amber fluid in his glass slowly and added, "I suppose you could call me a collector of sorts."
What do yeh collect then?" asked Hagrid curiously, a look of
great interest on his face.
The stranger leaned away from the table and pulled a scrap of parchment from his pocket, twisting it between his fingers. He eyed Hagrid speculatively for a moment before grabbing his glass and saying, "Drink up!"
As the two drained their glasses, the stranger again motioned for the bartender to freshen their drinks. He resumed twisting the parchment between his fingers before answering, "I am a collector of rare things. Artifacts, plants, creatures. Anything not readily available to the average witch or wizard."
Hagrid's eyes lit up at the mention of rare creatures and he drained his glass before leaning forward, eager to hear more. "What kind o' creatures?" he asked, nodding at the bartender as he once again filled his glass.
The stranger laid the parchment flat on the table and slowly steepled his hands in front of his face, "Well now. I'm not sure you're ready for the type of creatures I'm talking about," he spoke slowly, almost carefully, his eyes peering out from under the hood which concealed the rest of his features.
"Oh no, creatures are meh job. I've got all sorts o' critters in the forest!" Hagrid replied earnestly. When the stranger didn't immediately respond, Hagrid began reciting stories about the work he had done with the various creatures in the Dark Forest. He entertained the stranger with stories of dealings with centaurs, unicorns and other mythical creatures, downing multiple firewhiskys with each story.
The stranger finally raised a hand, stopping Hagrid mid-sentence, "You've convinced me you can handle all sorts of creatures but I'm still not sure."
Hagrid's face fell and he slowly drained his current glass of firewhisky. "But... But... I live fer little creatures," he grumbled.
"I'm sure you do, Mr. Hagrid," replied the stranger, "But I'm talking about very rare creatures. Creatures whose presence in this country needs to remain unnoticed by certain official type wizards."
"Secret-like?" Hagrid looked down in confusion at the glass in his hand.
"Exactly, Hagrid. Like a secret," the stranger coached, "Can you keep a secret?"
"O' course!" boomed Hagrid, lifting his eyes from his hands.
The stranger held his finger to his lips and Hagrid nodded sheepishly, obviously very drunk.
"Dumbledore - a great wizard is Dumbledore - he trusts me wit' secrets," hiccoughed Hagrid, "I mean, I know what Fluffy's guardin', don't I?" After a few moments a stricken look fell over his face, his eyes widening slightly, "I shouldn' a told you that. I should not 'ave told yer about Fluffy."
"It's okay Hagrid. I won't say anything to Dumbledore," cooed the stranger. He began to twist the parchment in his fingers again, "What is Fluffy?" he asked quickly.
"Fluffy's what I call the three-headed dog up at the castle. I raised 'im from a pup, I did," replied Hagrid.
"A three-headed dog? Really?" exclaimed the stranger, "How unusual. And you say you raised it from a pup?"
"I did," replied Hagrid, "Quite a chore it was too. Each head wanted sommat differen' to eat. One wanted on'y vegetables, one wanted gruel and the third would only eat crushed peppermint imps," Hagrid chuckled softly as his eyes misted over in memory.
"He must have been quite vicious," the stranger's voice trailed off expectantly.
"Aye, he was. But I found the secret!" Hagrid boasted, his cheeks ruddy with alcohol.
For the first time that night, the stranger seemed excited. He motioned to the bartender for another round and said, "You found the secret to taming a three-headed dog? What is it?"
Despite the temptation to boast a little more about his experience with Fluffy, Hagrid gulped his firewhisky and shook his head, "Nah. Can't tell yer that."
"Ah well. It was worth a try," said the stranger as he shrugged. The two men drank in silence for a few minutes before the stranger pulled a deck of cards from his pocket. He watched Hagrid for a moment, appearing to be weighing something in his mind, before asking, "Fancy a game?"
"What are the stakes?" asked Hagrid interestedly, "I don't have much."
"Well, Hagrid, I might just have something that would interest you. I think you might just be able to handle my type of creatures," The stranger leaned in and lowered his voice conspiratorially.
Hagrid grabbed his drink and leaned forward, swaying slightly, and watched the stranger through blurred eyes. Slowly, the stranger reached into his cloak and pulled out an oddly shaped bundle wrapped warmly in fur. The stranger quickly glanced around the pub before slipping the bundle into Hagrid's massive hand. He slowly unwrapped the package, revealing a dark, thick-skinned egg.
Hagrid's eyes lit up and he whispered, "Is tha' a... Is it real?"
The stranger nodded slowly as he carefully re-wrapped the egg and tucked it back into his cloak, "I like you Hagrid. Play me one hand of cards and if you win, it's yours."
"What happens if I lose?" Hagrid asked quietly, eyes still fixed to the slight bulge in the stranger's cloak.
The stranger motioned for yet another firewhisky and said quietly, "Don't worry. You won't."
Hagrid finally looked up as the stranger dealt the cards. He picked them up and studied them intently, noting absently that the cards seemed a little blurry. Hagrid shook his head, trying to clear his vision and, when that didn't seem to help, grabbed his glass and downed another firewhisky.
"What do you have, Rubeus?" asked the stranger quietly.
Hagrid, not feeling terribly sure of what game they were playing, laid his cards on the table. The stranger frowned slightly before folding his cards in his hand and saying, "You win." Hagrid's eyes lit up as the stranger deftly handed him the fur-wrapped bundle as well as the small piece of parchment he'd been playing with all night.
"Here you are then," said the stranger quietly, a strange note of happiness in his voice, "One dragon's egg and general guidelines for caring for him."
Giant tears rolled down Hagrid's face as he swaddled the egg in his coat, "Don' yeh worry, mister. I'll take good care of little Norbert. And yer can keep yer instructions - I'll be fine just as soon as I find out what soothes the little thing," Hagrid gulped down yet another firewhisky and looked up at the hooded stranger, "It can't be tha' hard to figure out. Even wit' Fluffy all it takes is playing 'im a bit o' music - he falls dead asleep. Little Norbert will be just the same."
Hagrid rose unsteadily from his chair, cradling his coat in his arms. "I'd better be headin' back now," he said, "Don' want the little one ter get cold."
As he headed towards the bar to settle his account, the stranger placed a hand on his arm, "It's on me tonight. Thank you Hagrid."
Hagrid nodded slowly, not quite sure what the stranger was thanking him for and then headed towards the door. He stepped out into the night, shielding the egg with his arms, his large coat protecting it from the rain. Behind him the hooded stranger broke into a spine chilling smile and called out, "One more firewhisky please."