Snow After Fire

I've always found it ironic that most dragon keepers wear dragonhide to protect them from their charges' flames, just in case they get angry. It seems to me that wearing their comrades' skins can only aggravate the dragons more.

Fortunately for me, the MacFusty family has been in the business so long that they even have their own tried-and-true spells to help deal with dragons. When I wrote Mum about their fire-repelling spell, I knew she'd be both fascinated and relieved—she worries about me far too much. This I also find ironic. She went through a war when she was younger than me. Surely she knows that I can handle dragons that don't even want to eat me? I mean, if it were Horntails I'd understand, but Hebrideans just don't find human flesh an attractive meal. And it's not like I'm not careful—I know how dangerous they are. And it's not as if I'm the only Weasley in the dragon-keeping business, either. While he was still fit enough to dodge dragon flame, Uncle Charlie was one of the best keepers at Romania's Păcuraru Dragon Reservation, which most people in the know acknowledge as the most important and diversely populated reserve out there. Now he oversees the training of new keepers (the Romanian government lets private reserves handle all stages of training; it's really a shame ours doesn't).

There are a lot of heroes to pick from in my family, but if I had to choose one, it would be Uncle Charlie. I think we bonded over our shared obsession with giant scaly beasts. I almost never get to see him, but we write all the time, and I've visited him up at PDR plenty of times. He got the letter-writing genes that Dad sadly lacks—he includes stories about his trainees' mishaps and everything. I get letters from loads of people (parents, annoying brother, somewhat less annoying/possibly endearing cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents…the list goes on). But it's especially nice to get letters from my favorite uncle (even if I'm not supposed to pick favorites), especially since said uncle inspired and encouraged me to pursue my dream job and helped me do it by getting me a job helping out the MacFustys.

Which brings me to my current employers. The MacFustys are famous for seeing the care of the Hebridean Black species of dragon as their family duty. Their kids never even go to Hogwarts—they stay at home and learn the family trade. Why does this famous family need help, you ask? Well, first off, Meredith MacFusty is a wonderful woman, but she simply hasn't the temperament for dealing with wild creatures that are quite capable of burning a person to a crisp. Second, Lennox MacFusty is an only child, and therefore has no brothers or sisters to help him. And thirdly, they only have one child: a nine-year old girl named Lucy, who's not nearly old enough or skilled enough to even be allowed near the dragons yet.

So that's where I come in. When I first arrived, the ink was still wet on the certificate that stated that the Dragon Research and Restraint Bureau, Training Office, had classified me "Adept." Merry and Lennox were really warm and welcoming though, much more than I'd expected from a hermetic family of dragon-keepers. And Lucy was a complete dear. Even though she's home-schooled, she doesn't seem to have any trouble at all making friends. They put me up in an apartment in the barn (which Lucy has no qualms about invading whenever she wants to talk) and I meet up with Lennox at breakfast each morning so we can start our day patrolling the part of the island the dragons inhabit. We eat lunch while afield, but I eat dinner at their place.

I suppose I should explain myself (again). People who hear the MacFustys live in the Hebrides generally assume they live on the island of Skye, as that's where the Hebridean Quidditch team, Pride of Portree is based. My question to you is this: What wizard in his right mind would found a dragon reserve on an island inhabited by Muggles? The MacFustys live on a nearby island, Innis nam Bèistean, which most people call Dragon Island. I think the other sounds more mystical, but I have to admit that Dragon Island is much easier to pronounce. The thing about Dragon Island is that it's the only place Hebridean Blacks have been allowed to live since the Statute of Secrecy. There are simply too many Muggles about, too close for comfort. At least Dragon Island is all-wizard; I suspect it's Unplottable too, as I've never seen it on a map. Maps or no, there's a fairly well-defined division between the part of the island that belongs to the wizards (which is tiny), and the part that belongs to the dragons (which is much, much larger). The MacFusty place sits right smack on that invisible line.

And let me tell you, keeping the dragons on their side of the line is a hard day's work—and sometimes a night's work too, if the dragon really doesn't want to go back. Sometimes, when they're feeling particularly intractable, we even have to issue a Dragon Alert and call in the Dragon Restraint Team. We have to constantly be on the alert; we can't ignore an owl or Floo call in the night, because chances are it's a villager telling us one of the dragons has escaped their side of the island. Lennox says his family has tried every variety of magical barrier ever invented and even invented a few of their own, but the dragons are wily, determined and they're not particularly susceptible to the influence of magic. So we have to be content with always factoring the chance of having to deal with dragons into our daily schedules.

But other than the dragons' many attempts at escape, nothing really bad happened until the summer of my first year with the MacFustys. The trouble started in early summer, when most of the female dragons that are old enough to mate should be guarding their nests. Dragons need heat to survive, so most are born with a sort of inner wellspring of warmth. Hebridean Blacks, however, take a while to develop this defense against the cold, so by necessity they lay eggs in the spring, which hatch in midsummer. This summer there seemed to be a particularly small crop of eggs, which worried Lennox. Only about half the females seemed to be guarding nests, and he had his eye on one female in particular, who wasn't defending her eggs nearly as fiercely as she ought. One sunny Tuesday afternoon, Lennox and I went to check on the female who was worrying him and found her lying limply several feet from her nest, breathing shallowly. The brush around the nest was trampled badly, and the nest itself was a mess of smashed eggs. From the looks of things, whatever was wrong with her had sent her into a frenzy. Whatever it was also looked to be killing her. Lennox approached cautiously, knowing that a dying dragon could be even more ferocious than a brooding mother dragon. He cast several diagnostic spells, but none of them turned up a result.

"Rose," he said, "we're going to have to quarantine this dragon. Start casting barrier spells, will you? I know they don't usually hold out, but they should hold 'em off till I can get a team of veterinarians in here." With that, he turned back to the dragon and started casting various spells to keep the dragon stable till help arrived. He also sent his Patronus to the house, no doubt to tell Merry to call in the vets.

I walked a circle around the dragon and her nest, stopping every few feet to murmur the incantations for the most powerful barrier spells I knew—some learned from Lennox, some from Mum, some from school, and some from books. As I stopped by the nest, I cast a glance at it, sad for the destruction of the little creatures that had been growing inside. I did a double-take—was that…?

"Lennox! One of them's still intact!" Lennox's head jerked up, and he squinted at the nest. His eyes widened and he grinned.

"We'll have to hand-raise it," he called. "Take it up to the house quick—it'll need the fire. I'll finish up here."

I nodded and wordlessly scooped the egg up, careful not to drop it. The mother stirred fitfully in protest, somehow cognizant despite the sickness and the layers of medical spells that her egg was being taken away. She quieted quickly, and I began the trek towards the house, not daring to use the broomstick when I cradled such a precious burden.

Merry had hot soup waiting when I finally reached the house. She eyed the egg askance, but immediately pulled the soup pot off the fire and set a small cauldron out for the egg. I padded it with old dishrags and set the egg gently inside before setting it on the fire.

"The egg needs to stay on or by the fire at all times," I told Merry.

She nodded. "I know, dear. Lennox brings one back from time to time. I've called the vets, and they'll be here soon. You'd better explain things to them when they do come. Until then, have something to eat." She set a bowl of soup on the table for me. "As soon as I called the vets, I decided I ought to have a hot meal going. Who knows how long everyone will be working? They'll certainly be hungry by the time they are done." I smiled at Merry; she always worried that people weren't getting enough to eat. (She'd informed me that I was far too skinny when I first arrived on her doorstep; this had reminded me so much of my grandmother that I'd had to laugh.)

I had just finished the soup when a green glow showed through the doorway to the sitting room. The fire flared green three more times and four men in forest green robes came trooping through the door. A very tall man who seemed to be the leader cleared his throat and said, "This is the MacFusty residence?"

"Yes, sir," I said, wiping my hands on my napkin and standing up. "I'm Rose Weasley. I work with Mr. MacFusty." After a quick round of introductions, I explained the situation to them. They exchanged glances, looking grim.

"Well, it doesn't sound like anything we've encountered," said the leader, who'd identified himself as Leroy Cigogne.

"But that's not exactly surprising," commented another, stockier man, Daniel Morland. "These dragon diseases evolve so fast, half the diseases we encounter are new to us." He seemed to be speaking directly to me, as if to reassure me.

"Well, why don't you show us to the dragon?" Cigogne asked.

I nodded and we all went outside. None of the men had brought a broom, so I resigned myself to yet another long walk.

As we walked, I scanned the sky and the surrounding area. It was reflex, I suppose, but even that didn't alert us in time to what was about to happen.

My attention was focused on a moving black hump, which I knew to be one of the dragons. I was uncertain, yet, whether it would turn our way and was hoping we wouldn't have to take a detour. And then I heard the roar, and a shout rang out behind me. I whipped around, raising my wand. What I saw was truly terrifying:

A dragon swooped down, its wing nearly clouting Cigogne across the head. A gout of yellow flame shot from its mouth, and someone's cloak caught fire. A quick Aguamenti doused it, and then that vet tossed off a Stunning spell—I realized it was Daniel Morland, the one who had reassured me. The spell, of course, did not affect the dragon, except that it seemed to anger it. The dragon dived at Morland, screaming its rage. Morland scrambled to the side as it tried to grab him. He lunged at the dragon, and I screamed, "What are you doing?" He ignored me, swinging up to straddle the dragon's neck backwards, clutching the edges of its scales with one hand. It grew even more furious at this intrusion, and took off, writhing in the air, executing mad loop-the-loops, and flaming all the while. Morland hung on, looking like some insane cowboy. I knew what he was trying to do now—some dragon researchers had theorized that dragons had a weak spot right where their wings met their bodies, although none had ever been able to get close enough to test this. Morland, obviously, thought it worth a try, but I thought it was mad. How could he ever aim his wand properly the way the dragon was moving? And what if he fell, which was looking more and more likely by the second?

Suddenly, in what seemed a stroke of amazing luck, the dragon stopped thrashing and began a descent to earth. But when its wings folded, I knew something was wrong. The dragon crashed to the ground, Morland leaping to the side at the last moment. I had enough rational thought left in me to cast a Cushioning Charm to stop him breaking all his limbs. He and the dragon lay still for a moment. Then Morland began slowly getting to his feet; one of his colleagues ran to his side to help him up, but he waved him aside. I was busy staring at the dragon. It lay there, breathing shallowly, looking eerily like…well, like the mother dragon I had been leading them to.

"Excuse me," I said, gaining the vets' attention. "We all know this sort of behavior is entirely out of character for a Hebridean Black. I think it has whatever the other dragon has; illness-induced rage would explain the trampled eggs and this random attack."

Morland spoke up first, sounding out of breath but not hurt. "That would make sense; if that's true, that means this illness is contagious. We'll have to contain it."

Cigogne took charge, now that he was certain his colleague was uninjured. "Lewis, Goldstein, stay here and work some containing spells. Take a look at the dragon while you're at it. Morland, you're with me. We'll go with Miss Weasley to see the other dragon."

Lewis and Goldstein nodded consent and approached the dragon with careful steps. Cigogne waved an impatient hand at Morland, who hurried forward. We set off, Morland falling into step with me while Cigogne stayed aloof.

Morland questioned me as we walked. "How long did the mother dragon act listless before the rage?"

I thought about it. "Well, she layed her eggs in April…we started noticing her odd behavior a couple of weeks ago. Four weeks, at the outside, I'd say."

"So it's a slow-moving disease—that's good news for the dragons just getting it, as we'll have time to figure this out. There are three stages we've seen so far: the lethargy, the rage, and sudden weakness with respiratory distress. It's not a disease we've seen before, but like I've said, that's no surprise."

Morland fell silent, and looked lost in thought, so I concentrated on finding the way back to Lennox and the mother dragon.

* * *

When we reached them, I knew immediately that we were too late. Lennox stood, his back to the dragon, with his hands thrust into his pockets and his head bowed. Lennox really cared for the dragons—had spent a lifetime with their safety as one of his top concerns. I could see this was weighing heavily on him; he would be even less happy when he learned that the illness was contagious.

"Lennox!" I called. "The vets are here!"

He looked up. I wasn't sure, but I thought he looked puzzled. "Don't they usually send more?" he yelled back.

"Oh, for Merlin's sake," I muttered, hurrying my steps until I reached him. "The other two are with another dragon," I told him, slightly out of breath. "It looks like the disease is spreading."

His face fell, but he straightened his shoulders and turned to Cigogne and Morland. "If it's spreading, then you'll want to find dragons we know have had contact with the infected ones, right?" Cigogne confirmed this with a curt nod. "So happens we MacFustys have a spell for that. Give me a moment, please." He walked towards the corpse of the dragon, until he stood over her. He murmured an incantation. Nothing seemed to happen, but that didn't necessarily mean it wasn't working, I realized. He rejoined us and said, "There. Any dragon what's been in contact with her within the last forty-eight hours should be marked with a faint purple aura."

"Thanks," said Cigogne. "Is your assistant free to go looking for those?"

Lennox looked to me, and I nodded. "I'm sure she'd be glad to help," Lennox said.

"Morland, go with her. I'll take a look at this one. We'll meet back at Mr. MacFusty's house." With a curt nod, Cigogne dismissed us.

Morland looked at me with a little apologetic shrug. I smiled back. Cigogne's attitude was condescending, but I could deal with a little condescension.

I broke the silence first. "We'd better get walking—I only have one broom."

* * *

After several hours, a lot of eyestrain, and nary a sight of a purple aura, I was starting to flag. My eyes kept going out of focus, and I had to shake my head and force myself to keep looking. We were combing the shore at this point, and I was scanning the dark rocks ahead almost absentmindedly.

Suddenly, Morland grabbed my arm. I turned to him, opening my mouth to speak, but he put a finger over his lips. Slowly, he moved that finger to point at a dark lump on top of one of the rocks. A dark lump…surrounded by a corona of purple. My eyes widened and I turned to Morland, suddenly very focused. "Let's go. We'll have to tread careful, and circle around so we can have a proper look. Follow my lead," I instructed in a whisper. He nodded, and I walked forward carefully, watching the dragon. As it seemed to be facing away, I quickened my pace. When we reached the rocks, I grabbed Morland's sleeve as he prepared to start climbing. He looked at me inquiringly.

"Not that way, there's always a lot of loose pebbles. We really don't want to be making noise," I whispered.

I led him around to a better spot and started climbing. It wasn't a hard climb—more like walking uphill really, except for that we occasionally had to find handholds to hoist ourselves up a steep part. We kept low, trying to stay out of sight. When we neared the dragon, I knew we'd have to find cover.

Cover came in the form of a bit protruding from the rest of the rock, large enough to screen both Morland and me from the dragon's eyes, while we had a very clear view of the dragon. I looked closely at the dragon. It didn't seem to be lethargic in any way—its eyes were wide open, and it held its head up with that proud tilt to the chin that was so characteristic of the Hebridean Black. But Morland's trained eyes caught something; he whispered in my ear, "Look at its stomach."

I complied, and my eyes widened at what I saw: greenish-black, dome-shaped pustules, scattered profusely across the slightly blacker underbelly of the dragon. "Classic Dragon Pox," I breathed.

"Exactly," he replied. "Let's head back; I think we've found what we needed to."

* * *

When Morland and I entered the MacFusty house, we found the others already waiting, standing grimly around the kitchen fireplace. Cigogne barely acknowledged us but for a glance before saying, "All right, now that everyone is here, let's report what we've found. Goldstein, speak up."

Goldstein cleared his throat nervously. "Sir, we found very little. The dragon expired shortly after you left, probably from asphyxiation. When we examined it, the only oddity we found was abnormal softness in the skin of the underbelly."

"I found the same," Cigogne said, then turned to Morland. "What did you find?"

"We finally managed to locate a dragon which had come into contact with the first dragon. It was apparent that no lethargy had set in, but there was a rash on the underbelly similar in appearance to that caused by Dragon Pox."

Cigogne began to think aloud. "So: a disease causing Dragon Pox-like rash, lethargy, rage, respiratory distress and death. Possible zoonosis, if it's similar to Dragon Pox."

"I think it might be more than just similar," said Morland. "Remember the Longhorns at PDR last November? They had the rash and the lethargy—this could be a variation of that disease."

"Could a human bring it here?" I asked, feeling like I'd been punched in the stomach."

"That's a definite possibility, if it's like that variation; it was asymptomatic in humans, but particularly deadly to dragons." This was Lewis, speaking up in a pensive voice.

"I was at PDR during the outbreak," I said.

"Did you work there?" asked Goldstein, apparently diverted.

"No, my Uncle Charlie does, I was visiting," I answered.

"Anyway," said Cigogne loudly, yanking the conversation back to the subject of the disease, "we're still not certain Miss Weasley carried that disease here. We'll have to get blood samples from one of the bodies, and check for Dragon Pox."

Up until now Merry had been mostly quiet. I'd noticed her hovering in the background worriedly, shooing Lucy off when she ventured into the room. But now she spoke up in her firmest mother hen voice. "But not before you've all eaten something. You have to attend to your own health before you attend to the dragons'."

Cigogne looked as if he were about to argue, but she glared at him and he subsided, obviously seeing the sense in her demand. "All right, we'll do it after we eat."

* * *

I could barely keep my eyes open as I stood in the corner of the sitting room. I had had long days before, but this business of eating in the middle of a crisis, and standing around waiting for the vets to get blood samples, was not helping me. If there was an emergency, I was usually out there in the thick of it, because that was what was needed: someone to help wrestle an incompliant dragon back into its territory. But this was a different sort of crisis, and without the help of adrenaline, my bones were starting feel like lead, inducing me to sag against the wall.

In the middle of the room, Cigogne, Goldstein, and Lennox stood around the coffee table. Lewis knelt before the same, his actions obscured by Goldstein's squat frame. Morland had stepped out for a moment, and as he entered the room, he noticed at me and changed the course of his steps. When he stood next to me, he shoved his hands into his pockets, looking at me out of the corner of his eye. "Takes getting used to, all this waiting around." I turned my head to gaze at him, then nodded and concentrated on the huddle in the center of the room again. "I bet you've been wondering why we brought Lewis along. He's pretty close-mouthed while the rest of us are theorizing, but he's absolutely brilliant at diagnostic spells. Top of his training class. I wish Goldstein'd move over so you could watch him work. He looks like some sort of mad scientist." I raised my eyebrow at him; that phrase put me in mind of the Muggle cartoons my brother and I had watched when we were little. Morland raised his hands and his eyebrows, saying, "He does. Totally focused on his work, and he gets this big smile on his face. It's a little scary." Morland's manner was so comical, I had to laugh at him, serious as the situation was.

Suddenly, I heard Lewis speak up in his expressionless voice: "Cigogne." My head snapped around, and I saw Cigogne stride forward to look at something on the coffee table. His eyebrows went up, and a tiny smile curved his lips.

"Well, then, men, it's as we thought. Dragon Pox. Goldstein, get to work with Lewis, it'll take a modification of the spell we used back at PDR. Morland-" He broke off as the fireplace flared green to his right. We all looked that way, and I recognized the face in the fire. It was Quinton MacDonald, a man who lived in the village. Lennox stepped forward, worry creasing his face.

"What is it, Quin?" he asked.

"Dragon, on the inland side of the village. You'd better get it back your side of the island soon; I've already had Mrs. Quirke come to my door in a panic."

"Right," said Lennox. "We'll be there as soon as possible." Quin nodded and withdrew his head. The flames faded back to orange as Lennox turned to the rest of us. "I don't suppose any of you would mind lending a helping hand? We've an extra broom somewhere, I'm sure, and we may need an extra bit of help. I brought yours back, Rose," he added, turning to me.

"I'll help," said Morland next to me.

Lennox looked his way with a grateful smile, then at me. "Rose, get the brooms and the rest. We'll meet you behind the barn." I nodded and ran out of the room, through the kitchen, and across the yard to the barn, where we kept the brooms. I found mine and Lennox's leaning against the wall just inside the door, and I thought I knew exactly where the extra was. I whipped through the middle of the barn and around an open doorway on the right into Lennox's "office," which was really a stall with a desk in it and various useful equipment stacked in teetering piles. I scanned the piles to the right of the door, and almost immediately saw what I was looking for: a scuffed wooden broom handle poking out from behind a wadded-up leather apron. I tugged it out, ignoring the stuff that slid to the floor as a miniature landslide ensued. I turned to the piles on the other side of the room, which held a much less random selection: safeguards we used when we went out to get dragons back. Not that there was much we could do to guard ourselves against dragons besides being careful. But the battered leather coats, bespelled to repel flame (though they wouldn't stop us roasting if we were hit by more than the edge of dragonflame), and the helmets made it a little safer. I grabbed my own coat and helmet as well as Lennox's off one stack, and a set that looked like it would fit Morland off another. With the brooms under one arm and the guards under the other, I pelted through the back door of the barn, skidding and nearly knocking Morland over when I realized he and Lennox were already there.

I dropped everything on the ground, and threw Lennox's stuff his way, and what I'd found for Morland at him. I tugged my own coat on, using my wand to activate the spells on it, and buckled on my helmet. When I looked up, I saw that Lennox was ready and Morland had followed the lead of one or the other of us, but was holding his wand and looking quizzically down at his jacket. When he noticed me looking, he said, "I know you did some sort of nonverbal spell, but I can't for the life of me figure out what."

"Here," I said, pointing my wand at his jacket and willing the flame-repelling spells to activate. "It'll stop minor flames, but make sure to stay out of the way anyway. The heat alone from direct flame would kill you, even if the jacket managed to repel the flame itself." Morland nodded, and I was impressed by how calm he was. He acted as if he did this every day. I hadn't been as composed as he when I first went with Lennox to retrieve a dragon, and I'd been through months of training to prepare for it.

"Mount your brooms," Lennox said, and we obeyed. I could feel the blood pounding in my ears, and with the mounting excitement, I could no longer feel the exhaustion that had so plagued me earlier. I was in my element now, off for action—off to make a dragon come home. Lennox gave the command to take off, and we shot off into the sky, setting course across the island to the town.

The land slid past beneath us, and within minutes I could see the glow of the town's lights. As buildings appeared in my line of sight, I began to scan the sky for the black silhouette of the dragon. Every sense seemed to be heightened, and when something fluttered at the edge of my vision, my head snapped around to follow it. There.

"Lennox! Morland!" I pointed out the dragon, looking over my shoulder to see that they saw it too. In the moment when I turned my head, a flash of something bright bloomed in the corner of my eye. When I turned to look, I gasped: the dragon was rising in the air; beneath it, a house was in flames. The frenzy, I wanted to say, but my heart was in my throat, choking off my words. There might be people in that house! I leaned forward, flat against the broom, not caring if I left Lennox and Morland behind. I knew the dragon would collapse soon anyway. As soon as this thought flitted through my head, I saw the black shape falter, and turn towards the ground. I didn't slow. My object was the house, with its roof afire, and the people who might be inside it, hurt by my own carelessness. I was determined to get there in time to help, in order to make up for it being the fault of my charge.

The trees fairly shot past below, but I wasn't paying any attention to them. The house filled my vision, looming closer and closer, until I was finally at the edge of town, finally descending, finally landing and taking off running, leaving my broom behind. I was barely aware of the press of people, coming to help and coming to gawk, as well as people running in fear. I had lost track of the dragon in my dread about the outcome of the fire. But I had the location of the house fixed in my mind, and I sped around corners and down side alleys until I burst onto the right street. I stopped, panting, taking in the scene before me. The house was a two-story one, with a deep porch and a white picket fence around the yard. The flames were devouring the second story now, their fury fed by the wind. A small group of people gathered before the house, wands out and voices hoarse with shouting the incantation of the spell we used for dousing flames. The white flakes produced by the spell mingled with the sparks rising from the house in flurries of fire and snow. I ran across the street, pushing through the crowd of onlookers and escapees, and joined the fire brigade, my wand already out and pointed at the house. I knew the incantation they were using, and I yelled it over and over again, watching as the flames began to subside under our combined efforts. To this day I have no idea how long I stood there or how many times I cried that same word. Nor do I remember well what happened just after the flames died out entirely. It is a blur of noise and bustle, of jostling and pushing. My next clear memory of that night is of finding myself sitting on the ground with my back against the fence of the next-door neighbors' house, staring bemusedly at the gutted house, with drifts of delicate white flakes settling in the ruins, and all I could think was Snow after fire, snow after fire, an odd restless litany. The leaden feeling had settled into my limbs again, and it seemed to be there for good now. Somewhere in the back of my sluggish mind, a voice was screaming, What happened to the owners? but I was too exhausted to find out. I heard someone clear their voice to my right, and I realized suddenly that whoever it was had been standing there for quite some time. I looked up and was relieved but not all that surprised to see Lennox. After all, who else would know to stand there so quiet, just when I needed silence?

He looked at me for a moment, smiling a weary smile that reassured me. Then he looked away, in the same direction I had been looking. "You know," he said, his soft voice breaking the silence, "no one was even hurt, beyond the dragon. That particular house belonged to Mrs. Quirke, who was at Quin MacDonald's house panicking at the time of the fire." My eyes widened, and as I opened my mouth to say something—I don't know what—Lennox looked down at me again. The understanding in his eyes silenced me. "It's folly to try to control a dragon, really, and perhaps it's all arrogance on our parts. They're built to be able to defy wizards. But I like to think that when we try, we're preventing more incidents like this from happening. And when we can't, well, we do our best to help and that is all anyone could ask of us." And he smiled gently at me again, and walked away, leaving me to my thoughts.

Snow after fire, that little voice repeated in my head again, and I realized that in a strange way, it was my way of reassuring myself. For snow was calm and cool as Lennox's words, quenching the hot itchy feeling of guilt inside me.

A/N: Thanks to my lovely betas, Accio Quill, who did the normal beta-ing, and Sara/Sajomn, who okayed the medical stuff. (Both screen names are from MNFF). Thank you so much, both of you, for doing it on such short notice!