This ain't no self-insert fic.
This ain't no slash fic neither.
This is Enter the Dragon.
I built time and time scars me
I build space and space scares me
I build man and man loves me
I build god and god saves me
I build you and you love me
I build you and you scare me
We built man in the 21st Century I build time and it slips away
I am god and god loves me
I build space to keep myself sane
I build fire and I let it burn higher
I build water and I built the rain
I built myself they I want to be
I built myself and I'm going insane...
I build time and it slips away
- Goteki, 'We Can Rebuild You' -Fight the Saucermen-
There are places where reality isn't quite so real; you could almost call them crinkles in the space-time continuum. Ancient people recognised these places, and erected great stones to enhance them.
The most famous such place in Britain would be Stonehenge, but there are many others – some of which are vastly more potent.
With the help of these mystic edifices, the greatest magics ever known could be cast; but the stones had an unforeseen side effect, gradually draining the magic out of the world's ley-lines and storing it away in the earth.
By the time of the Roman Empire, they had been all but forgotten, partially because the only magic they left in the world was old and stale.
Our story begins in one such place - a village called Avebury - in the years 1988, at the summer solstice, where a family named Dursley were stopping off on their way home from visiting Vernon Dursley's sister Marge.
Usually, the fourth member of their party would not have accompanied them on such a trip. The agreed-upon family opinion of the Dursleys was that Petunia's nephew Harry Potter absolutely ruined any holiday he accompanied them on; however, Mrs Arabella Figg (a batty little old cat-lady who lived just round the corner) had been taken ill and rushed into hospital a few days before the trip.
And thus it was that Harry was there, in Avebury, at the summer solstice.
Dudley Dursley being Dudley Dursley, this led to Dudley deciding to beat Harry up for ruining the holiday by breathing too loud or something, and this led Harry to be pushed over, falling straight onto one of the standing stones.
Harry's head hit the stone with an audible crack, and at that exact moment, the first moonlight of the coming night fell upon the other side of the stone.
Normally, blood on the stones would do very little. But, on the longest day of the year, at moonrise, the barriers between the levels of reality are at their weakest, and the stones are like a primed gun. All it takes is a touch of the trigger.
That touch - in the form of mortal blood - had finally arrived.
As Harry slumped forwards, the earth shook; the stones lit up, one after another, with an eerie blue glow, and wrenched themselves back into place, the years seeming to fall away from them like surf from the shore; Harry's limp body jerked off the ground and hung in mid-air, lit by a glow like St Elmo's fire.
There was a high keening noise, and a feeling as if the world had been on a train and the train had just crashed. Vernon, reaching out to grab his nephew, was thrown twenty feet as a great stream of coruscating blue energy burst from the stones, and connected with Harry.
For just one moment, the ley-lines of Earth flowed with their full force through Harry's body and soul, fed back into the ley-lines, redoubled, and hit him again.
Nothing could go through that without being changed. A muggle would have been stripped apart at the sub-atomic level, their very existence wiped from reality.
But Harry was a wizard, albeit immature and unaware of the truth. And, like all magical beings, his magical self - his core, as they called it - was almost sentient.
There was only one form of being it knew of that could take this level of energy and survive, and so it did what it could.
As the incredible burst of ley-line energy spread outwards, lighting up nexus after nexus, awakening the long-nascent energy pathways of the planet, Harry's body changed, gathering raw magical energy from the stream that flowed through it, bringing in bulk from unspace and, as the ley-line finally released him, he was no longer a small and critically underweight eight-year-old boy.
Thousands of miles away, in a well-hidden place, an immense eye opened and flicked around, quickly examining it's surroundings.
"What in the Hells was that?" an incredibly deep voice rumbled, in a rolling language that hadn't been heard in thousands of years.
A few moments passed without reply before the owner of the eye dismissed the peculiar feeling with a swift shake of his titanic head, and went back to sleep.
He was far too exhausted to worry about insignificant things like earth-shaking bangs.
Disclaimer: 404 Error, unable to connect to disclaimer.
Enter the Dragon.
A Doghead13 fanfic
Written & produced by Calum J 'Doghead13' Wallace.
Preread by the Caer Azkaban Yahoo group.
Brought to you by Hairy Scottish Git Productions, GMBH
This is not a drill.
Chapter 1: So, there's this dragon...
(In which an outsize reptile happens)
What hit the deck was about eight feet long (with another ten of tail), would stand about six feet tall at the shoulder, and possessed wings that, if unfurled, would reach a span of nearly forty feet. It was also clad in scales as blue as a finely-made gun.
As Vernon slowly peeled himself off the ground, the black dragon hatchling likewise peeled itself off the ground and stood, on wobbly legs, peering quizzically around.
Noticing where Petunia and Dudley were standing, transfixed and gawking, it blinked a couple of times.
"Uh, Aunt Petunia, how come you've shrunk?" it blankly asked, sounding precisely like a post-slap slightly-dazed Harry Potter.
"B-b-b-boy?" Vernon stuttered. "I-i-is th-th-that y-y-you?"
"Um, yeah." the dragon admitted. "I feel kinda weird."
Looking at the large and rather scary critter that his nephew had apparently become, Vernon couldn't help but note four particular details. The first was a set of shiny metallic teeth that looked more like kitchen knives. The second was a set of three horns as long as Vernon's forearms and coming to exceedingly sharp-looking points. The third was the claws, which looked like they were designed to shred plate metal. And the fourth was the wisps of smoke that came out of the dragon's mouth whenever it spoke.
And thus it was that he came to what is probably the wisest decision of his life; he was going to do every damn thing he could NOT to piss this exceedingly-deadly-looking-creature off.
"Um, Pet, I think you'd better drive the car home." he said. "I'm going to have to go get a van."
"A van?" Petunia blankly asked.
"A van." Vernon confirmed, his teeth chattering. "I don't think the boy will fit in the car, and, well, uh, we can't just leave him here."
"But what'll the neighbours say?"
"What'll the rozzers say if they find a freaking DRAGON wandering around Wiltshire?" Vernon asked in a low voice. "And what'll the FREAKING DRAGON say if we try to ditch it?"
"... I guess." Petunia muttered.
And thus it was that, a few hours later and having made a short sharp visit to a nearby used-car dealership, they left the car (and the somewhat decrepit van) in the street and the dragon in the garage, and went to bed hoping against hope that it'd all prove to have been a bad dream.
It didn't, and neither Vernon nor Petunia could honestly say they were surprised about that.
To Vernon Dursley's experience dragons, especially very young dragons, live a two-mode existence.
These two modes are best summed up as 'Asleep' and 'Eating'.
As to what they eat, the answer is anything whatsoever as long as there is a lot of it. That first night, having been locked into the garage after having said something about being hungry, Harry ate the lawn mower, three bags of potting compost, Dudley's dirtbike, eight cans of paint and all the garden tools – along with everything else in the garage, including the freezer complete with it's contents, leading Vernon to come to the abrupt decision that they'd better feed the little bastard's face before he did something truly horrific such as eating the car or going on a damsel-devouring rampage.
The unexpected big winged lizard the Dursleys unwanted nephew had become proved more than capable of wolfing down two or three entire sheep every couple of days, and spent most of the rest of his time asleep.
He also seemed to make a point of growing at a downright alarming rate. So far, they'd managed to keep their nephew's alarming transformation into a creature straight out of legend a secret, but he was (six months later) significantly bigger than the car, eating two entire vanloads of meat (along with a couple hundredweight of coal and a quarter ton of scrap metal, and drinking a couple hundred gallons of water and forty or so gallons of petrol) per week, and getting increasingly pissy about being cooped up in the increasingly-cramped garage all the time.
Demands for things to read had joined the insatiable appetite and constant sleeping; the blasted dragon now had a three-mode existence, with reading being mode 3.
Simply put, Vernon and Petunia were getting desperate. His appetite was so utterly insatiable that they were in increasingly extreme danger of missing the next mortgage payment; the blasted dragon was almost literally eating them out of house and home.
Besides, he was scaring Dudley almost witless and the school people were getting more and more excitable about this 'long-term sickness'.
And thus, as Christmas approached, they came to a very difficult decision; Petunia dredged up some unpleasant memories, and sent a cryptic but frantic plea for help to a certain Albus Dumbledore.
"You're this Dumbly-whatsit fr- fellow Pet was talking about?" Vernon checked.
"Indeed, I am Albus Dumbledore." The old man replied. "Mr Dursley, correct?"
"That's me." Vernon said. Making nice to the freak grated on his nerves, but they were beyond desperate. "Um, come on in."
With a nod and enigmatic smile, Dumbledore accompanied him into the house; they showed him into the living room, and offered him a cup of tea, which he accepted.
After several rather awkward minutes, he finally realised they weren't going to broach the subject if he didn't, and so he said, "I understand something has happened to Harry."
Petunia nodded, cringing a bit.
"Uh, yeah, I guess you could say that." she mumbled. "Um, we were passing through Avebury, at midsummer, and Diddy needed a wee, so we, well, stopped, and the boy, um, banged his head on one of those standing stones and then... lights... unnatural... TEETH! WINGS! THUNDER! H-h-h-h-he D-D-D-D-DRAGON!"
"I beg your pardon?" Dumbledore asked, failing to catch the gist of that but visibly aware that Petunia was becoming highly distraught.
"I think we'd better show you." Vernon said. "You likely wouldn't believe it unless you saw it with your own eyes." He certainly wouldn't if he hadn't.
"Very well then." Dumbledore said with a grandfatherly smile and nod, and rose to his feet and, becoming faintly bemused, followed Vernon out to the garage.
When he saw what was currently lounging boredly (and reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica) in the middle of the garage (or rather, taking up most of the garage) he was somewhat taken aback to say the least.
"Oh, hullo Uncle Vernon." the rather imposing black-scaled dragon (of a breed Dumbledore couldn't for the life of him identify) said, looking up from it's book. "I'm hungry."
"You're always hungry." Vernon groaned, making a beeline for the garden shed and the chest freezer therein.
"Get some coal and a can of petrol while you're there, thanks!" the dragon called after the slightly stout man. Before Harry turned into a dragon, Vernon had been as fat as butter. The man had lost eight stone since then; the stress was getting to him.
"Harry?" Dumbledore asked, quite astonished. "Is that you?"
"How'd you know my name?" Harry asked. "Hey, why're you all glowy?"
"I was a friend of your parents, and you sound quite startlingly like your father did when he was young." Dumbledore admitted. He couldn't work out what the bit about glow meant, so he pretended it hadn't happened. "What in Merlin's name have you done to yourself, young man?"
"Well, I dunno." Harry said. "Dudley kinda shoved me and I banged my head on this big rock, and the next thing I can remember I'd turned into this." He took note of the entire frozen sheep Vernon had just dumped on the floor, picked it up, flash-defrosted it with a snort of fire, and happily guzzled it, then started in on chugging back the can of petrol Vernon had dumped beside the sheep. "Hurry up with that coal Uncle Vernon, I'm famished!"
Vernon winced at the shout and hastened for the coal shed.
"And the ley-lines had gone quite berserk by the time you awoke, correct?" Dumbledore checked.
"Well, if you mean all that blue light and stuff, then yeah, I guess." Harry replied with a shrug. Vernon hastened in with a sack of coal, which Harry proceeded to swallow whole; he washed it down with an old oil drum full of water, set the empty drum down under the tap, and pulled the lever that opened said tap.
"Maaan, it's so boring here." he grumbled. "I swear one day I'm gonna..." He drifted off with a sigh.
"Well." Dumbledore said. "I suppose we'll have to see what we can do to turn you back to your old self, eh?"
"Nah." Harry said. "I don't wanna be small and hungry and get beat on again." He frowned. "I wouldn't mind being able to turn into a person when I want to, being able to go do stuff would be nice, but I like being bigger than Uncle Vernon. I don't have to be scared of him any more, because if he tried to beat me with his belt again I could just sit on him until he stopped trying."
Vernon let out a noise that sounded like "ZRXPLK!" and crapped himself.
"I see." Dumbledore said. "Mr Dursley, a little over seven years ago I left Harry with you, and requested that you raise him as your own." The old wizard gave the young dragon a side-on look. "I assumed that, as he was a member of your family – your nephew – you would automatically do so. It seems that my assumption of basic human decency was in vain."
"Do I have to beg?" Vernon bluntly asked.
"... pardon?" was Dumbledore's response.
"He is eating us out of house and home, and I mean that literally. We've had to spend over two thousand pounds a month feeding him since that business with those damnable stones. Another six months and we won't have a home any more. We already had to sell all of Pet's jewellery just to make the last mortgage payment, and we won't be able to make the next. And... frankly, this is no place for a two-ton winged lizard. We're out of options. That's why Pet wrote to you."
"... I see." Dumbledore said. "Very well, then; I have a friend who would gladly house Harry for the foreseeable future." He turned back to the dragon. "His name's Rubeus Hagrid; you'll like him, I'm sure. Delightful man; a little simple, but that's no crime, and he has always been quite thoroughly fond of dragons. Now, I shall need some assistance to transport you to Hogwarts, Harry; I shall have to assemble some of my friends. We will collect you tomorrow evening."
"... okay." Harry said.
"Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou!" Vernon declared.
"Save it." the old man said. "I am a little irritated with you and your wife, Mr Dursley; ah well, the damage is already done and there is no sense in crying over spilt milk."
'Something wrong with Harry Potter'.
That was all Dumbledore had said. Quite what could be wrong with the dratted boy that would require the attention of Severus Snape, Minerva McGonagall, Filius Flitwick and Dumbledore himself was beyond Snape; if it had been the minor ailment being blown out of all proportion he'd expected when he saw Petunia Dursley's letter then surely the headmaster would have set everything straight at once.
But no, it was the evening after the letter had arrived and, the students having been packed safely off to bed, they were now trooping down the street from Arabella Figg's house to the house where the Potter brat lived.
When the door was answered, it was by Petunia herself; she hadn't gotten any better with age, Snape noted, but her reaction to seeing them was quite contrary to his expectations.
"Oh thank God! Vernon, Mr Dumbledore's here with his friends!" the chicken-necked woman called, and this chubby great balding lunk of a man came stomping through the house, followed closely by an obscenely overweight brat.
"Through this way." the man, presumably this Vernon character, said, directing them to the gate into the back garden.
Snape raised an eyebrow.
"And where exactly is the blasted boy?" he growled.
"In here." Vernon said, opening the side door to a concrete outbuilding.
A decidedly not-human head about the size of a small man (a little bigger than Flitwick) stuck itself out of the side door, nearly bowling Vernon over.
"... great Scott!" Flitwick piped up.
"Bludy hell! Whit's a feckin' dragon doon in thar?" McGonagall boggled. The fact that her usually-slight Scots brogue had abruptly become impenetrably thick proved, to Snape's experience, that she hadn't been expecting this – a supposition borne out by her highly-unusual usage of coarse language. She only ever slipped into the thick accent when agitated, and if she started swearing it meant she'd had an extreme shock.
"Exactly what in Merlin's name is that dragon doing in there?" he complained, deciding to back his senior colleague up here.
The dragon then proceeded to give him the biggest shock he'd received since he heard James Potter's brat had managed to stop Voldemort dead in his tracks, by opening it's mouth and saying, "My name isn't 'that dragon', my name's Harry. Harry Potter, and, um, I'm kinda hungry again."
"Oh God, not again." Vernon groaned, hastening for the garden shed.
"... this is some sort of tasteless jape." Snape said. "It has to be."
"Um, no, I'm really hungry." the dragon earnestly told him.
"That's not what I meant! Blasted lizard! I meant that you cannot possibly be Harry bloody Potter, in case nobody had noticed both James Potter and his bride were quite thoroughly human!"
"Hollerin' at tha dragon disnae strike me as a guid idea, Sev'rus." McGonagall pointed out, apparently still a little het up.
"Well, I kinda was human until those funny standity stone thingies went all glowy when Dudley shoved me and I kinda banged my head on one of them." the dragon said. "And, um, you know how easy it is to, well, misplace stuff like being-a-human sometimes, right, but don't have a big, um, situation about it on my behalf, I'm mostly okay with it."
"Preposterous! I refuse to-" Snape stopped, finally noticing a specific detail.
He marched over to the dragon and critically examined it's forehead from close range.
"Oh Merlin, it's got the damned scar..."
"Er, your head smells tasty."
"Don't eat the nice fr- man, boy! Eat the sheep! Look, juicy and delicious sheep!" Vernon begged, dumping a sheep carcass between dragon and Potions Master.
"Oh, thanks Uncle Vernon." the dragon said, and proceeded to defrost the carcass with a quick blast of flame before devouring it, this display of mutton-guzzling causing Snape to suddenly realise just what a large dangerous-looking creature with remarkably sharp pointy spiky teeth this was and circumspectly back off.
"And how many, exactly, of those do you eat per day, boy?" the Potions Master asked.
"Dunno, I don't count them." the dragon admitted.
"That's the twelfth he's eaten in the last week." Vernon groaned. "And he's eaten five sacks of coal, and nearly two tons of scrap metal. And he's drunk, ye gods, fifty gallons of petrol and God-knows-how-much water, as if our water rates weren't high enough as it was! My God, man, and have you smelt dragon dung? The stench of it could knock a dog out, and he produces three wheelbarrows worth of the stuff every day!"
"It's not my fault, I mean it has to come out somewhere and you won't let me out the garage so I can't go poop in the woods."
"Heavens, that first night he ate everything that was in the garage! Everything, even the lawn mower!" Petunia moaned.
"And my bike." the fat brat added.
"It tasted great." the dragon helpfully pointed out, not making it clear whether bike or mower had suited his tastes.
"We're at our wit's end; he's eating us out of house and home, and that's no exaggeration!" Vernon said, shaking his head. "If this goes on, we won't be able to afford the next mortgage payment, and if that happens Heavens know what we'll do – my God, man, he'll probably eat the car or go on the rampage all round town eating everything in sight!"
"Hey, I'm not that bad." the dragon complained.
"Yes you are." all three Dursleys firmly informed it.
It was right then that an almost unheard of noise blared across the Dursley's back garden as Snape burst into laughter. It wasn't a very pleasant laugh, and it didn't sound like he had much practise.
"Ha! I suppose we'd better remove the blasted lizard from the premises, eh Albus?"
"Yes, that was indeed the plan." Dumbledore gloomily stated.
"To Hagrid, correct?" Snape asked.
"Well, his expression might perhaps prove entertaining. Let us proceed."
"Yair takin' all too much amusement frae this, Sev'rus." McGonagall grumbled.
"Minerva, I take my entertainment where it may be found. It is, as it happens, all too rare a commodity in this day and age."
As they arrived at the primary Hogwarts portkey point at the bottom of the castle lawn, the dratted lizard was sniffing as Snape's head again.
"Blasted dragon." the potions master muttered. Helping to power a portkey for a dragon weighing more than ten big men had taken a lot out of him, for all that he refused to show it.
"I, um, I think I kinda need to poo." the dragon said.
"Well, then shit in the woods, you imbecile!"
"Severus..." McGonagall growled, giving the Slytherin head a dire look. Snape stifled a wince; she'd probably have realised just how tired he was when he snapped enough to swear. (1)
"Um, it's a bit close to that castle and, well, Uncle Vernon wasn't exaggerating, when Aunt Marge visited for Dudley's birthday the smell of my poo knocked her dog out." the dragon admitted, looking a bit embarrassed. "And, I, well, kindareallyneedtogo."
"Are you able to fly in a straight line?" Snape queried, glaring at the dunderhead beast.
"Well, I dunno, I've been in the garage for six months so I haven't been able to try yet."
"Well, I suggest that it might be best if you learn fast."
With that, the dragon spread it's wings and started galloping up and down the lawn while furiously flapping. The first flap sent it twenty feet into the air, and yelling, "Hey, I'm flying! I'm flying!" it went soaring across the lawn, only to crash-land in the edge of the lake.
"You need to work on your landings! Dratted lizard!" Snape bellowed.
"Yair gigglin', Sev'rus." McGonagall pointed out, visibly flabbergasted.
"Oh; I hadn't noticed." Snape sneered as the dragon squelched out the lake and had another go.
"I say, Minerva; you have to confess that this is one of the funniest things that've happened here in some time." Flitwick pointed out; the dragon hit the perimeter of the Forbidden Forest with a bone-shaking crunch.
"Height, boy. It's important." Snape pointed out.
"Um, yeah, I kinda figured that, and... oh dear." The dragon said. It didn't seem to have intended to finish like that, but a tremendous squelching noise interrupted it. "Um, I don't think I gotta poo any more..."
"Sweet Merlin!" Snape gagged, casting a bubble-head charm on himself in near-perfect unison with his colleagues. "That is positively abominable! Disgusting! I swear I have never had the misfortune to smell anything halfway as vile!... I don't suppose you would object if I were to take a small sample? For investigation of it's alchemical properties, of course."
"... well, okay, I guess." the dragon said, giving the sloppy puddle of poop a dubious look. "Um, someone's gonna need a shovel."
"That willnae be necessary." McGonagall said, waiting as Snape gingerly scooped a portion of the rancid runny dragon turd into a small vial, which he immediately wrapped up in a silk cloth and pocketed; she then cast a series of vanishing charms on the mess. "See?"
"... wow, that's cool. I, uh, I guess once I've got used to flying okay I should fly way over that forest and poo there, right?" the dragon checked.
"Aye, that'd be fair tha best." McGonagall told it.
"Okay then. Um, is it really okay for me to be learning to, you know, fly straight right here out in the open? I mean, Uncle Vernon says it's important that people don't see me."
"As long as you do so after dark, I do not see it becoming a problem." Dumbledore said.
"Oh, okay. Um, I'm kinda sleepy; is there somewhere I can sleep? I'll try not to get in the way."
"Ah yes; well, you remember that friend of mine I mentioned?" Dumbledore pounced. "His residence is just this way, and he surely has room in one of the outhouses for you to sleep."
"Okay," and the dragon followed the four teachers towards the hut at the far side of the castle lawns wherein dwelt Rubeus Hagrid, the Hogwarts groundskeeper.
"Why in Merlin's name do you keep drooling at my head, you blasted lizard?"
"Um, uh, sorry, it's just, well, that sorta waxy stuff in your hair really does smell very tasty..."
Snape considered the dragon – which now looked embarrassed – for a moment, and eventually snapped off a disgusted shake of his head, flinching at the way the blasted beast's nose followed his motions as he abruptly decided to seek a new recipe for fireproof hair-cream.
Fortunately for Snape's remaining sanity (and unfortunately for the remaining sanity of a vast number of Potions students) at this moment they arrived outside Hagrid's hut.
If there was one thing Harry James Potter, currently a little over eight years old and wearing the body of a hatchling Greater Dragon of similar age, had learned for certain in the last twenty four hours apart from that trees hurt if you crashed into them, it was that Rubeus Hagrid was very nice.
The half-giant had been immediately and absolutely enchanted when the INCREDIBLY GORGEOUS dragon that the Headmaster turned up on his doorstep with said, "Um, hello, I'm Harry; can we be friends?" and the immediate friendship had blossomed from there.
Harry wasn't really sure why his new friend Hagrid's dog had hid, whimpering, under the table, because he didn't eat dog – they smelt okay but he was pretty sure they'd taste yukky because they were, you know, dogs. All dirty and stuff.
Once Hagrid had engaging in a twelve-minute lecture in Mr Dumbledore and his friends' direction about why it was very important that a young dragon's skin was adequately oiled, the huge man had promptly made himself Harry's very bestest friend by eagerly rubbing on this oil across Harry's skin that didn't smell much and eased the myriad itches that'd been troubling Harry for months; Hagrid looked like he should be a bit clumsy but his big hands were very deft, not that Harry was sure why hands that are good at doing stuff are supposed to be called deft or, for that matter, what deft really means.
After that, he'd asked if Harry was hungry and, on receiving confirmation, introduced the young dragon to the wonders of the Hogwarts cold-room, wherein Harry had spent a glorious twenty minutes learning all about the wonders of all the many and myriad meats he'd never tasted since he turned into a dragon, such as beef and venison and ham and – most unutterably yummy of all – bacon.
God, and he'd thought sheep was juicy and delicious!
Once he'd persuaded Hagrid that a nice sack of coal and some tasty steel would be just the thing next, and oooh was that steel Hagrid provided so much tastier than the stuff Uncle Vernon got, Harry had washed it all down with a great big drum of petrol, wondering at the fact that the petrol Hagrid had been able to find tasted even better than the usual stuff, and then, for the first time since he'd become a dragon, dozed off A) somewhere that wasn't cramped and B) without being the slightest bit hungry any more.
"So." Dumbledore said, accepting the glass of firewhiskey with a smile. "The boy-who-lived is now the dragon-who-lived and the question has become, what in Merlin's name are we to do with him?"
The four teachers were now in Dumbledore's office, grouped round the fireplace; Flitwick had just got done handing shots round.
"I could think of a few suggestions." Snape said with a grimace. "But I am already aware you'll ignore them, so I might as well save my breath."
"I think the important question just now is, how do we turn him back into a human?" McGonagall said.
Dumbledore firmly shook his head.
"No, Minerva. He has expressed his lack of desire to return to his former species; I have already failed him thrice, and I shall not do so a fourth time. He is, after all, the son of two members of the Order. That said, he has expressed a desire to learn how to temporarily transform himself to a human form; it might perhaps be provident to teach him a reverse form of the Animagus transformation. And besides, we all know that when Voldemort," Dumbledore spent the customary flinch-time taking a sip of his drink, "Returns, young Harry will be at the very top of his list of targets."
"Don't tell me you planned this, Albus." Snape groaned.
"No, Severus; I am not omniscient. What we are dealing with is a, perhaps fortunate, accident. I had inured myself to the necessity of a small boy being caught in the firing line when Voldemort," and he took a sip again while everyone else flinched, "Returns. I had thought our situation dire; now, not so much."
"A dragon disguised as a human as a secret weapon? That's..." Snape stopped, slowly shaking his head.
"That's a hell of an ace in the hole." Flitwick muttered.
"Once You-Know-Who gets around to returning, I think I shall visit Panama in the summer." McGonagall said. "I've always wanted to visit Panama. My great-uncle died there, you know."
"... I beg your pardon?" Snape asked.
"Severus, I'm surprised at you. You have an incisive mind; how have you failed to understand that You-Know-Who is, simply put, fucked? Excuse my French. We just watched Harry eat five joints of meat, fifteen pounds of bacon, a hundredweight of coal, two hundredweight of Sheffield steel, and drain forty gallons of petrol. What exactly do you believe would happen to a Dark Lord if introduced to a stomach able to handle THAT?"
"... I shall have to engage in some tests before I may state that for certain. Some examination shall of course be necessary; stop looking so put out, Minerva, I believe Poppy able to perform the necessary examination and it won't do any damage to the wretched lizard, the required spells are closely related to the diagnostic spells used on unhealthy students. Once I have ascertained the internal conditions of the dratted dragon's digestive tract, I can easily perform some experiments to determine what, exactly, would happen on introducing You-Know-Who to said environment. And... perhaps we should see what exactly that wretched lizard is able to digest."
"Maybe we should just tell him You-Know-Who is juicy and delicious." Flitwick suggested, a silly grin spreading across his face.
"Perhaps. I would prefer to be certain that You-Know-Who will not be able to thenceforth usurp control of the blasted beast's body." Snape mused.
"... true." Flitwick said.
"Then it's decided. Tomorrow evening we shall have Poppy and yourself, Severus, determine what conditions inside of Harry are like; then you should perhaps engage in these experiments of which you speak." Dumbledore said.
Snape nodded gravely.
"Indeed. Hmm... Albus, how are we to avoid the Ministry discovering the boy's, ah, transformation? I do not believe it takes a seer to predict how they would respond to all this."
There was an uncomfortable silence, and the assorted teachers glanced worriedly at each other. All were quite aware of how extreme the embittered man's views were, and although they agreed on principle there was some disagreement when it came to methodology.
"Well, to begin with he has taken his beastly uncle's word for it as concerns keeping his transformation secret." Dumbledore said. "I believe we should reinforce this; there will come a time for him to do as the goblins did, but that time is not yet now."
The rumours flew thick and fast. One of the prefects had seen the headmaster departing Hogwarts in the company of three out of four Heads of House the previous evening, and she reported that as of last night Snape had still had greasy hair – so why exactly was it now clean?
As the sun went down behind the Cuillins across the water on Skye, Harry Potter was one very excited dragon.
One of Mr Dumbledore and Hagrid's friends, this really nice smiley lady called Madam Hooch, had promised she'd help Harry work out how to fly without crashing into stuff!
They were going to go up onto the moor across the lake, and there Harry would fly! Really fly! Without crashing, hopefully!
Ooh, it was going to be amazing!
But first Mr Dumbledore said that one of his other friends, someone called Madam Pomfrey, needed to do something called diagnostics, apparently aided by that man with the yummy-smelling head.
Thus it was that, when a group of Mr Dumbledore and six of his friends – all three of the ones who Harry had sort-of-met the previous night, plus this little round woman with a big smile, plus a tall man with more scars than not-scar, plus Madam Hooch who Harry had properly met earlier that day – FINALLY came down to Hagrid's house, Harry was bouncing on the spot and raring to go.
Ooooh, this meant he'd get to go into that castle he'd seen last night and could see through Hagrid's windows! Castles were pretty cool, he'd seen pictures, but he'd never had a look inside of one and he was really looking forwards to that too.
When the dratted dragon looked slightly disappointed and said, "Your head doesn't smell tasty any more, what happened?" Snape decided that the fire hazard involved in ungreased hair was worth it.
By the time the group of eight Hogwarts teachers and one dragon were about to enter the castle, said dragon had calmed down a bit.
But it all went horribly wrong as soon as they were in the building, at the first turning on the way up to the infirmary.
"This way pl-" Dumbledore started.
However, Harry interrupted by yelling, "CNIGHET!" and blowing flame as hard as he possibly could, producing a cloud of blue-white fire that blasted down the corridor with a dull thump like thunder at point-blank range, the pressure of the blast blowing out the windows all along that stretch of corridor.
The unfortunate suit of armour that had just come within his line of sight when they rounded the corner was hit full-on by the fireball; a second later Harry let off and slumped a bit, panting for breath.
The group of teachers all stared, slack-jawed, at where the suit of armour had been. Little sign of it remained bar a streak of molten metal among the flambéed section of corridor; floor and walls were charred black, with the odd portion glowing red-hot, aside from a perfect silhouette of the suit of armour in less-charred stonework where the metal had momentarily shielded the wall.
"Bludy hell!" McGonagall emphatically stated.
"And what exactly, you dunderhead, was that supposed to attain?" No prizes for guessing the source of that acerbic query.
"It was a cnighet in shiny armour! It was going to hit me with a lance!" the dragon complained. "You didn't tell me there were cnighets here!"
"It was merely an empty suit of armour!" Snape snapped.
"I'm sure it was a cnighet! It was going to hit me with a lance!"
"Whit tha hames is a 'cnighet'?" McGonagall muttered.
"I assure you that whatever a 'cnighet' might be, there are none here!" Snape bellowed, going even paler than usual. Considering that he was used to angry people going purple, Harry justifiably mistook this for a sign of not-angry.
"It was a chnighet! I'm sure it was a cnighet! Cnighets wear shiny armour and ride around on big white horses and stick lances in dragons and do something called slay that sounds really scary! Cnighets are the murtle enemy of all dragons, everyone knows that! Even my cousin Dudley knows that and he's really thick!"
"It's pronounced 'Knight'." Flitwick helpfully provided, having worked out what all that meant.
"Um, are you sure? Because it isn't spelt 'Night'."
"If you pretend the K doesn't exist it is. Incidentally, that wasn't a knight; it was a suit of armour such as knights might wear, but it did not have a knight inside of it." the pint-sized Charms professor explained.
"... oh. Oh yeah... Are you sure that wasn't a cni- a knight?"
"Quite certain." Flitwick said, nodding firmly.
"Oh." the dragon said, sounding abashed. "I'm, um, I'm sorry I flamed your armour but it looked really like a knight."
"You will be forgiven if you promise never to flame indoors again." Snape stated, deciding that this was probably a good idea; the way his colleagues nodded firmly made it very apparent that they agreed.
"Okay." the dragon said, solemnly nodding. "I won't flame stuff indoors unless it's really really important."
"That will suffice." Dumbledore said before Snape had time to explode again. "Now then, this way please."
"Okay." the dragon repeated.
"Wretched lizard." Snape muttered.
To Severus Mercurio Snape's experience dragons, especially very young dragons, live a six-mode existence.
These six modes could be summed up as 'Asleep', 'Eating', 'Reading', 'Crapping'. 'Flying' and 'Asking all sorts of dunderheaded questions'.
Why exactly Dumbledore had decided that the perfect dragon-sitter during those times Hagrid could not dragon-sit was Snape was anyone's guess; Snape half suspected it was a part of a diabolical plot to get him eaten by a certain dragon.
That dratted dragon! Any time the little blighter wasn't asleep or eating anything that would sit still long enough, it was either demanding lots and lots of books, or bothering him while he tried to concentrate on his vitally important experiments!
"What's that, Professor Snape?" it asked, pointing at a bowl.
"Cold-pressed spungle oil, a common base for many ointments and creams." Snape sighed. How in Merlin's name was he to get rid of the blasted beast?
"It smells really tasty."
"Everything seems to smell tasty from your perspective. Wretched lizard." In the three days it had so far been at Hogwarts, the damned animal had devoured an abominable quantity of meat, muggle fuels, metal, and Snape's valuable potions ingredients; Snape had never thought he'd encounter a creature not just capable of gobbling a whole bubotuber, but capable of doing so without boils or distress.
"Not everything, I mean, wood smells kinda yukky."
"Dratted beast." Snape snapped, making a mental note to check if wooden clothing was possible, and shoved the nearest book – his copy of 'Moste Potente Potiones' – into it's paws. "If you simply must stay awake read this, and if you wish to eat something, ask for an elf to bring you a meal."
"Oh, okay then." the dragon said, not at all upset, much to Snape's disappointment.
It shut up then, and the foul-tempered potions master was astonished to realise that he hadn't been so disappointed about his continuing failure to upset James Potter's brat as he should. Was he going soft? He'd only been dragon-sitting for three days – how on Earth could be be letting the accursed lizard grow on him?
Admittedly, it did have it's uses. It's faeces had proved to be a potent accelerator for potions usage, and at least it never went and asked the same question twice, apart from the eternal 'where can I sleep', 'can I have something to eat', 'have you got a book I could read' and 'um, where should I go poo' type of questions, and those ones were easy to answer; 'the barn behind Hagrid's house', 'ask for an elf to bring some food you dolt', 'here, read this and be quiet', 'the forest of course, are you an imbecile?'.
And at least the little bugger knew how to keep a civil tongue in his mouth.
"Um, Professor Snape, I've already read this."
"Wretched lizard! And am I to assume you've memorised it?"
"Well, I kinda can remember stuff really well, right?"
"What, then, is the twelfth step of the brewing of Veritaserum?"
"Add the mixed ingredients to the dilute murtlesap base, and bring to a slow boil until the brew begins to bubble."
"And the fourth step of the brewing of Skele-Gro?"
"Chop the antler finely. No piece should be bigger than the fore-paw of a shrew."
"And the seventh step of the brewing of Post-Cruciatus Potion?"
"Add the bubotuber pus one drop at a time to the simmering mix; add each drop after the last has ceased to bubble."
"Hmm. Perhaps there is hope for you yet; I shall reserve judgement until you have proven yourself able to utilise all of the knowledge you have eagerly crammed into that sizeable skull of yours, young man. Now, I appear to have run out of volumes within my private collection for you to read; what reading material would you desire?"
"Books about dragons would be nice."
"Very well; I shall see if I can locate volumes that meet your exacting specifications. You must watch this brew carefully! If it begins to bubble, you must draw it away from the fire at once! Failure to do so will cause it to explode with great violence and waste six hours of my valuable time, and if that is to happen I will refuse to allow you books for a week! Is that understood?"
"When it starts to bubble I take it off the fire."
"Only to a range of two hand-spans from the flame, remember!"
"Care that you do it, boy. And do not interfere with it!"
Magorain was currently one very worried centaur.
One score and two years of grave omens had passed, and now the Great Wyrm had been seen over the forest. (2) The ancients' calender claimed that there were four score years left to go before these events came to pass, and Magorain had expected to grow old and travel to the last hunting grounds in that time – so why was it happening now?
Either something had changed, or something was horribly, horribly wrong.
At least the Great Wyrm wasn't lairing in the forest. The old centaur dreaded to think what would become of the Black Wood Clan if that came to pass. The secret writings said it might become necessary to sacrifice fillies to appease the wrath of the Great Wyrm, and it was not as if the Black Wood Clan had a surfeit of females! Why, even Magorain's eldest son only had three wives!
What was to become of them?
He watched the stars steadfastly.
It has been claimed that the only thing that travels faster than light is gossip; a story or a mystery can spread through a closed community at an absurd speed, and that was very true of Hogwarts.
When you take several hundred children and teenagers, and coop them up in a relatively confined area for months, the gossip lines will develop quickly. Any rumour or wild story will spread iteratively, and everyone will know in a very short time indeed.
The current hot topic was – and had been for more than a week now – exactly what was distracting Snape, Madam Hooch, Hagrid, Madam Pomfrey and now McGonagall too? And, on a related note, what had caused the huge scorched spot near the postern gate where one of the suits of armour used to be?
With each repetition, the stories got wilder, taking on the form of what muggles would call conspiracy theories as the students tried to tie in Snape's still-clean hair and the outrageously nasty smells that were frequently issuing from both dungeon and Forbidden Forest.
By the time the next Hogsmeade weekend came up, the theories had gotten very strange indeed.
"So," Albus Dumbledore said, eyes twinkling, "Now you've all taken a turn as dragon-sitter, what does everyone think of young Harry?" He and the four Heads of Houses were once again clustered around the fireplace in his office, along with Madams Hooch and Pomfrey, whiskeys in their hands, while the dragon in question was asleep in the barn behind Hagrid's house.
Snape grimaced. "I wish he was quieter and a slower reader. I suppose I must be grateful that the wretched lizard only ever asks a given question once, excepting the ones about eating, defecating and acquiring more reading material."
"Severus, really. He's polite, respectful, intelligent and friendly; what's your problem with him?" McGonagall asked.
"A bastard with the exact same voice as that wretched lizard tormented me for seven of my formative years; that dratted dragon sounds entirely too like his father for any semblance of comfort." Snape said, grimacing again. "I suppose if his voice was different his company would be... tolerable. As things stand, as soon as he opens his trap it's entirely too like being in a room with a dragon-shaped James bloody Potter."
"Ah; I see." Flitwick said, nodding gravely.
"Yes. It is a... disturbing image."
"When are you going to let bygones be byegones, Severus?" Sprout asked.
"When I receive a sincere apology from any given member of James Potters little gang of sycophants, and no sooner. Considering that two are dead, a third in prison and the fourth a hermit, I doubt that shall occur at any time soon."
"Yes, well. Anyone else, your opinion of our dragon-shaped Boy-Who-Lived?" Dumbledore asked.
"In all my life I have never met a beast so hungry." McGonagall said. "By Hagrid's commentary, the laddie eats more than the giant squid; I would be quite interested to discover where he puts it all."
"Indeed." Snape agreed. "Never had I thought I would encounter a creature able to devour a whole bubotuber without flinching or for that matter developing boils, and I had thought a creature that would then ask for some more was an impossibility."
"I hadn't realised there was anything he can't eat." Flitwick said.
"He dislikes the flavour of wood, or so it appears." Snape helpfully provided. "And it appears that muggle plastics give him the runs."
"You're a very strange man, Severus Snape. You dislike the lad, yet at the same time you're absolutely fascinated by him." Flitwick remarked.
Snape sniffed indelicately.
"Filius, his body is extraordinary. His stomach juices have proven able to dissolve anything – even glass, I have no idea how he avoids his own digestive tract digesting his internal workings. His physiology appears to largely be based upon metals, primarily iron and copper, though there are traces of rare metals such as titanium and gold throughout his central nervous system, and his skeleton seems to largely be composed of aluminium though it appears to be alloyed and structured in a manner I confess do not recognise. His bioalchemy resembles nothing so much as a furnace; it is no wonder that he inhales such massive quantities of coal and petroleum, his body quite literally burns through the stuff at a prodigious rate. Frankly, his physique resembles nothing so much as a living machine; he is a being built not of flesh and blood, but of living metal. To be quite honest, his morphology intrigues me."
"Aye; he's a fascinating creature, isn't he?" Kettleburn agreed.
"Quite. I simply wish that he wasn't quite so... so... so annoying."
"You're scared of him, aren't you Severus?" McGonagall asked.
"Can anyone in here honestly declare themselves not the slightest bit afraid of the blasted reptile?" Snape asked, raising one eyebrow.
Nobody replied to that, causing Snape to look slightly smug.
"I suspect," the potions master continued, "That Rubeus is the only member of staff who does not find a dragon behaving like a hyperactive child at least a little unnerving."
"... indeed." Dumbledore admitted. "His, ah, lack of awareness of his own potential for mayhem is simultaneously a little disturbing and heartening."
"Oh? How so?" Snape asked.
"Well, I suspect the fact that he hasn't realised he's capable of laying waste to everything in a wide area indicates that he doesn't feel any desire to lay waste to much of anything." the elderly man explained.
"True enough." McGonagall said. "If anything, he reminds me of my son when he was young."
"A typical small boy with the body of a dragon. My nightmare is complete." Snape muttered, shaking his head.
"Yes; two tons of boisterous child is a little, well, disturbing, really." Madam Pomfrey agreed.
"Minerva, how go his instructions in self-transfiguration?" Dumbledore asked.
"Frankly? Albus, he's a quick and eager learner. He succeeded in transfiguring himself into a child-sized dragon last night; he can't yet maintain it for very long, but he's learning fast."
"I suspect that to be a theme we shall see repeated ad nauseum over the coming years." Snape said. "He appears to have an eidetic memory; once I realised he had read every volume in my collection, I quizzed him on the material therein. I have done so several times, and I must say that if he were to take his Potions OWL today he would receive a clean O in the theory section; exactly how well he shall prove able to put into practise the information he has crammed into that sizeable skull of his I must confess to looking forwards to discovering."
"I think we're all eager to discover that." Sprout said with a nod.
"What of the experiments to simulate conditions within his stomach, Severus?" Dumbledore asked.
"Ah, yes. I confess they await my discovery of a vessel able to contain a portion of his stomach juices for more than a few moments, especially whilst heated to a temperature sufficient to boil lead." (3)
"His insides are truly that hot?"
"Indeed." They all noted that Snape had an odd gleam in his eye. "I am currently attempting to determine the composition of his stomach lining. From what Poppy has been able to discern, it appears to be a ceramic material of some form; we have a series of planned experiments to determine it, and Hagrid has assured me that he will immediately alert me if that wretched dragon ever throws up, in case there are pieces of stomach lining within his vomitus such as one finds within that of a human."
As the varied 'dragon-sitters' were discussing Harry, the subject of their discussion was sitting in Hagrid's barn and having a good think.
It hadn't taken him long to discern that the dragons in the books Mr Snape got for him weren't the same sort of dragons as he was since they couldn't talk and they didn't eat metal; and, in fact, no book about dragons any of Mr Dumbledore's glowy friends had been able to find at first had described dragons anything like Harry. Mrs McGonagall had, upon his request, gone down to the nearby town and visited it's library, acquiring a number of books about dragons written by the people who didn't glow any, and for all that she'd been adamant they were nothing but something called 'muggle fantasies' he'd found them very useful because they described all sorts of dragony things and they talked about the sort of dragons that knights go after, and Harry was pretty sure he was that sort of dragon.
Was there something about the people who glowed a bit that stopped them getting the idea about dragons? As far as Harry could see, dragons were pretty simple stuff, really; at least, so he gathered from the books Mrs McGonagall had given him.
He'd read them carefully, and made notes and everything about his findings and all that. All of those not-glowy-person fantasy thingies had to come from somewhere, and he'd found several common themes in the books that talked about dragons who could talk.
Dragons who can talk needed to have a lair, and it should have treasures in it and preferably some damsels. He wasn't totally sure what the whole thing with damsels was but most of the books had made it sound like something very important.
Almost every one of the books – excepting the ones he'd disregarded because they didn't sound like the sort of dragon he was – made the fact that knights were out to get dragons very clear, and he'd learned that the slay thing meant making the dragon dead, which sounded really nasty – as soon as he'd realised what it was about he'd resolved to flame any knight that tried to get him, very hard, and keep a sharp eye on those shining armours that were littered around Hogwarts as they were entirely too knight-like for comfort.
The thing about the books that really annoyed him was the way they made out that most dragons were baddies. The only ones that didn't were the books by this lady called Anne McCaffrey, who (from the photos in the backs of some of the books) had a really nice smile, and from the way the dragons in Mrs McCaffrey's books didn't talk out loud Harry was pretty sure he wasn't that sort of dragon. (4)
How much of it was real and how much of it was made up? Harry really didn't know, but turning into a dragon was the best thing that'd ever happened to him since the first thing he could remember, everything good that'd happened to him had happened because he'd turned into a dragon, and he was absolutely determined to do this being-a-dragon thing right.
So, he needed a lair, he needed treasures, and he needed damsels. He wasn't sure where to get any of them, but he figured that once he'd found a lair he could work out how to get the treasures and the damsels; the problem was where to find a lair that knights couldn't get into.
He resolved to ask Hagrid. Hagrid knew lots of things about dragons and was really fun, surely he'd know where Harry could find a good lair – and seeing as how Hagrid knew all sorts of awesome stuff, the big man would probably know where to find a knight-proof lair.
Hmm. The world needed to know that knights were baddies. It'd make the world a better place for everyone if more people listened to that nice Mrs McCaffrey lady and called dragons the goodies they really were.
Harry decided he'd have to find Mrs McCaffrey someday and let her know what dragons were really like, once he'd worked that out, and thank her for telling people that dragons were really the goodies, because the more people who knew that the better, even if the dragons she wrote about to tell people that weren't very like real dragons. She had to be a very nice lady if she was brainy enough to realise how cool and awesome and good dragons really are.
"Evenin', Harry." Hagrid said, stomping into the barn. Hagrid stomped really well, he made the ground go clump and everything. Harry resolved to get Hagrid to give him stomping lessons someday.
"Hi, Hagrid. Um, there's something I was wanting to ask about..."
"... he wants what?" Dumbledore asked, perplexed.
"Harry sez he's wantin' a lair." Hagrid repeated. "He sez he's needin' it ter be somethin' he called 'knight-proof'. I were thinkin' about this cave I know about up th' crags at th' back o' th' forest, got a hunnert-foot drop in front an' all, onea th' burns feedin' inta th' loch runs outta it. Plenty space up th' back, at least that's what Madam Hooch sez; she had a look-see a couple years back, I ain't never bin up there"
"That would probably be a good idea." Madam Pomfrey, who had been discussing her concerns about Harry's health when Hagrid barged in, said. "The poor boy isn't getting enough exercise, having to spend all day cooped up in that barn, and the cliffs at the back of the Forbidden Forest are out of sight of the castle."
"Hmm; I concur." Dumbledore agreed, nodding thoughtfully. "Rubeus, if you and Madam Hooch were to show the cave in question to him during his next flying lesson? I suppose that his tutors could fly to the cave for his lessons if it meets with his approval."
"Ey, Harry, I've found yer a lair." Hagrid said.
This statement had an immediate revitalising effect on the formerly-dozing dragon.
"Ooh! Ooh!" he declared, popping off the floor and bouncing excitedly. "Where? Where? Can we go see now? Is it knight-proof? Where is it? What's it like?"
"Easy, easy." Hagrid chuckled. "S'up th' back of th' forest in th' crags, th' mouth's 'bout a hunnert foot offa th' gulley floor. I ain't never seen in it, but Madam Hooch sez it's huge inside an' there ain't no way inta it but flyin'. How's about we check it out ternight durin' yer flyin' lesson?"
"OOH! Oh, that'd be awesome!"
"I'm glad the idea fills you with enthusiasm." Madam Hooch, who had entered the barn behind Hagrid, said. "Well then, let's go."
A dragon the size of a small bus bouncing excitedly is a disturbing sight for anyone who isn't Rubeus Hagrid.
Sunlight hitting his closed eyelids gradually woke Harry up.
For a few moments, he found himself wondering where he was. This wasn't the garage or the barn, or his cupboard – this was open for the sun to stream in, and he could feel a cool breeze against his shoulder; where was he?
He opened his eyes and had a look around, and then he remembered about the WONDERFUL lair his friends Hagrid and Madam Hooch had shown him.
Situated halfway up a cliff, it's mouth shielded by an overhang, the ground about a hundred feet below the cave-mouth and the top of the cliff about a hundred feet above, it was perfect. A stream (called in local terms a burn, or so Harry had gathered from Hagrid's commentary) ran down the middle of the cave from where it emerged from a crack in the wall at the back, flowing through a deep trench it had worn in the floor and falling over the edge of the cliff to tinkle merrily on the rocks far below. At the mouth of the cave it was plenty big enough for him to spread his wings to take off, there was a huge hollow for the storage of treasures about fifty to sixty feet back from the lip of the cave, and he could see absolutely no way knights could possibly sneak in.
Hmm. He was hungry.
That rock looked remarkably tasty right now.
He took a big bite out of the rock, and as it settled in his stomach with a satisfying splosh, he realised something very important; he'd just made his lair one bite bigger.
The sheer bigness of it was already awesome, but now he knew how to make special chambers for his treasures and damsels and how to make it bigger when he grew more! The cave was in the mouth of a cliff on the side of this huge great mountain – in there was all the room he'd ever need!
He'd found such wonderful friends since he turned into a dragon!
Now he just needed treasures and damsels and everything would be okay. He was already pretty sure he knew where to get the treasures, he'd seen a rainbow earlier that day and he'd heard that you could find treasures at the ends of rainbows so he'd memorised where it landed – one end in the sea, the other on the side of a mountain – and was going to give those two places a good searching once he'd made sure his lair was right.
They drew straws for it. It was the only agreeable method any of them had been able to think of for the task of determining who would have to surrender a daughter now that the worst had come to pass and the Great Wyrm was lairing only a few minutes gallop from the Black Woods Clan's home glade.
Ronan had seen it first, the Great Wyrm alighting on the ledge of the hole in the cliffs where the river's child birthed.
When Bane drew the short straw he wept without shame.
Nobody wanted to do it, but it had to be done – the other option was the whole of the Black Woods Clan was fucked.
So at midnight they selected the fairest of Bane's daughters, clad her in the finest of soft furs and silks, bound her wrists, and led her to the edge of the forest opposite the mouth of the cave in which the Great Wyrm laired.
And there, each stallion sadly glancing behind, they left her, the other end of the rope tied to a tree.
There was no other way. The old tales were clear; they had no choice.
The Great Wyrm must be appeased, or everyone died.
No choice at all.
Another beautiful morning in the forest, and Harry was glad to be alive.
For a lad who'd spent the best part of his life cooped up in cupboard, garage or barn, it was incredible. Standing at the rim of his lair – his lair! His very own place! – he was master of all he surveyed.
Harry felt as if he could see to the furthest side of the world as he gazed out over the sea, and the mountains of Skye beyond, towards the ocean and, somewhere out there in the distance across the Atlantic, North America; the foothills to his left hid Hogwarts and Hogsmeade from here, and the nearest muggle town on the map was hidden by the mountain that rose to his right; all that could be seen of the world of mankind was a distant fishing boat and the railway line, the morning train for Mallaig appearing and disappearing between the trees as it rattled it's way west with the heavy growl of it's BR Class 37 diesel locomotive echoing up the glen.
All he gazed upon was his; for the first time in his short and unpleasant life, he felt as if he had come home.
Wait, what was that, at the edge of the woods below him, just the other side of the gulley the river that fed the lake behind Hogwarts Castle ran down? Something was moving down there, something all in greens and browns and greys.
He peered closer at it, and realised he couldn't work out what he was looking at.
So he spread his wings, sprang from the ledge, and glided over to a nearby open spot in the woods – the place he'd found where he could snooze in the sun – and approached the moving thing by land, all sneaky-sneaky because it had been sort of horse-shaped and he wasn't sure if it was a knight.
As he nosed carefully through the undergrowth, carefully avoiding any crash sounds, he slowly realised that what he was seeing was in fact a lady of some sort.
She was all dressed in browns and greens and greys, and she was tied up with a rope that was tied to a tree, and she had most of a horse where her legs should be.
Harry frowned a bit, trying to work out why the lady was tied up and how come she had horse instead of legs.
He really wasn't sure about the horsey bit. It might mean there were knights about; he had a cautious sniff at the wind, though he wasn't sure whether it would do any good as he hadn't worked out what knights smelt like yet.
(They probably smelt of metal and person. The horsey-lady smelt of horse and person. Harry wasn't sure if knights smelt of horse and person too.)
Having ascertained that there was no shining armour in sight, he critically examined the horsey lady from between a couple of trees. Her not-horse parts – pretty much everything of a lady but legs – were dressed in that slightly shiny cloth made out of the same stuff as Uncle Vernon's undies, but with added on fur bits and some belts in not-belt places, while all the horsey bits (pretty much everything of a horse that wasn't head or neck, because the horse stopped where the lady's middle started) wasn't wearing anything. Her wrists were tied together behind her back, and there was a rope going from there to a tree.
Suddenly, it all clicked; the lady with the horsey bits where legs usually go was obviously a damsel and that made what to do very obvious.
"Grr grr GRR, I'm a big fearsome dragon and you're a damsel and I'm gonna carry you off to my lair, grr!" he declared, stepping out of the bushes.
Maybe damsels were a sort of treasure? If so it must be a very special sort since those books about dragons Mrs McGonagall got for him didn't seem to name the not-damsel bits of a dragon's treasures.
Suze was sure she was going to die.
She'd had a horrible feeling it was coming for one score and one weeks now.
When her grandfather, Lord Magorain, had grimly announced that he'd seen the Great Wyrm above the forest, she'd known what was to come at once; she'd avoided telling anyone the whole time, but it had happened anyway.
Her father had wept for her.
Oh Gods, she'd made Father cry. Maybe that meant she deserved this?
She hadn't tried to resist when they led her to the last place she ever expected to see; she didn't want to shame her parents. Death is a mere flash; shame is forever.
Father said so, and Father was always right unless Grandfather ever said different and Grandfather hadn't said different about that.
When she'd seen Father's shoulders shake, she'd wanted to reach out and tell him he didn't need to worry. What happened had to happen, none could have changed it, and she was glad to see her brothers walking away from that fatal place as she stood and awaited her assigned fate.
When the Great Wyrm emerged into the clearing, she didn't let herself quail before it. The last thing her father had said to her was, "Be brave for me, my daughter", and she would not disappoint him today.
"Grr grr GRR," it said. Not a growl – it said, 'Grr' like a colt pretending to be ferocious. "I'm a big fearsome dragon and you're a damsel and I'm gonna carry you off to my lair, grr!"
It sounded startlingly young.
The rope her brothers had bound her to the tree with parted like dust beneath the Great Wyrm's talons, for all that it was woven from acromantula silk, the strongest and finest known; the Great Wyrm's claws severed that rope like a fine flint knife through a colt's hair.
Surely the Great Wyrm would eat her soon?
She didn't resist it as it wrapped it's mighty forepaws around her; fate had chosen her to appease the Great Wyrm's wrath, and to quaver would shame her father.
Oddly, it seemed to be being exceedingly careful.
Having picked her up, it proceeded to whisper, "Am I doing it right?" out the side of it's mouth.
"... what??" She hadn't quite dared say anything till then.
"Well, er, this is the first time I've done the carrying-off thing and I wanna get it right, right? Because doing it wrong would be really embarrassing because I'm a dragon and that means I'm supposed to know all about this stuff."
Suze considered saying he was doing it wrong for a moment – after all, she'd been fully expecting to get eaten – but came to the conclusion that saying no to a dragon was probably an enormously bad idea.
"I think you're doing it right." she said. "I mean, I've never been carried off before so, um, I'm not really sure how it goes, but, well, you've done a very convincing job of it so far, but I think you need to work on your growl."
"Okay!" the Great Wyrm said, not seeming the slightest bit displeased by her commentary. "I, well, I guess GRR! isn't fierce enough? I've heard dragons should be very fierce when they're carrying damsels off."
"Uh... I suppose so, but, well... um." Why exactly was the Great Wyrm asking her for advice?
"... oh. Uh, okay, I guess I've gotta make it up as I go along, right?"
Her stomach lurched as the Great Wyrm launched itself off the edge of the gulley, then lurched again as it's wings slammed down; the ground spiralled dizzyingly beneath her, and a moment later the Great Wyrm's paws struck ground within it's lair with a tremendous bone-jarring SLAM.
"... um, sorry, I don't think I've got landings quite right yet."
Glancing around, she was startled to discover two things; firstly, there were Great Wyrm-sized bite marks in some of the rocks, and secondly there was a mound of somewhat sea-stained and barnacle-clad gold bars about as wide across as two big stallions were long, right smack dab in the middle of the cave.
"Are you going to eat me?" she asked, and the Great Wyrm looked quite thoroughly taken aback.
"Um, well, I kinda aren't gonna do that." he said. "Well, unless you want me to? I mean, um, it'd be awfully rude to eat anything that asked you not to, I think."
She considered that for a few moments, and then said, "Please don't eat me, Mr Great Wyrm."
"Good afternoon, you dratted liz- What in Merlin's name is going on here?" A tall thin human – one of the wizards from up at the castle, though Suze had never seen one before; the human had long black hair tied back in a neat ponytail, a thin face, a hooked nose, pallid skin, and voluminous black clothing, and she had to wonder how one got by with only two legs – had just landed one of those broom thingies on the lip of the cave. "Where, precisely, did you steal that gold, young man? And what, precisely, is that young lady doing here?"
"Oh, hello Mr Snape!" the Great Wyrm said, obviously delighted to see this acerbic human. "I saw a rainbow the day before yesterday and it came down in the sea just over thataway so I remembered where it came down because I've heard you get gold where rainbows land and I went and explored it because a lair isn't a proper lair if it doesn't have treasure in it and there was this really old sunken ship jammed down in some rocks underwater but not much left of it and it was right near there though it was kinda cold getting to it and it had all this gold sort of scattered around it and since it was sitting in the sea I figured nobody wanted it so I brought it back here and this morning the horsey-people gave me a damsel! I'm a proper dragon now! Isn't it great?"
The human, presumably called Mr Snape, spent a moment visibly considering that, and then dismissed it with a flick of his fingers and one raised eyebrow; Suze got the feeling he didn't want to know.
"I see." he said. "Now, I have brought you some reading material, and I and Madam Pomfrey have devised a small number of diagnostic spells that might perhaps allow me to discern more information concerning your remarkable interior. Perhaps if you wish to have a little read, I could cast the examination spells at the same time?"
"Okay!" the Great Wyrm cheerfully replied.
"And, Mr Potter? They are known as centaurs; referring to them as 'horsey-people' is unnecessarily impolite."
Snape had just completed the first of the revised diagnostic spells, while the dratted dragon had his nose buried in a book that surely no child beneath seventh year should be permitted to acquire, when the female centaur spoke up in a soft voice with a melodic accent that the usually-misanthropic potions master found surprisingly pleasant.
"How old is the Great Wyrm?" she asked.
"He is a little over eight years old. In your people's terms, I am given to understand, one score and three summers."
"... so he's just a colt?"
"Indeed." Snape confirmed.
"Hmm?" Harry asked, looking up from the book.
"Go back to your reading, you blasted reptile; I am attempting to hold a rational conversation with the young lady here, and we do not currently require your input."
The centaur girl recoiled, obviously expecting Snape to quite promptly be flambéed, and looked positively flabbergasted when the wretched lizard just chirped, "Okay!" and resumed reading.
"He is, quite frankly, a naive child." Snape quietly told the centaur girl. "And I do believe it would be provident for the continued health of the both of us if you were to see that his inevitable maturation is gentle... ah, this is fascinating. Quite fascinating. It seems that the dratted dragon's skeletal structure is composed of a material named Orihalcum. Fascinating... I can but wonder how it was grown...?"
"I know that if the right parts aren't in someone's food they won't grow proper... so how does he get the Orihalcum? Isn't it really rare?" she asked.
"Hmm; you're quite the knowledgeable one, aren't you? Indeed, until recently it was among the rarest substances known; the secret of it's manufacture had long been thought lost along with the creators of your kind, young lady, and for many years the only known source of it was the skeleton of a drake-dog. We have the muggles, of all creatures, to thank for it's return to this world; they unravelled the secret of it without knowing what they were looking at, and named it 'aluminium oxy-nitride', a term that only makes sense when one realises that Orihalcum is in fact a quite specific phlogistonic nitrate of the ignoble metal aluminium." (5)
"Really? I... didn't know that."
"Few did, until very recently. What is your name, young lady? You seem tolerably knowledgeable."
"I'm Suze, daughter of Bane."
"Daughter of Bane? You have my commiserations. Now, let us see what we can see about this young man's stomach lining... hmm, a form of glass? Curious; there must be something I am missing about it's structure."
"... you want to know how the Great Wyrm's body works?"
"Indeed, young lady; indeed. I see naught but potential in discerning the function of his bioalchemy; his stomach alone holds the potential to revolutionise the art of potions as it is currently known. I do believe that when I succeed in learning all that is to be learned from him, I shall become quite remarkably famous and, more to the point, wealthy, though of course I shall have to make certain to share said wealth with the blasted beast; I have it on good authority that cheating a dragon is an enormously bad idea for those who prefer to continue to breathe... Quiet now; I must write these formulae down at once."
"What is it now? Wretched lizard!"
"I, um, I've kinda gotta learn to growl better; you're really good at growling, can you tell me how it works?"
Snape paused, quill poised, then unleashed a heartfelt snort.
"Young man, if you are to be quiet and allow me to write these formulae before I forget them, I shall make certain that you are given growling lessons by the finest growler I have ever known."
Time has a habit of passing when nobody's paying it any attention and that holds true whether you're child or adult, dragon or human, muggle or magical.
That said, when you're very young it travels slower. As you age, it speeds up – something that's noticed by everyone as they get older.
For an eight-year-old boy, a year is a very long time. For an eight-year-old who isn't in school and doesn't have people who insist on him doing chores, a day is a wonderfully long and full thing, and that holds true for any small child.
Even ones who've been turned into dragons.
In between lessons from varied Hogwarts staff when the weather was calm enough for them to fly up from the castle, hunting, scrounging for metal and fuel from Hagrid, seeing what sort of treasures he could root up, and inventing new games he could play with his centaur damsel, Harry was a very busy dragon indeed – and he liked it that way because it was just so much FUN! There was always something to do and none of it made his body hurt like chores at the Dursleys had, and it he didn't want to do stuff everyone listened – it was brilliant!
As days turned into weeks and weeks into month, the depths of winter hit the Cairngorms and clad the mountains in snow, transforming the hills around him to a winter wonderland. On still nights, his centaur damsel told him which star was what and what she knew of the meanings of their movements as they lay and listened to the distant rumble on the edge of hearing of ships' engines the far side of Skye echoing across the water; when the wind picked up and gales screamed in from the Atlantic, ripping the ocean to white and blasting trees from the ground – an awe-inspiring sight for anyone, especially someone who'd never even imagined such a storm before – she proved most glad of the furnace-like heat put out by his body as she sheltered beside him, cuddled up against his belly; for his part, he liked to lay out the wind but in such a position that he could see out of his lair to watch the clouds race past the moon. He quickly noticed deer (according to Mrs McGonagall, that was the name for venisons that were running around) on the hills, and after a while decided to find out if they tasted as yummy as they smelled – and that is how he received the second-biggest shock of his life.
He'd been flying around aimlessly just checking stuff out for a while and being disappointed that he hadn't found any more gold at rainbow-end places when he noticed the still-running venison. He'd been meaning to give it a try for a while, just because he knew not-running-any-more venison was tasty and the ones that were running around smelt really yummy.
So he landed, momentarily smug about how much better he'd got at landings, right in front of it and declared, "GrrRRrrr!"
It snorted a lot, backing away and waving it's multi-pointed horns at him. He figured the trick was to get past the horns and that there was venison there.
Mmm yum, venison!
So he tried to slap it's horns out the way.
He was surprised to say the least when it's head splattered.
Harry's lair was oddly quiet tonight, Severus Snape noted as he set down in the lip of the entry chamber. It'd been so much smaller when the dratted dragon first moved into it – he was quite certain that the extra passages and chambers had been chewed out of solid rock.
Blasted beast had no idea of his own strength. He'd grown at an absurd rate over the few months he'd been here – it was early March now, and the wretched lizard was easily bigger than the Hogwarts Express locomotive.
At least he'd slowed his insane rate of growth.
The dratted dragon was usually at this time of day lounging on the lip of his lair after a full day's playing. Snape caught himself being sentimental, and reassured himself that the blasted beast was in fact a wretched lizard and honest hard-working potions masters shouldn't be sentimental about things like that.
Today, there was no sign of the dragon. The dragon's pet centaur was seated at the far end of the entryway, and she had a look of deep concern upon her pretty face.
Not just a pretty face, that one. She was, by the standards of the centaurs Snape had met, quite well read, and unlike her kin willing to learn.
"Where in Merlin's name is that dratted dragon?" he asked.
"He's through there." she said, pointing at one of the passages that were new since Snape's last visit the previous week. "He's... um, he's upset about something but I'm not sure what."
"I see." Snape said, suppressing the desire to feel concern.
'James Potter's brat, Severus!' He assured himself. 'It must assuredly be nothing blown out of all proportion!'
The passage was pitch black; he cast a Lumos and peered down it.
The gleam of gold and the sight of the dragon's tail met his sceptical eyes.
"What in Merlin's name is wrong with you, you wretched lizard?"
A moment was filled by the rattle of shifting treasure, and then the blasted beast was eyeballing him with a frankly worried look.
"... um, hi, Mr Snape." it said. For once in the time Snape had known Harry, the dratted dragon didn't sound excited.
"I repeat; what, precisely, is wrong with you, young man?"
"... Mr Snape, do, um, well, do people squish as easy as deer?"
"What exactly brought this on, young man?"
"... well, I kinda thought I'd see if the sort of venison that's running around would taste as good as the sort that isn't running around, and, well, it kinda... came apart on me when I kinda tried to hit it's horns out the way, it, well, it went, um, it went splat."
"I see." Snape said, getting the idea. "I am afraid that there is no gentle way to say this, lad; compared to yourself, most creatures are indeed quite remarkably fragile."
"... oh. I... I don't think I'd better go anyplace any more."
"Desist in being a dolt, you wretched lizard!" Snape roared, unutterably incensed. "So you're sizeable and a tad unnerving – don't you dare hide from yourself, you blasted reptile! Don't you dare! What would your mother think, young man? I'll tell you what she'd think! She'd be disappointed at her only child being a coward! So you're a large and physically powerful creature – you must use your size and power as responsibly as any being! I have the power to cast the Killing Curse, as do all wizards and witches – it is the power to bring destruction without fail to any who might anger me and I do not use it for fun and games! It is merely an option for when all else has failed and the choices are death or glory! So too is your strength, your fire and the edge of your talons – your physique is indeed a weapon, and like all weapons that might come into your possession you must treat it with a modicum of respect, but you must not be afraid of it! If you are afraid of yourself you will never amount to anything and that, young man, would be a quite astonishing waste! I have not spent days upon end attempting to drum a little valuable knowledge into your sizeable skull to see you sulk in this wretched cave like some introverted ignoramus! Do you understand me, boy? Well? Do you?"
"... I guess."
"Don't guess! Know! Guessing is for those who lack the drive to excel!" Snape stopped, spent a few moments breathing deeply to calm himself, and then firmly shook his head. "Dash it, boy. You're a... a, a tolerable child, and I do not wish to see that go to waste over a dead animal."
"... I'm sorry, Mr Snape. It's just... it really went splat and I don't want that to happen to any of my friends."
Snape shook his head, stifling a smile as he remembered the muggle comics he had, as a child, once enjoyed.
"A man I as a child respected once said, 'with great power comes great responsibility'. Like all of wizardkind, it behoves you to take that to heart, my boy. Ours is the power to change lives for the better... or to, in the same breath, end them. It is our choice in which way we shall use our power, and I can but hope your choices are wiser than those that most make."
"Can you tell me how to be wise with power, Mr Snape?"
"... I am the wrong man to ask that question, my boy. You should ask that of Dumbledore." Crap, when had he started thinking of James Potter's brat as his boy?
"Good; see that you do. Now come out here at once, I have further spells of examination to cast, and some books that you might wish to read."
It took a lot of convincing on Hagrid and Dumbledore's parts to get through to Harry that dead deer was where the not-running-about type of venison came from, but by late March they'd managed, and after a while Harry found enormously (if briefly) surprised venison to his liking, although it didn't become the mainstay of his diet; that remained the preserve of Hagrid's scrap-dealership contacts and large quantities of fossil fuel.
Mr Snape and Mrs McGonagall and Mrs Pomfrey said that his body was mostly made out of all sorts of metals with interesting names, but burned coal and petrol to keep the fires inside him blazing; he reckoned that was really cool, it sounded like his tummy worked a bit like a jet plane's engines crossed with a steam train, and Harry couldn't think of many things cooler than jet planes and steam trains. When it came down to it, he reckoned that the comparison was pretty good since things that got in the way of steam trains or jet planes tended to go squish and it seemed that the same went for things that got in the way of dragons.
Winter turned to spring, bringing with it tremendous sheets of rain as the last gales of the season rattled the land, and the forest came alive from it's hibernation, green flowing as new leaves spread across the trees and bracken sprang up across the hillsides; Harry added wild goat (a pungent meal) and the odd stray sheep (which presented a fluffy mouthful) to his diet. The tremendous growth spurt, that he'd spent the previous months of being-a-dragon under the influence of, quieted itself, and with it his appetite calmed a little; no more did he add an inch or so every night, for all that he was still growing.
Summer slipped in, announced by a tidal wave of midges; for some reason, the mote-like biting flies found Harry's body almost unutterably appealing but dropped dead as soon as they tried taking a bite out of him, and Suze stuck very close as they fell in droves from his flanks; as his ninth birthday approached, Harry at last learned to change his form into a copy of what he'd once called his body, and shortly after that he found a wonderful new game called playing horsey with his centaur damsel!
On the evening of July 30th 1989, for the first time in his life he found himself having trouble getting to sleep because he was looking forwards to his birthday just SO much.
Birthdays were a special time, and everything was more special for dragons.
"She still lives." Bane said.
Ronan had to admit he was a bit worried about his cheiftain's heir. Bane hadn't been quite the same since they sent his fairest daughter to appease the Great Wyrm's wrath; the black-furred stallion's zest for life had seemed to drain out of him drop by drop with each step he took away from that accursed place, until as they upped camp at the Great Glade he'd been naught but a shadow of his former magnificence.
But now, something had changed. Earlier that morning, Celestine had galloped into the glade where they had sought refuge, his face ashen and his eyes wide, and demanded to speak to Bane in private; he and Bane now stood by the great hearth, and the fire was back in Bane's eyes.
"Your pardon, Bane?" Tiberius asked.
"Suze." Bane said, and suddenly Ronan realised what had happened.
"I swear it is true." Celestine said, bowing his head. "I saw her half a day's swift run towards dawn from here, not merely alive but playing like yearlings with the Great Wyrm itself, though the beast has learned to hide it's nature; it walks in the form of a human colt of perhaps one score and three summers, but it's scent is unmistakable and I swear that I saw it's transformation."
"Impossible." Julius declared.
"Nay, brother; it is true, on my blood I swear it!"
"We must watch the stars carefully." Magorain stated. "What omen this may send us I cannot say, but we must decipher it lest we are to learn the hard way."
"Agreed, Father." Bane said with a sharp nod. "I hold that we must maintain close watch of the Great Wyrm, that we might discern it's habits and nature – and, I pray, what we might do to avoid it's wrath."
"I concur." Magorain said, and the warriors nodded their agreement.
And so, it was decided.
It had, Harry mused as he laid back on his hoard, been a truly wonderful birthday indeed.
Mr Flitwick had the previous afternoon given him most precise instructions for how best to enjoy a birthday, the most important part being that he was to lounge around and relax and maybe do some lazy-but-fun things like polishing his gold until the sun came out from behind the Cairngorms – the tiny man had been adamant that birthday mornings were something best savoured, and Harry reckoned he knew what Flitwick meant now.
That morning had been really quiet and relaxed and stuff, and now there weren't any barnacles or bits of seaweed left on his hoard at all; he figured that the thing he'd guessed about damsels being a very special and valuable part of a dragon's hoard was right since she'd proved so good at making the gold gleam properly, and besides the hoping he'd get presents was even more awesome when stretched out like that. It was a bit like chores, but good because you just knew there was something brilliant waiting at the end of it.
When the sun had started shining directly onto the lip of his lair, they'd headed down towards the castle. He wasn't sure why seeing his centaur damsel galloping had been so weirdly cool, but it'd been weirdly cool, so that was cool. He'd been a bit worried that knights would jump out and try to steal her, but there hadn't been so much as a glimpse of shining armour and she'd stuck right behind his shadow the whole way down the glen without any problems.
When he'd got to the castle he'd been pleased to find that they didn't have sets of shining armour sitting around any more, and then they'd got to the Great Hall and there had been presents.
And oh what presents they were!
Mr Hagrid had given him a special sort of petrol drum that didn't ever run out of petrol, and said that Mrs McGonagall and Mr Snape helped with it, but that didn't mean Mrs McGonagall and Mr Snape didn't have other presents for him – he'd never imagined so many presents in one place just for him! Even Dudley didn't get such a big pile of presents, but he'd been very careful not to count them because he didn't want to be like Dudley because Dudley was nasty.
Mr Dumbledore had given him a very special fuel drum that he said his friend Mr Flamel who Harry hadn't met had helped with. It had this greyish-red water-ish stuff that smelt yummy in it, and when you put steel in it the steel turned into gold! Real gold! Mr Dumbledore said it wouldn't keep working very long, but Harry reckoned that once it stopped working it'd probably taste very nice.
Mr Flitwick had given him lots and lots of books. All sorts of books – all of Mrs McCaffrey's books, books about magic, books about different sorts of metal, books about dragons, books about weird stuff that sounded really cool – all of them packed into a really big chest like the sort of chest that pirates bury treasure in, and Harry figured that books had to be a sort of treasure since they were packed in a treasure chest, right?
Mrs Sprout had given him a cauldron packed full of gems that she said were the fruit of a very special plant that grew rubies instead of apples or something, and he reckoned that they'd be just the thing to strategically scatter amongst his hoard, all gleamy and red and stuff.
Mrs McGonagall had given him a big gleaming sword that she said was called a Claymore and this little metal Rolls-Royce lady that flew and everything, made out of proper silver
Mr Snape had given him two things; a great big chest full of golden coins that he said were something called royalties – there wasn't much real gold in them but then Mr Flitwick said all coins were a mix of metals – and a very special saddle and harness for his centaur damsel, which would make playing horsey even more fun, it even had reins, but Harry wasn't quite sure why several of his other friends has seemed a bit angry about that; maybe they were annoyed that they hadn't thought of such a cool idea?
He got other presents too, books and paintings and treasure and stuff, but none of it the sort of awesome things his really good friends gave him.
And then there had been cake!
He resolved to get his friends really cool things for their birthdays, even though he didn't have many ideas and he wasn't sure when their birthdays were yet.
"Whit in Merlin's name whair yeh thinkin', Sev'rus?" McGonagall bitterly complained as soon as a certain dragon was out of earshot, at which stage Dumbledore's eyes started twinkling as he realised a certain potions master's somewhat questionable sensibilities had distracted everyone from any awkward questions about substances that could only conceivably be derived from a Philosopher's Stone.
Snape gloomily shook his head.
"I take it from your tone you have never had the misfortune to encounter the tremendous waste of skin they call Bane, then." he said. "You should count yourself exceptionally fortunate for that, Minerva."
"Yer met Bane?" Hagrid asked, surprised.
"Indeed; it was during one of my ingredient-gathering expeditions within the Forest that I chanced upon that poltroon." Snape confirmed.
"... I'm nae gettin' yair drift." McGonagall growled, increasingly agitated.
"Frankly, Minerva, Bane is the most unutterably narrow-minded, anal-retentive, cretinous, self-satisfied, objectionable, twinkle-toed dunderhead I have ever had the extraordinary misfortune to encounter, and that is saying quite something seeing as how I used to associate with the likes of Lucius Malfoy." Snape informed her. "He is repulsive to the degree that if it were not for our local friendly hyperactive reptile's pet, I would believe the Ministry might have a point as concerns centaurs; and it seems that said pleasant young lady has in fact the grave misfortune to be one of that ignorant quadrupedal blowhard's daughters."
"Punishin' a wain fair tha sins o' tha father isnae becomin' o' yeh, Sev'rus!"
"What kind of an imbecile do you take me for, Minerva? It's nothing to do with that – I would gladly pay a month's salary to see Bane taken down a peg or two, and considering the ten-minute frothing rant on centaur 'superiority' to which I was subjected when last I encountered that self-fixated popinjay, I foresee him objecting quite strenuously to his daughter being, to quote a certain lizard, 'played horsie with', especially as involves reins and a saddle – and considering exactly how extraordinarily resilient said lizard just so happens to be, it does not take a seer to predict Bane promptly receiving the attitude readjustment he so richly deserves."
"... so this is a plot to get Harry to beat Bane up?" Dumbledore asked.
"Indeed, Albus; it is." Snape said, smirking to himself.
"You never do change, do you?" McGonagall muttered. "And what happens when he accidentally kills this Bane?"
"I sincerely doubt that shall happen; when all is said and done, he is quite the responsible young man." Snape informed her. "Or hadn't you heard what occurred when he managed to knock a stag's block off? Why, it took his pet centaur a week to persuade him to trust himself to lift her again!"
"Severus, you're not the only one who's quite fond of Harry, and-"
"I am not at all fond of that dratted dragon!"
"Severus Snape, stop lying to yourself. It doesn't become you." McGonagall said, making Snape feel like a naughty first-year again.
"Dash it Minerva! I want to hate that wretched lizard! I'd love to hate James bloody Potter's bloody spawn!"
Everyone went quiet, looking at Snape, and he felt his face twisting up into a grimace.
"But," he concluded with an aggravated sniff, "I quite inexplicably do not, and not merely because he represents a chance for a more-or-less peaceful resolution to the goals I have been working towards my entire life."
"You really think he'll manage to stop the Ministry's bigotry?" Flitwick boggled.
"Indeed I do, Fillius. You've recognised his kindly nature; how, precisely, do you believe he would respond to the facts?"
Murphy is a cruel but fair overlord.
He makes no exception to his Law; it is enforced without pity or discrimination. Young, old, rich, poor – none are safe, regardless of species or identity.
Sometimes, Murphy appears to take great glee in smacking down anyone and anything that gets cocky.
And thus it was that, as a small party of centaur warriors positioned themselves so as to be able to observe the clear ground across the river from the Great Wyrm's lair without themselves being observed, Harry was just finishing getting ready to try out that present Mr Snape had given him.
The fact that Bane was among that group of centaurs is, in hindsight, seemingly inevitable; after all, whoever you are, Murphy knows where you live.
As soon as he realised what was going on, Bane completely forgot what Celestine had said and saw red.
Seizing up a stout bludgeon, the towering centaur stallion went storming out of the bushes and made a bee-line for where some wretched human brat was treating his precious daughter as a mere beast of burden! He'd show the little bastard who not to mess with!
As he bore down on them, he barely noticed the human brat going, "HEY!" or the 'mglrph!' noise and warding gestures made by his daughter, but he did notice when he abruptly found himself no longer looming over a small human.
Instead, he was now nose-to-nose with the largest, scaliest and most unutterably dangerous-looking creature he had ever seen in his LIFE, and the warnings Celestine had been yelling suddenly registered – but it registered too late; all of a sudden he was no longer holding the cudgel. Rather, he was skidding along the forest floor with his ears ringing, no longer able to discern important things like what day it was, which planets were ascendant, or what way might possibly be up.
Peeling himself off the ground, he once again found himself nose-to-nose with the hot end of the Great Wyrm.
It was inhaling very, very deeply.
That was when he heard his daughter shout, "Please don't kill him!" and the Great Wyrm paused.
"... Oh. Um, well he kinda jumped out and tried to get me - are you sure he ain't some sort of knight?" it asked.
Odd. It sounded almost like some sort of a colt?
"Well, he wasn't one of those the last time I saw him." Suze told the Great Wyrm, coming and standing beside it. She still had those demeaning human-made things on her but, oddly, her manner didn't speak of someone who felt particularly demeaned and she no longer had that thing in her mouth.
"Are you sure? I still haven't figured out what knights smell like but the way they're described everywhere they've gotta smell like armpits and horse, and since all those books are so wrong about dragons I thought they might be wrong about what knights look like too." It peered at Bane from very close range, extending it's alarming quantity of neck so as to do so. "You're not a knight, are you?"
"No!" Bane declared, resolving to cease to attempt to stand up until everything stopped spinning.
"Oh, then you're just a big bully." the Great Wyrm stated, still glaring. "Well if you try to pick on my damsel I'll sit on you until you wee yourself!"
"Harry..." Suze said. "This is my father."
"... oh." the Great Wyrm said. "Are you sure? I mean, I've heard kids and their dads are supposed to look like each other at least some, I mean, Dudley looks really like his dad, and you don't look anything like this big meanie."
"She looks like her mother." Bane said, starting to get the woolly feeling out of his mind.
"Please be quiet, Father. You've done enough damage for today." When in the name of Mars had Suze become so... well, so outspoken?
"Damage?" Bane blankly asked. "The only one that is damaged is I!"
"Well it's not my fault you came at me with a big hitting stick like some sort of knight or something! I thought you were trying to slay me!" the Great Wyrm snapped, sounding oddly defensive.
"And you are the one who treats my daughter as a common riding beast!"
"It's fun and she says she thinks so too!"
"You disrespectful-" Bane started to bellow, once again starting trying to stagger to his feet, only to freeze up and go silent when Suze slapped him.
She'd been gentle and kindly ever since her first steps. She'd never raised her voice, let alone her hand, to anyone before.
The slap left him sitting, eyes wide, on the forest floor with his jaw slack.
"Father, the Great Wyrm is one score and four summers of age. He is a child, Father, and I will not stand for you to raise your voice to him for a child's games."
Bane opened and closed his mouth several times.
"... we had thought he would eat you." he said, utterly befuddled. "... when will he return you to us?"
"It's not my fault you're a poo-poo head!" the Great Wyrm declared, levelling a truly fearsome glare at Bane. "And it's not my fault you don't know anything about dragons! I don't eat things that politely ask me not to eat them and I never have and I never will! And you gave her to me even though you thought I was going to eat her so I don't see why I should give her back just because you were wrong and silly because it's obvious that you don't care any about her, you don't even care if she's gonna get eated, and that's not fair!"
Bane, eyes bulging, prepared to blow his lid at the mere suggestion that he didn't care for his daughter's wellfare – but a warning sound and raised hand from Magorain deflated him.
"This is neither place nor time, son." the old centaur growled.
"... very well."
Magorain turned his attention to the Great Wyrm, to whom he inclined his head.
"I apologise for my son's outburst; he frequently acts without first thinking."
The Great Wyrm didn't reply to that, so Magorain kept talking.
"We meant no offence in our actions; the ancient writings foretold of a time that the Great Wyrms, such as yourself, would return to this world, bringing with them the eldest of magics; perhaps the timing of those prophecies was in error, for they predicted your coming to occur some four score winters hence at the shortest night. The ancient writings foretold that the Great Wyrm would have a great hunger for the flesh of maidens; when we sighted you dwelling upon the fringes of our lands, we feared you might perchance have come to destroy us."
"... I guess that's another book that doesn't get it right about dragons." the Great Wyrm said, seeming mightily perplexed. "And, um, I think they kinda had all that stuff about magic backwards because I became a dragon last year at midsummer when the moon just came up and those lie-line thingies went all glowy when that happened."
"Hmm; we must look to the stars to discern the meanings of these omens."
"Father, why are you-" Bane started, but Magorain interrupted him.
"Bane. We gifted her to the Great Wyrm, for better or for worse. Let it rest; what's done is done, and naught can change it. It transpires that we were mistaken as to what he wishes of her; who knows what other misinterpretations of the ancient writings still remain to be found?"
"... that, I cannot say." Bane admitted, then directed his best father-glower (the one that'd always make lusty young stallions quaver) at the Great Wyrm. "Just do not dare to mistreat her, Wyrm, or I swear upon my life there shall be a reckoning, though I know not how."
"Okay." the Great Wyrm said. "And you mustn't pick on her neither or I swear I'll sit on your head!"
"Peace, Great One, peace." Magorain said, and Bane was frankly quite astonished when the Great Wyrm reacted to that like any colt would have to a warning word from the great centaur cheiftain.
"... sorry. He, um, he just kinda made me cross."
"He will atone." Magorain stated, giving Bane a commanding side-on look. "And naught more will be spoken of young Suze's dwelling within your lair."
"Huh?" the Great Wyrm asked, sounding a bit blank.
"Chieftain Magorian means I'm to stay with you, Harry, no matter what my father might think upon the subject." Suze told the Great Wyrm.
"Well it isn't like anyone could make me send you away." the Great Wyrm told her. "You're nice and I'd really miss you if you weren't here."
"I... thank you, Great One." she said, blushing prettily, but Bane didn't really notice; he was busy being absolutely flabbergasted at how very obvious it was, once you knew to look, that the Great Wyrm was a child.
"Great one, would you object if we were to return to our former holdings near to this place?" Magorain asked. "Our current lodgings are frightfully close to the Spider Plague, and the game is poor there."
"Well, since you were here before me it wouldn't really be fair if I tried to make you go away." the Great Wyrm said, sounding thoughtful. "And I won't eat neighbours, that would be rude so you don't gotta worry about that because I'm not a rude dragon, my friend Mrs McGonagall says it's very important to be polite because it doesn't cost you none and it makes everyone's day nicer."
"... I see." Magorain said.
"And if you've got neighbours who aren't poo-poo heads," and here the Great Wyrm gave Bane a meaningful look, "It's a very good thing because that means you might be able to be friends with them and friends are the best thing ever, well, apart from treasures and damsels that is because a dragon who hasn't got treasures and damsels isn't a proper dragon." It's expression turned wistful. "I guess it'd be nice to have more people to talk with... my friends down at Hogwarts are so busy so much of the time..."
Was this daunting behemoth in fact merely a lonely child?
"Father... are you quite certain that this is a wise idea?" Bane asked. He and the scouting party were now jogging back towards the lodgings where they had dwelt since the Great Wyrm's coming to the forest, and he was pretty certain that every part of his body ached.
"Nay, Bane, I am not." Magorain stated. "But what choice have we? It is merely a matter of time before the Spider Plague is to discover our current lodgings, and we do not have the strength of arms to fight them off from such a poor defensive position, especially one so hazardously close to their lair."
Bane sighed and nodded. Their holdings at the side of the Great River had been a supremely defensible position against all but assault from the air – existing on the spur of land between Loch Hogwarts and the gully through which the Great River flowed, it had been approachable only via one direction as spiders, even the monstrosities that had dwelt in the depths of the forest since prior to Bane's birth, could not swim – then the Great Wyrm had come, and they had fled.
The Black Woods Clan had been caught between a rock and a hard place – and they still were, but now the rock seemed to be somewhat less hostile than expected.
If that mighty wyrm had wished for the flavour of centaur meat, surely Suze would have been devoured long ago? Or was it some elaborate scheme to ensure a ready supply of tender centaur flesh?
Just as Bane was thinking that, the thing all of the Black Woods Clan dreaded occurred – members of the Spider Plague dropped from the trees around them, spitting trails of web; half the centaur's number were ensnared in an instant, and those fell beasts closed fast on the remainder in a seemingly-endless wave of chitin and innumerable limbs.
"LEAVE MY DAMSEL'S DADDY ALONE, YOU BIG CREEPY MEANIES!"
Following that unexpected bellow, a thunderous jet of blue-white fire rippled across the clearing, striking the biggest Spider dead centre and, with a terrible stench of burning hair, searing clean through and leaving naught but glowing cinders.
"AND HER GRANDPA TOO!"
Bane's eyes threatened to burst from their sockets as the Great Wyrm crashed into the fray like a living landslip, slamming another of the Spider Plague from it's web with a mighty forepaw and rendering the fell beast naught but battered scraps of flesh; by all the stars, he'd been fortunate indeed to survive a blow from those talons!
"AND HER FRIENDS!"
The Wyrm issued another blast of that shattering flame from betwixt it's jaws, and Bane would ever after swear he saw shimmering rings of greater intensity rippling throughout the jet of beautiful but deadly fire... (6)
... and then, all of a sudden, the Spider Plague was fleeing.
"Mmm, tastes like scrunchy chicken in diesel, yummy!"
... was the Great Wyrm EATING a Spider?!?
Bane decided that maybe Great Wyrms weren't such a bad thing after all.
As summer turned to autumn, bringing with it yet more rain and piles of dead leaves to jump in, and the students returned to Hogwarts, leading to less company from Harry's friends at the castle, the cook-fires returned to the headland between river and loch; by the time the Winter Solstice revels came round, the Black Woods Clan were almost used to the coming and going of the Great Wyrm, whether in the cute-but-hyper small human-looking colt shape or as several tons of somewhat unnerving scales and muscle.
In his human-looking shape, he was as agile as a mountain goat; in his true shape, he was like a gale and a landslip and a river in full spate all rolled into one. In both, he was cheerful, usually excited, playful, enthusiastic, helpful, full of questions, completely fearless, and energetic to a degree that rapidly exhausted anyone past five score summers, yet he was always almost exaggeratedly careful that nobody got hurt.
He'd swiftly taken to listening in with evident interest when the elders taught the Clan's children, and once they'd stopped being nervous around him (somewhat before their parents) he'd taken to joining in with their games – or inviting them to join in with his. The language of childhood play is near-universal, whether it involves myriad variants of chase (to which the centaur children all declared it wasn't fair that Harry could get up trees) or games along the lines of cops-and-robbers / cowboys-and-indians / playing soldiers / whatever local variant proves popular in whichever time period but essentially boils down to running around brandishing make-believe weapons and declaring, "Pow! Pow! You're dead!", "No I'm not!", "Yes you are!" etc.
The Great Wyrm had introduced the children to the 'Cowboys and Indians' and 'Playing Soldiers' versions of the eternal baddies-versus-goodies childhood games, and with it the horrors of cap guns and sucking-cup arrows acquired by said Wyrm from the toy-shop in the wandless human town of Mallaig. Bane wasn't sure that this could possibly be a good thing, but every time he started getting angry at the way the youngsters were trampling on tradition, he remembered that it was now a full season since the last time the Clan had lost a warrior to the Spider Plague, and that it was the Great Wyrm's enthusiastic friendship that was presenting a glimmer of hope for the future to the once-beleaguered Black Woods Clan.
Why, they hadn't seen the Spiders attempt to assail their defences in a full season, not since the time at summer's end that the Plague had attacked en mass, and the Great Wyrm had proceeded to gorge itself upon the corpses of the fell beasts.
He wasn't really sure when standing sentinel here – the bluff that allowed one to view the sole approach to the Home Glade – had gone from a matter of tense sentry duty to something merely a matter of form, but the thought that it showed that the Great Wyrm had taught the Spiders true fear brought a grimly satisfied smile to Bane's face.
Everyone in the Black Woods Clan had lost siblings to those fell beasts. Bane, and the twins – his younger brothers Firenze and Ronan – were the only sons of Magorian who still lived, and before the coming of the Spiders the old chieftain had called ten sturdy warriors son.
It seemed reprehensible that the changing of times could perhaps be a good thing, but Bane had never been one to shy away from the vicissitudes of truth, he mused as he steadfastly pretended to ignore the way most of the children of the Clan were sprawled in a snoozing played-to-exhaustion heap near the bonfire at the centre of the village behind him along with the Great Wyrm, the immense heat of it's massive body warming the little ones as they slept peacefully around that mountain of muscle and scale – when it came down to it, those little children were in perhaps the safest place they would ever know, for Bane held no doubt that if any were to seek to harm his playmates, the Great Wyrm's wrath would be terrible to behold – it was indeed a mighty protector.
In the end, it mattered not. The Black Woods Clan owed the Great Wyrm a debt of gratitude, of blood unspilt, and that Wyrm would be welcome among them until the stars grew old and dim.
He let his gaze stray to the stars a moment, examining their positions as he glimpsed them between the scudding clouds as he struggled to discern what message they might be sending him.
"Venus is bright this eve." That was his younger brother, Firenze.
"But Mars is rising." Bane said. "And the North Star shines strong."
"I will stand the rest of this watch, brother." Firenze told him. "You have stood all too many of late – go to the fires and partake of a little warmth."
Sighing, Bane rose to his feet, gave his little brother a companionably clout on the shoulder, and jogged back towards home, Wyrm, strong drink, good cheer, and strange portents of things to come.
The Wyrm was, he noted, awake, and listening raptly as Magorian told the eldest saga of them all; the tale of the birth into bondage of the Centaurs, of Alpharias He-Who-Is-First-Among-Brothers, of the War in Heaven, of the fading of the Old Ones, of the disappearance of the Sun Elves, and of the once-unfamiliar taste of freedom. It was told once per year, at the Solstice, yet all knew it by heart.
He accepted a stein of mead from a comely lass – one of his nieces, Firenze's eldest – and settled himself close to the Great Wyrm as Magorian drew to a close.
"And thus, it was, and thus shall be, until the lines awaken and the blue fires light the sky and the Great Ones return to our world." the old centaur finished.
"These times are upon us, are they not?" Ronan asked.
"Perhaps." Magorian said. "I believe so. When spring comes, our Clan shall host the Great Conclave and we shall see."
"It is indeed an interesting time to be alive." Ronan said.
"Our kin from the furthest east would tell you that to live in interesting times is a curse." Bane remarked.
"Yet does not joy hold the root of sorrow, and sorrow the root of joy?" Celestine asked.
"Perhaps." Bane allowed.
"Then perhaps a blessing might hold the root of a curse, and a curse the root of a blessing." Celestine pushed.
"Our Eastern kin look too closely to their navels." Ronan said.
"Perhaps." Bane agreed. "They pay too little heed to the stars."
"Bane may have a point." Magorian said. "Mars had shone strongly these last few nights, but Venus grants us her light by evening and the North Star is strong."
"That means that a time of lots of strife is coming, and there's humans involved, but there's hope in it, doesn't it Mr Magorian?" the Great Wyrm asked.
"You have listened well to the Elders, young Great One. Aye; that would seem to be what is to come. I cannot say with more certainty as we have not had a truly clear night in half a season."
"But enough of this heavy talk, Father." Ronan said. "This is the longest night; let us warm it!"
"I concur." Bane said. "We have been all too solemn of late."
"Then let the revel commence." Magorian said, smiling his approval.
Christmas, following hard behind the longest night, had been the most wonderful Christmas Harry could remember. Apparently all his friends at the castle had been busy until the kids who couldn't go home for Christmas had gone to bed, and then they'd met up at Hagrid's house for a special private Christmas.
(Present-counting had been right out. Harry still didn't want to be Dudleyish.)
He'd mostly got treasure for Christmas and he'd been really glad Mrs McGonagall helped him get Christmas presents for all his friends, the way Mr Snape struggled to not look delighted when he saw the flask of big-spider poison was really cool and so was the way Mr Dumbledore went all twinkly-eyed at the all sorts of sweets. There hadn't been many of his centaur friends came, but that was okay – he understood that most of the centaurs didn't get on with the people at the castle so good because of all that stuff Mr Magorian had said poems about at the solstice and he guessed that was fair enough since it sounded like the glowy people's ancestors had been really mean to centaurs.
(Why would you want to do that? Centaurs were cool!)
Relaxing in his lair, which Mrs McGonagall and Mr Flitwick and Mr Firenze had given him special things for – a big black-and-white fireplace-cooker thingy called a Rayburn from Mrs McGonagall, which was now pumping out warmth as the fire crackled merrily away, a special dragon-sized sort of a bed that fit his hoard from Mr Flitwick, and big-spider-silk hangings from Mr Firenze that worked real good to stop the wind getting in – Harry once again found himself musing on how much better life had been ever since he'd turned into a dragon.
Glowy people were cool, and so were centaurs, but dragons were definitely the coolest. His centaur damsel said that centaurs had to be scared of those big spiders because the big spiders ate centaurs, but because Harry was a dragon he could eat the big spiders and they tasted scrumdiddlyumptious.
He idly picked a piece of something from between his teeth. It seemed to be a bit left over from that huge and yummy Christmas roast Mr Hagrid had found and the little wobbly-eared squeaky people who Mr Snape called house-elves had cooked. It had got tangled in a nice tasty lump of axle that he'd got caught in his teeth, and the mix of prime beef and Toyota axle made for a delicious morsel, just the thing as a before-you-go-to-sleep snack.
He had to admit he was kinda sorry for people who weren't dragons. They'd never know how yummy a Toyota was since they couldn't get their teeth through it.
Yeah, this was definitely life the way it should be lived. He could do with a bigger lair, but that was easy because he just needed to bite off the right bits of rock. He could do with more treasures, but he just needed to find the right rainbows. He could do with more damsels, but he figured they'd come in their own good time.
For now, relaxing on his hoard, his centaur damsel's nice shiny new collar that Mr Snape got her glittering in the dull orangey glow from the Rayburn, in his now toasty-warm lair, with a couple hundred feet of sheer cliff-face to keep knights out and a full belly, Harry was one very contented dragon indeed. (7)
The solstice celebration was a scant few score of days gone and still warming the hearts of the Clan when Bane once again found himself standing watch – and, as usual these days, using it as an excuse to peruse the sky.
He was watching Venus subsume herself into the light of the moon when the Great Wyrm landed nearby.
"Hello, Mr Bane." it said, sitting down beside him.
"Well met, Great One." he replied. He couldn't go allowing the young ones – whatever their kin – to go without learning proper manners.
"Watcha looking at?"
"Venus hides in the light of Selene." he said. "It is a conjunction seldom seen, and it's meaning is thus far hidden."
"Oh." The Great Wyrm said. "Y'know, I'd really like to go there one day but I'm not really sure if I could fly high enough."
"To the moon. The not-glowy-people flew rockets to the moon. They had to wear these big puffy white things called space-suits so they didn't go squish because there's no air up there, and they called going there 'Apollo'."
"A fitting name." Bane said, astonished that the wandless humans had enough respect to grant such a portentous title to the grand endeavour that travel to the moon must have been.
"Yeah. I think it's kinda cool that they give really good names to space missions."
"Indeed. Travel such as that you speak of must be a tremendous undertaking indeed, and it bodes well to grant it a title of such strength."
"I dunno really. But it must've been really special to be up there looking down and seeing all the world like a treasure in the sky."
"I cannot begin to imagine what it must have looked like..." Bane admitted. "So, what brings you here this night?"
"There's something I wanted to show you." the Great Wyrm said.
"And what might that be?"
The Great Wyrm's form flowed swiftly as ever. Bane was used to seeing it – the Great Wyrm often popped from one shape to another as the mood took it.
But this was the first time he'd seen it take a shape other than human or Wyrm.
Standing near the edge of the bluff was a centaur colt, looking to be perhaps one score and three summers of age, with features much like those the Great Wyrm wore when wearing the shape of a human.
"... remarkable." Bane said.
"... um, you ain't gonna be angry, right?"
"Of course not." Bane said.
"... well, Mr Snape kinda thought you might get a bit, um, annoyed."
"Your choosing the form of Centaur merely assures me that at least some of the old writings are correct and Great Wyrms are truly wise beings."
"... huh? I don't get it."
"Do not worry yourself about that, lad." Bane said, briefly wincing at the way the Great Wyrm's form had effected him. "Your friends shall soon be done with their classes; perhaps they might wish to play?"
"Oh, yeah, it's that kinda time isn't it? Bye, Mr Bane!"
As the currently-centaur-shaped Great Wyrm jogged away, Bane stifled a wry smile and head-shake.
Children were still children, regardless of the form they wore.
With Christmas naught but a fond memory, winter turned to spring, bringing the equinox and the related revel, and summer came bearing swiftly behind.
One day in May, Severus Snape arrived at Harry's lair bearing a most puzzling message from someone called Mr Slackhammer, cordially inviting (whatever that meant) Harry and Snape to attend a meeting at Gringotts Merchant Bank in Diagon Alley, London, to discuss greatly important matters of business that might prove 'most lucrative' not that Harry was quite sure what that meant either though he figured it might involve treasure.
And thus it was that he, currently in his human-shape body, was trotting up the broad steps of the grand building called Gringotts, having to hurry to keep up with Mr Snape's long strides.
He wasn't sure why Mr Snape had insisted he wear a headband, but oh well, Mr Snape seldom roared about stuff that wasn't important. Nor was he entirely sure why Mr Snape insisted he look like a human and not bring Suze, but that was okay, this shape was kinda cramped but the hands were handy, and Suze hadn't wanted to come anyway.
He was puzzled indeed when the pair of what Mr Snape said were goblins (they were doing the sentry thingy by the door to the Gringotts building) saluted him.
"Hi." he said; Mr Snape had said it was very important to be polite to goblins. They didn't reply; they just stood there looking very upright and stiff and attentive and guard-like. They reminded him of those soldiers in the red jackets and big fuzzy black hats at the Queen's palace in London, except those guys weren't goblin-shaped and had different clothes and had big guns instead of big axe-spear thingies.
"Leave them be, young man." Mr Snape admonished. "They are professional soldiers and they have a duty to fulfil."
The duo of resplendently uniformed goblins didn't so much as blink. It was kinda impressive how still they could stand.
Once inside, they ended up in a queue, and Harry could tell that these goblins had the right sort of idea seeing as how there was gold EVERYWHERE, but wouldn't it be better in a proper hoard than on the wall?
He knew that was a look of faint surprise on Mr Snape's face when a goblin wearing a sharp suit came over and, having received confirmation that he was speaking to Mr Snape and Mr Potter, ushered them into a side room off the side of where goblins were doing bank-type stuff for varied glowy people.
The room they were show into was a comfortably-appointed office, with a huge desk in the middle covered in important-looking paperwork; a goblin dressed like an old fashioned gentleman was seated behind the desk, and immediately stood up when he saw who the goblin with the sharp suit was showing in.
"Your guests, Mr Vice-Manager."
"Aha, Mr Snape, Mr Potter, come in, do."
"Thankyou, Mr...?" Mr Snape said.
"Slackhammer, Crackjaw Slackhammer. Take a seat, gentlemen; there is much to discuss." the goblin in the suit with ruffly bits said, returning to his.
"Indeed? And what, might I enquire, would this business pertain to?"
"Ah, Severus... do you object to my usage of your first name?" the goblin enquired, his grin somewhat shark-like. "It appears that your formula for the materials of high-temperature cauldrons, based upon My Lord's quite remarkable interior, has fallen into muggle hands."
"Um, am I in trouble?" Harry asked.
"Oh dear." Mr Snape said.
"Yes; most unfortunate." Slackhammer agreed with a sad commiserating little nod. "It seems that a group of colonial muggles going by the term 'National Aeronautics and Space Administration' have expressed quite the interest in your formula, Severus my dear fellow."
"And what kind of an interest might that be?" Mr Snape asked.
"What Mr Snape said." Harry agreed, nodding.
"It appears that the muggles have contrived a method of catapulting an object so far up that there isn't air there any more and things forget which way is down; I understand that it entails placing the object in question on top of a very large pile of explosive materials and making it go boom." Slackhammer explained.
"You mean like spacemen and moon-rockets and stuff?" Harry asked.
"Indeed; I am of course speaking of spaceflight." the goblin agreed, inclining his head to the Great Wyrm. "And it transpires that when things are dropped from such an astounding height they become quite prodigiously hot."
"... and must thus be protected from the heat, correct?" Mr Snape checked, obviously starting to get the idea. "Otherwise, they will burn to a flinder, correct?"
"Indeed, Severus; indeed." Slackhammer confirmed with a nod. "It appears that their finest exo-atmospheric vehicles have to date utilised a silicate material as a coating; this material performs superbly under heat, but is quite fragile to physical impact and is thus prone to damage, and must frequently be replaced. It is also quite startlingly expensive." From what Mr Snape had said, if a goblin called something 'startlingly expensive', you knew it really cost a pile.
"So stuff made how Mr Snape copied my guts is cheaper, right?" Harry checked.
"These muggle space-men believe that coating their vehicles in Mr Snape's formula," Slackhammer elaborated, "Based upon your internal workings, My Lord, would reduce the costs per launch of their exo-atmospheric vehicles by a substantial margin; they would gladly pay for the honour of utilising a copy of your entrails to coat their vehicles, and pay to the tune of a thousand Galleons per hundredweight used. I am given to believe that the material in question will prolong the projected lifespan of their 'orbiters' by at least a decade, and quite possibly hasten the completion of the improved successor vehicles that they are, in fact, designing around the substance in question."
"So they want to use a copy of my tummy to coat spaceships, huh?" Harry asked, gobsmacked. "That's... well, that's WICKED!"
"I propose that the three of us become business partners within this, ah, endeavour, shall we say?" Mr Snape suggested. "To me it falls to uncover further improvements upon this substance and others, to Mr Potter it falls to inspire said improvements through his remarkable biology, and to you, Mr Slackhammer, falls the distribution and production financing of these remarkably profitable materials; I suppose we should split the profits three ways, eh Mr Slackhammer?"
"I'm good with that." Harry said, nodding, visions of great big gleaming stacks of gold and treasure filling his mind's eye; he almost expected there to be an audible KA-CHING cash register noise as he remembered that one of the TV programs Dudley used to watch said that there were tons of just paint on a space rocket.
Slackhammer's grin got even broader.
"It seems to me, gentlemen," the dapper goblin remarked, "That everyone within this room is about to become quite astoundingly rich."
It was about two weeks after the meeting with Mr Slackhammer, and Harry and Suze were enjoying the morning sun on the bluff opposite Harry's lair when Suze noticed something; she had a cautious peer, frowning a bit.
"Whatcha seeing, Suze?"
"Harry, there's someone on top of the cliffs." She said. "I think it's a human and it, um, seems to be watching us."
"Well I'd better go make sure it's not a knight then." Harry said. "Back in a mo!"
With that said, he shot off the ground and made a direct course for the top of the cliffs above his lair, where he landed with a thump.
There was indeed a man up there, and back the ways a bit a tent was set up. The man had one squinty eye that seemed to be looking at his nose, and had lots of straggly white hair with a receding hairline. He was wearing the most absurdly bright-coloured overcoat Harry had ever seen.
"Oh dear!" the man declared.
"Hi, what're you doing up here?" Harry asked. "You're not a knight, are you?"
""Oh, I say, a talking dragon? Remarkable! I'm searching for the habitat of the species Haggii Scotia Trundlus, also known as the Three-Toed Mountain Haggis, quite a delicious species in fact, and no, I'm not a knight, I'm a zoologist. Er, um, you're not intending to devour me, I hope?"
"Oh, no, I don't devour things that politely ask me no to devour them."
"Oh, well, that's a relief then and I'd be quite grateful if you didn't devour me, eh? I say, are you by any chance a member of the species Draconis Majoris Tricornae, popularly known as the Three-Horned Hammer-Nosed Dragon?" the man asked.
"Well, I'm not really sure, y'know, I've been trying to work out what sort of dragon I am for absolutely ages – um, what do Three-Horned Hammer-Nosed Dragons eat? Coz I'm the only sort of dragon I can think of that likes the taste of Toyota axles."
"I cannot say for certain." the man said, producing a notebook. "The dietary habits of the Three-Horned Hammer-Nosed Dragon are as yet unknown partially because nobody's ever seen a living Three-Horned Hammer-Nosed Dragon, we only know of them from a single example of a fossilised skull, and I must say their cranial structure bears a striking resemblance to your own, the layout of your horns and structure around your eye sockets is quite distinctive. I have no idea how in the world fossilisation managed to transform a skull to orihalcum, but that's quite besides the point."
"Orihalcum, huh? Hey, I think I maybe am that sort of dragon!" Harry declared, positively delighted. "Because that's what my bones are made out of!"
"Remarkable, remarkable!" the man declared, proceeding to frantically scribble notes. "Perhaps your species has some genetic relationship to the drake-dog, maybe a member of the same phyla...? I say, would you mind if I were to ask a few questions concerning your eating habits, behavioural tendencies, preferred habitat, that sort of thing? Just out of, out of professional curiosity, you see, I confess to having been quite fascinated by the examination of the skull of an apparent member of your species published in the Journal of Cryptozoological Studies some years ago."
"Well, me being here is sort of a secret, so only if you promise not to tell anyone where I am or what my name is." Harry said.
"Well, that wouldn't be a problem, as you are a member of a species that can readily be presumed endangered it does of course behove me to keep your territorial range strictly confidential, and as I cannot say I know your name it would be rather difficult for me to tell anyone, wouldn't it?"
"Oh, yeah, well, I guess, but just between you and me my name's Harry Potter." Harry said.
"And I am Xenophillius Lovegood, but everyone seems to refer to me as 'Odd' and I can't really say why... hmm, are you perchance named for the famous Harry Potter? You know, the Boy-Who-Lived? Or is he perchance named for you?"
"Well, I dunno." Harry admitted. "I mean, Mr Dumbledore seems to think there's something important about me and according to 'The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts' someone with the same name and scar as me who was born same time as me squished that Voldey-morts guy and I almost think I'm him but, y'know, I thought I got my scar in a car crash."
"Hmm, most intriguing, but, well, according to on-the-scene reports the Boy-Who-Lived is a member of the species Homo Sapiens Sapiens, popularly known as the human race." Odd said, making another note. "And, well, not to be rude or anything but how in Merlin's name did you fit within a car? You're the size of one! Was it a very stretchy car?"
"Uh, well, no, y'see, that was before I turned into a dragon, I used to be a human."
"Turned into... Remarkable! That must have been a truly exceptional event, I cannot ever recall mention of a human somehow becoming a dragon of any species, and to become a member of a species thought extinct...! Extraordinary! What did it feel like?" Odd enthused, rapidly writing.
"I dunno, I'd banged my head on a rock and by the time I woke up I'd finished turning into a dragon and was too busy being hungry to notice what it felt like."
"Ah, well that's a shame, it would have been quite fascinating information."
Two hours later, his mind all a whirl from the million-and-one questions, Harry landed by the Home Glade, finding one very worried Suze pacing around and intermittently glancing at the angle of the sun as she waited.
"Harry! Is everything okay? That human wasn't a knight, was he? He didn't hurt you or anything, did he? Are we gonna have to move?"
"... um, no, he was a zoologist called Odd Lovegood." Harry said, rather taken aback.
"Oh thank Selene! Don't do that to me, Harry! I was worried!" she declared, firmly hugging his neck.
Bane, who'd been lounging in the sun nearby, was thereafter presented with the startling sight of his slender-and-lovely daughter sternly telling several tons of dragon off while said dragon acted like a colt who'd been caught out late after dusk.
His brain half-melted, the usually-stern centaur beat a hasty retreat.
Two weeks later, picking up his copy of the latest issue of his favourite source of unintentional comedy, Severus Snape spent nearly a minute staring blankly at the photograph emblazoned across the cover of said issue of 'The Quibbler' and then said, "Oh fucking hell."
Then he'd jammed it into the inside pocket of his robes and was hastening towards Dumbledore's office.
"Ah, Severus, what's the rush?" Dumbledore asked, popping a lemon drop.
By way of an answer, Snape handed over his copy of the Quibbler.
The cover photograph on the conspiracy-theory-and-weirdness magazine showed Harry, in dragon form and wearing one of his attempts at a friendly smile, against a background of heather and rock. Emblazoned above that was, 'INTERVIEW WITH THE DRAGON'.
"... oh dear."
"That's a touch milder than my thought on the subject, Albus."
"Yes, well, I'm more polite than you are." Dumbledore said, leafing through and having a quick read.
"How much trouble has the wretched lizard caused?" Snape asked.
"Didn't you read it?"
"I came straight here the moment I saw the cover."
"Ah, well, there's no mention of location or Harry's identity. However, the editorial appears to contain some hints and speculation that, reading between the lines, would give the game away. And," Dumbledore grimaced, "I must say Odd is quite cunning for a lunatic; he's arranged it so that the last letter of each line in the article about Harry, if read from last to first, spells out 'This dragon is named Harry Potter; the Boy-Who-Lived is missing. Coincidence? I think not.' It's a shame Odd's so crazy; he'd be brilliant if he was sane."
"Why that..." Snape skidded to a halt before his rant had even started. This was Odd Lovegood they were talking about. The man lived and breathed conspiracy theories and rumours; this would be like a red rag to a hippogriff to the eccentric old bungler.
Instead, he said, "I believe we'd better have a discussion with that dratted dragon on the subject of journalists and why it is a prudent idea to avoid them."
"But he said he's a zoologist and I think that means someone who knows lots and lots of stuff about all sorts of animals!" Harry complained, sounding a touch defensive.
"Odd Lovegood you... you... you..." Snape muttered, rapidly shaking his head.
"Some people are... not entirely honest, Harry." Dumbledore said. "Sad as it is. Odd Lovegood is indeed a zoologist, and that does indeed mean someone who studies living creatures of all kinds, but his income comes through a magazine he publishes."
"A magazine primarily composed of wild rumours and conspiracy theory." Snape added. "He is... a little addled."
"But oddly brilliant, in his peculiar way." Dumbledore put in.
"What was Odd doing up there anyway?" Flitwick asked.
"Well, he said he was looking for the habitat of the three-toed mountain haggis. What's a haggis? Is it tasty?"
"Och well," McGonagall said, "The wild haggis is a terribly difficult creature to find, they only come out at night and they live very high up in the mountains. That's why their legs are longer on one side than the other, it's so they can stay upright when they're running round the side of a mountain; to catch a haggis, you have to get it to turn round so it looses it's balance and rolls down the mountain into a carefully-placed net."
"Really Minerva, stop having the poor boy on." Snape complained, glaring at her.
"... huh?" Harry asked, bewildered.
"A haggis," Snape explained, "Is a dish of Scottish origin, prepared from the less-than-appetising portions of a sheep, mixed with oatmeal and spices and then cooked inside the sheep's stomach lining; the Scottish have all manner of shaggy dog stories to tell in an attempt to confuse the unwitting and English."
"Och well, that's what they want you to think." McGonagall remarked.
"Drat it, Minerva! Can't you see the boy's getting confused?"
"Mrs McGonagall, can I get a haggis? It sounds tasty." Harry said.
"Of course, laddie, I'll arrange ye tha finest haggis in aw Scotland, whi' neeps an' tatties an' aw!" McGonagall told him, positively delighted at this interest in the heritage of the beautiful land he now called home. "It'll be Burns Nicht aye soon, we'll mak a proper nicht o' it!"
"... oh God, why'd you have to set her off?" Snape groaned.
"Awa whi' yeh, Sev'rus, yeh wee chewchter."
"Minerva, I am still quite unable to comprehend a word of your native accent; would you please oh please stick to the Queen's English while speaking to those of us not of Scottish descent?"
Perhaps a month after the incident with Odd Lovegood's magazine, in late July, Harry found himself driven to return to Diagon Alley, primarily because he'd run out of books he hadn't read, it was hours till anyone was going to come up from the castle, he was bored, and he felt like it.
Mr Snape had left what he called a two-way portkey behind, in the form of an old brick, and since he'd shown Harry how to set it off (since Harry had asked) well, that meant an easy way to get to and from Diagon Alley.
"What're you doing, Harry?" Suze asked. She'd been kinda clingy since that thing with Mr Lovegood.
"Well I'm bored and all the others are busy and it's ages till anyone's gonna come up from the castle and I haven't got anything to read so I reckon I'm gonna go buy some books in Diagon Alley." Harry said.
"I think I'd better come with you."
And thus it was that the two of them – human-form Harry and Suze – found themselves wandering, somewhat lost, down the main street in Diagon Alley, when an unpleasent (not to mention unwelcome) voice came from behind:
"Boy! Why is your pet not on a leash?"
With a growl that carried over surprisingly well from his dragon form Harry
answered, "She is not my pet, she's my damsel." as he whirled round.
"She's your what? Never mind, filthy beasts like that should not be loose in the
Alley," the squat toad-like woman in the pink dress croaked as she drew her wand, an action that was repeated by the three nondescript men who were following her.
He almost flamed. He almost changed back into dragon shape – but Mr Snape, Mr Dumbledore, Mrs McGonagall and Mr Slackhammer had all been quite adamant that, although there would be a time for him to reveal his true nature, that wouldn't be for a while yet. He wasn't sure why, but just about everyone he respected who wasn't a centaur said so, and he figured he'd take their word for it until he was sure of what the deal was.
So that left him with only one real option here.
"Run Suze!" He grabbed her hand and bolted for Gringotts, the bit of his immense draconian strength that showed in his human shape half-dragging her along behind him.
Suze immediately cottoned on to what little plan he had, and used the hand he was holding to heft him onto her back as she burst into a full-tilt gallop straight into the cluster of wand-brandishing wizards, bowling them over like tenpins.
She didn't slow down until they were inside of the bank and half a dozen halberd-brandishing smartly-uniformed goblins got in the way, the very pointy sharp-looking spikes on top of the halberds forcing her to skid to an abrupt halt.
"We gotta hide, there's crazy glowy people and they wanna do something nasty to Suze and we gotta talk to Mr Slackhammer!" Harry declared.
The doors crashed open behind them, and the pink toad-woman and a bunch of glowy people in blue overcoats came barging in, only to skid to a halt just as abruptly when they too found themselves looking down the business ends of halberds; there were now dozens of uniformed goblins swarming into the bank's opulent foyer, quickly separating Harry and Suze from the people who'd been chasing them.
Most of the swarm were wearing drab green in place of the red-and-white ceremonial uniforms, and were armed with weapons quite different to the halberds held by those standing watch; out of almost everyone at the scene, only Harry immediately recognised them for what they were – guns. Hefty great Army-looking things of a type he'd seen in pictures in one of the not-glowy-people history books Mrs McGonagall had got for him – specifically, the book about the war in the Falklands.
"Easy, you maggots!" bellowed a large and exceptionally ferocious-looking goblin who seemed to have traded his rifle-or-halberd in for a sword and an unnecessarily large pistol, and who was resplendently dressed in what Harry recognised as the dress uniform of a goblinish Sergeant-Major. "That's the feller Vice-Chairman Slackhammer's been conducting business with!"
Much to Harry's relief, the goblins immediately stopped pointing their weapons at him and Suze, saluted Harry, saluted the Sergeant-Major, and joined in with pointing weapons at the pink toad-woman and the people in the blue overcoats.
"What is the meaning of this! Don't you know who I am?" the pink toad-woman complained, sounding a bit freaked out. "I'm the Secretary of Wizarding Defence and I demand that you immediately turn that filthy animal over to-"
"Are you," the Sergeant-Major roared, abruptly purple with rage as he seemed to inflate at a downright alarming speed, "Personally responsible for a full nine point seven percent increase in Gringotts profit within the last calender month? No, Madam Umbridge, you are not! The young gentleman here, as it so happens, is! Is that quite perfectly clear?"
The pink toad-woman immediately went very pale indeed, and the wizards in the blue overcoats started giving each other worried looks.
"Ah, Great One, if you and your lovely companion would accompany me?" a voice Harry was very glad to hear requested, and turning thataway he found himself looking at Crackjaw Slackhammer.
"What about them, Mr Vice-Chairman, SIR?" the Sergeant-Major bellowed, snapping off a salute before angling a thumb in the direction of the pink toad-woman.
"Politely ask them to vacate the premises, Sergeant-Major."
"And if they don't, Mr Vice-Chairman, SIR?"
"Then it'll be time to be impolite, Sergeant-Major."
"Sir! Yes Sir! At once SIR!" The Sergeant-Major bellowed, saluting again before he whirled round and fixed the goblin soldiers with a ferocious glower. "Allright, you miserable maggots! You heard the Vice-Chairman! JUMP TO IT!"
"SIR!" the swarm of goblins barked. "YES SIR!"
"Gentlemen and lady, please be so kind as to vacate the premises AT ONCE!" Was this goblin capable of not bellowing, and how'd he do that cool inflating thing?
The pink toad-woman and her accompaniment beat a hasty retreat.
"Those miserable..." Umbridge muttered, glancing repeatedly at the doors to Gringotts as she, the three plain-clothes Aurors who'd been accompanying her, and the group of uniformed officers who'd joined them, withdrew.
"All due respect ma'am, but what happened back there?" Auror Dawlish asked.
"Weren't you briefed on 'fire-arms'?" Umbridge snapped.
"... um, should I have been?"
"They're a form of muggle wand." Shacklebolt said, likewise glancing over his shoulder. "They launch a small metal thing so hard and fast it'll go right through a wall and kill the bloke hiding behind the wall."
"... so I take it they're dangerous?" Dawlish asked.
"Very." Umbridge said, thinking back on the briefing she'd received when she was promoted to Secretary of Wizarding Defence. Something about the goblin rebellion of 1899 – information not readily available to the public. Nobody wanted a panic on their hands.
In 1899 after whatever had set those wretched goblins off, the Ministry had as usual expected to be able to kick the doors in, fire off a few spells, slap a few more sanctions on the upstarts and wash their hands of the matter – that was how it'd always gone before.
But it hadn't gone anything like that. Every Auror or Hit-Wizard who'd attempted to storm the bank had died on the receiving end of an infernal (not to mention loud) device of at-the-time unknown origin; shortly after the second attempt to storm the bank, the then-Director of Magical Law Enforcement, along with a guard detail of fifty-five Aurors, had been cut down by a team of five goblins wielding further such contraptions. Based on circulating rumours, Ministry research into the devastating new weapons being wielded by the goblin rebels had revealed said gadgets to be muggle devices known as 'Fire-arms', in specific a single 'Maxim Machine Gun' and a number of 'Lee-Enfield Magazine Rifle'. The astonishing destructive power that tests showed these peculiar contraptions to possess had scared the then-Director of Muggle Relations so badly he'd taken his entire family into hiding; it hadn't been long after that the Ministry sued for peace. That had been the first time in known history that a goblin rebellion had led to, uncomfortable as it may be to say so, a victory for the upstart beasts – and reports from the Unspeakables showed that the goblins had taken to the 'fire-arms' with tremendous (and in fact downright diabolical) enthusiasm.
She'd seen photographs of the 'fire-arms' those goblins had threatened her with. Apparently they were of a type known as 'Ellwunehwun Self Loading Rifle' and although of shorter effective range than the bewildering assortment of 'Lee-Enfield' it could cast it's projectile faster and more accurately than even the finest of duellists – and, like all such 'fire-arms', that projectile flew far too swiftly to be reliably dodged or blocked.
With an attempt at a face-saving sniff, she made tracks for the Ministry.
"Where'd you guys get all the guns, Mr Slackhammer?" Harry asked. "I thought guns were kinda hard to get?"
Slackhammer smiled, a little smugly. "Ah, Milord; that is courtesy of Gringotts' holdings within the muggle world. As it so happens, Gringotts own a small but significant portfolio of stocks in several firearms manufacturing concerns; the Birmingham Small Arms Company, Vickers Defence Systems, Heckler and Koch GmbH, and Fabrique Nationale de Herstal, to name those in which we hold the most substantial interest; as such, it is quite remarkably easy for us to acquire both weapons and munitions whenever we so desire, a situation that has proven quite fortuitous on occasion. I confess that, courtesy of the events of the first quarter of the 1899-1900 financial year, the gun has attained significant cultural meaning within the Goblin Nation, to the point that no goblin with any sense would permit himself to be seen dead without at least one firearm within easy reach, even the ceremonial guards at the doors to this bank bear quite definitely non-ceremonial sidearms concealed upon their persons; it is courtesy of those magnificent devices that we were not utterly subjugated and likely nationalised by the Ministry of Magic almost a century ago."
"I guess that means you've got a gun, right Mr Slackhammer?"
"Naturally; I never permit my Enfield Number 2 Mark 1 to leave my side." the rotund goblin said, withdrawing a nicely-polished revolver from beneath his desk; he showed it to Harry with a proud smile, before returning it to wherever he had it stowed. "It is of course merely one weapon within my private armoury; at my rank within the Goblin Nation one is expected to maintain a fitting collection of weaponry. Our law holds that it is not merely the right of all to bear arms, but in fact the duty of all to be armed and ready to defend the freedom of Gringotts as a corporation and the Goblin Nation as a people; and, frankly, with our less-than-stellar magical gifts, without the gun we would be quite overwhelmed by the ranks of the wizards."
"I know a bow is more accurate, and an arrow flies faster and is deadly at a greater distance than any spell." Suze chirped up. "Is the same true for these 'guns', Mr Vice-Chairman?"
"Quite correct; a competently-trained shooter could put every bullet in a well-maintained revolver into a wizard in the time it would take the wizard to cast but one spell. Their magic does of course have the advantage of versatility; a wand may cure as readily as it may kill, but for the defence of one's home, kin and livelihood, a well-tuned gun is by far the superior weapon. And, no offence young lady, but a gun is significantly more powerful and vastly easier to learn to operate than a bow."
"None taken." Suze said. Today hadn't been the first time she'd found herself wishing her people had invented something with a bit more power behind it than a shortbow.
Slackhammer steepled his fingers. "Hmm... and on that subject Milord, I do believe it might be prudent if we were to acquire you and your charming companion fitting armament, the humble gun scares the gold out of magical law-enforcement and poltroons such as that Umbridge creature for a very good reason after all."
"Y'know, I think that'd be a good idea." Harry said. "And, uh, look, Suze's real good with a bow but I'm kinda wondering if there's better bows than the ones her uncle Ronan makes, not that Mr Ronan's bows are bad bows or anything."
"There are indeed a number of bows of significantly more advanced construction than those made by the centaurs, works of beauty though their traditional armament may be." Slackhammer confirmed. "Hmm... might it be possible for you to grant myself and a small number of my staff permission to visit your home? I can but guess that you lair in a significantly more remote location than here in London, especially considering that you have a centauress for a companion, they are known for their liking of solitude, and it would be better to instruct you in the usage and upkeep of firearms in a secluded place."
"Well, my lair's up the back of the woods behind Hogwarts, I guess you know where that is, right?"
"Naturally." Slackhammer confirmed with a sharp little nod.
"Mr Vice-Chairman, I get the idea with being armed with something that scares the wizards," Suze said, "But isn't there any other way I could accompany Harry to Diagon Alley without some sort of mess like today happening?"
"Hmm... I cannot say for sure. Perhaps one of my family solicitors could advise you on that; a moment..." Slackhammer wrote a quick note, rang a small bell, handed the note to the goblin who immediately popped into the room, said, "Take this to Solicitor Axetalon please, Mr Steelhammer.", nodded his satisfaction when the other goblin rushed off with a cry of 'At once, Mr Vice-Chairman', and sat back.
"I have taken the liberty of requestion the company of my family's most prominent solicitor, one Madam Shredblade Axetalon." he told Suze. "She is blessed with an eidetic memory, and her knowledge of law – both magical and otherwise – is without peer. She should be with us shortly. Now, concerning travel to your most excellent lair, Mr Potter; my people can be on the outskirts of Hogsmeade within eight hours by motor vehicle, and we can quite easily arrange a meeting place thereafter."
"Um, Suze, does your dad get angry about goblins?" Harry asked.
"No; Father admires them." Suze told him. "There's only a handful of Namers who've managed to get the wizards to treat them with any respect, and the goblins are the most recent."
"Respect, from a wizard." Slackhammer chuckled, shaking his head. "That is indeed quite the undertaking."
"What do you mean?" Harry asked.
"I mean that, pitiful as it is, most wizards are quite astoundingly bigoted." Slackhammer told him. "Exceptions do of course exist, such as Mr Severus Snape, who treats all with matching honest dislike, or Mr Albus Dumbledore, who is a fine gentleman as wizards go – but the vast majority have naught but disdain for any being who is neither human nor magically gifted. Why, most of them look down on those of their species born without the genetic quirk known as magical talent! There are a small handful of Namers, to use the centaur term – also known as sapient beings – who have managed to beat some respect out of the wizards; my kin managed that under the glorious leadership of Chairwoman of the Grand Board of Directors Ragnak Shatteraxe, during the revolution often called the Bold 99, when we introduced the wizards to the power of the machine gun. Our dear friends, the Veela, were able to achieve that same great and noble undertaking almost a thousand years ago thanks to the aid of their incredible talent for the manipulation of fire, and the vampires achieved similar under the grand leadership of Count Vladimir Dracula some three centuries ago; the werewolves too achieved some regard from the wizards, due to the immense difficulty of killing a werewolf, but they and the vampires have as yet been unable to win themselves the rights we and the Veela hold. The centaurs chose to hide themselves from the wizards; a wise decision, considering that they lack the blessing of the honest gun."
"Mr Vice-Chairman, Madam Axetalon to see you." a goblin in a sharp suit stated, sticking his head in the door.
"Ah, Madam Axetalon, come in, do."
The goblin who entered was smartly-dressed and almost completely indistinguishable from the males of her species; if he hadn't been pre-warned, Harry would never have realised that she was in fact female.
"A profitable day to you, Vice-Chairman Crackjaw." she said with a broad toothsome grin, and her voice didn't give her gender away either. "Congratulations on your promotion; I can but say you've worked long and hard for your new rank, and it's about time your efforts paid full fruit."
"Ah, thankyou Soliciter Shredblade, and a profitable day to you too." Slackhammer said, his grin just as shark-like as ever. "But there's no need to try to butter me up; the chance of my aunt allowing you to be dismissed from your position with the Slackhammers is thin indeed."
Axetalon chuckled. "Director Hellblade Slackhammer has always been a superb judge of character, Crackjaw. So, I understand that you require my assistance?"
"Indeed; or, rather, my young associates here do. Madam Axetalon, the young lady is Miss Suze daughter of Bane of the Black Woods Clan, and the young gentleman is Mr Harry Potter, Great Wyrm of Hogwarts. Mr Potter, Miss Suze, this is Madam Shredblade Axetalon, finest of the solicitors in my family's employ."
"An honour." Axetalon said, inclining her head.
"Hi." Harry said, big smile firmly in place.
"Well met." Suze said with a polite bow.
"Mr Potter and Miss Suze have a perplexing conundrum that you might perhaps be able to provide an answer to." Slackhammer told Axetalon. "They wish to know how might Miss Suze, being as you see a centaur, accompany Mr Potter on his visits to Diagon Alley without falling foul of the unashamed bigotry of the Ministry of Magic."
"Hmmm... ah yes, the Wild Animal (Control) Act of 1847, I see, that could prove most perplexing, couldn't it?" Axetalon mused, her eyebrows collapsing into a deep frown. "Hmm, it supersedes the Sapient (Mobility) Act of 1612... no, the Wartime Expenditures (Mobility) Act of 1941 does not present any loopholes for centaurs... AHA! Under the act of the Steeds (Mobility) Act of 1513, centaurs may, if sufficiently controlled, be regarded as Steeds under the letter of law... Miss Suze, Mr Potter, tell me, did the wizards successfully verify your identity?"
"Um, dunno." Harry said.
"Well, I don't know either." Suze admitted.
"They most assuredly did not." Slackhammer firmly stated.
"Excellent!" Axetalon declared. "Under the Criminal Justice (Identification) Act of 1811, any person, being or creature suspected of a crime but not of verified identity may only be listed as a suspect for a maximum of precisely one year and one day; the legislation in question has yet to be repealed. Therefore, if you are to avoid Diagon Alley for one year and two days, and thereafter pay any necessary regard to the Steeds (Mobility) Act of 1513, there is nothing beyond alteration of the letter of the law that the Ministry may do. Hmm, and for all acts committed prior to said alteration of the law, you are of course covered by the Charter of Succession (Rights) of 1380."
"... um." Harry said, confused.
"In layman's terms," Axetalon elaborated, "Under the Steeds (Mobility) Act of 1513, in accord with the Charter of Succession (Rights) of 1380, with no alteration made by subsequent revision of said Charter, any creature regarded under the law as a Being has, where not in contravention of the Servants (Control) Acts of 1394, 1440 and 1502, the legal right to possession of a Steed, defined as an animal, creature or device utilised for personal transport. This definition covers horses, ponies, brooms, velocipedes, motorcycles, pegesii, and other more unusual creatures and devices including, I might note, centaurs. The only exception to said right concerns flying carpets and automobiles fitted with more than three wheels, which are listed Items of Muggle Origin under the Muggle Separation (Artefacts) Act of 1984. The steed or device must be, and I quote, 'controlled in an adequate and safe manner' as per the Animal Control (Domesticated) Act of 1422, and may be left outside of any building within Wizarding territories for a maximum of twelve hours."
"I get the feeling," Suze muttered, "That Father won't like this."
Half an hour later, having spent the interim discussing details and travel arrangements with Harry and Madam Axetalon, and the young Great Wyrm and his companion having departed for the Portkey point that would take them home, accompanied by a detail of ten of 2 Company's largest and meanest-looking infantrygoblins, Vice-Chairman Crackjaw Slackhammer spent a moment checking some financial reports, nodded his satisfaction, and then began to pen a note addressed to the Grand Chairman of the Board of Directors herself.
No foolish human would get away with threatening a business partner as profitable as Mr Harry Potter on Slackhammer's watch, no SIR!
About an hour after she'd got back to the Ministry building, Dolores Umbridge was surprised to find herself summoned to the Minister's office.
"You wanted to see me, Mr Minister sir?"
"Dolores, just what in Merlin's name have you been doing?" Cornelius Fudge complained. "I have no idea what brought all this on, but Gringotts just sent me a letter declaring one Mr Harry James Potter and any and all of his dependants and associates to be, and I quote, 'an important financial asset of Gringotts' and, well, threatening sanctions if anyone within the Ministry is to, and I quote, 'interfere' with him. Your name is mentioned in a most unfriendly manner several times, just what in Merlin's name have you been doing?"
Umbridge blinked, positively gobsmacked. She'd only been near Gringotts once in the last week and that was... chasing... that filthy centaur... and... the boy it seemed to belong to... oh dear.
"I, uh, I," she stammered, then swallowed a couple of times. "I encountered a child allowing a centaur to run riot in Diagon Alley, Mr Minister sir." she said.
"... so how does that relate to Gringotts?" Fudge asked.
"Well, um, as per the Wild Animal Control Act of 1847 I at once moved to apprehend the uncontrolled animal. The child immediately ran off with it; we gave pursuit, we didn't use any spells so as to avoid doing the boy any unnecessary injury – you know how sensitive small children can be to stunners – and the suspect and his animal attempted to hide in the bank; we followed them, assuming our job over. We were shouted at most coarsely by goblins, threatened with those infernal fire-arms of theirs, and ejected from the building. I returned directly here."
Fudge sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose.
"Dash it, Dolores, that boy's the Boy-Who-Lived, he's got to be – I wondered why the goblins were on about him now, nothing makes it clear of course but it's a fair conclusion. I haven't much idea why Gringotts are up in arms about him and his pet, but they've got us by the financial throat – how do you think the voters would react if the goblins launched another rebellion?"
"Surely it wouldn't come to that?"
"There's a financial breakdown attached to the missive I received, and somehow they've attributed a two-million Galleon profit in the span of one month to the Boy-Who-Lived. That's no less than nine point seven percent of their profit over the last month – Merlin's sake, the last Goblin Revolution blew up over taxation reducing their quarterly profits by a tenth of a percent!"
"... they'd go to war over a tenth of a percent?"
"Go to war? Merlin's sake, Dolores! They massacred seventy-eight Aurors, twelve Hit Wizards, two Unspeakables, fourteen innocent bystanders and a Director of Magical Law Enforcement over a tenth of a percent! They kicked the front door of the Ministry in over a tenth of a percent! Imagine what they'd do over nearly ten percent!"
"... oh dear. I, uh, didn't know that..."
"That's why I'm the Minister of Magic and you're an Undersecretary." Fudge stated with a smarmy little smile.
Umbridge bowed her head.
"Yes, Mr Minister sir." she said, cringing internally at the unwarranted demotion.
She'd get even with those miserable goblins and that brat of a Boy-Who-Lived and his filthy animal for this if it was the last thing she did!
It turned out that the Sergeant-Major – whose name was apparently Hooktalon – was in fact capable of talking without bellowing; when Harry had asked, Hooktalon had explained that bellowing was an absolutely necessary talent for all Sergeant-Majors as it was required to maintain the discipline and respect of the soldiers under his supervision since it was their job to be boneheaded grunts and it was their Sergeant-Major's job to think for his soldiers and thus it was the duty of any Sergeant-Major to bellow to get the message through their thick craniums otherwise the Sergeant-Major would be forced to give them firm kicks around their posteriors.
(One of the other goblin soldiers, a grizzled old Colour Sergeant called Griphook, had privately told Harry that the Sergeant-Major was in fact a big old pussycat whose bark was worse than his bite, but Harry decided it was probably safer not to risk it, especially since Corporal Mantrap said that anyone who messed with the Sergeant-Major was asking to have his or her lungs extracted via the nostrils. Okay, so maybe Sergeant-Major Hooktalon bellowing was like Mr Snape growling, but there was a chance it wasn't and Hooktalon was scary!)
Having gone on at great length about the safe handling of firearms, reiterating a string of a dozen of what he called 'golden rules' over and over again, all of which sounded very cautious but eminently sensible, once he seemed satisfied that Harry and Suze had got the message, Sergeant-Major Hooktalon had first had them repeatedly take apart and put back together the guns until he was satisfied with their performance, and then allowed them to riddle a number of targets with bullets.
Harry had to admit Suze was a far, far better shot than him. She'd demonstrated with a borrowed shortbow, showing enough accuracy to get a sniff and 'adequate' out of Sergeant-Major Hooktalon. Then she'd had a go with the two rifles, and received a brusque nod and a, 'Well, young lady, looks like we've found something you're good at', which according to Corporal Mantrap was high praise indeed when coming from a Sergeant-Major.
It'd been fun, and there were now a pair of rifles stacked in a nicely-polished wooden gun-rack in his lair. One was what the Sergeant-Major had called a 'Rifle, Short, Magazine, Lee-Enfield, Mark Three', though Harry kinda thought most of that sounded a bit back-to-front, and the other was one of the Falklands-looking guns, which Harry now knew was called a 'L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle', which sounded like it was the right way round. It was funny, really – when he'd seen the way the rifles slammed into Sergeant-Major Hooktalon's shoulder, he'd expected them to knock him flat, but they hadn't kicked at all. From the raised eyebrow and comment of, 'Strong little wippersnapper, aren't you?', this had also surprised Sergeant-Major Hooktalon.
They'd also had a bow for Suze. It was a weird-looking thing with a string that looped back-and-forth several times and pulleys at the ends of the bow; Bane had on seeing it muttered and grumbled about 'new-fangled', but went quiet and calculating after he'd seen it demonstrated.
Harry had been careful to put the gun-rack at the other end of his lair from where he kept his toy guns. Getting them mixed up really wouldn't be a good idea.
Hmm. You needed to guard your guns just as close as you guarded your damsels and your treasures.
He'd long since worked out that damsels were an especially valuable sort of treasure as they were so hard to get a hold of and, as he dozed, he came to realise that the same held true for guns.
Anything that difficult to get a hold of was probably treasure, and swords counted as treasure, so that meant weapons were treasure, and a gun was a sort of weapon. Sergeant-Major Hooktalon's statement that Harry should make certain that anyone who wanted to take Harry's guns away was forced to attempt to prise them from Harry's cold dead fingers just served to reinforce that conclusion; anything you had to put up a big fight to stop knights (or Bagginses, or any other sort of a baddie) taking away was obviously treasure.
"Mr Dumbledore, I kinda think there's something wrong with the whole Wizardy World thingy." Harry said. It was five days after his overly exciting visit to Diagon Alley, three after the goblins had headed back to London, and he and the elderly headmaster were relaxing at the front of Harry's lair after one of his Occlumency lessons – a tiring and not much fun but pretty interesting subject that Mr Dumbledore and Mr Snape both said was very important, and Harry kinda guessed he saw what they meant and not just because someone looking into your brain sounded incredibly rude; it was entirely possible that memories were a kind of treasure because of that whole 'treasure the memory' thing and unless proven otherwise Harry fully intended to treat them as such.
"And why would you think that, my dear boy?" the old man asked.
"Because, well, because that pink toad-woman said Suze isn't a person and because the goblins say they had to do lots of shooting before the glowy people stopped saying goblins weren't people." he said. "And, uh, Mr Slackhammer kinda sounded like it wasn't just goblins and centaurs, and... it's got something to-do with why you don't think people oughtta know I'm a dragon, hasn't it?"
"Ah." Dumbledore said. "Indeed, Harry; I regret to say it, but you are in fact quite correct." The old man sighed. "I have been able to, in my lifetime, make some small improvements here and there, but like all change it is a slow process. And, indeed, that is why your transformation must remain a secret for as long as possible; the last thing the Wizarding World needs is a civil was coming so closely in the footsteps of Voldemort's reign of terror."
Harry nodded, his expression distant.
"I guess." he said. "Mr Dumbledore... how bad is it really?"
"Not as bad as either Severus or the goblins would have you believe." the old man said. "Severus has had a rather rough ride of things, I'm afraid, and the viewpoint of the goblins is that of outsiders and outcasts. It is true that changes must be made to bring the cycle of war and destruction – of which Voldemort is but the latest repetition – to an end. But I do not hold that said changes should be of the kind Severus espouses; he cannot see it, but to tear the Wizarding World down would be to destroy what good remains in it. He would, in a manner of saying, throw the baby out with the bathwater. I have in my lifetime made many changes, not the least the Endangered Species (Protection) Act of 1972, which made hunting of several species, including centaurs, illegal. I confess I have had to make some quite difficult decisions in my time, and I am well aware that there are further difficult decisions yet to come my way; but someone has to make those decisions, for the greater good of all. Now, I need to return to the castle; I shall see you the same time next week."
"... okay." Harry said, frowning. That hadn't really answered any of his questions.
He resolved to keep niggling Mr Dumbledore about it, and to see if Mr Snape was more willing to explain things.
"What is it now? Blasted reptile." This time, two days after Dumbledore's evasiveness, it was Snape who was at Harry's lair.
"I'm really starting to thing the Wizarding World really isn't fair." Harry said.
"... I see." Snape muttered, his sneer vanishing, to be replaced by a frankly rather worried look. "And what, precisely, has brought you to this insight, young man?"
Harry considered that for a few moments, then started to haltingly explain the events of his last visit to Diagon Alley; Snape listened in complete silence, his frown deepening the whole time.
"... I see." the irritable potions master said, once Harry had explained trying to get an explanation out of Dumbledore. "You have indeed arrived at a quite incisive conclusion; there is indeed something quite wrong with the world we live in, and I confess I had wished to protect you from those uncomfortable truths for a little longer." A wry if grim smile spread itself across one side of Snape's face. "I suppose I should have expected you to work out the basics of the facts; you're as sharp as your mother was. And, indeed, there is something quite horribly wrong with any so-called civilisation that would treat any thinking being as an animal."
"How bad is it really?"
"Bad." Snape firmly stated. "Bad to the degree that even those wizards and witches not born of magical parents are at best considered little more than animals. Albus would have you believe in gently reforming it all over a period of perhaps decades, even centuries; I believe that the goblin's example is the one that we should be following."
"You mean we oughtta machine-gun anything that tries to shove us about, right?" Harry asked.
"In a manner of speaking, yes. Our target, my boy, is the government of this cesspit that calls itself a civilisation – but it would not do us well to act without suitable preparation, and we are as yet unprepared. And until that time, I judge that we would be best served to keep our heads down and endeavour not to draw attention to our plans."
"I'm a big part of your plans, aren't I?"
"Indeed, you most assuredly are." Snape said with a firm nod. "And not merely because you represent our best chance of alliance with the goblins and our best source of the substantial quantities of capital our mission shall surely require. When the time comes, I suspect you shall find yourself at the forefront of this."
Harry nodded thoughtfully. "I'll need to get stronger, won't I?"
"Indeed; the flames of freedom must be lit, and the torch will someday in the not-so-distant future be handed to you. And it would be best for all of us if you were to be prepared for that day."
"I know my kin will fight alongside you in this, Harry." Suze said.
"How so?" Snape asked her.
"We owe the Great Wyrm a debt of blood unspilled; almost a year has passed since last we lost any to the Spider Plague, and we no longer need fear them, for now it is they who know fear." Suze told him. "We owe him a debt that can never be truly repaid, and when the time comes that he makes battle upon his foes, my grandfather has declared that we shall go forth beside him."
"I see." Snape said with a frown.
He let out one of his dry and not-very-pleasant chuckles. "Then I suppose I should welcome you both to the revolution."
From then on, Thursday evenings were spent studying potions and plotting to overthrow the Wizarding government, both of which Harry found enormously fascinating and, in fact, fun.
Time passed quickly and, a few weeks before Harry's eleventh birthday, all of his friends from Hogwarts came up to his lair for important discussions.
The discussion entailed arrangements for Harry's attending Hogwarts, starting with the subject of keeping his dragon-ness quiet and rapidly spiralling out of control after Harry apologetically explained his inability to sleep in any but his dragon shape; or, rather, his tendency to turn back into a dragon if he was any other shape when he went to sleep.
Once that had been resolved with some little-used school rules, they got onto the subject of where exactly Suze was to stay, and Harry got rather cross about the very thought that it might be better if she stayed with the other centaurs, and even more worked up about the idea of not being allowed to go to his lair or to make sure those nasty but tasty giant spiders weren't going after the centaurs again; after some snarky remarks from Snape, who'd once got rather ill off some badly-cooked acromantula, that was likewise resolved by reference to assorted entries in the mind-bogglingly complicated (not to mention huge) book of Hogwarts school rules, which Harry asked if he could read, and was told yes but later once the discussing was out the way.
From there, it devolved into chatting about all sorts of stuff ranging from what to do about Harry's dietary requirements to what to do if Harry found any more damsels at Hogwarts, a point that caused a huge uproar that Harry eventually put the kibosh on by firmly declaring that it wasn't if, it was when, and when he found a damsel at Hogwarts then of course he'd be carrying her off, thank you very much, and they had better all stop being so silly about it at once. Or else.
With that out the way, the subject of guns came up and with it another uproar, and once again Harry had to snap a bit to get everyone to be sensible; as guns were difficult to get it was obvious that they were a type of treasure and anyway Sergeant-Major Hooktalon said that if anyone wanted Harry's guns they could have them when they prised them from Harry's cold dead fingers so everyone had better stop being silly about it at once.
Once Snape had got done with the snigger-fit (It wasn't giggling. Snapes do not under any circumstances giggle. Snape had made that very clear.) they started pouring through the rules book to work out how to make that not break the rules; the thing about guns was solved by a rule meant to be about swords that didn't say what sort of weapon it was talking about, and the thing about damsels was solved by a bit of the same rules that meant Harry would be staying at his lair instead of at Hogwarts, in particular the exception to the out-of-bounds rule for kids who lived within thirty miles of Hogwarts and so went to the castle for lessons every day instead of living there, aided by the bit about friends being able to go visit with the kids who lived near the castle including overnight if invited, so that was okay.
Some further discussion later, Harry's grown-up friends wished him goodnight and departed.
He had trouble getting to sleep that night because he was excited, and he spent the following few weeks counting the days until the 28th of July when Hogwarts letters would be sent out.
It arrived in it's own good time.
Diagon Alley was weird.
That much was self-evident. First off there'd been the way they couldn't see the entrance until their daughter towed them there. Second off there'd been the wall at the back of said run-down pub. Third off there'd been the architecture. Fourth off there'd been the wares on sale, not to mention the prices on them. Fifth off there'd been the population.
However, the thing that grabbed (and held) Anthony Granger's attention was the centaur who was loitering outside what seemed to be a second-hand shop near to the entrance to the alley.
She was a gorgeous creature, not that he was entirely sure whether any of those were the right term. From the bit humans used as hips up, she was a near-perfect example of classical Grecian beauty, only departing by being somewhat wider and more muscular; from there down was what looked to be one of those slabs of lean muscle people who know about horses bandy terms like 'thoroughbred' about. Her hair and fur was a deep rusetty red-brown, and every part of her human-equine mish-mash anatomy was tightly defined.
And if he'd thought that was strange, her clothing and the assorted equipment she was carrying really took the biscuit, partly because she was very visibly armed to the teeth.
She had a military-looking gun, one of those ones where the bullets are stored in a metal box in front of the trigger, slung on the left side of where her human-like anatomy stopped and her equine-like anatomy started; there was a brown bandoleer full of clips (or whatever those metal boxes are called) of bullets across her ample chest. A very modern high-powered pulley-operated compound bow (Tony was pretty sure he recognised it as a top-of-the-line Browning) was slung in a neat holster the right side of her (for want of a better word) front hips, and a quiver of equally modern carbon-aluminium arrows was attached to the back of her bandoleer; he couldn't fault her knowledge of archery, he recognised the model of arrow and those were perfect for the bow that one looked to be.
Tony also counted no less than five knives, ranging from a little folding thing on a lanyard to an overgrown machete, scattered around her person.
Her upper, human-like parts were clad in a greeny-brown silk shirt of unusual, vaguely-Asian looking cut, with a deeply plunging neckline, accented with what looked to be carefully-chosen soft grey-brown furs, and she had a bright gem-studded choker round her slim throat; her lower, equine-like parts bore a rather Wild-West looking saddle and associated tack, with some sort of old-school bolt-action rifle slung on it, and she had some form of a bridle (complete with reins) strapped round her head, though the bit was currently hanging beside her cheek.
That was when Tony realised something very important; the people around them (the ones he'd been busy being unsure how to react to) very obviously didn't know how to react to the centaur either.
"Okay Suze, now we gotta go get a wand!" said a cheerfully energetic – and very young – voice, and the centaur visibly perked up as a small boy – maybe two or three years younger than Tony's daughter from the look of him – came running over in that hyper-small-kid-running kind of a way, carrying a well-packed cloth shopping bag in each hand. "Mr Dumbledore says the best place for wands is a place called Ollivander's Wands Shoppie, he says it's just down thataway past that expensive potions place!"
"Okay, Harry." the centaur said, taking the bags off him and hooking them on her saddle-horn; with that done, she gave him a hand up into the saddle, passed him her reins, tucked the bit into her mouth, and fastened said bit down.
The boy then seemed to actually notice the Grangers.
"Oh, hi!" He said. "Hey, you look kinda lost. 'Bout as lost as me and Suze were first time we come here. Aintcha?"
"... well, actually, yes." Tony admitted, dubiously glancing from centaur to small boy and back several times. The centaur noticed his expression, and gave him a wink and shrug, neither of which helped.
"Aw, don't worry about it, Diagon Alley takes lots of getting used to at first but once you've gotten the idea it's well cool. Um, have you swapped your pounds for Galleons yet? They're not proper gold but that's because goblins are sensible, they mostly keep the gold to themselves."
"... well, no." Sharon, Tony's wife, said.
"Okay, then you gotta go to Gringotts, that's the bank, they're just over there." The kid pointed. "Hey, you want me to, you know, show you round? I've been here like six times and I know the way everywhere here. Oh, but we haven't been introduced! I'm Harry, Harry Potter, and this is my centaur damsel, her name's Suze. Hi!"
"I'm Anthony Granger; call me Tony, everyone does. This is my wife, Sharon, and this is our daughter, Hermione."
"I'm the first witch in my family." Hermione added, and Tony had to smile at how pleased with herself she sounded.
"Wow, that's awesome! I didn't know the not-glowy people could have kids who glow!" Harry enthused, obviously beyond delighted. "Hey, c'mon, there's all sorts of awesome stuff I gotta show you! But first off, we gotta go to the bank. It's over thataway, let's go!"
The bank proved to be the substantial and somewhat Victorian-looking brick-built edifice halfway up the Alley and opposite an empty lot, with a set of broad steps leading up to the entrance; the entrance itself was via a set of ornate silver doors. There were a pair of short, broad men with yellowy-brown skin, protruding chins, neatly-cropped white hair, long noses and beady black rodent-like eyes, one standing each side of the door; they were dressed in smart red-and-white military-looking uniforms with peaked caps and dazzlingly-polished boots, and they were armed with long and extremely wicked-looking pole axes; something in their manner was reminescent of the Guards at Buckingham Palace as they stood there, alert and keeping a sharp eye on the passer-bies.
"Are those guys goblins?" Tony checked as they approached.
"Hmm? Yeah, sure they are. The one on the right's Corporal Mantrap, the one on the left's a Private but I dunno his name." Harry said.
"They're kinda fierce-looking." Hermione muttered.
"G'morning, Corporal Mantrap!" Harry enthusiastically said to the guard on the right-hand-side of the door, who promptly saluted.
"Mornin', Mr Potter." the goblin growled. "Here to speak to the Vice-Chairman?"
"Nah, I'm just showin' these guys around, they were kinda lost."
Corporal Mantrap nodded and touched his cap, nodding politely to the Grangers. "Mornin', ladies, gentleman. A profitable day to yeh all."
"Morning." the Grangers all said in a rough approximation of a chorus; Sharon, Hermione and Suze immediately followed Harry into the building, while Tony paused to read the inscription on the doors.
"... has anyone ever been stupid enough to try to steal those doors?" he eventually asked.
Corporal Mantrap let out a dry chuckle.
"A time or two." he said. "That's why the lot across the road's empty – the Bofors and Vickers guns make a bit of a mess." Another dry chuckle. "Bein' unmagical and all you'd know well what that means, eh lad? Head on in, yer missus'll be wonderin' where yeh've gotten to."
"... right." Tony said, and entered the bank. The name 'Bofors' was vaguely familiar from his father's war stories, and 'Vickers' rang a bell too.
Weren't those both rather large guns?
"Okay, now you gotta go queue." Harry was just saying as Tony arrived in the bank. "It shouldn't take too long, you picked the right sorta time and day to come, it's always quietest Wednesdays and halfway between when people start work and lunchtime."
Business in the bank was swiftly concluded, with odd looks being cast the Grangers' way when other customers realised how polite the goblin teller was being to these otherwise-unremarkable muggles and muggle-born.
"I'm guessing there are male and female goblins." Sharon suddenly said, just after they'd exited the bank.
"Well, course there are." Harry said, shrugging matter-of-factly. "Where'd you think little baby goblins come from?"
"... er, right. So... where are they?"
"The lady goblins."
Harry snorted. "Didn't you smell? The goblin you changed your money with is a girl, I think her name's Meatshred Slackhammer, she's my friend Mr Vice-Chairman Slackhammer's niece, I think. Oh, course you didn't smell, your nose ain't as good as mine or a goblin's. Y'know, I think she's gotta be going into heat, that's the only time it's easy to smell if a goblin's a Mr or a Madam, normally they just smell of goblin. I'm not really sure what going into heat means, Mr Vice-Chairman Slackhammer got all sorts of embarrassed when I asked, but I think it's got to do with that kissy-face making-babies stuff some grown-ups are into."
"... oh." Sharon said, kicking herself for assuming that any other sapient species would automatically fulfil human expectations of gender.
"It ain't real important anyway." Harry continued. "When I asked, Master-Sergeant Griphook said that if you ain't sure whether a goblin's a boy or a girl the polite thing is to call 'em 'Mister' and if they're bothered about it they'll say, and there ain't many of 'em who're bothered, I think Madam Axetalon's the only girl goblin I've ever met who makes a point of it and I know lots of goblins."
"I take it you're quite familiar with the goblins, eh?" Tony asked.
"Yeah, they're my friends." Harry said with a firm nod. "They're all sorts of fun and treasure's gotta come from somewhere. Anyways I'm guessing you've gotta get everything, right?" This last was addressed to Hermione. "Coz half the places on the school list are kinda expensive and I know a couple real neato shops where you can get half the school stuff for like half the price, 'specially potions stuff, the big place is a right rip-off." He indicated the bags on Suze's saddle. "I've already got my potions stuff, an' I was gonna head to get a wand next."
With that decided upon, they at once proceeded to the wand shop; all three Grangers were given quite a fright by the thinning-haired man who seemed to appear from nowhere, only for Harry to ask why the fish-smell, and the rather disappointed man (who introduced himself as Ollivander) explained that small quantities of cod liver oil was used in the making of the glue used to fasten wand components together and to polish the wands; thereafter each child in turn was subjected to a concentrated series of measurements of odd pieces of anatomy (why on Earth was distance from left eye to right thumb with arm outstretched a big deal especially considering it would change as the wand-owner grew?) before being offered a whole string of wands to try.
Here Harry became quite visible concerned at the comments about the usage of 'dragon heartstrings' in wand construction, and even more concerned about Hermione ending up being told that the right wand for her contained such, only to visibly calm down when Hermione (who hadn't noticed Harry's growing concern) spurred Ollivander into a twenty-minute explanation of the behaviour as wand components of the heartstrings of different breeds of dragon, explaining that Hermione's new wand contained a heartstring of a female Hungarian Horntail, a breed renowned for their strength and stubbornness under pressure, and suited to people with the acumen to stand up for their beliefs even through immense difficulties; with Harry relieved and Hermione pleased, Harry was then subjected to the array of measurements before going through even more wands than Hermione had in the process of ending up with one that was apparently the 'brother' of the wand that put the scar on his forehead; a scar that the Grangers hadn't noticed due to the boy's immense mane of scruffy black hair getting in the way.
Then, the shopping bags secured either in Tony's hand or on Suze's saddle-horn, they headed for the place Harry claimed was best for potions supplies, and the trio of Grangers became somewhat nonplussed at the, "Oh no, not again' reaction to Harry coming marching in the door.
Until, that is, they discovered just how much of a skinflint he could be; he pissed, moaned, bitched, complained, criticised, questioned quality and haggled the sweating shopkeeper down to a third of the stated price.
"We could have afforded, ye gods, thirty cauldrons at the price he was asking." Tony remarked.
"Sure you could." Harry said, shrugging. "But money's gotta come from somewhere and why go spending more than the cauldron's worth when it's a cheap cauldron that ain't hard to melt and you're probably gonna go through like a dozen of 'em? Especially since he was wanting twice what that thing's worth, it's just pewter and the bottom's kinda thin, and anyway if you don't gotta spend another knut on something then that's your hoard a knut bigger, innit?"
"Harry, how old are you?" Sharon asked, starting to get irritated by the pint-sized kid's incoherence.
"I'm gonna be eleven next week." he said.
"You're not very big for your age." Tony remarked, then winced as he realised how offensive that could sound.
"Well, that's coz I'm between growth spurts." Harry explained with a pragmatic shrug. "I growed real fast for 'bout eight months before I was nine, then my growing really slowed down, I only growed like an inch a year since. I figure I'm gonna catch up next time I have a growth spurt, so that's okay. Y'know, I've been a lot hungrier the last couple weeks than since my last growth spurt stopped, me an' Mr Hagrid an' Mr Kettleburn reckon that means I'm gonna start growing real fast again soon. It's gonna be a pain in the bum because I'm prolly gonna start having to eat tons again, but oh well, you can't do growing without enough to eat so that's okay."
And no more was said on the subject as they tore their way through their shopping lists without much but Harry unashamedly carving hunks out of prices by no-holds-barred haggling, before causing Tony to abruptly realise that whether Hermione realised it or not these two kids were inevitably going to be friends when both had identical reactions to the bookshop.
Here Hermione reacted to the extra money Harry's skinflinting had saved them by loading up with even more books than the list named, while Harry explained that he had most of the books on the list anyway and started rooting around for especially esoteric-looking musty old tomes, and once they'd finally managed to drag the kids out of the bookshop after a brief upset with what seemed to be a family of Neanderthals in robes, Tony found his attention very firmly drawn back to the guns Suze was carrying.
In particular, the old-school rifle Harry had just inserted up the left nostrilhole of this 'Crabbe' character.
"... mind if I have a look at that gun, Harry?"
"Fraid I can't do that, Mr Granger." Harry said, sounding apologetic. "Sergeant-Major Hacktalon would have my nadgers for boot-leather if I let anyone he wasn't sure knew how to safely handle a firearm handle it and anyway Mr Slackhammer says that it is the duty and privilege of all thinking beings to have weapons and if anyone thinks different they can have our guns when they pry 'em outta our cold dead fingers, and the same goes for swords and knives and stuff."
"... nadgers... for boot-leather...?" Sharon mumbled.
The clamour of a bell echoed across the Alley; Harry froze and raised a finger.
"Four, aw man... oh, phew, it's not five so I ain't late. Um, I think that's everything now and I really oughtta go. I'll see you guys to the way outta the alley then I gotta get my bum into gear, I've gotta be back at my lair for half past four so I can meet with Mr Ronan to talk about seasons at quarter to five, then once it's six I gotta meet with Mrs Sprout and Mr Snape because we're gonna be harvesting special potions ingredients that it's the right sort of time to harvest."
Hermione checked over her shopping list.
"Yes, I think we've got everything... did we remember the potions supplies?"
"Yes, we did." her father reminded her. "That was the third shop we visited."
"Oh, yes, I must have forgotten to tick it off – in that case, that's everything."
"Okay then I'll see you the end of the month!" Harry said.
"Huh, that's interesting."
Hermione perked up as she recognised the voice; it was that weird hyper gun-nut boy she'd met in Diagon Alley at the beginning of August.
"What's interesting?" she asked, wandering over and noting that when the letter had said something about, 'cat, owl, toad or centaur' it probably hadn't been joking; she also found herself vaguely wondering how come Harry was visibly taller than when she'd seen him at Diagon Alley.
"Hello, Hermione." Suze (who was, ridiculously enough, on a leash) said with a polite little bow. Once again, Hermione found herself thinking how impressive a creature the centaur was; to the top of her head, Suze stood over eight feet tall, and from the perspective of a preteen girl, that oozed wow.
"Hmm? Oh, hi Hermione! This train's interesting, that's what." Harry stated.
"Why? It's just an old train."
"Yeah, but everything else here is magic one way or another. The train, well, it ain't magic, I mean it's fire's magic and I think it's partly sorta kinda alive, but not the rest of it, it's just a big old steam engine and I'm trying to figure out how you sneak a steam engine from London to nearly Mallaig."
"What's a Mallaig?"
"Oh, it's the muggle town just up the coast from Hogwarts. There's lots of boats and a really cool toyshop there and it all sorta smells of kipper." (8) Harry said, frowning thoughtfully at the train engine and failing to notice the amused expression on the face of the large soot-covered man who was watching from the locomotive's cab or, for that matter, the dubious look Suze gave said large soot-covered man.
"We'd better get on the train, Harry. It might leave without us." Suze pointed out. She seemed heartily amused by all this.
"Hmm? Oh, yeah, I guess." Harry said, and followed her towards the carriages, still glancing back at the engine. "Y'know, it's funny – that engine looks like it's supposed to be black."
Hermione, trailing a bit behind the mismatched duo, found herself wondering why the driver had responded to this by bursting out laughing.
James Coates, the regular driver of the Hogwarts Express, was still chuckling to himself as he hauled on the chain hanging from 45401's cab roof and the ever-faithful Stainer Class Five's strident whistle blared across King's Cross. (9)
How that young whippersnapper with the pet centaur (must be a rules change) had known that Black Fives are supposed to be black without knowing what a Black Five was, well, that was anyone's guess but given the chance he'd enjoy finding out.
"Wotcher laughin' at, Jim?" Michael 'Mac' McDonald, Jim's fireman, asked, his query punctuated by the answering shrill of the guard's whistle; as if it'd been waiting for that prompt, the starting signal dropped.
"Tell yer later, Mac." Jim said, patting the drake-dog who kept the fire nice and hot. "Okay, Smaugey, give the ole girl a touch o' hellfire."
Smaugey let out a happy little gronk and blew a jet of blue-white flame into the firebox; Jim's smile broadened as he gave the whistle another blast, heaved 45401 into gear, and began to ease the brakes off and the regulator open.
The steam burst from her chimney like a gigantic snake's voice as the sixty-odd-year-old iron horse began to move with a great groan of bearings and a nice solid clang as her pony truck battered across a rail joint; Mac grinned and slung another shovel of coal into the firebox in time with the chorus of clangs from her driving wheels hitting the place marked by a fishplate, and Smaugey gave it a good huff and puff as the brakes came all the way off and the first proper chuff burst from the faithful old locomotive, making the fire roar as the steam blasted it's way through her smokebox into the summer air.
No railman – and few others – has ever been able to stand beside the hissing, spitting iron monster that is a steam locomotive (let alone on her footplate!) without half believing that this mighty metal behemoth is somehow alive, and Jim Coates was no exception. He'd been driving the Hogwarts Express since before any of the passengers currently aboard his train were so much as a funny gleam in their dad's eyes, and he fully expected to man that fiery beast for decades to come; as long as his heart held out, he'd be right there at the regulator when the kiddies needed their ride, and between times he'd be right there when BR sent trains full of tourists and smiling old railmen along the coast from Fort William to Mallaig.
The world had changed out of underneath the steam locomotive; the modern diesels had become cheaper and easier to run. It didn't take so much skill to drive a diesel, a diesel didn't need a talented fireman who knew when you'd need more steam and had her coaled up and ready to deliver, any Tom Dick and Harry could have a diesel up and ready to roll easy as starting a car, but they just weren't the same. The pragmatic side of Jim Coates knew that a Class 37 was a good, efficient, effective locomotive – but that 'tractor' just wasn't the same. (10)
It wasn't a hissing spitting metal beast, it didn't have the pounding white-hot heart and soul of a dear old Black Five, you couldn't hear every part respond to the rails – it just wasn't proper.
Real locomotives, in his educated opinion, were seventy-odd tons of British iron and steel with a hand-stoked coal fire, at least two good big pistons, six or more driving wheels, and no fewer than two honest highly-skilled working men paying her the attention she deserves from the footplate.
And for as long as steam ruled the wizarding rails, as long as some bright-eyed kid from down south would pay for a ticket, he was right there, amidst the fire and the fury, listening to wheels clickety-clack across rail joins and the exhaust hammer away like a machine gun, with no need for any nancy heater as the roaring fire at her heart lifted sweat from his wrinkled brow – this was most definitely life at it's finest.
Give him a well-maintained Black Five, a train for her to haul, coal for her firebox, water for her boiler and rails for her to ride, and he'd be happy for as long as there was breath in his body; it's good work if you can get it...
-/-/- End Chapter -/-/-
1 - This Snape does not as a rule swear. He prefers to be much more creative in his insults and regards foul language as the mark of a lowbrow dolt.
2 – The 'score' in question comes from the five-bar-gate method of tallying (or, more to the point, 'scoring off') things you're counting. Up until very recently I thought that was where 'score' as in number-of came from. So in centaur terms 'one score' = 5, and before anyone says anything about Gettysburg Addresses or bibles, I'm a home-educated Scotsman, I don't know what the hell a Gettysburg Address is when it's at home and, being decidedly less religious than your average plank, the bible has never been on my to-read list.
3 – The boiling point of lead is 1749 degrees C (that's 3180 Fahrenheit, or 2022 Kelvin) which is an easy couple hundred C (or, of course, 380 F) above the melting point of iron. That's hot, folks.
4 - Referenced because I have been a fan since I was twelve, and the photo of Anne in the back of my copy of 'The White Dragon' shows a really nice smile...
5 - Short explanation; in Wizarding terms, metals are divided into three classes; 'noble' metals (those that react to magic) 'base' metals (those inert to magic) and 'ignoble' metals (those that resist magic.) I'm now aware of what those terms mean in real-world metallurgy; it's something I invented on the spur of the moment.
6 – These are shock diamonds (aka Mach disks) as in those shimmering ring-patterns seen in a jet engine's afterburner flame. Never having seen an aircraft afterburning, Bane wasn't expecting fire to do that.
7 – Yes, that's Snape attempting to yank Bane's chain again.
8 - Mallaig was until relatively recently the centre of kipper production in Scotland; if you didn't know, a kipper is a whole herring that has been split from tail to head, gutted, salted or pickled, and cold smoked. There aren't so many kippers from Mallaig these days, but there's still one old-school smokery there.
9 - Number 45401 was the first Black Five withdrawn by BR at the beginning of the end of mainline steam in the UK. In the universe of this fic, the Hogwarts Express crew immediately 'liberated' themselves some new-ish motive power from the scrap lines... and, hell, she still works so they kept using her – and kept her working, with a bit of assistance from a fire-breathing dog-lizard thingy whose anatomy has a startling resemblance to the sort of dragon Harry is.
10 - 'Tractor' is one of the fan-given nicknames for the British Rail Class 37 (aka English Electric Type 3) diesel-electric locomotive. This class was for years (including during the 80's and early 90's) the mainstay of Scottish motive power; I've got fond memories of riding the line to Kyle of Lochalsh with a Class 37 growling away up front. They're nicknamed 'Tractors' because they've got that same heavy diesel-engine rumble as an especially deep-throated agricultural tractor. Oh, and unlike Jim Coates, I reckon a Class 37 is about as 'proper' as a locomotive can get; she's a hundred five tons of steel with a chubby nose each end, a faintly sentimental three-eyed expression and a habit of snarling and spewing black smoke when she's really working for her living, and she produces this wonderful loping 'kagun-kagun-kagun' sound when she's idling, what's not to like?
Oh, and while I'm ranting about trains, Jim's decidedly wrong about how easy it isn't to start a 37; these are locos from the early 1960's, designed and built in a time when diesel was so cheap you only ever shut her down for maintenance. Cold-starting a 37 usually takes at least three tries and thus the best part of an hour as you've got to let her settle for twenty minutes after a failed attempt to start, and definitely involves her spitting great plumes of smoke and fire as her diesel engine (which lacks any sort of pre-heating or any such new-fangled crap) labours it's way into life; these are locomotives about as refined as a beat-up bulldozer and ten times as awesome.
-/- OMAKES -/-
Well, so far this fic has proven an omake magnet. Some I've edited and incorporated into the flow of the story, others I haven't.
In no particular order and copied raw off the Caer Azkaban Yahoo group, they are:
(Omake by Stick97)
What happens when a dragon teethes? Wasn't there a scene in DragonHeart
where the dragon gets a skeleton or something stuck in his teeth?
Maybe Harry eats the troll, and gets the club stuck in there, can't return
to Harry size, and the Grangers get called in to reassure Hermione, and they
help Harry out?
"Well it seems there is some scoring on your teeth Mr. Potter. This canine
has a particularly large score. What exactly have you been eating? Do you
make a habit of eating Trolls?" asked Dr. Granger, sweating profusely from
the heat coming from a blast furnace of a stomach of the dragon, the heavy
protective gear and respiration equipment, and the fact that he was
voluntarily up to his arse in an extremely large dragon's mouth. He owed
young Mr. Potter a score, for saving his dearest only daughter from the
aforementioned Troll, which seemed to have part of it's arm firmly wedged
between Harry's first superior molar, and his second superior pre molar.
"No thir! 'ey are awful! I 'on't 'ink I 'an ge' the 'aste out of 'ere!
Yuccth!" replied Harry, trying to avoid running his tongue over Dr. Granger
while he was extracting the troll chunks from his mouth. "OWWWW!" yelped
Harry, as Dr. Granger firmly pulled on the offending troll appendage.
"Dan! Careful now!" chastised Emma Granger, who was against the back wall of
the room, holding on to a still distraught Hermione who flinched at every
mention of the word troll.
"Daddy! Be careful!" shrieked Hermione, biting her nails to the quick, as
she watched the procedure with interest.
"No worries you two. Harry won't hurt me, I've almost got it!" laughed Dr.
"Daddy! Honestly, can't you see you are hurting poor Harry!" chastised
"Daniel Granger, the poor boy is already in enough pain as it is! You stop
lumbering around like an elephant in his mouth!" shouted Emma Granger.
Dan Granger's jaw dropped, as he turned to look at the two most important
girls in his life. 'I am a twitch away from being an after dinner dessert
to this beast of a dragon, who just ate a 9 foot bloody troll like a damned
treacle tart, and they are worried about me hurting HIM!?!'
Dan shook his head. He knew it would happen eventually, but in his
daughter's first year, he knew he had already lost her to this, this, well
Monster! Oh well, Emma's father had laughingly warned him when he had
brought Hermione home from the hospital. He had hoped he could keep his
little girl all to himself for at least a score or two years, but it looked
like it was already too late. Who would have thought that the man who took
his daughter away would not be a shining knight on horseback, but a dragon
more likely to flambe the knight?
With a sigh, he returned to work. Stupid boys, eh, dragons. "Hold on just
a second there Harry, almost... almost... There! Got it!" He proudly
turned with the severely charred remnant of the troll's arm, expecting the
accolades of his daughter, and wife. He idly wondered how he could publish
this in the Dentist's review. First sapient interspecies extraction?
Safety techniques for the hygienic maintenance and upkeep of the orthodontia
of a pre adolescent Draco Volens?
While Dan Granger was ruminating on the fame this could bring him, he
suddenly realized that his wife and daughter were not congratulating him for
his daring and skill, but that blasted lizard!
"Now Harry, you really have to learn to chew your food! Why, that could
have affected your permanent teeth if we hadn't gotten it out of there, or
you could have gotten an infection, or even an abcess!" chided Emma Granger.
"We?" muttered Dan.
"Hush Dan! Now Harry, besides troll, what does your diet consist of? Are
you getting plenty of calcium and fluoride in your diet? What about
vegetables? Are you getting enough protein?" questioned Emma.
Harry was greatly enjoying the attention, as he worked his jaw back and
forth getting the feeling back. "Well, Mrs. Granger, I am pretty sure I get
plenty of the first from the smelter where Hagrid gets me my treats, and I
really enjoy Devils' Snare as it's nice and minty, and I love the taste of
roasted Acromantula, although they are getting harder to find locally."
"Smelter? Devils Snare? Honestly, Harry! Who lets you eat that kind of
thing! Devil's Snare is dangerous and could kill you! Wait! Did you say
Acromantula? Those are giant spider's Harry! What do you think you are
doing? You could be hurt!" screeched a panicked Hermione, envisioning the
potential loss of her first and only friend at Hogwarts.
"Ha! Please calm your self Ms. Granger! Until we reached an agreement with
the smelter, we were having reports of lost carriages from the Express, and
none of the enchanted suits of armor would go any where near their alcoves
if they faced a window. For that matter, according to the blasted lizard
here, Devil's Snare tastes like a cross between parsley and lemon mint. As
for the Acromantula's, yes they are giant spider's, but they pose as much
threat to Mr. Potter, as a chocolate covered grasshopper to you or I. I
find that *properly* cooked they are quite the delicacy myself." smirked
Professor Snape, glaring at the suddenly bashful dragon who was looking
anywhere but at the Professor.
"Sorry, Professor Snape, I didn't know that you could get solomonella from
undercooked Acromantula!" blushed Harry.
"Harry, just what made you try eating giant spider, instead of a nice
balanced diet?" asked a quiet Emma Granger.
"Well, to be honest, at first it was just to settle an old score." explained
"And pray tell, why would you have a score to settle with spiders?" inquired
whispered a suddenly shrinking Harry Potter, seeming to literally fold in on
himself, going from a large dragon, to a small 11 year old boy. The boy
still had the gorgeous rich emerald eyes of the dragon, but now had a
tousled head of dark hair, that had both Granger women itching to run their
hands through it. For different reasons of course.
"Why would you ever be put into a cupboard Harry?" asked Emma, as she felt
her eyes well with tears, as her nails dug into her palms. She looked
towards Professor Snape, whose eyes were widening as he saw the glare coming
from both of the Granger women. He slightly shook his head, before
surreptitiously pointing towards the twinkling headmaster sitting in the
overstuffed chintz armchair.
"Oh, they didn't really need a score, getting a better score than Dudley on
a examination, not knowing the score for the football games when Vernon had
to work late, keeping Dudley from scoring with Pier's sister, or when I got
blamed for the score he made from the corner store..." rambled Harry,
listing things and idly scoring the flagstone floor he was sitting on, as he
thought of instances.
"Have you settled the score with the spiders Harry?" asked Professor
McGonagall, as she added her glare to the still blissfully twinkling
"Huh? Oh, yeah I suppose. I mean there were scores and scores of them
before, now it takes me ages to find any to eat. But Hagrid said he scored
a big sac of their eggs from the nest, and he said he knows how to raise
them. As long as I don't get to eager, I should be able to still have some
in moderation." explained a now cheerful Harry.
"Yes, Harry, one must be mindful of restraint and balance, as even the
spiders play a vital role in the ecosystem of the Forbidden Forest. For the
Greater Good of the Forest you really will have to learn to control
yourself." interjected Professor Dumbledore, before returning to humming an
"I know sir, I just couldn't help myself they taste so good! Sort of like a
hairy chicken, but when I cook them they get so nice and crispy! By the way
sir, what song is that you are humming?" asked Harry.
"Hmm? Oh, Shaft's The Big Score, I believe. I do so enjoy a good
blaxploitation movie! Quite the musical score if you ask me!" replied
"Do you think I could get a copy of the score? It sounds really good, and
would give me something to hum besides The Ride of the Valkyries when I am
flying" asked Harry.
"Of course dear boy! It will just take a score of minutes for my musiquill
to score it out for you." said Dumbledore.
"Uh sir? How long will that be?" asked Harry.
"Hmm? Well, if we were using the centaur definition, five minutes, another
20 minutes, and yet another definition, quite a long time, why do you ask?"
twinkled the bearded old man.
"Cause I think the troll didn't agree to well with me, and I need to...uh,
you know..." explained Harry as he held his stomach, shifting uncomfortably
from foot to foot.
"Come along boy, I'll escort you to the forest, so you can take care of your
necessities," interjected a worried looking Snape, seeing the fierce looks
being directed towards the still oblivious Headmaster, who was nodding in
time to the musiquill. No one could say the man was not an expert in
keeping his own skin intact after all. Voldemort had nothing on the anger
brewing between the women in the room.
"I think I'll come with you Professor. I'd like to see the grounds while I
am here and talk to Harry as well." added Dan Granger, now out of his
protective gear but still holding a large pair of blacksmith's tongs in one
hand, while he placed the other firmly on Harry's shoulder. He was no
longer in dentist mode, but still had a strong urge to inflict pain. He
also recognized the look on his wife's face, and had no desire to be hit
with any of the collateral splash damage.
"Good idea you two, I'd like to ask a few questions of the esteemed
Headmaster here, and I don't think Harry needs to be present for them." said
Emma, smiling and nodding at Professor McGonagall, who was idly tracing the
runes on her wand. "Hermione, why don't you go with your father?"
"I'd rather stay mother dear," replied Hermione, fixing Dumbledore with a
glare that could melt the lining of Harry's stomach.
"Hmm." Emma looked at her daughter, arched an eyebrow, nodded and smiled
ferally. 'She's growing up so fast!' thought Emma, wiping a small tear from
"Off you go boys! We'll take care of things here!" smiled Professor
"But what about the music scor.." asked Harry, before Snape grabbed one arm,
Dan Granger the other, and placing his off hand over Harry's mouth.
"Shut up and run, fool boy!" hissed Snape.
"For the love of god, don't look back!" muttered Dan, as he and Snape lifted
Harry and dragged him from the room.
Harry was curious as to what was happening, when he heard a "Silen-" and
then a squelching noise coming from the room. He thought the voice was
Hermione's, but wasn't sure. As the two men marched him through the Great
Hall, he noticed that the Gryffindor hourglass seemed to be rapidly filling
with gemstones. Hmm. Everyone who could give points was in the Great Hall,
with the exception of the Headmaster, and his Head of House. Hermione must
really be impressing the two to be earning so many house points. He
mentioned wanting to go back, and both men laughed somewhat crazily, as Dan
merely stooped and threw Harry over his shoulder in a fireman's carry.
Once they were outside, he placed Harry down, and looked him squarely in the
eyes. Even though his insides could melt lead, he suddenly had a cold
feeling in his stomach, as he began to sweat for some reason.
"Harry, I want you to listen to me very closely. I am going to give you
some very important advice." growled Dan Granger as he brandished the
blacksmith's tongs threateningly.
Harry gulped, and nodded. When did Hermione's father get so scary? He
seemed so friendly and appreciative earlier today?
"1. Whenever women sound like that and are smiling at each other, get the
hell out of there as fast as you can, and forget that crap about 'leave no
man behind'! Tip a pint up for the poor bastard at the pub, and don't make
the same mistake as him.
2. If you think my princess is going to be just another damsel, or score on
the wall of your lair, you need to remember something very important. If I
have to go to jail for protecting the virtue of my daughter, it will be for
something so gory, abominable, and atrocious, they reinstate the death
3. I will be sending you a movie to watch. It's what inspired me to become
a dentist. Very popular in its' time. It has Dustin Hoffman in it. You
know that funny fellow who played Captain Hook in the movie Hook? You
remind me of him quite a bit Harry.
4. You can score all you want in Quidditch, but if you try and pressure to
"score" with Hermione, or try it before you are at least engaged? I will
use these tongs to remove to crush your bollocks like rotten grapes.
Harry paled more than Snape could ever hope to. "Uh, gotta go. Bathroom
calling!" He then promptly transformed into a paler version of his normal
dragon form and flew away as fast as he could.
Dan Granger smiled and waved the tongs, shouting out "Have fun storming the
Snape merely arched his eyebrow, and drolly asked, "How are your benefits?"
Huh. That kind of got away from me there. Sorry if I intruded there, but
it just seemed to fit.
Why yes, I do have a daughter, why do you ask?
I may throw this up on my acct with a link to your story whenever you
post it in the wild.
Obviously, really enjoying your view of Harry, and remember if you don't
know the score, you don't know the whole story.
Ok, taking my burnt lips off the dragon fire heated crack pipe now.
... which got refined then abruptly re-routed by Snape unexpectedly turning round and screaming 'Viva La Revolution!!!' at the top of his lungs.
(Omake by Mike; designed to explain Harry's guns before I'd answered how.)
Love the story so far. This popped in to my head and thought I'd share.
"Boy! Why is your pet not on a leash?"
With a growl that carried over surprisingly well from his dragon form Harry
answered, "She is not my pet, she's my damsel."
"She's your what? Never mind, filthy beasts like that should not be loose in the
Alley," the squat toad like woman in the pink robe croaked as she drew her wand,
an action that was repeated by the three men following her.
As easy as it would be to shift back in to his dragon form, he was warned
several times that his secret must never get out so he did the next best thing.
"Run Suze!" Harry called as he took her hand and started to charge through the
group towards the entrance to Gringotts.
Knowing that she was swifter than he was in little form she picked him up and
tossed him on to her back as she ran headlong in to the witch and wizards
knocking them aside as though they were tenpins. The young centaur didn't slow
down until the spear points of the goblin security guards were pointing at her.
Harry and Suze were both breathing hard as they tried to explain the altercation
outside and why they had come running in to Gringotts. Before they could get
more than a few feet away from the door it opened again reveling the pink robed
woman and her accomplices as well as several blue robed Aurors all with wands
drawn. The two groups were quickly separated by the heavily armed guards.
Hearing one of the names associated with the commotion inside the bank Crackjaw
made his way to the lobby where his business partner was being held. "Mr.
Potter, what is the meaning of this?" the goblin asked as he stepped past the
Harry quickly explained what had happened moments before in the street he was
quickly ushered in to Slackhammer's office. "I know you are to young yet to have
a wand, but perhaps we can find something else for you and your companion to
defend yourself with..."
... which got refined to the version that appears in this chapter.
(Omake by Phil, spurred off by some questions about the eating of ammo)
Wind...? From eating cordite? Oh, ye gods...
After they'd picked themselves up and brushed the shattered remains of the
windows of the Great Hall off themselves, the Hogwarts staff departed en masse
to find what had just caused that deafening boom. They were fairly sure that
they knew where to look, and what -- or, rather, who -- to look for...
They were correct in the latter expectation, but not in the former. This didn't
mean that the subject of their search was hard to find; quite the opposite,
actually, as he could be seen on the far side of the lake, sitting in the
shallows, surrounded by clouds of steam.
"You wretched reptile!" Snape bellowed. "What in the name of Merlin did you just
The dragon hung his head while simultaneously giving off a relieved sigh which
sounded remarkably like a noise the Hogwarts Express made after arriving at
Hogsmeade Station each September 1st.
"Um... sorry," he said shamefacedly. "I... I was out flying and I spotted this
old wooden box up in the mountains. I thought it might be some kind of treasure,
so I landed and had a look at it, and it had a lot of really big bullets in it
-- too big to put in any of my guns, or even the goblins' -- and I was hungry
and the metal casings and what was inside them smelt really yummy, so I had a
quick snack and flew back here, but then I needed to let off really, really
badly, and when I did, it all sort of came out in a rush and burst into flames
and suddenly I was flying REAL fast, but I couldn't stop and I went right over
the castle so quick I didn't really know it was there until I'd gone way past,
and then my fart ran out and I was able to slow down and turn around, but my bum
was feeling all hot and uncomfortable, so I landed by the lake to cool it off
and I feel much better now."
Nobody said a word to Harry's "explanation". Nobody could.
Yes, folks, it's Dragon!Harry a la Errol from Discworld -- another jet-propelled
dragon! Couldn't resist the idea of cordite-produced flatulence because, y'know,
that is so like what a jet engine does -- take in air, burn fuel with it, squirt
the results out the back to produce this thing we call thrust.
BTW, Harry's "treasure" is meant to be an old, long-lost box of artillery
shells. I thought about having him find an old naval shell, but I thought that
might be a bit much even for him to digest. g
... which isn't too likely to be used as I have other plans for Harry's development.
(Omake by skeptic7200; written well before the dorm-for-dragons question was given a finalised adequate answer.)
The first thing to realize is that Harry and Suze and everyone else is making things up as they go along. A dragon's damsel responsibility is basically determined by the damsel. Suze is basically raising Child Dragon Harry. She tells him stories and teaches him about the stars and the history of the Centaurs.
Harry seems to be physically arrested at age eight. Either that or he is really really short for his age. When the Grangers met Harry at Diagon Alley for the first time they thought he was several years younger than Hermione.
I can just see the following scene a couple of days after Halloween. Harry is still trying to be a fairly normal human boy so he can't carry Hermione off in dragon form.
Harry runs up to Hermione after dinner in the great hall.
Harry bursts out, "Hermione have you finished dinner yet? Can you come with me to the dungeon, I want you to meet my friends Susan and Hannah. We can all go visit with Suze later and she will get the elves to bring us a snack. I really want to show you my lair here. You don't mind coming down to meet my friends and see my lair do you? You were in distress and I have to carry you off to be proper and your father who isn't a poop head said that I could carry you off to my lair if you didn't mind."
Hermione smiled down and said "No Harry, I would really like to meet your friends. I never had a chance to really talk to them as Hufflepuff and Griffindors don't really have classes together. I saw them in the library but Madam Pince doesn't let us talk. "
Harry grinned and dragged her by the hand over toward the Hufflepuffs "Susan, Hannah this is Hermione. We had a wonderful adventure a couple of days ago when we saw this troll and then Hermione's parents came to see us in the infirmary and they looked at my teeth since I had got something stuck in my mouth when I bit down on this hard thing. Anyway I want to show Hermione the common room and my lair."
"The Hufflepuff common rooms are all down in the basement but the opposite direction from the Slytherins, but they might be just a little further underground, but its hard to tell since we go down this set of stairs toward out rooms and they go down two other stair cases which aren't as long but they have two sets"
Susan said "Stop pulling Hermione along, Harry, some people don't want to move so quickly after supper particularly on these stairs."
The four of them head down the stairs, Harry in the lead with Hannah bringing up the rear. Susan says "What is your favorite class, Hermione? I like Herbology since it gets us out of the castle, and since Professor Sprout is our head of House we can ask questions when things get confusing."
Hermione replies " Charms is a lot of fun, just being able to wave a wand and see things float or move or change color. Can you really ask your Head of House for help, Professor Macdonegal is never around except during class or office hours."
Hannah chimes in with "Really? Thats wierd. Professor Sprout spends an hour every evening in the common room, in fact it was more than that at the start of the year. And she assigned a "big brother" or "big sister" to all the first years to make sure that they didn't confused or lost. Anyway here we are. Just go through the round door"
The girls brushed past Harry who was holding the door open and entered a bright cheerful room with three fireplaces and lots of chairs and sofas. The walls were a light bright yellow and the sofas a dark yellow, and the chairs and tables a black wood. Susan and Hannah grabbed Hermione's arms and pulled her toward a dark passage at one side.
Hannah said "Let me show you our dorm room, and I need to change my sweater. Are you warm enough? I have a thick sweater you can borrow if you want"
When the girls reemerged, Harry was there waiting for them. Harry said "Hermione what do you think of our Sett? Come over here and sit by this fireplace. All the furniture is slightly smaller so things are more comfortable. Would you like to play exploding Snaps? or Monopoly? Hannah has a set."
Susan said "Lets do Monopoly. Hermione can you play? Its a really strange game that Hannah had from one of her muggle cousins."
Hermione replied "I am willing to play monopoly. My parents and I used to play together. "
After the game was over, Harry jumped up and said "Are you all hungry? Come on lets visit Suze and she'll give us a snack, and I really really want to show you my lair"
Hannah said "Tempus, Yes lets go call on her, the astronomy class is meeting just after dark to see the early stars and planets this week so she should be back."
Hermione said "You can just call on Professor Suze whenever you want?"
Hannah said "Oh yes, Harry is a great friend of hers and she welcomes all of us too."
Susan added "Now come this way, its quite close just up this set of stairs"
Harry grabbed Hermione's hand and dragged her behind him until they came to a portrait of a meadow. He spoke "Welcome friends" and the portrait opened. All of them entered a large fairly bare room with a mural of a forest meadow painted on the walls. A soapstone wood stove heated one corner. There was a couple of library tables and chairs and bookshelves and a low padded platform near the corner.
Harry burst out "Welcome to my lair. This is where Suze and I live during the school year. You can come here whenever you like. Its a safe place where there aren't any knights or bullies or trolls."
Suze said "Good evening, Harry, Susan, and Hannah. Hermione its good to see you again, and let second Harry's invitation. Feel free to come here at anytime and use any of the books. We have a little potions lab set up, but I don't want you to brew anything alone. You can use it if Harry or I are here"
Hermione said "Thank you, Professor. I would really love to look at your books and this would be so more peaceful than the Gryffindor common room especially when the twins are playing pranks. Professor Suze, how is it that you and Harry have your own suite and such a very large room?
Profesor Suze said easily "These rooms are especially warded against magic damage and have their own exit to the castle. Harry is staying here because he is still having occasional outbursts of accidental magic and it would be unfair to his dorm mates if he loses control and damages their possesions. I needed the extra room, centaurs hate close quarters, and the exit leads to the grasslands in front of the forbidden forest. When the castle gets too oppressive I can go for a run or to see the stars. I took the job as part time Astronomy professor so I could study medicine with Madam Pomfrey, and stay with Harry. Sometimes his magic runs wild and he needs my help, so this is his lair at Hogwarts"
"Now, Harry, clear the books off the table and bring up enough chairs and I'll call the House elves to bring us a snack"
... which isn't too likely to be used as it's been contradicted to the core by recent plot developments, particularly around how precisely to avoid people finding Harry's dragon-ness out while he's occupying a Hogwarts dorm.
Well, nothing more to say beyond, ye gods, that's the biggest chapter I've ever posted, and there's nothing more to see here – for now. So I'll sign off with my traditional signature;