An late afternoon for the old man would typically go as follows.

1. Ride home to his manor in Hogsmeade after the daily meeting with the Hogwarts governors.

2. Retreat to the manor's well stocked library, and ease his aging bones into a padded chair by the roaring fire. Pick up a tome from a convenient side-table, and immerse himself. Begin to doze off.

3. Be abruptly interrupted by a squealing mob of grandchildren bursting through the door and running all over the library and climbing over his chair and tugging at his beard.

4. Toss aside the book and redirect his attention to the children.

"Gracious, have your parents been feeding you sugar?" he said, only half-heard by the pack of young boys and girls. One of the older ones threw itself in front of the old man. "Professor Smethwyck taught us how to float things," the boy yelled with excitement, before being violently elbowed aside by a sibling who proudly whipped out her wand and demonstrated her new skill on her grandfather's eyeglasses. The quartz-and-wire contraption bobbed gently up from the old man's nose.

"None of that," said the old man firmly, grabbing for the glasses. "You know the Headmistress will have my head if she catches me letting you use magic out of school." The child pretended contrition, then sped away to engage in an enthusiastic fight with some of her cousins in the corner.

So it went; the children playing and running and making as much enthusiastic noise as possible, while the old man clipped ears and distributed sweets and chatted pleasantly at random. The younger ones would chase each other and yell and unleash copious amounts of frantic energy into the dusty room. The older ones would do all of the above, as well as fire little bursts of magic from their proudly brandished wands. This would go on until whatever energy fuelling the children faded away and they began to cluster around his chair and demanded a story. It was the ancient perogative of grandchildren, after all, to demand stories from any old person within hearing range.

"Ha, I think I've told you lot all my best ones," chuckled the old man, pulling an armful of the smaller children up onto his lap. "What have I told you? "The Fountain of Fair Fortune", "Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump", the story of King Arthur ... are there any you want to hear again?"

"I know what you haven't told us," insisted one of the smaller ones, wriggling in his hrasp and looking up at his grandfather with all the deep seriousness a four year old can muster.

"What's that, then?"

"The story of how you came to Hogwarts, grandpa," he said. "What did you do to get here? How did you come to Hogwarts?"

The old man didn't answer immediately, though he could feel the suddenly alert gazes of some two dozen children on him from all directions. He stared reflectively into the fire, into the red flames curling around blackened logs, and at the embers glowing like jewels at its heart. A sudden onslaught of half-buried memories can do that to a man.

God, how long ago was that?, he thought. Thirty years? Thirty five?

"You sure you want to hear the story of it all?" he said. "It's very long. And some of it's boring. And there's scary bits."

"Yes, yes, we do!" came the chorus from all sides.

"How scary is it? Do baddies get their heads cut off?"

"Are there dragons in it?"

"I bet there's lots of blood in it!" People who rhapsodised about the innocent nature of children clearly didn't get out enough.

"Quieten down, you riotous lot," boomed the old man, waving his arms for silence, and the children obediently hushed, eager with anticipation.

"Once upon a time," he began, in the creaking, sonorous, eldritch voice he used for storytelling, "In the winter of 1292, on the border between England and Scotland..."

It was a dark and stormy night.

Bad weather was, of course, to expected at even the best of times along the border, and especially so during the beginning of a bitter winter. Bloated black rainclouds poured rain and sleet and lightning bolts in random and equal measures across the sky and onto the sodden earth. Streets and gutters in the towns overflowed and sent waves lapping at the edges of houses. Rivers burst their banks. The few people in the open huddled beneath their cloaks and next to sputtering campfires.

It really wasn't the sort of night which any sane person would willingly venture into.

In one of the more obscure and outlying towns, an inn door slammed open and two figures stepped out. The first of them marched with a spring in his step and a whistle on his lips, the joints of his armour squeaking and protesting at the sudden amount of water seeping into them. The one behind him, submerged by a great flapping leather cloak, plodded with considerably less enthusiasm, weighed down by an armful of travelling equipment.

They turned right as they entered the street, and walked along the cobblestones and through the winding streets. Thunder rolled overhead.

"It occurs to me, Sir Cadogan, that, while going into the world and righting wrongs is always a good thing, it might be better done after, say, a full night's rest. And a meal. And a bath," said the cloaked figure, in a voice that rolled across pitches like a bandsaw

"A fair argument, Trilby," boomed the armoured figure of Sir Cadogan, "But why wait, eh? Every second we don't spend travelling is another second wasted. There's things out in the world that need our attention, post-haste!"

"This is filthy weather to be travelling in, sir, and it's late besides," said the cloaked figure, Trilby. "Why don't we just get a room in the inn and just bide there for one night? The wrongs won't get up and go while we're sleeping…"

"That's my point," said Cadogan tersely. "Besides, what's wrong with a little bit of rain?"

"This isn't a "little bit", sir. This is "Biblical thunderstorm" amounts. This is "Genesis 7:10" amounts."

"Hogwash. It's bracing. Clears the system of vile humours."

"Sir, there's a duck swimming down the middle of the road."

"Come now, squire of mine, where's your sense of duty?"

"I left it in the inn, sir, next to the roaring fire and mugs of ale. I hadn't even finished mine," he added reproachfully.

The armoured figure ignored him, walking on and staring at some distant horizon beyond the storm. The lad glanced heavenwards. It wasn't often that his master took funny moods like this, when he decidedly utterly on a course of action and not even the hand of God Almighty could shift his resolve, but it happened often enough that Trilby knew to deal with it. And what could cause it.

Trilby cleared his throat, a sound muffled and almost made unheard by the tumult of rain.


"What is it, Trilby?"

"When we were back there, in the inn, when I was ordering the ales and finding us a table near the fire, and you were walking around the inn and talking to people … who exactly were you talking to?"

Cadogan stopped, and slowly turned. He stared levelly at his squire, a great internal debate raging in his skull. He was a short and barrel-chested man, with thick black hair and a full beard. Blue-grey eyes glittered behind his helmet's visor in a battered and scarred face, one side of which was a mess of old discoloured burn tissue.

Trilby waited more pensively, fidgeting and twiddling his thumbs. He was a scrawny youth of about sixteen years of age, a son of minor nobility, and possessed of mismatched green and brown eyes and a hooked nose adorned with a swollen pimple. His bowl cut hair was dark brown and dripping with water.

Finally, Sir Cadogan spoke.

"When we were in the inn, I happened to come across a travelling minstrel. He invited me to share a cup or two with him, and how could I refuse such generosity? We started chatting, and he began to speak of a village to the south that was in the most dire of trouble and in urgent need of help."

"How drunk was the mins-" began Trilby, before being cut off by a rising tide of rhetoric as Cadogan warmed to his subject.

"A village where no man, woman, or child could rest easily! A village beset by the most terrible of monsters, a beast only whispered of in dark legends! The minstrel told me, as he finished his third whisky, that he had even witnessed the monster himself and had barely escaped to tell the tale!"

"But -"

"The village needs someone, anyone, to save it from evil while its lord cowers in his keep. We shall be their deliverance, or we shall perish gallantly in the attempt!"

There was an awkward silence, followed by Trilby inquiring, with a touch of trepidation, "Sir, what exactly are we going to fight?"

Cadogan placed a hand on his heart and the other on Trilby's shoulder. "My lad," he said with solemn gravitas, "We go south to fight a dragon."

There was another silence while Trilby wrapped his head around the statement, cross-referenced it against received knowledge, and came to a conclusion.

"Sir? Dragons aren't real." Trilby used the same soothing tone of voice one would use to address a escaped mental patient eyeing up some nearby weaponry. It was a tone of voice he used a lot in Cadogan's company.

"Oh, come now, Trilby. Would you accuse that man of lying?"

"No, I'd accuse him of being tremendously drunk."

"He'd had a mere two whiskies and four ales by the time he met me. That wouldn't get my eyelashes drunk."

"You're not most men, sir." This was true in multiple ways.

"Immaterial," said Cadogan, waving away all possible counterarguments and reasoned debate with a wave of his hand. "In any case, there is clearly trouble afoot down south, and we are duty-bound to face it. No more quibbling! We march now, and camp at midnight!" And with that, he turned and strode off, his stained crimson cloak flapping behind him in the wind and rain.

Trilby followed him, all-too-aware that Cadogan wouldn't stop until he found the village. He didn't trust themselves to speak, and the two walked in silence through the last few streets.

A beggar dozing as best he could in a doorway was jolted awake by two handfuls of copper coins jangling in his lap.

"Blessings on you, sirs," he said gratefully, looking up at a knight in rust-bitten armour, with a pimply boy standing just behind him. They murmured blessings back as they moved on though the driving rain and sleet.

"How much does that leave us with?" said Trilby, as they neared the stables and Cadogan called for their steeds.

"By my calculations, lad, about enough for an ale. To share." He chuckled at Tribly's face. "Never mind that. Money given to the needy is never wasted. Besides, I saw you give a handful as well."

"That's beside the point, sir." Trilby sighed. "Baked hedgehog and streamwater for the next few nights, then, I take it?"

"Good fare. Builds character." Cadogan grinned and winked. "Hold on here while I retrieve our steeds." He walked over to the stables and opened the door, calling out to the unseen stable boy. Trilby put down the gear, and waited in the rain.

Sir Cadogan emerged after a few minutes, leading two ponies by their bridles. They spent a few minutes harnessing their various things to the ponie's sides, and stuffed whatever they could into the saddlebags. Finally, Trilby mounted his skinny gray beast, and Cadogan mounted his own chestnut one. They began to move out, the ponies trotting out of the town gates and into the stormy night, with only a cry of "Yer both bloody mad!" from the stable-master to mark their passing.

For a good few minutes they rode on, the town walls shrinking by the minute and finally vanishing behind a veil of rain. Cadogan spoke after about ten minutes in.

"Am I correct in guessing that you're a bit unconvinced about this quest of ours, squire?"

"It's not my place to question your will, sir."

"Come now, Trilby. Give me your honest opinion."

Trilby sighed. He was tired and still irritated about leaving the inn and the rain was getting on his nerves. "Honestly, sir? It'll end the same way it always does. You'll race halfway across the country after some rumour of terrible evil that urgently needs vanquishing, and when you get there, you'll find out that the evil never existed or that it was something else a lot less interesting. And then you'll help people against it anyway, before you tear off after another rumour. This "dragon" will either be some drunken peasant's dream or just another group of bandits. I guarantee you that, sir."

Cadogan was silent. Then, softly, "Tell you what, if the dragon turns out to be a drunk's dream, I'll owe you a skin of wine. If not, you'll owe me one. Fair deal?"

"Alright, sir," said Trilby, mollified slightly by the knowledge that he'd at least be getting someting to drown his troubles in when this latest escapade was over.

After all, he thought with ill-deserved confidence as lightning cracked and thunder pealed, what were the chances that there really was a dragon?