Summary: Harry is sick of being the saviour of the wizarding world. In order to escape it, he retreats to Romania.
"Can't we convince you to stay, Harry?" Hermione asked tearfully. Ron, who was standing beside her with his arm over her shoulder, nodded in agreement.
"Are you really sure that you want to go off to Romania, mate?" He added. "It's no easy life looking after dragons, and it's dangerous too. You could really get hurt."
Harry smiled sadly at them. They'd been over this a million times, but Harry knew Ron and Hermione were still clinging to the hope that he might change his mind.
They were to be out of luck though. Ever since the war, Harry had done exactly what was expected of him like a good little hero, and he was sick of it. He'd got together with Ginny. He'd got himself into the Auror Program (which wasn't difficult seeing as they practically begged him to join up: having the saviour out there catching the rest of the Dark wizards that were still on the loose sent a very good message). He'd done the interviews, the photo-shoots, the autograph signings, and the press-releases on cases he didn't have anything to do with. Merlin, he'd almost agreed to help someone write his official autobiography.
That had been the last straw. Well, that had almost been the last straw. He'd begun questioning what he was doing with his life when he realised he would be writing a book on himself (how Lockhart was that?). He'd decided that it wasn't going the way he wanted it to when Ginny left him.
He should have seen it coming, really. She'd been getting more and more distant from him, and, if he were brutally honest with himself, neither of them had really cared. It could have gone on like that for years if she hadn't met Derk and decided that Harry wasn't who she wanted.
It hadn't come as a shock to Harry - in fact, once he got over the initial feeling of "Oh-Merlin-my-girlfriend-and-my-wife-to-be-has-just-dumped-me-my-life-is-over-what-am-I-going-to-do", he realised how cold their relationship had grown.
Ginny had been his safe harbour. He knew that she'd always be there for him when he needed her, and that she wouldn't pester him when he didn't.
She'd been the relationship to hide behind when the publicity got messy. "So, Mr. Potter, is it true that you had a one-night-stand with an exceptionally pretty goblin the other night while away on a case?" "I'm afraid not, Miss Turnball, I love my girlfriend far too much to do that."
She'd been his best friend, and he'd loved her. He still did. But he'd confused that for being in love with her. He was only glad now that she'd found Derk; the way they'd been going, they might have been married with five kids before they realised their relationship was as sham.
She'd been safe, and after the war, Harry had wanted safe. He hadn't wanted to fight. He hadn't wanted to attempt things he couldn't handle. He'd wanted a drama-less, easy life.
Unfortunately, he got mixed up. He thought that doing what was expected of him was going to be easy.
It wasn't, he could say that. It was damn hard work. Difficult, and boring. Dull. Eventless. After searching for Horcruxes and defeating Voldemort, filing paperwork and reliving his adventures through newspaper interviews didn't quite match.
He'd wanted completely different things, and it had taken a while for him to realise what he needed to do. He wanted something normal, but different enough for him to find it exciting. He didn't want to be risking his life for the sake of the wizarding race, nor did he want to be stuck behind a desk. He wanted to do something exciting, not for the sake of other people, but for himself.
"I know I could get hurt," he told his best friends reassuringly. They were one of the few reasons why he was hesitant about moving to Romania. "But I've lived my entire life with that risk. It would be a shame to become boring now when I'm so adept at putting myself in dangerous situations."
Hermione smiled through her tears and rushed forward to fling her arms about his neck. "Oh Harry, we'll miss you. I wish we could go with you. It would have been just like old times."
"Yeah, that would have been awesome," Harry agreed. He really did share Hermione's feelings - she and Ron had always been there, from the very beginning. Even when he was fighting with one of them, he always had the other. But they couldn't come with him this time. "But we can't have you chasing dragons in your condition," he told her. Her sad smile turned into a frown.
"I've told you and Ron before, stop calling it a condition," she scolded. "I'm having a baby, not dying of cancer."
"Cancer?" Ron asked, confused. "Oh yeah, was that that muggle condition where all the organs turned themselves inside out?"
Harry gave his friend a confused look, and Hermione giggled. "Lee bought a television," she told him in way of explanation. "He's been watching science fiction."
"Right," Harry said sceptically. "Well, I'd better get going. This portkey won't wait for me."
There were regulations about travelling internationally, and both Harry and Ron had been shocked when Hermione had informed him that there were laws preventing people from apparating into different countries at random. Harry had had to seek permission from the ministry to get a portkey to Romania.
He put his hand on the tea kettle, holding in his other hand a small backpack that Hermione had spell with an undetectable extension charm - again.
"Take care, mate," Ron told him.
"And don't forget to write!" Hermione added.
"I won't," Harry promised. "You two look after yourselves, won't you?"
"Of course," Hermione said. And then she added, "Oh, and Harry, if-"
But whatever she was going to say was cut off as Harry felt the all-too-familiar sensation of his arm being wrenched from its socket as the portkey took flight.
The next thing he knew, he was lying on a grassy field and a familiar, red-headed person was grinning down at him. "Good to see ya, Harry," Charlie said, offering him his hand and pulling the dark-haired boy to his feet. "Not to rush you, but how fast do you think you can run? They're about to let the Welsh Greens into this enclosure. About…now…actually."
Harry barely had time to snatch up his bag before a roaring sound, accompanied by some very hot flames, deafened him, and he and Charlie were both running for their lives.
"So what brings you to Romania?" Charlie asked Harry over a bottle of the local beverage with a name that Harry couldn't pronounce. "Your letter was pretty brief."
"Well, you'll know by now that your sister left me," Harry said.
Charlie nodded. "Yeah, Mum fire-called me the moment it happened. I think she was more upset by it than you and Ginny were put together."
Harry thought that sounded about right. "Yeah, well…," he mused, "after that, I started wondering if my life was really going where I wanted it to go."
"And it wasn't?"
"Not at all."
"So you came here?" Charlie supplied. Harry nodded.
"I wanted to do something different, or at least something away from everything else where I could sort my head out."
"Fair enough." Charlie took a swig of his butterbeer. "I'm glad you decided to come here. We need a new beginner to shovel the dragon dung."
Charlie wasn't kidding, Harry soon found out. It seemed that you didn't get to even go near the dragons until you had been there a "decent amount of time" (which basically equated to forever). Instead, Harry got the jobs that had little danger and required little skill.
That didn't mean to say it wasn't interesting. Funnily enough, shovelling dragon dung was a very interesting task. Harry wondered whether Britain's Ministry even knew that Romania was home to a very interesting creature the others called "Frobiners". They looked as though someone had got a gnome drunk one night and the creature had been unable to tell the difference between a female gnome and a giant moth.
The result was a potato-like creature with a long body and a large head, with wings on its back that only allowed it to flutter about a foot from the ground. It would be really quite endearing if it didn't keep stealing the dung that Harry was supposed to be shovelling.
Dragon dung was worth quite a bit on the market, and it was not allowed to go to waste. The Frobiners were considered pests because, when they scooped up great big bucket-loads of the dung in their webbed hands and carted it off to their nests, they were essentially scooping up bucket-loads of galleons. Harry was supposed to hit them over their heads with his shovel, knocking them out so that he could collect the dung unhindered. However, it always seemed a bit cruel to him, and he usually ended up just shooing them away.
The man who trained Harry - "Longtooth", he was called - sort-of took Harry under his wing. Harry had thought that he would probably spend quite a bit of time with Charlie now that he was here, but he couldn't have been more mistaken. The day after Harry arrived, Charlie was sent with a small group over to the other side of the country, where they were supposed to rescue a dragon that, it had been reported, had a severe mouth infection and was starving to death because it couldn't eat properly. Instead, Harry was assigned to Longtooth, who actually reminded the dark-haired boy a bit of Mad-Eye, in his gruff, veteran manner and accumulation of scars and burns.
Harry found that the days passed quickly. Even doing the most mundane of tasks, such as grading dragon scales, felt productive. And Harry honestly enjoyed what he was doing.
There was a mess hall in which everyone ate, although not all at the same time. It reminded Harry quite a bit of Hogwarts, actually. It was there that he first met Cathy.
Catherine Williams was one of the few witches who worked at this dragon reserve. Usually the witches worked at another reserve about five hundred miles away - males and females were partially separated for no particular reason; it was just how it had always been done. But ten years ago, Cathy had rescued a baby dragon, and raised it from an infant as she brought it back to Romania over a period of three months. In that time, the dragon had done something rarely seen in the wizarding world - it had grown attached.
The dragon seemed to think that Cathy was its mother, or part of its "pack", and wouldn't let her out of its sight. As this had been the only reserve that had vacancies and was fully equipped for hand rearing a baby dragon, Cathy had come here and never left.
"You're Harry Potter, right?" Cathy asked, holding her hand out over top of the table. "I'm Cathy. Cathy Williams."
"Er… right," Harry said, shaking the calloused hand. "It's good to meet you."
She looked him up and down appraisingly. "Indeed," she said.
There was a slight awkward silence as she sat down across from him and started loading her plate with enough food to feed three people. She saw Harry watching her in amazement and grinned.
"Don't worry, I don't usually eat like a pig," she said, seeing his amazement. "But I won't be eating for another day or so."
"Why not?" Harry asked.
"I have to take Edward hunting."
"Edward?" Harry asked. He had a sneaking suspicion as to who Edward was….
"My dragon," Cathy confirmed. Harry had to resist the urge to laugh. He found it hard to imagine a dragon called "Edward".
"Why can't you take food with you?" Harry asked curiously.
"Edward'll eat it."
Harry laughed. "Some hunter that makes him."
"Yeah, he's usually about as ferocious as a housecat," Cathy agreed. "That's why I take him hunting. So he can remain wild."
"Why bother?" Harry asked. "Wouldn't it just be easier to…domesticate…him?"
Cathy shook her head. "I would never do that. Dragons are wild creatures, and they need to stay that way. It would be wrong to turn him into some sort of pet. And besides," she added, as Harry opened his mouth to say something. "He'd only stay domestic as long as I was with him, and he'll far outlive me. Once I die, he'll have to go feral, and if I don't teach him how to be wild, he'll never last a second out there."
"So what, you're waiting to die so he can be wild?" Harry asked.
Cathy shrugged. "Either that, or he'll find a mate and leave me." She finished the food on her plate quickly and stood up. "Well, I have to go. See you around Harry."
No sooner had she left than Longtooth sat himself down opposite Harry. "Made a friend, have you Potter?"
That was the other thing that reminded Harry of Mad-Eye, besides the intimidating nickname and the scars. Longtooth refused to call Harry by his first name. "Either you get a nickname, or I call you Potter," he'd told the boy when he'd asked.
"Huh?" Harry said thickly. "Oh yeah. Cathy was telling me about Edward."
He saw the corner of Longtooth's mouth twitch up into a rare smile at the dragon's name, and he got the feeling that the other man shared his opinion on the ridiculousness of it.
"Yes, she's earned her nickname, she has," Longtooth said noncommittally. Harry blinked.
"Cathy had a nickname?" He asked. He'd only ever heard people call her "Cathy" or "Williams".
"I see. Very appropriate."
"You watch yourself, Potter," Longtooth said unexpectedly. Harry looked up, surprised.
"What do you mean?"
"I see the way you're looking at her. Williams might offer to share her bed with you, but her heart is reserved for her dragons. You'll get yourself hurt if you aint careful."
"She hasn't offered me anything," Harry retorted, a little irritated. He wasn't looking at Cathy in any way, thank you very much. "And I'm here to sort my head out, not fall in love."
"All the same," Longtooth said gruffly. "Just because you aren't expecting it, doesn't mean it won't happen."
"I'll bear that in mind," Harry told him.
"Now, Potter," Longtooth said, changing the subject. "I've been told that you're already familiar with one of our dragons. Would you like to pay her a visit?"
It took Harry a moment or two to work out what the man was talking about. Then it clicked. "Oh, Norbert! I mean, Norberta," he added, remembering that Hagrid had been wrong about the supposedly-male dragon's gender.
"That's right," Longtooth said, nodding. "We can go this afternoon, if you'd like."
And so, for the fourth time in his life, Harry found himself face-to-face with a dragon. Well, not really face to face - he'd have to be about fifty feet tall for that to happen. But he got to see Norberta and her young from about a hundred feet away.
"Would you like to go closer?" Longtooth offered. Harry looked at the family of dragons warily. In truth, his previous experiences with dragons had all ended much better than he could have possibly hoped for, but he was still wary of them.
"Is it safe?" He asked. Longtooth laughed.
"Safe? Of course it's not safe. But you wouldn't have come here if you didn't want a job with a little bit of danger."
Harry had to admit, Longtooth was absolutely right. He might not mind doing the menial tasks that had been assigned to him so far, but they did lack that spark of adventure that he'd been hoping for when he took the job.
"Alright then," he grinned at the older man. "Let's go."
There was sparse vegetation dotting the ground between them and the dragons, which they used for cover as they darted from tree to tree. Longtooth was much more agile than he first appeared, and, in the days of peace following the war, Harry had become somewhat unfit, and he struggled to keep up.
"Wow," Harry breathed when the other man held out his arm to signal for them to stop.
When Harry had last seen Norbert (or Norberta, as she was later renamed), the dragon had been about the size of two St. Bernards. Now she was about the size of two mansions.
Frolicking around her large paws, occasionally shooting small jets of flame, were her young. They were all the same colour as she was.
"Hold on," said Longtooth, frowning. "How many babies can you see?"
Harry counted quickly. "Four. Why?"
"She should have five…."
"Is the other one behind her?" Harry suggested.
"Maybe…," Longtooth said thoughtfully. "Should we-"
But he stopped speaking suddenly when a deceivingly cute "chirrup" noise came from behind them.
It was like in the muggle movies. Longtooth slowly turned around to see a small baby Norwegian Ridgeback (that looked uncannily like Norberta had at that age). The look of horror on his face told Harry that this was not good.
"Potter," Longtooth whispered. "Start moving very slowly back the way we came."
Longtooth took a gentle step sideways, but as soon as he began moving, the baby dragon let out another chirrup. He froze.
Harry suddenly became aware that the sounds that had been coming from the rest of the dragons had stopped. He didn't need to turn around to know what that meant.
It seemed Longtooth did though, and, after a quick glance over his shoulder, he started sneaking his way around the baby dragon.
"Potter," he said, out of the corner of his mouth. "When I say 'now', run. As fast as you can."
Harry nodded, and barely took a small step forwards, when the 'whooshing' sound, signalling the displacement of a large amount air, came from behind them. Longtooth shouted something that Harry didn't quite comprehend due to the blood pounding in his ears, but he assumed it was the signal and began sprinting.
He hadn't got very far when his instincts told him to dodge, and he threw himself sideways just in time as a large jet of flame incinerated the ground where he had been a moment earlier.
And then two large, scaled paws landed on either side of him.
Norberta was upon him.