3. The Dragon
'I can't, Daddy,' Al sobbed.
Harry knelt on the rough stone surface, ignored the rock digging painfully into his left knee, and hugged his younger son. 'You can, Al,' he assured him. 'You climbed up, so you must be able to climb down.'
'Can't!' Al shook his head sorrowfully.
'Al's stuck, Al's stuck. Al is a sissy,' James began to chant.
Making certain that Al wasn't going to move, Harry stood, stepped angrily toward the edge of the Drakestone, and looked over. It took him only a second; even so, by the time he reached the edge, James had already been silenced.
At the base of the stone, Ginny was crouched down and talking quietly but firmly to their eldest son. James's head was down and Harry could tell from the slope of his shoulders that James was being given a very stern talking to. While Ginny was busy, Harry glanced back at Al, whose shoulders still shook as he sobbed silently. When he returned his gaze to Ginny she sensed his presence and looked up.
'Al and I are going to enjoy the view for a while,' said Harry. 'You set off for Harbottle Lough and we'll catch up later.'
'Okay,' Ginny said. Her voice was matter-of-fact, but her eyes urgently asked for assurance that Al would be all right. Harry gave reassuring nod and left Ginny to organise the expedition.
'I'll leave your rucksack here, Harry,' Ginny called.
'Thanks,' said Harry as he returned to a still unhappy Al.
Al was sitting on the centre of the stone, facing away from the lake, and his family. He was staring out over the valley toward Harbottle village, which was only about a mile away.
'Can you see the castle ruins, Al?' Harry asked, trying to ignore his son's tears. Unlike James and Lily, Al hated to be fussed over when he was upset.
Al wiped his eyes and nose on his sleeve and nodded silently. Harry tried again.
'I've told Mummy to go on ahead of us. I hope that's okay. I should have asked you first, you're the expedition leader, after all,' said Harry apologetically.
He sat down next to his son and gazed out over the rolling green landscape. 'You can see for miles and miles from up here, can't you?'
'Yes,' Al whispered.
Harry risked a hug and Al smiled wetly. Harry pulled out his handkerchief and dried Al's red and blotchy face.
'Blow,' said Harry, inching Al's nose in the handkerchief. Al noisily obliged.
'Better?' asked Harry.
'A bit,' said Al. His face was anxious and his posture tense, so Harry decided to continue the conversation.
'Look at the castle; it's just a few broken bits of wall. There isn't much left of it, is there?' Harry asked.
'No,' Al said. They pondered the view in silence. Harry waited patiently.
'Was it bashed up in a big battle, Daddy?' Al asked after a few minutes.
'I could tell you a story, like the story I told about the Drakestone, or I could tell you the truth, Al,' said Harry. 'Which do you want?'
'I like stories,' said Al thoughtfully. 'But, what really happened?'
'You're a sensible boy.' Harry smiled at his son. He placed a hand on Al's shoulder and applied a gentle, congratulatory pressure before shuffling sideways to better see his son.
'The castle is hundreds of years old. More than eight hundred, I think,' Harry began. It was built to keep the Scots out of England. It didn't work. They call this area the Scottish Marches, or the Middle Marches; sometimes it was English and sometimes it was Scottish. For hundreds of years, the castle was important, sometimes to the English, sometimes to the Scots. But, eventually we all had the same king, and the castle was no longer needed. It was abandoned. It was cold, ugly and old-fashioned, and no one lived there anymore; it started to fall down.'
'It just fell down?' Al sounded disappointed.
'Not exactly, Al. As I said, it was old, and nobody wanted to live there, but look again. Can you see any bits of fallen down wall?' Harry watched his son stare thoughtfully at the ruins.
'There's no piles of stones,' Al observed. 'Where did all the stones go, Daddy?'
'Look at the houses in the valley, Al; look at Drakeshaugh. They are all made of stone. Building stone is very difficult to get. People dig it from the ground, it's called quarrying. They dig a hole and chip big lumps of stone out of the ground. But…' Harry stopped mid sentence and looked down at his son hopefully. He watched Al's jaw take a thoughtful set. Al's nose wrinkled and his forehead creased as the information was processed.
'Or they take the stones from the castle, because they're just lying there and nobody wants them,' suggested Al.
'Clever boy,' said Harry. 'That's exactly right. Why bother digging for stone or buying it, if there is big lumps of it lying in a field? There is a lot of good solid stone in an old castle, so the locals started to take it. Your Aunt Luna thinks that most of the big corner-stones—she called them the quoins—at Drakeshaugh were taken from the castle. A lot of the other old farmhouses are built with castle-stones, too. Harbottle castle might be an old and broken ruin, but it's nice to think that its children are scattered up and down the valley, still keeping the rain from people's heads.' Harry looked down at Al, who was smiling at the image. Now that Al was calm, he could proceed with his plan.
'I've still got a little bit of chocolate left, would you like to share it with me?' Harry broke the last of the bar in two and gave Al the larger piece.
They looked out over the valley as they ate.
'So, Drakeshaugh is a sort of baby castle,' said Al thoughtfully.
'It is. It's certainly our castle, Al, our home. If stones could talk, Drakeshaugh could tell us some exciting stories, I'm sure,' Harry gently squeezed Al's shoulder again, turned around and looked at the little group marching toward Harbottle Lough. 'We'd better get down, Al. If we don't, then James will get to the pool before us. Will you help me get down?'
Al's bottom lip began to tremble once again. 'I can't, Daddy.'
'Sometimes it's best to work as a team, Al. Aurors work as a team, they help each other and they try to keep each other safe. If we're going to get down we need to work as a team. I'll help you, if you'll help me. It will be two Aurors together.'
Al's face fell and he looked up at his father with watery eyes.
'I'm not an Auror, Daddy,' confessed Al. 'That's just a game I play. I'm really only a little boy.'
'You iare/i an Auror, Al. You're five years old, so you can be an Auror or an Unspeakable, a Quidditch star or a professor, a dragon-tamer or a train driver. When you're five you can be anything and anyone.' Harry spoke with reassuring confidence. 'I was a little boy too, a long time ago, and I used to dream of being lots of things. But, I'll tell you a secret. One thing which I never, ever, dreamed about being is my favourite job in the world. Do you know what that is?'
'Being an Auror,' said Al wisely.
Harry shook his head in disagreement and watched as Al's certainty gave way to confusion. 'You're right, I never dreamed about being an Auror. But that's not the job I'm thinking about. Shall I tell you what it is?'
Al stared curiously at his father and nodded his head.
'It's the best job in the world,' Harry put his arm around Al and hugged him. 'It's being a daddy for you and James and Lily. It's a very important job; I have to make sure that you are all safe and happy. Sometimes I have to go to the Ministry and do my other job, but even when I'm being an Auror I'm still trying to make sure that you are safe and happy.' He stood up, grabbed Al's hands, and pulled the little boy to his feet.
'Let's wave to the others,' Harry suggested, taking a step closer to the edge. Al followed. Ginny, Lily and Annie were moving slowly toward the distant water. James and Henry were already some distance ahead of them. Al and Harry shouted and waved and the three girls waved back.
Harry looked down. 'Oh,' he said. 'It does look difficult, doesn't it? Will you help me, Al?'
'But…' Al began.
Harry didn't wait for Al to formulate an argument. He turned, faced his son, and slowly dropped one foot over the edge.
'Do you think that my foot is safe there, Al?' he asked.
Al peered cautiously over the edge. 'Yes,' he whispered.
Harry took his other foot from the top of the stone.
'And there?' he asked.
'Yes,' said Al quietly.
Harry took two more steps down the rock, consulting Al at every step.
'Now,' he said. 'If you turn around, you can come between my arms, and I can help you. Okay?'
Al stared into Harry's eyes and nodded warily. Harry returned the gaze, staring into bright green, and noticing unshed tears in the corners. Al turned and began his descent.
'Is my foot all right, Daddy?' he asked.
'It's fine, Al,' Harry assured him.
'Yes, Al, you're doing fine,' said Harry.
As they slowly descended, each checking the other's hand and footholds, Al's confidence increased. By the time they were half way down his fears were forgotten and they soon reached the foot of the stone.
'Well done, Al,' said Harry. 'You did it.'
'Thanks, Daddy,' Al said. Harry crouched down, hugged him, and ruffled his already untidy hair. Al returned the hug.
'You're welcome, Al,' Harry whispered into his son's ear. 'I was just doing my job, remember.'
'Best job in the world,' Al nodded wisely.
'Come on, it's time for the expedition leader and his junior porter to catch up to his expedition,' suggested Harry. He picked up the rucksack and, hand-in-hand with Al he set off in rapid pursuit of the others.
Ginny had laid out a blanket on a low rock outcrop near the tarn and was busy unpacking the picnic lunch when Harry and Al arrived. James and Henry were paddling in the lake and Lily and Annie were picking buttercups.
'Al managed to climb down by himself,' said Harry when they reached Ginny.
'I know,' said Ginny. I was watching you both. 'Well done Al.'
'Have you had a good day, Annie?' Ginny asked as she cleared the trifle bowls from the kitchen table.
'Yes, thank you,' said Annie politely.
'What about you, Henry?' she asked.
'Yep,' Henry said shortly.
Harry looked along the table at the five children. They'd had a good afternoon at the Lough, the incident at the Drakestone was now long forgotten, and James and Henry had finally allowed Al to play with them. That, Harry thought, was the greatest achievement of the day.
'Well, if everyone has finished, you may all leave the table,' said Ginny. If you want to go out and play in the woods, that's fine; or you can stay inside to play.'
Henry and James looked at each other.
'Inside,' said James.
'Okay,' Henry agreed. 'C'mon, Al.'
The three boys ran from the kitchen and Harry heard them thumping heavily upstairs to the converted barn which formed their huge living room.
'I've no idea how such small people can make such big noises,' observed Harry.
'It's a boy thing,' said Ginny. 'Girls are so much more dainty.'
'My gonna show Annie the tree what Dolores the dragon pulled up,' Lily announced.
'I'm going to show Annie the tree Dolores the dragon pulled up,' Ginny corrected. 'Off you go, then, Lily. Don't get lost in the woods.'
Lily nodded, grabbed Annie's hand, and pulled the older girl outside. Harry listened to his daughter as she noisily slammed two doors.
'Very dainty,' Harry observed. Ginny chuckled. She was already at the sink, her wand in her hand and she began levitating the plates and dishes into the soapy water.
'I'm glad we don't have to do this by hand,' said Ginny.
Harry stepped up behind her, slid his hands around her waist and bent forward. Using his nose, he burrowed through her unbound hair until he found the nape of her neck, which he kissed.
'You could help me with the washing up, Harry,' Ginny suggested.
'I am helping,' he told her. 'I'm encouraging you to work quickly.'
Ginny set the pan scrub and dishcloth to work and turned to face her husband. Their lips didn't quite meet. Her warm breath was on his face and her soapy hands on his cheeks when the yells began. They parted instantly and ran in the direction of the noise.
The door from the kitchen led to a small hallway, from which a fright of eight stairs led through the thick stone farmhouse wall and into the adjacent barn which was their living room. Harry was up the stairs in two leaping strides. Henry and James stood at the bottom of the flight of stairs which led back through the old stone walls to the upper floor of the farmhouse, and to the bedrooms. At first glance the two friends seemed to be fighting each other using Al's stuffed toy dragon as a weapon.
Al stood motionless in the centre of the living room, next to the wooden train set which Harry had painstakingly set up that morning. Al's fists were clenched and he was staring furiously at the two older boys, who were making all of the noise.
Harry looked again at James and Henry. They weren't fighting with the dragon, he realised; they were fighting the dragon. The stuffed toy was biting Henry's arm and its furiously flapping wings and flailing tail were preventing James from pulling it from his friend. Harry was still taking in the impossible scene when Ginny acted.
'Calm down, Al,' she ordered, striding across to their younger son. 'And tell Dragon to let James go.'
'They were hurting her!' Al shouted, still staring at the stuffed toy dragon.
'And she's had her revenge, Al, call her off,' said Ginny firmly.
Al glanced at his mother and nodded. The moment he did so, the dragon fell to the floor and James and Henry both burst into tears.
'James, go to your room,' said Ginny forcefully. 'Henry, you go with him, please.' She stared at Harry and silently ordered him to follow the two boys.
'Try to find out what happened, Harry. I'll talk to Al,' she said quietly. Harry nodded and followed the boys up to James's bedroom.
As he strode along the corridor, Harry wondered what had happened, what the trigger had been. He'd witnessed several small bits of accidental magic from James, but nothing like this.
Al's dragon had been a first birthday present from his Uncle Charlie and it was now the only cuddly toy his younger son played with. The dragon, which Al had, with the originality of a one-year-old, named "Dragon" was over two feet long, soft, and fluffy. It couldn't fly, its mouth didn't even open, yet it had bitten Henry. The first thing to find out was: who started it?
'Are you two all right?' Harry asked as he walked into James's bright blue bedroom.
'Yes,' James nodded. Henry merely sobbed and shook.
The two boys were sitting side by side on the dark blue sofa bed where Henry would be sleeping. The sofa bed was underneath James's loft bed and was a recent purchase, bought especially for Henry's visit. Harry pulled up a low wooden stool but, before sitting on it, he ducked under the loft bed.
'How is your arm, Henry?' Harry asked.
Henry silently held out his arm and Harry saw the faint discolouration, the beginnings of a bruise.
'We will fix that for you soon,' Harry promised. 'You were supposed to be playing in the living room. What happened?'
The glance that the two boys exchanged was one of two criminals each desperately willing the other to come up with a story to get them off the hook.
'Dragon was in Al's room,' said Harry. He spoke with conviction, even though he was uncertain about the truth of his statement. The boy's worried expressions, however, proved that he was right.
'You didn't ask Al…' he began. He caught a puzzled look in Henry's eye and immediately corrected himself.
'You did ask Al if you could play with Dragon, and he said no,' Harry continued. Once again the boys' expressions ensured that Harry knew he was on the right line. He tried not to smile. Perhaps being a daddy and being an Auror was the same job, after all.
'But you went and got it anyway,' said Harry. He wondered what had happened next. Al had been really angry, so angry that he'd done accidental magic and used the dragon to attack them.
'You were being horrible to Al and horrible to Dragon,' Harry guessed. James shook his head in an attempted denial, but guilt was written across Henry's face.
'It was me,' Henry admitted. 'James said no, that Al would be angry. He was!' Henry burst into tears.
'You shouldn't try to break other people's toys, Henry,' said Harry. He knelt in front of the boy and offered him a handkerchief. 'You wouldn't like it if someone broke your favourite toy, would you?'
Henry shook his head.
'If you're horrible to other people, Henry, they might be horrible back. That's how people get hurt,' said Harry. 'You need to think about other people's feelings a bit more, Henry. You're not a bad boy, if you were, you wouldn't be so upset.'
'Sorry,' Henry said.
'It isn't me you should be saying sorry to, is it?' Harry asked.
Henry shook his head. 'How did Al make the dragon fly?' he asked. 'And bite?' He rubbed his arm.
Harry looked sadly at Henry and pulled his wand from the concealed pocket in his shorts. Henry's eyes bulged in surprise.
'He didn't, Henry,' Harry said, performing a subtle Obliviation spell. 'He snatched Dragon from you, threw her at you and then he hit you on the arm.'
Henry's eyes glazed for a second, and then he nodded his agreement. A pit opened in Harry's stomach.
'You should go and say sorry to Al, Henry. I need to talk to James for a moment.' Harry kept James silent and watched Henry walk from the room.
'Oh, James...' Harry began. 'I'm so sorry.'
'You've made him forget, haven't you?' said James.
'Yes, James, I have. He thinks that what happened is what you heard me tell him,' said Harry.
'It's my fault,' James confessed. 'I was teasing Al about the stone, and then when we got Dragon he sort of…' James's voice tailed off.
'I saw what Al was doing, James. It was accidental magic, very powerful accidental magic. He lost his temper. Al will have to learn control, and so will you; and you'd better make up with each other, too.'
'Sorry, Daddy,' said James.
'We've all learned a lesson, James,' said Harry. 'I don't like to Obliviate people, especially little children. Even if it's only a little change from what really happened. If this happens again, James, you won't be allowed to have your friends around. Do you understand?'
James nodded and Harry took his hand and led him back to the living room.
Ginny was stirring the hot chocolate when she heard Harry walk into the kitchen. He didn't speak. She heard the scuff of chair leg on stone-flagged floor and a sigh.
'Are they settled, Harry?' she asked.
'Lily and Annie are asleep already, Al is settled and drifting. He insisted on having Dragon in bed with him, he hasn't done that for months.'
'He's a little unsettled, Harry,' said Ginny. 'That was quite a trick he pulled on James and Henry. How are they?'
'Chattering about what they'll do tomorrow morning instead of settling down. I left them to it. I don't want to tell them off, again.' Harry sighed.
'James and Henry have learned a lesson, Harry. They'll know not to mess with Al again. We know what happened, Al confirmed it. They'd been teasing him about getting stuck on the stone, and stealing Dragon was the final straw. The magic simply exploded out of him. Dragon was still twitching ten minutes later. It was accidental magic, that's all. Look on the bright side; at least we know that Al is magical. James did his first bit of accidental magic when he was three, and it's months since Lily rejuvenated the flowers she picked for me, remember? I was beginning to wonder about Al.' She placed a cup of hot chocolate in front of her husband. He ignored it. His elbows were resting on the table, his chin was cupped in his hands and he looked like someone had just broken his broom.
'I Obliviated a six-year-old, Ginny.'
'What else could you do?' she asked. 'We're happy here, the kids are happy here. They are settled at school and we've got some good Muggle friends. The choice was simple, Obliviate Henry, or move house and never see any of them again. You did a good job. You only modified a tiny bit of his memory. He remembers everything, apart from Al's magic.'
'But we have to live by the Statute, you know that. You've Obliviated Muggles before,' she reminded him.
'Yes, but none of them were my six-year-old son's best friend, Ginny,' said Harry morosely. 'What will we tell Jacqui and Mike?'
Ginny gulped down the last of her hot chocolate and moved Harry's untouched mug from in front of him. She sat on the table, lifted one foot, and shuffled sideways. When she'd finished, Harry's elbows were between her legs. He still didn't move. So she leaned forward and kissed the top of his head.
'We'll tell them the story my clever husband planted in Henry's head. It's almost the truth. It isn't perfect, but it will have to do.' She pulled his head onto her chest.
'Sometimes there is no "good" alternative, Harry, just the least bad one, and the fact that you know that, and you're unhappy because of it is a good thing.'
She lifted his head from her chest and ran her fingers through his hair. Pushed his hair back from his forehead, she kissed his scar. He finally responded, slipping his arms around her waist.
'Is it bed time?' she asked.
'It could be, if that's what you want,' he said. 'But there's a perfectly good kitchen table here.'
He lowered her gently onto her back.