Death Flies a Broken Path Chapter Five
Harry sighed tiredly. The latest candidate for captain was standing in front of him, rattling off yet another list of why he would be the perfect captain for Harry. Roland had indeed allowed Harry to make the choice of who his captain would be himself, but he hadn't quite realised just what that would entail. Temeraire had insisted that Harry remained within the clearing with the older dragon, and Keynes had agreed that some time resting and being taken care of would be good for Harry. Roland had insisted that they needed to start searching for Harry's captain right away, considering the longer he went unharnessed the less likely he was to find someone he wanted to be bonded with, and Keynes had allowed her to present Harry with candidates as long as they came to him. Harry had agreed to wait a while before being fed, in hopes of finding a captain who he could share his first (since his apparent loss of memory at least), but it had been several hours of endless interviews and Harry was feeling cranky and starving by this point. The constant parade of aviators walking through the clearing had left him feeling slightly hopeless as well. He'd started out thinking he'd just pick the first one, whoever they were, but almost immediately had changed his mind upon meeting the man. It wasn't anything to do with the poor aviator; from what Harry could tell he'd been a pretty good guy and someone he wouldn't have minded knowing. But the dragon part of him had instantly dismissed the man and, when Harry tried to convince himself it was for the best, had revolted with such disgust and fury that Harry hadn't quite been able to contain the growl rumbling from his throat. The hopeful candidate had looked crest-fallen at that response, even as Laurence had carefully pulled him away from the clearing. Harry had tried to go after them out of guilt, to reassure the poor guy that it wasn't really anything to do with him, but Temeraire had swept his wing in the way and forced Harry to face him.
"If it is not meant to be, then it will not happen," Temeraire had told him quietly, compassion in his eyes. "He knows that. There are not enough dragons for every aviator to be partnered with one, we are far more rare than them. He will be sad that he has lost this chance, but eventually he will understand that it would not have been any better if you chose him without the real connection."
Harry had stared up at Temeraire, the two sides of himself warring briefly, the human side of still torn up because of the look of utter disappointment and unhappiness the first candidate had worn when he left. But even the human in him had to admit that if his dragon side had reacted with so much revulsion then it probably wouldn't have been a good idea to try and force himself to accept him as his captain.
After that it had just been one random person after another. There'd been a couple of women mixed in amongst the myriad of men, few enough that Harry suspected it was unusual for them to be partnered with a dragon, but each and every single one of them had been met with that outbreak of complete and utter aversion that left him struggling to calmly turn them down. After about the eighth person walking in and listing off their various traits and benefits, something had settled inside of him, a blank sureness that he wasn't going to be picking his captain from any of the people that came to brag about their good points until he gently sent them away. He knew they only did it because it was what they thought they had to do, but he saw in the disapproving frown on Laurence's face that it hadn't been the way Temeraire and he had found each other, and he found himself wanting that brilliant connection that Temeraire had spoken of. Even as he forced himself to remember that he only needed someone he could pretend to be bonded with until he'd managed to sort everything out, the part of him that quietly mourned the deaths of so many friends cried out for at least some part of it to be real, for him to at least like the person he would have to stay and work with for the foreseeable future.
So as candidate after candidate came pacing through with tales of their great deeds and why Harry should definitely want to partner with them, he found himself growing steadily more frustrated and despairing of ever finding someone he could use to satisfy both parts of himself. He thought someone would at least come across as tolerable to the dragon instincts inside of him, but apparently it wasn't going to be quite that easy.
Feeling his extreme reaction to those who were trying to approach him as potential captains had made him wonder about why he didn't feel that way about the others who had approached him before. Laurence certainly didn't provoke that kind of response, in fact Harry found himself trusting the man with ease, in a way he hadn't really done in years. He wasn't sure why, but he suspected it had something to do with Temeraire and the way the older dragon had taken him under his wing. The dragon in Harry seemed to recognise that the person Temeraire had chosen as his companion was someone that deserved trust and respect. He had a feeling this extended to the other members of Temeraire's crew as well. Roland was a slightly different matter, but he suspected that if he asked, he'd find out that she was already bonded to a dragon too. He'd noticed a few other people lingering on the outskirts of the clearing, watching curiously but never actually approaching, and they'd elicited the same lack of response that Admiral Roland was. It was possible that other captains had come to have a look at this exciting new arrival, but had been told to keep away from him in case they spread this strange illness that was sweeping the coverts to him. Temeraire had explained the situation to him in between visits, an anxious expression on his face as he frantically reassured Harry that it would be okay and people were searching for a cure and he was sure Harry wouldn't get it anyway and even if he did Temeraire would take care of him and and and…
Harry had burst into laughter, struggling to bring himself under control for long enough to inform a very disgruntled Temeraire that he was taking it seriously, but didn't see any point in worrying himself about something he very likely couldn't help.
He'd just noticed Laurence flashing him another of those searching looks before Temeraire had stretched one claw out and gently ticked him under the ribs, sending Harry into squealing fits of giggles. That had lasted until Harry had accidentally slipped over onto his bound wing, roaring with sudden pain that had Temeraire snatching him into his chest and nuzzling him comfortingly. That had been how the next candidate had found them, and she, as Harry could smell her true gender under the masculine clothing (and wasn't that a thrill, being able to tell so much about a person from one quick sniff) had simply let him see her before leaving, responding to his lack of positive response.
Temeraire was a bit like a gigantic mother hen at times, Harry thought tiredly, as the still rambling candidate finally figured out that a complete lack of response wasn't exactly a positive reaction and huffed to himself before stalking away. His dragon side just rumbled in relief, quickly followed by his stomach snarling for some actual relief.
Quite frankly, Harry was going to find himself some damn food at this rate, never mind what Roland might be hoping for from his first feeding.
Laurence suddenly cleared his throat. Harry swung his head around to the frowning man, only realising he was growling low in his throat when Laurence raised an eyebrow at him and Temeraire shifted in the background. Harry relaxed his throat with a sigh, slumping unhappily to the ground with a low keen. He curled himself into a ball, tucking his tail to his nose, unharmed wing stretched over his head as he grumpily decided that if they weren't going to feed him then he would just ignore them until they gave up.
He was vaguely aware of how childish he was being, but considering he was basically a baby dragon anyway, he felt justified in indulging his misery for a short time. And as much as these people had been kind to him, and had treated him fairly, the dull clawing of hunger was starting to remind him of times spent at the Dursley's, only getting scraps of food when they deigned to gift him with it.
Temeraire and Laurence sighed in conjunction, and Harry just knew they were sharing one of those significant glances between them over his head. His cranky mood was only worsened by the reminder of what he was probably never going to have, and he pulled himself in even tighter, ignoring the protest of his bound wing.
He could just hear Laurence moving out of the clearing and calling out to someone, before Temeraire's wing laid itself gently across his shoulders. He stiffened in anticipation of Temeraire trying to talk him out of his mood, then slowly relaxed as Temeraire settled beside him and remained silent, the quiet rumble of his breathe strangely soothing.
They remained like that for a few minutes, before the smell of blood and flesh reached Harry's nose.
He reacted instantly, rearing up in a strange mix of desire and terror. His stomach roared approvingly even as his mind remembered that the scent of blood usually meant the death of someone he'd known and loved. All the muscles in his body went rigid, tail lashing frantically once, twice, then stilling in one long line as he tried to work his vastly enhanced senses and figure out the exact source of the nauseatingly enticing smell.
Once he'd settled his mind enough to focus, he quickly realised that his bodies instinctual action was one he could trust, and that the blood had a distinctly animalistic texture to it. He wasn't entirely sure how he knew that, but the knowledge was so certain that he found the tenseness of his body changing into tremors of anticipation.
Temeraire was chuckling above him, and a small part of his mind sighed with relief that the older dragon had apparently only thought his reaction was one of hunger, instead of anything else.
As he watched, several members of Temeraire's crew came lumbering into the clearing, huge baskets of meat clasped between them as they stumbled towards the waiting dragons.
At the sight of juicy red meat, obviously only slaughtered recently, Harry found his human reaction of revulsion swiftly overlaid by his dragon's roar of delight. He was bounding towards the group before he even realised, launching himself at one of the hastily dropped baskets, distantly aware of yelps and people scattering around him as he drew several pieces of the flesh into his mouth at once, throwing his head back as he swallowed them with only the barest amount of chewing.
He nearly howled with delight at the first warm slide of it down his throat, quickly shoving his nose into the basket and gulping down more of the raw meat as his unbound wing flared out in pleasure.
It was several minutes before he slowed, nearing the end of the various baskets that had placed around him. His belly felt full and heavy, and he found himself purring as he lazily chewed on the last few pieces of meat. With the desperate hunger satisfied, he slowly became aware of the young children sitting nearby with buckets of clear and soapy water.
He swung his head round to one of them, blinking as he recognised her as female, even as she blinked back at him.
"Are you feeling better now?" She asked him, standing up and swiping dust off her trousers with a quick sweep of her hands. "Anything else we can get you?"
She waited earnestly, glowering at the other young boys until they stood too, all staring at him in a mixture of fascination and partially concealed longing. A couple of them wrinkled their noses at the spray of gore Harry could feel slowly drying on his muzzle, and he self-consciously licked his tongue over his lips in an attempt to get some of it off.
"I wouldn't mind some water, or somewhere I could take a bath or something?" He rumbled lowly, feeling growing embarrassment as he realised what kind of picture he must have made when he had devoured the slabs of meat.
She grinned at him, and gestured at the buckets of water. "We thought you might be looking forward to getting clean! I'm Cadet Emily Roland, one of Temeraire's runners. That's Cadet Dyer, Ensign Allen and Ensign Harley," she pointed to each of them in turn, and they nodded their heads to him when they were introduced. "The captain told us to take care of anything you wanted, so just let us know what you would like!"
The embarrassment only worsened when he realised the buckets of rags and water meant they intended to wash him. He didn't like feeling like an invalid, and he would be more than capable of washing himself if he was given a large enough pool.
"I…" He shook his head, trying to remind himself that he could ask for what he wanted. It wasn't like they were keeping him in prison here, as much as he felt trapped at times. He was pretty sure that they were only treating him the way they were because they thought of him as something precious, something to protect and care for.
As a normal child dragon, he probably would have loved the attention. It was the adult human inside of him that resented being treated like a baby.
"Could I just… Is there anywhere I could wash myself? And maybe have five minutes alone? I just… I'm kinda tired…"
The men were scowling, and shaking their heads as if they were going to turn him down. But Harry was looking at Emily, and he could see the sympathy flash across her face. It made sense, he thought, that the one who could most understand his need for a moment of privacy was a girl just reaching puberty living among men.
She nodded at him. "I will ask the captain if it's allowed. I believe it should be, but he is the captain." She shrugged and ran towards the other side of the clearing, where Laurence and Temeraire had been talking quietly while Harry was wolfing down his food.
The other men looked a bit disgruntled at not getting to wash him down. Harry had a feeling they had been hoping it would be their chance to try and impress him, but he knew his complete lack of response meant it simply wasn't going to happen.
He turned away from them, watching Emily hurry over to where both Laurence and Temeraire were curiously glancing over. She reached them and started gesturing towards Harry, telling them something that was just out of Harry's hearing range. He saw Laurence frown, and begin to shake his head before Temeraire ducked down and murmured something to them both. Laurence's expression turned thoughtful, and then he nodded.
Relief swept through Harry as Emily grinned and ran back towards them, happily waving at Harry.
"Temeraire convinced the captain that a few minutes alone might be good for you!" She told him as she slowed to a stop in front of him, smiling as Harry's unbound wing fluttered with glee. He bounded up and around her, thrilled at the way she laughed and spun with him.
"Come on you silly thing!" She smirked at him, patting one hand against his side as he crowed with glee.
He followed her out of the clearing and around the side of the Covert, blankly ignoring the grumbling men they left behind. Temeraire had called once for them to be careful, and Harry had simply waved his wing in reply, bouncing happily around Emily and stopping to sniff random plants along the way.
The sharp increase in his sense was amazing, he mused, as he scented the various overlays of dragons and humans throughout the forest. Some he recognised, some were only vaguely familiar from the random men who'd visited him during the day and some he had no idea who they belonged to at all. It was exciting, exploring all the little advantages that came with being a dragon, and Harry was pretty sure that whatever else happened, he was going to enjoy being a dragon for the time being.
The forest petered out, revealing a large lake of water surrounded by rather picturesque looking sandy banks. He roared with joy, then leapt his way over in long, sinuous strides that ate up the ground below him. He barely had time to notice the shifting of soil beneath him before he was launching himself into the water, splashing happily away as he groaned and sunk his head in, drinking his fill.
Vaguely he could hear Emily laughing at the shore as he dived briefly under and shot back up, shaking his whole body in one long movement.
"Do you want me to give you a few minutes?" She called, cupping her hands around her mouth.
"Please!" He yelled back, waving a talon at her in gratitude. She nodded and headed back into the forest, leaving him alone for the first time in what felt like ages, even if it had only been less than a day.
He watched her leave, feeling a curl of tension inside him. He hadn't actually thought of it when he'd first entered the lake, but this was the first time he would get a chance to actually look at himself properly, without anyone wondering why he was so fascinated by himself.
Peering down at the water as the ripples slowed, he finally found out exactly what he looked like.
He was a deep green colour, though he'd already known that. He hadn't known the way it darkened into a brilliant turquoise blue along the ridges standing out from his neck and spine, as well as across the leather folds in his wings and at the very tips of the delicately pointed spines. Dark, glistening black stripes zigzagged across the leathery folds, as well as across his spine, interspersing the turquoise spikes with pitch balck ones. His face was angular, sloping elegantly backwards and joining seamlessly to his throat and long, arching neck. The scales on his body were thicker than Temeraire's, and with a small tap of his talons he realised they were harder too, though he wasn't sure why, but he didn't have the ruff and whiskers that Temeraire had. In fact, his body was fairly smooth all over, other than the cruelly curved spikes running the entire length of his spine, growing shorter until they disappeared at the tip of his tail. He spread his good wing, noting that the spines were arranged differently to Temeraire's, with Harry's wings baring one less. Briefly he wondered if that was unusual, before he sighed deeply and focused on the angry gash on the top of his head, running in the exact same pattern his curse scar had. It had definitely re-opened at some point, which he suspected was during the fall from the skies.
And that was a whole question to itself, he frowned, paddling his legs back towards the shore. He curled himself up just below the tideline, finding a small pleasure in the way the water lapped gently against his body. His mouth stretched wide in a long yawn as he gazed contemplatively over the water, trying to sort out the various thoughts in his head. Surprisingly, forefront amongst them all was the amused realisation that he resembled the extinct dragons of old England, the ones Hagrid had nearly cried over when he explained how they'd been wiped out years ago. Malfoy had sniggered at the half-giant with his bunch of Slytherin cronies, Harry remembered, feeling a nostalgic smile curve his lips as he remembered Hermione glowering at them as she ranted about boys and their lack of sensitivity. Ron had pointed out that he and Harry were boys too, and Hermione had raised one eyebrow and remarked that they weren't exactly the best argument, starting up yet another argument between the two of them as Harry had ignored the pair and daydreamed about flying on wings instead of a broomstick.
He sighed wearily as he realised he would have his chance to find out soon, without his friends there beside him to enjoy it with him.
All the business of the day had kept him from getting too melancholy. Temeraire had broken him out of it earlier, and kept him from returning to it, but alone he found himself wondering at the weird mix of kindness and cruelty finding himself in this world had been. He had been given a new chance at life, and the lack of ache in his scar told him Voldemort was far from here. This place was a chance to live again, find new friends and carve out a fresh place for himself away from the broken world his home had turned into.
But it came with its own prices. Turning into a dragon was a blessing and a curse at the same time. He'd been gifted with so much extra strength and advantages, but it meant that he was tied to these people as he figured out who he was and the limitations he had. Not that being among these people was a bad thing, they all seemed like such wonderful people, but Harry was already making friends, and Temeraire seemed to have adopted him without a moments thought.
And they were in a war. He could be making all these new relationships only to feel that horrible desolation when they fell in battle all over again.
He wasn't quite sure he was strong enough to face that kind of loss all over again.
Quiet footsteps distracted him, and he turned his head slowly, expecting to find Emily approaching to take him back. Instead, a full-grown man emerged from between the trees, stopping in surprise as he registered the young dragon watching him with an assessing eye.
Harry had almost bristled as he first saw the man, expecting him to be yet another candidate stealing a private moment to try and persuade him to take him as captain, but the startled reaction had reassured him that the man was as surprised to see him as Harry was, and he simply watched the man curiously. There was something much more rugged about him than with the aviators. They held a hastily pulled together, but vaguely kept air to them, as if they had lived the majority of their lives in places where they had constant access to food and baths. This man was rangy and strong-looking, with a shadow of bristle over his chin and throat that suggested several days without shaving. He stood with a slight slump to his shoulders, as if he carried a burden upon his back, but the bunch of his muscles and weathered tone of his complexion hinted at many days spent out in the wilderness. There was a healthy glow to his skin, the dark tone of a man who spent his days outside, and the black length of his hair was pulled roughly into a tail, accentuating his vaguely oriental features.
Harry wasn't sure why, but he instantly felt himself take a liking to the man, even as he shook off his surprise and raised an eyebrow at the young dragon.
"Hallo there," he called, voice projecting across the short expanse. He spoke with an upperclass accent, Harry noted, as he tilted his head. "Would you mind me joining you for a moment?"
"Of course not," Harry replied, shifting slightly in the water and extending his wing in invitation. "I wouldn't mind a bit of company," and somehow, when it came to this man, he found he wouldn't actually mind, even though he'd been so desperate for privacy just a few minutes ago.
The man grinned at him and strode over, confidence in his step. "My name is Tharkay, may I inquire as to yours?"
A strange sadness came over Harry, and he ducked his head. "I don't actually have one yet," he mumbled, unsure as to why he felt so suddenly down at the thought.
Tharkay blinked as he sat down just out of reach of the water. "I hope you don't mind me saying, but you seem a little old to be without a name in this place," he frowned, taking a knife and a piece of wood out of his pockets, holding them loosely in his hands as he looked over at Harry.
Harry sighed. "So I've been told," he grumbled, eyeing Tharkay's items with curiosity. "Although it's not for lack of trying," he rolled his eyes. "I've barely been left alone all day. People just keep trying to get me to choose them as my captain," he barely registered the slight whine to his voice, as Tharkay grinned at him.
"Yes well, you appear to be a fine young specimen of a dragon. I am not surprised that they all wish to claim you as their own."
Harry scowled. "You make it sound like I'm just a pet they want to own."
With a shrug Tharkay turned his gaze to the wood in his hand, and carefully set his knife to it with the other. "Some of them see it that way I think. There are many good captains out there of course, but for each good one there is a bad one, who just longs for the honour of having a dragon beside him so he can brag about it to his friends."
Harry nodded thoughtfully, finding himself pleased to hear someone admit that the bond between dragon and captain wasn't always perfect. "Laurence seems like one of the good ones though."
Tharkay glanced up at him briefly, then continued whittling away. "Oh so you have met Laurence and Temeraire then? Yes, they certainly seem to be a shining example of how the relationship between captain and dragon can be. They have had their difficult times, but they have always pulled through it together." He blew some of the dust from the piece of wood. "They respect and love each other, that much is obvious. It is enough to make a man jealous at times, that he could not have a companionship quite like that."
Harry stared at Tharkay, feeling something welling up from deep inside of him. His dragon side crooned, trying to pull him towards Tharkay in an almost irresistible way.
It whispered to him that this was a man he could enjoy the rest of his life with, bonded as dragon and captain, standing beside each other through everything the world might throw at him.
"I… You could have that, if you want." Harry said suddenly, unable to stop himself.
Tharkay frowned up at him. "Friendships like that are not that easy to find in this world, you know," he told Harry, clearly not quite understanding what he meant.
"No," Harry swallowed, nervousness drying his mouth. "No, I mean, you could name me, if you wanted."
Tharkay stared at him, wood and knife hanging limply in his hands as his mouth slowly gaped open. Harry could just see that the carving he'd been making was a dragon, and he suspected that it would have resembled him in the end. "I…" Tharkay gulped, eyes wide with something akin to terror. "I… You would… Do you even realise what you are asking of me?" He whispered, desperation flooding his voice.
The human in Harry sunk, recognising that this was not what Tharkay had expected, or wanted out of their conversation. Vaguely he realised that Tharkay might not want this, might reject him, but the dragon reared to the surface, deciding then and there that it would accept no other.
Harry braced himself, straightening his shoulders as he lifted his head proudly and looked straight into Tharkay's eyes. "Yes." He intoned, feeling something deep and instinctual uncurling inside him. "I am asking you to be my captain."
SO I TOTALLY HAD SOMEONE ELSE IN MIND FOR HARRY'S CAPTAIN. Then someone guessed Tharkay and suddenly I thought, "well, hell, why on earth hadn't I considered him? He's PERFECT.".
And well, yes, this happened! XD
EVIL CLIFF HANGER AHOY! 3
Also, the romance for this has FINALLY been decided. There will be a draconic romance, but there will also be SLASH, but not in the same relationship. CONFUSING? YES. XD I'm looking forward to explaining it all!
Concerning Crucible of Gold: I HAVEN'T READ IT. ANYONE WHO SPOILS IT WILL BE RANTED AT. SO THERE. THAT IS TOTALLY THREATENING. HUSH. We only have the ebook version over here in England, and I kinda want to get the hardback when it comes out (if it comes out… I still haven't seen a release date anywhere for it. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) so I've been holding out. I might just break down and buy both at this rate. Oh dear…
Thanks to everyone who has reviewed, especially those wonderful people who have been with me from the very beginning! All of you make me so happy every time I read your comments and guesses and questions! *hugs* Thank you you wonderful lot!