Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter
"You done work for the day?" Sirius asked as Charlie entered the office.
Charlie nodded and settled into the chair with a long sigh. "Yeah. Tyara's brat of a daughter thought it would be funny to sneak into a nesting mother's nest. She thought that she could pretend to be the mother of the eggs. It didn't go well."
Sirius snorted with laughter. "At least you emerged with all of your limbs intact," he said, gesturing with his left hand, which was now missing the littlest finger.
"We all told you not to wear your signet ring around the dragons, but you didn't listen." Charlie shook his head. "Some rookie dragon keeper you turned out to be."
Sirius drew himself up in mock offense. "I will have you know that I was the best rookie ever. It's how I got this job, you know."
Charlie couldn't help his laughter. "I'm almost positive that Jacques took you as his assistant so that you'd stop getting injured." Once he got himself more under control, he added, "And nobody thought you'd actually like the administrative part of things. It only made sense to let you run this zoo since you're so shockingly good at it."
"And it wasn't like anyone else wanted it, right?" Sirius asked, shaking his head. "No, you know I like running the reserve. It's never boring, and the Ministry almost always gives the funding I ask for since they still feel guilty for sending me to Azkaban without a trial."
"Even after forty years?" Charlie asked, incredulous. He'd known that their funding problems had all but disappeared once Sirius started dealing with the Ministry, but that struck him as a little ridiculous.
"Oh, you know that he has lingering emotional trauma from the prison," Severus said, entering the office. He had the slightest of smiles on his face. "He cries whenever he thinks about the poor dragons not getting what they need, and the Ministry officials fall for it every time."
Charlie shook his head. "You're ridiculous," he told Sirius, still grinning. He sighed, then stood and stretched. "Singer and I are going for a long walk," he told them both. "We might be gone for a few days. There's something on the edge of the reserve that's worrying him, though he's not saying much."
Sirius sobered immediately. "What sorts of something? Anything we need to worry about?"
The wizarding world had settled down in the aftermath of Voldemort's third rise, which had ended just last year, but there was always the danger of something else coming down the line. There were rumors that Voldemort wasn't truly dead, even now that he'd died three times, but he'd never gone after the reserve. Still, Singer had been detecting strange things from the farthest border of the reserve, and wanted to go investigate. Charlie wasn't inclined to let him do that by himself.
"Singer… says he's getting odd vibes from the farthest border, and wants to go investigate. By ourselves, apparently, without the dragons. He'll call them if he needs them, but you know he won't put them in danger needlessly."
"Does he think they will be in danger?" Severus asked, straightening. "I could go with you."
"Isn't Anna's graduation coming up?" Charlie asked. "She'd be devastated if you missed it." He glanced sharply at Sirius, who looked like he was about to volunteer. "Either of you missed it. You know she's still insecure about her place in the family. Don't you dare skip her graduation."
Sirius subsided with a wince. "I wish she wasn't," he said, then raised his hand. "It's not her fault, and I love her to death, I just wish she knew that she really is our daughter, even if we aren't related biologically."
"She does," Severus said immediately. "She's our daughter, with all of our combined insecurities and neuroses, which is why she'll probably always have that slight fear. And if you two think you can handle it, we'll leave you to it."
"We've got this," Charlie said immediately, choosing to leave out certain information. He didn't mention that Marlis had been missing since before Singer had started getting those strange feelings, nor did he intend to. It didn't matter. He and Singer would sort it out. Besides, with any luck, the two things were entirely unrelated.
"It's fine. Singer and I will be fine."
Famous last words, words that Charlie should know better than to ever repeat. It wasn't fine. The hike was awful, and Singer pushed them both onward like a man possessed. He seemed convinced that they were going to find something in the wilds, something that demanded their attention as soon as they could possibly get there.
On their own. Without the dragons. On the farthest edge of the reserve. The one that started to move into a mountain, which is why it was the edge of the reserve in the first place. "~Singer, are we almost there yet?~" Charlie asked, hoping that it didn't sound like he was whining. Forty years of adventures like this and he was certain that he still wasn't used to the insanity of it all.
"~Almost,~" Singer said calmly. "~I can feel it. Whatever it is. It's hovering on the edges of my awareness. Can you feel it?~"
Charlie shook his head. He'd been trying, ever since the first time Singer had asked the question, but he never felt anything. "~But you think we're getting close to the-~" Charlie cut off suddenly and closed his eyes. He'd almost thought that he'd heard… no. That was impossible. Then he caught the sound again, a faint, whimpering noise. "~Are you hearing that?~"
Singer cocked his head to one side. "~Yes,~" he said. "~From the same direction as the feeling.~" Singer fell into a run, and Charlie followed.
What they found had his jaw dropping open. Marlis was there, on the mountain, curled up around a tiny little slip of a boy who was sobbing helplessly. Neither Charlie nor Singer could get a very close look at them, because Marlis rumbled a small threat as soon as they stepped into his field of vision.
"~What's wrong with him?~" Singer asked, stilling so as not to be perceived as dangerous.
Lines of tension in Marlis eased as the dragon relaxed. "~I didn't realize it was you two. I thought it was those horrible people coming back for him once more.~"
"~What people?~" Charlie asked.
"~Don't know. Not his family, the only smell of him that's on them comes from prolonged contact. They were hurting him, and he cried out, and I came.~" Marlis sounded defiant when he added, "~I came, and he's ours now. They can't have him.~"
"~What did you do?~" Charlie asked, even though he was almost certain that he didn't need to ask the question.
"~Hello, little Singer,~" Singer was saying, even as he fearlessly approached Marlis and the boy who was curled into him. "~Are you injured at all, or just frightened?~" Singer settled just outside of touching distance from the boy, and Charlie followed his lead.
"~Not frightened,~" the little one whispered. "~Not hurt.~"
"~We're so glad to hear that,~" Charlie said, as softly and kindly as he could. "~It's not good for children to stay out in the elements, though. Wouldn't you like to come someplace more comfortable with us?~"
The little one flinched.
"~They're not like the monsters who took care of you before,~" Marlis said soothingly. "~Singer is like you, and Charlie is his mate. They'll take good care of you if you let them.~"
Slowly, hesitantly, the little one uncurled and looked at them. He was pale, and his new scales were dramatic and blood red, almost black, against his skin. His eyes were the same shade, and there was something oddly familiar about him…
Charlie shook off the strange thought that the child reminded him of someone with a shake of his head. "~We'd like to take care of you,~" Charlie offered, and held out his hand.
The little boy was obviously frightened, and Charlie had to hold his hand out for what felt like forever, but eventually the little one reached out and took Charlie's hand. "~Okay,~" he said softly, uncertainly. "~Marlis wouldn't lie to me, right?~"
"~Of course not,~" Marlis said immediately. "~Singer takes care of all of us, and Charlie helps my own mate with her babies from time to time. They are good Singers, who will take good care of you. They will raise you to be a good Singer as well.~"
The little one's face bloomed into a sudden, startling smile. "~I'll be good at something?~" he asked, sounding achingly hopeful for the approval.
"~We promise you will be,~" Singer said. He reached out and patted the little one on the head. "~I am Singer, so you need a name of your own that isn't mine. Do you have one?~"
The little one looked down. "~The people who… who took care of me before called me Tom.~"
The name jogged something in Charlie's memory, but he dismissed it as unimportant. "~It's nice to meet you, Tom,~" he said warmly. He stood slowly and, making sure that he gave Tom enough time to pull away if he wanted to, hefted the child into his arms. He couldn't have been older than four.
"~Does this make us fathers now?~" Singer asked later, after they'd started the long walk back to the more populated areas of the reserve. After they'd settled down for the night, sooner than Charlie would have expected. It made sense, though, given their new burden.
Charlie glanced at Tom, who was sleeping close to Marlis, one hand resting on the dragon's scales. "~I think it does,~" he said wonderingly. "~I don't know how I feel about this.~"
Singer patted him on the shoulder. "~You'll do fine.~" Singer then leaned in for a kiss. "~We'll do fine.~"
Charlie sighed and settled down so that his head was pillowed on his arms and he was staring up at the sky. Singer curled up against him and cuddled close, his head resting on Charlie's chest. "~Yeah,~" he said, "~I think we will.~"
A/N: And so it's over. I'm glad you've all stuck with me until the end, and I apologize for all the delays in writing and posting. At this time, I would like to mention that I've started publishing some of my original works. If you're interested (and I do hope that you are), you can find me on tumblr at robinblackwellwrites. I have four books published currently, and they can be found under the tab "My Stories."
Thank you all so much for your support during this story, and I hope you've enjoyed the ending.