"Aunt Miranda, see him?" my nephew shrieked in my ear over the din of the crowd.
When I'd stuffed my heart back in my chest, I looked past the other observes and across the enclosure at the red-headed man responsible for securing the Swedish Short-Snout.
"That's Charlie Weasley," Ian added.
Ah. That explains the hair, then: I should have guessed. But shorter than Fred and George...
Ian tugged at my arm. "You don't know who he is, do you?" he accused.
"Ummm... a Weasley?"
He snorted. (He'd picked up some of my bad habits.) "He's a dragon wrangler. Hagrid's mentioned him lots."
"Oh. Well, naturally I should've known."
Ian gave me a dirty look, and then grinned when I elbowed him.
It was terrible, the thought of anyone trying to dodge a blast from one of those monsters, though I supposed they weren't much worse than the Pamplona bulls (an equally idiotic exercise, in my estimation). But the fact that Cedric was my student and a Hufflepuff made it much, much worse. I missed a great deal, at first: I couldn't take my hands away from my eyes, starting with the moment he Transfigured a rock into a Labrador Retriever. (I've always loved dogs and I hated Cedric's tactic, even though the rational part of my brain realised that, in this instance, sometimes a dog is just a rock.)
Diggory held back while the poor, frightened pseudo-dog ran frantically back and forth around the enclosure, attracting the dragon's notice while Diggory inched his way toward the nest.
"Oooh, narrow miss there, very narrow --" Bagman crooned in that irritating, plummy voice as the dog dodged a spurt of flame from the dragon and Diggory slipped behind her, perilously close to the spined tail that twitched in irritation. "He's taking risks, this one!"
Diggory glanced up to gauge the monster's absorption with the dog, and tried to wiggle under her haunches (that couldn't be pleasant) --
-- and narrowly escaped a vicious swat from her tail.
"Clever move -- pity it didn't work!" Bagman boomed, sounding not in the least sincere about it.
Diggory couldn't go at the nest from behind; the dragon's tail was simply too unpredictable. He had to regroup, approach from the side, and hope she'd stay preoccupied with the dog.
It would have worked beautifully if his nerve hadn't failed. He'd been in the enclosure nearly fifteen minutes; both he and the dog were visibly tiring, and the dragon was still as energetic and vicious as ever. He got as close to her forelegs as he dared, and then darted around to go for the nest.
I think it was the quickness of his movement that caught her eye. Hagrid had told us dragons' eyesight wasn't that grand -- their eyes were closer to reptilian eyes than anything else -- but they could pick up on sudden movement, and their sense of smell was surprisingly good, despite the fire-breathing.
Diggory'd forgot that. The Short-Snout stopped in the middle of a blast of fire at the dog and redirected it at the annoying little thing that was scuttling past her legs.
Hagrid hadn't told us dragons were very intelligent -- and they obviously weren't, particularly when provoked; she managed to set her nest afire, and I wondered if she hadn't cooked her eggs. But she also winged Diggory, though he didn't take the brunt of it -- the angle was wrong. He ducked and rolled, grabbed the golden egg from the burning nest, and sprinted for the edge of the enclosure, bent over in agony, clutching the side of his face with his free hand.
The crowd roared their approval, and Bagman cried, "Very good indeed! And now the marks from the judges!"
Diggory shrugged off Pomfrey's insistent tugs at his unburned shoulder -- he wanted those marks, and now -- but there was a hold-up. The dragon-wranglers subdued the creature, removed her from the enclosure, and Charlie Weasley plucked out one of the eggs and took it to the judge's stand for examination.
"They're not supposed to harm the other eggs," Ian informed me. "He'll lose points, even if it's the dragon's fault."
The judges were clustered around Charlie, who pulled out his wand, performed a Lumos charm, and carefully candled the egg to examine the contents. It must have been fine, for the judges all gave Diggory high marks (save for Karkaroff), and Pomfrey led him away to the Aid Station. Bagman started in again on the asinine commentary, and I determinedly ignored him.
Delacour was next. She was breathtakingly attractive -- not beautiful, but she had a certain je ne sais quois -- and looked very frail indeed compared to the next dragon. She, too, had decided to play a waiting game, but she chose to charm the beast to sleep. (I would say she was like an Indian snake-charmer, but it was far more prosaic -- more like hypnotising a chicken.) The creature squinted its narrow, black pupils at her, and for a while it was questionable who was charming whom; but eventually its huge head began to droop on its neck, and then the big body settled down onto the nest (cripes, how's she going to get the egg now?). It stretched out in the enclosure: its breathing steadied, and then fell into a measured rhythm. The girl started to approach it cautiously, the hem of her skirt fluttering in the dragon's breath.
She, as had Diggory, forgot one important fact about dragons: the fire-breathing is not always a voluntary action. It let out a tremendous belch, and fire spurted out its nostrils.
Her skirts caught, and everyone gasped; Charlie and several of the other wranglers threw themselves into the enclosure and were racing toward her, wands at the ready --
-- and with great presence of mind, she turned her own wand on herself and doused the flames with a stream of water.
The dragon twitched at the noise from the crowd, and one lizard-like eye cracked sleepily open. Delacour and the wranglers froze, and the crowd held its breath. Even Bagman managed to keep his big gob shut.
Then the great eye closed: the beast gave a contented grunt -- mercifully fire-less -- shifted on the nest, and rolled over on its side, exposing its belly like some huge, ungainly dog.
Delacour daintily walked over, plucked the golden egg from the nest, and left the enclosure. Cool customer, she was.
It took the wranglers quite a while to wake the dragon up, and it wasn't pleased. But eventually they got it out, and Charlie again inspected the nest and gave the judges a thumbs-up. Delacour got high marks, as well, though again Karkaroff was unfairly low. (The scoring closely resembled that of Olympic Figure-Skating, I cynically noted. No need to guess who Karkaroff would mark highly.)
Krum was impressive in a no-nonsense, brawn-over-brains, brutal way. He simply stepped into the enclosure, wand at the ready; stared at his dragon grimly; and hit it with one spell, directly in the eyes.
There were evidently no restrictions on hurting the dragons themselves.
The poor thing (I was surprised that I had sympathy for it) was blinded, and it roared and thrashed about, pushing at the wards that kept it confined to the enclosure; it was in so much pain that it even forgot its instinctive need to remain near its nest, and it staggered away, stepping on the nest in the process and smashing most if not all its eggs.
Krum lumbered over and scooped up his (undamaged) egg while the dragon stumbled around the enclosure, breathing fire dangerously close to us. The wranglers had to stun the poor wounded beast to subdue it, and they reversed Krum's spell before removing it to its paddock.
Krum was by far the fastest to fulfill the task, but his lack of subtlety hurt him. Only the fact that he'd escaped without injury gave him first place in the standings. (That, and the fact that Karkaroff, as expected, ignored the damaged eggs.)
Then Harry Potter, the last Champion, stepped in.
He was terrified; he was far younger and smaller than the others, and I was worried for him. He was also, not to put too fine a point on it, not my brightest student, and I'd begun to question his ability to deal with much of anything; I wasn't optimistic about his chances.
He surprised me.
He played to his strength. Hooch had told us he was a magnificent Quidditch player (though of course we'd had no demonstration of it ourselves), and he approached his dragon from that angle. He Summoned a broom and sped off into the air, dodging and weaving around the dragon, attempting to draw it away from its nest.
I don't think he realised it couldn't: the wards prevented it from taking flight, though, as Krum's dragon had proved, it could move around the enclosure if it could be persuaded to leave the nest.
But Jaysus, Potter was brilliant on his broom. He darted about the dragon, always managing to swerve away from her flames at the last second. It was highly impressive -- and even more so when, during a second's inattention on his part, she swiped him with her tail and put a gash in his shoulder. He stayed on the broom and changed tactic, whizzing back and forth in front of her, just beyond the reach of the flames.
She finally couldn't stand it anymore. She let out a great roar, went up on her hind legs, and stretched her leathery wings in a vain attempt to launch herself in the air to snap him up --
-- and he -- well, divebombed her, is the best description: he swooped down along the vast column of her neck, between her forelegs, past the expanse of armored belly, and snatched the egg from its nest with both hands.
Very impressive, the most impressive, by far.
And when the marks were given out, he was tied with Krum.
But dragons are much like thoroughbreds horses, it appears. They need a companion to keep them steady in their paddock, as some horses need a pony or dog to keep them calm. But the smaller breeds, if raised by hand, are quite nice. Hagrid introduced us to Charlie Weasley, and he in turn introduced us to a very small, very tame Chinese Golden. The ancient Emperors had kept them as pets and mascots.
Dragon wings are, indeed, tough and leathery. But their hides are sleek and smooth, and feel like heavy, watered silk.
And they purr when you scratch them under the chin.
"That Slytherin, Goyle," he seethed, "called me a Mudblood."
As the Slytherin Head of House was lounging at the window to my left, I wasn't particularly pleased with Ian's lack of tact, and I resolved to speak with him about it later.
Instead, I looked to Snape for clarification; I hadn't heard the term before.
"As opposed to Pureblood Wizard. Most definitely an insult, though a puerile one," he drawled. "Originality is not Goyle's strong suit." And he rearranged himself on the window seat, the better to blatantly observe our conversation.
Ahhh. I was no stranger to the general phenomenon; I'd dealt with it a fair amount before I'd decided to use received pronunciation instead of my real dialect in life, as well as on stage.
"Well," I said slowly to Ian, who was still trembling with rage. "I think you have two options. You can take it as it's intended and allow it to upset you -- and possibly lead you to doing something stupid that will get you into trouble -- or you can take the moral high ground." I paused to think it through for a moment.
"The fact is that I am Muggle, and you are from a Muggle family. Nothing is going to change that, however it's expressed. You might simply accept that the insult is yet another example of Goyle's stupidity and leave it at that." I shrugged. "After all, why waste the time and energy? He wants you to be upset; no response, or better yet, a smile, will probably drive him mad."
Ian was still angry, but the possibilities in my second suggestion had struck a chord, and he hesitated before speaking.
That's my boy. Think it through.
"Do nothing --" Ian said slowly.
"And let him stew in his own juices, yes. Prove you have more guts and self-control than he."
"Okay." His beautiful, toothy grin broke through, and he gave me a peck on the cheek as he turned to go.
"Ian." I stopped him. "He might be foolish enough to take a jab at you, physically or magically. I can't tell you what to do, but I'd expect you to deal with it in a way that doesn't embarrass your House. Or me."
He looked at me thoughtfully, nodded, and trotted from the room, head high. There was palpable relief from the other faculty; they'd all experienced what happened when Ian was upset, in some small form or another.
"That was most interesting."
"Which part?" I retorted to Snape as I returned to my marking.
"You are very protective of him: I expected outrage."
"Oh, it's there," I said dryly. "It just won't do to let him see it. Rather defeats the purpose of counselling a cool, unemotional response. Although," I added, "I shouldn't be surprised if Goyle comes crying to you with a bloody nose, since Ian can't respond magically. And frankly, I wouldn't punish him too harshly for it."
"I should be offended by his implied insult to my House," Snape coolly observed.
"You could, but you needn't. Best to let him deal with one thing at a time; I'll point out the parallel to him later." Even if I agree with him, though I won't tell him so.
"Hmmmph," Snape countered sceptically, and I could feel his eyes on me for the rest of the hour.
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'received pronunciation': once upon a time, the BBC required that its newscasters used a more-or-less "standard" dialect -- sometimes called "elevated" or "educated" English; this standard is often taught to actors (at least American actors) as a good, basic Brit dialect for characters of a certain social and educational status. (sigh) Recent viewing of some BBC broadcasts has proven that the old standard is largely being abandoned in favour of more colloquial dialects. What is the world coming to?