Chapter 21 Here there be dragons
Harry and Daphne had arrived in Northern Romania and then they had ventured into Carpathian Mountains along the border between Romania and the Ukraine. The young couple had found their way back to the place where Harry had encountered the dragon that had ultimately sent him to Royal London Hospital, or rather had caused the injuries that resulted in the emergency port key being activated that sent him to the Royal London Hospital. So now, Daphne found herself standing next to her fiancé on the edge of a rock cliff, looking over a small clearing in the valley below.
Daphne waited silently next to Harry. She tried to contain the fear that was rising inside of her as she considered just what would come of the dragon that had apparently inspected them and then turned and fled. She looked at Harry as he stared out across the valley in front of them.
Harry just stared silently as he tried to find any evidence of action on the horizon. There was a certain stoicism that was clearly expressed as he stood there on the edge of the rocky overhang. Daphne stepped back slightly so that she was just behind him, so she could keep an eye on Harry and on the sky above them. The silent vigil seemed to last forever, but it was only about forty minutes before they noted some activity. Daphne noted that Harry seemed to detect the distant motion slightly before she had noted it herself. She asked herself if that was one of his skills that helped him be a seeker for the quidditch team back in school — his ability to take in such minor detail from such a great distance. Daphne did not move, but she strained her vision as she attempted to discern just what was going on. There were several flying creatures in the distance just over the tree tops, and there was also some sort of commotion within the forest itself.
Suddenly there appeared flames and smoke from the trees in the forest near the small clearing below where they were standing. Daphne now was able to notice that there were several small dragons within the woods, burning down parts of the forest. Her attention was then drawn to the silhouettes of several larger dragons flying close to the tree tops, approaching the clearing. As the dragons came closer and the flames and smoke filled the air in the valley before them, Daphne started to worry even more about just what they had got themselves into with this whole dragon mess. As her fears begin to mount, she feels a sudden calmness come over her. She hears Harry's voice in her head, reassuring her, admonishing her and telling her to relax and be patient. Daphne is startled by his voice. As she is about to question him, he turns slightly to face her, and she notices the compassion that filled his eyes.
She whispered to him, "But how? How can I hear you?"
Harry smiled back at her, and she heard his voice in her head again and she noticed that his lips were not moving. "I think that it is a combination of our closeness, we must be bonding together, and a side effect of my having possession of Ascalon."
She noted that his hand was tightly gripped on the lance that was still wrapped within the cloak, but he held it out in front of him. Harry turned and looked down at the valley floor below them, and she followed his gaze with her own and she too noted that the smoke and the fire was clearing. There were at least a dozen dragons of various sizes that were arrayed around the enlarged clearing, sitting among the smoking ruins of part of the forest. The smallest of the dragons looked to be no larger than a large ox, other than its long tail and its outstretched wings. The larger dragons were easily bigger than the one that Harry had faced during the tournament during their fourth year at Hogwarts, although these were white scaled beasts, and their scales were smoother than the Hungarian Horntail that Harry had faced. She quickly heard Harry's voice again as it commented that these must be Ukrainian Ironbelly Dragons that he had been looking for, and that were related to the dragon that he had freed from Gringotts when he had escaped from the bank with Hermione and Ron.
Harry was about to comment about the relative sizes of the creatures in front of them when all of the sudden the sky went dark.
Harry and Daphne looked up and saw the silhouette of a large dragon blocking out the sun as it approached the clearing. The silhouette descended slowly into the middle of the clearing. The young couple noted that all of the other dragons had bowed down as the massive beast landed in their midst, and as its feet touched the ground it lifted its head and shot a massive stream of fire into the air above it.
Daphne then became aware of hearing strange voices in her head, as though there was a large conversation going on. She initially could not make out what any of the sounds were, and she whispered to Harry, trying to get his attention. Harry turned briefly towards her, held his finger to his lips to quiet her as he quietly added, "I hear it too, hold on."
Harry then turned to face the dragons. The giant dragon was now sitting in the centre of the clearing and looking straight up at Harry. Harry then removed the cloth from over the lance, and he firmly planted it on the ground next to him, as he held on to the middle of the shaft. The metal of the tip of the lance gleamed brightly in the sun and Harry noted that all the dragons were now staring at the lance, and not at him.
Then Harry and Daphne heard a low growl, followed by a hiss. At these sounds the murmuring voices in their heads ceased. Then the growl and hiss turned into a deep but melodic voice.
"Youngling, I have heard of your presence," said the voice, "and that you come bearing Ascalon, the weapon of George, the staff of Merlin." The massive beast paused for a moment. "I must ask now, what are your intentions?"
Before Harry could respond, one of the dragons crouched down to his right, not far from the large dragon in the middle, lifted its head and spoke up. "That is the same youngling who challenged me and lost. Let me take him now, and finish what I started!" exclaimed the young dragon.
The larger beast's tail swung at a blinding speed and struck the boasting dragon along the side of its head, causing it to stumble slightly. "Silence, Haragos," bellowed the larger animal. "You speak out of turn, and you know not of what we are dealing with."
"My apologies," whimpered the dragon who was momentarily subdued, "my lord Balaur, please forgive my rash speech."
"It may not be for me to forgive," chided Balaur, as he kept his eye on Harry.
"I come to speak to you and your kind," stated Harry. He did not realise at first that he was speaking in Parseltongue, and he did not fully understand that Daphne was hearing and understanding all of what was being said.
"But my young friend, Haragos, claims he fought with you not too long ago," replied Balaur. "In fact, the tale he tells of that encounter was that you had died and there was nothing left of your body when he was done. Do you return today for vengeance, or to finish what you started with the proud dragon?"
"I must admit to you and to Haragos, I came in ignorance when I first met him," answered Harry. "I apologise to you and your kind, and especially to Haragos for my rash actions when I was last here in your valley."
The dragon known as Haragos tilted its head slightly as he looked at Harry more carefully, yet a sneer still covered his face.
"You come with the weapon of the warrior, George," said Balaur as he seemed to be considering Harry's words. "Do you intend to use it as the original owner did?"
"I came into possession of this through the guidance of Merlin, with whom I have been studying and conversing in my efforts to complete a certain task."
Harry then noted that there was a slight commotion behind Balaur, as what appeared to be an even older dragon made its way out from the midst of the others. This dragon appeared to have various scars on his head and his wings, and his right-wing did not lay flat against its side as the left-wing did. There was a wisp of smoke trailing out of his nostrils as it came up next to Balaur. Even though Balaur was clearly larger than this older dragon, as well as obviously more fit, Balaur still stepped back.
The older dragon began to speak with a hiss, "Haragos, you are young and you are foolish!" He then took a few more steps towards the base of the cliff below Harry and Daphne. Harry thought that the dragon's eyes were glazed over, almost opaque. Then the ancient creature lifted its snout towards the cliff, and sniffed as it also tasted the air with his tongue. He then turned his head slightly towards Balaur. "I know that scent," he said almost quietly. Daphne and Harry could barely make out his words.
Balaur raised an eyebrow and stared back at the old one, "How is that, Biruitor? You have only been a here with us for a few short years."
Harry turned to Daphne and whispered, "This is surprising."
Before she could answer, she heard the words of Biruitor in her head, just as Harry did.
"He is the one. The one who lead the other two into the depths of the dungeon where I was held. He is the one who enabled my escape from the little ones," he said.
Balaur turned to face Harry, and even though he was still over a hundred feet away, Harry could see a look of surprise in Balaur's eyes.
"Are you sure?" he questioned the ancient Biruitor without taking his eyes off of Harry.
"I am most certain," responded Biruitor. "It was he who rode my back as I climbed out of the prison I had found myself in, it was he who jumped off into the lake with his companions."
"This is most interesting," replied Balaur with a slight hiss. He turned to face Biruitor, even if the older dragon could barely see him. "So what do you make of this situation, oh ancient one?"
There was a pause before the old dragon answered. "He carries the lance, the staff of Merlin. While I cannot see the staff, we all can sense it, even the young and foolish Haragos." He turned and faced the bold young dragon, and if it were possible to glare with blind eyes, the elder dragon did so. "My grandfather told me stories of Merlin, of how they would converse. Merlin was always gentle with my grandfather. He even allowed my grandfather to travel freely, to hunt game. I do know that he had said that Merlin had sent my grandfather away, after telling him that he would hide the staff, and that it would be hidden until his heir would return with the lance." Biruitor turned to face Harry and bowed his head. "Merlin-son, I humbly thank you for setting me free."
As the ancient dragon bowed his head as a sign of respect to Harry, there was a murmuring among the gathered dragons. Harry and Daphne had a hard time making out the words as so many were speaking at once. Harry could make out occasional phrases, 'how can this be, an ancient dragon bowing to a human', 'the son of Merlin has returned,', 'what ill omen does this mean for us?'
After the commotion continued for over ten minutes Balaur reared back and again shot a large cone of flame into the air above him. "Enough!" he bellowed. He turned and faced the other dragons. "Is there one of you here who questions the words of Biruitor? Is there one of you here who would dare to challenge Merlin-son, the wielder of The Warrior's lance?"
A silence fell over the gathered beasts. Harry was about to turn to face Daphne when he noticed a shadow pass over him. He turned and looked above him and noticed that there was a dragon that had appeared from behind after apparently arriving with the utmost stealth. Daphne noted Harry's startled reaction to the shadow and she too turned and they both stared at the beast that was above them.
This dragon was black, and Harry quickly recognised the many spikes from around the creatures large head. Yellow eyes inspected him closely as it sensed him with its nose and with its tongue. The black dragon then stared at Harry intensely for several minutes in silence. Then it lifted its large head and finally spoke, addressing the leader in the middle of the group in front of her.
"My cousin, Balaur," called out the loud but feminine voice that rang in both Harry and Daphne's head. "I am Kiraly, of the clan from the land these humans call Hungary. I too, recognise this small creature, from over fiver years ago."
Harry turned to Daphne as he gulped silently. He silently told her that he now was sure where he had seen this black dragon before.
Balaur called back to Kiraly. "Please, my fair cousin, what more information do you have about Merlin-son who we find here in our presence?"
"I had been taken by some of his kind, from my home to what these small creatures called a preserve. At that time I was then brought across the land and the sea to an island country with several other cousins, to participate in a foolish game that some of those twig twirlers had invented." She paused as she recalled the experience with great disgust. "He was sent by the others to try and steal one of my eggs. He did nothing to damage my own eggs, and I later learned that he was trying to obtain a false egg that some of the other twig-twirlers had hidden in my nest. There were others who had to try and do a similar stunt, facing off against various cousins of ours, but he was the one who showed respect and made no effort to hurt either me or my eggs. After he had retrieved the object which he sought, and he had left all of my own eggs unhurt, I was able to calm down and only then was I able to sense that he had truly never meant me nor my little ones any harm. If this is the twig twirler who comes before our kind today with Merlin's Staff, then he is not one to be feared!"
As she finished her short speech, she leapt up and took flight over Harry and Daphne, and quickly alit next to Balaur. She knelt slightly as she bowed her head to Balaur, and then she too turned to face Harry and Daphne. Then Kiraly bowed her head to the two humans on the ledge in front of where she sat with the other dragons.
While Kiraly appeared to make herself comfortable as she sat herself down next to the large Ukrainian Ironbelly, another dragon walked out from the circle that surrounded the two. Kiraly did not bother to lift her head and acknowledge this other dragon. The white dragon was slightly smaller than Balaur, but her mouth was filled with sharper teeth and her eyes seemed to glow a little brighter than those of Balaur. The newly emboldened dragon approached the base of the cliff beneath them and stood up on her hind legs to bring herself closer to them. Harry then suddenly felt a brushing within his mind, as though he were feeling someone trying legillimency on him. Harry was startled and Daphne was able to detect his surprise. The sensation lasted a couple of minutes and then the dragon turned and walked back to face Balaur.
Balaur raised an eyebrow at this dragon as he asked, "So, Jandarm, my queen, what have you learned of this Merlin-son?"
Jandarm, the dragon queen, snorted and released a large cloud of smoke from her nostrils. "I find no deceit in this little one," she announced. She then turned and faced Haragos, "And I was able to detect remorse on his part for engaging you in battle young Haragos."
The arrogant Haragos snorted in response.
Jandarm breathed s small spray of fire in Haragos' direction, "You would do well to not provoke him anymore, youngling. You bested him once, but Merlin-son survived. And now he is in possession of the Warrior's Lance. You must learn your place," she chided.
Balaur then spoke to all the dragons. "We have learned much about this Merlin-son, but we still do not know why he has come among us. Nor do we know why he comes bearing the Warrior's Lance."
Jandarm then turned and faced Harry once again. "Merlin-son," she spoke softly into Harry's mind, "will you share with us why you are here? Why have you brought back the Warrior's lance?"
Harry shifted back and forth on his feet as he thought how best to reply. He then began to speak in Parseltongue, which Daphne was able to understand through the mental link which had suddenly occurred as they arrived here at the cliff. Harry held onto Ascalon tightly with his right hand as he began to explain his presence.
"While it is true that I did meet the fair Kiraly many years ago, it is equally true that I had no desire to hurt her at that time. However, what brings me here today is more related to my encounter with Biruitor. The affairs of men and wizards may not be consequential to your kind, but my tale began before I was even born." Harry began to tell of the wizarding wars, of the Dark Lord, of the prophecy and the need for him to face Tom Riddle. He tried to explain that this Tom Riddle had used dark magic to prevent himself from ever truly being killed, and that to be able to defeat this dark wizard, Harry explained that he needed to obtain and destroy various items. Harry continued to tell the tale of breaking into Gringotts, the goblin bank, to get the object that was hidden there. In doing so, he and his friends had come upon the dragon that guarded the most secure vaults.
"My friends and I were discovered by the goblins. While I knew that I was stealing from someone, I did what I thought was right in order to save others from the wrath of the dark wizard. The goblins tried to capture us, and in our attempts to escape, Biruitor was freed from his shackles and he managed to escape the goblins' caves. My friends and I jumped on his back to escape the goblins as well." Harry paused and he faced the ancient dragon who appeared to be nearly blind. "I owe you a debt of thanks, most honoured Biruitor for you enabled my friends and me to escape and to be able to go on and defeat the evil wizard."
Several of the dragons responded with shooting flames and smoke out of their nostrils in what Harry and Daphne understood to be a form of cheering the old dragon for the aid he provided to Merlin-son, even if he did not do so intentionally.
As the dragons' responses began to die down, Harry continued. "It is this that brings me to my dilemma which I face to day. The goblins, who felt that I robbed them, not just by taking the item from the vault in their bank, but by allowing Biruitor to escape, now claim that I owe them. The debt that I owe them is to replace their dragon."
Harry and Daphne cringed at the response. There was more shouting and shooting of flames, and they could easily discern there was a difference in this response compared to the one that the dragons gave to honour Biruitor. There was anger and disgust being displayed.
Haragos reared back and roared greatly, "I told you all that this filth was up to no good!" Balaur glared at him as he spat flames towards the upstart young dragon. Biruitor himself spin about and slapped the end of his tail against Haragos' head.
"Youngling," hissed Biruitor, "you go too far with your words. You risk bringing the wrath of the Warrior's lance on your own hide!"
Balaur roared out with flames once more, but he was silenced as Jandarm spoke softly, but loud enough for all of the dragons to hear her. "We need to hear out what Merlin-son has to say to us. He is still the wielder of the Warrior's lance. Let him finish!"
The other dragons settled down. Harry tried to speak, but his throat had dried up as he observed the reactions of the dragons as he had told them what the goblins desired from him.
"My friends," he said slowly, trying to wet his lips and hoped that the dryness in his throat would allow him to finish. "I do not wish to force any one of you to join me, to return with me to England. But I find myself in a dilemma. I am bound to repay the goblins for the loss of the dragon, their ultimate guard for the vaults which they protect within their bank, their caves. Yet, I have learned much from my travels in order to obtain this lance, Ascalon. I do not believe that Merlin ever intended this staff, as he called it, to be used against any dragon. We heard from Biruitor how his own grandfather was treated by Merlin!"
A dragon in the midst of the crowd called out, "But you are not Merlin!"
Harry smiled slightly at this, "That is true, and I am not George either. However, I have learned that the wielder of Ascalon, of the Warrior's lance, should be the protector of the dragons, not their enemy!"
Kiraly called out above the dragon's speaking in response, "I have seen his actions, I believe that he speaks the truth!"
Jandarm breathed out a massive pillar of flame and then she added her own words. "I told you all that I have found no deceit in this man. Do you accept what I have to say? Or am I no longer your queen?"
A silence fell over the great beasts as her words sunk in.
A smaller dragon walked from the back of the crowd, past the king and queen of the Ironbellies, past the Hungarian Horntail, Kiraly, and finally up to the base of the cliff.
"I am Saevus, grandson of Balaur and Jandarm," he spoke with a little fear evident in his voice. "I would consider going with you to meet these goblins. I would go to learn why these goblin people choose to imprison our kind. I would go to repay Merlin-son for the kindness he has shown in the past to Kiraly and to Biruitor, even when you knew nothing about them. I would go as long as these goblin peoples do not shackle me. I would go as long as I am treated the way Biruitor's grandfather was treated by Merlin himself. I would go if I had the option to leave if another would take my place. I would go with you, but there needs to be something we, the dragons, receive in return."
Harry could hear Daphne speaking to him in his mind. He could hear her words of comforting and praise for how he had handled this situation with the dragons. He could hear her suggestion that perhaps they have Saevus return to meet with the goblins, and that perhaps an arrangement, or an agreement, could be reached between Saevus and the goblins. He could even hear her suggest that the goblins might even want to pay the dragons for serving as their guard for the lower vaults.
Harry started to laugh at her comments.
"And just what do you think is so funny, Potter?" demanded Daphne.
Harry continued to laugh as he answered her question. "How do you pay a dragon? I mean, what do they need? What do they want? Do you pay them with gold or jewels? Do you pay them with food or drink?"
Harry and Daphne heard a snicker and a laugh in their minds. "All of the above would suit me," said the young dragon, Saevus.