Life was good...
Joseph Winstanton stood in front of the children’s birthday party, he was dressed in his finest wizard’s robes, he didn’t believe in all that black top hat and tails garbage that other so called magicians wore. He wore robes like any self respecting wizard. He had to admit he liked his robes, they were a bright fire engine red, his favourite colour, with fiery golden thread stitched into the fabric for magical looking symbols. If he had been forced to tell anyone he’d have said the robe stitched itself…but that would be nonsense wouldn’t it? As he moved around in it though he looked like a flame dancing and glittering, the gold thread catching the light causing the symbols to flash. He had a deep set hood to it that he could draw up and entirely hide his face from view. Joe had considered one of those pointed hats, but the hood was good, the cloth warm seemingly on even the coldest of days and...well a hat would have just looked silly! For now the hood was draped across his shoulders with his head bare as he stood at his conjuring table, his arms were bared to the elbow as the children oohed and ahhed at his show. He’d been performing his magic show for most of the afternoon to their collective amazement and the quiet bemusement of the parents. The parents of the birthday girl had thought that hiring a magician for the birthday party would excite the children. The father had heard about this new guy who had come onto the scene a few weeks ago, he was supposed to be amazing! But they had never believed he could be so incredible. Many of his tricks…they were tricks after all weren’t they? Many of his tricks had looked like almost genuine magic, but that was plainly impossible! Magic wasn’t real was it? All the parents smiled as they stood though puzzled about how Joe did what he did.
Joe had reached the high point of his show, as the children all sat with their attention rapt to him and the solid gold dragon statuette he had just placed on the table. From its look the statue must have been worth a fortune, it was exquisitely crafted and glittered in the afternoon light almost with a sense of being alive. Joe smiled, he did these birthday parties to earn himself an honest crust but he had a secret…a secret that none of the children, their parents or anyone else knew…Joe could do and was doing real magic! He wasn’t using tricks, this was one hundred percent genuine magic…these shows allowed him to keep the wolf from the door, at least the ones he hadn’t summoned or conjured. As a magician he considered himself to be In Training.
When I say Joe did real magic of course Joe didn’t pluck coins out of someone’s ear or perform card tricks…No! Joe had to admit himself that he was so far beyond those other magicians now that he could afford to scoff at the tricks that were supposed to be the greatest. Joe’s real magic was the serious sort, the sort straight out of the fantasy books he liked to read like Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, or maybe Merlin from the legend of King Arthur. He’d honestly considered changing his name to something more magical sounding, but Joe was who he was…so Joe was fine, and if it didn’t sound magical well that was just too bad wasn’t it? This was after all Earth in the twenty first century, no one believed in real magic any more anyway…or did they? He could see the rapt looks on the children’s faces, “So young to end up so disappointed by the world…at least I’m the genuine article here!” Joe thought.
Joe’s magic was entirely real, he was using simple spells for his shows; cantrips, at least that was what his new found friend Draco called them. Simple practise spells and illusions that used only minimal amounts of magical energy, energy that Draco called mana. With enough experience and practise, that Joe was acquiring with a rapidity that even surprised Draco at times, he would soon be able to summon up spells that would have real power! He’d been practising his fireball spell for about a week now but it was so hard finding anywhere secluded to practise. In his private moments he had visions of seeing his insufferable bank manager, hearing the pompous loathsome man bemoaning the state of Joe’s finances and getting angry over not getting his money this month. Joe would just smile and with a quiet magic word and subtle wave of his hand reduce the parasite to a pile of ash! But then again since Draco had joined him the bank manager was no more threat, Joe’s finances had become miraculously healthy…one might even say he was wealthy now and that was due to the magic. Besides fire was an easy thing to conjure, it had been the first spell that he had ever performed…but it was a complicated thing to keep under control. As someone had once said “Fire could be a useful servant but a terrible master.” Summon a fireball and lose control for a single instant and it could do anything, fly off completely rogue. All that control took practise and effort…which left Joe exhausted.
Joe stood for a moment longer eyeing the statuette, the children really had no idea…how would they react if they knew that sitting in front of their collective amazed faces on Joe’s little table was a REAL dragon. His name was Draco and when Joe had first met Draco, he of course had been as sceptical as anyone else would be in the twenty first century. Dragons? Magic? Just did not exist outside fantasy novels. However Joe could find no other explanation and being magical Draco could transform and work some of the most amazing and above all ancient spells. When asleep, as Draco was feigning now, he could choose to appear as this intricately crafted gold statuette with golden skin and a pair of flawless emeralds for eyes. The figurine stood about ten inches high and weighed a ton! Joe normally had to lift it two handed, solid gold was after all solid gold, though he made light of a lot of the weight, joking about it with the children as he strained to lift the statue. The little table usually creaked alarmingly when Joe finally brought the statuette to rest. Joe had joked with Draco about losing weight in case he broke the table! Draco of course had entirely missed the joke and given Joe a silent treatment for two days. Joe had once taken the statuette to an antiques valuer, taking the greatest of care not to wake Draco. Just out of plain old curiosity you understand. The poor man in the jewellers he had been to see had practically fallen off his chair!
“Priceless!” had been the one word the valuer had been able to say between inane gibberings.
Joe of course would, could, never sell Draco. Draco probably wouldn’t allow it for a start! He kept saying that he and Joe were partners in magic and Joe had to admit Draco was a formidable teacher. As a statue Draco was fine, could sit in the corner not bothering anyone, even made a sizeable door stop. But awake and full size that was something else, you had a lizard with breath that could reduce metal to liquid and that was definitely something Joe or anyone else did not want to be on the wrong side of. Joe had only seen his new friend at full size the once, late at night in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere. Again privacy was such a problem, full size Draco needed that sort of space; four hundred feet snout to tail with a two hundred foot wingspan…or so Draco told him. Joe just saw a wall of golden scales, each the size of an archery target, and tried to estimate Draco’s size in comparison to objects he knew about. “Now would that be three jet liners or four?”
Without magic to aid him, keeping Draco hidden when he was the size of three jet liners end to end with a wingspan to rival a seven-oh-seven, while he could sound like a thunderstorm, would have been no mean feat. “Plus” Joe mused quietly to himself, “what could one feed a four hundred foot lizard with a personal flamethrower. I think all the cans of dog food in Tescos might just be an appetiser.” Joe smiled again settled the children with a wave of his hand and playfully reached forward to tickle the statue under the chin. In the short time they’d known each other they’d become amazingly firm friends. Joe had to admit his whole life had changed the day Draco arrived.
“I think he’s a bit shy…or perhaps the old fool’s fallen asleep…again!” Joe rolled his eyes playfully, that got many of the youngest children giggling with glee. “Dragon’s can be like that you see children…especially when they start to get old.” Joe winked to his audience and smiled, he teased Draco about his age but it was all meant in fun and Draco he hoped knew that, “do you want to help me wake him up children?” The assembled faces all nodded in awe filled unity, their parents stood in the back beaming with approval and speaking behind their hands to one another.
“He’s very good!” one mother said simply.
“Yes well it’s all just tricks. That dragon will be a toy…mechanical probably.” replied the father of the birthday girl, he was someone big in television so he knew all the tricks, he’d seen it all before. But if pressed even he would admit that Joe was something unexpected.
“Oh you really think so? But it does look so real? That thing he did with the tiny tree he grew from a seed I could have sworn it was a real fruit tree.”
“Ah see…Just looked that way…smoke and mirrors really Frannie, bit of slight of hand in the right place…” He paused for a moment uncertainly, he had to admit Joe was certainly better than any guy with a few card tricks. The woman was right that fruit tree trick had been a breath taking thing. Just the magic he’d done so far had left some of them looking at each other wondering how he did it, but no the father was the authority figure here he couldn’t appear astounded…Joe’s magic was merely tricks and that was final!
“OK…” Joe bent forward conspiratorially as if to whisper to the children, “now his name’s Draco and he’s my new friend, we only found each other a few weeks ago. So I don’t want you to startle him, no shouting and screaming. Believe me children…” Joe spoke now with his own authoritative air as he smiled at them all. “An upset dragon is not something you want on your hands. So if we can all say wake up Draco together maybe we can get him to wake up and meet you all.” This was of course all part of their act, the only staged part, the statue winked an emerald eye at Joe and waited for his cue. “One…two…three…” All the youngest children down in the front row craned forward and whispered “Wake up Draco” in unison. Their parents beamed with approval, Joe definitely had a way with children. The statue however didn’t move…just as Draco and Joe had rehearsed.
“See just a toy!” The father repeated quietly, “he’ll throw some switch in a moment under the table you’ll see, probably something under the table using magnets...”
Joe smirked, “Oh dear! Maybe if we can all try again children, I think some of you didn’t call him. My friend will only wake up if you all call him.” Joe looked up with a naughty grin, “that’s mums and dads too you understand…you’ve got to believe in magic to experience it. Plus Draco can be a little hard of hearing, comes with his age.” More giggles from the children, “so maybe we need to be a teeny bit louder, but that still means no shouting please. I think we could all do without an upset dragon on our hands. So one…two…three…”
“Wake up Draco.” Even the parents said it at the back smiling to themselves, they were enjoying the show just as much as their children. Joe stepped back a pace from the table and held his hands up to the father mouthing “see no switches, no magnets!”. Right on cue...Draco moved, Draco turned his miniature golden head to the audience, his emerald eyes flashed in the light and he winked, to a huge collective gasp.
“Gets them every time!” Joe smiled broadly. The entire room fell into awed silence as Draco scanned his face across the assembled children.
“Hello children…my that was a good sleep, my thanks for waking me.” Draco yawned as he spoke in a deep rolling bass voice that would have approximated to a thunderstorm rolling in on distant hills. One mother even furtively looked at the sky in case it really was going to rain. Draco’s little face scanned the stunned and utterly silent faces of the audience. Young or old no one had yet managed to explain how Draco worked, where the trick was…because as Joe and Draco knew there simply was no trick involved…Draco was an entirely REAL gold dragon!
“Oh my God!” came a gasped cry from one of the mothers. Another swooned and, if it hadn’t been for the amazing reflexes of her equally stunned husband catching her, she’d have been flat on the floor.
“That can’t be a real dragon, it just can’t be…” the father who’d hired Joe said rapped by the show, “…it has to be a toy of some sort, an automaton full of gears and springs that’s it! I’ve seen toys like it before. But My God! The workmanship and effort that has gone into it must have taken forever!”
“You haven’t seen the best bit…” Joe smirked again as he tapped the side of his nose knowingly, the father was rather shame faced, he’d thought he had been talking to himself. “Draco, my friend, some of the people at the back…” Joe paused for effect and deliberately eyed the father of the birthday girl. “They can’t see you properly, do you think you can give them a better view? Maybe get a bit bigger for us all?”
The mother squeezed her husband’s arm as she mouthed the word “Bigger?” No toy, no matter how complicated could grow!
“Certainly magus! What size would you like? Would a dog suffice or would you prefer a large cat?”
“Well err…” Joe faked a look of puzzlement, “why don’t we let the birthday girl decide for us…come on up sweetheart come and meet Draco.” The girl’s mother now stepped forward defensively, Joe almost instinctively held up his hand to her. “Have no fear…Draco has sworn off virgin maidens…and besides if you knew anything about dragons you’d know that a gold dragon like Draco is a good dragon. Now I’m not saying he isn’t dangerous, even a good dragon can be a terror. But if he was red, blue or black, black particularly we might have a real problem because they can be a right pain in the ar...mour.” Joe eyed the children, swearing wouldn’t be good and he was trying to control it. He coughed and then beamed a smile “…but gold is good OK? Kind of like my fee, gold is good!” The parents laughed a little as they relaxed, well maybe just a tiny bit. They, like their children, were too stunned by the obviously animate little statue.
The girl herself was enjoying her eighth birthday, when her parents had booked a magician she had almost cringed, magic? That was kids stuff for babies! She still sat pretty as a princess though in her cornflower blue party dress. They’d all be having the party food after the show and that was something she was looking forward to because after the food came the presents! Cautiously however she got up from her cushion on the floor and stepped forward to the table, she turned several times to look back as if confirming it was OK. “Come on sweetheart he won’t bite you…I won’t let him! Ah there you are. Now what’s your name sweetheart? A sweet little princess in a blue dress Draco. Your parents told me your name but you see us wizards have so many things filling our heads and my old brain is starting to get a bit fuzzy sometimes…” Joe smiled sweetly, he wasn’t old by any description, mid forties, but he did this for effect and to try and win the girl’s trust, it usually worked.
“Ginnie”, the girl answered in an awed whisper, her eyes were riveted to the dragon statue that had now bent to look at her, “err Virginia really but all my friends call me Ginnie.”
“Well Ginnie…we’re all friends here. So let me introduce you. Ginnie first do you believe in magic?” Ginnie nodded, then shook her head, then nodded again. Joe smiled, his show usually had this sort of effect on people. “Well no matter” Joe said, “Draco will make you a firm believer…he did the same to me any way! So Ginnie please meet Draco, Draco please meet Ginnie…she’s the young lady we’re all here to celebrate with…she’s the birthday girl. Aren’t you Ginnie?”
The girl merely nodded again as the dragon figurine this time shook its miniature shoulders in a rain of fine gold glitter and shuffled around, more fully to face her…she drew in a gasp, “it…he…really moved!”
Joe smiled again, “Yes Ginnie of course he moved, I said he’s real…” Ginnie gasped again, covering her open mouth with a hand it wasn’t just her imagination!
“Just a complicated toy Ginnie…nothing to be scared of!” Her father tried to reassure her from the back. “Just a toy!” he repeated but he too was in awe, because if it was a toy it was the most fantastic toy ever created.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance princess Ginnie… May I say many happy returns of the day to you?” Draco’s deep bass rolled again, he bowed his head to her in respect.
“Th…th…thank you err Draco.”
“How old are you today? If I’m not being too impertinent.”
“Err…” Ginnie was lost for words how old was she again today? “Oh err yes, eight...I’m eight today.” She replied breathlessly looking back to her parents, was she really talking to a dragon?
“A good age for a child.” Draco mused with a cat like smile, “I suppose everyone is telling you there’s no such thing as magic.” The girl nodded shyly, magic was for little kids and she was eight today, she was a big girl! She’d known Santa wasn’t real last year when she’d caught her father trying on the red suit. “Well I’ll tell you a secret Ginnie…they’re all wrong! Magic is as real as I am.” His words fell like a hammer on an anvil.
Ginnie gulped loudly, “Are…are they? Is it?”
“Yes every single one of them! The magus here can show you real magic...I’ve been teaching him you see…” Ginnie looked up at Joe, he smiled, she just looked puzzled.
“That’s his name for me Ginnie, it’s a very old word for magician.” Joe smiled and poked Draco with a friendly finger, “He also knows because I’ve asked him before…Draco, my name is Joe OK?”
“Yes sorry magus, but old habits die hard.” The dragon turned back to Ginnie, from the astonished and simply astounded look on her face she still couldn’t see how the dragon statue was moving. A thought crossed her mind that filled her with awe, perhaps her dad was wrong, Draco wasn’t a toy after all. “Not only is magic real.” Draco continued as if addressing a student lecture, “But as you can see…I’m real! Believe it or not I’m a real dragon! Do you understand? I know how old you are would you like to know how old I am?”
“Yes…yes please.” Ginnie looked back to her parents again, they both wore blank looks, a real dragon? This was beyond anything they had expected from a simple magic show; they had expected rabbits from hats, pigeons, card tricks and balls under cups…but this! Joe had conjured up fairy lights that danced without wires whirling around his head before whirling off and dancing around anyone he pointed at. He’d created a magic fruit tree that grew from a seed he’d plucked from an orange in the family fruit bowl. It had grown, flowered and born a single orange inside three minutes. Joe had then cut up the fruit handing out pieces to the children to prove it was real after all. And now as his finale a talking gold dragon that claimed to be real? This was simply beyond words. Ginnie turned back and bit her bottom lip nervously.
“At the last birthday I remember…” Draco shivered his shoulders a little, a shiver that ran all the way down his back to his tail, it was accompanied by the sound of tinkling bells as more golden glitter fell to the table surface, his golden scales moving against each other, “I was over two hundred years old. Dragons can live to a very great age you know Ginnie? But then...I went to sleep for a long time…a very long time…it was the magus…my apologies…it was Joe who awoke me, with his magic. So I guess I’m now…hmm over six thousand years old.” Everyone gasped, “As a statue you see children I age very very slowly. Undisturbed in that form I can be practically immortal...but it means remaining asleep all that time and you miss so much....”
Ginnie looked up at Joe shyly, “Can I pet him do you think?”
Joe gulped, “Pet him? Err he’s not exactly a puppy Ginnie…But there’s no need to be scared or shy, if you want to touch him just ask him yourself?” Joe leaned a little closer to her to whisper, “I’ll tell you a secret, he does seem to like being tickled under the chin by pretty ladies.” Ginnie smiled. Joe straightened again, “But I think we should get him a little bigger first Ginnie so everyone can see him and believe he’s real too. How big would you like him to be?”
“Err excuse me…” Ginnie’s mother stepped forward again interrupting, “when you say bigger...err how big can he get please? I’m just thinking of the furniture you see...”
“Ah…” Draco sighed deeply, “madam if I was to grow to full size I think your furniture would be the least of your concerns. Many of your neighbours might have problems…”
“Why is that?” Ginnie asked her eyes looking down at the dragon’s face, she liked his smile it certainly seemed a friendly face. Maybe her dad could get her a pet dragon if she asked him nicely?
“Full size? Let me see Ginnie…I’d be four hundred feet from the tip of my nose to the end of my tail.” Many of the fathers audibly gulped. “With my wings outstretched I also have a two hundred foot wingspan.”
“Sorry but how big is that?” Ginnie asked shyly.
“Have you ever flown off on holiday Ginnie?” Joe asked, she nodded somewhat distractedly with her eyes still riveted on the dragon. “Well imagine the jet plane you flew on…full size Draco would be equal to three of those planes in length, nose-to-tail and have a wingspan that stretched wider than a single one. You could also say three football pitches end to end…at least I think that’s about right.”
“Oh!” Ginnie gasped, she had to admit that was very big indeed. “How big would you like to be Draco?”
“That’s the beauty of magic Ginnie, I can be any size you want me to be. From a tiny golden mouse to something that would cover this house and most of the rest of the street.”
“I’d suggest nothing larger than a dog though, otherwise you might have issues with the furniture in here…” Joe said quietly nodding to the girl’s mother, “plus remember my little table can only take so much you know!”
“Oh…oh, yes of course…then can you become the size of a cat…I have a pet cat, Fluff-ball, you see.”
“Of course…” Draco winked at her and as Ginnie stood looking at him her mouth dropped open further, Draco was indeed growing. Before he’d been in the centre of the table now he almost covered the entire table. “Will this do or would you like me bigger?” Draco boomed.
“No…that’s…err…that’s fine. Mummy?” Ginnie looked round to her parent’s desperately, she could now see Draco’s chest expanding and contracting as he breathed. “Mummy…daddy?” She said weakly. “he’s real!” Both of her parents stepped forwards together and stopped, stunned into silence as the now cat sized Draco stretched, rearing back and unfurling a pair of glittering golden wings that caught sunlight streaming in through the French windows glinting to the awed whispers of everyone present.
“Just an intricate toy!” The father kept mumbling to himself shaking his head.
Joe smiled a deeply satisfying smile of all the things he did in his little show this one left the audience speechless. It didn’t seem to matter how many fairy lights or magic trees or magic fireworks he called up, Draco waking up got them every single time. How long had it been now since he’d accidentally done his first magic spell and met Draco the next morning? Well it had been cold he remembered that much...