Rose woke the following morning to light drizzle on the tent roof; by the time she crawled out of bed, ten minutes later, it was pouring. She stood in the door of her tent cradling a glass of water and stared out into the teeming rain.
The camp was silent and for a moment, it was like Rose was the only person in the world, as if there was just her and the jungle and the rain. She watched the droplets bounce from leaves, smash into the earth and she breathed deep. She had always loved the scent of rain and the strange sense of peace that came from it.
That peace was crushed by her cousin. Louis’ voice rang across the camp, shattering the calm of the morning and Rose rolled her eyes. If Aunty Fleur knew just how much her son swore she would take him by the ear and wash his mouth out with soap, like Rose had watched her do when she was a child and had gone to spend a summer with her cousins.
Sighing, Rose ducked back inside her tent, slipping into her clothes. She tidied her hair, splashed water on her face and went in search of breakfast. The Scamanders were already up, sitting side by side at the long table in the dining tent. Rose smiled at them, siphoned the water from her body with her wand and made herself coffee.
“How did you sleep?” she asked when she was seated.
“Fine, thank you,” Lorcan responded, looking out at the rain. “I don’t suppose it is the best day to go searching for a dragon.”
“No,” Rose agreed. “Probably not.”
They didn’t say anything else and she didn’t mind. It was too early in the day to attempt a conversation with the twins, or with anyone really. Frank appeared not long after, wringing wet and still yawning.
“Anyone going to wake sleeping beauty?” he asked, sitting down with a coffee after he had dried himself off.
“I’m already awake,” Louis growled, striding into the tent. He shook himself like a dog; water streamed from his hair and shoulders, landing everywhere. Rose scowled.
“Ugh, you’re such a pain, and he meant Malfoy, Louis.”
“Let him sleep,” Lysander suggested gently.
Louis flicked his wand, and his patronus soared across the clearing, and they watched as it burst into Scorpius’ tent. They heard a yelp, and moments later, Scorpius’ blonde head was sticking out between the tent flaps, his face irritated. He glanced at the weather, frowned, and disappeared back inside. They waited and when he reappeared, he stumbled over the tent ropes and almost fell face-first into the mountain of mud that had piled outside his tent in the night.
“Smooth,” Rose mumbled as Scorpius picked his way through the minefield of tents and puddles towards them. “Just what are we supposed to do with him again?”
“Keep him out of trouble,” Louis said, filling a mug with coffee. “If anyone needs me, I’ll be in my tent. I have paperwork to do. Rose, you and Malfoy should get together and do some theorising about this curse.”
She sighed. “Fine.”
Scorpius entered the dining tent as Louis ducked back out into the rain. There was no sign of Luis, or Juan and Pedro, and Rose was already bored. A day without work was like a day without water – she didn’t know how she would cope sitting around waiting for the rain to ease.
“Good morning,” Scorpius said hesitantly.
“What’s good about it?” Lorcan moaned. “It’s too wet to go searching for my dragon and I didn’t bring anything useful to do.”
“We could always write to mum and dad, let them know we arrived safely,” Lysander suggested.
Lorcan shrugged. “You do it; you’re much better with words than I am.”
Scorpius was standing with a steaming cup of coffee in his hand, looking nervous, like a kid on his first day at Hogwarts. His hair was neatly combed, his skin so clean it almost glowed and Rose could tell his clothes were brand new.
“Sit,” she told him, indicating a chair across from her, and he did so, still with that hesitant, nervous manner that had annoyed her while they were at school. It was as if he was waiting for someone to shout at him, for something bad to happen. “I don’t bite, Malfoy.”
“Not hard anyway,” Frank added under his breath, and she ignored him.
“Louis wants us to, what did he say? Oh right, ‘theorise’ about this curse,” she said, reaching for her coffee. “I am assuming you brought some texts with you?”
Scorpius nodded. “In my tent. When did you want...”
“Not now,” Rose answered quickly, “I’m still waking up.”
“Right then,” Frank announced. From his pocket he pulled a deck of cards. “Get our brains working for the day?”
Lorcan raised an eyebrow. “I don’t think I’ve ever played cards at eight in the morning.”
“Then you, my friend, have not lived. You in, Malfoy?” Frank asked, shuffling the deck with expert precision. Everyone waited, all eyes on Scorpius as he hesitated.
“What’s the stakes?” he asked eventually.
“Well, as no one has any money, we’re playing for jobs: kitchen duty, cleaning...that sort of thing,” Frank answered. “Feel free to throw your money on the table though – no one will complain.”
“What are we playing anyway?” Scorpius asked.
“Wizard poker,” Frank answered, leaning back in his chair.
Lorcan smiled at Scorpius. “If you don’t know how to play, I can- “
Scorpius shook his head. “I know how to play, but please don’t tell me this is strip poker.”
“If you want to get naked, Malfoy, don’t let us stop you,” Rose said simply, smirking as his cheeks coloured slightly. “I’m sure the insects will enjoy feasting on your pasty flesh. Deal the cards, Frank, and make sure you give me a good hand.”
“The chips fall where they wish, darling,” he answered, pushing his hair out of his eyes. Rose scooped up her cards as they slid across the table. Not a bad hand, she thought, maintaining her poker face while glancing around the table at everyone else. Frank was sitting back casually in his chair, customary cigarette in the corner of his mouth. Rose told him at almost every opportunity he was going to get cancer but he simply shrugged, unconcerned. Lorcan and Lysander were sharing a sneaky sideways look that had Rose wondering if they could really read each others thoughts and Scorpius was looking nervous.
A great roar suddenly split the morning; Rose was still not used to the sound and she cringed. It was as if the very fabric of the air was being torn apart. She took a deep breath, calming her nerves. Dragon fear never went away, her Uncle Charlie said. It was some primitive primal thing lodged in the brain – ‘there is a predator, and I am the prey.’
Dragon fear had someone else firmly in its claws. Scorpius sat shaking, eyes wide, skin pale in the milky, rainy light. His cards were scattered around his feet.
“It’s just a dragon, Malfoy,” Rose said.
“Just a dragon? Just a dragon?” His eyes widened further.
Lorcan chuckled, casually looking over his cards. “She’s on heat, that’s all. Don’t panic.”
“Right, sure,” Scorpius mumbled sarcastically, collecting his cards from the ground. “Nothing to worry about. Just a hormonal female dragon lurking out there somewhere.”
“Calm down,” Frank grinned. “You’re pretty, Malfoy, but I don’t think the dragon would be interested.”
Everyone laughed; Scorpius glared, making Rose laugh harder. He looked no more threatening than William’s kneazle kitten. Lysander demanded they begin the game, and by the end of three hands, Rose had gained one cleaning duty (Lorcan’s tent), passed one night’s cooking onto Frank and had earned the grand responsibility of making sure Louis got his morning cup of coffee.
“That’s not fair,” she moaned as Frank grinned. “Louis isn’t even playing. Why does he get to benefit from this?”
“Because a happy Louis means a happy camp,” Frank laughed and gave her a smoky kiss on the cheek, which she scowled at. She hated any overt displays of public affection, especially since they weren’t actually together in the traditional sense. What she and Frank had worked for them, in their own weird way, but the world did not need to know about it.
Lysander turned his next hand in with a groan. “I quit.”
“What, nargles on your brain?” Frank quipped.
“Everyone knows nargles do not attack the brain,” Lysander replied firmly, standing up. “I believe you are talking about a wrackspurt.”
“Of course,” Frank said with mock seriousness, “how could I have forgotten?” Rose kicked him under the table as Lysander walked away and Frank sighed, turning to Lorcan. “Just playing around mate,” he said contritely. “Sorry about my big mouth.”
“I know; no harm done. He’s a little oversensitive at times, especially when he’s tired, or in an unfamiliar place. I might go and help him write that letter.”
“I’m going back to my tent,” Scorpius announced as Lorcan disappeared into the darkness. Rose blinked; she’d totally forgotten he was there.
Frank grinned. “If a randy female Vipertooth comes calling I’ll send her in your direction, yeah? Just remember, I’m next door so don’t get too excited in there.”
Scorpius sighed, climbed to his feet and vanished. Rose turned to Frank and chastised him over his treatment of Lysander. “We’ve all been friends for years,” she said. “That wasn’t like you, Frank.”
He sighed, flicking the remains of his cigarette away. “I know.”
A thought occurred to Rose. “Have you been taking your potion?”
“Yes mum,” he grinned, slinging an arm around her shoulder. She let him, not something she would usually do and they sat in companionable silence, listening to the sound of the rain on the tent. They heard the dragon howl again and Rose felt her stomach tighten. It sounded lonely, and she could understand that. “I have to go see the Healer when we get back,” Frank said softly. “I meant to go before we left but...forgot.”
“Frank,” Rose sighed.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” he replied, resting his head against hers. “I feel fine though.”
For now, Rose thought, but she didn’t say anything. She stayed where she was a moment, oddly enjoying the feeling of Frank’s arm around her shoulder and his cheek against her head. He sighed lightly, gave her a squeeze and pulled his arm free. She looked at him in surprise.
“You have work to do,” he said gently. “The curse, remember?”
“I hadn’t forgotten.” She stood up, stretched, made herself another coffee and ducked out into the lightly falling rain. She moved quickly across the camp, sloshing coffee on her sleeve, and burst into Scorpius’ tent. He jumped up from his bed in fright, his face scrunched up as he watched her wipe her coffee-ied wrist on the leg of her shorts.
“Haven’t you heard of knocking?”
She shrugged, not bothering to apologise. “Let’s get started. If the rain clears, I can go back to my work, so the sooner we get into this the better.”
He ran a hand through his hair, mussing it up, before quickly smoothing it down again. A flick of his wand sent a stack of rather thick texts floating through the air. Rose eyed them with distaste. She hated academia: hated trawling through pages and pages hoping to find one tiny thing that would be of use; hated the musty smell of such old books; and hated the prospect of having to spend her time flicking through them with Scorpius Malfoy.
The books set themselves lightly on the small writing desk. With another flick of his wand, Scorpius had enlarged the desk and conjured a second chair. With a heavy sigh, Rose sat, setting her coffee on the desk with a thump. A wave of brown liquid cascaded over the rim of her cup and before she could do a thing about it, Scorpius had Vanished the mess, saving his books from the tidal wave of caffeine.
Rose reached for the nearest book - Olde and Forgotten Bewitchments and Charmes - while Scorpius opened Spellman's Syllabary.
“Be careful with that book,” he warned her softly, and she raised her eyebrows. Did he think she was going to tear a page out with her teeth and eat it or something?
“You really need to loosen up,” she commented, flipping open the thick, leather bound cover. “You are the most uptight, boring person I know.”
He said nothing, too busy scanning the contents page of his text. “You’ve performed the usual revealing spells I assume?”
“Do you have any idea what this curse might be?” Scorpius looked up from the pages, his glasses sliding down the bridge of his nose. He pushed them back up quickly, tucking a piece of hair behind his ear in the same gesture. Rose was oddly surprised to notice his eyes were blue. She scanned her memory, trying to recall if she had known that small, obvious fact about him before now and she realised she hadn’t. She sighed in answer to his question.
“None, and Uncle Bill can’t be sure either, without being here and examining the artefacts.”
Scorpius nodded. “Okay. Let’s do a bit of research and then -”
“Ugh,” Rose groaned. “I hate research. Even the word makes me feel sick.”
He gave her the sort of patient look she imagined he might give one of his students and for a moment, she felt like she was one of his students, especially when he said, with a smooth, calm voice, “Rose, we have to start somewhere, don’t you think?”
“Don’t patronise me, Malfoy,” she snapped, irritated more at herself than at him. He blinked but let her comment slide and she sighed and flipped to chapter one of her text, beginning to read. Silence lapsed into the tent; Scorpius didn’t lift his head again, and Rose could hear his quiet breathing and the gentle rustle of paper as he turned the pages of his book. “Found anything useful?” she asked after a while.
“I hate not being able to understand Incan sorcery,” she muttered, reaching for another book.
“The Inca weren’t sorcerers,” Scorpius said softly. “They were shamans, and their magic was different to ours. Some of it is similar; charms that have been handed across continents and been modified to suit our way of life, and some dark spells that exist today have done so since ancient times.”
Rose found herself listening to his voice, to the excitement and fervour that entered his tone as he spoke.
“Shamans travel between the physical world and the spiritual one,” he continued, lifting his head to glance at her. “The Inca shamans travelled the mayu, the celestial river that passes beneath the earth and originates in the cosmos. The mayu of the Inca was connected to their beliefs about their spirit ancestors, their observations of astrological events and their predictions of the future.”
“But what does this mayu have to do with curses?” Rose asked.
“Nothing; I was merely explaining the difference between their brand of magic and ours,” Scorpius said with a small smile. “I think part of the answer we need lies within their shamanism though; in the saqra in particular – negative and destructive energies that can be harnessed and used to cause harm. If we can work out how such a thing was done, perhaps we will be able to get somewhere with this.”
She blinked. “How do you know this stuff? It’s not exactly bedtime reading, Malfoy.”
He shrugged. “I like learning; you know that.”
She did. She remembered him at school, always cloistered away somewhere with his face in a ratty old book. No wonder she never knew the colour of his eyes. “Alright, so this saqra...is it something we can see?”
“I don’t know; perhaps, with the right spells and the right understanding,” he answered. “The rain’s stopped.”
“Back to work then.” Rose flipped the book closed with a triumphant grin and was up and out of the tent in seconds. She stopped quickly, just avoiding the large puddle that was waiting to greet her boot. “Ugh.”
Scorpius had come up behind her; he peered out at the still-dark sky and frowned. Lorcan appeared around the side of the tent, bouncing up and down like an overly excited puppy.
“I’m going dragon hunting,” he announced with a grin. “Want to come?”
Rose chewed her lip, weighing up her options: stay at camp and spend the better part of the day with Malfoy, or trudge through the sodden jungle in search of a Vipertooth. She felt a smile slowly spread across her face and she turned to Scorpius.
His eyes widened. “Um, I don’t think...won’t it be dangerous?”
“Of course,” Rose winked and he shuddered. “Come on, Malfoy. Live a little.”
“I like my life,” he said firmly. "I like being alive."
“Wimp,” Lorcan said with a shrug. “Oh well. I’ll go get Frank – he still wants pictures of my girl. Meet you on the eastern side of camp in ten minutes.”
Rose watched him dash away as a light rain began to fall again. She closed her eyes, letting the rain kiss her skin. Scorpius shifted his weight behind her; his boots made a loud squelching sound as he moved. “You might learn something, Malfoy,” she said, eyes still closed.
He sighed. “Fine; but if I get eaten, tell Lily it’s your fault.”
Rose’s eyes snapped open at his casual mention of her cousin, and she felt her muscles slowly seize up, her blood running cold. Tell Lily it’s your fault. She snorted. As if; she’d tell Lily nothing of the sort. “No one will get eaten,” she snapped, glancing at Scorpius over her shoulder. Without another word, she walked away, ducking into her tent to grab her wand, a bottle of water and a light rain coat. Frank stuck his head in moments later, eyes alight.
He laughed. “This will be awesome. I can’t wait to get a look at her.”
“Since when have you been this keen on dragons?” Rose asked him as they walked together to meet Lorcan. Frank shrugged.
“It’s not the dragon so much, it’s...”
“The possibility of something happening. God, Frank, you’re so morbid sometimes,” Rose sighed, shaking her head. He slung his arm around her shoulder. “You take this need for a good story a little too far at times.”
Lorcan was waiting for them. He paid no attention to the rain; his eyes were fixed on the jungle and Rose could practically smell the excitement washing from his body. He had swapped his shorts and loose shirt for thick trousers, a close-fitting shirt and heavy boots. In his pocket she could see a pair of gloves. All his gear was fire-proof; she knew from listening to Uncle Charlie that is was a necessity of the job. On his back, Lorcan carried a small pack containing ropes, a harness and several medicinal potions.
Scorpius trotted up to them, his face pale and hesitant. He too was dressed in flame-proof clothing.
“Where’d you get the gear?” Rose asked. He blushed a little.
“They’re just ordinary clothes,” he muttered. “I transfigured them a little.”
“Huh,” she said, impressed despite herself. Not at his spellwork – it was easy transfiguration – but at the fact that he’d thought of it.
“Let’s go,” Lorcan said impatiently.
“Sulking – he hates the rain.” Lorcan led the way into the jungle, following the path Rose had helped create when they first arrived. The jungle had grown back with a vengeance in just a few short weeks and she pushed a dripping plant aside as she walked. “I might try and get a blood sample, if she’ll let me,” Lorcan was saying from up ahead. Rose shook her head; maybe Frank would get his wish and someone would get eaten, giving him the perfect photo opportunity.
The small boat they used for transporting people and supplies was waiting at the river, water lapping the sides gently. Juan was sitting in the boat, and he smiled and waved.
“Hello,” Rose called, “I didn’t realise you had a death wish as well.”
He shrugged. “You lot would get lost without me; besides, I would like to see her. There aren’t many dragons left in these parts.”
Lorcan nodded seriously, climbing into the boat. “They are losing their habitat, and as towns and villages spread out, it is becoming dangerous for both the dragons and the human population. They eat mainly goats and cows, but people are also on the menu.”
“Lovely,” Rose heard Scorpius mutter as she took her place in the small boat. Once everyone was in, Juan started the motor and they were speeding down the river, the boat cutting a smooth path through the still water. They travelled for about ten minutes, before Juan changed course and headed for land.
“Any idea where she is?” Frank asked as they climbed from the boat. Lorcan turned to scan the dark recess of the jungle.
“A simple locating spell should reveal her whereabouts,” he said, taking out his wand, and they waited while he performed the spell. The wand spun on his palm, eventually settling and pointing due east. Lorcan smiled. “Let’s go.”
It took an hour to trudge through the thick dampness of the jungle. Brightly coloured flowers burst from branches, and even brighter birds danced overhead. The air was still, the insects buzzing incessantly around their ears and after about ten minutes of walking, Rose was able to shut Scorpius’ moaning out of her brain. She liked the jungle; liked the way it seemed to embrace her, fold its green arms around her body and hold her safe and secure. She knew what sort of creatures lurked in the green maze, but she wasn’t bothered.
Lost in her thoughts, she jumped when Frank closed his hand over her arm. “Up ahead,” he whispered, releasing her and snapping the lens cap from his camera. Lorcan was crouched on the ground, his hand examining what Rose assumed were dragon tracks and on closer inspection, she could see how the trunks of trees had been scraped by something, and how the smaller plants on the jungle floor had been trampled.
“Alright,” Lorcan said softly. “These tracks are fairly fresh. She can’t be far.”
Juan muttered something in Spanish that Rose recognised as a protective charm against harm. She knew it was not true magic in the sense they were accustomed too, but she wished for a moment that she was superstitious, and that Juan’s charm would protect her too, if she needed it.
She glanced behind her, her eyes finding Scorpius. He was standing with one arm wrapped around the trunk of a rubber tree. She chuckled and he glared at her, his eyes wide and his face deathly pale.
Rose jumped as a pained roar ripped through the jungle. Frank took a step back, Juan made some strange motion across his chest with his fingers and Lorcan stood up, unwinding the rope from his backpack. Rose heard a moan; she turned in fright, reaching for Frank’s arm as she did so, her muscles tightening and her senses on high alert.
There, beneath his rubber tree, one arm still clutching the trunk and his face planted firmly on the ground, was Scorpius.
The great big git had fainted.
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