“Is there a problem, Weasley?” I asked tersely after I caught him staring at me for what seemed like the zillionth time that day. Admittedly, I was dripping with sweat from chasing down an Antipodean Opaleye that was threatening to decimate the nearest town, and my tank top was singed and sticking to me in, what I’m sure appeared to the guys who thought me nothing but an airhead, a provocative and undoubtedly deliberate fashion, but Ciprian and Andrew had managed to at least attempted to avert their eyes, or make their stares slightly less obvious. Merlin, I was starting to seriously consider huge, shapeless jumpers, even in the middle of July; I was there to work, not to be ogled, even if I sort of enjoyed the attention.
“Nope.” He replied, smirking slightly as he looked back down at the stunned dragon in front of us and set about tying the nets over him. Ciprian and Andrew had gone ahead to do damage control in the village. “Just trying to figure out if you’ve had enough yet. Ready to give up the game?”
I stopped dead and turned around to face him. I was so furious I couldn’t see straight. My blood boiled in my veins as his words played over and over in my head.
“If I’ve had enough?” I repeated sarcastically, my hands balled into fists. “What the hell is that supposed to mean? In three weeks I’ve done more work than some of the men here have in years, and you still think that I shouldn’t be here?” I laughed then, more out of disgust than humor. It was either laugh or curse. There was plenty time for cursing later. “This isn’t a game for me, Weasley. This is as much my life as it is yours, so I’d appreciate it if you’d shut the hell up. I’ve put up with your shit about me and dragons since the first day I met you, and I’ve had enough. You can either accept the fact that I’m here to stay, or you can’t, but stop treating me like I’m inferior.” I stopped, my chest heaving. Charlie looked up at me slightly open-mouthed, and I met his stare challengingly. Just when I thought I’d finally made my point, Charlie looked back down at his net- laughing.
“Whatever.” He said as he got up, dusted himself off, and strode out of the clearing, back to camp.
“What an arse!” I screamed in Romanian and kicked the nearest tree trunk, which, of course, only accomplished a throbbing pain in my big toe. If there was ever a way to test your strength, it is hurling yourself at a tree while wearing dragon-hide boots and seeing how much it hurts afterwards. Apparently, I was pretty strong.
Limping and swearing colorfully, I shot sparks into the air so Costache’s team would know where the dragon was. Hopefully, they would get there before the Opaleye woke up. He was nasty!
Slowly, dreading the ridicule I was sure to receive upon my return to camp as Charlie was bound to have told everyone what an emotional, hormonal pill I was, I took every detour I knew through the woods and even halfway up a mountain to delay my return to camp.
I knew I couldn’t stay gone forever; Andrew and I had border patrol later that night and I didn’t want to give Charlie, or anyone else, a reason to continue to question Costache’s decision to take me on. Gritting my teeth and summoning every ounce of willpower I possessed, I hiked down the mountain, stopping only to catch the magnificent sunset that streaked the open sky with splashes of scarlet, yellow, gold, and violet.
It was dusk by the time I dragged my feet into camp. I was ready to collapse on the nearest log and call it a bed, but everyone was in an uproar. Apparently a group of poachers had been sighted up in the mountains just outside of Brasov, and we had to take “immediate action”.
Well, there it was: the “P” word. I was already grabbing my previously discarded rucksack, all thought of a good night’s rest instantly forgotten.
“Hey, Ramsey!” I spun around at Ciprian’s voice.
“Hey. What’s the plan?” He was looking at me with a mixture of anxiety and anger, and it was contagious. I took a deep, calming breath and tried to focus on the task at hand: catching the poachers and saving the dragon.
“Costache says we need to split up and send a patronus to headquarters if we find them.”
“Great. Let’s go, then. See you later.” I turned around, intent on apparating directly to the mountains, but I froze at a hand on my shoulder.
“Be careful, alright?” Ciprian said quietly, looking at me cautiously. Silently, I nodded, spun on the spot, and was gone, but not before I heard what sounded like, “Charlie needs you.”
Before I could even process what I thought I’d just heard or berate myself for being so delusional, I was standing alone on the top of the mountain. On par with every stereotype in the world, the clouds that had made the earlier sunset so glorious opened, and vats of rain poured down on the mountainside. I squinted, trying to see through the torrential downpour with little success, trying to convince my ears that it wasn’t pointless to try to hear the poachers through the storm.
Silence, save for driving rain. After slipping and sliding down several steep paths, nearly falling off of a cliff, I came upon a horrible sight.
A young Ukrainian Ironbelly was sprawled on a rocky outcrop, horns, talons, and half of its tail were missing. I could have sworn that it was dead; at least I desperately hoped that the monsters that did this would have had the decency to put her (it was a her in my mind) out of her misery before such desecration.
A croak of pain that sounded more like a whimper startled me. She was still alive.
I ran down the steep path, not caring when I slipped and slid over sharp stones, cutting my legs and arms.
Bright turquoise blood was oozing from her head, what used to be her claws, and tail. Too much blood. I stifled a gag as I looked down at her mangled limbs. This was the most horrible thing I’d ever seen in my life, and for a minute, I was too shocked to do anything. Knowing that I needed to do what I could, I crawled toward her, huddling up against the cold scales of her underbelly.
She tried to scoot away in fright, but only succeeded in shredding what was left of her once-awe-inspiring tale further on the sharp, brutal rocks. She let out a terrified screech that made my heart break. I gently laid a trembling hand on her back and petted her, skirting over the long, deep gashes that still oozed bright, shimmering turquoise blood.
I reached for my backpack only to find that it wasn’t there, having no doubt fallen as I flew head over heels down the steep rocks. In desperation, I looked around for anything I could use that would help me bind her wounds. I had my wand, but without the things I had brought in my backpack, the magic would only undo itself. Dragon blood was a difficult substance to work with, coagulating only with certain plants. I hit the ground furiously, and my dragon let out another panic-stricken croak.
“Shhh, girl. It’s going to be okay.” I soothed, my voice breaking as tears started to slide down my cheeks, mingling with the rain. She turned wide, fearful eyes to look at me, and in that evanescent second, our minds were one, and we both knew that it wouldn’t. She was going to die on that mountaintop, and I could do nothing to save her.
My hand was shaking as I summoned my Patronus, an ocelot, stammered my location and sent it off into the darkness.
I stroked her cold silver scales and tried futilely to stop the bleeding, but it was too late. With those huge, beautiful amethyst eyes, she looked at me one last time, forgiving me for not being able to save her. For not getting there in time. I should have been there in time.
“No, don’t give up!” I urged her, but with a final effort, her head fell back, and the tension flew from her body. She was dead.
“No, no, no!” I yelled at the sky furiously.
All of a sudden, the symmetry was blindingly apparent. I had seen something like this before.
“Ili, wait for me!” my little sister, Jenica, called from a distance. Laughing with my cousins, I turned around and urged her to join us. I could see fear in her face, even from where she was hovering on her broomstick, but there was also determination- to prove herself to her older cousins, and to make me proud. She leaned forward on her broom and sped forward. In the split second that followed, with an instant, heart- stopping fear, I knew that something was horribly wrong.
Her broomstick started jerking back and forth uncontrollably.
“Help me!” She screamed, holding on for dear life, her face streaked with terror. The broom swerved up, down, sideways, and suddenly she was only holding on by her little, nine-year-old hand. The unadulterated fear in her voice chilled my blood. I had to help her.
“I’m coming, Jenna, hold on!” I sped toward her, my heart racing as she struggled to get a better grasp. Just as I reached her, her broom gave one final, violent jerk, and she fell to the ground 30 meters below, screaming. I raced down, desperately trying to catch her.
She was dead as soon as she hit the ground. Her fragile little body broken on the rocks, head at an impossible angle. I sat by her body for a long time; never had I felt so helpless. My cousins lingered at a distance, each of them as unsure of what to do as the next.
“We need to take her home.” My older cousin, Dorina whispered at last. “Let’s get Uncle Octavian, he’ll help us.”
“I can’t leave her.” I said, holding her limp hand in mine. “I can’t.”
“Shh, Ileana, it’s okay.” Charlie’s voice. I opened my eyes and saw him kneeling in front of me, his hand in mine.
“I can’t leave her.” I repeated in a whisper.
“Who?” Charlie asked, looking behind him at the unmoving dragon.
“I can’t leave her.”
“Who are you talking about? Jenica? Your sister’s not here.” He said uncertainly, looking at me with grief-stricken blue eyes.
“Oh, god. It’s my fault.” I stammered incoherently, unsure whether I was referring to the dragon, Jenica, or both. “I t-tried, but I was to l-l-late. I couldn’t do a-anything.”
“I know.” Charlie said, wrapping his warm arms around me and picking me up as if I weighed nothing. “It’s not your fault. Let’s get you home.” We turned on the spot, and vanished into the darkness.
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