She had intended for the trip to be leisurely, with a stopover on Atlantis. She hadn’t quite comprehended then that the ancient wizard colony had long been abandoned. Even after she had learned this, she thought she might stop and look at the ruins. But while she and Trarsfimion, also known as Landslide Confusion, did break their flight at the rest stop in Atlantis when at 19 she did make the trip, there was no time to linger. They merely took food, water, and four hours of sleep before they were off again, flying northeast at top speed for Great Britain.
When Sivitri had been nine, the world had been a safe place. She’d been born in the final year of the reign of the Dark Lord, He Who Must Not Be Named, when all of Europe lived in terror and wizards of other continents hadn’t felt much safer, but nine had found him a distant memory. Noone had ever thought he’d come back. But when Sivitri had been sixteen the news had burst on her family that he had, and their help would be needed. Her father had flown back and forth across the Atlantic constantly over the last three years, but now his health was failing and she had to take his place.
They approached the coast after nearly 33 hours of hard flying all together, and all Sivitri wanted to do was collapse onto the nearest smooth surface and sleep. She wasn’t the only one; Trarsfimion was flying very low, his wings sagging a bit, his breathing a bit labored. She hoped this Mr. McMillan she was supposed to meet with could wait a bit longer; for herself she would have willingly made a prompt appearance but if it was more then Trarsfimion could take, then he shouldn’t be pushed for a human concern.
Though it wasn’t entirely a human concerned, she supposed. It was in the drakes’ interest to defeat the Dark Lord too, if he was really as powerful as she had heard. They all doubted he’d give the drakes the respect they deserved.
“Think we can go the rest of the way, or do you want to rest?” she whispered. “It’s up to you.”
“You need to sleep,” he whispered back.
“I haven’t been doing all the work,” she protested
“But you’ve been awake,” he replied. “And I know humans can’t stay awake as long. Your father and Leropnie always took a nap when they arrived, for which reason they can’t be expecting us yet.”
Then the jewel on his head gleamed for a second, and Sivitri felt the familiar chill that indicated their having become invisible. She had become so used to this at so young an age that her eyes perceiving nothing in front of her but sky and sea, even though her brain was aware of her arms wrapped around Trarsfimion’s thick neck and her body pressed into his, did not disorient her at all. And there was definitely no confusion on her part as to the presence of Trarsfimion; she could still hear, feel, and smell him very strongly.
The southern coast of England didn’t look too different from the coast of Atlantis, though the air was a good deal colder. Both Sivitri and Trarsfimion hated the cold, and as drakes were cold-blooded, Sivitri asked if a Warming Charm was needed. “Not until we get further north.”
He led her over grassy fields and to a small grove of trees, where a small drake-nest was built. Sivitri recognized it as Leropnie’s work. Trarsfimion settled down into it, and she tumbled off his back and fell asleep almost instantly.
He was waiting outside the village, his legs getting tired from standing, his eyes on the clouds above. If it started to rain, he was going into The Three Broomsticks and Miss Grove could find him there.
He was checking his watch for the thousandth time when he suddenly heard someone yell, “Dragon!” Ignoring the uproar that ensued, he scanned until his eyes fell on what from afar could be mistake for an Antipodean Opaleye or a Swedish Short-Snout, though as it grew closer someone yelled, “That’s not a dragon! It’s too small!” It was also too white, but noone made that observation and the hullabaloo did not die down so very much. But when someone else yelled, “There’s a woman on his back!” and Ernie muttered, “Finally!” under his breath, people realised that whatever it was, it was not a dragon.
The Blue-Ridge Drake was ivory in colour, about average size for a drake, which was definitely smaller then most dragons, though it had a long neck to make it appear taller. While on land it squatted on two legs, but it flew like a four-legged drake, and was unsuited for walking. Most drakes could fly, but the Blue-Ridge Drake’s wings were unusually well-developed and very strong. Perhaps the most impressive feature of the Blue-Ridge Drake was the jewel on the top of its head, which, like a wizard’s wand, channeled its limited magical powers.
Miss Grove was leaning over her drakes neck, but as they grew closer, she drew back, cutting an impressive figure as the drake arched and extended its hind legs, its wings framing its rider and making her momentarily look like an angel with iridescent wings, as the sun fell on the drake’s scales in just the right manner to make them glow many colours. Then its legs touched the ground and the rest of its body settled into a squat, surprisingly gracefully. Equally gracefully, Miss Grove stepped onto her drake’s shoulder and leapt onto the ground, landing perfectly on her two feet.
Ernie would have been more impressed if he hadn’t seen her father do it a hundred times.
Boldly she strode over to him, and asked, “Mr. McMillan?”
“That’s me.” he agreed, his tone a bit formal. She raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips, and he promptly liked her less. “Shall we have a drink?”
She nodded, turned back to her drake, and spoke something to it in its language. The language she had learned the only way a human could learn it: by having it whispered into her ear constantly as a child. Ernie recalled the way Mr. Grove had described the bonding with his drake: each fed with milk from the other’s mother, waking hours spent together once it was possible for either to leave their mother’s side, and sleep taken together, alternating between the human’s bed and the drake’s nest, until the bond was complete, which it was when the drake first took to the air with the human on its back.
Still, she started their conversation as civilly as she could, inquiring as to how he was, and when he launched into an account of the war, she listened attentively, even though she already knew a great deal from her father.
“And then Potter, Harry Potter, you know,” Sivitri had never heard a name emphasized for so obvious the purpose of making the listener know that the speaker knew the person in question, “was taken out. Weasley was able to get him to safety, but we all lost heart. Two of us were taken captive, and we don’t hold out much hope of rescuing them before they’re killed. Have you lost anyone you knew recently?”
Again, so obvious a reminder that she, living across the pond, was not risking her life daily. Never mind that flying across an ocean alone when there were dark wizards about was risky business. “No, but I do fear for my father. All the flying back and forth strained him.” Of course, Mr. McMillan might just refuse to get the point, that Mr. Grove had strained his health, and might just cut his life short, for their sakes.
“I’m sorry to hear that.” No he wasn’t. He wasn’t even making an attempt to sound so. I’ll hold my tongue this time. “My parents were killed a year ago.”
“I’m sorry too.” She tried to put a little sympathy into her voice, but she didn’t think she owed him too much, when he didn’t give her any. Besides, he didn’t even sound that upset.
“Thank you. Let us get back to business.”
“As I was saying earlier, You-Know-Who now has a visible presence in Northern Africa, but does not appear to be putting much focus on the continent itself at this time. I believe there are drakes in Africa?”
He ought to more then believe. After all, he had been liaisoning with her father...well, probably only for a year, since he didn’t look much older then her. But still...
“The drakes in Africa do not get along with humans as well. They haven’t since the 18th century, when most of the families they had ties to were lost, to slavery and smallpox and such. They weren’t able to fully learn what was happening, but now they’ll blame any human with pale skin. There have been records of killings.”
“Stupid,” said Mr. McMillan, and Sivitri felt that was enough. She was able to bear insults to herself, but all the common prejudice against drakes that she saw so casually and so often displayed always made her blood boil. She allowed her voice to become very cold as she said, “I hope you are referring to the stupidity on the humans’ part.”
“I won’t deny the Muggles were rather stupid in their behavior.” Of course; it was easy enough to blame it all on the Muggles. Surely he had to know better though, had to know that all the humans, wizards and Muggles, had behaved atrociously on the African continent. She really had thought him smarter then that. Obviously she had been wrong.
“It is old foolishness that the wizards in Alexandria, at least, have not gotten over yet.” Alexandria, her hometown, right outside of the capital of the United States and often she thought the only island of sanity in the bundle of Muggles and equally stupid wizards that made up Virginia. Yet there black and white wizards(and Muggles) still kept to themselves. They might go to the same schools and eat in the same restaurants and sit in the same parts of the bus, but when they did, they sat with their own groups. Oh, occasionally you found some random black person sit with the white people instead, and they were happy to have them, but the majority simply didn’t seem interested in mixing.
“Really?” Sivitri thought Mr. McMillan’s current tone of the voice the worst yet. “I’ve never seen that as being a problem here in Great Britian.”
But then, Sivitri told herself, wizards in Alexandria were pretty isolated from each other anyway. Concealment in any well-populated town wasn’t too easy; all the drakes that lived with the Groves were very good at turning themselves invisible, and whenever she wanted to interact with her own kind, she usually went into Washington, which, like most large towns, had a large magically accessible street where wizards mainly shopped, but also could meet. She felt especially isolated from the other wizards of her town because the only other ones who had gone to her school were the Calmaras, and they were pureblooded-snobs. Not Death Eaters, and they’d certainly never outright insult anyone, as that wasn’t done in Alexandria, but not likely to help in the fight against You-Know-Who either.
Unfortunately Mr. McMillan’s next words were, “So, do you think your drake could be useful in knocking some sense into the African drakes?” Which was when Sivitri decided she’d had enough of his arrogant and now downright disrespectful manners.
“Listen, Mr. McMillan,” her voice, already cold, dropped a full fifteen degrees on his name, “you had best not call Landslide Confusion my drake, as if I owned him. It does not show him proper respect. As a matter of fact,” she rose her voice and he was turning red, “as a matter of fact, your speaking of the drakes of Africa in the way you do does not bode well for an alliance with them. Surely after working with my father so long you should know better then to think that way.”
“And surely someone has spoken words to you, Miss Grove,” he responded in kind, “about how touchy you have been acting.”
“I? Touchy? I have bourn plenty of disrespect towards myself, Mr. McMillan, without complaint! But insults towards drakes I won’t tolerate.”
“Oh yes, those are the ones you respond to openly. But you act just like your father. Any slight towards you yourself and your lips are all stiff and your eyebrows up to high heaven and you won’t actually say anything to let him know you’re offended, oh no, you’re too high-minded and noble to be anything other then a martyr, while you let him know by other means how much of a ass they are. Well, I have had enough of arrogance from you both.”
“Arrogance? You are calling me arrogant?” Sivitri demanded. “When you’re sitting across from me like a King and I should be honored to be seen with you, you call me arrogant?!?”
“Listen, Miss Grove, I don’t know what you think you’re playing at, but I have done my best to treat you and your precious drakes with all the respect I can!”
“MY DRAKES?” Sivitri demanded so loudly that just about everyone in the pub turned and stared at them. Like one of those meetings under Shooter’s Hill where someone speaks too loud. The concealed hollow was the only place where wizards in Alexandria can freely gather with no fear of Muggles wandering in, even the woods by the Muggle high school isn’t one hundred safe in that regard, so while ordinary wizards often went out into the woods and even grew herbs there, when every once in a great while a meeting was called to discuss some matter or other, it was always in the hollow, which amused Sivitri now, as she had happened to have recently lost her virginity there.
And Mr. McMillan, meanwhile, was sitting back with a smug grin on his face, as if to say, “See? Touchy.” He tapped the table as an indication to sit down and Sivitri realized she was standing up.
She decided there was no need to sit down immediately. Instead she folded her arms and said, “Apologize.”
“Not until you apologize.”
“Okay,” he sighed, “I apologize. Now will you please sit down.”
“You don’t sound like you’re apologizing.”
“What do you want?” He moved to stand up, but caught himself and remained seated. “I’m sorry, okay? Now if you just get yourself seated back down-”
“Why do I have to do that? Why can’t we complete this interview with me standing?”
This time Mr. McMillan did stand up. “Why are you making this difficult?”
“Because it is difficult, you know. You don’t just walk up to a drake and say, ‘Help me.’ They don’t help you, and I don’t see why they should either.”
“Do they know what You-Know-Who will do to them if he wins? It’s in their best interest. They can’t just ignore it. Heck, I would appreciate if more humans from North America paid attention to what was going on!”
“We Groves have been trying our best!”
Mr. McMillan opened his mouth, and Sivitri cut him off. “Don’t you dare say we haven’t!”
“I wasn’t going to.” An obvious lie, Sivitri was certain. “I merely was going to say-oh, never mind.”
“Tell me.” She stood forward directly into his face.
“Get out of my face.”
“Fine, then!” So angry she wasn’t thinking straight, Sivtri turned around and started to exit to bar.
“I didn’t mean it like that! Come back here!”
He sounded surprisingly pathetic. She turned around but did not walk back. “So what were you going to say?” she asked.
“You are acting very unprofessional,” he responded, sounding more unbearable then ever.
“You haven’t been behaving exactly right either.”
“Look, I know that.” Suddenly his voice seemed to break; he spoke with the first genuine emotion she had heard from him the entire interview. “You’ve never had a serious council with someone like this, have you?” Sivitri shook her head. “Then you have an excuse I don’t have.”
Sivitri was on the verge of getting offended again, but she could not ignore an admission of guilt and an offered excuse for herself. Instead she said nothing.
“Listen,” his tone was unpleasant again, “I provoked you, and I’m sorry. I am really, *really,* sorry.” She nodded, and this time she did believe him. “But you can’t just walk out of here. We have a job to do.”
Sivitri had dealt with enough arrogant asses in her life to know when they were right.
She went back to the table and sat down. Mr. McMillan sat down too, looking more relieved then anything else.
“So, about African drakes...”