Harry's vision disappeared in the geysers of snow erupting around him. For a moment he didn't know which way was up: even his Seeker skills couldn't help him as he was tumbled in a smothering cloud of icy grit.
Pale blue ropes lanced up around him. They were glimmering faintly through the clouds of ice. They arched up and clung in a sticky formation before weaving themselves into a giant, glowing web. For a moment Harry wondered if the giant spider Aragog had some cousin that preferred icy wastelands.
Then he heard people yelling in triumph. It was the trap. Somehow he'd sprung it.
"No! Stop!" he shouted.
A whippy, scaled tail swept through the air and smacked Harry's legs out from under him. Harry fell, and through the mist of blue-tinged ice saw the rearing form of the dragon looming over him, claws striking out at the glowing ropes. Its silver-blue eyes were wide but it was blind with panic. It was right above Harry. It was plunging down with its sharp talons --
"Expelliarmis!" shouted several voices and Harry skated backwards through a hole in the web. The hole closed over as soon as he was though.
A strong hand in a thick dragonhide glove grabbed his forearm, grasping him so tightly he knew there would be bruises tomorrow. If he ever had another tomorrow, that was.
"Gotcha!" shouted a husky man's voice in triumph. "It's okay now, son -- you're out of the cage."
There was a roar of rage that rose to a screech that threatened to split Harry's eardrums. He dropped to his knees in pain and clapped his hands over his ears. The wizard-made snowstorm had settled enough to see that his rescuer -- Hans Smith -- was also down on his knees with his hands over his ears. Harry wasn't sure, but from reading Warder Smith's lips he was pretty sure that what the man was saying wasn't polite.
Then the unearthly screech broke off. It was replaced by a bloodcurdling snarl.
Harry looked up to see that some of the glowing blue ropes had unwound themselves from the net. Now they were wrapped around the dragon's snout. The teeth were bared but the dragon couldn't bite.
It could still, however, lash out with tail and claws, and it was pursuing this tactic with every ounce of energy it could muster.
Harry rolled sideways and away from the fight before he could get trampled.
Wizards and witches from the team were holding onto the ropes, trying to tangle them around the neck and legs.
"Hold it down! Hold it down!" Charlie Weasley. "Steady... steady now..."
"Careful of the wings!" roared Burkett. "Don't let it break any teeth -- they're valuable!"
Spells were going off like flashbulbs. Blinding spells, stunning spells, spells to send it to sleep or at the very least calm it down... Harry even heard one wizard shout "Imperio!", not that it did any good.
All the spells bounced off the silvery hide.
The only things keeping the dragon from flying away were the blue-limned ropes. They were specially strengthened but not soft: horrified, Harry noticed the way that welts were being left behind on the dragon's skin whenever it pulled particularly strongly against its restraints.
This only enraged it the more.
More welts opened up. One rope must have nicked a vein on one of the wings because a drop of pale blue blood hit the snow next to Harry's hand. It smoked. Harry looked around wildly for Charlie -- there he was, holding on like grim death to one of the blue ropes.
"Charlie! You're hurting it!"
Charlie, eyes fixed on the thrashing dragon, said, "Stay back, Harry. We know what we're doing."
Harry wanted to say: no, you don't. You don't know anything about what this really is. It's not a dragon, not like you think a dragon is! But he knew that if he distracted Charlie now then the creature could lash out and kill his friend. He could almost hear its bloodthirsty rage. Images of tearing and biting and lashing out with claws he didn't have staggered Harry. He went down on his knees and clutched at his head until he was sure his thoughts were his own again. He looked up, panting slightly from the effort. Yes, the Ice Dragon wanted them all dead. But Harry had seen something else to it when it had first contacted him -- something amazing. Something that had done nothing to deserve being hurt -- and certainly not hurt like this.
Maybe if he waited, Charlie would see the damage they were doing and...
And then the Ice Dragon loosened the noose around its nose and snapped at a stunning spell.
The spell disappeared and the dragon's growl became triumphant.
"Look out! Dibbles, get a noose around that nose, fast as!"
A lasso was thrown. The dragon tossed its head just in time, throwing two people of balance. Only a quick summons by Burkett, who was supervising from a little way back, saved them from evisceration.
Snap! Snap! Snap!
The dragon was eating the spells! Harry had never heard of such a thing being possible.
Then the dragon bit at the rope tethering a foreleg to the ground.
The blue light that kept the rope magically strong went out, the light zooming along the length of rope and into the dragon's mouth like spaghetti.
In a few seconds all the blue was gone and all that was keeping the dragon on the ground was the bare strength of the ropes.
With a few more infuriated bites the dragon cut through those as well. The wings and tail were free.
The tail whipped out and caught Hans in the chest. He was thrown over Harry's head. Harry scurried back to check on him.
For a terrible moment he thought the man was dead. Hans wasn't breathing. Then he took a shuddering breath. "I'm okay," he croaked. "Don't let it fly away."
Harry patted him on the shoulder -- the best reassurance he could give at the moment, because secretly he wanted the Ice Dragon to fly far and fast and never have to see another human being again as long as it lived.
Someone shouted: "It's going! Merlin, someone throw a --"
The shadow rose vast on the plain of ice, huge with the sun low on the horizon. Harry looked up.
Still snarling, its hide cris-crossed with rope burns, the dragon rose onto its hind legs and stretched out its wings. Fragments of rope and spells littered the plain for scores of meters around. Wizards were picking themselves up and getting their wands ready.
The Ice Dragon paused and looked at Harry. Its upper lip curled back just enough to show a row of teeth like bleached bone needles. Then it looked at the wizards scattered around the plain and the lip pulled back in a full, silent snarl.
<fly> thought Harry, holding the image of the Ice Dragon soaring around the glacial cliffs strong in his mind. <flyflyflyfree>
The dragon snarled and shook its head as if it could get rid of Harry's thoughts that way. With sharp snaps and crackles it dug its claws into the ice and took another look at all the humans who were picking themselves up now and reaching for their wands. It sneered -- Harry would have bet his last Galleon that it sneered -- at the sight.
Harry gagged as the taste of <hotsweetmagicalblood> thickly layered his tongue.
<fly!> he thought again, desperately clamping down on the his terror of Charlie Weasley being torn apart by the furious dragon. No point in giving it ideas. <flynowflynowflynowfreefreefree!>
The dragon hissed angrily, but it spread its wings.
"It's going to escape!" shouted the voice of Dibble. "By Merlin's beard, it's not getting away!"
Some of the dragon's arrogance must have filtered through to Harry: Harry thought with contempt, And how are you going to stop something that eats magic and bites through nylon rope?
Harry wished he hadn't asked that, even in the privacy of his own mind, because Dibble was opening a box. A box that was shaking as if a mini-boggart was inside it. Something that muttered and fussed angrily. Something that every Quidditch player knew by heart and adrenaline and dreaded hearing...
The Bludger shot out of the box.
The dragon leaped up, bringing its wings down for the first wingstroke that would send it up into the sky.
Harry grabbed his wand and aimed it at the Bludger.
There was a sickening crack and the dragon keeled sideways, crashing down onto the ice.
Harry just stood there, unable to believe what he'd just seen. The Bludger had completely shattered the base of the dragon's wing. The entire wing folded in a grotesque parody of the sail on the broken mast of a yacht.
"No..." he whispered, as stunned as the dragon.
He tried to run forward but then the pain hit him.
Someone was crying. Harry could hear a high-pitched keening of pain and loss. He sat up, concerned at first by the strange light and the stranger sleeping bag. Then he remembered -- oh yes -- I'm in Antarctica. I'm in the base tent.
Then memory hit him like... like the Bludger that had hit the dragon, and Harry cried out.
"What is it?" asked a familiar, concerned voice.
"Charlie? Charlie! What happened?"
Charlie looked angry, but not with Harry. "You fainted when... when we caught the Ice Dragon."
Harry wrapped his arms around his knees and regarded Charlie with an accusatory glare. "That's it crying, isn't it."
Charlie's angry expression became anguished. He looked away from Harry as if he were ashamed to meet his friend's eyes. "We can't get any spells to stick to it... it's like they just won't hold. They slip off its hide. We can't take its pain away, we can't heal the break, we can't even let it sleep while we put a splint on it..."
Furious, Harry kicked his way free of the sleeping bag. "Let me see it."
"I hardly see how --"
The keening was making Harry shake. It even made his fingernails itch. Harry put on his glasses, ignoring the way they were so cold that they hurt the bridge of his nose. "I need to see it."
Outside, things were even worse. The creature had been pegged down by so many ropes it looked like it had been taken out of a picture Harry had seen in Gulliver's Travels. Its mouth was gaping as far as the ropes would allow and it breathed in shallow pants. A thin drip of the palest blue ichor oozed from the wounded wing. Slivers of bone protruded at odd angles. There was an argument going on nearby between Hans and a witch whose name Harry couldn't remember over how best to splint it. The witch wanted to pierce the flight membrane to fasten straps around the bone as no spells to hold a splint would work. Hans, still breathing a little roughly and with one arm in a sling, was arguing for the wing to be strapped to the dragon's side, but as this would necessitate loosening some of the ropes no-one else wanted to do this. They were too frightened that the dragon would attack again.
Harry looked at it, wondering if it were capable of defending itself if he "accidentally" undid the ropes.
Its eyes were glazed.
It looked like it were preparing for death.
There was no way it could defend itself. Harry crouched near the head and tried to contact it again. All he got was a blank wall of shock that left his own mind befuddled.
"Charlie, it's dying," he whispered.
"It won't die," Charlie promised. "Sure, it looks bad at the moment, but it'll be okay once we get it back to England and in a quiet place."
"If you can't heal the wing it won't be able to fly. If it knows it can't fly again it'll die," Harry persisted.
Charlie took a deep breath, then coughed. The air was so cold that it ripped the moisture out of lungs and deep breaths weren't advised by medi-wizards. When he could speak again, he said quietly, "We don't have a cage big enough for it to fly in, Harry. Normal dragons, they can be kept in by wards. But this one, well, its flying days are over, I'm afraid. It's too dangerous to be left loose. That's partly why we're here, you know; because the Ministry heard that there was an Ice Dragon and anybody who knows anything about Ice Dragons knows that they're incredibly dangerous. They're the only species of dragon that has ever deliberately gone out to hunt down wizards."
"I didn't see this one doing much of that," Harry hissed. "More the other way around, it seemed to me. So you just think you can catch it and breaking its wings doesn't matter because it's not going to fly anymore anyway... all because a bunch of wizards from the Ministry decided that some creature at the end of the Earth which was minding its own business might just have been a threat based on what little evidence they have..." He trailed off, coughing from a dry throat.
Charlie put his hands on Harry's shoulders and shook him lightly. "Harry... you're just young. I know that this seems really brutal to you --"
"Because it is," Harry snarled, twisting free and stepping back to look at the man he'd thought he could trust to do the right thing.
"Harry. It's just one of those things that have to be done. It's not pretty, and it doesn't seem just to you, but you have to believe me that we've got the wizarding community's best interests at heart here. Sometimes life can seem ugly and harsh but it's necessary."
Harry nodded. This was not an argument he could win. Even if he convinced the other wizards to let the Ice Dragon go, what could be done with it then? None of them knew how to heal it. They couldn't even get spells to stick to it, let along do anything useful. Left alone the Ice Dragon would die. And Harry would be responsible for another death. But Charlie had said two things that stuck in his mind:
The first thing was that the Ministry was involved in this.
Harry already knew the second: that things in life could seem ugly and harsh while, at the same time, be necessary. Harry knew all about that.
He looked at the prone figure of the Ice Dragon in its crumpled majesty and told himself not to do anything that would make Charlie suspicious. As strongly as he could, he thought at it: <I'mgettinghelp>
The Ice Dragon's eyes flickered a little as if it had heard him.
Harry blinked. For a moment he'd thought he'd seen an image of a person from his own mind. But -- after a couple of seconds' thought he knew that the image couldn't have been from his memory. It had been too... not the person he knew. Too friendly. The foreign memory had shown him a person who was the first choice whenever something went wrong. That was definitely not Harry's own personal experience of that person. Which meant... What?
"I should get back to Hogwarts now," he said. "I'm still feeling a little dizzy."
"Hmm. You look kinda pale," Charlie agreed, brow furrowed. "Okay. I'll arrange the Portkey."
He was back in a moment. It seemed that now that the prey had been caught the bait was no longer important and could go.
Harry took the Portkey. It was ready to go in a few seconds and, as he felt it take effect, he thought: I already know the person who knows more about being ugly and harsh and necessary than anyone else in the world.
But how did the Ice Dragon know about him?
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