The atmosphere in Temeraire’s clearing was so tense that, if you plucked at the air, you could almost hear the twang. Laurence gripped Harry’s thin shoulders tightly as he glared at the old man before him.
“Absolutely not. Potter’s not going anywhere without my leave.”
Dumbledore sighed. “Captain Laurence, your devotion to your crew-members is admirable, but I don’t believe you understand the situation. This is about safety.”
“You are suggesting sending him back to people who beat him, starved him, and locked him up, and you talk of safety?” Laurence asked incredulously. “You cannot be serious.”
“Captain, you are not a wizard; you can have no concept of the danger he is in…”
“I am perfectly familiar with the danger the Dark Lord represents, thank you,” said Laurence stiffly. “I have been fighting his forces these twenty-five years.”
Dumbledore shook his head. “This is different. He will target Harry specifically—”
“Then we will protect him.” Laurence’s voice was almost a growl. He could feel Harry trembling beneath his hands, and his anger increased. How dare this old man even suggest…!
“Certainly we shall protect him,” said Temeraire quickly. “I shall not let any harm befall him, and neither will Laurence.”
“I don’t doubt your spirit,” Dumbledore said, “but none of you can offer the protection that his mother’s sacrifice will. The Dursleys have agreed to take him in again—”
“No.” Laurence met the old man’s eyes, and immediately felt an immense pressure, like an enemy’s sword brought to bear against his own. He refused to look away, meeting steel with steel. “I will not stand by while one of my Ensigns is abused. He is a member of the Aerial Corp, and Temeraire’s crew, wizard or not. Potter stays with me, and that’s final.”
Fire blazed in those light blue eyes as Dumbledore took a step forward, the heat of his anger burning Laurence’s skin. “Might I remind you,” he said quietly, “of what I told you last night? Do you really imagine that you alone can protect him, when Sauron comes?”
“Not alone,” said a voice from behind him, and Laurence turned slightly to see Gimli standing there, grasping his axe and eyeing Dumbledore as though he were a young tree he’d like to fell. “Not alone.”
“No indeed,” said Temeraire indignantly. “I am more than a match for any Dark Lord, be he ever so clever, and I should like to see any of those Nazgul stand up to the Divine Wind. Besides, Maximus and Lily and—and even Iskierka, will see he comes to no harm. Potter is my crew,” he ended firmly. “Mine.”
“He is ours,” agreed Legolas, from Laurence’s other side, and he realized, belatedly, that nearly the entire crew had assembled during the last few minutes.
Laurence turned back to Dumbledore, expression grim. “I don’t care about the damned prophecy, sir, and I’ll go to hell before I see the boy returned to those villains. Do I make myself clear?”
There was a long silence, while Dumbledore stared at him. It was possible that no one had ever spoken to him so before; it was probably a foolish thing to do, as the man was one of the most powerful wizards living. Finally, however, the man shook his head, drawing himself to his full height.
“Very well. I have done my best. On your own head be it.” There was a loud crack, and he was gone.
Laurence blinked, and relaxed his grip on Harry’s shoulders. The boy turned to him, far paler than he should be, his green eyes huge in his thin face.
“Oh, sir—you—I thought—” He stopped, confused, and Laurence patted him, a little awkwardly, on the shoulder.
“There, there, lad. I told you I wouldn’t send you back.”
“No, sir, but…”
Harry hunched his shoulders, looking down. “It’s just that I’ve heard so many promises before.”
Laurence nodded, tight-lipped. If he ever met that bastard Vernon Dursley, every law in the Corp wouldn’t stop him from demanding satisfaction. Clearly, the wizards hadn’t done much better. “I keep my promises, lad. And so does Temeraire.”
“Yes, sir.” He hesitated. “Sir?”
“What… what prophecy was he talking about?”
Now it was Laurence’s turn to hesitate. The boy was only twelve, after all. It was a heavy burden to bear. And yet… if the Ring came to him, he would need to be prepared. And Laurence remembered what he was like as a squeaker—always getting into trouble, and Harry was even worse. The boy would surely get into some scrape or other if he didn’t understand why he needed to be careful.
“Best not to discuss it out here, Potter,” he said with a sigh. “Come to my quarters after supper, and I’ll tell you. Now, run along—Granger and Roland will be wondering where you are.”
Laurence watched the boy run off, his confidence restored, and rubbed his forehead. There would be consequences for this, he knew—but he could not have acted any differently with honor.
“You’ve done well by the lad,” Gimli commented. He polished his axe blade absently on his sleeve, eyes trained on the small, diminishing figure. “We’ve enough to be getting on with, without the meddling of wizards.”
Laurence glanced down at the dwarf. “Do you suppose I did the right thing?”
“Of course. We’ll look after the lad, never fear.”
“Of course,” Legolas echoed. “Wizards have their own strange set of morals. We must abide by our own.”
“Who?” asked Laurence. “Elves, Dwarves, or Men?”
The Elf grinned. “Neither. The Aerial Corp, my friend. Or Temeraire’s crew, if you like. Here, we stand by our friends.”
“And our Captain,” said Gimli.
“And our Captain.”
Laurence felt overwhelmed by this show of solidarity. “Well,” he managed, “if we all do our duty, I expect we’ll come through in the end.”