Being in parliament wasn't quite what Temeraire had expected.
Of course, the work he and the other dragons there did was very important and would have an impact on the lives of not only all dragons, but also all humans in Britain. He had expected that.
But one would think that, considering that, everybody there would be aware of his responsibility and give it all his best effort and full attention. And one would expect that the ones sent there would be the most competent representatives that could be found.
One couldn't quite blame the members of the Upper House that didn't have the mental capacity or even interests that were required, of course. At least Laurence had explained to Temeraire that they were born to their duties, and education could only do so much to improve the mind of a man that nature had intended to be an artist, or soldier, or poet, or idle lazeabout. Temeraire understood that it was as much a misfortune to those men as to the country when they were born to inherit a title and a seat in parliament instead, and pitied them accordingly. Surely they were indeed doing the best they could despite what their efforts looked like to outsiders.
The dragons representing those areas that had next to no dragon population, too, could be excused for not being the brightest specimens of dragonkind. Surely they had been the very best that could be found and they all were eager enough to do a good job.
Then there were dragons from large breeding grounds that ... well, couldn't be convinced that a dragon MP had a responsibility to consider the interests of humans as well as dragons. Those made Temeraire cringe with embarrassment only too often, but still, as Perscitia kept reminding him, it was quite natural that their draconic constituents had elected them based on their representation of draconic interests and giving much less thought to their human neighbours who, after all, had their own representatives who tended to be just as blind to the interests of dragons.
Still, one would think that everybody would understand the need to work together for the good of everybody and that the humans elected to the Lower House would be the very best and brightest. Even their most thinly inhabited regions offered plenty of people to choose from, after all.
But no, parliament, it had turned out, was no more orderly or reasonable than a gathering of feral dragons, except that hardly anybody there was interested in sheep or cows. MPs fought over orders of precedence and political advantages, but most of all, it seemed, to prevent each other from gaining any advantages, even if it was to their own disadvantage.
He'd spent the entire session so far trying to get the humans to see reason concerning the uneven distribution of the draconic population and the consequences it had for their representation in parliament, which really ought to have been plain for everybody there to see. All he'd wanted was the permission and funding to build pavilions where there were the fewest dragons. They wouldn't have to be in or even right next to cities or on agriculturally used land. Or particularly large. All they should do was provide homes for a few dragons that could then run for parliament in that area.
It had been a complete and utter failure despite all the dragons and eventually even a handful of human representatives supporting it, and Temeraire was quite happy that his first recess allowed him to get home for a few days of rest in his own almost finished new pavilion, which Tharkay had had built in the very best location that could be found, comfortably close to the house and with a very nice view of the grounds. Once finished it was to have every luxury imaginable, but for now Temeraire's meals were still cooked in Tharkay's own kitchen and served on the lawn in front of the house. It was very nice as long as the weather was good, but Temeraire fondly hoped that he'd be able to dine indoors next winter.
"If it is too uncomfortable, we can always visit friends," Laurence suggested consolingly. "Loch Laggan's pavilions are already finished and particularly warm, I've heard, and wouldn't it be nice to see the new wings in training?"
"Oh yes," Temeraire agreed. "If they will have us. I don't suppose there is anyone there now that we know."
"Why," Tharkay said, sounding quite surprised. "I thought you trained there under Master Celeritas yourself?"
"We did," Temeraire confirmed with a sigh. "But he left after the ... plaque, you know. I never could find out where he went, some breeding grounds, I suppose. He is quite old and must have been tired of all the work breaking in new dragons and riders."
"Retired, you say?" Tharkay asked. "That is strange. I could have sworn I saw him pass over as I was leaving the school only the day before yesterday."
"School?" Laurence asked. "What school?"
"Hogwarts, you mean?" Temeraire inquired rather unnecessarily. He was quite sure that there was only one school close enough to Loch Laggan that the dragons stationed there actually passed over it regularly. "Do you have relatives there?"
Strange. Temeraire had never heard Tharkay mention a relative he was actually close enough to for friendly visits, but clearly there had to be a pleasant enough cousin as Tharkay had neither children of his own nor any siblings. Or perhaps the child was more pleasant than the parents?
"Oh no, but it just happens to be my own old school and most of the old masters are still there," Tharkay explained. "And I sometimes help out when one of the masters falls ill or is called away. I ... do like children."
"Well," decided Temeraire. "That does explain some things."
"I don't suppose they'd find a use for me as well?" Laurence ventured. "Not that I like being separated from Temeraire, but I really am no use to him in London at all and a man does have to do something with his life."
"I'm afraid not," Tharkay told him after just a moment's hesitation. "They are quite selective when hiring anybody but their own graduates. I'm sure we can find something for you to do here on the estate, though. There is a lot of work to oversee and especially the construction workers working on Temeraire's pavilion do tend to slack off when I am ... away."
"I do have some experience giving grammar lessons to my runners," Laurence pointed out.
"But Laurence," Temeraire reminded him. "They don't have grammar lessons at Hogwarts. At least I've never heard that they do."
"Nonsense," Laurence told him. "Of course they do. All schools have grammar lessons. That's what one sends children to school for."
"Alas," Tharkay intervened hastily. "They do not currently require a grammar teacher and you really would be very useful to me here."
Much later, after Laurence had gone to bed, Tharkay came to the pavilion to have a private word with Temeraire.
"Pray," he said. "Do not mention Hogwarts to Laurence again, if you can avoid it. The place is to be a secret and most humans cannot even see it. It would be quite difficult for me to explain it, not to mention against the law."
"Oh," said Temeraire. "It is quite visible to dragons, but I had no idea there was any such law. Nor do I think the other dragons know. Everybody at Loch Laggan always spoke of it quite freely when I was there, at least."
"The law applies to wizards," Tharkay explained. "Not dragons. But it would be quite helpful if you could pass the word that the school or wizards ought not to be mentioned to humans if it can be at all avoided. The consequences if Hogwarts were to be discussed in parliament are quite impossible to predict and the school is very necessary to the country."
Temeraire couldn't quite imagine why Hogwarts might be so important, but after his experience of parliament he understood very well why one wouldn't want to draw their attention to anything important if it wasn't in urgent need of fixing or funding.
And thus, when Temeraire returned to London after the recess, Laurence remained behind, determined to make himself useful to Tharkay and prove to himself that despite the fact that he hadn't been able to find any other employment, he wasn't entirely incompetent and useless.
Still, the fear that Tharkay had only offered him busywork out of kindness gnawed at him.
Temeraire, of course, begged him to reconsider and come along and even toyed with the idea of giving up his seat and remaining with Laurence, but there was no other dragon to pass it on to, and then Perscitia had written him a letter saying that she had finally figured out how to convince the human MPs to support their request for the funding of those sorely needed additional pavilions.
"She says we shall present it as an effort to make draconic transport services available to humans in those regions," Temeraire had told Laurence eagerly. "Because obviously it takes much longer and is much more expensive to hire dragons to fly somewhere where there is no pavilion for them to stay in. Even the most obstinate MP must see that, but Perscitia thinks my full support is required to get them to admit it."
Laurence privately had his doubts that the opposition would admit to anything no matter how hard the dragons worked to convince them, but he didn't have the heart to tell Temeraire so and had his own worries to occupy his mind.
As it turned out, however, Tharkay really did seem to have need of him right now. Temeraire hadn't been gone for more than a day when he informed Laurence that he'd just had a letter from that mysterious school informing him that he was urgently required there.
"I should be back in time for dinner every day, but shall most likely have to leave right after breakfast. I trust you can manage?" he told Laurence.
Laurence nodded. "Of course. Are you sure you want to keep going back and forth this much, though? I'm sure I can ..."
But Tharkay assured him that that was no problem at all. He was much more worried that something might come up that would require Laurence to get his permission or decision and therefore wanted to be available at least once a day.
Just how Tharkay intended to cover the distance in such a short time when their only dragon had just left for London Laurence had no idea, nor did he get the chance to ask since some more urgent question seemed to come up whenever he started to.
For the rest of the week Tharkay did indeed go to Hogwarts every morning and return every evening as he had promised, though for some reason Laurence never saw him leave, nor were the coach and horses brought out at any time.
At least Laurence had the satisfaction of knowing that the management of the estate depended entirely on him, and if that posed some problems that had never come up in captaining a ship or dragon, at least those challenges kept him occupied and mastering them confirmed his usefulness to himself.
On Saturday he finally got the chance to show Tharkay all he and the various workmen had done during the week. They made a tour of the entire estate together and Laurence's last doubts vanished at Tharkay's obvious approval.
"I am really glad you decided to stay and help me," Tharkay told him afterwards. "There was hardly any progress at all when there was nobody here to supervise the men."
It pleased Laurence, of course, but also left him wondering just how extensive Tharkay's involvement at this Hogwarts was. And just why did his friend hardly ever talk about his work there or the students? He claimed to be fond of children and occasionally did tell amusing or touching tales of their exploits, but hardly as often as one would expect of a man who'd just spent an entire day with them.
Then again, much of the day must actually be taken up by travelling, but Tharkay had no observations about the road or anything he had seen on the way to make either.
Was his engagement at the school merely a cover for some top secret government work instead? But what top secret work could there be to do around here? Tharkay couldn't go very far to do it when he was always back in time for dinner.
As Laurence was changing for dinner that evening he happened to glance out of the window at Temeraire's empty pavilion, thinking how much he wished his dragon were back and they could enjoy the meal together, and noticed someone standing on its roof. It was impossible to make out any distinguishing features at this distance and against the light of the setting sun, and at first Laurence assumed that it must be a construction worker, but then he remembered that it was Saturday evening, the last finishing touches had been made on the roof on Thursday and the construction workers had returned to the village for the weekend on Friday evening.
Who then could be climbing about on Temeraire's roof?
Laurence rushed out to investigate.
By the time he reached the pavilion there was nobody on the roof, but a boy that surely couldn't be much older than ten or eleven was coming around its corner wearing a black monk's cassock and carrying a broom in his hand. He was apparently quite engrossed in admiring the pavilion and didn't even glance Laurence's way.
"Hold!" Laurence commanded in what on second thought was perhaps too military a manner in this time of peace and considering that he was dealing with a mere boy. "Who are you and what are you doing here?"
The boy flinched at the sound, turned around, but smiled brightly when he saw Laurence.
"Oh, good evening, Sir. My apologies for not greeting you right away, I honestly didn't notice you," he said quite properly.
"Didn't notice me?" Laurence echoed, quite taken aback by this reaction. He'd assumed that the boy had to be a thief or thief's assistant sent to squeeze into the house through a window and open the door for his master, but surely then he'd have shown some fear at being caught.
"Not that I mean to imply that you were sneaking, Sir!" the boy assured him hastily. "I'm quite sure you were walking quite normally. I just wasn't paying any attention. I have never seen a dragon's pavilion up this close before, you see. It is most impressive."
"I dare say it is," Laurence allowed. He had seen much more impressive ones in China, of course, but clearly this boy had never been to China. "But this is private land. So who are you and what are you doing here?"
"Oh, forgive me," the boy said, blushing slightly. "My name is Aberforth Dumbledore* and I am just looking at this pavilion. Pray, Sir, do you happen to know whether the dragon is at home? I would so love to see a dragon up close."
"No, Mister Dumbledore," Laurence informed him. "The dragon is not at home. He has gone to London and won't be back anytime soon. Did you come up here all the way from the village? In that case you'd better hurry back since you won't be able to make it before dark and your parents will be quite worried."
"Why no," Aberforth Dumbledore said. "I came from Hogwarts, of course, and I'm not going back. I'm going to Master Tharkay's. His house ought to be somewhere around here, I'm almost sure, but I don't know exactly what it looks like from the air and it is getting rather dark." A bright, charming smile. "I don't suppose I could stay with you tonight? I am awfully hungry and I'm sure Master Tharkay will repay you for your trouble. He is awfully nice, you know."
"Well, you are in luck then. I happen to be staying at Master Tharkay's myself," Laurence admitted. "I don't remember him mentioning that you were coming, however."
"Oh, he doesn't know," Aberforth Dumbledore declared happily. "I only just ran away from school, you see, and he isn't on the floo network. So the only way he could know is if the headmaster had owled him and I don't think he would. They're not likely to miss me until dinner, you see, and then they always search the castle and forest first. I bet they won't think of telling Master Tharkay before he arrives for his first lesson on Monday."
"Well," decided Laurence. "We'd better tell him then. Come on."
"Oh, can't we have a tiny little look inside the pavilion first?" Aberforth Dumbledore begged.
"No," Laurence said sternly. "That pavilion is Temeraire's house and he isn't at home to invite us in."
"I wouldn't touch anything," Aberforth Dumbledore promised. "I swear. Wizard's honour. On my wand if need be!"
Wizard's honour? Wand? What strange oaths boys had these days.
"It doesn't make a difference," Laurence assured him. "It isn't my house, so I can't let you in."
One could argue about whether or not that was true, of course. He was quite sure that Temeraire wouldn't mind Laurence showing someone around in his absence, especially considering that the workmen still had to go in and out many times every day to finish their work. Temeraire wouldn't have left anything precious lying about to possibly be damaged by a falling tool or smudged by work-dusty hands.
He didn't see why this insolent boy that openly admitted to having run away from his school should be given any treats, though. As far as he was concerned the only thing Aberforth Dumbledore had earned was a good flogging, but it also wasn't his place to administer it. Surely his headmaster would take care of it once Tharkay returned the little runaway.
The footman stared open-mouthed as Laurence marched Aberforth Dumbledore, who was still wearing his cassock and carrying his broom, past him, but Laurence didn't stop to explain. Since Tharkay was home to take care of business himself it was best to leave it to him to tell the servants whatever they needed to know about the boy's misdeeds.
Luckily Tharkay was already in the dining room, saving Laurence the trouble of finding a place Aberforth Dumbledore could safely be left to wait. He glanced up at their entry, blinked once and then said quite conversationally: "Why, Mister Dumbledore, however did you get here?"
"Why, I flew, of course," the boy returned quite happily. "Is it dinner time already? Great, I'm awfully hungry after all this exercise."
"Wait a moment," Laurence snapped, no longer willing to put up with the boy's insolence. "Didn't you tell me you had never seen a dragon up close before?"
"Why yes, and so I haven't." Aberforth Dumbledore returned. "I flew on my broom, of course."
"Of course," echoed Laurence.
"Of course," Tharkay agreed. "You know all about brooms, Mr. Dumbledore, and nothing at all about the statute of secrecy ... or that we do not bring brooms to the dinner table. Go on, take it outside. You won't be served any food until you do."
"But," Aberforth Dumbledore protested. "I don't know where your broom shed is. Your ... Is he a Muggle, Master Tharkay? I've never talked to a real Muggle before!"
"That much," Tharkay commented dryly. "Is quite obvious. There is no broom shed. Leave your broom leaning against the wall outside."
"But a Muggle could come and take it away and it's enchanted," Aberforth Dumbledore argued. "That would be against the law. And dangerous. The Muggle could have all sorts of terrible accidents."
"I assure you that no Muggle will take it while we have dinner," Tharkay told him. "Now, go and put the broom outside!"
Aberforth Dumbledore went.
"What in the world?" Laurence asked Tharkay.
Tharkay looked at him, shook his head and sighed.
"I am sorry, Laurence, but this requires a much longer and more complicated explanation than we have time for right now. Would it be a terrible imposition to ask you to just play along for this evening, if I promise to explain everything after I return Mister Dumbledore to his caretakers tomorrow morning?"
"Just tell me whether I need to take any special precautions around the boy. He won't endanger anybody ... or damage something if left unsupervised, will he?"
Tharkay probably wouldn't have sent him outside by himself if he would, but Laurence had very little experience with the insane and the things one heard sometimes ... Then again, surely no school would accept a student that might do serious harm to his fellows as soon as the nurses' backs were turned.
"Oh no, he is quite harmless," Tharkay assured him. "Just a very enterprising spirit, it appears. The worst we might have to expect from him are the usual schoolboy pranks."
The footman soon brought another plate and cutlery for Mister Aberforth Dumbledore and much to Laurence's surprise, it turned out that the boy had better table manners than he was used to seeing in children his age. Mister Dumbledore ate a large helping of everything, but protested quite loudly when sent to bed not long after the meal.
Apparently he was used to being allowed to stay up late on Saturdays since there were no lessons on Sunday. Didn't they have Sunday morning mass at Hogwarts?
Tharkay put a very sudden end to the protests by confiscating Aberforth Dumbledore's beloved broom and declaring that obedience was the only way he might ever hope to get it back.
After that the boy went off with the maid quite meekly and for a moment Laurence dared to hope that the promised explanation would follow sooner than expected, but when Tharkay returned from wherever he'd gone to hide away the broom he excused himself, saying that he needed to inform Hogwarts of Aberforth Dumbledore's current whereabouts to prevent the entire school running about in the forest in the dark in a frantic search for the boy.
Laurence was quite disappointed, but remembered that he had promised to wait until the next morning, or rather, he assumed, the afternoon since Tharkay intended to return Aberforth Dumbledore to Hogwarts first.
When he arrived for breakfast, however, the table was once again set for only two people.
"Where's Mister Dumbledore?" Laurence asked Tharkay.
"Back at school where he belongs," Tharkay told him, then took a deep breath. "I promised you an explanation yesterday, but ... well, it is all rather complicated and there are certain laws in place that prevent me from telling you everything. No matter how much I needed the help, I never should have exposed you to the risk of encountering something like this. I appreciate your friendship more than you might think and regret having to do this to you, but ..."
"It is quite alright," Laurence assured him. "I would never betray any secret you might choose to entrust me with, but of course I fully understand and accept if you prefer not to."
"I'm sorry, Laurence," Tharkay said, raising a wooden stick.
In some corner of his mind Laurence wondered what it was and where he'd picked it up from.
Temeraire was delighted when Laurence joined him in London so unexpectedly and even happier when Laurence told him he never wanted to be left behind at home when Temeraire had to go to the city again. He didn't understand what had changed his mind about wanting to help Tharkay run the estate, though. He could tell that it bothered Laurence not to have a job of his own to do.
But then ...
"I hate to degrade you to a runner's work, Laurence, but would you mind very much if I asked you to help me with my correspondence? There are so awfully many letters to read and write every day and the human members just won't put up with dragon sized letters. They are most impractical for them, of course. ... And I think we can call you a secretary rather than runner? Most MPs seem to have secretaries," he ventured.
"Of course, Temeraire," Laurence replied clearly pleased. "I'd love to be your secretary and it is not at all degrading. An MP's secretary is considered quite a worthy person."
Sometimes humans' notions of rank and dignity just didn't make sense, but Temeraire supposed that in this situation at least it was all for the best.
* This is of course the grandfather of the more widely known Aberforth Dumbledore and Albus Dumbledore mentioned in the Harry Potter books.