Strange goings on
Meanwhile, back in Wayward Crescent, something odd was happening in the Dragon's Den. The stained-glass ornament which hung in the window behind Liz's workbench suddenly twizzled on its string, and this was followed by a gentle fall of soot down the chimney. Gruffen, who was over by the door as always, sitting on his book of dragon procedures and dozing (because Lucy had forgotten to alert him), shook himself awake and went to investigate. The fireplace seemed to be largely undisturbed. Even so, he flew up it a way, straining his violet eyes into the gloom. There was nothing to see. And when the atmosphere of filth began to irritate his nostrils, he went back to his perch and fell soundly asleep.
But unbeknown to him and every other dragon present, something solid had landed in the grate. When it was sure it would not be detected, it flew silently across the room, invisible bar the flecks of soot that were tracing its outline and flicking off its wings. It landed on the workbench. On tiptoes it approached the stone dragon, Grockle. It tilted its head in a sympathetic manner, placing a paw on the edge of the basket as if it would like to rock Grockle in his sleep. It did not touch the cold grey scales, but waved its paw in a circular movement over Grockle's head as though it was trying to break the cruel spell that had seen the poor creature born without fire. Grockle did not respond and the visiting dragon showed no sign of expectation that he would. Instead, it now walked across the table, leaving nothing but the faintest black prints on the wood. Then it carefully and cleverly opened David's letter. Now it faced a more difficult task, for its mission was to tear out Zanna's blood spot. But this it did, making barely a sound. Then it flew across the room and landed next to Gretel's cage. Sensing a presence, she drew towards the bars.
The invisible dragon stretched out its paw and dropped the blood spot and a small white flower inside the cage.
Gretel, no stranger to magics and spells, having once been a cohort of the sibyl, Gwilanna, showed admirable composure when these objects mysteriously appeared at her feet. She glanced at the sleeping Gruffen, then secreted the items away. On silent lips, she asked the dragon its name.
On the quietest of whispers it told her: Groyne.
Then it was gone, back to the chimney.
And no one, especially not Gruffen, had seen it.
For a short time after this strange encounter, Gretel did nothing but sit and think. Then she picked up the blood spot and warmed it in her paw, until the paper was crumbling in on itself and the tiniest prick of her mistress Zanna's blood had liquefied, ready to evaporate. With expert timing, she let it drip into the centre of the flower. Its petals turned from white to a stormy shade of purple.
Then she began to cough.
Gruffen was awake in an instant. He saw Gretel tottering, holding her throat, a dark flower clasped between her stout front paws. The potions dragon. With a flower! How?
He zipped to her cage and peered warily in. Gretel, spluttering smoke from her nostrils and ears, seemed for all the world to be choking. Gruffen gripped the bars, completely taken in. As he put his snout close and asked what he could do, Gretel said, “sleep” and wafted the flower. The guard dragon jolted. His sparkling eyes stilled. He turned nine tenths of a circle and fell.
Password, hurred Gretel.
In his flower-giddy state, poor Gruffen was helpless to resist. Hrr-rr-aar-re-rurrr, he murmured. The door clicked open and Gretel walked free.
Dragons around the room began to clamour the alarm, but Gretel completely unmoved by the fuss, flew, posthaste, to Grockle's basket.
By now, Liz and Lucy were hurrying up the stairs, with Gadzooks flying on and G'reth just behind him. Calmly, Gretel made her move. She placed the newly-darkened flower in the straw by Grockle's snout, stroked his head and breathed in deep, making fire in the back of her throat. And with one quick jet of blue-white flame, she set the straw and the basket alight...