No one meeting Charlie Weasley for the first time could doubt that his profession is not without its risks. Both his forearms and his hands are seared with the shiny telltale patches where he has been burnt by his ferocious charges. He is not a tall man, but strong and athletically built as befits the physical demands of his profession. He offers a calloused hand in greeting when we meet at The Leaky Cauldron, a broad smile spreads across his face, and his red hair falls in vivid strands across his freckled forehead. Though now considered one of the world's leading experts in the study of dragons, his life may well have taken a quite different turn.
Charlie: Yes, it is true. I did at one point consider a professional career in Quidditch after I graduated from Hogwarts.
(Charlie was the Gryffindor Quidditch Captain while attending Hogwarts and was considered, alongside his brother-in-law, Harry Potter, as one of the most brilliant players in the school's history. Before the birth of Charlie's nephew, James, his sister, Ginny, played for the Holyhead Harpies.)
But then, a sportsman's career is such a short one and can be cut even shorter by the ever-present possibility of injury.
He grins even more broadly in anticipation of my next question.
Esmeralda: So the study of dragons seemed a safer option?
Charlie: Safer, well, what do you think? But it is a career for life. I was never the scholar as was my elder brother Bill. However, the one subject I excelled in was Care of Magical Creatures. With no disrespect intended to Professor Kettleburn (who taught that subject when I was at school), my real inspiration was the then gamekeeper, Rubeus Hagrid. It wasn't just his knowledge of creatures that so impressed me, but rather the deep respect he had for all living things, even giant spiders! But above all, Hagrid loved dragons. Of course, we didn't have any at Hogwarts, but I think some of his fascination for them must have rubbed off on me. As a part of our N.E.W.T studies we would often accompany him on his rounds through the Forbidden Forest; and it was then he would tell me all he knew and his longing to have one for a pet.
Esmeralda: But surely you have never shared Hagrid's desire for a pet dragon?
Charlie: Merlin's beard, no! I wouldn't like to think how my mother would react if I'd brought one home to The Burrow. Worse than anything the twins ever did and that's saying something.
Charlie pauses for a moment and his face clouds over in memory of his brother Fred, who was killed fighting valiantly alongside the rest of his family in the last war against the Dark Lord.
I know Hagrid has often been ridiculed for his sentimental attitudes to such creatures and we do differ in that respect. Make no mistake, a dragon is no Hippogriff! A Hippogriff can also be dangerous but with patience you can earn his trust. No amount of kindness or coddling with teddy bears can placate a dragon.
Charlie laughs as he tells me of his youngest brother's account of the time when Hagrid attempted to raise a baby dragon.
When Hagrid presented a teddy to his beloved Norbert - Norberta as it turned out - the baby dragon promptly ripped his head off!1 They are wild and dangerous animals and anyone working in the field is wise to remember it.
Esmeralda: And the consequences should they not heed this?
Charlie: Fatal, obviously! But just because they are dangerous does not mean they have no right to exist. It is now more critical than ever that we do everything in our power to ensure the preservation of those species that have graced our legends and stories for centuries. It would be a tragedy if one day we must look into the disappointed faces of our children and tell them that these fabulous beasts no longer walk the earth.
Esmeralda: Speaking of legends, Romania, where you are based, or more precisely the Carpathian Mountains, are well known for other legendary beings.
Charlie: You mean vampires? Well, they know better than to mess with us. But they do give the Muggle tourists a hard time. A few wits among them fancy themselves as being in the entertainment industry ’ "giving the tourists their money's worth" as they put it. They find it amusing to hint at their presence in subtle ways so the poor tourists come to doubt their own senses. It is rare they will do any real harm though. Like us, they really don't wish to risk exposure.
Esmeralda: And as for romance, has any fetching young Romanian caught your eye? (Charlie grimaces slightly) I'm sorry, I had to ask, but an attractive and celebrated man such as yourself is bound to have a contingent of female admirers among our readership.
Charlie: (a little embarrassed) Well, I don't know about that. My brother, Bill, was always the one who had the girls around him ’ before he was married, I hasten to add. As to romancing a vampire, I have to say I'd prefer someone a bit more down to earth.
Esmeralda: It wasn't the allure of the vampires, I was thinking of¦
Charlie: I know. Avoiding the question. Something my mother often complains about. She'd love to see me settle down. But the truth is dracologists work in such remote places and there aren't too many witches in our profession. Perhaps one day, who knows? But right now my focus is elsewhere.
Esmeralda: Yes, as I understand you have returned briefly to England before taking an extended trip to Australia.
Charlie: Yes, it's all very exciting. Only recently an Australian colleague of mine discovered the fossilized remains of a species of dragon thought only to have existed in myth - draco marsupialia, the marsupial dragon. But even more exciting is the possibility that living ones may still be found in the rugged mountain terrain of Tasmania. From the earliest days of colonization there had been reported sightings but no one took them seriously. However, now we know that they really did exist once, who can tell? In fact, the legends of the indigenous wizards have long had it that they are the cause of the numerous bushfires in that part of the country.
Esmeralda: A marsupial dragon ... how can an egg laying reptile be marsupial?
Charlie: It does seem odd, but then we all know Australia's creatures are somewhat odd ’ even the so-called "Muggle" ones. It would seem that, like any other dragon, the babies hatch from eggs. And after the mother has laid her eggs she then places them in her pouch to incubate. The babies when they hatch are far less developed than is normal and so the mother carries them around in her pouch for up to six months.
Esmeralda: Seems like a rather dangerous prospect for the mother. What if one of them were to breathe fire from within the pouch?
Charlie: (grinning) The poor mother would have one hell of a hole in her pocket! But seriously, it is believed that while the young are in the pouch they are too underdeveloped to breathe fire, though they may smoke a bit. As yet, so little is understood about them that really it is too early to speculate much. First, we must find out whether or not they have become extinct. And if they are still living it will take a number of years of careful field study before we can fully understand their life cycle.
Esmeralda: So am I to understand you will be in Australia for a long time?
Charlie: A few months, perhaps. My Australian colleagues will carry out the longer field studies. Most are more generally trained in the study of magical creatures rather than specifically in dracology. Until this recent finding there was not much call for it. I'm going out there in an advisory capacity, to head up the initial research.
Esmeralda: And should you find one, what will you name it? I know you all name your dragons just for identification purposes at least.
Charlie: Why "Rubeus' of course, if it's a boy. And if it's a girl - then maybe "Rubia." For Hagrid, having a rare species of dragon named after him would no doubt be the next best thing to having one as a pet.
Esmeralda: And a good deal safer. Thank you Charlie, and I wish you all the best in your search.
Figure 1: Artist's impression of draco marsupialia
1. Rowling, Philosopher's Stone, 175.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone. London: Bloomsbury, 1997.
---. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. London: Bloomsbury, 1999.
---. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London: Bloomsbury, 2000.
---. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. London: Bloomsbury, 2007.