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Lesson 6) 'Cause I Come from the Land of Lizards (Dragons!)
As we come out of the midterm, we take a bit of a detour to discuss a topic that, while it is by no means a specialty of mine, I was told has been a favorite for young students for many years. Indeed, the dragon is not simply an iconic creature in the wizard community, but also one of the most long-standing romantic images for Muggles as well. Accounts of these great beasts exist in Muggle writing as far back as between 1,300 and 1,000 BCE, when the Epic of Gilgamesh was compiled from even earlier sources. This account described a fanged, fire-breathing guardian of the Cedar Forest. Subsequent Muggle accounts have described great serpent-like creatures, many of whom were more likely basilisks, and other “wyrms” that spread terror throughout Muggle villages.
From Muggle accounts, we get an interesting example of Muggle intolerance to magic, as discussed in the very first lesson. There exists a thirteenth century tale of a Swiss knight named Heinrich von Winkelried, who purportedly killed a dragon that was killing cattle and terrorizing the people of Wilen. Whether Sir Heinrich did manage to kill the dragon or whether he took credit for a wizard’s work is something of a debate. However, legend has it that after the dragon was dead, Sir Heinrich came into contact with the dragon’s blood, and it killed him. The story was later considered a myth by Muggles, of course, so there exist no details as to how Sir Heinrich made contact with the blood or the exact effects it had. To note, dragon blood on its own has extensive positive magical attributes, and is used in numerous beneficial potions as well. However, this contact with a substance of such intense magical energy proved fatal to the poor Muggle knight.
In the magical world, these beasts are no less dangerous, but wizards have learned that almost every part of the dragon can be used in potions and other magical endeavors. Hogwarts’ own former Headmaster discovered the twelve magical uses of dragon blood, including as an anaesthetic, a painkiller, a cleaning agent, a disinfecting agent, and even in certain poisons. There may even be more uses that we have not yet discovered. The heartstring is used in many wands and is considered one of the most powerful cores. Wizards also use dragon claws, dung, horn, hide, liver, and meat for a variety of magical purposes.
Although these different parts can be used for a variety of magical endeavors - indeed, dragon parts are among the most diverse in utility - one trend throughout is that not only do they contain very powerful magic, they are also among the most magically resistant. That is to say, not only is dragon skin impervious to most spells, the Stunning Spell being one of the very few moderately effective ones when tackling an adult dragon, but even after the dragon is deceased, it can be hard to affect the dragon’s individual tissues and organs with magic. This is one of the reasons that it can be so difficult to research the ways in which certain parts of the dragon can be used in potions and in modifying and impacting other magical works.
Take, for example, the dragon liver, which -- among other purposes -- is often used in antidotes to strong poisons. The organ is physically tough, and it is often difficult to cut it even with a sharp silver knife when planning to make use of it. It can, however, with some patience and muscle, be properly sliced and measured. However, if you try to use the Severing Charm, you will find that it has no effect at all on the liver. Additionally, the likelihood of a backfire increases when trying to use spells to impact a dragon's anatomy.
Interestingly, this seems to hold true in varying degrees for all known species of dragons, suggesting that it’s a trait that held over from the most recent common ancestor. Without getting too in-depth into evolution today, the most recent common ancestor is the most recent "parent" species of creature from which separate contemporary species are derived. So, for example, it is thought that at one time there was a single species from which all dragons today have evolved. There may have been other related species of creatures at the same time, but they ultimately faced extinction. Different factors, such as geographic separation among groups of this species, caused populations to drift apart in genetic similarity until eventually they became genetically dissimilar enough to qualify as entirely different species, eventually leading to the fifteen known species of dragon we have today.
Given that this protection lingers even after the dragon’s demise and is universally present across dragon species, some dragonologists have surmised that this magical immunity may be coded somewhere within the dragon’s very DNA (genetic building blocks). If we do discover that there is a gene that imbues the dragon with a certain immunity to many forms of spellcasting, even beyond creating tools, potions, and instruments which enable the user to have a certain resistance to magical attack, it would have very interesting implications in consideration of how the genetics of other organisms may be modified to increase magical immunity. This opens the conversation to myriad ethical questions, of course, but much of our knowledge and research comes with questions of ethics and morals as we extend our knowledge of the universe.
Another theory is that, rather than a particular part of a dragon’s DNA assigning magical resistance to the beasts, their DNA and existence in itself is just so heavily drenched in magical energy that when they become recipients of any further magical energy, regardless of intent, it does make some sort of impact, but that burst of energy is more like a tiny droplet falling into a vast ocean. As we currently only know the impact of several wizards and other magical creatures on dragons - and creatures can overtake a dragon when using coordinated effort - we do not know exactly what a concentrated magic blast, greater than anything we can cast now, could do to a dragon.
Researching dragons itself comes with certain red tape and other difficulties. In the year 1709 dragon breeding was outlawed at the Warlocks’ Convention. Thus, while there are places like the Romanian Dragon Sanctuary that are dedicated to the preservation and study of dragons, it is impossible to breed them for further study purposes. My brief contact with dragonology was actually at this dragon sanctuary during my graduate studies. We spent a week studying the Ukrainian Ironbelly's digestive system and enzymes and, as fascinating as I suppose that would be to some, that was when I realized that dragonology was not the focus for me. Of course, even without this restriction of dragon breeding, it is often not exactly the easiest of undertakings to breed dragons.
Another strictly regulated aspect of dragons is the trade of dragon eggs. These are a strict Class A Non-Tradeable Material in the magical world, although of course, as soon as you ban something, many of those who are determined to obtain that thing begin to do so on the black market. Chinese Fireball eggs, in particular, are popular ingredients in fertility and luck potions in certain areas.
I suppose that, as we are discussing dragon ingredients and their use, now is a good time to mention dragon claws, which often find their way onto school campuses in another form of illicit trade. The claws are known to boost memory and intelligence, as well as improve focus, and thus are often sought by students trying to gain an edge as they move towards O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. level examinations. While dragon claw is not addictive, like any other artificial stimulant, it does have its own dangers. The claws of a dragon do not permanently give you more intellect or memory, but rather it boosts chemical levels in your brain to temporarily heighten these attributes.
You are creating and utilizing these chemicals more quickly than your brain is equipped. As such, using this ingredient over a long period of time can ultimately wear down your nervous system (the system that transmits nerve impulses within your body) and lead to some pretty troubling permanent effects. Even short-term use, when the effects wear off, often leads to a kind of functionality and memory “crash”. As such, I strongly urge you as you move in your years not to fall victim to seeking a quick, temporary fix for the sake of a grade when you could instead gain real, permanent knowledge and understanding of a subject.
I suppose with that warning, I will let you go for the day to complete your quiz and answer the essay question. There is a lot more reading to be done about dragons, of course, but I just wanted to impart a few small, often overlooked details that I find fascinating about the ever-popular beasts.
For your essay this week, I would like you to consider the benefits, dangers, and ethical questions associated with researching dragon DNA to uncover the source of their great magical resistance. The essay should be at least 300 words, although you are allowed to submit it as a short story, presentation, video, or other method if you choose.