Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven.
-John Milton, Paradise Lost
The Forbidden Forest, Seven Hours AV (Apres Voldemort)
Mars is bright tonight. Beyond his light shines Nemesis, the star of Revenge, twinkling in her triumph. The scales of fortune have tipped once again. The wheel of luck groans in her turn.
I see the warrior constellation in the sky as it fades into obscurity, making room for the constellation that nearly always follows: the maiden of grief. She sobs into her hands, a pitiful, heartbroken mother. Never before have I seen the skies this changeable: a great event has taken place tonight, and the sky runs dark with blood as many new souls soar into the depths of the galaxy. Sighing, I sling my bow over my shoulder and turn into the forest, fearful of what I might find in my old home, my old haunt.
While the humans are grounded to the earth, mourning and burying their dead, treating the physical and psychological wounds, we centaurs will be scrutinizing the heavens, reading the signs of the cosmos as we have done for millennia.
A terrible keening fills the impregnated air. A cold, unnatural wind whips at my bare chest. I trot firmly on the soft ground, the familiar path from which I have been banned for so many moons. The cries of the forest creatures are that of unrivaled grief for their fallen comrades.
In the first clearing lies a fallen unicorn, stirring slightly to turn its head and look at the great claw marks that mar its flank. Clustered around it are the tree sprites, the people of the leaves, so shy that they are rarely seen by humans. One holds the unicorn’s head, tenderly stroking the soft white hairs. Silvery blood drips from the beast’s side. It chose to fight in human wars, and it has paid the ultimate price.
Singing quietly and sweetly, the elfin creatures surround the unicorn. With the care of a lover they extend their little swords, lethal weapons made of branches of wand trees and forged in tree sap. Respectfully, moving as a collective, they plunge the weapons into the unicorn’s flesh. Its death comes swiftly and mercifully, its animal soul smoothly passing over my shoulder as it departs this life. The pure creature is no longer in pain, and for that I am grateful. But something about the wood sprites reminds me of locusts swarming over a rotting body, and with a small shudder I turn away and walk on.
In the clearing where Lord Voldemort held his council of war, where Harry Potter’s life departed and returned to this earth, I find the others. A ragged bunch they are, gathered about the bodies of the fallen. Cray, her once-beautiful face torn to shreds, her hooves tucked neatly beneath her rump as though in sleep. Ronan, dead hands still clutched about his bow. And the others. My people, wounded for human pride, this last sanctuary of ours invaded by their death sticks and their greed.
“Friends,” I say, and see them startle in surprise. War-shattered faces, back legs limping, wary eyes. “I am both honored and aggrieved to join you again, at last.”
With a small scream of relief, Verna gallops over to me, wrapping her arms tightly around my shoulders.
“Thanks to the heavens,” she whispers in my ear. “I’ve missed you so, dearest. I feared…”
I allow myself to stroke her hair, once, then pull away, ready to meet the council.
“The traitor Firenze.” Bane steps forward, dark eyes glittering, arms tensed on his weapon. “The lover of humans, of obedience. What is your purpose in returning here? You are banned from these woods.”
“Bane.” I lower my head respectfully. Never the most tolerant of centaurs, apparently the human war has raised him to a position of herd chief. “I come humbly, in peace. I seek only to see my people again, and pay respects to our dead.”
Behind Bane, the other centaurs slowly assemble into a half moon behind him, offering their silent support. I am alone in front of them, as I was when they drove me out. Even Verna backs away, suddenly remembering who I am to this tribe. I can smell her fear as she realizes what danger she has brought upon herself by greeting me.
“You are not welcome here,” Bane says simply. “Did I not warn you, Firenze, that if you dared set hoof here again I would put an arrow through your heart?”
My heartbeat quickens, but I force my voice to remain calm.
“Brother Bane, does the context of the night not hinder your harsh words? For this is the end of an era for humans, Lord Voldemort is dead. I’ve seen the body myself. Can we not let old grievances lie, as you also fought alongside me for Hogwarts tonight?” I extend my arms plaintively, in a gesture of peace.
There is a sudden recoil and I realize that I’ve said the wrong thing.
“How dare you suggest that we serve humans!” Bane spits at me, with the others baring their teeth in the background. “How dare you, traitor Firenze, say that we are but common ponies, catering to the whims and in the wars of men-”
“I was not insulting your honor,” I reply, “only pointing out the honestly quite objective fact that you fought against the Dark Lord tonight with the two-legs, and that some of our comrades died for this cause. Look, at the skies! When have centaurs seen the heavens change like this! Surely, in this time of tragedy, we can put these foolish grudges aside? I miss you, brother,” I add this last softly.
Bane flicks his back hooves: a warning. His beard is clipped short, giving his face a square, firm appearance. Unyielding. There is nothing more proud than a centaur, unless perhaps a Hippogriff or a Malfoy. But surely in times of grief there are more crucial concerns than pride?
“You have been swayed by your time among the villainous two-legs,” Bane comments. “Entertaining foolish notions of diplomacy and civilization, when really all they have brought us is violence and destruction for a war in which we have no fault. Our people, dead for human wars.” He gestured weakly towards the dead. I remember that Bane, too, had loved Cray and Ronan.
“Have mercy, brother,” I whisper, but Bane is beyond pleading, beyond consolation.
“My people!” he cries, “we fought for the humans, and vanquished one of the most terrible products of wizards ever to crawl this earth. But this is not the end for centaurs. We will not be used to cruelly in their wars then treated like scum!”
“No,” I whisper, “Bane, please…”
He paws the dirt floor, uprooting a small bloom. “We will recover and muster our forces, and we will rebel against the oppressive, almighty powers of wizards! We will rally and fight in the name of the brave, avenge all centaurs who have died for human skirmishes. We will take no prisoners: we will beat the wizards down into the ground until their blood nourishes the earth!”
“Look at the heavens!” I demand again, pointing up with both my arms as if waiting to receive a signal from the stars. “Mars is fading, the constellation of grief coming into focus! We are not meant to fight. It is a time of mourning, and unity. More bloodshed will only bring despair-”
But my fellow centaurs have been rallied by Bane’s war cry. They are desperate, and heart-broken, and those are dangerous traits in a mobilized group.
“He’s a two-leg lover!”
“Firenze the traitor!”
“He brought this destruction down upon us!”
I can’t help but roll my eyes at their exaggeration, a most un-centaurlike gesture. Perhaps the humans have been wearing off on me after all.
“Please, friends, this is much larger than me! No centaur could have brought down the fall of Lord Voldemort! The humans are grateful-they will reward you richly for your help, they are in our debt! Do not create a storm of blood out of your grief!”
“Bring forth the prisoner!” Bane shouts over the cacophony. I look to the skies again: already the dawn is coming over the forest, the dawn of a new era for humans, the sun breathing new life onto Hogwarts. The night sky and her messages are starting to disappear, and with it, my chance at soothing this mob.
Two centaurs lead a human into the clearing: he is bound by ropes and a sharp knife pointed at him should he attempt to run. He looks bloody and terrified, dark hair matted against his forehead, exhausted and trembling.
“Fellows, we found this human running through the forest after the battle. You,” Bane addresses the prisoner, “is this your wand?”
He brandishes it wildly in front of the prisoner’s face. The man stutters, nodding, and I realize that he is not a man but a boy, a student at Hogwarts whom I just recognize. In this light, with the expression of terror on his face, he could be any child.
“On whose side did you fight in the Battle of Hogwarts?” Bane demands imperiously.
The human foal staggers. “Er, I was with the Death Eaters, but I changed sides, I fought off Lestrange-”
“Ah! A turncoat,” Bane hisses, pawing the ground with his forelegs. “A traitor.”
“Please,” the boy begs, “I don’t want to cause any offense. I was just frightened, that’s all. I don’t want a part in it anymore!”
“Do you know what we do to traitors?” Bane hisses. The prisoner trembles.
“No, I’m not a traitor, I’m innocent, I swear! Please don’t hurt me!” He looks at me desperately. “I always liked centaurs. Firenze, sir, please, I always liked you. Tell them, please!”
Sadly, I think that my approval would hardly help him against this mob. With a shove, Bane grabs the ropes binding the boy and shoves him towards me. I steady him, holding him upright as he shakes, blue-lipped. My heart goes out to him.
“Please, Bane, he’s just a foal,” I say through clenched teeth to my former clan. “Please, you must see reason. We do not harm foals.”
“But we may harm fools.” Bane says. I steady my hold on the foal, ready to swing him onto my back and gallop away if need be. I would probably fail and get us both shot in the back, but I owe it to him to try, as a teacher of Hogwarts, and as a possessor of a conscience.
“Please, Bane,” I ask quietly. “Friends, comrades, my clan. My kin. You must calm yourselves and not act hastily. Remember the skies.”
Bane only laughs, his wild, dark head swinging maniacally. He turns to his armed sentries.
“Show us his forearm, traitor Firenze!” He calls. Hesitantly, I raise the sleeve of the foal’s right arm.
“The other one, you slime,” Bane hisses, flipping a knife in his hand. Slowly, hating myself, I raise the sleeve of the left arm, where the Dark Mark, the Mark without a Master, still glitters. The other centaurs gasp: a couple scream angrily. Bane only smirks knowingly.
“Load your bows!” he commands the herd. “He will be the first human to fall to our glorious revolt.” He looks at me and his dark eyes gleam, his upper lip twisted in a sneer. “The two traitors. Kill them both.”
A/N: The phrase “Mars is bright tonight” comes from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Anything else recognizable belongs to JKR! Please review, I worked hard on this little story and would love to know what you think!!!
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