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Chapter 43: Time is Running Out
A/N: Yikes, this chapter is ominous.
Furious did not even touch it, really, because the atmosphere added onto his expression like makeup would add to natural beauty. So many things—the night and the fire that illuminated his face and made it look as if he was the embodiment of flame itself—made Tenereus look as frightening as he was. It was ineffable, a description of its own, and it made Scarlett feel fear, something she had rarely felt in front of Tenereus.
He had always emanated the air of wisdom and experience, but it was kind. He was always understanding; even when Tenereus had been angry with her before, he had been kind, because he understood. He understood that she was inexperienced, and he understood that she made mistakes. She was young, wasn't she? Careless and reckless and without responsibility? She made mistakes... couldn't it be justified by the fact that she was young?
No, she thought, as if channeling Tenereus himself. You may be young, but you're getting older all the time...
Scarlett cleared her throat, but it made no attempt to cleanse the atmosphere that the scene had. Closing her eyes and taking a deep breath—she felt funny, like she had been punched in the stomach—she repeated, "Tenereus, are you all—"
"No," Tenereus said, and it was heavy with sarcasm and blistering with repressed rage. "What do you think?"
Scarlett took another deep breath; her stomach twisted further into knots. "What happened?" she asked, as casual as any other day. "What did you see?" She took a step closer, but it was as if she was a meek child approaching an animal that might bite at any moment. "Is everything going to be okay?"
The way he stared at her, sent another trill of panic up her spine. "What do you think?" Tenereus said, but it was much louder and angrier than the last time he said it. "What do you think?" he said once more, and there was no doubt that his volume was rising. "You stupid, stupid—"
Suddenly, Tenereus recoiled from what he was going to say, and Scarlett flinched violently.
Tenereus was not himself. He had never insulted her in such a demeaning way; he had never insulted her. The surprise from Scarlett was coupled with painful, agonizing panic, because Tenereus's behavior—so uncharacteristic, so unlike the way Scarlett knew him—had to have a reason. There had to be a reason.
What had she done?
"What did I do?" Scarlett asked quietly, a jarring contrast to Tenereus's tone. Though Tenereus looked regretful for what he had said before—there was still within him a trace of that relaxed centaur Scarlett always knew—his face did not lose the personification of flame or the exact description of fury.
"What did you do?" Tenereus asked her skeptically. The incredulous look on his face, poisoned with irony and sarcasm, soon morphed again into a face of fury, and then the floodgates opened. "What did you do? You did nothing! You never do anything, and you don't even care! You don't care what happens! You don't care about the consequences! You never do!"
He continued to pace. "It bloody frustrates me! What do I always tell you?! I always tell you to bloody observe if you're not going to take the time out to read the stars, because at least then you'll be able to know something! But you don't! You ignore it, you run away from what is so plain to see! You did it with Sirius! You did it with Theodore! You do it all the time, because you're afraid of the inevitable day when everything will hit you! But you seem to think that if you run away it will never come.
"But that's not true, Scarlett, time is running out!"
Scarlett took a shallow breath, still slightly confused and very afraid. "I'm not doing that anymore," she explained, hoping he would be pacified. "I've learned—I've learned plenty, and I know that I run away—"
Tenereus let out a short bark of bitter laughter. "Of course you'd think that," he said. "You would think that, because by thinking that you are ignoring everything! If you're saying you're ignoring things, that's fine, but you continue to! And you may believe that everything's okay and in the open, but it's not!"
"Like what?" Scarlett challenged, though she felt uneasy and sick, so sick that she could almost feel the bile at the back of her throat. "What am I ignoring?"
Tenereus took a deep breath, almost disgusted. "We're going to play a game," Tenereus said, and it was mutinous. "I'm going to ask you questions, and you and I will see how much you're ignoring."
"You say that you fancy Sirius, now?" Tenereus asked, his voice almost casual but edged with ire. "And you believe he fancies you too?"
She was confident at that question. "Yes," she said without a pause.
"But what about Theodore?" Tenereus asked her. "What about Theodore, who you are going to marry shortly? I'm assuming that, because you fancy Sirius, you do not fancy him anymore? Am I right?"
"Yes," Scarlett replied.
"But what about Theodore?" Tenereus asked. "What about Theodore? Do you believe Theodore still fancies you?"
Scarlett considered. She remembered when they had first kissed, and she remembered when they had officially become a couple. She remembered all of their silly anniversaries and the disastrous Quidditch match. Will you stay with me?, he'd asked as he was on his hospital cot, and she had said yes, because she had still felt she fancied him.
And she thought to just a few weeks ago, when Theodore had proposed and there had been love in his eyes because he believed she had stayed with him. At that time, she had been able to feel the doubts, but she had said yes. And now, he was concerned about her school, concerned about her, as if she was still staying with him.
But she wasn't. Not anymore.
"Yes," Scarlett said. "But he won't know about Sirius and me—he won't ever have to know—"
"Exactly," Tenereus seethed. "Did you ever once consider that one day he could know? What then, Scarlett? What would happen to you, then, if you were known as a traitor? Did you ever think about the consequences of cheating—or even lying about the nights you've spent with Sirius?
"One," Tenereus counted.
"What about your Dark Mark, now?" Tenereus questioned. "What are you going to do about something that you don't want anymore? What are you going to do when you have signed yourself up for life and all of a sudden you want to quit? What then?"
Scarlett could not think of anything to say.
"Two," Tenereus counted again.
"And what about Voldemort himself?" Tenereus asked, and Scarlett winced at his name. "What about somebody who has been expecting news about this school, craving it, and you can't give it to him? He relies on you to give him the future, but you haven't managed one legitimate response the entire year. What if he begins to question it?
She felt sick to hear it. She was in the cold, and she could feel that, but she was so, so hot, so flustered and feverish and all she wanted to do was go to sleep. All she wanted to do was ignore it, but she couldn't. She couldn't.
"Did you see this in the stars?" Scarlett asked him. "Do you see everything hitting me like this?"
"No," Tenereus said. "But I observe. I see what you've done and I figure that with all of your ignorance every single one of these things will come true."
Her heart ignited.
Scarlett, while known for having a temper, was generally not known for releasing it, as the behavior would have been considered inappropriate. In the confines of the forest, however, etiquette did not arrive, and her emotion hung in the air for an instant, waiting for it to be repressed by rule and reason and logic.
She wanted to voice her anger at Tenereus, wanted to yell at him for reasons she didn't know or understand. She wanted to yell at him for telling the truth and wanted to scream at him for telling her things she had been deliberately avoiding. She wanted to bellow that she wanted there to still be time, and she wanted to shout that she didn't want the time to go away. She didn't want time to run out.
But, before she could, she was interrupted by Tenereus, his body nearly impossible to identify due to the flurries of snow and the darkness.
"Scarlett, you can't let this happen."
It was said with astounding authority and wisdom, complete conviction, and a shocking sureness that made Scarlett's annoyance fester, though again as she tried to speak Tenereus interrupted her.
"It's wrong!" Tenereus yelled. "You cannot continue with this, you should have never even let it begin! You have to decide! You cannot repeatedly and heavily defy fate, because fate is the only thing we have, and if you don't choose for yourself then it will choose for you!"
She felt sick, and she felt déjà vu from a long-forgotten memory, but it only made her confused and it only added to her headache. Words, angry and loud, rushed through her system suddenly, stunning her with their appearance. The words dizzied her and were said sluggishly, like a slur, a slur that pounded through her like a poisonous heartbeat. "Where were you?" Scarlett questioned as if the words were made to come to her tongue. The accusing inquiry was hardly heard by her, and she felt like she was underwater and suffocating... "Where were you to stop it? Why did you even let it begin?"
"It is not my responsibility to watch over you," Tenereus argued. "It is hardly my responsibility to warn you! But, here I am!
"What are you going to do?"
"I—" she started, but her voice caught in her thought, every word piling up against her and blocking her from the script of the conversation. "I—" she tried again, though she choked on what she was going to say. "I don't—"
But her words were interrupted by the flames of fire taking her over, a steady, dull throbbing headache, and the brightest, most fleeting flash of scarlet...
A pair of lives exchanged for each other; wisdom lights the fire that scorches the brother.
"What is going on?"
Tenereus felt as if a million weights rested upon him. He was tired of protecting Scarlett and he was tired of her and he was so damn tired of it all. He felt every year he had read the stars pile up against him. Rowena, Rowena...your plan all along...
Most of all he hated the woman in front of him.
"Why are you here?" Tenereus asked her, and unlike how he had been with Scarlett his voice was quiet and exhausted. "I thought we were already settled with the centaurs. I thought we never had to see each other again."
"If only I could be so fortunate," the female bit, and her eyes sparkled coldly into Tenereus's. "What is going on? What is that stupid, stupid girl not telling me? I know you two are keeping secrets from me. I've known. I thought it was something stupid, irrelevant. Maybe this girl shouldn't have been trusted."
He hated that female. He normally was calm, but seeing the female and her heartless, icy eyes made his demeanor angry and oh so bloody tired. "You should trust her," Tenereus said, and for a fleeting moment he wished he had never associated with humans. "It is stupid. Irrelevant. Pardon us for wasting your precious time."
"She is weak," the female growled. "So weak. So worthless. And she is keeping secrets from me; who does that girl think she is?!"
"She's not weak," Tenereus said. "She is learning. You shouldn't—"
"Expect so much from her?" the female finished his sentence. "You've said that to me before, you've said that she is only a teenager, that her actions should be excused.
"But I heard what you told her," the lady said. "I heard what you said and I heard what she said. Time is running out. You told her yourself that her actions shouldn't be excused, that she is too old and too experienced to be making these kind of mistakes. How can you cross your words this way? Is it because you are lying to me? You both are lying to me?"
Tenereus took a deep breath, but the female wasn't done. "I want to know what she is doing that makes her lie to me," she ordered. "I know that you know what her sins are, and I want to hear every single one of them. I have no qualms about punishing her."
Tenereus didn't speak, then, and minutes passed as the woman waited for a response.
"You are so protective of her," the woman said. "So protective of such a stupid girl. She does not deserve your protection. She does not deserve such a strong ally."
"I am not an ally," Tenereus said. "I am not a part of this war, and being allies with her makes me an ally of you. And there is nothing I'd like less."
"Explain your behavior," the female demanded. "What do you have to gain from her?! What satisfies you to know that by lying you are lying to someone who has killed many and has no hesitation in killing you? Why do you protect Scarlett Alysha Devous in such a way, when she does not serve you any purpose? What pleasure do you get by spending time with such a disposable pawn to this war?"
Tenereus sighed. "I care about her," he said finally. And Rowena. "I don't want her suffering at the hands of you."
"What are you not telling me?" the female asked.
Silence from Tenereus made the woman growl.
"What were you yelling at her about?" she prodded.
Again, all Tenereus could offer her was stony silence.
"What were you warning her about?"
"Was it in her best interests or was it in mine?"
"I know the answer to that question, you know," she said darkly. "I wish that it was different. I wish that you cared more about the enemies that you make in this war than her."
"You may wish that," Tenereus said, "but I'm afraid it will never happen. You and the rest of your society will never be more important to me than she is, no matter how much that irks you."
"And the danger it causes you?" the female asked skeptically. "Would you protect that silly girl with everything you have? Would you protect her no matter what I said? No matter what threats or persuasions I made?"
"Yes," Tenereus responded; his voice was resigned but sure. "I have always felt that it is my duty to protect those that need me to protect them."
"Are you sure?" the female asked. "Are you sure that this is what you want? Are you sure that you would rather keep her secrets than protect yourself? We could be good friends, Tenereus. You could be essential to this war."
"I don't feel any more or less essential protecting her," Tenereus said coldly. "I am sure that I would never want to become friends with someone who does not care about someone who is giving so much to you. You disgust me."
The female smiled, but it was not happy.
"I wasn't lying when I said you'd see me again," she stated, "and you should know that I'm not lying when I say the next time I see you, it will not end nicely."
"So it is," said Tenereus. "I do not look forward to seeing you again, but I do not fear it, either, because you will never make me afraid.
"No matter how hard you try, I will always protect Scarlett Devous, and I encourage you to try and stop me."