McGonagall had arrived back at the castle after the battle to tell them that only the one guard had been killed from their side. She had tracked them down to the dungeons where they had continued their search. The dim candlelight flickered over her weathered face as she spoke.
When Harry asked about Bellatrix, though, the Headmistress’s face clouded over. “She seems to have escaped, although from the amount of blood on the floor, I am surprised that she was able to.”
Angry, frustrated and feeling impotent, Harry nearly yelled but quickly squelched the feelings. There wasn’t anything McGonagall could do, after all. Instead the three had begun to work in earnest on their search through the lower levels of castle. By the time they had taken a break for food, they were dirty, sweaty and exhausted. They had eaten in the kitchens, then trundled up to shower and fall into bed.
Today was different, though. Hermione had decided, against Harry’s glaring and mutinous mutterings, that they needed a small break and that they would visit Hagrid. She tied her bushy hair back with a scarf, covering her ears against the early morning chill and set out to lead the way down to a very early breakfast.
The dawning morning light found them tromping down to Hagrid’s hut through the cold dew that was soaking their trainers and the cuffs of their jeans. Harry’s melancholy seemed to have spread to his two best friends as neither said a word to him about the fight from the day before nor the fact that Bellatrix had escaped. They had focused on their search, up to now anyway. Hermione seemed to have an agenda, though, and Harry didn’t feel like questioning her about it.
They reached Hagrid’s door and didn’t even have time to knock. It was thrown open and all three of them were pulled into a rib-crushing hug. “Oh!” Hagrid’s voice was choked with tears. “You just missed Grawp! He’s livin’ in the forest again!”
Harry very much doubted that Hermione or Ron were sorry about it, although they all made sympathetic noises. Even if Grawp was tame, relatively anyway, he was still a very large giant.
“Hey,” Harry managed to wheeze out. “Uh… yeah, sorry we missed him.” Looking for a quick change of subject, Harry said, “your house looks great.” Harry remembered vividly the fire that had partially destroyed Hagrid’s home.
Hagrid let go and wordlessly ushered them into his hut. “Professor McGonagall an’ Professor Flitwick helped ter put me house back up after… after he died.” Copious streams of tears flowed down his hairy face as they sat down at a new table and Fang quietly came over to perch his head on Harry’s knee. The house looked as it always had, except newer and a bit cleaner. There weren’t as many cages hanging on the walls and the house didn’t have the same smell that it normally carried.
“How have you been?” Hermione asked gently as she accepted a plate of biscuits and instantly passed it to Ron. Hagrid looked much as he had the last time Harry saw him, although maybe a bit thinner. There were now bags under his eyes. Harry shook his head when Ron offered him the plate. He didn’t want to lose any teeth today.
Hagrid shrugged his massive shoulders. “Been all right. Been doing things for the Order, ya know, ter keep up wit them ruddy Death Eaters an’ keepin’ the castle safe but…” he sighed and shook his head as he sat down and poured the tea. “Wha’ have you lot been up teh?”
Harry looked briefly to Ron and Hermione before answering. “I went to visit my parent’s grave and to see their house in Godric’s Hollow.”
“Yeah, I always thought yeh would wan’ teh,” Hagrid replied with a sniff, his great, big eyes still swimming.
“Hagrid…” Hermione spoke hesitantly. “If someone wanted to hide something in the Forbidden Forest, would it likely remain safe and hidden?”
All three men sat back, taken aback by her abrupt change in topic. “Hermione, I don’t think-” Harry began and Ron picked it up.
“Yeah, I mean, I don’t think he would have put it in the forest!” Ron took a bite of a biscuit and winced.
“We’ve looked all over the castle!” Hermione reminded them. “We have to assume that it could be anywhere.”
Hagrid watched the exchange silently, his tears drying the longer Ron and Hermione argued.
After taking a large gulp of the warm tea, Harry leaned over to Hagrid and whispered, “They’re dating now.”
“Ah…” Hagrid beamed at them, although they seemed to not notice it as Ron pointed out that the spiders probably would have tried to eat him if he’d gone in there to hide it.
“Have you made any headway with the Acromantula in the forest?” Harry asked quietly, ignoring his friends continuing argument.
“Nah,” Hagrid replied just as softly. “I talked wit’ the Centaurs ‘bout ‘em yesterday but I got no answer… useless star gazers.”
“Or it could have been a detour! Wormtail might have told him about going into the forest!” Hermione reminded Ron heatedly as Harry tried harder to tune them out.
Hagrid frowned and refilled Harry’s teacup. “Are they always goin’ on like this?”
“No, this is the first real fight they’ve had since they got together,” Harry replied. “Honestly, it’s been more peaceful now that they’ve gotten it over with and snogged each other.”
“Like yeh an’ Ginny?”
The statement was so out of the blue that Harry spit his tea out and could only stare dumbly at Hagrid for a full minute. Even Ron and Hermione fell silent. “I… well I broke up with Ginny.”
Hagrid let out a derisive snort. “Codswallop. I saw how yeh looked at her! Yer taken with her!”
“Yeah, well good luck on that one, Hagrid,” Ron said as he sat back in his seat and ran a hand through his hair. “We’ve told him that he’s being a git but Harry’s refusing to listen.”
Harry bristled indignantly. “I’m not refusing-”
“It doesn’t matter now,” Hermione told him, interrupting him before it could explode into a full argument. “Ginny’s gone now.”
“Yeh, I heard about ‘er leavin’,” he said and looked around, studying their reaction. “Dunno wha’ she migh’ be up ta, do yeh?”
“No, I’m afraid we’re clueless too,” Hermione answered. “I was hoping that she might have told us more but her letters have all been rather cryptic.”
Hagrid nodded and stood, “Well come on, I told ‘em I’d bring you lot teh talk when yeh came teh see me.”
“Where are we going?” Ron asked nervously as he stood with Harry and Hermione. Fang trotted along silently at Hagrid’s heels as he opened the door and stepped out.
“The Centaurs have a message fer Harry,” was the only response that they got.
He led them down the hill towards the forest and stopped right on the edge, waiting silently.
Harry, Ron and Hermione lined up with him, waiting in an unnatural silence for what was to come. Not even the birds were singing.
They waited no more than five minutes before a lone Centaur, a male that Harry was not familiar with, came walking slowly from the trees, materializing as if from nothing. The hair upon his head was graying and his sleek, black coat was beginning to show signs of age. His eyes, however, are what spoke most to Harry.
Hagrid gasped and lowered his head in reverence. “Sir!”
Harry was dumbfounded, as was Ron. Not surprisingly Hermione seemed to know who the Centaur was that was standing before them. Her hands flew to her mouth as she too lowered her head. When she glanced sideways to see that Harry and Ron were still gaping like idiots, she smacked Ron’s arm and they both followed suit, lowering their heads.
“Please…” the man’s deep, rolling voice flooded through Harry, causing a shiver to run up his spine. “Rise.”
“Sir!” Hagrid said, repeating himself as he looked up at the creature who looked nearly human. “I was told-”
“I know,” the Centaur said, effectively silencing Hagrid. He turned his profound brown eyes to Harry. “I am Millius and I have a message for you.”
“Me?” Harry squeaked out, barely noticing that his voice had cracked. For some reason this person in front of him made him extremely nervous and very hopeful at the same time. Millius did not speak like the other Centaur’s; the closest comparison that Harry had was to Dumbledore but with a seriousness to accompany his wisdom. “You have a message… for me?”
He nodded twice, very slowly. “The stars have been read since Centaurs first gleaned that the movements had purpose,” and although he didn’t move, Harry felt like he was being drawn even closer into the dark pools of his eyes. “We knew of your birth before you were conceived in your mother’s womb and we know of what you seek right now.”
Harry’s mouth dropped, as did Ron and Hermione’s. Amazingly none of them said anything to break the magical spell he was weaving over them.
“We will not aid you in your quest,” the Centaur continued, “but I feel compelled to tell you what the stars have told us over the past year.” Almost hypnotized now, Harry nodded stupidly, waiting for the rest. “Mars, bringer of war, has ruled the sky for many years now. In the last year, however, Venus, the foreteller of love, has begun to overshadow Mars’ influence. It is not a battle among the heavens, only an imprint of what is to come.”
Harry waited for more before stammering, “I… don’t understand.”
“I will not explain it further,” Millius told him, taking one step backwards towards to forest. “I simply bring you hope but the stars do not say you will succeed.” He turned to Hermione and stared her down, until she was quaking in place and Ron had stepped towards her, placing a protective arm around her waist. The Centaur looked at Ron first, before speaking. “Do not fear for your mate. She knows of what I am thinking.”
Ron seemed shocked by the statement but did not back away from Hermione. Instead, Harry watched him straighten and squeeze her closer to his side.
“It isn’t in the forest, is it?” Hermione asked rhetorically and did not seem surprised that she didn’t get a response.
“Good bye,” Millius replied before melting into the foliage behind him.
Almost instantly the spell was broken and the birds began to sing.
Harry fell slowly to his bum, landing quietly in the wet leaves. “What was that?” He felt drained and weak.
“Millius is… he’s the ruler of the Centaurs,” Hermione answered. “He’s the oldest of them, the wisest… he’s like Dumbledore was to us.”
“Blimey,” Ron groaned as he flopped down beside Harry. “That was him?”
Hagrid coughed and then inclined his head towards the castle. “I have a meetin’ with Professor McGonagall.”
“Bye Hagrid,” Harry and Ron called after him as the large man wandered up towards the castle. Ron pulled Hermione down next to him, ignoring her protest about her pants getting wet. “So what do you think he meant, then?” Ron asked her.
Hermione leaned against his shoulder as he lay down into the cold grass, resting her head against his shoulder. Harry watched them, feeling a twinge in his gut that he didn’t have Ginny here to do that too. “I don’t know, exactly, but I think it’s like he said. Harry has a chance, or that’s how they’re reading it. I assume that they mean that love, which is what Harry has that Voldemort doesn’t, is getting stronger.”
“Do you think that means Harry’s learning to love more or that he’s just getting stronger as a person?” Ron tangled his hand into her hair and kissed her brow. He slung his other arm around her shoulder when she shivered.
She took a moment, obviously relishing in the closeness of being with Ron. Harry had to look away. He tried to interest himself in what was in the forest but couldn’t seem to focus. At least he felt safe, even this close to the trees. Somehow he knew that nothing was going to harm them just then.
“I don’t know which it is, honestly. I think only time will tell but…” Harry felt her small hand snag at his jacket and he turned back to find she was raised half up on her side, resting on her elbow. “I do think it is good… you have hope.”
Harry wasn’t sure that he knew what to do with it but he supposed that it was true. The Centaurs were known for their fortune telling abilities, although Firenze often said that even the Centaurs had been known to get it wrong.
What did he have to hope for, though? Harry used to think that, if he did make it through this war, that he and Ginny might be able to restart their relationship but he didn’t know if Ginny would be alive… he didn’t know if he would be alive. Harry looked between Ron and Hermione and saw the comfort that they found in each other. He didn’t begrudge them it but an unwelcome thought threaded its way into his mind anyway.
What if they weren’t alive, or just one made it through… what would they do without each other?
Standing quickly, Harry began to jog back to the castle, trying to rid his mind of these dark thoughts. He didn’t have answers; only a task and he needed to continue doing what he had set out to do.
He didn’t stop until he’d reached the common room and even then he sprinted up to his room to get the map from his bag. When he had it, he brought it back down to the tables and took Hermione’s notebook to make notes.
Flipping to the back, Harry found Hermione’s list of places that they had already checked and where they still had to look. The list of places still to look was long but Harry knew it wasn’t complete. He tapped the map and said, “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good!”
The map unfolded before him and he saw that Ron and Hermione were climbing the stairs up to the tower but he didn’t spare their dots any further thought. Instead he looked all over the map for places that they thought were blocked or off limits. Slowly, moving methodically over the map, he began to add in more places.
His two best friends joined him and helped him look through the map, adding to the list until it was several pages long.
“We have a lot to do,” Harry commented heavily, slouching in his chair as he looked up at their faces. “I really want to locate the next Horcrux soon. We can’t keep wasting time or more people will die.”
Hermione and Ron nodded. “We know, Harry,” Hermione answered. “But I really did want to make sure that it couldn’t be in the forest.”
“Are we still sure that it isn’t?” Ron asked her, curiously.
Chewing a bit on her lip, she looked up at the ceiling. “I am as sure as I can be. The Centaurs would inform Millius if someone was leaving something like that in the forest. Everyone in the forest answers to him.”
That surprised Harry. “Everyone!?”
“Everyone,” she repeated. “He controls the forest. All creatures bow to him, and his knowledge. He has free reign through the forest, and in return he keeps the peace between all of the species.”
“So… if Voldemort had gone into the forest, someone would have told Millius?” Harry reasoned.
“Someone or something, yes,” Hermione responded. “What surprises me is that he knew what we were looking for.”
Ron shook his head, “He thinks he knows.”
“Why haven’t I heard of him before?” Harry asked suddenly. “If someone this important existed, why wouldn’t I know anything about it?”
Hermione snorted. “You dropped out of Care of Magical Creatures. It would have been covered in our NEWT revisions.”
“Oh…” Harry looked down at the list. “What will you do if you make it out of this alive?”
Hermione’s mouth dropped but Ron didn’t even hesitate. “Get drunk then get married.” He stretched out his arm along the back of Hermione’s chair and after a moment, she snuggled closer to him, her eyes suspiciously bright. Ron winked at Harry who could only laugh, feeling lighter than he had all day.
“Well, I’ll get drunk with you mate,” Harry told him, “but I’m not marrying you. I couldn’t imagine waking up to your ugly mug every morning.”
“What are you doing?”
Ginny jumped a bit but smiled as happily as she could at Theodore. “Just reading the paper. Did you hear that St. Mungo’s was attacked last night?”
He sat down next to her and stretched out his arm along the back of the couch where she sat. Ginny reclined back into the seat and studied his face. His eyes were tired but she’d come to expect that from him. His father was a tyrant and very demanding of his only son. His mother was dead and it was only the two men, plus half a dozen house elves, around the large mansion.
“I had heard,” Theodore finally responded. “But I don’t think that it was a successful raid.”
Ginny looked back at the paper. She no longer had to try to school her features. “No… so what shall we do today?”
“Hmm…” he seemed to consider the question and then came up with his typical answer. “Quidditch?”
Laughing, Ginny playfully punched his side. “Fine, but this time I get to ride the Nimbus, all right? It’s no fair that you beat me when I’m on a Cleansweep.”
Grabbing her hand, Theodore stood and pulled her to her feet. Ginny stooped to grab her cloak from where she’d left it on the floor, knowing they would be outside playing, and found Crookshanks hiding under it. She was very thankful for the cat’s company and to show it, she scratched once behind his ear before turning to join her host.
“That truly is the ugliest cat I have ever seen,” Theodore commented, not for the first time.
“I know,” Ginny sighed as she always had, “but I couldn’t leave him! I’ve had him for so long that I couldn’t…” she paused, sounding choked up… or hoping that she did anyway.
It worked. He laid a hand on her shoulder. “It’s fine, Ginny. I understand. Now come on, let’s go play.”
Write a Review Harry Potter and the Final Flame: Chapter 18: The Stars