Chapter 15 : What Was The Point?
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Every single part of his body was screaming at him. His head pounded in exhaustion, his legs burned from the running and climbing; the cuts on his face burned; his shirt stuck to his back, the dried blood practically gluing the shirt to him. Pulling it off felt like someone had duct-taped his back, then proceeded to tear it off strip by strip.
He didn’t bother to shower. There was hardly any energy to discard his torn, mud caked, and bloody cloak and clothes let alone stand in a shower for ten minutes.
He stumbled around, groaning with each step he had to take from his bed to his wardrobe. He fell over when he tried to pull on a pair of pajama bottoms, and felt quite content to sleep right there on the cold, hard floor, but the thought of the other boys finding him sprawled on the floor, one leg halfway in his pajama bottoms and lying just below a bloody pile of clothes, forced him to finish pulling on the bottoms there on the floor.
He threw a heavy, sluggish arm up to the bed, a sweaty palm grasping at the quilts. With one great heave Harry managed to maneuver himself onto the bed.
“I never want to do that again,” he groaned into his pillow.
His eyelids drooped and the welcome feeling of unconsciousness gradually took him.
Harry sat in the very back of the library, stuffed tightly between shelves ZA to ZZ. Two weeks. It had been two weeks since that disastrous detention. So many things went wrong. He tried not to think about it; focused on anything to occupy his mind and avoid the nightmarish memory of that night.
Every time his mind wandered, he was in the forest again—staring down at Professor Amsel arguing with Magorian, Bane and Ronan. He could still feel the tension; hear the angry cries of the younger centaurs…
“How long?” Harry whispered to her.
“Two and a half, maybe three minutes.” Her eyes shown brightly as they darted and searched in every direction.
“Shouldn’t we try to get a bit further?”
“If we had more time, yes, but we don’t. The trees are spaced further apart for another half mile and we’d be ambushed before we could reach the thick grove near the forest’s center. It is better for us to wait for them prepared than to be ambushed on the run.”
Harry backed up to the tree and shrugged off his black cloak. He looked back to her for some direction, some sort of plan for defense, but he got nothing but a stare. Her brow furrowed quizzically, she lifted her eyes up to the canopy of the grand tree.
“Put the cloak back on,” she whispered.
“But it will only get in the way,” he said.
“Put it on,” she repeated; her tone sharp. “The cloak will keep you well hidden in that tree.”
“Do it!” Harry, confused and irritated by her refusal to tell him anything, bent down and grabbed up the cloak. The moment it was in his hands Harry felt the distinct sensation of floating in mid air.
“Grab the branch and climb up a bit further,” she instructed, her wand levitating him up the trunk of the tree.
“What good am I up here? I can help you!”
Her upturned eyes softened at his protests. “It’s a bluff, Harry. The centaurs don’t know you are even here. Not with any certainty,” she emphasized at his look of doubt. “The only testimony they have is that of a three year old foal who was frightened out of her wits. We may yet be able to get out of this mess without violence.
“You will follow my lead on this, Harry. If the conversation points to violence I’ll cue you when to take action. Otherwise, you’ll stay exactly where you are and be absolutely silent.”
He hesitated a moment before nodding in agreement. This was not what he preferred to do. Hiding up in some tree like a helpless boy…but despite his frustrations, the memory of his deplorable mistake only an hour ago was clear in his mind. He had to trust her. Amsel knew what she was doing. He had to trust that and follow her lead.
“If things do take a turn for the worse, do not jump down. Tackle one to the ground. They are much more vulnerable off their feet. If the situation calls for it, a well aimed Sec-tum-sempra to the back tendons will instantly disable them. A hard kick or banishing charm to the front knees will do well in a pinch too.”
He nodded his understanding and crouched low, wrapping the cloak around himself. Just moments later he heard the distinct woosh of arrows cutting through the air. Amsel didn’t move a muscle. Four arrows struck the tree and sunk deep into the bark.
Warning shots across her bow, thought Harry. This will be an interesting show.
The patch of open grass around the tree was soon encircled by a dozen centaurs. Each with their weapons trained on Professor Amsel’s immobile figure.
“I told you never to return, human,” a gruff voice called out from the brush just beyond the tree.
“I am not accustomed to following the orders of centaurs,” she said evenly. “And I am not about to start now, Magorian.”
Several of the centaurs stomped the ground with their hooves in anger. Harry could see Bane lingering just behind Magorian, glaring at Professor Amsel.
“Are you going to let a mere human speak to us that way, Magorian?” cried one centaur just below Harry.
Magorian held up a hand for silence and the centaur fell quiet.
“Where is the other?” growled another centaur who stepped into view from the brush. Harry recognized him immediately as Ronan. He stomach twisted as he recognized the same coat and markings as the little foal had carried.
“What other?” asked Amsel smoothly.
“Don’t patronize me, Amsel,” he seethed, stepping out of the circle towards her. “My daughter told me about the man who attacked her—the man who fell against the trunk of a tree. Where is he?”
“I’m sure in the duress of your daughter’s fright, she mistook my stumbling over a log with the movement of another person,” she lied without missing a beat. “You may think me arrogant and even ignorant, but I am not about to risk the life of another human to this forest. No matter what the object of my search is.”
“Are you calling my daughter a liar?” Ronan seethed, he upper body bent to stare Amsel straight in the face.
“I most certainly am not, Ronan, and don’t twist my words. It’s a dirty human trait that doesn’t befit a once glorious race such as yours.”
The outcry of anger was so tremendous that the birds who made their homes in the high branches of the trees took flight in fear. Harry gripped his wand tight and readied himself to spring into action.
Bane charged up from his position behind Ronan only to be stopped short by Magorian’s outstretched arm. He stomped his front hooves into the ground, his angry glare boring into Amsel’s stoic face.
“How dare you insult our kind!” roared a young centaur. “You weak humans, with your magic and your potions are no match for the race of centaurs!”
“Be silent, Loushen,” commanded Magorian. “So you deny the presence of a human man in this forest. I assume you will also deny Kali’s statement that you aimed red magic at her.”
“Again, I must attribute that to her fright. Young ones—no matter what species—all exaggerate the truth when given time and infused with enough fear. I did not attack the young foal. There is no other human among these trees. In an effort to free myself from a patch of Devil’s Snare I stumbled into the trunk of a tree, disturbing the brush and branches.”
Harry tore his eyes from the verbal battle to survey the situation. A dozen armed centaurs against two wizards. The odds were not good. Not even Professor Amsel—as knowledgeable as she was—could expect a violent confrontation to end in their favor. She had to have something up her sleeve. Otherwise she would not have stopped. Three minutes was more than enough time to sprint the half mile or so to the next thick grove of trees. Harry just hoped she would clue him into what her plan was before it came to blows.
“You are lying!” declared Bane. “Kali specifically mentioned a second human with you and she could not invent such a tale as being attacked by either you or your companion.”
“Again, I can only attribute such a tale to her fear—”
“We examined the scene,” Ronan cut in. “The tree just beyond Kali’s position was charred and mangled. Do not thing us ignorant, Amsel. We have lived in the shadow of that school of magic for many years. We know the mark of magic.”
“Your trespasses will no longer be tolerated,” said Magorian. “Your penetrations into our forest have already gone too far. And now for an attack on a foal…you shall be punished.”
“Your forest?” Her new tone—dangerously low—quickened Harry’s heart beat. Things had definitely just taken a turn for the worse.
“Yes, human, our forest. We have protected and preserved this forest for far longer than human memory can reach.”
“Tell me, Magorian,” she began in a low, angry tone, “Since when did the centaurs abandon their given title of Guardians for Possessors? As my memory recalls, you were given the duty of protection and preservation—never possession. Have you become so comfortable in your position that you have forgotten all that was required of you?”
Several of the centaurs looked to Magorian and Bane in confusion, while the ebony coated centaur—(Loushen was it?)—tightened his grip on the double loaded bow.
Harry could hear the cracks of the strained wood as the centaurs strained to hold their tempers under Professor Amsel’s words.
“We have not forgotten our duty to our forest, Amsel,” spat Bane angrily. “There have been no repercussions to our herd. We have remained dutiful and—”
“Dutiful?” she questioned. “Dutiful? Then you take credit for the darkness that has penetrated this forest? You accept the responsibility due you for the domination of the acromantulas, werewolves, and thestrals, among other unnamable creatures?”
“We cannot stop what the planets foretell. Nature has taken her course and we are bound to an oath not to interfere,” said Magorian taking several steps forward, towering over her.
“Your oath was to preserve this forest as it was! Not to allow it to fall! Whatever oath you think you took after your wise and noble ancestors first accepted the guardianship means nothing.”
A chilling gust of wind blew through their small open area and sent a cold feeling of foreboding down Harry’s spine.
Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew that Magorian had just crossed a previously unapproachable line.
It suddenly struck Harry that her arrival and position at Hogwarts seemed like just an excuse—just a cover—for her presence in the country.
Her stance, her arguments, her knowledge of a history which the centaurs did not expect her to have all pointed towards an identity far more significant than the simplistic question as to whether or not she knew his mother. Something was brewing—something important—and Harry was struck with the clear feeling that Amsel somehow played a very significant role.
“There you are, Harry.” Ron squeezed into Harry’s corner of solitude, his nose and cheeks slightly flushed from his visit to the owlery. “You can’t possibly still be doing your Transfiguration homework!” he said, viewing all the books stacked about him. “You said you were going to finish it last night.”
“I know,” he answered. “I fell asleep just after you went up to the dormitories. I didn’t get anything done.”
Ron absentmindedly flipped through a few pages of one of the books, “Hermione wanted me to tell you that she didn’t hear anything about Professor Amsel at the staff meeting.” He closed the book abruptly. “You know, I really wish you’d stop all this brooding and just tell me what happened during that detention.”
“I told you, I really don’t want to talk about it, Ron,” he said through clenched teeth.
“You can’t brood forever, Harry,” said Ron, his voice betraying his impatience. “We got the idea that wasn’t a picnic when we woke up to fine you sprawled on your bed, cuts on your back, and bloody robes thrown on the chair. But…come on! I’m your best mate! There isn’t anything you can’t tell me.”
Wanna bet? thought Harry, his own patience running thin. The only person he wanted to talk to about the detention was Professor Amsel. So many things were left unsaid; so much confusion running through his head that he had to clear up with her.
Professor Amsel slowly moved from her spot and carefully stepped around both Magorian and Bane, forcing them to come between her and the trigger happy centaur positioned just below Harry.
“Our duties will not be dictated by a human!” growled Bane.
She reacted so quick, Harry wasn’t quite sure he’d seen what he had seen. She dropped and rolled as several arrows embedded themselves in to the ground where she had stood. In the lower corner of her eye, he saw Loushen take aim and pull back on the string of his bow. Cue or no cue, he had to stop Loushen from killing her, and it didn’t look like she would get a chance to clue him in on her plan.
Harry jumped from the tree and collided with Loushen toppling him into the ground making the two arrows shoot out wildly. His head spun and his shoulder felt numb from the collision but he quickly jumped to his feet and kicked the bow out from Loushen’s reach. He hit the ground again and rolled out of the way just as another centaur stomped down on the spot he had just vacated.
He fired off a banishing charm point blank to its knees, bringing the centaur down with a painful howl and a spray of small rubble and dirt. He rolled to his back just in time to see Loushen reach his bow.
“Stupify!” The young, black haired centaur collapsed—his face having just absorbed the spell full on.
Harry stole a moment to glance at the other, more intense, battle that ensued only a few feet away.
There was a flurry of arrows flying wildly through the air; a vain attempt at bringing down Professor Amsel’s skillfully moving figure.
She was everywhere. On the ground, in the air—never in the same place for more than two or three seconds at a time—and she hadn’t yet fired a shot or done anything remotely aggressive—a point which seemed to be upsetting Bane.
The moment ended abruptly when a sharp slice of pain shot across his cheek.
Instinctively Harry ducked and rolled—avoiding two more arrows which sliced through his cloak in the process.
A white centaur charged at him.
There was no longer any real conscious thought. Instinct had taken over. It was almost like watching himself—an invisible observer to a crazy, chaotic scene.
He jumped towards the charging centaur, somehow managing to time it just so, that he lept through the center of its four legs just as they were curled up in the movement of the charge.
His back screamed in pain when he landed hard in a patch of thorny bushes; the back of his head hit hard on the pebble strewn ground, blurring his vision.
The centaur skid to a halt and spun around to face Harry once more.
In the corner of his eye, Harry could see Loushen recovering.
He couldn’t fight both at once. He couldn’t win.
A triumphant yell mixed with a muffled cry of pain momentarily brought the attentions of all the centaurs to the opposite corner where Bane stood over…
Harry’s gut twisted violently. For one brief second, Professor Amsel lay motionless at Bane’s hooves, her eyes wide in excruciating pain; her right arm clutching at her lower ribs.
Time stopped—paused—just long enough for Harry to see the most fearsome fire of fury and agony fill her eyes.
Bane reared up on his hind legs—hatred and furry deeply etched into his face. Harry could only watch in horror. There was no feeling of slow motion or any interference from anyone else. Bane brought himself straight up, all his weight supported on his hind legs, his huge body poised to crush her into the ground.
Then, Harry blinked.
In that split second—the time it took his eye lids to shut and open—the entire scene changed.
Amsel was no longer lying motionless on the ground. She knelt several feet behind her previous position—her bow in the left hand; her right hand just below her chin—four arrows now buried into Bane’s throat and heart.
She dove out of the way of his falling body—blood spurting from his neck at ever last heartbeat. He gargling gasps for life pierced the silent grove; strong legs twitching and kicking, a spray of dislodged thorny vines and rocks through the air.
Behind Harry, Loushen shouted curses and the white centaur renewed his charge at Harry in doubled fury.
He scrambled from his spot—the hooves caught onto his cloak, wrenching him around and dragging him along. Its legs tangled in the cloak and crashed to the ground, ripping Harry from the precarious position have having his face so near the centaur’s hooves.
There was no longer any concept of time. It could have been seconds or minutes since Amsel had killed Bane. Everything blurred together in one large chaotic scene.
The next thing he remembered was a deep, commanding voice—a voice that had not been heard during the fight—suddenly booming over their heads.
“THAT IS ENOUGH!”
Harry stared down the length of his wand at a furious Loushen, who, in turn, stared down at him over the three arrows strung to his bow.
Harry’s breath rose in a heavy mist, his lungs burning from the short but intense fight. Amsel’s stoic face and furious eyes stared down the shafts of three arrows pointed directly at Ronan’s heaving chest.
“I don’t want to leave that young foal fatherless,” she said. Her breathing had an odd hitch to it, making her rasp out her words at every breath. “You are not like him,” she continued, flicking her eyes towards Bane’s body.
Ronan turned his gaze towards Magorian, looking for direction. But Magorian was not looking at them. Instead, the centaur’s hazel eyes were focused on Harry, scrutinizing him, following the small trails of blood seeping from several cuts on his face and then to his scar. “If he were any other man…” he said, his focus still on Harry. Amsel’s eyes flicked towards Harry, and the smallest hint of relief spread through her face. “…and if you were any other woman,” he finished, turning back to her.
She lowered the bow, relaxing her grip on the arrows.
“You will not find what you seek,” said Magorian. He motioned for the other centaurs to attend to Bane’s body. Five of them followed the direction and carefully lifted his body from the cover of broken branches and brush. Professor Amsel’s arrows were buried deep into his chest and neck. Blood ran over his limp shoulders, dripping to the pool of congealing blood that coated the ground. His dark eyes, open in pain and shock, were blank; the glow of furry burnt out.
The party carried him away and disappeared amongst the tree trunks, the slow, heavy sound of hooves fading away.
“I’ll determine that for myself, Magorian,” she said. He inclined his head slightly, raising a curious eyebrow at her reply but did not rebuttal her claim.
“Return to the herd and prepare them for Bane’s arrival.” The remaining centaurs hesitated at his command, their eyes lingering on Amsel’s bow and Harry’s wand. Loushen glared at Harry one last time before assisting the brown haired centaur with the broken leg. The rest of the centaurs took Loushen’s lead and disappeared into the brush.
“I’m sorry about your daughter,” Harry found himself calling to the retreating figure of Ronan.
He paused at Harry’s apology, briefly, but continued on.
“You are reckless, Amsel,” said Magorian. “You will meet no more resistance from us but let me be rightly understood: you will receive no assistance from us if you fall ill. There are far worse dangers which dwell in the inner sanctums of this forest and they care nothing for the will of the planets nor the wars of humans. You live now because of your company”—his eyes flicked to Harry—“but enter the forbidden grounds, and that will no longer matter.”
“So be it.” He turned and galloped into the distance.
“Get your cloak back on,” she told him after a moment. Her breath still hitched.
He walked over to the ripped remains of his cloak; a few waves of his wand and it was nearly as good as new. He took his time pulling on the cloak, taking one sleeve at a time and making sure to brush the dirt and dead leaves from his pants and shirt.
Harry watched Professor Amsel closely out of the corner of his eye. She moved uncharacteristically slow. Her backed turned to him; she leaned against the tree, her head inclined downwards.
“Professor?” he said after a moment.
“Are you ready?” she asked without turning around.
“Then let’s go. We’ve got another mile and half to go and I want to make it back to Hogwarts before dawn.”
“But, Professor—” <
She sighed impatiently, “What?”
“Are you sure you are alright?” He closed a bit of the distance between them. “Maybe we should rest a bit. It isn’t as if we have to worry about the centaurs anymore.”
“I’m as well as could be expected, considering,” she said, her voice much softer, and—dare he imagine it—slightly appreciative. “Bane did not kick me full in the chest, Potter. I’d be dead if he had. Oh it is painful,” she added at his repressed scoff, “but we are so close and I’m not going to get another chance at this.”
Harry opened his mouth to protest, but shut it at Amsel’s icy glare. The conversation was closed. Further argument would only waste time. He reluctantly nodded and she took off into the darkness, Harry matching her step for step.
It was nearly dawn when he had stumbled into the dormitories. He only got two hours of sleep before he had to get up again for breakfast. He had to bite his tongue to keep him self from voicing the pain that clawed at his back as the water ran over each cut while he was in the shower. Blood stained water ran down his body and through the drain. Bruises covered his legs and arms. The little thorn pricks on his face had scabbed over, leaving thin red lines which burned when he let the water run over his face. His jaw had turned a jaundice sort of yellow where he had fallen on his face and hit the stones buried in the ground.
Hermione nearly screamed when she saw him come down the stairs.
“What the hell did she make you do, Harry?” asked Ginny, hardly able to control her own surprise and worry. “You look like you had to wrestle a troll.”
“I’d have preferred that,” he said.
Hermione refused to let him go to breakfast before seeing Madame Pomphrey. He tried to argue with her. He had been up all night; he was starving; he’d go after breakfast.
“If Professor Dumbledore sees you he—”
“He already has, and he didn’t say anything about me having to see Madame Pomphrey before I eat.”
“You didn’t have all those bruises earlier, Harry,” said Ginny. “I’m sure if he saw your jaw he’d make you go.”
“If he saw his back he’d portkey him there,” said Seamus. That little comment opened a whole new can of worms as Hermione demanded to know what happened to his back and then shrieked at him for not going to Madame Pomphrey the moment he’d returned to the school after hearing Seamus and Ron describe their waking scene.
“Fine. I’ll go. Just stop shrieking.”
He was on auto pilot the whole morning. Pain and exhaustion numbed his brain. He hardly heard the complaints and grumblings of Madame Pomphrey. He just wanted to eat and then go back to bed until Potions.
He groaned at the thought of facing Snape on a day like this.
His forced visit to the Hospital Wing made him miss breakfast. Madame Pomphrey made such a fuss over him it was sickening. He didn’t care about all the little cuts and bruises. They would go away. The memory of how and why he got them would not.
When he returned to the Common Room he found Hermione sitting at the corner table, a long thin package sat on the table in front of her.
Tuesday, it was Tuesday, the nineteenth; Hermione’s birthday. He’d completely forgotten.
“I didn’t want to open your gift without you,” she said, her face brightening when she saw the cuts and bruises gone from his face.
“Sorry it isn’t wrapped,” he said, sitting down next to her.
“Your presents haven’t been wrapped the last six years, Harry, you really think I’d expected streamers and bows now?”
He smiled at her teasing and she unwrapped the standard mail paper.
“Oh, Harry!” A box of QuickQuotesQuills sat on top of the ripped packaging. “Thank you!” She hugged him tightly. “How did you get them?”
“I had Hagrid order them for me in Hogsmeade on Saturday.”
“Oh! And they are the charmable quills! Oh thank you Harry!”
“There’s a bit of a favor attached to these, though,” he said, a smile growing on his tired face.
“If you expect me to have notes made for you while you—”
“No, not that. I just want you to have the experience of sleeping through a class like every other person here.”
She hit him playfully on the shoulder. “You know perfectly well I’m not about to do that.”
He shrugged his shoulders, “A well, I thought I might as well try than not.”
Her smiled reached her eyes at his teasing, but it fell slightly and her eyes searched his face.
“Harry, go to bed. I’ll come and wake you in time to get to Potions.”
“You are a goddess, Hermione,” he said with a mock bow.
It didn’t take very long to reach the thick growth of trees which Professor Amsel had previously stated they would not have been able to reach before the centaurs overtook them.
Harry had been correct. They could have made it.
Despite the tangle of vines and roots which filled the ground between the trees, she did not slow down much at first. But as it got darker (which Harry had previously thought impossible) she slowed down considerably, allowing Harry to catch his breath as well as take a good look at where she had led him.
The trees were enormous. Only in books in his Muggle school had he read about trees remotely this large; where it took twelve men—arms outstretched—to fully encircle the entire circumference of the trunk. But these didn’t look anything like the pictures of the Red Wood or Sequoia trees.
The bark—from what he could see—was charred and mangled. Glistening white sap bled from the cracks. He let his hand slide along the bark as he followed Professor Amsel. The wood fell away like powder. The sensation of the bark disintegrating at his touch entranced him; the indentations of his fingers leaving smooth troughs through the middle of the trunk.
There was so much history in it. So much pain in the way the bark just crumbled at his soft touch. Harry was struck by the sudden feeling of pity and sadness. Such a magnificent tree struck down by some darkness, poisoning its very being.
“Don’t touch the trees!” Amsel’s sharp voice tore him from his focus and back to reality. “I don’t have time for this.” She roughly yanked him away from the tree; her foot caught in a root and she stumbled backwards to the ground—nearly taking Harry with her.
A quiet yelp of pain escaped her lips when she landed on the tangled roots and sharp stones.
Stumbling was not typical Amsel behavior.
He quickly grabbed her arm to help her up. But her attempts to stand again were clumsy and awkward. She nearly lost her balance a second time after she made it to her feet—he had to reach out with his other hand and grab her left arm to keep her upright.
Standing there together—her left hand like a vice on his right shoulder and her right hand no less tight on his left forearm—a warm liquid dripped onto his left hand.
Blood; it covered her hand and sleeve, dripping onto his hand and staining his cloak.
He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. The front of her cloak had torn open a bit in the front, revealing two clean slits through her shirt into a bloody mess of flesh.
She jerked away and hastily closed her cloak around her middle.
The proceeding conversation, as Harry would later refer to it, was the oddest bit of dialogue in which he had ever been involved. Devoid of emotion and drama, their demeanor was a detached sort of calm.
“Were you going to tell me?”
“After we passed through the next stage.”
“Why wait so long?”
“Because we are on the verge of a very dangerous part of the forest and I didn’t want you focusing on anything other than the task at hand.”
He looked away, focusing on anything but her. Emotion returned to him in force. He was angry at her. Furious that she didn’t tell him in the beginning; that she thought him so weak that he couldn’t handle the fact that she was seriously injured.
“They were poisoned, weren’t they,” he said. His voice seemed detached from his own emotions. It was steady and easy without judgment or rebuke.
“Then shouldn’t we try to get back to Hogwarts?”
“Only if you want to drag my corps behind you,” she deadpanned. She moved abruptly forward, grabbing his arm and dragged him with her. “We will walk while we talk, Potter. And we aren’t going to stop. Not now, not in five minutes. We are going keep moving and keep talking until we get out of this.”
“I was under the impression that when you are poisoned it is best to stop moving because it will only circulate through the body faster if you keep moving.”
She scoffed and then hissed in pain, grabbing her wounded side. “You trusted me back in the grove, Harry. You didn’t question my instructions. Why are you doing it now? And don’t tell me it is because you know better, because you don’t.”
He opened and shut his mouth, but nothing came out. She smirked.
“This poison is slowing shutting down my motor functions. I can’t run or jog anymore. This is as fast as I can move. Eventually, I won’t be able to walk anymore at all, and if we don’t make it through the next lovely bunch of defenses you will have to drag me. As for ‘circulation’,” she barely managed to contain her sarcastic amusement, “this poison was fully into my system after two heartbeats. And it has the lovely tendency to hasten its effects when you stop using your body. The longer I walk, the longer I talk, the further I can put off the inevitable. So we’ll walk, and we’ll talk until it is absolutely impossible for me to do so any longer.”
“What about the potions you brought with you?” he asked, his own breath hitching.
She shook her head, her lips pressed so tightly together they were white.
He couldn’t begin to imagine the kind of pain she was in.
“Look, couldn’t I do something to relieve the pain? Do you know a spell or something that could at least make this slightly easier for you?”
“NO!” she snapped. “No magic!”
“Centaurs are not stupid, Harry. They aren’t some silly half breed many people in power would like to have you think they are. As Ronan said, this herd has lived in the shadow of Hogwarts for a thousand years. They know how to defend themselves against wizards. This poison doesn’t just affect my ability to walk and talk, it also affects my magic. Eventually, I’ll lose that ability along with everything else. But in the mean time, if you use magic on me or I use it on myself, I’ll slip into a coma and die.”
“You’ll die. Just like that.” His whole body was trembling. This had to be some sort of nightmare.
“It immediates the end result,” she said simply. “If we fail to reach what I had originally come for, I will die. No matter what we do.”
“Then what are we looking for and what can I do to get us there faster?”
She smiled slightly at his offer but shook her head. “There are no shortcuts, Harry. We have to get through this next bit just as it is. But there is something you can do to make sure we get through it.”
“Don’t let me stop walking. Not ever. I don’t care if you have to threaten me, just make me move. The same goes with talking.”
“Okay. I can do that. Let’s start with where we are going and what we are looking for.”
“We are going to the very center of the forest and we are looking for a very special kind of tree.”
“A tree? You’re willing to do all this for a bloody tree!”
“No. But I am willing to do this for Hagrid.”
“Don’t tell me you’ve already forgotten the conversation you were so inclined to overhear just two days ago.”
He remembered a lot of things from the conversation, but right now he wasn’t thinking of anything else but getting what was needed and getting the hell out.
“I mentioned to him that I couldn’t find a grove of trees…”
The conversation began replaying in his head. “But you said it had been moved,” he said, remembering the short bit of dialogue.
"How many people do you know who can replant trees this large?" She waved her hand at all the enormous trees around them. “You see these? The last time I was at Hogwarts, these would have been the trees I needed. The trees themselves haven't moved, but what I need from them has.”
“Dead, yes. Neglect and dark magic will do that to these trees. They just stand here, a sad testament to what use to be. The sap that freely bleeds from the bark is poisonous if you ingest it. The exact opposite to what it used to be.”
“It isn’t the trees themselves we’re looking for,” he said, the pieces fitting together in his mind, “it’s the sap.”
“Yes. It has healing properties that far outstrip anything you’ll find anywhere else. They will help Hagrid’s arm.” She cringed again, nearly doubling over in pain.
“If Hagrid knew what you were doing just to get sap…”
“I promised, Potter, and that means something to me.”
“What’s the next stage, this defense thing you were talking about?” he asked in a desperate attempt to keep her talking.
“A spatial illusion. You’ll hear it in a moment,” she said. A second passed and Harry heard a distinct crunching sound mixed with what sounded like a high gale force wind. This wasn’t going to be pretty.
“And what exactly was that?”
“The path ahead opens up rather wide, but the trees that outline the correct path to the center will move as we try to go forward.”
“And how exactly we will go forward.”
“But I thought you couldn’t use magic.”
“I can use magic, it just can’t be used on me.” The tree line suddenly opened up and the ground was near empty of tangled roots and vines. At least the walk wouldn’t be difficult.”
“Look, mate,” said Ron, pushing away the advanced Transfiguration book. “If you aren’t going to talk about it, the least you could do is stop brooding about it. Hermione’s going spare worrying about what happened to you. And to tell you the truth, the image of your body sprawled on the bed with cuts and bruises hasn’t really left my mind.”
“So you want me to tell you to put your mind at ease?” he said, harsher than he had intended.
“No. I’m saying that whatever happened in that detention isn't just affecting you anymore.”
They talked and they walked. There were moments where Professor Amsel would suddenly turn full around and start walking back the way they came. When he voiced his concern she explained that as long as their intent was to move forward, the path would always change to try and block them. But the moment the intent was to leave, they would be allowed to go with no added difficulty and, she stated in a rather odd tone, the path open to them would shortcut their way back to Hogwarts.
Harry got the unpleasant feeling that she was telling him this for his own need. Meaning: “If I don’t make it, just get the hell out and you’ll be fine.”
She tripped up and stumbled more often than not, and once she even tried to rest, but she quickly pushed away from the large boulder when Harry threatened to carry her over his shoulder if he had to.
It was awkward. Very awkward. She worked alone (he surmised) and didn’t often need anyone’s help. Harry could tell that there was a hard line of humiliation running through this whole ordeal and she was trying very hard not to show it.
The conversation was strained at first, but after Harry asked her how she knew so much about the history of the forest and the centaurs she very openly answered, saying that the study of ancient magical history was a hobby of hers. She was fascinated by that which human beings could never experience and, as a society, never understand.
She theorized with him as to why Magorian didn’t act until after she had killed Bane, and briefly discussed her ability to sense when the path had changed.
“It took me three years to learn it,” was all she said.
He tried to find out more about her personally, trying to find the connection between the hardened professor who stumbled along side him in immeasurable amounts of pain to the teenage girl who wrote all those notes to his mother.
Her silence cued him to choose a different subject, but the moment was lost when her legs gave out from under her.
She waved off his offered hand of help and muttered (what he could only guess were curses) in some language he didn’t understand.
“You have to—”
“I can’t, Harry. I can’t move.” The familiar sound of a moving bunch of bloody trees echoed through the air and he cursed.
“What do I do, Professor? Are we even close? Have we gone anywhere?” Angrily, he kicked at the ground, scattering stones and bits of branch out into the darkness.
“Oh, I can already hear her shrieks.” He turned around just in time to see a sarcastically amused expression mix with the ingrained lines of pain and she pulled out a knife hidden under her cloak and plunge the blade into the earth.
The scenery immediately changed. The wind knocked him into the tree he had just kicked at; the crunching sound which had seem so distant boomed overhead, so loud Harry could feel it down to his bones.
The path had opened up right in front of them. There were less trees and overhead. Harry could see thick clouds hovering over the tops of the trees.
Why they hell hadn’t she done this earlier!
“With all do respect, Professor,” he began, walking back to where she lay on the ground, still grasping the hilt of the knife, the blade still buried into the earth. “But why the bloody hell didn’t you—”
The icy, angry glare he received from her froze his entire body. Her whole body was shaking; her jaw tightly clenched. A narrow trail of blood ran from her nose, catching on the edge of her mouth before dripping over her lips. Everything had just gotten a lot worse.
“You…will…shut up and listen…to…exactly what I say, Potter.” The tremor and agonizing pain etched into every word drained every last bit of strength that remained in his body. “When I pull this knife from the ground—” She cried out in gut wrenching pain, her body reflexively curled up in a fetal like position. He instantly dropped to the ground to do something, anything…but she swatted away his futile efforts to help. Instead, her hand grabbed his arm like a vice and pulled him down to her face. “When I pull it,” she began again, “the path will close within seconds. We have to get to that—” (she jerked her head forwards) “—to that boulder.”
“That’s nearly a hundred feet, Professor, I don’t think—” Her grip tightened on his arm.
She let go of his arm and he bent down further, wrapping his arm around her waist while she pulled up to a semi kneeling position—her left hand still holding the knife. She wrapped her right arm around his neck.
“I’m ready when you are, Professor.” He sounded so much more confident than he felt. She nodded once and he tensed his body, trying to focus as much energy as possible on his legs. He was going to have to explode out of there to reach the boulder.
He bolted. His eyes fixed on the rock; he didn’t even notice Professor Amsel pull out her wand.
The trees were closing in. The boulder was fading out of view. They weren’t going to make it.
Suddenly they were both propelled into the air, flying through the branches and sharp twigs which cut at Harry’s face.
He lost his grip on Professor Amsel when they landed hard, just inches from their target. He panicked for a moment, but she was there, just a foot away from him. Her face was extremely white. She managed to roll over on her stomach and crawled towards Harry and the boulder. He helped her sit up and rest against the boulder.
“I thought you said there weren’t any shortcuts,” he quipped.
She ignored him, saying instead, “Now it’s your turn, Potter.”
“M-my turn?” he stammered. “What do you mean?”
She didn’t answer; instead she pointed her wand at her temple and slowly pulled it away—silver tendrils attached to the tip—she grabbed his collar and yanked his face towards her. The silver wisps gently drifted towards him—the tip of her wand shaking in her trembling hand.
It was like a fast-forwarded movie. She had just given him a memory: the way to get to the trees. He saw it all, every turn, every rock. He knew how to get there.
She shoved a small leather bag in his hand, bringing him out of his reverie.
“There are four flasks in this bag.” Her voice, hardly above a whisper, brought his attention back to the present. “Three are empty, one has a potion. Drink half the potion.”
He quickly untied the knot and pulled out the potion. The liquid was ice cold when it down his throat and it tasted like grass.
She struggled to unclip a belt from her thigh, her fingers fumbling with the buckle. Harry eyed the knife which had opened up their path. The hilt had the same elegant designs as he had seen on her quiver—a restricting vestment she had already shed and set beside her.
She grabbed up the knife—after finally unbuckling the leather belt from her leg—and slid it in the sheath which hung from it. She shoved the whole ensemble into his hands.
“You’ll need this to get in and cut through the bark.”
“Professor, are you sure—”
“Do I look like I am in the condition to go anywhere?” she snapped.
“Right. I’m going.” He quickly wrapped the belt around his own leg and bucked it tightly.
“Whatever you do, Harry, do not touch the bark and Do. Not. Linger.” She gasped for breath—blood still slowly dripping from her nose. “You’ll want to, by heavens you will. But the moment you have decided to stay, you will die.”
“Get in, get out. Got it.”
“Fill the three empty flasks with the sap. You’ll need to use the last half of the potion to get back.”
“What is it? I don’t feel any different.”
A wisp of a smile appeared. “Think of it as an energy booster.”
He ran faster than he had ever run before. He couldn’t even feel the ground beneath his feet. His heart was beating insanely fast; pumping the potion through his body, feeding every muscle. He used his momentum to jump up high on a huge boulder, but his hands were trembling from his heart rate and he lost his grip on his way down on the other side, falling nearly ten feet. He hit his jaw hard on the slabs of stone which littered the ground. He shook it off. Nothing could stop him. Not now.
He was so close. The path would open up just around the next tree. The bright blue-white light from the center was already beginning to penetrate the forest. He eyes were adjusting well so far, but just as he rounded the tree he was blinded by the pure, intense light that penetrated every part of this new area. Even with his eyes shut, he could still see it. It was like the sun had come to earth and settled in this one spot of the forest.
He hated to wait, but he had to if he was going to be able to see anything.
It seemed liked ages, but his eyes did eventually adjust. He kept on. He wasn’t there quite yet. He had to wait for the boundary.
“There it is,” he muttered. There was a bright edge to the core of the forest—he could see the light brown bark of the living trees. He made it.
He pulled the knife from its sheath, reached the very edge of the boundary and stopped.
You’ll need this to get in and cut through the bark.
“To get in?” he repeated out loud. He bent down and picked up a broken branch, backed up a few steps and tossed it at the boundary. It vaporized on the spot.
“I’ll need it to get in,” he said again looking down at the knife. She’d been right so far. And this wasn’t the time or the place to question her instructions.
He closed his eyes and thrust the knife and his arm across the boundary.
He was still there.
The moment his whole body got through the boundary, he felt like something had taken hold of his very soul. He stood right in front of an enormous tree, poised to cut into the bark and fill the vials, but somewhere in the back of his head and small voice whispered, You have all the time you need to do that. You should stay and look around. It isn’t like you’re going to get this opportunity again.
Everything felt so warm and simple. There was no more rush. The effects of the potion had disappeared.
He turned around to look back at the dark scene which he had just left—but instead of the dank and dieing forest, Harry was staring at a tall hooded figure, it’s head towered over his own.
Ocean blue eyes stared out at him from underneath the hood.
You have a duty, Harry Potter.
He blinked, and the figure was gone, his trance broken.
It only took a few minutes to fill the flasks. The knife cut easily into the bark and the sap ran steadily down the edge and drained into the vials.
He held the blade forward and burst out of the center. He jogged back the way he came, gulping down the last half of the potion.
“Have you ever considered that talking about it might uncover some aspect of it that you haven’t realized before? You know how Hermione is; she’ll probably find something that can tell us exactly what happened to the Professor and solve all your worries.”
Harry couldn’t help but laugh at Ron’s embellished opinion of Hermione’s abilities.
“See, I knew you could still laugh,” he joked, grabbing Harry’s book out from his grasp.
“Alright, fine. After dinner.”
“Why after dinner?”
“Because Professor Amsel may come back, and if I’m going to talk to anyone about that damned detention, she’s going to be the first one.”
He was nearly there. Harry could only hope he had not stayed too long. He rounded the last bend, hoping to find Professor Amsel still conscious against the rock.
But what he saw made his stomach turn.
She wasn’t leaning against the boulder, and she wasn’t alone.
He was still too far away to make out the large shadowing figure which leaned over her limp body.
“Hey!” he shouted, pulling his wand from his robes. “Get away from—” He stopped.
It wasn’t some dark, shadowy figure. It was Firenze.
He was lying on the ground, supporting Amsel’s body with his own. Her cloak had been pulled away from her wound, and a large leaf had been placed over it.
“How did you—”
“Explanations are best left for later times, Harry Potter. Did you succeed?”
“Yeah. I got it.”
“Very good. I have done as much as I can with what I could find. Now we will see if myth is, in fact, reality.”
He took off the leaf, revealing a conglomeration of bark and plants that had been ground down and placed inside the wounds. Uncapping one of the vials, Firenze poured half the sap directly into it; his previous attempts at healing dissolved in the thick liquid as it penetrated her body.
Amsel’s eyes flew open, her hand shot out and grabbed Firenze’s arm as she gasped and sputtered for air.
Firenze poured the remaining sap onto the wound. Her body soaked it up like a sponge, and the wounds slowly closed, leaving the faintest scar and a blood stained shirt as the only reminder to the injury.
“Firenze,” she whispered, staring up at his face. He only shook his head and helped her stand.
Professor Amsel hadn’t been at breakfast Tuesday morning. Hermione told him when she woke him up for Potions. She’d talked to some third years and they had mentioned that the class had been canceled. She wasn’t at Hogwarts.
“But she was fine when we came back,” he said. Or was she just putting on a show?
Her classes were taken over by those Professors who didn’t have any other conflicts with their own schedule. Usually they had Professor Sinastra, since her classes all took place at midnight, but even she couldn’t stay awake for twenty-four hours teaching.
Reading. That was all they did. The read a chapter on some defense theory and then had to write a paper on it. It was boring and the students started to all search for the return of Professor Amsel at each meal.
Two weeks with no success.
It was nearly a straight line path. The whole forest seemed to open up before them. Yet again, Professor Amsel had been correct. As long as their intent was to leave, the moving trees would open up a clear exit. Harry tightened his hold on Firenz’s body with his thighs and calves as the centaur galloped down the path.
“Professor, if I might ask…”
She nodded, turning her head towards him to hear him better.
“What was the point of all this? I mean, besides getting the sap for Hagrid. Why did you choose this as my detention?”
She twisted her upper body around to face him, her expression showing slight amusement. “The point of any detention is for you to learn something. Are you telling me that you haven’t?” She smirked at his silence. “Whether or not you realize it, Potter, you did learn something. Had you not, we would both be dead.”
They reached the edge of the forest. It was raining slightly—the dark clouds Harry had seen earlier deep inside the forest had opened up over their heads.
The water stung the cuts on his face.
The path had lead them close to the rear of the castle. Harry could see the greenhouses lined up against the side.
He practically fell off Firenze’s back in his attempt to dismount.
Professor Amsel, on the other hand, dismounted in one fluid motion and spoke quietly to Firenze. The centaur nodded and then galloped off back into the forest.
“Come on,” she said.
He followed her, a mix of shock and confusion running through his mind. It was like nothing happened. No limp. No occasional grimaces of lingering pain.
Could that sap be that perfect?
“Through here,” she whispered, holding open a door covered in vines. “And be quiet.”
A rather amusing idea struck Harry as he watched her carefully close the door behind them—making sure not to make a sound—and looking around the corner before entering the small side entryway.
They were sneaking in.
“We weren’t supposed to be this late, were we?” he asked, unable to keep himself from smiling a little.
She didn’t answer him.
“Ah, Professor Amsel.” She stopped dead in her tracks. “I see you have returned from your detention.”
Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall stood on the small balcony of the stairwell just above the door they had just entered.
“Yes, Headmaster, we have just returned.”
“Good,” he said, his eyes gazing at her over the top of his half-moon spectacles. “Then I trust you have time to chat before breakfast?”
“Of course, Headmaster.” She walked away without so much as a glance in Harry’s direction, which made him feel oddly awkward—feeling like he should have said something, anything, about what had just happened in that forest. There were so many unanswered questions.
“Breakfast is in two hours, Harry,” said Professor Dumbledore from his place on the stairs. “I would suggest you clean yourself up before you enter the Great Hall.”
“Yes, Professor.” He slowly walked backwards, towards the main corridor, watching the Professors and hoping he would get some sort of…anything…from Amsel. But no such luck. Professor McGonagall was already whispering quickly to Professor Amsel, who stared straight ahead following Professor Dumbledore.
In the leaving the Great Hall after dinner on Wednesday evening, Harry, Ron, and Hermione were about to reach the grand staircase when Hermione stopped dead, staring down the opposite corridor.
“What is it?” asked Ron, backing up to her position. “Well it’s about bloody time!” he said when he spotted Hermione’s object of interest. “No more boring reading assignments and random teachers.”
After two weeks, Professor Amsel was finally back.
Post Note: I don't think I did the centaur scene justice, but it was the only way I could get the information accross. As you have, I'm sure, noticed, this is a relationship and character building chapter. But this is not completly pointless. But if you have some keen eyes, you'll see some forshadowing and you'll see exactly what Amsel did to teach Harry something he needed to know. The next chapter will really give insight into that as well. I do hope you enjoyed and I hope you tell me how I did. Thanks, *Eli*
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