Author's Note: 57 days until Christmas. I hope you all enjoy this chapter <3
No one wanted to believe that they were leaving childhood and even their teenage years behind.
No one really wanted to believe that in just a handful of months and a break or two they would be finished with school forever. They wouldn't return to the castle next September, instead looking for jobs in the Ministry or in the businesses around Diagon Alley.
No one wanted to believe that they were being forced into war too quickly, and no one wanted to believe that they would have the risk of death looming over their shoulders the minute they left Hogwarts.
No one wanted to believe.
No one was ready for change and the changes that would certainly happen over their seventh year. Opportunities would arise, scholarships and apprenticeships being taken by the smart peers of the school and the rest crossing their fingers on a walk-in interview to get them by for the rest of their lives. The work would get harder, their curriculum expanding to cover the content an adult was expected to know in their world. They would be learning the same things that their teachers knew and they would not be below them anymore. And even their relationships would change, as bonds between the teachers grew and friendships became romances.
Growing up in a world so cold only made it worse; no one wanted to adapt to the war and what they were expected to do-- what they had to do. For how many of them could simply evade the war? Not many, to be honest, and it seemed inevitable that a side had to be chosen, that they would all put their lives on the line to save their world.
Because one voice and one person was huge. Anyone that had skill and knowledge and charisma could easily be an impact to everyone. Even a meek eleven year old-- one looked down upon by their fellow students-- could make a difference with their voice.
And sometimes, the strangest of people could make the largest difference. Sometimes, the smallest could dominate them all. Of course, the person needed talent-- bravery in some cases and charisma in others. Physical strength meant nothing. It was all mental, emotional, even spiritual. It were these things that could effect change.
And Albus Dumbledore thought this as he paced his office, a Lemon Drop in hand, a piece of paper in the other, his mind clearly deep in thought as the students of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry obliviously lived with their small dilemmas. Dumbledore needed to take the action that the Ministry would not and could not.
So started the Order of the Phoenix.
In spite of his hope, other thoughts could reach beyond Dumbledore's hopes and objectives, motives that he never dared think about or dared use. Thoughts that were malicious, thoughts that would do the Wizarding World no good.
Being a physical person very nearly got you nowhere. That was obvious. Sure, you could harm someone-- hurt someone-- but that would do you no good if they held your heart in their hands. Because this was how someone could control another.
Love. Love as a weapon. Love could cripple. The strongest person, who could easily accept torture, who wouldn't back down from their own pain, would crumble in an instant if someone that they loved was going to be tortured...
And this was what Voldemort thought, in an unknown, unspecified place that the Aurors would never possibly find. In his bony white hands he held a cup; it was white though rusted from old age, with a distinct shape of a badger cradling the holder of the cup. It was a beautiful piece and worth an unbelievable amount of money; a beautiful H was engraved on the inside to declare its owner.
Voldemort did not understand love, not even in the slightest. He thought it inferior to other skills, charisma and talent. Love could not protect another, certainly not, and love could not save someone from harm's way.
But love could control, and this was one of the reasons Voldemort refused to love. If someone loved someone else certainly their guard would be down and certainly they would trust the other. That was the simplicities of love, the disgusting emotion that it was.
But if one was devoted to another... he could certainly control them.
And Voldemort almost smiled.
The next couple of days brought nothing but foul moods and snaps from Scarlett. The teachers had apparently taken it upon the group to actually take tests every chance they could get, and the abundance of homework that came with seventh year certainly didn't alleviate the stress and tension.
So, no one asked any questions. No one bothered to wonder why this had set off a stream of mischief and hostility from the Slytherin and Gryffindor Houses of all years. In the course of two weeks three people had been slightly injured and many had sprouted feathers, long ears and beaks, body dysfunctions which Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff, with their harmony, laughed about.
And in all distraction no one bothered to ask why Scarlett's wallet had decreased in significant size within the period of one week. Her heavy, near gold wallet, which she carried about her at all times, had dwindled by two Galleons every night and a little extra for four butterbeers.
Tenereus did not approve, of course, and Scarlett could clearly see why, but that did not change her opinion of Tenereus's blind lack of prejudice. Because Tenereus was certainly different from her and certainly different from other centaurs in the simple way that he didn't care whatsoever of previous relationships, of the pretenses which existed between her and Sirius.
In Tenereus' stable sense of mind he figured that it did not matter that two people-- well, in this case, Sirius and Scarlett-- loathed each other, and it simply did not matter that the two had loathed each other since their first year. In Tenereus's mind, business was business, and business did not have to include two Galleons and four Butterbeers a night.
Scarlett could agree that it was only business. In no way did she feel anything personal for Sirius. Honestly, with the circumstances she had to deal with, she was coping rather well, especially as she would be dead broke soon and this would all be over. She couldn't see what in the world Tenereus would be complaining about; no matter what he told her, she couldn't help but notice that he seemed increasingly more pleased after each night.
Well, except for the bartering. He really disagreed with the bartering.
And, as for Sirius... well, Scarlett still loathed him. She figured if she could completely push the matter out of her mind when she was finally wiped of her money maybe it would be completely forgotten.
And the verdict still lied as such: Slytherins hated Gryffindors and Gryffindors hated Slytherins right back, but would steal their money and beverages from them every night.
As far as Scarlett could tell, the scale wasn't balanced at all.
Life moved slowly but it surely moved; Scarlett's purse only proved this fact to utmost degree and the fact of the matter was that she would not even bother asking her mother and father for more money if it meant it was going to one of the largest blood traitors to date. She simply refused to and in doing so believed that Tenereus would be satisfied with however many days she had bought from Sirius.
September's first week faded away in a flash, as did thirty galleons, money and Butterbeer alike. That Friday came with relieved sighs, because the week had been the best argument against the dire, dying hope that the work would not be challenging to their pretty heads in the slightest.
Georgiana, who was the smartest of them all, even was beginning to struggle, and surprisingly Bellatrix, who hid her knowledge in layers of intimidation, passed by more easily than the rest of them did. In Bellatrix's book, the real world was much harder than simple school, and in the course of one week the Bellatrix and Narcissa rivalry had expanded to include Georgiana.
The relationships within their group had also changed in different, scarier ways; one week did not evaporate the feelings Scarlett had for Theodore and the burden of denial only grew heavier. Denial, it seemed, got worse over time whenever she should have accepted her feelings a while ago-- but why did she get so defensive over Georgiana's teasing, which she fervently felt was there for the sake of teasing rather than for any deep meaning?
Scarlett couldn't decide.
But another conflict found its way to her head even as she pacified the rivalry within her circle of friends, burdened fancies for her best friend of seven years, and ignored Sirius Black in a heated, prejudiced fashion. This conflict was one Scarlett had never experienced before and never even believed existed until that Friday.
Scarlett had been looking forward to Friday; Sirius for whatever reason had not come the day before and she was confident he wouldn't come the day after. She wanted to rest, frankly, and would only retreat to the forest early in the night to give Tenereus company for a short while before finding solace in her bed. It seemed foolproof enough.
However... Scarlett never knew Tenereus had a temper. That proved to be a problem.
Tenereus was a very easy-going friend; he took things in stride. He had taken her initial presence in stride. He had taken the 'drought' in stride. Even whenever Scarlett had not visited him for days at a time, he was tolerable, he was lenient, even when she was rude and spotty and took his presence for granted.
Tenereus knew more than he let on. As a centaur who was hundreds of years old his star-reading skills were so extensive that he knew the names of every magical child in the school and their younger siblings too. He knew more information than Dumbledore did himself, and while Dumbledore would have thrived on the centaur's acute information on the Death Eaters or spies in the school no teacher or student had bothered to approach the centaurs in fear of their detestation-- with the exception of Scarlett.
The policy of the centaurs had always been that human problems were an entity completely separate from centaur problems, unless humans were a threat. That was what they said, anyway; Scarlett didn't buy it. She knew that Tenereus, despite the calm manner in which he presented himself, had to find allegiance with some side.
Tenereus had to have had prejudices, just like Scarlett did, on humans and centaurs--Tenereus had his ways and Scarlett had hers. It was something they hadn't discussed before. However, with the vast contrast in their opinion, it was only a small, small matter of time before Tenereus's impatience of human intolerance and Scarlett's impatience of the centaur's perception of humans clashed.
Tenereus seemed fine enough on the Thursday before; sure, he was slightly irritated at the fact Sirius hadn't come and at Scarlett stashing the two Galleons and drinking the Butterbeers for herself. He didn't make his emotions readily known, though, just as he hadn't in the two years she had known him.
So she wasn't exactly sure why he seemed to be in such a tense mood that Friday night. Perfectly predicted, of course, she was exhausted and ready to be comfortable in her own bed. Perfectly predicted, that the weather would be rigid, enough to convince her not to stay long.
But, oddly enough, Tenereus was angry. She couldn't tell it at first; she thought him merely cold, though he generally wasn't--had something been seen in the stars? She wasn't sure--and she never really quite figured it out until he said his first words.
For the first time that Scarlett could remember, he spoke sharply and abruptly.
"The boy, where is he?"
"Funny thing, that," Scarlett said wryly in reply, jumping to grab a tree branch in boredom, "I was going to ask you the same question. I don't have the faintest idea. Maybe I just ran him away." She snickered lightly, hanging from the branch with one of her hands as the other pulled a strand of hair behind her ear.
"Scarlett, I'm being serious," he said angrily, turning his head back up towards the bright sky. "What did you do, run out of money? Tell him to leave? I don't think you're taking this quite seriously enough, you think this is all a joke—"
"What's got your knickers in a twist?" Scarlett said, the slight grin on her face evaporated, as she swung off of the branch and fully faced Tenereus. "You know, I haven't done a bloody thing and you know I haven't, I don't know what banter you and your friends have brought themselves into but hell, it's not my fault--"
"Yes, it is!" Tenereus snapped suddenly, and silence echoed over the area for a short while, Scarlett's eyes narrowing alongside the centaur's. "You're running him away because of your silly prejudices, which, among all things, I think you would be most flexible in. Paying him is not only robbing you senseless but making you out to be an immature fool! Scarlett, no matter how long you continue this stupid bargain the more ridiculous you and I will end up looking, all because you think of this as a hobby and nothing more—"
"An immature fool, of course," Scarlett muttered sarcastically. "An immature fool, when all I've done is tried to get him to stay here when you know he wouldn't and you know he wouldn't even bother to make amends himself? How is that foolish?"
She paused for a second as the weight of his words hit her. "What do you mean, my prejudices would be flexible?" she said. She could feel her face heating up.
"All prejudice is foolish," Tenereus pointed out. "But I wouldn't expect you to think the same, considering your allegiances--"
"Though of course he has prejudices of his own," she countered, her voice not softening in the slightest even as her argument faltered under what seemed to be seriousness and importance that she had somehow been blinded against.
"Who would look foolish, the one who is hindered by their prejudices and silly beliefs or the one that puts them aside for the sake of information?"
"What information do you need to know that somehow only Sirius can provide?" she asked, tiredly angering at how Tenereus laughed at her beliefs, notions that she had always believed, for all that it was worth...
"Information you wouldn't believe," Tenereus said; his words were filled with feelings Scarlett couldn't identify. "Of course, you possibly cannot imagine what it would be like to have information outside of your boundaries..."
"Why do you put me out to be so stupid?" she snapped, as Tenereus turned his head upwards to the sky.
"I don't put you out to be stupid; I put you out to be naïve."
"Wow, what a difference," she mocked, jumping up towards the tree branch again. "What a difference to be called optimistically stupid as opposed to regular stupid. Thank you for clearing everything up, Tenereus, because for every stupid person out there we can be assured there's a smart centaur willing to give them the compliment of optimism."
"You're taking things out of hand," Tenereus pointed out, and Scarlett rolled her eyes, pulling her arms to get her to the top of the branch, never ceasing her eye contact.
"But, hey, at least I'm young!" she said, an annoyed and, among all things, fatigued tone of voice echoing in her tone, as she leaned her back against the willow tree's branch. Her anger, partially stemmed from lost time, a bruised ego, and exhaustion, was not likely to be ebbed out for quite a while. At her irritation Tenereus sighed, and turned towards the girl. In the time he had been looking at the stars, her eyes had closed.
"Scarlett--" and, her eyes opened-- "--promise me you'll bring the boy next time."
"I can't control him," she pointed out.
"Promise me," he stressed, "also, that you will consider how important this connection really is."
Scarlett sighed, still stung, as she expertly jumped off of the tree and faced Tenereus.
"For my part, I cannot promise anything, but I can promise you that I sure as hell won't be here for a while," she said, as she finally turned her back towards the outlook with one last spiteful look at the centaur. "Good night and good riddance to you."
And that was the verdict of the argument. That one mere sentence was the verdict of the night... but, Tenereus thought hopefully, the night was only young. The moon had only begun to rise, full for the first time that year. It seemed to shine towards the stars in an elaborate display of arrogance and mockery.
Tenereus looked at her back as she retreated, an bitter look on his face as he turned away from where she had retreated, and he assumed his position of the week before: pace, turn, look at the stars, and sigh. It was a tradition of sorts that Tenereus kept in times of utmost frustration, and he had no qualms admitting that, at the moment, he was frustrated, and he was bitter, and he was not the calm star-gazer Scarlett had always believed him to be, at least at that moment.
"Rowena," he said under his breath, exhausted. Scarlett's words had deflated his hopes somewhat, and their argument had left him with spite and skepticism. He still hung strong to his beliefs, as did she. He still believed that, in the end, his words needed to be taken seriously. And she was naive. It fell down to that difference.
So it was with this difference--a difference Tenereus knew would only become more readily apparent as time passed--that Tenereus braced himself. From here on, he didn't know what to expect. "Rowena," he said again, looking for guidance; finding none, he sighed.
He knew that the visitor which had bothered him before, after this argument, would come to him again. The visitor knew everything. He knew that there would be suspicion and the tangled web which was all contingent on Sirius's presence and Scarlett's compliance would only grow more convoluted after this discussion.
Tenereus hoped he would see Scarlett.
His hopes did nothing to shake that creeping, saddening certainty that the visitor would bother him again.
Yes, he would see her soon enough, he was sure. This thought only seemed to depress him and he continued pacing for the remainder of the night.