When Alby ran down the trail, he wasn't thinking about disobeying his father, or getting lost in the woods, or maybe hurt from wandering around without Harry. All he thought about then was trying to get a glimpse of the silvery snake he'd thought he'd seen. So he ran as quickly as his short little legs could carry him after it. But it seemed as though the snake had slipped away, and the further he went, straining his green eyes to catch a glimpse of it, the more tired and dejected he felt. Finally he slowed down, and only then did he realize that he had become separated from his dad and brother. The woods suddenly seemed darker and scarier than before and he backed up, clutching himself, and looking around with frightened eyes. "Daddy? Sevvy?" he called.
Where was he? He didn't recognize anything and the trees made him feel tiny and lost.
Suddenly he heard a noise and soon Severus came down the trail, panting a bit from running so hard. He slid to a stop and crossed his arms over his chest, frowning sharply. "Albus Severus, why in Merlin's name did you run off like that?" he demanded, sounding the way he had when lecturing a misbehaving student.
Alby's lower lip trembled. Tears stood in his eyes, for this was the first time his big brother had ever scolded him like that. "I . . . I wanted to see the snake, Sevvy," he explained, whimpering.
"What snake? The adder? It was right there, talking to your dad." Severus demanded angrily. He couldn't believe the child had been so . . . so reckless! Then again, he recalled, the boy was Harry's son, and there had been few students more reckless than Harry Potter. Looked as though it were a family trait.
Alby shook his head miserably. "No . . . I saw a . . . silvery snake go by . . . like an ashwinder . . . I wanted to call it so Daddy could talk to it."
Severus glanced about. "I don't see anything. You've gotten me and your father all frantic, do you know that? You ought to know better than that! You could have gotten lost or hurt or something!"
Alby sniffled, he now felt very upset because Sevvy was, and probably his dad as well. All of a sudden, he began to cry. "M'sorry, Sevvy! I didn't mean to! Don't be mad! Please? Please?"
Severus stared at those familiar green eyes, drenched with tears and remorse. He groaned to himself. Alby should be sorry, he had done a very foolish thing, and yet, Severus could not bear to see Alby upset, even though he was angry with the child. "Oh, for Merlin's sake! Quit all that bawling, will you? You're acting like I just paddled your backside."
Alby's eyes went wide and he put a hand over his bottom. "You won't will you, Sevvy? I'll be good!"
Severus rolled his eyes. "Do I look like your father? Do I? No. I'll leave that up to him."
Alby's tears began to flow faster as he realized he might very well be in deep trouble now. "I didn't mean to, Sevvy! I didn't! I don' wanna get spanked!"
Severus spread his arms out. "What do you expect me to do about it?"
Alby came and threw his arms about Severus. "Tell him not to. He listens to you."
"Ha! Not lately," Severus snorted, then he hugged his brother back. "Come on, stop blubbering. I'll try and explain to him what happened and then we'll just have to wait and see how angry he is. If he's made up his mind to spank you, I can't do much of anything, little brother. Except maybe hug you afterwards." Severus really hoped that Harry wouldn't spank Alby, especially because it hadn't been a deliberate act of disobedience on the little boy's part. If it had been a total defiance and disregard of the rules, then Severus wouldn't have felt sorry for the boy at all. But the fact remained that Severus was no longer an adult authority figure, but a child himself, and while he would fight tooth and nail to defend Alby against any danger that threatened his small brother, he was helpless in the face of parental discipline. Even as a professor, it would have been almost impossible for him to interfere, he'd tried to intercede between Draco and Lucius a few times, to no avail, but of course he didn't mention that to Alby.
Severus gently wiped Alby's face with his sleeve. "Let's go, little brother. It's not entirely safe in these woods, even in daylight. And Harry will be looking for us."
Alby nodded. He wanted to find his daddy, but hoped that Harry wouldn't be mad enough to put him across his knees. Alby had received only one spanking before this, for trying to use the Floo without permission, but he sure didn't want another one! He took Severus' hand, glad that his older brother was there. "Sevvy, why do you call my daddy Harry?"
Severus looked half-amused. "It's his name, isn't it?"
"Uh huh. But if you're my big brudder now, why don't you call him Daddy?"
Severus blinked. He hadn't expected this conversation to come up so swiftly. "Well, for one thing, he's not my father. I'm his ward, but not really his son . . . so I don't feel right calling him that. So he said I could call him Harry."
"Oh. But will you ever?"
"Will I ever what?"
"Call him Dad like me?"
"I . . . don't know, Alby." Severus said honestly. "I don't know." He started to walk back the way he had come when the drumming of hooves was heard.
Alby shrank against Severus' side, clinging to the older boy for dear life.
Severus, in turn, hugged his brother close and wished he had a wand and was old enough to control his magic. But though he retained the knowledge of how to wield it, summoning it was another thing. He knew that centaurs still lived in these woods, and while they'd been allies in his first life, he was unsure if they still were. There had been three different tribes of centaurs back then, two were friendly with wizards and helped them, but the other tribe was warlike and arrogant and thought wizards had no right to be in the Forbidden Forest and should be slaves to the centaurs. They were known as the Diomedian tribe, based on the legend of Diomedes, who was a cruel son of Ares who had four man-eating mares and set them loose to wreak havoc on his neighbor's kingdoms, until Hercules put a stop to it. The former professor hoped fervently that these centaurs were not Diomedians.
Severus' heart sank when the three centaurs thundered to a halt beside them, surrounding them. They were powerful warlike creatures, with manes braided with pieces of bone and petrified animal parts, like ears and paws, and they had painted themselves with warrior stripes and sigils. Their eyes were hard and unwelcoming.
"Ho! What have we here, Kyletes?" bellowed a tall gray stallion with white dapples on his haunches and flanks. "Seems to me some wizardling have strayed from their nursery!"
Kyletes, a long legged red stallion, stomped his hoof on the ground and snorted. "Indeed, friend Pyrrhus. Too bad for them. I've been meaning to get me a new water bearer since the last one died of a fever."
"How convenient!" whinnied the third, a younger centaur whose horse half was a brown with white patches. His hair was even a mix of white and brown. He bared his teeth in a false smile. "Well, what are you waiting for, Kyletes? Take them!"
"No!" Alby shrieked as the white and brown centaur leered down at him. "You leave me 'lone! Or my daddy will hex you good!"
"Listen to the little imp brag!" snorted Pyrrhus. " Auletes, do you believe the nerve of this one?"
"Some human brats are lacking in manners," growled Auletes. Then he scooped up Alby and put him on his back. "Stay put, little maggot! Or else your brains will be decorating the floor." He began to gallop hard, his piebald tail streaming behind him.
"Bring him back!" cried Severus. Then the big red stallion turned and grabbed him and put him on its back. Severus clung desperately with his hands and feet and prayed he wouldn't fall off.
There was no time to try and call upon his magic, all his concentration was with holding on. Then too, if he did manage to hex one, falling off at the speed they were travelling could result in a serious injury, if not death. He dared not risk it. All he could do was hope and pray that Harry could track them, because, he noticed that despite their passengers and size, the centaurs left no hoofprints upon the earth. It had to be a kind of magic—concealment magic—and probably the reason why no wizard had ever found the Diomedians' base camp.
Potter, I hope to God you remember my lessons in Defense . . . and my lessons in how to stalk an enemy.
That same day:
Jamie sniffled and rubbed his sore bottom as he stood with his nose to the wall of his room. In his other hand was a handkerchief, which he used to mop the tears that kept running down his face. He couldn't believe how furious his mum and dad had been over that sledding game! True, he supposed he could have gotten hurt, but he hadn't. He might have gotten killed, but he hadn't. Both he and Sirius had been having a wonderful time before his father had shown up and gone all growly Alpha on them. Jamie winced and attempted to rub the sting away. He hadn't gotten spanked in awhile and had forgotten how hard his dad's hand was. Though he'd wager his whole collection of chocolate frog cards that his mum's hand had been worse.
He'd heard Siri yelling in the kitchen louder than he'd done in the den, and had wondered if she'd used a paddle on his poor brother. But no, his mum never seemed to need anything except her hand to make a kid regret doing something, and he'd asked Sirius that question as soon as they'd been put in opposite corners of their bedroom and left there. Jamie sighed and turned his head ever so slightly. He could just see Sirius out of the corner of his right eye.
"Psst! Siri, you all right?"
"What do you think?" came the soft response, followed by a sharp sniff. "My bum feels like it's been set afire, thanks to your mum."
"Oww!" Jamie winced in sympathy. "I don't get why they were so angry. It's not like we broke anything."
"We could've," Sirius reminded. He actually didn't feel like talking about it, but felt it was his duty to keep Jamie from harm, as his cousin Dora had stressed before she put him across her knee. That he knew better, since not only was he older, he also was partially an adult. She had made Sirius feel ashamed about not preventing Jamie from doing that silly stunt, no matter how much fun it had turned out to be. Sirius was sure that had caused Dora to spank him extra hard. He never would have thought his friendly easygoing cousin would have been able to dole out such a punishment, but his sore behind was proof of it.
"You two are so stupid," Teddy mumbled through a yawn as he sat up in bed. "Why on earth would you ever sled off the roof?"
"'Cause it was more fun than lying in bed all day being bored to death," Jamie answered.
Teddy rolled his eyes. "Yeah, sure. Was it worth getting your bum smacked too?"
"Umm . . ." Jamie pondered the wisdom of that statement. " . . .kind of."
"No," Sirius put in. "It was fun, but not enough to make me want to do it over and risk my bum becoming hamburger again. Plus, I think we really scared them, Jamie. Dora almost had a heart attack and Moony wasn't much better."
Teddy mimed clapping his hands. "Brilliant deduction there, Sherlock."
"Shut up, Teddy! I bet if you weren't sick, you'd have been doing it with us," Jamie challenged.
"Wrong. I'd have found something else to do that was better," Teddy said smugly. "And I wouldn't have gotten caught because I'd have watched the time."
Jamie nearly turned around and glared at his brother, but stopped at the last second. If he did that and his parents found out, he'd have to start his corner time over again. "Fine! Next time you come up with something better."
Sirius sighed as the two bickered. Sometimes Teddy and Jamie reminded him of him and Regulus, only with his brother, the rivalry had quickly turned to poison. Only now, looking back on it, did Sirius find he regretted much of the way he had treated the younger Black, blaming Reg for his mother's favoritism and always mocking him for his love of books and claiming he was going dark. Dora had told him that he had to set an example for Jamie, that the younger Lupin looked up to him, and when Sirius said or did something, Jamie took it to heart. It caused Sirius to wonder if his constant sneering and mockery of Regulus had driven his brother away from him and down the dark path. That in turn caused him to feel guilt and recall yet another student he had mocked and sneered at.
But Snape had been different, he argued. Snape had not been a relative, hadn't admired anything about Sirius. Snape had chosen the dark path for reasons of his own. It had nothing to do with Sirius. Or had it? He spent the rest of his ten minutes in the corner thinking about Regulus and Snape, wondering if he'd been nicer to his brother if Reg might have never strayed or if he had left Snape alone, if Snape might not have found different friends instead of the crowd of Death Eaters. Dora had, before walloping the daylights out of him, told him that his choices affected others, even if he wasn't aware of it. It was definitely food for thought.
When at last they thundered to a halt, Severus felt as if all the bones in his young body had been bounced apart and put back together crooked. He had no idea where in the forest he was. They were in a large glade with four wooden structures that resembled lean to's, open on one side, with piles of dried grass inside. There was a large pit where a fire burned, over it was a spit with something roasting, and a large iron pot on a tripod with something bubbling in it. A scrawny female centaur with stringy blond hair tended them, she barely looked up when the three stallions came into camp.
Until she spied the two captives, then her eyes lit up. "Slaves? Finally!" she crowed. She made as if to toss aside her spoon, when the red-haired centaur spoke. "Not for you, Megara! Tend to your cooking, filly! These slaves belong to me." He assumed an aggressive stance, with his tail held high and shoulders squared.
Megara made a face, but continued to stir the glutinous mass of porridge. The piebald centaur immediately began to whine. "But . . . but Kyletes, you said we would all share in the hunt. So why do you get them both?"
Kyletes aimed a kick at the piebald. "Because, dimwit, I'm the leader and a leader needs servants. You can wait." He turned and grasped Severus about the waist and swung him down to the ground.
Severus could hardly stand, but he forced himself to remain upright. He knew the stiffness would work itself out by walking.
The piebald centaur reluctantly deposited Alby beside him. The small boy was terrified and silently crying. He grabbed Severus' hand and whimpered, "Sevvy, everything hurts. My legs, my arms, my back, and my bottom! I . . . I want Daddy!"
"Shhh!" Severus hushed him sharply. He sensed that these centaurs would have no mercy on a child who cried, he knew their sort. "Don't cry, Alby. You have to be brave like your dad, understand? I know it hurts, but it'll stop once we walk around." He hastily wiped away the tears on the other's face.
Alby swallowed hard. He was scared and hurting, but he understood that Sevvy was right. These were bad creatures and they would laugh at him or worse if they saw he was acting like a baby. So he straightened up and gave the black and white centaur a glare. "I wanna go home! You take me home right now!"
Auletes snorted. "You are home, kid. This is your new home, as slaves to our illustrious leader Kyletes Ironhoof. Get used to it."
"No! If you don't let me go, my dad will blow you to bits!" the child said defiantly.
Severus groaned. He hadn't meant for Albus to turn all heroic and challenge them. Potters! But before he could make any move to hush the boy, the red centaur laughed.
"Who's your daddy, small one? Some two bit conjurer? A lackwit that can barely use a wand?"
"My dad's Harry Potter!" Alby shrilled.
A curtain of silence descended over the glade. Then Megara squealed. "Ooo, Kyletes, you've done it now! You've stolen away Harry Potter's kids! What a numbskull!"
"Shut up!" Kyletes roared. "I'm not afraid of Harry Potter or any wizard for that matter." He turned about and snapped, "You two, go and patrol the perimeter." The two centaurs groaned, but did as ordered. He swung back around. "As for you little maggots, I don't care whose sons you are, now you belong to me. And that means you do as I say, or else!" He reached over and picked up a supple length of willow from the side of the lean to. "Or else I have Mr. Swish to teach you a lesson. Just ask Megara about how he makes you dance." He waved a hand at the female centaur.
Severus darted a quick glance at her and saw, to his horror, that her flanks and haunches were striped with half-healed welts. He hissed into Alby's ear, "Don't back talk him and just do what he says. He'll spank you with that stick and you don't want that, trust me." He suppressed a shudder. He had put the worst memories of Tobias and his belt and fists into the Pensieve, but he still recalled some of those times and he'd rather die than let Alby experience that pain.
"Sevvy, I'm scared," Alby whimpered. "I wanna go home. I miss Mummy!"
"Aww, well ain't that too bad!" sneered Kyletes. "Let's get one thing straight, boy. You're my property now and whenever I need anything, it's your job to fetch it or make it. What's your mum call you?"
"Alby," answered Harry's son, trying his best to look the tall horse-man in the eye. "An' this is my big brudder, Sevvy."
Kyletes snorted. "Stupid names! Okay, here's what you're gonna do. Take those buckets over there and go down to the stream and fill them with water. Then fill my trough," he pointed to a large trough in front of the biggest lean to. "When you're done with that, clean out the grass in the lean to and spread down fresh." He pointed to the pile of stacked dry grass at the edge of the clearing. Beside it rested a pitchfork and a wheelbarrow. "Once you've done that, come to me and maybe I'll feed you. If you've done a good job. If not . . ." he moved like lightning, swinging Mr. Swish down fast.
Severus moved, sheltering Alby with his body. The switch crackled and landed on his back. He bit his lip hard. It wasn't quite as bad as Tobias' belt, but it still stung like crazy. He remained silent.
Kyletes looked disappointed. Then he shrugged and said, "Move! If that's not finished by the time this porridge is ready, I'll whip both of you."
Severus moved, pulling Alby along towards the wooden pails standing next to Kyletes' trough. To his dismay, the buckets were nearly as big as Alby.
"Sevvy, are you all right?" Alby asked worriedly.
"I'll live," Severus answered. He was trying not to think about the welt across his shoulders.
"How we gonna carry them? They're too big." Alby said.
"I know. But I'll think of something," Severus said. Now more than ever he needed his magic. "Let's do it together." He grasped the rope handle on one side. It was going to take forever to fill these buckets.
They managed to bring back the first bucket, it was half full, and dump it into the trough. It barely filled the bottom with water. Then they went back and did it again . . . and again . . .until an hour and a half had passed and both boys were exhausted. They had almost filled the trough to the top when Megara looked over and sneered at them.
"Having fun, little creepers? Is that bucket getting heavy?" Smirking, she trotted over to them, then deliberately stuck out a leg to trip Alby, who was struggling with his half of the bucket. "Ooopsie!"
Alby fell flat on the ground, and his half of the bucket went over, splashing water everywhere.
Megara began to laugh loudly, bringing Kyletes to see what was so funny.
He scowled when he saw his slave in the dirt and water all over. "Lazy little whelp! Get up!"
Alby tried, but he was scraped and sore and his feet kept slipping on the muddy ground.
"I said, GET UP!" bellowed the irate centaur and suddenly the switch was in his hand.
"No!" Severus cried, running over to shield his brother from the centaur. "It was my fault. I tripped and knocked him down."
"Clumsy as well as stupid!" snarled Kyletes, then he picked up Severus by the back of the collar and held him in the air. "This is what happens to clumsy slaves on my watch!"
Mr. Swish whistled through the air and landed on Severus' vulnerable backside.
Severus flinched but bit back the cry of pain that should have followed. He would never give this bully the satisfaction of crying in front of him.
"No! Leave Sevvy 'lone!" Alby was wailing and beating his small fists against the centaur's front legs. "Don't hurt my brudder! Please!"
Kyletes paid him no more attention than he would have a gnat. He gave the older Potter boy another ten licks, striping him from backside to thighs before tossing him down in the dirt. Kyletes was furious that he hadn't made the elder boy cry at all, though he supposed the younger one made enough of a fuss for ten boys.
He casually knocked Alby down and then stepped over them, snarling, "Get back to work!" Then he turned to Megara and growled, "Unless you want a turn, you better get working too!"
Megara turned away, though not before she flashed the stronger centaur a look of hatred.
Alby crawled over to Severus and hugged him. "Sevvy! Sevvy! I'm sorry!"
Severus lifted his head and whispered, "Albus, stop crying! Before he gets sick of hearing it and beats you too."
Alby sniffled. "Does it hurt real bad?"
Severus nodded wearily. He'd had worse, but not in a very long time. He knew he had to get up, but for a few moments allowed himself the luxury of remaining still. Finally he got gingerly to his feet and began to walk slowly back to the stream, where he removed his jeans and underpants and sat in the cool water while Alby refilled the bucket. The water felt soothing and he remained there for several minutes, until the bucket was full and he had to dress and help Alby.
Once the trough was full, they had clean out the old grass from the lean to. That also took forever, but was a little easier. Once they were done, Severus was a mass of pain and told Alby to see if Kyletes had anything to eat. The centaur grudgingly dished up two small bowls of porridge flavored with honey and raisins.
Alby ate his sitting on the ground and Severus standing up beside him. Alby really really hoped that his daddy was searching for them, and wished he'd hurry up before something bad happened to him or Sevvy . . . beyond what had already happened, that is.
Harry followed the pull of the tracking spell, walking as quickly as he could along the trail. It was strange, but he had to recast it several times, and it was then that he feared something had taken the boys away, because the tracking spell was leading him deeper into the forest, far beyond the point where the two children could have traveled on their own. Swearing softly under his breath, Harry quickly cast a Swift Foot charm upon himself, enabling him to run with the speed of a unicorn. The spell not only gave him speed, but endurance and lung capacity as well.
He began to run through the forest, following the irresistible tugging of the tracking spell. When he had run an estimated four or five miles into the trees he paused for a breather. Then he continued, until he suddenly ran into an invisible wall. "What in hell?" he muttered.
His tracking spell fizzled and he realized this was a warded area. Which meant the boys had to be somewhere within here. He drew his wand and muttered, "Finite Incantatum!" putting all of his considerable will behind the spell.
The wards shook and then melted away, allowing Harry to see inside them. He saw the glade, the lean to's, and the two centaurs about the fire. Then he saw Alby and Severus. Alby looked as though he'd been crying and Severus looked . . . grim and stone faced. Harry's first instinct was to rush in with his wand blazing and demand his children back. But some sixth sense warned that would not be a smart thing and so he decided to be sneaky and use his cloak to observe the best way to get the boys out before making the Diomedians, for he recognized the paint and hair style as those that tribe wore, in addition to the fact that they had taken the boys away rather than delivered them back to him, pay for their bold cruelty.
He slipped the hood over his head and crept nearer the glade, managing to make his way around it without a sound, for a unicorn steps lightly. Once he was close to the boys, he made a soft hissing sound, getting Severus' attention.
Severus looked around, his eyes searching swiftly for the sound.
Harry quickly lowered the hood of the cloak a fraction, just enough so Severus could see his face. He put a finger to his lips and winked.
Severus merely nodded, but his eyes brightened. So Harry had come and found them. Severus felt a warm glow spread through him. Soon they would be rescued. Now it was only a matter of waiting for the right time.