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Chapter 1 : Chapter 1
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The greatest magizoologists of my childhood and long before that were extravagantly unadventurous. Studying magnificent creatures through lenses or from behind protective enchantments, they developed nothing in the sense of real world experiences. The only true magizoologist, Gulliver Pokeby, was someone I looked up to. The first to discover that the Augurey’s cries signaled that rain was coming instead of impending death, he shaped my view of what it meant to be a magizoologist.
When I was 12 years old, I promised myself that I would travel the world, as he did, and meet the beasts that these so-called experts had never come into actual contact with. Three weeks ago, on my last day at Hogwarts, I packed a bag and departed, not by the Hogwarts Express like the rest of my schoolmates, but through the Forbidden Forest. You see, the Forbidden Forest was rumoured to be filled with creatures the likes of which had never been documents by human-kind (whether magical or not, we are all humans and they are all creatures).
As I stumbled through this vast expanse of gnarled roots and animal dwellings, I heard a strange laugh, throaty and heavy. Turning to the source of the sound, I glimpsed a swishing tail that resembled that of a horse. The sound of hooves could be distinguished under the harsh winds and the calls of animals unknown. I tried to follow the beast as quickly as I could, but unknown terrain led me astray and I soon lost sight of the equine. Disgruntled, I slammed my first against a tree when a husky voice pierced my eyes.
“Now what did da tree evah do to you?”
I turned and met the brown eyed gaze of a strange woman. Her hair, unlike any other style I had ever seen, was loose and hung around her in thick strands. The strange, coil-like hair was black and draped over the strange corset-like device she was wearing on her torso. Her skin was brown, and as I looked over her, I noticed with surprise that her bottom half was not that of a human, but that of a horse. The horse’s pelt was a rich brown a few shades darker than the human part of the horse-woman’s skin, and the hooves were impossibly black and shiny. I was stunned. Never before had I seen such a creature.
“I done asked you a question. Best to answer before me call my people,” she said, her voice tinged with a strange accent.
I shook my head and lifted my eyes to hers again. “I am sorry, m’lady. The tree never did anything to me. I am just frustrated, is all.”
“What is you frustrated about, young man. Did da beast you was following slip away?” Her easy smile left me no other option but to assume she had been the thing I was following. She held out a hand to me, never breaking her piercing gaze. “Com’ wit’ me. I show you da way out.”
I shook my head again, this time more forcefully. “I’m sorry m’lady, but that would be detrimental to my task at hand.”
“Da task at hand being…”
“I have journeyed into this forest to meet creatures such as yourself. I wish to study you, possibly to teach you the ways of my people.”
The horse-woman’s smile vanished, replaced by a frightening scowl. “Why did you com’? Leave now before me decides to nevah let you leave again! Leave sorcerer, and nevah return.”
With that, she turned and began prancing away, her nimble horse feet finding almost invisible footholds on the slight hill, and manoeuvering away from dangerous holes in the ground, something I could only ever dream of doing.
“Wait!” I called. “I’m sorry for whatever I did that upset you! Please! I just want to learn from you!”
The strange horse-woman stopped and her top half twisted so she could see me. “Learn? I tought you said you was going to teach me da ways of da sorcerers,” she called, her voice icy.
“I meant it only as a way for you to learn about my people the same way I wish to learn about yours. Perhaps I should digress. I wish to learn about you, your people, you culture. I seek knowledge about amazing creatures that half-witted magizoologists in the past couldn’t properly observe because they were too stuck in their minds and their cowardice,” I said pleadingly. “Please, I just want to know about what you are. How you came to be. Everything about your people. I just want to learn.”
The horse-woman turned her body completely and slowly edged her way over to me. The trees around us hissed as wind passed through their leaves. Green surrounded us and the chirps of birds I could have only dreamed of hearing came from all around. The horse-woman took her timing, eyeing me as one might eye a particularly tender choice cut of meat.
“You want to learn?” she asked harshly, her voice devoid of any emotion save perhaps confusion.
I nodded. “More than anything.”
“Den you must promise me dat you will not teach da centaurs da ways of da sorcerers.”
“And dat you will listen to everyt’ing me has to say.”
“Dat you will accept da centaurs’ way of life as yours until you leave.”
The ghost of a smile appeared on the horse-woman – did she call herself a centaur – the centaur’s face. “Den you will be taught da ways of da centaurs until dey deem you unwort’y.”
“Centaur?” I asked. “Is that what you are?”
“Yes,” the centaur said, smiling, “but you can call me Donacavala.”
I smiled. “Donacavala, what are centaurs?”
“Com’ wit’ me, young sorcerer, me shall explain while walking.”
“It’s Lizbith,” I said, trying to keep up with the agile centaur. “Lizbith Scamander.”
“Well, Lizbit’, centaurs are creatures dat come from da legends. Dey are da children of da gods, dose celestial beings up in da sky,” she said, leading me as we walked along through the forest, towering over me at a good seven feet. “Dey are dere own kind, not like dem half-breeds da sorcerers have. Veela, giants, vampires. Dey are good for not’ing.” Her face was contorted into a mask of disgust as if the mere thought of it was displeasing, which obviously it was. “Da centaurs can do many t’ings, dough we choose to focus on da stars, da messages left by da gods.”
“Do you mean constellations?” I asked, looking up at Donacavala.
She, in turn, looked down at me and smiled herself. “Da young Lizbit’ is not as ignorant as me once t’ought. Yes, da constellations are messages from da gods. Do you know of many?”
I had silently thanked the years of dreadful Astronomy class I had to take. “Yes. The ones I remember are Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Hercules, and Andromeda. I particularly like Hercules though. I wish I could be as brave as he was.”
Donacavala’s lips had pursed and now the corners lowered into a scowl. “Hercules is not somet’ing to look up to, Lizbit’. Him a horrible man wit’ a horrible past.”
As I gave Donacavala a confused look, I hopped from one precarious stone to another to avoid stepping in what seemed like a deep and muddy trench of water. As I slipped, Donacavala’s strong arm shot out and grasped my upper arm, steading me.
“Donacavala, how is Hercules a horrible man? Didn’t he save many people’s lives in the legend? And if not, legends are just legends, are they not?”
“Legends are true, young Lizbit’. Da centaurs are a legend, but dey is true. Magic is a legend, but da wand you have in dat bag is true.” She frowned. “Hercules was a vile man. Him destroy da lifes of many a creature. Da Nemean Lion dat him kill did not deserve such a cruel fate. Da Lernaean Hydra eit’er. Him capture da Cerynean Hind, da Cretan Bull, da mares of Diomedes. Him kill da centaurs Pholus and Chiron and den him take da Erymanthian Boar.” At that, Donacavala gritted her teeth and her voice seemed strained. I noticed that her hands were clenched and wondered if she had perhaps known one of them. But no, that was impossible, of course. Even if it was true, that would have happened years ago. Donacavala continued her rant, her hoof steps pounding the ground harder as she went along. “Him misdirected da currents of da rivers, him kill da Stymphalian Birds. Him stole da girdle of Hippolyta, Queen of da Amazons, da man-eating cattle of Geryon, da t’ree-headed guard dog Cerberus from da underworld. Him kill a dragon for da golden apples of the Hesperides. Hercules, him was a dangerous man.”
“I’m sorry,” I said nervously. “I can only assume that the versions of mythology that I remember are skewed, what with my improper schooling.”
That seemed to calm her down and she smiled down at me. “At da least, you is kind and willing to lie t’rough your teeth for my pleasure.”
I smiled sheepishly and she continued.
“But what about da constellation Andromeda. Do you know much about dat one?” she asked, fixing me with her piercing stare.
“I do seem to remember that her mother’s vanity was the reason she was chained to a cliff, ready to be sacrificed, and then the hero Perseus came and rescued her. The two married and lived together for the rest of eternity, happy in the sky,” I said, glad that I could at least remember a bit more of Greek mythology.
I had obviously disappointed Donacavala as she pursed her lips again. “You did not learn why dey were chosen to be in da stars, did you?”
I shook my head and she frowned.
“Da hero Perseus was no hero. When he grew tired of him poor wife, him stab her and cut out her heart. Da gods, to punish da murderer, condemned him to eternity in da stars, near da wife him heartlessly kill, and him wife’s parents. Him can nevah escape da horrors he done committed.”
I shivered. “Donacavala, why must the centaurs have such frightening and unhappy stories?”
Donacavala gave me a cold smile. “Da world is harsh, Lizbit’. Da world is cruel. Da gods are too, so da centaurs do not pretend to have happy beginnings like da sorcerers and da men.”
“The gods are cruel?”
Donacavala nodded, her jaw clenched. “Da ot’er constellations you done mentioned? Da Ursa’s? Da god Zeus or Jupitah, him forced himself on da poor wood nymph Callista. When her bear deir son, da boy was taken away from her and da poor girl was transformed into a bear. When da son grew, him became a hunter like his mama. One day, him hunt a bear, him’s mama. Zeus stayed da boy’s hand and transformed him into a bear too. Da two bears were put in da sky for eternity because dey could nevah have a normal life. Da gods are cruel, young Lizbit’. Dey are cruel like da world dey govern.”
I was shocked. In the wizarding world, if any gods were believed in, they were deities that looked over the world and only judged you for your sins, letting the people on the earth do what they wished, allowing them liberty from the gods themselves.
“Donacavala, are you sure that’s what legend says? I seem to remember that Callista was Zeus’s lover, not a wood nymph he forced himself upon.”
Donacavala stopped in her tracks and glared at me, her brown eyes blazing. “You done promised me to listen and accept what I have to say on da centaurs. Dis is da centaur’s way of belief. If you does not like it, leave and nevah com’ back.”
“No, that’s okay. It’s just a little startling for me, is all,” I said shaking my head. “We can continue forward if you like. I promise not to doubt anything else.”
Donacavala smiled. “We is at where we need to be, young Lizbit’.”
“Here?” I asked incredulously, looking around where we had stopped. “This is just an empty patch of grass!”
“Exactly,” Donacavala said, smiling. “To live as da centaurs, you must sleep as da centaurs. Not’ing from da sorcerers’ world tonight. Tomorrow we will continue, but for now, we must rest.”
“Go to sleep?” I asked, whipping my head up to glance at the sky, I was amazed to see that it was dark. “It gets dark quickly in the forest.”
Donacavala smiled again. “Yes, now lay your head down. Tomorrow, me teach you da other t’ings about centaurs.”
I did as she asked and closed my eyes, but a thought was plaguing me. I concentrated on my body, feeling the hard ground beneath me, the soft grass and moss pillowing my head. A breeze blew past, caressing my skin. I smelled oak and water and I heard nothing except for the occasional hoot of an owl. It was peaceful. But the thought kept digging into my mind.
“Donacavala,” I finally said, breaking the eerie silence. “Where are the other centaurs?”
But I was met with only silence. Closing my eyes again, I listened to my breathing and the breathing of the forest. I fell asleep within minutes.
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