A/N: This is for Round 4 of Season 4 of the Quidditch League Fanfiction Competition. I am the Caerphilly Catapults' Chaser 2.
The prompt for this round was Creature Comforts. Each team member chose a different kind of fantastical beast to write for. Mine, as will shortly become apparent, was centaur.
My optional prompts were: 4. (poem) "The Peace of Wild Things," 11. (dialogue) "Do you really need to do that?" and 12. (song) "Magic Dance" by David Bowie from the Labyrinth Original Sountrack
It was late; darkness had long since settled over the Forbidden Forest, and the stars and moon were shining brightly above as Firenze made his way between the trees.
"Dumbledore." Firenze pushed aside a low-hanging branch and stepped into a small clearing where the human stood, gazing calmly up at the stars.
The headmaster, of all the humans Firenze had known, was the boldest in the forest at night. He was not startled by Firenze's arrival; nor did he seem concerned about the other creatures that might have moved unseen in the darkness gathering around him. He turned toward the centaur with a sad smile.
"Hello, Firenze." With this, he turned back to the sky.
Firenze cocked his head at the human. "You know as well as I that that this forest is dangerous. What brings you here at this hour?"
"The stars are a beautiful mystery to me, you know," he said, as if this were an answer. "They seem to reflect the precious fragility of life back to me, with an added wisdom that no mortal can attain. They know how to shine in the face of great darkness. Perhaps they would also know how to combat the coming darkness which threatens the human world. But if they did," he sighed, "they would not tell us."
Firenze approached on soft hooves. "When despair for the world grows in me," he said, "I go and lie down below the heavens, and come into the peace of wild things, who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. That is what the stars have taught me."
Dumbledore seemed to consider this very deeply for a moment. "I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light," he said. "But the feeling gives me little peace. I am no wild thing, and I do not see the grace in the world without the stars' helpful reflection."
"You are human, and as such you cannot rest beneath the light of the stars. Is that not the source of all faithlessness in humanity?"
Dumbledore chuckled lightly. "Perhaps you are right, friend. Yet you, unlike your fellows, do not fault us for this lack of faith. Why is that?"
Firenze flicked his tail and stamped his front hoof. "The others would hold you responsible for your folly. I do not hold the human race accountable for what it cannot change in its nature," he said.
"Yes," said Dumbledore, "and this is why I have come to you. I have need of your peculiar compassion more than ever before."
Firenze wasn't sure he liked where this was going, but he knew that this was the way Dumbledore always spoke, at least to him. Dumbledore was always one of the more interesting humans with whom to have a conversation, even if, on occasion, those talks took unexpected twists and turns. Firenze remained silent, crossing his arms and waiting patiently for Dumbledore to elaborate.
"I have reason to believe that our recent addition, Professor Umbridge, intends to lay waste to my staff, and she is starting with Sybill Trelawney."
Firenze snorted. "I know little about Professor Trelawney, but what I have heard has not been complimentary."
"Perhaps not," Dumbledore acknowledged, "but whatever her shortcomings, it is of gravest importance that she remain at Hogwarts—for reasons that even she does not understand."
"Indeed," Firenze replied. "You feel that I may be of some help in this regard?"
Dumbledore gave a gracious nod. "I would never presume upon a centaur's service; you have no fealty towards me or any human, and I acknowledge this. However…I am faced with the prospect of banishing Sybill Trelawney from the castle, unless I can find a suitable replacement."
"By 'suitable,'" said Firenze slowly, "you mean a replacement who would not need to make use of Professor Trelawney's current living quarters."
"Exactly," Dumbledore replied. "It is with greatest humility, and no expectation of your acceptance, that I ask you to assume the title of Divination instructor. Will you do it?"
Firenze took a moment to consider the bleak prospect of being surrounded by humans all day. He was not nearly as critical of them as the rest of his herd—or the rest of his species—but neither did he find them to be particularly pleasant company. Then there was the herd to consider. How favorably would they react to his decision to leave the forest and teach at a human school, however temporarily?
He lifted his eyes to the canopy of stars peeking between the treetops. They seemed to quiver overhead, murmuring, whispering, and much more alive than any human could imagine. He listened to their song for a moment and then brought his eyes back to Dumbledore, who was respectfully awaiting his answer. At last, Firenze nodded.
"Thank you, Firenze," Dumbledore replied with a slight bow. "I am eternally grateful, and ever at your service. May I ask that you call at the castle at dusk, tomorrow evening?"
"You may," Firenze replied calmly. "I shall speak to you then."
It transpired that Dumbledore's eternal gratitude was of little consequence to the herd; Firenze told them of his decision late the following afternoon. The others took Firenze's news with even less grace than he had imagined. His declaration of his intention to take up the position at Hogwarts was met with loud opposition. Almost before he knew it, the first hoof had hit him, accompanied by the voices of the other centaurs—his friends, or so he had believed—demanding his banishment from the forest and from the herd.
"We do not interfere with the lives of humans!" Ronan yelled.
"Let the humans fend for themselves!" cried Bane.
Firenze tried to explain. If he could only make Magorian see that their wellbeing and their territory were under attack by the same threat that the humans faced, then Magorian could convince the others—but even Magorian seemed unwilling to hear his reasoning.
"You put the herd at risk by entering into the affairs of humans, Firenze," he said.
"They can't be trusted!" Bane snarled, kicking his back legs in fury.
"Their relationship to magic is entirely different from ours!"
"That's right! The humans require sticks and idiotic rhymes of slime and snails and puppy-dog tails to direct their magic!"
Firenze defensively reared up when Bane approached him, snorting angrily. Deft fighter though he was, Firenze could not defend himself on all sides, and following Bane's example, the rest of the herd had begun to circle him restlessly.
"They are not worth protecting, Firenze!" Bane shouted.
"Their problems are not truly threats. They deal with other humans, not with the elements—not with thunder and lightning, as we do! They find these things to be too frightening to face! They hide behind their stone walls. They are cowards!"
This was the last of the argument Firenze heard, as with a deafening roar of voices, the hooves of his herd rained upon him from all sides, knocking the wind out of him again and again; it seemed endless. Firenze tried to fight—to protect himself—but all of his attempts to block or avoid the attacks were thwarted.
Suddenly, a bellow reached him from afar: "Stop!"
The herd did not stop at once, but to Firenze's great surprise, he saw them being shoved and knocked aside as though they were nothing at all. Finally, he looked through his arms to see Hagrid, the half-giant, standing over him protectively.
"Yeh oughta be ashamed o' yerselves!" the enormous man shouted, "Fightin' between yerselves, like animals!"
Only silence followed this outburst, but Firenze could feel a ripple of indignation pass between the ring of centaurs surrounding them.
"Firenze is no longer part of this herd," said Bane vehemently. "We were merely protecting our territory from an outsider. Do not interfere with what you cannot understand, human!"
"Yeah? We'll see what Professor Dumbledore's got ter say about yeh kickin' one o' yer own ter death on the school grounds then, shall we?" Hagrid demanded loudly.
It seemed to Firenze that Bane cared very little what Dumbledore might say, but Magorian reached out for his shoulder, shaking his head tersely before leading the way back into the trees.
Before he vanished, Magorian turned back. "Consider yourself warned, human. You have betrayed the centaurs as much as Firenze has by disrespecting our laws. As he is banished from our forest, so are you."
"I'd like ter see yeh try!" Hagrid shouted, as the rest of the herd followed Magorian and Bane, glaring hatefully at both Hagrid and Firenze as they went. When they had all gone, Firenze attempted to stand, succeeding only with Hagrid's help.
"Thank you, Hagrid," Firenze said weakly, starting to make his way slowly in the direction of the castle. Hagrid pressed up against his left side, supporting him as no full-blooded human could.
"S'all right," Hagrid replied. "I sen' word ter Dumbledore. He's on his way ter bring yeh up ter the castle himself."
"Did you really have to do that?"
Hagrid grumbled, "Yeh centaurs are a righ' strange lot. Firs' yer herd creatures, then yer kickin' each other ter death. Then yer pride gets in the way o' lettin' folks help yeh. It don' make no sense, if yeh ask me."
"Perhaps," Firenze admitted, stumbling against Hagrid. "But then, much of human interaction is lost on me as well…"
The castle loomed into view, visible against the setting sun. Firenze stopped walking for a moment and sighed. Whether or not he understood them, he would have to join the humans now.