Disclaimer: I don't own it. I'm shamelessly using someone else's characters.
Warnings: This story implies, though does not describe, a sexual relationship between two male centaurs. Harry is physically only eleven, though he is considered an adult in the centaur herd.
His heart pounded. Sweat rolled down his bare chest in plump beads. The forest began to fill with the heavy musk of monkshood. He stumbled dizzily through the underbrush, the tiny hairs on his arms bristled in fear. Heavy breathing and slow footsteps filled his ears. The hour was close to midnight, but bright spots of color danced across his vision. He fell and then lumbered back to his feet.
He was being hunted. He was alone, unarmed, and weak from fasting. Blackness began to tinge his vision. His head ached so painfully! He tore at his wild black mane, convinced something was crawling through the pores on his scalp. Far beyond the human ability to reason away his fear or obey his pride, he began to thrash through the forest desperately, terrified pleas and whimpers bubbling up from his heaving chest. They were the cries of an animal. He had left his humanity behind.
The footsteps were faster now. Twigs cracked and a rumbling growl filled the night. Harry had lost his vision completely, and froze where he stood. He couldn't tell what direction the footsteps were coming from. His eyes were stretched wide, but he couldn't see anything. He wished it were all a nightmare. He wanted so desperately to wake up.
He felt salty tears spill down his cheeks and watery snot slide over his lips. The footsteps stopped. The breathing was directly in front of him. The liquid only contents of his bowels splashed to the ground.
Hot, stagnant breath rolled over his face. The cloying smell of monkshood made vomit roll up his throat and dribble down his chin.
His mind screamed at him to flee, but his body could not respond. Of its own volition, a pale arm stretched forward. His heart stopped as his fingers probed into the darkness, closer and closer to the source of the breathing. He tried to brace himself, expecting his arm to be bitten off any second…
A sob rolled out of his throat as two fingers touched something slick with mucous and saliva. Something hard. Something sharp.
One second, all the feeling in his body had been in his extended hand, then the next moment the limb was simply gone.
He screamed from the pain of feeling the monster rip into his body. A blinding white light erupted all around him and the vision was mercifully over.
When he awoke, a cool hand was stroking his brow.
"Little one, can you hear my words?"
The ancient voice sounded so far away. With a start, he sat up quickly, breathing fast, staring wondrously at his intact hands in the semi-darkness of the cave.
"Calm yourself, little one. You are safe."
Harry's verdant eyes landed on the Jica'que sitting at his bedside. Her human half was ancient – it was rumored she was a hundred years old. She was nearly black she was so tan, and her wrinkled skin was thin as paper. Long, shockingly white mane hung over her bare, wrinkled breasts. She seemed to glow like a forest spirit. The presence of the motherly centaur calmed him, like balm on sore muscles.
His breathing returned to normal, and he resisted the urge to bury his face in her warm bosom as he had done as a foal. Instead, he lay back down slowly, images of his horrifying Minnetaree racing through his head.
As if sensing his pain, the Jica'que began to sing soothingly in the old tongue. Harry didn't know what all the words meant. Many, many years ago, the centaurs spoke their own language - one untainted by human influence. Legend said that the great Chiron, father of all centaurs, had seen a terrible future for centaurs when he was on his own Minnetaree. He predicted that the centaurs would die out if they did not adapt some of the ways of the humans. He bravely entered the Forbidden Forest and crossed into the land of the wizards. There he learned to speak, to write and read as they did. He learned to weave baskets, make arrows, set traps, and tame fire. After many years with them, he crossed back through the Forbidden Forest and brought enlightenment to all the herds of centaurs. Now they spoke the language of the two-legs, but words from the old tongue were often used for sacred rituals and other important things. Jica'que loosely translated as "ancient one." It was a term bestowed upon the eldest member of the herd. She was a healer, a dream weaver, and a teacher. She had raised Harry as a foal when his parents had been killed by wolves.
Minnetaree translated to "cross the waters" in new tongue. It was the spiritual journey every centaur went on before they were considered an adult. It consisted of isolation and fasting in the forest, drinking only water from the river. On midnight, the centaur would be sent a vision. It could be about anything. The vision was considered a gift from Reiki, also known as the Great Spirit.
Thinking of the familiar story of Chiron's Minnetaree had soothed him. The calming song of the Jica'que ended in a whisper.
"Grandmother," Harry croaked weakly. The elderly female quickly raised a wooden bowl filled with water to his cracked lips. She let him drink a bit, and it eased the scratching pain in his throat. "Grandmother…Death came in my Minnetaree. It hunted me. It devoured me. I was so alone."
The Jica'que didn't speak. She rested her weathered hand on his forehead, closing her eyes and moving her lips silently. A warm glow emanated from her hand, seeping into his head. At first it was pleasant, as if he were sitting in the afternoon sunlight.
But then the warmth became heat, which intensified until he felt like fire was pressed against his face.
The Jica'que wrenched her hand away, breathing heavily, sweat trickling down her face.
"My child, you have been given a true vision from Reiki! I feel the presence strongly in your soul. You have been shown complete truth – a rare gift."
Harry was confused, but he was often confused when speaking to the Jica'que, so it was nothing new.
"But grandmother, don't all visions come from the Reiki?" Harry asked pointlessly. Even if he had been on his deathbed, she would not have given him a straight answer. Lessons from the Jica'que tended to reveal themselves over time. Sirius had once told him (when he had been young and easily frustrated), that the Jica'que had visions so powerful that she sometimes didn't know whether she was in the future, the present, or the past. What seemed like a very clear answer to her might not make any sense to the one asking until many years later.
"What is the Reiki, Harry? When you know this, you will have your answer."
As he had said…utterly pointless. He sighed. He was too tired and weak to ponder the meaning of the universe. His grandmother's presence, while comforting initially, was now becoming slightly tiresome. As if in answer to his silent plea, a familiar centaur entered the massive cave.
Sirius was much easier to digest than the Jica'que. In fact, he was the complete opposite of Harry's grandmother. For a centaur, he possessed a startling lack of subtlety and mystery. Sirius was funny and energetic, expressive and straightforward to the point of being blunt. To most centaurs, that was practically a sin. Of course, Sirius couldn't have predicted winter even if he was given a calendar, so he didn't have much to be confused about. He lived unburdened by the knowledge of the future. Whether that was a good or bad thing, Harry couldn't quite say. It was balanced by the fact that he was an excellent hunter. He could track anything, and some in the herd said he was the strongest centaur they had ever seen.
It was, needless to say, quite ironic that he was such good friends with the Jica'que. Despite their extreme differences in personality, they got along quite well.
"How are you feeling, Harry?" Sirius asked softly.
"I've been better," Harry replied tiredly. Sirius shook his head in a disapproving fashion.
"I knew you shouldn't have fasted for so long. It's bloody ridiculous to go without food. I told you to sneak some berries or something. I suppose you didn't listen."
The Jica'que merely rolled her eyes in a rare moment of childishness. Sirius brought it out in her.
"That, you impertinent beast, is why your own Minnetaree was so unsuccessful," she chided roughly. "Harry," she went on to say proudly, "has been gifted with a true vision."
"Nonsense. You didn't see the state we found him in. I don't care if he saw Chiron himself. He's never fasting like that again, and he's certainly not going out for so long alone."
Harry wondered if Sirius would ever treat him as an adult. He didn't think it likely.
"I'm fine, Sirius. My Minnetaree gave me… a great deal to think about." Harry answered in a way he hoped would appease both of them. In truth, Harry would be happy to never think about his terrible vision again. It was custom to share it with the others in the herd in order to get advice from the elders on what it might mean. He didn't think he would. It seemed clear enough. Death was coming for him. Not so surprising considering his heart. He had been sickly since birth, possibly because he never nursed properly. Grandmother had known the second she held him in her arms that he would be physically weak. She was always telling him that his soul was too strong for his body. She said that spiritually, his power was immeasurable, and that there simply wasn't a body in existence powerful enough to match such a strong soul.
Her words had been comforting when he was little and he'd been teased by the other colts because he lost shamefully in the races and made a pitiful hunter. Now that he was older, he found himself wishing more and more that he was like Sirius. A life where he was unburdened by dark visions and ominous prophecies, physically strong and healthy, unconfused by his place in the world…it sounded heavenly. He was tired of always being so tired.
"You've been resting in this cave for days, Harry. Why don't you come outside for awhile and get some fresh air? You don't have to talk about what happened if you don't want to, but the others are going to be sharing their visions tonight."
"His body must recover. He should begin deep meditation as soon as he is physically capable. Such a gift should not be wasted on the ears of those who do not truly understand."
As usual, Harry had to make the choice between two extremes.
"Let me eat a bit and have some time to myself, and later I'll come out for some air."
Both centaurs nodded at his decision. The Jica'que smiled proudly at him before she left, and Sirius winked genially.
When they were both gone, Harry sighed heavily and massaged his temples. He had a terrible headache. The sounds of a fire being started and dinner being prepared drifted into the cave. Harry sat up and gratefully reached for the cold bowl of soup sitting nearby. He drank it slowly, practically hearing it splash into his empty stomach.
Sirius had been right about one thing. He was never fasting like that again.
When he went to put the bowl back down, something laying on the small table caught his eye. A single blue flower, crumpled as if he had held it tightly in his fist, lay delicately on the nightstand. He gently picked it up and brought it to his nose.
The sickly sweet scent of monkshood filled his nostrils. Repulsed, Harry forcefully flung it away from him. He wanted no more reminders of his dark vision. A shiver raced down his spine as he recalled the feel of the slippery teeth under his fingertips. He sat for a long time in the near darkness, staring at the innocuous flower, wondering what it all meant despite his intentions not to think of it again.
A/N: This is, obviously, the re-post of Colt. I apologize to those of you who didn't know what happened when the story vanished off the site. I did it in response to criticism that I felt needed to be seriously considered. I have attempted to write this, unlike the previous attempt, to the best of my ability. If this version is not up to standard, there's not a bloody thing I can do about it. I can't write any better than this. One of the things I've tried to do with this new version is to make the centaurs more "centaur-like." The older ones, including Severus (with the exception of Sirius) will be much more cryptic. I will spend more time describing the society of the centaurs. Harry is, hopefully, not so girly and more in-character. His relationship with Severus is not going to happen any time soon. It's going to be very slow in development, because as you will soon find out, the centaurs don't have an understanding of being "gay." This was a comment I received that made a lot of sense to me. Harry's relationship with Severus is going to be uncharted territory, and it's not going to be normal or accepted. In addition, I've tried to be very careful about grammatical errors. I don't have a beta reader, but if the person that made most of the criticisms I address here would be interested, my writing could only benefit from such honesty. If you are interested, please contact me by e-mail.