It's late, loves, and I'm tired, so I'll just remind people of disclaimers and answer questions if they come up. Thanks to C.S. Lewis, who inspires me with what centaurs ought to be and to the Greek mythology that inspired him. And apologies for giving Neville a cockney accent. Apparently, his language lessons went out the window when he got upset. Enjoy, everyone.

Ladymage Samiko ; )

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Listen for My Heart

Part 11 ~ The Dance of Pluto and Mars

In the following days, Professor Snape was far too busy to see much of his fellow teacher. Certainly too busy to notice that she had taken to wearing her new robes nearly every day. He continued as he normally did: stalking the cooridors at night, terrorizing his students during the day, and brooding in his chair by the fire at any other time.

Not once did Eiluneth seek him out. Which was probably just as well. Or would have been if Silca would stop nagging him. Ah, well. Life was never perfect.

He never noticed that she continued to be pale and slightly haggard. Nor did he notice the evening when she decided to take a walk to the Forbidden Forest. And, being in his classroom, grading papers, he definitely did not see Draco Malfoy follow her a few minutes later or Neville Longbottom stumble after both.

Eiluneth was but a few steps from the Forest, no more than five minutes from a long talk with Darius, when she was stopped by a voice hailing her. She turned to see Draco taking a few hurried steps to catch up with her. What she did not see was the hooded wizard behind her, leveling his wand and whispering a few quick words. After that, the most she would see for some time was blackness.

Neville wasn't sure why Miss Pierce was leaving the castle, but he thought little of it until he noticed Draco following her. While it wasn't late enough for students to be restricted to their towers, it was late enough that they shouldn't be wandering outside. And the fact that it was Draco, without his usual goons with him, was all the more suspicious. Miss Pierce could take care of herself, but he thought he should follow in case he needed to warn her. There was no telling what Malfoy might try.

He was breathless by the time the two of them stopped to talk. Panting, he latched on to a nearby tree for support. Still, he didn't miss the Death Eater who appeared behind Miss Pierce and caught her as she fell unconscious to the ground. He stared in horror, unable to move as the two figures disappeared into the forest beyond and then the air above.

Neville was able to move by the time Draco chose to turn around, a self-satisfied smirk decorating his pasty face. It didn't change when he saw the other boy; anyone knew Neville couldn't even stand up without directions. And so, he was truly surprised when Neville leapt at him with a snarled, "You ruddy bastard! You damn bloody traitor!" and proceeded to try to whale the tar out of him.

Neville was equally surprised when a heavy hand plucked him off the other boy, who scrambled backwards, staring over Neville's shoulder in fear. Slowly turning his head, he gulped at the stern face presented him and the body the melded into that of a horse below.

"There is no time for this, boy," the deep voice boomed. "He will be dealt with later. Now, we must hurry. Pluto and Mars dance close tonight." Neville felt himself tossed almost negligently backwards, though he landed neatly on the centaur's back. He then held on for dear life as the centaur made for the castle at a full gallop.

A centaur is much faster than any normal sort of horse and it seemed like mere seconds before they reached the heavy doors of Hogwarts castle. With no more than a brief, "Hold on," as a warning, Neville clutched desperately, his legs losing any sort of grip, as the centaur reared, breaking through the doors with little effort. The few students and professors—not to mention the ghosts—still about stared at the sight of a full-grown centaur racing through the halls of Hogwarts with a very small, very scared Neville on his back. Hogwarts was not known for normality, but this was something that had yet to happen in anyone's memory.

It seemed, though, that the centaur knew precisely where he was going, making precise turns in the hallways with not even a second's hesitation. Neville's teeth jarred as they clambered determinedly down stairs. He was so distracted by the ride that he did not notice their destination until they arrived at the door and the centaur broke the wards with no more difficulty than opening any normal door.

Snape looked up when he heard the clamor at the door of his classroom, assuming—since nobody else was inclined to make such a noise in this part of the castle—that Dumbledore was attempting once again to roust him out of his lair. He was therefore dumbfounded when he saw not the headmaster at the back of the room, but a centaur, and Neville Longbottom tumbling off his back. "Darius?" he finally managed to query, his voice slightly sardonic. "What brings you to this God-forsaken corner of the world?"

"The boy has something to say," he rumbled in reply, unperturbed.

"Well?" Snape gave Neville the look that could freeze the sun. Surprisingly, the boy managed to speak.

"They took 'er, Professor," he blurted out. "The Death Eaters, I mean. I saw 'em. They took Miss Pierce. She were goin' to the Forbidden Forest and Draco went after 'er and I followed 'im and 'e stopped 'er and a Death Eater came up be'ind 'er and she fell and 'e carried 'er off on a broom."

"Are you sure?" he demanded, noting somewhere in the back of his mind the ruins panic had made of the boy's diction.

"Yes, Professor." Snape looked to Darius for confirmation. The centaur nodded briefly.

"And you?" Snape questioned, damping down all reaction behind his usual mask. "What brings you here, Darius? Centaurs are notorious for their non-interference."

Darius remained unmoved, his face as expressionless as Snape's own. After a long moment, he answered simply, "Pluto and Mars dance close, tonight."

Apparently, the phrase meant more to Snape than it did to Neville, for the boy saw the professor's face immediately lose all color, turning an even more ghastly grayish shade, though the expression didn't change. "Are you sure?" Snape asked urgently.

"Pluto and Mars dance close tonight," the centaur repeated, before turning calmly and walking out the door.

"Damned cryptic centaurs!" Snape swore under his breath, before he remembered that Neville was still in the room. "Well, what are you waiting for, boy?" he snapped. "Get back to your bedamned common room!"

There was a quiet second as the boy stood still, plainly gathering himself together. "No, sir," he replied quietly.

"What?" Snape stared at the boy incredulously.

Neville paused again. "Professor, Miss Pierce is the first person here who's really helped me. I mean. . . well. . . now I can do things. For the first time, I actually have a chance at passing my NEWTS. And she's the reason. I can't just sit here, sir, when she needs help."

Snape stared at the boy in astonishment. A modicum of respect crept into his opinion of Longbottom. Perhaps the boy would make something of himself after all. . . But still. . . "Very well," he consented. "But you must realize that there are things you cannot do and places you cannot go. You don't have the knowledge or the skill to face Voldemort and his followers directly. It must be done quickly and carefully. I will have no time to nurse you along, as well."

"Just tell me what to do, sir," Neville replied quietly.

"Run and fetch the Headmaster. Tell him what has happened. Then go back to your tower and tell Potter I need to speak with him. And tell him to bring that invisibility cloak I know he has hidden away somewhere. Bring both of them to the base of the astronomy tower. But let no one--and I mean no one, boy--come up. I will be working to try and find Miss Pierce and I must not be interrupted. I will come down as soon as I've located her. Do you understand, boy?"

"Yessir," Neville said quickly before sprinting through the door. Severus watched him for a split second before he whirled around to enter his workroom. He had supplies to gather and not a moment to lose.

A bare ten minutes found him atop the astronomy tower, hair and robes swirling slightly in the cold breeze that played through the stone spires of the castle. With unsteady hands, Snape opened the box he had brought with him. He pulled out the four candles that lay within and placed them around the edge of the deck. Settling himself in the center, he closed his eyes. "Please," he whispered, "if there is a god or some other higher power--whoever you are--please let this work." He opened his eyes again and stared at the candle in front of him. To be sure, he wasn't quite sure what he was supposed to be doing. He didn't like the feeling. With a final deep breath, he muttered, "Fiat lux." The white candle sparked into flame.

'The ancient word for "illumination," Professor.' Her voice seemed to whisk by him on the wind. 'Now breathe in. Out. In. Out.' The words she had spoken when they first Listened together. . . So what he had to do now was Listen. Snape closed his eyes and followed the now well-worn path in his mind. His senses spiraled outward, searching for any hint of Eiluneth, looking for anything that would signal her presence. He nearly screamed in frustration as he found nothing within his limited range; he could barely go past Hogsmeade.

Another mutter, this one as loud as if he had shouted, lit the second candle: "Strength." Almost immediately, his mind shot outwards, covering unimaginable distances in his search for the lost woman-child. Farther than he could ever have imagined going. Still, there was not the slightest sound that led him to her.

The third candle, "Wisdom." 'You see, my problem is that I don't know what I'm looking for.' And a second later, the fourth candle, "Good Things."

'Listen for the sound of your heart. . . listen for the sound of my heartbeat.'

The whisper barely sounded in his ears. 'Listen for the sound of my heartbeat. . .' The nearly forgotten memory of that night months past caught him up and almost involuntarily pulled his senses once again from Hogwarts out into the night.