Some of you may have noticed that my username changed. If not, make note of it so you are not confused the next time you get a PM responding to a review (and thank you, by the way, to everyone that I couldn't respond to that way) or an author alert from me.
So, I know that the logical content of this chapter would be the Circle adjusting to Hogwarts/ dealing with the aftermath of Umbridge's visit/ looking at what has changed so far from the original book. But then my muse was like "NO. Harry/Circle bonding time" and I couldn't talk it out of that. So, here's whatever this is. The other stuff will be next update. On the plus side, things were getting a bit intense and now we get a bit of a break.
Squinting made things a little easier. With her eyes half closed, Tris could almost make out what she was fairly sure was a tree before the focus was lost again. Aside from that it was all still just a mess of greens and browns and blacks and flecks of everything else.
The swirling colors became too much, and her eyes watered and burned…
She slammed the window shut.
It had been three days since the first glimmers that she had seen on the wind. Three days going to classes where everyone stared at her and nothing anyone said about magic made any sense. Three days of trying to act like everything was fine and being a foreigner and avoiding the probing of her friends. Three days of stilling the breezes around her body to keep from being overwhelmed as much as she could and hating every second of it.
They were still there.
Tris paced around the dorm room, which was mercifully empty. She knew it was ridiculous to keep this to herself. Daja, Briar, and Sandry had put up with far stranger from her than the ability to see things floating around on the air. They had put up with her hearing things, making them hear things. They had seen sparks crawling out of her hair and furniture knocked over by wind.
Even worse, she could see that Daja was holding herself together well enough that no one else had even noticed anything was wrong, but she couldn't hide how pensive she still was from their bond. Knowing that Tris had seen something too might help her, and it might help the four of them work out what was happening. Instead, the others were starting to worry even more because of her withdrawal.
It didn't make sense, but every time the memories of the looks on the faces in the crowd came back…
She felt stuck.
So when Briar called her, she was happy for the distraction.
Even if she was annoyed about the location.
No answer. Not that he'd expected any.
He walked over to the window and peered through the curtains. Hagrid's cabin was as empty as it had been every other time he had come to look.
Harry had spent the morning at the Quiddich pitch. That one magnificent flight from the Dursley's to Grimmauld Place was not quite enough to work out all of the tension he'd been building since the start of summer. He'd been itching to spend a morning on his broom since he'd gotten back.
Being back was strange. Most people were unsure of what to make of him. He was getting twice as many stares as usual. The school seemed to be divided between those that still thought he was a nutter (he had noticed Seamus giving him strange looks), those that were starting to believe after the attack in Diagon Alley, and those that thought the school's new 'exchange students' were more interesting than him either way.
Harry sighed and tried to push his thoughts back. He was going to have to get on the broom again at this rate. Harry didn't know where Hagrid was, but since he probably wasn't going to be back that day he might as well go put his broom away before lunch.
He had just turned around and started walking back to the school when he spotted something far off in the distance. Harry squinted. The little spot of red hair and black robes slogging its way across the grounds was probably a first or second year – he knew at least that it wasn't anyone from fifth. Harry almost brushed it off, but then paused. There was something familiar about those short curls and that slightly-round frame.
It was Tris.
Harry debated calling out to her. He hadn't seen much of Grimmauld Place's unexpected guests in the last few days. They still needed to pretend that they didn't know each other. He'd spotted Sandry in the common room a few times with other first years though – she seemed to be good at making friends. He hadn't gotten more of glimpses of the other three at meals and in the halls since the Sorting.
Where was she going, anyway? It was Saturday, so she wouldn't have any classes to get to. Probably just exploring then. But what was she headed too? She wasn't even close to the cabin, and the greenhouses and Quidditch Pitch were the other way. The only thing over there was…
…The Forbidden forest.
Sure enough, Harry watched as Tris reached the treeline, took a quick look around (missing him), and disappeared inside.
Harry looked around for himself, almost hoping that there had been some other witness besides him. What should he do? Tell someone? Run in after her? Pretend he hadn't seen anything.
He didn't want to get her in trouble, but he also knew from experience that the forest wasn't a good place to go without a great reason.
Whatever she was doing in there, he decided, it probably wasn't any of his business. Tris and her friends were probably feeling a bit trapped already; she probably wouldn't appreciate him hovering over her. Besides, after everything he'd gotten up to at that age, he hardly had the right to tell her what to do.
And, sure, he'd run into Voldemort in the forest, and dragons, but those weren't really normal to find in there. Even though there were Death Eaters interested in Tris and her friends, he doubted they would be lurking on the grounds. All Tris would have to worry about were those massive bloody spiders of Hagrids, and getting run over by the rogue car, and the chance that she might run into a patch of Devil's Snare and not be able to get rid of it like Hermione did, and –
Harry had already grabbed his broomstick and started moving.
He kicked off into the air near where she had gone in. Tris had a good head start on him, and flying overhead would let him catch up. He scanned the trees below him, trying to find her through the branches.
It didn't take long. Tris was far from the stealthiest target he'd ever tracked. She grumbled mutinously to herself with words to faint for him to hear while plodding straight through the mud and tree roots (although he did notice her carefully step around small plants a couple times).
It was probably a good time to land and talk to her, but he still wasn't sure exactly what he should say.
Harry didn't know why he was following her like this. He'd wanted to get her away from the forest, not stalk her into it. But he couldn't help being curious. Tris definitely wasn't lost. Even when she had to stumble over what was on the ground, she kept going straight ahead.
He would just keep an eye on her, then. Let her do what she needed to, but stay close by in case she ran into trouble. She probably would. She looked like she was heading in deep.
After another ten minutes or so of crawling painfully slowly along through the air and staring down below, Tris ducked into an area with too many branches for Harry to see through and didn't pass through the other side. He hesitated for a while before he circled back and dropped down.
The bushes were thick where he landed. He crept around them quietly as he could until he found a gap big enough to see through.
Tris was standing in a relatively open patch off to the side of the path, staring down at something on the ground. It wasn't until he heard voices that he realized she wasn't alone.
Harry craned around further until he could spot the boy crouched down on the forest floor. Briar.
Was this a meeting they'd planned this meeting out ahead of time?
Harry felt even more unsure now if he should reveal himself. He hadn't needed to interact with Briar since he'd been put into Slytherin. Would that make talking to him somehow different? Briar had seemed alright at Grimmauld Place, but he could hardly say the same about any other Slytherin he knew. Then he remembered Sandry's rage at Ron when she'd overheard him, and quickly decided not to judge.
Tris sat down on a log near Briar and started picking at the ground with him.
Now that he thought about it, he hadn't even talked to either of them since Grimmauld Place, and then he hadn't even known they were coming to the school. He stayed where he was for a while, wondering if he should show himself and watching them work in silence.
Harry shifted, trying to take the weight off of his right leg. Something snapped under his foot. Briar's back went rigid.
Something slammed into him from behind and sent him sprawling face-first into the ground. Harry scrambled to get to his wand, but whatever it was wrapping hard ties around his wrists, ankles, neck and waist. He yelled and struggled in vain as he felt himself hauled up,
Before he could even work out what had happened, a voice cut through his struggles.
"What are you doing here?"
The bush he'd been looking through was parted. Briar and Tris were now starting back at him. Tris's hands arms were crossed in front of her as she waited for an answer.
Harry twisted his head around as much as he could. The bonds holding him were brown and green and rough, and his eyes ran up them from where they held one of his hands to back to where they were still connected to the tree behind him.
"Looking for you," he managed to get out eventually. His voice was more strangled-sounding than he would have liked it to be.
The branches holding him slowly loosened. Perhaps he was supposed to pull himself out carefully, but he still ended up dropping like a stone to the forest floor.
Harry got back up with as much grace as he could muster. He didn't manage to muster a lot.
"We should go," he said. It was all he could come up with to say.
Tris dismissively waved one hand towards Briar. Briar shrugged. "I got what I need."
He walked back to where then had been crouched down and came back with their bags, dropping one over Tris's shoulder and the other on his own. Tris staggered a bit under the weight before regaining her balance, but didn't break eye contact with Harry.
"Were you following me?"
Harry briefly considered lying before realizing that it wouldn't work. "Yes."
Tris stayed rigid long enough for Harry to start getting nervous. With one final glare, she turned and stormed off down the path. Briar stared after her for a moment.
"Show me the trick for gettin' past her some time," he muttered to Harry before following.
Not sure what else to do, and starting to regret coming down from the air, Harry grabbed his broomstick from where he'd dropped it and went after them.
"So," Briar called back over his shoulder, "why are you following us again?"
Harry briefly contemplated trying to explain his worry for Tris. He had a feeling it wouldn't be received well.
"You're not supposed to be in the forest."
"Why not? Going to rat on us?"
"No! And it's not safe."
"You're in the forest," Briar pointed out.
"How's it different?"
"Because I'm older!" he snapped, then immediately tried to backtrack. From what he could see of her face in profile, Tris looked downright mutinous. "No, wait – let me try that again. I mean – I've been in here before, so –"
Unfortunately, Tris chose that moment to speak up. "So if we left and then came back in it would be fine?"
"No! I meant that I know more about…"
That was when he noticed the wicked grins creeping their way onto the kids' faces. He shut up.
For a while, they kept going in silence. Harry eventually took the lead after they got to a part of the path that he recognized. He could feel Tris and Briar watching him, but felt a bit too nervous to try to look back.
Still, he couldn't stop listening to their footsteps behind him, making sure that they weren't being dragged off somewhere or running away. He had never felt so anxious in the forest before. Every rustle, every crack in the trees made him jump. What should he do if something jumped out at them?
"Are there wild horses in the forest?" Tris asked suddenly.
Harry twisted his head around to see her. Tris had paused on the path, staring straight ahead. Briar had stopped too. He watched her, eyes alert.
"Don't think so," Harry said, although there was probably a lot in the forest that he didn't know about. "Unicorns, but I don't think they'd come out now. Why?"
Tris's eyes started crossing and she squeezed them shut. "I smell horses."
"Oh," he said blankly. Then he heard the distant clattering from somewhere down the path, and the realization hit.
Without another word, he grabbed them both by the arms and yanked them off the path and into the bushes. They were surprised enough to let him.
He managed to get the three of them mostly tucked out of sight, forcing them in quickly enough that Tris's glasses were almost knocked off and even Briar couldn't avoid a scratch on his arm from a twig jutting out.
"What do you think you–"
He shushed them, just in time for the clattering to get louder.
Harry didn't recognize the three centaurs that slowed down near their hiding spot: a female with red-gold fur and two darker males. He could hear them muttering to each other in words he couldn't understand as they came to a stop, a little further down the path from them.
Briar and Tris thankfully stayed quiet, but their eyes were huge as they stared through the gaps in the leaves.
Harry didn't know how they hadn't been caught already. He was painfully aware of the handle of his broom poking through the leaves but worried about the sounds he would make if he tried to pull it back in.
Suddenly, it wasn't sticking out anymore.
His Firebolt didn't move, he realized. Their cover did. The branches of the bush were stretching, moving as if in caught in a breeze to reach over it. But there was no breeze. The air around them seemed almost unnaturally still, seeming to hold their breaths suspended in the air even as the leaves overhead waved lively.
Finally, the centaurs moved on down the path in the direction Harry, Tris, and Briar had come from, and the tension in the air dissipated. The two kids stayed where they were, stunned.
"They –" Briar tried eventually, then failed. He gestured vaguely around his waist.
"Centaurs," Harry told them. "Half human, half horse. Some are alright, but there are a lot that don't like people much. I think they usually leave kids alone though. I ran into some when I was about your age."
Unfortunately, Tris had recovered enough to pay attention. "So you were in here when you were our age."
Harry groaned as he made his way to his feet, and then reached down to help Tris and Briar up. They both latched onto a hand. Tris even grabbed the Firebolt on her way up and passed it to him once she was on her feet.
"Why are you two out here, anyway?" he finally asked. It felt safe enough now.
"Because he-" she jerked her head towards Briar, "ended up taking too much to fit in his bag, Sandry was busy, and Daja was bright enough to just say no."
"Taking what?" Harry asked. It felt like they were already on too-thin ice with the centaurs by just being here already to risk having Briar steal something from the forest.
The two kids looked at each other. Then Briar opened up the bag that he had slung over his shoulder.
At first, it just looked like he had just been grabbing as many leaves and flowers as he could manage and stuffing them in his bag. After another moment it still looked like that, but he realized that just how many different plants were included in the mostly-green jumble. There were even a few that he recognized from seeing their shrivelled-up versions in potions. He spotted ragwort, willow bark, and some juniper leaves and berries before the bag was closed.
"I grew back what I picked," Briar informed him. "Even cleared up a big patch of rot too."
It wasn't a justification that Harry could imagine any of the other Slytherin's that he'd met making. Then again, he couldn't really imagine Draco Malfoy going into the forest to get a bag of leaves either.
"What do you do with that stuff?" he asked.
Briar shrugged. "Make stuff out of what you get from them. Medicine, mostly. It's what green mages do."
"You don't need to make them yourself you know". Harry told him. You can get potions from the hospital wing if something happens."
Tris put her hands on her hips and scowled. "I made one of your wizard potions yesterday. It turned colours that made no sense with what was going in it and apparently if I drank it I would start forgetting things. If it's all the same to you, I'll stick to what Briar makes."
Harry could see her point.
"Are you sure you didn't pick anything dangerous?" He asked Briar.
Briar shrugged. "Any plant can be dangerous if you use it right."
That sounded a bit more like the Slytherins that Harry was used to. Smarter than Crabbe and Goyle, but still.
Tris elbowed him when she spotted the look on Harry's face. "He meant 'wrong'".
"We left what I didn't know and what wiggled on its own alone." Briar went on, ignoring the interruption.
They walked in silence again for a minute or so. Harry hoped they were heading in the right direction. He wondered if he could get all three of them on his broom if they needed to.
"So I get that the horse-people don't like kids from the school coming in," Briar spoke up, "but what else makes this place so 'forbidden' anyway?"
Seeing a chance to save face a little, Harry started listing off as many reasons to stay out of the forest that he could think of.
"-and then there's these giant spiders as big as the centaurs-"
"Giant spiders?!" Tris squeaked, after being totally unfazed by his talking about his run-ins Voldemort and Dementors. She looked around frantically at the surrounding trees and quickly stepped closer to Briar, who rolled his eyes and muttered, "Like a giant spider could take you on". She glared at Harry when she noticed his grin.
"Sorry," Harry said. "It's just…if that's your response, you should try talking to Ron sometime."
"If the forest is so bad, why are you here?" Briar asked.
Harry's face went a bit red. His reason for coming felt a little ridiculous now. He knew them well enough to realize that they wouldn't like his explanation if it sounded like he was babying them. And really, Harry would have just gotten them caught by the centaurs if they hadn't been able to think so quickly.
Still, they were probably too smart to buy 'just going for a walk' as an excuse.
Muttering, Harry finally got out, "I saw Tris going in here and got worried she wouldn't know what she was walking into."
Tris and Briar looked at each other. Something unspoken passed between them before Tris turned back to face Harry straight on.
"So," she mused aloud, "you followed me into the forest knowing that you would be put in danger and possibly get in trouble while hiding the whole time because you thought I probably wouldn't want you watching me, to give me a warning about something that I probably already knew, all because you were worried that we would run into something that our power couldn't deal with?"
Now Harry felt even more stupid. Of course the two of them could handle themselves. Even though he had never seen them use much of their magic himself, he knew that they had taken out a nest of Death Eaters with no trouble.
He couldn't quite read the look in their eyes.
"What?" Harry couldn't help sounding a bit defensive.
"Sorry," Tris said. "It's just…if that's your response, you should try talking to Sandry sometime."
Briar snorted out a laugh as the two of them walked ahead. Something about their tone and the way that they had looked at him left Harry unsure if he was being mocked or if he had just been given a huge compliment.
He thought it might be a bit of both.
It wasn't until he was in bed that night that Harry started wondering about how Tris had known to go to the Forbidden Forest right when Briar ended up with too much to carry.
Probably not what you were expecting, but I hope you enjoyed anyway. It's a bit weird switching who tries to be a grown-up to who between writing both my stories, but fun. I think the Circle is going to be better at it, eventually. Although to be fair, I think Tris and Briar at 12ish are harder to baby than Harry at 6.
Did you know there are no lady centaurs in any Harry Potter source? I'm not sure they exist, but if there aren't any I don't want to think about how a horse-human hybrid might reproduce. That would be an awkwardly shaped foetus though, so maybe I'll just picture them growing on trees.
(My apologies for the above musings. Please review.)