The Arrows of Outrageous Fortune
Yesterday is smoke and steam and sand
All those demons hold me where I stand
This road could lead me back where I began
If I only know the way…
Enter the Haggis, "Whistleblower"
Peter found himself awake again at first light. He pulled on a pair of running shorts, a pair of low heel socks and some sneakers. Trainers, reminded himself. The British term was more appropriate, in any event - it would be hard for someone of his size and mass to do much sneaking, anyway. He shook the cobwebs from his head and wondering if it would be possible to get a cup of coffee. He had introduced himself to his other roommates the night before, and they had been full of questions. He'd called on the mindlink with Rachel in desperation, would had in turn patched him into Kitty and Illyana. Kitty said that he was worrying too much, that inconsistencies had little chance of exposing them, unless they caught the attention of Rita Skeeter when she appeared on the scene. He did not entirely share her confidence, particularly when Rachel mentioned the grilling that she'd gotten from Hermione Granger, who had gone looking for a mention of their school in the library. In that case, Dumbledore had apparently come to their rescue, inserting a small mention of Westchester Institute into a book on American schools of Wizardry; he apparently was well aware of the girl's curiosity and had taken some measure to satiate it.
He found his way to a passageway out the rear of the castle. He took a few minutes to stretch, focusing on his breathing, and looked to his left, where the Quidditch field stood in the distance. It might be serviceable enough, but doing laps around a stadium would make for a boring run. Instead, he started off at a slow jog towards the forest looming to the right. He briefly considered the warning from the Opening Feast, but discounted the danger. The children, he recalled, had been in the so-called Forbidden Forest multiple times over the course of the movies, and he didn't remember any significant peril. He lengthened his stride, his long legs moving easily in the early morning light despite the uneven ground.
He lost himself in the joy of the run, listening to the sounds of surrounding woods. He'd never completely understood the desire of Kitty to run with her music player and headphones, to block out her surroundings. His own reverie, however, caused him to miss the threat, until a harsh voice called out for him to stop.
"Humans are not permitted in this woods," said the figure, stepping out from behind a tree. Peter cursed himself for forgetting; he'd just watched the first movie a couple days ago, and there had been a CGI representation of them. The centaur drawing an arrow was no computer fakery, and the look of distaste on his face made it clear just how unwelcome the X-man was. The front hooves pawed at the ground.
"I did not mean to intrude," Peter began.
The centaur spat. "You foals are always flouting the lore."
Two other centaurs emerged from the darkness, arrows nocked and ready, their demeanor no more welcoming than the first.
"An example needs to be made," one said, "and it holds no wand."
"Quickly," said the other, "It is large enough that we can claim to have mistaken it for an adult. We will have to apologize to their Minister, but the warning will be there."
Peter steadied himself.
"I have no quarrel with you," Peter said, "but if pressed, I will defend myself."
"Hah, foolish posturing. Even if it has a wand, our arrows would fell it before it could wield it against us."
Peter spread his hands, to show that he was, indeed, unarmed. "I require none. If you would strike at an unarmed man, well, the choice is yours, as are the consequences. If you are able to kill me..."
"If!" came a derisive laugh.
"If," he affirmed. "Then you will certainly face an inquiry, from both the school, the Ministry, and my friends. And, frankly, it is the last you should fear most. But should you proceed in this course of action, will the burden not fall on all your people? I know of prejudice, and lashing out does nothing but make things much, much worse for you. You will be justifying their hatred, and they will hate you still more. Such a cycle must be broken."
"What do you know of it?"
"More than you could ever know."
"It lies," a centaur said. "It is a wizard, after all."
"A... muggleborn... wizard," Peter replied, hoping they knew of the bigotry against those with non-magical ancestry. "And I believe I have treated you with courtesy, and would hope you would return the favor as a fellow sentient being."
"Nevertheless," the largest said.
He reacted reflexively, conditioned to react in an instant to the telepathic warning. It was by microseconds, then, that arrows impacted against organic steel instead of penetrating into flesh.
Peter couldn't help himself – he smiled. Compared to the normal foes the X-men faced, an arrow, even one shot by the prodigious strength of the centaurs, seemed almost quaint. And the confusion in their faces was somewhat amusing as well. "I did say I was able to defend myself, and you can probably see the futility of attacking me."
The first centaur seemed unimpressed, drawing back his bowstring and loosing another arrow, which struck Peter directly in his left eye with uncanny accuracy.
He screamed in pain, hands flying to his face.
The arrow had not penetrated, but it had hurt him badly. While his armored skin was able to resist laser cannons and tank shells with impunity, his eyes had always been slightly more vulnerable. The Beast – Dr. Hank McCoy – had once estimated that they'd be able to resist a direct hit from a .45 caliber bullet, but Peter had not counted on the sheer power behind that arrow.
He raged. He lashed out at a foot thick tree beside him, felling it with a mighty blow in the direction of the centaur that had wounded him. The creature pranced backwards with a cry of alarm. Colossus grabbed the tree in both hands and swung it at his foes, tangling two of them in its limbs, and sending the last off in a full gallop.
"I. Will. Crush. You," he snarled through gritted teeth.
*Peter, no!* came Rachel's telepathic cry.
"They deserve no less," he said.
And then Kitty was before him, speaking to him. "No, Peter, not this."
"Katya?" he asked, momentarily distracted from his vengeance. "They hurt me, Katya."
"I know," she said, "and we need to get you back to the castle to see how bad it is."
"It can wait." His voice was cold, and it chilled the centaurs he'd captured. "I have something to do first."
"You're better than this, Peter. Please stop."
He'd raised the tree, preparing to thrust it forward and skewer the centaurs, but paused at his fiancé's words. He found himself straining against himself, his muscles seeming to push forward without input from his conscious mind.
"I… cannot, Katya," his voice came, weakly. "I am trying, but…" The cries of shock and pain rang hollowly in his ears, even as he struggled for control of himself. There was a crack, the sound of bones breaking, and he could dimly see a branch poke into the flank of one of the centaurs, blood welling up from the wound.
*Sorry, Kate, gotta take this one.* came Rachel's thought, and Kitty abruptly disappeared. She'd never been there, he thought in a remote part of his mind, but had been a telepathic projection. And then he felt his muscles start to lock. *Don't fight me, big guy. You'll just hurt yourself.*
*I am not… fighting you.* he thought back, but his muscles continued to strain.
*No, I see that. You're fighting yourself.* Rachel noted. *Looks like I'm gonna have to be a bit more direct.*
With that, he felt the earth beneath his feet heave, lifting him up and throwing both him and the tree backwards, away from the two creatures. Again his thoughts filled with a red, incoherent rage that shocked Rachel.
*I'm sorry Peter, but I have to do this.* And from that corner of his mind, Piotr Nikolaievitch Rasputin watched as she turned his mind off.
Senior Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic Dolores Jane Umbridge strode purposely into her office, her nose wrinkling at an unfamiliar odor.
"Clarkson!" she called, "Get in here!"
A tall youth hurried to her side, "Yes, Madam?"
Umbridge froze. "Madame what?"
"Madam Senior Undersecretary," he said quickly, "My apologies, Madam Senior Undersecretary." Not getting on her bad side was the very first thing he'd learned when he had been given this internship.
"Fine, fine,' she said, dismissively, "Now can you tell me what you smell in my office?"
Clarkson inhaled deeply, and began to choke. He gasped, "Sulfur, Madam Senior Undersecretary. And brimstone, if I'm not mistaken."
"And what is it doing in my office?"
"I do not know, Madam Senior Undersecretary," he answered. "Shall I call for someone from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement?"
She shook her head, "Not yet, Clarkson. I will not have them traipsing through my office, with their dirty boots and clumsy ways. They would certainly disturb my darlings." She indicated the collection of kitten plates along the walls. She took out her short wand, and, with a wave, muttered a spell. "No magic has been done here. Probably some goblin sent a stink bomb. Ungrateful wretches."
"But Madam Senior Undersecretary, your door was fastened secure-"
"Never mind what you think, Clarkson. I'm sure that must be it. You are dismissed." She moved to a window and opened it, allowing the stench to be filtered out by the light breeze. Moving to her desk, she saw an envelope, addressed to her in an extravagant hand.
To Madam Dolores Jane Umbridge, it read. She opened the envelope.
My dear Madam Senior Undersecretary,
The stellar work that you have been doing for the Wizarding Community at large has come to our attention, and we are loathe to see such effort go unrewarded. We
would thus be honored if you would join us as guest of honour at our third annual awards ceremony on 30 September of this year, to be held at Number 13, North Lambeth
R.S.V.P. by owl at your earliest convenience.
Mrs. Amanita Paddock
Director, Thaumaturgical Order of Alchemical Divination
She scoffed at the notice. Surely they were of no great standing if she hadn't heard of them, and were probably trying to use her proximity to the Minister to improve their own social prominence. She crumpled the paper and tossed it into the fireplace, where it promptly vanished with a flash.
She idly scratched her cheek as she turned her attention to the next piece of mail.
"Did she read it?" Lupin asked when Kurt reappeared at his side.
"Ja," he answered. He'd been able to secret himself in the shadows of an alley across from her office. "She did not seem to fall for the fake award, though."
Lupin smiled, "That's all right. Just holding the letter is all the fine dusting of Zonko's Insta-wart Powder – with slight modifications – needs to do it's duty."
"That's the spirit!"
"That's the best I can do," came a familiar, feminine voice.
"It should do," spoke another, an older man. "Poppy should be able to repair any residual damage."
Peter forced himself awake. His body ached all over, and there was a sharp pain in his left eye. His hand drifted up towards his face and found that the eye was bound tightly shut by a bandage.
"Leave it be, Peter," Kitty said, her voice tinged with concern. "There's a lot of damage - Ray did what she could, using her teke to reconstruct the shape of your eye, but we need to get you to the Hospital Wing to make sure you don't lose your vision."
His sister spoke with a laugh, "I dunno if that's such a bad thing. Makes him look rakish, don't you think? A real Pirate Colossus for your Pirate Kitty."
"I do not recall an eyepatch in Katya's story," Peter said, wincing.
"He didn't have one. And I'd prefer the real thing to stay that way too."
"And now, if you would please excuse us. I believe you do have Transfiguration class to attend, and it does not do to be late to Professor McGonagall's class. I would have words with Mr. Rasputin here, if I may."
Dumbledore waited as the three made their goodbyes. with Rachel apologizing again for having taken control of his body, Illyana slugging him lightly on his shoulder, and Kitty planting a quick kiss on his cheek. It wasn't until after they'd left his office and the portal closed behind them that he spoke again. "We are quite used to students flouting the rules here. Usually no harm comes from it, although Mr. Potter and his friends do seem to exhibit the most remarkable talent for mayhem in this regard. But your actions are of a different level. You have wounded members of the herd of centaurs of the Forbidden Forest, you've broken their bones and, most regretfully, have shed their blood. There will likely be demands, I fear, made to the Ministry. And you have revealed your rather peculiar abilities, which will doubtless be revealed in the course of the investigation."
"But they attacked me-!" Peter started to protest, the anger rising again. He fought for control. "No. I am responsible for my actions. I... apologize, Headmaster."
The wizard nodded gravely. "Indeed. All is not lost, I hope. Your adversaries acted without sanction, and none of their wounds should be fatal."
"Should be?" he asked, weakly.
"I do not believe the injuries were too severe. Had you broken a leg…" Dumbledore mused, "Centaurs are half horse, my boy. While not as vulnerable as a pure equine due to their skill at medicine and their own sorts of magic, it is not an inconsequential thing. When we have your eye seen to, you and I will visit their village, whereupon you will issue a sincere apology for your actions."
Peter paused for a moment, before nodding his assent.
"I must say, though, I was taken aback by the ferocity of your response. Your Professor described you X-men as, well, heroes is a bit ostentatious, don't you think, but the concept was there in his words."
"It's…" Peter hesitated. He did not like to talk about his heritage, when he learned that he was descended from the mad monk Grigori Rasputin, and that with the help of Mr. Sinister, the man had projected his consciousness down his genetic line. Now only he and his brother Mikhail had remained. Well, his sister, too, but she had been disembodied for years, and thus had seemingly escaped the curse. But since Sinister was involved – and since it seemed like his ancestor had some connection to this Wizarding World, perhaps silence was not the best policy. "I have… some secrets, Headmaster. I would appreciate if I could tell you in confidence, in case they have some bearing on this."
"Certainly. Word will not leave this room, unless absolutely vital to the security of my school."
"Da, that is acceptable." And so he told him what he knew, how he had to fight the madness and the rage. "I can only imagine," he continued, "that it is not in Rasputin's interest to have me killed, which would trap him alone in the void with my brother, so he forced the rage on me. I was unprepared for the onslaught. I will work with Rachel to fortify my mental defenses so he cannot so overwhelm me again."
"That seems the best course, although the idea does intrigue me. I may do some research of my own – perhaps there are some magics he had learned at Durmstrang that went into the final process, and I may find something that will alleviate this curse of yours. But now, if you would just transfigure yourself from your armored form, we can have your eye attended to properly. There's an ointment on the bandage that should take effect immediately to dull any discomfort once you've regained flesh and blood."
The Russian focused, trying to blot out the pain, and triggered his mutation. With a flash, he was human again, and the pain returned to his eye with an explosion of sensation, before diminishing as the professor's poultice did its work. He steadied himself, and then rose.
"Follow me, my lad, and we'll see if we can't undo this kerfuffle with all due speed."
"Already?" Madam Pomfrey said, with a heavy sigh of resignation. "I suppose children will be foolish no matter what side of the pond they are on." Her steely glare as she removed the bandage was intimidating. "The treatment – dittany?" she asked Dumbledore.
"And fennel and yarrow, along with a touch of some more obscure ingredients."
She nodded her approval. "Perhaps one day you'll see fit to share the recipe. As for now," she leaned Peter's head back and pulled back the eyelid, "I've got some drops that will ease the bruising. He'll be good as new in the morning, doubtless to hit his head into something else."
The nurse seemed to accept the excuse that he'd managed to catch the tip of a broomstick in his eye, causing the bruise. She applied the drops and gave him a new eyepatch to wear, telling him, "Rest it for this evening, and do try to be more careful."
"I will, Madam," he said, gratefully. "Thank you."
"Just try not to make a habit of this." She turned to Dumbledore, "Headmaster, should we contact his guardians? It's not a major injury, but I understand things can be different in the States."
"I will make any necessary communication, Poppy, thank you," he answered. "Now, if you'll excuse us, I would like to return Mr. Rasputin to his class schedule. I am most appreciative of your excellent ministrations, as always."
With that, he beckoned to Peter, and they left the Hospital Wing. Once out of earshot, Peter found himself asking, "I had thought that our next step was to go to the centaurs?"
"It is, my boy," the wizard answered. "I do indeed intend to get you back to your classes, but we will make a quick jaunt to the woods first."
Patience. It did not come easily. No, not after all this time. Today that patience had been lacking, and all could have been lost. No obstacles could be allowed, not now. The goal was in sight, mere months away.
Impatience was another enemy to be overcome. There would be time in the future to address all these wrongs.
Professor Dumbledore stood in the clearing with Peter, surrounded by a dozen centaurs. His tone was conciliatory as he spoke, "And the boy has come to apologize for his intrusion and for the harm he has caused to your people."
"Blood was drawn, Wizard. Recompense must be made."
"And he shall make it,' the Headmaster said, "Or I shall, in his stead. What is your price?"
"Talk of payment must wait," said one, the leader, "There are dire portents afoot, and whatever our herd may feel about humans, even we cannot ignore the warnings of the stars."
The Professor inclined his head politely, "I would receive the wisdom of the herd gladly, honored Magorian."
The centaur grunted. "We tell you this for our own sake. When your world explodes in violence, it oftentimes spills over onto us, and I cannot allow that to happen if it is in my power to prevent such a catastrophe. You know that our grasp of matters astrological is far beyond your ken, so realize the seriousness of this – the stars have changed their meaning."
Dumbledore looked shocked, "I do not follow – do you mean your interpretations have been altered?"
"No, you do not understand. A new object has been spotted in the night sky. A comet, perhaps. But it speaks of terrible changes in the forthcoming year. A great evil is on the rise, and its shadow is here, on these grounds, hidden in the shadow of one you may call friend. It will betray you, and seek to undo all in its search for power. Be warned then, lest it slay you."
The wizard nodded, stroking his beard. "I will heed your advice, proud Magorian. And as for recompense for your wounded, I offer, say, one hundred galleons?"
"Keep you money," spat another centaur.
"Bane, hold your tongue," the leader said, "But we have little need for gold. But I fear you are too soft-hearted to face the oncoming storm, and we do need to prepare. Three score of arrowheads, and we will let the matter drop."
"Done," said Dumbledore, almost absently, "Provided they not be used on students."
"Done," reiterated Magorian, "Your foals shall be safe so long as they do not attack first."
"Agreed," he answered, "And I will ensure this one – and his friends, do not enter your Forest again. Come Peter."
The pair left, the Headmaster moving swiftly through the trees and Peter following behind, almost running to keep up.
"I wonder," said Peter, "if the centaurs were trying to warn you about the fake Professor Moody, perhaps?"
Dumbledore looked back at him strangely, "Fake Moody? Now why would you think Alastor is a fake?"
"It was in the mov-," he started to reply. Of course, he thought, the Professor would not be able to remember such details. "Ah, my apologies, Headmaster. I had thought… he is the new person at Hogwarts this year, is he not? And I will vouch for my friends."
"Ah yes, but you do have this infection by your ancestor," countered the wizard, "although this is now a known issue, and thus one that I can clearly take steps to monitor, and to counteract if need be."
Peter nodded his assent. He hadn't thought of that. In a sense, he was endangering things if he could not stamp down the influence of the Mad Monk on his thoughts.
"And now, unless I'm mistaken, we should have just enough time to get you to your first Muggle Studies class. Do convey my salutations to Professor Burbage, will you?" The professor smiled warmly, the grim thoughts of a potential traitor seemingly forgotten. "You will, of course, need your supplies for class, and, of course, proper attire. Accio!"
Taken aback by the sudden change in the man's behavior, Peter scarcely had time to react as a satchel came flying towards him. He caught it by the strap, and opened it. Inside, neatly folded, were his school clothes, some parchment, quills and ink, and his Muggle Studies textbook. "Thank you, Headmaster…"
Professor Dumbledore, however, was already gone.
"Over here, Piotr!" his sister called from the Muggle Studies class. She was sitting next to Cedric, and had an open seat on her other side. He moved to join her.
"What did you do?" Cedric asked, indicating the eye patch.
"My brother can be such a klutz sometimes," Illyana chimed in. "We were going to try out your Quidditch pitch this morning, just to keep our hand in, y'know? And Peter here takes a broom to his eye! I mean, he still has the bruise from banging his head downstairs, and now he's got to wear an eyepatch. Couldn't you just die?"
Cedric blinked at her, taking a moment to process her rapid-fire delivery. "So, you play Quidditch, then?"
"Er," Peter began, before his sister laid a hand on his arm.
"You bet!" she said, brightly, "Though we don't have enough players for a whole Cup like you have here. 'Swhy we don't play Quodpot either, 'cause who wants a ball that explodes in your face, y'know?"
"I've never played it."
"That's right, you're a Seeker on your House team, right? Hard to imagine a tall guy like you playing Seeker."
Cedric nodded, "It was touch and go there, actually. I'd originally tried out for Chaser. Say, maybe this weekend you and your friends would like to have a friendly game? We can probably scrounge up enough players for a full game."
"Snowflake, I do not know-", Peter began.
"We'd be delighted. I'll grab Kitty and Rachel and we'll be there! Just tell Peter when, ok?"
Peter frowned, but there was no time to argue as class was starting. He smiled at the class project for the year – to assemble a working, internal combustion engine. He'd taken enough classes at the Institute, and while he wasn't a gear head like Scott, he decided that this would be a much easier class than Potions.
Later that night, the four X-men had assembled in the Room of Requirement.
"What do you mean, you agreed that we would all play this stupid game this weekend?" Rachel was furious. She had struggled in her first Transfiguration class and hadn't like the experience. Now she had been told of Cedric's invitation to a friendly Quidditch match, and it had not gone well. "I have a crapload of homework to do, and who the hell determines essay length by literal inches?"
"You'll be fine, Rachel, and who knows, this could be fun!" Kitty was fairly enthusiastic. She was fairly athletic as it was, and her time as one of the pitchers in any given X-men baseball game led to her assignment as one of the Chasers. "What'll they get a load of my curve Quaffle."
"Peter can be keeper, he's used to defending stuff, and Rachel will be a Chaser with Kitty. I'll be a Beater. My good old Soulsword arm should come in handy."
"Do we not need a Seeker?" Peter asked.
Illyana laughed, "Oh, we can tell them that none of us played Seeker at home. Now, let's see what this room can do!" With her thought, the Room of Requirement seemed to expand in size, taking on the appearance of a Quidditch pitch. Brooms, Quaffles and Bludgers appeared at their feet. She grabbed a broom, climbed aboard and took off into the air. "Come on!"
Peter sighed, and hoped that he wouldn't do anything that warranted another trip to Madam Pomfrey's.
Three hours later, exhausted from their practice, they snuck out of the Room, drenched in sweat and covered with bruises. Peter had struggled as Keeper, his depth perception impaired by the patch. Rachel had found herself liking the experience more than she thought she would, and ended up being a better flyer than Illyana, a fact that she was happy to rub in the blonde's face. It was all Peter and Kitty could do to keep the Russian girl from spending the rest of the night practicing.
"But I'm the witch, well, the sorceress, but whatever, in real life! I should be the best!" she whispered fiercely as the walked back under a telepathic cloak of invisibility.
"They don't know that," Kitty responded, "And hush!"
The route was circuitous, winding from Ravenclaw tower, down to the basement to drop off Illyana in the Slytherin dungeon, and over to Hufflepuff's entrance for Piotr.
"Thank you, Rachel," he said, "I wish you and my sister could get along better. Katya has room enough in her heart for both of you."
"Says the guy who gave her a ring," Rachel said dryly, but with a slight smile. "It's probably my imagination, but 'Yana seems to be trying extra hard to get my goat lately. Maybe I'm doing the same. Who knows? Guess it would be easier on you if we could be like you, Kurt and Logan, huh?"
"Da," he agreed, "But we ourselves did not always get along so well. Wolverine and I had many, many differences when we first joined the X-men."
"Perhaps there's hope for us yet, then," she said, "Good night, Peter."
"Good night, Rachel."
He stumbled to the showers, and let the waters sluice off the days exertions, mindful to not get his eyepatch wet. Cursing himself for not having thought ahead, he managed to use a scourgify spell on his running clothes, and headed off to bed.
No excuses, sorry about the delay. Will try to do better. All characters owned by Marvel and JK Rowling respectively. Have a wonderful 2013!