A/N: Sorry for the delay and thanks for all the reviews! Might repost chapter 1-3 later on (hope no one minds for those on email alert).
The creak of the metal chain rang out as he swung his legs back and forth on the swing. Laughter from the other children filled his ears, a stark reminder of his exclusion from their games. With his head hung down, he continued to sit by himself. Eventually, the momentum of the swing gradually slowed to a halt.
Dudley's ninth birthday had come and passed. His relatives, indulgent as they ever were, decided to throw Dudley a grand party. And like every other of his cousin's birthday, he'd been left alone with Mrs. Figg. Every year was the same, and he adamantly told himself that he no longer cared whether he was there or not.
Yet today, in a show of 'good will', Aunt Petunia had allowed Dudley and him to play in the park. Thankfully, his cousin had immediately run off once they arrived. Free from his cousin, he soon took to the swings since no one seemed particularly attracted to it. Most of the kids in the park were either busy chasing each other or playing a game of conkers. And once again, he was unwelcomed to join them, but he was used to the solitude by now.
Startled, he swiftly looked up. A girl with curly blond hair was standing right next to him. She wore a very light purple dress, a colour so reminiscent of his aunt's potted flowers. It seemed his stare lasted far longer than he thought because she repeated her greeting again unsurely. A light flush painted his cheeks, and he tried to brush his fringe to cover his scar.
"Um, hello." He was uncertain why she would approach him. Every other kid from the neighborhood knew well enough to steer clear from him; his relatives had made certain of that.
Her smile was wide as she raised a red ball in between her hands. "Do you want to play? I just moved here a few days ago with my family, and my dad told me to go outside and have fun. I wanted to ride my bike, but it's broken so I took my ball instead," she finished all in one breath.
"Oh." He glanced at his feet and fidgeted as she looked at him expectantly. Aunt Petunia had been gossiping about some new neighbors lately and going on about how she'd invite them over for tea. Other than that, this would be the first time he actually encountered their new neighbor.
"So? Do you want to play?"
He rubbed the back of his neck at the repeated request, all of a sudden shy. "I… yeah. Okay."
Her eyes lit up in delight. "My name is Emily by the way," she said, waiting for him to stand up.
"Um, nice to meet you. My name is Harry," he responded, quickly remembering his manners. He soon followed her as she led the way. They ended up walking to a less grassy area near the pavement. It was secluded from the flurry of activity of the other kids, but he could still hear their voices in the far distance.
"All right, try to catch this!" Emily yelled and threw the ball high into the air.
Surprised at the unexpected action, he ran backwards. He kept his eyes on the ball as it sailed towards him from above. Arms raised, he jumped up – farther and higher than he'd ever done – and caught the ball over his head. It felt as if he was suspended in the air for a moment, almost weightless until his feet managed to land back on the ground without tripping over themselves. Elated on his catch, he returned his gaze to Emily.
She was gaping in shock. "You caught it! I can't believe you actually caught it. That was amazing, Harry!"
Unfamiliar with such praise, he blushed. "Thanks," he mumbled. He then smiled when she continued to acclaim on his remarkable catch.
"Let's see if you can do that again!"
He almost dropped the ball at that. "What?"
It seemed Emily was serious about testing his ability, and their game of catch turned out more to be a game of fetch on his part. She would throw the ball as far as she can, and he would catch it each time without fail. It went on like that for a while, and he found himself enjoying the game immensely. Eventually, Emily eased up on her throwing, and it ended with them lightly exchanging the ball back and forth.
"Hey, Harry," she tossed the ball to him. "Can I ask you a question?"
"I guess… sure." His shoulders shrugged in a half-hearted agreement, and he bounced the ball back to her.
Emily caught the ball and held it to her stomach. "Why is your glasses taped together like that?"
He touched the middle of his glasses where the lenses were connected together by tape. "I-I fell yesterday, and it broke," he said nervously.
"Really? You sure don't seem like the clumsy type," she mentioned.
"Accidents just happen sometimes."
The real story behind that was far from the simple explanation he gave her. During one supper with his relatives, he unintentionally knocked over a cup, and it dropped near Uncle Vernon's feet. The sound of glass breaking stopped his heart, and fearing the worst, he immediately bent down too clean the mess. To his astonishment, he found the cup in perfect condition, no cracks or anything.
However, his relief was brief once he caught the look on his uncle's face. The man's face was blotched red, unappealing and bloated like a puffer fish. As punishment for his clumsiness, Uncle Vernon grabbed his eyeglasses and snapped it in half like a twig. 'And this will stay broken,' were his uncle's confusing words.
He shook free from the memory when Emily called out to him again. "You okay there?"
"Sorry about that," he said. "I was just day dreaming a little bit."
"Are you bored? Maybe you can throw the ball really far this time, and I'll try to catch it," she suggested.
He nodded his head in agreement, and Emily soon handed him the ball and ran back in preparation. When he saw that she was ready, he took aim and released the ball. It flew completely past her, giving Emily no chance as it hit the ground and rolled away.
"Wow," she said, impressed with the toss. "Stay right there, and I'll go get it." Emily then took off in an energetic sprint, leaving him to ponder if he should try out for sports based on his performance so far. Perhaps he could be the goalkeeper in a football game if he was ever interested.
He later glanced back at Emily, wondering if she'd retrieved the ball yet and was met with the sight of Dudley and Piers smirking at her as they held her ball. She appeared subdued and cried out when Dudley pushed her. Without thinking, he rushed to her side.
"Stop it!" He placed himself in front of her and faced his cousin. "Give that back, Dudley — it's not yours."
"Oh, yeah? Why should I, Potter?"
"Because it's not yours," he repeated slowly, hoping Dudley would comprehend the simple concept this time.
"Why do you care anyway? Is she your friend or something?"
He opened his mouth to respond but closed it a second later. Even though he'd just met Emily, he already considered her a friend. Yet he was too embarrassed to admit that in front of her.
"Hah! I can't believe you actually have a friend," Dudley said, taking his silence as confirmation. "Maybe she only felt sorry for you."
Piers snickered in response. The noise grated on his ears as he glared at them. "Just give it back, Dudley. Emily didn't do anything to you."
"So? I like this ball, and I want to keep it," his cousin bounced the ball twice for emphasis.
He took a step closer to the other boy. "I mean it, Dudley," he warned.
Dudley stopped and frowned at him, clearly wondering why he was being so assertive all of a sudden when he would've tried to ignore his cousin before. Dudley continued to look at Emily and him in confusion until a smirk rose up. "Well, I can give this back to her but not for free," said the larger boy.
He eyed Dudley strangely, uncertain where his cousin was going with this. "What are you saying?"
Instead of answering, Dudley directed his attention to Emily again. "You want this back, right? Well, you can have it."
She gave the boy a hesitated glance. "Really?"
"Yeah," said Dudley. "But you'll have to do something first."
"Um, what is it?" Emily asked.
The pudgy boy grinned with glee. "Say out loud that Potter is not your friend," ordered Dudley. "Oh! And say that he's a freak too."
His body went rigid at that, taken aback by the harsh demand. He knew Dudley was mean spirited and spoiled, but his cousin had never gone this far before.
"Ha-ha, good one, Dudley," laughed Piers.
Emily appeared conflicted. "But why—?"
"Just say it or I'll bother you again," his cousin demanded. "And next time, I'll take more of your toys."
"You can't do that!"
"Shut it, Potter," said Dudley, shoving him back. "It looks like she's going to say something."
He swerved around. Tears were gathering in the corner of Emily's eyes, and those brown orbs were communicating a silent apology. He swallowed reflexively, unable to say anything in response.
She looked away from his gaze and stared at the ground. "He's n-not my friend," said Emily, in a voice so soft and wrecked with guilt.
"And..?" goaded Dudley.
Now it was her turn to swallow nervously. There was a single, hopeful second when he thought Emily would refuse to utter another word… but he was wrong. "And he's a – he's a freak."
His stomach felt like it had been punched. All the air in his lungs seemed to be sucked out, leaving him to choke on nothing. Dudley and Piers guffawed like it was the funniest thing they ever heard. Their wide and round mouths were like sinkholes, a deep blackness ready to swallow everything up.
"That was hilarious. I can't believe you said it – here," said Dudley, finally relinquishing the stolen toy.
Once the ball was returned to her, Emily turned and quickly ran away — not once glancing back.
"See, Potter? No one wants to be your friend," said his cousin, "because you really are a freak."
He wanted to pretend that it didn't happen or that he misheard it somehow, but it was useless. The scene kept replaying itself behind his eyes. Satisfied with their work, Dudley and Piers sauntered off, still chortling in amusement at his expense. Standing there in a dull haze, all he could hear was the sound of their laughter. Echoing loud and tauntingly close, bouncing back and forth in his ears...
Voldemort opened his eyes as the thump of his heartbeat rocked his chest. Immediately, he sat up from the bed and remained motionless in the silent darkness of the room, trying to digest the last images of his dream… or rather a memory. His breathing was erratic as he attempted to calm his mind and emotions because everything still felt too real at the moment. The Dark Lord then shut his eyes and hissed a few chosen words in Parseltongue that would have sent witches flushing in indignation if they understood.
Unable to rest any longer, Voldemort got up and left the quiet of the bedroom for the cold hallway outside. Walking with his troubled thoughts, he soon entered into a spacious study as the fire lit up in the hearth. The Dark Lord reclined in a chair behind the desk and stared steadily into the flickering flames, going over the memory in his head.
What he saw and experienced was a fragment of Potter's childhood – a childhood reaped with little care and attention. He stubbornly refused to recall his own childhood at the orphanage. Their pasts were hardly the same since Voldemort was not a victim against the other bullying children. He was the Dark Lord, not some weak, poor boy. Voldemort reminded himself that he had become the tormentor among the flock of worthless muggle children… he had to remember that he was not Harry Potter.
He rubbed a hand over his eyes, exhaustion and fatigue pressing down on him even though his body was physically fine. A few minutes passed as Voldemort gradually regained his bearings and sense of self. Once his turbulent thoughts settled, he then began to analyse and dissect each detail of the dream.
Despite the suddenness of the memory, there was a crucial element that he took note of. It seemed Potter had more frequent bouts of accidental magic than was normal for a wizarding child. It was nothing comparable to his of course. While Potter's magic was strong, the boy had never attempted to control it. Voldemort had learned to control and wield his magic long before he knew what it was. And that was the key difference between them.
Once the Dark Lord was finished examining every last detail, another question arose: How was it possible for him to see the boy's memory? Voldemort knew that he could enter Potter's mind to send images and visions. Yet this was the very first time he received a memory from Potter. Did the boy send it to him intentionally? That shouldn't be the case since his mind was blocked from Potter, and the boy didn't possess the skill to do so. Perhaps during sleep, his shields weakened enough for Potter's memories to filter through. Well, at any rate, this would be highly irritating if he didn't find a way to stop it. Potter may be his Horcrux, but that did not mean he would want to endure another lifetime of preadolescent experiences.
Assured that he would resolve the issue soon, Voldemort tiredly glanced down at the Gaunt ring that now adorned his finger. In addition to the diadem, he had also merged with his locket and ring Horcrux. Since the ritual, the incessant desire to reunite with his other soul pieces had not abated until he'd absorbed another two of his Horcruxes. Only then did the urge finally ceased to pester him. Afterwards, Voldemort had spent days testing himself, suspecting a curse or an unforeseen side-effect of the ritual. Yet after countless potions and spells, not a single anomaly was detected.
At the moment, he'd hold off on any further tests until he could gain more information. As for his diary Horcrux, Voldemort had decided not to absorb it. Strangely enough, his diary was perhaps the most independent and strongest of all his soul pieces. For that reason, he planned to use it for another purpose instead.
Just then the clock tolled, indicating the new hour. Voldemort exhaled an annoyed breath at the time and looked upon the many tomes littered across his desk. These were some of the many books he collected during his travels after Hogwarts. The ones lay out before him were all on time travel, which he'd been researching for a while now.
Voldemort paused when his eyes caught something. 'Now, what is this book doing here?' he thought, picking up the mentioned item.
This tattered tome was something he'd purchased on a whim in a foreign country. Voldemort took interest in it because of its age and rarity — something long before the era of the Founders. It turned out to be a disappointment when he finally translated the first chapter. Nothing but legends of different realms and mythical beings filled the pages within. The book was about foolish stories, and he didn't bother to finish it.
Although, perhaps now would be the perfect moment to read the book, and it should be able to put him fast to sleep if nothing else. His grasp on the language was more than adequate now, so he easily skimmed through the pages. His eyes were half-lidded as he read through a few chapters. It wasn't until he reached the part about a certain mythical beast that he began to pay attention. It was a creature with particular power and the ability to affect time.
Now, this was very intriguing.
Albus stared at the portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black. At any other time, his conversations with the Black headmaster would typically consist of light banter between the two of them. However, at the present moment, there was another person standing beside Phineas in the painted portrait.
"Are you certain of this?" Albus asked once again.
"Yes," Walburga Black sneered, her thin lips twisted in reluctance. "I may not have been in my portrait at the start of it, but I saw enough near the end when that... that half-blood killed my house-elf."
"Lady Black, I do not mean to dispute your claim, yet how do you know it was the Dark Lord?"
"I recognise him from our Hogwarts days — he's barely changed at all as a man," she went on. "I never knew for certain the 'Dark Lord' was actually him, but suspicion had always shadowed my thoughts during the early years of the war."
Albus peered at her shrewdly. "Even so, I do not believe that you would travel here on the death of a mere house-elf."
Phineas had remained passively silent during the exchange so far, opting to listen to his descendant instead. They had been conversing for a few minutes now after the witch had recounted her tale. Today was surely turning out to be an interesting one since Phineas had never predicted to get a visit from his great-granddaughter and hear this.
Walburga straightened herself primly and looked at the headmaster haughtily for a second. Finally, when she spoke up, her tone was rigid ice. "Do not think for one moment that this was to aid you in any form."
Albus held back a smile. "My dear, I would never dream of it."
Her eyes narrowed, trying to sense any ridicule in the remark. "My husband and I, we may believe in a world free of muggleborns and where purebloods rule without fear, but in pursuit of power, his methods were too ruthless to achieve it; too many purebloods died as a result," Walburga paused momentarily, refusing to meet his gaze. "As for my son — my Regulus... he tried to leave the Death Eaters but was killed for the attempt. I will not have this 'Dark Lord' continue unhindered."
When Walburga finished, her eyes finally met his in challenge, daring him to question her further. "Thank you, Lady Black," Albus said, deciding not to push her any more — she had already offered more than he'd expected. "I hope you shall notify me if he comes by again."
There was no response as Walburga Black turned away and left the portrait, probably returning to her own. With her departure, Albus walked towards the window in his office and gazed out into the cloudless sky. The meeting with the witch was unusual but not unappreciated. Never in his life time would Albus imagine Walburga to set aside her discriminations for this; it seemed some things could still surprise him.
"It is amazing what a mother will do for her child," Albus sighed. "If only she had felt the same towards Sirius."
"Sirius had always been too wild and uncontrollable to bear the name of Black," recalled Phineas, settling back in the painted seat.
"Perhaps not, since Sirius had become a Death Eater in the end..." Albus mused. "Yet there is a question that still remains: What was Tom doing in Grimmauld Place to begin with?" He couldn't discern the other wizard's motives and that troubled him greatly. What could be so vital about the ancestral home of the Black Family to garner the Dark Lord's attention?
"I assume you have prepared some kind of plan despite this new incident," the portrait prodded.
"Yes, there is at least one problem I have foreseen." Albus felt Phineas' stare on the back of his head as he viewed the Hogwarts grounds silently, not elaborating any further on the subject.
"Well, what are you scheming in that barmy head of yours, Dumbledore?"
The beard above his lips twitched in a half smile as he turned towards the portrait. "I have already requested a few people to station themselves near the Department of Mysteries in case he appears, although I have yet to inform them of a reason for such a precaution," Albus said with concern.
The Slytherin raised a brow at that. "Some will say that it's ill advised to keep all your cards so close to your chest," Phineas remarked coolly until a smirk made its way to his face, "but I sincerely approve of it."
The kettle above the fire gave out a high shriek, a signal to be removed from the licking flames. Harry took this chance to hide the rock cake in his pocket as Hagrid got up to prepare the tea. Ron had tried to feed Fang the cake a while ago, but the hound refused to even sniff it, so his friend had resorted to chucking the cake outside the window when the groundskeeper wasn't looking.
The small and cluttered hut always seemed busy with activity. A tiny cage of nifflers sat in one corner while hams and pheasants hung from the ceiling. It was very similar to a bustling shop, but it felt comfortable and warm at the same time. Hagrid had invited them over for tea again, and they'd both jumped at the chance to visit their friend and escape from the mounting pile of essays.
Harry had not yet asked Hagrid about the little package from Gringotts and why it was actually being guarded by a three-headed dog. Oh, he was beyond curious to find out, but Harry had held out on those questions because Hagrid didn't seem too eager to answer them the first time he'd brought up the topic. Other than that, Harry usually enjoyed their discussions about quidditch and how their days went.
"And congratulations, Harry," Hagrid beamed with pride as he poured the tea. "With that last game, yeh guys have won the Quidditch Cup."
Harry smiled in embarrassment. "Thanks, Hagrid." Quite surprisingly, quidditch had taken up most of his time at Hogwarts, but he didn't mind; he was proud to help his team win the cup. It was something Harry felt he actually earned, unlike the title of Boy-Who-Lived that was given to him.
"Hagrid, you should have seen the look on Snape's face when Harry caught the snitch. He looked like he was about to choke on his own tongue — it was beautiful," Ron sighed dramatically. But a second later, a frown appeared. "It's just too bad Slytherin will still win the House Cup."
"Yeah, with only a week left, there's no way we'll even catch up to them," Harry said, remembering all the points the potions master had taken away from one particular lesson when he was paired up with Neville.
"Well, there's always next year," the groundskeeper tried to console them.
His friend brightened at that. "I can't wait for next year 'cause I can finally try out for the Quidditch team too," Ron revealed enthusiastically. "Do you think I can make it on the team, Harry?"
"Um..." Harry took a gulp of his tea, trying to delay his answer. Ron's skills were not bad, but his friend needed a lot more practice in blocking the quaffle before he could even join. "Maybe you can make it onto the reserve position for Keeper instead?"
Ron deflated a bit. "I'm probably being too hopeful — you're right, there's no way I can go against Oliver for the position."
Hagrid clapped Ron in the shoulder, almost dislodging the boy from his seat. "Yer still young, so you'll have plenty of time to try out for the team in the future."
After that, they talked a little bit more on quidditch and then about Hagrid's encounters with Fire Crabs. Harry was about to take another sip of tea when the liquid in his cup rippled slowly outward, like a pebble being dropped into a pond. He stared at the table in alarm when everything in the hut started to tremble uncontrollably. The pounding and rumbling increased as though someone was knocking on the wooden cabin continuously with a hammer. Believing it was an earthquake, Harry held onto the edge of his seat.
"What the —?" said Ron before a hanging piece of ham hit him on the head, having fallen off its hook.
A few seconds later, the shaking gradually subsided to an odd stillness. Hagrid's brows were creased in confusion as he looked around the room. "Are the both of yeh all right?"
Harry glanced over at his friend. Ron was rubbing his head and scowling at the piece of ham on the floor. "I think we're okay."
"Speak for yourself," grumbled Ron. "What in the world was that anyway?"
"Don' know," said Hagrid as he inspected the hut before peering out the window. "Huh? What are they doin' outside the forest?"
"What is it, Hagrid?" Harry asked, also standing up from his seat. Did it have something to do with the shaking?
"You two stay inside while I go check this out," Hagrid told them. The groundskeeper grabbed his coat and soon left the hut after that.
At once, Harry and his friend dashed over to the window, trying to catch a glimpse of whatever it was outside, but they only saw Hagrid's retreating figure. Ron's eyes met his simultaneously, and an instant later, the two of them nodded in agreement. Of course, being the obedient Gryffindors that they were, he and Ron had decided to trail after the groundskeeper.
Hagrid was further from the wooden hut than they originally thought, so the two of them ended up sprinting quickly down the path. When they eventually caught sight of the groundskeeper, Harry could not help but gawked at the scene ahead of him. From what he could see, Hagrid was speaking with a bunch of creatures — creatures that appeared like any other man from the waist up, but from the waist down was an entirely different matter.
"Blimey," exhaled Ron in amazement.
"Ron, are they...?"
"Yeah, they're centaurs."
A group of ten or more centaurs were clustered near the edge of the forest, all imposing and majestic from where they stood. As Harry and Ron approached the group, it became apparent that Hagrid was involved in a heated discussion with one of the centaurs. Before they could hear a single word of it, the talking centaur stopped to stare at them. In turn, Hagrid twisted around to look as well.
"Harry? Ron? I thought I told yeh two to stay put," the groundskeeper said, shaking his head. "Well, never mind that — I need the both of yeh to get Professor Dumbledore righ' now. He should be in the staffroom with the other professors."
Harry hesitated for a moment, uncertain about leaving Hagrid and returned his gaze towards the centaurs instead. Most of their expressions were impassive while a few emanated a grim harshness. He was about to respond, but Ron beat him to it.
"Erm, sure, Hagrid," said Ron, grabbing a hold of Harry's sleeve to pull him along. "C'mon, Harry."
His friend dragged him away, and they swiftly jogged towards the castle. Harry knew that he should listen to Hagrid, yet he couldn't dislodge the feeling that he should be back there somehow. Not one to ignore his instincts for long, Harry motioned his friend to stop.
"Ron, you go on ahead and get the Headmaster," he hurriedly told the other boy. "I'm gonna go back and see what's happening."
"Are you sure that's a good idea, Harry? I mean, those centaurs didn't look like they were there for a friendly chat."
"Yeah, I'm sure," said Harry. "I'll be careful so they won't know I'm there."
He soon left Ron and took a longer route around Hagrid's hut. Years of hiding from Dudley and his gang had helped hone his stealth as he slipped through the dense trees unnoticed. Careful to avoid the many branches of twigs layered on the ground, Harry hid behind a large tree near the group. It was far away from the centaurs to not be discovered but close enough to listen in.
"— must be a mistake or something, Firenze," Hagrid tried to explained. "There's no way someone would do that."
Firenze, a white-blond centaur, shook his head. "Yet it is true, and our leader, Magorian, has demanded the capture of the culprit."
"Do not dare to shelter the criminal from our grasp," a dark bearded centaur cut in. "We will seize our quarry even if we have to fight our way through."
"Bane, we are not here for battle," Firenze reminded with a hint of frustration. "Our conflict is not with the entirety of Hogwarts."
The one called Bane snorted in disgust. "As a warrior, you should not shy away from battle like a timid foal — especially at the height of this hour."
Harry didn't notice before, but every single centaur was carrying a bow with quiver of arrows on their backs. A few even had sheathed daggers along their forearms. Indeed, they were truly the image of warriors prepared to go into battle. The fierceness in their eyes and determination in their stance were sure discouragements for anyone foolish enough to confront them.
They argued for a few more minutes, not really reaching a solid conclusion that Harry could understand. It seemed Firenze had inadvertently become the mediator between Hagrid and Bane, but even Harry could tell the soft-spoken centaur's tolerance was thinning. A sigh of relief came from Hagrid when most of the Hogwarts professors finally arrived and leading them was the headmaster.
"Centaurs of the Forbidden Forest," said Professor Dumbledore, his head inclined in greeting. "Your presence is not unwelcome, but what has brought you away from your domain?"
"We demand the body of the murderer," Bane began without preamble, stepping forward from the other centaurs.
"Whatever do you mean by that?" McGonagall repeated in confusion. "Has something happened?"
"Perhaps an explanation will clarify this misunderstanding for everyone," the headmaster suggested lightly, though the missing sparkle in the wizard's eyes were telling in how grave he took the situation.
Bane stomped his hooves in impatience but conceded. "At morning's light, one of our brethren was found dead. His head crushed by a boulder no larger than his arm."
Harry pressed his body against the trunk of the tree and peered from the side. Along with the headmaster, all four head of houses were also there. Their demeanor ranged from silent worry to genuine condolences. The only one who seemed out of place was Quirrell; the DADA professor was pale and twitching so badly that Harry thought the man would faint any second now.
"I am truly sorry for your loss," said the headmaster. "However, why are you so certain that it was a murder and not just an accident?"
"The boulder reeked of wizard's magic," Bane declared, "and the location of the incident was closer to that of the castle than the village of Hogsmeade."
"Thus, you suspect the culprit to reside from Hogwarts," Dumbledore concluded, stroking his beard in thought.
Sprout then voiced her opinion. "That doesn't necessarily mean the killer is from Hogwarts though."
"We followed a trail left behind — it led directly to your castle," another centaur spoke up, bristling in annoyance.
The transfiguration professor shook her head. "If that is true —"
"There is no question on the validity of that statement because it is fact," Bane bit out fiercely. "A wizard from your school has entered into our territory and killed one of our warriors. It is your duty to hand over the killer to face our punishment."
"Ah, you assume we even know the identity of this murderer," Snape added. "If you want us to 'hand over' anything, then we must discover who this wizard is first."
"Then it would help if we knew what type of spell was casted," noted McGonagall.
"M-maybe it was dark magic t-that killed the centaur?" Quirrell suggested.
"Unlikely," said Flitwick. "Perhaps it was a Hover Charm or a Banishing Charm that was used on the boulder?"
"The spell is of little importance now," Bane said. "It is the identity of the murderer whom we seek to slay."
The potions master turned his body to face Bane. "You are incorrect in that notion. If you want to find this criminal, then you need to know that any first year could have performed a Hover Charm," Snape informed. "Are you saying that you'd be willing to execute a child then?"
Bane's form tensed, the muscles on his legs were taut with tension. "We shall do what must be done regardless of age."
Some of the professors were horrified to hear that. And Snape remained motionless as a contemptuous sneer crept up his lips. "Then you are no better than beasts," the potions master hissed.
In an instant, the sound of a whistle broke through the air, piercing the conversation — an arrow was barreling straight towards Snape.
A shimmering blue shield appeared before the potions master, deflecting the arrow.
Harry's hand was over his mouth to stifle a gasp. For that one true second, he really thought the arrow was going to kill Snape. Harry might hate the man, but he didn't wish for the potions master to get hurt.
Everyone else was frozen in shock, unable to comprehend what almost just happened. Snape himself appeared disturbed but was otherwise unaffected. Yet it was the expression on Professor Dumbledore's face that made Harry shiver – it was sharp and cold.
"It is one thing to accuse and demand retribution for a wrong," the Headmaster said, lowering his wand, probably the one to have casted the shielding charm, "and quite entirely another to attack a member of my faculty."
Harry turned to look at the centaurs. The arrow did not come from Bane but from a red-haired centaur near the center of the group. The centaur lowered his bow but refused to back down.
"We come in pursuit of justice for our fallen brother," said the centaur, "yet we've received none but excuses and insults. The time for words has past."
Bane placed a hand on the other centaur's shoulder. "Ronan..."
Harry didn't know whether the gesture was in comfort or warning, but the atmosphere was so strained that he could almost visibly see it. The bows and arrows from the herd of centaurs were aimed and readied. On the other end, all the professors now had their wands out while Flitwick appeared to be holding back Hagrid, which was quite the feat considering their contrasting sizes.
The headmaster gave the centaur a penetrating stare. "Violence between us shall lead to little but losses on both sides," said Professor Dumbledore, his wand now tucked away as he came to a decision. "As Headmaster of Hogwarts, I give you my word that I will right what has been wronged to your people. Until then, all I ask is time. "
The knot of unease in the air dissipated as the majority of the centaurs seemed less inclined to shoot them in the eye. The professors were also calming down, although Snape still looked like he would love nothing more than to chop the four-legged creatures up and throw them in a potion. The last to stow his bow away was Ronan, whom without acknowledging anyone else, silently went off into the forest.
Bane let him go and huffed restlessly. "Then on your word, we shall stand aside for now," he accepted with reluctance, "but our idleness and patience will not be boundless, Headmaster."
Professor Dumbledore replied with a single nod in return.
Then in some unseen signal, all the centaurs turned and slowly ambled back into the forest. Upon seeing Bane purposely lingering behind the group, Firenze waited as well. Yet a stern look was sent to Firenze, telling the centaur to follow the rest of the herd. Bane's silent command eventually won out, and Firenze had no choice but to comply.
When the last of the centaurs were no longer in sight, Bane spoke to them again. "Ronan, the one who released the arrow… it was his blood brother whom he'd laid eyes on, lifeless and still in the meadow. He shall not rest until another death has been repaid."
With those words, the centaur galloped into the forest, leaving them with questions and mounting concerns. The professors remained to discuss quietly amongst themselves. Meanwhile, Harry leaned against the large tree and pondered on the death of the centaur. He closed his eyes as the thought of his parents came unbidden. Was vengeance the only way?
Peter Pettigrew's hands shook as he read over the instructions on the parchment again. A ring of fire surrounded the area from where he stood beside a table filled with potion bottles. He eventually grabbed the smallest bottle matching the description and opened the cork. A sniff almost had him gagging. Yes, definitely a creation of Snape's.
If it wasn't for the instructions his master had given him, then Peter would have never passed all the other protections. A shrunken music box was handed to him for the first one, and he couldn't believe how easily the creature had succumbed to the melody. And the rest were resolved with certain spells on specific protections, like a dark summoning charm for the flying keys. Yet what had him most impressed was the chess match. His master had written out each move to the last detail to successfully defeat the opposing pieces and win the game, as if the Dark Lord had already knew all the moves beforehand.
He didn't know what distraction Quirrell used to force the other professors out of the castle and thoroughly occupied, but it worked wonderfully. It gave him plenty of time to overcome the obstacles and hopefully, enough time to escape before they could discover a breach in the protections.
Pinching his nose, Peter took a gulp of the liquid and shuddered as the cold trickled down his body. With that done, he nervously stepped through the fire and entered into the last chamber. His eyes shifted warily around the walls as he walked further down. Sequestered in the middle of the chamber was a large mirror, its size dominating in the empty chamber. Peter approached the mirror and took out the parchment again to read the last part of the instructions. He blinked quickly and brought the parchment closer to his face in order read it again. And twice more in case he understood it wrong.
Gaze into the mirror and seek the stone.
Stone? What Stone? He scratched his head in pure befuddlement, the last line throwing him for a loop. Did he really come down here just to retrieve a stone? Now, Peter was not one to outright question the Dark Lord, but this sounded just plain silly. When he finally glanced up at the mirror, his heart shuddered in shock.
Lily and James. Remus and Sirius. They were all standing beside him.
Peter quickly looked behind him, but no one was there. He turned back to the mirror and there they were — surrounding him happily. Everyone was smiling at him, all filled with excitement to be reunited once more. Their warm eyes welcomed and accepted him. His friends embraced him as a brother and lost friend. And most important of all, they viewed him as their equal.
He screwed his eyes shut. "Lies! Lies!" Peter shouted, quickly angered by the illusion.
They had never treated him as an equal. James considered him weak and pathetic, never once giving him a second thought. Sirius' playful teasing and belittling were most often bordering on cruel mocking. Even poor Remus looked down upon him as an inferior wizard. And Lily... Lily always pitied him in her kind and sweet way — he hated that part about her the most. Peter hated them all.
"No more," he pleaded to the mirror, unable to stand the false reality. Peter just wanted to find the stone or whatever it was and get the hell out of this place already. It was painful enough to see something he could never hope to have. Too painful.
It was then that the image in the mirror shifted. His friends vanished, and Peter only saw himself reflected on the glass surface now. Yet it was not a normal reflection because his counterpart moved independently from him. He was entranced by his reflection as it winked and placed something in his pocket. Hesitantly, Peter dipped inside his pocket, grasped the item and pulled it out. Glittering in the palm of his hand was a blood-red stone.
A/N: Dumbledore enchanted the mirror so that those "who wanted to find the stone — find it, but not use it — would be able to get it" (HPPS 300). For Quirrell, he would have wanted to find the stone with the intention of using it for his master.
Also, another little tidbit: According to canon, Walburga was only a year ahead of Voldemort in Hogwarts.