Character[s]: Bane, other centaurs
Pairing[s]: Bane/OFC (non-explicit)
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Length: 2900 words
Summary: They were to keep watch, to wait, to make war only upon forces of the Dark. Set during DH.
Note: Written for a contest at hogwarts_elite; the prompt was to take the POV of a non-human character. First place winner.
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
"BANE! Happy now, are yeh, that yeh didn't fight, yeh cowardly bunch o' nags? Are yeh happy Harry Potter's -- d-dead...?"
Bane weathered the insult. Hagrid had ever been meddlesome and rude, but he was going to his death now, and every being deserved pity before death. The males of the herd stood, letting the Dark Ones and their giants pass through the Forest. Not a centaur twitched at the humans' jeering. They had come to watch history unfold, as foretold by the Circle seven turns ago. The stars and planets were in furious motion, and the humans' obscenities paled in comparison.
Hagrid moved off, spurred on by his captors, his shoulders heaving with his sobs. The limp body in his massive arms flailed as he shook. Harry Potter. Bane remembered the boy: there had been fire in him, a pure white flame never seen since the days of Aeglos the Valiant, the last human to fight alongside the centaurs. Some in the herd had believed that Harry Potter had been Aeglos reborn, come back to reunite the world. Bane cast a dark look in the direction of the wizards' school. Firenze had been one such.
He sensed movement around him and looked up. The Dark Ones had gone, and the centaurs were fading back into the trees, with no sound but the clopping of their hooves against earth still soft with rain. Silently, they made their way through the Forest into the Circle's clearing. This was where the centaurs assembled to decide matters of life and honour.
Magorian, the Circle's First, stepped into the middle of the clearing, where a wild rosebush bloomed in full colour in all seasons. Some said it was a contrivance of the wizards, but most knew it for a sign of power. The rosebush was the reason this clearing served the Circles, and the penalty for harming it was death.
Once the remaining members of the Circle had assembled, and the other centaurs stood waiting under the shadows of the trees, Magorian opened his mouth to speak. Before he could utter a sound, there came a rustle of leaves and a clear, high voice issuing from the north end of the clearing.
"Always you begin before everyone is here, Magorian." Audra stepped into the clearing, her white-gold hair disordered as though from a run.
Bane schooled his face to perfect stillness. He loved Audra with abiding desperation since they were foals. There was no chance of her returning his love, not since Bane had been a part of her brother's banishment. But the stubborn feeling would not die, no matter how often he asked Mars for guidance. Audra's bright blue eyes passed over him as though he weren't even there.
"Audra," said Magorian. "Be welcome in our Circle, but this is not the females' business. You have had your own meetings and you have seen the same signs."
Several centaurs closest to Bane shifted nervously. Audra had been the female Circle's First for only four moons; surely she would take this as an insult. That did not bode well for those males who were Bonded. The females followed their First in everything, just as the males followed theirs.
Audra didn't seem to have noticed Magorian had spoken, however. "Stargazing horsies," she spat. "That was what the female Dark One called us. And you stood there. You just stood there!"
They watched with us, Bane realised. They saw the boy.
"The Circle--" Magorian began, but did not finish.
"Confound the Circle," said Audra in a calm voice, as though discussing the unchanging face of Saturn. "This matter is bigger than your Circle or ours, and you know it well. It is why I object."
Magorian hesitated, but after a moment, his shoulders dropped down. "Nestor's hooves, Audra, what did you expect us to do? Charge them?"
Audra tossed her head. "The Dark Ones came to our Forest, and we let them leave. As we speak, they are taking the boy Harry Potter to the wizards' school, and there the fate of our world shall be decided. Will we do nothing?"
"The boy is dead, as it was foretold. We can do nothing."
"Dead?" repeated Audra, her eyes widening. "Are you as blind as you are stiff-necked?" It was something to say in normal conversation, but not as one First to another. The wide eyes gave Audra's face uncommon innocence, and Bane turned away to hide an unbidden smile. It melted away with his next thought: had the boy been dead? He'd appeared lifeless, though it had been dificult to see anything with the evil taint swirling around the Dark Ones...
"The boy was dead," said Magorian with a touch of impatience. Having regained his composure, Bane turned again to watch.
"He isn't dead," said Audra. "Could you not see? The fire, the flame of Aeglos--"
"Please, Audra, this is foolish. You know it has been foretold that the boy would die. He was not Aeglos reborn--"
"No," said Audra. "He's not Aeglos, but he is the Master of Death. That, too, has been foretold. And I tell you, Magorian, he lives even now."
Bane frowned at the ground beneath his hooves. This Master of Death business had been the largest bone between the two Circles -- the females chose to interpret the signs to read that the boy would possess some object that would help him cheat death, but the males held to the belief that the boy ceased to be Master of Death when the Dark Lord's deadly curse rebounded and gave him but a scar. A difference in approach, no more, but...
"He lives," repeated Audra. "And the Dark Ones may be defeated still. Will we not stand with the humans as we once did? Against the Dark?"
"Fight the Dark Ones for the humans? Perhaps we should be shod and saddled, next. You're as bad as your traitor brother!" called Dorian, his hard face twisted with anger. Bane stiffened, and hoped at least half the males would walk out of this fight alive. There were some things you simply did not say to Audra, and calling her traitor was one of them.
Audra's eyes blazed. She raised her right fist, and Bane saw fire-haired Thera emerge from the trees. Behind her came dark-eyed Pelagia, and even ancient Damara limped out into the clearing. More came after them -- Rhea , Eudora, Zenaide, Melinda, Bellanca, Stella, Neola... Thirty-seven -- all but those tending the foals -- with longbows ready and quivers bristling. They wore their battle-tunics, tight-fitting wraps of hemp-thread, to prevent their breasts from getting in the way of their bows.
"We have made our decision," said Audra. Bane suppressed a shiver: her voice was colder than the furthest star. "We will fight the Dark Ones. We had come here to see if you could be persuaded, but I can see now that we needn't have troubled ourselves. You have let yourselves grow too cautious in interpreting the signs, and you have forgotten our duty to the Mother. So says the First."
Bane cringed at her last words; there was no graver insult than to say a centaur has forgotten his duty to Mother Earth. They were to keep watch, to wait, to make war only upon forces of the Dark. Audra was accusing them of cowardice, and saying it as First amongst the females, not just as one centaur to another. The herd may never recover from this.
"The Master of Death, my left front hoof!" said Dorian with a contemptuous snort. "The boy's deader than last year's oak leaves. You only want to get back to your traitor brother."
Somebody gasped, and before Bane could blink, Audra had her bow drawn, arrow pointing at Dorian's heart. "You accuse me of lies, here in the sacred place?"
Dorian looked taken aback, and Bane could but hope that Audra wouldn't loose the arrow. Slaying a centaur in sight of the rosebush meant immediate exile. Bane had all but acquiesced to never Bonding with Audra, but he could not abide life without being able to see her, if only sometimes.
Not a leaf seemed to stir until Magorian spoke. "If there is a chance the boy lives, then we cannot let him die. So says the First."
There were a few more moments of deep silence, and then Audra calmly put the arrow away and raised her longbow above her head. "For the Sun!" she cried; the ancient war cry of the centaurs that had not been heard in six hundred turns.
Bane's right hand flew to the place over his heart. Next to him, many of the males did the same, some already taking up the cry Audra had raised. Bane shouted, too, his eyes never leaving Audra, but she did not look at him. She and Magorian stood together by the rosebush, their bows raised high.
"For the Sun!" intoned Magorian.
"Fight!" bellowed Audra. A flock of birds flew, startled, from the top of a tall fir.
The herd thundered through the dark Forest in a gallop. Once, Bane looked back and saw that no one had stayed behind. The Firsts had spoken, and the herd obeyed. Perhaps not all was lost after the insults Audra had thrown at Magorian. A thought came to Bane, utterly clear despite the ringing war cries and hundreds of hooves tearing up the ground. He had always put the herd's interests before his own.
As the forest fell behind them and the wizards' school came into view, a voice whispered in Bane's mind, unctuous and foreign: And what have you ever gained by putting yourself last?
Strange thoughts to be having before a battle, but there was Audra not too far ahead, leading the females as Magorian led the males. Bane suppressed a flash of anger at seeing them run side by side, and he caught up to run next to Ronan, who followed Magorian closely. Their charge was so fierce that the ground seemed to heave under them, though soon Bane realised what caused most of the quaking; Hagrid's giant was running for the castle, too. Which side would he fight on? Giants had ever served the Dark, though in a world where centaurs were going to fight alongside humans, anything was possible.
The giant cleared the side of the castle. "HAGGER!" he yelled, and other giants, the ones who had passed through the Forest earlier, answered him with angry roars.
"He's one against many!" called Bane.
"BOWS!" shouted Magorian and Audra.
Bane's fingers found soft fletching, and his bow was drawn before he came around the corner. The Dark Ones made easy targets, massed as they were around their Lord, and Bane's first arrow found a mark. All around him, centaur bows sang their battle song, and the Dark Ones broke ranks, shouting. Their cries drowned in the din of clashing giants -- the bloodthirsty creatures had forgotten all about the humans and were fighting with one another, true to their nature.
A boy stood amid the scattering Dark Ones, his hair on fire. An enormous snake coiled next to him, exuding evil beyond comprehension, so thick that Bane almost staggered. So Harry Potter truly was alive. Then the boy whipped the flame off his head -- it was not his hair, after all, just a tattered old hat -- and pulled a gleaming silver sword from it. The sword made no noise as it sank into the dark flesh, but the strike was true -- the snake's head spun high into the air as the body thudded to the ground. The boy -- not Harry Potter, Bane saw -- stood still for a moment, and then he drew his wand and disappeared into the mass of fleeing Dark Ones, the silver sword in his hand gleaming with the red reflections of his spells.
"Charge!" cried Magorian, and the herd rushed amongst the Dark Ones, bows twanging, hooves smashing brittle human bones. The giants' battle made the ground shake. Thestrals bore down on the fighting monstrosities, and even a Hippogriff appeared in the sky, cawing harshly and clawing at the giants' eyes.
More humans appeared from the castle gates, waving their wands, but there was no quarter for them amidst the charging centaurs, stampeding giants, and soaring beasts. The humans fled up the steps into the castle, still fighting, trampling the bodies of the fallen. Audra gave an angry shout and Bane whirled to see a deep red gash opening in her shoulder. Heedless, Audra nocked, drew, and loosed. The Dark One before her flicked his wand-wrist, and Audra's arrow broke in mid-air. Before the human had a chance to cast another spell, one of Bane's arrows found his heart. Bane's eyes met Audra's for a too-short moment, and then she disappeared into the chaos without a glance back. Firenze had not come to join the herd's charge, which could mean only that he was dead or unable to stand. Bane didn't know why the thought chilled him. He'd wished for Firenze's death more than once, if only so Audra would make peace with his absence.
"After them!" bellowed Magorian. "Audra, command is yours!"
The males followed Magorian up the steps into a vast hall whose walls bore fresh gouges from the wizards' wild-flying spells. A door to Bane's right was blasted off its hinges, and a small army of Elfbrothers roared out, led by a wizened old thing with battle-fever in his eyes. The other centaurs were struggling up the stone steps into the school, and the charge continued even as the Dark Lord suddenly rose to his full height. A boy had come to meet him in battle. The boy Harry Potter -- alive, just as Audra had said, and Bane could see it now: the white fire. The boy blazed with it like a newborn star.
A hush fell over the hall, and the fighting stopped as the Dark Lord and the Boy Who Lived circled each other. They did not use magic that Bane could see, and the boy spoke of prophecy and sacrifice. The Dark Lord grew ever angrier. There seemed to be no end in sight to the standoff.
"I am the true master of the Elder Wand," spoke the boy.
A red glow illumined the hall from above, and Bane gazed upwards, astonished at seeing the heavens instead of dull grey stone. The first edge of sunrise appeared in a window, blinding everyone for an instant.
"Avada Kedavra!" shrieked the Dark Lord.
"Expelliarmus!" cried Harry Potter.
An ear-splitting bang roared through the hall, and flames the colour of Audra's hair erupted between the two enemies. The Dark Lord's wand flew up and spun across the ceiling, towards Harry Potter. The boy caught it with an easy hand, and the jet of green light rebounded from the blaze in the circle, striking the Dark Lord where he stood. The evil one fell backward and moved no more. Harry Potter stood holding two wands, staring down at his vanquished foe. Not far behind him stood the boy who had destroyed the great snake. The silver sword was still in his hand, bloodstained but gleaming in the sunrise.
There was only a brief moment of silence before the watchers -- humans and elves and centaurs alike -- roared in triumph, Bane's own hoarse shout drowning in their chorus. The crowd closed around Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, the Master of Death. Bane did not move. His eyes were scanning those who were not moving -- the bodies piled along the walls, Dark Ones and other humans. There would be no celebration for them.
Bane's heart leapt when he saw a familiar shape amongst the bodies. Firenze lay next to the wall, unmoving, palomino hide overrun with dark blood. As Bane approached him, he realised Firenze's injured flank rose and fell with great, heaving breaths, and his eyes were open.
"Bane," he wheezed. "Have you come to finish me off? While the humans celebrate--"
The scent of apple blossoms mixed with fresh sweat filled Bane's nostrils, and in an instant, Audra was lowering herself next to Firenze.
"Sister? Am I dreaming? Or have I died, and this is the After? Have they murdered you for being my kin?"
"Don't speak," said Audra. "You've lost a lot of blood, but you're certainly not dead." She ripped a bit of cloth from a nearby Dark One's robe, spat upon it, and began to wipe Firenze's flank, her movements gentle. The wound was a gash like the one on Audra's shoulder, which she did not seem to notice still.
Bane shifted, and the sound of his hooves on stone made Audra snap her head up.
"Bane," she said, in a tone that was no longer the cold indifference of the past two turns.
Bane wanted to say something, but found no words. It was right, that Audra should tend to her brother, exiled though he may be. In the face of great evil, herd squabbles seemed to pale and shrink into the shadows of the Forest. Audra had been right all along: Firenze had a part to play in what was foretold, and he had played that part. Now, after the charge, after the battle between the Dark Lord and the boy Harry Potter, it seemed self-evident.
Audra's blue eyes held his long enough for Bane to nod.
"I will speak for him before the Circle," he said.
And he would. He would give her what he had refused two turns ago. If even one male centaur spoke against banishment whilst their Circle sat in judgement, the punishment of exile had to be replaced with a lesser.
Audra turned back to her brother, but not before Bane saw the ice in her eyes begin to melt.