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The sky was alive with stars. Polaris burned brightly in the distant dark, and the constellations spread themselves across the night, spelling out their secrets. The heavens were moonless, cloudless, and waiting for their mysteries to be divined by one who understood how.
In the Forbidden Forest behind Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, there were many who knew how to read the signs. One of these stood silently in a clearing, his full attention on the universe above him. A breeze ruffled the white-blond hair which hung to his shoulders, and his eyes darted from one cluster of stars to another as though searching for something he could not find. The centaur lowered his gaze and began to pace; his steps were heavy, for his mind was very full of all he had just heard.
The elderly wizard called Albus Dumbledore was not a frequent visitor to the Forbidden Forest. It was common to encounter Hagrid, the school’s gamekeeper and a friend to all creatures, but the headmaster of the school was a different story. In fact, Firenze could not remember Dumbledore ever coming into the forest.
But he had come now, and on a matter of great urgency. He had sought the centaur herd; how he had found them, how he had persuaded them to even hear what he had to say, was something Firenze would never know. Yet he found himself, along with his kindred, standing in a semicircle around the tall wizard, listening to his plea.
"Our situation grows dire," Dumbledore had said. "The Ministry has refused to accept that which I know your kind has read in the stars. They will not accept what is to come, and their hold on Hogwarts grows tighter with every passing day. They have sent one of their own officers to undermine my authority, and she is working to remove all aspects of resistance or what she claims to be inadequacy on the part of my staff. I have ascertained that tonight she plans to dismiss my Divination teacher, and that is why I have come to you."
Bane nodded curtly. "It was foretold to us in the heavens that you would come to seek our aid," he said. "And why? We have never troubled you, nor wished to be troubled by you."
"Nor do I wish to trouble you now." Dumbledore’s voice was steady, but his eyes were deeply concerned. "But I need someone to instruct my students in the art of divination. If I do not select someone myself, the Ministry will appoint someone for me, no doubt another of Fudge’s loyalists."
"We are not loyal to the Ministry," conceded Ronan in his mournful voice.
"Nor are we loyal to you," snapped Bane.
"Exactly!" There was something like hope in Dumbledore’s face. "Your loyalties cannot be shaken because you have none. I do not ask you to become loyal to me, only to remain as you have always been.
"If you will assist me," he said, "we may yet be able to stop the growing evil. No one and nothing will be safe -- no, not even your marvelous kind -- if the world is once again held hostage to Lord Voldemort." He looked slowly around the half-circle of his listeners, meeting Firenze’s eyes last of all; when their gazes connected, bright blue on bright blue, Firenze felt a jolt of guilt.
"I thank you for hearing me out," Dumbledore concluded. "Should any of you decide to accept my offer, come to the edge of the forest within an hour’s time. I will meet you there." He bowed, which Firenze thought was unusually courteous for so discourteous a species as humans are known to be, then turned and left.
The moment Dumbledore was out of sight Bane snorted. "We are sworn," he bellowed, "not to set ourselves against the heavens! Indeed, we have foreseen what is to come, but the affairs of humans are not the affairs of centaurs!"
There was a rumbling of assent among the herd. Magorian nodded at Bane. "It was foolish of him to come. He should have known that we would not help him."
Ronan pawed the ground gloomily. "I suppose he thought it was worth a try."
"Well, it was for nothing," Bane returned sharply. "What becomes of the human world is not our concern. It is not for us to be involved."
As the rest of the centaurs discussed the issue in agitated whispers, Firenze slipped away into the trees.
He moved silently through the undergrowth to his favorite clearing, where he stood watching the stars perform their endless dance. They spoke to him, as they had spoken to him throughout his life. Destruction was foretold there, and the coming of evil. He could see clearly that the wizards of the world were poised between two wars -- one which was over, and one which would soon begin. He saw, too, that the Potter boy was to be a central figure in all that was approaching.
One night, four years earlier, Firenze had found Harry Potter being menaced by the monster who once more threatened the world; he had rescued the young human, for which he had been chastised. Unlike the elder centaurs, such as Bane and Magorian, Firenze was not content to merely read the stars. He felt the need to stand against evil, to ally himself with the humans if that was what it took to stop the prophecies of the planets. He had done so once already, four years ago. He had to accept this chance to fight for peace again.
The others, he knew, would not approve. To unite with humans in such a way was treason to centaurs; they would banish him. Firenze’s resolve wavered, then stiffened again. He gazed at the sky, remembering something Hagrid had told him -- something Dumbledore had told his students.
The time may come when you must choose between what is right and what is easy.