The Midnight Dance of the Mooncalves
Colin Creevey glanced back at the castle, and seeing no one
watching, plunged ahead into the Forbidden Forest alone. It was sunset in
autumn, and Colin couldn’t resist sneaking into the forest to get a closer look
at the glowing leaves of the fire birch tree up close. Colin proceeded
cautiously along the paths of the forest. He was afraid of werewolves and
beasts in the forest, but he was also well aware that George, Fred, and Ron
Weasley, Lee Jordan, and Harry Potter had visited the forest before and
returned unscathed. He would hardly be a Gryffindor without a sense of
adventure, after all.
Colin guessed his direction at a first and then second fork
in the road and soon found himself at the foot of an enormous tree with scarlet
leaves. However, instead of falling, the leaves would spontaneously burst into
flame, sending spectacular red, orange, and gold sparks in every direction.
All around the tree was a large clearing with trampled grass. Colin found a
sturdy oak on the far side of the clearing and sat against it lazily,
mesmerized by the fire birch, whose fiery bursts became even more spectacular
as it played against the bold hues of the sunset and eventually the dark night
sky. Each time it seemed the tree couldn’t possibly have any leaves yet to
lose, a new display of sparks began and the tree was covered in dancing flame.
Forgotten was the potions homework, or any worries about monsters in the
forest. He breathed deeply and found himself falling asleep, curled up against
the oak tree.
He awoke several hours later. Lying on the ground looking
overhead, he could see that the tree stood bare and proud, all its leaves lost.
The end of each twig glowed like the embers of a fire with a reddish-gold hue.
Colin shook himself awake, propped himself up on his elbows and looked around.
There was a full moon in the sky and the clearing was
glowing with silver moonlight reflected off the smooth skin of dozens of
creatures which had gathered while he was asleep. There was a soft music
playing somewhere, and the animals were dancing gracefully. Colin stared in
fascination at the creatures. They were about knee high, with
huge feet and spindly legs, so that at each step their knees threatened to
buckle. Their bodies were perfectly round, and upon a narrow neck was
perched a perfectly round head with bulging round eyes on top. They stood on
their hind legs, sometimes in pairs with their front feet pressed up against a
partner, and sometimes the whole group holding hands to form concentric circles
that twirled left and right. The dances were complicated, nearly as
mesmerizing as the tree had been.
After a time, Colin became aware of the biting cold of the
autumn night and the lateness of the hour. He realized that the creatures
might not notice him where he lay, but were likely to notice when he moved or
stood to return to the castle. He shivered, took a deep breath, and slowly
moved to stand.
Colin had hardly risen to one knee, however, when he felt
hands from behind him pushing him down and covering his mouth. He heard a deep
voice whispering in his ear.
“Human, do not move. You will startle them. You are
fortunate to witness the Midnight Dance of the Mooncalves. Rarely
do the full moon and the Midnight Dance coincide with the Festival of the Fire
Birch. You must not interrupt. You have observed quietly for hours,
and so we have allowed you to stay. You may remain still and quiet until the
end of the festival, or you may sleep here all night under another enchantment.
Which do you choose?”
Colin felt the hands releasing him. He turned to look at
who had caught him and saw a centaur- the torso of a man on a horse’s body. He
had white blond hair and a palomino body.
“Please- I’d like to watch-“ Colin
The centaur smiled and nodded, and picked up a lyre nearby
and resumed playing the cheerful music of the dance. Colin turned his head very
slowly to look around the trees behind the clearing. There were dozens of
centaurs gleaming in the moonlight, playing lyres- some were of rich shades of
chestnut and black, others were dappled and gray. Colin turned his attention
back to the mooncalves. In pairs, the mooncalves were leaving the dance,
scurrying away into the woods and out of sight.
The dance was over. The plants of the
clearing were trampled in a perfect circle, with grasses and flowers in whorls
flattened against the ground. The clearing glowed with the silvery
droppings left behind by the mooncalves. Thousands of tiny twig-like men with
long, sharp fingers and glittering black eyes came forward and collected the
dung, carrying it away with them into the forest. Colin tried
again to rise to one knee to leave and felt himself restrained again immediately,
with the centaur’s whisper in his ear.
“It is not yet finished. Do you know why we collect the
droppings from the moondung?”
Colin shook his head, shrugging.
The centaur explained patiently, “It is a fertilizer for
magical plants. Humans who collect mooncalf droppings unknowingly decrease the
beauty of the forest. The bowtruckles
take it to nourish their magical trees. We centaurs collect some to
nurture other plants, and some will remain here to feed this tree. After this much
is complete you may return to your school.”
The centaur paused.
“You have seen and appreciated much of the beauty in living
things today. I hope you will remember it even when that beauty is less
And with that the centaurs and bowtruckles faded into the
darkness, and a cloud obscured the moon.
“Wow,” breathed Colin. “I have to owl Dennis about this…”
He ran back to the castle and marveled on his remarkable