The Sugar Quill
Author: zzzFF Szandara  Story: Change and Choice  Chapter: Default
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As he entered the shadows of the great trees, his massive shoulders seemed to relax and the tension fell from his body

Change and Choice

By Szandara

 

As he entered the shadows of the great trees, tension eased from his massive shoulders. Hogwarts was home, but he never truly felt comfortable indoors. It was tiring, constantly ducking through low doorways, always standing, since there was rarely a chair that would support his weight. His hut was a retreat, but the Forest was welcoming; beside its ancient trees he was not awkwardly oversized. He sat beside a trunk as large around as his hut, pulled a sausage from his pocket and took a bite.

He didn’t have long to wait. At the hoofbeats Hagrid stood, inclining his head respectfully, but with a broad smile.

"Lo, Firenze. How’s things in the Forest?"

The centaur nodded gravely. Both knew there might not be many more conversations like this one. Hagrid would soon leave Hogwarts again, perhaps forever. Ominous signs in the sky spoke of change, of a great convulsion in the forces of the world.

"Things are as they have been, my friend. But not for much longer. You will be traveling soon."

Hagrid grinned. "I’d ask how yeh knew that, but you centaurs know what’s goin’ on afore anyone. Dumbledore’s asked me to go on a mission fer him. Things is gettin’ bad, and gonna get worse afore it’s over."

"If I read the signs rightly, a great evil has awoken from sleep," Firenze replied. "We have much to discuss. My people do not wish to hear, but your world and ours cannot be separated, and ignorance is no shield."

"Wish more of our lot knew that," responded Hagrid, his smile fading. The two began to walk, Hagrid noticing again the pleasure of conversing with someone whose head was level with his own.

Firenze listened thoughtfully to the story of the recently concluded Triwizard Tournament. Hagrid was a useful source of information, and though some considered him stupid, Firenze knew this was not the case. He was not learned, like Dumbledore, and had none of the elderly wizard’s subtlety. But his instinctive understanding of the natural world, his empathy with all living creatures, had earned Firenze’s respect.

"This Harry Potter has proven himself worthy," he said. "Bane still despises me for allowing him upon my back, but his courage deserves our regard."

"Harry’s a good kid," Hagrid agreed. "I kinda feel like him an’ me, we’re alike, yeh know? Got no real family, got to make our own way in the world." He paused, turning to Firenze. "An’ speakin’ o’family, I got to ask…" He took a deep breath. "Yeh ever know any giants, Firenze? Cause I’m lookin’fer ‘em, that’s what Dumbledore wants me ta do, an’ I dunno…."

He trailed off, looking at his boots. "Me mum…she wen’ off when I was jus’ little. Well, young anyways." He gave a small laugh. "Dunno that I was ever little. But I don’ remember her. I knows what folks say about giants, and I knows what they say ‘bout me. An’….what if they’re right?" His eyes did not meet Firenze’s.

T he centaur pawed restlessly with one hoof, forming a response. He never spoke hastily, and now, especially, he wanted to answer with care.

"I never knew your mother," he began, "but the centaurs have many tales of the giants. From what you have said, she was unusual among her kind. She tried to learn of those unlike her, rather than fearing and shunning them. Not an easy task."

"Yeh’d know bout that, eh Firenze?" said Hagrid. "Not many centaurs are willin’ to talk to wizards, or help ‘em, ‘cept you."

"A wise observation," Firenze said, with one of his rare smiles. "Your mother was probably more intelligent than most giants. But not all that is said of their nature is false. Violence is part of the giants, their strength is dangerously uncontrolled. Perhaps her leaving was a gift to you; she knew your best chance at happiness and safety lay within your father’s world."

"Yeh think?" Hagrid’s tone was hopeful. "If she’s still…anyway, even if I don’ find her, Dumbledore thinks I kin talk to ‘em, try an’ keep ‘em from joinin’ you-know-who. That could be real trouble. Dumbledore sez everybody’s gonna have ta choose, now. Even the giants." He looked up into Firenze’s eyes. "Even the centaurs."

Tail swishing, Firenze considered this, once again impressed by the old wizard’s wisdom. Choice and change ahead, said the skies, and the outcome still in shadow. "My people wish only to walk in the forest as we always have. The fights between wizardkind are not our battles. And yet, I foresee that we shall be drawn in, against our will. For myself, I will stand with Albus Dumbledore, and will ask my herd to do the same. But whether they will hear me…that is hidden. I have dreamed that I must leave the forest, but whether it is truth or merely fear that speaks to me in sleep, I know not."

They spoke a little longer, of Aragog and his family, of unicorns and thestrals, and then were silent. The light fell in shifting patterns of green as they strolled, feet and hooves cushioned by the fallen leaves of autumns past. The Forest was peaceful, but both felt its peace was a fragile, threatened thing.

"Well, I’d best be gettin’ back," Hagrid said, as the earliest stars emerged beyond the canopy of leaves. "G’bye Firenze. An’ thanks."

"I wish you good fortune, my friend," replied the centaur. He took the half-giant’s wide shoulders in his hands, and bent to touch his forehead to Hagrid’s. Firenze had never bestowed this salute on anyone outside his herd, and Hagrid knew enough of centaurs’ ways to recognize it. "May you find what you seek, and return to the forest again."

Hagrid did not speak, merely looking at Firenze with glistening eyes before turning away. Firenze cantered off in the opposite direction, his heart heavy with the weight of change to come, as the silence of night closed over him and the ancient trees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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