Chapter 15: A Summer Solstice

The weeks that followed were filled with activity for Ron, Hermione Harry, and Ginny. Time seemed to fly as they each brought effort to bear on their chosen undertakings. Though daylight hours were absorbed by their individual endeavors, most evenings were spent together sharing the day's news, accomplishments, and amusing moments.

In addition to the Burrow, the Granger home became another place of familiarity and comfort. The unpacking chores were proceeding slowly and a fair amount still needed to be accomplished. Dan and Emma began to reconnect with their old friends and revive their dental practice. But most special to them was the magical warmth of their daughter being near. Her enthusiasm, and that of her close friends, enriched their lives engendering new and profound insights. Appreciation and a fuller understanding of the part their daughter had played, which had affected the course of events in the magical world, became a source of great pride.

Hogwarts became a beehive of activity as overseers, foremen, work crews, and volunteers began working, both inside and out, to mend the castle and the surrounding grounds. On workdays, Ginny was usually first to leave the Burrow in the mornings. Traveling by floo to Hogwarts, she would meet up with Ken and his construction crew at the Quidditch pitch. The many details and decisions requiring her attention was astounding. There were a few occasions where Ginny sought out McGonagall for approval on something. But for the most part, Ginny made decisions based on her visions and ideas to make Quidditch at Hogwarts better than ever. Slowly, a group of volunteers wishing to help with the pitch rebuilding effort formed. Many were Quidditch players who like Ginny, were looking forward to the resumption of inter-house competitions. With guidance from Ken, she set them to work using scouring and painting spells on the undamaged parts of the pitch.

Ginny also followed up on the many owls she had sent to Quidditch suppliers. Some needed additional owls to persuade them to donate. But most of the suppliers on her list had gladly donated. She kept the new equipment securely stored away under locking charm and anti-theft jinx. There were house colored uniforms that magically resized to the wearer. There were protective safety pads, planning boards, and trunks containing matching sets of Quidditch balls and beater bats. Floating scoreboards for the pitch, grandstand banners that could change to each house color, and omnioculars for use during practice. Slow to come in however, were flying brooms and many were still needed. She had known from the outset that these would be the hardest to obtain. The owls she sent to the many different retailers asked, and sometimes begged, for Nimbus 2005 or Cleansweep 11 brooms. The few brooms she did received were the older Nimbus 2000 and Cleansweep 7.

Hermione spent some of her time at Hogwarts helping Hannah mend books and put the library back in order. Ginny usually joined them for lunch and a fair amount of girl talk ensued. But more and more, Hermione spent her time reading about the rights of centaurs and elves in the magical world. The Hogwarts library had a decent amount of general information on the subject and she worked her way through it in fairly short order. But it wasn't long before her afternoons were spent at the Ministry. With help from Kingsley, she obtained barrister level access to the Ministry of Magic law library. There she found a bewildering number of books, papers, and case briefs going back a hundred years and more. Much of it was stored haphazardly and poorly organized. The librarian, Alban Redbifore, told her the disorganization had occurred during the last few years. Staff workers, spread thin doing tasks in several departments, were slowly putting things back in order. Hermione helped reorganized misplaced books and papers as she came across them.

Ron spent time at the joke shop helping George, Lee, and Angelina. With help from George, he also worked on his product ideas. Some were completed and being sold to customers. Ron was well on his way to repaying his loan despite Dan's insistence that there was no rush. The atmosphere in the joke shop was light hearted and therapeutic for many of the customers. Product demonstrations performed by George and, depending on the product, his not always enthusiastic assistant Angelina, brought laughter to those who were present. Sometimes there were customers waiting for the joke shop to open in the mornings and others were reluctant to leave at closing.

At other times, Ron was at Hogwarts helping with the rebuilding efforts and listening to the war stories that people needed to tell him, and each other. There were shared condolences for those who had lost loved ones and support for those who were recovering from injuries. As the work of mending Hogwarts progressed, the gloom in the lives of the volunteer witches and wizards slowly brightened. Friendship and trust began to displace their loneliness, fear, and doubt.

Since the day Harry and Ginny had visited Teddy and Andromeda, Harry had spent a lot of time at the Ministry and Grimmauld Place. Andromeda had told Harry that she had absolutely no interest in that "positively dreadful place." After a brief conversation between Harry, Andromeda, and Kreacher about potential buyers, Kreacher had set to work on his task. Three days later, Kreacher had returned to Harry with the name of an interested buyer, Marcellus Burke. Married to Patrice Hitchens, a descendent from a part of the family disowned by Walburga, they were both nonetheless of Black family lineage. Negotiations with Marcellus on the details of the sale had been onerous. Harry enlisted the help of Landis and in the end, was generally satisfied with the final deal. And much to Harry's discomfort, Kreacher was beside himself with praise, to anyone who would listen, about Harry's shrewd and honorable handling of the entire affair.

About midafternoon, the four of them rounded the final turn on the path that had brought them through the forbidden forest toward the centaur settlement. They had talked about their experiences being in the forbidden forest and reminisced about their first detention with Hagrid. The dark gloom and long shadows of the forest now gave way to the large circular clearing surrounded by tall trees and centaur dwellings. They stopped to take in the scene of a festival that greeted their eyes and ears. There were centaurs of all ages and a few elves and Thestrals. Colorful banners hung from many of the tree branches. A pair of massive oak trees shaded a large table laden with food and drink. They heard laughter, merriment, and the music of flutes and drums. In one area of the clearing, performers strummed lutes and lyres while acting in a play. In other place, centaur foals cantered about playing games.

"Welcome," said a centaur walking up to them. She wore flowers of deep red and bright yellow encircling her neck and arms. "We are pleased you have come to celebrate the great day of Litha with us."

"Thank you Bykea," said Hermione looking up with a smile. "I'm sure you remember Ron. This is Harry and Ginny."

"A pleasure to meet you," said Bykea with a smile and respectful nod of her head.

Reaching into her satchel, Bykea withdrew a crown woven of blue and yellow flowers. She carefully lowered it into place on Hermione's head. Reaching in again, she withdrew a vine with blue and yellow flowers and carefully wrapped it around Ron's left arm above the elbow.

Looking at Ron and Hermione, Bykea said, "Homam be your guide and councilor."

Bykea then placed a crown of red and yellow flowers on Ginny's head and a vine with red and yellow flowers on Harry's arm.

Looking at Harry and Ginny she said, "Enif be your guide and councilor."

Then Bykea raised her arms toward the festival. "Please, feel welcome and partake of food, drink, and merriment."

They all thanked her and began walking along the edge of the clearing. Ron was keen on checking out the food table a short distance away, much to the expectations of Hermione, Ginny, and Harry. The table, filled to capacity with food and drink, looked much like a Great Hall feast at start of term. There were all manner of breads, barley cakes, and alfalfa biscuits. There were fruits, greens, vegetables, herb sauces, and different colored juices and wine.

At one end of the table, a very large glass container, set on a golden metal base, contained sparkling water. Bright champagne-like bubbles of blue and green gently swirled within the water. A centaur had just filled his cup with the sparkling water. Raising his cup toward them, he said, "For your good health." Then, taking a second cup in hand, the centaur turned and moved toward the far side of the clearing.

As Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione were sampling the cuisine, two filly centaurs shyly walked up to them. They each wore flower anklets above their hooves and a large flower necklace.

Timidly, one of the fillies said to Ron, "Are you the deliverer?"

Ron swallowed a bite of alfalfa biscuit and pointed to Harry. "That's him over there."

"I'm the what?" said Harry in an alarming tone. Hermione was unsuccessful in suppressing her giggles.

"Yeah mate," said Ron between another bite of the biscuit. "Bane read it in the stars ages ago. Hermione knew what it meant straight away."

Harry looked at Hermione with his mouth half-open.

Hermione stammered, "Well ... I ... umm ..."

"I think these two lovely fillies just want to meet you," said Ginny looking at Harry with a meaningful expression.

"Oh." Feeling embarrassed, he turned toward the two fillies. "Sorry, pleased to meet you. I'm Harry. Umm, what are your names?"

The two fillies put their hands over their mouths and turned toward each other. Regaining some composure, one of them meekly said, "My name is Eloria and this is my best friend Talia."

A short while later, they began exploring the festival; escorted for a time by Eloria and Talia. They saw a group of young centaurs playing an energetic game of hoofball. It looked much like a muggle football game played in England. But in this game, two balls were in play and each moved quickly between the players. The red team kicked their ball toward the goal at one end of the field. At the same time, the blue team kicked their ball toward the goal on the other end. The players were calling out to each other, prancing in quick moves and weaving across the field. Sometimes, a player would simultaneously kick their ball forward with one leg and block the opposing team ball with a different leg. Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione joined in the cheering of the spectators when the teams scored goals and seemingly impossible moves were made.

As they continued to walk, they met other centaurs who warmly welcomed them. They heard war stories from those who had fought in the battle. Others told them about the festival and things that had happened in years past. Some expressed displeasure with the Ministry of Magic and offered suggestions for how it might become better. Overall, it seemed to Ron and Hermione that the centaurs had set aside their passionate differences for the day.

They came to a break in the trees where a long narrow meadow extended off toward the east. Centaurs stood in small groups intently talking with each other. Most were holding bows and wearing quivers of arrows over their shoulders. At the far end of the meadow, three circular targets were set up. At what looked like the officiator's podium, a centaur was looking down and marking a long roll of parchment.

Hermione leaned close to Harry and Ginny. "That's Cerineas. He's one of the four council elders."

"Wow, a tournament," said Ron in a delighted tone of voice. He turned to Harry. "Centaur archery is the absolute best. We don't want to miss this one mate."

Just then, Eloria and Talia came up to them. Eloria said, "Hermione, Ginny, will you accompany us? We'd like to show you something."

Hermione looked at Ginny who nodded back to her with a relieved expression.

"We'll see you guys a bit later," said Hermione to Ron and Harry. Then accompanied by Eloria and Talia, Hermione and Ginny walked toward the trees along the edge of the meadow a short distance away.

As Harry and Ron were watching them walk away, their attention drew back to the tournament by the raised voice of Cerineas.

"Will the following archers step up to the ready line for the final round of competition, Juxea, Magorian, and Sarion. The targets are now five paces further away. You each have three shots and splitting an arrow counts double. The archer with the highest score will be declared the winner."

From the different groups, shouts of encouragement followed the three centaurs as they took their places on the line. An older centaur came up to Harry and Ron. "Care to make a wager? Juxea is the clear favorite."

"No thanks," said Ron. "We don't know much about archery."

"Not much to know," said the centaur. "Simpler than that game played at Hogwarts."

Harry and Ron smiled and nodded in agreement. Then Harry said, "Maybe another time."

"As you wish," said the centaur. Then with a slight bow of his head, he turned and walked off.

"Those who are watching will be silent," said Cerineas in a raised voice to the gathering. Turning to the archers on the line he said, "You may each take your first shot."

The archers set arrow on string and drew it back taking aim. One by one, the arrows flew through the air and all hit their respective targets. Two downfield centaurs checked each target and signaled back each score.

Cerineas noted the scores on the parchment. "Juxea scores ten, Magorian scores eight, and Sarion scores eight." Cheers erupted from the centaurs who were watching and many of them rapidly stamped their four hooves on the ground.

"Silence," said Cerineas. When all was quiet he said, "You may each take your second shot."

Once again, arrows flew through the air.

"Juxea scores nine, Magorian scores nine, and Sarion scores seven." Cheers once again erupted from the centaurs and more words of encouragement were shouted.

Cerineas held up his hands and silence returned. "You may each take your third and final shot."

The archers seemed more deliberate in their mannerisms this time. Bows slowly raised and then, the arrows flew.

"Juxea scores ten and Magorian scores ten. Sarion has split his arrow scoring sixteen. Sarion is the winner."

Cheers erupted from the centaurs accompanied by considerable hoof stamping. Grinning broadly, Harry and Ron also cheered and clapped for Sarion. Ron chanced to look toward the edge of the meadow and caught sight of Paxeas waving at them.

"Come with me mate, there's someone you need to meet."

"So good to see you," said Paxeas as Ron and Harry reached the place where he stood by the trees.

"It's good to see you too," said Ron. "Harry, this is Paxeas. He is the eldest and wisest member of the tribe. Paxeas, this is Harry Potter."

"A pleasure to meet you," said Harry as he stepped toward Paxeas and extended his hand.

"I am most pleased to meet you at last," smiled Paxeas as he shook Harry's hand. "Albus and I talked many times over the years. He was greatly concerned for the safety of you and your friends. We made plans and arrangements that thankfully were not necessary."

"I'm grateful to you and all the centaurs that came to our defense and fought the battle at Hogwarts. Their help made it possible for Hermione, Ron, and me to accomplish what needed to be done. We sincerely appreciate their courage, bravery, and sacrifices."

"Those who chose to join the battle were honored to fight at your side. Their action, and example to us all, has caused division among us. I think it may be a long time before harmony on this matter is restored."

"Umm ... with all respect to your customs, there is one thing that still bothers me."

"Please, speak your mind freely with me."

"It's how Firenze was treated. He was made outcast from your tribe for coming to my defense in the forest. I am grateful and indebted to him because he saved me from Voldemort that night. Without his action, I would not be standing here and things would have turned out much differently."

"I, and most of the tribe, deeply regret what was done to him. At that time, many of us saw the stars through clouded skies. Our human weakness prejudiced rightful thinking and judgment. It was not until Albus came to secure the release of the pink professor, that some began to reason more clearly. There continues much debate as to the true message of the stars on this matter. I am confident that your deliverance of the golden daybreak will brighten our way forward."

Harry's eyebrows narrowed. "Someone needs to explain that part to me. I sure hope there aren't any more dreadful things I'm supposed to do."

"The stars speak most favorably of your future," said Paxeas with a wink. "It will be abundantly filled with friendship, satisfaction, and love. Now, regarding the message divined by Bane, these were his words. ..."

Eloria and Talia led Hermione and Ginny into the thick aspen trees growing along the edge of the meadow. After only a few paces in, Eloria and Talia paused.

"Just one moment," said Eloria to Hermione and Ginny.

The two centaurs each picked up a bouquet of lavender flowers, tied with a golden band, and handed them to Hermione and Ginny.

"Oh they're beautiful," said Ginny. "Does this mean what I think?"

Talia smiled and motioned with her outstretched hand toward the trees. "Just a short distance further in. We will wait for you here."

Hermione and Ginny beamed at each other in delight. They thanked the centaurs and excitedly moved deeper into the trees. After about twenty paces, a shimmering white glow became visible from between the tree trunks. As they stepped into a clearing, the breath caught in their throats. Two unicorns, one on each side of the clearing, stood before them. Each was whiter than snow with sparkling silver manes and tails. The spiraled horn on their foreheads glinted gold in the soft glow of purest white light that surrounded them.

Beyond fairy tales, Hermione and Ginny knew about unicorns from their Care of Magical Creatures lessons with professor Grubbly-Plank. However, these unicorns were different and beyond their imaginings. These were older and projected an intense aura of celestial majesty. They seemed like wise and benevolent beings from a far off and peaceful world.

Hermione felt drawn toward the unicorn with a bearded chin. With a serene expression on her face, and a feeling of humility, she stepped slowly forward. Stopping a short distance in front, she stood motionless and held out the bouquet of flowers in front of her as if making an offering.

Ginny felt drawn toward the unicorn with a pinkish tint in its mane. With a peaceful expression and feeling of reverence, she moved and stood before the unicorn holding out her bouquet of flowers.

They watched and waited with hearts beating fast in anticipation. The ears of each unicorn pricked forward and their piercing sky blue eyes became transfixed. Time seemed to slow for Hermione and Ginny and their senses became acutely focused. The forest and festival sounds faded from perception into an undisturbed silence.

After a long moment, the gaze of each unicorn softened and their eyes showed gentleness and warmth. They each nickered, pawed the ground, and then stepped forward, one to Hermione and the other to Ginny. As the lavender flowers were accepted, Hermione and Ginny glanced over their shoulders at each other with a smile.

Hermione carefully reached out, and at arm's length, touched the neck of the unicorn. It felt like fine silk as her hand caressed its surface. The silvery hairs of the mane felt delicate and lustrous. Then, unexpectedly, the head of the unicorn dropped behind her back and with a gentle nod, Hermione was drawn closer. Ginny too, was drawn closer and her arms encircled the neck of the unicorn.

Feelings of warmth, acceptance, and admiration washed over her and the soft white glow of the unicorn enveloped her. Then, a question gently filled her mind. She looked up at the unicorn and smiled. Speaking in her mind she thought, "Hermione. What's your name?"

"Eridani. I am honored to meet you. Your virtue is as brilliant as the noonday sun. Burdened unto breaking, yet intact, and now stronger. Tell me of the things that tug at your heart."

Ginny thought delightedly, "I never dreamed that I'd be hearing your voice in my head. Oh Cericia, this is wonderful."

"Your virtue is like the fragrance of a dew covered rose in the cool morning dawn. Blest are those who are guided by your spirit and strength of character. What are the concerns of your heart?"

"... beyond two self-reliant and opinionated individuals." thought Hermione.

"Take a lesson from the Wisteria. Alone, it grows only a short distance skyward. It bends under its own weight and must grow along the ground because it cannot support itself. But when two vines find each other, they twist around one another and grow upward side by side. Each retains its identity while protecting and nourishing the other. Together they have strength to grow high into the tree and meander among its topmost branches. Up there, the air is clear and they thrive in the abundant light of the sun."

"... and he endured so many hardships. What is Quidditch compared to that? It's just a game after all."

"Take care not to forsake a true desire of your heart. There is a time and season for each purpose in your life. Yet some are attainable only in youth, a time when the spirit is free and unburdened. Its pursuit will touch the soul of others. Strive to know his heart as well as you know your own. The right time will become clear to both of you."

"... I help him see things more seriously." She grinned. "He makes me laugh."

"Friendship, freely chosen, is the firmest of foundations. A little more each day, you will know better each other's heart."

"Will I ever see you again?" thought Ginny.

"One day we will meet again. Until then, you may find me in your dreams. Now, I have a gift for you. Hold out the golden band from the bouquet in the palm of your hand."

She took the band from her pocket and held it out. Cericia bowed her head and the tip of her horn touched the band. As Ginny watched, the band became engulfed a bright white light. An instant later, the light faded away. A small crystal vial, no larger than her pinkie finger, lie on her hand.

"This is water from a certain bubbling spring in the land where I dwell. A moistened finger, touched to injury or pain, will bring comfort and healing."

"Oh thank you," thought Ginny in astonishment. The crystal was delicately faceted with a golden stopper and long chain. Inside the vial, pinpoints of light flashed randomly in the water. After a moment, she put the chain around her neck and tucked the crystal safely away.

Cericia turned and walked toward Eridani. Ginny saw Hermione tucking a chain around her neck safely away. Eridani began to walk toward Cericia.

Hermione and Ginny moved next to each other facing the unicorns. With feelings of melancholy, they looked for a long moment at the radiant beauty of Eridani and Cericia. The unicorns bobbed their heads and whinnied gently.

With teary eyes, Hermione and Ginny softly said, "Goodbye." The unicorns sparkled brightly, became transparent, and then faded from sight. A pang touched each of their hearts as they stared at the spot where the unicorns once stood. Then, Hermione and Ginny embraced each other firmly.

"We'd best be getting back Ginny. Harry and Ron are probably wondering where we've been all this time."

"... and on the day of Litha," said Paxeas to Ron and Harry, "Pegasus was given wings to carry the spirit of our forbearers into this world. He called upon the stars of the southern sky to unite that spirit with their noble kind. Thus was the genesis of our first ancestors."

A centaur came up to them. "Pardon my interruption, Grand Elder Paxeas. The council elders are in need of you."

"If you will excuse me," said Paxeas, "the celebration will begin soon and some preparations must be completed. It has been a pleasure talking with you."

"Thank you," said Harry. "It's been a pleasure meeting and talking with you too."

"Hope to see you again soon," said Ron. "Take care."

Harry and Ron watched as Paxeas, helped by the attendant centaur, walk toward a dwelling a short distance away.

Ron glanced around. "You reckon Hermione and Ginny are okay?"

"Yeah," smiled Harry. "Pity the person on the wrong end of the wand with either of them."

"You're right about that mate," grinned Ron. "Still, it's getting dark and they've been gone for a while. We don't really know where they are."

"That's a good point." He looked toward the trees. "Where did they go in?"

Ron pointed, "Just up there by that ... Oh, that looks like Talia."

Talia stepped from the forest into the meadow followed by Ginny, Hermione, and Eloria. Harry and Ron crossed the meadow and met up with them. The expression on the face of Hermione and Ginny was radiant.

"Eloria, Talia, thank you so very much," said Hermione.

"You are most welcome. Talia, it is almost time, we need to go."

Ginny thanked them and Eloria and Talia cantered off.

Hermione put her arms around Ron. "It was wonderful. Unicorns! There were two, mine was called Eridani."

Ginny wrapped her arms around Harry. "Mine was called Cericia. She was so beautiful and we had such a lovely time."

"What was it like?" said Ron.

As Harry and Ginny watched, Hermione said, "Like this." Then she squeezed him tightly and kissed him with gusto.

Harry felt a finger push on his chin directing his face back to Ginny. An instant later, she snogged him zestfully.

A peaceful tranquil feeling quickly filled Ron and Harry. After a long moment, both couples slowly broke apart.

"Gobsmacked," smiled Ron taking a deep breath and holding her close.

She smiled and took Ron's hand. They began walking toward a fire that was ablaze a short distance away. Other centaurs carrying lanterns were also moving toward the fire. In a low voice she said, "He's over five hundred years old and his coat felt like liquid silk. ..."

"That was wonderful Ginny. You must have had a really excellent time with Cericia."

Joining hands, they followed Ron and Hermione speaking quietly. "It seemed like a dream," said Ginny. "We talked telepathically. She is so wise. She gave me a crystal vial filled with healing water from a spring where she lives. ..."

The sky was quite dark now with only a feeble twilight visible in the west. They stopped by the edge of a large grassy area. A small rise, looking a bit like a stage, was on the north side. Two fires, with a small distance between them, blazed at its base. In a semicircle around the fires, looking something like an amphitheater, centaurs were resting comfortably on the grass in small groups. A narrow aisle lined by lanterns on each side, bisected the resting centaurs and led between the fires to the rise.

"I will take you to your places," said Ronan who had quietly moved up beside them.

They exchanged greetings with Ronan and then followed him toward an open area in front on the right. There were thick tufts of grass and they sat down comfortably. The fires cracked and popped and the gentle murmur of centaur voices accompanied the sounds of the night.

Presently, the four elder centaurs appeared and slowly walked up the aisle toward the fires. They each wore a dark red colored robe with wide cape that extended to their flanks. There were patterns of golden stars on the capes that glinted in the firelight. A sash with markings of achievement and rank hung from each of their necks. Cerineas was last to enter. He carried a staff in his hand and used it like a walking stick. The top of the staff bore the carved image of a winged horse. The four elders passed between the fires and stood on the rise facing the gathering. The flames of the fires cast dancing shadows on their faces.

After a brief moment, Cerineas took a step forward. The murmuring voices faded leaving only the sounds of chirping crickets and snaps from the fires.

Looking at Ron, Hermione, Harry, and Ginny, Cerineas extended his hand toward them. "Welcome honored guests. We are pleased to have you among us on this special night." Then turning to the gathering he said in a raised voice, "Good evening and best wishes to each of you. We are gathered together on this the great feast of Litha. May the stars of Pegasus look down with favor, not only on us, but on all life inhabiting this world." The sound of soft applause arose from the gathering.

"Soon, we will begin the Celestial Celebration, that which binds us as family. But first, some items to attend. Elder Kidor, will you make the pronouncements."

Cerineas stepped back and Kidor took a step forward. He took out a scroll and unrolled it. Holding the scroll at arm's length, he read it aloud in a raised and authoritative voice.

"The council agrees to continue night patrols to ensure the safety of the tribe. Those of age will take watch in turn as directed by Magorian. ... It is further agreed that foals will remain within the settlement boundary between sundown and sunup. Foals are forbidden to travel unaccompanied into the forest. ... All tribal members shall remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to Magorian. ... All other pronouncements remain unchanged."

Kidor rolled up the scroll and stepped back.

Cerineas stepped forward holding the staff in his hand. "After careful deliberation of all testimony, it is clear that the deliverer has defeated a great evil. As was foretold to us by the stars, a new day begins for us all. It is the decision of this council to begin efforts toward improved relations with the Ministry of Magic. Bane will champion our cause. He has selected Firenze as his second."

Most of the centaurs applauded at these words but some frowned in displeasure.

A chill washed over Hermione. She looked at Ron with an unsettled expression as butterflies danced in her stomach. She was delighted at the decision of the council. But she also knew a lot of challenging work lay ahead.

Ron took her hand. "Just say the word when you need help."

"That goes for me too," said Harry.

"And me," said Ginny.

"Oh thank you," said Hermione in a sincerely thankful tone. "You're the best friends ever."

Cerineas looked up the center aisle and with a raised voice said, "Grand Elder Paxeas, would you please come forward."

With an attendant centaur for support, Paxeas stepped from the shadows and slowly moved up the aisle. A long emerald colored stole hung from his neck and reached down to his knees. An emerald colored cape, adorned with the golden image of a flaming sun, lay over his back. It hung loosely along his sides and flanks and its golden tasseled edges almost touched the ground. When he reached the fires, he turned to face the gathering and the attendant moved a short distance away.

In a raised voice Paxeas said, "Firenze, come forward."

The four of them glanced at each other with questioning expressions as Firenze walked up the aisle and stood before Paxeas. Vines of red, yellow, and white flowers encircled each of his forearms.

"Let those who vouch for the integrity of Firenze stand in support of him."

Bane and Ronan stepped from the shadows and stood on one side of the aisle where it entered the circle. Eloria and Talia stood opposite them on the other side. In the gathering, Sarion stood along with many others.

Harry, with an expression of firm resolve, stood. An instant later, Hermione, Ron, and Ginny also stood. Firenze looked at the four them and nodded.

For a long moment, Paxeas surveyed those who were standing. Then he said, "You may recline."

After everyone was again seated, Paxeas looked at Firenze. "You are confirmed a member in good standing with this tribe. Approval to be joined with your beloved is granted. Call her forth to stand by you."

Hermione and Ginny briefly looked at each other with delighted expressions on their faces.

Firenze turned, and looking up the aisle, called out. "Bykea, if it be your choice, stand by my side."

Bykea stepped from the shadows and passed between Bane, Ronan, Eloria, and Talia. The eyes of the gathering were upon her as she slowly moved up the aisle. A crown woven of white flowers was on her head and many white flowering vines from the crown draped gracefully over her shoulders. Red and yellow flowers encircled each of her forearms. She stopped and stood beside Firenze linking her arm with his.

Paxeas said, "Firenze, do you take Bykea as your wife until the day you ascend to the stars?"

Firenze looked at Bykea. "I do."

"And do you Bykea, take Firenze as your husband until the day you ascend to the stars?"

Bykea smiled at Firenze. "I do."

Paxeas took a step back and turned to the attendant who stepped forward to Firenze and Bykea. A gold colored cord was draped over the attendant's outstretched hands. The tasseled ends of the cord nearly touched the ground. Firenze and Bykea each took hold of the cord and placed it around their shoulders. Then Paxeas stepped forward and wrapped the ends of the cord around their joined hands.

Holding their cord wrapped hands in his, Paxeas solemnly said, "The spirits of Skern and Berryn be upon this union of life. May it be fruitful and be always endowed with balance and harmony. From this moment onward, I declare that you are life partners, each unto the other, as the stars and this gathering are witness."

Many of the centaurs stood. There were cheers, clapping of hands and stamping of hooves as Firenze and Bykea embraced and then walked side by side up the aisle. Bane, Ronan, Eloria, and Talia met them and stamped their hooves in celebration. The attendant helped Paxeas join the other elders.

The celebration abated and Cerineas said, "Best wishes to you Firenze and Bykea. Now, if everyone will dim the lanterns, we shall begin. Attendants, please subdue the fires."

As the firelight faded, groups of centaurs settle comfortably together gazing up at the sky. Some were pointing out patterns of stars and talking quietly to younger foals. Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione lie down on their backs looking up at the sky. The stars of the great winged horse twinkled like diamonds above them. Hovering in front of a great curtain of dimmer stars, the brightest stars in the sky appeared to draw closer. It seemed they could be plucked from the sky, as if picking an apple from a tree. Slowly, the sound of a chant grew in volume as more and more voices called out gently to the stars. A cool breeze gently swirled around them and freshness filled the air. Several shooting stars streaked across the sky and the northern star shimmered. The stars of the winged horse glittered with a new and different brilliance.

Erufea stepped forward and in a gentle voice said, "Gaze up into the heavens at the stars. Look with reverence at their infinite majesty and splendor. They were born when Harvastum burst forth into the great darkness. We are their descendants. Made from their light, we are seekers of their truth, each of us a vessel for part of their great wisdom. One day, we shall each leave this world to dwell among them. For we and the stars are like kind, our life borne from their ceaseless toil. Ever steady and faithful, they confer knowledge to any who seek their council and guidance. Those who listen with an open heart find a true and trustworthy path to their destiny."

Sitting up, Hermione leaned close and whispered to Ron, Ginny, and Harry. They sat up to look. In the dim light, they saw some of the centaurs sitting motionless with their heads tilted back and holding their arms outstretched. They each gazed up at a different star and seemed to be in a trance. Each seemed to be speaking in a whisper to the others gathered closely around them.

Erufea moved forward and stood between the low burning fires. They caught sight of Firenze and Bykea moving up the aisle toward her. Firenze and Bykea were each carrying something in their hands. They stopped in front of Erufea and the fire light glinted off a large irregularly shaped crystal that each was carrying. With a trance like expression on her face, Erufea held out each of her hands in front of her. Firenze and Bykea carefully placed a crystal into each of her hands and then took a few steps back.

The Elders raised their hands over the gathering and began to chant. It was in a language that the four of them had never heard. Slowly, Erufea raised her hands above her head and brought the crystals into contact with each other. A dim star in the sky flashed into prominence and the crystal began to glow. Then, blue-white light beams emanated from the joined crystals and a beam touched each centaur and person who was present.

Their eyelids became heavy and Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione closed their eyes. In simple clarity of thought, the mind's eye looked down on a blue marbled globe floating in a blackness studded with stars. It was utterly alone and basking in the golden light of a star. The star gazed unceasingly at the globe, its light nurturing and sustaining that world. The star saw no borders dividing one land from another. There was no sign of covetous war or endless struggle to hold power over others. In some ways, the tiny world seemed little more than a trifling dust mote, an amusing curiosity in the grand cosmic concerns of the universe. Yet the star cherished this sapphire of the cosmos. For on the surface, the most precious of all existed, life in search of meaning and purpose.

Much later, only a few centaurs were still in the circle gazing up at the stars. Lanterns could be seen bobbing and slowly moving toward the centaur dwellings. The fires were only glowing embers now and the night took on a chill. Harry and Ron were lying on their backs with heads resting in their hands. Ginny lay on her back resting her head on Harry. Hermione rested her head on Ron. They were all looking up at the star filled sky.

"There's another one," said Ginny pointing up at a streak of light in the sky.

"That was a bright one," said Harry.

"Can I offer everyone a warming charm," said Hermione. "It's getting a bit cold."

"Yes please," said Ginny.

A brief moment later, warmth surrounded them.

"Thanks Hermione," said Harry.

Looking up at the sky Ron said, "What do you reckon about the divinations that centaurs get from the stars? Some of it seems a bit fanciful to me."

Hermione said, "I've always been skeptical about vague predictions that can fit almost any circumstance."

Ron grinned, "You mean like Professor Trelawney?"

"Yes, that's exactly what I mean."

"Yeah, lots of doom and gloom," smiled Harry. "But she was right a couple of times."

"And that's reason enough not to completely discount divination," said Hermione. "But I think real prophecies don't happen very often."

Ginny said, "What about the thousands of glass orbs we saw in the Hall of Prophecy?"

"We don't know how long those prophecies have been there," said Hermione. "They probably go back centuries."

"Or maybe those prophecies are about people who aren't alive," said Harry. "They can't choose to act on them."

"Well," said Hermione, "after hearing Bane's message and seeing what we saw tonight, centaur divination seems a bit more credible to me. But it's still hard to accept by logic or reasoning."

"I think it's like unicorns," said Ginny. "You have to believe before you can understand what they truly are."

They heard hoof steps and looked to see a lantern between Firenze and Bykea approaching.

"May we join you?" said Firenze.

"Of course," said Harry as they all sat up.

Firenze and Bykea rested comfortably on the ground.

"Congratulations to both of you," beamed Hermione.

"Yes, that was a delightful surprise," said Ginny.

"Thank you," said Firenze. "We are happy you were here with us today. I am most honored by your support of me."

"The sorting hat would have surely put you in Gryffindor," said Harry. "You are brave and courageous."

"You are most kind," said Firenze. "Bykea convinced the others to take me back into the tribe." Firenze looked at Bykea and smiled. "I think she wore them down a little bit each day."

Bykea looked at Firenze and smiled. "How else was I to become your life partner?"

Everyone laughed.

Bykea said, "Did you enjoy the celebration?"

"Yes we did," said Hermione. "We were just talking about it."

Ron said, "I've never imagined the world from the viewpoint of a star. Is it like that each time?"

"Something different is revealed each year," said Bykea. "A truth that helps us better know the earth and live in harmony with it."

"What was revealed last year?" said Ginny.

"Gaze up into the heavens. Of all the countless stars, and life on their unseen worlds, there is no other like you in the universe."

At the sound of hoof steps, they looked to see Ronan, Eloria, Talia, and two other foals.

"May we join you for a while," said Ronan.

"Please do," said Ron.

Snuggling closer to Firenze, Bykea said, "It's getting cold."

Hermione said, "If it's okay, we could put a warming charm around you."

At these words, the foals turned and whispered excitedly to each other.

Ronan glanced briefly at the foals. "Yes, you are trusted friends. But I must say, it is part of the reason we are here."

Ronan looked again at the foals who fidgeted nervously. "You must ask them, not I."

Hermione looked at the foals and smiled. "What is it?"

Timidly, Eloria said, "Will you show us some of your magic?"

Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione smiled warmly.

"We most certainly can," said Hermione. She took out her wand and three of the foals grinned happily. However, the youngest foal cried out and cowered behind the others.

"What's the matter?" said Hermione in a concerned voice.

"He's scared of magic," said Eloria.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," said Hermione to a set of wide eyes peeking out from behind the others. Setting her wand down, she said, "It's okay. Did you see some bad magic?"

A head slowly nodded.

"My name is Hermione. This is Ron, his sister Ginny, and this is Harry. What's your name?"

A quiet voice said, "Jisal."

"Well Jisal, we're afraid of bad magic too. Dreadful things happen when bad magic is used. But there is also good magic. I promise, we are only going to use good magic. Can I show you by making us all warm?"

After a brief hesitation, Jisal nodded.

Hermione glanced at Ron who gave her a small nod. Then picking up her wand and keeping it low to the ground she said, "Tepidus Amicus!"

A brief moment later, there were delighted ooo's and aah's from the centaurs.

Hermione looked at Ron. "Ron, show Jisal the magic coin."

Ron smiled. He moved and sat close to the foals. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out four coins.

A short while later, the sounds of laughter and amazement were heard. Foals were levitating a short distance above the ground and colored sparks were shooting silently into the night sky.

This is an original fan fiction story based on the seven book series 'Harry Potter' written by J. K. Rowling. Harry Potter, the characters, names and related characters are trademarks of Warner Bros., Inc. Harry Potter publishing rights © J.K.R. This is an unofficial, not for profit site and is in no way connected with J.K. Rowling, Scholastic Books, Bloomsbury Publishing or Warner Bros., Inc. This site is not endorsed by any of these aforementioned parties. Rights to characters and their images is neither claimed nor implied. This fan fiction story is owned by the author and subject to copyright law under transformative use.

Copyright © 2015-2017 Don Buczynski
San Diego, California
Published: 8/30/14
Last Updated: 10/22/17