A/N: As a prelude to the demise, I hazard a guess at the untold-in-canon story on Dumbledore's rescue of her from the centaurs. Though Harry, Hagrid, and others interact with the centaurs in canon, there is no description on an encounter between Dumbledore and the centaurs. Since he is such a significant figure in wizarding society and has defeated one dark wizard, I take the liberty to have him esteemed among the centaurs as well – hence the title 'Old One.' How Hagrid saves Firenze's life is not told either, but I'll leave that story for someone else to tell – if they already have (which is probably the case), I haven't had opportunity to read it.
This story as originally written included a brief battle between Dumbledore and the centaurs. Fantastic Beasts describes them as 'not... unduly aggressive,' and hwhimsy kindly pointed out to me that DD avoids violence if at all possible and is only aggressive against Dark Wizards (though he does use minimal force against Fudge and company when they come to arrest him and threatens it again after the Ministry battle). So I changed it to have him convince the centaurs instead. I apologize to those who prefer action and adventure and hope this account is not too boring. J
Dumbledore strode confidently into the Forbidden Forest. The battle at the Ministry of Magic had taken a lot out of him, but he must not show any weakness before the centaurs. Not that they would be likely to harm him, but he must be able to convince them to release Professor Umbridge, and that would not be easy.
As he moved deeper into the forest, he considered how matters had turned out. It had been clear from the beginning that Madam Umbridge was going to be trouble. But he'd had no choice, hadn't he? The school must have a qualified teacher for Defence Against the Dark Arts, and she had been all that was available. Regrettably, he had acceded to the Ministry's wishes and accepted her for the position. But things had progressively worsened as time had gone by until he had been forced out of the position of Headmaster.
His thoughts were interrupted by a movement in the shadows. He paused as a dark coloured centaur stepped out from among the trees. 'Why have you come into our forest, human?'
Dumbledore turned and faced him. He spoke softly. 'I have a name, Bane.'
The centaur bowed almost imperceptibly. 'I did not recognise you at first, Dumbledore. But I must ask you again, what are you doing in our forest?'
'I have come to retrieve something of Hogwarts',' Dumbledore uttered smoothly.
'Something? Or someone?' Bane queried.
'Alas, you are correct,' Dumbledore responded with a sigh. 'But it makes little difference in this case. For now, she belongs at Hogwarts and to Hogwarts she must return.'
'She has trespassed and must pay the penalty.'
'That, Bane, is not your decision, as you know well. You have always been impetuous. Take me to Ronan and Magorian.'
'And you have always had a soft spot for the weak, Old One.' Bane pawed the ground in frustration. 'Very well, follow me.' Dumbledore did indeed follow as Bane turned and moved deeper into the shadows.
'Someone is coming with Bane,' Ronan informed Magorian.
'Of course, I would be greatly surprised if no one came for the woman. Probably one of those imbeciles from the Ministry of Magic – that's where she said she was from.' Magorian kicked his rear hooves and spat in anger, 'How dare she call us half-breeds. Near-human intelligence, indeed.' Magorian's estimate of Umbridge's intelligence was clearly evident in his derisive tone.
'No, I think it is someone from the school,' Ronan dolefully intoned.
'Hagrid knows better than to come here….' Magorian began to raise his bow in the direction of small opening in the dense foliage that surrounded the centaur encampment.
Magorian's words were cut off as Bane entered the clearing. 'It's not Hagrid,' Bane called out.
Magorian lowered his bow as his saw the white-haired wizard following Bane. 'Why have you come here, Old One? Your recent actions have not exactly endeared you to us. You are harbouring a traitor.'
Dumbledore moved slowly into the centre of the group. 'I do believe you are mistaken as to what constitutes a traitor.'
As he looked around the clearing, to one side he could see a shelter where a number of centaurs were supported in slings, various limbs wrapped in bandages. They looked to have been on the losing end of a rather fierce battle. Hearing a faint, high-pitched moan, he turned to the other side and saw a more primitive, apparently temporary construction. Within it, there was a rather rotund, mousy-haired witch bound with ropes. Her attire and coiffure, usually immaculate though rather plain, were now dishevelled. Her flabby, toad-like face was barely recognisable through the mud and sap that had apparently become plastered over it during her journey here.
'It is not a centaur's business to involve oneself with the outside world,' Magorian roared. 'We are concerned only with the reading of the heavens. It is not our place to take a role in what the heavens foretell.'
'Neutrality cannot always be maintained, Magorian. The heavens themselves are set against evil. Firenze has seen this. You are surely as clever at reading the heavens, so I am sure you have seen this as well.'
'We will not be tutored by a human. Not even by you, Old One,' Bane interjected. 'I would remind you of the wisdom of staying out of centaur affairs.'
'I would gladly leave you to your affairs, Bane, but you have made at least one of those mine, by kidnapping one of my teachers.'
'She trespassed on our grounds; she came into our forest.'
Dumbledore rose to his full height and caused the sky to darken ominously. 'You are mistaken there. It seems I must remind you that the forest lies on the grounds of Hogwarts.'
Bane shrank back. And though many of the centaurs pawed the ground furiously, they did not advance on Dumbledore.
'I am not called "Old One" without reason. You forget that your kind once had no place in this forest. Your ancestral home was destroyed by evil wizards in the days of Grindelwald. Had I not offered you refuge here, what would have become of you?'
Bane snorted in derision, but quieted when Ronan spoke sadly, 'We do not like to think of such dark days.'
'Without a safe refuge in this forest, you would have no opportunity to study the movement of the stars and planets.' Dumbledore now towered over the surrounding centaurs.
Momentarily cowed, Magorian reasserted himself. 'This may not be our ancestral home, but it has, nonetheless, become our home. We will not abide invasion and insult on our own living ground.'
Dumbledore continued unabated. 'Without a safe refuge in this forest, you would be unable to hide yourselves from the prying eyes of Muggle humans.'
'We have our own means of hiding from humans,' a grey centaur retorted.
'So you do, yet not even wizards wish a confrontation with them. Do you think yourselves so wise as to escape their circus sideshows if they were to discover you? Would you fight them with your bows? Perhaps in staring at the stars you have missed the growth of Muggle arms and weapons. I am not sure wizard magic would suffice to hold them off.'
Ronan spoke up now. 'She is not a foal, Old One. She must be held accountable for her actions. We cannot let her go unpunished.'
'And I cannot let you punish her.' Dumbledore started toward the shelter where Umbridge was imprisoned.
The centaurs quickly blocked the way and began to raise their bows. Dumbledore bowed in sorrow. But with quickness unseemly for one so old, he then drew his wand. Before the bow strings could be stretched taut, a streak of brilliant silver light exploded in the forest glade where Dumbledore stood, scattering the centaurs and raising a cloud of dust. As the dust settled, several of the centaurs, including Bane, Magorian, the grey centaur who had argued with Hagrid and tried to hold Hermione captive, and a snow-white one struggled dazedly to right themselves from the grass. Dumbledore was no where to be seen.
The centaurs began to regroup and to search around for their opponent, twisting their bodies to the left and the right in the process. Dumbledore now stood beside their make-shift prison. 'Violence should be used only against one's enemies. Do you now consider me your enemy? Would you repudiate all I have done for you? Is this how you honour your sires and grand-sires who bestowed on me the noble title, "Old One"?'
Many of the centaurs, older ones, now hung their heads in shame. Others moved to the side of the clearing and fixed their gaze on the heavens above, mumbling about the brightness of Mars in the evening sky.
Others stepped forward, Bane and Magorian among them. Ronan hesitated. Magorian noticed this and turned to him. 'Don't tell me he has convinced you,' the black-haired chestnut hissed at the red-haired centaur.
'He's right, Magorian, and you should know that,' Ronan responded in his doleful voice. 'Yes, this is our home now, but who knows where we would be if he hadn't offered us a home here. I won't stand against him further. And I'm not alone.'
Dumbledore could see Magorian looking around and surmised that he was now noticing the number of centaurs who were no longer gathered in opposition to Dumbledore. Magorian hesitated. Bane and the grey centaur kicked in anger and got ready to rush the wizard before them.
'I have no wish to harm any of you. You easily overpowered Madam Umbridge, but you have already seen that I am made of sterner stuff.' Dumbledore sighed wearily. 'Would you make me your nemesis? If you do, know that I am quite prepared to win this battle.'
Magorian reached out and drew the two centaurs back. 'You ask much, Old One. Must we lose our self-respect?'
Dumbledore's expression softened. Seeing the tide turning, he pressed on. 'There is no loss of respect in doing what is right,' he calmly stated. 'You value your neutrality, preferring to watch what you have foreseen unfold rather than participating in that unfolding. But you should know that to fail to oppose evil is to support it. And to oppose one who fights for the light is to oppose the light. You are not evil creatures, but your actions here are evil. And you may leave me no choice but to fight.'
He watched as Bane shook off Magorian's grip and sputtered, 'I will not see her leave unpunished.'
Dumbledore grew angry and again rose to his full magical height. He spoke menacingly, 'You will not see her leave unpunished….'
He drew back and spoke more calmly, 'Ronan, Magorian, if you continue to oppose me, you only create problems for yourselves. Even in the unlikely event that you were to defeat me, do you dare think none will respond? Consider your actions carefully. You know how formidable Hagrid is when angered. And do you think the Ministry would ignore an attack on me? Your numbers are already depleted from your encounter with Grawp, and he still resides in the forest. Do you dare pursue this course and suffer further loss? Would you save your self-respect, then?'
Magorian opened his mouth as if to respond, pawed the ground in frustration, and then nodded at several other centaurs. They moved forward to restrain Bane. At the same time, Ronan and several others came forward and hemmed in the grey centaur, blocking him off from Dumbledore.
Dumbledore quickly moved into the crude hut where Professor Umbridge lay moaning on the ground, wrapped tightly in ropes. He bent low to look her over to make sure there were no serious injuries. Then he rose and muttered, 'Mobilicorpus.' As he strode out, her body floated behind him as if carried on an unseen stretcher. The centaurs parted, and the two humans headed out of the clearing and began their journey out of the forest back to the castle.
When he was well out of sight of the centaurs, Dumbledore paused and sighed wearily. He began to remove the ropes binding the puffy witch. When he had finished, he rubbed his hand across his eyes and croaked, 'Enervate.' She stumbled against him as he helped her to her feet. His bones ached, and he felt he could barely keep himself upright. How fortunate, he thought, that they did not realise how depleted I am.
A/N: In case one wonders about the centaurs' lack of awareness that they do not actually own the Forbidden Forest, several points should be noted. First, centaurs are not as long-lived as wizards, being part horse (horses live to their forties but rarely beyond 50; the oldest ever only lived to sixty-two), so few, if any, remain alive from the time of the war against Grindelwald. Secondly, centaurs are rather narrow in their academic pursuits, focused almost entirely on astronomy, divination, and archery (and secondarily magical healing); hence they are rather neglectful of history. Finally, and most importantly, we all know how stubborn they are.
While Dumbledore's inviting the centaurs to the Forbidden Forest is my creation, FB indicates that 'Wizarding authorities… have allocated areas where the centaurs will not be troubled.'
I want to thank hwhimsey for graciously consenting to read this over and harry_ginnyphile for taking on the role of pre-beta. This is certainly a better work for their thorough effort. I must not neglect the hard work of my beta, Sherylyn; without her this story would never have made an appearance.