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The Clue In The Cauldron, Chapter 22: The Speaking Beast - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
The Clue In The Cauldron, Chapter 22: The Speaking Beast
James really only meant to take Rosie and Al on his little jaunt to go find Silas, but Michael, despite not even putting up an argument about staying at the castle, appears in the woods with the other two roommates, Ahmed and Robert. They catch the attention of the centaurs, and James and Rosie manage to distract them... barely. But they get away and run straight to the mound, which turns out to be a chambered cairn. Al finds the entrance quite accidentally, and they go in. Rosie notes that it's not being used for burial just as James spots Silas, who seems to be in some kind of stasis and is floating in the middle of the central chamber. James starts in, but is interrupted by a loud, harsh breath.



Chapter 22:
The Speaking Beast


A rush of flame shot toward James, and he barely had time to yell "Duck!" before passed over his head. He heard Rosie curse somewhere behind him, and deduced from the irritated but not terrified tone that no one had been seriously hit.

The smoke cleared.

James looked up. For a moment, he saw the hulking shape of a horse, but as his eyes stopped watering, the shape wavered, changed, became human.

"Not yours," it said, in a low, inhuman voice. It stepped out of the shadows. It looked like Dad, but given the voice (not to mention the fire-breathing), James didn't think he needed Teddy's mirror to know that it wasn't.

"Like hell he's not."

The pooka breathed in and out, growling lightly. Its shape was getting more secure.

"You were really looking like Mr. Boyle by the time you got here, weren't you?" James asked.

"Took the shape. Long enough."

"Hopefully, you talked a little better," Michael said, coming up beside James. "Because you're not exactly fooling anyone."

It growled again, and grew taller, its limbs stockier. Silas's dad. "I know this face better," it said. "And the voice and words."

"Good for you," James said. "Where's the real Mr. Boyle?"

The pooka sneered. "Failing. As he has failed me all year. His brother was weak, and stole from me. So I gathered... incentive... for him to collect what I am owed."

"What are you owed for?" Rosie asked.

"Services rendered. They wished mayhem, fear, destruction. Nightmares for their enemies. This, I gave. I lurk in the shadows of burning pubs, I ride in the nightwind of terror. All this, I did--and yet, was not repaid as promised."

Rosie frowned. "Aren't you meant to do the bidding of the heirs of Brian Boru?"

The pooka merely laughed. "I was tamed once. Not forever. I care nothing for the line of brats, or their island."

"They believed you did!"

"Their mistake."

"Well, Silas and his father don't owe you anything," James said, trying to sneak around to the side. "That was his grandfather."

"Debts live on." The pooka shifted again into Dad, and lunged at James.

A rock flew in and struck the pooka on the head. Al's face was contorted with fury. "You change your face right now."

James tried to take a few more steps toward Silas. A line of fire exploded in front of him.

The pooka growled. "No closer."

James dropped back, and nearly backed into Ahmed.

"Now what?" Ahmed asked.

"Make it change," James whispered. "Get everyone to keep making it change."

"What do you plot about?" the pooka thundered. Its impersonation was getting better.

"Just trying to find a way out," James said.

"You may leave as you like. I have no business with you."

"As long as we can have Silas, we're on our way," Michael told him.

A less impressive burst of fire came--more a snort than an attack. The shape began to falter, waver. The hair became straighter, the nose longer.

"Save it for someone who cares," Michael said. He jumped up and grabbed the top of the door, kicking out.

The pooka shifted into something like an orangutan, with long, strong arms. It took a swipe at Michael, but he dropped to the floor.

Ahmed scooted down along the edge of the room, squirming toward the floor. "Come on!" he said. "I'm not scared of a giant monkey. I'll get Silas!"

The pooka turned on him, shifting into a hooded cobra, hissing, with sparks spitting out around its forked tongue.

James tried to get by again, and it turned on him, growing both human and snakelike, with slits for nostrils...

"You're nowhere near as scary as him," James said, and dodged.

The Voldemort-shaped pooka threw fire into the wall, knocking down a spill of rock. The earthworks creaked.

"We have to get out of here fast," Rosie hissed, running up beside him. "It's going to cave in on top of us if it keeps up like this!"

On the far side of the room, Robert was trying to sneak along through the shadows. The pooka turned on him, becoming a tall, masked nightmare with heavy, wheezing breath. It waved a gloved hand at the wall, and more supports came down.

"Hey!" Rosie yelled at it, then proceeded to call it several names that she had decidedly not learned from her mother. She finished up by throwing one of the fallen rocks.

The rock hit the pooka hard, and sent it reeling, crashing into Silas. It got back up with its eyes starting to flame. It had taken the shape of an alligator, and its tail was whipping back and forth furiously.

Al ran forward, ducking the snapping teeth, and pounded his fist down on the snout, jumping onto its neck.

It rose up, a giant bird, flapping its wings, sending down torrents of earth from above, shaking Al loose.

Robert ran in and grabbed one of its talons. "You're trapped down here with us!"

The pooka-bird strained for the ceiling, then suddenly came down, now something metallic, with a glowing red eye. It extended a pincer at Robert, who flailed. There was nothing to be done.

But the pooka's shape wavered now, going through some of the other things it had been. The pincer disappeared, and Robert ran off.

"Losing hold, aren't you?" James yelled.

It turned briefly into Dad, then into Mr. Boyle.

Michael ran in on it and grabbed its arm. It gave him a hateful look, and then it was goat, butting at Michael ineffectually with its curled horns. This wavered, and it was a bird again, but a small owl, with burning eyes.

James leapt at it.

As he did, it grew, became dark. A mane sprouted from its neck, and hooves touched the ground.

James held tight to the horse's neck, letting it buck for all it was worth.

"James!" Rosie called. "Do it!"

He nodded, and jumped from the back, avoiding the trampling hooves. The tail swept over his face and he grabbed at it blindly.

Two hairs came off in his hand.

It roared horribly, and tried to shift its shape, but nothing held.

One more.

James ran at it, not caring about the fire it was breathing, not caring about anything except getting what he needed.

He grabbed the tail.

Several more hairs pulled out.

The pooka wailed to the collapsing ceiling.

James took three of the hairs in his hand, jumped on the beast's back, and through them over its head like a bridle.

"Take it!" he yelled. "Take the bit!"

It didn't at first.

James--fighting not to be thrown nearly as much as he was fighting for control--pulled the hairs tighter and tighter against its mouth, forcing the jaws open.

The bridle slid into the pooka's mouth.

It let out a cheated howl.

"Get us out of here!" James ordered. "Silas, too. The debt's paid."

He wasn't sure it would work, but there was no time to doubt it. It was the only option.

The pooka coiled down and nodded toward the others, a resentful fire still in its eyes.

"Come on!" James said. "Hold on, and someone grab Bear."

Rosie took hold of the pooka's mane on one side, and Al grabbed the other. Michael and Robert manhandled Silas down from his levitated perch, and Ahmed beat off a falling rock. Above them a hole had opened in the top of the mound, and earth was cascading around them like a waterfall.

They grabbed onto the pooka's flanks. It cried out, and then, in a burst of power, it jumped for the fresh hole. Scrambling for purchase at the top, it nearly shook James free.

James held on.

The pooka found its footing and ran roughly down the mound as it crumbled around them.

They came out on the level footing of the path, and James pulled up on his makeshift reins. The pooka came to a stop.

"Everyone let go," James said, and waited for them to do it. Once they had, he carefully pulled the hairs out of the pooka's mouth, and climbed down. "It's done," he said.

The pooka glared at him.

"I'm not going to let you go off and do any mischief."

It continued to glare.

"But I'll let you go off. You're, er... you're under my orders. Everyone who owes you a debt is forgiven. First, go get Silas's dad and bring him home--no hurting him. Then go back to Ireland and don't bother anyone again."

The resentful stare continued for long enough that James thought he might have pushed it too far, then the pooka turned, coiled on its haunches, and took off into the sky. James watched it until it disappeared over the collapsed mound, where only the bare bones of the chambers now rested at the base of a half-circle of dirt.

"That's it?" Michael asked.

"Right," Ahmed said. "We could have at least waited long enough for it to kill us."

Robert shook his head, and turned Si, who was still levitating lightly. "Let's get back to the castle. We need to report this to Health and Safety."




They took turns wafting Silas back up to the castle, and by the time they got there, everything that had happened at the mound seemed somehow far away. It seemed they'd had Silas back forever, in fact, and when Professor Longbottom came out whey-faced and gathered them inside, it took James a minute to figure out why he was so frantic.

Madam Pomfrey called in a few young Healers' apprentices from St. Mungo's to look everyone over while she brought Silas out of the trance he was in. A boy who looked younger than some of the seventh years declared James quite all right, and moved on to Rosie.

Professor Longbottom pulled James out of the hospital wing.

"Explanation."

"Er," James said. "Well... obviously... We got Silas back."

"And obviously, you knew where you were going, and equally obviously, you didn't tell anyone."

"I wasn't sure what would be there until I got there."

"And where was 'there'?"

"A cairn, out in the forest. I can show you."

"I think," Professor Longbottom said, "that you can tell me where it is, and the Aurors and I will go have a look. Where's the pooka?"

"I sent it to get Silas's dad."

Professor Longbottom stopped and stood back. "You sent...?" He tried not to smile, then gave up the effort and grinned. "I knew you'd be interesting here, James."

James nodded. "I've still got detention, haven't I?"

"Every night this week, you and the rest, in the greenhouses." He shook his head. "I'm calling your dad. Not over the detention, but just, shall we say, a thought that the Aurors might like to know what's going on."

"Right."

Professor Longbottom laughed, then turned around and went down the corridor.

James went back inside.

The others had gathered around Silas's bed. Silas was awake now, blinking around in confusion.

"James," he said. "Snout says it's May."

"Sorry," James said.

Silas shook his head miserably. "And that thing is going to go rescue my dad?"

"We have an understanding."

"I missed the whole year!"

"Oh, you have almost two months left," Rosie said. "There's still lots to do."

"I'm never going to make it through exams."

Michael sat down on the edge of the bed. "Don't worry. We have a plan..."

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Comments
alkari From: alkari Date: May 14th, 2010 07:34 am (UTC) (Link)
"Don't worry. We have a plan..."
*Dies laughing* That could be the theme line for this entire story!! Great chapter.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 14th, 2010 01:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
Heh, yes--and possibly not the most reassuring notion!
i_autumnheart From: i_autumnheart Date: May 14th, 2010 08:32 am (UTC) (Link)
Wow, chip off the old block, much? Neville and the Hogwarts staff must have been taking bets, I think :)

A fabulous end-of-year showdown in true Potter style.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 14th, 2010 01:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
Harry may have been in the betting pool himself. (Hey, way to handicap it, passing on the info from the Aurors. ;p)

Thanks!
amamama From: amamama Date: May 14th, 2010 09:09 am (UTC) (Link)
Woot! And like Alkari, I particularly liked the last sentence. So this was the end, right? Or will there be an apilogue? Awsome finish, anyway.

Thanks, Fern!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 14th, 2010 01:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
There'll be a little epilogue.

Glad you liked it!
sgt_majorette From: sgt_majorette Date: May 14th, 2010 02:01 pm (UTC) (Link)

The James Potter Gang Mysteries

What was behind the [Unknown LJ tag]?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 14th, 2010 07:45 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: The James Potter Gang Mysteries

Just a break--I put in "lj cut" rather than "hr".
etain_antrim From: etain_antrim Date: May 14th, 2010 02:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Of course they have a plan! There's a lot of action here. I liked the implementation of Teddy's advice and the fact that the group all stuck to their plan despite the scary pooka.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 14th, 2010 07:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
At least they picked up right away. Me, I'd probably still be trying to suss out the deeper meaning by the time the hill caved in. ;p
From: severely_lupine Date: May 14th, 2010 02:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
"time to yell "Duck!" before passed over his head" -- Missing word?

Also: "[Unknown LJ tag]"

I love how James acts like it's no big deal. And of course he gets detention for it. ... You know, I wonder if, with all the stories of Harry and the others, they do have kids who go out and put themselves in danger to try to be heroes but it doesn't turn out so fortunately.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 14th, 2010 07:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Got the unknown. Ah, the joys of typing in HTML. (Of course, I do it so automatically that when I'm supposed to be typing in a non-HTML way, I put in tags by accident!)

I think maybe James feels more pressure than most of the other students to do something memorable, so that he'll be remembered as James--this James, no less--rather than as Harry Potter's firstborn. But yeah, the history of the war would really put a sense of increased expectation on the kids, not from parents, but from themselves.
willowbough From: willowbough Date: May 14th, 2010 02:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Harry seems to have incurred that old parental curse of having a kid who's just like him! And Neville and Company also seem to be getting a taste of just how nerve-wracking that can be. Nice job of tying up the loose ends--Poor Si, though. But at least he's got friends to help him over the hump.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 14th, 2010 07:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
In some ways, James is like Harry. But unlike Harry, you can bet that James will be re-telling the story and embellishing, a la Ron and the mermaids, if no one stops him.
snuggle_muggle From: snuggle_muggle Date: May 14th, 2010 04:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Great story! I have been eagerly following along every chapter. As always, I love your epic tales and this one is excellent with some great twists and turns along the way. Just one small error: "through them over his head like a bridle."
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 14th, 2010 07:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
Dang those homophones!

Glad you've been liking it. :D
malinbe From: malinbe Date: May 14th, 2010 05:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Awww! That was lovely! Neville giving in and just laughing was adorable, too.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 14th, 2010 07:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
Neville's just not able to be too fierce. He's never going to grow up into McGonagall, I'm afraid.
sidealong From: sidealong Date: May 14th, 2010 09:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
We have to see Harry's reaction! And Ginny's maybe? I'm still wondering where/how Silas' dad has been. Will this Pooka always be connected to James? Weird.

Great chapter! Thanks so much for the fun read.
sidealong From: sidealong Date: May 15th, 2010 10:20 pm (UTC) (Link)

second read

Al ran forward, ducking the snapping teeth, and pounded his fist down on the snout, jumping onto its neck.

Way to go Al! Quite brave.

We need to report this to Health and Safety."

Is that like workman's comp? Love that line.
mollywheezy From: mollywheezy Date: May 28th, 2010 06:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Gotta love Neville! I love that he couldn't help smiling at James' antics. ;)
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