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The Clue In The Cauldron, Chapter 8: Off the Map - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
The Clue In The Cauldron, Chapter 8: Off the Map
Okay, I'm totally off my own map now, so it's appropriate that James's friend Silas is off the Marauder's Map as well. I think what I'd originally thought about the mystery is wrong, but I'm not sure, so I won't say.

It's sure a lot easier to write when there's some overriding issue in the person's life. Doesn't have to be a nemesis, like Harry had, but James is just a well-adjusted kid whose biggest problem is that he doesn't have any real problems. It's kind of existential. I'll have to fix that. Give him a problem that won't vex poor Harry too much, as Harry doesn't need any more vexations. And I will not have him use the adults. That's what was taking so long, I kept trying to have him interact. So no more. He's going Harry-style from here on out. :D

Chapter 8:
Off the Map

By the end of supper, even the teachers knew something was wrong, and James didn't think it was because Professor Longbottom had caught his desperate sign that things weren't right on the Map. James wasn't, in point of fact, sure that Professor Longbottom even knew about it. He wasn't completely clear on which of Dad's friends had known what.

It didn't matter.

"Come on," he whispered to Al, at his side. "We need to look at it better upstairs."

Al nodded.

James tugged on Michael's sleeve, and Michael grabbed Ahmed and Bobby. A quick check revealed Celia among her friends (all of whom seemed to be gossiping with expressions of great concern on their faces), and James gave her a signal with his upraised hand. She nodded, and started to extract herself.

By the time they got to the portrait hole, the group was together. James led the way up to the dormitory, and got out the Marauder's Map without saying anything. He spread it out on the floor.

"They're off the Map," he said.

"Yeah, we got that by your subtle signals," Bobby Highgold said, squatting down. "The question is, where the bloody hell are they?"

Michael bit his lip. "I don't suppose they could be at Hagrid's."

"I think Hagrid would've said something if they were," Ahmed said. He bent down and traced his hand along the margins of the Map. "What about out here in the Forest? Or that spot that's blurred out?" He pointed at the ill-formed area that James knew was the magically hidden Spider's Hollow.

James frowned. "No. You can't just wander in there."

"Right," Celia said. "I couldn't even get in there when I tried first year. Teddy about had my head when he found out I was trying to break those spells. What's in there?"

James had once asked Dad the same question, and had got as an answer "Something dangerous that Aunt Hermione and Uncle Ron and Neville and I are protecting--I'll tell you someday." James had asked what would happen if he died before he decided to tell, and this had made Dad laugh sort of crazily, but he didn't explain himself, and didn't really seem to think it was funny. He didn't think Celia really needed to know that, though, so he just shrugged and said, "Something from the war, I think. Maybe Voldemort did something to it. There's no way Bear could be in there, though."

"What about the Room of Requirement?" Al asked.

"Teddy put it on the Map while he was here," Michael said.

"Couldn't they just have gone out into the woods?" Ahmed suggested, pointing out the vast stretches of the Forbidden Forest that (so far) no one had Mapped.

Bobby frowned. "They could... but why?"

"And they wouldn't have had time," Ahmed pointed out. "Last time we got out to the edge of where it's not mapped, it took an hour."

Al nodded eagerly. "Right, and Silas's uncle came down right after they went into the room. Quidditch practice wasn't that long."

James grimaced and stared at the Map, willing it to tell him something he couldn't figure out on his own. As he watched, two dots started moving rapidly up the front steps of the castle.

"It's Uncle Ron!" he said. "And Ruthless Scrimgeour."

"What are they doing here?" Celia asked, offended. "This is school business."

"Someone disappeared," Bobby reminded her.

"But they've barely had time to look!"

The dots didn't pause. They went up to the Headmistress's office, where Ronan Boyle was sitting with Professor Sprout and Professor Robards. Then, to James's astonishment, their two dots surrounded Boyle on each side, and started leading him out.

"What's going on?" Michael asked. "It looks like they're taking him away."

"I don't know," James said. He got to his feet and went to his trunk, grabbing his broom, which was leaning against the wall. He rummaged in the trunk for a moment, and came up with the silvery, fluid cloth of Granddad's Invisibility Cloak. "But I'm going to find out."

Carefully, he put the Cloak on, then leveled his broom. If they looked straight up, they'd see him, but if he stayed to one side...

"Not to put a fine point on it," Michael said, looking in the direction James had been when he'd started this, "but it is almost curfew. They're not going to let you take your broom out."

James, who was nearly at the window, said, "Wasn't going to ask," then pushed open the pane, climbed onto his broom, and let himself fall into a dive down the side of Gryffindor Tower. About halfway down, he found his pace, swerved up, then looked for the movement of the adults. Uncle Ron and Ruthless were definitely leading Ronan Boyle away, and they didn't look at all happy with him.

"I don't know where they are!" Boyle insisted. "You have to find them!"

"Now, why don't I exactly believe you?" Uncle Ron asked. "You already admitted to stealing!"

Boyle shook his head wildly, and implored Ruthless. "I did!" he said. "I never meant for anything to happen to Si, if Kenny hadn't have given that bloody box to to Mrs. Longbottom--"

"You're not helping yourself," Ruthless said. "What were you trying to do?"

Ronan stopped walking. Uncle Ron and Ruthless could have made him keep going, but the didn't. James circled slowly, making sure not to hit anything that would alert them to his presence.

"Our grandfather built that," he said. "During the Troubles?"

"Tell me that you're not stealing candlesticks for the greater glory of a free Ireland," Uncle Ron said, a look of utter disbelief on his face.

"No! I've got no politics of my own. But Grandda did. He built it to take back things that were taken with no consent. But he stopped when Da was born. Too dangerous. And besides, things like that don't really matter with us, do they? Grandda was Muggle-born. They mattered to him when he was younger and--"

"You're not being very convincing," Ruthless said, though she sounded less harsh.

"Fine," Boyle said. "The truth is... you won't be arresting Grandda, will you, not at this late date?"

Neither Auror answered.

Boyle grimaced. "He broke the Statute of Secrecy. Back in the old days. He told someone what he was about."

"WHAT?" Uncle Ron roared.

"He told them what he could do. It was a woman. He thought he might marry her, but she was a bit mad. Still is. Crazy woman came to our house--I live with Grandda in Killarny--and said she'd make sure people knew Grandda had broken our laws, unless we got what he promised her. Which was everything."

"And you did it," Uncle Ron said, sounding a little less angry.

"He's family. And he's old and sick. You understand, don't you?" he asked Ruthless (for reasons James wasn't entirely sure of). "You understand, you'd do the same."

"You'd've saved yourself the trouble if you'd just come clean," she said. "It's not the old Ministry. We're not going to chuck him in Azkaban if he's old and sick. Did you miss that things have changed?"

"I'll believe things have changed when you tell me flat that you'll not be arresting my grandfather."

"Fine," Uncle Ron said through gritted teeth. "We won't."

Boyle didn't look like he believed it for a moment. "Anyway," he said, "I set up the spell. It was all meant to go into that box, but since there are protections on it in the case at the pub, it all ended up in Si's trunk. Which used to be Grandda's; it was the first thing he tried the spell on. And I got it going again, but it wasn't working right, it was taking all sorts of things I doubt were stolen in the first place, and--"

Ruthless cut him off. "What does any of this have to do with Silas and your brother disappearing?"

"I don't know!" Boyle yelled. "That's what I've been trying to say. I stole all that rot, but nothing was ever supposed to happen to them. Kenny knew nothing of it. He was just going to talk to Si and see what it was. I don't know what he had with him, or if there was anything left of the spell. I don't know what else Grandda might have charmed, now that Si's trunk's in your hands. So I don't know where they are or what happened. You have to find them." He looked at them imploringly. "I'm a thief," he said. "But I'd never hurt my brother or my nephew."

Uncle Ron and Ruthless looked at each other uncomfortably, then Ruthless said, "Well, thief's enough to earn you a trip to London at least. You'll tell us everything you know there, and... maybe it'll help."

They didn't seem to have much more to say. James waited and watched until they disappeared along the paths to the school gates, then turned his broomstick around and flew back to Gryffindor Tower. He shed the Invisibility Cloak as he glided into his dormitory, tossing it to Al, who folded it carefully and put it back into the trunk.

"So?" Michael asked. "What is it?"

"Not good," James said.

Al shook his head. "What does that mean? What was Uncle Ron doing here?"

"They arrested Bear's uncle. But even he doesn't know where they are."

There was general silence, then Ahmed balled his fists and put them on his hips, adopting a determined pose. "So... what are we going to do about it?"


8 comments or Leave a comment
amamama From: amamama Date: March 25th, 2010 08:20 am (UTC) (Link)
Oooh, this is good. Or not, depending on POV. From mine - definitely good. *grin* So here's the poor, confessing thief who's as befuddled as anything. At least it seems so. And what about his Grandda, and that woman... *bigger grin* It's fun, Fern! At least for me. Hope you don't feel to bad that the speed writing didn't work out as planned, because the story is fun.

beceh From: beceh Date: March 25th, 2010 09:37 am (UTC) (Link)
Yay a troll...

Good to get back into the swing of things :) I'm sure you will figure out what is going on.
willowbough From: willowbough Date: March 25th, 2010 01:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's always disconcerting when a story you're writing takes an unexpected detour, but I'm sure you'll find your way. I like the way you've tied the Troubles into the wizarding world--hard to imagine something that much a part of Irish history wouldn't have some crossover impact.
etain_antrim From: etain_antrim Date: March 25th, 2010 10:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, and James steps into his dad's shoes... This looks like fun!
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 26th, 2010 03:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm guessing the old lady was not who she appeared to be. Right now, if she's who she appeared to be, this looks like it's shaping up to be more a procedural/mechanical mystery - if it's procedural, they just need to find the person responsible; if it's mechanical, they just need to figure out what went wrong with the spell - but James isn't likely to have much to do in one of those.

So, someone either impersonated or manipulated the old lady. The real question is whether the spell going wrong was part of the crime - the person behind it wanted it go wrong the way it did, reasons unknown - or whether that was an accident that upset the real plans.

If the thefts were set up as some kind of misdirection, to hide another crime or make it appear to be something it wasn't (a theft that would have drawn attention to itself and its probable motives now appears to be part of a random series), then the kidnaping may just be part of that - further misdirection or necessary to keep the real crime hidden a bit longer.

If they're a red herring - the thefts don't cover up a specific theft, they just attract attention while something else is going on - the kidnaping may be another red herring (more confusion to cover events), cover-up (Dad and son might have figured something out), or the actual crime that they're distracting attention from.

Of course, it's also possible this is all part of a nefarious scheme, but that seems more up Harry's alley than James'.

Or something else I just haven't thought of.

I love trying to figure out mysteries, especially when we're not sure what the mystery is yet.

sidealong From: sidealong Date: March 26th, 2010 05:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
That was fun! Maybe they ran off to the Chamber of Secrets? Portkey?

I always enjoy reading Ellen's comments.
So well thought out.

From: (Anonymous) Date: March 27th, 2010 06:44 pm (UTC) (Link)

so enjoyable

I'm really enjoying this story; it reminds me strongly of my beloved Nancy Drews. I'm glad James is taking matters into his own hands and not going to be interacting with the adults much. That generally makes for better stories. Teddy was the exception, and he was an only child who seems to have grown up primarily around adults. James is the oldest of 3, with that invincible sense of youth.
arcaneblades From: arcaneblades Date: March 28th, 2010 09:08 am (UTC) (Link)
I adore this! Then again, I'm currently involved in a potterverse RP that looks at politcs in the 70's, buth wizard and muggle. We've been poking at the Irish politics of that time quite a bit.
8 comments or Leave a comment