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The Clue In The Cauldron, Chapter 17: A Forest Path - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
The Clue In The Cauldron, Chapter 17: A Forest Path
Christmas holidays in the Potterverse. James and Al came home, where thoughts of the case were momentarily swept away by the startling news that Teddy and Victoire are engaged. While Teddy and James thrash out their disagreements on this subject, Al slips away to explore the island, and has a brainwave: the pooka, the creature found in the old roundhouse, is a shape-shifter... and could have assumed a human-like shape. In fact, he realizes that it's possible that Silas's father was never there at all, that the man who disappeared with Silas may in fact have been the pooka that took him away.

Chapter 17:
A Forest Path

In James's opinion, Al should have been the one to tell Dad his theory. It had been his idea, after all. But Al dithered and worried that it wasn't right, and might send Dad off on a wild tangent, and in the end, James had to do it himself, though he promised Al that he'd specify it was just a wild idea that might not be right.

"I really tried to get him to tell you himself," he finished. "So, it was absolutely Al's idea, but I think it's a really good one."

Dad nodded. "I think you're right. It's a new way of looking at it, anyway. And if it wasn't Si's father who came to the school that day, then where is he?"

"I hadn't thought of that," James said.

"I may have to start thinking of it now," Dad told him. "And I think it's time for another little chat with Ronan. He came along that day--or led the way--and something must have seemed off, if your brother's right."

"But you said he seemed really worried."

Dad tapped his quill on some paperwork. "I need to think about it, and run it by Ron."

"You could try Veritaserum," James suggested.

"I certainly hope it won't come to that," Dad said.

That was all there was to say on the subject, so James let it drop, and enjoyed the rest of holidays with the family. Lily gave him Meg and asked that he not teach her how to tell stories ("If it takes magic, you can take her to Hogwarts, and it'll be like having me there, too! And I could have adventures with... Al."). New Year's Eve was spent at Uncle George's shop, where he put on a display of Weasley fireworks for all of Diagon Alley. Everyone was there, and James spent most of his time with Michael and the assorted Princes (who always surprised Dad by being friendly and cheerful--they apparently weren't what he'd expected). Michael's little sister Annette was as contrary as Lily.

A few days later, he found himself back on the Hogwarts Express. Rosie Weasley had brought along the book from the Romp's library with a picture of the Pooka, and she was flipping through it.

"I asked Mum why she even had this," she said. "She said it came from the Boyler--Silas's grandfather's junk shop. Uncle Percy likes to go there and look for odd things, and when he saw it, he thought she might like it, just as an oddity."

"Uncle Percy found it?" James repeated. "Really? Why does he go to junk shops?"

Rosie shrugged. "I don't know. He just does. I think he started when they were poor."

James shook his head. Nothing seemed less like stodgy Uncle Percy than rummaging through someone else's used rubbish, but he couldn't think of a reason for Aunt Hermione to make something like that up. "So, what's it about?"

"Well, it's slow reading, mind, as it's not written in the proper alphabet for the language, and sometimes whoever wrote it switches how he spells things in runes..."

"The gist?"

"It's about Ireland, Irish history. Only, a lot of it's not entirely right. Or maybe it's right, but really just skewed. One way or another, it's about Irish greatness."

"I can live with that. I like Ireland."

"This goes way beyond liking Ireland."

"I'm glad they're independent."

"And beyond independence." She flipped through it a bit. "There's some business in here about taking Ulster again, which the people in Ulster don't want. But it's mostly... I don't know, just sort of, 'We're wonderful and the British are evil and we will do everything necessary to shake ourselves free of the evil and...'"

"And this is from the wizarding bunch? We've all gone to Hogwarts together since... well, since England and Scotland and Wales were all at war as much as Ireland was."

Rosie shrugged. "Don't ask me, the tribal business never made sense to me." She picked up the book and started reading again.

James spent the rest of the trip back to school losing spectacularly at chess to Ahmed. His pawns were still cursing at him when they pulled into Hogsmeade Station.

The teachers had no mercy for the disorientation of returning after hols, and in the first week back, James had quizzes in Transfiguration, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and--the greatest betrayal--Herbology. He did well enough on them, but the week was wasted going over his books and homework. There was no time to really work on the issue of Si's disappearance. Robert Highgold brought up the question of what would happen if he came back--would he be held back with Al's year, or moved ahead despite not knowing the material? Al told the story of the Petrified students during the year the Chamber had been opened; none of them had repeated a year. During Teddy's fifth year, several plague victims had also been in stasis for months, and had just been expected to take their end of year exams as usual. Which didn't seem entirely fair, as far as James was concerned.

The weekend brought rain, which made Quidditch practice very uncomfortable, but Abby was fanatical about practicing in all conditions. "Ravenclaw is a smart team--they'll know how to deal with bad conditions, so we'd bloody well best be able to deal with them as well!" James put up with a lot of reminders about the rules of who was allowed to score goals, and who was expected to go looking for a Snitch. Abby suggested that he avoid temptation by flying very high, as his dives were quite good enough to beat an opposing Seeker if he spotted the Snitch first.

Aurors came and went through January, testing the old roundhouse and trying to block it off. James took his broom out from time to time, hoping he'd spot Dad or Uncle Ron or Ruthless to ask about what Si's uncle had said, but it always seemed to be someone else. He supposed he could write a letter, and he would if he didn't catch one of them soon, but it all seemed less silly when it wasn't written down.

The game against Ravenclaw was the first Saturday in February, which was very clear and bright, if unusually cold. Mum had sent James a Charmed muffler, and he was glad to have it tucked around his neck as he circled high above the game, watching for the glint of the Golden Snitch while the Chasers and Beaters battled it out below.

He could hear bits and pieces of the commentary--provided by Izzie Selig, a seventh year Hufflepuff girl who'd been doing it for the past three and a half years--floating up into the sky. "...and Ryan's Bludger hits... and it's Ravenclaw trying for a goal and Dean blocks it! ... Gryffindor scores... Ravenclaw scores..." James had lost track of the score entirely at this height. He didn't care for Abby's strategy at all, and was about to head down against her orders when he happened to glance toward the roundhouse.

He could see the Aurors there, digging. But what caught his eye was a glint not far from it that he'd never noticed before. In the bright sunlight, and at this height, he could see, along the lake shore, a tiny flicker of metal in a straight line from the tracks. He followed along the line with his eyes. There was another, just barely visible, that looked like it might be on the other track. And a little depressed line in the ground, nothing that you'd notice if you weren't looking, headed for the Forbidden Forest and--


James ground his teeth and glanced back at the pitch. The Snitch was flickering just behind Celia at the Gryffindor goal posts. He flung himself down in a clumsy dive--well, clumsy by his own standards, but judging by the gasp in the crowd, it looked good--and pulled up at the last minute.

"Nice of you to notice, Potter," Celia quipped, then James was knocked aside by the Ravenclaw Seeker, Bette Norris.

He executed a tighter dive and a roll, getting underneath Bette as the Snitch flitted off toward the opposite goal. It turned suddenly, flew directly at them, then swerved up into the sky and disappeared.

Bette grinned and shrugged. "Oh, well. Good run."

James nodded. "Next time."

"'Til then."

They flew off in different directions.

The game went on for more than four hours, and by the end of it, Izzie sounded like she'd rather be doing Potions homework, and the Chasers were "accidentally" lobbing Quaffles at James and Bette for having missed the Snitch in its earlier appearance. When it finally did appear again, James almost didn't believe it. Thankfully, Bette must have had the same reaction, because the few seconds he spent staring at it before realizing that it was there didn't really cost him. He swooped down on it in front of the commentator's booth and snagged it out of the air before Bette had got halfway to it. The spectators, as tired as the players by this point, applauded limply and went back to the castle. There wasn't time for much of a party back in the Common Room, though the team was given the prime space by the fireplace and toasted one another with butterbeer. Abby told James to play at his normal altitude next time.

He'd nearly forgotten about the glints of metal and the faint lines he'd seen, but he dreamed of them that night, and the next day, set out to see if he could follow them. Unfortunately, it was overcast, and the rain overnight had made the grass fuller, and he couldn't find what he'd seen. Instead, he flew over to the roundhouse, where, at last, he found one of the people he was looking for. Ruthless Scrimgeour was doing some complicated wand-work on the switch. Her wild red hair was bound up with a bit of twine, holding it in something that was either a braid or a very strange, tied-up ponytail. She looked up when she saw James.

"Potter! You know you're not meant to be here."

"I'm way up here," James said. "I don't think the pooka can reach."

"Unless it turns into a bird."

"Can I talk to you?"

Ruthless made a frustrated sort of face, then pointed to a stand of rocks. "Over there, and don't you come a bit closer."

James made his way to the rocks, landed, and waited for her. She pulled herself up. "So--what did you want?"

"Si's uncle. My dad was going to talk to him. Did he say anything strange?"

"Oh. That." She blinked. "Well, I actually did the interview. Your dad was going to, but he got caught up trying to find a fugitive from Japan who decided London looked like a good place to hide--bad idea, by the way, he's safely delivered back to Tokyo. Anyway, yes. I went up there."


She shrugged. "And, nothing. I don't entirely trust him, but he seems genuinely worried about Silas."

"What about Si's dad, though?"

"I would assume... well, he said his brother's capable enough, but I'd guess he's worried, as they're both gone."

"Did Dad tell you what Al thought of?"

She nodded. "Your uncle and I are working on that as well--looking for any sign that Kenny Boyle's been out and about since they disappeared. I've got nothing, I'm afraid."

James sighed. "Well, it was just a thought."

"A goodish one."

He bit his lip. "Did you, er, hear about Teddy?"

"Yes," Ruthless said, and if she was sad that she wasn't the one marrying him, she didn't show it. "He asked me to be his best man."


"Well, best whatever." She shrugged. "Luckily, I come from a tribe where the men wear skirts to formal events, so I can just show up in the formal tartan and look like a best man and a girl."

"You're not... you know?"

"If I were, I'd not be telling a second year about it." She gave him a stern look. "Now, off you go. I've work to do, and I'm willing to guess you have Potions homework that you haven't done."

James did actually have homework (in Potions, Herbology, and History of Magic), but he didn't set to it immediately on going back to his dormitory. Instead, he gathered Michael, Ahmed, and Robert, and sat down on the end of Si's bed.

"The Aurors don't have anything," he said. "They're working on it, but they don't."

"Nothing new there," Robert said.

"I want to find out more. Do you lot have any ideas?"

"Nothing we can do at Hogwarts," Michael said. "It's not like he's here."

"At least as far as we know," Ahmed said. "Did you find those marks you were looking at?"

James shook his head. "No. They were headed for the Forbidden Forest. Can't think what they'd be going to. Maybe it's just part of the old spur."

"Or maybe not." Michael ran his hand through his hair (leaving it in a grease-held wave over his ears). "What if it's not a mark from the old spur? What if the pooka can't get off the grounds with Silas, and it's some sort of magical thing that's been built since he was taken? That would sort of make sense of no one ever having seen it before."

"And with some of the best wizards and witches in the country teaching here, no one noticed something like that?" Ahmed shook his head. "That doesn't sound any more likely. Besides, what good would it do to magically travel into the Forbidden Forest?"

James considered it. "Teddy told me a story about when Vivian--that's Celia's adopted mum--and the other werewolves were rescued. There was a magical gate that only magical creatures could travel through. That one's destroyed, but maybe there's something like it, and the pooka's trying to make a way to travel through it while he's carrying Silas."

"Or that could be another Snorkack hunt," Robert said (he used wizarding phrases as often as he could). "We need to know more about this thing. Rosie said she hasn't got anything more out of that book."

"Well, anything else isn't at Hogwarts," Michael said. "It's at the Boyler. Or in Ireland, for all we know."

"Or at the Leaky Cauldron," Ahmed said. "That's where it all started."

"Another place we can't get to."

James's eye fell on his trunk, where Meg the dolly was sitting, ignored for a month. "We can't," he said, then got up and went to his trunk. He picked up the doll and held her up. "But I know someone who can."


16 comments or Leave a comment
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 3rd, 2010 09:06 am (UTC) (Link)
WOOT! First to comment!

I want to know where the hidden tracks are going- how COULD James have let it slip his mind? Kids nowadays have no follow-through!

Great chapter as always, thanks for a great read!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 7th, 2010 03:25 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, unfortunately, unlike Harry, Seeking bores him to death, leading to not so good retention...!
amamama From: amamama Date: May 3rd, 2010 10:38 am (UTC) (Link)
Interesting with those tracks - but why didn't he tell Ruthless about them? Of course, that would mean there was no "Hardy boys story" to tell, so... Anyway, I found this as entertaining as it always is. And I look forward to seeing what he's up to with Meg. *g*

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 7th, 2010 03:26 am (UTC) (Link)
that would mean there was no "Hardy boys story" to tell, so

And the ultimate answer is... ;p (Though I'll take Ellen's in-story explanation below.)
willowbough From: willowbough Date: May 3rd, 2010 01:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
A four-hour Quidditch match? The crowd has my sympathy--I never could stand it when football games went into overtime, especially on TV. And the hint about Meg at the end is intriguing--could this mean Lily will be getting involved? Looking forward to finding out!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 7th, 2010 03:28 am (UTC) (Link)
My sympathy, too. It always bugs me when the TV schedule doesn't plan for the length of time the sport actually takes, thereby making those of us tuning in for something else wait through the game and then, half the time, lose the first part of whatever we're waiting for. Just schedule an after-show of indefinite length that can cover whatever time there is between the end of the game and the first scheduled program!
From: severely_lupine Date: May 3rd, 2010 02:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Heehee! I do find the whole Ruthless/James thing quite entertaining.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 7th, 2010 03:28 am (UTC) (Link)
I like them, too. When the idea first entered my head, I loved it secretly and wasn't sure I dared to introduce it. I'm glad I did!
From: severely_lupine Date: May 7th, 2010 03:44 am (UTC) (Link)
I think I have a soft spot for noticeable age differences--at least in fiction. It provides so much opportunity for humor and awkwardness.
etain_antrim From: etain_antrim Date: May 3rd, 2010 05:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
I also want to know where these new train tracks (if that's what they are) go. And I'm looking forward to seeing how Meg can help.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 7th, 2010 03:29 am (UTC) (Link)
We'll get back to the tracks, I promise.
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 3rd, 2010 06:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
I can see why James didn't mention it to Ruthless. "I saw a golden thing over here while we were playing Quidditch. No, it didn't have anything to do with the Snitch. Really. Yes, I know I was supposed to be looking for the Snitch, but that doesn't mean - Look, it was gold and coming off the tracks and - Yes, I _did_ check after the game. I couldn't find it, but that doesn't mean -"

And so on. Ruthless' main weakness as an Auror, I'm guessing, is a tendency to dismiss the source before really getting the information - and, barely being out of school herself and perhaps trying just a bit too hard to be taken seriously as an Auror rather than as the trainee just out of school (and probably still having some of the seventh year instincts that say first and second years are not to be taken seriously), she'd be a bit too ready to dismiss James' sighting.

I'm guessing some of that happened in the interview. Her interview skills are still a bit rough. If the idea's correct, surprising Ronan with what he thought was the big secret people still haven't caught onto probably would have made him give something away - even if only some telltale signs that the idea is correct. A more experienced interviewer might have also gotten more information.

I'm guessing Ruthless presented the theory in a way that gave Ronan time to see it coming and, after that, she wasn't watching as closely as she could have for any slips or extra bits of information.

Current conclusion: Ronan knows more than he's saying and is also in danger. He's a lot more worried about himself than his brother and nephew.

vesta_aurelia From: vesta_aurelia Date: May 4th, 2010 01:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I think Ronan's truly worried... but I think it's because HE was the one who didn't pay the pooka. So he has guilt, too.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 7th, 2010 03:30 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks, great save for a choice that's essentially, "Er... the Aurors would get to the end of the story really fast and my main characters wouldn't be there for it!"
sidealong From: sidealong Date: May 5th, 2010 12:09 pm (UTC) (Link)


"You're not... you know?"

"If I were, I'd not be telling a second year about it."

considering your storyline for these 2, this is so funny!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 7th, 2010 03:30 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Priceless!

I can see them growing old teasing each other about this sort of thing.
16 comments or Leave a comment