Unfortunately, the weather took a turn for the worse, which made it difficult during March to follow the path James spotted, which leads to a hill in the Forbidden Forest. Rosie, who doesn't believe they found a way off the grounds, is less than positive that Silas is still alive after all this time, and fears that it's a burial mound--and says that this is why they haven't found a way to explore it despite the weather. She believes they're afraid of what they'll find.
I'm now also re-adopting the concept of absolute power over the calendar. In fact, Easter is April 1 during the year in question, but I have time to kill, dammit, and hols are going to have to be a little later, so... so is Easter. I'm still not going to be able to drag it to June, I'm afraid.
March didn't go out entirely like a lamb. It ended on a Friday night in a whooping thunderstorm that lit up the mountains and turned the lake into a choppy mirror, throwing flashes up at Gryffindor Tower.
James sat in the window watching it, long after Michael, Robert, and Ahmed had gone to sleep. Somewhere behind the clouds, the moon was full, and Celia was off in France with her pack. Listening to the angry thunder, he could well imagine her there, howling fiercely up to the furious sky. He wasn't tired. Al had told him Rosie's theory--that they were afraid that Silas was dead and buried at the end of the new line--and he'd been turning it over in his head for a week. He didn't think it was true, but if Rosie was right, he supposed he wouldn't think it, because the whole point was being afraid to think it.
It was sort of insidious, really. Very difficult to prove wrong.
He looked at Silas's bed, empty now since autumn, and thought, Silas is probably dead.
There was no fear that he could detect in himself, but that was because there was also no belief.
After a long while, he went to bed, and tried to will himself to have one of the sorts of dreams that Teddy sometimes did, when he went to sleep confused and woke up understanding things. It didn't work. He dreamed generically of walking in a river in a jungle (it was glowing), and about Celia deciding to kiss him (this was actually rather scary, as he remembered partway through that she was transformed, and suddenly, she was a wolf and he had to run away), and about a gnome that was loose at Marauder's Roost, but there was nothing in any of the dreams that even seemed to apply, let alone solve a problem. He tried, when he woke up, to make it fit, but it didn't.
At breakfast, he got a little box from Uncle George. It was a little Catherine wheel, and it would go all day. He went up to Uncle Fred's swamp to set it off and let it hover.
"Happy birthday, Uncle Fred," he said, lighting it.
"I've got a Gamboling Goblin."
Rosie smiled and set off the little Charmed figurine to run around the swamp. "Did he send you anything last year?"
"No. I think it just occurred to him that we could."
James watched the gnome and the fireworks for a few seconds, then said, "I'm going out to the mound today. Are you coming along?"
"Even though you think he's dead."
"Even if he is dead, we need to find him. I wouldn't want to be left alone somewhere to disappear."
"I don't think he is. And it's not because I'm scared."
She nodded and didn't argue. "What time?"
Two hours later, James gathered her, along with his dormitory mates and Al at the starting point of the path. (Celia was back from France, but couldn't go for a hike in the woods, as she'd managed to break her foot jumping about under the moon, and Madam Pomfrey had all but cursed them out of the hospital wing when they'd suggested it.)
"Shouldn't we be a little more stealthy?" Michael asked. "Broad daylight, in sight of the castle doors..."
"It's not in sight where we go into the woods," Al told him.
Ahmed nodded vigorously. "And we've a right to be out on the lake shore if we want to be. It's a nice day, and it's Saturday. Plus all of the other years--except first years--are off at Hogsmeade, and they're never strict about what the rest of us do."
Michael shrugged. "All right." He held up his book bag. "I brought lunch for everyone."
"He's in charge of planning from now on," Rosie said, and grinned.
James gave her a little shove toward the lake, and she pushed back, and they were underway.
"When we get Si back," Robert said as they approached the edge of the Forest, "we're going to have to get him ready for end-of-year exams."
"I'll get Defense Against the Dark Arts," James offered.
"Well, yeah." Robert kicked a stone. "I guess I could do Herbology. I've got good marks there."
"You have to have them somewhere," Michael said.
"Oh, shut up. Are you going to do potions?"
Michael wrinkled his nose. He was undoubtedly the best of them at potions, but his strong resemblance to Severus Snape--who was only something like a second cousin twice removed--made it too tempting to tease him about it. He sighed. "All right. But if I hear one word about becoming a Potions Master, Si will fail, and it will be your fault."
"I guess that leaves me Transfiguration," Ahmed said. "Who's doing History of Magic?"
"I will," Rosie offered. "I like history."
"You're not in our year," Ahmed pointed out.
"Rosie knows all the years," Al said. "She memorized the textbooks."
"I did not."
Al raised his eyebrows at her.
They'd come into the Forest now, and James led the way between the trees, following the path he and Al had found. "What about Charms? I could that, along with Defense."
"That's two big subjects," Robert said. "Let Celia do it. You know she loves showing off her hexes."
James watched Rosie and Al carefully, wondering if either of them would bring up their notion that Silas was dead, but neither did. He turned to say something about placing bets on who could get Si the best marks, but before a word came out of his mouth, he heard a soft whistle, then something thumped the ground beside him. He turned, and found an arrow growing out of the earth.
"You have no business in the Forest."
He looked up.
A centaur was coming over the rise, its bow still drawn.
"Er... we're looking for a friend," James said.
"This forest is forbidden to students," the centaur repeated.
Rosie stepped forward. "Please, sir, have you seen or heard anything of a pooka here?"
"There are many creatures in the forest."
"She's only asking about one of them," Robert said.
The centaur paused, looked at the sky through the shifting treetops, then looked down again. "We do not interfere," he said.
James heard something move, and when he looked to either side, he could now see a line of centaurs among the trees.
"It's our business," he said. "The pooka took a human. Are you protecting it?"
"We are protecting nothing," the centaur said. "But the Forest is forbidden to you."
"You heard him," Ahmed said, tugging on James's sleeve. "It's forbidden. I guess we have to stop. It's not like we can get through here without them knowing--we're not invisible, and we don't have a map." He raised his eyebrows.
James nodded. "Fine," he said. "I guess we go back to the castle."
"That would be wise," the centaur said.
Slumping his shoulders a bit, James started back along the path, trying not to let his face show that he was already trying to get the next plan together. If Al let them use the Cloak, there wouldn't be room for all of them under it. He'd have to go himself, and Al. Then Rosie? Michael? Ahmed? Robert? Celia? If they moved very slowly, he supposed he could get two more. Rosie knew the story better than any of them. But only one of the others could fit, and--
He stopped at the edge of the woods. Professor Longbottom was standing there, looking quite cross, beside Hagrid, who looked a bit amused.
Professor Longbottom spread out their detentions over the week, so they wouldn't have time to get together to go again, and then, quite suddenly, Easter hols were upon them, and they were on board the Hogwarts Express again, going home. James wrote a story about Violet the detective for Lily while he was on the train, and she loved it so much that she forbade him to ever, ever write a great lot of stories in that vein. Dad cautiously told him to be careful in his explorations, and Mum told him that if she heard of another detention, he'd be doing kitchen chores all summer.
On a whim, James decided to go to church with Teddy and Victoire on Easter Sunday (at Père Alderman's parish church in France), where they were actually on their best behavior and quite pleasant to be around. James asked Teddy a question about shapeshifters, and he made an unconvincing argument about needing to look it up.
The train took them back to Hogwarts in late April, and the first Monday back, a hawk came through with the owls at owl post. It carried a very thin envelope, and the note inside it just said, "Hagrid's. Now."
James finished his breakfast in a few gulps, then headed down.
The hawk was sitting on the edge of the hippogriff pen, and when it spotted James, it flew into the small barn. James followed it.
When he got inside, Teddy was sitting on a bale of hay.
"That's an interesting way in and out of Hogwarts," James said.
"I wondered if it would work," Teddy told him. "And it won't again. I'm going very carefully mention to the Headmistress that it could work, in theory, and I'm sure she'll get the point."
"You could have just written a real letter. Is it about what I asked you?"
Teddy nodded. "I really had to think about it. If something happens to you because you think you know something--and you think you know it because I told you--then I'm responsible. I don't want you doing anything dangerous."
"Right. Dad, either. And you're both great role models."
Teddy smiled. "True."
"So--is there anything a person can do to see through a shapeshifter's tricks?"
"It depends on the shapeshifter," Teddy said. "With human shapeshifters, a true image mirror works wonders." He twirled his wand, and a small, hand-held mirror appeared. "This isn't very powerful--the powerful ones are rare, and mostly owned by the Ministry--but at least it can show you a few things. And since it's the pooka you're talking about--I did see through your careful code--that will be enough if it's in human shape. It'll show you that it isn't human."
James took it. "Thanks."
"But that's not really what you were asking, was it? You want to know how to force a shapeshifter back into its real shape."
James frowned. "Really, I was just wondering if there was anything Silas could have done, if the pooka showed up as his father. Or if I could do anything if it showed up as Dad."
"Well, you'd need to know to look."
"But the other... Is it possible?"
Teddy stood and went to the door, looking out carefully. "There are spells," he said. "But they're beyond you."
"Thanks a lot!"
"James, you know perfectly well that if you're depending on magic you're not ready to do, you're not going to get anywhere."
"Fine," James said.
"But the truth is..." Teddy turned around and came back. "Every shapeshifter has a real shape. Even a Boggart does. We can't really comprehend it, but it has it. I can turn into a hawk with purple and gold feathers, but that takes energy. When I don't have any energy left, any strength left, I can't even change my hair color. That's why we stop morphing when we're depressed."
"So I have to... make it sad?"
Teddy laughed. "No. Metamorphmagi are pretty advanced in the shapeshifting hierarchy. It takes a lot for me. But it's the same principle as a Boggart, really--tire it out until it can't hold on to anything but the shape it really is anymore. And a Pooka is closer to a Boggart, so it won't take that much. Just tire it out. Make it switch, make it run... do whatever you need to if you really want it to go back to its real shape."
James nodded. "All right. Thank you."
"Don't do it stupidly, James."
"I'll try not to blow anything up or burn anything down."
Teddy grinned. "Well, then you're already a step ahead of me."
With that, he transformed and flew off with the morning's crew of owls.