Chapter Sixteen - Ominous Omen
Dumbledore breathed in the scent of his office, the thick books that lined the walls adding the musty smell of old parchment and dried ink. The silver instruments that occupied the empty spaces not taken over by the volumes whirred quietly, a soft undertone of mechanical conversation. It was a calm, studious atmosphere - lit only by the flickering candle that perched on the large oak desk in the centre of the room.
Wiping at a smudge on his half-moon spectacles, Dumbledore blinked in the dim light. His eyes, weakened with age, took in the blurred outlines of the many portraits that lined the walls. It was a strange relief to have the world so simplified - however brief a time it was.
Sighing deeply, he placed his now smudge-free glasses back on his crooked nose. Wanting to draw the actions out, he took his time opening the bottom drawer to his desk, neatly folding the cloth he'd been using before meticulously laying it in its home. That done, he slowly stood from his chair and crossed the room, coming to a stop at the far wall.
"All right, Albus?"
Glancing at the wall, Dumbledore was met with the questioning gaze of Armando Dippet. He stopped to consider the question - how to answer such a query? Deciding on a half-truth, Dumbledore waved his hand, feigning nonchalance. "Things have been a bit off, as I'm sure you've realised."
Dippet nodded, considering. "Yes," he said slowly, testing the words in his mind before speaking them. "However, I find that eavesdropping and spying are no good means of acquiring the whole truth. I've but pieces of a greater picture."
"As have I, Armando." Dumbledore exhaled, looking upward as he thought of the events of the past few days. "It seems that, no matter how much I search for answers, the question I'd been asking is never answered. Meanwhile, more problems arise and I'm left with more unsolved queries."
The man in the portrait eyed the current headmaster thoughtfully. "Perhaps that is just life, Albus. We are always searching for the answer to something."
Dumbledore shook his head, a frown marring his features. "This is different. It seems that I've interfered with something that shouldn't be touched - and something is happening. But, for the sake of my sanity, I cannot begin to fathom why I've done such a thing - and I think it is extremely important that I do."
Both men were silent for several minutes, lost in their own thoughts. Dumbledore stared at the floor, not even seeing the pattern grooved in the wood. A whirlwind of thoughts and theories flew through his mind faster than lightning, none slow enough for him to see. Suddenly, as quickly as the newly-released Cleansweep, one thought stuck. Everything became clear in a burst of understanding, and Dumbledore sucked in a breath as his eyes darted toward the portrait of Armando Dippet.
Dippet's brow was furrowed in a mixture of concern and curiosity. He opened his mouth to speak, but when Dumbledore put his hand up to stop him, Dippet shut his mouth with an audible snap. His eyes followed the now-pacing headmaster, trying to discern what the man had just seen.
Dumbledore's pacing came to an abrupt halt and he whirled around, deep purple robes billowing out around him as he did so. His expression was calmly resigned, as if he had accepted what was to happen knowing it couldn't be helped. His pale blue eyes bore into the dead headmaster, making him quirk his head in curiosity.
"So that's it, then," Dumbledore said quietly, eyes now moving downward to the thick, intricate frame that encased the painting. He followed the pattern as if seeing something else - the swirls and loops a labyrinth to be followed to the end, where a trove of answers awaited.
Dippet cautiously opened his mouth again, curiosity greater than courtesy. "Albus, if you please . . .?"
"My apologies, Armando," the headmaster answered, flipping his eyes upward once more to land on the man in the picture. "I've just found the answer to my question."
"I don't believe it."
Harry sighed, all the while trying not to smile at James' expression. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the creased map, holding it out to James.
James snatched it out of Harry's hand, pulling out the map he had in his own pocket. Then, mouth set in a grim line, he set the two Marauders Maps on his lap to compare.
"They're not the same," James said in awe, not caring about the authenticity of Harry's map anymore. "There's more to it. More of Hogwarts has been mapped out. What's that right there?"
Harry looked to where James pointed. "It's a passageway. It leads to Hogsmeade."
"Brilliant," James breathed, looking through the future map. He had to remember the differences, so he and the other Marauders could mark them up on their own copy.
Ginny grumbled. "Well, since the wand's out of the box, is it entirely necessary for us to stay in here? I'm beginning to forget what it looks like outside the Hospital Wing."
Lily glanced at her watch. "It is almost time for dinner . . ."
Ginny jumped up from her seat on the bed, smoothing out her sweater before she drew back the curtain. They all blinked at the sudden bright light streaming through the windows.
"Yeah, er, I think my blindness is a sign that it's time to leave."
James, being the first to get up, led the way out of the room.
Sirius clicked his tongue in impatience, eyes narrowed. Peter flushed, rubbing the back of his neck as he gathered up his school things which had, until very recently, been in his bag.
"Look, Wormtail, the entire point of my clever little plan was to witness the event. By dropping the entire contents of your bag on the floor, you delay my satisfaction."
"You act like I did it on purpose," Peter grumbled, stuffing his Transfiguration book in with his other things. "I thought you wanted to wait for Prongs, anyway."
Sirius let out a breath; the hair that just reached his eyes was blown to the side. "I wanted to give him a chance to make an appearance. I haven't seen him all day, though."
Peter didn't answer; he finally managed to stick his quill into his now-full bag and stood up, brushing the dust off his trousers as he did so.
He and Sirius were standing in the Entrance Hall, Sirius leaning against the wall and managing to look bored and excited at the same time while Peter straightened his shirt and hitched his bag over his shoulder. The hall was empty but for them and a few other students as most had gone to dinner. Sirius was keeping his grey eyes on the stringy, black-haired Slytherin standing near the front doors.
"What are we waiting for exactly?"
"You see Snivelly over there?" Sirius pointed to the lanky Slytherin and Peter turned his head to look, nodding when he caught sight of the boy. "We are waiting for him to give us the signal."
Peter's brow furrowed in confusion. "What signal? Why would we be waiting for a signal from him?"
Sirius grinned wolfishly. "He's the main event, my friend. The fun starts with his signal."
"Isn't that Prongs?"
Sirius turned to look to where Peter was pointing, forgetting to watch his quarry. James was just visible through the door leading to the staircases.
"Yes, I believe it is. I wonder where he's –"
"Where'd Snape go?"
Whipping around, Sirius searched the entire room in one sweep of his eyes and saw that Snape had disappeared through the front doors as soon as Sirius' attentions were elsewhere. Cursing, he grabbed Peter and ran through the doors and onto the grounds, stopping to make sure they were alone before letting go of Peter's shirt. He could see Snape slowly sneaking in the direction of the Whomping Willow.
"So, I guess we missed the signal," said Peter, smoothing his shirt for the second time that night.
"Get stuffed," Sirius growled. Mind racing, he weighed his options as quickly as he could.
"Where's he going?"
James turned his head from the retreating Sirius to look at Lily, Harry, and Ginny. They'd just entered the Entrance Hall when Sirius, towing a resisting Peter, hurried through the front doors.
"Dunno," he answered, turning back to see the end of Peter's robes disappear through the doors. "You lot go to dinner, I'm going to see what they're doing."
Despite everything that had happened recently, James couldn't resist the urge to know what the other Marauders where up to. Perhaps he had imagined it, but he was sure he had seen the spark of mischief in Sirius' eyes that always meant trouble.
James walked to the doors and pulled them open, stopping just outside the castle. It was getting dark; the sky was a deep, dark purple with a smattering of stars. The moon hung full and round in the sky, bathing the grounds in a soft glow. He glanced around, searching for Sirius and Peter, but he couldn't see them.
Suddenly, there was a rhythmic pounding against the ground behind him. He spun around just as something large and dark collided with him, knocking him to the ground. His eyes shot open and he found himself looking into a set of light grey eyes belonging to a black dog. The dog's tongue lolled out of its mouth as it looked at James, wagging its tail.
"You are such a git."
The dog barked, turning in a small circle once as if chasing its tail. James laughed quietly, grabbing Sirius' muzzle in his hand and turning his face toward him.
"D'you want to have the entire castle out here? Don't bark. Why did you come so close to the castle, anyway? D'you want to get caught?"
Sirius gave his head a shake before turning to look behind James. He whined and began to back up, eyes on whatever he had spotted. It wasn't until a hand touched James' shoulder that he turned around. Harry was looking between him and the dog; his hand was still on James' shoulder.
"He's . . . er . . . my dog," said James, not being able to come up with anything. He heard Sirius give a most un-doglike snort.
"Right," Harry said, eyes dancing in amusement.
"Right," James said slowly, narrowing his eyes at Harry.
Grinning, Harry turned to the dog. "I'd watch it if I were you, Sirius."
James and Sirius both stared at Harry, mouths open. Sirius glanced at James, biting on his tongue, before cocking his head in Harry's direction. James felt like doing the same.
"You know about that, too? Do know about . . . ?"
James nodded. "I guess it's understandable. You are my . . . er . . . right."
He coughed slightly before turning to Sirius. "Why were you in such a hurry to get out here? Just wanted to lope around, did you?"
Sirius gave a start and jumped to his feet, whining. He bolted around the castle wall and came back a minute later, human and panting.
"I don't have time to explain fully. Just know that I have Snivellus out and about tonight, too."
"Excellent." James grinned appreciatively.
"It is. Now, if you want to witness the grand spectacle, I'd suggest you follow me and the rat."
With that, Sirius ran back around the wall. A minute later, the black dog darted around the corner, jaw firmly clamped on the tail of a rat.
"What was that about?"
James cringed at Lily's voice. He turned around and saw her standing by Ginny by the front doors. He looked at Harry, but Harry was watching Sirius run off, deep in thought.
"Is Black hiding a dog in the forest?"
James jumped on this. "Yes, but don't tell anyone. It'd kill him to lose his pet, Evans."
"We should follow him."
James looked at Harry; his eyes looked far away, as if he was focusing on something they couldn't see.
Harry shook his head, still watching Sirius. "It is full moon, you know."
James started, looking at the sky quickly. The moon hadn't even registered in his mind when they'd walked out onto the grounds. There it sat, however, nestled in the folds of black and blue. One could call it beautiful; to James, however, it was an ominous thing. The moon meant the loss of so many things: friendship, love, and brotherhood.
To the Marauders, the full moon meant the loss of Remus Lupin.
Author's Note: Yes, it's been awhile, hasn't it? Sorry about that.
To tell you the truth, I'm really itching to wrap this one up soon. I've been writing it on and off for a few years now and, in all honesty, it's not my best. However, I'm not just going to drop it and leave you hanging after sticking with me for so long. I reckon there'll be a few more chapters and then an ending. So, just a bit more waiting, mates.
Recently, I've returned to writing Harry Potter fan fiction (as opposed to Twilight). I've got a few reasons for returning, but the two biggest are a) Harry Potter is my favourite series and I love writing it and b) Twilight has ticked me off. I'm very angry at the Twilight fandom presently and cannot read nor write anything about it without gritting my teeth, so . . . yeah. One night, while reading a comment war between Harry Potter and Twilight, I just snapped after reading one too many nasty comments directed toward HP and, in a rage-fueled frenzy, ripped everything Twilight related out of my sight. My workspace was not overly-Twilighted, mind, but there were a few knick-knacks that are now gone. I'm so angry, in fact, I'm debating on whether or not to wear a Harry Potter shirt to the New Moon midnight premiere. Just to rile the fad-following sheep up a bit.
Anyway, just two things to share now: 1) I loved the Half-Blood Prince movie. Did you? 2) If you haven't, take a peek at Socks, Skrewts, and Spectators and leave me some feedback. That one took a good bit of time and effort and to have it snubbed is slightly saddening. Ah well. Look out for Shattered within the week, and maybe another chapter for Time.