Chapter 35 : The Land of Confusion
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Brief Recaption of Chapter 34: But I knew I had to, so I loosened my grip on it as he snatched it out of my hands. Filch unfolded it as I prayed that Sirius didn't come back as a dog.
Filch grunted abnormally and faced me. "Come with me. We're going to take a trip to the Headmaster's office."
“Excuse me, sir, but—“
“Save it for the Headmaster!”
“If you let me explain, I wouldn’t really need to bother Professor Dumbledore!” I was honestly growing anxious. What if that piece of parchment had significance? What if it did have something written on it and I just didn’t look hard enough? What if I never saw that cat again? Wait, why do I care?
“Are you questioning my authority?” Filch demanded roughly.
“I hate children...” Filch mumbled hoarsely in a thick voice, his audibility slight.
I’m not a child, I thought with my eyebrows furrowed.
As we walked to Dumbledore’s office, I folded my arms across my chest and listened to my uneven footsteps. I only had my thoughts for company with Sirius gone, and they weren’t pleasant to me.
If I was an Animagus, I would have been able to chase the cat with Sirius... My thoughts were bitter. Before I knew it, we arrived in front of the statue entrance to the Headmaster’s office.
I reminisced about the other numerous times I faced that statue, my fate unknown, but this was the first time I managed to get to it without preconceiving it. Life used to be all about pranking “that one Hufflepuff” or getting revenge on the Slytherins. It was easy to say it wasn’t like that anymore, what with impossible homework tasks, secret meetings that had yet to take place, and one huge puzzle with missing pieces. And it was up to me to find them. I just… didn’t know why yet.
“The Headmaster is able to see you now,” Filch grumbled with a satisfied, grotesque smirk playing against his face conspicuously.
I just stared at him as my blood boiled against my skin in temptation, wanting to grab my wand from my cloak to hex him. I simply nodded, feeling as though the air got heavier.
Filch handed me the parchment that he took away a few mere minutes ago so I could show it to Dumbledore. For one simple second, I considered running away to go find Sirius. I knew for a fact that I could outrun Filch and hide until he lost me. But I still didn’t know why Professor Dumbledore would care about some blank bit of parchment, and I did still skip McGonagall’s class. That didn’t change. This could be done now, or it could be done later with much more aggressiveness. Clearing my dry throat, I chose now.
The statue started spinning and spiraling upward after Filch stated the password, so I stepped onto the moving staircase.
When I reached his office door, I knocked twice. It automatically opened, disclosing some of the most awe-inspiring contents.
“Miss Lupin,” said a cheerful Dumbledore. “Back again?”
“Sir, I can explain,” I rambled quickly, my hands twisted around each other over the parchment.
“I was told that you and Mr. Black skipped Transfiguration,” replied Professor Dumbledore. My face fell.
“Well, I—I can’t quite explain why I did that... But I—Wait, sir, how did you know that Sirius wasn’t in class either?” I knew that Filch hadn’t seen Padfoot, and I didn’t say much to Professor Dumbledore, so how was it that he knew?
“Mr. Filch did not know that Mr. Black’s presence in Professor McGonagall’s classroom was missing. However, I do not think that the matter is significant. Professor McGonagall will decide your fate upon the time she sees you next, but Mr. Filch has informed me that there was something else I ought to see.”
I stared down at the parchment in my hands, nodding. “Please take a seat, Miss Lupin,” Dumbledore said politely. I thought he was implying that he wanted me to give him the parchment. Instead, he shook his head and waved at the empty chair. I sat down and inhaled nervously.
“Professor, I can ex—“ I began, but he stopped me.
“Where did that come from?” Dumbledore asked as he studied the parchment in my hands skeptically. Maybe even curiously.
“I—I found it,” I said in partial honesty. “It was lying on the ground floor of the Clocktower.”
“Do you know how it got there?”
That was the question I had been dreading. I knew where the parchment came from – a cat’s mouth – but I couldn’t tell Professor Dumbledore why a cat dropped this parchment at my feet. I myself did not know, but I couldn’t lie...
I took a deep breath and told him everything about the cat and how it was always following me around, then about how it disappeared for a while and then came back to me bearing the parchment in its mouth. Dumbledore’s bright blue eyes were not wide but they were not their normal, smaller size as I explained all that I knew to him. He bowed his head down at certain points with his fingertips meeting with their opposites.
“And then Mr. Filch found me.”
“And where was Mr. Black?”
Dumbledore couldn’t be told that Sirius was an unregistered Animagus. I told him not a lie, but not the truth in its entirety. “He chased the cat and hadn’t even noticed that it dropped anything.”
“And you said this... cat... left the parchment at your feet?”
I hesitated before boldly asking the question that had been burning inside of me. “Sorry, Professor, but I’m really confused. What…” I hesitated, but continued. It was too late to turn back. “What exactly is so important about it?”
Professor Dumbledore stared at me, his eyes glazing over with an emotion that I just couldn’t seem to classify. Silence filled the air around me, and it engulfed Dumbledore into his own little world as I watched him mentally slip away for a few moments. Once I grew to be uncomfortable, he turned his attention away from me. Then, he dryly whispered, “Safara.”
I found myself out of the loop still. “Er – what is a ‘safara,’ sir?”
He looked at me again quite sharply and bowed his head down, regaining his composure. “It is not what, but rather who.”
I scrunched my eyebrows together and ended my eye contact with him, trying to think. “It sounds African. Does it have something to do with a magical institution in Africa or something?”
Dumbledore dipped his chin closer to his chest and tried to get my eyes to find his again. “I’m afraid you are over-analyzing things, Miss Lupin. Indeed, the name is African, but the person is not. And I am afraid that it is not my place to tell you who Safara is. But please, don’t lose that parchment. It is my belief that it was not presented to you by accident.”
I stared up skeptically at the wise old professor, who was staring back at me. I was unsure of what to do or say. I still wanted to know who Safara was, and he knew but wouldn’t tell me. “But if you know, why isn’t it your place to tell me, sir?” It seemed like it was his place. After all, how did he know?
He looked at me plainly before responding. “Because I, Miss Lupin, am not your father.”
My lips were practically chewed off, raw and bloody by the time I finally decided to study the parchment in front of me. It was a nervous habit. I was sitting in the girl’s dormitory, my bed soft and warm. I decided to skip the rest of my classes, too. For some intuitive reason, I didn’t think taking a sick day would do any harm.
The paper was bumpy, like an unpolished piece of wood… which made sense because paper and wood both came from trees. In any case, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I had my wand in the pocket of my cloak, which lay right there in front of me, as well. I was too engrossed in my thoughts to change out of my uniform. I’d never felt so extremely and utterly confused in my entire existence, not even when Sirius Black told me his true feelings for me.
Speaking of Sirius, I hadn’t found him. I spent an hour outside, first at the Clocktower courtyard where we left off, then the direction the cat ran. Nothing. Not even any footprints. I hoped nothing happened to him, that he knew what he was doing. If he did find harm’s way… I shuddered. I just couldn’t bring myself to think of the frightening possibility.
I heard a faint bell ringing from far away, signaling the start of the last class of the day; I could tell from the clock in the corner. This was oddly comforting. Perhaps Sirius went back to class? He probably just figured I wouldn’t worry that much if he didn’t tell me where he was. I got the feeling that he thought I felt differently about him after what he did with Rain. That was true, but I still loved and cared for him. It only made me more… nervous… when I was around him. Like he knew something I didn’t know. Which was true.
But this was not the time to think about that. I had only hope and determination on my mind. Hope that Sirius was okay and determination to figure out what a blank piece of seemingly useless parchment could possibly mean to me.
Frowning, I groped for the wand on the inside pocket of my cloak. I studied the holly wood unthinkingly. I held the handle with a loose grip, my mind blank. So you can imagine how I felt when an idea came to me out of nowhere. This was something that happened rarely, but I wasn’t thinking about that right now. I was more concerned with the parchment resting on my bed covers.
I grabbed it with my free hand, my intent being to open every fold and examine every edge and corner precisely, like a Healer would a wound. I was searching for some defect, something there that didn’t belong, like an imperfection, a blemish on the face of presumed perfection. My thoughts were scrambled as I felt and searched. All I was able to spot was the same lavender designs at the top from before. It was a stationary imprint I didn’t recognize from any supply shop I’d ever been to.
I flipped the parchment over, my eyes fleeting across it. I still wasn’t sure what I was looking for, which was unsettling. Wrinkling my nose and clenching my jaw, I let out an overdue sigh. Why did this have to be so hard? I had nothing to work with, no information that would lead me to an answer. I wasn’t an Auror or a detective of some sort. I was a sixteen-year-old student attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And I wasn’t even one of the clever ones. What was I supposed to do without any clues?
The only thing I had to work with was what Dumbledore told me. “Because I, Miss Lupin, am not your father.” But what would my Father know? I was sure he would have told me before he died… Or maybe I just suspected he would. He should have. If he knew something would later trouble me, he should have explained it. Especially on his death bed. If Dumbledore wasn’t going to tell me anything and he knew the only person that could was no longer alive, what the hell was I doing? How could this possibly work?
I bit my lip again, and my teeth felt like razors. I tasted blood, that strange metal-esque flavor tainting my tongue. I scrunched my eyebrows together, looking away from the parchment. I needed a new nervous habit, one that didn’t involve chewing.
I finally gave up, at least for now. Sitting here and picking at my brains helplessly was not healthy. It was quite draining. I actually managed to convince myself that I was sick, not just pretending to be. It was the same exhaustion, at least.
I swallowed and sat up straighter, trying to get the lump out of my throat. I decided I needed a short nap. There was half an hour left until my hopes were crushed and I found out Sirius didn’t go back to class. I was only being pessimistic. I always thought it was best for me to expect the worst. That way, I could never be disappointed. I could only be happier than I imagined when things went right, and I could always tell myself I knew it was inevitable when the worst happened.
My last thoughts of consciousness involved the restricted section of the library. It was time to have a visit.
The sound was barely audible at first, but with more speed than I expected, it grew louder.
My eyes opened to a flaming redhead and a curiously worried brunette. Lily was hunched over, one hand whitening the other with a restricting hold. Her eyes burned with hate toward something I had yet to resolve.
“Oh my Godric.” I sat straight up, still a little groggy from the short slumber. “Lily, are you okay? What happened to your hand? Let me see.”
I stared down at it, and then I looked over at Amber. Her eyes were wide, staring at the back of Lily’s head. I watched, confused and still sleepy, as they darted towards the piece of parchment on my bed.
My eyes followed hers to the parchment. It wasn’t in the same place I left it, and I knew I didn’t toss around in my sleep. “What--?”
“It burned me,” Lily admitted through clenched teeth. Her cheeks were red with blush, maybe anger? Definitely not embarrassment. “Did you put any charms on it, Kris?” Her voice was tainted with an edge, and she obviously forgot who she was talking to. I didn’t know any spells that would do that.
“It burned you? Let me see your hand, Lily.” My voice was level, hiding my shock. Why hadn’t it burned me? I hoped the surprise was evident on my face so she knew I didn’t charm it to do anything. She never gave me her hand.
Instead, she shook her head and blinked a few times. Her mouth was hanging open somewhat. “Wait, so you didn’t do anything to it?”
I snorted, but my eyes never left her hand. “Lily. Come on. I don’t know that kind of magic. It is way too advanced for a sixth year, or even a seventh year.”
The corner of her mouth twitched like she was suppressing a smile. “I just figured, Charms is sort of your thing. And you’re not burnt…”
“Why don’t we go to the Hospital Wing?” Amber suggested, releasing the tension in the air.
“And tell them what? That a mysterious piece of spare parchment felt like a red hot poker when I picked it up?” Lily shook her head and sat down on my bed. “The pain is dulling. I think… it’s just fading away. It went from blazing fire to red throb pretty quick, actually.”
“Maybe you should hide that thing, Kris,” said Amber with a tone of panic. Her next words came out in a spluttered, dramatic manner. “I don’t like how it’s just… sitting there, waiting for its next unwitting victim to char alive at the slightest touch—“
“Hide it?” I frowned. If it hurt Lily when she touched it, wouldn’t I be insane to actually pick it up? I stared at it cautiously.
“You can use the levitation charm, wingardium leviosa,” Lily proposed, turning her eyes toward my wand. “That’s first year material.” It sounded like she was mocking me.
My eyes narrowed, and I stared at the bed next to mine, unfocused on what I was seeing. That cat didn’t give me this parchment so I could hide it in my trunk with my socks and spare school supplies. It didn’t seem like the right thing for me to do, almost like things would turn into chaos if I ignored what was placed in front of me. Dumbledore even said…
I decided to change the subject. “Is Sirius back?”
Amber leaned against one of my bed posts, dropping her school bag on the floor. “We thought he was with you. Don’t tell me you got separated?”
My distraction only worked on Amber. Of course, Lily was more bothered by the parchment than Amber was. She was the one that got hurt by it, after all.
“Kris, what are you going to do about that thing?” Lily snapped.
I groaned. Was it right to exclude them? Should I tell them what I knew, even if it wasn’t much at all?
No. No, it was not right to keep them from the inside. And yes. Yes, I should tell them what I knew.
“Lily, I’ve been touching that thing all day. Filch touched it for longer than you did, and he is perfectly fine… even though I wish he wasn’t,” I added grudgingly. When they questioned me, I remembered I hadn’t told them what happened during the day when they weren’t with me. I told them about the cat, the parchment (which they were curious about, hence Lily picking it up), how Sirius ran off to chase the cat, Filch catching me out of class, Dumbledore refusing to touch the parchment, and… now I knew why.
Shoutouts: hjplover, SilverEssence, goodbyetoyou, Chemical_Pixie, alternativerocker, Astoria_Launay, SlytherinGirl93, Journey, Ron_and_Hermione4eva, srg902, bubbleepop, Dora_Potter, Karindi, brokenx4xever, angelinneveah, stargazzer0906, Robyn, ilovehim52, wheresmyedward, ellaoptimistic, HannaHollywood, and an anonymous fan for the lovely reviews on the last chapter!