Chapter Forty-three: Members of the Order of the Phoenix
“I postpone death by living, by suffering, by error, by risking, by giving, by losing.” –Anais Nin
Chapter Forty-three: Members of the Order of the Phoenix
Sirius Black glared angrily at the many stalls that lined each side of the long, narrow stable in which he stood. The fact that he knew they were populated by strange, mystical creatures he couldn’t see made him all the more wary. Filch had basically walked him over to the place, shoved him inside, and magically disappeared the door—expecting, no doubt, that without a wand Sirius would have no possible means of escape. Well, I may have to spend the night outside the castle, Black thought to himself, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend it in here. The irascible old caretaker was probably watching the place like a hawk for the moment, however, and Sirius had no intention of outing himself as an animagus simply to avoid a single detention, no matter how dirty or disgusting it was.
The Thestrels hadn’t done anything to him, invisible or not, so the first thing Sirius did was go about his assigned task of feeding them. He had a few hours before sunset and freedom anyway.
He caught himself starting to chuckle… the look on old Filch’s face when the man had caught him inside his office was very nearly worth this assigned detention. Of course, it would be worth a week’s worth of them if his plan had worked. Sirius had barely gotten the cork back in the vial of potion when he’d been discovered, but the old man couldn’t have imagined that a student would be in there to meddle with his cat, and not his desk. The few drops of the black fluid that remained in the bottle had been confiscated, of course (and the picture of Filch possibly tasting the potion to discover what its origins were had the young man laughing so hard he could hear the beasts moving restlessly in their stalls at the noise), along with a perfectly ordinary quill and a slightly less ordinary ball of black fur. He couldn’t very well have asked for the latter back without explaining its significance, but Sirius did feel a sense of loss at the idea of his hair languishing in the musty corner of a drawer instead.
The grouchy old man had been convinced that he’d skip out of detention unless it was begun immediately, and it had been mere chance that James had come by right as Filch had started to lead him away. Sirius had barely gotten out the words ‘Be sure to feed Moony’ before he’d gotten a sharp rap on his head and a shove towards the staircase. It was only Prongs’ wink that prevented him from loudly complaining the entire way for his own gratification and to annoy the older man, who’d complained more than once that Sirius and James were prime examples of what happened to students when the headmaster prohibited whipping. In the end, all he’d had ended up saying was ‘I don’t want to go to the stables!’ in a loud whining tone, thereby letting his friend know exactly where to find him, come nightfall.
The animal nearest him let out an otherworldly sort of sound, and it took him off guard to such an extent that nearly all of his hairs were standing on end. He felt so much like Padfoot just then, expecting to feel the slightly splintered wood underneath his paws and the prickling feeling of being on edge with bared teeth and raised hackles. It’s a bit too early yet, he told himself. Be patient.
Sirius had only just completed a makeshift cot to lounge on comprised of loose straw and his school robes when he heard a scratching, scrabbling sound at the nearest window. This sound got nearer and louder until something cold touched his hand. Even though he knew who it had to be, the unexpected feel of a rat’s moist nose made him twitch violently and let out a bellow of surprise.
When his pulse finally returned to normal, he heard the sound of hysterical laughter on both sides of the stable wall.
“I’m sure you’re very proud of yourself,” Sirius gasped out, rubbing his tainted hand furiously on his pant leg.
“Very,” Peter said, grinning.
“Have you got a wand somewhere in there? I feel the need for a good Scourgify.”
“I could always—” James started to offer from the other side of the wall.
“No thanks, I rather like having four paws,” Sirius demurred.
“Speaking of which,” Peter said, withdrawing an object from his robes that turned out to be Sirius’ wand.
“Where in Merlin’s name did you get that?” Sirius was incredulous. “Last I saw, it was setting up permanent residence in one of Filch’s dirty old drawers. Oh, stuff it, Prongs,” he added, as the black-haired scamp had begun laughing even louder at the mention of Filch’s drawers.
“Our beloved caretaker is busy chasing after his cat, which appears to be indisposed at the current time,” Peter told him officiously. “She was last seen caterwauling at the Guardian Statue.”
“Well, that answers that question,” Sirius mused. At his friend’s quizzical look, he added, “I’ll explain later. We’ve got an escape to pull off.”
The small roll of parchment was sitting innocuously behind her, but Minerva could practically feel its presence there. Albus probably had no idea that she hadn’t filed Hermia—Hermione’s report in a secure place, but every student in Hogwarts knew it was worth more than their personal safety to break into her office. Besides, she snorted to herself self-deprecatingly, they all think I’m so boring and stuck-up that there wouldn’t be any reason to try it.
It was just before sunset on a Wednesday—and all of her marking was done, all practice objects transfigured back to their original forms, even her lesson plans for the next four weeks were prepared and sorted into their respective class times. This was a fairly odd occurrence on a Wednesday, given that she held almost all of her NEWT classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but even the extra work and preparation for these had been completed hours earlier.
It seemed that she had a few hours of genuinely free time.
McGonagall suspected that the real reason she’d subconsciously rushed to finish all of her school related chores was because she was anxious to re-examine the papers behind her. She’d told herself—well, she’d told Albus Dumbledore, as well—that of course she couldn’t work on the girl’s theory; it was the earnest young woman’s own work, after all, not Minerva’s, and besides that there was the time line to consider.
It struck her, then, how much more potential for changing things the introduction of an entirely new person to the timeline had than research and study done in a limited way for a limited purpose. Surely Dumbledore, as wise as she knew him to be, was aware of that—and yet he’d allowed it to happen anyway. Did he know something she did not?
After a long period of reflection, the deputy headmistress pushed back her chair and stood up, having coming to a few rather drastic conclusions. She hurriedly bundled the precious papers into a tight roll, and with a determined set to her shoulders, set off for the headmaster’s office.
Hermione had come to the courtyard in order to have some time to herself, to allow her emotions some chance at a release, but she found after she’d arrived there that the sunset and the laughter she’d shared with the headmaster and Remus had cleansed her all need of one. She was surprised—the wave of feeling that had come over her on seeing Dumbledore’s obvious caring for Lupin had felt so strong, but with a little distance from the event, it no longer had the power over her it had earlier. Hermione knew for a fact that, had she had that experience even a month ago, she’d have been a tearful mess right now.
We endure, her father had once told her—though at the time, his words had been to comfort her after the death of his own mother. We endure, because we have to. We humans can get used to anything, no matter how horrible—because we’re designed to –survive–. He’d always been the fanciful one, the spinner of wild and wondrous tales to help get her to sleep, and so his words had held a strong meaning for her at the time. He hadn’t told her ‘it’ll all be okay,’ nor had he claimed to know whether either of them would see her Grandmother again—he’d taught her instead that she wouldn’t be a terrible person if in a few weeks’ time, she wasn’t still crying herself to sleep over her loss.
Now, stuck in what would have otherwise have been an untenable situation, her father’s words came back to comfort her again. There wasn’t any purpose to crying herself to sleep, not when there were friends to make and joy to feel, no matter how short the time spent here would be. It had been comparatively easy for Hermione to avoid thoughts of her parents so far, having had such a regular attendance at boarding school for so many years running. Now, with the gentle words of her father echoing in her mind’s ear, she sent out a silent thank you to wherever he was (she knew that 1977 was the year her parents met, while in dental school, but it distressed her to realize that she’d forgotten which dormitories they each lived in, this year) at that moment, letting out a long sigh as she felt all of her tensions draining away with the last of the sun’s light.
“It’s only a sunset,” a dry voice behind her said quietly. Hermione didn’t turn around.
“Allow me to complete your cliché retort,” she said, unconsciously standing a bit straighter and folding her arms tightly against her body. “’There’s a new one every night,’” she mimicked, altering her voice a few pitches lower and adding a healthy amount of sarcasm. He was silent, but Hermione didn’t expect for one moment that he’d been in any way fazed by her implied insult to his ascetic sensibilities. He was probably waiting for her to say something first so he could remark on her inability to stand a tense silence. After a long five minutes, during which Hermione alternated between ignoring him and wanting to look to see if he was still there, Snape finally spoke.
“The pond in the Forbidden Forest happens to have a rare herb that grows on its shore,” he said in a neutral tone that left no clue as to why he was telling her this. “A few times a year these plants release their pollen directly as the sun’s last light hits them.”
Hermione turned, her curiosity finally getting the better of her—she wanted to see whether his facial expressions or body language could clue her in as to what his true purpose of telling this story was. Snape was simply staring out onto the grounds, though, his face as much of a mask as his tone of voice.
“The pollen glows,” he continued without acknowledging her change in posture. “The changes of heat and moisture in the air cause the glittering particles to float in swirling patterns across the water until the sun passes behind the distant hill.” Snape looked at her, then. “That is a sunset, Hermia.”
She could only remember one other time when he’d used her name—by the lake, that emotional night when she’d hexed herself silent. His using her name in a more casual way was disconcerting; Hermione wasn’t sure how often she’d heard this man refer to most anyone by their given names. She caught a slight up-turn to his lips, rightly interpreting it as a self-congratulation that he’d managed to unnerve her.
“That sounds beautiful,” she said, biting back a stinging response in favor of rewarding the story for what it was. “I don’t suppose you’ll tell me when such a thing happens, however,” she added, turning her back on the soon-to-rise moon.
“—and give you information that would earn me detention? I think not,” Snape retorted, not unkindly.
“Yes, that’s all we Gryffindors exist for—to annoy and tattle on the Slytherins!” Hermione couldn’t resist that one.
“It’s more likely that Gryffindors exist to champion the cause of anything that moves,” he shot back. When Hermione raised her eyebrow at him, he added, as if just for her, “—except Slytherins, of course.”
“No, only the hardcore Gryffindors do that,” she answered him, casting a look of regret at the previously restful courtyard and starting for the exit.
“Probably a good idea,” Snape said, nodding towards the castle. “Not a good night to spend outdoors.” His voice held a strong note of distaste to it, alerting her curiosity until with a pang of dread she remembered why.
He knew about Remus.
That meant he knew exactly what the importance of her foolish words thrown at Cassia had held. She shuddered to think of what his opinion of her had been at that moment, forgetting that Snape had no motive besides a probable threat by Dumbledore to keep that secret to himself. Hermione forced herself to meet his eyes, to see the derision and censure that had to be there. It was, along with some disappointment, something she recognized all too well from his years as a teacher. She was torn—she wanted to be his friend, to give him the benefit of someone to talk to in the far future. At the same time, she had a healthy dose of pride, and losing face with one’s peers was bad enough, much less someone who had a position of authority in your normal life. Would he ever be able to trust her now?
“Everyone makes mistakes,” she shrugged, a nod to the fact that the situation was out of her control rather than an indication that she didn’t care. Hermione turned and walked away, hoping he would recognize that she had conceded the point on her own terms and respect her for that, if nothing else.
By the time she heard Albus Dumbledore’s steps on the curving stone stairway that led to his office, Minerva McGonagall had concocted and rejected at least five rather convincing arguments for using Hermione’s paper, and was now forcing herself to wait patiently on the monstrosity he called a chair that sat in front of his desk. The quiet sigh he released on reaching the top of the stairwell and seeing that he had a visitor did nothing for her confidence, but Minerva had a great well of that to draw on.
“I was wondering if I could have a word with you,” she began, speaking in a strong voice that implied that he didn’t have much choice in the matter.
“I suspected as much,” he said, mildly.
“It’s just that—there’s going to be a war, Albus. I really think things are headed that way, and… I don’t intend to lose it—”
“Nor do I,” he interrupted gently.
“—and if we’re going to fight what has been going on, we’ve got to do it with everything and everybody we can! I’ve accepted that our students have too much to lose to join the Order so young, but surely that doesn’t mean that we should turn our backs on their ideas, their research?” It was a stretch, but she felt passionately about this, and not just because she was itching to delve into the unique theories that this girl from their future had come up with. Miss Granger hadn’t said anything outright, but Minerva could tell that the young girl was holding something back, something that had made a very great impact on her life. If there was something coming, some terrible event that would shape the lives of everyone and anyone involved, even years into the future, she wanted to be ready for it, and damn the consequences.
“That’s an oversimplification, and you know it,” Dumbledore said, though his voice was free of any sort of accusatory tone. He simply sounded weary.
“There’s something to be said for a little simplicity, now and then,” she said, feeling more than a little guilty for pushing where she knew he was vulnerable. Though he was the undisputed leader of the Order of the Phoenix, he often spoke with her in private about the events that were escalating in their small community, and in this, their relationship was very much that of peers. It was very rarely that she pressed him in such a way.
“If we win by—”
“You don’t think he will break the rules? Initiating students, enslaving Muggles…” Minerva trailed off, her pulse racing and her color high. The reports of student Death Eaters had been among the most distressing in the long line of reports garnered from the Order members in the business of intelligence gathering.
“All very upsetting,” Albus said calmly, a strong note of steel to his voice that she recognized as repressed anger. “’Breaking the rules’ wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for that sentence, however. Tom has always been the type to manipulate and connive, and it has worked for him so far.” The wizard leaned forward on his desk, looking at her earnestly. “I was more worried about integrity. I know you, Minerva. You have the most moral mind of anyone I’ve ever known. Would you be able to stomach such an ethical grey area?”
“If he can—” she began, but her friend and colleague sat up promptly and gestured in a vague way toward one of his windows, clearly agitated.
“The instant that we begin comparing ourselves to that man is the instant his power becomes more than that of a mere magician with cunning and deceptive tricks!” The deep regret mixed with anger in his voice was compelling, reminding her just how much he blamed himself personally for the path that Tom Marvolo Riddle had embarked on.
“I’m not sacrificing my peace of mind for anyone, Albus,” she stated firmly. “I am not, however, going to turn my back on an advantage like this without one hell of a good fight.” She’d finally said it, laid it out on the table for him. Minerva told herself she was capable of changing her mind, if persuaded, but only if she had an equal chance to persuade.
“Tell me,” he said, catching her eyes with his and holding them almost by sheer force of will. “What is it about this that cannot wait until its own time?” She must have made a face that mirrored her own thoughts, because he added, quickly, “I did read it—I want to know what you think.”
“Because it is going to take work,” McGonagall began, simply. “She suggests that part of what makes up the Patronus Charm comes from Transfiguration—that we transfigure our happy thoughts into something tangible, and the incantation brings it to life and gives it purpose. She goes on to ask whether this might also apply in some manner in casting Unforgivables like Crucio and Avada.”
“Thus explaining why the curses themselves don’t work without the added thrust of the caster’s desire for another’s pain, or their death,” he said, a thoughtful expression on his face.
“Exactly,” Minerva nodded. “The question is whether it’s possible to explore the effects of other strong emotions, such as love—or protectiveness,” she added for his benefit, remembering that he’d admonished her several times over the years for fighting a little too hard for her Gryffindors.
“—which will, naturally, take quite a bit of time and experimenting to accomplish,” he finished for her. “But, why you, Minerva? What makes you so certain this is your role to play, rather than Hermione’s?”
“That’s just it—I can’t really say with any certainty,” she admitted. “All I can tell you is that I can see something in her that tells me she’s spent her time in the magical world doing more than schoolwork.” McGonagall crossed her hand over her eyes for a long moment, not wanting to say it, but knowing that she had to. “What if it’s not through, twenty years from now? I’m certain that if we asked her right now if she knew what the Order of the Phoenix was, she’d know, Albus. And not because it’s some sort of political party in the future.”
“Shades of—“ Dumbledore frowned deeply. “I certainly hope not.” He shook his head as if to clear it of all such thoughts, and spoke again. “She’s a Muggle-born, though. Doesn’t that tell you something about the political climate of the future? The way she behaved—has behaved towards the Slytherins?” The man always did like to play devil’s advocate, she reminded herself.
“She’s a Gryffindor,” Minerva said proudly.
Dumbledore stood up, walking over to the window he’d gestured towards so forcibly earlier in their conversation, his mood turning tangibly more sober.
“There’s a Muggle saying,” he said, turning his head in her direction as he spoke. “’Absolute power corrupts absolutely.’”
“You’ve seen that before,” she agreed, remembering his victory against Grindelwald and the toll it had taken on him. There had been those in the Ministry who had thought he’d gone senile for wanting to remain the headmaster of Hogwarts, rather than some other, more exalted title.
“I can speak to my own memories, Minerva.” he spoke again almost absently, glancing at the quiescent Pensive near his desk before facing the window again. These words shook her, almost physically. She’d always known he was a very powerful wizard, capable of many things—including wandless magic—that most witches and wizards found completely beyond their grasp. Yet, this… this was more significant than anything she’d ever seen or heard about Dumbledore. McGonagall was still processing his revelation when he continued. “I have a unique perspective on the concept of power, you see, particularly as it relates to time itself.”
“Albus…” she paused, still slightly dazed.
He turned to face her again, his eyes glittering with an odd sort of energy. “Only once have I received a warning about a future event, and that was to tell me of Miss Granger’s imminent appearance in my office.”
“So…” she began, struggling to understand what his material point was in telling her all of this. “You are telling me that there is no point at which it is appropriate to use this kind of knowledge to our advantage, simply because of where it came from? No matter what our opponent chooses as his own brand of principles?” His newest response shocked her almost as much as his previous one had.
“But you just said—”
“Minerva, my dear friend,” Albus came over and clasped her hands between his own calloused ones. “I’m telling you that I don’t have the luxury of that choice. A message given via a Pensieve is an absolute, no matter how clever the language used in relaying it. Research is far more passive.”
“The minister is right—you are daft,” she murmured, partly to tease him as she sometimes did, and partly as a subtle questioning of his meaning.
“I’d rather be underestimated, wouldn’t you?” Dumbledore released her hands with a gentle pat and made his way back to his desk again. He seemed to know that she was still staring at him, even with his back turned to her. “Professor, I don’t have to tell you that you’re a strong-willed witch. You’ve proven that to all of us on many occasions.” His eyes twinkled as he turned to her. “I too want to prevail.”