We cannot change anything unless we accept it.~ Carl Jung, M.D.
Now that it was the holidays, the staff in Hogwarts was more relaxed, although still watchful of occurrences around the wizarding world.
As they filed into the meeting room to give their reports, Severus observed the three additions to the group. He was pleased that they looked suitably awed and subdued.
With time passing by, it was clear that war between the two sides was imminent. Albus felt that those heavily involved in it must be fully aware of the consequences they had to prepare themselves for, regardless of age. The Trio was a prime target among the student population, and Albus felt it was time for them to be in the Order as full-fledged members. Severus recalled the hard time Albus and Minerva had convincing Molly. He smirked. Thank Merlin he had not been dragged into that near impossible assignment. Anyone would cringe under Molly Weasley's ire, including Albus. It was only when Ron Weasley had persuaded his mother that she had relented.
Severus hoped they did not regret the newfound burden.
He heard Hagrid tell of the giants' move down the hills in preparation for what battle there was to come. It was an achievement worthy of the Four Founders themselves. Even Severus was impressed by Hagrid's persistence and undying support for his half-brother. Minerva gathered the reports from various staff and summed up the unlying currents among the students, except the Slytherins. Black, who was also there, told of all sorts of rumours he had heard, both the plausible and the ludicrous. It was left for Severus to report about those in his House.
He took a deep breath. 'As you know, the Dark Lord is always recruiting new members to increase the number of Death-Eaters. Last night, an initiation rite took place. I compiled a list of names of the fifty-one witches and wizards who joined.'
The people around him stirred.
'Fifty-one?' Jonathan echoed everyone's sentiments.
'Fifty-one.' Severus confirmed steadily. You must be in control Severus. Don't you dare react. Read this like you're reading a list of Potions ingredients.
So Severus read the names one by one. He avoided everyone's intent gaze, knowing the pain they felt as a Hogwarts graduate was mentioned, not showing the hurt he felt when it was evident Slytherins were the majority.
There were a few nasty surprises though. Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs found their way in as well. Unable to stop himself, Severus shot a glance at Weasley. The boy flinched.
'Cornelius Fudge was the forty-seventh. I'm afraid while it has not happened, Percy Weasley may follow his footsteps.' His voice was forced to increase in volume a few folds when some of them cried out in horror to read out the rest of the names. It was horrendous enough to know there were misguided students, but the Minister of Magic himself?
Albus, who had been previously informed by Severus, explained to all present, 'In a sense, Fudge fears me more than he does Voldemort. In his opinion, I'm always lingering in public eye, waiting to seize his position. He has made a truce with Voldemort that he will remain Minister should Voldemort overtake the world.' His disdain was palpable when he said, 'A puppet Minister.'
Black growled, 'It's an ugly business.'
Weasley was unable to refrain himself. 'No,' he slammed his hand on the table, outraged that Severus had suggested that his brother's integrity was debatable, 'It can't be! It just can't. That's wrong!' Potter and Granger had to hold him back from snatching the list away.
Severus handed the paper to Albus. 'I'm afraid so Weasley. Your family, except for Miss Weasley, has been informed.'
He did not go on further. Percy Weasley had always been the one who was rational, but too rigid and zealous in his work he deemed important. His hankering for social status and wealth could be his downfall. Yet that did not necessarily make him evil. The boy might become seduced by the offers the Dark Lord gave, that was all.
On his part, much as he was tempted, he could not contact the young wizard for risk of exposure. Percy Weasley had to find his way.
The younger brother was shaking with indignation and fear.
'He's always been a prig. You know, he hasn't owled Mum and Dad for ages. But, that doesn't… we never thought… Merlin, I need to see them. Mum and Dad must be shattered. No wonder they don't want me and Ginny going home this season. It's not going to be festive.'
'I have seen them Mr. Weasley,' Albus said gently, 'They are coping. They have hope.'
Weasley shook his head. Granger held his hand, her lips trembling at the news. Potter grasped his arm.
Weasley stood up and excused himself. Severus saw he was going to cry.
Granger accompanied him out, followed by Potter. Severus saw Potter turn back and look at Black. At his unspoken inquiry, Black shook his head. There would be no further news. The meeting was technically over.
Potter's jaw was drawn as he walked out.
The staff was silent for several moments.
Severus said reasonably, 'It seems like a large number but that's because we've become used to how the Dark Lord had been failing to get any. In the first war, the Death-Eaters were as many as eight hundred. Together with these recent members, we make up but two hundred and forty four today.'
'It is still overwhelming that You-Know-Who's managed to lure so many in a short period.' Meredith frowned.
'It's the books.' Severus deduced. 'The books show your desire fulfilled. The Dark Lord uses them to lead them to think they can get what they want, so long as they ally with him.'
'Bloody books.' Meredith muttered richly, 'How to get rid of them.'
Albus said, 'That is something we need to discuss. Does anyone have an idea? Severus has spoken to Lucius Malfoy. Short of using a Muggle, with the possibility of him or her as a channel to sift out the power and render the books harmless, we do not know how to destroy them.'
'Can we steal them in the first place?' Minerva asked.
'Only through cunning. Mr. Malfoy has agreed to cooperate.' Severus answered, 'We have to formulate a plan.'
'It still strikes me that that man knows you are with us.' Minerva patted his hand, 'I didn't credit him with that kind of astuteness.'
'Merely a mutual understanding,' Severus said mirthlessly, 'We know each other too long, too thoroughly.'
'Ron please.' Hermione rationalised with him. 'You have to be strong.'
'I'm sick of being strong.' Ron yelled and started thrashing anything he grabbed in the Common Room. His eyes flared in challenge to Harry and Hermione who tried to calm him down. 'What's the whole frigging point?'
'I used to think like that too Ron,' Harry said quietly, 'Like no matter how much you try, it's better to just give up and let them swallow you.'
'That's different! You're the Boy-Who-Lives. Besides, you don't know what it's like… You don't have a family.'
At that, Harry stiffened. Ron, too, realised his mistake.
'That's unfair Ron. Thoughtless,' Harry was hurt, 'I have Sirius. I have you and Hermione. Much as I don't like the Dursleys, they're still my only relatives. And we have to be strong because the war's not over yet. We have to fight Voldemort.'
To which Ron countered gruffly, 'We've always done that, haven't we?'
Hermione nodded her head, 'All of us. You, me, Harry. The Order. We are part of the Order now too.'
'I think we got lucky. I think I got lucky too many times. My number's running out.'
'Don't say that.' Hermione frowned in anguish.
'She's right Ron,' Sirius said as he stepped into the room, 'Anything can happen. The tide may turn.'
'This, from you Padfoot?' Ron shook his head at Sirius's optimism.
Sirius sat down on the carpet and motioned them to do the same, 'From me Ron. We need not just our wits, but our spirits. Believe me, I had a lot of catching up to do.'
Harry took in Sirius's demeanour. Each time he saw his godfather, Sirius became progressively livelier and younger, returning to the days when he was still a handsome, jovial man whose friends were alive and happy. The haunted expression did not escape his eyes. No doubt that would remain for a very long time. Living in Azkaban with his sanity intact was truly miraculous. Harry appreciated that fact, after a few run-ins with just a few Demetors for a comparatively brief space of some minutes. He would not forget the chill and helplessness he always felt when he encountered them.
Ron smiled weakly, 'Would things ever be right again?' He reflected, 'Me and Ginny, Bill, Charlie, Fred, George,' His voice hitched when he next mentioned, 'Percy.' He missed Percy. The others did too. No matter what pranks they played on him, Percy was still their brother. Ron recalled what had happened after the Second Task in the Triwizard Tournament. Percy had been so worried over Ron's safety and Ron had protested over Percy's over-protectiveness. Ron would rather have that now, instead of this cold shoulder. 'We've always lived knowing… there was… him. That monster. Harry, Hermione, you two never lived in that kind of… We used to make fun of it. And you know, Harry, we always cracked jokes about your scar… Mum and Dad tried to shield us from it, but there was always a reminder somewhere… I wish we had that, that chance of not having You-Know-Who. I want it.'
Sirius said sympathetically, 'You'll have it Ron. If we keep going and stay united.'
Hermione patted Ron's hand, 'If we keep trying.'
Ron sniffed and pulled himself together. He said bashfully, 'Thanks… You didn't laugh when I said You-Know-Who and not… not his name?'
'Of course not!'
'You weren't laughing in the inside?'
Hermione swatted at him playfully, relieved Ron had overcome his momentary bleakness.
Harry rolled his eyes at them and smiled at Sirius.
'Soon as I can get my hands on Percy, I'll strangle him.' Ron made an effort to return to his cheerful self. 'Maybe we can get Fred and George to send him a dung-bomb. Two dung-bombs.' He got up and walked to the window so no one could see him as he blew out snot from his nose.
'What?' Harry asked.
'You better turn back to your Animagus form Sirius.' Ron pointed out of the window in disgust, 'Lucius bloody Malfoy.'
Adela was hoping to see some of the staff or the students. She was getting restless in her present accommodations. The Headmistress had arranged that they be near her own rooms while Adela stayed in Hogwarts. They were wonderful naturally. Specious, with red and gold as the main themes. A huge four-poster bed was situated against one of the walls, with red velvet covers and drapes. A rope hung by the bed, attached to a magical bell that would alert the House-Elves should she ring for their presence. There were book-shelves filled with magical books. Adela had been reading a few of them in a long, L-shaped sofa that could easily be another bed actually. The books were fascinating, but after several hours of intense reading, her eyes had started to water.
She stared out of the windows at the vast lands outside, luring her to walk out there.
'By heck!' she cried with feeling. I can't go out without someone.'
They must be busy, Adela decided. She wondered at her use, or more precisely, lack of use here. She was no more than a companion, an unusual visiting guest true, but nevertheless a guest. Now that she knew everything was in the Order's fine hands, she should simply leave. It would be more prudent. If anyone discovered her lingering in the castle, it would compromise their position. The Ministry, for one, would make incessant inquiries. She had questioned the wisdom of her being here with Dumbledore and McGonagall. Both were adamant that she stayed. So she did, taking double precautions for every movement out of the rooms she made.
She was utterly relieved at the prospect of being in touch with what went on in the wizarding world. For selfish reasons, she was happy to accompany newfound friends, all trustworthy and warm.
Of course, Adela thought darkly, it would all end. When the war was over, she would part with them, forever. All these would be mere memory. She may keep in touch with those who lived in the Muggle world, her world, as well as the wizarding world, like Hermione and Harry, but she would forever leave him. Severus. Odd, how she cared for him so much. But yes, she loved him.
She put the books back on the shelves, and suddenly, knew she was not alone.
She instinctively turned and saw a stranger staring at her. A stranger, in his forties, tall, aristocratic, with long, blonde hair, cold eyes and thin lips.
'How do you do Mr. Malfoy. May I help you?'
Lucius smiled, to all appearances, modest and flattered, 'Ah, you know me?'
'I recognise you from the Daily Prophet, yes.'
'You have the benefit over me then. May I know who you are?'
The girl gazed at him evenly, before saying, 'Adela Stanton.'
Lucius wondered at her calmness. Most strangers or acquaintances had either of two reactions whenever they met him. Servility or uneasiness. Clearly, this woman was to be carefully watched.
He smiled. He had intended on visiting Severus for a particular reason, but he could not find him. This would be a delightful diversion.
'Miss Stanton. Tell me, are you a new professor, or an apprentice?'
Severus walked through the corridors, barking at some students who had been too immersed in their mischief making to see him coming. After taking eighty points from Gryffindor, twenty from Hufflepuff and five from Ravenclaw, he felt immeasurably better.
That was until he reached Adela's rooms and heard an unwanted voice inside.
'Severus! We are well met.' Lucius greeted him cheerily when he stepped in. 'I wanted to talk to you. But first, come tell, who is this lovely girl whom I know nothing about? I do after all, have an interest in the school whilst my son studies here.'
Severus feigned irritation, while he wondered how much Lucius knew. Adela supplied him the information. 'I told you Mr. Malfoy, I'm helping the school during the holidays.'
Severus seized upon this and lied smoothly on the spot, 'She's helping in administration. The odd jobs. Drafting up class schedules for the staff, that sort of thing. There's no need to pay attention to her.'
'What, not pay attention to such prettiness?' Lucius cried.
Severus ignored him, 'Let's go to my rooms. We won't be disturbed there. I'll see you later Miss Stanton.'
Lucius shrugged. 'Ah, yes. We return to business. I am very pleased to see Miss Stanton. I hope we shall be better acquainted.' Taking her hand, he kissed her fingertips. Adela suppressed her surprise admirably, though Severus was ready to trottle him.
'Come to think of it,' Lucius asked slyly as they walked out, 'Why is it that I've never seen nor heard about her?'
Severus scowled, 'Even the great Lucius Malfoy cannot know every witch or wizard, especially when she's a Muggleborn.'
'A Muggleborn? Severus, she didn't even have a wand with her. You would have been more convincing if you'd said she was a Squib. She's that Muggle, isn't she?'
Once again Severus switched topics, 'How did you know the password?'
'McGonagall didn't change it for the last few years! For pity's sake, Severus, do mind the details sometimes.'
'You know I do Lucius. I've not managed to remain alive because I'm lucky.' Severus had to tell Minerva about her carelessness. It was probably a good thing to know that Lucius would not tell anyone about Adela since it would not benefit him. 'Why did you come here then?'
'I thought, now that you're on the other side, you might become friendly towards all Gryffindors. I thought I might find you around. And voila, who do I find, but Miss Stanton.'
'We had a meeting.' Severus waved his wand when they approached his study. The ward became temporarily lifted and Severus gestured for Lucius to enter first.
'So who is she?' Lucius asked as he settled in one of the more comfortable chairs available. 'Do you have any wine?'
'Georges Duboeuf Pouilly-Fuissé, 1943.' Severus took down a bottle and poured two glasses of the golden-green liquid out. His sensitive nose inhaled the smells of citrus and almonds and the hint of vanilla.
'Not what I would suggest on a morning but it will be excellent.'
Handing a glass to Lucius, Severus finally answered, 'She's the Muggle who caused an upheaval in Hogsmeade. Albus thought it more appropriate for her to stay for some obscure reason I've yet to fathom.'
'I see.' Lucius shrugged with plain boredom. It seemed he was more interested in his wine than her.
Howver, Severus could not refrain from saying curtly. 'Lucius, if you're thinking of using her for those books…' He was ridiculously glad that Lucius dismissed Adela as no more than a Muggle. He could not stand it if Lucius had set his loathsome eyes on her. As it was, Adela was nothing. Severus felt guilty at his selfishness. He savoured the full, supple and dry taste of wine before continuing, 'The fact is, we don't have the books.'
'But my dear Severus, I have one of the books right here with me.'
The bewilderment on his face must be apparent, because Lucius was relishing the sight. The man was smirking. Severus frowned, trying to dissect the meaning of what Lucius had said.
'The Dark Lord allowed you to take it?'
'He's getting impatient. Hence last night, he summoned me and instructed me in no uncertain terms that I would have to solve this what did he say? Ah, this "minuscule problem". Minuscule, can you believe he actually used such a banal expression? And in seven days no less. I suspect it's what comes from being bred in a Muggle orphanage.'
Severus himself was getting impatient and he showed by taunting Lucius with the bottle. Lucius smiled languidly.
Severus mulled over what Lucius told him, 'Why did he give it to you and not the others? He doesn't trust his old servants as much as the new ones if his actions are of any significance.'
'You have to admit that we old servants,' Lucius spat the word out in disgust, 'know him better than the new recruits do. I gather they may be blindingly faithful to him, but not all have the expertise and skill to handle something as important as this. He can't turn to you because keeping the book in Hogwarts is simply not safe. I have the luxury of my home to study it.'
'Very well. Let us see this wearisome book you have.'
Lucius drew out a package from under his cloak and placed it on the table. He gestured for Severus to unwrap it. As Severus obliged and removed layers of brown paper, Lucius spoke, 'He gave me the Book of Love. He thinks it's the least powerful of the four books.'
'Are you surprised?' Severus asked rhetorically. 'Albus, on the other hand, will contradict the Dark Lord's opinion.' The book now revealed, Severus marvelled at the magic emitting from it. 'What do you intend to do?'
'I was thinking of bringing in a Muggle to try it. But that will only be the last resort you understand. I will leave the book for your precious Order to study it, seeing that none of them had the chance to do so. I will collect it in four days. Will that be ample time? It may be that I will have to ally myself with Dumbledore personally'
'Thank you Lucius. As gracious as always.'
'Naturally. One must cultivate charming manners to hide his ulterior motives.'
It was good then, Severus thought, that he knew enough of the world to see through anyone's mask.
After spending two nights in a row trying to uncover the secrets of the book, Severus and the others were frustrated over the lack of progress they had achieved. They had spilt up into small groups of three to four over the nights so that while one member tried his or her luck on the book, the others could watch and intervene should he or she be in a precarious situation.
'Gah!' Minerva exclaimed when it was her turn to solve the mystery. She had tried various methods involving her expertise of Transfiguration to siphon the magic out from the book. 'This is not a challenge. This is impossibility. Our lowly magic cannot work on wild magic. Let Lord Voldemort have the book. It will of no use to him.'
'It is an excellent suggestion,' Severus stated wearily. 'Why can't we leave it with him Albus? It's obvious he cannot control it. None of us can.'
Albus sucked on his lemon drop passively. Taking out his pocket-watch, everyone heard it chime eleven o'clock in the night. Albus said, 'Let us try for another two hours. Severus, it's your turn I believe.'
Severus sighed. Taking over Minerva's position while she went to sit down gratefully, Severus paused for a while as he stared at the cover. He loathed and yearned for it, just as people loathed and yearned the Mirror of Erised. It was everything one could want, but everything that was false. Nothing but illusion, but making one feel that if he could only stretch out, he could grasp whatever he wanted.
Gritting his teeth, Severus plunged headlong to work. He had asked Filch to procure several mice for him with the help of Mrs. Norris. The silly cat had been reluctant to partake her catch until Filch had promised that the mice would be returned to her. Placing one of them on the table, he coaxed it to open the book using its nose. After several frustrating moments, he succeeded.
But nothing happened. The mouse ran across the pages and was still intact.
'It won't work. Even though it's a living creature, it's not reading the book. Only those who read the book will understand and have the magic affect them.' Albus explained.
'I know, but we have to try everything, no matter how remote the chances are.' Severus scooped the mouse into his hand and put it back into the cage. 'It's disappointing. It'll appear that we should formulate another plan. If we can't destroy the books, the least we can do is hide them where no one can find them.'
Severus stared at Albus but the old wizard was not looking at him. Was Albus thinking of that last resort? Albus was exceptionally fond of Muggles, and he would protect them as much as he did witches and wizards. If possible, he would not hurt anyone. It was this love that stayed his hand when he had not told Potter the whole truth until he had no choice but to reveal all in Potter's fifth year.
Severus decided to become the devil's advocate. 'Albus, there is…'
'I'd rather not find out Severus.'
Severus was relieved. So was Minerva, who said, 'Many lives have been lost in this war already. It won't do to let Muggles become embroiled in something they can't begin to comprehend.'
'That's harsh on us Muggles, that is Professor.'
Severus sighed, and acknowledged Adela's presence, 'Miss Stanton.'
Adela stepped in. 'Is that the tiresome book that is plaguing all of you?'
Albus replied, 'It is Adela. We have all done our best, to no avail.'
She said simply, 'That's because you are all letting your better feelings get over logic.' And she reached out for the book. Severus, who was closest to her, shouted, 'Adela, no!' and leant forward to stop her. Minerva stood up hurriedly and Albus drew out his wand. Taking advantage of her own energy and their lethargy, Adela grasped the book and scuttled to a corner. Severus ran to her.
Albus cast Stupefy but the book deflected the spell.
'Come back here this instance.' Minerva pleaded frantically, 'There are other ways.'
But Adela opened the book and Severus stopped in his tracks as he stared in horror as she began skimming through the pages. For a hellish while, he imagined all forms of gruesome incidents that would happen to Adela. None took place. Only when Adela closed the book did the other three relax. Like the previous mouse, nothing happened to her.
'That was… anti-climatic,' was all Severus could bring himself to say.
'See? It lessens your burden of worrying over Muggles being used.' Adela countered lightly, but it could be seen that her fortitude was shaken.
'What did you see?' Albus asked gently.
Adela tossed the book to a nearby sofa. It landed with a thump. 'That was too overwhelming. I don't want to touch it again… I didn't read anything actually. The pages all glowed golden but they were all blank for me. Maybe non-magical creatures can't read them… But I felt… It's indescribable.'
Minerva wagged a finger at her, showing disapproval while betraying her anxiety, 'That will teach you not to meddle in powerful magic, young lady.' She picked up the book and handed it back to Albus, 'That settles it. We either leave Voldemort with his playthings or hide these books.' She turned back to scold Adela further, but could not when Severus impulsively drew Adela into his embrace and began muttering, 'Silly girl. Reckless, foolhardy, little viper.'
Minerva had to press her lips tightly together to prevent herself from grinning ear to ear. She turned to Albus for instruction. He too, was hard-put not to start thumping Severus on his back.
'He'll never hear the end of this,' Albus whispered, voice trembling with mirth. 'Let's leave them and go have our well-deserved sleep.' Minerva nodded.
After the both of them slipped out of the staff-room and out of hearing range together, they fell into fits of hysterics.