I sing this prayer to the old one, to the Lord of the Hunt, to the wild, dancing, mischievous masculine, to he who is born in winter and dies with the leaves. To the soul guide and pathfinder Cernunnos: lead my arrow true. Fill me with virility that I might stand strong and proud, ride hard, sing loud, and drink deep of all that is set before me.
If you're going to do something, by the gods, do it! Don't waver, don't waffle, don't sit around thinking, "Should I?" or "Shouldn't I?" With any ritual, one's convictions are the predominant means of success. It takes practice, attention to detail and a certain ability to queer the pitch if necessary. I mean, if it were easy, any old Muggle would be out there, prancing around in stag horns, pretending to know what they were doing.
~ Introduction: Evocation - The Witchhiker's Guide to Beltane
Open for me the secret way, the pathway of intelligence, beyond the gates of night and day, beyond the bounds of time and sense. ~Beltane Ritual
Minerva McGonagall closed the book with a loud THUMP . "Gods, I hope for her sake I never run into her in Knockturn Alley," she muttered. "And I if I do, I hope I have a copy of this book with me. It'll be very satisfying to beat her repeatedly about the head and shoulders with it."
She looked around and wondered, not for the first time, if voicing violent thoughts to oneself was a prerequisite for the Head's job. A lifetime of talking to portraits had a way of doing that to a person. "Well, that settles it, then," she said, staring ahead, her eyes troubled. "I only hope I'm doing the right thing."
"I am convinced of it, my dear Minerva," replied a lilting voice. Minerva looked up at the familiar, painted face of Albus Dumbledore. He was smiling benevolently down on her, as he had done for so many years in real life. A quick glance told her that the rest of her past predecessors were fast asleep, or at least pretending to be. Oh, they were always awake for the gossip and the unwanted advice, but ask them anything during a real crisis and you'd think they'd had Dreamless Sleep Draught mixed in with their pigments. She knew a fake snore when she heard it. Flaming lot of bloody cowards, the lot of you.
Albus was the most infuriating of all. As irritatingly cryptic in death as his corporeal counterpart had been in life, his portrait often gave Minerva the feeling that he loved the conflicts best of all, that he thrived on a little bit of whinging and turmoil. The look on Albus' face at present gave Minerva a queasy feeling of déjà vu. He had always been a secretive wizard, and never so conniving as when he looked his most innocent.
With his blue eyes twinkling wistfully, he looked positively beatific. "It is a good plan, Headmistress, and a fine idea." He sobered. "And completely necessary, as you well know."
"I don't like meddling," Minerva retorted, shooting the portrait a hard look. She stood and straightened her dark robe. "That was always your department, Albus, and he's not going to like it coming from me any more than he did from you."
The portrait's subject nodded gravely. "No doubt, Minerva, no doubt at all." He heaved a great sigh and threw up his slender, spidery hands in a 'what-can-you-do?' gesture. "Sometimes, though, dear Headmistress, meddling is the only way to show someone you love them."
Minerva's face twisted into a sour expression, irritated at Albus' smug complacency. "That's your style, Albus, not mine. The boy needs help, I'll be the first to admit, but there's a last-resort feel to this scheme that makes me feel like an arch manipulator."
Before Dumbledore could reply, the door chime sounded. Grateful to turn her attention elsewhere, Minerva glanced up at the clock, and took an educated guess as to who was entreating entrance to her study. "Come in, Filius," Minerva called.
Filius Flitwick strode into the room, a warm smile upon his homely face. Some of her unease dissipated as she greeted her diminutive Deputy. It was hard to keep her dour Scots mood while in his endearingly sunny presence. Hogwarts' Charms professor and Head of Ravenclaw House barely reached Minerva's hip, but that had never prevented him from casting a large shadow. Whether it was because of the nature of her chosen lifestyle or her personality, Minerva had few friends she could honestly say she trusted inside and out, but she would have stated emphatically that Filius was one of them. He had ever been a loyal, encouraging friend; he always managed to make a room grow brighter merely by walking into it, and he always came bearing her favourite biscuits.
Now, he was practically humming in anticipation as he faced his boss. "Well, is it done?" he asked, his merry eyes bouncing with excitement. "Is it going forward?"
Minerva nodded. "It is, my friend." She cast a final glance toward the peanut gallery. "For better or worse, it's done."
"Huzzah!" Filius cried in delight, and shot a quick burst of multi-coloured fireworks from his wand. He clapped enthusiastically, with a bright, hard gleam of expectation in his eyes. "Well done, Minerva. A bold move, to be sure, but the right one. I told you bringing Harry on board would seal the deal." He, too, glanced at the wall of portraits, and lowered his voice conspiratorially. "Have, er, they been told yet?"
Minerva's smile faded. "Not yet. I thought I'd announce the plans during evening meal, then call the staff in for a quick meeting afterward." She shrugged. "It's a bit cowardly, springing it on them like that, but since it's a fait accompli , I don't want to give them time to think about it too much."
Filius nodded sagely. "Good idea. Catch 'em after they've got stoned on treacle tart and you can convince them of anything. You know the type of reaction you'll get, but stand firm, Minerva! You can count on the rest of the faculty for support."
Professor McGonagall sighed. "I know. And we'll do everything we can to make it worth their while." She glanced at the thick book on her desk, and Filius' eyes followed hers. The leather binding was deep green, almost black, and innocuous looking. "This was so cruel, Filius. An outrage! After all that happened, after all he's been through and back again. He doesn't deserve it."
Filius' sunny demeanor refused to dim. "Of course he doesn't! And this will be just what is needed to illustrate that very fact." He placed a reassuring hand on her arm. "We are doing the right thing. You are doing the right thing." He rubbed his hands together gleefully. "I for one am looking forward to a return to the old ways. We need them. We've allowed our world to become too homogenised and Muggle-ised."
"That's not a word and you know it," she chided mildly. "Muggles have had precious little to do with us forsaking our rituals. Voldemort did enough of that." She cast him a sly look. "Besides, I know you're merely looking forward to cavorting naked with a bunch of witches around a bonfire."
"It's a tough job, but someone has to do it," he replied sincerely, a great beaming smile lighting his face. "Besides, we have a higher purpose than just doing a reel around a balefire. We have a friend to restore."
Another chime sounded. "Yes?"
Although no one appeared at the door to the study, a familiar voice called out, "Professor McGonagall? We're going to Hogsmeade now. The Hogwarts Express is due in forty minutes."
Both Minerva and Filius cast wistful glances toward the door, and to the voice beyond. It sounded so empty and colourless, like a finely-crafted instrument left neglected to gather dust and lose its tuning. It carried no warmth, but no real bite either.
"Thank you, Severus," Minerva answered, and looked at Filius. He shook his head, and she suddenly felt a little better about the scheme they had spent the entire Christmas break composing. "We'll be waiting for you."
"As you wish, Headmistress."
They listened silently as Severus Snape descended the stairs from her study, his boots making a soft sound on the flag steps.
"I used to love the sound of his voice," Filius sighed, his eyes sad. "Even when he was in a mood, it was a thing of beauty."
"I know," Minerva agreed. "He's like a shade of his former self now. You can't even get him all riled up anymore."
For a moment, both Headmistress and Deputy were silent. Then Filius perked up.
"Well, I think that is proof like no other. You've made the right decision," he nodded, his good humour restored. "The lad gave his all for us; it's time we returned the favour."