-This war, - Dumbledore paused, - has already been lost.
The welcoming statement caused an immediate uproar among the gathered. Most of them have never met each other before, but all of them, without exception, were here because they were willing to fight, because they wanted to fight against He Who Must Not Be Named and the chaos and destruction that he brought upon Wizarding Britain.
-Say it like you see it, why don't you, Dumbledore. - Growled Moody.
-If that's how you feel, Albus, you're free to vacate my pub. - Glared Aberforth. - You weren't particularly welcome here anyways.
This, of course, caused a commotion of its own. Dumbledore waited it out, letting the people mutter themselves into silence.
-It has long been my belief that the truth is generally preferable to lies and I most certainly do not wish anyone here to act under false pretenses. Regardless of what the Ministry of Magic would tell you, regardless of what many of you think, this war has never been about blood purity.
-It isn'? - Asked Hagrid.
-I'm fairly certain it is. - Muttered Benjy Fenwick, hiding in the shadows of his cloak. He picked the darkest corner to sit in, but still looked rather uncomfortable under all the attention. - Both of my brothers and, you know, every other so-called mudblood that's been murdered would agree with me.
-Voldemort, - Dumbledore ignored the flinch from every other person present, - has never hated muggleborns more than any other group of people. Admittedly, that comes from his superiority complex and general disdain toward other people, rather than any morals, but for him the cause of blood purity is merely one of the many he picked up to further his true aim.
-Power. - Doge nodded.
-Power. - Agreed Dumbledore. - But, perhaps, not the kind you think of. What's at stake here isn't the power over law, power over his enemies or even power over the largest group of enforcers in the land. It's nothing less than the power over the minds and souls of people.
-You aren't making any sense. - Moody only seemed to grow more irritated. - You Know Who kills and tortures, he terrorizes the population -
-He makes himself seem larger than life. - Dumbledore's words were so fluid and perfectly timed that they seemed to finish the auror's sentence rather than interrupt him. - People have an overwhelming desire to believe in something larger than themselves. In someone larger than themselves.
-That's absurd! - Moody barked.
-Isn't that a little, you know, crazy? - Dedalus Diggle twitched.
-Only someone as sick and twisted as Death Eaters can possibly believe in Voldemort. Not too smart either; didn't he publicly crucio one of his followers to death just the other week? - Caradoc Dearborn wasn't loud, but his words had impact. As the only member of Wizengamot present, he did, technically, have the largest legal power of those present. The fact that he dared say the Dark Lord's name only solidified his already considerable presence.
-Except that Voldemort has already succeeded once. - Dumbledore words, quiet as they were, cut through the din, causing immediate silence among the gathered wizards and witches.
-What are you talking about? - Gideon asked, breaking the silence.
-The werewolves. The Death Eaters are even less tolerant of them than the wizarding society in general, yet Vodemort, - cue the flinch, - was able to recruit them in a matter of months. It isn't because they are foolish, bloodthirsty or particularly vicious – in fact a lot of these labels only became attached to them after the war started – but simply because they lost hope. There was nothing for them to look forward to in the future, there was nobody that was willing to stand up and say 'no' to injustices they suffered, nobody to offer them something that they could actually do.
-You are making a parallel to the Ministry of Magic. - Caradoc noted.
Dumbledore nodded in agreement.
-Take care what you say, Dumbledore. - Moody's growl was particularly low. - What you're saying sounds awfully lot like treason. This country is already being torn apart by one civil war. Even if you're a hero of the War on Grindelwald, I won't let you start another. I will stop you.
The issued challenge caused a pause in the conversation due to its sheer boldness. It was an unspoken, yet acknowledged by every wizard present, fact that Dumbledore's power exceeded that of everybody in the room combined. The duel with Grindelwald that Moody so carelessly mentioned was widely considered the greatest magical duel of modern times. It wasn't great because it devastated the countryside or lit up the sky for miles; as a matter of fact it could be said that it was great because it didn't. Every Hogwarts graduate is capable of casting destructive and wide-ranging spells, but the subtle high-level wizardry that altered the very fabric of reality, the space-time manipulations, the creation and enforcement of new physical laws, the crafting of strange and unseen enchantments on the spot – this was the mark of a type of wizard that the ancient muggles worshiped as gods.
Moody seemed taken aback.
-Good. - Dumbledore's beard twitched, betraying his smile. - Alastor, I have no intention of becoming a second Voldemort. - Cue the flinch. - This organization, this 'Order of the Phoenix', as my dear friend Elphias named it, was never intended to be a cult, something that exists merely to follow my will. This is a group of like minded individuals that wish to protect our world from destruction, while enacting meaningful positive change. If it ever changes, you have my full permission to stop me.
-I'll be keeping my eyes on you. - Despite the combative statements, Moody's tone was softer, quieter, mollified.
-No days unalert. - Dumbledore agreed. - Not a bad motto for this war in general.
-Constant vigilance, eh? - Moody tilted his head to the side. - I like it. And it's Auror Moody to you!
-Of course, Alastor. - Dumbledore replied, his beard twitching.
Someone snorted in the background.
-Gentlemen, that is all very nice, - Caradoc interjected, - but can we get back to the topic at hand? Albus, can I ask you to elaborate regarding your rather controversial statement? What exactly do you mean by saying that the war has already been lost? As far as I know, the Ministry's spread thin, but we're continuing to fight the good fight.
The mood sobered.
-Of course. - Dumbledore's tone was solemn once more. - As I was saying, this war is about more than blood purity or the man sitting at the top. A tyrant, no matter how strong, will always be deposed if people believe strongly in opposing him. And that, my friends, is what has been lost.
-Surely that isn't so! - Diggle protested. - We're all here aren't we?
-That's hardly a good thing. - Gideon muttered. - After all, isn't this meeting the greatest symptom of people loosing faith in the Ministry?
-Aptly said, Prewett. - Moody growled. - Maybe, instead of gathering in the shadows, you all should think about applying to the DMLE's program?
-Apply... to... the aurors? - Fenwick's hissed words were filled with so much malice that they immediately attracted the attention of everybody present. - Do you want to know how my brothers died, auror? Do you?
-Benjy, - Doge attempted to calm down his protege, but Fenwick shrugged off his mentor's hand with a snarl.
-Samuel, my brother, was working in the support corps for the muggle victims of the Death Eater violence. One of those scull-wearing freaks managed to slip by and cast an imperius on him. Sammy went home and tried to kill me and little Aaron. We fought and Aaron got hit by a stray curse. He didn't survive.
-Benjy... - Podmore's voice was soft, sympathetic. Fenwick ignored him.
-It shocked Sammy. Even under Imperius, the idea of killing his little brother that he so adored was so, so shocking that Samuel just stopped. You could see him fighting off the curse, and I damn well did my best to help him snap out of it, was talking to him and reminding of everything that we've been through, when the aurors, the bloody aurors, burst in. They didn't ask no questions, they didn't try to figure out the situation or subdue him – they just burst in and hit Sammy, Sammy that worked so damn hard to help others, with the Killing Curse. Avada bloody Kedavra right there, in front of me, in our living room, just when he was fighting off the Imperius. I tried to stop them, damn it all, I tried. Do you know what they did? The hit me with the bloody Cruciatus! And then they dragged me into DMLE for questioning. After all, I was obviously helping the Death Eaters if I wasn't bloody fine with them murdering my brother in front of me. If it wasn't for Elphias... I don't know if I would have made it out alive out of that questioning.
The room was silent. This wasn't the only tragedy the people present suffered, but when put so frankly, so openly, it made one sit back in a kind of horrified fascination.
-So don't talk to me about the DMLE, auror. If I was a different person, I would have taken my wand and visited that auror in the night. One of us wouldn't have made it out alive.
Moody was pale.
-They... they probably had to orient themselves on the place, they saw the -
-Alastor. - Dumbledore's voice was no louder than usual, but the auror sat down and closed his mouth. - If you truly believed that, then you wouldn't be here tonight. You would have turned Elphias in when he started talking to you about an illegal vigilante organization. Instead, you're here. Because you know that the current state of things is wrong.
-I... - But there was nothing to say.
-This, Caradoc, is what I am talking about when I say that the war is lost. - Dumbledore's voice seemed unnaturally loud in the stifling silence. - Nobody knows just how many Death Eaters Voldemort has, but it isn't that many, maybe two dozen at most. If people were willing to stand up, if people were willing to fight, then the Dark Rebellion would have been over in a matter of months instead of dragging on for over five years now. But that's just it – the people lost faith. They don't believe that this is a fight worth fighting. It was all over the moment Barty Crouch gave Aurors the right to use the Unforgivables. Tell me, for an average person out there – is there a difference between a violent Auror that would barge into your house in the middle of the night and Cruciate you due to suspicions of being a Death Eater and a violent Death Eater that would barge into your house in the middle of the night and Cruciate you on suspicions of being a blood traitor? Tell me, is there anything worth fighting for to the average wizard?
The silence that descended on the pub was so total that one could hear the kids playing somewhere outside. They were playing 'aurors and death eaters'.
-This is what is truly at stake. - Dumbledore continued. - People have an overwhelming desire to believe in something larger than themselves – and the Ministry has already proven that it wouldn't be that something. And here comes Voldemort. A mysterious, powerful, larger than life figure that promises a different world, a world where the wizards no longer need to hide from muggles. The promises are sufficiently vague, but they are powerful, they are something to look forward to, something to reach for. And Voldemort keeps winning, he makes winning look effortless. He doesn't hold recruitment campaigns; he speaks through action, not words. He is nowhere, yet everywhere. He is bold, yet his actions are midden in mystery. He acts as something more than a human, something more than a wizard – and others start treating him as something more.
-You almost sound admiring. - Scowled Aberforth.
-Already people see him, a single wizard with a small cult of followers, as something that is equal to the Ministry. When he started killing the people that said his name, when people started referring to him as He Who Must Not Be Named, as You Know Who, I, admittedly, thought it to be a passing phase, a petty vindictiveness. Only now do I realize how powerful a move it was, how the people fear and respect him so much that they fear even his name. That they immediately do know who.
-At the moment people see two powers in the Wizarding Britain, - Caradoc nodded, catching Dumbledore's thought, - the Ministry and the Voldemort. If he takes the Ministry...
-The people won't even think of fighting back against him. - Murmured Gideon.
-And this, my friends, is why I gathered all of you here tonight. Let me make a toast. - The old wizard stood up, lifting his glass, and the rest of the people gathered followed his lead. Even Aberforth, grunting and grumbling, got himself a shot of Firewhiskey. - I do not toast to the people that we lost, for they will always be with us. Nor do I toast for victory in this war, for the victory of any current side would not truly be worthy of being called a victory. Instead, I toast to you, to all of you that gathered here, tonight, around this table. To those that refuse to accept the cruelty of Lord Voldemort. To those that can't accept the heartless injustice of the Ministry. I toast to those, who dare to stand up when they are beaten down and to those who refuse to watch from the sidelines.
-I toast to those unafraid to say 'No'.