Disclaimer: Nothing's mine, except the plot.
For the Ancient and Noble House of Black, the height of power marked the beginning of their decline. A game of politics, for personal gain, for the good of everyone … but using the rise of Voldemort to prevent a war was gamble. – A glimpse into the world during Voldemort's first rise, a world at the brink of a war, yet securely in the hands of the old pureblood patriarchs, even though the end of the Wizengamot's rule had already begun. Winner of the January DLP Story Contest.
I had this ony my harddrive for a while, and between exams and studying, brushed it up for the January story contest at DarkLordPotter. net.
The basic idea was to tweak the Canon backstory a little and offer an alternate view, that nevertheless incorporated the facts we know and fitted with the world as we see it in the books; meaning, this became the task of explaining how we got there. It's finished as you see it here, but I quite like the backstory I created. Maybe I'll use it to write more sometime.
The Pillars of Power
So, in the general deadlock, they welcomed this pretence of an election as an image and semblance of freedom, and chose Sulla as their absolute master for as long a time as he pleased. There had been autocratic rule of the dictators before, but it was limited to short periods. But under Sulla it first became unlimited and so an absolute tyranny. All the same they added, for propriety's sake, that they chose him dictator for the enactment of such laws as he himself might deem best and for the regulation of the commonwealth.
Appian, The Civil Wars
The heavy doors closed, seemingly from itself, clicking shut without any audible sound. Now, the building was divided: into an outside, that ended on the dark, polished oak doors, with the ornate, artfully crafted silver-'W''s gleaming silently in the flickering light of the torches that were stuck into the holders on the walls, lightening the corridor leading up to the doors.
The other side was the inside, behind the doors; a closed-of world, from which no sound, no information would emerge, not through the doors and not through any other means, magical or not, as long as the session continued.
Such was the nature of a closed session of the Wizengamot, and the Grand Chamber, in which it was held, was built to fit these needs – more than a thousand years ago, in a time, when the Wizengamot was still called the Wizard's Council, and long before the Ministry of Magic was established and build upon it.
Lord Cygnus Black was one of the last to stride into the Chamber, his silver-trimmed black Formal Robes with his family crest stitched over his heart billowing behind him. He walked down the aisle towards the steps; past the first row of seats on the very back, sneering as he recognized the silver-grey hair of Lord Dumbledore. Having received his Lordship after his defeat of Grindelwald roughly twenty-five years ago, he was the newest member of the nobilitas, and in Cygnus eyes only barely above the rest of the wizarding world, and for sure miles below him.
If it would've been Cygnus decision, he'd lost it a month ago.
o ][ o
Mon., August 17th, 1021 AF (1970 AD)
"And why is it that we are informed only today? School is starting in two weeks!"
Headmaster Albus Dumbledore peered over the rims of his half-moon shaped glasses and smiled in his benevolent way. He looked like anybodies grandfather, and it would have been all too easy to put it of as something that he had simply forgotten about until now. Cygnus wasn't fooled, though. The headmaster had the meeting purposefully scheduled this late, so as to prevent a long debate. Dumbledore's next words confirmed that.
"Oh, I must apologise, Lord Black. I simply didn't think that it would pose a problem. We vote, and it is either accepted or turned down. I am deeply sorry if I have caused you any inconveniences."
Cygnus gritted his teeth. That old man knew as well as he did, that under this circumstances there was no chance the motion would not pass, just like the times before. Disagreeing with one point meant that the entire document would have to be nayed. There could have been a chance to sway perhaps two or three of the other members, had he known of everything beforehand, but now, he did not have enough time, as the school year was about to start, and everyone, him included, wanted things only to be over and done with.
And that was the calculation of the headmaster, and it worked exactly as planned. He wasn't about to let himself be beaten that easily, though. He smiled thinly at the older man.
"Of course, Headmaster. It's only natural to forget things, it happens to all of us. I find myself relying on my secretary more and more every year. Why, it's a matter of age, I suppose."
The headmaster didn't bat an eye, but his hot-headed lapdog Gerald Potter began visibly fuming.
"Let us look more closely at what we are supposed to approve here."
Cygnus picked up the roll of parchment everyone had in front of their them once again, and began to read aloud.
"A fundraise of 1.3 percent, to cover the inflation and some sanitation work, namely the bathrooms in the third floor, etcetera, etcetera … hmm … yes, yes, Muggle Studies to become an elective in third year, as opposed to fifth year as it was, since the teacher has enough capacities anyway, some trivialities, the new List of Banned Items … oh, and finally, the last point."
Cygnus made a dramatic pause.
"You can see it all for yourself, but I'll cite it for convenience: 'A temporary stay of a certain governing rule of Hogwarts School Law is proposed, namely the first section of the Hogwarts' Application Requisites, third section, point one, i.e. meaning that the usual effect of said rule is suspended until further notice, as long as adequate accommodations can be provided.'"
"Now," he looked in the round, "to help the good members here, since the rule in question is sadly not explicitly stated in the document, it so happens that I have it with me" – he pulled his wand from the inside of his robe and drew a form in the air, in sharp, precise motions, and an old, nondescript book bound in black leather appeared on the table – "here."
He tucked his wand back into his robes' wand-pocket and opened the book, that displayed a crest on its first page, divided into four sections, each with a different animal; lion, snake, badger and eagle. Cygnus flicked through the pages and stopped near the middle.
"This part of the Hogwarts' Application Requisites centres around the question who is permitted a place as a student in our esteemed school, who not, and why. The third section is a clarification on the latter, with specific examples, I'll cite again, the important passage only: 'Non-human beings, as defined in the Ministerial Decree from 1811, are not permitted, that includes namely:' – and here's point one – 'Werewolves'."
Cygnus looked up into the eyes of Dumbledore opposite of him.
"That is the rule you want to suspend. A werewolf in Hogwarts? Have you completely lost you mind?"
A distinct disquietness spread among the twelve members of the Board of Governors. They began to murmur, and to his left, Lord Abraxas Malfoy exclaimed: "This is preposterous, Lord Dumbledore!"
The man in question smiled serenely, and remarked to Cygnus: "I assure you, my dear, that I'm still quite there, but I thank you for your polite inquiry. As you yourself have so carefully cited, we will provide enough safety measures to keep the rest of the students and the body of Hogwarts quite safe, so I see no reason to withheld this student his education, purely because of his medical condition."
"So it is true, then, Lord Dumbledore?" Nathan Greengrass asked, disbelievingly. "You wish to enrol a werewolf in Hogwarts?"
"A normal student with a difficult medical condition," Dumbledore corrected him. For a second, there was only silence amongst the assembled governors. Dumbledore used it to smile benevolently into the. "He is a most remarkable person, I must say – why, I wish I had brought him along, so that you could see for yourself what an extraordinary –"
Then, the room exploded into madness.
"I will not share a room with a Werewolf!" shouted Reginald Bletchley, next to Lord Greengrass, banging his fist onto the table. "Lord Dumbledore! Is this supposed to be an insult?"
"This is an outrage," bellowed Lord Greengrass, slowly reddening after it had taken a few seconds for him to wrap his mind around the fact. He jumped up. "Headmaster, the Board of Governors will not stand –"
"It is exactly that kind of prejudice that needs to be done away with," Gerald Potter said loudly, rising as well. "This can be an important first step to show that no one has to fear a werewolf when it is not a full moon."
"We all well aware of your … liking for werewolves and other beasts, Lord Potter," drawled Lord Malfoy. "No need to shout."
Gerald Potter coloured. "Why, you –"
Cygnus leant back and watched. Perhaps not all was lost, after all.
"My Lords, please!" the clear voice of Melissa Bones cut through the increasingly loud argument, which stopped immediately.
"Thank you. Now, I have to admit that Lords Black and Greengrass are quite right. Since you became Headmaster last term, we have been accommodating indeed, as you proposed your interesting long-term plans for Hogwarts, but this is certainly a big step that should have been considered carefully, not in a last-minute meeting like this."
"I won't happen again, Lady Bones. I was busy and it slipped my mind, as I said."
She shot him a sharp look.
"Very well. However, what is done is done. The most important questions is, can you ensure the safety of the other students and the staff?"
"He can't," cut in Cygnus. "No one can, in good conscience. A werewolf is a mindless beast, that cannot be contained, stopped, or in other way, shape or form hindered in his task: to tear other humans apart and infect as many as possible."
He took his dress watch out of his pocket an flipped the lid open, peering intently at the moving planets.
"Why, congratulations, Headmaster. It is just as we're here, talking, that your new pupil is a monstrous beast howling to the moon and craving human flesh. And that thing you want to roam freely between the elite of our society, our children, our future. I shall be thinking about transferring my daughters to Durmstrang."
"Don't be ridiculous, Lord Black. He is perfectly safe to be around all but one day of the month."
That was Lord Potter, shooting him an ugly look. Cygnus turned towards the man, smiling coldly.
"Yes, I see. Lord Potter, despite what you seem to believe – and you are free, of course, to have your personal opinion, but please note that our society, the one you swore to serve and protect, has an official one, which is the one that matters in this case – a werewolf is not a human with some sort of – of disease, but a beast, that has remotely human features. And if I am not sorely mistaken, despite everything you have managed to twist into absurdity, Hogwarts still is a school for human, not for beasts. What will be next? Vampires, perhaps?"
"He is as much of a human as you and I," Lord Potter responded heatedly. "And –"
Cygnus interrupted him, his voice icy. "Please, do speak for yourself only, Lord Potter. I really could care less if you somehow see yourself to be on an equal footing with a mere beast, but do not insult me with that, if you would. Our laws are clear on that point – something that even you should be able to understand. Werewolves are not considered human, and rightly so."
"I understand nothing but your point, that it is then perhaps time to change the laws?"
Sudden anger surged through Cygnus. Word for word the talk of Dumbledore, coming out of the fool's mouth. What had happened to the man? Quirky he always had been, but this …
He jumped up heatedly.
"I will not stand for it! I watched as the Headmaster turned our prestigious school into his very own society experiment, turning nature and natural order on its head, all at the expense of those more gifted, because there was nothing I could do, but I'll be damned if I let that happen to the rest of our world as well."
"A sad day is the day indeed, that one stops thinking and only repeats what one has heard," said Lord Malfoy, looking at Lord Potter. Apparently, he had noticed it as well. "Dear Merlin, Gerald. We have known each other for well nigh half a century. Never would I have thought that I would see the time where I hear your mouth merely uttering things another man prompted for you – verbatim!"
Cygnus looked at him thankfully and sat back down. A fierce rival he was, but lately, the common enemy in form of Dumbledore and his agenda had drifted them closer together. Perhaps it was time to bury old grudges. At least secretly. Publicly assumed enmity could be a very useful tool.
"My Lords, please!"
This time it was Dumbledore's voice, that stopped the argument. Lord Potter had just risen again.
"This is not the Wizengamot, and Hogwarts has been an extern entity since its founding. If we decide to allow this young child into our halls, it is perfectly in accordance to our laws. In regard to the original question, yes, I believe I can promise the safety of the students. He will be separated form his peers, when the need is there, so everything will be perfectly safe. Now, we have heard both sides. Perhaps we should move on to vote? Those in favour?"
And just like that, it was decided. Cygnus cursed silently.
Four he knew safe on his side, himself, Lord Malfoy, Lord Greengrass and Bletchley. Although the headmaster himself had no vote, he had long since begun to move people around and into the Board of Governors, people like the old Elphias Dodge, who nodded to everything he said, and convinced others, like the Head of the Potters, of his plans.
Yes, he had been busy indeed. He could always count on five votes, who promptly had their hand in the air; and the remaining three, Lady Bones, Smethwyck and Mockridge, usually sided with him, nowadays.
Cuthbert Mockridge lifted his hand at once, which came as no surprise for Cygnus. Mockridge didn't care either way, he only wanted the meeting to be over as fast as possible, so he'd never vote against the whole motion, thereby adjourning the vote to another time, where he had to come to a meeting again. The only reason he didn't clear out for someone else was the status a chair at the Board of Governors brought, especially if you weren't ennobled.
Lady Melissa Bones didn't raise her hand. "I'm not satisfied with the answers provided by Lord Dumbledore," she said primly once she realised that everyone was looking at her. So it now depended on Ayrgall Smethwyck. The eyes at the table moved over to him. Clearly, he was uncomfortable with all the attention he suddenly had. He faltered.
After a sharp look from four chairs down his left, where Gerald Potter was seated, he winced, however. Slowly, he began to raise his hand.
Cygnus struggled to hold back an oath. Another member swayed to Dumbledore's side. He stared lividly at the man.
"You don't know what damage you are causing, only for your deluded dreams of forced equality. Mark my words, Dumbledore. What you are doing is nothing short of a revolution, and any revolution, regardless of being successfully or not, regardless of being rightfully or not, was bloody and deathly. You are pushing the people into the open arms of extremists. If you continue, there will repercussions, and every single death I will lay before your feet."
He stood up. "I can see when I am outnumbered, so I shall take my leave. Good day."
"It is Lord Dumbledore to you! Pay him the respect he deserves."
Lord Potter, of course.
Cygnus only sneered from the doorway. "Indeed. And such is the amount he deserves: precisely nil. He is a disgrace to the title and not worthy to be called such. How long do you have it, twenty-five years now? If it was upon me, this would be the last year. Shame on you, old man. You are a traitor to your own kin, to the title you once had been given with honour. Somewhere along the line, you lost it."
The door banged shut behind him.
o ][ o
The Chamber was a sea of quiet murmurs. Cygnus nodded to this member and that as he slowly walked down the stairs, lost in thoughts. That board meeting had been the last straw that had convinced him of the need to act.
He could only hope that it wasn't too late already. Maybe he should've acted sooner. Maybe he should've seen what was happening, sooner … but then again, hadn't he?
His steps faltered and he sighed. Again the thoughts, the what-if's, maybe's and perhaps …
o ][ o
Cygnus left the staff room where the meeting was held, still fuming. It had been quite some time since he lost control like that, and as he walked through the silent corridors of Hogwarts, he soon became irritated at himself for it. It was unprofessional, even if everything he'd said had been nothing but the truth.
He sighed, and paused in his steps, as he reached one of the great paladin windows, which where inserted in the walls of the hallway. He looked out into the twilight of an summer's eve, over the grounds, up to the Forbidden Forest, without really noticing anything.
In the glass of the window pane he saw the reflection of his face, somehow much older, with more lines than he remembered.
His opponents always accused him of being backwards, of being the loudest voice of a group of conservationists, that doggedly clung to their power, and feared any change, because it might take their power and influence away.
He never denied that he did not want any change. This was the way the world had been since his forefathers' time, since Geoffrey the Black, called so for his hair, had founded the dynasty of the Nigellus-Blacks; and ever since had a Black played an important role in the lot of Magical Britain, and he saw no need to change it.
Being a Black was more than simply bearing that name, the magical blood ran strong in the veins of any Black, pure blood, spawning powerful wizards and witches, that had the right to take their place in the world, within the very elite of their kin, that had the right to lead and rule the lesser men, to add another chapter to the proud history of one of the oldest pure-blooded families in existence; with more than a thousand years of ancestry.
However, with the right to rule, to stand at the very top of the Magical Community, there also came the responsibility to do so, and do so carefully; to always consider the outcome of the actions taken beforehand, to observe the happenings and act when it was necessary.
Throughout the history, there had been countless attempts remove the all-dominating influence of the noblesse in general, and his family in particular; and just as his ancestors before him, he had put a stop to any such attempt.
But he did what he did only because he believed with all his heart that he could lead the world the best; this was his world, and he loved it the way it was, the traditions and customs that dated back to Merlin's age, the history, the made them who they were and gave them something to be proud of.
He turned away with a frown, and resumed walking.
He watched over the world, and tried to guide it carefully, but he was not all-powerful, even if he arguable was the wizard with the greatest influence on the whole island. And so, this was the real reason he tirelessly lobbied against anyone that wanted to introduce "change", "modern ways" or however they labelled it these days. That was the reason he'd lost control – he made policy with his brain as much with is heart, probably even too much so, and he'd begun to fear for his world.
The world could absorb a young, idealistic upstart Lord, that proclaimed the time had come for democratic rights, a new form of government or anything else they might come up with. There had always been those. The world could not, however, absorb the losses of another war, maybe even a civil war this time. Not after the last one, that had ended only twenty-five years ago.
And this was where they where headed now. The changes Dumbledore and his likes pressed on a world that – as a general whole – did not want them, divided it, and many of the young heirs, rash and hot-headed like the youth was, drifted towards taking more radical stands against their actions, and were easy prey for demagogues, that promised them fame and fortune, the restoring of the old order or whatever else they wanted to hear.
One name, and suddenly so many problems. He refused to call him Lord, as he was none. Other than that, no one really knew who he was, where he came from, or even where he lived, other than the times he made speeches at Diagon Alley, first raging against the changes made, then full of promises and glorious ideas and in the end warnings and the subtle hint that maybe more drastic measures where needed.
This new development would have him jumping for joy. By Merlin, he didn't even need lie in this speeches of his. They were serving him his topics and reasons on a silver platter.
Cygnus pushed the great oak doors open, which led from the entrance hall onto the grounds, and started walking down the path that led up to the castle. Maybe it was time to take a more direct stance against this false Lord, but more urgently, against the madness of Dumbledore.
His world would not be torn asunder by a civil war.
He wouldn't let it. Not as long as lived and was the head of the Blacks. He opened the gate, at the end of the path and closed it behind him, before he spun on the spot, and Disapparated.
o ][ o
And suddenly, as he resumed his way down the steps of the aisle, towards his place, he felt the weight of the responsibility rest heavily on him. It was absurd, of course; it wasn't as if he hadn't always had this responsibility, ever since he assumed the position as the head of the Ancient and Noble House of Black.
But somehow, the problems seemed much greater now. And perhaps, a small voice said, perhaps he was simply getting older, and not the problems greater. Perhaps it was time to pass on the mantle of leadership, like his father and their fathers had done it before.
All he would be left to do was to wonder. If he had been hesitating too long, if he should've seen the danger sooner – if he had become too arrogant, shrugged off warning signs, laughed a little at the one who tried to rise by using a false title … if all those were signs of becoming old and stubborn, no longer the energetic and brilliant young man he once used to be. But who would be there to step up and assume his role?
His second cousin and brother-in-law? But did he trust him?
And the answer was, not as much as he used to, and not as much as he would've liked.
o ][ o
He reappeared at the stairs to an old townhouse, somewhere in London.
The stylised head of a viper, copper, once, but long since coated with shimmering green patina, hit the door heavily. It opened at once, allowing him entrance. He entered the dark-panelled hall, the moment his sister walked down the stairs. Hair tied back tightly in a high bun, she displayed her delicate facial features favourably, but at the same time giving her face an authoritative note. She was the force in this home, and he respected that.
"What brings you, Cygnus? We just finished dinner, but I should think that we could –"
He waved that aside.
"Don't trouble yourself. I just left the board meeting in Hogwarts. My appetite well-nigh vanished."
She offered him a sympathetic smile.
"I see. Well, I shall get Orion. Do make yourself comfortable until then."
He thanked her with a nod, and followed her up the stairs, turning left in the corridor and entering the study. A small fire crackled in the fireplace, without making the room overheated. He seated himself in an upholstered leather chair and stared into the flames, lost in thoughts.
His gaze was transfixed on the dancing flames, sparkling in the glass of the cabinet on his right, his mind miles away. He didn't notice his brother in-law until he coughed politely. Wearily, he waved his hand at the second chair.
"Sit down, Orion. We need to talk."
The other man sat down, studying Cygnus quietly. Where Cygnus had dark, albeit not black hair, which he wore long, as was his right as a Head of House, his brother in-law had the true jet-black Black hair, which once upon a time had given a line its name. By rights, Orion should have been Head of House, and he would have been, if his Grandfather hadn't refused the position, and the responsibility fell to the second line of the House for two generations. Perhaps for the better.
But it was moot, anyway. He had no sons, so the Headship would return to the main line once more.
"What about, then?" Orion asked finally, when Cygnus was still silent after a while.
Cygnus sighed and leant back in his chair. The leather creaked softly.
"I just returned from the Board meeting," he said abruptly. "Dumbledore has finally gone mad."
"Worse." Cygnus' fingers drummed on the armrest. "I considered moving Narcissa, Andromeda and Bellatrix to Durmstrang. Druella would never agree, though."
Orion stared at him.
"What has happened?
"I can't reveal anything of importance to anyone. It directly concerns a certain student. The oath prevents it." He stared angrily at his cousin and his fist slammed down onto the table.
"Our own rules turned against us! And Dumbledore knows that too, which is why will get away with it!"
The clinking of glass brought him back to his senses. "This wasn't why I came, anyway. I apologise, Orion."
Orion pushed a glass with the fine, two hundred years old mead towards him that his ancestor Cetus had been famous for collecting.
"No need to apologise for loosing your temper at the likes of Dumbledore," he said dryly. "Cheers."
Cygnus sipped the dark liquid and shook his head.
"So I heard you went to one of Voldemort's speeches. Tell me about him."
Orion leant back, staring thoughtfully at his older cousin.
"He's tall. His features are blunt, oddly distorted, not particularly good-looking, although he once might have been; perhaps an accident. He is pale, his clothing fine, but not in any cut I recognise, which might indicate talent – enough so to make his own clothing – but a lack of means.
"And someone like that managed to capture an entire generation?" Cygnus shook his head scornfully. "A scoundrel with no heritage, with no means, without any sort actual political influence. I would have though better of them. All because he can talk?"
"Have you even heard him speak? He is a masterful orator. Whatever he might lack in appearance, he makes up for with words. Here's one that believes in what he says, as opposed to all that hot air the Wizengamot produces recently. Invite him into the next session, listen to what he has to say. You'll be surprised."
"Orion!" he flared up. "He falsely proclaims himself a Lord and raised the crowd. There is no place for him here!"
"The crowd needs to be raised." Orion took a big swallow of the mead. "What if he is right?" He bent forwards. "What if the time is there to take more drastic steps as he says? What if he is right, about the Muggle-borns that steal our magic and work, that care nothing for our traditions and culture – what if the best way really is to get rid of them, once and –"
Cygnus stared at his brother in-law, horrified.
"Orion! Do you know nothing of which you speak? 'Get rid of them, once and for all'? How –"
Now Orion interrupted him.
"Don't I? What am I missing, then? The fact that Dumbledore tries to usurp the natural order of things in Hogwarts, that he doesn't champion Mudbloods along the more talented wizards and witches, but above them, so much so that you considered transferring your daughters? And if it was upon him, this would even be only the first step."
He slammed the glass down.
"Our world is going to the dogs, and you aren't doing anything –"
The wand flashed faster then Orion could look. His mouth moved, but no sounds came out.
"I do not need to listen to your ranting, Orion. Especially not in that language." His lips curled distastefully. "Keep the gutter language where it belongs. I had enough of that in Hogwarts already, I don't need to hear it from you. Remember who is the elder here."
He shot his brother-in-law an icy look. Orion stared at him lividly, but nodded.
Cygnus flipped his wand lazily and the charm was lifted.
"So you are doing something?" Orion asked stiffly.
Cygnus nodded, thoughtfully.
"Yes. How could I not? You know of my convictions. You know I agree – with you. With him. That is the problem. Those speeches of his have just enough truth in them to be believable, and just enough fire to set aflame people's hearts, while clouding their minds. Look at yourself – you are the best example. Even you agreed with him, for just a moment. He is right. But what he advocates for a solution, that is something we can't abide. Orion –" he bent forwards, staring at the man intently. "He cannot be allowed to succeed. If he is, it will lead to another war. A civil war. The rift is already there –"
"Gerald Potter and his lackeys? Don't make me laugh. That is no rift in our society, that is our society and a small group of deluded stragglers. Taken on as they ought to, we would be rid of them quickly."
Cygnus slammed his empty glass onto the armrest.
"Orion, you fool! The Muggle-borns alone make up a rough fifteen percent of our population! We need them! That is the disgusting truth, we need them, just not in this way! If only we could make them cherish our world half as much as I do, everything would be right again …"
He trailed off, then shook his head. "Fancy dreamings."
He calmed himself, placing the glass carefully on the desk.
"The point is further, as you well know, that the Wizengamot is divided on the blood issue, due to the tireless lobbying of the Populares, in the last years. If they represent only a third of the purebloods, we will have two equal fractions! Do you propose to get rid of one half of us? The rift is there." He sounded almost imploring now. "And whatever we do, we cannot abide the losses of another war. It might be the end of us all, everything we ever defended."
The silence stretched.
"Perhaps you are right," Orion finally conceded quietly. "So what is your plan?"
"I will forge a united front. With Lord Malfoy and Lestrange. We cannot stand divided, not when this much is at stake. And we need the Minister, because he is the key in getting the moderates and perhaps even a few of Potter's supporters to behind us, even if not himself."
Recognition flashed through Orion's eyes, then worry and apprehension. He bent towards Cygnus, sitting opposed to him, making a few quick gestures with his wand. The room was now warded.
Even so, he spoke quietly.
"If Potter gets wind of this, you're dead. If anyone gets wind of this prematurely you're dead."
"Don't think I don't know that. It's nothing short of getting rid of the System of Balances … but we need to act quickly. With the combined power of the Optimates and the moderates behind me, we can act in whatever way we want, and that is what we need at this point. There is no time for debates in war."
Again, silence filled the study. The fire crackled softly.
"Has something like that ever been done before?"
An ironic smile appeared on Cygnus face. "Yes. Once."
"It was the end of the line bearing the name of Slytherin. Geoffrey the Black killed him for it."
o ][ o
Cygnus had reached the bottom of the chamber.
Dumbledore and his liked had their seats in the rank as far away as possible from the speaker's lectern that was placed at the bottom, in the geometrical centre of the semi-circular Chamber, meaning, as the House of Black had its seat in the lowest rank reserved for the Noble and Ancient Houses directly opposing the lectern, also as far away from his own seat as possible, which was just as well in Cygnus eyes.
The gradually descending rows of seats to his left and right were filled with wizards, and, more sparsely, witches. There were more families that had a patriarch as the Head of Family, although there were a few, that traditionally were matriarchal, like the Most Noble and Ancient House of Bones.
He nodded to Lady Melissa Bones, an elderly, grey-haired woman, with features as sharp as her tongue, as he passed her on his way through the right-handed first row, that held six of the seats of the twelve Ancient Houses.
Each member of the Wizengamot represented a Noble House, as that was the prerequisite to be allowed to hold a seat in the Wizengamot, but among those that did, there was a clear order. The newer families were seated at the back of the Grand Chamber, and while their vote counted for as much as anyone's, how much weight their opinion was given was up to the individual.
Finally, there usually also was a representative of the ministry, which could be the Minister himself, but his attendance was limited to watching the sessions, without the right to speak; at least unless invited.
Cygnus walked along the first row directly opposite to the speaker's dais in the very centre of the Grand Chamber; that row, which held the Ancient families – those, that could be traced back before the Founding.
He sat down onto the wine-red leather next to Lord Abraxas Malfoy, which raised an interested murmur, as it implied that he wasn't about to chair the session, but rather wanted to speak himself. He ignored the buzz of questions and instead righted the purple stripe with the three golden threads over his right shoulder, that identified him as a member and the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, before greeting Abraxas, cordially, but cool. The rivalry – feud, even – between the two Houses was well known.
While Abraxas in his position as the Vice Warlock began to rise and walk up to the dais, Cygnus thoughts were focused on his upcoming speech, going over a few details he was adjusting to recent developments.
o ][ o
The autumn evening was dark and the sky void of stars as Cygnus reappeared in the countryside after leaving London, walking up the path to his Manor house, a large building in Herefordshire. It had been build some hundred years ago near the original site of the Norman Geoffrey the Black.
His steps were hurried. The meeting with Orion had left him agitated and restless.
He had barely kissed his wife, Druella, a beautiful and proud woman, embodying everything a pure-blooded witch could and should be like, before he retreated into his study. Not even the mention of letters from his daughters, full heirs of their mother's beauty and his pride and joy, could rise his mood today. He sat at the desk, the desklight low, staring at pieces of parchments, pushing one up, then the next. Most were covered in his neat, small script. Some held figures. He tapped one with his wand. A translucent graph rose from it into the air, floating a few inches above the desk surface.
"So many," he whispered.
The graph pointed down steadily, with an especially sharp decrease between two points marked 1940 and 1945. From once thirty-thousand, it was now barely above twenty-thousand.
"Too many. Damn you, Grindelwald!"
He flung the graph away, and it hit the dark window, bursting into thousands of tiny stars. He rose, agitated, walking towards the small side table, holding a bottle of Ogden's, then thinking better of it, his eyes coming to rest on the hall clock next to the bookcase.
It was time for the meeting.
He grabbed his cloak from the armrest of the chair, stopping shortly in the parlour to inform Druella, then walked out of the house and Apparated.
He reappeared in front of Gringotts, near the entrance to Knockturn Alley. A chilly wind blew through the street, and Cygnus pulled the cloak closer to around him. He crossed the street and strode purposefully into the mouth of Knockturn Alley, past the apothecary on the corner, past Borgin & Burkes on the left, which was closed at this time of night, at least officially, deeper into the side street.
Knockturn Alley wasn't a nice place to be, and most definitely not a place of his choosing, but it had its advantages. At this time of night, the street was full of shady characters, hags, half-breeds and worse; ragtags without work and sometimes without home, skinny children in dirty robes begging for a few coins and stealing much more.
He stood out in his fine robes, but no one dared to approach him, and that was the way it should be.
He stopped at a small half-timbered house, vanishing through the door under a blotchy plate that once upon a time would have passed as a sign for the small pub inside.
A heavy cloud of stew, spilled ale and a few of the more illegal potions in the land assaulted his sense of smell, and he wrinkled his nose in distaste. How anyone could bear to stay here for any longer than they absolutely had to was beyond him.
He pushed through the throng of people that filled the small pub, walking directly to one of the dark booths in the corner that already held one occupant and a glass. Before he sat down, he vanished a stain from the tatty bench covers. He had no desire to know what it had been, once.
The voice was rough and oddly distorted, the marking of a charm. The man itself wore a dark cloak with a hood that shrouded his face in shadows. He could have been twenty or two hundred, there was no way to tell, but Cygnus had done his research. He was talking to Nelson Moore, a crook who had the useful talent of turning into a small bird Animagus. Voldemort hadn't been vigilant enough.
"I'm exactly on time."
While he answered, he felt the barely noticeable increase in weight, as a few pieces of folded parchment appeared in his cloak pocket, while a couple of coins vanished.
"I'm not doing any business with people who are unreliable."
He made to rise, ending their feigned argument and downing the indefinable liquid in a glass that looked like it had last seen a Scourgify charm when Merlin was young.
"The drink's on you."
His eyes widened suddenly and he clutched his throat, dropping the glass, his extremities jerking uncontrollable. He fell forward, choking, resting with his head on the table and moved no more.
The entire process hadn't even taken ten seconds.
Cygnus cursed, looking around quickly. Over at the bar, a hag protested shrilly against getting thrown out. He could hear it even above the loud noise of the crowd, laughter and shouts. In between pushed and shoved wizards, on their way in or their way out. No one had spared them a glance. He quickly transfigured the body into a bone which he banished into the trash bin, and left the pub, pensively.
His spy has just been poisoned.
o ][ o
The last of the members had settled. Cygnus stared at the dais and the Vice Warlock impatiently. The first part of his plan would be executed in mere moments.
Lord Malfoy sat down in the chair of the Chief Warlock, off to the right on the dais that held the lectern. On his shoulder gleamed the single golden thread in his stripe, the sign of his office as the Vice Warlock. Next to him, on his right, sat a scribe, on the other side was the chair that the Ministry representative occupied.
Lord Malfoy lifted his wand to call the assembly to order. It was time.
o ][ o
Cygnus waved the waiter away. He gave a discreet nod, and vanished from the Blue Room of the Merlin Club. The Black patriarch suppressed the urge to jump up and start pacing through the room. Much depended on this meeting.
Months he had spent tracking down information, getting more and more concerned about what he brought to light, pieces of a puzzle that confirmed his suspicions and painted a picture whose sight concerned him deeply. Until he finally made up his mind and decided to act.
There was no other way he saw.
For the meeting he'd chosen the wizard's club, reserved for the nobilitas, which so often already had provided a neutral ground to meet on, in ensured privacy and a sedate atmosphere that provided an adequate ambience. Cygnus forced himself to relax, or at least appear that way outwardly, hiding his tension in occupying his mind with the simple task of filling the crystal glass on the table with the fine mead the house was known for. He was sure he hadn't misjudged his guests, but it remained a gamble.
A few minutes later the door the waiter had closed behind himself opened again, and he ushered two other wizards inside.
Cygnus placed the glass back onto the table and rose.
"Lord Malfoy. And Minister Lestrange."
They newly arrived nodded, returning the greeting.
Cygnus made a sweeping gesture.
"Please, have a seat." To the waiter, he added: "We are to be undisturbed for the hour."
The attendant bowed, and walked back out. Cygnus took his seat only when he felt the enchantments ensuring their privacy slip in place.
"Anything to drink?
Lord Malfoy politely declined, watching as Lestrange filled his glass, then taking in his rival with a reserved expression. Cygnus smiled.
"How is the family, Abraxas? Last I heard from my wife, Invidia wasn't feeling well."
A small frown crossed Abraxas' forehead.
"She is better, thanks. The healer feared it might be a case of dragon pox, but it turned out to be nothing, after all. She is as healthy as ever she was, now. If you ask me, however, that was not owing to anything the healer did. May be that the news of Lucius from school helped as well."
"Indeed," the Minister interjected. "The OWL scores were released just the other week. Your son performed most admirably, Lord Malfoy."
Turning to Cygnus he explained: "Lucius was third in his year, with a truly exceptional score. It went over my desk, and I took it upon myself to write a personal note in congratulation."
Back to Abraxas, he stated: "Though that shall no hinder me to express my congratulations again, of course. We can expect great things from him."
Lord Malfoy inclined his head. "Of course."
His fingers drummed softly on the armrest.
"Though I always like catching up with a – colleague …" – Cygnus showed the hint of a smile here – "and the Minister, of course –" – a nod – "I imagine that is not the reason for our little meeting here."
So he wasn't the only one anxious here, Cygnus thought and hid his smile.
"Such unusual bluntness. I do admit, I am a little surprised, Abraxas."
"The times are unusual," he replied shortly.
Cygnus leaned back in is lounge chair.
"Indeed they are. So at least, I'm not the only one to see what is happening, then?"
"Hardly. Everyone with a brain can see what is happening around us."
"Enough of them to make a difference?"
"No," he admitted.
"Which is the problem. Lord Potter, for example, would argue that everything is just splendid," he offered.
Abraxas raised an eyebrow.
"But I did say everyone with a brain."
Cygnus smiled a little.
"True enough, I suppose. But let us not exclude the Minister."
Lestrange had followed their exchange with a small frown.
"I'm afraid, I'm not quite certain as to what you Gentlemen are alluding here," he stated now. "It seems you have me at a disadvantage."
Cygnus turned towards him.
"Well, we shall have to rectify that. But since I'm rather partial to men who can think for themselves … would you indulge an old and inveterately stubborn man, and try to reach the conclusion yourself?"
The Minister shrugged and folded his legs.
"By all means, Lord Black. So what is our basis here, the initial situation?"
Cygnus was silent for a while, thoughtfully moving the glass in little circles so that the mead moved against the walls, shimmering golden in the light of the fire.
"You mentioned the OWL scores just this minute," he said finally. "Do you happen to know how it is spread over the pupil, if you divide it by the Blood Status? And how the overall scores rank, compared with years prior?"
"That usually stays within Department for Education, since those figures hardly matter in everyday politics. Still, if I'm not mistaken, to answer the first question, it shows the typical form, with Purebloods on an average above Halfbloods and Muggle-borns, accounted for by the fact that Purebloods en moyenne are more gifted than Halfbloods, and Halfbloods more so than Muggle-borns. As for the second part, no. However, I could get the figures, of course. Is it important?"
Abraxas and Cygnus exchanged a look.
"Well, it is one clue to the puzzle."
Lestrange made to rise, but Cygnus waved him off.
"No need to trouble yourself, Minister. I went to the Department earlier in the week and obtained a copy. I have it here."
He pulled few sheets of thin, folded parchment from within his robes and slid them over to Lestrange.
"You'll be surprised."
The Minister hmm-hummed as he unfolded the parchment. His eyes tracked a few lines, reading figures, before he frowned.
"Odd indeed. Not what I was expecting; in that regard you are right. Muggle-borns are quite a bit closer to the Purebloods than I remember. The gap has lessened considerably … still, it could be fluke. But since you mentioned it, I assume it is not?"
"It might be," admitted Cygnus. "But regardless, it illustrates a point rather nicely. Coincidentally, this is the first year to complete the full first five years under Dumbledore as a headmaster, if you recall."
"Of course. Still, what –"
"And then, do you know the details of the program of the so-called 'Wizards Right's Front?'"
The Minister looked at him, surprised.
"This organisation from Muggle-borns? Do you think they are a threat? If I recall correctly, they refute the idea of an innate magic that depends on the blood status, and contend for a different form of government. The former of which is understandable from their point of view, I'd guess, but of course nonsense. It has been proven true time and again."
"You are quite correct, Minister. However, look at the second paragraph here."
He pushed a leaflet he'd taken from a pocket of his robes towards the Minister. Lestrange flipped to the page Cygnus had pointed out, and read out loud.
"… current system is inherently flawed and needs to be done away with. This has to be the ultimate goal: To work for a democratic change. To allow everyone of us a fair and equal participation in affairs that directly concerns us. And lastly, and most importantly, to rid this our nation from the deeply ingrained, structural discrimination, overthrow the system of cronyism and rip the power from the hands of those that hoard it jealously: the clique of backwards purebloods, with every means necessary.
"If we unite, no on can stand against us. If we speak with one voice, we cannot be overheard. The old elite of purebloods has outlived itself, it is weak and slowly dying. We, however, are the future –"
The Minister stopped and grimaced.
"Do I have to read this tripe?"
"You started at the first paragraph," Cygnus told him, half amused, but completely serious the next moment. "I derive no pleasure from hearing those ramblings, I assure you."
Lestrange sighed and continued.
"But how can we achieve this change? If we look into history, no change was ever successful in the long range, if it only changed the structure, yet left untouched the minds of the people that made it up. Therefore, it seems, that the logical first step has to be the institution that is the bulwark of our enemies, the one facility that breeds the next generation of bigotry and discrimination: Hogwarts.
"Here, we have to start; in offering a non-biased and equal education: Away with the hidden and unhidden favouring and promotion of those with allegedly 'purer' blood! The claim of more talent, potential or power as a reason to justify disparate treatment is nothing but propaganda from the likes of –"
The eyes of the Minister flickered to Cygnus, then Abraxas, who returned his look without any emotions.
"You don't think – Lord Dumbledore? That would be – I mean –"
Cygnus finger moved from the manifesto to the OWL results in a straight line.
"Our sons and daughters have suddenly become less gifted? The Muggle-borns have suddenly become more gifted? Hardly. What would you say, Minister, if you were to know that Dumbledore is friends with Wayne Morrison, the new editor of this pro-egalitarian leaflet, the New Magical Herald. And that Morrison, in turn, was recently introduced into the inner circle of the WRF."
He paused and looked up.
"Suddenly, it is becoming all too unlikely to be purely coincidental, isn't it? And don't forget the recent speeches from certain members of the Populares in the Wizengamot, that were remarkable in a negative way for even them, and that Lord Dumbledore has Lord Potter – and hence, the entirety of them – hanging on his every word."
"So you think he really endorses their agenda and works towards their goals. Has already started, even."
"That would be a rational conclusion."
"He endorses all of it? Revolts? A violent revolution?"
"We can only hope that he does not. Were he to turn against us and lead the WRF in a storm of our institutions, we would be hard pressed to defend us from him. He is one of the most powerful wizards in Britain, maybe the most powerful, even. However, I think that situation unlikely. It wouldn't be Dumbledore's style to lead an attack. He only starts fighting as a very last resort."
There was a deep bitterness in his last words. Lord Malfoy threw him a glance. Grindelwald's war still weighed heavily, even twenty-five years after his end.
The Minister exhaled slowly the breath he'd been holding.
"Well, in that case I cannot say I see a problem here. It seems obvious that you two Gentleman would disagree with those ideas" – he nodded respectfully to Cygnus and Lord Malfoy – "but that is Wizengamot politics. The Minister is impartial on those matters, as you well know. My responsibility is to administrate and to endorse directives the Wizengamot makes. Nothing more and nothing less."
Cygnus smiled, but it was a cold smile.
"Of course. I wouldn't dream of suggesting otherwise, Minister. That, however, is only one side of problem."
A flick with his wand pushed away the sheet with the owl results and the red leaflet, towards the left side of the coffee table.
"On their own, this so-called WRF and their likes are small and unimportant. We could deal with them. What we cannot handle, however, is an additional threat at the same time, from the opposite direction."
This time, the Minister knew at once what he meant, and suppressed a snort.
"This Voldemort fellow? Surely you are joking. He is all fancy speeches and no action, no followers, no support, nothing. We had the DMLE look into it just the other month. If the WRF poses no threat, I hardly think he does."
He paused and, addressing both, added: "And I would have thought that you, of all people, would agree with him?"
Lord Malfoy looked at him coolly and the tension was now palpable.
"Agree with what? With a revolt? With violence? With the very things you just spoke of with fear and distaste? For that is what he advocates."
Minister Lestrange shifted around in his chair uncomfortably.
"Well, of course not. In fact, I think that few that would agree –"
Now Cygnus smiled humourlessly, interrupting him.
"Indeed. In that case, Minister, you should have a better ear for the masses. What would you say, if I told you that I head to listen to my own brother in-law that 'perhaps he was right'? And his opinion was not at all 'different than those of many'? That perhaps 'the time has come for more drastic measures'?"
He leaned forwards, looking at the opposing man intently, who was just now realising he had fallen into a trap.
"So what, then, would you say, if I told you that the man you just dismissed as no threat, what would you say if you knew he already had a loyal group of followers in the east, on the continent? That he was only here to gather more, to raise a crowd against the Muggle-borns, before making a move? That there are secret meetings and rumours of … well, look for yourself."
More papers fell onto the table.
"I have not wasted my time with sitting in an office, Minister. I had a contact, who suddenly died – just as he had handed me his update on Voldemort's movements. Ask me here, and I tell you he was poisoned."
He flipped open a folder.
"A surveillance report on a clandestine group called the 'Knights of Walpurgis'."
Another batch spilled on the table.
"Reports of increased dark activities, all across Europe."
"And the most concerning piece of information right here."
He pushed it towards the Minister.
"An inquiry from your own Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, regarding the whereabouts of one unimportant little fellow named Augustus Powys. He has been missing for three months now."
Lestrange took the memo, without looking at it.
"If his position is not important, then what makes his disappearance so? In what capacity was he employed, anyway?"
Cygnus didn't move a muscle, staring at the man unblinkingly.
"He lived near the Moel Sych, in the Berwyn range. Does that place sound familiar?"
"The Welsh giants?"
"Bravo, Minister." There was a faint trace of mocking in his voice. "At least your geography is up to date, even if your information on Ministry ongoings is not. And now, your conclusion, if you please. On one side, Dumbledore, his followers and the WRF, doing their best to force upon us an egalitarian society, essentially telling us to relinquish – our hereditary power, our hereditary gifts, our history, all of which the Muggle-borns do not possess …"
He lifted his wand of the table again and flicked it at the papers on the left. The leaflet turned into a wall.
"And on the other, Voldemort, his knights, all the young hotheads he managed to convince of what is nothing but the truth, thanks to Dumbledore; and quite possibly the Tribe of Berwyn."
The reports turned into a wall as well.
"Who's in between, Minister?"
Suddenly, the walls lurched forward. They collided with a bang, and Lestrange jumped.
"Dumbledore will not attack until attacked himself, no. Will that matter to Voldemort? And does it matter if most of us don't want to fight, if most of us are directly affected?"
Cygnus voice had not risen, but his tone was as steely as his gaze that pinned the Minister in his seat. Lestrange licked his lips, which suddenly seemed to be dry. His reply came tonelessly.
"If what you said tonight is true, we are heading towards war."
o ][ o
With his wand, Lord Malfoy lightly struck the small golden bell that was installed on the desk. A clear gong resounded through the Grand Chamber. The murmurs and hushed conversations died down, as he looked on the parchment and intoned the official opening that marked the start of the session.
"As of the 23rd September of the year 1021 since the Founding, we call the 324th vernal equinox assembly of the Wizengamot to order. Before we concede the floor to anyone who might wish to bring forth a matter of common concern, the Chief Warlock will speak, as is his right. We recognise Lord Cygnus Callisto Black of the Noble and Ancient House of Black."
o ][ o
"We need to put a stop to his actions. I will issue a warrant to capture and arrest Voldemort at once."
Lestrange was almost standing when Cygnus' voice stopped him short.
Cygnus face was motionless. The tension in the room reached new heights as the two men stared at each other.
"And you would find that the Wizengamot will acquit him of all charges."
For a few seconds there was silence. Minister Lestrange blanched, but this time in anger.
"You would – you dare – I won't stand for … Lord Black –"
"Sit down and stop sputtering, Minister. It ill becomes your position."
Cygnus voice was sharp. Lestrange looked around the room, searching for something or someone to aid him, but there was none to find. Lord Malfoy gazed at him emotionlessly, weighing him with his gaze, but saying nothing. He wouldn't find help there. Knowing that he was defeated, the Minister sat back down.
"So what do you want?"
His voice was small. If ever there was a doubt about where the true power laid in his mind, he knew it now.
"And that is what I'd like to know as well," Lord Malfoy drawled finally, breaking the silence he'd held throughout long parts of their meeting, appearing content to listen, until now.
Cygnus leant back.
"The problem isn't Voldemort, not as such. He is the symptom, not the illness. Removing him does nothing to remove the underlying problem, a big part of which is the unresolved issue of the steadily increasing influx of Muggle-borns. Dumbledore will continue to push his agenda. The majority of us will still be opposed to it. There will still be discontent and resentment. And eventually, a new Voldemort will rise. It doesn't even matter if he truly believes in the things he says; they are first and foremost a means for him to gather followers. It is the dissatisfied masses from which he derives his power. His goal might or might not be to establish a new pureblood-order. It will, however, always be to overthrow the current government. This, Minister, is a sign."
He stared at him intently.
"It's the sign of a government that is no longer as strong as it used to be. Only the weak are attacked by the wolves."
He paused for a second, gathering his thoughts before coming to the end of his observations.
"We need to re-establish a strong Wizengamot, that isn't divided in all important issues. We haven't passed a real bill in years, when yet that would be so vital to our world currently. We need to bethink of our roots. We need to finally deal with the influx of Muggle-borns that are the cause of all this problems, and at the same time so very much needed for our world. And we cannot do all that currently. In this context, Voldemort's appearance may even prove fortunate. Sooner or later, something will happen. And when everyone is suddenly afraid, realising what should have been obvious a long time ago …"
Cygnus smile was cold and thin.
"We will use the momentum born from this fear and channel it for our purposes."
Lestrange glanced at Lord Malfoy, who listened attentively, and nodded a few times.
"So what do you suggest we do?"
Cygnus look was cold and calculating.
"In public, regarding Voldemort? For now, nothing. Between us, however …"
o ][ o
Cygnus stood up again, and walked through the row and down the last step onto the floor, to the small platform that held the lectern. On his left, he recognised Lestrange. The Minister had come himself. He looked restless and uneasy, not at all sure about what was going to happen, the very opposite of Lord Malfoy, who was as calm and collected as anyone. Cygnus gaze passed them, and there was no indication that they were anything other than members of the same body.
He bowed and faced the Wizengamot.
o ][ o
"Have you ever read the Roman historians, Minister?"
"Not recently, no."
His voice was impatient, likely in an attempt to hide his nervousness.
"Does your question have a point, Lord Black?"
Cygnus looked at him, slightly amused at his ability to get under the man's skin.
"You mean, other than that they are an inspiring, and, dare I say, a must-read?"
Now he sounded genuinely annoyed.
"Well, you should. For I find myself in much the same position as the great Julius Caesar, oddly enough. He forged an alliance with Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus and Marcus Crassus to achieve the change he perceived as so very necessary, and that, Minister, is exactly what we need."
The Minister, who had taken to impatiently tap his feet, now ripped open his eyes, jumping up.
"A formal alliance? That – I can't … no, Lord Black. You demand too much. Do what you must, but I shall not sign any sort of document. I – I swore an oath …"
Cygnus smiled coldly at the man. Afraid of having his name in blood anywhere it mattered, always leaving him a chance to back out. He had no intention of allowing him that.
"Come now, Lestrange. I might ask where your oath was when you acquired a House-Elf the other month, without possibly having the means to do so …"
Lestrange blanched, but Cygnus already continued in a decidedly pleasant voice.
"… but I won't. No need to embarrass a friend. There are much better ways to create much stronger ties that I have in mind, and I daresay you won't mind."
He smiled briefly. He'd always preferred working with people's greed and desire to improve their station rather than fear. Fear was useful but fickle. Too much, and men became desperate, and he had no use for desperation.
He faced the Lord Malfoy, then Roderick Lestrange.
"It is time we ended our Houses' feud, Abraxas. I have three beautiful daughters yet looking for a suitable partner, and both of you have sons in equally marriageable ages. Those ties will hold, even if every other bond is breaking."
He acknowledged the gleam that appeared in the Minister's eyes without much surprise, he'd done his research. Lord Malfoy was much harder to read, but his son had laid eye on his eldest daughter, and Abraxas Malfoy was not one to deny his son anything.
With his wand, he drew two squares into midair, and two pictures fell onto the table. The first one, he pushed to Lord Malfoy, who studied it and finally inclined his head in acceptation as he recognised her, and the other to Lestrange.
That was fair enough; the youngest daughter was the least, but still much more than the Minister ever could have hoped to achieve, and Cygnus knew that he knew that too. He had them, both of them, and that meant the hard part was over. It had worked out as he planned it.
"It all will remain secret, of course. The Minister," he nodded towards Lestrange, "needs to keep his neutrality, and we, my friend, we will have to remain enemies, for a more useful tool than assumed enmity in our opponents' minds I cannot think of. If you have the hour, I should like to start negotiations immediately."
Both of the man leant back, indicating their agreement. Cygnus nodded.
"Very well then. Let us start."
o ][ o
"My fellow wizards and witches, Lords and Ladies of this noble house, upstanding members of our society. Here I am, standing before you, exercising the right that my office grants me, even as my oath requires me to, for I cannot go without even a second and not feel weighed down by the knowledge that I accumulated over the months. And so it is with a heavy heart that I stand here and look onto the path our world is taking.
"Not a year has passed since I last stood here, and pleaded with you to open your eyes, yet my words seemingly went unheard, especially by those for whom it would matter the most. And now, once again, I will plead with you to take a look around and see.
"Dark times are coming. Tension runs high, many witches and wizards are watching nervously what is happening to our world, and wonder what will happen in the future. And what do they see? What do they think our future will be like?
"On one hand, they see Muggle-borns witches and wizards flooding our world. Countless of them, in Hogwarts and beyond; fearing, and rightly so, that they will take away their jobs and their positions, for surely they must be employed somehow? – while the quantity of employments does not rise.
"They see many so-called witches and wizards, that are nevertheless only Muggles with a fancy new talent, for, after all they have learned, they still know nothing about our culture and ways, know nothing of what it is that makes us who we are. And how could these Muggle-borns? They live in blissful ignorance until they get their letter, granting them an invitation to the finest institution we have to offer, throwing them headfirst into a completely new world that is different from everything they ever dared to think about.
"And while they try to match their experience with the new challenges their new life has to offer, their blissful ignorance turns into an abyss of ignorance, as they judge everything and everyone with the measures from their world, measures that are completely and utterly different, never stopping once to think that it is them who are guests, so it should be them that has to adapt, not the other way round.
"Is it therefore so hard to understand that there are many of us that fear for our world, for our heritage that our fathers and grand-fathers laid trustingly into our hands, that there are many who fear that all of that could be lost in a whirlwind of upheavals brought to us by the Muggle-borns – no doubt well-meant but utterly and completely wrong-placed – that, what they call 'modern ways'? We do not want their 'modern ways', and that is what they fail to see: thinking that we are backward, while we see our lifestyle as a focal point of our society, that we have no desire to change."
Cygnus stared up the ranks of the Grand Chamber. To his right, the first members became restless. Murray McKinnon, one of the young, hot-headed members couldn't contain himself.
"All of that isn't new, it is the way it has been for a long time – just as long as there have been warnings like yours, and any of that gloom and doom scenarios have yet to become reality!"
A few appreciative murmurs rippled through the chamber. Cygnus smiled thinly.
"That I know. But what is new is what is on the other hand. There is an opposition gathering, radical in its views, like a dark cloud on the horizon; the party of the unsatisfied, those that feel slighted and generally unhappy with the way things are. This opposition does not care about idle speeches and empty promises, but wants to take what they think to be theirs with all means necessary, including violence, risking even open war, rallying around one man: the person known as Lord Voldemort."
This time, there were outbursts and even laughter.
"Then you must be happy, Lord Black!" yelled Lord Potter. "Isn't that what you always wanted?"
Abraxas struck the bell, which cut effortlessly through the noise.
"Silence! The Chief Warlock is speaking!"
Cygnus' voice was chilling. "I want what is best for our world, and, pray tell, how does that include war? No, what I find myself wondering is something different. What has made that person strong? Why is he here? Why now? We just heard that it 'has been that way' for a long time, so the logical conclusion we must draw is that something must have changed – something so fundamental, that it caused enough upstir and social shifting that he found it as easy to gain a foothold here as he did.
"When was it, we first heard rumours? Four years ago? Five? And what happened simultaneously? Is that not the exact timeframe since which we have been divided bitterly in this body, spending out time arguing instead of guiding our world, when apparently it needed guiding the most? We used to work together, but that has changed, ever since one member was bestowed the honour of becoming part of this body: Lord Albus Dumbledore."
The seats to his right were vacant in seconds as member jumped up, shouting, voicing their disproval forcefully. Cygnus voice thundered through the noise.
"Is it a coincidence, that the first word we heard from that man so presumptuously claiming a title that is not his to bear was when the Lord Dumbledore in good faith was chosen as a new member of the Wizengamot, and elected as the director of our prestigious school, only for us to see that he exploited his position, dividing us and pushing upon us his ideas of a better world? Is it mere chance that this Voldemort gains popularity, while Lord Dumbledore continues his own agenda?
"Voldemort says: 'They allow half-breeds and dangerous dark creatures to roam freely within the most precious treasure we have: our children, our future.' They look at Hogwarts, and see, it is true. He says: 'They create a new order of equality, where there should be none; a perversion of everything that is right, a renunciation of the way things always have been and the way nature intended things to be. And it is to our disadvantage, for the Muggle-borns are less gifted than we are, they do not possess the abilities we do, yet, under an order of equality, we must be the same.' Again, they look at Hogwarts, and see, what he says is true. He says: 'If we do nothing, soon our society, everything that makes us us, our culture, our ways will be lost, usurped by those that know nothing and care little.' And again and again, they look around them, and see that he is right, that he does invent nothing and only speaks out loud, what all of us are fearing.
"Has our world not become nothing so much as a giant boiling cauldron, upon which we, the Wizengamot, desperately try to force the lid, preventing it from exploding? And what are other people doing? What are Lord Dumbledore and his supporters doing? They are stirring the fire, mistaking a burning house for a cosy fireplace, stirring it and increasing the pressure even more."
By now, the Wizengamot was in uproar. Only the magic that was part of the chamber allowed him to continue, he went on speaking, and reached everyone.
"A rift runs through our world, through families and friends, divided into those that follow Lord Dumbledore's line of thinking, and those that are able to see where that will lead us, that fear the consequences and thus oppose him. For there is only one place where this will lead, and it looks dark indeed. Open war will be upon us, if Lord Dumbledore succeeds, a war, that will have hundreds of people dying, men, women, children alike. A war that we cannot bear, for it will be purebloods that fight against purebloods, families extinguishing others, hundreds of years of proud lineage, exterminated in a span of days or months."
Cygnus fist slammed down onto the lectern, thundering through the chamber.
"And yes, I arraign you, Lord Dumbledore, for the state we find us in to be, for it is your actions that push many a man into the open arms of that false Lord. I arraign you, Lord Dumbledore, when the cauldron that is our torn world explodes, when eventually everything will break lose, and war will descend upon us. I arraign you, for being the cause of a war, through your little experiment that you decided to conduct on our society.
"I ask you: Do you care so little about your world, that you are willing to ignore the terrible consequences of your doings? Do you believe it right to risk everything, only for your deluded dream, which you are forcing upon unwilling recipients, no matter the cost, no matter the price to pay?
"And I ask: Who are you, to decide what is best for a whole society? You have lost your sense of reality, closed your eyes, and are living blindly in your Utopian little world, where there is equality, that does not exist in reality.
"And finally I ask: Will you be able to sleep at night, knowing that it was your actions, that divided our world, that allowed a mad-man to gather followers and power, that it was you, who caused a war?"
The pandemonium reached its apex. Lord Potter, red in the face, was halfway down to the chamber, but he only one of many. Everywhere, people were shouting, at him, at each other, across the fractions, across the chamber.
"You dare accuse a Lord of war-mongering? Take back your words, before I declare –"
"I will not!" he boomed. "Not if that is the only thing that makes you see. War will be upon us, if you continue down this path, and it will be Dumbledore's fault, for it was he who lead us there, he who divided our society, he who pushed men into the open arms of that creature, he who made it powerful. How can you, Dumbledore, who once was granted a title in honour that you lost a long time ago? And all of you, that chose to follow him – do you not you see the abyss, that looms dark and dangerous a mere step away, a step into the directions you are following you ideal? I beg you, turn away, before it is too late. No idea is worth the death of hundreds – deaths we cannot bear!
"For there will always be new Muggle-born, but there will never be new purebloods. Listen to my words, and heed my advise. Turn away from the misguided believes, before it is to late. If you don't, the war will be coming, and the blame will be laid before your feet, before anyone's feet who did not act when it was necessary."
o ][ o
"You are playing a dangerous game."
Cygnus' fingers drummed on the armrest. The Minister was gone, and only the two Lords occupied the room, now. The lights were out, only the fire flickered in the fireplace, dancing over the walls covered in dark blue damask, giving the room its name; sparkling in the three glasses on the table casting shadows over Cygnus' face, digging deep lines into his face.
He was staring into the dancing flames, tracking their movement with his eyes, as thought they might be able to tell him whether he had made the right decision.
"I would like nothing more than to see the plan becoming reality, but –"
"Lestrange will do what we tell him."
"You wonder about Voldemort?"
Abraxas tilted his head, looking up at him.
"You are trying to use him in your – our – plan. I am not sure he can be used."
Cygnus hand waved away that concern.
"Voldemort is nothing if not predictable. And it was always my intention of doing away with him, after he ceased being useful. If, against all my expectations, it shouldn't work, we can dispose of him earlier and are not any worse for it than when we started. No, the only true danger is Lestrange's role becoming public before we have established our position."
"We have one anathema, and that's the rule of one man. Rightly so. History has thought us that. You know that as well as I do. It will not go over well either way."
Cygnus finished his drink and placed that glass back down onto the table.
"All the more a reason to make sure we follow the rules exactly."
Abraxas shook his head, and now there was even concern in his look.
"You are the one so fond of the Romans, Cygnus. Caesar died for what he attempted to do."
Cygnus turned towards him and darted him a fine smile.
"And Sulla lived. Is the cauldron half filled or half empty?"
Abraxas started to laugh, rising as well.
"Sulla Felix, the fortunate. Well, may your shining example shine a little of his luck on us all."
He clasped his arm in a warm gesture, rising.
"I wish you well, friend. Us all."
o ][ o
With effort, the Vice Warlock had calmed the members of the Wizengamot, now granting Lord Dumbledore a chance to respond. He rose, addressing the Wizengamot.
"I am honoured to be the centre of one of the Chief Warlock's speeches, since that a rare occurrence indeed."
Laughter rippled though the chamber.
"However, I can assure him that I do not harbour any nefarious intentions, and he is welcome to propose his ideas for Hogwarts to me the next time we have a board meeting, since that seems to be his most urging concern. Quite admirably, of course."
Lord Dumbledore sat back down. Around him, as much as throughout the entire chamber, there was applause, and still more laughter, even. Cygnus stood tall and proud, gazing into the heart of the wizarding world, the Wizengamot, the governing body of his world which he had lead for more than twenty years. A few faces showed agreement. Most showed simple dismissal.
More people spoke, joining in their opinion Lord Dumbledore. Cygnus barely listened. It was time for his final move.
His voice, amplified by the magic in the lectern broke through the light chatter effortlessly.
"It seems clear now that I have failed to in my duty to convince this house of the danger I see so clearly. I will thusly draw my conclusions and announce my resignation from all public offices, effective from this very minute. Until a new Chief Warlock is elected in the next regular equinox session in March, Lord Abraxas Malfoy will lead this body."
He clenched the lectern, trying to hide his shaking hands. His look went into a large room, full of noble wizards and witches, rising far above his head, staring back at him, stunned into sudden silence.
He bowed and stepped down from the dais.