Thu., March 4th, 1022 AF (1971 AD)
Cygnus was sitting in his study and listening to a Floo call stone-faced.
"So many," he whispered.
For a few minutes there was only the crackling green fire of the Floo, before he pulled himself together. He had chosen this path. This was only a fraction of what would happen if it ever came to a full-out war. He had sworn to prevent that, and he would use any means to keep his oath. Thirty lives against the continued existence of his world was nothing.
"I thank you for informing me, Minister," he said. "Keep yourself available, if you would. It will start any moment now."
He listened to the response, then the fire died down, turning back to red glowing ambers, that barely lit the room. For a while he sat in silence. Then, suddenly, he jumped up. The moment he had worked towards to for the last months, more than a half-year, was there. The summoning for the Wizengamot would arrive any moment. He needed to get ready. The time had finally come.
o ][ o
Again, the oaken doors stood open. This time, Cygnus was the first to arrive. He couldn't help but remember the last time he'd entered these chambers, still a Chief Warlock, then; still laughed at, so different from what awaited him today, and yet there laid between the two assemblies only a few months. The tides changed so fast.
He took his seat, enjoying the minutes of solitude after the madhouse of the Ministry above, before the storm would break within these ancient walls as well; the storm he had seen coming for a year now. Finally, everyone would see as well.
A commotion sounded from the entrance. Wizards and witches spilled in, bringing inside with them a rush of noise, agitated chatter, and over it all, the acrid smell of burning. The atmosphere was heavy with fear and panic. They were caught unaware, and now at a loss of what to do; looking like their world was falling apart around them, and in a way, it was. Crashing and rumbling noises sounded from the door and the last of the members pushed into the chamber, before the doors shut with a bang and protected the Grand Chamber and its members from the collapsing Ministry.
He allowed himself to feel for a second a sense of satisfaction, which turned bitter instantly as Melissa Bones neared his seat, tear tracks clearly visible on her cheeks as she refused to hide her grief, reminding him that it had taken thirty lives to get here, one of which had been her husband.
He half made to rise, then left it be. There was nothing he could say and not be a hypocrite. No words would make up for her loss, and no words would excuse his actions or inactions, apart from the strong conviction that he had done what was necessary. He remained silent, even as the noise became deafening. People were shouting, gesturing, running around. Cygnus kept staring ahead. They needed to ask him. He could not ask himself.
"Silence!" Abraxas' voice now boomed through the chamber. "Settle!"
The noise level decreased to an urgent whisper that would not abate any time soon. Cygnus gazed at the dais, where Abraxas realised that as well. He still wore the single stripe of the Vice Warlock, indicating that he hadn't officially been elected as a Chief Warlock, as the next equinox session was still half a month ahead. Next to him stood Minister Lestrange.
Abraxas' words were curt, and not at all in accordance with the protocol.
"Today's emergency session was summoned by Lady Bones, endorsed by everyone except Lords Rackharrow and Montgomery, who are away, and Lord Macdonald, who is ill. I shall therefore forego the usual procedure of naming everyone who signed the summoning, and instead invite the Minister to speak right away."
Applause from nearly everyone in the chamber. Unusual, especially in the last years.
There were three blocks in the Wizengamot: The Populares, the Optimates, and the group of those who remained neutral, not belonging to either side. They were no strict parties, rather a loose group of members that shared a view on the wizarding world as a whole, but ever since Dumbledore had started to win the Populares for his ideas, the Wizengamot become the place of bitter struggles that were previously unheard of, struggles that neither side was able to win, resorting instead to blocking the respective other, creating a deadlock in which nothing moved and staunch opposition fortified and turned into personal grudges.
All of that ceased to have meaning in the face of a national tragedy. This was the one chance to turn everything to the better – the chance Cygnus had been waiting for.
Abraxas stepped aside.
"Minister, the lectern is yours."
Lestrange cleared his throat and addressed the assembled nobilitas.
"Lords and Ladies, noble wizards and witches of this house, Vice Warlock. Like Lord Malfoy, I will be brief; this is the situation as I know it. Approximately three hours ago, that is, at 7 o'clock in the evening, Ministry Aurors were alerted by shop owners in Diagon Alley who witnessed one of the usual protest campaign led by prominent members of the so-called 'Wizards Right's Front' changing into violent riots. When they arrived at the scene, a battle was taking place and numerous adjacent buildings were burning; a battle, that was fought mostly between members of the protesting WRF on one side and other individuals on the other that remained unidentified, as they were wearing white masks to obscure their identity.
"I said 'mostly', because a few of the passer-by had started to involve theirselves, and more had become stuck in the cross-fire. Before the Aurors could defuse the situation and capture any of the masked wizards, they Disapparated. As of yet, it's still uncertain who started the fight; what is certain is that thirty wizards and witches died, among them Aurors, Ministry officials and simple passers-by, twenty more were injured, and a few buildings, most noticeably the Merlin Club, burnt down completely. Furthermore –"
Shouts of everyone who hadn't yet known the details interrupted the Minister.
"Not sure who started it? Who was protesting there, eh? And which building burnt down? Of course it was the Muggleborns!"
Lord Greengrass' voice bellowed over the general noise. Lord Potter, never one to stand back, picked up the thread readily.
"Are you quite sure you had all your sons at home and not stuck behind a white mask, Lord Greengrass?"
Lord Greengrass whitened at the accusation.
"I demand –"
But this time it was futile. Abraxas shook his head and indicated for the Minister to continue. His voice cut through the accusations and arguments thrown around.
"Furthermore we do know, that while our Aurors were busy in Diagon Alley, someone used the distraction and managed to gain access to the Ministry and unleash Fiendfyre in the Entrance Hall. We caught the suspect and have a confession; Wayne Morrison, a 34-year old Muggle-born and member of the WRF. However, the building sustained heavy damage, and it is not clear yet if we can hold the Ministry –"
And once more, the assembly descended into chaos. Lord Dumbledore argued against the quick condemnation of the culprit, which was as predictable as ridiculous, and found members who were only too willing to oblige his quest for an argument. It proceeded at Cygnus had it expected it to, heated debates that led nowhere and went in circles, wasting time and producing nothing until Abraxas rose.
He brought the arguments to an end.
The bell rang thought the chamber.
"Hear now what I have to say. After careful deliberation, I choose to bring forward the Rule of Two, as it is defined in the our laws. The Codex Conditio knew there would be times of emergency, and wisely included an emergency rule, when swift and decisive action was needed. That, more than anything, is what we need now, and so it is right that I would propose this option for your deliberation."
The position of the Chief Warlock was a strange one. The Wizengamot expressively did not have a leader, since all of its member counted the same, one vote; and so he was a respected mediator rather than a leader, his position bestowed with no extra power other than to call the assembly to order, except for one thing: he alone was able to propose the emergency rule, and he would be the one to watch over it, always able to dismiss the two chosen leaders as he saw fit.
One would be a member of the Ministry, the other a member of the Wizengamot; but even though the Chief Warlock had free reign, it was so unusual and rarely done that Cygnus knew he needed an endorsement from the assembly.
Before that, though, stood the obstacle to getting the Wizengamot to agree to the actual proposition. Abraxas pushed for the vote, not wanting to let more time lapse away; and one after another, the assembled wizards and witches chose their colour, red for rejection, green for agreement.
By no means was the task an easy one, as the proposal needed an approval of ninety percent or more, which amounted to one-hundred and sixty-nine of the one-hundred and eighty-seven seats, but the votes were there. They were there. Dumbledore had for once been the one caught unaware, Cygnus thought as his eyes roamed through the Grand Chamber, taking in the floating lights and counting the red. Five … seven … ten … twelve, but not more. Dumbledore had been unable to prepare a strategy, as surely he would have, had he known; but for once he hadn't even guessed – the emergency rule obscure enough to play no part in his scheming, but at the same time with enough precedent for the members of the Wizengamot not to cause disconcertment. There had been emergency rulings and Wizengamot Leaders before.
As it was, even some of Dumbledore's followers agreed, in lieu of a pre-agreed common plan giving their vote under the clear impression of the attack on the Ministry and the riots in Diagon Alley, which weren't attacks on buildings so much as attacks on their world.
Cygnus listened to Abraxas proclaiming the result and knew he had won. 172 votes, the proposition passed, the hardest part over. The Chief Warlock announced his intention of appointing the Minister, which elicited agreement. And then Lady Bones stepped forward.
Before anyone else could speak up, she reserved the speaker's lectern for herself, something Cygnus hadn't expected and wasn't sure how to react to. There were tears in her eyes, and her voice was soft, but she was as dignified in her grief as Cygnus rarely had seen someone be, bowing her grey head; then looking up again, speaking the assembly.
"We now need a leader from our midst, and I call for Lord Black," she said. "He stood here where I am now, speaking to us and we would not listen, warning us and we would not hear. It is therefore only just that we offer him the position, when he showed such remarkable foresight and was proven true in such horrible way, proven true that he would have lead us right, if only we had let him; and showing his willingness to act consequently in resigning when we did not.
"I lost my husband today. Had we seen what Lord Black did, he might still live, but none of us did, no one but him. So no one but he is fit to lead us, and all of us are to blame, I, too, dismissed his words, I, too, am responsible."
She turned and addressed Cygnus directly.
"Lord Black, I know you have become embittered with us, and I can only say, forgive. Finally, we heard your call, and I can only hope you will find it in your heart to now hear ours and return to leadership. You are needed. No longer in any office which would prevent you from accepting, you now meet the requirements to finally lead us when we need it the most. We need you. The magical community needs you."
Thunderous applause met her words as she stepped down. He heard his name being called, and knew that even if he hadn't planned it that way, the time had now come. He rose and slowly walked down to the dais himself. Every member of the Wizengamot was looking at him, and kept the words simply and his speech short.
"I thank the Lady Bones for her kind words. It is true; as my cousin could tell you, I tired of the politics, and planned to retire, indeed, another two weeks and he would have assumed my place. But how can I say no, when I am needed? If the Chief Warlock will appoint me, I will accept it as my duty and serve the magical community to the best of my ability, so I swear."
Amid the applause of the assembly, he stepped aside, to allow Abraxas and the Minister onto the dais beside him.
"If that is the will of the Wizengamot, I will appoint Lord Black as the leader of the Wizengamot," Abraxas said, his voice strong.
"So it is decided: The power to write laws and execute them is transferred to you, Lord Cygnus Black, and you, Roderick Lestrange, to serve and protect us, the community, in these troubled times."
Abraxas stepped aside, and again, the hall was filled with acclamations, and Lord Black couldn't help but smile. The next few months, perhaps a year, would be busy; busier than anything he could imagine right now, but he couldn't wait for it to begin. A plan born of sheer despair had come to fruition. Now it was time to work.
He took a last look around. Abraxas, filling the role of the Chief Warlock stood behind them, and to his right was Lestrange, forming the triarchy that stood on the dais.
o ][ o
Cygnus hurried down the road.
His head was full of plans, ways to reconcile the Muggle-borns and the purebloods that he yet had to talk about with Lestrange and Abraxas, ideas that he so far had confided only to his small diary notebook. He would talk with them later, but first of all, Voldemort had to be done away with. He had outlived his usefulness. Killing all Muggle-borns wasn't the way to go. He could have sent anyone, he supposed, but that was a coward's decision. He was not one to delegate the dirty work, in order to keep his hands clean. He had never denied the ruthlessness his enemies accused him of, but by Merlin, he wasn't a coward. If he had to move an obstacle out of the way, he did it himself, without hiding behind orders and papers.
It was dark; the street lamps of in Muggle London burning, hazy pools of light as the fog moved through the streets, as it did so often in the cold half of the year. It came creeping up the Thames and wormed its way through the narrow alleys running along its banks, muffling sounds and lights.
The idea that had come to him most recently was the one he so far preferred above all others.
The real problem was that the Muggle-borns grew up as Muggles and entered the wizarding world afterwards, full of silly ideas, conceited in their easy dismissal of his world and a disturbance all around. But that wasn't due to any fault of their own; mayhap he would have been the same, had he been raised as a Muggle and then thrown into a world beyond his understanding, without guidance and preparation.
They simply couldn't love the wizarding world as he did, he, who had grown up with it and lived in it his whole life. They couldn't understand, couldn't appreciate a life permeated and based on magic, an existence so full of unpredictable wonder that even he occasionally took a step back when something changed in front of his very eyes, and upon first glace, he had no idea why or how. For Muggle-borns, magic only was a tool, like one of their horrible mechanic machines.
And how could the long-established families in turn not eye them with distrust and fear, when they so crassly misunderstood the nature of magic, and at the same time, became more and more numerous? And so, both sides remained estranged, the gap between them wide, with no way to bridge it.
It needed to stop.
If they couldn't take Voldemort's way, they had to chose the opposite. Muggle-borns that grew up in the wizarding world from the day after they were born, in families that cared for them and brought them up like the little wizards and witches they were, were no Muggle-borns anymore, effectively. They would need a new term. Perhaps new wizards.
He stopped and made a note in his diary. Yes, he liked that. Perhaps he would even take one in himself. Druella and he had always wanted a little boy.
He came to street corner that was their designated meeting place and stopped, looking around, frowning. The pavement was shining wetly in the light of the streetlamps, the walls of the houses on either side dark, the curtains of the few windows drawn. The street was empty.
Where was Voldemort?
Suddenly, steps sounded behind him. He spun around, and his eyes widened in surprise.
The bulb in the streetlight went out with a slight pop. A lorry rattled around the corner, obscuring the sight and drowning out everything. After it had passed, the corner was empty and silent.
o ][ o
"Special edition! Special edition …!"
Merchants shouted it through Diagon Alley, and people had stopped their shopping, reading the news. Everywhere, there were exclamations of dismay and agitated discussions, soon joined by an undertone of anger. And yet only few grasped the full scope of what the front page screamed it in bold letters, three words and a short article.
Lord Black, Dead!
It came as a shock to the Wizarding Community in Britain when Minister Lestrange in the early hours of the morning announced the death of the recently elected Leader of the Wizengamot, Lord Cygnus Callisto Black. The passing of Lord Black, who carried the hope of our people for guidance and leadership in these troubled times, is a severe loss.
In his short statement, Minister Lestrange said: "I am deeply saddened by the death of a great wizard, that in the last months became a good friend and advisor. That we now will have to do without his wisdom and foresight is a blow to us and everyone, but I can assure the people that we will carry on his legacy – his dreams and hopes for a better world for us all."
Next to his dead body, on the banks of the Thames River in Muggle London, a pamphlet of the WRF was found. The so-called 'Wizard's Rights Front' is a radical platform of the Muggle-borns, which already was found responsible for the arson attack on the Ministry earlier this month; an incident that prompted the Wizengamot to enact the old laws of the dictatura.
In light of this evidence, the culprit is clear.
Lord Orion Black, who assumed his brother-in-law's position as Head of the House of Black and was sworn in as leader of the Wizengamot directly afterwards told the Daily Prophet: "We will not rest until we have found every single Muggle-born that has had a part in my beloved cousin's death. We will hold accountable every single one that agreed with this deed and ideology and therefore made it possible. For too long, we have allowed the Muggle-borns leniency, citing their problematic transition into a different world as a reason. After the attack on the Ministry, at the latest after the assassination of our leader, we will accept their actions no longer. Today, the war has begun." ––