Silence. Every single one of the past Head-masters and -mistrisses were present within their portrait's frame. McGonagall stood, not behind her desk, but amongst the others fanned out around it. Instead, it was Fortin Flamel who held the floor. As Cheif Warlock and with Shacklebolt out-of-commision, it fell upon him to assume the Minister's powers, and more importantly, Commander-in-Chief of the Aurors and armed militias.
Flamel stood with his back to the rest, lost in thought. He had received word from Byron by owl to come urgently to Hogwarts. McGonagall and a few others had only just finished filling him in on all the recent events.
"Do we have enough at the Ministry?" he asked concernedly.
"We've committed as many as we can spare... but it's the muggles that are the problem," Gawain Robards, the Head Auror answered.
"The muggles?" Byron spun around.
"Lord Byron is seeing to it personally," McGonagall added.
"What do you mean, 'problem with the muggles'!" Flamel demanded more fervently.
"Fortin, an entire block on Whitehall was just blown sky high, naturally they'd be curious!"
"O-oh... so I see... a-and the wounded, they're being cared for properly?"
"We've got half of St. Mungo's and the rest of the school's staff on it," Elphias Doge spoke up from the back, "and more aid is pouring in by the minute."
"Very good, thank you, thank you my dear friend, " Flamel stepped aside, twirling his beard in thought in front of them. He looked at them with frowning eyes. Silence ensued. I silence for the lost? I moment of remembrance before all hell broke loose? Or indecision?
"And... and do we know who is responsible for this atrocity?" he sounded stern. A man resolved.
All looked to one another, but none responded. They didn't know.
"I assure you, sir, my men are on it," Robards finally spoke up, "our focus as of yet has just been to those trapped and wounded."
"And the muggles?" Flamel asked.
"Yes, and the muggles."
"Have we begun... alerting the families?" Flamel went on.
Again, none offered an answer, at least, not right at first. Finally, an old witch of the Wizengamot spoke up.
"Not officially - but news travels fast," said Agnes. "Many have already begun arriving at the castle's gates."
"And are we readied in Austria?" Flamel turned to the fireplace.
"You can bet your arse, sir!" the voice was deep and confident. It came from the flames, curled and molded into the shape of a man's bust. "Received Hagrid nearly an hour ago. No sign of them yet though, sir."
"Thank you, General Gates."
"Fortin..." Robards stepped foward, "We know who did this... we know who's responsible - ultimately."
"What are you suggesting?" asked Doge.
"The Slavs!" Robards spun around. "We know who did it dammit! This... this god damn atrocity!" he stumbled, on the verge of fury, he spun back around to Flamel"- it cannot go unanswered! You give me the word sir, and I'll show them just who they're dealing with."
Everyone's face turned to near horror at Robards suggestion, that is except for McGonagall's calm, steady gaze. And Flamel's, who's sad mouth seemed to twitch at the edges at, threatening a smile. Like he'd enjoy nothing more than to give that order. But that was child's thinking.
"Do I understand you correctly sir, you suggest we attack the slavs?" another old wizard of the Wizengamot asked in disbelief, "On some whim? We must have an investigation first, Fortin - we've no idea who's done this!"
"Fortin... with Shacklebolt out - it is up to you to give the order," McGonagall noted.
Flamel nodded but did not respond otherwise.
"This is madness! We've been attacked here, our Ministry lay in ruin! We should be calling the Aurors home, not go charging out at the beast," the old wizard argued urgently.
"Fortin," Robards did not acknowledge the other wizard, "we must strike while the iron is hot!"
Flamel could only shake his head, "My dear friend, I fear you ask too much of me. What say the rest of you?"
"By Merlin, Robards," the old witch Agnes started apologetically, "you know your word carries great weight with me, but as wounded as we are - would it not be more prudent to regroup first instead?"
"Yes, is it wise to sally out when we cannot even defend ourselves here? What if the enemy were to strike at us again? We'd be helpless!" the old wizard wished to drive home his point.
"Have we alerted our allies?" Doge interrupted.
"Yes," McGonagall answered, "Lord Byron..."
"Lord Byron!" Flamel looked past the rest, "thank Merlin you're here!"
Byron had come up the sprial staircase into the office, unnoticed by the rest. Flamel motioned eagerly for Byron to come forward and reached out to greet him as all quickly parted a path for him.
"Forgive me, but I can assure you I have not been idle."
"Yes, yes, but of course. Thank you so much, my dear friend. And, h-how are... we?" Flamel asked hesitantly - not quite in a whisper - but still as if he were afraid of the words. Flamel appeared to be braced for the worst.
Byron grimaced. "I'm just glad to see you're well, old friend," Byron smiled in reassurance as he shook Flamel's hand, and slapped him on the shoulder. "We've gotten everyone out, that's what matters now."
"Everyone... you're sure?"
Flamel breathed a sigh of relief, "You've always been one to deliver a miracle."
Byron stepped forward beside Flamel and turned to the rest. He paused as he took a good long look at the rest in the room: McGonagall, Robards, Doge, Agnes and the old wizard of the Wizengamot, and General Gates bust still shaped within the fire.
"Maybe a little worn around the edges, but this is splendid company to be amongst. We've seen a lot in our day. We're tired. But we're not through. Life runs in seasons. At times life is in Spring and everything blossoms and grows with ease. But with every summer and bounty, we know there is a winter to follow. Winter cannot be defeated, it cannot be avoided. It must be persevered... and we must remember, that there is always a brighter spring to come."
All stood captivated.
"We are at a critical moment. Tough decisions will have to be made in haste. I am no warmonger, you all know this, but Anatol Kaan is no common tyrant. The wheels are already in motion and there is nothing, no one to stop it. None but us."
Robards smiled and glanced around quickly, nodding to himself. Byron took a deep breath and another, slow look around at all their pained faces.
"All the world fears the Slavs - their practices in the Dark Arts. They have been our bane for centuries. The scourge of our kind. And at the Helm of it all, Anatol Kaan. There are those who wish to continue pretending, continue ignoring the obvious. We are tired of war, scarred already from loss. Some seem too shy to stand alone?" Byron's eyes glanced across Doge.
"You are a rare few. You've done your duty. You've served your country countless times before. But we do not control the seasons. We've all beared it before, we can weather it again. Without you, without those brave few, the whole world would have long ago slipped into a darkness not worth living - not worth saving. I am afraid it is up to us again and Fortin cannot make this decision on his own. He will need us all. The fate of Europe - of the world - rests upon you. Now is not the time for timidity. Now is the time for decisiveness."
Byron looked to Flamel.
"The tide will not stop. It will never stop, not until someone stands and puts an end to it. This is what we've been readying for. This is why Gates and our Aurors are in Austria. This is only the beginning and once this thing breaks loose, there'll be no stopping it. Now is the time, no matter the cost - no matter the price."
"The price..." Flamel repeated under his breath. He looked down, staring at the floor, deep in thought.
"If we fail here... if we fail in Austria, there will be little left in his way. The order must be given by you." Byron said.
"My order..." Flamel spoke more to himself than any other. "...but one that cannot be considered lightly. Do any second him?" Flamel asked around the room.
Silence. All seemed a little stunned.
"I do," a resounding voice called aloud. It had come from a portrait.
"Dumbledore?" voices echoed around the room.
"I also," said Phineas Nigellus, causing another gush of gasps.
"As do I," Robards stepped forward.
"I will second him," Doge joined.
Flamel looked to the others but McGonagall and the two of the Wizengamot held their tongues. Flamel frowned again.
"And what say you, General Gates?"
"I don't create the orders, sir, I only see them out," the old general answered politically, "...but since you've asked, sir, I believe they've earned a right swift kick in the arse, sir. I wouldn't be right in my own skin if we let these yellow bellied bastards get away with this, sir!"
Flamel's taut lips broke ever so slightly into a grin. His head bobbed up and down as he listened. He paced a few more steps before he finally looked back up and turned to the old wizard of the Wizengamot, "Reynard, gather all those you can, we'll have a vote."
Robards did not like this at all, but Byron acquiesced, and the two of the Wizengamot hurried off to find the rest of their number.
"Doge, might I trouble you with a task?" Byron asked.
"Of course, anything."
"We will need our friends now more than ever. Can we entrust you with this most important task?"
Doge gulped but nodded. He did not fancy traveling abroad at a time like this, but there was no one else better suited or as widely known or liked in foreign circles than himself.
"I have already written to the Minister in France, but we'll need an envoy. France's help is most critical. The Americans as well. Begin calling on as many of the members of The Alliance as you can: the Italians, the Spanish, maybe even the Russians - but the Germans... I will visit the Germans myself. It's time to discover whose side they're really on."
Doge's face was stern. He nodded once to Byron, then to Flamel, then once more to the rest before he spun around and quickly hurried out the room.
"I feel that my place is in Austria. I will be there, awaiting the Wizengamot's decision," Robards anounced his intentions. He caught the door still closing behind Doge.
Just as he rushed out, Professor Slughorn came charging up the spiral staircase.
"Lord Byron..." Slughorn hesitated, breathing hard as he looked unsure to McGonagall and Flamel.
"It's fine," Byron assured him, "do you have Oflacto Potion I requested?"
"I do, my lord, was a bit tricky - Oflacto always is though, isn't it?" he laughed, a nervous chuckle while wiping at sweat off his forhead with the back of his sleeve"- but never too much for one as trained as I!" Slughorn was his modest self. He held out a large flask with a cork stuck in the top of it.
"Oflacto Potion?" McGonagall asked. Flamel looked on as well.
"Yes," Byron conjured a simple wooden bowl and sat it upon the Headmistress' desk. He then uncorked the bottle. A ghostly mist immediately began snaking its way out the top. Byron was no stranger to the potion though and paid it no mind. He emptied the flask's contents out into the bowl. It was a whitish, murky liquid. "Anatol Kaan is behind this, but to pull it off, someone must've been helping him from the inside. A conspirator."
McGonagall and Flamel looked to one another doubtfully.
"Just before Hermione Granger's abduction, she gave me this," Byron pulled out another vial from his robes.
"A fingerprint?" McGonagall asked.
"Yes, acquired within a one, Ronald Weasley's flat. I figured it would just be best if you all saw it for yourselves."
All watched in silence as Byron used his wand to pull the print from it's container. A slow mist now rose from the bowl, lapping at the print. He then dipped the tip of his wand into the cloudy liquid, gently shaking it lose. The black print sank slowly within. Byron stirred the liquid with his wand. At first it swirled - then a bubble. Then two, three, five, ten bubbles. All at once it began boiling and boiling, billowing off more and more mist and steam. At first the vapor simply dissipated, but surely enough, in time, a form began to take hold amidst the haze. The shape of a man.
"Adolph Thornsby?" Flamel said in disbelief. "Byron, surely he couldn't be..?"
But just then another burst into the room, a young witch.
"He's here, sir."
. . .