At precisely a quarter to eight on the day of the vote, the Ministry's peace was disturbed.
In a burst of golden phoenix flame and haunting song, accompanied by their own righteous fury, Albus and Gellert appeared in the middle of the Ministry of Magic's atrium.
As if an official warning had been given, the Ministry was awaiting them. Swarms of wizards and witches surrounded every possible entry, the fireplaces all dim, no floo powder allowed to be burned on this day.
The main entry was barred completely, a brick wall in its place, with a squad composed of enormous trolls, their clubs each as long as a man.
Other squads surrounded them, blocking off all doorways and passages. Alastor led one, a hard, battle-worn team; Kingsley another, Pius Thicknesse yet another, and Corban Yaxley was followed by a group who would not have looked out of place in the darkest roads off Knockturn.
Another squad of trolls stood near Yaxley and his troupe, bloodlust raging in their eyes.
The elevators had been blocked off, as had the stairs.
Albus saw and understood this all the very instant of his arrival, even as he spun his wand and wrought a powerful dome-like shield around Gellert and himself and cemented his battle plans.
He hadn't acted a moment too soon; their arrival may have caught the small army by surprise, but as his shield snapped into place the enchantments raised by the Ministry burst into action.
A golden net dropped from the ceiling and encircled his shield, tendrils rushing forth from the net and slamming into his shield with the sound of an electric shock and blue-gold flames.
As if the net was a call to action, people began to shout in alarm; he felt the weight of a hundred wands aimed at him while Alastor spun his own and began to enchant, directing it at the floor around the net. It was an interesting spell Alastor was setting in motion, one Albus should have foreseen. He aimed his wand at spot after spot on the floor, hovering at each for barely a split second before moving on, but as he did so, the piece of floor glowed white-hot.
Someone—it was too chaotic to tell exactly who—called for silence, and the mob obeyed.
Now they stared, as Albus and Gellert calmly looked them back in the eye.
Albus recognized each of them.
He'd taught them, and their parents before them. He'd fought for them, for their freedom, for the enhancement of their rights, for their safety and serenity.
And this was the reward he got?
He was here for them, to ensure that they, and their children, would be able to live in the best possible world.
And they had lined up not to greet and thank him, but to attack.
He let the Wand's voice in, allowed its murmurs to touch his soul.
Half-measures would not avail him here. He could not permit himself to pity those who stood in his way, not now, no matter how badly he wanted to, and by all the gods he wanted to have mercy on them as much as he'd ever wanted anything.
The atrium fell utterly silent, not a sound to be heard beside the peaceful water-tones of the fountain.
It was as if their arrival had been foretold and now the recipients of the prophecy were too agog at seeing its fulfillment to act.
He could taste their fear in the air, see it in the lines of each of their faces and the sheens of sweat they wore despite the cool air.
He loathed it. He had always sought to be seen as a supportive figure to his students, and now so many of his alumni were in the grips of terror at his mere appearance.
"I give you one chance," Albus called, shocking several into jumping with his sudden speech. "Lower your wands and stand aside. I have no wish to harm you, but if you stand in my way now, you force my hand. One chance, one warning, and I beseech you to heed it."
He saw several wands drop, but no movement to run. Of the rest, many were shaking, but far too many yet remained still and focused.
A great pity. Why could they not simply stand aside? Why did they have to make him fight them?
"And we give you one chance," Alastor said, having finished casting his spell and facing Albus. "lower your wands and surrender to justice. End this farce, Albus."
"It appears we are at an impasse, then," Albus said. "Step aside, Alastor. Please. Let not all our years of friendship end like this. It is not yet too late."
"You know I won't do that," Alastor said, shaking his head. "And you threw our friendship aside when you broke him out."
"Just as you know we won't surrender. I find it ironic that this situation devolved so badly because you disapproved of who I chose to fight beside me, and yet…" Albus glanced at Yaxley. As he did so, he noticed Alastor's magical eye twitching towards Pius Thicknesse before even looking at Yaxley, and so focused on him for a moment.
What was Alastor concerned about Pius for?
Did he believe Pius was being coerced or under the Imperius?
The man seemed slightly blanker than usual, but there was nothing Albus could tell from a glance.
Regardless… "How do you feel about your present company?" He asked.
"I feel that we have you outnumbered fifty to one in a place of our choosing," Alastor said, lips twitching. "Enough with this talk of friendship and who's on what side. Can't you see what you've become? Last chance to do the right thing, Albus."
"And last chance for you and your men to stand down. Don't make me hurt you, Alastor, please. I'm begging you, my friend. Don't make me do it. I don't want to hurt you or any of them. Stand them down, Alastor. Please."
Albus' voice cracked slightly on the last word, a thousand memories of years of his Alastor's friendship crossing his mind in the blink of an eye.
Alastor's voice and eye hardened. "The only way you're getting in there is over my dead body." He declared, raising his wand and setting his chin.
Albus closed his eyes and bowed his head for a moment, his wand clutched upright to his chest, the only mourning he would allow himself until it was over.
"So be it."
Then he struck.
What erupted from Albus' wand was precisely the sort of magic Gellert had so lovingly lectured Harry and his friends about; it was magic beyond spells, beyond words, magic beyond anything but will and power. And it was twisted, taking the desire to strengthen and defend, and corrupting it, turning shield into weapon.
Albus' shield shimmered into view, glowing a strange crimson that hurt the mind to see.
It hung there for a moment, drawing every eye with its terrible colour and palpable vicious hunger.
Then it began to grow, spreading like a tumour, devouring the golden net wherever the twain met.
Fools started to fire carelessly over Alastor's shouts, their spells harming their own defences as much as Albus'.
The shield would dissolve the flesh of any it touched. Albus found himself half-hoping that they managed to bring it down before then.
But then he would be forced to act, to strike at and kill not some nameless, faceless force; no, he would have to attack people he knew and would otherwise have trusted, people whose lives he valued.
Could he do it, now that the moment was at hand?
Can I afford not to? Can I afford to show mercy after extending a hand of peace and having it thrust aside?
The shield spread further, meeting resistance as it destroyed the golden net, but still soldiering on.
Alastor, it seemed, finally came to his senses. He barked out a harsh order, and his squad followed him in casting; lines of the brightest blue connected their wands to Albus' shield as they began to match their strength against his.
It would be well for them if Albus was simply waiting and watching, but he was not. Much as he had done when he'd been in a similar position with Harry in the Department of Mysteries, he began to jab his wand at the air, leaving tiny silver lights wherever he stabbed.
They would stun their targets, not needlessly kill.
He continued, his wand trailing streamers of dark light as he drew strange shapes in the air.
Gellert was mumbling something, his hand full of those clay figurines he'd formed and a single Rune. His wand was spinning, a terrible darkness forming at the end of it.
The shield continued to spread, slowing considerably—but not stopping—as it crossed and demolished the areas Alastor had enchanted, tearing the wooden floor to splinters as it went.
"That's it," Kingsley yelled, "go, bring it down!"
Encouraged by Kingsley's words, the Ministry force redoubled their efforts, many of them following Alastor's lead while the rest simply sent all manner of spells careening into the approaching shield.
The shield seemed to buckle under the weight of their assault; ripples of transparency ran through it, and it heaved back and forth as if to regurgitate their spells upon them.
Still, it held, but not for much longer.
"Almost," Albus whispered, still stabbing the air with his wand, his body almost trembling with anticipation of the battle to come. "Ready, Fawkes, ready… Now!"
The shield solidified for a fraction of an instant before exploding, the entire enormous dome suddenly becoming a crystalline substance that shattered into a million shards which shot outwards in all directions.
He tried, where he could, to direct the crystals to a less lethal impact, aiming for legs and arms instead of chests and heads.
Why should I? I gave them a chance to stand aside and still they refused.
Because I am who I am. Because I am truly doing this for their best interests, and it is in their best interest to be alive.
He saw men and women fall to them, but far too few, and of those, too many died for Albus' tastes; the rest had their shield charms in place, leaving the deadly projectiles to flutter harmlessly to the floor.
Chaos erupted as the screams of the injured and dying mingled with spellfire and furiously shouted incantations, and the neatly ordered battle plans fell awry.
Neatly dodging a yellow curse, Fawkes flew into the crowd with talons outstretched and beak open, his song one of destruction and rage.
In the very same moment, Albus slashed his wand upward in a curt gesture, ending with a tap on his head and a Disillusionment. His own shield rose as the spells he'd set in motion shot off into the sea of enemies, crushing their shields as if they had never been and dropping them where they stood. At the same time, a wall of blue flame shot from his wand and hurtled across the room faster than a galloping hippogriff, leaving the Ministry wizards to run backwards and hurriedly try and counter it.
Gellert, standing back to back with him, was cackling like a loon. With a crazed yell he tossed the Rune and clay figures into the air and cast his spell.
Flames licked the Rune for the second before it crumbled to nothingness, and the figures Gellert had spent such painstaking hours carving flew through the air, their sizes growing exponentially.
By the time they landed, each of the dozen stood nearly as tall as the ceiling. Monstrosities they were, with too many legs and eyes, enormous tooth-lined suckers emerging from their mouths; none were alike, they were all horrific in their own way. The only uniting features were their size and the fact that they all were covered in a thick layer of rock and metal.
Gellert's spell sent a deep, thick darkness over a nearby squad of wizards and trolls; a darkness so thick it seemed to live. Indeed, none of their desperate calls for light had any success, the only proof that there was anyone inside being their voices and the spellfire which emerged from the murk.
Laughing gaily, Gellert launched himself toward that darkness, his own Disillusionment vanishing him from view, cursing with wild abandon.
Why could he not lose himself in the moment the same way as Gellert? Why did he always have to hold himself to a higher moral standard than any other?
I don't. I just make myself believe that I do.
It had been less than five seconds since Albus' weaponized shield collapsed and the Atrium was in utter chaos.
The din was unconscionable; it seemed as if everyone present was trying to give the rest orders. Hundreds of spells crossed the room, none posing a true threat to Albus. In their frenzy, most of the Ministry's force were simply flinging spells around like they were candy. Of those that even drew near to Albus, most splashed harmlessly against Albus' shield while he simply deflected the rest, neatly using them to take out their casters.
Their terrified screams filled the air, bringing a thrill to Albus he had not anticipated and did not quite desire or appreciate. The Wand screamed in joy, finally being put to its intended use.
I gave them a chance to stand aside, and promised no mercy to those who would not. Why should I treat them differently to the Death Eaters? They are all my enemies.
He tried to force the Wand's voice from his mind but it was so difficult; its murmurings were balm to a wound.
"WHERE THE FUCK ARE THEY?"
"DISILLUSIONED! FINITE INCANTATEM! FINITE INCANTATEM! FINITE INCANTATEM!"
"I'VE GOT ONE BY—"
Albus tuned out their screams, allowing them to become but the score to his play.
Alastor, Albus knew, had planned and schemed for the moment of their arrival.
Moltke the Elder was famously quoted as saying that "no plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy's main strength."
Albus was about to show Alastor just how true that saying was.
The floor began to move like the ocean, rising and falling, threatening to throw the Ministry's forces from their feet. Albus stabbed his wand toward the ground, setting off a burst of incredible concussive force like he had used against the werewolves in Middlesbrough.
Unfortunately, the Ministry's men were far better trained and prepared than that scrawny pack had been. His attack put them off their footing, but knocked very few over.
Stop this, he told his conscience, I cannot afford to have mercy on them. Everything will be lost if I do.
Still his morals screamed, still his heart bled at the knowledge of what he would be forced to do.
Enough, he thought, how much longer will I battle myself and lose sight of the greater war?
But what good if he won this battle and lost his soul in the process? What good would be be able to make if he became naught but a creature of destruction of the highest magnitude?
If he were to battle in true force now, he would deal a greater blow to the Ministry than Voldemort ever had. He would kill more Aurors and hit wizards, the vast majority of them good people, in one day, than Voldemort ever had.
How could he kill people he so very much cared for?
Didn't I decide that I would do whatever is necessary? Did I not declare that I would save this nation even if I had to wade through blood to do so?
Is it not better for one man to damn himself than for an entire country?
How can I even think of changing my course now, when I have set it so thoroughly?
It was almost laughable; there, a hundred wizards and witches set on capturing Albus dead or alive, and at the eleventh hour he still thought of showing them mercy, he still fought himself on what to do even though he had long since decided his path.
What a fool I am.
But is it not better to be a good fool than a wise monster?
The Wand whispered to him, Fawkes' furious song and Gellert's laughter from across the room accompanying it.
If I wish to defeat the Ministry and Voldemort and all else who would stand up to me, he decided, squashing his conscience with a great force of will, I must first conquer myself.
He breathed in deeply, allowing the bit of him that longed for power to be heard.
He'd been holding in his rage for decades, locking it away in a box within his mind, and he allowed a trickle of it to enter his thoughts.
Time for a more aggressive stance, then.
With an enormous invisible hand of pure magic, he seized a wizard—Roland Stevenson, his mind supplied at once, Ravenclaw prefect, had been on the shortlist for Head Boy in '86, graduated with Outstandings in all five of his NEWTS—and hurled him with all the power he could muster into the squad behind him. The force was so great that where bodies collided, little was left other than a fine pink mist and a rattle of the sturdiest bones.
The sight horrified him, but he forced his heart to remain stone, his will pure. Would that he could but summon a berserker's rage and lose all sense of himself in this battle and he happily would do so.
The remainder of the squad scattered, wailing in fear and firing haphazardly over their shoulders.
Albus' blood was pounding, his rage growing stronger—that he should be forced to commit these atrocities, he who wanted nothing but peace, was a crime against nature.
Maintain calm, he told himself, rage can be as distracting in a battle as a curse to the chest.
Still deflecting the spells which would have broken his shield, Albus seized another—Cragin O'Hara, Hufflepuff, captain of the—
He shook his head as if a gnat had landed on him and tossed aside the names. Later there would be time to remember the dead and mourn what the Ministry had forced him to do.
He seized Cragin and tossed him as he had Roland toward Yaxley and his men, growling as he did so.
Somehow, Yaxley managed to make it out of the way just in time, but his men were decimated.
Yaxley's survival infuriated Albus beyond all else; there, a man who unlike many of these others, truly deserved death, and yet he escaped while Albus was forced to kill good men and women, wizards and witches who he would have gladly stood aside against Voldemort?
Where was the justice?
The thought pounded against his skull, its fury driving his blood into a frenzy. Coherent thought became but a beautiful daydream.
All who stand against me are deserving of death, some more than others, yes, but they all must die.
They all must die.
When there is no justice to be found, I will dispense my own.
Against his will, his mind continued to supply names as Albus acted, names and deeds of those who stood against him. How this one had been pointed out by Professor Flitwick as putting his own grades at risk due to his tutoring lesser able students; how that one had mailed Albus on a regular basis after her graduation, expressing her gratitude for the advice he had given her and asking for more; how this one had done this and that one had done that.
He knew them all, remembered them growing from nervous children approaching the Sorting Hat to the courageous adults he saw today.
He wished he could end this madness and leave, but he could not. He was bound to his plans much as they were to their orders, bound to do what was necessary even if it was not right.
With every face be saw, a gash was carved into his heart, but he could not allow himself to stop.
He gave his fury freer reign, let it wash slightly over his mind so he could care less for those he ended.
The Elder Wand rose and fell, rose and fell. Death leapt from it, death in its myriad forms. Blood splayed out, guts and limbs spilling onto the floor. The scent of voided bowels wormed its way into Albus' nostrils and he found himself growing even angrier, that he should be forced to grant such ugly, indecent deaths to so many.
"NO!" Alastor roared, aiming his wand at the ceiling. He let out a ululating incantation and a spell of purest white flew from his wand.
A torrential downpour came, water flooding the Atrium like the most powerful rainfall with no care for the shields that should have barred its way. It washed away Albus and Gellert's Disillusionments, washed away the heavy darkness Gellert had created. It struck like acid on Gellert's beasts, felling a good half of them and leaving enormous gaping holes in the others.
The floor ceased its heaving with a shudder, Albus' spell torn from his grasp.
Fawkes was scratching out the eyes of an Auror, blood pouring through his talons. Someone aimed a curse at him and he vanished in a pillar of flame, letting the curse hit his victim while he found a new one.
Gellert, now visible, was pirouetting like a demented ballerina, a fiery whip spurting from his wand and bisecting all who were caught in it. He was surrounded by corpses, a veritable mound of them.
More than anything, the sight of his sworn enemy roused Alastor. Colour bloomed in his weathered cheeks as he spun his wand and cried: "TO YOUR POSTS! DEFEND THE MINISTRY!"
A scream of grating metal met his command. Before Albus' eyes, the gleaming golden statues from the fountain pulled themselves free of their posts and leapt to join the fray.
How many hours had Alastor spent patiently enchanting and working on the statues?
Albus could feel their incredible power even from here; they were Untransfigable, and had been strengthened again beyond belief. Certainly no mere hex or the like would destroy them.
Alastor's foresight did not end with the statues.
Figures began pulling themselves from the wall, an eye watering puzzle as they ballooned out from flat wallpaper to fully fledged humanoid creatures, all armed to the teeth.
In seconds, Alastor had doubled again his forces.
As if it will make a true difference, Albus thought, his blood singing along with the Wand and Fawkes.
The Aurors and hit-wizards raised a ragged cheer at the sight of their reinforcements and began to reform their squads.
Their happiness was short-lived.
Gellert's remaining beasts charged at the statues, while the man himself, his blood splattered face bearing an imbecile's grin, waved his wand in a disturbing pattern.
Flames exploded from within, flames that took monstrous shapes; Dragons, manticores, basilisks, a heaving wyrm that forced itself out.
Fiendfyre roared across the Atrium.
"WITH ME!" Kingsley yelled, dragging his forces to face the hellflame. Albus wished them the very best of luck; Gellert had set half of Paris ablaze in his time with none but himself able to control the fires.
While Kingsley and his along with another squad set off, the rest turned on Albus.
He'd been waiting for it, grinding his teeth with the effort of standing still, while his stupid conscience still irked at him.
He battered them with cursed lightning, dozens upon dozens of obsidian bolts hurtling toward them like the anger of the gods.
As he did so, he began to move, spinning into Apparition with the curse forming on his lips.
He Apparated into the midst of Alastor's men, his wand to the back of one of their heads. A silent Imperius and an order to kill as many of his comrades as he could later, he vanished, repeating his trick twice more in instants; among Thicknesse's crew and then among Yaxley's.
The floor jumped up to meet him as he returned to his original position; a fantastic guess on someone—likely Alastor's— behalf, but not enough to do more than force him to reform it. The wood twisted as it rose, creating a solid physical shield that immediately burst apart in a shock of emerald flames at the impact of a Killing Curse.
They cast the Killing Curse at me?
It was the first of its kind to be launched, and though Albus was surprised at how long it had taken for one of them to draw the guts to do so, he knew it would not be the last.
Even now, others flew. Albus was swifter even then death, pulling his enemies into the curses' pathways wherever he saw them.
They think to kill me?
A quiet incantation on his behalf and another series of lightning bolts struck, cutting down a good dozen.
But there was more to take their place.
He was starting to run out of time. The Wizengamot would be well into the swearing-in process by now, he had to deal with this inconvenience and get to their chambers immediately.
They had not learned their lesson. Another killing curse shot his way; again, Albus pulled a screaming witch—Lona Everglade, Gryffindor class of '84—into its path. She dropped to the floor, the battle over for her.
But not for him. This would not end until they were all incapacitated or dead.
He'd offered them chances. He'd given the Ministry so many chances. He'd let rumours and warnings slip through about his planned attack for this day, and only some—a few of Tonks' friends—had heeded them. He'd stood by before the battle began and gave them more chances than they deserved to stand down. Even once it had begun he'd granted them yet another chance, when he'd doled out less than lethal force.
Chance after chance he gave, and in return they spat in his face, thought him weak and tried to kill him.
They tried to kill him, when everything he was doing was for them.
They try to kill me?
They should kneel at my feet and beg for mercy!
Albus' comparative calm, detached view of the battle abandoned him, rage suffusing his essence in its place.
Something awoke in him, something he'd locked deep inside since his summer with Gellert, all those years before, something he'd been letting out in tiny bursts since the Ministry had forced him from Hogwarts.
It was as if all his fury from all the decades arrived at once, pinpointed now at those who stood before him; fury at Voldemort and his Death Eaters, fury at the corrupt and inept Ministry and Wizengamot, fury at those who had blocked him at every turn. Unfocused fury, even, at the Wizarding world at large for being too stupid to simply allow him to take charge.
They thought to treat him as if he was Voldemort?
They think to kill me?
He would show them how much worse than that soul-shattered wreck of a man he could be.
They think they are capable of killing me?
Blood and smoke and fear and death filled the air.
Kill them all. Let none leave this place alive.
Terrible, yes, but beautiful in its own way.
Let me show them whom it is they try to kill.
Albus looked through a red haze at his enemies and smiled.
A troll was lumbering toward him.
He barely had to think to destroy it; it shattered like ice, suddenly all glistening shards which he shot towards his enemies with a thought. While the shards cut down his foes, he seized at the floor.
Limbs of wood spiraled out like tentacles all throughout the enemy's lines—Alastor and Pius quickly got theirs under control, even with the chaos in their ranks, but it ran freely elsewhere—snaking up within even the confines of the enemies' shields. They hung in mid-air for a single perfectly frozen instant, and then plunged through bodies, tearing them apart and tossing the pieces at whoever stood unharmed.
Yaxley's entire force fell in an instant, the man himself torn apart so thoroughly it would take a team of morticians hours to put together the remains.
Blood and gore sprayed Albus, drenched him so thoroughly he may as well have showered in the stuff.
He found himself laughing, their deaths giving him strength.
And still the others fought, still they refused to stand aside, still they forced his hand; Alastor and Pius's squads along with the creatures from the walls standing against Albus, while Kingsley's force and the rest of them grouped with the trolls and statues against Fawkes and Gellert.
Albus did not think about nor care how that side of the battle was faring.
All that truly mattered to him now was those who dared stand against him as if they were his equals, as if they deserved the right to even duel him in single combat.
A furious volley of spells erupted from his wand, so many at such speed that it must have looked like there were multiple people casting at once. He did not act in these spells with his usual elegance, opting for brute force and shield crushing might.
Apparating away as they tried to strike back, he continued, bashing at them before they could come to him, all the while his fury braying for more.
With a roar, he reached for the sky and tore at the ceiling with pure magic, fending off attacks all the while.
An enormous section of ceiling collapsed, allowing a view into the currently empty upper floors of the Ministry. Desks and chairs and the like fell along with it, a motley collection of office tools adding to the death heap. As it all fell, Albus increased its speed tenfold, sending it to crush Pius and his entire group where they stood.
The sound it made was enough to pause, just for a moment, the clamor and chaos of the battle.
A single pale hand was stretched out from under the rubble, rivulets of blood leaking around it, the only remnant to be seen of Pius and his force.
Then Albus swept his wand in a wide arc and the rubble rose, a fiery penumbra surrounding every piece, and shot across the room right into Alastor's forces, flattening them against the walls.
Alone of his men, Alastor himself managed to escape the brunt of the blow, but he was bowled over, tumbling to a heap and just quickly managing to counter-curse the floor before it attacked him.
Albus seized him in a spell and hurled him against a wall, leaving him to tumble to the floor with his wand broken and wooden leg rolling away. Snarling, Albus tore the magical eye from his head for good measure and crushed it with a wordless spell.
An icy wind arose around Albus, and at the wave of his hand it torpedoed forth, battering the figures Alastor had brought from the walls, smashing them to dust where they stood. Fire flowed after that wind, so fierce it seemed liquid, burning away all that it touched instantly.
He swung his wand around again, and the corpses surrounding him began to rise. No necromancer he, merely a puppeteer, but they would fight as he bid. After the survivors he sent them, and they went to work, putting the injured out of their misery with teeth and nails, ripping through flesh as if it were paper.
He turned to finally view the rest of the arena.
Of Gellert's beasts, there was no sign. Gellert himself, still laughing that wild, incredibly attractive laugh, destroyed the final statue—that of the wizard— with an impressive curse that sent it to pieces as Albus turned, his wand flickering as he fought the few remaining Ministry wizards at the same time.
Of the Fiendfyre and the people it had consumed, there was no trace. Of course, the cursed flame burned so hot that nothing was left behind, not even ash.
Almost all of the survivors were fleeing; where to, Albus could not begin to imagine. They had blocked all entrances and exits themselves.
Kingsley was one of them. Once, that would have made Albus think twice.
He could not think of mercy now, could not think of anything but the urgent, all-encompassing need to kill and destroy, to reap the souls of all who dared to face him in battle.
The dead began to lurch toward the Ministry folk, but it was too slow for Albus' tastes.
What emerged from his wand could not rightly be called a spell. It was again, the sort of magic Gellert loved to paradoxically define, the sort of magic that went beyond words and even thought.
Something flew out, something brilliant and terrible, so bright it hurt, and yet it drew the eye to it.
Larger than a quaffle, it hung before Albus for a fraction of an instant as if awaiting instruction and then shot off, zipping around the room too fast for the eye to track.
It shot through every Ministry wizard and witch, whether fleeing or fighting or even Stunned on the ground, leaving a gaping hole in their chest that cauterized itself immediately.
Kingsley fell with all the others, and Albus felt nothing but satisfaction.
Albus was not yet done, no. The bloodlust still had him in its grips, decades of pent up fury at everything this corrupt institution stood for finally being released.
Gellert was walking over with that wild grin, saying something, but there was a strange ringing in Albus' ears and his hands were hot, so very hot, and only blood would cool them.
He aimed his wand up and roared, tearing through the upper floors, destroying and demolishing, turning it all into dust and ash, until the true sunlight shone through the gaping hole.
It wasn't enough.
He needed to bring it down, to utterly ruin this travesty of a so-called democratic institution.
He would do so. Floor by floor he would walk, destruction incarnate; from the ruins he would craft a new Ministry, a better one, one which would not push good men to massacre hundreds.
Gellert had grabbed him by the shoulder. Fawkes had returned, now sitting on Albus' other shoulder.
Albus blinked several times and rubbed the blood from his eyes, the sudden fury dissipating slowly; not vanishing entirely, but once more contained, tightly leashed.
Tears were streaming down his face.
Strange, he couldn't remember when that had begun; all he could remember was that fierce joy and mindless rage, the savage satisfaction in every death.
Now he looked at the enormous piles of corpses and pools of blood and gore and almost wanted to retch.
"Albus, the vote, you've barely got minutes!"
"Yes," Albus said slowly, regaining his bearings, "I need to—I'll have to collapse the floors, of course—"
"You can't," Gellert said, shaking a finger before Albus' face. Albus' eyes followed it unwittingly, his mind beginning to replay everything he had just done.
"Can't you tell?" Gellert continued, "That Auror, he's—"
Gellert suddenly moved, a body flying from the floor to intercept a Killing Curse aimed at them.
Albus spun, a curse on his lips.
Alastor had found another wand and somehow pulled himself into a sitting position. He looked half-dead, bleeding from a dozen places, his gaping eye socket looming like a herald of doom, but still he lived.
Albus' curse took his wand arm at the elbow, cauterizing it as it went.
As he stalked toward his old friend, his recent enemy, Albus felt what Gellert had been talking about and understood what Alastor had done.
He stopped dead in his tracks for a moment, aghast.
That was incredibly dark magic. He was frankly surprised Alastor could have pulled it off.
But he had. And how hadn't Albus noticed that no matter what he did to the floor, it hadn't broken in? He hadn't seen any sign of the lower levels, no matter what he had done.
If he hadn't allowed himself to be so caught up in his anger, he would have realized it earlier.
"Figured it out, have you?" Alastor croaked, blood dribbling between his cracked and broken lips.
"You said so yourself. The only way I would get through is over your dead body. But linking the floor's defences to your own life-force? Rather hypocritical of you. Extremely illegal dark magic. I'd not have expected it of you."
"Good," Alastor spat. "So you recognize you have blind spots. Maybe it's time to see that your old pal is one of them."
Albus sighed, wishing this could have happened minutes earlier, when he was still in the grips of that terrible fury, but he did not have the luxury of whittling away time now.
"I'm sorry," he said, still feeling those tears on his cheeks, tasting the salty, coppery tang as they mixed with the blood he'd been coated with and dripped into his mouth. "Would that I could, I would have this conversation last forever. You chose your path, and I, mine. And you chose wrong. I'm sorry, my friend, but time is running out. For both of us."
"Shit on your sorry," Alastor said, "You—"
Albus' curse hit him, stilling his heart and freezing his blood on his veins.
Spinning, the ticking of an imaginary clock filling his mind, he slashed his wand at the floor once more. This time, a large portion fell through, neatly forming itself into stairs as it went. The lower levels mimicked their higher-up's actions, and Albus began to run, taking the steps two or even three at a time, his cloak billowing out behind him while Fawkes flew ahead, lighting the path.
His pace only quickened as he arrived at the final hallway. There, before the great locked door, stood a final contingent of Aurors and hit-wizards.
They were alert, but too slow to react to his presence; or perhaps it was simply that Albus' mind was in such overdrive that their actions seemed so sluggish to him.
Kill them all, burn it all down.
He opted for a less definitively lethal route instead. His wand flicked back and forth and the wizards were suddenly caught up in a whirlwind; it battered them around, smashing them across the room and back again, then into the ceiling and finally crushing them into an unceremonious heap on the floor, from which dozens of stone arms emerged and seized them in tight grips.
Reaching deep within himself, he seized once again at that well of fury and let it loose, slashing his wand at the intricately carved and powerfully enchanted locked stone door before him.
The door shuddered in its hinges before imploding, collapsing into itself as if a black hole had been opened at its center.
Albus barged into the Wizengamot's great stone chamber, wand out and at the ready. He was not a moment too soon; Rufus had been in the middle of a speech before Albus's entry and now was standing open-mouthed at the podium, a sheaf of parchment in his hand.
Though the clock above Rufus read eight thirty three, the bill was still in his hand, mere inches from the podium. Albus had made it just in time. If he'd been so much as a minute later he might have missed his opportunity entirely.
"Dumbledore—" Rufus began, but would never receive the chance to finish whatever he had intended to say.
The parchment flew out of his hand and into Dumbledore's, while Rufus stared at his fingers in unmitigated horror, unable to say a word. The tips had become a mottled grey which began to spread, covering his hands in the blink of an eye.
Within seconds, a stone statue stood in Rufus' place, its hand still raised, the expression of surprised terror stark on its face.
The Wizengamot watched, still shocked into complete silence as Albus climbed the podium, Percy Weasley shrinking back with his quill and parchment outstretched as if to defend himself as Albus approached.
They were arranged before him in a great semicircle, sitting on their stone seats with expressions ranging from great amusement—in Tofty's case—to absolute terror, in many of the others.
This seldom-used chamber was famed in legend and lore. Some said the goblins and dwarves had dug deep into the bedrock of the earth here and found the chamber already formed. Others claimed Merlin himself had created it for reasons unknown and then abandoned it, only for the Ministry to adopt it centuries later.
The truth was far more innocuous. The Ministry had simply created it along with their building, but the stories added a gravitas which Albus had always appreciated.
Like the other Wizengamot chambers and trial rooms, the stone walls had many etchings and runes carved into them, criss-crossing the entire walls and crossing over themselves in many places and rendering the lower level of writings illegible. It was lit up from no visible source, casting a dim pallor across all the room, but enough to clearly make out the faces of all present.
Albus stood for a moment and relished it. One of his most important victories in what was sure to be a string of them was at hand.
"Well," Albus said, stretching his arms wide. "It is a great pleasure to once more address this august body. There were those who would rather we not speak, but—" he shrugged, widening his smile, conscious of the blood splattered across his face and hands, the gore coating his robe.
Now the Wizengamot found their tongues. They began to clamour and shout, getting to their feet and waving their wands.
Albus raised his wand to the ceiling, sending a sound like a muggle cannon magnified tenfold echoing through the hallowed chambers.
That hushed them; almost all fell back to their seats, many with hands clapped over their ears.
A worm of disquiet niggled at him as he saw Gilead Wimpleton place a trembling hand on his neighbour's shoulder for comfort.
He'd never wanted to inspire terror, but what else was he to do?
Kill them all, a voice still whispered in the back of his mind. They have stood against me as surely as those fools above. They do not deserve to live. If I can justify killing Alastor and Kingsley, I can certainly justify killing these cretins.
"I will have silence," he said, locking that voice away and maintaining his cheery demeanor. "This is a special closed session of the Wizengamot, called and sworn in according to all the ancient traditions and our noblest laws. I have a proposal—"
*You have no right to be here," Shafiq called, looking as if he had very much expected this course of events. He was one of the few to have remained standing. The rest were mostly Shafiq's coterie, with one or two surprises.
"But I do, Quentin," Albus said, shaking a finger. "Perhaps our forebears were remiss in their detailing of the law, but it is quite legal. Any citizen who is not a declared criminal and who is present in a closed session may make a proposal before the Wizengamot."
They all started muttering at that. Albus noticed one of Shafiq's friend's—Ralston Moore, he thought—whispering hurriedly to him.
"Firstly," Shafiq said loudly, "you are a declared criminal, and—"
"No," Albus interrupted with a shake of his head, "perhaps you need to brush up on the Wizengamot's definitions, but I am not. There was no official declaration made, and no warrant bearing my name. I was wanted for questioning, but was not declared a criminal. But, of course, I'm sure you know this. Pray, continue."
Shafiq spluttered, his fat cheeks purpling.
"You weren't here at the beginning of the session," he finally managed, "nor for the swearing-in ceremony. As such—"
"Pardon, but I have no idea what that has to do with anything. It is, in fact, explicitly confirmed that a petitioner does not need to be present at the opening of a closed ceremony. Surely the members of the Wizengamot have at least some familiarity with its bylaws?"
Titters and jeers cracked the tension somewhat, but Shafiq only looked more furious.
"That's not true!"
"Mr Weasley," Albus said, turning to Percy, who was now cowering behind the stone Scrimgeour, "As court scribe, you are obligated to be word perfect in the Wizengamot's rules and bylaws. Who is correct, in this case?"
Percy spluttered, blushing like a tomato as he looked from Albus to Shafiq.
"I—Sir—That is to say that—Prof—Mr—"
"Albus, please," Albus said, giving the boy a gentle clap on the back.
"It seems that Albus is correct," Percy said, almost gasping for breath. "The law is on his side."
"Indeed. And so, honoured witches and wizards of the Wizengamot, I come before you with a proposal. As you all know, or, at least, I hope you do—"
More nervous laughter, Quentin Shafiq staring daggers around the room now.
"—A special closed session of the Wizengamot such as this one is the only time when the Wizengamot can elect a new Minister for Magic without a public vote, barring times when the Minister is dead or incapacitated and an interim Minister is instated."
Albus rubbed his beard and looked thoughtfully at Scrimgeour.
"Regrettably, that appears to be the case, but I think it best if a more permanent Minister was installed. To this end, I propose a vote for a new Minister for Magic, and I name myself as a candidate."
As he'd expected, hurried conversation began once more, witches and wizards leaning over one another to speak to their comrades.
"Preposterous!" Shouted Timothy Bradhill, another of Shafiq's crew. "You cannot simply barge in here—"
"But I have," Albus interrupted, "and all of the Ministry's might and power was not enough to stop me. As protected as you could possibly be, it was a matter of relative ease for me to make my way here. You might want to dwell on that, Mr Bradhill. I am here, despite all attempts to prevent my being here. And now that I am here, I am asking, as is my legal right, for a vote."
"This is nothing more than a display of violence and intimidation," Ralston yelled, "you make mockery of this very institution."
"No, Ralston, you and yours who think of yourself before your constituents make a mockery of this institute. Embezzlement. Bribery. Misuse of public funds. These crimes make a mockery of everything each of you should stand for. As for violence and intimidation…" Albus shrugged once more. "The violence I do not deny, though my hand was forced and I regret it, but no, I do not speak of my deeds to intimidate you, merely to state the facts. And the facts, Mr Moore, once again, are that I am here, even though there was such a great, pointless effort to stop me from being here, and that there is now a motion for election of a Minister for Magic before the Wizengamot."
"Enough of this farce," Shafiq said, getting to his feet, "I'm leaving."
"But you cannot. Not while there is a motion before the Wizengamot."
The light caught Shafiq's grin oddly, turning it into a tiger's snarl.
"But I can," he said pointedly, "if a third of the Wizengamot vote to table the motion. All in fa—"
"I think you're missing something," Albus said, "you really should have paid more attention to Wizengamot regulations. To table a motion for election of Minister for Magic, particularly when the former Minister is incapacitated, would require the assent of every single member of the Wizengamot. Is there anyone here who would like to vote on this motion?"
"I would," reliable Tofty shouted quickly.
"And there we have it," Albus said, beaming at Shafiq. "Now, take your seat."
Shafiq did so, his hands curled into fists of rage.
"Now then, I have nominated myself for the position of Minister. My case is simple, honoured witches and wizards. I am the one most fit to lead this nation through the war against Voldemort—"
Albus sighed at the terrible shudder that ran through the room at the name.
"—And onwards," he continued, "to better days. To days better not only than wartime, but better even than before Voldemort's first rise. I will see our great nation reach and surpass our wildest dreams, I will see quality of life improve in every area for every citizen, and I will make this nation one that all others look to as a guiding light."
He paused for a moment, ignoring the mutters which mostly came from Shafiq's center, and pointedly gazed first at Scrimgeour, and then at the gaping hole where the door had been.
"Moreover," he said, twirling his wand through his fingers, "I am the only one with the power to defend you and our citizens. I am the only one capable of holding off Voldemort. I can rebuild the Ministry and repair the damage I have wrought—though I cannot bring back the dead who stood against me, I can replenish our forces. You all know me, and for what I stand. You have entrusted your children to me for decades, called upon me in times of greatest need."
He paused again and leaned forward, his voice turning to ice.
"And if I am forced to be an enemy of the Ministry, I'm afraid there may not be a Ministry for much longer."
He leaned back, his point made, and watched them squirm.
"You may not coerce us," a pinch-faced witch said. "That is forbidden, as you well know."
"Madam Bloomwood, I offer no coercion, only a possible inkling of what the future might hold. Believe me when I say that I have not come with full force to destroy the Ministry, and have no wish to do so. Coercion, I believe, and purely to illustrate the point, of course," he said, wagging his finger for punctuation, "would be to threaten your son Camus, who I believe makes his living as an author and dwells in a lovely unprotected apartment in Birmingham where he habitually visits a muggle pub just down the road from him, or your daughter Camilla, who lives with her husband Reginald in the Isle of Wight and is currently entering her second trimester. Purely to demonstrate what coercion would be, of course."
"You—you despicable monster!"
"I am what I have been forced to become, my lady," he responded quickly, the words light on his lips. "And if it takes a monster to save this nation, a monster I shall be. Never fear, your children are safe from me. I would sooner die than harm an innocent who is not actively attacking me. There is no coercion here. It is time, now, for anyone who has an alternative candidate to propose him or her."
"Pius Thicknesse," Shafiq called immediately, confirming Albus' understanding of Alastor's glance. The man must have been under the Imperius. "A good, honest man, who has earned the trust of the Ministry and—"
"Alas," Albus said, cutting him off neatly, "but poor Pius is quite dead. He tried to stop me from being here, you see."
Shafiq took it in stride, Albus had to give him that. "Corban Yaxley, then. He has proven—"
"I'm sorry to once again be the bearer of bad news, but Mr Yaxley is also dead. Very much so, in fact. Perhaps one of the two chose to stay as a ghost, but I think that would be a terrible precedent—"
"And it's forbidden by the bylaws," Tofty called, to some laughter from his surroundings.
"And, as I am reminded, it is forbidden by the bylaws. It appears you are not the only one in need of some revision of the Wizengamot's regulations, Mr Shafiq. Do you have another candidate, Quentin? And before you propose Lord Voldemort, let me remind you that he was declared an enemy of the nation, and does have a warrant for his arrest, and is thus barred from a Ministerial position."
"You accuse—I would never—the very thought!" Quentin spluttered, sweating now.
The rest of the Wizengamot were muttering furiously now, many of them giving Quentin what could only charitably be called unkind looks.
"My apologies," Albus said with a wave of his hand. "It's simply that the first of the men you proposed was, I believe, under the Imperius, while the second was a Death Eater. And I've noticed a rather suspicious pattern in your and your bloc's voting habits…"
"You have no proof of anything," Shafiq spat, "how dare you!"
"I apologize again for any unintended misunderstanding of my words," Albus bowed, "there is no proof, yet."
The muttering rose, some of Shafiq's own bloc leaning away from him as if he had the plague.
"To the matter at hand, then. Will you be nominating someone?"
All eyes turned to Shafiq, their whispering not ceasing. The man was deep in thought, his Adam's apple bobbing as he swallowed hard.
"Will you, perhaps, nominate yourself?" Albus asked quietly. "Or does the fate of your predecessor frighten you? And before you comment on coercion," he added, turning to Sylvia Bloomwood, "that was merely a question, not, for example, as if I were to say hypothetically that if he became Minister I would make Scrimgeour's fate seem very gentle and kind. Saying something like that would be a threat and coercion and extremely illegal, most certainly."
"You treat this like a game!" Maximilian Gardner cried.
"And why not? A great many of you have done the same for far too long. Well, Quentin? What say you?"
"I nominate myself," Quentin spat, glaring hatefully at Albus.
Timothy and Ralston still stood strong by Quentin's side, but the rest of his bloc seemed eager to vanish. Some of them were hurriedly whispering to Quentin, who stridently ignored them.
Of course, the man had no choice but to try and be elected, even if it would lead to his death. To do otherwise would be to have to report complete failure to Voldemort.
"Marvelous! Does anyone else have any nominations to make?"
After several long seconds, Albus repeated himself.
"Very well," he said after a minute of silence. "Let the votes be cast, then." He made eye-contact with Quentin and mimed tipping a hat to him. "And may the best man win. Mr Weasley, I believe you should do the honours. Leave out my middle names, if you please. They're unnecessary for this."
Still clutching his quill and parchment for dear life, Percy Weasley strode to the podium and coughed, blushing furiously as the Wizengamot focused on him.
"Um—All in favour of electing Albus Dumbledore as Minister for Magic?"
Tofty's hand shot up first, followed quickly by Tiberius'. Then the others began to rise, Gilead's, Janice's, and then as if the floodgates had opened, dozens of hands were rising into the air, some shaky and hesitantly, some as if to punch the heavens, but all rising.
Albus' eyes darted around the room, his heart racing.
He'd won. Easily. Far more than two thirds, it looked more like nine tenths had chosen him.
He closed his eyes, relishing it, preparing for what came next.
"You still have to complete it," Albus said, not opening his eyes. "Remember, Percy, you have to offer the chance for those who wish to have their vote heard even if it is meaningless."
He lost himself in thought as Percy called for those who wished Quentin Shafiq to be Minister, and finally opened his eyes once more when the din had died down.
"Thank you, Mr Weasley," he said. "Professor Tofty, as the most senior Wizengamot member, I believe it is your role now?"
Tofty, who knew it was so, was standing, smiling fit to burst. He met Albus' eyes, and Albus realized that Tofty knew exactly what Albus planned to do next, and was more than happy to go along with it.
"Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore," he began, "it is hereby the will of the Wizengamot, and of the nation, that you shall serve as Minister for Magic. As our appointed leader…"
Again, Albus closed his eyes and let the words wash over him. He could feel it, now, the new powers his role gave him; more accurately, the access to the powers of the Ministry his role gave him.
Albus found his mind wondering, awash with the possibilities.
"—and may you guide us with justice and truth and peace."
A muted applause marked the end of the ceremony.
"Thank you," Albus said, "thank you all. I shall hold off on any formal celebration until we are at peace. For my first act as Minister, I would like to propose this bill."
He set the parchment he'd stolen from Scrimgeour onto the podium. He'd made adjustments to it as necessary, to remove his and Gellert's names and those of the Order of the Phoenix from the list of enemies and the like, as well as several additions.
As it touched the podium, a copy appeared in the hand of every member of the Wizengamot.
"I know you are already aware of the contents," he said, "so I will keep my remarks short. This bill must pass. The Ministry needs all the power it can have for the fight with Voldemort. The bill must pass."
They were watching him with fear, most of them. At this point, he half-believed they would do anything he said.
Perhaps it was better to be feared than loved. At least by being feared, one managed to get things done.
He allowed them several minutes to peruse its contents, and then spoke once more.
"And now, to vote once more. All in favour of passing this bill, of declaring a state of war and giving all emergency powers to the Ministry of Magic and Minister for Magic respectively?"
Hands shot up again, and again, it was well more than a two thirds majority; only Shafiq and several of his core supporters abstained.
"The motion is passed. Thank you very much, my honoured friends."
He met Tofty's eye again and shared a smile with him. What a mind Tofty had. He'd known the entirety of Albus' plan the instant Albus had visited him in St. Mungo's.
Albus would need to ensure they never became enemies, even if the old man did not have the power to match his brains.
"And for my second act as Minister," he said, "I will be temporarily disbanding the Wizengamot."
The chaos that erupted at his announcement was greater than that which had met his arrival. It took two more blasts from his wand to silence them, and even then, they stared daggers at him.
"I will hear no arguments," he said, "you can consult whichever lawyers you like, and they will all affirm that it is entirely legal. After all, you just gave me the right to do so. Moreover, we have historical precedent. The same action was taken during the second goblin rebellion. We are in a war, my friends, and I cannot be expected to have to explain my every action to a body who seek only their own gain."
More shouting, as if it would make him change his mind, as if he hadn't planned this for over a week.
"Now is not the time to argue," he said, his voice magnified so loud that it cut through all other sounds. "Now is the time to unite and act as one. But first, we must cleanse the cancers which have had too much time to grow in our midst. We must ensure that we are all in truth united against our common enemy. We can allow no fifth column to stand within, no traitors to lurk among us. We must purge ourselves and meet the new day afresh and march to victory and a new era."
Over Tofty's cackling, Albus met the suddenly pale Shafiq's eye and smiled, dried blood and tears gleaming on his face.