(1939-01-08) A Most Important Meeting - Epilogue
Details for A Most Important Meeting - Epilogue
Summary: A discussion between Cassius and Edwarlinda Malfoy, and Rhyeline Diderot, following a meeting about the future of the Unity Party. Answers come there none.
Date: January 1st, 1939
Location: The library at Berylwood
Related: Epilogue to A Most Important Meeting.

After the last of the guests at Berylwood depart from the Unity meeting, Cassius returns to his seat in the library, slumping into the chair. What strength he was able to show during the meeting drains out of him, leaving him looking even more thin and haggard, with heavy circles under his eyes. Resting his forehead against his hand, he calls out wearily, "Rhyeline…Edwarlinda…please attend me."

When the meeting reached its official end Eddie left behind her brother, her chair, and her bowl emptied of pistachio nuts to see out all those guests, to exchange handshakes, to seize those few moments in which to gauge their views one on one, with her blue eyes looking frankly, hypnotically into theirs — and perhaps subtly to lobby for her own… Then the library is empty of all who don't belong to it; she's standing just beyond the threshold, a calm and professional figure in her grey robes, when Cassius's voice reaches her from within. A quick nod and a final word to the last pair of lingering Unity supporters, and she leaves them to be ushered out by courteous Berylwood staff, striding back through the landscape of disarranged chairs to his side.

"Cassius…" She sinks into her chair at his side, reaching out for his hand (the one weighted down, every day, by the heavy silver and emerald ring she once gave him), drawing it away from his face so she can look into his eyes.

Rhyeline wasn't far- just out of sight. Graham had left too quickly after Rena for him to pull his adopted sister aside. So, the little one lingered in a quiet corner of the library, reviewing her notes. At the sound of Cassius' voice, she looks up at once. Setting aside her notes, she hastens to his side. Ignoring her seat, she lingers closer still to his side. "I'm here, my love…" she murmurs ever so softly.

Cassius's fingers curl in Edwarlinda's hand, his other hand seeking Rhyeline's. His grip is like a child's. The toll of the Cruciatus Curse on him has run deep. "There is more to discuss," he says with tired, but dogged determination. "You two are the very core of my heart, and I need your counsel, without the righteous anger of Jocunda Sykes or the blind idealism of Rena Lee. Whatever we do is going to rip away a large part of our support. But I have a thought. A dangerous path…but then, all of them are dangerous now.

"Though I do not wish to support Grindelwald's methods, I also believe that openly defying him will lose us more than it gains. We need the power to effect change, and we won't have it by denouncing him. What I propose is this: We publicly support the Army of Truth. We do what we can to steer them toward diplomacy. But our true purpose is gathering intelligence. I am suggesting that we serve as double-agents, using the knowledge we gain to aid Grindelwald's enemies." He lets the heavy words land with a silent thud, watching the ladies' reactions cautiously.

Rhyeline takes his hand. As the girl sinks slowly to her knees, she brings his hand to her cheek and nuzzles against it gently. Lingering close at Cassius' feet, she listens in solemn silence before glancing to Edwarlinda. At the woman's silence, the little one hesitates a moment more before peeking up at Cassius to murmur, "In an ideal situation, you would lead a movement to challenge Grindelwald… but- but I agree… that- that is- no longer possible." She pauses, nuzzling slowly against the back of his hand with a thoughtful furrow between her brows. "I think that your proposal, this middle ground of secrets… it carries great risk… But the risks that our efforts will come to naught are far greater down the paths of outright defiance and submission. I think your proposal.. it is our best chance if our goal is to undermine violence and conflict."

Edwarlinda's hand, holding Cassius's upon its palm, has lowered slowly as he speaks onto the arms of their chairs, which are set so close together there's hardly a gap between. Hardly a gap. Something might still fall through that narrow crack, and be lost upon the floor. Her lips are pressed together; her tired eyes intent upon his face. "I understand… Cassius, I understand your aims, and what you hope will come from such a strategy. But to destroy all that you've created this past year — make no mistake, the Unity Party wouldn't survive this — to leave all those who seek a true middle ground between violence on one side and violence on the other with no choice, no option but to choose a side and prepare for war… You'd take away the hope of a better future, and in times like this hope is sometimes all people have left… And all to compromise with a Dark bastard like Gellert Grindelwald, who doesn't know what moderation even is. You've read his book," she exclaims with sudden fervour, "we all have! Do you think the creature who wrote that is likely to admit the error of his ways after he has tea with Cassius Malfoy? You're a persuasive man, Cass, but even you… even you."

Cassius sighs, but Edwarlinda's idealism was expected. Perhaps it was even desired. "I wish this were a simple decision. The middle ground is getting smaller beneath our feet, and our supporters are falling off both sides into one camp or the other. Jocunda Sykes will take as many people with her as she brought to us. I am trying to find a strategy that can still succeed. I am no longer convinced that our original plan will."

"The middle ground has all but vanished… this recent attack- there is no longer time to pursue an end to secrecy as the Unity Party had envisioned. The violence has begun. It is a reality we must face…" murmurs Rhyeline in a rather quiet tone. Her dark gaze lingers on Edwarlinda a moment before shifting to Cassius.

"Do you think I don't know the violence has begun, Rhyeline?" Eddie says at once, a little more sharply than she intends — she may not have been present during the recent attack, but she has spent most of three days immersed in its aftermath, walking through what's left of the Sykes house, coming face to face with the bodies in the morgue at St Mungo's, interviewing bereaved relations who could answer her questions with little more than tears. All that, on top of the look in her brother's eyes when he came out of his enchanted sleep.

A touch of colour comes into her face, and, for having spoken so to Cassius's consort, she adds, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have… But I have trouble believing that Grindelwald would ever give more than he took from us. From you." That's to Cassius as, after a glance at Rhyeline as brief as the younger woman's at her, her concentration returns to her little brother. "This new strategy seems to have been worked out with paper, pen and ink, and cold logic, whereas in the real world it would have to succeed with human beings. It's not as practical as you think — and it's not right, Cassius. If the middle ground is vanishing — your mission should be to reclaim it. It belongs to you. That's where you can succeed, and be the greatest force for good in a darkening time. Please, Cass. Please don't become the kind of leader who asks," and, with an odd twist of her lips, she quotes a Muggle saying she has heard, while slumming in London, probably with that animal of a former fiance of hers, "'Where are my people going? I must find out, so that I can follow them.'"

Cassius squeezes Rhyeline's hand, in an attempt at reassurance in the face of Edwarlinda's passionate reply. But it is hardly the firm, strong grip she is accustomed to. He leans his head against the back of his chair, closing his eyes for a moment to collect his thoughts. "What would you have me do, Lin?" He opens them again. "To repeal Secrecy, and to do so in a way that won't send waves of fear through the Muggle population, takes time. We are out of time. The world is on the brink, and Grindelwald is just one nudge away from tipping us over the edge. There comes a time when a leader must also accept that he has failed, and must find a new tactic. How can we still succeed, when a single attack by the Army of Truth will tear down everything we've worked for? Tell me. I am desperate to know."

Rhyeline blinks, growing rather still when Edwarlinda retorts with such sharpness. At once, the girl seems to withdraw, lowering her gaze and remaining quite silent. At Cassius' gentle squeeze, she gives a small, subtle nuzzle of her cheek against his hand, but then lowers it. Though she still holds his hand, it rests in hers upon his leg.

Cassius's sister watches him with misgivings — about the delicacy of his health as much as that of his new strategy — plain to see in her face. "You might give him that one nudge. The legitimacy granted him by the allegiance, even the supposed allegiance, of Cassius Malfoy. I've spent my life…" She swallows. "I've dedicated my life, until recently, when I let myself be drawn off course for too long, to pursuing Dark wizards and seeing them put in Azkaban. I know what can happen to the best of men when they make accommodations with that kind of evil, for what seem at the time the best of reasons. Do you want to hear stories, Cass? I can tell you stories. I didn't tell you the worst of it before because you were too young, and then because I got used to keeping it to myself, and then, there are things you can only talk about with the other people who were there. I don't know what you should do. I don't have all the answers. But I know there is something better than yoking yourself to Grindelwald, and that if you look a little longer, a little harder, without giving in, you'll find it. Grindelwald has the potential to cause more destruction and more pain among both our worlds than any other Dark wizard we'll see in our lifetimes — that's my professional opinion, Cass, not just my personal feeling — and it will take a man of your calibre to oppose him. To do that, you must remain untainted. If it's not you — I don't know who else."

Cassius smiles weakly at Edwarlinda, but with such adoration in his pale green gaze. "I wish I had your idealism. But what I do have is a view into darkness. You know very well that I am no saint, Edwarlinda. One needn't be a Dark wizard to know what evil is. Sometimes it is a necessary thing. What if this is one of those times? If we do wait, gambling on a better solution to appear, we risk losing everything. Grindelwald could shatter the walls of Secrecy while we are biding our time. Furthermore, the press is demanding answers from us. They want to know where we stand. Once I make a statement for or against Grindelwald, there is no going back. We will be entrenched in that position, and we will lose support from one camp or another. Whether we can gain significant support by the same token is questionable."

Rhyeline's thumb strokes across the top of Cassius' hand slowly. Silent, she peeks up at him, but catching his smile and adoration as he looks to Edwarlinda, she lowers her gaze once more.

This darker side to her brother's nature — Edwarlinda knows it is there, though always turned outward from her; to acknowledge it is difficult, but she's a lioness, after all, not a snake. She doesn't turn tail and slither away from him. "If you were a saint," she says softly, looking into his eyes as he into hers, "perhaps you couldn't see what might… one day need to be done, and then do it. I know your intentions are worthy and that you believe you could do good by infiltrating the Army of Truth, but are you… Cassius, is this… is now the moment of extremity? Is it here? The moment when you give up striving for right and settle for necessity? Can you look at me and tell me you must choose between the poor paths offered you by others, instead of forging your own more boldly?"

"My path has always been one of necessity," Cassius says sadly. "The only difference is that I used to have the luxury of more options, and more time. I don't know if I have that anymore. I don't know if this is the moment of extremity. Everything suggests that it is. Grindelwald's manifesto predicted the Crystal Night, and it happened. Every sign, both portentious and political, indicates that the kettle is about to burst. If not now, then when?" He looks to Rhyeline. "You have always advocated diplomacy, even more so than I. Tell me…what options are left to us? What bold move can we make that will force the Wizengamot to make a decision, once and for all, whether to maintain to repeal Secrecy? And to do so with great alacrity?"

Rhyeline sits in silence, eyes lowered as Cassius and Edwarlinda speak. The little one doesn't realize it when Cassius shifts his attention and directs words to her. She simply remains seated at his feet, head slightly bowed as she gazes at her hand in his.

"Secrecy must be brought to an end now — I think all reasonable witches and wizards would agree." Of course that's what Eddie thinks. The best in people. Despite how many of them she's actually met. "The Wizengamot won't act — if they were going to, they'd have done it by now, in response to all the efforts the party has made," she says slowly, putting her other hand on top of Cassius's, where it is still resting in hers upon the arms of their drawn-together chairs. "Perhaps we must be the ones who act, rather than leave it to Grindelwald. Present ourselves to the world in a better light than he would, or than the Ministry would know how to. And take what consequences may come for us personally. I just don't see the right way to…" She's still gazing intently at Cassius — she hasn't looked away from him since they entered this urgent conference — but now she shakes her head. A wisp of platinum hair pinned too loosely slips down. She looks worn out, though less so than her brother.

"Believe me, many times I have considered how we might simply take the matter into our own hands. But the Ministry is quite expert at covering up breaches of Secrecy." Cassius shakes his head. "No, any action on our part must be supported by law, or we will be too easily stifled. That means we need Wizengamot support." He groans, feeling the weight of the world bearing down on them. "Think on it, both of you. We need a solution, and fast."

Rhyeline looks up only at the sound of Cassius' groan. Her dark gaze flits briefly to Edwarlinda with a touch of guarded caution. But then, peeking up at Cassius, she murmurs in a rather quiet tone, "You have already found the best middle ground… the previous goals of a gradual, peaceful campaign of educational policies is not possible. And then… to gain enough power in Grindelwald's movement with the presence of Arlo Sykes- that is not possible either. To try to influence the movement as much as we can while supporting a quieter opposition to undermine the Army of Truth's violence… this is the only path I can see."

When Cassius speaks of matters taken into their own hands, and the impracticality thereof, Edwarlinda murmurs: "We've talked about it before… But they say nothing concentrates the mind like Dementors closing in." She essays a rueful smile, and then, as the groan escapes his lips, squeezes his hand more tightly between hers, the heavy ring he wears pressing into her palms. Rhyeline's soft voice is heard at last, and Eddie looks down to her, shaking her head again as she repeats those measured words. "Influence the movement, support a quieter opposition, undermine the Army of Truth from within… what does that mean, in practice?" The question becomes one for her brother. "What do you think we could actually do, apart from become gradually swallowed up by the very thing we set out to oppose? Telling ourselves every day that we do some things that are wrong, but other things that are more or less right, and so we're balancing the slate? I don't think I could live like that, Cassius."

Eddie's voice is quiet but steady. Determined. A Malfoy voice at its core, no matter how uncomfortable she is with certain inevitable manifestations of their heritage in herself as well as in Cassius, and the decades she has spent living down her blood as well as, in her own way, living up to it. "No. I know I couldn't."

"Then show me another path, Lin," Cassius pleads. "One that has a chance to succeed. I don't want to ally with Grindelwald. The man is a fool if he thinks his plan has any durability to it. But show me how our original goals can still succeed, and I will gladly see them through. These are passionate times, and passion stirs people to extremes. What we propose is moderation, by comparison, so people are naturally moving away from us."

Rhyeline looks to Edwarlinda in silence. Her dark gaze flickers briefly to Cassius before it returns to Edwarlinda. Her hand tightens a bit in Cassius' gathering what courage she can before addressing his sister. "In practice, it means trying to gain power in the ranks, enough to influence its course, or at least to learn its secrets. When the course cannot be shifted, then the secrets will serve the underground opposition who will use the means necessary to undermine its violence… protecting the muggles, showing them that we are as varied as they are…"

Listening to Rhyeline, certain things flash through Eddie's mind. Where this strategy came from, who influenced it most deeply, who has influenced Cassius most deeply over the past months when she has put more time into her daughter's life than into her siblings', and the past days when she has been back at work, setting the wheels of the investigation in motion, instead of at his side, helping him begin his recovery from the Cruciatus Curse… it's Rhyeline all over. Working in the shadows, pulling a string here, gathering a crumb there, passing information, until… what? Influence. Perhaps outright power. It has worked here, in this house. Eddie has come too late to sway Cassius. How much too late? She doesn't know. And what can she, as a sister who cares for her brother's happiness, do to drive a wedge between him and the woman he intends one day to make his wife, when they are united in this?

The personal and the political roil her thoughts; she has no answers. She squeezes Cassius's hand again and says, to Rhyeline, "I understand." And then, to his brother, gazing once more into his eyes, "I have to go, Cassius, I have a status meeting at the office — I want to look in on Circe for a few minutes before I leave. This morning I only saw her to kiss her." She rises from her chair with a weary sigh, the flow of her grey Auror's robes revealing plentiful papers in the inside pockets. She releases Cassius's hand and tells Rhyeline, "Look after him. Make sure he goes to sleep early tonight." The conversation isn't over. But for now, there's nothing more she can add.

Cassius looks up after Edwarlinda with a rather pathetic frown, then a sigh of resignation. "Bring Circe around tomorrow, won't you? I think she would do me a world of good." He lowers his chin, slumping slightly. The man seems to be barely hanging on to a thread of wakefulness. Getting him to sleep early shouldn't pose much of a problem for Rhyeline.

Rhyeline watches Edwarlinda with a hint of hesitant caution. Told to make sure he sleeps, she bites her lower lip and nods. Silent, she watches Edwarlinda go. Once alone, she gazes up at Cassius. Time is short, but she will not press the issue with Cassius looking so exhausted. Reaching up, she tucks a strand of Cassius' pale hair and murmurs, "Come… let us set aside the world. It cannot touch us tonight…"

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