The Ill-Made Knight, The Setting Sun, Conviction, and Chronology, and Only the Dead Have Seen the End of War
In April of '43, at the height of the war, when it has begun to look like Grindelwald is unstoppable, the Minister summons Abraxas Malfoy to her office and closes the door and puts on the radio. There is silence, a brief crackling, and then, “My name is Cassius Malfoy,” his son says, his voice impossibly young and posh and clear over the wireless. “My brother Philip Malfoy died in Russia in 1941, fighting in a useless fucking war that he didn't believe in.”
Abraxas waits, knowing what must be coming, unable to turn back time and stop it. “This is a letter,” Cash says. “The last letter Philip sent. It was written three days before he died. 'Dear Papa, The censors are working overtime lately, but Pellinore Weasley traded a case of cigarettes for a Great White he swears can make it to England, and I think I've talked him into making an extra stop. Tonight we're camped outside Smolensk, in a town so small it doesn't seem to have a name. They say Grindelwald is in Moscow tonight. Wherever he is, I bet he's warmer than I am. I can just about feel the fingers of my wand hand, and I'm using every heating charm I can think of to keep the ink from freezing.
'Tomorrow we start for Moscow, I think, though they haven't told us for sure. We've looted everything that can be eaten within a week's flight, and there's not much left that will burn. We have to move on or fall back. Dumbledore made another one of his big speeches today about choices, and the company cheered until he'd gone, but it was more fear than enthusiasm. They're hungry and cold and they want to go home. And the Russians-- the people we are supposed to be saving from Grindelwald-- are in worse case. We've eaten their winter's stores and burned their firewood, and co-opted their sons and their horses and raped their daughters and wives.
'Papa, there is no one else I can say this to-- but tonight I cannot see the difference between the Greater Good and the Individual Will, between Grindelwald and Dumbledore. It is so dark here, and there are monsters everywhere I turn, and peace is an impossible dream. Tomorrow I'll be brave again. Tomorrow I'll think of something to say to rally the men. Tonight I'm too tired for hope. My love to you and Mama and Cash, your son Philip.'
“'Tonight,'” Cash says again, “'I cannot see the difference.' Because there is no difference. We-- and by we I mean Britain-- are caught up in a battle we didn't choose, for a cause that doesn't exist, to prove something that doesn't matter. Philip is dead. Pellinore Weasley is dead. Two-thirds of the wizards Dumbledore led into Russia are dead. And for what? Because 'The ultimate triumph of the Individual Will is the willing dedication of the individual to the Greater Good. The Greater Good is not the journey but the destination. We do not serve it; it serves us.'” Cassius's voice is beautifully scornful, his intonations perfect when he quotes Albus Dumbledore's most famous work. “You know what that is? It's complete and utter bullshit.”
The edge of Abraxas' mouth curves up, ever so slightly, and he tilts his head to hide it from the Minister of Magic. Philip, obedient and virtuous and very, very bright, had been his more impressive son. But with Philip's shadow gone, it is increasingly obvious that Cash will surpass him. A wizard's worth is measured in his children, and Abraxas has been gifted indeed.
Over the radio, Cassius's voice is abruptly silenced. Ten minutes, give or take-- an abysmal response time by the Ministry. But then, their best are on the Continent-- or dead; the defense of the homeland is in the hands of Squibs and ancients and schoolchildren like Cash.
“What do you want from me?” he asks the Minister.
“Shut him up,” she says wearily. “Any way you can. When Albus gets wind of this-- it's disloyal, in war time. It will only confuse people.”
“Yes,” Abraxas says, unable to stop himself. “We wouldn't want to make them think about these things.”
“He's almost of age. You wouldn't want him to go straight to the Front. And people will talk, Abraxas, especially given your past.” She does not have to say, when you were second in command to the very genocidal lunatic we're currently fighting, because she doesn't have to. They both know it's implied. “It could undermine everything we've done.”
“You're right,” Abraxas says, because it's true. “I'll deal with him.” He is going to lose another son over this war, but he does not let it show. Never let them see they've hurt you, not if it doesn't advance your position.
“He's your heir. Get him out of the country altogether. Send him to Australia to work on a sheep farm,” the Minister says, and her face is bleak indeed. Abraxas has cast the auguries and done the divinations, and he knows which side will win this war. And still it is enough to make him wonder if he should throw himself on Grindelwald's mercy.
He shakes the Minister's hand and takes the elevator down to the lobby. There's been another bombing and the foyer is full of soot-covered refugees, some of them bleeding and all of them screaming. Abraxas looks out at the burning hospital across the street for a moment, and then he closes his eyes and Apparates home to Surrey before they can press him onto the rescue committee.
He finds Cassius in his study, lying on the hearthrug with one of the dogs, reading Muggle poetry. “Cash,” he says, torn between pride and fury, and his son looks up. One of his eyes is swollen half-closed, already beginning to turn purple. “What did you think you were going to accomplish?”
Cassius shrugs sullenly. He is sixteen, all arms and legs and smoldering temper, and since his mother died Abraxas has struggled to cope with him. “Someone had to say it,” he says. “They needed to know someone was watching.”
Yes, Abraxas thinks. But did it have to be you? He tilts his son's face to the light, admiring the bruise. Nothing broken. It might have been worse. Sometimes passive resistance inspires a particularly vicious reprisal. Abraxas often wants to murder Cash himself. “Whatever happened to common sense?” he asks instead. “You've dragged your name and Philip's-- which, incidentally is my name as well-- through the muck, and if you're lucky you've earned yourself a first-class shot at dying in this war you don't believe in. Perhaps they'll even give you a commission before they have Grindelwald execute you for them. Think of the headlines. Son of Grindelwald's former lieutenant, forsworn pacifist--.”
“No, Cash. Merlin knows, I agree with you, but it won't do. It's taken me twenty-five years to redeem the Malfoy name and gain the Minister's confidence. I will not throw it away so that you can play quidditch with windmills.”
“What are you saying?”
He doesn't understand, and maybe he never will. Abraxas speaks slowly, fighting to find the right words. “I won't have my son on the wireless undermining the war effort, or protesting outside the Ministry, or writing seditious letters to the Prophet. You can do those things, and I won't stop you, but you won't do them as Cassius Malfoy. There are men you can cross, but Albus Dumbledore is not one of them. I did not watch your brother die in a 'useless fucking war' only to have you destroy everything I've built. You can give up your little revolution, Cash, and be my son--.”
“Or,” Cash interrupts. “Or what, Papa? You'll sacrifice me, the way you did Philip? You let him go; hell, you pushed him to go. But a Diviner of your talent must have known. Was it worth it? For the glory of the Malfoy name?”
And Abraxas, well and truly goaded, tells the truth. “I didn't know,” he says. “Divination isn't an exact art, you know that. It's impossible to determine individual futures with any degree of certainty. But if I had known, I would still--.”
“Have done exactly what you did do,” Cassius says. “Of course you would.” There's something in his hand, the parchment he was using to mark his page. He crumples it and hurls it Abraxas as he goes. Choosing revolution over family. He isn't the son Abraxas needs, no matter how extraordinary he may grow to be. The auguries hint that that son has yet to be born.
The Minister has a niece, a beautiful girl, in Cassius's year at Hogwarts. Abraxas smooths Cassius' letter, absentmindedly, not seeing Philip's cramped writing, or hearing Cassius's bedroom door slam. He is thinking of the future.