Chapter 19: Years and Years, Part Two

Even if few would expect the three centuries of life that the oldest wizards and witches sometimes attained, there was no reason for a healthy wizard at the outset of his second century to doubt that he might at least catch sight of the end of it. Age was rarely a cause of death for wizards and witches, after all: as their venerable bodies began to suffer the infirmities of senescence, their magic tended to account for that frailty until they eventually succumbed to an accident or a particularly severe disease.

In other words, Albus Dumbledore, who was barely a hundred years old, really shouldn't have felt as ancient as he did.

Not in a physical sense, of course. He was, after all, still very much in his prime, and had, if anything, benefited from the opportunity to rest and recuperate after the Dark Lord's defeat three years previously.

At least, the Dark Lord's initial defeat, Dumbledore carefully didn't allow himself to think.

No, the issue was both simpler and more fundamental: Dumbledore had imagined that the end of the war would have diminished the politicking that had demanded his attention for so much of his adult life. Perhaps it had been naïve, but he'd hoped for a reprieve if nothing else: a chance to regroup, to repeal some of the more offensive of Minchum's innovations, and to achieve some measure of decency and acceptance for muggleborns, magical creatures, and half-bloods.

And instead, he'd spent the best part of two years acting as an ineffectual doorstop to a whole new bevy of prejudicial claptrap. After Bagnold's departure, Dumbledore had lacked the political capital to preserve any meaningful support for even the mildest reforms he'd hoped to accomplish; at best, he had been able to delay the honey-tongued poison that was Gamp's legislative agenda by months, and even that rear-guard defence had cost him a great deal of good will and political capital. On top of that, he found himself spending much of his time offering assistance to the muggleborns who had, quite understandably, chosen to leave England - writing letters of recommendation, making introductions, and providing all the other little acts of diplomacy he could offer was hardly an adequate recompense for their effective exile, but he'd needed to do something, even if only as a salve for his guilty conscience.

He'd led enough of them to their deaths in the war, after all.

"Keep your mind on the matter at hand, Albus." Dumbledore muttered, drawing himself back to the present; the depths of the Forbidden Forest were hardly the best place to be distracted, after all. A flick of his wand and a silent tempus provided the time; satisfied that he still had a few minutes to prepare before midnight, he dismissed it again, and returned to his silent vigil.

The minutes crawled by. Dumbledore, who might as well have been a tree for all the illusive magic he was cloaked in, waited patiently, suspended somewhere between excitement and dread. His mission that evening was, of course, the other reason that he had been so stymied in his political efforts; the suspicion that, by every avenue available to him, the Dark Lord had sought some way to –

A whip-like snap echoed around the clearing which marked the very centre of the Forest, and Dumbledore felt a thrill of vindication. Even cloaked in voluminous robes and lit only by moonlight, the slight paunch and stubby, ring-bound fingers of Alecto Carrow were unmistakable – especially to a man who had been expecting her arrival.

Dumbledore suspected that he had, after years of paranoid preparation, delved as deeply into the dark arts as any wizard or witch alive – save, perhaps, for the Dark Lord. Certainly, he had delved deeply enough to suspect that Tom Riddle had, albeit in some reduced form, survived his defeat, and to anticipate the ways that the Dark Lord might seek to return.

These were largely gruesome and, unfortunately, manifold. Whether by some obscene ritual – a horcrux, the Incan soul-switching sacraments, the undeath rites of the Hashashin cult, or one of the many other black magicks hinted at in the very vilest tracts – or some other contrivance or device hinted at in the mists of myth and history (a catalogue from which only the Hallows could be ruled out), Dumbledore had long suspected that Riddle had found some method of false immortality, and had made plans for his return.

He was deriving no satisfaction from having been proven correct.

Dumbledore had expected that the Dark Lord would seek to emulate the Blighted Rebirth of Le Fay, which, though commonly thought a myth, was still the best documented and simplest of the rebirth rituals he suspected that the man had been able to discover. On the third anniversary of Morgan Le Fay's death, some fifteen hundred years ago, a group of well-meaning disciples had assembled at the heart of the Forbidden Forest, and, corralling the life-energy and magicks of everything that lived there, had conducted a ritual to summon their kindly mistress back from beyond the veil.

It had, of course, been a terrible mistake. Le Fay and the forest were both twisted irreparably by the experience. The former, restyling herself as Morgana, had been the first real Dark Lady in Britain, and had ushered in a half-century of terror, and the latter had grown into a dark, vicious place, inimical to all but the hardiest of creatures and beings.

Any sane person should have decided there and then that emulating Le Fay's return was a terrible idea, liable to cause insanity in its target and wreak destruction on the world; and yet, some five times in Dumbledore's accounting, there had been copycat attempts – and Riddle would make that six.

It was a shame, he mused, that the man apparently hadn't been brilliant enough to work out what had happened when the other attempts had failed – else he might not have bothered to try at all.

Carrow began to chant as midnight neared, just as Dumbledore had expected. Her words, far closer to old English than the Latinate of most spellcasting, seemed to render the air cloying and sticky; the shadows, already thick on the ground, began to throb and swell, and a faint buzzing began to manifest itself.

The buzzing grew and grew, and Carrow's chant began to acquire an overtone – fuzzy though it was, Dumbledore thought that he could make out the barest hint of Riddle in it, just as he'd expected. Still, he waited. Part of him regretted his inaction; for all her monstrosity, he hated to see Carrow throwing her life away, but the stakes were too high to intervene on her behalf. He almost wondered if she was even aware that the casters' lives had been part of the price of Le Fay's resurrection; he had to imagine that the Dark Lord wouldn't have mentioned it to her.

At length, the ritual reached its climax.

"Ic ċīeġe Voldemort!" shrieked Carrow. "Ic bíede Voldemort! Ic –"

But as she began to invoke the Dark Lord for a third and final time, Dumbledore unleashed the confundus spell he'd carefully crafted, and watched as Carrow's mouth formed a very different word than the one she'd intended:

"- āweorpe Voldemort!" she finished, eyes crossing in confusion.

Aweorpan, thought Dumbledore. An Anglo-Saxon word, meaning 'to reject, cast off, or deny' – and she had invoked it just as Voldemort was at his most present, as he was so very nearly corporeal –

The results were spectacular. Carrow, entirely befuddled, let out a surprised squeak and burst like a balloon, immediately overwhelmed by the magical backlash of the failed ritual pouring into her. There was a moment of silence – and then the forest rang with the inhuman screams of the almost-man who had thrust his being into a primal ritual that had just rejected him. Dumbledore let out an involuntary roar of triumph, and launched a patronus at the cloud of shadows which had almost been the Dark Lord; the spirit's howls, somehow, grew even more pained. Launching himself into the air in pursuit, Dumbledore managed a few more targeted attacks on the apparition as it retreated, but it eventually outran the broomstick he'd pursued it on. He had known that he'd had no chance of destroying the spectre, but he was sure that it had been terribly wounded – and, quite possibly, driven out of the country, at least for a time.

More importantly, Dumbledore had closed off the simplest resurrection method available to the Dark Lord, flawed as Le Fay's rebirth had been. The rest were, in the main, far more obscure, time-consuming, and uncertain. Although he was rather concerned at the prospects of a ritual to harness the malevolentia of Halley's Comet when it neared earth in 1986 - that one could be done anywhere on the planet, in theory - he suspected that he could mitigate its dangers with adequate preparation, and there were otherwise very few methods for the Dark Lord's rebirth that he wouldn't be able to monitor and prevent – at least, if he had the time he needed to do so.

The thought weighed heavily on Dumbledore late into the early hours of the morning, long after Fawkes had whisked him back to his office. He should have felt triumphant, but he could barely muster even a hint of cheer at his success. Even if he'd had recourse to a time-turner – and the Ministry had time-sealed its stock in the war, not to be re-opened for another five years for fear of theft – there were simply too many things to divide his attention between. Too many futile battles to fight, too many vain people to please, and too many smug little functions to please them at.

Something had to be set aside, and Dumbledore, heart sinking, already knew what it would be.

He heaved a sigh, and, with a wave of his wand, summoned a roll of parchment and a quill. It was the work of a few moments to compose a request to meet with Bartholomew Gamp, and a mere instant more to create a duplicate for Lucius Malfoy. After all, he thought, if he was going to talk business with the Minister, he ought to make sure that the Minister's financier was in the room as well…

The girl who was currently calling herself Nelly Tonks looked both ways down the corridor, tugged aside an innocuous length of tapestry, and eased herself into the concealed study nook that was, at least as far as she knew, the only secret she'd found at Hogwarts which was hers and hers alone. It wasn't much of a secret – really, all she'd found was a tiny room, offering nothing more than a small window with a partial view of the great lake and a little bench and desk to work at - but it meant that she had somewhere to keep her stuff when she didn't want to trek all the way back to the dorms between classes, and a place to have a bit of alone time when she needed it.

It had been a tough day, and not just because she really wasn't sure about Nelly. After the humiliation that had been Professor McGonagall calling her Nymphadora at the sorting (after she'd begged her not to, as well), Tonks – and that wasn't a suitable name for her to use at all, Mum had been very clear about that – had been road-testing names since she'd got to Hogwarts. But she still hadn't found one that she really liked, and she was still being teased about being called Nymphadora, nearly two months into her first year!

Well, teased about that and the clumsiness, if she was being honest with herself, even though she thought that clumsiness was pretty understandable when you tended to grow or shrink depending on your mood.

The distant chiming of bells signalled that she had five minutes before her next class, bringing her back to the matter in hand: making herself not look like a target, because Tonks had also spent two months learning a very unfortunate lesson about the problem with having an infinite range of appearances at Hogwarts: it meant that some of the older students who didn't recognise her assumed that she was a muggleborn, and apparently that made her a fair target.

Propping her make-up mirror against her potions textbook, Tonks began the irritating process of adjusting her features (which never seemed to stick for more than an hour no matter how hard she tried), still seething at the unfairness of it all. That was to say, obviously she didn't think muggleborns should get bullied, she wasn't a psycho and Dad would kill her if she ever thought something that stupid, but Tonks wasn't even a muggleborn in the first place! She was half a blooming Black, for Pete's sake – she probably had more ancient blood in her little pinkie than some of the brutes who hid around corners and shot tripping hexes at all the firsties who didn't pass whatever metric of purity they were looking for!

Realising that she'd let her nose swell and redden in sympathetic response to her irritation, Tonks refocused, correcting the error. Carefully, she marshalled her features into something which looked a little bit like mum and a little bit like her crazy, evil sister in Azkaban, who Tonks wasn't allowed to ask about. She'd learned very quickly that, for all that they didn't recognise her, the older students seemed to recognise a scion of the Blacks if they looked enough like one – and that had mostly been good enough to get rid of a lot of the bullying, even if Tonks felt horrid when she saw it happening to the other students in her year and couldn't do anything about it.

The whole situation made Tonks feel really rubbish, honestly – in no small part because it brought her right back to the arguments her parents seemed to spend most of their spare time on lately. Tonks was, in a general sort of way, aware of the problem, which was that her dad couldn't get a job as a healer in spite of his qualifications, not to mention the fact that he was barely able to visit Diagon Alley these days without being harassed by an Auror for wearing muggle clothes or some other stupid reason.

Well, she supposed, the thing they fought about was the fact that her dad wanted them to move to America so that he could earn a living and her mum didn't want to move at all, even if she also didn't like the fact that uncle Sirius was bankrolling them either. Dad had found work as a part-time contractor for the NHS, after a squib doctor decided it'd be a good idea to have a wizard healer on hand to refer people to after accidental magic – and then stupid Wizengamot had come up with a stupid law that outlawed any jobs which involved muggles at all, and he'd had to stop again.

It was just a big mess, and it wasn't really either of her parents' faults, which made it worse somehow. Tonks had hoped that coming to Hogwarts would be a change, but the stupid muggleborn stuff was happening in school as well, and she was getting really peeved off with it all.

Maybe, Tonks thought, I should tell them that I'm not having a great time here? I know that's part of why they've not left, because they wanted me to come here, but if I said I'd like to transfer to Salem -

The bells began to chime again, and Tonks cursed, realising that she had less than a minute to make it down three floors if she wanted to be on time for Charms. She shoved everything into her bag haphazardly, putting the whole bad mess out of her mind as best she could – and, tripping only once on the way, raced off towards the best thing about Hogwarts: finally learning how to do proper magic.

The most irritating thing about the Diagon Alley fiasco, Remus decided, wasn't even that it had been entirely stupid; it was the fact that the closest thing that the British wizarding world had to a public forum was now actively hostile to muggleborns.

The trip, earlier that afternoon, had been a perfectly benign one. Remus and Delia had made the spur-of-the-moment decision to pop into to Flourish and Blotts and pick up the latest set of Hogwarts textbooks for inspiration and course prep – an errand which should have slotted neatly in between a late lunch in Chinatown and a couple of cheap tickets to see the Mousetrap at the theatre that evening.

The problems had started as soon as they'd walked into the Leaky Cauldron. Before they could even make their way to the bar for a customary pick-me-up and a quick chinwag with Tom the barman, they'd been accosted by a junior auror, who, on later reflection, Delia remembered as having been a third year Slytherin back when they'd graduated.

"Excuse me," he'd interrupted, pulling them to the side of the room, "sorry to bother and all, but I'm going to have to issue you with a fine for your outfits. Statute-endangering getups are a violation of the Muggle Authentic Concealment and Secrecy Act of 1983, and you're clearly in violation. First occasion's two Galleons apiece if you pay now, five if you delay."

It had been a ridiculous claim, not least because they both lived enough of their lives in the muggle world that all their clothes came from there. But the law was, apparently, entirely unambiguous: if you were a wizard or witch, your outfit wasn't close enough to one of the official "ministry-approved" examples, and you were observed interacting with the muggle world, such as by coming through the muggle-facing entrance to the Leaky Cauldron, it was an automatic fine.

The fact that – as usual for the wizarding world – the approved outfits were appallingly out of date, offering nothing more modern than a suit for men and a flapper-style dress for women, suddenly felt a lot less funny; but, once they'd realised that there was no point in arguing, they'd paid up and moved on, after promising that they'd apparate home from the Alley rather than "put the magical world at further risk".

"Well, at least money isn't a problem for us – and I'm sure that plenty of purebloods will be as scuppered as we were," Delia had offered, once they were on their way to the bookstore, "given how poorly most of them manage to conceal themselves in the non-magical world."

Remus hadn't been able to hold in a bitter laugh at that.

"If only. Most of the stuff on that approved list is the sort of thing that the richer ones already wear, and they never spend time in the muggle world if they can get away with it anyway. Sure, it might capture a few morons like Diggle and his various clothing monstrosities, but it's basically just another little roadblock for Muggleborns who want to live across both worlds. And I don't know what you were earning when you worked a stock-brewer – but two galleons is nothing to most purebloods and a hefty fine for most who aren't, even before it gets ramped up to five."

Diagon Alley itself had been fine, mostly - not a death-trap, like it had been in the war, anyway. But there were little things – job postings in windows which openly stated that they were only interviewing purebloods, or the closure of Ogbert's Oddities, once a muggle gadgets-and-curiosities shop, for purported Statute violations – that made the whole experience feel the tiniest bit more uncomfortable.

And then, to top the afternoon off, they had been pulled aside for a random inspection as soon as they'd started off on their way to the apparition point; another junior auror – and there seemed to be a legion of new recruits, Remus hadn't recognised a single face among the corps on patrol – had flagged them for a spot-check interview. It hadn't exactly been threatening – Remus and Delia were essentially war veterans, for Merlin's sake, they weren't going to be phased by the probings of a post-pubescent official in poorly-fitted robes – but the verbal minefield had still been uncomfortable to navigate, and forty minutes of increasingly irritable questions about their purpose, their purchases, and their day-to-day jobs (particularly hard to explain – Remus and Delia had been forced to provide their cover story about working in ingredient procurement for Sirius (a job which didn't require proof in paperwork - at least until PEER, the Potioneering Endeavours Employment Registration Act, made it through the Wizengamot), and, by the time that they were reluctantly discharged by their interrogator, they had already missed the start-time for the play they'd booked, and their evening was thoroughly ruined.

Perhaps it had been a tad immature of him to insist that he wanted to go straight home after all that, Remus thought. Delia, who was busying herself with the dishes after he'd conjured up dinner for them both, already seemed to mostly be over the experience; but she'd never really had a secret to conceal in her public life.

For Remus, though, the petty tyranny had revived an entire bank of painful memories: of conversations about his past at Hogwarts that had felt balanced on a knife-edge as he tried to conceal his curse, job interviews where a casual reference to background checks had sent him scuttling away in pathetic dread, of the distrust that even his friends had, in little, subconscious ways, subjected him to because of his lycanthropy. The closest Delia had come to that, like other muggleborns during the War, had been a life in hiding; that strange liminal space of half-truths and suspicions which Remus had always lived in had never been part of her experience, beyond the ban on her working as a magical educator.

And those new tests and barriers between the muggle and magical worlds, those little extra hurdles to simple co-existence for the muggleborn and muggle-adjacent, those petty acts of official irritation – they might not be killing muggleborns, but the stress and scrutiny of bureaucratic bastardry was aimed at exactly the same end goal – removing the insufficiently pure from the wizarding world. Remus had believed - for years, now - in the importance of their project at Lockwood: of giving muggleborns the tools and numbers they needed to thrive in the English magical world. For the first time, though, he couldn't help but wonder: was is really even worth them entering that petty little kingdom at all?

Remus wasn't alone in his concerns that evening: at the Ministry of Magic, Amelia Bones, almost a year and a half into her new role as the youngest Senior Auror in living memory, found herself deep in the throes of a personal and professional crisis. The little additions to her job - the stupid patrols, the mandatory investigations of muggle-adjacent businesses, and all that - had been bad enough to begin with; but her problems had really stared with the recruitment drive.

Despite decades spent acquiring a reputation as the most exacting law enforcement agency in Magical Europe, the war had denuded the DMLA of nearly half its members, leaving an understaffed force of aurors, many of whom had preserved their hides by focusing on desk-work and were hardly the cream of the crop. Along with the burden of extra regulatory and patrol work, which seemed to grow with every new piece of legislation passed, there simply had not been enough manpower to manage proper case-work and the aurors' bureaucratic duties – so, after an intensely irritable meeting of the old guard, Amelia's first vote as a newly appointed Senior Auror was, reluctantly, to approve a drastic relaxation of the department's recruitment policies – a change which the ministry had long pushed for and which the DMLA had always opposed.

And, of course, the consequent class of junior aurors were an utter shower, even if their numbers had allowed Amelia to focus a little of her attention on actual crime again. Exclusively pure- and half-blood, naturally, they were, to a person, over-privileged, lazy, unintelligent, and prejudiced; the exact same sort of pureblood scions that had long dominated the bulk of junior roles at the ministry. And with training reduced and a desperate need to get bodies on the streets, they were already on active duty, enthusiastically exercising their newly endowed powers to pester, humiliate, and punish folk at will. Mad-Eye Moody, on the outs with the Minister in any event, had quit in disgust, along with two other Senior Aurors; Shacklebolt was actively looking into opportunities in the more peaceful of the Caribbean islands; and even Scrimgeour, who was easily as ambitious as Amelia, seemed to be spending as much time on undercover assignment and away from his desk as possible.

Amelia wasn't stupid; she knew exactly what the drive for all these sub-par aurors was really for, which was a further extension of Gamp's carefully-implemented hostile regime. There were so many little rules people had to be careful of, nowadays. Things as mundane as wearing the right clothes, or not having all the new paperwork they now needed for long-held jobs, could easily thrust them into an administrative nightmare, leaving them saddled with outlandish fines or even criminal records.

And the selective enforcement of those powers, which Amelia had been tracking for months, was falling almost entirely on muggleborns, half-bloods, foreigners, squibs and the many other disadvantaged parts of the magical world – just as, if she was honest with herself, the laws behind them had always intended.

This was the heart of Amelia's personal dilemma. She had spent countless evenings in the office doing her best to moderate some of the most unreasonable excesses of her subordinates: writing off unreasonable charges, pre-emptively closing malicious investigations, assigning juniors to investigate actual crime instead of loitering with intent to harass.

And it was starting to feel like a Sisyphean task. Amelia kept on coming back to the same question: was she really willing to carry on working for an unreasonable, immoral system just because she might be able to limit some of the harm it caused? Even if Gamp was hardly as bad as the regime which the Dark Lord might have introduced, Amelia was still starting to feel like a collaborator.

Certainly, she wasn't as despicable as the craven wizards and witches who had happily stepped up to run Grindlewald's puppet governments across Europe and helped to facilitate his many atrocities in the Thirties. Even so, Amelia didn't really feel as if she was working for a legitimate government any more; if anything, she felt like she was enabling a gang of privileged bullies who had managed to get the teachers on-side.

And that was simply unacceptable. She didn't know when it would be, how it would happen, or what she would do afterwards, but – as she filed her remaining papers and locked down her office for the night with weary sweeps of her wand – Amelia Bones finally decided that she'd soon be resigning from the job she'd dreamed of having for as long as she could remember.

AN: Another belated entry - partly due to writer's block and partly to a new, pretty intense job. I hope folks enjoyed this more introspective entry, which lays some important groundwork for the later story - thank you all for reading, and thanks especially to those who've offered their incredibly kind feedback, which is, as always, very much appreciated!