Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all related intellectual properties belong to JK Rowling and Warner Brothers. No copyright infringement is intended in this, or any subsequent chapters.

As always, thanks to BarneyXII and DLP at large. And major thanks to Andro for helping to make this better.

When men speak of battle, they do it reverently, with precisely timed pauses and well-practiced changes of inflection. They tell tales of heroic successes and noble defeats. They talk of armies and soldiers, of martyrs and saints, of death for a cause and victory at a price.

They don't mention the smell.

Harry Potter and the Mage's Epoch

I've little use for such appellations as good and evil. There are men who take up the reigns and guide their civilizations forward, and there are men who are content to die in obscurity. I find the latter to be particularly loathsome creatures.

-T.M. Riddle

Chapter One

There had been an island on the other side of the Irish Sea once. He hadn't ever seen it, not with his own eyes, but he'd heard the story often enough. There was another world out there, a million miles and a sea away. That much he knew.

His mother's mother had hailed from Belfast, and she had the hair and the accent to prove it. When he was a boy, he'd sat on her lap, and she'd told him stories about the homeland. It was green, she'd said, green everywhere, with blue skies. And the people were of a different stock. Find a hundred good Irish boys, she told him, and you could take care of all this nonsense straight away.

He missed her.

Harry Potter sat on a rock overlooking the Portpatrick beach. His seat was smooth, the rough edges worn away by years of catching the sea. He closed his eyes, listening to the tide as it rolled in, back and forth. Certainty. Serenity. Of all the places in the world, this was just about his favorite. He could be in peace here, just himself and his thoughts.

Beautiful. Peaceful. But tainted, just the same as everywhere else. Though it was the height of the afternoon, starting perhaps a hundred feet from the coast, there was nothing but darkness. The Veil. Black as the darkest night, choking Britain like a noose. It was a wall of shadow, stretching as tall and far as the eye could see. A pure and perfect darkness. Harry could only imagine what existed beyond it.

The Muggles blamed it on the Yanks, a side effect of their bombs or some such nonsense. But Harry knew that it represented something worse. The death knell of freedom, of liberty.

Holding his wand aloft, he levitated a stone in front of him, spinning it around slowly. It was smooth and grey. Formed and shaped over millennia. With a flick of his wrist, the stone shot forward. He followed its track as it skipped across the water, letting out a sigh as it disappeared beyond the Veil.

Not for the first time, he wondered about the world outside. About what was left of it.

Somewhere in the distance, thunder cracked. He felt the first droplets of rain splash against his skin. Of course it would rain today. Divination was a load of rubbish in his opinion, but he couldn't help but wonder if it wasn't a bad omen. Either way, he wasn't in a hurry to sit there while it stormed.

Harry stood, taking one last look out at the sea then turning away. He had business at the castle.

"It ought to be any moment now, Albus," Harry said, the silver Head Boy's badge glistening on his chest. Albus Dumbledore sat across from him, on the other side of his desk, its surface nearly covered with books and rolls of parchment. Harry looked past the Headmaster to the wireless, humming on the other side of the office. Through the static, he could barely make out the sound of Helena Howsham crooning about a wizard from Worcester. The late Headmistress McQuillen bobbed her head in a portrait above the radio.

Dumbledore scratched at a scrap of parchment with his quill, covering it with his elegant, looping script. He looked up.

"Hmm? Oh yes, indeed. Alexander has always been quite punctual." He wrote another word, before picking the quill back up, a brief frown crossing his face. "If nothing else."

Harry rose to his feet, stretching out his arms. He walked to a side of the office, picking a trinket up from he shelf. It was made of thin strips of silver, suspending a slowly rotating obsidian sphere. Nothing but magic could have held the device together. With both hands, he sat it back on the shelf, making sure it was stable before letting go. "Is Kingsley expecting any problems with the transition?"

"A bit of hassle in reworking the security details, perhaps." Dumbledore stared down for a second, tapping a finger on his desk. He scratched out a word. "Nothing too major, I should think."

"Never thought I'd see the day," Harry said, again casting his eyes at the wireless. "The SP out of power in England."

"Some would say it has been a long time coming." Dumbledore spoke without looking up from his writing. "The Sorcerers' majority in the Wizengamot has been dwindling these past several years."

"Any chance they retake it in the next cycle?" Harry asked, falling back down into his chair.

"No, I should think not." Dumbledore's eyes scanned the parchment, and he shook his head. He flicked his wand, and the missive levitated, hovering over the desk, and off to the side. It ignited, glowing bright for just a moment, its ashes landing neatly in the wastebin. Dipping his quill back into the ink well, he grabbed another roll. "The public is clamoring for change."

"Let's hope the MLP's got the answers, then."

Dumbledore ran his fingers through his silvery beard, looking down at the blank parchment. He chuckled. "Oh my, yes, they have the answers. They would hardly be politicians without them. But do they know the questions?"

Harry looked at the Headmaster for a long moment. He cracked a smile. "Sage as ever, Albus."

Dumbledore laughed aloud. "One of the many benefits of living as long as I have. Along with a new-found fondness for prune juice and a discount card for Archibald's Apothecary."

"I can hardly wait," Harry deadpanned.

The radio in the back went silent for just a moment, Harry's eyes finding it again, before a man's voice came through over the static. "My fellow Britons-"

"Ah, here it is," Harry said. He waved his wand, and the man's voice grew louder.

"I want to thank you." The man spoke loudly, with confidence. "I want to thank you for the trust that you have put in the Sorcerers' Party-for the faith you've shown me."

Harry snorted. "I don't remember much faith when they named him party head."

The man continued, saying, "My father came to England under the cover of darkness, just as the war was breaking out, without much more than the robes on his back. Britain offered him shelter, a chance to start afresh. He took a low-paying job at the cauldron-makers and rented a room in Diagon Alley. He'd have never guessed that just a few short decades later, his son would become the Minister for Magic.

"In my lifetime, I've seen the people of Britain come together, and rise above the violence that has consumed the rest of the world. I've watched as we have welcomed refugees, like my father, with open arms-French, German, Spanish, all have been treated as friends; all have become part of our community. I could not be any more proud of what you, all of you, have done for our brothers and sisters across the world-"

"Don't suppose that matches your recollection of it, eh Albus?" Harry asked. Dumbledore smiled, looking down at the parchment, scratching his chin, and the Minister spoke again.

"As I stand here today, on my last day as your Minister for Magic, I stand before a nation at a crossroads. We've two paths before us. We could go left, towards entanglement, towards a confrontation with the forces of darkness. Or we could go right and do nothing, hoping to remain secure on our island. I know not what the future holds. Nor do I know which path we should take. But I firmly believe that it will be the people of this country, not the might of the Ministry, to lead us through the darkness, and into a brighter tomorrow.

"My friends, as I stand here, I fear. I fear what the days ahead might bring. I fear that I've not done enough to prepare us for the times to come. But I know that the people of this great nation will stand tall and united-dedicated to peace, but always ready to fight for justice."

Harry leaned back in his chair, his eyes closed, with a small smile on his face. Ready to fight? Now that was rich. Renault had built his Ministry on keeping the peace, and here he was, fanning the flames of war on his way out the door. What could he possibly hope to accomplish? Harry shook his head.

"We've been fighting, one way or another, as long as I've been alive. We've been blitzed. We've been bowed. But we have never been, and will never be, broken. I know it's hard. I know there will be days where we just don't feel like carrying on. But it is our might that has held the darkness at bay. It is our strength that will allow us to push it back, if that is the path we choose to take. It is the supreme force of our will that will forever keep us free." The Minister hit a crescendo, then paused.

"Always has been able to work a crowd, hasn't he?" Harry asked. Dumbledore didn't look up. "Say, what are you writing, anyway?"

"To those who voted for the Sorcerers' Party last month, you have my eternal gratitude. I know that my administration hasn't been perfect, and I am grateful for your continued support. I ask that you stand with me again, this time behind the MLP and their new Ministry; for it is by standing together that we show our true strength.

"It has been my privilege and my honor to serve as your Minister these past nine years. With your courage and your resolve, with your resilience in the face of overwhelming odds, you have continued to inspire me." He spoke slowly now, his words laced with emotion. "I know he won't need it, not when he has the strength of the British people to hold him up, but to you, Minister Riddle, I wish you the best of luck and the greatest of success. I pray that you will help to make Britain all that she can be."

The feed ended, and another man's voice replaced the Minister's. "Well, there you have it. Minister Renault has just concluded his farewell address, and I think you could hear what has made him so personally popular, even as the SP's stock has plummeted. His message was not one of policy, but of unity. He was at times passionate, at other times contemplative-"

"A Renault apologist to the last," another man interrupted. "He's been an ineffectual leader from start to finish. No substance, but more hot air than a Horntail. No reason to expect anything more from him on his way out. I told you when they named him party head, and I'm telling you now, a Frenchman like Renault will never have the best interests of English people-"

With a wave of Harry's wand, the wireless went silent. He looked at Dumbledore. The Headmaster's eyes scanned his writings, and he nodded. "Yes, that will do, I think."

"Albus? What on earth-"

"Fawkes?" The phoenix hopped from its perch and landed on Dumbledore's shoulder. The Headmaster rolled the parchment tight, tying it with a piece of twine. "If you would be so kind."

Fawkes took the note into his beak and disappeared in a burst of flame.

"What was that note you spent the last hour writing?" Harry asked.

"An invitation."

"An invitation?" Harry asked. "An invitation to what?"

Dumbledore said nothing for a moment, and Harry sighed loudly, tapping his fingers on the arms of his chair. Minutes passed, and Fawkes reappeared on Dumbledore's shoulder, carrying a new piece of parchment. Dumbledore took it and smiled.

"Very good. Minister Riddle will be joining me for tea this Sunday," Dumbledore said. He opened the desk's top drawer and placed the letter inside. "I would like very much for you to join us."

Harry laughed. "Did you really just spend the better part of an evening on a note asking your old protegé to tea?"

Dumbledore looked Harry in the eye, his hands folded in front of him. "One ought not to choose his words lightly, Harry, least of all when dealing with a wizard as clever as Tom Riddle. Never forget that."

"You've been the man's mentor for fifty years, Albus. I hardly think-" Dumbledore raised his hand, and Harry went silent.

"Tom has been increasingly distant of late. I have always worried-" Dumbledore paused. He sighed. "Tom Riddle is the most brilliant student I have ever taught-no offense intended, of course-but there are certain facets of his personality that I have tried to ... suppress. Certain beliefs I have tried to quash. By and large, I have succeeded in that effort."

Harry looked at Dumbledore, perplexed. "Sir, I don't understand."

"Nor would I expect you to. I daresay that no one knows Tom Riddle as well as me. Brilliant, an unparalleled knack for magic, but he was, and to some extent still is, hungry for power-magical, political, any kind, really. It is why I was reluctant to teach him advanced magics as a young man; it is why I did not wish to see him become Minister."

That didn't make any sense. Riddle was everything that Renault wasn't. Brilliant, talented, and an exceptional wizard. By all rights, he should make an excellent Minister. "You didn't want Tom to become Minister?"

"I did not," Dumbledore agreed.

"Why?" Harry asked. "You know as well as I do that he'll do a better job than Renault."

"You mistake me. I do not doubt his capacity to do the job. I worry, however, what the job might do to him." Dumbledore looked past Harry at nothing in particular, not saying anything for a long moment. "Power is a tricky business, Harry, dreadfully tricky. It makes a man more susceptible to his ... ah, restrained desires.

"I was very careful in his training, you understand. I took things slowly, never gave him access to more than he could handle. It was a slower process than he wanted, naturally, but it kept him safe. Powerful magics can be corruptive, as I am sure you have realized. A wizard must be exceedingly careful when learning them. Had I not been there to supervise Tom's learning, I shudder to think..."

Dumbledore looked past Harry, his eyes finding something at the front of the office. Harry turned his head.

An ethereal serpent, a Patronus Harry recognized instantly, slithered through the door. He rubbed his arms, shivering as the creature passed him by, sticking out its tongue as it faced Dumbledore. It spoke in a hiss. "Grindelwald is amassing his forces at Calais. Be ready."