The entered the office to find Kingsley and Arthur pouring over a few pieces of parchment at the desk. They looked up at Harry and Ron with a smile.
“So, how’d it go?” Arthur asked.
Ron just closed his eyes and shook his head.
“It couldn’t have been as bad as all that,” Kingsley said.
“You have no idea!” Ron exclaimed.
“Actually, I’ll bet he does,” Harry said. “They were trying to see how far they could push us, weren’t they?”
Kingsley looked a bit surprised but said, “That is the general point. They want to see how you’ll handle situations that you find infuriating.”
Then Kingsley looked apprehensive for a moment and asked them to explain what had happened. He laughed after they’d told him everything and said, “So neither of you drew a wand?”
Harry and Ron shook their heads in apparent confusion. Just then a memo flew into the office and Kingsley grabbed it out of the air. He read it and grinned as he put it aside.
“Gawain is rather pleased so far. He said that you two left the office temporarily speechless, something neither of us has ever seen in all our days,” Kingsley explained. “Usually those interrogations end in impromptu duels. Besides, since the Auror Department tends to attract people with strongly-held views, no one is ever silent. They all want to make their opinions known. Quite impressive, you two.”
Hermione then walked into the office and looked at Harry and Ron questioningly. Harry and Ron shrugged.
“So?” Ron asked. “How’d it go this morning?”
“Okay, I guess,” she replied. “It seems to be mostly paperwork, but that’s not much of a problem.”
A knowing smile passed between Harry and Ron at that. She excelled at doing paperwork and was the only person they knew who might actually enjoy it. She said, “Amos gave me an interview, although he said it was mostly a formality. He asked about which part of the department I wanted to work in and I explained that I really wanted to help with house-elves. Then I told him about how I wanted to improve their living conditions and he said flatly, ‘Their living conditions are fine.’
“So I said, ‘No, the conditions aren’t okay. Aren’t you aware that they have to punish themselves if they make a mistake or if they defy their masters?’
“‘Well, that’s the way it’s supposed to be,’ he said, as though this were the most obvious thing in the world.
“I just got so mad!” she said in a frustrated tone.
Ron patted her hand as she reached for one of the sandwiches that had been provided for them.
She continued, “So, I said that it was ridiculous and that they have feelings just like anyone else. We had quite a row, to be honest. He told me in no uncertain terms that nothing would change regarding how they deal with house-elves. Then he said that if that’s what I hoped to do in the department then I was in for a big let-down.”
She looked as though she wanted to cry. Ron too looked pained and said, “Hermione, you can’t expect to change things overnight, but I think that if you continue to work towards what you want you’ll succeed in the end.”
“I just don’t know anymore. This is all I’ve really wanted to do for the last few years and now it seems almost impossible,” she said dejectedly.
“I think Ron’s right,” Arthur said. “As much as I agree with you, I think that you’re going to have to be patient. There are a lot of changes that Kingsley and I have been talking about, but we’re going to have to wait. People are afraid of major changes and so such things have to be done gradually. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t learn everything you can about the situation and see what you can do to improve it step by step.”
“Harry and I will help too. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea to do a ‘sponsored scrub,’ as you once put it. I’m sure we could get the rest of the Order involved, so there would certainly be a draw to the event,” Ron suggested.
Hermione blinked rapidly in surprise and there was a distinctly appreciative tone to her voice when she said, “Thanks, Ron! We should do that!”
“Instead of the Gryffindor Common Room, maybe we could use the Atrium,” Harry said thoughtfully.
She looked at him in surprise and said, “I know you two have started to show more interest in S.P.E.W., but since when do you want to actually do something about it?”
“Well, Hermione, I suppose it’s been coming on for awhile now, but I think it became more of a reality once we were being told that we should be ashamed for having been rescued by a house-elf,” Ron said. “I know that you know that we only joined Spew to make you happy, but we actually agree with it more now. I’ll tell you though, that we won’t be trying to free elves that don’t want to be freed. I would like them to have better conditions, but I still think that it should be up to them whether or not they want clothes.”
“I’ve been thinking that too, ever since Kreacher was so upset at even the notion of being sacked by Harry. I suppose Winky is a good example of that as well,” she admitted. “I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle.”
“Maybe not,” Harry said. “If Ron and I help as well, maybe the three of us can figure it out.”
Kingsley and Arthur both snorted at that. “I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s nothing you can’t do, once the three of you put your efforts together,” Arthur said, shaking his head mirthfully at the trio. “You just keep working, Hermione. You’ll get there eventually.”
Feeling better about her new job she asked how their day was going and didn’t laugh when they told her of Ron’s blow-up. In fact she seemed to agree with Ron that the woman’s comments were beyond rude and that he’d handled it appropriately, if not a bit over the top.
By the time their lunch hour was up the three were laughing at some of the things that had happened to them that morning and were looking forward to an evening of the same.
Harry and Ron returned to the Auror Department for the physical exam a bit heartened by their meal. They were met at the door by Gawain, who said, “Very well, if you’ll follow me please. Now, there are only a few things that you need to know. Your goal is to get through the rooms in front of you. You may use any spell or method you feel necessary to get past the obstacles. You will be working together, but you may come to doors that have your names on them. In those situations, you will work alone and then wait for the other once you’ve made it through the room. A room decorated in blue means that you must duel the occupant of the room. The duels are the only times when you are restricted in what sorts of curses you may use. For dueling purposes you may use anything you like except for the Unforgivable Curses. And for the sake of practicality, none of your Sectumsempra Curse please, Harry.”
Harry shook his head vehemently and said, “I would never use that on a normal person, sir.”
Gawain nodded curtly and indicated the door to his young apprentices.
Harry and Ron both drew their wands as they pulled the door open, unsure of what they might find. There were a number of minor dark creatures they were expected to get past and so they simply set to their task.
“This isn’t too bad, is it?” Harry mused aloud. “I was expecting dragons or something. I really don’t feel like dealing with a dragon today, to be honest.”
“Come on, Harry, wouldn’t that make our task much simpler?” Ron said with a laugh. “We could just ride it through the rest of the rooms and be done with it!”
“I somehow doubt it would be a blind dragon if there is one,” Harry responded, amused anyhow. “Besides, I don’t really fancy another dragon ride.”
“Well, even if it’s not blind we could use that Conjunctivitus Curse Vicky used,” Ron said.
“You know,” Harry said as he blasted a few more creatures out of their path, “If you want Hermione to take you seriously that you’re not jealous anymore, you might want to stop calling Victor Vicky.”
Ron wrinkled his nose and said, “Yeah, I suppose you’re right. Hmmm…maybe that’s what I need; a way to prove to her that I’m not jealous of him anymore. I’ll have to think about that.”
Their way was finally cleared and they passed through the next door. A large plant engulfed the room and its branches seemed to reach out to them.
Ron rolled his eyes and said, “Well, this is pretty obvious, isn’t it? What else could it be but Devil’s Snare? Reminds me a bit of the obstacle course to get to the Sorcerer’s Stone.”
He gave a brief laugh before sending bright light at the plant, which shriveled before them. On the other side they found a number of other plants they needed to handle and take care of before they could leave the room. They set to work.
“So, there’s something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about, Harry,” Ron said.
Harry felt a bit nervous. This wasn’t going to be about Ginny again, was it? But as he looked at Ron, he didn’t think it was brotherly concern that was bothering Ron.
“Is now really the time for deep discussions?” Harry asked.
“Well, it’s not something I wanted to talk about in front of the girls. You and Ginny seem to be practically joined at the hip and we were in class anytime she wasn’t around…so…”
“I just need to know what’s going to happen to Mum’s soul,” Ron said in a rush, not taking his eyes off of the plant he was dealing with.
He said it so fast that Harry might have missed the words if he hadn’t been expecting this question at some point. It reminded him of someone ripping an adhesive bandage off quickly so that the pain would be brief rather than prolonged. Once Harry had explained the horcruxes to Ginny, it had been one of the first questions out of her mouth. He could understand Ron’s reluctance to discuss the matter in front of Ginny and Hermione though, not wanting to worry them.
“I’m assuming this is in reference to the fact that Mum killed Bellatrix?” Harry asked, watching his friend’s eyes close in fear before nodding. Harry sighed before continuing, “Mum will be fine. There’s a world of difference in the circumstances.”
They both had finished with the plants they were working with and proceeded through the door to the next room. This one also had a number of dark creatures that Harry and Ron had to deal with.
“How can you be so sure though, Harry? What’s the difference?” Ron asked.
“I believe that the difference lays in the intention of the killer. Mum didn’t kill Bellatrix because she wanted to or because she just wanted revenge. Mum killed her so that she couldn’t hurt anyone else,” Harry tried to explain.
“But Mum was vengeful….wasn’t she? How can you be sure that revenge wasn’t a part of it? And even if it was, is that wrong as well?” Ron asked, his face screwed up in concentration. Whether he was concentrating on the conversation or the task he was set to Harry couldn’t guess.
Harry sighed and said, “I’m sure there was an extent of vengeance in her mind, but ultimately your mother is a loving person. She did what she had to do in order to protect her family. I think that makes all the difference.”
When Ron looked unconvinced, Harry continued, “So let’s think of it from another perspective. You know that Albus taught me the invaluable strength of a pure soul, untarnished by murder. Now, he also knew that eventually I would have to kill Voldemort or die myself. But I think that he used the memories of the young Tom Riddle to teach me that everyone is human, even Voldemort.
“I was therefore able to relate to him, even sympathize. It sounds crazy, perhaps, but I had to, so that if I did have to kill him with my own hand I would be doing it for the right reasons and not the wrong ones. If I’d simply used the killing curse to avenge my parents, it wouldn’t have made me much better than him. I needed to kill him because he would never let the world live in peace otherwise.
“Albus encouraged me. He would never have done that if he’d thought for even a moment that it would have destroyed my soul, Ron. Our living bodies aren’t important in any way when weighed with our souls. So, to answer your question definitively, Mum’s soul will find the Afterlife. I have absolutely no doubt of that.”
Ron looked over to Harry as he waved his wand at another creature. “If you’re that sure, then I believe you.”
“I think you and Hermione should take advantage of Albus’s presence in our library. After some of the things you two have said, I get the idea that both of you are feeling quite as guilty as I am for the Battle of Hogwarts,” Harry suggested.
Ron nodded his head as they made their way to the next door. There was a split now, with a separate door for each of them.
“Good luck,” they both said as they took their respective doors.
Harry entered the room, which was draped in blue. They’d been told that this would indicate the need to duel, but on the other side of the room stood Harry.
Harry, who had once dealt in time-travel, tried not to panic. “Who are you?” Harry asked the figure. He looked at it more closely. He wasn’t sure if it was himself or his father.
“I’m Harry, but you need to fight me to get to the other door,” the figure said.
“So I need to fight myself?” Harry asked and the figure nodded. “But that’s ridiculous. We both have the same wand and had the same teachers. Neither of us could possibly win!”
Harry made to move across the room, knowing that he wouldn’t attack himself. But the figure blocked his way.
“We must fight,” the figure insisted.
“If you’re really me, then you know that there is little sense in such a battle. You also have the same respect for life that I do. Therefore you will let me pass,” Harry said.
“You must kill me, Harry,” the figure said.
“No, I won’t kill you,” Harry said definitively. With those words the figure disappeared. It reminded him vaguely of the trap that Moody had set up for Snape at Grimmauld Place, as he passed through the now empty room. He walked through the door, but Ron wasn’t there yet. He’d been told to wait, so he did.
Ron finally came out of his door panting and sweaty. “That was a nightmare!”
“It was a ruse,” Harry told him.
“Yeah, I figured that out eventually, thanks,” Ron said, although he seemed to find it comical now and they proceeded.
They dealt with a few rooms that involved identifying potions and brewing them.
“Should have brought the Prince with you, Harry,” Ron said at one point.
“That book’s ready to fall apart. I’ll leave it home where it’s safe. It’s my last piece of Professor Snape, you know that,” Harry reminded him as they bottled up some of the potion they were working on.
The next room held a large swimming pool with murky water in it. There were instructions hanging in the air above it informing them that they needed to retrieve a golden chalice that was at the bottom. Performing bubble head charms, Harry and Ron dove into the pool. They were attacked almost immediately by a hoard of angry Grindylows, which they disbatched easily with the Relashio Spell. They headed deeper into the water.
Noticing a few Plimpies, Harry said, “There must be some Merpeople near here, Ron, look.”
It didn’t take long for a few of said Merpeople to appear, armed with Lobalugs that they knew could be used as weapons against wizards. Harry and Ron approached cautiously.
“Merchieftainess Murcus?” Harry asked as they got closer, recognizing the mermaid from the Triwizard Tournament.
She held a hand up to her fellows and said, “We are supposed to attack anyone who tries to retrieve the chalice, but I find that I cannot do that. We cannot harm someone of such noble spirit.”
The Merpeople scattered, giving Harry and Ron access to the chalice which they’d been hiding. “Thanks,” they said together as Ron stuck the cup into his robes.
They nodded in appreciation and the Merchieftainess said, “Congratulations, Harry Potter. I’m sure Dumbledore is very proud of you. We hope that the rest of your exam goes well.”
Harry and Ron couldn’t believe their luck and began to swim towards the surface of the water. They had to fight a few Kappas before they could climb out of the pool. Their clothes were obviously sodden and each performed a drying charm so that they wouldn’t freeze through the rest of the course.
They then came to another separation and gave each other an encouraging grin as they entered their respective doors. Harry had no doubt what this room held as he entered, feeling ice begin to invade his soul. As he looked at the creature, he wondered whether it was a real Dementor or a Boggart in disguise.
“Riddikulus,” Harry said, but the creature didn’t disappear. So this was the real thing, Harry thought. No better time than the present, he thought, to test Snape’s theory. Harry tried to shut down his mind and the Dementor let him pass. Harry closed the door in relief. He wondered briefly if Kingsley knew they’d brought a real Dementor into the Ministry as Ron too entered the hallway. He had an obvious tear-mark on his cheek but seemed okay otherwise.
“Alright, Harry?” Ron asked in a shaky voice.
Harry nodded and said, “I’m fine. It really did work, though.”
“You were able to block the Dementor out?” Ron asked in surprise.
“Yeah!” said Harry, his own shock apparent as he opened the next door. They found a swamp that covered the floor, immediately recognizing a few Hinkypunks and Dugbogs.
“So, what exactly do they want us to do? We can ignore the Hinkypunks’ directions well enough, but the Dugbogs really only go after small animals, right?” Ron said.
“Well, let’s try to get rid of the swamp first. That might make things easier,” Harry suggested. Just then another message appeared in the air telling them that they needed to rescue Mandrakes from the Dugbogs. They picked up a few rocks and transfigured them into some earmuffs and a few pots in which to place the Mandrakes.
“You reckon this is one of Fred and George’s swamps?” Ron asked.
“There’s only one way to find out,” Harry replied, performing the spell to remove the swamp once they both had donned their earmuffs. The swamp vanished, leaving behind the Mandrakes which were already screaming and the Dugbogs. Harry and Ron ran around the room quickly, scooping up the Mandrakes and forcing them into the pots before the Dugbogs could get to them. They carried the now buried Mandrakes with them out the door and placed them on the ground in the hallway, removing their earmuffs as they did so.
They next found another standard training room that had been infested by quite a number of large and deadly snakes.
Ron shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well this should be easy.”
He looked at Harry in expectation, who looked confused. “Well, Harry, just talk to them.”
Harry asked, “What should I tell them?”
“Dunno, maybe tell them to go lay in the corner,” Ron suggested.
This seemed reasonable, so Harry shouted, “Go lay down!”
The snakes continued to whirl around the room. “Uh, Harry, I think you might want to try using Parseltongue.”
“That wasn’t Parseltongue?” Harry asked.
Ron looked at Harry as though he were a simple child and said very slowly, “No, Harry, that was English.”
Harry was confused and said, “Well, maybe they’re not really snakes. I always did better with real snakes than fake ones, right?”
He cast a spell forcing beings, other than Boggarts, to reveal their true forms. But nothing happened to the snakes.
“Try it again, Harry,” Ron said.
Harry decided to say something else. He thought that perhaps the thing he’d wanted to say didn’t exist in Parseltongue. “Move to the side,” Harry said.
Ron rolled his eyes and said, “That’s still English!”
“Don’t you remember how to speak Parseltongue?” Ron asked angrily.
“Well, you do it then, if you’re so brilliant,” Harry retorted.
Harry was mesmerized as he heard a hissing sound issue from Ron’s mouth.
“That’s all I can say, Harry,” Ron said.
All of the snakes seemed to take this as an order. They reared and opened their mouths, hissing and snarling. They bore down on Harry and Ron, neither of whom had any knowledge of how to repel them.
Harry pushed Ron to the floor and shouted, “Cover your head!”
Harry waved his wand and tried not to wince as a huge wave of silver light seemed to hit everything in the room. The enchanted windows were broken, the few desks set against the wall exploded and the snakes were thrown to the ground. The noise was enormous and the floor trembled slightly.
Harry leaned down and pulled Ron upright. “Good thinking, Harry,” Ron said as he took in the wreckage. “So is this what you’ve been practicing?”
“Somewhat, but I’m not very good at it, so we need to get out of here before those snakes all wake up,” Harry advised. They both threw themselves, literally falling to the floor, through the now empty doorway into another blue room. The walls and floor of this room were all padded, but it seemed empty.
They stood up, brushing themselves off from the debris that had hit them from the previous room.
“In the name of Merlin, what is wrong with you, Harry?” Ron asked in a fearful tone, shaking Harry by the shoulders.
Harry drew himself up indignantly and said, “What do you mean?”
“Okay, you’re a Parselmouth, right?” he said as though this were obvious, and so Harry nodded. “Did you even understand me when I spoke?”
Harry just shook his head in dismay. “No, what did you say anyhow?”
“The same thing as before, ‘open up.’ You knew what I said the last time, just outside the Room of Requirement! I don’t understand,” said Ron.
Harry shrugged his shoulders in response.
Ron continued to look apprehensive and said, “Disarm me.”
“Disarm me. If you’ve lost your powers somehow, you shouldn’t be able to. Disarm me.”
Harry sent his disarming spell at Ron and caught the wand as it flew towards him. Harry tossed Ron’s wand back to him, but they still shared a look of fear. “That’s silly, Ron. If I’d lost my powers I couldn’t have used that spell back there,” Harry said.
“You’ve got to go talk to Albus,” Ron said. “You’ve got to talk to him immediately and find out what is wrong!”
Harry barely had a moment to contemplate this when Ron said, “What if you can’t speak Parseltongue because Voldemort’s not inside you anymore?
Suddenly the pieces clicked into place. He’d not even been tempted to talk to the snakes, not even for small-talk as he had all of those years ago at the zoo. He’d had the ability to do so only because there was a piece of Voldemort’s soul in him. Harry nodded vaguely.
“Well, go down to the Atrium now. Maybe Albus is down there. He’s probably waiting for us to go home,” Ron said.
“There’s no need, Ron. You’re right. I’m not a Parselmouth anymore,” Harry said, feeling surprisingly relieved.
“Well, at least we know now. Are there any other powers that you’ve lost?” Ron asked.
“No, that was the only natural power he had that I acquired,” Harry said.
“What about those golden flames you kept talking about, Harry?”
“That was his own spell. I’m not even sure what it was for exactly, or what spell it was at that. Besides, even if he was still inside me, I could only use that against him, not anyone else,” Harry said.
Ron seemed to understand and nodded, looking around the room. “Aren’t we supposed to duel someone here? There isn’t anyone around. Should we duel each other?”
“That would be kind of silly, since it’s obvious we’ve worked together,” Harry pointed out.
At that moment Gawain appeared near them and they could then see a set of bleachers full of Aurors.
“Where are the others?” Gawain asked, in confusion.
“What others?” Harry asked.
“You were followed throughout the course.”
Harry now felt alarm as he and Ron ran for the room they’d just left. The snakes were all swarming towards a specific spot, but Gawain pushed Harry and Ron aside. He vanished the snakes and removed the Disillusionment Charm from the huddled group on the floor.
Harry experienced a wave of shame as he saw the figures just beginning to stir. “I’m so sorry, sir. I didn’t realize there were any people in here. We didn’t know what to do!” Harry said, pleadingly. “You can help them, can’t you?”
“They’ll be fine, Harry,” Gawain assured him. “They seem to have been stunned.”
Harry nodded, as this was a standard effect of the spell he’d used. Gawain created a Portkey and sent the fallen Aurors to St. Mungo’s.
“Well, your dueling partners were in that group,” Gawain said, scratching his head. “No matter, though, we’ll get you new partners.”
Harry now felt more nervous than he had the entire day. This was the part he’d dreaded. He looked back to the spot from which the people he’d hurt had departed before following Gawain and Ron from the room.
Harry was to face the woman named Constance Brocklehurst and Ron was paired with Arnold Savage. Harry and Ron stood on the same side of the room, against their opponents on the other side.
All four bowed politely to commence the battles. Harry held his wand up in defense. He easily deflected Constance’s blow, a stunner by the looks of it. He couldn’t believe how quickly she left herself open. He was also surprised by her stance. She stood face-on, so that he had full access to her torso. He’d decided on leaving the snake-infested room to use defensive moves only. So he set up shield after shield to block her.
Harry finally shook his head though and, continuing to parry her moves, walked up to her. He stood behind her and said, “Watch what Ron does.”
She looked at him in confusion. Harry continued, “See how he holds his body sideways? Although this doesn’t necessarily work in a full battle, it’s useful in a dueling situation.”
He had noticed that Constance held her wand in her right hand, so he put his hand on her left shoulder to move her sideways. He then showed her how to try to keep herself protected once she’d sent a spell.
Harry slowly backed up to his dueling position and watched her try some of the new moves he’d shown her. With his encouragement she began to improve. Harry was watching Ron’s duel on the other side of the room out of the corner of his eye and saw it end. He saw Ron walk up to Robards and could catch snippets of their conversation.
“What, in the name of Merlin, is Harry doing?” Gawain asked.
Ron was silent for a few moments as he watched and then laughed. “He’s…he’s teaching her how to duel!”
But Ron began to approach Harry and Constance. Then he asked, “What is Harry doing? He’s not fighting back at all!”
“I know, that’s what I’m trying to tell you!” Gawain said.
“I’ve got to talk to Harry,” Ron said.
“You can’t talk to him in the middle of a duel, he’ll lose his concentration!” Gawain exclaimed.
Ron shook his head and said, “Nah, she’s not even close to being a match for him. We'll be here all night otherwise.”
Gawain nodded in resignation and Ron stepped forward.
“Harry!” Ron shouted. Harry looked over to Ron, even though he’d heard the entire conversation. “What are you doing?”
“What does it look like I’m doing?” Harry responded.
“Well, it looks like you’re just trying to tire her out. So should I conjure some sleeping bags for the rest of us?”
Harry huffed and said, “You don’t get it, Ron.”
“What, that you’re afraid of yourself? You won’t hurt her, Harry. When was the last time you saw a stunner kill someone?”
Harry nearly lost his concentration on avoiding Constance’s spells at that. Ron closed his eyes, “We’re not in the Department of Mysteries and there is no veil. In fact, there’s a nicely padded wall behind her.”
Harry gave Ron a withering look and saw his friend throw his head back in frustration.
Finally Ron shouted, “Harry! You can’t be afraid of yourself for the rest of your life!”
Then in a quieter voice Ron said, “Disarm her and stun her. She gives you excellent opportunities every time she tries to stun you. You won’t hurt her, Harry.”
“And how do you know that, Ron?”
“Is this the reason you refused to duel both me and Neville for the past month? Get over it. If you want this job, you’ve got to,” Ron told him. Ron pushed on in an insistent tone, “Disarm her and stun her. You know how to control it.”
Harry held his shield as tightly as he could as possible and looked at Ron. Ron looked at him with an impatient air.
Harry nodded and turned back to his opponent. He had her wand within moments and sent a medium stunner at her. She hit the wall, and Harry ran over quickly, her wand in his hand.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
She nodded and took her wand back, accepting his hand to help her gain her feet.
“Okay, so you two have passed the physical exam,” Gawain said, approaching Harry with Ron at his side. “Now, I’ll give you a brief tour of the department.”
They’d already seen the cubicles at which most of the Aurors sat as well as the conference room. Harry recognized the one he’d seen Kingsley sitting at during his trip there with Arthur for his hearing, although it was no longer covered in pictures of Sirius. Gawain showed them to his office as well as those of the three senior Aurors. John Dawlish had one office, Arnold Savage another, and the third was currently vacant. It had belonged to Kingsley, since he’d been promoted two years previously. Now he obviously held the Minister’s office.
Gawain then brought them back into the conference room where everyone was convened and said, “Well, they’ve passed two of the three tests so far. We agree on this?”
There was a general consensus at that. “Very well, we will give them the last test then.”
Gawain looked directly at Harry and Ron, saying, “You will disappear until noon tomorrow. We will try to track you. In the meantime, you will need to answer the questions on the parchment in front of you.”
They looked at said parchment in shock, it was at least three feet long, full of complex problems for them to solve, questions for them to answer and potions for them to brew.
“You will have one hour in which to prepare,” Gawain said. “I must however, insist that you not use one of the residences under a Fidelius Charm. That means that I’ll need to know where you live.”
Harry and Ron shared a fearful look.
“I’ll need to clear that with the Minister, sir,” Harry said.
The man next to him handed him an interdepartmental memo, onto which he wrote out his question.
Ron commented, “I need to tell George. I was supposed to work the evening shift. Ginny’s not going to be happy if she has to work a double.”
“She’ll understand,” Harry said, hoping this was true. They hadn’t parted but for classes and the odd moment since the last battle. He called Fawkes to him to deliver the message to George.
“Excuse me, Mr. Potter, but you can’t tell anyone about this,” Constance said.
“We have to! We have other responsibilities. We can’t just disappear for over half a day with no explanation,” Harry told her.
“Be that as it may, no one other than the Auror Department as well as the two top officials of the Ministry may know of our examinations,” she told them and reminded them of the contract they’d signed earlier promising not to tell anyone of certain things.
Harry said, “I understand your reasoning for such rules and agree with the reason they are in place. But we can’t just leave. In case you’ve forgotten, we’ve very recently done just that. If you think that you’re the only ones that don’t know where we were for the past year, you’re mistaken. We told absolutely no one where we were going. That included Ron’s family.”
“It doesn’t matter. If we find out that you’ve told anyone that you’re on this mission, you’ll be more than dismissed. You’ll be in breach of contract,” she told them.
Harry and Ron looked at each other, both seeming to reach a decision at the same moment and stood.
“Well, if we can’t tell our family what’s going on, I guess that’s the end. We can’t send them all into a panic over nothing. That’s not to mention Harry’s house-elf, who was nervous enough this morning when we left. If Harry and I didn’t come home he would completely freak out,” Ron said as they both turned to leave, dumbfounded faces staring back at them.
“Wait a minute, so that’s it?” Gawain’s voice boomed.
“Like Ron said, we’re not going to just let our loved-ones worry needlessly,” Harry said. “They’ve spent enough time in the last year doing that. We can’t do it to them again.”
“I think I can understand that. Could you two wait outside the door for a moment so that we can discuss this?” Gawain asked.
They nodded and left the room. Ron fished inside his robes to find an Extendable Ear, giving one of the listening pieces to Harry.
“I know that’s always been our policy, but I think it’s very obvious that the Weasley family and Miss Granger are very tight-lipped. As long as Harry and Ron make them swear not to tell anyone, they won’t,” Gawain said. “I think I can understand their apprehension for causing any more distress than is necessary. We certainly know that they’re excellent with discretion themselves and it stands to reason that the people they would trust with their knowledge will be just as honorable. I’ll put it to a vote. Who here thinks that we should allow them to tell those people that they feel they need to tell?”
A few minutes passed before Harry and Ron were asked to reenter the room. “We’ve agreed that as long as you make it clear to the people that you tell that they can’t reveal this to anyone that you may do so. We will trust your judgment in the matter,” Gawain told them as they regained their seats. Ron wrote out a note to George and Ginny, informing them of the situation as well as the need for secrecy.
A memo came flying back then:
The first time I met you was in your Aunt’s kitchen and I remarked on how much you looked like your Father. The last words said to Remus and me by Dumbledore were ‘Harry is the best hope we have. Trust him.’ You were right to ask as messages can certainly be intercepted. I’ll send my Patronus with a message you will remember as well, just to be sure. Yes, you may tell Gawain the location of your home. With the charm in effect, he cannot reveal it to anyone else, and he wouldn’t use it for personal gain. You have my word on that.
Shortly after Harry received the response they all saw a silver lynx enter the room.
“The Ministry has fallen. Scrimgeour is dead. They are coming.”
“Very well,” Harry said, standing. Gawain, who also seemed to recognize the Patronus, stood and escorted Harry out of the room.
“Understand that I can only tell you the location of my own house, as I’m not the secret-keeper for the others,” Harry said. He wrote down his address on a piece of parchment, and waited for a moment until Gawain had read it before lighting it on fire with the tip of his wand.
Gawain laughed sadly and said, “You remind me a bit of Mad-Eye!”
Harry didn’t laugh but said, “Yeah, that’s where I got the idea from, I suppose. Constant Vigilance!”
“You were close to him?” Gawain asked.
“Not really, but he gave his life to get me safely out my relatives’ house. It hit Tonks pretty hard,” Harry said looking off into one of the enchanted windows.
“We miss her,” Gawain said, now looking distant himself. Then he had a fond gaze in his eyes as he said, “But that girl could never figure out what stealth meant!”
Harry couldn’t help but laugh, recalling Tonks’s clumsiness. None of them had ever bothered to right the umbrella stand, and he wondered if Kreacher had left it that way for a reason.
Harry brought himself back to the matter at hand and said, “So, you’re welcome to visit our house this evening. It would likely be a wealth of knowledge for some of these questions, but we won’t take the easy way out. I’ll even give you my word that we won’t hide in any of the residences we currently have under a Fidelius.”
Gawain rose and, putting his hand out, said “I’ll accept your word on that.”
They shook hands in agreement. Harry and Gawain walked back into the conference room and Gawain spoke. “So I’m allowing Harry and Ron to use Kingsley’s old office to make their plans for an hour and then we will hunt them down.”
Harry and Ron still sat in their seats. “An hour from now!” Gawain reminded them and they bolted out of their chairs.
They ran into Kingsley’s old office. “We should probably camp?” Ron asked with a disgusted look on his face.
“Probably,” Harry thought. He looked around the room. It was actually rather spacious. “Here’s what we’re going to do. You go down to the Canteen and get some food for us. I’ll go get the tent from Hermione. We’ll meet in the men’s room down the hall.”
“Then what?” Ron asked.
“You’ll see,” Harry said. Ron looked scared once he caught the look on Harry’s face.
“Don’t we want the best answers on that test?” Harry asked.
“Yeah,” Ron said as though this was completely obvious.
“What better way to get the right answers than to use their own files.”
“Have you lost your mind?” Ron asked, clearly concerned for his friend’s sanity. “Exactly how are we going to get those files?”
“You’ll see. Do you trust me?”
“Then just go and get us some food,” Harry said. “I’ll see you in a few minutes.”
Harry started casting some spells on the room.
“What are you doing?”
“Well, we don’t want anyone to hear us Apparate in here do we?” Harry said.
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