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A Time to Live by ladymblack
Chapter 19 : Chapter 19: Getting Settled
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 21


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Chapter 19: Getting Settled

The following morning once again found a flurry of movement around 12 Grimmauld Place as its occupants prepared for another day at work.  Ginny would be accompanying them to the Ministry for her first Apparition lesson.  These lessons had been specifically designed for those students from Hogwarts who had lost out on the chance to learn the previous year.  Snape had specifically forbidden this usual program from the sixth year curriculum.  Harry wondered whether this was another safety measure Snape had tried to instill or whether it was a desire of Voldemort’s to prevent the students from learning.  He rather thought it might be the former.  Perhaps Snape had been too nervous to remove any of the Anti-Apparition jinxes that protected the school no matter how short the period of time.  Although Snape had to protect the students from the Carrows, it would be much more difficult to fight more than just the two of them and the risk of anyone getting into the school might have been too great.

Harry and Ron grabbed their rucksacks, and filled them with items they might wish to keep at their desks.  There were refills for the Skiving Snackboxes and extra Extendable Ears.  They’d thrown in rolls of parchment, bottles of ink and quills.  They packed some books they thought might make good references, including the ones that Sirius and Remus had given to Harry for Christmas the year he began the D.A.  Harry had included five photographs to put around his cubicle.  There was the one of his parents’ wedding with Sirius beside his father as best man, his favorite photo of his parents that looked like it had been taken in the Gryffindor Common Room, the one he’d found in Sirius’s room of Harry as a baby riding around the toy broom with his father chasing after him, one of Remus, Tonks and Teddy and one that they’d taken at the beginning of the summer of Ginny and him holding Teddy.  Hermione and Ginny spent a good deal of their time adding pockets, as Harry had requested, to Harry and Ron’s Auror robes, while Harry and Ron packed.  Hermione had shown Ginny some of the spells that she’d used on her beaded bag, so the robes were now feather-light and although the pockets were still small they would hold more than they appeared to yet not weigh them down. 

“Harry, why don’t we just make the pockets of the robes like my bag and that way you won’t need so many of them?” asked Hermione.

“Because, I want to be able to just grab what I need without a wand or rummaging around.  If everything has its own compartment, then I won’t have to fiddle,” Harry said.  He then told her that he wanted anything that might be used in combat, such as the Stunning Snares or the Darkness Powder to go on the right side (so that he could reach in with his left hand) and the rest to go on the left for less time-sensitive circumstances.

Hermione proceeded to do as he asked, but looked at him askance.  “Who exactly do you think you are?  Batman?” she asked, clearly trying not to laugh.

Harry did laugh and admitted, “Well, the idea did come from remembering his utility belt.”

She laughed so hard that she was barely able to hold her wand steady as she controlled her stitching.

Ron and Ginny, however, obviously thought that Harry and Hermione had lost their marbles.  “What’s a batman?” asked Ginny, looking thoroughly confused, “some sort of animagus who can turn into a bat?”

“Nah, he’s just a muggle superhero Dudley and I used to watch on the telly when we were kids,” explained Harry.

“Well, if that’s where you got this idea to alter our robes, I guess I can’t really complain,” Ron said with a shrug.

Ginny and Hermione both added on special pockets that would each specifically carry the Invisibility Cloak and the Deluminator.  Since they couldn’t be sure which of them would need to use either item, both pockets were added for Harry and Ron’s robes alike.

Before they knew it, the time had come to head to the Ministry.  Harry took Ginny’s arm for Side-Along Apparition on the step outside the front door and the four found themselves in the Atrium once again.  There was some time to spare so they all decided to accompany Ginny to the Department of Magical Transportation on Level Six.  They found a great number of students from Ginny’s year milling around the Apparition Test Center, including Luna, who ran full-pelt at them.

“Daddy wanted to teach me himself,” Luna said to Ginny, “but, I begged him to let me come here so I could learn with you.  Well, you know how he feels about the Ministry.  I’m trying to convince him it will be better with all of the changes.”

She shrugged her shoulders as if to say that she hadn’t yet gotten through to her father. 

“How’s your holiday been so far, Luna?” asked Ron.

“Oh, it’s been quite lovely.  We usually like to take a trip over the summer, but we really couldn’t this year.  With the magazine being shut down last year and having to repair the house, money’s a bit tight.  Besides, I’ve only got about a month until school starts, so it would be too hard,” she replied.

“You should stop by the joke shop sometime next week when I’m working,” Ginny told her.

They visited for a few minutes before the instructor, clad in his yellow robes, showed up, asking them all to file into the classroom they’d set up.  They said their good-byes.  Harry kissed Ginny and promised he’d send her a memo letting her know where they’d be having lunch so that she and Luna could join them.  Harry and Ron split from Hermione, as she got off the lift on Level Four, and continued up to the Auror Department.  Gawain was standing just outside of the door to his private office talking with Savage.  He smiled upon seeing Harry and Ron.  “We’ll just have a quick meeting in the conference room.”

Just as they had two days previously, all of the Aurors, now including Harry and Ron, filed into the large room.  Once they’d all seated themselves, Gawain stood to address them.  “I would like to now officially welcome you to the Auror Department, Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley.”

There was polite applause, but quite different expressions besieging them.  Some of the Aurors looked excited, others looked wary and some were downright hostile in their gazes. 

“Gawain, I had a few questions, if you don’t mind,” Harry said.  With a nod of approval, he continued, “First I would like to ask if we were given the same exam that everyone else was, because it didn’t seem all that difficult, to be honest.  In many ways it reminded us of the obstacles guarding the Sorcerer’s Stone and we got through that when we were first years.  I find it hard to believe that it would take three years to train someone to get through it.”

“I’ve been given to understand that the protection on the Sorcerer’s Stone was meant to prevent a certain dark wizard from getting it, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was similar.  But in answer to your question, it was indeed the same test that everyone has gone through.  Much of it has been tweaked over the years, but ultimately very little has changed.  You both passed your exams with extremely high marks.  I looked through the files this morning out of curiosity.  There are only a few who made it through the obstacle course with such speed and accuracy in the past fifty years.  Alastor Moody and Kingsley Shacklebolt both barely beat you; Nymphadora Tonks…”

“It’s Lupin, sir,” interrupted Ron.  Harry thought this was a rather moot point.  They all still tended to call her Tonks, although spending time with Andromeda had given them an inclination to call her Dora.  But he could understand that Ron didn’t want them to forget that she’d married Remus Lupin.

“Ah, right, I’d almost forgotten that she’d married,” said Gawain, apologetically.

“They were very close friends of ours.  I was at their wedding, Gawain.  Besides, Harry’s their son’s godfather, so I don’t think we’ll forget anytime soon,” Ron added.

“Does anyone want to see a photo of him?” Harry asked the room at large.  Many of the witches rushed towards him as he opened his rucksack and rummaged around for it.  He let them pass it around.  Teddy’s hair changed from black to red in the photo as Harry and Ginny passed him back and forth.  Many of the Aurors laughed and commented about how much Teddy was like his mother as they viewed it.  Harry carefully tucked it back into its proper spot once it had come back to him.

“So, as I was saying, she and Fabian Prewitt were right behind you,” Gawain said, trying to continue his previous statement.

Ron looked surprised and said, “Blimey, Mum never told me that Uncle Fabian was an Auror!  That’s really cool!”

Harry looked down to his left wrist at the watch she had given to him when he came of age.  “Wow, I guess I never connected the two.  This must be his watch, mustn’t it?  He and your uncle Gideon were in the original Order!”

Ron rolled his eyes and said, “Obviously, Harry.  Who did you think they were?”

Harry shrugged his shoulders, and realized he’d never really had a chance to find out much about Molly and Arthur’s families, aside from their children.  He resolved to do so, not wanting to repeat the same mistakes he’d made regarding Albus.

“So anyway, we were speaking of Tonks…excuse me, Mrs. Lupin; you two will be replacing her and two Aurors I fired from Latimer Proudfoot’s team.  He will be your immediate superior and guide you through your first few weeks here,” said Gawain.

“That still leaves me one short, Gawain.  Are you going to be hiring more people?” Proudfoot asked.

“I do intend to continue with the hiring process, and I’m hoping to recruit more of those that were formerly in Dumbledore’s Army.  Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until their N.E.W.T. results come in before reviewing those applications.  In the meantime, I’m sure Harry and Ron can fulfill their roles nicely.  Remember, that those two worked in close connection with Mad-Eye, Nymphadora and the Minister, so they’ve been well-taught.”

“We didn’t really work with them all that much, sir.  While Dumbledore was alive, they were generally given the task of guarding Harry when necessary.  Once Dumbledore was killed, we were basically on the run, so…” Ron said, trying to explain that although they’d known these Aurors personally over a few years, they hadn’t actually been trained by them.

“I think it’s a fair point, Ron, actually.  Wasn’t Dora inordinately proud of your performance during the Sky Battle last year?  She was going on and on about how you’d stunned one of the Death Eaters in mid-air before we found out that Mad-Eye had been killed,” Harry pointed out.  “I think she’d be really proud of you.”

He then turned to Gawain and said, “Two of our fellow Gryffindors are going to be applying.  You should seriously consider Seamus Finnegan and Dean Thomas when you receive their requests.  Dean was on the run like us last year and lasted until the same night that we were caught.  Seamus helped the others run the D.A. and was crucial to its successes at Hogwarts.”

Gawain nodded appreciatively and said that he would consult them when the time came.  “You had another question, Harry?” he asked.

“We were under the impression that you would also be testing us on Occlumency and fighting the Imperius Curse,” Harry responded.

“Ah, yes, I understand that you are both able to do this,” Gawain said.  “Although we expect our applicants to at least understand the rudiments of such things, we know that they’re difficult things to master.  It would be a very small department indeed if we excluded people because they were unable to perform these tasks.”

“Shouldn’t at least everyone in the Auror Department be able to fight the Imperius and Legilmency?” asked Ron, clearly stunned at this attitude.  “I could understand if it might not be entirely important for the rest of the departments, but surely for this one it should be essential!”

“Could you test me on Occlumency anyway, Gawain?” Harry asked nervously, deliberately deflecting the conversation.  Perhaps Ron had forgotten their conversation with Kingsley at the party.  This was still something that Kingsley was trying to fight for and it could take a great deal of time and energy to succeed.  They should do their best not to undermine Kingsley’s efforts.

“Haven’t you been employing Occlumency for a long time, Harry?  Why would you wish me to subject you to it again?” Gawain said.

“I’ve only ever blocked out Voldemort and I don’t know if it would be different with someone else.”







Gawain looked taken aback and said, “But he was one of the best Legilmens in the world!  If you could fight him, you could fight anyone.”

Harry turned at Ron for support, who urged him on with his eyes.  “It’s different.  I’m not sure if the method I used to block out Voldemort would work otherwise.  When Professor Snape taught me, I was never able to fight him with my mind.  I resorted to my wand on the rare occasions when I was able to stop him.  When I learned to control Voldemort’s…invasion, I suppose you could call it, into my head, I allowed my emotions to guide me.  But that’s the exact opposite of how Occlumency should be used.  I let my feelings of grief and love overpower me so that I could pull out of Voldemort’s mind.  With Occlumency, you’re supposed to shut down your emotions.  That’s why I think it might be different somehow.  Please, Gawain, the Minister said that you could perform Legilmency sufficiently.”

“Are you sure Harry?” Gawain asked.  Harry nodded; Gawain raised his wand and said, “Legilimens!”

Harry tried to use the same process that he did when faced with a Dementor and controlling his wand.  He felt Gawain begin to prod into his mind, images of the Battle of Hogwarts flickering.  Harry didn’t want Gawain to see those thoughts and so shut them down with all of his might.  They ceased to run before his eyes and he looked across the room to where Gawain sat.

“That was quite remarkable, Harry.  Are you still unconvinced?” Gawain asked, looking heartily satisfied.

“No, I guess it still works.  Thank you,” said Harry, feeling humbled.

“As for the Imperius Curse, if you both will sign the parchment in front of you,” Gawain added, said parchment appearing before them, “I will test you when you least expect it.  It is not something you have to do, but if you’d like to, I can allow it.”

They both signed without hesitation before Gawain dismissed the meeting.  Latimer Proudfoot then asked that his team remain seated so that he could speak with them privately for a few minutes.  Harry noticed that all but those who were seated around him and Ron departed.

“So, this was originally Kingsley’s team.  I took over once Kingsley, I mean the Minister, was made a Senior Auror.  Tonks and I worked quite a bit together before she resigned last year.  She obviously didn’t tell me your secrets or anything about the Order of the Phoenix, but she did talk about you two and your friends quite a lot.  I specifically asked Gawain if you could be allowed to join our team because I think you will be a good addition,” Latimer said.  Harry noticed that on his robes underneath Latimer Proudfoot, it said Auror Team Leader.  He had sandy blond hair, blue eyes and appeared to be in his forties.  Harry remembered Tonks saying that she was stationed in Hogsmeade with Proudfoot to protect the school during his sixth year at Hogwarts.  He wondered if Latimer was in any way related to Pansy Parkinson as he shared the same pug nose that she had.

They were introduced to the four people who had followed them through the Physical Exam.  Harry squirmed in discomfort as he realized these were the people he’d accidentally stunned when he and Ron had been attacked by the snakes.  Raleigh Ferguson, in his mid-fifties, looked as though he was of Scottish descent and had dark brown hair and green eyes.  He still had suspicion on his face as he shook hands with Harry and Ron.  Luckily, the rest of the team seemed to be much friendlier and smiled as though they were proud to welcome the young people.  Dominic Milburn had blond hair and grey eyes, as well a pointed chin that reminded Harry of Draco and Lucius Malfoy.  Beulah Putnam was certainly the youngest, perhaps in her late twenties, with dark skin and deep brown eyes.  Her hair had been straightened and sleeked in a short cut close to her head.  Eleanor Renwick was a bit older, in her forties perhaps, but had a well-cared-for look about her.  She had rich auburn hair although there were a few strands of gray scattered about, a lot of freckles and dark blue eyes.  Her hair style was mid-length, falling just below her shoulders in waves.

They led Harry and Ron back out of the Conference Room and across the room to a set of cubicles in a line just outside of the door to Senior Auror Dawlish’s office.  Proudfoot sat at the end nearest the office, beside whom would be Ron, Beulah, Raleigh, Dominic, Harry, Eleanor and an empty desk.  There was a space between the empty desk and the next, indicating a different team.  They sat on the end closest to the door, sharing the front wall of their cubicles with another team.  The cubicles continued to expand out, until they reached the other side of the room where Gawain’s office stood.

Eleanor smiled at Harry as she showed him his seat.  There was already a pile that was at least a foot-high of letters on the desk top.  “They were supposed to clear this off!” she said indignantly and called Latimer over.

“Ah, yes, Kingsley sent over Harry’s mail from the summer.  It’s all been checked by the Post Service.  I’m sorry, Harry, I guess he thought you wouldn’t want to be bothered by it while you were at school,” Latimer explained.

Harry’s mouth fell open in shock and gave Latimer with a look of disgust.  “Why did he think I would want it at all now?” Harry asked.  He raised his wand to vanish all of the correspondence.  Ron, having walked over to see what the commotion was, knocked Harry’s hand aside.

“Hang on, Harry, what if some of it’s useful?” Ron said.

“Ron, we’ve been over this before.  How do we know there aren’t any curses and such inside of these?  And of what use could they possibly be?” Harry asked.

Ron rolled his eyes and said, “It’s all been checked by the Ministry and we can be careful opening it just to be on the safe side.  What if some of them are from people who mean you harm?  Shouldn’t we see what we can learn from them?”

Harry couldn’t deny the truth in that and remained silent.  He looked at the huge stack and felt a headache coming on at the thought of going through all of them.  He absentmindedly rubbed his forehead, closing his eyes.

The next thing he knew, he was being shaken.  Ron had seized Harry’s upper arms, and as Harry opened his eyes, he could see Ron’s terror.

“Ha-Ha-Harry, are you okay?” whispered Ron.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Harry said with great confusion.

“Your scar!  You were just touching your scar and closing your eyes!  Why is your scar hurting?” he asked, in a quiet and fearful tone, looking into Harry’s eyes.

Harry’s hand immediately dropped to his side.  He blinked stupidly a few times, shook his head and replied, “Ron, my scar can’t hurt.  Even if Voldemort were alive, it couldn’t hurt.  That part is gone, remember?  I reckoned a headache was coming on and I suppose I just associate any pain in my head with the scar.”

“You’re…you’re sure, Harry?” asked Ron, still clearly terrified to the bone.

“Yeah, sorry if I scared you; I didn’t mean to,” Harry said.  Looking around for a change of subject he said, “Ron, I really don’t want to read about how people are grateful for what I’ve done, I don’t want to read about what horrible things happened the last few years and I don’t want to read about why I didn’t stop things sooner than I did.”

Ron’s expression changed from one of fear to one of chagrin.  Then he waved his own wand and the pile of correspondence disappeared.  “I sent them home.  Hermione, Ginny and I can take care of it.  You don’t have to read them.”

“Thanks,” Harry said, gratefully.  He couldn’t let them do it all on their own though.  “Maybe it won’t be so bad if we all do it together.”

Ron nodded and turned to go back to his own desk.  No one seemed to know what to say, now looking at either Harry’s empty cubicle or his forehead.  Harry felt very self-conscious about his scar to begin with and now he’d gone and given everyone a new reason to look at it.  He was extremely grateful that the second curse hit him in the chest so that it wouldn’t be seen by many people.

“Could you show me what all of these things are for, Eleanor?” Harry asked the witch who sat beside him.

“Sure, so here are your memos.  If you need to send something to someone, you just write the name of the person and the department on the wings and tap it with your wand.  It’ll fly to the person automatically.  Why don’t you go ahead and try it out?” she suggested, trying to look anywhere besides Harry.

He wrote a brief note to Hermione, telling her that he was testing out his memo system and asking her what she wanted to do for lunch.  He smiled as it whizzed out of the room of its own accord.

“Very good, not too difficult, eh?” she said encouragingly, seeming to forget about the incident with Harry’s scar.  She also showed him the drawers and explained some of the forms to him.  “This one is if you have to use a spell or something that we’re not supposed to.”

Harry scratched his head and asked, “You mean, like an Unforgivable or something?”

“Well, we’re really not supposed to use those at all.  It’s understood, of course, that there are extreme circumstances but there’s a separate form for those.  This is more for if you have to use a spell against a muggle, for instance, or if you use Veritaserum,” she said.  She searched through her desk and handed him a sheaf of parchment that detailed the things they could and couldn’t do, circumstances under which they were acceptable and how to fill out the forms. 

There were also forms that needed to be filled out if they arrested a suspect, interrogated someone, opened a case, closed a case, and the list went on and on.  In fact, of the two filing drawers beside his chair, one was completely full of forms in hanging folders.  There were other folders that were empty, but would hold completed forms once he had some to put in them.  She showed him his trays as well.  There was a set of in-trays stacked high with names on them.  There was his Team Leader, Latimer Proudfoot; his Senior Auror, John Dawlish; the Head of the Auror Department, Gawain Robards; the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Cyrus Burke; the Minister of Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt; and a number that were as yet unnamed.  She explained that the ones that were unnamed would fill in as he worked and it became apparent who he corresponded with the most often.  As the notion sank in, two of the blank slots changed to Junior Auror Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger, House-Elf Relocation Department.

They both laughed and she said, “Yes, well that’s generally the way it works.  The tower will grow higher and even sprout another if you need more.”

She pointed to her own desk where she had three stacks, each one nearly reaching the top of the divider between their desks.

“You can go ahead and put your things away,” Eleanor said, pointing to his rucksack.  “Once you’re done, let me know and I’ll get you started on some of the cases that we’re working on.”

Harry opened the empty drawer.  He transfigured it, dividing it into compartments.  They’d been told that they should always keep a set of muggle clothes at the office, so he used the spell Hermione and Ginny had shown him to shrink his jeans, t-shirt and jacket, tucking it into a corner.  On top of them he put a spare set of Auror robes and his plum Wizengamot robes since it would be easier to change there and go down to the courtrooms than to go home on the occasions he needed to attend.  Then he used another compartment to hold the back-ups for his products from the joke shop; but once he’d put everything in it, he covered it with a Disillusionment Charm and an Anti-Summoning Spell.  He’d made more compartments than necessary, but he didn’t know what would come up so he simply left most of them empty.  There was a smaller drawer below the desk, just above his chair where he stowed spare quills, ink bottles and rolls of parchment.  The books he threw haphazardly along the back.  He knew Hermione would despair at the lack of order, but luckily she wouldn’t be using his desk and would therefore, hopefully, have no cause for censure.  He placed the Sneakoscope in a corner.  He set the pictures he’d brought with him around the cubicle walls so that he could see each one easily.  He looked around with satisfaction before turning back to Eleanor, who was writing on a form and vaguely tapping a bunch of memos with her wand.

He suddenly had an urge to get up onto his desk and moo like a cow.  That couldn’t be right, could it? Harry thought.  Then he recalled the sensation of being Imperiused and was unsuccessful at keeping in a laugh.

“Are you okay?” Raleigh asked from Harry’s left, with the air of someone who’d been interrupted from some very important business.

“Yeah, Gawain just wanted me to act like a cow,” Harry said, looking at Raleigh with an amused grin.

Raleigh raised a brow and Harry explained, “He told us he would try to Imperiuse us when we least expected it.”

“Oh, right.  So, you fought it then?” he asked in his gravely voice.

“Well, yeah, obviously I didn’t get up onto my desk and moo like a cow,” Harry said.  The man looked utterly uninterested, so Harry turned to Eleanor.

“All done,” he told her, hoping he wasn’t interrupting.

She looked up pleasantly and said, “Great!  So, let me tell you about the first case that’s been assigned to our team.”

But Harry had no sooner spoken as what seemed like a hailstorm of interdepartmental memos fell into various slots of his in-tray.  The first was from Hermione.

Harry,

Yesterday I had lunch with my other coworkers in the Elf Relocation Office.  We went down to the Canteen.  Could you meet us there at 12:30?  I’d really appreciate it as they’re quite a dull lot.  Let me know and I’ll send a note on to Ginny and Luna.  Or would you rather have lunch with Kingsley and Arthur?  Either way, I’ll be happy.

Hermione

Harry slid back on his chair, so that the wheels on the bottom moved him away from his desk.  “Ron, do we want to have lunch with Hermione in the Canteen?  She reckons we could go up to Kingsley’s office otherwise,” he said, looking over at Ron.

“Yeah, let’s try the Canteen.  We can’t keep going up to see Dad everyday; people might think we’re strange, ya know?” Ron replied.

Harry grunted, figuring that everyone probably thought they were strange already, and told Hermione they would meet her in the Ministry cafeteria.

The next four memos were from the Wizengamot Administration Services appearing in a new slot allocated specifically for that department, giving times and locations of trials, forums and voting sessions for the coming week.  Harry jotted everything down in the daily planner that Hermione had given to him.  The last was from Gawain, asking Harry and Ron to come to his office once they’d arranged their desks to their satisfaction.

“Ron, are you almost done?” called Harry.

“Yeah, did you get this note from Gawain?” Ron asked.

“We’ll be right back,” Harry explained to Eleanor as he and Ron headed for Gawain’s office.  Harry was a bit surprised when they opened the door and only Gawain was in the room.  “You wished to see us?”

“Ah, yes, come on in,” Gawain greeted them.  “Well, I didn’t hear any insane laughter from the room, so it’s safe to assume that you both resisted?”

Harry and Ron looked at each other and laughed.  “Yeah, although I was very close,” Ron admitted.  “I had one foot raised to jump onto my desk before I caught it.”

Ron looked a bit embarrassed by his confession.

“If you fought it within that short amount of time, I’d say that was good…very good, in fact,” Gawain said, looking amazed.

“So, how did things go last night, Gawain?  I didn’t want to ask you in front of everyone,” Harry said, dismissing the topic.

With a look of disappointment, Gawain said, “No luck, so far, but we’ll figure it out eventually.  I have a list here, showing who will be guarding the department which nights.  I have you separated because I know that both of you are completely loyal and I’ve given each of you people that we’re very unsure of.  In fact, we’ve limited their clearance, so they could well be behind what you saw the other night.”

They discussed the situation for a while coming up with ideas of how to set traps during these nighttime shifts.

“I wanted to talk to you sometime today about my schedule.  I’m only working here part-time, because I need to help my brother with his store.  Harry has enough with the Wizengamot and my sister going to school, so we agreed that I would work with George,” Ron said.  They were both nervous that Gawain had forgotten the agreement they’d come to with Kingsley at the beginning of the summer regarding this.

“Yes, what days would you like to work?” Gawain asked with a sigh.  It seemed apparent that he’d hoped something had changed, but that he wouldn’t go back on the deal that had been agreed upon.

“Uh, why don’t I come in Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday?  The busiest days for the shop are on the weekends, so that would probably work best for me,” Ron explained.

Gawain agreed and sent them back out to their desks.  “Are you in trouble?” whispered Eleanor to Harry, once he’d regained his seat.

“Nah, he just wanted to talk about the Imperius Curse he’d tried to use on us,” Harry told her.  She was immensely curious about it and was duly impressed when she realized that neither he nor Ron had succumbed to it.

“Can you teach me how to do that?  I think I was Imperiused a few times last year, and it was just awful.  I remember wanting to make it stop, but I wasn’t sure how,” she said, looking at Harry hopefully.

Harry felt very awkward now.  “Uh, well, see, er…I’m not supposed to put people under the Imperius Curse.”

“But how did you two learn how to fight it anyhow?” she asked.

He explained how Barty Crouch Jr. had impersonated Moody and taught them all about the Unforgivable Curses.  Harry also told her that Voldemort had tried to Imperiuse him in the graveyard as well.

Then she said, “But that was so long ago.  How did you know you could still do it?”

Harry didn’t know how to respond and was saved from answering by the arrival of an owl.  He recognized it as Andromeda’s tawny barn owl, Magnus.  His heart began to tattoo uncomfortably in his chest, wondering what was so urgent that Andromeda needed to contact him at the Ministry.

“It’s okay, Harry,” said Ron, to whom the owl had flown.  “It’s just from Mum.”

He untied the parcel the owl had been carrying and opened the letter that was attached to it.  “Hey, it’s for all of us!” said Ron excitedly.

He read the note aloud, so that Harry could hear.

Dear Ron, Harry and Hermione,

I’ve been working on these all summer, so I hope that you like them.  Colin took many of the pictures, but some of them are mine.  I wanted you to have something special for your desks as you begin your new careers.  I watched the three of you grow up together.  Never have I seen such young people who are so dedicated to not only each other but their cause.  Your gifts are to remind you of how much you have grown so far, and to urge you to continue to grow.  I can’t tell you how PROUD Dad and I are of the three of you.  You’ve become two excellent wizards and an extraordinary witch.  Dad and I will always be here for you.  We’ll see you at home tonight.

Love,
Mum and Dad

“Ugh, how embarrassing!  I can’t believe I just read that out loud!” Ron complained, looking as though he’d just sucked on a lemon.  Many of the witches and wizards around them were struggling to hold in sniggers.  Harry wasn’t sure if they were inclined to laugh because it was sappy or because of Ron’s reaction; perhaps it was both.

Harry wanted to retort, but his throat had constricted too much.

“These are awesome!” Ron exclaimed, ripping the package apart.  Harry managed to rise from his seat and walked the short distance to Ron’s desk.  He had pulled out three enormous picture frames from the box and set them on the desktop.

Harry could tell the two that were supposed to go to Ron and Hermione.  Each one had a picture of Ron and Hermione as first-year Hogwarts students.  Harry’s skipped that year altogether and he supposed that this was because no one had bothered to take a photograph of him before he left for school.  This didn’t concern him since he considered his life to have begun with that year.  There was little he wished to remember of his childhood before that.

Otherwise all three were identical.  It reminded Harry of a large frame containing compartmentalized pictures that was common in the muggle world.  Along the right side of the frame, there were pictures of Harry, Ron and Hermione together in progression, aside from the childhood pictures for Ron and Hermione.  They began with their second year and moved down to the sixth.  Harry assumed that this was what Molly had meant when she said that Colin had taken many of them, but he’d never even known that the pictures had been taken at all.  There was one more picture below that of their sixth year and it seemed to have been taken at Harry’s seventeenth birthday party since the cake could be seen occasionally.  On the left side of the frame there were three large pictures.  The one on the bottom was of Harry, Ron and Hermione in their Golden Trio robes in front of Minerva McGonagall in the Great Hall.  The middle one was the one they had all posed for at Bill’s wedding.  The top one was different from anything they’d ever seen.  Although Wizarding pictures always had moving subjects, this one differed.  The picture itself changed every ten seconds or so to a new one.  These pictures were all different, depicting all sorts of things that had happened over the years.  Harry and Ron both laughed as one flashed of Ron belching slugs from their second year.  The next one was of the Room of Requirement showing Ron and Hermione dueling one another.  And so it continued on. 

“Wow!” was the only thing that Harry could say.

Ron just nodded, pinning his own to one of the walls of his cubicle.  “We just look so…so…” Ron sputtered, pointing at some of the earlier pictures.

“Young?  Innocent?” suggested Harry.

“Yeah,” replied Ron thickly.  He picked up Harry’s and handed it to him.  Harry walked back to his own desk in a daze.  He could only imagine the time and expense that Molly had exhausted in creating these as he rearranged the photos he’d already placed around his desk.  He could see Molly’s impeccable embroidery around the edges of the frame.  He had originally thought it was tiled, but it wasn’t.  It was fabric, and she’d etched The Weasley Family and The Golden Trio all along the borders.  He couldn’t help but feel touched as he ran his fingers over the words in wonder.

“May I see?” Eleanor asked curiously, peering over to have a look.  “It’s really wonderful, isn’t it?”

“She’s the best.  Ron’s mum always knows what we need.  She’s always been there, even for Hermione and me,” Harry said.

“You can definitely see the change in all of you as time goes by,” she commented, her eyes moving, following the pictures down through time.

Harry said, “Yeah, well, that’s what happens when you grow up isn’t it?”

“Yes, but this isn’t just normal adolescent changes and growing,” she said, looking through them again.  She seemed to be mesmerized as she continued to gaze. 

“Here, I see three normal kids,” she said, pointing at a picture that was likely taken at the end of their third year.  Then she pointed at the one below, and Harry had a sinking feeling that it had been taken after the end of the third task of the Triwizard Tournament when he’d seen Cedric be killed.  “But, this can’t be taken much longer after that, yet you look so different.”

“I suppose watching a friend die might do that,” Harry said softly, wanting to stop looking at the pictures yet unable to tear his eyes away.

“In this one you all look defiant and ready to take on the world.  It’s lovely!” she said, in reference to the fifth year picture.  Harry recognized himself, with Ron and Hermione, in the Room of Requirement at the end of a D.A. lesson; talking about the importance of having faith in oneself and having hope when there wasn’t any to be had.  He knew that Colin must have taken that photo, just as he must have taken the others.  While he looked at the others with fond memories, this one seemed to haunt him somehow.

The one to represent their sixth year seemed to have been taken sometime between Dumbledore’s death and the funeral.  Harry was on the floor with his head in Ginny’s lap as she leaned against a sofa, upon which Ron and Hermione were sitting, looking down at them.  The looks on their faces in this picture told of their fear and mourning.  Harry decided to stave off any commentary by saying, “I think Professor Dumbledore had just died.”

“We were lost and alone with no one to turn to,” he said.  He knew that he could actually talk to Albus now, but they had all agreed that this shouldn’t be common knowledge.  Harry certainly hadn’t known it then and still sometimes felt furious knowing that they might have had Albus’s counsel when they truly needed it most.

Harry realized that he ought to simply tell her what the rest of the pictures were about before he could hear what she had to say.  He looked at the last one on the right side.  “That was my birthday last year.  Mum made a big cake, but then Scrimgeour showed up and tried to ruin the party.  But you can see…look…there’s Tonks!”

She looked closer and smiled sadly.  “I miss her so much!  She was always so much fun to be around.  She looks just marvelous in that picture.”

Harry looked closer and then remembered thinking that Remus had seemed rather upset that night.  He watched the two in the photograph and realized it.

“Of course!” Harry cried.  “Ron, Ron, look at the picture from my birthday party!”

“I did,” replied Ron from his own desk.

“Did you look at Remus and Dora?”

“Uh, well, no, I guess I didn’t,” Ron said.  Harry thought that Ron had probably been looking at Fred, who was talking fast and furiously with George in the photo.

“How much do you want to bet that she had just told him she was pregnant?” asked Harry.

Ron cocked a brow at Harry as though to ask how he had surmised this much from a photo and then looked at it closely.  Ron was nodding his head enthusiastically, “I think you’re right!  He keeps switching from looking at her happily to looking really worried.”

“Hmph.  He should have been worried.  Imagine a werewolf and a perfectly nice young woman together!” Raleigh sneered.

Harry squeezed his fingers into his palms so that his nails dug in, trying not to rise up to the bait that had just been presented to him.

Harry smiled pleasantly and said, “Teddy’s in excellent health and Lycanthropy can only be passed through biting during the full moon.”

Raleigh made no indication that he’d heard Harry at all.  

Eleanor seemed to be rather displeased with Raleigh’s comment as well and pressed on looking at the pictures.  She seemed to be looking at the last one from the ceremony, the morning following the final confrontation known throughout the world as The Battle of Hogwarts.

“Is that really you?” she asked squinting down at the photograph.

Harry was quite glad that no one had thought to take pictures the night before since they had looked much worse, their faces blackened and their robes hanging in tatters over them.  They didn’t look much better the next day however, as he looked closer as well.  Even a few weeks of solid meals at Shell Cottage hadn’t undone the damage they’d inflicted on their bodies during the months of subsisting on what they could find without exposing their location.  Their cheeks were sunken and their robes fitted rather loosely.  Harry and Ron’s hair hung past their shoulders.  Ron had since allowed his mother to cut his hair to what she considered a respectable length.  Harry had resisted her attempts when Ginny had declared that she liked it longer.  She did however trim it, so that it barely touched his shoulders.  He thought it looked a bit neater and didn’t stick up in the back so much as it had when it was shorter.

But Eleanor was looking between the last photograph and the rest.  She didn’t seem to be looking so much at their appearances, but more the look in their eyes.  Then she pointed at the wedding photo and asked, “How come you’re not in that one?”

“I’m in it; hang on,” Harry said, scanning the people.  “I don’t really remember what I looked like that day.  Ah, there I am,” he said, pointing at the one person he didn’t recognize.

“They made me use Polyjuice Potion just in case there were any spies around,” Harry said.  “It was probably a good idea since Scrimgeour was killed during the reception.  We got out of there just in time before the Death Eaters showed up.  Luckily no one but the family knew I’d been there or they probably would’ve been tortured.”

“I see.  So what are you two doing for lunch?” Eleanor asked, obviously sensing the tension.  “We usually go to the cafeteria together.”

“Well, we thought we’d all meet in the Canteen as well, so that works out,” Harry replied.

“You were coming to the Ministry before this though, weren’t you?  I don’t ever remember seeing you there before,” she said, as though trying to recollect whether or not she’d seen him.

“I attended the Wizengamot quite a bit before I went back to school, but I either ate with Kingsley or went home for lunch,” Harry explained.

“You know, it’s funny, but I never really got much of a chance to know the Minister.  We were on the same team for quite awhile, but for the last few years he seemed to keep mostly to himself, except when he would stop by Tonks’s desk,” she said, pointing at the desk Harry now occupied.  Harry thought this should feel weird, but he’d become so accustomed to inheriting things that decided not to give it another thought.  Eleanor didn’t seem to notice anything and continued, “It’s strange around the office here too, because so many people worked with him.  People are always trying to correct themselves from calling him by his first name.”

Harry grinned over at her and, out of the side of his mouth, said, “Just call him Kingsley, as you’ve always done.  We try to be more formal so that it doesn’t seem odd that a bunch of kids are calling him by his first name.  In public, he doesn’t argue, but he does get rather upset when we mention it at private gatherings.”

“And he hates the fanfare just about as much as I do,” Harry said, almost as an aside.

She laughed heartily and said, “So should I be mean to you instead?”

“I didn’t say that.  You’ve been very nice and helped me get comfortable in a place that I was rather frightened of,” Harry told her, the words falling from his tongue of their own volition.  He hadn’t meant to be quite so honest.

“You’re Harry Potter!  I didn’t think you would be afraid of anything!” she said.

Harry tried to process her words.  He looked at her to see if she was possibly joking, but she looked truly astonished.  “Of course there are things that I fear.  Everyone’s afraid of something,” he reminded her.  “Besides, perhaps being Harry Potter gives me more reason to fear.”

“But you faced You-Know-Who himself.  How could anything be more frightening than that?” she asked plainly.

“Facing Voldemort was never an easy thing and it was definitely frightening at times.  It’s not easy to walk to one’s death, after all.  But there are things that scare me much more than anything he ever did when it was just the two of us.”

“How could you not be scared of him?” she asked, her brows knitted and her eyes indicated she was trying to comprehend such a thing.

“I was scared of him!” he said indignantly.  Then he seemed to remember her original question and said, “Well, like I said, I wasn’t scared to face him personally.  The worst he could do was torture or kill me.  I could handle that.  I was more afraid of what he could do to the people that I cared about, than I was about anything else.  I couldn’t prevent him from killing people and I couldn’t stop him from sending his Death Eaters to do the same.  So, yes, he scared me. 

“On the other hand though, the Ministry of Magic scares me too, because for as long as I’ve known it it’s been corrupt.  I had either Fudge telling everyone I was off my rocker or else Scrimgeour trying to get me to lie to everyone and be his poster boy.  I know it’s better now, but that doesn’t make it any less scary.”

“That makes sense,” she said, although she seemed to still be thinking.  Her watch chirped, she smiled and shouted, “Lunchtime!”

Even now, the prospect of decent food was extremely welcome and so Harry and Ron headed down to the Canteen, which was on the Atrium Level, followed closely by their new team.  The cafeteria was packed with a wide assortment of witches and wizards all seated at different sized tables.  Harry led the way to a long line to get himself a tray of food.

“Stan!” Harry exclaimed, recognizing the pimply-faced youth serving out entrees; who had once acted as the conductor for the Knight Bus.

Stan, upon seeing Harry, shrieked and ducked behind the counter.  “Stan?  What’s wrong?” Harry called.

“Aren’t you here to arrest me?” he asked, still crouching on the ground.

“Arrest you?  Why would I arrest you?” Harry replied, completely flummoxed.

Slowly, Stan emerged, his face bright red so that it sort of blended with his pimples.  He looked like an extremely guilty tomato with the chicken pox.  “Sir, I…I tried to kill you,” he finally cried, looking anywhere but at Harry.

“I know you did, but you didn’t mean to,” said Harry, trying to calm the agitated man.  “Besides, I was trying to get you released from Azkaban, as was Professor Dumbledore.  I would no more arrest you than I would arrest myself.”

Stan blinked a few times and asked, “Why?  Why would you and Dumbledore help someone like me?”

Harry wasn’t sure what to say to that.  He did know that he didn’t regret disarming Stan.  The young man had clearly been Confunded and couldn’t control his actions.  Finally Harry decided upon the truth and said, “Some one like you?  Everyone is important.  If you know what you did, then I have to assume that you tried to fight it somehow.”

Stan nodded fearfully and said, “But I couldn’t overcome it.  I couldn’t fight back.”

Harry smiled, because he could see what sort of wizard Stan could become if only he applied himself.  Harry said, “I think you could, with some practice.”

Stan seemed to be in absolute awe and said gratefully, “You are merciful and understanding, the great Harry Potter!”

Harry rolled his eyes and thrust a hand over the counter and said, “You used to call me Harry, Stan.”

“Uh, right, Harry Potter, sir,” Stan said, smiling and shaking Harry’s hand.

A wizard wearing the same orange robes as the servers suddenly appeared behind Stan.  “Shunpike, what are you doing now?  There’s a line a mile long!” the man raged.

“It’s all my fault, sir.  I’m sorry, I’ll get moving,” Harry said quickly.

The man looked at Harry in surprise, his eyes raking Harry’s forehead; then turned to Stan.  “You’ve been bothering Auror Potter?” the man spluttered.

“Uh, no, sir, I…”

Harry wasn’t sure how to salvage the situation and, catching a glimpse of the queue forming behind him, knew he needed to work quickly.  “I’d like to thank you, Mr. Oakley,” said Harry, noting the wizard’s name on his robes, “for giving Stan a chance.  It’s just the sort of thing Professor Dumbledore would have done.”

Oakley looked properly abashed, but walked away muttering something about the Minister’s insistence.  Harry would have to remember to thank Kingsley the next time he saw him.

“Well, Harry, what would you like for eating?” Stan asked, obviously trying to cover the awkward moment.

“Whatever you think is best today, Stan, would be just fine.”

“That’d be the roast beef, sir,” replied Stan with a very wide smile, piling Harry’s plate high with delectable-looking slices and passed it to the next wizard on the line.

After hearing Stan’s suggestion, Ron too asked for the roast beef.  They finally made their way to the cashier at the end and began looking around for Ginny, Hermione and Luna.  The room was so packed that it made the task difficult.  Suddenly Luna stood and, waving her arms manically over her head, shouted, “Harry!  Ron!  Over here!”

Ron grinned and said, “Never shy, our Luna.”  The group made their way over to the table.

“Hey, ladies,” Ron greeted them, sliding into a chair beside Hermione.  Harry took a seat across from them where Ginny and Luna had left a space for him between them.  After giving Ginny a light peck on her lips he introduced the team to everyone while Hermione did the same for her new coworkers.

Harry wanted to know how the Apparition lesson had gone, but before the words were even out of his mouth a horde of people had converged upon them. 

Harry could feel his face heat up under some of the sycophantic praise being poured onto him.  Ginny tried to take Harry’s hand under the table but they were besieged by witches and wizards requesting autographs on scraps of parchment or else chocolate frog cards.

There were all sorts of questions being levied as well.  Most of them seemed concerned why Neville wasn’t with them.

“Is Mr. Longbottom okay?”

“Where is Mr. Longbottom?

“How come Neville isn’t here?”

It would seem that the gathering thought that they were all there as a sort of unit.  Did they think that the six of them traveled in a pack?

Harry looked across the table to Hermione and angrily said, “Why didn’t you tell us this was going to happen?”







“I didn’t know, Harry!” she snapped back.  Then more desperately she said, “This didn’t happen yesterday.”

“This is probably my fault.  Maybe no one would have noticed if I hadn’t shouted your names,” Luna said guiltily, passing a signed scrap of parchment to a young man and putting a hand out for another.

“Too bad there hadn’t been a Wrackspurt around.  It might have prevented you from talking,” suggested Ron, with a smile.

Luna nodded her head seriously, Hermione, Ginny and Harry hid snickers, and everyone else just looked stumped.

Harry looked longingly at his plate of food; supposing it was likely to be cold by the time he was able to eat it.  The crowd began to disperse slightly and the voice of Stan could be heard to say, “See here, now!  Can’t you see they’re trying to eat?  Clear off; be gone, all of you!”

The crowd dispersed in earnest then so that the table was left to those who belonged there.  There was a murmuring of thanks as Stan shuffled back off to his post.

“Do you always cause such a commotion, Potter?” griped Raleigh.

Shame-faced, all Harry could do was shrug as he tucked into his lunch.  Hermione said lightly, “It’ll die down; it always does.  Once everyone’s used to him working here it’ll be fine.”

Harry hoped that she was right.  He had been thinking perhaps it would be better to continue taking their meals in the Minister’s Office.  On the other hand, people would never become accustomed to his presence if he kept hiding.

“So how’d you two do this morning?” Harry asked Ginny and Luna.

“I splinched myself!” Luna said excitedly.

“Well, they’ve obviously put you back together,” Ron commented, looking her up and down as though to find something missing.

“Of course they did!” Luna said dismissively.

“That was really good, Luna,” Harry said, with a smile.  He looked at Ginny, however, who seemed to have hoped that no one would ask the question.

“I did awful, Harry,” Ginny said dejectedly, wrinkling her nose in annoyance.  He automatically put an arm around her shoulder.

“Aw, don’t feel bad.  None of us was able to do it the first time either; not even Hermione!” he told her.

“Really?” she asked hopefully, looking over at Hermione with surprise.

Nearly all of the witches and wizards around them quickly assured her that very few people managed anything on the first try.  They all also congratulated Luna, who seemed to almost blush under their praise.

Harry encouraged Ginny, in between mouthfuls of lunch, that she would do just fine and to let nature take its course.

Hermione interrupted their reverie, passing over a handful of envelopes.  “What’s all this?” Harry asked.  There were different addresses on each of the envelopes, and there was a piece of parchment in them.

“Ron sent me a memo about all of the letters you’d received over the summer, so I nipped home and grabbed some of them,” Hermione said, opening her bag to reveal a bunch of mail peaking out of the top.

Harry blinked at Ron in surprise.  Ron, completely nonplussed, said, “I figured she could get a start on them, since she was complaining this morning about the lack of work.  Besides, she can definitely read faster than any of us and she can write better than us as well.”

Hermione, with a slight blush, said, “So, all you need to do is sign them.  I wrote out the replies.”

“What sort of replies?” Harry asked suspiciously.

Hermione gave him a stern look and said, “I know what is and isn’t permissible, and no one really asked any sensitive questions anyway.”

Harry gave her a sheepish grin and thanked her.  He signed them while Ginny, who had already finished eating, fed him food off of his plate.  When he finally finished, he asked, “So what do we do now?  We can’t expect Fawkes and Pig to deliver all of these.”

Ginny answered him, saying, “We can just drop them off at the Post Service, I saw it on the way here.”

With her obvious response, Harry realized how little he still knew about the Ministry and how it worked.  He supposed he would learn in time, just as everyone else did.  It was rather like going to Hogwarts for the first time, when he had no idea of what to expect.  He learned the ins and outs of that place quickly enough and there was no reason that the Ministry should be any different.

Harry was lost in his own musings when three owls swooped down, one each landing in front of Harry, Ron and Hermione.  Harry could think of only one reason for them each to receive an owl at the same time.  These owls must be carrying their exam results.  He barely registered Ron and Hermione’s looks of apprehension.

“What were we thinking?  How did we think we could learn a year’s worth in two months?  I failed everything; I know it!” Hermione cried, her voice rising with hysteria.

Harry would have liked to reassure her, but his mouth had gone dry.  What would happen if she was right?  Kingsley had said that he didn’t care about their grades; but Harry was sure that Kingsley had also expected them all to do well.  Would they be able to show their faces if they’d failed everything?

Ginny, who looked a bit nervous as well, took the envelope from his hand when it seemed he couldn’t manage it on his own and offered him the open end.  He pulled out the piece of parchment with a shaking hand.

NASTILY EXAUSTING WIZARDING TEST RESULTS:

 

Pass Grades                                        Fail Grades

OUTSTANDING (O)                          POOR (P)

EXCEEDS EXPECTATIONS (E)       DREADFUL (D)

ACCEPTABLE (A)                             TROLL (T)

 

            Harry James Potter has achieved:

Charms                                               O

Defense Against the Dark Arts          O

Herbology                                           E

Potions                                                E

Transfiguration                                   E

Even if Hermione hadn’t just terrified him out of his wits he would have been thrilled.  He’d even managed an O in Charms, which was more than he could possibly have hoped for.

Ginny was leaning on his arm and looking up at him with a very satisfied expression as she read his grades with him.  With a huge smile, he handed his grades over to Ron, who also looked perfectly happy.  But Ron’s expression changed as he looked down at Hermione beside him.  She let out a soft, “Oh!  I think I need to use the bathroom,” before fleeing the table and beginning to run out of the Canteen. 

Ron’s fork, which had been held aloft as he read his exam results, now clattered to the table and his parchment fluttered down.

Ron leapt up from the table and began to chase Hermione.  “Honey, what’s wrong?  Sweetheart, don’t cry, it can’t be that bad!” he shouted, following her out of the room.

Harry and Ginny looked at each other before Ginny grabbed both sets of parchment that Ron and Hermione had left behind.

“You’re just going to read them?” cried Beulah.  “You should wait until they tell you you can!”

Ginny laughed and said absentmindedly, “We share everything.  They won’t be surprised or upset.”

She and Harry looked down at Hermione’s grades.  Sure enough there was one ‘Exceeds Expectations’ and the rest were ‘Outstandings.’  Now Harry felt rather indignant as the one subject she had received an ‘E’ in was Defense Against the Dark Arts.

Ginny’s face showed utter confusion as she said, “This doesn’t make any sense!  How could she have not done well in Defense?  She’s great at it!  Didn’t she save all of you on numerous occasions?”

Harry just nodded, no more enlightened than she was.  He thought back to the times when they’d gotten out of some sticky situations.  It had been Hermione’s ingenuity that always won, not necessarily her skill in defending against dark wizards, though it was nevertheless effective.

Instead of trying to come up with a useless answer, he picked up Ron’s grades.  Ron had received an ‘O’ for Defense Against the Dark Arts this time, as well as for Transfiguration.  That one certainly surprised Harry.  He never really thought of Ron as being particularly interested in Transfiguration and they both got generally the same grades for that class.

Harry kept looking up at the door to the Canteen, waiting for his friends’ return.  He finally saw Ron escorting Hermione back to their table.  He had his hand at the small of her back as though afraid she might try to run again and was lightly prodding her along, talking to her quietly.

“Good job, Hermione!” Luna exclaimed, having also viewed the grades over Harry’s shoulder.

Hermione took a deep breath and said, “Thanks, Luna.  I can’t believe I was that stupid though!”

Harry closed his eyes so that Hermione couldn’t see him roll them and said, “And how were you stupid, exactly?”

He opened his eyes when he felt it was safe and looked closely at Hermione.  She screwed up her face and said, “It was the one exam I thought I would do fine on and so I didn’t study for it as much as I should have.”

Before Harry could even formulate a response to that, Ron said, “I don’t really think that exam results matter much, once I consider everything you’ve done.  You got a better grade in Defense than I did, if you ask me.  Those fools who grade the exams probably have no idea what the real world is like.  If they’d actually seen you in action, I think your grade would have been much different.”

Hermione looked at Ron gratefully, and with a small smile playing on her mouth.  Ron picked up Harry’s grades and read them with Hermione.

Ron looked at Harry eagerly and exclaimed, “We did really well, didn’t we!”

Harry couldn’t help but to agree, unable to remove the grin from his face.  When Hermione continued to gaze at her own grades with an air of disappointment, Ron attempted a change of subject and told her all about the gifts his parents had sent for them.

“By the way, Luna and I ran into Dad on our way down here and he told us that Mum expects us all to be at The…” Ginny said, breaking off.  Harry guessed she’d been about to say The Burrow, but couldn’t because of the Fidelius Charm.  “Er, Mum and Dad’s for dinner.  He said we could invite Neville too if we like.  He said Mum wanted to hear all about your first few days here.”

Harry, Ron and Hermione readily agreed.  Harry asked, “Did you invite Neville?  We should also let Kreacher know we aren’t coming home for dinner.”

Ginny shook her head and said, “I wanted to make sure you were up to it first.”

“I’ve got it,” Harry said, raising his wand.  Two large stag Patronuses burst from the tip, visible for a moment before they were sent to Neville and Kreacher.  Harry made a sound of disgust and said, “Damn, that was awful.”

Ginny patted his arm comfortingly.  “Harry, you need to get that under control!” Hermione scolded.

“I’m trying, Hermione.  I forgot that there would be two,” Harry reminded her, trying to calm her.

Dominic pointed his finger at Harry and said, “So you can produce a Patronus!”

Harry’s friends goggled at Dominic for a moment before Ron and Ginny broke out in laughter.  “Of course he can!” Ginny admonished.  “He almost got kicked out of Hogwarts for producing a Patronus a few years ago!”

Hermione, on the other hand, looked suspicious and spoke to Harry.  “Why would they think you can’t produce a Patronus Charm?”

“It’s okay, Hermione, it was just a Dementor.  Harry decided to try that thing Snape kept telling us about, so he didn’t need to use a Patronus,” Ron explained gently.

Hermione breathed a sigh of relief.  Harry thought she might have been worried that there was something wrong with him, like the time the locket horcrux had prevented him from conjuring a Patronus.

“I didn’t know you could make more than one at a time,” Beulah said.

“I saw Professor McGonagall do it just before the Battle of Hogwarts,” Harry said offhand.  “You need a bit more concentration is all.”

“Oh,” she said in response, still looking slightly confused. 

Neville’s grizzly bear Patronus arrived and said, “I’ll be there.  What time?”

Harry waved his wand once more, taking great care not to let the Patronus out until it was on its way.  It worked, and there was no visible sign of it this time.

“I told him that we usually eat around seven,” Harry explained.

It was nearly time for them to return to work and the group headed back out into the Atrium.  Hermione looked at Ginny and asked, “Do you need one of us to take you home?”

“No thanks, I’ll just Floo to Luna’s and we’ll walk to Mum and Dad’s from there,” Ginny replied.

Harry didn’t know how comfortable he was with that notion and gave Ginny and Luna a sidelong glance.  “I don’t know, Gin.  It’s pretty well known approximately where your parents live,” he said.  “It could be dangerous.”

Latimer intervened and said, “I could send a security team with them if you want, Harry.”

“No way!” Ginny exclaimed angrily.  Harry didn’t think too much of that idea either, not trusting enough of the Aurors he’d met so far to be happy with it.

“I still have chores to do at home before I can leave,” Luna said.

“Well, why don’t you just hang out at Luna’s then and once we’re done with work we’ll come and get you both,” Hermione suggested.

“I don’t want to wait that long!  I haven’t been out on my broom in days and I’d like to get some flying in before dinner.  We’ll be fine; we’re old war veterans, remember?” Ginny said, appealing to Harry.  “Besides, how much can happen in the village; will Dolohov be waiting around a corner for me?”

Harry couldn’t quite remember the last time he’d felt such anger and certainly it had never been directed at Ginny.  He said in a low but firm voice, “You are not old war veterans.  Neither are we for that matter, before you complain that you’re just as experienced.  As for Dolohov waiting around the corner, you might want to remember that it was only a little over a month ago that Yaxley attacked the family.”  She looked ashamed for a moment before he added, “You need to be more considerate of security if you ever wish to join us someday, Ginny.  I still can’t believe you went out into London on your own the other day.”  She’d gone out to purchase magazines before Hermione had even gotten home the day that Harry and Ron had stayed at the Ministry overnight.

Ginny gave him a narrowed look that was so reminiscent of Molly that Harry nearly backed up a step.  “As if you plan on letting me join!  I have the feeling that you’ll always come up with some sort of excuse to keep me out, Harry,” Ginny said with a hurt look in her eyes.

He moved to gently grab her arm, but she pulled away from him.  “That’s not true, Ginny, and you know it.  I can’t wait until you can sit beside me, but you know the rules,” Harry said quietly.  She didn’t walk away from him but looked up at him defiantly.

“You know, maybe if you can find a safe way to get home I might be able to persuade our Head to let you come to the meeting next week,” Ron suggested.

Ginny’s eyes immediately met Harry’s once more and she grabbed onto his arm.  Luna looked up at Harry as well with an expectant gaze and seized his other arm.  Pleas of “Please, please,” met his ears.

“We’ll be safe, honest!” declared Luna.  “Maybe Daddy can take a break from work and escort us.”

“What if we have Neville come and get us?  He could either Apparate us or walk us home!” Ginny begged.  “Please, Harry?”

“Okay, then, but you are to stay at Luna’s if you can’t find someone to accompany you, understand?  I’ll think about the meeting,” Harry told them.  He could see Hermione standing there with her mouth agape. 

Luna clapped her hands together and Ginny threw her arms around Harry, kissing every inch of his face.  “I said I’ll think about it.  I didn’t say you could come,” he reiterated.

“I know, but that’s good enough for now,” Ginny said against his mouth.  “I’ll miss you, but I’ll have your broom all ready for when you arrive.”

“Thanks, I’ll miss you too, but I’ll be there before you know it,” he said, barely resisting the urge to snog her right there in front of the fireplaces.  “I’m sorry if I sounded a bit harsh, Ginny.  But I couldn’t bear it if anything ever happened to you.”

She gave him a smoldering look and leaned up to kiss him once more.  He reluctantly released Ginny and waved to her and Luna as they crossed the room.  He warned them, “Be careful; I know you can’t hold your wands at the ready if you walk through the village, but you should have a hand on them just in case.”

“So what do you think the meeting will be about, Ginny?” Luna asked Ginny.

“I don’t know,” Ginny said thoughtfully, “probably the Death Eaters Harry and Ron haven’t caught yet.”

“HEY!” Ron shouted.

“I may not be as strict as Moody, but even Albus would never have allowed such blatant discussion in public,” Harry said to Ginny and Luna in the most authoritative voice he could muster.

“Sorry, Harry, we’ll wait until we’re at home,” Ginny said apologetically.  She blew a kiss to him before grabbing a pinch of Floo Powder from a sconce on the wall beside her chosen fireplace.

He shook his head and turned back to his companions, who were still waiting for a lift.  Most of them were wearing highly amused expressions.  Hermione continued to look so shocked that Harry thought he might have just announced his intention to join the Death Eaters.

She finally seemed to find her voice as they entered an empty lift and croakily said, “I can’t believe you just promised them that, Harry!  Have you lost your mind?  You can’t let them join.  They haven’t even finished school yet!”

“I didn’t say they could join and I haven’t yet decided whether or not to let them attend this next meeting,” Harry told her.  He chanced a glance at her, to find her gazing at him threateningly.  In truth, he’d already been considering allowing Ginny and Luna to go to the meeting, but mostly as observers and they would certainly not be taking on any responsibilities.

“It’s Harry’s decision, Hermione, not yours,” Ron said softly.

“Fine!  Fine!  If you want to deal with Molly then that’s your choice.  I want no part of it!” Hermione said shrilly.

Harry knew that if he ultimately decided to include Ginny and Luna, Molly would be absolutely furious with him.  Ron nudged Hermione and, in a laughing tone, said, “So, are you going to call for a vote of no confidence in Harry’s leadership?”

She scoffed.  “Oh, of course not, Ron, don’t be ridiculous.  If that’s what he decides to do, then I’ll support him.  I just don’t agree,” she said.

Harry closed his eyes, trying to hold in a laugh.  He knew full well that Ron was simply goading Hermione.

They eventually arrived at their desks and Hermione walked over with Ron to retrieve her gift from Molly.  When it came time for her to return to her own department, Ron pulled her close and whispered something into her ear, causing her to blush slightly.  She gave him a tremulous smile before she left.

Harry sat down at his own desk, marveling inwardly at Ron and Hermione’s strange relationship.

Eleanor said, “It’s about time that you were introduced to your first case.”

Harry looked at her eagerly.  She handed him a thin file and said, “So, right now we’re trying to locate a wizard named Gregorovitch.  We’re helping the German Ministry on this.  They seem to think that the man was kidnapped by an Englishman.  Personally, I think it’s a whole lot of rubbish.  What would someone want with a wandmaker?”

Harry’s head buzzed as he considered the situation.  He barely had any time to contemplate the matter when he heard Ron shout, “Gregorovitch?!!”

“But he’s…” Ron started to say loudly, before Harry interrupted.  “No, Ron!”

A/N: I know this chapter was almost entirely exposition, but I needed a way to introduce the characters and situation.  As always thanks for reading and thanks for the fantastic reviews.


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A Time to Live: Chapter 19: Getting Settled

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