Although the Ministry of Magic was barely minutes away from where the Hogwarts Express waited at Kings Cross station, it might has well have been another planet as far as Ron and Harry were concerned as they arrived on the morning of the 1st September.
The instructions that they had received from the Kingsley had asked them to arrive for their first day as trainee Aurors at 10:00, and to wait in the Atrium. He apologised that he couldn’t be there to meet them in person, but told them that a representative of the Auror office would collect them there.
As he waited, Harry gazed around the Atrium. It was hard to believe that the last time he and Ron had been there, they had been running for their lives, trying desperately to escape with the locket they had just stolen from Dolores Umbridge. The Atrium had been crowded that day, but now it was very quiet, with just a handful of witches and wizards milling about. The fact that the Magic is Might Monument had been removed, making the space seem so much bigger, probably contributed to that, but it was still clear that the Ministry was short staffed.
Harry turned on the spot, watching for anyone who looked like they might have been the Auror who was meant to be meeting them. No-one approached them, and no-one was standing anywhere near them, so it was a bit of a surprise when someone tapped Ron on the shoulder, causing them both to spin around. Harry was sure that no-one had been there even a split second before.
“Hi there. Harry Potter and Ron Weasley? My name’s Benvenuto Fortescue. But you can call me Ben.”
Fortescue was a terrifying man to look at. Not hugely tall, but muscular and powerfully built, he had shoulders that looked like they could have battered their way through the gates of Azkaban. Bright blue eyes twinkled in a face that was distorted by scars and sported a short beard, and his dark hair was as untidy as Harry’s. His face split into a huge grin, revealing one gold tooth amongst his otherwise gleaming white smile, and his soft, cultured voice was totally at odds with his rough, pirate-like appearance. He reached forward and shook their hands.
“Come on – let’s head over to the office and get started. I expect you’re keen to find out what we’ve got in store for you.” Ben turned and marched towards the lifts, Harry and Ron trotting behind him.
“Where the hell did he spring from? There was no-one behind us!” hissed Ron.
“Auror’s trick,” said Ben over his shoulder. “You’ll learn that quickly enough. Also how to whisper more quietly.” Ron reddened, but Harry was pretty sure that Ben was still grinning.
From the lobby, Fortescue led them to the Auror Office on the 2nd floor of the Ministry. Harry remembered seeing the room when he had come to the Ministry three years earlier. It was a fairly large, with about twenty desks lined up in rows, each surrounded by a low pin-board. Five of the desks had people working at them, while a further five showed signs of occupation, but he rest were all empty. The room was lined with numerous filing cabinets, one of which seemed to be shaking violently, as though something was trying to escape. Fortescue kicked it as he walked past, and it settled down.
There were also several bookshelves, groaning under the weight of a huge number of books on subjects such as magical combat, practical defence and stealth techniques, and much of the wall space was taken up with dozens and dozens of ‘Wanted’ posters bearing the snarling likenesses of dark wizards and witches. The pin boards were all cluttered with maps, notes and newspaper clippings, and many of the desks were covered in huge piles of paper in varying degrees of tidiness, as well as personal effects like photographs and coffee mugs. The room had three doors; the one that led into the corridor through which they had entered, another that bore a shiny brass nameplate with on it that must have been the Head Auror’s office, and a third on the far wall that was painted bright red but was otherwise totally plain.
Fortescue led them to a particularly untidy desk in the corner of the room and dropped himself into the swivel chair in front of it, then turned round to address Ron and Harry.
“Right then – First things first! Welcome to the Auror office. I hope you like it, because this is where you’ll be living for much of the next two years.” He indicated two of the vacant desks, close to his own. “These are yours, so grab a seat. Trust me, they won’t stay empty for long! You may be brand new, but we’re far too short-staffed not to get your noses straight to the grind-stone.” As Harry and Ron sat down, Fortescue continued.
“We’re going to be getting know each other very well over the next couple of years, because I will be your immediate supervisor and mentor while you are training . I’ll be responsible for your tracking and concealment training and for setting your practical training exercises. You will also accompany me in the field, once I’m are happy that you’re up to scratch, and it will be on my recommendation that you’re put forward for examination or to assist other team members. That means that I’m going to be the single most important person in your lives while you are training, and quite possibly much longer than that.”
Ben leaned back in his chair and regarded them thoughtfully. “So – I know you both by reputation, and I’ve only heard good things about you. But make no mistake, what you do for us here will not be easy. Some of the work might be considered dull – we do a lot of research and investigation from the office. Some of the work is dangerous, especially once you are out in the field. But absolutely all of it is difficult and painstaking. I expect really high standards, right from the start.
“You’re mine now for just over four weeks before Professor McGonagall gets her next crack at you in the classroom, and we’ll be starting mostly with learning the ropes of the desk-based side of the job. Once you get the hang of that, you’ll be useful, functioning members of the team while you develop the practical skills. Questions so far?” Ben looked at them, enquiringly.
Harry half raised his hand, unsure whether that was quite the right thing in an office rather than a classroom. Ben raised his eyebrows, which Harry took as a signal to continue.
“Well - you said concealment and tracking training. I thought it was one or the other?”
“Good question,” said Ben. “Ideally yes, you would specialise. But we’re all going to have to do a little more in the way of multi-tasking so few people and so much work to do. I’m sure you’ve seen our little rogues gallery?” He indicated the leering posters around the room.
“Yeah – I recognise quite a few of them” Said Ron.
“Good,” said Ben. “That’s a real advantage. Anyone that gets their mug shot on one of these is a target. For every one that makes the wall, there are dozens more in the cabinets. Each and every one of them is, without exception, a habitual user of a dark magic. They are a menace to any law-abiding witch or wizard or muggle or non-human who may have the misfortune to cross their path. They are unscrupulous, violent and vicious criminals and many of them would fight to the death rather than let us catch them, but they must be apprehended. However, before we can catch them, we’ve got to find them, and that can take a lot of time and patience. So I hope you weren’t expecting the life of an Auror to be wall-to-wall duelling and hauling a death-eater off to Azkaban every other day.” Ron and Harry both did their best to look as though there was nothing they had expected less.
“That’s not to say that there won’t be plenty of that in the future. But most of our work is done here, or in regional field offices, or out in people’s homes. We research, we interview, we follow up leads, we get to know them inside and out, hunting down even the faintest sniff of one of these bastards.” He waved at the posters, and ignored the way the ones that were nearest to him snapped their teeth at his hand. “It’s not as glamorous, but it’s vital work and it can be very rewarding when it leads to a capture.
“When we think we’ve got one in our sights, we get out there and watch. We wait. We observe. We plan the best, quickest and safest way to take them down. And then we get them. Still sound like what you want to spend your lives doing?”
“Oh yes. Absolutely” Desk work might not have been exactly what he was expecting, but Harry was still enthusiastic.
“What I’m going to do is give you some cases. Names, former addresses, known associates. You’re going to do the research. Find them – or at least, tell me where we might find them. For each potential location, you need to plan out a surveillance operation. Tell me where we should watch from, how many people we’d need, and how they should be concealed. We’ll see if you come up with anything useful.”
Ben drew his wand and flicked it at the nearest filing cabinet. The bottom two draws opened, to reveal they were tightly packed with manila files, some holding just a few sheets of parchment, others overstuffed and dog-eared. All the folders from the bottom drawer rose up, in sequence, and flew briskly across the room, stacking themselves neatly to the left hand side of Harry’s desk. There were so many that the pile reached almost to his eyebrows. The files from the second draw did the same, landing in front of Ron. Harry was torn between feeling stunned at the volume of work he’d been presented with on his first day, and thrilled he would be doing something useful straight away, even if it was paperwork. He glanced at Ron, who just looked stunned.
“We’ll review the previous day’s work first thing each morning, although you should ask me straight away if you have any questions. Feel free to use all the reference materials.” He waved at the bookshelves. “Check through any intelligence reports that come in from the field, as well as memos from other departments. They arrive throughout the day, so make sure you read them. Dark wizards often can’t help themselves from meddling with things, so suspicious activity can often show up in despatches from, for example, Improper Use of Magic or Magical Accidents, so we check for anything that might be worth following up. Things like admissions records for St Mungos can be useful too. And of course, the Nexus is at your disposal too.”
“Erm… What’s the Nexus?” asked Harry.
“It’s pretty much a combination of a meeting room and a communications centre. I was hoping to show you but…” Ben glanced at the red door and checked his watch. “Hestia promised she would be out by now.”
Almost on cue, the red door suddenly turned blue, and then opened. A tall, dark-haired witch with rosy cheeks walked out, heading towards Ben’s desk. Harry recognised her as Hestia Jones, who had been a member of the Order of the Phoenix, and a regular visitor to Grimmauld Place three years previously. Up until a few months ago, Harry knew she had also been part of the team ensuring the safety of the Dursleys, but he hadn’t realised she was an Auror.
When she saw the newest members of her team, she broke into a wide smile. “Hi, Harry, Hi, Ron. It’s good to see you again.” She turned to Ben. “Sorry I was so long in there. I really thought we might have had him but it was another dead end.” She shrugged and perched on the edge of Ben’s desk. “Introducing them to the Nexus then?”
“Yep. Care to join us?”
“Sure. If it couldn’t help me this time around, we can at least get some benefit from the waste of time.”
She turned to Ron and Harry. “The Nexus is how we speak to and check up on informants, contacts and Aurors in the field. I’ve just been talking to a contact in Wales, who thought he’d got a lead for me, but unfortunately it came to nothing. The Nexus can be used by more than one person at a time, but some of what we do in there is very sensitive, so if you need it to yourself, use the switch inside to lock the door. It turns the door red and no-one else will be able to get in. Alohamora and enchanted keys won’t work on it, although the most senior Auror on the premises can always open it if they need to. If it’s blue, feel free to go in. Let’s go and take a look.”
All four of them stood, and walked through the blue door in to the Nexus. The room that Harry found himself in was roughly the same size and circular shape as his old dormitory back in Gryffindor tower. There were no windows, but all around the edge of the room were fireplaces. They were all different shapes and sizes – one was small and built of plain brick, another was tall and narrow, and surrounded by ornately carved marble. The one at the far end of the room was huge, twice the size of the one in the kitchen at the Burrow, with a rough wooden surround that was stained and pitted with age. Each one had a pot of floo powder hanging next to it, as well as a series of small silver switches and dials.
Above all the fireplaces hung mirrors. Again, these varied tremendously in size, decoration and age, some plain glass, others in fancy gilt frames. Then, in the middle of the room, was a round wooden table, surrounded by chairs. Harry counted at least twenty. The table looked totally ordinary, other than its larger-than-average size.
Hestia continued speaking. “You can probably guess what at least some of this stuff does. The fireplaces are all connected to the Floo network and can be used for fire-calls as well as transport. We can use the controls to set whether they are monitored, to conceal where they are physically located, or to disconnect them entirely, to stop people just arriving here or eavesdropping. The big one is particularly useful – it’s big enough for several people to call in to at once if we need to share information with a group. It drives the Transportation guys mad that we’ve got all this stuff, but they don’t really get to argue about it, it’s just too useful.
“The mirrors are all two-way mirrors. We can pair them with any other mirror that we can get to and enchant, and we often use them to speak to informants, or for remote observation. You’ll learn how to do that for yourselves this week.
“And then there’s the table. The surface is enchanted so we can use it to plan surveillance ops and captures, which is probably easiest if I demonstrate. Let’s make it somewhere familiar.” Hestia tapped it with her wand. “Finguntia Hogwarts!”
The wooden surface of the table started to ripple and shimmer. Ron, who had been leaning against it, jumped away sharply. Shapes started to form in the ripples, pushing up and out of the table surface. Within seconds, Harry and Ron found themselves staring a miniature replica of Hogwarts castle, perfect right down every tower and window, and as much of the grounds that would fit onto the table top too.
“Then we can position ourselves and check how things might work, run different scenarios.” She held her wand on to the table’s surface and then gently pulled it away. As she pulled, she left behind a miniature Hestia, standing on the grass outside the castle, which she then directed with her wand to a hiding place behind one of the walls near the main entrance. “You try.”
Harry followed her lead, and soon there was a mini-Harry standing staring up at the castle looking puzzled. He had some trouble getting mini-Harry to move though, and practically had to poke him with his wand to get him to walk. Ron was having the opposite problem, as mini-Ron was running riot through the grounds with no provocation at all.
“Don’t worry,” said Ben. “It does take a bit of practice.”
Just then, there was a muffled thud and a crunch. Ron looked stricken. Mini-Ron had run into the mini-Whomping Willow.
“And of course, that’s just the sort of hazard we’re trying to find and avoid, so excellent demonstration, Ron.” Hestia chuckled. She tapped the model with her wand once more, and the model sank back into the table top. “Shall we cover practical training now, Ben?”
Fortescue nodded. He spoke to his new charges. “Although most of the work you’ll be doing in the next month will be paper-based, I don’t want the skills you already have to suffer while you’re based in the office, and I want to give you something that will really stretch you. Hestia came up with a great idea.”
“Yes – although I do need to check; Harry, where are you living now? Are you at Grimmauld Place?”
“Yes, both of us. There’s plenty of room.”
“Great. And is it still the utter pit of dark artefacts and gloom that I remember?”
“Oh. Well it’s a lot more cheerful now. I think you were really seeing it at its worst.”
“I’m certainly glad to hear that. But I bet you still have to dodge a tongue-tying curse, avoid a dust-effigy and gag Walburga Black every time you walk through the front door.” Harry nodded. “And you probably still have that utterly dreadful tapestry oozing dark pride into the parlour, don’t you?”
“Oh god, yeah. It’s a bit depressing, that.” Said Ron.
“Have you got any particular attachment to the décor, Harry?” Asked Hestia
“No, Ron’s right. It’s really awful.”
Ben and Hestia exchanged a smile that Harry felt verged on the smug. Ben turned back to them and said “Not for long. Before you head to Hogwarts, I want all of that gone. It should stay unplottable and any external concealment can stay, but all the internal defensive charms, jinxes and hexes, the portrait and tapestry need to be gone. Inspection at the end of this month.”
“Seriously? But Mad-Eye set those defences! And the whole Order couldn’t get Walburga off the wall.” Ron looked horrified.
“You do have an advantage this time around, though. Now the house belongs to Harry.”
“It belonged to Sirius last time we tried to get rid of the portrait, and he couldn’t manage it.” Harry was equally daunted.
“Yes, I know. But you have to admit, his mind probably wasn’t totally on the job, now was it?” said Hestia “And I wouldn’t be surprised if Walburga had directed most of the strength of her Permanent Sticking charm against Sirius personally.” Hestia raised her eyebrows when they still looked unconvinced. “Oh come on! It’s meant to be difficult. How will you learn anything if it isn’t? This is exactly the sort of thing you’ll need to be able to counter when we’re setting up a capture or recce, and it will take some lateral thinking which is another skill we really value.”
Ben’s gold tooth flashed as he grinned at them “Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty of very entertaining and less domestic stuff planned for November, when you’re back from Hogwarts armed with a bunch of new spells. But this is a great start. Now then. Haven’t you two got some files to be working on?”
A couple of hours later, Ron and Harry made their way to the canteen for lunch. By the time they found a table, both of them still looked mildly dazed, and Ron had turned a particularly ghostly shade of white. To say their first morning as trainee Aurors had been something of a shock to the system was a bit of an understatement.
It was Ron that broke the silence. “Wow. And I thought NEWTS were going to be tough. Is it too late to change our minds? Hogwarts would be a picnic compared to this!”
“I know. But we’re bound to get our heads round it eventually. Aren’t we?”
Ron didn’t reply. Instead, he unwrapped his sandwich and started to pick at it, rather listlessly.
Harry pushed a straw into his carton of pumpkin juice, and took a swig. He remembered his first taste of it, all those years ago, the first day he had met Ron on the Hogwarts Express. Thinking about the train turned his thoughts to Ginny – she would only be part way through her journey back to school. With a guilty start, he realised that he hadn’t thought about her since arriving at the Ministry that morning. It had just been so busy! But now, suddenly, she was all he could think of once again – how fiercely she had kissed him that morning, how much he would miss her over the next month. He resolved to write to her that evening, as he let his mind wander back to the feel of her lips on his.
“Ron! Harry! I hoped I might bump into you here!” Mr Weasley’s voice broke into Harry’s daydream, and he drew up a chair to their table. “How’s your first day going?”
Harry was the first to respond. “Hello, Mr Weasley. It’s…erm… well it’s all a bit overwhelming, to be honest.”
Mr Weasley chuckled “Going to be keeping you busy then?” Harry nodded. “Well, you’ll be fitting four years’ worth of study and training into just two, so that’s no surprise. Who’s mentoring you?”
Ron answered him. “Benvenuto Fortescue.”
“Ben? I heard he was back. He spent a lot of the last year in Europe, mustering support for the Order overseas. He’s very well regarded. You’ll learn a lot from him. Have you met Gawain yet?”
“No, not yet. I think we’re seeing him this afternoon” said Harry. Gawain Robards was the head Auror. Harry was nervous to meet him, remembering his discussion with Rufus Scrimgeour when the prospect of a chat with the senior Auror had been used as a threat.
“Good. I think you’ll like Gawain. Tough but fair. And there’s more to him than meets the eye.”
At 2 pm precisely, the door with the shiny brass nameplate opened, and Gawain Robards beckoned Ron and Harry into his office. Harry took a seat in one of the rickety wicker chairs opposite Robards’s desk, and looked around the small room. It had a general feeling of cosy shabbiness. The desk was a plain but rather battered wooden table, and there were several very full bookshelves that looked on the verge of collapse. The polished floorboards were covered with a green patterned rug that had a well-worn line across the middle, where someone clearly liked to pace up and down. On the walls were several of the same ‘Wanted’ posters that they had seen in the main office, and a large map that took up the whole of one wall, which seemed to be covered with a wide scattering of green lights, and a much smaller number of red ones.
Robards himself was of medium height and medium build, with mousey brown hair and mid-brown eyes. Everything about his physical appearance was utterly average, and Harry thought he’d never seen anyone who looked quite so non-descript in his life.
“Well. It’s great to finally have you two here,” said Robards. “I must say, I wasn’t convinced when Kingsley first discussed the idea of an accelerated program with me, but I think, based on what I know about you both, you will do very well. And Merlin knows we need people. I’m sure you noticed how many empty desks there are outside?”
Robards looked down at his hands. “It wasn’t too long ago that they were all full and we were fighting for space. We lost a lot of good people. Good friends.” He looked up again. “But it doesn’t do to dwell on the past, does it? Let’s talk about the future. Take a look around you. What do you see?”
“Erm… well I know those are Wanted posters.” Said Ron.
“Correct. If you count them, you’ll find there are ten of them. These are our ‘Most Wanted’. I get a huge amount of satisfaction when I get to take one of them down, and I look forward to the day when it’s one of you telling me that I can. They’re an ugly bunch, but it makes a change from last year. For ten months, everywhere I looked, all I could see was Mr Potter here grimacing back at me.”
“You were here last year?” Harry was surprised.
“Oh yes. Yes, I managed to stay in my post, so I can understand if you’re questioning my loyalties?”
“Not at all, Sir,” said Harry “I know that Kingsley trusts you. That’s more than good enough for me.”
“Good to know. And drop the ‘Sir’ – it’s Gawain from now on. Most of the department heads under Thicknesse were big supporters of Voldemort, but let’s just say that I’m really good at not being noticed when it suits me. It was a very difficult place to be back then, but it was important for me to stay - I always knew that if I kept the really dark ones close, it would make hunting them down later so much easier. It’s certainly paid dividends so far, and as we increase our man power, I know it will have been worthwhile.”
“Are there really only ten of us?” Asked Ron.
“You counted the desks then? Well, add in the two of you, and that makes twelve, but no – there are a few more than that. Look at the map.”
Harry looked at it more closely. The map was covered with a sprinkling of small green lights, intermingled with a much smaller number of red ones. They seemed to be grouped around towns and cities, but quite a lot were scattered in more rural areas.
“The red dots show where my Aurors are. Or at least, their last known positions. You can see that not everyone is based in this office. In fact, most of the team rotates around between desk work here, or at one of our field offices, or anywhere else they might be needed.” Robards flicked his wand towards the map, and it expelled a tiny red spark which soared across the room until it made contact with one of the red lights, this one just outside Birmingham. The red dot in turn expanded until it turned into a picture of a man’s face, animated like a wizard’s photograph. The man was smiling and waving. “That’s Noah Collingwood. He’s at our King’s Norton office. There are 38 of us in total, but a full department should have 80.”
Robards flicked his wand away, and Noah Collingwood shrank back into the map. “And if the red lights are Aurors, you probably don’t need telling that the green ones are dark wizards. Obviously, the locations are uncertain, but these show our best guesses at the present time. There’s a green light for every one that we’re currently looking for, so you can see the scale of the problem.”
“I hadn’t realised there would be so many,” said Harry. Green dots vastly outnumbered red ones.
Robards nodded. “They’re still running scared at the moment. Now that Voldemort is gone, they’re terrified, disorganised. But it’s still important to remember what a threat to wizarding society they are. Thanks to you, he’s not coming back, but that wouldn’t stop anyone else from trying to take his place. And I’m afraid it’s even worse than it might seem.”
Robards flicked his wand towards the map again, and this time the spark that hit it was blue. It covered the map in light, and when that faded away, the map no longer showed Great Britain, but the whole of western Europe. There was the same pattern of many green dots to far fewer red ones.
“Obviously my counterparts at other Ministries around the world are responsible for many of the Aurors you can see now,” he said, “but we all work closely together to track down our quarries, and several of those red dots are people from this office, working internationally on either a temporary or permanent basis. Do well here, and your careers could take you just about anywhere.
“You’ll learn a lot from Ben. He’s a real asset to this team. But ultimately, I’m responsible for you – your standards, your results and your wellbeing. Screw up and it’s me that you answer to. Do well, and I hand out the medals. You can come to me with any questions or problems you might have, and I’ll be monitoring you closely.
“So. Welcome to the team. It’s a pleasure you have you on board.”