Holly and Willow

Theme: Potential and Protection

July 21st, 1998

Ron took the empty seat in the back of the classroom next to Harry and looked at the grotesque sign over the chalkboard. It was a white banner featuring a healer and a man who was covered in blood in a hospital bed. The caption below was not at all heartwarming.

The Healers can't always save you

Pleasant way to start the morning.

The paperwork had said they were going to be assigned full mentors for the rest of their training instead of just being assigned to different senior Aurors for each mission. There were going to be a few short tests to help get beneficial partners.

Though apparently some of the senior Aurors had been asking for some mentees specifically.

Ron looked over at Harry; Ron understood all of the requesting and knew what it was probably about.

Granted these were mostly personality and situational tests. Short ones, according to what Kingsley had told them at dinner a couple of nights ago. Ron only remembered this bit because his mum had pulled a ham out of the oven and put it directly in front of him.

Which now made him associate testing with honey-cooked ham.

He would have to fix that.

Harry was flipping through the paperwork that was left on the desk. It was a liability contract; it was so none of the students could sue the teacher if they had… accidents during training that ended it loss of life or limb.

The man in front of Ron groaned, "My mother is not going to like hearing about this."

Ron made a noise of agreement that caused the man to turn around.

"You're a Weasley, and that's Harry Potter."

Gold star. Gold star for him.

The man was blond with bright blue eyes on a round pleasant face. His nose was a bit on the large side and his uniform was perfectly pressed. Ron remembered him from a previous assignment.

What was his name?

"I'm really excited to be in class with the both of you. You were only a year behind me in school."

Reed…?

"So, where's Granger? She in another class?"

Readdie…?

Ron and Harry shook their heads in unison; Ron was the one who answered while Harry finished signing his paperwork. "She's got other plans, wants to finish her education."

The man grinned, "Always liked her. Smart as whip that woman. I debated her in the library once, she's vicious."

Reeve! Frank Reeve! That was it.

Reeve stuck his hand out to Ron, "I came here straight out of school, if you two need anything let me know." He grinned, "I look forward to working with you two."

"Yeah, same." Ron responded politely, making note to ask Hermione about debates she had in the library while Reeve shook hands with Harry who was asking Reeve about what he knew about the classes and the teacher.

"I'll give you the details later, but the short version is he's a bit mad, from what I've heard. Hear he's got an apprentice who doesn't work in the department."

There was a loud banging noise as the door swung open and rebounded off the wall. An old man staggered in putting most of his weight on a wooden cane that had some distinct notches on it. He carried a bundle of paperwork under his other arm. He dropped the papers on his desk at the front of the room.

The room grew silent, he was a new face. He had not been a part of the Ireland ruse mission. Then again, that was a pretty horrid limp he had, it would be enough to keep him out of any real active combat situations.

My name is Septimus Lowell, I'll be teaching your class on dark magic and the various forms you will see during your time in this department."

Ron looked at his schedule again along with half of the class. Dark magic studies were not on the list for classes this morning. It said basic field combat on the schedule.

A woman up front raised her hand. "Auror Lowell-"

"Mr. Lowell is fine. I left the department long before any of you were being thought about." Lowell cut in quickly and tapped his cane on the floor and his name and preferred title appeared on the board behind him. "Anyway, continue."

"Mr. Lowell, it says basic combat is our first lesson on our schedule."

"Because the secretaries in this department are old and set in their ways. This is what I was brought here to teach you and that's what I will teach you."

Another hand went up, "What did you do after you left the department?"

"Made myself overqualified to teach this class."

Ron grinned and signed his name on the contracts in front of him.

A third student raised his hand, "How did you do that?"

"By not asking inane questions."

A fourth student made to raise his hand; Lowell interrupted him before he could ask anything.

"If you do not know a word I suggest you look it up. I also recommend you all read more books to better your vocabulary, so you don't have to look up every word more intelligent people use when speaking with you."

No other hands went up. Reeve leaned back thoughtfully in his chair.

"Now, you have some paperwork in front of you that will need to be filled out and I will then send you to see Auror Heathers who will administer your skill assessment test, among others, to help determine who will be best to mentor you."

He tapped his cane on the floor and curtains appeared out of nowhere to block the windows.

We're underground.

When fifteen minutes had passed Lowell asked for their papers and sent them on to a room at the end of the hallway where an old woman stood there waiting for them and sent them into the room in random groups of three picked off the list in her hands.

Ron was grouped with Frank Reeve and a woman named Amelia Cooper, a tall dark woman with glasses and hair pulled back in many braids.

Auror Heathers sent them in and closed the door behind them and immediately Ron felt like they were being watched.

They were standing in a city alley, but there were no sounds of people, no ringing of shop bells, it felt wrong. The twists and turns ahead were all Ron could see. There was no straight path ahead.

A voice suddenly echoed through the room.

"Find your way out of this maze using whatever means you deem appropriate."

Cooper, Reeve and Ron exchanged looks.

Cooper took the lead, her wand at the ready.

Reeve fell in behind her.

Ron grinned, as he took the back position as they took a turn and Ron marked it on the wall with a Flagarte spell.

"Reeve, take point for me if we find anything nasty."

"No problem."

Ron marked the two turns they had taken on the walls and noticed the wall ahead was already marked.

"Hey, we might have a problem."

"What's the problem, Weasley?" Cooper asked briskly.

"We've been here before, I've been marking the walls." He pointed at the red X on the wall.

"Shit, illusion charm." Cooper said as she whipped out her wand as the tip lit with a blue light and started examining the walls around them. "Give me a few minutes and I'll get us out of here."

There was a noise coming from down one of the short streets they had already been down. Reeve stepped forward; Ron kept watch on the other two streets as a fog rolled in.

"What kind of sick test is this?" Reeve blocked a curse from where the noise was coming from.

Cooper made a move to stop her spell to watch down one of the other streets.

"Cooper, don't stop! Break the illusion, we'll watch your back!" Ron shouted as he threw up a shield charm down the two streets he was watching and threw a spell over Reeve's head down the alley to try and disperse the fog. It didn't work.

"Weasley, just keep those shield charms up!"

Cooper's focus grew stronger while Reeve fired off every spell he could until his opponent stopped firing back.

As soon as Reeve defeated his unseen opponent, Cooper broke through the illusion charm and the three of them were standing in an empty room. Ron looked up to see them being watched by Lowell, Heathers and who he assumed to be a couple of the other instructors.

There was another man behind them. It was Kingsley Shacklebolt and he had a rather satisfied grin on his face as he talked with the instructors. There was a small security guard behind Kingsley who was paying attention to something Lowell was saying with arms crossed. Kingsley looked at Ron thoughtfully before he turned and left the viewing area with the little security guard trailing after him.

Kingsley had complained about being required bodyguards at dinner last week. Ron was willing to guess that one security guard in the ministry itself was a compromise to stop him from losing his mind at the idea.

"Congratulations," It was Auror Heathers speaking from the viewing box, pulling Ron out of his thoughts. "If you can step through this door please and go back to your classroom you'll have your mentor assignments sometime tomorrow."

"That was fun," Cooper said offhandedly, as she opened the door. "We should do this again sometime."

"Oh, for sure," Reeve said, "Maybe next time they'll put us somewhere warm and sunny. Like the beach."

"We get sun in England?" Ron shot back causing the rest of his team to chuckle.

They waited quietly for the rest of their class to finish up the test with Harry and his team arriving next, looking very frazzled as they took their seats.

"What did they do to you?" Ron asked as Harry fell into his seat and started rubbing his scar. "You look terrible."

"Hardwick thought it would be fun to split up and ran off after some light he saw up ahead. We had to save him from the hole he fell into."

"Where did the hole come from?"

"He said it opened up beneath him suddenly while he was getting his bearings."

Ron laughed as the rest of their class finally arrived.

The class started pretty normally, until Lowell pulled down some large diagrams of ritual murder sites and what people believed about how that worked in great detail that left more then a few students extremely sick to their stomachs and put off their lunch.

Ron was deeply suppressing his urge to gag until the bell rang.

There was a little bit of time to go and study in the Ministry's rather extensive library before lunch. Ron was playing chess with Cooper who was losing badly while her pieces screamed at her. Ron was just trying to get those pictures out of his head.

"If he's not an Auror anymore, why would he come here to teach?" Harry asked suddenly as he stared blankly at the book he was holding about cursed objects.

Reeve shrugged, "Maybe to keep the law off his back, he has a record with the ministry for suspected illegal dealings in magical artifacts."

"Suspected?" Harry put the book in his bag and looked at the clock. Ron moved his bishop down the board before looking over at Reeve and Harry while Amelia Cooper grabbed her hair in deep thought of her next move.

"He's wily, no one's really been able to catch him at it and formally charge him for it," Reeve leaned in towards the rest of the group with a conspiratorial whisper.

"You said his assistant was working in another department," Cooper had given up on her next move for the moment, deciding to put in her two knuts while her chess pieces yelled about potential moves she still had on the board.

"That's the part I think is a bit odd, they're both working out of similar departments, only the security guards are stationed within the Ministry itself. Privy to all sorts of information, the guards are a bunch of gossips you know. If there's something going on around here, believe me, the guards and the secretaries found out about it first."

"How do you know all of this, Reeve?" Cooper asked.

Reeve fidgeted in his chair, "I officially joined the Auror program out of school, but with things being as they were, the senior staff moved as many of us into obscure departments to protect us from the Death Eaters in charge. I wound up in the filing office where they keep records of people suspected of various minor crimes. I read a lot, not too much to do in that department. That's where I found Lowell's file; it was the most interesting one I found in two weeks. It includes a list of known associates, and everyone who's worked for him in some capacity." Reeve paused before continuing, "There is also a small file on his assistant, a girl who worked as his shop assistant who now works in security, Audrey Causey's her name."

"You know her, Reeve?" Cooper asked as she looked him right in the eyes.

"She was in my year and house at school. Quiet, never heard her talk much, but I always got the idea she was more ambitious then she let on. She was always reading books on advanced spell craft and runes."

"You think he's using his assistant to find something for him?"

"Maybe. It would make sense considering everything I found in his file," Reeve paused thoughtfully before turning to look at Ron and Harry. "Part of being an Auror is understanding how other people think, what they want and what methods they have at their disposal to get what they want. Lowell has a lot of methods at his disposal from one little, seemingly insignificant resource." Reeve closed his book as the clock chimed for lunch. "I'll see you all after lunch."

Cooper groaned, "I surrender for now, Weasley." She got out of her chair and tossed her bag over her shoulder. "We'll settle this another time." She grinned and sauntered off to go to lunch with a lady who was waving at her from the entrance to the study room. They greeted each other with a kiss and walked off arm in arm.

"I miss Hermione," Ron packed up his chessboard and looked at Harry. "Want to go eat lunch with my dad?"

Harry pulled an envelope out of his pocket with the official department seal on it. "Sorry Ron, I have a meeting with Williamson. Said he wants to talk about something with me over lunch."

"Good for you mate! Still on for dinner on Sunday?"

"Wouldn't miss it!" Harry took off to make it to his appointment on time leaving Ron alone with his bag lunch from his mum and his own thoughts, questions and mystery pulling at his brain.

Ron could not let Reeve dictate the course of this whole conversation about their strange teacher. He would have to do some investigating of his own, because Reeve had one good point. Lowell was a very suspicious man with a record.

He got on the lift and wondered how to start that kind of conversation. Ron stepped off on his dad's floor and noted the nervous looking security guard working the floor flipping through some paperwork and taking notes before moving on down the hallway.

Perhaps he should just play this by ear.

He knocked on his dad's office door when the voice sounded from the other side Ron swung the door open and made for the empty chair across from his dad.

"Lowell's a bloody lunatic!" Ron dropped into the chair and made himself comfortable.

"Hello to you too, Ron."

Ron opened his lunch and started placing its contents on the desk. "All he talks about is dark magic and ritual killing." He paused and examined his sandwich.

Roast beef.

Yuck.

Ron looked around the office as he put the sandwich back in the bag and opened the small container of pie that his mum had packed for him. He set that to the side and picked up the apple instead and looked around the office. Arthur's office was bigger and had a bit more room than when he was working in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts office two years ago. There was room for a small bookshelf of case law, a book of known curses that looked interesting and a short series of books on how muggle inventions responded to magic.

"Isn't that what he's supposed to be teaching you, Ron?" Arthur looked tired; the bags under his eyes had been there since May. Ron moved his gaze to the apple in his hand. The last few months had been emotionally draining. The whole family was out of sorts, like the life had drained from their eyes.

When his mum had stopped crying she started mollycoddling the rest of her family. It was getting to the point where Ron was starting to get a bit testy. He wanted to spend more time out of the house and doing things on his own, but he had to ease his way out so he would not hurt his mum's feelings or anyone else's.

Ron liked to think he now had the emotional range of two teaspoons.

"Yes, but I don't see how a two hour lecture on ritual murders is supposed to help us fight dark wizards." He took a bite out of his apple.

Arthur started shuffling some of the paperwork on his desk.

"Ron, he's very smart and has trained at least one talented duelist. I'm sure he has his reasons for the things he does."

Ron felt his attention grabbed at that statement. "Who did he train?"

"Audrey, his apprentice, she's working for security now. You might have seen her on the way here, she's been assigned to the security desk by the lift and a couple of other places she can't tell me too much about."

Ron remembered the little mousey looking woman he had passed on his way up from the training room. Her pale blue eyes were nervously darting around the room. She looked more like a runner than a fighter.

"What do you mean by apprentice?"

Arthur shrugged, "She's more of a private student of his is how she explained it to me when I asked. He teaches her advanced magic, she helps him do research and write papers."

"Okay, then define talented, she looks like a strong wind would knock her over."

Arthur put his papers on the corner of his desk and pulled his toolbox out of one of his desk drawers. "She and her friend helped me get to the Minister's office to rescue your brother."

Ron laughed in disbelief. "Really? What if I don't believe you?"

Arthur shook his head before reaching for the toaster in the box next to his desk. He was quiet for the few moments it took to arrange his tools and the toaster on his desk before he decided to speak.

"You should have seen what she did to their leader down in the atrium." He paused to examine the electrical plug on the toaster. "It was brutal."

Ron remembered that fight, or the very tail end of it. His dad's statement sent a flash of recognition through his brain. He had been working with Kingsley that day when the call went out about suspected Death Eater activity in the far north of Ireland. The Aurors realized they had been fed false information and came back as quickly as they could only to find complete chaos in the atrium. The smell had burned Ron's throat with something more than smoke and fire, and screams of the injured filled his ears.

"I came in at the end, she attacked me for trying to help her to a safer area." Audrey had knocked him flat on his ass before running after the bleeding man with murder in her eyes. When they both disappeared from Ron's sight, the building shook so violently that everyone was knocked back onto the floor.

Ron did not see her again until the family went to visit Percy in Saint Mungo's. Granted, she looked different then she did before. More rested, was what came to mind. Also that her face was not longer covered in streaks of soot and blood. Still, she was asleep and Ron had really paid no more then a passing glance to the reckless woman.

"She sounds a bit mad, I think," Ron reached into his lunch box for a second apple.

"I don't think so."

"You sure? I mean who would-"

He was interrupted by a forceful knock on the door.

"Come in," Arthur moved his toolbox and toaster back into the box next to his desk.

Ron turned to see his mother open the door holding a lunchbox. He made sure the roast beef sandwich was hidden in his lunchbox away from her prying eyes.

"Arthur, you forgot your lunch on the counter again."

"Ah, thank you, Molly."

"Third time this week, dear." She set it down on his desk and fiddled with the visitor's badge on her chest.

"Only because I miss you."

Ron started coughing to make it more obvious that he was in the room.

"How were your lessons, Ron?"

"Fine, absolutely fine, mum. The teacher's a nutter but what else is new?"

"Ronald!"

Her face was halfway to saber tooth tiger, usually enough to perturb the unsuspecting Weasley children and instill unholy terror into those unfamiliar with her quick temper.

Ron was saved from a lecture by a tentative knock on the door.

Arthur told them to come in, while Ron commented on how popular this office was.

The door opened slowly to reveal the security witch from the desk by the lift. Ron got a better look at her this time. The uniform was a size to big for her small frame. Her eyes were an eerie pale blue color that made Ron a bit nervous.

"Mr. Weasley, Minister Shacklebolt wanted me to deliver this to you." She pulled a piece of parchment from behind her back and held it out as she walked into the room. She seemed to be taking in the entire room, her eyes lingering longer on Ron and the handle of his wand poking out of his holster.

"Ah, thank you Audrey." Arthur stepped forward and took the parchment from Audrey and turned to look at Ron.

"Ron, Molly this is Audrey, the girl I told you about. Audrey this is my son Ron, he's just joined Auror training and this is my wife Molly."

Molly examined Audrey closely, while Audrey seemed to be trying to will herself into a state of invisibility.

"Are you feeling any better?"

"Y-Yes, ma'am! Much better."

Molly's expression grew thoughtful. "Our dinner offer still stands, we have big family dinners every Sunday."

"I'd love to Mrs. Weasley, but I'm really quite busy most days and don't really have the option to get away for a few hours."

"Hm, well, we'll have to move dinner to a night you're free one week and see how that goes. What do you think, dear?"

"I think that's a wonderful idea, Molly."

Audrey's eyes widened slightly before reaching out her hand to shake Ron's, "It's nice to meet you, Ron. I hope Septimus isn't being too hard on you."

She had a soft voice, and seemed nervous. Ron took her hand politely and noted her firm grip.

Sarcasm being a second language to Ron, he was unable to help what came out of his mouth next. "Oh, he's a complete manic."

Ron risked a cheeky glance at his mum who looked like she was suppressing a lot of things she wanted to say to him at the moment.

"Try living with him." She responded flatly before she turned back to his mother while Ron managed to turn a laugh into a loud, sick sounding cough.

Ron watched his mum talk a bit more with Audrey while looking around the girl to glare at him. There was a slight tremble in Audrey's left hand as she made slight additions to the conversation with his mum. The two women where about the same height, Audrey was not much taller then his mum. Molly soon turned her attention back to her husband and Audrey swiftly backed out of the room. A notable stiffness in her body.

Odd?

No.

Molly Weasley was a scary woman.

Suspicious?

Hell yes.

Maybe Reeve was right. Maybe Lowell had an ulterior motive for coming to teach in the Auror department. Perhaps he had help from his apprentice who could access places he could not?

Ron thought it might be worth looking into. If Lowell and his apprentice were planning a coup of some sort, then Ron wanted to find out what exactly was going on before it came to a head.


A/N: Alright, I am a fool. I've had a rough draft of this fic on my flash drive for a couple of years. Couldn't figure out how to tell it.

I decided to use wand woods for titles for what the wood represents in the wielders personality.