Disclaimer and Acknowledgements: I don't own Harry Potter or its characters. This work is heavily influenced by JK Rowling's amazing canon characterization and events, however, some elements herein will be AU. For example, in this story, Voldemort didn't manage to take over the whole wizarding world before his defeat nor was the Horcrux hunt required, so the trio remained in school for all seven years. Because of the aforementioned changes and the fact that the final confrontation with Voldemort will be a bit different, Dumbledore, Moody, Lupin, Tonks, Fred Weasley, and others survive the war. Also, cannon pairings are out the window; anything goes.

The description of Harry's arrival at the Ministry was heavily influenced by content on Pg. 126 - 136 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, American Edition. Some Information about Aurors and Auror Training was derived from the Harry Potter Fandom Wiki.

10 March 1998 - Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

A flock of birds swooped over the breakfast-laden tables in the Great Hall dropping parchments and papers in front of the students and staff. As quick as the swarm descended, the mail was delivered, with only a few of the messengers remaining to receive payment in coin...or bacon. Harry Potter looked curiously at the scroll next to his plate. Casting a few quick spells on the letter, he deemed it safe to touch... Constant Vigilance and all that. Carefully untying the red ribbon around the parchment, he read the missive; a cycle of emotions flickering across his face: surprise, excitement, and concern in equal measure.

Turning to his friends, he held up the parchment, "It's my owl from the Ministry. They've scheduled my Academy test for next Thursday," Harry quietly confided to Ron and Hermione.

"That's wonderful, Harry!" his best friend Hermione exclaimed, hugging him close, even though he stiffened awkwardly in her embrace. "I am so happy for you. You've worked really hard; you deserve this."

Ducking his head at her heartfelt praise, Harry smiled before he remembered why this may not be the best news after all. Mouth set in a grim line, he exhaled before sharing his worries, "I'm not sure I should accept- I mean...what if something happens?"

"Oh Harry, no matter what rubbish the Daily Prophet prints, it isn't your responsibility as a student to protect the school or the Ministry. Go to your exam!" Hermione urged her conflicted friend.

Ron, totally oblivious to the desperate undertones of the conversation taking place just to his right, suddenly bust in, "I wonder why I haven't gotten my letter yet?"

"Ron, focus!" The bushy-haired witch chided.

"Right...sorry, mate. Go to the test; then come back and tell me everything."

"Ron, they make you swear a magical oath to keep the testing specifics secret."

"Really? Wicked!" the red head exclaimed, snatching a sausage from Hermione's plate with a playful grin. She slapped at the offending hand in jest while Harry returned to his breakfast, shaking his head in fond exasperation.

18 March 1998 - Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

The last week had proven to be quite a trial. Things were tense at Hogwarts, far in excess of what was typical for this time of year, even given the natural exam-driven frenzy characteristic of the final term. The strain apparent in Gryffindor house, however, was particularly acute. The school-wide anxiety was directly attributable to the ever-growing threat of Lord Voldemort. It was not a question of if, but when, he would strike the school. Even though there were more strategically important targets available, such as the Ministry, the Dark Lord's obsession with his alma mater knew no bounds.

Indeed, some said that if Voldemort had focused even half the amount of time and resources on the Wizarding world's other centers of power that he had on Hogwarts since his resurrection, Magical Britain would likely already be under his control. That wasn't to say that traditionally light families weren't attacked or that political opponents weren't subject to the occasional assassination plot, a few of which had been successful. Still, by and large, the primary pillars of the British Wizarding community remained standing and outside of Voldemort's grasp.

No, the dark cloud hanging over Gryffindor had another source: Ron Weasley. Last Monday, Harry, Susan Bones from Hufflepuff, and Slytherin's very own Daphne Greengrass of all people, had received responses to their applications for the Auror program. A few days later, Neville Longbottom, Dean Thomas, along with many students from other houses had received owls containing their interview and testing dates for various Ministry positions. Just yesterday, Ravenclaw Terry Boot and Hufflepuff Ernie MacMillan had been overheard discussing their own prospects within the DMLE in the corridor outside the Charms classroom. Then, not more that 5 minutes ago, Gryffindor gossip girl and Trelawney acolyte, Lavender Brown, had received her own Ministry scroll tied with its tell-tale red ribbon. Ron had had enough; Mount Weasley was going to blow.

"I can't believe I haven't received my owl yet!" Ron complained, loudly, to everyone in his general vicinity. "What do you think is taking so long?"

Neville, whose skill and confidence had grown exponentially since their fifth year, was still miffed about Ron's repeated insinuations over the last week that if he, Neville, had received a test date, then clearly the program was considering every application. In a carefully neutral tone, Neville responded to Ron's rhetorical question, "Well, the most obvious explanation is that you weren't selected for testing."

Ron considered that for a moment, before opining, "It can't be that, I mean, even Harry isn't just being given a position without having to test."

Dean, who had also been a victim of the red head's snide comments in recent days couldn't stop himself from laughing a bit callously before weighing in, "No, you muppet, he means that the most likely reason you haven't received an owl yet is because they rejected your application." Titters of laughter erupted from various places around the table at this proclamation.

"Take that back, Thomas!" Weasley bellowed. "You know it isn't true; Hermione hasn't received any owls yet, either. Besides, if they are testing Harry, they are going to test me." A number of Ron's housemates shared looks of incredulity— was he for real? "Right, Hermione?" Ron plead, turning to the brightest witch of the age.

Suddenly uncomfortable, Hermione stammered her response, "Um...actually Ron...I..."

Before she could finish, Harry, who had been immersed in a book from Remus Lupin on warding and thus not closely following the conversation around him, came to the rescue; the pride he held for his friend's accomplishments unmistakable, "Hermione has received loads of offers from different Ministerial departments and some apprenticeship contracts as well. She's brilliant, so naturally there are a lot of people invested in what she does after she graduates." Returning to his book, Harry didn't see the impact this revelation had had on his other friend.

Ron rounded on Hermione once more, his questioning tone suggesting she had somehow betrayed him, "Is that true?"

Cheeks slightly flushed, she still met his gaze head on, "Yes. But Ron, you shouldn't read anything into the fact that you haven't...you really haven't received a single offer from anywhere?" Shaking herself free from the counter-productive tangent, she plowed ahead, "Regardless, the Ministry owls have been sporadic, and I am sure you will get a reply any day now." She shot a disapproving look down the table at her classmates before returning to her meal. Neville appeared to feel guilty, Dean merely shrugged.

Vulnerable in a way that was highly unusual for him, because as Hermione had pointed out repeatedly over the duration of their friendship, he frequently demonstrated the emotional range of a teaspoon, Ron implored, "You really think so?"

She squeezed his hand before nodding decisively, "I know so." Just then, a large, brown owl dropped a Ministry scroll onto Ron's mostly empty plate. Laughing, she smirked at the table, "See! I told you so. Go on then, open it!" Hermione urged, elbowing Harry in the side to get his attention.

Scowling, as he rubbed the now sore spot, Harry looked up from his book to see Ron unfurling a piece of parchment with unsteady hands. His face morphed into a smile at the sight. "Don't keep us in suspense, Ron. When is your test?"

"In two weeks!" Ron crowed, relief and happiness evident in his voice.

A chorus of congratulations rang out around the table, with a few muttered "Thank Merlins" in the mix. Hermione enveloped Ron, pleased for him, while Harry rose from the bench and stood behind them, awkwardly joining the group hug at Hermione's coaxing.

"We knew you could do it, mate," Harry said, pulling out of the embrace and clapping Ron on the shoulder.

Smiling so widely he thought his face might split with joy, Ron leaned around Hermione as Harry returned to his seat and said in a faux whisper, "Remember, Harry- tell me everything about your test tomorrow."

"Ron!" both Hermione and Harry admonished, though all three of them wore bright smiles.

19 March 1998 - just before sunrise- Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Bolting upright in the shadowed cocoon of his four-poster bed, Harry rubbed his eyes while his sleep-addled brain tried to process the tapping noise that had woken him. As he slowly gained control of his mental faculties, he realized it was Hedwig at the window next to his bed in the Gryffindor dorm. She had a letter tied to her leg. Looking around at the still dark sky, the soft rhythmic snores of his roommates in the background, Harry was very curious about who could possibly be trying to contact him before dawn.

Harry absently petted Hedwig while opening his mail. It was a note from Remus Lupin.

Dear Harry,

You are carrying on a proud tradition of the House of Potter. Many wizards and witches from your line have committed themselves to defending Justice and serve Lady Magic with distinction. There is no doubt in my mind that you will be successful in your exams today. You have studied hard and are tremendously skilled in Magical defense. It has been an honor and my privilege to see you grow into such a strong, brave, and principled young man. I know that everyone is rooting for you today, Cub, even those who are only with us in spirit. I am so unbelievably proud of you.

All My Love,

Uncle Moony

Truly touched by the man's thoughtful gesture, Harry's heart swelled with affection as he re-folded the parchment.

Deciding that he might as well get a start on his day, Harry showered and shaved. Wrapped in just a towel, he critically surveyed his wardrobe options. He knew he wanted to be comfortable, as he anticipated there would be both written and practical portions to these exams. However, he also wanted to make a good first impression on his (hopefully!) future employers and colleagues. Eventually, he selected a loose fitting pair of dark trousers, a forest green button-down, and a black day robe with green at the collar and cuffs. He figured it would be alright to wear his black trainers, fairly confident no one would be able to tell that they weren't dress shoes. With growing anxiety, he dressed quietly before heading to the Great Hall for breakfast.

There were only two other students, both Hufflepuffs, eating this early; although the staff table was more than half full. He nodded up at Professor McGonagall, who looked as immaculate as ever, sipping her tea and making small talk with Professor Vector. After some toast, eggs, and strong black tea, Harry checked his pocket watch and decided it was time to start preparing for his departure. He had his wand and the parchment with his assigned room number. He reached inside his robes and withdrew the letter from Remus. As he re-read it, warmth filled him and helped fight off some of his nerves. Refolding it, he tucked it carefully into the inner breast pocket of his robes, right over his heart. Now he just needed to brush his teeth and see what he could do about his hair.

Staring balefully into the mirror in the boys' loo, he gave it up as a bad job; maybe people would think he had styled it that way on purpose...or that he didn't own a comb. There was nothing he could do about it either way. Re-checking his watch, he saw that it was time for him to head for the Ministry.

Thinking about everything and nothing as he walked through the halls, he was startled to find himself in front of McGonagall's door so soon. Resolving to pay more attention to his surroundings going forward, he tentatively entered the Professor's office. Despite the fact that she had been sitting on the dais when he left the hall, Harry found her inside behind her desk, seemingly marking Transfiguration essays. When he had asked for permission to leave the school for his exam last week, McGonagall had offered to let him use her Floo connection to get to the Ministry. Harry was grateful for her assistance. When he thanked her, she had waved him off, reminding him that during his Fifth Year she had said she would do almost anything to help him achieve his career goals. At the time, she had assumed her pledge would involve more than just lending him a little Floo Powder. Looking up from her papers, she asked, "Are you ready?"

Harry cleared his throat to respond, "I think so."

Professor McGonagall gave him a genuine smile, her eyes a little misty as if perhaps she was remembering another messy-haired young man on his way to his Auror Academy entrance exam. "Do your House proud, Potter. I will accept nothing less. You are more than capable." Leaning in before she could think better of it, she gave him a quick hug and then stepped back. "Here you go," she said, holding out the pot of Floo powder. He took a healthy pinch of the silvery substance and threw it into the fireplace. As he stepped in and clearly stated his destination, she called out to him, "Good Luck!"

19 March 1998- 8:22AM- Ministry of Magic, London

Harry stumbled into the main Ministry atrium, spit out from the fireplace a rumpled, ashy mess like always. He couldn't help but gawk a bit as he tried to brush off his robes. It was chockablock, with witches and wizards rushing here, there, and everywhere, and parchment memos in the shapes different birds darting overhead; the peacock blue ceiling inlaid with mutable golden symbols serving as an almost heavenly backdrop to the bustle.

Harry's progress toward the security desk halted as his gaze caught on the group of golden statues halfway down the entrance hall that composed the so-called "Fountain of Magical Brethren." Unable to completely conceal his disgust at the Ministry's larger-than-life monument to Magical Britain's pervasive racism, his revulsion was interrupted by a wizard sitting behind an imposing marble counter clearing his throat, "Can I help you?" he inquired, beckoning Harry over.

Forcing himself to focus, Harry moved forward and responded, "Yes. I am here for..."

"Step over here," the man interrupted before passing a thin, gold rod up and down Harry's front and back.

"Wand," the security wizard prompted with a grunt.

"Right," replied Harry, removing the weapon from its wrist holster and handing it over, slightly taken aback by the man's brusqueness.

The wizard dropped the wand onto a brass scale-like device, which vibrated before spitting out a narrow piece of parchment from a slit in its base. The security officer tore off the slip and read it in a bored voice, "Eleven inches, Phoenix-feather core, been in use for 7 years. Is that correct?

"Yes," Harry confirmed before the security wizard impaled the parchment on a small brass spike and returned his wand to him. "Thank you."

"Hang on!" the wizard called, as Harry started to walk away, "You need a badge."

Suppressing a groan, Harry reluctantly extended his hand, accepting the small, silver square from the guard, hoping it wouldn't say anything too humiliating, like 'Nervous Nellie,' or worse, 'Gormless Idiot.' Bracing himself for the inevitable, he turned it over, pleasantly surprised and more than a bit relieved to discover that it simply read, "Harry Potter, Auror Applicant."

Taking a moment to pin the badge to his robes, Harry nodded to the surly security officer who appeared to have realized just exactly who he had helped clear through the Ministry. Merlin help him, there really were fanboys everywhere. Making his way quickly to the line of witches and wizards queuing for the golden gates before he could be asked for an autograph or something equally ridiculous, Harry spied the guard surreptitiously pocketing the parchment bearing his wand details. He wasn't entirely sure how he felt about the Ministry maintaining a formal record of his wand. It seemed to be a standard practice, but perhaps it was time for him to finally obtain a secondary, less traceable magical focus that didn't share a core with Voldemort's wand. His thoughts lingered on the looming war as he breached the inner sanctum of the Ministry; as usual, he found himself slightly overwhelmed at the wide array of colors and fashions that adorned his fellow Magicals. Once inside the smaller hall on the other side of the gates, Harry entered an elevator covered by a large, intricate grate of gold. He immediately took a position in the back right corner of the lift as he ascended from the bowels of the building. After passing the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes on Basement Level 3, he arrived at his destination: Level 2- home to the DMLE and Auror Headquarters.

Pulling a square of parchment from a side pocket in his robes, Harry studied the room number he had been given as he passed an open area divided into cubicles. A feeling of excitement bubbled in his chest as he took in the pictures of wanted wizards and Daily Prophet clippings plastered on the walls. This was where he hoped to be sitting in a few months' time. Tearing his eyes away from the scarlet-robed figures chatting and studying reports, he spotted a sign directing him to go left and then through a set of heavy oak doors.

This was it. Suddenly very nervous, he wiped a sweaty palm on his dark robes before turning the heavy iron handle on the door labeled 'Applicant Testing' and stepping inside.

To his surprise, as he knew more than 20 minutes remained before the scheduled start time, there were already about 15 other people in the room, including Daphne and Susan. The group was diverse, with a much broader range of ages than he had expected, though he acknowledged in retrospect- given how competitive selection for the corps was- it had been silly for him to assume his only competition would be other students or recent graduates.

As he took a seat, he noted that many of the aspiring recruits were sitting quietly, perhaps meditating or mentally reviewing material. Some, however, clearly knew one another and were laughing and joking with ease. Harry sensed a bit of irritation with the latter group, but no one voiced anything openly. He waved at Susan, who returned his greeting with a smile and wave of her own. He thought she had also mouthed 'good luck,' but it was difficult to tell from across the room. He smiled at Daphne, and the Slytherin acknowledged him with a regal nod. He idly wondered how the two witches had arrived at the Ministry; perhaps their own heads of house had aided them? That seemed likely for Sprout, but he was having trouble imagining Snape helping even one of his Slytherins get to an Auror testing session on time. He suspected Greengrass had been forced to make her own travel arrangements.

Abruptly pulled from his musings, Harry straightened in his chair and directed his attention to the front of the room as a tall, brown-haired wizard with piercing hazel eyes slammed the door and swept up the center aisle before turning to address the group.

"Good Morning," he said, his clear baritone easily carrying in the space. He looked expectantly at the applicants, gesturing in an exaggerated manner to prompt the class to return his greeting. Some individuals hesitantly replied with a good morning of their own. Appearing pained at the paltry response, he scolded them. "That was wretched, people...come on! If that is all you've got, you might as well leave right now."

Several people seemed horrified as the large wizard began laughing. Confusion seemed to be the predominant mood of the crowd as the man continued to chuckle to himself. Before long, a few of the assembled witches and wizards started to look angry, though most were merely apprehensive about what the man might do next. "My apologies," he said, composing himself, "but honestly, you should have seen your faces. So...can we try that again?"

Observing nods all around, he greeted them again, "Good Morning!"

This time he received a resounding, though not entirely enthusiastic, "Good Morning!" in return.

Clapping his hands together once as he perched on the corner of the desk at the front of the room, he introduced himself, "I'm Senior Auror Bedevere Williamson, and I will be your test proctor and one of your interviewers today. As I hope you already know, the Auror Corps is an elite unit of highly trained specialist officers with a prestigious history that goes back over 250 years in Britain. The muggle Yanks have a saying about their Marines: 'The Few, The Proud.' That is exactly who we are and who all of you want to be. I promise you, it will not be easy."

Williamson rose from the desk before continuing, circling the room as he explained the tests of knowledge, character, and aptitude they would be undergoing that day. "After a highly competitive process, those of you selected to become Auror Cadets will receive three years of intensive training at the Academy where you will learn to investigate crimes related to the Dark Arts and how to apprehend dark magic practitioners. To give you some perspective, we are interviewing around 100 applicants this year. About 30 of you will make it to the Academy, and sometimes only 10 make it beyond the first year of courses; and, it is unlikely that all 10 of those cadets will actually graduate into the Auror program."

While several of the prospective candidates looked surprised that so few of their number would end up becoming Aurors, others nodded knowingly, as if they or someone they knew had washed out of the program previously. Some applicants appeared determined to be one of those special 10 who would be commissioned in the corps. For his part, Harry didn't know what to think. He was suddenly worried that his measly 9 O.W.L.s wouldn't be enough and that he should definitely take Remus' advice about sitting the Muggle Studies N.E.W.T. later in the year in order to round out his academic record.

Interrupting the applicants' panicked calculations, Williamson proceeded to outline the testing process. "Today, we will begin with a written exam which you will have exactly 60 minutes to complete. After that, each applicant will be interviewed by a panel including myself, the Commandant of the Auror Academy, and Senior Field Auror Rowena Russell. Once those have been completed, you will end your day with a practical exam and a set of casting exercises. You will not receive your admission decisions until all applicants have been assessed, which could take several months." He paused for a moment to ensure everyone understood what was expected of them, "Any questions?" The room remained as silent as a crypt. In fact, some members of the group looked like they would rather be entombed alive in a crypt than be in the room.

Opening a metal filing cabinet behind his desk with an elaborate series of wand movements, Senior Auror Williamson retrieved a large pile of parchment and quills which he began passing out to the applicants. "These have all been spelled with extensive anti-cheating protections, and the only quills that will write on these exam papers are the self-inking ones I am providing to you now. The quills themselves have also been imbued with robust anti-cheating charms, so don't get any ideas. If that isn't enough of a deterrent for you, be advised that anyone caught cheating or attempting to cheat on this written test, or any portion of today's exams, will be arrested immediately and put in a Ministry holding cell before being tried for fraud before the full Wizengamot, is that clear?"

"Yes, sir!" They responded in unison.

Confirming that everyone had a copy of the test and a working quill, Williamson announced the start of the exam. "Remember, you have 60 minutes to complete the test. I will call out at the 30-minute, 15-minute, and 5-minute marks so you can monitor your progress and adjust your pace as needed. You may now begin."

The rustling of paper could be heard throughout the room as Bedevere Williamson quietly observed the witches and wizards frantically scribbling down answers as the minutes ticked away.

Harry found the first few questions remarkably easy, as they focused on basic knowledge of dark and defensive spells as well as dangerous creatures. He was starting to relax when he reached the first legal question: "What clause was added to the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy in 1750, and what did it make the responsibility of each of the ICW's constituent ministries? What is the punishment for failure to uphold that clause?" As he had absolutely no idea about the specifics of any of the Statute of Secrecy clauses, or even how many clauses it had, much less which clause had been added in 1750, Harry decided to skip that one.

Unfortunately for him, he hadn't even considered brushing up on the legal code in the Magical world, despite the fact that he was applying for a posting within the Department of Magical "Law" Enforcement. Worse, the question about the Statute of Secrecy had been the first in a series of exam items concerned with things like mandatory minimum sentences for various wizarding crimes and other facets of the criminal and civil legal code. Harry was forced to guess at the answers to most of these questions. Finally, in a section seemingly centered on significant Wizengamot rulings, he stumbled on something with which he was familiar: "The use of which spell during DMLE or affiliate raids without demonstrated probable cause and a warrant signed by a Justice serving on the Council of Magical of Law was deemed to constitute an 'unreasonable search and seizure' in Fremont Weeks vs. The Ministry of Magic in 1914?" He wrote 'Accio' in large letters with a smile on his face and then turned to the next page of parchment.

Harry's brain felt like mush by the time Williamson announced that only 15 minutes of the allotted exam time remained. Having completed every other question on the test, he returned to the only item he had left blank in his initial pass. He didn't know the number of the clause, but he did know that the Statute had been adopted after the witch burnings and persecutions in the States around 1700. After more than fifty years, it was likely that many addendums and clauses had been added to the original document. Searching for a sufficiently high - but not ludicrous - number, he settled on '80,' because it was his birth year. Given the nature of the Statute, he guessed that individual Ministries had been made responsible for hiding their own magical enclaves and creatures. Finally, he reasoned that since the ICW's response to almost everything was either a strongly worded condemnation or sanctioning, that sanctions were a good bet for the answer to the punishment portion of the question. He quickly scribbled his response before laying down his quill with a flourish.

Just as Hermione had suggested, Harry used his last five minutes to re-read his exam, carefully proof-reading and double-checking his answers. The questions had covered a broad range of material from case law to spell usage to battle tactics, incorporating scenario-based essay items asking about things like what an Auror should do if they find themselves in a pitched battle with dark magic practitioners casting Unforgivables, or if they or members of their team are injured and outnumbered while attempting to serve an arrest warrant. Just as Harry finished reviewing his last answer, Williamson called time.

The Senior Auror quickly collected the parchment and quills from the examinees, taking the entire stack out of the room to presumably be graded and ranked. He returned after only a few minutes and announced that the next phase of applicant processing would begin. "We will be calling you at random. When you hear your name, come to the door and wait for a panel member to escort you to the interview room."

Flipping through what appeared to be a muggle notebook, Williamson selected his first victim. With some relish, he put a large check mark in the book, grinning up at all of them as he read out the name "Apollo Rabnott." The tall, blond man rose from his seat, looking incredibly nervous. He walked slowly to his fate as many of the other applicants regarded him with a combination of pity and envy. However, just as soon as Williamson stood to shepherd him out of the room, all hell broke loose.

To Be Continued ...