Setting: Chapter Five of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Harry's just arrived at the Burrow after convincing Horace Slughorn to return to Hogwarts as a professor, and a nice long chat with Albus in the shed behind the Weasley's house. The two of them walk through the kitchen door where they see Molly Weasley and Nymphadora Tonks in conversation; Tonks with surprisingly drab hair. As they walk in, Tonks excuses herself quickly. That's where Ms Rowling's work leaves off and mine begins:

The Summer of '96

"Tonks, wait," said a rather disoriented Harry. Tonks stopped at the threshold to the Burrow's kitchen, half a smile on her care-worn face as she looked at Harry.

"Tonks, I just – I just wanted to say I'm sorry about what's happened to Sirius. He was your cousin, and," Harry led her out into the Burrow's yard, away from prying ears, especially those of Molly Weasley. He was truly sorry for the part he played in Sirius's death, and needed to express that without anyone telling him he was wrong for doing so.

"and I'm sorry for having led him to the Ministry. He didn't deserve what happened to him there, and I ought to have seen it was a trap. You lot did right away, didn't you?"

"Harry." Tonks put her hand on the young man's arm. "Yes, we did. That's our job, though – we've all been trained. You haven't – yet. I know you're sorry about what happened, and I appreciate that. But I want to let you in on something." And here the auror's wan smile metamorphed quite nicely into a cheeky smirk, as her hair did from mousy brown to a rose-tinted pink. "We were all dead impressed with your performance there, even Alastor. You trained those fighters, and six of you held off a dozen death-eaters for how long? Word is you want to be an auror. Harry, you keep up that group of yours, and you'll have Kingsley begging you to come aboard in two years."

"Mad-Eye was impressed?"

"Eh, so he says. Personally I think he's got a bit of a weakness for a set of emerald green eyes," Tonks finished, and they both had a bit of a chuckle for the first time in awhile. "Come here, Harry," she finished, and held her arms out to him for a hug. The painfully shy boy met her embrace, and lingered in it long enough to put a dab of salve on the wounds inflicted not only by Bellatrix, but also those suffered during his weeks in Surrey. Tonks gave him a quick kiss on the cheek as they broke.

"You send over that beautiful owl of yours if you ever want to talk about what happened, Harry. It's a bad enough thing to see a quick AK snipe down a mate. It's something altogether different to lead those mates into battle, though. And Merlin… at 15 no less. Molly knows where to find me if you need me." And with that and a pop, the young auror with the pink hair vanished before Harry's eyes. Harry stood there for a moment, looking at the spot on the grass where her battle-worn oxblood Dr. Martins had left their imprint. As he looked, he noticed that he was feeling quite odd. There was a tickle in his stomach, not quite queasiness and not altogether unpleasant, and it went along with a certain lightness in his shoulders. This only magnified when he brushed his cheek where the young auror had planted a peck. It was a good feeling, he surmised, and as his natural reaction to good feelings was to avoid them, he figured he ought to make his way upstairs rather quickly.

"Harry, come, sit down, you must be starved. Those muggles don't feed you at all, do they?" was the welcome he received from Molly.

"Actually, Mrs Weasley, I'm a bit knackered from the journey," Harry lied. I'll be down for supper, though. My things are already in Ron's room, right?"

"No dear, you'll be staying in the twins' old room. Seems they've rather taken up residence above that shop of theirs. Quite a head for business on those two; who'd ever have thought it?" Molly mused, and as her voice trailed off following her attention to Harry, the young man climbed the familiar staircase. He lay in bed awhile, trying to imagine what Alastor Moody would look like were he actually impressed with anything. His reveries were short-lived, though, as Ron and Hermione pounced on him, welcoming him home.

That weekend there was a meeting of the Order, hosted at the Burrow. The children were shooed upstairs, but as Fred and George were now members, Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny were now able to listen in on all of the goings-on via a set of extendable ears strung up to Ginny's room on the first floor.

"Do you think they're really not going to let us out of the Burrow until we leave for school?" Ron asked, incredulously.

"Ron, would you hush already, your mother's saying the same things."

"You'd think the twins would be on our side – oooff!" and Hermione got Ron to hush with a quick elbow to the ribs. They listened in silence.

"I simply don't think it wise to have three now very recognizable students wander about Diagon Alley by themselves," said Albus, getting a bit annoyed that this was even a matter under discussion.

"Are you trying to protect the Death Eaters, Albus? Because that's who I'd be afraid for should those "students" meet up with anymore of, um, his lackeys." The voice was female, snarky, and decidedly young. That wasn't Molly defending them, it was –

"Tonks, we all know those kids can handle a wand. But really – " Bill Weasley was cut off.

"But nothing, Bill. You didn't see them there. I did, and I'll tell you one thing: Harry Potter's exactly the kind of man I'd want with me when the shite goes down, fifteen years old or not. But we've more important things to discuss, and as I'm the only one with a problem with this, I'll retract my objection and volunteer to be their escort myself. Because if there are going to be Death Eaters roaming Diagon Alley, I want to make sure I'm bloody well protected" There was general laughter amongst the Order at this assertion, and business continued.

"A bloody nanny! Leave it to Dumbledore to keep us shut up again! What was that you were saying about mushrooms before we left last term Harry? Harry?"

"What? Oh, right Ron. Mushrooms. I don't think it'll be so bad, though. It's not like it's Mad-Eye or Kingsley. It's Tonks. And she's probably the only one that'd turn her back and let Ginny go off and snog Dean if she wanted," Harry added, laughing. This earned him a swat from Ginny and a glare from Ron.

"Harry, have you gone mad? This is exactly the kind of thing you were raving about last summer."

"Ron's right, Harry. Regardless of who it is, we're still being babysat. And I thought you of all people would be the first to object."

"I dunno, Gin. I guess I don't see it as being babysat. She's more like – "

"An auror, and one who obviously respects your dueling skills. Well, for your sake, Harry, I hope it works." Harry looked back at Hermione nervously.

"Um, what works, Hermione?"

"Oh, don't play dumb with me, Harry Potter. You're trying to get in good with an auror so you'll have someone to put in a good word for you when we graduate."

"Oh, right. Of course. You found me out, Hermione." And Harry was content to let her believe this. The four of them continued to listen as the conversation went from protecting students to Severus Snape's latest report from his dealings with Voldemort. After an hour or so, the meeting adjourned, and the extendable ears were quickly put away. Heavy footsteps were heard climbing the stairs to Ginny's room, followed by a knock on her door.

"Hey guys, it's over now. You can put those ears away."

"Tonks, how did you -- ?"

"Constant vigilance, Ginny. Constant vigilance." And they had a quick laugh as Tonks joined the four teenagers in Ginny's room.

"Look you lot, I promise, I'm not going to be a bother about this. You want to escape your mother's grip for an afternoon, just Floo-call me the night before. If I can't make it, I can't. But I'll be there. And I'll make it a good time. I'll try to steal you out one night to get to a club or something. I'll get tickets for the five of us to get to a muggle pop concert this summer. No Death Eaters at a Chemical Brothers show, what?

"And what'll you tell mum?" Ron asked.

"Just leave the deception work to me, Mr Weasley. When we need strategy, I'll look you up." Tonks responded with a kind smile. Then she got pensive.

"You know, you four would make a wicked auror team."

"How'd you figure, Tonks?" asked Harry.

"Well, from what I saw at the Ministry, you've got it all right here. You have Ron for strategy, Hermione for brains, Ginny for muscle and you for leadership. Actually, in the leadership count, outside of Alastor and Kingsley, I think ol' Green Eyes over here would have us all topped." As she got more pensive, her mood turned darker and her hair turned a deep azure. "You lot listen up and listen good: If things escalate the way they have been, things may very well get bad at Hogwarts. Stick with each other, and no matter what, trust Harry. If you have time to plan, do it. If you have time to think things through, question what he tells you. But I meant what I said down there: if the shite really goes down, I want Harry Potter leading my team. And so do you three."

Ginny placed her arm around Harry's shoulders and gave him a squeeze. Ron and Hermione simply nodded their heads – they had been taking Tonks's advice for five years now. Harry looked horrified. Tonks continued.

"Anyway, think about when you want to escape and let me know. I'm looking forward to spending time with you four. Molly knows how to get a hold of me."

As Tonks made her way back downstairs, Harry looked around at his friends. How could she – an auror – give them such patently bad advice? Advice that would – and had – put them in serious danger. He excused himself quickly and nearly fell over Tonks trying to catch up with her.

"Easy there, Harry. What happened, did Ginny try to kiss you or something?" And all of the talking in the kitchen and sitting room came to a screeching halt. Every pair of eyes was looking at the auror who had suddenly shown every Weasley and most of the Order that her maladroit bearings were matched only by her unfortunate sense of timing.

"Did I say something?" she asked. A moment of nervous laughter was followed by a resumption of conversation. A look at Harry repeated the question.

"Don't mind them, they've been planning my wedding with Ginny since I broke things off with Cho."

"Cho, she was that weepy one, right?" Harry laughed.

"Quite right. That was her. Listen, I need to talk to you. If you manage to get your foot out of your mouth, we might be able to get all the way downstairs. No, not here, outside." Tonks was curious now.

"Alright, Potter. What's so important that you dragged me out here again?"

"Merlin, Tonks. Those are my friends up there. Do you want to get them killed? If the 'shite goes down' as you so eloquently put it, I'm the last person they want to be near. I nearly get us all killed not two months ago, and you give them this rubbish? What is wrong with you?" Harry barely took a breath delivering this missive. He was quite serious, and quite livid.

"Harry, Stop. Breathe a moment. There you go, one deep in, and one deep out. Good. Right. Now, what didn't you understand about what I told you last week? You're good, Potter. Quite good. Quit blaming yourself -- "

"If one more person tells me that I'm going to go spare! I led those students into the ministry. I was the one making the decisions, and I was the one that got Sirius killed by my lack of foresight!" Harry was at a full scream at this point. Tonks simply gave him an expressionless look, waiting for her turn to speak.

"Are you quite finished? You're right on two of those three counts. You led a group of six fourth- and fifth- year Hogwarts students into a battle in which you were outnumbered two-to-one. And you didn't lose a single one of your fighters. Why? Because you were the one making the decisions, and you are bloody good at that. I'm not going to mollycoddle you, Potter, and I'm not going to treat you like a child. But Sweet Godric's Gonads, when are you going to see how capable a leader you are – something anyone with two flashing neurons would pick up on in a minute? Here, Potter. Read this. It was written by a Chinese muggle about a million years ago. Look at page 23 – it's the dog-eared one. It says: 'If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.' Know yourself, Potter, and do it quickly. Why? Look at page 52, maxim twelve, about 2/3rds of the way down the page. Look at those five dangerous faults. Any of them look familiar? How about number five: 'over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him to worry and trouble.' And it continues:

"These are the five besetting sins of a general,

ruinous to the conduct of war.

"When an army is overthrown and its leader slain,

the cause will surely be found among these five

dangerous faults. Let them be a subject of meditation.

"Meditation. Do you know what that is?" Tonks had long since moved into full-on auror mode.

"Um, no," replied a quickly chastened Harry.

"Shite," muttered Tonks. "I forget sometimes that you're not yet out of Hogwarts. Harry, I'm not yelling at you because you did something wrong, or because you're failing in some way. I'm yelling because I'm frustrated."

"How so?"

"I'm frustrated that you have to grow up like this. That you really don't have time to grow up, and you don't have time to be fifteen. Merlin, look at you: a gorgeous young guy like you should be worrying about how to get that Seventh-Year Hufflepuff with the big knockers into a broom closet, not how to stay alive." Harry suddenly became fascinated with the laces on his boots.

"Just promise me something, Harry."

"What's that, Tonks?"

"You are going to have a good time this summer. And if I hear that you're cooped up in the Burrow, I'm going to personally haul your brooding arse out of that house. Understand?" Tonks said this last bit with a full grin.

"Quite," replied Harry.

"Right. I'll be by on Thursday next to check up on you lot. Do find yourself some trouble to get into, Potter. While you're not studying that book, that is." The young auror winked at Harry and apparated home. Harry walked back inside, oblivious of a very curious Order of the Phoenix.

"Right," said Fred. "Did she or didn't she?"

"Did she or didn't she what?" replied Harry.

"Try to kiss you, prat," was George's response.

"Merlin no, she's 22, what would she want with a kid like me?"

"Not her, Ginny. Harry, you really oughtn't let those muggles starve you like that. It does dreadful things to your brain." Harry heard about half of this and listened to none of it as he walked back upstairs to tell his friends about his conversation with Tonks.