Author's note: This story is a sequel to Harry Potter and the Antiquity Link, which begins the day after Voldemort's defeat. As in that story, the epilogue to Deathly Hallows is disregarded. Except for that, this is a canon story; canon is defined here as that which takes place in the books, not movies, interviews, or any other material.

Chapter 1

Preparation

Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

The words, hanging in midair just past the end of his bed, caused Harry Potter to awaken abruptly as it registered that something was in the room that shouldn't be. He read the words, then rolled his eyes. It had to be George, no doubt at the urging of Fred's ghost. Harry reached for the Elder Wand, placed on the stand beside his bed the night before. He pointed it at the words, which noiselessly dissipated.

As he stretched and sat up in Sirius's old bed, he reflected on the message. Fred's other early morning visits had always been deliberately humorous, even silly, but this seemed meant to be taken seriously. Yesterday he had stood in front of a crowd of a few thousand in Diagon Alley and formally accepted the title and responsibility of Auror Leader, giving him sole and unchallenged authority over the Aurors, and law enforcement in general in wizarding England. He hadn't sought it, but he had accepted it, and this was the first morning he had woken up possessing that awesome burden. The first day of the rest of my life, indeed, he thought wryly. It definitely feels like that. No more hiding in this house letting the world pass me by, relaxing as that was for the short time I got to do it. Now I have thousands of wizards relying on me for their security and protection. He had been getting used to it slowly, first during the four months of his self-imposed exile in Japan after having been given the test for Auror Leader against his will, then more strongly in the two days or so that had passed since he made the decision to accept the position. Even so, he found that he was far from completely used to the idea.

Thinking about taking a quick shower to get it out of the way before doing anything else, he walked out of the room and down the hall to find the bathroom door closed. His newly keen hearing wasn't necessary to hear the sound of water coming from the shower. He shrugged, realizing that there were also disadvantages to having asked Ron and Hermione to continue staying there as they had while he was in Japan. Still in his nightclothes, he headed down the stairs.

"Good morning, Harry," said Hermione cheerfully as he walked into the kitchen. "The Prophet's on the table, if you want to look at it." She resumed her breakfast preparations, putting a frying pan with six strips of bacon on the stove.

A quick glance at the front page told Harry why Hermione had added the 'if' to her comment. The headline read, "Potter Becomes Auror Leader, Defeats Dementors," with a moving picture of Harry speaking to the crowd. He sighed.

"I know what you're thinking, it's 'I didn't do it all by myself,'" said Hermione sympathetically, and indeed, he had been thinking almost those very words. "It's just for space reasons. If they say that, and then add 'with help of friends,' it doesn't fit right. Don't worry, the article makes it clear that we all did it. Of course, it also makes it clear that it was only because you found that spell. So, the headline isn't that far from the truth."

"If you say so," responded Harry absently as he started to read the article. A few seconds later, he looked around, then looked up at Hermione cooking, and found that he had a feeling of déjà vu. "You know, I just realized… the last time I was sitting here reading the Prophet while someone else cooked… it was Kingsley. He made breakfast for me after I woke up, when I slept the whole day after Voldemort died."

Surprised, she turned her head to look at him. "Really? I didn't know that. Why did he do that?"

"Partly as a joke, he said, but mainly because he wanted to talk to me. He was hoping I'd, you know, make the rounds, get out in public, let people praise me, that kind of thing."

She appeared amused. "I'd say he was spectacularly unsuccessful."

He chuckled. "You could say that. Now, I can see that he had a point; it would have helped. But as you know, I just wasn't in any mood."

She looked at him inquiringly. "But now you are? Is it just because of the time in Japan, you were able to… I don't know, decompress? Get rid of all the stress?"

He shook his head. "Maybe partly, but it was mainly because of those visions I had, when I did that… quest, I guess, after I left Japan. I had died, more or less, and it was tough for me to just suddenly get on with my life, because—"

"Because you had said goodbye to everyone and everything," she finished. "You know, I actually thought of that, while you were over there."

"Well, it was better that I figured it out myself, as it turns out," said Harry. "I was able to accept it better, and now I feel like I can just get on with things." Except Ginny, he added to himself with a pang of regret. She hadn't felt able to wait for him while he worked things out. She had moved on, now in a relationship with Neville. He couldn't blame her, since he'd broken up with her and not made any move to get back together since defeating Voldemort, but he supposed he would always wonder what might have been.

"So, you're really ready to be Auror Leader?" she asked him, concerned.

He nodded. "Yes, I think so. Maybe it's not what I would have chosen, but my life seems to run me, not the other way around. Both the time in Japan and the visions sort of let me know that there are bigger things than what I want. And, you know, as long as I have this saving-people thing, why not use it?"

She turned her head and gave him a sharp glance. "Was that a criticism?"

He raised his eyebrows in surprise. "No," he said reflexively, before thinking about the question. After doing so, he added, "I mean, I don't see what's wrong with saving people, but I did it in Japan too, so maybe you're right."

Turning back to her food preparation, she sighed. "Well, I actually felt a little bad for saying that, after what happened, and I don't think there's anything wrong with it, of course. I… I think I was just a little panicked at that time, thinking that you were going to go run off and get yourself killed."

"Wouldn't be the first time," he muttered, turning his attention back to the Prophet, falling silent as he read. Hermione said nothing more as she beat eggs and took dishes down from cupboards.

Several minutes later, having reached the opinion page, Harry let out an exasperated grunt when he saw the headline of the second editorial: "Harry Potter: The Next Merlin?" He answered Hermione's inquiring glance by showing her the headline. She chuckled. "Yes, I knew you'd like that. I grant you, it is a bit silly. But you have done quite a lot, especially for your age—"

"None of which I could have done without you," he pointed out.

"Yes, thank you, but you see my point. It might not seem as strange to people who don't know you. To them, you might seem larger than life."

"Especially if they believe what they read in the Prophet," he said with mild annoyance.

"Why don't you just not read it, then?"

"I'd like to, but I really should know what's being said about me. Before, I didn't care—okay, well, I still don't care, but if I'm going to be Auror Leader, I have to at least pay attention to it. People will be expecting me to know what's in the Prophet. I mean, when I go out today, I'd guess a lot of people will be talking about the Merlin thing. Maybe making jokes, but who knows, some might take it seriously. I'll look stupid if I don't know about it. Or people might ask about Umbridge, that sort of thing. I have to know what's going on."

She gave him a surprised glance. "What about Umbridge?"

"Oh, sorry, I forgot I hadn't told you. When I visited St. Mungo's yesterday, after the dementor victims woke up, I had a quick chat with her. Like this," he added, whispering the last two words just loudly enough for her to hear. "I told her that if she didn't resign as Undersecretary, she would very likely end up in Azkaban."

Hermione gaped. "Harry! Should you really be doing things like that?"

A grinning Ron, clad in a blue bathrobe with a towel around his shoulders, walked into the kitchen. "I think what Hermione means to say is, all right! Way to go, Harry!" He slapped Harry on the back as he walked behind Harry's chair, taking his seat at the end of the table.

"That is not what I—"

"You and I saw what she did," cut in Harry with unusual earnestness. "That would, should, put her in Azkaban right there. And that was so far from all of it…"

She sighed, the wind taken out of her sails. "Look, obviously, I wouldn't argue with you about that. But what I mean is that as Auror Leader, you now have huge power, maybe more power than the Minister. He has to worry about his political situation. Your power is yours for life, unreviewable, as long as you want it. But one thing that history shows is that the more power you have, the more careful you have to be about using it. It's easy for people to get carried away, when nobody can stop them from doing what they want."

Ron shrugged. "I reckon he won't, not with you around, anyway."

She looked at him sourly. "It should be because he—"

"I know, I know," Harry interrupted her again. "Don't worry, it isn't something I plan to make a habit of. So, what are you guys doing today?"

"Well, I was going to lounge around," allowed Ron, "but Hermione pointed out yesterday that if we're going to become Aurors, it would be a good thing to get a head start on it, do some studying up on Auror history, techniques, things like that." To Harry's raised eyebrows, Ron responded, "Yes, I know, I was never big on studying, neither were you. But we're adults now, and this is life, not school, so it kind of matters more now. And being an Auror is a big deal. I can only imagine how big it is for you, being Auror Leader. So, how about you?"

Harry nodded. "Yeah, I see what you mean. Me too, of course. There's a ton of things I need to read, to learn. And the—" Surprised, he found that he couldn't continue his sentence, as though there were an obstacle between his brain and his mouth. "The…" He tried again, and again failed to speak.

"Harry, what's wrong?" asked Hermione.

"I don't know… there's something I want to mention, to do with being Auror Leader. It's in a secret part of Auror…" Again, the obstacle stopped him. Harry exhaled in frustration.

"Is it a Forgetfulness Charm?" asked Ron.

Harry shook his head. "I remember fine, I just can't say the damn words."

"There's probably a reason for that, Harry," said Hermione earnestly. "You said the word 'secret,' and there are probably some things about being Auror Leader that are secret, that you're not supposed to talk about with anyone. Maybe it's for the best that you can't say anything about it."

Harry sighed. "Yeah, maybe, but there are things I might want to talk about sometimes, and it'll sound stupid if I say that somebody told me something, and you say who, and I can't answer you. Maybe it's something I can't talk about with them, or they wouldn't understand."

"Who are 'they?'" asked Ron.

"Obviously, that's what Harry's not supposed to say," said Hermione. "We know that being Auror Leader confers certain abilities, like being able to Apparate anywhere. It must impose some restrictions as well."

Sudden inspiration struck Harry. "Like Albus." They frowned, not understanding. "P—p—"

"Portrait!" blurted out Hermione. "But you said they, them—"

"You can talk to the portraits of former Auror Leaders!" said Ron excitedly.

"I can talk to the portraits of former Auror Leaders," agreed Harry, who was suddenly confused, then annoyed. "Sure, now they let me say it."

"Because now we know," said Hermione. "It must be that you can talk about it with people who already know, so we're okay now."

"Well, I'm glad that's over with," muttered Harry. "That was annoying. I won't be trying that with anyone else, believe me. But yes, I've talked with them a bit already. It's very interesting, and I think they're going to be a big help."

"I'd imagine so," agreed Ron. "That must be cool. But why is that so super-secret? Portraits are common enough."

Harry shrugged. As Hermione started to put the food on the plates, she answered, "I'd guess—Ron, would you get the orange juice out of the refrigerator?—that they want the secrecy as a matter of course, they don't want anyone knowing anything that's not necessary. I must say, though, I disagree with that. Secrecy for a good reason is one thing, but for its own sake, we need to be careful of that. Combine secrecy with power, which you now have, and history is full of examples of what happens when you go down that road."

Ron poured three glasses of orange juice, then sent the container back into the refrigerator by sending it floating across the room as the refrigerator door opened to accept it. "I wish I could take you in there with me," grumbled Harry as he accepted a glass from Ron. "They're giving me a hard time for not knowing much of the history of the past eighty years, which they say they need to know to be able to advise not only me, but future Auror Leaders. I understand that, it's just annoying. It's not like I don't have enough to do."

"You really should know it, just for your own sake," said Ron solemnly. To Harry and Hermione's surprised expressions, he grinned. "Okay, I was just saying it so Hermione wouldn't have to."

"You're so funny," retorted Hermione disdainfully as Harry grinned. "But Harry, I'm just wondering, why couldn't you take me to see them?"

"They're in a room which only I can see the door of. I can walk into the room, but if you were there you'd never see the door, and you'd probably just walk into the wall. No, I'm going to have to do it myself, I'm afraid."

The three fell silent as they ate, Harry reading more of the paper before handing it over to Ron. "Don't worry, I've already seen the Merlin thing," Ron assured him. "I bet it becomes Malfoy's new nickname for you."

Harry grunted. "I'd almost be surprised if it wasn't."

"So, do you think we'll be seeing more of him?" wondered Ron. "No chance he'll just fade into the woodwork, never to be heard from again?"

"That doesn't sound like Malfoy, does it?" pointed out Hermione. Ron nodded unhappily.

"No, it's hard to see that happening," agreed Harry. "With his personality and his family's money, he'll be up to something. Not necessarily evil, mind you, probably more like something to get influence and power. Don't know what that would be, but I'm sure he'll figure something out."

After a pause for another bite of food, Ron continued, "So, you never did say what you were going to do today."

"Oh, yeah. Let's see… take a tour of Diagon Alley, visit the portraits—I'll probably be doing that every day for a while—and I'm spending three hours with someone from Witch Weekly."

"Not Skeeter," Hermione put in adamantly.

"No," Harry agreed. "Pinter."

Her expression softened. "I know why you chose him, of course. It's very nice of you."

"Well, he deserves it," said Harry. "He did the right thing, and he didn't have to. That reminds me, is there anything new about your parents?"

A sadness settled over Hermione's face, one she wasn't completely successful in concealing. "That may take a while. I'm trying not to have any expectations."

Ron gave Harry a look that warned him to stay away from that topic. Harry silently castigated himself for having carelessly brought up a painful topic for Hermione. He realized that even though Hermione had done it to save her parents' lives, their anger at her manipulation of their memories might indeed take a very long time to fade.

"So," said Ron in an obvious attempt to change the subject, "have you given any more thought about who to take for the accelerated Auror training?"

"A little bit, last night," said Harry. "But it's more a matter of figuring out which, if any, DA members not to take. I don't think I'd take anyone who wasn't in it, and who didn't fight at the Hogwarts battle. Pretty much everyone in the DA showed that they were ready to step up and fight when the time came, and that's who we need as Aurors. So, who wouldn't I take… Dennis, of course, he's way too young. Cho, she's obviously not going to be an Auror—"

"Do you know that for sure?" asked Hermione.

Surprised, Harry shook his head. "But she's on the track for Healer training. She's not going to want to become an Auror."

"She's got a point, you should at least check," suggested Ron. "If most of us are joining, unless you have a really good reason, you should talk to everyone, see how they feel about it."

"Even Lavender?"

Ron's face registered his disapproval. "Yes, even her," said Hermione. "Believe me, I don't think of her as any kind of threat. Now, I'm not sure how good an Auror she'd be, since she wasn't one of the best of the DA. But ultimately, that'll be your decision. If you don't take her, don't not take her for the reason you mentioned."

Pausing for a second to untangle the double negative, Harry nodded. Another thing to think about, he thought.

* * * * *

Fortunately, as Auror Leader, Harry had more time than he knew what to do with, a virtual infinity if he wanted to take it. The secret room in which the Auror Leader portraits hung—he was beginning to think of it as the Auror Leader's sanctuary, since no one else could enter—operated by highly unusual magical rules, one of which was that while one was in the room, time in the outside world did not move, and one did not age or have other bodily needs or problems. He could contemplate his situation for hours or days if he wished.

He Apparated to the room in which he had taken the Auror Leader test and walked through the shimmering door, which seemed to vanish as he did. He sat down in front of the group of portraits on the wall, fifteen in all, five across and three down. "Good morning, gentlemen. How are you doing?"

The one in the lower left frame spoke. "Leader Potter, you would do well to dispense with pleasantries, customary as they may be for you. First of all, as we have told you, time does not move for us when you are not here. So while you have no doubt slept, as you addressed us with a morning greeting, as far as we are concerned no time has passed since you were last here. But in any case, we have no need for greetings or pleasantries. You should simply sit and state your business."

"Well, okay," agreed Harry, slightly put off. "But it just seems really unfriendly."

"Fear not, you will get to know us, and we you, extremely well over the years," replied one in the second row. "And with close acquaintance comes familiarity, but one genuine, not artificially created."

"If you say so," agreed Harry. "So, you said last time there were a lot of things you wanted to be filled in on, and I told you about my life, most of it. I think I stopped at the point where I def—I mean, when Voldemort died."

"You did indeed defeat him," said the one in the lower right. "You need not be overly modest about it."

"But all I did was use the Expelliarmus spell," responded Harry.

"You defeated him with your mind, not your wand. You understood things that he did not. As Auror Leader, you will be in similar situations. Being able to best your adversary with your wand is quite important; besting him with your mind is crucial." Other portraits nodded approvingly.

"Well, anyway… is there anything you want me to tell you now?"

"History."

"Um… sorry, I haven't done anything about that yet. I need to go to the bookstore. I'll do that later this morning."

"Be sure," said the portrait on the upper right, "to purchase the appropriate tomes. Twentieth century wizarding world history, the British Isles, and similar ones regarding Muggle history. When we have thoroughly perused those, we shall know from whence to proceed."

Harry was about to comment on the Leader's odd English, then remembered that the man had lived in the twelfth century, when the language was quite different. He supposed all the portraits updated their English based on the patterns of the current Leader, or else they wouldn't be well understood. "Okay, I'll get those. Well, I'll continue where I left off, with my life."

He shifted in his chair, getting comfortable. "So, after I defeated Voldemort, I slept for almost a whole day. When I woke up, I felt… strange. Like I didn't want to do anything, just be left alone. Except for Ron and Hermione, I didn't feel any real connection to anyone or anything."

"The non-physical death," said the Leader in the middle of the grid sagely. "You needed time to recover, to realize in your heart and mind that you were truly among the living."

Harry's eyebrows rose. "It took me several months to figure that out. How did you know, just like that?"

"It happened to me, in my forty-first year, before I became Leader. It has happened to most of us to some extent. It happened to affect me more strongly. It took me longer than you to determine the cause."

"Well, I had help. Anyway, the next time I left my home was two days later, for Fred's funeral. After the service, we were attacked by dementors, and there were attacks all over England." Harry spent the next while explaining Kingsley's refusal to allow the dementors back into Azkaban.

"We have all had to make such decisions," said the twelfth Leader. "Some will always choose the practical path, some the moral path. Do continue."

"Well, around the same time as this was going on, the goblins got very aggressive. They were angry about our breaking into the vault, and insisted that the Ministry reimburse them for the damage. Kingsley wouldn't talk to them, and soon they started a massive slowdown of services at Gringotts. Then they tried to kidnap me with a Portkey paper airplane, which Ron saved me from. Things got even more tense, and finally, they made another kidnap attempt that succeeded." Harry paused in the story to relate the details of his confinement.

"So, Kingsley and other Aurors rescued me. I was massively sleep-deprived, kind of out of my mind. As far as I knew, when I woke up after a long sleep, I was in St. Mungo's. My parents were there, talking to me—"

"One moment," a Leader interrupted. "You said your parents died when you were a baby. Was this some sort of hallucination?"

"No. I didn't know it, but Kingsley had put me in the Auror Leader test, without my knowledge or permission."

To Harry's mild shock, pandemonium erupted among the portraits. For a few seconds, all seemed to be speaking at the same time. "Shocking!" "Appalling!" "…never heard of such a thing!" "Unbelievable!"

As the din started to die down, the twelfth Leader asked, "Are you absolutely certain of this? No Memory Charms, no other subtle form of consent?"

Harry shook his head. "No, I'm certain. He admitted much later that he didn't ask me to take it because he was sure I'd say no."

This caused more reactions, though a little less vehement than the original ones. "What could have possessed him to do such a thing?" asked a Leader incredulously.

"Some of the Aurors, maybe as many as a dozen, had been seriously compromised during the Voldemort time. He felt it was crucial to get rid of them, and no one but an Auror Leader could."

This was responded to with snorts of derision, rolled eyes, and more muttered comments. "This man ought to be keelhauled," spat one.

"—no business being a Minister—"

"—no respect for Auror tradition—"

"—utter lack of imagination, no leadership skills—"

Still surprised by the venom coming from the fifteen men, all of whom had been highly respected men, important national figures, Harry imagined that their reactions weren't for the same reasons he'd been furious when he'd discovered what Kingsley had done. "Um, look, I'm sure you're going to say this is obvious, but I'd like to know exactly why you're all so angry about what he did."

The fourteenth Leader's tone was one of exasperation. "The reason, young man, is that—"

"'Leader Potter,' not 'young man,'" interjected another. "Whether he sought it or not, he is now Leader, and deserves respect no less than you, or any of us."

"We must be tolerant of whatever ignorance he seems to possess," added the third Leader from his spot in the middle of the top row. "He did not ask for this."

"You are both correct, of course. Forgive me, Leader Potter. I was carried away by emotion. As for your question, we are incensed by the lack of regard and respect for the position of Auror Leader shown by this Minister Shacklebolt. The position is a sacred trust, to be bestowed upon the one who believes he is fit for the task and wishes to serve society by taking on this awesome responsibility. Not as a mere means to an end, to solve a short-term problem. No man who had ever held the position would consider using it in such a way. No one should be given the test who does not wish it—no matter the circumstances—and no one so young should be allowed to take it."

"Agreed," said the fifteenth Leader, "but it only makes Leader Potter's accomplishment all the more impressive. I would not have thought it possible that one of eighteen years could pass."

"I think all will agree," said the ninth, "that we must re-evaluate our role in the face of this stunning news."

"Indeed," agreed the fourteenth, who was seconded by others. "Leader Potter, would you like to speculate on the average age upon which the fifteen of us ascended to the position you now hold?"

"Um… thirty?"

"Forty-one. Anyone under thirty who wishes to take it is generally advised to wait. Prior to you, I was the youngest, at thirty-two. This is partly to allow one's skills to develop, but more to emphasize maturity and life experience. Experience is the best teacher, and while you have clearly been tested many times in your young life, being Leader will test you in ways you cannot be prepared for.

"In addition, the power inherent in the position can be a temptation, at times difficult even for the most prudent and even-tempered man to resist using inappropriately. The younger one is, the more one may lack the temperament to use the power with great restraint." Harry took some time to explain what he had done with Umbridge. "This is a good example," said the Leader. "What you did is defensible along the lines of justice as well as political convenience. However, I would have advised against it, due to the lack of extreme necessity; she could have been prosecuted through normal channels if that was desired. The more sparingly your power is used, the more impact it will have when you use it."

The third Leader spoke. "I disagree. I would have supported his action, only because due to his young age, politicians might have thought they could intimidate Leader Potter. What he did will send a powerful message, that he is not to be trifled with."

"A reasonable argument," agreed the fourteenth Leader. "In any case… Leader Potter, what I am about to say is very important. The Auror Leader is the most important and powerful person in the country, and the most high-profile. There are many things about life that at your age, you cannot yet know. The most important one, arguably, is not magical skill or bravery, but understanding people. To know how a man feels, why he does as he does, what his personal demons are. To understand his heart and mind by looking into his eyes. One of your Leader-specific abilities is to know when a person is lying, for example, but it is hardly necessary, and Veritaserum is a crude instrument. Experience will tell you what you need to know.

"This ability is especially important when dealing with politicians, powerful merchants, shady dealers, and others who constitute the fulcrums of power in our society. There may, for example, be a man who is teetering on the edge between respectability and villainy, a man who you can influence. If he becomes a villain, you may capture and imprison him, but it is far more desirable to nudge him along the right path. The skills, the experience of which I speak, you do not now know. Experience will teach you, and we will assist you. Through no fault of your own, you begin your journey as Leader at a decided disadvantage. It is this we hope to mitigate."

"Um, okay." Harry wasn't quite sure what he should say.

"Now, then," said the third Leader. "Do continue your account of the recent past, from the point at which the Minister took this infamous and unsupportable action."

As Harry began his account of his trip to Japan and his experiences there, he wondered exactly how much there was for him to learn. The task before him, always daunting, now seemed even more so. But at least he would have help.

* * * * *

Another of Harry's 'Leader-specific abilities' was the ability to Apparate to anywhere he wished, disregarding any normal magical barriers. He had used that ability to barge in on Headmistress McGonagall a few days before, but he knew it would be rude to do it as a matter of routine. He would, however, dispense with the waiting that appearing outside the gate would entail.

Apparating twenty meters from the castle, within the radius usually not permitted by Apparition, he looked around and saw that the gate was gone, destroyed in the battle four months ago. Hogwarts was still as damaged as it had been at that time, as repairs had been delayed due to the dementor problem. A glance around showed a group of first years on brooms about fifty meters away; he suddenly wondered if Neville still had that Remembrall. He headed toward the castle.

The time being 10:20 a.m., he imagined that most students would be in classes. He glanced into the Great Hall, which was empty. He walked down a hallway, headed for the teachers' lounge, reflecting that it had been a year and four months since he had last done so. Considering the great changes that had occurred since then, it was very hard not to have a strong feeling of nostalgia for the place. He wondered if everyone who came back after an absence felt the same way.

He opened the door and saw one very small figure, seated on a high chair at a table, whose back was to Harry. It wasn't necessary to see his face to know who it was. "Professor Flitwick?"

Flitwick whirled around in surprise. "Mr. Potter!" He bounded down from the chair to the floor and walked over to reach up and shake Harry's hand. "I'm sorry, I should say, Leader Potter. What brings you here?"

Harry was tempted to say that Flitwick need not use the title, but the other Leaders had warned him not to discourage the use of the title, as it was important for people not to forget his role, and the respect it commanded. "It's hard for me to get used to as well, actually. I'm here to see Professor McGonagall, but I wanted to thank you for your help getting rid of the dementors."

"You saw me there?" asked Flitwick in surprise, as they left the room.

"I saw your Patronus," admitted Harry, a little sheepishly.

"Ah, yes. Well, a whale is a unique Patronus. I always say that fate had quite a sense of humor with that one. Let me walk you to the gargoyles. I should tell you, although others no doubt will, that the students who participated in the dementors' defeat were well and truly heralded upon their return, and asked again and again to tell the story of what happened, including your comments. They are much envied; they, and I, were a part of history."

"Well, I appreciated everyone's help. We got a lot of Patronuses, and that made all the difference."

Flitwick approached the gargoyles. "Normalcy!" he said loudly, and the gargoyles gestured them to pass.

"Good password," remarked Harry.

"She thought so," said Flitwick. "You go on ahead, and please, come back any time." Flitwick retreated the way he had come, and Harry walked up the steps to the office he still associated with Dumbledore. He knocked, and the door opened to reveal McGonagall at her desk. "Ah, Leader Potter," she said, standing as she did so. Harry hoped she didn't feel she had to stand when he appeared. "Please, have a seat. I gather that today, you are in no hurry."

Harry grinned at her reference to his having Apparated in front of her desk a few days before. "No, I'm not. So, how's the normalcy going?"

She grunted. "It was more a wish than anything else. Repairs are supposed to begin next week. I have an unfortunate feeling, however, that whatever the purpose of your visit, it will not increase the chances of normalcy."

"I don't suppose so," he agreed. "Not too badly, I hope. I'm going to be recruiting Aurors, and I'm going to start with DA members. There's a few of them who are seventh years, and for them, I'd like your permission for me to take them out of the school or talk to them anytime, at my discretion."

"Oh, of course," she replied with wry sarcasm, her tone indicating that while she was far from pleased, she didn't feel that she could refuse his request. "And will there be anything else?"

"Yes. And you're not going to like this, but—"

"Professor Longbottom," she said, with a mild wince.

"Yes. I am sorry about that, but I'm going to have too few Aurors as it is, and I'll need every last good one I can get."

She sighed. "I knew this was coming, of course, and annoying as it is, I cannot disagree with you. The students will not be happy, however, as he is quite popular, and better than any Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor we have had in recent memory."

Not wanting to appear disrespectful of Neville, Harry held back the automatic response of 'that's not saying much.' "I'm not surprised."

"Who have you settled on, so far?"

"For now, just Ron, Hermione, and Neville. I'm favorably inclined towards most everyone, but I want to talk to them first."

"Not Mr. Creevey, I hope."

"No. He's not back from St. Mungo's, is he?"

"He is expected in a few days, and I imagine that he will have quite a story to tell." Harry nodded, chatted with her for a little while, then left. He was very conscious of the fact that now, his time was a very precious resource indeed.

He did, however, decide to spend some of that precious time chatting with Professor Slughorn, who he ran into on his way out of the castle. While serving to remind him of just how precious that time was, the twenty-minute conversation also reinforced to Harry that there would from now on be many people, like Slughorn, who would talk to Harry for a half hour for no other reason than to be able to say to friends later, 'I talked to the Auror Leader for a half hour today.' For now, he would not assume that this was every person's intent, but he knew he had to keep this in mind, and not to let his time be wasted.

Let's look at it from a Malfoy point of view, Harry thought sardonically. Malfoy had said in their Veritaserum conversation that you dealt with those people whom you could use, and didn't bother with others. Harry had no personal feelings for Slughorn, other than respect for being on the right side in the final battle. Is there anything he can do for me that I can't do for myself? Not for introductions; I can meet whoever I want, on my own. Information? Maybe. He might know who knows something I want to know, and no doubt he 'collects' information as well as people. He might not be extremely useful, but it probably wouldn't be a bad idea to keep communication open with him.

Harry had never been the type of person to 'use' others in this way, and he found he didn't care for it. He preferred to talk to who he wanted to, and not talk to those he didn't. He'd always found people like Slughorn unappealing, using others as means of advancement and self-promotion. He recalled that Dumbledore had used Slughorn, but at least that had been for a very good reason. Does that make it all right? Harry wasn't sure, but he knew that regardless, he would have to get used to it. It was for the good of society, not his own good, and that was important.

Harry Apparated to Diagon Alley, having determined that while walking around in public had never been one of his favorite things to do, he should make a habit of making the rounds once or twice a day; partly to become a familiar face and so avoid being accosted regularly, and partly to keep tabs on things. Security was still an issue, as almost all of the 41 Aurors had died less than two weeks ago. Percy Weasley was still in charge of a temporary security-enhancing group of Ministry workers, but that was a far cry from having a full staff of well-trained Aurors on call. People didn't feel safe, but Harry had found in his walk the day before that many felt safer with him there. He didn't know if that was because of his possession of the Elder Wand or just the fact that he was now Auror Leader, but whatever the reason, he would do what he could.

Following through on the request of the Auror Leader portraits, Harry stopped into Flourish & Blotts to pick up the history books the Leaders had asked him to get. Upon seeing Harry, a worker suddenly walked briskly over to the stairs leading to the offices on the second floor. Less than a minute later, Flourish walked down the stairs and greeted Harry heartily. It was apparent, and somewhat embarrassing, to Harry that Flourish had instructed the staff to summon him whenever Harry entered the shop so that he could help Harry personally. Harry wished he wouldn't, as he didn't want to cause a fuss, but realized it was something he couldn't do much about.

People stopped to talk to him, mostly to congratulate him on becoming Auror Leader and to express their confidence that he would do an excellent job. Harry was hardly convinced of this himself, but it was good to have their support.

As he walked, he heard a female shout of "Harry!" down an alley to his right. He looked over and saw Cho about twenty feet away, hurrying up to catch him, pulling a young man whose hand she was holding.

"Cho!" he responded, surprised. "How are you doing?" He had long since lost the attraction he'd had to her, but it was impossible not to be struck by how pretty she was.

"I'm good! It's too bad I didn't get much of a chance to talk to you yesterday."

"Well, I appreciated you being there. It took all of us to do it."

"Oh, it was wonderful! It was a part of history, I'll always remember it." The man with Cho looked a few years older than her. He was six feet tall with short brown hair and thick eyebrows, and didn't look at all happy. Seeming to finally realize that she wasn't alone, she added, "Harry, this is Rick Fallows. He was Ravenclaw, class of '94."

About five years ago, thought Harry, though he didn't pause to do the math. "Nice to meet you," he said politely, extending his hand. Fallows gave what Harry felt was a wary and quick shake. Turning to Cho, Harry said, "Cho, can I talk to you for a few minutes?"

Before Cho could answer, her companion did. "About what?"

The man's tone was somewhat aggressive, and only then did it dawn on Harry that Fallows must have known about his and Cho's prior relationship, and was… jealous? Strange as it was to Harry, it had to be true.

Harry went silent, not knowing what to say. He wanted to sound Cho out about the idea of becoming an Auror, if only as a courtesy, but he didn't plan to discuss that around anyone else. He was tempted to say 'none of your business,' but refrained, knowing it was too rude. As Auror Leader, his every action was public, or at least, could be. He settled for gazing at Fallows for a few seconds, then turning back to Cho with an inquiring look, signaling that he intended to ignore Fallows' question.

"Uh, yeah, sure," replied Cho, a little discomfited.

"Listen, Cho, it was your idea to go shopping together—"

"Rick, he's the Auror Leader. If he wants to talk to me, I'm going to talk to him." It had occurred to Harry to suggest that they meet later, but that would involve appointments and scheduling, and he had almost two dozen people to meet for similar reasons. Unless Cho insisted, he wasn't going to put it off for the sake of this man's ego. "How long will it take?" she asked Harry.

He shrugged. "Five minutes, maybe ten. I'm not sure."

She looked up at Rick, who was almost a head taller than her. "Would you get a table and wait for me at Florean Fortescue's?" She took his hand in hers as she made the request. He gave her a short nod, then a hard look at Harry. "Where will you be?"

Annoyed, Harry responded, "Someplace we can talk." He took Cho by the arm, touched his wand, and Disapparated. They were suddenly in a field, with some trees spread out not too far away. She looked around for a few seconds. "This is… not far from—oh, there it is." She pointed at the Hogwarts castle about a mile in the distance.

"I just wanted to be able to talk privately," said Harry.

She nodded. "Sorry about that. I wouldn't have thought he'd react like that. Maybe it was just the suddenness."

"You did tell him that you and I are way in the past, right?"

She sighed. "Of course, he knows that. But come on, Harry, you must be able to guess that any man in his position would wonder if, now that you're not only a hero but the Auror Leader, he'd wonder if I'd start to fancy you again."

"I wouldn't have guessed, to be honest, but I hadn't really thought about it," Harry admitted. "Look, the reason I wanted to talk to you is that with all the Aurors having died a few weeks ago, I'm going to have to recruit new ones."

She nodded. "The Prophet had an article about it, they were speculating on what you would do. You want to know if I know anyone who would be good?"

"Well, first thing, I wanted to know how you'd feel about being one." Her eyebrows went high. "I mean, I know you're in the program to be a Healer, so I didn't assume you would. But I at least wanted to see how you felt about it."

She smiled the smile that had made his heart thump dozens of times in the past. "I'm flattered that you ask, Harry. But no, I wouldn't think that would be for me. I've spent a long time preparing to be a Healer, and it really is something I'd like to do. But I am curious… if I said yes, you'd take me?"

"I'd be favorably inclined," he clarified. "You're good with a wand, and I have no reason to think you wouldn't be a good Auror." It suddenly occurred to him that his comment could be interpreted as damning with faint praise, but he knew that he should be honest whenever possible. "It would depend more on how much you wanted to be one. The more you wanted to be one, and the harder you'd work to be a good one, the more likely it is that I'd want you."

"That makes sense," she agreed, looking around at the scenery. It was really a beautiful day, which he hadn't noticed it while in Diagon Alley. "No, it sounds really interesting, and thanks so much for asking, but I just don't think it would be right for me."

He nodded. "That's okay. I thought you might say that." After a short pause, he said, "Well, I should let you get back. But I would like to ask that you not tell anyone what I talked to you about. I don't want it to get around that I'm talking to DA people, since I won't be having this conversation with every last one."

"Well, I'll just tell Rick that you tried to get me back, and I pushed you away," she responded with a teasing smile.

He grinned, but understood that she was pointing out that Rick would certainly press her for details. "You could just tell him that I asked you to keep it quiet," he suggested. "I mean, I am the Auror Leader, so it shouldn't be so strange that I wouldn't want details of my conversations spread around, especially if I went to the trouble of making them private."

She gently shook her head. "You must not have had much experience at being jealous. As far as he's concerned, you and I are having sex right this very minute," she added with a mischievous grin.

Harry blushed, wondering if Cho was deliberately flirting with him. "In that case, you should definitely get back. But thanks for talking to me."

"Any time, Harry. See you." With a last smile, she Disapparated.

He remained for a minute, wondering about women. With Ginny now out of reach, he had no immediate girlfriend prospects. Not that he needed them—he was more than busy enough—but he wondered how he would meet whoever his future wife ended up being. He knew he would have no trouble attracting women, but how would he know whether a woman was interested in him because of his basic character, or because he was a 'hero' and Auror Leader? He now had the ability to spot lies, so he supposed he could always find out, but checking your girlfriend for lies seemed like a depressing prospect. He wondered how many women there were who could be relied on not to lie.

* * * * *

Running into a few people as he had Cho, and owling the rest, Harry met with most of the DA members over the next few days. Many had at least some interest in becoming Aurors, while a few, like Ginny, requested time to think it over. In the meantime, he spent a lot more time with the Auror Leader portraits learning about being both an Auror and the Auror Leader. He also spent time with Hestia, the only remaining real Auror, learning about the small but important details about how Aurors operated in the present day, as the portraits only knew about the distant past. He also, with Hermione's help, made preparations for the journey ahead.

A week later, things were largely ready to go; it only remained to finalize the arrangements with those who would be going. And, of course, to let them know that they would be going. He had deliberately waited as long as possible to tell them, as he wanted word not to get out to the public. He sent owls to the ones chosen, asking them to meet him at the Ministry, from where he escorted them by Portkey to the Park, the unofficial name for the ten-acre complex that comprised Auror Headquarters. They assembled in the lounge in which Aurors had relaxed in their breaks or free time; there were more than enough sofas and comfortable chairs for everyone. He could have chosen a conference room, but had decided he wanted the meeting to be less formal than sitting around a large conference table would have felt.

Harry stood near one of the corners of the room, where he could see everyone. "So, this is everyone?" asked Lee Jordan, sitting on a sofa next to George Weasley. "There were almost thirty people in the DA, and this is about half that. The rest didn't want to do it?"

Harry had thought about what he would say, figuring he might be asked this question. "The others aren't here for various reasons, and I want to keep those private conversations private. As I would like this meeting kept private. I've been doing some research on Aurors, talking to Kingsley and Hestia, and some former Aurors. And one thing I've learned is that there's a long tradition of confidentiality among Aurors, and it's there for a good reason. Aurors' discussions, debates, orders, even training techniques, shouldn't be discussed with non-Aurors. The more the bad guys know about how we do things, the less effective we can be. So, the last thing I want is to read about this meeting in tomorrow's Prophet. This is mentioned in something called the Code, which is a small book, or pamphlet, maybe about fifty pages. It's not rules, exactly, but it lays out the behavior that's expected of an Auror. You'll all be reading it in the near future." With a small grin, he added, "except for Hermione; she'll be memorizing it."

This got chuckles from Ron and some others. "Well, that's only if we'll be tested on it," suggested George.

"Well, you will, in a way," said Harry to a surprised George. "Not a written test, of course. The Code mentions this, that there are what are called character tests. For example, just a simple one… you may be walking along one day and see a man's coinpurse—big, let's say, full of Galleons—fall from his bag, or his pocket. No one else is around, and he didn't see it, he keeps on walking. Some people would pick it up and keep it, though we'd hope most people would let him know about it. You, of course, should let him know. Now, it may be that he's really a random man, who dropped a coinpurse. Or, it may be someone I asked to do that, on purpose, to see what you would do. You won't know, and it shouldn't matter, whether it's a test or not. If you keep it, that means you're probably not the sort of person we want as an Auror."

"Would that person then be fired?" asked Ernie McMillan.

"Not just like that," replied Harry. "But I would talk to that Auror, and ask why he or she did that. Most tests are more complex than that, and the Auror may have made a mistake in understanding the situation, or something like that, rather than just a bad moral choice. It really depends on the situation. But if I end up convinced that they can't be trusted to be an Auror, then yes, they'd be fired.

"Now, before I get on to the main part of what I want to talk about, I want to say a few things. First, I want to thank all of you for agreeing to do this. The fact that you're here means I asked if you would be interested in becoming an Auror, you said yes, and I decided that you were sincere in your desire, and doing it for the right reasons. As Lee noticed, not every DA member is here. A few I didn't ask, thinking they wouldn't be suitable for one reason or another. A few I did ask, and they said no. And a few I asked, they said yes or maybe, and I ended up deciding that they didn't want to strongly enough for me to invite them here today. You are the ones that I felt confident would end up as good Aurors if you work hard and put your maximum effort into it.

"Secondly, this is an unusual situation, rushed along by an emergency. Almost all of the Aurors died a few weeks ago, as we all know. So, you're not being recruited according to the usual methods. Paper credentials, like N.E.W.T.s, are usually required, and there's a training period where the new Auror isn't on active duty, usually three years. That's a luxury we don't have, so you'll be on duty to some extent while training. There won't be different standards for you; the same performance will be required of you as any other Auror. But in recognition of the fact that I'm asking this as a favor of you… normally, once you join as an Auror, you stay until retirement. I hope that all of you will stay. But we'll be continuously recruiting over the next few years until our numbers are good enough, and once they are, I'm not going to object if some of you decide this isn't what you want to do with your life. Now… any questions so far?"

After a few seconds, Justin Finch-Fletchley raised his hand. "Yes, why is it only DA people so far? You are going to recruit from outside the DA at some point, right? So, why not wait for this to start until you have everyone you're going to have?"

"Good question," answered Harry. "And the answer is the main thing I wanted to tell you about today; it has to do with your training. I said to some of you privately that you'd be joining an accelerated training program. What I didn't tell you was the form of that program. We're going to go back in time."

Dumbfounded stares met this statement. "Why?" asked Justin incredulously.

Ernie jumped in before Harry could answer. "It gets us time to train," he said, his tone suggesting that he was realizing it as he spoke the words. "England is relatively undefended every day there are no Aurors."

"Yes, exactly," agreed Harry. "Now, of course there are risks in time travel, risks that I've made a plan to minimize. We won't be doing this in England, for one thing. That would be extremely risky. There's an uninhabited island in the South Pacific that's mostly unknown, that has been used by Auror Leaders before. We're going to go there, taking whatever supplies we need for a one-year stay. Once on the island we'll use the last existing Time-Turner to go back one year, then spend that time training. We'll come back a day or so after we left, according to everyone else, anyway. You won't be perfectly trained Aurors, not in that time. But it'll be a good start, an important start. So, the main answer to Justin's question is that you'll get enough training to do some duties in the field while the rest of your training continues. Meanwhile, the next ten or fifteen I recruit will start training, at a more normal pace. That is, not a time-traveling pace. The reason the time traveling will involve you and not them is that I have more confidence in you. I've worked with you, I know you, and I don't want to take someone back a year and then after a month, realize that it's not going to work. I'm trusting you guys to hold down the fort while we get more trained."

Padma Patil raised her hand. "You said there are risks in time travel. What exactly are they?"

Harry had been briefed by the portraits on this topic; it had been discussed at length. "The main risk, the biggest risk, is that as a result of going back in time we cause something to happen that we know didn't happen the first time, or prevent something from happening that did happen. For example, someone goes back to six months ago and kills me before I have a chance to defeat Voldemort. What would happen? Nobody really knows, but it's thought that it would cause chaos, maybe even violent and cataclysmic physical events, like earthquakes, tidal waves. An old text I read says it happened once, a few thousand years ago, and that it was as if two realities fought against each other, and lots of weird stuff ended up happening. Two versions of the same person in some cases, while other people disappeared, some remembered one version of reality while others remembered another, some people went insane, stuff like that. Now, I don't know if this is true or not. I do know that the Time-Turner works, having used it before, and a few times it was a near miss for that kind of paradox. Since it shouldn't be possible to change history, but clearly it is, I wouldn't want to find out what would happen."

"So, why do it at all, if it's so risky?" asked Padma.

"Well, I've gotten…" Harry paused, then explained, "First, I should say that there are some things about being Auror Leader that I can't, or shouldn't, talk about, even to other Aurors. There are… accounts, for example, from former Auror Leaders, pieces of information, artifacts, that sort of thing, which are set aside in a place that only the Auror Leader can access, set up by his predecessors. So, I'll have resources that I might refer to, but really can't talk about. The knowledge about this island is one of them; most people don't know about it. Anyway, I mention that because I… am given to understand that this plan is very safe. The risks I mentioned are the general risks of time travel, not of this particular plan. Since we'll be isolated from everyone during this time, unless something truly bizarre happened, there's no way that any paradox could happen. On the other hand, getting a year of training all of a sudden will be very beneficial, and it could easily save lives. So, I'm comfortable with the risks, but I wanted to be sure that everyone knew what they were."

"Who exactly is coming?" asked Neville. "Just the people in this room?"

"Us, and Kingsley and Hestia," answered Harry. "It's not exactly like I'll be training you, though I will occasionally, depending on the situation. Kingsley and Hestia, as trained Aurors, will be teaching us a lot of what they know, and that includes me. I'm the first Auror Leader who wasn't already an Auror, so there are still things I need to learn. But I should say that Kingsley's being Minister won't matter there; as far as authority goes, he's just a former Auror. I'll be in charge, and responsible for everything that happens. If he and I don't agree on something, he'll do what I say, and he only has the authority to give orders if I give him that authority. We've discussed this, and he understands it.

"Two other people will be coming. One hasn't been decided yet, and I'll be telling you… well, you'll be seeing him or her when we go. The other is Luna. She won't be training to be an Auror, but she'll be coming anyway."

This got a few surprised reactions. "Why?" asked Parvati.

Harry had been prepared for this question as well. "Her coming is necessary to avoid a paradox of the type I mentioned earlier. The details of that are personal, and I'll leave it for her to talk about it or not, as she chooses. She will have responsibilities on the island, in the general category of 'whatever needs to be done' while we're all training. Except for that, no one else is coming. Any other questions?"

George raised a hand. "Accommodations? Is there perhaps a five-star hotel on this island?"

A grin flashed across Harry's face before disappearing. "Sorry, no. Tents, with expandable apparent space. They'll be plenty comfortable, that's no problem. As for sleeping arrangements, two to a room. Roommates are random, changing once a week."

"Harry, I count only five women here, so there'd be an odd one," said Hermione. "Is Luna included in that? Or Hestia?"

Harry shook his head. "Roommates are random, regardless of gender."

This caused many raised eyebrows and surprised expressions. "What??" asked Ron incredulously; Harry could see that Ron was none too happy about the thought of another male sleeping anywhere near Hermione.

"This is part of the training," Harry explained. "Aurors have to go out on missions, sometimes taking a few days. They might have to stay in close quarters, maybe in the same room, or out in the open. I'll choose the best Aurors to do the job, and it won't matter whether they're male or female. Aurors have to conduct themselves professionally, including in situations like that. You could say it's like practice for what may happen in the future. For example, imagine that you go somewhere on assignment, you stay in a hotel for a few days. You stay in the same room, for security purposes—you're a lot safer from enemies if you're together than if you're in separate rooms. If the room has only one bed, then you stay in the same bed, whether you're two men, two women, or whatever. This is serious," he added, his tone becoming sterner. "Your lives may depend on each other, so there can't be any goofing around, or worry about goofing around. If anyone acts inappropriately, they'll have to answer to me. Aurors have a lot of power, a lot of discretion, and are given a lot of trust by society. We have to act like adults, not only in this way, but in many others."

Harry himself had been surprised that this could be contemplated, but conversations with Kingsley and Hestia confirmed for him that Aurors had operated efficiently in mixed-gender environments for decades, and the tradition had to be preserved. He knew it would be a challenge; none of the new Aurors were yet twenty years old, and probably some had yet to have their first sexual experience. But if they were going to be Aurors, they had to get used to it, and there was no time like the present. The portraits had been shocked—there had been no female Aurors at all during any of their tenures—but reluctantly admitted that they could not gauge the current social situation.

"I know this isn't easy. But a lot of stuff about being an Auror isn't easy, and we all have to get used to it. We could bring enough tents to have one for every person, but I chose this, because we need to get used to this sort of thing. Ron and Hermione, who are a couple, won't get special treatment, nor will Neville and Ginny, or any couples I don't know about now that there are or may be later. This has always been the case with Auror trainees. There are a lot of burdens on Aurors, and believe me, this is the least of them. People are counting on us, and we have to be a team. We have to know each other, understand each other, respect each other.

"Now, a few things about me. This is something I'm getting used to as well, and it's not exactly impossible that I'll make mistakes. I'll do my best, and make decisions as I see best for wizarding society. You won't agree with every decision I make. If you disagree so much that you want to argue with me, I don't object to that. But I certainly hope that you won't agree with me to my face and disagree behind my back. I'll try to be tolerant of any mistakes you make in good faith, and I hope you'll be tolerant of mine.

"On the other hand, sometimes I'll make a decision based on information I have that you don't, and I can't or shouldn't reveal the source of that. In cases like that, I'll have to ask you to trust that I know what I'm doing, even when it doesn't make sense to you. For example, I'll tell you this, and this is not just an example, it's what happened. I offered a position as Auror to Draco Malfoy." This caused much greater surprise than had the mixed-gender accommodations. "Now, I understand that may cause you to think—"

"That you're out of your bleedin' mind," George interrupted, looking appalled.

"Yes, exactly," agreed Harry. "So, you could assume that—"

"How could you do that?" demanded Ernie. "He helped You-Know—all right, Voldemort, his family at least, not to mention he was a monster all those years at Hogwarts, especially to you! If he turned over a new leaf, I can understand not putting him in Azkaban. But an Auror?"

Unperturbed, Harry nodded. "That was the reaction I expected, and it's understandable. But as I was saying, you could assume that I'm out of my mind, or you could assume that there are things I know that you don't. I would hope that you'd pick the second," he added wryly. "Like I said, there's going to be times when I just ask you to trust my judgment."

George looked unconvinced. "Kind of a stretch…"

"What did he say?" asked Padma.

"Again, for privacy reasons, I'm not going to say exactly. I'll just say that if he had said yes, he'd be in this room right now—"

"You mean," Parvati interrupted, "that you'd trust him to do the same things as you're asking of us, that you're trusting us with?"

"No. I mean that I thought that if he said yes, knowing what was involved, it would mean he could be trusted like that—"

"Because Malfoy would never lie," muttered George.

Harry tried to repress his annoyance. "I'll at least ask you to believe that I'd thought of that, and that I wouldn't have asked unless I was sure that if he said yes, it would mean that he was willing to do what was asked. And if he'd said yes, I would expect nothing different from him than from any of you. He wouldn't exactly have been popular, and I wouldn't have required you to try to like him. Just to judge him based on current actions rather than past ones, and treat him with the minimum respect with which any Auror should be treated. Since he said no, it's not an issue. But I thought it was a good example of the kind of thing that I might ask of you, to work with someone you strongly dislike. The Code has a few pages dealing with relations between Aurors, and it mentions this kind of situation. We have kind of a tight group here, and that's good. But especially in the future, you're not going to like everyone you work with. But you have to get along with them." Harry couldn't help but think back to his recent three-month stay in Japan, where that notion had been strongly emphasized.

There was a short silence, then Parvati asked a question. "Is there anything we should bring with us? Or, can bring with us? Is there a space limit?"

Her twin sister gave her a wry grin. "Thinking about how you're going to dress?" A few people chuckled.

"There won't be any formal occasions," Harry joked. More seriously, he added, "No suitcases, though of course you can magically reduce the size of things like clothes for the trip. Basically, anything that can fit in a backpack or shoulder bag. If you want to bring a magical artifact, please check with me before you do it. We'll mostly be wearing Auror robes, though for some aspects of training they won't be necessary. The weather will be warm, for the most part, even in winter, but a few cold days aren't impossible, so keep that in mind when packing.

"I expect that no one will say anything about going back in time; that's not something I want to read about in the Prophet. Only the people who eventually go should know, and I mean, not a single other person. Okay?"

"If it's not risky," asked Ernie, "why does it matter if the Prophet knows?"

Hermione spoke before Harry could. "I think Harry doesn't want to have to be explaining himself to the Prophet all the time. Also, as he said before, the less the Dark wizards know about what we do, the better. Is that right, Harry?"

He nodded. "Exactly, both of them. As Auror Leader, I'm not accountable to anyone; I can do what I want. But I've read that previous Auror Leaders always had at least one person outside the Aurors who was trustworthy, who the Auror Leader always told what he was doing. That person—the unofficial name for it was the Devil's Advocate—his job was to question the Leader, to make sure he understood the implications of what he was doing, to make sure he didn't become some kind of unaccountable dictator who nobody would tell the truth to. For me, right now, that person is Kingsley. Not because he's Minister, but because he's a former Auror, and can understand my situation pretty well. Be assured that he doesn't hesitate to tell me when he thinks I'm wrong, and I don't want you to, either. I mean, if you just don't happen to like what I do, then there may not be much we can do about that. But if you think it's wrong, for some logical reason, then certainly I want to hear about it, assuming I don't already know your opinion."

He exhaled, then paused. "I think that's all I wanted to tell you right now. The fact is, I was going to tell you a lot of this more slowly, over time, but Kingsley thought that before we leave, I should tell you the stuff you might not be too happy to hear, so nobody feels that they might not have come if they'd known such-and-such. Not that I think it will, but if anyone wants to reconsider their decision, you have 48 hours in which to do it." There was no reaction.

"Okay. Now, does anyone have any problems with anything I just said? This isn't your only chance, if you think of something later, but I just want to know for now."

Michael Corner raised a hand. It would be him, thought Harry sardonically. "You said you don't want to have to explain yourself to the Prophet. But since you're unaccountable to the law, shouldn't you have to explain yourself to the public in some way? I mean, it seems a little… not trying to be insulting, but a little arrogant."

Harry paused in order to mask his emotions before responding. "I understand that. But let me ask… do you ask this because of genuine concern for the issues involved? Or just out of curiosity, to be devil's advocate?"

A 'you caught me' expression flashed across Corner's face before he answered. "A little of each," he admitted. "I can't say I'm super-concerned, but it seems like a reasonable point."

Harry nodded, about to respond, when Angelina chimed in. "My uncle's a reporter for the Prophet," she said, "and I've heard him talk about it more than once. He's proud of his job, because he feels that the press has a real responsibility, to keep leaders honest, and that society would be much worse off without them."

"I understand that," said Harry solemnly, "and I don't plan never to talk to the Prophet. But, and again this isn't from personal experience, but what I've been told, and from Auror Leader chronicles… the whole point of the Auror Leader is that he'll do what's right for society. The test proves that. One of the rights of an Auror who serves under the Auror Leader is the right to view, in a Pensieve, the Leader's memories of the test. This right extends to full-fledged Aurors, not trainees, but I'm extending it to all of you, once we're on the island. And let me tell you: passing is much, much worse than failing. It's excruciating; I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. I'm sure that anyone who views it would know that the Leader isn't going to act out of selfish motives—"

"Harry, nobody's saying you're going to act selfishly—" began Corner.

"I know, but let me finish," responded Harry. "The point is, you can question somebody based on their motives, or their competence. If you assume my motives are unselfish, based on what's good for society, that leaves competence. And the Prophet can't begin to judge my competence in any way other than results, so that's how I'll be judged. But before things happen they won't know what I know, and their knowing more will only lead to speculation, and lots of public commentary based on partial knowledge, which would only hurt my efforts. So, there's some stuff I'll tell them after it happens, but not before. Does that make sense?"

Corner slowly nodded. "Yeah, I guess," he conceded. Angelina nodded silently.

"Okay," said Harry. "Anything else?"

There was silence. Finally, as Harry was about to speak again, George spoke one word plaintively, in disbelief, as if speaking to himself. "Malfoy?"

Most everyone present chuckled, including Harry. "Thank you, George. Well, that seems to be all. I'll see you all tomorrow night at the Hog's Head, but if you need me before then, you know how to reach me." Touching his wand, he Disapparated. This had been on Hestia's advice; by leaving first, he gave the fledgling Aurors the chance to talk among themselves about what they'd heard. It would be important, she had told him, that they be able to talk freely out of his presence from time to time, to help each other 'wrap their minds around' unexpected directives.

Two hours later, Ron and Hermione Apparated into the living room of Grimmauld Place. Hearing the telltale popping sound, Harry turned toward them from his seat at the table in front of Dumbledore's portrait, which hung on the wall a foot above the table. "Hi," he greeted them. "Did you go somewhere after the meeting broke up?"

They sat at the table and nodded their greetings to Dumbledore, who was currently in the frame, and had been talking to Harry when they had arrived. "No," said Hermione. "We were talking all that time."

"Wow," said Harry, eyebrows high. "About what?"

"A few things," she said, "one of which had to do with Ron and me, and our relationship with you. You see, we were talking about other things for twenty minutes—mainly about the sleeping arrangements—when somebody pointed out that Ron and I would be going back to this house where you live, where we could relay the whole conversation if we wanted to. Not that people wanted to talk badly about you, but they want to be able to say what they think without worrying about it getting back to you."

"Very understandable," suggested Dumbledore. "You and Ron could find yourselves ostracized if people do not feel they can speak freely around you."

"But it's not as though Ron and I can't tell you anything, either," she continued. "So we spent some time on that, and agreed on some ground rules. The main one is, no names. Positive or negative things. Also, nothing specific that sounds critical gets back to you, even without a name. We can give you the general sense of how people feel. There was some division about this, too. Some people didn't like the debate itself, feeling that it seemed 'anti-Harry,' as one person said. The other got kind of defensive, saying that wasn't what was intended, that it was just to clarify things. Another one pointed out that Ron and I could function as unofficial messengers of the group's feelings to you, if it seemed like a good idea."

"Seems reasonable," Harry agreed. "So, what was the verdict on the sleeping arrangements question?"

Ron sighed. "That it's going to take some getting used to, though everyone can see the point. I said at one point that I wasn't happy with not getting advance warning about that, and a half dozen people jumped on me, saying there's no reason I should. Hermione's silence," he added, with a slightly reproachful look in her direction, "told me she agreed with them."

"At least I kept silent about it," she retorted. "I was restraining myself. Of course, we shouldn't get advance notice, or any special privileges. A few people said they thought it was a good thing you didn't tell us first, that it meant you weren't going to favor us. I could tell from the expressions that most everyone had thought about the topic. It was good to clear the air about that."

"Well, I will be talking to you guys more, and asking your advice, things like that," Harry said. "You're my friends, and I'm not going to apologize for that. But I do know that I have to be careful of how it looks. So, was there anything else it'd be good for me to know?"

His two friends exchanged glances. "The Malfoy thing came up," said Ron. "There was a general… amazement, I guess. Someone asked me and Hermione if we knew anything; I just said whatever we know we shouldn't talk about. That got people going even more, like, wow, whatever it is, it must be incredible. People were reminiscing about their favorite Malfoy experiences, what a fantastic guy he always was." The last sentence was said with sufficient sarcasm, though Harry would have understood had it been deadpan.

"Not much else," added Hermione. "You should know, Harry, that there was a lot of respect for you in that room. Nobody thinks you're a god, but everyone knows what you've been through in your life, how hard it's been for you. I said that it still was, so you needed our help. People agreed that while we want to help society, a lot of our motivation was to help you, specifically."

Harry nodded. He didn't reply, but felt quite touched by the sentiment. He looked up at the portrait, and saw Dumbledore with a wise, gentle smile, clearly understanding what Harry was feeling.

* * * * *

Next: Chapter 2: After reaching the island and going back in time, Harry finds himself going even further back than he'd planned, causing some in the group to question his judgment.

From Chapter 2: Kingsley held up a hand. "Harry, you might want to take a few minutes, think this through. Phoenixes can teleport, and you don't know that he won't inadvertently do something to endanger the timeline. It's an unknown element of risk—"

Fawkes shook his hind quarters, causing his long tail to whip back and forth. Ron and Hermione had walked over, and were standing next to Harry. "I think that means there's no time to lose," said Harry.