Author's notes: JKR owns Harry Potter. Direct quotes from the books are in bold.
- Sorry to anyone who's expecting another update on my Temporal Beacon story. This has been bugging me for a while, and I find writing it all out helps me think through it more clearly.
Wizard Behind the Wheel
"Parked all right, then?" Ron asked Harry. "I did. Hermione didn't believe I could pass a Muggle driving test, did you? She thought I'd have to Confund the examiner."
"No, I didn't," said Hermione. "I had complete faith in you."
"As a matter of fact, I did Confund him," Ron whispered to Harry.
As the train steamed its way into the distance, the families and friends of the students began filing their way back through the secret passage at King's Cross station. As the train disappeared into the distance, Ron turned to leave as well, but Harry grabbed his arm.
"We'll catch up with you girls in a minute," Harry said to his wife and sister-in-law.
"What's up, mate?" Ron asked.
"DMLE business," Harry answered. "It'll only take a few minutes, I promise."
"Harry! I can't believe you!" Ginny fumed. "You promised that today would be a family day! I didn't expect that the minute they're on the train to Hogwarts you're going straight back to work again?" Hermione grabbed her shoulders to restrain her while Harry raised both hands in a placative manner.
"Two minutes. Exactly. I just need to have a private chat with Ron. You know. Auror business."
"Alright. We'll be waiting, and the clock is ticking," Ginny huffed, turning and walking straight into a brick pillar. Ron snickered at his sister's misstep.
"Next one over, Ginny," Hermione reminded her.
"Sometimes he just makes me so mad…" Harry heard her say as she went through the barrier. He loved that fiery spirit of her… but only when it wasn't directed at him. I guess I have been working a little too hard lately, he thought. But some things just can't wait.
"So, what's going on, mate?" Ron asked, grinning. "Is this another assignment? Or a promotion?"
Years of interrogations, stakeouts, and undercover assignments had given Harry a practiced façade of friendliness that would hide his anger, hatred, and fear even in the den of the worst criminals. This was the first time he had to use it against a friend. "So, you finally got your license, Ron? Congratulations! Can I see it?"
"Alright, but it's just a few sheets of paper. The card's coming in the mail. Hermione tells me Muggles can do all sorts of things with photos and make anyone look fabulous… you think they'll do it for me?" He sheepishly handed Harry his papers.
Harry promptly vanished them.
"Oi! What was that for?" Ron shouted angrily. "I only got those two days ago!"
"You don't deserve those," Harry said.
"What are you talking about? I worked hard to get those papers!"
That wasn't the reaction Harry had been hoping for. He hoped Ron was just kidding around with him, and this was all a mistake that he could laugh about later. "Were you joking before? About confounding the examiner?"
"What? No, mate. I've got better things to do than to book another day off for another road exam. Like I said, a supersensory charm does the trick better than any mirror…"
Harry exhaled roughly through pursed lips. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Stay calm, he told himself. I've got to fix this, fast. "Auror Weasley, as Head Auror, I am officially placing you on paid leave pending review. Hand over your auror badge immediately."
"WHAT?" bellowed Ron, causing the few people still lagging behind on Platform Nine and Three Quarters to stare at the two of them.
" Accio Ron's badge. Finite Aurora Cantatem." Two quick spells and Harry had his friend's badge and set it to inactive status. "Tell Ginny I'm sorry, Ron. And you'd better tell Hermione you're sorry." Without bothering to walk through the barrier, Harry apparated off the platform and directly into the Ministry of Magic, leaving his bewildered partner behind.
Twenty-four hours ago
"Mr. Westley, I'd like to see you in my office," Mrs. Jones called over the intercom.
Daniel Westley had only been working at the DVLA for five years. He dreaded talking to his boss. She was the kind of person who would reprimand someone for having their necktie a tad loose in the middle of summer, or failing to smile at a customer, no matter how inane they were acting. The worst part was that she always had a reason for chastising them. It was all in the rulebook, she said. And nobody ever dared to tell her to lighten up.
Just a few more years of this and I'll be able to take over her position, he thought. "Yes ma'am?" he asked as he stepped through the open door.
"Sit down, Westley, and close the door behind you."
"What's this all about, ma'am?" he asked nervously. He'd seen her office door close from his cubicle before. And the results were never good. There was an intern who came out in tears, once.
"It's time for an early performance review. Do you remember the examinations you performed yesterday?"
"Uh…" Westley tried to recall. It was only one day ago, after all, but maybe it was the late summer heat or the repetitive nature of his job- he couldn't recall exactly what happened. He did vaguely remember taking a whole lot of photographs, though. Normally he'd have to take out the big red "FAILED" stamp and endure the teary pleas or angry disputes from at least one person a day. "I think I had about six of them in total for that day. Pretty typical, I guess. Oh, except that all six of them passed."
"Funny you should say that, Westley, because we just ran into some discrepancies in the paperwork you filed. Do you recognize your own signature at the bottom of these pages?"
He didn't have to lean in for a closer look. That was his signature, all right. And that was the standard driver's practical examination sheet. With plenty of red marks over it- yet another failed exam. His eyes flicked over to the date beside his name. August 30th. Impossible. He kept going to the box for the official stamp. PASSED, it clearly read in blue ink. Doubly impossible.
"There… there's clearly some mistake," he stammered.
"Clearly," his boss answered dryly, pulling out another sheet. "And how do you explain this one?" The next sheet was nearly as bad. Another failed exam. Another passing stamp. His signature. His handwriting.
"I… I really don't…"
"One more, Westley." He stared at it. At least this one was close to passing, but failed due to a single, large mistake. 'Dangerous action,' he had clearly written. 'Left turn without checking mirrors.' He could remember this one a little more clearly. He had nearly stomped on the brakes himself when he thought Mr. Weasley was about to run into a cyclist at the corner, but the man had stopped the car just in time, all without even a glance at the mirror. Maybe he had caught it just in time out of the corner of his eye. But he'd done it again at another turn, and clearly hadn't gotten into the habit of checking mirrors. He knew he couldn't pass someone with bad habits like that.
"I… I think I might have been a little tired that day," he said weakly. "Maybe I just got the stamps mixed up? I know these people didn't pass their exams! I know it! I even wrote it all down in red ink!"
"Then explain these," Mrs. Jones said, pulling out another three sets documents. Temporary licences. Submission forms for full licences. The photographs of Ronald Bilius Weasley, Oliver Samuel Worthington, and Allison Amelie Stanton. The names matched the "failed" examinees. All authorized by him. All photographs taken by him. How did this happen? He couldn't explain it.
"I don't… I couldn't have…"
Mrs. Jones sighed. "I've given you more chances to admit your guilt than I already should have, Westley. If you're going to keep playing dumb, I can always pull up the security tapes of you filling out these forms by hand. Clean out your desk. I expect you to be out of here by noon, and don't expect a letter of reference." Inwardly, she was holding back the temptation to punch Westley in the face. That idiot didn't even have the decency to try to cover his tracks. Did he take her for a fool? Her pet parakeet could have caught his deception. Even if somebody was a cheat and a liar, they could have at least put a little effort into it.
Harry apparated into his office in Auror Department. Tossing Ron's badge and wand on his desk, he grabbed a handful of Floo powder and threw it into his fireplace. "Improper Use of Magic Office, Obliviators!" he shouted. He ducked down so quickly the orange flames almost singed his eyebrows before turning green. "This is Head Auror Potter. I need every available Obliviator on hand, immediately! Digital obliviation specialists required! Document rewriters as well!"
"Whoa there, Auror Potter. What's the emergency? Blow up a train?" the lead obliviator, Shiffrin joked. "I can't have you take everyone in my squad. I haven't heard a thing from Director-"
"Classified. I discovered a possible Statute leak during an auror operation review."
"A leak? When was this?"
"Approximately forty-eight hours ago." In this day and age, a fifteen-minute response time to accidental magic was considered "slow." Five minutes, in public spaces. Harry had entered the ministry just in time to see the massive transformation the muggle world went through in the past two decades. The rise of the Internet and the increased prevalence of digital communication and records meant that obliviating a few muggles' memories was wholly insufficient. At the press of a button, a witness to magic could tell every one of his friends across the country. Even without a human witness, digital cameras lined every public street in London. Satellites were taking fresh pictures on a daily basis. The risk of exposing magic to the world was now measured in seconds, not hours. Some people were thinking it was impossible to stay hidden under these circumstances for much longer, and that the Statute of Secrecy should just be abolished. For now, however, the Obliviator office budget was fifty times what it was at the turn of the millennium… and still growing.
"Forty-eight hours? Are you insane? How did we manage to miss this? Code Nightmare!" he hollered at the top of his lungs. "Everybody! On your feet! O'Malley, Holmes, Atkinson, and Bunsen, you go with Auror Potter immediately and get a damage estimate! The rest of you, grab your gear and catch up! This is not a drill! Alert Directo-"
"No need to inform the Director. This is a classified assignment from the Auror Office. I'll be leading. Now let's go." Harry prayed that the damage wasn't too severe. If he could get all of this under control, nobody would be the wiser. It could all blow over… if everything went perfectly. Since when did anything ever go perfectly?
Nineteen Hours ago
Daniel waited at the bus stop with his little cardboard box. He had a lot of time to think, and he was thinking as hard as he could about the events of yesterday. How could he have mistaken the "pass" stamp for the "fail" stamp? Three times? That was ridiculous… but he honestly knew he didn't deliberately let someone pass. Perhaps it was a forgery… maybe someone was out to get him. No, he told himself. I'm not going to resort to conspiracy theories. I'm not that crazy. It was still hard to contemplate the fact that he'd lost his job. Five years of dedicated service, and one inexplicable day of mistakes. All that work, down the drain. He couldn't even put that on his résumé, or else his next employer would end up phoning Mrs. Jones. That would be an instant rejection.
Dropping his change into the fare box, Daniel shuffled down the aisle like a zombie. What was he going to do? He could call up a few of his old friends. Maybe they could offer him a job. Even if it was some minimum-wage secretarial work, he needed money to pay his rent while he searched for another career. He pulled out his phone, and started working his way down his list of contacts.
"Inspector Potter, Department for Transport. I need to speak with the manager for this branch," Harry said upon arriving at the DVLA. He held up a blank card with a few suggestive charms, causing people to see what they expected to see. O'Malley and Holmes immediately began working their charms over the security cameras in the room. The other two obliviators followed Harry to Mrs. Jones' office.
"Oh, you're here already? This is about the fraudulent licensing, I presume? I've already prepared all the documentation for you," she said cheerfully. Harry took a look at the three piles of paper. Ronald Bilius Weasley. There it was, plain as day. He didn't want the obliviators to see it. He had to protect Ron. Folding the papers in half, he tucked it into his robes and picked up the other two sets. It was the same examiner, Daniel Westley. Ron's Confundus must have been stronger than he thought. The man was issuing licenses all day to everyone he worked with.
"Mr. Westley. Is he still here?" Harry asked.
"Oh, no. Such a blatant act of fraud meant he was immediately removed from his post. Cleaned out his desk yesterday. Miss Carter's tying up the loose ends in his work at the moment."
"These never happened," Harry said. "By curious coincidence, all three of these people did not show up to their examination bookings. They never took the test. Westley was never sacked; he just woke up sick this morning. You know what to do, Atkinson. Bunsen. I'll tell the other teams to search for Westley."
"Yes, sir!" Obliviator Atkinson immediately obliviated Mrs. Jones, while Bunsen immediately began searching her computer.
The full Obliviation Task Force arrived just as Harry walked out of the office. He relayed his findings to Chief Shiffrin. Ten agents would be sent to track down Miss Stanton, and another ten for Mr. Worthington. Half of the remaining agents were working on the database records and the security tapes. The remainder would be tasked with tracking down Mr. Westley.
"Just those three, Auror Potter? Westley, Worthington, and Stanton?"
"Yes," Harry lied.
"We should have this situation contained soon. Still, this is one hell of an unusual case. Why didn't any of the spell detection alarms go off?"
"Sorry. One of my Aurors was in the vicinity; the wards must have mistaken it as being cast by him. He was just around the corner and didn't see it happen, but upon reviewing his memory in the pensieve I realized we missed stray Confundus. Sorry about the delay."
"Close call, though. We could have ruined some muggle's life. Good catch. We'll have Mr. Westley back in this office by tomorrow."
Eighteen hours and fifty minutes ago
A single mass text message informed all of his closest friends about his new employment situation. Now he was wondering if he should expand his search to his not-so-close friends. Well, there was still another half-hour of riding the bus until he could get him, and he had plenty of peoples' numbers saved on his phone. It couldn't hurt to ask, and the sooner he had a new job the less he had to worry about paying the bills.
Harry staggered through the fireplace and flopped directly into the armchair facing it. He didn't want to talk to anyone right now. For the first time in nearly two decades, he wished he was back in school and Dumbledore would stride through the door, say something philosophical and clean up the mess he was in. As if that was going to happen. What was he going to do about Ron? Confounding a muggle just to pass an exam? How on earth did he get it into his head that that was a good idea? He'd heard of his fair share of wizarding criminals who routinely confound muggles out of their money and possessions. The smarter ones only took little things that the muggles wouldn't remember for days, although the biggest one managed to confound over a thousand people into a gigantic pyramid scheme. That was the only time a muggle-baiting case had ever required the attention of the Auror office.
He didn't want to think of Ron as a criminal. Yes, being an officer of the law meant that he had to uphold the law and hold himself to a higher standard than the average wizard. It was the commitment to this principle that quickly ushered him into the position of Head Auror, the youngest in history. Throughout that time, Ron was always at his side and backing him up as his partner. Ron, however, had done something wrong. In the heat of the moment, he had to choose between his friend, and his principles. Instead, he chose neither and put the problem off for tomorrow. It would all blow up in his face if it looked like he was using his position to cover for Ron.
However, it would all blow up in Ron's face if Hermione found out. Never mind that- when she found out. Harry couldn't send every available obliviator in the Ministry and not have a reason for it. Hermione and Ron squabbled more than the average couple, but this wouldn't be some minor squabble. Ron would be lucky to be sleeping on the couch for a week, if Hermione didn't punt him out of the house for it completely. And Harry would be caught in the middle of this fight.
Telling Hermione the truth would mean standing against Ron and piling the problems on him further. Helping Ron hide his little infraction would mean lying to Hermione… and the Ministry.
"You'd better have a good explanation." Harry heard his wife's annoyed voice and could just feel her glare bore through the chair. He couldn't tell Ginny, either.
"I can't tell you everything, honey… Auror classified operations and all that. But could I ask you a question?"
"You could try delegating your work, you know." Ginny walked around and clearly saw that Harry was exhausted from work. She sat down on the armrest and ran her fingers through his hair.
"Not this time," Harry sighed. "You know how everyone once said I could have had the pick of any Quidditch team if I wanted to play professionally?"
"Except the Harpies," Ginny chuckled. "But it would have been nice to play in the professional league together, on the same team… don't tell me you're regretting becoming an auror?"
"No, no… I like Quidditch as a hobby and being an auror as job. Don't think it would be as fun the other way around. No, I'm just asking a hypothetical question. So let's pretend I was a professional player."
"Alright. Are we on the same team?"
"…yes, I think that would bet better. Let's say I'm your teammate. And… well, let's say we made it all the way to the World Cup. And we won it. But then you discovered that… I took a little bit of Felix Felicis before the game. And none of the referees, or our coach, or our teammates caught it. What would you do?"
"Do you always have to ask such hard questions?" Ginny said. "I married you because you're not the type of person to do that."
"Just answer it. Please."
"Well… I can't say I know exactly what I'd do then and there. Winning the World Cup is… well, it's a dream come true, isn't it? I mean, I know it's wrong, but having the greatest prize in Quidditch just snatched out of my hands… that's hard. But I would know I didn't deserve it, and… well, I'd let the referees know. At least, after I got to hold it in my hands for a few minutes."
"Even if it wasn't your fault the entire team's disqualified? They could all come down on you for ratting me out and taking their victory away."
"I know, I know… it would be hard… but let's think of it this way. If they preferred winning over honesty, I probably couldn't be teammates with them for very much longer."
"Thanks, Ginny. That kind of reminds me of Cedric Diggory. You remember him?"
"What? Why bring him up, all of a sudden?"
"Dumbledore's speech at his funeral. We can choose what is right, or what is easy. Cedric could have just grabbed the cup himself and won the Triwizard Tournament. Instead, he gave up winning and let me tie for it, because he felt he owed me for helping him earlier in the maze. He chose what he felt was right. And now I have to as well." Harry knew an auror's job was never going to be easy when he first applied to the academy. He never even blinked at the thought of hard work to enforce the law in all sixteen years he'd been an auror, but he never thought it would ever be this hard.
Fifteen hours ago
Dennis had been a great help, if not to his financial situation, then at least to his confidence. Daniel knew he couldn't have made such a bizarre mistake at work, and Dennis believed him. He didn't know why he'd told the story to his cousin while still keeping his unemployment a secret from his immediate family. Maybe it was because Dennis had always been a little distant- their lives were completely separate, and he knew Dennis wouldn't judge him. He did seem genuinely interested in his story, though, and Daniel just needed to vent to somebody.
He was glad he did, though. His cousin even offered to get into contact with a few people to help the investigation along. They ended up talking on the phone for hours, and Dennis calmly listened to every little detail and helped him sort things out, reassuring him that everything would turn out all right in the end.
"Ron. Please sit down." Harry's partner still looked furious with him. "Have you given any more thought about why I took away your badge, Ron?"
"Why are you all friendly with me today? Yesterday was all, 'Auror Weasley' and you didn't tell me anything."
"I didn't think I had to. Ron, remind me again what your job is."
"Is this a joke?"
"No, Ron. Tell me, loud and clear, what your job is."
Ron rolled his eyes in annoyance. "I'm an auror."
"And tell me, what does an auror do?"
Ron gritted his teeth. He found it insulting, and he knew that Harry knew. It annoyed him all the more. "We catch the darkest and most dangerous wizards and organizations that threaten magical Britain."
"Why do we do it, Ron?"
"To stop the bloody criminals from destroying this country! What on earth are you doing, Harry? You just take my wand and badge and apparate away yesterday and you don't even give me a reason! I want them back!" Ron rose to his feet, slamming his knuckles down onto Harry's desk as he leaned over, putting his snarling face inches from Harry's.
Harry didn't flinch. He'd had harder interrogations than this. "I'll give them back once I think you should have them back. Now calm down. May I remind you I've put you on leave?"
"You never said why," the redhead bitterly dropped back into his seat.
"You gave me a reason why. I need you to give me a reason to bring you back into active duty."
"Then remind me, Harry, because you're not making any sense right now."
"The fact that you forgot about it so easily isn't helping your case, Ron. It only happened three days ago, Ron, and you told me yesterday."
"What, you mean getting my driving license? Sheesh, Harry, it was just one little Confundus."
"One little Confundus? Have you never heard of this law we call the "International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy?"
"Nobody saw it, Harry. I'm more careful than that."
"That's beside the point. Why did you cast that spell, Ron?"
"Why are you making such a big deal out of this Confundus? We used to play around with that spell all the time! It's nothing! Besides, he was going to fail me on that exam. What else could I have done?"
"You could have accepted his judgement and tried harder the next time." This time, Harry rose up from his seat. He was getting angrier and angrier at Ron. Everything his old friend was saying seemed to be destroying the image he had of his lifelong friend. Had something changed Ron, or had he just been turning a blind eye to his friend's faults all these years?
"Another one? It's such a hassle. I have better things to do than to waste time on some silly muggle test."
"So you wouldn't have done anything different?"
"I wouldn't have told you," Ron muttered.
Harry could hear his own nostrils flaring every time he exhaled. He was starting to hyperventilate as his calming exercises failed to do their job. There it was. Ron didn't give a second thought to ruining a muggle's day… perhaps even his life, if the obliviation team hadn't arrived in time. Cheating had somehow become Ron's first option when faced with a bad situation. Had this man really been the one he'd relied on, trusted? Harry wanted to pretend Ron never said anything. But that was impossible. He knew this could lead down a very messy path. What would Ginny say? Hermione? The other aurors? The newspapers and the blasted paparazzi would never let him hear the end of it- despite having a legitimate, hard-working job, Harry remained a celebrity; he and Ron had quickly become the very faces of law enforcement. It would be so easy just to use his position as Head Auror to keep everything classified and just keep going on like nothing had happened. But he understood his job, as an auror wasn't about doing what was easy. It was doing what was right.
"Auror Weasley, you are hereby placed on leave until my investigation is complete. I'm sorry, Ron."
- not sure if i want to just leave the story here or write another chapter. As a warning, though, the problems won't fix themselves- in fact, they'll probably get worse.
- I'm trying not to actually bash Ron here. But as a general rule, both in writing and in life, I believe actions have consequences. This is seems to be something that I am in disagreement with J.K. Rowling. Many of J.K. Rowling's characters suffer no consequences from their actions.
- Regarding the epilogue: I've heard many complaints about it, but I'll just throw in my own. There are many reasons for a book to have an epilogue. One reason is as a sequel hook (obviously not the case) and another is to have one final look at our characters, to give them a single, final, lasting image that we can remember them by. I think that's the case with the Deathly Hallows epilogue. What do we get? Let's see:
* Harry is happy, all is well with his life. He only has to deal with "normal problems" like having kids. Ginny is equally happy, married to him.
* Teddy Lupin is all grown up and seems to have a thing with Victoire.
* Draco is not an arrogant little twerp any more and knows he should keep his head down.
* Slytherin is still the "evil house" and kids are afraid to be sorted into it.
* Ron just cheated in a test and lied to his wife about it.
See the problem here?
- Lastly, I'm trying to make a few guesses as to how the Wizarding World changed after the defeat of Voldemort. I don't think any of these guesses are unreasonable.
* Muggles and muggleborn get much more respect, while purebloods no longer hold all the power.
* The rise of the internet, smartphones, and cheap digital cameras everywhere (epilogue takes place in 2017) means that the Statute of Secrecy is harder than ever to maintain. Infractions are harder to cover up, therefore punishments for infractions are likely to be increased.
* Hermione works in the Ministry of Magic. She believes in equal rights for all sentient creatures (SPEW, anyone?). She is anti-racist (that is, muggle/wizard racism).