Weaves a Hundred Ravens In His Schemes
Chapter II /The First Link in the Chain
by en extase
The woods blanketing the highlands were silent as a whisper as they slowly made their way through its wilderness-overridden paths. The trees that lined the hills were slightly too sparse for Tonks's liking, and she could tell that her fellow Order member was on edge as well. They wouldn't know if they were justified in their paranoia until they found their objective, however. If their source turned out to be correct, then any of a number of unfriendly parties ranging from smugglers, dark creatures, to even the occasional corrupt Ministry higher-up gone incognito might very well drop in unannounced and ruin her day.
"Let's walk faster," Mundungus Fletcher whispered, trailing a few yards behind her.
"No," Tonks snapped back, though she kept her voice low, "We've got to be thorough."
"We've been walking at this pace for the last hour," he protested.
"Dung, shut up or I'll arrest you for possession of Class-3 contraband."
"Empty threat, Dumbledore doesn't give a damn if it's for Order business."
"Still, shut up," she said dryly.
Her companion's nervousness was evident. Everytime she glanced back at him, she caught him peering into the distance, as if fearing an imminent crossfire of curses to shatter the frail woodland calm. She had to admit that she didn't feel the most comfortable too.
There was no doubt in her mind that this gently rolling stretch of land had been deliberately chosen by the architects of the Chain for its openness and high visibility. Such things favored magically concealed sentinels in keeping surveillance with the interloper none the wiser.
They'd cast invisibility charms of their own, but they were rather light and weren't designed to stand up to scrutiny very well. They were walking close together that they could hear the sound of each other's footsteps and Fletcher could follow her voice when they spoke. There was also the occasional cough. Fletcher was holding a torch of burning myrrh, and the heady scent was quite strong. She would've preferred a more sophisticated variant of invisibility spell, but anything else and they would signal their presence to the detection systems around them.
She knew the telltale signs. A tree with roots that stretched in the pattern of a curled hand. Nigh- undetectable markings in the bark of the trunk, carved less than an inch deep and then filled with Starkesian blood-amber. The invisible net stretching all around them.
But there was another reason for her discomfort besides the openness of the surroundings. The Order was internally very secretive with regard to the identities of its tip-offs, and for the most part their sources remained anonymous to all but their immediate contacts. Only Dumbledore, Minerva McGonagall, and Alastor Moody knew all of them.
It was hard to think ill of Fletcher, despite his less than one-hundred percent compliance with the law. What troubled her was the thought of… less benign characters having access to the same wells of information he did. On the ins and outs of the Ministry of Magic. The backdoors in its security grids, the blind spots.
"So," she began. "You're sure you haven't used this route before?"
"I told you, I would've remembered if I did."
"Just thought to ask. Again."
They crossed a trail that wound sideways through the woods. It was buried under mouldering leaves and Tonks wrinkled her nose as an earthen, musty smell assailed her nose.
"Anyway, shouldn't you know a lot more about this, being an Auror and all?"
This was probably the aspect of her job Tonks found most distasteful. She recognized the fingerprints of the Ministry's wardmasters in their surroundings, yet here was, sneaking past the defenses she should be guarding.
She really didn't like it when her role within the Order of the Phoenix put her at odds with her Auror work. A little voice in the back of her head kept whispering that the Ministry had to be informed of this information leak. Immediately.
And she would… but not until Magnus Snow had come. Until then, what they were doing here served a greater purpose.
"There's no fixed schedule. Knowing who sets it is a pay grade or two above me… the myrrh's running out, by the way."
There was a rustle of fabric as Mundungus replenished the torch with more resin to fuel it. His connections within the smuggler circles he frequented had come in handy, netting him a good amount of hybrid myrrh from breeders operating out of South America. Its least-known yet most highly-prized property was that its resonance with active runes. A property that made it quite valuable for their mission.
They scoured the leaf-strewn trail, sweeping away the tangles of brush and residue. Tonks held her wand like a conductor's baton in front of her, carefully manipulating the wind so that it carried the scent of it in a fixed circumference around her. The air currents lazily swept every nook and cranny, and she left no stone unturned. It was a delicate job, and it required a woman's touch.
At least, there patience was rewarded. A faint scarlet glow emanated some ways off from the trail. It was ground level, and partially hidden by the foliage, the light illuminating through the thin golden-green leaves. They made their way towards it. The footing was more difficult, with the tree roots growing thicker.
Tonks reached it first, and with a flick of her wand cleared the greenery that crowded out the light. The damp soil itself was aglow, indicating that the source of the light was underground.
"Here goes..." Tonks muttered as she pointed her wand at it, "Ninian retigo."
This part always weirded her out.
She took a step back as the loosened soil slowly began moving in a swirling motion, and sharp metallic spines rose into view as the ballast emerged. The roots that bordered the circumference of the site were shifting under the soil, and writhed like living serpents. They too were lifted from the ground as the spines rose, and when exposed, they no longer appeared to be roots, but rather something like black delivery tubes that were hooked up to comatose patients in muggle hospitals. They were drawn taut, and the object was fully revealed.
A heaviness in the air settled and the air around them briefly flickered, signaling the activation of privacy enchantments.
She canceled her invisibility charm, as did Mundungus.
The faux-roots were drawn taut and the object they were connected to was fully revealed.
The onyx column protruded from the ground at an angle, and might be mistaken for a creature by the spines that were pointed skyward from its back. All along the column the wires were connected to ports, giving it a biomechanical appearance. There were slits that resembled vents that gave a glimpse into its core. They bled the pulsing, crimson light that had drawn their attention to it. There were three bands of glassy obsidian encircling its length, bearing runes.
She knelt close to it and studied the etchings in the obsidian carefully, silently naming the runes in her head. Knowing the futhark by heart came in handy as it only took her a minute to recognize the three sequences.
Giving herself another minute to double-check herself, she stood up and took a step back.
"Okay. Test the Portkey."
Mundungus nodded and extracted a leather glove from his satchel by levitation. He held his hand out, and left it drop and land in his open palm. Nothing happened. It remained inert in his hand, looking like nothing more than a harmless glove.
That was another knickknack that Tonks had to look the other way for. Portkey use was strictly monitored by the Ministry's Department of Transportation, and attempting to activate one sparked a distinct flurry of magical activity. Underground dealers had learned how to design custom portkeys that were nice and quiet.
"Good! A lead that didn't lead to a dead end for once," Tonks said innocently.
"No problem – Hey!" Fletcher was indignant. "That was a backhanded compliment."
"Still a compliment."
She checked her watch.
"Alright, I'm checking up on Harry. Keep working on pinpointing the West Lothian site in the meantime."
"Got it," Fletcher said with a nod. "See you at the next meeting."
She nodded and delivered a casual salute as she turned on her heel and and Disapparated.
Monotony didn't have long to seep its way back into Harry's life.
The tempo of it had slowed to a crawl since the lakeside conversation with Tonks, with the exception of receiving Magnus Snow's letter. It had been short and sweet, but it was enough to capture his imagination. Something had finally overriden his obsession in his astronomy research, at least temporarily.
And just like that, things were the way they were during the previous summer. He had left school brimming with energy and a burning drive to understand all there was to the prophecy. He'd felt like he was making progress in some way, that days weren't simply expiring listlessly and he'd raised himself above scouring discarded for newspapers like a starved dog.
One hint of things starting to unfold, at being included in the affairs of the Order of the Phoenix, and all of the sudden he felt like he was regressing. Once again, it seemed that waiting on the sidelines was all he could do. It sapped even his interest in his star charts for the moment.
Mercifully, he knew that eventually Magnus would arrive in England, but the timeframe was... vague. There just wasn't much to go on, and there was little else from the wizarding world that he was in touch with.
Harry wondered if Time-Turners could be used in reverse - to propel oneself forward through time rather than backward. Then he could simply skip these excruciating periods of deadness and pick up right when things started heating up.
For example, he'd be able to fast-forward past what he was doing right now.
He was putting the finishing touches on a luncheon of a classic goose confit salad. His hands were stained from skinning the legs and removing the fat.
If there was anything about his upbringing he didn't completely regret, it was learning to cook. He knew a respectable number of recipes by heart by sheer repetition. When he was young, he'd thought it seemed like an activity real families did together. He knew better now; Petunia had regarded the time she spent with him in the kitchen as educating a housekeeper, the hired help.
"That's good enough, I'll take over," Petunia said curtly, striding in through the laundry room connected to the kitchen.
Harry pushed the cutting board he'd been shredding the meat on towards her and went to the sink to rinse his hands.
The sound of footsteps and grumbling had been filtering to the kitchen from the stairs and garage for the entire morning. He'd gathered that his cousin and uncle had been packing, but as usual none had bothered to fill in him.
Woooow, he thought in amusement. Even the Dursleys are leaving me out of the loop. Maybe I should just jump off a bridge or something.
He was drying his hands as Vernon stalked into the living room and plopped himself down onto the sofa. There was a click as he turned on the television and the noise of abruptly-interrupted audio of channel-flipping filled the living room. Harry had meant to return to his room and hit the books, but lingered, curious as to whether anything noteworthy was being covered.
"Damn it," Vernon grumbled. "Nothing worth watching as usual."
The opportunity was too good to pass up.
"Maybe you shouldn't be so sedentary," Harry suggested.
"I was saying that maybe you shouldn't be so sedentary," Harry said again. "Dudley beats up kids with his fists, I go on long walks, Petunia doesn't really do anything physical but she's not fat so she doesn't need to. What are you doing?"
"Watch your mouth," his uncle growled.
It had not been too long since Moody had met the Dursleys at King's Cross and his friendly reminder was still fresh on their minds.
"Why? I just don't want you to fall victim to heart disease," Harry said innocently. "Honest."
"Yeah dad," Dudley piped up, his voice floating from down the stairs. "Gotta stay in shape, the ladies love it."
Vernon had looked to be gearing up for a true spectacle of an explosion, but his son - however inadvertently - siding with Harry up seemed to have forestalled it, if not quite completely defused him.
But, as if just realizing the 'siding-with-Harry' part himself, Dudley wasn't quite done.
"And you too. Are all wizards so pathetically skinny? Don't they feed you well over there? If you dedicated an hour a day to weight training even, you wouldn't look like such a freaking weakling."
"That's right," Vernon said approvingly.
Harry's smile vanished as quickly as it had formed, wiped away by a twinge of self-consciousness. It wasn't like he was wanting for excuses. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizadry was a castle for pity's sake without a single gym, and it wasn't like Quidditch was any good for building muscle mass. But like it or not, his cousin did have a point.
"What, you offering?" he shot back.
And didn't I save your ass last summer?
Predictably, no answer came and, still scowling, Harry returned his attention to the telly.
British television was a disaster, in his opinion. Even when he was a little boy it failed to interest him and he pretended that he was upset at being banned from watching it. Advertisements for cars, car insurance, humdrum suburbanite soap opera-esque... dramas.
Riveting. There was no other word for it.
Vernon lingered on the weather channel, where coverage of the massive summer heat wave had been ongoing scarcely a week since Harry had returned.
"Christ, they might as well just set fire to the whole place and be done with it!" his uncle said with a scoff, "Boy! Did you have anything to do with this?"
"I swear this heat is due to completely natural causes," Harry said wryly.
Vernon waved him off, but his customary venom toward his nephew was half-hearted at best.
The air conditioning was running at maximum power and the curtains were drawn half-closed to block the worst of the incoming sunlight. It made him grimace to so much as look outside. The heat was severe enough and had lasted so long that Vernon had brought his beloved BMW inside the garage where it couldn't be admired by neighbors who were less wealthy.
"Guess there's no way for me to know," Vernon muttered, "... You know…"
Harry cocked his head, listening in consternation. The least hostile his uncle ever got toward him fell somewhere in the territory between 'brusqueness' and 'pretend the nephew doesn't exist', but the tone he heard from him now was more… regretful resignation.
"Dudders will be studying precalculus come fall… He'll be doing biology, chemistry, literature, and a foreign language, like a properly educated boy," Vernon continued, "...But we've no idea what kind of hogwash they've been filling your head with now."
His uncle's back was still turned to him and from Harry's viewpoint was still focused on the television.
"Is it still little floating tricks and the like?"
"Thought so… Eh, what do I care," Vernon said dismissively, bringing the odd moment to an end.
"Anyway… what are you guys doing that's got you so busy?" Harry asked, eager to change the subject.
"We'll be going to a beach house in Littlehampton," Petunia answered, putting a subtle but unmistakable emphasis on the 'we', making her meaning clear. "We're leaving tomorrow. We're almost ready except for one shopping trip I have to make."
She said the last part distastefully, as if her time was too valuable for her to stoop so low to make that trip.
"Oh. Just renting it for the summer?"
"If we like it enough, I'll buy it outright," he boasted.
"Give me the shopping list," Harry said suddenly.
Petunia looked at him as if though an alien had taken over her nephew's body.
"I said 'give me the shopping list'. It's just groceries, right?"
His aunt arched a thin eyebrow and glanced uncertainly at her husband but Vernon waved it off.
"Let him earn his keep," he uncle said, before addressing him directly. "Don't take long, boy."
If one were to ask what in the seven circles of Hell possessed him to volunteer to aid the Dursleys, Harry would be at an utter loss. A part of him had simply wanted to get away. But he could done that without any pretext, just walked off without his relatives giving a damn. Nor did he have a great desire to run errands for them out of any concern for saving his aunt time. Or maybe if he took care of this one task, they would leave sooner and he'd have the house to himself.
Yes. That's it.
He'd settle on that last piece of reasoning.
The doors to the grocery outlet slid open and he walked in, looking down at the hastily-scribbled writing on the piece of paper in his hands. He recognized the ingredients at a glance and began strolling through the aisles and picking up the relevant items as he went.
It'd be nice to go to the beach one day, Harry thought absently.
When he finally reached the age of majority, that would be the first thing he'd do.
Harry paused. He backtracked to the aisle he'd just passed and found himself facing Tonks in her teenage girl form. Dark-haired and fair-skinned with the same mischievous smile he remembered from their long conversation at Summerlake Park. This time she retained the violet eyes.
"Hey Tonk!" he siad with a smile, mood brightening substantially at the sight of her. "What brings you here?"
"Just wanted to keep you in the loop. You all done?"
He went to pay at the checkout. Tonks subtly slipped in a triad of candy bars into the amassed groceries. He noticed it, though he let it go, drumming his fingers while he waited. He glanced the newspaper stand and made a face at the array of glossy tabloid front covers. The same raunchy promises headlining over suggestive shots of famous faces.
He looked sideways, and smirked as he saw Tonks looking at a magazine proclaiming that it had a hold of the royal family's darkest, steamiest secrets.
He simply watched her for a solid ten uninterrupted seconds before she noticed.
"... it-it's just part of my undercover personality!" she protested, her voice a plaintive whine.
"I don't know," Harry said doubtfully as he accepted the change and groceries-filled plastic bags, "You seemed really into it."
"It's called 'method acting'!"
He made a beeline for the exit but wasn't fast enough to dodge the punch Tonks aimed at his shoulder. Still scowling, she fell into step beside him as they left the store and began the walk back to the house.
"So… has anything new happened?" Harry asked casually.
His facial muscles were in open rebellion against him and he was still fighting a losing battle to keep the smirk from returning.
"Yes," Tonks drawled, "I'll have you know I personally made some progress on the Magnus Snow side of things. Just today in fact."
That was enough to give Harry the upper hand in suppressing his grin.
"Nice," Harry said, "I, uh, actually got a letter from him... He said he looked forward to meeting me, but he was rather vague as to when… And come to think of it, you were too when you first mentioned him. Do you have any concrete dates?"
Tonks gave him a sympathetic look.
"I don't think I mentioned this before, but he's kind of in a horrific legal standing with the state. Getting him in has been a little tricky."
Harry frowned as they rounded a street corner.
"How tricky can it be just to get him into the country?"
"As it turns out, really, really, really hard. I wondered why myself, actually. After digging around a little, I found out he's an Exile."
"Exile?" Harry echoed.
The very word itself sounded archaic. It conjured up images of olden civilizations and harsher times when the scope of society was on the order of hundreds or thousands instead of millions. It resonated with him to no small extent - after all, there were times when he felt like one in the halls of Hogwarts. When suspicions were running rampant that he was the Heir of Slytherin. Being shown the badges proclaiming Cedric Diggory to be the true champion of Hogwarts in his fourth year.
"It's an alternative to a life sentence to Azkaban. For nonviolent offenders, and only then if it's not severe," Tonks explained, slipping her hand into one of the shopping bags and extracting a candy bar in one smooth motion, "Your records are sealed. Any mention of you in the press is retroactively obliterated. Academic articles get pulled from the shelves and are available only by special request. If you come back and get caught, it's the Dementor's Kiss without trial."
"I see," he said quietly, "I'm surprised he chose to come back at all."
"It's a big risk," Tonks agreed, biting into the candy bar. "It's a good thing it takes quite a bit to get yourself exiled, it doesn't happen that often anymore."
By instinct, his sympathies lay with Magnus despite how little he knew of him. Reaching out to him, Dumbledore's belief that his knowledge was important enough to devote the Order's resources for, and now this revelation that he was undertaking a substantial risk in order to meet him. These factors made Harry hopeful that he would be able to aid him.
"... Is that such a big priority though? Doesn't the Ministry have bigger things to worry about?"
Tonks chuckled in response, but it was humorless.
"You'd think so, right? But no. It's one of the oldest traditions of our world, stemming from the days of the Pendragon court. Unless society was literally falling apart that very second, nothing would delay the Kiss."
Harry quietly absorbed this as they passed by the cul-de-sac where the McKinleys lived. Tonks let the empty wrapper go and flutter away in the wind before she discretely magicked it out of existence with a flick of her wand.
"Anyway," Tonks changed the subject. "How're your relatives treating you? They haven't done anything to cross the line did they?"
"No. Just indifference and mutual sarcasm, which is how I like it."
"... Hey, how about introducing me?" A devious gleam shone in her eyes.
"Because it'll be hilarious?"
"I don't think so," Harry said bluntly, "They really hate anything that has to do with magic."
"I was mostly raised in the Muggle world too, I can pose as one no problem."
"... Okay. Well, in that case, Petunia will probably ask who your parents are and then try to set you up with my cousin, Dudley, who will try macking on you while simultaneously throwing insults at me. And Vernon won't care at all or will just go with his wife."
"Dudley sounds like an easy mark," Tonks theorized. "I'll get him all hot and bothered, and turn into the most hideous thing he's ever seen. What do you think?"
To be completely honest, that sounded like a good dosage of amusement to a terminally bored Harry. One well worth throwing his cousin under the bus for.
"Sure," he said calmly.
For the most part, Harry was on point. Vernon had answered the door and upon seeing Tonks, had opened his mouth to say something to try and sabotage. But he saw the laden bags Harry was carrying and remembered his nephew had done him a favor seemingly out of the goodness of his heart, and so shrugged and went back to his office upstairs. Petunia, to his surprise, was quite warm to Tonks in her guise, serving her refreshments (by making Harry do it). They politely made small chat until she went upstairs to discuss their vacation preparations with Vernon.
"You have such big muscles," Tonks said appreciatively, tossing her hair to the side.
Harry had been halfway on the mark when he'd predicted how Dudley would act. He'd enthusiastically engaged Tonks in conversation but the barbs he sent at Harry were few and relatively good-natured. Harry watched impassively as he played the third wheel, sipping from his glass of iced orange juice from the far end of the table.
"See that, Harry?" Dudley said loudly, "I know what I'm talking about."
"You're not even that fit," Harry remarked as Tonks poked at Dudley's side. "Still hauling plenty of excess fat, even if you are training for boxing."
"Just trying to give cousinly advice," Dudley muttered.
"Oh, what does he know..." Tonks whispered in a low, sultry voice, seeing the opening.
She leaned in to the unwary Dudley. Spellbound by her beauty, his cousin could only purse his lips.
Harry saw the transformation before his cousin did, and nearly retched, the citrus taste of his drink turning to acid in his mouth. Dudley physically recoiled from the hag-like face that was suddenly leering centimeters from his own.
"What's the matter, studly Dudley? I thought we were getting to know each other…" Tonks whispered seductively, batting her eyelashes.
"Wha-what happened?!" Dudley stuttered, eyes wide with fear. "What are you?"
"I'm a beautiful girl," the troll-like creature said, looking hurt, "I was just wearing a little bit of makeup, that's all."
Turning green in the face, Dudley shot to his feet and rushed to the door to the backyard.
A tiny voice in the back of his mind berated him for selling out his cousin, especially since he hadn't been a total asshat to him. But that was drowned out by the full-blown laughter he burst into as the door slammed shut, Tonks joining in a second later and reverting to the pretty form she'd initially charmed Petunia and Dudley with.
"Nicely done, a 'little bit of makeup'?" he gasped out. "That was great."
"I know, right?" Tonks said, grinning. "It just never gets old."
That was when the doorbell rang.
It wasn't long before heavy footsteps heralded Vernon's ill-tempered arrival. They both turned to look at the front door as it swung open. Harry craned his neck and caught a glimpse of his visitor beyond the wide frame of his uncle.
Right away he could tell that the man was from the wizarding world. It couldn't have been more obvious from the royal blue robes he wore, as well as the steepled wizard's hat which even at a distance he recognized as a toy replica of the Sorting Hat.
"Hello, this would be the Dursley residence, correct?" the man asked politely.
"What do you want and why are you dressed queer as the blazes?" Vernon demanded upon laying eyes on him, visibly restraining the urge to slam the door shut in his face.
The visitor apparently took this both as a confirmation and as an invitation. Stepping inside, he walked past the dumbfounded Vernon, looking around the interior of the house with great interest. He spotted Harry and smiled in relief.
He looked to be in his mid-twenties with unruly hair not unlike Harry's, though it was a dark brown, and the locks at the front were wavier and longer. He was tall enough for the upper half of the wizard hat to have been flopped over humorously by the doorframe.
"Harry Potter, I can hardly believe it," he said happily, "Oh wow, I am just so pleased to meet you. And honored, too."
Harry looked out the corner of his eye to see Tonks. She moved not an inch and seemed calm, but could see panic in her eyes. But she did not react other than trying to look casual.
The young man man cleared his throat as he reached them, removing the floppy hat and holding it in front of him in an old-fashioned gesture of respect.
"Well. My name is Anders. I am here in my official capacity as an Auror," he said formally, offering Harry his hand. "Did I say I'm glad to make your acquaintance?"
Thrown off by Tonks' unusual reaction but not discerning any threat, Harry accepted the handshake.
"Um, nice to meet you too," he said, matching Ander's formal tone.
The young man kept shaking his hand until Harry coughed.
"Wow, I'm just really flustered aren't I," Anders said hurriedly, letting go with a self-deprecating laugh. "And hi Tonks."
"Dammit," Tonks muttered.
Harry cocked his head in idle curiosity as his friend calmly slid her hand to the edge of the table and let it drop under the surface.
A moment later, she stood up with her wand drawn.
"Whoa," Harry said in alarm. "What are you doing?"
"How did you know to come here?" she demanded.
Anders raised his arms to show that he was empty-handed, looking at his colleague warily. He took a step backwards as Tonks rose, moving around the table and forcing him back into the living room area. Harry remained seated, stunned.
"I was told by none other than Albus Dumbledore," Anders said evenly. "Also, if I were a threat, the protections here would have triggered and I'd have been incapacitated long before reaching the doorstep of this house."
Tonks opened her mouth to respond, but Vernon had finally found his voice.
"You're one of them too?"
It was too much; he had reached his breaking point. He could hardly remember the last occasion he'd had so many freaks under his roof at once.
"That's it," he seethed. "Get the hell out of my house, all of you!"
"As you wish, Mr. Dursley..."
"We can talk outside," Harry said, heading to the door with the stony-faced Aurors following close behind.
Vernon glowered at them as they pushed past him one by one, and slammed the door behind them.
They stood in a semicircle under the shade of the oak tree in the front lawn, with Harry at the center and Tonks and Anders at either side. He looked between the two Aurors uncertainly. Tonks had lowered her wand, but still seemed agitated by the presence of the other Auror. For a minute, they simply watched each other in silence.
"How'd you recognize me?" Tonks finally asked, her eyes boring coldly into Anders'.
Her teenage form suddenly seemed much more mature and serious than Harry had thought her capable of looking.
"You tend to keep the purple eyes when you shift forms..." Anders mumbled.
Neither spoke after that.
"Let's cut to the chase, if that's alright with you," Harry said, addressing Anders. "Why are you here?"
The Auror straightened.
"Very well. I am an Officer Adjutant of the Aurors. I fall below the standing Director, Rufus Scrimgeour, on the chain of command. It is on his behalf that I'm here."
Harry motioned for him to continue, while Tonks remained silent.,
"He has heard things about you, Harry. In particular, he was very interested to learn that you wish to become an Auror after completing your studies at Hogwarts. Is this still true?"
"Of course," he said without hesitation. "I have to wait to see the results of my OWLs... but becoming an Auror is still my dream."
Anders smiled approvingly at the surety of Harry's answer.
"The matter of your grades can be discussed at a later date. At the moment, however, I am here because we may be able to help you."
A secretive thrill ran through him and he stood a little straighter, looking at Anders in a new light. His flustered, slightly unprofessional manner at meeting Harry for the first time had distracted him from a fact that was finally beginning to register. He was an Auror and held an apparently high rank at that and Harry was inclined to accord that the proper respect.
"Rufus and I, as well as the rest of the Auror leadership, know from the events of this year and last - given the Ministry's official admission of truth regarding your testimony at the end of the Triwzard Tournament - that You-Know-Who has an overriding interest in you. From our monitoring of data channels, the movements of key dark wizards and witches, and the tracking of Death Eater assets, it is very obvious that you are perhaps his highest priority target. The very top of the list."
His voice turned somber.
"Already skirmishes are being fought. Last week, three Aurors died when they intercepted bounty hunters searching for you... We regard your safety as a matter of national security. And as such, it is in our best interests and yours that you are able to defend yourself if the worst comes to pass."
He had spoken the last sentence very meaningfully.
Harry swallowed, suddenly feeling sick to the stomach.
Three Aurors dead...
Beside him, he could sense the minute movement as Tonks stiffened.
"Does Director Scrimgeour know Harry is here?" she asked tightly.
"Rufus does not. He agreed to Dumbledore's condition that only I be told. He is content, for now, to know that his words have reached Harry's ears."
But below the feeling of being sickened at the three deaths, there were butterflies, too, fluttering in excitement and uncaring of the tragic news.
Anders' words were leading to something... and Harry suddenly had an idea as to what.
The sudden arrival of a representative of the head of the Aurors, it was all too clear.
They had come to court him; of this, he was certain.
The only question remaining was:
What did they intend to offer him?
"Let us speak plainly, Harry..."
Anders met Harry's gaze directly, all trace of the mild and earnest man from before gone from his countenace. In its place was the face of an Auror, calculating, judging, and carved from stone.
"How would you like to use magic whenever you wish?"
Harry hardly dared to breath.
"Please," he found himself saying almost dreamily, even as he felt Tonks' stare burning into the side of his face, "Lead the way."
A/N: In the beginning of Half-Blood Prince, Scrimgeour sent owls to Dumbledore asking to see Harry. Here, Dumbledore allows it early on. So yeah. Please review if you enjoyed the chapter, help me keep my momentum and I'll do the rest.