Chapter 19: Getting Settled
The following morning once again found a flurry of movement around 12 Grimmauld Place as its occupants prepared for another day at work. Ginny would be accompanying them to the Ministry for her first Apparition lesson. These lessons had been specifically designed for those students from Hogwarts who had lost out on the chance to learn the previous year. Snape had probably stopped the sixth years from learning how to Apparate to stop any of them trying to escape from school. However, Harry wondered whether this was a safety measure Snape had tried to instill to protect the students from the Snatchers and other Death Eaters. It was likely that Snape had used the former reasoning should he be questioned by Voldemort and the latter when questioned by parents (should any be so daring as to try it).
Harry and Ron grabbed their rucksacks and filled them with items they might wish to keep at their desks. There were refills for the Skiving Snackboxes and extra Extendable Ears. They'd thrown in rolls of parchment, bottles of ink and quills. They packed some books they thought might make good references, including the ones that Sirius and Remus had given to Harry for Christmas the year they'd begun the D.A. Harry had included five photographs to put around his cubicle. There was the one of his parents' wedding with Sirius beside his father as best man, his favorite photo of his parents that looked like it had been taken in the Gryffindor Common Room, the one he'd found in Sirius's room of Harry as a baby riding around the toy broom with his father chasing after him, one of Remus, Tonks and Teddy and one that they'd taken at the beginning of the summer of Ginny and Harry holding Teddy. Hermione and Ginny spent a good deal of their time adding pockets, as Harry had requested, to Harry and Ron's Auror robes, while Harry and Ron packed. Hermione had shown Ginny some of the spells that she'd used on her beaded bag, so the robes were now feather-light. And although the pockets were still small, they would hold more than they appeared able to do yet not weigh the robes down.
"Harry, why don't we just make the pockets of the robes like my bag and that way you won't need so many of them?" asked Hermione, as she added yet another concealed panel into Ron's robes.
"Because, I want to be able to just grab what I need without a wand or rummaging around. If everything has its own compartment, then I won't have to fiddle," Harry said. He then told her that he wanted anything that might be used in combat, such as the Stunning Snares or the Darkness Powder to go on the right side (so that he could reach in with his left hand and keep his wand arm free) and the rest to go on the left for less time-sensitive circumstances.
Hermione proceeded to do as he asked, but looked at him askance. "Who exactly do you think you are? Batman?" she asked, clearly trying not to laugh.
Harry did laugh and admitted, "Well, the idea did come from remembering his utility belt."
She laughed so hard that she was barely able to hold her wand steady as she controlled her stitching.
Ron and Ginny, however, obviously thought that Harry and Hermione had gone barmy. "What's a batman?" asked Ginny, looking thoroughly confused. "Is it some sort of animagus who can turn into a bat?"
"Nah, he's just a muggle superhero Dudley and I used to watch on the telly when we were kids," explained Harry.
"Well, if that's where you got this idea to alter our robes, I guess I can't really complain," Ron said with a shrug.
Ginny and Hermione both added on special pockets that would each specifically carry the Invisibility Cloak and the Deluminator. Since they couldn't be sure which of them would need to use either item, both pockets were added for Harry and Ron's robes alike.
Before they knew it, the time had come to head to the Ministry. Harry took Ginny's arm for Side-Along Apparition on the step outside the front door and the four found themselves in the Atrium once again. There was some time to spare so they all decided to accompany Ginny to the Department of Magical Transportation on Level Six. They found a great number of students from Ginny's year milling around the Apparition Test Center, including Luna, who ran full-pelt at them.
"Daddy wanted to teach me himself," Luna said to Ginny, "but, I begged him to let me come here so that I could learn with you. Well, you know how he feels about the Ministry. I'm trying to convince him that it will be better with all of the changes."
She shrugged her shoulders as if to say that she hadn't yet gotten through to her father.
"How's your holiday been so far, Luna?" asked Ron.
"Oh, it's been quite lovely. We usually like to take a trip over the summer, but we really couldn't this year. With the magazine being shut down last year and having to repair the house, gold's a bit tight. Besides, I've only got about a month until school starts, so it would be too hard," she replied.
"You should stop by the joke shop sometime next week when I'm working," Ginny told her.
They visited for a few minutes before the instructor, clad in his yellow robes, showed up, asking them all to file into the classroom they'd set up. They said their good-byes. Harry kissed Ginny and promised he'd send her a memo letting her know where they'd be having lunch so that she and Luna could join them. Harry and Ron split from Hermione, as she got off the lift on Level Four, and continued up to Level Two where the Auror Department section of Magical Law Enforcement was.
Gawain was standing just outside of the door to his private office talking with Savage. He smiled upon seeing Harry and Ron. "We'll just have a quick meeting in the conference room."
Just as they had two days previously, all of the Aurors, now including Harry and Ron, filed into the large room. Once they'd all seated themselves, Gawain stood to address them. "I would like to now officially welcome you to the Auror Department, Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley."
There was polite applause but quite different expressions besieging them. Some of the Aurors looked excited, others looked wary and some were downright hostile in their gazes.
"Gawain, I have a few questions, if you don't mind," Harry said. Getting a nod of approval, he continued, "First I would like to ask if we were given the same exam that everyone else was, because it didn't seem all that difficult, to be honest. In many ways it reminded us of the obstacles guarding the Philosopher's Stone and we got through that when we were first years. I find it hard to believe that it would take three years to train someone to get through it."
"I've been given to understand that the protection around the Philosopher's Stone was meant to prevent a certain dark wizard from getting it, so I wouldn't be surprised if it was similar. But in answer to your question, it was indeed the same test that everyone has gone through. Much of it has been tweaked over the years, but ultimately very little has changed. You both passed your exams with extremely high marks. I looked through the files this morning. There are only a few who made it through the obstacle course with such speed and accuracy in the past fifty years. Alastor Moody and Kingsley Shacklebolt both barely beat you; Nymphadora Tonks…"
"It's Lupin, sir," interrupted Ron. Harry thought this was a rather moot point. They all still tended to call her Tonks, although spending time with Andromeda had given them an inclination to call her Dora. But he could understand that Ron didn't want them to forget that she'd married Remus Lupin.
"Ah, right, I'd almost forgotten that she'd married," said Gawain, apologetically.
"They were very close friends of ours, I was at their wedding. Besides, Harry's their son's godfather, so I don't think we'll forget anytime soon," Ron added.
"Does anyone want to see a photo of him?" Harry asked the room at large as nearly everyone was looking curiously at him and Ron. He was hoping to break any tension that might have erupted. Many of the Aurors nodded enthusiastically. He bent down and opened his rucksack to rummage around for it. He let them pass it around. Teddy's hair changed from ginger to black to blue as his parents passed him back and forth. Many of the Aurors laughed and commented about how much Teddy was like his mother as they viewed it. Harry carefully tucked it back into its proper spot once it had come back to him.
"So, as I was saying, she and Fabian Prewitt were right behind you," Gawain said, trying to continue his previous statement, but smiling widely.
Ron looked surprised and said, "Blimey, Mum never told me that Uncle Fabian was an Auror! That's really cool!"
Harry looked down to his left wrist at the watch she had given to him when he came of age. "Wow, I guess I never connected the two. This must be his watch, mustn't it? He and your uncle Gideon were in the original Order!"
Ron rolled his eyes and said, "Obviously, Harry. Who did you think they were?"
Harry shrugged his shoulders and realized that he'd never really had a chance to find out much about Molly and Arthur's families, aside from their children. He resolved to do so, not wanting to repeat the same mistakes he'd made regarding Albus.
"So anyway, we were speaking of Tonks…excuse me, Mrs. Lupin; you two will be replacing her and another Auror I fired from Latimer Proudfoot's team. He will be your immediate superior and guide you through your first few weeks here," said Gawain.
"That still completes my team perfectly, but are we going to fill the others out too?" Proudfoot asked, looking both pleased at his luck and yet sorry for the other teams.
"I do intend to continue with the hiring process, and I'm hoping to recruit more of those that were formerly in Dumbledore's Army. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait until the N.E.W.T. results come in before reviewing those applications. In the meantime, I'm sure that Harry and Ron will fulfill their roles nicely. Having even one full team will be a help. Remember that those two worked in close connection with Mad-Eye, Nymphadora and the Minister, so they've been well-taught."
"We didn't really work with them all that much, sir. While Dumbledore was alive, they were generally given the task of guarding Harry when necessary. Once Dumbledore was killed, we were basically on the run, so…" Ron said, trying to explain that although they'd known these Aurors personally over a few years, they hadn't actually been trained by them.
"I think it's a fair point, Ron, actually. Wasn't Dora inordinately proud of your performance during the Sky Battle last year? She was going on and on about how you'd stunned one of the Death Eaters in mid-air before we found out that Mad-Eye had been killed," Harry pointed out. "I think she'd be really proud of you."
He then turned to Gawain and said, "A few of our friends are going to be applying. You should seriously consider Seamus Finnegan, Dean Thomas, Michael Corner and Anthony Goldstein when you receive their requests. Dean was on the run like us last year and lasted until the same night that we were caught. Seamus helped the others run the D.A. and was crucial to its successes at Hogwarts. The same goes for Michael and Anthony."
Gawain nodded appreciatively and said that he would consult them when the time came. "You had another question, Harry?" he asked.
"We were under the impression that you would also be testing us on Occlumency and fighting the Imperius Curse," Harry responded.
"Ah, yes, I understand that you are both able to do this," Gawain said. "Although we expect our applicants to at least understand the rudiments of such things, we know that these abilities are difficult things to master. It would be a very small department indeed if we excluded people because they were unable to perform these tasks."
"Shouldn't at least everyone in the Auror Department be able to fight the Imperius Curse and be able to use Occlumency?" asked Ron, clearly stunned at this attitude. "I could understand if it might not be entirely important for the rest of the departments, but surely for this one it should be essential!"
"Could you test me on Occlumency anyway, Gawain?" Harry asked nervously, deliberately deflecting the conversation. Perhaps Ron had forgotten their talk with Kingsley at the party. This was still something that Kingsley was trying to fight for and it could take a great deal of time and energy to succeed. They should do their best not to undermine Kingsley's efforts.
"Haven't you been employing Occlumency for a long time, Harry? Why would you wish me to subject you to it again?" Gawain said.
"I've only ever blocked out Voldemort and I don't know if it would be different with someone else."
Gawain looked taken aback and said, "But he was one of the best Legilimens in the world! If you could fight him, you could fight anyone."
Harry turned at Ron for support, who urged him on with his eyes. "It's different. I'm not sure if the method I used to block out Voldemort would work otherwise. When Professor Snape taught me, I was never able to fight him with my mind. I resorted to my wand on the rare occasions when I was able to stop him. When I learned to control Voldemort's…invasion, I suppose you could call it, into my head, I allowed my emotions to guide me. But that's the exact opposite of how Occlumency should be used. I let my feelings of love and grief overtake me so that I could pull out of Voldemort's mind. With Occlumency, you're supposed to shut down your emotions. That's why I think it might be different somehow. Please, Gawain, the Minister said that you could perform Legilmency sufficiently."
"Are you sure, Harry?" Gawain asked. Harry nodded; Gawain raised his wand and said, "Legilimens!"
Harry tried to use the same process that he did when faced with a Dementor and controlling his wand. He felt Gawain begin to prod into his mind, images of the Battle of Hogwarts flickering. Harry didn't want Gawain to see those thoughts and so shut them down with all of his might. They ceased to run before his eyes and he looked across the room to where Gawain sat.
"That was quite remarkable, Harry. Are you still unconvinced?" Gawain asked, looking heartily satisfied.
"No, I guess it works. Thank you," said Harry, feeling humbled.
"Can you test me too, please?" asked Ron
"Certainly, Mr. Weasley," said Gawain. He raised his wand again, this time pointing it at Ron and saying "Legilimens!"
Ron seemed to struggle more with having his mind probed than Harry had, but then he hadn't had anywhere near as much experience at this as Harry. When Gawain finally stopped, Ron was looking horrified and Gawain was blushing quite a bit. The two shared a look of understanding, and neither of them said anything for a few moments, until Gawain cleared his throat quite loudly and continued on as though nothing had happened.
"As for the Imperius Curse, if you both will sign the parchment in front of you," Gawain added, said parchment appearing before them, "I will test you when you least expect it. It is not something you have to do, but if you'd like to, I can allow it. You will have commendations put into your records should you succeed."
They both signed without hesitation before Gawain dismissed the meeting. Latimer Proudfoot then asked that his team remain seated so that he could speak with them privately for a few minutes. Harry noticed that all but those who were seated around him and Ron departed.
"So, this was originally Kingsley's team. I took over once Kingsley, I mean the Minister, was promoted to Senior Auror two years ago. Tonks and I worked quite a bit together before she went on leave last year. She obviously didn't tell me your secrets or anything about the Order of the Phoenix, but she did talk about you two and your friends quite a lot. I specifically asked Gawain if you could be allowed to join our team because I think you will be a good addition," Latimer said. Harry noticed that on his robes, underneath Latimer Proudfoot, it said Auror Team Leader. He had sandy blond hair, blue eyes and appeared to be in his forties. Harry remembered Tonks saying that she was stationed in Hogsmeade with Proudfoot to protect the school during his sixth year at Hogwarts. He wondered if Latimer was in any way related to Pansy Parkinson as he shared the same pug nose that she had.
They were introduced to the four people who had followed them through the Practical Exam. Harry squirmed in discomfort as he realized that these were the people he'd accidentally stunned when he and Ron had been attacked by the snakes. Raleigh Ferguson, in his mid-fifties, looked as though he was of Scottish descent and had dark brown hair and green eyes. Like Mad-Eye, there were a few battle scars adorning his features. He still had suspicion on his face as he shook hands with Harry and Ron. Luckily, the rest of the team seemed to be much friendlier and smiled as though they were proud to welcome the young people. Dominic Milburn had blond hair and grey eyes, as well a pointed chin that reminded Harry of Draco and Lucius Malfoy. Beulah Putnam was certainly the youngest, perhaps in her late twenties, with dark skin and deep brown eyes. Her hair had been straightened and sleeked in a short cut close to her head. Eleanor Renwick was a bit older, in her forties perhaps, but she had a well-cared-for look about her. She had rich auburn hair although there were a few strands of gray scattered about, a lot of freckles and dark blue eyes. Her hair style was mid-length, falling just below her shoulders in waves.
As they all got up to head back in to the main area, Harry held Ron back a little, and in a low voice so that only Ron could hear, asked him, "Why did you and Gawain look like you were both about to die after he tried to read your mind?"
Ron blushed madly and chose to look at the floor rather than at Harry. He responded, "Erm, well, to begin with, he did start to read my mind, and he first saw us laughing at the house. Then he saw me and Hermione on our own, then us kissing and then us doing some, er, other things…that's why…" Ron chanced a glance at Harry who looked back at him and then said, "I really wish I hadn't asked." Ron let out a nervous laugh which Harry returned and they continued to follow the others in to the main room with awkward smiles on their faces.
They followed the others to a set of cubicles in a line just outside of the door to Senior Auror Dawlish's office. Proudfoot sat at the end nearest the office. Beside him there would be Ron, then Beulah, Dominic, Raleigh, Harry, Eleanor. There was a space between their team and the next team. They shared the front wall of their cubicles with yet another team. The cubicles continued to expand out, until they reached the other side of the room where Gawain's office stood.
Eleanor smiled at Harry as she showed him his seat. There was already a pile that was at least a foot-high of letters on the desk top. "They were supposed to clear this off!" she said indignantly and called Latimer over.
"Ah, yes, Kingsley sent over Harry's mail from the summer. It's all been checked by the Post Service. I'm sorry, Harry, I guess he thought you wouldn't want to be bothered by it while you were at school," Latimer explained.
Harry's mouth fell open in shock and a look of disgust marred his features. "Why did he think I would want to be bothered by it now?" Harry asked. He raised his wand to vanish all of the correspondence. Ron, having walked over to see what the commotion was, knocked Harry's hand aside.
"Hang on, Harry, what if some of it's useful?" Ron said.
"Ron, we've been over this before. How do we know there aren't any curses and such inside of these? And of what use could they possibly be?" Harry asked.
"I assure you, Harry, that all of these have been checked and probably triple-checked before being sent here for you. There is no way any of them are cursed," said Latimer in an assuring tone. "But I'm glad that you are already in a mindset of not just taking everything at its face value.
"Harry, we can be careful opening them just to be on the safe side, and if some of them do turn out to be from people who mean you harm. Shouldn't we see what we can learn from them?" asked Ron.
Harry couldn't deny the truth in that and remained silent. He looked at the huge stack and felt a headache coming on at the thought of going through all of them. He absentmindedly rubbed his forehead, closing his eyes.
The next thing he knew, he was being shaken. Ron had seized Harry's upper arms, and as Harry opened his eyes, he could see Ron's terror.
"Ha-Ha-Harry, are you okay?" whispered Ron.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Harry said with great confusion.
"Your scar! You were just touching your scar and closing your eyes! Why is your scar hurting?" he asked, in a quiet and fearful tone, looking into Harry's eyes.
Harry's hand immediately dropped to his side. He blinked stupidly a few times, shook his head and replied, "Ron, my scar can't hurt. Even if Voldemort were alive, it couldn't hurt. That part is gone, remember? I reckoned a headache was coming on and I suppose I just associate any pain in my head with the scar."
"You're…you're sure, Harry?" asked Ron, still clearly terrified to the bone.
"Yeah, sorry if I scared you; I didn't mean to," Harry said. Mulling around for a change of subject, he said, "Ron, I really don't want to read about how people are grateful for what I've done. I don't want to read about what horrible things happened the last few years, and I don't want to read about why I didn't stop things sooner than I did."
Ron's expression changed from one of fear to one of pitied understanding. Then he waved his own wand and the pile of correspondence disappeared. "I sent them home. Hermione, Ginny and I can take care of it. You don't have to read them."
"Thanks," Harry said, gratefully. He couldn't let them do it all on their own though. "Maybe it won't be so bad if we all do it together."
Ron nodded and turned to go back to his own desk. No one seemed to know what to say, now looking at either Harry's empty cubicle or his forehead. Harry felt very self-conscious about his scar to begin with and now he'd gone and given everyone a new reason to look at it. He was suddenly extremely grateful that the second killing curse had hit him in the chest so that the mark wouldn't be seen by most people.
"Could you show me what all of these things are for, Eleanor?" Harry asked.
"Sure! So here are your memos. If you need to send something to someone, you just write the name of the person and the department on the wings and tap it with your wand. It'll fly to the person automatically. Why don't you go ahead and try it out?" she suggested, trying to look anywhere besides Harry.
He wrote a brief note to Hermione, telling her that he was testing out his memo system and asking her what she wanted to do for lunch. He smiled as it whizzed out of the room of its own accord.
"Very good, not too difficult, eh?" she said encouragingly, seeming to forget about the incident with Harry's scar. She also showed him the drawers and explained some of the forms to him. "This one is if you have to use a spell or something that we're not supposed to."
Harry scratched his head and asked, "You mean, like an Unforgivable or something?"
"Well, we're really not supposed to use those at all. It's understood, of course, that there are extreme circumstances but there's a separate form for those. This is more for if you have to use a spell against a muggle, for instance, or if you use Veritaserum," she said. She searched through her desk and handed him a sheaf of parchment that detailed the things they could and couldn't do, circumstances under which they were acceptable and how to fill out the forms.
There were also forms that needed to be filled out if they arrested a suspect, interrogated someone, opened a case, closed a case, and the list went on and on. In fact, of the two filing drawers beside his chair, one was completely full of forms in hanging folders. There were other folders that were empty, but would hold completed forms once he had some to put in them.
She showed him his trays as well. There was a set of in-trays stacked high with names on them. There was his Team Leader, Latimer Proudfoot; his Senior Auror, John Dawlish; the Head of the Auror Department, Gawain Robards; the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Cyrus Burke; the Minister of Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt; and a number that were as yet unnamed. She explained that the ones that were unnamed would fill in as he worked and it became apparent who he corresponded with the most often. As the notion sank in, two of the blank slots changed to Junior Auror Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger, House-Elf Relocation Department.
They both laughed and she said, "Yes, well that's generally the way it works. The tower will grow higher and even sprout another if you need more."
She pointed to her own desk where she had three stacks, each one nearly reaching the top of the divider between their desks.
"You can go ahead and put your things away," Eleanor said, pointing to his rucksack. "Once you're done, let me know and I'll get you started on some of the cases that we're working on."
Harry opened an empty drawer. He used his wand to divide it into compartments. They'd been told that they should always keep a set of muggle clothes at the office, so he used the spell Hermione and Ginny had shown him to shrink his jeans, t-shirt and jacket, tucking them into a back corner. On top of them he put a spare set of Auror robes and his plum Wizengamot robes since it would be easier to change there and go down to the courtrooms than to go home on the occasions he needed to attend. Then he used another compartment to hold the back-ups for his products from the joke shop; but once he'd put everything in it, he covered it all with a Disillusionment Charm and an Anti-Summoning Spell.
He'd made more compartments than necessary. He didn't know what would come up so he simply left most of them empty. There was a smaller drawer below the desk, just above his chair where he stowed spare quills, ink bottles and rolls of parchment. The books he threw haphazardly along the back of his desktop. He knew Hermione would despair at the lack of order, but thankfully she wouldn't have to use his desk and would therefore, hopefully, have no cause for censure. He placed the Sneakoscope in a corner. He set the pictures he'd brought with him around the cubicle walls so that he could see each one easily. He looked around with satisfaction before turning back to Eleanor, who was writing on a form and vaguely tapping a bunch of memos with her wand.
He suddenly had an urge to get up onto his desk and moo like a cow. That couldn't be right, could it? Harry thought. Then he recalled the sensation of being Imperiused and was unsuccessful at keeping in a laugh.
"Are you okay?" Raleigh asked from Harry's left, with the air of someone who'd been interrupted from some very important business.
"Yeah, Gawain just wanted me to act like a cow," Harry said, looking at Raleigh with an amused grin.
Raleigh raised a brow and Harry explained, "He told us he would try to Imperius us when we least expected it."
"Oh, right. So, you fought it then?" he asked in his gravely voice.
"Well, yeah, obviously I didn't get up onto my desk and moo like a cow," Harry said. The man looked utterly uninterested, so Harry turned to Eleanor.
"All done," he told her, hoping he wasn't interrupting.
She looked up pleasantly and said, "Great! So, let me tell you about the first case that's been assigned to our team."
But Harry had no sooner spoken as what seemed like a hailstorm of interdepartmental memos fell into various slots of his in-tray. The first was from Hermione.
Yesterday I had lunch with my coworkers in the Elf Relocation Office. We went down to the Canteen. Could you meet us there at 12:30? I'd really appreciate it as they're quite a dull lot. Let me know and I'll send a note on to Ginny and Luna. Or would you rather have lunch with Kingsley and Arthur? Either way, I'll be happy.
Harry slid back on his chair, so that the wheels on the bottom moved him away from his desk. "Ron, do we want to have lunch with Hermione in the Canteen? She reckons we could go up to Kingsley's office otherwise," he said.
"Yeah, let's try the Canteen. We can't keep going up to see Dad everyday; people might think we're strange, you know?" Ron replied.
Harry grunted, figuring that everyone probably thought that they were strange already, and quickly scribbled a memo to Hermione that they would meet her in the Ministry cafeteria and let it fly off towards the lifts.
The next four memos were from the Wizengamot Administration Services appearing in a new slot allocated specifically for that department, giving times and locations of trials, forums and voting sessions for the coming week. Harry jotted everything down in the daily planner that Hermione had given to him. The last was from Gawain, asking Harry and Ron to come to his office once they'd arranged their desks to their satisfaction.
"Ron, are you almost done?" called Harry.
"Yeah, did you get this note from Gawain?" Ron asked.
"We'll be right back," Harry said to Eleanor as he and Ron headed for Gawain's office. Harry knocked on the door when he and Ron reached it, "enter" came the response, as they entered Harry looked around the room and was a bit surprised when there was only Gawain in the room. "You wished to see us?"
"Ah, yes, come on in," Gawain greeted them. "Well, I didn't hear any insane laughter from the room, so it's safe to assume that you both resisted?"
Harry and Ron looked at each other and laughed. "Yeah, although I was very close," Ron admitted. "I had one foot raised to jump onto my desk before I caught it."
Ron looked a bit embarrassed by his confession.
"If you fought it within that short amount of time, I'd say that was good…very good, in fact," Gawain said, looking pleased.
"So, how did things go last night, Gawain? I didn't want to ask you in front of everyone," Harry said, dismissing the topic.
With a look of disappointment, Gawain said, "No luck, so far, but we'll figure it out eventually. I have a list here, showing who will be guarding the department which nights. I have you separated because I know that both of you are completely loyal and I've given each of you people that we're very unsure of. In fact, we've limited their clearance, so they could very well be behind what you saw the other night."
They discussed the situation for a while coming up with ideas of how to set traps during these nighttime shifts.
"I wanted to talk to you sometime today about my schedule. I'm only working here part-time, because I need to help my brother with his store. Harry has enough with the Wizengamot and my sister will be going back to school. So we agreed that I would work with George," Ron said. They were both nervous that Gawain had forgotten the agreement they'd come to with Kingsley at the beginning of the summer regarding this.
"Yes, what days would you like to work?" Gawain asked looking slightly crest fallen. It seemed apparent that he'd hoped something had changed, but that he wouldn't go back on the deal that had been agreed upon.
"Uh, why don't I come in Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday? The busiest days for the shop are on the weekends, so that would probably work best for me," Ron said, half-asking.
Gawain agreed and sent them back out to their desks. "Are you in trouble?" whispered Eleanor to Harry, once he'd regained his seat.
"Nah, he just wanted to talk about the Imperius Curse he'd tried to use on us," Harry told her. She was immensely curious about it and was duly impressed when she realized that neither he nor Ron had succumbed to it.
"Can you teach me how to do that? I think I was Imperiused a few times last year, and it was just awful. I remember wanting to make it stop, but I wasn't able to," she said, looking at Harry hopefully.
Harry felt very awkward now. "Uh, well, see, er…I'm not supposed to put people under the Imperius Curse."
"But how did you two learn how to fight it anyhow?" she asked, her mouth making a little 'o' as she guessed that Harry had used that curse.
He explained how Barty Crouch Jr. had impersonated Moody and taught them all about the Unforgivable Curses. Harry also told her that Voldemort had tried to Imperius him in the graveyard as well.
Then she said, "But that was so long ago. How did you know you could still do it?"
Harry didn't know how to respond and was saved from answering by the arrival of an owl. He recognized it as Andromeda's tawny barn owl, Magnus. His heart began to beat rather faster than normal in his chest, wondering what was so urgent that Andromeda needed to contact him at the Ministry.
"It's okay, Harry," said Ron, to whom the owl had flown. "It's just from Mum."
He untied the parcel the owl had been carrying and opened the letter that was attached to it. "Hey, it's for all of us!" said Ron excitedly.
He moved over to Harry's cubicle and read the note aloud, so that Harry could hear.
Dear Ron, Harry and Hermione,
I've been working on these all summer, so I hope that you like them. Colin took many of the pictures and they were sent on by Dennis, but some of them are mine. I wanted you to have something special for your desks as you begin your new careers. I watched the three of you grow up together. Never have I seen such young people who are so dedicated to not only each other but to their cause. Your gifts are to remind you of how much you have grown so far and to urge you to continue to grow. I can't tell you how PROUD Arthur and I are of the three of you. You've become two excellent wizards and an extraordinary witch. Arthur and I will always be here for you. We'll see you soon.
Molly and Arthur
"Ugh, how embarrassing! I can't believe I just read that out loud!" Ron complained, looking as though he'd just sucked on a lemon. Many of the witches and wizards around them were struggling to hold in sniggers. Harry wasn't sure if they were inclined to laugh because it was sappy or because of Ron's reaction; perhaps it was both.
Harry wanted to retort, but his throat had constricted too much.
Harry took the package from Ron and opened it rather delicately. He pulled out three enormous black plaques from the box, set them on the desktop and then stepped back next to Ron as they both took the photo compilations in.
Harry could tell the two that were supposed to go to Ron and Hermione. Each one had a picture of Ron and Hermione as first-year Hogwarts students, posing on the front steps to their respective houses (presumably taken by proud parents). Ron was waving out of his but Hermione was just standing still with a happy smile, probably because it had been developed with Muggle methods.
Harry's began with a picture of him and his Quidditch team dressed smartly in their red and gold robes all smiling and waving out of the frame at him and he smiled looking at all of their faces, lingering longer on the twins and trying to guess which was which as he couldn't tell one from the other in his first year.
Otherwise all three were identical. It reminded Harry of a large frame containing compartmentalized pictures that was common in the Muggle world. Along the right side of the frame, there were pictures of Harry, Ron and Hermione together in progression, aside from the childhood pictures for Ron and Hermione. They began with their second year and moved down to the sixth. Harry assumed that this was what Molly had meant when she said that Colin had taken many of them, but he'd never even known that the pictures had been taken at all. There was one more picture below that of their sixth year and it seemed to have been taken at Harry's seventeenth birthday party since the cake could be seen occasionally. On the left side of the frame there were three large pictures. The one on the bottom was of Harry, Ron and Hermione in their Golden Trio robes in front of Minerva McGonagall in the Great Hall. The middle one was the one they had all posed for at Bill's wedding. The top one was different from anything they'd ever seen. Although Wizarding pictures always had moving subjects, this one differed. The picture itself changed every ten seconds or so to a new one. These pictures were all different, depicting all sorts of things that had happened over the years. Harry and Ron both laughed as one flashed of Ron belching slugs from their second year. The next one was of the Room of Requirement showing Ron and Hermione dueling one another. And so it continued on.
"Wow!" was the only thing that Harry could say.
Ron just nodded, as Harry pinned his own to one of the walls of his cubicle. "We just look so…so…" Ron sputtered, pointing at some of the earlier pictures.
"Young, innocent?" suggested Harry.
"Yeah," replied Ron thickly. He picked up his own and walked back to his desk to pin it up. They could only imagine the time and expense that Molly had exhausted in creating these as he rearranged the photos he'd already placed around his desk.
Harry could see Molly's impeccable embroidery around the edges of the frame. He had originally thought it was tiled, but it wasn't. It was fabric, and she'd etched The Weasley Family and The Golden Trio all along the borders. He couldn't help but feel touched as he ran his fingers over the words in wonder.
"May I see?" Eleanor asked curiously, peering over to have a look. "It's really wonderful, isn't it?"
"She's the best. Ron's mum always knows what we need. She's always been there, even for Hermione and me," Harry said.
"You can definitely see the change in all of you as time goes by," she commented with a smile on her face, her eyes moving, following the pictures down through time.
Harry said, "Yeah, well, that's what happens when you grow up isn't it?"
"Yes, but this isn't just normal adolescent changes and growing," she said, looking through them again. She seemed to be mesmerized as she continued to gaze.
"Here, I see three normal kids," she said, pointing at a picture that was likely taken at the end of their third year. The trio positively beamed as they waited for the Hogwarts Express, obviously gloating about their rescue of Sirius. Then she pointed at the one below, and Harry had a sinking feeling that it had been taken after the end of the third task of the Triwizard Tournament when he'd seen Cedric be killed. "But, this can't have been taken much longer after that, yet you look so different."
"I suppose watching a friend die might do that," Harry said softly, wanting to stop looking at the pictures yet unable to tear his eyes away.
"In this one you all look defiant and ready to take on the world. It's lovely!" she said, in reference to the fifth year picture. Harry recognized himself, with Ron and Hermione, in the Room of Requirement at the end of a D.A. lesson. Harry was talking about the importance of having faith in oneself and having hope when there wasn't any to be had. He knew that Colin must have taken that photo, just as he must have taken the others. While he looked at the others with fond memories, this one seemed to haunt him somehow.
The one to represent their sixth year seemed to have been taken sometime between Dumbledore's death and the funeral. Harry was on the floor with his head in Ginny's lap as she leaned against a sofa, upon which Ron and Hermione were sitting, looking down at them. The looks on their faces in this picture told of their fear and mourning. Harry decided to stave off any comment Eleanor might make by saying, "I think Professor Dumbledore had just died."
"We were lost and alone with no one to turn to but each other," he said. He knew that he could actually talk to Albus now, but they had all agreed that this shouldn't be common knowledge. Harry certainly hadn't known it then and still sometimes felt furious knowing that they might have had Albus's counsel when they'd truly needed it most.
Harry realized that he ought to simply tell her what the rest of the pictures were about before he could hear what she had to say. He looked at the last one on the right side. "That was my birthday last year. Ron's mum made a big cake, but then Scrimgeour showed up and tried to ruin the party. But you can see…look…there's Tonks!"
She looked closer and smiled sadly. "I miss her so much! She was always so much fun to be around. She looks just marvelous in that picture."
Harry looked closer and then remembered thinking that Remus had seemed rather upset that night. He watched the two in the photograph and realized it.
"Of course! That must mean…" Harry cried. "Ron, Ron, look at the picture from my birthday party!"
"I did," replied Ron, his tone unusually quiet, from his own desk.
"Did you look at Remus and Dora?"
"Uh, well, no, I guess I didn't," Ron said. Harry thought that Ron had probably been looking at Fred, who was talking fast and furiously with George in the photo.
"How much do you want to bet that she had just told him she was pregnant?" asked Harry.
Ron cocked a brow at Harry as though to ask how he had surmised this much from a photo and then looked at it closely. Ron was nodding his head enthusiastically, "I think you're right! He keeps switching from looking at her happily to looking really worried."
"Hmph, he should have been worried" Raleigh sneered, "Imagine a werewolf and a perfectly nice young woman together!"
Harry squeezed his fingers into his palms so that his nails dug in, trying not to rise up to the bait that had just been presented to him.
Harry smiled pleasantly and said, "Teddy's in excellent health and Lycanthropy can only be passed through biting during the full moon."
Raleigh made no indication that he'd heard Harry at all.
Eleanor seemed to be rather displeased with Raleigh's comment as well and pressed on looking at the pictures. She seemed to be looking at the last one from the ceremony, the morning following the final confrontation known now as The Battle of Hogwarts.
"Is that really you?" she asked, squinting down at the photograph.
Harry was quite glad that no one had thought to take pictures the night before since they had looked much worse, their faces blackened and their robes hanging in tatters over them. Then he realized that Colin had been killed the previous night and Dennis had been evacuated so there hadn't been anyone to take any photos. They hadn't looked much better the next day however, as he looked closer. Even a few weeks of solid meals at Shell Cottage hadn't undone the damage they'd inflicted on their bodies during the months of eating what they could find without exposing their location. Their cheeks were sunken and their robes fitted rather loosely. Harry and Ron's hair hung past their shoulders. Ron had since allowed his mother to cut his hair to what she considered a respectable length. Harry had resisted her attempts when Ginny had declared that she liked it longer. She did however trim it, so that it barely touched his shoulders. He thought it looked a bit neater and didn't stick up in the back so much as it had when it was shorter.
But Eleanor was looking between the last photograph and the rest. She didn't seem to be looking so much at their appearances, but more the look in their eyes. Then she pointed at the wedding photo and asked, "How come you're not in that one?"
"I'm in it; hang on," Harry said, scanning the people. "I don't really remember what I looked like that day. Ah, there I am," he said, pointing at the one person he didn't recognize.
"They made me use Polyjuice Potion just in case there were any spies around," Harry said. "It was probably a good idea since Scrimgeour was killed during the reception. We got out of there just in time before the Death Eaters showed up. Luckily no one but the family knew I'd been there or they probably would've been tortured."
"I see. So what are you two doing for lunch?" Eleanor asked, obviously sensing the tension. "We usually go to the Canteen together."
"Well, we were planning to meet Hermione in the Canteen so I guess she could join us, if that's alright?" Harry replied.
"It sure is. I'd love to meet her!" Eleanor replied.
"You were coming to the Ministry before this though, weren't you? I remember seeing you at the Wizengamot," she added, as though trying to recollect whether or not she'd seen him at the cafeteria downstairs.
"I did attend the Wizengamot quite a bit before I went back to school, but I either ate with Kingsley or went home for lunch," Harry explained.
"You know, it's funny, but I never really got much of a chance to know the Minister. We were on the same team quite awhile, but for the last few years he seemed to keep mostly to himself, except when he would stop by Tonks's desk," she said, pointing at the desk Harry now occupied. Harry thought this should feel weird, but he'd become so accustomed to inheriting things that decided not to worry over it. Eleanor didn't seem to notice anything and continued, "It's strange around the office here too, because so many people worked with him. People are always trying to correct themselves from calling him by his first name."
Harry grinned over at her, and out of the corner of his mouth, said, "Just call him Kingsley, as you've always done. We try to be more formal so that it doesn't seem odd that a bunch of kids are calling him by his first name. In public, he doesn't argue, but he does get rather upset when we mention it at private gatherings."
"And he hates the fanfare just about as much as I do," Harry said, almost as an aside.
She laughed heartily and said, "So should I be mean to you instead?"
"I didn't say that. You've been very nice and helpful to me getting settled in," Harry told her. "Frankly, I wasn't sure if I should be scared or not coming in today, but you've all been friendly enough so far!"
"But you're Harry Potter! I didn't think you would be afraid of anything!" she said.
Harry tried to process her words. He looked at her to see if she was possibly joking, but she looked truly astonished. "Of course there are things that I fear. Everyone's afraid of something," he reminded her. "Besides, perhaps being Harry Potter gives me more reason to fear."
"But you faced You-Know-Who himself. How could anything be more frightening than that?" she asked plainly.
"Facing Voldemort was never an easy thing and it was definitely frightening at times. It's not easy to walk to one's death, after all. But there are things that scare me much more than anything he ever did when it was just the two of us."
"How could you not be scared of him?" she asked, her brows knitted and her eyes indicated she was trying to comprehend such a thing.
"I was scared of him!" he said indignantly. Then he seemed to remember her original question and said, "Well, like I said, I wasn't scared to face him personally. The worst he could do was torture or kill me. I could handle that. I was more afraid of what he could do to the people that I cared about than I was about anything else. I couldn't prevent him from killing people and I couldn't stop him from sending his Death Eaters to do the same. So, yes, he scared me.
"On the other hand though, the Ministry of Magic scares me too, because for as long as I've known it, it's been corrupt. I had either Fudge telling everyone I was off my rocker or else Scrimgeour trying to get me to lie to everyone and be his poster boy. I know it's better now, but that doesn't make it any less scary."
"That makes sense," she said, although she seemed to still be thinking. Her watch chirped, she smiled and shouted, "Lunchtime!"
Even now, the prospect of decent food was extremely welcome and so Harry and Ron headed down to the Canteen, which was on the Atrium Level, followed closely by their new team. The cafeteria was packed with a wide assortment of witches and wizards all seated at different sized tables wearing different colored robes. Harry led the way to a long line to get himself a tray of food.
"Stan!" Harry exclaimed, recognizing the pimply-faced youth serving the many witches and wizards in the cue. Stan, of course, had once acted as the conductor for the Knight Bus, but had been Imperiused by the Death Eaters and couldn't control his actions during the war.
Stan looked up from dollopping what could only just pass as mash potatoes on to someone's plate. Seeing that it was Harry, he froze, his eyes bulged out in disbelief and he dropped the ladle he had in his hand, making the very watery mash fly everywhere. Fortunately Harry was still far enough away that he wasn't hit, but the person Stan was serving was not so lucky, and he wasn't happy.
The man was from the same department as Hermione, judging by his dark green robes. "Look at what you've done to my robes, you clumsy fool!" the man shouted.
"I-I'm sorry, sir, I didn't mean to drop it. I… I was just shocked, I…"
"Shocked, shocked by what, your own shadow?" the man shouted again.
By this time, most of the people having lunch had turned in their seats to watch what was going on. As the man continued to rail at Stan, a small group of people appeared next to him, including Hermione. Harry assumed that the rest of them must be her co-workers. They started trying to calm the man down.
"Bernard, please, he obviously didn't mean to drop it, and he certainly had no intention of splashing you with whatever this is," said a mousy-haired woman who was about half the size of Bernard.
Bernard was still fuming when another man appeared behind the serving counter. Harry assumed that this must be Stan's boss as he surveyed the situation and immediately took out his wand and waved it through the air, making all of the mash vanish, including that which was on Bernard's robes.
Now that his robes were clean again, Bernard calmed down somewhat and thanked the man who had cleaned them for him before walking over to pay for his lunch and then strolling off with all of his colleagues, all except for Hermione who stayed back with Harry and Ron. Stan's boss had now rounded on Stan, and in a harsh kind of shouting whisper, said, "What the devil were you playing at, Stan?"
"I..erm..I, I was just…" Stan started to splutter before Harry stepped in and said, "Sorry, sir, it was my fault. I just surprised him, and he dropped the ladle and then all of that happened. I'm sorry for causing so much trouble."
Stan's boss now looked the same way Stan had a few minutes ago when he realized that it was Harry who was speaking. "No…no problem Mr. Potter, no harm done, easily fixed," he finally managed to say, before turning back to Stan and telling him to hurry up and serve Harry before he fired him.
"Well, Harry, what would you like for eating?" Stan asked rather nervously, obviously trying to cover the awkward moment. "Whatever you think is best today, would be just fine, Stan."
"That'd be the roast beef, sir," replied Stan with a very wide smile. Having served Harry, Stan returned to normal, asking the others what they wanted. Once they had all been served and paid for their meals, Hermione led them over to where she, Ginny, Luna and the rest of her co-workers were sitting.
"Hey, ladies," Ron greeted them, sliding into a chair beside the one he had held out for Hermione. Harry took a seat across from them where Ginny and Luna had left a space for him between them. After giving Ginny a light peck on her lips, he introduced the team to everyone while Hermione did the same for her new co-workers.
Harry wanted to know how the Apparition lesson had gone but before the words were even out of his mouth a horde of people had converged upon them.
Harry could feel his face heat up under some of the sycophantic praise being poured onto him. Ginny tried to take Harry's hand under the table but they were besieged by witches and wizards requesting autographs on scraps of parchment or else chocolate frog cards.
There were all sorts of questions being levied as well. Most of them seemed concerned why Neville wasn't with them.
"Is Mr. Longbottom okay?"
"Where is Mr. Longbottom?
"How come Neville isn't here?"
Did they think that the six of them traveled in a pack?
Harry looked across the table to Hermione and angrily asked, "Why didn't you tell us this was going to happen?"
"I didn't know, Harry!" she snapped back. Then, more desperately, she said, "This didn't happen yesterday."
Harry looked longingly at his plate of food; supposing it was likely to be cold by the time he was able to eat it. Seeing that Harry really just wanted to eat his food, Eleanor stood up and said in a commanding voice, "Okay, that's enough! All of you clear off and let the man eat or I'll turn the lot of you into toads!"
The crowd dispersed in earnest then so that the table was left to those who belonged there. "Thanks, Eleanor," said Harry after she had sat back down.
She just smiled and then Raleigh asked, "Do you always cause such a commotion, Potter?"
Shame-faced, all Harry could do was shrug as he tucked into his lunch. Hermione said lightly, "It'll die down; it always does. Once everyone's used to him working here, it'll be fine."
Harry hoped that she was right. He had been thinking perhaps it would be better to continue taking their meals in the Minister's Office. On the other hand, people would never become accustomed to his presence if he kept hiding.
"So, how'd you two do this morning?" Harry asked Ginny and Luna.
"I splinched myself!" Luna said excitedly.
"Well, they've obviously put you back together," Ron commented, looking her up and down as though to find something missing.
"Of course they did!" Luna said dismissively.
"That was really good, Luna," Harry said, with a smile. He looked at Ginny, who seemed to have hoped that no one would ask the question.
"I did awful, Harry," Ginny said dejectedly, wrinkling her nose in annoyance. He automatically put an arm around her shoulder.
"Aw, don't feel bad. None of us was able to do it the first time either; not even Hermione!" he told her.
"Really?" she asked hopefully, looking over at Hermione with surprise.
Nearly all of the witches and wizards around them quickly assured her that very few people managed to Apparate on their first try. They all also congratulated Luna, who seemed to almost become as red as a tomato as she blushed under their praise.
Harry encouraged Ginny, in between mouthfuls of lunch, that she would do just fine and to let nature take its course.
Hermione interrupted their reverie, passing over a handful of envelopes to Harry. "What's all this?" he asked. There were different addresses on each of the envelopes, and there was a piece of parchment in them.
"Ron sent me a memo about all of the letters you'd received over the summer, so I nipped home and grabbed some of them," Hermione said, opening her bag to reveal a bunch of mail peaking out of the top.
Harry blinked at Ron in surprise. Ron, completely nonplussed, said, "I figured she could get a start on them, since she was complaining this morning about the lack of work. Besides, she can definitely read faster than any of us and she can write better than us as well."
Hermione, with a slight blush, said, "So, all you need to do is sign them. I wrote out the replies."
"What sort of replies?" Harry asked, looking suspicious.
Hermione gave him a stern look and said, "I know what is and isn't permissible, and no one really asked any sensitive questions anyway."
Harry gave her a sheepish grin and thanked her. He signed them while Ginny, who had already finished was looking through what Hermione had written. When he finally finished, he asked, "So what do we do now? We can't expect Fawkes and Pig to deliver all of these."
Ginny answered him. "We can just drop them off at the Post Service."
With her obvious response, Harry realized how little he still knew about the Ministry and how it worked. He supposed he would learn in time, just as everyone else did. It was rather like going to Hogwarts for the first time, when he had no idea of what to expect. He learned the ins and outs of that place quickly enough and there was no reason that the Ministry should be any different.
Harry was lost in his own musings when three owls swooped down, one each landing in front of Harry, Ron and Hermione. Harry could think of only one reason for them each to receive an owl at the same time. These owls must be carrying their exam results. He barely registered Ron and Hermione's looks of apprehension. Everyone around the table looked a little shocked because they didn't normally see owls come into the canteen. There was a general acknowledgement around the table as everyone understood why there were three owls now sitting beside their lunch, realizing that exam results were coming at an odd time due to the circumstances at Hogwarts during the previous year.
"What were we thinking? How did we think we could learn a year's worth in three months? I failed everything; I know it!" Hermione cried, her voice rising with hysteria.
Harry would have liked to reassure her, but his mouth had gone dry. What would happen if she was right? Kingsley had said that he didn't care about their grades, but Harry was sure that Kingsley had also expected them all to do well. Would they be able to show their faces if they'd failed everything?
Ginny, who looked a bit nervous as well, took the envelope from his hand when it seemed he couldn't manage it on his own and offered him the open end. He pulled out the piece of parchment with a shaking hand.
NASTILY EXAUSTING WIZARDING TEST RESULTS:
Pass Grades Fail Grades
OUTSTANDING (O) POOR (P)
EXCEEDS EXPECTATIONS (E) DREADFUL (D)
ACCEPTABLE (A) TROLL (T)
Harry James Potter has achieved:
Defense Against the Dark Arts O
Even if Hermione hadn't just terrified him out of his wits, he would have been thrilled. He'd even managed an "O" in Charms, which was more than he could possibly have hoped for.
Ginny was leaning on his arm and peering up at him with a very satisfied expression as she read his grades with him. With a huge smile, he started to hand his grades over to Ron, who also looked perfectly happy. But Ron's expression changed as he looked down at Hermione beside him. She let out a soft, "Oh! I think I need to use the bathroom," before fleeing the table and running out of the Canteen.
Ron's fork, which had been held aloft as he read his exam results, now clattered to the table and his parchment fluttered downward. He leapt up from the table and began to chase Hermione.
"Hermione, what's wrong? Don't cry, it can't be that bad!" he shouted, following her out of the room.
Harry and Ginny looked at each other before Ginny grabbed both sets of parchment that Ron and Hermione had left behind.
"You're just going to read them?" cried Beulah. "You should wait until they tell you it's ok!"
Ginny laughed and said absentmindedly, "We share everything. They won't be surprised or upset."
She and Harry looked down at Hermione's grades. Sure enough there was one 'Exceeds Expectations' and the rest were 'Outstandings.' Now Harry felt rather indignant as the one subject she had received an 'E' in was Defense Against the Dark Arts.
Ginny's face showed utter confusion as she said, "This doesn't make any sense! How could she have not done well in Defense? She's great at it! Didn't she save all of you on numerous occasions?"
Harry just nodded, no more enlightened than she was. He thought back to the times when they'd gotten out of some sticky situations. It had been Hermione's ingenuity that always won, not necessarily her skill in defending against dark wizards, though it was nevertheless effective.
Instead of trying to come up with a useless answer, he picked up Ron's grades. Ron had received an 'O' for Defense Against the Dark Arts this time, as well as one for Transfiguration. The second one certainly surprised Harry. He never really thought of Ron as being particularly interested in Transfiguration, and they both got generally the same grades for that class.
Harry kept looking up at the door to the Canteen, waiting for his friends' return. He finally saw Ron escorting Hermione back in to the room. He had his hand at the small of her back as though afraid she might try to run again and was lightly prodding her along, talking to her quietly.
"Good job, Hermione!" Luna exclaimed, having also viewed the grades over Harry's shoulder.
Hermione took a deep breath and said, "Thanks, Luna. I can't believe I was that stupid though!"
Harry closed his eyes so that Hermione couldn't see him roll them and said, "And how were you stupid, exactly?"
He opened his eyes when he felt it was safe and looked closely at Hermione. She screwed up her face and said, "It was the one exam I thought I would do fine on and so I didn't study for it as much as I should have."
Before Harry could even formulate a response to that, Ron said, "I don't really think that exam results matter much, once I consider everything you've done. You got a better grade in Defense than I did, if you ask me. Those fools who grade the exams probably have no idea what the real world is like. If they'd actually seen you in action, I think your grade would have been much different."
Hermione looked at Ron thoughtfully but lovingly at the same time with a small smile playing on her mouth. Ron picked up Harry's grades and read them with Hermione.
Ron looked at Harry eagerly and exclaimed, "We did really well, didn't we!"
"What grades did you all get?" asked Dominic.
"Erm, sure, I guess," Harry replied as he handed over his own grades to the rest of his Auror team. They all congratulated him on his superb results and they all said that he had done better than they all had on their N.E. . Ron and Hermione passed their results around the rest of the people at the table and they both got congratulations as well. They all got the grade cards back from the group around the table. Hermione was still looking disappointedly at her grades despite the high praise they had all just received. They could all still see she was looking miserable, but Eleanor was the first to react saying, "Hermione, I only managed an E in Defense. Those ancient examiners didn't like how I did things because I didn't use the typical spells for offense and defense. But I like to think I've been a pretty damn good Auror."
Hermione managed a small smile but still didn't look convinced, so Ron added, "Yeah, Hermione, they should have taken into account what you've actually done. You are Outstanding in Defense regardless of what they say."
Hermione smiled in earnest now and said, "I know it shouldn't be such a big deal, but I feel so silly and stupid to have let myself slip like that. I'm well aware of what the examiners are looking for and I thought I'd be creative."
"Shall we hex them? I can always hit them with a good Bat-Bogey, if you want," suggested Ginny.
"Thanks," said Hermione, who was now laughing at the thought of old Marchbanks fighting Ginny's favorite hex.
To further distract Hermione, Ron said, "Wait until you see the gifts Mum sent us. There's one waiting for you at my desk. She made each of us a photo collage that's just amazing!"
"Yes, they are very impressive. It's like watching you all growing up all at once," said Eleanor.
"Oooh, you have to let us see them too!" said Ginny, with Luna nodding in agreement.
"Oh, by the way, Luna and I ran into Dad on our way down here and he told us that Mum expects us all to be at the…" Ginny said, breaking off. Harry guessed she'd been about to say The Burrow but couldn't because of the Fidelius Charm. "Er, Mum and Dad's for dinner. He said we could invite Neville too if we like. He said Mum wanted to hear all about your first few days here."
Harry, Ron and Hermione readily agreed. Harry asked, "Did you invite Neville yet?"
Ginny shook her head and said, "I wanted to make sure you were up to it first."
"I've got it," Harry said, as he stood up, raising his wand, he conjured a patronus, which lingered for a second as he told it what to do. It then turned and bounded out of the cafeteria. As Harry was sitting down, Dominic suddenly sprang to his feet pointing his finger at Harry and said, "Ah-ha! So you can produce a Patronus!"
Harry's friends goggled at Dominic for a moment before Ron and Ginny broke out in laughter. "Of course he can!" Ginny admonished. "He almost got kicked out of Hogwarts for producing a Patronus a few years ago!"
Hermione, on the other hand, looked suspicious and spoke to Harry. "Why would they think you can't produce a Patronus Charm?"
"It's okay, Hermione, it was just a Dementor during our exam. Harry decided to try that thing Snape kept telling us about, so he didn't need to use a Patronus," Ron explained.
Hermione breathed a sigh of relief. Harry thought she might have been worried that there was something wrong with him, like the time the locket horcrux had prevented him from conjuring a Patronus.
After a few minutes and some random chatter later, Neville's grizzly bear Patronus arrived and said, "I'll be there. What time?"
"Mum said to be there for around seven-ish," Ginny supplied, so Harry conjured another Patronus and sent it on its way.
It was nearly time for them to return to work and the group headed back out into the Atrium. Hermione looked at Ginny and asked, "Do you need one of us to take you home?"
"No thanks, I'll just take the Floo to Luna's, and we'll walk to Mum and Dad's from there," Ginny replied.
Harry didn't know how comfortable he was with that notion and gave Ginny and Luna a sidelong glance. "I don't know, Ginny. It's pretty well known approximately where your parents live," he said. "It could be dangerous."
Latimer intervened and said, "I could send a security team with them if you want, Harry."
"No way!" Ginny exclaimed angrily. Harry didn't think too much of that idea either, not trusting enough of the Aurors he'd met so far to be happy with it.
"I still have chores to do at home before I can leave," Luna said apologetically.
"Well, why don't you just stay at Luna's then and once we're done with work, we'll come and get you both," Hermione suggested.
"I don't want to wait that long! I haven't been out on my broom in days, and I'd like to get some flying in before dinner. We'll be fine. We're old war veterans, remember?" Ginny said with a wink to Harry. "Besides, how much could possibly happen in the village? Will Dolohov be waiting around a corner for me?"
Harry couldn't quite remember the last time he'd felt such anger and certainly it had never been directed at Ginny. He stopped, holding Ginny back. Ron Hermione and Luna stopped with them. The rest of the Auror group stopped a little further on but Harry told them that he and Ron would be right up before turning back to Ginny and saying in a low but firm voice, "You are not old war veterans. Neither are we, for that matter. Before you complain that you're just as experienced as anyone else, please remember that the Death Eaters are dark wizards with any number of spells you have never seen before, let alone know how to defend against! As for Dolohov waiting around the corner, you might want to remember that it was only a little over a month ago that Yaxley attacked the family at your parents' home."
She looked ashamed for a moment before he added, "You need to be more considerate of security if you ever wish to join us someday, Ginny. I still can't believe you went out into London on your own the other day." She'd gone out to purchase magazines before Hermione had even gotten home the day that Harry and Ron had stayed at the Ministry overnight.
Ginny gave him a narrowed look that was so reminiscent of Molly that Harry nearly backed up a step. "Harry I have the feeling that you were never going to let me join the Order! I think you'll always come up with some sort of excuse to keep me out," Ginny said with a hurt look on her face.
Harry moved to gently grab her arm, but she pulled away from him. "That's not true, Ginny, and you know it!" Harry said quietly. She didn't walk away from him but looked up at him defiantly. When he didn't relent, she angrily cast her eyes at a point beyond him.
"You know, maybe if you can find a safe way to get home, I might be able to persuade our Head to let you come to the next meeting," Ron suggested.
Ginny's eyes immediately met Harry's once more and she grabbed onto his arm. Luna looked up at Harry as well with an expectant gaze and seized his other arm. Pleas of "Please, please," met his ears.
"I have an idea," said Hermione. The rest of the group looked at her, so she said, "Why not have Winky come and get them. You know, give her something to do, make her feel needed again."
"Hermione, that's brilliant," said Ron. Harry and Ginny shared a look. With the way things were going, Ron thought that everything Hermione said was brilliant
"Thank you, Ron!" replied Hermione.
"Okay then," said Harry.
"WINKY!" Harry called, and a moment later Winky appeared in their midst.
"Yes, Master Harry?" she said looking up at him.
"Winky, could you please take Ginny and Luna to Luna's place and then to the Burrow once Luna's finished her chores?"
"Of course I can, sir," said Winky smiling slightly.
"Thank you, Winky," Harry added as Winky stretched her hands out to Ginny and Luna, who both took them.
"Wait a moment please, Winky," Harry said.
"I'll think about the meeting," Harry told Ginny and Luna. "That's not a promise, mind you," he added.
Luna clapped her hands together happily and Ginny threw her arms around Harry, kissing every inch of his face. "I said I'll think about it. I didn't say you could come," he reiterated, uncomfortable with how much trouble he would be in for agreeing to it.
"I know, but that's good enough for now," Ginny said against his mouth. "I'll miss you, but I'll have your broom all ready for when you arrive."
"Thanks. I'll miss you too, but I'll be there before you know it," he said, barely resisting the urge to snog her right there in front of the fireplaces.
"We'll see you two later," Ron said before Winky disappeared with Ginny and Luna.
Having finally caught an elevator, they eventually arrived at their desks and Hermione walked over with Ron to retrieve her gift from Molly. When it came time for her to return to her own department, Ron pulled her close and whispered something into her ear, causing her to blush slightly. She gave him a tremulous smile before she left.
Harry sat down at his own desk, marveling inwardly at Ron and Hermione's strange relationship.
Eleanor said, "It's about time that you were introduced to your first case."
Harry looked at her eagerly. She handed him a thin file and said, "So, right now we're trying to locate a wizard named Gregorovitch. We're helping the German Ministry on this. They seem to think that the man was kidnapped by an Englishman. Personally, I think it's a whole lot of rubbish. What would someone want with a wandmaker?"
Harry's head buzzed as he considered the situation. He barely had any time to contemplate the matter when he heard Ron shout, "Gregorovitch?!"
"But he's-" Ron started to say loudly, before Harry interrupted-"No, Ron!"
A/N: I know this chapter has a lot exposition, but I needed a way to introduce the characters and situation. As always thanks for reading and thanks for the fantastic reviews.
A/N #2: Thank you to puregenius77 for helping out and giving everything that little extra something that makes for good reading.