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The Harder Struggle by Ericfmc
Chapter 22 : Were in the Aurors Now
 
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“If aurors always have to start this early, I think I’ll stick with the joke shop and George,” complained Ron. It was 8:00am. Harry, Ron, Ginny and Hermione were walking briskly through Paddington station in London.

“You’re just annoyed because you got up too late to have time for a proper breakfast, Ron.”

“Well if you had woken me up early enough, Hermione, I would have had time.” Hermione just huffed. She had repeatedly hit him with a pillow attempting to get him out of bed on time.

“I’m going to miss you two,” jibed Harry.

“What about me?” asked Ginny in mock indignation.

“Ginny, ‘miss’ doesn’t even begin to describe it.” They had just arrived at their destination. He pulled Ginny into a tight embrace and gave her a big kiss on the lips.

“Ahem….morning Harry, Ginny.”

Harry looked up to see Neville, who appeared just a little embarrassed. He was standing with Luna, Cho, Seamus, Lavender, Pavarti Patil and Terry Boot none of whom seemed the least embarrassed. Seamus shaped for a wolf-whistle but then clearly thought better of it.

“So who’s joining the aurors and who’s here seeing someone off?” asked Hermione. Except for Luna, the others were all joining the Aurors. Ginny gave Cho a momentary glare at this information. If Cho noticed, she gave no sign.

“Good to see that you’re fully recovered, Lavender,” said Ron with more hope than conviction. “You had us worried there for a bit.”

“I’ve still got some scars that aren’t going away.”

“They’re hardly noticeable,” lied Hermione.

“The scar running down the neck to the collar bone is quite prominent, Hermione. Don’t you think so Lavender?”

Lavender blanched but then broke into a broad smile. “Yes Luna, I think you are right.”

They were standing on platform 4 inside the spacious train ‘shed’ built by Isambard Brunel in 1854. Despite its age, it felt very modern. The high steel arch and glass construction allowed the space to be flooded by natural light. The station was very busy but didn’t feel in the least congested.

The auror recruits had been told to be on platform 4, near the staircase, by 8:30am wearing muggle clothes. They had been given no other information, not even their destination. Two other groups stood nearby. They had the tell-tale signs of magical folk not quite pulling of muggle clothing.

A huddle of young witches stood beside a pile of boxes, furtively glancing at Harry’s group and giggling. Ron noticed one of the witches clutching a copy of the latest Witch Weekly. He frowned. The current issue had a lengthy profile of Hermione that barely mentioned Ron at all. Much to his surprise, this irritated him immensely though he said nothing to Hermione.

Nearby, a witch and two wizards, all in their mid-twenties, stood watchfully. They looked fit. They had clearly recognised Harry’s group, but were content to talk among themselves.

At precisely 8:30am four people strode onto the platform. Harry recognised Adam Gristlewaite, whom Kingsley had appointed as the new head of the Aurors’ Office. He had replaced Gawain Robards, who had collaborated far too closely with Voldemort’s regime. Two of the others looked vaguely familiar.

“Listen up,” said Gristlewaite, “I want those coming with us on carriage 1 within 4 minutes. Those saying farewell, do so now.”

Gristlewaite turned to the group of young witches. “Ah, thanks girls for bringing down the training material. Could you load it onto the train? No levitation mind, there are muggles around.”

Those staying behind began saying their farewells. Luna gave Neville a chaste kiss. Ginny and Harry’s kiss was somewhat less chaste and certainly more lingering.

“See you all in ten days,” said Harry as he finally broke away. He turned and walked toward the train.

Ginny watched him go with some trepidation. She feared he was not going to be OK without her or Ron and Hermione. He still wasn’t fully recovered. She was going miss him too. They had rarely been apart since the battle. She had to get used to that, though. In a couple of months she would be returning to Hogwarts.

There was a part of her that was also annoyed that Cho would be with Harry. She had held the kiss with Harry longer than she might have, laying down a clear marker – this one is mine.

When Harry had disappeared into the carriage, Hermione tugged at Ginny. “Come on, we need to go. The Heathrow express leaves in 5 minutes and we have to get to platform 7.” They were going on to Heathrow to welcome back the Grangers and were cutting it fine. Ron wasn’t joining them as he was needed at the joke shop. He would catch up with the Grangers tomorrow night. He and Hermione were planning on staying with them for the next two weeks, Hermione from that night.

Hermione gave Ron a quick kiss and then she and Ginny dashed off leaving him alone on the platform. He sat down on a bench, deciding to wait till Harry’s train departed. Ron felt strange and somewhat resentful watching Harry head off for a new stage in his life that, for now, didn’t include him. He told himself he had made the right choice, that it was George who really needed him now. It would be easier to believe if things were better between him and George at work.

The group of young witches gave him a furtive look as they walked by chattering, probably heading back to the ministry.

“….her brains and looks, she could have had anyone. Why him. I mean…”

“Great,” he thought, “I don’t need you to tell me I’m lucky to have Hermione.” He looked at his watch. He was going to be late. He had promised George he would be at the shop at 8:45 to take delivery of a shipment of Wonder Witch products. In a funk, he slowly departed Paddington station.

Harry, too, felt strange as the train pulled out of the station. He hadn’t expected it, but it felt utterly wrong to be off on a new adventure without Ron and Hermione at his side. He was still surrounded by people he had known for half a lifetime, with whom he had grown up but it wasn’t the same. Ron and Hermione were like extensions of himself. They had shared so much, faced so much together that he felt almost naked setting forth without them. He was going to miss Ginny too. Well, it was only ten days, he told himself.

The witches and wizards had the carriage to themselves. After they had been underway for a few minutes, Gristlewaite got to his feet. With a neat twist of his wand he shrunk several of the seats and moved them to the side creating a clear space at the front of the carriage. He then transformed a notice that threatened serious penalties for damaging railway property into a whiteboard.

“Listen up,” he said unnecessarily. Gristlewaite looked to be in his late seventies. He had a thick shock of white hair that capped his lean, erect frame. The gnarled skin of his face and hands was in stark contrast with his crisp white shirt.

“For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Adam Gristlewaite. I have been dragged out of retirement by Minister Shacklebolt to head the Auror office. My predecessor got just a little too close, a little too compliant with Voldemort’s government. That by itself should give you a good idea of the wretched state of the Auror Office, but I’ll paint you a fuller picture.”

The train lurched around a corner but Gristlewaite held his feet with seeming ease.

“A year ago, the Auror office had 30 aurors. Today we have 13. Nine aurors are dead. Some of these were murdered by death eaters for not acquiescing to the new regime, others died in the line of duty. More than a few died fighting for one side or the other in this last war. Many aurors resigned rather than serve the new regime and by no means have all of them been persuaded to return. Deplorably, six aurors have been dismissed or asked to resign for cooperating with crimes carried out by Death Eaters. Minister Shacklebolt has taken a hard line, but one that was necessary. What remains of the Auror Office is a small core, tested under fire and found worthy. Today we start rebuilding around that core. ”

Gristlewaite looked over the ten young witches and wizards in front of him, as if appraising each.

“Each and every one of you,” he continued, “has been tested under fire and found worthy. You wouldn’t be here otherwise. You have all demonstrated skill, courage and moral fibre under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. It goes against the grain for me to say that to new recruits, but we haven’t got the time to play the usual games. From today you will be full-fledged Aurors. We all need to come together as a team and you need to be able to respect yourselves and each other.” These words prompted Harry’s group to look over the other three recruits and wonder what they had done to earn such a description.

“I think it’s time you recruits met each other. Could you please stand when I call your name; Paul Appleton, Heloise Abbott, Grollo Porfey.” The witch and two wizards who had been talking together on the platform now stood.

“Mr Appleton, Mrs Abbott and Mr Porfey are officers with our sister and much larger organisation, Magical Law Enforcement. They have outstanding records, both in the field and academically. They also paid a heavy price for refusing to participate in wrongful activity under Voldemort’s regime.”

The DA members were also asked to stand and were introduced. Gristlewaite then administered a simple oath to all the recruits.

“Congratulations, you are now aurors. I now have to head back to London. Take over Williamson.” With these final words, Gristlewaite turned on the spot and disapparated.

A tall man stood forth. He looked about forty. He had short brown hair tinged with grey, and a close cropped black and grey beard. He had a face of no particular distinction and a placid expression. His brown eyes, though, were clear and sharp. He spoke with a soft, almost deadpan voice that the recruits strained to hear over the sounds of the train.

“Welcome to the Aurors. My name is Harvey Williamson. I’ll be in charge of your program for the next ten days. I’ll be assisted by Herbert Savage and Cherry McGruder.” He indicated the two people standing behind him.

“Some of you may have seen one of those Muggle movies about boot camp where sadistic instructors make life hell for new recruits and try and break them. Well, the good news is we won’t be doing that. The bad news is that you are going to be very busy and you won’t be getting much sleep. Over the next ten days we will be doing two things. We will be completing a thorough evaluation of your skills, abilities and knowledge. We will identify what you each need to learn and develop individual training programs. For the next two years you will be training as well as working as aurors. Some of you will also be doing your Newts. In addition to evaluations we will be giving you a crash course in Auror procedures and operational protocols. These are important. The Aurors are a team and these procedures enable us to perform that way. It’s also possible that you will be asked to take part in an actual operation. Any questions?”

There were none. “OK, we have broken you up into two teams. Potter and Chang you will be joining Appleton, Abbott and Porfey to form the green team. Cherry McGruder will be your instructor. The rest are in the red team with Herbert Savage as instructor. Please form into your teams now. Your instructor will give you details of our destination. We will be apparating there in 15 minutes.”

Old Pwllhyd was an abandoned Welsh copper smelting town. In its heyday in the 1850’s 3,000 families lived cheek by jowl in small houses jammed into the narrow valley. Reminders of the past were everywhere, abandoned mines, derelict warehouses and industrial buildings and collapsing houses. There was even a stone church and a town hall, now without a roof. The variety of natural landscapes as well as the man-made structures provided an ideal environment for training. Many varied scenarios could be simulated. The Auror Office and MLE had set up a joint training facility in the area. The valley was controlled by a front organisation belonging to the Ministry of Magic so training could take place away from muggle eyes.

A few birds were pecking at seeds scattered on the courtyard outside the old Town Hall. They were startled into flight as thirteen people popped out of thin air. Williamson pointed to a building that to muggle eyes still looked like an abandoned warehouse.

“Accommodation is over there. You have fifteen minutes to find your assigned rooms, get into your training gear and get back here. We have no time to waste.”

Twenty minutes later they had assembled in a hall that looked like a cross between a basketball court and a medieval torture chamber. Harry recognised many of the vicious pieces of equipment that dotted the hall. The room of requirement had provided similar items when the DA trained. Others baffled, even alarmed him.

They divided into their two groups. Cherry McGruder was the auror in charge Harry’s green team. She appeared to be in her mid to late twenties. Harry wondered if she had been close to Tonks, who was about the same age.

“OK,” said McGruder, “we’re going to take you through a range of basic spells to see what you can do, starting with a shield spell. I am going to hit you with a stunning spell. I want you to block it. I will keep on increasing the strength till you go down.”

The two male recruits from MLE, Grollo and Paul, smiled at each other. Harry realised they didn’t believe Cherry could bring them down. They were after all experienced Magical Law Enforcement officers and the same age as Cherry. Harry hoped he wasn’t going to embarrass himself. After all the hype about him in the paper, and the confidence put in him and the DA by Kingsley they had a lot to live up to.

The five recruits got in to line facing Cherry. She hit them each with stunning spells, increasing the power with each round. After four rounds they were all still standing. None had really had a problem though Cho was concentrating hard.

“Now that my wand’s warmed up we can really start.” Cherry’s wand flashed with amazing speed as she moved from one to the other with rapidly growing power. Soon both Paul and Cho were in difficulty, sweating profusely and giving ground. Cho then Paul went down in rapid succession. Cherry called a brief halt and renervated the two. She was sweating a little herself and her breathing was elevated.

“Alright, now we get serious.” Harry was still able to block Cherry’s stunning spells but was amazed at the power behind them. Heloise Abbott went down but Grollo Porfey remained standing. Harry sensed movement at his side and was just in time to block a stunning spell coming from Harvey Williamson. Grollo, given that extra second of warning was also able to parry Williamson’s attack.

Harry and Grollo were both working quickly, parrying attacks coming from two directions. It was tiring work. Attacker and defender were all breathing heavily. Then Grollo mistimed his counter spell and down he went. There was no break. Harry came under rapid fire attack from shifting directions. He was just holding his own when an attack came from a third direction. Harry’s wand flashed, sparks flew and the smell of ozone filled the hall. All eyes watched Harry as he parried attack after attack. The three senior aurors circled Harry, never letting up, varying the timing of their attacks so Harry couldn’t get in to a rhythm. He defied them for forty seconds but then Cherry hit him sooner than he expected, sooner than he could cover and down he went.

When everyone had been revived Williamson called them all together. “That was excellent, even those of you who went down in the first round are close to the basic required standard. You have small flaws in your technique which we can fix. Potter, Porfey and Longbottom, your performance was outstanding, but you too have flaws in your technique. We can make you better.”

“Huh, I bet I could have done just as well if I had the Elder wand,” muttered Paul Appleton.

Neville overheard and responded so all could hear. “That isn’t the Elder wand Harry’s using. It’s the same old wand he’s been using since first year.”

“OK,” continued Williamson, “I want each team to pick a team leader. We will be rotating the role so you all get a turn.”

“You’re the hero of the moment, Harry,” said Heloise Abbott. “I nominate you.”

“Nah, why don’t you have a go Heloise?” And so Heloise was elected leader of the Green team.

For the next two hours they were put through a gruelling set of exercises testing their magical skills. Sometimes they were pitted against the instructors, sometimes against each other.

“Ok everyone, time to hit the showers. After lunch we will be working in the classroom. Go!”

The recruits dashed out of the building leaving the three instructors alone. “I’m surprised and impressed,” commented Williamson. “I thought Shacklebolt was mad when he suggested making 17 and 18 year olds operational aurors. These kids, though, with luck, might just be good enough to stay alive while we train them properly.”

“I’m not surprised,” replied Cherry. “I’ve fought against them in real battle.”

Both Williamson and Savage were startled, and then they remembered.

“Ah right,” said Savage “You were the one imperiused to join the attack at the Weasley funeral.”

“Yes. It was the kids who made the difference. They kept their cool when they were taken by surprise and were in deadly danger. They fought with skill. Longbottom led a counterattack on our flank of such ferocity that our position collapsed. I was deeply impressed.”

“Yeah, well,” grizzled Savage, “they still have some serious flaws in their techniques and holes in their armouries, any one of which could get them or us killed.”

“Agreed, but we need them and we need them now,” said Williamson.

After lunch they were all assembled in a classroom.

Williamson addressed the recruits. “I am going to introduce you this afternoon to the most important tool in the Auror Office’s armoury. We aurors are not just a bunch of fighters. We are a team, an organisation. That makes us much more powerful.” He held up a printed sheet of paper. “This is an ‘r47-2’.” A malicious grin spread across his face.

A groan went up from the three MLE recruits. “Not here too,” sighed Grollo.

“Ah, Mr Porfey, I see you are familiar with this item. Would you care to explain it to the others?”

Reluctantly Grollo got to his feet and shuffled to the front of the class. He took the form from Williamson gingerly; as if afraid it might bite and held it aloft.

“This is your worst nightmare, an instrument of torture designed to make your life hell.” The three instructors and Grollo’s MLE colleagues chuckled. The younger recruits look confused. “This is the standard incident report form. If the Auror Office is anything like MLE you will waste half your life wrestling with this form.”

Williamson took over. “Thanks Grollo, everyone in the Auror Office feels exactly like you do. However writing reports and organisation is just as vital to our work as field operations. You don’t have to like it, but you do have to do it conscientiously and well.” They spent the rest of the afternoon learning how to write proper reports the Auror Office way, the MLE recruits doing as much tutoring as learning. Harry thought about Hermione; she would love this.

The following afternoon it was Ron who was thinking about Hermione. To be more accurate he was thinking about Hermione’s father. Ron was standing outside the Granger’s front door. He was nervous. He had gotten on well enough with Hermione’s parents in Australia, but that was neutral ground. Now he would be spending the next two weeks on their turf, under intense scrutiny. He would also be sharing Hermione’s bed. The Granger’s knew that Ron and Hermione were sleeping together of course but Mr Granger had never given any indication that he was OK with the situation. Ron felt distinctly uncomfortable. Gathering his courage he pressed the doorbell as Hermione had instructed him.

Almost immediately the door flung open and Hermione flew into his arms. Hermione was excited. “It’s going to be great having you here. There’s so much I want to show you.” She dragged him inside where an amused Jean Granger waited.

“Hello Ron, it’s nice to see you again.” She gave Ron a half hug and a quick kiss.

“Welcome home, Mrs Granger. How was the trip?”

“Please it’s Jean.”

“Thanks, Mrs….Jean.”

“I’ll let you get settled in, Robert isn’t home yet but he’ll be home in time for dinner.”

Hermione led Ron upstairs and into her bedroom.

Dinner that night was strained. Robert Granger was just as uncertain about Ron being in his home as Ron was. He had come to both like and respect Ron. All the same, Hermione was still his “little girl” and part of him didn’t at all like this interloper sharing her bed. He knew, though, how much Ron cared for Hermione, how far he would go to protect her and it was this that enabled him to accept if not welcome the situation.

“Hermione tells me you’re a good chess player. Would you like a game?” asked Robert after dinner.

“That would be great, Mr Granger” said Ron who had actually hoped he could get away and be alone with Hermione. They moved into the lounge room and Robert set up the board. After the first five moves Ron was no longer nervous, he was engrossed in the game. Hermione came in and sat next to Ron. “Who’s winning?”

“It’s even so far,” replied Ron who was playing black.

“Is that what you think?” commented Robert with a twinkle in his eye. After another five moves Ron was feeling the strain. His queenside was under enormous pressure and his pieces were cramped. He thought long and hard.

“Knight take pawn at e5” He sat back and waited, and then, when nothing happened he remembered he had to move the piece himself. Robert was surprised; not because Ron forgot to physically move his knight but because the move made no sense. Ron lost a knight for the gain of a single pawn. He sensed a trap but couldn’t see it. He got an education two moves later. Ron moved a pawn one square and Robert’s queen was doomed. He resigned three moves later.

“Hermione wasn’t wrong. You are a very good player, Ron. I haven’t been beaten in three years and that was by a highly rated club player. Of course I wasn’t really trying. ”

“Don’t lie Dad!” laughed Hermione.

“It’s the one intellectual pursuit where I can beat Hermione.”

“Which he rubs in all the time,” added Hermione.

“Would you like another game Ron? I’ll try this time,”

“Sure, but why don’t we use my board. I’ll be back shortly.” There was a pop as Ron disappeared. Five minutes later he was back with his wizard chess set.

Robert looked on with utter fascination as the pieces assembled themselves in their proper positions. The pieces looked like statues that had escaped from the façade of a gothic cathedral. The pawns looked like gargoyles. Still they were clearly recognisable. “Are the rules the same?” asked Robert.

“Yes,” replied Ron “but you don’t have to move the pieces yourself. Just say your move out loud. Here let me show you. E5.” The pawn in front of Ron’s king moved forward two squares.

Robert’s eyebrows lifted. “C5,” he said and was enraptured when his pawn moved as ordered. On Ron’s third move Robert got a real shock.

“E4-C5,” commanded Ron. His pawn raised itself high, the arms extended and long sharp claws extruded from the hands. The claws slashed Robert’s pawn which disintegrated in a shower of dust.

“Wow,” said Robert. When he had recovered he ordered his knight to take the offending pawn. He was astounded as the Knight leapt over another piece and then skewered the hapless pawn on its lance and tossed it nonchalantly from the board. “Oh my.”

Robert gave up on playing the game to win. He chose his moves simply so he could watch the pieces do battle. Ron soon joined him and the board became an orgy of destruction.

“Boys!” said Hermione and moved off to read a book.

“That was fun!” exclaimed Robert. “You could make a fortune selling that game to the general public.”

“Unfortunately it’s against wizarding law.”

“Yes, I know; the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy. Hermione’s explained it to me before. What a pity.”

“Would you like another game Mr Granger?”

“No thanks Ron, it’s time I went to bed. Besides I think I should reread my chess strategy books before taking you on again.”

“You have books on Chess?” asked Ron who had never heard of such a thing.

“Oh yes, over there on the second shelf.” He indicated the large overflowing bookcase at the side of the room.

Robert and Jean said their goodnights and went upstairs. Ron smiled at Hermione, then walked over to the bookcase. He found the chess books, but his eye was attracted to a fat green book that stood beside them entitled The Campaigns of Napoleon. On a whim he opened it. He saw a chapter on Waterloo. He had heard about Waterloo and he started to read. He was soon engrossed.

He was fascinated as he read about the different units being manoeuvred over a complex landscape. This was like chess but with many more dimensions. And these were flesh and blood people. He knew what it was like to be in battle. Beyond the abstract moves, he understood the great human drama being described, He could imagine himself in the battle, experience the fear, the determination and courage. He was hooked.

Still reading, he crossed the room and sat down. There was much he didn’t understand, muggle terms unfamiliar to him, but he was determined to understand it all.

“What are you doing?” asked a surprised Hermione.

Ron took his time before replying. Without looking up he simply said “reading.”

“Yes, I can see that much, Ron. What are you reading?”

The Campaigns of Napoleon.”

“You’re reading a muggle history book?” exclaimed Hermione in absolute astonishment.

“I’m trying to, but I keep on getting interrupted.” Hermione’s jaw dropped. Her eyes flashed angrily but then an amused expression crossed her face.

“Well I’m going to bed now, are you coming with me?” she said seductively.

“Later.”

“You sure you don’t want to come now,” she pouted playfully, pushing his book down so he had to look at her.

“Soon,” he said, pulling the book back up.

“I’m taking my shirt off now.” She purred as she unbuttoned her shirt. Ron didn’t look up from his book. He was only pretending to read it though.

“That’s nice.”

“Do I have to strip to get your attention, Ronald Weasley!”

“I don’t know,” he said finally looking up from his book, “but I’m all for conducting the experiment.”

 

 


 
 


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