It was day 7 at Auror camp and Harry was having breakfast with the other recruits. They were tired but in good spirits. While the evaluations had exposed many areas where each recruit needed additional training, no one had disgraced themselves. The recruits from the DA and Magical Law Enforcement, had grudgingly come to respect each other. It hadn’t been easy. The MLE recruits, especially the boys, felt resentment that their five years of service counted for nothing and the ‘kids’ would be coming into the aurors at the same level.
The DA recruits were famous and that didn’t help either. Every single one of them had been written up in the papers at least once while the contributions and risks taken by the MLE recruits had gone unremarked and unrecognised by the public. It made a difference that the DA members didn’t carry on like ‘stars’. It became apparent to Grollo and Heloise that the DA recruits were just as surprised at being there as everyone else. They also showed respect for the MLE recruits’ experience and a willingness to learn from it. Paul was a little slower coming around and at times his resentment showed.
What frustrated both groups was the heavily prescribed nature of Auror operational procedures. The MLE recruits found the procedures more complex and often at odds with those they had been taught. For Harry and DA, improvisation and flexibility was how they operated.
The Aurors had detailed procedures for everything from surveillance, to arrests, stakeouts and hostage situations. Procedures were good. They made sure you didn’t forget things and gave you a plan of operation distilled from many years’ experience. The DA members learnt many things about tactics and strategy, things that would have been very useful this last year. What worried them was the rigidity.
Herbert Savage’s approach didn’t help. He insisted on strict adherence to procedure. Two days before, they had a field exercise simulating taking down a small group of dark wizards holed up in a barn. Terry Boot, who was red leader at the time, led the assault. He varied the standard procedure to take advantage of the steep slope on one side of the barn with brilliant results. The defending team was quickly overwhelmed.
After the exercise Savage gave Terry a severe dressing down. He had him stand in front of all the recruits and then started.
“The standard procedures are there for your safety and those under your command. They have been written by people who know a lot more than you. They are not negotiable. What you did was irresponsible and wrong.”
Terry, flushed with the success of his tactics wasn’t fazed. “It worked didn’t it? The procedures can’t possibly cover every contingency or opportunity that presents itself in the field.”
Cherry McGruder tried unsuccessfully to cover a smile. Savage became apoplectic.
“You smart little snot, do you think because you’ve been in a couple of battles you know everything” he bellowed. “Do you think you are so smart you can ignore generations of field experience. Your arrogance is phenomenal. You’re demoted from team leader. Red team can find someone who won’t get them killed.”
Terry shrugged off the incident. As sometimes happens with very intelligent people, he didn’t often care about the opinions of people he regarded as less intelligent than himself, which was most people. It wasn’t the first time he had angered someone for going his own way, either. It was Cho who distressed by the incident, and Harry and Heloise who reassured her.
This morning they would be doing evaluations of their potions skills. Not for the first time, Harry wished he still had the Prince’s potion book. He was about to serve himself some extra bacon when Savage and McGruder burst into the mess.
“Attention, everyone! We’ve been assigned a real mission this morning. No one else is available. I want everyone in the classroom in 5 minutes and we’ll give you a briefing. Move!”
Harry quickly snagged some bacon and some buttered bread as he joined the others heading for the briefing. When he arrived Cherry was pinning a map to the board.
“OK, here’s the situation,” started Savage, “we have been asked to arrest two Dark Wizards from Germany. They are not Death Eaters but are apparently very nasty pieces of work. They have left a bloody trail of assault and murder wherever they have gone. Things were too hot for them in Germany and they have fled here hoping to lay low. They think they can take advantage of the disarray in our Auror Office. That is their mistake.” There was bloodlust in Savage’s eye. He was energised by the thought of action.
“As of 05:00 this morning they were camped here, close to the river Avon and about 5 miles from Stonehenge.” His wand rapped the map, almost tearing it. “They have set up wards and, we must assume they have set up alarms to warn them of anyone approaching. We outnumber them more than 5 to one so we will use the standard procedure for assault with overwhelming force. We went through that on Sunday and I’ll take you through it again now. This time I don’t want any clever innovations, understood?” He glared at Terry as he said this.
“Where’s Williamson,” asked Terry pointedly. No one had seen him for two days.
Savage flushed. “Auror Williamson was needed elsewhere. He will no longer be taking part in this camp. I have been placed in charge.” No one said anything.
Fifteen minutes later, they apparated to a position about 500 metres away from the Germans’ camp site. A thick row of trees screened them from their target. Savage and Grollo Porfey scouted the area and confirmed the two dark wizards were still there. They were cooking breakfast in front of their tent.
The plan called for Cherry and Heloise set up an anti disapparition field to prevent their quarry escaping. Then, using whatever cover they could find, they would all move stealthily to a step off point about 300 metres from the camp. Cherry, Savage and Grollo would then attempt to bring down the wards. Once that was done, the Germans would know they were there. Speed was then essential. They would attack in line, half of them working to stun the Germans, the other half providing a protective shield.
As soon as they saw the terrain the recruits groaned. The Germans had chosen their camp site well. Their tent was in the centre of a rough circle of boulders, each about five metres apart. Outside this circle there was very little cover.
Terry and Neville approached Harry. “This is ridiculous,” said Terry. “The standard procedure here calls for approaching from the direction that gives the attackers the most cover and the defenders the least. There is no such direction in this case. We should attack from two directions. Then at least one group of attackers will have a clear line of sight. It’ll all be over in seconds. Anything could go wrong doing it Savage’s way.”
“You should talk to him, Harry,” said Neville. “He won’t listen to me and he certainly won’t listen to Terry. This isn’t training. This is for real.”
“Last time I was responsible for a battle over 50 people died,” replied Harry in a strained, almost chilling voice. “Let someone else take responsibility. I’ve done my share.”
Sudden silence surrounded Harry. “Is that why you have three times refused to take the leadership of green team, Harry?” asked Neville slowly. There was both sadness and disappointment in his tone.
“Yeah,” he replied quietly. Harry experienced a momentary sense of shame. He could sense the disappointment, even the loss of respect around him. All the same he meant to stick with his decision. “Kingsley has told me that I do not have to take on a leadership position and I don’t intend to do so. I just want to be the best auror I can be.”
“I’ll talk to Savage,” said Grollo who, like many others, had overheard the entire conversation. He turned from Harry in disgust.
Savage wouldn’t listen to Grollo. “Things can go wrong when you split your force. We have overwhelming firepower and we don’t need to take the risk.”
Savage gathered the team together. “You’ve all been in a fight before. You all know what you need to do. Keep sharp and keep together. Let’s go.”
They were all familiar with fear, but none of them wore it comfortably. Each in their own way gathered their resolve and one by one stepped out from the screening trees and moved as stealthily as they could to the start point. None were detected by the quarry, but they were out in the open. For several anxious minutes, Cherry, Savage and Grollo struggled to find the right combination of counter spells to bring down the wards. Eventually they cracked it. The team sprang into line and advance steadily, defensive shields in place and ready to stun anything they saw.
A rabbit chose the wrong time to leap from its burrow and was hit simultaneously with three stunning spells. As they realised their mistake the tension broke and there was a brief moment of relief quickly shattered by a barrage of deadly curses. The shields held but the air crackled and the smell of sulphur assaulted their nostrils. The curses were coming from behind a large boulder, but the only visible target was the occasional flash of a wand and the hint of a hand that was gone before it could be hit.
They moved steadily towards their target, frustrated with their inability to hit the enemy while forced to constantly parry lethal attacks. A small mistake could have dire results.
With a hundred yards to go, Terry tripped on a root. Down he went and with it the shield that was covering him and Pavarti Patil. A searing blue light flashed past Pavarti and down she went. Lavender moved to help her but Savage stopped her. “Back in line, Brown. Let’s finish this thing,” he yelled.
Terry scrambled to retrieve his wand and quickly re-established a shield covering him and Pavarti. It seemed to him that all the attacks were now aimed at him and Pavarti. He frantically checked her for injuries all the while trying to maintain his defensive shield. She was unconscious. Her shoulder and left arm had been badly burnt, blisters bubbling on her skin. The shirt covering the area had disintegrated and what remained was smouldering around the edges of the wound. He ripped it off. Rapidly alternating between shielding spells and treating the wound he applied a cooling spell and then a balm spell on the affected area. He desperately hoped there weren’t other injuries.
The line of aurors approached closer and closer to the boulder. Harry had just about had enough. He had sent stunning spell after stunning spell at one of the flashing hands only to see the hand disappear just as his spell launched. He changed tacks. “Expelliarmus” he yelled. This time his timing was perfect. A wand flew up in the air and towards Harry who gleefully caught it. The disarmed wizard panicked and ran. He was soon in the open and was easily brought down. Shortly after, another lucky shot caught the other dark wizard and down he went too. Savage ordered Cherry to help Pavarti and then rushed to secure the prisoners.
A Healer soon arrived, summoned by Cherry’s patronus. She stabilised Pavarti, then, after advising Savage that Pavarti was out of danger, apparated with her patient to St Mungo’s. As was standard procedure, Cherry, who was second in command, escorted the wounded auror. So did Terry.
Savage selected three recruits to help him take the prisoners to the Auror’s lock-up. He ordered the rest of them back to base with instructions to start writing their reports on the day’s operation.
The mood in the camp was sombre. There was no elation at having successfully completed their first mission as aurors. They were all too aware that the injury to Pavarti could have been fatal. If the spell had been aimed just a little more to the left it would have been. There was great relief when Cherry returned with the news that Pavarti would fully recover. She would not be taking any further part in the camp though.
As always after an Auror operation there was a debrief. The process in the Aurors wasn’t just about gathering information. It was also designed to be therapeutic. Auror missions were often dangerous and officers needed a chance to unload their feelings and tensions. Partly because there had been a serious injury, the debrief was conducted by Gristlewaite himself.
It was soon apparent to Gristlewaite that many of the recruits blamed Savage’s inflexibility for the incident. It took much of his negotiating skills to defuse the situation. He managed to endorse Savage’s decision pointing out all the things that might have gone wrong if they had done it differently while at the same time listening honestly to everyone and treating their views with respect.
In private with Savage, Gristlewaite was less supportive of his decision, suggesting that he should think long and hard about how he had conducted the operation. All the same, Savage left the debrief feeling vindicated. He also felt resentful that the first large operation he had commanded was under a cloud. He blamed Terry Boot for this and would not soon forgive him. Terry for his part still blamed Savage and would not soon forget.
The remaining three days of the camp went by without incident. It was just after sunset when they were finally dismissed. They had the next four days off before reporting for normal duty on Monday. Harry quickly said a few goodbyes, then apparated to the Burrow.
Ginny finally heard the pop she had been waiting for. She rushed outside and watched Harry emerge out of the twilight.
“Is that an auror out there? Has a dangerous dark wizard escaped. Is that why you have come to our humble abode?”
“No, but there is a very dangerous and very powerful red headed witch in the area who needs to be watched very closely.”
Harry had reached Ginny. He pulled her into his arms and gave her a long, passionate kiss.
“That closely,” he finally replied without releasing her.
“Well you can be sure of my complete cooperation Mr Auror, sir.” To prove it she kissed him back just as passionately. After a few minutes Mrs Weasley’s voice boomed from inside.
“Ginny, give the poor boy a chance to breathe and to come inside. He must be starving.” Harry picked up his bag and arm in arm with Ginny entered the Burrows. He was warmly greeted and congratulated on becoming an Auror. Molly gave him a big hug.
“We’ve already eaten, Harry, but there is plenty left if you’re hungry.”
“That’d be great Molly.” He had eaten a little but he was still starved and was eager for some of Molly’s cooking. He looked around the room wondering where Ron and Hermione were, and then remembered they were staying at the Grangers. Ginny noticed. “They are planning on popping around about 8:00. They should be here any moment.” Harry nodded and then sat down at the dining table just as Molly placed a large bowl of steaming beef stew in front of him. He ate eagerly.
“Don’t they feed you properly in the Aurors, mate,” said Ron as he walked in with Hermione. “I might have to reconsider joining.”
“It’s not up to Burrow standards, Ron, but it does beat a steady diet of mushrooms.” This earned him an affectionate punch, then a kiss from Hermione.
“So what’s it like to be an Auror,” she asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t really feel any different.”
“How was camp,” asked Ron.
“Hard work, we hardly ever got a break and we were at it day and night. Learnt a lot though and we didn’t embarrass ourselves. It went a little sour after last Sunday.” He told them how the arrest had gone wrong and Pavarti had been injured. Ginny turned pale realising it could just as easily have been Harry who had been injured.
“If this Savage guy isn’t up to the mark, you need to do something about him, Harry,” remarked Hermione with concern.
“He’ll be OK, Hermione. We found out later that this was the first time he had been in charge of anything larger than a two man team. We’re all doing things we’re not really ready for. There just aren’t enough experienced Aurors left.”
“So how did you sleep, Harry?” asked Ron. Everyone knew what he was really asking.
“I was fine, Ron.”
“That’s good to hear, mate.”
“So how have you all been going? Anything exciting happen?”
“Well, Ron has become very interested in reading Muggle history. I can hardly get him to put down the book.” There was silence. Ron turned a little red.
“I’m sorry Hermione, I must have been hit with a confounding spell in training. I heard the words Ron, history, reading, muggle and book but they didn’t make any sense at all.” Ginny and George sniggered.
“I’ve been reading a book on Napoleon’s military campaigns. It’s really interesting.”
Harry stared at his friend. “This is a muggle history book we’re talking about?” he asked incredulously.
“And you can follow it OK?”
“Well it has its moments. I got all excited the other day when I read that Wellington used Welsh dragons at Waterloo. I didn’t think muggles knew about dragons let alone used them in battle. Well, Hermione wouldn’t believe me so I showed her the book.”
“It turned out to be dragoons, not dragons,” laughed Hermione. “Dragoons are a type of light cavalry.”
“So I’m picking up stuff about the muggle world which I guess isn’t a bad thing. I just find the military tactics and strategy really interesting, a bit like chess.”
Harry recalled how Ron had quickly come up with a battle plan at Fred’s funeral and realised there was nothing strange about his friend’s sudden passion for muggle history at all.
They talked together for another hour, and then Ron and Hermione returned to the Grangers. Harry was tired and decided to turn in as well. Ginny accompanied him to the door of his bedroom and after a good night kiss retired herself.
The next morning Harry woke early, still used to the early starts at the camp. He went downstairs to find Ginny and Molly already up. After a quick breakfast, he and Ginny headed out for the pond. Ginny was uncharacteristically quiet. “So, how was Cho?” she asked in a small voice once they had settled in their favourite spot.
“She was fine.”
“She is in your team isn’t she?” Ginny bit her lower lip.
“Ginny, there is nothing between me and Cho. There hasn’t been for a long time and even then it didn’t amount to much.”
Ginny didn’t say anything. She took a press clipping from her pocket and handed it to Harry. It was from the previous Sunday’s Prophet. The headline read ‘Wizarding world’s most eligible bachelor teams up with old flame.’ There was a photo of Harry and Cho in Auror’s robes.
Harry was angry. “In a couple of years’ time, when you’re a famous Quidditch player there will be headlines like ‘Quidditch star dumps Chosen One for Argentinian playboy.’ And you’ll be angry when I confront you with it. You’ll accuse me of not trusting you.”
“Yes I’m angry. Have I ever given you any reason to doubt my love for you? Have any of these stories ever had a skerrick of truth in them? When it comes to Cho you’re as bad as Ron with Victor Krum. It’s crazy. Can you imagine Hermione ever dumping Ron for Victor?”
“And there is no way I’m dumping you for Cho, or anyone else for that matter. I love you, Ginny. I choose you and that isn’t going to change.”
Ginny was looking at Harry with big round eye’s. There were tears in the corner. “OK,” she said softly. “I’m sorry. Forgive me?”
“Come here.” Harry pulled her into a big hug.
“I love you so much, Harry I get so scared of losing you. And I just don’t mean to another woman. I was so upset when you told us what happened to Pavarti. It could so easily happen to you.”
“You just can’t think about that, Ginny. You just have to learn to put it out of your mind.”
“Tell me when you’ve worked out how to do that!”
“I know, but we have to believe that we will always have a future. Besides, if Voldemort couldn’t kill me, who else could?”
“I’d be even more worried if I thought you actually believed that.”
That sat in silence for a while. “A Knut for your thoughts,” Harry eventually said.
“I’m wondering when I’m going to meet this hot Argentinian playboy.”
Harry grabbed her and started tickling her mercilessly. The wrestling match that ensued soon transformed into a very enjoyable snog. After a while they headed back inside.
“You know, it’s your seventeenth birthday in less than a month. Would you like me to teach you apparition. Then you can get your licence on your birthday.”
Ginny had plans for her birthday with a higher priority than getting a licence and Harry figured prominently in them, but she didn’t say that. It did irk her considerably that everyone else in the family apparated all over the countryside at will while she was still dependent on others to side along her. She was thrilled at the idea of Harry teaching her.
They started lessons that afternoon. Harry was an excellent teacher and Ginny a very willing student. By the end of four days she had the knack and was popping all over the Burrow. She made a point several times a day to pop out just behind George to try and startle him. She knew she was tempting fate, pranking one of the great pranksters of the age, but he had earned it. Besides, if it moved George to respond with vigour, that was all to the good.
Thoughts of pranking were far from Oliver Grantham’s mind as he looked over the guests seated in his study. It was nearly three weeks since these same people had floated the idea that Grantham run for Minister of Magic. Despite initially rejecting the idea as absurd, he was far too young, it had slowly taken root and now he could almost taste the prize.
“Have you thought any more about who should be our candidate for Minister of Magic,” he asked.
“The names that keep on coming up are Dirgwood and Pringle,” offered Paula Pestle of the Potioners Guild.
“You have to be joking,” remarked Grantham. “Dirgwood is a moron and Pringle is one of the most corrupt people in the Wizengamot. We should be trying to expel them, not promote them. Surely some serious candidates have been suggested.”
”Only one we can all agree on,” said the merchant Mercuto Blake. “That’s you Oliver.”
“I still say I’m too young and inexperienced.”
“Are you saying no, then Oliver?” asked healer Hypon Gallant.
“No, I just wish you could find someone else. I’m not ready for this.”
“No one ever is,” commented Paula Pestle. “It really has to be you Oliver. Will you do it?”
This was the moment of decision. His ambition warred with his better judgement.
“If I agree, I won’t be anyone’s puppet. I’ll pursue the reform program I outlined when we last met and I will expect your support.”
“Of course,” they all agreed.
“Then I’m in.” They all shook his hand and congratulated him.
“So,” asked Oliver, “how are the negotiations between the Guilds and the Merchants going. Have you finalised your agreement?”
“We’re almost there,” advised Mercuto. “Bottom line is that we merchants have agreed to concede exclusive rights to potions and therapeutic products to the guilds in exchange for greater protection for local merchants against foreign competition. It’s a win-win proposition as the muggles say.”
“I’m not sure its win-win for the public,” objected Grantham. “Surely this will increase prices.”
“Perhaps,” replied Hypon Gallant, “but they get a safer supply of health products and increased employment in local industries. The economy still has a long way to recover from the disruption caused by the Dark Lord. I think most will be better off from the arrangement.”
Grantham was far from convinced, but he was enough of a realist to understand that an alliance between the Merchants and the Guilds was always going to have a price. He believed that the benefits of good government that the alliance enabled would far outweigh the negatives.
“There is another thing we want to discuss, Grantham,” said Adam Mallot, another of the Merchantmen. “Most of us believe that Shacklebolt is going too far with his Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We agree we have to clean house, but too many little people are being sucked into the process. It is very disruptive. We need to be a little more flexible.”
When all discussion was concluded and his guests had left, Grantham was feeling a little queasy. There were worrying signs that his new allies were tempted to slide back into the old ways of doing business and were willing to compromise on cleaning up the corruption and incompetence in government. He was coming to believe, though, that as Minister for Magic he would be able to keep them to the mark and provide good government. He was under no illusion it was going to be easy. Making this alliance work would be an enormous achievement.
Kingsley was in the office early. It was Friday, the last day of July and he wanted to get a large amount of work off his desk so he could enjoy a rare free weekend. It wasn’t entirely free. He had to put in an appearance at a fundraiser for Oliver Grantham’s muggle-born foundation. He didn’t particularly like Grantham, but the cause was a good one and it would be churlish to snub it.
He was beginning to hear rumours that a move was afoot against him. Grantham seemed to be heavily involved. Well maybe he could pick up some hints at the fundraiser.
He smiled. They’d be doing him a great personal favour if they took his job. He could get his life back. All the same he was determined to finish the reforms he had started and would fight for his job with all he had.
He was surprised when Melanie Watts, his personal private secretary, arrived late. It was greatly out of character. Ironically, Melanie was Oliver Grantham’s sister in law but Kingsley had no doubts about her loyalty to him or her integrity.
“Morning Minister, would you like to go through the Picot file now?”
“Melanie, we did that yesterday.”
“Are you OK Melanie? You look a little dazed.”
“I am feeling a little peculiar. Did you say we had already done the Picot file?”
Kingsley was rapidly becoming alarmed. His auror’s hackles were rising. As he examined her more closely he began to see the little tell-tale traces of Dark Magic. Wasting no time, he apparated with her directly to St Mungo’s and used his authority to ensure she was examined immediately.
An attack on his personal secretary was an attack on him and, by extension, on his position. Cowardly too, he thought, his anger rising. This was a very serious matter. He needed to know what had been done to her. He would get answers as soon as possible. He would make certain of it. Then he would move with full force against those responsible.
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