Harry reflected that he had spent too much time in Kingsley Shacklebolt’s office lately. It wasn’t an ugly office or anything. A bit cramped, with file cabinets and bins overflowing with reports and the accumulated detritus that came with being Minister of Magic and Acting Head of the Department of Magical Law Enfocement. Harry didn’t mind that too much. Nor did he mind seeing Kingsley, one of the few members of the Order of the Phoenix to survive the war. If he had simply been invited in for a friendly chat, these visits might have been quite pleasant.
That wasn’t why Harry kept seeing the Minister though.
He fidgeted in his seat while Kingsley, seated behind a desk as messy as the office it occupied, read through a lengthy roll of parchment. Harry wanted to say something; he even opened his mouth a couple times, but thought better of it each time.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity to Harry, Kingsley set aside the parchment. With a deep sigh, he ran a hand over his eyes before raising his head to regard Harry steadily.
“Do you have anything you want to add to Auror Smith’s report, Harry?” Kingsley asked. His deep voice was as calm as ever, but Harry could still hear the slightly strained undercurrent in the question.
Harry considered his response carefully. He knew that a lot was riding on how he handled this situation.
“Only that we got everyone out with no casualties,” he said eventually, deciding it would be best to highlight the positives.
“Auror Smith mentioned that,” Kingsley said, nodding towards the parchment. “He also mentioned that Neville almost tripped a jinx that would have taken his head off.”
Harry shifted uncomfortably. “We caught it in time.”
Kingsley didn’t say anything but continued to look at Harry until he could no longer hold the Minister’s gaze and looked down at his lap.
“This is becoming a problem, Harry,” Kingsley said gravely. “I think we can both agree that something needs to change.”
Harry felt it would be unwise to disagree in this moment, so he nodded.
“I don’t want to lose you as an Auror recruit,” Kingsley went on. “Even if we weren’t trying to rebuild, you’d be an outstanding candidate. But we can’t keep going like this.” He leaned back in his seat, surveying Harry. “I’m going to remove you from the regular training group for the time being.”
Harry looked up sharply. “But sir,” he objected, “how am I supposed to learn the skills I need if I’m not training with everyone else?”
“You’re the man who killed Voldemort,” Kingsley said with a trace of irony. “Skills aren’t your problem, Harry. It’s the dynamic you’ve established with the rest of the recruits.”
“We work well together,” Harry said, confused. “We’ve been through a lot and we all know each other.”
“That’s the problem,” Kingsley said. “You know each other too well. Too many of the recruits are accustomed to looking to you for leadership. But this isn’t Dumbledore’s Army, Harry. They need to get used to taking orders from someone else. And so do you.”
As much as he wanted to object, Harry knew it was futile. Kingsley was immovable as rock once he’d made a decision.
“What will I do instead then, sir?” he asked dully.
“I’m going to pair you with a senior Auror,” Kingsley said. “They’ll oversee your training for the time being. You’ll be responsible to them from now on.”
Harry’s throat tightened, wondering what the rest of the recruits would think when they found out about this.
“Who will it be?” he asked, dreading the answer. He didn’t get along very well with many of the senior Aurors.
“I’ll need to think about it,” Kingsley said. “You’ll be informed tomorrow.” He looked at Harry not unkindly. “This will be for the best, Harry. Do you understand?”
Harry nodded glumly.
Harry walked quickly through the Auror Office, doing his best to avoid catching anyone’s eye. People looked curiously at him as he passed, and a couple called out to him, but he kept going. When he reached his cubicle, he flung himself down at his desk and clasped his head in his hands, hoping he’d just be left alone.
Ordinarily Auror recruits were housed in a separate space, depending on the size of the cohort. However, the decimation of the Auror Office during the Second Wizarding War had left a lot of space. So, when Harry and a number of his classmates had accepted Kingsley’s open invitation to join the Aurors, no application needed, they had ended up being treated far more like full members than recruits.
At first Harry had rather liked this. Sitting in the cubicles at the heart of Magical Law Enforcement made him feel like he was a part of exciting things. Over time though, the lack of privacy had begun to wear on him, especially as these visits with Kingsley had become more frequent. Given severe attrition, the Minister was also still acting as Head of the Auror Office, which meant that any time Harry ran afoul of Ministry protocol, he wound up sitting across from the stern wizard. After which he had to walk past every other recruit on his way back to his desk.
“So, how’d it go?” Ron asked, poking his head into Harry’s little office space.
Harry wasn’t in a mood to talk about it, but he knew word would get around sooner or later. “Kingsley’s pulling me out of the training squad.”
“What?!” Ron said, stepping fully into the cubicle. “You mean he’s kicking you out?”
“No,” Harry clarified quickly, “he’s keeping me on, but he wants to pair me with a senior Auror instead.”
Ron frowned. “What’s the point of that?”
Harry shrugged. “He reckons you all follow my lead too much.”
“Can’t imagine why,” Ron snorted. “It’s not like you took down You-Know-Who or anything. What’s he think, you’ve gone off your rocker?”
“I dunno what he’s thinking,” Harry said, not entirely truthfully. “Maybe he wants us to listen to people like Smith more.”
“We’d all be happy to follow Smith if he weren’t an idiot,” Ron said, albeit rather quietly. “I mean, we got those people out, didn’t we?”
“I guess that’s not good enough,” Harry said, feeling bitter.
“Did he say who you’ll be paired with?” Ron asked.
“No,” Harry shook his head. “Said he’d tell me tomorrow.”
“Well it might not be too bad,” Ron said bracingly. “Could be fun. You know, change of pace.”
Harry snorted. “Yeah, being babysat by Jackson or Davies sounds like a real treat.”
Ron had no response to that. After a minute Harry tried to change the subject.
“What are you doing later?” he asked. “Feel like dropping into the Leaky Cauldron?”
“Sorry mate, can’t,” Ron said. “Hermione wants to work on decorating the spare bedroom.”
Harry tried not to look too disappointed at this. It wasn’t unexpected, after all. Ever since Hermione had finished Hogwarts and moved to London several months ago, she and Ron had been inseparable. While he was happy for them, Harry felt increasingly shut out.
Some of this must have shown on his face, because Ron added, “You could come along. I’m sure Hermione would appreciate some extra help.”
“No, I’ll be fine,” Harry said, knowing full well just how long ‘decorating’ would last before they started putting the bedroom to other uses. They been trying to finish that room for over a month now.
“You sure?” Ron asked, looking concerned.
Harry hoisted what he hoped was a convincing smile on his face. “Yeah, I’ve got a ton of work to finish up here. Say hi to Hermione for me.”
“You’re still coming to the Burrow for dinner on Friday?” Ron said.
“Course,” Harry said. “Your mum’d kill me if I missed.”
Ron dithered a bit, but didn’t seem to know what to else to do. He walked out with a parting tap on the wall of the cubicle, leaving Harry to his own thoughts.
Harry stayed late that night to avoid interacting with anyone else on the way out, and he came in early the next morning. Most of the senior Aurors were workaholics, and he had hoped that Kingsley would let him know who he was being partnered with before the rest of the recruits got in.
Unfortunately, he had no such luck. One by one, the rest of the new Aurors wandered in. By this point news of his reassignment had gotten around, and he was forced to endure several of his friends stopping by to commiserate. Then, once the morning trainings started, he was left sitting in the almost empty office, waiting for some clue of what he was supposed to do.
Around nine he was sitting idly, making various items fly around his office space, when a slender woman with bright pink hair wandered by. She leaned against the wall, holding a large mug filled with, from what Harry could tell, the strongest coffee that had ever been brewed.
“Wotcher, Harry,” she said around a huge yawn.
“Hey Tonks,” he said, letting his pens fall back onto the desk. “Late night?”
“Just a bit,” she said, stifling another yawn. “Sorry to keep you waiting.”
“Keep me waiting?” Harry repeated in confusion.
“Kingsley told you he’d be pairing us up, right?” Tonks said.
“He said he’d be pairing me up with someone,” Harry said. “He didn’t mention who.”
“Oh, well it’s me,” Tonks said dryly. “Surprise. Come on, let’s get started.” She motioned for him to follow and off among the maze of cubicles.
It took Harry a brief moment to get over his shock and start after her. It hadn’t crossed his mind that he might end up paired with Tonks. After all, she was only five or six years older than him, hardly what he’d consider “senior.” He’d forgotten that, with all the casualties in the war, Tonks had been one of the few veteran Aurors left. It didn’t help that she acted even more irreverent than Ron sometimes.
In spite of himself, Harry felt his spirits lift a bit. Maybe this wouldn’t be too awful after all.
Tonks lead them out of the Auror Offices, pausing only briefly to toss her now empty mug into the cluttered mess of her own cubicle.
“Where are we going?” Harry asked as they entered the corridor. “Practice rooms?”
“Nope,” Tonks replied, heading straight for the golden elevators. “Coffee.”
Harry was confused. “Didn’t you already have some?”
“Not enough,” she said, punching the button for the Atrium.
They rode the elevator down in silence. Tonks did not seem awake enough for conversation, and Harry didn’t know what he would have said regardless. This wasn’t exactly what he’d expected from the situation. While he’d had some interaction with Tonks since joining the Aurors, it tended to be in group settings. Like all the senior Aurors, she helped train the recruits, although now that Harry thought about it, she didn’t seem to conduct as many sessions as some of the others. Harry wondered if this was because of her relative youth, but if that was the case, why would Kingsley pair them up?
These thoughts continued until they reached the Atrium and started making their way through the cavernous lobby. Harry deliberately avoided looking at the memorial that had replaced the Fountain of Magical Brethren, preferring, as he always did, to keep his head down.
“Where are we headed?” he asked as they reached the Apparition point.
“I know a good place,” Tonks said, taking his arm. He let her pull him into that constricting nothingness, guiding their path. They reappeared a moment later, standing on a busy London street. Luckily it was standing policy for Aurors to wear Muggle clothes just in case, and they drew no unusual attention.
“Right here,” Tonks said, motioning to a little café just up the street. Harry began to follow up but stopped abruptly when he realized where she was taking him.
It was, against all odds, the little café where he, Ron, and Hermione had briefly taken refuge the night of Bill and Fleur’s wedding. It looked exactly the same as it had two years ago, as if their brief scuffle had never taken place. And of course it wouldn’t have. They had repaired the shop to hide any evidence that they had ever been there.
“Something wrong?” Tonks asked from the door. He looked at her suspiciously, wondering if she had arranged this intentionally. She simply stood there, looking perfectly at ease, mild curiosity at his reaction displayed on her face.
“No, nothing,” Harry said, following her into the café.
The interior was just as unchanged; the same shabby chairs and booths he remembered far too well. It was reasonably full at this hour, and Tonks led them through a maze of cramped chairs, apologizing repeatedly as she bumped into tables and people, to a booth in the corner.
Harry squeezed into a seat across from her, continuing to survey his surroundings. Despite knowing that the likelihood of being attacked in this same place over a year after Voldemort’s death was low, he couldn’t bring himself to relax. His only comfort was the reassuring pressure of his wand in its holster on his forearm. He kept his hands clasped in case he needed to draw it at a moment’s notice.
He forced himself to stop scanning the room when a waitress approached them. Thankfully it was not the same woman who had served them at their last visit. Tonks ordered a coffee and a Danish before looking expectantly at Harry. He asked for a tea, despite not feeling remotely thirsty.
“So, Harry, let’s have a chat,” Tonks said, as they waited for their drinks. Belatedly he realized that she had changed her hair at some point, perhaps to minimize the attention they would draw. It was now dark brown, almost black, shoulder length and wavy. The change emphasized her resemblance to her mother, and unfortunately to her aunt as well. That didn’t help Harry’s nerves.
“What about?” he asked, struggling to look her in the eye.
“I’m curious to hear about all the excitement the other day,” she said.
That darkened Harry’s mood even further. “Didn’t Kingsley fill you in?” he asked. He knew he sounded rude but couldn’t bring himself to care in the moment.
“Yeah, but I’d like to hear your version too,” she said, sounding unperturbed.
“There’s no other version,” Harry said, feeling unaccountably defensive. “Smith and I didn’t disagree on what happened.”
“Humor me,” Tonks said, sounding a bit irritated for the first time. Harry regarded her coolly, but she held his gaze with no sign of backing down.
Their drinks and Tonks’s food arrived. Tonks thanked the waitress but continued to look steadily at Harry.
“Fine!” Harry huffed eventually. Taking a moment to collect himself, he launched into an account of the previous day’s events.
They’d been tracking the movements of two fugitive Death Eaters, Avery and Jugson, who had escaped the Battle of Hogwarts and been on the run ever since. Harry and several recruits, including Ron, Neville, and Susan Bones, had been following up on rumored sightings in a small Scottish town. Due to the routine nature of the task, and the scarcity of full Aurors, they hadn’t been under supervision. Everyone expected it to be another dead end.
However, several of the locals they talked to not only recognized photos of Avery and Jugson, but mentioned that since their visit to the village a week prior, several townspeople had gone missing. One woman even shared her suspicion that the two were devils from a nearby abandoned castle, which local legend held was extremely haunted.
Based on this, Harry had decided to do a quick reconnaissance of the castle. It became quickly apparent that the place was heavily defended by Dark Magic. Harry sent a Patronus to Auror Smith, the primary trainer, with the message that they had found the fugitive Death Eaters. Smith responded immediately, ordering Harry and the others to wait for reinforcements before engaging.
It was at this point that Neville managed to break through a layer of the Death Eaters’ defenses and determine, through the Hominum Revelio spell, that there were more than two people in the castle. Harry knew at once that they must be the missing townspeople. He also worried that an assault by a full team of Aurors might spook the fugitives into killing their hostages. So, he had decided to attempt a rescue himself. Ron, Neville, and Susan, refusing to be left behind, accompanied him on his impromptu mission.
Harry skimmed over the details of their adventure, except to say that the whole castle had been magically booby-trapped by an array of complex spells and jinxes. One such jinx had come within an inch of taking Neville’s head clean off. As it was, he now looked as though his last haircut had gone very badly.
Ultimately, they were successful in taking the Death Eaters by surprise and subduing them. They also found the captive Muggles who, although alive, appeared to have been tortured by Avery and Jugson for their own twisted enjoyment. Neville had been difficult to restrain after that particular discovery.
In the end, although they had managed to capture the Death Eaters and recover the hostages alive, without taking any casualties themselves, Smith had been furious with them for not obeying his instructions. He was particularly incensed with Harry, and laid into him the moment they returned to the Ministry. He’d made clear that he would recommend Harry be removed from the Aurors to Kingsley.
At the conclusion of his tale, Harry fell silent. He took a sip of his tea as an excuse for something to do. Tonks, who had listened attentively throughout Harry’s account, picked absently at her Danish.
“How long before Smith showed up?” she asked.
“How lon – wait, what?” Harry said, surprised by the question.
“After you took out Avery and Jugson, how long did it take Smith to get there with back up?” Tonks repeated.
Harry thought back; the haze of adrenaline always made time feel slower.
“Maybe five minutes,” he guessed eventually.
“Were any of the hostages about to die when you found them?”
“What? No,” he said, bewildered by the line of questioning.
“So, if you had waited five minutes for Smith, then all those people would still be okay and Neville wouldn’t be sporting a buzz cut right now?” Tonks observed.
Harry’s face grew warm as he realized what Tonks was getting at. “How could we have known he’d be there so fast?” he demanded. “It could have taken a while to gather enough people.”
Tonks raised an eyebrow. “According to Ministry regulations, how many Aurors must be on standby at the office at all times?”
“Four,” Harry said before he could help himself. Recruits were expected to know regulations by heart within a month.
“Which means you knew that four Aurors plus Smith were an elevator ride away from Apparating to meet you, and you didn’t think to wait for them?” Tonks said.
Harry glowered at her. “Okay fine, but who’s to say they would have done any better with those jinxes than us?”
Tonks actually burst out laughing. “You said it was a Beheading Jinx that almost got Neville, right?” he nodded warily. “Harry, how did you even know how to spot a Beheading Jinx?”
Harry frowned in confusion. “Recognizing jinxes was one of the first things we learned when we started. Wasn’t that the same for you?”
“Yeah it was,” she said, still giggling a little. “Did you forget who teaches that class?”
There was a sour taste in Harry’s mouth. “Smith,” he muttered.
“He taught me too,” Tonks said. “I’m guessing you heard how he escaped the Death Eaters?”
Harry nodded reluctantly. It was a popular story in the Ministry. Smith had been one of the earliest, and most vocal opponents of the Ministry’s anti-Muggle policies when Voldemort took over. Not long after the takeover, several Death Eaters and crooked Aurors had gone to his house to shut him up. They’d been met with a bewildering variety of traps, hexes, and jinxes that had reduced the lucky ones to blibbering messes.
The unlucky ones had very little left to blibber about.
“They still might have set something off by accident,” Harry said, unwilling to give up yet. “Or tipped off the Death Eaters that we were there.”
“Totally possible,” Tonks agreed. “But you might have too.”
Harry didn’t have a response for that, and look away, stewing in his own frustration.
“This isn’t the first time you’ve gone charging off on your own, or with one of your old school mates, is it?” Tonks asked.
Unwilling to look at her, but also knowing the futility of lying, Harry shook his head.
“Do you think any of those other times were like this one?”
In spite of himself, Harry thought back on the handful of instances in past months that he had disobeyed orders from Smith or one of the other senior Aurors. As he considered each scenario, he was forced to the conclusion that a similar logic applied in most.
Reluctantly, he nodded.
“Why d’you think that is?” she asked.
“I dunno,” he admitted in frustration, looking back at her. It was something that he’d been wrestling with for quite some time now as the incidents mounted. “I suppose I’m not used to having other people tell me how to do this sort of stuff.”
“I get that, Harry, I really do,” Tonks said sympathetically. “Hermione and Ginny told me about some of the things you’ve done. Basilisks, Death Eaters, Horcruxes, and Merlin knows what else.”
Harry sighed and rubbed his eyes, all fight drained out of him. “I really thought this’d be easier. I mean, I practically was an Auror already.”
She reached across the table and patted him comfortingly on the arm. “Trust me, Kingsley and I understand that. But there’s gonna be some differences. It’s not just you and your friends running around on your own anymore.”
He nodded, feeling exhausted. Then something she’d said flashed through his brain, and he looked up at her sharply.
“Wait, you mentioned Horcruxes,” he said, his voice hushed. He looked around at the café, despite knowing that the odds of anyone near them caring what a Horcrux was. “Where’d you hear that from?” He, Hermione, and Ron had agreed not to tell anyone about Voldemort’s attempt at immortality, for fear of someone else trying to imitate him.
Tonks shrugged. “We guessed, Kingsley, Remus, and I. We had a few clues to go off of, based on some things we heard from Dumbledore and reports about You-Know-Who. We were definitely suspicious when we saw what happened to Bathilda Bagshot. Once we got a look at that snake, we were pretty sure.”
Harry continued to look at her suspiciously. “How would you all know how to recognize a Horcrux? I thought Dumbledore hid all the books about how to make them?”
“Come on, Harry, Hogwarts isn’t the only place with books,” Tonks said, rolling her eyes. “Have you even been in the Auror library since you started?”
“Well sure,” Harry said, shifting guilty in his seat. “I mean, they showed it to us when we started.”
Tonks laughed again, but not meanly. She had a very nice laugh, Harry realized, and he found himself reluctantly smiling along with her.
“Horcruxes usually get covered in the last year of training,” she explained. “It’s been decades since anyone’s even tried making one, besides You-Know-Who, but we like to stay prepared just in case. We knew how to recognize some of the signs.”
Harry decided to believe her explanation. He trusted that Ron and Hermione wouldn’t have said anything, and he knew none of the Death Eaters knew about Voldemort’s Horcruxes.
“Was it just the snake?” Tonks asked. “We were always curious about that. Most people just made do with one, but You-Know-Who was always an overachiever when it came to evil shit.”
Harry snorted. “No, it wasn’t just the snake. He had six.” He decided to leave out the part about him being an unwitting Horcrux.
“Six,” Tonks repeated speculatively. “You know, that actually makes a bit of sense because then his soul would be-”
“In seven, pieces,” Harry finished for her. “Yeah, he thought that would make him more powerful.”
“Interesting, but still super creepy,” Tonks said with a shudder.
“You know you and Kingsley can’t spread that around,” Harry said seriously. “No one’s ever tried making more than one Horcrux before. If people knew that you could make more it would be a nightmare.”
Tonks frowned at him. “What do you think we’re going to do, Harry, start handing out leaflets? Give us some credit, we know what we’re doing.”
“I know,” Harry said, “I just meant…”
“I know what you meant.” Her voice was quiet but firm. “But you’ve got to realize that there are other people who have fought the Dark Arts too.”
Harry nodded, feeling a bit ashamed.
“Alright,” Tonks said briskly, “I think that’s enough for today. We’ll pick up again tomorrow. In the meantime, you’re to go spend some time in our library. You never know what you might find in there that could save your life one day.”
“You sound like Hermione,” he said with an ironic smile.
“Well, I hear she’s pretty smart,” Tonks said, rummaging in her pocket for Muggle money. She nearly upended her mug scattering a few pounds on the table. Coffee sloshed out before Harry caught it, making him realize he hadn’t seen her take a drink the whole time they’d been seated.
“I thought you said you needed more than one cup?” Harry said, gesturing to the cup.
“Nah,” Tonks said dismissively. “They make terrible coffee here.”
Harry looked around again and put two and two together. “It’s not a coincidence we came here, is it?”
Tonks grinned at him. “Knew you’d catch on eventually. We’ll make a proper Auror out of you yet.”
And with that she set off through the cramped café, once again apologizing profusely along the way.
Harry spent the rest of the day browsing the library, per Tonks’s instructions. To his grudging surprise he found the experience rather enjoyable. It turned out that a library tailored to fighting the Dark Arts, and absent a prowling Madam Pince, was actually a bit fun. Not that he planned to make this a regular excursion. He still wasn’t Hermione.
He managed to avoid any of the other recruits as they returned from training and their various assignments. The conversation with Tonks had been unexpectedly emotional, and he wasn’t quite ready to discuss it with anyone else, even Ron.
Despite that, he went to bed feeling better than he had in a while. At the very least he wasn’t dreading the next day like he had been lately.