Chapter 10

She knew what she did would eventually plant a target on her back.

When the First Wizarding War ended, she had spent much of her time and most of her political influence haranguing the upper echelons of the Ministry of Magic to further persecute the Death Eaters. She had failed. In an act of unprecedented mercy, the judiciary branch of the Ministry had granted either full or partial clemency to many of the Dark Lord's followers. Some went to Azkaban, but far more, especially the wealthy and influential, walked free. Bartemius Crouch, an old ally, had been apoplectic.

She had always suspected Albus Dumbledore had a hand in all of this. The great wizard had never publicly stated his intentions towards the remnants of Voldemort's inner circle, but his commitment to leniency was known to all. It was an act she would never forgive him for, not even when the aged headmaster had reached out years later to try and set things right. That man, as she had come to call him privately, had tried recruiting her into the reorganized Order of the Phoenix, an offer she had rebuffed with scathing words that came inches close to insulting.

The old Order had taken her brother from her. Killed in battle at the height of the war. For his meritorious service, the Death Eaters had come into his home and murdered his wife, his son, and his family. Her family.

She had watched the bodies of her loved ones be carried out by Aurors off the steps of their own manor. She idly wondered who would be the ones to carry her body down those same steps.

The fact that the wards in her rune-secured home failed to warn her didn't surprise her in the least. Betrayal was rife in the Ministry these days. Besides being paralyzed with indecision over Voldemort's return, there was the unspoken but very real threat of infiltration by his followers. As far as she was concerned, it had already happened.

There were steps taken to prevent this outcome, of course. As the next Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement after Barty Couch, she had done all she could to make her organization an oasis of competency and efficiency amid the bureaucratic quagmire that was the British Ministry of Magic. And unlike Couch who used the department only as a platform to increase his own popularity, she had focused on hiring good people, promoting skilled ones, and building a team spirit rarely seen in other divisions of the Ministry. The quiet competence of Magical Law Enforcement had restored the confidence of the people in the government, but an arm of the government was still only just that, an arm. If the head, body, and organs of the government decayed, there was little one extremity could do besides watch the flesh around it rot.

Cornelius Fudge and previous unqualified ministers and deputy ministers like him were the rot. Complacency and the resistance to change within the wizarding population were the diseases causing the rot. And Voldemort? All Voldemort needed to do was to swoop in once the entire system had collapsed and pick up the pieces.

This was what galled her the most. That despite doing everything correctly and as it should have been done, the wizarding government would still fall due to the actions of others. That despite carrying her position with the efficiency and grace as one would expect from her station, other officials elected by a forgetful populace would gradually outrank her and undo the hard work she and her department had done.

What galled her was that she would most likely go to her grave knowing that she had done all she could do within her power to prevent a repeat of Voldemort's rise and still fail solely because of factors outside her control.

The footsteps grew louder as they moved from the top of her manor's staircase towards her bedroom hallway. There was no attempt at silence. These were not the footsteps of would-be assassins furtively sneaking into her home for an attempt on her life. These footsteps were confident. Assured. They were the hallmark of a dedicated kill squad knowingly intruding into her manor with the express purpose of finishing their assignment.

She sighed and rose from her bed, still in her nightclothes. A flick of her fingers turned on the lights. The footsteps didn't cease when the lights came on. If anything, they became faster.

She reached for the cane next to her bedside table. Her back had started hurting ever since she learned of Voldemort's resurrection and no remedy magical or nonmagical had worked. Perhaps it was premonition of things to come. Perhaps it wasn't. She doubted she would ever have a chance to find out.

Tired of having her Aurors delegated to tasks unbefitting of their profession, she had rammed through legislation that would given the elite Dark Wizard catchers sweeping powers and complete independent from the normal branch of Magical Law Enforcement. It was legislation not unlike those that were proposed by Couch all those years ago. Couch had the benefit of a government thoroughly desperate for an answer to Voldemort's terror, however, and while the current Ministry was just as cowed as it was before, there were certain elements within its ranks who were very much interested in pretending the Dark Lord's resurrection had never happened.

The law she was pressing the Wizengamot to pass would take weeks of debate on the floor. And by parliamentary members who had a vested interest in keeping it from being passed.

She didn't have weeks. She didn't even have minutes. By forcing the issue, she had made the target on her back much larger.

This was why they were here. This was why they were outside her door.

The door to her bedroom flew open with a bang.

She would not give them the benefit of catching her unprepared.

As the assailants flooded into the room, it was to see an old woman seated primly on the edge of her bed, both hands clasped firmly over the top of her cane.

"So you're finally here," said Amelia Bones to the Death Eaters pointing their wands at her, "Let's get this over with."

More masked faces greeted her when she came down the stairs. Three dozen Death Eaters, their forms still besides the occasional flutter of a tattered cloak, waited for her in the atrium of the Bones Family Manor. They watched her through the slits in their masks, silent as the grave.

"It appears I've drawn quite a crowd," Amelia said offhandedly.

"Shut it," one of the Death Eaters growled beneath his mask.

Amelia felt the tip of his wand dig deeper into her back.

"There's no need for that," she scolded him, "I can walk on my own."

"Do as she says," another admonished, "She's a respected foe, not some muggle garbage you take out with the trash."

"The Dark Lord-" the rude Death Eater threatened.

"The Dark Lord was clear that she be treated as the descendant of an Ancient and Magical House," the polite one snapped back, "So either stop with your bullheaded threats or answer to him personally."

The wand at Amelia's back gave way. She nodded in the direction of the more helpful of the pair.

"Thank you."

"Of course, Madam Bones," the man who would very likely be her executioner inclined his head.

With the help of her cane, she began to descend down the steps. The Death Eaters at the bottom waited in eerie silence. They way their heads followed her every movement resembled a pack of jackals anticipating the last breath from some dying herd animal.

They parted ranks as she approached, giving her room. She stopped when she was in the middle of them, a lone, solitary figure in the center of a circle of sworn enemies. Blank masks stared at her from all directions.

"So, this is how it ends," she said to no one in particular.

"It didn't have to end this way," the polite Death Eater who was clearly their leader said. His tone was almost apologetic, "The wizarding world will miss a witch of your caliber and ability. The Dark Lord believes it to be a shame that you were never able to see eye to eye with him."

"Your Dark Lord murdered my entire family," Amelia smiled tightly, "Seeing eye to eye with him is the last thing I will ever to do."

"The Dark Lord regrets that some actions had to be taken to guarantee pureblood supremacy," the masked figure replied evenly, "But to create a world where the magical is ascendant over the nonmagical, some things had to be done. The Dark Lord grieves that you will not join him in ushering this new age. You could have done great things at his side, Madam Bones. Your magical prowess and bloodline are both things he respects greatly."

"Is that why he sent forty of his underlings to the home of an old woman?"

"The Dark Lord wishes to convey his respect for you through this show of force. Your death shall be at the hands of an army, not a meagre hit squad."

"Or the rumors are true and your Dark Lord got embarrassed enough in his own mansion that he's afraid of doing anything without the assurance of overwhelming numbers."

Amelia enjoyed the way the Death Eaters around her twitched ever so slightly.

"I can assure you that rumors are only just that, rumors," their leader managed to maintain the evenness in his tone, "Now, if everything is in order, are you prepared for what is to come?"

"Tell me one thing first," Amelia said with a faint tilt of her head, "How did you get past my wards? Only myself and some of my closest allies know how to deactivate them."

Her executioner shrugged.

"There's no harm in telling a dead woman the cause of her death," he made a beckoning motion and one of the Death Eaters stepped into the circle, "Someone as revered and respected as you, Madam Bones, deserves to know the reason behind your failure."

The newcomer removed his mask. Amelia looked him in the eye and sighed.

"Wilkins," she said to her assistant, "You stupid boy."

The young man's handsome features were flushed with guilt. He ran a nervous hand through the tussles of his brown hair.

"I… I tried Madam Bones. I tried to turn you to our side. All the suggestions I made, hoping you would pick up on them. All the insinuations I tried to make you understand. But you were too stubborn! You were just too stubborn! The Dark Lord is creating a new world order! He's creating something great for the wizarding world! He wanted me and you to be a part of it. But you refused! I just couldn't let you stand by and refuse!"

Amelia's gaze never left her assistant's face.

"You stupid boy," she repeated.

"Don't say that, Madam Bones! I didn't want this to happen! I didn't want any of this to happen! But the Dark Lord is unstoppable! His power is immeasurable! He will take over the Ministry and then the magical world! He will usher in an age where the magical will rightfully control the nonmagical! We have the blood of ancient bloodlines coursing through our veins, Madam Bones! We deserve ascendancy over muggles because we are already ascendant over them! We deserve better because we are already better than them!"

Amelia reached out with a trembling hand and touched the young man's cheek.

"Stupid boy," she murmured.

Her assistant jerked back. His face lost the guilty look and became ugly with vehemence.

"You don't have a right to say that! I'm the smart one! I saw early on which was the winning side and joined them! But you! You're just a relic of the past! And the Dark Lord's new age doesn't have any places for a relic of the past!"

"Oh, Wilkins," Amelia smiled sadly at him, "Can't you see what you've done to yourself?"

The young man's face contorted in honest confusion and for a moment Amelia forgot about his betrayal. All that was in front of her was the bright-eyed, innocent youngster fresh from Hogwarts and eager to make his mark on the world.

"Madam Bones? I-I don't understand."

"Now that you've done everything they told you to do, what more use do they have for you?"

The man's eyes widened in realization. The green flash of the Killing Curse smashed into his back a split-instant later. Time seemed to slow. Her assistant slowly, slowly began to pitch forward, eyes perpetually wide in shock, eyes that will never close naturally again. Amelia fought the human urge to catch him as he fell. Her own eyes were closed when the dull thud of his body hitting the floor reached her ears.

When she opened them again, her assistant was lying face first on the ground in front of her.

"The Dark Lord," the leader of the kill squad said, "has no need for servants who betray their masters."

"For that," she looked up from the body at her feet and into the faceless, blank mask, "I am going to kill all of you instead of just some of you."

"Yes," she could almost hear the smirk in the Death Eater's tone, "That is why the Dark Lord sent us. For you to expend your last vestiges of wrath before the inevitable end. You will go down fighting, Madam Bones. History will record it so. But you will go down fighting knowing that all your efforts are for naught and you have achieved nothing in preventing His rise."

She smiled slightly at the arrogance emanating from the words.

"All these years, and the Dark Lord's lackeys are still the same. Brash, imprudent, and missing any form of tactical sense," her gaze travelled calmly around the atrium, "Has it ever crossed your mind that I am in this sorry position because I allowed myself to be?"

The lead Death Eater started. He took an instinctive step back.

Amelia tapped her cane against the floor three times.

She may have distrusted Dumbledore for his leniency towards their shared foe, but she would be a fool to disregard him entirely. In better days, that signal would have been carried through hidden runeways in her home to alert the Order of the Phoenix. In better days, she could have expected Order members to be Apparating in within seconds, wands out and ready for a fight. Great wizards and witches like the Prewetts and her own brother, Edgar, willing to sacrifice their own lives and ended up sacrificing their own lives to defy Voldemort's tyranny.

But alas, those were better days. And with the Order of the Phoenix having been all but sidelined by the resurging tide of darkness, the most she could do with this last act was to warn Albus Dumbledore of her impeding death. All she could do was to buy several seconds of confusion from her foes, seconds she would use to inflict as much possible damage as she could before the sheer volume of wands being pointed at her tore down whatever magical protection she could conjure.

"Poor Susan," was her last thought as her wand slipped into her palm. The name of the first curse was already on her lips.

And then she felt it. A tremendous swelling of force. A great distortion in the magical runeways. Something answering her warning.

There was no distinctive pop that came with a normal human Apparation. It was a gut-deep boom that shattered the windows of her manor and upended furniture with its sheer concussive force.

The first construct materialized out of thin air.

It was a towering giant, twelve feet tall from the bottom of its mechanical feet to the top of the belching smokestacks on its back. Fiery, intelligent eyes burned on a face of wrought iron and bronze, and as it Apparated fully onto the hardwood floor of Bones Manor, it splintered the wooden paneling like it was kindling.

Below each of its two enormous fists, multi-barreled muggle cannons began to spin.

The Death Eaters around her backed away in alarm. Just in time for the second construct to materialize into reality.

Unlike the first, which possessed a sliver of élan, this one was all brute aggression and belligerence rolled into one hulking, mechanical frame. The bulldog head, slung beneath its massive shoulders, shook with barely suppressed violence. The massive axes it clenched between its gigantic fingers looked like they could hack through the thick bulging neck of a Ukrainian Ironbelly.

The deep, growling sounds that came from its iron gullet sounded like laughter.

The Death Eaters around her fell back from this new monstrosity and some, in their haste, tripped over the hems of their own robes.

The third made no noise as it shook off the effects of temporal displacement. One of its arms was given way to an immense harpoon launcher. The other was an enlarged stabbing implement, shaped and fashioned like the serrated scything talons of a preying mantis. Its sloped back, bare and sleek, resembled the hardbody shell of some oversized crustacean.

Drops of viscous oil or what may have been drool oozed from its clacking, insectoid mandibles.

The Death Eaters around her made simultaneous noises of dismay.

The last construct landed closest to her. By chance, it Apparated an armlength away from her, a colossus of belching steam and coal-fired wrath. The mace that was its armament of choice bristled with spikes and as the machine-construct reared up to its full height, gaps left within the massive weapon lit up with magical fire.

Amelia stood her ground fearlessly as the titan swiveled its head to glare at her. The motion, jerky and mechanical as it was, still vaguely parodied the fundamentals of human movement.

"Well," she said to the behemoth's brass and steel face, "aren't you the ugliest bastard I've ever met?"

The reply she received was a blast of warm steam that buffeted her entire body. Amelia nodded and tapped her cane lightly against the automata's plated chest.

"Quite so," she tossed her head back towards Voldemort's followers, frozen in fear, "Nonetheless, it seems I have a Death Eater problem. I don't suppose you'll be the one to lend me a hand, would you?"

"No," the voice answered her.

The boy emerged from the ranks of shocked Death Eaters. His breastplate shone with a hundred winking runes and his frayed cloak was woven in a way that no wizarding cloak would ever be, yet his presence was rendered merely ordinary by the giants he had brought with him. As he stepped out of the circle of masked figures, he flicked his sword downwards in a dispassionate gesture.

Splatters of blood landed on the immaculate floors of the Bones Family Manor.

The Death Eaters nearest to him dropped to the ground like marionettes whose strings had been suddenly cut.

Emerald green eyes flickered upwards to meet Amelia's own.

"But I will."

"That was your son?"

James floundered slightly under Madam Bones' gaze. All wizards and witches did. Amelia was a legend. Not only for the things she did during the First Great War, but also for the things she did after. It was pillars of strength like her and Dumbledore who managed to pull together the shattered remnants of the wizarding government into something resembling a cohesive governing body. Many within magical society would try to follow her footsteps and inevitably fail.

She was also the only one to make it clear to him in no uncertain terms that he would not receive any preferential treatment for being the parent of the children who had vanquished the Dark Lord.

She had no idea how much his esteem for her shot up after that.

"Yes," James said for a lack of better things to say.

"And explain to me one more time how he went from the Boy-Who-Disappeared to the Boy-Who's-Suddenly-Here?" there was only a slight undercurrent of sarcasm in Amelia's tone.

Sirius grinned.

"Well, we were in a nasty fight with Death Eaters when good old Harry decidedly that it would be a grand time to show up with his four warjack buddies."

James didn't try to correct his friend's embellishments because for the most part, they were true.

"Warjacks," Madam Bones repeated, "That is what those things are called."

"From what we gather," James replied, "they are."

"And you don't find it worrying that a boy barely in his teens runs around with four dangerous constructs built clearly for the sole purpose of war?"

"I find it immensely worrying," the eldest Potter said, "and so does my wife," by his side, Lily bit her lips, "But at the same time, something tells me Harry wouldn't agree if I told him to ah… stop running around with his warjacks."

"Something tells me he wouldn't agree if you just called him a teenager either," murmured Remus.

"Yes," Amelia said bluntly, "I know what he is. A soldier. A child soldier," the woman sighed at the Potters' expressions, "I know you don't like the phrase, James, but that is exactly what he is right now. A child whose profession is dedicated to making war."

"I am… still struggling with the concept," Lily admitted.

"You might struggle with it, but the fact of the matter is that child soldiers are not an unknown concept to us. Despite how much it repulses us today, it is only in recent history that we began to do away with the practice entirely. The muggles still had children in their armies up until the turn of the century. Some countries still do, if I've caught up with my muggle news. Isn't that right, Lily?"

The woman started before slowly nodding.

"You're right… Some countries… Rogue states if you will, still use child soldiers. The U.N. is trying to do something about it, but in most cases, their hands are tied."

"Seeing that you are more familiar with the subject, what do you make of your son?"

"I… I don't know," Lily wrung her hands wearily, "He hasn't opened up to us. He still sleeps outside. With his warjacks."

Amelia sighed again and James noticed that some of the earlier harshness on her face had started to fade.

"Soldiers are all like that. They like to keep to themselves. Sometimes they like to keep too much to themselves. I had classmates who joined the Global Wizarding War. Some who joined Grindelwald's side and some who joined Dumbledore's. Bright young witches and wizards fresh out of schools like Hogwarts. Many never returned. Those that did… They never were completely the same again."

"We will try our best," James vowed and Lilly nodded vehemently by his side.

"Sometimes your best isn't good enough," Amelia said softly.

"And what?" James bristled, temporarily forgetting that the woman he was arguing against was his superior in every sense of the word, "We should just stop trying entirely? Is that what you're telling us to do, Madam Bones?"

"Not at all," his counterpart replied evenly, "and I would think less of you if you did. But forcing him to adapt to our ways and to an extent forcing him back into your family will not be effective in the long run. What kind of world must he have endured where commanding these warjacks is necessary? What kind of culture must he have come from where war using these mechanical constructs is to be expected? What kind of parental figures must he have had to turn him from what he was before into what he is now? Those are the questions you should be asking. He's a boy-soldier. A boy and a soldier. Don't think you can divorce one from the other. You won't be able to and chances are he won't let you. But try to understand where he comes from, try to understand his point of view, and you'll get farther than most," Amelia looked at him meaningfully, "Get to know the soldier and you'll get to know the boy in good time."

"I… understand, Madam Bones."

"I know you do, James," the woman patted his arm reassuringly, "And on that note, you can tell Nymphadora she's not fooling anyone under that Invisibility Cloak."

James managed to keep a straight face as a slight rustling noise arose from behind them. A sheepish looking Nymphadora Tonks emerged from beneath the silvery sheen that was the Potters' family heirloom.

"Uhhh… Wotcher, everyone?"

Sirius stared at Amelia, impressed.

"How could you tell?"

The woman made a huffing sound.

"I know all my Aurors like the back of my hand, Mr. Black. Especially when one of them has been taking repeated sick leaves to go on secret missions for the Order," Tonks quailed slightly at the hard look she was being given, "I also know that as one of the few potential allies he has left, Dumbledore would have wanted me watched and guarded at all times. You're too high-profile for that type of work, James. It had to be someone young and unknown, preferably someone freshly inducted into the Auror ranks."

Tonks winced at each word as though they were physical blows.

"How long have you known I was tailing you?"

"Since the day you started," Amelia nodded and then smiled slightly at the Metamorphmagus' crestfallen expression, "Not to be insulting dear, but you sound like two trash bins crashing together under that Invisibility Cloak."

"That's my cousin in a nutshell," Sirius teased.

"I told Dumbledore I wasn't suited for this job," Tonks muttered.

"Dumbledore doesn't have the manpower to pick and choose who to send on missions," Amelia reprimanded her, "And he still won't when I requisition one of his Order members for my personal use."

"Oh," said Tonks when she realized what the sentence meant, "Oh," she said again when she realized what it actually meant.

"After the events of tonight, I find myself in need of a new assistant," the Head of Magical Law Enforcement glared appraisingly at the young woman standing in front of her, "Congratulations, Nymphadora. You're it. You can expect no increase in pay, long hours, and the gift that keeps on giving in the form of working with the Ministry bureaucracy."

"Ah… Madam Bones…" stammered Tonks, "It's not that I'm not honored… I'm actually totally honored! But I need to inform Dumbledore of what's happened before I can make a decision!"

"If Albus Dumbledore learns that you gave up an opportunity to become the direct assistant of the Head of Magical Law Enforcement with the ability to relay everything you see and hear back to the Order of the Phoenix, he'll throw you out the Order himself. Now pick and choose, Nymphadora. I don't have all day."

The Metamorphmagus turned to her fellow Order members for support who shrugged back at her. She turned back to Amelia.

"I… accept?"

"Good," the woman flicked her wand over her shoulder and a vanilla-colored folder soared out from a nearby desk into her new assistant's surprised hands, "Now be a dear and help me fill that out."

Tonks opened the folder hesitantly to find a quill already located within. Her eyes widened as they roamed over the contents.

"Madam Bones… This is…"

"I know what it is, and you should as well. You should have filled out something very similar when you joined the Aurors."

"I think I know where you're going with this, Amelia," James interrupted, "and I'm not sure I like it."

His superior regarded him coldly.

"Tonight, a Death Eater hit squad just tried to murder me in my own bed. The wards that had kept them out of my house and incidentally Nymphadora out as well, failed to do anything whatsoever. The architect of my betrayal was my own personal assistant, who I treated and trusted like a son. If the Death Eaters swayed him to their side, then I can only surmise that the entire Ministry has been compromised. There may be turncoats within our department, as far as I'm concerned. Can you imagine such a thing, James? Death Eaters and Voldemort-sympathizers within the Department of Magical Law Enforcement."

"I… understand our plight, Madam Bones, but Harry…"

"Is a soldier. He's your boy and he's your son, but he's a soldier. The Dark Lord, in his own words, sent an 'army' to execute me out of some perverted notion of respect. I saw your son and his constructs cut through that same army like a hot knife through butter. It's a muggle saying but I believe the meaning is applicable here. Even as we speak, that boy and his warjacks are running to ground the remnants of that army in the forest at the back of my estate. Those same wards that let those Death Eaters in are now what's keeping them from Apparating out."

Some of those present shivered at the grim satisfaction that had crept into Amelia's tone. James closed his eyes and thought of an answer he could give that would satisfy both parties.

"I think this will be Harry's decision," he finally sighed, "and not ours."

Amelia nodded, respecting his choice.

"Then let us ask the boy directly, shall we?"

They heard the constructs first before they saw them. The hiss of mechanical servos and the stomp of mechanized feet were unmistakable. Harry emerged from one of the several warjack-sized holes smashed into the walls of the Bones Family Manor. His cloak and lower garments were stained intermittently with mud, dirtied from pursuing the Death Eaters in the thick undergrowth of the forest. Looking at his son now, James was reminded of an old hunting tradition his father had once told him the muggles used to employ. Of how trackers would set trained bloodhounds on hapless prey until their quarry was backed helplessly into a corner. He wasn't sure why he made the comparison now, but it seemed apt.

Out of all the Order members present, only Tonks had not yet seen the Boy-Who-Reappeared. The young Metamorphmagus's eyes danced with mischief as she addressed the newest arrival.

"Wotcher, Harry," they became much less mischievous at the sight of what followed him, "Wotcher… ah… Harry's warjacks."

James was familiar by now with the menacing automata that shadowed his son's every movement to at least know their names and classification. First came the Crusader with its great flaming mace. Then came the Berserker, grunting like a maddened bull. Third was the Cyclone, whose true killing power came not from its massive fists but the gatling cannons attached below. Last was the Reaper who James liked the least, solely for the fact that its design and appearance was so radically different from the rest.

Over one of the Crusader's broad shoulders was slung a human form. At Harry's gesture, the giant machine unceremoniously dropped the body from a height of at least ten feet. Everyone present except for Amelia flinched.

"This one might be useful," Harry indicated the unconscious Death Eater he had dumped in front of them, "He was their leader."

"What happened to the others?" Sirius looked like he didn't want to know but felt compelled to ask.

"Grunts never know anything besides who employed them and what they're being paid. It was not worth the extra effort to capture them alive."

"And you know this from experience?" Remus questioned.

The boy looked at the man who technically was still his godfather.

"Yes," he said.

Amelia snorted.

"See what I mean?" she said to the others before turning to Harry, "Nymphadora, the folder please."

Tonks handed the binder back to who now was her direct superior. Her gaze, however, remained riveted on the enormous hulks of steam and steel.

"I filled out most of it, Madam Bones, but there are still some spaces left."

"It will do for now," the woman replied before gracefully offering it to the boy in question, "Harry Potter, contained within this folder are the application forms to join the Auror Task Forces of Magical Britain. In normal conditions, you would be far below the legal minimum age to be accepted into such an elite and dangerous organization. However due to extenuating circumstances, I have decided to waive that age limit with the power invested in me as the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. As such, you will possess a temporary rank within the independent enforcement branch of the Ministry. In addition, due to your… talents… in these trying times, you will be afforded a range of wide-sweeping powers that are normally not given to Aurors. I remind you that this position and the powers that come with it are only temporary, unless you specifically choose to complete a magical education suitable to a person of your age, in which case they become permanent. I expect this application to be filled out and on my desk first thing in the morning."

Harry took the binder from her hands. He looked at it and then at her. He turned towards his family.

"I like her."

The corners of Amelia's mouth quirked slightly upwards.

"The feeling is mutual, Mr. Potter. Now if you'll excuse me, I must attend to my affairs at the Ministry. Those that still care about the fate of Magical Britain must know of the attack on my manor. James, I trust you know what to do with this Death Eater?"

"Standard interrogation procedures, ma'am," James returned smartly, "I'll see to it that it gets done swiftly and efficiently."

"Very good," Amelia nodded, "Now come along, Nymphadora. There are many things you'll need to know if you want to keep your position as my assistant and the best time to learn was yesterday."

The younger woman eagerly trailed after her.

"Um, I know it isn't in my place to ask, Madam Bones," they all heard her say, "But would it be possible for you to call me Tonks? I just prefer it over my full name."

They also all heard Amelia's reply, brief and concise, as it always was.

"Not in your lifetime, Nymphadora."

The two disappeared with a crack as they Apparated out the manor, leaving behind a few flummoxed members of the Order, four heavy warjacks and their master, and one very unconscious Death Eater.

"Well, that just happened," summarized Remus.

"Does this make you the youngest ever person to join the Aurors or the youngest ever person to be drafted by the Aurors?" Sirius's tone suggested he was only half-kidding.

James took the folder out of his son's hands good-naturedly.

"If you outrank me…" he opened the binder and then closed it just as quickly, "Yup. You outrank me."

"Don't worry, Drain," said Harry Potter in complete seriousness as he took the folder back from his father's hands, "I won't make you call me 'sir' until after the rank becomes permanent."

He holds the girl to his chest, rocking her in his arms.

"It is strange, but I don't want to leave her."

The old warcaster takes out the flask at his hip and takes a long chug.

"That's not the girl who greeted us this morning."

The retired soldier leans on the barrel of his rifle.

"You think he doesn't know that?"

His hand trembles over where pale flesh ends and blackened, rusting metal begins.

"The Cryx turned her. She's one of them now. Mercy kill her before she wakes up as just another soulless Mechanithrall."

His head jerks up.


"Do it, boy, and be quick about it."

"That's cruel, old man," the retired soldier laughs humorlessly, "even for you."

"I can't," he presses the girl's frail body closer to his own, "I can't do what you're asking me to do."

"You'll do it because I told you to do it."

"Come on old man. You don't have to make him do it."

The old warcaster pulls out the dagger strapped to his thigh.

"You will do this or I will leave you here with the dead."

"Why?" he hates the way his voice cracks, "What's the point? Why can't we just let her be?"

"I'll do it," the retired soldier says and sockets a bayonet to the end of his rifle, "Just don't make him."

"No," the old warcaster pushes him away, "The boy does it. He needs to learn."

He looks up at them, not understanding.

"What do I need to learn?"

The old warcaster kneels by his side. He presses the dagger into his palm.

"That sometimes these things happen."