Chapter 147 - Christmas Day
Christmas Day - Thursday
"You can surely tell that Linus is out of the country," commented Hermione. She was reading the Christmas edition of the Daily Prophet. With Rita Skeeter, the most experienced reporter/newswoman, also on vacation for the Christmas holidays, only the most junior skeleton staff was left to put out the largely pre-written editions for the week. Naturally, the attack on the Minister's Mansion was reported, but that consisted largely of printing, verbatim, the press release from the equally junior members left to run the Ministry.
"I wonder if he even knows about any of this," pondered Harry. "Can an owl even find a ship at sea?" His musings didn't slow down his consumption of caldron cakes, but he had a more thoughtful expression on his face, at least.
"They can," answered Hermione. "They might not like it and would definitely have to take a break for food and rest before heading back, but your average professional owl can stay airborne for quite a while if they must."
"I suppose that once you head out to sea," commented Harry, "if you're an owl, that is, you'd better be sure you can make it or don't go."
"Would Master like another short stack, Master?" asked Winky. She was experienced enough to carry the three flaky disks over on her spatula.
"Take a wild guess," replied Harry, holding out his plate. Knowing that her master was depressed, and remembering his laughter from a whimsical serving technique she had used earlier last summer, she repeated the same action and tossed the trio into the air, allowing them to land on his plate in reverse order.
Harry, taken by surprise, nearly dropped his plate, but was able to recover in time. While not actually laughing, he did smile at the unexpected diversion, and also remembering the last time his elf had done that, found his thoughts ripped away from his current woes and back to a more pleasant time. After buttering and syruping his breakfast, he remained in a more agreeable mood.
"So," asked Hermione, who had already finished her breakfast and had just completed the reduced version of the Daily Prophet, "what would you like to do today?" It was not intended to be the casual question it had become. They did, indeed, have a few important things to resolve or act upon to deal with the fallout of the last few day's tragedies. It was, however, still Christmas, and if Harry had more whimsical ideas, she was game.
"I don't really know," replied Harry. For weeks, he had planned on spending some time with Hermione and Greta on Christmas Day. They had been the designated caretakers for the little girl while Rufus and Minerva attended to their wedding and honeymoon. Greta's room was so full of dolls and toys that it was hard to see how the little girl would be able to crawl into her own bed without toppling the whole thing over. "I suppose we can do whatever we want. It's Christmas, after all."
"I remember," agreed Hermione. "That's what makes it so depressing. I had really been looking forward to..." She stopped, suddenly, as the losses of the past couple of days struck hard, once again. It would be a while, she suspected, before that sort of thing would stop altogether.
"Well," said Harry, "we can't do exactly what we had planned, but we can come close, if that's what you want." He already had a trio of small, syrupy wedges on his fork, so he dispatched them to give himself time to flesh out his idea.
"What do you mean?" asked Hermione, actually confused.
"I mean," explained Harry, after swallowing his latest bite as he began to prepare the next, "that the plan was to play with the toys upstairs with a small girl. We can still do that. St. Mungo's has a children's ward, I'd expect, and there's a fifty-fifty chance that half of them are girls. Let's take the toys there and see what happens."
"Despite your lack of a grasp of statistics," replied Hermione, "you do have a point. I hadn't given any thought at all as to what to do with the toys and dolls now that..." Damn. Twice in two minutes.
"Right," said Harry. "What better time to visit than Christmas? Winky."
"Is Master being ready for more?" asked Winky, holding another three of her cakes in the ready position.
"No," replied Harry before changing that to, "Yes. Maybe."
"No," answered Hermione, deciding that fifteen would be sufficient. "We'll be going out in a while and would like for you and Slinky to prepare the toys and such in... in the... the bedroom next to ours to be, ah, brought to us when we call for them." Sooner or later, her sense of efficiency would compel her to utter the name 'Greta' instead of beating around the bush, but not today.
"Yes, Mistress," replied Winky, a touch of sadness in her own voice. She had loved Greta, too, of course.
Harry, who had finished up the remains of his breakfast, stood up as if to head upstairs to change when another thought occurred to him. "Have you given any thought to what we should do with, um, what's her name? The baby?"
"Janet," replied Hermione. "No, not really. She's in good hands, for now, but I don't think it's fair to just assume that Cathy will take care of her for the long term. She's quite busy enough as it is with her own children." She thought a second more and added, "She's also just picked up Ellie, it seems, but she's probably more of a help than a burden."
"Probably," agreed Harry. "I suppose there's always that Children's Services thing that I've heard of. Wasn't that where they were talking about sending Cathy's children?"
"Yes," confirmed Hermione. "If nothing else, she could go there. I think we'd both prefer it if something could be arranged where we could keep an eye on her, as time goes by."
"Why?" asked Harry, puzzled.
"Well," answered Hermione, trying to think of a good way to put it, "because you, I mean we, had a lot to do with putting her in this... situation." She hoped that she hadn't ruined Harry's current good mood.
"You were right the first time," corrected Harry. "It's my fault that Janet was orphaned, but not really. In a war, this sort of thing happens. It happened to me, for that matter. You can't take it too personally."
"You're right," agreed Hermione, thankful that Harry wasn't going to dwell overly on this one mistake and could see the bigger picture. "You didn't intend for this to happen."
"Not at all," agreed Harry. "Of course, it might have happened a dozen times, already. We just don't know about those orphans." He helped his wife to her feet
"What do you mean?" asked Hermione, taking up her position to his left as they headed back to their bedroom.
"I've killed dozens of Death Eaters," explained Harry. We know that at least some of them are women. When they're in those robes and masks, it's hard to tell at a glance if they're a witch or wizard. A lot of them were incinerated so we'll never know if I haven't already killed other couples who also might have had children."
"I suppose," agreed Hermione, hesitantly. She was a little worried that Harry seemed to be taking solace in the fact he might have already created other orphans.
"Right," said Harry at the bottom of the stairs. Silently asking Hermione if she wanted to climb them or have him take them both, he followed a half step behind to be in position if she stumbled. "If we really want to know, we could just ask Jerry."
"I don't really want to know," replied Hermione, quickly. "I feel bad enough about the one we're sure of."
"Don't," admonished Harry. "When the time comes, we can't let that sort of thought creep into our heads or we might hesitate. You know what they say about hesitating, right?"
"He who hesitates is lost," answered Hermione with a sigh. "Yes, I know."
"That wasn't the one I was thinking of," countered Harry, "but it also works. Here we go." He stepped from behind his wife to just in front of her and took her hand. The railing stopped about six inches too soon for someone who was especially dependent on the support.
As they walked down the hallway towards their room, they both noticed that the door to Greta's room was open and the lights were on. Winky and Slinky were already following their orders to prepare the toys to be relocated.
Not saying a word, Hermione slowed her pace a bit. Harry, of course, stopped almost immediately and looked back with a concerned expression. Hermione, feeling comforted by his concern, smiled wanly as she released his right hand from her left and silently glided over to the other side of her husband. Taking his left hand, they continued on; Hermione leaning against Harry as he blocked the view she didn't wish to see, just now.
At the Dark Lord's Tuscany Headquarters
At the same moment, albeit an hour later due to the time zone change.
"Someone's on the road." Henson had the usually underwhelming task of lookout for the mid-morning watch. From the old monastery's tower, you could see for at least a few miles unimpeded across the plain with only the occasional boar or, more rarely, a deer to break up the monotony. With the muggle repelling charms in place, human visitors shouldn't be a problem. "Roland. Did you hear me?"
"I heard you," replied Roland DeGruff, the head of the security department as he passed through the balcony doors, two floors lower. Putting his wand up to his eyes, he caused a small disturbance in the air that quickly solidified into a sort of window. Looking through it, he said, "It's a woman. Possibly muggle, although she shouldn't have made it this far if she is one. Fifty, maybe sixty years old. There's a cat with her. Wait, make that a dog; a small dog." Dispersing the magnification spell, he called down, "Kurt; Anson. Go see who she is."
Kurt Smythe and Anson Carmichael threw their traveling cloaks over their shoulders by habit and headed out the front entrance. It was a warm day, at least for newly arrived Englishmen. 55° was far better than anyone back in London could have hoped for on this slightly overcast Christmas morning so they didn't bother with closing the flaps.
After about ten minutes, they had traversed the half mile that still separated the oldish woman and the Dark Lord's stronghold. During this same ten minutes, she, the old woman that is, had managed only about a quarter of that distance. The small dog, as small dogs tend to do, had covered well over a mile if you counted the trips made towards the approaching men and the subsequent trips back to his mistress.
"Buongiorno signora," said Carmichael, one of the few guards fairly familiar with Italian, once they were within the presumed hearing range for the elderly. "Per favore, indica la tua attività."
"Bene, buongiorno anche a te," she replied. "Sembri inglese."
"È corretto, signora," confirmed Carmichael. "Ho paura che questa sia proprietà privata e dovrai andartene immediatamente."
"Private property, you say," repeated the woman, a little indignantly. "I don't recall hearing that this road has been sold.
"This lane has not been sold," acknowledged Carmichael. "However, it does end on this estate which has been sold. So if you don't mind..."
"But I do mind," countered the woman. "I have indeed heard that the former home of poor Signore Enologo had been sold. I have been waiting for the moving trucks to come by, but they never did. Yesterday, when the wind was right, I could hear laughter from this direction, though, and decided to bring a welcome basket and introduce myself. She held up the basket over her arm as proof.
"That is very nice of you," said Smythe once the other two had started to converse in English, "but..." He paused and put his hand in his pocket in order to be able to pull out a talisman. Lord Voldemort, it seemed, had become aware of the intrusion and had been watching the encounter. He knew very well what a basket of that type might hold.
"Thank you," replied the woman. "There are two of you, it seems. My name is Signorina Fiona Fitzgerald. I live down this lane about..."
"If you could please wait for a bit with your introductions," interrupted Smythe, "I've been directed to bring you to the main compound. Our mas... er our employer wishes to meet you." He gestured for her to take the lead.
Not moving in the least, Signorina Fitztgerald said, "So you've made the old monastery into a business, then?"
"Not exactly," replied Carmichael. "I'm sure that your questions will be answered once we arrive." He also indicated that she should lead the way.
"Very well," she agreed. "Could one of you hold out your arm so that we may proceed more quickly?"
Surprised, but catching on quickly, Smythe reached out and lightly grabbed the arm extended by the blind woman. Swatting it away, she reached out again and explained, "I hold onto you."
Not really knowing the proper technique, Smythe kept his arm in the same relative position as well as he could and the three of them made their way back to the main gates.
A short time later
"I've lived there my whole life," answered Fiona. She and Voldemort had been sitting at a small table on the south side of the compound beneath a pair of oak trees. Scotty, her dog, lay contentedly under the table, alertly keeping an eye out for any tidbits that might fall. The Dark Lord had wanted to interview her to find out where she lived; who else lived there; how often she had visitors and whether or not he might have to have her killed to maintain his own anonymity and security. The contents of her basket, however, had made that last option much less likely. As they sat there, Fiona pulled her shawl closer around her shoulders. The day had seemed quite tolerable to the Dark Lord, but his guest appeared to be having a bit more trouble keeping warm. Noticing this, he pulled his wand and silently cast a warming charm around the two of them.
"Oh, that's much better," responded Fiona to the new heat source. "Do you have some sort of device to warm the outside air?" She reached out to find her recently filled glass of milk and dunked her third cookie into it.
"Ah, something like that, Fiona," replied Voldemort. "I must say that the weather here seems quite nice for winter. Perhaps that's just in comparison to England at this same time of year."
"I would expect so," agreed Fiona. "I've only been to England; Scotland, actually, twice. We went to visit Babbo's family. I don't really know how cold it can get there since we went in the summer, both times."
"Babbo?" asked the Dark Lord. "Who's he?"
"Babbo was my father," replied Fiona. "It wasn't his name, actually. It's like Dad to you."
"Oh," replied Voldemort. "Your family came from Britain, then?"
"Babbo did," answered Fiona, taking another bite. "Mamma was from around here." Leaning forward, she added, "Mamma is what I called my, ah, mum, I think is the word."
"I figured that one out on my own," stated Voldemort, irked a bit.
"I'm just teasing," laughed Fiona, not being able to notice his expression. She laughed. Voldemort didn't reciprocated, but his did give her a rare smile. She didn't see that, either.
"So," asked Voldemort, curiously, "If your father was from Scotland and your mother wasn't, how did he end up with a family in the middle of Italy?"
"Well," began Fiona, "my parents met during the war. Mamma, her name was Sofia, was just 16 at the time and Babbo, whose name was Kenneth, was in the English army. I'm not sure of his rank; he never really spoke of it." She finished off her cookie before using the napkin to wipe off her lips and fingers. "Italy had already surrendered by that time, but Mamma never held that against him."
"Apparently not," agreed Voldemort, "or they probably wouldn't have had you." They both laughed. Surprisingly, Voldemort's face didn't crack from the strain.
"Yes, ah, Signore..." agreed Fiona. "I'm sorry, did you ever tell me your first name?" He hadn't, as it turned out. Carmichael had introduced her when they arrived, but hadn't been too clear on Voldemort's full name.
"Ah, no. I don't believe I did," replied Voldemort. He was just buying time to decide on his answer.
"Well, then?" asked Fiona. "What is it?" It was a reasonable question, after all.
"It's, ah, Tom," replied the Dark Lord. "Tom Voldemort." He might have to use his given first name, given his current lack of ability to pick another name out of the hat, but he already had an acceptable last name.
"Tom," repeated Fiona. "What a nice name. It's the name of someone that I feel I could talk to."
"I certainly hope so," agreed Tom, surprising himself. How was it that he felt so at ease with this stranger. This muggle stranger, if fact. Then again, they were very good cookies.
"Where were we?" asked Fiona, putting her finger up to her temple. "Oh, yes. How I ended up down your lane. Well, my genitori; parents to you, got along quite well after they met. More than quite well, I guess. They kept in touch with letters as Babbo had to leave with his army friends. A few months after he had moved on, Mamma wrote to him telling him that he was going to be a father." She paused to wag her finger and take another sip of milk before adding, "This was not so very unusual for those days."
"How did he take it?" asked Voldemort, as he compared her story with his own. "The news, as you put it." He knew how his own father had reacted once he was free of his mother's spells.
"He always told me that he was thrilled," answered Fiona, smiling wryly. "I doubt if that was true, at first. No young man wants to hear such a thing, of course. He never said any different, though, and once the war was finally over and he was released from the army, he came back to us. I was only a month or two old at the time and don't remember any of the sounds, but they said that I was at the wedding. That's more than many of my friends who came into this world in the same way could say."
"You say you don't remember any of the sounds of the wedding," stated Tom. "Were you born blind, then?" Despite not being known to worry overly about the feelings of others, he still hoped it wasn't too personal of a question.
"Yes," replied Fiona. "That probably didn't please Babbo, either." She changed her expression to an uncharacteristic frown.
"It didn't stop him from keeping you," commented Tom.
"What else could he have done?" asked Fiona, rhetorically. "You get what you get."
"He could have sent you to an orphanage," suggested Tom, sadly.
"He'd never have done that," scoffed Fiona. "I always felt loved; by both of my parents."
"I never did," admitted Tom, shocking himself that he'd admit something like that to himself, much less say it out loud to someone that he just met. It was different with Fiona, somehow.
"Tom," argued Fiona. "I've heard of parents that were less forthcoming with their love of their children, but surely there was ..."
"My father left before I was born," interrupted Voldemort. "My mother went to an orphanage to give birth and died there."
"Oh, Tom," cried Fiona, a tear gliding from her useless eyes as she reached across the table to take his hands into hers. "I'm so, so sorry."
Tom Riddle, Jr., in his entire long life, had never, ever had someone say such words to him, simple as they were; much less cried for him. That Fiona had expressed her sorrow and compassion for his circumstances, she who had also never seen her parents, just like himself, nor anyone or anything else for that matter, cracked the shell around his heart as nothing else could. It was a small crack, to be sure, but it was enough to allow the possibility for someone to touch it besides himself. As she tightened her grip on his hands, he noticed something else they had in common working its way down his own cheek.
At St. Mungo's, in the Children's Ward.
Hermione stood next to Healer's Assistant Maggie McFeely, feeling increasingly embarrassed at her husband's inability, at times, to take 'no' for an answer. McFeely had been quite nice about it, at first, but after assuring both of the Potters that with at most a dozen children in her care at any given moment, and much less than that on average, that the forty-seven additional toys, stuffed animals, books (well, she had said they could use more books) and play furniture that Harry, and admittedly Hermione had purchased in their first, overly exuberant shopping spree to properly equip Greta's room, were not needed. The nurse's latest gambit of siting a lack of room only propelled her husband into the small storage closet. Hermione doubted that it was small any longer.
"That should solve both problems," said Harry as he emerged from behind the door. Leaving it open, he indicated the new play area, now at least the size of the original play/day room, populated by the aforementioned gifts. McFeely politely looked through the doorway. Upon seeing what had actually been done, she perceived that having Harry Potter stop by might not have been as bad as she thought. There had been times, if she were honest with herself, when having even a few children ranging from toddlers to late teenagers in the same room was less than optimal for anyone. She would sort the exact divisions out later, but it was now time to be gracious.
"Thank you very much, Mr. Potter," she said. "I think I'm beginning to come around to your way of thinking. I'll have some of my friends come and help me rearrange things later. Thank you for your generosity."
"You're very welcome," replied Hermione, reaching out to shake the nurse's hand, while simultaneously preventing Harry from opening up a new front from goodness knows what pretext. Taking her husband's hand to let him know that they were leaving, she said, "Well, we have to be going, now. Christmas, and all."
"Happy Christmas," said McFeely as Hermione led Harry out into the outer hallway.
"Happy Christmas," called back Harry as his wife strengthened her grip, as well as her stride.
Around 6:30 PM at the Burrow.
The assorted Weasleys, some born to it, some Weasley by marriage and some by invitation, sat around the large dining table. While numerically more than usual, due to the addition of Fleur, Penelope, Honey and Hermione, the table seemed strangely underpopulated. Molly, who had been the heart and soul of the family, was not there for the first time in memory. Her absence was keenly felt, to say the least. The younger generation of Mrs. Weasleys had done their best, and the food was plentiful and in some cases better than before, mostly due to the well-practiced skills of Honey along with the ability of Hermione to recognize her own lack of any level of proficiency who called in Winky to fill in for her. The four of them, however, couldn't match Molly's bubbly exuberance, energy and sheer joy at having her family around her. It was noticeably not like other years.
All of the awkwardness, however, was brushed aside by Harry shortly after the meal had been finished. He had been fairly silent while eating, it seemed, and not just to avoid talking with his mouth full. He had been thinking. Had Hermione known, she might have been better prepared. As it was, however, she wasn't.
"So," said Harry, slowly easing into the discussion, "would any of you like a baby girl?" He indicated that he was addressing just the married couples, but pretty much everyone froze as if hit with dozens of Petrificus spells. Noting this, he added, "The details are still pretty hard to discuss, if you don't mind, but the baby needs to find some new parents." He actually thought that would be sufficient for now. The tryptophan from the turkey must have been particularly potent.
"There was a battle," began Hermione. Thinking better, she amended, "A fight, actually. Harry got into a fight with a Death Eater couple and... well... they had a baby girl." It wasn't hard for anyone to figure out how the fight had ended.
"Why in the world would a couple attack Harry?" asked Fred.
"Especially if they had a baby," added George.
"They didn't attack," said Harry. "Well, technically, the father threw the first spell, but I was knocking down the building they were in so..."
"Why were you knocking down a building with Death Eaters inside?" asked Charlie.
"I was looking for Voldemort," said Harry, sternly. "I was going to kill him." Everyone turned to stone, again. "For what he did to Greta. For Molly, too, and... and Rufus and..."
There was another long pause before Ginny spoke up. Addressing her father more than Harry, she said, "Harry destroyed more than one of You-Know, I mean Voldemort's headquarters. They were all empty until the last one. You might want to pass that on to the Ministry."
"Yes," replied Arthur. "That's important to know." He stood up to send a message by floo, but after thinking a moment, asked, "Harry? Could you write down some of the details about where you went so I can pass it on?"
"Sure, Mr. Weasley," answered Harry. "As soon as we're done here." Looking up optimistically, he asked, "So. Any takers? Her name is Janet and she's about a week or so old."
"Give us a day or so to think about it," blurted out Honey, exasperated. "I mean, I'm already going to have my own baby soon enough."
"Mum would've took her in a heartbeat," stated Ron, matter-of-factly. He looked up quickly and added, "Not that I'm trying to guilt anyone. It just occurred to me, that's all."
"Truer words were never spoken," agreed Bill. "I'm with Honey, though. Give us a bit to think about it."
"She is in good hands for now, isn't she?" asked Percy. "The baby, that is."
"The best," confirmed Harry. "She's upset with me, right now, but she's a good mum. Her name is Cathy and she's one of the widows at Hogwarts."
"Maybe she'd like to keep her," suggested Ginny.
"She a recent widow," replied Hermione, "and she already has two overactive boys, a baby daughter of her own and has taken in a young girl that needed a place to go. I don't think it would be right to add another baby to her load."
"She'd take her, though," said Harry, correctly.
"Of course she would," agreed Hermione. "I'd like to keep looking for a while, though."
"Should we go back to our apartments at Hogwarts?" asked Honey. "We could give her a hand."
"That shouldn't be necessary," replied Hermione. "There are plenty of other widows there. Maybe one of them might be interested." She looked at Harry.
"Maybe," conceded Harry. "Look, if you're interested, let us know. We'll keep looking, as well. Once everyone who wants a shot has put their name in the hat, we'll all get together to make a decision. By that time, we might have to stun Cathy to get her out of her hands anyway. Who knows?"
"Well," said Hermione. "I think finding a home for Janet won't be as hard as I thought."
"It doesn't look that way," agreed Fred.
"Maybe you could auction her off to raise money for nappies," suggested George.
"Brilliant idea," said Ron. "Well, if that's all sorted out, I for one am getting a little peckish."
"We just finished dinner, Ron," said Charlie.
"How long have you been in Romania?" asked Ginny. Everyone laughed.
"I'm not looking for another full meal," clarified Ron, "just dessert. There's always room for desert."
Taking a cue from the change of discussion while simultaneously answering Ron's wildest dreams, Winky snapped her fingers, clearing the table of the dirty dishes and substituting every type of cake, pie, candied fruit, roll, cookie and tart imaginable until the table groaned under the weight of it all.
"God bless us, everyone," declared Ron as he rushed towards the cornucopia.
Later that evening, back in Tuscany.
"Thank you so much, again, for dinner, Tom," said Fiona as she was led by Tom to the front gate of the compound. "It was very enjoyable."
"The joy was brought entirely by you," replied Voldemort, honestly. "I look forward to our next meeting."
"As do I," agreed Fiona. "I can smell some rain coming, but perhaps in a couple of days it will be nice enough for another visit." She took another step before turning towards him offering, "Or perhaps you could come and visit me. My home is not so grand as yours, but I like it."
"That might be a possibility," admitted Tom. They had reached the lane. "Smythe and Carmichael will see you safely home." He lowered his arm and stepped back to allow Carmichael to take his place.
"Thank you," replied Fiona, although she was sure she could find her own way home. The dark, after all, didn't bother her. "Happy Christmas, Tom."
"Happy Christmas, Fiona," replied Tom. He watched for a bit as she disappeared into the night. His remaining men watched, too, but not her.
Author's Note: A short chapter, I agree, and not all that exciting, but I'm trying to get back into the spirit and wanted you to all know that I'm still working on it.