Chapter 148 - Boxing Day

Friday, Around 10:00 AM, in the Department of Aurors

"Woolstaston? I'm afraid I'm not all that familiar with that area." Nancy Carver, the young auror taking Harry's statement was a little star struck when they had begun, but after discussing the details of just the first two of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named's headquarters that Harry had destroyed, she had moved on to wondering if she was senior enough to even be doing this much. Not wishing to be less than complete, though, she asked, "Exactly where is Woolstaston? It's sort of over by Liverpool, isn't it?"

"Maybe. I know it's in Sops... Shropsire... Shropshire," answered Harry. Chuckling, he added, "Try saying that three times."

"You were barely able to get it out just the once," agreed Carver. She was immediately embarrassed by her cheek. "Oh, I'm so..."

Harry's laughter drowned out her apology. "Right you are," he replied. "I think you have to take some of the blame for asking the question." They both smiled in agreement before they got back down to business.

"Just give me a moment," requested Carver as she wrote out a quick note and sent it flying off to the records section.

"That'll take just a few minutes to check on that," explained Carver, "but I'm pretty sure that it's not in our files, so let's just get some basic information. Is there anything special or unusual about it?"

"Was there," he corrected. "Let's see; Woolstaston. It was one of his regular haunts. I'd be actually surprised if it doesn't turn out to be known to the Ministry. Hmm. From what I've seen, it was a nice enough place. Nothing special that stands out, but better set up than most. It had a nice layout in the dining area, for instance. You didn't have to cross over with the lines coming and going. The kitchen could supply the serving tables without ..."

"You seem to have pretty specific, ah, information about that one," interrupted Carver. "Perhaps we should hit just the high points until we're sure that it's necessary to be quite so detailed."

"Sure," agreed Harry. "It's sort of a mute point, anyway. I burned it to the ground, after all."

"That's moot," corrected Carver. "I suppose you're right."

"What?" asked Harry.

"You said 'mute'," answered Carver. "You meant that it was a moot point. A lot of people get that wrong."

"I meant that we didn't have to talk about it," responded Harry. "I mean, not in detail about the building, itself, now that it's gone, anyway. I believe that makes it a mute point."

"My mistake," agreed Carver. She caught on fast. "Now, about how often did You-Know-Who use that particular location?" She dipped her quill in the ink and hovered over her parchment, expectantly.

"Let me think," replied Harry. Scratching his stubble, he continued with, "We know from our interviews that he seemed to like the place, but I'd guess that he's been there only once since we started to actually track him. Stayed about two or three weeks. I'm not sure if..."

"Pardon me, Harry," said Jack, after coming through the door and locating Harry. "Could you join me for a bit?" He nodded to Carver to acknowledge her presence, but quickly returned his attention to Harry.

Both Harry and Nancy were surprised and confused enough by the abrupt request to remain silently motionless for perhaps a moment to long. "It will take more than a bit, actually," added Jack, addressing Carver. "You might want to find something else to do." He glanced back and forth between them to help them shift gears. He was the presumptive head of the department now, with not only Rufus, but Kingsley both having died at the attack, but it would still take some time for everyone to instinctively follow his orders.

"Sure," replied Harry. Turning to Nancy he added, "We'll continue when Jack's finished with me."

"Whenever you're ready," replied Carver. She stood up along with Harry and headed out to the reference offices to gather some further information while Harry and Jack headed the other way.

"Actually," said Jack as they walked down the hallway, "It's the acting Minister of Magic who wanted a chat. I'm just the one he told to bring you to his office." He said this in a louder and somewhat slower voice than Harry had heard from him in the past. "I just need to grab some information that the Department of Magical Zoning and Utilities wanted since we'll be going right by there anyway, assuming I can find it." He opened the door to what had formerly been Shacklebolt's, and before him, Rufus' office.

Entering his office, Jack waved his wand to not only lock the door, but to protect the room from any eavesdropping spells.

"We don't have much time," began Jack, quietly. "Bertie Higgs, a rather self-important member of the Wizengamot, has been declared temporary Minister of Magic until an actual election can be arranged. He's heard you were about and wants a chat." He picked up the folder that he had located and placed on his desk after receiving the interoffice paper airplane ordering him to escort Harry to the Minister of Magic's office. "He's not on your side, no matter what he may say. I just wanted you to be on your guard about what you might reveal. I repeat, he's not on your side."

"Is he working for Voldemort?" asked Harry, concerned.

"Not directly," replied Jack, with reservation. "He's worked against Rufus and his methods of fighting Voldemort might be a better answer. He didn't want Rufus to look too good, so he did what he could to prevent that. If he inadvertently helped Voldemort in the process..." He shrugged.

"Sounds like a nice guy," commented Harry.

"Sounds like a politician," corrected Jack. "Well, that's about as long as we dare spend looking for this." He held up the folder. Opening the door, he let Harry precede him into the somewhat more congested than usual hallway. "Leave it to Shack to have things a little too organized," he said, boisterously as he took the lead. "Thought I'd never find this bloody file."

Also around 10:00 AM, at the kitchen table of Cathy Diben, et al.

"You aren't exactly filling me with confidence," noted Honey, unsuccessfully trying to adjust the diaper that she had just almost put on Baby Janet Notzobad. It was already starting to come undone and Janet hadn't even moved.

"You'll get the hang of it," assured Cathy Biden as she gave her own daughter, Tracy, a quick spin to buy enough time to lean over and, reaching into the recesses of the bundle of cloth that was wadded haphazardly around Janet, located the two hidden creases she had sought and gave them a quick tug. The now snug diaper was ready for duty in time for her to finish up with caring for Tracy's needs.

"I'm afraid I'll have to agree with Honey on this one," stated Hermione, who had been mostly watching after her very-much-so less-than-successful attempts to help had finally been slapped away by the expert. "Do you think you might be available to give classes?"

Cathy laughed, although Hermione was serious. Honey had also listened closely for the answer. "Don't worry," replied Cathy. "When the time comes, you'll both do quite well, I'm sure."

"I'll let you look over my notes," offered Ellie. She, too, had soon come to the realization that an opportunity was at hand to prepare for her own children, although that was still years off.

The women, both older and younger, had found that they got along quite well together when it was, in fact, just the women. Hermione, not really that interested in a trip to the Ministry to give reports on the destruction of several of Lord Voldemort's hideouts, had instead decided to check on the infant that had been thrust onto her list of responsibilities and her more or less shanghaied caretaker.

"Well," began Hermione to broach the subject, "you might be pressed into giving a few pointers once we find a permanent foster family." She wasn't obvious about it, but she did keep a peripheral eye on Cathy's reaction to her comment. Having known her only relatively briefly, and on just a few occasions at that, she had the feeling that Cathy was along the same lines as Molly had been; overworked and overwhelmed by her own children, but always able to find time for one more, if necessary.

"That's to be expected," acknowledged Cathy, finishing up with Tracy before giving Janet a quick once over. "It took me more than a bit to get the hang of caring for Seth. I had some help from a more experienced mother when he came along, too. I guess that's the way it's supposed to work out. One mother helps the next down the line."

"I suppose so," agreed Honey. "Molly was probably going to be my teacher, until..." She bowed her head and turned to the side.

"Molly?" asked Cathy. "Who's she?" She set Tracy in her high chair before preparing to give Janet a quick snack.

"Molly was Honey's mother in law," explained Hermione, sadly. "She was killed last, ah... Saturday night. Death Eaters..." She couldn't go on, just yet.

"Oh, dear," said Cathy, compassionately giving Honey a hug. "You poor dear. No wonder you're worried about taking care of your baby when the time comes. You just come and ask me anything you want. I'll be glad to help."

Honey returned the hug gratefully. Releasing Cathy, she added, "Thank you. I'm sure my own mother will be on hand, to put it mildly, but she only raised a girl. I'm not so sure she'd have much advice about boys."

"Oh," asked Cathy, surprised. "You already know you'll be having a boy?"

"Not for sure," answered Honey, "but that's the way to bet." She laughed.

"There's only been one girl born a Weasley for quite a while," explained Hermione, "and she's more than a handful, herself." She didn't laugh, but her expression gave the impression that she wasn't kidding.

"I see," said Cathy, joining in the levity. Calming down as a thought entered her momentarily idle head, she asked, "Was it when our... I mean the Death Eaters killed this Molly that Harry decided to..." She let it go at that.

"No," replied Hermione, motioning for the other women to have a seat at the table while Cathy fed Janet and she told the tale. After giving a small bottle of strained beets to Honey and pointing her towards Tracy, Cathy complied.

"First of all," began Hermione, putting the story in the correct order in her mind, "Molly was a mother of seven who became a mother of eight the moment Harry arrived at her house. His own parents had been killed when he was a baby, as I'm sure you're aware. Well, his muggle relatives were horrible, at the time. Locked him in his room or in cupboards and never did anything kind for him."

"They sound terrible," agreed Cathy, with Honey nodding between attempts to get the spoon in Tracy's mouth.

"They were," agreed Hermione, again, "but they have been improving since Harry brought them here to Hogwarts."

"Why did he do that?" asked Cathy, naturally, while adjusting Janet's position.

"To save their lives," answered Hermione, "but that's another story. So anyway, when he was rescued by Ron; Honey's husband, and a couple of his brothers, she took him in immediately. She's been like a mother to him ever since. Fast forward to last Saturday night. We had spent the day buying Christmas presents for the children of some of the Death Eaters that we had captured or... and were out to dinner with the, ah, men from the other side that were helping with it. Everything was going okay, until Harry just stood up, out of the blue, shouted 'Molly!' and disappeared. He can sense a little about when bad things are happening to those he is really close to. It turned out that he sensed when she... when she was... killed."

"How terrible," exclaimed Cathy, disturbing Janet. Readjusting her hold, she asked, "Where did he go?"

"To Molly's side," answered Hermione. "One of her sons was unconscious beside her. We figured she went to help him when her clock said he was in danger."

"Her clock?" asked Cathy, confused.

"It's a special clock," replied Hermione, not wanting to get into that, either. "She must have used the portkey necklace that Harry gave her to pop to his side when the other people in the room attacked her. There was Snape and a few of his men. From what I saw, she tried her best, but there were seven or eight of them, altogether. She probably didn't last long."

"How terrible," said Cathy, again. "What could she do, though? Her boy was in danger, you said. She had to go."

"You're right about that," agreed Honey. "God help anyone trying to hurt her children."

"More accurately, God help anyone who hurt Molly when Harry got there," corrected Hermione. "This all happened at Borgin and Burkes. By the time I got there, most of the store was in smoldering ruins. All of the Death Eaters were ashes and the back wall was gone from when he went after Snape."

"I remember reading a little about that," agreed Cathy. "He must have been furious." She pulled Janet away from her and gave her a once over.

"Furious isn't the word," added Honey, "although I don't know what else would be better."

"True enough," continued Hermione. "He hasn't talked about it much, but the loss of Molly was devastating to him." She didn't think that came out the right way and amended, "Don't get me wrong. We all felt it, but for someone like Harry, raised without love by people who were quite open about their contempt for him, the death of someone who had so much love and acceptance... Is something wrong?" She noticed that Cathy's attention had become a bit more focused.

"I'm not sure," responded Cathy, distractedly. "Janet doesn't seem to be very hungry." Clarifying a bit, she added, "She might just have an upset stomach or something, or she might be sleepy." Holding her in her arms, she said, "I think that's it. She's already falling asleep." Standing up, she took a few steps towards the cradle that the house elves had scraped up. "I'll let her have an hour or so of rest before trying again."

"That sounds like a good idea," agreed Hermione. "I think we'll head on out so the place will be quieter." She started to gather her things.

"It won't be quiet for long," contributed Ellie. "The boys will be gearing up before much longer." As if to prove her point, Seth came around the corner and started to build a makeshift stairway to the cookie tin on the counter.

"Only two," warned Cathy, addressing her son, but keeping a watchful eye on Janet and another one on Tracy. "You don't want to spoil your lunch."

"'Course not," agreed Seth, nearing the halfway point of his climb. "I'll get two for Jerry, too." This newfound altruism regarding his younger brother didn't fool anyone.

"I'll give Jerry his treats," replied Cathy, getting up. "You just go play in the other room. The babies need their sleep."

Jumping down after getting his two cookies, plus a spare, Seth gave out with a hearty, "Thanks, mum," before running into the next room and calling for his younger brother to join him.

"I want to say again," said Hermione, "that we really appreciate your agreeing to help out with Janet." She paused a second to watch as Cathy tucked Janet in a little more snugly in the cradle and felt her forehead. "Attempting to help this morning, it only became too clear that both Honey and I would be completely out of our depth if left to our own devices." Honey nodded in agreement.

"Nonsense," disagreed Cathy, picking up Tracy. "You'll both do just fine when the time comes." Putting Tracy into her own cradle, she said, "Well, those cookies won't keep my sons at bay for long. I'd better start on lunch."

"We'll leave you to it, then," said Hermione, standing up and heading towards the door."

"If you don't mind," offered Honey, "I'll give you a hand. After my less than stellar performance with the diapers, I'd like to redeem myself with something that I'm actually competent at."

"If you'd like," replied Cathy, warily. "I wouldn't turn down the offer, that's for sure."

"I'll see you later then," said Hermione, not wishing to get roped into something else that wasn't in her wheelhouse. The other women and girl bid their farewells silently as Hermione let herself out.

Still around the same time, but back at the Ministry.

"Good morning, good morning," said Bertie Higgs, as he walked around Rufus' desk to shake Harry's hand and offer him a seat. "I'm so glad you stopped by, today, Mr. Potter." He gave Harry an appraising, yet outwardly friendly once over as he waited for the societally required response.

"Pleased to meet you, too," replied Harry, pausing before finishing with, ",ah, Mr. Higgs." He then took the offered chair and waited.

Higgs returned to his own chair and proceeded with his personal silent appraisal of Harry. After about five seconds, Harry started to wonder if Higgs was trying to use some legilimency to read his mind when Higgs asked, "As the new Minister of... er, I mean interim Minister of Magic, I've been reviewing the recent activities and, ah, interests of Minister Scrimgeour, to get myself up to speed, you see, and I noticed that, well, your name seems to come up quite often." He paused, giving Harry the opportunity to comment.

"I suppose that we did work together a bit," conceded Harry, deciding that this was common knowledge.

"Yes," agreed Higgs, "that much was abundantly clear." He turned to a small table behind and just to the side of his desk. Gesturing, he indicated a stack of Daily Prophets. Picking up the top one, he said, "It took me a while to understand what was going on, but once I did, I saw just how crafty Scrimgeour actually was." Again, he paused to allow Harry to speak.

Harry, of course, wasn't sure at all what Higgs was getting at. Deciding that he had to say something, he went with a general, "I'll have to agree with you on that. Rufus was no fool."

"Exactly, exactly," replied Higgs, nodding his head. "I'm sure that very few were able to see through his, ah, embellishments where you were involved. Quite clever, actually."

"Embellishments?" asked Harry. "I'm not sure I follow you."

"Well," began Higgs, holding up the paper for Harry to get a closer look, "For example, I'm sure that Scrimeour would have given you a more prominent role if he had lived." The headline on the daily stated, 'Minister of Magic Killed!'. Underneath that story, but still on the front page was a smaller article, 'Harry Potter Unable to Stop Tragedy'.

"I suppose," agreed Harry, hesitantly. "It's a little hard to compare headlines under those circumstances. They're so... different."

"True, true," allowed Higgs. "I'm sure that we'll need to discuss the specific intentions and objectives at some point." Again he paused, leaving it up to Harry to advance the conversation.

Harry, of course, still wasn't too sure on where this line of discussion was heading, but he again knew he was expected to say something. "That's probably true, sir. I, ah.." Harry faltered, again, as to how to proceed.

"Yes, Mr. Potter?" asked Higgs, eagerly. "You were going to say ..." He gestured for Harry to continue with his thought.

"I'm not sure what I was going to say," replied Harry, honestly. "Perhaps we could move on with why you wished to speak with me in the first place." The ball had been returned.

"Yes, of course," replied Higgs, at first seemingly disturbed by the lack of reply, but quickly moving on. "Well, Harry, I was thinking that if the two of us were to move in the same direction as you and, ah, Rufus, had, then it might be wise to maintain that image and have you say a few words at the funeral. Somewhat in the same manner as he did when you had, in the public's eyes at least, died." He looked up as if awaiting a reply before adding, "I'd expect we'll need to review that incident as well. I'm sure you would agree that anything along those lines in the future should have sufficient safeguards in place to protect the general public, regardless of the much more extensive damage done to You-Know-Who and his forces."

Harry was on the verge of asking exactly what Higgs meant by that when Jack's warning came to mind; 'He is not on your side.' Harry backed up a stop and stepped off at the previous station. "I suppose you're right, Mr. Higgs. I would be honored to speak about Rufus. He was a very good friend and deserves no less."

Higgs paused a moment, but apparently decided that he didn't want to push the other matter too far. Saying, "Of course, Harry. Of course." Leaning back in his chair, he reached over for a scrap of parchment on the right of the desktop and glanced over it. "I've been sketching out some details, about the service. Nothing is set in stone, but I expect that it will be held Sunday afternoon in St. Herbert's Basilica. Probably around 3 o'clock. That's one of the things I have to check on with the bishop in charge." He made a small note on the parchment, apparently to remind himself. "I'll have the schedule sorted out in time for tomorrow's Prophet. As far as your part is concerned, there will be a few speakers and then it will be your turn." Looking up, he added, "Don't worry. You won't be giving the main eulogy. Just a few minutes on whatever you like."

"Thank you, Minister," said a relieved Harry. "I'm certainly not an experienced public speaker. I can do this much, though, in memory of my friend."

"Thanks, Harry," replied Higgs, rising. Harry also rose, sensing the meeting was over. Higgs shook his hand and added, "Sometime after the start of the new year, we'll have to have another chat to see where our efforts might cross."

"Thank you Minister," replied Harry. "I look forward to that." With that, Harry let himself out of the Minister's office.

Somewhere in the town of Sada - Lunch time

"Head's up," called out Linus, reaching up to grab the incoming owl as it swerved towards his daughter. It was a young, long-eared owl clutching what was easily recognizable as an edition of the Daily Prophet. They hadn't received one since leaving the coast of England on Tuesday evening.

"The poor thing probably didn't want to try to find us at sea," commented Luna, taking the daily as she reached into her purse for five knuts.

"I've got it," said Linus, who only had to insert his hand into his change pocket. Putting the money in the bag, the owl chirped once before heading off, not towards England directly, but back the way she had come, from the coast of Spain that was now well within sight from the foredeck of the Lady Rose. "I'm surprised that she made the attempt in the first place. I suspended our own subscription for..." He paused as he sensed the change in Luna's mood.

"Oh, my," said Luna, softly as she slumped onto a nearby bench. She said no more, but turned the paper around for her father to see. The headline was 'Minister of Magic Killed!'.

"Let me see that," ordered her father. Quickly taking the paper before his daughter even had a chance to comply, he began to read the story, underneath.

"That's that Scrimgoeur chap, isn't it?" asked Kurt. "I rather liked him."

"We all did," agreed Luna. "I don't know how he was professionally, but as just a man, he was quite easy to be around."

"Indeed," said Kurt. "At your school dance, he..."

"It's worse," declared Linus, lowering the paper slightly as he looked at his daughter.

"What is it?" asked Luna, sensing that it wasn't just a little worse.

"His... his granddaughter," replied a shaken Linus. "She was..."

"No!" shouted Luna, grabbing the paper from her father. She couldn't read it, though. The tears which had welled up at the news of Rufus' death were falling freely by this time. Kurt sat down next to Luna, putting his arms around her. For a time, that is how they remained; Kurt comforting Luna while her father, having retrieved the paper, finished the article as well as a few supplemental ones on the following pages.

A few minutes later, the first mate arrived. Whispering something in the ear of his employer, he received an acknowledging nod and returned to the bridge.

"We're coming up on Sada," explained Kurt. "That's a town along the coast in the northwest corner of Spain." He waited for a response from one of the Lovegoods. After one didn't seem to be forthcoming, he added, "It has some interesting sights. I thought we could moor at the marina for a day or so and take in some of the countryside." He then added quickly, "Of course if this news has put a damper on the entire trip, we could just refuel and head back straightaway."

"Don't be silly," replied Luna with a smile, although still having more than a few tears fall down her cheeks. "We just got here. I'll be okay, for now. There'll be plenty of time for mourning when we get back." She looked up at Linus for confirmation. He, however, didn't seem quite so sure.

"I, ah, think that maybe we should be..." Linus stopped when he saw the increase in the slump of Luna's shoulders. Continuing anyway, he said, "I mean, this is an important story. I should probably be back at the office in times like this." He sounded sure, but didn't really look it.

"I understand," agreed Kurt. "I'll let the captain know that we're going to return to England." He gave Luna an extra hug before standing.

"Hold on a moment," ordered Linus, indicating that Kurt should return to the side of his daughter. "I'm the one who needs to go back to London, not the two of you." With one last moment of internal discussion, he stated, "I normally wouldn't do this, but given the time we've spent together these past couple of days and Luna's opinion of your character, I'm willing to accept your word, if you choose to give it, that if I leave the two of you here alone, that you'll act responsibly and not take advantage of the situation." It was a little hard to tell which of them he was emphasizing this to the most.

"Mr. Lovegood," said Kurt. "That's quite a generous offer and I'm honored that you think so highly of my trustworthiness, but if you have any reservations at all about this, don't hesitate to mention it."

"I don't," replied Linus, immediately. Smiling, he added, "For one thing, you aren't exactly alone on this boat. I've counted at least nine member of the crew. Secondly, Luna is quite capable of taking care of herself, in the unlikely case of her needing to do so. She also has help in that regard, if necessary." Turning to his daughter, he confided, "Don't think I haven't noticed your personal security is still with us. He's discreet, but in close quarters its hard to be invisible."

"Harry insisted," admitted Luna. "It didn't seem worth it to argue the point."

"Because you'd lose," agreed Kurt. "Harry does seem to hold you in high favor, doesn't he."

"Of course," affirmed Luna, "which brings us to the final and most important reason that Daddy is leaving us to our own devices; Harry. Daddy wouldn't be a nice enemy to have for a muggle and as he said, I can take care of myself. Harry, on the other hand, could put this boat on the bottom of the ocean in two seconds without even thinking about it. Not that he would, mind you, but he could."

At Kurt's confusion on whether he should laugh or shake in his boots, Luna reached up and gave him a kiss on the lips, but not too long of one. Her father was standing right next to them, after all.

"Well," said Kurt, deciding things were going to work out after all, "I suppose it's all settled. Let's have lunch on shore, at least, before we find an airplane to take Linus home. Now, I know of a fabulous place called, ah, what is it called? Oh, the Dacanta... something. Don't worry, I know where it is."

"Sounds like a corker of an idea," said Linus. "I've never been in one of those airoplane things. What are they like?"

Author's Note:

It's been a long time. Around the end of 2020, my wife, Kristy, took a turn for the worse. She had to go into a nursing home just after Christmas. While able to spend a week or so, here and there, at home, she ended up going back and forth between hospitals and nursing homes from then on. I started her obituary in April, I think, but she seemed to get a little better soon after. I bought a lift to get her in and out between the car and her wheelchair. That made things a little better since we could still have outings. She was doing pretty well in August, the day before our anniversary and we were able to go to a supper club for prime rib, her favorite. We had hopes that she was on the mend, as they say in England, but it was not to be. She went downhill from then on. On October 5th, 2021, after having spent the day with her children and hearing us tell stories of the good times, she was finally released from the confines of her body and ascended to the eternal life she deserved in Heaven. It's been a little over a year, now, and I think I'm ready to continue with the story. She was able to hear the final chapter as well as a synopsis of the epilog, in case you were wondering. You'll all have to wait for another 40 or 50 chapters until you get to do the same, but once I start, it shouldn't take too long to get back into the swing of things.

It's good to be back.