Harry receives unwelcome observations and advice from Molly. Paul's death is inestigated from three different angles.
"Nonsense, there's plenty of room, and enough beds so that our grands won't even need to share one."
Harry and Hermione saw the logic and bowed to the immovable object that was Molly Weasley. The thought of lugging three sleeping children like so many sacks of flour back to Godric's Hollow was less appealing than tucking them into a bed just up the stair.
Molly said, "Half a tic!" and disappeared into the hall closet. She returned, beaming, "I knew just where to find these!"
Gramama Weasley came back into the kitchen with a box bound by string. A tug on the knot and the box fell open disgorging an assortment of pajamas dating all the way back to the time Bill Weasley was a toddler.
With a practiced eye Molly sized up the jammies and matched sleepwear to the Granger-Weasley and Potter sprogs. As she handed each child a set, a toothbrush seemed to appear out of thin air, like magic.
"Alright men, it's off to bath and to brush our teeth. Hup, hup, hup." Harry and the boys headed off to the communal bathroom that had been shared by up to seven young men at a time, when a much younger Harry had been over to visit.
Hermione and Rose gratefully accepted the invitation to use the bathroom downstairs.
Rose sat quietly as her Mummy lathered her hair.
"Mummy, is Daddy Harry my daddy now?"
"Head back, dear." She said, by way of a stall. The enchanted scallop shell made for a fine rinse pail, fitting into her hand nicely.
"Well?" Rosie asked, impatiently.
"Too soon, sweetie, too soon to say."
Meanwhile, in the upstairs tub, Jimmy and Albie were trying to see which of them could get the greatest quantity of soap suds on the bathroom floor while at the same time getting as little as possible on themselves.
"Daddy, I'm done." Albus announced, "My fingers are all wrinkly."
Harry looked as his youngest son and grinned.
"And there'll be a fine crop of potatoes behind your ears, little man."
He brandished the bottle of bubblegum scented 'No Tears' children's shampoo and got to work on Albie, while Jimmy insisted he could do his own.
The youngest Potter scrunched his face as Harry gently but thoroughly sponged it with the warm, wet flannel. The eldest son simply splashed water in his own face, rubbing vigorously to dislodge any dirt trying to hide there.
As Harry towel dried Albie's hair his two year old asked, "Are we a whole family now?"
"Of course we're a family, you and Jimmy and me."
"And Mummy Mynee and Rosie?"
Harry helped his two boys into their borrowed jammies then led them into the twins old room.
Albus, tenacious as a bulldog, picked up his conversation from the bath as if they'd never been interrupted by drying and dressing. "Can we all live at our house?"
"I don't think so, little man."
"I'm not sure Mummy Mynee wants to move in with three blokes."
"What do you want, Daddy?"
I want my life to be what it was a year ago, I want my wife back he thought, fighting back the incipient tears. What he said was, "I want you and your brother to get into bed, c'mon, let’s tuck you in."
"Can Mummy Mynee tuck me in?"
"I'm sure she will."
"Of course I will." Hermione said from the door. She was already in a slightly oversized robe over a pair of Ron's old pajamas. She looked like she did back in first year when she had yet to grow into her night things. The only thing missing was an over-sized book in her hands. She did have a stuffed dragon.
"Draggers!" Albie cried.
"This is Dragger's big brother, he used to be Uncle Charlie's, but with Charlie off in Romania he's been feeling lonely lately."
Little Albus accepted a hug from Hermione, and then clutched the well worn stuffed dragon close to his chest.
Jimmy grudgingly accepted the stuffed hippogriff, saying, "I don't need a cuddle-up."
Hermione said, "I know, James, but 'Buckbeak' here has been lonely for a long time and could use the company."
Hermione ran her fingers through the boy's messy, red hair, then looked up at Harry and said, "Rosie asked if you would. . ."
Harry went into Ginny's old room, now decked out as a guest room with a double bed.
He reached up and pulled the white unicorn from its hiding place atop the dresser.
"Bunny!" Rosie cried with glee.
"Yep, 'Bunny' used to keep your Auntie Ginny company here, and later at school. She needs a Ginger girl to love."
Rose clutched the plush unicorn and smiled.
"Are you my daddy now?"
If only, he thought.
"Sweetie, no matter what happens, I will always by your 'Daddy Harry'."
"I love you, Daddy."
"I love you too, Rosie."
Harry, Hermione and the elder Weasleys sat around the kitchen table for a talk and a nightcap. Harry, Arthur and Molly enjoyed a small glass of port, while Hermione sipped hot chocolate.
"I'm going to check the ward scheme around your flat, Hermione."
"Nice of you to tell me, Harry."
"Um, I mean, with your permission, of course."
"Maybe Bill can have a look as well. "Molly ventured.
"Couldn't hurt, Hermione." Arthur added.
"No, I don't suppose it would."
"Perhaps Rosie could spend the day here at the Burrow with Jimmy and Albie, then Bill and I could look over your flat?"
"I don't want to trouble you, Harry; you've done so much already."
"Hey, that's what friends are for, right?"
Hermione frowned, but capitulated.
Why does it bother me? She thought.
Harry watched her closely, knowing something was bothering her, but also knowing he would get nothing out of her by badgering.
"How about a read?" he suggested.
Hermione's eyes grew wide, she looked at her in-laws and then back to Harry, "Um, I think I'll just settle in with Rosie, g'night."
Hermione got into the double bed with her sleeping daughter, but kept the lantern burning low, too low to read by.
Why did I panic, just then?
Because Harry's idea of a read is to stretch out on the couch by the fireplace, with me snuggled up against him with a book of my own.
And am I ashamed of that?
I don't want Molly and Arthur to see us cuddling like that so soon after we've buried our spouses - their children.
So I do feel guilty.
Harry read for a short while in front of the Weasley's fireplace, but it wasn't the same.
"Near as I can tell, Inspector White, the victim was tangled in wire, and electrocuted. Cause of death, heart failure from electrical shock."
"Ben, could it have been suicide?"
"Hard to say." The deputy coroner mused,"He could have accidentally got himself bound up in wires, pulling them down from this shelf, then touched a terminal."
"Next of kin?"
"Elderly parents in Brighton, they've been notified."
White hated that; no parent should have to bury their own child, even a grown child.
"One thing is odd."
"Well, these burns on the deceased's arms."
"Yes, but, something else."
"Well, the welts are more consistent with insect stings, and smell that?"
"You'll have to be more specific."
The coroner swabbed clear liquid from the victim's arm.
"What is that?"
"First guess? Dermatonecrotic toxin."
"You see the welts on his arm? If we were at a beach I'd say he'd been tangling with a Portuguese Man o' War."
"Right, be sure to add that to the database, 'Victim appears to have been attacked by a great bloody jellyfish in his bedroom'."
"Just doing my job, inspector."
"I know, Benjamin, and I'm sorry. I just hate a bloody mystery."
"You're a police inspector, you live to solve mysteries."
"Nah, I always read the last page of the book first. Drives my wife mad. I like my cases simple, like when the yob stands there with a bloody knife and says, "I'm glad I did it"."
"Well, look at the last page of this one and tell me what happened."
Later that night Norman Benjamin entered the data into his computer and, on a whim, looked for a match.
And found one.
Three months before, a veteran 'skip-diver'had been found with similar welts on his face and neck, and a chemical analysis showed the same toxins as today's victim.
The skip-diver's body looked desiccated; he'd been drained of blood, yes, but other fluids as well.
Ben expanded the search and found victims with similar symptoms dating back thirteen years. Then nothing.
"Curiouser and curiouser."
Unlike Inspector White, Norman Benjamin, deputy coroner, loved a mystery.
Harry's eyes snapped open. It took him half-a-tic to orient himself; he was in the Burrow, and had fallen asleep while reading on the couch. Molly was speaking.
"Harry, dear, please don't misunderstand me, but what are you doing, exactly, spending so much time with Hermione?"
He wanted to protest and say, "I'm not!"but that would have been inaccurate. "I guess I didn't realize we were. Imean, we've always been the best of friends, and I wanted to be there for her, y'know?"
"I know dear, but someone had to ask the awkward question, I know you are still somewhat unfamiliar with wizarding customs, but a widow is supposed to be left, well, alone to mourn. You should know that, if it became common knowledge that you took her to Hawaii, it would be frowned upon. Her reputation would suffer."
"I didn't know that."
"I know, dear, but Hermione needs to mourn, and then get on with her life."
Harry wanted to shout, But I want to be her life!
"I'm glad we had this little chat, dear. Goodnight, son."
Molly smiled and went off to bed.
It's not fair. Harry thought, we're good together, we fit. He closed his book and climbed the stair to Ron's old room, still painted in Chudley Cannon Orange.
The thought of staying in a room that reminded him so much of his best mate was depressing, so he quietly descended the stairs and pitched a handful of powder into the floo.
He staggered out of the fireplace floo in his own home and nearly tripped over a bundle of rags on the hearth.
It wasn't a bundle of rags.
It was Kreacher, in the rags he used to wear when he was the only living thing at Grimmauld Place.
His body was by the fireplace, in apuddle of blue-green blood.
His head lay three paces away where it had evidently rolled when he'd been decapitated.
The old elf's face was frozen in an expression of unimaginable misery.
Harry went into full investigative mode, first, check the wards.
A quick examination of the body showed no damage, other than the one cut. And that was done with surgical precision.
Could Kreacher have answered a floo call, and then been attacked by the caller?
He called Stebbins.
"What's up, boss?"
"Stebbins, Kreacher has been murdered, in my home."
"Merlin! Are the boys okay, are you okay?"
"The boys are safe, they're at their Grandmum's. I just got here, I'm fine, thanks for asking. I need a full crime-scene team here ASAP, I need you to check the floo logs, see if anyone called my house in the past few days."
"Teams on the way, boss, and I'll have those floo logs in ten minutes or less. I'll see you at Godric's Hollow."
The Auror Basic was there in five, parchment in hand.
"There haven't been any floo calls to this address in the past two weeks, sir, and the only outgoing call was when you called me."
The forensic officer pulled Harry to the side.
"Lef' tenant, your house elf wasn't murdered."
"What? Of course he was!"
"No sir, he killed himself."
"That doesn't make any sense, he was in good health, and happier than he'd ever been, except for, well, you know. . ."
"Yes, sir, but he was very old, and in some families, when an elf becomes too old to do his job, they euthanize him. Really sir, they, the elves that is, see it as a kindness."
"I would never do that." Harry said, sadly.
"I know, sir, and I think your elf, Kreacher was it?"
"Kreacher knew it too, and he wanted to save you the trouble."
"Why did he dress up in those old rags, I gave him nice, clean coverings that he was proud to wear."
"Perhaps he didn't want to sully your gifts to him? Hard to say for sure, sir."
"He did it on the brick hearth." Harry observed.
"So that any mess would be easy to clean up."
"But what if James or Albus or, God forbid, Rosie had seen him like this?"
"You would never send a child through the floo first, would you, sir?"
"No, I suppose not."
"Would you like for us to dispose of the body?"
Harry felt a flush of anger.
Dispose of the body, like so much garbage? Not hardly.
"No, thank you, I'll take care of my elf."
"We're done here, sir. I'll have a full report on your desk by morning."
"Thank you." Harry said, a little stiffly.
Dispose of the body indeed.
The foresnsic team left.
"May I help, Lef' tenant?"
"Thank you, Stebbins, yes."
Harry pulled a sheet down from the linen closet and spread it out. They carefully placed the tiny body on the sheet, placing the head in place so that it wouldn't look like he'd been decapitated, going as far as to apply a sticking spell so that it wouldn't roll off.
"I'm going to Shell Cottage." Harry said as he lifted the shrouded little form in his arms, "Kreacher will be buried next to my first elf friend."
"May I come with you, sir?"
Harry first said, "No, that won't be necessary," but then reconsidered, "on second thought, yes, thank you, I would appreciate the help - and the company."
Harry shoveled the grave manually, without the use of magic, just as he had with Dobby ten years before. On Kreacher's headstone he wrote, "Here lies Kreacher, a good elf and a good friend."
It was nearly dawn when Harry returned to the Burrow. Rather than try to sleep he took a double dose of pepper up potion.
He was grieving the loss of his old elf friend.
He was mourning the loss of the relationship that might have been as he walked back into Ron's old room.
How could he go on without Hermione in his life?
Sitting lotus-style in the middle of the single bed he began to visualize the flame from a single candle. If he had to deal with the loss of Kreacher, and the infinitely greater loss of Hermione, he was going to need to reconstruct his occlumency walls one impenetrable block at a time.
Hermione stepped into her office at the Department of Muggle Liasons and was shocked at the amount of paperwork on her desk. There was none. She touched a crystal on her disturbingly clean desk and said, "Bobbie!"
Bobbie, her administrative assistant, stepped through the door, memo book and pen poised, before Hermione took her hand away from the paging crystal.
"We have a full schedule today Ms. Granger, starting with the department head's meeting at nine."
"He's out today, and as Deputy Director, you get to take the meeting."
Hermione nodded and pulled one of the two scrolls from her in-box. One of which was marked urgent.
From: Dr. Kevin Prince
Embedded Muggle Medicine liaison,
National Health Services Branch Office, London
To: Ambrose Connor, Director
Department of Muggle Liaison,
Ministry of Magic, London
Re: Urgent request for muggle contact and interview with a possible need for memory adjustments
Dear Director Connor,
Respectfully request an immediate meeting with a muggle who appears to have become spontaneously aware of the magical world. Said muggle may be in possession of a charmed or cursed object, or may be a squib with no knowledge of any magical heritage.
Please see the attached medical file for details.
I'm sure you see the need for due haste in this case.
Your servant, sir,
Dr. Kevin Prince
Hermione scanned the report and froze.
A muggle had observed the Knight Bus, in Kensington. On her street. The muggle's name?
Paul Kemp, her neighbor.
Without looking up from her paperwork she said, "Get a damage control team over to Kensington, I'll debrief the team as soon as the meeting's over.
"Right away, ma'am."
When the three witches from the Muggle Liaison Office arrived in Kensington it was just in time to see a covered body being loaded into the yellow and green checkered ambulance.
Two men, apparently policemen, were exiting with the body.
Margaret Elaine Roos, the lead witch laid a mild compulsion charm on both men and asked, "Please excuse my curiosity, but that isn't Mr. Kemp, is it?"
"I'm afraid so, ma'am. He appears to have had an accident, something involving electrical wiring in his home. Very sad."
The witch added a bit more to the compulsion and asked, "We're from the leasing agency, do you mind if we just pop in for a quick look around? If there is any chance of dangerous wiring in the building - I'm sure you understand."
Bewitched as they were, neither of the policemen saw any harm, and made way for the three ladies.
"Not at all."
Once inside the witches cast spells throughout the house, looking for magical artifacts, cursed objects, anything that would have allowed a muggle to see magic. There were traces of magic in the entranceway, and in the closet, but noting definite.
"Could just be a coincidence." One of the junior witches suggested.
"In my experience there's no such thing as a coincidence, we need a proper investigation, and I think I know just the wizard."
Elaine stepped off the elevator at the fourth floor and into the open office environment of the DMLE, uniformed division. She stepped unerringly to Lieutenant Potter's office.
She knocked twice and entered.
"I need a good investigator."
Harry waved his hand to the rows of desks outside of his private office, "Pick anyone you like, they're all good, or they don't work here."
"I have a case wherein a muggle, suddenly sees the Knight Bus, and then rather inconveniently turns up dead."
"Again, why me?"
"Because it happened in our beloved deputy director's neighborhood, just across the street from her flat, as amatter of fact."
The junior Auror appeared in the office before the last syllable of his name came out.
"Stebbins, this is Miss Roos, take down everything she has to say about a rather curious case in Kensington. Please continue, Miss Roos."
"Don't you recognize me?"
"I'm not sure, there was a Margaret Roos at Hogwarts when I was there but she was, um. . ."
"Built like a bludger and about as friendly?"
"Ah, yes, but you can't be Margaret Roos."
The MLO officer smiled and said, "Not anymore I'm not, and I go by Elaine these days."
Harry cleared his throat, "Fascinating as this is, tell us about the man in Kensington."
"His name is, or rather was, Paul Kemp. . ."
When Elaine finished her story, Harry looked at Stebbins and cocked an eyebrow.
"Well, sir." He said, faltering, realizing he was being tested, /again/. "It could just be a coincidence, but I believe it bears further investigation."
Harry smiled and nodded. "Ever been to an autopsy?"
The Auror Basic shuddered, "Once sir, got sick, sir."
"Well, buck up, auror. The first is always the worst."
Harry turned to Elaine and said, "Thank you for bringing this to our attention, your first instinct was spot on. This was no accident. If you ever want to leave the Department of Muggle Affairs .. ."
"Thank you, Lef' tennant, but there's someone in the Muggle Liaison's Office who's very special to me, and I feel Ican be of better service there."
"Well, if you change your mind. May I ask another favor Miss Roos?"
"Depends on the favor."
"If Ms. Granger asks, tell her that there are no magic sensing muggles on her street - that's not a lie, there aren't anymore, right?"
"I think I understand, sir. But you must understand, I won't lie to her, sir."
"I wouldn't ask you to, thank you again, Miss Roos."
Harry sent a department owl to Gringotts, care of Bill Weasley, with a rush order and bonus for the warding of Hermione's Kensington flat. He instructed the ward teams to take the funds from his household accounts vault, with a double bonus if the wards were completed by close of business today.
Bill was halfway through a rune scheme in the high priority vaults when a team of goblins physically picked him up and ran for the lobby where the apparition portals were.
The eldest Weasley child just laid back and enjoyed the ride, "Never stand in the way of a troop of goblins and the scent of money."
Two hours later, his brother's old flat had security that would make the gnomes of Fort Knox jealous.
Every member of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement holds an equivalent rank in the London Police Intelligence Unit, and it was with these credentials that Harry and his assistant entered the coroner's office.
"Doctor Benjamin, I'm Lieutenant Potter, and this is Constable Stebbins. We're with the PIU. I understand you found something unusual in Kensington this morning."
Harry used passive legillimency to read the muggle healer as he described the unusual scarring on the dead man's arms and face and neck.
May I see him?
"I have detailed photos, Lef' tenant."
"May I see the body, please?"
Dr. Norman Benjamin found the PIU investigator to be very easy to talk to, and he explained the unusual circumstances, and how he'd felt compelled to dig deeper into the NHS database to see if there had been any other, similar occurrences.
"And you found similar attacks dating back to 1996."
"If I'm right, yes."
Norman donned latex gloves, offering a pair to Harry, who accepted them, and another to Stebbins, who declined, then opened the stainless steel drawer.
The doctor unzipped the translucent bag.
It was startling to see Paul Kemp lying there naked, with a "T" shaped incision marring his torso. Dr. Benjamin had to tuck the zippered edges of the body bag under Kemp's arms to expose them.
Harry took in a sharp breath.
"It's alright, Lef' tenant, not many people are comfortable with a cadaver."
But Harry wasn't squeamish, he'd gasped because he'd seen scars like those before.
The first time had been in the Department of Mysteries thirteen years before.
Those were the welts left by tentacled brains, cognivores.
He'd had his suspicions confirmed, but that begged even more questions.
Why were the cognivores attacking people?
And most important, who was the brain behind the brains?
In Kensington the intelligence behind the tendrils balked at the edge of the Granger-Weasley property.
It retreated to the trees moistened by fog and rain.
It could wait.
It was patient.
She would come.