Disclaimer: These characters and this world belong to Ms. Rowling.
Remus Lupin sat outside a hospital room door at the end of the hall. To anyone coming towards him, he looked attentive and alert. He was trying to actually be those things but right now he was failing miserably. The dark circles under his eyes showed how long he had been there. He'd split the watch with Ginny because, as worn out as he was, he trusted few others to keep guard at this door. Both of the watchers refused to leave for more than a few hours and never both at the same time; it was an unspoken understanding between them. Normally Remus could keep his mind off of the boy inside the room; if he didn't, he would lose himself in his worry. But today was different, today his normal trick of maintaining professional composure as an Order member was no longer working. Arthur Weasley had been by earlier. He and Molly had packed up Harry's things from his room and brought them to Grimmauld Place. Remus kept playing the conversation over in his mind.
"Remus…" Arthur had begun hesitantly, "Molly and I finished collecting Harry's things but we're unsure if we got everything. Apparently his school trunk was kept locked in a cupboard under the stairs. I imagined Harry had at least some school books or such in his room but they were no where to be seen. There were no letters or books or ink or quills…nothing in his room. I tried 'Accioschool book' and discovered he hid letters and all non-Muggle items under a loose floorboard. We should ask him if there were any other hiding spots."
"Thank you, Arthur," Remus sadly replied. "We can ask later, he…he hasn't woken up yet."
"That's what I've heard. Molly and I have been trying to get Ginny to come home and get a good night's sleep but she simply refuses to leave. She doesn't want him to be alone when he wakes up." Arthur looked at his shoes after that as an uncomfortable silence followed.
Remus could easily see that what Arthur had found in Harry's room had disturbed him. It was that same feeling that was the reason he could not concentrate now. He had known Harry didn't like to go back the Dursleys' house but now he'd seen them, heard how they talked, heard how Harry had to live, he couldn't stop hearing himself and others telling Harry that summer wasn't that long, that he had to go back, and that it was for his own good. All those reasons didn't seem like much anymore now that Remus felt that being a part of sending Harry back to that place made him just as bad as Harry's horrible relatives.
Harry didn't open his eyes right away. It honestly felt easier to keep them closed. He could hear noises in the background. There were muffled conversations nearby, a closer one was serious, but in a conversation happening farther away he could hear the light-hearted tones of women, though he couldn't make out the words.
As the rest of his senses began to register he realized he smelled the sterility of a hospital, clean yet nauseating to someone stuck there. He heard breathing nearby; it was the steady, even breathing of someone sleeping.
Harry finally resigned to opening his eyes. As he did, his wish was granted as to whose breathing he had heard. It wasGinny. She was sitting in a chair next to his bed but her head was bent forward and resting on the bed. There was an open book in her lap, a Muggle novel. Harry smiled to himself and moved his hand to touch her hair. He brushed a small lock away from her face, running his hand through the rest of her hair as he did so.
Ginny stirred and slowly lifted her head. Harry pulled his hand away quickly, not wanting to be caught indulging himself in the feel of her hair. She blinked a few times and when she met Harry's gaze a large grin spread across her face.
"Harry!" she exclaimed. He hadn't noticed it before, but despite the smile on her face, she had dark circles underneath her eyes, which, now open, showed to be red and bloodshot. Harry suspected that she hadn't slept much of the time he had been in the hospital. However long that was.
"Ginny," he managed, but his voice was raspy and strained. Ginny quickly reached for a glass of water that sat on the table beside the bed and handed it to Harry. He gave her a grateful smile as he took a large gulp.
"I'm so glad you're awake," Ginny continued as Harry drank the entire class of water. "We've been so worried about you. And the Hhealers, well, they weren't exactly sure what was happening…" Her voice trailed off as her eyes locked again to Harry's and started to shimmer with tears. "I was so worried," she finished.
Harry put the glass aside immediately and drew her into a tight embrace.
"I'm sorry I worried you, Ginny." Harry's statement came out slightly muffled because his face was buried in her shoulder. She shivered slightly as his breath hit her skin.
When Ginny pulled away she kept her head down as she sniffled a bit.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Harry; I promised I'd tell them as soon as you woke up." Even though Harry didn't know exactly who "them" was, he had a pretty sure guess that it was the Healers assigned to him. He wasn't happy about interrupting this moment with Ginny but he understood the reasoning. He nodded silently and Ginny gave his hand a small squeeze before rushing from the room.
Harry heard voices in the hallway and Lupin rushed in not more than a second later.
"Harry," he said, "I'm so glad you're awake. You had us all quite worried for a while there."
"How long have I been unconscious?" Harry asked, dreading what the answer might be.
"Twelve days," Lupin replied, looking as if he hoped it would be different when he said it out loud. Harry looked down at his hands to watch them fiddle with the blanket for a moment,;he guessed it wasn't as bad as he had expected.
"When can I get out of here?" he asked after a few moments of silence.
Lupin laughed at this – it was so typically Harry.
"We'll have to wait and see what they say," Lupin responded.
The two of them didn't have time to say much else. Three Hhealers rushed through the door to the side of Harry's bed. Lupin was shunted to the back of the room where Ginny joined him, having followed them into the room.
As the wizards evaluated Harry's condition Ginny and Lupin took a moment to exchange an expression of relief.
"Well, Mr. Potter," one of the Healers finally said, "we were pretty concerned about you for a while there. To be honest, we weren't sure what exactly happened to you. To be even more honest, we still aren't sure."
"We suggest that you take this time to rest, Mr. Potter," the Hhealer continued. "Your magic was drained significantly in that fight and it will take you at least a week to regain your strength. That's how long I'm going to suggest you stay, pending any other developments. It is longer than we expected but given your current…situation…I wouldn't suggest you leave the hospital in a weakened state. This will also give us time to monitor your progress in the upcoming days."
Harry only nodded at this. He was too tired to argue and besides, he had to admit they did have a point. His eyelids were starting to feel heavy again and he could tell he was starting to drift off to sleep.
The Healer who was speaking to Harry smiled. He was surprised the boy had managed to stay awake this long. He turned around to address Lupin.
"He should be sleeping a lot over the next few days. This is nothing to be worried about. It is to be expected for him to regain his strength." Lupin nodded at this and the Healer looked to his colleagues before he moved to the door, the other Healers following behind.
Harry spent the next days mostly asleep. When he did wake up, it was for short periods of time, which made it difficult for him to keep track of how many days he had actually been there. But gradually he was staying awake longer. The Healers were even promising him he'd be released sometime in the next few days.
Ginny had been there each time he had woken up. She was usually reading or writing, probably summer homework assignments, Harry guessed. Well, at least she'll probably have those finished soon. Sometimes she didn't notice when he woke up and he was able to watch her. She was a little fuzzy without his glasses but she was sitting close enough that he could still see her. When he would wake up and she was sleeping he would try and stay awake as long as possible to watch her. He could tell that she must be getting more sleep now; she had a lot more colour to her face and her eyes were no longer red with those dark circles. But even then, she was beautiful. Her presence was calming and the serenity of her face while she slept gave him something to focus on, blocking out the war and death and pain that he felt were constantly surrounding and crushing him.
Petunia Dursley had been pacing the front room for the past half hour, wringing her hands together nervously. She couldn't believe she was actually doing this. Of course she was though, this wasn't about her; it was about her son. He'd come to her a few days after Harry had left. Originally she didn't care why Harry was gone; all she knew was that she was shopping one day and when she got back that ungrateful nephew and all his abnormal stuff were gone from her house. But Dudley had explained the whole thing one afternoon while Vernon was at work. He had been unusually quiet since the day of the attack, spending large amounts of time alone in his room. When she passed by she would press her ear to the door. There was always silence, no telly, no computer, nothing.
When Dudley finally came to her, it was almost as though she didn't know the boy he seemed to have become. She still couldn't believe he wanted to do this, but after what Dudley had told her, she knew it had to be done.
Molly was standing outside Harry's hospital room absolutely fuming. She just couldn't believe the nerve of Harry's family. She had to take a deep, calming breath then. She had promised her husband she wouldn't interfere as long as she could be there, but if one overly-clean foot were to step out of line she was going to swoop in before they knew what happened.
Remus couldn't help but be amused as he watched Molly pace in front of him. She was completely against today's events. Her motherly instincts towards Harry were in full swing and she looked like a mother bear, pacing in front of a cave containing an injured cub. He was feeling a little guilty about not telling Harry who wanted to come and see him, but Hermione had made a good point, if a relationship could be salvaged it was worth risking Harry being angry at them. Remus was almost certain that Harry would say no if they asked him. Perhaps he should feel guilty for that but it was too late now; they were already on their way.
Arthur Weasley pulled up into the driveway of number four Privet Drive at exactly two o'clock in the afternoon. He was much smarter this time and didn't bring any of his sons. He shouldn't be worried of course; it was them who asked for this in the first place by contacting McGonagall. Through whatever means Dumbledore had set up, he didn't know, probably automatically contacting the head of Hogwarts. He was surprised at first but when he thought about it, having a way to communicate made sense and they certainly weren't likely to tell Harry about it.
The door was answered promptly by a very pale and nervous-looking Petunia. Her eyes were shifting to the houses behind his shoulder. Clearly, she still couldn't get over appearing "unnatural" to any neighbours. Arthur was prepared for this though and had dressed like a Muggle. In fact, he had gone even further in his outfit choice to wear something he believed the Muggles called "High Fashion." Personally, he thought he was becoming an expert with his Muggle fashion sense and besides, he could always throw his robes over the kilt and tube top he had picked out. It was a rather hot day after all.
When Petunia's eyes finally rested on Arthur, the look of horror that washed over her face made Arthur instinctively reach for his wand.
"What is it? Do you see someone?" he asked anxiously.
"My God," Petunia croaked, apparently too appalled to find her whole voice. In an uncharacteristically assertive move for Petunia, she grabbed Arthur's arm and pulled him into the house, slamming the door behind him. "What do you think you're wearing?" she asked forcefully. Apparently the rest of her voice hadn't been too difficult to find.
Arthur looked down at his outfit before looking back at Petunia, completely confused.
"You mean this isn't what Muggles wear?" he asked sincerely. He tried to keep the disappointment out of his voice; he had been secretly looking forward to picking up Petunia and Dudley, getting to drive a Ministry car and "playing Muggle" for a few hours.
Petunia's face was no longer pale but flushed pink as she closed her eyes, apparently trying to find the patience for such ignorance.
"Please tell me you have other clothes to wear. You cannot possibly be seen at my house wearing that." She had a look of disdain on her face when she referred to Arthur's ensemble.
"Well," Arthur began, now a little nervous—he had been hoping this would go more smoothly than this—"I have work robes in the car. I could…go out and get them…"
"No!" Petunia exclaimed as Arthur was turning back to open the front door. "I'll….I'll go get them." In Arthur's opinion that last part had almost seemed painful for her to say.
When Petunia came back inside she was holding the faded black robe as far away from her body as possible. Her nose was wrinkled but she seemed to be trying her best to seem relaxed with something so "unnatural" touching her.
"I apologise," Arthur said, "I was trying to blend in, you see. I'm not very familiar with Muggle fashion."
Petunia opened her mouth to respond but Dudley was making his way down the stairs and Petunia turned her attention to him. She seemed eager for a distraction from their awkward exchange.
"Are you ready to go, Dudley?" she asked. Arthur thought her tone almost seemed like she was hoping Dudley would have changed his mind about going.
"Yes," Dudley said quietly, not looking up at the adults. He was making his way down the stairs as if he had cement weights attached to each shoe.
Harry had been awake all afternoon. He had woken up around eleven that morning. It was a nice lie in that he wasn't used to. He was feeling much better and getting frustrated at being stuck in this room all day. Remus had asked him not to walk outside, for security purposes. He walked around his room to keep himself moving. After lying in bed for so long recently, he felt like a bird caged for years! He did small exercises to get back into shape. That didn't feel new to him, it seemed like he was always thinking about recovering from recovering. It wasn't all that bad though; the hospital had some small hand and ankle weights he could use to do exercises without needing too much room. It kept him occupied at least. Sometimes Ginny would even read out loud to him while he was doing his exercises. She read novels with that beautiful voice of hers, with the rhythm and flow they were meant to be read in, making it seem at times as if she were singing to him and not just reading.
Ginny was currently sitting in a chair reading a Muggle novel to herself. Harry had just finished some exercises and was getting ready to pull out a Defence book Remus had brought him. It had some excellent strategies on duelling. He stopped to watch the sunlight stream through the window and reflect on her beautiful hair. He couldn't keep himself from smiling.
Ginny must have felt his eyes on her because she looked up from her book and smiled at him. It was a genuine smile but he couldn't help but notice the sadness in her eyes. It honestly tore out his insides to see her hurt, but he had to stick by his decision. She was being so strong, being there for him so much and he needed to do this for her, as backward as that seemed. He needed to be strong for her to keep her out of as much danger as he could. There was so much about this war that he couldn't control, so many deaths that he felt responsible for. He had a responsibility to make good decisions regarding things he did have control over.
"Knut for your thoughts?" Ginny asked, still smiling.
"Oh," Harry stalled, he certainly didn't want to tell her what he was really thinking, "thank you for keeping me company," he finished lamely.
Ginny kept smiling but it changed slightly; she knew that wasn't what he was really thinking. One doesn't spend so much time being close to Harry Potter and not learn to read his eyes. Those eyes, they were more expressive then the rest of his body put together.
"My pleasure," was all Ginny said in response as she looked back down at her book. One also didn't truly understand Harry Potter and not know you couldn't force him to express himself unless he was ready or wanted to do so.
Dudley Dursley didn't know if he could speak at the moment, even if he wanted to. He hadn't said a word the entire car ride to this hospital, which was fortunately uneventful. The man that had picked them up tried to make friendly conversation with his mother but she still seemed to be too horrified by what he shown up wearing to be able to respond.
When he had stopped in front of what seemed like a deserted department shop, Dudley had thought this man had gone nutters and that was before he started speaking to the mannequin in the window!
He had turned to Dudley and told him to just walk into the glass and Dudley looked at him as if he had grown two heads. Arthur Weasley must have seen the futility in getting Dudley to go first, so he turned to Petunia, hoping her background with having a witch in the family would help her overcome her perception of reality. She took a deep breath and after a moment stepped through the glass.
Dudley's mouth hung open for a long moment before Arthur finally spoke up. "Go on then, it doesn't hurt, I promise. But the longer we stand out here the longer your mum has to wait inside by herself." This seemed to be what Dudley needed, he took a deep breath like Petunia had and stepped through the glass with Arthur following.
The room was filled with people either sitting in chairs nursing all sorts of unbelievable injuries or shouting at a woman behind a desk. Arthur walked up to this woman who looked relieved to attend to someone who actually needed directing and not just someone to complain to about waiting too long.
"Arthur Weasley and two guest visitors, Petunia and Dudley Dursley, to see patient Bill Weasley," Arthur told the woman. As she looked down at a large binder, Dudley started to say that wasn't his cousin's name but he was silenced almost immediately by a look from Arthur. Unfortunately, the receptionist did not miss this exchange. She looked at them sceptically for a few moments before responding.
"One moment please," she said coldly. She tapped her wand to a small box in front of her. "Arthur Weasley and two guest visitors, Petunia and Dudley Dursley, to see Bill Weasley…" then tapped the box four times. She watched the box intently and seemed to be getting information from it, but whatever it was, she was the only one to hear it. Finally she tapped the box once more and opened a desk drawer. She pulled out three nametags and tapped each one. "Please put these on," she told them as she looked up and handed them the small square nametags. "I'm informed you know the room, Mr. Weasley?" she asked, watching his response intently, apparently waiting to see how he would react, but when Arthur smiled warmly and responded, she seemed to relax slightly.
"Yes, I do. Thank you for your assistance." Arthur nodded once before turning and leading the Dursleys down a hallway to a set of lifts. When one door opened and they stepped in, it was Dudley that spoke first.
"What was that all about?" he demanded.
"Security measures, dear boy," Arthur offered. "Very few people who work at the hospital actually know that Harry Potter is here. Even that receptionist does not know, despite how it may look. She only knows the security status for the patient 'Bill Weasley' and was responding to that and not the name of the patient."
When Arthur pushed the button for the floor the lifts zoomed upward. Dudley spoke again, apparently having processed that new information.
"Why would that woman care if my cousin is here?" he asked.
Arthur exchanged a look with Petunia before turning back to Dudley.
"I'm not sure I'm the person to tell you that." There was no time for Dudley to object before the door opened and they walked out to face a large man in a security robe with his wand out. It was relaxed but ready.
"Please step forward," he said in a gruff voice.
When they did, he touched his wand to each of their nametags. Each tag glowed light blue briefly. The guard grunted slightly and waved them to another lift to his right.
"The code is 5972," the guard said before going to sit back down behind a desk.
Inside the second lift, Arthur pushed the button to the floor Harry was actually on and, when prompted, he entered the code they were given.
"So, then, what was that?" Dudley demanded again, though with a little more curiosity in his tone this time.
Arthur chuckled softly a moment at Dudley's response before telling them.
"Just one more level of security," he said. "The nametags receive a line of code when they are created by the receptionist. If they are authentic, when the guard checks them with his wand, they glow light blue, as you saw. They will only glow blue if the nametag owner's magical signature matches the name on the nametag. In the case of Muggles, I believe they use DNA scans."
"How can they know that?" Dudley interrupted, seeming slightly disturbed by the unknown invasion of privacy.
"You'd be surprised what the government knows about you, Dudley," Arthur responded. After silence from Dudley, Arthur continued his explanation. "The tags will also show him a code that only he will be able to see. Each nametag should come up with the same code, another step in ensuring authentication. The receptionist doesn't know the code and since it changes with each group of visitors, the guard can't be forced to tell someone not authorized what the code is. Since each group of visitors only gets one code, the nametags are much more difficult to forge. Redundancy is important when security is done by people, because it seems these days most people have a price," Arthur finished his explanation sadly. When he explained the whole process out loud, the necessity of having such extreme measures to keep a hospital patient safe was sad indeed.
Remus looked up to the sound of footsteps coming down the hall. Not very many people were allowed down here. This meant those footsteps likely belonged to three people, two of whom were most likely extremely uncomfortable. He stood, looking down the hall towards the newcomers. Molly stopped her pacing and turned to look in the same direction, her hands were on her hips. Remus took a deep breath and slowly released it.
Here we go, he thought.
A/N: Thank you again Kokopelli, your help and time is greatly appreciated. And also to Chris, for helping to control my typos.
Thank you also to kateydidnt for catching the error :-)
Critmo: I promised an explanation for why Ron and Hermione were not with Harry during the summer. That was my intention but it didn't really fit with the direction this story has taken. So to answer you question, Harry talked them out of staying, arguing that there would be less conflict for him to deal with. I'm going to justify this by loosely interpreting the final conversation of Book Six between Ron, Harry and Hermione. Harry never actually agrees with Ron's statement about them going back to the Dursley's with him. While I don't have one opinion either way of what will happen in Book Seven, I think that it's still open to go either way, depending on who is more stubborn, Ron or Harry.
I also want to apologize for how long this chapter took to get out. Hopefully the last chapter will be much quicker in coming. Thank you to everyone who is reading and reviewing, it is making my first story seem a little less scary. :-)