To say that Harry Potter felt rotten was an understatement. He'd been in this situation many times before after being knocked out either by Quidditch Bludgers, Voldemort's visions, training accidents, or stupid things he did while duelling suspects. However, none of those experiences had prepared him for the amount of pain and weariness he was currently experiencing.
He decided to take inventory of his aches and pains before he opened his eyes again, because he remembered a few brief moments of wakefulness when Ginny had told him where he was and what had happened to him. After that, he vaguely thought she'd given him permission to go back to sleep. He breathed in through his nose and something above his head beeped. He ignored the sound and concentrated on how he felt.
His head hurt the worst. There was a large bump on the back of his head, which seemed to be the source of his headache. Hopefully, the Healers would take care of that soon.
His face didn't hurt, which meant that he hadn't been in any fist fights; suspects sometimes resorted to Muggle duelling practices when their wands were taken away and they were still angry enough to try to escape. Harry knew that the tiredness in his jaw probably had something to do with the beeping and hissing sounds he didn't recognize.
The rest of his body felt spent, used-up and horribly stiff. Unfortunately, the feeling seemed to stop somewhere halfway down his torso and as the realization that he couldn't move his legs or feel his toes sank in, his eyes flew open in blind panic.
SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH MY LEGS! he wanted to scream. CAN SOMEONE TELL ME WHAT THE BLOODY HELL IS GOING ON?
Ginny's face suddenly appeared in his line of sight. He turned frightened eyes to her, willing her to help him understand.
"Shhh, darling," she murmured. "There's no need to panic. The Healers have partially immobilized you so their healing potions can work their magic on your back. You broke five vertebrae when you fell. The specialized Body-Bind is meant to help, not hurt and confuse you. I know you have questions, but until Healer Stilwell takes the tubes from your mouth they'll have to wait."
Ginny sighed and smiled at him. "Oh, Harry, I'm so glad you've come back to us," she said. "The children are here, have been for the last two days. They'll be back soon from visiting Ron. He's finally stopped twitching enough that Hermione can take him home."
At this news, Harry wanted to smile.
"Oh, that reminds me," Ginny went on conversationally. "Terry Boot, Susan Bones and Aurors Carmichael and Chambers have been standing guard since you were brought in. They wanted me to let them know when you awakened. Are you ready for visitors?"
Harry knew he wasn't, but it was important to maintain certain decorum, so using his and Ginny's "yes/no" blinking system, he blinked twice, indicating that yes, she could bring his Aurors in. They had been using the system since…well, since the first time he had lain in hospital after a mission. That had been years ago, long before they were married. Harry thought it was a good system since he had landed in hospital at least once a year since then.
Susan was the first to arrive with Chambers. "Brodie and I are on duty outside, Harry," she said, pointing to herself and her partner. "Everyone at the office is thinking happy thoughts for your speedy recovery."
Chambers shook his head at this and said, "We captured two of the suspects. I'll bring the report in as soon as Mrs Potter says you want to get back to work."
Harry nodded against the stiff tubing in his throat. It hurt to bend his neck very far and he grimaced.
Seeing this, Susan elbowed Chambers in the side. "He's not well enough to start reading reports yet, so lighten up," she chided.
They left a few moments later to be replaced by Boot and Carmichael.
"Glad you're on the mend, boss," Carmichael told him as he stood awkwardly by Harry's bed. "The office will be glad to hear you're awake."
If he could have smiled, Harry would have. Garrett Carmichael was a rough and tumble Auror with a soft heart for all the right things. When there was the possibility of children being involved, Harry always sent Carmichael in to help the frightened little wizards while Susan worked with the small witches.
Harry lifted a hand towards Carmichael and the big wizard shook it gently. Then, he stepped away to let Terry come forward. The former Ravenclaw was holding an enormous vase of flowers.
"These are from all of us at the Auror Office, Harry. We all hope you can come back soon, even if it's just a few hours a day. Robards does a commendable job keeping the place from going crazy, but he's not you, Harry, not by a long shot," he said, sounding sad. He pulled out his wand and magically affixed the flowers to the ceiling where Harry could see them. As if reading Harry's mind, Terry said, "Ginny has the watering and detachment instructions already, Harry. We'll all be back to visit again tomorrow."
They shook hands and as the Aurors left, Harry sank into an exhausted sleep.
1605 hours, Wednesday 28 October 2020
Ginny stood in front of her desk at The Daily Prophet angrily throwing things into the briefcase she usually took to the press box at Quidditch matches. She couldn't believe her editor was making her cover the Wasps/Tornados match in just a few hours; not when Harry still wasn't ready to leave St. Mungo's.
"The audacity of that man!" she fumed as she snatched her press pass from its place on her cubicle wall and chucked it into the case.
"What did Dixon do now?" the voice of her friend Amy asked from the next cubicle over.
Ginny stopped her packing and considered how to phrase her answer in acceptable office parlance. Finally, she said, "It has been requested that I attend and report on tonight's Quidditch match in Wimbourne even though I politely asked to be released from the assignment due to family obligations."
Amy came round the partition between their cubicles and stood at the entrance to Ginny's with her hands on her hips. "You mean to tell me that that old fuddy-duddy is making you cover the match when Harry's still in St Mungo's? That's ludicrous! Is there anything I can do, Ginny?"
Ginny sagged against her desk and shook her head. "Pray for a ridiculously short match?" she joked feebly. "Believe me, I'm going to have my fingers and toes crossed that the Tornados steam-roll the Wasps and get the whole thing over quickly."
Amy stepped forward and hugged Ginny briefly. "I'll be praying for it, then," she said as she turned to go back to her own desk. Ginny went back to her packing.
Thankfully, her wish was granted and the match was over quickly. Much to her surprise, though, it was the Wasps who flattened the Tornados 370 – 80. Ordinarily, Ginny would have enthusiastically joined in the scrum outside the Wasps' dressing room to try to elicit an exclusive interview with some of the players, but tonight she just wanted to complete her article, send it with the owl she'd rented from the Wimbourne press office and get back to Harry.
Her article covered all the pertinent points, praised the Wasps' Seeker and Chasers for their teamwork and wondered whether it was time for the Tornados to trade their Keeper. It wasn't her most inspired of articles, but at least it would meet Dixon's expectations. As soon as it was complete, she gave a copy to her owl and released the bird into the night. She was at Harry's bedside ten minutes later.
0345 hours, Thursday, 29 October 2020
Sleep eluded her. She'd tossed and turned in the unfamiliar single bed for the last three hours, trying to get comfortable enough to turn off her galloping thoughts. She couldn't because the lumpy mattress she was laying on wasn't helping. There was so much to do, so much to plan for, so much to think about, that her brain just wouldn't shut down long enough to allow her to rest. If Harry truly was paralyzed, then she'd need to make changes to the house so he could live there…
Giving up getting any more sleep as a bad job, Ginny slipped out of bed and began rummaging through her purse for her reporter's pad and a Muggle biro. Then, lighting the lamp next to her bed, she began making notes of the things she'd need to get from the vault at Gringotts, who she'd need to contact and a list of questions she needed to ask a variety of people. As she added a list of people she needed to speak with, it dawned on her that she hadn't notified a vital member of their family of Harry's accident! Teddy Lupin—who was now living and working in Perth, Australia—would want to know his Godfather was in St Mungo's… again, so she jumped out of bed in pursuit of something on which to write to him.
Ginny was gratified to find a stack of parchment in one of the drawers of the guestroom desk. Leave it to Hermione to know she'd need to write letters at four in the morning… She would only need one sheet for the short note to Teddy…
I regret I must tell you that, yet again, your Godfather has landed himself in St Mungo's Hospital. However, unlike previous occasions Harry was seriously injured in an accident while on a mission on Sunday night. As of this moment, his Healer has magically paralyzed him from the neck down to encourage his recovery. The fall he sustained should have killed him, but I thank all the Hogwarts Founders that he is alive, even if he is broken quite badly at the moment.
I promise to keep in touch so you'll know what is happening here. Our family will understand if it's impossible for you to come home at this time; we know you'll be with us in spirit.
With all my love, Ginny
Finally feeling sleepy, Ginny sealed the note in an envelope and addressed it to Teddy. She would ask Hermione to mail it for her later.
James lay on the top bunk in Hugo's room at his Aunt Hermione and Uncle Ron's house, fuming about the uselessness of his not being at Hogwarts. It had been four long days since he and his brother and sister had been summoned to Dad's bedside, and in that time the Healers had been very reluctant to do much more than cast binding spells and administer one set of potions after another. Not that that was bad, mind you. James knew the Healers were being cautious about something, but the longer they refused to let Dad come home, the fishier the whole situation seemed to James; the Healers were definitely hiding the truth from their family, some awful, life-changing truth that probably would turn their lives inside out and upside down.
Mum hadn't been much help the few times he'd managed to talk to her alone. She'd answered his questions with vaguely worded phrases and then scurried off to Aunt Hermione's study to look something up. Her behaviour was just fuel to James' curiosity and sense of foreboding. It also made him determined to return to Hogwarts until there was some real news about his dad.
Getting up, James made his way down to Aunt Hermione's ground floor study and knocked on the door. He entered without waiting to be invited in and stopped short just inside the threshold, surprised to see not only his mum but his aunt and uncle sitting at the big table by the window which was spread with pamphlets, huge books and countless rolls of parchment, one of which James recognized as the plans to their home back in Godric's Hollow.
James squared his shoulders and looked directly at his mother. "Mum, I want to go back to Hogwarts tomorrow morning," he requested.
Mum took off her reading glasses and carefully set them on top of the house plans. She seemed to consider his request and after a moment, she smiled. "Yes, James, I think that would be a good idea. Would you mind waiting to go until lunchtime? I need to let Headmaster Wolcott know you're coming back so he can advise Professor Longbottom of your arrival time. That way he won't be surprised when you come tumbling out of his fireplace."
James snorted at the image. "I never tumble, Mum," he protested indignantly.
"I know you don't, but it is courteous to give the teachers advanced notice. May I ask why you're so anxious to go back to school?"
James looked down at the floor. All of a sudden his reasons for going back to school seemed paltry when his father was still so sick.
"James, look at me," Mum demanded softly. When he looked up, she patted the seat of the chair next to her and waited until he sat beside her before continuing. "I realize you are nearly sixteen and that your job right now is to be the best student you can be at Hogwarts. I also realize that your being here seems futile when every time I take you to see your dad, he's asleep and only rarely wakes up. I'd like to know why you want to go back to school; you never know when we'll agree."
James had to smile at her last comment and he felt a little better about what had been pestering him all day. "Erm, Mum, I have two tests tomorrow that I really don't want to miss, one in Potions and the other in Transfiguration. I also have missed two Quidditch practices this week and the rule is that if you miss three in a row, you'll be off the team and I don't want Jasper to tell me I can't be on the team any more when I missed because of family stuff. Besides, if I make practice tomorrow afternoon, I can still play in Saturday's match against Slytherin."
Mum smiled at him and patted his knee. "You're a man after my own heart, James. By all means, you can't miss practice or the match against Slytherin. Isn't Gryffindor trying to oust Slytherin from top Cup standings?" she asked.
"Yes, Slytherin has had the Cup for the last three years. It's time Gryffindor or Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw took it away from them!" James said enthusiastically.
"I agree," Mum said, standing up. She turned to Aunt Hermione and Uncle Ron. "May I use Mutt to send a note to Hogwarts? I don't want to make poor Feathers fly that far after she carried all those notes to St Mungo's this afternoon."
"You know you're welcome to use our owls without asking," Uncle Ron scolded her gently.
A blush crept up Mum's neck as she said, "I know, Ron, but I feel I'm imposing on you two so much."
"Merlin's pants, Ginny! We want you and the kids here because our house is much closer to St Mungo's," he responded with all seriousness.
"We're family. What are families for? If we needed you, you would do the same," Aunt Hermione chimed in as she reached over to capture Mum's hand and give it a squeeze.
"All right, you've made your point," Mum finally acquiesced. She turned to James. "If there's nothing more, go upstairs and pack so you're ready to leave when Professor Longbottom expects you."
Feeling as if he'd been released from Azkaban, James jumped to his feet, hugged his mother hastily and left the room with a spring in his step. I'm going back to school! he crowed happily. Then, as the study door closed behind him, the guilty thought, Am I abandoning Dad? hit him hard and he sagged against the wall trying to decide if his actions were selfish. No, he decided. Dad has always told us that our job in the family is to go to school and do our best. I can't miss those tests… Having justified his actions to himself, James went back upstairs to pack.
Albus had come in from a night fly with Uncle Ron to find James shoving his belongings into his school bag and overnight case. He was muttering to himself about a lost piece of homework and something else. That could only mean one thing: James was going back to Hogwarts to do what he'd promised to do, take his tests, play in Saturday's Quidditch match and carry out the prank on Scorpius Malfoy and the other Slytherin Quidditch players.
Albus pulled a small package from his coat pocket and handed it to his brother. "I almost didn't get a chance to get this," he told James conspiratorially. "Aunt Hermione wouldn't let me alone for very long and I finally had to tell her to let me be for a while. Thank goodness Uncle George had the package ready. Otherwise, we both would have been in trouble."
James smiled. "You're a crafty one, Albus. Louis promised to help me set the prank up if I could get back to school by the end of lessons tomorrow. Mum thinks I'll be back at school by half past one." He dropped the package into his book bag and buckled it shut.
"Have fun," Albus said. "Uncle Ron is bringing me and Lily back in time to watch the match on Saturday because I've elected not to fly. Jasper already asked Sandy to take my place."
"Brilliant!" James exclaimed quietly. "You know what to do after the teams are called out onto the pitch?"
Albus grinned back. "I sure do."
"Good. I'll be looking for you in the Gryffindor stands next to Uncle Ron, then," James said, chucking Albus gently on the shoulder as he walked past to put his book bag by the door. Albus bumped him back and they both laughed.
"Fifteen minutes until lights out, gents." Uncle Ron stuck his head inside their room. "Do I hear the sound of plotting going on?"
Both boys immediately assumed innocent expressions. "What? Are you accusing us of plotting? We're not plotting," James denied.
"Why would you think that?" Albus asked as James elbowed him in the ribs. He glared back at James.
Uncle Ron tilted his head to one side. "I was your age once," was all he said as he turned to go back down the stairs. "Fifteen minutes," Uncle Ron reminded them. "Goodnight, you two."
Albus shared a look with James, then called, "Good night, Uncle Ron!"
Uncle Ron's "Good night, you two" echoed up the stairs and first Albus, then James burst out laughing.
"Whew! That was close," they both said, and grabbing their pyjamas, they raced each other to the loo to get ready for the night.
1010 hours, Friday, 30 October 2020
Healer Stilwell taking the tube out of his mouth was a big improvement; not only for comfort reasons, but also for the progress it showed his body had made towards healing. It had felt very strange, the first few minutes, to have to breathe completely on his own, but now, after a few sips of water, some encouragement from Ginny and the simple fact that he was not staring at the ceiling all day, Harry felt that breathing on his own wasn't such a big task after all.
The Healers had also backed off on the number of potions they were giving him which left him feeling distinctly more clear-headed and in command of his body. Unfortunately, they were still refusing to curtail the use of the specialized Body-Bind spell; they were reluctant to let him move about very much, simply because their spells indicated that the nerves in his spinal column were still exhibiting irregular behaviour. He thought it strange that since they'd healed the broken vertebrae—along with all his other broken bones—on the morning he'd been brought in that he wasn't being allowed much range of motion. He resolved to enquire about this as soon as his vocal cords were back to normal… again something he'd thought would have been fixed magically.
As he raised his cup to his lips for another sip of water, Ginny asked, "Are you feeling all right, still?"
Harry nodded and looked over at the bedside table. When he saw that she'd brought a small slate, an eraser and a box of dustless chalk, he smiled and quirked an eyebrow at her. She seemed to understand and gave it to him.
I'm fine, he wrote.
Ginny scowled. "I don't believe that for one second," she chided him, although he could tell she was fighting a smile.
He erased his answer and wrote, How long before I can try to talk?
"Whispers in two hours or so," Ginny answered. "You'll be talking by tomorrow morning, Healer Stilwell told me."
Harry added, Good!!! to his slate, feeling both relieved and impatient to start asking questions. Then he looked up at Ginny, catching her in an unguarded moment, and was shocked to see a worried expression cross her beautiful face before she shook herself and adopted her usual cheery bedside manner. The rapid change told him something was up that she wasn't telling him, and it either had to do with bad news from the Auror Department, or more likely, his physical condition.
Something else was bothering him. Ginny had handed him his glasses after the tube had been extracted and he had expected the world to clear up once he put them on. It had not, even though he could tell the built-in magical correction feature in the lenses was working to improve his vision. He took off the glasses and handed them back to Ginny.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
Glasses aren't working right, he wrote. Vision blurry even with glasses.
"I'll tell Healer Stilwell," she said. "He told me you'd probably experience things like that."
Harry erased his slate and wrote, Did he say my head would feel like a hippogriff stomped on it?
Ginny nodded, or at least he thought she did, he wasn't sure. "Yes, headache is very common, especially if there's been trauma to the back of the head, and you have that huge bump. I'm not surprised you have a headache."
Harry scowled and immediately regretted the movement. Will it go away?
"It should, in time," Ginny answered. She stood up and walked around the bed and out of his line of sight. Harry suddenly panicked and tried to track her by turning his head. His wife reappeared.
Where'd you go? he wrote, the familiar feeling of panic beginning to surface again.
Ginny frowned and took a piece of parchment and a quill out of her pocket and wrote something on it. Before answering him, she walked forward and out of his line of sight again. When he could no longer see her, Harry tried to turn his body, but the binding spell prevented him from twisting at the waist to track her and he had to wait impatiently until she reappeared.
"Harry, I didn't go anywhere," she said in the patient voice she often used when their children were upset and having difficulty explaining why.
You did! he wrote angrily. You walked out of my line of sight!
Ginny came over and sat on the left side of the bed. And Harry panicked again: if he looked straight ahead he couldn't see her, but if he turned his head to the left so that he was looking straight at her again, he could see her. He raised shaky hands to his eyes and pressed the heels against his eyeballs. Then, he felt Ginny's soft hands on his wrists and allowed her to lower his hands to his lap.
"Harry, listen to me," she pleaded. "You've had a traumatic head injury. There was bleeding inside your skull under the lump on your head. Healer Stilwell has removed the blood daily since you were hurt and told me you'd probably have a temporary loss of vision, but he didn't know how it would affect you. Now we're learning the extent of the damage."
Harry's hand shook as he wrote, Will I always be like this?
Ginny laid a hand on his arm; he couldn't see it, but he could feel her warmth and he turned his head towards her as she spoke. "I hope not, Harry," she whispered.
This was too much to take in and Harry closed his eyes to try to block out reality. He was scared, he admitted, scared and angry and so very lonely all of a sudden. He hadn't felt this way in a very long time, not since those horrible months before the Battle of Hogwarts when he, Hermione and Ron were on the run from the Death Eaters and Voldemort's Ministry.
Deciding to change the subject, he erased again and wrote, Where are the kids?
"I gave James permission last night to return to Hogwarts today. He had a couple of tests scheduled for today that he didn't want to miss, Potions and something else," Ginny informed him, looking slightly relieved with the change of subject. "He also needed to go to Quidditch practice because he missed two practices already this week and he thought that if he missed today's he'd be sidelined or thrown off the team. I didn't tell him that under the circumstances his captain wasn't going to throw him off the team for something he couldn't control."
"Because I want him to obey some rules while he's at school," Ginny chuckled, making Harry smile. "Anyway," she continued, "Ron's going to take Albus and Lily up to see James play in the Halloween match tomorrow. Albus elected to have me write to the school enquiring about Quidditch squad rules and Lily asked about staying the extra day so she could be with you a little longer. Both Neville and Professor Wolcott agreed to let them have one more day at home before requiring them to come back to school."
Where are they now?
"Hermione's bringing them at noon to have lunch with you. Kreacher's already packed their lunches and spelled each item to look like something you're allowed to eat. Oh, don't look like that… you know you'll only be allowed jelly and watered-down porridge until your system is ready for richer foods!" Ginny scolded.
Irritated, Harry wrote, I want REAL food. Not sick food!
Ginny laughed again and he could see her smile was genuine. "Now I know you're getting better, Harry," she chortled. "I don't think it will be long before the Healers start talking to me about getting you out of here."
Thank Merlin! Harry wrote, suddenly feeling tired. He could feel his strength draining and wanted to sleep again. Ginny seemed to pick up his tiredness and gently took his slate, chalk and eraser from him, setting them back on his bedside table. Then, she flicked her wand at the foot of the bed and it slowly lowered his head until he was staring at the ceiling again. Harry began to drift off.
"Get some sleep now, Harry," Ginny said as she smoothed his fringe out of his eyes. "I'll wake you when Albus and Lily get here."
Harry nodded and let sleep claim him once again. It had been a busy morning.
Lily giggled and elbowed her brother in the side when the matron brought in their father's lunch. The tray was sparsely populated with a cup of weak tea, a bowl of jelly, a piece of dry toast, a small bowl of porridge, and a watery-looking scrambled egg. Their dad's face was contorted in dislike and he turned his head away as the tray was set before him. The Matron said something about eating everything or he'd never get back to eating normal food.
"Daddy looks like you and James did the time Mummy tried to convince us that cauliflower was really mashed potatoes," Lily said in a stage whisper she knew would carry across the room to their father.
Albus snorted, "Or how about the time when Aunt Hermione insisted that Rose and Hugo loved creamed spinach and Hugo took that huge bite on a dare from Cousin Fred?"
"That was a classic," Lily commented as she opened the box containing her lunch. She knew what each of the "sick food" items in her box was and so did her brother.
Dad made another face as he took a sip of his tea. He had both hands wrapped around the cup like his hands were cold. He'd had to turn his head in a weird way, too. Mummy had said he might do something like that. She decided to ask about it later.
"Not hot enough for you, Dad?" Albus asked.
Dad shook his head and shuddered because he still wasn't allowed to talk.
Albus whipped out his wand and pointed it at the tea cup. Before Daddy could glare at him for more than a second, her brother had cast a warming charm on the tea and put his wand away. Daddy stopped scowling, shook his head as if to say 'what am I to do with you?'and sipped the warmed tea with a grateful expression on his face. Albus smirked at Lily because he'd got away with doing magic outside of school and picked up his own box of charmed lunch items.
As their father dipped his spoon into his porridge Lily whispered, "Want to tease Daddy?"
Albus raised an eyebrow. He seemed interested, but reluctant as he asked, "How?"
"Oh, just make comments about how our jelly tastes like chocolate pudding or the porridge looks like mashed potatoes. Stuff like that," she answered.
Albus nodded once and picked up his sandwich, which appeared to be just the bread. "Hey, Lils," he said aloud, catching their dad's attention, "have you tasted the turkey and Swiss topping on the toast? MMMM!"
Lily stole a look at their father. He was scowling again so she hid her smile behind her bottle of fizzy drink. She burped in an unladylike manner just to get his attention. "Albus, isn't this lemon-lime drink divine?" she asked. "Too bad it just looks like cold tea."
Mum walked in before Albus replied. "I heard that, you two," she scolded, although she looked as if she wanted to join in the teasing as well. "Stop tormenting your father and let him eat in peace."
Lily looked at the floor and mumbled, "Sorry, my idea," without really meaning it before bursting into giggles. Across the room, Daddy set down his toast and gave her a big grin to let her know he was fine with the teasing.
The family spent the rest of lunch talking about the Quidditch match at Hogwarts the next day, along with other light topics, until the Matron collected Daddy's dishes and Healer Stilwell entered through the gap in the curtains.
"You're looking well," he commented, looking at Daddy. "I'll give you a few minutes longer with your family and then we'll see about getting you back on your feet."
Later, Lily swore she saw a frightened expression flit across her father's face and she was afraid for him.
Harry didn't want Albus and Lily to witness his first attempts at getting out of bed but since they were here and looking so concerned he didn't have the heart to send them away.
"Mr Potter," Healer Stilwell said, catching Harry's attention again, "I'm going to remove the binding spells now. Do not attempt to move until I tell you to."
"Yes, sir," Harry answered in a whisper, glad that he was now allowed to talk.
The Healer swished his wand several times and Harry felt his body react to the absence of the magical stiffening. He sucked in a surprised breath when his back muscles suddenly cramped and it was all he could do to keep from squirming about to find a more comfortable position. The next thing he knew he was floating several inches above his bed and slowly rotating like a pig on a spit. When Healer Stilwell set him down again, he was lying on his side facing Ginny and the children and the muscle spasm had all but gone away.
"Lie still for a few more moments, please, Mr Potter," ordered the Healer, "then we'll do a few tests before I let you out of bed."
"May I move yet?" Harry asked. His left arm was pinned uncomfortably underneath his body and was beginning to go to sleep.
Harry cautiously freed his arm and tucked it under his pillow. His body relaxed in the familiar position and he realized he was nearly asleep again when his eyes drifted shut. He opened them again, fighting the lingering effects of the potions he'd swallowed a little over an hour ago.
A sudden stabbing pain in his upper back shocked him awake again.
"Oi! What did you do that for?" Harry demanded of Healer Stilwell as Albus and Lily burst into giggles and Ginny shushed them. "That hurts!"
"Good," came the dry response. "It should. I've begun my tests."
"Tell me if you feel this."
"Yes, sir… OW!"
Again Harry felt himself being pricked with something sharp, this time a little farther down his back, and he answered "yes" to his Healer's question and tried not to squirm. The testing continued and Harry was beginning to feel annoyed when the pricking sensations changed and then went away altogether.
"Are we finished?" he asked, wanting the stupid test to be over with so he could sit up and swing his legs over the side of the bed, which he'd been told was the next step in the getting up process.
"No, Mr Potter, you don't feel this?"
Harry twisted a little and was alarmed to see Healer Stilwell was running a rather large hat pin over the bottom of his right foot. In fact, now that he concentrated on trying to feel his feet and legs, he realized he couldn't feel much past his waist.
"What the bloody hell is going on?" Harry demanded as panic and disbelief fought to be the dominant emotion in his head. "Why can't I feel my legs and feet?"
Ginny came forward and gently pushed him back on his back while Healer Stilwell adjusted the blankets. She groped for his hand and held it tightly in one hand as, with the other, she reached up and caressed his cheek.
"Harry, darling, you fell nearly thirty feet into a pit filled with rocks. Ordinarily, a fall like that would have killed a man as it was meant to do, but because you had three other officers with you, one of their cushioning charms kept you alive, if not whole. Healer Stilwell told me the first morning it was a miracle you survived at all." Her hand tightened convulsively around his before she continued, "I'm so very grateful for that, but now we're learning the extent of the damage… just as we did yesterday with your vision difficulties.
"Harry, Healer Stilwell and his staff have been testing your reflexes and pain and temperature sensations since you arrived. Their data shows that you have nerve damage to the major nerves leading to your legs and feet. I'm told that you have a seventy percent chance of never walking again. I'm sorry, my love. I wish I could give you better news," Ginny finished in a choked whisper.
Harry looked up at her, desperately fighting to keep his composure. When he saw her tears, he gave in and wept silently, as he had done so long ago in his cupboard under the stairs at the Dursleys' whenever he'd been locked in for days on end. Ginny sat down on the side of the bed and gently gathered him in her arms as great, silent sobs wracked his body.
When at last he could find his voice, he summoned the courage to say, "Well, it could be worse. At least I'm not another Mad-Eye Moody."
Ginny leaned down and hugged him, her hand in his comforted him as nothing else could. He held on tightly to his wife as she whispered so only he could hear, "I would love you even if you were missing half your nose and used a magical eye like his, Harry, because I fell in love with a skinny, specky boy in front of the barrier to Platform Nine and Three-Quarters nearly thirty years ago and I'll never stop loving the man you've grown to be."
Albus and Lily joined their mother on the other side of the bed. Harry could not see them, but he knew they were there when they called his name.
"Dad," Albus said, capturing Harry's attention. "It doesn't matter to me that you can't walk. You're still the same wizard who gets after me to do my best at Hogwarts and coaches me and James at duelling. You can still scold me if you want."
Harry reached up and patted Albus on the elbow. "Thanks, son, for reminding me of the things I can do," he said sadly as Lily elbowed her brother out of the way.
"Daddy," she said, bending down and laying her head on Harry's chest. "I'll always need your hugs and the time you always make to be with just me. I know you and I will continue to do things together when I'm home at holidays. And I know you'll worry about me when boys ask me out, like Jeremiah did last summer."
Even though he was smiling at her words and loved the feel of his daughter's head nestled on his chest, the sense of loss he was feeling at the moment was threatening to overwhelm him. Harry could only hug Lily back and a moment later, Ginny gently touched her shoulder and asked her and Albus to go find Aunt Hermione.
The two left reluctantly, both glancing back at him as they left through the opening in his curtains.
Healer Stilwell also departed. "I'll give you two a few minutes together and then I'll be back to discuss what happens next."
Harry nodded and turned his head towards the wall, not ready to face even Ginny at the moment. She sat gingerly on the side of his bed and took his hand in hers, saying nothing. They remained this way for a long time.
Healer Stilwell left Harry Potter's bedside a troubled man. He had been so sure his patient would be taking his first tentative steps or, at the very least, testing his ability to stand on his own when he took his leave of the Potter family. Instead, Mr Potter had lost all feeling below his waist and his legs were absolutely useless. The Healer frowned, wanting to punch something. His course of treatment should have worked: he'd done everything right, he was sure of it, just as he had with so many other spinal injury patients… So his biggest, most pressing question was… what had gone wrong?
He headed for his office. As he passed the security witch sitting at the desk across from the lifts, he requested, "Please close my Floo connection until further notice. Notify me of any emergencies with my patients, but I do not wish to be interrupted otherwise."
"Very well, sir," the witch said as she turned to the small communication fireplace behind her desk and flicked her wand at it. Healer Stilwell continued down the corridor to his office, deep in thought.
A sigh escaped him as he Summoned Harry Potter's file from his safe and sat behind his desk. As he paged through the thick stack of parchment, he searched for any reason his patient wasn't healing as expected. He scanned each page carefully, starting with the most recent entries and observations. He made notes of which potions had been administered, their dosages and when they'd been given. He read the results of the routine and specialized spells he had cast and his thoughts of why certain things were happening. Finally, he reached the first pages entered into the file: the admittance diagnosis report from the night Harry Potter had been admitted to St Mungo's. He read it twice before he realized that the form was a copy, a copy which had not been there when he had first begun treating Auror Potter.
Which bloody fool is responsible for this mix-up? he wondered angrily as he stomped round his desk and over to the door, taking the Potter file with him.
He descended the stairs rapidly to the Patient Records Office and impatiently stood at the window while another Healer requested and received the files he needed. Finally, it was his turn.
"I need to see the original Admittance Form for Auror Harry Potter, admitted on the night of twenty-two October," he requested in as pleasant a voice as he could muster under the circumstances.
The witch in charge of records frowned. "Sir, I don't see how that is possible. There must be some mistake. All originals are always placed in the patients' folders. I don't understand how this could have happened; the spells on the original forms are too strong."
Healer Stilwell opened the file and flipped to the Admittance Diagnosis form. "Look at this," he requested, turning to file so the witch in front of him could see the form clearly. "Someone has tampered with this chart. This is not the original, and I insist that you find it. I need to look it over before Mr Potter leaves the hospital tomorrow."
"Then you'll have to file a request form to have the original Banished to the file and the copy returned to our records," the witch stated firmly. She reached under the counter and came up with the proper form.
"Very well. I'll fill out the form, but I will absolutely not send the copy back to you until I am satisfied that the copy and the original are identical," Healer Stilwell countered. He took the proffered form and began filling it out. At the bottom was a special request box. In big block letters he wrote, URGENT! Then he said, "Notify me when the original form is in Mr Potter's file."
"We will," replied the equally perturbed witch.
He closed the chart and headed back upstairs. He hoped the original Admittance Form would be easy to find.
Just before dinner, James and his Cousin Louis slipped out of the Gryffindor changing rooms and quickly Disillusioned each other. Together, they sneaked towards the door to the Slytherin changing rooms and waited in the shadows until the last of the Slytherins left the building. Then, they quietly let themselves into the darkened room.
James lit his wand and smiled at Louis in its feeble light. There was just enough light to see the lay-out of the room.
"Sure glad there are never any girls on the Slytherin team," Louis commented softly as James handed him a small package.
"Uncle George said he included enough capsules to cover both the boys and the girls changing rooms, so we should have enough," James whispered back. He pointed to the far wall. "I'll take this side and you take that one and we'll cross in the middle. Use a Temporary Sticking Charm to affix your capsules next to the centre hook, please."
Louis nodded and went to work. "Tell me what we're testing for Uncle George again," he said as he began sticking clear, nearly invisible capsules to the ceiling of each locker.
"Remote Controlled Itching Capsules," James replied. "He told me to use one on the top and one on the bottom of each locker to test the prototype. If this works, by this time tomorrow night anyone who is on the Slytherin Quidditch team or has hugged or touched the clothing of one of the players will be experiencing uncontrollable itching. Dinner should be a fun affair to watch tomorrow night."
"And you're sure that Albus is going to be here to set off the capsules while the match is going on?" Louis asked.
"Yes, he is. My mum promised the headmaster that both Albus and Lily would come back in time for the match. She's sending Uncle Ron with them."
The two boys crossed paths and continued around the room, adhering their capsules to the tops and bottoms of the Slytherin lockers. When they finished, they slipped out the door and ran back to the Gryffindor changing rooms where they cancelled their spells and then noisily made their way back up to the castle for dinner. This part of the prank seemed to have gone off without a hitch.
A/N: I'm absolutely thrilled at how well this story has been received. I appreciate all the insightful reviews which keep me thinking about what I'm writing. I hope you'll all continue to review as each chapter comes out.
I have a huge thank you to say to one of my pre-betas who I completely left out of my notes for the Prologue and Chapter One. Jedi34 has read and commented on all of the chapters I've sent him and due to his comments about the children and Ginny, I changed and added a whole lot to these first few chapters. Also, it was he who first asked a certain question that helped me decide this would be a mystery. Jedi34, thank you so much for your guidance. You're a great friend and I appreciate you taking the time to help me with my story.
To my beta, Aggiebell, and my other pre-betas (Mutt n Feathers, RSS and RebeccaRipple), thank you so much for helping me make this chapter be the best it can be. You lot are awesome!