"Good morning, Mrs Potter. Welcome to The Groves," the receptionist greeted Ginny as she walked into the lobby of the facility.
"Thank you," Ginny said as she fished into her purse to retrieve a business card Healer Stilwell had given her. She inspected the back of the card. "I'm supposed to be meeting with a… Mrs Marjorie Vaughn. She's supposed to check my husband into the facility."
The receptionist smiled. "That would be me." She gestured to a couple of chairs, which faced a desk perpendicular to the reception desk. "Have a seat. I'll get Mr Potter's file."
A moment later, Mrs Vaughn rolled her wheelchair over to the writing desk with a stack of folders on her lap. Ginny tried not to stare, gave it up as a bad job and finally commented, "When Harry sees you I hope he'll know there's hope for himself. Right now, he's lost all hope of ever getting back to work…"
Mrs Vaughn reached across the desk and patted Ginny's hand before handing her the first sheaf of papers from her folders. "That's one of the reasons I applied for this job and the main reason I was hired. I'm a symbol to everyone in this facility that there is indeed life after injury.
"Now let's get started so you can go see your husband. This is the liability release form…"
The two women slowly made their way through the folder of legal, governmental and insurance forms, making small talk as the stack of signed forms grew and the unsigned one diminished. While Ginny filled out the insurance form, Mrs Vaughn explained that while the British National Health Organization required every patient to fill out insurance authorizations, the papers Ginny was signing were really an authorization of compensation to Harry through the Auror Disability vault at Gringotts. In a round-about way, it made sense: medical care was funded by the government—both Muggle and wizarding—so the Ministry of Magic had a special fund for Aurors hurt in the line of duty.
There were other important facts as well. Ginny learned that there were both Muggle and magical patients at The Groves and that although they were housed in separate wards, the more mobile patients were encouraged to take their meals and some of their exercise sessions in a mixed group as part of the integration process back into normal society. Another thing she learned was that as soon as Harry was settled in his room, a physiotherapist would begin working with him to assess his limitations, over and above the ones described in his medical reports. In addition to this, Mrs Vaughn told her that whenever possible, the patients and their families were encouraged to interact with each other.
"After we finish, I'll show you the facility," she informed Ginny. "Most common areas have sliding doors which lead to the outdoor grounds. We have a football pitch, a running track, a playground for the under tens and a flower garden where many of the families spend time together. I hope your family will take advantage of this while the weather's still good."
"Are brooms allowed on the pitch?" Ginny asked, knowing that her children would love to take advantage of a place to fly.
"Unfortunately, no," Mrs Vaughn replied, looking sad. "All walking persons must keep their feet firmly on the ground. It would be a lot easier on the families if we didn't have to observe the Statute of Secrecy, but we do.
"I understand," Ginny replied with a weary sigh.
As she passed Ginny the last form, Mrs Vaughn commented, "This last form is the one that authorizes us to admit Mr Potter's visitors to the facility without contacting you each time someone wants to see him and you're not here. I understand that you have family living at The Burrow, Mrs Potter?"
Ginny's head snapped up from its focus on the form. "I... I know The Groves is in County Devon, but I was unaware of the actual location," she sputtered. "What city is the facility in?"
"Why, Ottery-St Catchpole, of course," Mrs Vaughn replied. "Didn't you recognize the scenery?"
Ginny put down her pen. "Sadly, no, we didn't. After the hubbub of the hospital and the anxiety of the last week, it seems Harry and I both took advantage of the peace and quiet of the Ministry car and had a bit of a nap," she admitted.
"That's quite understandable. The first week after an injury for magical people and the first month or more for Muggles is often the most mentally taxing on the family of victim," Mrs Vaughn told Ginny soothingly.
Ginny sat back and picked up the visitor's form and stared at the paltry list of visitors she'd already authorized because she knew that even with Apparition, not too many family members would be able to visit during Visiting Hours. The fact that The Groves was so close to The Burrow changed everything. She had been worried about finding a room to let in the village near The Groves so that she could be close to Harry without going home. Now, she decided, she would definitely take advantage of her mother's offer of the use of her old bedroom. It also meant that Harry's nieces and nephews wouldn't have to endure long visiting sessions and could instead go to visit Granddad and Grandmum if things became boring.
"Did Healer Stilwell choose The Groves just because Harry and I have family in the area?" Ginny asked as she added all of her brothers' family members, Luna and Rolf Scamander, Neville and Hannah Longbottom, and Teddy Lupin as well as Teddy's Grandmother, Andromeda Tonks, to the list. She paused and then wrote down Draco and Asteria Malfoy as well. The last time Harry had been in hospital, Draco had come to visit and had been turned back at the door because he wasn't on the visitors' list. Ginny didn't want any of her husband's friends to suffer that kind of humiliation, not when it looked like Harry was going to be in hospital for months to come.
"Most of the healers and doctors use that as one of the criteria for finding the right facility for their patients," Mrs Vaughn replied, "but in Mr Potter's case, the services we provide our patients and the location seemed perfect for his needs. I sincerely hope the two of you feel the same way after your first few weeks here.
"All finished? Then come with me and I'll show you around a bit," Mrs Vaughn said as she directed the folders back to her desk with her wand.
Ginny was gobsmacked. "You're a witch, too?" she blurted before she could stop herself.
"Yes, does that surprise you?"
"I don't know," replied Ginny truthfully. "How do you keep straight who is magical and who isn't?"
Mrs Vaughn chuckled. "It's all in the paperwork, Mrs Potter, all in the paperwork. You see, the Muggle forms are always coloured and the Wizarding forms are always parchment-coloured. That way, everyone working with the patients knows the correct way to interact with each one," she explained as they went down a corridor towards doors marked "Library" on one side and "Recreation" on the other. "It simply wouldn't do to have an intern ask a Muggle to cast a Voiding Spell when the Muggle neither has a wand nor knows the proper wand movements and vocabulary."
"No, it wouldn't," Ginny murmured as she looked into each of the rooms. Both rooms were full of patients and their assistants and she hoped that Harry would soon be able to come here, if he wished.
The two continued through the centre, inspecting various rooms as they went. After the Library and Recreation rooms, there were several common rooms, and an audio room where patients who had trouble reading to themselves could come and listen to books read on Muggle machines. The dining hall was located close to the main doors, while the mail room—which included roosts for owls in a separate Owlery off the main room—and the Transportation Office were on one of the central wings. This last room's door was guarded and admission was granted by pass only. Ginny learned this was also the room she would Apparate to and from if she chose to travel that way. Since she was there, the guard handed her a pass and instructed her on its use.
Mrs Vaughn next took Ginny out into the courtyard overlooked by some of the Magical rooms and the facility offices. "Unlike other facilities of this kind," she explained, "each patient has a private room. It's a necessity because of the make-up of our population. Besides the no broom-flying rule, we also strictly enforce our no wand rule when patients and their families are out in the grounds."
"I remember reading that somewhere," Ginny murmured as she looked about. She could see parts of the garden and the football pitch. It was a lovely fall day and from what she could see of the gardens, the foliage had taken on the distinctive hues of autumn and she knew it would be a very soothing place to go.
Finally, they toured the therapy wing. Ginny was impressed by the variety of therapies and medical diagnostic equipment available to the patients and commented on her observations.
"We have a high success rate, Mrs Potter," Mrs Vaughn stated proudly. "Nearly all of our patients eventually re-enter mainstream society."
"And those who don't?" Ginny asked curiously.
Mrs Vaughn shrugged. "Most of those people we never hear from again, mostly because they never successfully matriculate back into the main population."
"Oh," Ginny said, suddenly feeling uncomfortable. At this point in time she didn't want to entertain the possibility that Harry would be one of those people. She briefly closed her eyes thinking, Harry's not a quitter. This is just another obstacle for us to hurtle...
Eventually, Mrs Vaughn took her back to the reception desk and presented her with a magical facility map. "Just tap the map and say 'I'm lost' and your location and destination will appear," she instructed. "Now off you go. Mr Potter is most likely anxious to see you by now."
Ginny nodded absently for she had just told the map she was lost and answered its question about her destination. "You Are Here" appeared on her map followed by blinking green arrows, which showed her the way to go. I can do this! she told herself as she set off for Harry's room.
James sat with his girlfriend, Kendra, at a table in the Gryffindor common room scratching his itches and trying to concentrate on a History of Magic essay he was trying to write. The writing wasn't going well at all, mostly because his mind was elsewhere, but also because he hadn't found any relief from Albus' prank. Usually, showering to wash off the itching powder worked, as did cooling charms, but not this formula. James suspected that some sort of oil-based product was what would be needed. Sighing loudly, James shut his books and rolled up his parchment. He was going to the kitchens.
"Where are you going?" Kendra asked curiously as he stood up. She pulled her wand from her pocket and used it to scratch between her shoulder blades.
"Kitchens," James answered. "I think I might have found a solution to the itching problem."
"Oh, can I come? I'm tired of sitting here scratching."
James held out his hand to her. "I'd like that," he said.
The two crossed the common room and James held the portrait hole door open for Kendra. She smiled shyly as she passed him, sending shivers up his spine that had nothing to do with the itching powder.
"Have you had any more news of your dad?" Kendra asked as they took a shortcut that took them several floors down in quick succession.
"Not yet. My Uncle Ron told me my Mum would write to us after she finished settling Dad into the rehab centre. I'm not expecting the owl until tomorrow morning," James reported. He wondered why all this should bother him, but it did.
Kendra squeezed his hand. "They'll take care of him, you'll see," she said soothingly and James hoped she was right.
They entered the corridor leading to the kitchens and eventually stopped in front of the still life that guarded the entrance. James tickled the pear and after a moment, they were allowed to enter.
"Master James! Master James!" cried several of the house-elves excitedly. Word of their arrival travelled through the room and a moment later, James and Kendra were surrounded by their small friends.
"Hello, everyone," he greeted them. "I have a favour to ask. Can someone bring me some cooking oil, please?"
A huge container appeared almost instantly and James took off the stopper and dripped some oil onto his handkerchief.
"Why ruin a perfectly good handkerchief?" one of the elves asked. "Morton spends hours cleaning them."
"I know he does and I'm sorry," James said as he rubbed the oil onto his arm and smiled as the itching instantly went away. "However, the oil is the antidote to our itching powder affliction," he answered as he rubbed the cloth over Kendra's arm, making her sigh happily. "May we take the oil with us? Anyone who hugged a Quidditch player yesterday needs to bathe in this stuff."
"Yes, yes," several elves replied. "Do you need anything else?"
"Not this time," Kendra smiled at them. "Thank you so much for helping us."
"I can't wait to get back upstairs," James said as they climbed back towards Gryffindor tower, floating the container between them. "Erm, would it be mean not to tell Albus about the solution?"
Kendra tilted her head before she answered. "Nope, not at all. I'm not feeling very generous towards him at the moment," she stated, making James chuckle.
"Then, let's gather the rest of the team, some new clothes and meet at the Prefects' Bathroom," James proposed. "Let's make a party of de-itching each other."
Kendra smiled. "I like that idea," she said and she hurried up the stairs to the girls' dormitories to alert all the itchy girls.
Ginny found Harry's ward easily with the help of the facility map and was pleasantly surprised to see Healer Stilwell emerging from her husband's room as she approached it.
"How was the ride over?" he asked as she joined him in the corridor.
"Quiet, but a little scary for Harry. He tends to avoid dark, closed-in spaces whenever he can," she admitted. "That's why I transfigured the body bag into a sleeping bag... it allowed him to see out and wasn't quite so humid inside. I hope he's calmed down by now. I've never seen him as frightened as he's been this past week. It worries me."
"We've given him a calming draft and his physiotherapist is in there now teaching him some simple relaxation techniques," Healer Stilwell told her.
"Is that a good thing?" Ginny asked hopefully.
"Yes, it is," Healer Stilwell replied. He paused as if mentally adding something he didn't want Ginny to know. "During the next few weeks your husband will be learning many things which will tax not only his patience, but his body as well. He'll be sore, grouchy or unresponsive at times, impatient, discouraged, encouraged, and probably never satisfied with the amount of help you and his recovery team are giving or not giving him. At the moment, he's learning several ways to release his muscle tension and ease his own pain through simple stretches and breathing techniques."
Ginny briefly closed her eyes. She could use the tutelage herself right now, she imagined. "Then I'd best get in there and learn them myself so I can help Harry when his therapists aren't available. Thank you for coming to see him," she said, feeling rather resigned to the fact that she now had even more responsibility. She turned towards Harry's door.
Healer Stilwell stopped her with a hand on her elbow. "Mrs Potter, a word of caution... Take time for yourself and your children. Your husband is here to learn how to be independent in his disability. He doesn't have to be the centre of the universe all the time, you know."
"You're right... I'm just worried and confused and so overwhelmed by what's happened. I think it's my mothering reflexes kicking into autopilot," she admitted, trying to explain how she felt at the moment.
"Go see Harry now. Maybe seeing that he's in capable hands will ease your worries a little."
Ginny nodded. "Thanks," she murmured and stepped through the door to Harry's room.
She was greeted with a very pleasant space. The walls were a pale blue colour that she immediately found soothing and the darker blue curtains at the window matched the upholstery on the two overstuffed chairs that sat beneath it. There was also a chest of drawers, a small table and a tiny writing desk arranged about the space that was dominated by Harry's bed. At the moment, he was sitting with his feet dangling over the side, twisting his body first one way and then the other when coached by a woman dressed in yellow. They ignored her approach and only acknowledged her presence when they finished their task.
"Hello. You must be Harry's wife, Ginny, correct?" the woman asked. Ginny nodded. "I'm Silvia Redmond, Harry's physiotherapist here at The Groves. It's nice to meet you."
Ginny smiled. "I see you're already helping Harry. How's it going?"
Harry spoke up. "I told Silvia and Healer Stilwell about what happened during the transfer. I'm feeling much better now that I'm here."
Ginny felt some of the tension leave her body. A positive comment from Harry! Maybe this place really would help him... She walked over to her husband and gave him a hug, being careful about which side she stood on so she wouldn't startle him when she put her arms around his waist.
"I'm glad you are. You had me worried for a while," she admitted, planting a kiss on his cheek. She turned to Silvia. "Do you want me to stay while you work with Harry?"
Silvia shrugged. "It's up to you. Sometimes it's good to know what we've covered in case Harry wants to practice after I'm gone for the day," she told her.
Ginny took the hint and sat down in one of the overstuffed chairs. Something told her to get out the small notebook she kept in her handbag and she spent the next hour taking notes on the stretches Silvia was teaching Harry.
Silvia finished with Harry just before lunch. As she was packing up her bag of equipment, she asked him, "Do you remember the correct way to lift your legs onto the bed?"
"I do," Harry replied evenly. His tone made Ginny look up from scanning her notes.
"I'd like you practice several times this afternoon," said Silvia.
"Must I?" Harry whinged.
"Yes, you must. The more you practice, the easier it will become."
"Why can't I use my wand?" Harry demanded. "It would make the chore much easier."
"Harry," Silvia began in a patient voice, "I really wish you could, but Healer Stilwell has ordered that you are not to use your wand or do any sort of magic for another week. The potions you are taking affect your magic and if you were allowed to cast spells while taking them, the results could be dangerous."
Harry scowled. "I've lived with danger all my life," he argued. "I can handle a few Levitation spells. Ginny, I want my wand."
Startled at being pulled into Harry's argument with Silvia, Ginny said, "I'm sorry, I don't have it with me. I took all your belongings home with me several days ago."
"I want my wand!" Harry demanded loudly. "Go home and get it now!"
Silvia stepped between them. "Mr Potter, you will stop yelling at your wife right now," she ordered softly but firmly. Harry eyed her belligerently. "She has done nothing to deserve your anger, so I expect you to apologize to her and then let her help you practice lifting your legs later this afternoon. Have I made myself clear?"
"Yes, ma'am," he grumbled petulantly, sounding very much like his youngest son at the age of five. He turned to Ginny and mumbled, "Sorry."
If she hadn't been so hurt by his hostility, she might have laughed. Instead, she nearly whispered, "Thank you."
Silvia deliberately walked to the left side of Harry's bed. He tracked her movement by turning his head in her direction and Ginny wondered why she was making him compensate for the blind left side. She'd have to ask about that later.
"Listen to me, Harry, we have rules here," Silvia ordered, once she was standing still. "The magical folk who come here to The Groves learn all the Muggle techniques for taking care of themselves before spells become involved. They build the upper body strength you need in case you ever are separated from your wand and need to get yourself out of trouble. Besides, as public a person as you are in your job, you are out in the Muggle world quite a bit, I imagine. You need to know what Muggles expect to see from a disabled person."
"Big deal," Harry shot back. "It's not like I'm going back to work any time soon. Not when I can't read easily because I'm partially blind and I'm stuck in a bed all day."
"Ah, there's the rub," Silvia chuckled. "One of the items on tomorrow's agenda is to get you measured for your two special chairs. You're going to need that Muggle wheelchair I hinted at earlier, as well as the broom spell-powered locomotor chair Healer Stilwell was describing. The sooner you're mobile, the better."
"That's what you think," Harry muttered, sounding dismissive. He pulled his covers higher on his chest and closed his eyes.
"I think he's had enough, Mrs Potter. Let's take a walk down the corridor," Silvia suggested, turning to Ginny. When they were well away from Harry's door, she asked, "Has Harry always been this dismissive when he doesn't want to interact any more?"
"No." Ginny shook her head. "The surliness has cropped up within the last several days. I don't know what's come over him. Harry's usually a much milder-mannered person than this, and definitely more patient."
"It happens to the best of us," Silvia said. "Maybe once he's decided that he still has control of his body, he'll stop trying to control most situations."
Ginny raised an eyebrow. "You think that's it? That because Harry's lost the ability to walk, he's grasping at every situation he can to maintain control?"
"I do." Silvia pushed open a glass door that opened onto a path leading to the flower garden and waited until Ginny went by before following her onto one of the paths. "May I call you 'Ginny', Mrs Potter?" she asked. When Ginny murmured her consent, she continued, "Ginny, I've had many patients who were top executives in various companies over the years and they, like your husband, have had tremendous responsibility in their jobs. They run companies, supervise thousands, make business deals worth millions and when they suddenly find themselves disabled because of a stroke or a heart attack or an accident of some sort, they suffer greatly because all of a sudden the one thing they were sure of, never gave second thought to, has been taken away.
"The thing is, when control over a part of themselves disappeared, they were lost," she explained. "So when presented with the opportunity to regain some control, such as a meeting with their doctors or a therapist like me, they jumped at a chance to say enough, even if they want to continue the activity. Harry's doing the exact same thing; he's reacting normally for a person in his situation."
"So how do we deal with it?" Ginny asked. "I feel so helpless and small when he attacks me like that."
"I know you do," Silvia said sympathetically. "So we'll let Harry have most of the control he desires, but also guide him into realizing that what he's learning is giving him the control he craves."
"That's going to take a lot of work."
"It is and this is where you come in..."
They used the rest of their walk to come up with a plan for the rest of the week. By the time Ginny returned to Harry's room, lunch had been served, but Harry was sound asleep. Ginny took the time to glance at his meal and discovered a card on the tray which read, "Magical Room. Meal preserved with appropriate heating and cooling charms."
Satisfied that Harry would have a fresh meal when he awoke, Ginny decided to let him sleep and went to make a fire call to The Burrow.
The egg timer in Molly Weasley's kitchen was clucking softly when the fireplace flared green and Ginny's head appeared.
"Ginny, darling, it's so good to see you! How's Harry?" Molly inquired, wiping the flour from her hands and laying a towel over her bowl of bread dough.
"Ill-tempered," Ginny replied. "May I come through?"
"Of course. I'll start the kettle."
Ginny withdrew her head and a moment later, stepped through the Floo and into her mother's arms. The two witches held each other until the shrill whistling of the kettle caused them to part. While Molly prepared the tea, Ginny took cups, utensils, milk and sugar from their places and put them on the table.
"I can't stay long, Mum," Ginny sighed. She looked weary and very worried, not at all like the confident woman Molly knew her to be. "Harry had an eventful morning and fell asleep before lunch arrived. I want to be back at The Groves when he wakes up."
"I wouldn't have it any other way," Molly said, patting Ginny's hand. "Harry's been placed at The Groves in Ottery-St Catchpole? That's a marvellous place, dear. Several of our neighbours have recuperated there after various ailments. The healers and therapists are tops."
Ginny smiled. "I'm glad you approve, Mum. I feel better knowing you do," she said, accepting her cup and pouring a generous amount of milk into her tea.
"Tell me about your day," Molly prompted and for the next half hour, she listened raptly while her daughter recounted the events of the morning.
When Ginny finished, Molly handed her a handkerchief saying, "Remember, Harry loves you with all his heart and I know your love for him is just as strong. There are going to be some trying times ahead for both of you that will test your love severely, but I know you and Harry have a strong marriage just like your father and I have. You will get through this and be better people for it."
Ginny looked at the clock. "Thanks, Mum. I needed to hear that." She sighed forlornly. "I need to go."
"You're coming to stay the night tonight?" Molly asked.
Ginny smiled. "I'd like that very much, Mum. Visiting hours for family are over at ten o'clock, so I shouldn't be much later than that," she said, rising from her chair. She came round the table and Molly stood to hug her daughter.
"We'll be expecting you," she said.
A moment later, her youngest was gone in a flare of green flames.
The group of itchy students that descended on the Prefects bathroom was bigger than James had anticipated, but given the circumstances, the only one he wanted to deny entrance to was his brother.
"Oi! Listen up!" he commanded before he gave the password. "I have enough of the itching antidote for everyone, so you don't have to push and shove like a bunch of old women at a charity sale! Help each other out, especially if someone's back is itching. This isn't time for shenanigans, either. The bathroom knows when there's a mixed crowd inside and for those of you who have never been in here, it will alert our heads of house if we're doing something we shouldn't. Does anyone have any questions?"
No one did, so James turned and gave the password. The door opened and, much to his relief, his friends all filed in and went to the appropriate dressing rooms the room had provided.
"That went well," Kendra commented.
"For now, at least," James said sceptically. "I just hope they behave themselves once they're itch-free."
"They will," Kendra told him confidently. "I counted three other Prefects besides myself who can help keep the peace if need be."
James smiled at his girlfriend. "Thanks. Now I suppose the girls will want some of the oil," he teased, causing Kendra to harrumph. He cast his eyes about the space, looking for some smaller containers. He spied two on a shelf of towels and quickly grabbed them and filled them with oil from the larger container. "Here. This should do. I'll leave the big jug here, all right?"
Kendra smiled at him and grabbed several face cloths. "Let the de-itching begin!" she laughed and disappeared into the girls' room. James took a few cloths with him and headed into the boys' room.
A quarter of an hour later, the first shouts from the itch-free students rang out as the tub filled with fragrant, soapy water and someone conjured a beach ball. Soon, a group of colourfully-costumed students were batting it about, dunking each other and having a thoroughly enjoyable time.
All except one, that is.
James sat on the edge of the tub with his feet dangling in the water, but he just didn't feel like joining the fun. He couldn't allow himself to let go of his cares and laugh and shout and jump and swim when he knew his dad would never do those things again. It felt like betrayal...
A hand gently descending upon his shoulder caused him to look in that direction and he discovered Kendra's soft blue eyes staring back at him.
"You're a thousand light-years away," she said as she sat down next to him. "Is it something I can help with?"
James shook his head. "I don't think so," he muttered as he turned his head to stare at the mermaid preening on her rock in the painting over the tub.
Kendra wound her fingers through his. "Maybe not, but I know you're hurting and want you to know I'm here."
Someone batted the beach ball their way and James automatically caught it and threw it back into the tub. "Thanks," he mumbled. He wasn't ready to talk about what was bothering him, but just having Kendra say that helped a little. They sat in silence until she began to shiver. "You're getting cold. Go play. I'll be right here."
Kendra shook her head and grabbed a towel from where it lay on the floor. She dropped his hand for a moment as she slung the towel over her shoulders. As soon as she was settled, she took possession of his hand again. "All better. No more shivering," she said lightly. She laid her head on his shoulder and he was grateful that she wasn't going to make him try to explain how he felt. He knew he would eventually, but right now, he just couldn't find the words. They stayed like that until the beach ball suddenly disappeared with a loud pop.
James stood up. "I guess that's time," he called, making the others in the tub groan. "We've been in here almost two hours. I, for one, am getting hungry. Who wants to stay in here during dinner?"
"No way!" someone answered.
"I'm not missing dinner!"
"Plug pulling time!"
"Then all out for the next dressing room!" James called, finally getting into the spirit a little.
As she began herding the girls back into the changing room, Kendra winked at him and mouthed, "Thanks."
James smiled back and reached for a towel.
Ron pulled his head out of the fireplace, looking grim.
"What was that all about?" Hermione asked as she began preparing dinner for the two of them.
He grabbed a butterbeer from the cold cupboard. "Robards wants to take me off the case now that Harry's been hurt," he grumbled.
"And you don't agree, do you?"
"No, I don't. I've been involved in this investigation since we started it six months ago, Hermione. I can't very well just let go of sixth months of work: I need to see it through to the end," Ron replied emphatically. He took a long pull on the bottle as Hermione turned to face him.
"Well, for what it's worth, I think Robards is right," she commented, reaching for the bag of sprouts she'd put on the counter. She dumped the tiny cabbages into a colander and ran water over them.
Surprised, Ron asked, "Why?"
"Oh, for heaven's sake, Ron! You're far to close to one of the victims to be objective right now," she exclaimed, sounding exasperated.
"How can I be objective when my best friend is lying in a hospital with the prospect of never walking again?" Ron demanded, his mood becoming blacker with each passing moment. "I want to find the suspect who escaped and make sure he and the other two either get the death penalty or are locked away in Azkaban for the rest of their lives for what they did to Harry and the others!"
"See, Ron, you just proved my point," Hermione said calmly. She pointed her wand at the sprouts and they began jumping out of their outer leaves and onto the counter where two knives were waiting to slice them into slivers. "You're too emotionally involved to think clearly now that Harry's been hurt."
"I am not!" Ron protested.
"All right, answer me this... would you be saying you want revenge if it had been Susan or Terry or one of the other two Aurors who had fallen into that pit?" Hermione asked as she fished butter and scallions from the cold cupboard. "Oh, don't look at me like that! We both know that's what you mean."
Ron was silent for several seconds as he considered his answer. "Yes, I want revenge," he answered truthfully. "Anyone who deliberately sets that kind of a trap just to injure or kill an Auror for the fun of it deserves that sort of punishment. It's unconscionable!"
"Well, then, I think you need to find a new line of work," Hermione replied heatedly, "because revenge for revenge's sake does not a clear head make."
"That doesn't make sense, Hermione," whinged Ron. He finished his butterbeer and threw the bottle into the recycle bin. It belched happily, but neither Ron nor Hermione noticed. "I'm not out for revenge, I want justice!"
"Then let another team take over the investigation," she urged. "They'll be able to put the clues together without prejudicing themselves so that they think the evidence points one way when it really points another."
"I can't do that!" Ron yelled, finally aggravated enough to vent his feelings.
"Because I owe it to Harry?" he blurted.
"Why do you owe him anything?"
"I owe Harry because this is the first time he's unable to help himself," Ron finally admitted. "I want to get those bastards so we'll know why they hurt those innocent people and disabled Harry for the rest of his life!"
Hermione put down her spoon and turned off the cooker. She walked over to Ron and put her arms around him. "Oh, love, I understand why you want to do this, but Harry needs you more than ever now, and if you go off on whatever wild goose chases these people lead you on, you won't be there when he calls."
Ron sighed and hugged her close. "That's a risk I need to take. If I'm out chasing down the bad guys Harry will understand, I just know it. He went on the mission that night because it was important to him to get those people; the case's been eating at him since the first victim showed up at St Mungo's. It's been eating at me. You see why I can't let it go?"
Hermione laid her head on his chest and he knew she was mulling over what he'd said. At length, she said, "If it means so much to you, then go talk to Robards after dinner."
Ron tightened his hold on his wife. "Thanks, Hermione."
The hours after dinner went quickly for Harry and Ginny. She had gone down to the library late in the afternoon and found several books she thought her husband might like to have her read aloud. They now chose a book and Ginny began reading to Harry. From time to time, she'd stop and they'd talk about the action, the characters' motives and their own memories or dreams the story evoked.
When the chime for the end of visiting hours sounded, Ginny closed the book and hopped off the bed.
"Yes?" She turned and was surprised to see a troubled expression on his face.
"Do you... no, are you still... attracted to me? Now that I'm an invalid?" he asked hesitantly.
Ginny sighed. Healer Stilwell had said these questions might come up. "Oh, my darling," she began as she picked up Harry's hand and held it in both of hers. "I am still very attracted to you and I always will be. You're my knight in shining armour, have been since you rescued me from Riddle and the Chamber. I want you to know that I find you handsome and brave and the one I will always want to have as my best friend and husband... no matter whether you're standing on your own two feet or floating next to me at eye level when we kiss."
Harry closed his eyes. "I wish... I wish I could believe that," he whispered as a tear trickled down his cheek.
Ginny smiled at her husband. "Will this help you believe?" she asked and she leaned over him, her lips seeking his. Her first kisses tenderly caressed his lips, teasing them the way she knew he liked. Harry turned his head up towards hers, opened his mouth, and flicked his tongue across hers, seeking entrance. Her breath quickened as their tongues met and she tasted him in the familiar dance that usually led to more intimate things. Finally, very reluctantly and out of breath, they parted and Ginny stroked Harry's fringe away from his forehead with her fingers.
Harry smiled back at her. "It did," he said. "Thank you."
Hermione looked up from her book as Ron entered their bedroom. "You're back in one piece," she commented wryly. "And you don't look chewed-upon, so your meeting with Robards went well?"
Ron laughed as he began his preparations for bed. "Let's just say I'm still on the case and still in one piece," he answered, as he approached the bed and sat down next to Hermione.
She raised an eyebrow. "That bad, huh?"
"Could have been worse. He could have refused and disciplined me if he'd really wanted to, but he didn't," Ron commented. He leaned in with his lips puckered and Hermione reached up and brought his face to hers. Their kiss was intimate and only broken when Hermione pulled reluctantly away.
"So... what's next?" she asked in a somewhat dazed tone.
"I'm taking Susan and Brodie with me tomorrow when I go back to the site," Ron answered as he headed for the bath. Hermione heard him start the shower and picked up her book again.
"What do you expect to find?" she called. "The evidence team will have scoured the place thoroughly, I suspect.
Ron stuck his head back into the bedroom. "No idea, but I'm open to anything."
"Then I hope you find something that will help," Hermione told him sincerely. "Will you be coming to bed soon?"
"Five minutes tops," Ron replied. He shut the door and began singing his favourite Weird Sisters song in a voice that made Hermione cast a Silencing Charm on the door.
A lamp burned late into the night in Healer Stilwell's office at The Groves. He'd come to the Centre early that morning after signing off on Harry Potter's charts at St Mungo's to watch the transfer process from the Ministry car. He hadn't liked what he'd seen: Mr Potter had been pale and sweating and looked to be in pain when he really shouldn't after a relatively short journey.
As soon as his patient was settled in his room, Healer Stilwell had gone to see him. In their conversation, he had discovered that while the transfer had gone without a hitch and he hadn't been accosted by hordes of reporters, Mr Potter had still suffered greatly. It seemed a long-suppressed childhood memory had reared its ugly head when his patient had been zipped into the body bag; only the fact that his wife had opened the bag during transport had helped him remain calm enough to complete the journey. After several hours and a round of meds, his patient had finally begun to look normal and Healer Stilwell began to relax. However, his concern regarding Mr Potter's condition kept him at The Groves, checking in on him periodically all during the afternoon and evening, and caused him to call home to have his wife cancel their dinner reservations. He'd been in his office ever since.
Something about Mr Potter's condition wasn't normal. In fact, nothing about this case was "normal". The more he thought about it, the more puzzled he became because by all accounts, Mr Potter should have gone home to finish convalescing instead of ending up here. He picked up Mr Potter's file and began reviewing it from the beginning.
Mr Potter had been admitted to St Mungo's at approximately half-three in the morning on October the twenty-first. His injuries were extensive, the most pressing of the lot being the punctured lungs, internal haemorrhaging and broken vertebrae. The Accident and Emergency team had gone to work stabilizing Mr Potter, healing his broken bones and the internal damage with routine potions and spells. The situation had become grave when Mr Potter's lungs wouldn't respond to any of the healing spells the healer intern and his supervisor had tried. It was then that the decision to use the enchanted Muggle ventilator was made.
Once Mr Potter was breathing with help, measures had been taken to heal the spine and assess the amount of swelling taking place in the brain and spinal cord. Certain potions had been magically administered and due to the time it usually took for the potions to work, Mr Potter had been admitted to the ward.
Healer Stilwell scratched his head and scowled at the parchment in front of him, thinking about what could possibly have gone wrong with the course of treatment. So far, the admittance, diagnosis and care seemed to have gone just as it should, just as he'd thought the day before yesterday when he'd done his review of the file. Then, he remembered something: there were certain procedures the A and E Healers did for Aurors that they usually didn't do for ordinary patients. His eyes widened and he scanned the report again. The top parchment was different than the one he'd read before: this was the original, the one he'd had to demand to see, instead of the copy which had been in the file for the last few days. That one was also in the folder, fastened underneath as if it was the very first parchment recorded for the patient.
Carefully, he unfastened the lot and took out the bottom two pieces of parchment. He noted that there were subtle differences in the two reports. On both forms the occupation box for "Auror" had been checked as it should have been. He knew this automatically triggered a series of other items to appear on the form, one of which was the Foreign Body Detection Spell check-off box. The spell had been added in the last year and was now supposed to be a routine part of the preliminary diagnosis if the patient was an Auror. However, on Mr Potter's original chart the FBDS box had not been checked off and was still flashing feebly—it had been checked on the copy. Apparently, the spell had not been carried out after all. Healer Stilwell looked at the diagnosing Healer's signature—the intern had signed the papers—and growled angrily. Rising swiftly from his chair, he shut the folder, secured it in his safe and headed for the Transportation Office. He had a fire call to make.
Something stirred in the darkness at The Groves. A lone figure, just barely visible as an outline when it moved, lurked in the bushes just beyond the square of light coming from a certain window. The concealed wizard watched as Ginny Potter kissed her husband intimately and then smoothed the fringe from his forehead. The action sickened the man who muttered a curse under his breath. He was pleased, a moment later, to see Potter suddenly go rigid with pain and his wife scramble frantically for the call button attached to the bed. The plan was working... in a few more days Harry Potter would be dead.
A/N: Just a brief thank you to my pre-beta team of Jedi34, RSS, Mutt n Feathers, and RebeccaRipple for all their hard work, suggestions and questions that helped me whip this chapter into shape. Thank you, Aggiebell, for being the dedicated and conscientious beta you are.
To my loyal readers, your reviews always make my week and I look forward to discussing the chapter with you. Thanks for all your encouragement, questions and comments. They keep me working hard on future chapters.