It was midnight and Ron had yet to come home. Hermione wasn’t very concerned yet—Ron had been kept out late in the field sometimes in the past—but still, it would have been courteous of him to call or send word somehow... and he usually did.
However, the longer she waited, the more acutely she felt a nagging something that finally compelled her to Floo call Susan Bones at half past twelve. She was startled to find her normally cheerful friend looking tired and very sad.
“Susan, did I wake you? I’m sorry if I did,” she apologized.
“Oh, no, you didn’t wake me, Hermione. I... I... I was just thinking,” she sniffed as her husband, Justin Finch-Fletchley, came into view and briefly greeted Hermione. “What can I do for you?”
“Erm, I’m looking for Ron,” Hermione admitted sheepishly. “When did your team finish up? I was expecting him home hours ago.”
Susan murmured something to Justin and then came to sit cross-legged in front of the hearth. “I think Ron finally left Headquarters with Brodie about ten o’clock,” she said, her voice quiet and cheerless.
Hermione’s eyebrows shot upward. “You’re telling me you were out at the site for fifteen hours?” she demanded.
Susan shook her head. “Oh, no. We were done at the site by ten in the morning,” she said. “It was the debriefing and having to contact four families of the deceased that took forever.” Tears trickled down her cheeks as she finished speaking. She pulled a limp handkerchief out of her pocket and wiped them away.
“Deceased? New dead bodies?” Hermione asked, a feeling of dread engulfing her. “What did you find?”
Susan began crying in earnest. “I’d better let Ron tell you that. He took Brodie to some Muggle pub after we finished with the families. Poor kid was absolutely beside himself with grief. I... I... I don’t know how he managed to get through that last visit...” She trailed off into a series of sobs. Justin knelt beside her and held her while she cried.
Hermione waited a few moments and then asked, “Is there anything I can do for you?”
Susan shook her head. “Just find Ron. He’s taking the deaths very, very hard.”
Something clicked in Hermione’s head. “How many dead Aurors?”
Hermione closed her eyes. Four Aurors dead, and all of them probably helping Ron in some capacity. “Thank you, Susan. Call me if you need someone to talk to,” she offered.
Susan nodded and Hermione ended the call. Relieved and very concerned at the same time, she sat with her back against a pouf, thinking hard about where Ron might have gone.
There were two possibilities she knew of from things Ron had said in the past. One was a pub called The Drunken Butler, the other was a place called The Seldom Inn. She’d never been to either one, but knew they were the Muggle equivalent of the Hogshead circa 1995; in other words, places where people kept to themselves. One thing was certain: she needed to find Ron, but she wasn’t going to attempt to do so wearing her court shoes and pearls. Sighing heavily, she stood up and headed for the master suite where she pulled out the jeans she usually reserved for gardening and an old jumper with a stretched-out neck. She dressed quickly and then took the time to look up the pubs in a year-old directory her parents had given her. Then she Apparated to an alley near The Drunken Butler.
As she hesitated outside the door, it was thrown open and two very drunk Muggles stumbled out of the pub. Alarmed, Hermione quickly cast a Muggle Repelling Charm around herself and the two men decided to go the other way, although one said to the other, “I thought your—hick—car—hick—was that way.”
Shaking her head, Hermione entered the pub. It was dark inside the tiny building. Hermione counted six small tables and a short bar across the rightmost wall. A quick glance about the place told her Ron was not here and she quickly left, Apparating to an alley near The Seldom Inn.
She found the pub quickly and entered the building. Like the other pub, The Seldom Inn was dark inside, but it was quite a bit larger. The bar itself was much longer, too. She counted two dozen tables of various sizes in the middle of the room and a dozen booths lining the other three walls. As her eyes became accustomed to the gloom, Hermione searched the booths, finally finding Ron hunched over a table covered in shot glasses and a large whiskey bottle in the darkest corner booth. She could tell by the slump of his shoulders that her husband was carrying a large burden and her heart flooded with sympathy for his grief.
“May I help you?” a voice to her right enquired, making her jump.
Hermione turned towards the voice. “Erm, yes. Do you have any strong, black coffee?” she asked the barmaid. “I need to sober up my husband a bit before I take him home.”
The barmaid followed Hermione’s gaze to Ron’s booth. “It’s going to take more than coffee to sober up that one,” she said. “He’s a quiet drunk. I like them better than the loud ones.” She poured the coffee and set it on the bar. “That’ll be £2.50, ma’am.”
Hermione handed over the money and picked up the coffee.
“Hey, Ron,” she murmured as she slid into the booth beside her husband. She gently removed the shot glass from between Ron’s fingers and replaced it with the coffee mug. He finally looked over at her.
“’lo, love,” he mumbled. He gripped the mug with both hands and cautiously took a sip of the hot liquid.
Hermione moved closer to him and began rubbing his back. “Can you tell me about it?” she asked.
Ron shook his head. “It’s... it’s... it’s not pretty,” he mumbled.
“Darling, you’ve told me about a lot of ugly and unpleasant things; one more won’t make me think any less of you or what you do for the Wizarding world.”
“I... I can’t.” A tear trickled down Ron’s cheek. “It hurts...”
“I know it does. Let’s go home, then, Ron,” she whispered. With her free hand, she pulled two vials out of her bag and concealed them in her lap. Then, pulling her wand out of her sleeve just enough to control it, she used it to uncork the vials and added their contents to the coffee.
“Don’ wanna. Don’ deserve it...”
“Shhh. Yes, you do,” Hermione soothed. She kissed his stubbly cheek. “I’ve added a sobriety potion and a stomach-calming draft to your coffee, so drink up.”
Ron picked up his cup obediently and took a large gulp; the potions had cooled the liquid considerably, but not enough to make it unpalatable. He quickly finished the coffee and shook his head to clear it.
“Hermione, I think I’d rather be drunk,” he mumbled a moment later.
She hugged him and countered, “No, you don’t. Besides, we have all the Fire Whiskey you can hold at home if you’re bent on drowning your sorrows in drink.”
Ron looked away. “I don’t know what I want, Hermione, but I know it’s not this.”
She pushed the empty cup towards the glasses in the middle of the table and then dropped a five pound note amongst them. “Come home with me anyway,” she coaxed.
“All right,” he mumbled and stood slowly, as if testing the soundness of his knees. Hermione slid under his arm and wrapped an arm around his waist. Together they slowly made their way out to the street where Hermione looked about quickly before Apparating them home.
As soon as they appeared in their lounge, Ron collapsed onto the sofa and buried his head in his hands. Hermione sat next to him, again rubbing his back as his body shook with great, gasping sobs.
Finally, Ron pulled out a soggy handkerchief and blew his nose. “Four Aurors dead...” he lamented.
Ron struggled to control his emotions as he told her about the events of his day and how he and Brodie had finally ended up at The Seldom Inn. By the time he was done, Hermione was in tears, too.
Finally, she asked, “When are the funerals?”
Ron shook his head. “I don’t know,” he sighed. “The information will be posted on the Auror Office notice board in a day or two.” His shoulders slumped. “I... I know I have to go and I know I’ll be expected to say something to the families, more than I have already, but I have no idea what to say, Hermione.”
“Would you like my help?”
Ron laid his head on her shoulder. “I would, love, but not tonight...”
She ran her fingers through the collar-length hair at the back of his head and smiled when he made a purring noise deep in his throat.
“Why were you alone when I found you?” Hermione finally asked.
Her question caused Ron to stiffen and he groaned, “Brodie had just left. His mother had come looking for him because she somehow knew where we were. He... Emily... they were engaged. He’s heartbroken. Last night he was threatening to leave the Aurors and become a bounty hunter so that he wouldn’t have to work under the constraints of our office to catch the one who murdered Emily and the others. I think I’ve convinced him to stay, but he blamed me for calling her team to a dangerous place.”
Hermione was indignant. “That’s not fair! You had no idea someone was lurking in those woods, Ron!”
He sighed. “I know, Hermione, but no matter what, I can’t shake the feeling that what he accused me of is true. I’m responsible for four people’s deaths!”
“Well, if you are, so is he,” Hermione shot back a little too heatedly.
Ron eyed her warily. “Why do you say that?”
“He’s part of your investigative team, isn’t he? He was the one to open the door to let them in, so why isn’t he just as responsible as you?” she asked.
“Because I was the one who sent the summons,” Ron said. “I told them we needed expert evidence gatherers and when we would need them. It’s my fault four people are dead!”
“How could you know there was someone lurking in the woods outside the house?”
Ron jumped up and began pacing in front of the fireplace. “I could have set perimeter warning spells, I should have set them, but I was too determined to get into the house exactly the way Harry did the night of the raid to bother doing my job correctly!”
“What if the killer was already watching the house?”
“We would have known instantly because the spells are keyed to our magic,” Ron explained.
“All right, you win on that account,” Hermione huffed, “but I still don’t see how not setting perimeter warning spells puts you to blame for four deaths!”
“If I had,” Ron explained in an overly-patient tone, “an alarm would have sounded inside the house telling us someone had arrived or was moving about outside. We then could have gone up to investigate.”
“Oh, so putting all three of your lives at risk would have been just as smart?” Hermione folded her arms across her chest. “I don’t think so.”
Ron glared at her and sat back down. “This isn’t getting us anywhere and is only making me feel worse,” he sighed. “Tell me the latest on Harry. Weren’t you supposed to spend the day with Ginny?”
“Yes, I was.”
“So what happened?”
When Hermione finished telling him about what has happened with Harry, Ron shook his head. "Merlin, Harry died AGAIN?"
When she nodded, he shook his head and murmured, "That bloke has more lives than a cat!"
Hermione couldn't help it; she burst out in giggles. Ron looked at her quite scandalized and then the corner of his mouth twitched and finally he joined her. When their laughter finally subsided, she sighed and laid her head on Ron’s shoulder. They sat together watching the flames in the fireplace die down and finally become glowing embers. The clock struck two and they silently went up to bed.
They didn’t sleep much, however, and as dawn was breaking, Hermione cuddled close to her husband and he clung to her as if he craved their closeness. They fell asleep with Ron’s head on her shoulder and his arm slung around her waist and when he woke several hours later from a nightmare she was there to comfort him and sooth him back to sleep... and she wept silently for what this case had done to her husband, their best friend, the four dead Aurors and the other victims.
A strange owl settled in front of James at the breakfast table on Tuesday morning. It held a letter with his and his siblings’ names on it: he recognized his mother’s handwriting and recalled that he’d asked Uncle Ron to have her send updates on their father’s condition every few days. This must be the first one…
He took the letter and the bird immediately flew off, not bothering to wait for the piece of bacon he’d picked up to give it as a reward. James hoped the letter contained good news and used his table knife to slit open the envelope.
A moment later, he felt his stomach lurch at his mother’s opening words. Dad nearly died? How? Why? “Oh, Merlin!” he breathed as he felt his eyes begin to prickle. He would not, could not cry, not here in the Great Hall in front of everyone. Dropping the letter onto the table, he pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes until the feeling passed and he felt a little more in control of his emotions.
At that moment, Lily elbowed her way onto the bench beside him. “What’s wrong, James?” she asked.
In answer, James handed her the letter. She read it and then asked in a small, squeaky voice, “What does Mum mean about us nearly losing Daddy? He couldn’t go anywhere, could he?”
Her last question made James incredibly sad for some reason. “No, Lils,” he replied. “What Mum means is that Dad nearly died yesterday.”
Lily’s face crumpled and she lunged at James, wrapping her arms around his waist and hiding her face in the shoulder of his robes. He squeezed her tightly in a one-armed hug, murmuring, “Mum said the healers kept him alive, so that’s a good thing, and so is her wanting to know if we want to come home this weekend.”
“I want to go home,” Lily sobbed. “I don’t like being away from Mummy and Daddy!”
“I know, Lils,” James said as he rubbed her back, “right now I don’t like it much either.”
James shoved his plate of half-eaten food away and picked up the letter again with his free hand. He was just beginning to puzzle out why there was an on-going, open investigation into their father’s near-death when Albus threw his book bag under the table and dropped onto the bench opposite James and Lily.
“Why the long face and why is Lily upset? Another bad mark on one of Binns’ tests?” he asked, filling his plate with sausages and eggs. He began eating noisily as James handed over the letter.
Albus took it and began to read. Almost immediately, he dropped his fork with a clatter, causing Lily to jump and sit up. James looked down at the wet mark her tears had left on his robes and quickly dried the spot with a spell.
“Do you want to go home this weekend?” he asked Albus. “I know we have Quidditch practice on Saturday, but under the circumstances, I think we can get out of it.”
Albus took up his fork and began eating again. “Yeah, I want to go home. I need to tell Uncle George how well the prank went off. I can’t believe it took the Ravenclaw team three days to figure out how to stop itching. They’re supposed to be the smart ones around here.” He glared at James. “And I can’t believe you withheld the antidote from your own brother!”
James raised an eyebrow. “You sound more like me than me!” he said incredulously.
Albus’ face fell. “It’s the only way I… I need… I can’t… James,” he sputtered, “it’s the only way I can get through a day without hurting.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” James agreed sadly. “Dad’s never very far from my mind, either.”
“I worry constantly about Dad…” Albus added, “…and yesterday, Professor Longbottom kept me after class to find out why my work had gone downhill.”
“Why’d he do that? The teachers all know you went home last week,” James said, frowning.
“Erm, I didn’t turn in any of my assignments,” Albus confessed in nearly a whisper to his plate. “I started every one of them, but never finished because I just couldn’t.”
“So what’s going to happen?” asked Lily. She was still snuggled up to James’ side, but her face was less blotchy and she looked more like herself.
Albus didn’t raise his head. “I have detention starting tonight with Madam Pince. And I have a week to turn in all my assignments.” He stopped and looked thoughtful. “If I go home with you two on Friday, do you think Aunt Hermione will write my essays for me?”
“No!” answered James and Lily together.
“She might proof read them the way she did for Dad and Uncle Ron when they were at school, though,” James added.
Lily asked, “Why not have Mum do it?”
Albus glared at her. “Do I look crazy? She’ll go through the roof if she finds out I didn’t do my homework all last week. You know how she is. Sometimes I think she’s channelling Grandmum when she starts ranting at us.”
James chuckled, in spite of himself. “Albus is right, Lils. I’d pick Aunt Hermione over Mum any day if I hadn’t done what I was supposed to.”
Lily harrumphed and asked, “So are we going to wait for Mum’s letter to Headmaster Wolcott to get here, or are we going to corner Professor Longbottom before he finishes breakfast?”
James looked up at the teachers’ table; Professor Longbottom was just finishing up his meal. “Let’s corner the professor and show him Mum’s letter,” he said, getting up and starting down the aisle between the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff tables.
“Oi, wait for me!” Albus called. James glanced over his shoulder to see his brother sprinting to catch up with him and Lily, carrying his bag and three more pieces of toast which he had wrapped in a serviette.
James stopped and waited for his brother. “You’re as bad as Uncle Ron,” he commented with a small smile. He was feeling better now that they were acting instead of reacting.
Professor Longbottom looked up at their approach. “What can I do for you three?” he asked as James and his siblings stopped in front of him.
James handed him their mother’s letter. “This was just delivered, Professor. We want you to help us get permission to go home this Friday after classes,” he said boldly.
Professor Longbottom read the letter. “Consider it done,” he said, handing it back. “Your mum sent me a similar letter and unless there are extenuating circumstances,” he looked pointedly at Albus who turned bright red, “I’ll see that you get permission to go home for the weekend.”
Albus looked relieved as he said, “My detention’s only for three evenings, sir, starting tonight, and I promise to turn in everything to you next Tuesday.”
The bell for the end of breakfast sounded as Professor Longbottom said, “Fair enough, but I warn you... you’ll be in even more trouble if I don’t get that homework from you as promised. Now run along, you three. We can’t have you arriving late.”
The three Potters thanked the professor and left the teachers’ table. James stopped by his place at the Gryffindor table to scoop up his book bag and then followed his brother and sister out into the Entrance Hall.
0835 Wednesday, 4 November 2020
Ron sat at his desk, staring at the multitude of reports that had accumulated over the last two days. He had taken the previous day off because he couldn’t face his fellow Aurors so soon after the ordeal Monday. He was grateful to his wife for understanding that he needed the time away from the office to sort through his emotions; what his team had found and what he’d been through had affected him profoundly and the time away had helped him put everything into perspective. He was now willingly sifting through the reports he, Susan and Brodie, as well as the wizards in Evidence, had produced in the last twenty-four hours.
What a kettle of flobberworms the vials and needle-like metal objects had turned up! Not only did they seem to be similar to the shrapnel extracted from the St Mungo’s patients and critically injured Aurors over the last six months, they were identical to the potions and needle-like objects Harry’s healer had taken from his body during the surgery! It was becoming obvious to Ron that the case was much bigger than he, Harry and the others had ever anticipated.
Ron ran a hand through his already messed-up hair and grabbed a report Robards had written about a vial of needles Ginny had found outside Harry’s hospital room window. He turned to the last page where a Wizarding photo of two sets of boot prints was located. He stared at each print, wondering why they looked familiar... and then it hit him. He ploughed through the reports until he found the one Susan had written about the boot prints at the forensics team site. Excitedly, he compared the photos, carefully examining them for similarities and differences. Then, he tore three memo parchments from his pad and hurriedly scribbled a note which instantly duplicated itself and then folded up into paper airplanes, which went zooming off to Susan, Terry and Garrett’s desks.
A moment later, the three came charging into Ron’s office to find him grinning from ear to ear. “I think I’ve found something,” he announced excitedly. He handed over the photographs saying, “Have a look. What do you think?”
Garrett raised an eyebrow and handed Ron a folder he’d brought with him. “We think we’ve found something, too.”
Thursday, 5 November 2020
Early the next morning, three days after his operation, Harry sat in a Muggle wheelchair watching the first snow of the season cascade past his window. It was the first time he’d been out of bed since Monday, but instead of seeing the change as progress, he could see only the hideously ugly conglomeration of metal, leather and rubber that formed the chair and the defeat that having to sit instead of stand represented to him.
The snowflakes offered a distraction, a chance to see the frozen beauty outside, an escape from his misery. However, he didn’t see the individual flakes as he often had in the past when he watched the snow falling with his children. Instead, his thoughts were focused inward on the incredible lack of energy he had been feeling since his operation. The elation of waking and discovering that his feet were cold had long since passed, due, mostly, to the long list of things he still couldn’t do. Despite the smiles and encouraging words from Silvia, Ginny, the ward Matrons and Healer Stilwell, the fact that his legs were still more or less useless frustrated him greatly.
He shifted in the chair, stretching his body and craning his neck to see into the blanket of whiteness all the way to the edge of the rose garden. The movement hurt him enough to make him gasp and he gave into the pain, slumping down in the chair again in defeat. After a few minutes he raised his head and focused on the scene outside again. The bleak landscape past the leafless shrub under his window fit his mood perfectly. He recognized that he was mourning the loss of his legs—an audio book Ginny had found in the library had explained the emotional stages he would most likely go through—as well as the ability to be completely independent if he wished, although he hadn’t wanted to be alone or completely independent for over twenty years. Harry closed his eyes against a sudden surge of sadness that brought unwilling tears to the corners of his eyes.
Will I ever feel like myself again? he wondered, realizing for the first time how much his self-image was wrapped up in his ability to do his job. Will I ever work again? How can I work if I can’t pass the Auror’s physical? Bloody hell, I’m useless! No one wants an Auror who can’t duel or capture criminals or be an example to the trainees who cross the threshold of the department doors...
The thought made him wonder why his fellow Aurors kept showing up in the evenings. Terry Boot had come to see him the day after his operation, and last night, Susan Bones had dragged her husband Justin and their twin daughters all the way from their estate in Lincoln, just to give him a vase full of autumn leaves the girls had collected before the snow started. Ginny had told him as she was leaving after Susan’s visit that Randolph Robards was planning on coming this evening if nothing pressing turned up. Why were they even bothering with him now that he couldn’t do his normal duties, much less even stay awake long enough to dress and get to the office?
A sudden, disheartening thought occurred to him. Why hasn’t Ron been to see me?
Was he so pathetic that his best friend couldn’t be bothered to even send an owl bearing a get-well card? If Ron can’t make the time to come see me, I must be...
The thought brought back memories of how isolated Harry had felt at times during his years at Hogwarts. Was he doomed to repeat the experience of being the local pariah once again? Harry didn’t want other people’s pity and if people were going to point out his misfortune over and over again, he decided that he’d just have to bear the torment of being shunned for what he’d become... a useless drain on society.
His melancholy thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of his physiotherapist. Silvia was all smiles today and seemed not to notice Harry’s black mood.
“Good morning, Harry,” Silvia greeted him enthusiastically and Harry almost barked at her to shut it about the day being any good at all. “This is your big day... time to see what we can do to kick-start your recovery.”
Her cheerfulness almost made Harry growl, “Bah, Humbug!” in imitation of his favourite Christmas story character. Instead, he chose, “What’s good about it? My legs are useless.”
Silvia crossed her arms over her chest and scowled at him. “Come, now, Harry,” she scolded. “What sort of attitude is that? Why aren’t you happy you’re up and out of that bed?”
Harry glanced at the bed. He glowered at it and considered Silvia’s question. “I’m not standing up or packing to go home,” he grumbled.
“I see,” Silvia murmured as she walked behind him, released the brakes on the wheelchair and began pushing Harry out into the corridor. To his surprise, a plain-clothes guard standing outside the door followed at a discrete distance. Harry wondered if the bloke was there to keep him from making a run for it.
“Where are you taking me?” Harry demanded. “I want to go back to my room!”
“Sorry, Harry. Healer Stilwell’s orders. You’re to come with me to the PT Room to start your exercises and physiotherapy challenges. It’s time you had more than fifty minutes of massage and twenty minutes of stretches,” Silvia explained as she pushed him past the mail room and rounded a corner. They passed the CT Scanning room that Harry only vaguely remembered as a source of great pain and headed for a door marked “Physiotherapy.” When they reached it, Silvia opened the door wide and looked at Harry expectantly.
“Now that you’re here, you’ll need to get yourself through the door. My part of this little ride is done,” she said.
Harry gaped at her. What? How was he supposed to manoeuvre the heavy chair into the room? Silvia smiled at him, causing him to anger quickly. What was she playing at? He was a helpless cripple! Why was she expecting him to propel himself into the room? When no answer was forthcoming except an encouraging smile and a pointed look at the wheels on his chair, he looked down at them and tried to remember what he’d seen Muggles doing to move their chairs forward. Sighing resignedly, Harry put a hand on each wheel and pushed down. Nothing happened. He adjusted his hands and the chair inched forward and stopped. Growling in frustration he tried again and again the chair stopped before he could get his hands back into position.
“You’re doing it, Harry,” Silvia encouraged him softly from beside the door. “Go on, give it another try.”
Snarling under his breath, Harry pushed on the wheels and then quickly brought his hands back into position and pushed again when the chair started to slow. Silvia stayed where she was until Harry had rolled the chair fully into the room. Then, she closed the door behind him and he felt her take hold of the handles again.
“Very good, for your first go,” she said as she pushed him farther into the room. He looked about, taking in the various machines and apparatuses which, to him, looked like instruments of torture. “Let’s go over to one of the weight machines,” suggested Silvia.
“I don’t want to,” Harry grumbled, still angry that she’d made him push himself into the physiotherapy room. Louder, he demanded, “Take me back to my room.”
From somewhere to his right he heard someone remark, “So that’s the new patient. He has a thing or two to learn.”
Someone else countered, “Silvia will keep him in line,” and the two shared a laugh. Harry seethed with resentment.
Silvia parked his chair facing a big metal weight machine that had a long metal bar suspended from a cable. Glancing at the big clock hanging on the wall near the door, she said, “Sorry, Harry, can’t do that for another half hour. Have you seen one of these?” She gestured to the machine in general and raised an eyebrow. Harry didn’t answer.
Apparently, Silvia was used to hostile patients. “I’ll assume you’ve never seen one,” she continued. “This machine is designed to work you arms and shoulders. We need to strengthen your upper body because you’ll need to be strong enough to become independent. Ginny won’t always be around to help you, you know.”
Again, Silvia ignored his hostility. “We’ll start with the minimum weight today just to get you used to the proper technique. After today, you’ll have a clipboard with a list of exercises you’re to do while I’m working with other patients. You’re to do four sets of ten pulls on your own now.” She showed him how to choose the proper number of weights and the method for getting the most benefit from the machine. Then, she stood back.
Harry reached above his head to grab the bar with both hands, but was only successful in snagging the right side of it because he couldn’t see where his left hand needed to go. Growling angrily, he turned his head until he could see his left hand; only then did he succeed in grabbing the bar with both hands. He cursed under his breath. Silvia smiled.
“What’s made you so happy?” he enquired between grunts. Even with the minimum weight selected he was rapidly becoming tired.
“You’re problem solving, Harry,” she answered. “Stop. That’s ten. Wait ten seconds and then do another ten.”
Harry did as he was told, grateful for the short rest. When the ten seconds were up, he began again, this time not quite as frantically and he discovered that although he was still working his muscles, he wasn’t tiring quite as quickly. In no time he was done with this exercise.
“Back your chair up a little, please,” Silvia ordered. “You’ll be using the lower bar for this one.”
Again, Harry followed Silvia’s directions while she taught him the new exercise. He felt a little silly doing this one—it required him to pull the lower bar towards his body—but he felt a different part of his arms working, so he said nothing. When he was done with this second exercise, Silvia asked him to back into the machine for a third exercise, this time with the overhead bar directly above his head. By now, he was becoming tired, but strangely, he didn’t want to leave the room until he had completed his exercises. Again, he struggled to find the bar with his left hand, ignoring the painful twinges in his back as he craned his neck to see it with his eyes.
Four sets of ten repetitions later, he let the weights drop with a loud clang. Silvia immediately rebuked him.
“Sorry,” Harry mumbled, the good mood created by the exercise evaporating quickly.
“Apology accepted, Harry.” Silvia smiled at him. “We have one more important thing to do this morning. Follow me.” She walked across the room towards a set of vinyl mats that covered a large portion of the opposite corner. She sat down on the mat and looked at him expectantly.
Harry stared after her. How the bloody hell am I supposed to get over there without help? he fumed. He actually knew, but was resisting helping himself with all his might. He waited to see what Silvia would do if he didn’t roll himself over to her. To his dismay, she just sat and watched him, retied her trainer, and then watched him again. Harry still sat. Silvia looked at the clock and then tapped her wrist, her expression impatient. I’m not giving in, Harry thought petulantly and he waited some more.
Finally, Silvia stood up and came over to him. “Harry, I must bring in my next patient. I expect you to be at those mats by the time I get back,” she said, sounding very much like Ginny when she gave the children an ultimatum.
Harry scowled and stayed where he was.
“Suit yourself,” Silvia said, and turning on her heel, she left the room.
Harry was furious. How dare she treat me like a child, he fumed. I’m an adult! What right does she have to order me around?
A small voice at the back of his head answered, It’s her job to help you get back what was taken from you. Do you want to get out of here?
Harry answered back, Hell, yes, I want to get out of here!
Then do as she asked you and get yourself over there!
Harry knew the voice was right, so he released the brakes on his chair and began the interminable journey across the room. By the time Silvia admitted her next patient, he was waiting for her at the mats. She nodded her approval and followed her patient to the same weight machine Harry had been using.
“Thank you, Harry,” Silvia said as she came up to him. She turned back and indicated another therapist who was following her. “This is Matilda. She’s going to help me lift you onto the mat. Then, we’re going to do some Commando Crawling and learn some basic rolling techniques that you can practice on your own. These are necessary survival skills you’ll need to know when you fall out of your chair.”
Fall out of the chair? Harry hadn’t thought of how helpless he’d be if he suddenly found himself on the floor, unable to lift himself back into his chair. “What do you want me to do?”
“For today, just relax and don’t panic when we lift you,” Silvia instructed. She and Matilda positioned themselves and on Silvia’s count, lifted him out of the chair and onto the mat, placing him on his front.
“I haven’t been on a floor like this since my kids were tiny,” Harry volunteered, surprised that he’d brought up the cherished memory.
“It’s a different way of looking at the world, isn’t it?” Silvia asked as she lay on her stomach beside him. “You ever watch military movies on the telly?” Harry nodded. “Good, then you’ll have seen the soldiers pulling themselves under fences and wires using their elbows. I want you to push your trunk up and pull yourself across the mat to me like this.”
After she demonstrated what she wanted, she sat up and looked at him expectantly. Harry sighed and forced his upper body up onto his elbows and began pulling himself towards her. It was hard work, much harder than he’d imagined without the aid of his legs pushing him along. He was winded by the time he reached her.
“Well done, Harry,” praised Silvia as he flopped down in front of her. “Let’s do it one more time and then I’ll take you back to your room.”
“All right,” Harry agreed.
Silvia repositioned his body for him and then went to stand at the far edge of the mat. Harry started towards her again, breathing hard and grunting with the effort of pulling his entire body weight across the mat. As he neared Silvia, he realized what he had accomplished; he had a way to help himself now. It felt... good.
“Nice work, Harry,” Silvia said. “Would you like to rest on your back?”
“Yeah, I would,” he answered. He paused, thinking that it might not hurt to be cooperative before he requested, “Please... Show me how.”
A minute and several attempts later, he successfully rolled his entire body over and suddenly found himself staring up at the ceiling. “I did it,” he murmured.
A/N: I hope you’ve enjoyed this chapter because I found much pleasure in writing it and moving the action along a little.
Many thanks goes to my pre-beta team of Jedi34, RebeccaRipple, RSS, Rosina Ferguson, and Mutt n Feathers for the comments, corrections and criticisms which helped me smooth out the rough spots and write a better chapter. Not to be forgotten is my beta, Aggiebell. Despite some frustrating computer problems, she’s soldiered on and edited this chapter on two different machines so it would be ready for posting today. I sincerely hope the computer technicians can fix the problem in a timely manner.