James held Kendra's hand as they exited the Transportation Room. She smiled at him, and he felt some of his nervousness fall away.
"When we're done talking to Brian, would you give me a tour, please?" Kendra asked as they walked along. "I've never been to a rehab hospital before and I'd like to see as much as I can."
"Maybe Dad would go with us. I'm not sure whether we can wander the corridors without an adult," James answered.
Kendra nodded and the two turned left into a corridor lined with doorways. James pointed out his dad's room as they passed it and continued on to Room Three, where they were stopped by a Ministry guard dressed in a Muggle uniform. After telling the guard who they were, they were allowed to approach the room. The door was open, but James knocked on the frame just the same.
An unfamiliar voice called, "Come in," and the two teens stepped into the room. James was relieved when the first person he saw was his dad, who was fully dressed in trousers, a collared shirt and one of Grandmum's hand-knit jumpers.
"Hi Dad," he said, looking around. He recognized Brian immediately and decided the two adults sitting on either side of Brian's bed were Mr and Mrs Nelson.
His dad rolled forward and the two shook hands. "It's good to see you, son. Let me introduce you and Kendra to the Nelsons."
With the formal introductions out of the way, Mr Nelson conjured two more chairs and the adults moved away from the bed to give the three teens a modicum of privacy.
Brian broke the awkward silence that had settled between them first. "Thanks for coming," he said. His voice was weak and didn't sound to James like it belonged to the bloke he knew from Arithmancy and Ancient Runes.
"I'm glad you wanted us to come," Kendra said.
"We thought about bringing you the assignments we've been given since you left Hogwarts," James said shyly, "but we didn't know whether you'd feel up to writing all the essays."
Brian frowned. "No, I'm not ready for essays yet. It's been less than a week since… I'd hoped—" he broke off, closing his eyes and swallowing convulsively.
Kendra leaned forward and took Brian's hand. "Brian, I'm just glad you're alive," she said. "So are your housemates. They asked me to bring them back a report on how you're doing."
Brian bit his lip. "I… I won't be doing any flying for a while," he said sadly.
James tried to change the subject. "Do you want to come back to school?"
"Eventually, I reckon, but I'm told I won't be released from here until I learn to live without…" Brian took a shuddering breath, as if he was barely holding onto his emotions. "…withoutmylegs." The last three words came out in a rush as he turned his head away.
James exchanged glances with Kendra. Then, he said to Brian, "It's all right to be sad about your injuries, mate. My dad says you have to grieve the loss of your legs just like you would if one of your parents died."
"That's… that's what it feels like," Brian choked in response. Two fat tears slid down his cheeks and he swiped at them with his hand.
Mrs Nelson tapped James on the shoulder and held out a handkerchief when James looked round at her. He took it and gave it to Brian. The other boy tried to joke as he said, "With as many of these as my mum has handed me in the last week, my dad would be rich if he manufactured these instead of Quidditch equipment."
The remark sparked James' interest and soon he and Kendra and Brian were deeply engaged in a discussion of their favourite sport.
Harry glanced over at the three teens and had to smile. They had been talking animatedly for over a half hour, for which he was very grateful. After the first awkward moments when it seemed the three wouldn't have anything in common and Brian too emotionally fragile to sustain a conversation, they had settled into an easy rapport, which in turn had put Mr and Mrs Nelson more at ease.
Unfortunately, it looked to Harry as if Brian was tiring. He vaguely remembered the first few days after his own operation, but most of that time was lost in a haze of grogginess. He decided to interrupt.
Excusing himself from his conversation with Mr and Mrs Nelson, he rolled over to the bed just as Brian yawned spectacularly. Addressing James and Kendra, he said, "I think it's time I gave you two a tour of the facility. We can come back in a couple of hours if Brian says it's all right," he said, making eye contact with the boy in the bed.
"Would you come back?" he asked James and Kendra.
"Sure thing, mate," James answered at the same time Kendra said, "Of course."
"Then it's settled," Harry said. He looked at his watch. "We'll be back around half past four." They bid the Nelson family good-bye and Harry led the way out into the corridor.
"What do you want to look at first?" Harry asked as they turned towards the Matron's station.
"Whatever you'd like to show us," Kendra piped up. "I've never been in a rehab hospital before."
Harry glanced out a window and was startled to see the sun was shining. "How about if we do the inside tour first and then find me a coat so I can show you round the grounds," he suggested.
Both James and Kendra were agreeable, so Harry led the way round the facility, showing them his favourite places, including the library and the PT Room. He tried not to laugh at some of the questions he was asked, treating each one seriously because Kendra was not as well-versed in Muggle living situations as his son was.
Eventually, they found themselves back where they started and Harry zipped into his room to find the anorak Ginny had left in the wardrobe for him. When he turned the corner towards the door to the garden, he caught James kissing Kendra behind one of the potted palms that flanked the exit. Smiling to himself, he said nothing and led the way out onto the grounds.
The Groves was surrounded by cement pathways that led to the rose garden and continued on round the building to the therapy grounds. Several more paths led past the next corner of the building to the lawn and football pitch. This was where Harry was headed. Silvia had had him practicing on the cement ramps, curbs and steps this past week and he wanted to show James his new skills.
"You're getting good," James said as Harry successfully negotiated a series of three steps and then safely rolled down a ramp backwards.
"Thanks. Silvia guarantees that by the time I leave here I will be able to go anywhere a walking person does," Harry told them.
The look on James' face prompted Harry to ask, "What's wrong, son?"
James didn't look at him, instead, choosing to let his eyes wander over the snow-covered walking track. "I… you…" he struggled to express the thought. Harry waited patiently as Kendra slipped her hand into James'. "You're never going to walk again, are you?" he finally blurted.
The sorrow in his son's voice cut Harry to the quick. "No, son, I never will," he said quietly.
"Why does it have to be you?" James suddenly yelled. "Why does it have to be Brian?" He turned to face his father, and Harry could see the pain his son was experiencing written on his face. "You're good people. You've tried to keep the world safe and Brian's only fifteen! It's not fair!"
Harry closed his eyes and inhaled shakily. He hated being a parent at times like this when he felt so overwhelmed himself. "Oh, James, I wish I could tell you life was fair, but the truth is, it isn't. You've seen first hand that bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. That's just how life works. The things that happen to us aren't what define us; it's how we react to what life gives us that we are remembered for."
James bit his lip and walked away a few paces, his head bowed, and Harry knew he was crying. He glanced over at Kendra, who was fumbling in her pocket for something, tears streaming down her own cheeks. Finally, his voice so soft and defeated that Harry nearly didn't hear the question, James asked, "What am I supposed to do, Dad?"
"Exactly what you've been doing, son," Harry said, rolling up beside James. "All those letters you sent me helped me a great deal and I looked forward to your visit today more than you know." He paused, gathering his thoughts. "I know your going to see Brian made a difference to him, too. He needs to know someone accepts him as a normal person instead of a freak. Your friendship will help him accept what's happened to him so he can move on with his life instead of becoming embittered over it."
Kendra asked, "Will writing to him help? I know his housemates want to do something for him." She'd come to stand on James' other side and the two now had their arms around each other.
Harry smiled at her. "Letters will help, Kendra. In a place like this, it's easy to feel as if the world has forgotten you. Being reminded that you have friends who care about you helps make that feeling go away."
James turned towards Harry, his face blotchy and eyes red. He sniffed and then said, "I get that what we're doing helps the two of you, but… it doesn't help me much. I'm still so angry right now I want to hit something!"
Harry smiled. "I know that feeling quite well, son. Come with me. I have an idea that just might help."
He led the way up a ramp to a door in the side of the building. It was open, as were all the doors at The Groves during the day, although since it was an outside door, it was monitored by a new surveillance camera. (Humphrey Webber, the director of the facility, had personally visited all the patients to tell them about the new system a few weeks ago, making a point to emphasize the safety aspects of it. Harry suspected that the boot prints outside his window were the impetus for the new levels of security.) Harry heard the camera swivel and focus on them as they entered the Physiotherapy Room, but ignored it all the same: his focus was on his son's pain and his own desire to help him cope with it.
"I think you'll enjoy punching this," he said, leading the way over to boxing area. He found a pair of gloves that looked like they'd fit James and helped him into them. Then, he found a pair for himself. As he put them on, he said to James, "I come in here a lot when I'm frustrated. I prefer the speed bag, but I have a feeling you'll get more satisfaction out of the punching bag. Go on, stand in front of it and give it a slug."
James gave him a look and half-heartedly swung his fist at the bag.
"I thought you were angry," Harry commented. "If you're angry, hit it like this." He rolled close to the big bag and cocked his right arm back, then plunged it forward until it connected with a satisfying thump. The bag swung backwards with the impact.
His eyes wide, James exclaimed, "Whoa! I didn't know you could do that, Dad!"
Harry grinned. "I told you I come in here often. Now it's your turn. Pretend the bag is whatever you're angry at."
James tried again, this time connecting with both fists. The bag swung a little as Harry encouraged his son to keep going. He did and soon had the bag swinging slowly with the rhythm of his punches. Harry smiled his approval and rolled away from the bag to watch his son work out his frustrations. A glance at Kendra made him smile because James' girlfriend no longer looked sad and angry. She caught Harry's eye with a look that told him she'd watch over her boyfriend.
Satisfied that James was going to be all right, Harry rolled over to a speed bag mounted on the wall at wheelchair height and began hitting it. His reasons for taking his aggressions out on the bag were similar to James': mainly, he was angry at the nameless people who had deliberately wounded their innocent victims before dumping them in the alley near St Mungo's and then purposely targeted the Aurors and an innocent teenaged boy. He swung his fists, slowly gathering speed as he reflected on how ill some of his Aurors and the other victims had been; a few had been near death from their infected wounds until an antidote for the poison in their bodies had been discovered. He was frustrated, too, at how slowly the investigation was going. His punches picked up speed as he thought about how annoying it was to know so little about who was involved in the crimes. He knew Ron was doing the best he could with the small amount of evidence he had collected, but the fact remained that the three suspects who held all the keys to this mystery weren't talking.
By now, his fists were flying at the bag with such speed and precision that Harry was working up a sweat. He closed his eyes as visions of his extended family came to mind; he knew they had been emotionally upset by his accident, especially his children who had felt so helpless while he brooded for so long. Feeling like he wanted to scream at the injustice of it all, he kept punching the speed bag until his arm muscles screamed for him to stop. He kept going…
A whispered conversation brought him back to his senses and he brought his arms down, stopping the bag between his gloved fists. The look of admiration on James' face made him smile.
"Whoa, Dad, that thing was nearly smoking!" he exclaimed.
"Yep, and I feel better than I did a few minutes ago. What about you?" Harry asked.
James looked at the floor and sighed. "I do, too."
Harry took off his gloves and put them back. "I'm glad you do, son," he said. He picked up another pair of smaller gloves. "Kendra, do you want to try?"
She shook her head. "No, sir. I've already told James' Gran I'd help her make dinner tonight. I'm making steak pinwheels that I have to flatten with a meat mallet. I have a feeling the meat is going to be very tender tonight," she said, making them all laugh.
Harry looked at his watch. "Want to go see if Brian's awake?" he asked.
James and Kendra said they did, so they tidied the area and headed towards the magical section of The Groves. However, when they reached Brian's room, he was still sleeping, so the teens told Mr and Mrs Nelson they'd come back in the morning. A few minutes after that, they bid Harry good-bye at the Transportation Room fireplace.
"We'll see you tomorrow morning, Dad," James said as he held out a small bag of Floo Powder to Kendra.
"I look forward to it."
With one last wave each, James and Kendra disappeared into the Floo, heading for The Burrow. Harry leaned back in his chair watching the flames die down. He had a lot of thinking to do before James and Kendra returned tomorrow.
Monday, 7 December 2020, 1030 hours
Harry was afraid. It seemed he was afraid of a lot of things lately, but what Silvia wanted him to do today absolutely terrified him. What he was afraid of was swimming. He'd always known his swimming skills were rudimentary at best, non-existent at worst. Now, perched on the side of the chest-deep therapy pool Harry had no idea how he was going to stay afloat with his useless legs dragging him down to the bottom of the pool.
Silvia swam up towing a stack of polyurethane foam shapes tied together by their nylon straps. After placing the stack on the pool deck near Harry, she tilted her head and eyed him critically. "What's going on in your head, Harry?" she asked. "You're scowling."
"I'm fine," he mumbled.
"Nope. I think not. I think you're not fine and fighting desperately to avoid doing whatever it is you're afraid of."
Harry looked away. He hated it when people like Silvia, Hermione and Ginny could see through his lies. "I'm fine," he insisted.
Silvia hoisted herself up on the deck next to him and sat dangling her feet in the water. "And I'm a dinosaur," she said.
"News to me," he mumbled.
They sat in silence for a while. Silvia kicked her legs, splashing water into the middle of the pool. Harry tried to imitate her and with a huge effort, was able to straighten his left leg a tiny bit. Encouraged, he tried with the right, but met with less success. He had to be satisfied that he could at least tell the difference in the air and water temperatures with that leg.
"Come on, Harry," Silvia said, jumping back into the water. "Let's swim."
"Yes, you can. You know the freestyle stroke, don't you?" Silvia asked with a raised eyebrow.
Harry's face felt molten. He couldn't look at Silvia as he muttered, "Never took lessons."
Silvia surprised him when she smiled. "How fortunate for me, then," she said. "Now I won't have to contend with your bad habits because you have none." She turned to face him and held out her arms. "Lean forward until I catch you. The first lesson is to relax in the water. I promise not to drop you."
Harry hesitated. You'll drown. Silvia won't catch you and you'll sink to the bottom and not be able to get to the surface, an irrational voice in his head said.
A second, more rational voice countered, Trust her. Trust her like you have the last few weeks. She won't let you drown.
Harry closed his eyes, reached for her and leaned forward far enough to fall into the pool. Silvia's protective arms were instantly around him. He felt his legs sink to the bottom as his body straightened and he panicked. "I can't do this," he protested as he tightened his arms around her neck and hung on for dear life.
Silvia murmured in his ear, "I've got you, Harry. Loosen your grip. You're choking me."
Harry tried to loosen his grip, but his fear wouldn't allow him to relax. Then he felt Silvia move and suddenly, his back was pressed up against the side of the pool.
"You can let go now, Harry," Silvia's calming tones sounded in his ear.
Reluctantly, he let go with one hand and groped behind him for the rim of the pool. He breathed a sigh of relief as his hand closed on the cement overhang. He still had one arm firmly crooked around Silvia's neck, though.
"I want to get out," Harry demanded stubbornly.
"What are you afraid of?" Silvia asked.
"Sinking. Drowning. Not breathing."
"I won't let you drown. It's not worth all the paperwork," Silvia said, making him chuckle in spite of himself. "Hang on a moment…" She took a breath and sank under the water, leaving Harry holding nothing with the arm that had been around her. However, she still maintained her hold on his torso, helping him to keep his head above the water.
"Do you trust me not to let you drown?" she asked when she surfaced again.
Harry closed his eyes. He knew what his rational mind had told him. He knew he would drown if he didn't relax; he couldn't hang on to the edge of the pool forever… "I trust you. Give me a minute," he finally said and took that long or longer to breathe through his fear. "All right," he finally acquiesced. "What do you have in mind?"
Silvia smiled and told him what she wanted him to do. It required him to let go of the edge of the pool, a small feat of mind over muscle. When he finally did let go, he found himself on his back, with his head on Silvia's shoulder and her hands supporting his back so that he floated near the surface. It took all of his will and a great deal of reassurance from Silvia for him to finally relax and enjoy the sensation of the water flowing against his skin.
"What are you thinking?" Silvia asked after two circuits of the pool.
"It's not as scary as I thought."
"Good. What do you know about swimming?"
"It's supposedly good exercise. Erm, it's an Olympic sport. And…you have to propel yourself through the water using your arms and legs."
"Specifically, what do you know about swimming from watching the telly and watching other people swim?"
"That I can't do it."
"Do you want to learn?"
He hesitated. "I guess I do."
Silvia took him to the steps in one corner of the pool and sat him on the fourth step down, so that just his head and shoulders were above the water.
"Are you afraid to put your face in the water?" she asked. "I know some people are."
"I'm not," Harry said, thinking of the Second Task of the Triwizard Tournament.
"Then, let's start with that." Silvia demonstrated what she wanted him to do and soon Harry had his face completely in the water and was blowing bubbles like his children had done as toddlers in the bath.
Finally, he looked up at her and said, "I feel silly."
"Good. You're ready for more in-the-middle time, I think. Let me get a couple of things," she said and she swam down to her pile of foam objects and brought back two. She strapped one between his legs, which immediately rose toward the surface. The second she strapped around his middle; when he leaned forward it supported his upper body so that his head stayed above the water.
Something clicked in Harry's head as Silvia towed him towards the opposite end of the pool. He put his head down and then turned it to the side to take a breath as he'd seen swimmers do on the telly.
"Can I try using my arms?" he asked as they reached the opposite end.
Silvia turned him around. "Of course, let me get out of the way." He felt her push him ahead a little. "Go for it, Harry."
He took several strokes before he ran out of breath, opened his mouth and sucked in a whole lot of water. Coughing and spitting out water, he somehow flipped himself onto his back and found his head back on Silvia's shoulder.
"Not too shabby for your first time, Harry, but do remember to turn your head to take that breath," Silvia's voice sounded in his ear. "I think you know more about swimming than you think you do. Let me know when you're ready to try again."
"I will," Harry spluttered. He closed his eyes and willed his breathing back to normal, even though the mouth full of water had scared him enough to consider quitting.
He did try again with more success. It was hard work, but the longer he swam, the easier it became. At the end of his allotted time in the water, Harry found it amusing that Silvia had to coax him out of the pool just as she had to get him into it in the first place. Harry felt he'd accomplished something: with Silvia's help, he'd conquered his fear and was determined to do better.
That evening, he wrote letters to James, Lily and Albus telling them he was learning to swim.
A/N: During the writing of this chapter, I encountered several people who commented on how sad it was that Harry's swimming skills were so poor. They seemed very happy that his therapist would take the time to teach him the skill not only to keep him safe if he should fall into water deeper than his waist or another method of strengthening his muscles, but to give him an activity to share with his children. The methods Silvia employed to help Harry relax were used by my son's swimming teacher long ago to help him become comfortable in the water. He's long past these basic skills and has been swimming for the last year on a swim team in our area. (You can't tell I'm a proud mother, right?)
I have several thank yous to say, starting with my beta, Aggiebell. I appreciate her comments, which caused me to rewrite a major section of the chapter. I think it's better for her criticism and questions, even though it took extra time to do the rewrites. Also, thank you to my pre-beta team or Jedi34, RSS, Mutt n Feathers, Rosina Ferguson and RebeccaRipple for reading, commenting and questioning my motives in several places. Your encouragement keeps me going and wanting to make each chapter the best it can be.