Nothing was going right! The Aurors were coming ever closer, closer than they had the night of the raid when she had wanted them in the house in the woods.
"How could he let himself be caught?" the Matron raged to her audience of three for the twentieth time. "You say he's talking?"
Tim, the Matron's Assistant, nodded, obviously too scared to speak up.
"This is disastrous! He knows too much! If he tells them everything, they'll know to break the Imperius Curses on the others!" she screeched.
"Matron, calm down," her colleague soothed. "They still don't know we've set up shop in here."
"Bollocks! That nosey warehouse owner from across the street saw you three last week. By now he's gone to the Aurors with his information. We'll have to move again," the Matron decided.
Her two colleagues exchanged glances. "We could... take care of him," one of them suggested with a sly grin. "You said yesterday we needed a test subject for the new potion. Why not the nosey one?"
"What good would using him be?" she bellowed back. "He's too close to Potter and if he's hurt or gets ill he'll go straight to the Aurors. What good would that do us?"
"He won't go if he can't remember," the other colleague suggested as she used a finger to mimic Obliviating a memory.
"None of you can wipe a memory sufficiently enough so that a clever busybody can't reverse the charms," the Matron fumed. "And all three of you have proven that your Imperius Charms are breakable!"
"Hadn't thought of that," Tim mumbled.
"You never think! All you do is act! You leave trails everywhere! You can't hold down a job long enough to find new test subjects, so you've left evidence of your existence all over London! The only smart thing you ever did was copy the joke shop owner's notebooks, and even then you didn't manage to stay employed long enough to copy that final book."
"What I did copy was enough to make your research worthwhile," Tim retorted.
"Hardly," the Matron answered coldly. "The experiments we had to conduct just added to our list of witnesses." She changed the subject. "Does anyone have an idea of where we can relocate?"
The three shook their heads, muttering to themselves.
"Then start looking!" she shouted. "We need to move within a week! Dis-missed!"
As the other three Disapparated, the Matron smirked to herself. Maybe making an example of that warehouse owner on our last night here isn't such a bad idea after all, she mused as she walked to the window that overlooked the street and the warehouse belonging to Importations Magique, Inc. She was pleased to see a light shining in the office window: this late at night it wouldn't be very hard to kidnap the man because no one else was around. A plan began forming in her head... the longer she thought about it the better she liked it.
It was a rather long time before she set aside her plans, grabbed her Time Turner from its hiding place and Disapparated away from the warehouse.
Sunday, 13 December 2020, 1545 hours
Ginny sat on one of the benches lining the pool watching Harry work with Silvia in the water. Her husband was wearing a life vest that kept his upper body afloat, and the therapist had him actually swimming— strongly pulling himself along using only his arms—something Harry had hardly ever done when he could walk because of his poor swimming skills. To Ginny, it was a beautiful thing to see, for it not only meant that Harry was gaining strength by leaps and bounds, but that he would have a new activity to do with their children come summer. As long as she warned their three enthusiastic youngsters not to drown their father, she didn't think there'd be any trouble getting Harry out in the pond at The Burrow.
She watched as Silvia let go of Harry's hips and stood back a few paces. Although his legs sank a little, the specialized float secured between his knees kept them near the surface, making it easier for him to swim on his own.
"Keep going, Harry," Silvia called as she hoisted herself out of the pool and sat on the side. "You're doing nicely. Do four more laps with ten seconds rest between each for an even hundred metres. Then you can go get dried off."
Harry flashed her a determined look and kept swimming.
Silvia came over to sit next to Ginny.
"He seems to be doing well," Ginny commented as she picked up her wand and surreptitiously dried Silvia's bathing costume, disregarding the no-wands rule.
Silvia scowled at the wand and Ginny shrugged and put it away.
"Yes, he is," Silvia said. "I'm very pleased with his progress in the last week in therapy and in the pool. I've never seen anyone so determined to learn to swim. What happened to make him change his attitude?"
Ginny briefed her and Silvia smiled. "I knew he had it in him. It was just a matter of time, you know?" She lowered her voice. "I have some good news... Healer Stilwell has authorized me to start Harry on leg-strengthening exercises after the Christmas hols. We think with Harry's new level of determination that he'll be walking with crutches by July."
Ginny closed her eyes and heaved a sigh. "Oh, I hope you're right, Silvia. That would mean so much to him." She opened her eyes. "I daren't tell Harry, though. If I do, he'll just push himself harder, I know him..."
Silvia patted Ginny's arm. "He's cleared to go home on Saturday, too, another thing he doesn't know yet. Enjoy the holidays, Ginny. You both deserve to have some real family time," she said.
Ginny could only smile.
Tuesday, 15 December 2020
"Sign here, here and here and initial here and here, please," the Chrysler salesman instructed.
Ginny picked up a biro and the contract she was about to sign and began to read. Even though she had already read and signed several agreements sent to her by the National Health System, she still wanted to know what she was signing. She also knew that Harry had specified and paid for many conversions to the van he had ordered, including a lift and a raised roof. The papers she was signing today would finalize their five-year lease, and she wanted to make sure everything was perfectly in order. Finally, she touched the pen to paper, thinking that when she finished signing, she'd feel a similar magical sensation to the one she felt whenever she signed magically binding contracts like her contract with the Harpies or The Daily Prophet. However, there was no such feeling, and for some reason, she felt quite let down. Apparently, Muggle contracts used only the buyer's signature to bind him or her to the purchase.
It took another fifteen minutes of signing and passing papers back and forth across the desk before the salesman said, "I've just rung for Charles. He'll take you out and show you the basics of operation. All the manuals are in the map holder. Please read them before venturing too far from home."
"Thank you, I will," Ginny said and followed Charles out to the car park where a gleaming new Wheelchair Accessible van was parked in the wintry sunshine.
Charles handed Ginny the keys. "All yours, ma'am," he said. "Open 'er up."
Ginny looked at the key fob attached to the key ring. There were little pictures on the brightly coloured buttons: she found the one she wanted and pressed it. Something in the van clicked. "What do I do now?" she asked, bewildered.
Charles gave her a strange look. "Open the door, of course," he said, making Ginny feel foolish.
"Sorry, my mind is elsewhere," she explained. "Can you show me how to operate the lift, please?"
It seemed that giving Charles something to do other than laugh at her was the right thing to do. It took several minutes and more than a few tries for Ginny to memorize the correct sequence for raising and lowering a wheelchair-bound person into the van. However, she soon felt confident enough to bid Charles good-bye and head for The Burrow and a session of spell-casting with her father and George which would enable her and Harry to operate the van in both the Muggle and Wizarding worlds.
She felt like a queen sitting up so high above the road. True, she had ridden in Hermione's Range Rover many times and driven for years in the cars she and Harry had purchased. However, this was a completely new experience and she decided she was going to like driving this big, awkward vehicle because it meant that Harry could be beside her.
Friday, 18 December 2020, after supper
"Arlene, have you seen my tie with the brown stain on it?" Isabel asked as she stuck her head over the top of her bed. Moments before, she'd been retrieving items of clothing from underneath it and throwing them in the direction of her trunk.
"No, but I'll give you the one my cat clawed to pieces. My mum's going to hex me for that one. It was new in September," Arlene replied as she overturned a bureau drawer onto her quilt.
"If it's got cat fur on it my baby brother will sneeze if he gets near it," Isabel said, "so no, I'd better not take it home." She paused and then burrowed under her bed again. Suddenly, she called, "Hey Lily, I found that purple sock you were looking for the other day." She tossed it across the room to Lily who sat on her bed folding her clothes the Muggle way.
"Thanks, Isabel. I'd hate to have to wear Dobby Socks on the train tomorrow," Lily giggled, catching the purple sock deftly in one hand. She cast a cleaning charm on it and dropped it on her bedside table next to its mate. "I want to look nice tomorrow night when we go see my dad."
Her two roommates goggled at her. "What are Dobby Socks, Lily?" Arlene asked as she abandoned her own folding and came to stand at the foot of Lily's bed.
"When my daddy was here at Hogwarts there was a freed house-elf named Dobby working here who worshiped my dad," Lily explained. "Dobby never wore matching socks, so whenever I or my brothers come down in the morning wearing mismatched socks, Daddy says we're wearing Dobby Socks."
Lily's roommates giggled and Arlene pulled up her robes. "Erm... I think I'm wearing Dobby Socks today, then," she said stepping back a few paces to show her mismatched red and yellow socks. Isabel snickered, "At least you found our house colours," and still giggling, the three went back to their packing.
Lily was nearly done when the door to the dorm opened, admitting her three other dormmates, Andrea, Ebba and Ramona. The three newcomers sauntered into the room as if they owned the place instead of shared it. Lily exchanged eye rolls with Arlene and Isabel and locked her trunk; she'd learned her lesson last spring when she hadn't finished packing in time to shut it properly and Ebba had levitated it just high enough to shake the contents onto the floor. There was no love lost between the two girls; they'd been squaring off since the first night of first year. That night, it had taken Lily another hour to repack before she could go to bed.
Ramona pointed her wand at her trunk, making its lid spring open. At the same time, her bureau began to empty itself. However, instead of neatly-folded clothes settling themselves into the trunk, a string of brick-like objects thudded inside, raising a cloud of dust. Ramona screeched in alarm and tried to cancel the spell, but it only made the bricks split apart and fall into the trunk with ever-increasing speed.
"Potter! I'm going to get you for this!" the enraged Ramona cried. "You make it stop right now!"
Lily tried to hide her giggles behind her hand. "I'm not doing anything," she chortled. "You must have said the wrong charm when you sent your clothes to the laundry the last time."
"Don't you go blaming Ramona for something she didn't do!" Ebba cried, advancing on Lily. "She used the correct charm... I heard her!"
"Well, I didn't do anything to her clothes," Lily giggled as her friends added their own twitters of laughter.
"Then who did?" Andrea demanded, advancing on Lily, who wisely swallowed her next giggle so she could look Andrea in the eye.
Before Lily could answer, the door banged opened to reveal Rose Weasley standing there with her hands on her hips. "I did!" she announced proudly, causing Andrea's, Ebba's and Ramona's heads to swivel in her direction.
Ramona recovered first; she pointed her wand at Rose and stomped across the room to where the other girl stood in the doorway. "You make it stop, then! You've ruined my clothes!" she demanded.
"No, I haven't," Rose smiled mildly. "It's a simple charm that won't harm them at all."
"I don't believe you," Ramona hissed. "Fix them. NOW!"
Rose leaned against the doorstop. "Will you stop acting like my cousin and her friends are the pariah of Gryffindor Tower and at least speak civilly to them instead of acting like something unpleasant you've stepped on?" she asked.
Her three opponents glowered at her, so Rose turned slowly towards the stairs. "Enjoy your petrified clothes, ladies," she said. "I've heard stone knickers are all the rage this Christmas. Ta-ta." She left with a little wave of her fingers.
Ebba stomped over to Lily. "Make her come back, you rotten little twit!" she shouted.
Lily stood her ground. "I can't make Rose do anything," she said truthfully. "But you might be able to if you said 'sorry' and promised to be nicer to me and Arlene and Isabel."
"Oh, all right!" Ebba fumed. She turned to Ramona and Andrea. "Come on, you two. I don't want to have to wear stone knickers tomorrow." The three stormed out of the room leaving Lily, Arlene and Isabel to collapse in a fit of giggles on Arlene's bed.
All too soon, Andrea, Ramona and Ebba returned, followed by Rose. Without a word Andrea and Ebba tried to pack their trunks the same way Ramona had done with the same results. By this time, it was nearly lights-out; any minute the Prefects would be making their rounds, so Rose just pointed her wand at each of the trunks and gave it a twitch. A pale yellow light shot from her wand and landed first in Ramona's trunk and then the other two. Immediately, the bricks became cloth again, although they were covered in a monumental amount of brick dust. Ramona started to protest.
"You've learned basic cleaning spells," Rose said sagely. "Use them."
The three took out their wands and began casting spells, eliciting an exchange of winks between Lily and Rose.
As her cousin left, Lily whispered, "Thanks, Rose."
The older girl winked at Lily. "Glad to help. See you on the train tomorrow."
Saturday, 19 December 2020, 1200 hours
Ginny slammed the driver-side door of the new van and fastened her seatbelt. Glancing over at Harry, she asked, "All set?"
He grinned at her. "As ready as I'll ever be," he said from his place beside her—the front passenger seat had been removed and special tie-downs installed so that his wheelchair could fit beside the driving seat. "How long is the drive?"
"About three and a half hours," Ginny answered.
"Barring traffic," Harry chuckled, sounding as nervous as she felt.
Ginny started the engine and pulled out of The Groves car park. "Here we go," she chirped to cover up her own insecurities concerning the trip.
Harry smiled at her and placed his hand briefly on her knee. "I'm eager to see the children," he told her. She smiled back and then concentrated on her driving.
The drive went smoothly all the way to London. They talked little; Ginny suspected Harry was enjoying the quiet, which was broken only by the soft strains coming from the "surround sound" wireless system. At one point, he even nodded off. She pulled off the road and quickly conjured a headrest for him: his grateful sigh went straight to her heart. She was glad he was napping because it meant he'd have more energy with which to deal with the children's exuberance.
Once in London, Ginny took her time negotiating the busy streets. It felt so different driving here, not only because of her inexperience with the traffic, but her perspective was very different from what she was used to as a pedestrian. Eventually, she began recognizing her surroundings and started looking for a wheelchair-accessible parking spot. There were none on street, which she found exceedingly frustrating, so she searched for a garage with enough overhead clearance for the van. It took a while, but she finally found one close enough to King's Cross Station and their hotel for the night that Harry could greet the children if he chose to brave the crowds.
"Harry, we're here," she called softly, even though inside she wanted to scream at him to wake up, she was so frustrated by all the delays. She turned off the engine and gently shook his shoulder.
"Wha—oh? Here already?" he stammered. He patted the headrest. "Thanks for that. Could you get rid of it, please?"
Ginny smiled and cancelled her spell, then tapped the tie-downs holding Harry's wheelchair to the floor of the vehicle. "Let me get the lift ready before you roll over," she instructed.
Several minutes later, they exited the garage's lift up to street level and began negotiating their way down the crowded pavements towards the station. By the time they reached the entrance, Harry was gasping for breath with the exertion of dealing with curbs, pedestrian crossings, impatient motorists and pedestrians who deliberately walked in front of his chair. Ginny was just as frustrated because their bubble of time before the train arrived was rapidly evaporating.
As they crossed the threshold into the cavernous building, Harry pulled ahead of Ginny and led the way to a less-crowded corner.
"What now?" she snapped, instantly sorry when her husband looked taken-aback.
"Ginny, I can't make it in time, I have to slow down," he said, his eyes pleading with her to understand. "Apparate onto the platform and meet the children. I'll catch up and meet you on this side of the barrier."
Ginny took out her handkerchief and mopped his sweaty brow. "That sounds like a good plan, dear," she said as she fought her impatience. "It'll take us about a half-hour to gather trolleys, trunks and owl cages, plus all the various and sundry that the three will have spread all over the train."
Harry looked relieved as he said, "Thanks for understanding, love. See you soon, then."
Ginny gave a nod, looked about cautiously, then slipped behind a pillar and Disapparated. She appeared again on the familiar platform just as the train was pulling in. It didn't take long for her to find Ron and Hermione who were there to meet Rose and Hugo and she went to stand next to her brother.
He greeted her with a crass, "Took you long enough," and then stepped back when she scowled angrily at him.
Hermione hissed, "Shut it, Ron! How dare you be so critical! She's probably just left Harry somewhere."
Ron blanched and immediately apologized just as Ginny heard, "Hey, Mum!" and looked up to see Albus and Lily standing in front of her.
"Oh, my darlings, it's so good to see you!" she exclaimed, genuinely relieved that she wasn't going to have to chase her children all over the platform like she had done a few times in the past. Then, she realized her oldest was missing. "Erm, where's James?"
Lily giggled and pointed up the platform. "Oh!" escaped Ginny before she could help it: James was saying a rather passionate good-bye to Kendra.
"He'll see her on Boxing Day when they go to see Brian," she commented in exasperation to no one in particular.
"I remember several very similar partings twenty-odd years ago," Hermione smirked. She picked up Rose's book bag and set it on the trolley Ron had found.
"Yours or mine?" Ginny asked as her brother commandeered another trolley and brought it over for Albus', James' and Lily's trunks.
Hermione giggled, "Both" and the two women shared knowing smiles.
"Are we going home or somewhere else for the night?" Albus asked as the two families started towards the barrier leading to the Muggle platforms.
"We're staying at the Merritt Hotel tonight," Ginny told them with a tired sigh. "It's very close to the station, but James, Whitehorn will have to fly home because the hotel doesn't allow pets."
Ron said, "Give him here, James. He can fly home from our house."
James handed Whitehorn's cage to his uncle who put it on their trolley.
"How come we're not staying at the Leaky Cauldron?" Albus asked.
Ginny had a believable answer ready. "It's so close to Christmas there are no rooms available at the Leaky Cauldron."
"Does the Muggle hotel have a pool?" James and Albus asked together.
"A recreation room?" Lily chimed in.
"It has both. It's a hotel for people on the go who have been sitting all day and want a change of activity," Ginny replied. "The brochure says the pool is on the roof."
"Brilliant!" James exclaimed as Albus added his own "Wicked!"
The children talked excitedly about their choices of entertainment as they all stopped in front of the barrier to say their good-byes. The Weasley family went through first, leaving Ginny to organize her brood.
"I'll go through first," she told them. "Lily, Albus, you'll be next and James will bring up the rear with the trolley. Don't dally. I need to check us in at the hotel before six o'clock."
With that, she passed through the barrier leading to the Muggle platform and immediately looked for Harry. She spotted him nearby just as Lily came through. The young girl's eyes widened with surprise and joy as she spotted her father.
"DADDY!" she yelled, dropping her book bag and making a bee-line for Harry.
Ginny watched as the tiredness left his face at the sight of his daughter and a moment later all three Potter children were sharing a group hug with their father.
A/N: Thank you, readers for reading and reviewing. I enjoy responding to your comments and look forward to them as much as you do to each new chapter.I hope you've enjoyed how quickly the story has moved through this week so that the next few chapters can deal with the Christmas hols.
Many thanks go out to my team of pre-beta readers, Jedi34, RSS, RebeccaRipple and Mutt n Feathers who continue to question and remark over every detail. I send special thanks to my Brit-picker, Rosina Ferguson, who sent me information and links to sites about the British National Health System's Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle program. She's a goldmine of information which I find fascinating not only as a source for the details which make the story more authentic, but also as a comparison of the differences between our two countries. Finally, thank you to Aggiebell who waited patiently for me to send her the final, rewritten, sections of this chapter until the very last minute and then took the time away from an important computer project to see that the chapter was ship-shape and ready for posting.
Several of my pre-betas have mentioned that Harry owns the Grimmauld Place house, which is a fifteen minute walk from King's Cross Station, and wondered why Ginny wasn't taking the family there for their night in London. My answer is that while the house has been rennovated to suit the Potter family, it has not had any of the conveniences installed that would enable Harry to easily live in the house. Therefore, Harry and Ginny made the decision to stay in the Merritt Hotel which had rooms designed with the handicapped in mind.