A huge pile of clean laundry sat outside his door when he opened it Wednesday morning. For some reason, his mother had been doing laundry non-stop since they'd all come home on Sunday. She'd washed his and Albus' Quidditch uniforms twice trying to get a lingering phantom stink out of them that only she could smell. James was of the opinion that she'd gone barmy over them: they were Quidditch uniforms, for Merlin's sake… they were supposed to get dirty and smelly!
Then, after she'd finished all of those, she'd decided that all the beds in the house needed clean sheets, so on Monday she'd awoken everyone at oh-dark-thirty and made them all send their sheets down the shoot to the laundry room in the cellar. However, when Dad had started changing their bed like he'd been told to, Mum had thrown another fit and chased him out of their bedroom saying she'd change their sheets herself. Dad had been in a foul mood the rest of the long morning.
James sighed loudly and bent to pick up a stack of uniform shirts. A second later, note fluttered to the floor. Curious, he dropped the shirts and turned the note over.
I hope you're spending as much time doing your homework and revising for OWLs as you are in broom cupboards with your girlfriend.
So Mum had found the shirts with Kendra's make-up on them. I should have sent those to the laundry at school, he thought. The snogging had been a little more passionate these last few times… so what? It had helped him forget how upset he was over his father's accident. They hadn't done much more than kiss…
Angrily, James crumpled the note and stuffed it into his pocket before taking his uniform shirts into his room and dropping them unceremoniously into his school trunk. He went back out into the corridor and brought in the rest of his laundry to put away. Then he grabbed the clothes he was going to wear when he and Kendra went to The Groves to visit Brian that day and headed for the shower.
Twenty minutes later, he stomped into the kitchen and stood glaring at his mother as she stood at the cooker stirring a cauldron of porridge. Behind him, he could hear Albus and Lily laughing.
"Mum, will you quit starching my pants!" he thundered.
His mother turned around and smiled at him. "Good morning to you, too, James," she said.
"MU-U-U-UM!" he whined.
She turned back to her cauldron. "I'm sorry, James. I thought I'd rinsed those. Remember I told you I spilled the starch last night? I must have missed that pair," she said.
He eyed her suspiciously, then looked over at his siblings. They shrugged, exchanged a worried look and bolted from the table. He could hear them pounding up the stairs to check their own under clothes and allowed himself a small smirk.
"All right," he conceded. "I just hope you didn't spill the magical starch that keeps stiffening every time… you know…" He couldn't bring himself to finish the sentence.
Mum turned off the flame under the cauldron and drew her wand. "No, it wasn't that bottle of starch. Here, let me fix you…" Two seconds later, his clothes felt like they should. Then, she said, "You look nice, James. Will you be warm enough down in Devon?"
James smiled and looked down at his Weasley sweater, polo neck shirt and jeans. "I think I will be, since Kendra, Brian and I will be inside at The Groves," he said.
"Good." Mum flicked her wand at the cauldron and it sailed to the table, landing with a soft thump. "Come and eat. You're meeting Kendra at five to eleven?"
As James answered, "Yes, Brian's expecting us at eleven," Albus and Lily walked back into the kitchen, Lily holding several rather stiff white rectangles.
Albus smiled smugly and announced, "She didn't starch anything of mine," to which Lily poked several very precisely folded singlets, "What did I do? Why are my clothes starched?" She glared at Mum, and James couldn't help snickering behind his hand.
Mum ignored them. "Then you'd better eat quickly, James," she said, adding a plate piled high with bacon and sausages. She sat down and joined them, but only after Lily made her promise to rewash everything she'd accidentally starched.
At precisely five minutes to eleven, James stepped out of the fireplace in The Groves' Transportation Room. Kendra was already waiting and she gave him a big smile as he took her hand and kissed her cheek.
"Happy Christmas a bit early," James mumbled into her ear, causing her to giggle.
She kissed the tip of his nose. "Happy Christmas to you, too," she echoed. She patted her school bag. "I have your present with me, but I thought you'd want it later."
James opened the door for her as he agreed, "Later will be fine. I have yours, too."
To his surprise, Brian was waiting at the Matron's station between the Magical and Muggle rooms. "I thought I'd wait here for you instead of in my room," he said as James and Kendra walked up to him. "It's been bloody boring the last few days with your dad gone, James, and only my parents to talk to."
James sighed. "I wish I could say the same for our house," he remarked more to himself than to the others as Brian led the way down the corridor past his room to a lounge area.
Kendra squeezed his fingers. "Care to tell us about it?" she asked as they waited for Brian to park his chair.
"I'd rather not," James answered, feeling distinctly uncomfortable now that he'd made the stupid remark.
Brian eyed James as he sat down on one of the sofas, Kendra next to him, still holding his hand. "Is your mum trying to do stuff for your dad all the time?" he asked perceptively.
James stared at his friend. "Yeah, she is," he admitted. "Why?"
"My mum's doing the same thing," Brian sighed. "I mean, I'm re-learning all these life skills I did by myself before I got hurt so I can go back to Hogwarts and not need a house-elf to trail after me, but Mum just can't stop smothering me sometimes. My dad has tried to tell her I need to do things myself like Melissa wants me to, but it's like his words go in one of her ears and out the other. Melissa's even talked to her about leaving me alone, but Mum…" He shook his head. "I'm beginning to think my accident has hurt her more than it has me."
James stared incredulously at Brian. "That's exactly how it is at my house," he said after a moment. "And the rowing hasn't let up since we drove through the gates on Sunday afternoon and Dad saw the wheelchair ramp Mum had some carpenters build onto the front of our house."
"Didn't your mum take pictures of the changes she's made to show your dad?" Brian asked, sounding surprised.
James shook his head. "It was a complete surprise to all of us," he sighed. "None of us—Dad, Albus, me, Lily—we had no idea Mum had been so busy changing things around the house while we were gone."
"I would have thought she'd have done something like that," Brian commented, sounding mystified. "As soon as I was transferred here, Dad made sure I knew everything they discussed with my healers; some of it still hurts, but I've never been surprised like that. My parents even gave me a photo album with pictures of the things they have changed in our house, complete with before, during and after construction photos. I'm not sure I like everything they've done, but at least I'm prepared."
"I wish Mum had done that for us," James muttered to the floor.
Kendra squeezed his hand. "Maybe your mum wanted to surprise your dad with the things she changed," she speculated.
"If she did," James said, "the surprise fell flatter than a deflated Quaffle. I mean, he was surprised all right, but the next instant he was madder than a wet hen. He tried to make Mum open the door of the van so he could get out, but she wouldn't."
"Why wouldn't she open the door?" Kendra asked. "I know it's winter, but your dad has the right to get out of his own van."
"Mum didn't think so. In fact, she was so angry with Dad she nearly drove the van through the wall of the garage," James said quietly, still very uncomfortable about airing his family's dirty wash to his friends.
"Do you think your mum thought your dad was ungrateful?"
James raised an eyebrow at Brian's question. He considered his answer carefully. "No, I don't," he said slowly. "I mean, she doesn't feel like the mother I left on the platform in September. It's as if… erm, it's almost like she's one of those Muggle wind-up toys my grandfather has." When Kendra and Brian looked at him blankly, he explained, "My favourite is a monkey. If you wind the key" (he mimed winding the toy) "on the back and set it on the floor, the monkey walks and plays a drum for a few steps. My Uncle George loves a pair of plastic teeth that chatter at you when they're wound up. If you've been to his shop you might have seen the teeth that chatter when you tap them with your wand? His magical version is an exact copy of the Muggle toy."
Brian chuckled, "I have some of those teeth. I thought they were bloody brilliant when I was nine." The smile left his face as he asked, "So you think you're mum's wound up like those teeth?"
With a long sigh, James answered, "I don't think, I know." He stood up and began pacing in front of the picture window that looked out over the rose garden. "Ever since she and Dad met us at King's Cross, Mum's been doing out-of-character things. Saturday night she checked our family into the hotel, and she ordered dinner from room service while Albus, Dad and I were swimming in the hotel's pool. Then, since we got home, she's done all my Hogwarts laundry twice, followed us around picking up and straightening things like we were all five again, and she's made homemade bread every night this week, even though we haven't eaten most of what she's made yet. Do you know what's wrong with her?"
Brian had been scowling during James' recitation and now said, "It sounds to me as if she thinks she has to do everything, not only for your dad but for the rest of you as well, so you lot will think she's in control of everything."
James sat back down and ran his hands through his hair. After a moment, he said, "You may be right, Brian, you may be right."
Kendra then asked, "Have your parents resolved the issue with the ramp at the front of the house?"
James glanced sideways at her and groaned. "You don't want to know about that," he said.
"Yes, we do," she insisted. "It sounded like it bothered you, so I want to know why."
"All right. They did resolve that row, but not until late yesterday afternoon after Mum made Healer Stilwell come over to check Dad out," he divulged.
"What happened?" Brian asked.
"Mum and Dad had been 'discussing'" (James made finger quotes around the word) "the ramp since Sunday afternoon. In the meantime, my dad had begun searching for his wand. He'd found it in his desk drawer in his study and yesterday morning, while we were all still asleep, he went out the front door and began taking the ramp apart using magic."
Kendra interrupted, "Why are you emphasizing using magic?"
"Because Dad can't see things coming from his left because of his brain injury and he isn't supposed to be doing magic," James explained. "Healer Stilwell says Dad's begun regaining more of his peripheral vision in the last few weeks as his brain heals and by not doing magic, his body is supposed to be repairing itself quicker than if he was channelling his energy into spells."
"That makes sense," Brian agreed as Kendra nodded, too.
"Anyway," James took up the story again, "Mum woke up when she heard a ripping noise which was Dad magically tearing the last boards out of the stone steps that lead to the front veranda. The rest of us woke up when we heard her shouting at him and him shouting right back. Albus and I were the first out the door and we couldn't believe what Dad had done; he'd neatly sectioned the ramp into six pieces and was levitating them around the side of the house to the library terrace one by one. Mum yelled at Dad to stop what he was doing because he was hurting himself and he countered that he was doing just fine, thank you very much, and kept sending the last section a little ahead of his wheelchair until he disappeared around the corner of the house. Mum followed him, still trying to get him to stop; the more she yelled the more he ignored her until he had reassembled the ramp completely where he wanted it and repaired the holes in the front steps."
"Was your mother right about him hurting himself?" Kendra asked.
"I don't think so," James answered, "because I heard Healer Stilwell telling Mum that the only thing wrong with Dad was mild magical exhaustion which would clear up after a nap and a good lie-in this morning."
"Did you see your dad before you left?" Brian asked.
"Yes," James answered. "He came into the kitchen just as I was leaving. He seemed fine when he told me to tell you hello."
"Yeah, it is." James reached into his pocket with one hand, shook his wand out of his sleeve a little with the other and handed Brian two enlarged packages a moment later. "Happy Christmas from the Potter Family, Brian," he said, changing the subject.
Brian blinked at the brightly-wrapped gifts. "Thanks," he breathed. Then, his face fell. "I'm sorry, but I didn't get you anything."
James smiled at his friend. "No worries. You've given me a gift already by making my dad happy that he can help you," he said. "Go on, open them."
Brian tore at the paper of the larger flat box and his eyes widened when he pulled out a pair of fingerless dragon-hide gloves. "I can't accept these," he protested, even as he slipped his hands into them and flexed his fingers, the hide making a delicious creaking noise as the gloves sized themselves to conform to his palms. "They're too expensive."
James chucked. "Dad said you'd say that. He told me to tell you that the gloves are essential equipment. They'll last much longer than leather gloves and protect your hands for years without looking worn. You can't argue with that," he replied.
"Well, if you put it that way…" Brian trailed off as he held up a hand to admire his gloves. Then, he opened the second package.
Inside, was a small card about the shape and size of a Muggle business card. On it was printed: The holder is entitled to one or more purchases valued at a total of twenty Galleons, courtesy of Flourish and Blotts. There were instructions on the back, which Brian read before tapping the card with his wand. Immediately, a Pensieve-like image rose from the card listing the various sections of the book shop.
"Wicked!" Brian exclaimed. "I've seen these and wondered how they worked." He poked a finger at the image and a list of Hogwarts textbooks materialized before their eyes. "It says the owl will bring my purchase the next day."
"It's re-loadable, too," James said. "When you've used up the twenty Galleons, you can take it back to the shop, hand over your gold and the clerk will charm the card with the amount you've paid."
Brian beamed. "This is so fab! Thanks, James!"
Kendra, not to be outdone, James knew, now held out her gifts, one wrapped and the other an unwrapped box of Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans. Brian immediately opened the beans and held it out to James and Kendra after he'd extracted a small handful.
"Thanks," he said.
"You're welcome," Kendra said. "The wrapped box is actually from me and quite a few of your housemates. We all pitched in to purchase it."
Eagerly, Brian unwrapped the gift, which turned out to be a card notifying him that he was the recipient of a year-long subscription to Quidditch Monthly magazine.
"How did you know this is my favourite magazine?" he asked.
"I asked your mum which magazines you read and she named this one and Which Broomstick," she answered. "I took a poll of your housemates and they unanimously chose Quidditch Monthly. I think they know you pretty well. The January issue comes out tomorrow, so look for the owl."
Brian smiled and suddenly turned his head away as a tear escaped and trickled down his cheek. Muttering, "Damn!" he swiped at it while James and Kendra pretended not to notice. When their friend looked back, Kendra said softly, "Brian, you don't have to keep what you're feeling inside around us. We know you're going through a tough time right now because James' family is, too."
James nodded because he was fighting a huge, Quaffle-sized lump in his throat.
"I just… I can't… I thought…" Brian sputtered, "I can't get over everything you and my housemates have done since my accident. I get letters and packages nearly every day from my housemates, people I don't even know." He laughed as he reported, "One girl even sent me an unsigned love letter and a box of chocolates which my mum threw in the bin because they were laced with love potion!"
Kendra snorted. "That would have been Alice Chalmers, a third year Hufflepuff," she giggled. "You're not the only one she sent those to. It caused a big scandal, because she sent the chocolates to every male Quidditch player at Hogwarts via owl order from Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. James and his brother even received some."
"Yeah, I did," James said sheepishly, "but Albus and I recognized the box and threw the chocolates away before we ate any of them."
"So what happened? How did they find out who sent them?" Brian asked.
"One of the Slytherin seventh years actually ate one on a dare right before breakfast," Kendra snickered. "Made a spectacle of himself in the Great Hall calling for Alice to come forth because he loved her and wanted to marry her!"
The three shared a laugh as a chime sounded and a voice announced the dining room was serving lunch. Brian fumbled in his pocket and pulled out two ticket-like pieces of paper. "Would you like to have lunch with me in the dining room?" he asked.
James' stomach rumbled hungrily. "Yes, please," he smirked, earning an elbow in the side from Kendra.
He and Kendra waited until Brian had taken his gifts back to his room and then the three joined the other patients and some of the visitors for an enjoyable meal.
A couple of hours later, James exited the kitchen fireplace and stood brushing the soot off his clothes while he looked for his parents. The house was quiet, so that possibly meant they were both in their own "corners" and not making life miserable for each other. Sighing heavily to himself, he wandered into the great room and stood looking out over the snow-covered back garden.
"Hey, James, have a good time with Brian and Kendra?"
"Hey, Al," James said as Albus came to stand next to him. "I did."
"You don't seem very happy about it."
James shoved his hands in his pockets and stared out at the snow. "Kendra made me tell them about Dad and the ramp," he said, feeling more than a little uncomfortable. "What she and Brian said makes perfect sense; Mum and Dad need to talk about what they're doing to each other because it's hurting our family."
Albus was silent for a time, also staring at the snow. "So… are you going to make them talk now? And do you want me to go with you?"
James sighed. "Guess I'll get it over with. Where are they?"
"Last I saw, they were both in Dad's study," Albus answered.
James stared at his brother. "And they're not taking each other's heads off?"
"If they are, they have very strong Impervius and Silencing Charms on the door."
A small smile tugged at the corners of James' mouth. "Then I'll just have to take my chances."
"Good luck," Albus called after him.
The study door did not have an Impervius Charm on it because James was able to knock upon it. He heard the squelching sound of someone cancelling a Sealing Charm and then his mum opened the door. She looked tired but not argumentative, so James took that as a good sign.
"Can I come in?" he asked, looking past his mother to see his dad sitting at his desk.
"Certainly. How was your visit?" Mum asked.
James walked into the room and chose a spot in the middle of the floor from which to address his parents. "It was all right. Brian said to tell you thank you for the gloves. You were right, Dad, he accepted the gloves once I told him they were equipment," he reported.
His dad eyed him with his head cocked to the right. "James," he began, "you didn't come in here to tell us you were home or that Brian liked his gifts. What's on your mind?"
Suddenly feeling very self-conscious, James blurted, "You and Mum need to talk things out like adults instead of quarrelling constantly. You're making Al, Lily and me feel like we want to go back to Hogwarts!"
Without waiting for his parents' reaction and feeling very uncomfortable because this was the first time he'd ever spoken like that to his parents, James fled the room. He raced upstairs to his bedroom to grab his broom and then jumped out his open window into the afternoon gloom. He hoped his parents wouldn't be terribly angry with him, but for now a good long flight at break-neck speed felt like the only way he could calm the emotions raging through his head.
Harry stared at his wife as the door to his study banged shut and James' footfalls pounded up the stairs. His son's words slowly began sinking in and a feeling of intense guilt stole over him as Ginny's eyes widened.
"I'm sorry," they said simultaneously.
Harry wrenched his gaze from his wife's face and stared unseeingly at the books in front of him for a time as his fists clenched and unclenched on the polished surface of the desk.
"You, first," they began at the same time again. If the situation hadn't been so grave, he would have smiled, but he couldn't, not when everything she'd done in the last few days made him feel completely useless and, like James, want to leave and go back to The Groves.
Harry lifted a hand, palm up, gesturing towards Ginny. "Ladies first," he said, wondering what she thought she was sorry for.
Ginny stood up and pulled her chair closer to his desk as if stalling for time. When she was finally settled, she said, "I'm sorry for making so many changes to the house without consulting you. I know I should have asked you what you wanted done, but I didn't and I'm sorry."
Harry sighed. "Ginny, I like the changes you made… for the most part. I know you were only thinking to make my quality of life better and I appreciate your thoughtfulness. I can even forgive you for not telling me about the changes. But what hurts the most is that you disregarded my feelings and put a ramp on the front of the house over steps I had built myself. I'm probably being petty, but you hurt me by doing that." He closed his eyes as the anger once again threatened to surface. He pushed it down because he knew they needed to talk, not fight. "When did you have the work done?"
"The first week of November," Ginny answered in nearly a whisper.
Harry sucked in a startled breath. "But that was nearly two months ago! Why then?"
Ginny wrung her hands. "I thought… IthoughtIwasbringingyouhometodie," she answered in a rush. A tear trickled down her cheek.
Harry stared at his wife, completely stunned by her confession. It took him a long moment to find his voice and when he did, he asked quietly, "You… I… you really were that frightened?"
"Yes, Harry, I was terrified we were going to lose you. You were so broken inside, so helpless…" She trailed off, her face muscles working as she fought not to cry. "I even had a hospital bed put in here that stayed for five weeks. Then you really began working hard in therapy and I knew we wouldn't need the bed."
Harry ran his hands through his hair. "But why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn't tell you because you didn't seem to care!" Ginny shot back.
He could only manage a small, "oh!" Now that he knew, he could see how Ginny could have thought she needed to do something like that and why she had withheld the information from him… he was as much at fault as she. "That wasn't a very good time for me," he said quietly. "I'm sorry I was so difficult."
Ginny reached into her pocket and pulled out her handkerchief. She dabbed at her eyes as she said, "I'm sorry, too."
They were silent for a moment and then she looked directly at him. "Can I tell you something?"
Harry looked at her expectantly.
"I hated what the front of the house looked like as soon as the ramp was finished," she said. "I knew you'd be upset by how ugly it made the house, but I didn't know how to tell you about it. I… I was embarrassed because I'd made such a colossal mistake." She smiled sheepishly at him. "I'm glad you moved the ramp because I couldn't do it myself. I don't know the carpentry spells you used to make it look so good," she ended with a pointed look out the French doors that led to the terrace and the newly-relocated ramp.
"Ginny, why didn't you trust me to know what my limits are?" Harry asked.
She looked back at him, sad again. "I believed Healer Stilwell when he told me that if you performed magic before you were ready, you'd damage your brain, jeopardize your vision and possibly become a Squib. He scared me, Harry. He scared me for you and when I saw you magicking those sections of the ramp around the corner, all I could think about was stopping you from hurting yourself."
Harry sighed. "I know you meant well, and I could have understood your reasons yesterday morning, but instead of coming calmly out of the house to see what I was doing, like you have in the past, you stormed down the steps and started treating me like a recalcitrant child. You didn't give me the chance to explain myself, either. You just assumed something that wasn't true."
Ginny blew her nose. "I know. I was wrong and I'm sorry," she said contritely. Then, she looked up. "How did it feel to use magic again?"
Harry smiled. "Wonderful. As soon as I touched my wand I felt a little more like myself again," he admitted. Ginny smiled, too. "I knew my body was ready to do magic again.
"But how did you know?" she asked.
It was Harry's turn to smile sheepishly. "I've been doing accidental magic for the last ten days and when I talked to Silvia about it, she recommended I try some of the Hogwarts first year spells even without a wand," he said, mostly to his desktop. "I've perfected Wingardium Leviosa and have been levitating papers and cups and clothes around my room since last Thursday."
When he looked up, tears were running freely down Ginny's cheeks. "Oh, Harry, I'm so sorry I doubted you," she cried and promptly buried her face in her handkerchief.
Harry backed away from his desk and rolled around it to Ginny's side. "I forgive you," he whispered as he put his arms around her. This only made her cry harder. He held her until her tears subsided to sniffles. "Ginny, are you all right?" he asked.
She nodded and blew her nose. "Yeah, I am," she choked. "But I've been so stupid these last few days, so unobservant and untrusting, that it's made you and the children crazy, crazy enough for James to consider going back to Hogwarts and missing Christmas with the family."
Harry's good mood evaporated at the reminder of why they were talking. "Yeah, you have. Ginny, love, I don't need you to sprint from one room to another every time I drop something or want something. If I need help, I'll ask. I told James that on Saturday night at the pool when he helped me so much we both fell in."
Ginny's head snapped up at this, her eyes wide. "You… he… fell into the pool? Why didn't you tell me?" she asked.
"We decided to keep the incident between us because we'd both learned from it, Ginny. We talked briefly about my expectations, your request that he help me whenever he could, and his interpretation of both; we worked out a mutual understanding that we both could live with and I think he's happy with it. He didn't like all the responsibility he thought you'd saddled him with, but he was doing his best to do as you asked, and after we had our talk, he still felt some added responsibility, but it was something he could live with."
"I need to apologize to James, don't I?" she commented rhetorically.
"We both should… together," Harry said.
"And I need to stop acting like a five-year-old's mother around you, so you won't be annoyed with me all the time."
"And the next time we check into a hotel, can I be the one to go to the reception desk?" Harry asked.
Ginny bit her lip in that funny way she had when she was playfully considering something. "Yes, as long as I get to drive," she said, her eyes twinkling.
"Yeah, about that…" Harry deadpanned and they both burst into giggles.
"I suppose I should stop trying to be Superwoman," Ginny said finally. "I think that'll make all of us happier."
Harry nodded. "Especially, me," he admitted. "And I promise to be more understanding and patient instead of snapping your head off when you still try to do something I can do myself. I was wrong to get mad every time you tried to help me and I'm sorry."
Ginny reached up and cradled his cheek in her hand. "I forgive you," she said.
"Good," he said as he patted his knees. "Come here. I think I need to hug you at the very least."
His wife giggled and sat on his lap. Harry felt his legs take her weight and he hugged her fiercely. "Oh, Ginny, thank you for talking to me," he murmured into her hair. The next moment, they were sharing a deep, heart-felt kiss.
A/N: I found it highly amusing that the reviews for last chapter were divided into two categories; those sympathising with Harry who ranted against Ginny and those who tried valiantly to make sense of Ginny's actions and ended up scolding her anyway! Your reactions made me think about possible changes I need to make to future chapters and I thank you for agreeing with my betas who kept telling me that something has to be done to make Ginny stop and think about what she's doing to her family. I hope you found this chapter to be the solution or at least the beginning of the repairs to the Potter's marriage.
Thank you Jedi34, RSS, RebeccaRipple, Regina Ferguson, and Mutt n Feathers for all the support, comments and scoldings you gave me during the writing of this chapter. I appreciate your input more than you can ever imagine. Also, thank you to Aggiebell for the quick beta of this chapter and for helping me to remember to post it in the wee hours of Thursday morning so my readers are happy and don't spend the entire day looking for my latest update.
As always, thank you readers for reviewing this story. I look forward to reading and answering your comments.