On a snowy morning after his therapy session, Harry sat across Healer Stilwell’s desk from him and looked at his friend, feeling a profound sense of gratitude. Not only had he come to realize that he and Payton had come to trust each other more than just their patient/healer relationship, they had a shared experience that would bind them together for all time, one born of pain and comfort and mutual support that no one else could share. What made this moment so significant was the fact that the healer had just told him that the blood vessels in his brain were no longer leaking and that his brain was no longer swelling. For all intents and purposes, his brain injury had finally healed.
“Harry, you have regained ninety-seven percent of your peripheral vision. You now have only a three degree deficit to the left now,” the healer explained. “I am certain you have reached your new normal, vision-wise, which means you will always need to compensate for the vision loss when driving, moving through a crowd and flying on a broom. I also think that now that your vision has stabilized, you will find reading much easier.”
Startled, Harry asked, “How did you know I wanted to ask about going up on a broom?”
“You told me about how happy it made you when your sons and nephews modified your wheelchair on Christmas Day.”
“Thank you. I had almost given up hope that I’d ever mount a broom and fly again with my sons and daughter.”
“Just be careful about how much you rely on your legs to help you stay on a broom, Harry,” Payton cautioned. “I think you’ll have to take a few practice flights to determine just how much control you have.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Harry said, smiling. “It may be harder to convince Ginny that I can ride a broom than it will be to actually fly one!”
“Good luck to you, then.” Looking as if he was trying to squash a smile, Payton cleared his throat. “Now back to business… I am also clearing you to drive your van and any other Muggle vehicle equipped with hand controls.” Harry sighed silently, feeling disappointed because he now knew he’d never drive his Ferrari again, at least until he broke down and had someone modify the controls for him. Payton had noticed Harry’s momentary lack of attention, for he now said with a hopeful inflection in his tone, “If your therapy continues to on the course it is, Harry, I could very well fully discharge you with the clearance to drive unassisted.”
Harry nodded, hardly daring to hope for such a thing, but knowing he would use that wish as a motivator when he became convinced he wasn’t making any progress. (That had happened about a week ago when he’d reached a plateau for a few days. The feeling of levelling out had left him rather discouraged until Silvia had modified his exercises.) He switched the subject, sensing his friend had more to discuss with him, but needing to bring up some issues of his own. “Healer Stilwell, before you go on, I have two things to ask you about,” he said, switching from the familiar to a more formal form of address because what he needed to ask was very important to him.
“Yes, Mr Potter?” Healer Stilwell asked, also making the switch.
“I, erm, I was wondering if you thought I was strong enough to visit the Ministry or take day excursions with my family away from The Groves.”
Healer Stilwell smiled at him. “Harry, we seem to be thinking alike these days. Would you find it acceptable if I cleared you to go to work part time on a regular basis each afternoon?”
Harry felt his face break into a grin. “I—I’ll—yes! Yes, that’s more than acceptable, Payton! I’d like that very much!” he managed to sputter. Then, rational thought took over. “Erm, I’ll need to talk to the Minister about whether that’s an acceptable arrangement.”
“I’ve already done that, Harry,” Payton said. “The Minister impressed upon me that your position is usually not a shared one, but he’s willing to make certain concessions in order to help ease you back into your job. He agrees with me that it will be easier for you to assimilate back into the real world if you go back to work half time for a period of three or four months. That way you would be building up your stamina as well as being available to continue your therapy in the mornings.”
Harry could hardly believe the news. “Do I need a letter explaining that to the Minister and the Personnel department, a medical excuse stating why I’m only coming back half days?”
“Yes,” Healer Stilwell said, fishing a piece of parchment out of his folder. “Read this before I sign it. If it meets your approval, you can take it with you when you leave.”
Harry read the letter and couldn’t stop smiling. When he finished reading, he thanked the healer before saying, “Erm, I have a second request.”
“I’d, erm, I’d like to have Ginny spend the night with me in my room at weekends, perhaps Friday and Saturday nights?” he asked as he pocketed the letter.
Payton chuckled. “I’ll do you one better, Harry. I’ve already decided that you need to start spending your weekends at home. It’s high time you and Ginny started spent more time together.” He stopped and then said in a low tone, he deadpanned, “Besides, I’m running out of excuses for why I’m giving you two access to the therapy pool at such odd hours of the night.”
Harry felt his face and ears heat up. “Thank you for that,” he mumbled, since his tongue suddenly didn’t seem to be working. “When can we begin?”
“Tomorrow night sounds like a good time to me. Will this give you enough time to notify Ginny?”
“Of course it will! Thank you!” Harry couldn’t believe his good luck.
Payton closed the folder he’d taken the letter from. “Then stop grinning like an idiot and go call your wife!” he chuckled. “Oh, you need to be back here after dinner on Sundays, since visiting hours end at half seven that day.”
Harry, his face still feeling hot, couldn’t stop grinning. “I can abide by that rule, Payton,” he said. “And Ginny will be so excited about this since it was her idea to ask about ‘conjugal visits’ in the first place. Thanks.”
His friend made a shooing gesture as he said, “Go on, then. I have work to do and you and Ginny have plans to make.”
With one last wave, Harry propelled his chair swiftly out the door and into the lift, heading down to the Post Room to send an owl with a note to Ginny.
0126 hours, Saturday, 6 February 2021
The fire had burned down to glowing embers over the last two hours and now the first tentative fingers of flame began licking at the pieces of tinder that had just been floated onto the grate over the hottest coals, mirroring the earlier, slowly building passion of the occupants of the bed. The romantic mood had been further enhanced by several strategically-placed candles which continued, even now after the two had spent themselves, to cast a soft yellow glow that seemed to encourage closeness.
From her place snuggled against Harry’s side, Ginny sighed contentedly and tightened her grip around his middle.
“Are you cold?” he asked. “Should I add more wood?”
Ginny smiled up at her husband. “I’m just fine, love. I’m comfy right where I am. You?”
“Mmmm-hmm, I’m more than fine,” he answered, pulling her closer and lowering his lips to hers in a tender kiss. They shared a few minutes of languid snogging before she laid her head back on Harry’s chest and listened contentedly to the comforting thumping of his heart.
“Ginny,” his voice rumbled in her ear, making her smile, “when’s the St Mungo’s auction? Have you made reservations for it yet?”
Startled, she raised her head to look at him. “It’s Saturday, March the twentieth and no, I haven’t put in my reservation yet. Why do you ask?”
“I want to go, Ginny. I want to share a special evening with the loveliest witch in all of England.”
“Oh Harry, that’s so sweet of you to want to go,” she said, feeling pleased and dismayed at the same time. “But I’ll be so busy circulating the room you won’t see much of me and… and are you sure you’re ready for the Wizarding public to see the new you?”
“I’ve only been more certain of one other thing in my life, Ginny, and that was my love for you on the night I proposed to you,” Harry said. “Besides, the auction is the best place to introduce the public to the new me, because if it hadn’t been for the medical miracles performed on me that night last October by the healers at St Mungo’s, we wouldn’t be here discussing why I want to support your fundraising endeavours that evening.”
She hugged him, feeling pleased he wanted to go. “Then I’d be honoured if you’d accompany me to auction,” she said with a smile as she bit back a mild retort about his treatment that night.
Harry hugged her back. “Good. I’m looking forward to the evening out with you,” he said.
The flames in the grate reached hungrily for the newest log that now floated into place and as the wood caught, they seemed to burn brighter than they had a few minutes before.
1815 hours, Friday, 12 February 2021
“Kendra, James, your rooms are this way,” Brian said as he led the way up the stairs, his body floating backwards, only inches from the treads.
James couldn’t help staring at his friend and wondering how he was propelling himself. Finally, because it was obvious that he was staring, he asked, “How are you doing that? A spell or a Muggle invention?”
Brian smiled. “Professor Ackerley helped me create the spell. As long as I have my wand in my pocket I can cast it and maintain it until get up the stairs. That way, my hands are free to balance my body and my chair,” he said, sounding pleased with himself as he patted the pocket of his jeans where the handle of his wand was visible. The movement caused him to wobble a little, but Brian quickly compensated. “I want to complete my education at Hogwarts, which will require me to use the stairs to get to my lessons. Since the castle doesn’t have a lift, I needed a way to go from floor to floor. Right now, the spell exhausts me if I use it for very long and I haven’t the magical strength to levitate both my body and my chair together yet. Melissa, my PT, tells me I’ll be strong enough magically to get through the day by September. I just have to be patient.”
“It’ll be good to have you back at Hogwarts,” Kendra said. She nudged James with her elbow and he glared at her in an I’m-going-to-say-something-nice manner as he felt his ears heating up.
“Yeah, I’m glad you’re going back,” he mumbled, making Brian snort with laughter at their antics.
“You two look like an old married couple,” Brian chortled, adding to James’ embarrassment.
They reached the top of the stairs and Brian sat on the top step, reached into his pocket and pulled out his shrunken wheelchair. He enlarged it and then manually hoisted his body onto the seat while James fought the urge to help him. He refrained from offering to help because he remembered what his father had said at Christmas about needing to do things for himself, so he took the opportunity to study the wall of family portraits at the head of the stairs until Brian was done.
Kendra, who had followed him over to the photos, now asked, “What do you mean that you’ll be strong enough magically? I thought you were doing really well.” She sounded as confused as James was, even though he thought he understood what Brian was saying.
Brian turned in his chair and looked over at them. “After the Matron attacked me, Healer Stilwell discovered that the potions she’d introduced into my body had the side effect of depleting my magical energy. In a healthy person, they’d just make the person feel very tired, but because my body was trying to heal from the original injury plus the new damage, my energy reserves became dangerously low.” He sighed and James thought he detected a note of sadness in Brian’s voice as he continued his explanation. “In fact, the potions I’d been taking to regenerate the severed nerves stopped working altogether for a few days and Healer Stilwell had to give me another potion until he could figure out what went wrong. Once I stopped using magic, even for little things like Summoning a book from the floor, I felt better and made more progress.”
“So you’ve just started using magic again?” Kendra asked.
Their friend stopped in front of a bedroom door and pushed it open. “Kendra, this one is yours. You can put your things in the wardrobe if you want,” he said. She smiled as she stepped past him and quickly put her two bags away. When she came back, Brian went on, “I’ve been performing basic spells for about three weeks now. I didn’t know how much I missed it until Mum gave me my wand back and started reviewing first year spells with me.”
“Why start with first year spells?” James asked as they continued down the passage. “I know my dad had to use first year spells at first because of his brain injury, but I didn’t think you’d hurt your head.”
“I didn’t. First year spells don’t require the magic or the control needed by fifth year spells, so they’re used to help the body become acclimated to using magic and to build its magical reserves again after injury,” Brian said. “I had no idea it took so much energy to heal, even with the help of potions that work with the body’s natural healing. Besides, it’s great review for OWLs. I’m now reviewing third year Transfiguration and Charms. I’ll start on third year Defence next week.” Brian opened another door and gestured for James to leave his book bag and satchel inside.
“Did you have to remind us of those exams?” Kendra groaned as James deposited his bags in the wardrobe.
Brian smiled wickedly. “Of course I did. They’re just three months away, and if I’m going to take them with the rest of our year, I need to start some serious revision if I’m going to catch up to the rest of you.”
“What? You think we’ve been revising all year?” James asked incredulously. “I’ve hardly cracked my previous years’ texts because I’m having a hard enough time keeping up with this year’s homework!”
“You’ve had time, James,” Kendra teased, poking him in the ribs. “You’ve just spent most of it researching pranks instead of writing your essays.”
James felt his ears grow hot. “I haven’t pranked anyone since Albus’ birthday and you know it,” he retorted indignantly.
“Why did you prank Albus and what did you do?” Brian asked. He opened another door and rolled into the room. “Welcome to my room,” he added as he slid onto his bed. “Have a seat.”
Since there was only one chair next to the desk, James let Kendra have it. He took a Knut from his pocket and waved his wand at it, transfiguring it into a metal patio chair that looked suspiciously like the ones his mum put out on the library terrace each summer. He hoped he wouldn’t end up being dumped on the floor when his spell fizzled out; Al was better at stuff like this and it embarrassed James that he couldn’t maintain his transfigured objects as long as his little brother could. The patio chair landed on the floor with a soft thump. He settled into his creation and began telling Brian about the pranks he and Lily had sprung on Albus and the other students until Mrs Nelson called the three to dinner.
“I wish I’d been there to join in the fun,” Brian said, sounding wistful as they made the trek back downstairs to the dining room.
“I think you would have enjoyed the song Lily and James made your house sing,” Kendra said.
“What was it?” Brian asked.
“It’s an old rock song called The Wall by the Muggle band Pink Floyd,” James answered, grinning at Brian. “It’s one of my dad’s favourites. He sings it to tease us sometimes.”
Brian grinned back. “I’ve heard that song. It’s pretty cool,” he said, making the others laugh.
Later that night, as they parted at James’ door, he asked Brian, “Are you excited about going to see the match tomorrow?”
“I can’t wait,” Brian answered, grinning hugely. “Good night.”
The three were up with the sun the next morning, even though the match between Ravenclaw and Gryffindor wasn’t until half past twelve. Mrs Nelson cooked a full English breakfast, insisting that James eat seconds and even thirds because he was going to need the extra calories if the match took more than three hours to play.
“Are all mums alike?” he asked Brian when her back was turned. “Yours sounds an awful lot like my mum and my Grandmum Weasley.”
“I think it’s the ‘mum gene’ kicking in,” Brian snickered. “She’s always been like this with me before a match.”
The three shared a quiet chortle and went back to addressing their breakfasts.
When it was time for James to go back to Hogwarts, he gave Kendra a quick kiss on the cheek, thanked Mr and Mrs Nelson for their hospitality and stepped into the fireplace to take the Floo back to Professor Longbottom’s office. The last he saw of Brian was his friend sitting next to Kendra.
0945 hours, Saturday, 13 February 2021
Brian sighed happily as his chair shot out of Professor Ackerley’s fireplace, bouncing a little as it came to a stop against the teacher’s desk. He was relieved and grateful to James’ dad for all the helpful tips he’d shared about Floo travel in a wheelchair. He’d heard about Mr Potter’s disappearance from The Groves via the hospital gossip chain on the day Scorpius Malfoy had been rescued and had wondered what it was like to sit while spinning.
The sensation wasn’t entirely pleasant, but Brian’s stomach calmed quickly as his father, mother and Kendra stepped out one after another to be greeted by Brian’s head of house.
“Greetings and welcome back to Hogwarts,” the professor said enthusiastically. “You couldn’t have picked a better day to view a match.” He turned to Brian. “How are you doing with your charm? Are you able to control both yourself and your chair yet?”
Brian shook his head. “Not yet, Professor. I’ll have to Levitate myself downstairs without my chair.”
“You’re going to attempt seven flights of stairs?” Professor Ackerley asked incredulously.
“There’s no other way, is there?” Brian asked, already knowing the answer. When the professor shook his head, Brian said, “My dad’s going to carry me down.”
Professor Ackerley frowned. “That’s an awful lot of stairs with a big potential that one of you will get hurt. Please let me do the honours of floating you downstairs. I promise not to drop you.”
After a hasty conversation using only nods, shakes and raised eyebrows, Mr Nelson said, “That will be fine, Professor.”
The professor glanced at the clock on the mantle. “Very good. Now… if I remember correctly, you’re early for the match because you were going to join Ravenclaw House for lunch in the Great Hall.” Brian nodded and murmured the affirmative. “Then, we need to get going,” added Professor Ackerley.
“I need to shrink my wheelchair, professor,” Brian reminded him.
“No problem,” the professor said. “You can shrink it once you’re floating.”
It was an odd sensation to be doing magic on his wheelchair while someone else was performing it on him, but the task was quickly completed and before he knew it, the entire group was gathered around the empty plinth of a departed suit of armour (one that had perished in the Second War, according to Professor Binns) that Professor Ackerley had deposited him on. Brian quickly transferred himself to his chair and then the adults had him lead the way into the Great Hall.
As he rolled through the doorway, the diners fell silent. Brian could feel the stares of every single person in the room and wondered sadly if he should have skipped lunch with his friends. Then, a single bench at the Ravenclaw table scraped the floor as the two students sitting on it stood up and began to clap. They were joined in rapid succession by the rest of his year and then the rest of his house. The wave of sound multiplied as the Gryffindors followed the Ravenclaws’ lead. The Hufflepuffs were the next to stand and clap with the Slytherins and professors bringing the ovation to a thunderous end.
“Welcome back, Brian!” his roommates cried over the din as they hurried to group around him.
Completely overwhelmed, all Brian could do was stare and smile until his face hurt. “Why?” he managed to croak through the tidal wave of emotion coursing through him.
“You’re a hero.”
“We’ve missed you.”
“Library discussions haven’t been the same without you.”
“You’ve been so brave, nearly Gryffindor-like! Are you sure you were Sorted into Ravenclaw?” (That one made him laugh.)
Eventually, Brian and his parents bid Kendra good-bye for the time being—she slipping off to eat with the Gryffindors—and found places across the table from his roommates. It felt so wonderful to sit at the familiar table and discuss familiar subjects and catch up on house gossip that he was a little disappointed when lunch came to an end and it was time to meet Kendra at the stadium entrance.
“I’d like to sit with my house,” he told his parents as they reached the stadium.
“All right. We’ll be sitting with the professors, Brian,” his father told him. “We’ll meet you back here after the match.”
“See you then,” Brian said as he and Kendra turned and hastened towards the stairs leading to the Ravenclaw bleachers.
“Do you want help up the stairs?” she asked, “or would you like to try it yourself?”
“Let me try it first to see how tired it makes me,” Brian answered. “The levitation spell is tiring, but the only way I’ll get stronger is to push myself.”
They started up the stairs, Brian floating backwards ahead of Kendra. He made it up four levels before he asked for her help. After he had her practice the incantation a couple of times, they started up the last two levels and found seats on the aisle about halfway up the bleachers. As they waited for the stands to fill up, several of his housemates joined them.
“Have you been up to the tower yet?” a boy in fourth year asked.
Brian shook his head. “Not today. I have some… erm, things to learn still before I can propel myself up to the common room,” he said, feeling a bit sad because it would have been nice to recline on his four-poster for a few minutes after lunch.
“Does that mean you’ll be coming back with us in September?” Fern Ives, one of the other fifth years asked.
“My therapist says that I’ll be ready to return to school with everyone on the Express on September first, yes,” he said.
Fern laughed as she said, “I think you’re going to have to enlarge your compartment to include places for all of our year to sit with you, then. Some people are already trying to elbow everyone else off the list of who gets to sit in your compartment.”
“That could be a problem,” Brian remarked. “I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.”
“Maybe if we took down the door and the front wall of your compartment more people than just your house could join you,” Kendra suggested.
“We might want to do that to two adjoining compartments. You know, take down at least the bottom part of the separating wall to create a big communal seating area and do it without getting caught,” Fern added.
“We should consider both of those modifications,” Brian said thoughtfully. To his fellow Ravenclaws, he said, “I believe we have our project for the summer.”
His housemates grinned and began whispering amongst themselves until the match started.
Brian enjoyed himself immensely during the first half hour of the match. The Gryffindor team was just as good—maybe even a hair better than—as the Ravenclaw team. Since the players were fresh, the tempo of the match was quite swift, and even though only two goals were made—one each per side—he couldn’t help marvelling how well his replacement fit in with the other two Chasers.
Then, forty-five minutes in, the announcer cried, “And the Ravenclaw Seeker, Perry Hereward, has seen the Snitch!”
At this, every single student sitting in front of Brian stood up, blocking his view, and all he could do was listen, catching bits of commentary through the screams and chanting of his fellow spectators.
“Go, Perry, go!”
“Gryffindor Seeker, Wesley Freeman, has seen it too, but he’s all the way over on the other side of the pitch.”
“Get that Snitch, Perry!”
“…stretches out flat on his broom, zooming towards the Snitch.”
“Don’t let him have it, Perry!”
“They’re neck and neck…”
“Go, Perry, go! Go, Perry! Go!”
“Oh! Close call! Too bad the Snitch got away. That Bludger wasn’t meant for—”
Brian slumped in his seat, disappointed and frustrated that he couldn’t see the action, even though he was sitting on the aisle. As the students took their seats again, the girls around him began giggling. Annoyed, he tried to focus on the match again, but he was distracted by a nearby conversation between two girls.
“Did you see what happened to Brian just now?”
“I know, but what can we do? I feel so sorry for him.”
“Me, too. Should we offer to Levitate him?”
“That would be fun! We’d have front row seats with a view! He’s always had such a cute arse!”
Disgusted, Brian turned around. “I’m trying to watch the match. If you have something to say to me, say it. My ears still work,” he said. “I’ll thank you to keep your opinions to yourself.”
The girls seemed shocked that they’d been caught, but they didn’t look very sorry he’d heard what they’d said. That annoyed Brian even more. He turned back towards the pitch, scowling and wishing ill on the Ravenclaw Seeker.
He felt Kendra’s hand on his elbow. “Just ignore them,” she advised.
“Ignore them,” he repeated to himself as he turned back to match. He tried to concentrate on the action, but he couldn’t get the girls’ pity out of his head. Is this what I’m going to have to put up with for the rest of my life? he asked himself. He knew what the obvious answer was and it soured the elation he felt at being back at Hogwarts, sitting in the stands, watching a Quidditch match.
“Budge over, Brian. I need a place to sit.”
Startled out of his self-pity, Brian glanced to his right to see Lily Potter standing in the aisle. She looked as frustrated as he felt. Automatically, he scooted over to make room for her, as did Kendra.
“What are you doing here, Lily?” Kendra asked James’ sister.
“I need someplace to watch the match where I won’t have to put up with my roommates,” Lily growled.
“What are they doing?” he asked curiously.
“If I have to listen to one more comment about how big James’ muscles are or how dreamy Albus looks in his Beater’s uniform, I’m going to be sick!” exclaimed Lily.
“So you came to see us?”
“Yes, because I know you two are actually paying attention to what’s going on on the pitch!”
“And your roommates don’t?”
“Nope. Those girls have never gone to a Quidditch match to watch the action; all they want to do drool over the players! Where’s their respect for the game?”
“Obviously not where it’s supposed to be,” Brian remarked, glancing backwards at the two girls who had offended him.
Lily picked up on his gaze. “Them, too? I’d like to Bat Bogey the lot,” she said.
Brian couldn’t help it. He chuckled. Maybe, with James’ sister sitting next to him, he could concentrate on the action.
Lily proved to be a good seatmate. She obviously knew more about Quidditch and the Chasers’ roles than any girl Brian had ever sat next to before. She was appreciative of both teams’ moves, too, and kept up a running commentary about what she observed that was actually more interesting than the announcer’s.
“Did you see that? That move was brilliant!” she exclaimed over the perfect Porskoff Ploy the newest Ravenclaw Chaser had just pulled off.
“Too bad the Quaffle was under-thrown,” Brian said.
“Gravity helped, but she’ll learn to gauge distances better with practice, I think.”
Five minutes later, she commented, “Evan, the Gryffindor Keeper, flies like my Uncle Ron does.”
Curious, Brian asked, “What do you mean?”
“Look at him. Do you see how he’s staying mostly in front of the middle hoop and isn’t protecting all three?”
Brian studied the Gryffindor Keeper as the Ravenclaw Chasers approached him. Lily was right; Evan flew in a vertical figure eight pattern that would only allow him to quickly move to the right or left hoop if the handle of his broom was pointed in the correct direction. Brian took the risk of saying, “That’s good for us, then.” He pointed to the ball carrier. “Iden’s going to go for the left hoop, I think.”
“No, he’s not; he’ll go for the right one,” Lily disagreed. “Look at where his broom handle is pointed. He’d have to throw a reverse pass back to your replacement to get the timing right and she’s too far out of position to make a decent catch; she’ll have to fly by those two opponents to get it through the hoop. It’s not going to happen, not when Ravenclaw is so many points behind.”
Three seconds later, the Quaffle sailed past the Gryffindor Keeper’s outstretched hands and through the right hoop. Brian shook his head, amazed by the fact that she was correct. “Lily, how come you can read the players so well?”
Lily blushed slightly as she said, “I have two Quidditch-crazed brothers, both of whom expect me to play two-a-side with them whenever they have an odd number of friends over. Plus, my mum’s been reading moves from her Quidditch play book to me—instead of bedtime stories—for as long as I can remember.”
Brian grinned. “That explains it!”
They next debated the Quidditch Cup points battle and speculated about which two teams would be playing each other at the end of the season. It all boiled down to which team won today’s match. If Gryffindor won by only ten points today, Ravenclaw would be in the final match because they had thirty more points going into today’s match than Gryffindor. But… if Gryffindor lost to Ravenclaw by ten points, and they won the Gryffindor-Slytherin match by twenty or more points next month, both teams would play each other if Ravenclaw won its match against Hufflepuff in March. However…
The two kept up their debate until Kendra poked Brian with her elbow. “Snitch,” she said, pointing.
“Where?” asked Brian.
People were already rising to their feet as the three tried to track the little golden ball from their seats. Brian tried to stand, but his legs wouldn’t move, couldn’t support his body weight, and he slumped back onto the bench in defeat.
Lily’s voice in his ear made him look up at her. “Is there anything we can do to help you see the Seekers?” she asked.
Brian hesitated. It was a mad idea, but he thought it might work. Besides, he trusted both Kendra and Lily… but if one of them stopped concentrating on her spell… No, he had to take the chance. “Would you and Kendra Levitate me?” he asked. “I want to see who catches to Snitch.”
The girls exchanged nervous glances. Finally, Kendra said, “All right, but just until the chase ends.”
Brian grinned. “Thanks, you two. Which spell will you be using?” he asked, looking at Lily because she wasn’t as conversant as he and Kendra were in Charms due to her being a second year. “I’ll cast it, too.”
Lily named the charm she knew best and the two girls drew their wands. On Brian’s count they cast their spells simultaneously and he rose slowly off the bench until he could see between the heads of the two people in front of him. Quickly, he searched for the two Seekers, who were flying high overhead diagonally across the pitch. He glanced at the announcer’s box and could just make out the score: Gryffindor 140, Ravenclaw 100.
The announcer’s voice caught Brian’s attention. “Seekers Hereward and Freeman are neck and neck, racing handle to handle for the Snitch. A lot of bumping and banging going on there folks. Watch out for those elbows, boys. I wouldn’t want Madam Hooch to penalize you two for cobbing.”
Suddenly, with an extra burst of speed, the Ravenclaw Seeker drew ahead of his opponent and stretched out his arm, letting the sleeve of his robes puff out in the wind. A second later, the Snitch disappeared, having been scooped up in the loose material.
As the announcer cried, “Ravenclaw win! Brilliant use of the Plumpton Pass!”
Brian pumped a fist in the air and let out a whoop of joy. The sudden movement shifted his weight, causing him to tip dangerously backwards so that he grabbed Lily and Kendra’s shoulders to keep himself upright.
“Careful there, Brian,” Lily cautioned at the same time Kendra reacted with, “We’ve got you.” Both girls moved closer to him and linked their free arms behind his back, still keeping their wands trained on him.
Brian said shakily, “I’ve had enough. Please put me down.”
The girls lowered him to the bench and sat down with him as the commentator announced the score—Ravenclaw 150, Gryffindor 140. All around them the Ravenclaws left the stands and began surging onto the pitch.
“Are you all right?” Kendra asked.
He nodded. “Give me a moment.” When his hands stopped shaking, he looked up to see Lily and Kendra had put their wands away. “That was a stupid thing to do.”
“What happened?” Lily asked. “I thought you knew what you were doing.”
Brian hung his head. “I did, but I got carried away and shifted too much. I would have fallen if you two hadn’t caught me,” he said.
“We wouldn’t have let you fall,” Kendra said.
“We’d be in a heap of trouble if you were hurt again,” Lily said, “and I would have never heard the end of it from my dad since it was my idea.”
“So would I because I went along with it,” Brian said.
Kendra was now looking at the mob of Ravenclaws surrounding the players down on the pitch. “Want to go down there?”
“No. My chair will just get stuck in the mud,” he said, pointing to the myriad muddy prints in the dead grass. “Let’s go find my parents instead.”
The girls agreed and stepped aside to let him pass. He cast his climbing spell to lower himself down to the walkway and eased his body down the steep stairs. At the bottom of the steps, he enlarged his wheelchair and transferred to it. Then the three went to find his parents
“Did you have a good time sitting with your housemates?” his father asked a few minutes later.
Brian smiled. “Yeah, I did. Thanks for bringing me back for the match.”
“You’re welcome, dear. We’ll come to the next Ravenclaw match if you want,” his mum said. “I quite enjoyed this one.”
“I’d like that,” Brian said, knowing that he really did want to come back despite the difficulties his disability had presented.
“We need to get going,” his father said. He extended a hand to Kendra. “You and James will join again us next time, I hope?”
Kendra smiled. “I’ll tell James you’ve invited us.”
Brian had seen Lily hanging back a little as Kendra talked to his parents. He now rolled over to her.
“Thanks, Lily,” he began.
“Erm, for talking to me during the match and not about me.”
“Oh,” She seemed surprised. “It was nothing. Really, I thought I’d talked too much.”
“I needed the distraction. I wasn’t having much fun listening to those girls and you… helped me enjoy the match again.” He hesitated and then asked awkwardly, “Will you write to me? I—I’d like to write to you.”
Lily turned red from her neck to her forehead, but she was grinning like crazy. “Yes, I promise to write back, Brian. I had a good time today, too.”
“Brian, we need to leave,” his father called.
Reluctantly, Brian bid Lily and Kendra good-bye and followed his parents out of the stadium and over to a horseless cart that was waiting to take them back to Hogsmeade. As the cart passed through the gates, he turned around for one last look at the castle.
“It won’t be long before you’re back here for good, dear,” his mum said.
Brian sighed. “I have a lot of work to do before that happens, though,” he said.
“You’ll get it done, Brian. I know you will.”
The cart turned a corner and the castle slipped from sight.
0545 hours, Monday, 15 February 2021
Ron knew he shouldn’t be nervous, but he was and he wondered whether Harry felt the same. They’d talked about this day quite often in the last few weeks, not only because Harry needed to be briefed on what was happening in the department, but because he was determined to reinsert himself into his job as if he’d been gone on a long holiday rather than in a sickbed for four months. Ron knew it was important to Harry to show his friends and co-workers that he was still quite capable of leading the department, even if his mobility was now limited.
“Ron, aren’t you supposed to meet Harry for lunch today?” Hermione enquired over their morning tea and scones.
Ron smiled. “Yes, we’re going to that new Muggle fish and chips place near the Visitor’s Entrance.”
“Why on earth would you take him there?” Hermione asked. “This is his welcome back lunch.”
“You know Harry. I think he’s still stuck back in the nineties right after the war, when George and I didn’t have more than a Knut to our names,” Ron said with a shake of his head. “Besides, I think he misses eating stuff like that. The dining room at The Groves only serves healthy food. The times I’ve eaten lunch with him, our plates have been heaped with fruits and vegetables. The cooks seem to be allergic to grease!”
Hermione poured more tea into her cup and took a sip. She looked at him over the rim of her cup as she said, “By all means, go enjoy your grease.”
“I ‘ill,” Ron said around a mouthful of scone.
The morning flew by and before he knew it, Ron found himself sitting in the Transportation Office of The Groves, making small talk with the guard while waiting for Harry.
The door opened, admitting two small wheels followed by a pair of trouser-clad legs, and finally all of Harry and the rest of his chair, including a new carry-all that was strapped to the back rest. “Sorry to be late, Ron,” he apologized. “Therapy ran a few minutes late and then I couldn’t get my tie knotted correctly. I think my fingers forgot how.”
“Like they always did on the first day of lessons at Hogwarts?” Ron asked, chuckling.
“Uh-huh,” Harry agreed. He pulled at the collar of his shirt. “Damned neck tourniquet.” Ron chuckled in agreement.
The guard opened the inner door for them. “Have a good day, gents. Mr Potter, I should be expecting you around six?”
“Most likely,” said Harry. “I’ll send word if I’m going to be late.”
The door closed behind them and Ron turned to Harry. “Side-Along or Floo?”
“The Floo, mate. I don’t want to be Splinched on my first day back,” Harry commented as he threw a cloak over himself. The garment was big enough to cover both the wheelchair and Harry’s body. It also had a hood, which Harry pulled over his head. When Ron raised an eyebrow, Harry explained, “Soot finds the most inconvenient places, so Ginny thought this might help keep the chair clean until Silvia and Healer Stilwell clear me to Apparate.”
“And I bet not even Ginny’s charmed clothes brush can find all the soot on your chair,” Ron agreed.
“Tell me about it,” Harry groaned as he rolled into the biggest fireplace, shouting, “Ministry of Magic.”
Ron found Harry—minus the big cloak—waiting for him in the Atrium and the two made their way to the Visitor’s telephone booth and out onto the street. As they made their way to the fish and chips shop an uncomfortable thought occurred to Ron. Would Harry be expecting him to open the shop door for him? He decided to wait for Harry’s cue.
When they reached the shop, Harry opened the door himself and rolled over the threshold just as if he’d been walking next to Ron and reached the door first. Ron sighed in relief and followed his friend into the shop.
“I’ll get us a table,” Harry said, turning his head so Ron could hear him over the murmurs from the other diners. “I think it would be quicker if you ordered for me.” He gave Ron his order and Ron joined the queue, realizing that in the crowded shop Harry would have difficulty balancing his meal on his lap. With the offer to find the table, Harry had finessed an awkward situation into one they both could live with.
The queue moved quickly and before he could become bored with waiting, Ron had paid for their food and was scanning the room for Harry’s chair. He found his friend sitting next to a window and took their paper cones and fizzy drinks over to the table.
“I’ve waited so long for this!” Harry exclaimed happily as he unwrapped the newspaper surrounding his meal.
Ron bit into a vinegar-smothered piece of fish. “You had a good idea, Harry. Hermione thought we should go some place fancier, but this hits the spot,” he said appreciatively.
Harry shoved a chip in his mouth and murmured agreeably. “Let’s come here again next week,” he suggested.
Half an hour later, Ron led the way out of the lift and waited for Harry. The two had lingered over their meal and now it was time to get Harry settled in his office. As they entered the Auror Department, Harry’s and Robards’ secretaries each greeted them from their desks.
“It’s good to be back,” Harry said to Ione, his secretary, with a huge grin on his face.
She returned the grin, but then frowned and pointed farther into the big room. Ron knew what was going to happen and played along with her. “I’m not sure you’ll be happy in a couple of hours,” she said.
“Susan’s brought the files you’ll be reviewing this afternoon,” Ron joined in, doing his best to hide his smirk.
Harry turned his chair just in time to see Susan rounding the corner, carrying an enormous stack of file folders. She also carried a scroll that had unrolled over the leading edge of the top file. Every few steps, she had to kick it out of the way. “You’ll need to review all of these by four o’clock so we can meet with Robards. I expect he’ll want your opinion on all of them, Harry,” she said.
Ron nearly choked on his laughter as Harry’s jaw dropped. He shut his mouth with an audible snap and managed to sputter, “You’re… you’re sure he wants to review them at four?”
“Of course, Harry. Welcome back to the mad house,” she said sweetly and Ron caught the laughter in her eyes as she added, “I’ll take these to your office for you.”
As she led the way towards Harry’s office, Mary Beth jogged past, carrying an armload of scrolls, and caught up with her. “Susan, where do you want these?” she asked breathlessly.
“Harry’s office,” Susan replied, soliciting a groan from Harry.
“Ron, are you sure all those files are for me?” Harry asked. He looked rather discouraged. “I thought you said there were only three cases I needed to review today, not thirty!”
“All you need to do is sign them,” Ron said. “You’ll be done with that in about twenty minutes.”
“Ron, I won’t sign a file until I’ve read the entire report,” Harry said, sounding dispirited. “You know that.”
“I do, but we had an incredibly busy morning,” Ron told him by way of explanation.
Harry sighed and pushed his chair ahead of Ron, going to meet Susan and Mary Beth who were standing by the door to his darkened office trying to manipulate their burdens in order to open the door. “I’ll get that for you,” he told them.
“Thanks, Harry,” Mary Beth said, smiling sweetly. “You can go in first.”
Ron stood back as Harry opened the door, rolled into his office and waved his wand to light the overhead sconces. As soon as the lights illuminated the room, Ron joined the rest of the Auror Department staff in yelling, “SURPRISE!” and “WELCOME BACK, HARRY!”
That morning, Harry’s office had been expanded magically for the party. Ron had helped enlarge the conference table and set up extra chairs around the room to accommodate everyone who could participate. Then, everyone on the hospitality committee had pitched in to magically decorate the room with gold and red streamers and a large banner over the fireplace which read, “Welcome Back, Harry!” while others arranged the food and punch bowl on the conference table.
Susan now deposited her stack of files in Harry’s in-box and Ron watched his friend closely as the pile shrunk from thirty to the three Ron had reviewed with him yesterday. Harry seemed to sag in relief as the scrolls in Mary Beth’s arms morphed into a huge card, which had been signed by everyone before the party.
However, instead of laughing at the prank and going over to sample the food and have a piece of cake, Harry turned his tear-stained face on his assembled co-workers. “Thanks, everyone,” he choked. “I’m at a loss for words because I wasn’t prepared for a party. You have no idea what this means to me.”
Ron walked up behind Harry and rested his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Harry, you’re the reason this department runs so smoothly. You’ve worked hard to give us the good opinion the public has of us and you have made our jobs easier through the policies you’ve implemented. We were all devastated when you were hurt and this is our way of letting you know how much your presence means to us here in the office. So welcome back, Harry.”
Someone handed Harry a handkerchief and a cake knife. “Thanks,” Harry sniffed as he dabbed at his eyes.
“Let’s get this party started!” someone else called. “I’m hungry!”
With an embarrassed laugh, Harry rolled over to the table and enchanted the knife to cut slices of cake. The noise level rose as people paired of into groups of three or four and soon everyone was enjoying the party.
A while later, as the Aurors began filtering back to their cubicles, Harry rolled over to where Ron was chatting with two of the younger Aurors.
“Whose idea was it to throw me a party?” he asked.
Ron looked at the other two and shrugged. “I don’t think it was anyone’s idea specifically. I think we all just came to an agreement that we needed to let you know how much you were missed these last months and how glad we are to have you back,” he explained as the others nodded.
“I walked into the break room sometime last week and there was a notice on the board about when you were coming back. Two days later, it was full of scribbles relating to what people would bring for a welcome back party,” said the first Auror.
The second Auror added, “It started out as just cake and coffee in the break room, but it soon turned into this big planning sheet with everyone passing the word that the location had been changed to your office and that it was to be a big surprise.”
Harry seemed to accept their explanations without comment. Then he asked, “What about Susan and Mary Beth’s prank? Whose idea was that?”
“Mary Beth’s, believe it or not,” Ron chuckled. “I think she’s turning into the female equivalent of Fred and George.”
Harry grinned sheepishly. “Well, she and Susan had me going for a while.”
“That was the idea, mate.” Ron looked at his watch. “I’d really like to stay, Harry, but I have a few things waiting on my desk. I’ll tell the clean-up crew you’d like to have your office back.”
“Thanks,” Harry said. Ron watched him roll over to his desk, get out his slide board and settle into the big chair behind it. The sight of his best friend back where he belonged left a lump in his throat and he could only wave as he closed Harry’s door.
It was good to have Harry back in the office.
A/N: This is a happy chapter, one that fairly flowed from my fingers and seemed to write itself. Many of you have wanted to see the scenes in this chapter and it pleases me to grant your wishes!
Many thanks to my pre-beta team of Miz636, Mutt n Feathers, RebeccaRipple, Rosina Ferguson and RSS who scrambled to read and comment on this chapter. I am grateful to you all for the comments and suggestions you generated on such short notice. I also thank Aggiebell for taking time out of her super-busy schedule this week to add her two Knuts worth so I could post the chapter on time. Thank you, too, to you, my readers for continuing to stick with the story as it winds down and you have to wait extra long for the next update. I appreciate your loyalty and look forward to reading and responding to your reviews.