In a little-used operating theatre deep in the bowels of the wizarding hospital, Healer Stilwell prepared for a delicate surgical procedure that utilized both Wizarding and Muggle medical techniques. Because he would have to remove the foreign bodies from a critical region of Mr Potter's body, the Healer would be using a high-powered light microscope which was lit using an oil lamp with a specialized lens. This lens was reminiscent of those used in Nineteenth- and Twentieth- Century lighthouse lamps and would focus and magnify the feeble light source many times over until it was nearly as bright as sunlight. Once the light source was focused on Mr Potter's body, the Healer would look through the microscope as he used his wand to first locate and then extract each of the sixteen objects embedded in his patient's spine and thoracic cavity.
But before he could begin, he needed to view the films he'd brought with him from The Groves. He quickly washed his hands and then crossed the room to the back-lit glass box holding the transparent images. He felt fairly confident that he could extract the metal objects from the lumbar area of Mr Potter's spine without causing much additional damage. The tricky one was the object in the lung; its point was precariously close to the heart and Healer Stilwell was very apprehensive of what might happen if the object actually touched it. Strangely, although the object had wormed its way through the right lung, it had not collapsed it. That meant the object was protected by spells meant to keep the patient breathing normally and unaware of the damage being done. It also meant that somehow, the object was self-propelled and if there were any barbs or projections keeping the object in place, pulling it out the way it had come would cause serious damage to the lung. The more he stared at the films of Mr Potter's heart and lungs, the more convinced he became that he needed to Summon the object all the way through the lung and catch it just before it pierced the heart. He would only have one chance to catch the thing and if he missed, Harry Potter would be dead.
The surgery began with Mr Potter laying face down on the table with his back exposed. Using his wand, Healer Stilwell made his incision and exposed the lumbar area of the spine. As soon as the skin and muscles parted, he could see the tiny metal objects protruding from between the bones and nerves. He looked through the microscope and began to gently tease the first object from its place. When it slid out easily, Healer Stilwell sighed in relief and pulled away from his patient to look at what he had extracted.
About an inch long, the object looked like an ordinary sewing needle until he examined its tip. The light from his wand revealed a miniscule hole just above the point and Healer Stilwell was horrified when a tiny dot of green liquid dripped out and landed in the bottom of the collection dish. The needle was hollow and most likely contained a potion of some sort! Was this the source of the pain? he wondered.
Shaken, he drew in a calming breath and went back to work, assisted by Senior Medi-witch Johnson. The next nine needles were identical to the first and they all dripped various coloured potions when they were dropped into the dish.
The last five proved much harder to extract. They were somewhat larger in circumference, a little longer than the hollow needles, and seemed to be anchored in the spinal cord itself. Only a Widening Spell, carefully placed on the hole surrounding each needle, allowed him to extract them without damaging the surrounding tissue. When at last he pulled the final needle free, he took the time to magically close the incision he had made before he gave in to his curiosity.
These needles were much heavier than the first batch he'd extracted. One was bent nearly in half, so he held it under the microscope light. The needle appeared to be hollow and contained a black powdery substance. He hoped none of this had leaked into the spinal fluid, because infection would be a big risk if it had.
"Sir, the patient is ready for the second procedure," the medi-witch announced, pulling the Healer away from his inspection.
"Thank you. Please seal the collection dishes and send them to Auror Ronald Weasley for admittance as evidence in his investigation," he instructed.
"Yes, sir," said the attendant as Healer Stilwell adjusted the lights and opened an incision in Mr Potter's chest. He hated to do it, but his course of action required the breaking of four of his patient's ribs in two places and extracting the bones to expose the lung and heart. He worked quickly and carefully, putting the bones in a tray filled with a special potion to keep them alive and at body temperature. Then, glancing at the images on the light box, he cast a shield spell around the heart and slowly Summoned the sword-like object from within the lung. It slid out easily and the Healer sighed in relief. The procedure was almost done.
"Auxiliary wand," Healer Stilwell requested without taking his eyes from the microscope's eyepiece. He held out his left hand and a moment later the instrument was placed in his palm. Now came the hard part, extracting the metal object completely. Using his auxiliary wand, he cast a slowly-advancing Summoning Spell while simultaneously cauterizing the wound with his original wand. His hands shook slightly with the effort of maintaining both spells and he wondered whether he should stop for a moment. He decided against it, preferring to slow down and finish the job before resting. Suddenly, one of the barbs near the tail end of the object began to lengthen, catching on the surrounding tissue. Healer Stilwell stopped his Cauterizing Spell and tried to widen the hole around the sword-like object. This only made the object unstable and before he could cast another spell, the object tipped forward, touched the shield around the heart and exploded! To his horror, Harry Potter's heart stopped beating as bits of metal, lung tissue and blood began filling the cavity.
"Quick! Attendant Petrovich! Find a magnet!" he barked. "Muggle instruments drawer! Now!" He dared not use a Metal Summoning Charm because the fragments could tear the delicate tissue further. A magnet is best, he thought as he surveyed the damage the explosion had done. He heard Attendant Petrovich leave the room as he pointed his wand at the heart and attempted to restart it magically. I must not let Harry Potter die! Not like this, surrounded by Healers and without his family members! The heart jumped twice and lay still. He sent another spell at the heart, but the heart still would not start.
"Sir, the shield spell," his medi-witch whispered timorously.
"Thank you," Healer Stilwell said gratefully. He cast a special Revealing Spell and sighed in relief. Remarkably, the shield was still intact and in place, even after the violent assault from the explosion. He removed the shield and cast his spell a third time. The heart jumped, shuddered a bit and began pumping again.
An attendant reached up and mopped Healer Stilwell's brow. "Let's get this cleaned up, sir," she said as the second Healer returned with the requested magnet.
"Aim the magnet where I point with my wand," he directed as he began siphoning the blood out of the heart cavity.
It was tedious work to locate all the metal fragments that were embedded in the lung tissue and the bloody cavity surrounding the heart, but the magnet gathered them all. Each fragment was then placed in a collection dish and when Healer Stilwell was satisfied that no more were to be found, he repaired the object, personally sealed it in an evidence bag, labelled the bag, and Banished it to Ron Weasley's desk.
He was tired now that the stressful operations were nearly over. It took only a few moments with the help of the medi-witches to repair the damaged lung, clean the heart cavity completely and reassemble Mr Potter's ribs. Then, using a combination of Dittany and healing spells, he closed the incision and erased the last traces of scar tissue. There would be no trace of the operation whatsoever, except some soreness and loss of energy for a day or two.
"Do not send the patient upstairs to the morgue yet," he instructed the medi-witches and attendants. "He must be guarded by the Aurors. There is one outside the theatre. Please instruct him to come inside without crossing the sterile shield line. Then all except Medi-witch Johnson may leave the ante-room. We can clean up later."
The others scurried away and a moment later, a wizard dressed in Auror's robes came to stand just inside the door.
"I've been told the operation is finished," the wizard stated after he answered questions about his identity.
"Yes, please guard the door," Healer Stilwell directed. "I have placed monitoring spells on my patient, which will let me know if he needs me. Senior Medi-witch Johnson will also be with him. I'll be talking to the family and then we will take him back to the recovery room."
"Very good, sir," the Auror, whose name tag read T. Boot, said. "Shall I wait inside or out?"
"Outside the room is preferred," Healer Stilwell said. He led the Auror from the room and then sealed the door before taking the stairs up to the tiny waiting room where Mrs Potter and her supporters waited.
"Brodie, go upstairs and see if the forensics team has arrived," Ron yelled from the bottom of the pit. The hour he'd given the team to get here was up and someone needed to unseal the front door to let them in.
He heard Brodie tell Susan, "I'll be right back."
"Want me to go with you to seal the door again?" she asked.
"No, that won't be necessary. See you in a bit."
He waited until he heard Brodie's footsteps in the house above before going back to searching the second pit for more evidence. He had just finished his work and cancelled his detection spells when Susan called his name. He Apparated out of the pit and found her standing in front of the wardrobe.
"What did you find?" Ron asked as he tucked his notebook in his pocket and Banished his evidence bags to Evidence.
"Look at this!" she exclaimed, pointing to the contents of the wardrobe. "Most of these cauldrons still have potions in them. They're covered in preservative and protection spells, some of which I guarantee will be Dark and nasty."
Ron walked over to the wardrobe to have a better look. He never had the chance, though. The silence of the basement was suddenly broken by Brodie's strangled yell, "The forensics team… They're all dead!"
Ginny rose to her feet at the sound of Healers Stilwell's footsteps.
"How is Harry?" she asked breathlessly.
"The extraction of the metal fragments went fairly well. It will probably be a few days before we see any improvement, though," Healer Stilwell told her. "The spinal cord was swollen and the extraction process didn't help."
She sagged in relief against Hermione, who stood next to her. "And the other?" she enquired almost fearfully.
"Your husband's heart stopped when the object exploded." Ginny's hands flew to her mouth as she uttered soft cry.
Hermione put her arm around Ginny's shoulders. "What made it explode?" she Hermione demanded.
"The object touched the Shield Spell I was using to protect the heart. It took a few moments before I was able to restart his heart after the explosion; however, his heart is beating strongly again and there seems to be no permanent damage done to the lung," Harry's Healer said. "Assuming there are no complications, he'll be moved to the recovery room shortly."
"Who is with Harry now?" Ginny demanded.
"The Auror's badge read 'T. Boot'," said Healer Stilwell.
"I know him," Ginny said, relaxing a bit. "He's a good friend of ours. When are you leaving?"
"I need to confer with the Senior Medi-witch about Mr Potter's readiness for travel, and if he's stable enough we can be on our way," the Healer said. He leaned in and nearly whispered, "I'll meet you in the morgue shortly."
"Fair enough," Hermione agreed. Ginny shook hands with Healer Stilwell and allowed Hermione to lead her back towards her parents.
"Harry's going to be all right," she reported, leaving out the part about Harry nearly dying. Hermione poked her in the ribs. Ginny ignored her sister-in-law and leaned in to whisper her next bit of information. "We're taking him back to the facility to recover. It's a safer place. Will you meet us there?" she asked her parents.
"Of course, dear," her mother said, giving her a quick hug. "Now go see to your husband and don't worry about us."
"I'll see you soon," Ginny said. She ran lightly down the stairs, eager to be with Harry.
At Brodie's announcement, a surge of guilt like no other he'd ever experienced coursed through Ron's body. Thinking the clearing safe, he'd called the forensics team to come help with his investigation, just like he had in fifty other cases. But it had not been safe, and now, it seemed, he was responsible for four deaths that shouldn't have occurred. With his heart in his throat, he stepped back from the potions wardrobe and turned to Susan.
Taking a deep, calming breath, he instructed, "We'll have to deal with this later. It appears we're not as safe here as I thought and it's up to the three of us to investigate what happened to the forensics team."
"I agree, Ron." Susan closed the wardrobe door and took off her gloves. She stowed them in her bag, stored in a protective sack, just in case they were contaminated, Ron knew. She put her notebook away and shouldered her bag. "I'm ready."
They Apparated into the kitchen to find it deserted, so they walked through the sitting room to the entrance. Brodie sat on the stairs, his head in his hands.
Ron went over to him and laid a hand on his shoulder. "You going to be all right?" he asked.
Brodie shook his head. His face was marked with tear streaks and it was obvious he had been crying. "One of the dead is my girlfriend," he choked out.
Oh, Merlin! This is getting worse and worse! Ron thought with a renewed sense of guilt. "I'm sorry, Brodie," he said, "but we need to go out and find anything we can about how they died."
Brodie stood up slowly and Susan came over and let him lean on her for support as Ron cancelled the seal on the entrance door. When they were all out on the porch, he said to Brodie, "I really hate to ask you to do this, mate, but you're going to have to show us where the bodies are."
The younger Auror nodded woodenly and led Ron and Susan into the woods, almost to the exact spot where the three of them had landed just hours ago. The four bodies lay crumpled amongst the trees, their equipment spilled from two of their white cases, which had opened when impacted by their carrier's bodies.
Brodie immediately strode over to one of the witches, a beautiful blonde, whose expression was peaceful and business-like. He reached out to touch her and Ron felt more guilt stab at him.
"Not yet, Brodie," he cautioned gently. "We can't disturb the evidence and if we so much as close an eyelid, what we collect might be erroneous."
As he had earlier, the young Auror stepped back, not bothering to hide his grief, as more tears coursed down his cheeks. "Let's get this over with so I can take her body back to her family," he said.
The three of them stood gazing at the bodies, looking for clues.
"What was your girlfriend's name," Susan asked in a hushed tone.
"Emily. Emily Dawson," Brodie said with a visible effort. "The other witch is Crystal Thompson. The two wizards are Noah Wallace and Robert Dryden. Dryden was the head of the team." He pointed to the special insignia on the wizard's robes.
Susan pointed at Emily and Dryden. "I think they died first. The other two have their wands drawn, but Emily and Dryden don't," she remarked. She cast a sympathetic look in Brodie's direction. He didn't notice since he was staring at Emily's lifeless body.
Ron looked closer at the victims. "Their faces are relaxed and alert, but not wary or defensive, as if they weren't expecting to die," he muttered.
"So you're saying Emily died first?" Brodie asked, sounding hopeful.
"Most likely she never knew what hit her. We'll know in a moment when we start combing the underbrush for clues," Ron remarked. "What about the other two?"
Susan put on a new pair of gloves and knelt by the wizard identified as Noah Wallace. His wand was out and his arm fully extended. "I'm guessing Auror Wallace died while trying to protect Auror Thompson. Look at their expressions," she instructed. "They might have seen their killer or killers and definitely watched Aurors Dawson and Dryden die." She waved her gloved hand at the horror-stricken, determined faces with their wide-open eyes.
"In which direction do you think the killer was hiding?" Brodie asked.
Ron exchanged a glance at Susan. She pointed farther into the woods. "I concur," he said, beginning to walk in the direction she'd pointed, looking for clues. He picked a spot several paces from the circle of bodies and began pacing a small circular area. "The killer was probably spying on the house," he said as he looked for broken branches, trampled underbrush or even footprints.
"The killer couldn't get in because of the enchantments we left on the house," offered Susan as she began searching in a small area a little farther into the woods, "so I'm guessing he or she took revenge on the group nearest at hand."
"That's completely sick, but it makes sense," agreed Brodie. He stood up and fumbled with the zip of the jacket he wore over his Auror's robes. "I'm going to get some pictures of the scene. I need to do something to help us understand what happened or I'll be of no use to anyone."
Ron looked up from his clue search. "Thank you, Auror Chambers," he said, using Brodie's title to give the young wizard some verbal support and to help him focus. "When you're done, please Apparate back to the Auror Office and go directly to the Deputy Director. Only Robards and Dryden know, erm, knew the location of the house besides the investigative team. He needs to know about this and you need to be debriefed." He smiled in sympathy at Brodie's look of disgust at the prospect of being debriefed by Randolph Robards, even if the Assistant Head Auror was the former Head Auror's son.
Harry should be the one to debrief him, Ron thought sadly. It really is Harry's investigation still… But with Harry as ill as he was, the responsibility would fall to Robards, who usually demoralized even the best Aurors with his harsh method of questioning that often reminded Ron of techniques used just after the war on escaped Death Eaters. "You know," he added, "both Susan and I will be questioned, too. You're just lucky enough to get Robards when the news is fresh."
Brodie took a few pictures of Auror Wallace. He looked up and rejoined, "Ah, so I'm the lucky one to be debriefed by a wide-awake Deputy Director. Gee, thanks."
"He'll be grouchier later in the day," Susan added pessimistically. There was a slight pause while both wizards went back to work. Then, Ron heard her call, "Hey Ron, Brodie! I think I've found something."
Ron and Brodie hastened to where she stood behind some bushes.
"The killer stood here," she said, pointing to several quarter-inch deep shoe prints in the soft earth.
Brodie clicked his camera, recording the prints. Ron waited until he was done and then waved his wand over them. The detector spells began beeping wildly, indicating recent Dark magic had been performed less than an hour ago in the area and that the spells were most likely Unforgivable Curses. He silenced the charms.
"We need a casting of the prints, a permanent record of the detector spells' results, and any other data or evidence available to us," Ron stated. Brodie and Susan set to work and Ron paced slowly about the small area, carefully avoiding the space the others were working. At length, he came to a stop several paces behind the prints and faced the direction the toes of the shoes were pointing. The bodies were positioned exactly as he, Susan and Brodie had speculated for the timing of the deaths: Dawson, Dryden, Wallace and finally Thompson. Ron stared at the bodies, thinking… The killings don't look premeditated, but without other clues or a full confession, they wouldn't make much progress in solving this case…
Ron fought the guilt that threatened to choke him as Brodie stood up and addressed him, "Auror Weasley, I've finished. I will be leaving shortly. Any further instructions?"
Ron walked over to him and laid a hand gently on the young wizard's shoulder. "I'm very sorry about this, Brodie," he said. "Is there anything I can do for you?"
Brodie cracked a small smile. "Send Susan to be debriefed first?" he asked.
"Sorry about that, mate, but I can't. Good luck with Robards. I hope he'll go easy on you," said Ron seriously. The younger wizard sighed sadly, his eyes closed, his head bowed. When he looked up again the pain of his personal loss was visible and went straight to Ron's heart. "Send me a message if you need someone to talk to. I know a couple of all-night pubs where we can get a secluded table, a couple of pints and the privacy some of the more popular places don't provide."
A tear ran slowly down Brodie's cheek and he swiped at it. "Thanks," he sniffed as Susan came over and gave him a hug.
"We'll take good care of Emily's team," she promised as she pulled away.
Brodie glanced one last time at his girlfriend before walking a few paces towards the house and Disapparating away.
When he'd gone, Susan touched Ron's elbow. "This is not your fault, Ron. You need to remember that, no matter how horribly Robards twists things later," she said, reminding him of all the times he'd told Harry the same thing over the years.
"Thanks, Susan. I needed that," Ron admitted, trying to be stronger than he felt. "All right, let's do one last visual sweep, take a few more pictures of each victim and then get the bodies to the morgue before going to see Robards."
"You're welcome, Ron," she said. Then, she knelt and pulled a camera from her bag. "I'll take the photos. I have four Portkeys in here but they're all destined to go to triage at St Mungo's."
"I have that covered, Susan," Ron said as she began taking the requested photos. He charmed four stones into appropriately-destined Portkeys before completing the visual sweep and carefully marking the area with a perimeter spell. Then he walked closer to the house and reinforced the spells the Aurors usually cast on crime scenes. By the time he returned to the murder scene, Susan was done with the camera and was just finishing securing the area. She waited until Ron was inside her perimeter before casting the last spell. Then, using the Portkeys Ron had made, they took the bodies and their equipment to the morgue.
Word filtered up through the floors that Harry Potter was once again in St Mungo's hospital. The news disturbed the witch greatly, but she couldn't do anything about it, not now, at least. Perhaps a little later, after Potter was assigned to a ward, she would have access to him again… She hoped Stilwell would not send him back to the infernal recovery facility out in the country. That would complicate the plan no end!
Stilwell—the meddling wanker—made her skin crawl at the thought of his smarmy deference to his patients. Sure, he'd worked some minor miracles on his patients right after the war, miracles that had used the potions and charms she had developed! Stilwell had taken all the credit, when half of it was hers! He'd taken all the reward money, he'd given interview after interview and not once had he mentioned her. He would pay when Harry Potter died and the truth of how he died—because of his arrogance and negligence—came out in the Prophet.
The woman went back to work, back to the decision on how to long she needed to lay low before she tested her newest potions on her next victim.
Her entire body was shaking with suppressed rage as she searched the tiny desk in Harry's room for a quill and couldn't find one. There was plenty of parchment and envelopes, but not a quill in sight and sometime today, in all the rush and hubbub of St Mungo's, the self-inking quill she always kept in her handbag had finally given up and returned to being an ordinary quill. At the moment, she was so angry she couldn't remember the spell for reactivating the Self-inking charm.
A biro suddenly appeared in front of her and Ginny looked up to see Hermione holding the Muggle writing implement out for her to take.
"Use this, Ginny. It's quicker than searching for a non-existent quill," her friend said quietly.
As Ginny took the pen, some of her anger melted: the sheer exhaustion of staying awake for nearly two days was finally taking over, but underneath it was a burning desire to hex someone for the way Harry's case and life had become so terribly botched. "Thanks, Hermione," she said, finally looking up. "And thank you for taking the day off to be with me through all of this."
Hermione opened her arms, inviting Ginny into a hug. She went gratefully, and the two women held each other tightly as they both finally allowed themselves to shed tears of relief.
"It's almost over," Hermione said as they turned in unison to look over at Harry. He was once again in a potion-induced coma, although after the surgery, he'd been awake for a brief period. "Harry's going to get better now. You'll see."
"I know he will, he already is," Ginny said, pulling back. "Once the poison stopped leaking into his spinal fluid, the feeling began coming back into his legs." She sighed. "It's just going to take time to see how much permanent damage has been done."
"You're right, but Harry is going to get better."
"But he'll never be completely well. Too much time has passed, too many nerves have been damaged… It makes me so frustrated that someone would deliberately maim another human being, take away a part of their identity." Her voice had risen far too much and Harry shifted at Ginny's strident tone.
Hermione touched Ginny's elbow and the two walked out of the room to continue their conversation. They left the door open so they could watch Harry and once they were in the corridor, Hermione cast a few charms to give them privacy.
"Why, Hermione? Why would someone want to do such a terrible thing?" Ginny cried angrily, voicing the question that had been tumbling about in her head the entire time Harry had been in surgery. "What do they gain from crippling people senselessly like this?"
"Only the ones who did it can tell us that," Hermione said bleakly. She paused, then said, "I hope Ron finds out who it is soon so I can hex them from here to kingdom come."
Ginny harrumphed. "You'll be first in line behind me," she said. "We'll give Ron and Harry what's left."
"That won't be much," Hermione said. "Will you be all right now?"
"Yeah, I will. James, Albus and Lily need to know about this. I'll go home to bed after I send the owl," Ginny promised.
Hermione hugged her one last time, then cancelled her charms. "See you tomorrow, then. Good night."
As her friend's footsteps receded down the quiet corridor towards the facility entrance, Ginny entered Harry's room, took up the biro and began to write.
It's been an eventful and very scary day since we almost lost your father early this morning. However, I'm glad to say that due to the extraordinary efforts of Healer Stilwell and a team of dedicated Healers, your dad will recover much more thoroughly than we thought possible. I'm sorry, but I can't say more in a letter. As both your dad and your Uncle Ron would tell us, this is now an open investigation and if word of certain things were to leak out, the wrong people might hear… and we don't want that to happen.
Tomorrow, I will write to Headmaster Wolcott to ask if it would be possible for the three of you to come home for the weekend. Please answer this letter to tell me whether your school activities will permit your coming home. Dad and I will understand if Quidditch or time in the library prevents you from spending the weekend with us.
Hugs and kisses,
He Disillusioned himself as he left the flower garden. His Mentor had sent an owl with a note ordering him to cast his spells one last time on Potter and he relished the opportunity to do so again so soon. Casting the spell was almost as thrilling as watching her experiment on their victims; his reaction was always quite physical and he always needed the services of a scarlet woman after he'd reported Potter's response to his "treatment". Shaking himself from these delicious thoughts, he crossed the small expanse of lawn to the security of the bushes outside Potter's window.
The wizard cast his spell and waited impatiently for Potter to start screaming. Nothing happened: Potter kept his eyes closed and remained still. Alarmed by the victim's non-reaction to the spell, the wizard cast the modified spell he'd used to prolong the pain. Still no reaction.
This is not good. She will not be pleased, he thought as he tried a third time. When Potter remained unresponsive, the wizard Disapparated without first moving to the safety of the woods on the other side of the flower garden.
He reappeared at the designated location moments before his Mentor did and had only just removed the Disillusionment Spell when she approached his hiding place.
"Compromised," the wizard reported.
"I thought as much," she growled, raising her wand. "Crucio!"
The spell caught him unaware; he fell to the pavement, revelling in the delicious pain he hadn't felt for many years. When the curse was lifted, he raised his eyes to his Mentor and gasped, "Thank you, Mistress."
Her response was an angry grunt. She Disapparated without saying a word.
0625 hours, Tuesday, 3 November 2020
Harry had been back in his room at The Groves for over an hour. He wasn't due to be awakened or allowed to wake naturally for several more hours, but from the satisfied looks on Healer Stilwell's, the Matron's and Silvia Redmond's faces, his operations, even with the debacle of the explosion, seemed to have been successful. Ginny had been surprised when Silvia had stopped by to look in on Harry.
"I heard Harry was going under the wand when I arrived this morning," Silvia said in answer to Ginny's unspoken question. "I sincerely hope the operation will be successful, even if he doesn't have a complete recovery."
Ginny raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean?" she asked.
Silvia leaned against the small desk. "I'll be frank with you, Ginny. If those needles were positioned where I think they were, and if the potions they were leaking turn out to be substances detrimental to nerve tissue, Harry may have suffered permanent damage. The needles were most likely in his body for a week, so they had plenty of time to disrupt the signals going to and from his brain and extremities. I'm hoping that with time and patience, your husband can walk out of here using ring crutches. He'll probably have to use those for the rest of his life."
Ginny closed her eyes and inhaled a shaky breath: she wouldn't get angry, not in Harry's room. Why didn't Healer Stilwell tell me this? she wondered to herself. "Thanks for the warning, Silvia. I was hoping for a complete recovery," she admitted aloud.
"I know you were," Silvia commiserated, "but nerve tissue is some of the most delicate tissue in the body and once a nerve is severed, it won't regenerate completely, not even with the most powerful nerve restorative potions developed since the war. I think Harry's going to have to accept a life of limited mobility."
"Will he be able to fly again?" Ginny asked hopefully. "The one thing Harry loves to do for recreation with our children is fly. He'll be crushed if he can't at least get up on a broom every once in a while."
Silvia sighed. "It's too early to tell, Ginny." She looked at her watch. "I'm sorry, but I have to leave. I have a patient in five minutes and I need to get ready for her."
Ginny nodded. "Thanks for stopping by."
"I'll be by later to check on Harry, Ginny. See you soon," Silvia said as Ginny answered despondently, "Sure, see you soon."
After Silvia left, Ginny grabbed her notebook and quill and began making a list of all the things that had gone wrong with Harry's quality of life since the beginning of the mission that had started it all. The list was quite long and the longer she looked at it, the angrier she became. Finally, she couldn't stand it any longer. She picked up her list and her handbag and left Harry's room.
In no time, she had her head thrust into the communications fireplace and was facing Harry's, no Randolph Robard's, rather startled secretary.
"Patricia, I am calling a meeting on Harry's behalf in one hour," Ginny stated. "If Deputy Director Robards knows what's good for him and his department, he will come to Healer Stilwell's office at The Groves in Ottery-St Catchpole. Otherwise, I will be going directly to the Minister for Magic with my complaint."
Patricia, who had never seen Ginny when she was angry, quickly scribbled a note on an inter-office memo. When she finished, the little piece of purple parchment folded itself and took wing, zooming off down the corridor. "I will see that Randolph makes your meeting," she said.
Ginny thanked her and placed a call to the Director of St Mungo's, Madam Felicity Nigel. When Madam Nigel's secretary refused to even give the Director Ginny's message, she didn't hesitate to use all of her and Harry's considerable influence to coerce the maddeningly stubborn witch into seeing that the Director appeared at the meeting.
Finally satisfied that everyone was coming, Ginny allowed herself to relax for a few minutes before going up to Healer Stilwell's office a little early… because he didn't know she or the others were coming.
At precisely nine o'clock, Ginny knocked on his door and then entered without being asked in. The Healer was at his desk, looking tired and rumpled, but at the moment, Ginny didn't care.
"Mrs Potter, what brings you here?" he asked as he closed the file he was writing in.
Ginny glared at the Healer as she said, "Sir, I am unsatisfied with my husband's care. Therefore, I have called a meeting of people important to his case. This office seems to be the most neutral of the possibilities, other than my home, and since I have not been there in nearly ten days, I am formally requesting that I be allowed to hold it here."
Healer Stilwell was about to reply when his fireplace flared and discharged Randolph Robards and Madam Nigel in quick succession. A moment later, Humphrey Webber, the Director of The Groves walked through the door followed by a white-aproned kitchen worker bearing a tea service. The worker deposited the tray on a small table surrounded by three chairs and a sofa and then scurried away.
Ginny waited until everyone was seated with a cup of tea and then addressed her guests. "Thank you for coming. I have called this meeting because I feel there have been some egregious mistakes in the handling of my husband's case." She consulted her notes as her guests watched her in stony silence. "I shall start with St Mungo's, Madam Nigel.
"I realize the Accidents and Emergency department is always busy, especially at night. However, according to my sources, for the last six months the A and E has been seriously understaffed and overworked. That was the case on the night my husband was brought in. Again, my sources tell me that he was left unattended numerous times because of the need to subdue the unruly crowd that had been brought in prior to my husband's arrival."
At this, both Healer Stilwell and Director Nigel responded, "How did you find out about that?" and "That's confidential information!"
Ginny scowled angrily at them. "I'm a professional reporter working for a major Wizarding newspaper," she snapped. "It is my job to learn things others don't want the public to know about. I've had over a week to talk to people and let me tell you, the Healers and attendants are very discouraged with their working conditions. The article I've written reflects that attitude and if my editor chooses to print it, your hospital and its staffing problems will be front page news!"
Madam Nigel hissed, "You wouldn't dare."
"Oh, yes, I would," Ginny retorted. "The Wizarding public relies on St Mungo's for quality care and I don't call leaving a critically wounded patient unattended in an examining room numerous times quality care!"
"Then what would you call it?"
"I'm calling it wrongful neglect and dereliction of duty!"
"I see," Madam Nigel said stiffly. "And I suppose you know that as Healer-in-Charge of one of the wards, Healer Stilwell has already disciplined the two A and E Healers involved."
Ginny shook her head. "I was unaware that disciplinary measures have been instated." She turned to Healer Stilwell. "When was this matter taken care of?" she asked pointedly.
Healer Stilwell had the grace to look sheepish. "This morning about half past twelve."
"Ah, so that was where you were, then," Ginny commented angrily. "I wondered." She took a steadying breath before continuing, her voice rising in tone and pitch with each sentence, "Harry suffered horribly last night. He could hardly breathe, his muscles twitched uncontrollably, he screamed for mercy! The one time the attendants subdued the pain all we could understand as a description of what he was feeling was something about the Cruciatus Curse. We needed you, Healer Stilwell, and YOU IGNORED OUR SUMMONSES!"
Healer Stilwell recoiled as she pointed an accusatory finger at him. "YOU are just as culpable of wrongful neglect and dereliction of duty to your patients as Madam Nigel is with her hospital! If you weren't the best Healer for cases like Harry's in England and Scotland, I'd ship him off to the Continent or America so quick, your head would spin!" she exclaimed, knowing that she needed to get control of herself if the meeting were to continue.
"Mrs. Potter," Healer Stilwell began quietly, "I thank you for your confidence in my work, such as it is. However, I have been working with erroneous information pertaining to your husband's case for over a week. Otherwise, I would have operated much sooner than I did."
"That doesn't excuse you from not answering your mobile," Ginny snapped. She consulted her notes as the Healer squirmed in his chair.
Madam Nigel cleared her throat. "Have you turned in the article to your editor, Mrs Potter?" she asked, sounding hopeful.
Ginny eyed her suspiciously. "Not yet. I was going to turn it in this afternoon. Why do you ask?"
"I would like to look at it. Perhaps, if you've suggested ways the hospital can better serve its patients, I can implement some right away and take the others to the Board of Governors," she explained.
Ginny couldn't refute the witch's reasoning, so she pulled out two copies of the article she'd written and handed one each to Madam Nigel and Healer Stilwell. The room was silent while they quickly skimmed the parchment.
Healer Stilwell finished first and slowly rolled up the article before addressing Madam Nigel. "Madam, is there money in the budget to cover everything Mrs Potter is suggesting?"
Madam Nigel shook her head. "No, there isn't, but that doesn't mean there won't be in a year's time," she answered. She looked at Ginny. "Mrs Potter, of the items you cover in the article, which do you think are most pressing?"
Ginny consulted her notes. "Understaffing of the A and E for certain as well as the need for more Healers' assistants in the various wards," she replied. She looked at Healer Stilwell. "You said you took care of the neglectful Healers. How did you discipline them?"
"They've been relieved of their positions until an investigation of the matter is completed and they will be appearing before the disciplinary board," he replied.
"That's no solution," Ginny protested. "The Accidents and Emergency Department is already understaffed! You just took two more Healers out of a department that needs more Healers on duty, not fewer!"
"What will you have me do? Reinstate them to harm other patients?" he asked, sounding frustrated.
Ginny looked at him thoughtfully. Then, she said, "Do you really believe the two Healers intended to harm my husband? Did they purposely cast spells that would make him sicker? Did they insert the needles into his back or were they working in conditions so stressful that it was inevitable that at some point or other they unintentionally left my husband completely unattended?"
Madam Nigel looked at Healer Stilwell. "What she says is true. The conditions in the A and E need to change and they won't if we keep reducing the numbers of qualified Healers through dismissal. Please reinstate the Healers O'Donnell and Sheridan, Payton. They must still come before the Review Board, but our patients will suffer if there are too few Healers to care for them," she ordered.
"Very well," agreed Healer Stilwell. He consulted the article before adding, "Could we also add either another medi-witch or another assistant to each of the wards? According to her article, Mrs Potter has talked to some of the workers on other floors and reports that every department is shorthanded."
"I would have to meet with the Board first on that issue, but you have my permission to add one more person to each shift immediately," Madam Nigel told Healer Stilwell. He murmured his thanks and made a note on a piece of parchment which he put in his pocket.
Madam Nigel now turned to Ginny. "You're asking St Mungo's to make quite a few changes, my dear. I realize they are needed and necessary, but if our budget cannot sustain them over time, would you be willing to help us?"
Ginny cocked her head, wondering what the hospital director had in mind. "What sorts of things would I be doing?" she asked warily.
"You were a famous Chaser not so long ago, Mrs Potter, and your readers still know who you are because of your job at the Prophet," Madam Nigel said thoughtfully. "Would you be willing to either sit on the organizing committee or arrange for personal appearances at fundraising galas which would raise the additional funds needed to subsidize the necessary additions to the healing staff?"
"I could do that as long as I have control over whom to ask to come," Ginny agreed. When Madam Nigel smiled, she asked, "Doesn't the Ministry provide all the gold St Mungo's needs to run efficiently?"
"The Ministry gives us a set budget, Mrs Potter," Madam Nigel explained with a frown. "What they give us isn't enough, so every year we organize at least two fund raiser galas to collect the necessary Galleons and rely on endowments from private citizens and businesses to make up the deficit."
"I see," Ginny murmured, thinking about something Harry had said years ago about overhearing Lucius Malfoy bragging to someone about his huge monetary gift to St Mungo's. She hadn't understood what that meant at the time, but now she did. "And if I don't help with the fundraising?" she hedged.
"Conditions will revert to their current levels," Madam Nigel said.
"Then I accept," Ginny stated, deciding the compromise was acceptable. Most likely, Harry would be back at the hospital for check-ups next year and she'd be able to do some checking herself. "And you'll consult with the Board of Governors about making the changes permanent?"
"I will, Mrs Potter. And thank you for agreeing to help the hospital," Madam Nigel said. "I'll have the fundraising chairwitch contact you in January when she begins planning the year's galas."
Ginny nodded, feeling somewhat satisfied that some of her concerns were going to be met, and then looked over at Mr Weber. "You need better security for this facility," she began. "Magically, this facility is unprotected. You need perimeter spells, Dark magic detectors, and guard dogs as well as a wall around the facility. Did you know that someone stood outside my husband's window at least twice in the last two days?"
When Director Weber shook his head, Ginny pulled a Muggle plastic bag from her handbag and handed it to him. Inside was a small vial. However, it was Robards who asked pointedly, "Mrs Potter, where did you get this?"
"I found it in the bushes outside Harry's room along with two sets of boot prints, made by two different sets of boots, both the same size. I also found traces of Dark magic lingering in the area," she replied to the astonished Auror.
"How did you know to look and, more importantly, when did you look?" Robards pressed.
"Harry's only clue was the Cruciatus Curse and how it feels when it's first applied," Ginny answered. "I took a few moments this morning to follow up on his comment about the onset of a Dark spell. It was a good thing I did, because the rain would have washed all the evidence away." She turned towards the small, rain-splattered window that let a bit of wintry light into the office.
Robards turned to face Director Weber. "You, sir, definitely have security problems. If I go down there and find that Mrs Potter is correct, not only will you have her on your case, you will have the Ministry of Magic hounding you. Do you know who your patient is?" When Director Weber nodded, he asked, "Then why didn't you see fit to protect your patient from outside terrorism? You know he's the head of our Inspection Division, so why not protect him from anyone who means to harm him when he is at his most vulnerable?"
"The room he's in has the highest level of non-magic security without putting bars on the windows and a metal detector outside the door," Director Weber protested defensively.
"Muggle security can't stop spells nor can it detect invisible people entering or exiting a patient's room, sir. Now I suggest you and I take a quick trip to the bushes outside Mr Potter's room." Mr Robards took Director Weber's arm and Apparated the two of them away only to come back a few minutes later, Robards looking furious while Director Weber's face held an expression of stunned incredulity.
Robards addressed Ginny, "You were correct, Mrs Potter, and I have cast the security charms the Aurors use for protecting the Minister for Magic."
Ginny answered, "Thank you, but what of your efforts to find who hurt Harry?"
"I'm sorry, Mrs Potter, but I can't divulge information pertaining to an on-going investigation. I assure you that the Aurors are working on the case."
His non-answer didn't satisfy Ginny's growing frustration. Typical, she muttered to herself, I seem to be getting nowhere fast. She turned to Director Weber and Madam Nigel, although she included Healer Stilwell in her questions.
"Now that my husband has been operated on, how is his course of treatment going to change? I also want to know how long he is going to be disabled and whether he can expect full recovery."
The three medical personnel looked at each other uncomfortably. Finally, Healer Stilwell broke the brief silence. "Mrs Potter, I'm sorry, but Harry's course of treatment will remain as it was first outlined at St Mungo's. He is a critically ill paraplegic who needs to learn how to cope with his challenges for the rest of his life. Now, if you'll excuse us, I have patients to attend to and Mr Weber and Madam Nigel have their institutions to run." His tone changed to that of a parent addressing a recalcitrant child, "I suggest you go back to your husband's bedside and wait for him to wake."
At his dismissal, Ginny finally lost control, feeling that all her concerns had been for naught. With tears pouring down her face, she screamed, "YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND, DO YOU? MY HUSBAND IS SENTENCED TO A LIFE FILLED WITH PERMANENT PAIN AND LOSS OF CONTROL OVER HIS LEGS AND NO FEELING IN HIS LOWER BODY AND YOU'RE DISMISSING HIM AS IF NOTHING CAN BE DONE TO CHANGE IT! HOW CAN YOU STAND THERE AND TELL ME HE WILL BE CHAINED TO A FLOATING CHAIR FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE BECAUSE HE WASN'T GIVEN THE PROTECTION AND CARE HE WAS ENTITLED TO THE NIGHT OF HIS ACCIDENT? I WANT ANSWERS TO WHY HE'LL NEVER BE WHOLE AND I WANT THE ONES RESPONSIBLE FOUND AND PROSECUTED! AND I WANT IT DONE YESTERDAY!"
As her four guests sat in stunned silence, Ginny crumpled into her chair and gave in to all the uncertainty, frustration and mental anguish she had been holding inside. She cried for Harry. She cried for her children. She cried for the members of Harry's Auror team, even if she didn't know why right now, although she felt she should. She cried for herself, too, and the distance she'd been feeling from Harry since the accident. She even cried for the four frustrated people sitting with her, but most of all, she cried for Harry because it was his life that had been changed so irrevocably.
Surprisingly, it was Randolph Robards who rose from his chair and came to kneel beside Ginny.
"Mrs Potter, Ginny," he began. Ginny looked up, somewhat startled by the compassion in his voice, for Harry had told her time and again that Robards most likely had ice in his veins because of his demeanour around the office. "I promise to give your brother and Harry's team free rein to carry out the investigation of what happened to Harry and the other victims to the best of their ability. I want to see these people caught and prosecuted just as much as you do and I'm sorry that it's taken Harry being hurt to open my eyes to the danger the Wizarding public is in because the Department hasn't caught the perpetrators."
Ginny sniffed and dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief. "Thank you, Mr Robards. I know Ron and the others will do their best for you and Harry."
"I will see that they will," he said as he stood up.
Ginny nodded as Madam Nigel asked pointedly, "And if I make the reforms at the hospital we've discussed, you will ask your editor not to print your article?"
"How long will it take to hire the additional personnel?" Ginny asked, hoping it wouldn't take too long.
"A week at most," answered Madam Nigel, "barring a deadlock amongst the Board members."
"Then I will ask him to hold off printing the article for two weeks, but if my sources tell me you and the Board done nothing to alleviate the problem, it will be published," Ginny said.
"That won't be necessary, Mrs Potter. You have agreed to help with the additional fundraising gala, so I will be hiring more Healers." Madam Nigel stood up and walked to the fireplace. "I have another meeting I am late for. Good day, then," she said and throwing a pinch of Floo powder into the fire, she exited the room in a whoosh of green flame. At the same time, Director Webber excused himself and left quietly through the office door.
Randolph Robards followed Madam Nigel to the fireplace, but at the last moment, he held up the bag containing the vial. "Thank you for this," he said. "I'll send someone from Ron's team out to examine the area under the window later today."
"I appreciate that," Ginny replied as he, too, left the office. Ginny stood watching the flames, lost in thought and wondering if she'd just made a complete and utter fool of herself.
Ginny turned at the timid tone in Healer Stilwell's voice.
"I haven't forgiven you yet."
"I understand. Thank you for helping St Mungo's even though we failed your husband rather spectacularly."
"Healer Stilwell, I agree the hospital did fail him to a huge degree, but in other ways it didn't: he would be dead and my children fatherless if you and Healers O'Donnell and Sheridan hadn't been there to help him." Ginny sighed.
Healer Stilwell looked at his watch and sighed as well. "Thank you, Mrs Potter. I'd better get to the hospital." He closed the files on his desk and put them in his case. Ginny took the hint to walk to the door.
"Will you be round to see Harry later?" she asked.
"Yes. I hope to return in a couple of hours."
"Very well. I'll be in Harry's room," Ginny informed him. She gathered her bag and notepad and then left the office without thanking him. She was back in her chair by Harry's bedside in no time and for the first time since the accident, Ginny allowed herself to sleep while holding Harry's hand.
A knock at the door awakened her.
"Mrs Potter, you've had an owl," the Post Room clerk whispered.
Ginny raised her head from the back of the chair where she was resting. She rose slowly as her weary body protested having to move again. "Thank you for bringing it," she said as she took the envelope.
The attendant nodded and left. Ginny looked at the name on the envelope and recognized the handwriting immediately as Teddy Lupin's. She opened the letter and began reading.
I'm so sorry Harry's in hospital again. From your letter the situation sounds quite grave and I'm saddened that I can't be with you and your family right now. Thank you for understanding that it is impossible for me to get away at this time; the journey back to England would take a minimum of two days and right now I can't spare the time if I want to come home for Christmas. When you next see Harry, please tell him he is in my thoughts and that I wish him a speedy recovery.
Keep your fingers crossed that I can come home for the two weeks at Christmas. Again, I wish I was there with your family and hope to be in England during the Holidays.
Well, now Teddy knew. It saddened her that he couldn't come home, but in a way it would be better for him to be present at Christmas. At least then Harry would know who was visiting him because at the moment, she didn't think he was very aware how many people had come to see him even though she'd kept a list. She knew Harry would be upset if he'd been too comatose to realize Teddy had made the effort to travel half- way around the world and he didn't remember his coming.
Sighing, Ginny tucked the letter into her handbag and then went to her husband's bedside to gently run her fingers through his hair. He'd been so lucky… again. A weird thought flitted through her weary brain; if Harry had been Lily's Kneazle how many of his lives would he have left? Ginny was sure he'd expended at least two this time. She shivered thinking about how very lucky her family was that Harry had survived the fall and now the operation. She just hoped he would survive the recovery…
Harry was getting tired of waking up like this; "groggy" and "lethargic" didn't begin to cover the description of how he felt at the moment. As he had so many times before, he took inventory of his aches and pains.
The overwhelming feeling was lack of energy. He wasn't in pain; in fact, this was the first time in over a week that he didn't hurt unbearably somewhere. What he felt was minor discomfort compared to when he'd awoken at other times recently…
He wondered what day it was. He distinctly remembered the body bag, and the much warmer sleeping bag Ginny had conjured, too. He even remembered his first few hours in his new room and learning to mentally block pain which had come in useful just a few hours later. After that, his brain had been in such a fog of misery that he really had no recollection of how much time had passed.
Harry let his mind drift and it settled on his lower body and he noticed his feet were cold. His eyes flew open.
My feet are COLD!
He took in his surroundings, his room at The Groves, wildly excited, and desperately wanting to share this piece of information with someone. His eyes landed on the sleeping form of his beloved wife seated in a chair next to his bed; she looked careworn even in her sleep.
Harry pushed himself up on one elbow and twisted about so he could see her better. "Ginny?" Harry whispered softly.
At the sound of her name, her eyes flew open and she jumped to her feet. A tear trickled down her cheek as she gathered him in her arms. "Oh, Harry, love, I'm so glad to see you're awake. How are you feeling?" she gushed.
Harry was surprised. His wife hardly ever gushed like she was doing now. Something really terrible must have happened to cause her to act like this. He sighed and said, "Erm… pretty good actually, although my feet are cold."
Ginny nearly dropped him back on the bed and threw back his covers, her hands frantically seeking his feet. Her eyes grew wide and more tears made tracks down her cheeks. "They are cold!" she exclaimed. "Harry, the operation worked!"
He stared at her uncomprehendingly. "What operation?" he asked, feeling rather stupid.
Ginny drew her wand and cast a warming charm over his feet before replacing the blankets. Then, perching next to him on the bed, she told him the whole story, stopping every now and then to answer his questions. She was nearly finished when Healer Stilwell walked in. When he saw Ginny, Harry noticed a terrified expression flit across his face before it was replaced with the Healer's usual smiling bedside demeanour.
"Erm, Mrs Potter, am I allowed to enter?" inquired Healer Stilwell.
Harry raised an eyebrow, but didn't say anything. He just observed his wife and his Healer, trying to piece together what was going on between them.
Ginny replied coolly, "Of course. Harry has some wonderful news. Tell him, darling."
Rather uncertainly, Harry said, "When I woke up, my feet were cold. Is that a good thing?"
Healer Stilwell smiled, and this time it reached his eyes. "Mr Potter, that's very good news." He took out his wand and cast a spell over Harry's body. Harry could just make out the faint colour change in the orange mist that surrounded his body for a few seconds and then dissipated. His Healer smiled at him. "You're making progress, Mr Potter. I'll come back tomorrow to give you a more thorough test; I want to give your spinal cord another day to recover from the operation."
Harry felt somewhat disappointed as he agreed, "All right, if you say so."
The Healer left and Harry turned to face her as Ginny sighed, "Now… where was I?"
Harry answered, "I'm not sure, but I've wanted to do this the whole time you've been sitting there." And reaching up he gently brought her head down so he could show her how much it truly meant to him to have her at his bedside. Their lips met and Harry poured as much passion into their kiss as he could manage. When at last they parted, Ginny's expression was somewhat dazed.
"Thank you, Ginny," he whispered tiredly. "I love you so very much."
A tear trickled silently down her cheek. "I love you, too, Harry, and I'm so very thankful you're alive," she sniffed.
"Me, too, love, me, too," he yawned and satisfied that she knew now how much her presence meant to him, he drifted off to sleep.
A/N: Words cannot adequately express my excitement and thankfulness to you, my readers, for voting for this story in the SIYE Silver Trinket Awards. It's such an honour to have this story voted first in the Best Drama category as well as the overall Best New Story.
I also am thankful for my pre-beta team of Jedi34, Mutt n Feathers, RebeccaRipple and RSS as well as my Brit-picker, Rosina Ferguson, who have combed through the chapter and posed all sorts of questions and comments which have ultimately made this chapter better. To my beta, Aggiebell, thank you for nudging me at the very last minute to add all sorts of details to the operation scene. You're right… they have definitely improved the clarity of the scene!