James found Lily in the common room after dinner. She had her books spread out on one of the tables, but the only thing she’d written on her roll of parchment was the title of her Astronomy essay. Across the table from her sat a teary-eyed Rose, who, by the looks of her, was as distraught over Scorpius Malfoy’s kidnapping as Albus seemed to be. The two girls were deep in conversation. James sat down next to his sister.
“Hey, you two, what’s up?” he asked.
Rose answered somewhat evasively, “Just, you know, girl talk.”
“Doesn’t look like girl talk to me,” James said. “It looks like you two are worried sick over something or someone.”
“Scorpius,” Rose said at the same time Lily said, “Albus.”
James couldn’t help grinning. “Thought so,” he said. He looked directly at his sister. “Listen, Lily, I need your help with something. It looks like you’re not very busy, so you might as well pack up and come with me.” To Rose, he added, “Can’t do much about Scorpius other than hope the Aurors get a lead soon, ya know?”
“I know, but it’s hard being cheerful,” Rose moaned, mopping at her eyes with a handkerchief. “He’s my Potions partner and it was dead depressing in lessons today without his usual banter.”
“He’s missed other days, hasn’t he?” James asked as Lily finished shoving her things back into her school bag.
Rose sighed a long, shuddering sigh. “Yes, but he was always still in the castle. This is different; no one knows where he is this time, so we can’t go to visit him like we did when he was hurt in the Slytherin-Hufflepuff match last term.”
There was no arguing with Rose’s logic, so James just murmured agreeably, and after bidding her good-bye, led Lily out the portrait hole and down to the library. James deliberately found a secluded table in the ancillary spell section and dropped his book bag conclusively on the floor, indicating to Lily this was where he intended to be. She chose a chair and sat down, looking at him expectantly.
“Albus’ birthday is this Friday. He’s as distraught about Scorpius just as badly as Rose is. He needs cheering up if he’s going to even begin to enjoy the day,” James said without preamble, “and it needs to be us who do it.”
“What about a Cheering Charm?” Lily suggested half-heartedly.
“Won’t work. We can’t follow Al around his entire birthday waiting for the charms to wear off. Besides, he wouldn’t think the idea very inventive,” James said. “What we need are a couple of unique pranks that will involve not only Al but preferably all of Gryffindor or even the entire school.”
Lily cocked her head to the side. “You could fill his bed, trunk and book bag with pictures of Meredith Baxter, that Hufflepuff Chaser he’s so keen on,” Lily suggested.
James shook his head. “Nope. Won’t do, especially if the pictures are of a witch he likes. If I did do that, I’d have to duplicate pictures of an adult he particularly dislikes and as far as I know, Albus likes all his teachers.”
“I see your point,” Lily said half-heartedly. “I guess I’ll go see what the spell books suggest.” She pushed her chair back and stood up, but James put a hand on her arm, stopping her.
“Wait. Let’s brainstorm a bit more before we go looking for spells. All right?” he asked.
Lily sat down. “Do you have anything in mind?” she asked.
“Yeah. Listen to this… how about if we somehow figure out how to make the entire school burst out into song? Or maybe even just a portion of each table start singing?”
A giggle burst from Lily. “I can just see the likes of Auggie Bole, Audrey Pucey, and Gracie Goyle all singing nursery rhymes,” she said as the familiar click of the librarian’s heels sounded in the next aisle.
James grinned. His voice just above a whisper, he said excitedly, “The Hufflepuffs could sing songs from Mum’s favourite Muggle play, The Sound of Music.”
“And the Ravenclaws could sing something from the Weird Sisters and maybe Dad’s favourite Muggle band the Beatles or even that Pink Floyd song, you know, the one that starts ‘We don’t need no education.’ That would sound funny coming from the Ravenclaw students,” Lily added, talking a mile a minute as she finally become enthusiastic about their project. “But what should we have the Gryffindors sing?”
James thought a moment and then said, “It’ll have to be Happy Birthday over and over and over and the only way any of the singing will stop is if Albus tells it to stop.”
Lily stuffed a fist in her mouth, she was laughing so hard. “That could take all day,” she said between chortles. When she finally stopped laughing, she asked, “So how do we get everyone to sing? A spell?”
“Partly,” James answered. “I think we’ll have to put a potion in everyone’s goblet or something like that.”
It was Lily’s turn to say, “Nope. Won’t work.” When James looked at her with a raised eyebrow she added thoughtfully, “We really don’t want every single person to sing, right? Just the ones who will make it funny.” She paused and then said, “What if we created a spell or made a potion to enchant the forks or spoons of those we want to sing? Do you think we’d have enough time?”
“I like your idea, Lily. Let’s see what we can find in books before we start mucking about trying to create new potions and spells on our own,” James said cautiously. “I’ll go to the Potions section and get a few books. You take the spells, all right?”
Lily nodded and disappeared around the corner of the nearest bookcase as James sauntered over to the Potions section, his eyes keeping a wary look-out for the librarian, Madam Shannon, who had replaced Madam Pince in James’ second year. He took down several promising-looking books and brought them back to their table where Lily was looking through an immense volume entitled, Charmed Objects; a Guide to Elementary Charms. He sat down and opened the top book in his stack.
“Practical Potions for Profit or Pranking,” Lily read aloud. “Find anything?”
James stuck a finger in the table of contents to keep his place. “Not yet. Just started. You?”
“Same here,” Lily said and they both went back to the books.
A half an hour later, Lily started giggling. James looked up to see what was so funny. His sister was reading a book called, 501 Ways to Prank Your Siblings. “What’s so funny?” he asked.
“I know where Rose found that spell for turning Andrea, Ramona and Ebba’s clothes to bricks,” she said, turning the book she was reading so James could see her page better. He’d heard about Lily and Rose’s prank over Christmas and was quite impressed by the fact that the three girls in question had actually offered to help Lily and her friends with their trunks when they’d boarded the Hogwarts Express the day they returned to school.
“That’s pretty cool,” he said. “Have you found anything else?”
Lily grinned and flipped some pages. “Look at this. It’s a spell that when cast on your sibling makes every object in a ten-foot radius dance a jig,” she said.
James studied the spell. It seemed easy enough and there were even ways to regulate the number of times the spell repeated as well as the duration of the dancing… depending on how batty you wanted your sibling to become. “Lily, this is perfect! It’s easily cast and I could sneak into Al’s dormitory and cast it on him when he’s sleeping and he’d be none the wiser,” he said.
“And we can check this book out of the library,” Lily added. She pointed to the other books in her stack. “These other books can’t be removed. They’re just for reference.”
“Well done, Lily. Go check it out and come back. I still haven’t found the other thing we’re looking for,” James said.
“Be right back,” Lily said, jumping up. She was gone less than five minutes. “Madam Shannon nearly didn’t let me have the book,” she grumbled as she stowed the book in her bag. “‘Miss Potter, you should be revising or writing your essays, not looking up pranks to play on your brothers’,” she mimicked.
“Sounds like Madam Shannon and Madam Pince, too,” James said as he shoved a rather large book towards his sister. “No sense of humour whatsoever. Hey, if you see anything, let me know.”
They agreed to stay until the library closed. If they hadn’t found anything by then they decided to meet tomorrow at lunch.
Nearly two hours later, Madam Shannon’s voice echoed through the library, “The Hogwarts Library will be closing in ten minutes time. Please levitate all unwanted books to the re-shelving area at the end of each bookshelf and then exit the library in an orderly fashion. If you have books to check out, come to the counter and form an orderly queue. The library will reopen at eight o’clock tomorrow morning.”
Lily shut her book noisily while complaining, “I’ve found a potion for everything but what we want to do. I’m going to put this stack back. Do you have any you want me to take?”
Without taking his eyes from the book he was scanning, James patted a stack of four huge books. “Thanks,” he murmured and turned his full attention back to his place in the table of contents. A moment later, he let out a yelp of surprise, his finger poised next to an entry: Tuning Fork Potion.
Lily came racing back. “What is it? What did you find?” she demanded.
James was shaking with excitement as he turned to the page the potion was printed on. “Listen to this: ‘Dip your victim’s utensils into this potion and watch him break into song. The effects of the Tuning Fork Potion will last up to an hour depending on how long the metal is submerged in the potion. This potion has no antidote and must be allowed to wear off naturally. A variation of this potion uses the spell at the bottom of the page which, when cast at the end of brewing, will effectively cancel any remaining singing time when someone tells the victim to stop singing.’ Lily, this is perfect!” James exclaimed. Then, he noticed a small, nearly infinitesimal notation near the binding of the book and his mouth dropped open.
“What is it, James?” she asked.
“Lily, this potion was used on the school in 1977 by Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs!” James whispered excitedly, pointing to the writing. “It says, ‘Works well, what a laugh!’” He looked up at his sister. “Lily, Grandfather Potter made this potion. We must use it!”
“Tell me about it, please,” Lily requested as she bounced about on the balls of her feet. “Oh, I hope the potion doesn’t take a month to make.”
James scanned the instructions before reporting, “This seems to have a two-hour brewing time plus preparation and a ripening period of about six hours or more before bottling or using.” He looked up at her, feeling a wicked grin spread across his face. “I have all the ingredients in my potions kit. I could make it during my free period tomorrow, especially if I skipped breakfast to get a head start. Do you think anyone will miss me if I don’t show up for breakfast?”
“Kendra,” Lily said without hesitation. “You’ll have to tell her what you’ll be doing and swear her to secrecy. Maybe if you convinced her to help you in some way she’ll not wonder aloud where you are and make everyone at the Gryffindor table start looking for you.”
“Hmmm, hadn’t thought of that,” James muttered. “Well, we better go check this book out and get back to the common room. It looks like I have a few things to do.”
They quickly cleaned up their area and Lily left to go back to the common room while James checked out the Potion’s book. Madam Shannon looked down her nose at him, raised an eyebrow and asked pointedly if he was researching unusual potions. James said nothing and escaped the library as fast as he could.
Surprisingly, Kendra was willing to keep mum about what James wanted to do in the morning. “I’ll bring you some toast and pumpkin juice,” she volunteered. “Can’t have you slaving over a hot cauldron with no nourishment in you. You’d faint dead away.”
“Would not,” James grumbled as he tried to keep from smiling.
Kendra kissed him lightly on the tip of his nose. “Don’t want to chance it anyway,” she said. “Good night.”
That was easier than I thought it would be, James thought as he waved at Kendra as she disappeared up the girls’ staircase. Then, yawning, he climbed the stairs to his own dormitory.
0825 hours, Wednesday, 6 January 2021
“Kendra, have you seen James?” Albus asked as he climbed through the portrait hole. “I didn’t see him at breakfast.”
Kendra looked startled and hid something behind her back. “No, I haven’t seen him, Al. Do you want me to tell you where he is if I do see him?” she asked.
“Yeah, I’d appreciate it. I’m having trouble with my Arithmancy homework and I wanted James to help me with it,” Albus confessed.
“Give me a moment to get my bag. I have a few minutes. Would I do as a substitute?” Kendra asked.
Albus nodded. “Yeah, you’ll do,” he said.
Kendra excused herself and hastened up the girls’ stairs. She came back down a few minutes later with her bag. “What’s your homework about?” she asked as they found places at a nearby table.
Albus explained what was confusing him about his homework. To his surprise, Kendra knew exactly how to help him, and once he understood, he made some notes to help him remember what to write when it came time to complete the exercises. By the time they were through talking, there was just enough time for Albus to sprint to his next lesson. He arrived just as the door was closing and threw himself into the nearest seat at the back of the room. As the lesson commenced, he forgot all about James’ absence at breakfast.
Ginny walked through the front doors of St Mungo’s and took her place in the queue for the lifts. The queue was rather long and she only had a few minutes left before she’d be late, and Ginny hated being less-than-punctual for anything. With a sigh, she left the queue and headed for the stairs.
Three flights later, she emerged onto the third floor next to the Potion and Plant Poisoning ward. From beyond the door came the sound of uncontrolled giggling and as she turned left into the corridor leading to Madam Offerman’s office, Ginny wondered if the sound had addled the chairwitch’s brain; she knew if she spent any time on this floor listening to the sound it would get to her.
Apparently it had made the fundraising chairwitch a bit loopy.
“Mrs Potter, I’m so glad to finally meet you!” Gloria Offerman gushed when the secretary ushered Ginny into the room. “Madam Nigel was absolutely thrilled when you agreed to help us with our fundraising efforts this year! Come in, come in. We must get to work! There’s so much to do!”
Behind the witch’s back, Ginny rolled her eyes. This was going to be a long meeting.
They sat at a table in the corner of the office that was loaded down with invitation samples, a pile of what looked like menus from past events and several photo albums. Madam Offerman ordered coffee and soon they were sipping and discussing the March Gala.
“Now tell me, Ginny—may I call you Ginny?—do you prefer to circulate through the crowd or would an autograph-signing table be more to your liking during the meet-and-greet?” Madam Offerman asked.
“I prefer to circulate,” Ginny replied. “I’d rather not to be stuck in a corner all evening.”
“Of course, of course!” Madam Offerman said, making a note in her event planner. “And you’re preparing some remarks, as Keynote Speaker, about the need for generous giving due to the increase in staffing?”
Ginny nodded, feeling rather uncomfortable. She knew the improvements had been made because of her demands, but she wanted to do her begging for money on a one-to-one basis, rather than make an appeal to the masses for the funds needed to support the additional staffing improvements. It was more personal, she thought.
“Excellent!” Madam Offerman said enthusiastically. “I think we’re done with that for now.
“Now tell me about your ideas for the Summer Gala. I know from your letters that you’d prefer an auction over a ball… ” Madam Offerman leaned forward expectantly.
Ginny opened a portfolio she had with her and brought out several photos of different gift baskets, which she handed to Madam Offerman. Each had a different theme: one was a Quidditch basket for the Quidditch enthusiast, another was full of bath and beauty products for the witch of the house, and the third was full of items for a children’s party.
“These are just some of the ideas I came up with,” Ginny began. “My idea is to have baskets and donated items such as jewellery or a hand-knit jumper or a donated broom out on tables, each with a card underneath that looks like this.”
She handed the chairwitch a small piece of heavy parchment on which was printed “Item Number ___: _______” and “Item Value/Beginning Bid: ___”. Under this was printed “Bidder’s Name” and “Bid Amount”, followed by a dozen lines for people to write their names and the amount they were bidding on the item.
“The bidding will start with an amount no less than the value of the item,” Ginny explained. “For example, if the Quidditch basket contains autographed items such as a team jersey or a team photo, and maybe a real Snitch or a pair of Beaters’ gloves, several pennants, a poster, and maybe a tour of one of the stadiums, the value could be set at twenty Galleons. Those who want what’s in the basket will write their names and bids on the parchment. At the end of the evening highest bidder wins the basket or item. Also, the winning bids will be announced and a running tally will be kept to show how much money was raised.”
Madam Offerman had cocked her head to one side while she listened to Ginny’s presentation. Now she said, “I think that might work as the fundraiser, Ginny, especially if there are a variety of items with different values. What do you suggest as entertainment for the evening?”
The two of them brainstormed several ideas and finally settled on two possible options to be explored further in the months ahead. By the time Ginny headed home, she had a pounding headache not only from listening to Madam Offerman’s constant, bubbly enthusiasm, but from the high-pitched giggling coming through the thin walls of the office from the ward on the other side.
Lily watched in fascination as James meticulously measured out the dry ingredients for their potion into a small mortar and then crushed the lot with a heavy-looking pestle.
“Shouldn’t you be crushing all those ingredients separately?” she asked, making her brother look up from his task.
James shook his head. “Instructions say to crush all the herbs together and add the mixture all at once,” he answered. He went back to his grinding.
“Can I do that?” she asked. “I’d like to help.”
James smiled at her and slid the heavy bowl across the table to her. “Make sure everything is finely ground,” he cautioned.
“Yes, professor,” Lily smirked, earning her a good-natured scowl from her brother. She set to work, carefully grinding the ingredients to the specified degree of fineness. When she was done, she pushed the mortar across the table and asked, “How’s this?”
James looked the contents over carefully before gently shaking the mixture into his bubbling cauldron and stirring anti-clockwise five times and then clockwise two. Then, he stepped back and watched the surface before leaning over to adjust the heat under the cauldron.
Finally, he said, “You’ll be a Potioneer yet, Lils. Just a little more time in the kitchen with Mum cooking dinner… ”
“Oh, so you’re stepping down as her main help during holidays?” Lily asked quickly, cutting him off mid-sentence. She knew James actually liked to cook as much as she did. The two of them had squabbled good-naturedly over who was going to get to help get dinner each night after their family meeting on Christmas Day. This had amused their father no end, especially when he observed that their efforts in the kitchen most likely resulted in high marks in Potions. He had told them more than once before they came back to school that he was glad the family knack for Potion brewing had shown up in two of his children. He’d also told them their Grandmother Lily would have been quite proud of their skill in the subject.
Now James growled, “Why should I?”
“I don’t know,” Lily said, suddenly at a loss for a retort. Unlike Rose, she found any sort of verbal sparring hard to sustain, so “I don’t know” was her favourite phrase whenever a discussion became too intense for her. Instead, she asked, “Where’s Kendra? I thought she was supposed to be here by now.”
James looked at his watch. “You’re right. It’s almost time for the bell to ring for the end of first lessons,” he said.
Lily sighed. “How much longer before you add the lacewing flies?” she asked, wanting to stay long enough to see the completed potion.
James consulted his watch again. “Thirty seconds. Then I’ll enchant the potion just in case the teachers become annoyed. Thanks for the help, Lils. We’ll be able to experiment with the potion tonight after dinner if you can spare the time.”
“I’ll make the time,” Lily said as James gently shook the lacewings into the cauldron and gave the potion the required number of stirs. Their potion bubbled vigorously for several seconds and then settled down as it changed colour from dark green to a pleasing chartreuse. As soon as the colour change was complete, Lily couldn’t help exclaiming, “What a lovely colour!”
The door opened, admitting a harried-looking Kendra. “What’s a lovely colour?” she asked as she shut the door behind her and came to look at the finished potion. “You’re right, Lily, it is pretty.”
“What kept you?” James asked, and if Lily hadn’t known who was speaking, she would have thought it was her dad making the enquiry rather than her brother.
“Albus,” Kendra answered, blowing a few stray hairs out of her face. She reached into her bag and brought out a rather squished stack of toast, which she handed to James. “He was looking for you because he was stuck on his Arithmancy homework. I talked him through what he was supposed to do, but it took a while.”
Lily turned her head as James leaned forward and gave Kendra a tender kiss. As the two murmured sweet nothings to each other over the cauldron, Lily picked up her bag and walked noisily to the door. She doubted the two lovebirds would even miss her.
The brochure for The Groves lay on her desk next to her correspondence from Madam Offerman. Ginny had read those letters several times already, but for some reason couldn’t concentrate on the Fundraising Chairwitch’s plans for table assignments and invitation designs. Her eyes kept straying to the red-circled bullet point on the brochure under the heading Family Services.
“Counselling services are offered to the immediate family of The Groves residents. Persons eligible to talk to a counsellor include the spouse/main care-giver and children of the patient. For more information contact the patient’s physician or Mrs Vaughan at the front desk. Appointments will be made through the attending physician,” she read for the fiftieth time in the last hour.
Am I really back to normal? she asked herself. Throwing all those Quaffles on Christmas Day had certainly helped, as had her talk with George, but still, in the back of her mind she wasn’t sure…
She picked up the brochure and stared at the bullet point. She knew part of Harry’s treatment included the services of a mental health professional. He hadn’t spoken to her much about what the two had talked about—she hadn’t even known the counsellor had existed until after Harry had started communicating with the children again—although on the monthly statement she received it stated clearly that he was receiving services twice a week. How had she missed this detail of Harry’s treatment? She supposed it was the stigma the Wizarding world had about such things that kept him from telling her much about what went on in their sessions at all.
She sighed. So… do I need to talk to someone, too?
It might be a good idea…
But what would people say if it was discovered she was seeking help? Would the same thing happen to her as it had to that witch in Features, the one who became the hottest topic in the Prophet’s gossip mill, the one who had finally quit her job because she couldn’t stand the pointed stares and catty remarks? It had been whispered that the witch had a split personality and was nuttier than a fruitcake. Would she, Ginny, be talked about like that? Would the office gossips turn their vicious rumours on her, even though she sensed the sympathy of many of her co-workers? Did she have the stamina to withstand the attention? Some days she wondered if she should just pack it all in and hide out at home.
Frustrated, she shoved Madam Offerman’s letters aside and reached into a drawer for her personal stationery. Maybe getting Hermione’s opinion on the subject would help. Before she could second-guess her motives, she quickly penned a letter to her friend and sister-in-law and sent it off with Quaffle.
Now that she had acted on her doubts, she felt better. Glancing out her window at the snow-covered Quidditch pitch in the distance, Ginny smiled to herself. Maybe, after she’d answered Madam Offerman’s letters and finished writing her questions for her interview with the Tornados’ general manager, she’d go out and fling a few Quaffles about the pitch until it was time to set the table for tea. The physical workout would make her feel even better and get her in the mood for the interview. Her smile lingered as she reached for another piece of parchment and began writing back to Madam Offerman.
“Excuse me, Madam Granger-Weasley,” her secretary, Gloria, said as she opened the door without knocking, “this private message just came in via personal owl.”
Hermione sighed inwardly. She hated being addressed as Madam Granger-Weasley solely because she was neither old enough to be called ‘Madam’ and adding her maiden name to her married name called attention to who she was before she married Ron and that’s not who she was any more. But instead of snapping at Gloria to stop calling her by the attention-seeking name, she merely smiled and asked, “It didn’t come as a memo?” and hastily shoved several documents aside and closed a folder on top of them.
“No, Madam, it didn’t. The Revealing Charm I used says it’s from Ginny Potter,” Gloria said as she advanced across the carpet to Hermione’s desk.
Hermione held out her hand. “Thank you, Gloria. I don’t require you to remain for a reply. Is the owl still on the perch?”
“She is, Madam Granger-Weasley.”
“Very good. Send her in. I imagine it’s Ginny’s Quaffle that brought the note.”
A few moments later, Quaffle settled on top of her In Box as Hermione broke the seal on the letter and began reading. Ginny was inviting her to tea at half-two this afternoon and had underlined the word “must” three times following it with “because I need your advice.” Her friend was never this dramatic, nor did she ever set tea time this early, so whatever she needed advice about must be pretty important.
“Gloria,” she called through the still-open door, “please clear my calendar for this afternoon after two. I must take the rest of the afternoon off and won’t be back until tomorrow.”
“As you wish, Madam Granger-Weasley.”
Grinding her teeth in frustration, Hermione put her folders away, replied to Ginny’s note that she’d come, and took an early lunch, hoping whatever Ginny was worrying about wasn’t going to be too catastrophic.
“Sorry I’m late, Silvia, I couldn’t find my floats,” Harry apologized as he rolled up to the edge of the therapy pool and waited for the attendants to help him out of his chair and down onto the pool deck.
“I have them, but you won’t be needing them today, Harry,” Silvia said as she swam over, pushing a kick board ahead of her. “Come on in. The water’s warm.”
Harry put his feet in the water and scooted along the edge of the pool until he was at the steps. Then, he lowered himself step by step until he was sitting chest deep in the water with his legs pointing straight out in front of him. “Why won’t I need the floats?” he asked curiously.
“We’re working on kicking this afternoon, Harry.” Silvia handed him the kick board. “Now, holding the kickboard in front of you, I want you to glide forward with your upper body and push off the bottom with your feet at the same time,” she instructed. “Then, I want you to kick your legs as best you can, keeping your knees straight so you’re kicking from your hips. We’ll stay in the shallow end today until you’re used to the exercise.”
Harry stared at her. “You want me to do what?” he asked sceptically.
“You heard me,” Silvia chuckled. “It’s either this or go back in and do another five sets of ten leg raises each on the pulleys.”
Harry shook his head and pushed off as he had been told. His legs sank almost immediately, but with some effort, he was able to slowly kick his way across the pool. When he reached the other side he couldn’t help the huge grin that spread across his face.
“How was I?” he asked.
“Pretty good for a beginner,” Silvia said. “Follow me back to the steps.” She turned towards the opposite wall and took a step or two, giving him room to move before turning back to watch him.
Harry leaned forward and found his momentum wasn’t enough to allow him to straighten up. His legs had sunk to the bottom and suddenly, the only thing holding his head above water was the kick board. He panicked. Arms flailing wildly, he tried to reach for the side of the pool, but only came up with water. His head went under and he felt himself sinking towards the bottom, which scared him more. He opened his mouth to yell only to find it filled with water. He was going to drown! And then two strong arms were around his chest, holding his head above water, and Silvia’s voice was in his ear telling him to calm down, she was there, he was safe, she would not let him drown. He laid his head on her shoulder, coughing, gasping for breath and quivering with fright.
“Harry, you’re safe. I’ve got you,” her voice soothed. “Shhhh.”
Slowly, Harry’s heart ceased its wild beating. He stopped shaking and lay limply against Silvia’s shoulder.
“What happened? You were doing so well,” she asked a few moments later.
“I don’t know,” Harry gasped. “I tried to follow, but I couldn’t straighten my legs.”
“Did you push off with your feet, like I told you to?” she asked.
Harry shook his head. “No,” he murmured, feeling stupid. “I want to get out.”
“Not going to happen,” Silvia said stubbornly. “Listen, Harry, we can do this kick as if you’re doing backstroke.” He felt her moving backward and stiffened, scared she would drop him and that he’d go under again. She stopped.
“I can’t. Get me out,” he pleaded.
“Harry, do you trust me?”
“Of course I do.”
“Then why aren’t you relaxed any more?”
“I don’t know…” he repeated his request, “Get me out.”
“I’m trying to, Harry, but the steps are at the opposite end of the pool. You won’t like it if I just heave you onto the deck like a sack of potatoes,” she told him.
He considered this and liked this option even less than the thought of having her tow him to the steps. “No, I don’t think I would,” he told her. “What do I have to do?”
Harry could hear the smile in her voice as she asked, “Can you feel the bottom of the pool?” He nodded. “Then push off with your feet when I tell you to. Then kick from the hip just like you did coming this way.”
She took a step backwards. Using both feet, he pushed off from the bottom and saw his hips rising a bit. As Silvia murmured instructions in his ear, he kicked one leg and then the other. His body floated a little more. He kicked again… and again… felt their momentum pick up. And then they were at the steps and Silvia was putting him down.
“No. Stop!” he said. “I want to do it again. Face first.”
“You need your board, Harry and it’s floated away. Shall we go get it?” Silvia asked.
“Yes,” he said determinedly.
“Good,” she said, and helped him lay back onto her shoulder. “Push off… kick right, kick left, kick right, now left…”
They went deeper into the water, Harry listening to her voice and kicking in rhythm as best he could. Then Silvia was handing him the kickboard and he suddenly felt himself half standing, half supported by the board and staring into Silvia’s eyes.
“Tell me what you need to do to get going,” she requested.
“Lunge forward… push off with my feet… kick,” Harry said.
“Good. Now do it.” Silvia stepped back a step or two to give him room.
Harry lunged, letting the momentum carry him forward. At the same time, he pushed off the side of the pool with his feet. It wasn’t a big push, but it was enough to carry him away from the wall enough to be able to kick. He straightened his body and kicked from the hip, face in the water, hands above his head, holding the board. He felt himself move forward in the water. He kicked again and again, over and over…
“Breathe, Harry! Lift your head!” he heard Silvia command.
He stopped kicking and raised his head, his legs sinking again, and gasped for breath. They were out in the middle of the pool and Harry had no idea how they’d come to be there.
“How?” he sputtered.
“This is where you took us, Harry,” Silvia said. “But you need to raise your head and take a breath every two to three kicks. You’re not supposed to turn blue when you swim.”
“Oh,” Harry said and gave an embarrassed laugh. “How am I doing?”
“Much better.” She turned him towards the steps. “Let’s go that way. Try a stronger kick with your right leg. Kicking evenly helps you swim straight. You’re doing well.” Again, she had him tell her the steps to begin swimming.
It took another two stops, but Harry managed to kick his way back to the steps. Along the way, he discovered that as long as he kept moving, the water supported his body. It felt good and he wanted more. Then, he was sitting on the steps and Silvia was taking the kickboard from him.
“Give it back. I want to do two more laps,” he said.
Silvia shook her head. “Maybe tomorrow. I don’t want you to overexert yourself. You’ll be sore if you do,” she said. “Good show, by the way.”
Harry ducked his head. “Thanks,” he murmured, feeling pleased. “But I’m still pretty slow.”
“Want to do your usual workout?” Silvia asked, ignoring his comment.
He smiled at her. “Please.”
Three minutes later, he was strapped to his floats and pulling himself strongly through the water with his arms.
The table was set for two. The kettle was on and just beginning to boil. The teapot was warming near the sink. The tin of Hermione’s favourite Lady Grey black tea—she’d purchased the tea in a shop that featured the Muggle brand Twinings—was ready to be added to the teapot. A plate of finger sandwiches, one of scones and a two-tiered serving dish that held large pieces of several different pastries and cakes Hermione was particularly fond of were on the table, too. Satisfied, Ginny stood back and watched the fireplace. Hermione was always prompt, never late.
The fire suddenly flared green and Hermione stepped out. She was still in her work robes and she was carrying a paperboard box Ginny recognized came from Hermione’s favourite bakery. She carefully put down the box on the kitchen table and walked over to give Ginny a hug.
“I came as soon as I could,” she said as Ginny returned the embrace.
Ginny stepped back and held out a hand for Hermione’s cloak. “I’m sorry to take you away from work, Hermione,” she said, “but I need your advice in the worst way.”
The kettle whistled shrilly and Ginny bustled over to rescue it.
“Whatever it is, I know you wouldn’t ask me to cancel my meetings if it wasn’t important,” said her friend.
Ginny poured water into the pre-warmed teapot and brought it over to the table. “Let’s eat first before I tell you what has my knickers in a twist,” she said as she added the right amount of tea.
The two sat down. “All right, but you know I’m beyond curious,” Hermione said, untying the string from around the box and opening it to reveal a small quiche. “I know we usually don’t include this at tea, but Pierre does such a lovely job on these and this looked so good!”
Ginny smiled. “It does look delicious. I could never make anything like that, not even with Fleur breathing down my neck and whispering instructions in my ear!” she said.
“Shall I cut it?” Hermione asked.
Ginny nodded and Summoned a knife and a cutting board to the table. The quiche was delicious and she ate slowly, appreciating the subtle flavours of bacon, cheese and eggs in the delicate pastry. She welcomed the addition to the meal.
At length, Hermione cleared her throat, capturing Ginny’s attention. “Ginny, you’re always unflappable. I could tell by the way you worded your note that you were telling me to come,” she said. She reached for a sandwich as Ginny pointed her wand at two bowls—one of clotted cream and another of orange marmalade—and levitated them to the table. “What’s on your mind?”
Ginny took a sip of her tea. “What would you say to my getting some help from the counsellors at The Groves?” she asked quietly. She stared apprehensively into her mug, watching the leaves floating towards the bottom.
The tell-tale clunk of Hermione’s mug hitting the tablecloth told her what she needed to know. She was sure her friend would tell her to forget the idea and just tough it out the best she could. Hermione’s hand on her arm made her look up.
“If that’s what it takes to make you happy, Ginny, you need to get help soon,” Hermione said.
“You… you think it’s a good idea?” Ginny asked incredulously.
Hermione leaned forward. “I do, Ginny. What happened at Christmas showed me just how stressed out you’ve become. If you have any lingering doubts at all, contact Healer Stilwell and have him arrange for you to see the family therapist at The Groves,” she said. “It’s time you started taking care of yourself.”
“Why are you agreeing with me?” asked Ginny. “Why aren’t you telling me to tough it out?”
“Because for once, the Muggle practice of talking things out with someone other than a close relative or friend makes more sense. There are trained professionals at The Groves who help spouses and children cope with the emotional stress of watching a loved one battle back from a debilitating injury every day. I’ve read that brochure several times myself, Ginny. I know they will listen to you and not judge you as other people might. You were lucky your family sent George to find you that day. I’m not sure Ron or Bill or Percy would have understood why you left. George does, but there’s only so much he can help you with. What he started, a Muggle psychologist can finish,” Hermione said.
Ginny stared at her for the longest time. “You’re serious, aren’t you?” she asked finally.
Hermione nodded. “When are you going to contact Healer Stilwell?”
“I have an appointment at five o’clock to interview the Tornados’ general manager. I thought I’d leave here about four and see if I could catch Healer Stilwell before he left St Mungo’s,” Ginny replied. “He should be in his office doing parchment work about then if something hasn’t come up.” She reached for the tiered serving platter and pushed it towards Hermione, murmuring, “I’m in the mood for chocolate.”
They each took a piece of the chocolate gateau as well as an éclair. “I’m glad you’re going to do this, Ginny,” Hermione said around a dainty bite of the cake. “It’s good you’re finally willing to help yourself for once.”
A tear trickled down Ginny’s cheek and she swiped at it with her napkin. “What will Harry think?” she asked.
Hermione scooted her chair closer to Ginny’s and gave her another hug. “He’ll be relieved, Ginny,” she said. “Like all of us, he’s been worried that you’re still not taking care of your own needs. You don’t have to be afraid of his reaction.”
“That’s good to hear,” Ginny sniffled. “Thanks for listening.”
“I’m glad to lend my ear, Ginny,” Hermione said. She picked up her fork. “Now tell me… how did your bit of mischief turn out with Harry? Grandmum Weasley was positively thrilled to have your three for an extra night last week…”
Scorpius was tired of hanging upside down. He was tired of twisting round in endless circles. He was tired of not being able to feel his feet because they were held high above his head by the spell. He was more interested in figuring out how to release himself and somehow getting to Hogwarts or, preferably, home than he was hanging around. His fear had subsided a long time ago into apprehension when he discovered that the psycho with the wand was only going to torture his cellmate and possibly cast the Cruciatus Curse on him… but that had only occurred when he’d asked to be let down. He hadn’t done that again and the psycho had left him alone.
He’d observed something else, too. By the way the light changed and the outside wind blew in from one direction, he thought he knew where the exit to the cave was. That was good. What was bad was that he was still hanging around.
There was more. Once his head had cleared enough of his fright, he had been able to think more clearly. Thinking was good because it gave him something to do. He’d thought up two plans for escape and was thinking about a third, but that one required a wand and he didn’t have his wand… or did he?
Quickly, Scorpius began searching his pockets, including the specialized wand pocket stitched into the side seam of his right trouser leg. His hand closed over the seam and he smiled. His wand was shoved so deeply into the pocket that the psycho hadn’t found it—not even when he had patted Scorpius down the other day looking for things that hadn’t fallen out of his other pockets—and he realized that he’d quite forgotten his wand in his surprise and fright.
What will Father think of me? he thought, suddenly horrified that he’d completely forgotten the advice and lessons his father had taught him about self-defence and getting out of tricky situations. Not much… but then maybe forgetting I had my wand just might save me.
Smiling, he decided to wait to start working on escaping until the light faded, the lanterns were nearly all extinguished and the witch who worked in what looked like a potions lab had lain down in her corner bed. (She had some strange habits, that one. Scorpius had observed her lying down at nearly the same time for about fifteen minutes while the light was fading. Then, she would work late into the night, sometimes nearly until morning, and when she finally went to bed, she had something gold in her hand. If he blinked, he’d miss what would happen next: she’d disappear for a split second and then reappear and then sleep until her wand let out a shriek that echoed though the cave, usually waking Scorpius’ cellmate. A few minutes later, she would leave the cave and not come back for hours.) Then, he decided, would he draw his wand, cancel the hanging charm and go to work trying to escape. Whether or not he took his cellmate with him was a question he couldn’t answer yet. Only time would tell.
Sometime later, the witch arrived in the cave with the creepy psycho and another wizard. As Scorpius watched, the two men entered his cell and woke the man hanging on the wall. It only took a wave of the psycho’s wand to make the man go meekly with them. Scorpius couldn’t help watching because their movements in the cell caused the men to either brush up against him or the air currents caused him to rotate.
As the three exited, the psycho hissed, “What choo lookin’ at?” causing Scorpius to divert his gaze towards the ceiling. He didn’t answer. He held his breath until the door to the cell closed.
The man’s voice suddenly bellowed, “Crucio!”
The spell wasn’t unexpected, but it did take Scorpius slightly by surprise. He screamed, making the men and the witch laugh. They watched him writhe and scream and then left him hanging, tears of pain and frustration seeping into his hair, as they manhandled the other man into another part of the cave. A little bit later, Scorpius heard the man cry out, a long, high-pitched wail that went on and on until one of the men cast a Silencing Charm and the cave was once again silent except for the wind and the lap of the sea.
The witch’s voice drifted over to him, “Nice work, Tim. He expired more easily than I thought he would. I wonder if you’ll go the same way he did. After all, the potion is in your system as well. For all we know, it’s eating away at your nerves right this second. Shall I hasten the process?”
A strangled, frightened voice pleaded, “Please don’t! Tell me what I must do next.”
Muted murmurings echoed through the cave and a few minutes later, Scorpius saw the psycho carrying a limp body towards the cave entrance. The sight made an apprehensive shiver run through Scorpius’ body.
Tonight, Scorpius promised himself, tonight.
For the second time that day, Ginny exited the fireplace at St Mungo’s and hurried towards the lifts. Once inside, she poked the button for the seventh floor and hung on as the lift transported her upwards towards Healer Stilwell’s office.
“I was wondering if Healer Stilwell is in,” she told the witch sitting at the reception desk. “This won’t take but a few minutes,” she added.
“One moment, please,” the secretary replied. She turned to the tiny fireplace behind her desk and threw in a few grains of Floo Powder. She spoke for a few moments and then turned back to Ginny. “He’s coming out to meet you.”
Ginny smiled tightly and looked at her watch. “Thanks.”
“Mrs Potter, how nice to see you!” Healer Stilwell greeted her a moment later. “Come into my office. We’ll have more privacy there.” He let her inside, gesturing towards the familiar sofa. “Now what can I do for you?”
Ginny pulled The Groves brochure out of her handbag and opened it to the right page. “It’s a long story, but the reason I’m here is this.” She pointed to the bullet point she’d circled earlier. “I’m interested in talking to someone who might help me stop feeling like I need to do everything for Harry. I’m miserable and hope you can help me.”
Healer Stilwell had been nodding the whole time she was speaking. Now he said, “I was wondering when you’d ask for help, Ginny. You and Harry are so much alike, I’m now beginning to understand why you two married each other. Let me see if Reginald Hale has any openings." He fished in his pocket and pulled out his mobile. "Hello, Reg? Payton Stilwell here.”
Five minutes later, Ginny left the office clutching a small piece of parchment upon which her appointment time was written. Healer Stilwell had assured her that Harry’s therapist would keep everything in confidence and do his best to help her. As she Disapparated for the Tornados’ front offices, Ginny let out a satisfied sigh. It felt good to be doing something for herself for once.