Chapter 16: The Road Home
It took several weeks for Harry to convince himself that he was truly back with his loved ones. He woke up several times each night in a cold sweat expecting to see the tiny cell that he had tried so desperately to escape.
During these times when Harry lay in bed fighting to control his fear, Ginny would hold him gently, rubbing his back and running her fingers through his untidy raven hair. She would whisper words of comfort or hum soothing melodies that seemed to calm him. He would wrap his arms around her, clinging to her warmth as he would a life preserver in a stormy sea.
Kingsley had suggested that Harry take some time off to recuperate and clear his head. Ron had assured him that he would take care of the office while Harry was away. Byron Oaks had not survived for more than a day or so after he collided with the wall in the bunker. While this had come as a great relief to everyone he had hurt, it frustrated them that there were so many unanswered questions. Why, for instance, did he choose his targets the way he did? Why didn't he just kill them? Why the torture? Harry had decided he would rather not know everything as his only wish right now was to put everything behind him.
He thought back on what had happened after he had been rescued that night, after nine long days of hell. He still could not believe that it had only been nine days. Harry had managed, with Ron's help, to drag himself out of the bunker into the forest surrounding it, but had collapsed just meters away from the entrance. He had watched in a sort of half-conscious haze as Ron had pulled him up into his arms and taken him by Side-Along Apparition straight to St. Mungo's where he was treated for anxiety, exhaustion, dehydration and malnutrition, along with several other minor injuries. He had asked Ron to fetch Ginny for him, but he had no wish for his children to see him like this. He still didn't believe that he was truly free from the spell.
When Ginny had arrived, she had flung her arms around him planting kisses anywhere she could. She told him about how much she had missed him, of her sleepless nights, and of her time at the Burrow with the children. He had asked her about how James and Albus and Lilly had been dealing with his disappearance and was relieved to hear that they were all safe.
He had asked that the children not come to see him in hospital, even though he longed to see them more than anything. He believed that they were too young to see their father lying in a hospital bed and opted to see them when he arrived home, which was, thankfully, only three days later. Ginny had taken the children home the night after Harry had been found and assured them that daddy was just fine and he would be home in a couple of days.
Harry was still feeling stiff and weak when he was released from the hospital and his stomach ached from his recent introduction of solid food back into his diet. Hermione had been courteous enough to warn the children to take it easy with their father when he came home, that he was feeling a little sick still and they should avoid jumping on him when he arrived.
James had told his father a week after his return that he had been planning this reunion since Harry had gone missing. He had reminded Al and Lilly daily that one day soon their dad would walk right through the front door and greet them all with a big hug like he always did when he had been away with work.
As Harry walked through the door, supported by Ginny on one side and Ron on the other, the children rushed out from the sitting room and stopped several meters away, afraid of hurting their father. Harry lifted his aching arms from around his wife and his friend and crouched down on shaky legs holding out his arms to his children in greeting. They threw themselves into his arms as zealously as they dare, telling him how much they had missed him and how scared they had been. He savoured every second he had with them, not knowing when he would see another flash of blinding white light. But it never came.
Later that night, Harry had sat down with James on the bench under an old ash tree in their garden. Harry remembered building this bench with his children two years ago. It had been a mother's day present for Ginny. Harry knew that James was eager to know what had happened to Harry that day in the meadow and Harry knew that James had been blaming himself all this time. They talked well into the night, long after James should have been in bed, but Harry felt that James deserved to know. Harry never told his son what had happened after his capture, but explained only what he had to in order to make James understand that no untrained wizard could have stopped any of this from happening.
Now, almost a month after the incident, things seemed to be returning to normal. Harry was to return to work in the morning and in a week's time, James would be off to Hogwarts for the first time ever. He and Ginny had been forced to hide James' wand for the time being because they had caught him trying to stun small animals in the back garden. Harry assured him that in a couple of years, he would learn how to stun things, but in the meantime, he was to leave the poor squirrels alone.
That night, he lay in Ginny's arms feeling more contented than he had believed he would ever feel again. Perhaps one day, his adventures would be over, that he could settle down to a quiet, normal life, but in the meantime, he would just had to cherish the moments like these, when everything was peaceful in his world.