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Brittle Bones by manno_malfoy
Format: Short story
Chapter 1: Purple Poppies and Black Tales
As a healer, you know exactly what to expect when it comes to diseases. You know that a bite from a fire python will first make one little wart appear where the creature's teeth dug their way into the flesh. Then, overnight, the patient's body would become covered in warts, each is as painful as being bit by the python over and over again. Eventually the poison will be more than you can dilute by potions; the warts will swell, deadly fluids will course through your patient's blood and all you will be able to do is give them a Draught of Peace and hope that it would ease their passing.
As a healer, you know that after a certain amount of blood is lost, there would be no hope of reviving your patient. They will have been drained of life. Literally.
You walk into the children's ward at St. Mungos even though you're an hour early. It's the first day of work and you know all the facts, you know all the potions, and you know the name of every disease that can kill, of every ominous symptom that sketches the map to someone's dead end. The most important thing you know is that in this particular part of the children's ward, you can never eliminate death. That's what they teach you in Healing School. You'll only push it aside for a while. You'll blind-fold it until you hide the child and hope that they're tucked away well enough that death would take quite a while to find them again. And the pesky thing is that death will always find them again, no matter how good of a healer you are, no matter how much hope your patient has. That's what they teach you in Healing School; they teach you that you cannot outdo science.
It's dreadful to have such thoughts infest your head when you haven't even started working and you know that, but it's a truth engraved in your mind, one you can recite like a list of a potion's ingredients.
But then, you take a step towards the ward. Something will make you hear before you see. Maybe it's how terribly feeble you know the children will look. The one who's green with Dragon Pox and the one who's so pale you'd think their skin is covered in flour, their innocence wrinkled by the turmoil of disease, by the pain they have withstood in such a short period of time.
So you hear first. You hear music, an infusion of strings being shaken and piano keys being pushed down to release the softest of tones. You still don't want to see. Yes, you've been trained for this but once you're in here, those children become yours. When they die, it's your loss, and when they are awoken in the middle of the night by excruciating pain, it's you who's expected to rush over and soothe them, to expel the demons that tried to strangle your children under the concealing veils of the night.
So you continue to listen. You hear laughs that take you by surprise. Laughs that are too genuine, too loud to be produced by someone who can hardly get themselves out of bed. You close your eyes and listen harder, let the music and the laughs blend together, two ingredients being stirred together in the dark cauldron behind your eyes.
With your eyelids shut tightly, you see a young girl with big asparagus-green eyes and short blonde hair sitting cross-legged on her bed, listening to the same music you're hearing. One second, she's watching the boy across the room try to tape a picture he has drawn on the wall above his bed. The next second, she's laughing as the boy hits the ground, even though she knows she shouldn't be. She gets off her bed slowly, careful not to bump into anything and goes to sit on the ground beside him to find that he isn't crying, that he isn't in pain. Her left arm is purple because she slept on her left side the previous night, and the tender pale skin of her right hand bears an imprint of the spoon she has eaten her breakfast with. His skin is a little greener than it was the previous day, the disease making him unbalanced. He reminds you of a pea plant lacking support so it leans against thin air and continues to droop until it touches the ground.
It isn't supposed to be funny, she isn't supposed to be putting so much weight on her knees, and he shouldn't have been trying to stand up on a bed. But she's laughing and he's not in pain and they're both on the ground together. In the heat of the moment, they forgot all about the greens and the purples that the white room around them disappeared into oblivion, its presence disregarded due to the normalcy of the occasion.
Suddenly, the laughing grows louder and the music pales in beauty and in joy next to their youthful giggles. But it's still there. The music is playing and the children are laughing and you're still listening, still letting the two sounds unite, wanting them to unite.
The more you listen, the better you feel. But then the children stop laughing and they're only heaving, out of breath. An occasional giggle bursts every few seconds as though they don't want to let go of the laughter, as though it's a lifeline they're hanging onto. And you realise you don't want them to stop either. They're helping you remember; they're helping you heal again.
You open your eyes and you realise that the room you're standing in is empty. There aren't any green children and there isn't a frail little girl cushioned by charms and warm quilts. There's only you and the gramophone that isn't even on. Suddenly, someone puts their hand on yours and you flit out of your distracted stance, but your body relaxes as it recognises the familiar hand. Skin cells can remember things too.
They say children are more resilient, more flexible, and more atrocious at fighting disease than are adults. But does anyone really know why? Recently, there has been talk about 'growth hormones' and 'hormones' in general, but do they really know for sure?
Once upon a time, I was a healer with near to no experience. I knew facts and tales about the body parts, I knew the names of potions and their ingredients, I sometimes struggled to remember the names of some diseases but, mostly, I knew them all. My family looked down upon me because of my occupation; the ladies of the noble house of Black were not supposed to labour for fortune – but no, they were encouraged to marry for it instead. They were meant to be mistresses of their households and only that -the equivalent of an ornate mantelpiece.
With my turning down every proposing cousin and sabotaging every marriage my mother tried to arrange, and with her persistence to have me marry that I could not withstand, I realised that I needed a place to stay other than my family's house. And, miraculously enough, the terminal children's ward required continuous presence in the hospital. And so, I became a children's healer just to escape my family's pressure.
Never had I thought I would get this attached to the job, to the children. Never had I thought I would watch proper miracles happen.
When I was a younger healer, there was a story I liked to tell. Because even though the children in my ward never really healed, they were still children. They were still supposed to be resilient, atrocious warriors; they were supposed to have a better chance at healing than those in the terminal adult ward. But because the word terminal was attached to the ward's name, no one seemed to take that into consideration.
The story was about a fascinating body part known as the thymus. Back then, nearly twelve years ago, no one knew of the function of the thymus. All they knew was that when the radio-spell was cast over a child's chest, a small sac-like structure would be witnessed under the breastbone, and that when the same spell was cast on an adult, the sac would not be there. It befuddled us healers more than anything else. Could there really have been a body organ that became useless as we aged? And what could have possibly been its task?
Because no one had a legitimate answer, I made up a story that would encourage my children, one that would give them hope to wake up the following morning and not expect to find death at the foot of their beds.
The first child I told that story to was Adrienne Scamander who was suffering from Dragon Pox since she was three and had been in the ward ever since. The head healers scolded me for this; not because I relayed inaccurate scientific information to my patient or because I performed some procedure incorrectly, no. But because I had allowed a little girl to truly believe that she had a better chance at survival than she actually did; when she had been suffering from a terminal disease. They scolded me because I had allowed her, for once, to go to sleep with a smile on her face. Because that very smile was the one she was buried with. She took the story to the grave with her as well and for years, Adrienne Scamander remained the only child to have been told my petty story.
Seven years later came a Poppy Pomfrey whose skin turned a curious shade of blue and purple upon contact. She was a delicate little girl who was fragile in every sense of the word but who showcased unparalleled thrill to leave the ward and go to Hogwarts so she can learn things and hear stories and grow to find a cure for her condition. She stayed with me for four years before I had run out of stories to tell and before she turned eleven and had run out hope. She was not going to Hogwarts, she was not going to heal, she was to remain in the ward forever, wrapped up in protective charms.
At the same time came a Malfoy with Dragon Pox called Aldean, and he was a free spirit. Even though his illness put him to sleep most of the time, he lived those few hours he got to the fullest. When I began to tell those two stories at night, he used to be awake and alert, listening with care and picking up on all the details. Not many minutes after that, I would lose grasp on his attention and allow him to be overpowered by sleep, by the poison that lured him into the darkness.
"So you are saying that if you believe in the powers of the thymus, it heals you?" Poppy asked me, sitting cross-legged on her bed as she always did, her short blonde curls tied in a tiny lump that was tucked in the crane of her neck.
Aldean had been asleep for minutes by then, but Poppy kept on looking at his bed as though she was hoping he would wake up and offer his thoughts on the story I had just told her.
"Something like that. You have got to believe that there will be a way out." I looked at her with compassion and I knew, by the tilt of her head, by the creases between her eyebrows, that she was not convinced.
Poppy was a brilliant girl whose curiosity was so extent that I believed it would be the death of her one day. After she turned eleven, she questioned everything as though she was hoping that would compensate for the classes she wasn't attending at Hogwarts and the books at the Library that she didn't get to read.
"I don't believe you." She shook her head slightly and shrugged as though she wanted to believe in it but couldn't because it didn't sound logical to her.
"So you think that its magic should just work on its own?" I asked her and sat down on the end of her bed.
I remember that she shrugged at me and didn't say anything.
"Had magic worked on its own, Poppy, we would not have needed to spend so much time studying it and trying to develop it. We wouldn't have needed a wand that chooses us and takes time to truly become ours." She was listening to me intently and I wondered if she was trying to find fault in my words, if the way she was frowning at me was her attempt at scrutiny.
"Does it really?" she asked.
I then remembered that she hadn't even a wand, and I began wondering if they would let her get one even if she wasn't going to Hogwarts.
"Yes! You have to train it and truly believe that it's the one for you. The better you connect with your wand, the more powerful you will be," I explain to her. "And the same goes for your thymus. You must direct it; let it know that you need its magic so you can be stronger. You have to make use of it before it's gone."
A/N: Eeeek! I finally got to writing a bit of a medical story! I've never really tried to write anything that required imagery as did this story, so feedback regarding that would be wonderful. Also, many thanks to my best friend Sunny who read over this for me and helped me realise a major hole.
I still haven't decided how long this story will be, but I do know that there's a chapter 2.
Reviews -critique included- will be greatly appreciated!