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Brittle Bones by manno_malfoy
Format: Short story
Chapter 2: Monsters under the Bed
The following chapter has been written for WhisperThroughtheWind's Pretty Little Liars challenge. Credit to the following line goes to Sara Shepard, the author of the PLL book series. Ali's name has been altered to suit the story.
"Or maybe, just maybe, it was Ali's spirit, lurking close, desperate."
I can bet that you have never had an out-of-body experience before. That moment where your brain seems to detract itself from you, and you feel as though you're in two places at once, as though you're an intruder on an intimate moment between your body and its surroundings. It's not a thing a person should go through often.
A brain shuts itself out for one of two reasons: one, it's greatly overworked to function properly so it just dismembers and pulls you into sleep. It tugs onto you until you're swooped into dreams, where you're a watcher, where you can see everything happen, including yourself as you dynamically interact with the fleeting colors and semi-familiar people. As you start falling towards the ground. So it's your body that is falling, and supposedly you should be seeing the green grass that will, most likely, not cushion your fall, but you're not. Instead, you're watching the body descend through the air at an insurmountable speed, your heart quickens as the body seems to get closer to the ground. And once you realise that the body is yours, you wake up with a jolt, beads of sweat entailing your forehead and dampening your palms.
The brain never wants you to get hurt. The brain always knows.
And that's the second case for which your brain will depart you: protection.
I have spent days reciting a speech to myself: 'You shall not succumb out of this. Poppy Pomfrey, you are not scared of this because there's nothing to be scared of. You're going to a place of healing, a sanctuary, not a morgue or a graveyard. You're going to witness miracles and no one should succumb their way out of that.'
Apparently, no matter how confident I was in the morning as I stepped into St. Mungos, I was affected by my surroundings. I was peeled away from the only asset that I trust: my brain. I was locked outside the ward by fear, as if I could have retrieved my brittle bones had I stepped in. I was looking at the ward as memories seemed to stream back, one green boy after the other, one injury more dangerous than the next. And it terrified me to be there again in the place where I have seen so many people depart the realm of life and leave nothing but shell-cases that we hide deep in the dirt.As if burying their physical forms would help alleviate the sentimental strings that tie us to them.
Then, a hand touched mine and I felt my brain ease itself down, leaping up with joy as it recognised the tender hands of its saviour and I slowly felt it return to me. That's when I remembered that there were so many others that left, that healed. That there were many others who grew up to be aurors and teachers and healers even. That there were so many others who came here and didn't end up in the dirt.
"Poppy Pomfrey," the familiar gentle voice addresses me and I turn around, eager to see her, happy that she is still here.
"Madam Elora." I'm smiling as my eyes go over the features of the face that I have never forgotten.
The first thing I notice are her striking green eyes that don't seem to have changed at all, still rimmed by the horrors of relatively endless nights, still gentle as they look at me as though I am only five. Her skin seems to have gotten a little thicker that it creases at the ends of her smile, like fossils of older smiles that have rested upon this face. She is standing tall and proud in her teal healer robes, embodying the word 'inspirational' in every way possible, and it makes me wonder If I will look anything like her once I'm in my own robes.
Before I can make any move and while I'm still studying her face, trying to see what else has changed since I have last been in this ward, she wraps her arms around me and pulls me into a hug. "I thought I have told you to never return here, Poppy." Her voice is mildly reprimanding, yet mostly amused, trying to choose a middle ground between both but is partially attracted to one more than the other.
"Ah, and I thought you'd be happy to see me," I tell her and she lets go of me.
Now, it's her turn to look at me and see how much I've grown, how much I've changed.
"Hmm, let me see. I don't see any bruises, no sign whatsoever of a terminal disease. I suppose I can be a little happy to see you." She smiles at me again then she steps into the ward. Into our ward.
I brace myself for a moment, still not wanting to enter the room. It's an irrational fear and I completely realise that. Yet, for some reason, that doesn't make it any easier to overcome.
"You can come in, you know," she tells me as she points her wand at a blanket and have it fold itself at the foot of the bed, the same way she used to do mine every morning.
"I know that." I nod at her and take a step forward, but that's all I do.
I stand at the door and let my eyes roam over the room that hasn't changed a single bit since I have left. The bright white walls still bear colourful drawings. They're not the same drawings, I suppose, but from where I'm standing, they look like the ones I used to put up. The gramophone is still on the table that's partially tucked in the corner behind the curtain; it has stopped working two years after I came to the hospital and no one ever got around to fixing it. I wonder if it still doesn't work, if it still has my and Aldean's signatures. There are still four beds, two at each side of the room, their blankets huddled on top of them as though they're hiding something or someone underneath.
"If you're so scared to be back here, why did you come back at all? Why did you choose to go to Healing School?" Madam Elora inquires and I stop scanning the room with my eyes, shocked that she's still able to see through me.
"I'm not entirely sure," I confess with a shrug and look at my shoes, unable to face her after saying that I have done something without a proper justification.
"You're not entirely sure?" she repeats slowly and I can feel her eyes on me, seething with curiosity and accusations, with anger over how I may not be doing the best I could to make use of the life she helped save.
I take a moment to think of something smart to say, of some witty retort, of an escape perhaps. Nevertheless, even as I study the creases in the leather of my black shoes, I could feel the weight of her question, of her glare that I couldn't see but rather heard in her voice, and I realise that there is only one correct answer –a reasonable explanation.
"I'm not entirely sure what to attribute this to, but I do have conjectures," I start, being as clear as I possibly could. "Maybe it's because I spent a large part of my life here and knew more about medicinal magic than any other kind of magic. Or maybe it's because I wanted to be like you –strong, knowledgeable, inspirational; because I wanted to make a difference in someone's life the way you've made a difference in mine. Or maybe, just maybe, it was Aldean's spirit, lurking close, desperate. It's like he was egging me on to find a cure for Dragon Pox so I can save a child from facing the same dreadful end he came to."
I stop talking and look at the bed he used to occupy and I could almost see him there. Tiny, green, and frail, yet with a spirit that could've rivalled that of a thousand warriors dressed in their green suits and armed with hundreds guns. Except that he wasn't armoured, he hadn't a battery that could have protected him. He only had Madam Elora. And me.
The silence becomes overbearing and I look up at Madam Elora to find her looking at his bed with remorse, as though she is the one that killed him.
"Or maybe I just wanted to find out the true purpose of the thymus because, apparently, there is no such thing as 'the sac that beholds magic that can cure any malady'." Maybe that could lighten up the mood.
"Oh, look at you! You go to Healing School and come back here thinking you know the answer to everything!"
I don't know what to make out of her tone. Is she mocking me? Is she thinking I'm too self-assured?
"Well, what I've been told is that all the thymus does is produce cells that help make the body more immune to diseases," I argue and fold my arms over my chest, enthralled by the challenge already. It is like time has not passed and like nothing has changed, like neither of us has suffered from any losses and it was just she and I in the ward, arguing until midnight about stories and facts and theories while Aldean whistled in his sleep across the room.
"Forget about the thymus for a moment and let's talk about magic, alright?" she says and starts to pace across the room slowly, folds her arms across her chest, and watches over her own footsteps. "Until you're eleven, your magic is practically useless, correct? It only shows when you lose grip over your nerves and you can never truly control it. Yet, you want to tell me that, when you're a child, you're not more likely to recover while all this powerful magic is locked up inside you, regardless of where it's kept? You want to tell me that the way you start using your magic on summoning slippers and folding blankets has nothing to do with how you don't heal as quickly or as easily when you grow up?"
She stops moving and looks up at me expectantly as though she thinks I'll retaliate, that I'll have some opposing theory. Surprisingly, I don't.
"Look, I understand that they say it's easier to treat the diseases you catch as a child because it wouldn't have had enough time to progress or to truly damage anything. But personally, I think that the amount of magic a child has within them largely affects keeping the progress of the disease at bay as well, and at having the potions work more effectively." She is standing still and I'm the target of her sight, of her attention.
"These aren't things they teach you in Healing School; they're not approved facts or things proven by experiments. And I'd like to remind you that they teach you in Healing School that people like yourself shouldn't have lived past the age of thirteen. But are you a ghost, Poppy? Are you still bruised from head to toe? Are you on the verge of death? Or have we found you a cure? Have we gone against what they deemed was impossible?"
Her tone is sharp now, her questions are arrows directed at me with violent precision. And she hits the target like a talented hunter, nailing the answer she wants to hear.
"You've found me a cure."
"Then why are you standing out there as though you still think that death is hiding under one of the beds?" she asks me then turns away, leaving me at the door as she continues to arrange things around the room.
And that's when I learned my first lesson of the day.
They teach you in Healing School that children are resilient fighters, that they are hopeful and more likely to recover from diseases than are adults. What they fail to mention, and what is of great importance, is that you too should be a resilient fighter, a hopeful being. That you, like any child out there –muggle or wizarding, must believe in magic, should you succeed as a healer.
A/N: Yes, another author's note. Credit is due to my wonderful friends Nova and Salma for helping me in the very beginning to decide which characters to choose and for reading this story and critiquing it for me. Many thanks to whoever has reviewed this story so far; your support means a lot to me.
There is a massive chance there'll be another chapter in this story (maybe even more than one) but I'm still not sure.
Reviews and critique will be largely appreciated.