Printer Friendly Version ] [ Report Abuse ]

Breathless by celticbard
Chapter 1 : Ether Shadows and Phantoms
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 21

Background:   Font color:  

Spectacular chapter image by the awesome Ande @ TDA

Author’s Note: Welcome to the first chapter of “Breathless” the sequel to my novel “Consumed”. This fic may be read as a stand-alone as pertinent back-story will gradually be revealed. I hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer: I claim no ownership of Rowling’s work, however, all OCs mentioned herein belong to me.

Medical Disclaimer: Much of this story revolves around the infectious disease, tuberculosis and its treatment. The methods I have described in this story are a mixture of both modern regimens and outdated procedures from the heyday of the sanatorium. For the purpose of this story, the main character contracts and suffers from a strain of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis found only in “wizards”, therefore, her experience may differ from the experience of a “muggle” with the same disease. Finally, I am not a physician. My statements regarding tuberculosis, although thoroughly researched, should not be taken as actual medical facts.

Cast List: 

Forbia “Freddy” Fotherby - Melanie Lynskey
Healer Calum Crane - Peter Facinelli
Nurse Jenkins - Samantha Morton

Chapter One Ether Shadows and Phantoms

“Quite unbelievably
I want someone to be sweet to me
When I’m in absolutely horrible pain” [1]

Late March, 1994

Coughing. It was the sound of coughing that would drive Freddy insane. Drive her mad before she could die.

The walls of the sanatorium, washed yellow with fresh paint, were deceptively thin. In the night, when the old pipes stopped rattling for a heartbeat, Freddy could hear the other patients hacking away.

Some made great, wet noises, their mouths thick with blood. Others wheezed dryly and Freddy pictured them hanging over their beds, trying in vain to produce some of the sputum that clogged their lungs.

And in listening to them, she herself would cough, contributing to the symphony of consumptives housed in the intensive care ward.

It was an awful racket and during the night, Freddy thought she would go mad. The slats that made up the footboard of her bed became bars and she was a prisoner, kept in place not by chains, but by her own weakness. Flushed with fever, she dreamed of ether shadows, of phantoms and the captain of all the men of death who was a greedy guardian angel. [2]

But then dawn came, inching its way into her room as a splotch of color on her blankets. An hour later the pipes would start hissing again. And the coughing, that wretched coughing, finally stopped.

She had survived the dark for a few more hours.

Two weeks after her arrival, Freddy came to the conclusion that it would be very easy to feel sorry for herself. There was a rule against melancholy amongst patients, although she truly couldn’t see herself abiding by it. Instead, she lived apart from her mind, watching the stirrings in her little world, the strict routines and regimens that guided the lives of nearly three hundred patients.

Outside her room, the orderlies in their white robes wheeled breakfast carts up and down the hall, depositing trays of eggs and bacon in front of their charges and collecting the sputum cups that would be taken to the incinerator.

The door to Freddy’s room was kept open at all times, dampening privacy, making her self-conscious when she was in so much discomfort.

Her chest was caving in, she was sure of it. Healer Crane must have botched the pneumonectomy and taken out all of her ribs and that’s why she couldn’t breathe. Moist, gasping noises interspaced her coughs. Her bed sheets were soaked with last night‘s sweat. She tried to roll over, but was in too much pain to propel herself onto her side. Reaching out an arm, she grasped the edge of the bed and pulled.

“What do you think you’re doing, Professor?”

A voice, any voice unscarred by TB was a rarity these days. Freddy looked up.

Nurse Jenkins stepped into the room and promptly pushed her back into bed.

“I can’t breathe,” Freddy panted, “I thought I was dying.”

“Still, you’re not supposed to get out of bed.”

“Can’t I have some essence of murtlap?”

Nurse Jenkins pursed her lips. She was head of the ward Freddy was in and in a way, reminded her of a young McGonagall. Jenkins, however, was perpetually sour. Freddy assumed it had something to do with her surname, which was actually Jensis. Everyone mispronounced it as Jenkins, even though it was neatly spelled out on the name tag pinned to her crisp, blue robes.

“No more potions.” Jenkins fussed over the rumpled sheets, pressing a palm to Freddy’s forehead. “You’re overheated. I’ll have to open the windows.”

“Oh please don’t!” Freddy coughed up a mouthful of sputum.

Jenkins paused by the window catch and sighed. “Try to control your coughing.”

“I can’t.”

“You can,” the nurse replied tersely, snatching Freddy’s sputum cup from her hand. “Do you see this sputum? That’s your lungs in there. Control your coughing.”

Freddy whimpered softly. “Please, can’t I have some murtlap? Or something for the pain, at least.”

“No more potions for now. Healer Crane’s orders.”

Oh, it was terribly unfair! Freddy thought she might cry…if she could ever get her breath back. No more potions. Healer Crane had successfully weaned her off most of the potions the healers at St. Mungo’s had used to stabilize her after her surgery a month ago. Now that the wound was healing, he wanted to focus strictly on the infectious TB that was still nibbling away at her chest cavity. But Freddy couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t give her a little murtlap…just a little murtlap to soothe the pain near her ribs.

“Would you like a glass of water instead?” Nurse Jenkins offered.

Freddy could tell from the sharp tone of her voice that she was beginning to lose her patience. Honestly, she couldn’t blame the poor woman. There were fifty beds on the intensive care ward, all occupied by critically ill patients that needed attention around the clock.

But still, that didn’t make Freddy feel any better about the murtlap.

“No,” she muttered, sinking back against her pillows. After being confined to a bed for over a month, she was starting to get uncomfortable. The sheets were always tangling about her legs and every time a nurse entered to rearrange her pillows, Freddy would cry out in pain as she was gingerly lifted up.

She wanted to get up more than anything…anything. But her body betrayed her, refusing to budge more than few inches at a time.

Freddy struggled to swallow away her frustration. This tuberculosis business was not as romantic as the Victorians made it seem.

“Very well.” Nurse Jenkins was just about to finish opening her window when a robed figure shuffled by Freddy’s door. “Oh no…Mr. Hatterly! Mr. Hatterly you mustn’t be out of bed!”

Good for him, Freddy thought to herself and watched as Nurse Jenkins gave chase.

The window above her bed was only half-open now. She could feel a deliciously soft breeze teasing her hair. For a moment, she shut her eyes and tried to forget about the horrible squeezing sensation clutching her chest.

The row of “Get Well” cards she kept on her locker tipped over as the Yorkshire wind swept through the room. Freddy closed her eyes and tried to imagine what the moors outside looked like. Her bed did not face the window, which was perhaps for the best. The sight of the outside world, budding and birthing under the touch of spring, was too torturous for an invalid.

Invalid, yes, that’s what I am, she told herself, even as her mind recoiled from the word.

Invalid. Invalid. Invalid.

It had been over a month since she had been diagnosed with tuberculosis and removed from her post at Hogwarts as Professor of International Magic. The disease had only been discovered after a very violent hemorrhage which left her near death in February. After being rushed to St. Mungo’s, she was promptly put into the care of Healer Calum Crane, an expert in the field of multi-treatment resistant tuberculosis in wizards.

Crane himself was Healer-in-Chief of his own sanatorium, funded, of course, by the Ministry of Magic. And although she wouldn’t risk saying it out loud, Freddy found the place downright unnerving. She had only been afforded a brief view of the brick façade on the day of her admittance, but even the brief glimpse reminded her of some dreadful Muggle boarding school. The hallways were long and straight, the floors inlaid with some green-speckled, imitation slate. Freddy was revolted by the notion of institutionalization. It reminded her of a trashy horror novel in which hapless patients became the victims of twisted experiments performed by modern day Doctor Frankensteins.

And no one could hear you scream, even if you cried until your lungs bled, which they frequently did.

Freddy shut her eyes and whimpered. Oh, if only she had a little murtlap.

The sensible click of low-heeled shoes in the corridor made her frown. She knew that walk.

Sure enough, Nurse Jenkins stepped inside the room, pinning back her unruly hair beneath her white cap.

“Now, where were we, Professor?”

“The murtlap,” Freddy said, hoping the woman would just leave and let her sleep.

Nurse Jenkins smiled tersely. “Ah yes. You can take the matter up with Healer Crane yourself, if you like. He wants to see you before breakfast. I’ll have one of the orderlies bring in a wheelchair.”

Freddy raised her eyebrows. Now this was new. Since her arrival, Crane had always come to her room to her. She had never been permitted outside.

A shame, she thought wryly to herself, the highlight of my day is getting into a wheelchair.

But she wasn’t complaining. Not anymore.

Healer Crane’s examining room was not at all as Freddy had expected. For one thing, there were no dreary medical tableaus pinned to the hunter green walls, but rather, lush paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite era. The table she was made to sit upon reminded her a bit of reclining couch one might find in a Freudian’s office, its hide leather, not steel. Freddy found herself studying the patterns in the Venetian carpet beneath her dangling feet, measuring her precious breaths between coughs.

Crane arrived at a quarter past two, not a moment too late.

He was a tall man, lean and somewhat too pale. Freddy often wondered if he had ever contracted tuberculosis himself, having worked so closely with contagious patients for years on end.

Other than his colorless features, he was quite handsome, the type of handsome that made her feel intimidated. Freddy had once considered herself a decent looking girl, but now she was a scraggly thing with limp braids, bloodshot eyes and a pattern of intricate scars on her chest.

But Crane was lovely. All spit and polish. And she often heard the nurses chatting away about him being named one of Witch Weekly’s top fifty most eligible bachelors.

Whatever. Gilderoy Lockhart had been granted the same honor and he didn’t have two brain cells to rub together. And honestly, Freddy didn’t care if Crane looked like a wart on a troll, so long as he could cure her.

“Ah, I see your spine is still working,” he said congenially, pulling up a small stool on wheels and seating himself by the examining table. “An improvement, I would say.”

“Yes,” Freddy replied through gritted teeth. Her spine, however, was currently remonstrating her for spending over a month in bed. Irritable little cricks and creaks made her feel like an arthritic old maid. “I’m still rather sore about my lung though.”

“Figuratively or literally?”


“Well, let’s see what we can do.” He reached forward and carefully opened the front of her robe, exposing the bone-white bandages beneath. The dressing wrapped around her chest and was held in place by a second bandage that looped over her shoulder.

Freddy wrinkled her nose as she smelled antiseptic rising from the wound.

Crane threw the soiled bandages in a dish held out for him by Nurse Jenkins. And then he sat forward, staring at the thin, long scar. “It’s healing nicely. Better than I expected. The infection, however, is another matter. We still need to clean you up.”

“I hate to be vain,” Freddy mumbled, wanting to talk about anything besides TB, “but isn’t it awfully disfiguring?”

He laughed. “Let me show you something.” Standing, he crossed the room to the obligatory bookcase and scanned the smart, impressive-looking tomes. After a moment, he found the one he wanted and extracted it.

“Before the pneumonectomy was considered a viable procedure for the treatment of tuberculosis,” he said, flipping through the pages idly, “Muggle doctors performed what was called a thoracoplasty. Here’s the end result.”

He showed her a black and white picture of a shirtless man with a scar that looked like a zipper. It curved from underneath his left breast, under his arm, until it ran parallel to the shoulder blade.

Freddy was speechless.

“Thankfully, we’ve retired that particular surgery from our treatment regimen.”

“I suppose I should be relieved, then.”

“It would be helpful.”

“But I’m not.”

Crane replaced the book on his shelf. “We are in for a long haul here, you know.”

Freddy stared at the carpet again, feeling somewhat embarrassed. She hoped that Crane wouldn’t chide her for being despondent. “I know…I’m just not used to being in one place for so long a time.”

“Your Professor of International Magic at Hogwarts, yes? Our first teacher to be admitted to the sanatorium.”

“Do I get a medal?” Freddy responded, forcing a smile.

Crane humored her poor joke, smiling. “You must travel frequently then, unless you take all your curriculum from books.”

“No, I love to travel!”

“Have you ever been to India?” Crane was fussing with her file. He lifted out several x-rays that showed the great empty cavity where her left lung had been and the two upper lobes of her right lung that were still infected.

Freddy tried to concentrate on his questions, forcing her eyes away from the troubling x-rays. “Umm, yes. In fact, when I was twenty-three, I spent two weeks in New Delhi. But my…that was nearly ten years ago!”

“Time flies,” Crane agreed. He was now listening to her breathing with a stethoscope. “I went to Mumbai myself for six months. Did some work in the slums. You can’t imagine how rampant TB is there.” He paused, shaking his head. “But for the record, I like to travel as well. Tell me, do you have a favorite destination, or is it impossible to chose just one place?”

Freddy shrugged a little and tried to laugh. “That’s not an easy question. I don’t know…although, I would like to go back to the south of France for a while, or somewhere along the Mediterranean, where it’s breezy and warm and I can drink some outrageous wine and eat smelly cheese.”

Crane withdrew the stethoscope. “I’d like to go with you.”

“What about your patients?”

“You are my patient.”


He returned his gaze to the x-rays, his clear brow puckering. “Forbia, we have to take care of this.”

“Freddy, it’s Freddy,” she said, blushing as she interrupted him. “Everyone calls me Freddy, less of a tongue-twister than Forbia Fotherby.”

Crane exhaled through his nose, amused. “All right then. Freddy. As I was saying, we have to take care of this.”

“It’s bad, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is, but I’m confident that I can handle this if you let me. We need to clean up your right lung. I’m going to introduce several new potions, along with some Muggle medicines. You are going to stay in bed and take the cure. I’ll also send word to the kitchens. Your diet needs adjusting. You’ve lost too much weight.”

“You’re going to fatten me up?”

“Only until you get your strength back.”

Freddy felt at ease under his smile. It wasn’t exactly paternal, but comforting in an odd sort of way. Healer Crane spent another few minutes chatting with her about nonsense before Nurse Jenkins brought the wheelchair around again.

“I’ll see you soon, Freddy,” he told her, squeezing her hand, his palm slightly sweaty.

On the way back up to her room, Freddy slouched wearily in the chair, feeling deflated. Nurse Jenkins’s low-heeled shoes created a cadence on the green-speckled floor.

“Don’t look so down,” she said, her usually tight voice straining to be cheerful. “I believe you have a visitor.”

Glossary of Terms
Tuberculosis/TB/Consumption: An infectious disease which commonly attacks the lungs causing a persistent cough, the spitting up of blood, weight loss, fatigue, pallor, fever and night sweats. Mycobacteria is transmitted through the air every time the infected sneezes, coughs or spits. Can be cured with a standard regimen of antibiotics unless the disease is multi-drug resistant.

Sanatorium: A medical facility dedicated to long-term convalescence, usually associated with tuberculosis. Sanatorium normally refers to a hospital setting, whereas sanitarium suggests a health spa. Not to be confused with a mental health facility or psychiatric hospital.

Sputum Cup: Used in sanatoriums to contain the infected sputum of patients. Quite literally, a cup or cardboard box which was kept by the patient until collected and incinerated.

Pneumonectomy: A surgical procedure in which a damaged or infected lung is removed.

Thoracoplasty: A historical treatment for tuberculosis. A surgical procedure in which numerous ribs are removed and pushed into the thoracic cavity, causing the lung to collapse. This procedure is greatly disfiguring to the patient.

Author’s Note: Thanks so much for taking the time to read! For those of you that have read “Consumed”, I do hope this first chapter lived up to your expectations and wasn’t too disappointing. If you have a free moment, please leave a review. I’d love to hear from you. The next chapter should be posted in two weeks. Take care!


[1] Taken from “Incident in a Medical Clinic” as performed by Rasputina from their album Oh Perilous World (2007). Lyrics by Melora Creager.

[2] The phrase “the captain of all the men of death” is an infamous pseudonym for consumption penned by John Bunyan when he wrote, “the captain of all these men of death that came against him to take him away was the consumption, for it was that that brought him down to the grave.”

Next Chapter

Favorite |Reading List |Currently Reading


Other Similar Stories

No similar stories found!