"How is she, Poppy?" McGonagall asked softly, her eyes on Emily's pale face.
"Stable." Madame Pomfrey answered, checking over Emily's unconscious body with her wand. "I've gotten her to breathe on her own, but she's still in pain. Whatever she took is making its way through her system and is having negative effects on her body."
"Is there a way to stop it?"
"I won't know until Horace finds out what was put in that goblet." Madame Pomfrey said stiffly. "Is there a reason you're here Minerva?"
McGonagall straightened her glasses. "The Headmaster needs a report to send to the girl's parents."
"Critical." Madame Pomfrey said shortly. "She has no reactions with any of her senses and is still having spasms where she almost stops breathing. I have to force her into unconsciousness with potions to keep them at bay, and I don't know how to treat her until I find out what caused it."
McGonagall frowned. "Don't you think she should be moved to St. Mungo's?"
"In her condition and with no idea of the root of it, and the history of her reactions, moving her at this point is not the best thing for her. Once we know the exact poison used I'll be able to treat it she can recover here."
"But it's winter break, don't you think it's best for you take some time off?" McGonagall asked.
Pomfrey shook her head. "I can rest here. With the students gone I can focus my attention on this, and the same goes for Horace. He seems more dedicated to this than I am anyway."
McGonagall rolled her eyes. "It's because Miss Potter is his best student, as well as a Slytherin, and losing her, as he would put it, would be a shame."
"Quite right, Minerva! Quite right!"
Both women jumped and reeled around.
Slughorn moved around them to Emily's bedside. "A very big shame if talent like Miss Potter's was lost. But don't think of me so negatively, Minerva, I would never let any student of mine die if there was a way for me to help them." Slughorn said with a frown.
McGonagall flushed in embarrassment. "I didn't mean, Horace, that you wouldn't-"
Slughorn waved a hand. "No need to apologize Minerva, I know it's common for women to gossip about those they admire. I'm flattered."
McGonagall's cheeks turn an odd red and her lips pursed tightly. "Horace, you-"
"Did you find out what it was Horace?" Pomfrey cut in.
Slughorn cleared his throat, suddenly serious. "Yes, what was put in her drink was a liquid poison. One that any witch or wizard could buy in Knockturn Alley. It's a hellaborn mixture. It's very easy to cure. "
"Then why hasn't the bezoar helped her?" Pomfrey asked. Emily had immediately been given a bezoar when she was levitated into the infirmary, but that had only stabilized her. As days passed she gave no signs of recovery and whenever she gave any sign of life she broke out onto a sweat and had convulsions, leading Madame Pomfrey to give her potions to keep Emily asleep and numb to the pain until they found a cure.
"It has." Slughorn said. "The hellaborn is what stopped her breathing, trying to collapse her lungs. We gave her the bezoar and now her lungs are fine. Normally, seizures and the system shutting down is not a result of hellaborn."
"Than what else was in it?" McGonagall asked.
"Venom. Whoever put that in her drink wanted to make sure the poison worked, so they added a large amount of venom. Snake venom, spider venom, and insect venom. That mixed with the poison mutated the effects and created a whole new form of poison. The bezoar is used to cure most poisons, but venom is in a whole different category when it comes to antidotes. I can't understand why she's even alive. The time it takes to get to the infirmary was enough to cure the hellaborn, but with the venom mixed in… then it shouldn't have mattered. When she ingested the poison it should have killed her instantly."
"Is there any reasons for this to be happening then? Why was she able to fight it off?" McGonagall asked perplexed.
"The only conclusion I can come up with is that she's previously ingested something that is used in venom antidotes." Slughorn said, stroking his chin. "But most ingredients used to counterattack the venom are poisonous in most other potions."
"I guess we'll have to ask her when she wakes up." Pomfrey said reasonably. "That is, if you're able to make an antidote for her."
"Of course I can." Slughorn assured her, looking a little affronted that she'd even suggest he couldn't. "I'll just have to create an antidote for overall venom relief mixed with the antidote for hellaborn. No doubt she has had times where she has trouble breathing?"
Pomfrey nodded. "Whenever she has an attack, her breathing becomes shorter and harsher."
"How long will the antidote take to make?" McGonagall asked. "Mr. and Mrs. Potter will want to know when their daughter will recover."
Slughorn hesitated. "Some of the ingredients are very hard to come by and others will need to be grown."
"A month, maybe more." He answered.
"That is too long!" Pomfrey cried. "Isn't there a way to make it shorter?"
Slughorn shook his head. "No, that's as best as I can do."
"We'll have to put her into a coma to keep her alive." Pomfrey muttered. "But that is too dangerous, and by estimation, by the time you're finished school will already be halfway into January."
"Then there's the added risk of being in a coma for that long." McGonagall added. "Since it will be forced, she could never wake up, even if the antidote is given."
"And she'll die if she's kept the way she is. Waking up from all the pain and having seizures will take such a toll on her body that when she's given the antidote she will have lasting problems when she recovers." Slughorn argued. "Would you rather take the safe road and ruin her life with a permanent handicap, or would you rather take a risk that will lead to a full recovery?"
"You don't know what could happen in either cases!" McGonagall said. "Even if there is a better chance of a full recovery with the second choice, there is a higher risk of her never waking up!"
"And there is a higher risk of her dying with the first!"
"If we just keep her asleep with the potion that Poppy has been using than I'm sure she'll be fine by the time you finish the potion."
"Yes, but the Sleeping Draught will run out eventually and there will be no one left to make more because I will be busy on the antidote."
"Then someone else will make it."
"That would take to much time, time that Emily does not have. If you let her remain awake for more that an hour the pain will be too much and her heart will give out."
"Then we'll find someone to start making more now while there's still some in stock."
"But the other students will be returning after New Years and what if one gets hurt and needs the potion? You of all people Minerva should know not to put the welfare of one student in front of another's."
McGonagall narrowed her eyes. "Yes, but when one of the students is in a fatal situation then their welfare becomes slightly more direr than the others and sacrifices must be made."
Slughorn scowled. "Sacrifices would not have to be made if only one potion is given and she is put into a coma."
"Don't act like you're so concerned." McGonagall snapped. "Her welfare is the last thing on your mind. You only care because she is a part of your 'collection' of special
students. You're worried that if she is just kept asleep until the antidote is given then she won't be in perfect condition anymore to help you gain advances for yourself. If she were just a regular
student then you would care less about her treatment. Yes, you would put the same effort into finding what was wrong and making the antidote, but how she would be treated wouldn't matter."
Slughorn's face turned red in anger. "How…How dare you! I would never…I-"
"Maybe," Pomfrey interrupted, sick of the argument and also worried that wands were going to be drawn. "This is an issue best left up to the decision of the parents of the child."
The Gryffindor and Slytherin Heads of House glared at one another.
"Fine." McGonagall said shortly.
"Alright." Slughorn nodded. "Whatever they decide will be the ending decision. You've heard my side of this and can explain it to them while I get started on the antidote. I'm sure you'll tell Albus of my discoveries, Minerva?" He asked coldly.
McGonagall nodded. "Yes."
"Then I will start the preparations on the antidote. Please keep me posted on her condition after a decision is made." He said, directing his statement at Pomfrey.
The nurse nodded. "Of course."
"Then I must be going." After a nod to Pomfrey and a glare to McGonagall he was gone.
"Minerva…" Pomfrey started.
"I'll go and inform Albus of what was discovered and contact the Potters to give them the report." "McGonagall said, cutting her off. "I apologize for my behavior, Poppy."
"It's alright, you're only worried about Miss Potter."
McGonagall nodded. "But it seems either way there is a high risk." She sighed softly and headed for the door. "It's up to the parents now though. They'll know what's best for their daughter." And then she was gone.
Madame Pomfrey stood beside Emily's bedside, staring after the Transfiguration professor, her face hard. "Let's hope so."
"Joan, come to bed."
Joan surpressed a sob and looked over her shoulder. Edward stood in the doorway of the living room. Joan wiped her eyes and turned to face the fire. "I can't come to bed now, what if something is discovered and they try to contact us, but I'm not here?"
Edward sighed. "I'm sure if it's important then Dumbledore will find another way to contact us."
"How can you be so calm about this?" Joan cried. "Our daughter is hurt and you're acting as if nothing is wrong."
"And you're overreacting." He retorted. "You're acting as if she's already died. Pull yourself together."
"Well at least I have enough sense to actually care about what happens to my daughter!" Joan snapped, standing up. "You don't even seem to care that someone tried to kill her."
Edward looked away. "She must have done something stupid for someone to want her dead."
"Oh, so it's her fault?" Joan yelled. "Whatever reason someone had why do you immediately have to think that it was Emily's fault. She's your daughter!"
"She's no daughter of mine!" He roared. "No daughter of mine would get sorted into Slytherin!"
"You stubborn old man!" Joan screamed back, not at all fazed by his yell. "Can't you look past Houses for once and see that our daughter, the little girl who loved her father so much, your little Emmy, is hurt and might die!"
"Only children with a dark future get sorted into Slytherin." Edward said quietly.
"Because people like you don't give those children a chance to do anything else. If you keep saying that they're evil and shouldn't be trusted then they will be. Not to mention if they're raised to think a certain way, but we raised Emily differently and I know she's good."
"Then why is she in Slytherin?"
"Because she's ambitious!" Joan said. "There is nothing evil about being ambitious. She wants to make a good life for herself and get it however she can, but that does not mean she will turn to the Dark Arts to get it!"
"It's only a matter of time Joan." Edward said, shaking his head. "Even if she isn't evil, those around her are and they will have an influence on her. They will trick her and soon she'll be just like the rest."
"Yes, and you're helping her along nicely aren't you?" Joan asked coldly. "When an eleven year old girl returns home from school, expecting the same warmth and comfort of her home, but only gets glares and insults then she will turn to those who are willing to accept her."
"So you're blaming me?" He asked, just as coldly. "It's my fault that she's turned out this way?"
"Turned out what way, Edward? Why do you make it seem like there's something wrong with her?" Sad tears began to escape her eyes. "She's a beautiful girl who's very smart and just wants her family to love her. She is good Edward, and if you'd forget your pride for one second then you'd be able to see this. She's not anything you wish her to be just because you want to believe that all Slytherins are evil. She is just Emily Potter, a 16-year-old girl who is alone and hurting. Now you better see this or you are not the honorable man that I thought you were."
"Jo, don't talk like that." He said desperately. "Can't you see what that girl is doing to us? Even now, without her even being here, she's causing us to fight."
"That girl," Joan hissed. "Is my daughter and I love her, and I won't let you…" Joan staggered and used the arm of the couch for support.
Edward rushed forward and gently grabbed her arm. "Jo, you're exhausted. Please, for your own sake, get some rest."
She pulled her arm from his grip and walked towards the stairs. "I will, but only so that I can be well rested for when the notice comes."
"I love you." Edward called after her, but received no answer. Sighing wearily, he took a seat in the armchair next to the fireplace. He buried his head in his hands and rubbed his temples. "Why has it come to this?"
He sat there like that for a while, but soon got up and started to make his way to the stairs.
Edward spun around, surprised, and saw the face of Minerva McGonagall in the fireplace.
"Minerva, is something wrong?" He asked, moving towards the fire.
"No, Miss Potter is fine at the moment," she said, thinking he was asking for the welfare of his child. "But you and Mrs. Potter must come at once, there is a matter to discuss."
"Can't it wait till morning?" He asked. "I just got my wife to go to bed and I myself-"
"It's for the welfare of your daughter!" McGonagall said hurriedly. "There's been a complication with Miss Potter's treatment and we need you and Mrs. Potter to make a decision as soon as possible."
"Fine," he said reluctantly. "But I'll comealone. Joan hasn't slept for days and it's for her own health that she not be bothered."
McGonagall looked hesitant. "Mr. Potter, don't you think your wife would like to come as well?"
"I know what's in my wife's best interest." He said sternly. "And I'd know what she'd want. I'll come alone."
McGonagall nodded. "Of course. Just floo over then and the matter will be discussed." Her head then disappeared from the fireplace, leaving Edward alone again. He grabbed a pinch of floo powder from the mantle and threw it into the fire. He stepped into the green flames.
He was gone in a swirl of green flames. James stepped into the living room, his eyebrows furrowed.
"So, Mr. Potter, you understand the circumstances?" Dumbledore asked calmly, his hands folded atop his desk, his eyes staring at the man in front of him intently. Professor McGonagall and Madame Pomfrey stood on his right, waiting patiently for Mr. Potter's decision regarding his daughter.
Edward held his chin in his hand and leaned his elbow on the arm of the chair Dumbledore had conjured for him. "So, it's one of those two choices?" His eyes sought out those of the nurse's.
Pomfrey nodded. "Yes. They are both risky and can both affect your daughter negatively, but both will cure her. However, we think that decision of which method to use should be left up to the parents."
Edward nodded. "When you spoke of the possible side effects of just putting her to sleep and numbing her, what would they be?"
"There are possibilities of nerve damage, causing mild penalization, the right amount of oxygen may not be able to reach her brain in time and she may get brain damage or memory loss, but these are only possibilities." Pomfrey said reassuringly. "She would be treated carefully and given the right dosages and the side effects are rare."
"But with the other treatment you would give her fewer potions?" He asked.
Pomfrey nodded. "Yes. The first would put her in a deep coma and partly shut down her system until the potion to awaken her is given so that her body and brain will not be damaged during the waiting period, and then the antidote would be given after Professor Slughorn finishes it, however, there is a chance, because it's such a deep coma… she could never wake up."
Edward raised an eyebrow. "But wouldn't the Awakening Draught do that?"
"Well, yes, it wakes up her systems, but after being shut down for such a long period of time, the brain and body could be… reluctant to wake up." Pomfrey answered.
Edward stared at the wall thoughtfully. "Do you have the potion to put her into a coma?"
Pomfrey nodded. "Yes, but Mr. Potter, you don't have to use that method, it would be less risky if we just kept her asleep, and I promise that nothing would go wrong and the chance of a side effect is very low."
Edward shook his head and stood. "No, I don't want to take that risk. Just put her in a coma."
"But Mr. Potter!" McGonagall said, speaking for the first time. "Both cases have a full percentage of recovery and there are fewer risks in her just being asleep, and she'll wake up."
"But there's a chance there will not be a full recovery in both. I would rather her to life a healthy life if she wakes up rather than a crippled life when she does." He said coolly.
"And whatever decisions I make about my daughter are no concern of yours, Minerva."
"Minerva," Dumbledore interrupted, watching McGonagall out of the corner of his eye. "Mr. Potter is right, it is up to him about the method of his daughter's treatment, and we have no right to interfere. So, now that a decision has been made, Poppy?"
Pomfrey nodded. "I'll go give her the potion." She left quickly, an air of reluctance around her.
Edward cleared his throat. "Now if that is all Albus, I must go."
"Go?" Dumbledore asked softly. "I would have assumed that you would want to visit your daughter before you left, to make sure everything goes alright."
"I'm sure Madame Pomfrey knows what she's doing, and I trust her. I have no need to make sure. And I'm very tired, so I…" He trailed off as he noticed the stern look McGonagall was giving him, a bit of disbelief on her eyes, and the sad look directed at him from Dumbledore. "…I suppose I should check on her, so I can tell me wife that everything is fine." He finished, changing his direction to the office door instead of the fireplace.
"Is it?" McGonagall asked. "Is it alright when your first choice is to go home instead of seeing your daughter?"
"As I said." Edward said quietly, his back to her and Dumbledore. "Whatever decisions I make about my daughter are no concern of yours." With that said he continued on his way and exited the hospital wing.
"Albus…" McGonagall began, her tone soft. "You can't let this happen."
"Ah, but I must, Minerva." He said. "My decisions can not win against those of the parent of the student."
"But-" She began, but was once again interrupted, this time by the roar of the fire as it grew and turned green as another person traveled through it. Joan stumbled into the office, wearing her nightdress and her hair a mess. She looked at McGonagall and Dumbledore searchingly, looking frantic.
"I heard that…message…Emily…my husband." She panted.
"Mrs. Potter, calm down, please take a seat." Dumbledore offered, gesturing to the now vacant armchair.
Joan shook her head, her breath coming in more evenly. "No…No, j-just tell me what…what has happened. What need's to be discussed? Is there something wrong?"
"No, she's fine." McGonagall answered. "Your husband has already come and discussed the problem and a decision has been made. He is now visiting your daughter."
Joan's eyes widened. "Visiting…Emily?" She took a shaky step closer, using the desk for support. "Please, tell me what's happened? What decision?"
Dumbledore calmly told Joan everything that had occurred during the meeting, and steadily Joan's eyes became wider and wider until the very end. Her eyes were then filled with terror.
"… A coma?" Tears began to fall and she covered her face in her hands. "Oh how could he… how could he take such a risk?" She looked up. "When is she being given the potion?"
"She being given the potion as we speak, that is why we suggested Mr. Potter be with her, to make sure everything goes alright." Dumbledore said.
"Well everything is not alright!" Joan cried. "You have to stop this!"
Dumbledore unfolded his hands and stood to be level with Joan. "Unfortunately, there is nothing in my power that I can do, and by now the potion has already been given."
Joan sobbed and tore from the room. Her old legs protested this activity, but she ran as fast as she could to the hospital wing. Ignoring the pain in her knees and back, the kink in her side, the heaviness of her breathing, and the burning of her lungs. She pushed the double doors of the infirmary open with all her might and entered. She stopped and looked around in panic.
Edward stood alone at Emily's bedside, his eyes wide with shock, surprise, and guilt.
"No…" She whispered, tearing her eyes away from him and to her unconscious daughter, an empty potion bottle on the nightstand. "NO!" She legs gave out and she fell to the floor, sobs ranking her frail body.
"Joan!" Edward cried, rushing to his wife's side. He tried to help her, but she slapped his hands away and stared up at him, wide eyed.
"How could you?" She sobbed. "How could you do this to your own daughter, to your family?"
"This way…" He said softly, kneeling in front of his sobbing wife. "This way if she ever wakes up there will be nothing more wrong with her."
"You monster!" Joan screamed, reaching forward to beat on his chest. But her hits were weak and Edward hardly felt a thing. "How could you? There was nothing wrong with her! Now she'll never wake up… My baby…I'll never get to talk to her…I'll never see her again."
"Joan…" he said desperately. "She could wake up."
"But why would she want to? Why would she mind make the decision to wake up when this life is what is waiting for her?" She gave up on her hitting and slumped forward, her fatigue and exhaustion catching up to her. "How…how could you? Why…?" She slumped forward, her cheeks still wet with tears and her hands still holding tightly onto her husband's shirt.
Edward wrapped his arms around his wife, laying his head on her shoulder. "I'm sorry… I had to...I couldn't let her ruin anything else."
As the old couple stayed crumpled on the floor surrounded by sadness and guilt, the young girl in the hospital bed began to retreat further and further into herself. Away from the sadness, away from the hatred, away from the confusion, but most of all, away from the pain.