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Breathless by celticbard
Chapter 9 : Puzzled
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 4


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                                         Amazing chapter image by Iriki @ TDA

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 The methods I have described in this story are a mixture of both modern regimens and outdated procedures from the heyday of the sanatorium.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
Remus Lupin - James D’Arcy
Slatero Quirrell - Simon Woods
Minerva McGonagall - Maggie Smith
Sibyl Trelawney - Emma Thompson
Nurse Jenkins - Samantha Morton
Lavinia Wainwright - Naomi Watts
Finella Fotherby/Mam - Maria Doyle Kennedy
Healer Elliot - Mark Ruffalo
Oliver Lias - Derek Cecil


Chapter Nine Puzzled 

Sometime during the night, the weather took a turn for the worse. Standing by her open window, Freddy counted ten heartbeats between the first rumble of thunder and the subsequent lightning strike. Seven heartbeats brought the storm over the distant church spire. Five and it was on the hospital grounds. After the last lighting strike forked the sky, she decided not to wait for the following growl of thunder and sensibly shut her window just as rain began to slash the brick façade of the sanatorium.

Freddy harbored a perfectly normal dislike for thunderstorms. Family legend had it that her great-great grandmother had lingered too long near an open window during such a gale and a bolt of lightning had picked her off her feet and thrown her clear through to the next room. And even though Jenny Fotherby had lived well into her nineties, (without a trace of remaining electrical charge about her) Freddy wasn’t keen on adding “lightning strike” to her own list of maladies.

Unfortunately, the storm now rattling the hospital windows would not oblige her deference. It stayed on until dawn before finally passing away into the hill country, where it only wept the pretty tears of a morning shower. The sun came out then, and burned off the last of the rain droplets and the crickets started chirping the melody of a sultry summer day down in the gardens. And Freddy, daring to sit in her chair by the window once more, couldn’t help but think of a song she’d heard once in a pub in Glasgow. 


I see a bad moon arising
I see trouble on the way
I see earthquakes and lighting
I see bad times today* 



She was trying to hum the chorus when Nurse Jenkins stepped through the door with her usual tray of paper cups.

“Oh goodness, professor,” she said, starting a little when she noticed Freddy sitting up and not tucked into bed. “Did you sleep at all last night?”

“Umm, not really.” Freddy chewed sheepishly on her lower lip, wondering just what the nurse would say if she told her she’d been down to see Healer Crane and that Crane, for all his perfect, boyish charm, had tried to kiss her.

Because all that business was certainly against sanatorium rules.

“Then you should have come down to the nurse’s station and asked for a sleeping draught.” Jenkins balanced her tray on her hip and handed Freddy a paper cup. “That’s what we’re here for, remember?”

“Yeah, well,” Freddy replied, poking a finger into the cup to stir up the pills, “last time I asked you for a little murtlap to stop the crushing pain in my chest, you said no…so forgive me for being shy.”

Jenkins looked floored and she even took a step back, her head held high on her stiff neck. Freddy had never given the sanatorium staff any trouble, even when they poked at her with needles and prodded her chest with stethoscopes and insisted she whittle her life away in the cold torment of a dank, drab hospital.

And somehow, Freddy found it in herself to feel guilty now. “Sorry,” she murmured stiffly. “I’m really not myself this morning…the storm kept me awake and I just heard that thunder all night, all bloody night.”

“That’s all right.” Jenkins watched as she swallowed her pills. “You can get some rest this afternoon. Healer Crane has a meeting with the board of directors and he won’t be seeing any patients. If you need a healer, we’ll ring someone up from another ward.”

“Oh,” was all Freddy could say. She didn’t know whether she should feel relieved or not. Crane wouldn’t be darkening her doorway today, all pale and fumbling and adorably apologetic. And she wouldn’t have to battle past her embarrassment and tell him just how horrible she felt now and that she didn’t want to be his patient anymore.

Because he was being very unfair.

It was downright inconsiderate for him to have placed her in such an exceptionally awkward position. Part of Freddy wondered if she wasn’t the first patient he had pursued. Perhaps there were others, numerous love affairs and secret trysts. After all, no one could deny that Crane was handsome and uncommonly charismatic. It would only make sense if…

But no. If there was one thing Freddy had learned since coming down with TB, it was not to delude herself. She’d seen the look on his face when he’d tried to kiss her. It was one of perfect naivety and dashed hope and regret. This was not something he did often, she decided. And for some strange reason, he had singled her out.

There lay another quandary. Why her? She was a sickly woman, waiting on her health to improve so that she could return to the only job she’d ever had. Outside of Hogwarts, her life was haphazard and chaotic. She had no permanent residence and spent most of her time out of the country. There was nothing about her that suggested the promise and success Crane himself seemed to stand for. By all means, she certainly shouldn’t be his type.

And was Crane her type? Freddy couldn’t bring herself to consider the notion without grimacing. After Quirrell’s death, the thought of getting involved with and possibly marrying another man seemed highly questionable. Even if the opportunity had rolled around, she could have never laid herself open to such heartbreak again. But were things different now?

And for some reason, she started to think of Remus Lupin.

After Nurse Jenkins left, Freddy spent some time organizing her books and scattered, literary paraphernalia. She decided not to lie to herself this time, admitting her need for a distraction from all that had happened…and all she feared might come. It had been a long while since she’d actually sat down and worked on anything relating to her particular academic field. Lately, her tastes had ranged more to the light, breezy novels women took with them to the beach or out into the garden when they wanted a break from reality. Freddy, however, had never been apt at losing herself in whimsical reverie. Instead, she lugged out several scholarly texts and an old notebook she’d kept traces of research written down in.

It had been at least eight months since she’d published an article. Her colleagues in the field of International Magic must think she might be dead…or perhaps they’d heard about her recent health troubles and hadn’t bothered to send along any get well wishes.

Feeling vindictive, Freddy took her journal and a book on the magic of the American South with her to the solarium, intent on starting something, anything that had to do with the wider world beyond the sanatorium. Her last article, a profile on Hoodoo magic in New Orleans, had been well received and the editor had even hinted at the possibility of a sister article relating to the Haitian traditions. Freddy honestly didn’t know much about Haiti, but she thought it was worth a shot. If worse came to worst, she could always owl several of her academic acquaintances and borrow some of their books for research.

The thought of starting work on a project made her feel healthy for once. Productive. And if she was healthy and productive and distracted, then maybe she wouldn’t have to think about Crane.

But then reality hit her and panicking, breathless, she had to stop and lean on a wall while on her way to the solarium.

Oh God, oh God, what was she going to do about Crane? 


 





Much to Freddy’s surprise, the solarium was empty. The bird cage in corner was still covered with a length of white linen that looked suspiciously like a hospital issued bed sheet and a lone woman lounged on a chaise near the back wall, dozing with a half-finished afghan on her lap. In the center of the room a man sat at one of the round tables, his back to Freddy. He had on a light blue tailored shirt and clean grey slacks. The jigsaw puzzle on the table before him was barely started.

As she sat herself by one of the tall windows, Freddy wondered why she shouldn’t be happy to be left alone. Socializing with the other patients had never been one of her top priorities and she didn’t want to be bothered now just when she was starting to work again.

But she could have used someone to talk to at that moment. Just a friendly chat, nothing more. She needn’t spill her guts and confess her confusion over Crane. Talking about the weather would be just fine with her. After all, they’d had one hell of a storm last night.

Rubbing her eyes, she realized she had a slight headache and tried to focus on the page numbers as she flipped open her book to a page detailing the Hoodoo ritual for raising the dead. She wasn’t quite sure what angle she should approach this article from…maybe something about immigration patterns reflecting increasing magical diversity in the American South. If she was ambitious, she could trace it all back to the appropriate countries of origin and finish it off in a nice, neat circle. Freddy liked it when things came full circle. It gave her a sense of satisfaction and strangely, comfort, to know that…

“I would have never believed it! Freddy Fotherby, are you still here?”

The voice that reached across the room to her was that of the young man, but now he had turned around in his chair and was facing her fully, with a little, cheeky grin on his lips.

Freddy felt her book fall from her hand and hit her slippered feet. “Oliver Lias?”

The first thing she could remember feeling, after overcoming her shock of seeing Lias in the sanatorium, was guilt. Extreme, unrelenting guilt.

Oliver Lias had owned an antique shop in Hogsmeade that Freddy often frequented. Last year, when the Ministry had stationed Dementors in the village to protect the students from escaped convict Sirius Black, Lias had headed a committee of local business owners that protested the presence of Azkaban’s unsavory guards. Because of her familiarity with Lias, Freddy had been asked by Dumbledore himself to act as a liaison between the committee and Hogwarts, although her interactions with the man had unexpected results.

She’d given him TB. Just like she’d given it to three of her students, Meg Carlisle, Cass Roderick and Hermione Granger. And now Lias, a successful young man and an otherwise thrifty businessman, was sharing the solarium with her.

Freddy thought she might as well die.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, before she could even think to stop herself. “How bad is it, Oliver?”

But Lias only looked confused. He shook his head slightly and offered her a genuine smile. “You don’t seem happy to see me, Freddy, but I must say, I’m thrilled to see you! They told me you had it bad…that they’d removed one of your lungs and everything. But you look well. Wonderful, really. I’m so glad you’re making out all right.”
She accepted a quick hug from him, still unable to swallow the bitter guilt that clogged her mind and made her tongue as heavy as lead. “Haha, yes, I suppose I’ve been lucky. Losing a lung isn’t so bad as long as you have your life. But I’m not happy to see you because, well, because you’re here,” she replied. “And if you’re here, that means you’re still sick.”

Lias hunched his shoulders slightly, taking on a sheepish position. Despite his humble posture, he still had the look of a gentleman, a man of money and manners and polite tea-time conversation. “It’s not what you think,” he said. “I wasn’t half as sick as you, Freddy. In fact, after they let me out of St. Mungo’s I went to Florida for a while. I, er, had someone to take care of me.”

Still trembling from the shock of seeing him, Freddy bent her knees and groped for the book she’d drop. “You have family in the States?”

“In a manner of speaking.” Lias ran one hand over his neck. “If I’m remembering correctly, didn’t we once swap love stories some time ago? You told me your fiancé had passed on, I told you mine had run off with an American Quidditch player. Well, it turns out I am may have jumped the gun a bit on that one. Cecilia and I are getting married in November.”

Freddy’s bottom hit the chair as disappointment kicked her feet out from under her. “Congratulations.” She tried to smile for him, she truly did, but in the end, selfishness won out. Lias had always been a bit of a flirt and he’d expressed a certain interest in her whenever Freddy had visited his shop back in Hogsmeade. She had never paid much mind to him, of course, but now that she was here, in the hospital, completely alone, with Crane expressing an uncomfortable amount of affection towards her, she was disappointed to hear that Oliver Lias was engaged.

“Then why are you here?” Freddy asked again. She knew she was being rude, not inquiring after this Cecilia and their repaired romance, but she didn’t think she could stomach such a conversation just now. “Have you had a relapse? Are you…are you that sick, Oliver?”

Lias finally seemed to understand what she was driving at and sympathy etched faint lines around his smiling eyes. “No, I’m all right, Freddy. The potion they’ve been giving me…I’m sure it’s the same one you’ve been getting…it has some nasty side-effects. I’ve lost weight. I’m dehydrated. They say I’m anemic and if I’m going to get rid of the last of the TB, they need to have me in a stable environment where they can monitor my weight and blood count and, oh, you know what I’m talking about, don’t you?”

Freddy bit her lip, looking over Lias’s shoulder at the birdcage. The woman who had been dozing with her crocheting sprawled out over her lap was awake now and fussing with the linen cover on the cage. “You’re telling me the truth then?” she asked.

“Yes.” Lias feigned exasperation, sinking down into the chair on the opposite side of Freddy’s table. “You’ve really changed, haven’t you? It’s this place, isn’t it?”

“No.” Suddenly, she found herself blushing. “I’m…I’m still the same. I just can’t bear the thought of you being stuck in here because of me. If I’d been quicker about things, if I would’ve paid more attention…”

“So it is this place.” Lias looked over at her, his eyes perfectly discerning.

Freddy flinched under his gaze.

“You’re very skittish,” he noted.

She looked down at the table, dropping her book next to her right elbow. “Sorry. Am I making you uncomfortable? I am, aren’t I? Sorry. It’s just…I haven’t really had anyone to talk to and being here has been like living in a cave. I wasn’t a social creature to begin with, you know. I’m so glad you are all right, though, even if you do have to stay here for a while. Who…who is you’re healer?”

Lias continued to stare at her, as if trying to convince himself that she really was the same old Freddy. “Elliot,” he said lightly. “He’s a nice man. Has a great sense of humor. I asked him about you when I got here last week. He said something about patient confidentiality and all that. Nonsense, if you ask me. I only wanted to find out if my friend was still alive.”

Friend. Freddy nearly jumped at the word. Surprisingly, she found herself suffused with a pleasant warmth that had nothing to do with the mid-morning sun coming through the long windows.

“I like Elliot too,” she replied, happy to have something easy to talk about. “He isn’t my healer, though. He only works on the men’s ward.”

“Ah, that’s right,” Lias sat back in his chair. “You’re with Crane, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, Healer Crane.” And as she spoke, the warmth was replaced with searing heat.

Crane, who played opera records in his office and stared at her with such improper intensity.

Ugh.

“He’s the Healer-in-Chief, isn’t he?” Lias asked. He had his hands folded across his middle and was twiddling his thumbs. “Smart man. They say he’s the best in his field.”

Freddy realized that her throat was painfully dry. She coughed into her sleeve. “Yeah, but, I don’t really like him.”

“Really?” Lias looked intrigued now. “That’s strange. I heard he was very nice. All the patients seem to adore him.”

“Uh..” She picked up her book once more and stacked it on top of her journal. “It’s not that he isn’t nice, but…we have different personalities…you know…it’s just…”

But fortunately, Lias seemed to understand her completely. “Of course,” he said with a slight nod. “But it’s not like you have to marry the man. He’s only your healer.”

And to that, Freddy had absolutely no response. The parakeets had been disturbed from their slumber and she heard them singing shrilly from the corner of the room. The woman was back on her lounge chair, her crochet hook flashing in the sunlight.

“I’m jealous of you,” she said, not expecting to sound as serious as she did. “You’ve been spending your time in sunny Florida while I’ve been stuck in Yorkshire. At least tell me you haven’t sold your shop in Hogsmeade.”

“No, I have a cousin looking after things,” he replied. “I just couldn’t stay in drizzly Scotland while waiting to get better. You know what it’s like, Freddy,” he said, a hint of sudden communion in his eyes, “when you have to get away.”

And she did understand. Perfectly. “Like I said,” she said. “I’m jealous.”

Lias did not respond, but only nodded with a small smile. For a moment, Freddy allowed herself to imagine what it would be like to be in Florida. Or absolutely anywhere else, for that matter.

She couldn’t ever remember staying put for so long.

Freddy blinked. She had been sitting in companionable silence with Lias. Comfortable. Quiet. At ease. There had been no demands made of her, no need for chatter or jokes or laughter. And she wasn’t alone. She didn’t have to face the numbing awkwardness of sidling in and out of the room by herself, hoping that no one would notice her and, at the same time, secretly hoping she could have a friend.

Without knowing it, Freddy released the breath she had been holding for a very long time.

Turning in her chair, she smiled at Lias. “Is that a jigsaw puzzle your doing?” she asked.

“Yes,” he snorted, rolling his eyes. “But I think it’s missing a few pieces. I can’t even finish the border.”

“Bet I can,” Freddy replied.

Lias offered her a questioning look as he rose and headed back over to his table. He glanced once at the puzzle and once at her and broke out in a wide grin. “Ha! I’d like to see you try.” 
 

 

 






Author’s Note: Yes, Mr. Lias is finally back. I know some of you were wondering if and when he would turn up again. Needless to say, I wasn’t content to let him fade away unnoticed after Consumed.

As always, thanks so much for taking the time to read. And I must say a special thank you to my awesome beta, soliloquy. You rock, girl!

If you have a spare moment, please leave a review. I would absolutely love to hear from you. Take care!


*Lyrics taken from “Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, written by John Fogerty. 
 


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