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Breathless by celticbard
Chapter 10 : Old Habits
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 1


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                        Fabulous, absolutely wonderful chapter image by Broomsticks @ 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 The methods I have described in this story are a mixture of both modern regimens and outdated procedures from the heyday of the sanatorium.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 Ten Old Habits


“Wait, wait, you need to hear this,” Oliver put down his fork and raised the bimonthly sanatorium newsletter to eye level. The dog-eared pages, now bereft of their crispness, drooped sadly like wasted autumn leaves. “In response to receiving generous donations from the Society for Magical Medical Advancement and the British Healer’s Guild,” he read, “the Yorkshire Wizarding Sanatorium for Consumptives has purchased no less than twenty houses from the nearby village, and restored them as handsome brownstones for housing staff, and the family members of patients on the children’s ward. Healer-in-chief Calum Crane issued a statement to the press last Tuesday, citing--

Freddy reached across the table, pulling down the edge of the newsletter so that she could look Oliver in the eyes. “That’s all old news, I’m afraid,” she said. “Everyone knows about the new housing…the ribbon cutting ceremony is this weekend.”

Oliver frowned and took his time deliberately folding the newsletter. “Well, unless you renew your subscription to the Daily Prophet we’ll have nothing else to talk about.”

“Renew your’s,” Freddy muttered, dipping her spoon into her lemon custard, “and to be honest, you don’t have the right to be so grumpy. You’ve only been here a month, after all.”

But Oliver smiled pleasantly. “I’m never grumpy.” He laughed then, but the sound of it was carried away, and thrown into the obnoxious mix of noise that filled the patient dining hall.

Although Freddy had only been granted the privilege of taking her meals with the general patient population for two weeks, (after a new set of x-rays proved her condition to be markedly improved) she had quickly learned to tolerate the almost constant chatter that crowded against the wood paneled walls. In fact, it almost reminded her of the Great Hall at Hogwarts, and despite her previous, practiced indifference, Freddy was sorely missing the school.

She’d been in the sanatorium for nearly six months now.

Which was why Oliver had no right to complain.

But he didn’t complain. Not really. Only teased her. Only kept her company. Only acted as a barrier between herself and Crane….

Freddy spooned the last of the custard into her mouth. Oliver didn’t know it, but she was certain that his constant presence by her side had kept Crane from openly approaching her. It was a blessing indeed, considering that when she did see her healer, there was always a nurse or an orderly in the room with them, and Crane kept the conversation restricted to the state of her remaining lung.

Freddy was just about regaining her sense of security, and oh, what a relief it was!

Sometimes, she felt almost giddy.

Placing her spoon next to the empty bowl, Freddy dropped her chin onto the palm of her hand. “All right, all right,” she said in a conciliatory tone, “we’ll find some fresh news to talk about.” Glancing down the long table at the pair of women sitting a few feet away from them, Freddy leaned forward and with a whisper, said to Oliver, “Did you hear that the patients and their families are invited to the ribbon cutting ceremony? It should be a big turn out.”

“My God.” Oliver only just refrained from rolling his eyes. “The invitations were sent out three days ago, who doesn’t know that?”

“See?” Freddy nodded. “Unless you renew your subscription to the Daily Prophet--”

“Very nice.”

“It gets old fast, doesn’t it?”

Oliver agreed, but wouldn’t meet her eyes. Looking at the surface of the long table, he ran his fingers over the polished wood. “I once sold a table like this in my shop,” he said, managing to keep most of the regret from his voice, “Some eccentric woman from Bath bought it. Apparently, she was known for her dinner parties.”

“And I once camped out on a beach in Greece for two nights,” Freddy said, all too willing to commiserate. Being in the sanatorium gave them ample time to reflect on the good old days, which always seemed much happier in hindsight. If Freddy had been remembering correctly, she would have recalled how upset she’d been when all of her clothes were nearly ruined by the sand.

She glanced at Oliver and saw how bored he seemed, almost as bored as she was before she’d learned to lower her expectations, and entertain herself with the most trivial subjects.

“Is Cecilia coming this weekend?” she asked, hoping to cheer him up.

Reluctantly, Oliver appeared to pull himself back to reality. “Yes, though she might be a little late. She has to--”

The sound of a dog barking interrupted him, and those who had lingered in the dining hall while lunch was winding down turned to look at the open doors leading out into a corridor.

Freddy instantly recognized the Healer in the white robes. A handsome Irish Setter was sitting at Crane’s feet, wagging his tail as his master tried to keep him out in the corridor.

“No, Finn, stay here. You’re not even supposed to be out of my office.”

It amused the other patients to see the Healer-in-Chief so flagrantly breaking the sanatorium rules by bringing his dog into the dining hall.

Freddy, however, was not impressed. She already knew that Crane wasn’t one to stick to his own laws.

“Hey, can I see the newsletter?” she asked Oliver, reaching impolitely across the table.

“Of course.” He raised his eyebrows as he handed it to her. “If you’re thinking of doing the crossword puzzle on page eight, don’t bother. I already tried it last night.”

The paper felt dry and brittle in Freddy’s hands. She forced herself to find a smile for Oliver. “What’s a five letter word for a tropical fruit? Please, don’t tell me you couldn’t come up with mango.”

Much to her distress, the smooth tenor of Crane’s voice issued easily over the dining room, making it difficult to keep her attention pinned on Oliver.

Freddy was hoping, praying, that she might get away with being noticed that afternoon. There were, after all, plenty of other patients in the dining room for Crane to bother. Unfortunately, the persistent gnawing in her gut told her that the healer had a specific mission in mingling so freely with the sanatorium population today.

In response to the threat, she buried her nose in the newsletter, covering her face as much as she dared. The smell of old ink was reassuring, blotting out her own sense of complete dread.

Please, oh please, just leave me alone!

Freddy knew, however, the moment she heard Oliver push back his chair, that hers was a lost cause. Admitting defeat to herself, she laid down the newsletter just as Crane drew even with their table.

“Healer Crane.” Oliver was half-rising already, his hand outstretched.

Crane shook it firmly. “Good afternoon, Mr. Lias. And Professor Fotherby. It’s nice to see you both up and about.”

Freddy replied by shaking his hand. Much to her surprise, she found the Healer’s palm to be slightly damp with sweat.

Wanting to avoid even the possibility of an awkward silence, she jumped headlong into a neutral conversation. “I suppose I never got a chance to congratulate you on the addition of new housing to the sanatorium,” she said evenly.

Crane, who Freddy noticed was wearing not his usual pastels, but rather outfitted in a burgundy shirt and grey tie, smiled brightly when she addressed him. “Yes, the sanatorium property is becoming a little village in its own right. I assume you’ll both be coming to the ribbon cutting ceremony next weekend, yes? I’m really looking forward to it.”

“Should be fun,” Freddy said, the muscles in her jaw tightening as she spoke.

God, this was awful. Just awful. She couldn’t go on like this. Couldn’t go on living in such, in such….in such what? Annoyance? Fear? Frustration? A combination of the three would do, she decided. Or maybe she was none of those things.

Maybe she was just….

“I heard there will be live music,” Oliver said.

“Mmm.” Crane slipped his hands into his pockets and rocked back on his heels. “Yes, we hired a jazz band. I really wanted a string quartet, but Healer Elliot was very much against it. He thinks my taste in music is dull.”

“I don’t know.” Oliver shrugged his shoulders. “My fiancée is trying to talk me into getting a jazz band for our wedding, but it seems like such an expense.”

“They don’t come cheap,” Crane replied with a knowing nod, “not unless you take a risk with amateurs.”

Small talk. Small talk. Freddy almost couldn’t stand it. She crossed her leg over her knee, then shifted, planting both her feet on the ground. But she was uncomfortable still.

Crane always wore the same cologne.

“I heard some great jazz in New Orleans when I was there last year,” she put in, cringing when she realized how high her voice sounded. “And believe me, that’s saying something. I never liked jazz, but I can make an exception for New Orleans.”

Oliver grinned, showing her all of his teeth. “It’s not fair. The world traveler always wins out. Give those of us that would rather remain at home some credit.”

“Oh, but I do like to travel,” Crane said suddenly. For a brief instant, he glanced at Freddy and the look in his eyes convinced her that things were still not settled between them.

The longing, which she had ignored in him before, was still there.

“If only I had the time,” Crane continued, “I should like to…oh, wait. Finn. Finn, be quiet!”

Bless that dog for barking his head off, Freddy thought. Come on, Finn. Keep at it!

“Sorry.” Crane appeared charmingly harassed. “He’s due for a walk. I’ve got to be going. I hope I see you two this weekend. Take care!”

And just like that it was over. Crane hurried out of the dining hall, earning more than his fair share of worshipful looks from his patients. When he was gone and Finn’s barking had faded into the distance, Oliver turned to stare at Freddy.

His lips, she noticed, were white.

“Freddy,” he said, touching her shoulder urgently, “what the hell is going on?”


 




“You can keep quiet all you want,” Oliver said, as they sat on one of the solarium porches at sunset. “But there will come a time when you have to answer for yourself.”

Freddy put down her book on Common Spells of the West Indies and tried her best not to look annoyed. Dusk was nearly upon them, and she couldn’t pretend to make out the tiny print in the fading light for much longer.

“Answer to what?” she asked her friend.

Oliver, who was stretched on the chaise lounge beside her, rolled over onto his hip. “Your obvious hatred of Healer Crane.”

“Hate is a very strong word. I could never hate anyone.”

“But you don’t like him at all.”

“Yes. I told you that when I first ran into you here.” Sighing, she folded down the corner of the page she was on and shut the book. “It’s really nice out here tonight.”

And indeed, the touch of a mild breeze on her cheek felt sublime. Freddy understood then why the porches off the solarium were so popular amongst her fellow patients. One was hard put to snag a free chair in nice weather, and although she had had several opportunities to sit outdoors in the past, Freddy had often avoided the porches. It was awkward, she thought, to plop herself down on the fringe of a couple’s conversation, or to inadvertently interrupt a gaggle of women discussing the latest romance novel to hit the shelves.

But now, she had Oliver with her, and his company gave her a free pass to enjoy some of the pleasanter aspects of life at the sanatorium. And she’d be damned if he was going to turn into a grump now and ruin her fragile peace of mind.

“You know it’s summer when the sun goes down and you can still tolerate being outside without a sweater,” Freddy said, hoping that if she rambled on enough, her friend would become distracted.

Fortune, however, had never really been her ally.

“I won’t lie to you,” he said, his expression so open and frank that Freddy felt as though she were the nosey one. “I am curious about all this. And I don’t mean to call you ungrateful…but you do realize that Healer Crane saved your life, yes?”

Freddy’s nails ran across the hardcover of her closed book. “Of course. I appreciate all of his help, but he is getting paid, you know. I have good health insurance.”

“Oh my.” Oliver turned his glance to the grounds of the sanatorium laid out before them. A few of the gardeners were still working, busy trimming the lawns and sweeping the stone paths in preparation for the weekend’s celebration. “You never struck me as the callous type, Freddy. Don’t tell me your good humor is just a ruse.”

“Oliver!” She was very close to being offended. “I’m not…you shouldn’t judge people like that.”

Much to her relief, he was quick to recant. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to be flippant, but I am exceedingly curious. Everyone seems to like Crane so much--”

“And he likes me!” Freddy blurted out, and then instantly hated herself. She blushed, feeling the consumptive fever touch her temples. What she had said couldn’t be taken back, and even though Oliver certainly wasn’t a gossip, he was smart enough to understand what she meant.

And just as she had suspected, he drew back, his features narrowing. “I…”

“Oh, I’m going to have to explain myself,” she muttered. Her hands were now folded over the lip of her book, the knuckles white even in the long shadows of twilight.

“If you really don’t want to--”

“No, it’s all right. Maybe…maybe I’ll feel better,” Freddy trailed off helplessly, even more unsure of herself. “It’s…well, I hate saying this…but…Crane kissed me. A couple of weeks ago.”

Oliver looked thoroughly uncomfortable now, but to his credit, he plowed on. “Wait…where exactly was this?”

“In his office. I went down one night to see him. We’d had a fight and I wanted to apologize. Healer Elliot was there at first. We were just laughing and joking…but when Elliot left, Crane and I started to talk about serious stuff. I told him about Quirrell. He was very kind. And then he kissed me.”

“On the cheek?”

“On the lips. And…well, I suppose I almost returned his kiss, but that was only because I was thinking of Quirrell.”

“God.” Oliver sat back, pinching the bridge of his nose. The sun had sank behind the western horizon and it was now dark. Patches of light from the sanatorium windows blotted the lawn. The summer stars were bright.

Freddy waited, agonized by her confession, as Oliver appeared to think things over.

“We probably shouldn’t be talking about this,” he said at length. “I don’t…I don’t really know what to say. My mother was good at this stuff. So is Cecilia. Women always know what to say, but I suppose I could try to be brotherly.” He offered her a tense, pinched smile. “Let me start by being frank, then. You are in a romantic relationship with Healer Crane.”

Freddy opened her mouth to deny the accusation, but Oliver continued hastily before she could.

“This isn’t high school, darling,” he said sharply. “You’re thirty-one years old. No one is trying to be coy or cruel. You’re bickering with Crane, then going down to his office in the middle of the night to apologize to him…what did he say after he kissed you?”

“Nothing, I left right away.”

“And he hasn’t addressed it since?”

“I haven’t given him the chance,” she said, quickly adding, “but Oliver, you’re wrong. Completely wrong. We are not involved---ugh, I hate that word! I’m certainly not playing some girlish game of ‘catch me if you can’ with him. I have so much more to worry about right now.”

The warmth in her voice seemed to leave him cowed. Oliver raised his hand in a pacifying gesture.

“I can’t read your mind, Freddy,” he said slowly. “And I’m willing to take your word for it. But you should be honest with yourself. Have you ever really thought about this--”

“Of course I have!”

“Have you ever really taken the time to examine your feelings on the matter?”

Freddy bit her tongue. “Yes. I can’t see why he would be attracted to me in the first place.”

“That’s different.” Oliver shook his head. “You’re thinking about him, not yourself.”

“I…” she began, but fell silent. “I…”

“I thought so,” Oliver responded, then dropped the subject entirely.
 

 





The next morning, Freddy had time enough to herself to think over her meeting with Crane, and Oliver’s subsequent observations. Her friend had gone off sometime after breakfast to get some lab work done, and she was glad, for once, to be left alone by him.

Although she had tried to make it clear that she wasn’t offended by his nosiness, Freddy did feel the need to get away from Oliver for a while. He had given her many things to think about, and she was determined to have everything sorted out in her mind by lunch time. The whole matter, she thought,, was unbelievably stupid. Oliver had certainly been right about that. Life wasn’t a game anymore, and she couldn’t defer her awkward situation with Crane to be resolved in the hazy, indefinite future. Freddy had come too close to death to not seize an opportunity to give herself peace of mind in the present. She would decide, once and for all, just how she felt about Crane’s advances, and be done with the issue.

Old habits, however, were the absolute worst kind of lichen, growing onto the living, and ceasing to quit even their gravestones.

While Freddy intended to put things right in her mind, she found herself distracted by the obvious comforts of a pleasant day. Taking herself out onto one of the solarium porches (and trying her best to ignore the crowds) she sat for a time in the sun, putting the finishing touches on her article on Haitian hoodoo. She had a publisher lined up, and was looking forward to seeing her name in print once more. And, of course, there was the added bonus of proving that she was still alive and well to her esteemed colleagues in the field of International Magic.

She’d been at her work for a while, completely forgetting her original purpose, when a long shadow fell across her lap.

“You’re working again! I should say that’s a good sign.”

Minerva McGonagall sidled through the narrow space between Freddy’s chair and the occupied one on her right, her natural, feline grace still bearing up well under age.

“Professor!” Excitement drove Freddy to her feet, not sense. In the cramped quarters, she knocked knees with the Deputy Headmistress, and nearly upset her inkwell. “I wasn’t expecting you, but this is a wonderful surprise! Everything’s all right, I hope?”

“Hmm.” McGonagall arched an eyebrow, one steady hand unfastening the cloak clasp by her throat. “Morbid, Forbia, you are still morbid. Must you always leap to the wrong conclusion?”

“Sorry.” Freddy smiled bashfully even as she tried to gather up her papers. “I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, certainly not these days. I’m so happy to see you!”

“You look exceedingly well,” the old professor stated. But then she paused, glanced around the crowded porch, and found the eyes of no less than five other patients fastened on her. “Can we go indoors? The sun is beastly and there’s no awning to give shade.”

“Of course.” Freddy, playing the hostess as best she could in such a place, led McGonagall inside the solarium where they easily found a pair of chairs in a discreet corner by the bookcase.

“You received my last letter,” Freddy prattled on eagerly as they settled themselves. “I’m going to have another article published. Here, it’s right here!” She fumbled with the papers for a moment before finding the right one and handing it to the professor. “You can read it, if you like. It’s about Haitian hoodoo. I think I might like it, but to be honest, I’m getting sick of hoodoo. I think it’s time I tried something on the Continent…or maybe even Canada. Do you think the students would be receptive to Canada, or is it too much like England?”

“My word!” McGonagall pushed her spectacles up her nose and glanced at the papers briefly. “You are feeling better. The summer air has taken the pallor from your cheeks and given you a bonny blush.”

“Bonny,” Freddy repeated, making sure to emphasize her Scottish lilt. “I haven’t been called bonny in quite some time.”

But then she remembered Crane and her gut twisted.

McGonagall, however, was too busy perusing the papers to notice her consternation.

“But this is all superficial,” she said after a moment of silent reading. “What do the healers say of your health? Have you improved?”

“Mmm.” Freddy folded her hands together, feeling giddy. “The hole in my right lung has shrunk…it’s almost gone. And they think my next sputum test might be negative. I need three negative tests before I can be released. Keep your fingers crossed! Maybe I can get out in time for the second half of the fall semester.”

McGonagall hesitated, her lips pursing. “You might be rushing things.”

“I want to go back to teaching.”

“You will, you will. But shouldn’t you have some more time to recover? We weren’t expecting you back for another year, at least.”

“Another year!” The notion was entirely alien to Freddy. She sat back in her wicker chair, surprised by the utter desperation she felt. Oh, how she wanted to go back to Hogwarts and teach again! And yet, was it not a year ago that she was dreading her return to the castle? Did she not often profess her own incompetence with her students? Did she not sometimes wonder if she should quit?

No. Getting ill had taught Freddy many things, not least of all that she loved teaching…and happened to be quite good at it as well.

“I think I might go insane if I remain an invalid for another year,” Freddy said seriously.

McGonagall handed back the pages, her face reverting to its usual stern expression. “You have come a long way, Forbia, but you mustn’t become self-destructive now.”

Hmm, so McGonagall was just as intent to pick apart her psyche as Oliver. Freddy didn’t want to appear annoyed at her old professor and mentor, although she thought it might be best if the conversation was steered in a different direction.

“Trust me,” she said, hoping to put the issue to rest, “I listen to the healers now…I’ve learned my lesson.”

“I should think so,” McGonagall said, but her eyes were still suspicious. Fortunately, she seemed just as eager to talk of happy things as Freddy was. “And by the way, I am pleased that you are working again. It certainly is a step in the right direction.”

Freddy’s relief was immeasurable as the Deputy Headmistress departed from her scolding manner, and instead, chatted lightly on all things inconsequential. She spent a good hour catching up on the doings of her fellow staff members, some of which were more mundane than spending a summer in a sanatorium.

“Flitwick always goes to his family in Ireland,” Freddy said drolly. “Always. Why can’t he convince them to visit him in England for once?”

“A creature of habit,” McGonagall said lightly. “You know, I’m sure, that there is something to be said for one’s own home.”

“I suppose.” Freddy uncrossed her legs, hoping she looked casual and most pleased with McGonagall’s company. There was, however, something decidedly foreboding about the Deputy Headmistress’s deportment that made her uneasy.

McGonagall was a predictable woman. Proper. Formal. She never dropped by the sanatorium without first owling her intention. This visit, Freddy guessed, was entirely spur of the moment. And it certainly wasn’t like Minerva McGonagall to be spur of the moment.

Something had driven her to impulsion. Something bad. And yes, Freddy knew she was playing into her own, personal stereotype of jumping to the wrong conclusion, but she really couldn’t help herself.

They were in the middle of a discussion on just who would be hired to replace Lupin as professor for Defense Against the Dark Arts, when Freddy’s patience and reason failed her.

“Dumbledore’s letting me go!” she blurted out, minding, at once, that intemperance was becoming a nasty habit of hers.

McGonagall was startled. “What do you mean, Forbia?” she demanded.

Freddy shrunk back between the wide, wicker arms of her chair, flushing hotly. “That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? To tell me that Dumbledore has decided to let me go. I’m taking too long to recover…he’d rather hire someone else.”

McGonagall’s expression shifted from bemusement to frustration in an instant. “No! No, no, no you silly girl! Dumbledore has no intention of letting you go. I came to see you for another reason entirely.”

Freddy’s relief was dampened by shame. “I just thought…what…what is it that you came to see me for?”

“I don’t know.” McGonagall shook her head and frowned, her spectacles slipping down her straight nose. “I don’t know if I ought to tell you now. You’ve worked yourself up into such a state!”

Freddy wanted to deny her upset, but held her tongue lest she appear sulky. “I am sorry I’ve ruined your visit.”

“You haven’t.” McGonagall looked at her hard. It was well into the afternoon now, and the sunlight coming through the windows cut patches of yellow into her dark, tartan robes. “But I would rather you not have another reason to be glum…oh, very well. I thought you should know…I thought it would be of some interest. Hogwarts will be hosting the first Triwizard Tournament in over two centuries next year. Since you are professor of International Magic, I thought you would be excited to hear such news.”

“Excited,” Freddy echoed. Her voice was dangerously bleak. “Excited.”

Of course she would be excited. The Triwizard Tournament was tailor-made for her field of scholarly interest. As Hogwarts’ professor of International Magic, she would most certainly have a hand in coordinating the event, in working as a liaison to the other schools, and furthering academic outreach between the different student bodies.

It would be the opportunity of her career, of her lifetime…and she was going to miss it. Going to miss it because she was still in the sanatorium.

“You’re right,” she told McGonagall, after she had had a few minutes to digest the news, “I am feeling a bit glum now.”


 





Author’s Note: Thanks so much for reading! I know this chapter seemed a little scattered…but all these elements will soon converge in the next couple of installments. Also, for those of you missing Remus, he will be back for chapters 11 ad 12.

If you have a spare moment, please leave a review. I’d love to hear from you. My beta hasn’t gotten to this chapter yet and even though I’ve proofread it many times myself, I’m sure a wicked typo managed to sneak through. I apologize in advance if you come across a pesky typo.

With NaNo coming, new chapters and updates should be in abundance. Until then, take care and be well!


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