As soon as she knocked, she wondered if it was loud enough.
The thin Scottish girl stood alone outside the double set of wooden doors, the edge of her light blue lace-trimmed dress billowing slightly in the breeze. She still wasn’t positive that her escort had Apparated her to the correct location. The older girls who had returned to Hogwarts after spending a few months in the field had told her stories about makeshift hospitals in tents and long, cold nights assisting with outdoor emergency surgeries. It was almost enough to make her reconsider putting her name down, but then again, couldn’t they use a talent for medicine like hers?
Just then, one of the doors creaked open, and her brown eyes met the watery blue ones of an old nun. “Yes, hello?” the old woman said, studying her carefully.
“Yes, ma’am… I’m here to help with the patients.”
“Were we informed of your coming?” the nun inquired.
“I—I don’t know,” the girl admitted.
“Where do you come from?”
“Ah, yes. You’re from that school with the funny name.”
“Hogwarts?” The girl brightened.
“Mmm-hmm. Come in, you’re right on time. That’s a good girl.”
The woman with gray curls moved aside, and the newcomer stepped in, closing the heavy door behind her. Electric lanterns dotted the tops of the stone walls inside, but none of them were lit. She looked up at them curiously.
“We can’t afford it right now,” the woman explained. “The oil lamps will do fine.”
They stepped out of the shadowy foyer and moved into an open area. Here, the open windows along the walls allowed sunlight to flood the expanse, and a row of beds covered with clean white sheets lined the walls on either side. Chairs were set up in the corners of the room, and a young man with a cast on his right arm sat in one of them as a nurse tended to his bandages. A man with an amputated leg began to whine in low tones from one of the beds toward the back of the room, and a handful of house elves rushed over to see what they could do for him.
“What’s your name, girl?” the nun asked.
“Cho,” she replied, tearing her eyes away from the one-legged man.
“Well, Cho, you look like you’re in over your head, dear.”
“No, ma’am,” she said quietly. “I just—it’s not what I expected.”
“What did you think you were signing up to do?” the nun clucked.
“I thought it would be a tent, honestly,” Cho said.
“A tent?” The woman laughed. “This is Abbeye de Royaumont, my dear. The Scottish Women have set it up as a relief station for the front here in France. I’m not sure how much relief it’s really providing, but we’re working to do what we can here.”
“An abbey?” Cho wondered aloud. “Is this the home of your order as well?”
“That’s right,” the nun said. “I’ll be glad to have it back when this war is over.”
“It’s very nice,” Cho said politely.
“I suppose it’s better than a tent,” the nun said, smiling wryly. “Normally it is quite hospitable, but lately we’ve had trouble even keeping the water clean.”
Cho nodded. She had heard of the financial toll of the war from the girls at Hogwarts. “What may I call you, ma’am?”
“I respond to Sister Miriam,” the nun replied. “Pleased to meet you properly, Cho.”
They walked away from the beds, moving through the narrow halls of the abbey’s innards. Sister Miriam stopped frequently to introduce Cho to other nuns and nurses, and they paused briefly in the kitchen to enjoy a small lunch of bread and water. As she ate, Cho began to miss the warm, rich meals she had at Hogwarts.
“So, what’s it like being magical, Cho?” the nun asked, interrupting her thoughts.
“I’m not sure,” she replied. “My parents are magical, so I’ve never known anything else, really.” It was a strange thought, one that she had never really encountered. Cho almost smiled at the ridiculousness of it all. I mean, imagine, no Quidditch!
“Hmm,” Miriam replied, ripping a small piece of bread from the crust and popping it into her mouth. “I wish we had cheese. Perhaps in the next package from England…”
“I didn’t know you had house elves working here,” Cho said.
“Oh, yes! They’re so ugly that they’re almost cute.” The sister laughed. “It took a bit for me to get used to them, you know, but I like having them around. Some of the young girls get tired of all the complaining and crying, but the elves just live to serve. They’ll clean wounds and change bandages all day long without a single fuss.”
Cho smiled a bit, despite the grisly subject matter. “They are quite helpful.”
“How old are you, dear?”
“Do they teach you a lot by that age at your school?”
“I suppose,” Cho mused. “Why do you ask?”
“It’s just that an old girl like me has to wonder what would bring such a delicate-looking thing to work in a place like this,” Miriam replied, taking a drink of water. “What got you interested in fighting for the cause?”
“I just thought I could be a help,” Cho said. “My parents were supportive. I mean, they want me to graduate, of course, but they thought I should be a patriot.”
“Good for them,” the sister said, smiling. “What can you do?”
“I’m fairly good at Potions,” Cho said. “You—it’s like medicine, just like it…”
“I know what they are,” Miriam said. “You aren’t the first witch to come through.”
“I can do a fair bit of Charms, too. I used to help stitch wounds in the hospital wing,” Cho added, retrieving her wand from where it hung off a string at her waistline.
“Don’t wave that around. It makes some of the others nervous,” Miriam cautioned.
Cho stopped before she had removed her wand from its temporary holster. “I just want to help out, ma’am. I promise I won’t get tired… or make trouble.”
“I suppose we’ll have to see,” Miriam said with a grin. She stood up, knocking the crumbs from the bread onto the floor with an expert sweep of her aged hands. Almost immediately, a pair of elves came running in, and one of them retrieved a battered-looking broomstick from the corner. In their rush, they nearly knocked over a slender blonde who looked to be about Cho’s age, her tray clattering.
“Watch it, you lot!” Miriam barked. “Don’t you have patients to save?” She looked back at Cho, who appeared to be mesmerized by the old broom. “Let’s go, dear.”
They traversed the crowded corridor again, ending up back in the large room with the patients. The nun handed her what looked like an old cutting board, several sheets of paper, and a pencil. “Now, Cho, I’ll start you off with something small. Just go up and down the rows here and check on the patients. Just look for basic things – you know, the pulse rate, the quality of the breathing, any noticeable bedsores.” She paused to allow Cho to absorb her orders. “If any of the men are awake, ask how they’re feeling. None of them will say ‘good,’ but we have to keep records anyway. If they say they’re hungry or thirsty, we can give them a little of our remaining rations, but not unless they ask directly. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Cho said, arranging the paper atop the cutting board.
“Dear, just make sure you don’t fall in love with any of them,” Sister Miriam said, and Cho cracked a nervous smile. The sister lowered her voice. “They don’t last long.”
Cho started to turn, looking over at a chubby young man with a rash on his arm.
“Except that one, maybe,” Miriam said, gesturing subtly to a young man on the other side of the room. His face was marred by a burn of some kind, and his skin had a sickly pallor, but his healthy brown hair and lean muscles looked promising. “He’s got a wand, like you do. Perhaps being a wizard will help him survive a bit longer.”
Miriam left the room, going to fuss at a couple of girls around Cho’s age who had paused in their duties to gossip over in the corner. Cho moved again toward the chubby man, but then she stopped, looking back over at the soldier with the wand. She stepped quietly up to the end of his bed, finding the scribbled name on his chart.
Hello! Thank you for returning for another chapter of Yellow!
Those of you who are fans of Diamonds into Coal will know that maintaining historical accuracy is important for me in fics that pertain to actual events. I did quite a bit of research into the heroic nurses of WWI in writing this chapter. For starters, the Scottish Women’s organization was a real group of nurses from Scotland, and they really did set up a hospital in Abbeye de Royaumont (which is near Paris). In addition to helping wounded soldiers, the members of the organization also assisted in the fight for women’s suffrage.
Miriam is a Hebrew name taken from the Bible that means “rebellious.”
Thank you again for reading, and please make sure to review!