When Cedric awoke, the flames in his throat had subsided to dull ashes, the few last punches of heat that arose occasionally fading almost as soon as they were born. He lay still for several moments and practiced breathing in through his nose in order to minimize the frequency with which air had to pass through his scorched throat. When he thought he had maintained calm long enough to continue using this technique, he sat up carefully, truly examining the hospital for the first time.
Beds stood all around him, some with wounded men and some empty. Cedric wondered if the empty beds were that way because their former occupants had been sent home, and then he had the morbid thought that such a journey might involve a pine box. As his gray eyes surveyed the space, he realized that his injuries, however painful, might not be as bad as what some of the other men in this hospital had to endure. A man with a large bandage about his ginger hair was talking to a nun in the corner of the room, and a pair of house-elves rushed by with a bullet-riddled soldier. Cedric watched them move quickly down the corridor past a makeshift wooden sign that read “surgery,” a pair of older nurses at their heels.
Suddenly, a howl made him look up. His first thought, silly as it was, was that somehow the Germans had found weapons to turn men into werewolves. He found the source of the noise several beds down from him, where an older man had taken the lunch tray offered to him by a pretty girl with dark hair and apparently thrown it back at her. She stood back from the mess, cooked potatoes staining her white shoes, and a team of elves rushed in and forced a syringe into the man’s arm. Seconds passed before he lapsed into sleep, a few peas still sprinkled on his chest.
Cedric grimaced. Is that what they did to me, to make me stop screaming?
He glanced back up at the nurse. A chord of pity struck his heart as he noticed the nervous tears forming in the corners of her blue eyes. As the elves tucked the man back into bed and began to pick up the peas, she slowly withdrew a wooden stick from her uniform, pointing it at her feet. The potatoes disappeared into thin air.
No, it can’t be.
And then, another startling thought: where’s mine?
He opened the drawer in his bedside table with a creak, but it was empty. Perhaps with my uniform,
he thought, but what had become of that? War-torn, filthy…
He looked up into the nurse’s face. The tears had been removed as well.
He started to speak, to ask her to call him Cedric, but even trying to talk hurt. He frowned, looking about for some parchment and a quill. How long for this, then?
“Oh…” the girl said quietly, and she pulled a pad of paper and a pencil from the small apron tied about her waist. “Here, use this. You won’t be able to talk for a while.”
Figured that one out myself,
he thought, but instead he wrote, “My name is Cedric.”
“Cedric,” the nurse repeated. “Are you hungry or thirsty?”
He shook his head. The medicine he had received was still churning in his stomach.
“How are you doing today, then?”
He pointed at the place where she kept her wand.
“What? Write it down.”
“Where is my wand?”
“You can’t have it. You might hurt yourself.”
He frowned. “I want my wand. How would you feel if they took yours?”
Her face softened slightly. “I think they keep them in the pantry. There have only been a couple, and you’re the only one who’s still…” Her quiet tone dropped out.
“Please go get it for me.”
“I’ll look for it,” she offered. “You have to take your potions first.”
Potions? He gestured to the comatose man down the row.
“A Muggle,” she explained in a low tone. “The staff don’t give our remedies to them. They’re afraid of what might happen, especially with weapons we don’t understand. But for you – for people like us – they think maybe potions are the way to go.”
“What do you think?”
“I like Potions.” She blushed.
He wrote his response with a smile. “Me, too.”
“All right. Lay back against your pillow, but stay upright, so you don’t choke.”
“What are you giving me?”
“An Antidote to Uncommon Poisons, a cough potion, and a Dreamless Sleep Potion.” She produced a large vial from the shelf on his bedside table, sat down on the edge of Cedric’s bed, and began mixing three brightly colored solutions together, forming a gooey-looking puce-colored liquid. “I don’t know if I like putting them all in the same vial, though… I’m sure it doesn’t taste good, and at Hogwarts we were always so careful to keep things separate…”
“My stomach hurts.”
She looked down at his pad. “Really? Since you were given the medicine yesterday?”
Merlin, that was a whole day ago?
Still, he nodded.
“Sorry. I’ll be sure to mention the possibility of side-effects to Miriam.” Before he realized that it was time, Cho placed the edge of the vial between his lips and tilted it, moving his head back gently with one hand to make sure it all went down. Then, she stood up, smoothing the place on his covers where her body had rumpled them.
Cedric frowned involuntarily, trying to find a way to get the foul taste of the medicine off his tongue. Once he realized she was leaving, he forgot this, scribbling on the pad. He touched her arm lightly, pointing to his words. “What’s your name?”
“Cho,” she said, blushing slightly. “Bye.” Then, she moved on to her next patient.
Cedric put his pencil down and looked aimlessly at the pad. Nice to meet you.
“So, how was your first day?” Miriam asked, taking off her apron (which appeared to be coated in vomit), folding it carefully, and dropping it atop the pile of dirty sheets.
“Fine,” Cho said. “They seem nice.”
“Of course they do! You’re young and pretty and your job is to take away the pain!” Miriam chuckled. “Trust me, they aren’t so friendly when I come offering prayers.”
Cho smiled wryly. “Could you show me where to find the key to the pantry?”
Miriam raised an eyebrow. “What do you need that for?”
“I’m just a little hungry,” Cho said quietly. “I was hoping for a bit of bread.”
“Sorry, dear, we’re all out until the parcel arrives tomorrow,” Miriam replied, a sad note in her voice. “In fact, I don’t even think we’ll be able to serve breakfast like usual. Don’t let it surprise you if the men aren’t quite so nice in the morning.” She paused at the base of the stairs. “Ready to go see where you’ll be sleeping?”
Cho brightened a little bit. Cedric’s wand would have to wait, for her tired feet and dirty clothes were begging to be traded for a soft bed. “Yes, please. Lead the way.”
They walked carefully up the stairs, Cho struggling to keep her footing in the darkness with only Miriam’s dying oil lamp to lead the way. However, after a few twists and turns, they made it to the top. Cho could see other nurses her age getting into their pajamas, and elves had settled onto doormats in the room’s corners. Miriam came to a stop in front of the first empty bed, an elf trailing behind her with clean sheets. Cho looked up and noticed chains hanging off the entryway doors.
“We used to keep the ones with head trouble here,” Miriam said, frowning slightly. “You know, though, I think pain is pain in the end.” She turned. “Sweet dreams.”
Cho tore her eyes away from the woman’s retreating back, working in tandem with the elf to get the sheets fitted onto her bed before Miriam turned her light out. She quickly changed into comfortable sleeping clothes, folding her uniform carefully and putting it inside her suitcase. She was thankful to be able to use her wand not only to clean up stains, but also to silently lock her suitcase and tuck it under the bed. Then, hiding her wand carefully beneath the case, she climbed underneath the covers.
It had only been about a day and a half since she’d arrived, and already it felt like she was living in another world. Fortunately, this was a world where it appeared that her skill set could be useful, even if she had to conceal it most of the time. Miriam’s attitude had opened the door to the possibility of Muggles and wizards working together, given the hard times, and Cho was determined never to close it.