“Good morning, Cho,” Miriam said from the table in the kitchen, where she sat nibbling on a bit of bread. “Do you know what today is?”
“Friday?” Cho said, confused, as she poured herself a glass of fresh water.
“That’s a girl.” Miriam cracked a smile. “We’ve set up a little tradition here at the abbey. Every other weekend, we let the younger girls go into town for a few hours, just to give them some time off. You can go visit your family if they live nearby.”
Cho sipped her water, not saying anything for a moment. She had not anticipated the possibility of time off, not with a war continually raging on outside. Then again, things at the hospital had been fairly quiet over the past few days, and they were not interrupted by new arrivals more than once every twelve hours or so.
“Well, are you interested? I think they’re going to be leaving soon,” Miriam said.
“Yes,” Cho replied. “My family isn’t far from here. Perhaps I will pay them a visit.”
“I bet they’d like that,” Miriam answered, and her smile warmed slightly. “Well, I’m going to do some rounds, just to check on them.” With that, she left the kitchen.
Cho glanced out into the main area, sipping her water. One or two men were awake and complaining of dirty bandages or pain, but most of the patients were still sleeping. Her brown eyes passed over Cedric, who was turned over onto his left side and appeared to be resting peacefully. His breathing was blissfully shallow.
Then, she realized she was blushing, and headed upstairs to pick out a dress to wear.
When her feet hit the ground again, she was standing outside St. Mungo’s Hospital.
The façade was tall and imposing, with two giant stone snakes slithering up the columns on either side and resting their heads upon the roof. However, someone had planted a large variety of flowers along the path that led between the serpents all the way up to the two stone doors sitting open to the public. Cho passed by these blooms, moving quietly up the stairs and walking into the hospital.
A harried-looking witch with dark brown hair was sitting at the front desk. Cho approached, placing her hands delicately on the counter. “Excuse me?”
The receptionist looked up, and Cho could now see her nametag, which read Bell, K.
“I was wondering if I could perhaps use your library.”
The witch looked sideways at her. “What for? Are you a student Healer?”
“No,” Cho admitted. “I’m working as a triage nurse out in the field right now.”
“A volunteer, then?”
“Well…” The nurse paused. “If you go and talk to the Director, perhaps he’ll make an exception. Usually we don’t give the public access to our materials.”
“I understand,” Cho replied, nodding. “Where can I find him?”
“Oh, he’s not in,” the witch clarified. “If you leave your name, though…”
“No, I’ll come back another day,” Cho said regretfully. “Could I use the loo?”
“Just down the corridor and turn the corner. It’ll be on your left.”
Cho moved down the hall, trying to remain close to the small crowd of student Healers walking in front of her. She was hoping that perhaps she would see a sign that would allow her to locate the library, or maybe that someone who looked friendly enough to ask would pass by her. She had to be quick, no matter what.
As she turned the corner, spotting the restroom on the left-hand side, she noticed a staircase going down on the right side of the corridor. A sign next to it indicated that it led to the basement, where St. Mungo’s had their potions laboratory. Cho waited for the crowd of students to turn the corner again, and then she moved downstairs.
The room was wide and square-shaped, with torches lighting it from each corner. Cho wondered how long it had been since the laboratory was renovated, or at least cleaned out. Bookshelves covered each inch of the walls, each of them stacked from floor to ceiling with ingredients. Some of the jars contained familiar things that Cho had used before in her Hogwarts classes. The contents of others bordered on exotic. A few things that Cho saw in her first turn about the room flipped her stomach over.
“What are you doing here?” someone called quietly from behind her.
Cho spun around, finding herself face-to-face with a boy in a stained white lab coat. He carried a clean vial in one hand and a severed rat tail in the other, and he wore a bemused expression. Cho thought she saw a bit of sludge in his close-cut brown hair.
“You’re not a student, are you?” the boy asked, smirking.
“Maybe I am.”
“You’re not. I am. I would know you.”
Cho frowned. “Look, I’m not a thief. I just need to do a bit of research.”
“Why not go to the library, then?”
“It’d be a bit suspicious to go after being told to ask first,” Cho said, as if it was obvious. “I just need some help with a patient of mine. I’m a volunteer nurse.”
“For the war?” He leaned against one of the shelves lightly. “Interesting.”
“I think so,” Cho said.
“What’s the diagnosis?”
“I don’t know. He’s got some kind of poison in his throat. They’ve been giving him a cocktail of common antidotes, but he says the side effects are bothersome.”
“Is it improving the pain?”
“I don’t know. He can’t talk. It still hurts too much.”
The boy frowned. “I’ve heard about this nasty stuff the Germans are using on the front. It’s called mustard gas, because it’s Hufflepuff yellow. It burns out the lungs.”
“That’s probably it,” Cho said.
The boy’s brown eyes took on a glint. “The medicine they have doesn’t work?”
“I guess it does a bit, but there should be something more specialized available.”
“Yeah, they always taught us not to mix potions,” he said, rubbing the side of his face. Cho wondered if there was some sort of rash lingering beneath healed skin. “You know, I’ve been working on this antidote for aerosol poisons in my research. It’s got some stuff in it to soothe internal burns. If you’re willing to take a sample and do some trials, maybe we could get a case study published on it.”
“What are the side effects?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t been able to do any human trials. No one is around to volunteer with the war going on. If your patient is willing to try it out, though…”
“This is illegal, isn’t it?” Cho said flatly. “It’s unethical, at least.”
“You haven’t exactly kept a perfect record today, have you?”
She frowned, shaking her head.
“Look, just let your patient decide what he’s willing to try, you know?” He looked a bit desperate. “This could be a big break. We could help hundreds of soldiers.”
Cho sighed. “Okay. I’ll send it back if he says no.”
“That’s fair,” the boy said, moving over to a locked cabinet by the door. He pulled out his wand, murmuring a series of incantations that were unfamiliar to her. Then, he opened the door and retrieved a vial of electric blue liquid, brimming with promise. Cho smiled at how the temperature alternated, first warming and then cooling her hand as soon as he placed it in her grasp. She only hoped Cedric would try it out.
“What’s your name?” she asked. “In case I need to owl you, you know?”
“I’m Oliver Wood,” he replied. “Send it straight to me, not the hospital, okay?”
“Okay,” she said. “I, um, I’m Cho. Cho Chang.”
“Nice to meet you,” Oliver said, smiling. “Good luck. You know, to both of us.”
Cho’s feet slammed into the ground just outside the abbey, and she was pleased to see the small group of nurses making their way slowly up the hill from the village. Her timing could not have been more perfect. She smoothed her plain brown dress, trying to make it look as if she had merely walked back to the abbey after a short trip to her parents’ house, and headed inside the building with the other girls.
Miriam and some of the other nuns were just finishing up with their rounds. Cho could see a few house elves making hospital corners on the unoccupied beds.
“Hope you had a good trip, ladies,” Miriam said. “Now, back to work with you.”
The nurses, Cho included, filed into the kitchen and began preparing dinner for the patients using what was left of the meat and bread. Cho arranged glasses of water on a tray and moved to take it out to the waiting soldiers. On her way, she passed by Miriam again, who was sweeping the floor and cleaning up the dust from outside.
“You have a good time, Cho?” Miriam asked.
“Yes, thank you for the time off,” she replied.
“It must have been nice to see your parents again. Did they miss you?”
“Oh, of course,” Cho said, balancing the tray as another girl moved past her.
Miriam scrutinized her for a moment, as if a hint of magic could be detected on the hem of Cho’s dress or the heel of her shoes. After a moment, she gave up, and the sweeping motion of her broom picked up again. “Well, lots to do…” she murmured.
Cho nodded, continuing into the main area and trying not to laugh. Yes, very good, tell her in your Scottish accent that your family is settled in France. Some Ravenclaw you are.
Reminded of Hogwarts, she glanced over at Cedric, who smiled at her even as he accepted a sandwich from a pretty blonde nurse.
After all the soldiers had received water, things at the hospital calmed down for the night. When it was time for bed, Cho headed upstairs with everyone else. She sat down on her bed, tucking the small tube of healing potion into a corner of her suitcase. As she did so, she recalled Cedric’s request for his wand. It was dark, and everyone else was settling in for the evening. Maybe now would be a good time…
She paused to yawn. Enough adventure for today.
Then, she promptly fell into sleep.