“I can’t be the only one who’s thought it! Preserving life isn’t exactly what Slytherins are known for.”
“They’re good with potions–”
“Well you’ve got to know how to brew the antidote if you get any of the poison by mistake, now don’t you?”
Tracey Davis’ lips press into a thin line as she shoulders past the whispering trainee Healers, not even deigning to make eye contact as she heads down the hall to the potions lab. She will never be immune to the gossip any more than she will be immune to the common cold, but she does expect it. It is, she supposes, the price she pays for being the only snake of the lot. The price of difference.
Cho jumps when the door to the potion lab swings open and Tracey stalks in, silent, to her station. She glances over briefly at Cho but says nothing, instead taking her seat and beginning to chop feverfew with quick, sharp motions that make regular thunking sounds each time her knife comes down against the table. With a slight frown, Cho looks back down at her own work, watching the batch of Pepper-Up she is brewing to make sure it doesn’t boil over and letting the sounds of Tracey’s frustrated chopping fade into the background.
At least, it does until Tracey drops the knife with a clatter and a sharp curse, and Cho jumps again and looks up to see Tracey’s hand bleeding. She is biting her bottom lip white as she fumbles for her wand with her other hand, but Cho gets there first, laying her wand to the wound and knitting skin back together with a few whispered words. Tracey lets out a slow breath, some of the tension in her shoulders relaxing. She moves as if to draw her hand back, but Cho doesn’t let her.
“Come on,” she says gently, falling into the reassuring tone of voice she uses for patients without even realising it, “let’s get your hand cleaned up.”
“Yes, Healer Chang,” Tracey says, but her lips twitch into a brief smile and she lets Cho clean off her hand without protest.
“Are you okay?”
“Thanks to you.”
Cho shakes her head. “Not what I meant,” she says. “I mean... is something wrong?”
Tracey looks up at her, and for a moment Cho almost forgets her train of thought entirely– Tracey’s eyes are so stunningly blue this close– but then she looks away again, straightening and sliding her hand out of Cho’s grasp.
“It’s nothing,” she answers calmly, “just a long day. Thanks.”
“Sure,” Cho says, because she knows I don’t want to talk about it when she hears it. “No problem.”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Tracey says firmly, heading off Susan before she can ask anything and sinking gracelessly on to the couch in the break room. Susan’s brow crinkles into a frown.
“You should talk about it,” she protests. “If my boyfriend were in the hospital, I’d–”
“Your boyfriend is always in the hospital, he works here.”
“You know what I mean.”
Tracey sighs and looks away. “He isn’t.”
There is a long pause. “Wait, what?”
“I’m not dating Theo. I never was.”
“Really?” Susan doesn’t sound entirely convinced. “I could have sworn...”
“You and everyone else, I know, I know. But he’s just a friend. Or, well, that sounds wrong, the just, but you get what I mean.” Tracey is quiet for a moment. “I... of course I’m worried, but I don’t need to talk about it for you to guess that.”
“I guess not,” Susan says, “but I just thought... I don’t know.”
“Yeah.” She lets out a breath. “I’ll figure it out. I have to.”
“If anyone can do it, it’s you,” Susan answers, in a tone she hopes is reassuring. “No one can figure out the weird stuff like you.”
Tracey does finally crack a slight smile. “That’s my specialty,” she agrees, the barest hint of wry humour in her tone, “the weird stuff. Technical term.”
“Quiet,” Susan says lightly, getting to her feet. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
The hospital is quiet, the staff whittled down to the small group who took the late shift that evening, most of whom are clustered in the staffroom over tea. Cho had declined to join them, though– she likes the calm of the hospital at night, the freedom from most distraction to work uninterrupted. The lights in the halls are dimmed, and the only sound is that of her shoes on the tile as she walks.
She stops, though, at the sight of a light in one of the rooms– patients should be resting, at this hour. Cho walks over to the door without a second thought and pushes it open, only to be met by Tracey’s startled gaze. She is sitting at the bedside of a young man with dark hair and skin as pale as the sheets, and even though her attention is now focused on Cho, her hand is curled tightly around his. Cho’s cheeks heat, and she backs out of the doorway.
“Sorry,” she apologises, before Tracey says anything, “I didn’t mean to– I mean, I didn’t know you were in here, I just thought– well. Sorry.” She backs out of the room, and Tracey stares after her as the door falls shut. Beside her, Theo gives a tired laugh, and she glances back at him.
He gives her an infuriatingly knowing smile, and Tracey makes an irritated sound in her throat. “Theo.”
“She fancies you.”
“The fever is making you delirious,” Tracey says dryly. “She just thought she was interrupting something.”
“Her thinking that doesn’t invalidate my point.”
“You should be resting, you know.”
“You’re being obnoxious.”
“You’re evading because you’re interested.”
“Would you shut up?”
“No. You are, you’re uncomfortable because I’m hitting too close to home, and you don’t want to let yourself believe she might actually be interested in you, because you never believe anyone is interested in you.”
Tracey is quiet for a very, very long moment. “She dated Cedric Diggory,” she finally says. “She dated Potter. Both of whom are pretty much complete opposites of a Slytherin girl who, let’s face it, is about as far from popular or famous or influential or athletic or charming as it is possible to be.”
Theo looks up at her, expression now serious. “And look how well that worked out for her,” he says. “Not everyone wants that, and besides, it’s not like you’re not worth dating.”
“You have to say that, you’re my best friend.”
“Hey.” He frowns and squeezes her hand. “Listen to me. I wouldn’t be your best friend if I didn’t think you were worth it, all right? So don’t sell yourself short.”
Tracey sighs and lets go of his hand. “Get some sleep, Theo. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Cho doesn’t know what to make of it, really. Tracey is usually so cool toward everyone. She’s a superb Healer, but people skills have never been her forte– probably why most of her work at St. Mungo’s is in research– and though she’s always civil, she has never been particularly friendly.
So if she seems lately to just happen to be in the potion lab almost every time Cho is, and just happen to want a second opinion on something or other that winds up getting them into a long, meandering conversation on their shared fascination with experimental treatment techniques, and she just happens to flash Cho one of those rare dizzying smiles of hers... well, all things considered, it’s perfectly reasonable of her to suspect that something is going on.
“Of course something is going on,” Marietta had told her, “she’s a Slytherin. Isn’t that all you need to know?”
That conversation had left Cho with a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach for days, nagging at her, making her question Tracey’s every glance for hidden motives. She hated that feeling, that endless fretting, simmering worry, and so she had Flooed the only other person she could think of to talk to.
“Not to be critical of your friend– well, actually, yes, to be critical of your friend– but understanding people has never been one of Marietta’s strong points,” Padma says, cradling a mug of tea in her hands. “Forget about Slytherin or not Slytherin. I know that seems like a tall order after everything that happened in the war, but really, they’re just people.” A pause. “I’m aware that’s an unpopular opinion, but when has that ever stopped me?”
Cho laughs in spite of herself; Padma has made her name as a journalist in unpopular opinions, so much so that the Daily Prophet would probably have long since stopped printing her column if controversy weren’t so good for circulation. Padma smiles at Cho over the rim of her tea in acknowledgment.
“So you think I’m overreacting.”
“To a pretty girl being into you? Um, yes.”
“Oh please,” Padma interrupts, rolling her eyes. “You know it’s flirting, I don’t know why you’re telling yourself it isn’t.”
Cho frowns and looks away. “She has a boyfriend.”
“Does she.” Padma doesn’t sound particularly moved by this revelation. “Did she tell you that?”
“I saw them.”
“So, no. You saw her with a man and you assumed.”
“It’s a perfectly reasonable assumption.”
“Except for the part where people sleep with people they aren’t dating all the time, though I doubt whatever you saw was anywhere near that compromising, or you’d be blushing more. And it’s not like someone can’t like men and women, which you of all people should know intimately.”
Cho does blush at that. “Well. When you put it that way.”
“Mhm.” Padma’s lips quirk. “I think you should go for it, ask her out. The worst she can do is say no, after all, and it’s been a long time since you were seeing anyone.”
“I just... haven’t felt like it,” Cho says lamely, and Padma leans forward and ruffles her hair.
“Hey,” she murmurs, “we’ve been over this, haven’t we? You don’t have some weird dating curse. I’m still alive and well, aren’t I?”
“Yeah.” Cho manages a wobbly sort of smile. “Yeah, you are. Thanks, Padma.”
“You’re welcome,” Padma answers. “Let me know how it goes.”
Cho has been standing silent in the doorway for several minutes, watching Tracey as she reads through files. She is backlit by the early morning sunlight slanting in through the window, haloed in pale winter light, and Cho is loathe to interrupt her; she looks so focused and so breathtaking.
“Why did you decide to become a Healer?” It’s not what Cho had meant to say, not at all, and it’s not a graceful way to start a conversation. Tracey looks up.
“I was good at it,” she says, and Cho shakes her head as she shuts the door behind her and sits down in the chair beside Tracey.
“No,” she says, “that’s why you could decide to, not why you did.” There is a pause. “People were always getting hurt around me,” Cho finally adds, quieter. “I wanted to be able to fix it.”
“You can’t fix everything,” Tracey says; her voice sounds sharp and unhappy, and Cho thinks of Theodore Nott lying in a hospital bed, waiting for Tracey to find a cure when she doesn’t even know where to start.
“No,” Cho says, “no, you can’t.” She thinks of Cedric; she has stopped believing she could have saved him, but the memory still hurts, even after all these years. Tracey doesn’t speak for a very long time, dropping her gaze back to her files.
“My family was never involved with the Death Eaters,” Tracey says at length. “My parents just wanted to stay out of it, keep their heads down and hope it would blow over. But... but it didn’t work like that.” She swallows hard. “The Dark Lord didn’t take well to purebloods not falling into line. They... they were murdered. Them and my older brother.” Her voice is flat, as though if she lets any emotion into it a dam will burst. “I don’t want people to die.”
Cho can only nod, not trusting her voice past the lump in her own throat, and lets her gaze settle instead on the sheaf of parchment on the table.
“Are you sure this is viral?” Cho says at length. “These symptoms are consistent with certain slow-acting poisons.”
“The fever isn’t.”
“Opportunistic infection? Poison messes with his immune system, something comes in and makes him sick on top of it.” She frowns. “Of course, that doesn’t explain why he’s got poison in his system, but–”
“I know exactly why he would,” Tracey says, sweeping the files back into their folder and getting to her feet. “Grab an antidote kit and come with me.”
“Hey,” Tracey says, “think you can lend me some blood?”
“You’re a very demanding friend,” Theo murmurs, and Tracey manages a strained little smile and approaches his bed.
“I know,” she tells him, and begins laying out supplies. “This is Healer Chang, she’ll be helping me.”
Theo arches a brow. “It takes two Healers to draw blood?”
“I think she ought to be here if she’s managed to figure out what’s wrong with you,” Tracey replies. “You’ll feel a stick, hold still for me.”
“And what’s that?”
“It might be a poison,” Cho speaks up, as Tracey finishes drawing blood, “which–”
“–which you really should have mentioned the possibility of,” Tracey interjects. “You didn’t just “get sick,” did you? You were on assignment, and you didn’t tell me.”
“Department work is classified–”
“I’m sure that your boss would be greatly comforted by your discretion if he were down an Unspeakable,” Tracey scolds. “You don’t lie to your Healer if you want to live, we’ve been over this. Cho, testing potion, please?”
Cho produces a small phial of clear liquid and hands it over to Tracey, who adds a few drops of blood and replaces the stopper. Theo watches as she shakes it with quick, sharp motions. “That’ll tell you if there’s poison in my blood?”
“Exactly,” Cho says, watching Tracey’s hand. “It’s a wide-range test potion that covers a lot of different types. If there’s something there, it’ll–”
“–turn blue,” Tracey interrupts, holding it up to the light; the liquid within has turned a deep cobalt. “A bezoar and some rest and you’ll be fine.” She smiles broadly, a real smile this time, and leans over to press a kiss to his forehead. “You’re going to be okay.”
“How did you get so well-versed in poison symptoms?” Tracey asks, as they’re heading toward the staffroom. Cho smiles slightly.
“During my training, I did most of my time in the lab with Healer Summers supervising. He was working on antidote research then, so.” A shrug, a shy glance. “Your training sticks with you.”
“I still can’t believe I missed it,” Tracey says, “so... thank you. It means a lot.”
“Is he...” Cho hesitates. “Are you two dating?”
Tracey just laughs and shakes her head. “Everyone thinks that. But no, we’re not. Really, really not. Theo’s been on and off with Blaise Zabini for ages.”
“With Blaise–” Cho breaks off laughing. “That kind of not seeing each other, huh.”
“Yeah,” Tracey agrees with a crooked little smile. “Best friends since we were children, but I’m definitely not his type.”
Cho worries her lip for a moment, looking down, then up again. “In that case... would you like to get dinner sometime?”
Tracey’s smile broadens. “Yeah,” she agrees, reaching over to squeeze Cho’s hand, “I’d love to.”