Chapter 1: The Catalyst
July 4, 1995
The Welcome Witch was not in a welcoming mood.
Mirabella Sawbridge never usually was; the job of receiving and sorting the injured and sick that made their way to her desk wasn’t exactly designed to improve one’s disposition, but on this night it was even worse than it usually was. After nearly two decades of paying her dues, she honestly thought she’d be past working the overnight shift at the reception area for St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. There were other, newer witches who had never completed their apprenticeships and were unsuited to most other jobs in the magical world who were willing to work the overnight shift, leaving more senior staff members like her to work the busier day slot. Yet here she was after making what she now had to admit was one of the more foolish trades she ever had.
As she looked around the reception area, she heard someone approaching. “Hey Mira,” her friend Leona Rothley greeted as she came up to the desk, “I haven’t seen you in a few weeks! How’s the night shift treating you?”
“Ugh,” Mira tried to smother her yawn with a disgusted groan and was only partially successful, “Like a hippogriff treats a Malfoy. Were we this tired during our training?”
Her friend began to chuckle, the report of young Malfoy’s injuries still made the rounds. It was great for a giggle, and no one had quite figured how Poppy Pomfrey had managed to make such ludicrous claims sound so professional.
“Yeah, but that was twenty years ago. We used to work all night and then hit up the Leaky Cauldron for beer and breakfast. Can’t really do that anymore,” she finished with a rub of the dark circles under her green eyes.
With a half-hearted raspberry for her friend, Mira put her head in her hands. “I haven’t been this bored since the Merlin-be-damned tournament up at Hogwarts.”
“I heard there were plenty of fireworks up there,” countered Leona as she leaned against the desk.
Mira snorted. “Yeah, I read the Prophet too, but it all happened afterward. I would love to get my hands on the dickhead that was responsible for designing that tournament.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I traded shifts, cashed in holidays, and called in a few favors to get time off so I could head up to watch the end of the tournament, and whatever moron designed the tournament made it so that the last event was a hedge maze.”
Leona had to smother a chuckle at her friend’s obvious irritation
Seeing her friend try to remain calm at her annoyance broke Mira’s frustration, and she had to laugh along with Leona. “A bloody hedge maze! Thirty feet high! Once the champions went into the maze we couldn’t see a thing!”
“So you were sitting in the stands…” Leona trailed off as her chuckles moved into giggles.
“…with nothing to do!” finished Mira.
She tried as hard as she could to hold onto her pique, but faced with such blatant amusement, she broke. Their laughter echoed in the mostly-empty reception area before Mira calmed herself down, wiping her eyes. “That was such a waste of a traded shift. The only reason I’m working these overnight shifts is to pay my end of the trade. I didn’t even get to see who won; somehow there was this massive delay in the maze, and I had to get back here before they even had the winner.”
“So you weren’t there for all the drama when Potter reappeared with his dead friend, claiming You-Know-Who is back?”
“Are you kidding? Part of my arrangement was to get back here to take over the night shift that night. I figured the Tournament would be over in time for me to apparate. I had to read about it in the Prophet like everyone else,” Mira groaned.
“That has to be the worst vacation ever,” Leona sympathized, somehow without showing any traces of sympathy.
“It certainly wasn’t worth the effort I put into it,” agreed Mira.
Leona offered a small smile. “Well, think about it like this,” she cast a quick Tempus charm, “It’s already half past one, you’ve only got about five and a half hours to go before shift change, and then you’re home free.”
Just the mention of getting home to her soft bed had Mira rubbing her eyes with another yawn. “I still don’t know how you guys can handle the night shift. I would be completely useless. Guess I’m not as strong as you are,” she finished, letting her hands move up to her short blonde hair, trying to wake herself up with a scalp massage. “Maybe I should try to get my hands on some muggle coffee.”
Leona gave a knowing smile. “If you end up with any more of these shifts it would be a good idea. Potion brewing requires total focus so I have to be alert. Coffee is a blessing. Tea, as much as I love it, is pretty much useless after about the second night, and I’m so sick of hearing another warning on ‘the dangers of overusing pepper-up potions’ that it’s worth avoiding just for that reason.”
“Right along with the cleanliness of cauldrons and the need for antidotes to be administered by competent healers,” Mira finished.
Before they could continue their chat, the entrance chimed to signal the entry of a new patient. Leona took one look at the man staggering into the reception area and broke into new chuckles. She tapped the countertop to punctuate their chat and made her way back in the direction of her potions lab.
Mira readied herself for the incoming guest. Nighttime in muggle hospitals was somewhat quieter than the day period – depending on the population density of the local area – but with St. Mungo’s being the only hospital in magical Britain, there never really was any down time. The chat she just had with her friend was about the extent of any calm she would see that night.
One of the hospital’s most frequent patients, Derwent Gorman was a familiar face to most of St. Mungo’s staff. Lank, weedy hair hung down limply most of the time, framing a gaunt face that silently spoke to the desperation of too many nights without the galleons to pay for a decent meal. His frame gave the same impression. Derwent’s visits almost always involved the ill after-effects of some hare-brained scheme designed to profit for a few galleons.
This visit appeared to be no different. His usually limp hair shot straight out behind his head while soot covered his face. Derwent limped into the reception area, carrying a cloak of some kind with him. “What brings you to us tonight, Mister Gorman?”
“I was so close to finishing my Elixir of Life. I really thought I had it this time, but I stored my potion too close to the Bloodstone Cloak so they both, sort of, exploded.”
Stifling the laugh she so richly wanted to let escape, Mira noted his information down on her parchment. “You know the drill. Have a seat over in those chairs so one of the staff can have a look at you before sending you on to the Potions Accident ward,” she indicated the small waiting area where poisoning, accident, or spell damage victims were examined by the witches and wizards in their lime-green robes.
Her earlier scalp massage didn’t have the effect Mira was hoping for, so she leaned back against her uncomfortable chair and yawned, stretching her limbs as far as they would go. Three more days of the vampire shifts beckoned, then she had one whole day off to get her body clock back on its routine before she went back to daylight hours. The chaos wouldn’t be welcome, but the satisfaction of doing what she could to help treat people who needed it, and getting her normal sleep pattern back, would be. Anything had to be better than working overnight.
Without warning, her peripheral vision caught a small figure staggering into the reception area through the exterior window. Pain spiked through her own neck as she snapped back to attention, watching the newcomer. His gait was broken, and from the way he tried to lean on a wall only he could feel Mira could tell he was in extreme pain. His clothes hung off his body, made for someone at least twice his size and giving him the appearance of being even smaller than he actually was.
“Help…me,” he slurred, grunting a chest-wracking cough with the effort.
The boy looked to be young, pre-teenage years. He’d be on his way to Hogwarts shortly if he survived his injuries. His hair was dark, but whether it was black or brown was impossible to tell with how much dirt and mud were caked on his head. It wasn’t the dark shade that fixed her attention, however; it was the red. Blood poured from numerous head lacerations, obscuring his features in a mask of rust-colored stains. The effort of making his earlier plea for help had a fresh trickle running down from the side of his mouth.
Bruises spread around his face, from his jaw up to his eye area, making him look like a raccoon if said creature had been involuntarily introduced to the business end of a brick wall.
The boy was thin too; almost emaciated, Mira corrected herself. The way his muggle clothes were hanging off of him, she figured that beneath the material his ribs would be visible. From the way he was holding his left arm in close to his body, she was positive that it was broken, even without examining him. Angling his body away from himself made it appear as if he was trying to get away from the pain. As she began to rise to help him, he spat out a couple teeth in a cloud of blood.
“Please,” he pleaded once more before collapsing to the floor.
Taking her wand, she stabbed an emergency notification rune on her desk and rushed over to the boy. The alert she’d just activated drew three medi-witches over from the waiting area at a run. “This case needs immediate treatment. He’s got an extreme amount of trauma.”
“Good call, Welcome Witch Sawbridge,” the senior member of the team replied, “We’ll take it from here.” She cast a Mobilicorpus charm to levitate the patient and the three of them moved off at a run.
Only when she went over her memory of the event did she realize the identity of the boy.
“Shit!” Mira’s wand shot out with her Patronus fox carrying a message that the critical case they just took back was none other than Harry Potter. Her final act, before returning to the desk, was to send off another Patronus. This time to Wizarding Protective Services, it was standard procedure when a minor was admitted with no accompanying guardian.
The Emergency Care ward resembled an ant colony that had been kicked over, with all the ants scurrying around. The sudden arrival of a patient in their Emergency Treatment section needing immediate care was nothing new; that was the function of that particular area of the unit. The appearance of their newest patient indicated something out of the ordinary, and the medi-wizards and medi-witches went into their highest gear at the sight.
Graham Osset, the medi-wizard in charge of the ward for that shift, moved over to the newly-occupied bed as the Welcome Witch’s Patronus materialized through the wall, informing him in its ethereal voice that his new patient was none other than Harry Potter.
Summoning a Dicta-Quill and pad from his bag, he activated the writing tool. Osset pulled out his wand and started dictating diagnostic notes. As he spoke, the healers around him moved to slide over trays with the potions and other tools experience told them would be needed.
“Starting diagnostics on ten-year old Caucasian male of unknown identity. Beginning with physical injuries: at the feet we have numerous sprains and tears of the ligaments. I note a torn right and sprained left plantar fascia. Faded lacerations on the feet leaving extensive scarring,” he peered closer before setting his jaw and continuing, “Poorly-set and healed breaks in the lower tibia in both legs, just above the ankles. Cleaner breaks in both tibia again, halfway up between ankles and knees. Old breaks in both patellae along with torn anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in the left and a torn posterior cruciate ligament in the right,” Osset growled, anger rising with each new notation, “Skin laceration scars continue up both legs, with some deep-tissue wounds in the left thigh. Broken left femur. Pelvic crush indicators on the right side,” he noted, pausing at the patient’s lower abdomen.
One of their trainees in the room to observe their procedures vomited into a basin at the sight. As a more experienced medi-witch vanished the mess (and smell) Osset admitted to himself that even with his years of experience, seeing the horrors visited on a young boy was disturbing.
“Small metal ball-shaped objects deeply embedded into the fatty tissue, blunt-force trauma to both hands with multiple broken phalanges in each. Similar poorly-set break injuries in left ulna and right radius. Puncture would in the right forearm. Old breaks to scapulae and clavicles on both sides. Chip fractures in C1, C3, C4, C6, T2, T3, T5, T6, T10, T11, T12, L1, L2, L4, and L5 vertebrae.”
“Sweet Merlin!” Medi-witch Bertha Higgins slid over a new sheet of parchment under the quill as it filled the first.
Once he received word that the Dicta-Quill was ready to go once more, Osset carried on, ignoring the organized chaos behind him. “Three cracked ribs on the left side and four on the right. It’s damned lucky his chest isn’t flailed. The spleen is lacerated, and the left lung is punctured. He also has broken zygomatic bones on both sides, a cracked maxilla, badly broken jaw, and four missing teeth.”
“Now for magical injuries: I detect an uncommonly strong infant magical bind, tracers that appear to be linked to a warding spell of some kind, at least a half-dozen compulsion charms, a long-term loyalty potion keyed to a white-haired individual, and…” he trailed off, waving his wand over the patient’s forehead, “Sweet Merlin,” whispered Osset.
“What? What is it?”
He shook his head, “Dark magic, and a lot of it, concentrated in the patient’s forehead. It appears to be stable, so I want the physical injuries treated first.” He tapped a rune on his staff badge, summoning the Unspeakable stationed at St Mungo’s trained in treating dark magic.
“What the hell happened to this kid?!” Higgins exclaimed.
“Not our job, Medi-witch Higgins,” replied Osset, “We just need to get him back to health. Now, we have a lot on our hands here. When I remove the stasis charm, I’ll be giving him a dose of the Draught of Dreamless Sleep. Then, I want him given blood-replenishing potion. While that’s being dispensed, I want someone else giving him organ-repairing potions. We’ll stabilize the worst of the breaks, and then once the organs have been repaired and the bleeding has stopped, which should be sometime tomorrow, we can start vanishing his broken bones and giving him Skele-Gro.
“We can’t fix all his older, poorly-healed broken bones tonight; just the new injuries will need to be healed. Once the patient is awake again, I’ll speak to whomever his guardians are about vanishing and re-growing the old injuries. That will be a long process with how many of them there are,” only Osset’s experience and professionalism helped him contain his rage at the horrors visited on a child.
“Are we all clear, people?”
Hearing a round of affirmative responses, he turned back to the patient, ready to remove the stasis charm. One of his trainees piped up, interrupting his focus.
“Excuse me, sir, but if this is Harry Potter, well, Harry Potter’s a student at Hogwarts. He just competed in the Tri-Wizard Tournament this year, if my memory of the Prophet is accurate. This patient has the body of a ten-year old.”
Another of the medi-witches cleared her throat, “What if long-term untreated malnutrition is part of the present diagnosis?”
“That would explain it,” Osset mused, “But if that’s the case the lad would have been near-starvation levels for years. We’ll have to get him on an intensive regimen of nutrient potions when he’s up and about again. Harry Potter is not going to die on our watch, people, so let’s get cracking!”
With a wave of his hand, he canceled the stasis charm, and almost a dozen highly-trained medical professionals sprang into action to save a young boy’s life.