Expect the unexpected.
That’s what the tutor had told them on the very first day of Healer training, along with the not-very-confidence-inspiring assurance that no amount of reading, testing and training could prepare them for the actual experience of working with real-live patients.
Now, after only six days as a qualified trainee Healer at St Mungo’s, Harry can’t help but suspect the tutor was underplaying this somewhat.
Certainly, he never expected to spend a good portion of his day preventing the crafty old witch in bed four from liberating the chocolate cake from the tray of her sleeping neighbour.
“Mrs Derrida,” he calls, watching the plump witch freeze, hand outstretched. “What did I tell you about the cake?”
“Er... that it’s delicious and I really should have a slice?” she attempts, blinking hopefully at Harry. “That Rosemary isn’t going to eat hers and it shouldn’t go to waste?”
Harry sighs and fights down a smile. He crosses the room in three long strides and levitates Rosemary’s cake onto her bedside stand with a careless flick of his wand, putting it well out of the reach of Mrs Derrida.
“That sounds like me. Do you really think that Nurse Midgen just spent twenty minutes cleaning your blood for you to start on the sugar again?” he prods.
“Hmph,” mutters Mrs Derrida, looking suitably cowed.
“Exactly,” he says, picking up her chart and examining it. “If you behave yourself, you should be OK to go home in a couple of days.”
“And then what shall I do without you, Healer Potter?” the old lady asks, fluttering spidery lashes against lined cheeks.
The novelty of the address hasn’t quite worn off yet, and in spite of himself, Harry smiles widely as the warm feeling of accomplishment floods his veins.
“I’m sure you’ll cope, Mrs Derrida.”
Flirting with octogenarian patients is childishly easy; he only wishes he could extend the skill to someone a little closer to his own age. Not that Harry has any time for that. Healing is more of a lifestyle than an occupation, and that shows no sign of letting up just because the studying portion of his training is over. It was of little surprise when he discovered that most relationships seemed to be formed within the hospital.
‘If he didn’t work here, we’d never see each other,’admitted the quiet-but-kind Nurse Midgen on Harry’s first day, as she pointed out her Healer boyfriend. He vaguely remembers her from Hogwarts, and has to concede that he’s stuck to her just a little over the past week. He thinks it’s the relief of finding someone who doesn’t stare at his scar or walk on eggshells around him as though he might spontaneously combust at any given moment.
Leaning back against the reassuringly solid support of the nurses’ station, he takes a moment to stare out at the bustling sea of people; patients, visitors and staff. The lime-green of Healers and soft blue of nurses a refreshing contrast against the stark, clinical backdrop. It’s hour ten of a sixteen hour shift, but despite the exhaustion, Harry can’t quite quell the surge of warm satisfaction that comes only with the feeling of knowing that he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be. Finally.
It’s over five years since the war ended, though sometimes it seems like much longer. Once the dust had settled, literally and figuratively, time had seemed to ratchet up into a frenzy and rush by quite without Harry’s permission. Having spent half of his life narrowly avoiding his own horrible death and simultaneously waiting to bring about someone else’s, the fall of Voldemort had left Harry at somewhat of a loss. He was not, as some tried to insinuate, depressed, merely directionless.
He’d moved into number 12 Grimmauld Place. Stripped and painted and scrubbed and polished until it looked more like a home than a tomb. Declined several offers to play professional Quidditch, on the grounds that it just wasn’t the same since school. Followed Ron into Auror training for lack of a better idea.
Left Ron to it after only two weeks, still without a better idea. Though he’d wished at the time for a loftier explanation than just being sick to the fucking back teeth of fighting Dark magic, he hadn’t found one. The more rational of his friends were heard to wonder what, in that case, he had been thinking when he entered Auror training. Harry had decided against telling them the truth, which was that he hadn’t been thinking much at all.
It had been Hermione’s idea, in the end. All of this.
‘There’s no getting away from Dark magic, Harry. You can’t lock yourself away from the world,’ she’d said.
‘There must be something useful I can do to help people where it won’t all be about being Harry bloody Potter,’ he’d grumbled.
The Curatio School’s ‘Careers in Healing’ leaflet had been dropped next to his breakfast plate the next morning. Harry had simply allowed himself a smile at Hermione’s lack of subtlety and scanned the text and moving photographs of little green-robed witches and wizards with morning-sleepy eyes and buttery fingers. The simple rightness of the idea had struck him like a thunderbolt.
Never had Harry been more grateful that Hermione Granger had taught him how to study than during four gruelling years of training. And it had all been leading up to this –
“ – Harry,” comes the exasperated voice from somewhere to his right. Blinking, he rubs at tired eyes behind his glasses. Slowly but surely, the smallest and most tenacious of his fellow trainees swims into focus before him.
Cecile rolls muddy green eyes and prods him in the ribs with her wand, sending a sharp, cold shiver under Harry’s skin that is not unlike a slap in the face with a wet fish. He imagines.
“There’s no need for that,” he mumbles.
“There was every need,” she asserts, tucking a strand of unruly blonde hair behind her ear. “You look like you’re falling asleep. Apparently there’s been some raid or other, Aurors going after a supposed cell of leftover Death Eaters. They’re Flooing in now.”
Harry’s ears prick up. Feeling energised, either by Cecile’s words or her wet-fish hex, he’s not sure, but it doesn’t really matter. “What’s their status?”
“Some major spell damage,” Cecile replies. The spark in her weary eyes makes it clear that she’s also dying to get involved. He knows it’s unlikely they’ll be on the front line this time, as trainees, but there’s always the chance that it’ll be an all-hands-on-deck situation.
“What are we waiting for, then?” He shoots Cecile a small smile, pushes wearily off the nurses’ station and follows her down to the foyer.
The scene that greets them is loud, chaotic and frantic, sending a tide of adrenaline coursing through Harry’s veins and effectively washing away the last of his fatigue. The rush is sharper, sweeter and more powerful than any previous victory on the battlefield or Quidditch pitch.
A buzzing sea of green and blue surrounds the prone, levitated bodies of the three unconscious Aurors. As he and Cecile plunge into the fray, Harry catches sight of Ron as he talks anxiously to the Healer running diagnostic spells over his fallen colleague. His hair and rust-brown robes are dishevelled, but he cuts an imposing, professional figure in the midst of the disorder and Harry can’t resist a small smile.
“Potter, Mackenzie!” barks Harry’s boss and mentor, Augustus Tremellen, from somewhere behind him. He and Cecile turn, wands at the ready. “I need you to Side-Along the patients up to the third floor, and then stay out of the bloody way!”
At the sound of Harry’s name, Ron glances up and meets Harry’s eyes. The look he shoots Harry from under the red fringe is equal parts sympathetic, amused and grim.
“So much for helping out with the big emergency,” Harry mutters under his breath, wrapping his arm securely around the waist of the nearest patient and Apparating them both to the third floor. The faint pop as he disappears telling him that Cecile is not far behind.
“They could at least let us do something,” complains Terry Boot.
“We are doing something,” murmurs Cecile, voice heavy with sarcasm. “We’re observing.”
Harry snorts. They have been staring through the glass of the spell-damaged Aurors’ room for the last thirty minutes and he’s rapidly losing patience. Not that he’s ever responded well to being told to ‘stay put and watch.’
“Tremellen’s coming out,” whispers another trainee behind Harry.
Finally. The group turns as one to regard Tremellen.
“Hatchlings,” he booms, the accompanying smile twitching his dark moustache at the corners. Harry grips his wand tighter and rolls his eyes inwardly. He might be a great Healer, but the man is a patronising, slimy prat. At Harry’s side, Cecile is smiling but her eyes are cold.
“As you can see, all three patients are now stabilized, but they will require careful observation and regular tests before they can be released,” says Tremellen. “As such, I’m allowing the best trainee to assist me in caring for these... very important patients.”
Tremellen smiles greasily and sweeps his eyes over the assembled group, seemingly revelling in the collective intake of breath. Harry feels himself sag slightly, eyes flicking to his right. He knows he’s not the best. Competent – sure; good with the patients – absolutely; but he’s not the star. Most of the time, in fact, he positively delights in not being the one that stands out, though it’s a shame that...
“Healer Potter,” intones Tremellen. Harry’s head snaps up.
“Yes?” he asks. “I mean, erm, yes, Healer Tremellen?”
“You will be assisting me, of course. Back here in an hour.” The man waves his hand dismissively at the group, turns on the spot and Apparates away.
Harry stares at the spot his boss has vacated, blindsided.
“What the hell just happened?” he asks no one in particular. There’s no answer, as he expected, but a dull, low-level muttering has broken out amongst the group. Rubbing his eyes, he sighs. So much for that non-preferential treatment he really believed he’d been enjoying.
“I’m sorry, Cecile,” he says, turning to her at last. She bites on her bottom lip and shrugs.
“Doesn’t matter,” she replies, throwing him a wan smile that doesn’t quite reach her eyes. Guilt-flooded, Harry worries his already-messy hair with a restless hand.
“Seriously, it’s not fair. You deserved the case. You always do.”
“Yep,” he affirms, honesty making him vehement. He knows it, and he knows that she knows it, too.
“Well... shit. If you’re going to be so damn reasonable about it...” Cecile looks down at the floor momentarily, and when she looks up, her face has cleared and her smile is genuine. “Harry bloody Potter.”
“I’ve been called worse,” he offers, relieved. He knows he couldn’t blame Cecile if she did hate him on principle, but she’s clearly made of sterner stuff than that, and he’s pleased. “Coffees on me, in the canteen?”
When he looks around, he’s grateful to note that the crowd of disgruntled onlookers has dissipated, and he and Cecile are practically alone in the corridor.
“OK. ‘Coffee’,” she says, delicate nose wrinkling with distaste, making dramatic air quotes and narrowly missing whacking Harry across the nose. He ducks.
“I’ll see you down there.”
“Healer Tremellen?” Harry calls, shoes squeaking harshly on the polished floor as he skids to a stop behind the other man. He turns.
“Yes, Healer Potter, what can I do for you?”
“It’s about the case... the Aurors?” he begins. Tremellen arches a dark eyebrow and Harry pauses, suddenly uncertain. “It’s just that, well, I wondered if I was really the most deserving trainee.”
He swallows hard. Drags a deep breath in through his nose, detecting the scent of pine floor cleaner, the kind Muggles use, and the distinctive aroma of lavender given off by certain diagnostic charms.
“I’m grateful that you chose me, Sir, but Terry beat me in every exam during training, and Cecile is by far the strongest in the group, and I wondered if...” he trails off, mouth suddenly turning dry as he catches the expression spreading across Tremellen’s darkening face.
“Mister Potter,” he says coldly, swiftly and harshly reminding Harry of another former mentor. “Are you questioning my judgement on this matter?”
The older man has a good three inches on Harry but this is the first time he has ever felt intimidated. Fitfully, he rubs damp palms across the rough fabric of his robe. Maintains eye contact. He wants to argue. For the injustice of it all. For Cecile. For the simple desire to be rewarded for his achievements, and not just for being the Boy Who Lived.
Before he can, however, his conscience appeals to him in a voice that sounds disturbingly like Hermione’s.
‘There’s a fine line between heroics and pointless self-sabotage,’ it whispers, and Harry bites his tongue.
“Well? Shall I take it that the great Harry Potter does not wish to assist me on this case?”
“No, Healer Tremellen, I mean, I still want to assist you,” he says. The moustache quivers, and Tremellen inclines his head carefully.
He strides away, green robes swishing behind him. Harry leans back against the cool, painted wall and scowls. Not for the first time in his life, he wishes he could have just kept his big mouth shut.
“I really am sorry,” Harry repeats. “I tried talking to Tremellen, but it turns out he’s even more of a wanker than I thought he was.”
Cecile cradles her coffee cup close to her face, resting skinny elbows on the shiny plastic table top.
“I’m used to it,” she says ruefully. Pulls a tiny, silver snake on a delicate chain out from the neck of her robe. “Ex-Slytherin.”
Harry smiles. “Nothing wrong with that,” he attempts, but Cecile laughs.
“You’re in a desperate minority there,” she says, leaning across the table to pick at the soggy chips on Harry’s plate.
Despite his better judgement, the heat of irritation curls in Harry’s stomach and he grips the edge of the table hard.
“What?” Cecile looks up. She licks salt from her fingers.
“Picking off my plate.”
“That hungry, are you?” she asks, a slight tilt to her head as she regards him curiously.
“No. It’s not that... it’s...” Harry pauses, feeling his face redden and not knowing how to explain.
“Don’t like sharing?” Cecile teases, smiling now.
“No!” Frustrated, he tips almost half of the chips onto a clean paper napkin and slides it across the table to Cecile. “I just don’t like people taking food from my plate.”
He shrugs, embarrassed. It doesn’t seem to matter how many years of good nutrition he now has behind him, he’s never quite been able to shake the deeply ingrained urge to protect his food. Dudley, of course, hasn’t had access to Harry’s plate in years, but the unease has never quite left him.
“Thanks,” Cecile says softly, picking up a chip from the napkin and chewing on it thoughtfully. “You are weird, though, you know that?”
“It’s been said,” he concedes, smiling.
Finally feeling at ease, he leans back in his chair and scans the canteen lazily, watching the canteen staff weave back and forth, easy to spot in their bright red uniforms amongst the Healers and visitors sitting in small knots at the various tables. A short, grey-haired witch behind the counter laughs raucously, drawing Harry’s eyes. She’s batting her eyes up at the tall, blond man dropping silver Sickles into her outstretched hand with long, elegant fingers.
Granted, Harry can only see the back of his head, but there’s something about the way the man holds himself that feels painfully familiar. The soft grey jumper and dark trousers are simple but stylish, and Harry finds himself wanting to look. Not that the person he’s thinking of would ever be seen dead in Muggle clothing. It’s a trick of the mind, of course. He’s sitting with one blonde Slytherin, it’s only natural to be thinking of another.
“Are you listening to me, oh Chosen One?” Cecile prods.
“Whaaaat? Don’t call me that,” he complains, still staring distractedly over Cecile’s green-clad shoulder. If the man could just turn around, he’d be able to look away.
“I knew you weren’t. What is it?”
Harry hesitates, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the back of the blond head. He’s holding his breath, even though it’s ridiculous, he knows it is. There’s no way...
The man turns slightly as he accepts the steaming paper cup from the grey-haired canteen employee, and the fine-boned face is thrown into profile. Harry bites his tongue, hard.
“Bugger me.” He blinks repeatedly, but each time he looks back, the image is unaltered.
“Eloquent,” Cecile snorts. In his peripheral vision, Harry watches her look over her shoulder, following his gaze. “Well, well. Draco Malfoy, no less.”
The mild surprise in her tone magnifies over and over in Harry’s head until he feels like his brain is about to explode.
“Draco Malfoy,” he repeats.
As he continues to stare, Malfoy nods briskly at the old witch, turns, and stalks out of the canteen without a backward glance.
“What’s he doing here?” he asks, finally dragging his eyes back to Cecile.
“How should I know?” She shrugs delicately and wipes greasy fingers on the now-empty napkin. “Are you going to eat the rest of those?”
Harry glances down at his plate, distracted. Suddenly, he’s not hungry. “Go mad,” he says, tipping the rest of the chips out onto Cecile’s napkin. “I have to go... do something.”
The sudden reappearance of the man who seemed to drop off the face of the earth, in Harry’s place of work, no less, definitely warrants further investigation.
Fortunately, Malfoy doesn’t seem to be in a hurry. Within a matter of seconds, Harry’s almost caught up to him. After that, it’s just a matter of ducking into an alcove to cast a quick Disillusionment charm and following Malfoy to his destination. It’s almost six years since Harry last tracked the Slytherin git on a regular basis, but the familiarity of the chase is oddly soothing.
At first, he’s certain that Malfoy is visiting someone in the hospital. It’s the only explanation that makes sense, and yet as he’s led down remote corridor after remote corridor, Harry is losing certainty at an alarming rate. As the corridor traffic thins down to nothing, Harry realises that he’s in a part of the hospital he’s never seen before. The usually all-pervading smell of lavender is almost non-existent, and the absence of it strikes Harry violently.
Turning a corner, Malfoy stops. Harry stops. Catches his breath. The blond waves his wand negligently over the set of double doors and pushes inside. Harry raises his eyes to the glossy white sign screwed above the doors.
“Malfoy’s in rehab,” he insists for the third time some hours later. He almost has to shout to be heard over the pounding bassline, but the eyerolls of his companions tell him that the words have hit home.
“Harry, I really don’t think... can we talk about something else?” pleads Hermione, or at least the pale, black-haired girl she’s pretending to be does. The voice and face are all wrong, but the exasperated expression is pure Hermione.
Ron shifts uncomfortably in the body of a slightly overweight Muggle man. The voice, when it comes, is unexpectedly gravelly. “How’s it all going over there, anyway?” he asks in an attempt to change the subject. “That Tremellen bloke seems like a bit of an arse.”
Harry sighs and stares down at the stubby fingers wrapped around his glass of Firewhisky. They’ve been using Polyjuice to avoid being bothered on nights out for as long as he can remember, but he’s never quite become accustomed to wearing someone else’s body.
“He is an arse,” he says at last, knocking back his drink and wincing as the harsh liquid burns the back of his throat. “And Malfoy is. In. Rehab. I saw him.”
He stares hard at Hermione and she exhales slowly, carefully, eyes softening. “I suppose it has been a while,” she says.
Immediately defensive, Harry bristles. “What do you mean?”
“It’s been a while,” she attempts, spinning her glass around on the tabletop between twitchy fingers. “Since you talked about Malfoy. Months, in fact. I thought it was a good thing for you, that you were moving on, finally. Letting go.”
Her expression is apologetic but unremitting, and Harry glances away from her, heart racing erratically out of time against the rhythmic vibration of the music that he can feel through the floor. At Hermione’s side, Ron’s lumpy face is twisted as he squints owlishly into his empty shot glass.
“Letting go of what? You make it sound like he’s an ex-lover or something,” Harry mutters at last.
Hermione shrugs awkwardly. “If you want the truth, that’s how you behaved, sometimes. It always seemed like a dangerous obsession to me.”
Prickling all over, he licks the last traces of alcohol from his lips. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Hermione snorts. “Of course not.”
“Look, I admit that he isn’t completely evil. He didn’t identify us that time at the Manor, I put in a word at his family’s mockery of a trial. All squared away.” Harry slams his glass down on the table top with more force than he intends to, and sweeps his palms over the sticky surface in a gesture of finality.
“What’s really bothering you about all this?” she asks, brushing dark hair from her eyes and leaning closer across the table in order to make herself heard.
“I don’t know,” he admits. Pushes fingers into his eye sockets and presses hard. It takes him a moment to remember why he’s not wearing his glasses, but of course in this temporary form, he doesn’t need them. “It’s like I need to know what he’s doing, and yet I really don’t want to know. It makes no sense.”
“Do you think...” Hermione starts thoughtfully, before being interrupted.
“Harry, guess who I am,” insists Ron, sprawling across the table and huffing boozy breath into Harry’s face. Despite his hazy eyes, there’s something in his face that makes Harry wonder if the interruption is more of a rescue attempt than just the Firewhisky talking.
“Go on,” he encourages, hiding a grateful smile behind his glass.
“Could I be an uglier Muggle?” Ron deadpans, gesturing expansively.
The uncharacteristically sardonic expression lasts all of three seconds before he dissolves into helpless laughter. Hermione purses her lips and draws down fine eyebrows as though she’s trying not to smile at any cost.
“He’s been watching American sitcoms again,” she sighs.
“I’d never have guessed,” Harry offers. Allowing a grin to break through, he wills himself to relax and pushes the last vestiges of any thoughts Malfoy-related into the dark recesses of his mind. It’s Friday night. He’s worked hard all week, and he’s spent the last four years working his backside off to get there. Surely he deserves to relax.
“That VT thing is genius, Harry,” Ron enthuses. “You’ve got to get one for your place.”
“TV,” he corrects absently. “I have seen one before, believe it or not.”
“Brilliant. 'Mione managed to get it working on magic. She’s so clever.”
The murky eyes that turn on Hermione radiate pure adoration, and Harry finds himself caught in a pleasant tide of warmth and amusement as he regards his two best friends.
It never fails to amaze him how much of a lightweight Ron actually is. Despite his six foot frame and clear dedication to the art, Harry’s best friend just can’t hold his drink. When he starts getting glassy-eyed and emotional, both Harry and Hermione have learned that the end of the night is nigh.
“So clever, and so beautiful,” Ron slurs, and the pale face Hermione is wearing blushes prettily. “I’m so lucky... Harry, you have to get yourself a lovely girlfriend. Not this one, though. This one’s mine.”
“All in good time,” Harry replies weakly, turning quickly away from Hermione before he can admit to seeing the knowing glint in her unfamiliar blue eyes.
They both know that he hasn’t had a relationship as such since Ginny. A few abortive attempts at dating have made up his entire history of romantic entanglements since then. The truth is, he doesn’t know how to talk to women, or even if he really wants to. That, though, is a quiet, wriggling, twisting feeling that he keeps locked well away in the pit of his stomach. Telling himself that he’ll take it out and look at it just as soon as he has time.
“I think I’d better get this one home,” says Hermione, and he nods faintly.
Not that she counts. Hermione is just... Hermione. It’s easy.
“You might want to top up the potion if you’re staying out,” she advises, ever practical. “Your eyes are starting to turn green again.”
He shakes his head. “Thanks, but I think I’ll head home too.”
“Bye, Harry,” Ron stage-whispers, slapping him heartily on the back.
Harry slaps back and then envelops Hermione in a brief hug, momentarily allowing himself to revel in the warmth of her embrace and inhaling her familiar fresh, flowery scent. The glossy dark hair slides across his face and startles him.
“See you soon. You still smell like Hermione,” he adds absently.
She laughs warmly as she pulls away. “Of course I do, silly. Polyjuice changes the appearance and the voice, but not the basic essence of a person. You know that,” she chides.
“Obviously,” he mumbles, impressed in spite of himself at his friend’s ability to deliver a lecture even when three sheets to the wind. He supposes some things never change, and it’s a small comfort.
Ears ringing and head buzzing, he stumbles out into the dark back alley to Disapparate back to Grimmauld Place, and is almost out cold before his head hits the pillow. Try as he might to dislodge them, Hermione’s comments about his former nemesis are his last conscious thought, and the subsequent dreams are fractured and confusing.