Lois sat working quietly on the nightly report, ready for the change over with the morning shift in a couple of hours. The ward was almost completely silent, with only a few snuffles and soft snores from the peacefully sleeping children. Most of the beds were empty tonight as all of the children who were well enough had been discharged home in time for the weekend. In fact it had been pretty quiet for a week or so now, and Lois and her colleagues had used the time to complete the tasks that, although not important enough to take precedent over caring for the sick children, still needed to be carried out to ensure the smooth running of a children's ward in a busy London hospital.
Sighing, Lois set down her pen, finished with her paperwork. Her colleague, Tom Wilkes, who was enjoying a coffee in the small ward office they all shared, looked up at her curiously.
'You all right Lois?'
'Fine, I was just thinking about Harry. I hate the thought of him having to go back to that family. I wish we could keep him in a bit longer,' she admitted with concern.
Tom nodded his agreement. 'They're certainly not the most caring of relatives.'
Indeed not, Lois thought with disgust. She had been on duty when the Dursleys had eventually turned up at the hospital almost a full day after Harry had first been admitted. She had expected them to be beside themselves with worry for their nephew, but instead they had only seemed annoyed at having to come down to the hospital at all.
Although she hadn't known it at the time, Lois had later discovered that Harry hadn't had so much as a bus pass on him when he was found. The only clue to his identity was the fact that one of the witnesses thought they recognised him as living locally. When no one had come forward to report a missing child hours after his accident had happened, the police had questioned the man again who, when pressed, thought Harry might belong to a family who lived in Privet Drive; a rather large father and son, and a woman with an unusually long neck.
Once they had been tracked down, Mr and Mrs Dursley had apparently been furious that Harry's accident had resulted in a visit from the police. They had grudgingly explained that they had not been looking for him, as he was supposed to have been staying with a friend. Lois, however, seriously doubted the truth of that story. After huffing and puffing about the difficulties in missing time from his very important work, Mr Dursley had offhandedly identified the unconscious Harry, while Mrs Dursley and their extremely large son, had refused to budge from the office chairs they had occupied since they'd arrived.
'He's fit enough though Lo,' Tom's voice interrupted her reverie.
'Fit enough with a loving family looking after him maybe,' she argued back.
'I know,' Tom consoled, 'but Harry's not a baby; he doesn't need constant watching and apart from anything else, he wants to go home.'
That was the confusing thing for Lois. There was certainly no love lost between Harry and the Dursleys, but he was indeed desperate to go home. Not a doctor was allowed past his bed, without pleas from the young boy to be discharged.
'Anyway,' Tom said changing the subject before she could argue further. 'You never said earlier - what happened to your holiday plans, I thought you were supposed to finish last week?'
Lois cringed inwardly. It was true she had changed her holiday dates at the last minute, but she hadn't admitted to anyone the real reason why - Harry. Lois had always had a tendency to become too attached to her patients, a tendency she had done her level best to curb over the years. While a certain level of empathy with the people under her care, made her a better, more considerate nurse, too much could be damaging emotionally. Every hurt, every failure, every setback her patients suffered became her own, leaving her psychologically drained and lacking the mental resources she needed to deal with her work on a daily basis.
With no little effort, she had therefore trained herself, for the most, to maintain the necessary professional distance she needed to be able to carry out her work. Occasionally however, despite her every effort, someone slipped under her guard and there was simply nothing she could do to prevent it. Harry had been just such a case. She had felt an immediate connection with the unconscious boy, which had only deepened when he awoke. She had found him to be amazingly self-possessed for one so young, seemingly alone in the world despite the Dursleys and intensely proud, never showing an ounce of self-pity for the predicament he found himself in.
When it became apparent no one would be coming to visit him, Lois had taken to stopping by his bed whenever she had a spare minute to chat. He was generally cheerful and uncomplaining of his lot, although the occasional shadows in his bright green eyes hinted at past sorrows. She assumed it was the loss of his parents at such an early age; Harry had told her they had died when he was a baby and that he had lived with his aunt and uncle ever since. Lois had been shocked to learn he had lived with the Dursleys for so long - how could anyone care for a child from a baby and still have no obvious emotional attachment for them? Still, Harry had seemingly done a pretty good job of raising himself, because to her surprise, he was a very pleasant and polite child, even after having only the Dursleys for role models.
Despite her growing attachment, Lois had done her best to think of him no more than any of the other youngsters in her care - until last week that was. The night before her holiday was due to start, she had been sitting in the office when the sound of muffled moaning had her heading out into the darkened ward.
The noise had been coming from Harry's bed, but stopped before she reached him. She had watched him cautiously for a while, lying still and unnaturally stiff under the white hospital sheets due to the awkward casts restricting his movement. She had just been about to turn away, when he began groaning again, his thin shoulders twitching anxiously obviously deep in some nightmare, which had worsened quickly. Within seconds his hoarse cries had her bending over him, shaking him gently awake. Harry had struggled furiously against her to sit up, only to be forced back onto the bed with a moan of pain as he jarred his plaster-covered limbs.
Pushing her slight surprise at his extreme reaction aside, Lois had murmured to him soothingly, stroking his messy hair from his forehead until he had calmed sufficiently to shake off the clinging remnants of his nightmare.
'Do you want to talk about it Harry?' she questioned gently when he was fully awake at last. When he didn't answer and only shook his head roughly no, she had begun talking to him instead, murmuring quietly so not to wake the others, telling him stories about her mishaps while training, and anything else she could think of to distract him from dreams. At first he had remained tense, his eyes haunted and his thin body still trembling slightly, but as she continued to talk, he slowly relaxed and she was pleased when she managed to coax a smile or two out of him.
Once he was finally asleep, Lois didn't immediately leave but sat with him a while longer wanting to make sure he wouldn't wake again. Sitting on a chair beside his bed, she was able to observe him undisturbed; he was small for his age, with narrow shoulders, hunched and tense even in sleep. His black hair was more untidy than normal and now that it wasn't flopping over his forehead, the small, lightening shaped scar was exposed that he had confided was a souvenir of the accident that had robbed him of his parents. He looked vulnerable and lost, lying pale and still in the darkness, and she couldn't prevent a quiver of concern over what would happen to him while she was away.
Although she knew any one of the nursing staff would be just as ready as she to comfort him if he was woken again by nightmares, would they stay and talk nonsense to him till he went back to sleep? Would they make time to sit and chat with him, so he wouldn't feel so unwanted when the ward was filled with families visiting the other children, bringing sweets and laughter and presents from home?
As that painful image took hold, she had known suddenly that she couldn't bear to leave him here alone and abandoned by his relatives. With barely a moments hesitation, and ignoring the loud warning voice telling her not to get involved, she had postponed her holiday and would continue to do so until he went home.
'Lois?' Tom prompted, dragging her attention back to his question and away from her thoughts.
'Oh the friend I was going away with had an emergency crop up at work,' she lied, sure the truth would lead to a well-meaning lecture on the importance of not getting too involved. 'Hopefully we'll be able to go next week instead.' Luckily one of their colleagues joined them at that moment and the subject was dropped.
Two worry-filled days later and after much pleading with the doctor, Harry was declared well enough to go home. After even more pleading he was sure on the hospital's part, the Dursleys had been persuaded to come and collect him that afternoon. Harry had insisted in being ready in his wheelchair with his few belonging by his side, a full hour before the Dursleys were due to arrive. He knew his uncle would be impatient to leave and he was just as eager to see Hedwig.
'Are you sure you're ready for this Harry?' Lois pressed, packing up the game of draughts she had been playing with him in the hopes he knew, of keeping his mind off the upcoming ordeal.
'I'll be fine,' he said in what he hoped was a confident voice. In truth he was worried about coping on his own at home, but he was even more worried about Hedwig. He desperately wished suddenly that he had a real parent-like figure in his life. Sirius, despite his best intentions, simply wasn't able to be with him, and for all the care and protection Hogwarts and Professor Dumbledore provided, they were still after all just a school, and a Headmaster who had hundreds of other children to worry about.
Lois watched the changing expressions on the young boy's face with sorrow. Harry tried his best to be brave, but occasionally his guard fell and he was exposed for what he was - a scared boy who had no one to turn to. Lois knew there were plenty of others who were worse off than him, but at that particular moment it was of very little comfort.
'If you need anything Harry, or you just want to talk, you can always ring me here or if I'm not on duty at home,' she said handing him a piece of paper with direct numbers to both the ward and - completely against hospital policy - her home. She felt a tightness in her throat as Harry looked at her with undisguised amazement and pleasure, obviously shocked at the offer. What sort of a life had this poor child led that such a simple act of kindness left him so surprised?
'Thanks Lois,' he said quietly. Lois nodded, unable to speak and instead set about dealing the cards she had placed on his bed for a game of gin rummy.
Their attention was drawn away from the game a short while later by the arrival of visitors for a young girl at the end of the ward. Lois and Harry watched as a small boy escaped his mother's hand and ran excitedly towards his obviously adored big sister's bed. He was already clambering up next to her and throwing his chubby arms around her neck, before his mother could intercede to pull him giggling into her arms.
'Do you have any brothers or sisters Lois?' Harry asked wistfully.
'No, I was an only child. I always wanted one though.'
'Me too,' Harry sighed.
'What about your cousin Harry?' Lois gently probed. 'You seem to be about the same age, do the two of you not get on well?'
'No. Dudley hates me, not that I'm that keen on him. Actually, he hasn't really spoken to me since…'
'Oh nothing. It's just that we both go to separate boarding schools and I suppose Dudley gets a bit snooty because he goes to Smeltings – my uncle Vernon's old school.'
'Where do you go to school?' Lois asked surprised; it was unusual to meet children who attended boarding school nowadays, although she could imagine that the Dursleys would be eager to have Harry live away from home for most of the year.
'Erm… you probably wouldn't have heard of it, it's in Scotland.'
'That's a long way to go to school!'
'I know, but I love it,' Harry said, enthusiasm shining in his voice. 'My mum and dad went there too – they put my name down for it when I was only a baby.'
Lois was very glad Harry had something in his life other than the dreadful Dursleys. 'Do you have many friends there?'
'Well my best friends are Ron and Hermione, but apart from one of the Houses, everyone is pretty nice.'
'It sounds like you enjoy school – that's unusual, especially for boys in my experience,' she grinned. 'What's your favourite subject?'
'Well, I like Qui… er – sports the best. I'm in my House's… rugby team.'
'Are you any good?' Lois asked startled; he certainly didn't have the type of physique she would normally associate with a rugby player.
'I've been told I am,' Harry answered modestly enough, but was unable to hide a glint of pride when he added. 'I was the youngest person in over a hundred years to be picked to play on the House team.'
'Wow, I'm impressed,' Lois scrunched up her nose. 'I don't know much about rugby though, except it looks pretty rough.'
'It is!' Harry said with feeling, obviously remembering some past injury. 'But it really is the best game in the world. What about you, do you like sports?'
'No,' Lois smiled, 'I'm too clumsy by far; I was always the last to get picked for a team at school. Not that I minded; it would have suited me if I hadn't been picked at all,' she laughed suddenly. 'No wonder really, I had a horrible games teacher who used to make my life a misery. Miss Robson,' she said with deep dislike. 'She knew I was no good at anything and she used to delight in showing me up in front of the rest of the class. During a gym lesson one day she discovered I was frightened of climbing the rope – so she insisted on using me as an example on the correct way to do it. I got about half way up and I just froze, I was absolutely petrified.'
'She started yelling up at me from the bottom. "Get a move on Lois!"' she mimicked the gruff P.E. teacher's voice. '"Don't hang there like a jelly you stupid girl, move your legs!" What made it worse though, was that the gym was full and everyone was watching me, including Simon Kendrick, who I had a huge crush on, so I shut my eyes and carried on climbing. The next thing I knew there I was hanging from the top of the rope! I was so proud of myself. Of course, I was slightly less proud when I realised there was no way I could get back down again.'
'Too scared?' Harry sympathised, a half-smile on his lips.
'So what did you do?'
'Well I hung on for as long as I could naturally, but eventually gravity and Miss Robson's screeching wore me down and I fell off. Landed right on top of her,' she remembered with a wicked grin.
Harry laughed. 'Were you okay?'
'Fine, not a bruise on me. Mind you, she was quite a big woman, better than a crash mat I reckon,' Lois chuckled. 'She was off sick for three weeks.'
'Did she leave you alone after that?'
'Are you kidding? I think the only pleasure that mean old crow had in life, was tormenting the uncoordinated. Didn't make me climb the rope again though,' she shrugged; as far as Lois was concerned almost every cloud had a silver lining.
'Some people shouldn't be allowed to be teachers,' Harry said darkly, his eyebrows lowered in a fierce scowl.
'You'll get no arguments from me,' Lois agreed, shuffling the deck of cards to deal again.
Mr and Mrs Dursley finally swept into the hospital to collect Harry an hour after their promised arrival time, looking extremely unhappy to see him. Neither of them showed the slightest concern at his battered appearance and Mr Dursley rudely brushed off Lois's final instructions on Harry's care and follow-up appointments at the hospital. When she mentioned that all being well, his casts would be removed in six weeks' time Mr Dursley butted in sharply.
'The boy will be long gone back to boarding school by then, they can take care of that,' he snapped. 'And if he still needs check-ups why is he being sent home? Shouldn't you just keep him here until he's well enough to be up and about?'
'If I had my way Mr Dursley,' Lois said coldly, 'Harry would stay with us until his injuries are completely healed. However, Harry, for some strange reason, is keen to go home and as he is fit enough to do so the hospital can certainly make good use of his bed.'
Mr Dursley gave a disgusted snort and muttered something about 'the fine state the NHS was in' before grabbing Harry's chair and wheeling him roughly toward the exit.
As they left Harry managed to turn awkwardly and call out his thanks to a pale and angry Lois, who looked worryingly as though she was going to cry.