A/N: PhoenixSong.net was born out of friendships built upon a foundation of a mutual love of reading, writing fanfiction, and Harry Potter. Since first posting my stories on this site, I have met some amazing individuals and have had the privilege of getting to know a few of them better. To one person in particular I am truly indebted. She has tirelessly researched everything from fog to music, from bizarre animals to curses, and she has done it with incredible gusto. She has also become a dear friend. With my deepest thanks I dedicate this piece to fritz42. Thank you so very much.
I'd also like to thank Iviolinist for her phenomenal betaing talents and good humor especially in light of my serial semicolon use. And to any old readers stopping by, I'm leaving fluff behind a bit on this one. I hope you enjoy.
Burying her hands into the pockets of her robes, Chief Resident Healer Ginevra Weasley shoved open the front doors of St. Dymphna's and stepped out into the cold night air. They vanished behind her, replaced by a billboard touting some Muggle beer. It was the third week in a row she had pulled the graveyard shift. She'd spent eighteen hours already on her feet and was thankful for the silence.
The echoes of ghosts swept down the darkened street running from the rising moon, waiting for the tendrils of fog in which to disappear. She flicked the candy she had been sucking on into the shallow oil-laced puddlethen reached in her pocket for another. She wouldn't finish this piece either. It didn't stop her from pulling away the wrapper. A long-ingrained habit, even in the rain - the monotonous godawful Edinburgh rain, which would soon blanket the street, freezing and relentless.
She never finished anything nowadays.
Finding shelter under a fire escape in a nearby alley, she closed her eyes; one, two, three sucks, then she spit it out into her hand. She stared at it, the small yellow drop. Curling her fingers about it, she eyed her fingernails. They were yellow themselves now, chewed down to the quick. Fanning her other palm, she remembered a time when these nails used to be buffed to a shine: oval, perfect rings of semicircles, gracinglong fingers, slender and full of healing. Now, long after the war, long after her heart had been shredded and her personal life had been dragged through the tabloids, all those fingers could hold was healing; that's all she could grasp.
She exhaled a long breath up toward an amber streetlamp. The silence of the damp night fell around her where she slumped down a bricked and graffitied wall, bone tired yet wide awake. She rested the butt of her palm against her forehead before she wrestled in her pocket for another.
Yes, strange, strange habit, Ginny. Funny, strange habit, love. That's what he always used to say.
Her face tilted up toward the stars. The fog would soon shroud the night, racing forwardand silent through the sky. She raised her face further; the sharp taste of salt air passed her lips. Eyes closed, a drop--icy, cold and singular--pierced her cheek. Then another and another and another. A sudden clap of thunder forced her back against the wall. Her bare arm wiped her face.
At least these belonged to the sky.
Tossing the candy into the darkness, she wound her arms about her and sighed before heading back inside the hospital. Her breath joined the fog where it disappeared to the sea.
Squinting in the torchlight of the main lobby, Ginny nodded to the beefy wizard half dozing at the main desk, his head snapping up as she passed.
"Sorry to be botherin' ya,Heal'r, but new regulations: wand imprintin' in or out. Orders from London." He slicked back his hair and sat up a little taller in his seat, his eyes traveling down the length of her slight frame.
Rolling her eyes, she placed the tip of her wand on the outstretched tablet, which glowed blue and vibrated momentarily in the large hand of the security guard. "Thank ya, Heal'r, sorry for this and all."
Ginny nodded, too fagged for small talk especially with this love-struck guard who had been trying to ask her out repeatedly. And now this: wand imprinting. Understaffed and overworked and one more hoop to jump through for the Ministry. Fine, if it kept them away and let the Healers heal, fine. It was all fine. Bloody, bloody fine. God, she was whipped. All she wanted was a cot; a pillow wasn't even necessary just something horizontal.
Stopping at the lift, she banged at the button and waited. The age of this hospital exceeded that of even St. Mungo's. Built by Druids probably, she mused, who even now were probably dragging the cables by hand, muttering, "One more floor, one more floor," under their breath. A weird red light from the lift panel started flashing, causing her to exhale and roll her eyes to the ceiling. Oh Merlin. The stairs--again. Feeling her wand vibrate against her leg, she held it up to her lips, "Weasley here."
The wand issued forth, "All available Healers, please report to the Trauma Ward immediately. All available Healers, please report to the Trauma Ward immediately." The wood glowed red momentarily before the vibrating ceased. Ginny shoved it in her robes and trudged off toward the stairs. Bloody hell. Trauma. Eighth floor.
By the time she pushed open the stairwell door, she was panting. Her feet hastened down the dimly lit hallway.Rooms were quiet about her, the faint outlines of bodies sleeping inside were barely visible. Glancing at her reflection in the moonstone wainscoting, she wrestled for a band from within her robes and twisted it about her hair, capturing her uncontrollable mane into a loose bun.
She needed to have it away from her face--for good reason. A trauma case at this time of night meant only one thing: a bunch of cocky young wizards coming back from Grunions, trying to jinx each other and getting the goddamn incantation wrong. It never failed. She'd prep them, checking for any permanent damage (other than innate stupidity) and send them off to Spell Reversal. Idiots. Last night it was five drunken Hogwarts graduates with wands impaled up their nostrils. It took her an hour to reconstruct their sinuses alone, during which time they played with her hair while describing their feelings about her anatomy in painstaking detail. True, she shouldn't have immobilized them in the end, but her breasts really were her own business, thank you very much.
Heading around the corner, Ginny stumbled to a dead stop, her widened eyes took in the sight at the end of the hall.
It was anightmare.
She could hear muffled shouts ahead in the near distance; she picked up her pace a bit, desperate to get closer. Three stretchers were being loaded in, carrying bodies drenched in blood. Upon seeing the carnage, she steadied herself on the corner of the front desk. The receptionist looked up at her, a haunted look in her eyes.
"I know, I haven't seen bodies like this since . . .since the war."
"Ginny, get over here, we need your help," barked the salt and pepper haired wizard she recognized as Healer-in-Charge Graham Virden, head of Trauma.
She swallowed, grateful for his presence.
Moments later, all three bodies were rolled into a large treatment room and positioned near trays laden with metal instruments and small cauldrons, several of which she remembered using just this morning. This morning? No yesterday morning. How was she ever going to find the energy to deal with this?
The other Healers stood about the gurneys, shifting back and forth on their feet, talking nervously amongst themselves. Ginny nodded toward Junior Healers Peter Webster and David Allay, who were third year students rotating through trauma. They had entered Healer study after the war, and by the look on their faces, she could tell they had never seen carnage like this and were terrified as to how to proceed. Her heart always swayed a little when she looked at them, their expressions so earnest, willing to do whatever it took, but now they seemed unsure even how to hold their wands. The remaining Healer, Ginny's flat mate, Susan Rains, appeared less shaken, though still terribly pale; she glanced at her, managing a weak smile. Ginny returned the smile before taking her place by Virden's side. As Chief Resident, Ginny knew she was expected to oversee all of them, but at this juncture, she worried they may prove more of a hindrance than a help.
"This is what we've got," Virden stated, "family: mother and father in their late thirties and a child, female. All attacked--brutally. We're not sure what curses have been leveled. We'll need to do a full screening. Don't touch them until you get a reading on the Hexology reports first. Any of them. Do I make myself clear?"
The Healers nodded, looking up into the stern expression on the elder Healer's face.
"Allay, you attend to the mother with me; Webster and Weasley, the father; Rains, you cover the child."
Ginny was about to ask how he knew they were a family, but refrained. There wasn't much time—she'd ask later.
When everyone had made it to his or her respective stretcher, Ginny took a moment to survey the damage. The twisted and mangled bodies looked more like forgotten dolls than human beings. Her heart twisted slightly at the sight of the last stretcher: a tiny hand hanging overthe side; all the fingers appeared broken.
"Who'd do such a thing?" she half whispered to herself, pulling loose her wand from her robes.
"Those monsters," Virden replied, motioning toward the far corner of the treatment room. Ginny's head whipped around to view two bodies. Evidently under the Impediment Curse, they lay motionless on gurneys, an orderly busy tightening their restraints. "Not a scratch on them. A few drunk teenagers found them in Dreidour Alley behind Grunions."
"All five of them?"
"Yes. Those two were stiff, up against the wall, the other three, collapsed at their feet."
"Healer Virden, Healer Weasley,come here please," shouted Webster, who was standing over the father. "Come see this."
Ginny moved next to the tall, brown haired wizard, noticing that his hands were shaking. God, he seemed so young. She chanced a look into his face; his lips were turned like he had drunk sour milk. Following his gaze,her own eyes narrowed as she began to examine the body using her wand to levitate his limbs. Cuts and contusions ravaged the man's skin; his breathing gurgled in his lungs. It worsened once Ginny raised his left arm.
"Look, look at his skin," Webster grimaced at the underside of the man's arm, the flesh raw and bleeding.
Large patches of skin were missing from his elbow to his shoulder. The flesh hadn't been torn off, but systematically sliced by what Ginny knew Muggle Healers referred to as a scalpel. Her wand deftly traced the pattern; it formed a shape close to an octagon.
Suddenly the gurgling in the man's lungs grew louder and a strange sound began emanating from his body like that of a song. Ginny stepped back, startled, before grabbing a hold of her wand and jabbing it near his mouth. His eyes clenched tightly. His mouth formed a pained oval while the vibrations emanated from him in a phoenix song rapture. All the Healers ceased what they were doing and twisted to face the man.Standing transfixed, they closed their eyes, lost in the music's strange beauty. Ginny herself felt light headed, as though her feet were slowly leaving the floor; only her near exhaustion tethered her to the ground. No, Ginny, fight this, her tired mind cried. Fight this. Yet the melody spiraled and swirled in the air like a living thing, filling her with light and warmth. Then, without warning, the man's body began to quake and throb, his vacant eyes slack as a stream of blood began to trickle from his lips, the mysterious song dying away with him.
"Allay, get over there with Weasley," Virden shouted, finally breaking the spell.
Ginny blinked hard. The room spun around her. Pulling herself together, she called over her shoulder, "Virden, can you cover on your own?"
"Yes, of course.Damn it, get that bleeding under control."
Quickly gowning up, she positioned the two Healers on either side of the man. Allay, who was the spitting image of her brother Charlie, looked as pale as she felt. She placed the tip of her wand to the beaten man's temple. After the wood began to glow a soft, luminescent blue, she aimed it against one of the tall black panels lining the walls. Within a matter of seconds, the plain black surface began to shimmer and an iridescent readout was plastered onto the surface.
"Hexology clear," she yelled, her eyes finding the Senior Healer, who nodded bluntly, knowing full well what these findings signified. This family had been brutalized without the use of magic—they had literally been beaten to death.
Grabbing tight to her wand, she began the charm. Moving it in an intricate pattern, she directed the two Junior Healers in a calm steady voice. "Take your wands and place them in the upper quadrant of his lung, repeat the Stygian Charm four times. Exactly. But don't," her voice sharpened for a moment, "don't touch any blood, do you understand?" They nodded, watching her intently as she began to issue forth the charm in an almost dolorous tone. All the while she stared intently at the man's face, hoping yet terrified to hear the plaintive song again.
Minutes later, the man's twitching subsided, but the bleeding continued. The stream, oozing more and more plasma, began pooling down his side. Finally, nearly twenty minutes later, she gasped and fell back, pale and shaking. The bleeding had subsided. Her arms trembled, freezing in complete exhaustion.
"Healer Weasley, I need you to assist here," Virden demanded from across the room.
Ginny looked at Webster and Alloy. "Can you handle him?" she asked, wiping her brow with the back of her arm.
"Yeah, go,just go!"
"What the hell happened to these people,Virden?" Ginny cried, helping him to turn the mother onto her side before examining the bruises running along her back, purple and soft in their heat.
He offered no immediate response; her eyes glanced up at his chiseled features as though she'd find the answer hidden somewhere within them. "Best as we can understand, those two are responsible." He nodded his head in disgust toward the stiff bodies of the assailants. "The Aurors are still down at the scene questioning the witnesses."
"Aurors?" Her wand slipped from her fingers,but the elder Healer continued, blind to the note of panic in her voice.
"They want to talk with us once we get things under control here. But whatever happened with these people, I doubt it was random. Those wizards meant business. It's almost ritualistic, especially the way the father's skin's been cut away." His tone was full of revulsion,but after his eyes found Ginny's, his voice softened, "Do you remember the Vascular litany? Good. This woman has vast internal bleeding; we've got to keep the litany going at 30 partitions. No loss of eye contact or we'll lose valuable time. And she doesn't have it. Got it? Good, on my word."
The charm, difficult for a fully rested Healer, was draining what vestiges of energy Ginny possessed. The nausea was building up inside her, her body acting as a conduit as the charm sealed the vessels, steam rising from her hands.
From across the room a panicked voice shouted, "Quick, I'm losing her!" Ginny's gaze was locked with Healer Virden, sweat pouring off her brow.
"What the hell do I do, Virden?"
"Webster, get yourself over here and relieve Weasley."
Switching out positions, Ginny rushed to her friend's side. "Susan, what's wrong?"
"I can't hold her. I'm losing her."
"What charms, Susan, tell me, what charms?" she demanded, examining the young girl's body, while Susan backed away and squeezed her eyes shut in concentration.
The young witch recited the list of incantations. "Ginny, they work, they always work. Why now, what's wrong?"
Ginny eyed her friend warily. Standing tall and rigid, Susan's dark hair framed a pale face, her blue eyes wide. In four years of Healer study and three years of practice, half of which was spent in wartime, she had never seen her friend waver. Never.
"Tell me slowly, tell me slowly," Ginny reached behind the small girl's skull. It wobbled sickeningly like a broken rag doll, tossed under some bed. Ginny closed her eyes, letting the magic flow through her fingers as she rubbed, moving muscles and bones. She began to hum, the ethereal sounds permeating the skin, the sinews, the core. She could see the broken bones knitting in her mind, joining together, seaming, blood coursing, blue and black above and around. The young girl twitched in her arms; Ginny dropped her hands, and stumbled back, struggling to stay on her feet. The room spun sickeningly around her.
"How long have you been on your feet,Weasley?" Healer Virden muttered in her ear, catching her by the arm and depositing her onto a vacant stool.
"Not long," she mumbled, head between her legs, blinking back the bile she felt rising in her throat.
"How long?" he demanded, crouching to look into her ragged face.
"Only twenty hours."
The Healer cursed. "Weasley, it's irresponsible. You could endanger yourself, much less your patients, working this kind of magic under your conditions. Now go, get out of here now!"
Susan screamed. Ginny's head flew up. One of the assailants had her by the neck, the steel blade of a jagged knife pressed against her throat. From his other hand another blade cut through the air, piercing Healer Virden's gut. He screamed out in agony and plummeted to the floor. The orderly lunged forward. A red blast whipped from the madman's palm and catapulted his body against the wall, knocking him unconscious.
"Now, nobody move or I'll slice her. I'll slice her open, do you hear?" His wild eyes shifted across the room as he gripped the knife tightly, an animalistic terror filling his face.
Trembling, Ginny moved forward.The man wrenched Susan to him, the knife grazing her skin causing her to cry out in pain. "Don't take another step or so help me, I'll gut her. I will."
Willing her quaking hands still, Ginny held them out before her and looked the crazed man directly in his eyes. Her voice was soothing like a well-practiced charm. "No one is going to hurt you here. Just put down the knife." She stiffened as a drop of scarlet blood dripped down the blade. Healer Virden's sputtered coughs soundedbehind her. Swallowing hard, she went on, "Just put it down. I can help you."
"Nobody can help me," the man screamed madly. Susan cringed in pain, eyes shut in terror. "Nobody can help me any more. You see, you see, he wants it, he wants it still!" With that he raised his forearm. Ginny gasped. There, burned into his skin as it would burn into her memory for the rest of her life, a skull and serpent pulsated black and hungry.
"How, how…" Ginny broke off weakly, her head pounding, her legs seconds from crumbling away.
Before he could respond, a horrible gurgling sound erupted from inside his mouth. The knife fell to the ground, the metal clattering on the tiles. Susan collapsed in a lump inches from the blade, grasping her hands about her neck. The man grabbed his head, eyes rolling back in his skull and began to scream blood-curdling cries, pulling his hair, tautening his face into some kind of death mask.
Faster thananyone could immobilize him, he grabbed the dagger and plummeted it to the hilt into his heart and crashed at Ginny's feet. Grasping at her legs, his body writhed snake-like in its death throes. Gazing up at her, a dreadful smile hung upon his lips. He lurched and grabbed her robes yanking her to him. "He's coming for you."
Ginny looked at him in horror, his bloodless lips nearly touching hers. "What? What did you say?"
His eyes met hers, a disgusting look of desire filling them. "He's coming for you, Ginevra." Blood spluttered from his lips, spraying her face. "He's going to take you--" Then, as though a metal vice was crushing his neck, his eyes rolled back in horror, white and lifeless. Ginny stumbled backwards. The corpse, eyes wide, gazed at her like a macabre lover.
Ginny didn't remember struggling to get to her feet from the cold tile. Sounds and images blurred around her. Forcing herself steady, she turned weakly around the room. Pale in shock, everyone stood gripping the sides of gurneys in horror, desperately looking to her for direction.
"Is everyone all right?" she asked numbly, licking her lips as she folded her arms, trying to hide her trembling hands. Attempting to assess the situation, she mumbled, motioning towards those present, "Webster, you attend to Healer Virden; Susan, keep a regenerative charm going on the girl."
Her eyes met Allay's. No.
"The mother, the father, both?" He simply shook his head, his eyes moist.
"What do you want me to do about this one?" groaned the orderly, rising from the ground. His finger motioned toward the remaining assailant, who still lay immobile on the gurney.
Ginny, choking back disgust, looked down at the sea of blood, gurgling its way down the drain on the floor.
Suddenly, the exam room doors burst open. Three Aurors stormed in, wands drawn. Frantic, Ginny's eyes tore between them. Flashes of pink, red and blond hair above regulation robes.
Thank God no black, thank God no black, thank God no--
Black. A split second later, she crashed to the tiles below in utter exhaustion.