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Chapter 1 : Chapter 1
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Hello! I hope that you enjoy this story- it's set just after the fall of Voldemort, a time that I think is often glazed over. I'm hoping to expand on it a bit in this story.
Just so that you know, this chapter starts out slow, but I promise things will pick up in the next chapter. I just need to set the stage first.
lovely chapter image by Alora @ TDA
A puff of steam preceded the explosion, but the blast followed so quickly that the attending Healer had no time to find cover. Plumes of sulphuric smoke issuing forth from a small stone invaded the once sterile hospital room, clouding the air with their acrid fumes.
“Merlin’s beard!” the Healer choked after air had somewhat cleared. This was beyond anything she had been expecting from this routine procedure. Explosions weren’t supposed to just happen, not anymore. Certainly they were not to be expected when removing a stone swallowed by a small child. Really, the procedure had been so easy that the Healer was surprised the little boy’s parents hadn’t done it themselves, except for this new complication.
A quick check told the Healer that her patient was unharmed. She then turned her attention, and her wand, to the stone, which was still intact even after the blast. Her assistant for the procedure—Junior Healer Brenton—came over and warily picked up the object in his hand.
“Looks like a makeshift marble for Gobstones, spelled to explode rather than spit out that gunk they normally do,” he commented dryly. “I’ve played with my fair share of them, quite dangerous really. He’s lucky it didn’t go off inside of him.”
When the Healer didn’t respond, Junior Healer Brenton set down the marble gently.
“Elena,” he said placing a hand on the woman’s shoulder. “Is everything alright?”
The woman nodded reluctantly, still shocked by the explosion. It brought back memories from work at St. Mungo’s before He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was killed by Harry Potter. It reminded her of dark magic.
“That’ll be Healer Wood, to you,” she finally said, though the reprimand was quite half-hearted.
“Right, Elena,” Roger Brenton replied jauntily, oblivious to the other healer’s distress. “Might I suggest that you go freshen up a bit?” He indicated to her face with a careless wave of his hand. “I’ll take care of this mess.”
Elena sighed and stood up, wiping a finger along her cheek and wincing when it came away, black with soot. Against her better judgment, she left Roger in charge of the boy. He was known for being reckless, but it was time the Junior Healer started to be more independent anyway. Besides, he knew more about homemade Exploding Snap than she did and that knowledge probably stemmed from personal experience.
In the woman’s washroom, Elena took a moment to calm herself down. It was December and the world had been safe, even stable for months but she was still so shaken by small things like this. Elena had to wonder if things would ever change back to normal, so she could live without fear.
Elena caught a glimpse of her face in the mirror when she shook her head to clear it. A closer inspection revealed a light coating over her face and in her hair.
“I look like a bloody chimney sweep,” she decided dryly.
Luckily, even magical soot stood no chance against soap, water and a quick cleaning spell. In no time, and with minimal scrubbing, Elena was standing in front of the mirror again, looking at her own, clean reflection.
A boyfriend had once described her skin as the colour of a fresh cut potato and her lips the colour of uncooked beef. The boyfriend had been a chef, that was true, so comparing Elena’s features to food was not so strange. When, however, there was an abundance of red wine and when aforementioned boyfriend was cutting a pomegranate, it was simply inexcusable to describe her lips as the colour of raw meat, no matter how expensive the cut. In actuality, his descriptions, though unorthodox, weren’t that far off. Elena’s skin had a distinctly sallow undertone, something that was acquired after working out of the sun for years. Her lips could be explained by a rather unfortunate choice of lipstick colour that she had since changed.
After a few more moments of staring, Elena wound her dark hair up into a bun and straightened her robes. She knew she’d taken too long fixing her appearance but in fact, she’d really spent most of the time calming down. For all of her teenage and adult life, she’d lived in constant fear of attacks in the hospital. There had been a few attempted murders at St. Mungo’s, though thankfully no one had died. However, countless people had been brought in, dead or dying, as a result of Death Eater attacks. These attacks had dropped off in the past three months but Elena’s panic response wasn’t something that could just go away. She had to wonder if she’d ever feel truly safe again.
“Everything alright, Elena?” said Ruby Edwards, a Healer with steel grey curls, who had popped her head into the washroom. “Roger asked me to check up on you, said to tell you that everything’s under control.”
“I’m coming,” Elena declared, walking towards the door. “I just needed a moment,” she explained, as Ruby nodded her head sympathetically.
“Well, things are slow now,” the older woman assured Elena. “If you need more time, just take it.” She stopped walking to face Elena. “That goes for everything, Elena. If you need to take some time off, I’ll convince Quentin that you need it.”
Elena smiled tightly at this offer. She appreciated Ruby’s kindness, but taking time off wouldn’t help her. She just needed to keep working, to forget everything.
“Thanks, Ruby, but I’m alright,” she said, trying to sound as confident as possible.
“You are doing something for Christmas, aren’t you?”
“No,” Elena replied. “I’m working the night shift actually.” When Ruby’s face turned sympathetic, she quickly explained. “My parents are going to Vienna, so it’s not like I have any family to stay with.”
Ruby clucked sympathetically, “you poor dear.”
Though this coddling irked Elena, she tried to stay calm. “Yes well, I’m quite old enough to take care of myself.” And she was, though twenty-five was young for a healer, it was not unheard of. During the war, students with talents in Herbology and Potions had been recruited straight out of Hogwarts and given abbreviated training to help supply the growing need for healers. Elena had only been a Junior Healer for six months, instead of the usual year and a half, before becoming a full healer.
“Of course you are,” Ruby said quickly, backing off. “I’m sure you’re quite busy, I’ll let you get back to work.”
Elena nodded goodbye and walked back to the room to see Roger clearing up.
“Everything’s fine, Elena,” he said. “The boy’s all fixed up and I’ve disabled the marble.”
“Thanks,” she gave him a rare smile. “You’ve done well. And now,” Elena waved her wand and the bed the boy had been on made itself, “we wait.”
The end of the War had slowed traffic in the hospital considerably. While there once had been an extreme shortage of healers, now there were times like these were there were no patients. Ranks of top healers sat idle and many had started considering a change in profession.
She wearily sat down in one of the chairs in the room and closed her eyes.
“Wake me up if something happens, alright?” It was late, past midnight, and she hadn’t had a decent amount of sleep in days.
Elena didn’t even hear Roger’s response, for she drifted into dreams almost instantly.
It was nearly four in the morning when Elena stumbled into her flat, feeling drained and miserable. She’d gotten only half an hour of sleep before Roger had woken her to take care of a few more emergency cases—a witch who was bitten by a charmed insect, another child who had drank too much of Mummy’s potions and a pair of feuding relatives who here both suffering from the same hex.
That was pretty typical of a night shift at St. Mungo’s. Though the boy who had swallowed the Gobstone had been an anomaly. A rather boring night, all things considered.
Boring, Elena mused as she changed out of her healer’s robes and into her pyjamas. Her work was boring. She’d been swept up in the glamour of it all as a schoolgirl, eager to serve without being in the midst of the battle. But now that things were settling down, she wasn’t sure if she could stand the monotony of it all.
Yes, being a healer was satisfying, but it wasn’t exciting. People were just so reckless when it came to magic. Reckless and stupid. Sometimes Elena figured that patients deserved their fate. If a wizard was careless enough to drink a three year old potion, he should suffer a bit.
And some people were just so inept with magic. Honestly, a pair of overgrown ears did not warrant a trip to St. Mungo’s. Nor did a doxy bite or an overdose of a calming draught. Some things wore off over time.
As she prepared for bed, Elena went about, securing the flat, as was her usual ritual. The door was locked, both with magic and a key. The protection charms placed on the windows and the walls were still intact.
While Elena lived in a safe building, inhabited mainly by young, single witches and wizards, she figured she could never be too safe. Death Eater attacks were becoming less and less common, but they were not unheard of.
And she didn’t feel quite the same security as she had in her parent’s home, where she’d lived until the downfall of You-Know-Who. Thomas and Elizabeth Wood’s home had so many protections layered over it that it was virtually impossible to find and quite safe. So Elena had had no qualms about living with her parents during the War. But, once things had settled down and there wasn’t quite so much danger, she started to feel like she was imposing on her family and got her own place.
Exhausted, she finally fell into bed, where she could get a few more precious hours of sleep before waking again.
Tuesday morning started with the all-necessary grocery shopping expedition. Elena had awoken to find her fridge empty, except for a few sticks of celery, a shrivelled orange and a mouldy bit of cheese. Hardly an appealing breakfast.
Since she was low on cash and didn’t want to spend it on breakfast at a cafe, she decided to go shopping.
Her first purchase was tea and she continued down her hastily scribbled list, placing milk, eggs, bread and all manner of necessities into her basket. She even bought a bit of chocolate, as an indulgence. Of course, Muggle chocolate wasn’t nearly as good as Honeyduke’s but she would take what she could get.
After managing to pay the Muggle cashier with the correct change, something she had improved on since moving into her flat, Elena headed home to finally eat.
While the kettle boiled on the range, Elena fried an egg and put away the rest of the groceries. She was just settling down to with her cup of tea and the Daily Prophet when she heard the distinct sound of an owl rapping at the window.
Worried that it might be urgent summons for work, she shovelled the egg into her mouth, cursing as it burned her throat. The owl’s rapping became more insistent as Elena ran to the window. Once she’d finally wrested the glass open, the owl lighted on the sill, shifting impatiently from foot to foot as it waited for Elena to untie the message.
“I’m hurrying, you brute,” she muttered as her fingers fumbled at the knot. “Would you stop pecking me, please?”
The owl stopped pecking, but only once Elena had removed the letter. Without waiting for a reply, the owl flew off, hooting as it soared off into the morning.
Elena let herself curse the bird once more before settling down to read the message. It was scrawled onto a torn scrap of parchment in blue ink and was only a few lines long. Certainly not a summons from the hospital, she realized with relief.
Squinting her eyes to make out the messy note, she read:
I’m going to be dropping Oliver off a bit early today. Sorry to bother you, but things are really picking up at the shop.
The note wasn’t signed, but she knew who it was from: Marianne.
Elena’s sister in law worked full time at Madame Malkin’s in Diagon Alley. Part of the reason that Elena worked night shifts was so that she could watch Marianne’s son Oliver during the day. While Ollie was a reasonably well behaved child, Elena hated watching him. Or rather hated the time it took. Sometimes she wanted to tell Marianne that sister in law didn’t mean free babysitter.
She couldn’t wait till next fall, when Ollie would finally be old enough to go to Muggle primary school. As a child Elena had hated her primary school days, the secrecy and the general pointlessness of it all. She had always figured, before she’d started taking care of Ollie, that she’d home school whatever children she ever had. But once she’d started watching her nephew, she’d discovered that she had no patience with children.
Elena reread the note, wondering just how early Marianne had meant. Normally, she dropped her son off at noon, but early could be anything from a few minutes to a few hours early. It was just like Marianne to be vague in her owl. At least she’d taken the time to warn Elena though. There had been more than a few days where Ollie and his mother had simply shown up early, oblivious to Elena’s other plans for the day.
She’d been furious the last time, which had probably led to the warning. Elena felt slightly guilty about the outburst, even though Marianne had simply showed up without warning. After all, it wasn’t Marianne’s fault that she was currently a single mother. Elena’s brother, an Auror, was off somewhere in Albania, according the Ministry. Oliver Sr. hadn’t been heard from since November. He’d only written a quick note about the downfall of You-Know-Who. So, Elena felt obligated to help out her sister in law, even if she didn’t like babysitting.
Elena busied herself around the flat, cleaning up the already tidy rooms. With Ollie’s arrival pending, she couldn’t very well go out and do something, nor was she in the mood to go back to sleep again.
After a while, she got out a stack of Christmas Cards and started signing them. While she could have done it magically, it would have only taken five minutes then. Now, it would take up at least an hour of her time.
Elena’s hand was cramping by the time her doorbell finally rang. Without setting her quill aside, she called out, “Come in, it’s unlocked.”
“Hellooo!” Marianne called, cracking the door before ushering her son. Then she caught sight of Elena at the table, surrounded by cards. “What are you doing?” she asked, a frown crossing her face.
Elena shrugged and stood up, “Writing Christmas cards. I had free time,” she explained.
“Why didn’t you just use magic?” Marianne asked, appalled.
A flick of Elena’s wand finished the task and when she was done, she turned back to her sister in law. “Like I said, I had free time and I wasn’t sure when you were dropping Ollie off.” While Marianne’s expression was still sceptical, Elena started to understand that the woman had no time, so something like hand writing cards seemed like a colossal waste of time.
Little Oliver walked towards Elena to give her a hug. “Hi Auntie ‘Lena,” he said, lisping because he had just his front teeth.
Elena grinned down at him, ruffling his dark hair. “Hi Ollie, I was thinking we should make some biscuits today, how does that sound?”
“Yum!” Ollie cried, making both Elena and Marianne laugh.
While Ollie ran over to the tiny kitchen, Elena looked at Marianne. “We’ll be fine,” she assured the other woman.
Marianne nodded her blonde head, though she was watching her son wistfully.
“I know, I only wish that I could spend more time with him. Ever since Oliver,” her voice cracked, “I don’t know if he’s alright and it’s just that it’s Christmas and Ollie keeps asking when his father will be home.”
Elena laid her hand on Marianne’s shoulder. “I’m sure he’s fine,” she said, though she honestly had no way to tell how her brother was doing.
Wiping her tears away, Marianne gave a watery smile. “Thanks Elena. I’m sure he is too, I just worry sometimes.”
“He should be home soon,” Elena told her. “The War is over, how much is left for him to do?”
“I hope you're right,” Marianne said, then called to her son, “come give Mummy a hug!”
Ollie ran over and wrapped his arms around his mother. She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, then sped out of the door, apparently late for work.
Elena led her nephew to the kitchen and summoned two aprons from the closet.
“Let me help you,” she told Ollie, reaching to tie the apron around his back.
Then, Elena put the green and red apron over her jeans and jumper.
“Let me help you,” Ollie said, coming over. Elena bent her knees so he could reach and let him tie the knot.
“Good job!” she complimented him and set about getting the ingredients out for biscuits.
A small stool helped Ollie reach the counter and Elena helped him measure out the right amount of flour and sugar, pouring it into a bowl. When it came to crack eggs, she pulled out her wand, since she hated touching the raw, slimy insides.
“Now, stir it,” she handed Ollie a spoon and help the bowl while he stirred and mixed the batter.
“Auntie ‘Lena?” he asked. “Why aren’t you going to Vienna with me and Mummy and Nana and Granddad?”
Elena sighed. She’d hoped that this questions wouldn’t come up. Everyone was asking her it, Marianne, her mother, her father and now Ollie.
“I have work, darling,” she said, giving the same excuse she gave everyone else who asked and hoping that it would at least work on the child.
“Oh,” he said, frowning with concentration as he stirred harder. “What are you going to do for Christmas then?”
“Work,” Elena said. “Remember, I’m a Healer, Ollie. People need healing, even on Christmas.”
“Oh,” he repeated. “But don’t people normally get Christmas off? Mummy doesn’t have work and neither does Granddad. “
Sometimes children just didn’t understand. “I volunteered to work at Christmas, so that other people, people like your Mum and Granddad, could be with their family.”
Ollie nodded like he understood and said, “so like Daddy then.”
Elena felt her heart ache at that, but nodded. “Yes, sort of like your dad. I guess he’s working at Christmas too.”
The mention of her brother’s absence, and how much his son missed him, made her want to tear up, so she took a minute claiming that she was heating up the oven. When she returned, to distract Ollie from even more questions, she got out a cooking sheet and started to show the boy how to form circles of batter of roughly even size. Anything to distract him—and herself—from a world where people worked on Christmas and where fathers were away.
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I hope you enjoy this story.
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