Jane’s anxiety only mounted over the next few days.
It wasn’t so much that she was afraid that her cousin would rat her out. She knew Reagan, had grown up with her, and Reagan just wasn’t that kind of person.
It was more just the feeling that she’d said more than she really should have. The feeling that maybe she was getting soft. The knowledge that you could never know, not really, and there were always whispers and shadows lurking in every corner.
Maybe Reagan’s tongue would get too loose, and she’d mention something off-handedly. Maybe she’d be put under the Imperius Curse or given Veritaserum and be forced to tell everything she knew about the Order.
Maybe she’d just stop caring about the fight and give in.
Jane couldn’t imagine that happening, but she wasn’t sure she trusted her judgment anymore.
Relying on trust was how people got killed. You never thought that you could be the one taken in... until it happened.
And the more people knew a secret, the less safe the “secret” was.
She was more jumpy at work, to the extent that her immediate superior had voiced concern over her mental state and suggested that she take some time off. When she refused and made some excuse about not sleeping well lately, he seemed sympathetic, but she didn’t confide in him further.
Greengrass had always seemed nice enough, but as far Jane was concerned, anyone who tried to weasel information out of her was not to be trusted. Most people who really were nice enough knew better than to try. They were too busy being suspicious and untrusting themselves. They didn’t want to know her secrets, and she didn’t want to know theirs.
Knowing secrets got people killed.
He probably didn’t know how he came across. He was old, after all. He probably didn’t even feel the undercurrent of fear that cut through the halls, didn’t notice the whispers, didn’t see the mysterious disappearances for what they really were.
He was probably just an old man who was too naive to see that this war was different. Whenever the subject of war came up, he always started talking about Grindelwald... but those were different times, and a different enemy.
This enemy was all around them. The enemy was on the doorstep, and in the hospital, and in the Ministry.
This enemy was everywhere.
Greengrass probably didn’t even understand that he was putting himself at risk by prattling on about Grindelwald. Jane somehow doubted that You-Know-Who would appreciate being compared to another dark wizard and found lacking.
But old Greengrass kept prattling on, and in some ways, the fact that he didn’t seem to have suffered any consequences for all of his ramblings about how new dark wizards didn’t hold a candle to Grindelwald only heightened her suspicions.
Or maybe old purebloods were just exempt from the Death Eaters’ reign of terror.
At any rate, she didn’t need anyone thinking that she was working with the Order, decent person or not. She didn’t need to make herself a target for all of the spies and traitors working in St. Mungo’s - and at this point, she didn’t doubt that there were a lot of them. Even if old Greengrass wasn’t one of them, anyone could overhear what she said. Anyone could be lurking around a corner, or hiding under an invisibility cloak. There was always someone watching, waiting.
And Jane knew they were watching her.
So she tried to force a smile. She tried to look tired rather than stressed to the breaking point. She pretended that the bags under her eyes were the result of insomnia caused by a broken temperature-control spell in her flat. She joked that it made her feel like she was eighty, and going through the last of her child-bearing years.
Her coworkers laughed, but the laugh did not reach everyone’s eyes, and Jane did not know if it was because they were suspicious of her or if they, like her, were just too tired to find much amusement in anything.
So she put on a brave face at St. Mungo’s, and waited until she was home to let the mask slip.
After the third day of collapsing in tears as soon as she closed her flat door behind her, she considered talking to someone about it - Lily, maybe, or even Remus.
But given that her anxiety was happening because she’d given someone more information than she strictly should have, talking to Remus would probably just make it worse. She knew that Reagan’s concerns about his loyalties were baseless, but knowing it and risking her patients’ lives on it were two completely different matters.
Because you really never could know, could you?
And Reagan wasn’t the only one saying it, either - she was just the loudest.
Jane loved her cousin, but Reagan was prone to dramatics and overreactions, which was probably why Dumbledore didn’t trust her to successfully carry out any covert surveillance... and why Jane should have kept her mouth shut about the mission.
Lily did know something about Jane’s mission already, but as soon as she started to seriously consider confiding in Lily, Jane discarded the idea. It just wasn’t fair - Lily already had more than enough on her mind, and if Jane added more stress just because she was too weak to bottle it up, she wasn’t being a real friend. She was being a drain.
That was how it felt, anyway, and the very last thing that Jane wanted was to be a drain on one of her best friends.
So she suffered through it, and as the days passed and the sky didn’t fall and no one knocked in her door, she started to relax a little.
Or at least, she did until she got to work one morning and found what she could only presume were Ministry officials examining her coworkers’ wands. She cast her eyes around the faces of those assembled along the wall. Some looked bored. More looked a little nervous. And a few were downright panicky.
Here and there, she the odd person who was watching the Ministry officials far too closely. Spies, but Jane wasn’t sure for what side, and none them seemed to be very good for her to catch them out at it without much effort.
After a moment’s hesitation - she didn’t like giving her wand up - Jane joined the other Healers and Healer-trainees on the other side of the room.
“What’s going on?” she asked Margaret Avery in an undertone.
Margaret was one of the ones looking bored. “A few Mudblood patients died,” she said nonchalantly. “Now they think that there’s a rogue Healer going around killing them, so they’re examining all our wands.”
Jane’s jaw clenched, but she held back what she really wanted to say. “That’s ridiculous,” she said instead. “Who would go around killing patients? We’re Healers.”
Margaret snorted. “Yeah, well, that’s the Ministry for you. Always wasting our time.” She was handed her wand back a few minutes later and departed, leaving Jane feeling slightly hollow inside at how easily people tossed that word around these days.
It took her a bit longer to get her wand back than she had expected, and the look that the Ministry official gave her when he did so sent chills down her spine. She knew she hadn’t had anything to do with the deaths, but what if he was a spy and had discovered something from her wand? What if she was being set up?
She stopped at the bottom of the stairs. Her heart was pounding, and her palms were getting sweaty.
“Or maybe it was nothing,” she muttered to herself. That was the trouble with this war - everything started to seem like the end of the world. Given that the world hadn’t ended twelve times since last Tuesday, Jane was inclined to that that she - and everyone else - was often seeing shadows that weren’t there.
Or the Death Eaters were biding their time.
With that chilling thought, she headed up the cold marble steps, past the old portraits that tried to diagnose her with dragon pox and sleeping sickness, and into her first patient’s room.
After that, wand checks became more frequent. Jane wasn’t sure whether it was making a difference, but she supposed the Ministry probably felt like they needed to at least look like they were doing something.
Still. Jane couldn’t help but think that someone too stupid to use a different wand when they went into St. Mungo’s with the express purpose of killing patients would have slipped up long before now, and sitting there without her wand surrounded by people she didn’t know made her feel very uncomfortable. There were spies and turncloaks in the Ministry, too.
And she couldn’t help but wonder whether one of them was doing something to wand. Sabotaging it. Writing down when she’d cast her last Patronus. Spelling it so that they could track her.
She didn’t even know if all of those things were possible, but there wasn’t much that she would put past the Death Eaters and their cronies. They knew magic that she couldn’t even dream of.
And she didn’t want to.
Her fellow Healers didn’t like it, either. Most of the time, they just grumbled under their breath - they didn’t need to hide their irritation, because this was something everyone could be annoyed about. Spy, double agent, or neutral Healer, no one liked queueing up to wait for the Ministry to poke and prod at their wand. In some ways, it was nice to have something you didn’t really have to watch your mouth about.
Jane was held up a little longer than usual one morning, and as she was emerging from the wing that held the floo and apparation chambers, she heard someone call her name. When she turned, she caught a glimpse of her friend Sarah’s tearstreaked face before she found herself being smothered in a hug.
“What’s wrong?” Jane gasped through the tight grip Sarah had on her. They’d mostly lost touch since they’d left Hogwarts, since Sarah’s brother had been brought in suffering from some kind of poison, they’d had a few conversations.
It took Sarah a moment to control her sobs long enough to whisper, “Alan.”
Jane pulled free of Sarah’s grip. “What about him?” she asked. “Last time I checked, he was about ready to go home.”
Sarah choked out something that sounded like, “Not anymore,” and Jane started toward the stairs. She tried not to move so quickly that Sarah would feel even more panicked than she clearly did now, but inside, her heart was pounding.
This was exactly what she had been afraid of.
Sarah’s brother Alan had come in suffering from some kind of poison, which wasn’t actually anywhere near as uncommon as many people in the Wizarding World seemed to think it was. People were always winding up in St. Mungo’s because they’d been poisoned by something or another; the most common culprit was a mislabeled potion bottle, but that was far from the only one. Jane was privately surprised that not properly washing bottles and cauldrons didn’t lead to more cases, considering how lax the wizarding world as a whole was with that sort of thing.
There hadn’t really been many suspicious deaths in the poison ward - at least not that she had noticed, and she was paying attention - but there was something in the case at hand that made her pick up her speed.
After they’d finished at Hogwarts, Sarah had started distancing herself from what she liked to call ‘politics’ and what Jane liked to call ‘war.’ Sarah had started pleading ignorance to some of the horrible crimes being committed on a daily basis, or saying that she just ‘didn’t want to get involved.’ Jane had never really forgiven her for that; not wanting to get involved was what you said when your friends had a messy break up, not what you said when people were dying.
But Jane had always suspected that Alan, who had been two years above them in school, might hold different sentiments.
It looked like she might be about to find out.
When they got upstairs, Jane found Ethel Meadowes, the senior Healer assigned to Alan, closing the door to his room behind her.
“What happened?” Jane asked her.
The other Healer looked past Jane to Sarah and pursed her lips. In the old days, Jane might have vouched for Sarah, might have said that Sarah could take it, or that Sarah could be trusted.
But these were different days, so instead, Jane murmured an apology to Sarah and followed Ethel back into Alan’s room.
“What happened?” she repeated, more softly. She glanced over at Alan’s bed - he appeared to be asleep, but the sleep did not look peaceful. His blond hair was drenched with sweat, and the left corner of his mouth was twitching. He was covered in heavy blankets, despite the pleasant air that permeated the room courtesy of a much better cooling spell that Jane could ever hope to cast.
Ethel stole a look over at the man lying prone in the bed and sighed. “I don’t know,” she murmured. “He was fine. Then he got worse.”
“Did someone give him the wrong potion?” Jane pressed, and Ethel shrugged helplessly.
“I don’t know,” she repeated, and Jane’s suspicions were roused. She’d never really thought of Ethel as someone who was untrustworthy - she was a half-blood - but how could she not know? She was the one who was supposed to have been on call.
Jane smothered her impulse to snap that for a senior Healer, Ethel was pretty damned useless. Instead, she asked, “Well, what can we do?”
“I gave him an all-purpose antidote,” Ethel said.
All-purpose antidotes were typically fairly effective against most poisons, and they were definitely the best approach if you didn’t know what the poison was - though Jane had her doubts that the Death Eaters and their cronies would use a poison that the default antidote could counteract.
Ethel seemed to sense her tension, because after a moment of awkward silence, she sighed heavily. “I’m not the enemy, Jane,” she said softly. “I’m for the Order, too.”
The room suddenly seemed much colder than it had a moment before, and Jane would have sworn that you would be able to hear a pin drop.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jane said coolly. Maybe Ethel was for the Order and maybe she wasn’t, but if she was meant to help Jane, Dumbledore would have said something.
And either way, she was an idiot for talking about it in public. You never knew who could be listening in.
Ethel surveyed her for a minute before making her way across the room to examine the chart, and Jane was left frowning at the man lying prone on the bed as shivers wracked through his body.
She wasn’t sure what to do. She was not at all convinced that Ethel had given Alan the potion, and even she had, Jane wasn’t even sure if it would do him any good.
But aside from her mission, she had no reason to think that Ethel wouldn’t have. She had no reason to think that Alan’s sudden deterioration was anything but a simple mistake with potions - which the antidote Ethel had supposedly given him would rectify - or an unforeseen complication that had nothing to do with the Healers at all.
Whatever her feelings about Sarah were at the moment, she’d always liked Alan, and she knew that he hadn’t abandoned his Muggleborn friends the same way Sarah had. At the same time, openly doubting Ethel or pushing for further analysis of his sickness would just bring attention on her, and that was something she did not want.
It would make her seem suspicious. It would make her stand out. Someone would inevitably overhear her. They’d report back to You-Know-Who, or one of his Death Eaters.
Or maybe they’d just have a laugh about it over tea one afternoon - “Silly Jane, she gets so worked up sometimes, the war has us all paranoid” - and someone else would overhear and report back.
Regardless, making a fuss would only raise suspicion toward her, and there was already more than enough of that as it was, what with her relationship to the McKinnons and her school friendship with known Order members.
And she couldn’t have that. It wouldn’t serve anyone in the long run.
It wouldn’t serve the greater good.
Feeling the bile rise in her stomach, she made her way over to Alan’s bed. She smoothed back the sweaty hair that was plastered across his forehead, which was crinkled in pain and discomfort.
She had always liked Alan.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered softly before turning away. “I’m going to talk to his sister,” she told Ethel. “I’ll be back in in a minute.”
Ethel nodded without turning around, and Jane left the room.
She found Sarah slumped on the floor outside. When Jane opened the door, she looked up quickly. “Is he okay?”
“He should be fine,” Jane lied. “You just have to be patient.” She scrutinized Sarah for a minute. Her old friend looked absolutely defeated. Her carefully braided blonde hair hung listlessly across her shoulder, and her face was splotchy and stained with tears.
Jane was finding it hard to find any sympathy for her.
“He will?” Sarah seemed to brighten a little. “Oh, thank Merlin.” She scrambled off the ground and threw her arms around Jane, who stiffened despite herself. Sarah seemed not to notice. “I’m sorry I came to you,” she murmured. “The other Healer just wouldn’t tell me anything, and I could see him twitching, and-”
Jane shifted, and Sarah got the hint and allowed her to pull away. “It’s my job,” Jane said. A wave of guilt that had nothing to do with Sarah and everything to do with Alan coursed through her, but she resolved to push it away.
She was risking him for the greater good.
The greater good felt terrible.
She turned back to the door, and just as she put her hand on the knob, Sarah asked hesitantly, “How’s Lily?”
“Wouldn’t know,” Jane said without turning around. “I haven’t talked to her in months.”
She wanted to scream at Sarah for being a terrible friend. She wanted to scream at Sarah for being a coward. She wanted to jinx Sarah for abandoning what was right.
But she couldn’t, because that would give her away.
“Oh,” Sarah said. “Oh.”
Jane turned the knob and slipped back inside the room before Sarah could say anything more.
She’d never imagined that saving lives could feel so damned empty.
A/N: I'm actually pretty pleased with this chapter. I'm hoping that I'm keeping you guessing on people's loyalties, and drawing you into Jane's paranoia and tension.
As always, I would love to hear your thoughts, so if you take the chance to leave me a review, I would really appreciate it. :)