Lovely chapter image by Ayesha @ TDA
Disclaimer: I claim no ownership of Rowling’s work. All OCs mentioned herein belong to me.
Chapter Twenty-One Blame
Minerva McGonagall sank into the chair Professor Dumbledore conjured for her, removed her glasses and wiped them vigorously on her robes.
“It is all done, Headmaster,” she said wearily. “Every student and staff member has been tested by certified Healers, though I am sure the Prophet will devour a TB scare.”
Dumbledore steepled his fingers and pressed them to his chin, the tips becoming lost in his well-groomed, white beard. “The Prophet has bigger stories to cover, Minerva. I have already spoken with the school governors. They want to keep things quiet as well…avoid shifting the blame.” His eyes were keen behind his spectacles, flashing with subdued brilliance as light from the late afternoon sky slanted into his office.
There was a moment’s pause. McGonagall settled her glasses back onto her nose and rolled her stiff shoulders. Age was creeping up on her, she minded, making long days like this harder to bear. The horrible business of the Chamber of Secrets last year had started her thinking of retirement.
But no. She wasn’t a quitter. Hogwarts needed each and every one of its capable staff members at times of crisis.
“I have the results,” she said slowly. “ We were incredibly lucky. Only three students tested positive. Meg Carlisle, of course. Healer Crane has examined her. I spoke with him this morning. He says she’ll only need a brief stay at St. Mungo’s and a month’s worth of the anti-phthisis pulmonalis potion.”
“Healer Crane is the best in his field,” Dumbledore noted.
McGonagall thought he sounded encouraging, comforting. But why was he trying to soothe her? Certainly, she wasn’t sick.
Lying in St. Mungo’s, nearly beyond help.
And for all of McGonagall’s steadfastness, she had not the stomach to face losing one of her favourite students.
She still thought of Forbia as that little girl with her hair in pigtails, her attention straying during Transfiguration as she drew pictures of cows in her notebook.
McGonagall blinked. Dumbledore was staring at the ceiling, giving her a precious moment to drive treacherous tears from her eyes.
She cleared her throat softly, signalling that she had recovered herself.
“The other two students are not showing signs of the illness,” she continued. “Healer Crane has assured me that Hermione Granger and Cass Roderick will be released from St. Mungo’s in the morning. They’ll have to take the potion, of course, but Crane thinks the infection must be latent.”
“There was also a Hogsmeade villager, wasn’t there?”
“Yes, Mr. Oliver Lias. His condition is much the same as Meg Carlisle’s; not quite so severe or dangerous as…” McGonagall trailed off.
“And here we come to the crux of the matter.” Dumbledore lowered his hands onto his lap. “Toffee, Minerva?” he offered. “I always find that the world looks much brighter after a sweet.”
“No thank you, Headmaster.”
“You wish to get right to it then? Very well. I’m awaiting a third party to discuss the matter. Ah.” He broke off as a knock sounded on the door. “Not a moment too soon. Come in, Sibyl!”
McGonagall twisted around in her chair as the door opened. In swept Professor Trelawney, looking somewhat subdued in a dark blue peasant skirt and jade bangles.
“Good afternoon, Headmaster,” she whispered. “Minerva.”
Curt nods were exchanged. McGonagall felt her neck crack as she faced forward once more. Dumbledore conjured a second chair for Trelawney and bade her sit.
“Perhaps it’s superfluous to note,” Trelawney drawled, “but I myself am clear. Dear Healer Crane told me so just an hour ago, although he needn’t have.”
“Perhaps you could have saved us all the time and worry then, Sibyl,” McGonagall muttered, “if your Inner Eye had told us who was infected from the start!”
“Minerva,” Dumbledore’s voice was uncharacteristically sharp.
“Only Forbia could have predicted her illness,” Trelawney added, the bangles on her arms jingling as she shifted in her chair. “She was close, I might add. Very close.”
“Forbia isn’t a Seer. She never was. You put thoughts in her head, made her believe in this nonsense!”
“I offered her my advice. I tried to help her. You ignored the problem, Minerva.”
“Professors,” Dumbledore said, his tone now raised and heavy with authority. “I think Healer Crane would happily tell you both that Professor Fotherby’s illness is no one’s fault. However, we must decide, is it our responsibility?”
The following silence was deafening. McGonagall knew exactly what the headmaster was asking of her, though she was loathe to answer.
“She cannot possibly teach now,” Trelawney said, giving voice to the concern they weighed in silence.
“We will need to find a…substitute for the time being,” McGonagall allowed, her hands clenching over her knees.
“You assume Professor Fotherby will be well enough to return to teaching,” Dumbledore replied evenly. “She may be forever disabled.”
“Albus.” For the first time in a long while, McGonagall found she could not look him in the eye. “Are we to let her go then?”
Dumbledore sat back in his chair. “That is why I asked you both here. We must discuss this frankly, but not without sensitivity. I do not deal in numbers and figures as the school governors do. Professor Fotherby is our colleague. Tell me, what prospects does she have beyond Hogwarts?”
“None,” Trelawney and McGonagall answered in unison.
“She does have a mother,” Sibyl mentioned.
“Their relationship is testy at best,” Minerva added.
“And I believe her father has passed.” Dumbledore looked thoughtful. “She will need to pay for some of her treatment. Does she have any savings at Gringotts?”
McGonagall and Trelawney both shook their heads.
“Forbia has some valuable artefacts she could sell, but…” McGonagall sighed. “I cannot see her managing without her teacher’s pay.”
“Then let us be hypothetical.” The headmaster rubbed his long fingers together and extracted a single toffee from the bowl by his right elbow. “Professor Fotherby receives treatment and makes a full recovery. Should she return to Hogwarts?”
McGonagall’s grey brows knitted together in confusion. “I would think that is a different matter entirely, Headmaster,” she said sternly. “Are you questioning Forbia’s health or her worth as a teacher?”
“We have little control over her health, I’m afraid,” Dumbledore replied, chewing over his toffee.
“Forbia is a good teacher,” Trelawney blurted out, her voice an octave higher than usual.
McGonagall watched as the Divination professor slid forward to the edge of her chair and was surprised to find a similar stirring within her.
“Her lectures could be improved,” she remarked. “But…I must agree with Sibyl. Forbia knows her subject. She is intelligent and takes an interest in her students. Just look at the rapport she developed with the Granger girl!”
Dumbledore chuckled lowly. “Her one-on-one approach has been quite successful, which, if I remember correctly, is why I hired her in the first place, along with the recommendation of two trusted staff members.” He gazed knowingly at McGonagall and Trelawney. “And let us not forget her loyalty to the school. Professor Fotherby was within the reach of darkness, and she spurned it. If anyone should ever be called an innocent, it would be her, and I do believe we could all gain from a measure of innocence and honesty. Do we agree, then?”
“Undoubtedly, Headmaster!” Trelawney breathed.
McGonagall, as always, was much more reserved. “She ought to stay at Hogwarts,” she said firmly.
Dumbledore smiled slightly. “Very well,” he said, reaching for another toffee. “Now if only the matter of her recovery were so simple.”
“Mum, please!” Hermione sank down deep against the pillows, shying away from Jane Granger’s touch.
“I only want to feel your forehead,” her mother replied, using the same nasal quip she employed when reminding her daughter of some forgotten chore. “You look a little flushed.”
“Mum, I’m fine! Daddy, won’t you tell her?” Hermione batted her mother’s hand away and scowled. If only Madam Pomfrey had allowed her stay in the Hospital Wing. She wasn’t even contagious! But despite her protests, Hermione had been transferred to a small room at St. Mungo’s for an overnight stay and a thorough examination by Healer Crane, the man in charge of the Hogwarts’ TB scare.
Supposedly, she had come down with a latent form of the disease, and from what Healer Crane had told her parents, it wasn’t dangerous at all. She’d be dosed with a preventive potion and sent back to school where Madam Pomfrey would keep an eye on her for a week or so.
Hermione herself couldn’t find any reason to be worried. Her parents, however, were a different matter.
“I don’t see why the school had to owl you,” she said stubbornly, watching as her mother fiddled nervously with her purse.
Although both her parents were doctors (dentists, actually) they seemed terribly out of place at the magical hospital. George Granger had initially been curious about the Healers in their lime-green robes, but was soon shocked out of his wits when he noticed a man with five legs limping down the hall. Jane, on the other hand, had made a bit of a fuss about taking her daughter to a proper Muggle hospital. She’d harassed Healer Crane for nearly an hour. Luckily, Crane was patient and tried his best to explain away Mrs. Granger’s fears.
Hermione herself was quite annoyed that her mother had gotten a hold of Crane’s ear for so long. She had been hoping to talk to the man privately and find out what she could of Professor Fotherby.
One of the junior Healers had mentioned surgery. The very notion made Hermione’s blood run cold.
“It’s getting late,” Hermione said hopefully, checking her watch. “You two should be heading home. I can’t sleep with anyone in my room, and I have an exam in Ancient Runes on Tuesday.”
“Are you mad? George, come talk to your daughter!” Mrs. Granger implored her husband who was staring rather faintly at the moving paintings on the walls.
“Dear, don’t upset your mother.”
“Pardon me? May I come in?” Healer Crane was standing in the open doorway, a clipboard and quill in his hand.
“Yes, doctor.” Mrs. Granger stood up quickly, her face immediately anxious.
Mr. Granger readily tore his eyes away from a picture of a storm-tossed ship.
“They’re called Healers, Mum,” Hermione noted through gritted teeth, flashing an apologetic smile at Crane.
He grinned in return. “Actually, your mum is quite right. I received a degree at Johns Hopkins. My colleagues called me crazy for spending so much time studying Muggle medicine, but it has paid off.”
“Johns Hopkins?” Mr. Granger’s brow creased. “I had a cousin who went there.”
Mrs. Granger stayed silent, though judging from the sudden widening of her eyes, Hermione guessed that she was impressed.
“Everything seems to be in order here,” Healer Crane said, stepping up to the foot of Hermione’s bed. He flipped through several pieces of parchment attached to the ledger. “No fever, no coughing. Excellent. You had your first dose of the potion?”
“An hour ago,” Hermione replied.
“Tasted horrid, didn’t it?” Crane grimaced in sympathy, his sharp eyes roving around the room and settling on the anxious Mrs. Granger. “You know, now that I’m here, I might as well have you folks sign Hermione’s release papers. She’s clear to go in the morning. If you’ll just step outside, one of the junior Healers will assist you.”
“Thank God,” Mrs. Granger sighed. “But you’re sure she isn’t holding out on us? The TB test did come back positive.”
Healer Crane laid his ledger on the table next to Hermione’s bed with a shake of his head. “I’m one hundred percent certain, Mrs. Granger, and I say that with the utmost confidence. I’ve treated nearly five thousand cases of active TB over the course of my career. Your daughter, most assuredly, does not have it.”
Mr. Granger put a comforting hand around his wife’s shoulders. “There now. All’s well. Let’s go have a look at those papers. I hope I can sign them with a ballpoint. Quills are a bother.”
They left the room arm and arm.
Hermione threw her head back and groaned. “Finally!”
“Give them time,” Crane replied, sitting in the chair Mrs. Granger had vacated. “They’re worried about you. All parents are like that.”
“Probably,” Hermione conceded. She realised then that she had the opportunity she had longed for. But was she brave enough to hear the truth about Professor Fotherby’s condition? And would Crane even reveal anything to her?
She decided to take a chance.
“Can I ask you something?” she said.
Healer Crane leaned forward slightly, resting his elbows on his knees. “Is it about Professor Fotherby?”
Hermione felt her jaw slacken. “How did you know?”
“She’s mentioned you several times.”
Crane exhaled softly. “A bit too much. She’s worried about you, just like your parents.”
“Me?” Hermione squeaked. She was perfectly fine!
Healer Crane seemed to guess her thoughts. “You’re one of her favourite students, I think, though don’t tell your classmates I said that.”
“Oh.” Hermione stared at the white bed sheets that covered her legs. For some reason, she felt extraordinarily guilty.
She had suspected that Fotherby had let Sirius Black into the castle, and she had immediately connected her with Quirrell’s betrayal.
And she had failed…completely failed to discover her sickness until it was too late.
“I should have warned her,” she said under her breath, hoping that Crane wouldn’t hear the tears in her voice. “I was reading her articles on tuberculosis. If I had paid more attention-”
Inwardly, Hermione cringed. Perhaps she shouldn’t have mentioned anything to Healer Crane about her guilty feelings. He was bound to be patronising, taking her for a silly, stupid girl.
“You think I’m being irrational,” Hermione replied, choking back emotion.
Healer Crane sighed, his features soft and sympathetic. “No, I understand. Did you hear me telling your parents how many TB cases I’ve treated? Five thousand. Now, I’m not tossing around numbers just to brag, but I want you to know that most of those people weren’t aware of their illness until they were diagnosed. I’ve spent most of my adult life studying tuberculosis, and still I find it incredibly evasive. You really shouldn’t put so much pressure on yourself, Hermione. You’re not responsible for Professor Fotherby’s health.”
Hermione nodded. She knew he was talking sense, but it didn’t matter. Professor Fotherby was sick, and she felt utterly helpless.
“Do you think,” she began slowly, “d’you think I could see her?”
Crane reached forward and patted her hand. “I’m sorry. No visitors. But I can take her a message, if you like. Do you have anything you want me to tell her?”
Hermione laid back on the pillows, suddenly exhausted. She had always been good with words. In grammar school, she’d received top marks on her compositions, and her teachers had always made her read them aloud to the rest of the class.
And now, she could think of nothing.
“Can you help her?” she asked instead.
Healer Crane was on his feet, tucking the ledger underneath his arm. “What’s that?”
“Can you help her? Umm, cure her, I mean.”
He smiled, though Hermione thought his expression was tight, unsure. “I’ll try.”
Author’s Note: Well, Hermione doesn’t get to completely clear her conscience. She’ll have to live with her guilt for a while. On the other hand, I hope you readers don’t kill me for only giving her a semi-happy ending. *ducks*
The next chapter will be the last one. I know, I know, I said three more chapters last time, but I’m forever editing and changing things around. However, I am happy to report that things are moving along splendidly for the sequel “Breathless”. Last night, I sat down and plotted the first half of it and the ideas just keep coming. It won’t be quite as long as “Consumed” (maybe 15 chapters?) but there will be much more romance, new OCs and, of course, more with Freddy.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read! Ah, I seriously feel like the luckiest fanfic writer in the world. You guys rock! And of course, I cannot forget to thank my amazing beta, Renfair.
Chapter Twenty-Two should be posted no later than the 15th of August. I hope everyone has a lovely weekend!
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