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Vital by Aderyn
Chapter 4 : Chapter 4
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 21

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I hope you all are enjoying this story. If you would review and give me some feedback, to let me know that someone is reading this story, I would greatly appreciate it.

Also, thanks to kirstenalanna for her help beta-ing this chapter.

Disclaimer: Nothing you see below that you recognize is mine. Only the original characters are my creations.

Translation: Mon Dieu = My God

Chapter 4

lovey image by hayleyjade @ TDA

Elena had never particularly hated school, but she had been quite glad when it was over all the same.  Even though she’d enjoyed learning and the sense of achievement that came with it, one could only be in school for so long. Elena had been happy to think that she’d never again have to go deal with the ridicule, the testing and the general pressure to perform well. Now, it felt like all of the most-hated aspects of school were back, threefold.

Corinne was the most merciless instructor Elena had ever had. Starting at dawn, she had put Elena through various magical tests that were more rigorous than even the final examinations to become a Healer had been, without so much as an explanation as to why she was doing so. Elena figured, after the third test, and much complaining, that it was some sort of field examination, to make sure she was talented enough to help the two Aurors.

Despite the difficulty of the tasks, Elena hadn’t done too poorly. She had excelled at the potions exam, though that had always been her particular strong point.  However, she had barely passed the transfiguration test, a skill she’d used rarely since graduating from Hogwarts.

Some of the tasks were simple, merely requiring her to charm a teacup into dancing, but others had been much more challenging. Elena had cast a Patronus charm a handful of times before, but it had been particularly taxing this time. It had taken a lot of effort for her to think up a happy enough memory after being surrounded by such darkness. Only when she recalled her last afternoon with Ollie did she manage to make the silver raven shoot out of her wand. Corinne had paused then, for the first time since she’d roughly woken Elena up at six, regarding the circling bird with interest.

“You were in Ravenclaw?” she guessed, gesturing to the bird, which had settled on Elena’s shoulder.

Elena shook her head, vanishing the bird, glad for a break from the gruelling test.

“Actually no, Gryffindor.”

Corinne grinned, exposing teeth that were slightly misaligned. “So I can assume that you have some sort of bravery in you? You’re not going to cower on the floor at the first sight of blood?”

“I’m a Healer,” Elena said dryly, appraising the other woman with a touch of disdain. “You can be sure that I won’t be cowering.”

That elicited a small laugh from the other woman.

“Right.” She nodded definitively. “I think that about wraps up our work here. Come on, you deserve a break.”

Elena pushed a sweaty lock of hair behind her ear, thankful that the testing was over. She wondered if this was similar to the training that Aurors went through, and was glad that she hadn’t chosen that career path. Honestly, Elena was impressed that she had not completely failed at any one of the tests. She hadn’t thought herself capable of some of the magic Corinne had asked her to perform.

"So,” Elena ventured after a moment, feeling glad that she would no longer be under so much scrutiny. “Is there any particular reason that you tested me on all this? Or was it just to prove my inadequacy?”

The last was a bit of a jibe, but it was not so inaccurate. Corinne had looked almost as surprised as Elena had been when she’d passed the transfiguration section, successfully conjuring an entire bedroom out of thin air.

Corinne shrugged as she headed over to the small kitchen counter.

“If you’re going to help us, you need to be competent in the field. You can’t go out hunting for dark wizards and have to be babysat at the same time.”

That made sense to Elena, though despite the testing, she wasn’t sure if she could handle hunting for dark wizards. Healers weren’t interchangeable with Aurors after all. Elena might be able to perform some of the magic without pressure, but if she was tired and stressed, she didn’t know if she would be able to.

“Water?” Corinne offered brusquely, breaking through Elena’s thoughts.

“Erm, yes,” Elena agreed, surprised at the kindness of the act.

Corinne didn’t seem like the type of woman to voluntarily offer drinks to someone, but maybe that had just been Elena’s first impression. Corinne did seem a bit more easygoing now, possibly because she was slowly becoming more confident that Elena could be a viable member of their team.

Elena heard water trickling into a glass and then a frosted tumbler was set in front of her.

“Here,” Corinne said, going to sit down opposite Elena with a glass of her own.

“Thanks,” Elena said with a genuine smile. If she was going to be working with Corinne, she figured they might as well get along.  Especially since the other woman seemed to be reaching out now.

Elena took a sip of water, relishing the icy liquid that slid down her parched throat. “So did I pass?” she asked Corinne. “All the tests, did I do alright?” she said again, when Corinne was silent.

The dark haired woman pushed her glass aside, “I’m not sure yet,” she said darkly. “The testing isn’t over yet.”

Elena felt her forehead wrinkle. “What else could you possibly test me on?” she wanted to know. “I honestly don’t think that there’s a goddamn thing you haven’t tried to make fail.” Elena’s eye grew wide in horror at what she’d just said aloud, but the words had sprung unbidden from her mouth, anger that she hadn’t meant to express flowing out.

Corinne sat up, squaring her shoulders, losing her relaxed attitude and becoming all business in a manner of seconds.

“Have you ever performed Dark Magic before?” she asked evenly, staring intensely at Elena, as if she could tell if she was lying simply by staring hard enough.

“No,” Elena shook her head, feeling outraged that Corinne would even think that she had. Where had that question, and Corinne’s change in mannerisms come from? She opened her mouth to ask Corinne why but was stopped by a dangerous, steely glint in Corinne’s eyes that warned her not to talk.

“Have you ever performed any of the Unforgiveable Curses before?” Corinne said in the same sort of monotone voice.

“No. But, what’s going on?” Elena asked, still not comprehending.

Corinne pursed her lips. “Have you ever sworn loyalty to the man known as Lord Voldemort, or the ideals that he represents?”

Elena stood up quickly. “Tell me what’s going on!” she shouted, then covered her mouth, horrified at her angry tone.

“Answer the question,” the other woman said, in a deathly calm voice, not wavering her gaze.

“No,” Elena protested again, though Corinne seemed to take it for an answer.

“If asked, will you follow orders from me or Simon, without question?”

Elena wanted to say yes. She knew that was the answer that Corinne would expect and she knew that she wanted to pass whatever test this was. Her mouth, however, wouldn’t form the words. “I—” she began. “I mean that…I would not. No.”

A tiny smile played on Corinne’s lips at that answer. “Why not?”

“I don’t trust you,” Elena said without hesitation, pushing her water glass aside. “How could I trust anyone who spiked my water with Veritaserum?”

She felt righteous anger pulsating through her veins at this realization. Corinne had tricked her into taking the truth serum. That in it of itself was a few years in Azkaban. If she had asked Elena to complete such a test, Elena would have obliged, if there had been a reason, but the trickery put a sour spin on it all.

Corinne nodded and reached for a tiny glass bottle inside of her robes. “This is the antidote, Elena,” she said. “I’ll give it to you if you answer one more question.”

“Fine,” Elena spat, seething. As if she had a choice in the matter!

“Would you ever tell anyone about the death of the Minister?”

That was a hard question to answer. Even under the influence of the truth potion, Elena didn’t know what to say. “I’m not sure,” she managed at last. “I wouldn’t go around telling just any wizard on the street, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

That answer seemed to appease Corinne, because she slid the greenish bottle across the table. Elena snatched up the vial, undoing the stopper and draining it in a gulp. “Bitch,” she muttered at Corinne, after a second.

Corinne shrugged at the epithet. “I’ve been called worse,” she said airily, standing up and draining the rest of her own water. “If that’s what you think, that’s alright by me. I’d rather be a bitch and alive, than an angel and dead.”

Elena didn’t have a comeback to that, so instead she asked, “Did I pass?” If she had to go through all that, at least she should receive some sort of compliment.

“Well enough,” Corinne said. “I’ve got to talk to Simon though, to work out a few things.”

“Just to clarify,” Elena said. “You’re not going to kick me out and erase my memory, is that correct?” Not that Corinne would tell her even if she was going to.

The foreign woman raised a hand. “Mon Dieu,” she said. “Don’t worry so much. You’re not going anywhere.”

Elena fell silent for a moment, staring at Corinne. The woman was a lot more deadly than she looked—that she was sure of— for Corinne hardly appeared to be the tough Auror that she was. With her curly bob, tall frame and full lips, she looked more like a Muggle model than a trained fighter.

“When is Simon coming back?” Elena asked, not eager to be alone with the French woman for much longer. If she had to spend much more time alone with her, she figured she might go mental.

Corinne sighed. “Stop being so impatient! Simon will be back by four-o’clock.”

Elena frowned, retreating to her tiny room without another word. It was going to be a long four hours.

Even though Elena had been with the Aurors for less than two days, it had felt more like two weeks. She knew that time couldn’t slow down but it certainly felt like it had. Each hour with Corinne was pure torture, partially because neither of them could stand being cooped up. Elena missed her freedom and she was sure that Corinne hated babysitting as much as Elena despised having to be minded.

Elena apparated as precisely as possible, landing on the welcome mat in front of the door to her flat. She muttered a spell to open the door and for the first time since the war had ended, she entered her flat with her wand raised, looking from side to side to make sure no one was waiting. If her experiences in the past days had taught her anything, they’d shown her that the world was not nearly as safe, or as secure as it was made out to be. She honestly wondered what might be waiting for her inside.

However, only dust lay waiting and that was harmless enough. It was barely disturbed as Elena walked purposefully through her flat to the fireplace. She knelt down on the bricks, but before starting a fire, she paused a minute to think.

Elena still hadn’t gotten over seeing Simon change from Marcus Gordon to himself. Nor had she acclimated to Corinne’s attitude. Her only comfort was that Corinne seemed to be just as mouthy with Simon, perhaps even more so. Yet despite Corinne’s sharp tongue, it was obvious to Elena why the pair had been designed to guard the Minister. They were efficient and worked better as a unit than as two separate people. They were constantly finishing each other’s sentences and had a way of communicating wordlessly.

Not that that really surprised Elena, if they hadn’t been some of the best Aurors, they wouldn’t have been charged with guarding the Minister. She knew that his death hadn’t been because of their lack of talent. From Simon’s elaboration of the story Corinne had told her, she knew that once the Minister entered his house, his own personal guards were responsible for his care. They had, however, been inexplicably missing during the attack, a fact that both Corinne and Simon couldn’t seem to stomach. The only reason that the guards hadn’t been hunted down and slaughtered yet was because, according to Corinne, she and Simon were too busy babysitting and making sure the country didn’t fall to ruin respectively.

That was one of the reasons Elena had been allowed to go home. She was to tell her family and her work that she would be unavailable for the next month, to collect her possessions, and to come back to the warehouse. Once Simon and Corinne were sure Elena wouldn’t be reported missing, they could all start investigating what had happened, starting with the guards and working their way from there.

The other reason Elena had been allowed out was because she’d signed a magically binding contract—a pact just below an unbreakable vow—promising not to tell anyone of what happened Christmas Eve during her visits. That had been on Corinne’s insistence, of course, but Elena had had no reason to refuse.

Elena shook her head to clear it and conjured a fire in the fireplace with a flick of her wand. She lifted her hand up to the mantle hesitantly, instinctively knowing that everything was about to change. Her hand lifted the little box of Floo powder up and she turned it over and over in her hands, cradling it to her body. It had never felt so heavy. She knew what she had to do, she just wasn’t sure that she could do it now that she was sitting here. Elena knew firsthand how hard it was to have a sibling leave, without any word for months. She wasn’t sure if her parents could take having both of their children away.  The realization of what she was about to do left a sinking feeling in her stomach.

She had no choice in the matter, or so she told herself. In life there was always a choice, but Elena feared she made her choice without thinking the moment Marcus Gordon had been carried into her room at St. Mungo’s.

Now that she knew what was at stake, she knew that she couldn’t turn back now. So she opened the tiny box and took a pinch of the emerald green power, throwing it into the fire.

“Green Door Cottage, Vienna,” she said clearly, sticking her head into the flames.

For a second, Elena’s vision blurred and she felt disoriented as her head soared through the Floo network. Tears, not just from flooing, sprung to her eyes as air rushed by. The spinning stopped quickly and as her vision clears, she saw a plush rug, several chairs and a pair of slippers in her line of sight.

“Hello?” Elena called out tentatively.

There was a gasp from the chair and Elizabeth Wood knelt down in front of the fire, her matronly face coming into view.

“Elena?” she asked, looking alarmed. “Darling, what are you doing here?”

Elena bit her lip and said, “Hi Mum. I don’t have much time to talk. Could you get Dad and Marianne?”

“Are you pregnant?” Elizabeth raised her grey eyebrows in a questioning manner.

“Mum!” Elena cried, feeling a blush rise on her cheeks. “Of course not! Why would you even ask me that?”

Here she was trying to have a serious conversation with her parents and already her mum was wondering if she was knocked up.

Elizabeth shrugged. “Just a Mother hoping, I suppose,” she said. “But really, Elena, what is this about darling? Are you all right? I know we didn’t talk to you on Christmas but we knew you were working, so we just Owled instead."

Elena gritted her teeth. Of all the times for her mother to become so motherly, she had to pick now. “Mum,” she said softly. “Mum, please get Dad and Marianne now.”

“Alright,” the older woman agreed a resigned sigh and stood. “I’ll be back.”

However, instead of going anywhere, Mrs. Wood simply yelled, “Marianne! Thom! Come here!” Elena made out some muted responses and in a minute, her family minus little Ollie were gathered round the fire, their faces crowded together so that they could all see her.

“What’s wrong?” her father had asked and Marianne had echoed the sentiment.

“Listen,” Elena began, suddenly not sure how to break the news to them. “I need you all to do something for me. Please, please stay in Vienna. Or if you can’t stand it there, go somewhere else, but don’t go back to Britain.”

“Why?” Thomas Wood asked his daughter.

“It’s not safe,” she said quickly. “I mean it, it’s not safe, for everyone. Things at home are, well, they’re not as stable as they seem. I can’t say anymore,” she pressed on before they could interrupt with questions. “But please, for my sake, stay abroad.”

Marianne spoke up next. “Does this have to do with Oliver?” she said. “Have you heard anything from him?” Her voice trembled a little at the mention of her husband.

“No,” Elena said. “I’m sorry, Marianne,” she added softly, wishing that she did have news. It took Elena a moment to steel her resolve, but once she had, she knew she could say what she had to say. Elena made sure that she made eye contact with her parents.

“Do you understand me?” she asked seriously. “Can you promise me that you’ll stay here?”

Elizabeth looked at her husband. “Are you sure this is necessary, darling? You know that we have lives as well. Work and all. Will it really be that dangerous?”

Elena wished she could tell them everything at that moment. It would make things so much easier, to explain that with the Minister dead, things could fall apart at any minute. But she couldn’t so she merely nodded her head. “Yes. Promise me.” The final words were as fierce as she could make them.

“Alright,” Thom said at last with a nod. “We’ll stay.” Marianne looked at her father-in-law with astonishment, and turned back to Elena. She looked incredulous, as if she didn’t believe it all, as if she was questioning Elena’s sanity.

“Thank you,” Elena said, relief flooding her at her father's consent. “Listen, I have to go now. Just know that you won’t be able to talk to me for a while.”

At those words, there were cries of protest from all three.

“You can’t,” Elizabeth’s voice was the loudest. “Darling, I can’t have another child gone.”

Elena had known this bit was coming and it wasn’t any easier than she’d though it would be to whisper “goodbye,” and then to pull her head out of the fire. She knew that if she listened to their arguments, she would be too tempted to change her mind.

The fire wiped the tears from her cheeks, but when Elena finally sat up, back in her flat, her throat still burned.

“Get together, Elena,” she told herself softly. They would be all right. They’d be safe, they’d be out of the country. That was all that mattered.

Quickly, Elena went through her flat, gathering the few things she owned that she wanted to take with her. There were a few sets of robes that she needed and most of her Muggle clothing. She had a small collection of books, though most of them were literature, rather than anything that would be useful.

She had a necklace from her brother, a small crystal stone on a gold chain. That she fastened around her neck. She’d told herself that she’d bring no jewellery, but she’d forgotten about that particular gift and couldn’t make herself leave it behind.

From her bedside table, she took several photos, one of Marianne, Ollie and Oliver, all smiling and looking quite happy. There was another of her, with some of her school friends, ones she hadn’t spoken to in a while but that she still remembered fondly. Lastly, Elena took a photo of her parents, standing outside of their home.

She packed all of her possessions into a small purse sized bag that she’d gotten as a present from her mother last Christmas. It was charmed to hold much more than it appeared to, which was helpful considering how much she had to pack.

With one final look around the flat, she walked out the door.

Quentin Yarborough sat behind his desk, hands tapping idly on the wood as he surveyed Elena. “Let me make sure that we’re clear, Wood,” he said in a reedy voice. “You want a month off from work?”

Elena nodded. “That’s what I said, isn’t it?”

Quentin ruffled through some papers. “Well, from what I can see, you haven’t taken any personal days in a couple years. While I wouldn’t recommend it, I can’t deny this request.”

“Thank you sir,” Elena said softly, glad that he wasn’t giving her any trouble. She’d known that he might not go along with it, but hadn’t wanted to quit. Thankfully, it hadn’t come to that.

The man stood up. “If I can ask a question, Elena. Is there something wrong? Your family perhaps? A month is a long time. “

Elena shook her head. “Just some personal things that I need to take care of.”

“Alright,” Quentin said, albeit reluctantly. “Then that seems to be all that we need to talk about. I will see you in a month,” he stood. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a meeting I need to get to.”

“Sir,” Elena said, politely, standing as well and following Quentin out of his office. “I really do appreciate this.”

Quentin nodded gruffly, his short stature forcing him to look up at Elena. “You’re a good healer, Wood. St. Mungo’s would hate to see you go.”

Elena managed a half smile. She wanted to reassure him that she wasn't quitting,   but she wasn’t sure she could promise it. She had no idea if the truth would be revealed in a month or if it would be, and the world would have fallen into such confusion that it would no longer matter.

Quentin took the smile as an affirmation and gave a hasty goodbye. Elena was left standing alone, feeling rather out of place in the familiar halls. Healers pushed past her, in green robes, some in white, other wizards and witches wearing black. All seemed purposeful and hurried, moving rapidly to their myriad destinations.

Elena felt like the rock in the middle of the river. Water pushed around her as if she wasn’t there. Though she had only been away from her work for a few days, she already felt out of the loop, alienated by the secrets she had been entrusted with.

She started feeling like she drowning in the sea of people. She had no more business at St. Mungo’s and no reason to stay, but Elena was reluctant to return to Corinne’s incessant testing and Simon’s cryptic mannerisms, for she knew that that was about to become her reality.

But before she could drown in her thoughts, a familiar voice saved her from the flood. “Elena!” Ruby Edwards grabbed her arm, pulling her to the side of the corridor. “It’s so nice to see you! How are you doing? I haven’t seen you.”

Elena shrugged, “Alright,” she said, not able to conjure up enough energy to sound enthusiastic. “Look, I’m taking your advice, Ruby.”

The older woman looked blankly at Elena. “What advice, dear?”

“I’m taking some time off,” Elena explained.

A smile lit up Ruby’s kindly face. “That’s wonderful!” she cried. “Are you going on a holiday?”

“Er, no,” Elena said quickly. “Just some time off, that’s all. I hope you can all manage without me,” she added as way of a joke though it fell flat to her own ears.

Ruby nodded. “Well, I hope you take time to relax. Merlin knows you need some time without work. We all do.” She shook her head in quite a motherly manner, practically clucking.

Elena knew she wasn’t going to get much rest, but still thanked Ruby. In truth, she appreciated the woman’s continuous kindness. Ruby resembled a less harried and world-weary version of her own mother. Thinking of the painful conversation with her family this morning, Elena was tempted to give Ruby a hug, but restrained herself. “Well,” she abruptly said. “I’ll see you in a month, Ruby. Tell everyone where I’ve gone.”

“You’re not saying goodbye?” Ruby looked rather shocked. “Is there really such a hurry to get gone?”

“I’m not quitting,” Elena said, again trying to make light of the situation. “I’m just taking a little vacation. Besides, the only other person who will really care is Roger.” She thought that the Junior Healer might get a bit lost without any guidance, but knew that he would manage somehow.

“I suppose you’re right,” the healer said. Her eyes flitted to the large clock at the end of the hallway and she gasped. “I really must be going. Sorry, Elena, but I have to check on a patient. Best of luck dear!”

“Thanks Ruby,” Elena said with a genuine smile as the older woman ran off down the hall with surprising agility.

Bolstered by the positive interaction, Elena headed to the lift and made her way down to the atrium. Her Healer’s robes let her pass quickly through the throngs of people to the designated apparation spot.

She took a moment to survey the scene below her: the injured, the families, the healers. They were all individuals, but with so many in one spot, they became a conglomerate mass, a faceless throng. Elena saw no one she knew, recognized no one. Again, a sense of loneliness flooded over her. She’d just cut ties to all her previous obligations in life. And for what? If she hadn’t seen Marcus Gordon die with her own eyes, she wouldn’t have believed it. Even now, she had some doubts about the story that Corinne and later Simon had related.

But there was no turning back now. Elena thrust her worries aside as best she could and fixing an image of the warehouse clearly in her head, turned into the void of apparation.


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