"What's going on?" Wilson asked as House and his team suddenly burst into the room near the Hospital Wing he was using to catch his breath.
"Moron here can't keep his temper," Hailley said, gesturing behind her to Ian.
"Look, I'm sorry, all right? Why are you taking this so personally?"
"I am not!"
Toby, sheepishly, took a step away from Hailley before saying "Actually, Hailley, you kinda are." She glared a searing glare at him that sent him scurrying for cover behind Wilson.
"Children…" House cautioned, walking slowly in last of all, carrying his chart with him. "We must be calm."
"Mr. House!" shrieked Madame Pomfrey, the moment she opened the door. "If you can't control your team around your patients, I assure you that you will never set foot in my hospital wing again!"
Ian and Hailley both shrank suddenly away, a tear in the former's eye.
"Madame Pomfrey," Toby said in a tiny voice. "I-I'm not 100% sure, but I th-think I know what's wrong with Emily."
"Well?" she said, with no loss of temper, which brought a smile to House's face. "Out with it!"
"I… well, her friend Paco was a master Transfigurist. She's been exhausted, unenergetic and stuff, ever since she came inside and started clipping those leaves. And there's nowhere in her body a plant could be growing. It's possible that he may have… urm… accidentally… started turning her into a plant."
His two teammates looked to him with surprise at his coherent theory, and were clearly running it through in their minds. But House, after a surprised pause, laughed.
"What's the matter, House?" Wilson asked.
"Plant/animal transfiguration is impossible!" he said. "It's a fundamental rule! It was right up there on the board with the dead gorilla and shit!"
"Well, okay, that was a seventh year class, but it's still true. You've got nothing, kid."
Toby's face fell legitimately for the first time House had seen on him, and he backed away.
"Then it must a water based plant," Wilson suggested. "Blood's mostly water, with a magical plant…"
"Could be," House said, "and it would explain the anaemia, but it doesn't explain the renal failure, not unless every other part of her body is failing and no one's told me. I have one that does, though?"
"Well then for goodness sakes, Mr. House," said Madame Pomfrey, "spit it out already! My patient's life may be at stake!"
House pondered the room.
"House," Wilson insisted.
"Just making sure the dramatic tension is right," he said at last. "…all right. Loki weed."
"What?" said Ian.
"It's a plant native to South America," House explained. "It has incredibly sharp cores inside of the seed bulbs. I think our friend in there may have stabbed herself when she and her guy pal were rolling around in the jungle one night." Ian winced, not from any moral qualms but from the obvious effort House was making to direct that shot at him. "She said she got cut by a tree branch, but I don't think so. She got cut by a loki weed, and brushed off a few seeds that were stuck to that core."
"Loki weed…" Wilson said, thinking his way back to the Diagon Gardens, "grows only in dead things, right?"
"Right. Except Emily Chandler's kidneys are perfectly healthy… even when they're failing. Her Brazilian boyfriend slash field medic, on the other hand, is a master illusionist, and not a doctor. Her kidneys have been dying slowly over the past few weeks. He didn't realise how serious the problem was, and fixed it all wrong, then set up his spell to hide it from mommy and daddy and the ball and chain back home. But a magical illusion, even a really good one, can't hide the symptoms of kidney failure."
"So…" Wilson started, "the plant is in her kidney, near the cut?"
"Kidneys," House corrected, with an emphasis on the plural. "One kidney is just organ death, but this thing is spreading, choking and dominating everything it comes across. The body can process urine fine enough with one kidney, with the plants growing out of her happily providing us with a foreign body and an excuse for her to have any infections, that we'd quickly clean up with our wizarding mojo. But now her second kidney is dead or dying, and she needs a new one or she's going to go with it." He turned, as if to leave, and then said over his shoulder, "Oh, you should probably get rid of the plant, too. You know."
Madame Pomfrey watched him leave, absolutely livid with rage. "Those two idiots!" she said to the room around her. "All they needed was a simple trip to the hospital and now… this Paco will hear of this, and so will Miss Chandler as soon as she's healthy enough to appreciate it!"
"Can you fix her, Madame Pomfrey?" Wilson asked.
"Not on my own," she admitted. "I need to call St. Mungo's."
Hailley turned to Toby. "Worm?"
He nodded, enthusiastic and glad to be included again. "I'll go to the owlry!" He was halfway to the door when Madame Pomfrey stopped him.
"Mr. Shor," she called, "the fireplace in my office, please."
"Oh. Oh! Of course." He smiled, nodded, and ran out, and Madame Pomfrey went with him, and Wilson turned off down the hall to go after House. Ian and Hailley were left in the quiet room, alone.
"…so…" he started.
"No," she interrupted. "You listen, I talk. What is wrong with you?" He winced. "You don't behave like that in front of the patient, you idiot! I don't care what you think! You don't even get it!"
"Look, I'm sorry, okay?"
"It doesn't matter!" She began to pace. "You don't even get what she's talking about! You're just a dumb kid, doing what? Why are you even here? What, were you bored?" He flinched again, far too telling. "You're supposed to be here for them! Listen you. We don't know one another very well, but I am not going to put up with this crap. You don't even understand how… how hard it is for to come out and even talk people every day, okay?" She pointed accusingly, but her finger trembled. "I bet you don't even know what it's like to want someone, or not want to hurt someone you care about. So don't be the jackass she's been hiding from. You're trying to be a doctor."
Ian's lower lip trembled, and he opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came to him. Suddenly, a tear came to Hailley's eye, and she backed off slowly. From some last reserve of strength, she whispered. "You don't talk to me until you've grown up," and she slipped through the doors.
In the Hufflepuff common room, Marie sat on the floor doing her homework, a bunch of bananas and a few peels lying around her. She raised her head when she heard the door open, and to her surprise saw House walk in through it, though was not in the least surprised when he left it swinging open. Wilson soon followed, and came in through the opened door, by which point Marie and House had struck up a half-interested conversation about why he was there.
"Didn't you used to run away whenever someone talked to you?" House was asking, as a change of subject. She shrugged, and continued writing.
"House," Wilson said, "how did you get in here?"
House, eating a banana, shrugged. "Magic?"
Wilson sighed and sat down on the large, comfortable couch that sat opposite the fireplace. "This case is giving me a headache. Did you hear your girl screaming at Ian after we left?"
House shrugged. "Don't care."
"You know, it reminds me of something," Wilson said. "The Sorting Hat said something."
"Oh," Marie said from the ground. "Ask him the thing."
"The thing?" House asked. "Well that's just obscure enough to pique my interest."
Wilson scoffed. "The Hat asked me if I thought my being a Squib should affect my placement in a house."
House chewed his banana as he talked. "Well sure," he said. "I mean, your inability to properly use magic means you'd need a different environment to properly learn how to use what you can. I figured that out a year ago."
"That's a Ravenclaw answer," Marie said with a smile.
"What?" House asked. "What did you say to it?"
"I said 'No.'"
Marie nodded. "But you'll prove it anyway."
"Yes," said Wilson. "That's exactly what I told it. And it went back to something it had been saying earlier. He pointed at Ian and David who were whispering about their friend who had went to Slytherin and said 'It's been over a decade since the war, but look. We still need diligent and compassionate people to be pulled back together.'" He nodded to himself, satisfied the memory was correct. "And then he said 'Hufflepuff.'"
"And here we are," House said, gesturing to the room around him before grabbing another banana.
Wilson sighed. "Here we are."
Suddenly, the fire in the fireplace flashed and turned a bright green. House, the only one in the otherwise empty common room not at all surprised, reached into his pocket and tossed a few wizarding coins into the fire. There was a pause, and then a pill bottle jumped out of the fire, landed on the plush carpeting, and rolled to a stop. The fire died back down to its regular red.
Wilson looked at the pill bottle, incredulous, as House stooped to collect it. "I don't believe you!" he said. "You… and those Slytherins… you've set up a drug smuggling ring!"
"As usual," House said, digging the pill into his half-eaten banana and closing the peel around it, "I have no idea what you're talking about."
Ian and Hailley sat at opposite ends of the Hospital Wing, ignoring one another, occasionally glancing at the sleeping residents, save for Robin and Emily, who were talking quietly about nothing, Robin holding her close. It was only after a long wait that Toby returned from Pomfrey's office.
"She went to St. Mungo's," he explained to them each, individually, in turn. "She said she'd only be a few minutes, but she has to convince them to loan her a Healer in the middle of the night, so you never know. She was furious at them."
They sat quietly, and waited. And waited. The quiet murmuring of the couple's quiet conversation continued as a silent ambience that drifted past the tension to their ears, and they listened carefully. Neither talked about the trip to South America. They were just talking about classes. No confessions, no apologies, nothing of any substance whatsoever. They almost missed it when she cut off mid-sentence, and it was only gradually that they noticed her hand go to her throat. The three of them rushed to her side and, out of deference for her age if nothing else, let Hailley approach her. She felt her throat, but felt nothing.
"What's going on?" Robin asked.
"I don't know," Hailley said. "Her kidneys, maybe. Maybe the vines are spreading to somewhere else they shouldn't be. Choking her off…" She turned back to her colleagues. "Any spells?" They shook their heads. "Any…" she shook her head to clear it. "Any ideas?" Nothing.
Toby whispered too quietly to be heard. "What do we do?"
It was cold for June. The wind liked to blow, and catch you when you were least ready for it, and in Hagrid's classes the kids were learning how to knit sweaters for Kneazels. They learned only after they were done that the Kneazels did not like sweaters one little bit. He gave them bonus marks for "durability" based on how intact each sweater has survived the Kneazel counterattack, and everyone passed more or less satisfactorily. Slytherin won the House Cup, thanks in part to their excellent Quidditch performance, and it seemed like only moments after McGonagall had finished her closing statements that everyone was off, carrying their bags out of the castle.
They went down in groups. Hailley and Toby were talking amicably with one another, carrying on a conversation they had started in the hall. Wilson walked with David, Marie and Ian, talking once again about the Quidditch season, which he at least partially understood this time. House walked on his own, though when he saw his friends from Slytherin collecting their bags at the door, he actually turned and tossed them a salute.
At the foot of the hill, a line of carriages waited, students boarding in groups, before taking them down the long road away from Hogwarts, through Hogsmeade, to the train, away back home for another summer.
David, Ian and Marie were so involved in their conversation that they almost bumped full into Hailley and Toby at the foot of the hill. They had stopped, Toby holding gently onto his left arm with his right. They started to walk around them, but stopped when they realised just how still they were standing, and that Ian had stopped just next to them.
They had stopped, just by the carriages, and were looking forward at the spaces between the carriages, where there was nothing at all. Marie nudged Hailley's shoulder, she and David confused by their classmates' sudden stop, but she frankly did not seem to notice. They stared for almost forever, until Wilson reached forward with both hands to guide them as a group.
"C'mon," he said, and led them to the doors. They looked away as they were led inside, and the carriages moved away down the road, as they always had, on their own.
And that's chapter 3!
A lot of you worked out the meansby which Emily was infected! To be frank, the precise "point out" of her "tree" scar was a last-minute addition post-beta, but I'm glad it was there since so many of you got that far! Unfortunately, no one guessed the plant's identity (I didn't write that scene in the Diagon Gardens for the fun of it, and I promise that you'll always be able to guess the precise injury). Oh well! Congratulations to readers Lucillia, Dreamingfox and funniefriend1245 who guessed at the "tree" being the cause, and to readers KiraiAnca and Valdimarian guessed the injury left some seeds behind. Both of those two also put out some serious thought into the leaves: KiraiAnca realised (which I did not!) that a forest floor rainforest plant would not need a good deal of sunlight, while Valdimarian realised that the plants were growing towards exposed skin to get what sunlight they needed, that the plant was helping to make her anaemic (and suggested the plant was consuming her sugar due to the lack of light, which I also wish I had thought of!). You all did great!
Additional congrats to reader Soul HellFire for noticing that there was no way House could be surviving school without hard drugs.
More behind the scenes information below:
Would you believe Toby's suggestion was originally my solution? Emily was going to turn into a lotus, being transfigured by a magical type of lotus, similar to the myth of Dryope. But then BAM! JK shows up with Tales of Beedle the Bard and says human to plant transfiguration is impossible. Quick like a whip that woman is, despite the fact that she doesn't even know who I am. I left it in as a red herring, but either it wasn't obvious enough what he was going for, or none of you fell for it (though reader yellulhchicken joked that she was a "were plantcreature", which I suppose is close, lol). I like to think it was the latter, in which case, great job! I'll try harder next time :P.
Yup, the drunken wizards at The Leaky Cauldron are singing about the Lambton Worm, via the old folk song. In Wizarding legends, the worm was either a basilisk or a really, really impressive flobberworm, depending on who you ask. Wilson wouldn't know the song, though, so I mention it here rather than in narration.
You'll notice I avoid mentioning how many students are in NEWT Transfiguration, because of Jo's self-admitted shoddy math that makes it impossible to tell how large a Hogwarts year should be (that is: the books imply there should be just a handful, but she and for that matter I always figured there were much more than that). There were only a few people in NEWT Potions but that's not necessarily an indicator for Transfiguration. Feel free to imagine it any way you want – I personally like to think there's about 7 or 8 of them in-fic, even I think I should have wrote in more..
House spells "anemia" different than I do in narration ("anaemia"). That's because he's American, and I'm not. It's intentional!
Hailley's shirt was originally Kingdom Hearts-related, but if that were the case, I imagine House would be calling her a Disney-loving baby rather than a nerd. This isn't to say House isn't familiar with Kingdom Hearts – he is a gamer after all – it's just that he'd pick the insult rather than bond over something they might have in common. Either way it was meant as an ad for my Kingdom Hearts plot-based fic, "Stains". 358/2 Days (along with an issue about Heartless battles slowing the narrative) has stalled my updating but I'll get back to it soon. Go read it!
Wilson being in "study hall" is a pretty Movies-only bit of canon, but it worked for my "obscure which house Wilson ended up in" purposes. Use what you have, you know?
If it comes up, "Professor Marchbanks" is related to the Wizenagamot elder who resigned in protest of Umbridge being named High Inquisitor (she was his great-aunt, specifically). It's one of those pure-blood family cobweb-trees. He was supposed to appear in this chapter but I didn't have room, you'll see him next one for sure.
Lastly, the big one: Neville's scene in the story was originally extended, as he explained the details of how plants got their nutrition, but I felt that a) it was too broad of a hint towards the Loki Weed, and b) he got a large enough scene in the middle of A Stopper In Death. Even if this was more of a Herbology chapter, I have to ration these things. Still, there was very little reason for the plant infesting Emily to not be feeding off her blood (like Wilson suggests here and two readers guessed) such that it had to be something weirder. Another such issue from this cut is any lingering problems with the dying kidney: I think a lot of these are covered by the Loki weed's presence mixed with the illusion, but I'm sure I've missed something. My notes actually list a few things that could have cleared all of this up (for example, Wilson was supposed to make a few remarks about symptoms of sepsis) but I think the Neville scene was the largest hit and it bothers me the most. It's part of my not-job here to make sure there are enough clues that people can get the mystery, and so in hindsight cutting this exposition was a definite mistake in that regard.