Disclaimer: I claim no ownership of Rowling's work. However, all OCs mentioned herein belong to me.

Consumed Chapter Twenty-Two The Path Out Of The Woods

The second week Freddy spent at St. Mungo's was a great deal different from the first. Unlike the first, she was conscious for most of it, although these days she had trouble discerning sleep from wakefulness. Often, she would doze off sometime in the afternoon and be roused an hour later by a healer come to change her bandages. The passage of time seemed slowed in the recovery ward. Dawn easily became sunset and the pale, yellow walls surrounding her bed masked the change from day to night.

Although Freddy had a room to herself, she was not lucky enough to have a window. And for some strange reason, her attending healers didn't seem concerned with the time. Whenever she asked them the hour, they brushed her off politely with the same, tired phrase.

"Just rest, dear. That's all that matters now."

Well bugger rest. Freddy had never liked staying in one place too long and soon, she was able to feel the individual springs supporting her mattress. They dug into her back constantly and made her feel grumpy even after she was administered a pain-killing potion.

Visitors were still strictly forbidden and Freddy had only one person to complain to.

Healer Crane.

It seemed as though he never left her bedside. Whenever she woke from a nap, she would see him sitting there, consulting her chart or instructing a junior healer in the proper dosage of a potion.

"Don't you have other patients to look after?" she asked him ten days after her admittance, when she was feeling particularly unforgiving.

"A whole sanatorium full," he told her lightly, once more lifting back the sheets that covered her to press a stethoscope to her chest. "Breathe in for me. Hmm, I still hear some rasping."

"You spend an awful lot of time here," Freddy remarked.

"Didn't you hear? You're my star patient. I haven't had a case like this in ages. It's been mostly cut and dry lately. You're my first pneumonectomy in three years."

Freddy grumbled, disguising her fear with annoyance. She wasn't going home anytime soon, that much was clear. It wasn't until the end of her second week in St. Mungo's that Crane started to discuss the future.

"You're doing much better!" he said excitedly, leafing through her chart. "I think it's time that we consider moving you to the sanatorium, Forbia. I daresay you've had enough of this ward."

"Quite." Freddy gazed at the low ceiling, her vision slightly blurred from her latest dose of a blood-replenishing potion. "What, ummm, what exactly is the sanatorium like?"

It was a stupid question. She knew exactly what the sanatorium was like. Her dreams had been all too telling. Closing her eyes, she could see the imposing red brick building and the smaller, outlying pavilions that gave the place the look of a tiny town.

"State of the art. You'll be very comfortable there, I promise," he replied.

Although she had only known him a short while, Freddy began to sense that Crane was the perfect sort of caregiver. It seemed as though he was truly concerned about her welfare, and during her less prickly moments, she appreciated his tireless efforts to cure her.

But still, she did not want to go to his sanatorium.

St. Mungo's was bad enough. She couldn't imagine being confined to another hospital for so long. Crane had spoken only of vague figures of times. She was looking at nine months, at the very least.

I can't complain, she noted, whenever melancholy struck. Healer Crane was keeping her very comfortable. In fact, she had not felt quite so well in many months. It didn't occur to her, however, that her body was perilously weak, flooded with potions to ensure its stability.

Delusion sufficed where truth floundered.

Once she managed to keep solid food down, Crane finally permitted her to have visitors. Freddy took this as a sign of her recovery and returning strength.

Her mother came first, of course. Freddy was surprised to see Finella Fotherby, a woman whose intolerance for illness had led her husband to disguise his own terminal cancer from her until the day he died.

"Mam!" Freddy gasped when she entered the room.

Mrs. Fotherby had just Floo'd in from Glasgow, where she had been staying with one of Freddy's great-aunt's.

"Forbia, dear child," she said faintly, sidling across the room and lowering herself gingerly onto a chair next to the bed. "How are you feeling?"

"Er…you know, all right." Freddy tried to prop herself up on her pillows, but failed.

Mrs. Fotherby ran her fingers over her eyes. When she removed them, her face looked tired, crow's feet drawing out her pinched brows. "It's always something. You have your father in you. He never took care of himself. Healer Crane told me you've been sick since September."

"Umm, I haven't really done the math, Mam."

"You've lost weight too. And the lung. God."

"Mam, it's all right." Freddy felt a familiar stirring of impatience. Mam always made things worse. And Dad, good old Dad was the exact opposite. He never let a thing bother him.

"This is not the flu."

"I know."

"We're going to have to get you better."

"I know."

"Healer Crane says his moving you to his sanatorium."

"I don't want to go, Mam."

Mrs. Fotherby stared at her. "What?"

Freddy shrugged, which was rather difficult to do lying flat on her back. "I've had dreams about it."

"Not again."

"I think I would be better off on my own, I always have been."

"Are you crazy? Forbia, you might have died."

"I'm not arguing with you, Mam." Freddy fisted her hands in the sheets.

"Well, you don't have a choice." Mrs. Fotherby's lilting Scottish accent turned hard.

"I'm not five anymore. You can't make me cut my hair if I don't want to," Freddy retorted hotly.

And all at once, meaningless childhood battles floated to the surface.

"I made you cut your hair when you were five because you refused to brush it," Mrs. Fotherby said. "It was nothing but mats!"

"You never let me take care of myself."

"Forbia, you are going to the sanatorium."

"Whatever. I'm so glad you came to visit."

Mrs. Fotherby was filled with righteous anger and she sat up straight in her chair, her rosy skin blanching. "I've cried myself to sleep every night over you. Do you know how worried I was?"

"I appreciate the concern," Freddy threw back at her, grimacing as she coughed slightly. "But you still can't tell me what to do."

"You always have to have the last word. Always."

"Because I can't rely on you for anything!"

Freddy assumed her raised voice must have brought Healer Crane into her room. Either that, or he was a bit of a Seer himself.

"I feel like such an incredible villain," he said with a charming laugh, "but I'm going to have to cut this visit short. Forbia, I need to examine you again. I'm worried about scar tissue."

Mrs. Fotherby accepted his judgment readily and without complaint. She had always been beholden to authority figures.

"Good riddance," Freddy muttered after her mother had left the room.

"You don't really mean that," Crane said as gently as possible.

"Ha ha!" Freddy replied sourly. "I must certainly do."

Her next visitors were considerably more agreeable.

Professors McGonagall and Trelawney both arrived first thing on Saturday morning, bearing with them gifts and well wishes from the entire staff at Hogwarts. There was a potted daisy (Freddy's favorite) that Professor Sprout had charmed to stay in bloom all year round. Professor Flitwick, who was a talented knitter, sent her a pretty shawl. And perhaps the best gift of all came from the Headmaster, who sent her a kind-hearted letter assuring her that the post of Professor of International Magic was still her own.

Freddy cried after reading his note and profusely thanked both McGonagall and Trelawney, whom she knew had to have been instrumental in keeping her employed.

"How did you manage this?" she babbled on, rereading Dumbledore's letter for the tenth time.

McGonagall looked down her nose through her spectacles. "Do not look a gift horse in the mouth," she said evenly, although Freddy thought she detected a hint of emotion on the old professor's face.

Trelawney was much more forthcoming. "It's no surprise to me that Albus wants to keep you on," she said, looking a great deal like a glittery butterfly as she arranged her silk Chinese shawl about her shoulders. "I had long ago predicted that you would remain at Hogwarts until the age of fifty, when you will at last depart to open a Muggle sporting goods store."

"Lovely," Freddy replied. She decided to stick with McGonagall's advice and not question her luck, although she was curious as to what interest she might have in Muggle sporting goods.

With the matter of her employment settled, Freddy returned to begging her colleagues for any bit of news from Hogwarts.

McGonagall was reticent. "Both Hermione Granger and Cass Roderick returned to class this week," she said, "so I would not worry too much after their health if I were you. Meg Carlisle has been transferred to the Hospital Wing. I expect she'll be there for a month or so, although Madam Pomfrey says she coming along splendidly."

"Their parents must want my head," Freddy mumbled, turning her somewhat misty gaze over to Sprout's daisy which sat on the nightstand. She was still experiencing a great deal of guilt for having infected her students and the incident had only furthered her opinion of herself as a walking disaster zone.

"Heavens, no!" Trelawney leaned forward to pat her on the head like a lapdog. "The Headmaster did not reveal you as the source of infection, Healer Crane urged him not to. Something about undo trauma and stress, I believe."

Freddy frowned thoughtfully. "And here I thought Crane would want my name in all the papers. He says I'm his star patient."

"Nonsense." McGonagall was frank as always. "You're not a trophy, after all."

Freddy was much relieved after her chat with the two professors. They both had a way of assuaging her fears and directing her mind away from the dreaded inevitability of Crane's sanatorium. It was only after they left that she felt herself sink back into depression.

So this is what her life would be like for the next few months. People would come and go, while she would be bound to her bed, unable to follow them.

The notion made her ill, so ill that she had a slight hemorrhage that sent nearly every healer in the ward rushing to her room. The setback banished any other visitors from her room for another torturous three days. This time, Freddy was unable to keep her mood from turning black.

Healer Crane tried his best to cheer her.

"You're going to hate me for saying this," he said on Tuesday morning after breakfast, "but optimism is important."

"I want to get better!" Freddy croaked indignantly, angry that he would question her ability to fight her sickness.

Crane looked at her with a mixture of amusement and concern. His steady gaze made Freddy flush. She wasn't used to such complete and unwavering attention from a man. The last time anyone had been so involved in her life, she had gotten engaged. And that, of course, had not turned out so well.

On Wednesday, after much pleading on Freddy's part, she was permitted visitors again. Sometime in the evening, while Healer Crane was administering a dose of the anti-phthisis pulmonalis potion, Remus Lupin was shown into her room by a junior healer.

He stood in the doorway with a bouquet of two red carnations, his robes looking all the more shabby next to the sleek and handsome Crane.

"Hello," he said sheepishly. "May I come in?"

Crane looked once at Freddy and then doubtfully back at Lupin. "Oh, I suppose," he said lightly, "but visiting hours are almost over."

"I won't stay long," Lupin assured him.

Crane left them alone.

Freddy gaped at her visitor and only then realized, with a good deal of embarrassment, that her hair was hanging in two messy pigtails.

Lupin, who looked pale and peaky as ever, didn't seem to mind.

"Surprised to see me?" he asked.

"I'll say!" She wriggled around in her bed, trying to sit upright.

Lupin sat in the chair beside her and put the two carnations on her nightstand. "Do you want me here?"

"Yes!" Freddy said eagerly. "We were having a rather good conversation last I remember. Unfortunately, it was cut short. God, isn't this so ridiculous?"

Lupin raised his brows. "Sorry, I don't follow."

Freddy gestured at her chest. "My bad lungs, I mean. Who would have thought?"

He laughed awkwardly. "Well, all the best people have bad chests." [1]

"Or are werewolves."

"Oh, so you remember that." His white skin colored a bit. "I thought you might have forgotten, what with all the chaos since then."

Freddy smiled at him. "Well, I can forget it…if you want me to."

Lupin laid his hands palm-up on his knees. "I don't think you should, it's rather allegorical, even though tuberculosis doesn't turn you into a ravaging beast once a month."

"Mmm, I would like to have both my lungs though."

The sentiment struck them both cold for a instant and they fell silent.

Freddy allowed herself a long look at Lupin. If anyone knew the terror of being isolated, of being contained and quarantined, it would be him. And although she hated to expose her fears to him, she was in desperate need of comfort.

"They're shipping me off to a sanatorium, you know," she said slowly. The words pained her and her senses were flooded with reminders from her dreams.

Even now, she could smell the stale steam rising from the clanging pipes that formed the skeleton of the place. Long hallways. Coughing in the night. Entrapment.

Her vision ended when Lupin lightly touched her hand with his.

"It's not a pleasant prospect," he said.

Freddy felt a sudden wave of relief. So he did understand! "Everyone expects me to take my medicine without complaint," she said. "They think I should be grateful. Am I so wrong for not wanting to go?"

"I don't think so." Hesitantly, Lupin lifted his hand from hers and deposited it back on his lap. "I would be frightened as well. Unfortunately, there is no alternative I can offer you. There are times in life when only one path leads out of the woods, not two."

"If only philosophy was less cerebral and more emotional," Freddy muttered, wrinkling her nose. "I'm going to have to relive my nightmares with no promise of awaking to find myself safe in bed."

Lupin gazed at her sadly. "But it doesn't have to be the same as in your dreams."

"How so?"

"Well." Lupin shifted awkwardly in his chair. "In your dreams you were alone, yes? It needn't be so. I can write to you. I've been told that my letters are rather boring, but I rather enjoy friendly correspondence. And I'll visit you, of course."

"You'd do that?" Freddy asked him, half-fearing that he would realize what he was promising her and withdraw his offer.

"Yes," he said plainly. "Yes, I will."

Freddy was forced to cover her sudden tears with a cough. Lupin wisely looked away as she dried her eyes on her bed sheets.

"There was something else I was meaning to tell you," she said after she had collected herself. "It's about Quirrell…Slatero."

Lupin nodded. "I would never judge him, if that's what you're worried about."

"No, not at all." Freddy took one of the carnations from the nightstand and fingered it's petals. "I was thinking…the dreams…could he have been trying to warn me?"

Lupin raised his eyebrows once more. "It's entirely possible, but if I remember my Divination lessons from third year, isn't it up to the Seer's interpretation?"

"Mostly." Freddy pressed the carnation to her nose. "I'd like to think that he was in fact trying to help me, trying to make up for what he did. He never will entirely."

"But he can try," Lupin added.

Freddy was about to reply when Healer Crane's shadow fell through the open door. Visiting hours were over.

The healers at the Yorkshire Wizarding Sanatorium for Consumptives entered March with a flurry of activity. Five patients hemorrhaged on the night of the fifteenth and two passed away during the following week. On the sixteenth, three were released in good health to the care of their families, freeing up much needed bed space. Surprisingly, however, the sanatorium received only one new patient that month. Her name was Forbia Fotherby and she was a Professor at Hogwarts.

The End.

Author's Note: *cries* It's over! I can't believe it. Honestly, I never, never thought I'd finish this story…but here we are.

Thank you all so much for being so supportive throughout this long journey. This story would not exist without you, my fabulous readers and reviewers.

And I have good news! The sequel to this fic "Breathless" is in the works and should be posted soon. I have to update several of my other WIPs, but the first chapter will be up in a few days.

Well, this is it, the end. Goodbye for now, everyone! I'll be back in no time. ^_^