You've never liked hospitals.
The walls are too white, too bland. The floors are cold and hard. The smell—that sterile, bleachy, this-is-a-germ-infested-hellhole-and-we're-just-trying-to-cover-it-up smell—burns your nose and makes that spot just behind each of your eyeballs ache dully. Everything here is a symbol of death and sickness and pain, and you've had just about enough of those to last you a while.
You've never liked hospitals, but on this warm, sunny May day, you find yourself following the short, plump Healer through the corridors of St. Mungo's, quickening your pace to keep up with her brusque, professional step.
She leads you through a white maze, and you wonder idly if you'd be able to find your way out alone. You hope so, because you're already beginning to feel light-headed, and you've only been within the hygienic confines of these walls for a few minutes.
But, before you can dwell any more on escaping, the Healer makes a sharp turn, and you follow her into another, shorter corridor. You trail behind her as you pass room after room of eerily silent patients, all with their eyes peacefully closed and their bodies frighteningly still. You begin to panic for a moment before you catch sight of a clock—it reads 6:37 A.M.—and release the breath you didn't know you'd been holding.
The Healer—she turns, and you see her nametag reads HEALER CYNTHIA DOBSON—stops outside the last door on the left, her hand resting on the knob. You want to knock her out of the way, barrel into the room, let this patient's figure—lying still and silent just like all the others, you're sure—reassure you that she is alive, and that she is going to be alright. But, you reason with yourself, that would most certainly not be the dignified, gentlemanly way, and you reel in your impatience for just a few more seconds.
"A Mediwitch will be in to check on her routinely, every half hour," Healer Dobson is saying, and you will yourself to focus in on her words. "If something happens, and you feel medical assistance is necessary, please feel free to push the button tell the portrait to the left of the headboard." Her words are mechanical, as if she'd given this speech a million and one times, which, you think to yourself, she probably has. "Please remember that our visiting hours are from six a.m. to ten p.m."
You nod once, curtly, and even manage a small smile and a "Thank you for your help" which she motonously returns before heading back down the corridor.
Then, she is gone, and it is just you and the quiet corridor and the looming door in front of you. Your hand reaches out of its own accord and brushes ever-so-lightly against the cool metal of the knob. An unexplainable surge of apprehension and anxiety has washed over you, leaving shaky hands and a rapid heartbeat in its wake. You summon all of the Gryffindor courage you can find, and clench your fingers firmly around the door handle, twisting it in one determined move. Before you have a chance to rethink what you're doing—and possibly regain a little of the sanity you seem to have lost—you take one bold step into the room, and shut the door behind you.
Almost immediately, you wish you were out in the hall again. It is too still, too silent in this little room, and it makes you edgy with discomfort; the corridor had been quiet and motionless as well, but Merlin, at least there'd been a little air out there. This little room is stuffy, and it makes the hair on the back of your neck rise, and gooseflesh to ripple out across your skin.
Taking a deep breath, and then wincing at the cold burn in your nose, you force yourself to take another step into the room. If it could be called a room, that is. The place where you now are is little more than a slightly enlarged broom cupboard, just big enough to fit a gurney, and a little recliner wedged next to it.
Walking slowly, carefully, as not to wake her, you tiptoe over to the armchair and sink down into its cushioned upholstery, and for the first time since you've entered the little room, you allow yourself to look at her. To really look at her.
She is pale—that is the first thing you notice. Sickly pale, her skin almost transparent looking. And then her hair—those bubblegum pink locks you love so much have morphed back to their natural light brown, and they hang limply around her heart-shaped face.
The other things, the smaller things, it takes you longer to pick up on. The deep purple shadows under her sunken-in eyes, the pale lavender shade of her lids; the way the bones in her cheeks and wrists and collar protrude through her translucent skin. The flesh colored material of the bandage wrapped around her left hand. It all makes her look unbelievably fragile. Frail.
A small, bitter chuckle works its way up and out of your mouth, and your head shakes from side to side slightly, knocking your hair into your eyes. 'Frail' is never, ever a word that you would have associated with Nymphadora Tonks before now.
And then, as the twisted humor evaporates, you're left with something else: a hollow, aching pain in your chest, just where you can feel your heart pounding steadily. A lump rises unexpectedly in your throat, and you have to blink furiously to keep back the sudden batch of tears that have welled up in your eyes. Three nights of no sleep is getting to you, you think, even when you know it is not the lack of sleep that is sending your emotions in a whirlwind.
You feel the rough material of cotton replace the velvetiness of your corduroy trousers under your fingertips, and look down in surprise to see your hand resting on top of the thick blanket that is covering her body, her fingers only millimeters from your own.
Hesitantly, slowly, oh so slowly, your hand inches forward and your reaching fingers brush the silky skin of her wrist. A relieved sigh passes through your lips as your eyes flutter closed. Her skin is smooth and cool, and you can feel her heartbeat, strong and steady as your own, pulsing gently against your index finger.
More deliberately this time, your hand moves to encase hers, and bring it up to your lips. A single, solitary tear rolls its way down your cheek, falling noiselessly off the end of your chin and onto your sleeve. The relief you feel to have that heartbeat throbbing under your own hand, palpable, is overwhelming. You know that if that heartbeat were to have stopped, the purpose in your life would cease to exist.
Gingerly, oh so gingerly, you shift closer to the side of the bed, lean over the guard rail, and trace the fingers of your free hand through her hair. You are surprised at its softness and silkiness; judging by its lackluster appearance, you would've thought it to be lanker than it is. Your hand comes to stop at the side of her face, cupping her cheek, and you lean slowly in to press your lips to her forehead for a fleeting second. Her skin is so soft beneath your lips, so supple, and you know what you're doing is wrong.
You shouldn't be allowing yourself to get this close to her; you shouldn't allow yourself to be selfish enough to indulge in your wants. It will only cause you more pain, in the end. Because, no matter how much you care for her, you can't be with her. She deserves someone young, someone whole and handsome, someone richer than you, someone that would be able to provide for her and a family. A flame of jealously flares up inside you for whoever would be lucky enough to love her in that way, lucky enough to provide her a family…
No. You mustn't think that way. She isn't yours, and she never will be. This is your mantra, the chant that you constantly play through your head, muttering it under your breath when your fantasies get too out of hand. She isn't yours.
Nevertheless, you still remain in the teal-green leather armchair, and you still keep her hand securely wrapped in both of yours, your eyes locked on her never-changing face as the sun outside slowly makes its run across the sky. You do not move—not even to search out the loo, or a meal—until a Healer knocks on her door at five 'til ten and politely tells you that 'visiting hours will be over in ten minutes, if you could please make your way back downstairs, sir'. And even then you linger, never letting your gaze wander from her soft features as you stand and back slowly out of the door.
You keep your hand in your pocket as you ride the Tube home that evening, and you promise yourself, swear to yourself as you enter the familiar dank confines of Grimmauld Place and lock up behind you, that you will not let yourself be as careless again. You will not give in to your emotions.
But it becomes apparent as you go back the next day, and the next—it is on the third day that she is finally sitting up in bed, smiling weakly when you poke your head in the doorway, her eyes sparkling as you hand her the bar of Honeyduke's best that you bought, just for her—that this feeling, this warmth that fills you whenever you're around her, is not a fleeting thing. You cannot push it to the back of your mind and forget about it for the moment like you do everything else because, truthfully, it is unforgettable. You cannot deny the surge of joy that shoots through your body, from your scalp to the very tips of your toes when the Healer pulls you aside one day and tells you that there will be no permanent damage and that she will be able to go home sooner than they originally thought because she is recovering so well.
They think it's the medicine and the potions that are helping her, but you know it's something else. She is a fighter—always has been, always will be—and that is the ultimate reason that you cannot pull away from her. She wants you, maybe more than she's ever wanted anything before, and you don't have the strength to fight, especially not when you want the exact same thing that she does.
You know you will give in, eventually. But that does not keep you from putting off the inevitable for as long as possible.
You can do this, you tell yourself. You can do this. You are stubborn. She will get impatient and give up. And when she does, you will let her go, watching with hidden sadness as she takes your heart with her.
But for now—for now you allow yourself just this little bit of happiness. And when, on the way home from St. Mungo's after she has been released—she insisted on wearing those old, ripped up jeans and that black Weird Sisters t-shirt and those faded, hot pink high top trainers, instead of a hospital gown, or even something more comfortable—she slips her hand into yours, you smile down at her and squeeze her slender fingers gently.
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Author's Notes: Thanks for reading! Comments, questions, criticizms, mistakes you found? Leave them for me in a review!
Edit 10/27/2009: Freshly edited! Thanks to Phia_Nix for helping me out. Review! :)