In her office, Poppy Pomfrey was reading over her medical texts, looking for information on cursed wounds and coma. There was precious little known, and her newest and most mysterious charge had yet to show any sign of waking up. The skull fracture had healed, she treated the burns and the ribs, but the child was still not rousing. She had had to resort to dosing her with nutrient solutions as the girl was so painfully thin. It took several castings of a modified medical Scourgify to remove the layers of sweat and dirt. The girl’s extensive mane of curls snarled and snapped at her, causing it to tangle defiantly. How she managed without professional help, the Mediwitch had no notion. After the usual cosmetological charms failed, Poppy finally chopped the curls to shoulder length. Such a shame too, it had been down to the middle of her back when she came in, but this was much more sensible.
Realising that she was focused on the surface problems (seductively solvable with simple solutions), she snorted in irritation with herself. She reached for a quill and moved to write a missive to the only other person in the castle who might have an idea of what would need to be done next. A few lines jotted down, a drying charm followed by a origami fold saw the note scuttle off in the form of a crab. She then leaned back in her comfortable chair, taking a moment to close her eyes and ponder simpler puzzles. Like what to serve for tea with Minerva next Sunday.
It was fortunate that it was near the end of the day, as the crab-note had to travel several floors away, and it was to an empty classroom that it arrived, unfettered by hateful stamping feet. The crab had to claw at several clumsy students, all of whom would be wondering later tonight how exactly they managed to get paper cuts on their ankles. Cranky, it laboriously climbed up onto the desk of one Professor Whittington Nott, known to his contemporaries as “Whit.” Scuttling closer, the folded eyestalks of the memo contemplated the Professor with a mutinous air.
As the Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts, Whit Nott had put up with a lot from his students so far this year, and he could not help but notice the aloof attitude of his fellow teachers, who didn’t seem to be too interested in getting too attached. Especially the beautiful young Professor of Transfiguration, now there was a cold fish. He had heard of the curse on the Defense position, limiting its attendants to a year at most of tenure. More concerning, some left in the most disturbing ways, and from what he understood, Minerva McGonagall would have only been too happy to channel the malice of the curse herself. He muttered a desultory, “I was just trying to be friendly.” With a grimace, the Professor tapped the seal on the back of the crab’s shell with his wand and the elaborate construct melted down to a flat single sheet of paper onto which a brief missive was penned:
Please attend on me in the infirmary at your earliest convenience. One of my charges has need of your curse breaking expertise if I am not mistaken.
With eyebrows rising up to his hairline in consternation, Whit contemplated the very succinct nature of the missive. So, the matron had found a problem she couldn’t solve. His thin mouth tilted up lopsidedly in appreciation and anticipation. One that she has not seen fit to send on to St Mungo’s, but she thought that he might have something to offer. He glanced at the clock and the stack of essays waiting to be graded. He made the noble sacrifice of putting off his work until later in favour of a visit to the infirmary. After all, who was he to refuse his aid?
Fifteen minutes later the man himself stepped into the sterilised environs of the infirmary. After a quick glance around, which revealed very little in the way of occupancy, the wizard made his way to the small office and rapped quietly on the frame. Poppy had been staring off into the infinite and started when the man announced himself. “Well, this is the first time this has happened, Poppy. To what or whom might I apply a Whit, pray tell?” He stood with arms folded across his chest, backlit against the tall windows behind him. His smirk of humour was almost lost in his own shadow. Nott was a lean wizard with a pointed face, much like that of a fox. His auburn hair was kept short, lying neatly back and never out of place. Sharp moss green eyes measured Poppy’s response down to the milligram, like precious grains of gold. The man was unnerving at times, moving too quickly and quietly to feel safe around.
Poppy stood and straightened her starched apron, allowing herself to compose a response, a faint blush evident as she met the man’s gaze. “Funny. Nott.” After skipping a beat for comedic timing, she pushed past him, twitching her head towards a remote corner of the infirmary, indicating that he should follow her. Whit noticed that Poppy’s retreating form was neat as a pin in the conservative, dark navy dress of a Mediwitch, topped off with a starched apron and white nurses cap. The apron strings alone were enough to make his fingers itch.
Drawing in a fortifying breath, the Mediwitch began to present her case in muffled tones as they tread around the privacy screens to the young woman’s side. “Three nights ago, this young lady was found in the early hours by Filch outside in the courtyard. I wasn’t sure what to think when he brought her up here. She is young, somewhere between 16 and 18 years of age, and frankly we have no idea of who she is or where she came from. She is a witch, but she is not one of our students.”
Poppy’s watery grey eyes had been fixed on their subject, but at this last utterance she met Whit’s gaze, engaging his attention as if to will him to understand the ramifications here. “Albus didn’t feel her break the perimeter wards, she just dropped out of the sky as far as we can tell. Then the poor child ran afoul of that horrible Whomping Willow and was knocked out cold.” She huffed in renewed frustration at her own impotence, “It has been days, the brain injury has been addressed fully and she should be waking up.”
The cursebreaker come Professor glared at the prone figure, and shifted to shove his hands in his pockets as he listened to the matron. This girl had to be considered a risk, then. Unexpectedly he is less interested in seeing the interloper wake as soon as may be. He nodded to indicate his understanding, adding offhandedly, “Perhaps she is just.. tired?”
This, of course, was as stupid as it sounds and earned an appropriate scowl from the Mediwitch. “Oh, of course, if only it were that simple.” The appended albeit unspoken “you irritating ponce” was loud and clear and Whit had the good grace to look contrite. “No, in addition to the head wound, the girl was malnourished, bruised, with cracked ribs, and showed signs of spell damage.” She glanced across the infirmary to assure that her other charge was not taking too much interest in what she was saying, before adding in a lower voice, “Whit, the girl had clearly been tortured. Cruciatus damage at the least, and she smelled like brimstone. I can’t get it out of her hair.” She looked down fearfully for a moment before twitching the coverlet out of the way to allow her access to the girl’s left forearm, undoing the girl’s bandages before tilting the pale limb so that her colleague could clearly read the word carved into her flesh.
Whit sucked in an involuntary breath in shock before swearing loudly, “Merlin’s Dancing Pants, Poppy! Who did this?!”