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HP stories following Canon after HBP >> Ch. 1 - Conversations With Cursebreakers - By Oddish by Oddish

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CHAPTER 1 - Conversations with Cursebreakers

Daniel Smith had never been inside a wizarding hospital before, but he had seen several muggle ones on his short and bloody journey through life, and would have recognized St. Mungo’s as a medical facility even if he had not known beforehand. True, the healers wore lime green instead of white, and there was no pervading smell of disinfectant (even Daniel himself would have been capable of performing a basic sterilization charm, had he been allowed to use magic at all), but most of the other sights were the same: elderly people, wizards dragging IV poles with them, people waiting outside closed rooms, talking quietly or just looking scared or trying to soothe young children who knew that something was wrong but were too young to know what. And then, there were the hospital-issue pajamas and gowns.

He had just turned thirteen, but he was a decidedly small thirteen. The hospital jammies he had been issued were obviously intended for a child of nine or ten; they had little red and gold lions all over them. The lions were a bit friendly-looking for his taste, but at least he could demonstrate a modicum of house pride with them. The alternatives had consisted of brown teddy bears, yellow ducks, balloons of various colors, or equally cutesy renditions of the other three houses’ mascots. Even the snakes on the Slytherin PJ’s looked like something you would want to cuddle in bed with.

He also had a few complaints about the food: although hospitals did not actively try to make their food bad-tasting, they were conscientious about screening out fatty, sugary, or salty foods. In other words, the foods that most people (Daniel included) found tastiest. Madame Pomfrey did the same thing, but the house-elves cooked for healthy people, and all she could really do was screen out the most objectionable items. The house-elves in the St. Mungo's kitchens prepared their food with sick people in mind, so it was highly nutritious but bland. Morning Sun’s cuisine had been comparable, but at least Daniel had gotten as much of it as he had wanted. Here, portions were a set size. Once your plate was empty, you had the option of going hungry or eating your blanket. Not that the blanket would taste much worse, but chewing it might be problematic.

He leaned back lazily and thought about the events of the previous year, which he had spent at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The school was for normally British junior wizards, but Daniel had been born into an area that was not serviced by any school, and the Hogwarts headmaster had sent him a special invitation. Hogwarts was rarely dull even in normal times, and this year had not been normal: a hidden chamber in the castle, the Chamber of Secrets, had been opened, and the basilisk inside it had been unleashed. Given the deadliness of its poison and the fact that looking it in the eye could petrify or even kill you, it was only by incredible good fortune that no one had died. Daniel's classmates had taken the worst of it. Alondra Bracho and Rachael Jones, two of his friends, had been among the ones petrified. Cassandra Serenity had suffered as well. And Ginny Weasley, the younger sister of one of Daniel's Hogwarts roomies (and his secret crush), had been unwittingly responsible for it all.

Daniel, having no family of his own, was naturally fiercely protective of his friends. Thus, he been determined to fight whatever was happening. He had been among the small group of students who went underground to storm the Chamber and face the monster inside. It had been killed, but the cost had been high: Daniel's friend, Cassandra, had been blinded; Daniel and his roommate Harry Potter had both received mortal injuries, Daniel from a life-draining curse and Harry from the basilisk's fang. Only prompt attention from Fawkes, Dumbledore's phoenix, had saved the two boys. Daniel had not known it until later, but Fawkes had cried onto Harry's wounded arm, then on Daniel's upturned face: enough tears ran into his mouth to keep his heart beating until the school's nurse could stabilize him.

In the end, however, no lasting harm appeared to have been done. The petrified students were restored, Ginny had escaped the ordeal without punishment, and Cassandra's eyes were in the process of being regenerated, though she still could not see very well. And Ginny, upon hearing that Daniel had thrown himself into the path of a curse intended for her, was now just as taken with him as he was with her. But, the aftereffects of the curse were still present, which was why he was sitting up in his bed in St. Mungo's, wearing jammies with cuddly lions on them and contemplating taking a bite out of his blanket.

Just then, the door of his room opened, admitting Roslyn, his usual morning nurse. She was easy on the eyes, but tended to talk down to him. Not surprisingly, she was well-liked by the younger patients, tolerated by the older ones. “Good morning, Daniel. How did we sleep?”

“I slept fine, I don’t know about you,” Daniel retorted. He had found that you could be obstreperous, but you didn’t want to push things too far. Nurses could make your life miserable. “So, what are you going to do to me today?”

“Nothing right now,” Roslyn said. “However, Healer Pricketts wants to see you later this morning. He thinks he may have a line on what’s wrong with you.”

“That would be nice,” Daniel said. “I’m wasting away here.” It was true, between the lack of exercise and the limited food, Daniel had dropped from his playing weight of eighty-seven pounds to a new low of only seventy-eight.

“You’re still in better shape than a lot of wizardlings I’ve seen,” Roslyn responded. “Do you play Quidditch?”

Daniel nodded. “Reserve Beater, two years running.”

“For Gryffindor?! No way! I thought you had to be big to play Beater.”

“It certainly helps, but I make up for it with quickness. Or I did, until I got hit with this damn curse.”

Roslyn nodded, though she clearly found it hard to swallow that a boy his size was on the house team, reserve or no. “Well, maybe we can get you back on the pitch. Pricketts is sure that he’s closing in on the problem.”

Daniel theatrically rolled his eyes. “I’ve heard that one before.”

“I know, it’s frustrating, especially for an active type like you.” It took little deduction to realize that Daniel was the active type, his muscular build indicated that. As did his appetite and the fact that it was hard for him to stay still some of the time.

“You have no idea.” Daniel looked out the window. “I wish I could at least go for a run.”

“Once you’re better, you can,” Roslyn assured him as they entered the children’s area.

The St. Mungo’s children’s area was fairly well-appointed, but there was no teen area. Daniel had found it interesting for awhile, especially the magical toys (having been raised outside the wizarding world, he had never encountered their like), but lately he spent most of his time either reading or listening to various music on his tape player. Had it needed batteries to run, he would have gone through quite a few of them. Sometimes the younger kids would start a pillow fight or an impromptu game and he would join in; unlike some teens, he was not given to acting pretentiously mature.

Today, however, he ambled over to the couch and picked up his copy of “The Standard Book of Spells - Level 3”. Ginny had given him the book on a previous visit; she had sweet-talked one of the twins into letting her have his old copy. He had been studying it hard, but it was frustrating not to be able to try any of the cool new spells out.

He was using a nonfunctional toy wand to experiment with the Sealing charm when Pricketts, an elderly gentleman with a fringe of silver around a large bald spot, entered. His lime-green robes indicated him to be a full mediwizard, not a nurse; they wore lighter green. “Hey, Mop-top. You ready to step into my office?”

“Of course, Mr. P.,” Daniel said cheerily. “I always enjoy finding out what new and interesting ways of torturing me you can come up with.”

“Hmmm,” Pricketts said. “Trust me, you haven’t seen torture yet, buster.”

“Nor do I have any desire to,” Daniel responded primly.

Pricketts grunted in response. He was one of the few healers qualified with undoing obscure curses, but he was so competent that he could be as crusty as he wanted, and he would still have all the work he wanted. He had opinions on everything, and he invariably spoke his mind, but Daniel liked him: with Sam Pricketts, you knew where you stood.

"So, what are we doing today?" Daniel queried as he entered the doctor's office. "Potions? Bloodletting? Liver massage? Acid enemas?"

"No," Pricketts said. "But that last's not a bad thought. At least you'd be too busy hopping around in agony to keep cheeking me. Actually, I've done some research. The curse that you've taken bears considerable similarity to several ancient Egyptian curses, usually the sort of thing that would be laid on a mummy's tomb."

"I've heard of those," Daniel said. "The most famous one was that old sarcophagus that killed all those muggles?"

"The very same." The coffin in question had been discovered by muggles in 1899, and had left a trail of death, injury, illness, and madness behind it as it passed from owner to owner over the ensuing thirteen years. Its final owner, an American curator, had attempted to ship it to New York on a White Star oceanliner that was making its maiden voyage: the HMS Titanic. The sarcophagus now lay under two and a half miles of water, where it would hopefully remain undisturbed.

"But if the curse was that bad, how come I'm not dead? Me and everyone else around me?"

"I'm not sure, kid. I need to Floo the Department of Cursebreakers in Egypt. They'll be able to give me some answers." He took a pinch of powder and threw it into his fireplace. "Cursebreakers!"

The flames swirled and roared, then turned emerald-green. Moments later, a face appeared in them, a face Daniel recognized, especially since he remembered what the second-eldest Weasley sibling did for a living. "Bill!"

"Hello, Daniel," Bill Weasley said. "What's going on?"

Pricketts spoke before Daniel could. "William, I'm looking for Ms. Chabala again. Is she there?"

"Yeah, she's outside," Bill said. "I'll go get her." A long pause, then Bill returned. He looked pretty much the way he had at Christmas, except for his hair, which had grown another three inches. "She'll be along shortly. You caught her in the middle of a rather tricky incantation."

"Ah. Well, no hurry. Tell me, Weasley, how long are you going to grow that hair of yours? You practically look like a girl already."

"Oh, down to my knees, maybe. Dan, is this old prat giving you crap about your hair, too?"

Daniel giggled. "Well, he calls me 'Mop-top'."

"Well, just ignore him. If he had his way, we'd all be bald as eggs." Bill waited for Daniel to stop giggling, then became a bit more serious. "So. You any my sister, huh?"

"Me and your sister what?"

Bill shook his finger at him. "Don't play coy with me, twerp, you know what I mean."

Daniel nodded. "Fine. Yes, me and Ginny."

"Well, you better be good to her. I break curses, but I know how to place them, too."

"I'll be better than good," Daniel said. "Believe me, you're the fourth guy to tell me that."

Bill raised an eyebrow. "Oh really?"

"Yup. Ron hinted that I might find out how slugs taste, Fred said that he and George had some new joke items that they wanted someone to use on, and even Percy pulled me aside in the hall and reminded me that making prefects' little sisters sad is not a good idea. I thought the only thing he cared about was making Head Boy and getting seventeen NEWTs."

"And a certain Ravenclaw prefect," Bill added, a twinkle in his eye.

Daniel grinned back. "I expect if I ever run into your other brother, he'll threaten to feed me to a dragon."

"Well, good. I'm glad you understand all of us," Bill said.

"I had a sister once, too," Daniel said. The fact that she had been five years older than he did not change the protective feelings he had had for her.

Bill looked behind him. "Here's Mrs. Chabala. Dan, give Ginny my love, OK?"

"Will do," Daniel promised him.

Bill's face vanished, and was replaced by that of a woman about McGonagall's age, with jet-black hair and skin and eyes that were nearly as dark, and startlingly white teeth. "Hello, Sam! I was wondering when I'd hear from you again!"

"Likewise, Bertha," Pricketts said. "You look well."

"Thank you, Sam." The cursebreaker ran her hands through her thick, curly hair. "I'm afraid I do not have time for idle chatter today; I am in the middle of a very taxing project. So, can we go straight to business?"

"Of course," Pricketts said. "I have a young man, Daniel, who was hit with a strange curse. He should be fully recovered, and yet he is not. Perhaps you can do something for him."

"Very well. You will need to send him through, please."

"All right." Pricketts turned to Daniel. "Just shout 'Cursebreaker Headquarters, Cairo', it'll take you right to her office."

Daniel obeyed instructions. The Floo ride was extremely long; Daniel might have been travelling at a hyperaccelerated speed, but it was a good couple thousand miles. Despite his strong stomach, he was a little nauseous by the time he went tumbling out the fireplace. "Oy," he said, a little weakly.

"Heck of a trip, isn't it?" Bill said, helping him to his feet. "And just think, you get to do it again in a few minutes."

The older cursebreaker spoke up: "Bill, why don't you make yourself useful and my 'Encyclopedia of Egyptian Curses'? It's in the library." Bill hurried out. "Hello, Daniel. Do you prefer Dan or Danny?"

"Dan's OK, but I prefer Daniel."

"Very well, Daniel it is. I am Bertha Chabala, and I prefer Mrs. Chabala or Healer Chabala. Now, first things first: who cursed you?"

"Voldemort," Daniel replied simply.

Mrs. Chabala flinched at the name, but recovered quickly. "Pish-tush, boy, you weren't even around when he was. Or if you were, you were still in diapers."

"It wasn't exactly him," Daniel clarified. "Ginny said it was a memory of him, preserved in a diary. When it was destroyed, so was he."

"I see." Mrs. Chabala did see; she was familiar with such things, but knew little beyind the basics. Her specialty was Egyptian dark arts, it was the ancient Aztec warlocks who had developed the concept of soul-splitting, no great surprise given their bloodthirtsy culture. "Well, he did study some very strange things. My mentor met You-Know-Who once, I don't know what he taught him, but it must have been things that he didn't want others aware of, he was found dead soon afterward. Ah, Bill. Did you find the book?"

"I think so." Bill handed her the volume. It was as half again as thick as a dictionary, and roughly twice as large. "Is this it?"

"It is indeed." The woman looked through the book, found a page about halfway through. "Ah, here it is. Egyptian life-draining curses. Daniel, open your mouth please."

"Ah," Daniel said, complying.

"Hold your tongue up. That's right. Lumos." The tip of the woman's wand lit. She shined it in Daniel's mouth. "Yes, that checks out. The underside of your tongue looks green in wandlight, a typical effect. Let me check your eyes now." She shined her light in them. "Turquoise sheen, that's typical as well. Did the curse leave any mark on your body?"

Daniel shook his head. "No. And yes, Madame Pomfrey looked everywhere for one."

"Including some places you would have preferred that she not look, I'm sure. Life-draining hexes almost never leave evidence. But maybe... Daniel, take off your shirt please. I need to listen to your heart."

Daniel made a face. "Can't you just put a finger on my wrist?"

"That will tell me how fast your heart is beating, and I do need to know that, but I need to listen to the heart itself. Don't worry, I'm not going to make you take off anything else. You have nothing that anyone here wants to see."

"I'm glad about that," Daniel said, slipping off his jammie top and moving a bit closer to the fire, not that it did any good. Floo flames were virtually heatless.

The healer deftly conjured up a vaguely antique-looking muggle stethoscope, and proceeded to use it, listening to Daniel's chest for the better part of a minute. "Hmmm. Yes, your heart rate is definitely erratic, and you have a murmur. Is that normal for you?"

Daniel shook his head. "I don't think so."

"It's also quite slow, down around forty-eight beats per minute. That's even slower than it should be, allowing for the curse. What's your normal resting rate, boy?"

"I don't know. When Madame P. took it before the accident, it was usually around sixty-five."

"Low, for a boy your age."

"Daniel's in very good shape," Bill volunteered. "My brothers play Quidditch with him."

"Ah, yes, that makes sense. Very well, then, it checks out. Egyptian life-draining curses typically have this effect: they keep the victim from getting better, even if he survives. They were banned centuries ago."

Daniel felt a chill. "Can they be cured?"

"The curse can be lifted, yes, but I'm afraid I can't reverse the loss of strength and conditioning. You'll have to build them back up yourself. Diet and exercise will do that."

"I can do that," Daniel said, redoing the snaps on his PJ top.

"Good. For now, I'll have Sam give you a potion that will help you feel stronger. I'll need to brew the potion that will attack the curse itself, and study the accompanying incantation. Sam, are you still there?"

Pricketts' face appeared in the fire. "Yeah. What's the story?"

"Ancient Egyptian life-draining curse. Nasty business, all the way. I can break it, but I'll need a week and a half to brew the necessary potion."

"All right. Can I do anything?"

"I'm sending a list of potions with him. In addition, he needs to build his strength. Give him as much food as he wants, none of this standard portions nonsense. Healer's orders."

"I'll see to that," Pricketts said.

"Yay," said Daniel. "Can I have candy, too?"

"In small quantities, but I want you to eat mostly healthy food." To Pricketts she added: "Heavy on the protein, and don't skimp on the other stuff, he's going to need lots of energy. And he'll need some exercise, at least half an hour of walking or something similar. Each day."

"Can I run?" Daniel queried.

"If you feel up to it, you may run, but be careful. You are still in a delicate condition." Daniel nodded. "Very well. I will send you back now. I will get started on the potion this evening, and summon you when it's ready."

"Thank you," Daniel said.

"Hey, Dan," Bill said. "As I'm sure you already know, the rest of the family's going to be coming down this summer. Maybe we'll see you when you return."

"Awesome!" Daniel said with a grin. Suddenly, the thought of another trip down didn't seem so bad.

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