The Sugar Quill
Author: Feldman  Story: Symptoms  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

A/N: This story was inspired by an incident in R.J. Anderson’s fab fic, If We Survive.  If you haven’t read Anderson’s stuff, you’re really missing out on some of the very best fanfic out there.  Also, without reading the aforementioned story, this one won’t make a great deal of sense, so there you go - two reasons to read it.  A thousand thanks to Yolanda for doing the beta.

***

“Symptoms?”

“This one is a little strange.  She was found unconscious in an alley, the apparent victim of an attack.  When she was brought in, she had two puncture marks on her neck, multiple scratches and contusions, and an irregular, thready pulse.  She had lost a fair amount of blood, although I don’t know how – her wounds were minor.  Since then, we’ve given her several blood transfusions.  But as you can see from her chart, her condition is worsening.  She has regained consciousness, but is still very weak.  She can’t keep any food down, so we’ve put her on an IV.  She has tremors, shakes, and severe pains in her head and chest.  She can’t sleep at all during the night – only the day.  She’s developing an acute sensitivity to light.  She claims to remember nothing about the attack.”

“Have you had her blood work done up?”

“Yea, and this is the strangest part of all.  Tox screens show no bacterial or viral infections, but her white blood cell count is dropping precipitously.  And get this – her blood type has changed over the past week.” 

“That’s impossible.”

“Listen, I know it’s impossible, but this is what the lab boys are telling me.  When she was first admitted, we tested her blood to determine her type – it was B negative.  Her latest test results came back this morning.  This woman is now O positive.  Universal acceptor.  This one I’m writing up for the New England Journal of Medicine.”

Two doctors stood beside the bed of their sleeping patient, one Lucinda Swann.  She had been in the hospital for just over a week, and she had unknowingly caused one of the two good doctors to lose a fair amount of sleep.  Her attending physician, Dr. Meuse, was utterly baffled by her condition.  He had ordered every test he knew to determine what was wrong with her, and he was no closer to finding the answer.  His patient wasn’t much help.  She seemed unfamiliar and frightened by the most basic of medical procedures, such as taking blood pressure and temperature.  She claimed to remember nothing about what happened.  She demanded to be returned to her parents in England, but according to the British government, Mr. and Mrs. Swann didn’t exist.  She didn’t have any ID, not even a passport.  The only thing she had was a funny little stick of wood, and a bizarre dress that resembled judge’s robes more than anything else. Meuse was beginning to get pretty frustrated about the whole affair.  Of course, he was fascinated by the unique symptoms Miss Swann was exhibiting, and looked forward keenly to publishing an article on her treatment.  His musings were interrupted by his colleague, who had resumed his narrative. 

“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that last.”

“I said, that we aren’t the only doctors with such an unusual patient.  I’ve been in contact with an old friend who practices in London, and according to him, he’s been seeing an influx of patients with very strange symptoms.”

“An epidemic?”

“No, each patient appears to have different ailments.  Well, perhaps patient isn’t the right word.  He’s a forensic pathologist.  He says that over the past year, people have been showing up in his morgue with utterly unique causes of death.  One man came in whose heart had been crushed in his chest, but there wasn’t a single scratch on him.  One poor devil came in with severe internal burns and multiple ruptured arteries.  Apparently, his blood had boiled in his veins.  Several people have shown up dead, with no discernable cause of death.  No injuries, external or internal, no poisoning, no infection, no nothing.  They were just dead.  The only thing they had in common, my friend said, was a look of abject terror on their faces.  But who ever heard of someone being scared to death?  I tell you, things like this make you think.”

“If you could return your attention to the unfortunate and still-living Miss Swann…”

“Yes, yes.  Well, have you considered that the attack may have exacerbated a pre-existing condition?”

“That had occurred to me, but I’m having a lot of trouble finding Miss Swann’s medical records.  She’s obviously British, but according to the British government no Lucinda Swann lives in England.  She won’t, or can’t, tell me who her regular doctor is.  She isn’t aware of any medical condition.  I don’t know what to do.”

“I’ll let you know if anything occurs to me.  However, I’ve got to return to my rounds.”

Meuse’s colleague walked off, leaving the beleaguered doctor to his patient.  He looked down at her pale face for a long moment, her chest rising and falling unevenly.  He made a few notes on her chart, replaced it at the end of the bed, and prepared to leave.  He glanced at her reflection in the Intensive Care window as he left.  He was suddenly aware that the hairs on his neck were standing straight up.

Her reflection was shimmering…wavering…gone.  The reflected bed was empty.

He whirled around, a bitter tang rising in his throat.  There lay his patient, just as before.  He forced himself to look back at her reflection in the window.  Miss Swann’s mirror image lay there breathing, just as it should.  Just as sanity required. Meuse shook his head, trying to rid himself of the tingly feeling on his scalp.  You see?  You’re not getting enough sleep, his mind spoke up.  He decided to get another cup of coffee before continuing on his rounds. 

The next morning, Meuse started his shift at the crack of dawn.  He decided to check on Miss Swann first off.  He walked into her section of the Intensive Care ward, and froze. Aside from Miss Swann, there weren’t any other patients there, so logic demanded that only Miss Swann should be there.  Yet through the crack in the curtains, Meuse could distinctly see two men standing over her.  Both were dressed in the same type of funny dress that Miss Swann had been wearing when she was admitted.  One of them was slowly waving a thin, polished stick over her. Meuse could just hear them conversing in low tones.

“How far along is she?  Did he turn her?”

“The transformation is pretty far along, but not irreversible.  A prolonged course of blood-cleansing and regenerative potions should do the trick.  Provided, of course, that we get her out of this joke of a hospital.  Did you look at this record attached to the end of her bed?  These Muggles have been giving her new blood.  What good could that possibly do?”

“But you’re sure she can be saved?”

“Pretty sure.  Let’s just Port her back to St. Mungo’s and get out of this place.  It gives me the creeps.”

“Thank Merlin.  I wasn’t looking forward to telling Mr. Swann that we had to destroy his daughter because she had joined the ranks of the living dead.”

“Yeah, well, it’s everyone’s lucky day, I guess.  Hand over the Portkey.”

It was at this point that Meuse felt obliged to make his presence known.  These two madmen were apparently plotting to kidnap his patient, and that sort of thing didn’t go over big with him.  He strode over the curtains and pulled them open quickly.

“Just what do you think you’re doing?!”

The two men whipped around.  The one holding the stick pointed it straight at Meuse’s chest.

“Doctor, I’m sorry to intrude, but the patient’s health demands it, I’m afraid.  We’re going to take her away to another hospital.  We can treat her there.”

“The hell you are!  No one transfers patients out of this hospital without the proper authorization.”

The two robed men glanced briefly at one another.  Suddenly, the one holding the stick cried out, “Petrificus Totalus!” Meuse suddenly found that it was extremely hard to keep his balance, since all of his limbs had become inexplicably stuck to his sides.  He wobbled unceremoniously for a few moments, and toppled over.  From his new vantage point of the floor, he watched helplessly as the stickless robed man draped a necklace over his neck, and then his patient’s.  He then uttered a phrase, “Galileo.”  For the second time in twelve hours, the Meuse saw something quite out of the ordinary.  A swirl of color enveloped the man and his patient.  It cleared away in a split second, and once again, Miss Swann’s bed was empty.  This time, though, she wasn’t coming back.

The remaining robed man looked down at the Body-Bound doctor on the floor with a mixture of amusement and impatience.  He spoke,

“I suppose I’ll have to modify your memory.  Never was my strong point, but there you go.”

He pointed the stick at Meuse and opened his mouth.  Here, he paused.  He spoke again,

“You know, I’ve never considered how strange this must appear to you Muggles.  I’ve done this dozens of times, but I’ve never stopped to think what you must think of us.  Robed men whisking off patients with mysterious symptoms in a blaze of color!  You must find this quite rum.”

The robed man was right. Meuse did find the whole situation quite rum indeed.  In fact, rum wasn’t the word Meuse would have used to describe what was happening.  Mind-blowing or sanity-destroying were far more apt terms, Meuse felt.  The robed man grinned in an odd sort of way, and knelt down close to Meuse.  He began to whisper in his ear, his breath hot on Meuse’s cheek.

“You want the truth?  The big secret?  Your former patient is a witch.  She was attacked by a vampire.  Me and my associate are wizards.  We were hired by her parents to find her and bring her back, to a wizarding hospital.  Surprised, no?  I expect you have been seeing a number of mysterious cases lately.  You know why?  There’s a war going on, a war between wizards.  It’s mostly contained in Great Britain right now, but it won’t stay that way.  I expect you’ll begin to run across quite a number of people who seem, shall we say, cursed with strange afflictions.  Well, now you’ll know why.  I’d advise you not to tell anyone – not that anyone would believe you.  Let’s just let this be our little secret.  Who knows, we might even meet each other again.”

The robed man stood up, grabbed the chart from the end of the bed, and pointed his wand at Meuse, muttered a few words, stepped back, and vanished.  Meuse, his mobility restored, scrambled to his feet.  He looked around wildly.  He was quite alone.  The men were gone, his patient was gone.  He shut his eyes tightly, then opened them again.  The empty bed was still there.  It can’t be, it simply can’t.  In a minute I’ll wake up, his mind insisted in a whiny voice.  He pinched his arm, and when this did not do the trick, he slapped himself.  Hard.  He looked back at the bed.  Still empty.  He stepped around the bed and yanked open the drawer that contained Miss Swann’s personal effects.  The robe and stick were gone.  Meuse stood there unmoving for a long, long time, thinking hard.  Yes, I think I will keep this to myself.

//
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