Fandom: Harry Potter
Rating: R for language, disturbing imagery and non-explicit sex
Word count: 4506
Notes: Written for my beloved hpmugglestudies HP worldbuilding challenge. My topic was medicine and healing in the Muggle and wizarding worlds, so of course I used this as a way of pretending to study for my upcoming anatomy exams.
I would like to thank Emily Dickenson, Walt Whitman, Dylan Thomas and Socrates. If it's in italics, I probably nicked it from somewhere. The stuff about true & false dittany is actually legit: I know this because I got it off Wikipedia :D
Of the twelve pairs of ribs that comprise the thoracic cage, ten are attached to the sternum and two are floating, which makes Padma imagine pressing her wand to the bruised skin of someone's back and whispering Wingardium Leviosa until their bones slot into place. The first seven pairs are true ribs; the last five are false. This seems rather a silly way to name things, with such obvious dichotomy and such short, obtuse words, and she prefers the familiarity of the Latin on her tongue. Vertebrocostal. Vertebrochondal.
The fingertips of her gloved hands carefully probing an anonymous torso. This isn't actually what she ever imagined herself doing with her life. She enjoys it.
Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies conceal themselves; and if those who defile the living are as bad as they who defile the dead? Padma thinks: well, everything should be doubted, everything should be questioned. That's Ravenclaw. And that's science, as far as she can tell.
You begin with that which is true and you attempt, systematically, to prove it false.
("You have enough problems of your own." Padma could see how much it cost her mother to do that, to speak against her daughter following such an esteemed career path, but love and duty were at war in her brown eyes and love had the stronger arsenal. "Are you sure you want to take on the problems of others as well?"
"I'll learn to," Padma said, determined. "I can learn anything.")
"Oy," George says. "I think I'm offended."
Padma wraps her hands around her coffee. "But you know I’m right. Hire a floor manager, George."
He sighs deeply. "You Ravenclaws always have to know best, don't you?"
"Well, we always do know best." Padma nudges her braid with her shoulder and directs a superior look at him, which makes him roll his eyes and laugh.
Sometimes she wonders if becoming friends with George Weasley was inevitable. His family certainly seems to thinks so; they treat her like a very specialised form of therapy for their broken son and brother. Padma doesn't really resent this, because she spent a long afternoon doing simple healing charms on the wounded, walking around feeling like an Inferus -- numb, undead, convinced that nobody would ever understand how she had felt when she saw Parvati's body.
Then George held out his hand to get a burn healed and she asked, "How's Fred?" without really thinking about it, and they awoke to their situation in a silent awkward moment of hollow cheeks and recognition.
"It's a club," George said once, forced lightness floating on the pain in his voice. "Very exclusive."
"I'm tired of exclusions," Padma said in return, but she wrapped her fingers around his hand and held on tight.
This is how they are. They meet for coffee and George tells her about the shop and some of the ideas for products that he and Fred were working on before the war, and she tells him about the Muggleborn Healer Augustus Pye and his ideas regarding complementary medicine. Most of the trainees had shrugged it off as just an interesting idea, but Padma went to see Augustus after classes and asked him to tell her more about the concept of stitching the body back together like a piece of torn cloth. Muggle medical school was his idea, a personal, wistful pipe dream that he was delighted to press into her hands.
Augustus believes in the marriage of magic and science to form a beautiful, all-encompassing solution to the problems of the body. He believes that one person with two educations is the first step towards reaching this solution.
Padma no longer has any idea what she believes, but she can recognise an escape route when she sees one.
"So when do you snap your wand in half?" George asks, eyes sparkling. "When do you abandon us all for the Muggle world? Dad's raving about it, you know, he's going to want to grill you fortnightly. I think he looks upon this as some grand field experiment."
Padma laughs. "Don't be so dramatic," she says. "I'm rooming with Heather Pye, and she's hardly going to care if I do magic: her brother's a wizard, after all."
"Healing runs in the Pye family, seems like."
"I can't call it Healing any more. Medicine."
"Well, yeah," George says, "but that's just words. Surely it's the same thing, when you get right down to it."
Padma isn't so sure.
"Sorry, sorry." Heather has a lot of almost-red hair and Augustus' upturned nose, currently smeared with the remnants of tear-flurried mascara. She swipes at her face with a tissue and waves Padma inside. "Personal crisis on moving-in day -- just typical, isn't it?"
"Anything I can do?" Padma feels awkward, but she's spent seven years sharing her living space with adolescent girls and she is no stranger to personal crises. The room is full of things that she recognises from her Muggle Studies textbooks, and a lot more that are unfamiliar.
"Ta, but no." Heather blows her nose on the tissue. "Maybe later you could buy me ice cream or something and we can have a nice moan about what bastards men are, but right now I think I'm just going to nurse my broken heart." A grin leaps out from behind the tears. "Don't suppose you've got a charm for those?"
Padma laughs and shakes her head, thinking about sewing the human body together, and says, "Classes start next week. Perhaps we'll learn a way to mend them, soon."
The textbook From Plato To Physics: Theoretical Muggle Studies For The Later-Year Student says that science is the way Muggles choose to describe the world because they do not know enough about magic to do it accurately.
Heather says that this is a load of bollocks.
"What do wizards think the world is made of, then?" she asks. "What causes a bruise? Why is the sky blue?"
Padma rolls a pen -- a pen, not a quill -- beneath her palm and feels, for the first time in her life, extremely stupid. It's unpleasant.
"I think," she says slowly, "that the sky doesn't have to be blue. For us. You could charm it red, if you wanted, and if you had enough power. There's no need to learn reasons for absolutes that don't exist."
Heather frowns. "No system is without absolutes. People still die, don't they? Aren't you here to find out why?"
Padma's throat constricts and she stares down at the columns and rows of the periodic table. "Yes," she says. "People still die."
"If you think about it, I could say that magic is how wizards choose to describe the world because they don't know enough about science to do it accurately."
Padma can see the logical flaw in this and wants to argue it out, but instead she thinks about the textbook chapter on ancient Muggle philosophers, and she reheats their cooling mugs of cocoa with a murmured spell and a flick of her wand.
One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing.
There are worse places to begin.
It turns out that medicine is exactly like magic because the core of it is words, words, words, and some of them even sound like spells. Ligamentum arteriosum: the body is a Roman thing. She whispers them under her breath as though there is a power to them, and notices her classmates doing the same; the repetition grinds the words into their memories, their minds, their instincts. Padma feels crowded with the words that are already scrawled on every inch of her, the power that she alone possesses, and she wonders if this new graffiti of education is overwriting that which already exists.
As in magic, there are mnemonics; as in magic, the best and most memorable of them are the filthy ones. This, she supposes, is a universal constant. Padma and Heather learn the cranial nerves over a pot of tea and a plate of lemon biscuits, oh oh oh to touch and feel -- and then dissolving into soggy crumbs and laughter. Oh oh oh, louder each time until someone thumps on the wall and yells that they need to either pipe down or let him join in.
"Oh oh oculomotor!" Heather yells in return, rolling her eyes in an apt demonstration. "Take me now!"
Padma closes her eyes and laughs in great silent gulps, imagining the intercostal muscles dragging at her ribs, imagining her diaphragm pressing downwards to make room for the warm liquid of her humour. It's just a muscle. All it needs is to be stretched, patiently, over time, and her internal capacity will increase; she will create new surfaces to be written on, and one day she will be able to contain her problems and those of others with perfect ease.
People still die, don’t they? Aren't you here to find out why?
And she realises that she is, that just like anyone faced with grief and loss she is beating her fists against the fabric of the universe and shouting why, why, why?
Padma is learning about twins: she is learning words like monozygotic, and she says, "Right now it's almost a comfort to know that once we were exactly the same."
George stares at her from where he is leaning back against the bed, pausing in the act of unwrapping a chocolate bar. "Were you identical too? I…I guess I never noticed, Pad, you two were so easy to tell apart."
Clasping hands in the boat as it drifted across the lake, watching the play of lights on the dark water and promising each other that they would be in different houses, no matter what. That Parvati-and-Padma-Patil would become separate and easily identified entities. Padma was quietly glad for the fact that the Hat demanded nothing from her (Ah, you've certainly got a keen mind in here, haven't you? A clear potential for ruthlessness, but some hefty morals keeping it in check…I'd say…"RAVENCLAW!") and that it was left to her sister to do the mental…well, was it pleading? Commanding? Bargaining? Padma never knew; she exchanged only a single glance with Parvati as they sat down beneath banners of blue and red respectively and blended themselves into the colours that would define them for seven years. It worked better than either of them could have imagined: from that day forth they were Parvati Patil, Gryffindor, and Padma Patil, Ravenclaw. Red tie and blue tie. Nobody has ever had to look at their faces and learn their subtle quirks.
So Padma says, "I know," and lies back on the carpet thinking about how grateful she was for the house system and how problematic she finds it now. "I wish she was alive," she says next, and blinks. The fact is too obvious; she didn't mean to voice it, and now she wishes that she hadn't.
Both of them are silent for a while.
"It's like," George says finally, and breaks the chocolate bar in half, munches one piece down and holds the other up mutely between two fingers.
Padma nods. The edge of the remaining piece is ragged and uneven. If she did the same, if she snapped her own chocolate and held it up next to his, the simple shared property of brokenness would not make the edges compatible.
George sighs. "Everyone talks around it. Mum's great, you know, and Ron's been a real mate about everything, but even they treat me like I'm a pack of Exploding Snap whenever someone mentions that I've lost --"
"An ear," Padma says, very clearly.
It takes a second, but then he smiles. "Right."
She doesn't make any loaded comments about losing a part of yourself: she's sick of them all already. "Can I have a look?" she asks instead.
"Go ahead." He turns his head obligingly, and she sits up so that she can run her fingers across the odd absence.
"It’s healed well."
He makes a face. "This feels right awkward, Pad. And you're tickling me."
"Go on then, tell me what I’m missing. Dead sexy, those fancy words you have for bits of skin."
"I haven't learned that yet," Padma hears herself say, and she leans forward and kisses his temple. Then his cheekbone, and then his lips.
Tell me what I'm missing.
She can't articulate the depths of his loss; she can't even articulate her own. They are incomplete and their edges do not match up, but Padma pulls the elastic from her hair and drags her fingers through it, unraveling the braid, and George lifts his hands to grasp her waist. It's not like she's never kissed a boy before, of course not, but something about this feels original. Like she is discovering certain nerve endings that have never been active before, or maybe just those that have been dormant since the end of the war, and like nobody in the world has ever thought to do what they are doing. It's absurd. But sex is always absurd. She smiles and George's tongue traces the new curve of her lips before he pulls back.
"You can't heal me, Padma," he says.
"Shut up," she says. "I'm not trying to."
She walks into Augustus' office one day to find him standing in front of the mirror with his patella exposed and the skin hanging down on either side of the knee in ghastly flaps.
"Merlin." She grabs the doorframe. "Augustus. What…?"
"Padma!" His reflection beams at her. "Don't worry, come in, it's just a simple Peltatum charm, with another to numb the area."
"Is everything all right?"
"Fine, fine. We've had a couple of cases of the Genuflex Hex in the clinic, and Felicity Harrows was a little overenthusiastic with the counterspell. Caught my leg in the backfire, and now it won't bend properly, but it looks like it's wearing off. It helps to see things with your own eyes, you know."
Padma looks at the flash of white under red as he folds the skin back over and closes the wound with a businesslike tap of his wand. "What about infection?"
"Good thinking." He smiles, approving, and waves her into a seat. "Most of the anaesthetic charms we use have had sterilisation clauses layered into them since the seventeenth century; you'll learn about them when you start your Emergency Spellwork rotation."
"I'm only here one day every fortnight," Padma reminds him. "Could you show me those charms now?"
That evening Heather is out with her new boyfriend, Matt someone, and Padma very carefully casts the anaesthetic-sterilisation charm followed by the one which peels back the skin of her forearm -- interesting, she notes, the upwards flick at the end of the wand pattern must be a temporary coagulant, because she's not bleeding all over the place. She's relieved: that would make the whole thing so juvenile, so troubling. This has nothing to do with attention-seeking.
She counts the muscles and tendons that run from her elbow and across her wrist, under the carpal tunnel. It's helpful, seeing them intact and without the impersonal discolouration of preserving fluids. The veins are that distinctive midnight blue and the arteries are a deep, vital, Gryffindor red.
This has nothing to do with pain. This has nothing do with catharsis. It's curiosity, plain and simple, and yet it strikes her that she wouldn't perform it on someone else without there being a medical reason for it. Maybe it's just the fact that she has studied by writing radial, ulnal, median onto her arm with a ballpoint pen, reminding herself of which nerves carry the sensation for which regions, but this is…personal.
Have you seen the fool that corrupted his own live body? or the fool that corrupted her own live body? For they do not conceal themselves, and cannot conceal themselves.
Arteries and veins. Red tie, blue tie, her sister's fierce energy, Padma herself drained of oxygen and with safety valves built in. Not concealed but exposed, pulsing, under the sterile light. In the absence of the dead, sometimes all you have to defile is yourself.
She has a piece of parchment that is magically linked to the Hogwarts library, enchanted to tell you the purpose of any spell you cast upon it. She taps it with her wand and recites her Latin words, and sometimes the name of a tendon is actually a way to alleviate cramps, and sometimes the name of a vein is a murder weapon. More and more and more words. Padma whispers them to herself until she knows them perfectly, knows them by heart, and what a strange idiom that is when the heart is no larger than a fist and cannot hold a single memory, cannot even hold onto the blood that it churns faithfully through its four cavities.
In the evenings she reads textbooks that Augustus has found for her, Herbology and Potions as they apply to the Healer's art. Switching her mindset back and forth from science to magic can be tiring, sometimes confusing: surgery is about seeing the damage to things before you fix them, whereas Healing is about seeing them whole in your mind. Magic teaches you that the damage is incidental; one's belief in the healthy body is what matters.
Pharmacologists know why their drugs work. But you could ask even the most experienced maker of potions why the four drops of sage water are effective in reducing bruising, and they would just say: it works, and we believe in it because it works.
The Herbology book tells her that like ribs, dittany can be true or it can be false. The true, Cretan dittany is called Origanum dictamnus -- it helps stomach aches and a few of the older texts make reference to emmenagogic properties, but there are simpler ways to produce an abortion, no matter which system of healing you consult. False dittany is used to reduce inflammation and to stop scarring, and its name is Dictamnus albus.
Padma almost laughs.
Because Dumbledore's protection of his students was nothing if not inflammatory, and the hope it gave them was true only until it was false: she hasn't forgotten. Albus Dumbledore with his ideas about good and evil and life and death; everything is divided into four like the heart, and last week Padma saw Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger eating lunch in Diagon Alley, saw Draco Malfoy looking newly and painfully old as he slid from store to store with Pansy Parkinson on his arm. They sat at four tables for years and years and slept in four corners of a castle; they have been taught allegiance to a quaternary segregation in all matters, including those of the heart itself.
In the magical world it is easy to tell apart two people whose DNA is exactly the same when all you need to do is to look at the colour of their clothes; easy to tell good from evil by the words that come out of a person's mouth. But for all of the lazy assumptions and heuristics of personality that the classification entails, part of Padma is still a Ravenclaw, and she has never valued anything for being easy.
Orgasms are like earthquakes which never quite share the same epicentre. Depending on mood or method or, yes, if she is getting there alone or with someone else's help, they can be warm lazy things that swell within her torso, or highly localised fires, never rising above the waist, or ruthless waves of shivering that spread even to the most distal parts of her limbs. This is how she thinks now: in code. Once you know the names of things, once you have spent hours and hours reciting the words and laughing as you write them onto your skin in black ink, it is difficult not to apply them. Her second education is the one that has covered her, literally, and it has become so that she sees the names of her body parts even when the ink is washed away.
"What are you thinking?"
George. Yes. She grounds herself: George's bed and George's hair in untidy orange layers against the pillow.
"I was thinking that sometimes magic seems like nothing more than a metaphor."
"You've been away too long," he says, but he isn't accusing her of anything, not really, and then he changes the angle of his hips and she gasps aloud.
Her mind follows the line of scrawled internal words that dances and wavers with the rise and fall of her breasts and the patchy signals of pleasure darting upwards from clitoris vagina cervix uterus fallopian and all the way to infundibulum, which is such a wizarding-word that she starts to laugh. For a moment she wonders if he'll find it weird, but this is George Weasley and she really should know better by now: he jerks his chin and she can see muscle rippling under the skin, and then he laughs back at her.
Padma thinks: this is a lot easier than I thought it would be.
Maybe she assumed that anything based on mutual loss would be disastrous in the long term. Maybe some part of her finds the simplicity offensive: it shouldn't work, not with so little effort, not for such obvious reasons.
But some other part thinks: why not? Why shouldn't it?
The orgasm shakes her in strange places, like a patch of skin down the side of her forearm which she cannot actually think of a name for. And then they are lying quiet with George's arm tucked lazily around her, the air drying the sweat on their skin, and she exhales, finally too tired to be aware of her own body.
"I miss Fred."
"Wow," she says. "I certainly don't find your timing at all indicative of further levels of emotional trauma."
"Snob." George elbows her, comfortably. "I know, I'm sorry, but it kind of fell out. I think you knocked something loose."
She doesn't grasp the easy innuendo, doesn't take his offer of an exit from the conversation, because she knows what he means. This liquid stillness has pulled her secrets from their hiding places and they are swimming within her, striking out determinedly in the direction of her mouth.
"I still wake up forgetting," she says. "Some days. And then when I remember I want to die, just for a moment."
"Did you ever think about, you know."
She knows. She knows exactly where she could peel back the skin and puncture the arteries and bleed dry with maximum efficiency, no pain, just professionalism. It's not the wrists; besides, she hates affectation.
"Yes," she says, and then, with scrupulous Ravenclaw honesty, "but never seriously."
A long pause. "What would you say to me if I ever told you that I was considering it?"
"I don’t have enough room in me for your crises," Padma says, "not yet." Then: "Are you considering it?"
He grins, wide, wicked, Weasley. "Of course not."
She whispers my hero bares his nerves along my wrist, and the body is a Roman thing; she sings the body electric. Because magic is just words and the words become poems, become her palm splayed against the intact skin of her forearm, imagining that she can feel electrical potentials jumping down the ulnal nerve, elbow to wrist, invisible and powerful.
Because Augustus is wrong and medicine is just magic: you do not have to be able to see something, you only have to be able to put a name to it.
Her cocoa is cold and she drinks it anyway.
"Do wizards and witches get cancer?" Heather asks one day.
Padma blinks. "I guess we do," she says. "Everyone dies eventually."
One day a fortnight and she is increasingly frustrated by the limitations of what magic can explain, increasingly convinced that science and magic cannot be combined in the way Augustus would wish. She has grown up in a society which devotes itself with such dedication to the magical maladies that it won't look closely at what the body does to itself. Or perhaps it's just that they have been living in a state of war and cannot shift their gaze past the immediate.
It works, and we believe in it because it works? No. That's not good enough. Padma needs to know why, why, why?
Magic is a metaphor; magic is how wizards describe the world because they don't know any better.
Magic does things that only magic can undo, but Parvati -- Parvati's neck was broken.
Padma hardly uses her Gringotts account anyway, these days; she does the exhaustive paperwork and arranges to have it all transferred to her Muggle account. Then she walks through the Ministry and stops in front of the Fountain of Magical Brethren, looking down at the glitter of coins. All that careless charity. Something has hardened her heart to intentions; she imagines that the people who walk past and toss their Knuts into the water are just soothing their own consciences, and those who throw in the Sickles and rare Galleons are those who are wishing for a loved one to be cured and returned to them. Nothing but selfishness in the spin of the metal.
Padma pulls out her purse and tugs at the drawstring, then upends it. A few people stare at her as the last of her wizarding money tumbles out in a rush of glints and gloops and forms a small pile on the tiled fountain floor. She hopes that the money will help St Mungo's to help others -- oh, she certainly does -- but she knows that she is trying to gain her own symbolic freedom by the action, and so she is no more selfless than anyone else.
Her heart is hard and yet it beats; her heart is nothing but divisible tissue and nameable compartments, and yet it sings and aches. She has given up fighting the idiom.
Padma donates her last school scarf to a charity store and knocks on George's door wearing a dress in a fetching shade of purple that is far more than the sum of its parts, which are blue and red respectively.
"I love you," she says, fiercely, and steps over the threshold. "But I'm never doing magic again. Not ever."
"You are magic," George says. He doesn't look surprised at all, and she wonders if she is really that predictable. But a smile grows on his face, and Padma smiles back as she shrugs off her coat; today their edges are no closer to matching up and that's all right, today they will make pizza and lie in front of the fire, today there is a little more room beneath her ribs.
Today she snaps her wand in half.
Tomorrow she picks up a scalpel.