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Chapter 1: Prologue
It is late at night, and I have only just returned to my flat. It is too late for a woman as old as I am to be out; I have staved off the ill-effects of old age for too long, and my ninety years of life have begun to catch up with me. I feel it in my joints, and in the tremor in my hands.
But my mind is as sharp as ever, and that is why I was needed tonight.
And besides, when it comes to dragon pox – to that infernal plague – no one can ask too much of me. The size of my family was halved by the time I reached adulthood because of the epidemics that swept through England in the 1920s and the 1930s. I have lost countless friends and lovers to it since then.
There is nothing I would not do to rid the world of it once and for all.
Thankfully, it has existed largely on the periphery these last fifty years. We have a cure that is usually effective, and it has been controlled to the point that even in the elderly, it is quite uncommon.
I hope that it remains that way, but the reports coming out of France have sent a chill down my spine.
I lean back in my seat and close my eyes, just for a moment, as a vision sweeps over me.
I am a child again, alone in an unnaturally sunny room with a dying woman.
The woman is my mother.
Her once-creamy skin is pockmarked and raw, and when she coughs, I do not like to see the liquid that comes out, because I know that it is blood.
I am not quite ten years old, and I know that by the time I turn ten, my mother will be lost to me. She will be gone. I am not even sure that my brother Charlus is wrong when he says that it is just as well, because the Healers are just trying to forestall the inevitable.
My father does not like to hear him talk like that. My father rages at the Healers at every chance he gets, because he does not want to believe that my mother is gone. He does not like to think that she will die at the age of thirty-four, because witches and wizards are not supposed to die at that age. Witches and wizards who die before sixty or seventy have died abnormally young, according to him. Dying at thirty-four is simply out of the question.
I may be only ten years old, but I know that this is not true. I know that witches and wizards die of dragon pox all the time. I know that we are no more immune to our diseases than muggles are to theirs.
My brother Charlus whispers to me, when our father is otherwise occupied, that he is bitter and angry and terrified of losing our mother. He has nearly forgotten us. Our sister’s cries from her cradle go unheeded.
Perhaps it is our father’s distance and disinterest in the years following our mother’s death that leads to our younger sister falling dreadfully ill with the same disease seven years later. Or perhaps that is just the nature of dragon pox.