Diana was in Diagon Alley when she first heard the rumours.
It was a cold, dreary sort of day in mid-November, and the monsoon that had been steadily beating down on the city for the past week had finally relented.
She was making her way down the cobblestoned pavement toward the Apothecary when she picked up a few snatches of the conversation between two women walking behind her.
“... reached France,” one of them was saying softly. “You know what that means. These things always come to us from France.”
“Hush,” the other hissed. She sounded older than the first, but Diana had no intention of turning around to check. “From your mouth to Godʼs ears.”
They didnʼt say anything else, but they didnʼt have to. There was only one thing they could be talking about.
It was a strange peculiarity that whenever dragon pox erupted in England, it usually seemed to come from France. A common interpretation of this pattern by English witches and wizards was that the French were lazy about monitoring their checkpoints properly. Some of the more paranoid among Englandʼs magical population even whispered that the French might be doing it on purpose.
Diana certainly did not believe that - the truth seemed to lie more in the heavy, profit-driven trade between England and France. There was simply so much of it that something was bound to slip through: a person who was not yet showing symptoms, or improperly washed secondhand clothing, or even tainted dragonʼs blood. As a result, the disease was almost always able to jump from the continent and create panic in England until the epidemic subsided.
And anyway, according to her brother Charlus, who worked in the Ministry and knew about these sorts of things, the last outbreak two years before had come directly from Sweden with an anonymous diplomat and his mistress.
But no one wanted to hear that from a woman. For that matter, no one wanted to hear it from Charlus or the rest of the Ministry, either. France had become the subject of a great deal of suspicion since the influenza outbreak during the Great War, and the aura of mistrust and fear had not entirely dissipated.
The bell atop the door at the Apothecary gave a clear tinkle when she pushed it open, and the clerk behind the till looked up.
“Miss Potter,” he said, adopting a patronising sort of smile and hurrying over. “What can I help you with today?”
She glanced around the tidy shop. Glowing orbs hovering at regular intervals across the ceiling kept it well-lit even on a gloomy day like this one, and unlike the little shop in Godricʼs Hollow that served the same purpose, it was always very well-organised.
It was also so polished that it felt almost unnatural, but it was significantly easier to come here than go all the way to Godricʼs Hollow just for a few potion ingredients, and it usually had better sales.
“I just need a few things,” she said, side-stepping past him. “I can get them on my own. You neednʼt trouble yourself.”
“No trouble at all, Miss Potter,” he said as he turned to follow her to the back of the shop.
That was the other issue Diana had with Slug and Jiggers Apothecary. This particular clerk was often there, and there was simply no way around it - she didnʼt like him. It wasnʼt just that he could be a condescending arse. She was used to getting that treatment. There was just something about him that made her skin crawl.
But if anyone would have heard something about the outbreak in France, it probably would have been him; news about that sort of thing always reached the apothecaries first, because people were rushing to them to buy out ingredients that they thought might help keep the dragon pox away.
“Have you heard anything about the dragon pox outbreak in France?” she asked off- handedly as she began to scan the shelves for gurdyroot.
When he didnʼt answer, she glanced over at him. His smile had widened, and she could see several gaps where he had once had teeth. “Donʼt you worry your pretty little head about it, Miss Potter,” he said, reaching out to pat her arm. She pulled it back hurriedly, and he added, “Your blood is too pure for you to be worrying about the pox. Itʼs only Mudbloods and their brats who need to think about it.”
When she left the store a few minutes later, it was with considerable relief.
She returned home to find her brother sitting alone at the kitchen table with a cup of tea in one hand and the day's edition of the Prophet spread out before him. “I got the dittany and the aconite that you wanted,” she told him as she opened the cupboards.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him look up. “That's a big bag for dittany and aconite.”
“Well, we needed gurdyroot and porcupine quills, too. We're running low.” He sighed, and she looked over at him. “Charlus, we do need them.”
“I know. I know.” He put his tea down and massaged his temples. “Merlin, Diana, I know. What I don't know is how we're going to pay for it. The bills just never end, do they?”
She put the last ingredient on the shelf and turned away. “It's only a little longer until I finish my training, and then I should be able to find a job. That will help.”
His mouth tightened. Charlus had never quite gotten over their father's decision not to send Diana to Hogwarts, opting instead for a finishing school that was very good at teaching its students how to be diligent wives but very poor at teaching them anything else. He had claimed it would help her attract a husband. Charlus believed that he'd really just wanted to keep her home so he didn't have to take care of their younger sister, Caterina.
Diana suspected that Charlus was right.
Thankfully, she hadn't been to the finishing school in years. As soon as Charlus had reached his age of majority, he'd raised such a fuss that the headmistress had finally recommended an accomplished potioneer that Diana could 'perhaps' look into instead. She'd been heading into the dingy little shop in Knockturn Alley three times a week for lessons for years, and Madam Abbott had promised to give her a job in June, as soon as she finished her lesons.
The extra income would certainly help, even if it wasn't much.
Charlus tossed a dirty look toward the closed door at the end of the hallway. “If he would just –” He cut himself off. “Miserly old bastard.”
Diana followed his gaze. “Is he home?”
“No. Probably out drinking our inheritance away again. Godric only knows whether we'll have anything left by the time he finally bites it. Wish he'd get on with it, but maybe he just likes making us miserable.”
Diana was not especially fond of their father, but Charlus was openly hostile toward him. Then, Charlus could get away with it – he was the heir and the only son. If Diana said half the things to their father that Charlus did, she'd be lucky if he didn't put her out on the street. Whatever Charlus said about “their” inheritance, it wasn't theirs, not really. It was his.
Provided he didn't murder their father, of course, which on days like today did not seem entirely out of the question. Sometimes, Diana suspected that the only thing stopping him was the possibility that the inheritance would end up falling to their cousin Tristan rather than Diana and Caterina. It did seem like the sort of thing their father would do.
She sank into the seat next to him and laid a hand on his arm. “We'll make it work. We always do.”
He forced a smile. “I know.” He reached over with his other hand to ruffle her hair. “And it'll be better once you're working and Cat's off to Hogwarts. Just one more winter.” His smile became a little more genuine. “And who knows, maybe he'll die first, and then we'll probably be just fine.”
She snorted. “Nice.” He shrugged, not looking remotely apologetic, and she sighed. “Iʼm not going back there again, though, by the way.”
“Not going back where? The Apothecary?” She nodded. “Why not?”
She smoothed her hair. “That Avery bloke thatʼs always working there makes my skin crawl. Today he told me that only ʻMudbloodsʼ get dragon pox.”
Her brotherʼs expression shifted. He put his cup of tea back down and leaned forward. “How did that come up?”
She felt a shiver run down her spine. “Just a rumour I heard today.”
He sighed. He suddenly looked twenty years older than he was as well as absolutely exhausted. Before he could say anything, however, they heard a trembling voice from the doorway. “Is it coming back?”
They both swiveled their heads. Their younger sister Caterina was standing there. Her arms were wrapped tightly around her middle, and her dark hair accentuated the paleness of her skin. Not for the first time, Diana worried that her sister was too thin; it wasnʼt as if they didnʼt feed her, but she never seemed to put on any weight. Charlus said that it was just her age, and that Diana had been just as skinny and awkward when she was younger. Diana wasnʼt so sure about that; sheʼd certainly had a few years of being all arms and legs, but she didnʼt recall every looking quite so sickly.
“Is what coming back?” Charlus asked, his voice suddenly gentle.
She looked from him to Diana, and then back to him again. “The dragon pox.”
Her voice wavered, and Diana held out her arms. “Come here,” she said, and Caterina made her way across the kitchen. Despite the coolness of the room, her feet were bare. “Maybe,” Diana said, wrapping an arm around her sister to pull her into a hug. “But itʼs okay. Youʼll be fine even if it does. Youʼre strong, right?”
Caterina nodded wordlessly, but the gesture was hesitant, and her big blue eyes were watery.
“Cat, Diana and I will take care of you.” Charlus's voice was encouraging and calm, and if Diana hadn't known better, she might almost have believed him.”
Caterina nodded, but the concern didnʼt leave her face. They spent the next ten minutes trying to calm her down, but they were clearly fighting a losing battle. She had grown up listening to their fatherʼs rants on dragon pox, and she had come to see any risk of an epidemic as being vaguely equivalent to a killing curse.
Their father had steadily deteriorated in worth as a father since their motherʼs death.
It was much later that evening, just as she was getting ready for bed, that the vision hit her. Diana didnʼt get visions very often, but sheʼd had enough of them to know when they were coming. She sank onto her bed just as the images began to swim in front of her, and as they solidified, she felt her stomach turn.
She saw her sister, hunched over and shuddering violently. Then Caterina looked up, and Diana could see the raw pockmarks covering her face. There was sweat pooling on her forehead, and her eyes were unfocused and bloodshot. The young girl looked back down to retch, and Diana opened her eyes.
She had to fight the urge to be sick.
The next morning, she warred with herself over whether to tell her brother about it. Charlus knew that she had visions occasionally, and she almost always confided in him about them, but this was different. She was not at all sure that her older brother would react in a way that was either productive or healthy; they were both very protective of Caterina, and she would not have been at all surprised if he'd reacted even more poorly than she had.
Diana could understand reacting poorly; after all, she certainly had. At the same time, she'd always been the sort of person who could detach herself from a situation. She prided herself on not being ruled by her emotions. Even the vision of her sister succumbing to the same damned disease that had taken their mother wasn't enough to stop her for long. By the time the sunlight began to creep in through the threadbare curtains that hung across the only window of her cramped little room, she'd collected herself almost completely.
Visions, after all, did not always come to pass. She'd never had one that didn't, but she'd done enough reading on the subject to know something about it, and if there was one thing every book but those written by the most blatant charlatans agreed upon, it was that the Sight only showed a glimpse of a possible reality. Many visions ended up being lost in the annals of time and would probably collect dust in the Ministry for centuries to come.
This could certainly be one of those.
And even if Caterina did fall ill, there was no guarantee that the disease would kill her. Diana had had it when she was much younger than Caterina was now, after all, and she was still alive to talk about it.
No, Diana decided. Her brother did not need to know about this latest vision, not yet. There was nothing he could do that he wouldn't do, anyway, and it would only cause him needless anxiety that he could ill afford if the dragon pox really did come across the Channel.
She just hoped she wouldn't regret the decision.
A/N: A little head canon context:
Their cousin who was briefly mentioned, Tristan, is (in my head) James Potter's father, not Charlus (which is a popular fan interpretation). If you're at all interested in meeting Tristan, I have a one-shot called "The Thing With Feathers" posted that's about his wife's first impression of him.
I know that this is a bit of a different kind of story, and I'd love to hear your thoughts about it if you have the moment to leave a review. More importantly, thank you so much for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it.