London, June 22, 1996 Luna’s father had what Muggles called a “pickup truck,” and he picked her up in it twice a year. She found him waiting outside King’s Cross, and he helped her secure her trunk, which did look a bit odd in the bed, before they both climbed into the front seat, and Luna switched on the radio.
This was a Muggle radio, and her father had never re-rigged it, as that was technically illegal, though often done. She flipped through the channels:
“All that she wants, is another-righteous man, baby can you-take me there, just like a mystery, you are-the fool on the hill, sees the sun going down...”
“And the eyes in his head, see the world spinning round!” Both Luna and her father loved this song, and though their singing ability was adequate at best, they both sang along loudly, until her father’s singing suddenly gave way to a coughing fit.
Luna stopped singing too to say in confusion, “You don’t get colds.”
“There must be some kind of super-cold going around.” He coughed again. The song ended, and Luna turned the radio off. It wasn’t proper to have a radio on to sing along to when there were only two people in the pick-up truck and one of them was coughing. Besides, there was much more static than she remembered. It seemed the longer one listened to the radio, the worse the quality of the music got.
“If it’s a super-cold, you might have it for awhile. Hopefully it’ll be gone by the time we fly to Sweden-is that all sorted?”
“Just about. We just need to get pass-ports so we can use the air-plane. We’ll have to go to the Wizard-Muggle Government Liaison Office for those.” He continued coughing after that for quite some time, at one point so violently that his eyes went off the road and it was only by a piece of blind luck that they avoided hitting another car. In fact, the cars really seemed to be moving quite slowly on at least one block, and it gave Luna a very uneasy feeling. “Do the cars usually go this slow in London?”
“They go slower than they do on the highway, but this slow...how many of your friends are going in cars?”
Luna considered. Her father thought she had more friends then she did, but she decided to answer the question honestly. “Well, Harry-Harry Potter, much nicer boy than you could imagine, was going with his Muggle relatives, and they’re stupid, so he’ll be in a car. If the Weasleys are smart, they’ll take the underground and the train as much as they can and get a cab in the country, but I don’t know if they are. Hermione Granger,” though was Hermione her friend? Never mind, she was close enough, “she's Muggle-born, and I think her parents might not be stupid, but stubborn.” Hermione might think Luna stupid, but Luna was nicer. She identified Hermione’s actual fault. “And Neville Longbottom and his grandmother probably don’t have a car, and I don’t see them using a cab...”
“We’d better leave the road as soon as we’re out of London,” her father said at last. “I don’t want to crash into anyone, especially not with so many wizards on the road, with all those Mingobs in their trunks.” That was why they had a pickup truck, because Mingobs couldn’t take the open air of the truck bed. Luna watched the houses go by until they were gone, and she and her father ignored the confused honking of the other cars turned the truck off the road, and also ignored the various obstacles, which the truck was enchanted to easily withstand. This was a violation of the Muggle Protection Act, but then, some things were necessary.
They weren’t too far off the road when he said, “This must be a super-cold. There’s no other explanation. We should publish an article about it. Especially since it might kill those with weaker respiratory systems.”
“Or even those with stronger.”
“I hope not,” he laughed, and then coughed again. “And being a super-cold, it’s probably pretty communicable too. I’m afraid you’ll be coughing too by nightfall, darling.”
“It might just be a super-cold in that it attacks people at the normal rate, merely disregarding the strength of their respiratory system.”
“Hope so. But how communicable are those? We should ask the Muggles, they’d know. They always know things like that.”
“But wizards never believe them.” Father and daughter exchanged a long-known look between them, the one that rolled both their eyes at the stupidity of the rest of the world.
Nightfall wasn’t far away when they got home, as going off the road has caused a bit of a detour. It probably would have been quicker even if there had been many roads as slow as that one block in London, but even though she knew that was even more unusual, Luna wasn’t thinking about that. She was beginning to get a little worried about her father. His coughing was getting more violent, and he was spitting out phlegm. When he parked the pickup truck in the yard, she immediately declared, “I think you should lie down, and if you get much worse, I’m going to floo someone to look at you.”
“Nonsense, Luna,” he replied between coughs, “I have the toughest respiratory system in the world. I never coughed once before this day. There’s no need to bring anyone in, they’ll just catch this damned disease. Goodness, if I’d known I’d had it back at the station, I’d have done something to keep you from it, but it’s too late now, I’m afraid.”
At this point he began coughing too hard to continue speaking, and Luna had to help him out of the truck and across the yard.
The Lovegood residence had been settled in by Luna’s parents shortly after her birth, having been passing down to them by some Aunt or Uncle of her father’s. At some point soon after, Luna’s Aunt Ali, a vampire, who had often stayed there for short periods of time, had officially moved in with them. The only permanent structures in their home was what had start its life as a large barn, but was now a kitchen and living room, and an addition to the barn that served as the bathroom. The Lovegoods put in a staircase and placed two bedrooms on top of the structure and attached a balcony in the back. When Aunt Ali had moved in, they had added a trapdoor and dug a cellar.
Then when Luna had been nine, her mother’s experiment had gone wrong, and two months later, her Aunt Ali had vanished, all evidence pointing to her just having walked out the door and stayed out in the sun until it had killed her. The suicide rate amoung vampires was distressingly high. So her parents’ bedroom had been shrunk, and her father had gotten rid of the balcony, where the bad experiment had occurred. They had kept the cellar though. Luna’s mother was buried under where the balcony had been, and there were two stones there, one in memorial of her Aunt Ali.
When Luna led her father up the stairs to his bedroom, he made no protest. She tucked him into his bed and said, “I’ll get you some juice.” His coughing seemed to calm a bit, and she was sure after the exertion of driving the pickup truck, resting would do him a world of good.
She hurried down the stairs towards the icebox, and as she opened it, she thought, And this is when I suddenly sneeze and it gets all over everything. However, she did not.
She supposed it was a little wicked of her to wish the elderly Zabini brothers and their snooty wives even more woe. After all, what their four children had done in the ways of marriage had caused them enough distress for one lifetime. But Trisha felt their indignation very hard, because she had suffered the most of it, because Mabuz, the oldest of his brothers, had been the first to offend.
The Zabinis actually considered themselves a "progressive" family these days, but as recently as when Mabuz and Trisha had met in an airport and gotten engaged, an American half-blood met in clear Muggle territory had been enough to cause an uproar. Everyone had assumed it would end with Mabuz being the first Zabini to get a divorce in half a century. But now they were approaching the 15-year mark, and Trisha didn't see any coming so far.
A divorce might have been a better idea for poor Francis, the youngest of the three brothers. Not that he had much time to procure one, because he hadn't lived seven months after marrying Alcina Hanson, or Alcina Melton as she was known these days, a woman so beautiful Francis had been willing to marry her even though her previous five husbands had all died mysteriously, and she had even netted one last dying husband after Francis too. Though Francis was remarkable in surviving long enough to get her pregnent. Not that it made Trisha much happier, because it meant the family had to keep in contact with Mrs. Melton and her son, or at least everyone except Trisha felt they had to. Personally, as Mrs. Melton and her son Blaise had opinions similar to Death Eaters in regards to Muggles and Muggle-borns, she would just as soon the boy not have contact with her own little son. Or new baby.
Their cousin Lucia's sins had been relatively light, but Trisha loved Lucia and her husband nonetheless. Even if his only real sin had been being a Gryffindor, and marrying Lucia right out of school when this really raised eyebrows. The middle Zabini brother, on the other hand, had committed worse than the other three in the eyes of their parents: Memnon had not married at all, and after Francis had been buried and he had clearly become the brother's last hope, he had outrighted declared he never would. Trisha and Lucia, each holding one of Lucia's baby girls, had looked at each other and laughed in the face of Lucia's father and Trisha's father-in-law.
Mrs. Payton, the natal witch had left advising Trisha not to get herself overexcited, but Trisha really couldn’t help it. Mabuz had already driven off to London to pick Othello up from Hogwarts, where he had just finished his first year, and Trisha had spent the last four glorious hours contemplating telling them, and discovering that the best news in the world is as hard to break to someone as the worst news in the world, as any emotion accompanying either always seems inadequate and thus artificial.
She wasn’t entirely sure how Mabuz was getting them out of King’s Cross this time, but she didn’t really care. She was spaced out, vaguely wondering what she would call her baby if it was a girl, when she heard a pounding at the door and several voices. Wondering what was going on, she stood up to answer it.
At the manor entrance was her husband, her son, his cousin, and his two second cousins, Morag and Shannon MacDougal. “Um, hello. What are you three doing here?” She’d heard the MacDougals were in America for some reason, but they were supposed to have returned in time to pick their daughters up.
“Lucia’s taken ill. Apparently some really bad flu. Made them miss their flight. So we’re taking care of the girls until they get back. And as for Mrs. Melton,” he glared at Blaise, "well, she didn't give an excuse as for why Blaise will stay with us for the next week, but with father there I ended up agreeing to it. I'm terribly sorry."
“Oh. Well, come in. Would any of you like anything to eat?”
“I’m not hungry at all.” Shannon replied, Blaise shrugged, and Morag sneezed, but Othello said, “If Tern has prepared any of those small cakes, you shouldn’t sneeze at them!”
Tern, the house-elf, had prepared the small cakes, and both Othello and his father ate them eagerly. Trisha had been nibbling them earlier and simply watched, waiting until they finished to tell them the news.
But they were still nibbling when Mabuz abruptly asked, “Honey, did you hear back from the Prophet on whether they’re going to send you abroad again?”
Trisha took in a deep breath, and prepared the words to explain that while The Daily Prophet hadn’t yet gotten back to her, she wouldn’t take any especially long-running jobs, as in a few months she wanted to be at home where she had Tern and the same old Natal Witch that had seen her through her past two pregnancies to take care of her, when suddenly Morag sneezed again, and much more violently.
“You’re not allergic to these, are you?” Blaise joked.
But Shannon, the Ravenclaw twin, leaned over towards her sister and said. “She doesn’t get sick very often. I don’t like this.”
“I am not sick!” Morag protested. “Pansy probably cursed me or something, the little piece of...” Then she sneezed a third time.
“Well, she must have cursed you pretty badly.” Shannon rubbed her own nose. “Maybe she cursed me too? My nose feels itchy...”
“It sounds more like you both have something,” said Blaise, inching away from them.
“Let me take a look at you.” Trisha pulled out her wand. Even as she did so, thoughts ran through her head on the effects of pregnancy on magical powers: certain abilities increased, certain decreased... “Stick out your tongue.” Morag obeyed. Trisha placed her wand on Morag’s tongue and whispered, “Aegrodissero.”
Her wand vibrated hard, perhaps just a touch too hard for a cold, though for a serious disease it would definitely have vibrated harder. “I’m going to check you three too.”
Blaise protested that he felt perfectly fine, and Othello pouted, but Shannon willingly stuck her tongue out. Trisha’s wand gave an almost identical vibration, much to the girl’s confusion. “I don’t really feel that sick.” As if to emphasize the oddness of the thing, Morag sneezed again.
“Should we put her to bed?” asked Blaise. He was still inching away.
“Your tongues, first, both of you.” Othello looked very sullen, but stuck out his tongue. It too made her wand vibrate. He shook his head. “And I’m not going to bed!”
Meanwhile, Blaise was continuing loudly, "I feel perfect!" and Trisha simply muttered, "Petrificus Caput, and Blaise froze in mid speech, his skin reddening with anger. Ignoring this, Trisha applied her wand and recieved the same vibration. When she undid the sleep, Blaise slapped her, then coughed. “That had nothing to do with anything! It was probably the stupid wand shaking tickled my throat!”
Mabuz was furious. He seized Blaise, hoisted him to his feet, and snarled at him, "You treat your Aunt with more respect, young man, or you're going right back to your mother!"
"Mabuz, please, he is sick..." Trisha started.
"Good!" Blaise yelled back. "Get me out of a place owned by man low enough to marry a half-blood!"
Othello, Morag, and Shannon were looking at their cousin in shock. Mabuz didn't waste time, turning Blaise around roughly, and saying, "To my office. I will write a note to your mother and you will go outside and stay there until she can trouble herself to come pick you up."
"He'll get sicker," Trisha pointed out, but Mabuz ignored her, and propelled his nephew out of the room. They all stared until Morag sneezed again.
“So Pansy Parkinson’s cursing you regularly?” Othello asked. He spoke casually, and Trisha had learned long ago that parents were not supposed to interfere in matters like this between Slytherin children, though even now hearing of such things made her fraught with agony. Remembering suddenly that Morag and Shannon had boarded the Hogwarts Express that January looking very unhappy, she discretely slid out of the room and did not hear Morag’s response.
Othello was so different. The excitement of the other three arriving, their being sick, Blaise's behavior, and Trisha's still unrevealed pregnency had kept her from devoting half the attention to him she would have wanted to, but he looked older, and not in a good way. Trisha felt a tear escape her eye.
Mabuz came in and saw it. He gently placed a hand on her shoulder and asked what was wrong.
When she told him, he said, “Remember, you’re supposed to not hear them, not ignore them. The minute you see something with your eyes, you have the right to interfere.”
“I won’t see anything, and you know it,” she snapped back. “They know I’m looking. Oh God, if that boy Blaise so much as touches Othello, or my nieces, or-”
“You don't have to worry about Blaise. He'll be out of here by midnight. They’ll have to let you see soon. I intend to talk to them about that before Morag and Shannon leave. Things going the way they are...” he drifted off. There was no need for him to continue. The games that Slytherin children played had been acceptable a month ago, but they could no longer be in the world on the horizon. It was enough to make Trisha momentarily wish she wasn’t having a baby.
“I have something to tell you.” She realized suddenly she didn’t want to break the news this way, but there was nothing for it. She took a deep breath, clenched and unclenched her fists, turned to face Mabuz, opened her mouth-
“Mum!” When she heard Othello yell she tore herself away and ran back into the living room, where Othello, his arms crossed, was staring furiously at the girls, his school robes a dark red. Shannon was laughing, and Morag would have been if she wasn’t sneezing.
But before either Trisha or Mabuz could react, suddenly Tern ran in, his face red, tears in his eyes. “Master! Mistress! Young Master! Mistresses MacDougal, Mistresses MacDougal especially! You must all come see! It is terrible!”
Back he was bounding, into the grand dining room, the humans following, confused, anxious. They reached him, looked where he pointed, and Morag fainted.
Each household in which a member of the Zabini family lived was provided with a copy of the Zabini Clock. There were several layers of arms, to indicate the family’s different branches, and the spouses and children of the members were represented as well. The top layer of this clock had all the English members. The Mabuz, Trisha, and Othello hands were pointed at Home, the Morag, Shannon, and Blaise hands at Visiting Others. But the Devon MacDougal hand was pointed at Hospital, and underneath it, having pointed at Hospital also as the last place she had been, was a blackened, rusting hand, which could not have very long ago read Lucia Zabini MacDougal.
“Mr. Zabini, sir,” asked Shannon, “c-can the hands blacken and rust away for any reason other than their person dying?”
“I don’t know,” said Mabuz. “We shouldn’t jump to conclusions. I’m going to floo my parents and see what’s on their clock.”
He went off into the kitchen. Othello and Trisha picked Morag up and put her in a chair. Shannon seemed unable to take her eyes off her parents’ clock hands.
“What do you want?” Harry groaned under his breath and yanked himself off of his bed. They had run into too many traffic jams when traveling from London to Privet Drive for this.
The door swung open, and Vernon Dursley marched in on Harry, blowing air out of his nostrils so hard Harry wondered if it was really the wind blowing the old curtains about the window. Without speaking he hoisted Harry up by the scruff of the neck and dragged him out of the room and down the stairs, his knees knocking painfully on the steps, but the sound of Harry’s knees and feet and Vernon’s feet likewise were drowned out by hysterical sobbing coming from downstairs-Aunt Petunia’s.
She and Dudley were in the kitchen, and Dudley was in a bad way, beset by coughs so violent he seemed literally unable to breath.
Vernon threw Harry against the kitchen counter and Petunia screamed at him, “WHAT DID YOU DO?”
“I didn’t!” Harry yelled back. “Whatever’s wrong with him, it wasn’t me!”
“What else could it be?” bellowed Vernon. “The Dementywhatsits? This Lord Voldermuddle?”
“It’s not the Dementors, I can tell,” Harry replied. “Unless it’s some kind of aftereffect I’ve never heard of, which I doubt. As for Voldemort...I don’t suppose it’s impossible but I’m not sure he can actually attack here, or he would have done so already. He didn’t send the Dementors last summer, that was someone else.” He had given it considerable thought, and concluded that one of first things Voldemort would have wanted to do was take out Petunia and Dudley, thus removing their protection, so that he hadn’t meant they were probably also protected somehow. He should have asked Dumbledore about that, he supposed, but at the time Dumbledore had been explaining things, there were too many other more important questions to have answered.
“Who?” was Vernon’s next question.
“Person called Umbridge. It doesn’t matter who she is, we don’t have to worry about her anymore.” A moment’s curiousity of exactly where Umbridge had gone when she left Hogwarts crossed his mind, but he was pretty sure she was no longer in power. Not when they’d been sure to let Arthur Weasley know about her sending the Dementors.
Vernon had turned away to his wife. “Petunia, I don’t care what that Last Thing was, I want him out of the house! He comes in here and this promptly happens to Dudley-”
“Maybe you should take him to St. Mungo’s,” Harry suggested without thinking.
“WHAT?” Vernon exploded. “TAKE MY SON TO SOME CRACKPOT PLACE FULL OF PEOPLE LIKE YOU?”
WOULD YOU RATHER HE DIE?” Harry yelled back, his own temper giving way.
The thought occurred to him that Vernon might actually rather Dudley die, and he found himself feeling sorry for his cousin for possibly the second, but more probably the first time in their lives. But this question instead seemed to momentarily silence Vernon. He stood there staring, either angry or stunned, Harry couldn’t tell, though he thought he might be going purpler.
But before he could answer, Petunia answered for him. “If they can fix him at St. Mungo’s, we’re going there. Now.”
“Petunia, are you nuts?” he demanded.
“No, you are.” She did not raise her voice, but there was a sharpness there, a coldness, that Harry had heard her use to him countless times, but never to her husband. Finally he growled, and yelled, “Fine! FINE! But if they kill him, it will be your fault! Both of you! And if the boy can’t tell us how to get there...” he drifted off, clearly hoping Harry didn’t know.
Harry was tempted for a split second to say he didn’t. Dudley seemed to be breathing again, though with great difficulty, and whatever it was might well pass by the time they got the London. But he said, “I know where it is. I’ll give you directions.”
It took the combined effort of all three of them to get Dudley into the car. Petunia sat in the backseat with him while Harry sat next to Vernon and instructed him to first drive to London.
For the first part of their journey noone spoke. But shortly after they passed Wimbledon Vernon suddenly started coughing, and Petunia shrieked.
“Calm down!” Harry yelled. “It’s just some coughing, it’s probably some sort of cold! And if there’s anything wrong with him, they can look at him at St, Mungo’s too!”
Vernon drove faster, even after his coughing fit abated. When it came back, he drove faster still. He finally slowed as they came into London, and Harry yelled above his coughs and Petunia’s weeping to give him directions, until he could finally point out Purge & Dowse Ltd.
“You don’t expect to go near that place?” Vernon demanded through his coughs. “Well, I could have expected such a thing from your lot-and is there no bloody parking available in this blasted city at all?!”
Somehow they found a spot near enough, and dragged Dudley, who was looking worse than before the drive, to in front of the dummy he had seen Tonks talk to. “Um, this is my cousin and his parents. They’re Muggles, but we think the problem with him and possibly his dad is magical in nature.” Harry could swear he saw the dummy tsk before it nodded and beckoned.
They heaved Dudley through the window and into the reception room, where Vernon and Petunia took one look at all the obvious wizards, many of them in wizard robes and many more spouting obviously unnatural disfigurements, and moved very close to each other.
The line for the welcomewitch was much longer than it had been the day they had visited Mr. Weasley, but when he looked at the floor guide, he realized he wasn’t sure of the nature of Dudley’s ailment. That Vernon seemed to have caught it suggest a contagious malady, but Harry thought if Muggles could catch magical bugs, relations between the muggle and magical world would end up being much more complicated than they were. There was nothing for it but drag Dudley to the back of the line and wait.
It was while he watched the welcomewitch send off the people in line one by one that he realized Dudley’s condition, while probably unusually severe, was not uncommon at the moment. In fact, as he watched the coughing and sneezing in the room, he started to wonder if Dudley didn’t just have a really bad flu, perhaps enhanced by some unknown Dementor aftereffect, very possibly one that only happened to Muggles. If they couldn’t see Dementors, that they might react differently might not be impossible. Vernon probably just had an ordinary flu.
They were about halfway to the welcomewitch when a tired-looking wizard came into the reception room and called for silence. When he didn’t get it, he took out his wand, struck it against his ear, and twirled it in front of him. There was a loud crash, the Dursleys jumped nearly fifty feet, and the room was silence.
“Everyone who believes they may have the tubeneck, or superflu, from America, we have set up a special ward on the fifth floor.”
“I think that might be us,” said Harry. “C’mon.”
They started dragging Dudley up the stairs, Vernon and Petunia first starting at, and then determining to ignore the pictures on the walls. He seemed to have passed out, but Harry for the moment felt better. If this was a common condition, the likelihood of the Healers eventually being able to cure it seemed to him much higher.