Contagion

Prologue

The air was heavy with the fragrance of damp earth and budding plants. The incessant spring rain was bringing nature back to life in its endless cycle of birth, decay, and regrowth. Trees surrounded the glen, some tall and erect, others gnarled and bent by the ravage of time. Small, reddish buds scattered the many branches, looking as if crimson popcorn was ready to burst. The wind rustled across the area, a silent and gentle reminder of the coming warmth.

A solitary cabin stood, partially hidden by the trees. It was small and oddly shaped, as if various parts were built and added on at different times. The thatched roof was drooping on one side, appearing as if one more strong storm would collapse it. Smoke curled from one of several chimneys, disappearing as it rose into the grey sky.

Inside the cabin, beneath the sagging, thatched roof, an elderly wizard moved with a quick grace that belied his ancient appearance. Slight of build, with a long mane of flyaway grey hair, he hurried from cauldron to cauldron, muttering under his breath and making notes on several different sheets of parchment.

The cauldrons were all bubbling with various colored potions, and the fumes of each rose and swirled in the air above, mixing and causing the wizard to cough and wheeze. His aged face was hideously pockmarked and scarred, and his flyaway hair was unrestrained, feebly attempting to hide his haggard visage.

"That's not right," he mumbled, hurrying to yet another cauldron and adding several more roots to the concoction.

"More potent, more potent," he said scathingly. "They just don't understand!" He pulled a grimy, cloth wrapped substance from an inner pocket and added it to yet another cauldron.

"It's here somewhere, I'm certain of it. I need more Muggles!"

One of his cauldrons began spitting voluminous clouds of thick purple steam, and he hurried across the room. Grabbing his wand from the grimy work table, he circled it twice anti-clockwise, and the potion's steam began to thin and dissipate.

"Aha, a newt," he screamed, rushing back to his notes and jotting something down furiously. "At least the Dark Lord understood the necessity of testing. New Minister… short-sighted protocols…there's a need for this…What? That can't possibly be right."

The wizard rushed back to the previous cauldrons, then began checking each one as he hurried about the room. He occasionally tugged at his flyaway hair, muttering incessantly. He stumbled several times, appearing confused. He'd stop, staring around the makeshift laboratory as if distracted, before returning to his pacing with a fanatic furor.

"It's here. The answer is here," he shrieked several times, becoming manic in his insistence. Sweat from his exertion and the combined heat of the potions began rolling in rivulets down his scarred face.

One of the cauldrons began bubbling over, a slow, thick slime slopping over the side and dribbling slowly down the outside. The smoke issuing from it, once again turned copious and purple. The pungent odor caused the wizard to choke and gasp, bringing his robes to his face.

"No, that's not right," he mumbled, stumbling and knocking into one of the cauldrons. It teetered for a moment on the edge before completely upending and splashing its scalding contents upon the wooden floor. A spark ignited into a flame, and he watched it, momentarily mesmerized. His wand hung limply in his hand as he watched the fire spread.

Another of the cauldrons hissed, and he turned in time to see it bloom into a violent explosion, spraying its contents across the whole room. He had a moment to notice his skin blistering before the entire room was engulfed in flame.

As the old cabin burned, a slender tendril of purple smoke rose into the air and was dispersed by the gently blowing spring wind.

Author's Note: I'm ba-ack! I hope you are all well and surviving quarantine, or self-isolation, or social distancing or whatever stage your place of residence right be right now. As for me, this is how I'm keeping busy – with a new story on how our favorite characters might cope with a contagion.

Now, my sickness will be very different from COVID-19, but you'll definitely see some similarities in what the characters are going through. This story takes place in my Cuts universe, but there is no need to read those stories if you don't want. This one can stand alone.

Huge thanks to my wonderful betas, Sherylyn and Arnel for all their help in beating this fic into submission. Also, thanks to my pre-reader, Sue, for the excellent comments and eagerness to keep me moving. Special shout-out to Dusk over at the Harry/Ginny Discord for her lovely aid with the summary. I'd also be remiss if I didn't thank the writers over at the Ginny Lovers Discord for all their support and encouragement.

I hope you all enjoy it!