What Hermione Granger minded almost (but not quite) as much as the fact that she was dying, was that she didn't know what she was dying of. It was a worry that plagued her constantly, even as she tried to have a normal conversation with Luna and Neville.
“...No, but then I told him I wasn’t going to stand for differential treatment, and the next time Sarah handed in a paper, he graded it with an E,” Neville was saying. Hermione had missed part of his story, but she took her cue from Luna and smiled.
“That’s wonderful, Neville,” Luna said dreamily. “I’d take some advanced herbology classes myself, but the Quibbler takes up most of my time.”
Hermione made a renewed effort to join the conversation. “I saw your article about thestrals last week. It was lovely,” she said, shifting the pillows that supported her back. She shivered and drew her blankets closer around her.
“I do love thestrals,” Luna agreed, leaning forward in her chair. She reached up to adjust a strand of hair. She wore her blonde locks in an elaborate bun that made her look quite professional. Over the past few years, Luna had lost some of the permanent surprise in her expression. If it hadn’t been for the mushroom-shaped earrings she was wearing, Hermione would hardly have believed she was the girl who used to hunt crumple-horned snorkacks on the Hogwarts grounds. Luna continued, “And the Quibbler is doing quite well. If we published more than once a month, I’m sure I’d never have time to look for nargles.”
Hermione was about to respond when she was interrupted by a violent coughing fit that made her eyes water. It took a moment to catch her breath. When she blinked the tears away, she found Luna and Neville watching her sympathetically.
“They still don’t know what’s wrong with you, do they?” Neville said. “I mean, I know you’ve only been here for three days, but surely they should have some answers by now.”
Before she could answer him, there was a voice from the doorway. “If Miss Granger had come to see me before her arms were littered with inexplicable bruises, she might’ve made the diagnostic process a little easier.” A green-clad healer stepped into the room, followed by a nurse with wispy, greying hair and a reassuring smile.
“Healer Canton,” Hermione said, and the healer nodded at her.
“They do say healers make for terrible patients,” Luna said serenely. “Perhaps healing students have the same problem.”
Healer Canton shook his head, looking at Hermione. “Perhaps. But given that you are constantly surrounded by well-trained medical personnel, I would have expected you to come see me or a colleague at some point during the three months you’ve been ill.”
“I didn’t think it was anything serious,” she protested weakly. “I was just dizzy and nauseous. It happens to everyone.”
“It’s all right, dear,” the nurse said. She looked sternly at the man beside her, with the maternal reproach that could only be managed by a woman two decades someone’s senior. “Healer Canton thinks he can forget his bedside manners when his patient is also his student.”
Canton looked slightly abashed as he took a seat next to Neville. It made Hermione smile a little. She’d met nurse Dora several times over the first three years of her studies as a healer. It was good to have friendly, familiar faces by her hospital bed now that she was ill.
Dora walked to the bedside table and put down several vials holding colourful liquids. “Not more potions,” Hermione muttered, displeased.
“The purple one is a new anti-nausea potion. I suspect it’ll have a better effect than the spell,” Canton said.
“Don’t healing spells work faster than potions?” Neville asked, looking curiously at the vials on the table.
“Normally, yes,” Canton said grimly.
“Spells have weakened effects on me,” Hermione explained. She coughed again and winced at the pain in her chest. “It’s probably a diagnostic clue.”
Healer Canton sighed. Hermione knew the mystery of her illness plagued him as much as it did her. He’d been her supervisor at the School for Magical Healing for two years now. She hadn’t been pleased when she started her studies and learned that her supervisor was famed for being a quintessential Slytherin. At first, she hadn’t liked Canton much – he was unfriendly and brusque, and he continued to treat her as a virtual stranger for months. Eventually, he came to have a certain regard for her, which she suspected stemmed mostly from the fact that she was his best student. Even now, she wasn’t sure whether he was concerned for her sake or worried because didn’t want to lose a promising young healer. Perhaps he simply couldn’t stand being upstaged by a mystery disease.
Dora handed her a vial. “Antidote,” Canton explained.
Hermione frowned. “I thought you said it probably wasn’t poisoning.”
“Probably,” Healer Canton repeated.
She sighed and put the glass to her lips. The concoction tasted vile, which did not help her ever-present nausea. Thankfully, the next vial held the anti-nausea potion.
“No change yet,” she muttered once she’d drank both potions.
Canton lifted his wand and murmured a few diagnostic spells. “Doesn’t seem to have any effect,” he said, frowning. “We’ll give it another hour.” He greeted Hermione and her guests and left the room.
Dora stayed behind for a moment to fluff up Hermione’s pillows and make her more comfortable. “You’ll be up before you know it,” she said.
“I’m a healing student,” she muttered. “I recognise false promises when I see them.”
Dora smiled apologetically and soon followed Canton out the door.
“So what are all these books, then?” Neville asked after a moment of silence. He gestured at a stack of books beside her hospital bed.
“Diagnostics,” Hermione said, rubbing her forehead. “Ow.”
“Headache?” Luna asked sympathetically.
“It’s a fairly common side effect of anti-nausea potion,” she responded. “As if my head didn’t hurt badly enough.”
Neville patted her hand. “We should probably go,” he said. “Visiting hours are almost over, and you look like you could use some sleep.”
Hermione nodded. “Thanks for coming,” she said. Neville and Luna both promised to see her again soon. A minute later, Hermione was alone.
Hermione’s studies of magical healing had so far been mostly theoretical. Even so, she’d spent enough time in St Mungo’s to be familiar with many of the nurses and healers. It was strange to be a patient to them now, rather than to see them as colleagues or superiors. She was on the receiving end of many of their diagnostic spells. Healer after healer came in to examine her, but no one could uncover the cause of her steadily worsening symptoms.
Dean and Seamus dropped by to try to cheer her up. Their efforts were soon mirrored by more of her friends: Parvati and Lavender, Hannah and Justin, George and Angelina, and her friends Clarissa and Matthew from healer studies. Ginny, Harry, Ron, and Luna remained her most faithful visitors. Although Hermione was grateful for their visits, they couldn't stop her physical deterioration. The bruising increased; the pain in her head and stomach persisted as a dull ache despite St Mungo's strongest painkillers; the dizziness and nausea sprang up whenever she moved. She surrounded herself with more books and turned her symptoms into a research project. It didn't do any good. Her reading turned up as little as Healer Canton's considerable knowledge.
"Maybe I should just give up," she said to Harry and Ginny in early December. She glanced at the stacks of healing texts that surrounded her. "It's obvious I'm not going to find anything."
"You can't give up," Harry argued. "You never give up. Perseverance always has results in the end, doesn't it?"
"I don't know." She leaned back against the pillows. Her friends looked at her worriedly. She knew she was pale as a ghost, and she could practically feel the resignation on her face. They had every reason to be concerned.
"It'll be okay, 'Mione," Ginny said. "There's still time. Besides, I've yet to see the day you can't find a piece of information in a book."
Hermione smiled at her, but didn't answer. Harry grabbed her hand and squeezed it. "It'll be okay. There's always Healer Canton. You keep telling us he's the smartest man you've ever met."
"That just makes it worse," she muttered. "If even he can't find what it is, nobody can. And even if he does figure it out, that doesn't mean he'll have a cure."
She'd barely finished her sentence when the doors burst open. It was Healer Canton, with a worried look on his face that Hermione found extremely unnerving.
"It's mudblood disease," he said without preamble. Harry stiffened at the word and glared at Canton, who shook his head impatiently. "That's just what it's called, Mr Potter. Read this, Hermione." He handed her a piece of parchment.
She scanned the lines quickly and then read more carefully. Ginny and Harry leaned over her shoulder to catch a glimpse of what she was reading. "Curses based on blood status have been outlawed since 1857!" Harry protested once he'd read the first paragraph.
"Yes, well, it's unlikely that a Death Eater would care," Hermione said distractedly as she continued to read.
"You think a Death Eater did it?" Ginny asked.
"Who else could it be?" Hermione said. "I don't think there's anyone else who would want to kill me. Besides, it wouldn't make sense for anyone but a Death Eater to use something called 'mudblood disease'."
"The spell is attached to the victim's blood status," Harry read aloud, "and kills its victim through multiple organ failure. The process is designed to cause maximum suffering over an extended period of time (six months) in order to prolong the victim's suffering. No cure has yet been found." He sucked in a breath and glanced at Hermione. She was still reading the parchment, although by now she'd been over every line twice.
"Healer Canton, is it true that there is no cure?" she whispered.
"I'm afraid so, Hermione. I'll investigate properly, of course. We'll do everything we can," he responded. "I wouldn't want to lose my best healing student."
She bit her lip. If Healer Canton was being nice to her - trying to make her feel better, even giving compliments - there really must not be much hope.
Hermione asked Harry and Ginny to take her healing texts back to the library. She replaced Diagnostic Spells with Illegal Spells Through the Ages, and Healing Systemic Diseases with Blood Status and its Medical Repercussions. Healer Canton joined her in the research, and she was immensely grateful that he would dedicate his valuable time to this hopeless endeavour. Now that they knew what was wrong with her, they also knew what would come next - decreased blood cell levels, kidney failure, liver failure, lung failure, and death. When she had still been searching for the cause of her symptoms, she'd thought that it would help to know what was wrong with her. She knew now that this wasn't the case. The horror of her impending death, which no spell or potion could save her from, could only make her search for answers even more frantic.
The diagnosis of mudblood disease had made it abundantly clear that Hermione's illness was an assassination attempt rather than a natural occurrence. The auror corps set to work finding the culprit. However, it proved very difficult to find any leads. Due to the slight delay in the onset of symptoms, it was impossible even to pinpoint the moment the spell had been cast. Because Hermione had been involved in the Second Wizarding War, she had dozens if not hundreds of enemies, all of whom probably had motivation and access to the right information to curse her with mudblood disease. With a war hero in the hospital, Magical Law Enforcement worked overtime to uncover as much information as they could, but it had no results.
In the meantime, Hermione's condition worsened steadily. She spent Christmas pouring over thick books about ancient rites and blood status. Between Christmas and New Year, two weeks after her diagnosis, she found what nobody had expected: a way out.
"Marriage!" she exclaimed. Harry, who was reading Curing the Incurable in the chair by her bed, almost dropped his book in surprise. His dark hair was even messier than usual, and his glasses had slid down his nose a little. After the war, Harry had ditched his round glasses for a thinner, square-shaped model. Though the change was minor, his round glasses had been iconic enough that the new pair helped him keep a slightly lower profile in public. He now pushed the new pair back up his nose and waited for her to explain her sudden outburst. She took a deep breath and said, "I can become pureblood by getting married!"
"Marrying into a pureblood family gives you the legal status," Harry said, "but it doesn't actually make you a pureblood, does it?"
"Of course not, but the spell isn't dependent on blood," she said impatiently.
"Then how does it-" Harry started.
"The spell reads my legal status; that's what it uses to recognise me as pureblood or non-pureblood," Hermione explained. "It's not dependent on actual blood, because that isn't reflected in anything in the body. Muggleborns or halfbloods aren't physically or magically different from purebloods. So the spell doesn't determine my blood status at all - it's just been programmed to avoid families that are legally pureblooded."
"What does that help? You're not from a pureblood family!"
"You can marry into the legal status. There's a Ministry registry for pureblood families. If I marry one of them, I'll be entered into it, and the spell will automatically avoid me!"
"And then it'll stop?" Harry asked.
"Yes. All of the effects of the curse should be reversed, and I'd be totally fine!" She was giddy with excitement. The prospect of health brought a rush of blood to her pale cheeks.
"You just have to find a pureblood to marry," Harry said.
She frowned, realising she hadn't even thought of that. "Of course," she said. "I don't suppose any of them will be very keen on marrying a muggleborn."
"I wish I could help you out," Harry muttered. "I don't suppose a halfblood will do."
She looked at him in shock. "But you are married!"
"So?" He laughed at her astonishment. "You know that if I could save your life, I would. I could divorce Ginny and marry you, and nothing would have to change. Living with Ginny doesn't technically require being married to her. As long as we don't have to consummate the marriage, I'm sure Ginny would understand - she loves you like a sister, you know that."
There were tears in her eyes. "Thank you," she whispered. "I don't think it would work, though. I'm not sure how this registry works, but I doubt halfblood children are entered into it." She took a deep breath. "Can you go to the Ministry and get me a copy of the registry? And I'll need some books on marriage. The magical contracts, the status change, everything."
Harry left after making her promise to rest before she investigated the possibilities any further. Now that she had hope of a cure, however, she couldn't quiet her thoughts. She tried to think of all the pureblood families she knew, and suddenly realised that the Weasleys were probably on the registry. Why hadn't she thought of Ron the moment she knew she'd have to marry? True, she'd never really seen him as a pureblood - she associated pure blood with wealth, snobbishness, and anti-muggleborn sentiments - but she'd always known he was one. On the other hand, she'd radically banished any thought of Ron as a husband after their fiasco of a relationship.
When they got together during seventh year, she'd pictured getting married, having children, and spending the rest of her life with him. Her dreams changed after the war, when they suddenly had time to spend together as a couple. It wasn't unpleasant, but there were little things that made her uneasy. He still shook his head when she wanted to read a particularly long book; he didn't understand why she liked gardening; he accused her of a lack of house pride when she told him her favourite colour wasn't red, but blue. She, in turn, couldn't see why he wouldn't just read Hogwarts, A History. She couldn't empathise with his zeal for the Chudley Cannons, and she didn't understand why he started auror training after all the fighting they had already done. They were little things, but she began to realise that they stemmed from a fundamental lack of interest in what the other cared about.
Harry and Ginny made wedding plans the moment Ginny graduated from Hogwarts. It didn't come as a surprise to Hermione, who had watched the other couple closely. Ron, however, had seemed to take Ginny's upcoming nuptials as some sort of challenge. She was his younger sister; she wasn't supposed to marry first. If she did, he should at least follow soon after. Oblivious to Hermione's doubt, he started talking about wedding dates, honeymoon plans, and naming their children after his parents.
"Just think!" he said one night when he and Hermione were having a drink in a muggle pub. "I'll come home from work, and you'll be waiting for me with Arthur junior and Molly junior."
She was staring at her glass, but his words made her look up. "At home with the kids? Ron, I'm studying to become a healer. What makes you think I won't be working?"
He looked genuinely confused. "Well, someone needs to look after the children," he pointed out.
Exasperation made her voice sharp. "Why would that someone be me? This isn't the Middle Ages! Besides, who says I even want children?"
"But I thought-"
"I don't care what you thought! How about asking me, Ron Weasley? You talk about our marriage like it's some kind of foregone conclusion!"
"Well, isn't it?"
His tone didn't hold the slightest hint of an apology for his assumptions. He didn't understand what was wrong, and for once in her life she didn't feel like explaining it. She let the matter go that time, but she knew she was postponing the inevitable. More and more questions had begun to plague her mind. Did she and Ron even have anything in common other than their mutual friendship with Harry? She couldn't think of a single hobby they shared, and they clearly wanted different things in life. It hadn't bothered her when they were friends, but she'd realised now that Ron simply wasn't what she wanted in a boyfriend. If she wanted to have any hope of salvaging their friendship, she couldn't let this continue.
When she eventually broke up with him, the event could only be described as horrific. Ron flat-out refused to believe she didn't want to marry him. She left him that night without having convinced him, and it took weeks before he understood she wasn't coming back. Even now, more than a year later, Hermione sometimes thought he was still waiting for her to change her mind and come back to him.
She shivered at the thought of marrying Ron to save her life. If it was her only choice, she would have to take it, but she couldn't imagine spending the rest of her life with him. He was still a good friend, but he could never offer what she wanted in a husband.
Hermione loved the St Mungo’s staff to bits, but at times they could be terrible gossips. Her illness had been covered extensively by the Daily Prophet: War hero in St Mungo’s – anynomous sources in hospital confirm... The tentative solution to her problem didn’t remain a secret for long. News stories were scarce in late December, and wizarding Britain's journalists were hungry for good gossip. The day after she’d discovered that marriage might save her, the Prophet contained a lengthy article about the spell she was under and the ramifications of it. Hermione could never discover which nurse or healer had leaked the information. On December 31st, a celebrity column confirmed that Harry couldn’t help her: as a halfblood child, he hadn't been added to the registry. Along with it, the Prophet published a list of the pureblood families whose members could save Hermione’s life.
The next day, Draco Malfoy came to St Mungo’s to ask for her hand in marriage.