Well, friends, it's been a while. I have never stopped trying to finish this story, and the gods smiled upon me and let me break through my block. So, if anyone's still reading, Merry Christmas.

Hermione was…different when she finally returned home. It wasn't just the fatigue in her face. Everything about her seemed distracted; it couldn't be clearer that her mind was somewhere else. Lucius was not used to that, and he suffered the briefest moment of insecurity, wondering if she had changed her mind about his proposal.

She was evasive about the chalk graffiti on the wall. That, too, was unexpected. Never before had she avoided teaching him what she was learning. She knew that he enjoyed learning it as much as she did, even if he had a hard time wrapping his brain around it. That set him to wondering what it was about the renal system that she didn't want him to know.

It was perplexing. He had never spared a moment's thought to his body's internal plumbing. That was why he stood over Hermione's books while she was in the shower, squinting suspiciously at the many words he didn't understand.

She was tired, so he left her alone that night. Hermione fell asleep immediately. Lucius was not so lucky. This change in her had set his mind on edge and for a long hour or two he could only alternate his glance between her face and the ceiling.

She dreamed about tubes and fire and blood. When Hermione woke, feeling physically rested but still mentally taxed, she turned her eyes to Lucius. He was asleep on his back, his head turned toward her. The sun was creeping into the bedroom; in another hour it would hit his face and wake him.

Her heart ached powerfully. She had grossly understated her feelings for Lucius when Harry had come for dinner. She loved him, so much that she knew she would feel a keen and festering devastation if she could not make her idea work.

It all hinged on a phoenix. Last night she had hit the point of being too tired to sensibly plan. Lucius took one look at her and knew she needed sleep, and now that she had gotten it, she could organize her thoughts and figure out how the hell she was going to be the first wizard since Albus Dumbledore to win the loyalty of one of the most legendary creatures in the world.

It was incredibly frustrating that the man was not present to answer her questions. However, perhaps she could ask his portrait how he had come to befriend Fawkes. She was certain Professor McGonagall would allow her to access the Headmaster's Office.

That, then, would be her first step. She would go to class and then to Hogwarts. If the portrait of Dumbledore could tell her anything of use (and it was likely that he could), she would have a starting point. Even if the portrait could tell her in great detail how to proceed, it remained a lofty task.

Adjusting to life as a Muggleborn witch always straddling two worlds was a lofty task. Brewing Polyjuice second year was a lofty task. Destroying seven horcruxes to help defeat the Dark Lord was the loftiest task she had ever attempted, and she conquered it. Surely finding and befriending a phoenix could not be anywhere near that level of difficulty.

But even as she thought it, she knew that they were not truly comparable experiences. The horcrux hunt was difficult because of the near constant threat to her safety and sanity, and because she had to try to push her non-maniacal mind to understand the rationale of a mad wizard. A phoenix hunt wasn't dangerous, but it was a gambit left partially to capricious chance and partially to things she couldn't begin to define. She hoped that Dumbledore would help her with that bit, if he could.

Her eyes returned to Lucius, so peaceful in sleep. Why hadn't she told him what her diagrams and notes meant last night? Her responses came out of her without premeditation, but even as she evaded his questions, she wondered why she was acting that way.

Was it because she was afraid to fail? Afraid to raise his hopes for a cure and then let him down? Afraid that he would reject her if that happened?

Or was it because she knew, somewhere in her gut, that he would object to the single-minded determination that had already overtaken her? He had told her so many times that she mustn't make decisions based on him, nor do things because of him. He would not discourage her pursuit of an idea, but this…

Slytherins were not known to be optimists. And for however much he had changed - or simply regained some of the person he might once have been - he was a realist. He wouldn't want her to waste time and energy on a task that was nearly impossible, especially not if the purpose revolved around him.

He had said more than once that she had given him so much. Yet the fact remained that he was a man to whom little love had ever been given, so what they had now seemed overwhelming in it scope. For Hermione, who had always loved and been loved with a reckless freedom, the ability to cure him seemed only another part of that love - the least she could do to repay him for the way he made her feel.

She couldn't tell him. Not right now, not until she knew whether or not she had any chance of actually turning her ideas into reality. It would strain things, particularly because he often knew when he was being lied to; most were less skilled at it than he, Hermione included. But even when he did sense a lie, he respected the need for deception, and she would bet he enjoyed the process of trying to uncover the truth. That was the funny thing about Slytherins.

Resolutely, Hermione slid from the bed and marched out to the main living area. With a swish of her wand, the chalk scribblings disappeared from the walls. She would tell him it was just wishful thinking, a crazy idea that would never work, and carry on with business as usual. She could pass off excursions for research and phoenix location as visits to her parents or Harry. If she had any hope of him believing that, she had to limit how often she was away; she wouldn't be able to work on things as much as she wanted.

It would drive her mad, but it would have to do.

Hermione was already at class when he woke. He had eventually managed to fall asleep, but it had not quelled his suspicion. In fact, he felt ever more determination to figure out what his fiancee was up to after he realized that she had erased her work on the wall. At least she thought she had erased it.

There was a certain spell he had learned many years ago which was equivalent to shading the next piece of paper on a notepad to discover what had been written on the previous page. It worked on any surface - desks, clipboards, even walls. It had helped him a great deal in school and in his early years at the Ministry. Those who knew of the spell knew how to prevent its use. The question at hand was whether or not Hermione was one of them.

He waved his wand at the wall. Then he smiled, unsurprised. Hermione did know, and had purposely taken measures to make sure no one could recall her scribblings. If he had to guess, Hermione had probably learned to take countermeasures in school when unscrupulous classmates attempted to copy her tests and essays. If she had taken the care to prevent him from recalling her scribblings, it meant she had something to hide.

So the diagram was lost to him. It remained only in Hermione's mind, and it was important enough for her to conceal. Lucius sat in his chair and chewed his lip as he thought. He remembered bits of it - words, mostly - but they would do him no good unless he sought someone who could really explain it to him.

If he relied on his own considerable intellect, he could eventually reason out what the words and formulas in Hermione's textbooks meant. But who knew how long that would take, or if it would help him to understand her ideas?

No. The most expedient thing to do would be to go to someone who knew the body as well as she did, or better. That meant one Tiresias Smythe.

He'd give her one more chance to explain herself tonight. If she declined to shed more light on her wall decoration, he would call Tiresias. There was no guarantee that he had all the answers, but at least he'd learn something. Then, if he chose to engage Hermione, he'd at least have some idea of what he was talking about.

Hermione was no more forthcoming that night. In fact, she was downright dismissive.

"It's nothing, Lucius. Just a crazy idea. Now that I'm not half delirious with exhaustion I see that it wouldn't work." Her eyes were fastidiously fixed on the shirt she was folding.

He remained quiet, watching her as she packed. She was going to visit her parents for the weekend; it was her father's birthday. Hermione wasn't well versed at lying in spite of the deception required to maintain their relationship. Those lies were more often lies of omission than outright fabrication. The more he pushed her, the more trouble she would have in redirecting him.

"You thought it was a good idea at the time. It isn't like you to give up so easily," he replied.

She set a blue dress back down on the bed and faced him. "Look, I know I've given you plenty of reason to believe I don't know when to quit, but I do realize when something is not a good use of my time. I let my mind get the better of me the other night. It's nothing to lose sleep over and it certainly doesn't bear repeating." She closed the gap between them and leaned into his chest. He closed his arms about her automatically. Hermione looked up at him, eyes as innocent as could be. "Haven't you ever written something late at night and then been appalled by it when you reread it in the morning?"

"Of course," Lucius said with a wry half-smile. Those big brown eyes of hers were more beguiling than convincing, and he knew that was what she banked on. She had learned some things from him, that was for certain, and a strange part of him was proud.

"Then you know you'd never want anyone to see those scribblings, because they're embarrassing!" she concluded.

"Me writing and you bandying about with scientific formulae are a bit different, Hermione."

"Not as much as you think."

"If you say so," Lucius conceded, realizing that he wasn't going to get anywhere without spoiling the mood. That wasn't his goal. He only wanted to see what kind of resistance he would encounter. So far, Hermione was holding her own.

She was determined to deflect his interest from her idea. He was, in truth, less worried about the idea itself than he was about why she wished to keep it from him. Had he not proven himself worthy of her confidence?

Ah, but maybe he was paranoid and Hermione was simply trying to surprise him somehow, or it really was nothing. He had to remember who she was…how she was. He had said it to Narcissa with conviction; she wasn't like them. Hermione kept secrets only to avoid wounding others. Otherwise, she was an open book.

Her arms wound around him and he relaxed into the embrace. How quickly his thoughts could run circles around themselves. Unfortunately, once his mind started he could not stop the inevitable cascade.

What was it that she felt she had to shield him from? What was contained in that tangle of words and arrows and diagrams that had the power to hurt?

He had not told Lucius during his last visit, nor would he on this one, but Tiresias was in the midst of paring down his active patients. He'd increasingly felt that he could not be as attentive or available to them. He didn't kid himself that it was for any reason other than how all-encompassing his role as Lucius's healer had become.

He couldn't be angry about it; he had gained a friend and his life had become much more interesting than before. And while he had dodged Lucius's payments for a while, at some point the blond had caught on and found a way to ensure that Tiresias was reimbursed for his troubles, and handsomely.

So as far as Lucius knew, his office was in complete disarray because he was ordering new filing cabinets. His morning was clear because he had a lecture to give to a special interest group, not because this was the only godforsaken time he could find to try to figure out who he would release from his care. He lied because he didn't want Lucius to feel guilty. Something, he realized, much of the greater public thought him incapable of feeling.

"So Hermione was reading about the renal system?" he asked, thumbing through charts in the hopes of pulling those he felt he could refer out to a friend or colleague.

"Yes. Do you know much about it?"

"Well, I know what we all learn in medical school, but I'm no expert." He looked up at the other wizard, who was perched on the edge of a chair with a rather serious visage. "Are you having any new issues?"

"No," Lucius said, "not that. I'm asking because Hermione has been acting strangely ever since she studied these chapters."

"How do you mean?" Tiresias frowned; it was a strange bit of subject matter to get hung up on, unless she suddenly realized she was meant to be a nephrologist. Somehow he doubted that.

"She drew a very large and confusing diagram and refuses to explain it to me. I can't make sense of it because I know next to nothing about this, and I don't understand the theory that is in her books. I've tried reading, and I can see some similarities with potions, but I just don't have the right knowledge."

Tiresias returned his glance to his filing, shuffling the folders, though he was no longer paying attention to the names or his original task. This had to be related to a letter he had received the previous afternoon. Hermione had written him asking what he knew about research on the role of phoenix tears in healing, and if he was interested in pursuing such research himself. He thought it was most likely school-related - a paper, thesis, whatever. Now he was not so sure.

"I'll give you a primer. I'm not much of a teacher, but I think I can explain some of it."

He didn't expect Lucius to smile and shake his head. "Tiresias, I have never brought up those directions and diagrams you sent us with the condoms because I was grateful that you cared enough to assist us in our, ah, endeavors…but I think you are a born teacher, and thorough to a fault."

He felt his cheeks color. It had all been professional for him at the time; sometimes one lost one's frame of reference for decorum because it rarely existed in medicine. But now that he thought back on it, he had probably overdone it just a tad.

"I was just trying to—"

"I know," Lucius said, holding up a hand. "What I mean is that you shouldn't undersell yourself. You have been more patient with me than anyone, excepting Hermione and my family. I am here because of you."

"I have to disagree," he said to his files, unable to look up because the sudden turn of conversation made him feel a strange fragile sensation in his chest. "I may have kept your body alive, but you are here, really here, because of Hermione."

Lucius was quiet, and it went on for so long that Tiresias had to look up to make sure he was still there. He was, and his eyes held some kind of patient truth that the healer didn't often see. It told him a great deal about what Lucius's life had been like before they met, and what it meant to him that Tiresias had not only accepted him, but cared about him.

He cleared his throat. "Let me go get a few books."

They had spent close to two hours huddled over some well-used textbooks. Lucius now understood much more about Muggle chemistry and a fair amount regarding the renal system and its various disease processes. When they got to the part about the Muggle treatment for kidney failure, he and Tiresias reached the same conclusion.

Hermione's sprawling notes on the wall of the villa had to do with him. This procedure - hemodialysis - was a method of blood purification. It utilized a particular solution, dialysate, aided by naturally occurring chemical processes, to remove toxins from the blood. Hermione wanted to find a way to use this, in combination with phoenix tears, to cure him.

Both men sat for a moment, lost in their own thoughts. Lucius was the one who spoke first.

"Why would she try to hide this?"

"I don't know," Tiresias replied. "I can tell you that she's not the first to have thought of using phoenix tears in healing, but no one has ever done more than theorize. It doesn't matter how effective the tonic is if you don't have a reliable supply of the ingredients. Or any supply at all."

Lucius rubbed a hand across his forehead. "Have you met Hermione? When she sets her mind on something…"

"It usually happens."

"I've told her not to waste time worrying about me. Not to let me or my myriad flaws dictate the path she takes."

Tiresias had to smirk. "This would be the opposite of that."

"Yes. Yes it would."

The healer frowned to himself. "I don't think it's that, Lucius. Forgive me for saying so, but she can handle your irritation at her. What would be difficult for Hermione is to fail. And there is a very great chance of failing in this task."

Tiresias was right, but something gnawed at him more than the chance of her being heartbroken by failure. Hermione would understand that she could have some brilliant company in defeat at such a difficult task. It wasn't the chance of failing that made her evasive and him apprehensive.

No, what worried him was the lengths she might go to in order to succeed. It probably worried her, too. That was why she tried to play it off as unimportant. That was why she lied.

For all he knew, she was off hunting for a phoenix instead of at her parents'. Or she would only be there for the evening, and spend the rest of the weekend trying to find the bird. Lucius sighed. If she became obsessed enough, she would miss school. She would spend more time trying to cure him than actually with him. Did she not understand that it wasn't medicine that made him better?

He was roused from his thoughts when Tiresias let out a curse.

"Damn it, I have a patient in ten minutes."

The question now was whether or not to confront Hermione with what he knew. Some people - an alarming number of Gryffindors, actually, in his experience - would react by only becoming even more determined to do whatever thing it was that infatuated them. He didn't doubt for a second that Hermione could do it. She had already done the impossible more than once. What concerned him was what she might sacrifice along the way.

She'd been occupied by quests all her life. Maybe she didn't know how to function without one. The Brightest Witch of Her Age, Muggleborn, must always have felt pressure to strive and succeed, to deserve the label. He knew a little bit about that, though he wasn't the brightest of anything.

He wanted her to be able to relax. To just live her life, to enjoy little things. That was what she'd given him. He had no more quests, save to while away the rest of his days with her, and it felt great.

But, Lucius reflected over an excellent coffee in a random shop in Vancouver, some people weren't meant to relax, or to dither with simple things like domesticity. He had chosen this woman, this truly ingenious woman, and there wasn't a thing he would change about her. If this was what she needed to do, he would support her. Within reason.

He didn't ask her about the diagram again. Nor did he fuss when she was gone nearly every weekend, or too tired to do more than eat dinner and collapse into bed on the weekdays. He wasn't alone in the world without her; he just spent more time with Draco, Narcissa, Tiresias, and even a memorable afternoon or two with Andromeda and Teddy. He did put his foot down when it came to their Sunday dinners at Paolo and Elisabetta's, though, and occasionally he was selfish and pulled her away from her books, but he made sure to make it worth her while.

Hermione looked suspicious at his affability sometimes, when she thought he wasn't looking. Maybe she was on to him. It made him smile, this little game they were playing. He thought he couldn't love her more, but, well, that was just pure fabrication. He was learning a lot about the nature of love.

Lucius was being perfect about her absences, but all that patience was for nothing. Dumbledore's portrait told her an awful lot, and seemed thrilled at the prospect of her quest to find a phoenix and use its tears in medicine, but he had won the bird's loyalty through feats of heroism she couldn't begin to touch. The time for her heroics were past.

"Heroics and wand-waving aren't always synonymous," the portrait reminded her.

She was trying to keep that in mind.

She'd revised her original goals. It was unrealistic to believe she could bond with a phoenix to the point that it would cry on command; that seemed cruel, and it wasn't something she would do even in the name of curing dozens of illnesses. All she needed was for a phoenix to cry once, and for her to have enough of a supply of its tears to properly study. If she could break them down on a chemical level, figure out how they worked, she might be able to synthesize something similar enough to use in medicine. No phoenix enslavement necessary.

Of course that was still a tremendous task. It could take years, and even after all those years, she might end up with nothing to show for it. It reminded her of why she'd been so determined to learn how to brew Polyjuice at such a young age. Everyone knew the story of how its creator spent sixty years trying to get the formula to work. The process of brewing it made her realize how many variations the poor bloke must have gone through; it was a complex potion and he probably only had himself to test it on. At least there was a chance she could have some kind of funding and willing subjects she might be able to help - though she wasn't keen on testing an unproven concoction on anything living. Unfortunately, science often demanded exactly that, and maybe it was time to repay George Weasley (and Fred, in spirit) for all the times they'd used their siblings (and Harry and Hermione) as guinea pigs.

That at least put a smile on her face. She had planned to go to Madagascar, as some research suggested the mythical birds that lived outside North America liked to nest there, but maybe it was time to slow down. She had time. Lucius wasn't going anywhere. Rome wasn't built in a day, Polyjuice wasn't brewed in a day, and Hermione Granger didn't have to try to cure the world every day.

She closed her book and went out into the living room to spend some time with her fiancé.

It was halfway through Sunday dinner when she noticed that Lucius wasn't quite right. He barely put a dent in his plate, and while she could admit that it was a feat to clear any plate in this fine Italian household, it was unusual. So was the fact that he'd pulled his hair back. His cheeks were flushed. As far as she knew he hadn't had any wine, and it wasn't hot.

When Paolo and Elisabetta were in the kitchen making coffee, she reached for his hand. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine, just a bit warm." He offered her a smile, but it looked an effort.

His hand was hot in hers. Too hot. She couldn't do a temperature spell here, but even without it she was certain he was running a fever.

"Don't lie," she said, stern. "What's wrong?"

He gave in with a shrug. "A cold, probably."

"What are your symptoms?"


"What are your symptoms," she repeated, worry and stubbornness making her short.

He sighed. "It's nothing. I'm tired and I don't have much of an appetite. That's it."

"How long?" she demanded.

"A couple of days. Hermione, really, it's nothing, I'll be fine."

"Is something wrong?" Paolo asked as he returned to the dining room balancing their ancient espresso pot and a few cups.

"Yes," Hermione said, before Lucius could overrule her. "Lucius isn't feeling well. I'm sorry, but we should be going."

"Of course," he responded, concern flickering over his face. "Elisabetta noticed you didn't eat much. You didn't have to come if you were feeling poorly. I promise we are not the type to be insulted."

They were sent on their way with some pizzelles Elisabetta made, and Lucius pouted the whole way up to the villa.

He was running a fever. A low grade one, but a fever nonetheless.

"You can't panic every time I'm under the weather," he grumped.

"I can when you have a condition that lowers your immunity!" Hermione returned.

Lucius took hold of her hands, hearing the worry in her tone. "Hermione, I've been taking my medication. You see me do it every day. I'm all right, it's just a cold."

She stared at their intertwined fingers for a long minute, and meanwhile, he stared at her. He was mildly annoyed at how she rushed them out of there, but it was impossible to stay that way. She worried because she loved him. He could see that.

"If you're not feeling better tomorrow, you're going to see Tiresias," she said.

He knew better than to argue with her.

He didn't feel worse the next morning, but he didn't feel better, either. So he put in a floo call to Tiresias. Hermione skipped whatever her afternoon plans were to accompany him.

Somehow, in all of this, she'd never been to Vancouver. A bit of the edge was taken off by her seeing Smythe's practice and meeting Gerald. Naturally, the dog loved her. She got a strange, wry expression on her face while she scratched the dog behind his ears. Lucius made a note to ask her what she was thinking about later.

Tiresias checked his blood levels. They were slightly elevated, but nothing outrageous.

"Still within safe levels," he said. "I don't like the fever, but I suppose you have to get sick sometime. Take it easy. Chicken soup, tea, Pepper Up, soft blankets, and the like. Come back if it doesn't get better in a few days."

"What were you smirking about?" he asked on the way out.

"What do you mean?"

"When you were petting the dog. You were smiling like you were remembering something."

Hermione smiled again, exactly the same way, and said nothing.

Relaxation wasn't the worst thing. Jo-Jo was not-so-secretly thrilled to have someone to dote on - not that she didn't on a daily basis. He settled in for a few days of reading and more varieties of soup than he thought could possibly exist. He barely won the argument that he could read to himself, thank you very much, or he would have been listening to the house elf's squeaky voice reading to him for hours on end. Although it was amazing how far she'd come with her reading; she rarely stumbled now, even with Hermione's textbooks. He didn't know how to pronounce half the words in there.

Two books in, he still felt off. It seemed like a cold that wouldn't quit. He felt worst first thing in the morning and before going to bed at night, and could muster the energy to do things if needed, but napping was increasingly appealing. On the third day, he slept the entire afternoon without meaning to and woke up blinking and confused in the dark.

"You must have needed it," Hermione said later that night, kissing him on the forehead. "I always feel better after I sleep."

Thing was, he didn't really feel better. Or worse. Just this maddening status quo of not quite right, just sick enough to make everything ache and all activities more effortful than they should be. Had there really been a time when he felt like this always? He barely remembered. That was probably for the best.

Hermione joked about 'the man cold'. Apparently it was universal consensus across Muggle and Wizarding culture that men were babies about being sick, while women would carry on in relative silence until they all but collapsed. She didn't mean it; that couldn't be clearer. He suspected she was just trying to take her own mind off the fact that he wasn't getting better.

It had been a week.

"You should go back to Tiresias," Hermione said. The set of her jaw told him she expected an argument.

"I think I will," he said quite simply. Instead of pleasing her, it only made her look more concerned, and they both spent too many hours awake and worrying. Finally, a little after two, he nodded off, Hermione snugged into his side.

He woke up with a rash. It was an angry-looking patch on his forearm, red and dry. It ached.

"What on Earth?" Hermione said, turning his wrist over in her hands to get a closer look. "It almost looks like shingles."

That sounded faintly menacing. "Shingles?"

"A Muggle condition, my grandmother had it. Most Muggles get something called chickenpox as children, from a virus. It's harmless in most cases, but it can reactivate in the body later in life. That's shingles. There's a rash, a very painful rash. Does it hurt?"

Lucius nodded, resigned. He already had one Muggle condition, why not another? Then he frowned. "Did you ever have this…pox?"


"Then shouldn't you stay away from me?"

"There's a vaccine. I got it the summer before sixth year. I'm immune." Hermione chewed her lip. "Besides, we don't know if that's what it is, but we'd better find out. Get dressed. I'll have Jo-Jo call Tiresias and let him know we're coming."

Tiresias was in his pajamas, a glass of wine in his hand. Damned time difference. The healer just sighed and rolled up his sleeves.

Hermione feverishly thumbed through her dermatology chapter, trying to find a visual match for Lucius's rash. There was a reason she disliked this section. There were fifty different ways to describe a rash and to a non-specialist's eye, they were impossible to tell apart. To her, dermatology was the Divination of the healer's curriculum. Obtuse, boring, and the one thing she couldn't quite get.

Tiresias sat down and yawned. "I'm going to have to run some tests."

"All right."

He looked over at Hermione. "Apprentice Healer, what tests should I be doing?"

For once, she was only too happy to drop the textbook. She would drive herself crazy with it if she didn't stop. After a deep, calming breath, she said,

"MII. Blood count and cultures. Thyroid, glucose, creatinine…" she was forgetting a few, but it was remarkable how similar this kind of workup was from Muggle to Wizard. The only thing that was different was the MII, or Magical Immunity Index, which was a quick test that could determine if an illness was magic-mediated or mundane. Even wizards weren't immune to the flu or norovirus, although magic made for an interesting presentation sometimes. "Cell scraping of the rash, or…biopsy?"

"Good," Tiresias nodded. "We'll start with the MII. It'll narrow down our differential diagnosis dramatically. Give us an idea of where to start. Do you want to do the honors?"

She glanced at Lucius. He stared back with a smile and the utmost confidence in her abilities, but she could see the pain he was hiding. It was getting worse.

Hermione took a breath. She'd done this before, had it done to her on several occasions. It was nothing more than a tingle. She swept her wand over him and recited the incantation. Almost immediately, her wand glowed purple.

"Huh," Tiresias said after a moment. Hermione could tell it wasn't the result he expected. "You, sir, have a magical malady."

"Wonderful," Lucius managed.

It was well over two hours later that Tiresias said, "That can't be right."

Lucius was looking a little green after the cell scraping of his arm. Hermione rubbed his back and Gerald sat on his feet, casting worried puppy eyes up at them every now and then.


Tiresias shook his head. "Let me run it again. I must have done something wrong."

"You don't need to—" Lucius gestured at his arm, "—again, do you?"

"No, no. I got enough." He was barely paying attention, absorbed in the retest. He'd surpassed Hermione's first year knowledge an hour ago, so she no longer had any idea what he was looking for. The test was quick, though; his wand spat out the results in glowing green, a series of pluses and minuses and words that Hermione didn't know.

She did know, based on his expression, that it couldn't mean anything good. He blinked. Then leaned closer, as if he didn't trust his eyes.

"Tiresias," Lucius said at last, after a silence. "What is it?"

The healer sat back in his chair and took off his reading glasses. He looked shellshocked.

"I…I don't know how this is possible, but according to this…Lucius, you have Dragon Pox."