'I'm afraid, Miss Granger, that you have tested positive for Belby's disease.'
Hermione drew in a ragged breath as she struggled not to choke on her panic.
I'm going to be sick!
Not here! Breathe, for Merlin's sake!
During the many hours Hermione had spent lying in bed lately, either at home or at St Mungo's, she had often entertained the possibility that her various symptoms – joint aches, fever, fatigue, photosensitivity, palpitations, rashes and magical instability – were the result of something serious.
Something chronic and scary.
However, even in her darkest moments, Hermione had always held on to the tiniest shred of hope that there was a simple answer waiting for her. Perhaps all of her symptoms really were just a delayed side-effect of the gruelling year that she had spent on the run with Ron and Harry. It could just be a form of magical shock; she certainly wouldn't be the first person to present with serious physical and mental scarring after the battle at Hogwarts. Stress and physical exhaustion was logical; stress and physical exhaustion made sense.
Belby's disease did not make sense.
Somehow, in the midst of all her fear and worry, Hermione had never seriously considered herself as a real candidate for autoimmune disease. Hadn't she already been through enough? A small part of her was still in denial, despite the Healer's words.
Things like this just didn't happen to people like her.
As a young girl, Hermione had always pictured her life unfolding in a very orderly way. She would go to school, receive top marks and study at whatever university she chose. After she graduated, the real world would be glad to open its door for her, and she would rise in her chosen field through a mixture of natural intelligence, hard work, and sheer determination…
Of course, turning out to be a witch and learning that most wizarding folk went straight into the workforce after school had thrown all that off a little bit. Her parents had often told her how much fun university was; it was much, much more fun than school, they'd said. Hermione hadn't really believed them, anyway. School was her favourite place in the world, how could university possibly be better? As such, she had not felt a huge pang when she had crossed 'go to university' off her 'Things to Do in Life' list so that 'Achieve top marks in strikeA levels/strike NEWTs' had been immediately followed by 'Secure job at institution of choice'. It was vague, but she knew better than to think she could plan every little detail of her life. There were very good reasons why things like 'Meet man of dreams' had to be left vague. There were some things she didn't want to know.
For a long time after starting at Hogwarts, Hermione forgot about the list she had made as a child. Learning magic, having real friends (!) and having an unofficial extracurricular activity which involved waging a war for good against evil took up a lot of her energy. In fact, she spent so much time trying to keep Harry alive during their school years – precious things like friends had to be protected – that she had never given more than cursory thought to her future career path. She had come out of her career interview with Professor McGonagall with more brochures than she had gone in with. So many options to consider! But that pesky war had kept getting in the way, and she had never had the time to make a final decision. Her list, if she had still kept one, would have said something like 'On hold pending survival'.
It had all seemed so black and white during the war. She would live, or she would die. On an intellectual level, she knew that there was a grey area, too. Survivors with mental and physical wounds that no amount of magic could heal. Hadn't she met Neville's parents in her fifth year? In any case, through either blind optimism or severe pessimism, Hermione had never considered that such a fate could await her. She had always assumed if she did manage to survive the war, she would be able to get her life back on track and follow her dreams, whatever they turned out to be.
Now, as difficult as it was to accept that this… this disease was really happening to her, Hermione was relieved. Relieved to have an answer, at last. Months of testing, months of ineffective treatments and months in and out of St Mungo's as a patient had not been how she would have chosen to spend the six months after Voldemort's fall.
'I understand that this must come as a bit of a shock; we discussed this as only the remotest possibility before doing the tests. Is there anything I can get for you, Hermione? Some tea, perhaps?'
The mere thought of ingesting anything just at this moment, whether tea or water or even a deep, full, breath of air only made Hermione's stomach churn more. Taking another very measured breath to quell the nausea, Hermione focused her attention on the Healer.
'No.' The word got stuck halfway in her throat, so she tried again. 'No, I'm quite all right. How do we proceed from here?'
Even to her own ears, Hermione felt that she sounded somewhat detached. Even now, when her world had just changed permanently for whatever she had left of a future, she willed herself to get over the hurdles in front of her just as she always had. Through relentless determination and strength of will.
The Healer was obviously so pleased that his patient was not about to go into hysterics that he gave Hermione the benefit of the doubt and immediately started outlining treatment options.
'Well, as you may know, it might take us a while to work out the exact combination of potions that will best keep a flare-up at bay. There are also long-term side effects to consider, now that it seems clear that you will be on these medicines for a long time. However, based on the small amount of relief you got from the valerian-based potions, I would suggest we start by increasing your dosage of that—'
Hermione could feel weariness settle in her bones when the Healer rattled off a number of potions that she was to begin taking daily, some she had already tried and many that she had not. Determination to hold it together and not break down was one thing. Actual motivation to begin the long process of medicinal experimentation she was about to go through was altogether different. There were so many unknowns and variables in working out a suitable mix of medications, Hermione did not even want to begin thinking through it herself. Not in her present state. For now, it was enough that the feelings of nausea and panic had subsided.
Slumping further into her chair, Hermione listened, nodding when appropriate. She would place herself in the hands of her very capable Healer and do what she was told.
Energy and motivation would have to wait for another day.
A/N: This fic was written for Lifeasanamazon for the TPP Every Flavour Auction – apologies that it has taken so long to post! I won't write the story prompt here for fear of ruining any surprise. I'll aim to put up a new chapter every week, but this will be dependent on my work/study commitments. Many thanks to my wonderful beta and friend JunoMagic.