Author's Note: Thank you to my beta, Joanna. Any remaining mistakes are entirely my own. Also, a few warnings: needles, scientific and medical terminology, and several liberties taken with both Magical and Muggle Healing.

Chapter One

Though it looked abandoned from the outside, St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries was never unoccupied. The reception area could hold thirty people comfortably, fifty uncomfortably, and about twice that if the Welcome Witch deigned to magically expand the space. She did so rarely, claiming, when questioned by her superiors, that a crowded waiting room was far more motivation for the Healers to see people than an empty room. There were never any studies done to support this claim, and nor would there be, for the plump blonde witch harangued to the point of exasperation anyone who tried.

The areas beyond reception were generally less crowded and more frantic, though how much more frantic depended on the floor. In the Janus Thickey Ward on the Fourth Floor, for instance, there was relatively little activity. Healers delivered meals to the long-term residents and occasionally guided those who had wandered away back to their beds. It was calm, routine work; most Healers who were on in their years chose to transfer there as a stepping-stone into retirement.

But younger Healers – the best and brightest the wizarding world had to offer – did not want routine work. Nor did they want calm. Draco Malfoy didn't, at least. At the tender age of twenty-five, Draco had very firm ideas about what he wanted indeed: a permanent position at St Mungo's as a Healer on the Third-Floor, a contractual research position at St Mungo's as a Researcher with a focus on Potions (both poisons and cures), and one date – one bloody date – with Hermione Granger.

The first was practically guaranteed. Draco was in his fourth and final year of St Mungo's residency program. His exams scores from Hippocrates' School for the Healing Arts all fell within the ninety-sixth percentile, which was extremely impressive. He had worked in all of St Mungo's several departments for at least two months each and had received glowing recommendations from all of his Attending Healers except one, who was simply bitter because Draco had run an unapproved test that had saved the patient's life. His patients admired him not only for his brains and ability to heal, but also for his congenial bedside manner. He mentored incoming Juniors, and they held him in such high regard that, on particularly good days, Draco was sure St Mungo's couldn't afford not to keep him.

The research position was a bit more tenuous. The ancient Department Head for the Third Floor, Anastas Reyes, was notoriously exacting. The most famous of his students was Damocles, who had invented the Wolfsbane Potion. Quickly approaching Damocles in fame was his last apprentice, Epilane Stubble. Stubble had invented a cure for androgenic alopecia – male pattern baldness to everyone not in the Healing field – and was making a fortune selling it to both wizards and Muggles alike. That was seven years ago.

The competition to become Reyes' next tyro was fierce, but Draco was well prepared. Despite what the Gryffindors might have said, Professor Snape had never shown Draco an ounce of leniency when it came to the quality of his finished potions. In fact, he was probably less lenient. The benchmark Snape set was perfection, and Draco had melted countless cauldrons trying to achieve it.

The memory of Snape breathing down his neck as he quizzed Draco's knowledge of Potions theory over the summer made his heart clench. His godfather may have been a hard-nosed bastard, but Draco would not have wanted it any other way. Severity was Snape's way of acknowledging Draco's potential. It was his way of caring.

Not everyone understood that. Hermione certainly didn't. She seemed to think that caring should be someone's way of caring, and it was his frustration at being constantly rebuffed by her which prompted him to change tactics. The shift from relentless to relenting was what finally earned him Hermione as a friend. His current struggle was how to take her from friend-who-was-a-girl to the more official and far more gratifying girlfriend. Nearly a half a year of failure made him wonder if it could be done at all.

The thought made him sigh as he carefully navigated the crowded halls of the Second Floor: Magical Bugs. Healers, Juniors, Techs, and Trainees flowed down the hall like traffic on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. Though everyone walked at different speeds, cut sharply around corners, pushed gurneys and equipment-loaded carts, or swerved into rooms with absolutely no warning, there were relatively few collisions. When they did happen, the offenders shrugged it off, waved a quick apology, and got back to their business.

Draco supposed it was due to the color of their robes. Certified Healers wore lime green; Juniors, like himself and Hermione, wore a pleasant shamrock color; Techs, who usually never came out of their laboratories, wore dark pine; Trainees, who were still in school, wore an unattractive shade of olive, which was meant to build character. That was the pecking order – lime, shamrock, pine, olive – and all respected it. Department Heads generally wore whatever robes they wanted, though most chose a modern cut of navy, black, or grey. It was rare to see a robe of that color moving about the hallway unless there was trouble.

As there were no dark robes on the floor this morning, Draco continued his stroll. He calmly skirted a Trainee who looked to be on the edge of a nervous breakdown, dodged a team of Healers transporting a wailing child, and spun around a cluster of Techs who stood, rather inconveniently, in the middle of the hallway looking at a dark brown insect the size of his fist. He wordlessly joined the clump of shamrock that was grouped around a pillar of lime green at the end of the hallway.

"Not much new in today, team," said Healer Augustus Renout, giving Draco a slight nod. He took his usual position behind Hermione, gently touching her waist to let her know that he'd arrived. Her body flinched at the unexpected contact, then relaxed. She inclined her head toward him slightly, but did not take her eyes from Renout. Draco smiled: he had felt like he had a lot to prove when he had first started here, too. She would calm down eventually. Maybe after year one.

"A woman with vanishing sickness!"

"Mine!" A well-manicured hand shot past Hermione's ear and snatched the proffered clipboard. Hermione huffed, and Draco's smile widened as the curvy, raven-haired witch turned on her heel and winked at him before striding away. Theresa. Her flirting with Draco annoyed Hermione; naturally, Draco played it up whenever he could. He felt more than saw her scowling glare and couldn't help but grin.

"She should be in Room Twelve," shouted Renout to Theresa's retreating form, "but she hasn't been seen recently! Finally, we have an eighty-year-old man with dragon pox in the George Giles Quarantine Ward, Room Two. Severe case. Seems to be confined to his genitals."

"I'll take it!" shouted Hermione.

"Mine," Draco said simultaneously.

Hermione's brown eyes flashed as she glared at him, but Draco kept his gaze on Renout, fighting the smirk that threatened to quirk his lips. Renout looked between them.

"How long have you been here?" he asked, pointing the clipboard at Hermione.

She hesitated before answering, begrudgingly, "Twenty hours."

The clipboard shifted to Draco's chest. "You?"


Renout handed the clipboard to Draco as Hermione gasped and spluttered. "I'll be in my office if you need me, Malfoy. And Granger? Go home. Get some sleep, for Agrippa's sake."

Draco waited until Renout turned the corner, then tapped the clipboard lightly against his palm and finally looked at Hermione, giving her the most self-satisfied smirk he could muster. She gaped, and he turned away from her to head to the Quarantine Ward. Hermione was at his elbow instantly.

"We arrived at the same time this morning," she hissed.

"Yesterday morning," he corrected quietly.

She ignored him. "You lied."

"And I got the case."

"I need it."

He stopped and hit her with a challenging look. "And I have it."

Color rose high on both her cheeks as she grabbed his arm and dragged him across the hall, miraculously sliding past the growing group of excited Techs and an anxious-looking set of parents. She shoved him into the supply closet, and closed, locked, and soundproofed it with a neat series of wandless spells.

The clipboard clattered to the floor as she flew into his arms, her lips colliding with his in a passionate, almost violent kiss.

Her kiss changed everything, turned every logical thought in his head helter-skelter, and reoriented him completely toward her.

Though his attempts to win Hermione's heart had so far failed, his attempts to satisfy her lust certainly had not. She had started their physical relationship, and Draco had been hesitant about it at first. Then she began dragging him into supply closets, across desks, against walls, and behind bookshelves, and Draco had had a revelation: physically, she was just as addicted to him as he was to her. For now, that was enough to keep his hope alive.

And when her hands roamed his body, it was hard to imagine why he'd ever give it up. She was all warmth and fire, confident and controlling, a woman who knew what she wanted and wasn't afraid to get it. Draco loved it, loved her, and grabbed her hips, pulling her close, losing himself in the feel of her curves beneath his fingers. He backed her into a set of shelves, reveling in her gasp of laughter as bright pink exam gowns and stacks of disposable towels fluttered down around them.

He swallowed her gasp in a kiss, and she reciprocated, burying her fingers in his hair and tugging him closer. He grunted at the pain that was really pleasure and opened her robe with a flick of his nimble fingers. Then he was at the hem of her skirt, hiking it upwards over her hips. She shimmied out of her knickers, never breaking their kiss. She got them as low as her knees before Draco grew impatient.

"Sod it," he muttered against her lips. He ripped her knickers apart with a firm yank.

She cursed him and nipped his bottom lip hard, then cupped him through his clothes. He pressed himself into her hand with a moan. He used the shelf to steady himself as she moved aside his robes and unbuttoned his trousers. Then he was free, nearly carried away into ecstasy by the touch of her hand on his cock.

But he knew how much better it could be. In a swift, practiced movement, he scooped her up and she spread her legs, wrapping them around his waist. He took a moment to position himself and then, with a smooth, hard thrust, was inside her. He allowed himself ten seconds – ten seconds to bask in the feeling of utter serenity that came with being surrounded by what he loved most. Then she whimpered with need, shifted her hips, and Draco could no longer deny her. His thrusts were short, but deep, and soon she bucked and writhed, crying out his name and clutching at his shoulders, holding herself to him tightly, as if afraid he was going to let go.

He never intended to.

If she never asked him to, he never would.

His own release surged through him, the force of it nearly bringing him to his knees. He braced himself against her and tried to remember how to breathe, which was easy when surrounded by the smell of their sex: musky, and wet, and sweet with a hint of citrus. He sometimes had a mad desire to bottle it.

"That's four for you this week," he muttered against her neck, punctuating his sentence with several small kisses.

"You're losing ground," she whispered back. She captured his earlobe between her lips and sucked. He shivered, and Hermione squeezed her thighs against his hips. She loved that shiver. Draco chuckled.

"Two's not so far behind," he replied with a nip, "and the week's not over yet."

She moaned softly as his lips moved over her collarbone and toward the rising slope of her breasts.

"And what if I told you that I plan to get you at least once more today?"

He smiled and kissed her lips. "Then I would tell you that I'm a very lucky man."

"I'd say."

Draco's heart swelled. He was lucky, yes, but she was lucky, too. He was intelligent and motivated; a decent man, now that he'd put his past behind him. How could she not see what they could be together? How could she not understand what they could share?

"Have dinner with me." He nuzzled her cheek with his nose. "Please."

He felt her answer before she spoke. No was in the tension of her back, the pace of her breathing, and the shift of her hips. But Draco was persistent: he would not stop until she said the dreaded word aloud. He swallowed a sigh and pulled out of her, setting her down gently. He did not let go of her until he was sure she had found her footing.

"We eat together in the cafeteria all the time," she said mildly.

"A real dinner," he said patiently, twining one of her curls around his finger. "We'll both take off early for once. You'll put on a dress. I'll wear a tie. There's a new place in Diagon Alley. Pansy recommended it. Raw food. Fish, or something."


He tugged gently on the curl. "I'd love to. I'll Floo over Friday at seven."

She removed his hand from her hair and brought it down to his side. Her fingers lingered for only a moment.

"That wasn't a yes," she said quietly, unable to maintain eye contact. Her evasiveness annoyed him, and he took a step closer, forcing her to abandon the search for her shredded knickers and look at him.

"Why not?"

"You know why."

"I don't."

"You should."

"Explain it to me."

She glared again, sighed, crossed her arms, tapped her foot, bit her lip, but Draco ignored her peevishness. Her touch no longer intoxicated him. The smell and taste of her no longer addled his pheromone-sensitive brain. With this libido sated, Draco finally felt like he could think, and the evidence against her desire for something more once again presented itself. It was time for her to confirm his suspicions, and for him to counter them as best he could.

She began with the most obvious argument: "I don't date coworkers."

"We aren't coworkers," he parried quickly.

"We are," she said, as if it were obvious. "We have the same Attending. We're on the same floor."

"We won't be in three months. I'm almost finished."

She rolled her eyes. "And then I'll be dating a superior."

"When you do cycle onto the Third Floor, I'll make sure you're assigned to another Healer to avoid a conflict of interest. They won't assign me residents my first year, anyway. Besides, we'll never work together. We've chosen –"

"Different specialties don't count. It's still the same location."

"Different floors."

"Same location," she repeated sternly. "If things went sour between us –"

"They won't."

"And if they do?"

"They won't."

"Draco, please." She took his hand, and he wavered. Why did her eyes have to shine so brightly? Did she even realize the power of her frown? Probably not – she used it so rarely. He much preferred her smile. "We've been friends for years," she continued. "I don't want to lose that because of a failed experiment."

"Didn't this start as an experiment?" he asked bitterly, gesturing to the supply closet and their discarded clothes.

"Would you call it a failure?" Her voice was low, recalling the intimacy they had shared mere minutes ago. Draco forced himself to look away from her. They had not been the only people in their graduating class who had chosen to pursue Healing, but they were the only two who had been accepted into Hippocrates' School, which was very small, very selective, and very secluded on a small, Unplottable island south of Wales. Draco's infamy further isolated him, which was fine. The last thing he wanted was attention. Hermione's fame pulled people to her, but she wanted the attention no more than he did. By the end of their first term, she was just as alone as he was.

Whether it was their shared classes or their shared history that brought them together, Draco couldn't say. Nor was he entirely sure if she sought him out or vice versa. But it happened. They sat together in class, exchanged notes, shared meals, gravitated toward each other as if it were natural, unavoidable. She opened up to him, and he learned that there was more to her than just intelligence and morality lectures.

They graduated Hippocrates' School and split up before he could work up the courage to do anything about it. Then she told him that she was coming to St Mungo's, and Draco felt as if he'd been given a second chance. He began his pursuit of her the month after she started. Eight months later and he had nothing to show for all his hard work except for the addition of casual sex in any unoccupied space they could find. It was wonderful, to be sure, but something about her only using him to scratch an itch unsettled him. It made him feel weirdly cheap. Moreover, it was not at all how a Malfoy man should go about courting a woman. Though Draco had a feeling that none of the women courted by any Malfoy man had been as stubborn as his was.

He studied her face: her earnest eyes, her pert nose, her slightly furrowed eyebrows, her endearing freckles... Then, a thought occurred:

Was she stubborn, or was he delusional?

It was a sobering idea. One that left him feeling slightly nauseous and not at all like himself.

Maybe he was being a fool.

Maybe it was time for him to let go.

"I won't wait for you forever." His voice shook with the effort it took to admit, and he thought she might have noticed the undercurrent of fear.

Hermione's hand on his cheek brought him back to reality, back to her. "I wasn't asking you to," she said softly.

That settled it. Draco grimaced, dropped her hand, and stepped away from her. It was time to pull away. He looked away from her guilty expression, ignored the pity in her eyes, and focused on pulling up his trousers and straightening his robe. She repaired her knickers, fixed her skirt, and picked up the hastily discarded clipboard. She held it between them as if nothing had transpired since they entered the closet.

"I want this case."

His recent epiphany and her prim, businesslike tone did not inspire him to be generous. "You've taken dragon pox cases before," he said mildly, taking the clipboard. He tugged it toward him; she did not let go.

"Not one like this."

"Not one concerning the genitalia of an old wizard, you mean? Since when were you interested in older men?"

She sneered, but otherwise ignored the jibe. "What I'm interested in is obtaining a sample –"

"Ah," Draco said, rolling his eyes. "Of course. Your collection."

"My library," she snapped. "Dragon pox is relaxed to a deadly Muggle virus called smallpox. A virus that they've nearly eradicated in developed countries. If I could do the same with dragon pox –"

"You'd make millions and retire to Bora Bora?"

"I'd be doing the wizarding world an incredible service," she said testily. She yanked the clipboard out of his hands. "Besides, I need to participate in a differential diagnosis."

"You've done that already."

"And that's all one needs to become a certified Healer?" Her voice dripped with sarcasm. "Since when?"

"Well, considering the Healing you'll be doing…"

Her mouth dropped open, and she shoved the clipboard at his chest violently, sending him back a step. Her eyes sparked in indignation, and Draco smirked.

Hermione had done just as well at Hippocrates' School as Draco had. Better in many classes, actually, and she should have been finishing her residency with him. Instead, she had deferred her time at St Mungo's in favor of spending three years at a Muggle hospital in London. He had scorned her decision, derided her for it, prophesied that it would be the end of her career, that St Mungo's would never accept her after such a long absence from wizarding technology.

She had explained to him that a residency in a Muggle hospital would provide the best foundation for the combination of Magical and Muggle Healing she wanted to attempt. He had called her an idealistic idiot, questioned her ability as a witch, and wondered how she had been fooling everyone for so long.

Then she hit him with the second most severe hex he'd ever experienced. It had shut him up – he wasn't able to do much more than moan and puke for three days – but it had not changed his opinion. It only changed how vocal he was about it. His insult to her now was undeserved, but it was suddenly more satisfying to be rotten to her than to be kind.

"My focus on Integrative Healing does not make me any less of a Healer," she seethed, "and you would do well to remember it."

Draco sneered. "Whatever."

She mirrored his expression. "Are you going to give me this case or not?"

"It's negotiable," he answered tersely.

She took a deep breath to calm herself, then their negotiations began. "There's a child in Room Thirty who may have the Flux."

"May have?" he asked incredulously. Hermione crossed her arms and waited for him to figure it out.

The Magician's Flux was a rare but severe degenerative disease that appeared randomly and progressed quickly. First, it attacked the victim's body by preventing nutrient absorption, which decreased organ and motor function. Though it was frightening, most patients survived that initial stage. Treatment for organ failure was, relatively speaking, simple, almost to the point of being routine. Things became more difficult when the Flux progressed into its second stage and began draining the victim's magic. For this, there was no treatment and no chance of reversal. If they caught it in time and began therapy, they could slow the Flux's progression. But in order to diagnose it…

Draco's head snapped up, his eyes sharp with excitement. "He hasn't shown any magical abilities yet."

"Nothing substantial," she confirmed.

"Then how do you know it's the Flux? You can't measure the disappearance of something that hasn't appeared yet."

"I don't know for sure, but I've run every other diagnostic test I can think of and they've all come back negative."

"Did you run them again?"

"Of course I did," she sniffed, affronted. "All negative."

Draco furrowed his brow. The case sounded fascinating, certainly. Flux in a child was almost unheard of. If left untreated, the child would have less magic than a Squib. If he could diagnose it…

Hermione spoke suddenly. "Mrs Clowe."

Draco narrowed his eyes. Mrs Maud Clowe was an elderly patient who was slowly losing kidney function. She had been a point of contention between him and Hermione ever since she was admitted. "What of her?" he asked carefully.

"She's… She's refusing treatment."

If he had been feeling irritable before, this information made him downright angry. He rolled his eyes. "Why?" he snapped.

"It's her right," Hermione answered mildly.

"Did you explain the treatment fully?"

She bristled. "Yes."

Draco frowned and crossed his arms before his chest. A patient's right to refuse potentially life-saving treatment had not bothered him until the first time it had happened. Mr Esmain Tate, ninety-three years old, was suffering from a fungal infection in his lungs. The antifungal they wanted to give him had nasty side effects – blindness, migraines, heart attack, stroke – but it would cure him. Draco had spent an entire hour at the patient's bedside explaining the treatment and making sure Tate understood. When he refused with no more explanation than, "I don't want to," Draco had nearly lost it, only avoiding embarrassment because his Attending had pulled him out of the room.

He had since learned to better control himself, but the right to refuse treatment still gave him trouble. He could not comprehend the decision to give up on life, no matter how draining the proposed treatment may be.

And Hermione knew it.

He regarded her shrewdly, mulling over his options. He hated to give Hermione her way, but possibly diagnosing a boy with the Flux and the chance to change Mrs Clowe's mind were too tempting to resist. He handed her the clipboard, which she took with a smug smile. She brought it to her chest protectively and unlocked the door.

"I'll catch you for lunch," she said over her shoulder, her hand poised on the knob.

"You have to go home, remember? Healer's orders." He reached around her and pushed open the door as she looked back at him and grimaced. Then she turned around and stepped into the hallway, immediately and literally running into a black-robed someone. Draco recognized her as she stumbled forward, catching herself on the wall. It was the Department Head of the Second Floor, Regina Whyte.

The clipboard clattered to the floor once again.

"Oh, Healer Whyte, I'm so sorry," Hermione jabbered as she bent down to retrieve her hard-won assignment.

"No, please." Whyte stooped down as well. "My fault, really."

Whyte reached the clipboard first and stood, handing it back to Hermione. Her eyes paused on Hermione's tangled hair and puffy lips, then drifted to the small, pink bite marks on Draco's neck.

"Just the pair I wanted to catch," Regina said with a sly smile. Hermione flushed scarlet and subtly tried to button her robes. She sent Draco a panicked glance from the corner of her eyes, which he ignored. Instead, he met Regina's gaze with a smile of his own, a smile that was far too close to laughing for Hermione's comfort, as evidenced by her wide eyes and clenched jaw. But let her be angry. He had nothing to do with her happiness anymore.

"Something my partner and I can help you with?"

Whyte allowed herself a final grin, then dropped the expression, at once professional. "Find Renout and hand over your cases. You've both been reassigned."

"Reassigned?" Hermione shot Draco a questioning look, but he just shook his head. Reassignments were rare for any Healer, and they were almost unheard of for first-year residents unless there was a question of ethics.

"Male, forty-seven years old. Quarantine Ward, Room Four. Admitted nearly six hours ago with muscle weakness and palsy. We ran his blood through the Diagnostic Wand. We found Collier's antibodies."

Draco hissed through his teeth. Hermione gasped.

"Stage three!"

"Your job is to find a cure before it becomes stage four," said Whyte. "Go."

Draco did not wait for her to ask again and grabbed Hermione's arm, tugging her along with him. He could tell by her stumbling steps that her processing speed had stalled.

"Why us?" she muttered, perhaps rhetorically.

"Why you, more like," Draco corrected, not giving a damn. "If they want a cure, a potion is a logical first step."

"But people have been working on a cure for Collier's for… For months now. Unless you're some sort of prodigy…"

"Who says I'm not?"

"And me…" she continued, clearly not listening to him. "I'm only in my first year –"

"Though you could've had all the practical experience of a fourth-year by now…"

She stopped in her tracks, jerking him backwards slightly. "I do," she said. Her eyes were wide with realization. "My work at Guy's and St Thomas'. They must have considered that. They must be –"

"Desperate," Draco finished for her. Whatever the amount of Muggle experience she had, there was no substitute for what St Mungo's could teach. There was no reason for her – a first-year Junior – to be taken off solid, educational cases and reassigned to a highly theoretical, highly complex, epidemic-level disease. Hermione flushed, but did not argue. Draco resumed guiding her toward Renout's office.

Draco quickly explained their situation when they arrived. Renout did not look happy (he rarely did) and gave Hermione an extra-long glare for still being at the hospital. Nevertheless, he took their cases without complaint and dismissed them with a wave. Draco turned them and began toward the Quarantine Ward.

"You can let go of me now," she said quietly, glancing up at him.

He met her gaze and frowned. "I'd rather not." He would not tell her that she was the only thing keeping him from running full-tilt toward the ward.

The reason for Hermione's reassignment may have been a mystery, but Draco knew why they wanted him: this case was a test. Never mind finding a cure for Collier's; it was highly unlikely that he'd be able to manage such a thing, especially within such a short period. But if he comported himself well, came up with a few good theories, and showed some effort? This could very well be his trial run for the apprenticeship with Reyes. Draco intended to prove every bit of his worth.

They reached the entrance to the Quarantine Ward, and Draco finally let Hermione go. She pressed her wandtip to the scanner at the threshold, which dinged and parted with a hiss. It was open just long enough for her to hustle through. He squinted as a bright orange Sanitizing Ray passed over her from every conceivable angle, then the second airtight door opened, and she was through. Draco repeated the process for himself, and soon joined Hermione on the other side.

Maurice Stockell, Attending Healer of the Quarantine Ward, waited for them there. He was an older man with graying hair and orange-tinted skin that clashed terribly with his lime green robes. There were several theories as to why he had turned orange, premier among them that he had simply passed through the ward's Sanitizing Ray and AntiContagion Shields too often for his skin to handle. He was being monitored for side effects of this discoloration, but was usually in a good mood despite it. His expression now, however, was grim. The sight was distinctly jarring.

"That was quick," he noted.

"Regina caught us," said Draco. Hermione huffed at the double entendre.

"Good." He nodded curtly and began leading them down the hall. Draco craned his head as they passed the room of the man with the genital dragon pox. Hermione scoffed, but arched an inquisitive eyebrow at him nonetheless. Draco shook his head: he hadn't seen anything.

"This is the fiftieth case in three months," said Stockell, drawing their attention back to him. "We're no closer to finding a damn cure, and if it spreads much further, the Wizarding Health Organization will upgrade it from epidemic to pandemic. I think it's safe to say we're out of our depth here."

"And you think it is within ours?" asked Hermione.

Stockell glanced back at her, his lips pursed at her gentle impertinence. "I think that when every expert is out of ideas, you look to those who are less involved. Perspective. That is what fuels discovery. I assume you're both familiar with Collier's?"

They nodded.

"Enlighten me," he said, gesturing for them to begin.

Hermione spoke first, as was tradition. "It's a virus," she said quickly. "Highly contagious through bodily fluids, most notably blood, saliva, and semen. There may be a short period of dormancy for some infected, but once the symptoms begin, it has a very consistent progression."

"Antibodies are present in the blood as soon as one hour post-infection," Draco cut in. His voice was even and measured, as if he were reading from a text instead of reciting from memory. "By the end of the first week, the patient will experience flu-like symptoms: nausea, vomiting, which is sometimes severe, body aches, fever, chills, and occasionally light sensitivity. By ten days, most of the symptoms disappear except for the body aches. Those get worse. As week two ends, muscle control begins to fade. The patient will experience weakness and palsy."

"This is typically when we see it," said Hermione, shooting Draco an apologetic glance. "People rarely go to the hospital for a simple flu."

"Right," said Draco. "Near the end of week three, the beginning of week four for some, motor function disappears. Paralysis moves inward after that, eventually reaching the lungs. By twenty-eight days, lung function ceases. Death occurs by asphyxiation."

He stopped at the entrance of room four, the tip of his wand hovering over the ACS scanner. "And?"

Draco and Hermione exchanged a confused look; Stockell grimaced and pressed his wand to the scanner.

"Guess you'll see in a moment," he muttered. The second airlock hissed open, and he disappeared within it.

"What do you think he meant?" Hermione asked, turning to him.

Draco shrugged. "Not a clue." The light above the airlock turned green, and Draco swept an arm out in front of him. "Ladies first."

Hermione disappeared, too, and in a moment, it was Draco's turn. He stepped into the airlock, wincing as a thin veil of orange slid over the visible world. It oozed quickly over the rest of his body, coating his lips and chin, his chest and arms, all the way down to his feet. He spread and flexed his fingers, and the orange barrier moved with them. It felt slippery, like the skin of a fish, and Draco shuddered; the sensation unsettled him.

His discomfort doubled when he saw the patient.

"Who is he?" Hermione asked. She sounded much more composed than he felt.

"Robert Friska," said Stockell. "Forty-seven, married, two children, ages nine and fourteen. Works in a small café in London. Muggle-born."

"Café?" Hermione shot a panicked look to Draco and Stockell. "He could've infected others. Have you sent out a notice? Contacted the Ministry?"

"I'll be sending an owl as soon as you two are settled."

"What's…" Draco cleared his throat and tried to sound more self-assured. "What is all this?"

"This is what makes Collier's so famous and so feared within the Healing community."

Typical St Mungo's patients, though sick, were still allowed to move around with relative freedom. Friska did not look like he was moving anywhere soon. A needle had been inserted into his arm, and a long, clear tube tethered him to a wheeled intravenous drip. Another tube rested just below his nose, supplying him with a low-velocity flow of pure oxygen. He was thin, pale, and unconscious, though the last was certainly understandable: the stress of being stuck with Muggle equipment was probably too much for any non-Healer (and many certified Healers) to bear while awake.

"Selective magical immunity," said Stockell seriously.

Draco tore his eyes from patient to Healer. "That's not in any of the literature."

"Can you imagine the panic it would cause if this were widely known? The virus itself is magical. It has its own defenses. I've even heard them called wards. Any magic that interferes with the virus' lifecycle is blocked, including our standard Healing spells."

"That's why you've had to use Muggle equipment," Hermione said.

Stockell nodded. "I had to call in an actual doctor to assist. It's fortunate that Stupefy still works. It's not how we'd like to treat them, but it's easier than trying to insert the needles while they're awake."

Draco grimaced at the thought, and Hermione rolled her eyes. Draco dismissed her reaction: she was accustomed to the butchery Muggles called 'Healing'. He wasn't, and thought it natural that he should be fascinated and a bit frightened by it. He looked forward to arguing about it with her later.

Stockell twisted his wrist and pulled two thick folios out of the air. He handed one each to Hermione and Draco. "This is the disease history of Collier's, as well as Friska's patient history. My focus is on symptom management and patient comfort. Your responsibility is to find a way to subvert the virus' defenses and find a cure. There are samples for you in the refrigerator." He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "I can collect more if you need them. You have approximately a week. Good luck."