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One of the possible versions of the third question in the sorting hat quiz on the old Pottermore read:

A troll has gone berserk in the Headmaster's study at Hogwarts. It is about to smash, crush and tear several irreplaceable items and treasures, including a cure for dragon pox, which the Headmaster has nearly perfected; student records going back 1000 years and a mysterious handwritten book full of strange runes, believed to have belonged to Merlin. In which order would you rescue these objects from the troll's club, if you could?

But a cure for Dragon Pox had already been discovered in the sixteenth century:

Gunhilda of Gorsemoor

Healer

1556 - 1639

One-eyed, hump-backed witch famous for developing a cure for Dragon Pox. When she died, everyone who knew her felt great sorrow, for she was a talented and hardworking healer (fw37)

Is there any in-universe explanation as to why a Hogwarts headmaster would be developing a cure to something already cured, or why there would be any point in saving said incomplete cure?

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It's a multiple choice question, and as such it's perfectly possible for one of the choices to be wrong. Someone who is unaware of the existing cure might mistakenly choose that option, which gives the hat certain information about them. (E.g. probably won't be a Hufflepuff if they don't know their history.) Of course the real answer should be to subdue or disable the troll before they can damage anything... – Darrel Hoffman Jan 17 at 16:23
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Perhaps the question is asking you to imagine you live in the 16th century. – Nate Eldredge Jan 17 at 17:14
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It's a hypothetical question in the first place. Its factual accuracy may not be required to judge the answer given. The items can be replaced with anything of their type, eg. [research thing that benefits many people], [historical records], [ancient and mysterious artefact]. The exact identity of these items is irrelevant. – Niet the Dark Absol Jan 17 at 20:22
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If you answer the Sorting Hat's question with an explanation of why it's historically invalid, you might be a Ravenclaw. – Tim Pederick Jan 18 at 2:37
    
@Darrel No, it's not a multiple-choice question. The question does not ask which of these objects you would save, but in which order you would save the three objects. More likely the fact that there is an already existing cure (even if only partial) for dragon pox is intended to influence your answer: it decreases (but does not negate) the relative value of the Headmaster’s new cure. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 6 at 21:59
up vote 22 down vote accepted

Grunhilda didn’t completely eliminate dragon pox.

When Harry et al. visit St. Mungo’s, dragon pox is listed as one of the diseases that can be treated:

MAGICAL BUGS … Second Floor
(Contagious maladies, e.g., dragon pox, vanishing sickness, scrofungulus)

Order of the Phoenix, chapter 22 (St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries)

And this isn’t just a theoretical sign; people are continuing to suffer (and die) from it. For example, Harry’s paternal grandparents:

Fleamont and Euphemia lived long enough to see James marry a Muggle-born girl called Lily Evans, but not to meet their grandson, Harry. Dragon pox carried them off within days of each other, due to their advanced age.

If Gunhilda had developed a complete cure in the seventeenth century, it would surely have been totally eradicated by now. It follows that the cure is incomplete:

  • Perhaps it only works in some cases, or on certain patients (all the known victims are elderly; so the cure might only work for young people)
  • Perhaps it’s extremely hard to procure (see also: the Mandrake draft in Chamber of Secrets)
  • Perhaps it has undesirable side effects

Any of those would leave a gap for somebody (such as Dumbledore) to improve.

More generally, the existence of a cure doesn’t negate the need for an alternative. A cure can be improved in ways beyond just “does it make people better” – speed of recovery, side effects, ease of manufacture. There could be benefits to an alternative cure beyond just restorative qualities.

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+1 for the real world medicinal considerations at the end. – jpmc26 Jan 17 at 22:44

It would appear that, although Gunhilda seems to have developed a "cure" for dragon pox, it apparently did not eradicate it entirely. Grandparents of both Draco (Abraxas Malfoy, as mentioned in Book 6 in the brief conversation between Draco and Slughorn) and Harry (Fleamont and Euphemia Potter, James's parents, according to Pottermore) succumbed to the disease.

In any case, the fact that people were still dying of dragon pox well into the late twentieth century appears to suggest that the headmaster would have good reason to work on developing a cure.

There are a few possible explanations for this. One would be that, much like with Wolfsbane Potion, the cure is effective but is very complicated as well as expensive to brew, so that not many people have access to it. (To clarify, the Wolfsbane Potion is not a cure, per se, but a comparable remedy.) Thus, the headmaster could have been attempting to develop a more accessible, practical cure for the malady. Then again, both the Potters and the Malfoys were exceedingly wealthy, so perhaps this does not explain the whole story.

An alternative explanation, one that may be more likely, is evidenced by Slughorn's reference to Abraxas Malfoy's old age ("I was sorry to hear he had died, although of course it wasn’t unexpected, dragon pox at his age...") as well as the Pottermore article ("Dragon pox carried them off within days of each other, due to their advanced age.") It is plausible that the cure tends to be less effective when the afflicted are of a certain age.

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