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Chapter 30 ~ The Flying Squad
Ron and Ginny Weasley brought their brooms in to land on the barren headland. They had been flying in tight formation with Harry in his Golden Eagle Animagus form in the lead followed by Ginny, Ron, and Rick, in his Peregrine Falcon form at the rear. They had remained very watchful, ever since leaving Hogwarts, in case their sortie was detected by Voldemort’s Death Eaters. But the long flight had been uneventful. Harry, who had been scouting ahead for a large flat area on the Scottish coast, had led them to this desolate place. The brisk sea breeze caused the clumps of grass and shrubs to wave about in the bright sunshine. The air carried the sharp scent of the ocean. Upon landing, Harry and Rick transformed. “You were magnificent, Harry,” gushed Ginny admiringly. She had spent most of the flight, mere metres behind Harry, watching him fly in awe. She had to resist the impulse to throw her arms around him and hug him ... knowing perfectly well that Ron would probably explode. They all needed to stay focussed on their dangerous mission today ... and teamwork was going to be crucial. Professor Dumbledore had been very impressed with Ron’s plan. It was a dangerous gambit; but it was their only hope of getting rid of the Dementors. Dumbledore was well aware that unless the Dementors were removed from the equation, Hogwarts would almost certainly be destroyed. His backup plan was to send all the students home at the Easter break, and close Hogwarts indefinitely. He could not risk the lives of his students and professors. Although most students remained at Hogwarts over Easter, they were allowed to return home for the break upon parental request. Just as Dumbledore had anticipated, such requests were received from all known Death Eaters with children at Hogwarts. The pretext, obviously intended to hide the true intention, was a gala garden party being hosted by the Parkinsons for their Pureblood acquaintances on the Easter Sunday. The weekend before Easter was chosen as the best time for the Azkaban operation. The weather had warmed up enough to make the long flight on broomsticks endurable. It also gave them plenty of time for the meticulous planning required for a successful outcome. Rick asked the others to sit well away on some rocks, while he got to work creating the Time Portal. They were all very aware of the danger of accidentally passing through it. “Tempus iunctus nunc ad nihilum vaccus,” he intoned. A shimmering fabric emerged from his wand. It was transparent, with a light-blue tinge, making it almost invisible in the bright sunlight, as it hovered horizontally about three feet from the ground. Rick mounted Ginny’s broom, and flying twenty feet above the ground, he began stretching the portal to the required size. He used a magical measure Hermione had given him to ensure it was exactly right. They had decided to make it one hundred metres longer and wider than the island, to put some distance between themselves, and Azkaban’s deadly inhabitants. Rick conjured four ropes, which he enchanted to be weightless, like the portal. They were twenty metres long. He attached a rope to each corner of the portal. The ropes would allow them to keep a safe distance from the portal, and a little further away, again, from Azkaban. Finally, he used an attaching spell to bind one rope to Ginny’s broom and another to Ron’s. When the time came, Ginny and Ron would use detaching spells to remove them. “OK, so we’re all ready,” said Rick, nervously, as the four of them stood close together, feeling excited – and also extremely apprehensive. “Now remember, you two,” Rick said to Ron and Ginny, “if things go wrong, just let go of the portal and get the hell out of there ... fast! OK?” Ginny and Ron nodded grimly. There were so many things that could go wrong – and most of them involved Dementors. Although they were both proficient in casting a Patronus – thanks to coaching from Harry and Rick – none of them wanted to contemplate dealing with hordes of Dementors. They all looked at each other with grim determination. “Let’s do it!” said Harry, before transforming into a Golden Eagle and beating his large wings powerfully as he rose purposefully into the air. Rick transformed into a falcon and joined him, circling around as they waited for Ginny and Ron to get to their brooms, which were some distance away. When they reached the brooms, they mounted them and began rising up slowly. Harry and Rick swooped down, each grasping an end of the leading ropes with their claws. Before heading out across the ocean, they rose upwards, to around a thousand feet. They didn’t want any Muggle fishermen spotting Ginny and Ron on brooms, and they wanted to be high above Azkaban when they arrived. That would keep them well clear of the Dementors until they began lowering the portal. After a nervous, but mercifully uneventful, half-hour of flying, Rick and Harry, with their keen eyesight, spotted the dark shape of Azkaban looming forebodingly before them as it jutted out from the sea. As they drew closer, the ugly grey prison buildings that sat atop the island became distinguishable. They were at least seven hundred feet above the highest point of the island as they began passing over it, one on each side. From this height, no movement or sign of life was visible on the island below. Rick felt a pang of fear and a sense of deep apprehension as terrible visions of the Dementors of Azkaban flooded unbidden into his mind. He struggled hard to repress those dreadful memories of being surrounded by hundreds of Dementors in that bleak stinking courtyard, of their stench, of the horrible rasping rattling noise they made, and of the foul slimy lips of the Dementor that tried to suck out his soul. But the Dementors would not be able to sense him today. He and Harry, in their bird Animagus forms, were safe. It was Ginny and Ron who were in danger. No one knew at what distance Dementors could sense their victims. None of them had any idea if Ginny and Ron would be far enough from the island avoid detection. Finally, they reached their intended position. The Time Portal was now halfway across Azkaban Island. The plan was to continue moving forward across the island as they slowly descended, so that the portal completely covered the island when they reached ground level. Rick spread his wings to begin the slow descent. This was the signal to the others to do likewise. Everything was going to plan. They were now only a hundred metres above the prison, and still there was no sign of Dementors. Rick began to worry that the evil creatures might no longer be on the island. Could Voldemort have moved them in preparation for the attack on Hogwarts? he asked himself, as he swivelled his head from side-to-side to check on Ginny and Ron as they continued downwards. Suddenly he saw them – twenty or more Dementors, charging upwards – and straight towards Ginny. It was their worst nightmare! Rick let go of his rope and dived to gain speed – and to get well beneath the portal, as he sped in Ginny’s direction. Ginny spotted the Dementors coming towards her almost the moment they began rising up from the island in front of her. She and Ron were both on the lookout for them. She used the detaching charm to free her broom from the rope attached to the portal, and shot up in the air away from the Dementors and Azkaban. Ron, who had been keeping an eye on his sister, as well as looking out for Dementors, saw what was happening and freed his broom from the portal also. Since it was weightless, it would just hover, stationary, in the air. Ron sped towards the Dementors who were pursuing Ginny, firing his bull-shaped Patronus at them. It lowered its horns as it charged, driving them well away from Ginny. But, Ron’s relief at Ginny’s escape was short–lived. Suddenly, he felt a terrible chill assail him. Twisting around on his broom he saw them – thirty Dementors closing on him fast. But his fear of the Dementors was replaced by an even greater terror as he gazed in horror upon an enormous dragon flying straight towards him. Bloody hell, where did that monster come from? thought Ron. What the hell am I supposed to do now? In fact there was only one thing he could do: go up – and fast. Ron shot upwards, almost vertically, hunched desperately over his broom, dreading the immanent terrifying chill of the Dementors – or the furnace of the dragon’s fire. But, when miraculously, neither eventuated, he cautiously, he looked down. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. The dragon was breathing great sheets of flame at the Dementors, who did not appear to be enjoying it at all. Ron saw them turn and flee, back towards the island. He flew over to Ginny. “Where the hell did that dragon come from?” he asked her, when he reached her side. “And how come it’s attacking the Dementors instead of us?” “It’s Rick!” said Ginny. “I saw him transform straight from a falcon into that enormous dragon. It’s a Norwegian Ridgeback, I think.” “Bloody hell!” said Ron. “He could have told us, I almost fell off my broom when I saw that monster coming straight at me! Listen, Gin, Rick managed to get the Dementors who were chasing us back to the island – but, look, there are hundreds of them now, swarming all over the place – Blood hell! They’re starting to rise up in the air. There’s no way Rick can herd that many back to the island. Hey! I’ve got an idea ... follow me! Quick!” Ginny got the surprise of her life when Ron headed at full speed straight back towards Azkaban. Taking a deep breath, she gripped her broom tightly and sped off after him. He was too far ahead for her to ask what the hell he was doing ... she was just going to have to trust him. Soon they were flying about fifty feet above the portal, with the island of Azkaban beneath them. When they were directly above the prison, Ron began circling slowly. By now, Ginny had caught on to what Ron was attempting to do. He was deliberately trying to get the Dementors to attack them – from below – and it was working – brilliantly. The Dementors, rising up from Azkaban in their hundreds, were attracted to them – like bees to honey. They flew straight up, towards Ron and Ginny, but, when they reached the portal, they simply disappeared. They seemed to be completely oblivious to what was happening, or why the Dementors ahead of them were disappearing. They were starved for human souls and seemed to be capable of one thought only: Get to the two humans, and suck out their souls. Wave after wave of Dementors continued flying towards them and disappearing as they hit the portal. It went on for almost five minutes. “Ron, you’re a genius!” said Ginny, joyfully. “That was the most brilliant trick I’ve ever seen! There don’t seem to be any more Dementors attacking us. Do you think there could be any more down there on the island?” “I don’t know,” replied Ron. “There could be — Hey, Ginny, look, here’s Rick! He’s turned back into a falcon again.” Rick came down on the handle of Ron’s broom and stared at him. “Rick, can you understand me?” asked Ron. Rick gave a very distinct nod. “Well, err ... I think we’ve gotten rid of all the Dementors,” said Ron, feeling a bit silly, talking to a bird. “But, just to be sure, I think we should complete the plan and lower the portal down to sea level – just in case there are more Dementors down there. Do you agree?” Rick nodded again. “So when, exactly, were you going to tell us that you are also a bloody dragon Animagus, as well?” demanded Ron, reproachfully. But, realising that Rick wasn’t able to reply – and this was hardly the time or place to take issue with Rick over his secrecy, he quickly changed tack. “OK, so let’s all grab our ropes then.... I guess you can communicate with Harry, right?” Rick nodded. “He’s still holding onto his rope, so if you let him know what’s happening, we can get on with it. Afterwards, fly down to the prison and check that all the Dementors are gone, like we planned, and then destroy the portal. OK?” Rick nodded again, before flying off towards Harry. Ron and Ginny returned to their positions and took hold of their ropes. When all four of them were in place, they slowly lowered the portal until it was at sea level. Ron and Ginny let go of their ropes and flew back up to wait for Rick. They were soon joined by Harry who was circling them happily. Rick came down and landed in the bleak cobblestone courtyard, in the centre of the prison. He changed into his own form, shuddering as he took in his surroundings, and remembered his previous time here, surrounded by hundreds of horrible Dementors. Pushing these unwanted thoughts away, Rick created a magical map of the island in his mind. There was not a single Dementor showing anywhere. Professor Dumbledore had been certain that every single Dementor in existence had been here at Azkaban – which meant that they all gone – every last loathsome one of them. Rick transformed back into a falcon and flew down to the shoreline, landing on a large boulder a few feet above the portal, which was hovering an inch or two above the sea. He changed back to his human form once more and cast the spell to destroy the Time Portal. His happy feelings at finally ridding their world of the dreaded Dementors were interrupted by Harry diving towards him. Harry immediately transformed. “Death Eaters, on brooms, Rick! Thirty or forty of them, headed this way – Ron and Ginny haven’t seen them yet – we’ve got to do something!” “I’ll transform into a dragon,” said Rick. “You’ll be more use with your wand on my back, than as an eagle. Hop up on my back – while I transform and then climb up into the saddle, OK?” “OK, but be quick!” yelled Harry urgently, jumping up on Rick’s back and immediately finding himself being thrown up into the air. He grabbed hold of a harness strap, and climbed over the dragon’s rough scales until he reached the saddle, and strapped himself in. Finding what appeared to be a set of reigns, Harry pulled on them to let Rick know he was ready to go. Rick unfurled his massive wings and flapped them powerfully, rising slowly into the air. Damn it! thought Rick as he began flying towards Ginny and Ron with powerful beats of his enormous wings. The Death Eaters must have created some kind of magical warning system which was activated when the Dementors sensed Ginny and Ron. After my rescue of Hermione, there’s probably been a bunch of them stationed across on the mainland, ready to scramble and head for Azkaban if intruders were detected again. By now, the Death Eaters had reached Ginny and Ron, who, although greatly outnumbered were using their superior broom skills to dart about and dodge the barrage of curses and hexes. They were soon half-a-mile apart, forcing the Death Eaters to split into two groups to pursue them. The Death Eaters chasing Ginny spread themselves around her and began flinging curses at her from different directions. It was becoming increasingly difficult for her to dodge them all. As Rick approached, Harry saw Ginny take a direct hit. She had been badly hexed, and was clinging desperately to her broom. Since it was hard to make a direct hit on a swiftly moving broom, the Death Eaters now resorted to firing Blasting Curses in Ginny’s direction. These were buffeting her broom and making it very difficult for her to control, in her weakened state. It was zigzagging wildly about the sky as Blasting Curses exploded all around her. Ginny was in imminent danger of being thrown from her broom into the sea – far below. Harry quickly released himself from the dragon saddle and transformed into an eagle; flying off at top speed towards Ginny. Her erratic movements made it very difficult for him to land on her broom. As he closed in on her, a blasting curse exploded only feet away, knocking Ginny from her broom. Desperately, she grasped the broom with her hands, dangling helplessly beneath it. Harry was knocked off course by the Blasting Curse, but, making full use of the skills he had honed in the many hours flying with Rick, he finally managed to catch hold of Ginny’s wildly-careening broom with his powerful claws. He immediately transformed, throwing his legs around the broom, and casting a Reflecting Shield around himself and Ginny, who was hanging desperately beneath him. Harry quickly brought the broom under control, and stopped its wild dance. Then he lay flat on the broom and grabbed hold of one of Ginny’s arms. Harry tried to pull Ginny up onto the broom, but it was impossible. Ginny was barely conscious by now, and unable to perform the standard Quidditch manoeuvre, of hefting herself up, to lie across the broomstick. Harry had an idea. If she can’t pull herself up, I’ll just have to drop the broom down. He sent the broom vertically downwards about a metre and a little to the left in a sudden movement. As a result, Ginny suddenly bobbed up, relative to the broom. Harry, still grasping her arm, pulled her over the handle and held her there securely in the broom rescue position. While all of this was happening the Death Eaters were slowly recovering from the shock of seeing Harry Potter mysteriously appear on the injured girl’s broom. Some of them had noticed the eagle flying about, but none had noticed it transform into their master’s greatest enemy. They assumed that Potter had been on the broom all along, hidden beneath an invisibility cloak which had been blown away by a Blasting Curse. The Death Eaters were even more surprised when, having secured the girl across the broomstick, rather than attempting to evade them, Potter turned to face them. The twenty or so Death Eaters couldn’t believe their luck at having Harry Potter, within wand-range, outnumbered twenty-to-one – a sitting duck – his hands full with keeping an unconscious girl on a broom. They weren’t planning on taking any prisoners today ... this was going to be too easy ... “Let Potter have it!” yelled one of the Death Eaters. “Avada Kedavra!” screamed a dozen Death Eaters in unison, letting loose a volley of Killing Curses. The curses hit Harry’s shield and rebounded back upon the Death Eaters who had cast them. They died instantly, their bodies plummeting along with their brooms into the sea, far below. When Harry flew off to help Ginny, Rick had decided to go help Ron, who was being pursued by the second group of Death Eaters. Before he could reach him, he saw Ron hit by a powerful hex. Rick could do nothing, but look on helplessly, as his friend plummeted thirty feet to the sea, hitting it with a loud smack. Hoping desperately that Ron was still alive, Rick swooped down and carefully lifted him out of the sea, grasping him under the arms with his powerful claws. Rick then turned his attention to the Death Eaters, who were stunned to find an enormous dragon in their midst, belching flames. Rick was careful not to incinerate the Death Eaters. Instead, he set the ends of their brooms on fire. The Death Eaters fled back towards the mainland, frantically casting Extinguishing Spells on their smouldering, charred brooms. Rick flew over to where he could see Harry holding Ginny as she lay across her broomstick. They were surrounded by eight Death Eaters who had just witnessed twelve of their companions plunge into the sea after being struck by their own rebounding Killing Curses. They were arguing about how to proceed, when they suddenly found themselves set upon by a fierce fire-breathing dragon. They needed no further encouragement ... to turn tail and flee. Spotting Ron, hanging limply from Rick’s claws, Harry quickly flew up to the dragon saddle and carefully strapped Ginny in. Then he flew around in front of the dragon’s head on Ginny’s broom so Rick could see what he was doing, before flying down to Ron. Harry positioned the broom so that it was against Ron’s stomach, and grasped hold of one of Ron’s arms. With his other hand he twisted the end of one of the Dragon’s claws, hoping Rick would understand the signal. He did, and slowly released his grip on Ron, allowing Harry to drag him across the broomstick. Harry flew Ron up to the dragon saddle and after a bit of a struggle, managed to squeeze Ron in beside Ginny and strap them both in securely. He was relieved to find Ron was still breathing, albeit very shallowly. There was an unhealthy bluish tinge to his face and lips, and blood was trickling from his nose and mouth. Ron was also completely wet. Harry hadn’t seen what had happened to his friend, but it was obvious that he had been in the chilly water, and was freezing cold. He cast a drying charm on Ron’s clothes, and then a heating charm around the saddle. There wasn’t much more he could do for his friend right now. They had to get Ron and Ginny back to the mainland as quickly as possible, so Rick could transform and check them over. Harry had a very bad feeling about Ron. If only he could hang on until they got him back to Hogwarts ... he might have a chance.... Harry gave a tug on the dragon’s reigns, then transformed back into an eagle, to lighten Rick’s load. Rick got the message, and began flying as fast as he could towards the mainland, with Harry flying beside his huge head. As they crossed the coast, Harry used one of their common bird gestures to indicate that they should land. They came down on the same barren headland where Rick had constructed the Time Portal a few hours earlier. Rick first examined Ginny. He quickly healed the effects of the curse she’d been hit with. Ginny regained consciousness, although she was a little dazed at first. However, when she saw Ron, she became very quickly alert – and worried. Rick was examining Ron carefully, moving his hand gently above his chest and abdomen. Harry stood behind Ginny and wrapped his arms around her to comfort her as they both looked on, anxiously. “He’s really in a bad way,” said Rick, finally. “I think I’ve managed to stop the internal bleeding, but I don’t have enough experience to do much more. We have to get him to Hogwarts as quickly as possible.” “It’ll take too long to fly him there on your back,” said Harry. “Your dragon Animagus is nowhere near as fast as the falcon. How about you Apparate the four of us back?” “Apparate us?” asked Ginny, surprised. “Can you do that?” “Err, yeah,” answered Rick. “Right, everyone hold hands. I’ll Apparate us to behind that clump of trees near the Hogwarts gates, then we’ll conjure a stretcher and use the Mobilicorpus spell to get Ron to the hospital wing. OK?” Harry and Ginny nodded. Ginny knelt down next Ron and took his hand in hers, holding Harry’s hand with her other. Rick grasped Harry’s other hand and they were gone.
~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~
Madam Pomfrey had been examining Ron for over ten minutes, moving her wand over various parts of his body, and muttering spells which made her wand glow different colours – but mostly, an ominous blood red. Her face was very serious, and as the examination progressed, her expression showed increasing concern. She exchanged the occasional whispered comment with Professor Snape who was standing nearby, and looking even more sombre than usual. Professor Dumbledore had requested the Potion Master’s assistance as soon as the seriousness of Ron’s condition became evident. Rick had fetched Hermione, and they were standing close to Harry and Ginny, in a corner of the room. The four of them looked on, with growing anxiety, as Madam Pomfrey proceeded with the examination. Even from that distance, it was clear that Ron was barely alive. He lay unconscious, his face had an unhealthy white pallor, and his breathing was shallow and irregular. Suddenly, the door swung open and Padma rushed in. She immediately tried to rush to Ron, but Harry stepped forward and caught her, holding her firmly to prevent her interrupting Madam Pomfrey. “Harry, what’s happened to Ron?” she cried distraughtly. “Luna said she saw him being brought in on a stretcher, and it looked like he was very badly injured. He’s going to be alright, isn’t he?” she demanded frantically. Hermione and Ginny each put an arm around Padma, who was extremely distressed and still puffing heavily from running all the way from Ravenclaw Tower. “We don’t know yet,” said Hermione, trying to sound more hopeful than she felt. “Madam Pomfrey is still examining him.” Finally, the nurse turned to Professor Dumbledore who was standing behind her. “I am very sorry, Headmaster,” she said, letting out a long, sad sigh, “but I’m afraid there is nothing more I can do for him ... I’ve tried to make him as comfortable as possible. He has suffered massive internal lacerations which are quite beyond my ability to heal. I know of no Healer, or magic, that can reverse such severe injuries. I can only suggest that you contact his parents. If they are very quick they may get here in time to see him, before....” But, she couldn’t continue. She pulled out a large white handkerchief and dried her eyes, before turning away. Professor Dumbledore turned gravely towards Snape, his eyebrows raised questioningly. “I am afraid I must concur with Madam Pomfrey’s prognosis, Headmaster,” he said solemnly. “There is no potion, or anything else I know of, that can save him. He has suffered enormous internal damage. The best I can offer is a powerful analgesic concoction to dull the pain, should he regain consciousness, before he.... I shall brew it immediately,” he said, turning and striding solemnly from the room. “Thank you, Poppy,” said Dumbledore comfortingly to the nurse. “You have done your very best for him, I cannot ask for more.” The nurse nodded then left the room sobbing. Padma and Ginny both began crying uncontrollably. Harry wrapped an arm around each of them as he fought back his own tears. “Professor Dumbledore,” said Hermione quietly. “Perhaps —” The Headmaster held up his hand to silence her, gently nodding his head and fixing her with an understanding glance. “Miss Patil, Miss Weasley, please accompany me to Madam Pomfrey’s office. I shall ask her to give you both a tonic to help you cope with your distress.” As he escorted them from the room, he turned back, catching Rick’s eye, and glancing meaningfully towards the door. The moment the door had closed, Rick placed a locking spell on it with a brief gesture. Hermione was already at Ron’s side. She placed a hand on either side of his head and closed her eyes. She was soon lost in deep concentration. “What’s she doing, Rick?” whispered Harry. “Empathetic magic, I think,” replied Rick softly. “She’s trying to determine the exact nature of Ron’s injuries. She’s finding out which organs are injured and how they are damaged, so she can repair them.” “Can she really do that?” asked Harry hopefully. “I mean, Madam Pomfrey is very skilled in magical healing – believe me, I know from experience – and she said nothing could be done. Do you really think Hermione can save him?” “I sure as hell hope so,” said Rick. “If anyone can, Hermione can.” Hermione had opened her eyes now, and was moving her hands in slow circular motions, about an inch or two above Ron’s abdomen. Her eyes were fixed upon her hands in intense concentration. A soft white glow began to emanate from them. It appeared to be some kind of energy; and it was flowing from the palms of her hands into Ron’s body. After working on his abdomen for several minutes, Hermione gradually moved her hands up Ron’s body, continuing the circular motion. She paused for a minute or two over his chest, before finally bringing her hands up to his face. All the while, the strange soft glow came from them and flowed into Ron. Two things happened almost simultaneously. Ron suddenly opened his eyes and began looking around in a daze, and there was a loud banging on the door. “Madam Pomfrey! Why is this door locked?” demanded a very annoyed Professor Snape. “Ah, Severus, there you are,” said Dumbledore, calmly, “back with the potion already? That was quick.” Rick looked at Ron and smiled broadly, then he looked at Hermione. “All done?” he asked. “Can I let him in before he starts on the Blasting Curses?” Hermione nodded happily. She was holding Ron’s hand and smiling like a Cheshire Cat. Rick flicked his hand at the door, and it suddenly sprang open, to reveal Snape, the Headmaster, and Madam Pomfrey. They all entered the room, closely followed by Ginny and Padma, who, seeing Ron awake and very much alive, immediately rushed over to him and flung her arms around him, kissing him. Everyone was talking at once. Snape was demanding to know what the hell Harry, Hermione, and Rick were doing in the room, and what they had done to the door. Padma had thrown her arms around Ron’s neck and was showering his face with kisses. Ginny was grasping one of Ron’s hands, and weeping with joy at seeing him alive and well, after having given up all hope. Madam Pomfrey, meanwhile, was trying to prise Padma off her patient and get to him herself. Professor Dumbledore stood calmly off to one side, surveying the chaos with an amused smile on his face, his blue eyes twinkling. When they fell upon Hermione, he smiled at her warmly and nodded his head in a gesture of recognition of her miraculous achievement. Madam Pomfrey had to resort to threatening Padma and Ginny with hexes, to get them to step back from Ron, who was shaking his head from side-to-side in confusion at the bedlam surrounding him. The nurse proceeded to repeat the diagnostic tests with her wand. Professor Snape was, once again, standing beside her. Instead of his previous undertaker impersonation, this time he was gaping in disbelief – firstly at Madam Pomfrey’s wand, which was now consistently glowing a soft blue colour; and secondly, at Ron Weasley, who looked a picture of health. “I cannot understand it, Headmaster,” she finally declared, shaking her head in wonder. “Not five minutes ago, all his internal organs were ruptured and damaged. There had been massive internal haemorrhaging. But now ... he’s completely healthy. Every organ is in perfect condition, and functioning faultlessly. In all my reading of the great Magical Healers, I have never come across an account of so remarkable a recovery ... well, at least not since the time of Jesus Christ, himself.” She shook her head in disbelief, before finally adding. “How is this possible? How could he have been healed?” “A very good question indeed, Madam Pomfrey,” said Snape, fixing Rick with a penetrating gaze. “Most significantly, this is not the first time that I have witnessed a remarkable recovery from an apparently irreversible condition. Something equally miraculous happened quite recently in the case of....” But Snape trailed off as he remembered the need to keep the miraculous recovery of Hermione’s parents secret. “I am sure there is a perfectly logical explanation,” he added after a few moments, as he continued to stare hard at Rick, an eyebrow raised questioningly. “It was the ghost!” Every eye in the room turned upon Ron in shock. These were the first word he had spoken, and they caught everyone by surprise. “What? What on earth are you talking about, Mr. Weasley?” demanded Snape, glaring down intimidatingly at Ron, lying in his bed. “Err ... well, when I woke up and opened my eyes, just now, I heard this rasping voice saying, ‘There we are lad, you’re all better now – as good as new. I can’t have one of my own Gryffindors dying on me, now can I?’ I recognised the voice, from that time in the Great Hall, when he Squibbed Umbridge, and also from Trelawn ... err, Professor Trelawney’s séance in the Gryffindor common room. I’d know that voice anywhere – it was the Ghost of Godric Gryffindor – I’m sure of it,” affirmed Ron, carefully avoiding Snape’s withering gaze. “Poppycock!” exclaimed Snape. “Your body may be recovered, Mr. Weasley, but clearly you’ve suffered irreparable brain damage. Either that – or you are deliberately lying to both myself and the Headmaster. Which is it, Mr. Weasley?” he demanded menacingly. “Now, now, Severus,” said Dumbledore gently. “Mr. Weasley’s explanation is, in fact, quite plausible. While it appears to be entirely miraculous and beyond all known magic, let me remind you that such extraordinary things have been happening all year, both around Hogwarts, and beyond. And, their source has indeed been the Ghost of Godric Gryffindor.” Snape concealed a snort, keeping his silence, as he stared hard at Rick, who, coincidentally, had also been at Hogwarts all year. Dumbledore, no doubt, had his reasons for encouraging the disinformation about Gryffindor’s ghost being responsible for all the extraordinary events – and Snape was not about to contradict him on it publicly. He was almost certain, by now, that Rick Godfry, and not some absurd ghost, was the true cause. Looking briefly towards the Headmaster, Snape surreptitiously raised an eyebrow, to indicate that he wasn’t fooled by this fabrication, before turning and striding quickly from the room. Dumbledore’s blue eyes were twinkling merrily. Padma had taken the opportunity to move back to Ron, and was once again leaning over the bed, hugging and kissing him. She was so happy to have him alive and well, she seemed oblivious to the others in the room. “That’s quite enough of that, young lady!” growled Madam Pomfrey, having regaining her composure – and her usual stern demeanour. “This is the hospital wing – not the Astronomy Tower. Mr. Weasley needs rest – not excitement. He will remain here under my observation for the remainder of the weekend. Now, everyone, out!” “But, why can’t I go too?” asked Ron. “I’ve never felt better in my life, why do I have to —” “Twenty minutes ago, we were about to arrange your funeral, Mr. Weasley,” said the nurse severely. “You may feel fit as a fiddle now, but you will remain under my observation for the next twenty-four hours, minimum! Is that understood?” “Yes,” said Ron, sighing in resignation. “That’s better,” said Madam Pomfrey, somewhat appeased. “If you behave yourself, Weasley, you may receive visitors tomorrow after breakfast. But please, avoid engaging in any activities that are likely to excite him,” she said, looking pointedly at Padma. “Now, all of you, out of here and let Mr. Weasley get some rest.”
~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~
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