Perspicuus rapio rufus – Halloween myth behind superstition that people of colour must hide from the invisible beast. Only on All Hallows Eve can Rufus the beast touch living things and grind the colour out of them. It takes enough colour to coat itself and walk amongst us, apparently human, for another year.
"...and then you throw salt over your left shoulder and shout Rumpelstiltskin into a mirror so he doesn't sit next to you on the Knight bus and tell you boring stories about his auntie Fay." Hermione closed the old text and rolled her eyes.
"You know, Hermione," Ron said with a knowing smirk, "there'd have been a time before you knew better when you would have sneered at trolls, giants and unicorns being real, oh and ghosts - preposterous!" Ron tossed his head back and pretended to flick back wild bushy hair.
"I don't do that," Hermione said with a brief scowl before shaking her head at Ron's broad grin and gradually building fit of giggles. "Honestly, how can you strike terror into Dark wizards and witches when you giggle like that?"
"He's the incredible giggling Auror," Harry said as he peered over the top of his newspaper, "surely there's a chapter on him in your great wizarding folklore book."
Hermione was about to join in with the teasing when she looked back down at the book on her lap and frowned, that familiar expression of disgruntlement on the behalf of a persecuted minority clearly forming on her face, and she threw the book onto Ron's desk with an angry huff.
"People of colour, really, I'd have thought the wizarding world was above that kind of thing."
Ron blinked at her, dumbly. Harry lowered the paper and pulled the book towards himself.
"It didn't really say that," he muttered as he opened the book and fanned through the pages.
"It did!" Hermione said, straightening her back and lifting her chin with indignance.
"Well, be fair," Ron said with a shrug, "some bogeyman creature who smears ground up dead people over his body just so he can take form isn't going to be delicate about phrasing is he?"
"People of colour is offensive though," Hermione insisted, "and I doubt the fictitious creature wrote his own description did he?"
"Ahhh," Ron said, sitting forward and looking very smug as he waggled his finger in her face, "that's offensive and sexist that is. Why do you assume this thing is a he? Oh tut tut, Miss Granger, I thought better of you, I really did."
Harry laughed at this. There was nothing more amusing than Ron getting one over on Hermione in his opinion. Ron looked pleased with himself and Hermione looked as angry as she would have done if she'd just written an important report in disappearing ink.
"Does Rufus sound like a girl's name to you?"
"That's only part of its name, the last bit, it was all...Higgledy piggledy rufus or something like that." Ron said as he put his feet up on the corner of his desk.
Hermione sat forward and shoved them off immediately.
"Perspicuus rapio rufus!" She corrected.
"That's what I said," Ron shrugged and then put his feet back onto the desk, insolently.
Harry gave a loud laugh and Hermione turned on him, angrily, before seeing that he was laughing at something in the book. Harry looked up, turned the open book around to face them, and then pointed at a blank page.
"An illustration! An illustration of an invisible creature! How much did they pay the artist for that?"
Ron burst out laughing and Hermione rolled her eyes.
"It's a literal interpretation, obviously." She huffed.
"It's a blank piece of bloody paper and you know it!" Ron grinned as he took the book and read the caption before his laughter raised a pitch and he doubled up while reciting the text to the others. "Get this, it says underneath the blank page 'Not to scale'!"
Harry and Ron were now in hysterics and Hermione snatched the book away from them, angrily. The sharp edge of the page sliced across the crease of Ron's index finger and he hissed and plunged his bleeding finger into his mouth and began sucking on it, a look of childlike hurt in his eyes directed at Hermione.
Hermione's resolve to act as 'serves you right' as she could, dissolved immediately and she took his hand and spoke to him with her most sympathetic tone.
"Poor you, I'm sorry," she pulled Ron's finger from his mouth and then turned it over to see the clean cut surrounded by shiny wet skin and blew on it, gently, "I didn't mean to. Let me heal it for you?"
Hermione drew her wand and Ron's disgruntled pout remained as he gave a single nod and muttered something about paper cuts being ten times worse than splinching.
"Drama queen," Harry said with a smirk before going back to his newspaper.
Hermione tapped the thin cut and watched the skin seal itself again. She lowered her head to look at Ron's sulky face and then smiled.
Ron tried to avoid her eyes but she moved her head and knew that he was having a hard time not breaking into a smile.
"Only if you take that lethal weapon away with you before it takes my head off," Ron said, mouth curling up into a smile.
Hermione laughed and then leaned forward to kiss him on the lips, still wet from sucking on his finger, before brushing at the slight trace of blood on the edge of the paper and closing the book. She tucked it under her arm and then let her hand settle, briefly, upon Ron's shoulder before she turned to leave.
"So are we spending Halloween together tonight or do you two have to work?" She addressed them both but looked at Harry.
"It's tradition, the three of us at Halloween," Harry said, puffing out his chest, "it's like our anniversary or something."
Ron looked at Harry and raised an eyebrow.
"Oh, you know what I mean!"
"We'll be home and I'll be cooking," Ron said as he looked up at Hermione with a smile. "No books allowed!"
"My, you do like to hold grudges don't you?" Hermione said with a sigh.
Hermione neatly filed away all her paperwork for the day and slid each clearly labelled folder into its appropriate alphabetically designated compartment.
She pushed the drawer of the filing cabinet closed and then turned; sure she had just heard a familiar sound. She was alone in the room and everything was how it was a moment ago when she turned her back.
With a thoughtful hum and then a shake of the head to dismiss what she thought she had heard; Hermione crossed the room to take her cloak down from its hook on the wall. She spun around on hearing the sound again. It wasn't rustling paper, but more like thick card being creased.
She narrowed her eyes, tilted her head to one side, and listened. There were the slightest sounds of a nib etching away at parchment and she could've sworn it was coming from the closed book on her desk.
Stepping closer, she turned the book around to face her and pulled it open. It fell open at the page about the Perspicuus rapio rufus beast and Hermione's eyes widened in shock as she saw the faint outline of a smooth, muscular, yet almost humanoid figure on the page where no illustration had been earlier on.
"Oh," she said as she leaned forward and examined the outline in a rusty brownish ink, "that's clever. The illustration draws itself at Halloween to coincide with the time of the myth."
She picked up the book and closed it, tucked it under her arm, and set off to find a vacant fireplace to Floo to her rented flat.
Tonight was the night she, Harry and Ron would always spend together. It was lovely to be together as just the three of them, outside of work and family gatherings, in the way it had always been at school.
There had been a concern that with Hermione and Ron becoming a couple, Harry wouldn't be as close to one or both of them. Ron and Harry would work together every day and Hermione would work in an entirely different part of the Ministry and feel out of the loop regarding all their top secret missions. And Ron would always be Ron. He hated to be closer to one and not the other. Harry could read him like a book and Hermione completed him.
Halloween was a tradition for them. They would be together, the three of them, and just enjoy each other and be amazed at the miracle that they were all alive to do so.
They never did get over the fact that they were all resigned to die at seventeen and were always stunned that, despite the colossal losses during the battle of Hogwarts, the three of them were still there and together and happy.
Hermione dropped down into the squishy armchair that Ron liked to fall into rather than the hard backed one she would sit up in to read. She closed her eyes and sighed before smiling as she felt the weight of Crookshanks landing on her lap and vibrating with deep purrs.
She stroked his fur and he rubbed his head against her body. They both sprung into alert mode on hearing the creasing sound coming from within the book. Crookshanks' hackles raised and Hermione set him down on the carpet before reaching to pull the book into her lap.
"We must have some more details in the one day only illustration," Hermione said as she flicked through the pages, with interest.
Crookshanks hissed at the book and arched his back, bottle brush tail stiff like a rod in the air behind him. Hermione ignored him and found the page she was looking for. There, in a strange reddy brown ink, was a darker outline and some more details of the muscle tone and facial features in feint lines.
"So he steals the colour from the people who have it and becomes visible for another year, gradually fading away to nothing once more until October the thirty-first, when he prowls again, completely invisible."
Crookshanks was becoming even more aggressive and Hermione frowned and set the book down before reaching to pick him up. The squat faced cat darted from between her hands and pounced onto the open book, clawing at the pages.
"Crookshanks, no!" Hermione yelped. "That's an old Ministry text. It's more valuable than a library book, get off!"
Crookshanks skidded away across the coffee table but began prowling back towards the book, furiously. Hermione waved a hand to shoo him away before lifting the book and carrying it with her to the kitchen so she could set it on the taller table, out of the way.
"Hermione?" She heard the voice calling from the fireplace, back in the living room, and hurried back.
Crookshanks ran out in a huff and she crouched down to see Harry's head bobbing up and down in the green flames.
"Don't tell me you're still at work?" Hermione said, disappointment clearly evident in her voice.
"There's been some really strange stuff going on here but it seems to have died down now," Harry said, running a hand through his dishevelled hair, "we'll settle down all the spooked employees and be there for nine, okay?"
"Nine?" Hermione whined.
"I know but people are really on edge. Even Kingsley said he feels like there's somebody prowling around under a Disillusionment charm or something. Ron reckons its just Halloween, ghosts and ghouls playing up for the occasion."
"So he's not experiencing anything out of the ordinary then?"
"What Ron?" Harry snorted, "Ron's tuned into higher things, like where the smell of roast chestnuts and jacket spuds is coming from."
Hermione laughed and Harry shook his head and rolled his eyes.
"We'll try and get out before nine. We'll be there, I promise. We haven't missed a Halloween yet and we're not starting now. See you soon."
Harry's head vanished and Hermione's shoulders fell with a sigh. Just as she planted her hands onto her knees to push herself back up she heard the most horrific screeching sound coming from the kitchen.
She ran to see what was going on, wand clutched tightly in her hand and at the ready, and she skidded through the doorway and onto the kitchen tile on something wet and sticky on the floor.
The terrible sound of strangled screaming had stopped and been replaced by deep, thick, crunching. There was a grinding noise, rough and splintered in a way that set her teeth on edge, and as she regained her balance the visceral resonance echoed around the kitchen walls. Hermione could smell something she dared not speculate about and then, finally, registered what it was she had slipped on as she had passed through the doorway.
The floor was coated with thick, dark blood. There were intestines and tissue and bone fragments scattered everywhere. On the table was, what looked like a raw pate that had been ground into a rug or a wig or a...a...
A red hand, claw like and powerful, grabbed a handful of the blood matted fur and smeared it over what was only a half visible face. Hermione put her hand to her mouth and half gagged, half sobbed, before shakily aiming her wand at the thing and trying to think of a spell.
Within the pages of the open book a detailed face in rich blood red formed, it was the same face that was now on full display, floating above an invisible body, and she realised that Perspicuus rapio rufus had just ground the colour out of her cat.
The wild eyes looked at her, a mixture of clear orbs and blood dripping eyelids and eyelashes. Thick, clotted bags had formed beneath the eyes and deep lines down either side of the hooked nose looked like bloody cuts into raw, skinless cheeks. Her curse had no effect.
The thing, Rufus, smiled. It displayed gore coated teeth and ran at her, pinning her to the wall behind her. She squealed in shock but found herself frozen in fear as Rufus looked at her with distain and then rejection as he threw her into the remnants of her beloved cat and ran into the fireplace, which blazed brilliant red, before he and the flames were gone.
Harry and Ron yawned and grumbled all the way to the wall of fireplaces, rolling their shoulders and massaging cricks in their necks, before grabbing handfuls of Floo powder and waiting in line for one of the fireplaces to become free.
"Auror Potter, Weasley!" An urgent sounding voice called out from across the echoing hall.
"Oh, you're sodding joking!" Ron groaned.
"We're signed out and going home. Get someone else," Harry called without looking back.
Footsteps grew louder and more hurried across the polished floor and the apprentice to the assistant caretaker of the building stepped before Harry as he raised his hand to throw his handful of Floo powder into the fireplace. The reedy little man was panting heavily and Harry looked at Ron with resignation.
"You go on, I'll go and straighten up the chair that's a centimetre out of place of whatever this pr-"
"Minister Shacklebolt specifically asked for me to alert you both to this immediately," the apprentice puffed.
Ron widened his eyes and grinned, broadly.
"I'm alert! I'm aware! I'm going!"
He turned to step into his own vacant fireplace when Harry pulled him back by the shoulder.
"It's Kingsley, Ron, if he's asked for you..."
"Bollocks," Ron said before turning on the jittery apprentice, "what is it then?"
"The invisible person, they're back."
"How do you know?" Ron exclaimed, throwing his arms wide.
"People are reporting being knocked off their feet, pushed aside, and some have seen...well think they've seen..."
"People have seen the invisible man, Harry, come on. Let's jump to it and get a description! Hair - invisible, eyes – invisible, height – dunno 'cause he was invisible." Ron scoffed.
"There's something of him now," the apprentice struggled to explain, "like a face, half a face of red mist, and a hand. It's like red dust floating through the air but bumping into people and knocking them right over."
Ron and Harry frowned and looked at each other. They paused for a moment before their shoulders fell and they turned away from the fireplaces to follow the apprentice.
"She'll never believe this excuse," Ron said with a sigh.
"You never know, look at the books she reads," Harry shrugged.
Hermione tried various things to erase the illustration from the book but nothing happened. Remembering Harry and riddle's diary she grabbed a kitchen knife and stabbed it into the page of the book with the increasingly detailed illustration forming upon it but nothing changed.
She guessed that the illustration merely reflected the state of Rufus and wasn't actually part of him. Biting her lip she wondered if maybe she'd done something to bring him to her on this Halloween night.
Her eyes fell to the bottom of the page, the sharp edge where Ron had cut himself and she had wiped the blood stain away, and gasped.
"No, the blood on his image brought him forth and...Crookshanks was the closest living thing he could take to gain some form. He was clawing at the book and...Oh my poor Crookshanks!"
Slamming closed the book and running towards the Floo, Hermione knew she had to get to Kingsley and warn him that 'people of colour' were now at risk of being ground up into mince so the invisible creature could take human form for a year.
She thought about Ron and Harry, still working late and maybe having to fight off something they couldn't see. Her heart caught in her throat as she realised they would both fight to the death to protect Kingsley.
She had to warn everybody. She had to stop this.
"Reports of offices being torn apart, this thing is searching for something," Kingsley boomed as he ran down the corridor, sleeves rolled up and robes billowing behind him, as he charged towards Harry and Ron.
"Sir, where do you need us?" Harry asked, stunned by the Minister's degree of panic.
"Everywhere at once!" Kingsley said as half a dozen paper plane memos darted at him from all directions and circled his shiny bald head.
"We'll split up," Ron said before turning to Harry to formulate a plan.
"I don't like that plan," Harry snapped, "I've never liked that plan. Shut up!"
Kingsley snatched a memo out of the air and unfolded it, then another and another and another.
"Your office," he said before looking up at them and then turning his attention to Ron in particular, "your desk. Red handprints all over it and the head rest of your chair was shredded.
Harry looked at Ron, face pale.
"Have you been investigating anything on the quiet?"
Ron shook his head.
"Now is not the time for bullshit, Ron!" Harry shouted.
"I'm fucking not!" Ron yelled back.
"Other rooms have been broken into as well, but Weasley's area was the only one it seems to have dwelled in so far."
A badger Patronus bounded through the closed doors of the lift and straight at Kingsley before opening its mouth and speaking with a flustered woman's voice.
"Minister, the cells! There's something under an invisibility cloak or a Disillusionment charm in the cells. We can't fight it and it's wrenching open the doors."
"Fuck, a prison break!" Harry exclaimed.
"Why here? Why not Azkaban?" Kingsley frowned.
"Who's being held down there?" Ron asked.
"That information should have been put into your...in tray." Kingsley paused, mid-speech, as the penny dropped.
"It saw the list of arrests and who was being held when it ransacked Ron's desk." Harry said before setting off for the lift, "Come on."
"I'll take the stairs, if he runs from one of us the other will get h-"
"Will you stop with this splitting up crap? It never works out for us!" Harry barked, furiously.
"I'll take the stairs," Kingsley said before shoving Ron after Harry.
"Right, sir," Ron said with a nod before running after Harry to the lift just as the doors opened and scores more flying memos zoomed out and set off after Kingsley.
"We should send a Patronus to Hermione, tell her not to Floo call us here." Harry said as they watched the floors pass by.
"Yeah, we don't want her head suddenly appearing while this whatsit is on the rampage." Ron agreed before flicking his wand just as the doors pinged open.
His silver Jack Russell burst from the tip of his wand and hit Hermione directly in the face. She screamed in fright before wafting it away with her hands while Ron's warning message sounded out in the cloud of silver vapour around her head.
"What are you doing here?" Ron and Harry demanded as one.
"Something terrible has happened, I have to warn Kingsley." Hermione tried to push her way into the lift while Harry and Ron stepped out and held her back with them.
"Invisible monster who you can sort of see a bit and who is barging around for no apparent reason?" Ron asked.
"It's here already?" Hermione clamped her hand to her mouth and gasped. "Oh God, where's Kingsley?"
"He's meeting us at the holding cells, that's where the thing was last seen." Harry told her as the three of them set off towards the Ministry holding cells.
"No, it's Kingsley he's after. He's after people of colour remember?" Hermione said as she raced ahead of the two athletic Aurors.
"What?" Harry's face crumpled in confusion.
"You're not seriously trying to say it's that bloody monster from your book are yo-" Ron began.
"It came to the book and slaughtered Crookshanks in my kitchen!" Hermione wheeled round and screeched into Ron's face. "He ground my cat into a pulp and smeared his body all over his face. I saw him!"
Ron's face paled and Harry opened his mouth to speak when a scream echoed along the corridors from the direction of the holding cells.
"Oh Merlin!" A woman in blood spattered constable robes staggered out of the holding cell area, followed by terrified looking detainees who had managed to escape their holding cells. "It's pulping him! It's grinding him into a pulp!"
"Kingsley, no!" Hermione yelled and ran forward. Ron picked up speed and his long legs soon out strode her. He moved ahead and threw himself through the door, ready to attack, before the holding area lit up with a flash and he flung himself to the ground to avoid the stunning spell.
"Down!" He yelled behind him and saw Harry tackling Hermione to the ground to the rebounding spell didn't strike either of them.
"Weasley?" Kingsley roared, "Is that you?"
"Yeah," Ron called back, is that you?"
"Of course it's fucking me!" Kingsley snapped back. "Why would I call out your name if it wasn't?"
Both men got to their feet and then gasped at the bloodied mess that was the other. Ron gulped and swallowed before rushing forward.
"Sir, are you...where's the blood coming from? Let me try and heal i-"
"It's coming from you, Ron," Kingsley said as he tried to lower Ron onto the ground, "don't move, you'll do more damage to yourself. Where did it get you?"
"It didn't get me, it got you!"
"You're covered in blood," Kingsley said, clearly concerned for his fallen man.
"Your blood!" Ron protested.
"I'm not bleeding," Kingsley insisted.
"Well, if you're not bleeding and he's not bleeding," Harry said as he pushed ahead of Hermione and stood in the door, casting light from the end of his wand to get a better look at what had happened, "whose blood is it?"
"Kingsley," Hermione called over Harry's shoulder, waving her hand to get his attention, "you have to protect yourself and warn all witches and wizards with dark skin. This thing is after people of colour."
"Then why the hell did it barge past me as if I was nothing?" Kingsley said as he grabbed Ron by the hand and pulled him back to his feet.
"What?" Hermione's head spun with confusion.
"I've been trying to pin this thing down since it became known to us and it's shoved me aside at least twice. If it wants me it's got a funny way of showing it."
"Whose blood is this, Ron." Harry said as he cast his wand light up and down Ron's body. His shirt, robes and the knees of his trousers were drenched in deep red blood.
"I dunno, it was here when I came in, I slipped in it." Ron said before looking down at the mound of split bones and shredded sinew before putting his hand to his mouth and doubling over, "Oh God!"
Ron's shoulder's hunched and he held his breath before swallowing his retch down with a gag and standing upright again. He'd barely straightened up when the smell hit him and he doubled over and vomited.
"Ron?" Hermione tried to push past Harry to go to her boyfriend but Harry held her back.
"Don't let her see!" Ron said through his disgust, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand and then spitting.
"This is one of the detainees isn't it?" Kingsley said with an appalled expression. "We have to identify the remains and notify the next of kin. The people down here were only in for misdemeanours."
"Uh," Harry felt his on stomach churning as Kingsley stepped forward and skidded on some squirming intestines, "the list. It might still be up in Ron's office. We'll work out who it was."
Ron turned around to leave and make sure Hermione left with him.
"Maybe the warder on duty saw who got attacked." He said before having to compose himself to keep his physical reaction to the horror in check.
"That wasn't an attack," Kingsley said as he put a magical barrier around the area to keep people out, "this was an evisceration."
"Minister! Minister!" A young clerk sprinted down the corridor towards them.
"Stay back." Kingsley held up his hand to keep the man away from the scene of the slaughter.
"Sir, there's a creature, it's sort of red but sort of see through...and not all there, but strong. It's really strong and it's fighting its way out of the building. The Aurors can't stop it. It's trying to get out onto Diagon Alley!"
Harry moved to run off with Kingsley to fight but the man shouted back his order to the three of them.
"I want you to find out what this is, what it wants and how to stop it, now!"
Ron appeared to have got a grip on his gut reaction to the remains in the holding cells when Harry looked back at him and they both turned to see Hermione looking in through the doorway of the cell block, held back by Kingsley's barrier.
"Hermione, come away!" Ron said as he grabbed her arm and yanked her back.
She stumbled back a step before turning towards Ron and then getting a good look at him covered in the blood and tissue he had thrown himself down into to avoid Kingsley's stunning spell.
"It's all right, I'm not hurt," Ron tried to smile despite still feeling a little green from nausea.
She flicked her wand at him and muttered a cleaning spell. Most of the blood and gore was lifted away but his clothes were still stained with dried blood. It was a rusty brown colour, like the ink that filled in the illustration in her book.
Hermione remembered the book and pulled it out from under her arm. She let it fall open to the page it was now accustomed to and her eyes filled with tears as she saw the lines were bolder and the skin now had a burnt orange hue to it.
"He's covered himself in his fist victim. He needs more to colour himself in properly."
"I," Ron looked from Hermione to Harry and shrugged in desperation, "I don't think it's exactly like the myth, Hermione. I think it's pretty random."
"Ron he butchered my cat and then rejected me. He didn't want a pale person."
"And Crookshanks is from Africa is he...was he?" Ron immediately regretted his comment and hugged her to him. "I'm sorry. I'm really sorry about Crookshanks."
"A person was just killed. He was just a silly ugly old cat," Hermione sniffed.
"No more than Hedwig was just a snooty white owl." Harry declared. "I know how it feels to lose a pet that feels more than that. I know how it feels to be guilty about grieving for them because people died too. It's alright to be upset about Crookshanks, Hermione."
She reached out to pull Harry into the hug and sniffed.
"What an anniversary eh?" She laughed, weakly.
"Well, it's still the three of us. We're going about commemorating it the right way." Ron offered.
Hermione pulled back from the three way hug and wiped her eyes.
"We have to prove that this poor soul was of a certain ethnicity so we can protect others. What if this Rufus thing doesn't want black people but wants Asians?"
"We'll find out who it was and we'll find out what this thing is too." Harry said with a determined nod.
"Let's get to what's left of my desk and find that paperwork." Ron said, with one last look back at the cell block before quickly looking away again with a wince.
Kingsley charged after the beast, now defined with more shadows and texture as he slathered the mashed up corpse of a wizard from the reception area of the Ministry.
"As many of you who have wands, stunning spells, on my count," his voice boomed. "One...two...three!"
Spells cracked from wands and whizzed across the debris strewn space before striking the monster from all sides. He staggered but did not fall. The crowd who had been brave enough to take him on began to back away, rapidly, at the sight of so many hexes only having minimal effect. Kingsley waved them back for their own safety while moving in closer, himself.
"Sir, leave it to us!" An Auror said as he pushed through the retreating crowd.
"I'll fight with you," Kingsley said with determination, "but don't get close to it. I've seen what it can do."
The illustration was now more like a detailed pen and ink sketch, eyes flashing and leering out of the book in a way that unsettled her so much that she slammed the book shut and reached for another weighty tome on wizarding folklore.
Ron ran his finger down the list he's pieced together from the shredded fragments on the floor and read out random names.
"Hughes...I'm sure we passed him. He was running out before the warden. Not Hughes."
"It would have been an ethnic detainee, right Hermione? That's what you said, right?" Harry asked, trying to snap Hermione out of her distracted state.
"A wizard of colour," Hermione nodded, sounding numb.
Ron looked back at the list.
"This is no good," he said as he huffed and rubbed the bridge of his long nose with his fingers and thumb, "we're not from your society, Hermione, we don't note ethnicity and not everyone has an ethnic name like Chang or Patil."
"We're sure it's not people of Afro-Caribbean decent?" Harry asked as he scratched the back of his neck, thoughtfully.
"Afro-Carribean?" Ron repeated.
"We have to have polite terms to make up for the offensive ones in the Muggle world." Harry shrugged. "I mean, should we warn our friends like Lee and Dean?"
"It didn't go for Kingsley," Ron said before worrying his lip between his teeth and scanning the list. His eyes picked out a familiar name and he paled.
"Ron?" Harry immediately noticed the change in his best friend's demeanour.
Hermione looked up from the book she was speed-reading and saw the same expression of sickened dread cross the pale, freckled face.
"You know who it was don't you?" Her voice was shaky but clear.
Ron swallowed to lubricate his dry throat and then looked at Harry.
"I'd have remembered if we'd have passed Mundungus down there wouldn't I?"
"Oh no," Harry winced.
"You didn't see him either?" Ron's shoulder's fell.
"But," Hermione began, shaking her head, "it couldn't have been Mundungus. Mundungus is whi-" her face froze, mouth half open and blood running cold.
"People of colour," Harry said, before gulping and turning to Ron's shredded headrest.
"You...what...you..." Ron blinked rapidly and looked from one of them to the other.
"Crookshanks," Hermione whimpered, "his fur, and Mundungus' hair, and" she put her shaking hand to her mouth and looked at the mess that was Ron's half of the shared office as tears welled in her eyes, "it came looking for you."
Ron caught up and looked at his desk and chair before stepping towards his girlfriend and holding her closely.
"I wasn't here, its okay."
"Auror Potter," a witch appeared at the office door, out of breath, "another's been killed and the thing tried to get outside. The Minister drove it back into the building but it escaped through one of the fireplaces. It just threw itself in and the flames went red and it was gone."
"It could have gone anywhere," Hermione said, hopelessly.
"What's your name?" Harry asked the witch.
"Do you know what the person who was killed looked like, Heather?"
The woman paled and nodded before taking a bracing breath and lifting her head up.
"He was about fifty, maybe sixty, and quite plump. He had a Ravenclaw badge on his walking stick and curly, frizzy red hair."
"Oh fuck." Was all Ron could say.
Harry was already focused as he walked Heather out of the office with several important messages to pass on while Hermione clung to Ron and looked up at him with worried eyes.
"We need to get to the Burrow, tell them to close off their Floo connection so it can't get in." Hermione told him.
"We're going there right now, all of us, we're Apparating. I've sent a Patronus to Ginny to stay at the Harpies training ground. It's pretty secure and she'll close off all Floo networks." Harry said as he walked back into the office and grabbed the books Hermione had been looking at.
"What are you doing with those?" Hermione asked as she let go of Ron.
"We'll need them. We need to find out how to get rid of this Rufus bastard." Harry said, fiercely.
Hermione suddenly slammed her palm against her forehead and groaned.
"How did I miss that?" She growled at herself in annoyance.
"Excuse me?" Ron said as he tried to work out if he'd skipped a conversation.
"Rufus! It means red!" Hermione was scolding herself as she explained. "It targets witches and wizards of colour and part of his name means red. I am such an idiot!"
"You're still beyond me," Ron said before grabbing her hand and pulling her along behind him, "but you can think more about this at the Burrow. I need to get back there and make sure nothing else does."
The Harpies manager sat back in her seat and watched Ginny Weasley take in the information that she had to go into hiding while this creature that apparently eviscerated red haired people was on the hunt.
"My family ar-"
"Your family home is being secured and Aurors are protecting it." The manager assured her.
"But this thing can do things even magical people can't do. It could get to them." Ginny said as she began to pace up and down. "I mean who are the most widely known red haired people in the wizarding world at the moment? Weasleys!"
"Yes but you are well known because of your sporting celebrity and of course your relationship with Mr Potter and your brother Ronald is well known because of who he is and what he's done..."
"That's all the more reason I have to go and help fight it off. Ron's one Auror protecting a whole family of targets!"
"And you are a Quidditch player who has no discipline and won't do as she's told!" The manager snapped. "You have been ordered by the Ministry, your boyfriend and your brother, both of who are senior Aurors to stay here in hiding."
"Neither of them can tell me what to do!" Ginny said face flaring with a red flush of anger.
"I do." The manager said as she rose from the desk and slammed her hands flat upon it.
Ginny glared at the woman and then turned away.
"Why can't they come here and hide with me if it's so bloody safe?" She hissed.
"It's best if you stay scattered. You have brothers abroad at the moment, yes?"
"In France with in-laws and in Croatia with dragons. Everybody else is a sitting duck!" Ginny yelled, casting a furious glance back at her boss. "I won't sit and wait nicely while everybody else is in danger again, not like last time."
"Didn't you run off and ignore instructions to stay hidden last time too?" The manager called after her, Ginny's shoulders cringed slightly as she heard these words but she kept on walking. "What if your mother can't save you this time?"
"It's almost like this thing is using humans as if they were Cochineal," Hermione squirmed in disgust.
When Ron and Harry had marched into the Burrow and immediately done a security sweep Molly had gone into a fit of maternal hysterics. They hadn't thought about changing their clothes before arriving and therefore Ron was searching the rooms of the house while covered with dried blood.
His mother fussed over him until Harry told him to let her get him some clean clothes and make sure that he really wasn't injured in any way. Arthur and Percy joined Hermione in searching the texts she had brought with her. She still refused to touch the one with the illustration colouring itself in, however, and left it to Percy to examine.
He, of course, found it as fascinating as she would have had it not been for the fact that she'd seen the corpses that had made it gradually visible. There was also the fact that it had been the drop of Ron's blood on the bottom of the page that had started the outline just a few hours earlier. She really didn't like that, on top of Ron being a general target because of his hair colour, he was also connected to the monster by blood.
"Did anybody think to just change the colour of our hair magically?" Arthur asked as he tugged at one of the side tufts of his own hair.
"It could be worth a try, that," Ginny said as she stepped into the kitchen, flipping her long jet black hair over her shoulder and folded her arms across her chest with a huff.
"What are you doing here?" Arthur said, disapprovingly.
Footsteps were heard running down the stairs and Harry leapt into the kitchen, wand drawn, on hearing Arthur's words. As soon as he saw Ginny he was furious.
"I sent word for you to stay at Holyhead!" He shouted.
"Yes, yes, hide the girl. The girl can't possibly cope!" Ginny said with a dismissive wave of the hand.
"Bill and Charlie have been told to stay hidden too!" Harry threw back at her. "Can you drop the ego for once and think about what's the best strategy?"
"Harry, don't talk to me about strategy, you're not Ron," Ginny said with a condescending smile, before walking across the kitchen towards him and giving his tense body a hug.
"Have you never heard the saying 'shooting fish in a barrel', Gin?" Harry sighed as he hugged her back. "Well you just jumped into the barrel."
Ginny kept her arms around her boyfriend and leaned back to smile at his disgruntled face.
"I've heard of a barrel of laughs. It looks like you could do with one Mr Potter."
"Mundungus got minced," Hermione said from her spot at the table, face hard and cold, "Crookshanks got ripped apart and some innocent bystander had been ground into pulp. This isn't the time."
Ginny's face fell and she looked at Hermione with sympathy.
"I'm so sorry about Crookshanks."
"...a bloody Auror y'know?" Ron's grumbling voice and stomping feet sounded on the staircase. "I'm here to protect civilians, not be told I haven't been eating properly."
"Mind your language young man, Auror or not you can still go over my knee for a good smack on the bottom!" Molly said as she followed him, fussing with the collar of the clean shirt he was wearing, open at the neck.
Harry snorted and Percy fought to hide a smirk.
"What with you being all skin and bone you wouldn't be able to put up much of a fight I can tell yo... Who's that? Ginny!" Molly shoved past Ron, almost imprinting his face into the wall as she did, and flung herself at her daughter.
"I'm back, I'm staying with my family, and no I will not leave." Ginny said before her mother could open her mouth.
Molly's eyes searched her daughter's determined face before fixating on the long black hair. She picked up a lock between finger and thumb and grimaced.
"Black? What's wrong with brown or blonde? You look so pale, dear."
Ginny rolled her eyes and then laughed before catching Ron's furious expression. She pointed a finger at him.
"Don't start," she warned.
"I've already said it all." Harry sighed and draped his arm around her shoulders.
"Yeah but when she squeezes my arse it only makes me angrier," Ron said as he stepped right up to his sister to look down on her. "What the fu-"
"Ron!" Both Hermione and Molly reprimanded him at once.
"Well?" Ron demanded. "And I expect this explanation to be phenomenally good."
"You said stay in Holyhead, therefore I'm here." Ginny said, plainly and with a one shouldered shrug.
Ron's ears blazed red and he looked from her face to Harry's, his parents', Percy's and finally to Hermione's. He retraced his gaze back to Ginny and blinked, then turned to look at the family clock.
"What?" Hermione said as she rose from the table.
"We told Bill and Charlie to stay put too." Ron said blankly. "We told Bill and Charlie and you," he looked at Ginny, "to stay where you were." Ron then looked at Harry with panic gripping his whole body. "Who war...did y... Nobody fuckin' told George!"
"Oh shit," Percy said as he too jumped to his feet.
"We forgot George," Harry said as he put his hand to his head and closed his eyes, internally scolding himself for such an oversight.
Ron was marching to the front door, ranting as he went.
"What other building screams Weasleys more than the Burrow? How about the bloody great building right opposite the bloody Ministry?"
Hermione was calling after him, pleading him not to go. Molly outright ordered him to come back, but Harry was setting off in pursuit without a word other than a meaningful look that told Ginny to do as she was told and stay behind for once.
"At least change your hair before you go!" Percy said, having to be partly restrained from following on himself by his father.
They had already run far enough away from the house to Disapparate by then and, with two cracks, were gone.
George couldn't get into the Ministry.
There was clearly big trouble there and he needed to find out what. He followed the Aurors' advice and closed the shop. They hadn't been forthcoming with information about what was going on or if his brother and friends were okay. He knew his father wasn't working there because he'd waved to him as he passed the shop on his way home.
He set all the security charms at full strength and climbed the stairs to the flat above the shop, intending to Floo call Ron's office.
As he approached the fireplace he noticed that there was ash and soot all over the hearth rug and some kind of red stuff smeared against the wall and the corner of the coffee table.
"What the f-" George said as he stooped to look closely at the substance.
He was interrupted by a deep, throaty snarl, and turned in time to see a large rust coloured claw curl into a fist that formed the shape of a huge pestle, hurtling towards him.
With a sickening thunk the rough, rounded knuckles pounded into George's head. He actually felt his brain shaking inside his skull and instantly felt queasy and disoriented as he fell while turning. He landed on one knee, then on his hip and slammed down hard onto his face.
All he could hear were deep echoes. It was like his head was trapped inside a seashell. He had just regained enough sense to know which way was up when another blow landed between his shoulders. This time the rough fist kept on pushing and twisted, grinding into the freckled flesh and making George scream so hard that it hurt his head.
He half dragged, half rolled away from the crushing pressure on his back and felt the creature's granite-like fist cracking his collarbone and popping his shoulder out of its socket.
George fumbled for his wand but felt another pounding blow to the back of his head and the world was black as something thick and warm oozed out of his throbbing head and was scraped away by rough fingers.
After many failed attempts to magically get into the shop, Ron resorted to slamming into the door with his shoulder.
"How could I have forgotten?" He grunted as his shoulder rattled the door in its frame. "I fucking forgot him!"
Harry winced as Ron slammed into the door once again, his face contorting into an expression of pain, before shoving him back and standing before the door with his arms spread wide.
"No more," he said, firmly, "you'll do yourself an injury!"
"Nobody told him. Nobody thought to warn him and it was all happening right on his bloody doorstep!" Ron raged, massaging his sore shoulder and breathing heavily.
"And yet he's locked up tight and safe in ways even you don't know how to get through," Harry reasoned, "and you know everything Ron. You know how to get in here and open up because you did it for months. If you can't get in then Rufus can't."
Ron was still catching his breath before his mind began buzzing and processing all the information it had. He shook his head.
"If nobody told him to deactivate his Floo he wouldn't have done it. He might have secured it but not deactivated it altogether. It could be locked in there with him."
"Ron..." Harry tried to calm his friend down with a resignation that it was never going to happen until they got inside the shop and saw George.
Ron's eyes widened as he thought of a solution. He looked at his watch and then grabbed Harry by the elbow and dragged him around the back of the building with him.
"Quick, in twenty seconds it'll be fourteen minutes past the hour."
"What does that have to do with anything?" Harry sputtered as he allowed himself to be pulled down some stone steps and stood upon the delivery hatch around the back of the shop's stock room.
"George has the back more secure than anything so nobody would ever try it from back here. That's why the time lock is on the back." Ron explained, panting, "At fourteen minutes past the hour, for five seconds only, the spells weaken enough for anybody who knows the right spell to be able to open the hatch from the outside and get in. It's his back up for accidentally locking himself out."
"Fourteen minutes past, you sure?" Harry said as they both stood over the trapdoor.
"One and four, the first day of the fourth month, his birthday." Ron nodded, looked at his watch and then pointed his wand down at the trapdoor they were standing on. "Aperio obviam!"
The magenta jet of energy shot from the tip of Ron's wand and forced the trapdoor open beneath them. They both fell through and the door slammed shut above them, noisily. Harry was more than used to falling by now and bent his knees to cushion the landing, before leaning into a roll and then slamming down hard on his backside. It wasn't graceful but he hadn't broken anything.
Ron, however, was far too gangly in the limbs to do much to keep from landing awkwardly and then slamming down on his face, coughing and wheezing to replace the air that had just been knocked from him.
Harry took the opportunity to take the lead as he rushed from the stock room and up the wooden stairs into the shop.
"Wait," Ron sputtered as he hobbled to his feet and spat the dust he had inhaled from his lips.
"My hair's not the right colour, I go first and you stay low!" Harry ordered before leaping over the counter and charging up the carpeted stairs to George's flat.
He reached the door and dove, headfirst, behind an armchair before leaping up from behind it and pointing his wand at the living room. Instantly he felt sick.
On the floor, before the fireplace, lay George's body. It was broken and battered and utterly still.
A clumsy banging and yelping sounded on the stairway before Ron's painful sounding coughs travelled up the stairs and into the flat as he struggled up them.
"Har...Harry," Ron's voice sounded raw and he coughed again to clear his raspy throat, "is he there?"
"Don't come up," Harry said as he backed away and then stood, blocking the door at the top of the stairs, "Ron, stop...no...no don't!"
Ron fought his way past Harry and then limped into the flat, supporting himself on the back of an armchair. He was panting hard until he spotted the bloodied mess that was his brother, lying on the floor.
"Oh shit," Ron whimpered before dropping to his knees and crawling over to George's body.
"Ron," Harry began, but found he had nothing to say, before taking hold of Ron's leg around the calf and holding it steady, "don't move, I'm gonna try to heal your ankle."
Ron reached forward to touch George but found that there was nothing he felt able to touch.
"He must've put up a good fight," Harry said as the healing spell sank into Ron's injured ankle, "he's nowhere near the same state Mundungus was in."
Ron finally laid his hand on his brother's battered body and gently curled his fingers around his mis-shapen shoulder.
"Bones are crushed," Ron said, voice unsteady, "skin across his back is ground away. I can't even see his face, Harry."
"Come away, we need to get back to the Burrow and see what Hermione's come up with."
"Mum," Ron said, as his head fell, "fuck what do I tell mum?"
"I'll tell her," Harry said before attempting to lift Ron to his feet, arms curling around the narrow chest and pulling up.
"How could I have forgotten him?" Ron said, shaking his head.
"You didn't forget him," Harry said, firmly, "you were the only one who noticed he wasn't there. You realised nobody sent word to him. It was me who didn't tell him. I was the one sending messages off to Ginny and the Burrow to deactivate their Floos. It's my fault."
"But he's my brother and I forgot him!" Ron growled.
Harry waved his wand and tried to deactivate the security around the shop and the flat so Aurors could get in and remove the body.
"Ron, there's spells I can't lift," he said as he watched Ron kneeling beside his brother once again. "Ron."
Ron waved his wand, half heartedly, and then dropped it to his side before removing his shirt and using it to wipe the clotted blood and tissue from George's face. Ron had a blue Wheezes T shirt on underneath his clean shirt and silently worked on wiping the bruised and broken skin clear of gore.
"She'll want to come and see him. She can't see him like this." Ron muttered to himself.
"You're right, you do that and I'll send a Patronus to Kingsley. We'll get Aurors here."
"Harry," Ron turned his head to look up at him, eyes red rimmed and dirt smeared across his cheek, "evacuate the Burrow for me. Hide everyone."
"I'll get them out," Harry said with a nod, "and I'll send Hermione to...Hermione'll come to be with you."
Ron drew a shuddering breath and nodded. Harry crouched at his side and placed a hand upon his shoulder.
"Ron, I'm sorry. Are you hurt anywhere else or-"
"Go, I'm fine." Ron rubbed the cuff of his shirt around George's swollen eye.
Harry backed away a step before turning and running.
They had to stop this thing.
It was dark outside and Percy was holding the curtains back from the kitchen window as he peered outside.
"Come away from the window," his mother fussed, but Percy pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and cupped his hands around his eyes to block out the reflection of the light within the house.
"They'll need to be let back in again," he replied, scanning the shadows for any sign of movement, "somebody should watch the front too."
"I'll go," Ginny said as she jumped out of her seat beside Hermione and turned to run into the living room and check the front of the house.
Percy turned to see the swish of her black hair as she disappeared out of the doorway and called after her.
"Keep the lights off, you'll see better," then he looked at his father, "and nox your wand too. The reflection is bouncing off the window and onto my glasses and back again and it's driving me m-AGHHHH!" Percy had turned back to the window just as the light from the kitchen had disappeared and saw a pair of rust coloured eyes staring at him from the other side of the pane of glass.
Percy staggered backwards and fell over a dining room chair, landing heavily across the table and sending a vase of daisies skimming across the surface and shattering upon the floor. His mother screamed. Hermione snatched up the open books before the spilled water seeped into them and Arthur ran to help Percy up.
"What is it, son?"
"At the window," Percy said as he pointed a shaky finger at the empty kitchen window, "there was a face at the window. Like in the book only red and oozing like a skinless face, right at the window, looking in at me!"
Molly turned and ran through to the living room.
"Ginny, get away from the window!" She screeched.
"Let's go upstairs," Arthur suggested.
"No don't," Hermione clutched the books to her chest in a state of panic, "we'll be trapped if we go upstairs. At least down here we can run outside if it gets in."
"It can't get in," Percy said, not as sure as he intended to sound, "we've protected this place more than we did during Voldermort's day. Harry and Ron used Auror protection too. We're safe, I tell you, and upstairs we're out of sight of it."
"But it shouldn't have got this close to be at the window," Hermione reasoned, heart pounding hard in her chest, "the protection spells should have held it back a distance. That's why Ron and Harry had to leave the boundaries before Disapparating."
"Well, it was right there, its breath steamed up the glass, it was that close!" Percy insisted as he pointed at the empty window.
Hermione opened her mouth to speak when she paused and looked down at the open book she held against herself. She swallowed and slowly lowered it to look at the illustration. There were now detailed lines and shadows defining muscle and a powerful fist that looked like a rounded rock for pounding bone into dust. It was becoming more substantial, more realistic, and less like a drawing.
She then looked at the edge of the page and let out a shuddering breath.
"Hermione?" Molly asked her as she stepped a little closer, her arm tightly curled around Ginny's shoulders as she led her back into the kitchen.
Hermione looked at the faces she could make out in the darkness of the kitchen. The only light was that of the moon flooding through the window, tinting everything with a blue hue. The pages of the book glowed as the horrific creatures image leered out at her.
"Ron's blood," she said, sounding hollow.
Molly clamped her hand to her mouth and whimpered.
"Ronnie! What happened to him?"
"No," Hermione shook her head, "the security spells around the borders would have been made so Ron could just pass through but," Hermione bit her lip and looked at the smear at the edge of the page again, "he cut himself on the paper and his blood was on this page. The outline was drawn in his blood. What if Rufus has blood in him...or on him, that allows him to come inside?"
Just as the Weasleys were about to react to this they heard a thud on the roof of the house and held their breath, collectively.
The clay roof tiles scraped and one fell and smashed in the vegetable patch. Molly stifled a squeal and Arthur wrapped his arms around both wife and daughter as they listened.
"That's the attic," Percy said, looking at the ceiling as if hoping to be able to see through it somehow, "the attic above Ron's room is the only place with roof tiles. Everywhere else is thatch.
"Why isn't it tearing through the thatch?" Ginny asked with a frown.
"Shhhhhhhh!" Molly panicked.
"It won't hear me and get the idea, mother!" Ginny said with a huff as she pulled away from her parents and walked down the hallway to look up the crooked staircase and listen.
"Ginny, come back," Percy said as he set off after her to pull her back into the kitchen with them.
"Shut up and listen!" Ginny hissed.
They all stool still and tried to pick up on any sounds of movement from above.
"What if it's just the ghoul?" Hermione whispered.
"That's a point," Ginny said as she looked back at Hermione through the moonlit kitchen, "why is the ghoul so quiet?"
Hermione felt the blood drain from her face and then set the books back down onto the damp kitchen table.
"Did anybody ever get around to making the ghoul look like the ghoul again or does it still look like..."
"Like Ron," Arthur said, sounding as if he was feeling very sick all of a sudden.
"It's looking for Ron?" Percy said, himself sounding scared and worried but also angrily protective.
"It knows him, it's already had a piece of him," Hermione said as she looked up and worried her hands on the hem of her top, "Ron's bedroom is directly beneath the attic. That's why it's on the attic roof and not any others."
"Right," Percy said as he shoved Ginny into his mother's arms and then turned and ran up the stairs.
"Percy, no!" Molly screamed as she held Ginny back from going after him.
Arthur ran after his son and shouldered past him half way up the stairs.
"I'll do it," he said as he led the way, Percy following hot on his heels.
"What are they going to do?" Hermione wasn't addressing anybody in particular as she spoke but Ginny was the one who answered.
"If it was me I'd throw the ghoul out Ron's window and see if the thing chases after it. If it does we can get out of the house and run the other way, pass the boundary and Disapparate."
"But you said," Molly turned to Hermione, "that we shouldn't go upstairs. We have to get them to come back down."
"Do you want that thing in Ron's bedroom?" Hermione asked, knowing that it was a harsh image to put into Molly's mind.
Indeed, the woman cringed and shuddered.
Hermione pushed the book with the illustration away from herself and turned her focus onto the text she had brought along with it. She lit her wand and read by the light of it.
"How can you read at a time like this?" Ginny said with a shake of the head.
Hermione smiled to herself and remembered Ron's comment about her, 'that's what Hermione does, when in doubt go to the library'. She knew books would help her save Ron, if in no other way than to give her something heavy to hit his attacker with.
There was a kafuffle upstairs and while Ginny tensed up and pulled away to run and join her father and brother, Molly squealed and clung to her little girl. Hermione gripped the sides of the book and tried to keep focused on finding a way to stop the thing, but it was hard to put aside her fears for a family she thought of as her own.
The sound of Percy shouting made her flinch, there was a bang and a sudden shattering of several roof tiles on the ground outside the living room window before Arthur and his son ran down the stairs and grabbed the three women to forcibly remove them from the house and into the cover of the dark woods surrounding the Burrow.
"Keep quiet, it's gone after the ghoul but it won't be fooled for long." Arthur said as he escorted his wife across the open space and toward the cover of the trees.
Hermione felt herself pass through the protective spells cast around the Burrow and stopped. She dropped to her knees and read from the extra text book she had brought with her.
Cochineal is a dye consisting of the dried bodies of the females of a species of insect, the Coccus Cacti
"Hermione, come on!" Percy yelled as he ran back to grab her arm and pull her to her feet and drag her along behind him.
"The books!" She cried out as she pulled him back and fought her way back to the abandoned books on the ground.
"Books don't think and adapt like we do, they have come to the point when they weigh you down and hold you back," Percy said, fiercely.
"I need to go to Ron," Hermione said as she looked him, fiercely, in the eye, "he focuses on protecting other people and not himself. I have to go to him. Somebody needs to watch his back."
Percy still gripped her arm, tightly.
"He's charmed; he'll come back and rip my head off for letting you go."
"He's usually the person next to the target. This time he's the target. Please, Percy, I know of all of them you can't lose Ron, not after Fred."
"But...if you go...no, you can't go." Percy said with a conflicted shake of the head.
There was a crack a little way away from them and they both flinched before seeing Harry running towards the Burrow.
"No Harry, back this way!" Hermione shouted. "It's found the house!"
Harry turned and looked around for them before spotting them and running towards them, arms pumping.
"Where's Ron?" Percy called.
"Wheezes," Harry panted, "George...too late."
Percy let go of Hermione's arm, picked up the book with the illustration, and looked her in the eye as he pushed it into her hands.
That was all she needed to Disapparate to her man.
Nobody was touching him but her.
The ghoul made a wailing sound as it hurtled back into the attic, smashing in to things on its way back and throwing some kind of supernatural hissy fit at being attacked by the beast. Windows broke and items banged and crashed around inside the roof of the building.
As an umbrella stand made out of the foot of a Yeti was flung from one of the broken windows and into the cabbage patch below, the dark rust coloured figure loped across the garden, kicked its way through the dry stone garden wall, and then began to run across the moonlit grass towards the woods.
They had split up. She couldn't see where anybody had gone to and didn't want to call out and draw attention to herself. Becoming separated was not planned. Young and old ran at different paces and she was sure she had heard cracks of Apparition and Disapparition from somewhere.
She saw a spell cutting through the night and striking the unstoppable beast.
Why was it invincible? There had to be a way to stop it. It must have been stopped before to have only been a myth rather than a reality of the magical world. A green jet of light sliced across the open area and landed in the centre of the thing's chest.
Still it kept on coming.
"Shit," she heard him, it was Harry's voice.
She was about to call out for him to run when she saw the silhouette turn and sprint for the cover of the trees. The monster charged after him and she acted before she could think.
"Wooo-woo!" She called, desperate to distract the thing from its pursuit of Harry.
She instantly regretted it. The beast had already realised that Harry didn't have what it wanted, the colour it desired to take full form and walk among men for a year, and was changing direction in an instant to thunder towards her. She had what it wanted after all.
She had the red.
Hermione stumbled as she reappeared in Diagon Alley and bumped right into Kingsley Shacklebolt. He grabbed her by the shoulders to steady her and then bent over to look up at her face.
"What are you doing back here?" The Minister demanded.
"What do you think?" Hermione replied, scornfully.
"You shouldn't go up there," Kingsley said with a pained shake of the head and a glance up at the shop.
"Is Ron up there?" Hermione lifted her chin and pushed back her shoulders.
"He won't leave," Kingsley responded with a weary sigh.
"I'll get him to come with me. He needs to go into hiding. This thing's going to seek him out. It wants Ron to finish its transformation."
"You're going to have a job getting him to leave the body," Kingsley said before looking across at two Aurors who were leaving the premises, one rubbing his jaw as if he'd been punched.
"Don't say that," Hermione's voice cracked at the thought of George being nothing more than a body now, "and I'll get him away. You make sure the shop is secure until I do...but don't try to fight it. You can't."
"We know," Kingsley said darkly, and we've moved every red head we could find into hiding with the highest standard of protection. Ron's the only one left in London."
Hermione's throat went dry on hearing this. If Ron was the only viable target for the creature to complete his transition then Ron was a sitting duck if he stayed where he was.
"I'm deadly serious, Miss Granger, get him out."
Hermione nodded and handed Kingsley the book she was sick of carrying everywhere with her. She tore out the page with the illustration, now filling in with all but the final touches, and crammed it into her pocket. She turned and ran into the building, bracing her constitution for what she was about to see.
She hated to imagine George in the same state as Mundungus and her beloved Crookshanks. She didn't want Ron to remain sitting with the remains of his brother for a second longer, because it wouldn't be a body – it would be remains.
She climbed the stairs and called out to him.
"Ron, it's me, you have to come down. We have to go into hiding." There was no answer. "I can get us to an international Portkey with no questions asked and we can lay low until..."
"Don't come up here!" Ron's voice demanded, he sounded uneven and strained.
She stepped into the flat and sighed, sadly.
Ron looked from her and down to the floor, body sagging and bloodied arms cradling the battered body of his brother. Hermione was shocked, he wasn't nearly as mangled as the other bodies she'd seen.
"He...the thing didn't..."
"George fought him off or something," Ron gave a one shouldered shrug, "maybe one of the spells drove it away. One of the silly ones to keep me from sitting in his chair or putting my feet on the table or...or..." Ron couldn't go on and his head dropped and hung, hopelessly.
Hermione ran to him and held him to herself.
"We have to get out of here," she whispered into his hair, long and hanging around the sides of his face like ragged curtains, "It'll be coming back for you."
"And if I'm not here it'll find George and finish the job." Ron croaked out the words before clearing his throat and looking his girlfriend right in the eyes. "I can't let mum bury a bag of offal. She deserves a proper body to grieve over!"
"Oh God." Hermione broke down and flung herself at Ron, crushing her arms tightly around him and squeezing him so hard she thought she heard his ribs creaking.
"I won't leave him." Ron spoke into her bushy hair, hoarsely.
"I won't leave you," Hermione replied.
"No, you have to go, it's not after you but it'll still hurt you and I can't l-" Ron's panic was cut off by Hermione's hand clamping over his mouth.
"I won't leave you!" She spoke firmly and with something of a growl in her voice. "It can't have you."
They looked into each others eyes for a moment before releasing shaky breaths and resting their foreheads together.
"If it doesn't get me, if I'm in Paraguay or Eritrea or somewhere, it's going to go after the family until it gets one of them." Ron had to stop to take a break and calm himself down. "I'll die rather than them. I can't lose another one. Let it have me, it's my fault after all."
"How do you work that one out?" Hermione snapped as she shoved him in the chest, hard.
"I don't know but I bet it bloody well is!" Ron yelled as he pushed a bloodied hand across his hair. Fortunately most of the blood was now dry.
It was a grisly sight, as if he was wearing long, reddy-brown gloves.
Hermione took one of his hands and squeezed it with both her own.
"The paper cut was my fault. That's why he stirred from the page of the book and that's why he wants you. He's...He tasted you...but you weren't around when he'd formed enough to start attacking people so he could take some form."
"What?" Ron's face was the image of confusion.
"When the blood of a witch of wizard of colour reawakens Rufus, this thing, it usually has enough to leap from the page and attack. You had a single drop of blood and I wiped most of it away. It took him time to crawl out of the other world he came from and by that time you were gone and the only thing close to the colour he needed to crush and absorb was...standing on the open book."
Hermione paused to shudder about her butchered cat. Ron was now squeezing her hands in comfort.
"It had enough from Crookshanks to go looking for you. Didn't find you where it had expected to, so searched the Ministry for the nearest person of colour and that was when Mundungus..."
"It got George because it was looking for me," Ron said with a fractured voice.
He turned his attention back to his brother's body and cradled his bruised jaw with one hand. Hermione had no words of comfort; she simply rubbed her hand up and down Ron's back.
"I'm sorry," Ron whispered, "I forgot you."
"You didn't forget him, you were evacuating a whole building and searching for a monster and trying to solve a puzzle and thought fast enough to keep a huge family scattered al over the country safe."
"I didn't keep him safe!" Ron bit back, angrily.
"You are only one man, Ronald Weasley! You didn't think of everything in the three seconds you had to think. You thought of more than I could have done in that time, now stop it!"
Ron held his tongue and then shuffled back on the floor until he was leaning against the base of George's armchair. Hermione got to her feet and offered her hand to pull him up. He didn't lift his own arm, simply looking at her instead.
"Why bother running eh?" He said with an empty smile.
"Because its coming for you in particular," Hermione said as she swatted at him with the hand she was extending. "It can't be killed because it isn't truly living. It has no form yet so spells pass through it. We can't kill it until it's whole and the only way it can become whole is to kill exactly the number of people of colour it requires...and it's decided it requires you!"
"Then let it come," Ron said with some kind of relieved resignation, "let it come and have me. Better me than my family, right?"
"No, it isn't better!" Hermione shouted before grabbing him by the forearm and trying to pull him up to his feet. Ron laughed, bitterly and didn't help. "Get up and run for your life you self sacrificing idiot! This isn't chess. You don't have to lay down the knight to win the game every bloody time!"
She was furious now. She was not going to watch Rufus slaughter her boyfriend, her Ron, just so her spell could destroy the fully formed beast.
"There has to be another way. We'll think of another way, now get up and run!"
"Crookshanks," Ron's eyes suddenly widened, "We can grab some foxes or something, animals with the right colouring, and get it to take them instead of people!" His eyes lit up and it crushed her to have to extinguish the last flash of hope Ron had in him.
"It only killed Crookshanks to gain enough form to cross over and look for you, for human beings. Now it's almost at full strength, it's not going to finish the job with vermin. It wants the best, the strongest, the brightest; it wants the rest of the blood you gave it."
Ron grunted to his feet and took a bracing breath. Hermione dared to hope that he was finally ready to go on the run with her and grabbed him by the wrist with a smile.
"Then stay out of its way while it takes it," Ron said, calmly and detached, "and then hex the fucker into oblivion as soon as it's done with me."
Running into the thickest part of the woods, arms and face scratched by the dense bushes and bramble, she could hear the thing grunting and splintering branches as it searched for her. The ragged breaths it gave, fogging the chilly air, made her own held breath burn inside her chest.
She was shaking but pressed her lips together firmly to hold in any sound she might involuntarily make and stayed perfectly still.
Neither of them knew exactly where the other was but both knew the other was there. Right there with them. It had a will and an instinct to find her and she had an ineffectual weapon and a desire to see her family and Harry again.
The moonlight was dappled through the canopy of the trees and made strange patterns. With the light wind blowing through the autumn leaves there was constant movement and change in the shadows. Was that it darkening the trunk to the left of her or just one of the branches above moving across the beams of moonlight?
The trees and bushes felt as if they were bending away from her, exposing her position to the thing, and while she was glad not to be able to see the distorted face of the thing it unnerved her not to know where it was.
Had it moved on?
The fear that she might be observed in her frozen state, being stalked and toyed with, became too much, and she swung around in a circle and cast a shield charm all around herself. The shield lit her up like a beacon and if it didn't work she would be done for before she could Disapparate.
Nothing happened other than her husband coming running through the thicket and grabbing her with terror and relief.
"Molly you daft old bird, what if it had been standing right next to you when you lit yourself up like a Christmas tre-"
The scream stopped their reunion.
It had found Ginny.
A charm to turn your hair black clearly didn't make any difference to the creature named Rufus.
"You don't get it, it's me or them!" Ron said as he fought against Hermione's attempts to drag him out of the flat and into a place where they would be able to Disapparate.
"It's neither of you!" Hermione screamed at him, furiously, "I'll find a way. We'll stop it and none of you will have to-"
There was a bang that rattled all the walls around them and then the flat was plunged into darkness. Hermione and Ron clung to each other and listened.
"Stay quiet," Ron whispered before drawing his wand and smacking her on the head with it.
Hermione felt the cold trickle of the Disillusionment spell as it cast its magic over her.
"You too," she said before Ron pushed her backwards into the corner and then turned to stand before her, waiting for Rufus to come for him.
First he'd heard Ginny screaming, then Molly.
Molly had been screaming Ginny's name, calling out for her. Harry ran towards the first scream, arms pumping, and robe flapping behind him. He could still hear Molly's screams for her daughter but not Ginny, not anymore, not after the first scream.
He saw some movement and tried to aim his wand without breaking his stride but his arms were all over the place and he couldn't aim. He grunted as he tried to speed up but soon heard a familiar flapping kind of panic.
"P-Percy!" Harry panted
"Did you see her?" Percy gasped before bellowing at the top of his lungs before there was time for a response, "GINNY!"
"Ginny?" Molly still sounded some way away but she was clearly frantic.
Harry wasn't sure if he was still running in the right direction now. The moon was eaten away by a thick cloud, and he could only follow the sound of Percy's footsteps hammering ahead of him a little way. There was a screech from the canopy of the trees, something flew across his path, and then Percy's footsteps stopped and were replaced by a single thud and 'ungghhh' sound.
Before Harry could react to it his feet were taken from under him by something on the ground and his momentum sent him slamming into the cold damp grass beneath him. Percy made another sound and Harry realised the impact had been Percy's body on the ground.
They both coughed, winded from their heavy landings and accidental collision.
"Fuck," Harry wheezed before clambering onto all fours, "I've lost my bearings. Which way was she?"
"That way," Percy panted.
"That way, there!"
"Are you pointing?"
"I can't bloody see you!"
"Here." Percy's hands suddenly landed upon his back and then found their way to his arm. He lifted one of Harry's hands from the muddy grass and pointed with it. "That way...I think."
"Why's it so muddy?" Harry winced before pushing himself up to his feet.
"I don't know, I slipped," Percy explained, "it just got suddenly..."
Something squelched. Harry realised he'd dropped his wand and crouched to feel around for it. He pushed the moist grass back and sloshed through the thick mud and slugs in search of it.
"You got your wand? We need some light." Harry huffed.
"Ginny, where are you?" Molly's voice was closer now and the ground beneath then reverberated with the sound of heavy footfalls.
"Is there anybody there?" Arthur called out.
"Father, here!" Percy called out before lighting the tip of his wand, "Lumos!"
The small pool of light illuminated them and both Molly and Arthur jumped with fright at suddenly seeing them, before Molly's hands flew to her mouth and she screamed into them as if her throat had been ripped open.
Arthur dropped to his knees.
Harry looked at Percy, he was covered in blood and globules of flesh, and then looked down at his own hands. Of all the disgusting things he'd seen so far that evening, the sight of cold entrails wobbling between his fingers was the worst.
He scrambled backwards and both hands skidded out from beneath him, he landed on his back and something warm yet sharp poked him between the ribs.
"Ow, what's th-" Harry pulled the thing from behind him and heard the snap of bone as he broke off a rib from the crushed ribcage beneath him.
"Not my Ginny, not my baby!" Molly began whimpering.
Percy was trying to climb out of the fresh corpse of his sister, spread out over the grass like a huge raw egg of blood and innards, but had an intestine caught on his shoe and couldn't help but drag it with him.
"Where is it?" Harry said, anger seething within him and exploding out at an immense volume. "Where is the bastard?"
His voice echoed through the night air. The moonlight began to flood back down upon them as the clouds dissipated. Percy looked at Harry with empty defeat in his eyes.
"If Hermione's right, which she always is," he said before swallowing and pulling himself free of the vestiges of his sister, "it should be with Ron right about now."
The ceiling fell in above the doorway that led into the flat from the stairs and junk, rejected prototypes and broken furniture fell through and blocked the only exit.
Rufus emerged from within the cloud of dust and looked at Ron with burning eyes, the colour of fresh rust, before letting out a lasciviously hungry growl from between gore drenched lips.
Ron turned to Hermione, took a second to find the shape of her face in the shimmering illusion of invisibility from the Disillusionment charm, and then kissed her on the lips.
"Ron, no!" Hermione grabbed at his arms as he turned back and ran at Rufus, roaring at the top of his lungs and grabbing up a broken table leg from the debris as he passed.
He swung and hit the creature on the chest, to no effect, and Rufus swung his own arm in retaliation. The claw like fingers curled into a fist and formed the large pumice shape before striking Ron in his solar plexus and sending him flying backwards onto the pile of rubble from the attic.
Hermione screamed as Ron gasped for air, great gaping wheezes, and tried to gain some purchase on the loose wreckage cluttering the floor to push himself away from the advancing creature. She ran forward as Rufus pulled back his pummelling arm once again and brought it down towards Ron's head.
Ron rolled away with a yelp of pain before the monster's fist smashed through the splintered furniture and weakened the floorboards underfoot. Hermione slashed at the carpet beneath Rufus and then flicked her wand to flip it upwards and send him staggering backwards and through the wall into George's bedroom, overbalancing with an unstoppable inevitability.
Ron was still gasping and fighting to recover from the crushing blow to his body and couldn't speak to communicate his warning to Hermione to get out of the way.
"Come here," she said as she stumbled over a mangled wire clothes horse and got her sleeve caught on a nail, "we'll jump out of the window and Disapparate as we fall."
Ron choked and his eyes were wide as he shook his head and forced himself onto his knees.
"Don'move, t'flo-" Ron yelped before the floorboards beneath her feet groaned, cracked and gave way all together.
She fell through the floor and into the shop. Pieces of floorboard, dust and debris fell on top of her, making her visible agin, and she heard Ron grunting and the roaring to spur himself on as he ran at the creature for a second time.
"You bastar-" Ron's yell was cut off by another blow to the body.
It sounded deep and hard. Hermione heard the dull thud of her boyfriend hitting the floor once again.
"No," she said to herself through gritted teeth as she pushed a wooden beam off her body and shouted up through the hole in the ceiling, "you stay away from him!"
She caught a glimpse of movement and then watched as the shadow of the beast lifted its bollard like fist and sent it crashing down. She screamed and clambered over the rubble, back towards the stairs, before remembering that the door was blocked at the top.
"Ron!" She called up through the jagged hole.
A bloodied arm swung over the edge of one of the splintered floorboards and hung limp. Hermione climbed up onto the counter and jumped to grab it. She heard the vocal rumble of Rufus winding up to land another wallop and gripped Ron's arm about the wrist and held on tight.
She swung, something popped and Ron cried out in agony, before his body slid down through the hole and fell on top of her very heavily.
They were both winded but only Ron was unable to shake it off and make a run for the door. His shoulder had been dislocated by Hermione pulling him down and his ribs were cracked and tender. It looked as if it was painfully uncomfortable to breathe. She flicked her wand at him three times, using different healing spells, before Rufus dropped down into the shop with them.
It growled and leered at Ron's injured body. Hermione hooked her forearms under his armpits and dragged him away. Ron cried out and Rufus ran at them. Hermione dropped Ron's dislocated shoulder and pointed her wand at the pile of rubble on the floor, lifting it up and slamming it into the creature to buy them some time. Ron clutched his shoulder and rolled onto his side before coughing blood.
"Oh shit!" He strained even to do something as natural as swear, voice hoarse and chest making a sound like fleshy bagpipes with every breath.
"Lie still, I think you've punctured a lung," Hermione said as she moved her wand in circles over his chest until his blue eyes widened and he suddenly took in deep, gasping breaths of air. His chest rose and fell more comfortably and she grabbed his upper arm and lifted it.
"Wait, no, what're y'doing?" Ron said in a panic as he squirmed in pain at the involuntary movement in his painful arm.
"I'm going to pull, it's going to pop, and then you're going to open that door over there and crawl out while I hold this thing off." Hermione said with determination.
Ron shook his head, frantically.
"You can't. I won't leave you with him."
Rufus bulldozed his way through the obstacles Hermione had thrown at him and flung himself down at Ron's feet, grabbing him by the ankles and pulling him. Hermione pulled him back by the arm she'd been preparing to fix and Ron screamed as they both pulled on his limbs. His shoulder popped into place and Rufus drew back and arm and pounded it down onto Ron's leg, breaking it.
Ron screamed and Rufus gripped his other leg and pulled him away from Hermione and the door.
"Get off him!" Hermione screeched, once more.
"H-H-H'mynee...run, go...AGHH!" Rufus pushed his rough fist against Ron's bleeding temple and began to grind.
"I said get off!" Hermione raged as she flicked her wand at Ron. "Accio Ron!"
Ron slid across the floor a little way, out from under Rufus, and the creature growled at Hermione and the hindrance she had become. She stepped over Ron and stood, legs astride his battered body, and raised her wand.
Rufus knocked Hermione's wand out of her hand and then swung at her to send her flying into the stock shelves. Potions, novelties and fireworks crashed down on top of her, each having an effect on the other until she was being burned and feathered and having her mind clouded with daydreams about pirate ships while feeling an all consuming love for every single particle that made up Ron Weasley.
As she tried to beat out her scorched arm hair and did her best to keep her bushy mane from singing any more than it already had, she saw Rufus grab Ron by the throat and lift him off the ground. She raged and threw back a box of haywire joke wands as she tried to get to him.
Rufus bent his knees and jumped back up into the flat, taking Ron with him, and leaving Hermione thrashing to throw off extendable ears and wade out of one of several portable swamps that had just began to swell beneath her.
She heard thump after thump, followed by Ron's moans of pain until finally there was a wet thud that was greeted with no sound from him whatsoever. Hermione felt rage burning through her veins and screamed as she began climbing one of the still standing shelves until she could grab a piece of overhanging rug from the flat above and climbing up it and into the room upstairs.
She grabbed a packet of Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder as she let go of the shelving unit and threw herself into getting back to Ron.
As she spotted Rufus smearing his bloodied hand over his body and then forming a fist again to deal another pulverising strike to the unconscious form before him, she hurled the packet of darkness powder into the flat and dragged herself up through the wooden teeth formed by the broken floorboards.
Rufus roared and then a crash and the sound of splintering wood let Hermione know that he had missed Ron's skull with his punch. She crawled to where she'd last seen him and then felt the slimy flesh of one of Rufus' legs.
Without thinking, she sank her teeth into his calf.
There was another animalistic howl of anger from the thing and soon she was flying backwards across the pitch blackness from the swift kick to her chest.
She landed on cool ceramic tile and metal clattered around her. She guessed she was in the kitchen. Feeling around her at the cutlery, she grasped her way around the kitchen cupboards and draws until she found a heavy marble rolling pin.
It had never been used; a housewarming present from her parents to the boys when they heard about their brand new business, but Hermione gripped it by the handle as tightly as she could and braced herself to give the heavy implement its maiden voyage in flattening.
As the darkness powder wore off, Rufus looked at Hermione before his face twisted into the closest thing she'd seen to a smile so far. He uncurled the stump that was his pestle-like fist and began to smear Ron's blood and flecks of tissue onto himself from the back of the neck, around the muscular throat, and down his chest before lunging down and pulling Ron up by his hair.
Hermione was about to bellow a threat at Rufus at the same moment the creature gave an animalistic rumble of satisfaction from the back of its throat. Ron's body hung limp and Rufus gave a grunt like snarl as he clamped his open jaw to Ron's neck and bit into it with grizzly brown teeth.
Blood flowed and trickled down Ron's throat while Rufus finished the transformation by giving his insides full form as well as his exterior. Hermione ran forward, brandishing the rolling pin, and Rufus threw a nearby lamp at her. She swung and smashed the lamp away from herself. Pausing to shake the shards free from her still smoking hair and standing before Rufus, literally smouldering with seething rage, Hermione took a step forward and raised her weapon again.
"Get the fuck off my boyfriend." She growled.
Rufus roared at her, still holding Ron up by the hair, and looked as if he was laughing. Hermione swung the heavy marble rolling pin forward and cracked the creature across the skull. He dropped Ron in an instant and staggered backwards in shock.
"Killed one too many people while looking for him did you? Took form before you could finish him off?" Hermione said as she flung herself forward and brought the cylinder of marble crashing down on top of the shiny bald head.
She shocked herself by actually leaving a dent but shook it off fast enough to focus on killing the monster before it killed Ron.
"You can't have him," she said as she advanced. "I won't let you finish the job before I can do mine and send you back where you came from. You're going now."
Rufus hissed at her and swiped with his granite like arm. She ducked and jabbed the end of the rolling pin into his chest, then swung and struck the gore salivating creature across the left and the right kneecap. He fell and roared. Hermione swung the rolling pin, underarm, and caught him beneath the jaw. The monster's whole lower jaw was ripped away and Hermione rounded up with another crashing blow to the side of his face.
"You're real on the inside now," she yelled, "big mistake," she smashed the chunk of marble across the back of Rufus' skull before kicking him in the chest so he fell onto his back with a groan, "because now I can kill you."
She dropped to her knees and beat every inch of the flailing creature's body.
"And..." the rolling pin came down again, "...I'm..." and again, "...going..." over and over, "...to...kill...you...for...hurting...him...you...bastard!"
As she bashed Rufus into a pulp, the same way he had done to so many innocent souls, and only stopped when she felt a hand grabbing at her ankle. She turned and drew back the rolling pin to send it crashing down upon whatever it was and saw that Ron had crawled over to her to get her to stop.
"Oh God," Hermione said as she let the rolling pin fall to the floor.
She dropped to her knees and pulled Ron onto her lap. He was a mess but he was still alive. She wiped the blood from his face and winced as she saw one side of his face blackened with bruises. His neck was still bleeding but not as heavily as before. She pressed her hand to it to stop the flow of blood and tried to smile down at him.
"Look at the state of you eh?" Ron tried to say something but could only gurgle a little before having a coughing fit.
Hermione sat him up a little way and rubbed his back.
"It'll be okay, I'll find my wand and heal you up, right as rain," she said as tears began to fall and land upon the raw, scraped skin of his chest. "Just lie still and it'll all be j-"
Rufus jumped to his feet and roared, blood gushing from the lower part of his face and tongue flapping about like a meaty sock joined to his face by all that remained of his lower jaw, and curled his claw into a fist. He swung the club-like arm at Ron and Hermione as they cowered on the floor in an attempt to shield each other from the attack.
There was a ripping sound as a brilliant lightning bolt zigzagged through the air and sliced the clubbing arm clean off. It fell to the floor with a wet thump and Hermione and Ron turned to see where the spell had come from just as the darkness was lit with sickening green light as a voice yelled.
The killing curse hit Rufus in the chest and the monster dropped down dead but Hermione and Ron couldn't tear their eyes away from the person who had fired it.
"George?" Ron wheezed.
The swollen face and mangled arm, the skin almost grazed completely off his back and shoulders, it all obscured the familiar figure of George Weasley.
He dropped Hermione's wand and then staggered forward one step before dropping to his knees and hissing in pain as he clutched his broken leg.
"Y'all ri' lil bro?" He said through gritted teeth.
"Y'live!" Ron sat up and wheezed, clutching his sore chest.
"Hold on, both of you, I'll throw some healing spells on you and get some help." Hermione said as she crawled around the hole in the floor and grabbed her wand.
After getting the boys comfortable and seeing them levitated away to St Mungo's for some proper treatment, Hermione found herself being walked down Diagon Alley by a quietly shaken Harry.
Neither of them said a word until they reached the steps leading into the hospital.
"He's going to be alright," Hermione said to herself before turning to Harry and grabbing his arm, "tell me he's alright."
"He's alright," Harry said, a look on his face that she was too tired and emotional to translate at that time, "you saved him. You protected him from it. Thanks."
Hermione hugged him and then climbed the first step, turning to see if Harry was coming with her.
"Was the Burrow wrecked too?"
"Not as badly as the shop," Harry said, sounding hollow.
"Harry," Hermione moved back down off the step and looked into her best friend's eyes, "what happened when I left the Burrow?"
"Go and see our boy, we can deal with everything else in the morning."
Hermione nodded. She had a thought and pulled the folded page she had torn from the book from her pocket. Looking down at the blank page and the caption informing her it was an illustration she bit her lip and then looked around.
Spotting a stout Ministry man smoking a pipe, she trotted up the stairs until she caught up with him and tugged at his sleeve.
"Excuse me sir, do you have a light?"
The walrus, figured man nodded and tapped a silver ring on his thumb before clicking his finger and holding up his thumb, blue flame dancing on the end of it. Hermione held the corner of the paper to the flame and watched it catch light.
The paper burned and she continued up the stairs until she reached a grate and dropped the burning page into it, where it curled into thin black dust.
While something told her they wouldn't be the only ashes to come of that Halloween, she couldn't focus on anything other than getting back to her Ron.
You can paint yourself with the colour you desire but it's never going to come close to the real thing, the natural beauty.
If Rufus ever found another way back on another Halloween he had better settle for cochineal rather than Weasleys for his desired shade of red...and if he didn't, she'd be waiting.