Disclaimer: The characters, universe, and backstory plot all belong to much more successful and prominent people than me. This is for pleasure, not profit.
The stadium personnel trained for these situations, and one managed to slow Angelina's descent, and another cast a cushioning charm before she hit the ground, but it was still a gruesome sight. There was silence in the stadium as the team healers rushed to the form lying still on the grass of the pitch. The remainder of the players all flew down as well, huddling around their fallen teammate and opponent. It was always a risk, Quidditch, and no one wanted to see such an occurrence.
George, pale as a ghost, was standing at the edge of the box straining for a glimpse of something to indicate that Angie was well, or would be. Hermione was still covering her mouth in horror, and Fleur was crying quietly into Bill's shoulder. Fred, though, had the bright idea to use the omnioculars so he could zoom into the scene. He could see Angie's chest rising and falling, and her eyes were open, though she was not otherwise moving.
"George, she's breathing and her eyes are open. She's responding to their questions," Fred said urgently.
"Oh thank Merlin," Hermione whispered.
"Thanks," George said shortly, still watching the pitch.
"She's sitting up," Fred called. "Georgie, she's moving. I think she's broken a leg though, maybe some ribs. Her right side seems stiff."
George closed his eyes and seemed to sag. He watched as the healers conjured a stretcher and carefully moved her onto it, then turned towards his brother. As George had done so often for him, Fred held his brother tightly as George buried his face into Fred's shoulders and cried. Hermione wrapped an arm around George, and Bill and Fleur did the same.
"She's going to be ok, George," Fred said soothingly. "Just a fall from her broom, happens all the time. She's fine. Moving about, everything."
"Merlin, I thought she was -" George choked.
"Angie's fine. She'll be fine," Bill said firmly.
A knock at the box startled them. George hastily wiped his eyes as a team representative that George seemed to know cleared his throat.
"Mr. Weasley? Ms. Johnson's been taken into our team facilities, and she's asking for you. They're going to send her to St. Mungo's for treatment."
"How bad does it look, Thomas?" George asked.
"She's banged up, of course, a few broken bones. Looks like cracked ribs from the initial collision, probably broken leg as well, and they think her shoulder is dislocated. But she's awake, though she asked if Weller got the snitch after all, so they are checking for concussion. St. Mungo's is to be sure there was no internal damage from the broken ribs and the fall."
"Right," George said. "I've got to go."
"Of course," Bill said. "You want us to wait here, or something else?"
"Let me go and you lot head home until we figure out what is happening with her. No sense in hanging around here or in the hospital waiting room," George said, seeming to regain some measure of equilibrium now that he had some word. "She'll be angry that the Canons won afterall."
"But they didn't," Thomas said indignantly. "MacAllen caught the snitch at midfield. I'm not even sure what Weller was doing down at the end. The snitch was spotted near Chudley's goalposts and then darted almost directly midfield. I heard the referees arguing over whether they should call a penalty on Weller for slamming into Johnson."
"But there was a snitch, I saw it," Hermione said, sounding bewildered. "I was focused on Angelina with the omnioculars, it appeared right beside her."
The Wasps official stared at her as if she were mad, but a disturbance on the pitch caught their attention. Yellow-clad and orange-clad players were bumping up against one another, voices raised, though they couldn't be distinguished in the box. A referee in the middle tried vainly to dispel the quarrel, while two others huddled over a book.
George turned away impatiently. "I'm going to see Angie. I'll send word, yeah?" He strode through the box with Thomas and was quickly out of sight.
"You're right, Hermione," Fred said, after a moment. He'd been fiddling with the omnioculars this whole time. "Look." He handed the pair to Hermione, and when she slowed the review down, she could clearly see a snitch appear near Angelina, followed by the Canon's seeker slamming into her in pursuit. She frowned and watched it a second time, then handed the omniocular to Bill for him to view.
"But they seem pretty clear that MacAllen caught the snitch," Hermione said.
"Yeah," Fred said darkly. "It would seem he did. Hence the fight on the pitch." Team officials were now holding back various players and it appeared punches had been thrown when Hermione was busy watching Angelina's accident. There was general unrest in the stadium, few people entirely certain what was happening, an ugly mood growing over the crowd.
Bill silently handed the viewers back his brother and shook his head. Before he could speak, the announcer spoke.
"There seems to be an unusual situation, possibly without precedent, even. Seeker MacAllen for the Wasps clearly caught a snitch in play, nearly simultaneous to Seeker Weller's catch of a second snitch in play at the time Chaser Johnson for the Wasps suffered a collision and fell from her broom. We have received word, by the way, that Chaser Johnson is doing well and thanks fans for their support. The officials are checking the snitches to see if it can be determined which snitch was illegally in play, and thusly, which seeker is credited with the winning catch. Fans are asked to remain in their seats whilst the officials confer over the rulebook."
Shouts rose up at the announcement, howls of outrage and bewilderment. Looks were exchanged, and there was a look of horror shared between Hermione and Fred as they both grasped the potential in a second, but before they could speak, Arthur and Molly Weasley were tumbling into the box, Charlie and Viktor on their heels, and Daphne came behind them, sporting her Canon gear and obviously uncomfortable being in the Wimbourne family boxes done up head to toe in Chudley orange. All were ashen and worried.
"We heard the announcement, but how is she?" Molly asked in a quivering voice. "And George? Is he well?"
"Scared the shite out of him, but he's holding up," Fred said bluntly. "Team official brought word, came to fetch him. She's conscious, and pretty badly banged up, but the safety precautions came through so it isn't as bad as it could be. Broken ribs, they think, broken leg and dislocated shoulder. They are sending her to St. Mungo's, and George said not to wait, he'll send word when he has it. She was asking for George and about who won the match."
"Thank goodness," Arthur murmured.
"What is this business about a second snitch?" Charlie asked, Viktor echoing him.
"There was a second snitch. It appears that the first sighting of the snitch near the goals led to it running midfield, where MacAllen caught it. But there was a second snitch that appeared right by Angelina, and Weller went for it, slamming Angelina off her broom in the process," Bill said unemotionally. Hermione held Arthur's eyes, and knew he had reached the same conclusion she had initially when he closed them briefly.
"Where on earth could that have come from?" Daphne asked, baffled. "How ridiculous. The pitch is protected with spells from anything the crowd could toss, and the players are checked for wands before they leave the tunnels."
"No idea," Fred said, a hint of bitterness in his voice, but then they were joined by other Wimbourne family members, finally willing to come through the central reception area to check and see if there was word yet. Fred was known to a few of them, and they addressed him primarily, and he repeated what they knew. Expressions of sympathy and relief were exchanged and then they retreated to the central area to give Angelina's guests privacy and chew over the unusual happenings of the game.
Hermione sidled closer to Arthur and spoke quietly. "I know how it looks, but I don't think it was him, necessarily. The snitch seemed to appear from thin air, and you'll see when you watch the play that Ron is focused on Angelina, trying to read which goal she'll throw for. I didn't see any movement that could be him releasing the snitch."
Fred joined them, wrapping an arm around her. "I saw the same thing. Bill can show you, Dad. But I also don't think it's coincidental that it happened right by Ron and just when Angie was in a precarious position."
"We will review it all. Ares help us, Games and Sports will have to be involved as well. If there weren't accusations about Chudley before, there will be now," Arthur said in a low voice, sounding entirely grim.
"Is this going to look bad for him?" Hermione asked, worriedly.
"Probably not more than coincidental, if the omniocular footage is accurate. But this is not good. It certainly isn't coincidental that a second snitch appeared. The idea that it could have been done specifically to hurt Angelina or another player, though, is far-fetched."
"Several of these incidents have been," Hermione said slowly. "The deadliest was the one with the least fanfare. Even so, Angelina is seriously injured. I know she'll be back to practice in a week with magical healing, but if the safety team hadn't been seamless . . ." She trailed off and shivered, and Fred looked immeasurably angry and frightened.
On the pitch, the teams were ushered back to their respective tunnels, and the fans began booing. The announcer returned and said, sounding a touch strained, "Ladies and gentlemen, the officials have determined that a second snitch was illegally introduced to the Quidditch pitch after the start of the game. Seeker MacAllen for Wimbourne caught the legitimate snitch in a fair catch seconds after Seeker Weller caught the illegal snitch. Because the snitch caught by Seeker Weller was illegal, the play is invalidated, and a penalty called for a hit against a Chaser on shot. That penalty is declined by Wimbourne, and the results of Seeker MacAllen's play stand. Wimbourne wins 370 to 130. The Wasps encourage all fans to fly home safely and come be part of the buzz when we play against the Tunstill Tornadoes next Tuesday!"
Whoops and cheers overtook the surly mood and Hermione could hear snatches of the Wimbourne's team song as fans began to file out of the stadium. Bill took the lead in dispersing the Weasleys, asking Fred to be sure someone updated them when there was news, and then leading Fleur out. Charlie and Viktor followed, Arthur and Molly and Daphne agreeing to return to the visitor boxes to wait for Ron to finish the post-game interviews and things. With nothing else to do, Fred and Hermione made their way to a reserved apparition point and returned to the empty flat.
There was little to say or do, except wait. Fred and Hermione were tense, Fred especially, and it seemed that time dragged until George finally reappeared, looking haggard. He went immediately to the kitchen cabinet where the firewhiskey was stored and poured himself a healthy measure, which he drank without a word to either of Fred or Hermione. Only after the second serving was gone and the third poured did he rejoin them in the lounge, looking nearly dead on his feet and collapsed into an arm chair.
"Right, so Angelina is not in great shape. They decided to transfer her to St. Mungo's for treatment, because there was some concern about her dislocated shoulder, and that there may have been damage to her spleen or liver. They got her over quickish and the healers did a pretty good of re-setting her shoulder. They've given her skelegro, and a sleeping potion, and are keeping her petrified tonight so everything can set and heal properly and then they'll evaluate soft-tissue damage in the morning. They think she will need one more night after in hospital for potions and massage, but she'll be fine. I've already talked to her parents, they're headed to the hospital, and you lot can visit tomorrow afternoon."
George sighed, and ran his hands through his shaggy hair before continuing.
"Really, she'll be fine. She was cracking jokes the entire time until the sleeping potion took hold, and they don't see any internal bleeding. They're just going to keep her to be sure that her spleen and liver are functioning correctly after all. Don't appear to be bleeding, but looks like some bruising. They just didn't want to do too much between having to setting her shoulder back in place and the skelegro. I'll be quite happy never to see that again."
"You should consider some dreamless sleep potion tonight as well," Hermione said softly. "Reliving it won't help anything, but getting some sleep so you can be cheerful for her tomorrow will help."
George tossed the last drink back quickly, then glared at the empty glass, his eyes growing less focused as he shrugged at Hermione's suggestion.
"Gred? What else is bothering you? It's not just the fall," Fred said slowly, watching his brother closely. He'd attended matches in which Angelina had been injured before, but never before had he been so protective of her or had this level of anger, which seemed to simmer just under his skin in such a palpable way. It took a moment for him to speak, but when he did, there was a sharpness to his angry voice.
"He could have killed her. Just one thing wrong and she could have snapped her neck."
"We're not convinced it was him," Hermione said quietly.
"What on earth do you mean?" George snapped. Fred didn't intervene, just tossed his brother the omniocularrs without comment.
George watched the scene unfold once, then rewound it and slowed it down again, and sighed in disgust. "Damned good thing for him."
"It's not that he couldn't be responsible somehow, but he wasn't the one who released the snitch," Hermione said quietly. "But he could have been linked somehow."
"Or it's been someone on the Canons all along," Fred commented. "I hadn't thought so, but it's possible. I still don't understand why they would take this approach."
"It is pretty weird. A second snitch?"
"Without knowing the motivation, it's hard to say. It's nearly impossible that Ron or anyone could have timed that in such a way that it would guarantee Angelina would somehow be injured. I would guess it was meant to be another warning, a sort of 'see what we can do' thing and Angelina being hit was just an unfortunate accident." Hermione said this carefully, but even so, George glowered.
"It doesn't matter why anymore. All that matters is who," George said decidedly.
"Agreed," said Fred, a staunch ally to his brother. "All this thinking in circles hasn't gotten us very far, and it's frustrating as all hell. Time to be a bit more active, brother."
"Yes, I think it's time we got Ronnikins to talk," George responded grimly.
"It's the only way I can see that we are likely to find out who is responsible," Hermione stated.
"So then. As of tomorrow, the only thing we do is figure out a way to get him out from whatever influence he's under. That's all that matters," George said.
"Yes," his brother agreed. "Because intentional or not, Angie was hurt, and the sooner we do something, the sooner we can stop this."
"It's too specific," Hermione argued.
George slammed the book in frustration. "For Godric's sake, Hermione! We want it to work!"
"Yes, but think for a moment, George! You're trying to base it entirely on speculation. What if it's not a suggestibility potion at all? What if it's an Imperius curse?"
"Mate, she's got a point," Fred said, tiredly. Some version of this argument had been flying for two days now, George's mood souring with each attempt. Truthfully, his mood was sour anyway, because Angelina had kicked him out of their flat, telling him he was hovering and she was fine and after being in hospital for three days, she just wanted a bit of bloody privacy.
"Then what precisely do you suggest?" George ground out.
"I suggest that we start with a mind strengthening potion. The sort of thing that is supposed to help defend against the Imperius curse," she said with more patience than she really felt.
"The Imperius curse is the strongest form of mind control that we're aware of," Fred said in a placating tone. "If we can create something viable to help ward that off, then it should be able to aid in resisting any sort of suggestibility curse or potion."
"Has there ever been anything specifically created in a potion based format to achieve such results?" George asked, a hint of belligerence in his voice.
"Possibly," Hermione said, a frown crossing her face. "I know I've read about something in passing, at any rate."
"Look, I think we all need a bit of a break, eh?" Fred said practically. "Georgie, would you like to get us some lunch, then? Take a bit of a walk? Hermione will do some more research, and maybe we'll have a fresh approach to give a go in an hour or two, yeah?"
"Fine," George sighed. Arguing with Hermione would advance them not at all, and she wasn't really the one he was angry at, when he was being honest. "Lee's got things covered. I could go for some pasties or an enormous sandwich, what d'you think?"
"Sandwich sounds lovely," Hermione said quickly. "I'd love roast beef and Havarti, what about you Fred?"
"Ham and swiss on rye, of course," he said. "What about you, Georgie?"
"Probably turkey and cheddar," he said, pondering the wealth of options. "Right, I'll go then. Hermione, anything you can find would help. I just hate feeling so useless."
"I know," Hermione said in a soft, sad voice as she watched him disappear. "Research then, hmm?"
"Sure, research. And maybe a quick shag. But mostly research." Fred winked at his wife, who simply rolled her eyes at his antics.
"I think you can head down to Flourish and Blotts to see if your mate has anything that might be useful, and I'll see if I can find that potion I remember on the shelves."
"Not even a short snog?" Fred whinged good-naturedly.
"Darling, if you are very well behaved, I'll consider it later. Right now, do you really want to antagonize your brother even more?" Hermione asked pointedly.
Fred's expression clouded over, and he ran his hands through his hair. "Fair point, that. No, I don't care to make him even angrier. Righto, I'll run down and see Lionel. I assume you're headed to the study?"
"Yes, I'm going to go back through the books I got from Dumbledore's office and see what I can find."
"I'll be back within half an hour then," Fred said, pulling on his dragon skin jacket and summoning his outerwear.
Left alone, Hermione went purposefully to the study, she stood thoughtfully before a particular shelf. She felt as if there had been something she'd noted during her feverish research during the horcrux hunt, but as it was not immediately relevant, she'd only noted it vaguely as something which might someday be useful. Hermione could not even be sure at this point that it did indeed have anything to do with their present quest. Biting her lip hesitantly, she finally reached for an older book with a mouldering green cover, a small book with a rich red cover and thin pages, and a large tome with a rich blue leather binding.
Hermione settled at her desk and began flipping through the small red book idly. The main topic dealt with identifying traces left by powerful or dark magic, and though a passing reference was made to ways to identify victims of the Imperius curse, there was nothing further. She turned next to the large blue tome, which would take some time to peruse, and decided it was best saved for after lunch. The moldy green book made her wrinkle her nose, but she began anyway.
Within ten minutes, all traces of disgust at the book were gone, and she was engrossed in a section on mind control hexes and jinxes, which all seemed very familiar. There was a rising feeling of excitement which she consciously ignored in order to concentrate on the text. As she turned the page, she saw a potion plan and nearly squealed in excitement. Yes, this looked very familiar – as she skimmed, there it was. There was a potion which could be brewed that purported to strengthen the mind against invasion by another; it claimed even to break the Imperius curse if prepared with an alternate means of preparing the ginger and with the addition of oil of rosemary and crushed gingko biloba. She studied the plan and was relieved to find that it could be brewed relatively quickly, as potions went. It had a twenty-four resting period after the first reduction and again following the addition of the ginger and rosemary oil and no requirement about the phase of the moon, so it could begin this afternoon, if they had sufficient of the other ingredients.
Her initial excitement was tempered by the knowledge that this might not work at all. But even having a tangible option to try was something that should cheer George up. Speaking of George, Hermione rather thought he would have been back by now, she idly reflected as she checked her watch. She stretched and pushed away from her desk and became aware for the first time of the sensation that she wasn't alone in the flat. It was an awareness that made her uneasy, though; it was quiet, but the feeling in the air was disturbed, as if she could hear another person breathing. Hermione stilled and breathed as shallowly as possible, and strained to listen, wondering if she were being silly. Then she heard the smallest creak of the floorboards, as if someone had shifted their body weight just a bit. Her skin was covered in gooseflesh, but she carefully withdrew her wand, because she felt instinctively that whoever was in the flat could not be friendly to her.
Another creak, and the sound of light shuffling, as if someone were trying to move quietly. Fred would have no need, he'd seek her out immediately. George was equally at home there, for all that his things had been moved to Angie's flat. Anyone else would be unlikely to enter their flat with no warning, or would call out immediately. Doing her best to push aside the growing fear, Hermione wiped her suddenly clammy hands on her jeans and firmly gripped her wand, assessing her options. It seemed likely that whoever was there knew she was there or suspected it, but they weren't moving. The only means of exit from this end of the flat was apparition. Hermione realized that she couldn't stay here though, because Fred or George would come home at any moment, and right into a potential trap . . .
And with that thought, Hermione knew who was there, because she remembered the Fidelius charm meant that only a limited number of people could enter the flat at all, or were even aware of the existence of the flat. She kept her wand ready, but moved calmly into the corridor, not bothering to hide her movements. He was standing still in the middle of the great room, a hand hidden in his quidditch practice robes.
"Hello, Ron," she said, keeping her voice even, and her wand ready. "What are you doing here?"
"Hermione," he said, his voice unusually flat and his face an expressionless mask.
"Is something wrong? What are you doing here?" she said, stalling to get a sense of his purpose. He hadn't moved, but he did not seem to be himself.
"You should come with me," Ron said, his voice still curiously devoid of inflection or emotion.
"Come where?" she asked nervously, eying his hidden hand.
"Away. I have something to show you. You should come with me," he said again.
"Can't just now, I'm afraid," she said with false brightness. "The twins are expecting me."
"They are gone," Ron said tonelessly. "You should come with me." He began to move towards her.
"No, Ron, I'm not going anywhere. Why are you here?" she said, her voice firm, though her hand was shaking, as she half-raised her wand.
"You are vital," Ron said. "You must come now." He continued to advance, and now his hand was moving, and she knew he would be clutching his wand. And yes, there it was, pointing directly at her. She gave it no more thought, reacting instinctively to the threat he presented.
"Petrificus totalus!" she shouted, whipping her wand at Ron. He immediately froze and fell forward. Hermione was unable to catch him before he hit the floor, and she winced at the crack. She moved quickly to turn him onto his back, and saw that his nose was clearly broken, and was gushing blood. His eyes continued to look blankly at her as she reached into his robes and carefully removed his wand, which had been clutched in his hand.
Hermione raised her wand again to staunch the bloodflow and heal his nose, but as she began the incantation, she realized that her hand was shaking badly, which made her realize that her entire body was trembling violently. She collapsed ungracefully to her knees besides Ron, trying to gather herself as she struggled to understand, to piece together the events of the last five minutes.
Any suspicion left that Ron was not involved in the attacks was gone now. Someone, and she didn't think it was Ron, actually, had been watching the store and saw both George and Fred leave and used that as an opportunity to use Ron in an attempt to get at Hermione. Even with the Fidelius in place, she'd been at risk because they'd stupidly walked through the shop instead of leaving from the flat. Hermione shook her head, trying to force away the thoughts of what could have been if she'd been more absorbed in her reading and not expecting one of the twins back shortly. It was difficult to shake the feeling of terror that clutched at her, but she needed to think as logically as possible.
Arthur. She needed to let Arthur and Kingsley know about what happened here, but as quietly and discreetly as was possible. Before she could decide on the best approach, she heard a clattering on the stairs, and looked up to meet her husband's eyes. His cheerful greeting died on his lips as he took in the sight before him.
"What the bloody hell happened?" he asked, his voice filled with shock and a cold fury that frightened Hermione.
"He's not himself, Fred," she said quickly, urgently. "He's under the influence or control of something. They were watching us, he said that he knew you and George were gone, and he wanted me to go with him. He said I was vital, that I had to go with him. When I refused he drew his wand, but I got him first. He needs help, I'm shaking too much to heal him."
"Bloody fucking hell," Fred growled, and it was evident from the expression of fury on his face that that was the last thing he wanted to do. Forcing her legs to obey, she stood and stepped over to him and put her hand on his chest.
"Frederick, I'm fine. A little shaken, but unharmed. Your brother is not ok. Please, you are better with healing charms. I'm asking you, please, to heal him."
Fred took a deep breath, and then another, and finally stepped around Hermione and muttered the healing incantations. The blood stopped and Ron's nose straightened with an audible crack, which made Hermione wince again. She stepped over and quietly cast a charm to cleanse his face of the blood which had dried there. Through all of it, the expression on Ron's face never changed, he just continued staring blankly ahead of him. That had the effect that Hermione's words couldn't have on Fred; his brother was not himself.
"We have to get your father," Hermione said quietly.
"Yes, right," Fred said distractedly, still staring at his little brother.
"If they are watching us, though, they know you've come back, which means that Ron is in danger," she said. "We all are."
"I'm not leaving you alone with him. It can wait until George returns," Fred said firmly, shaking himself from his stupor.
"He's petrified, without his wand. I think I'll be fine," Hermione protested. "If you prefer, I'll go."
"Absolutely not," Fred said. They stared each other down, but Hermione gave in. She had no desire to go to the Ministry is search of Arthur, and she wasn't keen to leave Fred alone either, so fighting with him over his concern was hypocritical.
"Fine," she said. "But would you try floo'ing Percy? Maybe he's in and can track your dad down more quickly. Or send and owl, even."
"Right. How long has George been gone?" Fred said, a new worry striking him.
Hermione consulted her watch. "An hour and a quarter."
"You don't think -?" Fred asked, growing more pale at the thought he couldn't voice.
"No. I think he walked and it was busy," Hermione said calmly. "I expect he'll walk in at any moment. Do you want to floo Percy, or shall I?"
"You do it. I'll get an owl ready." Fred said tersely, heading downstairs.
Hermione spared a glance for her friend, who had not moved nor changed expressions before throwing a pinch of glittering powder into her fireplace. The green flames whooshed into life and she stuck her head in the fireplace, calling out for the under-secretary to the Minister's office. When the spinning ceased, she turned her head and called out for Percy, unable to see him immediately. She was about to pull her head from the fireplace when she heard the door open and close and tried once more.
Percy quickly moved to the fireplace, peering inside with a dubious look.
"Hermione? Is everything all right?"
"Percy, Fred needs to see you quite urgently. I am terribly sorry to contact you at work -" Percy cut her off.
"I'm certain the Minister will not object, if I can have a few moments to alert him to my absence," Percy said quickly, a slightly questioning tone in his voice.
"Er, yes, that's understandable. I wouldn't want you to get into trouble. Maybe if the Minister is unavailable, you'll just let your father know?"
"I'll see which senior staff are available, of course. Let Fred know that I'll be by when I can," Percy said, standing up, and Hermione withdrew her head from the fireplace, coughing slightly as she inadvertently inhaled some ash.
Ron was where she had left him, and Hermione carefully stepped around him to go downstairs to join Fred. She heard voices in the workroom, and was relieved to see George with her husband, Fred's arm glued tightly to his brother's shoulders, bags of food resting on the floor at his feet. George looked troubled.
"I caught Percy. He will be around shortly, and it sounds as if he will report back to Kingsley," Hermione reported.
"You're certain you are ok, Hermione?" George asked with a look of concern.
"Yes, I'm fine," she assured him. "There's more though, which I haven't gotten to tell Fred yet. I found it, the potion."
"You found it?" they exclaimed simultaneously.
"Yes, though I can't guarantee it will work. And it's going to take at least three days," she warned them. "But at least we've something else to focus on. I thought, perhaps, you'd like to give it a go, George."
"Absolutely," he affirmed. "Let me see it."
"It's upstairs. I think we need to be careful though, because we are probably under surveillance, and I'm concerned for Ron. To try this, it smacks of desperation."
They reached the flat and George immediately went to check on his brother, who was still frozen in place and unresponsive. Surprising Hermione a little, George carefully cleaned the blood from his robes, and straightened them a bit. Then he turned back to Hermione.
"Right, let me see the book," he said firmly. Hermione wordlessly led him to the study, where the moldy green book was still open on her desk. George sat down and immediately began reading it over while Hermione stood in the doorway. Fred had remained in the lounge to watch Ron and intercept Percy when he arrived. George seemed wholly absorbed in the book before him, and he frowned slightly as he flipped pages to study the directions and the potions plan. Finally, he looked up.
"It's solid. Can't believe I never thought rosemary oil. I had thought of ginger, but that preparation. Bollocks, it seems so simple when it's laid out. I wouldn't have tried for such a short resting period either, but I see why they've done it the way they did. Too great a chance of curdling and becoming unusable. I think if we add lemon zest, that might help to counteract thistle, which we think is being used. The ginger might, given that it's boiled and cut into pentagons, be enough on its own to counter the monk's hood, but if I could add just a bit of St. John's Wort right at the correct moment, I'd feel better."
"Worth a go then?" she couldn't help asking.
"Definitely, it's a lot better than what I was trying to do from scratch. A smart call, love," George said, looking younger and much more relaxed than he had that morning. "Might as well try to eat while we wait. I'll start it brewing once Dad and Percy have figured this out."
"I'm not sure I could eat," Hermione said, feeling slightly nauseated by the mere thought. However, she followed George into the lounge, and sat on the arm of her husband's chair while her brother-in-law retrieved their lunches.
"What's he think, then?" Fred asked quietly.
"That it'll work, maybe with some adjustments," she answered softly. Fred only nodded; George's demeanor was enough to tell his twin the positive news.
"You certain you're ok?" he finally asked, breaking the silence that had fallen between them, and sounding better than he had.
She slipped an arm around his shoulders. "Yes. Just worried now. I think he had to have been fighting whatever his instructions were, because he didn't make a sound and didn't try to find me. I was engrossed in studying the potion, it could have been a different outcome. We were lucky."
Two things happened at that moment: George returned with the forgotten food, and the floo roared to life. Percy Weasley stepped through first, but was followed almost immediately by their father. They both stopped abruptly at the strange scene before them, Arthur briefly closing his eyes in what looked like pain.
"What happened?" Percy asked, sounding bewildered.
Hermione repeated her story, as Arthur quietly cast several spells over Ron. Seeming both sad and unsatisfied, he tucked away his wand and turned to his twin sons and his daughter-in-law.
"I think you were right to think it might be potion based. There is no trace of lingering enchantment on him, which suggests ingestion. Even the Imperius curse leaves a trace if you know what you are looking for. I was concerned, but I never thought . . ." he trailed off, shaking his head. "You weren't harmed, Hermione?"
"No, just frightened. It was disconcerting to see him so utterly blank," she said with a shiver at the remembrance. "He's not changed expression at all. And I'm worried that he's in danger now, because they were watching. They can't know the location of the flat, they may've thought I was in the shop, or that he'd try here and then visit the flat. But surely they are expecting him back with me in tow." She'd begun to wring her hands quite unconsciously.
"It is a concern. You think the potion will take a few days?" Arthur asked, his voice heavy.
"Yeah, at least three, if all goes well on the first try, and much as the git irritates me, I wouldn't generally test the first iteration of an unknown potion on him," George said wryly.
"May not have a choice. We've got to get him out of commission for awhile. I wonder . . ." Arthur trailed off, looking thoughtful, then turned to Percy. "Did they ever make a determination about McClintock?"
"They think he's in the thick of it, but charges? Not yet," Percy said with a shrug.
"Maybe he can arrange for Ron to have a serious Quidditch injury? Bludger to the head that knocks him out for a couple of days? We can keep him out in St. Mungo's, under guard. I've got a healer I trust implicitly," Arthur mused aloud. Fred's eyebrows rose in surprise and appreciation.
Percy merely nodded. "I'll see to it. They just need the appearance of it, right? Ron may need to return to the pitch. Have you any polyjuice?" The last was directed at the twins.
"Yes, always keep some on hand. Useful in any number of situations and products," Fred said without missing a beat.
"Very good. We'll get everything arranged, and then move him to St. Mungo's. You lot just start on the potion. We need him to be in complete control if we are going to be able to end this," Arthur said with grim determination.
A/N - Onwards we go! Any guesses about what is to come? I hope you enjoy this. More on its way. Cheers.