"Are you sure you want to go through with this?" Healer Stilwell asked as he and Ron sat down in the consultation area of Healer Stilwell's St Mungo's office.
Ron gulped and nodded, petrified at the thought that if the mission he was about to commit to failed, he might end up as crippled as Harry. However, he was determined to carry out the plan, because it was time the Matron was stopped.
"I can see no other alternative," he said quietly. "We have to catch the Matron in the act of deliberately hurting someone and I won't ask another Auror to risk his or her health. It has to be me."
"I don't like the plan, Ron, but like you, I see no other way for you to get the evidence you need," sighed the healer.
"I appreciate your willingness to participa—" Ron began, but Healer Stilwell cut him off.
"I'm only participating because you need a qualified healer on your team," he said, skewering Ron with his eyes. "I know what the Matron is capable of doing: she's trying to discredit the hospital and ruin my reputation because of something that happened twenty-odd years ago. I'll not have it, not after how hard I've worked to help patients like Harry and Brian." He shook his head. "I'm also thinking about how many patients will need my services in the future. If the Matron ruins my career…" Healer Stilwell looked troubled for a moment and seemed to be staring at the framed certificates on the wall behind Ron, as if the thought was too horrible to imagine. At length, he shook his head as if returning to the present. "Ron, if anything goes wrong, you'll need immediate medical attention and none of your Aurors are qualified to help you," he added, bringing the subject back to the mission.
Ron sighed. He knew Healer Stilwell was right on all accounts. Looking down at his clipboard, he waited for the healer to continue.
"How many Aurors are you stationing on the Injuries Floor?" he asked.
"There will be two Aurors disguised as my worried relatives outside in the corridor. The same goes for the three other members of my team who will be at my bedside," Ron reported thinking about the newest Auror he'd added to the team, a witch named Mary Beth Prendergast.
"Might I suggest that at least one, possibly two, of your Aurors wear Assistant's robes?" asked Healer Stilwell. "They can mingle freely with the regular staff in our restricted areas in order to report on the Matron's activities and whereabouts if they're dressed properly. They can be passed off as a couple of new trainees who were recently hired as part of the increase in staffing mandated by your sister's request for better patient care."
Ron smiled. Thank goodness for Ginny's tirade, he thought, thinking of the bits and pieces of gossip that had been floating round the office in recent months. Aloud he said, "That makes more sense. Have you really hired extra assistants?"
A small smile made Healer Stilwell look less stressed for a moment. "We have and the patients seem happier for the extra attention. The ward workers are more relaxed, less overworked, I think. Your sister was right to raise the issue."
"What about the healers in Emergency? Ron asked.
Again, Healer Stilwell smiled. "At our department heads' meeting last week, the head of A and E reported that his staff actually cheered when the new-hires arrived for their first shifts."
"Can I tell Ginny?" Ron asked, pleased with the changes he was hearing about.
"Of course. I imagine the Fundraising Chairwitch will be contacting your sister this week. Madam Nigel always wants preparations for the March Gala ball to begin as soon as New Years celebrations are over. There's something about how the holiday, alcohol and magic never mix well…" Healer Stilwell shook his head and glanced down at his notes. "Now… back to business. The two Aurors out in the corridor should be the ones to bring you into the A and E via Portkey. Five minutes prior to the Portkey activating, you will take a potion which will simulate the injured and paralyzed condition in which you will arrive."
Ron nodded and made a note on his agenda. "What will happen next?" he asked apprehensively without looking up.
"Your condition will be diagnosed and I will be called to consult on your treatment. It will be decided that you belong in the Non-Magical Injuries ward."
"Healer Stilwell, the last time we talked about this you said it might be necessary to actually break my back," Ron reminded the healer. "Is that what the first potion will do to me?"
"No. We will not be breaking your back, not with a potion nor with a spell. It's too dangerous. Instead, the injuries will all be simulated. The first potion you'll ingest prior to arriving at the hospital will create the pain you must experience with the sorts of injuries you're arriving with; the pain will be real because the potion affects the nervous system the same way the Cruciatus Curse does. I must warn you that it's not pleasant.
"Next, one of the Aurors with you will cast a Fracture Simulation Spell on your spine. This spell will make it look like you have broken your vertebrae. Again, there is some risk because if done incorrectly, the spell is powerful enough to actually cause the injuries it recreates. If the spell is done incorrectly the bones could be completely broken, you would be permanently disabled. Therefore, before I entrust you to their mercy, the Auror must practice the spell on livestock carcasses to learn the right inflection for simulating the fracturing of bones. Is there an Auror on your team whom you trust to administer the spell?"
"Yes, there are two, but I would like to speak with them first," Ron replied.
"Very well… Now once I'm with you and I've healed your 'fractures', you will drink the antidote to the first potion along with several others to help you relax. I will then start casting the spells I usually use to activate certain components in the nerve regeneration potions you will have supposedly drunk. I will be including a spell that will continue your paralysis, but in a more easily reversible form. The spell will last several hours during which time I may need to come 'examine' you again to renew the charm, if the Matron hasn't made her move yet."
"How long do you think it will take for her to discover her latest victim?" Ron asked.
"That's up to you and your Aurors because one of the disguised Aurors will need to perform the Imperius Curse on her to suggest she look in your file."
Ron bristled at this suggestion. "Healer Stilwell, the Imperius Curse has not been performed by an Auror in over thirty years, not since the First War ended with Harry's parents being killed and Tom Riddle's disappearance. It is an illegal curse, which carries a penalty of life in Azkaban if its use is detected. No one on my team will be sanctioned to use the Curse."
"Then how do you propose to entice the Matron to even consider you as a candidate for her experiments?" Healer Stilwell countered.
"My team has been trained to persuade suspects into doing their bidding without resorting to the Imperius Curse. Will you trust us to do our job while you do yours?" Ron asked.
Healer Stilwell nodded, not looking very convinced.
Ron scribbled a quick note on his parchment and then asked, "Getting back to my paralysis, you said the spell will be easier to reverse than the potion…"
"Yes, it is," Healer Stilwell said, "Whoever is with you will be able to completely mobilize you with Finite Incantatem. Your wife or another Auror stationed in your cubicle under an Invisibility Cloak can easily do this for you during the apprehension of the Matron."
"My wife will not be participating in this mission," Ron said flatly. "She is not a trained Auror and as much as I would like her to be with me, I refuse to involve her."
Healer Stilwell looked taken aback by Ron's vehemence. "I understand your reluctance, but won't it look strange if she doesn't show up at St Mungo's sometime during the mission?"
"No, it won't. I confessed last night to being worried about our meeting this morning; she knows I'm planning a dangerous mission, but none of the details. It's been this way since I joined the Auror Department: she accepts that I can't tell her much about my job, especially if the information is classified. This is just another classified, high-priority mission," Ron explained.
"But what about the fact that you will be seen in the A and E and then in the NMI ward? Someone with good intentions might try to get word to her that you're in hospital and that she needs to