Richard picked up his wand and stepped between the boys and the stranger.
If I can't use magic against him, then he can't use magic against me, he thought, remembering the Law of Cross-Universe Cancelation. It did not make him feel any less tense. The stranger was taller than he by a few inches and had a wiry appearance, but Richard was broader in the shoulders, and more muscular. While he could not stun the stranger, there were other ways he might magically restrain him, if necessary. And there was no telling what sort of magic the stranger might employ. What if he's lying? What if he is from here? he wondered. While he knew of other universes, he knew very little about them. (They had been discussed in his sixth year at Hogwarts, in a History of Magic class ten years earlier, and were not on the final exams.)
"You are in the private residence area of St. Mungo's Hospital. If you need assistance, my house-elf can escort you to the proper entrance," he said firmly.
"I need no assistance," the stranger said confidently.
"Then my house-elf can escort you to where you belong. If you are from another universe, the closest Connection is over in Kensington." He wished that the stranger would quit smirking and leave. The boys were silent. From the corner of his eye, he could see Leia: She was still in the other room, moving silently about. Around the walls, the people in the various paintings and portraits were absent, apparently having walked out of their scenes to go who knew where. And Chaucer seemed to have disappeared. Where is help when I need it? he silently fumed.
"Are you from another universe?" Wilf piped up. "Which one?"
The stranger moved his head gracefully. "The Underground," he answered proudly.
The boys burst out into laughter.
"We were just there," Lenny jeered. "Got to ride the Tube."
"Field trip. Last week. We certainly didn't see you there," Bruce said with a snigger in his tone.
"Of course we didn't go everywhere. Maybe you were on another Tube route?"
"Wait, I know, Piccadilly Circus. Like clowns."
"Or Jubilee, like a party."
Richard was annoyed at the boy's rudeness - they were not helping matters any. The stranger's eyes had turned steely, but there was something else about them that caught his attention. They were uneven, as if a Glamour had gone wrong or there had been problems with a Polyjuice Potion. He knew that Polyjuice would wear off, and that Glamours could be counter-cursed. He'd heard of a few people - magical and not - who lived in the London Underground. But what if the visitor really is from another universe, and not just some weird Tube-rat? he wondered.
He turned and glared at the boys, instantly silencing them, but when he turned back to the stranger, he could hear them giggling and snickering, as they started pushing each other.
"Why are you here?" he asked the stranger as politely as he could, while forcing himself to ignore the noise.
"Wait!" Wilf shouted. "Lucy told me about the Underground! She said that in the Underground there were a whole bunch of goblins...."
"Of course there's goblins underground," Lenny said. "Gringotts Bank is underground. Everyone knows -"
Richard interrupted. "Who is Lucy?"
Wilf ignored him. "...and there was a big maze..."
"The Labyrinth," the stranger said.
"Which one?" Lenny said, "There's a dozen in England. We just visited the Lincolnshire one last month."
"Do you mean Lucy Graves?" Owen asked.
The stranger blinked, but stayed silent.
"And there was music..." Wilf continued.
"Certainly," the stranger said with a proud smirk.
"And the fairies were like ours, only they bite. And lots of goblins and talking things, and there were tunnels, and dead ends, and a stinky swamp..."
"Shut up, Wilf," Bruce ordered.
"A fen of foul odours?" Owen suggested with an exaggerated roll of the eyes.
"A fen of foul fumes," Lenny corrected him.
"The Bog of Eternal Stench," the stranger retorted.
"I said, 'Shut up,'" Bruce shouted and he pounced on his brother, pushing him down. The other two boys expertly separated them. "SHUT UP," he roared as he tried to break free of his friends.
Wilf would not be stopped. "I know who you are--you're the king of the goblins!"
"The Goblin King," the stranger corrected him.
Bruce broke free of his friends and pushed his brother over onto his stomach, and held his head down while the other two broke out laughing. Richard dashed over to pull the older boy to his feet.
"The Goblin King! Do the goblins know that?" Lenny shouted.
"No goblin would EVER dress like that." Owen pointed at the man.
"No goblin would have hair like that!"
"Goblins don't have hair!"
"Goblins don't have kings!"
Bruce tried to twist out of Richard's grip.
Wilf got up to his feet. "You are, aren't you? Tell them you are! Prove it!"
The stranger stood in regal silence, his arms folded. The boys' laughter subsided, with hiccups and giggles. Richard checked Wilf--his mouth was bleeding, and the Healer quickly stanched it. He looked back at the other man--the stranger seemed slightly amused.
Could a goblin use Polyjuice Potion, to appear human? Richard wondered. He hadn't heard of it being done before; he didn't know it was possible.
"So you're King of the Goblins," Lenny said sarcastically. "Where are your minions, Your Highness? Your servants? Bodyguards? Witty joker? Side-kick?" The boy looked disdainfully around, his nose up in the air.
The stranger's composure broke and he regained it in less than a second. Richard glanced around the room. There were no other beings. The doors were all open except one, and that one was supposed to be locked. They all looked at it at the same time. Odd muffled sounds could barely be heard above the sound of the outside rainstorm.
"Translumos!" Richard shouted as he pointed his wand at the door. The door and the wall went transparent, glowing with light, but there was a translucent material that looked like swirling watercolours on the inside of the wall. As they watched, dark shapes appeared instantly, then disappeared. The boys rushed to the wall to peer through it, each finding a peephole or a place where the color wasn't so thick. The stranger was there instantly--Richard hurried over, and again put himself between the stranger and the boys.
The room was the children's Anti-Grav room, where they played in zero gravity as they acted out their favorite outer space stories. The room had been spelled by the Baum Institute and was one of few known to exist in Europe.
The boys shouted when they realized that their territory had been invaded and shouted louder when they saw what the stuff was on the wall. The handful of beings inside were short and rotund, and looked like goblins. They were covered completely in the colourful fluid, and were bouncing all over the room, their arms and legs windmilling uselessly. Only one had found a handhold--none of them were in the flight-control suits. Richard saw one vomit in mid-flight, and it changed course immediately, hit another, and then both flew away from each other.
"You've got to clean that up!" Bruce shouted at the stranger. "They're your people; it's your mess. Clean it up NOW!"
The stranger was still staring into the room. A little glob drifted by, and Richard recognized it as a vomit-covered Major Tom action figure. Looking inside, he saw a lot of other little globs--the goblins had somehow emptied the play ship and all of the children's toys were loose and floating or ricocheting around the place. (He fervently hoped that Healer Smyth's precious Hieronymus Bosch figurines were safe on their shelf and had not been "borrowed" again by the boys.) The mess was almost enough to raise the Healer's gorge. Wilf threw up, and Owen followed his example.
"WILF!" Bruce shouted at his brother. "Stop that! See what you've done, you big creep!" he shouted at the stranger. "I hate you! Get away from here, NOW!"
"Scrougify!" Richard cleaned the two boys up and grabbed Bruce's collar before he could attack the stranger.
The stranger ignored the boy, and walked away from the window and to the doorway that led to the hospital. "Sorg," he called out.
Richard kept his tight grip on the boy with one hand. He quickly conjured two cups of water for Owen and Wilf, and a third for Lenny before he could complain.
A disheveled little goblin, about the size of a fat house-elf, appeared. It looked oddly familiar, and it had dark-coloured armor, but it was dressed carelessly. Richard wondered about its large red eyes and dripping small round nose. It waddled over to the stranger. "Yes, your highness?" it asked.
The king gave it the barest of glances. "Sorg, get the others back to the castle."
"And then?" it whimpered, wiping its nose on the back of its hand.
"Come back," the king said quietly. "We are not done here."
beta-ing by Gelsey. Special thanks to jessicadamien!