Richard put the Gobstone on the floor again. "Go find your owner."
The ball obediently rolled up the gentle slope. Richard followed, and noticed side doors and alcoves along the wall. He decided to count them as he went along. The alcoves seemed to be used as small offices, as there were desks and chairs in most of them.
It was at the fifteenth door that the Gobstone rolled to the left and stopped. Richard stooped down to pick it up, and as he did, he noticed boots behind the dark glass door. As he stood up, the doorway slowly brightened, and he saw that there was a man wearing a shiny silver suit. He thought at first it was the Goblin King, but then he saw that he looked grim. His hair was shorter, darker, and around his eyes, around his head was a cloth bandage, and fixed to the bandage, on the left side was a red glowing ruby and on the right, a green glowing emerald where the eyes should have been. The nose was broken, and a raw scar ran down the left side of his face. A beard was starting to form, the suit was travel-stained, and the whole bearing of the man was one of exhaustion. There was no glitter about him.
Richard stared at the man and realized that he looked exactly like the Major Tom in one of the last comic books he had read, back in his school days.
"Halt! Who goes there?" the man calmly asked.
"Major Tom?" Richard asked.
"I am he. Who are you?"
Richard decided to be honest. "Richard Goodfellow. I'm a healer, and…"
"I know of no Richard Goodfellow."
Richard stood, stunned. Walnuts! Now what do I do? Is this supposed to be child's play? he wondered.
He thought fast and recalled one of his favorite characters from the comic books. "Lee Shark. Captain. Captain Lee Shark."
"Greetings, Captain Shark," Major Tom said. "How may I assist you?"
"I'm here to collect some children, which were under my guardianship. Have you seen them?" Richard asked, hoping that he was not making a mistake in lying about who he was and hoping that his memory of rank and relationship was correct.
"The children are beyond this door."
Relieved, Richard ordered, "Then step aside, major."
Major Tom shook his head. "I'm under orders not to leave this door until nightfall."
Richard hesitated, thinking of what to ask next. "After nightfall, will the door open then?" What if the captain is already supposed to know this? he wondered.
"The door will open with the right key," Major Tom replied.
"Which key?" Richard asked.
"Exactly. It is behind you."
Richard turned to the alcove opposite the door. Papers and objects lay on the desk and hung from a pegboard on the wall above. "Which key?"
"Yes," Major Tom affirmed, and then asked, "Captain Shark?"
It took Richard a moment before he realized that he was being addressed. "Yes, Major?"
"How…how is my wife?"
How am I supposed to know? Richard wondered. He remembered very little about her and decided to continue to bluff his way. "Ask her yourself when you return," he said, not unkindly. He glanced back at the man, but there was no reply.
Richard turned his attention to the alcove and studied the contents. There were so many keys to choose from—typewriter keys; piano keys; a map key, with a decorative compass printed on it; skeleton keys such as the caretaker of Hogwarts wore on his belt; car keys and house keys, such as he found at the bus stops at Kensington Park, with odd items chained to each of them, including black plastic fobs, a pair of dice, and a five-sided star; a skate key; a map of southern Florida with a chain of islands; an encryption key, shaped similar to a decoder ring Owen owned; and a thin rod of metal as long as a finger and bent into an L-shape. Richard was not familiar with it and was puzzled by its inclusion.
He took it off of its peg, weighed it in his hand, and studied it. Intuitively, he felt that it was the one, but he didn't know why. He turned it over and over. It wasn't round, as he thought it would be, but it had six-sides. Looking at the end of it, it reminded him of a cell in a honey comb. One of the skeleton keys had managed to drop from its peg and land on the floor; he stooped and, careful not to drop the chess piece in his hand, put it back on its peg and ignored its chattering skull as it cried in a thin, tiny voice, "Pick me! Pick me!"
He looked over the other keys again, while slowly rolling it between his fingers. He studied the five-sided key chain. "Pentagon. Six side, hexagon; seven sides…." He stopped. "Hexagon. Hex. It's a hex key. Which key? Witch key. What other key would a witch use?" He turned back to the door. "Stupid pun," he muttered under his breath.
He stood at attention before the other man. "Major Tom," he said, "it is now knight fall." He held out his hand in front of him and dropped the chess piece.
Major Tom bowed his head, and he and the glass door dissolved.
Richard quickly spotted the key hole—a small dot in the center of the smooth plate—and pushed in the hex key. Starting at the key hole, the plate melted. Richard had just enough time to scoop back up the Gobstone and the knight from the floor before the whole area in front of him opened.
Beyond was starry night. Constellations burned and galaxies slowly rotated through thin clouds of nebula. A nova flashed as Richard stood at the doorway in breathless awe. All of outer space was in front of him, and somewhere in it, the children. He opened up his hand, and the Gobstone slowly floated away to an unseen destination. The knight stayed weightless on his palm.
"You are too late, Guardian," the king said. Richard snapped his head around and saw the king standing perpendicular to him, silhouetted by star light. The king wore a suit similar to Major Tom's, his feet were firmly planted on the wall beside Richard. Beyond him was the vastness of space. He held out a warning hand.
"The way back to St. Mungo's is closed. You shall not return from here."
Richard shut his eyes and slowly took in a breath, exhaled, then took another breath, somewhat surprised that he could breathe. The air was clear, and it cleared the confusion in his head, even though he was starting to drift out the doorway.
Ignoring the king, he said loudly and clearly, "Chaucer, round everyone up and take us to Dinty's."
The startled look on the king's face gave Richard a moment of satisfaction, but greater was his relief at the familiar yank on his arm and the sudden stumbling onto the pizzeria's floor. The noise of the restaurant assaulted his ears, and he could smell baked bread, oregano, and basil. He opened his eyes in the dim light and saw the backs of the children as they ran to the colorfully lit arcade area. He quickly counted them and saw that they were all there.
"Healer G! Do you have tokens?" Owen shouted. "We need tokens!" "Tokens!" Wilf echoed. Behind them, Bruce and Lenny scuffled at one of the game boxes while Leia ran to her favorite pinball machine.
Suddenly exhausted, Richard replied back, "Go get them from the counter—tell them to put it on my tab."
He sank down in the nearest booth and ran a hand over the red leather seat. The table had crumbs on it—he cleared it off with a wave of his hand. "Thank you, Chaucer," he said gratefully. The door to the outside street opened, and he could smell the rain before it shut again.
There was no reply.
He looked around and spotted Chaucer standing on a stool at the counter next to a customer that the barkeeper was talking to. Chaucer was wearing an odd suit of armor. Weary, Richard leaned into the seat back and shut his eyes.
"Anything for you?" the waitress asked.
Richard opened his eyes and saw she was one of the familiar staff members.
He could see the day's special and the clock on the wall behind her—it was only two hours since they had left. "Just the regular, Bonnie," he said.
She gave him a withering stare.
"Sweet water in an obsidian cup, small double basil on vegetarian with original crust." He sighed.
It didn't take her long to fill the order, and she brought it back with the ticket. He glanced at it, then, horrified, read it and reread it. "Three hundred pizzas! Bonnie! Bonnie"
A too-familiar voice spoke. "Did you expect me to return empty-handed?" The goblin king slid into the seat opposite of Richard. He wore a simple silk shirt that was open at the neck. "My subjects have been cleaning up after your charges and are doubtless very hungry. Those children did more damage than Lucy Graves, Sarah Williams, and the entire freshmen class of Baum Institute combined."
"Why are you here? How—" Richard was speechless and very annoyed.
"It is your fault. You did say 'everyone,'" the king coolly replied.
Richard glared at him, before re-examining the receipt. "There's a cake…."
"Special order. A white jasmine flavored cake, with jasmine sugar flowers on top."
The waitress returned to put a small pizza and a mug in front of the king. "Tarragon and mushrooms with white sauce on fluxweed crust, and Hudson Valley Amber Brew."
The king gave her a gracious smile, which she, as she did all smiles, ignored. The king returned his attention to Richard. "You need not worry about the cost. The gratuity is included in the bill. Pay up and turn in the receipt to the Ministry of Magic, attention Bill Weasley, Goblin Liaison. He will see to it that you are reimbursed for the pizzas."
Richard looked at the tab again. "And the cake?"
"One of your charges, Owen, I believe, crashed a birthday party, and it must be repaid. Discuss it with him." The king took and knife and a fork to his pizza. "Do you prefer you food cold, Guardian?"
Richard had no doubt that Owen was guilty and decided to eat slowly. He glanced around for the king's two minions but didn't see them, and he decided not to ask about them. There was silence at the table, while around them were the sounds of the arcade's pinball machines, the overhead music and the low conversations of nearby diners punctuated with laughter.
Richard decided to say something. "I think I know where one of Alice's pictures is. I know where I last saw it, and it's probably still there in Healer Smyth's office. I'll have it put in Alice's quarters."
The king nodded. "There are four paintings. You will find the other three; you will recognize them."
Richard couldn't tell if it was a statement or an order, but he said nothing.
The waitress returned. "Your pizzas are ready," she informed the king.
The king replied, "I require assistance."
She shrugged and walked away. Chaucer appeared in her place.
"Chaucer send Richard Goodfellow and children back to the community room?" Chaucer asked.
"We'll take the Floo," he said. "Go ahead and deliver the pizzas, and I'll see you when you get back."
"And no more 'borrowing' my clothes," the king ordered. He stood up, a glittery black travel cloak swirled around him, and he disappeared.
The waitress returned to the table. "Would you like some dessert?" she asked as she cleared the dishes.