Richard hesitated for a moment, then ran to the library door. The children and Chaucer were standing around the room, clutching chess pieces in their hands and pulling books off of the shelf.
"Stay here," he said. "I'll be right back. Chaucer, don't let any of them out of the room."
"I need to use the loo," Wilf said.
Richard paused, then fled to the corridor doors and pulled one open. The corridor was lit, but he could still see a couple of ghosts down near the hospital entrance. There was no noise from the gymnasium complex. He ran down to the other door.
"People could ask us to move," one of them grumbled as Richard passed through.
Richard stopped and turned. "Excuse me; I should have asked first. But, have you seen a tall man with two short goblins go by?"
"All goblins are short: It's part of what makes them goblins."
"Yes, but did you see them?"
"I suppose so. Tall man, sort of spidery?"
"I didn't think he looked spidery," the other said. "With that hair, he looked like a bird. A big bird, like a vulture or something."
Richard tried to interrupt and gave up.
"Rude," one of the ghosts said. "Doesn't stick around to list--" The door closed before Richard could hear the rest.
The corridor came to a four way intersection. To the left was the lift; to the fore, the stairs and an exit. To the right, another corridor with closed doors. Richard looked down each way and wondered which way the others had gone. The indicator wheel on the lift showed that it was going from the fourth to the third floor. There was no way to get the lift up to the fourth floor in the amount of time he'd spent. He listened, but heard no sound of footsteps on the stairs. Maybe he flew? Maybe the goblins Apparated? he wondered. It did not seem possible that the strangers would have gone down the one on the right, as the security wards prohibited all but staff and registered visitors. There isn't any reason why he'd go that way, he thought, glancing at the art work that graced the doors. But something nagged at him, that this was the way. He looked at the lettering on the door. "Adriana Dumbledore Memorial Wing". Was she the missing Runner? he wondered. No, she's dead; he said that the Runner was alive.
He paused a moment longer. There will be portraits in there, he thought, I can send a message to Mum.
But there are also pictures in the stairwell, he argued.
These are closer, he reasoned, and pushed past the doors. Besides, maybe someone here can help me stop him or go keep check on the children, he hoped. Chaucer had his limits--he imagined the house-elf reaching them rather quickly.
He looked down the empty hallway. It was softly lit, and he could hear voices. He quickly walked down past the closed doors of the residents on the right and the housekeeping and guest flats on the left. A door to one of the residents' flats was ajar, and he stood and looked inside.
His mother was seated at a small table, with another woman and two men. The woman he knew at once--Alice Longbottom, a long-time patient of the hospital, and her son, Neville, who had been a year behind him in school. The other man was a stranger and had his back to the door. From where he could see, the man seemed to be well-groomed and was wearing formal business robes.
"Richard," his mother said. "We're just having a late tea. Alice has a visitor--Mr. Jareth says that you've met."
The stranger turned, and Richard instantly recognized the mismatched eyes and the smirk. "Hello, Healer Goodfellow," he said. "I trust that the children are well-taken care of?"
Richard noticed the man was wearing black gloves. Did he have those on earlier? he wondered. There were days he did not trust his own memory.
Neville effortlessly conjured a chair for Richard. "Do sit down," he said. "Mr. Jareth has been telling us about Mother."
Alice rocked gently in her chair, her eyes unfocused. She was wearing comfortable clothes and was holding a soft toy that Richard did not recognize. Richard looked at Alice and suddenly realized who the missing Runner was. Shocked, he almost missed the seat of the chair and clumsily righted himself. Another glance at the toy, and he saw that it was similar to the red creature that Bruce had stomped on. Looking around the room, he saw the two goblins, dressed as for Gringotts Bank. Soldat was talking to the attendant who was taking care of Alice's husband in the bedroom while Sorg stood at the bedroom door, watching Alice while tears streamed down its face.
"I hope you don't mind if we continue the conversation," the king said. "I do like how the living quarters are here." He gestured to the large windows that looked out to the hospital's conservatory. "My compliments to the decorator," he added. "I like the choice of colours on the walls--unfortunately most hospitals just have things so colourless and flat, with no privacy."
Richard glanced around the room. The walls were a soft green, and there were flowers and Celtic designs painted on the ceiling and around the door frames. He didn't care much for the design, but it was nicely done. He tried not to stare at the Goblin King, but he kept glancing at him out of the corner of his eye.
"It was terrible before the War," Neville said. "Mum and Da were kept in a large room, with just curtains and the walls were just white, and it was so noisy, and no privacy. No windows." He shuddered. "Some friends of mine did the fund-raising, and I got the design--I wanted them to have fresh air, have things more normal for them. And there were other patients who were there too, so we have it this way. Mum and Da can go out to the garden there, get taken on walks, and sometimes there's an amusement for them. I stay here sometimes, too, for short visits."
"I am sorry about the war, and for what happened to your parents," the king said to Neville. And then to Alice he said, "I knew things were bad here. But when I lost contact with you, I had no idea what had happened."
Alice continued to rock back and forth.
"Your painting that you did, the very large one of a labyrinth and a castle, is it around?" he asked Alice.
"None of the stuff in my parents' house was left," Neville said. "The Lestranges destroyed everything while they were torturing my parents. Gran had taken me for the day out in the country, or I probably would have been killed."
"Good for Gran! So the thugs left nothing, not even her library? It was quite the collection."
"Not a thing," Neville said firmly. "The house was torn down afterwards, and I'm not sure what's there now. So how did you know Mum?"
"She came to visit me," the king said airily.
Richard had taken a tea-cup, and, startled, spilled the tea on his leg. He quickly waved his hand over the spot, making it disappear, and hoped no one noticed.
Almost everyone politely ignored his actions. The king smirked.
"Are you sure it wasn't the other way around?" he asked the king, giving him a deadly glare.
"You were in your teens," he said to Alice. "You had your hair down to you waist and an infectious giggle. You danced everywhere, as if your every thought was music." His eyes softened as he watched the unresponsive woman. "Your paintings were so lifelife, they needed no charms to Viviate them. When you left, it was as if the sun had gone behind storm clouds." He sighed. "It has not been the same since. Frank is a very fortunate man to have you."
Richard glanced over at Frank, who was now by the window, propped up and seat-belted in a wheelchair. Fortunate was not a word to describe the Longbottoms.
"And when you no longer asked for Heldig, and your little friend could not find you..."
The sad goblin stuffed a handkerchief in its mouth.
"...then Heldig became Sorg, and has been ever since."
Grief-stricken, the goblin sat on the floor. Neville went over to it and squatted next to it. "Pardon me, but won't you have a seat?"
It shook its head and looked up at Neville. "I remember when you were a ba-ba-baby," it croaked. "Y-y-you held my finger." It leaned against Neville's knee and sobbed.
"Here, come sit on the sofa," Neville gently ordered and led the small being over and helped get it adjusted.
"Sh-she, Fr-Frank cheated the mon-mon-monster thr-three times," it wailed. "It was gone! Gone! And they hurt her so b-bad." The goblin could not be consoled. Neville, Richard and the others looked at each other, helpless. Alice turned her head in the direction of the noise and kept rocking.
"Sorg, would you rather go back to the castle now?" the king asked in a stern fashion.
Sorg shook its head and stuffed a small sofa pillow against its face, stopping the noise, but its body continued to shake.
Soldat looked nervous but continued to visit with Frank's attendant, who dabbed at the drool at Frank's face.
"So there are no mementos of Alice's childhood or youth?" the king asked. "Nothing that might remind her of earlier times?"
"For all their talk of 'pure-bloods', the Death Eaters killed a very large number of them," Neville said bitterly. "Mum and Da had her parents' house; she'd inherited it from them, so all of her stuff was there. I have a photo of them, that a friend of mine made a copy of, and some of their classmates sent me photos when this wing was built. Gran has a few photos of when they married and when I was born, so it's not like it was a total loss, but that's about it."
"Do you have any of the photos here? Or perhaps a photo album?" the king asked.
"No, they're scattered around. I should do it, I suppose. Or maybe Gran has one--I'll ask her."
"It would be helpful to have an album," Richard's mother said. "Then when guests are here, it would be nice to go over them, and maybe Frank and Alice would be cheered up a bit to see them."
Frank was pounding on the window. The attendant moved him so he could not reach it. "He gets excited about the rain," the attendant apologised. "I think that there's a bird loose in there, that's flapping around."
"I'll look," Neville volunteered. He went to the window and put the palm of his hand on it. A door formed, and he opened it, and stepped out into the conservatory, his wand ready. "Accio bird!"
He brought back a little bird in his hand and showed it to Frank, who ignored it. "It's out of the aviary. I'll just put it back." He went out in the conservatory, and to the aviary. Richard could see the light from the library and wondered how Chaucer and the children were doing.
The king turned his full attention to the woman. "Alice, I will be leaving now. Is there anything you would like me to send you? I could have Sorg bring back anything you wish. Flowers from the gardens, stinkweed from the bog? Silk? Music? Sun-warmed stones? Sweet peaches?" He put his hand out to her cheek, but she only turned away. "Alice? Alice?" he whispered. He drew up another glass orb and held in front of her. "Your memories of your visit?" he quietly asked. He put it on the table in front of her, and she gazed at it for a moment. There was no recognition, no focus.
Richard and his mother looked at each other. Is anyone looking for my mum? he wondered.
Neville returned and closed the door behind him, and it disappeared.
"Mr. Longbottom, thank you very much for your time. Thank you." The king graciously nodded to Richard's mother and the other attendant. "I've enjoyed our visit."
"Alice." He knelt down by her chair. She stopped rocking and looked in his direction. He carefully took her hand and held it by his cheek before gently kissing it and laying it back down on her lap. She started humming, but the sound was tuneless, and she resumed rocking. The clear glass globe sat on the table. Neville looked at it and then at the king, a puzzled expression on his face. "There is nothing there that will harm anyone," the king said softly.
"Healer Goodfellow, may I have the pleasure of your company? Good day, and thank you again." The king left the room, Soldat following in his wake. Sorg stood and looked at Alice for a moment longer, hiccuped and fled, following its companions.
Richard looked back at the others. Neville, his mother and the other attendant were staring at him.
"Well...." Richard didn't know how to explain, or where to start and remembered that his conversation with the king was not finished. "Talk to you later," he said, and went out the door.