Author's Chapter Notes:
The ghosts of Runners past greet the Goblin King.
beta-ed by Gelsey

The Guardian Off Guard

Outside the doors, the king stopped. He was now wearing a very fashionable, though casual, set of robes. The goblins stayed in their Gringotts-styled outfits but wandered away a few paces to watch the indicator for the lift.

"That was an interesting toy Alice had. Did you just give that to her?" Richard asked with studied politeness.

"Yes." The king chuckled. "She had quite a time with the real things. She took their eyes and made a necklace of them."

Richard was speechless.

The king continued. "Alice's son seems to be a personable young man. How would I contact him?"

Richard thought for a moment about privacy issues. "Why not go back down there and make your appointment with him while he's still visiting his parents?"

The king gave a slight frown as he looked through a window on a door. "I think not. I have taken enough time from them today."

Richard was trying to come up with a retort about the king taking time from him, when the other's attention suddenly shifted.

"This looks rather new," the king said as he touched the golden letters on the wing's doors.

"It is," Richard said. "It was built about five years ago."

"Where were the Longbottoms before?"

"In a different part of the hospital," Richard said curtly. That's all you need to know, he mentally added. The Longbottoms had been in the Janus Thickey Ward, but when casualties from the Second War grew in number and threatened to overcrowd the hospital, the Longbottoms had been moved into an office to protect their privacy. When the hospital was besieged, they were hidden behind a wall in the hospital library to protect them from possible Death Eaters attacks. Fortunately the Death Eaters did not take the hospital, and after the war, the Longbottoms had been returned to the dismal conditions of the large and plain room. Richard was relieved when the new wing was built.

The king continued to look at the doors.

"Dumbledore. The name is familiar. Was this Ariana a famous Healer?"

"No," Richard answered.

"Did she donate the money for this wing?"

"No. It's a bit complicated."

"Then these are all of her friends?"

"No, these are the donors." Richard took a deep breath as he looked at the hundreds of names that swirled around in a large Celtic knot that graced the doors. "There's my name." He wished he'd kept quiet; he sounded braggy. He paused again to collect his thoughts. "She...she died. Years ago, a long time before I was born, and her story only came to light a few years ago." There was no simple answer. "There's a book about her, what happened to her, in the library. The money from the sales helped--helps to fund this wing."

"I would be most interested in reading it," the king said.

Richard recognized the statement as a request. "I'll loan it to you when we get back there, and you can bring it back on Monday."

"And you will be where on Monday." It was not a question.

"I'll be at work. It's Healer Thompson you need to talk to."

The king studied him for a moment. "Do you have a specialty, Healer Goodfellow?"

"Potions," he answered simply.

"And you started your apprenticeship after you went to Hogwarts?"

What is this, an interview?
Richard wondered. "No, I started here. Before I went to Hogwarts."

"It seems that you have lived here at this hospital almost all of your life." He gave Richard a look that might have been one of pity. "Is there not something else you would rather be doing? Someplace else you'd rather be?"

Richard felt his ire rise. "I'd rather not be having personal conversations in public places." Especially with a stranger, he mentally added. "This way," he said, leading the way.

Just before they got to the door of the other corridor, the king asked in an off-handed manner, "By the way, who is Gwen?"

The question was unexpected and touched a raw spot, as Richard was still hurt from her rejection. He shot him a look and saw the smirk. He's mocking me, he silently fumed. He refused to answer the question. He drew his wand. "Alohamora," he said. The security wards recognized him and the doors opened.

A cold breeze blew out of the corridor. That doesn't make any sense. It wasn't that cold when.... he wondered. And then he saw that there were dozens of ghosts in the passage, and they were all looking at him. Or rather, at the man next to him.

"Jareth!" they squealed.

Jareth didn't hesitate but stepped right into the noisy ghosts and continued walking, albeit as a slightly slower pace. He smiled and murmured as the female specters floated to him and through him. "Ladies, good to see you. How are you. Yes, I remember you. You look radiant. How kind of you." The goblins followed and seemed ill at ease and a bit jumpy.

He KNEW they were here, that they'd be here, Richard bitterly realized. That's why he asked about her. And if she was here she'd be drooling all over him too.

One (Roman era) was from St. Mungo's. He recognized a few of them from London (two from the plague, one from the fire, one who had been chopped into pieces), some from Lincolnshire (murdered peasants), and one from Hogwarts (the shepherdess from the north courtyard). Is this the lot, or is this just the beginning? he grimly wondered, not recognizing the rest. He shuddered as some of the ghosts passed through him to drape themselves around his associate. The corridor felt like a walk-in freezer. Walnuts! How many are there? he jealously fumed.

Richard spotted the two ghosts he'd run through earlier and gave them a wide margin as he passed by them.

"Now that's manners," one of male spectres said with a haughty sniff. "Not like some people."

Some of the king's admirers were patting the goblins on their heads and chatting with them--or rather at them--by the time the small party got to the other end. Soldat looked to terrified to speak and Sorg kept wiping its tears and blowing its nose, leaving a trail of tissues behind him. One more thing for me to clean up, Ricard fumed as he Vanished them. The ghosts could not pass through the door frame, and it was with a certain gratitude that he shut the door firmly behind them and hoped that they would go away immediately. The room felt very warm and inviting. Richard looked forward to sitting back in his chair, Summoning another plate of biscuits and forgetting that the whole afternoon ever happened. Only I'll need to tell Thompson, he realized. And the parents. And explain to Mum and Neville. He inwardly sighed. I'll probably also have to write a report for the Ministry and the hospital administration and security. It just keeps getting better and better, he thought sarcastically. The boys and Leia will never let me live this down.

The king was still smirking while the goblins stood by him and all three were looking at Richard. The king was now wearing a large black travelling robe, its large collar turned up as though to protect his neck from the wind and the rain that could be heard from outside, and the goblins had changed back into their original outfits. There was nothing to be said. Richard looked over at the still messy Anit-Grav room and inwardly sighed. I'll be so glad to get rid of him--no use trying to force him into a clean-up.

"You mentioned a book?" the king prodded.

"Sure, I'll get it." Richard suddenly realized that he had questions he wanted to ask, about cross-universe travel and what his place was like, but the stranger was leaving; he doubted that he would ever have to deal with him again. He was surprised to feel a small twinge of regret. "When you come back to see Healer Thompson, you can leave it with him." He opened the library door. "Chaucer, would you please get me--"

The room was a mess, and the children and the house-elf were gone.

Richard stood in shock, then turned and saw that the king was looming behind him. The Goblin King's cloak swam around him like a shredded shroud caught in a wind, and the air about him had the odd sparkle of raw magic. An unfathomable look was in his mismatched eyes as he looked down at him. Richard gave a loud shout as he grabbed at him, his hands closing on wisps of shadow. Angrily, he charged forward and fell into a patch of sandy dirt.

"You did not have to do that," the king said reprovingly. "You could have walked. Or waited."

Richard was sprawled at the the other's black booted feet. He pushed himself up on his elbow and spat out the grit that was on his teeth and used his hand to wipe the dust from his face. He sat up slowly, checking for any aches. The sky was cloudy daylight, and there was a breeze that caused the king's cloak to continue to swirl. The air smelled of gorse. He looked around. He couldn't see what was behind the king, as he was in the way, but to the sides and behind him, it seemed as though they were on a bare area of land, like a moor, that had one or two trees and short rough grass. He had just narrowly missed landing on a rock. The two goblins were gone.

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