A/N: I've had the idea for this bouncing around in my head for a while now, including a version from Kitty's POV after the events of Ptolemy's Gate. Anyway, I personally think this could have come out better (I'm far better at angst in the HP universe), but I'll let you see about that. It's rather obvious, and the present-tense is, for me, jarring (I have no idea why I decided to do that), but...
Disclaimer: The Bartimaeus Trilogy is not mine. So anything you recognize is also not mine. Does anyone else think disclaimers are rather annoying things?
They say the Information Minister, the one that recently replaced Helen Malbindi after she was promoted, is coming today to celebrate the opening of the new ward in the hospital.
Anne doesn't think there is much of a difference between the old ward and the new one. She loathes the excitement in the air. All the other patients around her are absolutely thrilled that someone from Devereaux's own council is coming to see them. John Mandrake… the youngest and most promising of Devereaux's advisors, perhaps Devereaux's favorite.
"Maybe he'll give me an autograph," says Maud, in the bed next to Anne's. Maud is an old lady of perhaps eighty, and Anne thinks she is quite senile.
"Of course not," she sneers. "Why would a magician want to associate with commoners like us?"
Maud visibly deflates, and the usual whispers start up among the others in the ward. Anne knows them by memory, almost. Crazy, sour bat is a favorite. Then there is the most annoying one – Poor dear, it's because she's stuck here, in the hospital. Ever since her husband was killed…
"Poor dear. Ever since her husband was killed, she's been like that," whispers Hattie to Maud. "Don't you worry."
Anne closes her eyes. She remembers that day vividly. Her illness had been worse than usual, and Henry was late again, probably out drinking. Their tiny flat grew darker and darker, and when the clock ticked midnight, the call had come: Henry had been struck by a magician's car, having staggered into the middle of the road while drunk.
And then the second memory comes.
"Mummy, where are we going?"
It is a little boy's voice. The trust in his words stabs at Anne's heart.
"You'll find out, darling."
Anne had struggled to say even that. Even right now, she had a hard time consoling herself. Henry had opposed the idea from the start, but Anne had convinced him, finally, by saying that their son would have a better life with the magicians.
"Mummy, where are you going? Mummy, come back! Come back!" Sobs filled the air as Anne strode away quickly, the money clutched in her hand, never looking back. She wanted to cry, but the tears would not come.
After that, the sickly Anne fell ill. Henry turned to drinking, and eventually, he was sacked from his job as a factory worker. After Henry's death, Anne had been unable to live by herself, so she had been moved to the hospital, a place she felt was full of too-cheery nurses and whining patients.
The door to the ward opens, and the apparition of a small, dark-haired boy momentarily vanishes from Anne's mind. "He's here!" hisses Maud, Anne's words forgotten.
A young man enters the room, looking rather arrogant. He shakes rain off his long black raincoat, takes it off, and places it, along with a matching black umbrella, on a chair near the door. He is dark-haired, of average height, and handsome, and Anne hears some of the other patients sigh in delight.
"Mr. Mandrake!" A nurse hails the magician and begins to chatter excitedly about the ward and its patients. She introduces him to the patients one by one. Anne stares off into space, pretending the magician does not interest her. Next to her, Maud gets her autograph.
Finally, the nurse and John Mandrake reach her. "And this is Anne Brown, Mr. Mandrake. She's been here for quite a while now." The nurse drops her voice. "Spend some time with her; she's had a tragic past, and I think a visit from someone as important as you might cheer her up," she says, as if Anne cannot hear her. She walks away, leaving the magician and patient alone.
"Ms. Brown," says Mandrake, smiling thinly.
Anne does not respond, nor does she look directly at him. The nurse is wrong. A magician would definitely not cheer her up. There is a long awkward pause.
"Ms. Brown, I trust you are comfortable in these surroundings? The donation to fund this ward was quite generous," adds Mandrake.
Anne nods curtly.
"Good." Mandrake clears his throat. Anne wishes he would leave, but she derives a savage pleasure from his discomfort. She knows she was the one to leave her son to the magicians, but she can't help but blame the magicians for her past.
"How old are you, Mr. Mandrake?" says Anne finally, hoping she can use his age to possibly insult him.
"Nearly seventeen, madam," replies Mandrake.
Anne, who had expected him to be in his early twenties, turns to look at him in surprise. "Only sixteen?"
Mandrake up close looks much younger than he does from a distance. He also looks rather bored. Anne suddenly realizes she has no idea what her son looks like anymore. And she wonders what her son must think of her now. "Mr. Mandrake, do you think of your parents?"
"My parents, Ms. Brown? Do you mean the man I was apprenticed to, and his wife?"
Anne winces. "No, I mean your real parents."
"My parents." The brief glimmer of sorrow – Anne had heard Maud and Hattie talking about it earlier, how the Underwoods, Mandrake's mentors, had been killed when he was twelve – in Mandrake's eyes fades, and is replaced by a dull look. "I don't think about them, no."
He looks annoyed now, as if Anne is prying too far into a topic he does not wish to discuss. Anne barely notices. Instead, she thinks about how her son must feel about her. He must hate her. Come back. The words echo in her ears. "I'm sorry, Nathaniel," whispers Anne, mainly to herself.
Mandrake's eyes meet hers fully for the first time. There something unreadable in those dark eyes. And then, without another word, he yanks his eyes away from Anne's gaze. "I must be going, Ms. Brown."
He heads for the exit, scooping up his belongings. "Mr. Mandrake! Are you leaving so soon?" says the nurse, dismayed. She glances at Anne, then adds, "Mr. Mandrake, Anne is a bit disturbed, you can't mind what she says—"
Mandrake does not say another word. He opens the door and rushes out. The other patients turn to stare accusingly at Anne.
Realization of what just happened floods her. And the tears come, the tears she has been unable to cry until now.
Rebecca Piper wonders why Mandrake visits this particular gravesite once a week. She knows the woman had been ill when Mandrake had met her on a visit to the new ward in the hospital, and that she had died less than a week later, but she has no idea what the woman had to do with him.
Mandrake comes back to the car and gets in next to Rebecca. "Do you ever wonder what made your parents give you to the magicians, Piper?" he asks suddenly.
"No, sir, I can't say I do."
"Do you, sir?"
And the car begins to move towards Whitehall again. They neverbroach the subject after that.