Chapter 10: Sometimes the only solution is to find a new problem
Even knowing what they did about Harry's fame before committing to going through with the trial and it's required trip to England, come Friday morning Hatter realized he'd drastically underestimated the impact his younger cousin's name would have on the issue. While the papers had run several articles covering the trial for Sirius Black, that amount was almost matched by the number of pieces about not just Harry, but Hatter as well! Though Hatter's name was thankfully still being left out so far, he knew it wouldn't be long before they found him out.
The questions posed by the press ranged from the sensibly curious (Would the public finally be allowed to thank their savior properly in public now with the Potter name being brought so dramatically to light?), to the extreme conspiracy theorists, (Could the account proxy be a charlatan or even a Death Eater so cunning as to fool even the goblins and sought to finish where his master had left off; or simply steal the boy's inheritance?), to the frankly, in Hatter's mind at least, outright terrifying (Sources say the Potter account proxy is of direct relation to the Potter line and unwedded! Could there be a Potter bachelor on the market sooner than we believed?).
Alice had just shaken her head and mumbled something on how the 'more things stay the same' when she'd read the articles Friday morning, but had still shot him a curious glance or two while she looked over them. She'd wanted to keep the papers away from Harry after giving them a read, but Hatter had balked at her suggestion saying, "How's keeping him in the dark gonna do any of us any good? He's not stupid Alice, but we can't expect him to know what not to do if he's not properly informed."
She'd sighed dejectedly, "I suppose it was too much to hope that he'd get to hold on to some small amount of childhood innocence with everything he's been through."
"Oh he's got plenty of that about him," Hatter smirked and Alice gave him a doubtful look, "and not half as much of it's faked lately. 'S just never a good thing when the world knows more about you than you do. A little information can be much more deadly than too much. That's a lesson Harry learned well so he's likely to be insulted if you tried to pretend like nothing was being said about him with all…this."
Though she still hadn't looked happy about it, Alice had agreed that Harry should be kept informed on what was being said about him in the paper. When Hatter had left to go and retrieve the medical paperwork on Black for his upcoming transferal to New York with them this Sunday, Alice was still in the process of explaining the fine line papers in this world walked when it came to freedom of speech, and what people could actually get in trouble for saying versus implying. Tugley City hadn't had nearly such a gray area after all. You were either for the Queen or not, and Harry's name had never been in print anyway so he'd not troubled himself on the matter.
Using his advanced experience at reading people, Hatter felt he was successfully able to avoid the suspicion of those who were likely to be reporters in disguise mingling at the entrance room of Saint Mungos. The woman with curly blonde hair and bright green robes didn't even seem to be trying to hide that she was one though. Course he had to admit if he hadn't been on the lookout for them already he likely wouldn't have noticed the calculating glances she gave each newcomer. Taking cue from his lawyers however, Hatter was now sporting an open front medium brown robe instead if his leather jacket and blended in far better than he had during his trips to the Ministry.
He casually strode through the strange injuries and reporters in the Lobby as if this was a weekly routine for him; even giving the plump blonde receptionist a flirtatious smile along with a wave that she cheerily returned before looking sullenly at the slightly scarred gentleman who was talking to her and attempting to persuade over some conflict that escaped his hearing. Hatter turned a hall, went up a flight of stairs, and followed a few more twists and turns before passing a seated healer in lime green robes. The man didn't even bother to look up from his paper to see who Hatter was as the conman slipped into the unmarked door beside him.
Another man in similar colored robes was already inside the room, waving his wand over two stacks of paper, while the only other occupant continued to lay as perfectly still as he had been since Wednesday evening. Healer Smethwyck in that horrid shade of green looked up as the door clicked shut behind Hatter and gave him a professional nod before going back to his wand waving. "Good day Mr. Hatter," the healer greeted him. "I'm just finishing duplication of my official recommendation for Mr. Black's treatment. It's a hard case to quantify and I do wish your employer would reconsider the patient's relocation during such a delicate time of his mental stability."
Hatter frowned, "I thought you said he'd be out for weeks yet, and, that he's not likely to remember being taken out of prison, much less the last few days then?"
"Well that's the working theory yes," the man brusquely replied, sealing one set of notes with a flick of his wand inside a plain looking dark green folder, "but surely even with your limited legal experience as a junior member of your law firm you must know how rare of a case Mr. Black's is? Of course treatments exist for limited exposure to the emotional and mental onslaught a dementor can have on a man, but the degree he's suffered?"
Smethwyck shook his head solemnly and moved to stand a few feet in front of Hatter, right at Black's beside. "It is nothing short of a miracle that he was lucid enough for a trial by my best estimates, and it's my personal research on the subject alone that landed him in my ward. I fear for what they will do with him in the States," his sigh morphed quickly into a frown as the gray haired healer turned to face Hatter properly; arms crossed over his chest. "Still, that's to be expected when it comes to dealing with purebloods I suppose. Think they can solve any problem just by throwing their name or their money around. Even magic has it limits though."
"I suppose," Hatter hesitated, "But, surely he's just worried about how things might go if Mr. Black was left here while he's all the way in the States yeah?" Hatter wasn't a fan of these awkward in between lies and truth moments he kept running into ever since the trial. Having Harry in his life had made him much less anonymous back in Wonderland and Hatter could feel how rusty he was at feigning indifference at being on the opposite side of the decision he'd directly created. Not to mention the out of depth feeling the magical world of England left him with on a cultural level. It was a strange mix of better but also worse than living in New York. Perhaps it was just that he'd not had to deal with anything beyond the surface level there that was causing it?
Healer Smethwyck's words broke him out of his tangled thoughts. "Possibly," the man grudgingly admitted, "Though it would be one of the few instances where-"
What would've been said next Hatter would never know as in a blink; Sirius Black had jolted up in bed and quickly wrapped Smethwyck in a chokehold. The Healer was gasping for air and lifted his hands to try and remove himself from Black's hold. But all this allowed was for Black to grab the man's wand right out of his hand and point it threateningly at Hatter. The conman was at a loss for just what to do as he held his hands in front of him in a non-threatening gesture. Black's eyes were darting around the room, trying to gather his bearings most likely, but Hatter recognized the look of someone strung out on the wrong sorts of emotions all too easily.
"Just calm down, alright?" Hatter beseeched calmly, "No one's gonna hurt you-"
"Why should I believe you," the disheveled man's scratchy and deadly serious voice bit out. He gripped the struggling healer a bit tighter, "I won't fall for any of your master's illusions, as I doubt your precious Dark Lord," the man spit out those words as if they were something vile in his mouth, "would be so kind as to place me in St. Mungo's after the pleasure I was experiencing at his hands!"
Hatter had absolutely no idea what this crazed man was talking about, though he could hazard a few guesses from what little he knew, and he pushed down the fear of being on the opposite end of a madman with magic at hid disposal. "It's not what you think," he insisted in a steady voice, "You're not well. You're minds all mixed up right now, and we're trying to help you mate-"
"Lies!" Black bellowed and with a quick movement of his wrist sent a nasty looking yellow jet of light towards Hatter, causing him to duck rapidly. Either his timing wasn't right or Black's aim was off though as the light impacted with Hatter's hat, causing it to flying off his head and land yards away from him.
"Oi!" Hatter yelled angrily and ran a hand through his uncovered hair; his fear of the situation being over ridden by his anger now. Here he was trying to help some bloke he barely knew for Harry's sake, (and a slight bit of his own curiosity) and the man had the never to ruin one of his hats? His charity could only be stretched so far really.
"Watch it you mangy bastard," Hatter threatened with narrowed eyes and a frown.
Just as he was about to say more though, Black's eyes widened in surprise and his mouth flapped open a few times before the broken voice choked out, "James?"
It was Hatter's turn to be caught off guard as his anger was wiped clean by confusion. James? Who was that? He swiftly racked his brain for any connections from what little he knew about this Sirius Black bloke. The man had just released a now coughing and gasping Smethwyck, the wand slipping from loose fingers and clattering to the tiled floor as he reached a hesitant hand out towards Hatter when it hit him. James. Harry's father and his cousin or uncle of some sorts if he remembered correctly. He'd seen the pictures and sure there was a family resemblance between the three of them, admittedly a bit stronger towards Hatter due to age at the moment, but it certainly wasn't enough to hold up under close examination. A plan formed in Hatter's mind instantly then and he shifted to stand a bit more relaxed, holding out welcoming arms as if he really was beckoning an old friend.
"Sirius, mate," he grinned widely, "you had me worried there for a mo'." Sirius let out a half sob half laugh and grinned widely at Hatter's words as he stumbled the few steps towards him. It broke Hatter's heart a bit to see the expression knowing what he was about to do. Just when Sirius was finally in reach, his eyes scanning Hatter's face in disbelief still, Hatter let his arms drop back down and formed his right hand into a fist, "Sorry mate," he murmured sincerely. Before Sirius could register the change, Hatter pulled back his arm, and decked the crazed man full on the side of his head. Sirius fell like the thin bit of skin and bones Hatter could easily see he was now and fell to the ground with a muffled 'oof' noise.
Smethwyck grabbed his wand off the floor and used the bed to help himself up. "What did you do that for?" the man angrily demanded as he strode over to stand before Hatter.
"Sorry?" Hatter asked, confused. Had the man missed some of the exchange while he was regaining his breath?
"Black!" the healer gestured to the unconscious man on the floor before moving his wand in sweeping motions and levitating Sirius back onto his bed, "What in the name of Merlin's beard did you punch him for?"
Hatter's swept away anger quickly rose back to the surface, "Did you forget that he was going to attack us? Not to mention the likely hood that he was going to kill you first!"
"Well you could've just stunned him!" Smethwyck insisted, moving his wand in quick but anger fueled arcs and jabs as he stood over by Sirius's bedside once more, "Now we'll have to hope your actions didn't result in aiding or increasing his already extensive mental trauma." The man huffed, still upset but clearly being pushed aside by his professionalism, and sent one last reproaching glare at Hatter as he strode out of the room, "Your firm will be the ones to answer to whoever this mysterious Potter account proxy is if that's the case."
As he watched the door close behind the healer, Hatter felt his anger leave him once again. Feeling slightly numb, he reached his right hand into the inside robe pocket, pulled out his wand, and stared at it. It hadn't even occurred to him to use it. Even if he admittedly had no idea what spell would've allowed him to stun someone, much less know if he could perform it. Still, he knew a few things. Enough to have caused a distraction and get some proper help surely. His finely honed instincts had kicked in first however and he'd gone with the magic he knew and trusted without question. Hatter's gaze shifted over to Black's form.
He'd certainly reined his power in when he'd struck the man on purpose at least. No need for pillar cracking strength after all. He hadn't wanted to kill the man, just knock him out and remove him as a threat. No doubt there'd be a bruise, but brain damage? Hatter's lips pursed slightly in thought. He didn't think there would be any, but like the healer had said…Sirius wasn't exactly a healthy stable man at the moment and if he didn't recover now that he'd received additional trauma…
Just as Hatter was contemplating the likelihood of having to lie to Harry and Alice should the worst happen, and if he could go through with it, healer Smethwyck marched back in; a potion bottle in each hand. He spared no glance for Hatter as he walked over to the far side of the bed, rubbing a thick purple salve from one bottle across Sirius' face before pouring half the contents of the other bottle down the man's throat. As Smethwyck was massaging Sirius' throat, forcing the body to swallow on reflex, the healer's eyes flickered to look at Hatter a few times, and only for a handful of seconds each time.
"He did bring up a good point," Smethwyck offered to the air.
Hatter raised his eyebrow in confusion, "Oh? What was that then?"
"You dare bare quite the resemblance to his old associate James Potter. I hadn't noticed with your hat on-"
Shite. Hatter was filled with a moment of panic. Well, at least he knew the easy answer to this problem. He quickly located his, now slightly singed, trilby hat and calmly picked it up from off of the floor.
"-but it makes me wonder if perhaps you know-"
The door pushed open just then and Hatter let out a sigh of relief at the interruption as Smethwyck shut up and looked to see who it was. Alice walked into the room with Harry right behind her, both quickly taking in the place and giving Hatter a smile when they saw him. "Got everything you need?" Alice asked, "We were thinking of catching lunch before hitting a few museums this afternoon."
"She means visit them, not actually hit them," Harry added, causing Alice to give him a playful shove in retaliation.
Hatter smiled to see them interacting so casually with each other. He looked over at Sirius and then the healer's stern expression before grimacing and facing Alice again, "I've got what I came here for this morning yeah."
"But I'm afraid we won't have a better report until this evening now," Smethwyck stated with a pointed look at Hatter.
Alice frowned, "Did something happen? I thought he was supposed to be in a coma or something."
It pleased Hatter to see the healer fidget slightly before answering, "Well, yes, he was but he woke up suddenly, and after a brief scuffle that Mr. Hatter here felt the need to use a blow to the head to stop him with I'm forced to run additional scans to make sure there is no additional damage before he can be sent by port-key. Speaking of which, if you'll excuse me."
The three of them watched as the healer left the room swiftly before Alice looked at him skeptically, "Really? You thought punching him in the head was the best way to take him down?"
"'S not like I had much time to come up with something better," Hatter insisted as he spread his arms out dramatically, "Besides, it was just a tap! I'm sure he'll be fine."
A throaty moan briefly issued from the bed before turning silent and the couple turned to see Harry was gently poking Sirius right where Hatter had hit him. Hatter fiddled with making sure his hat was in its proper place nervously, "…or at least no lasting damage at any rate."
"Harry!" Alice rebuked, "Don't do that, you might make it worse."
"Sorry," Harry insisted, though not sounding the least bit chastised as he stepped away from the figure and back towards the couple, "I wanted to see if maybe I could help was all, but Hatter's right. He went easy on the bloke. There's nothin' broken, just a bit of bruising. Looks to be really out of it too."
"What could have possibly been so horrible about him waking up that you felt the need to punch him?" Alice inquired with her arms cross over her chest.
"Well it was more than just a scuffle, really. This Black fellow looked about ready to kill us! Had the healer in a strangle hold as soon as he popped up," Hatter informed them as his gaze fell upon the man in question, "Not to mention I'd seen-" Hatter abruptly cut himself off. He wasn't sure Alice would understand how seriously disturbed a lack of positive emotions could make someone. She'd seen a few patients at the Hospital of Dreams of course, but those were people in proper treatment.
Alice wasn't letting him drop the subject though. "What did you see?" she inquired honestly and Hatter weighed the seriousness of her stance before deciding to reply.
"He looked like a tea-head on the edge. Someone swallowed up by all the wrong emotions after his body stopped producing the ones he'd indulged on," Hatter gravelly informed them. He saw Harry take a reflexive step back away from the bed then and shoot Hatter a concerned look. The lad had seen just how violent a desperate tea-head could be after all.
A range of emotions was running across Alice's face as she looked between Hatter and Sirius for a few seconds. "That, that can happen?" she wondered before shaking herself a little, "I mean. Here, on Earth, and not just Wonderland? How…how is that possible? They don't have anything like the Emotion Teas here."
Hatter pursed his lips in thought as he grabbed the dark green folder off the table, "They mentioned something about the creatures they keep at the prison sucking out people's happiness at the trial. 'S what makes it so easy to keep them there." He flipped past the first few pages before he found what he was looking for and held it out for the pair of them to see. "The effects seem similar enough at any rate."
Harry only gave the information a brief skim, but Alice had a thoughtful look on her face and when she was done reading the diagnosis, she looked up at Hatter. "I wonder if," she paused to glance back at the file before setting down and facing him again, "Do you think my dad would be able to help? I mean, considering what he used to do…" She let the sentence hang open, but Hatter knew what she meant. Considering everything that had happened today, it was possible the former Distiller might have a better understanding on how to help this Sirius bloke.
"Are you sure he'd want to?" Hatter asked honestly, "'S not like it's something he likes to chat about yeah?"
Before Alice could get a chance to reply, Harry spoke up. "I think he would," the lad stated with confidence, "I mean, he's always tryin' to help people out yeah? Plus it might give him an in towards a proper job." Hatter blinked at his young cousin's insight. Robert had been having a hard time finding a job he seemed to fit well with thanks to his past. He thought about how similar working in a hospital might be to a Distiller's job before realizing he didn't know enough about either to really asses the decision. Based on how Robert had been the past month though Hatter was fairly sure there was nothing to worry about.
Hatter nodded and gave his cousin a smile, "Sounds good to me. Shame we'll most likely have to wait a bit longer before he can take a look at the poor bloke."
"Not if we have him fly over," Alice insisted, her desire to help shinning through. "I can call him, see if he's free and have him take one of those," she grimaced slightly, "magical teleport things and he'd be here in less than half an hour."
"You think he would?" Harry pressed eagerly.
"Yes, and you know what?" she stated firmly, already puller her phone out and flipped it open, "I'll do it now. It shouldn't be too late in New York yet. Be back in an about an hour, and hopefully with my father in tow." Alice smiled widely at them before rushing out of the room, a muted apology floating behind her from the hallway, likely caused by her haste, was heard before the door swung shut.
The two cousins shared a small smile for a moment before Harry broke it off to look back at the unconscious man on the bed. If Hatter didn't already know Harry had a stubborn spot towards helping people he supposed he would've been worried the lad might be forming an attachment to this Sirius person. But instead, it just pleased him to know that even with all the hardships Harry had been through, he could still care so much about someone he knew so little about.
Hatter himself turned to observe Sirius then. He truly felt for the man if he was experiencing anything like emotion displacement. It wasn't something the former conman would wish on anyone. Well, maybe Jack once or twice at first but certainly never seriously. Nor to the extreme this man was likely experiencing if Sirius' memory was so addled as well. Hopefully the former Distiller would be willing to come over and offer his assistance with-
A thought suddenly occurred to Hatter at just that moment and a plan began to form in his mind. Thinking about Robert reminded just now reminded him about more than just the man's former profession. Hatter remained pensive as he mulled over the possibilities. It wasn't as if he needed it for its intended purpose anymore. That last danger mark had passed over a fortnight ago and this would be putting it to a better use really. It also wasn't as if he didn't have experience handling something like this thanks to his association with the Resistance…
Decision made, Hatter contemplated the best way to get back to their room at the Leaky Cauldron. He certainly didn't fancy keeping suspicions down if he was seen in the Lobby more than twice today, what with all those reporters hanging about. Hatter looked over at Harry just then with a frown, "How did the pair of you sneak in today then? And where'd you leave Reggie alone at?"
"Well he's at the shop of course," Harry raised an eyebrow at him, "Made him stop and have a bite before we popped on over, but he's fussin' away with makin' new hats. Got a panama style finished already that I quite like but, anyways, it's not like he's not used to being on his is own for a span yeah? He's got plenty of food, tea, and bits and bubbles for his hats after all." Hatter nodded along, pleased that Harry, and most likely Alice from the sound of things, had checked on the old hat maker before leaving him alone. "As for the sneaking in," Harry grinned now, "It was easy enough to keep up the act that Alice is my Mum. We held hands and I played up being younger than I am and all." He paused in consideration before continuing, "She was a tad nervous after reading the papers this morning so she might have smiled too much for someone visiting a dying relative, but I don't think it was really enough to make anyone notice."
Well that certainly didn't help his plan at all, but if wanted to test this it would have to be before Robert showed up while it was only Harry and himself. The only solution he could see was one he wasn't very fond of. "Would you be alright here for just a few minutes on your own Little Potter?"
"Sure," Harry said easily but with a calculated look at Hatter, "What're you planning though? Can't it wait till Alice gets back?"
"I'm thinkin'," Hatter started replied softly, "I might have something that can help balance him out." He gave a slow nod when he saw Harry's eyes widen in realization at what he was talking about, "And I wouldn't want to wave that about yeah?"
Harry glanced back over at Sirius before nodding once as well, "Yeah...if it's worse than you think though…"
"Then I'll take care of it," Hatter agreed.
"Right," Harry pulled out his pocket watch to check the time, "I'll wait here then, but you'll have to be quick if you want to beat her back."
Hatter nodded towards Sirius as he turned to leave, "They say he shouldn't wake again but if he does you get help yeah? We can deal with the reporters just fine if we need to. Don't leave for any other reason though, you got that?" He made sure Harry agreed to his conditions before sprinting out of the room and the hospital as fast as he could.
As he finally crept his way closer toward his intend goal, Remus Lupin reflected how much easier this sneaking about business had been when he was younger. Less scarring, less worries, and as much as he was reluctant to admit it…being a close friend to a Potter and a Black (even an outcast one) had certainly allowed him quite a bit of leeway. Still, it was smoother sailing now that he'd managed to sneak past the Welcome Witch at the front desk. A task aided in part by his now transfigured lime colored robe and a well timed tripping jinx in the Lobby.
He knew there was a sectioned off ward for special or complicated patients on the first floor from James and Sirius' auror days, but finding it was proving a bit tricky. After half an hour he had to force his eyes to watch as a mother and son turned down a hallway some ten meters from him that he couldn't remember being there before. Remus quickly followed after them before the warding displacement they'd created wore off. His luck was apparently with him though as not only did he make it through the ward, the pair led him right towards the room he was looking for. A flustered looking healer hustling out the door just as he'd located it.
Knowing full well he couldn't just barge in the room (even if he was pretending to be an employee at the moment), Remus fingered his wand idly as he pondered his options. He could wait and see if any additional employees or visitors (and who would be visiting Sirius besides himself anyway?) left, possibly losing his only window in the process, or he could…
Remus checked to ensure the hall was empty before working his spell in quick efficient movements. Privacy charms were often layered upon the doors to prevent eavesdroppers or reporters from listening in on conversations and allowed St. Mungo's to keep up their strict patient confidentiality policy intact. Remus' mouth twitched towards a smirk as the rectangle he'd outlined on the wall slowly became transparent after he touched his wand to his temple. It really was shame they'd yet to apply all of them to walls as well apparently. Of course this was supposed to be the most secure wing in the entire hospital so there could be a reason as to why they'd gotten lazy in their warding.
Even with his viewing window in place though, most of the warding held and Remus was unable to hear anything going on in the room. This was fine by him of course as he only wanted to speak with a healer and possibly get some alone time with his once close friend if Sirius was at all receptive to it. Surprisingly, the mother and son he'd followed from before were inside the room, along with a man who bore a strong resemblance to the boy and who Remus could only assume was the child's father. The three appeared to be discussing something and frequently looked at Sirius' prone form before the mother appeared to have made a decision and pulled something out of her pocket before turning and leaving the room. Remus scrambled to find something to occupy himself with as an excuse to his presence in the hall; only just finding a discarded issue of the Daily Prophet on a nearby chair as the woman came rushing out of the room, knocking into him.
"Oh! I'm so sorry," she apologized and continued on in a hurry.
Pleased that he hadn't been found out, it took Remus a moment to note how odd it was that she had an American accent. His concentration having been broken from the contact however required him to recast his spell. Making sure to seat himself on the opposite side of the hall from the door so he wouldn't be as noticeable about his actions, Remus arranged the paper so to any passerby he would appear to be reading it.
He watched as the father and son talked for a few minutes until finally agreeing on a point, the son obviously making a remark about time, and the father making a statement before leaving the child alone in the room. The man didn't even give Remus pause as he sped past him and it made the former Marauder wonder what was going on that was so important that both parents would leave their child unattended? He watched as the boy, facing away from him, stared at Sirius' prone form on the bed before his own eyes finally took a chance to observe his long time friend's condition.
To put it simply, the man looked like a pale imitation of what he should be. Sunken cheeks easily visible even at this distance behind a matted and knotted beard and dark bruising circles under his eyes on what was an entirely too sun deprived face. Remus wasn't sure he'd have even recognized his once good friend were it not for the nameplate on the door confirming the occupant's identity. Letting the past twenty four hours sink in, Remus felt that wave of pain and regret wash over him once more. Surely there was something he could have done all those years back to have prevented this? Perhaps if he'd not been so easily swayed by what the media had printed he could've convinced them to allow for a trial then? He quickly scoffed at the notion. Begging for a trial and hoping someone would actually listen would have been the more appropriate description.
Remus was so caught up in his musing and self deprecation that the sound of the door to Sirius' room opening caught him off guard and broke not only his line of thought, but the concentration required for the viewing spell. He blinked a few times to refocus himself as he saw the boy step out into the hall and quickly take it in before setting on him. There was brief flicker to the paper in his hands before the boy gave him a questioning look, "The other healer left some time ago if you're waiting on him."
The son's accent didn't match the mother's. Perhaps the father was British? Not that that bit of information helped Remus understand what the small family was doing here in the first place. "I'm just on my break actually," Remus replied with a smile, rustling the paper before him as evidence, "Much easier to find a quiet spot to read down here."
"Not some reporter trying to sneak in then?" the boy questioned with a teasing note in his voice. Remus chuckled in part to dismiss his nerves. The guess was awfully close to why he really was waiting outside after all.
"I will admit to some curiosity of course. Largest scandal we've seen in ages but, no, I'm not a reporter," Remus replied as he set the paper down, "Though now you've got me wondering just what a young boy such as yourself is doing in a high risk patient's room all on his own."
The implied question didn't even faze the boy. "Well I'm not really alone, am I? I'm waiting nicely in the hall with a hospital staff member to look after me should something go wrong."
Remus had to fight the twitch of a smile at the familiar use of word play the boy used. "And your parents had to leave you alone in the first place because…?" he asked. He hadn't been planning on prying information out of the boy, but perhaps if he could just glean a little bit of knowledge he could figure out the better time for his visit before his 'break' ended.
"They've gone to call in a specialist my mum knows in New York," the child supplied simply as he sat down in a chair on the opposite side of the hall from Remus. Well that was a bit suspicious wasn't it? Why would they both leave at separate times to contact the same person?
"Oh," Remus commented lightly, "Are your parents specialists on the case themselves? Or perhaps some relation of Mr. Black's?"
The boy looked critically at him then and Remus felt a twitch of something familiar in his memories at the hard look those green eyes were giving him. "No," the boy said slowly, "My Da's with the firm that helped free him. They're just trying to speed up the process to make sure he's stable enough to transfer."
Remus had to reign in his desire to press the boy for more information now. Clearly the lad was suspicious of him again though and no matter how much he wanted to know about where they might be taking Sirius, pushing the issue was likely to get him throw out. Still…it was clear from his own vast experience of such situations that the boy not only knew more than he was telling, but that he hadn't been entire truthful either.
"I see. Well," Remus calmly sighed, "Do you know how long they might take? I'd rather not leave you alone so I'll need to know if I should fetch a trainee to keep you company should they not return before my break ends."
He watched the lad intently to see how he would react to his words. The boy relaxed only slightly, giving a frown as he pulled his pocket watch out to check the time before glancing down the hallway. "Well…they are running late but they shouldn't be long I think and, anyway, I'll be fine on my own for a mo'" the boy insisted. Yes, there was certainly more going on here than was being said.
"I'm sure you would be," Remus smiled and gave his hands a brief clap, "What shall we talk about then to pass the time? I'm sure you've heard more than your liking about Mr. Black in there over the past week."
"I suppose," the boy shrugged indifferently, arms crossed over his chest, "Not as exciting as I thought it might be though. Probably should've stayed with Reggie." The last bit came out slightly mumbled, but Remus heard it clearly anyway.
"Who's Reggie then? A friend of yours?" he politely inquired.
The lad blinked in surprise before weighing his words mentally for a reply, "Sorta, yeah. He's our, well…I suppose…I don't really…he makes our hats." The last part was given up as almost a desperation answer and Remus could tell by the grimace on the boy's face now that his wasn't pleased with his response.
Remus chuckled anyway, "So he's a hatter then?"
This statement made the boy smile widely and Remus felt that pang of remembrance in his mind again upon seeing it. "Yeah," the boy grinned, "he's definitely that."
"He must be quite skilled if he's responsible for the fine chapeaux upon your head," Remus offered politely.
The lad continued to grin as he needlessly fiddled with his hat's placement, "Oh yeah. He's brilliant! Bit mad as well but it works out alright for 'em I think."
That feeling of similarity was tugging at him fiercely now with the added mischievous tone leaking through the boys voice. What was it? Why did that smile or those eyes seem so familiar to him? Did he perhaps know the boy's parents? The brief contact he'd had with the mother would suggest otherwise and he'd been pretending to read the paper when the father had left so he hadn't caught a good glimpse. Still, Remus knew if he could just think upon it for a moment longer it would-
"Harry? What're you doing out in the ha-"
The new voice broke Remus out of his thoughts, but the words he'd just spoken combined with the his first decent look at man had cause Remus to freeze in sudden shock. The man clearly hadn't seen Remus before he'd spoken based off the slight look of panic on his face. It wasn't obvious, and if he'd passed him on the street he doubted the man would have garnered more than a second glance…but his mind had already been looking for the connection by the time he'd turned his head. The similarities jumped out at him right away now that his mind had made the leap; jaw line, general body shape, and wild fly away hair escaping from under a slightly singed hat.
Remus' eyes darted once between the supposed father and son. Yes, there were similarities between them as well and – wait, hadn't Dumbledore told him he was safely tucked away with family? - but it was too much of a coincidence. Not when he'd just said-
"Did somethin' happen then?" the man asked in concern, his eyes taking in the color of Remus' robes before staring at the boy. The one he'd just called-
"Nope," the lad responded with a popping noise, "It just got a bit dull standing around in there on my own is all."
"No problem at all," Remus managed to mumble out; still in a state of shock at the realization crashing down around him.
"Right," the man nodded and his eyes assessed Remus once more before looking away, "Back inside then now yeah?"
The bright green eyed boy nodded and stood up, pausing as he followed behind his supposed father to give a friendly smile and a wave. Remus' heart clenched. How could he not have seen it right away? Why did his mind not make the connection? Was it just because it had been over two decades since he'd last seen a similar looking eleven - no, ten, his birthday was in July - year old give him that same smile and wave goodbye?
"Thanks for the chat yeah? Enjoy your break," the boy parted as he turned away.
"Quite, and thank you," Remus slowly replied. The door to Sirius' room swinging shut and sealing the room off just as he breathed out the last word with no small amount of awe.
"Careful Dad," Alice calmly informed him as she reached out to steady the man that had not been standing there moments before. Robert Hamilton blinked a few times before standing back up under his own weight. From the moment she'd called him up on the phone it had actually taken just under an hour and a half for them to arrange for his trip and have him port-key over. Longer than Alice had thought it would take, but upon reflection she supposed the short transport time magic had allowed them this week had altered her perceptions. Too bad they were all violent or too nauseating for her to embrace.
"Well, that's certainly one way to travel," he eventually stated, causing Alice to chuckle.
"Yeah. Can't say I'm too fond of it either," she reassured him with a knowing smile. Alice took the broken pencil from his hand and tossed it with a pile of assorted trash to her left like an old pro however and led her father over to the customs official.
"Oh good. I didn't want to think it was just my age affecting anything," Robert smiled.
Alice gave a short burst of laughter while the guard efficiently checked her father through just as a loud banging noise signaled the next arrivals. Her father winced at the noise and Alice took hold of his hand to lead him out of the room and into the inn. "Thanks for coming out and helping Dad," she stated as the walked, "Hopefully you'll be able to figure out the best way to treat his condition."
"Yes," he agreed and went to say more just as they stepped into the loud dining hall of the inn. Knowing they wouldn't be heard over the throng of people though, Alice just gestured for him to follow her over to fireplace. The flames burst into a bright emerald color before a red haired young man stumbled out and went on his way. After a week of seeing people come and go during meal times Alice was finally indifferent to the sight so she looked for her father's reaction and saw him staring in awe. "John briefed me of course before the port-key activated, but this is quite the achievement! I wonder how they-"
"I'm sure we can ask someone about it later," Alice insisted, passing her father a handful of the required powder, "I'd rather just walk there but the hospital really is far away and since we have the option…" She trailed off with a resigned sigh before tossing in a handful of powder, calling out the hospital's name loudly, and bracing herself for the trip. It felt like being on the loopiest rollercoaster ever during a hot and humid east coast summer afternoon. Alice closed her eyes and went along with the fantasy and, only because she'd been anticipating it, managed to exit the fireplace in the Lobby of St. Mungo's with a graceful tumble end up in a standing position.
Her father's alarmed shout and round of coughing right behind her was evidence enough that he didn't have the same amount of luck. A few younger children that had seen their entrance snickered at the sight but Alice ignored them as she helped dust some soot off of her father. "Right," he coughed one last time before she started leading them away, "No matter the time saving benefits, I'm afraid you'll have to excuse me if I insist we use the subway for visits still."
Alice smiled, "I'm with you one hundred percent, but what were you about to say back at the inn?"
"Oh," his face brightened considerably as the walked, "Yes I spoke with John for a few minutes before my departure and I'll have to check with this man's charts of course but I may have an idea that could work."
Alice continued to smile and nod encouragingly, following along as her father continued to tell her about his theory up the single flight of stairs and then down the many halls to the secluded ward. She was so caught up in trying to follow along with his theory however that she only just remembered the healer's warnings in time to grab his hand so he wouldn't be turned around as they neared the hidden hallway and its ward line. He stumbled slightly as they crossed it and tried to turn back anyway, but Alice pulled him along with their clasped hands and words of encouragement. Once they turned the first corner he stopped trying to resist her and only shook his head, attempting to get his bearings.
"What was I talking about then?" he asked her in confusion and Alice smiled sympathetically.
"You were saying how if you can isolate the problem in his mind you might be able to reboot the umm, damaged emotional receptors in his brain," she informed him. It came out as more of a question than a statement but there was a reason she never followed her father's footsteps and went into medicine; scientific terminology just being one of them.
"Yes, yes," he nodded enthusiastically now as they rounded the last corner before Sirius' room, "The process, in theory, is a reversal of the one used to distill emotions. Just that instead of pulling from the frontal lobe we'll be working to funnel them back in. Now this is where I'll have to differ to magical stimulants that exist on this side but from what I've read and seen in the few texts I own the chances for success should be quite high."
Alice smiled happily at the good news. Hopefully whatever damage had occurred during Hatter's brief scuffle this morning would be minimal and this poor broken man could get his life back. She noticed the healer she'd bumped into on her way out was seated across from the room now and spared him a little smile before she turned away. Pushing open the door with a smile on her face, her mouth began to form Hatter's name to tell him the good news, only to freeze in place at the scene she saw before her with no small amount of surprise.
"Hatter…" she started, her shock giving way to anger as her mind filled in the likely answer, "Is that what I think…what the hell is going on here?"
Hatter froze for a brief moment at the sound of her voice. The tiny bottle of transparent yellow liquid in his hand quickly disappeared back into the six inch wide trunk resting on hospital bed before him a heartbeat later. But it was too little too late.
"Alice!" he smiled brightly, pretending like nothing was amiss. Perhaps he could play this off. "That was quick yeah? Back a little early aren't you?"
She was not to be deterred however and quickly moved to stand next to him on the far side of the room, a frown pulled tight across her lips. "Actually I'm running almost an hour over but don't try and change the subject. What did you just put away in here?" Alice demanded and quickly moved to grab a bottle. Hatter attempted to close the small mushroom trunk to stop her but she was too fast for him now, focused as she was, and deftly snatched up the small container of cheery yellow liquid he'd just been holding faster than he could blink.
Alright…scratch that first plan.
He licked his lips nervously and held beseeching hands in front of him, "Look, Alice, I can explain."
Alice had gone still upon turning the bottle to finally read the small metal tag affixed to the top and was now looking intently into his eyes. "Hatter this is tea. Wonderland Tea," she stated; her voice direct and accusing, growing increasingly forceful and insistent as she went on, "Emotion Tea. Tea that I know Jack ordered to be destroyed before I even left Wonderland. So yes, please explain to me one good reason as to why you have several travel sized bottles of it on you and let me tell you, it better be a damn good story."
The implied threat of what would happen if it wasn't hung in the air but Hater remained calm as he attempted to find some why to explain this all to Alice that would go over well. Not a very simple task knowing her temper really. "I don't know what you think it looks like but I swear that's not it," he stated adamantly.
"Oh it sure as hell better not be," Alice laughed without mirth, "'Cause what it looks like is you're trying to start your little business all over again. Is that what all those tea bags you made are really for? Get them hooked to jack up your sales or something? Make yourself an instant success? Is he to be your first test subject to see if it even works on here as well?"
"What? I! Alice, no, how could you even think that?" Hatter could literally feel his jaw drop at her accusation. Did she really think so poorly of him that this was the first thing she jumped to? True, he had appeared a tad incriminating when she'd walked in but she had to have known by now that he'd never enjoyed profiting off those people in Wonderland…didn't she?
"What other explanation is there Hatter? There's no way Jack would've approved you bringing even one bottle of this over let alone-" she moved his hand out of the way to flip open the trunk to see inside of it, "-six of them."
Hatter frowned intently down at the bottles. Even when he tired to do good with them these dammed things were always mucking up his life weren't they? He looked back up at Alice then. Her face set against anything he might have to say and he made his decision. He truly hadn't wanted to tell her. If any lie could've spared her what he knew was coming he would say it, gladly even, but there was no use for it. Hatter could only hope she would understand why he'd done what he had and not hate him for it. He glanced across the room and found it mercifully empty now. Harry or Robert must have taken the other out into the hall at some point and he'd have to thank one of them for that decision in the future.
"I was given permission to bring them just in case they were needed for your father," Hatter replied softly. Looking directly at her once more he could see the blood drain from her face as his words washed over her.
"What?" she questioned blankly.
"The quacks back at the Hospital of Dreams were worried he'd suffer a relapse once he left Wonderland. Sure he seemed alright but no one's ever come back sane from a personality overwrite Alice, and they thought living in a world without magic might cause whatever technique they used to fix him to fall apart." He spoke calmly and evenly. Hoping his tone might make the risk they'd taken seem less painful. "Harry and I were to watch his moods, slip him an enhancer if we thought they'd fallen into dangerous levels, and if things went really ducky…bring him back through."
Alice had set the bottle of happiness down on the bed as he spoke, backing away from it like it was the cause of all of her problems. Head bowed she moved until her back was pressed up against the wall some six feet from where he stood but didn't say anything. Seconds stretched out into minutes before Hatter couldn't take the silence any longer, "Alice love, please-"
"Please what?" she snapped up to look at him with blazing tear filled eyes, "Please say everything's fine, that, that I forgive you for lying to me?"
His heart clenched but Hatter pushed on, "I wasn't lying to you, I wasn't allowed to tell anyone-"
"Not even the person it most directly affected?" Alice pushed, "You could tell a ten year old kid about something this serious but not me? I mean, what does that say about what you think of me!"
He frowned and shook his head, "Now that's not fair-"
"No I'll tell you what's not fair. Not fair is when you believe and hope until you finally find someone you thought you'd lost for forever and when you do get him back, you find out that you might've lost him again at any second but no one bothered to tell you cause they thought you couldn't handle it!"
Alice swiped an angry arm across her face to wipe the few tears that had escaped off. "So what," she demanded, "You we're just never going to say anything if it came up? Let me live with this, this lie of what I could've had?"
Hatter scowled, "It wasn't like that Alice, I would never do something like that to you. I would've worked it out somehow in the end and it doesn't matter now any-"
"It sure as hell does!" Alice cut him off, "All that time when we first met, with you going on about how I needed to trust you - which I did by the way - and you couldn't even bother to extend any of it to me could you? It's been monthsHatter and you couldn't be bothered to tell me about this."
"'S not a matter of trust Alice-"
"Then what? What is it about Hatter?" she inquired with blazing eyes and barely checked anger, "If not telling me everything about how serious-"
"It was about hope alright!" He yelled finally and he could see Alice was caught so off guard by it that he could see some of the steam from her anger had disbursed. Hatter took the opportunity for what it was and continued on. "I know what it's like to need hope that badly Alice. More so than you probably realize, and yeah, maybe I shoulda gone against my promise and laid everything out straight for you that first week on this side but how could I do that?" he insisted passionately but no longer shouting, "It was like watching a real fairy story come to life before my eyes with you and your family. Reunited and sewing things up and not only that but I got to be woven right on in there as well. I never thought I'd be better than just me and Harry but it was, it is, and there was nothing that was gonna stop me from letting you have the fairy story. I had control of the only thing that might cause it to tumble down but I had a plan Alice. One that I didn't even need as it turns out! But even if I had to use it no one would've known but Harry and we weren't doing it for the thanks or even because there was no one else that could."
Hatter strode the few feet between them and gently cupped her cheek, "I didn't tell you about you father's condition not because I didn't trust you, but because I care too much to see you hurt."
Tears tumbled down Alice's cheeks once again and she stepped out of Hatter's touch easily to wipe them away; turning her back to him in the process. "That doesn't make your decision the right one," Alice spoke firmly. "You should've told me, maybe not right away, but definitely sometime before all this mess," she waved her hand in the general vicinity of Sirius' bed.
He could see she was closing herself off from him and moved towards her. "I love you Alice," he affirmed, "I just didn't wanna see you get hurt. That's all."
"Well I did anyway didn't I?" she gave a mirthless laugh again, turning to face him as she took a few backwards steps towards the door. The pain he saw in her eyes tore at his heart and froze him in place. He'd never wanted to be the cause of such a feeling and knowing his actions led to this moment had him berating himself mentally for what he'd done. "And I think," she paused and looked away. Taking a steadying breath before staring at him with a set determination, "I think I need to go."
Hatter felt his mouth go dry and his stomach bottom out. "Go?" he questioned numbly and Alice nodded once decisively.
"Yeah I need…I need to think about all of this, what it means, and I can't be dealing with this other mess you're mixed up in if I'm gonna do that," she stated as she stood her ground.
Hatter could almost feel the chasm that had opened between them like a physical thing. He'd known she wouldn't be pleased that he'd been keeping this from her, had hoped even that she would never have to find out and could successfully skirt the topic entirely. But to see her reaction now, how deeply his silence had cut her… it was so much worse than he thought it could possibly be.
"And Hatter," she added, "You have to decide if you're ever really going to let me into the same level of trust you seem to have with Harry cause this," she gestured to the trunk on the bed, "this is huge, but it's not a one time thing with you. You've kept me in the dark on so many of your plans and your ideas and they just." Alice closed her eyes and turned her head for a second before regarding him once more, "I can't keep pretending they're not a problem if it's always gonna be that way with you."
She turned without another word then and walked out of the room, and Hatter could do nothing to make himself go after her; frozen to the spot as he was by her words.
Author's Comments: Show of hands everyone, who'd guessed that this was what Hatter had been hiding/worried about since way back in chapter two? Hopefully it was a surprise to at least some of you. :) Maybe more?
Lots of fun things going on in this chapter and now that I've got a very open summer in front of me, hopefully, I'll be able to get back on a every two weeks update schedule. This chapter held some very important plot points for the summer months arc of the story and I'm beyond excited to be writing about these now. We also see my inspiration for this entire series make it's reappearance here with the comparisons of Hatter to James Potter. I don't know who they've go to be his 'ghost' for Deathly Hollows Part 2, but I still stand firm in my mind that Hater looks similar to how I always pictured James in his prime did/would've. Seriously though, I knew about this chapter's events a year ago and had to keep quiet. Wow...a whole year since I started this sequel. I've really gotta pick up my writing pace Tumbling was done in what, 3 months? *shamed*
A sincere thank you to everyone who's stuck with me in this year (alerts and favs) and to those of you who continue to leave me reviews. You're the driving force that keeps me writing and posting this story and I always do my best to give you the best chapter I can with each update. I can only hope it shows. ^_^
Also, Happy Independence Day to my American pals, and Happy Belated Canada Day to my Canadian readers!
Posted July 3, 2011.