Sixth: A Clearer Picture
Hermione knew that maybe—just maybe—she shouldn't be enjoying this as much as she was. They were essentially fugitives, merely biding their time until she was sufficiently recovered to leave Japan, so that alone should have put a damper on things. But no, she was having quite a lot of fun in spite of the pain in her splinched arm, despite the fact that the fun was at poor Severus's expense.
She just couldn't get over the sight of him wearing that butler outfit and the fake glasses.
A camera would have been delightful in this situation (and she could have easily borrowed Morioka's cell phone to take a photo), but she probably shouldn't push Severus too far in case he snapped and decided to kill everyone in the room. Thankfully for him, Morioka's sick employee would be back the following day, so Severus would only have to endure one more day as a butler before he'd be off the hook. Since he would probably never do it again without asking for something (probably disproportionate) in return, she let herself relish the outfit and the ponytail.
She also deeply relished the sight of him trying gallantly to keep calm while waiting on that cute little Masao boy and his friends.
It seemed to be something that happened often at Morioka's café—that customers would return just to see one of the employees again—and according to Nathan, the nice American gentleman working there, it was becoming a more common occurrence on par with a host club. He had even lent her his phone so that she could look up what a host club was and suggested she read a manga series about one.
Hermione had to be very careful not to spray the man's phone with tea when she found out what exactly they were, and it was all she could do to keep from bursting into raucous laughter. She wondered if Severus would get more tips for flirting with his customers and had to redouble her efforts to stifle her laughter—the very idea of Severus flirting with complete strangers for money...If she allowed herself a moment to overthink things, it could almost be some sort of karmic retribution brought upon him by some particularly sadistic deities intent on having him make amends for his past social indiscretions.
When the amusement at Severus's predicament wore off, Hermione busied herself with their current, more pressing dilemma: that is, the fact that they were thousands of miles away from Britain with no reasonable means of getting back home without hijacking an international portkey or an international Floo connection. She played with the idea of Apparating in small hops across Asia and back to Europe, but it would be incredibly risky considering they've never been to the places they would be Apparating to. It would be relatively easy to get out of Japan and back into Korea if they Apparated from Fukuoka and into Busan (which Severus had visited once in the past), but to Apparate across all of Asia?
They also entertained the idea of not returning to Britain at all and trying to figure things out from the United States. Severus was reasonably certain that Danny would have made it out of her flat in one piece—or at least, in about the same condition as Severus and Hermione herself—and was probably already back in Hawaii trying to figure things out. Judging by the involvement of that American Conrad fellow back at the Ministry, it was clear there was some level of cooperation between Mortin's mystery group and another group across the pond and they would likely not be wasting time if they were to investigate things on that end. However, it would be a bit of a feat actually getting back into the US, but it seemed to be about the same level of difficulty as returning to Britain.
There was also the relatively simple solution of forging passports and taking an airplane. It wouldn't be too hard to bypass the nominal magical security measures meant to deter magical terrorists or the like. The only problem with that was they would be walking right into enemy hands should they be discovered on the plane, and they would be surrounded by Muggles, which would only add to the list of potential offenses that Mortin could try and arrest them for. And Disapparating from a moving object going as fast as a plane…While she was reasonably certain it would work, she didn't want to risk the potentially horrific splinching that would happen if they made even the tiniest mistake. That and the cracking sound of Disapparition might frighten the passengers—considering the terrorism scare the Muggles went through some years ago, producing loud cracking noises in a full 747 was probably not a good idea.
Hermione slowly turned the fake Galleon in her hand as she watched Severus with Masao and the two girls with him today. She couldn't quite hear what they were talking about, but she thought she heard "surfing" and "backflip" somewhere in there and spent a few moments wondering if he was, in fact, capable of doing a backflip. Masao and his friends looked completely rapt by whatever it was Severus was telling them, which was apparently backflipping while surfing if Hermione heard the girls's blithering correctly.
"Sugoi, Sebu-kun, you can do many things!" Masao said breathlessly.
Severus's face had that oddly calm Occluding look about it as he replied. "I suppose that might be the case," he said, a placid smile on his face. If Hermione hadn't known any better, she might have thought he was high or something. It made her wonder if he went to Death Eater meetings with that face and she let out a snort of amusement imagining him smiling like that in front of Lord Voldemort while giving his report.
"But really, enough about me. Tell me what things you and your friends do, Masao-kun," said Severus, straightening his fake glasses and eliciting a suppressed giggle from the girls.
"You know, he's pretty good at this," said Nathan, standing beside Hermione's table for a quick break. "I think the girls like him better than Ryuuichi because he's foreign."
"Ryuuichi is the one out sick?" Hermione asked.
"So how did you get into something like this? This butler café," said Hermione after a short silence. Nathan let out a laugh and shrugged.
"Dunno, Morioka-san put out an ad for foreign guys to work at a café, so I applied. It wasn't exactly what I expected at first, but it works," he said, smiling. "I was originally teaching English to some wizards that needed to work with foreigners, but I think I like this much better. It beats talking to angry Japanese men. Anyway, I'd better get back to work." He flashed Hermione another smile before leaving to greet a pair of girls that just arrived.
Hermione glanced back at Severus and his groupies, absently pushing Nathan's phone around the tabletop as she watched.
Hang on a tick. Duh.
Here she was worrying about getting tracked via experimental two-way Galleon when she could just call Harry on a phone. While the wizarding world was slowly integrating more Muggle technology into wizarding society, the number of magical people that actually bothered to learn and use said technology was woefully tiny. In all likelihood, they would never think that she would simply give her friend a ring—it was probably not even a possibility to them. But she hesitated a moment; Mortin might have the foresight to see she might call and seemed technologically aware enough that he might have someone monitoring phone lines…
…Still, it was a worth a shot. It would be better than exchanging tiny messages on a Galleon that she wasn't sure would even work. Besides, she was feeling well enough to fight off whatever Hit Wizards might come her way (unless Mortin decided to send the whole Hit Wizard department), even if her arm was still confined to a sling while she recovered.
She couldn't wait to tell Severus her brilliant plan to use a phone and was profoundly relieved when she found Masao and company waving goodbye to the still-placid Severus. As soon as they were out the door, he turned on his heel and made for her table, a look of mingled horror and relief on his face. "And finally, they're gone," he said with the air of someone who had seen unspeakable horrors as he wearily slumped into the chair across from her. "I'm convinced that Masao is smitten with me."
"Oh, it's quite obvious that he is," Hermione said lightly as she tried not to grin too widely. "Anyway, I have an idea."
Hermione told him her magnificent telephony plan and he sat there in silence for a moment. "That actually might be a good idea. Half the fools working at the Ministry probably don't even know how to use a phone," he said, giving a small chuckle before glancing at a clock on the wall. "It's nearly lunch time. Kouhei did mention that nobody was taking much notice of the portkey warnings, so it likely wouldn't hurt anything if we went out to buy a phone card and get some lunch. Nobody will recognize me with this getup and I imagine if you tie your hair up, you'll be fine as well."
With her hair tied into a bun and after letting the woman in the kitchen know that they would be gone for a bit, they left through the kitchen and emerged into the alley behind the café. "We should probably eat first," Severus said, gently nudging her toward the end of the alleyway. "I'd hate to be killed on an empty stomach."
This was the first time Hermione was able to walk among the people since their unceremonious arrival in Japan and she was struck by how crowded the area was. Apparently they were in a small section of Akihabara in Tokyo that was similar to Diagon Alley and was just as busy. Severus paused for a moment to survey the area before taking her hand and leading her through the gaggles of people to a small stall crammed between a small, official-looking building and some sort of grocery store selling magical fruits the likes of which Hermione had never seen before. Severus paused a moment in front of the stall, reading some of the signs beside it and on the adjacent buildings, before nudging her toward the stools.
There was nothing quite like having a bowl of ramen while sitting along a busy street. She worried a little at first that they might be recognized, but they hardly garnered a passing glance from the people pushing past each other as they continued on with their lives. And then, as she was slurping up the last of her noodles, her eyes fell on the easily overlooked sign above the door of that official-looking building beside them and the uniformed man standing at the door.
KOBAN | POLICE
"Severus," she sputtered, nearly choking on her noodles. "We're eating lunch beside the police?"
"I purposefully wanted to walk by the police station," he said nonchalantly as he finished off the rest of his broth. "I get the feeling that they're not making that much of an effort to look for us outside the portkey terminals. I didn't see any photos of us anywhere inside and the man on duty hasn't even looked this way the entire time we've been here."
"Sneaky bastard," said Hermione, unsure whether to be amused or irritated but smiling nonetheless.
"I would have thought there'd be a mass panic if word got out that it was possible to remove magical ability," Severus said as he watched her eat.
"You're right. Unless they're just biding their time, there must be some sort of catch," Hermione murmured thoughtfully.
"I imagine the magic required to remove or induce magic is powerful, and often the most powerful magic is unwieldy to use without proper preparation. Perhaps that is the catch."
That made a whole lot of sense, but Hermione also suspected that and was really more interested in what the catch actually was. For the life of her, she couldn't think of how her portkey research had helped Mortin and friends achieve what they did. The notes on prolonging the time in portkey space that Sinclair had Richard Thompson steal prior to the accident that sent her to Hawaii were incomplete and did not include her latest conclusions on the nature of the portkey space. What did they find so useful in those notes that they were able to use a portkey to remove magical ability from Dolores Umbridge? However, Mortin had mentioned that he was formerly of the Department of Mysteries; while Hermione couldn't recall ever hearing mention of his research, there was no telling what secrets he may have been able to combine with her own.
When she finally finished the ramen and Severus had paid, they left the wizarding street and into the city to buy a phone card from a convenience store. She rather enjoyed the walk—while crowded, it was exciting to be in another country so different from her own. The vending machines and little capsule machines were of particular interest to her: all sorts of things were being sold in them—even several different kinds of beer—and the capsule machines had all manner of cute little figurines. Nearly all of them were immaculate and untarnished and it made Hermione wonder if the Japanese even knew how to vandalize things. The convenience store itself was fascinating as well—the hot foods and boxed lunches there looked absolutely delicious compared to the dismal sandwiches she might find at a convenience store back home.
"You know Potter's number, I hope?" said Severus when he directed her toward a phone booth a little ways down the street.
"I think so," she replied as she stepped in, frowning a moment as he crammed himself into the phone booth after her, surreptitiously casting muffliato on the booth as he closed the door. It was a bit of a tight fit and she found herself pressed between him and the phone. "Won't we look weird like this?"
"Oh, I think we'll be fine. Besides, I quite like it in here," he muttered into her ear, slipping his arm around her waist as he pushed the phone card into the phone. "Dial 010 first, then 44 for the UK."
After a bit of fumbling with the numbers—she had to start over about three times because she kept putting the wrong area code in for Harry's land line—she let out a sigh of relief at the sound of the phone ringing. She hoped that someone would answer—it was after midnight back in Britain, but the sense of urgency creeping around her mind didn't want to wait for a more reasonable time.
Hermione was slightly surprised that Harry had answered so quickly, but more so that he sounded more perplexed than sleepy.
"Hermione! Merlin's—are you okay?"
"I'm fine, don't worry. Splinched a bit of my arm trying to escape, but it's fine now. Severus is here with me. Why don't you sound sleepy?"
"Lily woke me up a bit earlier. Anyway, I'm glad you're okay. When I went to investigate your flat, it was a wreck."
"Wait…is Danny okay? He was there with Severus before we managed to escape to the portkey terminal."
"Danny went into hiding in Hawaii. Mortin has some deep connections with the MBI—they're out looking for him pretending that he attacked some Muggle's home. I met with him in Hawaii, actually—we recovered Angela in the confusion and had her stay with him."
"That's a relief. How are things at the Ministry? Has Mortin made a move?"
"You know, that's the odd thing. I thought that after his show with that Muggle and Umbridge, loads of people would start showing up de-magicked. I know it's only been a few days, but the only other people that turned up were Lucius Malfoy and another Muggle—one from Dublin this time. And he's since disappeared. The Ministry is in a right mess, though. Some are in denial and others are scared out of their wits."
"He got Malfoy?" said Hermione in surprise, and she felt Severus's fingers clench slightly on her waist. She was slightly more sympathetic toward Malfoy than with Umbridge, but the key word there was "slightly."
"Yeah. I almost feel sorry for him. Anyway, where are you now? Magical Transportation told me you grabbed a portkey to Korea before they could seal off all the departures."
"Mortin's lackeys followed us there, so Severus Apparated us to Japan."
Harry whistled in awe. "All the way to Japan? Incredible."
"We've been trying to think of ways to get back home, but Severus's friend says the portkey terminals have our faces all over them."
"About that: they probably don't care all that much. The Ministry tried to put out an alert, but you know it's like pulling teeth to get any sort of international cooperation short of Voldemort announcing that he'll attack them. Listen, using a portkey and Polyjuice or using the Floo should do the trick as long as you avoid coming back to Britain for now."
"Avoid going back to London?" said Hermione incredulously. She heard Harry laugh at the other end.
"Yeah. I was thinking…it might be dangerous, but if you could help Danny investigate what's going on in the States while I investigate here, we might reach a conclusion faster."
That was actually quite a good idea. It had been bothering her that Mortin had an American lackey (or partner?), so perhaps they would be able to find something there. "Sounds good. Do you know where Danny is?"
"We didn't meet at his safe house, but I understand that Severus should know where to find it."
"Okay. We'll head over there as soon as we can. Thank you so much, Harry."
"Hey—I'm just glad you're all right. Contact me via Galleon once you're there."
"Oh! The Galleon!" Hermione said suddenly, jumping a bit and feeling Severus tighten his grip around her waist, as though to keep her from jumping again. "I tried to modify mine to allow for two-way communication. I didn't want to test it quite yet, and I wasn't sure if yours required the modification as well."
"I see. I'll try to send you a message with mine later, and I'll try to modify it if it doesn't work."
"Great. Thanks again, Harry."
"Don't mention it. Be careful. Good luck."
"You're quite cheerful about this whole on-the-run thing."
"This is hardly being on the run. They're not even trying to find us."
"I suppose not." She let out a giggle and swatted Severus's hand away. "That tickles."
He chuckled and did it again so that, in her fit to escape his tickling fingers, she slipped off her seat and onto the tiled floor with a loud splat. She glared at him as she got back onto the little stool, though he simply laughed at lathered up the washcloth a little more.
After they had confirmed a portkey was scheduled to leave for Los Angeles the next morning and confirmed that Morioka had a suitable amount of Polyjuice Potion back at his apothecary—and since this was Japan and all—Severus had the bright idea of taking a bath together. So here she was in Morioka's lovely bathroom while Severus washed her back—she felt rather self-conscious at first, but Severus had been so blasé about it all that she stopped caring as well. The bathroom was quite different from what Hermione was used to: it was more of a walk-in shower with a large, deep tub in the corner. The tub was deeper than she was used to and its sides were much straighter than the sloping walls of the tubs back home. Apparently the tub was only for soaking, which was why they were presently sitting on little stools while they cleaned themselves.
"I would have taken you to a public one, but there aren't any mixed-gender ones that either Kouhei or I know of here," Severus said as he handed her a little bucket so that she could rise the soap off.
"A public one? Don't you think that's being a little too reckless?" Hermione said, sloshing water over her back and taking care to splash him in the face a little. "And what do you think I am, some kind of exhibitionist?"
"It's not exhibitionism if everyone is doing it," he said, smirking and shaking the water from his face. She rolled her eyes and prodded his side to get him to turn around.
"Two days in the country is not enough time to get comfortable with being naked in public."
Hermione lathered up her washcloth and turned on her stool to soap Severus's back in return, but frowned when she saw a huge bruise decorating his lower back, the purple blotches looking rather gruesome against his significantly lighter skin and its faded venom scars. "This bruise…" she said softly, gently running her fingers over it. He glanced at her over his shoulder and shrugged.
"A gift from one of those Hit Wizards. It's nothing to concern yourself about—it's a normal bruise."
She wasn't sure if it was the sight of him injured because of her or that he was so unbothered by said injury, but she suddenly had the urge to hug him, so she did. "Thank you for everything," she whispered, leaning against his damp back and resting her head on his shoulders. She frowned when she felt his shoulders move in a silent laugh. "What's so funny?"
"I didn't realize you could be so maudlin."
In a fit of mild irritation, Hermione began prodding him incessantly and found, to her immense delight, that he jumped when she poked his lower back, right above his buttocks. "Oh, so you are ticklish," she said, her mouth spreading into a devious grin.
Before Severus could grab her hands, Hermione had let loose and was mercilessly tickling him until he was an uncharacteristically flailing mess on the bathroom floor, attempting to grab her wrists but failing when they simply slipped out of his grasp. "For god's sake, woman, stop it!" he gasped, finally managing to get a good grip on one of her arms.
"That's to get you back for all the tickling you did back home," said Hermione huffily, prodding his stomach and watching his chest heave as he tried to regain his breath from her assault.
"This was revenge?" he breathed, laughing incredulously. "You'll have to do much better than that."
She narrowed her eyes at him.
"Oh, I intend to."
A/N: I apologize for the incredible delay. This was one of those in-between chapters that I had no idea how to end, and I've been in a terrible mood for the past few weeks because of some personal issues that are embarrassingly emo. I was feeling really discouraged up until last week…hopefully I don't descend into emo again for a while.
Anywho, hopefully the next chapter will be more entertaining for you guys, since the action will start up again. And again, please tell me about any typos I might have missed. I hoped to entertain you all with a bath scene since I was lost and confused. I hope it was mildly entertaining. Also, tickling. D:
Sorry for all the fail. : (
A koban is a police box type of dealio—a small building/office where police officers hang out. Also, there are apparently still phone booths in Japan. I found pictures. XD