The pub was now a lot quieter than it had been before though by no means empty. Gary and Xavier took up two seats by the fire where they had been before; there was no sign of the two men. Gary ordered some beer for them both and the barman seemed surprised at first when Gary offered him some money, then told him he could settle later.
"It's almost like we've walked into another country," Gary commented to Xavier as soon as he sat down, "I've certainly never been to a place that insisted you open a tab."
"I certainly didn't do it when I was running Blitz and Pieces." Xavier added.
"Are you Ok?" Gary asked.
"I'm fine now we're sitting down," Xavier replied, "Though you better not let me have too many beers because I've never drunk before."
Gary smiled, "No, you haven't have you, I had forgotten."
From time to time a couple or family came in from the back of the pub, passed through the pub and left through the door. Some tapped once on it before they opened it and some didn't. Gary noticed that the woman they had seen enter earlier wasn't there.
"Wonder what's going on back there." Gary asked.
"Function room?" Xavier replied going back to his beer.
"Wonder where our hosts are, you'd think they'd be early." Gary continued.
"Calm down," Xavier said to him, "They'll be here, they could be anywhere, they could even be upstairs."
"There wasn't an upstairs." Gary said remembering the Charing Cross Road side of the pub.
"There is." Xavier responded pointing out the staircase.
"What is it with this place?"
"I suppose the front we saw on the other side is just a façade."
Gary kept an eye on the stairs and the back of the pub where most of the people seemed to be coming from but both Xavier and he were surprised when Severus and Harry entered the pub from the Charing Cross side. Gary was further surprised when he turned and thought he saw the modern world they had just left existing behind the two men as they entered. To reinforce his beliefs they both seemed to be wearing normal clothes but with their cloaks still around their shoulders; no sign of the identical pendants. Severus wore a black shirt un-tucked and Harry's was a deep burgundy, they both wore tight leather pants.
"Do you suppose that was them trying to blend in?" Gary commented to Xavier before they were too close to hear.
Severus was what appeared to be his dignified aloof self but Harry smiled when he saw them.
"Glad you could make it." He said by way of greeting as they both took a place by the fire.
Xavier had thought the men had looked troubled as they entered but now they relaxed considerably in what must be familiar surroundings to them.
"We have a room arranged for you here," Severus announced, "If you can make yourself comfortable there for the night, Harry and I still have some matters to attend to here, but we can leave in the morning."
"And what about our explanation?" Gary persisted.
"It will have to wait till tomorrow I'm afraid," Harry added, "This is too public."
"I don't see why we should come with you based on what you've told us. Why tonight anyway if we can't leave till tomorrow."
"Your lives were in danger." Severus answered simply.
"What? No." Gary replied.
"Mr Wheatcroft, you have been attacked already, yes?"
"Well, yeah, but that was just a bar thing." Xavier replied not wanting to believe it had been more.
"As I said, we will tell you all tomorrow." Severus restated.
"But tonight it's not safe?" Gary asked becoming impatient.
"Well it's entirely up to you, but I would strongly advise against going out there tonight, especially if you can't run," Severus said becoming impatient himself it seemed, he stood up and prepared to leave, "I bid you good night."
In a swish of cloak Severus was gone and ascending the stairs. Harry looked at Gary and Xavier with an apologetic smile before saying good night too and following the man upstairs.
"You still want to do this?" Gary asked Xavier.
"Just because they're strange doesn't mean they're not right." Xavier answered, "And I can't run."
Gary approached the bar realising they had no idea where to go.
"We have a room booked I believe." He said to the barman.
Expecting to be given a key Gary became a bit puzzled when he was handed a twelve-inch stick and was told a password.
"Hand it back in when you're ready to leave." The barman instructed him, "You're in the Lady of Hay, second on the right."
Gary took the bags upstairs then returned to help Xavier.
"You are never going to believe this." Gary said as they slowly made their way up step by step.
"I think I could believe just about anything now." Xavier replied as they reached the last step.
When they looked down the corridor all they could see were full body length portraits in elaborate frames all the way down. They walked down hoping to find a door, when they reached the second portrait on the right, however, a cheery voice called to them. "Lady of Hay, how may I help you?"
When they turned to the portrait a women in period clothes was smiling out of it and waiting for something. Gary remembered the stick and the word he had been told but wasn't sure what he was supposed to do with it. After a few minutes the lady in the portrait rolled her eyes with a mixture of impatience and disgust.
"Tap me and say the password." She snapped eventually.
In their own room Severus and Harry had a fire lit and were enjoying a drink and relaxation before they turned in.
"Did you take the charm off the door?" Harry asked.
Severus looked at him as if he was asking a very stupid question indeed.
"Sev'?" Harry persisted.
"Yes, yes I did, even if they found out where to look, now they would have no idea WHEN to look."
"I do trust you, you know that don't you?" Harry said, "Just can't be TOO careful with this."
"You have proved it many times." Sev' answered going back to his drink which at such a late hour was a whiskey single malt. After a while a feint smile played across his face, "I understand your caution."
"Come to bed?"
Harry got up and Severus left his chair by the fire to join him. They stood face to face and Severus reached a hand to touch the scar on Harry's cheek, he always tried to hide it with his hair. It was deep and lined his cheekbone, only Severus was allowed to touch it; not that anybody else had the nerve to try.
"I understand too well." Severus said softly.
Gary and Xavier settled onto the bed in their room.
"We have wandered into some sort of strange alternative reality." Gary commented.
"Talking pictures!" Xavier replied.
"Yea, I do hope we're not in an another TV programme, who on earth would write this lunacy and have the nerve to submit it to the BBC?" Gary said going over to their window. All he could see out of it was an alleyway in darkness and beyond that a few buildings with dim lights that flickered in some of the windows. Gary glanced briefly at their lighting arrangements and noticed that they appeared to be gas lamps. He looked back out of the window, a man dressed in a cloak came staggering out of the pub and wandered off down the alleyway looking a little worse for wear.
"Yes, let's face the alternative, this is real." Xavier said.
Gary gave him a withering look, "It's all real in some dimension or another."
Xavier had started trying to struggle out of his clothes; Gary let him continue, even though he looked very tired Gary knew he preferred it that way. He was feeling hungry now; he wished he had thought about it before they came up to bed, all they'd had all day were the sandwiches. He looked up at Xavier; he was perched on the edge of the bed, his left hand lying in his lap, the right one trying to wriggle through the arm of his over sized t-shirt and not having much success. There was a fine line between not waiting long enough and waiting too long.
Xavier exhaled audibly and looked suitably deflated afterward; it was time. Gary approached him and laid a hand on his right shoulder. Xavier bit his lip and frowned without looking up.
"Is there something in the case I can get for you?" Gary asked offering him some of the future painkillers they only had a strictly limited supply of.
Xavier shook his head and Gary reached for his jacket where he had a plentiful supply of paracetamol, which were everywhere. At least they had been, Gary thought with a little bit of horror. He had only bought a pack of thirty-two since you could go into anywhere selling anything and find a supply. Now he had no idea what they were going to do. They would likely find something but he really hoped it wasn't going to be some kind of leaf he would have to boil.
Gary reached for the pitcher of water he could see on a table by the bed and poured Xavier a glass of water. Xavier took the water and swallowed his tablets down. Without another word Gary helped pull the t-shirt over Xavier's arm, then over his head and down over his other arm. Gary lifted his left arm slightly to take away the clothing and he could hear Xavier hold his breath.
He beckoned Xavier to lie down and lifted his leg up as he turned and then slumped down on the pillows.
Gary finished helping Xavier undress then turned back to the door that looked like the back of a painting, because it was. The picture suddenly flew open, rocking on its hinges and a little elf creature similar to the one earlier rushed in carrying a tray then rushed out again without stopping. It left Gary feeling rather stunned. Again.
"What was that?" Xavier asked from the bed.
Gary shrugged, "Dinner, apparently." He brought the tray over to the bed; there were two plates with covers over them, a decanter with some red liquid in it. Gary lifted the covers off the plate. One had a large steak on it, displayed amongst all the usual trimmings and garnish one would expect. The other plate was a mish mash of meat chunks and vegetables smothered in gravy.
"Well," Gary said, "I think that steak's got my name on it."
Xavier pulled himself up to a sitting position; he hadn't felt at all hungry till he caught the smell of the food wafting up from the plate.
"Oh my God." Xavier said catching his breath.
Gary was puzzled but didn't say anything; he lifted the plate onto Xavier's lap and gave him a fork.
"I don't believe it." Xavier continued looking considerably upset suddenly and for no apparent reason.
"Believe what?" Gary asked getting concerned now.
"It's not exactly like the ones he used to make but near enough." Xavier continued half lost in himself.
"What, who? Xavier?"
"My father, he used to do this, everything a certain size, not mush but small enough so that I didn't have to fight with it." Xavier answered scooping some up with his fork and tasting some, "Hmm, just enough pepper."
"First thing tomorrow morning I'm going to demand what the hell is going on here!" Gary suddenly burst out leaving the steak for the moment.
"They appear to be guilty of nothing but consideration Gary." Xavier said wearily.
"It's just weird," Gary attempted to sneer, "They're weird, this place is weird, that glass ball of his is creepy, he's creepy."
"They've given us food and shelter, they've saved us from whatever was after us." Xavier reasoned.
"We didn't actually see them save us from anything though did we?" Gary countered.
"No, but somebody did throw me to the floor and start trying to kick me to death didn't they?"
"How do you know who's with who?"
"Oh, do calm down Gary." Xavier snapped.
It did stop Gary in his flow though.
"Eat your steak." Xavier commanded, still continuing with his own meal.
Gary went back to his meal but stopped again half way. "They could be poisoning us."
"Never mind," Xavier said scooping up another mouthful, "Too late now."
Gary had opened the window halfway through the night and the sounds coming from the alleyway woke them up but not until the shops below were opening. Gary went to the window and had a look down to see a cart and horse delivering to the pub and a number of shoppers already walking up and down and looking in shop windows. He turned to Xavier.
"I thought I would look to see if there's anything here better than paracetamol." Gary said.
"We're supposed to be going today, with them." Xavier argued.
"It's only one street, won't take long, if they're downstairs we can even tell them where we're going." Gary continued.
"Well I'm coming with you." Xavier insisted.
"I think you should just rest a bit."
"So they're trying to poison us but it's ok for me to stay here on my own?"
"Ok, get ready." Gary said admitting defeat.
They made their way downstairs into the bar and Gary had a look around for the two men but they were nowhere to be found.
"What the hell am I supposed to do with this?" Gary said brandishing the thin stick he had been given for opening the bedroom door.
"Give it here." Xavier replied. Gary gave him the stick and he leaned up against the bar. He was wearing his arm in a sling without the brace on; he slid the stick into the sling so it rested on top of his arm.
They made their way out into the street at the back of the pub and turned left.
"Look at these books." Xavier said to Gary as he noticed some of the titles of the books on display in a rather run down looking bookshop. Xavier was quite content and happy despite the pain he was desperately trying to ignore. The books were fascinating and he wanted to go inside, they were on all sorts of subjects he hadn't even heard of before and one large volume bore the symbol he had seen Severus and Harry wearing. Suddenly a strong wave of freezing cold and misery washed over him, anxiety crushed at his heart. He turned round as quickly as he could without losing his balance.
Gary had been turning to look at what Xavier had become so fascinated with when he felt coldness on his back. He turned back away from Xavier towards the source of the coldness in time to see a tall cloaked man with long blond hair reach beneath his cloak and pull out a stick similar to the one Xavier was keeping. The man called out some words Gary didn't understand and stabbed the stick in their direction even though he was at least three yards away from them. He then smiled in what Gary thought was a sinister fashion, bowed and disappeared.
"Did you see that?" Gary asked Xavier feeling like he would never recover from the shock. He got no answer.
Gary turned to where he had last seen Xavier and didn't find him there anymore. Everybody else in the immediate vicinity had stopped whatever they were doing and were staring at him. Gary looked down and found Xavier crumpled at his feet and quite clearly unconscious, if not dead. He sank down beside him, so much for those two creeps protecting them, he thought.
He didn't know what to do, he didn't move, nobody else moved. A quiet whisper began around him. He tried shaking Xavier's shoulder a little but he didn't move.
There was a communal gasp from the small group in the immediate vicinity, Gary looked up hardly bearing to dread another attack.
There they were, Severus and Harry coming towards him from the far end of a darker alley and all the people who had been staring at him were now staring at them. As they got closer Gary noticed they were once again both wearing the pendants and Severus had his little glass ball grasped in his hand. Their cloaks billowed impressively as they strode and their hair fanned out around their heads and for the first time Gary could see their faces properly. They both wore an expression of urgency and it was clear they were approaching him, he had no choice but to take whatever they were going to offer him.
Severus immediately sank down to the ground beside Xavier and effortlessly scooped him up in his arms.
Harry reached out a hand to Gary. "Come, we must get inside." He said as Gary took it.
They all rushed back into the pub and up the stairs to Gary and Xavier's room. Gary retrieved the stick and opened the door. Harry went in first and pulled the covers back on the bed and Severus followed and deposited his load. Gary was quick behind them getting to the bed to be the one to lift the covers over him.
"What words did he use?" Severus asked.
"You know what happened?" Gary snapped.
"He saw it." Harry answered, "In the ball. An hazy image nothing more."
"Pity you couldn't have seen it in the ball a few more minutes before it happened." Gary continued in his anger.
"A pity you couldn't keep to your room, out of danger." Severus snapped back.
Both made a move towards each other and suddenly Harry was standing between them. "What words did he use?" he asked again calmly.
"I don't know," Gary answered feeling fairly useless, "They weren't in English and he said them so fast and I didn't know anything was going to happen."
Severus made a snorting noise and walked away towards the window.
"Are you not going to ask me which way he went?" Gary asked maintaining his fury.
Severus gave a hint of a smile, "Let me guess, he just disappeared."
"So is he going to be all right?" Gary asked getting to the root of his anxiety.
"We don't know," Harry answered before Severus could, "It depends what the man who did this said. It might have just been a warning or it could have been the real thing. We'll just have to wait."
"It was just too sudden." Gary said more calmly this time looking towards Xavier who was pale and still. He felt as though his heart was trying to escape through his throat.
"Sev', you're going to have to." Harry said to Severus who was still by the window.
Severus approached the bed and kneeled beside Xavier. He took up Xavier's injured hand and clasped it in both of his; he bent his head and closed his eyes.
Gary felt like tearing him away from Xavier. "What's he doing?" he asked resisting the urge.
"He's trying to feel what happened." Harry explained, "Although it will be diluted, if it was something serious Sev' will feel it too."
Time passed and all they could both do was watch Severus. It didn't help Gary to notice that Harry looked quite worried too and his eyes never left the scene by the bed. Gary wondered how diluted it was going to be. Severus seemed to be in some sort of trance, his lips moved silently, forming words but apart from that he remained frozen.
It came suddenly, first Severus' muscles went into spasm and his face grimaced, then he crumpled to the floor. Harry rushed to his side and Gary followed not wanting to miss anything. Severus hadn't passed out and he pulled himself up to a sitting position with Harry commanding him to take it slowly.
"Thug e urchair dha, moran craidh." Severus said, "Not serious, I can wake him for you."
Gary was stunned, those were the exact same words and Severus saying them had no effect on anybody. He watched as Severus stood up and placed both his hands round Xavier's head, he was still and stony again. After what seemed like a long time Xavier's head moved slightly in Severus' hold. Gary got closer, he wanted to be there if he opened his eyes. He didn't want him to only see this tall dark creepy man and not realise who he was. Severus released his hold and staggered back into Harry who had placed himself there in an instant. Gary took a hand in his as Xavier opened his eyes and smiled weakly up at him.
"He'll be much better now," Harry said, "Let him rest awhile and we'll make plans for our journey." Severus put an arm round Harry's shoulders to steady himself and they went back to their own room.
Harry was furious; as soon as they got back to the privacy of their room he shoved Severus in the direction of the bed and stormed to the window. Severus was a bit too affected by events to launch straight on the defensive.
"Thug e urchair dha, moran craidh?" Harry shouted in disbelief, "Not serious? Look at the state of yourself."
Severus shook his head, "I know, but it was."
"The 'moran craidh' would never do that, it has to be maintained to last this long and we both know he was gone in seconds." Harry argued.
"And yet helping him has drained me and I swear that is what I saw in him."
"But that would only happen if…"
"Yes, he was already in so much pain that when it happened it overwhelmed him and he fainted."
"That much, I knew there was some but…" Harry began.
"He's not likely to trust us enough to drink a potion, his friend certainly won't; we have to get back, show him." Severus said knowing how Harry's mind was working.
"He's not strong enough now."
"I read him beyond the stupid curse when it became apparent that it had been little more than a parlour trick. The magic is reacting with his injuries and it can only get worse, we must go now where he can be helped."
Harry calmed considerably and came to sit by Severus on the bed.
"You lied to them." Harry stated not accusing.
"Let's hope they don't figure it out before we get back."
"You take so many risks." Harry said softly.
"You go next door and tell them the truth then." Severus replied wearily.
Harry reached up with both his hands and held Severus' head rather as he had done for Xavier.
"I'm fine." Severus said wriggling in the hold.
"Shh." Harry responded in way that showed he wouldn't be argued with, "We'll need you again later."
Severus relaxed into the hold. "Sooner they know the better, I need a cool dark place."
"I've quite enjoyed this." Harry responded.
"I had noticed."
"Do you have any idea how long it has been since I've met somebody who didn't know who I was? Amazing, they have no idea at all."
Eventually Severus lay back on the bed and closed his eyes. Harry took a brass dish from his trunk and lit a charcoal disc within it. He sprinkled a mixture of herbs and resin he kept in a small bag and watched as the pungent smoke began to come up from dish.
"Nacaol ymaith." He repeated as he went about the room making sure every corner was covered till there was an even haze.
"You should do their room too." Severus said without raising himself from the bed.
"Yeah, that'll not freak them out at all." Harry answered smiling.
Gary stayed by Xavier's side, he had made no attempt to get up but he looked pale so Gary let him be.
"What happened?" Xavier asked at last.
"It would appear you were cursed, according to those two anyway, who I might add, didn't look very surprised when it happened."
"Oh, Gary, they're not the enemy you know."
"How do you know?" Gary said almost snapping.
Xavier didn't reply, how could he say that he could feel it when they were close, just like had felt the cold evilness of the man who had attacked him. He wanted to close his eyes and sleep again but he knew it would be useless trying. The stabbing pains were shooting from his joints and through his body, not just from his injured side either though that was where it was the most severe. He didn't want to have to try and move his arm or leg, he didn't think he would be able to.
"Are we still going today?" Xavier asked.
"I've no idea," Gary said still feeling angry, "They've gone off to their room and they didn't mention anything about it."
Note: 'Thug e urchair dha, moran craidh' is gaelic (Scot) for 'he gave him a violent push, much pain'. Nacaol=negative (Welsh), ymaith=away (Welsh).