A/N: I’ve tried to cover as many logic loopholes as possible, so please, bear with me if anything needs a bit of reality suspension. Hold faith, I have a few ideas for resolving that. ;) Other than that, thank you for the great response so far and I hope you enjoy. Of course, I own nothing, just play with the toys made possible by JKR/HP.
She watched dawn crackle over the horizon and dance from rooftop to rooftop across town, chasing the birds from their roosts to find their breakfast. It was almost a normal morning except for the deafening anticipation that had her hands gripping the window moulding tightly in her bedroom. She glanced at the muggle grandmother clock ticking, ticking, ticking away the seconds in agonizing, dragging slowness. In about an hour she would be able to Apparate to Gringotts and transfer the funds from their discretionary to what approximated a cashier’s check in the muggle world.
Her stomach churned and she could not determine if it was ill or hungry. Better to err on the side of reason and not eat. The clock struck the top of the hour and chimed seven times into the room. She closed her eyes against the insistent urge to silence the clock so it wouldn’t make this waiting feel so much worse.
Dammit, this watching and waiting was shredding her nerves and that damned clock wasn’t helping.
She took a steadying breath and tried to think of something to occupy herself. There was an hour left. What could she do?
Well, there was the fact that she needed to get dressed. It wouldn’t hurt to look her most professional for the goblins. Or for Severus.
She carefully dressed in a black suit with a pewter silk blouse and matching gray slingback shoes, deliberately taking her time with the application of each layer. Next, came the gray pearls that she’d lifted from her mother before leaving home. She looked in the quiet mirror to check her reflection, wishing she had more of her mother to comfort her than a pair of baubles and a few trinkets, but…
No room to worry about that now. Right now was the time to think about Severus.
Looking for something else to do to pass the time, she went downstairs into the hall closet and gathered a small duffel bag, filled it with a man’s clothing that looked about the right size for Severus (they’d always kept things like that there just in case) and tried to think of anything else she might need. What if he got violent? What if he tried to hurt himself before they got home? What if he didn’t want to go with her? What if he didn’t recognize her? Oh, it was no use going over these questions again and again, she’d already exhausted the list of unanswerable questions since she swore not to go back to sleep at four o’clock in the morning. She might just have to use silent magic and risk Hestry seeing anything. She’d better wear her coat again and hide her wand.
This would just have to work. She’d find a way to bloody well make it work. She owed it to Severus and to everything he’d ever stood for. At that, she huffed, shook her head and paced out of Number 12, determined to walk off some of her nervous energy on her way to Diagon Alley.
The walk served to distract her, directing her mind—well, not off of Severus—but at least onto something else as well. Eyelop’s was a pleasant diversion with the owls fluttering in the window and Madam Malkins showed off the season’s newest robes. She shook her head. Some wizarding fashions would never take with her.
A few more steps took her even with the former Ollivander’s. She slowed, considerate of the darkened shop. People still kept a few paces away, slowing and staring, just as she did, out of respect.
It still pained her to know there were some war victims they couldn’t bring back.
She quickened her pace and came to the ‘Y’ shaped intersection that marked the wizarding bank’s corner, automatically counting the marble steps – twenty three – as she jogged upwards to the large golden doors, her shoes clacking against the stone.
A hand came across her vision, then a body and she let out a small shriek before backing up and recognizing her interloper. “Oh, God, Remus, you scared the living daylights out of me!”
He smiled sheepishly and apologized. “Sorry, but I’ve been trying to catch up to you. Where’ve you been?”
She ignored the question as concern struck home. “What’s wrong? Did something happen?” So many things rushed across her mind, Harry or Ronald or Tonks or someone they’d missed in their research or worse, someone they’d found but couldn’t retrieve…or, God, what if she was too late and something had happened to Severus…
He waved the air in dismissal, “Nothing dire, but just as important. Dora brought up a good point last night and I wanted to catch you before you went through the transaction.”
She blinked. What did she miss? Was she too stuck on retrieving Severus that she’d blinded herself to something? “What. What is it?”
They shifted to the side as a group of wizards glared at them for taking up the middle of the walkway, settling into the shadows of a lamp post in the early morning light. “A place like that’s got to operate like us and pay their bills as they go, not after all’s said and done. She thinks that someone’s already paid his bill, or even that it might be a government facility. We most likely owe the money to them or the taxpayers, but not directly to the hospital.” Remus dipped his head, waiting in his teacher’s stance for her to reach the next conclusion.
What? No wonder it had been so easy…Stan had been so obliging…
Now that she thought about it, the place was rather more secure than what it needed to be. If that was true, then Remus and Tonks were right and Stan was doing nothing more than—
She felt her face twist in rage. “No! That little mangy bastard was trying to bleed me!” Anger coursed through her veins and rippled down her spine as she thought through the different ways she was going to handle Hestry now. “That…that CUR! He was just taking advantage of me!” At Remus’ reluctant nod, a slightly feral grin twisted the right side of her mouth as she focused back on her former teacher.
“We need to do some research, prove what kind of place this is before we go rushing in and taking Severus out from underneath them.”
Remus smiled a predatory smile that showed Hermione he approved her thought process so far. “I believe I remember the way to the public library, my dear.” He rakishly offered her his arm, she grinned up at him and they Apparated to the park at St. James Square.
She took a deep, calming breath of the dusty tomes surrounding her. No matter what the situation, books were home to her. The London Library might not have the same collection as Hogwarts (honestly, what library did?) but it was one of the largest muggle collections and she was very content here.
Acquiring access to one of the computers, Hermione searched local records for the address she knew in Bath to obtain the official hospital name.
It was worse than they suspected. Not only was there no record of a mental institution at that address, but there was no record of any government, civil, or public facility…no record of any hospital, public or private, either. The only listing for that address was a lease agreement between a Quincy Chalmers, Lord A— and Mr. Stanley Hestry, PhD.
“Now that’s interesting.”
“You don’t say.” She glanced at Remus and had a thought, but started typing before voicing it. The next page came up…she skimmed for the best information…”Aha!” She clicked on the obituary. “Lord A— passed away several years ago. We didn’t see any renewals under another title, did we?”
Remus leaned forward with a smirk, but glanced over to the screen. “Better check, just to be sure.”
She smiled back and spent a few fruitless clicks searching for lease agreements. The assistant at the desk wasn’t able to help them much more than that, reminding them that such information could be private if the individuals wished it.
Hermione huffed her frustration, but Remus patted her on the shoulder. “Remember that we’ve found out it’s a fraud, regardless. It doesn’t matter about the lease agreement so much that we know this Hestry fellow isn’t running a legal mental hospital. My guess is he’s also fleecing the local public, as well, and it would certainly be our duty to inform the local magistrate.”
Sometimes she wondered if he was more wolf or man, with some of his grins…
A dark doubt flit across the surface of her thoughts, “What if the magistrate’s in on it?”
He grimaced, “I highly doubt it, but that can be fixed with a quick bit of wand-work.”
She arched a brow at him, “That’s illegal, Remus.”
“So’s operating a mental hospital without a license, Hermione.”
Conceding that point, she nodded and tilted her head at a slight angle, “In that case, would you mind coming with me, then? I might need your help after all.” She pulled out a piece of paper from the printer nearby and neatly folded it in triple, lengthwise, then in half and tucked it in her jacket pocket.
He returned a wolfish grin, “I thought you’d never ask, my dear.”
They left the library, entered a lush, overgrown area of the park in St. James Square and Apparated to the alley behind the hostel in Bath. As soon as they ensured the area was clear, she took out the folded paper from her pocket and her wand, thought for a moment, then transfigured the page into a convincing replication of a banker’s check.
Remus arched a brow at the paper. She grinned up at him and replied, “Extra leverage. Just in case.”
He smiled, shook his head and stepped out from the alleyway to the street. She laughed as he tried to whistle weakly, then stepped up neatly beside him and pierced the air between two fingers.
The same cab driver from yesterday pulled up alongside her. He hung his elbow out his window and smiled. “Oh, ‘ello, luv! ‘eadin’ back to Tinnet ‘all?”
She blinked at the unfamiliar place-name. “Pardon?” In all their research, the actual family name of the property had never come up.
He smiled still, patiently. “De loonie bin, luv?”
She smiled back. “Yes! Yes, that’s where we’re going.”
“Right-o! Climb in an’ we’ll be on ah way.” He thumbed to the back door and Remus opened it for her.
As soon as he slid in after her and they started on their way, Remus asked the cabbie, “So tell me about Tinnet Hall.”
“What do the locals think about it?”
“Er…necessary.” When his passengers looked like they wanted him to continue, he did, “We fink it’s necessary for dem poor crazy crim’nals t’ave sommut place ta go, right?”
Hermione spluttered, but Remus placed a hand on her arm to keep her silent. The cabbie continued, “Da more I fink on it, da more I don’ mind payin’ a special collection fer da upkeep. It’s kinda like I’m payin’ ta keep em away from me famly…” He blinked and looked a bit redder in the face into the rear view mirror to his passengers. “Sorry.”
Remus held up a hand. “No, no. We understand. We’re actually here to take one of those burdens off your community, though, and move him up north.”
“Really?” There was a large lacing of skepticism in the driver’s tone.
Hermione looked his reflection dead in the eye and said, “He’s our family.”
She turned her tear-bright gaze out the window to watch the sunlight glint off the glass windows of cars and buildings as they passed by. How could she have been so stupid? So blind? Severus was being held in a fraud’s prison and the warden played her grief like a violin, extracting a promise for money that she should have known was heinously false. What made her angrier was that Severus was being treated as a public criminal. A criminal! He was a bloody HERO! A ball of tight pain wedged in her throat as she tried her damnedest to hold back tears, gritting her teeth, knowing what her parents would say to do so. God, such injustice…how the bloody hell did he get to this place?
Remus continued his conversation with the cabbie, “What kind of collection?”
“You said there’s a special collection for the upkeep of Tinnet Hall.”
“Ah.” The driver smiled as if about to impart deep gossip, “Well, now dat was of high debate fer years amongst de townsfolk, but da county commish’ner’s all o’er ’bout how we’re safe an’ such…safer dan ot’er places,” he broke off to laugh as if it was all a joke. “I hear dey do sirens in ot’er towns like dat Broadmoor up-country, but dey don’t do it here.” He snorted. “Safe. Ah, well. We’ve not had a breakout, so I guess we are.”
“Do you know anything about the inmates?”
“Who, me?” The cabbie blinked into the rear-view mirror. “Not a fing. No one does. Dey go in, but dey don’t come out…’cept I guess yer fella. An’ yer de first visitors I’ve seen in all me years as cabbie, too.”
Remus reached over to Hermione with a hand on hers, his face showing concern, resolve, questions…she lifted her chin a bit, breathed steadily through her nose, then lifted it a bit higher and exhaled, holding his gaze. He patted her hand. This was a much deeper puzzle than they could possibly hope to solve today.
“Al’right, ‘ere we are. Tinnet ‘all in all its gloomy glory.”
As Harry would say, it was time to put their game faces on. She took a deep breath and stepped out of the car, pressing the door closed behind her as she stared at the building that had held Severus for two years. Today he was coming home, one way or another.
She turned around to see Remus paying the cabbie, but the driver was looking at her.
“Ya need a ride back inta town? Wif yer…famly?”
Her heart tripped a bit. That was kind of him to offer in the face of their difficult conversation only a few minutes ago. She glanced at Remus, but he merely watched her for a decision. Looking back at the driver, she shook her head in the negative. “I thank you for your kindness, but I don’t know now long we’ll be. We’ll be sure to call if we do need you, though.”
There. That would give them some wriggling room just in case they needed to Apparate directly out of the prison, but left them with a muggle option if they needed it. He nodded and drove off with a wave and a well-wish.
Remus walked to her side. “Well, that was certainly enlightening.”
She shivered. “Fraud, embezzlement, and involving a public official? I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a bit over my head.”
He scoffed. “Come now. We defeated Voldemort. What could he possibly do to us?”
That sounded suspiciously like an ominous foreshadowing, if she’d not hated Divination so much. She chose the more logical route. “Easy, Remus, you’re the one who taught me ‘pride goeth before the fall’.”
“True.” He looked up at the austere yellow brick building with its green awning flapping in the morning breeze. “Shall we?”
In answer, she nodded and dropped her fingers into her jacket pocket to ensure the ‘check’ was still there. Satisfied, she straightened her shoulders, lifted her chin and strode through the glass doors, straight to the reception desk.
The sour receptionist was not there. “Hello?” Her voice echoed across the high, empty foyer.
A door opened down the hall and the tight-rolled blonde head of the woman from yesterday popped out in confusion, then surprise, then just as quickly disappeared. Hermione had just turned to Remus to exchange a commiserating glance of ‘well-that-was-strange’ when the door opened again and the woman marched out to her desk.
“Didn’t expect you here so early. Hang on.” She picked up the phone and pressed the button. “Get Mr. Hestry. The lady is here for Mr. Smith. Yes, already. And she’s got someone with her.” There was a pause and her face twisted in annoyance. “I don’t know, that, now do I?” She hung up the phone and said nothing to them, busying herself at her desk shuffling paperwork.
Just to see what would happen, Hermione started tapping the toe of her shoe just to be irritating. As soon as the receptionist seemed about to say something, Hestry arrived.
“Jean, how nice to see you…so early.” He looked Remus over with a strange expression…somehow wary and disdainful. “And you’ve brought someone with you, I see?” Who was he to disapprove of Remus?
She glanced between them and redirected Hestry’s attention to her, using his given name to remind him of their ‘flirting’ yesterday. “Stan.” She dimpled and they shook hands as she purposely didn’t introduce her associate. “I was able to cut a few strings. I want my uncle home. We’ve missed him terribly as I’m sure you understand.”
He smiled that phony smile. “Yes. About that. Um…let’s step into my office.”
What did he want now? She followed him with an arched brow and and unpleasant look, but followed. “I came here to collect my uncle. We discussed this yesterday.”
He closed the door, motioned for her to sit and did so himself, watching Remus out of the corner of his eye. “Yes, well, when I went to complete the paperwork, I realized we have to file his public identity, which you have not yet provided. I can’t just release him to anyone, either. I need proof of your relation.”
The greed in his eyes reminded her of the smarmy men she avoided at Ministry functions. Ugh. “You’ve been treating him for two years under a pseudonym.”
His eyes hooded, concealing something. Hermione gritted her teeth and swallowed to keep from regurgitating. “Yes, the county has been most gracious.”
“You’ve been giving him medication under that name as well.”
She watched his calm facade, knowing it was all a game to him. God, how did he even face a mirror? He had no compunction preying on people’s misfortunes. “Then you can sign him out under that same pseudonym. The county needs nothing else from you, as that’s how they have him listed.”
His jaw worked in a few angles before he answered, “Surely you don’t mean to suggest I should allow you to remove a person who apparently has need of mental rehabilitation, without full registration of who he is or where he is going?”
“He is fully registered. At home. You have no need of that information.”
“On the contrary. I have paperwork to file with the county and state.” Oh he was good.
But she was pissed. She dropped her voice to a low growl between gritted teeth. “Bollocks.”
Remus exclaimed behind her, placed a hand on her chair, “He—Jean.”
She ignored his warning and continued, staring Hestry down. “If you had paperwork to file with the county and state, you wouldn’t need forty thousand pounds to release him. It would be paid for by government taxes and you wouldn’t need the money, the government would.” There. Let him believe they were buying his silence.
Hestry chewed on that for a bit, then grimaced in a tight smile. “You have the tuition?”
She dimpled at him and pulled the check from her pocket to wave at him. He made to reach for it, but she snatched it back. “No, sir, I believe we’ll be making this transaction with a receipt. After I have my uncle.” She glanced at Remus and hoped he’d go along with her ruse for a bit. They needed to get to Severus before playing their last card.
“It looks like a banker’s check.”
“It’s a receipt in and of itself.”
They stared at each other for a few moments until he smiled a bit more comfortably. “Let’s go check on our patient, shall we?”
She dimpled again, but with a bit more steel. “Let’s.”
It was nice to take a swim. The cool, black water sluiced over his skin and swallowed his body as it sliced through the depths unseen. He surfaced and dipped back with a flick of legs to float his hair off his face, then brushed the water away and floated backwards along the round, dark, murky pond. It was so peaceful here. Quiet. Safe. Birch trees caught in permanent autumn surrounded the pool in a fury of golden leaves and silver bark, thin striplings fighting their way up from the shore. Their leaves floated down from the amber canopy above and landed in the dark water to float with him in the never-ending circle around the center island. He looked at the island. It always took him back to the unhappy place, but he always needed to go, nonetheless. It called to him, some part of him that needed to know what lay beyond the branches of the single, dead tree that inhabited the small grassy knoll of an island in the heart of the dark pond.
He floated near the shallows of the opposite shore. It was nearly time. His feet drug against the bottom of the pond, hitting smooth sand and he sighed, looking toward the glimmering light that signaled his time to face the tree. He sat up in the shallows, resting his arms on his knees and enjoying the rivulets of water cooling on his skin.
Tinkling laughter haunted his ears as paper cut-out negatives of fairies flew by in a cloud and spun across his vision before dancing into the birch trees, playing with the bright leaves and leaving a descending trail in their wake. He wanted to fly with them, but the tree…it beckoned. He stood up. The eyes were already there, in the topmost branches of the tree, multicolored gems blinking at him, calling to him. He looked to his bare feet on the sandy shore and watched a stone float to the surface of the pool.
As soon as both feet were well set on the stone just big enough for him, it slipped across the pool to the knoll. Experience had taught him that it would soon fall away if he didn’t step off, so he moved to the shore and looked up at the smooth, gray, dead limbs of the oak tree stretching above him. The eyes watched. Something tickled his feet and he looked down. The grass was reaching for him, growing over his toes. He stepped aside, but it started again. He stepped up on the tree roots to avoid the grass but it simply kept growing taller, after him. His heart sped up as he realized he needed to climb the tree, climb into the eyes, into the faceted light.
He knew it would take him away from his safe place, but his safe place was kicking him out. It wasn’t fair! A vine caressed his ankle. Perhaps if the greenery overtook him, he could stay here forever…
Light pulsed around him, the fairies danced madly in their paper cut-out impossibility, laughing raucously. His heart! It hurt to beat that much! What was that word that it held so much power over him? He looked to the eyes…were the brown ones getting closer? He quailed, raising his hand against them.
“Severus, it’s all right, we’re taking you home.”
He blinked, the multicolored, faceted light getting too bright for his eyes to handle. Brown eyes! Brown eyes! The safe place melted away in a fog to a bright white room in the middle of a muggle-made hell and the brown eyes were there! There! His jaw worked, up and down, up and down…his hand dropped, he felt tears at the corners of his eyes as he stared from one dark orb to the other in horror, in dismay, in hope… “Are you real?”
The brown eyes had a nose, brows, lips, cheeks…tears…a smile. “Yes! Yes, I’m real and I’m taking you home. Away from here.” She was clutching his forearm in her hands, sitting beside him on the small bed. He became dimly aware of two others in the room, but they didn’t have the recognition she did. She was a key. She was going to help him. He closed his eyes.
She spoke again, “God, you’re nothing but bones.” Her fingers skimmed the back of his hand and he opened his eyes to look at her. Would she reject him for that?
She was looking at the warden. “What have you been doing to him?”
He smiled his distasteful smile. “A side effect of the medication, I’m afraid. Nothing…illegal, I assure you.”
She seemed to dismiss his remark and turned back, “Can you sit up? I want to get you dressed so we can leave.” Her tone was gentle, as was her expression, but the thought of getting…dressed? Wasn’t he dressed? No, he supposed he wasn’t, was he?
He sat up slowly and she stood to let him slip his feet to the icy floor he’d long since gotten used to.
The warden spoke up, “I’m afraid the clothing is property of the hospital-“
Brown Eyes turned on him quicker than he had time to think, “You’re extorting forty thousand pounds from us and you’re going to deny him a pair of cotton pyjamas? You’re lower than dirt on a rat!”
The man’s face went puce. “How dare you!”
“I only state the truth! This is supposed to be a tax-paid facility, you cheat, and Mr. ‘Smith’ here has had his bill taken care of by the public. You’ll not be getting any money from me! You’ll be lucky if I don’t report you to the authorities for what I’m finding here!”
The man that came with her tried to placate, “Hermione-“
“No! Don’t you see what he’s done? He’s bleeding this poor town and anyone that gets near him. I doubt there are any real patients in this place, just unsuspecting people subject to his ‘special care’ when they’re just trying deal with him suppressing their magic-“
“Hermione!” The man’s hiss in warning reminded him of something…
Hestry recovered from his blustering defense, seeing the opportunity she’d given him, too late for her to recant. He sneered and slammed the steel door shut. “I see that this sort of thing runs in the family…Jean.” Hestry glanced at the other man’s cane and pulled a syringe out of his breast pocket, uncapping it as he sidled closer to Brown Eyes. “I think we need to re-sort the purpose of your visit. Perhaps an extended stay is in order?”
She looked to the other man and said “Stupefy?” by way of confirmation.
He replied with a nod, “And Obliviate, I think.”
“Which would you rather?”
“Unfortunately, my dear, you’ve proven better at Memory Charms.” He shrugged. “I’m sorry, but there it is.”
She nodded grimly.
Why did this conversation make sense to him?
The warden snapped at them, “You’re sick, all of you! Just shut up with all this nonsense!”
The man that came with Brown Eyes smiled a dark, dark smile. “Oh, I think you’ll be the one shutting up…Stupefy!” A jet of red light shot out of a stick in his hand and the warden fell to the ground in a limp heap.
Brown Eyes pulled something out of a bag and draped it over his shoulders as he stared in shock from the wand in the new man’s hand to the warden on the floor.
He whispered, “I’m not crazy.” He looked from the wand to Brown Eyes and back. “It’s real. I’m not crazy.”
She stopped trying to shove his arms in the coat’s arm holes and knelt before him with her hands on his knees. “No. No you’re not. Severus, I’m real, Remus is real, and we’re going home. I’m so sorry we couldn’t find you sooner.”
Tears. More tears. For him?
Severus. His name?
“My n-name? Severus. Is that my name?”
Her mouth formed a little ‘o’, shut, wibbled and those eyes of hers closed. He watched her until she inhaled and opened her eyes again, then stood up, pulling him with her. She held his hands in hers between them.
It felt odd to hold someone’s hands after so long.
Her grip tightened. “We’ll get into all the details later, but yes, your name is Severus. Do you remember about magic?”
He looked at the men in the room, one down, one up. He nodded.
“Okay. Good. I’m going to fix Hestry’s memory so he doesn’t know too much and then we’re going to get out of here. Do you trust me?”
He looked back to her eyes. One of the four pairs he’d remembered for so long. “Yes.”
She smiled, squeezed his hands and left him to attend the heap on the floor. After a few words, a few jets of light from her wand, she stood up and walked over to the other man she called Remus.
“He’s going to think we left the check in his office and can’t find it, and that we left before he came back and fell. We only have another few seconds to Apparate before he wakes up, so let’s go.”
The man named Remus helped him with his coat and asked Brown Eyes, “Number 12?”
“I think so. The park across the way?”
He nodded and with a crack of sound and air, disappeared. She turned to him. “Okay, our turn. We need to hurry! Trust me?”
This was so much to take in! He was breathless with shock, but knew the situation needed reaction. He latched onto her arms instinctively and felt a nauseating compression from all sides, inside and out. When it finally released, there was a clumsy moment when he nearly tripped onto Brown Eyes, but instead, he fell to his hands and knees onto…
“Oh, gods!” With a shuddering moan, he delved his fingers between the blades of grass and relished their photosynthetic energy, the delicate root system crazing out in every direction beneath his palms. He sobbed air, fresh crisp air into his lungs and knelt his face to the ground, burying it into the loam, scrubbing the sweet smelling plant into his pores so he would never forget the scent again! His toes curled into it and he pushed himself completely flat to the ground, hugging the earth as a long lost brother.
An unfamiliar, and yet once-known sound fluttered past his ear and bade him open his eyes to follow. It was an insect, droning its way to a grove of trees. Beautiful yews with dark, mysterious boughs secreting paths off into the unknown and he had never seen anything so lovely. The trees reached their dark tips up to the blue, blue sky and heaven help him but a flock of birds flew overhead, crying their restlessness to any that could hear them.
He rolled onto his back and just let the tears roll down his face and into his ears, his hair. Nothing was more important than this right now. The beat of the real world pulsing beneath his body and the free, deep blue sky, limitless above him.
Another sound turned his head. Brown Eyes. She was crying, curled into the other man’s arms. He was saying something to her and he could just barely make it out,
“It’s okay, Hermione. He’s home now. We’ve got him. He’s home.”
Brown Eyes was Hermione and he was HOME.
He took a shaky breath and went back to watching the clouds shift across the sky. He never wanted to be inside four walls again.
A/N: Okay, show of hands, who’s a bit weepy now? I know I am! Let me know what you think!