A/N: Sorry, sorry, but look on the bright side. (One) of the reasons for the delay was the necessity of organizing and shuttling some of the material to the next chapter, which is thus half-written already.
Forget the synopsis of this chapter offered at the end of the last. My muses lied - to me, to you, to the organizers of world peace.
Alastor Moody had developed a tolerance for crowds of strangers who mysteriously turned into his best buddies out of sheer necessity. He wasn't naturally sociable. He wasn't even naturally civil, not to strangers at least, although he had picked that up after some intense nagging from several authority figures during his teens and twenties.
Villages – not small towns but dyed-in-the-woods villages – were the worse, even one step below cities, where you always had the uppity upper classes thinking that he ought to acknowledge their compliments with more than his trademark growl. He had talked to a woman who had been born and bred in Roasedaly from the Magical Law Enforcement Squad about the trip, and to his horror she could remember the names of the owners of all four of the village's inns, the number of children they had, and every scandal from the past ten years. "Mercandy's wife was my aunt Mabel," she had gone on reminiscently, "and Mrs. Catty was a friend of Mum's, and Janus Thickey was our next-door neighbour. So yeah, I knew nearly all them families."
Moody had felt the need for a drink. He thanked her, modified her memory as agreed beforehand, and spent the rest of the day trying not to do something quite so immature as sulk.
He had failed one of the Auror's character tests before redoing it all again with a more thick-skinned questioner. The first questioner had protested his presence every month for all of eight years. And although he had shut up shortly after Moody had busted a century-old black market in cats magically bred to kill Muggles, there was no denying that the word 'close-knit' always made him feel queasy, or, in his worse moods (moods! heh heh, an old favourite pun of both roommates and partners) instilled in him a nearly unbearable desire to punch the nearest and solidest of walls.
Recently that old madman Dumbledore had suggested to him that he go talk to a therapist. 'A what?' Moody had barked, although he had a good idea of what it was. Dumbledore said that although most were complete quacks who made money off people of great egos and weak wills, some Muggles really could aid patients in working through tendencies such as misanthropy to unlock and cure the fears causing the symptoms.
Moody, unwilling to admit that he really didn't know what misanthropy was, and not caring, told him that he was raving-insane. Dumbledore had thanked him gravely and, apparently, sincerely. And then offered him a jelly baby.
Calder and Remus, always the pillars of optimism, had just started to sprout off some very dark, Cyclish comments at around six-eleven. 'Come on, he's not late,' Catty said brightly. 'Ten minutes! And we could use this extra time.' They really could.
'So Cauley can think of even more trouble,' Calder replied.
He was just about to say I-told-you-so at six thirty-eight when a little girl in the dining room shrieked. Catty dashed in to find her standing on an old Elizabethan chair, face pressed (and nose flattened) to the windowpane. A few others had crowded around to peer out as well. 'Is it him?'
Not a single person suffered any confusion over the antecedent. Catty rushed back to the kitchen. Cauley was already repressing a grin very poorly, Remus had already disappeared, Calder was already rushing to the door. 'It's him,' she announced, undaunted by the uselessness of the statement.
Calder took the main hallway. Totally unashamed, Catty hid in the same spot Remus had used earlier to eavesdrop on the starstruckitis victims, an old cubbyhole once used for storing wine that was placed oh-so-conveniently between the thin walls of both the entry and the common. She felt her way by the walls, unable to see, and tried not to think about how the spot was getting tight for her.
She arrived there right before Calder came into the hall. Calder, for all his nerves, was a professional and was very calm, sounding as though he had not been waiting, merely had a very competent talent for wandering into the foyer at suitable times. 'Mr Moody? Good evening to you – allow me to take that.'
'Don't touch that!' Moody snapped.
Momentary silence reigned in the entry. Catty became all too aware that her breathing was rather heavy and immediately tried to steady it.
'Yeah, good evening,' Moody said, in a calmer tone. 'Don't bother. I like to keep my coat on me.'
'As you wish. Dinner is just about to be served – ' they had put it on hold – 'but if you would rather be escorted to your room fir…'
Catty's attention tightened further as Calder trailed off. She couldn't hear Moody say a thing, but in the quiescence she could hear the very faint sounds of some of the noisier spells, and then a distinct cackling.
'Sir?' Calder sounded uncertain, probably more so than he had ever been since he was a small and nervous first-year.
'Checking the place! Been examining the outside for traces of wards and barriers. You're clean there. I did tell you that I'd have to ensure that this place was safe, Mr…' Moody paused. 'Laskin?' There was another silence. Calder latter informed Catty that he was staring at the scorched line Moody had made that traced a weird line all over the entry. It stood out so awfully and Moody hadn't given any indication that he would or it could rid or be ridden of.
'Sorry?' Calder said distractedly.
Another short pause. Then, 'Oh. Oh. Lupin. Sir. Erm, are you quite done here? – not! Not that we'll get in your way…'
''Course you won't,' Moody replied, almost amiably. 'Mind answering a few questions about the structure of this place? – I'll have a lot of questions,' he added. 'But I tip well.'
'No… no, of course…' Calder's voice was growing fainter and fainter.
'Why all those nice secretive charms around the alcove over the first attic, the hollow area at the foot of your bedroom, the area between the walls of the kitchen and dining room, the space between the floor of the dining room and top of the cellar, a good third of the cellar, the stairs in the nonfunctional chimney, the thing-which-I-guess-was-once-a-closet between two of the rooms on the first floor, and several narrow passageways?'
Calder's voice was alarmed. Moody had sounded terribly businesslike, as if interrogating and intimidating a wizard in custody. 'Nothing – nefarious, sir! Those are just spaces that we don't keep open to our guests… when you share your home with so many other people – our family just feels an understandable need for some privacy – we never created those spaces, I swear! – they're pre-existing – didn't even know about some of – '
'But you must know about the conspicuous amounts of strong magic concentrated in the room that the second-floor broom cupboard takes up only one-fifth of,' Moody continued briskly. 'That's recent, Mr Lupin.'
Catty's heart stopped. She ought to be out there. Moody was referring to Remus's now-concealed room. And Calder, it would be a miracle if he handled this well…
There was no such miracle.
'It's… a bedroom… we keep privacy spells on it…'
'But your bedroom is the one next to the chimney, on the first floor.'
'It's my brother's,' Calder said weakly. 'Cauley. Lives with us.'
Catty wanted to wring his neck. Surely Moody would know the location of Cauley's room as well, if he knew theirs – and, apparently, everything else there was to know about the establishment. She was rather irritated.
But evidently Moody didn't. Perhaps he had mistaken Cauley's actual room for a guest room; after all, it had been made up for once due to Moody's arrival. But that didn't mean he was finished.
'Why all the magic?'
'Well… Cauley… likes to experiment. He's a good wizard, Cauley…'
Cauley, for the record, was average, and that was only if you weren't too strict about your standards.
'With strengthening spells around a square object?'
'Look, I don't know what Cauley gets up to!' Catty almost groaned; Calder's voice was panicky. 'You're going to have to ask him!'
Catty took the hint and went to the kitchen noiselessly as she could manage to warn her brother-in-law.
Alastor had terrific hearing, but he was too intent on Lupin to hear Catty's uncatlike movements. 'Talk to me about these rumours.'
Lupin went horribly pale. Alastor had easily seized him up as a man working diligently to maintain a reputation. And now the big bad Auror had come to huff and puff and blow his respectability down.
'I ain't going to advertise anything,' Alastor said impatiently. 'Unless of course you keep lying to me. I want honest answers, or I will launch an investigation on charges of you hampering an official Auror assignment. I just need to know what happened to your son.'
The innkeeper looked around, as if expecting someone to listen. Alastor yawned widely.
'Please,' Lupin whispered. 'Please. I will tell you everything – everything! But not here. Not where everyone can hear. You have nothing to worry about, I promise you, but please, behind some of those closed doors with all the suspicious charms.'
Alastor eyed him while he considered, bearing in mind that he was hungry and could smell dinner from here. 'Under Vertiaserum.' Lupin looked overcome to the dangerous and desperate point of telling him to sod off. While Alastor thought it might do the man good to actually perform an action that required backbone, he had a task to think of. 'If everyone here's been good boys and girls here then I won't make any reports to the Registry.'
'All right,' said Lupin defeatedly. 'All right.'
'Late at night,' Lupin pleaded.
'Well, that's all settled,' said Alastor, in his somewhat superior tone that he knew others found annoying when he was younger, intimidating now. 'Can I have some dinner now?'
The room positively revived as Alastor entered. Especially in regards to Cauley's Own. A man resembling Lupin about the nose brought in a preservedly heated portion of what Alastor had missed. (Cauley would have fought to serve anyway, now that he had eight Galleons and twenty-four Sickles in his pocket to rib the Auror, but found the fight surprisingly easy. Calder seemed lifeless when he returned to the kitchen. That is, Cauley corrected himself, more lifeless than usual.)
'Ah yes, Britain's finest!' Cauley announced, more belligerently than his respectable and deft actions to serve. 'Trust them with the Unforgivables – never mind that they can't read a watch.'
There were snickers. Alastor's shoulders tightened instinctively as anyone under fire.
'You're Cauley Lupin?'
The server met him in the eye with an exaggerated expression of fearful defiance. 'You caint prove nothin'! I'us framed!'
More sniggers. Alastor almost scowled, but then recalled that earlier he had been mentally moaning and groaning over being treated like a god. Now, this was on another irritating extreme of the spectrum, but he might as well make up his mind to like – or at least not dislike – some form of treatment.
'Where is your bedroom?'
Many sniggers made their rounds. Cauley, Alastor noted, looked unsurprised by the question.
'Uh… hmm. Gloria?'
He looked significantly at a pretty witch, who seemed positively radiant when compared to the leering specimen beside her. Gloria put a hand to her mouth – it didn't cover her grin, much less her blush.
'C'mon, Lupin,' Alastor groused. 'I'm – '
Something had shifted. Near his feet. He missed Cauley's reply.
'Second-floor room. Hidden by the walls of a cupboard. Chimney runs through it.' His voice was too steady; then he grinned. 'Why, exactly?'
'D'you talk to all your customers this way?' Alastor demanded. On second thought, he'd go back to his deification.
'Hey! The Zen Buddhists have a wise sayin', Auror Moody. Never made angry the chap who brings the food.' Cauley sailed off to an appreciative round of grins, leaving Alastor free to concentrate. Something odd was afoot. Underfoot.
He was seated at right from the head of the table, which could seat a full twenty. Near the other end a vacant chair had suddenly been filled, with an untouched plate and hastily-mussed silverware that fooled Alastor Moody not a bit. But it would have made sense if the woman sitting there had been there earlier and was now gone. There was heavy magic going on underneath the table. Alastor breathed in and nearly sneezed. Unrefined magic, at that, powerful and clumsy. Not a safe combination, not an auspicious combination. He patted the coat, which he had folded over on his lap. In one pocket, a Sneakoscope was wriggling and whirling. Could mean any number of things, of course. Someone planning to cheat on their lover that night. Cauley Lupin was planning some enormous lies for his little comedy routine, perhaps. One of his tablemates could be stealing the bloody salt and pepper shakers for all he knew.
Sneakoscopes were only useful if absolutely nothing was going on when Alastor suspected that there was. Problem was, something was always going on.
Cauley Lupin burst back in through the swinging doors, with desserts. Alastor hadn't even inspected his food yet.
'You eat with your knife and we'll have to throw you out, y'know,' Cauley said briskly. 'That ain't classy.'
A few minutes later Alastor nearly sliced a section of his finger off with said knife, on account of choking, on account of his sensitive nerves getting a regular bombardment of magic. He sat up straight and randomly kicked. All along the table, heads turned to look at him with much more interest than was to his liking. He scowled gloriously at them all and ate up well, as if expecting to need the nutrients soon enough.
Nothing happened that night, nor the next day, except of course that he completely shattered the peace of Roasedaly, leaving broken glass (gaping and wild gossip) in his wake. Alastor was very unapologetic. No matter how out-of-the-way, the place had no business being peaceful the way things were currently. Murder, plots, kidnappinig, plots, curses modified beyond the boundaries of humanity, plots, hostages, plots, the falling apart of urban wizarding society, plots, mass attacks on Muggles, and, of course, plots – nothing solid, but ever-more fearsome and sophistical potential tragedy, not all of which any single bureaucracy could counter, although the problem was always compounded when more than one said government attempted its hectic, frantic, fragmented defence; so many plots that it was a blue-eyed miracle not as many had come to pass as they did.
Besides, he wasn't even asking the direct questions. No, this line of business required subtlety. Couldn't just ask after who was storing a bit of asphodel. Had to hit the defences where the guilty party wasn't thinking to guard them.
And so he pounded on the doors of businesses and asked all the questions Roasedaly's entrepreneurs did not want asked, unearthing their tax cheats, scandals, and family rows ruthlessly in his search for the information he was after. He felt no particular guilt over this, because the less time spent on this front was more time spent on the other ones, for which there wasn't enough of that swift, winged time as was. Dawson, who rented brooms, lost his hero-worship after two hours interrogation over his recent customers and fled back home to his wife. At the grocer/apothecary, the Briarthorns had put out a green young teenager who worked for them part-time, who sang like a fwooper once Alastor had her good and vexed about everything he didn't care to know about. Calder Lupin was a good case in point: by the time they were done with their little chat, Lupin was only saved from crying or throwing a punch at Alastor due to the conflict between the two desires, and the effects of Vertiaserum. Although Lupin needn't have worried; Alastor had already cleared him just fifteen minutes beforehand, and that was because he finally met the object of such curiosity and strife and rumour, and was well-assured now that, despite the concerns he obviously had about werewolves in his current case, his worries did not lie with the mysterious half-there figure of Crossed Tailfeathers.
Had Remus been the sort to melodramatically consider suicide, that would have been one of the moments.
For the second time in far too few days he had been caught inside of a room, and took only small comfort in that he had been caught by Alastor Moody; after all, the other time it had been James Potter – no prestige there.
Naturally, he had tried to hide, but Moody was evidently up for the game, and, after all, was famous for being the best at hide-and-go-seek in all of Britain and Ireland.
He had thought himself safe in here, because there was so much buzzing from Moody's knickknacks that he likely could have sneezed without detection by the average human ear. But Moody had been in the room for less than thirty seconds when he evidently sniffed a visitor out. He withdrew his wand, while Remus's heart tried to withdraw itself by way of his throat.
'Come out and show yourself. Now. I've got a wand and learned hexes from the best.'
Remus emerged from under the table very slowly, trying not to make any suddenly moves that might earn him evidence of that quality training.
Moody startled to look down; Remus jumped as a few sparks flew out of his wand in surprise, and his head bumped the table above him, jostling everything on top. He bit his tongue, which saved his dignity from any yells.
'The hell are you?' demanded Moody, not quite amiably, although less threateningly than moments before. 'And are you the one making a habit of upsetting things from under the tables?'
Rather than answer, as common sense may have dictated someone else, Remus slowly rose to his feet. He had no idea of what to say in any case. It was one thing to lie to The Ministry Brat and Co. Quite another to try and pull a few fibs over Auror Moody. An apology tumbled out. 'Sorry, I was just here to clean and – '
'So who're you that you're cleaning my rooms?'
Remus met his eyes warily, held them as Moody took a seat without losing his wand cover on him for the barest second, but didn't say anything. Without realising it, his fingers had involuntarily twisted around the end of one sleeve and were playing with it independently of his conscious control.
Cutting to the chase, Moody supplied his answers.
'You're the Lupin boy. You're alive. And you're a werewolf.'
Something in the air with which Remus didn't reply was affirmation enough for Moody, who nodded in satisfaction. At seeing it, Remus realised that the game was up; with a sudden bout of indigestion he said, 'Yes, sir.'
It was a great deal more mild a response than Remus would ever have expected at this revelation, and he chanced another look at Moody, whose wand was, shockingly and against all rumours about the Auror, lowered.
'I knew it,' said Moody in satisfaction, although his manner earlier and the extreme relief on his features spoke to the contrary. 'Just knew it. Sit down. Sit down…'
It was awkward; Remus felt and seemed as if he were discovering chairs for the first time as he obeyed.
'Your room is tucked in as part of the second-floor broom cupboard,' said Moody, who was taking a few aimless steps.
By this point Remus was numb and surprised by nothing. He affirmed it.
'Thought so.' Moody sighed deeply. 'It's always so nice to be right and to be able to enjoy it. Sometimes me being right is bad news. Most timse, rather. This is a treat. What's your name, laddie? – ah. Well, you know me, I reckon. Everyone does. I'm almost useless now, you realise that? Recognition. Too much recognition. You transform here then?'
The lightning of awful realisation and nerves thereof struck him.
'Oh, go on, just answer,' Moody said boredly. 'I'm not going to take out an ad in the local crier.'
'Yes, but it's spelled, there's all sorts of magical reinforcement and it's caged and all and nothing would ever happen – we'd never – never – '
At long last Moody looked at him sideways, but took no further pity on him, and eventually his words died off. He either couldn't articulate it or simply didn't want to – or, most likely, wasn't even quite sure what he wanted to articulate, and, as he hadn't the years of experience necessary in overcoming such an impediment, was left, seemingly defenceless, to Moody's dubious mercies.
'And what were you doing last night?' Moody demanded further.
Oh dear God. He was stuttering. Self-esteem was suffering various blows right alongside his and his family's personal well-being.
'Yeah, you know. Last night.' Moody was endlessly helpful.
'I – was – when last night?' Midway through, he regained some poise, although his legs were still doing a woeful job of supporting him, or even registering their solidity and existence in general with his central nervous system.
Moody looked mildly amused, a man who is dueling with a rank novice, admiring the latter's progress while perfectly unconcerned. 'Oh, you know. Whenever.' He clarified idly: 'Whenever there was anything of interest.'
'I – I don't know.'
Shaking his head, Moody sat down as well. Then he leaned in. Horror nearly slayed Remus on the spot at this. 'Listen. D'you hear my Dark Detectors? Sure you do. Well, you're all nervous and bothered, so you probably didn't hear when they stopped whistling. One bit of truth in this whole vice-ridden edifice known as an inn. You're all right, lad. I'm totally at ease. Wish you'd be, too, 'cause you're annoying me.'
Remus had spent a decade in diligent study and had several languages besides English down pat. But they were all failing him now, as they seemed to be rather often as of late. 'Did, did – did you sense my – erm – my magic?' The last few words were something of a whisper.
'Yes! On the nose of it. Tell on. Who's been teaching you? Your parents? I don't know nothing about 'em, save your mum was a Rookwood.' He leaned back – to Remus's gratitude – and rubbed the back of his neck thoughtfully. 'They never struck me as the sort to be good instructors neither.'
This sent off another round of faltering semi-admissions from Remus, until at last Moody gathered, having to gruffly work for each word, that he had been taught some 'basic stuff,' and some 'reinforcement stuff' for 'erm – you know – the, uh, transformations,' and that beyond that only 'to learn to control all the rest of it and not really mess with it.'
'Damn, Lupin, no gumption,' Moody muttered a long-suffering mutter. 'No gumption at all. Knew it the second I looked at you.' Then he proceeded, in a more purposefully audible voice, to announce that he was going to go talk with the same, in such a disgusted manner that Remus feared that he was going to get his father – and, by extension, himself – into some horrible trouble. Abruptly, with a sudden loss of his aforeworn false ease, Moody left, extracting a promise from Remus to perform no more magic for a time. Remus was still tasting and weighing the words, which he didn't like, of the promise, which he liked still less, when Moody was done, with the fire cackling and the chess pieces scattered across the floor. He carefully set them back up and then slipped out soundlessly himself.
Remus was forty-five minutes away from transforming into an intrinsically and self-destructively evil creature and from undergoing the pain so excrutiating that familiarity had never yet begun to breed understanding between him and it, and his mother was telling him that he needed to clean his room soon.
So much for home-schooled children not being kept down to earth.
He wanted so much to mutter that it didn't matter, and he was certainly thinking it in the most belligerent tone at his disposal, but he couldn't actually bring himself to any higher physical activity than a few aimless steps here and there and deadened staring.
'Go ahead, Catty,' said Cauley with an attempt at gallantry. 'Have a good time of it, too.'
She hesitated. Remus helped. ''Bye, Mam.'
He could have sworn that on her way out she was saying something about 'stupid bloody astronomy circles,' and normally would have been surprised. Tonight, however, his mental shrug merely said that appearances must be kept.
But then, in the darkness barely defended against by her wand's dazzling but ineffective light, Cauley started trying to straighten out his books. Cauley's nerves always showed themselves in fidgets. Remus's just kept to themselves, emerging every so often just briefly enough to display some sort of even more antisocial behaviour. It was something Cauley told his brother and sister-in-law that he got from the milkman. As for himself, it was something he had purchased out of a mail-order catalogue.
On nights such as those, his humour ran along those shaky, even embarrassing lines. And Remus's humour ran along even shakier ones, though so few think of such withdrawn emotion in that way.
Remus set the tottering stack of Muggle textbooks to their original rights – a helter-skelter organisation of disorder – the moment Cauley's hands had left them. He looked hurt. He would regret this the next morning. Right now he wished he'd been even more brazenly rude.
'I had them like that for a reason,' he said flatly. And it was true – he did keep his studies organised by such a placement – certainly he would not have bothered just then with lies. But of course it was not said in honour of veratis just then.
Recognising his stress with near-maternal diplomancy, he dredged up an unflattened tone. 'I don't know half these things. D'you really understand those maths?'
'Yes,' he said.
Cauley looked around desperately. 'Remus,' he asked, in a too gentle voice that was not his own, 'don't you want a light on?'
No. By everything on earth one could possibly swear by, no.
And then he sulked even more overtly as the overhead light violated some of his outer defences. He blinked and drew his arms around himself and looked everywhere save the niche in the corner of his room.
'We should paint in here,' he was saying, moments later, as Remus's stomach twisted. He talked about this all the time and he hated it. And his mind ached even worse when he thought on just how great his hatred of the painting project was… 'It's been so long. 'Member the last time we painted it you could run your hand over the wall and it would just fall off in flakes. Hell of an ugly colour we chose though. We should change it all by the end of the year, it's stupid. What colour, d'you say?'
'Time for you to leave soon.'
'It's only half an hour to,' Cauley said, effortedly even.
Again, Remus shrugged.
The moment Cauley left Remus wanted to call her back at least to hug him. That pride was more easily spit out than swallowed in his state. Instead he angrily outed the light by the pull-chain. The darkness should have comforted him – he was basing his current inner tantrum on that postulate – but it didn't. When he crawled in his equilibrium sense nearly failed him and his stomach came even closer to doing so. He curled up with nothing to do but wait for the moon to take her own sweet time… nothing to do but remember that once this same cage, which stank of saturating blood and saturating magic, had seemed so frighteningly large, and that now it seemed too damned small, and that it was never going to change, things were never going to change…
Moody had briefly noticed the boys whispering with too-conspicuous cupped hands to their mouths and their glances his way for a while. It was unexpected, finding three unchaperoned teenage boys in an out-of-the-way-place such as this. He hadn't counted on it. And, despite his profession, which dealt in quick reaction to unfavourable and changeable circumstances, he was, admittedly, of a temperament and getting to an age where a liking for the expected and a prejudice for the unexpected had a great deal of input on his reaction to sundry occurences.
For one thing, he hadn't expected them to waylay him one morning during his breakfast, taken late to avoid most of the other guests.
But he was also a responsible man, and kept his annoyance in check when the leader of the boys hailed him rather too cheerfully. Yes, hello, nice to meet them too. They were going into sixth year at Hogwarts? They wouldn't happen to be giving some good thought to the war, would they? No, they couldn't help him just now (closing up again). 'Less of course they worked hard and got into Enforcement themselves. By this point the smallest one was staring dolefully at his pudgy hands, and Moody decided that he had blundered so ineptly enough for one morning's worth of civic duty to the future generation, and managed to leave behind two other disappointed-looking boys.