Disclaimer: This is the house that JKR built. I am merely squatting. I do however claim squatter's rights over anything not canon.
Summary: "Imperius… Werewolves…You-Know-Who…" The last words of a dying man force Remus Lupin into a dangerous investigation at the infamous Feral Institute. Sequel to Oblivious; pre-reading would useful but it isn't vital.
A/N: This fic is a chronological sequel to my previous work Oblivious and does contain several of the original characters created for that story as well as referencing its plot on occasion. However Imperius is also a story in its own right and much as I would love you all to go and read Oblivious too, it isn't absolutely vital that you do so. If you do want a clearer idea of some of the background behind characters and events mentioned here but don't necessarily want to read Oblivious in its entirety (I would understand, it's a hefty story!) I recommend that you simply read Chapter 6 (The Werewolf Lesson) for an understanding of the important lycanthropy-related background information that will be very useful to know and Chapter 15 (Into The Woods) for a rough guide to some significant Lupin family history. The Epilogue would also be enlightening if not vital. Links can be found on my profile.
I'm hoping to post a chapter a week but I can't make any cast iron promises. I haven't been at all well since last February (which is why this sequel has been so long in coming) and as a result, I simply can't write at the kind of pace that had me polishing off two chapters a week last year. I'm afraid at times you may just have to bear with me. I like writing fic but I'm not going to make myself worse over it.
I'm reckoning this fic will have somewhere between 25 and 30 chapters. Anyone who knows me will realise that means we're probably looking at a fic that will rival the proportions of a full set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. ;)
I am aware that in starting this fic so close to the release of Half-Blood Prince, I am rendering this work AU pretty much as soon as I begin. But even though I am fairly sure that unless JKR has been living secretly in my head recently, the events of Oblivious and Imperius will not be ratified by HBP, I hope that continuing and enjoying this fic in spite of AU-ness will not be too much of a stretch. We'll have to see. :)
The tumble of rain beat down upon the sloping tiles, trickling nosily into the battered guttering before cascading into the dirty alley beneath in a string of waterfalls more heard than seen against the darkness. Torches spluttered against this assault from the heavens, their light waning damply against the vastness of the cloudy black. Even the denizens of Knockturn Alley, who did much of their best business by the cover of night, had not ventured out this evening.
Hunching his shoulders against the creeping wetness that was permeating even his thick hooded cloak, Kingsley Shacklebolt pulled himself more deeply into the shadows of a gargoyle-strewn overhang and gazed along the dark, deserted alley.
He didn't like this. Not one bit.
But what else could he do?
A wizened old wizard, his face covered in hairy boils, reeled his way around the dark corner, splashing in puddles and singing a bawdy ballad in a voice severely off key. Kingsley shrank more deeply into the darkness and watched as the man staggered drunkenly past, apparently too addled with firewhisky to spy him. A patron of the Pickled Toad, no doubt.
Kingsley shook his head, scattering water droplets out into the damp night air. Folke should have been back by now. He should never have agreed to let him go down to that filthy dive on his own…
The Pickled Toad. Now there was a pub with a reputation that stank like rotten eggs. Hidden in a dark corner of Knockturn Alley, it played host to an interesting cross section of the wizarding world's less savoury characters on a nightly basis. Kingsley knew for a fact that Mundungus Fletcher acquired many of his business purchases there and Dung had described it as a playground for corrupt goblins, for foul-mouthed hags and the occasional vampire, for refugee werewolves who had lost their playground at The Howling and of course, for those witches and wizards who found such a place to be just up their alley.
And tonight, apparently, a Death Eater.
Kingsley shook his head. Normally, he would have believed the Toad to be a step down for a Death Eater – they usually had more class than this. But the tip off had to be looked into, in spite of its strange arrival and the ominous feeling it had imbued within his chest. They were Aurors. That was their job.
And it was a dangerous job at times. Especially these days.
He checked his watch, ducking his head as the rain intensified. What was taking so long? Where was Folke? Why hadn't he reported back? Folke was a by-the-book Auror, never late for a rendezvous if he could help it. It was strange for him to be so long on reconnaissance – but then, this had been a strange business all round.
It had all started a few hours before. Kingsley had just been leaving his cubicle after a long day spent investigating an alleged Peter Pettigrew sighting in Derbyshire when a distinctly bruised and battered owl had tumbled down the emergency owl chute from Ministry's external post office, flapped three beats and then collapsed in a heap on the desk of a shocked looking Jago Folke. A bloodstained note had been wrapped around its leg.
It was difficult to read. Blood and what looked like some kind of potion had smeared across the paper and the hand with which it had been written had shaken so badly that in some places the words were very difficult to make out. But using a magnifying glass, a few careful cleaning spells and a lot of concentration, the two Aurors had managed to translate the message at last.
The Pickled Toad. Death Eater. Full Moon. He...
It looked at though the author had tried to write more. But they had not succeeded.
Kingsley did not like consider the reason why.
And the full moon was that night.
It might be a trap. They knew that. But he and Folke were Aurors. They'd had no choice but to investigate.
Folke, an expert undercover operative whose face was little known in dark circles, had immediately volunteered to go in. Kingsley, who was rather better known, had agreed to wait at the mouth of the alley in case Folke needed help or had to apparate out in a hurry.
And now here he was. Waiting.
A small witch wrapped in a sodden cloak scurried hurriedly out of the shadows, darting passed Kingsley with a furtive glance his direction before vanishing out into the better-lit expanse of Diagon Alley beyond. A moment later, he was again alone but for the rain.
He checked his watch again. Jago Folke was nearly fifteen minutes overdue.
Abruptly, Kingsley's resolve hardened. That was it. He'd waited enough.
But he had barely managed half a step before all hell broke loose.
Sudden screaming echoed the length of Knockturn Alley, the sound of shattering glass and breaking tables and voices shouting spells. And it was coming from the direction of the Pickled Toad.
And one of the voices was very familiar.
But groping for his wand, Kingsley managed only a half a step before the crack of apparation echoed the length of Knockturn Alley.
But the tone was wrong. Painfully wrong.
A second crack ricocheted against his ears, painfully close. Something splattered down against the sodden cobbles just inches from his feet. He heard a strangled cry of frustration.
He looked down. And nearly vomited.
Half of Jago Folke lay twitching and gasping in the onslaught of the rain, scattered, battered and damaged. Both legs were missing as well as half an arm and a good chunk of his torso, several vital organs noticeably absent from their cavities. It was by far the messiest splinch that Kingsley had ever beheld and he had thought he'd seen it all.
Folke was breathing in desperate rasps, his eyes wild as he raked his dismembered body. Appalled, Kingsley took a rapid step forward, dropping to a crouch at his fellow Auror's side.
"Jago," he asked hurriedly and in desperate concern. "What happened? Where's the rest of you?"
But the answer became immediately apparent as Folke began to scream in utter agony.
Kingsley could hear the ruthless burst of spells. Sickness welled within his stomach. Somewhere not too far away, someone – several someones – were systematically destroying the body parts that Folke had left behind.
And with a realisation that hung like a leaden weight across his heart, Kingsley knew it was already too late for him to stop them.
Fingers, detached fingers, grasped suddenly around his wrist. Kingsley stared down into Folke's pain filled eyes.
"Imperius!" he gasped.
"What?" Kingsley was instantly at his companion's side. "Jago, what? Who did this? What did you hear?"
"Imperius!" Folke rasped again, his voice strangled with choking pain. "Imperius… Werewolves…You…Know…Who…"
What? Kingsley could see the light fading from his fellow Auror's eyes as he scrambled desperately closer. Jago's head and shoulders lurched suddenly, his face thrusting to within inches of Kingsley's own as he spat out two last words with his final gasp of breath. "Feral…Inst…ti…tute…"
An emphatic shout sounded from the far end of the alley; blood spurted violently from Folke's nose and the corner of his mouth as he drew a final, ragged breath. His fingers, still gripping Kingsley's arm, convulsed abruptly, his scattered body parts vibrating in the throes of terminal wounding. His eyes went wide with horror.
And then the fingers dropped with a splash onto the wet cobbles as the light faded from behind his gaze. A moment later, only the splash of pattering water moved against the soaking ground.
Kingsley drew a ragged breath. Jago. Dear God, Jago, what a way to…
A jumble of harsh voices drew his attention sharply back to his situation. They were drawing rapidly closer.
"…heard the crack echo," a voice remarked with cold detachment. "The rest of him can't be far away…"
Anger welled within Kingsley's chest. However oddly it had arrived before them, this mission had seemed like no more than a simple reconnaissance. But now Jago Folke, a good Auror, a good man, was dead. And the owner of these voices had killed him.
He wanted to stay. He wanted to gather his poor colleague's remains and see them safely back to his family. He wanted to confront Jago's killers face to face and bring before justice. That was his duty. That was his job.
He was an Auror.
But he couldn't.
The echoes of the alley told him that he was outnumbered six to one. And, whatever else he was, Kingsley was no fool.
The Ministry needed to know about this. And the Order needed to know even more.
He had to leave. It was necessary.
The rain was falling harder now. Folke's eyes gazed sightlessly into the cloud-strewn night.
The footsteps were almost upon him. Grimacing, Kingsley pulled himself to his feet, Folke's last words replaying in his mind. Imperius. Werewolves. You-Know-Who. And the Feral Institute. Behind the curtain of cloud, he knew the full moon gleamed and werewolves across the country lay trapped beneath its thrall. But was it just the moon alone with such plans?
Definitely needed to speak to Dumbledore.
With a final nod, Kingsley acknowledged his fallen comrade. And then with an echoing crack, he was left the dark alley and its secrets behind him.Two Weeks Later
The moors were cold that day.
Clouds churned above in ragged clumps, wispy and grey, allowing only occasional glimpses of the sharp blue sky they concealed. Patches of pale sun and low shadow washed, jigsaw like, across the dark heather and first hints of spring bracken, bringing brief warmth and then chill cold in quick succession. But it was not nature that drew the eye here on this bleakest of spots but the enormous concrete cube that rose out of the earth like a vast, truncated pillar, brooding, windowless and dark as it surveyed the landscape around it with haughty disregard. It loomed, almost seeming to glare down upon the two insignificant figures that stood, staring, at its base.
With a sigh, Remus Lupin pulled his cloak more tightly around his shoulders as he gazed up at the monstrous grey walls and slowly shook his head.
"I must be insane."
From his right, there came a snort. "Don't expect me to disagree."
Remus shot his companion a carefully measured dark look that she, with equally careful measure, ignored. The wealth of wild white blonde curls that crowned her round, chubby face bobbed and bounced in the gusting wind, her green-rimmed glasses pushed down on her nose as she ran a rather more familiar pair of dark eyes over the towering building before them. The clipboard she was holding twitched, the only sign that betrayed her certain nervousness.
"Merlin, that thing's ugly," she exclaimed abruptly. "It couldn't have been more ugly if they'd tried."
Remus smiled humourlessly. "They did try. An ugly building to do an ugly job. Besides, an architects dream of columns or spires would have drawn far more interest and attention from the Muggles."
With a roll of her eyes, Nymphadora Tonks pushed the glasses of her disguise back up her nose and shook her curly head with a ripple of ringlets. "How do they not notice this?"
Remus shrugged wearily. "They do notice. They just don't dare come near. They believe it's an installation for the Muggle military and if they come too close, they'll be arrested."
Tonks crinkled her nose. "Lucky them. I think I'd rather be arrested than go in there."
Remus, who was already feeling a great deal more apprehensive and uncomfortable than he would ever willingly admit, stared up at the patchwork sky and took a deep breath before responding. "At least you stand a good chance of coming out."
He felt a soft touch against his arm. "Remus, it'll be fine. That's why I'm here, remember? I'm your research assistant-cum-secret bodyguard, here to watch your back and ensure that a significant member of the Order of the Phoenix doesn't end up drugged in a cage being poked and prodded by wild-eyed mad scientists for all eternity here in the outer reaches of humanity." She grinned cheerfully. "You should be grateful."
Remus gave her a sardonic glare. "Thanks."
Tonks smiled brightly. "Don't mention it."
Remus rolled his eyes. Although he appreciated the sentiment behind her attempts to jolly him out of his nervousness, it was much akin to trying to batter down the doors of Hogwarts with an ant. Nothing in the world would ever make him ready to enter this place willingly.
"I don't want to be here." The words slipped out softly, almost unconsciously.
"I have better things to do with my Sundays. I should be having dinner with my father today, not standing on some godforsaken moor waiting to find the courage to enter a godforsaken building that I always swore that I'd never see the inside of, to visit the one person I really never wanted to see again." The thin scroll he held between his fingers crumpled delicately as his grip tightened. "I've had this pass for three months now. There's a reason I've never used it. I don't know why I agreed to this."
Tonks' smile was sympathetic in the face of his uncharacteristic agitation. "I know, mate."
He shook his head, barely listening, his eyes tracing over the dark walls as though to pierce the concrete and catch a glimpse of the source of his dread beyond. "What am I doing here?"
"What you always do." There was an uncharacteristic seriousness to Tonks' tone. "You're doing what's necessary. We have to know what Folke was talking about, Remus; if You-Know-Who really is making some kind of move here, you know better than anyone that it could be disastrous. But this place is tighter than a drum – even Dumbledore would have trouble getting an appointment. The Ministry barely bothered – they didn't take Kingsley's report seriously which is why we have to get in. And you…" She sighed. "Uncomfortable as it is, Remus, it had to be you. Because ever since what happened when Kane was Kissed…" She gestured to the scroll clutched now tighter in his fingers. "You've had an open invitation."
Remus shook his head once more, attempting to dispel the flood of memories that were surging in his brain, the events of the previous autumn that had nearly cost both his life and many others and the apprehensive look on the face of Alastor Moody that December Sunday as he had stood in front of the cottage at Winter Hollow and watched as Remus and his father emerged from the snowy woods to stare at him in bewildered confusion. That had been a strange conversation…
And then the invitation had arrived to come and see for himself…
Three months later, here he was.
"Why do they think I'd know more than anyone else?" The words were addressed more to the indifferent air than in the direction of the disguised Auror at his side. "I've met him all of five times and four of those times, he almost killed me."
Tonks smiled dryly. "For a feral? That's probably the definition of close."
Remus, whose scroll-clasping fingers had been unconsciously tracing the unseen line of a crescent along his side, sighed and did not answer. With his free hand, he adjusted the high collar of his robes to conceal the still vivid red lines that scarred his throat.
Even before he had learned that Abraham Kane was to pass the rest of what remained of his life within these dark and brooding walls, this place had always the stuff of his nightmares. He still remembered vividly the cruel gleam in the eyes of the plump secretary that had fronted the Werewolf Registry during his childhood as she had leaned over the desk one day out of earshot of his parents and whispered in his six-year-old ear that if he didn't behave himself absolutely, he'd be dragged inside the very stone walls that now stood before him and never be seen again. He had told his mother what the secretary had said and Diana Lupin had promptly hauled the woman out into the corridor and harangued her for twenty minutes about her utter lack of compassion. But even at so young an age, it had not escaped Remus' notice that at no point had his mother said that the woman's words weren't true.
Lose control for an instant, turn feral for half a moment's breath and it was Azkaban or here.
The Feral Institute. The place no werewolf ever wanted to enter. The place no werewolf was ever likely to leave.
And Remus Lupin, whose two traumatic feral incidents and two further near misses had thus far escaped detection, was about to willingly step inside on the pretext of assisting their research into the mental state of the feral who made him a werewolf in the first place. And all because a dying man's last words had whispered of this place and Voldemort.
"I must be insane," he repeated softly.
Tonks grimaced as she nudged his elbow, her eyes darting forwards as a crack abruptly opened in the hunkering face of the wall to reveal a grim faced man who eyed them with cool suspicion.
"Join the club," she whispered softly.
"Professor Lupin, I presume." The tall man's rumbling baritone carried across the patchwork heather sternly. His eyes raked down Remus' windblown robes before switching to Tonks' unruly blonde mop. "And you said you were bringing an assistant."
Tonks smiled with deliberately mindless cheer. The man did not smile back.
"Professor Goldstein is expecting you," he simply said. "Come inside."
Tonks looked at Remus. Remus looked at Tonks.
And then, side by side, they covered the final few steps across the heather and stepped into the shadow of the newly formed arch. A moment later, the arch contracted and the Feral Institute swallowed them whole.
A/N: Reviews make me happy. :)