13: Cabin Fever
They drilled into him from all directions, two score pairs of them, some intense, some lazy, some curious and some resentful, burning within faces that ranged from late teens to silver-haired old age, male and female both. They were scattered about within the large, open, high-ceilinged room, some settled nearby on long benches next to large wooden tables as they scraped the last of their dinner from metal plates and swilled pumpkin juice from plain goblets, others lounging casually amongst the scatter of chairs and cushions beyond, two playing Chess, one reading, three sharing a game of Snap with ordinary Muggle cards and one performing vigorous press-ups in a patch of open space. A bookshelf with a tattered collection of tomes, old battered boxes containing games and a heap of parchment and ink quills leaned against the wall behind it. Just beyond this living area, a large staircase with plain metal banisters curled up to a higher level on which Remus could just glimpse a regimented row of sturdy doors that he could only assume were the sleeping quarters; and beneath the stairs, half-missed at first, a final group of residents were huddled in what Remus could best describe as a den – a cluster of tatty cushions and damaged chairs where five hard-eyed figures crouched together and glared their resentment out at the more civilised trappings beyond.
And every one wore the same plain brown robes as Dolph Greymoor. But with one addition.
On each and every wrist, an inch wide bracelet of solid metal curled tightly around the skin. Numbers were engraved upon them.
Shackles. Numbered shackles.
Felisha, it seemed, had followed his gaze.
"They're a security measure," she said softly, almost soothingly, her fingers brushing his wrist in a reassuring manner. "All residents are fitted with them the day they arrive – it was Alexander Aylward's idea. They're charmed to set off an alarm if they pass into any part of the Institute where residents are not permitted, or if the resident in question somehow gets hold of a wand. They also activate restriction charms in the corridors and trigger the emergency lock down procedures."
Tonks was frowning. "What about Dolph?"
Felisha shrugged slightly. "As ombudsman, Dolph is allowed to have his removed when he needs to move freely within the building. But he is always accompanied and it is always replaced at night."
Replaced at night… So even Dolph's apparent freedom was a pale illusion. Remus ran his gaze slowly across the room once more, guiltily avoiding the eyes that stared at one they were unaware should be among them. Comfort, Rebekah had said, and yes, while the conditions were not as dank and squalid as one might expect in a werewolf holding centre, their situation was hardly luxurious. The furniture was old and worn and damaged, the leisure facilities Rebekah had mentioned apparently consisting of a few well-used games and some battered books that probably grew dull within a month. Again, it was true that this was probably a better life than most of these werewolves had been used to but that said more about the sad state of society than it did about the benefits of the Institute.
And this was their world. This one refectory, with sleeping chambers above and cages below. This was all that they would ever know until the day they died. And some of them were still only teenagers.
It was nightmarish to contemplate.
"Where do we start?" Tonks' quiet murmur thankfully cut into his grim musings, an abrupt reminder that he was not here just to stare. "It's hardly a mansion but I don't see anything here that Rebekah would desperately not want you to see."
Remus couldn't help but agree. Aside from a quiet resentment of the security bracelets, there was nothing here that screamed conspiracy, secret or Death Eater plans at him. The residents themselves, though watchful, did not have the look of people who had been subjected to Dementor related experiments – certainly, they still seemed to possess their souls. Which rather suggested that either the experiments had yet to start or things here were not quite as quiet as they seemed.
"We need to look around," he replied with equal softness. "Maybe talk to the residents. See what we can find."
"Avoid the Pack." Felisha gestured inconspicuously in the direction of the five beneath the stairs. "To call them unfriendly would be to say that Croll isn't a fluffy bunny of cheeriness. They were recruits of Kane." At Remus' sharp glance, she raised an eyebrow. "They never turned, not properly, although they were keen enough on the idea to be locked up here after they were arrested in a raid at a werewolf club called The Howling last autumn. But since they don't do anything but huddle under the stairs and scowl, Rebekah decided to spare the expense of guarding them in cells and keep them down here with the rest of the residents." She smiled slightly. "They're more bark than bite. But I doubt they'd take kindly to questions."
"Understood." Nodding in her direction, Remus allowed himself to glance around in search of a likely candidate with which to broach a conversation and one pair of eyes in particular caught his eye at once. They belonged to the reader, a blonde woman a few years his senior, who was staring at him curiously over the rim of her book. When she caught him looking, she smiled slightly, placed the book carefully aside and rose, stepping around the exerciser as she drifted over to join them. Around her, her fellow residents seemed to take this as some kind of signal – abandoning their staring, they turned listlessly back to whatever it was they had been doing. Only two other pairs of eyes remained fixed on the three new arrivals – a grizzled, unshaven man slumped over a messy plate at a nearby table and one of the Snap players, a young man with pale features and dark eyes who was watching Remus with an intense, almost uncomfortable scrutiny.
The woman halted a few yards away, rubbing her fingers absently around the rim of her security bracelet as she smiled vaguely at the researcher.
"Felisha," she greeted casually. "Everything all right?"
Felisha smiled. "Everything's fine, Censermealia." She gestured at Remus. "This is Professor Lupin. He's an old school friend of mine and he has…" She paused slightly, "… an interest in werewolves. I was just showing him round."
The woman called Censermealia smiled. "Well, Professor, it's nice…"
Her pleasantry was interrupted by a loud snort. Her eyes abruptly narrowing, Censermealia turned a dark glare in the direction on the unshaven man who was smirking at the four of them over the remains of his dinner.
"Something to say, Thor?" she asked tartly.
The man called Thor twirled his fork absently between his fingers. "Now don't you get so high and mighty with me, missie," he drawled, the corner of his mouth curling with mordant amusement. "Just because you've been here fifteen years, that don't make you the boss of the rest of us. You swagger round like it's something to be proud of but to that, I say – if you're so much better than the rest of us, why didn't they make you the ombudsman?"
To judge by the expression on Censermealia's face, this was a sore point. "Did you have a point, Wilding, or this just your daily bile attack?"
"Nothing much." Spearing half a carrot on the end of his fork, Thor Wilding dropped it into his mouth and gave a slow and indolent chew. "Just made me laugh, what she said." He gestured at Felisha with his utensil. "An interest in werewolves, she called it. I'd say he's got an interest. You see, missie, those of us who've lived in the world up until a couple of years past would know the name Professor Lupin. And I'd have to say that an interest in werewolves is an odd way of saying you are one."
The reaction was instant. Eyes flicked up to stare, to burn, sharp, surprised, almost accusing. The young Snap player's eyes widened with shock; the exerciser ceased his motion. Even the pack of five under the stairs trained their gazes viciously upon him.
It was, to say the least, uncomfortable.
To Remus' left, Felisha bit her lip – this was clearly not a piece of information she had intended to divulge for fear of jealous consequences. To his right, he felt Tonks rest her fingertips upon his arm.
Censermealia was noticeably taken aback. But after a moment's hesitation, she slapped her smile back on.
"Join the club," she said with deliberate light-heartedness. "Or on second thoughts, don't. There are better clubhouses than this."
Remus smiled, genuinely. "Thank you," he said quietly. "I…"
"Teacher, he was." It seemed that Thor was not so willing to be tolerant. "At Hogwarts. Got thrown out for nearly eating a couple of students one full moon. And yet he can walk in and out of this place on a tour. If I'd nearly snacked on a couple of kids, I'd be up on Level Six for sure."
Prejudice from wizards for being a free werewolf. Prejudice from werewolves for being a free wizard. Sometimes Remus felt he just couldn't win. He met Thor's stare with steely eyes, carefully pushing back his own feelings of guilt for the sake of avoiding a riot. He could see danger in the accusing eyes around him at this piece of news. He could see the words forming on their minds – why are you free when we are not? How do you stroll in when we can never leave? And in all truth, he had no answer but that life was just not fair.
"Nobody was hurt," he stated softly. "And the decision to resign was my own. Not that it matters now."
"He's teaching there again." A voice cut across the room, quiet, uncertain, but crystal clear – Remus turned to find the dark eyed young man, his eyes unblinking as they burrowed into his face; for an instant, as Remus stared back, he seemed almost… familiar. "A few months before they brought me here. It was in the paper. They took him back. He's teaching there again."
The temperature in the refectory dropped a noticeable few degrees. Sadness, envy and anger bombarded him from every quarter.
There were no prizes for guessing Thor's reaction. With a vicious swipe of one hand, his plate went flying.
"They let you teach?" he roared. "They let you teach children after that? While we spend our lives here for less?"
The fork went flying from his fingers and buried itself deep into the wood of the table. His features were twisted with rage.
Remus took an instant step back. At his side, he saw Tonks reach for her wand.
Censermealia's eyes had widened with alarm – she darted past the shocked trio and rushed towards the door and the large red button that sat just next to the doorframe. Following her rush, Felisha went instantly pale.
"The Security Summons!" she gasped.
Oh Merlin. Images of a flock of security guards swarming upon them flashed across Remus' mind, of Rebekah's furious face. But she was already too close…
And then, a miracle. The door opened.
And Censermealia collided headlong with Dolph Greymoor.
It was hard to tell who was the most surprised. Dolph staggered backwards, grasping the door for support with his good hand as Censermealia tumbled against the doorframe with a breathless gasp. On catching a glimpse of his manicured face, she shot him a look of pure venom.
"Watch where you're going!" she snapped furiously. "This is an emergency!"
"Emergency?" Dolph's head snapped up – his eyes fixed upon Remus, Tonks and Felisha and filled instantly with shock. He opened his mouth to speak but was cut off by a roar of fury from Thor, who was now doing his very best to upend the heavy table as his fellow residents grabbed their plates and got hurriedly out of his way. To judge by their faces, such a temper tantrum from Thor was not an unusual occurrence.
"See?" Censermealia gestured furiously in Thor's direction. "He's having one of his fits! We need help!"
Her hand darted towards the alarm. But in a sudden surge, Dolph grabbed her wrist and yanked her away from the still open door. She wheeled on him in fury.
"What the hell are you…"
"Thor!" Dolph's bellow froze the raging werewolf on the spot. "Oh for goodness sake, stop being so ridiculous! Or do you like being dragged off to solitary?"
Thor's grizzled features flushed. With a clatter, he dropped the table.
"Then sod you all!" he roared at the top of his voice. Turning on his heel, he wheeled and stamped away up the stairs. A moment later, a door slammed loudly.
With a slow, deliberate stare, Dolph turned on Censermealia, as with a vicious tug, she extracted her wrist from his grasp.
"You superior bastard," she snapped. "Just because you're ombudsman, you think you're so much better than the rest of us…"
"Oh do grow up." Dolph was massaging the bridge of his nose between two fingers. "If we called for security every time Thor had one of his tantrums, we'd see them twenty times a day. You ought to know by now that he needs momentum when he rages. All you need to do is shock him out of it. But no, you always overreact…"
"Overreact!" With a huff of rage, Censermealia turned and stormed away across the room, and causing the young man to scramble up out of her path as she hurled herself into her chair with such force that it sent the book that rested there flying. Her resentful glare continued to assail Dolph from a distance.
With a sigh, Dolph rolled his eyes and muttered something that sounded distinctly like cabin fever. But then, his gaze fell once more upon Remus and Tonks and he snapped instantly to attention.
"What in Merlin's name are you two doing down here?" he exclaimed abruptly as he rushed over, awkwardly adjusting the leather sheath that held his battered arm. "You shouldn't be in the Residents Levels at all!"
Felisha stepped forward with a careful smile. "It's all right, Dolph," she said with deliberate cheerfulness. "Professor Lupin was interested in seeing how the residents live. I was just giving him a tour…"
"…When I know for a fact that Rebekah told him no and ordered him from the premises?" Felisha's mouth snapped sharply shut at Dolph's interruption. "Croll told me. He was laughing his head off about it. And he'll be laughing even harder when he comes down here in a few minutes to do the daily medical checks and finds you standing here where you were expressly forbidden to be."
Remus jumped in instantly before Felisha could speak, could dig herself more deeply into a pit from which only he could haul her free. "I'm sorry, Felisha," he said, with as much sincerity as he could muster for a fake apology. "I lied to you when I said Rebekah had given her permission. I took advantage of our friendship because I wanted to look around. I shouldn't have done that."
Felisha gave him a flash of a grateful look at his blatant efforts to scapegoat himself before quickly arranging her expression into a suitable look of hurt and shock. "Oh, Remus," she replied with feigned horror. "How could you? My job…"
Dolph was shaking his head. "There's no time for this now," he exclaimed. "Croll is on his way." He smiled slightly. "And the last thing we werewolves need is for our only reputable representative out there to be locked up here instead. The convoluted politics in this room alone will send you round the bend."
Remus managed a grateful smile. "Thank you."
Dolph scowled. "Don't stand there thanking me. Just go."
Tonks was nodding her agreement. "Remus, he's right, we need to…"
"I do know you."
Fingers grasped the edge of his robes. Remus turned sharply.
The pale young man was staring at him, his dark eyes intense, his brown hair wild. His eyes were filled with sudden recognition.
"You were in The Howling." The young man's smile was slightly manic. "At the bar. I talked to you."
Remus went cold. The Howling? Oh no, oh no, no, no, not now…
He tried to smile. "I think you must have mistaken me for someone else."
"No." He was familiar. The young man was familiar Who had he talked to in The Howling apart from the barman and Kane? "No, it was you, I'm sure it was." Felisha was staring. Tonks had gone pale. Dolph had crooked an eyebrow. "You were wearing a leather coat then. And a ring."
And then, Remus remembered. A young man at the bar, his hair dyed black, his eyes illuminated by yellow contacts, talking almost desperately about his love of the club. He had called himself Fenris.
And now he was here. Locked up in the Institute. Oh you foolish boy, what did you get yourself into?
Dolph stepped forward slightly. "Daniel, this isn't a good time…"
But Daniel…Fenris… whatever name he used, was not finished. "And you came again later," he said almost dreamily. "You'd died your hair like I did. And you fought with that feral. That was the night they brought me here." He frowned slightly. "They saw the gold eyes I put in and said I had to come with them. Even when I took them out, they still said I had come." His smile was absent and alarming. "They took me but not you. And you didn't need my contacts to make your eyes go wild. For that moment you threw that feral to the wall, they went all by themselves."
Horror flooded Remus' chest in a wave of icy cold. Oh dear Merlin.
He'd wondered. He knew he had got close that night to turning, that he had narrowly avoided a full blown feral incident that night when Kane had goaded him with tales of killing his mother. But to know that in that instant, his eyes had turned feral gold…
He had been even closer than he'd known.
And others had seen it. Daniel had seen it. And if word got back to…
And then, from the direction of the open door, a throat was softly cleared.
Ice froze to arctic. Remus turned his head.
Flanked by the grim Aylward and the smirking Croll, Rebekah Goldstein was staring at him with a mixture of surprise and fury. She folded her arms.
"Well, Professor," she said quietly. "Aren't you full of surprises?"
A/N: For any readers who, like my beta, believe that Censermealia is rather an excessive and unrealistic name for a minor character, I would like to say that the name Censermealia, along with Undine, Cymone, Zelia, Thor and a variation on the spelling of Arcadius Croll are all names that I have shamelessly borrowed from real people whose forms have passed through my hands at work and I just had to use somewhere. And you thought Tonks had it bad…;)
Many thanks to The Great RC, Rel Fexive, merlinsister12, Howling-Wolf, Sycogerl64, Kailin, sylthian, snitchnipper, Gilpin, Jamie88, hafguk, Analia's Broom, aurelie1, mercutio-rane, felixgirl, Camilinha, FireChildSlytherin5, InsaneMonkeyPirate and Liv Naravul for your lovely reviews! How nice you all are…:)
A Few Specific Responses:
merlinsister12 – The family dinner scene is chapter 17 so I'm afraid you've a couple of weeks to wait yet though hopefully it will be worth it! A few other things need to happen first…;)
Howling-Wolf – And you thought that one was close? ;)
Sycogerl64 – Because you know my evil mind? You were right about Rebekah popping up, you were just a chapter ahead of me…;)
Kailin – Alas, no. Hence the uh-oh…;)
sylthian – I'll admit, my original intent was that they transform in their rooms. But that didn't exactly seem very – as you put it – institutional! And sorry about the waiting but I do my best to make sure I'm a few chapters ahead so that it can be a weekly instalment rather than waiting goodness knows how long. But I just can't write any faster than a chapter a week anymore I'm afraid – I wish I could:)
snitchnipper – Ack! –slaps foolish self across the head- You caught me, that's an authorial cock-up – he's not supposed to call her anything but Undine in company yet. I shall simply have to say – I slipped up so Remus can too! Oops! ;)
aurelie1 – Bless you. :) Better late than never though and as long as you're enjoying it:) And yep, they are a bit crazy…;)
mercutio-rane – I hope you and your family all escaped hurricane free. And I couldn't resist that bit of affectionate slapstick…;)
felixgirl – Meanie! Don't torture Remus! You'll put me out of a job…;)
Camilinha - We'll see. :)
Gilpin – The embarrassment factor – well, with Felisha there is a specific reason behind it that shall be addressed in a couple of chapters' time. And with Tonks, it's really because he's already on edge because Felisha is about and then suddenly becomes aware of a distinctly female Tonks in his lap and he becomes embarrassed because he assumes that she (Tonks) won't like it…;)
Thank you all again! The next part will be along this time next week but please enjoy and review this one! In spite of the cliffie…;)