A/N: After last week's dramatic cliffie, I hope this chapter isn't too much of a disappointment. But I have good reasons for it…;)
14: Hidden Meanings
Oh dear Merlin, she heard.
Remus struggled to breath. He felt exposed, naked, his deepest secret laid out at the feet and the questionable mercy of a woman who hated him utterly. That the incident for which he was about to be condemned had not been a true feral incident was not the point. He had dodged silver bullets before, but this one was about to do him in. For when Daniel had "outted" him as a potential feral in front of the Head of the Feral Institute, he had condemned him to share his fate, at the hands of the Institute or the Death Eaters. It seemed that he would not be the first werewolf to leave the Residents Level alive after all.
But he would be damned if he would take anyone else down with him.
"Don't blame Felisha for bringing me here," he said, his voice surprising calm considering the turmoil in his chest. "I lied to her, told her I had your permission. We knew each other from school so she believed me. This isn't her fault. And Undine didn't want to come at all…"
Rebekah's eyes narrowed coldly. "Oh don't worry, Professor. I'm not planning on blaming this on anyone but you. Such utter disrespect and lack of regard for the rules is no more than I'd expect from you."
Remus braced his shoulders. "Well, I was fairly sure this was the last chance I would have to meet the residents."
"And you'd be right." Rebekah flicked a glance at Aylward. "Escort him out."
For a moment, Remus was certain he'd misheard. "Pardon?"
Rebekah's eyes drilled into his. "I want you out, Professor Lupin. And I never intend to ask you back. I really have had quite enough of you. Aylward."
Remus was so shocked that he barely reacted as Aylward took a firm grip on his arm and escorted him roughly towards the door. He caught a brief glimpse of Felisha as she whispered something quickly to Tonks – and then the Auror too was being hauled in the direction of the exit. He saw Croll, his face suddenly furious, saw Dolph disbelieving but vaguely satisfied and then the refectory was out of sight. They were propelled into the lift without downright roughness, all but shoved through the lift chamber and down the corridor and then the archway parted and both Remus and Tonks found themselves tumbled unceremoniously out onto the moor. A moment later, the archway had sealed behind them.
Tonks stared at Remus. Remus stared at Tonks. They both stared at the solid bulk of the Institute.
It was Remus who first found his voice. "What in the name of Merlin just happened? I thought I'd be on my way to Level Six by now."
"So did I." Gathering her fallen clipboard, Tonks managed to haul herself to her feet. "I was sure she must have heard him."
"Me too." Extracting heather from the hem of his robes, Remus also stumbled upright. Exchanging a look, the two friends turned and quickly began the walk towards the wooded valley and the steam train – neither wanted to be about should Rebekah change her mind. And Remus still could not believe it, could not believe he was breathing fresh air and walking free after what Rebekah had surely overheard.
Another silver bullet dodged… but how?
"I just don't understand," Tonks was shaking her head. "I'd have thought she'd have jumped at the chance to lock you up. Especially considering the diary…"
"We still don't know that was hers, Tonks…"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah." Tonks waved a dismissive hand. "But even so. She hates you, Remus. You'd have thought she'd have loved to see you locked up and miserable at her mercy."
Remus couldn't disagree with that. "She can't have heard. She'd never have let me go otherwise."
Tonks pulled a face. "You know, given your popularity at the Ministry, she'd probably have been able to swing an internment with just a trespass charge." Her adopted features grew suddenly thoughtful. "But then again, if she is about to start secret experiments, the last thing she'd need would be the fuss that would come from interning you."
Remus stared at her. "Pardon?"
Tonks shrugged. "Well, Dolph had a point, Remus. As werewolves go, you're pretty high profile. For you to be taken into the Feral Institute would be big news. Dumbledore would make a fuss. The Prophet would take an interest. Is that the kind of attention you'd want if you were a Death Eater conducting top secret research for You-Know-Who?"
Remus frowned in reply. "Tonks, we don't know that she's the Death Eater. After all, if today proved anything it's that she has more than enough other reasons to hate me…"
"Exactly!" Tonks emphasised the word with a slap against her clipboard. "And if it was just hate, do you think she would have passed up an opportunity like this to lock you up? No, of course she wouldn't. Not unless she had a reason – a reason like not wanting the bad publicity to risk exposing her plans."
"Or a moral code that prevents her from acting out of a selfish desire for revenge."
Tonks gave an exasperated sigh. "Remus, if she heard you, a moral code would have nothing to do with it. Locking up ferals is her job."
"Then I guess she didn't hear me."
"Or she did hear you but isn't ready for you yet." Tonks' features contorted with sudden concern – almost unconsciously, the Auror reached over and wrapped her arm around his. "Which also brings the possibility that Rebekah did hear what Daniel said and she's waiting until she needs you to have you arrested."
Remus sighed deeply. "If she's the Death Eater. I'm still not convinced. Croll let slip to me today that he's an old friend of Snape's and though I'm not jumping to any conclusions…" He saw Tonks roll her eyes distinctly, "I would be very interested to know just how old a friend he is. Not to mention he looked downright furious when Rebekah released me and has stated several times just how much he'd like to see me interned as a resident."
"Well, he is a git," Tonks stated conversationally. She laughed suddenly. "Look at the pair of us," she said almost wryly. "You with your determination to think the best of everyone no matter how they treat you and me with my Auror honed instincts to automatically assume the worst. What a team, eh?"
Remus smiled more genuinely. "At least we're looking at the problem from all sides. And since the truth is probably somewhere between us, at least we stand a chance of catching it."
He felt Tonks shiver slightly against him. "As long as it doesn't catch you first. Mate, if you don't mind me saying, I don't think you should go wandering off alone outside of Hogwarts for a while. Both Croll and Rebekah were in earshot of Daniel's outburst and if either of them is the Death Eater, we're right back at the possibility that they're biding their time before coming to get you."
Remus sighed again. "Wonderful," he remarked dryly. "As if my life wasn't complicated enough. Now I have to live every day in fear of being dragged off to werewolf prison to live with Thor Wilding and the Pack."
Tonks leaned her blonde, curly head against his shoulder wearily. "All in all, we've had better days. I see a certain creek ahead, but we appear to be lacking a paddle."
"Not just us." Remus glanced back over his shoulder, his cheek brushing absently against soft hair as he tried to fight the worry that gnawed at his heart for the woman they had been forced to leave behind. "We've dragged poor Felisha right down the creek with us."
He could feel Tonks' eyes upon him as her head lifted sharply. "I think she'll be all right. She put on a good show and so did you."
Remus made a noncommittal noise. "I hope so. Though I can hardly owl her to ask." He glanced down at Tonks. "What did she say to you just before they tossed us out?"
"Oh!" Tonks clicked her fingers. "Glad you reminded me. Do you remember we said that we'd arranged to meet outside the Institute for a chat? Well, just before I was dragged out, she said it was still on. On her day off, next Saturday, at the Three Broomsticks. A few well placed silencing spells and we'll be able to talk freely without looking like we're hiding away."
"Saturday?" Remus twisted his lip. "That's nearly a week. Anything could happen…"
"I think Felisha knows what she's doing." There was a bite of impatience to Tonks' tone. "And it would look suspicious if she tried to sneak out any sooner." She squeezed him arm. "She'll be fine, Remus. I'm sure of it. And while she's still inside, maybe she'll find the answer to the other great mystery of how the hell we got caught."
Remus looked at her sideways. "Rebekah walked in on us, Tonks. That's how we got caught."
"I know that." Tonks thumped him lightly with her clipboard. "But how did she know we were there? Dolph said Croll was coming but not Rebekah. Censermealia didn't make it to the alarm. So why did Rebekah Goldstein in all her sneering glory suddenly appear at the door?"
Remus went cold. "Someone told her."
Tonks nodded. "I see three choices. When I hit the wand sealed door, it set off some kind of alarm that she came to investigate and overheard the racket of Thor through the open door. Possible, but then why risk bringing Aylward and Croll along for the ride? Or she might have come down to search for Cymone's rats – but surely rat hunting is rather beneath her and the Head of Security. And so we face choice number three. Either someone saw us coming up here and told her or someone in that room did."
"How?" Remus considered it a fair enough question. "No one could have left that room without setting off an alarm apart from Dolph. And he was with us the whole time."
Tonks shook her head. "I don't know. Maybe we got seen on our way after all. Maybe Croll came sooner than Dolph thought and went back to get her. Maybe Cymone was more suspicious of our scrabbling than she let Felisha know. But I think we may also have to face the possibility that our Death Eater has an accomplice." She smiled ruefully. "You know what they say – you spending ages looking for one Death Eater and then two come along at once…"
Remus smiled wanly. "I think you may be over reacting. We were trespassing, Tonks, and anyone who saw us would almost certainly feel obliged to report it or check with Rebekah whether we were supposed to be there. Our Death Eater, whoever they may be, most likely had nothing to do with it. Besides, whether we're facing one Death Eater, or two, or a hundred, I think one thing is pretty obvious. I'm not likely to go back to the Feral Institute except as a resident. And that means they have free reign to do as they please."
Tonks' grip tightened once more. "Which means if I have any say about it, you're never going back at all. But we'll find a way, Remus. We'll find a way to stop them."
Remus gazed blankly out across the empty moor and gave a deep sigh.
"I only hope you're right," he said softly. "For all our sakes."
Dumbledore took the news of their expulsion from the Institute stoically. Kingsley Shacklebolt did not.
"Now what are we supposed to do?" The tall black Auror proclaimed as he leaned wearily against the fireplace in Dumbledore's office; Remus watched silently from his armchair nearby, Tonks resting against the wall a few yards away, her features now restored to the familiar heart-shaped face and vivid pink hair. "That place and any information about it is kept tightly restricted. The Institute is Dolores Umbridge's darling – one of her first acts when she became Senior Undersecretary was to have its funding boosted and its powers increased. And anyone caught poking around too deeply into their activities is likely to find themselves on a short, sharp trip to the Centaur Liaison Office. Without Remus and Tonks to investigate on the inside, You-Know-Who can do whatever he pleases there."
Dumbledore steepled his fingers gently in front of his crooked nose as he leaned forwards. "At least they are safe," he responded quietly. Kingsley glanced up at the statement, his expression flickering with a hint of guilt. "And thanks to their diligent investigations, we do at least have two prime suspects in Rebekah Goldstein and Arcadius Croll, not to mention a potential informant on the inside."
Remus sat forwards at once. "I don't want to involve Felisha any more than can he helped," he interjected, his voice quiet but firm. "She's already risked her job and possibly her life to help us. She's already trapped in a bad situation and the last thing I wish to do is endanger her further."
Dumbledore nodded gently. "Of course not. It was good of her to help you and we should not take advantage of that. But at the same time, Remus – she is now our only connection to the inside of a situation with the potential to strength Lord Voldemort alarmingly."
"And a tentative connection at that," Tonks said softly. "Whose movements and correspondence will probably be watched from now on. But at least she has proved herself resourceful enough to cope."
The rats conversation flashed through Remus' mind. He smiled.
Kingsley shook his head wearily. "I'm doing my best to dig up any information I can on both the staff and the residents at the Institute," he said with a sigh. "But I'm having to work quietly and my department is already pushed to the limits. But I don't know what else is left for us to do."
"I shall speak to Professor Snape about his acquaintance with Croll," Dumbledore said abruptly. "If he is known in Death Eater circles, Severus will probably know of it. And Nymphadora, any assistance you can offer to Kingsley would be appreciated."
Tonks bowed her head. "Of course."
Remus almost didn't like to ask. "And me?"
Dumbledore's blue eyes were sympathetic. "Teach your classes, Remus and try to avoid going out alone. If your suspicions are correct, you may still be in danger."
Remus battled a swell of intense frustration. "Why am I always the one who gets removed from the case for my own safety?"
Dumbledore smiled gently. "You have, in part at least, just answered your own question. I'm afraid, Remus, that this is the disadvantage of having people who care about you."
Tonks smiled too, though wanly. Kingsley gave a soft chuckle.
The Headmaster adjusted his glasses with one long finger. "You will, provided it is safe for your both to do so, remain Felisha Hathaway's principle contact. Though I would appreciate it if Nymphadora could join you at any meetings."
Remus hardened his jaw in an effort to conceal his annoyance. "I can look after myself."
There was a distinct tightness to the smile Tonks flashed at him. "Don't fancy a chaperone, Remus?"
Remus settled back into his chair with a sigh, fighting the ridiculous urge to flush. "You know that's not the point," he replied with a sigh. "It's just…"
But his words fell away, cut off by a loud tapping against the window. Tonks, who was closest, hurriedly drew her wand and, stumbling only slightly, hurried over to the dark glass. After a brief fumble with the latch, she yanked it open.
A flustered looking barn owl dropped down onto the windowsill out of the cool night air. It extended its leg. Fumbling a little, Tonks took the letter, dropped a few Knuts into the owl's pouch and then closed the window as it launched back into the night. For a moment, she hesitated, examining the seal on the back of the envelope and Remus saw her shoulders give an ominous clench. She turned to face three pairs of curious eyes.
"It's for Remus," she said, her voice uncertain. "From the Institute."
Remus came to his feet at once, accepting the letter from her outstretched hand as he dropped back into his chair and stared at the familiar wolf-print seal of the Feral Institute. He flipped it quickly to the front.
The words Professor Lupin, Hogwarts School, had been written neatly across front. And Remus knew the handwriting.
"It's from Felisha!" he exclaimed, losing no time in ripping the envelope open. The note inside was short and he rapidly devoured its contents.
To Professor Remus Lupin,
I was deeply offended by your use of our friendship to trick me into risking my job by taking you into an area of the Institute that you had been forbidden to enter. Though I have managed to retain my position, no thanks to you, the situation here has been made far more difficult by your interference – we are now forbidden to enter the Residents Level unless accompanied by Professor Goldstein herself, which of course severely hampers our research. If I ever have the misfortune to run into you again, I look forward to seeing the expression on your face as you deliver a full and unrestrained apology for your behaviour, preferably in public. And do not even think about attempting to return to the Institute – you will certainly be arrested if you do. You are extremely fortunate not to have been arrested already – Dr Croll raged for over an hour about your unexpected release. To conclude, I thought you were my friend, Remus. But now I'm not even sure I want to see you alone.
Remus let out the breath he had not even realised he had been holding. He felt himself smile. Well done, Felisha.
Both Tonks and Kingsley were hovering anxiously at his shoulder.
"What does she say?" Tonks asked at once.
Remus leaned back against the back of his chair, feeling his heart lighten with every breath. "I'll read it out," he told them and did so.
By the time he drew the letter to a close, Tonks was smiling broadly and Kingsley looked impressed.
"Clever girl," he said with a grin. "In one letter she's told us without telling us that she hasn't lost her job, that Rebekah's up to something on the Residents Level, Croll's annoyed you got away and that she still wants to meet you, as long as Tonks goes too. And anyone else who reads it will probably just think she's ranting at you."
Remus felt oddly proud of her. "She was in Ravenclaw," he told Kingsley. "Always good with words."
"Indeed she was," Dumbledore was also smiling. "I remember Felisha Hathaway well. She is an intelligent woman and quick to grasp things."
Biting back a grin, Tonks glanced at Remus with a raised eyebrow. This time there was no stopping the flush.
Tonks laughed out loud and punched his shoulder heartily. "Well, mate," she said with a wicked smile. "By the looks of your face, I'd better play chaperone on Saturday after all. Otherwise, goodness knows what mischief you'll get up to."
A/N: Many thanks to silvanelf, Thee-Unknown-Factor, Kailin, Rel Fexive, The Great RC, pigwidgeon385, FireChildSlytherin5, Author Gal, Howling-wolf, sylthian, Analia's Broom, Jamie88, Liv Naravul, aurelie1, india, felixgirl, Lucathia Rykatu, Adre, a happy bibliophile, Mandalen, igotbannedfroma2k, YaminekoHyousai, mercutio-rane, Pinkpanther, Camilinha and vefa for all your lovely reviews! You are all very nice people and deserving of cookies. :)
A Few Responses:
Kailin – I think Remus' problem is that I suspect he makes a very convenient and public hate figure…:(
The Great RC – Quite. But see, he got away with it – for now…;)
pigwidgeon385 – Hello! Glad you found it! I've been trying to start posting this at Mugglenet but I've been waiting a fortnight now for them to post the last part of my short story In From The Cold, and of course you can only have one thing submitted at a time. I know they're busy but it is a bit annoying… -sigh- And I actually wrote the first few chapters of this fic before HBP was released so the similarities with horcruxes is actually a coincidence:)
Author Gal – Or d) They are let off for mysterious and as yet unexplained reasons….-laughs evilly- And you thought your options were bad…;)
Howling-wolf – Will that do? I suspect that was the most unexpected and probably most dull get out clause but I do have a good reason for it so bear with me…;)
Liv Naravul – Sooooo…. Not fond of Daniel then? ;) Go easy on him, he's had a tough time… And see, not so bad… for now…;) I will admit, we are now into chapters written during the overtime season at the college I work at which means I'm more tired than usual at the weekends at present and so I hope any perceived drop in quality is just due to that. In other words, I'm knackered! ;)
felixgirl – See? Not in the Institute so your gibbering can be saved for a later date….;)
Lucathia Rykatu – Well spotted. :) And if there was one thing HBP brought home to me it's how stuck in the middle our poor Remus is…:(
a happy bibliophile – You want a duel? Have patience…;)
igotbannedfroma2k – As I said to pigwidgeon, welcome and glad you've found me. I am going to post this at Mugglenet but the site is so slow at the moment I can't get it up….-sigh- So you're probably better off here. :)
mercutio-rane – I think I've read that one – Blood, Ice and Fire is it? Something like that – but it was good! Your version is more openly nasty than mine – in mine the nastiness is more covert…;)
I hope you all enjoyed that so please review and let me know what you thought:)