A/N: This chapter was supposed to be a little section preceding the events of the next - but guess who wrote too much:)
15: At The Three Broomsticks
It proved to be a very long week.
It wouldn't have been so bad had he had the pleasure of his classes to distract him. But the Easter holidays were upon Hogwarts and suddenly there was a distinct dearth of ways in which to occupy himself. So Remus marked until there was no more marking. Remus read until he was sick of the sight of the words. Remus ate enough meals to send Madam Pomfrey and Molly Weasley into raptures of joy.
But most of all, Remus worried.
He had received no further word from Felisha but that did not surprise him. To judge by the manner of her last missive, communications in and out of the Institute were likely being monitored, which meant that attempting to contact her in any way would probably condemn her. Her silence suggested that she had more sense than to incriminate herself. And although Remus had racked his brain to find a discreet but rapid means by which they could remain in touch, he had thus far failed to find any inspiration. There was little choice but to wait until Saturday.
He could only hope that she would arrive safe and well to meet him. He could only pray that she would stay unharmed.
For if he proved responsible for any ill that might befall her, he knew he could never forgive himself.
Remus was not without correspondents however. Tonks kept in regular touch, although her messages were mostly various forms of frustrated ranting in regards to the difficulty of squeezing out any kind of information about the staff and residents of the Feral Institute. Dumbledore had summoned Remus to his office on Monday to inform him that although Severus Snape had indeed admitted that the Crolls were old friends of his mother's family, he was not personally aware of any Death Eater connection. He had however, said he would look into it.
The quiet few days that followed gave Remus ample time to order his thoughts in regards to the staff of the Institute. He still could not bring himself to form a definite suspicion in regards to the identity of the Institute's concealed Death Eater between the two prime suspects – although Rebekah's behaviour was indeed suspicious, it was possible to frame much of it behind scientific curiosity and a healthy dislike of the werewolf who had endangered her son. Croll would have been tentatively at the top of his personal list, but for the fact that Snape had denied any knowledge of an overt Death Eater connection. As far as Remus was aware, the only other member of staff with high enough clearance to access Kane unaccompanied was Aylward, but the man was inscrutable as a brick. There would be no clues forthcoming on that front.
Friday had brought a surprise – a firecall from Reynard to inform him that a letter had arrived from Rolphe Lupin, offering his profound apologies that the dinner on Sunday would have to be postponed by a week to the Sunday following. Apparently his eldest son had been called away on an urgent business trip to Europe, whilst one of his daughters had declared that her work would make it very difficult to get away. But both had apparently promised to keep the following weekend free and so the dinner had been pushed back by a week instead. He hoped that this was not an inconvenience.
Reynard had been unable to conceal his disappointment. But Remus had successfully covered up his relief. At least that gave him one less imminent thing to worry about.
Saturday dawned and Remus had still not formulated a potential solution to the communications blackout with Felisha. But a glimpse of a balaclava-ed Marietta Edgecombe trudging wearily out of the Great Hall after breakfast brought to mind a conversation he had shared with Harry over the previous summer about his work with the DA and the means by which they had kept in touch. So as soon as breakfast was out of the way, Remus scanned the Gryffindor table and, failing to find the face he was searching for, headed instead in the direction of the library.
And as he had hoped, he found Hermione Granger at a table near the window, bent over several large and tightly written books as she scribbled cramped notes onto a scroll of parchment.
He felt rather guilty at the manner in which she jumped, blotting ink onto her parchment as her head flew up and wide eyes fixed upon him in surprise.
"Professor Lupin!" she exclaimed, her nose wrinkling as she grabbed her wand and muttered an incantation to erase the mess she had made. "You startled me!"
Remus smiled gently as he settled himself down on the chair opposite, peering at her over the mountain of books in which she had been engrossed. "Sorry about that," he apologised sincerely. "And I'm sorry to interrupt your studies, but there's something I need to ask you about. A spell you did for the DA?"
She blinked, looking surprised at the prospect that a teacher might chose to come to her for academic information but there was a definite hint of pride behind her eyes as well. For a moment, Remus could have sworn that she sat up slightly straighter in her seat.
"Of course, Professor," she said smartly. "What do you need to know?"
Remus leaned forwards, carefully lowering his voice. "Harry mentioned a while ago that you devised a secret means by which the DA could communicate. I was hoping you could tell me about it."
If there was one thing Hermione was profoundly not, it was stupid. "Does this have something to do with the Institute?" she inquired with equal softness.
Remus pulled himself round the table slightly, leaning over one of the books as though he was examining her work. "Yes," he replied, his eyes not leaving the page as he traced one finger carefully along one page. He only hoped that no one was close enough to spot it was a Potions text. "I have an…ally amongst the staff there. We need a way to stay in touch that can't be monitored by any unfriendly elements. Her post is being watched and meeting regularly is too suspicious."
Hermione's brow wrinkled as she too pretended to be engrossed in the book before them. "We didn't send messages," she admitted, flipping a page absently. "I cast a Protean charm on some fake Galleons that enchanted them to show the time of our next meeting. They grew hot when a date appeared. But we all knew the place and what it meant so there was no need for any more."
Remus tapped a finger thoughtfully against his lip. Though the idea was simple, it had possibilities. "But it would work for a short message if the charm was right," he mused out loud. "It wouldn't need much. A time and place for a meeting or one word warnings would probably do. Could you show me the spell you used?"
Hermione smiled. "Of course I can Professor. But it might not be a good idea to do it in the middle of the library…"
"Of course not." Abruptly, Remus came to his feet. "I hope that helps, Hermione," he said more audibly. "If you need anything else, I'll be in my office for the next couple of hours. Do drop by if you have any questions."
Hermione's smile told him that she had got the message. "Thank you Professor Lupin, she replied cheerfully. "I'll bear that in mind."
An hour later, Remus was the proud owner of three silver Sickles that would grow hot when enchanted with the time and place of a meeting. Hermione Granger really was an exceptionally clever young lady.
Evening rolled around at long, long last. Remus set out briskly across the Hogwarts grounds, waving as cheerfully as he could manage at Hagrid as he strode towards the gates. However, a surprise awaited him beneath the right hand pillar.
Spiky pink hair punctured the quiet, fading light. A cheeky grin beamed from a heart-shaped face.
Remus placed his hands on his hips with a sigh, fighting a surge of downright irritation. He'd already said… "I thought we were meeting at the Three Broomsticks."
Tonks pushed herself upright and wandered over to his side, her grin still broad but distinctly pointed. "I'm sure you did. However if you think back, I'm sure you'll also remember that Dumbledore said you weren't to go wandering off alone. And since I don't intend to have you vanish between here and Hogsmeade, I came to keep you company."
Remus raised an eyebrow with a deliberate frown. "Actually, vanishing between here and Hogsmeade was exactly what I was intending to do. I'm not always too tired to apparate, you know. And I do not need an escort."
Tonks' grin faded into a more genuine smile. "Will a concerned friend do instead?"
Remus felt his annoyance fade. After all, she was only trying to help.
He smiled. "She'll do fine. Ready to apparate?"
Tonks cocked her head. "Out front of the pub?"
Remus nodded. "One, two…"
On three, twin cracks echoed into the draw of evening. A moment later, the bright lights outside the front of the Three Broomsticks almost dazzled him.
A hand caught his elbow – Tonks appeared abruptly at his side. "See, you do need an escort," she informed him brightly. "You were a whole three foot off target."
"Don't mention it. Are you coming?"
They moved quickly inside. As one might expect on a Saturday night, the Three Broomsticks was heaving with people, old and young – a quick glance and several ducked heads were enough to tell Remus that several of the younger faces felt that they perhaps weren't supposed to be here. If it hadn't been the Easter Holidays, he would have been obliged to issue detentions. But as it was, he simply smiled slightly and followed Tonks over towards Madam Rosmerta at the bar.
"Felisha said she was going to try and book a room for the night," Tonks' voice was a hushed whisper against his ear. "Because she's live-in staff, she likes to spend a night away from the Institute sometimes but she doesn't always get permission for it. If we ask Rosmerta, she'll be able to tell us if she's booked in or not."
Rosmerta was quick to discreetly inform them that Felisha Hathaway was indeed booked in to Room 3 near the top of the stairs. "She arrived about an hour ago," the barmaid informed them in a hushed voice as she noisily passes them a pair of clinking butterbeers. "She's been waiting for you." Abruptly, her voice swelled in volume. "Certainly, professor. Here you go." Pointedly, she reached out and dropped a heavy key into his palm. "You and your lady friend can use Room 4. Enjoy."
Remus could sense the burn of young, curious student eyes and fought manfully not to blush. At his side, a surprisingly flushed Tonks was battling with laughter at the sight of the look on his face.
"Rosmerta!" he hissed under his breath. "What are you…?"
The barmaid gave a deliberate smile. "I'm covering for you," she replied too sweetly, her tone discreetly hushed but her eyes darting playfully between the two of them. "After all, Hogwarts is hardly the place for a young couple such as yourselves to... ahem…meet. And half the village already knows that's why we have so many visits from Professor…"
"Rosmerta." Remus, tone was polite but firm as he forestalled any surprising revelations about his colleagues. He could almost sense the strain of student ears, the feel of curious stares but he deliberately forced himself to smile. Embarrassing as it was, it was better than fielding gossip about why he was really there. "Thank you," he said more audibly.
Rosmerta's smile was outright cheeky. "Enjoy!" she said loudly.
Remus was on the verge of blessing her with his politest look of death when he felt a slender hand curl around his arm. Her eyes filled with purest wickedness, Tonks smiled at him with mock seductiveness.
"Come on darling," she drawled with a pout. "I don't want to waste a minute with you."
By the time they reached the stairs, Remus had formulated one hundred and seventy-six different ways in which to kill her.
As they moved around the curl of the steps, out of the curious gazes of the bar patrons, Tonks took the opportunity to dissolve into helpless laughter.
"Your face!" she exclaimed, clinging to his arm as though it was the only thing able to keep her upright in her hysteria. "Oh, if I'd had a camera, I swear…"
Remus was somewhat less than amused. "Bloody Rosmerta," he muttered irritably. "Why did she have to do that? She must have known there were students in that room."
Tonks smirked. "Well, it was funny. You went the most amazing shade of pink."
Remus sighed deeply. "But she didn't have to…" He huffed in annoyance. "Why are women so impossible to understand?" he declared abruptly.
Tonks gave him a long, slow look. "Thanks," she drawled dryly.
Remus waved a distracted hand. "You don't count. I don't think of you as a woman."
The narrowing menace of Tonks' eyes told him fluently that this had not been the right thing to say. "You're not helping your case, Lupin," she told him darkly. "I'd offer a hand to dig that hole but you seem to be managing quite well by yourself."
Remus struggled valiantly to recover. "I mean you're my friend, Tonks. You don't confuse me in the same way."
Tonks snorted. "I'm not sure if that's good or bad."
Remus seized this lifeline. "Oh, it's good, believe me. You say what you mean. Why can't the rest of your gender do the same?"
Tonks' grin was slow and wicked – one hand reached out and playfully ruffled his hair.
"Because we wouldn't get to see the adorable looks of confusion on your little faces!" she exclaimed. "And that's just the best part of all."
Remus regarded her. "I take it back. You are a woman."
Tonks beamed. "Most of the time, anyway. Except when duty compels me to take my drag act on the road."
"In rainbow striped socks."
"Excuse me, you would have been locked up if not for me and my socks."
"I was locked up anyway."
They reached the top of the stairs. Remus reached up and with his free hand, absently returned his hair to some kind of order. "You can see my point though," he said almost plaintively. "When word gets around the common rooms that I was seen going upstairs at the Three Broomsticks with a woman with pink hair, wearing a Weird Sisters t-shirt…"
A distinct lowering of the temperature stayed his tongue. Tonks was regarding him with sudden, frosty irritation. A hand thumped painfully hard against his shoulder. "And just what is wrong with being seen going upstairs with a woman with pink hair in a Weird Sisters t-shirt?"
Now there was a dangerous question, the kind of question that every man knew it was impossible to answer correctly, especially in the company of a woman who was staring at him with eyes filled with outright threat. Nonetheless, Remus foolishly braved the quagmire.
"Well, nothing," he managed boldly. "But I don't like the thought of people making assumptions…"
Danger signals were flashing violently in Tonks' eyes. "And you think people would be more inclined to make assumptions about a woman with pink hair wearing a Weird Sisters t-shirt?"
Remus could not have dug himself more deeply if he'd had an army of enchanted shovels. "No," he said as carefully and diplomatically as he could manage.
"Then why are you embarrassed to be seen going upstairs with me?"
"Yes, you are."
How in Merlin's name had he got into this? "All right, I am." It was a reaction wrought with peril but Remus braved it all the same. "But only because you're my friend. And I'd have thought a pretty young woman like you would be more embarrassed to be seen with an old werewolf like me."
"Well, if you think that then you're a dafter prat than I took you for."
She fixed him with an inscrutable look. "I'm sorry, Remus. I just don't like the thought that my closest friend is embarrassed to be seen with me."
"I'm not. It's just…"
What it was just, Remus had little to no idea. But he was saved the trouble of wading deeply when the door to Room three burst open to reveal a pale and anxious Felisha.
"Remus!" she exclaimed. "It's about time!"
The argument with Tonks was forgotten instantly. Stepping out of her grasp, Remus hurriedly instantly to his old schoolmate's side.
"Felisha!" he exclaimed. "What's wrong?"
Felisha was instantly shaking her head. "Not out here," she said immediately. "Remus, I found something out today, something that scares the hell out of me. But I'm not going to discuss it in a corridor."
Remus felt a chill run down his spine. Now what?
"Then I guess we'd better go inside," he said.
A/N: For anyone who was wondering why the family dinner had been shunted back a week in the timeline; it's not for any great or wonderful plot reasons. It's because your humble author suddenly noticed one day that she'd only put three weeks between two full moons...;) Also, Sunday was my birthday! Scarily, I am now in the latter half of my twenties shudders… But I had a nice day and got a new bed and a smoothie maker which I don't think you can argue with…;)
Many thanks to Liv Naravul, The Great RC, Rel Fexive, Jamie88, Dragongirl19, Howling-wolf, iamlordmoldyshorts, Mandalen, aurelie1, Kailin, sylthian, Author Gal, Anon, felixgirl, Gilpin and InsaneMonkeePirate for your lovely reviews. Look at this grin. :D It's all down to you. ;)
A Few Responses:
Liv Naravul – Chocolate is a good philosophy for recuperation and one to which I am loyal, never fear! I'm not studying – I work at a college! "Overtime Season" is a personal term I use for September/October because, in my job in college administration, this is the time of year when we are flooded with enrolment forms and have to work overtime to get them all on. Hence, knackered-ness…;)
The Great RC – The family dinner is chapters 17 and 18. Hang on, you're almost there! ;)
Jamie88 – Yeah, so did he…;)
iamlordmoldyshorts – Good luck with your exam! And the family dinner is chapter 17 and 18 so not long to go now:)
Author Gal – Admit it, it wouldn't be half as much fun if I told you what was coming! I'm doing this entirely for the benefit of my readers and certainly not for the perverse pleasure of it….;)
felixgirl – You'll find out more about the Bathroom Incident in next week's chapter but I still live in fear that the reality won't live up to the hype. It wasn't that exciting, I'm afraid! ;) And Daniel is supposed to be a pity figure really, the poor lad is highly screwed up. But I agree that Remus needs hugs! ;)
Gilpin – I do like the way Tonks and Remus seem to balance each other and I try to play that. And as you can see, Felisha has been contacted….;)
Many thanks again for your reviews and please continue to do so:)