26: Isolation

Silence.

Stillness.

Four unchanging walls.

How much time had passed since Croll, with a smirk that curled all the way to his earlobes, had slammed closed the heavy door and departed, chuckling, to leave nothing but unending silence in his wake? How long had he sat, staring blankly at grey walls, with no window to mark the passage of the sun, biting his lip pensively against the chafe of the shackle that had been snapped around his wrist before Croll left? How long had it taken for those words engraved upon it - Resident 142: High Risk - to imbed themselves within his mind?

Remus didn't know.

All he knew for sure was that hours must have passed for the pull of impending moonrise against his blood was strengthening with every passing moment. And he had not yet had his final dose of Wolfsbane.

I'm in the Feral Institute at the mercy of a Death Eater with the full moon on the rise. And they wanted me here. They've wanted me here all along. And I still don't know why.

I just wish they'd get on with it. Waiting is worse.

His mind, unable to distract itself due to a lack of outside stimuli, ran rampant with the possibilities. Was he to be Kissed, to become part of a faceless legion of obedient feral slaves? Was he to be unleashed, uncontrolled by Wolfsbane, upon an unsuspecting victim? He knew certainly that he was a prize – a Hogwarts teacher, Dumbledore's ally, the defiant werewolf – was he perhaps to be made an example of? It was a public display of the might of Lord Voldemort in that even this loyal senior member of the Order of the Phoenix could apparently be bent against his will.

Or was this new Death Eater's purpose the same as Kane's had been – to turn him feral, a willing ally of chaos who would spill out the secrets of the Order and slaughter his friends in a heartbeat? Certainly the Death Eater would know that any valuable information he might possess would be lost if his human soul was Kissed away. But if, somehow, his wolf were taken, he would vulnerable to the Imperius curse. Was that the plan? To return him to the Order to act as spy and saboteur? And who would suspect him, the werewolf who everyone knew could not be cursed in such a way?

He would betray his friends, his family. Who would fall and suffer under such a curse? Harry? Dumbledore? His father? His students?

Tonks?

Breathing deeply, Remus forced himself to still his raging, tumbling thoughts. Dwelling on his fate would do him no good in the long run – he needed to calm himself, to focus. There was no point in driving himself to distraction over something he could not change – the simple fact was that until Rebekah - or whoever was pretending to be Rebekah – appeared to lead him to his predestined fate, there was absolutely nothing he could do.

Perhaps I shouldn't have come quietly. I thought I was saving lives, but what if I'm simply condemning my friends instead?

Remus shook his head. No. Someone would have been hurt and in the end, he would still have been brought here. The moment a warrant was signed, it was all but inescapable. Tonks had been right – at any other time, there would have been a fuss, unwelcome publicity. But with Bellatrix Lestrange under arrest, who would give a fig about a werewolf professor? And with the full moon that night, whatever they had planned for him would probably be implemented before even the smallest outcry could be raised.

He stared once more at the metal shackle. High Risk, it said. But why High Risk? He was not an outright feral – at the most he was no different to the Residents on Level Two. But yet here he was, in a top security isolation cell, listed as major threat. Why? Why keep him separate from the other Residents? Why…

Need Lupin before first test but keep out of lower levels.

Remus closed his eyes. Oh Merlin.

Now it all made sense. The first test had been that moment with Kane, Rebekah's Imperius curse – she had needed him, just as they had suspected, to prove all trace of the wolf was gone before risking an otherwise dangerous spell that could have killed the caster. But keep out of lower levels – he had assumed there was some great secret there, some mystery they didn't want him to see. But had it meant something different? Had it meant simply that when the day came to incarcerate him, he was to be kept on Level Six instead of lower down?

And he had blundered onto Level Two, assuming an important discovery awaited and had succeeded only in giving his enemies all the ammunition they needed to lock him up for good.

Fantastic. Bloody fantastic.

What a gloriously stinking mess this was.

Handing his wand to Hagrid had seemed prudent at the time – after all, it could not have been sneaked past Croll and his men and would have undoubtedly been snapped on the spot – but Remus felt strangely naked without it, oddly helpless. Not that it would have done him much good, he was sure – the security charms on this door were bound to be superior to any simple locking spell and he would have been just as trapped as he had been in Rebekah's office…

Don't think about what happened in Rebekah's office. It doesn't matter now.

After all, you'll probably never see her again.

Faces, a gallery of faces danced before his eyes. He could see his father, all alone, his mother dead and facing his only son being…whatever-ed, gone to join those already lost forever; his mother, James, Lily, Sirius, old friends, Order members, so many, too many lives already snuffed out by this war. He saw the faces of his students – he had loved his job so, loved to teach, taken such pleasure from the dawning light of knowledge on young faces and of course, there was Harry, with Ron and Hermione too, so determined, so brave, so impulsive. Minerva, Albus, Alastor, Kingsley – they would do what they could for him, of course, but he was already certain that any help would come too late.

And then there was Nymphadora Tonks, a gallery of faces within herself. Not even a day had passed since he realised the depth of her place in his heart, but he would never be able to tell her, truly tell her, just what she meant to him. That chance had come and gone.

At least one good thing might come of this. If I die, she'll be better off without me.

But the thought tasted sour, bitter. And very, very wrong.

And then, there was Felisha. A friendship revived under difficult circumstances, strengthened by adversity. What had become of her? Had she already fallen victim to whatever plans were afoot somewhere below him? Or had she…

"Remus?"

For an instant, Remus was convinced that the anxious, familiar voice that whispered his name through the bulk of the door had certainly stepped out of his probably now fevered imagination. He blinked.

Good grief. I've only been here a few hours and I'm already hearing voices

"Remus? Remus, can you hear me? Remus, if you're listening, please answer! Remus!"

Remus blinked again. Now that had seemed rather less imaginary…

"Felisha?" he ventured tentatively.

"Oh, thank goodness!" Felisha's familiar voice echoed hollowly against the high vent that pierced the thick door; as Remus came slowly and incredulously to his feet, he could see the barest glimpse of her dark hair on its far side. "I was so worried they might have drugged you, or killed you, or done something terrible! I know Croll's just dying to start running tests…"

The isolation that had sent his brain rambling was fading first – moving hurriedly forward, Remus leaned against the heavy door, straining to see through the vent.

"Felisha, what are you doing here?" he interrupted anxiously. "Do you have any idea what could happen if someone catches you?"

"That's what I said." The somewhat less familiar male voice that responded sardonically froze Remus on the spot. "But Leish said this was the only chance we'd have to get you out…" There was a grunt and a muttering of spells. "Even if being fired will probably be the least of our worries if we get caught…"

Felisha's reply sounded contrite. "I am sorry I dragged you into this, Avin. But I don't have the clearance to open these doors or remove the security bracelet or…"

"Yeah, I know. And I volunteered for this, you didn't bend my arm." The man called Avin gave a long, slightly ironic sigh. "You know you're just bloody lucky I love you so much, woman, or I'd be safely down the pub by now. Ah!" The door gave a percussive jerk. "That's got it. Stand back from the door, Professor."

Bewildered but obedient, Remus stepped away just in time to avoid the sudden, violent shudder that shook the length of the door. And then, with an emphatic clang, the door burst open wide and slammed against wall within with an echoing slap.

Framed in the doorway stood two figures. The first, so familiar, was the curly haired outline of Felisha Hathaway, smiling in at him with a mixture of anxiety and relief. And the second…

Remus' memory kicked in sharply. "You're Falconer!" he exclaimed abruptly. "You signed me in the first time I came here! I taught your brother Mallory."

The young man, his brown hair ruffled and his robes slightly askew, grinned. "I thought you had a bad memory," he remarked with a twitch of his lips as he stepped across the threshold and into the austere interior of the cell. "Sorry about the abrupt entrance." He grinned slightly. " I'm not strictly speaking supposed to open the door that way, but it's quicker than going through all the bloody security checks. You know how it is." He shrugged. "Well, never mind. Come on, Professor Lupin, let's get that bracelet off you so that you can get out of here."

Obediently, Remus offered his wrist to the security guard as Felisha rushed over to join them, her face pale and her brow knitted.

"I'm sorry it took us so long to get here," the researcher still sounded vaguely breathless. "I didn't even know they were planning to arrest you until they'd done it! I'd have come sooner, but it's been frantic here this morning." She shook her head. "You won't believe what's happened!"

Remus knew there was very little left he would have trouble believing about the Institute, especially on the night of the full moon. "Try me," he responded dryly, wincing slightly as Falconer twisted at the shackle. "Problems?"

Falconer grimaced. "This security spell's tougher than the ones they use downstairs. Give me a minute. There may be a way round it like there was with the door."

Remus smiled wryly. "Since I suspect I'll set off every security measure and alarm in the building if I step over that threshold without it removed, I think I can spare the time. Now Leish…"

"Why is it frantic, right?" Felisha nodded with a roll of her eyes. "Well, Remus, I have no idea if this is good or bad, but it's what's happened and we're stuck with it." She took a deep breath. "Rebekah's disappeared."

Mentally, Remus wearily rescinded his lack of surprise. "Disappeared? What do you mean?"

Felisha gave a bemused shrug. "She's just gone. She signed out last night to go to her daughter's birthday party but she never made it there. Her broom's still in the foyer downstairs even though she said she'd be flying. There's been no word, to us or to her family – she hasn't been seen since. No one knows where she is."

A nasty suspicion was forming in the back of Remus' mind but now was not the time to air it. "Has anyone done anything?"

Felisha sighed. "Her husband's called the Aurors but everyone's so busy with that Death Eater they caught last night I doubt anyone will have time to even read the report." Her expression twisted. "And of course Croll lost no time in declaring himself Acting Head of the Institute. He called everyone to a meeting in the Level Five boardroom – that's what Avin and I used as our cover to slip away. We signed ourselves in and then slipped out while everyone was settling. Everyone was so busy trying to find a seat and keep away from Croll…"

"It was too good a chance to waste. Ah ha!" With a sharp squeeze and a shiver, the shackle abruptly released, clattering to the ground with a profound thud as Falconer grinned broadly. "Got the bugger!"

"Nicely done." Remus managed not to wince as he rubbed his fingers across the tender and red raw skin left in the chaffing shackle's wake. "Now what do we do?"

Falconer rubbed one hand through his already messy hair as he glanced at Felisha. "Game of draughts?"

"Prat." Felisha slapped his shoulder although her eyes were telling a very different story to her violence. "What do I see in you?"

Falconer gave her a similarly lingering look in reply. "Want a reminder?"

Fighting slight embarrassment, Remus cleared his throat. Both Felisha and Falconer flushed slightly.

Falconer squared his shoulders, suddenly all business. "I'll sneak back down to the meeting and hope no one noticed I was gone." A smile flicked. "You two can slip out the back."

Remus narrowed his eyes. "The back?"

Felisha was smiling fondly at Falconer. "He means we can use an emergency portkey. From all we've heard, the Ministry's in uproar right now so hopefully we'll be able to sneak out to the entrance without anyone paying us much heed."

Falconer's eyes fixed upon Felisha. "You know where this level's is?" he asked seriously.

Felisha nodded softly. "I know. Take care, Avin."

He smiled in return, although the expression was wan and uncertain. "You too, Leish. See you soon."

"Fingers crossed."

For a brief, eternal instant, the guard and the researcher gazed wordlessly at one another. And then, with a sigh, Avin Falconer turned and vanished into the corridor. A moment later, they heard the clunk of the descending lift.

Felisha stared absently into the space where he had stood for a moment. Then she shook herself.

"Come on, Remus," she said with forced briskness. "Let's get you out of here."

In spite of the seriousness of their situation, Remus couldn't help but smile as he fell in at his old friend's side and moved with her into the corridor.

"He's rather more than your friend in security, isn't he?" he remarked shrewdly.

Felisha's cheeks reddened. "Somewhat more, yes."

The pang was distinct but brief and quickly soothed, an old pain dulled by the passage of twenty years and more nostalgic than genuine. "He seems to love you very much."

Felisha sighed deeply. "And I love him." She smiled slightly. "You know, you're the first person to know. Rebekah discourages fraternisation amongst the staff so we've had to keep it secret – sneaking around, grabbing stolen moments; he even came to join me at the Three Broomsticks after my meeting with you."

Falconer from the Institute, sitting in the bar… Remus nodded with a wry smile. "I know. Tonks saw him at the counter. She made us sneak out the back because she thought he was there to spy."

"Oops." Felisha chuckled slightly. "Sorry about that." She sighed yet again. "He's younger than me, you know," she remarked softly. "Only twenty-eight. He's young, he's bright, he's good-looking – he could have any woman he wants but for some reason, I was the lucky one. I just don't know what he sees in me." Her eyes narrowed shrewdly. "But I think you know what that's like."

Remus fought to restrain the flush that stained his cheeks. He failed.

Felisha smiled once more. "I knew it. Did you think no one else had noticed? You must think we're all blind. Or stupid. And there really is no way to answer that without offending me."

If there was one thing that Remus was certain of, it was that he was not going to be drawn into this discussion right now. "Is this portkey much further?"

Felisha's smirk was telling but thankfully she did not push the issue. "It's just around the corner. The next alcove on the…"

Her voice trailed away. Instead came a gasp.

Remus followed her gaze sharply and felt his stomach sink like a stone.

The fake globe-portkey was gone. In its place lay nothing but broken shards.

Felisha moved forward hurriedly, examining the broken pieces with outright disbelief. "Who could have done this?" she exclaimed in horror. "Aylward is so careful with them, he would have noticed if one were broken…"

Remus joined her, his eyes running over the shattered remains with heavy resignation. "Someone who wanted to make sure that no one left this building tonight," he replied, his voice grim and tired. "And that no word reached the outside world until it was too late."

The blood ran from Felisha's face in a flood. "Tonight? They're doing what they're doing tonight? On a full moon?"

Remus hardened his jaw. "Well, it makes sense. All the Residents will be locked in their cages for the night – they'll be helpless and chained when they change back in the morning, weak and tired and in no position to put up a fight. And now the staff have been assembled together as well…"

Felisha's jaw dropped. "Avin! He's walked right back there…"

Only Remus' hurried grab forestalled the researcher's mad rush back along the corridor. "We'll be no use if we rush straight in!" he exclaimed as she wheeled on him angrily. "We have to take care, Leish."

"Then what can we do?" Felisha's voice was filled with pain – remembering his own agony when Tonks had been injured in the ambush, Remus bit his lip.

"We still don't know anything for sure," he admitted wearily. "But if I am right about this, I don't think there's much the two of us can do alone, especially since it isn't long until the moon will put me out of action. But if this broken portkey is more than an accident, we have to get out of here and raise the alarm as soon as we can. And that means going down."

Felisha was already shaking her head. "Do you really think we'll be able to find another intact portkey?"

"We can try." Remus smiled wanly. "And if we don't, we'll just have to leave out the front door."

Felisha snorted. "Because that won't be guarded."

Remus met her eyes with frankness. "Do you have a better idea?"

She returned his gaze despondently. "Nope." Slowly, absently, she twirled her wand between her fingers. "So the suicide plan it is."

A/N: Many thanks to my reviewers this week: TonksIsMyHero, thee-unknown-factor-Incognito, Pickledishkiller, a happy bibliophile, emmaD, Howling-Wolf, Godricgal, Rel Fexive, Oath of Feanor, le petit chou, Potter's Muse, RebeccaGoose, merlinssister, Ruby, igotbannedfroma2k, Lady Bracknell, Aragorn-iz-cool, LupinLover99, Camilinha, Vefa, Siorsa, slightly so, Alexia S Luclwit, Kailin, morgan, Kthi, Tarfiniel, elka78, xMissxUnderstoodx, Moony, kitkatgirl11, sylthian, wcoast-girl, Mandalen, Siriuslyaddicted2HP, felixgirl, Gilpin, pstibbons, InsaneMonkeePirate, EllaJ.W, Adre, Will o' the Wisp, cellorocksmyworld and Zevazo. You are all lovely. :)

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