34: Where Angels Fear To Tread
Needless to say, Nymphadora Tonks was not in the best of moods.
What a fantastic situation this is, she thought grimly, her eyes flicking from Harry, to Ron, to Hermione as she fought to suppress the vast well of rage and fear that was bubbling up inside of her. What a magnificent rescue this is going to be. Here I am, on a full moon, in probably the most dangerous building in the country tonight, with three school children, a broken portkey, no idea where to start looking for Remus and no way to get him out if I find him. Magnificent, wonderful, bloody marvellous…
Her hand was throbbing madly. It really didn't help.
"Oh!" Hermione's gasp drew her instant attention. "Your hand! Oh, Tonks!"
There was, admittedly a great deal of blood, but that was something that Tonks had grown used to over the years. Her expression still dark and laced with menace, the Auror pulled herself up to sitting and examined the damage with a wince.
"Nothing life threatening," she muttered darkly, her tone a reflection of her menacing mood. A few waves of her wand and a couple of the emergency healing spells all Aurors were compelled to learn erased the worst of the cuts, extracting glass fragments and closing the wounds down into ugly red scars. By the time she was done, Harry, Ron and Hermione had all found their feet, standing in a huddle with expressions that ranged from the truculent to the guilt-riddled.
"Tonks." It was Hermione once more who spoke first, watching nervously as the Auror pulled herself unsteadily back to her feet in front of them. "Tonks, we're really sorry for…"
"For knocking me over again?" Tonks intervention was acidic, her tone hushed but rife with heavily suppressed force. "For slowing me down in my attempt to rescue Remus? For knocking me unconscious and then destroying my best means to get him and us safely back out? Sorry for being so bloody stupid?"
There was a triple wince at that remark. Harry half opened his mouth, apparently intending to defend himself but the look on the Auror's face was empahtically enough to convince him that that would be a really bad idea.
Beneath her veneer of seething rage, Tonks battled to bring herself back under control. She knew that bawling the three of them out over the stupidity of their actions was pointless in the middle of such a serious situation but holding back the urge was like trying plug a leaking dam with spellotape.
We're all here for Remus. Not to scream at each other. And like it or not, they're here and I'm stuck with them.
She took several deep breaths. "You really do have no idea how much I want to yell at you three just now," she declared sternly. "And if it wasn't for the fact that this really isn't the time, I swear I'd put one of Mad-Eye's scoldings to shame. But if we get out of this alive, I'm telling Molly Weasley everything and then you'll bloody well wish I hadn't restrained myself."
Ron's expression of outright terror strongly implied that the message had sunk home loud and clear. Resting her hands wearily against her hips, Tonks sighed.
"But you're here now and none of us are going anywhere so I guess I'm stuck with you whether I want it or not. So I guess we'd better…"
Her voice trailed away. She froze.
Footsteps. Outside the door. Low guttural laughter.
Tonks reacted instantly. "Quiet! Light out!" she breathed sharply, grabbing all three teenagers as she yanked them over to a less conspicuous corner.
"Nox!" Hermione's hiss instantly extinguished her wand tip light. The room was plunged into darkness.
And in silence and shadow, they listened.
"I can't wait until moonrise." The voice was male, harsh and hard-edged, muffled by the door but still clearly distinct against the backdrop of slow, measured steps down the corridor. "How long do you reckon it'll take Lupin to finish them all off once he's changed?"
Tonks felt her stomach plummet. At her side, she heard Hermione swallowed a gasp of shock. Against her side, she felt Harry's fists clench fiercely.
"Dunno." His companion's voice was lighter in tone but with a nasty flavour to it. "But it's bound to be messy. No doors, no windows, just flat walls and a grate over the chute, nowhere to climb, nowhere to hide and no way to defend themselves. He'll pick 'em off at his leisure."
There was a cold chuckle. "How long before it starts?"
A snort was his response, fading slightly as the two unseen patrollers moved away down the corridor once more. "It's got to be less than an hour until moonrise. It'd better be good though. I need something to get me through a whole damned night of sitting with Dementors and waiting for a pack of bloody werewolves to change back."
"Seconded. I can think of better ways to spend a night…"
The voices faded into the distance. The footsteps vanished.
Light returned. Tonks looked at Harry. Hermione looked at them both.
But it was Ron who spoke, stepping forward as he glanced between his friends with an expression that mixed concern, fear and determination.
"Anyone else think we'd better get a move on?" he said.
Hermione's features were pale against the washed out light. "A move on to where?" she retorted.
But Tonks already knew.
No doors, no windows. And accessed by a sealed chute.
The laundry chute. The wand-sealed one on the stairs. It has to be.
The grate those Death Eaters had mentioned would probably be hexed through to the core. But she knew just the spell for that…
"I know where we're going." To Tonks' own surprise, as well as the mind alarm of her three companions, a hint of grim pleasure touched her face. "And I've a good idea of what we'll have to do when we get there. So follow me."
It didn't hurt as much as Remus had expected. He'd always expected dying to be painful.
He could feel the probably too familiar relief as darkness pressed against him, so close, so strong, so welcoming, bringing the approaching blessing of release as the squeeze around his throat tightened almost tentatively, closing his breath away. He could feel his lungs contracting in desperate search of absent oxygen, feel the choking pressure on his windpipe as it tightened and pressed shut under the weight of outside assault. The fingers that applied it seemed oddly remote, distant, their touch tempered by the mass of scar tissue that Kane's claws had left in their wake, another close brush with death. But this time would be the last. It had to be.
Sensation began to fade. Dizzyness began to rise.
The darkness was close. So very close…
"Rebekah! What are you doing?"
The fingers that pressed against Remus' throat gave an almost guilty jerk as Felisha's voice cut harshly through the blessed onset of approaching darkness. Rapid footsteps closed upon them and then abruptly the pressure was gone, saving hands dragged away and he was gasping instinctively for breath, cursing in the silence of his mind the day that Felisha Hathaway had ever decided she liked him.
His eyes fluttered open. Felisha's concerned face filled his gaze.
"Remus!" she exclaimed almost frantically, soft hands supporting his shoulders with gentle care. "Remus, are you all right?"
He wanted to scream no, to reach out and retrieve the black silence he had brushed against, a silence that promised he would never hear voices screech out in agonised pain as he tore them limb from limb. But it had faded. It had gone.
And he was an imminent killer once more.
His eyes met Felisha's. They burned like fire.
"Why did you do that?" he rasped hoarsely.
Felisha blinked. "Pardon?"
"Why did you do that?" His voice, though still shuddering, raged with the voice of a sudden hurricane. "Why did you stop her?"
His friend stared at him in outright amazement, her eyes brimming with astonished hurt. "Remus, she was strangling you…"
Remus almost screamed in frustration – he could feel the wolf tearing at the edges of his consciousness, straining to be free. "Because I asked her to!" he almost bellowed. "Weren't you listening earlier? If someone doesn't kill me, I'm going to kill or bite all of you!"
Felisha's lip was trembling as she rose uncertainly back to standing. "I know," shemanaged, the distress evident in her voice. "But Remus - not yet." She shook her head softly. "There's still time, we still have time, there has to be another way…"
"Well then, when?" Closing his eyes, Remus slumped back against the wall, losing himself for a moment in the dull throb of pain that circled his throat. "When, Felisha?"
"If we just wait, we may find a way out…"
"No, we won't!" Irrational rage blossomed again as Remus' eyes snapped open to face Felisha and the sea of curious faces now gathered behind her. "Don't you understand? There's no point in putting this off, Leish!" His voice rose, pitched keenly with frustration as he staggered furiously to his feet to face them all. "I'm sorry, but we have to face the facts! We are not going to get out of here before the full moon comes!"
It was as though someone had let off a firework mere yards from where they stood, a hollow boom that shook the walls as echoes multiplied it. Every eye snapped up, wide and staring in disbelief as the grate that sealed over the entrance to the laundry chute burst into searing flame, flickers of vivid white light that raced along the bars, scorching them, scouring them, warping them out of shape. The metal groaned in pain as it bent and twisted and then suddenly it dropped, tumbling to the floor with an echoing clang to lie, misshapen and blackened in a smoking tangle of bars.
There was a very long silence. The damaged grate was, needless to say, the very centre of everyone's attention.
Until they heard the voice.
"Sod it! Will you hold it steady, I can't…Oh no, oh no, no, no, no…!"
From the chute overhead came a gasp and a decidedly painful sounding thud, followed by another and another and another….
And then, with that simple exclamation, a flurry of robes and limbs came hurtling out of the now open chute to slam with an agonising thud into the floor. There was a profound groan, followed up in quick succession by an acidic string of curses.
A familiar groan. And very familiar curses.
Remus felt himself moving forward almost instinctively.
No. No, she couldn't have, she wouldn't have…
And then, a heart-shaped face appeared beneath surprisingly subdued brown hair, dark eyes gleaming as she met his astonished stare with a mixture of irritation and deepest, unspoken relief and he knew without doubt that she had.
"Bloody hell, Lupin," she drawled dryly. "The things I do for you!"
From some unknown corner of his scrambled brain, Remus found the power to speak. "Tonks?"
Her lips quirked with something that almost resembled satisfaction. "Well, who were you expecting?" she declared with a half shrug as she pushed herself shakily back to her knees and staggered unsteadily upright. "Dolores Umbridge, maybe? The Lady Nimue, decked out in nothing but ivy leaves and a pretty smile? Salazar Slytherin in a corset and high heels?"
The shock that had frozen his brain into a solid, useless lump was beginning to thaw slightly as the true weight of what he was seeing sank in. Tonks was here. Tonks was standing in front of him. Tonks was grinning at him.
Tonks was in the Institute. Tonks was in this cell. And the full moon was still approaching rapidly.
Given the tension wracking his body from the impending change, and his frustration at their situation, there really only was one way he could respond.
"Nymphadora Tonks, what the bloody hell are you doing here? Are you insane?"
Tonks' features hardened as she held his gaze glare for glare. "Oh, Tonks!" she exclaimed with sudden melodrama. "You have no idea how good it is to see you! Thank you so much for risking your life to save mine! How can I ever repay you?"
"This is not the time for stupid jokes!"
"I wasn't bloody joking!" Tonks' expression matched Remus' crease by crease for anger. "I come all this way to save you, Lupin, and what's the first I get for my trouble? A damned scolding! No thank you, no good to see you, just a telling off! I am not one of your students to be put in detention, Professor!"
"They maybe you shouldn't behave like one!" Remus snapped back instantly, fists clenched at his sides as a thousand scenarios jabbed at his mind, Tonks hurt, Tonks killed, Tonks' screaming as his lupine teeth ripped into her body… "Do you have any idea of the danger you've put yourself in? I'm not worth this! You could have just stayed safe and…"
"I'm an Auror!" Tonks' harsh retort snapped the rest of his sentence away. "I don't do safe!"
"Well maybe you should try it!"
"Well maybe you should…"
"Excuse me." The oily intrusion of Croll's voice struck Remus like a jolt – in the single minded focus of his shocked rage at Tonks, he had completely forgotten that there was anyone else in the room. Blinking, he tore his eyes away from the equally startled Auror to find twenty or more faces staring at them both with a mixture of bemusement, confusion and incredulity; Felisha with eyebrow raised, Avin's lips pursed, Rebekah staring, Unwin sneering. Sudden embarrassment quelled the fire of his rage like a bucket of icy water.
Croll smirked with acidic disdain. "Pardon my interrupting this fascinating little tiff," he drawled sardonically. "But would one of you be so good as to explain to the rest of us insignificant specks exactly what is going on here?"
Her shoulders were heaving with the remnants of her rage but nonetheless Tonks managed to bring herself rapidly back under control.
"I would have thought that was obvious," she retorted tartly. "I'm his rescue party. And by default, that means I'm yours too."
Croll's sneer was outright impressive as his eyes raked the small, dishevelled young woman before him. "You?"
Remus felt a flare of defensive indignation. "She's an Auror, Croll. She can handle herself."
Croll snorted. "And your word means so much," he smirked. "Given your loudly declared lack of faith in her abilities."
Remus flushed furiously as Tonks graced Croll with one of her finest frowns. "You don't want me to help you escape?" she said with a shrug, her tone blandly matter-of-fact. "Fine. You can stay here. I'll just take everyone else. I'm sure the ruthless Death Eaters that are controlling this building won't torture you too much to find out where we've gone. They'll probably just kill you quickly." She paused thoughtfully. "Or maybe the lovely Dolph will wait until full moon and chew on your limbs for a bit…"
It took a moment for the significance of this statement to sink in. "You know about Dolph?"
Tonks smiled grimly. "Adolphus Mingan-Moritz, to give him his full name. He's a Death Eater, an expert with Dementors; I found his file this morning at work. I was on my way to warn you about him when I found out you were already here." She glanced to where the pale Rebekah was staring at her. "I hadn't quite got the Polyjuice business worked out though..."
Remus did not even bother to say it. He just gestured at the haggard and shaking form of the real Cymone.
Tonks' expression dropped instantly. "Oh. Bugger."
"Quite." Common sense was slowly sneaking its way back into Remus' psyche. "We have get everyone out of here. It's not long until the moon."
Tonks frowned. "Wouldn't it be easier to get you out first?"
Remus raised a weary eyebrow. "To where?" At Tonks' expression, he sighed. "We can use that as a last resort if we have to but if it comes to it I'd rather be restricted in here away from everyone else than up there loose and roaming the corridors. And we have to hurry." He fought back a mild surge of guilt. "I've wasted quite enough time making a fuss."
"You said it, not me." Tonks comment was offhand, but distinctly pointed as her eyes assessed the room, her lower lip caught thoughtfully between her teeth. "I guess we have two options here. Either we levitate everyone in this room up the chute one by one or we just go for broke and break through the wall."
Remus stepped over to join her, using the sudden surge of hope that had swelled within him to suppress the raging turmoil of his uncertain emotions. "Levitating one by one would take a long time. But blasting through the wall is going to draw a lot of attention very quickly and that really isn't a good idea."
Drawing her wand, Tonks twirled it absently between her fingertips. "We needn't necessarily blast through. Cutting a careful door shouldn't draw too much attention."
Remus glanced at her. "It'll take much longer though. We only have one wand and not that much time."
He saw the twist of her lip, the irritable and vaguely resigned set of her expression and knew immediately that there was something he hadn't been told.
"Tonks…" he said deliberately, phrasing an entire unspoken question into that single word.
She pulled a reluctant face. "We have more wands. I didn't come alone."
Remus blinked. "But that's good," he ventured uncertainly. "Isn't it? Is it someone from the Order? Kingsley or Moody?"
Her expression was answer enough. "Not from the Order, no."
A slow, creeping suspicion that he was not going to welcome the truth was seeping through Remus' veins. "You didn't bring Snape, did you?"
Much to his relief, Tonks snorted emphatically. "Sod that! What do you think I am? And anyway, Snape's in the Order…" She pulled a face. "Well, sort of…"
He wasn't going to like it. That much was definite and indisputable. But quite how he wasn't going to like it was proving a bit of a mystery.
The question, therefore, simply had to be asked. "Then…who did you bring?"
Tonks sighed as she awkwardly examined her shoes. "Technically, I didn't bring anyone. They kind of brought themselves…"
Oh please, no…
His head began to shake almost of its own accord. "Not them. Please tell me you didn't bring…"
Like a burrowing worm, a little cylindrical length of masonry shot out of the wall to their right, curling as it crumbled to the floor. Even as Remus stared, his heart sinking even further, there came a voice that deepened the dread into his stomach.
"Tonks? Tonks, are you there? Hermione, are you sure this is the right room?"
"Of course I'm sure! Do you think I'd be so stupid as to drill a hole in the wall if I wasn't?"
Harry. And if Hermione was with him, there was no way that Ron would have stayed behind….
Remus could feel the temporary calm he had so carefully nurtured splitting and tearing down the seams. His voice, when it came, was dangerously low and rife with unpleasant implications.
"You brought the kids?" he stated softly. "You brought the kids here? Now?"
"Hey!" Ron's vaguely indignant response from beyond the wall cut off whatever weary remark had hovered on Tonks' lips. "I happen to be of age, you know!"
"And anyway, don't blame Tonks." Harry's voice interrupted Ron's protests firmly.
"She told us not to come. It's not her fault we snuck after her and latched on to her portkey..."
"Portkey?" Rebekah's voice cut sharply into the conversation, startling Remus yet again as she rushed forwards to his side and grabbed Tonks sharply by the wrist. "You have a portkey?"
Tonks was regarding Rebekah with vast uncertainty and Remus was reasonably sure as to why – months of suspicion was not erased instantaneously. Her eyes darted towards Remus, searching his face almost instinctively for reassurance.
"She was under the Imperius curse." Remus acted quickly to provide it. "We can trust her now."
Tonks rolled her eyes. "Sweet Merlin, this business has more twists and turns than a snitch with a broken wing. Even I'm having trouble keeping track of it."
Rebekah was staring at the Auror with barely concealed impatience. "You have a portkey?" she prompted sharply. "A portkey that works?"
Tonks grimaced. "Had. It got broken." She shot a steely glare at the wall, presumably directed at Harry, Ron and Hermione beyond. "It was one of your globes that I… got hold of." Remus observed her very deliberate avoidance of Felisha's guilty eyes as she spoke. "But a certain three somebodies not a million miles from here grabbed me as I activated it. I lost my balance on landing and it fell and smashed. I'm sorry."
Rebekah's expression had fallen instantly at the word broken. "That's why we used glass," she remarked softly, almost to herself. "So that they could be smashed as a last resort to prevent residents escaping. I didn't expect it to come back to haunt me like this."
"And speaking of haunting…" Tonks was glaring once more at the hole that led to the three teenagers. "Didn't I tell you three to wait up on the stairs?"
Hermione's voice was distinctly apologetic. "Tonks, there were Death Eaters coming up towards us and that stairwell was so narrow that there wasn't room for us to get out of their way under the cloak. We didn't have anywhere else to go but downstairs. And then I managed to work out where this room would have to be..."
Tonks rolled her eyes but did not expand upon her irritation. "Well, now you're down here, you can make yourself useful. We need to cut a door in that wall – as quickly and quietly as we can."
Hermione's tone filled with instant pleasure. "Oh! I know the perfect spell for that! I can show you…"
"And I know the perfect place." Tall and grim, Alexander Aylward inserted himself into the conversation. "I'll show you where the original door was before I sealed it over…"
"Aren't we all forgetting something?" An almost audible groan rippled across the room as Croll's caustic tone intervened brutally into the plan making. "It's got to be less than an hour until the full moon rises. How do you propose that we get more than twenty people out of a front door that is most likely heavily guarded before the Lockdown activates?"
There was a deafening silence. But the looks of dawning horror on the faces of the Institute staff were not promising.
"Lockdown?" Tonks marched forward instantly, addressing her question to the room at large. "What's the Lockdown?"
"A security precaution." The weary voice that answered was Rebekah's. "Every full moon, the entire building is sealed automatically against potential escape. Every external door is locked and heavily warded. Every internal door closes and can only be opened by a member of the Institute staff. It can't be deactivated or delayed or stopped without authorisation codes that are held in secret at the Ministry – I don't even know them. Once the Lockdown is in place, the only way out before moonset the next morning out is by portkey." She sighed heavily. "And as I'm sure you're aware, we have no portkeys left."
Tonks' face had paled considerably as Rebekah's words sunk in. "Oh fantastic," she drawled with resignation. "So we're really on the clock. Remus, can you tell how long we have until moonrise?"
Remus took a moment to carefully examine the state of his body and mind. "I'm a little tense, so it's hard to be precise," he informed her with appallingly gross understatement. "I'd say maybe half an hour but I can't be any more accurate than that. I'm sorry."
Tonks was glaring at the floor. "Our chances of fighting our way out in that time with only four wands are slim to none," she remarked grimly, almost to herself. Her eyes snapped up. "Isn't there any other way out of this place?"
"There's the emergency tunnel." Aylward's deep voice echoed suddenly against the stone walls. "That's not far from here."
Tonks pounced upon his words instantly. "What emergency tunnel?"
The Institute staff were looking equally bemused. "Good question," the old caretaker Unwin rumbled gruffly. "What emergency tunnel?"
But Rebekah was already shaking her head. "That's going to lock down just like everything else, Alexander. And you know I don't have my wand anymore."
But Tonks was clearly not interested in excuses. "What tunnel?" she repeated sharply.
Rebekah sighed once more. "It's a secret exit for mass evacuation purposes – a way to empty the building quickly of everyone, residents included, in case of a Level Six escape. Only Alexander and I are supposed to know about it. Dolph doesn't know it exists – he never asked and so I never told him."
Remus rapidly joined the interrogation. "Where does it go?"
"To the other side of the Muggle railway line – outside the anti-apparition zone."
"But that sounds perfect!" Tonks exclaimed with near enthusiasm. "Why didn't you mention this earlier?"
"Because it's useless to us." Rebekah's frown was deep. "It's wand sealed at both ends to my wand." She hardened her jaw. "And the last time I saw my wand, it was in my office. With Dolph."
Remus felt a chill settle across his heart. He glanced around, drinking in a sea of falling faces, hope draining from their eyes, shoulders slumping as their last slender chance of escape was ruthlessly yanked away. He already knew, with a sinking heart, that this final spark of hope was not his to claim. But for them?
"Then we get your wand." The words had passed his lips almost before he was aware that he had spoken. "We go up there, just a few of us, and we get it. Before moonrise."
Tonks' lip twisted. "Remus…"
His pointed gaze cut her off. "You have a better idea?"
An eyebrow quirked. "Nope. So I guess I'm with you."
"What about the residents?" Felisha's voice, quiet but firm, penetrated the air. "We're just going to leave them here to be Kissed?"
It was Rebekah who responded first, cutting off Croll's half started sneer of disdain. "It's too late to save them now," she replied in a voice ripe with genuine sorrow. "You must be able to see that, Felisha. The best thing we can do is raise the alarm and have an army of Aurors waiting outside when the Lockdown releases. I know Dolph is planning to have them Kissed first thing after moonset – they'll be at their weakest then." She shook her head slowly, tiredly. "There's nothing more we can do for them from here. Our escape is their only hope."
"She's right." Remus stared around at the mass of pale faces, feeling suddenly and unaccountably weary. "It'll be hard enough getting all of you down that tunnel without…"
He had hoped to slip the word in unnoticed, unquestioned, but Nymphadora Tonks was not a woman that he could easily fool. He saw the instant narrowing of her eyes, the cooling of her features and braced himself for the barrage.
"What do you mean, all of you? Don't you mean all of us?"
Remus stared at her. Stared into her dark eyes, at the cocktail of fear, determination and anger that burned within them. She had come here for him, broken into the Institute, braved danger and Death Eaters to bring him out safely and now he had to tell her that the force behind her mission – her desire to see him safe – was destined to come to nothing.
Because by the time she had come, it had already been too late.
He met her eyes. "I'm not coming with you."
Her expression flared. "Remus Lupin, if you're about to spout some ridiculous excuse to exercise that stupid martyr complex of yours, then I swear…"
"It's too long." Remus cut her sentence away sharply before she was able to build up an unstoppable momentum. "The tunnel," he added more softly as her features contorted with unspoken confusion. "If it comes out beyond the railway then it must be well over a mile from end to end. You must know that by the time we've got that wand, there won't be enough time for me to reach the end of the tunnel before I change and nowhere to confine myself if I did." He breathed deeply. "I haven't had my last dose of Wolfsbane, Tonks. And I'm not prepared to escape one confined space full of potential victims only to lock myself inside another."
He held her gaze gently. "So it's quite simple really. Either we find me a dose of Wolfsbane before moonrise. Or…" He smiled sadly. "Or I have to stay behind."
A/N: I haven't had a chance to do my thanks or my responses yet - I thought it would be preferable to get the chapter up first. Watch out on my profile for the responses link to follow. :)