A/N:As you may have noticed, this chapter is a day and a half late. I would offer up my humblest apologies for this except for the fact that it was in no way, shape or form my fault - as I'm sure anyone who's tried to Log On, post or review here in the last couple of days has noticed, every attempt to do any of these things has been met with This Page Cannot Be Displayed messages. But at least it seems to be back again now (hurrah!) and so on with the fic!
42: Man In Wolf's Clothing
Where are you?
Darkness. It surrounded him, cloaking a half known scene into a mystery of fleeting shadows and glimpses that even his full moon eyes could not make sense of. The blackness of the unlit Residents refectory seemed somehow darker than the usual weight of night, a vast blanket that stole away his sight and left him groping for some kind of clarity.
And somewhere in this darkness waited Dolph.
Remus had been right. His opponent was indeed a man in wolf's clothing. And the man knew how to think.
Dolph's strategy, in the end, had proved to be simple. The Death Eaters, it seemed, had anticipated Lockdown – all over the Institute, interior doors had been melted down or jammed wide open to allow the invaders the freedom to move. And although Remus held the greater experience of a wolfish body, it was Dolph who knew the territory and got to choose the battleground.
And he had chosen well. The unlit refectory was a maze of scattered furniture and confusion to one who did not know it, a fact that Remus had learned painfully as he pelted down the corridor in pursuit of the lupine Death Eater. He had topped the stairs and bolted forwards, glancing back briefly when a flash of light caught his eye, but it was only the lift shaft marked out by pale light that drifted from far above, the metal grill that had once covered the drop melted into a hardened, twisted mess. But it mattered not in his hurried pursuit and so he hurtled on, passing the wedged-wide doors as he burst into the refectory and promptly ran head on into a bench. The clatter, needless to say, had been tremendous and by the time Remus, bruised and shaken, had managed to stagger to his feet, all trace of Dolph was gone.
For a moment, Remus could only stand, his sides heaving, his head throbbing as his golden eyes raked the darkness almost desperately. He couldn't lose Dolph, he couldn't afford to lose Dolph, he was just too dangerous an enemy to leave running around at large. But charging into the unknown was foolhardy to the point of suicidal. His aching head had taught that lesson well enough.
"You need to know the lay of the land, where you're going, what's to come…" His father's voice, his father's words, familiar wisdom from his childhood. He could almost see his face, hovering against the backdrop of tree limbs and bright blue sky as they walked cautiously together side by side, through the woods near Winter Hollow, tracking a Red Cap that had made good its escape from its cage in the lean-to menagerie the night before. "There's no point in rushing blindly into danger, Remus - that's the way to lose limbs or get a limp you won't forget in a hurry. Assess the situation and get your bearings. Make sure that you're the one who's ready for anything."
Reynard Lupin had been the best there was, the greatest exterminator ever to work for the Ministry of Magic. There was nothing he did not know about stalking prey that was worth listening to.
But I can't see the lay of the land, dad! I can't get my bearings!
His father's ghostly chuckle whispered in the silence of his mind. "And one more thing to remember, son. You have more than one sense in your head. Listening, touching, smelling – they can be as important a clue as what you can see." He remembered vividly the distant look in his father's eyes as he had gazed away at the sky. "I made that mistake once. I looked when I should have listened, I forgot to consider that some creatures have a better sense of smell than I do, and good men died for it. Never forget that the be all and end all isn't what you can find with plain sight…"
Within himself, Remus smiled. I love you, dad.
He allowed himself one final look at the overwhelming weight of darkness that pressed down all around him. And then, he closed his eyes.
The world seemed to slow. He could feel his own breath as it rasped against his lungs, in and out, in and out, accompanied by the drumbeat tap of his heart as it pulsed life-giving blood rhythmically along the length of his arteries and veins, vibrating the skin, tickling the bone until all that he was seemed to lost beneath that simple feeling. He could feel the slow throb of his wounded head as capillaries burst and bruised the skin, the strain of limbs as the pain of hard running coursed through them, the deep bone weariness of two long, hard days and one intense transformation rippling dangerously beside the fuel of his adrenalin. Every inch of this body, familiar and unfamiliar, his own and yet not, seemed for a moment to be everything.
And then, he captured his awareness and thrust it outward, straining his ears into the silence.
And it was not silent at all.
Somewhere distant and unseen, a tap dripped, slowly, steadily, one drop, two drops, three and on and on and on, a beat against the darkness that almost seemed to echo the still audible rhythm of his heart. High above, the low hum of the spells that purified the air matched the gentle rasp of his breathing, both carefully controlled. He placed one foot carefully forward, searching for obstacles and heard his toenails click gently against the floor and knew then that if he waited, if Dolph moved, he would know exactly where to find him.
And then, another voice touched against his mind. "A werewolf's sense of smell is exceptionally acute. In fact, in The Dark Creatures Compendium, Caractacus Pring believed that…"
Hermione. Merlin bless her and her library of a mind.
He had been vaguely away of the scent of the room before him, a tumble of conflicting odours that weaved invisible colours through the darkened air. But he had not yet taken a moment to analyse it.
There was no time like the present.
Remus inhaled deeply.
It was like being hit by an explosion. This was a room that, day in and day out, was home to almost forty people and the evidence of their life here surged against his nostrils with almost overwhelming force. Their physical smells, skin and sweat and hair mingled with the residues of their intense emotions; frustration, anger, irritation, tedium and fear boiled against the air. He could smell the remains of their food and drink, a scattered hint of chicken in crumbs beneath the tables, a whiff of orange juice and the stale scent of Wolfsbane, old and distant but so ingrained into the history of the room that it could not be erased completely. There was a hint of fur, of werewolf's scent upon the breeze but with Remus' lack of nasal experience mixed together with such a potent force of odour, it almost impossible to get more specific.
Well, at least the git's still here. But now what?
For a moment, Remus considered simply standing his ground. After all, his intention was not to hunt Dolph down, it was simply to trap and neutralise him and if there was no other way out of this room then his job was effectively done if he just held at the door. But was there another way out? He was assuming not but he had never seen plans of the Institute – there was no way to be sure. And what would happen at moonset? He would be facing a human – a Death Eater – hidden somewhere in the room and if the change weakened him, Dolph could easily slip passed him and wreak havoc before anything could be done.
From the recesses of memory, he heard laughter, saw a familiar, long-lost face as James Potter leaned back against his bed in their Hogwarts dormitory with Sirius lounging nearby, both leafing through essay papers that were strewn with scribbled Quidditch diagrams. Even as his mind's eye watched, Harry's father snatched up the scrap of paper that his best friend was annotating, screwed it up and casually lobbed it at Sirius' head.
"That's rubbish, Padfoot!" Remus heard him exclaim with a chortle. "A Beater up front is no threat. There's no point in worrying about the guys you can see because if you can see them, you can dodge them. It's the bludger they hit from behind that'll get you off your broom…"
Keep threats in plain sight where they can't hurt you. It was good advice.
Even in pitch darkness.
He needed to get close to Dolph, stalk him, keep him in his sights. So now all he had to do was find him.
Make a move. Come on, make a move so I can hear you…
And then, there it was.
A soft scrape of toenails clicking against the floor. The smallest squeak and rattle as a chair was pushed slightly aside.
Left. If memory served, left was where the softer chairs, the games and books all rested in a kind of living area beyond the refectory benches. It was, Remus had to admit, probably the most logical place in the room to hide and wait.
The hum of the cleansing spells rippled against his breathing. His heartbeat drummed with the tap.
Drip, drip, drip, beat, beat, beat…
One foot forward, next foot, more feet, slowly, silently, his breathing low and ragged, his eyes burning the darkness as though to blaze it away. One paw touched gently against wood – veering sharply, Remus re-orientated himself as best he could into what he presumed to be the gap between two long tables, creeping forward, slowly, slowly, slowly.
If I can hear, he can hear, so I have to be quieter, I have to be stealthier, I have to corner him and take him by surprise…
His pulse seemed to drill against his ears. It took a moment to remember that only he could hear it.
The scent was strengthening. Even over the miasma of the room, he could smell his fellow werewolf more clearly now, smell the fresh sweat from his run and the hints of fear and fury he spilled unknowingly from his skin. Faintly, he could hear breathing.
Closer, closer, closer…
He could smell fabric now, cushions he guessed, and the musty scent of books and dusty old cardboard. Dolph's odour strengthened powerfully, the fear in his scent spiking the air like poison.
Can he sense me? Does he know I'm here? Does he know I'm close?
Well, it didn't matter. All he had to do was hold him, maybe knock him out or lock him away somehow, just something that would insure he would not threaten anyone else within these walls, would not risk the innocent werewolves below or inflict their shared curse upon the young lives of Harry, Hermione, Ron or Tonks.
Tonks. Gods, I hope she's okay. I hope she's…
And then, everything changed.
It was a dull boom, distant and somewhere far below but it was enough to set the walls of the Institute shaking, to shudder across the floor like an earthquake's roll and to shake Remus almost from his footing. He braced sharply, clamping all four feet firmly down upon an insecure floor, toenails scratching the surface as he fought for purchase, for balance as his mind reeled as fast as the motion of the room.
Tonks! Tonks went down there, what's happened to her, what's…
The impact was sharp and shocking. Remus tasted blood as he slapped against the floor, the force of the clawed blow knocking his feet from under him. He heard a snap of triumph, felt the brush of fur, heard the frantic skitter of feet rush passed as the smell of desperate werewolf all but overwhelmed him.
Dolph! Dolph was making a run for it!
No! No bloody way!
Steadying himself against the still shaky floor, Remus staggered to his feet and wheeled, hurling himself in pursuit. He sensed rather than saw the loom of the table ahead, heard the crash as Dolph knocked it aside but he did not falter, did not slow and whether by fate or chance or sheer dumb luck he reached the door unimpeded. The pale, sickly glow light weeping down the lift shaft cast Dolph's fleeing form in silhouette mere yards ahead – gritting his vast array of teeth, Remus doubled his pace as he darted at the other werewolf, snapping and snarling, pushing him away from the freedom of the stairs and onwards instead, towards the glow of oblivion beyond.
The lift shaft.
It was perfect. The drop to the ground from here would be two storeys – possibly not enough to kill a creature as strong and resilient as a werewolf, but certainly enough to render it distinctly unconscious. If could drive Dolph to fall, if he could push him down and knock him out…
He had to do it. He had to stop him. If he could catch him by surprise…
But Dolph had seen the danger too. Inches short, he skidded to a halt.
Just behind him, Remus didn't.
He could have stopped. He had time to stop, to swerve aside, but his momentum would have vanished, his advantage lost and he needed that force to dislodge his enemy and push him far enough to fall.
Even if he meant he could no longer keep himself from following.
Brief doubts fluttered in his mind in that last second, near hesitation as he stared at Dolph's crouched form, his golden eyes wide with disbelief and horror as he backed up against the edge of the abyss. Was the lift at the bottom shattered into pieces just like the one at Zelia's lab? Would his tumble end not just in bruises and broken bones but also in the piercing of skin and spilling of life's blood as he faded into nothing?
He had no way to know. He could only know that the alternative was danger to innocents and those he loved.
It'll keep them safe. It'll keep her safe.
Do it. Just do it.
He felt Dolph's furious claws slash into his skin as he barrelled into the other werewolf, heard his howl of fury and then the ground was gone and they were falling, falling, falling, striking the walls and each other with painful force. He heard Dolph's un-wolfish screech, caught glimpses of golden eyes filled with hate, of fur and flailing legs as walls rushed past him fast, too fast and then the ground surged up to meet him with a shocking, shocking blow. He felt bones breaking as he slammed into solid stone, tasted blood as it flooded his mouth and felt the searing heat of damage as it spilled out of his body, jerked free by his landing strike. There were no broken fragments there but that was scant consolation.
The pain was agonising. It ripped through him, swilling across his mind and summoning a different, too familiar kind of blackness. He caught a hazy glimpse of Dolph, lying silent and still beneath him, his fur etched out in blood, his leg at an angle unknown to nature, but he could not move away from him, could not find the energy or strength even to roll away from the other werewolf's prone form. He could only lie, panting desperately as he stared upwards along the dark tunnel of the shaft towards a distant pinprick of faraway light high above.
The darkness surged. Consciousness waned.
Did it. Dolph unconscious. All safe. I did it. I…
Footsteps echoed. A light flared.
Remus looked up.
For a moment, his vision was hazy, uncertain, shot with blood, revealing only a glowing wand and the pale outline of a small figure staring down at him from a blur of colour and glow.
He tried to yap. The sound that emerged was more of a gurgle.
And then, just for an instant, his vision cleared.
And relief burst into horror.
Peter Pettigrew stared down at the broken, battered form of his old friend. His eyes were utterly unreadable.
"Hello Remus," he said softly.
Remus tried to rise, to struggle up, to offer some sort of resistance. But even that slight movement sent his body screaming. Pain, bright and bold, ripped through him, his vision fading into lights and colours until he could see nothing but the maelstrom in their wake.
And then the blackness swamped him and he knew no more.
A/N: Well at this point I must take a moment to fling much praise in the direction of my beta, Chriss Corkscrew who once again appeared with shovel in hand to dig me out of a big, inspiration-less hole. This chapter gave me hell. I started it about three times and everyone was worse than the last because I couldn't find any kind of hook into the chapter to make it worth reading. I have to admit I have never written a chapter before that contains only a single line of dialogue (and that right at the end!) and I couldn't seem to make Remus' thoughts seem logical and interesting enough as he went in search of Dolph. So I dispatched a desperate email to Chriss, requesting any better ideas and she offered two inspired suggestions; concentrate on the senses and have Remus think about advice from the people he cares about. Armed with this, I sat down and wrote the chapter above. So bless you, Chriss…:)
Many thanks to my lovely reviewers this week: elka78, anonymous, cassie89, aurelie1, eris86, Kailin, felixgirl, MollyCoddles, Lady Bracknell, snowfall, Jazzed Up, Rel Fexive, moo, Angry Mavis, Potter's Muse, Bardlover, krumfan, morgan, Lunair, Howling-wolf, Aroxs, Libeku Taganashi, purebristles, Gilpin, Ella J.W, Gyllenalv, Paloma and Mandelan:) Bless you all. :)
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