Notes: There is some use of Welsh; I did not provide translations because it is explained within context. All Welsh mythology is genuine in source, and only slightly twisted to suit my plot purposes. I was at some times rather free with JK Rowling's explantion of the pre-Harry world.
Disclaimer: The lovely and talented JK Rowling so far surpasses me that I hesitate to post; but one cannot help but imagine.
January : 1982
Remus fought the urge to pace. The room was chill, but the fire was fighting it back. It wasn’t that, so much; he just felt so anxious. He envied Lily, who throughout the whole affair had been icily calm. Even now she sat silently in her chair by the fireplace, darning one of Harry’s shirts and barely paying him any mind.
He took an unlit candle from the tabletop and rolled it between his hands. ‘James?’ he asked again.
‘Knows little enough and is likely in your state.’ The woman sighed and laid aside the shirt. ‘I told you. He only knows what Fudge gave me clearance to tell him.’
‘I’m sorry,’ he said.
‘Are you?’ She shrugged. ‘What’s a secret in a marriage, Reemy? I don’t flatter myself that I know all he does with the Ministry. Perhaps it does him a little good, to know my side of it. The waiting. The wondering.’
He set the candle back, laying a finger over it to keep it from rolling. He found he could not quite meet her eyes, and focussed intently instead on her hair. He said softly, ‘But you’re a mother.’
‘Harry has two parents.’ Lily licked her lips, and stood. At last the jittery movement betrayed that her calm was not as deep as it seemed. Remus was selfishly grateful. ‘He might have none, if Vol– You-Know-Who runs free for the next ten years.’
It had been hard for both of them to get out of the habit of not saying his name. But Remus would do anything to minimize the danger to Lily, and she had reluctantly concluded that, to put James at a little peace if nothing else, she must do the same.
The fire popped, and he jumped. Lily laughed suddenly, and he grinned, abashed. ‘It’s just...’
She touched his arm. ‘I know, love.’
A quiet knock broke them apart. Lily crossed the small room, and opened the door. A tall man slipped through, his cowl raised to hide his face. Only when she had locked the door behind the visitor did he throw back the hood, and come to a shivering stop beside the fire. ‘Tea,’ Severus Snape grunted. ‘Freezing.’
‘You’re late,’ Remus said, attempting a neutral tone. He received a sharp look, and he turned his back to it as he scooped tea leaves into a strainer. He concentrated on pouring hot water over it, filling the small mug to the brim. He kept his eyes on his hands as he passed it to Severus.
‘I was kept in the street,’ Snape was replying. ‘Crabbe was out there. I don’t know whether it was a coincidence, or if he’s here to watch for me. Or you. I don’t put it past Malfoy to have spies set on your movements.’
‘We were careful,’ Lily said. ‘We apparated to a private room.’
Snape seemed grudgingly admiring of that. ‘Wish I’d thought of it,’ he muttered at last, sipping carefully from his steaming cup. ‘I hid in the alley across the way, there, til he finally stumped off.’
‘How long do you reckon we have?’ Remus asked.
‘I can spare you an hour. I have to get to Rosier’s first, but you can take yourselves straight to the– spot.’ He cast a paranoid glance to the door. ‘Did you cast wards?’
‘Trust us,’ Lily murmured.
Severus glanced at Remus. His lip curled, and he stared down into his tea.
‘Well, trust me, then.’ Lily resumed her seat and reached for her needle and the shirt. ‘Where are we to go, then?’
‘Salisbury.’ He sighed, and set his cup on the mantle. ‘We’re attacking the Cathedral.’
Remus spoke sharply. ‘During service?’
‘Wouldn’t be a lot of bloody point if it weren’t,’ Severus snapped.
Remus struggled with it. He saw the other man’s sneer, and Lily’s curiosity, but couldn’t explain further. It was the sudden image of his mother kneeling to take the communion wafer that made him shudder.
‘I suppose you’ll tell me my soul’s in danger,’ Snape was saying.
He looked up. ‘Would you disagree if I said it was?’
‘I’d say you’re a fool to let a man in a robe tell you what to do.’
‘Seeing all the difference between a demagogue and that lord of yours, I wouldn’t be one to talk.’ Lily reached for her cloak, and drew it on. ‘Leave him be. We’ll be at the cathedral. We’ll see what we can do to get those people out.’
He stood beside the tomb of some ancient who had been of enough note in the eighteenth century to earn a spot near the head of the nave. He was hot beneath the invisibility cloak, sweating, though the chapel itself was cool. He glanced to the rafters. An owl, dark grey and silent, sat almost entirely in shadow; even its eyes did not gleam in the dim light.
It had been simple enough to light a small, contained fire that had forced the congregation outside. It had been harder to convince them to disperse and leave the site. In the future, he’d know better how to prepare. Even now the priest and brother lingered, talking in low, confused voices. He glanced to the owl again. There wasn’t enough time, and they had to have the church empty.
The owl hooted and shuffled on its perch. ‘All right,’ he muttered, and let the cloak drop from his shoulders and left his alcove. He threaded through the pews, striding quickly toward the altar where the men stood.
The brother heard him, and turned. ‘I’m sorry,’ he began. ‘We’re not holding service tonight, there’s been a problem–‘
Remus took his wand from his belt. He pointed first at the balding brother, and muttered, ‘Obliviate.’ The priest reacted to the threat of what was clearly a weapon, and grabbed his companion’s arm to duck him down.
Near the ceiling, Lily gave a warning screech.
He had to dart forward, running after the men as they tried to escape through the choir door. He caught them at the stairs, and shouted the spell, no longer worried about them hearing him coming.
They slowed. They stopped, and looked about, bewildered.
The priest said, ‘Service has been cancelled.’
He hid the wand behind his back. ‘I know.’ He glanced back to the nave. ‘In fact, you were just going home. You– there’s something urgent at home you have to take care of. You’re in a hurry,’ he added.
‘I was?’ The priest rubbed his red-veined nose. ‘Y-es, I was. I remember now.’
The brother was already taking off his stole.
Remus made sure they were safely speeding away in their cars before he returned to the church. The owl had resettled and sat noiselessly staring. He pulled the cloak back over his head, and pulled back into shadow himself.
The Death Eaters were angry and confused to find the church empty. They milled around, arguing in low voices that rebounded off the stone walls. Remus strained, but heard only names– Voldemort’s prominent. He watched Severus, who was playing it too silent, to Remus’s paranoid view.
Lucius was with them. He was furious, his colour high, his lips compressed into a fearsome slash.
True to form, the Death Eaters left wreckage in the wake of their inability to do more. Remus watched them thoroughly debase the church, wincing as he made his way toward the anteroom and the exit. He found the owl perched on one of the signs outside, and it flew to his arm. ‘Apparate,’ he whispered, and took them back to their rented room at the Diagon Alley inn.
Lily hopped from his arm to the bed. Her form blurred, and when he looked again she was human, brushing wrinkles from her slacks and straightening her long red hair. She stood, and murmured, ‘That was informative.’
He felt suddenly drained, numb. He fell into the seat beside the fire, and stared into it morosely. Lily left, and returned with another tea tray. ‘Eat something,’ she advised him, holding out a plate of sandwiches.
‘What did you mean, informative?’ he asked, ignoring the plate. ‘They didn’t say anything. We don’t know anything we knew before we went. All we accomplished was saving lives.’ He heard himself, and pulled a face. ‘I don’t mean “all.”’
She pulled the other chair up beside his, and poured hot water for them both. ‘An owl’s hearing is quite a bit sharper than a human’s, Lupin. You may not have heard what they were talking about, but I did. They were talking about You-Know-Who, and they were talking about where they had to go do to that.’
He sat up straight. ‘Then we have to get Dumbledore–‘
She waved him back. ‘Don’t you see?’ she asked, looking at him seriously. ‘They’ll have him moved before we could even contact the Headmaster. They’re not entirely stupid. They know there’s a leak. They won’t chance keeping him in the same place, now.’
He stared at her. ‘So what do we do, then?’
Dumbledore raised an eyebrow in warning. Fudge’s fat lower lip twitched, but Crouch looked victorious. Remus clenched his fists on his knees as the man smugly repeated himself. ‘You are hereby ordered out of the field, Mr Lupin.’
Lily nudged his foot with her boot. He struggled to stay silent, knowing that he was being punished, at last, for crossing Crouch, and knowing as well that his punishment could be a lot worse.
Fudge sighed, and leaned back in his chair, easing the pinch of his belt over his stout stomach. ‘Young man,’ he said. ‘I fear I must agree with Barty. We at the Ministry appreciate the value of what you’ve done. But even without the matter of trust, it makes no sense to continue to send an untrained operative without Mrs Potter’s... unique abilities.’ Fudge cast a look at Lily; she only smiled, her gaze modestly on the teacup in her delicate hands. Her status as an unregistered animagus confused the Minister. It was illegal, but she hadn’t practised the art til now, only known how to do it. And Fudge could hardly arrest his own spy.
Now his only voluntary spy. Only Severus Snape would have contact with Lily Potter, now.
Dumbledore stood, gathering the skirts of his robe in one hand. ‘Gentlemen, if you will excuse an old man... I have classes to see to.’
Fudge stood, and Remus followed. Crouch did not, but nodded curtly. Lily smiled a real smile for their Headmaster, and he patted her shoulder as he passed her chair. Fudge muttered something about seeing Dumbledore out, and they left, shutting the door behind them.
Crouch closed his small notebook with an audible snap. Remus glanced away; the arrogance grated his nerves raw. The older man leant over the table, and said, ‘Show up for your parole report on Tuesday week, Lupin, or I’ll have you in hard labour for the next twenty years, Dumbledore or no Dumbledore.’
The door shut one more time, and then he was alone with Lily.
She met his eyes. ‘I’m sorry,’ she murmured. ‘I honestly didn’t see that coming.’
‘Not your fault.’ He ran a hand through his hair, squeezed the back of his neck where the tension was worst. ‘It’s not that I begrudge it. I just– ‘
She stood, and came behind his chair to rub his shoulders. He closed his eyes as her strong fingers dug into his muscles. ‘I’m as safe as can be. Only Snape and James know– not even Sirius or Pete. And you’ve work of your own.’
He had to find a way to solve his own spell riddle. He doubted even Voldemort would fall for the Welsh trick twice. But Severus wouldn’t be likely to let slip any news; he was too close to his need for secrecy, now.
He covered one of her hands with his. ‘Don’t get yourself murdered.’ He tried to sound light. ‘That wouldn’t sit so well.’
‘Nor with me.’
February : 1982
The twig made a soft, indistinct ‘plop’ as it landed in the lake. Remus sighed. He kicked away the small pile he’d gathered, anything in reach without having to move. He drew his cloak near, wrapped it tightly around his shoulders, and lay back on the damp bank. It was a grey, shivery day. The sky could have been the lake, and likewise, for all the difference in their appearances. Hogwarts behind him was all but invisible. A wave of disorientation swept him, and he closed his eyes. The pipe pressed against his leg, inside his left pocket.
Dumbledore knew, he was sure. He had no secrets anymore, not under the watchful gaze of his keeper. He’d ceased even to feel guilty about it. It was sanity, in his pocket. He drifted on dreams of owls and skulls and screams.
He dozed for a while, exhausted, and woke confused about what had brought him out of the sleep. Someone was sitting beside him. His jangled nerves brought a vehement curse to his lips, and he struggled to free himself from the tangles of his cloak.
‘Relax.’ It was James, grinning. ‘If I were here to murder you, I wouldn’t have waited til you woke to botch it.’
He felt weak in the chest, staring up at his friend. ‘You surprised me,’ he said, lamely.
‘So I gathered.’ James lifted a palm-sized clump of dirt in his hand, and lobbed it gently into the water. The small splash didn’t echo in the twilight fog. ‘You look like piss,’ he added companionably. ‘Did Albus kick you out of the castle for missing your parole report?’
He finally won free of the cape, and thrust it aside, shaking in the aftermath of the adrenaline. Sudden ache pounded at his temples. ‘I forgot about it,’ he muttered. ‘Yesterday?’
‘Two weeks ago. Lucky Crouch had better things to worry about.’
‘Sorry.’ He wasn’t, but James let it pass without further argument.
‘It took me nearly half an hour to walk out here.’
‘I was getting away from the students.’
‘We could use you. Remus.’
A noise of denial and loathing rose in his throat before he could think to stop it, still groggy with the bad start. ‘So said Voldemort.’
James took his hand, and he couldn’t deny the rush of gratitude that flooded him. James still loved him; all was right between them. He closed his eyes on the black glittering fog, and curled his own fingers around his friend’s. James stretched out beside him, and his voice floated up, deadened in the misty night.
‘He’s getting too close to my wife.’
He didn’t want to hear it, and humiliating tears flooded his eyes. He willed them back. He listened.
‘Lily and I had a long talk with Dumbledore, and we agree– we’re going into hiding. Just for a time. I hate to do it when Lily’s so close– she’s learned more about them than we have in years. She’s convinced that Rosier is hiding You-Know-Who, and she managed to follow him. He had wards up around his manor, strong wards, and she nearly lost a wing to a curse. It’s awful, the things she sees, that she can’t stop on her own, that she hears. She knows what would happen if he caught us. We’re just– and I feel we’re so near a turning point, a real victory, but... I have Harry to consider now. I need to think about his safety.’
Remus turned his head to look at him, a dim serious face, and his grip on James’s fingers tightened involuntarily. ‘Do you think it’s that bad?’
‘I have to act as if I do, don’t I? Lily cried last night. Lily. She’s the strong one, you know... If I acted as though it were nothing, and something happened to my family, I’d– I’d never forgive myself.’
He made himself nod, as if he understood. He did.
‘It’s just for a few months, or a year... ‘
‘Where will you be?’
‘Albus thinks we ought not to tell anyone. Not for not trusting people, it’s just– the less everyone knows, the better.’ Remus was silent, and James added uneasily, ‘We’ll have a secret-keeper.’
‘Sirius,’ Remus said.
‘Yes.’ He couldn’t read anything in the other man’s expression. ‘He’ll go into hiding too, at least at first. We’re hoping Voldemort will just give up.’
Remus stayed silent.
James turned onto his side, holding himself up with an elbow and squeezing the hand he held. ‘Listen to me now. You made a mistake. No one blames you.’
‘For goodness’ sake, Moony, this is pretty damn tiring–‘ It was too late to stop. Things that had gone unsaid between them for years were bubbling to the surface, and even-tempered, forgiving James Potter let them loose in a stream of soft furious words. ‘We made you our friend. We did everything we could for you– and I was sorry that it wasn’t enough. But I’m not, not anymore. You have to take responsibility for yourself, and that doesn’t mean running away whenever anyone threatens to love you! You’re a grown man and you don’t hold yourself to anything, and we all felt sorry for you because you couldn’t do any better. And then you– you–‘ Upset, stammering, James finally spat it out. ‘You went to Voldemort.’
He tried to sneer, but couldn’t keep it. ‘If I hadn’t, Voldemort would own this country inside the next year. I gave you a way in.’
‘Tell yourself whatever you must to live with what you did.’
Silence followed. He wiped his face, his nose gone numb, staring out at the lake.
At last, James spoke, and now his voice was quiet, drained of the anger and pity. He said, ‘Snape told me about the opium.’
He wasn’t even surprised. ‘And?’ he retorted sharply.
‘And. We want you to go to St Mungo’s. They have a programme. We’ve already told them you’re coming.’
‘Maybe I don’t want to.’
‘Maybe you don’t have a choice. Opium is illegal. You don’t need another charge on your warrant.’ James shifted. ‘Dumbledore is the one who suggested it. You’ll go whether you like it or not.’
‘Then you can just drag me there, because I have no intention of making it easy.’
‘You’re addicted. You don’t know where you are, what you’re doing. It could kill you.’
‘It’s not a bad solution, then, is it?’
James stood abruptly. ‘If I believed that, I’d knock you down and hold your head under the water.’ He stared down at Remus. ‘You can never understand what it was like to think you’d nearly died from the wolfsbane. To think you might have done it on purpose. Sirius thinks you did, you know. I didn’t. But you’re doing a good job of convincing me.’
‘Sirius slept around,’ Remus said flatly. ‘He took me out for a few rides and decided I was too much work, and suddenly I’m a suicidal drug addict and he stands in a corner shaking his head over how fragile his poor little mistake turned out to be!’
James’s cheeks were flushing. ‘You’re awfully close to getting punched in the face.’
Remus clambered to his feet. James wavered in his vision, blurring in and out of focus. He felt suddenly alive, strong, and the words came fast and easy. ‘I am not you! I am not any of you! Holy Mother, Jamie, d’you have the slightest idea what it was like in Slytherin? We knew about Voldemort years before the rest of you. We were signing our souls away on recruitment papers before he’d even come into the open. And the part that you would think is the worst– it’s all so very civilised, in his camp. We wear our Sunday best and drink fine wines and smoke a little hash, and we talk about the latest journals. Antony Lestrange actually read my book, did you know that? And when they fuck you, they don’t run away in the morning– they stay to recommend you to their friends.’ James was a deep crimson now. Remus went on relentlessly. ‘The occasional murder is all part and parcel, of course. We know we’re not well-liked, but we have power. Everyone bows for power. And if you can’t get power of your own, you stand next to the man who has. That’s the real world, James, and you know it’s real because who the hell can stop you from thinking whatever you want? Not some mudblood Auror, not some nancy Minister who used to trade his plump little wife for your strapping young groundsman.’
‘That’s enough.’ James clenched and unclenched his fists. ‘I think that’s more than enough.’
‘What you think,’ Remus said, clipping his words short, ‘doesn’t matter.’
They stood in silence as seconds ticked by with agonising slowness, turning into minutes. Remus’s sudden bought of energy dissipated too, leaking away into the damp air and leaving him feeling bruised and foolish, and not a little sorry.
He rubbed his eyes, his throat. At last, he said, ‘Don’t make me go to Mungo’s, James. Please.’ He swallowed with difficulty. ‘I don’t– I don’t have very much dignity right now, but if I could just– ‘
James let out an explosive breath. ‘You’re going to go.’ His hands fell lax at his side. ‘You need to go, Moony.’
‘What about Madame Pomfrey?’ he said desperately. ‘She could– I’ll do the programme with her. I could stay here, still hear the news, and no-one would care.’
He discarded that tactic and tried another. ‘I’ll turn myself over to Crouch. He’d be more than happy to see me under arrest.’
‘Feel free to do that, after you complete the programme.’
‘I’ll just start again.’
‘Then we’ll commit you again!’ James stepped forward, and took hold of his shoulders firmly. ‘You are not a child. You know that you will die. You may think you’re already dead, but you’re not.’ He shook Remus. ‘You are not dead, and I am not ready to let you go. Lily is not ready to let you go. Sirius, Peter, Dumbledore, Snape– you belong to us. You owe us. And whatever else you may have done, I’ve never seen you go back on a debt.’
Remus brought one hand up to touch his mouth, and then he ground the heel of his palm into his eyes. He was drained of all resistance. There was just the smallest feeling of relief when he admitted that to himself. ‘I’m so sorry, James,’ he whispered.
James’s face smoothed, and he pulled Remus into an embrace. ‘I know you are.’
The bare Bakelite stall was damp when Remus stepped into it. He shrugged out of his robe, and handed it to the nurse who stood patiently out of the range of the shower faucet. ‘Ready?’ the young man asked.
Remus hunched his shoulders. ‘Ready,’ he grunted. The lack of privacy made him nervous, and he wasn’t entirely sure what to do with his hands.
The spray was lukewarm at best, a little cold in the warmth of the shower room. Remus shivered, turning his face up to the stream, plastering his hair into his eyes. Gradually, his skin adjusted to the water’s temperature. He pushed his hair out of the way, blinking past water droplets at Ellery.
‘Soap,’ Ellery supplied, passing him a small cake. Remus took it and promptly dropped it, blushing as he bent to retrieve it.
‘I’m not used to public performance showers,’ he explained drily. ‘I’m not at my most co-ordinated.’
Ellery showed even teeth in a kindly smile. ‘It’s all right, sir. If it helps you any, I’m not really looking. I’m just here to ensure your safety.’
Another patient entered the showers, followed by a mild-faced nurse. They began the process on the far side of the room.
Remus soaped his hands, and scrubbed at his hair. ‘Am I so dangerous?’ he muttered.
‘I just do what they pay me to do.’
Ellery passed him a towel when he was done, and Remus stepped out of the stall. He accepted his robe, faintly relieved. He did not look at the other patient as he followed Ellery out into the hallway, and past the corner to his own small, thankfully private room. He dropped into his low-slung sofa, tugging at the lay of his robe between his legs.
Ellery checked at the chart hanging on the back of the door, then faced Remus. ‘How are you feeling?’
‘Fine. Brilliant, actually.’
The nurse shook his head. ‘I’m not against you, sir. I’m not here to do anything but make sure you’re clean and comfortable.’
Remus relented. ‘Nauseous. They told me it’s normal at this stage of detoxification.’
‘No more hallucinations? Voices?’
There had been truly awful nightmares, at first, despite the very gentle and drawn-out process of weaning himself from the opium. Then uncontrollable trembling and a feeling of being wrapped in moth balls, always hearing something just muffled enough to be unintelligible. Through it all, Ellery and the healers had been nothing but brisk, polite, and determinedly interested in his welfare.
‘No,’ Remus said. ‘Except for one of you in your pants. Or was that a fantasy? So hard to distinguish.’
That won him a mild scolding. Then Ellery poured him a glass of water, took a small bottle from his belt, and emptied it into the glass. ‘Go ahead and drink this. It will help with the nausea. It will probably also make you tired.’
He drank it. ‘Notice I’m being obedient.’
He got another smile. ‘I’ll be sure to tell your healer, sir.’
He sighed, cradling the empty glass in his lap. ‘Remus.’
Ellery nodded. ‘Remus.’
‘I mean– thank you. I haven’t been very pleasant to you.’
Ellery laughed, and sat on the edge of the bed. ‘I’d noticed, yeah. Do you mind if I ask– you seem a little, well, smart. To be here, I mean.’
‘You think that I believed I was immortal? Indestructible?’ He was getting sleepy. Lassitude was spreading through his limbs, making them heavy. ‘I didn’t. I was counting on it.’
‘Did you want to die? You would have, eventually.’
‘It wouldn’t have been the worst thing.’ His eyelids were too heavy. He let them fall closed.
Ellery draped a blanket over him. ‘I think someone might have missed you. The people who loved you enough to put you in here, for example.’
‘Damn them, anyway.’
‘I’ll bring your breakfast tomorrow, Remus.’
Audra consulted her notes. ‘Why don’t you tell me about New Year’s,’ she said.
Remus turned from the window. ‘Your pardon?’ he answered flatly.
She met his eyes unapologetically. ‘New Year’s,’ she repeated. ‘You don’t have to like it, Remus. You just have to talk about it.’
He resumed his seat across from her, playing with the folds of his black jumper, fingers still jittery despite two weeks of treatment. ‘There’s nothing to talk about. I was drunk. I didn’t realise that the moon wasn’t full yet, and I took a dose of wolfsbane. I was sick for a while.’
‘A dose.’ She held up her file. His file. ‘According to Poppy Pomfrey, you took twice the dosage you’d been taking at Hogwarts. Which was already at the limit imposed by the 1964 regulations.’
‘The regulations couldn’t account for case-by-case treatment. I was also the youngest werewolf to be taking the wolfsbane treatment. There’s no way of knowing what was safe or unsafe.’
‘You’d already suffered an overdose at Hogwarts. You recovered much more quickly, but Madame Pomfrey was concerned enough to contact your mother.’
‘Who wasn’t concerned enough to respond.’
Audra closed the file and lay her hands over it. ‘I’m not your enemy, Remus. No one here is your enemy. We’re trying to help you.’
He smiled sweetly. ‘But I didn’t ask for your help,’ he said, mimicking her gentle tone. ‘I didn’t ask you to dissect my life. It’s complicated enough without trying to explain it all to someone who wasn’t there.’
The counsellor took a moment to phrase her argument carefully. ‘You’re not explaining it to me,’ she answered at last. ‘I’m only trying to help you explain it to yourself. Just because you know what happened to you doesn’t mean you understand it. Or that you’ve faced it, and accepted it. In fact, I don’t think you know how to.’ She studied him for reactions, but he offered none, not even an expression of denial. ‘I think,’ she added slowly, ‘that so much has happened to you, and so quickly, that you can’t even sort it out. You’ve been reeling from one hit after another for more than a year.’
‘Assuming I accept that premise,’ he said, his eyes now on his hands, ‘what’s your diagnosis, Doctor?’
She chose not to point out his antagonism, however muted. ‘You feel that your world is beyond your control. You used the opium as a way of proving to yourself that you still had the power to chose, even if you were choosing self-destruction.’
He looked up again, his eyes devoid of expression, locking her out. ‘I fail to see how this relates to New Year’s.’
‘Did you try to kill yourself?’ she countered.
His mouth tightened. ‘No,’ he said coldly.
‘Can you prove it?’
‘Can you?’ He moved his hands to grip the arms of his chair. ‘I was drunk. Anyone at the party could confirm that. I don’t normally drink; I wasn’t used to it. I didn’t know what I was doing.’
‘Were you depressed?’
‘It was a party. Parties are usually pretty happy affairs, wouldn’t you say?’
She spread her hands. ‘You tell me, Remus. How many people had you seen in three years? And then in three months, you were suddenly thrust back into a life that might have been, if you’d graduated with your friends. It must have required a big adjustment.’
‘Lots of people make big adjustments,’ he said. ‘It’s not like I didn’t have lots of friendly support.’
‘We’re not talking about ‘lots of people,’‘ Audra countered. ‘We’re talking about you.’
‘You’re talking about me. I’m waiting for my time to run up.’
She tried not to let her frustration reach her face. ‘You can spend your time being witty,’ she said sternly, ‘or you can try to accomplish something while you’re here. That’s entirely up to you. But while you’re deciding, I’m going to talk for a while. Feel free to listen.’ She flipped open her file folder, searching its contents until she found the pages she was looking for. ‘On New Year’s, during the party, you drank because everyone else was drinking. Because it was a party, and you thought it might relax you. But it didn’t. It only emphasized that you couldn’t seem to enjoy yourself like the others. So you drank more, hoping something would change. It finally got the attention of your partner, and you went home with him. That felt like a triumph of some kind.
‘But then he got a call, and he left in the middle of the night. He left you alone. You couldn’t even make him stay when you needed him. You were angry. You were depressed. All the feelings that you’d been fighting to keep at bay were brought to the surface by the alcohol; your natural inhibitions were gone, and you couldn’t stop thinking. Couldn’t will the situation away, couldn’t convince yourself that it would be better tomorrow. And eventually you remembered the wolfsbane. You knew it was poisonous. Maybe you didn’t think it would kill you, that someone would find you and stop you. But no-one came, and so you swallowed all of it. So you didn’t call for help. You stayed in your room, with the door closed, alone, and you waited to die.’
His head was lowered, and she couldn’t see his face. He was barely breathing, and his hands were chalky, clenched on the arms of the chair.
‘You waited to die,’ she repeated, but gently, this time. ‘The last thing you’ve ever been able to control is your own death. You could choose-- the time, the place, the method. And then, even that was taken away from you. You lived.’
‘Do you want me to admit it?’ His voice was barely a whisper.
‘Not to me. To yourself.’
He was silent.
At last, Audra sighed, and closed her file again. ‘I think that’s enough for today,’ she murmured. ‘Tomorrow you’ll be starting a new phase of the programme. You’ll feel sick for a few days, but I’ll see you after you’re doing a little better.’ She offered a smile, though he wasn’t looking to see it. ‘Ellery will take you back to your room. He’ll be on call if you need anything, even someone to talk to. He plays a mean game of poker, if you’re interested.’
Remus thrust himself to his feet and walked to the door. He did not look back to say good-bye, and Audra mostly expected it when he slammed the door behind him.
James and Lily have been underground for a whole week, now. Sirius is hiding, too, but he sends the occasional report to Dumbledore just to be on the safe side of things. They’ve Gated the house– well, you of all people know about Gates. I could find that place with my eyes shut, but it’s as if it never existed, and I can never quite remember what I’m looking for when I get near it. It’s a very good spell.
I’m glad to hear that you’re nearly through. You had us very worried. When Snape first told us, no-one believed him. I mean, it was Snape, after all, and I got the distinct impression that he was only telling tales because you’d turned him in. But you do see why we did it, don’t you? You’re too good a person to– well, you’re a loser actually. But we love you anyway.
Peter’s letters always had a way of making him smile, though the teasing was a little too true to be entirely laughable. He re-read the letter and stored it with the others that Peter had sent, plus the cards from the Hogwarts’ staff. He’d been chagrined to receive it, at first, until he’d realised that Dumbledore had been characteristically vague on the reason for Remus’s extended stay at Mungo’s. The card was full of platitudes for all occasions, but he could appreciate the gesture, when he was in the mood to appreciate anything.
A staccato knock at his door lifted his head. ‘Come in,’ he said, surprising himself by welcoming the intrusion.
It was Ellery. They’d grown into a cautious friendship. Ellery had a mild and engaging personality, the gift he referred to as ‘bedside manner.’ Remus had experienced enough ‘bedside manner’ from healers and doctors to last the rest of his life, but Ellery was rarely put off by his snide comments or bad behaviour. Remus had come, somewhat grudgingly, to the conclusion that Ellery was going to continue to be friendly no matter what Remus said to him, but it was very hard to dislike the man for being nice even when he was trying to.
‘I was going to take a walk outside,’ Ellery offered. ‘Want to join? Curfew’s not for another two hours.’
He hadn’t even realised it was night. A glance at his window showed only the bright reflection of his bedside lamp and Ellery’s profile standing at the door. ‘Sure,’ he answered. He found his shoes where he’d kicked them way earlier, and reached for his black jumper and scarf to wear over his striped hospital pyjamas. His spine popped as he stretched. ‘Is this all right?’ he asked. ‘Fraternising with the patients?’
‘You’re crazy, all right, but they’re letting you out next week all the same.’
They left the sterilised white of the hallways and emerged into the east-wing garden. It was chilly outside, and the garden was mostly brown from frosts. Trees were covered with sheets, and only a few brave birds chirruped this late into the evening. Ellery breathed deeply for a moment, then reached into his jacket. ‘Brought you a little something.’ He revealed a new package of cigs with a triumphant grin.
‘I could kiss you.’ Remus shucked the wax paper wrapping and flipped back the cardboard lid. He lifted the box to his nose, inhaling the spicy scent of cloves. ‘I think I will kiss you. It’s the least I can do for you, since you’ll be going to Hell for sneaking fags to a recovering addict.’
Ellery laughed. ‘Just promise not to tell my super. And you can give me one of those.’ He furnished a match, striking it easily against the side of his shoe and cupping the flame between them. Remus wasted no time in putting two sticks at his lips, hiding the rest of the pack inside his shirt. He dropped a hand to Ellery’s shoulder and leaned over him for the flame. Ellery stiffened a bit, but he didn’t pull away. Amused, Remus decided not to move his hand. Ellery stepped away first, but Remus could feel the rise in his body heat.
The cigarette was heaven. Remus went where Ellery led him, absolutely content to sit on one of Mungo’s clunky, poorly carved stone benches. He closed his eyes and threw his head back on the bench, relishing in the tickle of smoke in his lungs and only slightly disappointed that it hadn’t the familiar sweetness of opium.
‘This is nice.’ Ellery stretched his legs out before him, rubbing his heels into the gravel of the pathway to dig grooves. ‘My mum’s a Muggle nurse. She gets on me all the time about it. Smoking, rather. It’s because we’re both professionals, sort of, and I ought to know better and all. But a man needs a vice.’ It was a moment before he realised what he’d said. Remus sensed his sudden, embarrassed tension. ‘I didn’t mean– of course, with drugs and all–‘
‘Don’t apologise to me.’ He blew a stream of smoke into the night air, and dropped his hand to Ellery’s knee. The nurse shifted, nervous or uncomfortable or maybe even enjoying the contact. Remus opted for honesty. ‘I’ve only got myself to blame, don’t I? That’s what they tell me at least twice a day. No-one held a wand to my heart. The consequences are mine to live with.’ He huffed. ‘Shame, too, I suppose.’
Ellery returned the confession with equal candour. ‘Why’d you start?’
‘Because I could. Because I was angry and hurt and it’s not easy to spend all your time pitying yourself.’ He said it without humour. He put the diminished cigarette back to his lips and spoke around it. ‘Because you reach a certain depth of self-mutilation and you have to get more creative to keep it going.’ Ellery’s knee moved again under his hand, not away and not closer, just a small shift that probably didn’t have any meaning.
Remus said, ‘I guess I was tired of losing people I really loved. I never– I never really loved a lot of people. Really loved.’
Ellery’s boyish and easy voice was muted. ‘Who did you lose?’
He let his hand fall away from the man’s knee. The coy little gesture seemed flat now. ‘My father,’ he answered softly.
‘I’m sorry, Remus.’
When they returned to his room, he opened the window in his room, to let in the cold and the slight, fresh-smelling breeze. Ellery doused the light and locked his door, same as he did every night at curfew, but he didn’t leave. His kisses were shy, a little inexperienced, but gentle, and gentle was all Remus really wanted at the moment. It was better lovemaking than any of what he’d done in a year, a thought which made him feel guilty and glad all at once. Life would have been easier with someone like Ellery. It was like making love with James, someone who was brotherly, who made impish little wrestling moves at the serious moments. More like Peter, maybe. Earnest and kind, with the revealing little jumps of fun that had him suddenly laughing just when he thought he might burst with the ridiculousness of it. And then he thought wearily that his bed was getting too crowded with real lovers to bother inviting his safely heterosexual friends in as well, and that carried him bemused to sleep.
Peter topped off Remus’s glass with the end of the butterbeer bottle, and waved away the young woman who served them. ‘Are you sure you don’t want anything stronger?’
His companion only smiled, sipping his drink silently. It was late, a weeknight– a Thursday like any other Thursday, except that it was the first Thursday that Remus was officially released from St Mungo’s with a clean bill of health. Their celebration was somewhat marred by the conspicuous absence of their friends. Hogsmeade itself was hushed and all but empty; the few guests of the Leaky Cauldron stayed at their own tables talking quietly of the new drop in attacks. There was even talk of resuming the Quidditch season. Peter listened only with half an ear, dividing his attention on a few different conversations, but knowing he wouldn’t hear anything useful.
Peter was not drinking, himself; his ale had gone untouched the past half hour, dripped into the potted plant beside their table whenever Remus looked away. It was nearly empty now, and he pinched his cheeks subtly to keep them flushed. He hoped he appeared drunk. They’d spent the day together, doing little but browsing the stores or playing darts in the back room of the bar. The day had had the air of a summer hol from their past, lazy and companionable. But throughout the day, Peter had itched at the slow passing of every hour, at the increasing difficulty of maintaining his amiable face, at the necessity of hiding his real purpose.
The sudden interruption of his own thoughts startled him. ‘I’m sorry,’ he replied belatedly. ‘What was that?’
‘I said, do you remember how it was in school? You and I?’
He summoned a smile, surprised to find their minds had been in the same place. ‘Sure I do.’
‘Do you really?’ Remus traced a pattern in the condensation his glass had left on the table. ‘It seems so far away, these days. Like a dream.’
He licked his lips. He didn’t disagree; he had never returned to Hogwarts, but it was often in his thoughts. ‘I’ll tell you what seems a nightmare– Annwn.’
Remus nodded slowly. ‘I haven’t thought of that in a long time.’
‘I don’t think any of us have. James said he tries not to.’ For the first time, he reached for his ale for real. It made a sour pool in his empty stomach. Brashly, he admitted, ‘I was more frightened of being left behind than of Arawn.’
He received a surprised noise from Remus. ‘You thought we would leave you?’
‘You did.’ He heard his accusatory tone, and quickly moderated it. ‘The... the first time, when Sirius was taken by the faeries. You told me to wait behind, and I–‘ He broke off, uncomfortable with the confession. But Remus was staring, and something about finally speaking his long-buried feelings drew the rest of the words out. ‘I was all alone and with no idea of you returning. When you were plotting to go back, I thought that if I wasn’t there every second, you’d forget to bring me.’
‘Peter, I’m sorry.’
He shrugged uneasily. ‘It was a long time ago.’
‘Not so long.’ Remus lifted a finger to his mouth, biting it absently. ‘I felt that way too, sometimes. About James and Sirius and you.’
That thought mystified him. ‘Why? When?’
The hand in front of his mouth made him hard to understand, and Peter leaned forward to hear better. ‘When all of you were learning the animagi spells. You didn’t tell me you were doing that. I thought– well, all of you would go off places. Without me. And then once I knew what it was about– it was something special for the three of you. Even though it was for me. It was selfish... I guess I just wished one of you had asked me along.’
They hadn’t, Peter remembered. It had never occurred to any of them that Remus might want to learn the spells, too. ‘I wish we’d talked about this sooner,’ he said.
Remus suddenly smiled. ‘Yes.’
‘No, I mean it.’ He glared down at his pudgy hands, scrubbing his fingers against each other. ‘It... it would have made a difference.’
‘It’s just you and I, now. James and Lily are on the lamb– Sirius gone to ground somewhere.’ Remus bit down on the tip of his thumb, and sighed, dropping his hand. ‘And we’re not children anymore. It’s not simple anymore.’
Sirius was no further away than Surrey, house-watching for the absent Potters. Peter knew, as surely as he felt the Secret spell hovering just over his skin, like a shirt that rode too tightly. He knew the downstairs flat James and Dumbledore had spent days spelling into invisibility, where Lily was probably putting Harry to bed.
He said, ‘I think I need to lie down.’
Remus looked him over. At last he smiled again. ‘Want me to go up with you?’
‘No. It’s all right.’ He stood slowly, dropped coins to the tabletop. He hesitated, and finally said, ‘You never made me feel stupid, or clumsy. I always appreciated that.’
Lupin answered, ‘I’m glad, Petey. I’m glad you asked me to visit you here.’
‘Don’t be glad.’ He looked away. ‘I’ll– I’ll see you, to-tomorrow.’ He flushed, annoyed with himself.
But Remus mistook it for tipsiness. ‘Go lie down. See you for breakfast.’
He excused himself, his neck and ears burning. He reminded himself to stagger for effect, musing to himself that at least his ‘foolish Petey’ reputation came in handy in this last deception. He gave up the game when he was safely in the stairwell, hidden from Remus’s line of sight.
Leaning against the rail with an unlit pipe in his teeth stood a tall, barrel-chested man. He silently put out a hand to stop Peter.
‘The man left of the bar, Malcolm,’ Peter told him quietly. ‘You’ll be rewarded as I promised. It’s going to happen tonight.’
Malcolm removed the pipe from his mouth, and stashed it inside his coat. He brushed past Peter and descended the stairs. Without looking back, he said, ‘My respects to your Lord.’
‘He appreciates your service.’ Peter watched him go. He drew in a deep breath, and turned up the stairs to his room.
The knocking at the door woke him from an uneasy sleep. Groggy, Remus reached for his watch, and sighed. It was very early morning.
Peter lay unmoving in the second bed. He had already been asleep when Remus had come up to their room near midnight, and didn’t appear to have moved since Remus had quietly slipped into his sleeping shirt and fallen into a doze atop the duvet. He was not responding to the insistent knocking.
‘Coming,’ Remus said, muzzily hoping he was loud enough to notify their visitor but quiet enough to avoid disturbing Peter. He swung to his feet and bumped his hip into the sharp corner of the bedside table, and swore. He unchained the latch, and opened the door a crack. ‘Can I help–‘
At first he could only think that he’d been hit hard in the chest. Air whooshed from his lungs and he stumbled back as the door was forced open. The loud pop registered, and the large man standing over him with a silvery thing in his extended hand.
A second pop. The impact to his chest was massive, and he hit the table again. This time there was pain. It seared along his nerves, and he gasped. It pooled like fire in his chest, and he was suddenly choking on metal-tasting blood. Silver. Silver, he thought dimly, slowly, through the burning.
A third pop. It knocked him back against the bed, and his legs fell out from under him. He crashed to the floor with a cry.
Silver bullets. His insides burned, but his hands and face felt cold, and his bare legs. Liquid poured over his chin, hot against his neck.
The big man knelt over him, a darkening hulk swimming as his vision began to fail. He felt fingers in the blood on his chest, and then they touched his face, dragging down over his eyes and leaving them wet.
‘Lord Voldemort sends his regrets,’ the man rumbled from far, far away. ‘He wishes he could be here to watch you die, werewolf.’
Peter rose from the bed, shouldering his coat and shoving his trembling fingers into gloves. Malcom straightened back to his feet, holstering the gun and shaking a fold of his robe over it. He wiped his hand clean on a handkerchief, and dropped it to the body.
‘You did well,’ Peter said. ‘Stay low until you are called again.’
Malcom inclined his head, and opened the door wide enough for them to exit. Peter stepped carefully over Remus, trying not to look at what he had wrought. They left together.
It was the second time he’d woken in a ward in St Mungo’s. Poppy Pomfrey was curled into a visitor’s chair, her head pillowed on a bunched blanket. Her dark hair was spread in a rippling wave over the wool, and he gazed at it for a long time before he realised she shouldn’t be there.
‘Miss,’ he said, or tried to say. His throat was froggy. He coughed to clear it, and tried again. ‘Miss.’
Her eyes opened, and she looked at him blankly. Then recognition flooded her gaze, and she sat up smartly, already twisting her hair into a bun behind her head and pinning it efficiently with a clip. ‘Now, then,’ she said briskly. ‘How are you feeling, dear?’
‘Tired.’ He looked about, and saw they were in a private room. ‘My chest aches...’ It seemed he should remember what happened, but he didn’t. ‘My head is muzzy,’ he added grumpily.
She smiled at him. ‘That’s the medicine, darling.’ She touched the back of her hand to his cheek and forehead. ‘I’ll get you some tea. That should help you wake up a bit.’ He protested, but she was too fast for him. She was closing the door behind her before he could phrase a question.
It wasn’t Pomfrey who returned with tea, but Dumbledore. The old Headmaster came in slowly, balancing a small tray. This he set beside Remus’s bed, and he held out a small ceramic cup with a saucer. ‘I took the liberty of adding a hearty spoonful of sugar,’ he told Remus.
‘Thank you, sir.’ He’d meant only to sip, but suddenly he was parched. The sugar cleared his mind of its fog, and he struggled to sit up. Dumbledore laid a gentle, wrinkled hand on his shoulder, and pressed him back.
‘You’ve been gravely injured,’ Dumbledore told him. ‘The healers are frightfully optimistic, but a little caution is understandable.’
‘I was shot.’ The memory provided itself with unwelcome clarity. ‘They knocked on my door– Peter!’ Now he did sit up. ‘Headmaster, where’s Peter? Did he–‘ Fear seized him.
Dumbledore drained his glass before replying, and he spoke softly, toying with the crystal between his wrinkled hands. ‘Lord Voldemort was defeated last night.
He was stunned. At first it sounded almost like a joke, but it was not funny. ‘He’s dead?’
‘No. He was not killed. As near as we can determine, however, he is destroyed.’ He set his cup aside. ‘His killing curse rebounded.’
He didn’t understand. ‘Rebounded? That’s impossible.’
‘So it ought to have been. No counter-curse would have been powerful enough to turn aside Voldemort’s creation.’ Dumbledore removed his hat, and smoothed his thick white hair back from his forehead. ‘No counter-curse.’
‘Who did it?’ he demanded. ‘Voldemort wouldn’t have allowed anyone near him who was strong enough to destroy him. And Lily’d given up finding him– Albus, please tell me.’ Frustrated, he stared at the Headmaster.
His stare was returned with an imperturbable look. ‘Harry Potter did it, Remus. An infant deflected the killing curse and somehow turned it on the undefeated Lord Voldemort.’
‘Harry?’ It sounded ludicrous. ‘Little Harry? But he’s–‘ Remus stopped.
Harry was with Lily and James. In hiding.
Dumbledore took off his spectacles, and gazed down at them in his hands. At last he sighed, and let his palms rest in his lap.
‘James and Lily Potter are dead,’ he murmured. ‘As is Peter Pettigrew.’
Remus heard the words, and in the minute that ticked away after they faded from the air, felt numb. I didn’t even know, he thought. I was– they were dying while I was-- The ache in his chest deepened, and he lifted a heavy hand to press it against his breastbone.
‘All Voldemort?’ he asked.
Dumbledore looked up, and his pale blue eyes met Remus’s grey ones. ‘Sirius Black.’
He tried to swallow, but his throat was painfully dry. Dumbledore reached out his spotted hand, and cupped Remus’s neck. ‘You must leave here,’ Dumbledore said, enunciating each word carefully and clearly. ‘Do you understand, Remus? I must send you away.’
Through the numbness it came to him. ‘They think I helped him,’ he said, and wondered that his voice sounded so dead.
‘My boy,’ Dumbledore began, and stopped. Tears stood out suddenly, a sheen of light over the weak irises. But the tears did not fall. He clasped Remus’s hand between both of his, then took him by the shoulders and embraced him. ‘My boy.’
Remus gazed down at the glass-encased display of handguns without quite knowing when he’d made the decision to enter the store. He’d hung about the door for nearly a quarter hour, stuck in confusion and doubt. But now he was here, the raw sounds of traffic filtering through the thin slats of the shop door in bursts of horns and wind, while the on-duty cashier watched him wander slowly between the aisles.
At last, the cashier, a stout, balding Muggle who looked far more at home among the ranks of weaponry than Remus, cleared his throat. ‘Need some help, Mister?’
Remus looked up from the case. ‘I don’t know,’ he answered. ‘I think... ‘
The cashier left his counter and joined Remus beside the case. ‘Do you have any experience with firearms?’
He lifted the palm of his hand to the phantom aches in his chest, where three puckered scars matched the trio from the exit wounds in his back. ‘Not as such,’ he said drily.
He got a sideways, measuring glance. ‘Handguns take some training. You have to become familiar with the feel of the weapon, with the balance. And– Mister, if you don’t mind my saying it, you don’t look like the sort of person who could shoot so much as a bird.’
He swallowed to ease his sore throat. ‘No, I guess I don’t.’ He faced the cashier. ‘I want to be safe,’ he said bluntly.
‘We have a number of non-lethal weapons,’ the cashier answered, not unkindly. ‘Mace sprays, walking weights, batons.’ He seemed to size Remus up, and Remus stood still for it, having a fair idea of what he looked like. Scared, probably. Weak. But the cashier only nodded. ‘I’d like to show you our selection of stun guns.’
He followed the man toward the back wall of displays. The cashier opened one of the sliding glass windows with a small key, and withdrew a tray of compact black objects, placing it counter-top between them. ‘What are they?’ Remus asked, nudging one with his forefinger.
‘They’re electro-muscular disruption weapons.’ He lifted one and offered it handle-first to Remus. It was not heavy, only six inches in length, made of smooth plastic and cool leather. Remus examined it closely, without touching the small metal prongs that topped it. ‘It causes contraction of the muscle tissue, incapacitating your attacker. It’s mostly used by law enforcement, but it has a very high success rate. Most importantly, it’s not a weapon that requires extensive training or focus. And there’s less chance of having it used against you, if you aren’t struggling to use it.’
‘Tell me how it works,’ Remus said.
The cashier took it from him, and began to explain its parts. ‘This is our preferred model. Ambidextrous safety– you can lock it from either hand– the battery is held here. You want to use it on an area with lots of skin surface, like the chest, the back, the kidneys.’ He demonstrated on himself. ‘It will work on an arm or leg, even the head, but the bigger the surface, the bigger the effect. These prongs have electrodes in them. They release one hundred thousand volts of electricity through up to an inch of clothing. It’s absolutely safe for you. The electrical shock won’t transfer even if you’re touching your attacker.’
‘One hundred thousand volts,’ Remus repeated. ‘Is that a lot?’
‘We’ve got some models that go higher, but you don’t really need it. A one-second shock will surprise an enemy. A five to six second shock stuns and incapacitates. Your attacker will be disoriented and weak for several minutes after the actual shock.’ He offered the stun gun back to Remus, who gripped it tightly, thoughtfully making passes at an imaginary body.
‘We’ve got other brands,’ the cashier added helpfully. ‘The Stun Master, the Talon. The one you’ve got there is called Lightning.’
‘Twenty pound forty, sir.’
‘I want it. I’ll take this one.’
‘Excellent.’ They moved back to the register, where the cashier rang up the purchase. ‘If you don’t mind my asking,’ the man said, his eyes on the stun gun he was boxing, ‘are you in some kind of trouble?’
‘I suspect that I’ll know soon,’ Remus told him, and they said nothing else.
Lucius found the decrepit little cottage by divination. He arrived by apparation, his wand in his hand, his fingers clenched tightly around it, and fury fuelling his steps through the night woods, a lighted window drawing him near.
Remus was standing on the porch. Waiting for him. Lucius halted at the bottom step.
‘Where’s the old man?’ he asked.
Remus hugged his chest, shivering in his thin black jumper. ‘Dumbledore didn’t come. I’m alone.’
Lucius nodded. His throat was sore. ‘Come down.’
Remus came to him. Grey eyes met his, then drifted– he was stoned. Lucius found himself laughing. ‘Afraid of a little pain?’ he sneered, and reached out to grab the other man’s arm.
The vapid look disappeared from Remus’s face in an instant. Lucius had only a moment to wonder at it before Remus lifted his hand from behind his back. His fist struck Lucius in the chest, and lightning lanced through him.
He swam to consciousness, staring about wildly. They were inside now. Remus sat beside him on the tiled floor of the a kitchen, lighting a candle with a match. Lucius worked his jaw, and croaked, ‘Bastard.’
Remus looked down at him. ‘Yes,’ he answered. ‘But you never quite believed I could be one, did you?’ He tucked the candle into a chipped mug, and set it beside Lucius’s head. Conversationally, he said, ‘When Dumbledore told me that they were dead, I thought it was you who’d done it. Would you believe I felt badly for that? But the more I thought about it, I realised– you must have known all about Sirius’s defection. I didn’t feel so bad, then.’
Lucius discovered that his hands had been tied tightly with cord. ‘I didn’t know,’ he said.
‘James. Lily. Peter.’ Remus held up a compact little box. ‘Add that to the thirteen Muggles Sirius killed. The men that we’ve killed together. The men you’ve killed that I don’t even know about. They’ll put you away forever, Lucius. You can share a cell with Sirius.’ He touched a switch with his thumb, angling to show Lucius the process. ‘But I got you first. Clever of me, don’t you think?’
Lucius watched the box as Remus waved it over him. ‘What is that?’
‘An electro-muscular disruptor.’ Remus set it against Lucius’s ribs. ‘It won’t kill you. You might want it to, though.’ A quick, painful jolt seared through his side as Remus used it. Lucius gritted his teeth through it. ‘But I think you deserve to live. You need to watch all your ambitions crumble into dust. All your life wasted on a man who couldn’t stand up to a child.’
He couldn’t hide his bitterness. ‘I gave you everything. You betrayed us. Me.’
‘You got married.’ Remus looked away, but not before Lucius could see candlelight reflecting on tear tracks. ‘I didn’t want you to be with someone else. I didn’t want to kill people– I didn’t want to watch you be someone I couldn’t love.’ Suddenly there were sobs. Brokenly, Remus’s voice stumbled on. ‘They killed James. James and Lily and Peter. I thought it might be you but it was Sirius. He– did you know about him? Were you there?’ Remus hugged his chest and bent double. ‘They killed everyone. I want to be dead. I wanted so much to be dead.’
He had to swallow twice before he could speak. ‘Untie me, Remus.’
‘Why?’ Remus held up the box threateningly, but he didn’t use it. ‘They’ll come after you the same way you came for me. The dying isn’t over yet. It will never end, Lucius, it will go on for–‘ He shook his head furiously.
‘Remus. Untie me. Please.’
Fog eddied about them as they walked through the woods. Remus’s hand was damp in his, their fingers so tightly entwined that his knuckles ached. The trees and undergrowth of the Forest were indistinct, ghostly in the pale air. There were no night sounds, barely even the crunch of their shoes in the loam and fallen leaves. At first, Lucius feared that he was lost, that memory had misdirected him– but there, the blaze on the tree, nearly hidden by a climbing vine. He followed their old path, grown over and absorbed into the ancient woods, and Remus, subdued and silent, walked with him.
His skin crawled as they entered a small space between trees, that might have been a clearing once– and there was the faerie ring. In step, they halted before it.
‘Disable the gate,’ he said.
Remus stared down at it, his gaunt face a white shadow. Then he looked up, at Lucius, his wide colourless eyes searching Lucius’s face. ‘Come with me.’
He shook his head. ‘I can’t.’
‘You mean you won’t.’
‘If you like.’ He was the first to look away. ‘Disable the gate,’ he repeated. ‘Then go– try to stay safe.’
‘You could come. Lucius, we could go anywhere. We’d never have to come back, we’d be safe together.’
He deliberately removed his hand from Remus’s. ‘If you ever get out,’ he whispered, ‘don’t come back here. Stay somewhere. Stay safe. If you show up alive, they’ll kill us both.’ He touched Remus’s face, unable to stop himself. ‘Do you understand me? They will kill us both, and we’ll be begging for them to do it just to end it.’
‘Lucius,’ he whispered, tears streaking his cheeks again.
He wanted to say, I love you. He couldn’t, though he tried. ‘Be well,’ he answered, and stepped away. Then he turned his back, and rigidly held himself from looking back as he left the clearing.
He apparated out of the Forest alone.
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