Stages

Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter, or Remus Lupin, or any other of Jo's characters. I do own Elizabeth 'Ella' Granger, Timothy Ashton-Hart, and Jasper.

A/N – CONTENT WARNING: Themes of child abuse and molestation are hinted at in this chapter. Nothing is stated outright, but it is there, so I wanted to warn for it. Violence and character death come up as well, so please do take care if you're sensitive to any of that.

It's the heavy gold locket with the glittery green, snake-like 'S' inlaid on the front, hanging around the alpha's neck.


Chapter Twenty: Like His Aspiration


Remus Lupin loves Hermione Granger.

He wishes she was there as the crowd surrounding him roars its violence to the skies. He wishes she was there, standing at his back; holding his hand. He wishes it was her instead of a young, terrified boy about to go through even more mind-shattering trauma, and he wishes he was with her, far away from the pain and fear and panic only heightened by the riot about to begin.

About to? It's already begun.

Remus wets his lips and deliberates rapidly between inching closer to the alpha and the locket he can't pull his attention from hanging around his neck, and inching himself and Timothy as far away from what's happening as possible. He knows he can't leave. He can't get the boy away from this danger, because the danger will follow them – the danger's inside them. But shouldn't he put distance between them and what's going to make the danger worse?

That locket, though… there's something about that locket. He can smell it, surrounding the metal, a dark and terrible hum that's oozing across his senses; something so wrong, he can't put a word to the scent. Remus has never not been able to do that, and a sickness rises in his throat, vomit heavy, denial and revulsion heavier. This is Dark magic, whatever this is. As Dark as it possibly can get.

He doesn't know what's wrong with that locket. Something is.

He needs to find out more. It's this thought that has him ultimately deciding to get as close to the thing as he can. He can't trust Timothy to anyone else within the packs and he can't leave him on his own. The boy'll has to come with him.

It makes the nausea thicker, a solid lining around his heart, that he has to subject a child to this. That he doesn't have a choice. But none of them have a choice, do they? Whether willing or unwilling – and there's a lot more willing to embrace the sickness inside them than there is unwilling – this is what they are.

He can't destroy the darkness in his soul. But maybe, if he figures out what the locket is and why the aura it gives off drips through the atmosphere like greasy, glugging oil, tainting everything it touches, he might just be able to destroy that.

It's something, isn't it?

He doesn't get a chance, however, to justify it enough with himself that he can make his legs move, because Jasper snaps his hand up into the air and growls loudly, shutting down the crowd as if a switch had been flicked. The man-monster with the taint around his neck smiles to himself, his fangs flirting with his bottom lip, then steps forward when Jasper steps back with a grandly gestured wave of his arm.

The crowd is so silent you can hear the anticipation-packed tension like it's sound.

"My brothers and sisters, I greet you most warmly," he says, his voice low and deep and very smooth, completely at odds with his appearance. It carries across the clearing as easily as if he's shouting, and a frisson of panic or hope or something runs down Remus's spine. His eyes narrow.

He knows who this man is; it's impossible not to know. He's the alpha. He's the target. He's the one Remus needs to capture if he wants to complete his mission and return home to his loved ones. He's been the goal all along, even if the goal hadn't always been known to him. But there's something else; something that's brushing light fingers at the back of his mind, almost shyly, as if teasing him. Something he should know. Something he should remember.

Who is this man?

"I have heard a great many things about this pack, and the leaps and strides it has taken to elevate our rank within the magical community," the man continues, voice still smooth and almost sultry. Remus swallows hard and presses Timothy solidly against his back. He wishes he could cover the boy's ears. "You, my friends, are pushing us higher. You're extending our importance and the respect we deserve within the eyes of our world's future. You are making our future, and you are the example that we all need to follow. I applaud you. I applaud you all!"

He smiles and nods when the crowd roars again, his hands behind his back, his body language casual and loose. The taint around his neck shines in the dying light of the day, and Jasper hangs around him like an eager puppy, tail wagging and eyes insane. The very fact that Remus can't sense any obvious madness within this leader's amber gaze sends more shivering somethings down his spine. He presses his lips together and hunches down, folds in, gripping Timothy tighter when the boy whimpers.

He can feel it. The moon. Remus can feel it. They all can. It's coming and the change will be horrific.

Another whimper floats from the boy behind him. The crowd screams their excitement.

The alpha's still smiling.

"We will build our own future, turn this world into our own safe haven. To do that we must create and protect the next generation. We must nurture them; show them the way. Tonight is the first night of many. Tonight, my pack, we teach!"

Remus's head snaps up. That's why he's here?

"Bring me the boy!"

No!

But there isn't anything he can do about it, and the crowd parts, hands grabbing at Timothy, the boy crying out in fear and pain. Remus snarls and swipes at the hands, and picks Timothy up, clutching him to his chest. There isn't anything he can do about it, there isn't anything he can do about it, and he hates himself, he fucking despises himself, and he's at the alpha's side, his bundle struggling as he slowly lowers him to his feet in jerky, unwilling movements.

I'm sorry, I'm sorry, fuck, I'm so sorry, fuck, FUCK!

"Remus, please, I wanna go home!"

"Remus?"

It's the intrigue in his voice that has Remus looking. Timothy has his face against his hips, arms wrapped around his thigh, and Remus finds himself staring into bright, bold yellow eyes, the alpha's head cocked to the side as said eyes sweep over him. A hand captures Remus's chin and turns it from side to side before he manages to jerk it away. The alpha's lips twitch. He leans in closer and licks his lips.

Ash. He smells like ash.

"Well, hello, cub. Isn't this a surprise."

He purrs it, the scent of ash seemingly winding through the words, and a whole world explodes open in the back of Remus's head. Memories he's resisted, repressed, forgotten about, flood him mind's eye, and the shock is icy, the terror and revulsion encompassing.

The knowledge crippling.

This is what made him; he is what made him.

And more.

The childhood bite itches. A young, green-eyed boy weeps under creeping hands in his memory.

Greyback.

"Jasper!" the monster who made Remus a monster himself calls, his smile wide, "you did not tell me you'd converted my cub! Why didn't you tell me this?"

"Your cub, Alpha?"

Greyback inclines his head, his fingers fluttering up to stroke the locket. His eyes are still locked with Remus's. "Yes, Jasper, my cub. This one here, Lupin. He is mine. You didn't know that?"

"U-um, no, Alpha, I d-didn't."

"Hmm." Without looking away from Remus, Greyback reaches out and takes Timothy's shoulder, long, sharp nails digging in hard. "That is disappointing. And here I thought you'd planned on giving me two gifts tonight. No matter. Let us take a look at the one thing you did do correctly."

Remus can't do anything but stare dully as Greyback drags a gone-silent-with-fear Timothy over to him. His brain seemed to have stopped, his thoughts having fled, leaving an emotionless void behind that doesn't allow for any type of reaction at all. His lips are dry, his chest is empty, and his arms stay by his side when Greyback smiles a slow, suggestive smile and strokes the locket again, before finally breaking eye contact to give his attention to Timothy.

Remus has trouble remembering what comes after. He knows that Greyback talks, and he knows that the crowd answers, and he knows that Timothy needs him, the boy's fear and panic hovering at the edge of the shell of nothingness. But he can't help him. He can't do anything.

He can't.

There's nothing inside him.

He remembers Timothy screaming his throat raw when the moon peaks. He doesn't remember the change. He's wolf with the rest and the tiny cub splits his soul, provoking the only reaction he feels the entire night. The pack runs with the alpha and the blood is hot and red and plentiful, and Remus goes through the motions, neither werewolf nor man in werewolf skin.

Lost.

The sun comes up and he's man again, and he takes a blank-gazed, covered-in-blood Timothy and flees.

~0~

It's the way the next few months run. The alpha stays with them, the tainted locket always around his neck, his gaze always on Remus and the cub he lets Remus look after. He doesn't approach him, doesn't speak even a word to him, but he watches, and he smiles, and it gives Remus nightmares so violent, he forces himself to stay awake.

Remus doesn't know who he is, if he even is, within those months. He exists.

He survives.

He takes the wolfsbane and drinks. And survives.

He doesn't know what gets him thinking again. Perhaps it's Timothy, a skeletal waif who now never speaks, big eyes sunk into his skull and utterly vacant. Perhaps it's the way the other wolves begin to notice the taint, too, and whisper about it, about how much they've begun to want it. Perhaps it's the patch of marigolds he comes across one day, the pungent scent such a jarring dose of home that it makes him shake. Whatever it is, it gives him enough of Remus back again that he starts to plan.

He needs to know what that locket is. Which means somehow getting close to Greyback. Which is the last thing he wants to do. But he doesn't have a choice.

He needs to know what that locket is.

It's that thought that sustains him. His plans piece together and break apart, never forming fully. He hangs around Greyback, which the alpha enjoys, and he doesn't know what he's actually drawn to. The locket makes something terrible tremble deep in his gut, but so does Greyback, and he know that if he doesn't do something soon, anything

He doesn't know. But it'll be bad.

"Such a loyal wee cub," Greyback murmurs one evening, sitting at a table in a deserted inn, stroking Timothy's hair and looking at Remus with half-lidded eyes. The plates of food rattle and bang together as the terrified innkeeper brings out their meal in shaking arms, and Remus feels Greyback's stroke in his tone; along his skin. He swallows. "I could do with a lot more loyal cubs like this one. Don't you agree, Jasper?"

"Y-yes, Alpha," Jasper stutters, crouched at Greyback's feet. The beta has been jittery and whiney and simpering since the alpha decided not to leave, the wolf-man practically humping Greyback's leg every chance he gets. Remus finds it disgusting and simply refuses to see it as anything else. "W-we could. I'll bring you them! I w-will!"

Greyback purses his lips in thought. Remus looks away. "No, I don't think you will. I think my own cub would be very good at that. I think it's Remus's job."

Jasper looks scandalised. "B-but, Alpha, I'm your beta, I-"

"Enough." Timothy shifts on Greyback's lap when his hair is pulled. Jasper shuts up, his eyes downcast, ugliness in the pull of his mouth. "You will do this for me, Remus? You will bring me more loyal cubs?"

Remus knows what's being asked of him. What he's being ordered to do. His brain floats and flutters with the knowledge. He runs his tongue over his teeth and nods jerkily.

"Yes, Alpha."

"Good." Greyback smiles that slow, pleased smile, petting Timothy's hair again, and Remus wants to run.

He's rooted to the spot.

"Soon."

"Yes, Alpha."

Soon. It whispers across his skin, another unwanted touch. Remus doesn't sleep that night. He's not sure how he's ended up so close to the beast who destroyed him and put him back together again as a child. He doesn't know how to get himself or Timothy out of this. This wasn't the plan. He lies on floor of the room in the inn he's sharing with a boy who only sleeps because his body shuts down on him, and wonders what the fuck he's gotten himself into. How did this happen?

What is he going to do now?

He's barely thought the question when the door slams open and there's a body on top of his, a loud, demented snarl ringing through the room. Jasper claws at his face and does his best to do as much damage as possible, and taken by surprise, Remus's reaction is slow. He bucks up and starts fighting back eventually, but not before Jasper manages to capture him in a bone-crushing hold, pinning Remus's arms down and digging his hands into his back. Remus growls and howls and snaps his teeth at Jasper's face, trying to get his feet up and into the other man's kidneys.

The attempts fail. Jasper grins widely at him.

"I'm going to kill you," he says pleasantly, foul breath blowing across Remus's face. Remus struggles harder, trying in vain to evict the man off of him. "He's mine, not yours. I'm the beta. Not you. You're nothing."

He leans in and opens his mouth wide, yellow teeth gleaming in the moonlight coming from the window behind them. "You're dead."

His head swoops down and his teeth sink into Remus's neck, a shout escaping both of them when something rams hard into Jasper's side. His teeth rip at Remus's skin as he's knocked off him, the spell that holds Remus's wand in place collapsing when Jasper scrambles desperately at his back for an anchor. His wand comes away in Jasper's hand, and both Remus and the beta stare at it stupidly, Timothy scurrying away from the two adults and sprinting for the door as if his life depends on it.

It does.

"You traitor!" Jasper screeches, eyes dilated with madness. "I'll kill you!" He jumps to his feet and draws the wand aloft, and Remus lunges towards him but doesn't get there in time. Jasper shouts and a bright, burning heat erupts from the tip of Remus's wand, a serpent of uncontrollable wildfire streaking into the room. Remus stares up at it in horror.

Ah, fuck me.

Taking advantage to the way Jasper's watching what he's created with far too much fascination, Remus snatches his wand out of the other man's hand. "You really are a stupid fuck," he croaks before turning and hurtling towards the door, ignoring both the blood that's running steadily down his neck and the giggling werewolf behind him. He has to find Timothy and get them the hell out, before the fiendfyre reduces the inn to a load of burnt rubble.

If that.

He's on the ground floor, shouting Timothy's name over and over, when he's attacked again, this time from behind. He knows who it is instantly, the ashy scent distinct even amongst the scent of heat and burning wood. The roar of the fiendfyre and the crackle of what it's gleefully destroying stoppers up his ears, and he can't hear what Greyback is snarling at him. But he can feel the pain and the fear and the taint and the heat – sweet Merlin, the heat – he needs to get out. He struggles and snarls and bucks and swipes, and crashes Greyback through a burning table, and howls as the wood goes through his leg, punching at the alpha's face, bone meeting bone. He slams Greyback's head back once, twice. A third time.

A fourth time.

He needs to get out!

The tail of the serpent sweeps across them and suddenly he can hear again, because the taint is screaming. Remus doesn't think. He snatches the locket from Greyback's neck, burning his hand and breaking the chain, and throws it as hard as he can, directly into the belly of the serpent. The screaming becomes glass-shatteringly high-pitched, the decibel horrendous, making Remus surge back to slap his hands over his ear and screw up his face in pain.

Then, it stops.

The fire doesn't.

"Timothy!" Remus screams. Greyback laughs quietly under him. Remus looks down.

"We're all dead, you realise. I very much enjoyed our time together, cub."

For the first time, Remus detects the barest hint of insanity in those forever lupine eyes. He shuts down the memories trying to cloud his mind and bares his teeth in a feral grin.

"Fuck you," he whispers, then slams Greyback's head back a final time, so hard he hears something crunch. Greyback's eyes roll in his head and Remus pushes himself to his feet.

"You're dead. Not me."

Then he's running, using his senses to hone in on the scent of lemons and sunshine, finally finding the boy in a ball on the ground outside the blazing inferno, rocking gently. He whimpers when Remus picks him up and wraps his arms and legs around his waist and neck, and the sound gives Remus a tiny burst of hope. It's more noise than Timothy's made in months.

"Hold on tight, yeah? We're getting the hell out of here."

Remus can't think about the owner of the inn, perished inside along with her business, or if that those in the pack that deserved to made it out. They didn't. All he can do is turn on the spot and disappear with a crack, apparating and disapparating a number of times before he and Timothy arrive at his home and the Order's safehouse. He's to-the-bone exhausted when he arrives, and Timothy seems to have passed out, the young one silent and still in his arms. He hasn't let go, however. Remus hitches him up higher and walks into the house, so tired he's surprised he hasn't passed out himself.

He knows that the house is empty the instant he walks over the threshold.

There's only one reason for that. They'd discussed it. Remus sighs and turns on the spot for the umpteenth time, leaving behind what he thought would his final, badly needed destination.

~0~

The village is deserted when they pop into existence in the main street. The silence is unnatural, eerie even, and Remus holds Timothy close, the boy regaining consciousness and whimpering in his arms, his face hidden in Remus's bloody neck. Remus shushes him quietly before turning to stride down the street, eyes peeled and wand in hand. He just hopes that she's there.

She is. The door creaks open barely a centimetre or two, and Remus stares calmly at the hand that's holding a wand pointed at his throat. "Rosmerta, it's Remus," he says softly, hitching his bundle higher. "I mean you no harm."

The door opens a touch wider, and Remus sends the woman he hadn't seen since Ella's first year a strained smile.

"Blimey, Remus, what the bloody hell are you doing here?!" Rosmerta hisses, peering over his shoulder, eye wild, as if the devil was on his tale. Or one of his minions. "It isn't safe! Get your arse insi- why are you covered in blood?! You're carrying a child!"

"I need your help," Remus says, scurrying inside and rubbing Timothy's back when he hunches closer at the solid snick of the door closing. "I'm sorry to barge in on you like this, but I think I'm needed at the castle and I can't take him with me. Will you look after him? Keep him safe?"

The innkeeper circles Remus cautiously, the dim light from a single candle on the wall dancing shadows across her face. She looks over the boy in Remus's arms and purses her lips. "What's wrong with the chit?"

"Trauma," Remus says, raising his eyebrows in a significant manner. "The kind of trauma that's hard to come back from."

Rosmerta's face softens immediately. "Oh, the poor lad," she sighs, clucking her tongue. "Yes, of course, I'll take care of him. Bring him upstairs but do it as quietly as possible. We don't want to alert anyone that we don't want alerted."

"There's Death Eaters in the village?" Remus asks in a whisper, following the witch up the stairs. Rosmerta shakes her head but doesn't answer beyond that, and they've entered what can only be her own personal quarters before she speaks again.

"Lay him down in the bed over there. That's it. No, the village is clear, but there's sure as shite something going on up at that castle. You can feel it in the air. Reminds me of yonks ago, remember? Lots have fled to greener pastures for a bit because of it. Bloody hell, Remus, you look like you've been in a battle!"

I have, Remus thinks, casting a quick cleansing charm over Timothy's filthy clothes and lifting the blankets up to his chin. The boy's eyes droop as soon as the warmth envelopes him, and he's soon breathing deeply. Pushing his hair gently back out of his face, Remus hopes the healing ability of sleep soothes him a little.

He prays that the terrors of the night don't come for the youngster.

"I'm fine," he says, holding up his hands and stepping back when Rosemerta frowns and draws her wand. "I don't have time for that, I really am fine. I'll be back as soon as I can."

"But there's so much blood, Remus, are those burns? You need to be treated!"

Her protest is cut off, however, by the green glow that's abruptly bathing the room. Remus's stomach flips and then sinks to his toes when he rushes to the window and looks out.

The Dark Mark.

He needs to go.

"His name is Timothy, keep him safe," he says, and then he's apparating again, nearly splinching himself in his haste.

~0~

He appears in another kind of hell.

Hogwarts is home. It always has been. It was the first place to give him sanctuary, a proper, magically protected environment; a first tiny hint of acceptance. Now, Remus stares up at the castle, eyes big as his head rings with sound and light and heat and terror from the battle taking place within the first place that'd been a truly loving, accepting home. A screams rips through the air and his legs are moving without forethought, his wand gripped tightly in a blackened palm that hasn't stopped shaking for what feels like hours.

More than hours. Years.

Eons.

He's through the gates, Hogwarts's main door slamming open violently as he sprints across the grounds – a spell on his lips and the Death Eater is down. The sights and scents and sounds are worse within the castle, making his eyes wheel and his heart slam extra hard. He has to find her – he has to find all of them. He takes out the enemy as he moves through the old school, curse after curse, most coming so quickly that they end up wordless, and searches.

And searches more.

He refuses to let the fear cripple him.

He's been crippled enough.

Where is she?

"Remus!"

His body spins and he squints through the dust and debris, forcing himself not to concentrate on the bodies lying on the floor at his feet. The scent of blood is thick, almost obliterating the other horrifying scents trying to bombard his senses – charred flesh and fire roaring through his mind – and Remus swallows heavily, relief making him dizzy when Arthur and Ron Weasley appear next to him. Both Weasleys look worse for wear, clothes torn and streaked with dried blood. Arthur has a large, still oozing cut above his left eyebrow.

But both are alive.

It calms his sprinting heart a little.

"Hermione," he gasps, then screws his eyes shut and shakes his head. Sweat is chilling as it slides down his neck and under his collar. "Harry?"

"I don't know where Hermione is, but Harry's on his way to the headmaster's office," Arthur pants, wiping his sleeve across his forehead, then quickly jerking his son away of a streak of nasty-looking, mustard-coloured light. Ron lets out a sound and clicks his teeth together, rolling his shoulders. Arthur glowers at him. "Tried to stop the lad but got caught up in fighting. Only just managed to stop this one."

"Didn't need you to stop me, did I?" Ron mutters petulantly, blue eyes burning within the chalkiness of his features. He looks decades older than his handful of not-nearly-enough years should allow him. "What're we standing around for?! We need to go help Harry!"

"We need to get you kids out of here alive and safe!" Arthur barks back, his fist tightening around the back of Ron's jumper. Remus presses his lips together hard, jolting when Arthur sends a jinx hurtling over his shoulder.

He needs to think.

"Why is he going after Dumbledore?" he asks Ron, trying to make his mind move as quickly as possible. There are so many holes in his knowledge, it's frightening. A shadow looms in his peripheral vision and he reacts instinctively, slashing a curse at the Death Eater before turning back to his former student. For a moment, Ron looks impressed.

"He isn't," the boy answers, throwing his own defensive spells almost as fluidly as his father is. At any other time, Remus would've been equally as impressed. "He's going after Malfoy."

Malfoy?

"And likely Snape, since the bat seems to be everywhere the ferret is these days. Seems to think he needs to protect the git."

Protect who? Protect Malfoy?

Protect Snape?!

He doesn't know what's going on and it's frustrating as hell. But he does know, deep in his gut, exactly what to do. The decision that isn't really a decision at all is painful in the making. Remus snarls low, under his breath.

He has to trust that she can take care of herself.

With his chest so tight he can hardly drag air in, he looks at Arthur.

He wishes he knew where Sirius was. He could use his best mate at his back for this.

"I need your help."

~0~

Because Arthur refuses to let the only offspring he can actually protect out of his sight, a very enthusiastic Ron ends up coming along, and the three of them fight their way through the school towards Dumbledore's office. The gargoyle isn't blocking the entrance when they arrive, and Remus can hear shouting up above them. He exchanges a wary glance with Arthur and they quietly climb the staircase, a practically vibrating teenager trying to rush up the stairs between them.

The boy's loyal to his best friend. Remus likes him all the more for it.

He catches Harry's scent, sweet, pungent earth, and Dumbledore's, ozone in a strike of lightning's wake, and the hemlock and old shoes that is Snape. There's other scents there, too; lemon oil and pine needles, and something like spoiled magic with a sharp, vinegary overtone standing out. Remus recognises the first but doesn't the second, and it isn't until he hears the distinctive cackling laughter, insane and far too eager, that he realises what they're up against.

Bellatrix Lestrange.

Well. This is going to be fun.

A flick of his wand and the three of them are disillusioned. Remus moves through the doorway, registering the two silently watching Death Eaters at the back of the room but mainly taking in Bellatrix, who is flitting around like she's got electricity in her veins. She's laughing and giggling, high-pitched, and egging Draco Malfoy on, who stands with his shaking wand pointed directly at Dumbledore, in place, a solid tree rooting in the ground, in front of his desk. Snape is standing at Draco's side, and Harry is…

Harry's in Snape's too-fucking-hard grip. Remus's eyes narrow on how tightly he's squeezing Harry's upper arm. He swallows his displeased growl.

"Coooooome onnnn, little dragon! Dooooo it! Kill the old man and fulfil your purpose! Rid the world of Dumblebumbleskin and earn your rightful plaaaaace!"

Bellatrix croons the words. Something like a choked sob escapes Malfoy. His wand shakes so badly, Remus thinks he's going to drop it.

"Draco, you don't have to do this!"

"I fucking d-do!" Malfoy snarls, the last word breaking as he says it, and Remus's brows reach his hairline. He watches Harry struggle in Snape's hold, sees the desperation in his eyes. His own eyes flick to Ron.

The pained, slightly exasperated expression on the redhead's face tells him all he needs to know.

"You don't, we can help you-"

"Silence!" Snape hisses, giving Harry a forceful shake, making his head snap back and forth, and it's only Arthur reaching over and clamping his hand down on his shoulder that stops Remus lunging forward. The anger bubbles and snaps and rages in his belly, needing to sink its teeth into the back of Snape's neck.

The fucker who's hurting his cub.

"Yes, close your trap, bitty baby four-eyes! You've lost your way; the Dark Lord rules the roost now!"

"Severus…"

"Be quiet, both of you!" the potions master snaps loudly. Remus creeps around the edge of the group as Bellatrix cackles madly and Dumbledore holds up both his good and his bad hand in surrender, the look on his face somehow both calm and imploring at the same time. There are books spread across his desk haphazardly, an inkwell on its side, the dark pool inching towards crumpled bits of parchment as if in the middle of a sneak attack. A quill snapped raggedly in half catches Remus's eye, but his attention is quickly drawn back to the main four occupants of the room.

"Draaaaaaco, oh Draaaaaaaaco, stop pussyfooting around and kill the bastard!" Lestrange warbles, sliding up to her nephew and pushing her face right in close to his. The sound of Malfoy swallowing can be heard even over her incessant giggling. "Do as you're commanded right now! Be free, little dragon!"

"Mr Malfoy, you know that you do not have this within you," Dumbledore murmurs, now looking directly at his student. It seems to be the wrong thing to say, however, because Draco's face twists in disgust and his hold on his wand tightens to the point that it stops shaking. Remus exchanges another glance with Arthur, who nods his head in Bellatrix's direction. Remus frowns for a moment, then after a bit of internal debate, reluctantly nods back and begins to circle around to her side, watching out of the corner of his eye as Arthur pushes Ron behind him and inches his way towards Snape and Harry.

They need to take Bellatrix by surprise. And since Arthur isn't likely to leave his son on his own, there's a much higher chance of something going wrong if two people are trying to go after her, especially if one of them has a split focus. If Remus can get right next to Lestrange without alerting her, he can quickly take her out and then turn his attention to the witch and wizard at the back of the room. Arthur and Dumbledore can take care of Malfoy.

Speaking of Dumbledore, why isn't he armed? Where is his wand?

"Don't pretend that you know me, old man," Draco sneers, grey eyes glittering with something that looks a lot like hatred. "I have a job to do! I don't have a choice!"

"Draco, you do!"

"Severus, please," Dumbledore pleads, turning to Snape all of a sudden. Remus lifts his wand and meets Arthur's eyes a final time, who's standing in between Snape and Draco, jaw lined with determination. Ron has his wand on the two at the back, clearly defying his father instructions to stay by his side, and both his wand and Arthur's lift just as Snape opens his mouth to reply.

What happens next Remus will remember for the rest of his life. A curse is on the tip of his tongue, but his attention is diverted when the young Malfoy laughs, his cheeks wet and his face bone white. He's still laughing as he looks at Harry, sobs breaking through what should have been an expression of joy. Their eyes meet and Draco shakes his head.

"I don't have a choice," he whispers hoarsely, baring his teeth and pulling his wand back.

"Avada Kedavra!"

"NO!" Harry shouts and rips himself away from Snape, diving forward to intercept the curse heading straight for the headmaster.

Remus's heart stops dead in his chest.

Then rattles hollowly and breaks apart, splitting in two as horror paralyses him, when Arthur dives forward himself and tosses Harry out of the way, the surge of sickly green light meant for Albus Dumbledore catching him directly between his shoulder blades and felling him in an instant.