Grimmauld Place was, as Sirius used to joke, grim and old. Fortunately, not many people could see it, for it was not a pretty sight even with the work which had been done. It now lacked an owner, but nothing had been done about that. Nothing had been done about that the last time it had been left without an owner, some fourteen years ago.
Therefore, the Order of the Phoenix continued to use it as their headquarters. It was safest, they agreed. Some would have said that staying in the house of a dead man was unlucky. The Order members, however were by and large a pragmatic lot, and would not be swayed by such arguments. If they were uncomfortable, they gritted their teeth, and kept on.
On a particularly foggy October night, they had called yet another meeting. The news was the same as it had always been; Voldemort was getting stronger, his main goal was to kill Harry Potter, and no, there was no way of attacking or getting rid of him at present.
"But, surely," said Mrs. Weasley, "you must have some idea of where he is, Severus."
Snape sighed. "I've told you once, twice, a thousand times. I don't know where the Dark Lord is, and I'm not likely to find out. All I can tell you is that it's somewhere with stone walls, and that could be anywhere."
"Can't you judge the distance," asked Kingsley hopefully, "when you Apparate?"
"It isn't normal Apparition," snapped Snape, "The Dark Lord Calls us. If we answer the Call, we are transported instantaneously to him. The usual knowledge of destination isn't required."
"And if you don't answer the Call?" asked Moody.
"Pain," answered Snape shortly, "what did you think? That he sends us a map when we're tardy?"
Moody was about to retort, when the unmistakable sound of the front door opening was heard. Several people leapt to their feet. Dumbledore raised a hand for silence. "It can't be," whispered Tonks, "we're all here, except for the children..."
There was a terrible silence, as all drew their wands, and waited. Surely the intruder would make the first move.
A voice called out, "You cannot hide, Moony! I have searched too long to lose you now!"
Remus sprang up, ran and silently to the door, and turned to his comrades. Expressions ranging from fear to confusion marked their faces.
"No time to explain," Remus said. "Stay here. Don't follow me."
Lupin slipped quickly through the door, gripping his wand tightly. He shut the door behind him, with a snap. For a fraction of a second, all were frozen in shock, with the exception of Snape, who was used to hiding emotions much deeper than surprise.
Snape drew his wand over his head in a wide ark, bringing it down with a swish, then to the left with a flick. "Shadrach," he whispered, and the concentration required for the spell was evident, even through his mask.
The entire wall before him shimmered, and became transparent.
A very tall, thin, man was standing at the other end of the room. His hair was a shade of reddish brown, streaked with gray, but the rest of his features were hidden, as he was bundled up against the cold, a black scarf across the lower half of his face.
"The spell is only one way," explained Severus. "I don't know what Lupin thinks he's doing, but we can interfere if necessary. I don't think our guest realizes we're here. Let's keep it that way."
Remus advanced towards him. The man seemed about to say something, but Remus held up a hand to stop him, and spun round to face the door. He began casting various complex Warding Spells, to prevent anybody from following him out, or the mysterious stranger from entering.
A silencing charm followed. It was a one-way charm, so that the Order could not hear Remus, but allowing Remus to hear the Order. Snape reversed it, quickly, quietly, and without detection.
Satisfied, Remus then turned to face the intruder. To the amazement of the Order, he knelt to the floor, and laid his wand on the ground, before walking up, unarmed, towards the stranger. The stranger pulled out a dagger, and laid it on the floor in the same manner, before advancing towards Remus.
The two met in the middle of the room, and began to stare steadily at each other. Suddenly, Remus arched his neck, and sank to the floor.
"Why do you hide from me?" asked the stranger, harshly pulling Remus back to his feet. "Why do you run?"
"Please," said Remus, not even attempting to struggle. "Ralf... I did not mean to hide myself from you. I know my duty."
"I have not been able to hear you for many months," snapped the man. He pulled Remus closer, and barred his teeth.
"I had not realized," said Remus, sounding desperate, "that the protections on the house were that strong."
The man pushed Remus away from him. Remus fell backwards into the wall, and sank to the floor. "You have not sought me in many years, Ralf," he snapped. "I did not think I would ever see you again."
Ralf's answer was short. "She's alive."
Remus blanched, and appeared, for the first time, to be frightened.
"Philomena?" he breathed, "I thought..."
Ralf's expression changed from one of anger, to a soft concern. He walked towards Remus, and helped him to his feet. "Yes," he said softly, "I know what you thought. I... I..."
"You didn't want me to get to know her," finished Remus, with a look of one who is trying to take in too much at once, "you didn't trust me."
"No," contradicted Ralf, "I was afraid."
Comprehension dawned on Remus' face. "The law?" he asked, sounding faintly amused, "you? Afraid of the law?"
"Yes," admitted Ralf, "I could explain, or bribe my way out of everything else. Perhaps I could even have got myself out of even this, but the Ministry would have killed her and you for it."
Remus nodded, once. "So why now?" he asked, quietly, his expression unreadable.
"Now," said Ralf, "I can no longer take care of her. You must know that the forces of the Dark One are rising, and what that means. I cannot leave the country with her legally, for legally she does not exist. I no longer have the connections I used to."
"Why not?" asked Remus, his face still carefully blank. "Have you given up your little... hobby?"
"I had to," answered Ralf, "for Philomena. I... I couldn't have her grow up seeing that."
"And so you must leave her in England," said Remus slowly. "What do you want with me? You must know that I will not join you."
The other man's frustration became apparent. "No, no, Moony, love," he said. "I need you to take care of her!"
For the first time, the Order saw Remus Lupin give in to anger. Violently, he struck the man across the face, knocking him to the ground. Shocked, the man lay still, as Remus stood over him.
"How dare you!" shouted Remus. "How you dare ask that of me! For years you have hidden my daughter from me! What do you expect? For the two of us to automatically form some sort of trust? For me to leap up and say, 'Thank you, Ralf, for stealing what could have been years of happiness, I'll just take the girl, and let you skip to Bolivia,'? For years I thought she was dead! For years I thought I had killed her! For years I lived in guilt, and fear. How dare you?"
For a moment, the silence rang, as Remus stood over the man with clenched fists.
Slowly the man scrambled to his feet and faced Remus. "What do you want?" he snapped, "For me to say I'm sorry? Even if I did, you wouldn't accept it and I wouldn't expect you to. You have every right to be angry with me."
For another long stretch, the two stared at each other again. Finally, Remus dropped his eyes. "I'm sorry," said Remus. "I ... forgot my duty."
"I will have the girl sent to your home," said the man quietly. "She has grown into a sweet, well tempered thing. She takes after you. I know it will be hard, but I have explained things to her, and she knows her place with you."
Remus said nothing, but wrapped his arms about himself and stared at the floor.
"I'm sorry, love," said Ralf, "for what I did, and for what I failed to do. In a way, I'm trying to make it up to both of you. I... I must go. I will write."
To the amazement of the watchers, Ralf kissed Remus tenderly on the forehead.
Remus looked up, startled, and gave a wan smile. "Tread safely, my heart," he said.
Ralf turned and took his dagger, and started to leave, quickly. He stopped suddenly at the door, and turned back towards Remus. "Tread safely, my heart," he repeated, before stepping out into the night.
For a moment, Remus stared at the door, lost in thought. He then gathered himself together and picked up his wand. With a sudden movement, he removed the wards and re-entered the room.
Lupin looked at the faces of his comrades, then turned to the transparent wall. Comprehension dawned, as he stared at Snape. They had seen and perhaps heard everything.
Remus suddenly looked very run down, tired and sick. He sank into the nearest chair, putting his head into his hands.
For a moment nobody spoke. Finally, it was Dumbledore who broke the silence. "Remus," he said sternly. "Explain yourself."
Remus looked up. "I didn't betray your trust," he said, correctly interpreting the angry stares of some. "I didn't tell him where to find us."
"Then how did he find us?" barked Moody. "There's no way to break a Fidelius."
"Who was he?" asked Dumbledore, his eyes showing confusion, betrayal, and just a hint of anger. "Explain."
"Yes," chorused the others. "Explain."
Remus stood, and looked Dumbledore in the eye. "He was my Alpha," he said shortly. "And a connection like that is stronger Magic than any Charm, even a Fidelius only deadens the link."
Only Dumbledore looked as though what Remus had said made any sense. "I didn't know you knew him," he answered slowly. "You told me that you never knew."
Remus looked defeated. "I lied," he admitted. "I had to. His claim for my silence was stronger than your claim for my trust."
The silence was terrible. The smell of hostility, anger, and confusion assaulted Remus. At long last, he said quietly, "I'm sorry," before Disapparating.
In an explosion of sound, everybody began to talk at once. In the ensuing chaos nobody noticed Dumbledore and Snape dissapear to a far corner of the room.
Albus talked quickly. "Severus," he said, "I don't know what's going on, but I'm sure Remus is trustworthy."
"I know he's trustworthy, Albus," interrupted Snape. "I was reading him."
"Never mind that, now," said Dumbledore. "You need to find him, and ascertain what happened. He's too useful to us to lose. I'll take care of things here, and cover for you. Take as long as needed, use your judgment, and for heaven's sake keep anyone from finding out."
Snape nodded and Disapparated. He may not have liked the situation, but he did know how to distance himself from a situation in order to handle it. If he hadn't been skilled at swiftly doing what needed to be done he'd have been dead long before.
Albus turned to the room full of angrily arguing wizards. "Quiet, all of you," he commanded, his voice radiating power.
All conversations stopped, as they turned to him, hoping for some form of explanation. Instead, Dumbledore swished his wand with surgical precision. "Obliviate!"